Senior Pastor John Zayas, of Grace and Peace Church was born and raised in Chicago. His church is one of the welcoming hubs for migrants of Chicago. I interviewed Zayas earlier this week while he was coordinating relief efforts for asylum-seeking migrants bused into Chicago from states like Texas and Arizona.

On his roots in the ministry

I’ve been in the ministry for over 35 years. I was ordained in 1997 in a Christian Reformed Church (a specific denomination) and I started this church in 2000 in the Hermosa community. We purchased this property in 2008.

It’s a reformed church with a charismatic swing. You know, I’m Latino and we have African Americans in our church too, so the Holy Spirit means a lot to us. We’re word and Holy Spirit. There’s a balance. 

It’s a family affair

I am and my son is the co-pastor, Pastor JohnEric Zayas. We have two services. One service is in Spanish and the other service is in English. The Spanish service is here in the Revive Center (a facility on the campus that houses the church’s nonprofit arm) and the other in the main sanctuary.

I planted a church in 2000 for my parent church, which is Grace and Peace Fellowship. We started at the Kildare property, then we grew and expanded into this area.

On the new athletic center currently in the works

An athletic center. We’re working with Donnita Travis, the executive director of By the Hand Club and Intentional Sports. We’re building a 150,000 square foot athletic center. It’s got two basketball courts and a state-of-the-art soccer field, the biggest in Chicago.

When the pandemic hit, we went into the community and asked young people what they wanted. A lot of young people said they want something for them. We made sure that we heard from those Black and Brown voices in the community. We did surveys, we walked blocks and we met a lot of kids.

After George Floyd died, I encountered a young man who was talking about the destruction of property like the community grocery store on the West Side. I told him that that behavior takes away [resources] from our [loved ones].

He said, ‘Pastor, I understand, but if this is the only way that they’ll hear us, we’ll burn this thing down.’ His eyes were very serious. He was only about 17. That stuck with me.