Feature

A Safe Place

A teen group finds a need and fills it

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“We want to attract the lost—even if that means having a youth group filled with messed-up kids.” Since we started in youth ministry, we have had a number of “ah-ha” moments in considering how to meet the needs of kids in the suburbs of New York. We quickly realized that prayer needed to be a huge component.

We meet every Wednesday night before the church’s general prayer meeting to pray specifically that the youth group would be a safe and open place for the kids, that more guys would attend and that we would find an effective outreach tool so the teens could be empowered and confident in their faith as they reach out to their peers. My husband, Ryan, made it clear to our leaders that although our relationships with the church kids are important, they are not our primary target. If we reached out to kids in public schools and the community, the church kids would grow in their faith through that experience!

ROOTS

We often open our home for youth activities. During a girls’ sleepover, conversation turned to school. “Susan” had just started public middle school after being home schooled through the seventh grade. Because she was new, she became a target for rumors as students began saying that Susan was promiscuous. She was devastated. Nearly all the girls chimed in about what happens at their schools.

When I asked if their parents knew, the answers varied: “If I told my parents and they did something about it, kids would make fun of me even more.” “My parents just tell me to walk away.”

The most disappointing answer was Susan’s. “My parents tell me that by letting that stuff get to me, I’m not being a light for Jesus.” That night, the ROOTS group was born—a Wednesday night meeting with high school or middle school kids who need to debrief about school.

At ROOTS, we pray against strongholds. Each school has a different dominant problem, ranging from sex to drugs and alcohol to violence. As we’ve tackled each issue, God is assuring the kids that He hears their prayers. The week we talked about sex, a girl prayed against the atmosphere in her physics class, where the “perverted guys” make inappropriate comments about the girls the entire period. The day after that prayer, her teacher made one of those guys stand on a chair and apologize. Another girl prayed that the people in her school would value sex. The following day she had a conversation with a classmate that ended with her friend making a decision to save intercourse until marriage.

A Guy Thing

When we started leading the youth, our crowd was 99 percent girls with a guy showing up every now and then. Ryan got one guy involved in leading worship, and he started coming as consistently as he could. Now, five guys come every week. To be honest, I have no idea where they came from! Three of them have never been to church before in their lives. One said he likes coming because otherwise he would be smoking pot or drinking alone since Sundays are usually boring.

A Stake in the Matter

Anjelica’s father is Greek Orthodox, and her mother is Roman Catholic. “Jel” was taken to Orthodox services until she was about seven but hadn’t been to any church since—until she started coming to our youth group last year.

We’ve had many conversations in which she questioned me about a lot of issues: “What do you think of the idea of saints?” “What do you think about priests?” “What do you think about the pope?” “What do you think about drinking?” “What do you think about Mary?” I bought her “The Message,” which she has been reading little by little. When I gave her the book, I explained the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament because she was confused about why I told her to start in the middle.

During a Sunday morning service last spring, the pastor spoke about putting our households and property under the authority of Christ. The congregation was given small bundles of stakes with a verse from Isaiah written on each one: “This land is no longer desolate. This land is married to the Lord.” As a symbol of taking back authority in Christ, we were encouraged to drive the stakes into the ground at the four corners of our property.

Jel wanted some to take home. “Coincidentally” we were invited to a Palm Sunday lunch with her extended family. When we arrived, her mom had those wooden stakes in hand and pulled me aside. “Kara, I really want to do this. Will you and Ryan do this with us?”

The whole family gathered in the yard as we explained that stakes were not magic but symbolic of inviting Christ to be the head of the household. With Ryan’s hammer, their youngest son drove a stake into one corner, Jel did another and her mom and dad finished the final two. We prayed for their home and their relationships, for blessing and a deeper knowledge of who God is at every corner of their property. As we left, they thanked us many times.

A New Experience

That evening at youth group, Ryan wanted to show the last half of The Passion of the Christ. “The kids should know the truth about what happened, and it will be something they will never forget!” he insisted. As the movie played, I watched Jel. She kept turning to the person beside her and asking questions. Before long, she was crying—but still asking questions. When the film was over, Ryan invited anyone who wanted to turn control of their lives over to Jesus to pray along with him.

When most of the youth had left, Jel waited. I didn’t get a chance to hear her talk to Ryan, but I saw him give her a huge hug. As I was walking her to her car, I asked her why. “I told him that I prayed along with that prayer,” she said. I threw my arms around her and didn’t want to let go. “Jel, I’m so happy you talked to Jesus,” I said.

“It was my first time talking to Him,” she replied. “I’ve never done that before.”

There is no greater joy! I walked back into the church and burst into tears! When we shared the news with the rest of the leaders, everyone prayed and worshipped! When I got home, I text messaged Jel. She wrote: “I think tonight was the first time I opened up and was like, ‘Okay, I want to believe now.’”

Jel is just one story of a life changed. We are asking the Lord for many more just like her and are so excited about what God will do in the future!

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