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The God Factor

This JIFF is not about peanut butter

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“Smackdown.” Or “Main Event.” I forget which of these wrestling programs I had to compete with, but this was my introduction to what residents of the Wilder Youth Development Center thought of volunteers with Bibles.

Although I had spent many hours ministering in both adult and juvenile institutions, never before had I had to interrupt a pod of inmates while they were entranced by WWE wrestling in order to loudly announce: “I will be over here if anyone would like to join me for a Bible study.”

Much to my surprise a couple of prematurely aging young men, dressed in prison attire and sporting unskilled tattoos on their necks and arms, decided to join me. It did not take long to realize that they, like the two prostitutes who posed a dilemma for Solomon, had a question they wanted answered.

“Is it okay when I get out of here to marry my brother’s wife? She loves me and told me she will divorce him when I get out,” one of them said.

Although on the outside I may have appeared as wise as Solomon, on the inside I was thinking, What? Are you nuts?

In this sobering moment, I began to sense that the new “ministry” God had called me to oversee in Memphis, Tennessee, would be much more challenging than I had envisioned. I wasn’t here to just run a youth program; I was on a mission assignment to reach a specific subculture of young people who were spiritually confused and trapped in a lifestyle of destructive behavior.

Over the next few months, as I interacted with urban youth throughout the community, I began to witness firsthand the spiritual darkness of the city’s juvenile crime problem, which was attached to well-lubed revolving doors at the detention centers.

During one of my visits, I saw that a young man, just released two months earlier, was once again behind bars. This scenario, I learned, was very common.

“You just got out of here! What were you thinking?” I asked.

“That’s just how I roll!” he answered.

His words framed the relative value system that was driving this population of young people. They were behaving on the basis of their values, but since they valued what was wrong, they were behaving wrongly. They had convinced themselves that it was okay to rob, steal, cheat and kill because relative values, rather than absolute standards, governed their thinking—“That’s just how we roll!”

When I understood the enormity of the challenge facing this youth culture, I began to pray and ask aloud, “Who’s doing something about this? Who’s helping these young men to begin again more intelligently after they are released? Who’s helping to redirect their behavior? Who’s challenging this perverse and godless value system?”

As I remembered the faces of these young people, who appeared hardened and desperately empty, I couldn’t help but recall Matthew chapter 9. Here, Jesus is seen moving from town to town healing, delivering and preaching. When He came around the corner and saw the crowds, the Scripture tells us, He was moved with compassion on them because they were harassed (scattered, tired, beaten-up) and helpless—like sheep without a shepherd! Immediately, He turned to the disciples and said, “We need to pray for more workers. These folks are desperate for godly leadership, and they are reachable” (Rick Carr translation).

“Who’s doing something about this?” I heard the Holy Spirit saying, Glad you asked, Rick. Let’s do something!

After much research, I was compelled to launch JIFF (Juvenile Intervention and Faith-based Follow-up), a strategic outreach ministry. To me, this is how true ministry vision surfaces: believers have their hands on human need and, moved with compassion, seek to meet that need while clearly articulating that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

JIFF’s approach is simple: cultivate meaningful relationships with delinquent youth and their families through acceptance, appreciation, availability, appropriate affection and accountability (“the A’s,” based on teaching by Josh McDowell). Our mentors genuinely love and guide the youth as they implement a life plan, which focuses on key developmental areas that JIFF calls “the H’s”: head (academic health), heart (spiritual health), health (physical/mental), home (relational health), hire-ability (financial health) and hobbies (social health).

JIFF staff not only provide mentoring and training for youth, but the center also makes space available for the young men to just hang out. JIFF offers youth education and job skills, as well as the love of Christ, so they have the best of both worlds. From that strategic place, we purposefully introduce the good news—God’s value system.

Since March 2003, JIFF has been privileged to provide intervention services to more than 700 court-referred, adjudicated, delinquent male youth between the ages of 12 and 18—young men like Jhukuruin Corley, who, at age 15 and after three previous arrests, was referred to JIFF on an aggravated burglary charge.

“Before the JIFF program I was running with [a gang called] the Unknown Vice Lords, and we were out to get revenge on any and everybody—fight whoever, whenever,” Jhukuruin told me. “I was selling drugs and fighting dogs [and was involved in] gang violence, fighting people, jumping people, getting jumped, getting shot at. We were on our way to play basketball [when] they rolled past us in the car. They turned their car around, two guys jumped out with shotguns, and as me and my cousin were running, they were chasing behind us, shooting at us. What was going through my mind was that I had to save myself, get away, hide—’cause getting shot at ain’t like no movie where you can outrun everything.”

Now a JIFF ambassador, Jhukuruin is eager to share his testimony about how he felt the love of God through the case mentors at JIFF. “I learned about God and Christ through the JIFF program. They helped me a lot, telling me I got somebody I can always talk to. The JIFF program taught me responsibility, servitude and righteousness. If there wasn’t a JIFF program, I would be either dead or in jail.”

Currently, Jhukuruin is in his junior year at the University of Memphis, where he is pursuing a criminal justice degree. He has remained crime free, regularly attends church and has maintained the same employment for four years. He was invited to participate in the second annual National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention in Washington, D.C.

Our mission at JIFF is clear: To help young men, like Jhukuruin, break the destructive cycle of juvenile deliquency through Christ-centered intervention, with the vision to see them flourishing free from a life of crime.

Like other intervention approaches, JIFF seeks to lower risk factors, such as drugs, gangs and violence, in a young person’s life, while increasing protective factors: a stable home life, increased educational abilities and healthy social activities. However, the key difference between JIFF and secular intervention is the God factor, which is integral to everything we do.

The mission of redemption through faith in Christ, and the belief that “[s]alvation is found in no one else” (Acts 4:12) are what drive the JIFF ministry. JIFF is not a social service agency trying to reduce crime, although we do that. JIFF is a strategic evangelistic mission. We seek transformation—a total values shift—like the one prescribed in Ephesians 4:28: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands that he may have something to share with those in need.” For JIFF youth, this is a huge value shift!

Former JIFF graduate Chris Smith unexpectedly stopped by my office. “Mr. Rick,” he said, “I had to come just to say thank you. Thank you for teaching me to pressure clean [houses], and thank you to JIFF for all you did for me, and for telling me about the Lord. I am a changed man!” As Chris told the story of what God was doing in his life, he kept apologizing for wiping his eyes as tears of joy streamed down his cheeks. Salvation is as real to Chris as healed legs were to the beggar at the temple gate; all he wanted to do was give God glory in the presence of someone who understood his infirmity before he met Jesus.

Chris had spent three years in a state penitentiary for aggravated robbery, but now he spends his time at Southwest Tennessee Community College pursuing a business degree and at his church working with the youth group. That’s transformation!

Theologian G. Campbell Morgan, commenting on the healing of the beggar at the temple gate, wrote: “To give silver and gold to a cripple is a good thing indeed; if that is the best you can do for him. But it only maintains him in his disability. To give him strength to walk is to set him free from the need of alms. This is the difference between Christianity and all merely humanitarian efforts for the relief of the incapable.”

This is the secret to JIFF’s success—the life-changing power of Jesus!


For more information about JIFF, please contact Rick Carr,
thebigrag@gmail.com, or visit JIFF’s Web site at www.jiffyouth.org.

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