Archive for September, 2010

“What’s the Word on the Street?”

For the young people we work with, this is a common expression. You and I may ask, “What’s going on?” or “What’s new?” People often ask us what Straight Ahead Ministries is up to. This week I wanted to give you a bigger picture than normal so you can read for yourself. This is Straight Ahead’s Word on the Street:

Three to four times a year Straight Ahead staff and volunteers (Bible study leaders, PROMISE Recovery Group leaders, prayer partners) meet for a time of mutual encouragement, prayer, and ministry updates.  A few weeks ago we all got together again. Thirty-three of us made it out for the evening during which Straight Ahead staff members gave updates on what the ministry is up to. There is a lot going on and this month we wanted to share some of it with you.

WORCESTER AFTERCARE MINISTRY

Angel Guzman oversees our community-based aftercare ministry to youth making the transition from lock-up to independence. Angel, who has served in this role for two years, is now involved with over 80 young people, providing mentoring, discipleship, job readiness training, and life skill development. Angel is perfect in his role. He is a strong believer in the Lord, a native of Worcester, and is bi-lingual. Some of the youth he serves have parents who speak limited English. Being fluent in both Spanish and English is a huge asset. He was also raised in one of Worcester’s toughest neighborhood housing projects and so can relate personally with the experience of many of the kids. And, his life is a visible demonstration of what Christ can do.

NEW PUBLICATION

Over the years Straight Ahead has distributed over 100,000 copies of A Way Out and Doing Time With God to incarcerated teenagers. These are books of testimony and devotionals, and include a section on how having faith in Jesus Christ’s work on the cross results in forgiveness of sin. Each book also includes an address to which kids can write to us. Consequently, Straight Ahead has received thousands of letters from kids in lock-up from all over the country. And each one is personally answered by one of our volunteers. Out of these correspondences came an idea…that a book of kids’ letters and Straight Ahead’s responses, sorted by subject matter, could be a great resource for other kids in similar situations with similar questions. Entitled, Dear SAM, we hope to have it available for incarcerated youth by Christmas 2010.

STRAIGHT AHEAD GRADUATE COURSES

For the past two years, Straight Ahead has teamed up with Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary to teach graduate level courses in the area of juvenile justice ministry. Five courses are available and can be taken in any order. Classes can be taken for college or graduate school credit, for CEU’s, and for a certificate. All Straight Ahead staff and volunteers are able to take these courses free of charge. I’ve just completed all five courses, myself, and benefited tremendously from the practical instruction.

STRAIGHT AHEAD OVERSEAS

John Kinsley, who oversees each of the New England State Coordinators, also directs our International Outreach. In nearly 20 years, John has faithfully served with Straight Ahead here in the States and abroad as well. He has helped write an international version of our Bible Study Manual, which is being used in 30 countries. He has also led trainings for Bible study leaders and house parents in Nigeria, South Africa, and the Ukraine.  For several years, John has sensed God calling him to the Ukraine on a more permanent basis. This month John is heading back to the Ukraine for a year of ministry.

Please keep all of this in prayer.

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September 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm Leave a comment

Trustworthy

Last night I led a Bible study at a facility for boys. Seven young men and three staff attended. Our topic was John 6:35, where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” We spent considerable time on what Jesus meant by this, looking at the entirety of John 6. As my time was drawing to a close, I asked the boys one final question: “Have you ever trusted in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation?”

In my opinion, this is the single most important question each of us must ask ourselves. Our eternal destiny hangs in the balance. Most times when I ask how it is that someone gains eternal life, whether in a youth facility or on the streets, I get the same, wrong answer. Many people have faith in Jesus but not to the exclusion of their own good works. Over and over again in the Bible the key to salvation is faith in Christ’s completed work of redemption on the cross, plus nothing of our own merit.

The people of Jesus’ day wrestled with the same thing and asked what works would make one favorable with God. Jesus replied, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent” (John 6:29). Jesus was saying that the only “work” anyone can do to be oriented favorably with God is to believe.  I then asked the young men sitting around me at the table if they have ever believed in Jesus to the exclusion of their own sense of self-righteousness. One young man said, “I’ve believed, but never like that.”

In fact, most of the boys had never believed quite like that before. The reason? Trust. They all have trust issues. They’ve all been let down by people who should’ve cared. They’ve been lied to, abandoned, abused. To trust is just too risky. One 20 year old said that he has an invisible wall guarding his heart. He lets it down only after he is sure he can trust someone, and even then he admits he still gets hurt.

Their stories of disappointment were still fresh, as I could visibly see. I acknowledged that people do let us down. That sometimes the people who should love us the most are the ones who abandon us and leave us for lesser things. But I reminded the boys that Jesus never leaves nor forsakes those who put their trust in Him. It is He, alone, who satisfies. “He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

I’m praying that the seeds of the Bible, which were planted again last night, would take root in each of their hearts and grow up into faith regardless of trust obstacles that may be in the way.

September 24, 2010 at 2:32 pm Leave a comment

Divine Sovereignty

It is such a joy to see young people come to know Christ personally and begin to grow in their faith. In long-term facilities our volunteers build lengthy relationships with the kids who attend their Bible studies. Eventually kids are released from lock-up. Although we are glad when kids get out, we are also concerned for them as they transition back home. “Will they get in trouble again? Will they be safe? What will happen of their faith in Christ? Can we trust that God will pick up where we leave off?” Whenever this happens we are once again forced to trust in the sovereignty of God.

Two weeks ago I met with a group of Straight Ahead volunteers who lead a weekly Bible study in a girls’ lock-up facility in central Massachusetts. We got together at one of their homes for an informal night out. As people were arriving I overheard several members of the group talking about one girl in particular who had attended their Bible study and was a new Christian. Rachel* had recently been released from the facility to live with her family.

The group was sharing how they were concerned for her as she made this difficult transition…not only for her safety and sobriety, but also for her new faith. She had been growing as a new believer during her time in lock-up but now that she was out on her own, they wondered how she would do. The group was in regular contact via email and wished to be able to meet with her in person and continue what they had started, but Rachel was living too far away for this to be feasible.

As I sat there listening, I marveled at how God orchestrates events. Some call this coincidence; Christians call it Divine sovereignty: I happened to be there that night and they happened to talk about Rachel amongst themselves. I happened to be listening and I happened to have spoken at a church in Rachel’s town. I happened to know a woman off the top of my head where Rachel lived, two hours away, that had been interested in working with juvenile offenders. The next day I contacted the woman about picking up where the Bible study leaders left off…meeting with Rachel for mentoring, Bible study, discipleship, church, etc. And after some time in prayer with her husband, the woman agreed!

We know that God is at work through us during our Bible studies with the kids during the length of their incarceration, be it two weeks or two years. When kids are released it forces us to trust God to continue the work He has already started. As Bible study leaders we play an important role, but we are not the end all. We are a small, albeit important, link of a chain that He started and is building on. The challenge is to trust that God will continue to add links to the chain when the kids are no longer in our care.

*name changed

September 7, 2010 at 11:07 am Leave a comment


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