March 2014

I received an RFP (request for proposal) in the mail the other day from Hennepin County. They were looking to fund an agency which works with youth at risk of committing violence or are at risk of violence. I thought excitedly, “Well that’s every single one of our kids!” They wanted an agency which works one on one with youth. I thought “Wow, this is looking good for us.” If you know about our ministry you know it is based on relationships with individual youth and their families. I read further… they were looking for agencies which provide holistic support for youth, i.e., academic support, recreational and enrichment opportunities, and counseling. I thought, “This is looking better and better, this is what we do!” We offer academic support through our school mentoring groups for African American boys, tutoring and school visits, we offer sports programs for those same kids nine months out of the year, we do field trips and camping throughout the year, and through our chaplaincy ministry we offer counseling and support for youth and their families through home, jail and hospital visits.

But as I read further I came across some stipulations that would disqualify us. First of all, they wanted each youth worker to have a case load of twenty youth. Well, to be honest there goes your one on one relationship building with at-risk youth. Twenty youth for one person? That may be fine for a social worker or social service agency, or even a youthworker working with relatively stable kids, but genuine relationships with at risk youth require deep commitment over a long period of time, which brings me to my second disqualification… The funding was available for only one year. If there is anything more tragic than seeing a young person deal with the issues facing at-risk African American boys in the inner city, that is coming into their life, being their friend for one year and then abandoning them… no way. And finally, and for us, most importantly, while this program was expected to provide emotional, physical and social support for youth, spiritual support was forbidden. Well that’s a deal breaker for me. I feel like we are able to do all of these other things and do them well. We’ve been specializing in this exact kind of work for more than twenty years. We’ve developed a certain amount of proficiency by God’s grace. But no way can we leave out Christ. Without Christ it just doesn’t hold together.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that it is legitimate to do good for good’s (God’s) sake. But I’ve been in the trenches. That’s where we live in this ministry. When we have a boy that is so stressed by the violence that surrounds him in family and community that he is literally on the edge of exploding at any moment, we offer him Christ. When we lose a basketball game and the disappointment is the last straw on the back of a child who can’t bear one more disappointment in life and he lashes out at everyone close to him we don’t turn away, we offer Christ. When there is a family and they go through struggles which threaten to break them with stress and grief we don’t try to fix them, we offer Christ.

Offering Christ is at the root of everything we do. It begins with and ends with Jesus, because we are involved in a work not for just a year, or even for this lifetime. What we do has eternal significance. We invite you to participate in this work through your prayers and gifts. And join us in offering Christ…

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