Practicing Lament

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Sometimes we feel like we always have to have an answer.

When someone confides in us, we seek solutions. When we hear a problem, we try to fix it. When a friend is discouraged, we try to encourage with a timely word.

But when dealing with pain, the above responses do not affirm what we read in Romans 12:15, “weep with those who weep.”

At a recent staff meeting, we discussed addressing the pain of our youth. Such challenging conversations are a normal reality for YFC staff and volunteers. As a result, learning to “weep with those who weep” is a vital lesson for healthy ministry.

Sometimes a listening ear is what is most needed. Sometimes a shoulder to cry on is what provides comfort.

We are, therefore, encouraging our team to "practice lament,” which may sound strange. However, we believe a posture of lament demonstrates the power of the gospel towards people. It recognizes the brokenness of our world. It shows concern for humanity. It beckons our need for a Redeemer. It magnifies our need for love. It points to Jesus.

Jesus was not quick to provide “answers” to hurting people. He listened. He asked questions. He wept. He loved. He comforted. He shared truth with discernment. What an amazing model.

Practicing lament is an art. People are so complex. Sometimes one might need a specific encouragement, but often times learning to “weep with those who weep” is the most pressing need. It is through such a posture that an arrow is pointed to the gospel.

There is more to explore here. Stay tuned for Part 2.  

"Big 3" Summer Highlights (August 2018)

It has been a busy summer for Stateline Youth for Christ. Here are a few summer highlights:

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1. 13 kids: In July, our team took 25 local teens to Youth for Christ Camp, and 13 kids placed their faith in Christ for the first time. We praise God for each young person finding hope in Christ! We also recognize the importance of sustaining and growing these relationships after the Camp experience. We as a staff are focusing on the importance of ongoing "discipleship" (check out a recent blog post on this topic). Pray for God's continued work in the lives of our youth! 

2. Staff Growth: A year ago, we had 6 staff members and 4 ministry sites. By the end of August, we anticipate 10 staff members and 7 ministry sites. We are so encouraged by the leaders joining our team. Many of you have made this possible. The growth of our team is resulting in more ministry sites, which means more active leaders reaching kids, which means more young people encountering Christ's love. Thank you. Let's keep going! 

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3. YFC 5K 4 Kids: The third annual YFC 5K 4 Kids is scheduled for Saturday, September 29th at Midway Village. Click this link to register for the event and also consider sharing our campaign page to support our work. 

Please keep YFC in your prayers as we enter into a busy/exciting season of ministry! 

YFC Golf Outing 2018

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On Monday, August 6th, we enjoyed our annual Golf Outing at Mauh-Nah-Tee-See Country Club. The day turned out to be beautiful despite some early weather concerns, and we even had a hole-in-one by Rick Meier! 

We would like to thank our top sponsors for supporting this event: SVL Productions, Ticomix, Illinois Bank & Trust, and Anderson Toyota

We would also like to thank the following sponsors:

Driving Range: Schmeling Building Supply

Putting Green: Business Advisors, Lori Haugen Tutoring & Editing

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Hole: LaLoggia Investment Group (Wells Fargo), Dan & Jean Clark, R.C. & Rhonda Pottinger, Movement Fitness, Midland States Bank, Woodman's Market, Prairie Street Brewhouse, 11th Street Express Printing, MembersAlliance Credit Union, River Valley Kitchens & Baths, A & B Freight, Trekk, Field Fastener, Indelecon, and John Widell Construction.

The Importance of Discipleship

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We recently experienced a meaningful week with 20+ Rockford youth at Youth for Christ Camp in Maryland. This memorable week was filled with shared experiences, outdoor challenges, exciting new friendships, and Christ-centered conversations. We praise God that 13 local teens placed their faith in Christ for the first time! 

The group has now returned home, and a big question to ask is, "What happens next?" We as a staff have had focused conversation on "discipleship," knowing that Christ calls us to "make disciples" that become more like Him (Matthew 28:19). 

We need to dig into discipleship relationships with these 13 kids, helping them understand the eternal implications of their decision, teaching them how to study and apply Scripture, and demonstrating a posture of love and grace in the relationship. 

A tweet by a pastor recently reminded me of the importance of this, 

"Today, churches have four-week discipleship tracks. But after three years, Jesus still had disciples utterly denying him & sneaking into back-room meetings to sell him for 30 pieces of silver. Pastors, be realistic. Saints, commit yourselves. Discipleship takes a *long* time."

Discipleship is a long process. Discipleship is messy. Discipleship is something we all need. Discipleship is at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus.

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The importance of this work cannot be overstated. Far too many "faith commitments" are followed by inaction, which can cause confusion and doubt. 

After all, the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23) reveals how the "seed" lands on different soils. When our youth hear the gospel, we do not want to then create an environment where the good news could easily be snatched away (seed on the path), lost amidst trouble (seed along rocky ground), or choked by the concerns of life (seed among thorns).

On the other hand, the seed that falls on the good soil is described like this (Matthew 13:23), "But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it" (emphasis added). 

Note the emphasis on understanding. To experience the fruits of the good soil, we need to create an environment where our youth can understand who they now are in Christ. 

This happens through discipleship. Pray for these 13 teens to understand the gospel and become learners of Jesus. Pray this same thing for our team at YFC, as well as strength to engage in life-giving discipleship relationships with our youth.

Juvenile Justice Ministry Expansion

About a year ago, Youth for Christ launched Juvenile Justice Ministry (JJM) through partnership with Rockford Reachout Jail Ministry. This has allowed Youth for Christ to have a consistent ministry presence within the local juvenile detention center.

We are tremendously thankful for this partnership. The collaboration has resulted in outreach to additional incarcerated youth centered upon Christ-centered, mentoring relationships. At-risk youth are finding hope in Jesus, leading to healing, counseling, life skills, and more. 

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But we are only scratching the surface of the potential of JJM. Through conversation with Rockford Reachout, we are looking to expand this partnership to include another staff member from Youth for Christ, tasked with developing a reentry program to engage juveniles as they return to our community. 

The pressing need for this in Rockford is undeniable. Recidivism is a huge challenge in our community. Moreover, according to a national study, upon 48 months after reentry, youth connected to a mentoring program who completed all the requirements had a recidivism rate of 28% compared to 62% for those not in the program.  

A reentry program that combats against recidivism, teaches quality life skills, connects valuable mentors to teens, and ultimately points youth to Christ would bring needed light to our city.

How do we make this ministry happen? We are in the process of raising funds to support this JJM expansion, and we have targeted a staff candidate with an extensive background in the juvenile justice system.

Our vision is to develop a robust and sustainable program, strengthened by support from donors, volunteers, and YFC National. 

Click HERE to learn more and support the JJM campaign.

Youth for Christ "Stories" Banquet 2018

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The annual Youth for Christ "Stories" banquet was recently held on April 12th at Giovanni's. "Stories" were shared of YFC's outreach to youth through City Life, Campus Life, and Juvenile Justice Ministry.

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We heard from the staff at YFC as well as influential community leaders, including Dr. Ehren Jarrett (Superintendent of Rockford Public Schools) and Brent Pentenburg (CEO of Rock River Valley YMCA). YFC greatly values partnerships in local schools and the YMCA, where we hope to expand efforts to reach additional youth through Christ-centered, mentoring relationships all across Rockford.

We also heard from a teen, Akeyla Evans, who has been impacted by YFC through her involvement at City Life and by attending YFC Camp last summer.

We are thankful for the success of this event. YFC's ministry in the community is growing, and this event continued that momentum forward. 

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We would also like to thank our sponsors for helping make this event possible: Subway (Gold Sponsor), Ticomix, Jack Wolf Auto Group, SVL Productions, Chuck & Karen Blomgren, Roy & Beverly Blumenshine, A & B Freight, Anderson Toyota, David Anderson (Spring Creek Partners), Baird Financial Advisors (Gary Love), Business Advisors, The Crosby Law Firm, Culver's, Field Fastener, Gordon Flesch, Lori Haugen Tutorial & Editing Services, Dr. John & Dena Koehler, Meijer, Members Alliance Credit Union, Stateline Church, Stifel Nicolaus (Jeff Luedke), Dave Syverson, Trekk, John Widell Construction, Inc., and David Zierke (State Farm Insurance). We also appreciate many businesses and individuals who donated to the Silent Auction. 

"I'm Learning with You" and Healthy Mentoring

"I'm learning with you." These words need to be said more.

At Youth for Christ, we focus on mentoring youth in schools, the YMCA, and the juvenile detention center. We are invested in relationships with young people often in need of counsel, godly wisdom, life skills, and hope. 

Yet while we seek to provide direction in the lives of youth, it is imperative that we maintain a humble posture. Our youth have much to teach us as staff and volunteers.

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Listening to their experiences creates empathy. Hearing their perspectives alert us to sociological factors and our own blind spots. Observing their fixation with social media gives clarity to their connections. Seeing their resolve in the face of adversity inspires and informs. Absorbing their pain instills a capacity to love.

"I'm learning with you" needs to be said more. 

A flawed view of mentoring constructs a "giver-receiver" dynamic. The "giver" believes their responsibility is solely centered upon providing help and knowledge. They do most of the talking. They only ask questions to set up the next point of emphasis. It does not occur to them that he or she might actually be able to learn from the mentee. This can be harmful in multiple ways.

For one, the mentor misses an opportunity to learn from the mentee. A chance to grow in understanding, awareness, knowledge, and love is bypassed.

Secondly, such mentoring relationships often create a disconnect between the mentor and mentee. We all tend to respond better to individuals who ask great questions and listen well. When this is missing and we are essentially forced to listen, we often shut down and grow exhausted, particularly if there are age, race, and sociological differences. "They do not really understand me..." is a common feeling from mentees in such relationships. 

Lastly, a mentoring relationship built on the "giver-receiver" dynamic often becomes more about the "giver" than the "receiver." The "giver" wants to feel good about the knowledge shared, about being a "positive role model." He or she wants to feel like their insight is really received and applied. The foundation of the relationship is upon the mentor's self-worth. 

We need a higher standard when it comes to mentoring.

"I'm learning with you" is a short phrase that is helpful. We need to not only say that, but we also need to demonstrate it. We need to ask quality questions and listen intently. We need to set aside our agenda and get to know people. We need to see people not as "projects" to be fixed but as people made in the image of God with wonderful complexities. We all have such complexities.

After all, Jesus was known for asking questions. He modeled a posture of humility (Philippians 2:1-11). He did nothing out of selfish ambition. He counted others more significant than himself. 

When we communicate "I'm learning with you" through our words and a Christlike demeanor, we will see walls come down and healthy mentoring take root. Both individuals will learn from and empower one another. Both individuals will feel understood and heard. Both individuals will experience God's loving presence. 

In embracing this model with the youth we serve, we will see hearts soften and relationships deepen. This has happened most effectively through staff and volunteers who take this Christ-centered approach of listening, learning, and discerning how and when to best counsel. 

We all need grace here. Our approach is so often misguided. May Christ redeem our unhealthy habits and fill us with the goodness of who He is as we minister to others. 

City Life Launches Life Skills Class, and Here's Why...

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How can we introduce teens to Christ and equip them to faithfully serve Him? This is a question of vital importance.

City Life seeks to do both – uplifting the gospel and teaching valuable life skills. This is why we recently launched a Life Skills class in partnership with the Rock River Valley YMCA. We have a heart to “make disciples” of Christ (Matthew 28:19) who embrace the gospel, learn new skills, and develop as leaders who serve Christ and others.

Our outreach must be “holistic” in this sense.

Many of the youth we serve do not know Christ or possess an understanding of the Bible. Some have skewed views of God and His love. It is imperative that we teach the gospel, highlight the narrative of Scripture, and connect youth to local churches. An encounter with the goodness of God’s love is our hope and prayer. Our young people are the future of the Church.

Many of the youth we serve also lack an understanding of basic life skills. It is thus also important that we instruct life skills that empower. An emphasis on such skills and mindsets will increase the capacity of youth to flourish as God-honoring people. Our youth are the future “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13).  

This is what is happening at City Life, and the Life Skills class is an exciting development in achieving our mission. The class will feature topics such as Career Readiness, Time Management, Financial Literacy, and more. Guest speakers from a variety of fields will share their knowledge and experience. Youth will be encouraged in their self-esteem, as beloved children of God with invaluable worth to their Creator and our world.

Do you want to partner with us? Please reach out. We are looking for volunteers, including mentors and guest speakers. Let’s empower our youth together.