The urgency for a ministry like this was once again illustrated for me in two recent events. I had been meeting with a young lady and a young man preparing them to be a part of one of the wilderness experiences this summer with New Path Adventures. The majority of times for a youth to decide to participate in this ministry there are multiple meetings. As well there should be, I think from the very first time that they are introduced to NPA they realize that is not a game and that we are serious about their life changing for the better. (I am not going to use the real names here, but the story is as real as it is heart-wrenching.)
The first time I met the girl, I will call her Ana, it did not take long to realize that she has seen some very hard times and I could easily extrapolate some things that had probably already happened in her life. Because of the fact that this report is going out to a general audience, I am going to guard many of the details, but please understand when I say, this girl has been exposed to things that no teenage girl should ever have to see or do. You probably cannot let your mind go too far to paint the full picture. That being said, I decided that the next time we talked I would treat her as a father/grandfather. She did not have much of a reason to trust a male, but I wanted her to see what a good father might look like. After all, I wanted to introduce her to the God, as her perfect heavenly Father.
Our next meeting included the young man, and I will refer to him as Eddie. I took Ana and Eddie out to get a bite to eat. As homeless, misdirected, at-risk youth they typically have terrible dietary practices and fast-food could be a treat. (Many a time I have received a text late at night from one of these lost, lonely, hungry youth, asking me to send a pizza.) But this time I decided to take them both to a steak house, after all this did take place in Texas.
The young man had rarely, if ever, been in a restaurant like this, and for the girl it had been a long time. It was fun to watch them order, and I enjoyed the honest pleasure they experienced with each course that was presented, I made sure they ordered an appetizer and dessert as part of the night.
I kept wondering what was going through Ana and Eddie’s mind? What if that was my daughter or my son? They deserved this type of treatment rather than being abused, exploited, manipulated, used or forgotten. I watched as other patrons cast their judgmental looks at my friends, and I would make sure that my eyes made contact with theirs as I smiled back towards their scowl.
I used the evening and the experience to ask a simple question – why would I treat them to a nice steak dinner and evening like this? In the end the answer was simple; because you deserve it. God loves you so much that He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ into this world to die for you and offer to you a great gift of eternal life. There were tears in their eyes as I shared this simple yet powerful truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the love of God.
After we had finished a very enjoyable meal, during which I tried to model Christ-like care and true concern for their lives, I invited them to join me on the Colorado trail in June and to allow me to begin to help them grow in their walk with Jesus Christ. Both were committed and the follow-up mentoring began.
I worked hard to stay in contact with them. But the living conditions (more like mere survival) of a homeless youth are sometimes extreme and many times dangerous. Keeping track of them is a challenge in and of itself. They move often, sometimes out of fear, other times for convenience, but they are always moving.
As much as I tried to stay in regular contact with them, I could not be with them 24-hr/day and I did not have enough resources to help the both of them with their homeless, jobless situations. I am taking steps, but in the end, this time, at least for them; I could not move fast enough to keep them both from making some decisions that have now changed the rest of their lives.
I do not know what finally caused them to make the choices they did, but I cannot escape this pain in my heart knowing that perhaps I could have done something more for them. Was it fear that drove them into these impossible situations? Was it desperation? Or did they just get tired and lose hope? I cannot get the text messages, the phone calls nor the photos out of my mind that tell the story of these two lives; they may forever haunt me.
The story of Ana and Eddie needs to be told, every detail, they deserve it, their lives matter. They are someone’s child. They both made a profession of faith, they are God’s children. But I will keep their story short for now. (Someday, I trust that God will allow me to convey the next chapter that includes His continued mercy, forgiveness and restoration in their lives. Oh how I pray to that end!) But for now their story is far from a fairy tale, it is closer to being nightmarish.
Eddie has been arrested and is facing 5 – 99 years in prison. Ana, was once again victimized, abused, exploited and taken advantage of, and through the use of drugs and flashing of money, cars and other things that would catch the eye of a young girl, she is now being trafficked. And with this new situation she is now being pulled further into a world that cannot give her the peace, love, acceptance, and joy that she craves, and I am afraid that I may never see her again, nor have another opportunity to help her in her walk with God.
My heart breaks for both of these youth. I saw, for a few moments at that restaurant, the innocent youth that they both wanted to be. They enjoyed being treated with kindness, being valued, respected and they enjoyed being safe. There was no foul language. There was ploy or manipulation. There was light, the light of God's Word and His love. There was truth, and truth clothed in kindness. And for that evening the darkness was pushed back, and they did more than survive - they were alive! They were laughing! They had hope!
I was once told by a young man that runs his own street squad, a part of a nationally organized gang, he told me; “you cannot save the hood, Mr. Allen.” I said, "no, I cannot, but if I do not at least try to shine some light there, what hope do young people, like you and so many others, have?"
I agree, you cannot save “the hood” because the hood does not want to be saved. But too many lives find themselves in a dangerous environment and dark circumstances because that is all that they have ever known. But if they are shown a way out, they will gladly follow it.
Isn’t that why we are here? The disciples of Christ, the church? Are we not called to shine the light in the dark places of this world? If we do not love the hard to love, then who will? What I have witnessed is that few, if any, will love them. Oh, many will exploit and use them, but who will love them, and care for their body, soul and spirit?
This ministry that God has called us to, in Mexico with the OSY (out of school youth) and here in the United States as well, was not our choice, but it is His calling for us. I sometimes wish that He had called me to something more traditional as far as ministry is concerned, but unless God releases me from this burden, this passion and this mission, then I must continue taking steps to connect these young people to the Savior, and the path of life that God has planned for them.
I need your help! Please help me. I want to continue shining the light into their dark places, but when they take a step out, I need help to house them, mentor them, disciple them, guide, and protect them. New Path Adventures is becoming New Path Now, it's own 501(c)(3). The plans are big, the vision is great, the need is real.
Please contact me and take your place in leading the next generation out of the darkness and into the light of God's wonderful path of grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. Do it for them. For Them.