Jackson Lawson, Senior Biblical Studies Major
I have been going to a juvenile detention center since my freshmen year, three years ago, along with other students from BJU as an evangelistic outreach opportunity. I’ve gone a few times on other outreach ministries, but I’ve made the detention center my regular outreach all along because I have found it to be such a unique opportunity, an opportunity to invest in teens who not only have been through a lot, but who need the gospel and need believers to come alongside them with the word of God that provides the answers to our deepest questions and the power to meet our greatest spiritual needs.
I am regularly reminded of the huge opportunities there are among those in difficult situations in life, especially when they find themselves hitting rock bottom. So many of the teens are already living a life full of challenges (whether they are poor, are surrounded by ungodly friends, don’t have a father in their life, have made little progress in school, are around substance abuse, etc.). This outreach has proven to be a huge opportunity as I have talked to many teens who have hit rock bottom and are seriously considering how they are going to respond, move forward, and think about God in relation to their situation. There are so many prisons alone that provide this type of unique opportunities for believers to share the gospel (not to mention homeless shelters, addiction recovery centers, and other Miracle Hill like programs).
Now, some might think that a detention center ministry is one that sees little fruit, ministers to a tough crowd, and isn’t all that fun. At times this has been the case, but week after week we plant the seeds of the gospel, water already planted seeds, and have seen professions of faith periodically as God has given the increase in His harvest field as we labor. My increasing desire is that other students will come to experience the joy of ministering to this type of crowd as they learn how they can better minister the gospel to individuals who are at cross-roads in their life. Some of these teens appear to be hardened toward God and spiritually misled or confused, but some are readily open to hearing the gospel (often for the first time!). I don’t think there has been an outreach week that has gone by without being spiritually challenged or encouraged by a conversation I had with one of the teens.
In many cases it appears that God is using their difficult situations to bring them to remember what they’ve learned about Him in the past, to be open to what we are teaching them from the Word, and even to reevaluate their own former profession of faith. Some have made a profession of faith (praise the Lord!), and one of our leaders has made follow-up visits with multiple teens and members of their families over the years after they have gotten out. I have been reminded and grown to trust more in God’s constant working in other’s lives through my involvement in juvenile detention center ministry. I have definitly experienced the joy of seeing and being a part of His work. Some weeks are rough with little interest or engagement with what we teach and talk about from God’s word, which are discouraging at times. But the longer I go, the more encouraged I am on those weeks that we see little effect.
My group teaches a Bible memory verse and a song, gives a message from the Word, and (my personal favorite) has a small group discussion following the message. During the small group, we ask them their thoughts about the message and what questions they have. We get to know them and share the gospel with them. The number of teens fluctuates from week to week, as well as the number of familiar faces we see over a longer period of time. One thing I’d like to see happen for the teens who have, or make, a profession of faith is for them to be able to go to the Scriptures for themselves to know what it teaches about salvation. So many of them only know what they’ve been told, what they’ve heard preached, or are only familiar with John 3:16. We can provide them Bibles to read, suggest where to start reading, and follow up with them if we see them the next week; but for them to be able to go to a couple verses in the Bible to know what they believe about salvation (which they can then share with others) is something I’d like to see more and more.
Going into a detention center to minister the gospel to teens is definitely a reminder to be dependent on the Lord through prayer. Seeing Him work in them to be open and receptive to the truths of His Word is an encouragement in and of itself because we are all without hope apart from His intervention in our lives. For those who come to faith in Christ in a ministry like this, it may look more challenging and a lot different for them to live out their faith than what we are typically exposed to, but it is only by His grace that any of us have come to know Him, and it will only be by His grace that anyone faces the challenges in this life in a way that brings Him glory. It is comforting to know that His grace is sufficient not only to save us, but also to use us in saving others, and to make us all more and more like Christ.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.