The following is a Christian Work Project sponsored in part by a grant from the Boston Baptist Social Union.
Last year BBSU funded House of Hope Church for a Cambodian Youth Pastor. His name, as you know, is Savety Nim. Saveth was conceived in Cambodia during the genocide of the Khmer Rouge where three million Cambodians were massacred by this militia. Saveth was born in a Filipino refuge camp. His parents were educators and because they were teachers they were nearly massacred themselves. Saveth's family moved to Providence, Rhode Island and went from being well known teachers to living in deep poverty and deeply traumatized. Saveth has witnessed alcoholism and domestic violence in his home since he can remember. He became a gang member at nine years old and was facing 35 years to life in prison for attempted murder. Although Saveth was Buddhist he was also violent, angry and deeply fearful and anxious. He medicated his pain through fighting and drinking. Saveth was sent to the Department of Youth Services and at a Straight Ahead Bible Study heard John 3:16 for the first time through a Messianic Jewish Bible study volunteer. Saveth could not believe that this Jesus really died for him. Saveth was spared a life-time in prison and finished out in three years. He moved into Straight Ahead's Discipleship Home in Westboro, Massachusetts and received life and social skills, mentoring, and parenting from his house parents and attained his GED. He then finished three years at Zion Bible College and needs to, at the right time, complete his final year and graduate. He hopes then to attend seminary. Saveth for the first time is living outside of a mandated residential setting and has he has been serving as youth pastor has come into an identity crisis. He is finally in a secure and loving Christian community that is wrapping love, prayer and a care team around him while he is also serving our youth. Saveth is also a full-time case worker at Straight Ahead Ministries, where I am the director, in Lynn. Saveth has a deep and authentic call to the poor and to the Cambodian youth who have been where he has been. They follow him like the “Pied Piper” - better yet as sheep willingly follow the Good Shepherd.
Last year I asked Saveth to go away and pray to ask God for His vision and even for the name for the youth ministry at House of Hope Church. Saveth came back and said the Lord is naming our ministry, “Youth for the Nations”. Saveth and the youth designed T-shirts with their logo on it. We then went away on a day retreat and brainstormed and prayed for a strategy and vision for the ministry. My personal passion, as the director of Straight Ahead and the planter and Senior Pastor at House of Hope, was to make sure that the youth we are working with, who have been incarcerated and gang involved, had a church home that they could come to as they are, but also feel safe. This would be a challenge since we work with four rival gangs in East Lynn and West Lynn. We wanted them to know that Jesus longs for them to be rejoined with his family and come to know him as the One who laid down His life for them and took their “life sentence” spiritually.
Through much prayer and reflection we sense the Lord leading us to form two youth groups. We were going to bring East Lynn gang members together at House of Hope Church on one night and West Lynn Gang members on another night. This was an incredible challenge. Saveth's gifts are really pastoring and discipleship but we needed more support mobilizing youth to get to the church. It was also a challenge as it always is with our youth population to get gang youth to feel comfortable in new environments particularly unchurched Cambodians with a Buddhists history and also Latino youth with either no church history or a Catholic background. We began just inviting youth to the church for activities and such as video games and completions, taking youth out for Laser-tag, involving youth in community projects, showing relevant Christian movies such as “Facing the Giants”,and “Dance Revolution” on the wii Box. These young men from ages 14 - 21 were finding a safe place to be kids and play even though some were young adults.
We also realized through our years of experience with incarcertated and Gang affiliated youth that the sense of family was crucial. They would never fit in a traditional youth ministry setting. This is a set-up for failure for any church and our kids. They needed to be integrated with men. Saveth and Eugene began to take the boys to men's group and have a meal with the guys and for the first time hear men confess their pain, sin and struggles and take time to prayer for one another. Our kids love this men's group. It's a combination of homeless, highly educated and affluent men, DSS boys, DYS boys, gang members, and suffering addicts. A family has taken shape and Christ is meeting boys and men together. This is crucial that these boys and other lost and broken men bond to Godly men at our church.
All of our youth and families suffer from hunger and poverty. As you look at out financials under DYS, Middleton, Men's Ministry, Homeless. and House of Hope Church Service and see the food columns please most of our expenses are spent on food. For twenty years I have been working on the streets of Boston and Lynn taking the church to the streets. When God called me to Lynn I sensed His saying that it was now time to take the streets into the Church. Eighty per cent of our church is the poorest of the poor of Lynn. In looking into these categories above our youth are fed under every one of these columns because they participate in all of the ministries. Some youth come for food, clothing community service, and safety. But now some of them are coming to really hear the word and be with their church family. Our Youth for the Nations kids and families suffer from hunger, trauma, domestic violence, additions in the home. Home is not a safe place but our youth are finding safety in God's house. When the East Lynn Gang youth meet on Monday night they all have supper together at the church. We may have any were from 2-12 youth show up but they have to be picked up and dropped off because of safety issues. A1l of our youth must pass through rival gang territory to go to church. We are meeting with West Lynn Gang youth on Friday nights and the Salvation Army has given us their gym for free for them to play basket ball. This week 17 Bloods (gang name) came to play basketball and the Salvation Army is partnering with us in this venture. Saveth and Eugene are also picking up and transporting youth to the Men's group. Saveth, Eugene and Hartman are picking up youth on Sunday mornings for church. We have a steady group of 4-12 gang youth and DSS affiliated youth who are attending church on Sunday and are very active in the service. They all involve “up front.” During the offering we have all the youth come up to the front of the church and pray for every youth in Lynn by name that is lock-up up in Middleton or DYS and when they pray some of them are praying for their enemies.
Community Service has often been used for punishment. We have youth who are mandated for many hours to serve the community. We have such a wonderful relationship with DYS that we use community service as a privilege and a reward. If any DYS youth have mandated hours we have worked out a plan that if they serve our homeless on Wednesday's on our outreach van or serve the homeless on Sunday morning that they will get extra points to reach certain levels for more privileges at DYS and freedoms in the community. If they attend our Recovery Meetings on Saturdays run by me and one our Straight Ahead street workers who is a member of the church they receive four level points which is a huge amount at DYS - it is more than attending a DYS mandated group.
We work with probation and write letters to have our youth complete community service at the church on Saturdays. Youth come every Saturday to clean the church inside and out to prepare for Sunday service. They are all called up and affirmed in front of the church by name and the church family breaks out with clapping and affirmation and thanks for each of them. This is the first church that our youth are experiencing and they feel love, affirmed, needed, loved and safe.
The greater population of our youth range from ages 14-23 (more 21). They are Cambodian, Latino and White. We probably have an average of 25 gang affiliated youth who are now involves with youth for the nations who we meet with per week. I believe that we will be actively working with 50-75 - week this year as the events continue and as youth grow in discipleship and prayer. This is the safest place they know of We are always focusing East Lynn and West Lynn Gangs. A huge opportunity that I know will take place is when youth integrate and own the vision of Youth for the Nations they will begin to recruit their friends. We are not ready for this but we know that God will supply what we need for those we reach for Him.
Youth for the Nations is finally at a place to take our youth away on a retreat. We are hoping to start small and will integrate East and West Lynn youth on a very small scale and begin the work of reconciliation this year. We try to do this in all of our community events. Going away out of the city is going to be key so that kids can come together and work out their beefs through more than conversation but through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit.