Youth for Christ in Northeast Ohio Public Schools

An after school program is touching hearts and saving souls.
by Mykol Kirksey Lewis

Youth for Christ is reaching thousands of high school students with a message of hope.

It is becoming too commonplace to read headlines stating that a minor has viciously murdered his parent, or to watch juveniles on talk shows boast of gang affiliations, or to see youth wandering the streets when they should be in school. Parents have even gone to the extreme of sending unruly children to boot camps to "straighten" out bad attitudes and general waywardness. One would assume that these misdirected youth are the products of broken, economically disadvantaged or minority families. The fact is, trials do not discriminate and all have crosses to bear.

Proverbs 22:6, instructs parents to train up their children in what is right so when they are older they will not go astray, (paraphrase). Unfortunately, many parents do not embrace this philosophy or they wait until it is almost too late before they begin teaching their children about consequences and responsibilities. However, we know that with God all things are possible when you are His.

In 1944, Pastor Torrey Johnson, who shared his vision with Evangelist Billy Graham while on a fishing trip, founded Youth for Christ. Ironically, Youth Minister Florian Manas had organized the first Youth for Christ rally in Cleveland, in 1943. The ministry's motto has not changed since its beginning: "We are geared to the times, but anchored to the rock. As our culture changes, the methodology changes but the Gospel never wavers.

The most phenomenal aspect of this organization is that several high schools, such as John Marshall in the Cleveland Municipal School District, have opened their doors to this ministry and allowed it to touch lives as God intended - with His truth. Nate Hunter, the executive director of GCYFC for the past seven years explains; "All schools understand the needs of their students, some are open to us helping meet those needs." Weekdays, mentoring and fellowship activities are held after school at the participating campuses, during the critical hours when adolescents are more likely to make the wrong choices. "Club meetings are a "safe haven" for kids to be in. Adult staff serve as role models just as volunteers and peers who are already participants. We teach good morals in our meetings;" Hunter adds.

A former youth pastor at Fellowship Baptist Church in Chagrin Falls, Nate Hunter has dedicated his heart as well as his talents to delivering, "the message of hope in Jesus."

He is a very busy man, but he has not grown weary in his well doing. He relies on Ephesians 2:10, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them;" as his guiding Scripture.

Far from being a "holier-than-thou" ministry, Youth for Christ knows that kids will not listen if it is not cool or fun. Christen Manke, the events coordinator, makes sure that students have exciting and wholesome activities to involve themselves in. Party @ the Park at the I X Center gives club members a night out to listen to Christian bands as well as to enjoy the rides. The ministry also sponsors a trip to Kings Island, a Grand Slam tournament, and Sports All-Nighter. Menke's primary responsibility is to raise funds to continue to do the work of the ministry.

If a mind is a terrible thing to waste, then how much more the soul of a child. Youth For Christ does more than just lead youth to salvation, it disciples them to become mature Christians with a sound biblical foundation. Its mission is: "To effectively communicate the life-changing message of Jesus Christ to every teenager in Greater Cleveland and responsibly disciple them into a local church." YFC has a 12-step follow-up program to ensure that new believers are not left with unanswered questions or feelings of abandonment. Once a teenager has accepted Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, a YFC leader will call them within 48 hours; give them their own Bible; conduct six foundational Bible studies; have them write their testimony; take them to at least two church services; and introduce them to a spiritual mentor.

The "Freshman Focus" program is a key outreach in the schools. According to Hunter, "The message of hope in Jesus is intentionally delivered to every freshman at each high school we have targeted for ministry." Hunter and his staff know how intimidated first year high school students can feel and how desperate they are to be a part of the "in" crowd. On all grade levels, students are given an opportunity to discover who they are, particularly in Christ, and how to make wise choices. Other significant programs include: "Next Step Weekends", an evangelical camping experience; "Teen Parents" which offers valuable life and parenting skills; and, "Youth Guidance", a prevention and intervention program for young people who are either at risk of being incarcerated, already incarcerated. or recently released from an institution.

Behind the scenes, Shelley Mobert, as the office manager, makes sure that all staff and program needs are met. She also supervises the vital work that volunteers, like retired schoolteacher Marie Herr, commit to do.

Youth for Christ reports that in 2002, over 16,000 youth were involved with the ministry. Although this is a fraction on the total youth population of Greater Cleveland, it is still a significant number to have introduced to the Gospel of Christ. Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew 9:37, 38, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest;" (NRSV). This is still true today. Anyone who wants to be a part of changing the lives teens can do so either through prayer, financial gifts, or volunteer efforts. Contact the Greater Cleveland Youth for Christ office at 216-252-9881, to become a part of this much-needed ministry.

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