Youth For Christ leader: ‘After going through detention centers myself, I’ve seen how kids in the system listen and receive the hope of Christ’
October 17, 2022
HOUSTON — On any given day, nearly 60,000 youth under age 18 are incarcerated in juvenile justice facilities in the United States. In such a dark place, there are few things that shine brighter than the light of Christ. Adults who are willing to go into these facilities and share the love of Christ to youth who may not know the Gospel can make all the difference in the world.
It is during these moments of crisis that justice-involved young people are most open to hearing the transformational message of Jesus Christ. Youth For Christ’s (YFC, www.yfc.net) Juvenile Justice Ministry (JJM) works to create a care model geared toward fostering holistic connections and secure relationships with young people during any point of contact with the juvenile justice system to introduce them to Jesus Christ.
One spokesperson who has been impacted by YFC’s JJM is Houston-native Allan Castro. After experiencing the Houston juvenile justice system firsthand, Castro offers a unique perspective on the need for Christ during incarceration.
“Texas has such a high rate of juvenile incarceration,” Castro stated. “I had an absent father figure, and I grew up around a lot of gangs, drugs, and other fatherless kids such as myself. At a young age, I was just exposed to the wrong things.
“I started being incarcerated and had even more gang influence in my life. All my friends were involved in gangs and were in and out of juvenile detention centers. It’s a pattern; they would sign three to six month deals in juvenile, then be released and do it all over again. It’s a constant cycle and a painful experience. It can be very lonely and isolating, and there’s so much anger. You’re forced to grow up quickly because it puts you in an environment of kids who are constantly in survival mode.”
But God had a plan for Castro. “I met a mentor who really started pouring into my life,” Castro stated. “We built this relationship over time, and the seeds of the Gospel were sown. I was a young man in high school who didn’t have a father, so to have someone come into my life and love me and affirm me was life-changing — I had never experienced anything like it.
“I remember one night in particular; they passed out dinner on these little trays. Food was something that kids would fight over. I remember looking at this meal and feeling this sense of depression and darkness come over me. I had such anticipation for this pitiful little meal — this meal that others were willing to fight me for — that it just depressed me. That’s when reality hit me. I thought to myself, ‘I’m in a place with no freedom where I have to use the bathroom in front of others and have to fight for my own meals.’ I had never felt so aware of the darkness I was in before. That night triggered me, to start praying over my meals and reading the Bible.”
This was the turning point in Castro’s life. “Once I got out of the detention center, my mentor took me to a YFC camp where I gave my life to Christ. I started doing Bible studies and volunteering for various nonprofits. God was with me every step of the way. I’m pretty young, but I have such a passion for reaching other youth who might be struggling with the same things I did.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about me. I really do believe that Christ came to save the lost. After going through detention centers myself, I’ve seen how kids in the system listen and receive the hope of Christ. Our hearts are open to the Word. Listening about the hope and freedom Christ provides in a place where I have no freedom at all created that spark inside me. Experiencing Christ’s salvation in such a broken place gave me such hope.”
YFC chapters impact thousands of communities across the nation, seeking out and serving youth from all walks of life. Young people are silently struggling through a wide variety of challenging issues—and through the YFC ministry God empowers them and they see the living power of a loving God. YFC trains its leaders in a proven, relational ministry model called 3Story®, which encourages staff and volunteers to be good news while also sharing the stories of the Good News of Jesus. It involves building relationships through the ups and downs of everyday life to lead people to Christ.
YFC has been a pillar of missional ministry since 1944, when Dr. Billy Graham served as YFC’s first full-time staff member. Since then, Youth For Christ has continued to be both a rural and urban ministry on mission, and it is always about the message of Jesus. YFC reaches young people everywhere, working together with the local church and other like-minded partners to raise up lifelong followers of Jesus who lead by their godliness in lifestyle, devotion to the Word of God and prayer, passion for sharing the love of Christ, and commitment to social involvement. Youth For Christ operates in over 100 nations and has over 130 chapters that impact communities across America.