‘If they can dream it, they can achieve it;’ YFC leader helps formerly incarcerated youth dream big

YFC’s Juvenile Justice Ministry sees Christ intervene in kids’ lives

August 22, 2022

ROCKFORD, Ill.— On any given day, nearly 60,000 youth under age 18 are incarcerated in juvenile jails and prisons in the United States.Youth who have been detained or incarcerated are more likely to experience trauma such as physical and sexual violence, mental health issues, and even death—but strong positive relationships can make all the difference, both in and out of juvenile justice facilities.

Youth For Christ’s (YFC, www.yfc.net) Juvenile Justice Ministry (JJM) is well equipped to come alongside youth involved in the juvenile justice system and provide loving, godly relationships during such pivotal moments in their lives. YFC’s JJM pursues thousands of young people trapped in the justice system each year in a variety of juvenile justice settings (such as detention centers, correctional facilities, group homes, residential treatment centers, emergency shelters, or courts) and making them feel seen, heard, and valued.

JR Flannigan, Stateline YFC’s Juvenile Justice Ministry Director, is on the frontlines in juvenile justice facilities, reaching young people stuck in the incarceration cycle. Over the past few years, Flannigan noticed a significant change in the youth he spoke to.

“There has been a huge rise in gang activity in our area, with so many young people joining local gangs in order to keep up with their friends or feel ‘cool,’” Flannigan stated. “‘RIP’ doesn’t mean ‘rest in peace’ anymore — it means ‘revenge is promise.’ So many of our youth have been gunned down due to gang violence, and their friends are joining rival gangs to avenge their deaths. I have attended eight funerals in the past two months — four of which I’ve had to eulogize. It’s just a vicious cycle that these kids get caught up in.”

The solution to this frightening trend in today’s youth is straightforward, according to Flannigan.

“Young people struggling with these heavy issues just need an opportunity to say what’s on their mind to someone who will listen,” Flannigan said. “Giving the youth that opportunity to be able to pour out their struggles without being judged makes all the difference in the world. We really want to empower youth to use their voices. I think sometimes you have to be able to express where you are in order to get the proper help. Without a safe space to speak about what’s on their hearts, young people entrenched in the justice system turn to alcohol, drugs, and more gang violence.”

Through YFC, Flannigan is working to bridge the gap and show youth stuck in this system that there is hope.

Flannigan commented, “It all comes back to Christ. When we go into the detention centers or places like that, the youth see something different about us and want that life for themselves. They see the light of Christ within us and start to form relationships that are different from anything else they’ve ever had before. Rather than being stuck in their tragedy, JJM kids become open to seeing Christ intervene in their own story and begin imagining an entirely different future for themselves.

“I often take youth who have been incarcerated and bring them to an environment they’ve never been before such as nice restaurants, skyscrapers, or even baseball games. Often, once they see life behaving in a way they’ve never experienced before, they start to think, ‘I want this one day.’ I always tell them, ‘If you can dream it, you can achieve it.’ Some of them have never imagined life beyond the next week, but having a loving adult encouraging them to do something big with their lives — a life filled with Christ they could never imagine before — makes all the difference in the world.”

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, 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. 

Visit the Youth For Christ media page here. Learn more about Youth For Christ at its website, www.yfc.netFacebook and Instagram pages, Twitter feed @yfcusa or on Vimeo

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