Incarceration, COVID-19 No Match for Redemption Stories of Youth For Christ’s Juvenile Justice Ministry
YFC Director: ‘Faithful Pursuit is . . . Biggest Key to This Ministry’
August 11, 2020
MilWAUKEE, Wis. — Equipped with Christian love and practical tools for assisting juvenile offenders inside and outside detention facilities, the Juvenile Justice Ministry arm of Badgerland Youth For Christ is cutting through jail time and coronavirus restrictions to reach teens with the message of Christ’s redemption.
In order to build relationships with teenagers, Youth For Christ — a 65 year-old ministry started by Billy Graham — has developed multiple strategies that include weekly Zoom calls, Life Skills classes and Bible Studies in their Juvenile Justice Ministry (JJM) and Fresh Start Aftercare mentoring program.
YFC joined the redemption story of one teen, Cassandra, while she was still inside. Tim Hilgers, a YFC jail minister at Fond du Lac juvenile facility, plugged a student named Cassandra into YFC’s Life Skills classes and Bible Studies within the walls of the jail to pursue her with the gospel. After her release, YFC staffers continued to pour into her life through the Fresh Start Aftercare mentoring program.
“Tim was relentless in his pursuit of initiating contact with her,” said Jerry Wallendal, Ministry Director of Badgerland YFC, JJM and Fresh Start Aftercare. “Soon Cassandra was coming to small and large group activities. Tim also set her up with a team of mentors. Those volunteers had to drive about 30 miles to meet with their new mentee. Now that’s pursuing.”
When the coronavirus hit, JJM kept pursuing Cassandra, this time through YFC’s weekly Youth Zoom call, on which Mark, another volunteer, shared the Gospel with Cassandra.
The call gave Cassandra a lot to think about. A few weeks later, Cassandra made the trip from Ripon to Fond du Lac to join a Badgerland YFC outing to Gillies Frozen Custard, a local favorite.
“We didn’t give up on connecting with Cassandra,” Wallendal said. “She arrived a little late, so she remained with Mark and me after all the other kids had left. I asked her if she understood what Mark had talked about when he presented the Gospel, and she said yes. I asked her what she thought of it, and she expressed a desire to begin her Christian walk. She had even spoken to her boyfriend about it. So right there, at a picnic table at Gilles, Cassandra asked Jesus to be her Lord and Savior.”
The YFC team then discovered that long before JJM began pursuing Cassandra, God had been pursuing her for years.
“It turns out that Cassandra’s dad had been a Christian but died when she was younger,” Wallendal said. “It was at that time that Cassandra walked away from God in anger. But through the efforts of loving staff and volunteers, her love for God was restored and she is now a born again Christian.
“She still has and now reads her father’s Bible, which has many Scriptures highlighted and which help her make a more personal connection.”
Wallendal says persistence is critical to ministry toward lost youth in the justice system.
“I would like to encourage everyone that faithful pursuit is one of the biggest keys to this ministry,” Wallendal said.
Nationally, Youth For Christ is telling inspiring stories like these through #YFCBeTheStory, an initiative to help spread the word across the nation about how YFC chapters are making a difference in their communities.
Youth For Christ has been a pillar of missional ministry since 1944, when the Rev. 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 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 more than 160 chapters impacting communities across America.
To interview a Youth For Christ representative, contact Media@HamiltonStrategies.com, Patrick Benner, 610.584.1096, ext. 104, or Deborah Hamilton, ext. 102.