[Note: I’ve changed the names of the people in this story. While the photos are from the youth club, they are not necessarily the teenagers I am talking about.]
Carolina has an alcoholic father who is physically abusive. Arturo was on the brink of committing suicide. David grew up without a dad and ran away from home a year ago. He’s back now, but who knows for how long. Lucia’s best friend is dating a guy who’s involved in a drug gang and has reportedly just been given a new pickup and a gun. Francisco has been faithfully attending the youth club at the Foundation for three years now and has also been teaching a music class there. He tried to hold in his disappointment as I announced to the youth that we will have to change our weekly meetings to earlier in the afternoon due to the escalating violence in the communities surrounding the Foundation. He will no longer be able to attend our weekly meetings because he’ll be at work. Most of the 25 teens who participate in the youth club live in the midst of violence in their communities due to the almost daily drug gang shootouts.
There has never been a more relevant time for the community ministry of the Foundation than now.In the month of January alone, there were more than 120 deaths in the state of Nuevo Leon, the majority taking place in the city of Monterrey and many of them on the south side of the city, where the Foundation is located. We are having to take precautions, such as not having any activities past dark, attending security seminars, doing a risk assessment of how likely and how much of an impact things like kidnappings, personal assault or assault during an event are.
It has been a very difficult couple of months for us as a family and as a team, and yet God continues to be at work all around us. God is using the ministry of the Foundation to help bring hope where there is very little and to teach us all to turn our fears over to a good, loving and just Father. We see God’s hand of protection over us each and every day.
This is how God is using the ministry of the Foundation to be a light in the darkness and offer hope when there is no reason to believe…
Carolina and her mother and sisters have been a part of the community ministry of the Foundation from very early on, just over 5 years now, and she feels that the youth group has become like her family. She and her mother have been able to open up to the leaders and friends there about the abuse and we’ve been able to pray with them and offer them real support, like helping them put together a safety plan or offering them a place to stay when they need to be safe.
“I can’t remember the last time I felt this calm or this safe. It’s been a very long time”, Arturo said to Karla, the friend who invited him to the Foundation. When he was a boy he used to come to the Foundation with his mom because she would clean the building, and he has wonderful memories of playing in the kids room while she cleaned. He remembers feeling safe as a child then, too. He has attended the youth club a few times, but he’s struggling with suicidal thoughts. However, Karla doesn’t give up, and she continues to invite him to the Foundation and offer words of encouragement.
Since his return after running away, David is very active in the youth club. He volunteered to be a part of the Christmas drama. It just so happened he played the part of the father. His aunt was so shocked to see him in the play at all and especially playing the role of a father, because he has basically lived his whole life being rejected and ignored by a father who left his mother when he was little to start a family with another woman. He is very timid, but it is obvious that he feels comfortable and enjoys coming to the youth club.
Lucia is on fire for God! It is so exciting to see how she is learning how to pray, read her Bible and especially share her faith. I have been discipling her, and even though it is scary to see just how close these teenagers are to the temptations of power, popularity and quick money that the drug gangs offer, it is also amazing to see this young teenager share her values and faith in Christ with her friends.
I shared with my colleague Patty Restrepo about how it broke my heart to see Francisco’s face when I told everyone at the youth club we would have to change the time due to the escalating violence. She said to me, “Erika, we need to tell them that we don’t want to lose even one of them, that we care about each and every one of them. They need to know that each one matters to us, to the group, to God.” So, we need to think creatively about how to do that, maybe it will mean having one meeting a month in my home so we could have it a little bit later, or maybe it will mean doing more one on one mentoring, but the thought of losing even just one from the youth group breaks my heart, as I’m sure it does God’s as well (Matt. 18:14).
Please join us in prayer for these teenagers and the whole ministry of the Family Foundation as together we seek to be God’s light in the midst of so much darkness. Please pray for our safety and for wisdom to make decisions that help reduce the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Finally, please pray for God’s peace in Monterrey and all of Mexico, for an end to these drug wars and for the Prince of Peace to bring hope in the midst of despair and fear.