Partnering to Equip Churches to Reach Hurting Teens in Juvenile Facilities
Dan Weidman, EPC Teaching Elder, and former Director of Student Ministries, recently sat down for coffee in the Denver area, with Eric Kelly. Dan and Eric are a wonderful example of a relationship forged in the trenches of an EPC youth group years ago, leader and student; now sitting over coffee sharing as friends the exciting ways God is bringing them together again, to reach troubled teens for Christ.
The following is a reflection by Dan on this meeting and how his former disciple has a heart to partner with EPC churches, so teens in the juvenile court “system” may be afforded the same opportunities he had as a young man in the EPC:
I would like to introduce you to a friend and fellow laborer reaching lost young people for Jesus Christ, and make you aware of a life changing ministry. Eric Kelly is the National Juvenile Justice Ministry Director for Youth for Christ. Eric came to know Christ to at age 16 at Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Plymouth Michigan in 1992. After high school, Eric was involved in the Intervarsity Ministry at Kalamazoo College. Upon graduation, Eric spent a year as an intern with Russ Gabel, former youth pastor at both Trinity EPC and Fellowship EPC in Michigan. During that time, the youth group that Eric was connected to attended the EPC Summer Jam Conference in Gunnison, CO where he met the National Urban Ministry Director for Youth for Christ USA. When Eric finished his internship he was hired by Fort Wayne Youth for Christ as their Juvenile Justice Director. Eight years after serving in that role, Eric was appointed the National Juvenile Justice Director for Youth for Christ USA.
Youth for Christ has been in existence since the Billy Graham Rally Days of the 1940’s and 50’s. The ministry continues to be true to their “geared to the times, anchored to the rock” motto, meeting young people in relevant contexts and sharing the message of Jesus Christ. While many of you may be familiar with Youth for Christ’s (YFC) Campus Life program, you may not be familiar with the Juvenile Justice Ministry (JJM) that Eric oversees. JJM reaches teens in local detention centers, group homes, emergency shelters, and residential treatment facilities. They provide programming and relationships inside these facilities, and continue to minister to teens as they reenter their communities. YFC JJM currently serves in 195 juvenile facilities in the United States, but Eric and his team have a dream to reach teens in all 1,280 juvenile facilities in the U.S, known as the “1280 Project”.
Youth for Christ understands that their “1280 Project” is too big of a dream to accomplish alone. They are seeking churches and individuals willing to reach out to these lost young people, meet them in the very depth of their need, build relationships with them, share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and give them tools to make better choices in the future.
In talking with Eric, we learned that following about this Youth for Christ ministry:
1. Wants to partner with local EPC churches,
2. Share resources to help churches start these ministries to troubled youth,
3. Provide ongoing training and coaching,
4. Allow your church to determine its level of involvement.
The EPC Student and College Ministries committee is supporting Eric in this vision, and has made JJM a “committee commended resource” because we believe the EPC can take on this challenge.
Eric has mapped out the 1,280 juvenile detention centers across the United States and identified those which have an EPC presence in the area. He would love to contact you with the name of the facility in your area and discuss how your church could be involved in reaching needy youth. I ask you to prayerfully consider how a team of volunteers from your congregation could make an eternal difference in the lives of teens in tough places near you. If Eric contacts you please listen to his heart and plan.
Please contact Susan Holland at Susan.Holland@EPC.org for more information about our partnership. Or to get more details on reaching out to juvenile facilities in your area, feel free to contact Eric Kelly directly at EKelly@yfc.net or (260) 580-0461.