The Perkins Perspective | Features | Autumn 2013

 

Finding Jesus in “Juvi”

By Jonathan Abe

 

Finding Jesus in "Juvi"Jonathan Abe

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong — that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. Romans 11:1-12

 

The first time I saw “Jerry,” his face told a story of frustration, concern, and unsettledness. He was placed in the health clinic of the King County (Washington) Juvenile Detention Center (aka “juvi”) because he had difficulty controlling his temper ― sometimes resulting in him fighting with other kids.

 

But Jerry made significant progress over the following weeks, so much so that the Jerry I first met now was nowhere in sight. Today, he wears smiles more than scowls, and joy and peace more than negativity and anger.

Walking With the Youth

As chaplains from King County Youth Chaplaincy, we began ministering in “juvi” four years ago, saying we didn’t see ourselves as taking Jesus to the youth there. We saw that God was already at work ― and we had the blessing of walking with the youth as they encountered and grew in Christ.

As chaplains, we know our faith grows along with the youth. They ask deep and relevant questions about God and Scripture. Many times, I don’t have the answers, but they are never disappointed with my ignorance. Often, I do some research and propose possible answers during subsequent visits. But answering their questions is not a highlight of our interactions. And while the relationships and the trust built with the youth are wonderful, those may not the highlights either.


The most satisfying and fruitful part of our ministry is seeing our faith in God grow ― the faith of the youth and of the chaplains.

We spent much time talking through steps Jerry could take when his temper is triggered. Like many of us, he is still working through the issues that still haunt him, which is no small task given his heart-breaking upbringing. Yet given his recent progress, I have much hope for him.

 

“Jerry is a hope-builder, as are so many other youth we interact with in juvi.”

Jerry is an intelligent, deep-thinking, multi-talented young man who remembers Scripture as well as anyone I know — and he has only scratched the surface of his God-given potential. He has disclosed to me some of the tragedies of his life, and it amazes me that he has made it so far and that he has any faith or hope at all. He has overcome much and still has some major hurdles ahead. Yet his belief in God inspires me, and more importantly, spurs him on to pursue a better future.

One day, Jerry pointed out Romans 1:11-12 to me and said, “This makes me think of you and the other chaplains.” As he read, he emphasized the phrase, “that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” All I could think to say was, “That’s exactly how I feel, too.”

 

Jerry is a hope-builder, as are so are many other youth we interact with in juvi. In spite of their obstacles and challenges, they press on in their faith in God. Amid tribulations that would break many of us, they flash smiles that reveal so much joy and hope. As Chaplain Glenn McCray says, “If you want your faith to grow, work with youth.”

 

Note: Jerry called me as I was writing this article and told me that he had been released from juvi two days ago. We spent most of the next day together, and he attended one of our youth events later that evening. He came to my church the following Sunday, and later told me that he had invited a friend for next week. It is so great to see him outside of juvi!

 

Jonathan AbeJonathan Abe is a chaplain and program director of King County Youth Chaplaincy, which partners with Urban Impact to provide Christian chaplaincy, mentoring, and after-release pastoral care for juveniles who have been incarcerated in King County, Washington. For more information and updates, visit King County Youth Chaplaincy on Facebook.

 

 

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