Because God loves you

We had the best week of our lives traveling to Florida with our mamas and their children.  15 girls, 14 children, 7 leaders and 7 child care workers were along for the ride. 

All year we've focused on making our girls feel seen and loved.  Our camp trip is the epitome of this.  Southwest Airlines graciously helped us roll out the red carpet for our friends by chartering a plane just for our group and our travel companions of 3 other YoungLives areas from the DFW area.  They helped us with excellent service from the moment we arrived at Love Field.  After check in, we announced to the girls that we would be heading to Disney World before camp.  They couldn't believe it.

We arrived in Orlando and headed to Disney's All Star Movie Resort.  Night one kicked off with a pizza party by the pool.  The next day, we headed to Magic Kingdom.  I loved watching the girls be kids themselves, loving rides and excited to meet their favorite characters.  At the same time, I saw them be incredible mothers as they cared for children, endured the heat, patiently waited in lines, and engaged with their children.  We set them up to give their kids an incredible day at the "Happiest Place on Earth."  Our girls went to the max.  I watched the firework show that night with two of our girls and their toddlers.  Tears flowed down my cheeks as I watched their looks of awe and wonder.  It was truly a gift.

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The next morning we loaded up buses and headed to Young Life's Southwind where we spent the next 5 days proclaiming the Gospel to these girls and continuing to awe them with love, service, and excellence.  They were told that we love them because God loves them.  They heard that He has a plan for them and for their children. 

We told our girls that they "mommed hard" all week. Traveling with small children and parenting in a different environment is no small feat.  One of our mamas came on the trip with a 5/6 week old and dominated it!  One highlight of the week was hearing the girls talk about how empowered they felt as moms because they were able to do it all and care for their children.  They had a lot of time to bond with their children during the time at Disney World, participating in swim lessons from Linda DeSanders of Dolfin Swim School who traveled with us at camp, and time at camp like the kiddie carnival.  It is beautiful to see these young women love and adore their children.  We want them to be excellent mothers regardless of their past experiences.

Many of our friends responded to the message of Christ's sacrifice by choosing to walk in relationship with God.  At the end of the week we celebrated 6 of our girls choosing to begin a relationship with Jesus.  We were overjoyed.
 

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After leaving camp, we surprised the girls one last time by taking them to the beach for two hours.  None of our girls had ever seen the ocean before and two of them cried when they saw it's beauty.  They soaked up the beauty of creation after spending a week learning more about the Creator.

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Our leaders are continuing to walk with these girls back home.  They've all received bibles and some bible studies to begin learning more about God on their own.  Some leaders are doing the study alongside the girls.  We continue to gather them together and they've started to gather themselves.  A few of our girls have started looking for churches to attend (Would love any recommendations for Spanish speaking options with good theology!).  Our prayer now is that these girls would be "good soil" and that we would be able to fight back against the sun scorching their faith or the weeds choking it out.

Thank you for the opportunity to give these girls the best week of their lives!

All about the one

Our best way to meet new pregnant and parenting girls is through on-campus activities at school.  This school year, we have the incredible opportunity to teach a parenting class once a month at both WT White and Thomas Jefferson High School.  This time gives our leaders the opportunity to begin building relationships with the girls and we are able to provide them with meaningful conversation and information about being a mother.

At our first lunch at WT White, one girl stood out to me.  She was barely through her first trimester, but was super engaged in the discussion.  Our first lesson was on having hopes and dreams for your child and helping them achieve them.  She had a lot of dreams already for the little life growing inside of her.  She shared that she wanted this baby to have a better life than she had. 

As I walked out of the room, a school employee shared her thoughts on that particularly troubled girl.  I would have never guessed how rough her past was from her participation in our parenting class.  It was actually her second day at school after being at a juvenile detention center.  I've heard a lot of painful stories from girls involved in YoungLives, but this girl's past and present are particularly painful. 

At the first campaigners meeting, she shared that the best thing in her life right now is the way her leader texts her and encourages her.  She said she is looking forward to camp with that leader this summer. 

There is so much going "wrong" in her life right now.  While I'm so thankful that we've been able to bring YoungLives to all the girls at WT White, in some ways it feels like we were supposed to bring it this year just for this one girl.  When everything else in her life points to pain and brokenness, her leader is being able to communicate something different. 

She is just a few weeks away from her due date and we are thankful for the opportunity to cheer her on as she becomes a mother.  We believe the dreams she shared for her child in that first meaning are attainable.  We know that God has a purpose and a plan for this beautiful teenager and that beautiful baby growing inside her.

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YoungLives at WT White

Last fall we began to dream and pray about starting a YoungLives group for WT White High School.  In the spring, Grace Bible Church stepped forward and offered to host the group and expressed interest in having many members of their congregation serve.  At our fundraising tea in February, we raised a record $60,000 for YoungLives in this community.  This provided the financial resources we needed to move forward.

Over the summer, we worked to set up infrastructure and recruit new committee members and leaders.  Women easily stepped up to coordinate meals and the children's program.  Five volunteer leaders committed to pursuing pregnant and parenting girls at WT White High School.  We even had the opportunity to bring one WT White student to camp with us this summer.  She and her daughter had an amazing time.  She couldn't wait for the fall to start and for YoungLives to be at her school year.  Grace Bible Church has been an incredibly generous host to us.  Their congregation has welcomed our girls with open arms and has made them feel special.

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God truly orchestrated every detail in the perfect way only He can.  The girl who came to camp with us this summer has done an incredible job of encouraging other girls to attend.  We were given access to all the parent and pregnant girls at the school and teach them a parenting class during the school day once a month.  This time allows for our leaders to meet girls on their turf and to begin building relationships with them.

Our WT White Club has had three events this school year with about five girls attending each event.  They will have their first actual club tomorrow night and will have a BIG celebratory Christmas Club on December 12.  Please continue to pray for girls at WT White and for the start of this ministry.

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The Gift of a Week at Camp

Our team believes that YoungLives camp offers one of the best proclamations of the Gospel available to teenagers.  For this reason, we work HARD to get girls to camp. 

One of our girls, Denice, originally told us she was going to be unable to attend camp because she would not be able to get time off work.  She worked at Lark on the Park near Klyde Warren Park.  Via some internet research, we were able to find contact information for the head chef at the restaurant and the General Manager.  We told both of them about the situation and why we desired for Denice to join us at camp.  Denice had been told no by her direct supervisor, which is totally understandable.  We asked these men for a generous and gracious gift to a low-level employee.

The head chef was particularly sympathetic to the situation and had been unaware that Denice was also a mother.  As he heard about the opportunity, he promised to do whatever it took to let Denice get to camp.  Two days later, he was able to tell her to take the week off.  After he told her he texted me saying, "I wish you could have seen the way her face just lit up."  Denice could not believe that the head chef had heard about this opportunity for her and that he cared enough to make it possible for her and her daughter. 

We are so thankful for the generosity of the staff at this restaurant and their level of care for one of our girls (Next time you go there, please let them know you are a fan of YoungLives.)  Denice is one of our girls who primarily communicates in Spanish.  We brought her to camp knowing that everything at camp communicates the Gospel, even if she is unable to understand parts of the verbal proclamation. 

One of the most beautiful parts about camp this year was holding cabin time in both English and Spanish.  Two of our girls prefered to communicate in Spanish and understand minimal English.  Half of our cabin could speak both English and Spanish.  One of our leaders could speak Spanish.  The girls translated questions and answers into both languages so that everyone was able to participate.  Truly, nothing will separate us from the love of Christ.

A few of our girls accepted Christ for the first time at camp and all of our girls left interested in learning more.  With their difficult pasts, it is difficult to reconcile a God who is good with what they have experienced.  We respect their decision to learn more and are eager to spend more time with them studying the bible in campaigners and in one-on-one time with a leader.  Our girls were blown away by the way they were loved and served at camp.  Thank you for helping to make this week possible for our girls.

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Opening doors

In our work with teen moms at Thomas Jefferson, we have seen many girls battle the same challenges.  Last year, several of our girls had problems attending school due to inconsistent child care.  Grandparents and baby daddies would cancel last minute.  Affordable day cares felt unsafe.  Daycare through DISD has a wait list of six months to a year.  Our leaders kept encouraging girls to do what they could in order to attend school.  We prayed with girls.  Our team even stepped in on a few occasions to watch a child for a day or two.  However, we knew we were not equipped to meet this need ourselves.

We presented the need to the Village Church at a prayer gathering.  A few days later, I (Ali Smith) received a phone call from a woman who felt like God was asking her to step in to this place of need.  Becky, a mother of four with two in college and two still at home, found a new rental home in the neighborhood by Thomas Jefferson and committed to use it to help some of our teen moms.

Beginning this school year, Becky began watching two toddler boys.  Zae's mother, Imani, dropped out of school as a Senior last year two weeks into the school year.  She didn't have consistent child care for Zae and needed to work.  She kept this a secret from us for nearly 5 months because she struggled with her decision.  When we found out, we told her that we would walk beside her as she finished school and help her figure out a way to make it possible.  Imani had a scholarship to Baylor for track before getting pregnant.  She is now back at TJ and motivated to graduate.  Aiden's mother, Emily, has attended a few different high schools to try to graduate.  She is also back at TJ this year as a Senior and is looking forward to finishing.

While their mothers are working hard at school, the boys are receiving incredible care from Becky.  She plays with them, interacts with them and teaches them about the Lord.  By opening her door to these families, she is ministering to both the children and the teen mothers.  Becky has a huge passion to teach littles about Jesus.  Zae and Aiden are "God's future ambassadors" according to Becky.  She will be working in child care for us at club and campaigners this school year and helping to develop curriculum to present the Gospel to even our youngest children.  We will be adapting BSF child care curriculum to instruct our little ones.

I love thinking about the impact this year is having on these families.  Volunteer leaders cared enough about teen moms to spend time with them and pursue relationships.  Through these relationships, we learned about a huge need for reliable, safe, loving child care for some of these small children.  God connected us to someone who could meet this need.  These little boys are being loved in an incredible way and these young mothers are being empowered to finish their education.  Most importantly, they are all daily being reminded of the love, faithfulness and power of our God by a woman who loves Jesus with her whole heart, mind, soul and strength.

If you'd like to learn more about what Becky is doing and contribute in some way to her needs for these children, please email her at becky.refugeinhim@gmail.com.

 

 

Growing deep roots

Last month, we came home from camp after a great week with twelve of our Thomas Jefferson teen moms.  Eight of them made decisions to accept Christ for the first time while at camp.  The remaining four had accepted Christ prior to that week.  For all of our campers, the week together encouraged them to pursue a relationship with Jesus.

However, as they returned home, the girls were thrown into different difficult situations.  For some of them, their families have very different beliefs when it comes to faith.  For others, they have relationships that beat them down.  Most of them struggle with how they will provide for their children, who will help them with their children and how to have a healthy relationship with their parents.  Their realities at home challenge their new-found faith. 

While thinking about our girls this summer, my thoughts have often turned to Jesus's parable of the sower in Matthew 13.  Some seeds are snatched by birds before they can sprout.  Some seeds are on rocky ground and do not have the opportunity to grow roots.  Some seeds are choked by the thorns.  Some of our girls face family members who challenge their faith.  Some face situations that make them doubt God loves them or cares about their provision.   Some will face a harder situation than they have ever faced before which will feel like an attack against them.  However, we are praying that the faith of these girls will be like seed planted on the good soil.  During the course of this summer, we want them to develop roots that are deep and strong.  We want them to receive all the nourishment they can from the Lord so that in the coming days, months and years they will bear fruit.

In order to accomplish that goal, we are focused on spending time with the girls this summer.  Our leaders are hanging out with their girls one-on-one.  We are organizing play groups at different places to give leaders, teen moms and lots of children time to spend together.  We are meeting every other week for campaigners where we are diving into scripture together.

Will you join us in praying that our girls will grow deep roots of faith?  May this generation and the next bear much fruit.