CHICAGO YOUTH FACILITIES REPORT
This was the seventh year Youth Direct shared
the Gospel in Chicago area juvenile prisons. The Lord blessed
our efforts and guided us through storms. Once in Chicago, we
were the guests of Awana International in Streamwood with clean
and comfortable rooms. We then criss-crossed the Chicago area
traveling 530 miles in 5 days.
team included Don and Regina, Larry Hansen our Midwest Director,
Glenn McCarthy, a talented Rap Artist, and Wayne Benjamin, a dedicated
79 year old volunteer who has been with us in campaigns in Florida
and multiple times in Chicago. Wayne drove over 800 miles one
way from eastern Pennsylvania to be with us. He is a truly dedicated
As Larry serves as the chaplain of the Walworth
County Jail, just across the Illinois border in Wisconsin, I accepted
his kind invitation to share with the inmates. During two programs,
one for men and one for women, there were many blessings. Many
women cried as I told them of God's care and concern for them.
One woman read a moving poem she wrote. Among the men, one young
inmate said "You have truly helped me today. I now realize
that I have neglected to put God first when I am released and
that is why I keep returning." Another inmate said, "I
have seen Jesus in a clear way today. I never truly understood
what was done for me." Praise the Lord for opening the eyes
of those who walk in blindness.
There is much overlap in the ages of those in juvenile facilities
(17-21) and those in jails (17-25). One dramatic moment came when
a 28 year old man said "I remember you. You spoke when I
was in Charles" (juvenile facility). That was not good; of
course, he had been in and out of the system for ten years. One
woman inmate, "almost persuaded" asked me if she could
receive Christ as Lord in her cell. I assured her she could reach
out to God any place. I was also able to encourage a Christian
This historic facility has housed delinquent boys
since 1904. It has a reputation of being very harsh and was the
basis of the film Bad Boys with Sean Penn.
CHICAGO 2008 REPORT
When we arrived, the guards were very helpful.
The chaplain had been called away because of an emergency. We
were set up on a platform in a large gym. The boys marched in,
hands behind their backs, in groups of twenty until the gym was
filled. All were attentive. The program went well and I presented
both a strong and clear Gospel presentation although new Illinois
Juvenile Justice System policy dictated "programs are not
to be too religious".
Several officers told me the program was "just fine".
The chaplain arrived at the end and said "Please come back
next year. We need your message. This is one of the best programs
we have all year."
This is an all girl's facility. All 120 girls
attended the program. 14 were holding "dolls" as they
were pregnant (avg. 15 years old). These dolls are $700 each with
sophisticated computer chips. During the program they randomly
cried for a feeding or diaper change. This was a new experience
for us. The administrator is a Christian and did not hide his
faith when he introduced us. The girls were responsive and we
were able to do a long Q & A session to answer faith questions
In the heart of downtown Chicago, this converted
warehouse has 200 boys. Most were already seated when we arrived
a full hour before the start of the program. In most facilities,
about 20% had seen us before and many began talking with us. This
is a sign of both the length of sentences and the return to the
system of many. Glenn gave a dynamic testimony about growing up
as a minority in a gang ridden part of Chicago. Today, he has
a Masters Degree, a great example of perseverance and faith. The
facility has no chaplain and the Q & A session proved that
most youth do not grasp the basics of Christianity. We directed
them to daily Bible reading. The youth have Bibles but most do
not read them.
This facility is reserved for serious offenders
and gang members. Although the facility has 320 youth, they brought
us into a small recreation room with 30 youth. During our program
an unidentified man came in. We discovered after a vigorous Q
& A session about faith issues that the man was the superintendent.
He said "Not knowing you, we were not going to bring all
the youth in but now we really want you to return and ALL the
youth will hear your program." We reminded kind and did our
best for the small group. The administrator added "When I
entered the room, I never saw the boys so quiet and riveted to
every word of a speaker. It was incredible. I never saw that before."
When you are on the front lines of spiritual battle
you should expect the enemy to send darts and obstacles. That
is why we prayed each morning, before a program, and at night
for all the youth. That is why we ask friends to pray for us.
There were unplanned hurdles but the good news is God solved every
problem we encountered.
As we prepared for St. Charles, my lap top froze.
It would not respond to any command. I rebooted but no response.
I called friends who knew computers but no one could help. My
testimony uses a 500 slide PowerPoint. After twenty-five minutes,
Regina and I laid our hands on the computer and prayed in the
name of Jesus. It suddenly began working!
The day before our first facility we were informed
that no one on our security list was cleared. This was alarming,
of course. It was a clerical, human error, but we saw the enemy
behind it. In Illinois, all paperwork must be cleared 30 days
before the program date. We had submitted all our paperwork on
time. It turned out that each facility had assumed the other facilities
had cleared us. No one had. On the day of the first juvenile facility
there was no word. A phone call came two hours before our first
program. One chaplain had appealed to Springfield (Capitol) and
we had a friend in a high place, Janet Shellcross, the former
superintendent of St. Charles and a believer. The policy was waived.
At the gate of Joliet, the officer on duty said
"I know nothing about a group coming in." The paperwork
had not reached the guard house. We were running late as she could
not reach anyone by phone. Joliet was a long drive but we remained
patient and silently prayed. After nearly 30 minutes the chaplain
arrived and we were cleared.
The Chicago evangelism was a great blessing! The
youth were very attentive and their questions demonstrated a spiritual
thirst. We proclaimed the Gospel to nearly 850 prisoners and feel
certain many seeds were planted. Regina was a great blessing to
me handling so many details, large and small. Larry was a great
help with equipment and transportation. Glenn got their attention
with meaningful lyrics and poetry and a moving testimony. Wayne,
as always, was a great blessing. He shared with many youth and
is always a wonderful encourager. Imagine someone nearly 80 years
old driving 1600 miles roundtrip to volunteer with us!
As we returned to Dallas, I had only 7 hours at home before the
next flight to Denver and several more youth facilities.
Thanks to all for your prayer support! The enemy lost. The Lord