October 2008


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.


Our 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 volunteer!


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 officer.


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.


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 detail.


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. Praise God.

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 triumphed!


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