October 2008


After five exciting days in Chicago area juvenile prisons, with 7 hours at home, I went directly to Denver to go into three facilities as part of the Operation Starting Line outreach. OSL is a collaboration of over 25 ministries working together to bring the Gospel to prisoners across America. Since 2001, Youth Direct has been a full collaborator conducting events in 62 juvenile facilities in 9 states. The ministry was in Colorado in 2005.


Joining me was Brent Fuqua, an international basketball performer, and John Grubb who performed magic. I did my testimony using large walls and over 500 rapid slides using a PowerPoint.


The entire population of 145 boys and girls (ages 12-18) entered the gym. The school faculty and the administration welcomed us warmly. As our program began, one could hear a pin drop. The youth were attentive and behaved. Once again, about 30 youth had heard a Youth Direct program before, an indication of youth entering the system repeatedly. As in Chicago, I gave a strong Gospel conclusion although advised by the principal to not be "too religious". During the Q & A, you could hear the youth trying to understand "God's power" from a human standpoint. Clearly some understood. Above all we planted seeds.
Our team stayed for six hours. We went to every dorm talking about the Gospel in small groups. We were invited to return to the facility.


This is a detention facility in a rough part of Denver is one hundred years old. The average length of stay is 14 days but some youth are locked for up to a year awaiting trial. We did two programs reaching all 90 boys and girls (ages 10-17). The really young children did not seem to belong. Brent's basketball skills got their attention and got them laughing. John also got their attention with his magic. Although the superintendent is a Muslim, he allowed me to present the Gospel. We were in the facility for five hours and shared with many officers, as well.


As with all three Denver facilities, we had no checks of our cases or searches. All 110 youth, boys and girls (age 13-18) filled the gym. We held their attention during the 85 minute program and I concluded with a spiritual Q & A session that ran for 25 minutes. Before the youth returned to the dorms, I shared with them in small groups. There was an incident I will share latter in this report that God used for good.


Since 2005, I believe the youth I encountered have a harder edge. About 15 - 20 youth at each facility were wearing leg irons, which I did not see before. Also the ten year olds were sad to see. One can only imagine their family background.


I learned from the youth that gang influence is stronger. LA gangs, the Crips and Bloods have infiltrated Denver. There are Anglo, Hispanic, Black, Mexican Nationals and Asian gangs. There are suburban gangs such as North Park Hill and youth affiliated with gangs that "own" one block such as Forest Street Gang, 51st Street Gang, Hoover Bloods in Aurora, and the Englewood Family Bloods. One youth told me his younger brother was a Pewee member at age 10, another brother was a Jrs at age 12 and he was a Homeboy at 14.


It was sad to see youth, so young, affiliated with hate groups like Neo Nazis (as shooters at Columbine) Aryan Nation, Skinheads, and the KKK. For them it is excitement but they don't know the deeper implications of racism and hatred. One youth told me if somebody gave him "red eye" (meaning a hard stare) he would use a Tray 8 or Double Deuce. Tray is a 38 revolver and a Deuce is a 22 caliber pistol. Most of the youth I talked with had no long term goals because they did not expect to live long. Without Christ, their future is dim.


In one dorm, I encountered a beautiful girl who was 14, had blond hair and pretty eyes with arms with deep fresh scars, each over 3 inches long. Both arms had over six of these long cuts. I asked her "What happened?" She responded, "I did it. I hate myself!" I told her that God loved her and cared about her. She listened. I asked her to promise me "Before you cut yourself again, open your Bible and read: Isaiah 43: 1,2 "Do not be afraid, because I have reclaimed you. I have called you by name; you are mine….."

She wrote it down on a small scrap of paper and promised, with a broad smile. A female officer touched her shoulder with reassurance.


During my presentation, I showed a traditional, although masculine, picture of Jesus to illustrate a point. Suddenly a tall Black youth yelled "Jesus don't look like that!" I replied, "That's right. This is just a painting. He was darker in skin tone coming from the Judea / Galilee region, but we don't really know what he looked like. That is so everyone, of every race can identify with him." The youth was obviously sensitive to a "white Jesus" and a "white church". We talked after the program and he understood my point.


One youth startled me with his gang affiliation. He said he was "an AK" which stood for "Anybody Killer". As he explained, "We hate everyone". It was clear his gang had replaced his lack of family and he needed a sense of belonging. He was willing to give God a chance but didn't know how to get out of the gang. I told him "Leave that to God" and reminded him of the story of my family. He seemed hopeful.


During John's portion of the program, one gang member yelled out the name of a gang and just as quickly, another gang name was yelled out. Within seconds, staff handcuffed both youth and removed them. Fortunately the staff did not stop the program. Working with delinquent youth is not easy. They are impulsive and at times volatile. But they listen to the message even when they pretend they are not.


During my talk, I discussed seeing prisoners that are spiritually alive and those spiritually dead in prisons across America. I said "I can see it in their eyes." After one program, a young, muscular officer approached me and said "Look into me eyes, what do you see?" I told him he looked fine. He told me he was a Christian and wanted to be sure others could tell. I could tell he was sincere.


After one program, something happened I never experienced. A tall youth with a defiant look and arms crossed tightly across his chest said to me "You're a liar! I don't believe you really changed. You still do crime, 'cause no one gets out of a gang!"

Before I said anything, his dorm group challenged him. They told him "That was disrespect." But then came a wonderful moment.

Several other youth mentioned the names of former gang members. "Don't you remember Kyle who got out of the gang last year and still walks with God?" Then another example. Then a third. They stopped him in his tracks. I didn't say a word and did not have to defend myself. God used that moment to have his peers testify to God's power in front of me. While he did not apologize, he extended his hand and shook mine, which was good enough for me.


God blessed us by planting seeds in over 300 young lives. The staff at all three facilities were cooperative and appreciative. One female staff said to me "Your story is too religious". I replied "Well, it is my story, so I need to tell it as it happened. Without God, I would not be standing here." A different Christian officer approached me and said "Keep preaching!"
I consider the work of Operation Starting Line very important in bringing the Gospel to adult prisoners. But I consider it equally important to reach these youth who according to current statistics will enter the adult system at a rate of 57%. Next year we plan to go into six youth facilities in Colorado Springs. We must not give up on them. We must not ignore them. They are not beyond hope!


2005© Youth Direct Ministries. All rights reserved.