October 2009

This was the 9th consecutive year Youth Direct conducted evangelistic programs in Illinois youth facilities (prisons). 16 volunteers joined us to share encouragement, Scriptures, prayer, and their faith with juvenile prisoners. The program included Larry Howard from Georgia who has recorded 18 albums and performed in 500 prisons. His expert guitar skills and rich voice blended into a unique style of blues music that captured their attention. Athletes Yago Williams and Greg Molchan, members of the Conquerors Strength Team, performed feats of strength that included tearing phone books, bending a horse shoe, lifting people holding a bar, and bending a steel bar held in their teeth. In addition, Yago shared his past which included being a street fighter, drug dealer, and nightclub bouncer and his transformation in Christ. Don Smarto shared his testimony and a new Powerpoint on Making Good Choices. At the end of each program, Don gave the inmates an opportunity to make a profession of faith in Jesus and a second prayer to make Jesus the Lord of their life. In every facility, at each program, a majority of prisoners raised their hands, for which we praise God!

Walworth County Jail (Wednesday October 7th)
By invitation of Chaplain Larry Hansen, our ministry team drove to Wisconsin. Although this facility had young adults (average age 23) we gave three programs. The prisoners were appreciative and thanked the team for coming. They were attentive and responsive.

One older man, Richard, said “I traded stocks and made one bad decision. Now, I’m facing 20 years in prison. I can’t do it without God.” He prayed to receive Christ.

A woman, Joan, said “I’ve been in and out of jail since I was 13 years old, maybe 20 times. I need deliverance from drugs” She prayed for God’s power to rescue her.

9 male inmates accepted Christ, 6 female inmates accepted Christ, 5 male inmates rededicated their lives to Christ and 2 female inmates rededicated their lives to Christ. With 24 attending all three programs, 22 made a faith response, nearly a 98% response. Seeds were definitely planted. The local chaplain and his volunteers will do follow-up.

St. Charles Boy’s Facility (Thursday, October 8th)
Over 120 years old, St. Charles is one of the oldest juvenile facilities in America with continuous operation. With hundreds of acres surrounded by double fences and razor ribbon, it is a maximum security facility. The boys range from age 13 – 19. They are placed for dangerous crimes including murder and rape. One dorm is made up of boys who were tried as adults and will move on to adult facilities after reaching adult age. The day before we arrived, 3 dangerous fights occurred. We were required to have two programs because certain gang members could not be combined in the same room. As we set up in the gym (after being frisked and having all our cases carefully examined) we encountered 8 friendly youth who helped set up a stage, bleachers, carry tables, and equipment. These boys were trustees. Curtis came up to Don and said “I heard you last year. I was hoping you would come back.” He had kept materials we passed out the year before. Curtis has been locked up for 3 years, since age 14.

Zack, who made a profession of faith the year before at a Youth Direct event, told us he was to be released in two weeks. During his incarceration, his parents divorced and his father left the state. He has not had any visits, calls, or letters from his father in two years. His mother is in drug rehabilitation so he will live with his grandmother on release. His hope is to attend a community college.

Three groups of youth in uniforms marched into the gym at each program, 80 youth in the first program and 85 youth in the second. Before the first program started, an officer approached Don and hugged him. “I’m a Christian”, he said “I’m so glad you came back. These kids really need God!” He was holding a worn, tattered copy of Don’s book Family Secrets and told us that hundreds of youth had read the book. The enthusiasm of the youth was tremendous. They clapped in beat as Larry sang. During Yago’s presentation they screamed, yelled, stomped, and shouted to encourage him during feats of strength. During Don’s presentation they were quiet and respectful. At the end of the program, all bowed their heads in prayer.

One boy entered the gym angry in appearance. Yago later reported “He just stared me down, but at the end of the program the wall was gone. I shared Christ with him.”

One youth, Ross said “I got a baby and I want to raise him right.” Then, to a volunteers surprise, he added, “I’m tempted to backslide – how do I seek Biblical leadership?”

A red headed 17 year old, Anthony, looked out of place. When he raised his hand it was a first time decision. One volunteer was drawn to him but before approaching him, the boy picked up a chair and sat next to the volunteer. “I’m from Chicago”, he said “I’m getting out soon and my girlfriend is pregnant.” The volunteer promised to write the young man. He looked astonished. “You will write me?” he exclaimed. He had not heard from his family in over two years.

There was a total of 165 youth at the two programs. 33 made a decision to trust Christ, 18 rededicated their lives to Christ, a total of 51 faith responses. That was a 31% response. Local volunteers will disciple with mentoring and Bible studies.

Warrenville Girl’s Facility (Friday, October 9th)
The girls entered the library “wired” and talking. Their enthusiasm was incredible, cheering and yelling as Yago performed and singing along with Larry.

One girl with red fuzzy hair had a scowl, but when Yago was bending the steel bar in his mouth, she smiled broadly. She raised her hand to accept Christ and told a volunteer “I’ve been locked up for 7 years.” She was 16 years old. Some girls were on the verge of tears as Don prayed with them for salvation.

Several girls held electronic “babies” to give them practice responding to infant needs. These girls, some very young, were pregnant.

71 girls attended the program. 28 girls made a decision to trust Christ. 18 girls rededicated their lives to Christ, a total of 46 faith responses. That was a 72% response. Follow-up will be done by local volunteers.

Chicago Youth Facility (Saturday, October 10th)
A 17 year old youth named Brandon said “I’ve got to change for my baby. I can’t live as I have”. He prayed with a volunteer to receive Christ. Another boy was asked if he wanted to change. At first, he said “No, not really”, then with his head low he murmured “Yes, I should”, but then hesitated and said “Maybe not now.” He vacillated almost in pain. A volunteer assured him “You don’t have to have all the answers. It’s a beginning, where you are, as you are.” The boy nodded. “If you mean it, repeat this prayer,” the volunteer instructed. The volunteer started “Dear Lord.” Immediately, the boy said loudly “Dear Lord” without waiting for a full phrase. At the conclusion of the prayer he asked “What now?” “Well”, said the volunteer “you are a child of God. Read the Bible. Talk to God daily through prayer and find other Christians that will help you grow”.

While another volunteer focused on Raymond, a youth watched intently from 12 feet away. After the young inmate accepted Christ, the other boy leaned in and said “I want that, too.” He also prayed to receive Christ with the volunteer.

Dylan raised his hand to make a profession of faith. He told a volunteer “I’m a Christian”. “Why did you raise your hand?” the volunteer asked. “I’ve got 4 more years to serve. I don’t think I can make it without God.” They prayed together.

Diego, a slight built Hispanic boy walked toward a volunteer. A correctional officer instructed him to sit down, so the volunteer sat beside him. “I need that prayer”, he said.

John, a 17 year old boy said “My parents haven’t talked to me in 3 years because I did something really bad when I was younger.” When asked if he wanted Christ in his life, he responded “I want it now!” John said a prayer of salvation in his own words, then asked for a Bible. He added “When I get paroled, I have no place to go.”

Skylar was from Kentucky. He said “I have a baby I’ve never held. I wanna be a good father. A volunteer prayed with him. Another youth had been watching and listening. “Do you want to pray to receive Christ, too?” He had not raised his hand during the prayer but responded “I got to do something!” He too received Christ.

During the program, 14 year old Alan was tapped on the shoulder by an officer for not paying attention, again for putting his feet up, and for hanging his head down, but during the prayer he raised his hand. He said to a volunteer “I got to change. There’s things I got to do and I got to change to do it.” (Young prisoners are listening even when they look distracted)

During the second program, Antonio was asked “Did you ever pray to receive Christ?” He got serious and responded “Probably not. Don’t know why I raised my hand today. Just got caught up, I guess.” The volunteer probed further. “Can I pray for you now?” He nodded in agreement. At the end of the prayer, his eyes were filled with tears. “He was hungry for change”, said the volunteer.

The boys responded to Luke Smarto, the artist who created the Youth Direct Comic. He not only signed comics but drew pictures at their request. They were animated. One boy said “I want to be an artist, someday.” Luke encouraged him.

A total of 82 youth attended the two programs. 27 youth trusted Christ for salvation and 17 youth rededicated their lives to Christ, a total of 44 faith responses. That was a 53% response.

Joliet Youth Facility (Monday, October 12th)
This is the highest security youth facility in Illinois. Three fights occurred earlier in the day so performers and volunteers formed a prayer circle in the multi-purpose room seeking God’s peace and presence. As the first group walked in we noticed they were older and taller and also gruff and stern looking. We knew this would be a difficult group. There were 19 officers lined up in back of the youth, one of the largest shows of security we have ever seen. When the room was filled, there were 89 boys divided by large aisles to keep them separate. They were not allowed to cheer or shout.

They were not allowed to stand or move from their seats.

This did not impede Yago or Greg. Their testimonies were riveting. Yago, in particular related in street language his past love of fighting, enjoying drugs and the bar scene. He contrasted his past life to his regenerated life in Christ.
Scott said he was Italian. The 18 year old looked tough and angry. His face changed when a volunteer sat beside him. He raised his hand during the prayer and later told a volunteer “I want God in my life.”

Three youth in front of Scott turned around. They listened to the volunteer, and then all three prayed to receive Christ.
Coleman, a tall, muscular youth said “I have two daughters and want to help them.” He is 19 years old and has one more year to serve. He raised his hand to accept Christ.

There were 16 professions of faith, and 14 rededications, a total of 30 faith responses. That was a 37% response.

Only God knows the sincerity of each prisoner’s heart, but that is also true for each person in the local church. Without question, seeds were planted. We pray for others to water and nourish. Officers and administrators also attended the programs and we pray they will follow Christ, too.

A total of 119 made professions of faith. A total of 74 rededicated their lives to Christ. A total of 193 made faith responses. It is worth all the effort if only one young prisoner turns his or her life around. By God’s grace we travelled hundreds of miles safely. The administrators and staff were cooperative. The volunteers were flexible and worked within time constraints. Larry, Yago, and Greg gave total energy and focus to the programs. All the equipment worked properly. Although the team was weary from the active schedule (5 facilities and 9 programs) our spirits were renewed daily as we witnessed responses to invitations to trust Christ as Savior and as Lord. The evil one lost every battle to keep these youth captive and in darkness. We pray that His power will protect them from anger, depression, drugs, alcohol, pornography, and gangs when released. We pray God will send missionaries to remove weeds and water these tender seeds of faith while incarcerated.

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