CHICAGO YOUTH EVANGELISM
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, Im facing 20 years in prison. I cant
do it without God. He prayed to receive Christ.
A woman, Joan, said Ive been in and out of jail since
I was 13 years old, maybe 20 times. I need deliverance from drugs
She prayed for Gods 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 Boys 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
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. Im a Christian, he said Im
so glad you came back. These kids really need God! He was
holding a worn, tattered copy of Dons 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 Yagos presentation they screamed, yelled, stomped,
and shouted to encourage him during feats of strength. During
Dons 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, Im
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. Im from Chicago,
he said Im 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 Girls 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 Ive 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,
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 Ive got to
change for my baby. I cant 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 dont have
to have all the answers. Its 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 Im a Christian. Why did you
raise your hand? the volunteer asked. Ive got
4 more years to serve. I dont 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 havent 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 Ive
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.
Theres 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. Dont 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 Gods
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 prisoners 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 Gods 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.