I do a lot of work with Rio Grande Valley Mission Action Council (RioMAC), a collaboration of twelve Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod churches in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas which focuses on unity within our circuit, within our individual congregations and within our communities. We also engage in outreach, specifically to those who do not know how incredibly loved they are by Jesus. Our outreach efforts have placed us in some very unlikely places and situations, which make for interesting ministry stories.
One of those places is the AMI Kids Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas. This is not your typical detention center. There are no tall, barbed-wire fences, handcuffs or intimidating security guards. AMI Kids is for teenage boys who want to leave behind their troubled pasts and forge a positive future. Boys take classes from in-house teachers, enjoy recreational time and learn practical vocational skills from local employers. Many of the boys have been abused or were involved in gangs, theft, drugs and alcohol. Some even have children of their own.. They struggle to believe that they are loved, or that they are worthy of being loved. That is exactly the kind of unlikely place that God has called us to.
I was encouraged not to give up on the relationships and opportunities God has called me to, even when it gets hard.
For the last two years, RioMAC has held weekly Bible studies at AMI Kids. Boys are not required to attend. In fact, they have to sacrifice precious TV and recreational time to come to the Bible study. But they come anyway. They ask hard questions and challenge most of what we say. We encourage them to do that. We want them to understand and embrace their relationship with God in a way they haven’t before. Even when they seem to disagree with everything we say, they surprise us by coming back the next week and inviting others to join them for “church.”
Those relationships have paved the way for more than just weekly Bible studies. Consistency, time and trust have allowed us to speak God’s Word into the lives of these young men in a way that they are willing to listen.
One night a few weeks back, I was on the way to our weekly Bible study. About half a mile away from the facility I noticed the road was closed due to construction. This is the only road that leads directly to AMI, so I decided that the “road closed” sign was not intended for me. I was determined to get there no matter what. I drove around the sign and before long found myself stuck deep in the mud along the side of the dark road. In that moment I realized just how foolish my stubbornness had been.
Consistency, time and trust have allowed us to speak God’s Word into the lives of these young men in a way that they are willing to listen.
I called my boss, who had somehow made it around the construction site, and asked him to come to my rescue. I couldn’t help but laugh at the whole situation and pray that God would send some more help. Little did I know that God had a plan for that moment that redeemed my mistake.
At this point, the boys noticed we were both running late for Bible study. They looked out the window of their cafeteria and saw the headlights of two cars just down the road. They immediately said to themselves, “I bet that’s Ms. Brenda’s car. I bet she didn’t listen to that sign.” They were absolutely right.
They convinced a staff member to drive them over to us. Those boys were not afraid to get their hands and feet dirty in all that mud to attempt to push my car out. And they still wanted to have our Bible study! So we did. In the middle of the road. With muddy feet and dirty hands, sitting in my car.
That moment made up for many difficult moments I had experienced at AMI. Moments where I had left Bible study feeling defeated when conversations didn’t go as planned, or when the boys were rowdier than usual and I couldn’t seem to get through to them. It wasn’t always easy, but in that moment, it was worth it. God had answered my prayer for help in a powerful way through a van full of boys ready to help.
I was encouraged not to give up on the relationships and opportunities God has called me to, even when it gets hard. The Holy Spirit guides relationships. Our hope is that when the boys leave AMI Kids, they will carry at least a tiny portion of what they’ve learned, and an even bigger portion of God’s everlasting love for them.