Ministry can look like a lot of closed doors. It can look like invitations rejected, backs turned, and relationships lost. So often staff and volunteers pour their hearts into a young person only to have them move away, quit showing up, or just disappear.
So then why do we do it? Why keep giving if the return on investment is so hard to see?
Because we know Jesus is faithful to complete the good work He begins.
A few weeks ago, Brenda Boback, Juvenile Justice Ministry Director, got a very special email from a stranger.
“Hello, Brenda. My name is Leah. In 2007 I was detained at Remann Hall for prostitution charges.”
At the time, Leah was young enough to be in middle school and had never heard of God or Jesus or picked up a Bible. She met Jesus through her encounters with the volunteers from YFC’s Juvenile Justice Ministry (JJM). She says, “I spent most of my time in my cell reading the Bible, becoming enthralled by the stories and the hope it provided me. I went to each Bible study so eager and excited to learn. I always sat in the front and tried to answer every question…I loved it!”
Leah asked the women to pray over her and she says what happened next changed her life forever. “As crazy as it sounds, when those women laid hands on me I felt the Holy Spirit for the first time.... It is very hard for me to put into words. I have done almost every drug imaginable and I had never felt anything like this. It was GOD and I believe He showed himself to me on that day for a reason.”
Once Leah left Remann Hall, life did not get easier. Though the volunteers who had built relationships with her inside the detention center continued to pursue her, she ended up in Las Vegas with a pimp. She called on a woman she trusted from YFC/JJM for help, but her pimp stopped her from leaving. He won the battle, she says, but “he did not win the war…God did.”
It has taken Leah years to escape that life and recondition her mind. She says, “God has been with me every step of the way and without your ministry I would never have known who God was.”
Now Leah is back in Tacoma. She has a caring fiancé, a bright two-year-old son, and a clear mind. Almost as soon as she arrived, she prayed for God to reconnect her with the people who had changed her life. Not knowing where else to start, she searched for “Remann Hall church” on the internet and came up with nothing. She prayed again, “God, if it is your will, please help me find the people who helped me find you.” This time the search worked. Tacoma Area Youth for Christ and the Juvenile Justice Ministry popped up and she immediately emailed Brenda.
And what about those women who prayed over Leah? The ones who led the Bible study? Who tried desperately to rescue her from her pimp in Las Vegas?
As soon as Brenda received Leah’s messages, she reached out to find the volunteers who had invested so fully in relationship with Leah all those years ago. Shortly after, Brenda got another amazing email.
“My name is Catherine* and I am emailing you to see if I can get Leah’s email address. I was the one she called for help.”
“I will never forget that day,” Catherine says. “It was a Saturday and I was at Echo Glen visiting some of our girls who had been transferred. She called and was desperate. As soon as I could get to a computer I booked her a ticket back to SEA and called her with the information. I happened to have exactly the amount needed to get her out of there.”
Leah never showed up for the flight and Catherine never heard from her again.
“I tried calling to see if she was ok, but (her pimp) answered the phone and hung up on me. After that I tried several more times and no one ever answered. I seriously thought he had done something to her. Leah was that scared.”
She prayed and prayed, but for the last 11 years Catherine has believed Leah was dead. When she received word that she was alive and thriving, she wept. She says, “This was so beyond any blessing anyone could have offered me…such a beautiful testimony of our Father’s heart!”
We return day after day to meet kids in their darkest places because we know hope like this is possible through Jesus. Leah met God in her cell and He never let her go. She now believes she is a vessel for God to change people’s lives and is searching for a church and community that “has God at their very core.”
“And remember,” Catherine says, “When you are sitting on the floor of a girl’s cell as she is detoxing, or loving someone who doesn’t want it or feeling frustrated that it is hard to do this, even if you never see this kind of event, you are making a difference. Every tear, every prayer, every hug matters!”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.