Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The History of Generation Actz

We moved into our home in 1998, and one day when I was trimming my bushes, the 12 year old boy from next door came over to talk to me.  "Why'd God die, anyway?" he asked me, "I mean, I heard He was dead.  Is God really dead?"  I froze, clippers in hand, as the reality set in that a young American boy had never heard of the Crucifixion or the Resurrection.

I invited him over for cookies, and we sat on my porch for a long time, him munching away, wide-eyed, while I explained stories of giants, floods and men who killed entire armies with the jawbone of a donkey.  He was spellbound, and came over again and again, bringing his little siblings with him.  We would sit at the table and make beads out of clay, and I would tell them Bible stories.  They had each only been to church once or twice in their entire lives.

Then, in 1999, I was cleaning our extra bedroom when I found a book called 'Search for Significance' by D. James Kennedy.  Bored, I flipped through it, and so many people I knew came to mind - myself included.  At the time, we went to a local nondenominational church, which encouraged home bible studies.  It seemed like every week somebody was starting a new one.  We had hosted one back when we were first married, but it was in our tiny box of an apartment - with no air conditioning.  The word 'Bible study', at the time, brought misery to mind.  We just hadn't really entertained the prospect ever since.  But now we had a house.

This book really stuck out to me because not only were we young adults at the time, (I would have been 28 at the time), but we had a lot of friends who were in their 20's and 30's, who seemed to be rather aimless in their walk with the Lord.  We asked our Pastor at the time if we could start a Bible study.  His response was as we expected... "You don't need my permission to start a home Bible study" - and so we did.

Our group grew and grew until our little house couldn't hold any more people.  We were busting at the seams!  Curious, the boy from next door started coming over.  He loved it, and started bringing his friends.  Soon, our little living room had an entire corner full of teens sitting on the floor, eating pizza and listening.  We approached our Pastor about the obvious - our church didn't have a youth group, and we felt led to start one with these kids. 

That group grew quickly, and before we knew it, we were in over our heads.  They gave us no training whatsoever, and the few people who would help us ended up being more of a hindrance than a help.  Youth ministries from local churches would shut down, and the word would get to those kids from friends of theirs who went to our church, that our group was 'awesome'.  Before we knew it, we had over 100 kids attending every Saturday night, which was about the same amount of people who attended on Sunday morning for each service.  God is good.

However, after a couple of years, there were problems there that were bigger than us.  Somebody embezzled money from the bookstore, and there were a lot of questions about money going around.  We didn't know this, because we were having too many problems with money ourselves.  In fact, I requested prayer on the church email prayer chain, because I had lost my job and we had taken in three homeless women who were also unemployed, and John was at his wit's end with his job.  On top of all that, we had been getting foreclosure letters.  The leadership at this church didn't like that I made my prayer request public.  So they shut down the youth group.  All 100 some of those kids got hurt, and were sent hurtling back into the world.  To this day, I do not know of one of them who attends church.

After we left there and spent time licking our wounds, we ended up at a local Southern Baptist church, and eventually we became the youth leaders there.  I'll never forget the second time we visited and I let the words 'youth ministry experience' slip out of my mouth.  Immediately, people were like, "Oh, you can start one here!"  Everything was done hastily and out of order, and before we knew it, we were being put in charge of  not only starting a youth group, but also painting the entire children's building, which was creepy, abandoned and full of spider webs and junk.  The teen room had literally been used for storage.  We could tell how long it had been since very many children had graced the doors of this building.

In time, the group there built up to about 13 to 15 kids each Sunday night.  It was just enough for a good volleyball game out back, girls vs. boys!  Unfortunately, some people from the congregation didn't like the colors of paint we used in the children's building, and they decided to start a huge fight at a business meeting over it - when we weren't there.  They wrote letters, stood up in church and yelled, and everything.  Apparently, there was a faction of people who didn't like teenagers, and didn't want any outreach to be done there.  They also didn't like the looks of us.  Then there was a faction of people who did like us, and supported what we were doing.  One day, the Pastor came in with a letter of resignation, and all the people who supported youth outreach decided to leave with him and start a new church - in someone's house.

The problem with that was that we had 13 to 15 kids who didn't have a ride out there, and since the obvious choice was to leave since nobody who supported youth ministry was staying, we no longer had a building. 

The Pastor told us to just have it at our house, in the carport, until we got a building.  Shortly after that, he proved to be just as flaky as the rest of the people from that church who had gotten upset over the color of paint.  So there we were, with kids from the nondenominational church, kids from the Baptist church and a few neighborhood kids.  What were we to do?  Shut it down?  Certainly not.  Obviously God was up to something. 

From 2004 to the present, Generation Actz has operated as an independent, interdenominational youth ministry.  In 2009, a wonderful lady at the Pentecostal church we started attending - who believed in what we were doing - blessed us by purchasing a 501c3 status for the ministry.

Ever since 2004, we have served free pizza, played games, gone on retreats and road trips, and above all taught the Bible without shame, to local teens from every walk of life.  In 2005, we also felt led to shift the focus of our group onto performing arts - used, of course, for the glory of God.  And so in addition to all of the things I already told you we do, we also have a performing arts workshop, which is currently focusing on music and acting.  We are open, though, to using worship dance, banners, poetry, art and choreography to worship the Lord, if and when the current kids are interested.

We also try our best to get our hands dirty doing whatever it takes to support the families of the youth.  We have taken several in off of the streets, counseled tearful door knockers at 3 in the morning who have been 'kicked out', and taken troubled teens into custody from the police until their parents got home from work.  We do all of this because this is how we believe Jesus intended for the church to treat their own.  Some of the teens have a church, and some have never been to church in their lives.  Some refuse to darken the door of a church, but they will come to our house and listen to the Word. 

Through the years, we have done all of this mostly out of our own pockets.  We're never sorry, though, especially when we are able to send leftover pizza home with a kid from a struggling household.  God always blesses us right back anyhow.

Now that you know our background and what we're all about, please pray about making a one time or monthly donation.  However, in the thick of all that we do, we covet your prayers more than anything.

Our dream is to one day open up a Christian concert venue that would also hold a low income Christian counseling center, Christian coffee house, performing art workshop studios and a community outreach center for job assistance, food pantry and clothing pantry.  This venue would be able to be used by the entire community and youth from churches of every denomination.  It would benefit the teens as well as their families.  If you are interested in getting involved in this effort, please contact us.

God bless you and thank you for your time!

~ John & Tonya