Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Outreach, Inc. Takes Jesus To The Least of These

Across town a starving teenage boy prostitutes himself in exchange for a meal.

Beneath a cluster of trees a 17 year old girl, strung out on drugs, will wake up tomorrow with frost on her clothes and her face in the dirt.

In an abandoned building a group of young people huddle together to escape hypothermia, using a toaster as their only source of heat.

Today, in the United States, 13 homeless young people will die, remembered only by the statistic that outlives them.

These situations are not fictional, they are real. In cities all over the U.S. homeless teenagers sleep beneath over passes, congregate in drainage ditches, or make their home in a car. These are the invisible people, loved by Jesus Christ, that Outreach, Inc. of Indianapolis, IN embraces every day.

Outreach, Inc. is a Christian ministry in Indianapolis, In. Their mission is to reach out to homeless and at-risk young adults with the compassion of Jesus Christ. Outreach accomplishes this by providing street outreach, a youth drop-in center, holistic social services, emergency/referral services and case management; operated in an environment of God's love. They are dedicated to introducing the youth to a relationship with Jesus Christ and helping them to mature in that relationship. Outreach comes along side the church in helping it understand and fulfill the “Great Commission” on a local level by training, equipping and supporting the body of Christ and community to minister to this population, empowering the youth to exit the street life.

Eric Howard is the founder of Outreach. He and his staff of 7 are burdened for the survival of street kids. "Every community has homeless teens," Howard relates, "It just a matter of connecting with them." And connecting with these teens is exactly what he and his staff have done.

Outreach staff and volunteers are on the streets 2-3 days a week, week after week, searching for youth ages 17-24. They meet kids and build a relationships with them based on trust. Their goal is to move them toward leaving the street life and culture.

When most of us think of homelessness we think of adults. Yet, according to Howard, it's not uncommon for teenagers to become homeless for numerous reasons: the death of their only parent, running away to escape physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, addiction, mental illness, and abandonment to name a few. But the danger doesn't end when these young people leave home. Life on the streets is about survival at any cost. Howard said, "These kids don't make long term plans. Their greatest hope is to live to see the next day, to survive despite the odds. Every day they could face rape, abduction, addiction, murder, hypothermia, starvation or gang activity. And that's just the tip of the iceberg."

According to the statistics Howard is right.

1/3 of homeless teens report having witnessed a stabbing, rape, shooting, or murder.
32% of homeless teenagers have attempted suicide.
41% of females report being pregnant to shelters.
85% of homeless youth report substance use disorders.

In light of these statistics it isn't surprising that Outreach clients are often bitter and disillusioned. Because of their condition - homeless, jobless, turned away, overlooked, and terrified - trust does not come easily. Yet through the staff and volunteers of Outreach these kids and their needs are not overlooked. A 24 hour help line is available to them 24 hours a day. The drop-in facility offers washer/dryer facilities, hot showers, warm clothing, food, and most importantly, a sense of belonging.

Outreach journeys with homeless and runaway kids through offering mentoring, GED training, job assistance, permanent housing, and other services. The journey is about finding hope and sharing the love of Christ. "We stake our reputation on these kids every day," Howard emphasized. "They don't want to be dirty, lost, dealing or trading sex for a place to sleep or food to eat. But until they're shown a way out this is the only way they know. We're here shining the light of Christ and offering a home in Him."

"In our society we associate 'a home' with a physical address. But what we forget is that on this earth, none of us is really at home. And we never will be home until we are found in Christ. Yes we meet physical needs but if that were all we did it wouldn't matter. We represent Jesus through being available day and night. We do it through offering acceptance, not judgement. Through seeing past the circumstance to the real person created by Christ."

Outreach is a donor supported ministry that would not exist without individuals like you and me banding together to championing its cause: providing help, hope, and a reason to live to homeless and at risk youth. In order to reach more kids and provide quality services they need our help.
And what they're asking is radically easy to provide.

Today you can help Outreach, Inc. for $10 a month for 24 months. $10 a month. Let that sink in while you consider this: Would you be willing to sacrifice 2 cups of overpriced coffee a month to give Jesus something to eat? Could you let go of 2 value meals a month if it meant Jesus didn't have to wake up with frost on his clothes? To us middle-class Americans $10 can run through our fingers like sand, forgotten before it even slips away. Let's collect those lost dollars for the sake of finding a lost child of Christ.

Consider. Pray. Sacrifice. All for the sake of Christ. Imagine how beautiful he looks on the face of a homeless teenager, one of the least of these.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Women's Ministry Christmas Tea

I have a sequin holiday sweater and I'm not afraid to use it.

But the sweater is just the beginning of the ensemble. With old school Aqua Net in one hand and glittery spray in the other I set about styling my hair. Then I apply festive make up, put on Christmassy jewelry, douse myself in Wal-Mart body splash, peel off my Crest Whitestrip and gaze upon the splendor that is me. Perhaps you're wondering why I'm so gussied up. I'm off to a Women's Ministry Christmas Tea, of course.

What? What's that you say? You've never been to a Christmas Tea? That's almost sacrilegious. Don't you realize the favor baby Jesus did by being born just so we could have this blessed event?! You'd better get your poinsettias in order my friend. Jesus only has one birthday party a year and this is it.

Ah, the Women's Ministry Christmas Tea - the place where estrogen and evergreen embrace over nutty cheese logs. Just thinking about it makes me want to decorate a straw hat craft and hug total strangers. Or, maybe embroider Luke 2 on some collates.

But alas, not every Christmas tea is as inspiring as what I've described. As hard as it may be to imagine, women don't always see eye to eye. If I had to be honest (which I don't because Jon said I can lie on his blog whenever I want) there's usually a steady undercurrent of competition brewing along with the tea. So, for your safety, I've compiled a list of precautions to keep in mind.

1) When you arrive scan the room and locate the fake Coach purses. These gems are typically packed with SSRIs and estrogen patches. It's a first aid kit every women's ministry event should never be without. In the event excessive giddy clapping that turns into hot flash sweating, apply a patch. When hopes are dashed over an ornament exchange, go for the SSRI.

2) Beware of leadership. I can't tell you how I know this, so keep it on the downlow. In order to be a leader in women's ministry you have to be jumped in. I personally know 1 whole person who was repeatedly stabbed with the back of a Snowman pin for her initiation. (And I don't even want to tell you what they did with hot glue and pipe cleaners.) So if anyone wearing a Santa hat and a nativity necklace asks you to welcome people as they come in, don't do it. Be rude. Keep to yourself.

3) Don't sit by the pastor's wife from another church. She may be all "super smiley sweater sets" and "unassuming knee highs with pumps" but watch out. She's got a score to settle. Remember last year when she had to be Joseph in the live nativity due to the excess facial hair thing? She's not over it, she's about to snap. If you see her serving summer sausage out of her purse with a butcher knife, say, "No thanks, I'm good." And just walk away.

4) The following categories will compete for door prizes so plan ahead: Who has the nicest Christmas tree airbrush nails? Who warbles the best "O Holy Night" harmony? Whose Christmas sweater is more blinky? Whose table design is most Biblically sound? Who can best disguise gossip as a prayer request? Prizes include 1) A DVD demonstration of how to most effectively scrub your toilet, set to "We Are The Reason" by David Meece 2) a silver bracelet with 57 charms that explain submission, and c) lip gloss that tastes like Near Beer.

5) Don’t forget to bring a pot luck item to share. Sure you bring 17 dozen hand made Christmas cookies, but why? In our current economic state we all need a good bargain. Instead, stop off at McDonalds for an eggnog shake and 30 straws. You could add alcohol but I don’t suggest it. Instead, get a roll of butter rum lifesavers, crush them and mix them in. Yum. There’s nothing like pretend sin now is there?

That's the best advice I can give you right now. I have to run - I’m off the Christmas tea. I’d love for you to come with me; it will be so super fun, fun, fun! But maybe you’ve already been to a Christmas event at your church this year. What was it like? Is there anything I forgot?

(Special thanks to the Stacy From Louisville readers whose ideas keep me laughing!)