For a long time successful youth ministry could be defined by a group keeping a young girl from being pregnant and a young man from getting someone pregnant. It was crap theology then and still is today. And yet, this conversation of sexuality simply dominates life in general and certainly ministry.
I currently have undergrads in a course learning about the theology and philosophy of youth ministry. We discussed teen pregnancy as one of our case scenarios. At the end of it, they realized that they had little ground on which to stand for ministerial choices they offered. None had thought of the theological implications. None had considered what to do if this happened in their ministry.
According to a new study released by the CDC, teen pregnancy is down by nearly 50% since 1991. Indeed, that is something to celebrate! This still leaves nearly 30 births/1,000 teen girls in the US. I could discuss the politics of this, the reality that this is still among the highest rate for an industrialized country but that’s not the point here.
Teen pregnancy still happens. Repeat pregnancies for teenagers are not uncommon. For many in ministry, prayers are offered up in hopes that this never happens. When it does, at best support and good intentions follow but few resources. At worst, the young woman is labeled and asked with words or actions to not return. She is marked, she is judged and all at a time of life when she most needs others. There are however a handful of amazing ministers who are called to be the hands of feet of Christ to young women whom others have cast away. In case you didn’t know, there are two Christian organizations nationwide who come alongside teen moms. Teen MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Young Lives (YoungLife for teen moms).
There are also numerous small ministries that continue faithfully, year after year with little to no fanfare. I got hang out with one this past week and was blown away by the sheer intensity of ministry taking place each and every day. My dear friend Joyce del Rosario is executive director or New Creation Home ministries. She oversees multiple homes for young women and their children as well as mentoring, leading Bible studies and currently working on a transitions project to help them successfully re-enter the regular world.
We began the day by 8am together though I knew she had already been up e-mailing and taking care of the details of the day. After a meeting with a potential volunteer, we headed to the house. It is surprisingly unsuspecting from the outside. Each girl has a small room for herself and her child or children. A laundry schedule hangs from the wall, each shelf of a pantry is designated for a resident. She worked on a paperwork for a caseworker claiming that a used care valued at $2000 was too large of a gift for one of her residents…that it would need to be returned and she had to go back to public transportation. She then turned her attention to meetings with staff members to cover the details of an upcoming fundraiser, relationship issues in the house, repairs that needed to take place only to be interrupted by a graduate desperate for prayer.
This graduate is considered a success story. She has moved out and is now volunteering in ministry herself. She however is trying to advocate for her son only to find the old feelings of inadequacy and failure creeping in. She knows his life is at stake and that he arrived long before she was ready to care for him. She also knows she has a team of people who will continue to equip her long after she has left. After all, there is a life at stake and they all take this seriously. It is one of the most intense, impromptu times of prayer I have experienced in ministry at any time.
After a few more items of the day, we drive to dinner. Well into the evening calls continue to come; donations for the fundraiser, an issue with a volunteer leader, needs of girls and all of this after Joyce has already put in more than 8 hours. As we say goodbye that night, I realize I will be up early the next morning to take care of my baby. Joyce, however, will awaken to taking care of multiple babies and their mothers. She will teach moms to do their own laundry, to consider nutrition while pregnant and long after for themselves and their children. She will remind them that they are capable even if the dad has long since disappeared. She will make calls to plumbers and caseworkers all the while being ever aware that the work she does goes largely un-noticed and is for girls most ministries hoped would never exist or would just go away.
What can you do? How can you pray? Is this a ministry you need to begin? Or is this a ministry you can support from a distance financially? Keeping girls from being pregnant is not good youth ministry. Inviting them to follow Christ long before they find themselves in this situation, in the middle of it and long after a baby is born is good ministry. It is great that teen pregnancy is down…but let’s not forget the moms, dads and babies who are with us.
p.s. After posting I heard from my friend Joyce, she wanted to be certain that it was clear that the ministry to young women, their babies and families was a team effort and that she could not do it without an amazing group of people around her. No slights were intended and any errors were my fault. Props to all the heroes out there serving daily with little to no recognition. Yours is a noble cause and the Lord knows all you do and who you are!