On Friday, August 4, 2006, Laura Bush, the First Lady of the United States, visited the University of Denver to deliver remarks at the second regional conference on Helping America’s Youth.
SharperIron was honored to receive full media access to the event as part of the White House Press Pool for the day.
Consider the following statistics from the White House:
- The percentage of children who grow up in single-parent homes has increased dramatically over the past four decades. In 1960, only 9% of children lived in single-parent families; by 2005, that number had increased to 28%.
- The percentage of babies born out of wedlock has increased more than sixfold since 1960. More than a third of all births and more than two-thirds of all births to African American parents in 2004 were out of wedlock.
- Children living in households headed by unmarried women were more likely to be poor—42% compared to 9% of children living with two married parents. There are large disparities in poverty rates by children’s race and ethnicity.
- More than 500,000 children and adolescents live in foster care. In 2003, nearly half (48%) of all children in foster care were adolescents ages 11 to 18 years, and an additional 2% were at least 19 years. Youth who age out of the foster care system often have multiple challenges: 38% have mental health challenges, 50% have used an illicit drug, and 25% are already involved with the judicial system. In addition, only 54% of youth have graduated from high school up to four years following discharge from foster care. In 2003, 18% of children who exited foster care were adopted, the vast majority of whom (79%) were ages 10 and under.
- In 2000, there were an estimated 19 million new cases of (sexually transmitted diseases or STDs) among Americans. Approximately half of all new STD infections occur in teens and young adults (ages 15 to 24) each year.
In her remarks, Mrs. Bush said, “Adults, and especially parents, also need to connect with their children to establish relationships in which they can teach kids healthy behaviors by their own good examples … I’ve seen the importance of these relationships. In Milwaukee, at Rosalie Manor Community and Family Services Center, men participate in the ‘Today’s Dads’ program, which helps teenagers and young men become responsible, nurturing fathers. At Rosalie I met Jason, who joined ‘Today’s Dads’ when he was 16. Without a dad in his own life, Jason became involved with drugs and dropped out of school. When his girlfriend became pregnant, a friend of Jason’s mother referred him to the program … At Rosalie, Jason was paired with a mentor, Alphonso, who helped Jason understand his responsibilities as a parent and provided the fatherly advice Jason missed from his own dad. Alphonso remembers how once Jason got into an argument with his girlfriend, and he wanted to know how to make her stop being mad at him. Alphonso shared with Jason the profound wisdom about relations between the sexes. He said, “I told him to buy her a card and a flower.” It worked … Over the last two years, with Alphonso’s guidance, Jason has worked to support his son, and he’s completing his GED. Jason is involved in his son’s life, and he’s determined to be an involved and stable father to his children.”
Now, as a Christian fundamentalist, my unfortunate but natural reaction was, “Here we go again: more psychological dribble that may get people to conform on the outside but does nothing on the inside. Why should I get involved in something like this? The church is not about the social gospel; it’s about THE Gospel.”
However, as I considered what was being done on the national level by our government, I began to think what, if anything, our churches could do to help the youth in our society. After all, we DO hold the answer to sin and its consequences, right? Who could be more successful at “Helping America’s Youth” than America’s churches? Well, here are the three thoughts that really challenged my thinking:
- Christian youth struggle with many of the same problems as their lost counterparts. The divorce rate, unfortunately, is no different in the Christian community as in the unsaved world at large. Many Christian young people are struggling with the same social needs and sinful vices.
- You want to show your faith in Christ, your religion, to the world? Take care of the fatherless and the widows. That’s the admonition of James 1:27. I want to park here for a moment. Take the blinders of American prosperity off and take a global view for a moment. Did you know that in Romania, for example, there are nearly three abortions for every live birth, the highest rate anywhere in the world. And still, “Hundreds are abandoned daily in hospitals and at the front doors of the orphanages.” An estimated 350,000 street children “huff inhalants, panhandle, and live underneath bridges and in the municipal dumps of Bucharest and other cities” (Roy Maynard, “Disposable Children,” WORLD Magazine, Dec. 12, 1998, Volume 13, Number 48, Internet). Did you know that in sub-Saharan Africa, 8.4 million children have been orphaned by AIDS (StarTribune, Nov. 27, 1997, pp. A1,15). By the year 2010, it is estimated that 44 million children will be orphans worldwide (http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/mch/ch/publications/ungassbrochure.pdf).
- The second great commandment calls us to love our neighbor. What does that mean? Only give them a Gospel tract? Or rather, does it call us to live lives of compassionate and sacrificial substance? Is our “neighbor” to be found only within the confines of our local church, or must we live this way everywhere and to everyone, including our enemies, as Jesus exhorted?
What else can we conclude but that the church INDEED has a social responsibility not to the neglect of the Gospel but to the furtherance of the Gospel. What does this mean practically for you? For your church? Well, I am blessed to know several men around our country who are stepping up to the plate to show us the way.
In 1991, Jan Milton, a former pastor from North Carolina, started Operation Renewed Hope (http://www.operationrenewedhope.org). Their three-part mission: (1) Provide the opportunity for all men and women to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is His death, burial and resurrection; (2) Provide relief from physical and mental suffering to nations by: shipping medical, educational and non-food humanitarian supplies and equipment, building medical facilities, and operating short-term medical clinics in remote locations; and (3) Provide opportunities for medical professionals, laypersons, and teens to serve God through short-term and long-term missions.
SI member Bob Bixby created Global Grace, Inc., as a response to the massive devastation caused by hurricanes in the United States last year. On his website (http://www.globalgracemissions.org), he says “We are deliberately trying to emulate Christlike love (the kind that impoverishes itself for strangers and for fellow believers). We are attempting to rebuild the external, visible lives of these people. But, preeminently, we are seeking to minister to their souls.”
In my own church, our youth pastor and SI member Josh Larsen has launched a ministry called Inside-Outside. This program exists to teach values, integrity, and leadership principles that, when applied to everyday lifestyle choices, will result in dramatically reformed actions, attitudes, and behaviors. The Gospel is presented each week. Amazingly, the court system (judges and probation officers) is actually sentencing teens to this program! Many of our own church teens participate in showing Christian love to these “outcasts” of society. According to Josh, 95% of the teens participating in the program come from single-parent or no-parent homes.
Josh also heads up a program for our church teens called Crosstraining. Through it he equips his youth group for a lifetime of compassionate Gospel living. The teens minister regularly to widows as well as the homeless. It is a commendable program that fleshes out, I think, exactly the spirit of the second great commandment.
So … what are you doing as a believer, as a church, to help young people today? Would you ever consider adopting a child? How about becoming a foster parent? Mentoring a young person who lost his parents? Starting a church program to reach out in your community to young people struggling with the basest of sins? How about a “Today’s Dads” program in your church?
Let me tell you what I am doing personally. In our VBS this year, the children of our church raised enough money through special offerings to cover the living expenses for a nine-year-old boy in an AIDS village in Africa for six months. Well, after those six months are over, I’m picking up the measly $30/month tab and will care for this boy until he is able to take care of himself. And yes, he will hear the Gospel from me, hopefully in person someday but definitely through letters. And my hope is that even before he hears the Gospel, he will see the Gospel in my actions of love to him every single month.
Would you use your wealth—because we are extraordinarily wealthy in comparison to the rest of the world—to pay for the needs of orphans beyond your reach, using a service as I do like World Vision (http://www.worldvision.org)? How will you step up to the plate? Because your religion, your faith in Christ, requires it.
If you or someone you know is reaching out in compassion to youth in a creative way, let’s hear about it!
Brian McCrorie is the Assistant Pastor for Music, Children, and Technology at Red Rocks Baptist Church (Denver, CO). He is a graduate of Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI) and Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA). He and his wife, Deborah, have been married for 14 years and have five children. His interests include fine arts, culinary arts, politics, the media, and of course, SharperIron! You can read Brian’s personal blog at http://bowingdown.wordpress.com/.