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Education

Reaching Urban Teens for Christ

10.01.2018

God is using Moody grads as mentors to Chicago youth.

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At 6:30 p.m. on a Monday night, Karale Williams (Moody Bible Institute Class of 2010) gives a last-minute pep talk to more than 90 coaches in Moody’s Solheim Center. “WHY ARE YOU HERE?” he shouts like a drill sergeant, his arm pumping the air. The coaches (many of them Moody alumni and students) holler back: “JE-SUS!”

Then about 100 urban high school youth pour into the lobby, each one welcomed by name with loud cheers, hugs, and high fives. They are participating in SLAM, a weekly night of games, team sports, and Bible teaching for urban youth, sponsored by GRIP Outreach for Youth (gripyouth.com).

Karale, who has an elementary education degree from Moody, is the male mentorship coordinator at GRIP, meeting with 45 to 50 male coaches/mentors once a month. It is no wonder that Karale has such a heart for urban youth; he relates to their story.

Life-on-Life Ministry

Karale himself grew up in a single-parent household in Houston’s inner city, but his aunt would drive a half hour out of her way to pick him up for church. “That really spoke volumes to me that she would do that and take time to talk with me,” recalls Karale, who trusted Christ at age 16. When his youth pastor suggested Moody Bible Institute, Karale agreed because he needed to get away from partying friends and wanted to learn to defend his faith. “I knew I could move far away, get a good Bible education, and graduate debt free,” he says.

The biblical framework he learned at Moody helps him today in his work at GRIP. If a teen doesn’t want to go to college, for example, Karale says it’s important to determine the family dynamic and help the teen think critically. “Why do I think this way, and is this good thinking? Is this beneficial thinking, and is this biblical thinking?”

Each coach, like Karale, commits to spend four to six hours every week with their assigned student, engaging in life-on-life relationships as a foundation for Christian discipleship. “They need to see when we get in arguments, how we resolve conflict, how we forgive, how we love and serve others, and what church is like. They need to see that modeled,” says GRIP’s executive director, Scott Grzesiak.

Moody Grads Love GRIP

Karale is not the only Moody graduate serving at GRIP. The nonprofit ministry, which gathers weekly on Moody’s campus, has 10 Moody alumni on staff, as well as many alumni and students who volunteer as coaches (mentors) and administrative helpers. GRIP stands for gospel, relationship, immersion (in the local church), and prayer/preparation.

From its very beginning, this urban ministry has been close to the heart of Moody graduates. SLAM was the 1999 brainchild of Larry Butterfield with help from Don Stubbs (Class of 1995), both former Moody employees, to serve high school students living in the Cabrini-Green housing projects near Moody.

Scott, then a newly saved businessperson, helped launch SLAM as one of the first mentors. As gentrification took place, the families spread out, and now teens come from all over Chicago, particularly the West and South Sides.

Moody provided the use of Solheim for SLAM from the start. Karsten and Louise Solheim, who funded a large part of Moody’s athletic outreach center in 1991, wanted it to be used for community evangelism and discipleship. As a result, many Moody students today have developed a passion for Chicago and its urban youth. GRIP’s mentoring ministry has made a difference in the lives of many urban teens, including one young man named Steven.

“He didn’t let me fall.”

Josh Burns (class of 2010) did his Moody internship with GRIP, then volunteered as a mentor for five years before joining the staff as marketing communications manager in 2015. Mentoring a high school student named Steven sometimes meant attending parent-teacher meetings in place of Steven’s parent and helping with homework late at night. “Josh was a big help,” Steven says. “He put in my mind that I got to graduate; it’s not an option. He didn’t let me fall. He helped me.”

High school student Nya, 17, is thankful for her coach, Moody graduate Brooke Roskam (Class of 2011) who serves with GRIP The School. “She gives me good advice,” says Nya, who lives on Chicago’s South Side. “My mama likes her and calls her my godmama, but I claim her as a sister.” Nya has spent time at Brooke’s house in East Garfield Park, has done homework with her at coffee shops, and has gone to Christian camps and slumber parties. “She was the one who actually took me to church and told me about God,” Nya says. “I love Brooke. She got a good heart.”

Brooke and Josh will tell you that mentoring isn’t an overnight process; Brooke has known Nya for six years! Life-on-life relationships require time (years), patience, and prayer.

Creating an Urban Bible

Streetlights (streetlightsbible.com) was developed by Moody graduates. Esteban Shedd (Class of 2005) first conceived the idea for an audio Bible designed specifically for urban teens for his senior project at Moody. “My focus was how to use the media arts to communicate the gospel but really minister to the needs in various contexts,” he says. A Bible study at his church with teenagers who couldn’t read inspired Esteban. He used Moody’s studios to experiment with recording various Bible passages, setting them to hip-hop beats.

Meanwhile, Esteban and two Moody classmates, Aaron Lopez (Class of 2006) and Loren La Luz (Class of 2006), were involved in a successful hip-hop group. Loren says that just as they were gaining major-label interest, “it was very clear that God had other plans, and what birthed out of that was Streetlights.” GRIP hired the trio to create an urban multimedia Bible that also has a mobile app. “It’s God’s Word, and it’s truth,” says Loren. “That, more than anything, is the power behind this project.”

Proof of that power? One of their high school students, Marcelis, says, “I never picked up a Bible until I came here. Now I got a [Streetlights] Bible on my phone. You can put headphones in and have the Bible read to you. It’s a big thing.”

Inspired by D. L. Moody

Shawn Procter (Class of 2007), inspired by D. L. Moody’s heart for orphans, began working as program director for GRIP The School a few years after graduation. “Moody was God’s tool of connecting my heart to the city of Chicago. When I walked into the D. L. Moody museum during my first month on campus, tears came to my eyes as I saw the heart he had for the least of these in Chicago . . . the at-risk youth on the streets. Today I have the privilege to serve our city’s youth, just like Moody’s founder.”

In a GRIP video, Dr. Femi Skanes, principal of Al Raby High School, says the ministry has left an imprint on Chicago teens: “I’ve served at three Chicago public high schools, and of all of the schools I’ve been in and all of the partnerships I’ve seen, GRIP is the most phenomenal. When they say life-on-life, they truly mean that they are dedicated to improving lives.”

When trying to reach urban youth, Karale says it is most important to consider the ministry of Jesus, “The ability to love people the way Jesus loves people and meet them and their needs and bring dead men to life is a beautiful picture. I think that’s what God has called us to do.”

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