Bringing Them Gifts

Have you ever paused for a minute to think about the word Thanksgiving? Well, when I stopped and thought about it, it made complete sense. I am so thankful that I know who Jesus is that I want to give Him to everyone I know around me.

Last month I had the honor to serve teen moms and dads at their high school. My wife Myrna, asked me if I would go with her to deliver some Thanksgiving boxes that were donated by a local church.

IMG_2463Arriving at the high school and meeting the teen moms and dads was amazing enough for me, but to be able to give them something and let them know that they are loved and appreciated was too much for me to handle. I had tears of joy running down my eyes. To meet them where they were at, to go to them and let them know of a new hope, love and mercy is what I am thankful of. To give them Jesus is what I am thankful for. After all, three wise men traveled across the continent to see this Savior named Jesus, and they brought the best gifts available, because they were thankful that a Savior had been born. Bringing these kids gifts is letting them know that we are thankful for them. We are thankful that they are parents at a young age and still thriving at school. We are thankful that they didn’t give up on their dreams, we are thankful that they allowed us and trusted us to walk beside them and care for them. We are so thankful that they are raising their beautiful babies. Letting them know ahead of Christmas that we are so thankful because we have met this Savior and we want them to meet Him too is really what this is all about.

 

To be able to see the joy and relief a gift brings to these kids is breath taking. Everything pauses for a second and only their beautiful smiles shine. Through all the darkness of this world and heaviness of their lives, their smiles shine bright in it all. Just that alone made a difference in my life personally, and for that I am thankful for these kids, they are strong, they are brave, they are bright; just allow them to be and they will be!

Humbled by a greater love, Yousef Bittar

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YoungLives Changed My Life

 

For this week’s blog, we have the privilege of introducing you to one of our alumni teen moms. We asked Wendy Morales a few questions, and she so sweetly wrote her replies to us. (You’re going to love her!)

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Wendy, please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I have two boys. My oldest boy is four years old and my youngest boy is two years old. My husband’s name is Miguel Gonzalez and we have been together for six years now. We both graduated from high school in 2015. Currently I’m a stay home mom, taking care of my kids. Miguel works as a security guard.

How has YoungLives impacted you and your family? 

YoungLives helped my husband and I when we didn’t have support. They welcomed us with open arms. They showed us love that I’ll never forget. YoungLives opened my eyes and showed me that I wasn’t alone. They showed me that with God in my life, nothing was impossible to do. YoungLives made me a better mom. They taught me things about my kids and myself that I never would have realized myself. My sons can’t wait to go to club every month to play with their friend, Aleah!

 

Why do you think it’s important for teen moms to be part of YoungLives?

So they can see that they’re not alone. To hear other mom’s testimonies that God is real. To feel God’s love. To give them support and help when they need it. To guide them to the correct path for themselves and their kids. Being able to talk to other girls that may have similar problems and being able to help each other. A chance to make new friends and change old habits.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Being in YoungLives made my connection with God stronger than ever! Now in my church, I’m the leader in the Children’s Ministry. I’m taking care of little ones 0-3 years old and showing other moms the love that YoungLives showed me and my sons. YoungLives changed my life and my son’s lives and I’m never forgetting the amazing things these people do. How grateful I am to be involved in YoungLives!

Club Night Celebrated

Today’s writer is Kelsey Mendez, who along with her husband Eddie lead the program portion of Huntington Beach Club. She and Eddie both have invested time and love into the teens over the past few years. You’ll hear her heart by her writing.

IMG_8782Club is always the highlight of my month because I get to witness special moments between teen parents & their babies, selfless volunteers and, I get to serve with my own family.

At this month’s Huntington Beach Club the parents were greeted by Colleen and Cristen and upon entering the room, there was a very long table with lots of baby items, for them to chose from. This always blesses me because random people donate to this ministry and have no idea how it helps so many parents and their babies.

Once everyone was settled, Eddie prayed for our meal. This month we were served a yummy pasta stroganoff with two yummy side salads to choose from with garlic bread, and a slice of pumpkin pie for dessert. The parents enjoyed their meal and got to talk with friends while volunteers loved on and held their babies.

DSC_0303Once all the babies went into childcare, all the teens got an opportunity to have some fun with a new game. This month’s game was called “Traffic Yam Race,” in which the player had to use a plastic spoon to get the yam to the taped center on the floor and back to their partner and once they had both finished they would win. We had two teen moms, Natalie & Jayanna on one team and then a first timer mother and daughter duo on the other team. It was fun to watch them laugh and cheer each other on in excitement.

After the game, we had the beautiful singer, Kyah, sing some songs. She sang Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, Don’t Stop Believing by Journey, and Beautiful Things by Gungor. The audience cheered loudly for her not just because of her beautiful voice but her personality is so sweet, as well.

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The message was given by my husband, Eddie Mendez, who spoke of the time when Jesus calmed the storm. Eddie tied a story of his own life, when Jesus rescued him and calmed a storm in his own life, with the exact text. It was a great message for everyone to be reminded of, especially for teen parents that have so much going on around them, that Jesus is for them and that He himself has already faced temptations and did not give in because He is Almighty God. Eddie also reminded us of the humanity of God, that He was hungry, and tired, like us but most importantly that He is God and He is with us through the storms of our life and that we just need toturn to Him and call out to Him. Eddie left us with two questions to think about and to discuss:

  1. In times of trouble who do you go to?
  2. What are some storms you are currently going through?

Eddie ended by encouraging the teen parents to talk to himself or other volunteers to receive Jesus in their own hearts, or to pray, or simply to talk. His message was well spoken and well received by all. I noticed so many engaging in deep conversations.

During craft time, Tracy had stations set up for the girls to makebeautiful mini Christmas wreaths. As I listened around the room, I heard many volunteers asking the girls the questions Eddie asked us.  One young mom shared, “In times of trouble, I turn to God, because no one else can handle what I’m going through.” I smiled as I heard this because she got it and she knows who to turn to!

DSC_0289While the girls were enjoying craft time, the guys gathered together in a circle talking about life. The guys talked for a long time this month and it was sweet to see them all laughing and engaging with each other.

YoungLives is a great ministry and such a blessing to be a part of as so many lives are changed just by the simple act of being present and allowing the Lord to do the work in their hearts.

No Special Words or Fancy Method Needed

As one of the Guy Leaders and Program Leaders (along with his wife Cheryl), Joey Wagner shares his Club experience.  

What a night we had spending the evening with the teen moms and dads at our November club in Santa Ana! This is the first year my wife and I have had the opportunity to be a part of YoungLives and it’s been amazing to see the work that God has been doing in the teen moms and dads already. We’ve seen joy in the teens lives just from the simplicity of the volunteers showing up, being consistent, having fun, and loving them without judgement. Being a mom and dad isn’t an easy job and to see these teens do it so well and to see how much they love their kids has been a blessing to me and I couldn’t be any more proud every time I come to club and see what great parents these teens are in the face of adversity and challenges of balancing work, school, family, and caring for their kids.

IMG_6495The November club was extra special as one of the volunteers shared a tough message on dealing with a tragedy in her life and questioning why something like her experience could happen to her and her family. After her sharing we broke into small groups and everyone was given a chance to share something that they had dealt with in the past or were dealing with currently. It was so awesome to watch some of the teens open up and be vulnerable. The amount of trust they had with the volunteers was amazing and you could see God working in their lives. They shared some tough things and it gave the volunteers a chance to pray and love on the teens even more. Even when things for them may seem so desperate and they may feel alone they always have God on their side to be their rock and place of comfort.

I had a chance to spend time with the teen dads and we talked about prayer and spending time each day talking with God. It dawned on me that maybe some of these teens have never prayed before. Maybe they felt embarrassed to pray or frankly didn’t know how to pray. I was able to share with them the simplicity that prayer could be and that there was no right or wrong way to pray. No special words or fancy method but that God just wants us to talk to Him. Just like their kids would talk to them, God is excited to hear from us no matter what. If we fumble our words, if some days we only talk to Him for a minute, other days we talk to Him for an hour, God is always there willing to listen and happy to hear from his children. He will always be our Father and does not judge us and will never abandon us.

~Joey Wagner

Admiration, RESPECT, Approval

Admiration – A feeling of RESPECT and approval.

That’s what I feel for every teen parent I come into contact with through YoungLives… admiration. It’s not easy to be young and parenting. Having had a baby pretty early on in life, I know this from experience. They are taking on so many responsibilities at once.

This year, I was blessed with the opportunity to teach parenting lessons at Valley Vista High School. I have been able to get an even closer look at the responsibilities these teen parents have on their plates. Every day they are making it happen for themselves and for their kids. They are going to school, dealing with family issues, raising children, worrying about grades, trying to maintain a social life, attempting to make time for themselves and SO much more. And yet, somehow, the teen moms and dads make it look so easy!

The first time I taught a lesson to the students, I was really nervous. My nervousness surprised me because I work in Education for a cosmetics company, so being in front of people teaching (sometimes for 8 hours at a time!) is kind of my thing. The lesson was only 45 minutes long. The first of a 2 part series on Stress.

I realized that my nervousness was stemming from two things.

  1. I wanted my lessons to make a positive impact, even if it is only on one of the students.
  2. Sometimes when people initially talk to me, they think I have it all together. However, my story is really messy and I can relate to a lot more than what shows on the surface. I didn’t want the students to think… “Oh, here’s this lady with this fancy job, beautiful family, and everything going right… she doesn’t get me.”

To overcome this anxiety, I knew what I had to do. I prayed about it. Every day. For over a week. Ultimately, God revealed himself to me to let me know that he would work on it; I’m just the messenger.

The first lesson went off without a hitch. The students were engaged! Two weeks later, I went back to do the 2nd part of the series and while following up, learned that someone actually used the techniques we talked about and thought it was helpful! Praise God!

I’m so appreciative of being able to be a part ofYoungLives in this way! If you are on the fence about getting involved in any way, please know that these experience will only make you feel more fulfilled! The school year is moving along and things are going really well. I can’t wait to see what else God has in store for our group this year!!

-Amber Matos

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New, Nervous, and Nurtured!

A really powerful part of YoungLives is watching the young teen moms step into new experiences. This year all things aligned to bring two of the teens into the Nurture ministry at ROCKHARBOR. Nurture is a ROCKHARBOR ministry intended to enfold mothers into a community that is characterized by authenticity, grace, love and support. Nurture moms meet weekly and are placed at a table with a designated table leader and mentor mom. The morning consists of breakfast, prayer, discussion, biblical encouragement and opportunities for growth.

We asked one of the teen moms, Natalie, a few questions about her new experience:

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Sweet Zoey

 :: It’s typically scary to start something new, what made you take the chance?
“I knew Nurture would be really good for me and I really wanted to join but I was absolutely terrified walking in the first day.  I remember being way too early and not knowing where to go or what to do. I remember telling my little girl Zoey ‘I think I’m more nervous than you!’  Zoey then replied ‘it’s ok momma, I’ll see you after class.’ I knew after that things would be ok! I was still very nervous once I had to separate from Zoey, but in a good way.  I knew this was gonna be something new and exciting. I really needed this in our life. I have become so much closer with God since starting Nurture and have really come out of my shell when it comes to talking to people.”
:: What’s your favorite part of the Nurture mornings?
“My favorite part of Nurture would be all the lovely ladies at my table. I may be biased but I have the most amazing table and all the women are so inspiring. I look up to them very much, they give me such wisdom and strength. Every time I have a stress or something I need help with these ladies give me the most amazing answers and help me more then they probably know!”
:: How has your time at Nurture effected your walk with God?
“My walk with God since starting Nurture has became stronger then ever. Every time I walk into Nurture I just feel His presence with me ever so much, when I’m writing in my journal I just feel Him speaking through me. There are times where I feel so stressed and I’ll just ask Him, ‘God what am I supposed to be doing? Am I a good enough mom?’ Then I just feel His love and comfort within me and just remember how great my Zoey is doing. He reminds me that I’m being the best mom I could possibly be and that I’m doing all that He wants me to be doing.
:: How has your relationship with God grown?

“My relationship with Him has grown in so many aspects! Not only me but my Zoey as well. I always talk to God and write to Him in my journal. My favorite time with Him is at night when Zoey and I read a story and pray before bed. Zoey always wants me to say a prayer over us and then help her do her own prayer, it just makes me so happy that Zoey and I are growing so much with God and going on the path He has made for us. Sometimes I’m scared I’m not doing right but He knows our whole life. He has already been everywhere we will go and has us exactly where He wants us. We are in his hands, safe and sound.”

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Ashley with teen moms, Natalie and Courtney

Natalie’s Table Leader, Ashley Novotny, who is also a YoungLives volunteer, shared what it’s been like to have the two teen moms at her table. “Motherhood isn’t just for the 

mid-to-late 20s or 30s, as motherhood is linear. Once you become a mom, you’re a mom and each new phase requires prayer, support, and accountability! Having these two younger moms helps us to remember to see the simple joys in our own parenting. They are so mature for their ages (a baby has a habit of doing that! Haha!) and the love they have for their kids is incredible to witness. They have accepted their role as mom and though they face some really challenging stuff, they have a boldness and fierceness that is inspiring. I love hearing them share their hearts and dreams for not only themselves, but for their children, too. They dream big, love big, and fit right in at our table. We love our YL moms!!”

 

Crafting Friendships

Every third Thursday of the month I have the privilege of doing table decor and organizing a craft for the girls. My family and I look forward to this night so much, as we aim to create a welcoming atmosphere for all who attend. Not knowing the kinds of challenges or things they may be facing, it’s so important for us that their minds can be at ease. It’s in these times that friendships are formed, bonds are made and God is at work. Heading into our fourth year we didn’t realize the blessing it would be as we are invited into the lives of these young moms. 
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After so many years now, we’ve heard testimony after testimony that has proven that all these girls have needed someone to stand with them, to encourage them and to believe with them.
At club they get to hear the word and connect with people who are going through their same struggles, things that we may all face.  But also as practical as sharing a meal, having dessert and getting to shop for their children. The nights end with the girls gathering to craft with their mentors, which means lots of laughter and deep conversations about the message they just heard. 
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To me personally this has become an integral part of our family. With my children serving in the children’s ministry, holding babies and helping in practical ways, but also building their own friendships and playing late into cleanup time with everyone. We look forward to our monthly gatherings and though we  understand we are intentionally serving, hoping to bless others, we also know that God Himself in turn uses these nights to bless us. ~ Tracy Sumner, HB Club Crafts & Decor Coordinator

Keep Your Doors Open

If you’ve ever spent time with Yousef Bittar, one of our YoungLives Committee members, ever present volunteer, and Myrna’s husband, you know what a golden heart he has. Today, he shares about the experience he had a couple weeks back in taking some teens to the Chargers football game. Enjoy!

A couple weeks ago Russell Okung, an offensive line backer for the LA Chargers donated 10 tickets to YoungLives. So I had the opportunity to take some teen dads, a teen mom and her boyfriend, and a 9 year old boy who is the son of one of the YL alumni and has been in our lives for about 6 years now.

Football2Three dads that came were teen dads when we met them and now they are men. They are strong men that are living their lives caring for their children and girlfriends. The impact in their lives is not only when they are teen dads and moms, but the impact of Christ’s love resonates with them their entire lives. See, when Jesus shows his love, it changes things in the heart and mind of the one who experiences it. I walked beside these men over two or three years ago when I got to know them at YoungLives Club. Nevertheless, year in and year out, they are still a big part of our lives, God does not forget them and my family nor will I ever forget them. Seeing them drive to my house with their own cars, having their own jobs, thriving in their lives for their kids, and working hard brings tears to my eyes. These are the teens that we invited into our lives, and they are here to stay in our lives forever, because basically they became a part of our family. Football4If God invited us to become His children and loved us for no other reason than Him being good to us, then who am I to not love as many as I can and invite them in to my family? How else they will know they are loved if they are not allowed to become family? Do you see what I am trying to say? Keep your house door open for these kids, throw as many burgers needed on a BBQ and tell them to come. Call them weekly, bug them as much as you can, tease them, joke with them, love them as you would love your own child, your own sibling, love them and never stop loving them for one second. Never judge them, just love them, never put them down, instead just love them, never push them away, just keep loving them.

Allow a transformation to happen in their lives, allow them to become your friends, best friends, and the ones that you would ask for help from. Allow them to become leaders, trust in them and let them be the children that God created them to be. That is it!

Forever I will owe it to these teenagers and their babies, for changing my life and opening my eyes to a greater love that Jesus called me to love and live. I encourage you to step in and reach out to anyone in your life that you see needing a loving heart. That can be you! A life changer!

Humbled by a greater love, Yousef Bittar.

Sowing Little Seeds

This week we welcome mentor, Alise Salcido sharing about Santa Ana’s October Club night.

From the moment I walked through the doors on Tuesday night, I felt like I was the one being ministered to not the other way around. The love and care were obvious and evident throughout the entire night. Connecting with the amazing moms and hearing about their month is such a sweet time. The night flowed so well. Beginning with asking the moms about items they had picked out at the donations table, sharing a delicious home cooked meal, playing a game, hearing from a speaker, and chatting over a craft, there were many opportunities to chat and hear from the moms.

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Hearing the girls’ stories is my favorite thing. Throughout the night, over dinner and later during crafts the girls will share little snapshots about themselves, their child, and their lives. Some are funny, some are sad, and some are relatable. Last week one of the girls talked about how much she loves soccer. She shared a story about how she ditched practice one day and her dad caught her getting food with her friends. She described how she lost her dad’s trust and how she had to rebuild that trust. It was great to be able to see that this mom had made a personal connection with Sarah’s message from earlier that night about how decisions we make can damage our relationships with others but that there is grace, love, and freedom. Being present and asking questions that encourage the moms to reflect and make connections with Jesus is so special.

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As a wife, high school teacher, and a mom to a toddler, I thought about how I could support young moms. However, it has been humbling to see the moms be such good parents. They love on their babies while juggling the craziness of being a teenager. Often without the support of a partner, they balance being a student, getting babies to daycare, doing homework, holding down a job, being a daughter, helping with siblings, chores, caring for their own child, and so, so much more.

Being a mentor has provided me with a glimpse into the lives the moms lead. They have huge responsibilities and my goal is to gently direct them to Jesus because He is the ultimate source of strength and support. There are so many ways to be involved throughout the night. From giving rides to holding a baby while a mom eats her dinner (maybe the first time in a month she’s gotten to do that). Personally, I have the opportunity to pick up one of the moms on my way to club. The first month I thought it might be a a little awkward, but then last Tuesday was so nice because we got to catch up and I had legit follow up questions. We were able to follow up on a previous conversation and I got to see that she actually valued and listened to what I said the previous month. I think that’s the greatest takeaway: they are listening. So sow those little seeds!

 

You Were Made For This

Hi everyone! My name is Ellen and I’ve been a volunteer with Younglives for about 3 years now. It has been so amazing to see how God has breathed life onto this ministry over the years. I have seen Jesus meet with both teen moms and teen dads, and it has brought me so much joy to witness the redemption and restoration of lives.

IMG_5954.JPGLast Friday my husband and I had the pleasure of attending the Bi-Annual Giving Gala at the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity in Costa Mesa, which not only was a fun date night for us, but also was such a testament to God’s faithfulness and heart for this ministry! When we walked in, I first noticed the stunning decor (great job ladies!!), and I then looked around and was so encouraged to see the room full of both new and familiar faces. I was in awe to see the significant number of people compelled by the heart of YoungLives. The night began with a silent auction, which included so many fun items and trips! I was constantly blown away by the generosity in that room from the moment we walked in to the moment we left. 22218639_898503796966195_1637708726663927653_oAfter the silent auction ended, Myrna shared about how she and Yousef stepped into YoungLives and the powerful ways they’ve seen God move. I have the greatest respect for Myrna and Yousef, and it’s amazing to see the ways their hearts beat for teen moms and dads.
22256653_898503993632842_3735427300262612720_oWe then watched a testimony from one of the teen moms who found the Lord and a new life through YoungLives. Her story was so powerful, and I am so thankful that she has come to know that she is not only loved deeply by the YoungLives community, but she is also unconditionally loved by her Father in Heaven. After her testimony, we had an incredible dinner from 24 Carrots Catering (my table couldn’t stop talking about how tasty both dinner and dessert were), and we heard from speaker and author Paul Gibbs. He captivated everyone with a message centered around Young Life’s motto: “You were made for this”. He shared how through the love of Jesus we are compelled to action. We are each created with gifts and talents, and God’s heart is that we would live out the calling He has placed on our lives. There is abundant life in and through Jesus. This was such a good reminder!

The main thing I will remember from this night would be the amount of people there 22219636_898498756966699_1319805925009556899_o.jpg
who came to support this ministry, whether they’ve been involved for a few years or if they recently just learned about it. In my view, this wasn’t just a fundraiser, it was also a beautiful celebration of everything God has done, and a declaration of everything God will do in the years to come.

Thank you to all who came and all who made it possible!