Young In The World + Raising A Child

The first time I heard about YoungLives, my heart could not stop recalling James 1:27… it says: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Teen parents often face many of the same struggles a widow would face… young in the world and raising a child often without a support system to encourage them or financial means to bear the weight of parenting.  I couldn’t stop thinking about how hard it would be to do that alone. God laid heavily upon my heart that each one of these kids is a future world changer, but without guidance, encouragement, and someone to fall back on they may never have the opportunities to become what they are capable of.
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Ever since that day, I knew this was an organization I could get my heart behind.  In the midst of all that, my husband and I were beginning the process of church planting and I knew that YoungLives would be something we would immediately rally around as a church. Even though we are still 1-year young, I am excited for all that we will be able to do in the years to come. So, for now, we do what we can!
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Our goal is to recruit the body of Christ to become mentors and volunteers, and to “sponsor” a club meeting 2-3 times a year to bring a love gift above and beyond a normal club.  In times past we have done giant packs of diapers, groceries, wipes, and baby care kits.  But with THIS month being love month (February), we wanted the parents to know that THEY are worthy of feeling God’s extravagant love.  That means not just covering the needs, but sometimes covering a desire.
Our church rallied this month big time and we were able to provide services AND goods for the kids.  Dads and kids were provided fresh cuts by some incredible barbers, and the moms were given mani’s and makeovers.  On top of that, the dads received a $50 restaurant gift card to celebrate Valentines Day out on the town and the moms received a Sephora goodie bag along with 3 full sized makeup/skincare products from Sephora. Once everyone was all fresh, we took photos for those who wanted a nice professional photo.
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I believe that God asks us not to give just the leftovers, but to give our BEST. For whenever we show love to others, we show love to Christ. I want Christ to feel that extravagant love poured out, not just my leftovers, but my BEST. That’s why we go all out whenever we can.
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We’re just getting warmed up and I believe God has much bigger plans to bless the kids in Santa Ana. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
~Natalie Iguchi, Co-Pastor of Voice Church and YoungLives mentor + friend

Tools in the Toolbelt

My story starts out as a 16 year old girl, who is about to go on a journey of a lifetime in the world of parenthood. I had no idea how many amazing things the Lord would do on this journey, but looking back now is both breathtaking and miraculous. When I first found out that I was going to have a baby at the age of 16, well before I felt I was ready, I was scared to death. But God knew the plans He had for me and for my little one.

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Virginia as a teen mom with her little boy Eli

I believe that we do the best with what we have, but I feel like I didn’t have much back then. I was terrible at communicating to others how I felt, I didn’t really know how to be a selfless, good mom, and I had so many things that I still needed to heal from, from the first 16 years of my own life. And yet, I was given this beautiful responsibility of being a mother to the most beautiful little child named Eli.

“How in the world am I going to raise this little guy?” I thought. Scared to death of being put in the position of this little ones welfare and safety just about knocked me to the ground. I wanted so badly to be able to do well. But from the get-go, I knew I didn’t have the tools I needed to do the job I really wanted to do. But God saw me and He knew what I would need. So, in the faith step of choosing to trust that God had my back, I remember telling the Lord, “I know that I can’t do this without you so please do it for me” “this child is yours, I commit him to you.” From that day forth, the Lord’s hand was in every detail of my life and my son’s. He placed people who I respected to come alongside us and unconditionally love us in our sweet little world of being mom and son. It didn’t matter that I was young. All that mattered was that we were loved, encouraged and taught new ways of doing things. The most important key of all was the unconditional love. There were many people in the last 19 years that were crucial in raising up such an incredible young man, and to them I am beyond grateful for all the love they poured into our lives.

 

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Today, Virginia with her grown up Eli!

In life you come to find out how important and what a gift it is to have tools in your tool belt. Some of these tools are faith, compassion, the gift of communication, forgiveness, healing, knowledge, and most importantly, unconditional love. When we are given these tools, and when we see how valuable and absolutely necessary it is to have them to build the life we want and dream of, we have the natural inclination to pass on and give these tools to others.

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Virginia with one of the teen moms.

This is what YoungLives does.  They come alongside and love and support however they can. We take the tools we have been blessed with and we hand them down to amazing teen parents who will in turn be master builders of theirs and their children’s lives and futures. Let us be those who share our gifts and knowledge with those so precious.

I am so blessed to be a part of such an incredible ministry. Virginia Vargas ~ Mentor 

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Virginia, Area Director Myrna Bittar, and Cassandra (another of our amazing mentors!)

Virginia and her husband currently pour in to teen moms and dads as mentors as well as running mixer games at the club nights for the young parents.

They Are Worth All of It

Huntington Beach Club nights are where it all started eight years ago. Gathering together teen moms, teen dads, their babies, and a group of volunteers to get to know each other, share a meal together, hear an encouraging word – a message of hope. This last Thursday, eight years later was not much different than those first nights. Of course, the high school aged parents have changed and we have new volunteers (and some of those original volunteers still serving with the ministry as well!!!!), but for the most part not much has changed. I don’t say this in a negative way. It’s in the BEST way. The simplicity, consistency and comfortability of YoungLives is what keeps it going…what keeps it authentic….what keeps it sweet.

IMG_6968.JPGThe night begins with volunteers coming in to set up, cook the meal, pray for the evening. Tables and chairs get set up, childcare rooms get stocked with supplies, snacks, and bubbles, the decor team comes in to add special touches, the food team has a complete healthy & tasty meal hot and ready to serve, there are donations of baby clothing, diapers, and accessories all spread out, and the craft room is set and ready. Then we wait for the mentors to arrive with the teens and little ones. A smaller group of teen parents than usual arrived. BUT, that is okay. We never really know how many will show up…it definitely ebbs and flows. Sometimes there’s sickness, or job schedules, or family things.

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We don’t always know. At times it may seem like A LOT of work goes into the evening “for just a few”. And at times it may seem like we are serving each other…the volunteers serving the volunteers. But I’m reminded & encouraged with this…the Lord would leave 99 behind to reach just one. So, though only a small group were there last Thursday night…the Lord knew those kids needed to know they are worth “it”. All of it.

~Colleen, Area Office Admin

Without YoungLives…

On September 28th, 2019, I attended the 4th annual North OC YoungLivesGiving Gala.  This year it was held at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana.  And it was incredible! Not only was everything just perfect, but it was amazing to see how much God keeps pouring into this ministry in such an extraordinary way.

I’m so thankful that YoungLives continues to ask me to be a part of this special night!

This time around, I was blessed with the opportunity to greet and check-in guests as they arrived. It was an unexpectedly windy and grey evening and the check-in table was outside. I was not prepared for the weather and it was cold. However, as soon as the guests started to show up all of that changed. The light and love of Jesus coming from those in attendance – people who continually, willingly, and lovingly support YoungLives– exuded a sense of warmth that not even the sun could have replicated.

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I loved being able to see and assist everyone as they arrived, especially the teen parents.

During dinner, I saw some Teen Moms and Teen Dads get up and make their way to the stage.  I knew what was about to happen. They were going up there to share with everyone how YoungLives has impacted their lives and the lives of their children. This is one of my favorite parts of the night because it’s so special to be able to hear directly from these parents how YoungLives has encouraged and affected them. They always have such beautiful and genuine examples of what God and YoungLives has done for them and their confidence, courage and strength always blows me away.

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They thanked YoungLives for being there for them, for motivating them, for helping them to know they had a fighting chance. They shared their personal dreams for their children. Dreams that their children would see them as an example of what is possible, that they would know they can do anything if they just put their mind to it, that their children would understand their parents fought hard to graduate school and take care of them — that their children would grow to know Jesus.

Halfway through the group of teens I heard, “Without YoungLives, I don’t think I would have ever graduated high school”

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Tears came to my eyes.  Those words were coming from a young woman I met just one year ago at this very same event. A young woman who told me she wasn’t sure if she was going to make it through high school.  A young woman I encouraged to stick it out.  I could tell just from talking to her that she had what it took to get through.

And now here she was, standing on stage declaring that she had done it; she had graduated. Not only had she graduated, she was about to start her college classes. I was overcome with emotion.  And not because of anything I did, but because of what God did for her through the YoungLives ministry.  A ministry she now wants to give back to; where she can help others to overcome similar challenges she has had to face.

Each year, YoungLives is able to provide more and more assistance to teen parents in Orange County because of what God has done to stir the hearts of so many people who come together to make it all happen.  It’s so wonderful to see so many people who consistently step up and step into the lives of these courageous teens who chose life for their children.

Lives are being dramatically altered, hearts are being changed for the better and God’s will is being lived out through your actions.  And all because you’ve chosen to live a legacy worth leaving.

Amber Matos, Volunteer and YoungLives Friend

 

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Amber with one of the YoungLives moms

Community

Community = a unified body of individuals with common interest, share a common character. Community = a social activity like fellowship. 

As we start the new school year and we get back into the monthly clubs, the word  that comes to mind is community. Wow, did I see our community come together at October’s Santa Ana Club.  Earlier in the week I had the privilege of picking up a truck full of beautiful flowers sponsored by our local Trader Joes. They had interest in our community and played a special role in providing the  flowers.  I personally was happy to arrange the flowers in vases and get them ready for our Club.

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When I arrived at Newsong Church (where we hold Club in Santa Ana), I experienced  community come together to set up the evening. I decorated our dinner tables with the fresh florals so that our room would feel inviting and warm.

As the evening started, the teens were greeted with smiles and hugs from the volunteers that make up our YoungLives community. Our teen parents had the opportunity to pick out donations given from our community of friends.

 

 

By now you’ve probably heard us speak about Laura and her team that prepare and serve the most delicious dinners at the Santa Ana Club – every month. This community of  volunteers planned a baked potato bar for dinner that included chicken, chili, and veggies as well as salad and cheese bread. The room filled with up warm conversations and smiles. After dinner, Sue and Debbie had a beautiful Harvest dessert table set up with delicious harvest bread, muffins and cupcakes.

 

 

Maria had fall interactive games for the teens, building community amongst them. Adrienne shared an inspiring message of Living and Leaving a Legacy. Yvette lead a craft for the evening (and we learned that a friend in her own community provided the hand crafted supplies for craft). The teen moms gathered at the craft tables with the mentors and shared conversations, smiles and crafting skills, building more community.

At the end of the night our God-Loving community of friends cleaned up the place and drove our teen families home. It is so beautiful to me to witness this community of people that gather and fellowship at YoungLives month after month.

Maria Randall ~ Santa Ana Club Volunteer

Sitting at the King’s Table

YoungLives Moms and Dads were invited to Newsong Church to gather together at the King’s Table dinner on August 6th.

img_3281Once a month, Newsong Church in Santa Ana opens up their campus to bless various ministries, and this month they blessed YoungLives.

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Seven couples consisting of teen moms and teen dads and their children where able to attend. Mentors and volunteers picked the young families up and brought them into such a warm and welcoming experience. The incredible dinner was prepared by the restaurant – Toast Kitchen + Bakery. One of Toast Kitchen + Bakery chefs attends Newsong Church and was willing and able to share his gifts through King’s Table ministry.

The couple’s children were cared for by volunteer childcare workers allowing our Moms and Dads to thoroughly enjoy a date night with great food and great fellowship! Throughout the evening, they were ministered to and served by some of the Newsong Church patrons through praise music and inspirational talks.

YoungLives really wants to thank Newsong Church for this wonderful evening and also for opening up their campus once a month for our Santa Ana Club nights (which start up again the first Tuesday in September). ~Fred Cianciolo, Committee Member and Mentor

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A Light House

Earlier this summer my wife asked me, can we host another party at our house? I said yes quickly because I was excited to have people over! Then she said, could it be a swimming pool party? I said yes of course!!!

Then my wife said, could you barbeque for the party? Like 50 burgers and 30 hotdogs??? I said sure, but for who and why so many? Then she smiled and said, for the YoungLives families and whoever else wants to come over to celebrate a great year and a great camp experience.

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Let me tell you, the day we bought this house with a swimming pool, we prayed that God would use it and that we wouldn’t just sit on it for ourselves, and at that moment I remembered that promise and prayer to God: That we would use this house for the many and that it would be a light house for whoever needs it. And at that moment when she asked me to host the pool party, I smiled and teared up. I was humbled that God would bless a man like me to have the honor to host and be blessed by the smiles of kids and babies and their giggles. To get the honor to serve their parents and watch the happiness of everyone around for a moment. MY WORLD STOOD STILL AND I GOT A GLIMPSE OF SOMETHING SO BEAUTIFUL, I GOT A GLIMPSE OF LOVE AND GENEROSITY.

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Our driveway was filled with toys, strollers, cloth, jumpers, you name it and it was there. The BBQ was going on the entire time, laughs were heard at all times, love was overflowing and pure joy was present. Evil was demolished, and fear ran away and for a moment, everything stood still and I got to experience it. Pure love that would restore anything.

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I got to witness amazing girls raising their children and not giving up on their lives, going to school and working hard and still raising their kids and not giving up. I got to witness volunteers giving up their time with their families on a weekend to be here, present beside these girls and us. I saw generosity like never before. I still don’t even know how our driveway got filled so quickly. I saw something beautiful and perfect and it was all covered by God’s love for us all–God’s love flowing out of us all, and God’s love being received by all of us.

I will do it every year until I cannot stand any more, because for that moment, it was all worth it! What God did and what Jesus walked on this earth doing was all worth it.

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Today’s Blogger ~ Yousef Bittar, husband to Area Director Myrna, daddy, & friend to many!

 

 

Snacks & Snuggles at Camp

Lost Canyon Camp, in Williams, AZ is a beautiful place where I was privileged to serve teen moms for a week in June. I was on the childcare team, offering a loving and secure place for the mamas to drop off their much-loved children, while they took advantage of extended time with their mentors hearing the good news of our loving Savior, Jesus. The mountains, the lake, the pool and water slides were the backdrop for the fun, acceptance, laughter, encouragement, activities with friends, delicious food, and heart to heart talks. Young Life staff and YoungLives volunteers went the extra mile to create “The Best Week of Your Life”.

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Camp is a unique experience for everyone. In childcare it’s all about the kids. The gym was where we cared for the 40 toddlers and preschoolers. Some of them jumped right into their play area and tried out every toy. Some needed time to warm up before taking off their backpack and letting go of their blanket. Leaving the familiar and the security of their mama was tough, but our team of adults and teens offered consistent and persistent love. We were rewarded with sweet smiles and laughing while we played together. There was pretending, coloring, singing, PlayDoh, bikes and cars to ride on. Snacks and snuggles. Wow!! Those toddlers and preschoolers never stopped -unless they were watching a movie or just fell asleep in someone’s arms. Some didn’t want to leave the fun at the end of the day!

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YoungLives provided preparation and training before camp and full support and encouragement while at camp. The camp staff and volunteers served with loving hearts and did their best to meet our needs. Each morning I could start the day with a devotional time to ‘be still’ with the Lord in a beautiful outdoor seating area. The dining room offered 24 hour coffee and tea, fresh baked breads, desserts! and delicious choices at every meal. Oh, yes, it was a 5-star camp experience!

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Before leaving camp, the teen moms standing before their peers to declare that they were choosing to follow Jesus proved it was a week well-spent! Relentless and exhausting. Full of fun and joy!

Thank you, Lord! Your love and faithfulness is everlasting!

Elaine Barnes, North OC YoungLives Childcare Coordinator

The Power of Prayer

I feel like there are times when I forget the power of prayer, but when I am reminded, those reminders are powerful.  I have three such examples which happened throughout my Young Lives Summer Camp experience and I would love to share them with you.

The first situation came up before even getting on the bus.  It was Wed (two days until blast off) and I felt myself getting sick.  By the afternoon, I knew this was going to be an issue; however, I also knew that I needed to muster through. I sucked it up and began the packing process.  I checked in on my girls and reminded them of essentials and to be on time and to get some rest. By evening I was curled up in my bed, truly worried that I would bring germs to these beautiful babies or worst, have to cancel.  Instead of wallowing though I reached out in prayer.  I actually went to social media and explained the importance of healing and asked for a covering of prayer.  By the next morning (and 15 comments of true prayer later) I honestly felt re-energized and ready to tackle anything.  I was so grateful that in the trainings we had been reminded to be praying for our girls non-stop, but to also ask for prayer for ourselves.  It was a great example that in today’s world, prayer warriors can be contacted from anywhere and at all times of day.

The second situation happened on Saturday/Sunday.  There were 15 girls and 13 babies in our group and we had a prayer team praying for each and every one of them, but by Saturday evening, I knew the Lord was really working and campers were personally being faced with some hard things to work through. I reached out to the prayer teams at home to be in earnest prayer for the campers especially as I knew they’d be gathering for Sunday morning services. On Saturday the words of the speaker began to break down thick, heavy walls which in turn enabled us as mentors to help rebuild with God’s love.  By Sunday afternoon cabin time we began to see new young women that were being filled up by the Holy Spirit. Prayers were being answered!  If you don’t know about cabin time then I challenge you to go on a camp experience and find out, because God is so apparent in those moments.

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This leads me to my third example of prayer.  In that time of prayer and reflection in the cabin we gave the girls the gift of silence and time to write a letter to God our Father. We as mentors did the same and I have not had such an honest conversation with God in years.  I found myself crying as I wrote down truths and apologies and requests. My requests were not personal ones like a house (although that is on my prayer list) but instead requests to be used by Him. I not only gave Him permission to use me, but I begged for Him to use me.  I verbalized my desire to be a disciple and to make a difference in people’s lives.  I shared my longing to be his instrument and to give me the words to help heal hearts.  I asked to be used in anyway which He saw fit to use me (this ended up getting me into trouble when he chose to use me on the ropes course the next day, but that’s a whole other story).

I was feeling pretty filled up by the camp experience thus far, but my humanity reared its ugly head. Right after seeing God do such amazing things, I found myself crying to another mentor.  In a rare moment of exhaustion, I verbalized my deep ache for some physical example that being God’s tool was worth it.  I had watched at camp as girls cried in mentor’s arms, as toddlers raced to mentors almost as aunts, and as campers and mentors sang together and I was honest in a weak moment of wanting to be affirmed.

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My fellow mentor hugged me and gave me the dignity to verbalize my desires of the heart and thanked me for all I was doing.  I asked if she thought I was selfish and she laughed and said that I was human. She surprised me so much when she prayed that I would get that moment of affirmation which I so wanted and we went back to being there for the campers and their babies.

I never put my desire out there as a prayer request, but it does say in the Bible that where two or more join together in the power of prayer, that prayer will be answered and it was answered on Monday evening.  At our evening time together the entire camp stood outside as the word of God was offered in the form of a Bible.  I can’t go into too much detail, but I can say that as I stood outside under God’s beautiful night sky, I was appreciating His glory and power… when I felt a pair of arms reach out from behind and wrap me into a huge embrace.  One of our campers felt moved to hug me as she heard about the Bible.  I wiped away tears, holding her arms tight, and locked eyes with my fellow mentor and just willed her to feel my gratitude.

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This young mom then whispered in my ear, “do you think we could do one of those things where we read the Bible together and then talk about it? What’s that called?” I literally laughed out loud as I said, “You mean a Bible study? Yes, I would love that.” I reveled in the moment of God answering a barely spoken prayer.  A personal gift which was His icing on the cake of an expertly crafted week.  A week which was filled with so much laughter, food, dancing, singing and fun. A week filled with tears and questions and answers.  A week which ended with three moms welcoming Jesus into their lives for the first time and three more moms reaffirming a desire to walk with Jesus all with their babies at their sides.  A week which led to contacts being shared as moms made new mom friends and as emails were shared to follow up with a bible study.

Now I would like to challenge you, our readers, our support, our sponsors.  Please do not stop praying for us.  I have just shared with you three examples of how prayer was answered. I need you to continue to pray for this group. Pray that these hearts can continue to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.  Pray that these moms will be able to withstand attacks from the enemy on their newfound relationship with the Lord.  Pray that we as an organization can continue to serve where there is such a need.  And most importantly, pray on what your role is to be for the upcoming year.  Who knows, perhaps God is preparing you to be a mentor at camp next year.  Pray on it.

IMG_9102~Theresa Stack, North OC YoungLives Mentor

 

FIFTY ONE!

WE ARE GOING TO CAMP!
Myrna shared the excitement of the upcoming camps in her most current newsletter and we are bringing it directly to you here:

 

F I F T Y    O N E!

51!

Stephanie, Lupe, Amanda, Yaelin, Bernadette, Isaac, Junior, Mason, Sarah, Yvette, Andrew, Steven, Delilah, Liliana……. these are just a few of their names

With your help this Thursday and Friday North OC YoungLives is taking 51 individuals to summer camps!!

To join dozens of other teen moms at a Young Life camp in Arizona, we are sending out:

  • 15 Teen Moms
  • 14 Babies and Toddlers
  • 5 Mentors
  • 6 Childcare Volunteers

To Big Bear for a “Dad-venture”:

  • 8 Teen Dads
  • 2 Male Mentors

I am blown away at the thought of these 51 lives being impacted! Young mamas will get to connect with each other and with volunteers that genuinely care about them. They will get to have fun zip-lining, horseback riding, they will hear the Gospel, experience testimonies, sing, laugh, cry, dance and much more! Kiddos will be cuddled, rocked, and loved on for days. Teenage fathers will kayak, eat, explore, have real conversations, and have safe good fun. Volunteers will be challenged, they will serve, they will connect, they will inspire, they will pray, they will cry, and I am certain they will see God at work.

Would you please join me in prayer in the upcoming days?

Thank you friends for partnering with us all year to make this priceless and truly life-changing experience possible for all fifty-one. I know that many of those kiddos (and their parents) will experience more hope-filled years ahead because of it.

~Myrna Bittar, Area Director of North OC YoungLives