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!

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

Pancakes, Crafts, & Community

This past Saturday YoungLives held its 7th Annual Pancake Breakfast at Lake Park in Huntington Beach. The clouds covered us, some rain drops spit out at us but it did not deter anyone from coming out to the event. Why? What makes people want to get up out of their cozy beds early on a Saturday morning and head out into the overcast cool morning weather? Devotion does. Devotion to supporting people. One can say “I support this ministry” and that is true, but the ministry is people. The ministry is teen moms, dads and their kids. And so, we all got up early and headed over to the park to do our part in supporting these wonderful people. The regulars came out, neighbors who smelled the cooking walked over and new people arrived to give teen moms the opportunity to go away to camp for an opportunity of a lifetime. Our moms get a chance to be teens for one week and laugh as they play games and do activities, to soak in the beauty of nature, to be waited on and showered with kindness by camp volunteers and to have an opportunity to personally hear about and connect with God away from the busyness of their lives.

IMG_9938IMG_4701IMG_9921Beyond the people who chose to come out and spend $5 on a pancake breakfast and extra money on some crafts and delicious treats, it took another group of devoted people to put this all together. There is the team who arrived there extra early to set up tables, bring all of the cooking supplies and stand there for hours to flip pancakes and sausages. There are the local merchants who start weeks in advance in creating crafts and food to bring to sell that morning and who also sit for hours and take time to talk with others, explain their goods and then choose to donate proceeds to the people of YoungLives.

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There are still others who have smaller parts in the morning yet all together it becomes one big fun community event. Year after year the same people and new ones choose to do this out of devotion and care for other people. I personally don’t think this is the “normal” actions of people these days – to do all of these things with no monetary pay attached – and this is one reason why I like serving with the people of YoungLives because they are different as they choose to love and serve others in very unselfish ways and it’s attractive and contagious.

If you missed the Pancake Breakfast, you can still support the moms by donating here.

IMG_4693Lisa Bryan ~ North OC YoungLives Committee

The Heartbeat

A few weeks back we had one of those mornings in YoungLives ministry where I just sat back and thought, “Wow, how did I get the privilege to be a part of all this?”

We were celebrating the YoungLives volunteers at an Appreciation Breakfast. A time where for just an hour or two we get to invite them in to sit, eat, share stories. To try to express to them how much EVERY single one of them play a part in the ‘whole’ of YoungLives. 

IMG_4390IMG_4409Here’s an excerpt from what Myrna shared that morning:

“Running games, dressing up in bacon suits, mentoring, changing poopy diapers, setting up, taking out trash, cooking meals, serving dinner, giving rides, teaching parenting classes, sending texts, decorating, purchasing supplies, teaching craft, visiting new babies, fundraising, showing up, attending meetings, planning, sharing your stories, inviting, folding baby clothes, welcoming, praying, loving on babies, designing shirts, baking, picking up donations, delivering diapers, finding carseats, opening your classroom, advocating, pursuing, sharing resources, picking up snacks, lesson-planning, showing up early… are just a few of the things that you all in this room do to make YoungLives possible. 

You my friends, are the heartbeat of North Orange County YoungLives.

Colleen, Adrienne and I we get to be on staff but we have such a huge admiration for all of you because we know, in part, what all of you guys do and it is crazy!! Together you are a part of something beautiful that is resulting in teen after teen, child after child knowing that they are loved, that they are important, that they are worth it, and that there is a God that loves them! You guys, you all are telling them this story through all that you do- through the many sacrifices that I know you make to be a part of this ministry. Your dedication and commitment even when life happens, as it does for all of us, amazes me! 

So as I led up to this day feeling like I could not possibly express how big of a deal your commitment and sacrifice is I thought of one way that maybe I could tell you— and that was asking some of our past years girls how the PEOPLE in this ministry have impacted who they are today. I asked all girls that were from 5+ years ago. The reason is this, I know that you guys, what you did this year, it is going to impact those young families for 5 years and beyond. And you know what surprised me the most, some of the girls that had the littlest involvement from my perspective had the biggest things to say…

I want to share a couple of their quotes with you….

“The one thing I will never forget about the YoungLives volunteers is that they were always there to give us a helping hand. Making us feel wanted and that we were someone in life not just some teenage girl that got pregnant in middle school or high school. It helped me become the person I am .. Now I just want to be someone that helps others and be there for others”

“YoungLives had one of the biggest impacts on my life because I didn’t think people who knew so little about me could care so much about my well being and my son. God used young lives to open my heart and show me how to accept love/help and be loving/helpful to others.”

“YoungLives for me was one of the best things of all. Even though I wasn’t there for a long time but I learned a lot . One of them was a connection to God.  As a new parent and specially when your a teenager is very difficult you feel like you’re on your own and you don’t have anybody there to communicate but once I went to young lives a change my life in a way that I saw that I wasn’t alone there was also plenty of people that are going through the same thing and they change my life until this day because I am still connected to God and I teach my kids about God and He made me a better person and a better mom and I am very grateful for YoungLives.”

It has been an amazing year! We have seen girls grow, we have many that are excited to go to summer camp and they have no idea what is about to hit them, We have done a full school year being on campuses at 3 high schools, we hired a new staff person-Adrienne, We have walked through some hard things, welcomed new babies in to this world and it has been quite the ride!”

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If you’re thinking about volunteering with YoungLives, just do it…come check out the ministry opportunities at our Fall Kick Off happening on Saturday, August 17 (you can register here). I really believe you’ll be asking yourself, “how did I get the privilege to be part of this?”

~Colleen Drew, Area Office Admin

YoungLives Prom!

This month I attended my very first YoungLives Prom Night! I didn’t go when I was a teen mom because I was way too shy, and way too pregnant, and man do I regret that now! 

The night began with dropping kiddos off in the nursery. Moms and dads were taken by golf carts to leave their kids with familiar childcare volunteers, who created a special party just for the kids with dinner, crafts, and a ton of toys.

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The teens entered the Prom under an arch of balloons, into a room decorated with palm leaves, candles, and beautiful flowers. Each of the girls were given a Mother’s Day bouquet made by Good Flower Co. and the guys got a YoungLives mug filled with candy. Music was playing and they had the chance to visit the photo booth for professional photos by Chloe Atnip.

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After Myrna prayed for the meal, everyone was welcome to grab pizza and salad that was being made fresh throughout the night by Pizzarageous. Dinner was followed with an amazing Ice Cream Sundae Bar equipped with waffle bowls, brownies, and an array of toppings.        D E L I C I O U S!

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I  had the opportunity to talk to many of the moms during the night, and they were all so happy to be having fun with each other, knowing that their children were having just as much fun. Many of the moms were using Prom as their Mother’s Day celebration as well.  

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Before the dance floor opened up, Myrna announced the 2019 Graduates and presented them with certificates, crowned them with crowns and tiaras, and outfitted them with Prom King & Prop Queen sashes. Just by looking at them, you knew that the graduates felt proud of themselves. But also the room roared with cheers and applause, a perfect segue to open up the dance floor. DJ, Luke Sensebe from Premiere Events, seemed to know just how to get the group in the dancing mood!

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Many of the young parents decided to bring their children in to dance with them as well which livened up the dance floor with more extreme cute-ness. It was such a fun and meaningful night, and I know it had a huge impact on everyone in attendance. 

Photo credit all goes to the wonderful Tony J. Matos!

~Jayanna, Mentor

 

I Was Very Alone & So Broken

“Three years ago I attended YoungLives Huntington Beach Club for the very first time. I had just turned eighteen years old and I was seven months pregnant with my daughter. I was very alone, and so broken. 

After my very long, exhausting, and complicated week of giving birth, I had Maria Jude. I took her to YoungLives camp when she was only six weeks old, and that is where I asked Jesus to take control of my life and my broken heart.”

These are a few of the details I shared at Huntington Club this past Thursday night. I was given the opportunity to share my testimony alongside three other volunteers and it was amazing. I was hesitant to open myself up on a stage, in front of teenagers, and share such intimate details of my story. 

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• What if they couldn’t relate to me?  •What if I didn’t say what they needed to hear? •What if I had something in my teeth?!

These thoughts ran through my head beforehand, but as I began sharing they disappeared. 

I looked into the crowd as I spoke and felt overwhelmed by the amount of compassion these teenagers had for ME! What a shock! As a volunteer I find deeper admiration and compassion for these young parents at every single club I attend, but I never thought that I would receive that back from them. 

Seeing that many of the mothers at club could relate to my story just affirmed even more that YoungLives is where I am called to serve. 

I entered the evening nervous about what everybody would think of me, but I drove home that night with a full heart and spirit. Sharing my testimony blessed me so far beyond my expectations. 

I often look back on my own time spent at club as a teen mom, and I remember every testimony that was shared so clearly. When somebody would share their story with us, it stuck. I saw the way God worked in their life, and it encouraged me to wait and see how He was going to work in my own life. Hearing testimonies of others has a huge impact on planting the seeds of faith, and I think they are so important to YoungLives and the community we serve. 

I want to encourage you, if you are ever asked to share your testimony, to prayerfully consider saying YES! For me, it brought joy from depths I didn’t know existed. 

Transformational

What a beautiful night our last Santa Ana Club Gathering was for the school year! Everything about the night was very intimate and intentional. The evening started with a delicious taco & nacho bar dinner and such sweet conversations amongst volunteers and teens about life updates and plans for the upcoming summer season!

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The game for the evening really brought out the “kid” in all of us. I have never heard so much laughter and seen such carefree spirits from everyone.

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The rest of the evening was filled with hearing four transformational life stories. It was such an honor to be able to hear how God divinely showed up in each individual’s lives during different hardships. They shared about how God’s unconditional love impacted their lives in powerful and unique ways. They openly shared with us about how their lives were before knowing God, how they came to encounter God and how having a personal relationship with God has changed their lives. It was such a Holy moment to see the teens so engaged in the testimonies and be able to connect with some of the stories.

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While I was sitting there, my prayer for the teens was that they would be able to walk away from the night with a sense of hope and truly know that there is a God that loves each and every one of them unconditionally and that He cares for them abundantly.

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I was able to talk to some of the teens about their thoughts from hearing the testimonies, some of them were able to relate to some of the situations that were shared and truly see that God cares for them even during the hard times in life. One of the teens shared how they are in a season of trusting God with a difficult situation they are in the midst of and that hearing the testimonies gave them hope that life is not always going to be like this and that they are never alone. She was so thankful that she was a part of YoungLives because she knows that there are people who are always there for her when she needs a listening ear and will always be shown love, respect and care no matter what. She said that every time she comes to Club, she leaves so encouraged and amazed by how caring and loving everyone is. Hearing that from her, made me realize that these teens just want to be loved and cared for and what an honor it is that God has allowed us as volunteers in the ministry to be able to display His love to them because He first loved us.

Adrienne Garcia, YoungLives Staff

Warmth & Acceptance

I started volunteering with YoungLives in September of last year and I have been blown away by these teen moms and dads. Club nights are such a special experience to witness. I love to watch the parents come into Club with their little ones in tow. Many of the toddlers rush into the auditorium knowing they will be loved on by the volunteers, staff and other teen parents. There is a sacred sense of warmth and acceptance at Club. Everyone is welcome because all are loved and accepted by Jesus Christ.

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Parents start the night by having the opportunity to mingle and to shop through the plethora of baby clothes, toys and gear. At around 6:30, after everyone has arrived the entire group stops to pray for dinner. Everyone then enjoys a delicious home cooked meal served by the gracious volunteers. Eating with the families is one of my favorite aspects of Club. It has been a great time to talk to these moms and dads and really hear about what’s going on in their lives, what they are struggling with but also to hear about how well they are managing life and a baby. These parents are incredible. I am constantly amazed at all that these young adults are managing in their lives: from school to work to relationships to family to raising these sweet babies. It’s truly an amazing feat.

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After dinner, everyone listens to a gospel message that is given by a leader or volunteer. Recently, Adrienne gave an especially powerful message. She talked about how Jesus paid the ultimate price by dying on the cross so that our sins would be forgiven. Adrienne demonstrated this point by writing down a sin of her own on a piece of paper and then letting it dissolve completely in a container of water. I think it was a special type of paper that dissolves in liquid, but it so beautifully portrayed how no matter how we have sinned, by way of Jesus’s grace and mercy we are forgiven.

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We broke up into groups after the message and went over a number of very thought-provoking discussion questions. The teens talked about sin and forgiveness. The dissolving paper was passed out and everyone was asked to write down a sin of their own. There were some awkward moments at first, but then everyone in the group ended up writing something down on that piece of paper. No one was asked to share what they put on their paper, because it was between them and God. After everyone was done, each person put their “sin” into the water and stirred and that “sin” immediately dissolved. The exercise was really powerful and helped everyone see the power of Christ’s forgiveness.

It has been truly remarkable to witness these teen parents come together as a community, support one another and learn about Jesus’s love for them. These teens are investing in themselves as well as their little ones. I couldn’t be more blessed by my experience as a volunteer.

♥ Kirsten Beck, Mentor

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