February 5, 2015

Missional: Share Your Story

Addison and I met at an English Country dance my family and I used to attend; funny how God arranges those kinds of meetings, where you walk away knowing that God has something big in store for that neat person you just met.  That's how I felt whenever I spoke with Addison, and even though we aren't close friends, we have kept up with each other through Facebook and I have watched her journey in ministry unfold, and been amazed at how she has made herself available to God and how He is using her life and vision to change the world.  She shares her heart today, and I know that you will be blessed and challenged by what she writes.

Q: How and when did you first become active in ministry?

Starting around 12 years of age, my parents strongly encouraged and made a point for us to be involved in serving the church and serving the community as a family and as a church family. I became heavily involved in children's ministry, regularly participated in community outreach and service projects, and headed several small fundraisers to support some of our overseas missionary friends. Four years ago I also started working with foster children and RHY (Runaway Homeless Youth) in the Plano, TX area.

Q: I would love for you to share about Mission22Six and working with young people.

Our goal is to reverse the moral and economic decline of society by raking up productive and respectable adults out of the at-risk youth in our community. This will be accomplished through Christian mentors and house-parents leading by example as well as intentionally guiding and training the youth as they transition into adulthood. Christian oriented programs designed to teach basic life skills as well as higher moral standards will be provided to aid in the training and guidance process.

Our first step in fulfilling this mission is to start a home for unwed teen moms. The home will be for girls ages 12-18, and their babies, newborn-5 years. The three to four bedroom home will house two house mothers (similar to foster parents) and two teen moms and their children. The moms will be assisted in continuing their educations, be taken through the Casey's Life Skills course, be assisted in job acquisition (when age appropriate), receive Christian discipleship and counseling, and be integrated into the community and a church family. The goal will be to mold and guide the moms into becoming independent, self-sufficient, emotionally healthy, spiritually strong, respectable, and successful adult members of society with the building blocks to nurture their children into such adults.

There is great need for homes like this nationally, but also in the specific area of Plano, TX to which God has called us. Every year, roughly one million teens become pregnant, and, sadly, more than half of them abort their children. There are several problems with this that we hope to address.
1. Unwed teens should not be getting pregnant. They should not be having sex outside of marriage. Within this problem, there are two sub-problems.
            -Most older teens are pregnant because they are sexually active by their own choice. They do not see this as immoral. Surveys have shown that the main cause of this is that very few teens have ever been told that it is wrong and have never had examples of adults who believe it to be wrong. We will teach the biblical truths on this subject, give them examples of peers and adults living by these truths, and equip them to teach their children these truths as well. This will keep the cycle of immoral lifestyle choices from repeating, thus decreasing the number of pregnant teens, and, resultantly, abortions, in the future.
             -Most younger teens are pregnant due to abuse, most often from a family member. That alone is horrific, but the domino effect it has is even more appalling. The younger the age at which a girl is abused, the more likely she is to grow up seeing sex as the only value she has, and abuse from men as being the acceptable norm. When this becomes her mindset, her relationships going forward into her adult life will be characterized by abuse. Her children are them more likely to be abused by the males in their lives at young ages, and even if they are not abused, by seeing their mother consistently abused, they begin to believe this to be the acceptable norm as well. As a result, sons will grow up to be abuse in their relationships, and daughters will grow up to allow males to abuse them and the cycle perpetuates. When we remove the teens from these detrimental situations and also provide them with opportunities to observe men interacting correctly with their families, we allow them to heal from past experiences, learn the way that real men treat women and that it is acceptable to expect to be treated this way, and their children to grow up seeing and expecting godly male behavior as the norm. This breaks the cycle.

2. 500,000 abortions. Some of these are forced by the older man who gets the girl pregnant. Some of them are because the teens have never been told that this is wrong. Society tells them abortion is a right they have and is not a question of morality. Some are because the girls feel they have no other choice due to the long list of obstacles that come with being an unwed teen mother. By providing them with a safe environment and assistance with caring for and raising their child, the teens will feel they have the means to defy their impregnator and bear their child, as well as eliminate many of the obstacles they would potentially face as unwed teens mothers. We would also help them to understand the immorality of abortion. This would help to eliminate lives lost and stop the cycle.
3. 500,000 babies and teens facing daunting obstacles, often on their own. It is such a blessing that the teen chose to bear her baby instead of having an abortion. Going forward, she and her baby will need very specific assistance, training, and guidance to keep them on their feet and to keep them from repeating the cycle of poverty, abuse, neglect, and immorality.

This list of main obstacles and their solutions is the result of much compiled research. It is based off of the national research of Evelyn Lerman who spent five years working with and interviewing teen moms and staff of homes designed for teen moms around the country. This provided a very in-depth look at the needs of teen moms across the country. For almost three years, I worked with, interviewed, and surveyed at-risk youth and the staff of homes specifically designed for their care. My work gave us a localized perspective on the needs of teen moms in our specific target area, Plano, TX. The list of obstacles that we compiled based off of our joint research is as follows:

1. Live in poverty and unstable, unsafe homes.
2. Lack positive support systems.
3. Difficulty completing an education.
4. Lack of inexpensive, quality child care.
5. Difficulty finding and maintaining jobs.
6. Lack of basic life skills.
7. Emotional, mental, and physical damage.
8. A legacy of poverty, immorality, abuse, and lack of trust.

It is easy to see how all of these obstacles feed into each other and that to truly address one, we must provide solutions, simultaneously, for as many as possible. We designed our outline of programs based on this fact and the aforementioned research.

1. We will provide a safe, well-structured home environment for the teens and their children. In this home, their basic needs will be met. This will remove the worry for safety, food, clothing, etc. and help them to be able to focus on goals for their futures. Removing them from homes in which abuse is the norm, will also help to keep the cycle of abuse from repeating itself, as the children will not have that example to learn from.

2. We will help them to build healthy relationships with positive adult and peer role-models. This will give the teens and their children examples of correct behavior for themselves and to expect from others. In addition, this will help to give them a support system to encourage them in staying on track for accomplishing their goals for the future, as well as provide them with connections that may be key. In accomplishing their educational and carrier goals.

3. A main reason for teens dropping out of school or doing poorly in school is that they have no future goals. Our first step in aiding them to complete their educations will be to work with them to set short and long term goals. We will also assist them by providing school supplies, transportation, tutoring, books, and help them apply for scholarships.

4. During school and work, we will provide free childcare. Not only will the teens' babies be given basic care, but the caregivers will be early childhood development and education specialists who will

create environments and activities specifically designed to correctly stimulate and grow each child at each age.

5. There are many things that make it difficult for teen moms to find and maintain jobs. We have taken care of two challenges by providing them with free childcare and transportation. We will also provide them with mentors and life skills training that will help them in creating a resume, filling out applications, and learning proper interview etiquette.

6. Besides teaching by example and including them in household responsibilities, we will teach the teens basic life skills by taking them through the Casey's Life Skills Course. This is a curriculum designed for teens aging out of foster care which means that it is written in a way that will be relevant and easily relatable to the teen moms, who most often come from a background similar to most foster care children.

7. We are partnering with Dallas Theological Seminary's Biblical Counseling Department to provide the teens with high level, biblical based counseling to help them deal with and heal from their pasts, cope with the obstacles and difficulties of the present, and aid them in becoming emotionally healthy and spiritually strong adults in the future.

8. Assisting, guiding, and training the teen moms and their children in all of these ways that we have listed will effectively break the cycle poverty, immorality, abuse, and lack of trust, and start building a new legacy of self-sufficiency, emotional health, spiritual strength, respectability, and success that can be passed down for generations.

There is an obvious need for homes like this, but, sadly, there are none in north Texas. There are crisis pregnancy centers, and short-term transitional homes, but nowhere for teen mothers to find a safe, long-term, place to stay that provides them the opportunities to heal from their pasts and equips them for their futures. Teen moms in the foster care system are hard to place in a foster home, and are typically sent to an institution in Houston. Teen moms outside of foster care, when they seek long-term help, are often directed to this facility as well. There are a couple of homes in north Texas that will allow a teen/young adult mother into their programs long-term, but these homes are for girls who have aged out of foster care and are ages 18-21. None are for girls ages 12-17 long-term.

A three bedroom home would allow us to provide living quarters to two teen moms and two children. A four bedroom home would allow us to provide living quarters for two teen moms and four children, or three teen moms and three children.

Teen mothers, ages 12-18, will be referred to us by the guidance counselors of Bowman Middle School and Plano East High School. These counselors will be asked to only refer teens they feel are dedicated to bettering their and their child's future. Once a girl has been referred to us, she, and her family, if applicable, will go through an interview and screening process. We want to help these girls, but they have to want to help themselves as well. We will need to determine that they are willing to work to better their circumstances, not simply get free care. The girls will need to agree to completing the life-skills course, parenting courses, working with Christian counselors, and adhering to the organizations safety protocols. We are in the process of finalizing out in-take criteria, forms, agreements, and procedures.

The length of time a teen and her child(ren) will stay with us will vary. It is likely that the bulk of our teen moms will be at the younger end of the age bracket we will be serving. Generally, it will be impossible for them to leave before they are 16 and unlikely that they will leave before they are 18. This will mean that, at times, teens will need to stay with us a minimum of four years before graduating. For some, they will be able to graduate sooner than this. It will largely depend on their age and family situation. Teens will graduate when they have successfully completed the Casey's Life
Skills Course, the Power Source Parenting course, shown mental, emotional, and spiritual growth and stability, and an aptitude in all areas that will allow them to live on their own and be working towards their long term education and carrier goals as well as properly raising their children. It is easy to see that it will be impossible to set a standard length of stay.

Q: How did that all come to be?

When I was nine years old, I read the biography of George Muller and fro then on was convinced I would grow up and be a missionary who would work with kids who didn't have parents. Over time, God showed me that I didn't have to go overseas to do that, and that kids could be unparented without being orphans. Since I was so young when I first felt this calling, there was a lot of time to prepare, be trained, and for God to hone my vision. As soon as I could, I started taking classes that would help to equip me. I also started working at a group home for foster and RHY kids, as I mentioned earlier. During my studies and my time working at the home, God began to show me the very specialized need of teen mothers. I became convinced that this was where He wanted me to start. One year, extensive research, more fund-raising efforts than I care to remember, and lots of paperwork later, here we are!

Q: How has your journalistic work connected you with other young people driven by the passion to serve?

I only just recently started writing about my mission work. So far it has lead to a couple of good conversation with some of my peers, which I have found to be very encouraging. I have seen that it is a great way to initiate times of sharing encouragement, advice, and testimonies of personal growth and the amazing ways our God is working in the world.

Q: What does "missional" mean to you?

As I was thinking about how best to answer this question, several verses came to mind.

"Let your light so shine among men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:16

"Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:31

“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” Colossians 1:9-12

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:27

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”” Matthew 28:18-20

Q: How does it look in your life?

Acts of service, caring for orphans and widows, or rather, unparented teens and their babies, in my case, are the easy things to me. Doing those things make you feel nice, or look good, and they're something you can do without your heart really being in them. But if your heart isn't there, you're not doing it well. You're not walking worthy. You're putting on a show or doing it for yourself. Walking through life in a way that is worthy of my Lord is something that I daily, hourly, moment by moment must refocus on. Yes, I am serving but why? For Him? Am I interacting with everyone correctly? Is the way I'm doing it bringing glory to God? Because that should be the whole point. If it's not, I'm missing the mark. In my life, I think “living missionaly” mostly means a continual self-evaluation to make sure that what I'm investing my time in and the way I'm handling myself while investing that time is all bringing glory to God and drawing people to Him.

Q: Name five things which have shaped your worldview.

I was blessed to have parents who truly discipled me in Christ. They made me realize, by their lives and the seriousness they placed on it, the reality of God, the reality of my wretchedness before Him, and the reality of His salvation. They showed me that, in Him, I have my Savior, Lord, identity, purpose, and hope. That is the greatest gift they possibly could have given me.
There were several ways that my parents helped to guide and mold my worldview to be biblical. My father didn't just teach us from the Bible, but he also took us through the evidence behind the validity of the Bible. If the Bible is indeed the word of God, then it is important and needs to be taken very seriously. He helped us to reason through and determine if this was really the case. Something else that was very helpful was the way out parents chose to educate us. By homeschooling us, they were able to weed out much of the false teachings of our world that are found in today's education systems. I was very blessed to take science courses that acknowledge the strong evidence of a Creator. I also had the opportunity to take a course called "Starting Points," which challenges people to be very conscious of their world view and to be constantly evaluating their own world views, as well as the world views of those around them who they may be allowing to impact their thinking. In addition, they gave me the building blocks to be able to study the Bible on my own, to dig deep and form my beliefs for myself, to see the ways that the world makes more sense and works better through the lens of Scripture.

Q: How would you encourage young people to get involved with ministry?

The only thing holding you back is yourself. If you look, there is always a need. If you think, no matter your circumstance, you can always find a way to serve. If you choose, you can always have time. We are called to be light and love in this world. I know when you look around for ways to serve, the over abundance of need can be overwhelming. Start small. Find where you are comfortable and then push yourself just beyond that. God will enable you as you step out in faith in this way. As He grows you, continue to push yourself just beyond your comfort zone. Looking back in a year, it will be amazing to see how far He has brought you and how much He has accomplished through you for His kingdom...if you will just continue to obey His calling to serve.

I was very blessed to grow up in a home with strong Christian parents and to be home-schooled with my five younger siblings. I have a BA in Social Sciences, and have taken classes in psychology, human growth and development, substance abuse, and juvenile delinquency. I did extensive research and field studies, and wrote a mini masters thesis on how to best help at-risk youth become productive and respectable adults. I continue to do large amounts of research on parenting, Christian counseling, and therapy for emotional, mental, and physical healing for youth after suffering traumatic experiences.  I have always felt called to have a home for at-risk youth. It is wonderful to look back and see how the Lord has shaped and molded me for this all throughout my life. I am beyond excited to finally be living out the dream He gave me when I was 9 years old and read the biography of George Muller. 

You can find out more about Addison and Mission22Six here.

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Thank you for sharing!