Hope & Healing in Houston

Posted on by Vince Sarfraz

The following story was written for Youth For Christ USA. These are real YFC Stories showing how God is using YFC USA as a vehicle in raising up life-long followers of Jesus all across the nation.

Hope & Healing in Houston

…I just live for the day when I’ll get a new start

And the dreams I still hold deep in my heart

I hope I can make it; I at least have to try

Because I’m headed toward death, and I don’t want to die.

--An excerpt from “Wasted Time,” a poem written by Hector, age 16, currently detained in one of Houston’s 19 juvenile centers.

“Houston is an influencer city,” says Brian Muchmore, Vice President of Youth For Christ's Cities Initiative. “It’s the leading medical city in the world, it is rapidly growing, and it is always the most or the biggest,” he adds with a smile.

If Houston sets the standard for the states, then its influence is vast. If all eyes are on Houston, then the impact of transformation would be great. And if Houston makes a change, the reverberations of its choices would be far-reaching.

With 66% of Houston’s youth considered at-risk and 13,000 of them in the juvenile justice system, changes indeed need to be made in Texas’ most populated city.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” says Barrell Richardson, director of Youth For Christ’s Juvenile Justice Ministry.

Houston was named “The Space City” in 1967 for being home to NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.

The city’s population boom took place in the 1970s as people from the Rust Belt moved to take advantage of greater opportunities in Houston.

And in 2005, Houston impressed the world by opening their arms to over 150,000 evacuees fleeing the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.

“The way the church mobilized to serve those people was amazing,” says Brian. “The body of Christ is here, and they have hearts for the poor and for people in need. They’re gathering and saying, ‘There’s work to be done so come on.’”

“Houston is a God-conscious city,” confirms Barrell. “We need to get our kids back involved in church.”

“One of the cool things about Houston is that ministries and churches are not territorial,” says Tera Swigart, Executive Director of Freestyle Ministries and Editor-in-Chief of FRUIT. Magazine. “Regardless of denomination, Christian organizations gather to work together for the kids.”

“The Church is really being the Church,” says Brian.

Growing up, Tera was friends with juveniles. “I had my fair share of my own trouble but managed to stay within the law; at least, managed to not get caught,” she admits.

While her friends were incarcerated, she wrote them letters.

And by the time she was a teenager, attending funerals became a regular part of Tera’s life.

“People were dying from drug overdoses and gang violence,” she says. “My best friend passed away when he was 18. Overdosed.”

Tera’s despair left her with two choices. “I knew I could either be depressed about life or I could do something about it.”

So she decided to do something about it. A natural creative, Tera started mentoring and leading art classes in juvenile facilities. After a couple of years, she was hired. For twelve years, she served in several positions at different facilities, becoming well-versed in the juvenile world and enlightened about what the kids need most.

“What I didn’t know yet was that God was opening doors in all of these facilities so that I could made connections and work with a variety of kids who were detained.”
One of the most important things she learned is that incarcerated kids love to read.

“We just finished our tenth issue,” says Tera. “We’re working on issue 11.”

She is talking about FRUIT. Magazine, the publication that God gave her a vision for after years of working with incarcerated youth.

“They don’t read at home, but they will read like crazy while they’re in facilities,” she says. “I saw them reading Stephen King novels and the Bourne Supremacy series. I thought, ‘We have to get something positive in their hands.’”

FRUIT. Magazine publishes the artwork and writings of at-risk youth who are detained in juvenile facilities around the city of Houston.

“These kids are so embedded in the negative things in their lives and that’s all they get attention for,” says Tera. “This magazine gives them the opportunity to show something positive that they are proud of, something their family can be proud of them for.”

Tera and her team accept everything submitted that is appropriate and positive, and they send a copy of the magazine to the family of its authors or artists.

“It’s exciting for the kids to get a certificate and to see their work recognized,” says Tera.

The magazine also includes movie, book, and music reviews; devotionals; feature stories; a section on healthy living including drug education; information on issues like sex trafficking; and advice from adult inmates.

The response from the kids has been astounding. Tera has heard stories about kids ripping pages out to keep and about staff members taking copies of the magazines home, much to the despair of the kids.

“I can’t even tell you how this all happened, but God brought it together,” says Tera. “These kids are using their talents to make a change.”

The fourth most populated city in the United States, Houston’s efforts can create change that will spill over into the rest of the world.
And the future rests in the hands of the youth.

According to those praying for and working toward needed change, the solution is simple.

“The kids,” says Brian. “They need the Gospel.”



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