True North Ministry (TNM) has a big heart for troubled youth across Ohio.
As a result of working one-on-one with teens through their mentoring program, activities, Bible studies and detention center/jail ministry, they've learned a lot about youth culture.
Throughout this time spent they've noticed a "unique" issue interfering with the lives of the youth that they see…
They do exist, even here in Summit County.
"We're seeing that the gangs are becoming more and more influential and we want to launch a liberation initiative," Melissa Yovichin, Development Director of TNM, said of their goals in combatting this.
It's something you and I may not normally think about, but many are being born into gangs today and therefore aren't given much of a choice as to which direction they want to take with their lives. If your family, friends, and/or many of the people on your block are in a gang, you will more than likely join.
Yovichin notices similar patterns in the family structures of many of the youth they work with today. Allegiances to gangs are being formed early on.
"The family structure looks a little different today. You typically have grandma, then you have a completely missing generation who's either incarcerated, dead, or strung out on drugs and/or starting all over again because of the various things I just mentioned. Then you have the young people that we serve who are 16-19, and then we have their children," Yovichin shared.
"So if grandma and grandpa are gang members, most likely the son or daughter was involved at some level and then you have the third generation who was raised by grandma or grandpa. So you're in. You're born and everyone around you is in it so of course you align yourself with them," she continued.
Yovichin admits this to be somewhat stereotypical, but that from a cultural standpoint and trends level, this is what they are seeing.
The Cycle Continues
"The habits and misbehaviors that (the youth) are learning and incorporating into their personhood will land them in jail and prison as adults, then that impacts a whole other generation of young people," Yovichin explained.
Most of the young people that they work with have been mothers at some point or are mothers.
"If both of your parents lived the life, don't you think that you would?" she asked.
"Like most parents who are teaching their children how to be good citizens, there's a whole other culture who's teaching their kids that good citizenry is to beat someone up or pull a knife when you're disrespected. You'll get carried off in a paddy wagon but 'It doesn't matter, you did the right thing'," Yovichin said.
Choosing a New Path
"There are a lot of kids who are in gangs now who don't want to be a part of them. That's where the Body of Christ can really ask itself 'How do we respond? What do we do? Where do we go?" Yovichin said.
Many of the young people that they work with say that they didn't know they could choose anything other than gangs or crime.
TNM's goal is to liberate young people by telling them that they do have a choice, and that what they do with their life is their choice – not their gang's, parents, or friend's choice.
Streams of Living Water
Yovichin shares the stories of some of the teens TNM is working with and says that they want out of the gangs forever, but don't know how to get out forever.
The big question is: Who is going to disciple these young people?
True North gives much credit to their faithful volunteers.
"We just have this pipeline where the Body of Christ can walk back and forth. They get to move freely and are given the tools that equip them to fight the battle of a counter culture problem," Yovichin explained.
"We just want to keep calling young people out and making sure that our volunteer missionaries are well equipped and trained. Build the pathway, clear the narrow gates. The enemy is deceptive and destructive and of course he is going to destroy and deceive and try to distract young people away from the narrow gate. We want our volunteer missionaries pointing, saying 'This is the way'," she continued.
But as their call gets greater, so do their needs as a ministry.
"They (the gangs) have spiritual influences that make huge impacts on a young person's life, and they will have strong ramifications for our ministry moving forward if we don't really start to see the church body surround and embrace young people who want to come out of these lifestyles forever," Yovochin said, "It will take some significant retraining to help them adjust to a different culture, so to speak."
"We talk about choices. It is an empowering question to ask 'How do you look toward Jesus to help you make choices once you leave this center?" she continued.
Loyalty to gangs is a huge issue. Many do not want to leave the gangs out of fear of what will become of them if they do.
Modern Day Martyrs
"I do believe we will see martyrs come about because young people will say 'I want to turn my back (on my gang) forever'," Yovichin said, "So how do we as Christians respond to some of these stronger influences? It would be as if we told our Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim friends overseas to step out away from (their religion) and not expect that someone is going to die."
One young man in particular that they've been working with has decided that he doesn't want to return to his gang. This also means that he doesn't want to return home.
"He knows exactly what he's headed back to and what is expected of him once he returns and he doesn't want to go back because he knows he'll go back to it," Yovichin said.
"He's a new Christian and there are a lot of rough edges in his spirituality but he's certainly genuine. He knows he'll get sucked right back into it. His family influence is demanding that he go back and be a part of the organized effort there," she continued.
Stepping Up as the Church
"As a Christian sister I ask 'What is the church going to do?' Do we develop a fund if young people step out and need housing? Will we figure out how to house them?" she asked.
Providing housing is something they may take on in the future if provided the resources.
"We are praying and asking the Lord to help us find housing," Yovichin shared.
They cannot do this alone and see this as a call to the entire body of Christ in the surrounding area.
"I would argue that part of real liberation in the Lord is asking our church body as a parent church group to help us with this. At least help one young man find housing, or help fund housing for him, and let us wrap him in discipleship, male mentors who love the Lord, find a church body and maybe even work while he's trying to go to college," Yovichin suggested.
Building the Vision
"We don't have an infrastructure. We certainly don't have the funding, but the Lord has the plan so we're just going to try to follow Him and He'll build what He needs to build and fund what needs to be funded. I ask Christian brothers and sisters to join us. Be a part of it!" Yovichin said.
"Come and see what the Lord is doing in these young people's lives. It's no different than building an orphanage overseas to house young people who want to come out from families, gangs and communities that don't want them to leave," she continued.
If someone wants to put their hand to the plow, they will find a field for them to plow, she says. They need help with everything from cleaning bathrooms at their facility to praying over the property.
"We need prayer coverage. We really want the enemy to know that the Lord's body says we will fight with the Lord for this. We believe that prayer is the Lord's biggest tool," Yovichin said.
One of their future dreams is to see prayer groups walk the property and pray over the youth. They encourage Bible study groups, families and church members to designate a day to do this.
They are also in need of people with a heart for mentoring.
"It will cost a little time, probably a little money with driving somewhere, maybe getting a McDonald's milkshake or buying a book to study," she said, "But we have 19-21 year olds now that are wanting to be coached," Yovichin said.
Help Build the Vision
"We as an organization said that we will not apply for anything that restricts us. If anyone would ever approach us and say 'We would love to do what you're doing out here with you but we're asking Jesus to leave the property from 9-5' we would say, 'Thank you very much, let us know when you don't want Jesus to leave the property'!" Yovichin said.
"We wouldn't be able to say that Jesus is the way, truth and life and no one comes to the Father but by Him," Yovichin explained.
They refuse to become a social service.
"We're not a social service. We are a pipeline for the Body of Christ to have access to young people who are either so lost that they don't even know what the name of Jesus means, and to introduce that, all the way through to the young person who went to vacation bible school when they were young but don't know what they're doing now trying to raise a baby at sixteen years old," Yovichin said.
"It's a Red Sea moment. The Lord has to part these things for us so we can walk on dry land," she continued.
If you would like more information on True North Ministry and how you can become a volunteer please visit www.truenorthministry.org.