Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

4/2 2015

Christian Response to Preventing Youth Violence in Pennsylvania

Youth-ViolenceThe spectrum of youth violence categories ranges vastly from elementary school bullying to teen homicides. In a 2011 nationally-representative sample of youth in grades 9-12, 20.1 percent reported being bullied on school property in the preceding 12 months, and 16.2 percent reported being bullied electronically (e-mail, chat room, website, texting). [1] The effects of bullying include physical, social, academic, and emotional harm with bullying as a huge contributor to youth suicide. Furthermore, in 2010, 4,828 young people ages 10-24 in the US were victims of homicide—an average of 13 each day, 82.8 percent of whom were killed with a firearm. [2] Such youth violence has seen an upward trend in the city of Pittsburgh.

While many Christians complain about the youth violence issues in our city without actively becoming part of the solution, some local churches try to provide pastoral care through Christian youth ministries. However, more often than not it is limited to kids with ties to the church who already participate in the life of the church, which is not a significant sampling of youth at risk for violent offenses.

There are noteworthy Christian organizations throughout the greater Pittsburgh region addressing these issues head on through mentorship and afterschool programs like Homewood Children’s Village, the Pittsburgh Project, Bible Center Church, and Amachi Pittsburgh. Amachi Pittsburgh provides a youth mentorship and family support program for kids with incarcerated parents that boasts a 92 percent success rate of program participants avoiding the criminal justice system as juveniles and adults. Amachi partners with local churches in Allegheny County to acquire committed mentors, however there remains a significant mentor vacancy with many willing kids still waiting to be matched.

Another organization of note is “The Point” which serves the Parkesburg, PA, region near Philadelphia. It was founded in 2003 and is funded by local businesses, churches, and community leaders. Their mission is to provide after-school, weekend, and summer programs for at-risk and vulnerable youth in the area and provide a safe haven by addressing the spiritual, physical, emotional, and academic needs of the community through the hopeful message of the Gospel.

A few national Christian organizations with local presence provide more intensive programming such as Teen Challenge. They provide long-term “spiritual boot camps” for troubled youth within a system of extreme accountability while teaching personal responsibility.

What if local churches took personal responsibility to address the issues facing youth in their respective neighborhoods regardless of whether the families are involved in the life of the church? What if local churches partnered with other churches in more at-risk areas to be of assistance in addressing youth violence? What if more churches made commitments to successful prevention programs like Amachi Pittsburgh so that mentors would be waiting for kid matches as opposed to the current opposite? As Christians there are a lot of opportunities to get involved in preventing youth violence, the question always is, what are YOU willing to do?

[1]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2011. MMWR, Surveillance Summaries 2012; 61. www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6104.pdf.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2010). www.cdc.gov/injury.

Kimberly Merrell, an MDiv program alumna of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, is the director of the Metro-Urban Institute at PTS.

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7/17 2014

Ministry: God Qualifies the Called

youth ministry in Pittsburgh

Joy Pedrow (second from right) felt called to ministry in her youth. She now interns with the Seminary’s Miller Summer Youth Institute.

What do you want to do when you grow up?”

This is most common asked question to a teenager or young adult, and the most hated. In high school, kids are 14-18 years old. At such a young age, it is challenging to completely know the answer to this question.

During my 10th grade year of high school in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, I started to get the call that God wanted me to go into ministry. What ministry has meant to me has changed over the years, but I knew two things: that I wanted to help people and that God was pretty cool. Combining those two things seemed perfect.

When I was asked that question, I felt embarrassed to share with others my heart’s desire for my career, so I would always reply, “Orthodontist.”

This was the safest way to go. If I would say, “I don’t know.” Then, I would get additional questions, “Well, what is your favorite subject? Did you like math? How about teaching? Etc.…”

These questions never helped me make any decision. Thus, I realized the safest thing to do was reply, “Orthodontist.” There were no follow up questions, just a nod of agreement and maybe an encouraging statement.

For a high schooler, it is extremely difficult to fully trust God with this subject. It is difficult to share with others when you are not 100 percent sure that this is what you will spend the rest of your life doing. Students also worry about what others will think of their choice. I worried people would not understand or they would try and talk me out of it.

The Miller Summer Youth Institute at Pittsburgh Seminary provided a safe place for students to discuss a call into ministry. There were many opportunities to ask questions, talk to peers, and begin to start trusting God with this decision.

When I was thinking about going into ministry, I believed the lie that one had to be perfect. I questioned, “How could I help people in their walks with God when I was not perfect?”

It is common to respond to God’s call for one’s life and say, “I’m not qualified.” My response now is, “Well, what is qualified? Name one person in the Bible who was qualified.”

Abraham lied about Sarah. Moses stuttered. Jonah ran away from God. Peter denied Jesus. The disciples fell asleep while praying. And there are more examples found all through scripture!

As you go through the process of figuring out your call, remember that God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.

Joy Pedrow was born in Monroeville, Pa., and is now pursuing her communications degree at University of South Florida. An alumna of the program and now an intern, Joy is exploring her call to ministry with the Seminary’s Miller Summer Youth Institute. Check out her blog at http://joypedrow.wordpress.com/

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1/23 2014

Questions are the answer?

Questions are the saving grace of our Wednesday night youth group at Homestead United Presbyterian Church.

To provide a bit of context, our group meets at 6:00 p.m., we share a meal prepared by a gracious church member, we play an ice breaker game, and then we have an hour-long Bible study! I give a short 10-15 minute presentation on the passage chosen for the week, after which the remaining 45 minutes is just a traditional Bible study. This includes ages ranging from 6th grade to the youth group adult helpers whose age I prefer to leave unannounced.

The Bible study, (rightly so) has become the climax of our night. It is truly a magnificent experience and has helped all who are present grow in our knowledge of scripture and our relationship with God. Often times I wonder how this is possible. Yes of course through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but how does this Bible study with such a wide range of ages not become another lecture from the older generation to the younger? The answer for our group is found in an inquisitive teenage girl who is unashamed to ask the “tough” question and is unwilling to settle for any answer that is theologically and philosophically flawed and void of truth. (My own interpretation but I think it fits.)

When I started my internship at HUPC, I was warned about this inquisitive girl. The members groaned with pains of agony when her, and her brother, who has moved on to college, were mentioned. Sudden circumstances left the church without a youth pastor – forcing the members to pick up the burden. So, in their defense they were not trained, nor had they even considered some of the deep questions that were asked.

As someone who studied religion in undergrad and now on my way out of seminary, I was excited for the challenge and was not disappointed. To paint a picture, this young lady is home schooled, loves to read especially – Harry Potter – and carries an authentic vibe with everything she does. She has not been corrupted by the awkward social standards found in the school halls, and she is not burdeedn with the concern of other people’s opinion. It really is a blessing to the whole group. Were it not for her, our group would not be a Bible study, just a lecture.

Nonetheless, the greatest blessing in her questions is the fact that she really searches for the truth without the critical tone I’ve come to expect from my fellow classmates. She simple wants to grow in her faith; and the result, she is the one who has grown the most in my short time with the group. She is the brightest apprentice of the group, and has pushed me, the youth workers, and the other students to think deeper about everything we confess. This young lady brings to life the words of Jesus, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matt. 7:7),” not only for herself, but for our entire group and I couldn’t be more thankful.

Written by Damian Berry, M.A. student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

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