Right now there are about 110 teens incarcerated at Fresno’s Juvenile Detention Center and 40 in Madera. Each week YFC volunteers visit incarcerated youth behind bars and bring Bible studies, preaching, worship, and pastoral connection. It is a holy privilege to walk with kids in these halls.
Recently Sherri Udall, who volunteers in YFC’s Juvenile Justice Ministry, shared a story with me about what God is doing in the life of a young girl, Natalie, who is incarcerated right now.
“Earlier this school year on my typical Tuesday night visit to Juvenile Hall I met Natalie and had a great conversation with her. She asked for prayer and I prayed with her and another girl and then asked them if they had ever accepted Jesus. Neither had so I asked them if they wanted to, and they both said yes! This was a truly incredible moment when things just clicked. So I led them in prayer and continued to visit them as I returned each week.
When the other girl’s sentence ended, Natalie and I still continued to meet and she started getting hungry for God’s word. I got her started on the New Testament and that week she read Matthew, Mark, and Luke and was ready to start the book of John. The next week she had read John, Acts, and up to Romans chapter 7! I told her I was excited for her that she was just about to venture into my favorite part of scripture, Romans 8, and we talked about the things she had discovered and read about.
The next week Natalie read even further into the New Testament and could share the principles of salvation through faith which she had learned in the book of Romans and the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. She also talked about how since she had started spending time in the Word that her language had cleaned up dramatically.
As Natalie came closer to reading through the entire New Testament, she started to really want a Bible with the Old Testament in it as well. She was reading things that she would only understand if she knew the first half of the Bible. Youth For Christ gave her a large font Bible with a beautiful pink cover. When I brought her that Bible you would have thought I had given her a million bucks. She was so happy! She was hugging and kissing her new Bible. The next week I couldn’t wait to hear what she had read.
It has been exciting to see how Natalie has changed as a result of reading and applying scripture to her life. She has started sharing Jesus and discipling other girls in the pod. There is another girl who is a little developmentally slow and is often picked on by others. Natalie has taken her under her wing, so to speak, and encourages her and prays with her when the other girls are mean to her. Jesus has become real to her and she is influencing others as a result. She has been so radically changed by the love of God during the past few months.”
To that, I say Praise God! Friends, the light and love of God illuminate even behind the inaccessible walls of a jail. In the words of the Psalmist, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?… everywhere I go, you are there!” (Psalm 139)
God is sending the good news of Jesus through Youth For Christ for kids who are far from him and lost in darkness. His power is over all!
– Jameson White, Executive Director
* Juvenile Hall is a sensitive location. The photos in this story are from our work at Fresno and Madera Juvenile Hall but are intentionally un-associated with Natalie.