Originally featured on IBSDirect.com
The wild-eyed 17-year-old slammed his fists repeatedly against the window in his confinement cell in the Yakima County Juvenile Detention Center. "I want to talk to her!" the hyped-up teen screamed at uniformed officers.
Kathie FitzPatrick calmly walked past the agitated youth into a nearby room to lead a Bible lesson for incarcerated teens in this facility in Yakima, WA. After the gathering, the frantic young man was released from his cell to talk with Kathie, a volunteer chaplain and director of Young Lion's Youth Ministry Program.
"You may not remember me," Ramon began, "but you came in here almost three years ago. I received the Lord during that time, but I've kind of strayed."
Young people who stray from the law and from God are what draw Kathie and her nine teammates behind the concrete walls and iron gates of "juvie." On Monday afternoons, the Christian volunteers lead a Bible study for girls, and on Thursday nights they hold "church" for up to 80 detained youth, the majority of whom are males.
Kathie intently listened to Ramon's story and pulled a My City, My God Bible from her bag. "Ramon, you need to get centered back on Christ." The professional realtor and mother of three read John 14-15 to the troubled teen. Ramon began to smile and before long calmly accepted the Bible and tucked it under his arm.
"Ramon went from a wild man to a gentle lamb in 45 minutes," Kathie recalls. "It's just God, it's totally God," says the petite woman crediting the Lord for truly transforming lives.
Kathie and her team know that only God can get through to these "at-risk" kids. Some as young as nine are in for only truancy, while others as old as 18 are doing time for robbery, assault, and murder. "Sometimes you just think you are looking into the face of Satan," says Kathie, who's seen even the toughest guys drop to their knees in tears before God.
The youth outreach started in 1997 when staff at the detention center asked Kathie's youth pastor at Stone Church Assemblies of God in Yakima to help steer the derailed kids in a positive direction. Nine volunteers including Kathie began sharing life principles from the Bible, personal testimonies, music, and videos with the young detainees.
Although for a while Kathie was the only volunteer who could continue with the outreach, she persevered and wrote the Extreme Teen Rescue Manual, with more than 60 Bible-based lessons addressing issues such as anger, violence, abuse, forgiveness, addictions, and suicide. Other youth detention chaplains and volunteers are now using the manual nationwide.
Named after the young lions in Psalm 34 who hunger for God, the ministry estimates it's worked with around 13,000 children and teens--with more than 4,000 of them deciding to follow Christ and beginning to investigate the Bible for themselves.
"Kids from gangs or those you consider the most hardened and who would never crack a Bible will read My City, My God," Kathie explains. "It's easier to understand, and they can relate to the real-life stories inside. They get hooked on reading the Bible."
"The only lasting true recovery for kids is to learn to read and apply God's Word every day to sustain themselves," Kathie concludes. "The only ones who last are those who keep reading their Bible."
To keep these juveniles from repeat offenses and a future in prison, Young Lion's stresses a reliance on God's truth.
This time, Ramon vows he's got that part figured out.