A Thugz Church?! Not in their wildest dreams had Youth for Christ workers in Rotterdam thought of a fellowship for ex-criminals when they set out to create a safe place for urban youth a few years ago. But last week in Greece, Setkin Sies and Daniel de Wolf were presented a Hope Award on behalf of Youth for Christ, in recognition of the hope their inspirational project has brought to literally hundreds of urban youth.
In launching The Mall Project, Sies and de Wolf wanted to reach out to the non-churched, particularly the non-indigenous youth who often struggled against social handicaps to integrate well into society.
They began by setting up multi-purpose club environments where young people could come for recreation, receive coaching with their homework or childcare for teenage mothers. The youth were invited to ‘co-own’ the project, setting the rules and taking responsibility for the facilities where they could play pool, table-tennis and Playstation games, as well as use internet facilities.
Developing trust and relationship, the YFC workers offer help with personal issues and problems, to help the youth develop into physically, socially, mentally and spiritually balanced persons.
“We called it The Mall,” explained Sies, “as the shopping mall has replaced the church and the cathedral as the centre of religious activity in our society. Also, the mall is a place to go to get something, but where you end up looking around and getting more than you originally set out to do.
“We want these young people to find more than just a safe place, a place to do homework and to hang out. We want them to discover a living relationship with Jesus.”
A social network began to develop around The Mall, and the 12-to-18-year-olds became involved in activities including sports, dancing teams, brass-bands and street football.
As recipients of government subsidies, the YfC workers are careful not to engage in direct evangelism, unless the young people themselves start asking questions. Overt bible study happens in another facility, called Thugz Mansion after a track by a well-known rapper.
At a late-evening reception for the recipients of the HOPE Awards, Sies and de Wolf (centre and left in photo) told of a gang of criminal youth of Dutch Antilles origin who decided corporately they wanted to become Christians. This was in response to hearing the testimony of another former criminal also from the Antilles whose life had been radically changed after meeting Jesus. When they responded en masse to the invitation, de Wolf had tried to discourage them from taking a step he didn’t think they understood properly.
But they insisted, and the ex-criminal speaker told de Wolf, “Mon, you’ve got yourself a church!”
After attempts to graft the group into existing churches failed, de Wolf and Sies realised they needed to nurture and pastor this new ‘flock’ themselves. And so began Thugz Church.
The Mall Project has since spread to other Dutch cities, with each project taking on a different character according to local context and needs.
A second HOPE Award was presented to Finnish evangelist, Kalevi Lehtinen who started Campus Crusade in Europe after meeting Bill Bright at the Berlin Congress on Evangelism in 1966. Kalevi was European director of the organisation until 1990, when he began leading large evangelistic campaigns across Russia as the nation suddenly opened to the gospel.
Kalevi, now 71 years old, has inspired countless younger evangelists and leaders as mentor and friend over the decades, and oversaw the expansion of Campus Crusade (Agape) into many European countries.
In my opinion, Kalevi was one of few evangelical leaders who embraced vision for Europe as a whole, proposing Hope for Europe-type cooperation already in the mid-80’s. A keen marathon runner, literally following in the footsteps of his Olympic gold-medalist father, the evangelist ran in last year’s Helsinki marathon. Kalevi has continued to run a good race despite major heart surgery and the loss of his first wife, Eine, in 1996. With his new wife Leena at his side, Kalevi continues to participate in youth conferences sharing hope and vision among younger leaders.
A third award was presented in the ceremony–part of the European Evangelical Alliance General Assembly, and the annual Hope for Europe Round Table–to broadcaster Tudor Petan. Since starting his Alfa-Omega video production and television company in Romania, up to 2000 cities, towns and villages in Romania and Moldova now receive broadcasts via cable TV 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week. Many schools in Romania now have a video library thanks to this initiative. Ger de Ridder, of the Fellowship of European Broadcasters received the award on behalf of the absent Petan.
HOPE Awards are presented each year to projects and individuals who are bringing hope to Europeans today. Anyone can make a nomination for this award. Do you know of a worthy recipient for next year?
Till next week,
Till next week,