Kevin Portman, a graduate student at Duke University’s Divinity school, recently
wrote a paper about homeless youth that he encountered near UT while studying as an
undergrad. Portman interviewed Terry about SYM’s role in caring for these young
people. Following are some excerpts from his paper:
SYM is focused around four key dimensions of growth, which they share up front with the street youth: stability, sobriety, God fearing nature and connection to Christian community. Regarding stability and sobriety…the reason for youth homelessness is due to the complete depletion of resources. Although being a source of aid referral…SYM makes a constant effort to prevent the ministry from becoming “Walmart,”…because the giver and the homeless street youth will have no relational connection greater than the gift itself, and the homeless youth will only seek more resources, because they have to survive. The end result of this is a broken relationship, then no relationship…Rather SYM encourages a relationship based on love and prayer. For physical needs: clothing, money, a place to sleep, food—the immediate stance is that the Lord will provide if you ask. SYM volunteers play a large role in this as they learn what the clients need, and
look around their walks of life for things they can give to meet those needs.
Without question, SYM’s ministry is sharing the message of Christ with clients…The counseling and Bible studies are directed toward revealing to these youth the truth about God and God’s call upon their lives. Essential for reinstituting the youths’ God-fearing nature, Scripture is used from an early point. A fascinating insight into the cognitive and spiritual state of these youth can be gained through a common Bible study exercise that SYM employs. The youth are asked to go around the room and take turns sharing a story they know from the Bible….Commonly, 40 or so stories are shared, a significant amount of retention for this “un-churched” demographic. However, one important characteristic that all the stories shared: the stories were “twisted” in some way. They each had the framework of the story, but either specifics or interpretation was leading them to have somehow previously heard a lie. One youth stated that he failed to ever begin following Jesus because he misinterpreted the model of Jesus the Shepherd such that Jesus would, in a sense, break his legs the moment he chose to follow. It is obvious that these youth have not been properly educated in Scripture. The Church is the only place that homeless people are ever going to learn about Jesus and learn about faith. Without question, the Church has much work to do. For how can someone make an informed decision to follow Christ or recognize the grace of God working in him or her while holding these untruths?
Connection to Christian community is the pivotal goal moving forward for street youth. SYM receives hundreds of volunteers, partly because we need the help and partly because our clients need to see Christians care, and partly because the Church needs to see these people. SYM desires for these youth to transition into the local church where they can be baptized and put down roots in a constant, supportive Christian community. Nearly all of the street youth perceive Christians as “judgmental, hypocritical and no fun,” and a crucial goal is to reconcile this issue.
SYM desires to partner closely with the churches in the service area or near its boundary, sharing volunteers, facilities and services. In addition, SYM wants to partner with Christian churches all over the city, sharing volunteers, resources and educational and speaking opportunities, in a desire to share God’s heart for the city.
Kevin Portman wrote in his paper, “No matter the day or the hour, the sidewalks were
always bustling with young people – young homeless people….Surely God loves them,
but do I love them also?” SYM is responding to God’s call to love and serve homeless
street youth. Pray and get involved!