Jen and Grace, SP staff in South Los Angeles, work in leadership at Church of the Redeemer, an SP partner church. Church of the Redeemer aims to invest in whole families in the neighborhood. Jen and Grace share the story of their most recent church-wide baptism ceremony. The transformation of one of the baptized youth encouraged the transformation of his whole family.
A few weeks ago on Mother’s Day, we had the joy of baptizing five youth in our worship service. We inflated and filled up our portable swimming pool at the back of the elementary school we rent out Sunday mornings, and the whole church stood around the pool and cheered and sang the old gospel hymn, “Wade in the Waters,” each time someone was baptized. It was especially moving to hear each youth share their testimony of how they came to faith in Jesus and why they were choosing to get baptized.
One youth shared about his struggle with loneliness and how he would pray and pray for a friend. God gave him a friend in the later years of elementary school, and this friend was the one who eventually invited him to our church and to our youth group. Not only does he have friends now, but he now has God in his life. Another youth shared about seeing her own sinfulness in her struggles to not yell at home and treat her family badly, and learning how to ask for forgiveness and to forgive them as well. Another youth shared about her struggles with anxiety, and how since she decided to follow Jesus last year, God has been helping her to learn how to pray and release her anxiety to him.
One of the youth who was baptized started coming to youth group at the invitation of a friend. He attended our youth group for about a year and a half before his whole family started attending church. In that time, their family was cared for in different ways from many different folks in our church. The younger sibling in the family was really helped by relationship with other kids as he made the transition into starting elementary school. His parents became actively involved in adult Bible studies as well as the Spanish service. Fast forward to now and their whole family serves together in our church. They gather folks for fellowship, they serve with hospitality, translation, and worship, and they're being mentored by more mature believers. In fact, on the morning of the baptism, his mom was on the worship team and his dad was translating for the service. His whole family was participating in the life of our church in different ways!
Their testimonies were so honest and beautiful (and relevant for us grown-ups!), and in a time when so many youth are turning to harmful and destructive options, it was so powerful to see Jesus at work in our youth, helping them to turn from the dead-end options the world offers and helping them to choose life and faith in him.
Our youth ministry was one of the earliest ministries, even before we formally affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church and officially planted Church of the Redeemer fifteen years ago. It’s been a challenging ministry over the years. We once lost a thirteen-year old in our ministry to a drive-by shooting. We’ve seen kids get sucked into street life with drug dealing, car theft, and stints in juvenile detention. And we’ve seen kids make it out of high school and into college, only to struggle with how unfamiliar the college campus was and drop out. But in the midst of those disappointments, we’ve had the honor of seeing youth persevere and choose Jesus, even in the midst of the setbacks and hardships in their lives. Over the years, we’ve had youth get baptized before, but this was the first time that all of our baptismal candidates were youth. We are so grateful for what Jesus is doing in our youth!