By Courtney Dugstad, Site Director of The Refuge
I have often said that Christmas is the hardest day to be locked up. It is a day for family, no matter how dysfunctional, to come together and create memories. A day of restoration and a day that is often accompanied by love and laughter. So it seems especially difficult for our teens locked up in the Juvenile Detention Center to miss out on the day that often is their best or only family memory for the year.
When Next Chapter goes into the JDC on Christmas Day, a part of our goal is to recreate a family unit with traditions that you might see in your own home. We eat a meal together, with tablecloths and Christmas decor, we play games, we sit in a circle and take turns reading through Luke 1-2, we even take turns opening gifts. It has become one of my favorite family traditions as well.
This year, one of the JDC teens we will call Alex, quietly came up to my husband after we opened gifts. He ashamedly handed Tony the gifts back and said, “I don’t deserve any of this. No one has ever done anything like this for me before, and I am a horrible person who has made bad choices. I can’t accept this.” What an incredible picture of the gift of salvation! If God kept score of all of the bad choices we have all made, none of us would ever be able to accept the gift that He was offering in His Son Jesus Christ. As Tony shared this with Alex, Alex revealed that this was the first time that the Gospel was shared with him. The next few days Alex read all 4 of the Gospels and came to our next group ready to ask questions. The seed was planted.
In the 3 years, we have been going into the JDC, the two things that we have identified as most detrimental to the teens we work with there is trauma as a result of an incorrect identity assumption, and loss of a family unit as a result of incarceration, abuse, or addiction. It is our goal to address both with the time we spend in our 5+ groups out there every week. We work through the identity crisis by revealing to them who Created them, who gave them their true names and identities; Jesus Christ. We also engage in relationships that are both deep and wide, much like a family would. We attend court when possible, we communicate with their families when helpful, we celebrate with them when they have a good week and we listen to them when they have a bad week, and when they are released, we welcome them into The Refuge family of our TreeHouse Ministry where we can continue the difficult but life-transforming work that began behind their cell doors.
Sometimes we don’t always see the fruits of our labors, but we know and trust the One who waters the seeds.