Mentoring and Modeling

“There’s no going back. My eyes have been opened and I cannot ignore what I have learned about the people and neighborhood of Stop 6.”

Justin’s Place serves the Stop 6 area of Fort Worth. This is an area of town that not many people in my personal demographic venture into. In fact, if you mistakenly found yourself there, you’d probably drive as fast as you could to get out! More often, we hear about this poverty-stricken area and their plight through the news. How they are in a food desert, how the kids are on government subsidized lunches, how the teachers need help filling backpacks with food so the kids won’t go hungry over the weekend and how the gang violence hits innocent families in the neighborhood. My point is: it’s a place the rest of Fort Worth would sometimes like to forget and a place where many of the residents often feel forgotten.

Justin’s Place sees this poverty-stricken area as its mission field. Just like any other missionary group, Justin’s Place started by going into the neighborhood and building relationships — first with International House of Praise so we could have a home base to work from, and then with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and Tarrant County College who were already active in the community. From there, we started connecting with the people! Individual relationships — that’s where I entered the picture.

I first went to Mom’s Night Out because I was asked to decorate the tables. In preparation I had cut about a million gold circles to make table runners, painted mason jars, made flower arrangements, and ached and pained over the stupidest details. I arrived, set up and waited. Then the ladies from the neighborhood started showing up with their kids. I’m not going to lie, for the first 30 minutes I wanted to run out the door. It didn’t seem like they liked us (the volunteers from Justin’s Place) — their faces were not smiley or welcoming. Even the way they stood seemed like they were ready for a fight. They sat and we served dinner. Then after eating, we talked about goal setting. I was surprised how such a simple concept in my mind was mind-blowing in theirs. That night we made journals as our craft and each of the ladies wrote down their goals. They left with hope. It was noticeable in their countenance.

At the next month’s dinner, the ladies seemed much the same as they arrived and ate. We started the night’s conversation by referencing back to the goals and they shared what progress they had made. The conversation then moved to be more about life in general and suddenly it felt like everything shifted. They had hard stories and we had hard stories. We shared those with one another, prayed for one another and by the end of the night their faces had turned into friendly ones. Now each month, I look forward to Mom’s Night Out so that I can see my friends. They pray for my family, I pray for theirs. We gather together, eat together and just have fun!

Fast forward a few months and I’m at the airport flying back from vacation when I get a group text that there is a 20-year-old mom of three girls who desperately needs someone to walk alongside her. I agree to be “her person” … after all, I have a daughter just a year older. Alongside another volunteer, I started mentoring Tracy (I’ve changed her name for privacy) who lives in Stop 6 with her daughters who are 3, 2 and 1.

It was easy to understand how, lacking even basic parenting and life skills, Tracy felt completely overwhelmed. Starting with parenting skills, we helped Tracy see how a schedule is crucial for children. Then we went about setting up that schedule, teaching it to the kids and then to Tracy. The plan may sound extremely basic (wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, go to school, come home, eat dinner, take a bath, read a story and go to bed), but before we stepped in, Tracy often ended the day frustrated, exhausted and frazzled, and would shut the girls in a dark room, letting them cry themselves to sleep. That’s all she remembered her own mom doing, so it was all she knew to do. As the weeks progressed, we showed her how a weekly schedule of washing clothes, grocery shopping and meal planning — none of which was modeled by her own parents — could simplify her life.

It’s not easy for her, but Tracy has a support system in Justin’s Place. We are there for her — to celebrate when she has a good day and to cry when it’s a bad day.

I wish that was the end of the story, but it’s not.

As I have worked closely with Justin’s Place to build into the lives of the moms and the kids in Stop 6, it has become more and more apparent that what we are currently doing isn’t enough. I can’t “fix” Tracy’s life. She still lives in the projects in Stop 6. She’s still haunted with how to provide for her girls without turning back to prostitution. She’s still surrounded by people who do drugs to escape the brutal life they are living. She’s still pulled down by her circumstances, her past and how hard the future looks.

I know eventually Justin’s Place will have a supportive living environment to help moms like Tracy, but the fact is Tracy needs it now. I badly want Tracy’s family be one of the families that succeeds. I don’t want her girls to grow up like she did. I don’t want them to sell themselves beginning at the age of 14, never finish high school and end up in the same trap as their mom and their grandmother before them. Melody, the oldest, is now 4 and she already knows way too much about the world she lives in. She deserves a real chance at the best life has to offer. I’m doing my best to show her it’s out there, the American Dream, and that she doesn’t have to repeat the cycle. I just hope we aren’t too late for Tracy. It’s truly something that keeps me up at night.

There’s no going back. My eyes have been opened and I cannot ignore what I have learned about the people and neighborhood of Stop 6. I feel really blessed to have found a place to build friendships with women in my hometown that I would not have otherwise had the chance to meet. I’m thankful Justin’s Place has given me a place to serve and I am thrilled about playing a tiny part in trying to end the cycle of generational poverty in Fort Worth.


Mentoring in a World of Measurements

Have you ever tried baking without measurements? I do it, not frequently, but every time I try baking I typically do it without paying much attention to the measurements. I emphasize “try” because without the correct measurements the cookies, cake, or brownies I am attempting to bake fail, epically.

Measurements are vital, but let’s face it, there are some things that cannot be measured. Maybe they cannot be measured immediately at least. This could not have become more evident when launching the Justin’s Place mentoring program in February called Multiply.

God made it evident that this program was necessary after taking 10 junior high and high school aged kids to Kids Across America back in August of 2016. During this camp, it was clear that God shook their lives and opened up their eyes to the need of having a deep meaningful relationship with Him, the God of the Universe. However, many of these kids would return home with little to no regular guidance on how they can live their lives in relationship with God. One child, clearly realizing this, looked her leader in the eyes and told her that she needed a mentor. She desired someone to be placed in her life that would walk alongside her pointing her to Jesus weekly. In that very moment a promise was made. It was promised to each child at the camp that they would be placed with a mentor.

This promise has now been fulfilled! On February 28th, 2017, we launched our mentoring program. It has now been three weeks since the launch which brings to mind the questions “how is it going?” and “Is it working?” This is precisely the moment of realizing that some things are very difficult to measure.

Allow me to let you in on the prelaunch of Multiply.

In order to form Multiply, in the months leading up to its launch, two “pre-mentors” that already served with Justin’s Place were paired with mentees. A college aged young lady with a high school girl, and a fresh out of college young man with two brothers in junior high. These two mentors have faced many challenges and attempted many solutions. Though they are so far from arriving at the perfect way to mentor, they have stayed consistent, obedient, and willing to point these kids to Jesus weekly. Once again, the question of “Is it working?” pops into mind. The answer? Yes, it is absolutely working! It may not have the measurements of ¾ baking soda, ½ cup of milk, 2 eggs, and so forth but it does have the measurement of life change.

These kids are getting flooded with foul information daily and they honestly have no guidance on how to process it all. Therefore, they often give in. They give into the world and what it tells them will bring happiness and pleasure. This includes but is certainly not limited to things like money, drugs, and sex. Oh, yes, even at such a young age these things are on the forefront of their minds. The world tells them that it will bring good but it actually brings destruction. It brings brokenness to lives, homes, and often, it brings literal death.

John 10:10 says that the thief has come to steal, kill, and destroy but I (Jesus) have come to give life and life abundantly.  This is what happens in a mentoring relationship. The child is steered toward a life of abundance and away from a life of destruction. We can’t set a two-hour timer and pop out the full, measured to perfection cake, but we can be faithful and watch lives change for generations to come.

The Why’s… Betsy

Some days are for reminding and confirming. It is like God shines a magnifying glass on the “why” Justin’s Place exists and places it right in front of my face. The why, he has called me and all of the other people that have joined the JP team to share the love of Jesus and affect the life of a child by empowering Mother’s to grow spiritually, mentally and physically; to live a life free of crisis, self-sufficient and walk out of generational poverty.

Yesterday was one of those days.

It was the end of a packed day and I stopped at a random gas station on the East side of Fort Worth, heading home to my family that had just arrived in town from graduate school and college. Everyone ready for Mom to get home to begin the fun family time of preparing for the holidays. My heart and mind were focused on quickly getting gas and getting on my way, I was already 45 minutes late.

But God… he said wait a bit I have something for you.

As I was filling up my car with gas, I heard a voice say, “ Maam” and I met Betsy.

She stood in front of me carrying the burdens of her life on her shoulders, exhausted and hopeless and she asked me for help.
I took a deep breath and stopped focusing on the interruption and what I had planned and asked God to show me what he had for me with Betsy.

Betsy’s life had been hard. As a child she was removed from her Mother and siblings because of physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect and was placed in foster care… Which led to foster family after foster family.

At 17, she was on her own to navigate life. She had experienced abuse, neglect, and exploitation. She became a slave to her addictions and made choices to take what was not hers through theft which led to prison. She had children that she neglected and lost into the foster system due to her unfortunate choices. Betsy’s mom was also abandoned by her mother. Three generations—of what could have been a beautiful family, now strangers to one another somewhere in a system, and a mom at a gas station desperate for help.

This in itself is “Why” Justin’s Place exist. We may not be able to do a ton for Betsy and her family at this point but there are 100’s in Fort Worth, Texas with similar destiny’s… IF we do not extend the hand of the body of Christ that we are called to.

This is “Why” Justin’s Place exists. For all of the Mom’s and family’s like Betsy. To extend the hope and love of Jesus. To model for them a life of freedom in Christ, free of crisis and full of hope. Betsy was once a child. Sweet innocent and deserving of a chance in this world. Circumstances attacked her life early on.

My hope is that for all the Betsy’s we get to meet, young and old—we can rebuild one family at a time and step by step, hand by hand, make progress in helping serve the people, humans, friends, like Betsy out of the depths of cyclical poverty and into life with a chance full of hope. But most importantly the full life that Jesus promises us in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the abundantly” , the only true hope we will ever find in the broken world we’re living in.

So why are we doing this? What is the purpose of this crazy dream and adventure? People like Betsy. That is the heart of Justin’s place, and God is sweet to use a chaotic Monday evening to remind me of this. So pray for Betsy and pray for many more opportunities like this one in both your personal life and with Justin’s Place. Don’t be afraid to be a hand or even just a little finger of the body of Christ. Slow down, look around, and pray for opportunity to serve and love like Jesus.

Justin’s Place… The Story

The Story of Justin

I am amazed by how God works. When He calls you to something, He often speaks loudly and clearly. And sometimes, He uses the life of just one to call many.

I will never forget the first time I met Justin – he was small, but had a smile that lit up the room. Immediately I knew he was different and he had my attention, but I had no idea why.

It was August 2012, football season had just begun and our house was full, loud and happy. Our youngest, William, was a sophomore and carried on the football tradition of having the entire team come and hang out at our house during their week of two-a-day practices. We loved getting to know the boys and cheering them on through the tough week.

In the coming days, we started to see that life was difficult and challenging for Justin and his mom. We began a season of helping them out – helping Justin’s mom with her struggles and helping care for Justin while she focused on rebuilding her life and getting healthy.

Each month we would pray and revaluate, and each month it seemed that Justin was continuing to grow and become stronger. We told him the world was his and he could accomplish anything he wanted to, and he believed us.

It was March and we were approaching Justin’s sixteenth birthday. The time had come to think about a permanent future for Justin. Jim and I knew God had a plan, but we didn’t fully understand it. Why would God call us to help this one child? There were literally hundreds of kids just like him all around us. All that we knew was that we were called to keep walking obediently. We knew that at that moment, we were called to meet the needs of this child and care for him – not in a temporary sense, but with a permanent, consistent home filled with family that would love him unconditionally and forever. We stopped thinking about how long Justin would be with us and began living and offering Justin a consistent and forever home.

And all of a sudden, we went from a family of five to a family of six, from having three people to raise up to four, from three to love with all our might to four. It was just like that. Nothing legal or formal, just called by God to love and care for this one, Justin. That is how God works – in the realm of the unimaginable and impossible. That is where He shows up.

Now, without the love of Jesus, there’s nothing about loving others that comes naturally – no matter how many songs are written about it. But God – He faithfully walked us through what often felt like crazy paths. He showed up every time and showed us how He had indeed equipped us, prepared us and would continue to sustain us. God was faithful.

Justin grew tall and strong, confident and sturdy. He graduated from high school – the first from his family – and was accepted at Hardin Simmons University as a football athlete. Justin has earned academic scholarships, is currently making As and Bs and has dreams of being a businessman. Justin loves his family both new and old, is surrounded by friends and overall is doing well.

Exactly three years after that August day when we met Justin, God answered the prayer we had been praying for so many years: Why God would you have us help one child, when there are so many in need?

On that day, God clearly spoke and said to us,

“Go into the place he took you, take what you know, build a cornerstone in My name and spread My fame.”

It was not about one – Justin was one step toward a big work God had for us. Through Justin God was equipping us, preparing us and showing us how He would be faithful to sustain us as we walked obediently, following Him and stepping towards what He has called us to do.

This is the story of how Justin’s Place came to be and now exists to spread the love of Jesus.

Justin’s Place

Everything we do at Justin’s Place is to enhance the life of a child. We believe the life of a child cannot be fully restored until the life of the family is restored. Justin’s Place exists to come alongside families in need and establish balance by restoring hope and building a foundation that will provide the strength needed to move out of generational poverty and toward a life of self- sufficiency and free of crisis.

It is the goal of Justin’s Place to rebuild the broken, beginning with the heart issues and then working from the inside out with programs rooted in biblical principles and grounded in the love of God. It is our desire to walk alongside the families we serve, stepping with them towards the healthy and abundant future God has purposed for them.

At Justin’s Place we believe that God created each of us for His purposes, and that every child has value and deserves a future full of opportunity and hope. We have deemed it our responsibility to speak words of life into the children we serve and encourage them to seek the future God has designed for each of them.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11

To God be the glory.