August/September 2016 - Vol. 87

Youth Initiatives group
 Youth Initiatives in Northern Ireland
Serving Young People Around the World - Part 2
a report by Servants of the Word brothers

The Servants of the Word is an international ecumenical brotherhood of men living single for the Lord. This coming September will mark their 45th anniversary as a missionary brotherhood in the Sword of the Spirit. From its beginnings, the Servants of the Word have dedicated themselves to "evangelize and disciple young people" to help them grow in Christian maturity and fruitful service and mission.

The following articles from the recent Servants of the Word Newsletter highlight two particular areas of mission - Youth Initiatives in Northern Ireland and Youth:Links in London. If you would like to subscribe to their free Newsletter, signup online here.

                                                          beginning of
The Youth Initiatives Story
by Jamie Treadwell

Youth Initiatives (YI) had a miraculous birth. It grew out of a series of parish missions in West Belfast between 1988 and 1990, where many young people took first steps toward conversion. Some of our staff and YI graduates can trace their marriages, careers and vocations back to those early missions. Those were heady and exciting times, but our success also led to problems. Complaints increased, for instance, when students wanted to have prayer meetings during school hours. And opposition grew: people were getting suspicious of this new phenomenon of radical conversion to Christ by young people. It took years to gain some people’s trust.

In 1991 we officially became a charity called Youth Initiatives. About 30 volunteers started meeting regularly, and a vision began to take shape. One big question was how to fund this work. We felt called to find a way for faith-based Christian ministries to link with government-funded work, something revolutionary at that time in Northern Ireland. Over the next 10 years, we partnered with government entities and charities, resulting in a ministry which met the exacting government standards while keeping its Christian ethos.

We had a very small core team, and in those early days the Scripture of the feeding of the 5,000 spoke to us: God could multiply the little we had to offer.

Over the years YI has become an environment that encourages youth to shed their fears and step out in confidence. One example was “Belfast Born”: two young Belfasters (Jim Keenan and Paul Jordan) had the idea of a play, and others came alongside them. The result was an award-winning cross-community drama (that is, with both Catholics and Protestants involved) that performed in front of sold-out audiences across Belfast, in Catholic and in Protestant areas. Other projects followed, such as mission trips to Rumania and the U.S.A.

A lot has happened in YI in the intervening years. We have developed as a professional youth organization with paid staff and many volunteers. We run many projects and try to keep our policies and procedures in good order to make sure that young people are safe among us. But we have not strayed from our roots. We still relate one-to-one and in small groups with the young people who hear about us and come along to see what’s up. And we continue to engage them in helping to lead the programs and give them a vision for looking out for one another – to make it a place where young people can flourish. The God who brings hope, life, and transformation is still very much at the heart of our work.

                                                          TreadwellJamie Treadwell is a lifelong committed brother in The Servants of the Word. He lives in the brotherhood household in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. He works professionally as an executive coach and as a fine artist, currently serving as Artist in Residence at Potter's House School in Grand Rapids. His ministry with young people includes speaking, training, and strategic development for university outreaches. Jamie is an Anglican and joined Servants of the Word while studying at the University of Michigan.

Serving Young People in Northern Ireland

An Interview with Doug Smith, Director of Youth Initiatives (YI)

Why are Servants of the Word involved in YI and what is their unique contribution?
We are reaching young people in great need and see amazing transformations: this is very rewarding, but it also deeply impacts those who work alongside us. So while this is primarily a youth work and not a Christian community, many of those we have worked with have gone on to discover intentional community within the Sword of the Spirit.

Given our experience and our denominational make-up, we are uniquely placed to work in YI. And I think our life also serves as a prophetic witness.

In a nutshell, what does Youth Initiatives (YI) do?

As our tagline says, we seek to “awaken hope, inspire initiative and mobilize youth” especially in areas of urban poverty and social needs. We do that by reaching out to young people who are not connected to any youth clubs or other parts of their local community and getting them involved in creative activities, be it sports, arts or the like. Many of them then get involved in our programs and projects where we foster a positive culture that allows them to flourish. Once they turn 15 they can start volunteering, thus giving back to their community and becoming leaders in their families, work places, communities and churches.

Tell us a bit more about Belfast and Northern Ireland.
The whole region has a long history of “The Troubles” (i.e. religious and paramilitary conflict) and even now that the armed conflict is over, 90% of people still grow up in segregated areas. There are 74 “peace walls” in Belfast alone, separating religious communities. Doing ecumenical and cross-community youth work remains cutting edge in what we do, with some people appreciating us, others looking at us suspiciously.

What are the main challenges and the main joys of your work?
Family and natural community continue to break down, with devastating effects. In the 90s, if a teenage girl became pregnant, there was always a grandparent to help raise her child; now the grandparents are only 31 years old. Mental health issues are on the rise, some putting the number as high as 20% of the population.

Maybe because of this backdrop, personal and social transformation stories are all the more poignant. And it is satisfying to see that we are making a real contribution in Northern Ireland.

What are your plans, hopes and dreams?
Over the years we have learned a lot and have developed a proven youth work methodology, so we feel that our time has come and we have something to offer. This is why we would like to continue to grow and expand across more centers in Northern Ireland. At the same time we want to keep our ethos clear and our charism strong.

See also > Part 1 - Serving Young People Around the World, by Servant of the Word brothers

Doug Smith
Doug is a lifelong committed brother in The Servants of the Word. He lives in the brotherhood house in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is the director of Youth Initiatives, a cross-community youth ministry running 10 outreach youth programs in Northern Ireland. Doug is also a coordinator in Charis, an ecumenical Christian community in Northern Ireland. Originally from Ohio, USA, Doug is now entering his 22nd year serving in Belfast.

The Servants of the Word Newsletter is issued three times a year. If you would like to subscribe to the free Newsletter, signup online here.

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