It’s no surprise that video games, eating, ping pong and coffee are all engagements that teens know and love, but you may have never thought of how such seemingly simple activities could have the potential to save a life.
Parachute Ministries in Anchorage, Alaska, recently opened a Teen Drop-in center that offers more than just fun games and resources. They provide relationships through informal mentorships with caring staff, a safe social space for at-risk youth, and a vivacious community to belong to.
Joel Kiekintveld, Parachutes’ Founding Director, describes the unofficial motto of Parachutes as, “their story, our story, God’s story.”
The sharing of lives and stories, and thus the formation of relationships, happens primarily through conversation, Kiekintveld says. Much of this conversation takes place in the drop-in center; at “The Table,” a bi-weekly dinner and scripture-focused discussion; men’s group; women’s group; picnics and other relational events.
So what happens when teens become too old for their service?
“When you build a ministry around community,” Kiekintveld responded, “once you’re nineteen it doesn’t mean it’s over.”
Kiekintveld captures the essence of this lasting convergence of people best when he identifies the members as “the Parachutes family.”
During the ministry’s life, Kiekintveld has witnessed many moments where the power behind the strong sense of belonging was undeniably evident. However, it is not just him who notices the strong community of Parachutes; the teens feel it, too.
Two years ago at “The Table”, Kiekintveld other leaders asked whether the youth considered themselves Christian, and almost all of them raised their hands. “We don’t really know when this happened,” Kiekintveld laughed when retelling the unexpected event. “We don’t spend a lot of time with conversional language,” he added, “but surely each of them had their individual moments,” that perhaps the ministry helped to spark.
Parachutes Saved Rachael's Life
Sometimes it is the smallest moments of faith that have the longest impact. Kiekintveld shares the story of Rachael, a youth in the ministry who suffers from depression, and at some points in her life, the severity of that depression becomes unbearable.
Kiekintveld simply told Rachael to come in to the drop-in center every day, and that he, as well as the rest of the staff, would always be there to check in on her. So this is what Rachael continued to do. In return, Parachute Ministries continued to keep their promise of steady presence.
As time had passed and Rachael was about to graduate from the teen program, she told Kiekintveld that she needed to speak with him.
Rachael said Parachutes was, “the only place I could come where people weren’t trying to get me to use drugs.” It was her safe escape.
However, this reality could not prepare Kiekintveld for what she would say to him next.
“You saved my life,” Rachael said. Not only once, but twice, she continued to tell him. When she felt like nobody cared and her dips in depression plunged out of control, Parachute Ministries was there for her.
As brothers and sisters of Christ, we must tune in to one another’s hurt. The call is modest; simply offer what we are able to, to help those who need it in even the smallest way. It doesn’t take much, just an invitation; to your home, to church, or your nearest coffee shop. Hurt is not always written on our faces, but if we ask God for awareness to lay it on our hearts where we can come to the aid of others, He will show us.
"And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." (Matthew 21:22, NASB).
At Christian Reformed Home Missions, we rejoice in the lives that are found, transformed, and upheld within our partnering ministries through the love and grace of Christ. Parachute Ministries demonstrates a great example for other believing communities of what it means to invite others into belonging.