The Voice of The Salvation Army in Canada and BermudaView RSS Feed
Jul20FriFor at-risk Saskatchewan teens, the Meadow Lake Salvation Army provides a needed refuge. July 20, 2012 by Pamela Richardson
- Filed Under:
It's 3 a.m. on a spring night and the lights are on at the Salvation Army corps in Meadow Lake, Sask. Someone should probably notify the corps officers, but it's OK, they already know. Youth ministry here can be a 24-hour job!
Like many youth groups across the territory, the young people of Meadow Lake watch movies, go bowling, play floor hockey, air hockey and fooseball, hang out with friends and share a commitment to social justice issues. In April, they joined forces with others around the world to participate in World Vision's 30-Hour Famine. As the world's largest youth fundraiser, the event is designed to raise money to help save lives around the globe. Kaither Sutherland, 16, and Josh Millar, 15, collected almost half of the total $3,100 raised by the teens from Meadow Lake.
“They spent three weeks pounding the payment in this little city in the north to raise money for kids around the world who are starving,” says Major Peter Eason, corps officer, who supervised the all-night event. “We have an amazing group of kids.”
Where There's a Need
Actively engaged in serving the people of Meadow Lake, The Salvation Army offers an extensive list of ministries, including an after-school drop-in, Bible classes, street outreach, pro-bono legal services, a thrift store and RCMP chaplaincy.
“The needs are great in our community,” explains Major Eason, “and our desire to meet those needs is very strong.”
Shortly after their arrival in 2007, the Easons identified a group that was not being reached by the Army's services, in spite of the programs already in place. “We realized there was a tremendous need for work among young people, so we've committed to it,” he says.
That realization led to activities geared specifically to the younger generation, such as Kidz Own, a weekly after-school drop-in program for children. “We have a supportive group of people here at the corps,” says Major Eason, “including Denise Dodds and Pat Gedison, who give leadership to Kidz Own.”
With the children's programming under control, Major Eason focused his attention on reaching out to local teens by introducing a youth group and participating in a floor-hockey program for at-risk youth. Open to all teens in the community—from those struggling through the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome to ones in trouble with the law, from young people living with mental health issues to those who regularly attend the Army as their place of worship—the programs are proving to be much-needed resources in the community.
“Family life is very difficult for a lot of these kids,” explains Major Eason. “They are dealing with serious challenges.” Abuse, poverty, hunger, suicide, gang activity, addictions to gambling, alcohol and drugs, and a widening gap between rich and poor are part of their daily lives. “There are systemic issues that are being fought,” says Major Eason, “including racism.”
Located adjacent to the Flying Dust First Nation reserve, Meadow Lake's population of 5,000 is approximately 50 percent Aborginal. “There is good support for the Army's work with the Aboriginal community,” he continues, “and we have an excellent relationship with our First Nation brothers and sisters. There have been improvements in relationships between peoples of different backgrounds, nations and cultures, but there is still a lot of work to do.”
“A Blessed Place”
So what draws these young people to The Salvation Army week after week?
“I come here asking for healing, for help, and it's received,” shares 17-year-old Brandon McCallum. “This is a blessed place.”
Nykela Penner, 17, agrees. “No matter how low you are feeling,” she says, “The Salvation Army is here to get you up on your feet.” After feeling down and out for months, her connection to the youth group is bringing things back into perspective. “God is helping me get back on track.”
For Major Eason, ministering to the young people of Meadow Lake is about more than the organization of a floor hockey game or a trip to the local bowling alley. It's about instilling in them the importance of prayer and what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It's about standing with them as they face the consequences of breaking the law. It's about sitting beside them in the hospital as they struggle to survive a failed suicide attempt. And it's about opening his heart to them when they have no one to turn to and nowhere else to go.
“Due to abuse and some legal charges, my family got split,” shares 15-year-old Kendra Opikokew. “Major Peter helped us and we all got reconnected through the church. The Salvation Army brought my family back together.”
Major Eason is quick to redirect the praise. “We're here to focus on Jesus and to help the kids know him better,” he says. “I keep reminding them that while I can't be with them in every moment of crisis, the Lord is always there. He's got plans and purposes for their lives.”