“Love. They taught me love.”

“Love. They taught me love.”

Jude was one of six boys born into a family of Haitian immigrants.

His family lived in south Florida, right down the street from Youth For Christ’s City Life Center. His mom quickly discovered that the center offered homework help, so she enrolled nine-year-old Jude in the tutoring program. After that, he was a regular attendee.

We’ve watched Jude grow from a nerdy fourth grader into a lanky, confident, 6’6” high school senior. When he was 12, we were there as he discovered a love for electronics and serving others. He soon elected himself technology guru for the City Life Center. He ran PowerPoint presentations, projectors, sound equipment, and networked our entire computer system. He even installed hardware to keep kids from downloading music so our new computers would stay fast (although this didn’t make him popular with the other kids).

He was our gentle giant; he volunteered with elementary kids from the neighborhood, helping with homework, dancing with them, and teaching them uplifting songs. Jude began a relationship with Jesus and even began leading a small Bible study for third grade boys. What a privilege it was to watch him blossom!

But it wasn’t just Jude’s physical appearance, gifts, or decision to follow Jesus that developed over the years…

In time, he seemed to “outgrow” the center. Between the ages of 14 and 17, he stopped coming. He became sexually involved with several girls, and he began stealing money so he could pay for dates, clothes, and shoes. It wasn’t until his mom caught him stealing from her purse that life hit a low for Jude. Thankfully, since then his life has taken a turn for the better.

Jude began attending the City Life Center once again. He remembered the people and he remembered the grace, forgiveness, opportunities, and love that were consistently provided to him from his earliest days with us. The theft didn’t define who Jude was. We knew that, and he knew that.

When Jude was nearing the end of high school, we asked him to speak on behalf of the center. We were in need of a grant that would provide funding to keep fueling our mission. This meant he would speak to a room full of retired, successful business professionals. As volunteers, we did our part to prep each student thoroughly, so they would never be blindsided in an already uncomfortable scenario.

After Jude shared his story, a woman raised her hand and asked, “What was the most important thing you learned at the center?”

The volunteers panicked. We hadn't prepared him for hot seat questions; what would he say?

Jude thought for a second, and then said, “Love. They taught me to love.” He went on to explain how his home was full of fighting and arguing, and that people were always looking out for themselves. He continued, “When I came to City Life, I saw people who loved instead of fought. I realized I didn’t have to live that way, and so I started loving at home, instead of fighting. My brothers couldn’t understand why I was acting this way, and it gave me the chance to tell them about God.” 

His sweet words are why we dive into life’s complexities with teens.

Messes can lead to the most beautiful renewals.   

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