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Friday

The projects of Mobile, Alabama

Along the waterways of Mobile, towering cranes pluck steel containers from docks and place them gently onto ships. Within minutes of the shipyards is the Metro Ministries building — a place where directors Bill and Cheryl Gray toil to provide an oasis of hope for children and adults of Mobile’s projects.

"We believed if we could reach the children for Christ it would introduce us to the community, and they in turn would accept us," says Bill. "We built this place with the help of hundreds of people. It’s just been miracle after miracle."

Metro Ministries is housed in a 16,800-square-foot complex complete with a sanctuary, classrooms, living quarters, offices and gymnasium. Just beyond its property line are the projects.

This morning in the sanctuary, Tobias, 10, Stevie, 10, Kendrick, 12, and Daniel, 13, set up chairs for Sunday’s service. Their conversation ranges from sports to what they want to be when they grow up. But their talk turns serious when asked what they have learned at Metro.

"God is my Heavenly Father," says Tobias, "and Jesus is the way to be saved."

A few hours later, standing on a basketball court in a project known as Happy Hills, Gray tells the story of one of his promising youth members who was shot and killed while playing basketball.

"I loved that kid as if he were my own son," he says, tears coursing down his cheeks. "At the hospital his mother said, ‘Thank you for bringing Metro Ministries to our neighborhood. I know my son has gone to be with the Lord.’ During the pioneering stages of this ministry, I have gone back to that moment time and time again."

As Gray visits the neighborhoods, shouts of "Brother Bill" fill the air. When Gray started the ministry, it was a very violent neighborhood. Today, children clamor around him.

He stops to talk with 25-year-old Latasha who is confined to a wheelchair. Seven years ago Gray asked God to spare her life moments after she had been shot and left for dead. As they talk today, Latasha’s 3-year-old daughter crawls into Gray’s arms and clings to him.

"Everybody knows Pastor Bill and Cheryl," says Latasha. "They’ve got the thumbs-up around here."

On Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday children line the streets to catch the Metro Ministries vans and buses. The children come to the center to have fun and learn about Jesus. Yesterday hundreds of kids came.

"Staying in touch with these kids, involved with their lives and being consistent are the keys to this ministry’s success," says Cheryl Gray. "The kids are attracted to this ministry because they are searching for stability, and they find it here."

Cedrick Valrie, a 17-year-old senior in high school, lives with the Grays and serves as their youth pastor.

"The neighborhood is lost. There are no values," says Valrie. "Many don’t know who Jesus is so they have no peace. I made up my mind, if I really wanted something in this life, I needed the Lord’s help, and I found that here."

So have many others. The Grays are believing many more will.

Teens find hope in Sundance, Wyoming

Praise music plays in Nick Geffre’s office at this former Air Force radar base, now a Teen Challenge center nestled in the Black Hills of Wyoming amid red-dirt cliffs and cowboy ranches. This is perhaps the only Teen Challenge center whose residents — all girls under the age of 18 — are here involuntarily, placed by parents or a court.

"Our girls come here unsaved, so our main goal is for them to have a relationship with Jesus Christ," Geffre says. "If we can do that, we feel we’ve accomplished something major."

Geffre pastored churches in North Dakota. Now he runs this program for girls who come from disastrous, even criminal, family situations. Most do not want to be here. Some try to run away. But Geffre and a staff of 24 do their best to get the gospel to stick before the residents complete the program.

At 11:25 a.m., 10 of the girls are in a classroom watching a movie — a reward for getting their work done. Some lie on the floor with blankets, wearing typical teen-age fare: baggy pants and bell-bottoms. The room smells like microwaved popcorn. On the desks are Bibles, family photos and books like Chicken Soup for the Teen-age Soul, Run Baby Run and Born Again.

An hour later, in the cafeteria, the girls scoop chicken and rice onto trays, along with bran muffins, carrots, pears, chips and cookies. They chat and once in a while break into song: "Let the river flow; Holy Spirit, come … "

When lunch is over, they bus their trays, line up chairs against the wall, wipe the tables and sweep the floors. Again, songs start spontaneously: "Lord, I lift Your name on high … "

For some girls, the praise is sincere. For others, Geffre says, it is only a show. But often, after several months, girls who pretended to have a heart change in the beginning find themselves drawn to the love of God.

Jessica, 17, came here from Oregon after getting involved with an older man, falling into drugs and running away from home several times.

"I had no feelings. My parents decided they couldn’t control me," she says. "They wanted me to learn about God in a Christian-based program. The first couple of months I didn’t want God. Then I realized the life I was leading wasn’t getting me anywhere. That opened my heart to see there’s a different path. I’ve seen I can go further than where I was going. I have so many goals now. I want to go to college and be in the medical field.

"Teen Challenge changes your life. Not the first day, or the first month, but if you desire to change your life, coming here gets you back on track."

At the afternoon chapel service (services are held every day of the week) Jessica opens in prayer. The small sanctuary boasts 100 theater seats, an old dark piano and a wooden pulpit. Someone puts in a praise CD, and the girls begin to sing and clap: "I belong to a mighty God; I belong to Jesus … "

One girl lifts her hands. Another girl goes to the altar and puts her head in her arms. Then another joins her. A staff member prays with the girls as the others continue to sing.

When the worship time is over, a staff member preaches an impassioned message from Romans 12.

"Let God change the way you think about life, about yourselves," he says. "God looks at you and says, ‘That’s My child. I love that girl.’ "

Revival spreads in the shadows of Biloxi’s casinos

A few miles from the towering casinos and flashing marquees that pockmark the Mississippi Gulf Coast is Cedar Lake Christian Assembly. Here, in this church that is bustling with activity, revival has flourished.

"We have been called to be an Antioch church — a church of refuge and restoration," says Pastor Ken Broadus. "God is healing, saving and touching people."

It’s just past 5 o’clock and the foyer is jammed with women waiting to register for a getaway known as Discovery Weekend. Sharon Chambliss, who is registering the women, says every woman in line will come back different.

"Most of the bondage is broken off of them by Saturday night," she says without looking up. "The weekend is full of repenting, praise and prayer."

In the sanctuary, chairs have been removed to make room for bare-hand-thrusts and side-kicks. Every Friday night for three years the church has sponsored martial arts classes for boys and girls. Several of the children in attendance do not attend the church. Since the ministry started, eight have given their hearts to the Lord. Before practice ends one of the church’s 10 Master’s Commission students gives a devotional then asks if anyone would like to receive Christ as Savior.

"There is always an opportunity to use our talents for the Lord," says Teddy James, the volunteer instructor. "If we can use a secular hook like this and give them the Word of God, it’s a great deal."

As the children collect their belongings, Master’s Commission students rapidly return sanctuary chairs to their original spots. Serving the church and community is the heart of the ministry, says a student named Jason Hall.

"This is what it means to serve," he says. "Even when it is beyond our desire and ability."

In the youth sanctuary, tents have been pitched and sleeping bags rolled out for Pinewood Derby races. At tables more than 50 fathers and as many sons eat pizza and drink sodas. Having an overnight excursion gives more time to minister to the fathers and sons, says Rich Hanssen, children’s pastor.

"Tonight we want these dads’ hearts touched for eternity and for the boys to know God is real," he says. "We never want to do programs and events without a spiritual focus."

Three hundred boys and girls gave their hearts to the Lord last year, says Hanssen. "We are experiencing an outpouring of the Spirit. Revival is spreading through this church."

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