Youth Alive Brings Hope to Students
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According to government statistics, suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults ages 15-24. According to a 2017 Center for Disease Control and Prevention report, nationwide, 17.2% of students (22.1% female, 11.9% male) had seriously considered attempting suicide and 7.4 percent of high school students (9.3% female, 5.1% male) had attempted suicide.
Considering there are roughly 16.5 to 17 million students in public and private high schools every year (since 2016), that means about 2.8 million students seriously contemplate suicide and about 1.2 million attempt suicide every year!
These statistics are no surprise to Dan Herod, Youth Alive director for the Wisconsin/Northern Michigan Ministries Network. In his years serving as a youth minister and, for the past decade, at the district office, Herod knows the pain, depression, and hopelessness middle schoolers and high schoolers often face on a daily basis.
That’s where Youth Alive, a ministry of Assemblies of God Youth Ministries, working through local churches, comes into play.
“Students are awash in attention online, but starving for attention in real time,” Herod explains. “One of our strategies to reach students is through school assemblies, and lately, the most popular one has been on mental health.”
Herod says that during the 50 to 60 assemblies Youth Alive partners with Wisconsin/Northern Michigan churches to hold in schools each year, he works with six different speakers, each who have an expertise in different topics. In addition to mental health assemblies, Herod also organizes assemblies that deal choices, leadership, anti-bullying, and respect.
“School assemblies is one of many strategies that Youth Alive employs to offer hope to every student,” states Kent Hulbert, national Youth Alive missionary. “Last school year, Youth Alive spoke to over 190,000 students in over 350 schools across the country.”
Although the gospel is not permitted to be preached during the assemblies, Herod says that the Holy Spirit’s presence is undeniable and accompanies the message of the speakers.
“The Lord is still active and showing His love and care through the wisdom that the speakers are sharing,” Herod says.
Terrence Talley has been working with Herod for nearly a decade. He specialty is mental health, and he travels the nation speaking to students.
“Terrence is passionate about sharing his story and speaking into students’ lives because his brother chose to die by suicide,” Herod says. “He understands the impact that one decision can have, he knows that suicide does not end anyone’s pain, it merely transfers it from one person to the many who love him or her.”
Herod shares a story from March 2018 where Talley, toward the end of his talk at Appleton East High School, invited all the teachers to come stand in front of the students. There he affirmed them, recognizing how overwhelmed they can become due to the impossible task teachers have been asked to do in not only educating minds, but hearts.
“The teachers are beginning to tear up now,” Herod recalls. “His encouragement was hitting home with them and also giving them hope.”
Talley then addresses students, stating how the teachers really do love them, and if any student needed a “dad hug” — a hug that says “I love you, but you don’t have to do anything for me to receive my hug, to leave their seat and come down.
“Of the roughly 1,600 students there, over 800 left their seat to get a hug from teachers who care about them,” Herod says. “The hope that’s rising in there is tangible — students are understanding that there is hope.”
That was even more clearly illustrated when a young man shook Talley’s hand, slipping him a folder piece of paper when he did so. Talley, who was greeting many students, slipped the paper into his back pocket to read later.
Later that day, prior to an afternoon assembly, Talley read the note and shared it with Herod — it was a suicide note the young man had written to his mother. The two quickly forwarded the note to the high school principal as they didn’t know if the young man had gone home and acted on his message.
“Later that night, the school let me know there was good news,” Herod says. “They had found the young man, pulled him from class, invited his mother in, and talked to them about the note. He explained the he had written the note months ago, but he carried it with him every day. When they asked him why he gave the note to Terrence, he explained that after Terrence told him not to give up, he decided he didn’t need the note anymore.”
Herod also sites recent assemblies where a middle schooler was dealing with anger towards his mother because he had a gun and was going to use it to take his own life, but his mother found it and took it away from him. “He was so angry because she had saved his life,” Herod says. “After hearing Terrence talk, he told him that he’s not angry with her anymore.” Talley has additional testimonies on his Facebook page.
Even though the assemblies are geared toward students’ mental health, the message for teachers is also coming through loud and clear.
“They’re not in it for the attaboys and attagirls, they want to see students succeed,” Herod says about the teachers. “They have a hard job, but when Terrence stops to affirm them in front of the student body, there’s always thunderous applause. Terrence’s impact on the students is powerful and his influence on the teachers is undeniable.”
Herod says that the struggles students and teachers face are real and pervasive, but he’s seeing change in their hearts and lives — the messages of love and hope are getting through.
In one of his Facebook posts, Talley shares a secret to positively impacting lives: “You don’t need money, a mic, or stature to make a difference. To make a difference, it might be scary, but all you gotta do is show your heart.”
Although the Youth Alive assemblies are not free, when a school can’t afford the assembly fee, Herod has seen churches work with other city organizations to secure the financing. But what he has found even more impressive is how students are taking the lead to bring the of assemblies into their schools.
“We went to Appleton East because two students talked to their principal to bring us in,” Herod says. “Then three students went to their principal and brought us in to Oshkosh.”
Herod is clear that nothing done during the assemblies is religious, though students are often invited to attend a special service that evening at a partner church. However, he adds, that doesn’t mean God isn’t working in the school.
When school resumes, Herod encourages churches to get involved with their local schools, first and foremost by regularly praying for every school in their community. He also admonishes churches to gain a strong voice in the school system through service, not opposition. He suggests ideas such as helping to staff the lunchroom, offering mentoring, offering to buy smart boards, offering to support the teachers’ lounge by providing muffins once a week — meeting the need, whatever the need is.
“I think us going to them (through assemblies and churches serving schools),” Herod observes, “is like bringing a cup of water from the Well (of Christ) until one day they come to the Well and discover the depths and richness of God’s love for themselves.”