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Youth Group's Cardboard City Leads to Ministry

Youth Pastor Tonya Lynn helps her youth group not only raise funds for Speed the Light, but to find their voices as followers of Christ.

"If you will build it, they will come," is a paraphrase of the line from the movie "Field of Dreams." Youth Pastor Tonya Lynn has been praying for God to provide her inspiration and open the door to involve her youth in a missions trip. God responded. Lynn accepted. And Cardboard City resulted.

"We have had several teenagers come to me, saying they were called to the ministry, and were asking about a missions trip," Lynn says, who is the youth pastor for First Assembly of God in Robertsdale, Alabama. "I was asking God where can we take these teenagers, and then God placed it in my heart that our mission is our community."

Deciding to combine the effort with their Speed the Light (STL) fundraiser (raising money to provide transportation and vital communication equipment for missionaries), Lynn presented the idea of building Cardboard City in the local park to the youth. They liked it. And the church was even more excited when they learned STL funds also went to U.S. Missions projects and missionaries as well.

Joining with teens from nearby Foley (Alabama) Assembly of God, 27 teens began raising funds for STL with the promise of spending the night at Cardboard City.

Yet, this particular fundraiser wasn't solely about raising money for missionaries so they could share the gospel. Instead, Lynn says the focus of the 5 p.m.-Friday-night to 5p.m.-Saturday-night event (July 10-11) was on helping teens take an active part in sharing their faith and displaying the love of Christ as "missionaries" to their community.

"Our teenagers need to get a voice," Lynn says. "They spend so much time on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram -- they need to speak words, verbally share their faith with other kids and teens."

And that's what they did, with a surprising effect.

Lynn explains that the Cardboard City event was well advertised and was located in the park in the center of Robertsdale (population of 6,000), with several houses around it, a highway running next to it, and a jogging trail running through it. She knew people would be drawn to the visible effort.

"We started out by setting up Cardboard City [large, decorated boxes] followed by a kids crusade on Friday night," Lynn says. "There were about 80 people there and we had puppets, with our teens taking turns sharing their testimonies and the Word of God, completely unashamed."

Lynn says as the evening progressed into night, the teens transitioned into a time of small group Bible studies that they led. "At about 2 a.m. we had the teens go to their shelters," Lynn says. "However, some of the boxes also had tents inside as down here [in the South] the dew is very heavy at night."

Although, sleeping overnight in a park would typical be the end of many youth events, this really was only the starting point. After a morning foot washing ceremony, devotions, and breakfast, the teens and sponsors headed into the community to demonstrate Christ's love.

"We held an 'invasion' where we gave out hundreds of bottles of cold water with a Scripture verse attached to people throughout the day," Lynn says. "We handed out water, talked to people about Jesus, talked about our big kids crusade coming up at the end of July, asked people for prayer requests and even prayed with them on the spot . . . you could feel the presence of God."

Lynn shares how one young man, who had always been quiet and a bit shy, was inspired by the event. "He began to speak out about his faith and vocally praise God -- he even led a Jericho march on Friday night," she says about the young man's transformation. "The teens were really able to speak out about their faith and share what God has done for them!"

The Saturday invasion was filled with divine opportunities as Lynn says it was one of the hottest day of the year so far in Robertsdale -- 95 degrees with a heat index over 100. The cold water was a true blessing to many.

"The teens were excited to get out into the street and then they would come back to get more water, smiles on their faces and ready to get back out there," Lynn says. "They enjoyed being out there and being a blessing. They're all looking forward to seeing what God will do in the lives of the people from our community because of this weekend."

The event also received great feedback from the community.

"So many people asked about why we were doing this and even tried to give us donations as we gave out the cold water," Lynn says, "but we just explained that we were here to be a blessing, that Jesus loves you, and we're here for you. A lot of people in the community were really appreciative."

As Lynn reflects on the event, she says that so far more than $7,200 has been raised for Speed the Light (with more still coming in), they gave out 1,000 bottles of water, and perhaps most importantly, she has seen a change in the spiritual demeanor of the youth group. Not only did they embrace sharing their faith and openly demonstrating the love of Christ, they are eager to do it again! They are already planning another "invasion" of the city for later this month.

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.