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Walking with the broken

Kate Whiteside, 25, explains why she’s often to be found ‘hanging out’ with troubled teenagers in Sheffield

Taking God’s love to young people is something Kate has been doing since she was a teenager herself.

“I started to intern as a young leader at my youth group when I was 15 years old. I had a heart for seeing my friends saved and walking free by faith, so I started leading in my home youth group. Then when I went to uni I felt like God asked me to get involved in a local youth project.

“I led the youth ministry at Antioch Community Church alongside another leader for the first two years and then continued it full-time after uni. I felt like the Lord asked me to continue to lead the youth in Sheffield through 412 Youth Project, which I initiated over three years ago now.

"God has given us favour with a particular subculture of young people who hang out in the city centre. They apparently look pretty intimidating, but they are big softies when you get to know them. They just take time to warm up.”

The youth project divides its time between building relationships with youth in the city and the young people who are in and around the church.  There’s a strong emphasis on discipleship in both sides of the work.

“Every Saturday we spend the afternoon on the skatepark with a large subculture of (often gothic) teens and just get into their world. On the odd occasion I go with the young teenage mums to the Job Centre or housing office to help them navigate those situations.

“It's all about building trust and patiently investing in relationships. These young people are often very hurt and very broken and will hold you at arm’s length until they know you genuinely want to support them.”

Self-harming and struggles with sexual identity are two of the issues that Kate finds herself consistently confronted with when she’s engaging with the teens.

“Self-harm seems to be a significant trend. Homosexuality is another one. There is a blanket of confusion regarding gender, sexuality and identity, but I have seen God call them out of confusion.

“I'd say that another significant issue would be abuse. I have known way too many young people who have experienced some form of sexual or physical abuse.

“It's like these young people have found comfort in this little city centre subculture of other broken teens. Their common ground is pain. But God is redeeming them and using the Church to bring hope to this young generation.”

Kate gives an example of a 15-year-old girl she met four years ago.

“I couldn’t tell whether she was a boy or a girl at first. Her mum went off with another man when she was five years old. It was then that she starting accessing her dad's alcohol supply and became an alcoholic. Sadly, he felt powerless to stop her drinking habits as he struggled with it himself.

“She grew up with extreme anger problems, she was also a compulsive liar and struggled through a difficult and tumultuous relationship with her mother. Her mum passed away from cancer this year.

“Not long after walking in relationship with her outside of church, she attended a Sunday service and committed her life to Jesus. Since then, she has been walking in consistent discipleship and attending the youth ministry.

“Today, she is fully sober and we’re praying together for further healing. She is attending college and getting music qualifications and addressing her various struggles.

“God has slowly and surely put her back together with his patient love! To see this kind of transformation is humbling and I feel very privileged to have been allowed to walk this journey with her.”

Kate believes that her church is consistently good at welcoming people – and says its bi-weekly art session Xpress has helped teens from outside the church to integrate with those inside it.

“Many of them are keen artists (be it graffiti, paint, drawing etc), so we try to mesh ‘church’ with things they love doing. So all of a sudden, church becomes accessible to them.”

Other activities include team games in the park and other members of the church are invited to join in the fun.

“Additionally, we try to make our services as accessible as possible. The art corner, contemporary band and ‘lounge’ feel to the services surprises them every time! And we encourage them to get involved. We turn the service over to the youth sometimes and let them host a full church gathering.

“Our hope is to empower and enable them, not dictate how ‘things are done’ or fence them in with expectation. They grow and learn as they are given space and guidance to do so.

“The greatest encouragement for me is seeing young people discover who they really are and what part God has for them to play in his great story. The passion of teenagers who have committed their lives to Christ after experiencing the ‘darker’ sides of life, is second to none.”

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