My years in Nashville were a precious gift. I never have to wonder, “What if I would’ve moved to Tennessee? What would it have been like?” I remember standing backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, twenty feet from stardom, dreaming about my day in the spotlight. Little did I know my greatest performance wouldn’t be in the spotlight at all. It would be in a cold, dimly lit booking room next to a juvenile delinquent.
Five years ago my five year plan would’ve included tour stops in Atlanta or Houston or Denver and appearances on talk shows publicizing my newest album. I would never have guessed God would park my bus at the Okanogan County Juvenile Justice Center (Read more about that here). I thought standing on stage to the sound of roaring applause was the best feeling out there. Turns out there is in fact something greater still; watching wayward teens realize their God-given potential. Kids who society has given up on. Kids who’ve given up on themselves.
Before I started working with the kids in my community I didn’t really notice the ones in the shadows. The ones on the fringe of society and the edge of town. Turns out there is a dark underworld that a lot of people don’t even realize exists. Punks. Delinquents. Troublemakers. A lot of labels get tossed their way.
But labels are for jars of jam, not people made in the image of God. They’re not delinquents. They’re not juvi-kids. They’re MY kids. And I have BIG dreams for my kids! I've come to see that there is a difference between perceived needs and quick fixes versus real, lasting change. Little by the little the haze is beginning to take form. I can see it in my mind’s eye.
Dream with me, will you? It begins in a sunlit window seat. A place of rest. I imagine sitting in that cushioned window bay with one of my kids. It’s not too hard to imagine that he or she was sleeping in a van or a bus or couch surfing this time last year. But not this year, we’re dreaming big dreams. We’re laughing and crying and hope is beginning to sprout in the newly plowed soil of MY kid’s heart.
And behind us is a safe haven of possibility. A painting station. Woodworking. Tutoring. Music lessons. Writing workshops. Pool tables. Bible studies. 12-step groups. Ping-pong. Life skills classes. Out behind the youth center there’s a garden in the summer where we learn how to grow beautiful flowers and fresh food. With every blooming tulip hope grows like wild flowers in the hearts of my kiddos.
But ... That’s just a stock photo of course. None of this exists yet. Except, it does. In my heart. In my mind. Sometimes I do find myself thinking selfish thoughts like, “Once I get my property paid off then we can open a youth center,” or “Once I go to some more seminars and workshops then we can move forward.” There’s just one problem. Our babies are having babies and with every new generation the enemy’s cold, dead, bony fingers squeeze tighter and tighter around the soul of our community. I can’t wait another minute. WE can’t wait another minute. These are OUR kids. This is OUR community.
After hearing about the dire situations many of our kids return to when they are released from juvi and watching them show up at Mcdonalds high on various drugs every week we decided we had to do something more (click here to read more about McDonalds). So we started something called 'The Landing'. Since last July we have been meeting with kids from age 10 all the way up to 19 years old. Every Friday night we come together for a Christ-centered 12-step youth program where we talk about what is standing between us and God and how to remove those barriers. This is what The Landing Youth Ministries is all about. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, selfishness, greed, pride or pain, God’s word is our plumb line. If we focus on the problem we become further enslaved. Only when we look to the answer, Jesus, do we find freedom that lasts.
So we meet and ask hard questions and listen to painfully honest answers. Aside from our ministry partners, Rachel and Ethan, we've been doing this alone and have clearly heard God say that the vision He has entrusted to us is completely impossible ... without Him. And without YOU.
I once heard someone say that if your dreams seem attainable then you're not dreaming big enough and if dependence on God is the goal then weakness is an advantage. Paul said it best: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me” (2 Cor 12:9)
God is on the move here in Okanogan County. Would you like to join the movement? We have two current needs.
1. Please pray that we will clearly discern God's vision for the work He wants to do in our kid's lives and our community. Pray that we will never stray from the center of His will, that we won’t rush ahead of him or lag behind.
2. If you desire to give financially we have partnered with an organization called Be One Together to make partnering with us easy! Simply click the grey give button, click donate on the page that opens up and give via card or paypal. They will then mail or email you your tax-deductible receipt!
**NOTE** Make sure and click the "special instructions to seller" tab and type "Josh and Nicole Unser" to direct the funds accordingly.
We are currently gearing up to buy bibles for our Landing kids. $25 will buy 5 new believer bibles or 1 study bible depending on the journey of the student.