The Lenz is “a place where Jesus would hang out on a Saturday night,” says Steve Reimer, pastor of youth ministry at Gateway Christian Fellowship, St. Catharines, Ont. The Lenz is the church’s outreach program for at-risk youth and young adults that focuses on providing unconditional acceptance and friendship.
For kids who are having trouble with the law, or are staying with friends because they were kicked out of their homes, the Lenz provides a safe haven. The young people may also have had experiences with drug use, sexual promiscuity, teen pregnancy, jail time, or gang activity.
“The Lenz began six years ago when I looked out our ministry centre’s plaza window at lunch time,” said Brent Esau, pastor of discipleship and evangelism at Gateway. “I noticed a number of young people just hanging out, with seemingly very little to do. Then it hit me, that with three secondary schools in the vicinity, we had an amazing opportunity for outreach.”
That outreach became the Lenz, a regular Saturday night drop-in program, open from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. at Gateway’s storefront ministry centre on one of the city’s main roads. The name reflects the church’s desire to put a lens or focus on the needs of youth.
“The Lenz is a place where I can live out my faith and make a difference in the lives of young people who are separated from God,” said Reimer. “I get to interact and meet real people with real problems. I get to pray for actual specific people by name.”
Dozens of dedicated volunteers staff the Lenz, showing up on any given Saturday night to provide food, supervision, and friendship. The Lenz board includes Gateway pastors Reimer and Esau, Leah Hageman-Vermeulen (Lenz director for four years), and two police officers “who are just a phone call away if we have any issues or need advice,” said Reimer.
As in many church-based programs for troubled youth, the volunteers spend their time building trust and relationships. While they don’t preach or try to change the young people, they model what it means to be a Christian, and provide activities that demonstrate what it means to have Jesus in one’s life.
Special events have allowed youth to watch Christian graffiti artists give demonstrations, interact with professional skateboarders, and hear Christian rap group Keep it Real perform and share personal testimonies.