The number 145,000 has stuck with Zach Griffin.
He’s knows it’s probably not accurate, but it’s his rough estimate of how many middle- and high-school students there are in public schools in the Charlotte region. He wonders how many of those don’t know about God.
“That tugged at my heart,” Griffin said. “That’s where the vision came to go after them and provide them with the love of Jesus and connect them to the local church.”
Griffin and his wife, Kristen, are starting a new ministry called The Union.
Students in grades six-12 are invited to bi-monthly meetings featuring a live worship band and a speaker.
They want to reach out to all students, regardless of their status with God and the church. The Union is not affiliated with a particular church.
Zach Griffin said meeting God at a youth camp at age 15 saved him from a path of drugs and drinking.
Griffin, 32, said he came from a broken home and was on the “edge of going over a cliff into complete darkness.” He had started drinking and was open to taking drugs.
His best friend had attended a youth camp the year before and become a Christian. He repeatedly invited Griffin to attend the camp with him the next summer.
“I said, ‘I’ll go if you shut up about it,’ ” Griffin said.
Before he left for the camp, however, Griffin said he told himself he would not change while he was there.
When he arrived, he said, he was surprised by the acceptance and lack of judgment. He was in ninth grade, weighed about 250 pounds and had long hair, past his shoulders.
“Everyone looked past me and loved me,” he said.
He watched a skit the second night of camp that illustrated Christian life.
“I thought, ‘This is amazing and this is worth living for,’ ” he said. “I want kids to feel that and know there’s a God and he loves them.
“Jesus saved my life from I don’t even want to think about where I would be right now. My prayer is that kids who come to (The Union), who are right where I was or even past where I was, and we will love them and give them the grace and love and mercy of Jesus.”
At age 19, Griffin began a three-year youth-ministry internship at a church in Charlotte, where he often led music. He began dating Kristen, who also was an intern at the church, and after a separation they reconnected in 2006.
Griffin now works at a sheet metal shop in uptown Charlotte, but he recently began feeling a pull to return to youth ministry. After talking with friends and mentors, he and Kristen organized The Union.
The Union will meet Thursday nights so it won’t conflict with other church’s youth meetings. Griffin has recruited local musicians, some he mentored when he worked as a youth ministry intern, to play in the band.
Griffin will deliver the talk at the first meeting of every month, and local youth pastors will speak at the second monthly meetings.
Each month’s theme will revolve around a short word, such as “Go” or “Forgive.”
Griffin said he hopes eventually to increase the meetings to once a week and include question-and-answer sessions and testimonies from youths.
He said he does not plan to quit his job, and he and Kristen are raising money to pay expenses for the meetings. The group will meet in a room at the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters, 1900 Associates Lane, and the meetings will move to a larger space if the group becomes too large.
Griffin said he’s tired of reading news stories of young celebrities and athletes who die or get in trouble for crime or drug and alcohol use. He hopes to reach students long before they get to that point.
“I hope youth can find a place at The Union where they can belong and where they are loved and valued and they feel protected,” Griffin said. “That’s the whole heartbeat behind it.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at email@example.com.
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