This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Phoenix church reaches out to youth

Photo: Volunteers and children at the Wednesday night youth group at First Mennonite in Phoenix. Adults from left: Eddy Parris, Melena, Carolyn Yost and her son David Yost. Photo by Laurie Yost. Over two decades ago, Carolyn Yost’s mother told her that First Mennonite Church in Phoenix was going to become a mission field.

She was prophetic.

Carolyn Yost, now 80 and a former elementary school teacher, teaches a class of first through sixth graders every Wednesday night.

Carol Whaley and Pastor Al Whaley with the van they use to transport children on Wednesday nights. Photo by Eddy Parris.
Carol Whaley and Pastor Al Whaley with the van they use to transport children. The van was donated by Mennonite Mission Network. Photo by Eddy Parris.

On Wednesday nights, Pastor Al Whaley and Carol, his wife, start their routes to pick up about 40 children at 6 p.m. from their homes for Bible study and music at First Mennonite. “Our concern is reaching people who don’t know Jesus,” said Carolyn on May 15. Then they spend a half hour at the McDonald’s up the street, where the kids are treated to an item from the $1 menu. At 8:30 p.m., the children return to their homes in the vans.

Carol drives one van, Al the other.

A third driver is being sought to handle the overflow. Often the vans do not complete their runs until almost 10 p.m. “We have no modern equipment, no bands to entice the kids,” said Carol on May 18. “But we offer great big hugs and smiles and tell them about Jesus. We love them no matter what.”

Photo of Carolyn Yost and  June Shafer with the children from 2013. Photo by Laurie Yost.
Photo of Carolyn Yost and June Shafer with the children from 2013. Photo by Laurie Yost.

  The teachers mostly originate or improvise their own Bible studies. This may include memorizing Scripture, games and singing—often from Sing the Journey.

It started eight years ago with only about six children.

Carol, who teaches piano lessons from her home, realized that many of her students came from broken homes. She thought an evening at church would be beneficial to them. When the group size grew to 12, the other teachers were amazed. No one envisioned the program growing to the size it is today, said Carol. “More and more keep coming. The children spread the word about it,” she added. A 15-year-old who comes from a home with abusive parents told Carol that she wants to serve the Lord. A young man, now 20, first started coming to the Wednesday nights when he was 14. Carol taught him piano lessons and then brought him to church. He found friends, stability and encouragement in the youth group. Now he wants to be a pastor, said Carol.

About seven of the neighborhood kids also come to Sunday morning worship.

On Mother’s Day, about 70 people were at church, and a good portion of the attendance was because of the Wednesday night youth and their families. A typical Sunday is around 35-40 attendees. First Mennonite also offers a food pantry to the children who attend on Wednesdays. Scottsdale (Ariz.) Bible Church, a megachurch, gives First Mennonite $150 each month to help this food pantry when it heard of the church’s need. “It’s another form of ministry,” said Carolyn. “Just yesterday, two teens left church with two bags each for their families.” The youth program was born partly out of conflict. When the outreach to the local youth first began, four or five families left.

This was painful for First Mennonite, said Carolyn, but through it all God had a purpose.

“We were hurting so badly when various things happened in our congregation, we felt lost. But the secret is to let God take over,” said Carolyn. 

Carol said they know that God is in all this.

“We know God loves us all, and we continue to share the gospel with a hurting world,” she said.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!