By Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone April 9, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- In more than 30 years of working in youth ministries, Darrell Good and his wife Cheryl have counseled, mentored and prayed teenagers through many of the uglier things that can happen in life -- the divorce of parents, not fitting in at school, car accidents and teen drug abuse, to name a few.
And in all those years, Good said there are three constants that he has seen in the teen life: the need for relationships, the need for acceptance and fear.
"Teens want to have friendships and they want to have a place where they belong. They are often living in fear of what their peers think and if they will be accepted by their peers. It doesn't matter what culture they are from, all have the same fears, and problems with acceptance and relationships," Good said.
"Teenagers have not changed. But the world around them has. When I started my youth ministry, the struggle was with television. Now, the struggle is with cell phones and the Internet, and how they are exposed to so many more bad and negative things."
For military teens, those three constants can be magnified by frequent moves, deployments and other challenges of military life.
"Military kids are struggling with the same issues as other teens, but then you put military life on top of all those issues," Good said.
For all teens -- military and civilian -- who are part of the youth ministry at Bicentennial Chapel, the goal is always the same.
"It is so important for us to build strong relationships with these teenagers for as long as we have them," Good said. "Building strong relationships with them in their teen years will carry through in their adult life. They will always know where they can turn to talk to someone when going through the struggles of adult life."
At Bicentennial Chapel and through its Redstone Club H2O youth ministry, Good and other adult volunteers are working to help teens live through what can be the toughest years of growing up. Redstone Club H2O is a mixture of Sunday night Bible studies at the ministry's clubhouse, weekend retreats and get-togethers, a summer camp experience and other activities that are making a difference for the teens of both military and civilian employees at Redstone Arsenal.
"Over half of our kids are military. The rest are kids whose parents are government workers or contractors on post, or retired military," he said.
"The difference between civilian and military kids in a youth group is that with civilian kids you will have them for four to five years. That's a lot of time to work with them and to help them establish a strong relationship with God and with those in our youth ministry. With military kids, you usually only get about 2 1/2 years. That's a short amount of time. But we work with what we have to make sure we build those strong relationships."
The youth ministry at Bicentennial Chapel reaches out to teens in grades seven through 12. That's an age group that is often marked by high risk activities, such as cutting, marijuana and drug abuse, pornography, premarital sex, school absenteeism, cheating and alcoholism. Many behaviors are a result of things beyond a teen's control, such as a bad home life, bullying at school, parental divorce, a negative self-image and parents who are too busy to pay attention to their teen.
"Statistics show that the things parents struggle with are compounded in the lives of their teenagers. If those issues aren't dealt with in the family, then, with each generation, they can become greater issues, and they can follow a teen into college and adulthood," Good said.
Negative behaviors on the parts of teens are often a cry for help.
"Teenagers want attention. Most of the things they do are to get attention, and they don?'t even know it," Good said.
"What I am wanting to do is to deal with these issues before their college years because these kids won't make it in college or adulthood if they are still struggling with issues from their teen years."
Good often jokes about his "length of service" in the youth ministry. At age 58 and with a beard that is showing gray, he might look to outsiders to be too old for the teen ministry. But the youth he works with don't see him that way at all. To them, he is like a dad or a family friend or an old buddy who they can confide in, have a meal with or play basketball with at the clubhouse.
Though traditional in his Christian morals, Good is quite up-to-date with the latest teen trends -- both good and bad -- and uses social media (Facebook and Twitter) to stay in contact with his teen friends throughout the week.
"I want to encourage them even if I don't get to see them until Sunday evening," he said. "I want to stay in contact with them and be there for them if they need me. They don't have to wait until our Sunday night meetings to talk to me. I am available to them all weeklong."
In a recent text message to a youth who was having trouble with acceptance and a negative self image, Good said, "As you continue through this phase from the teen years to adulthood, there will be times of discouragement and maybe uncertainty. Sometimes you may feel forsaken and what you try to do for others may not be taken seriously. But always remember God's love is always moving in your life, even when it doesn't seem to be there at times. Always be encouraged, no matter what. I'm praying for you."
There are 30 to 35 youth involved in the Redstone Club H2O youth ministry. Bible studies on Sunday evening are often filled with conversation, questions, praise music and reflection, much of that led by the teens who fill the clubhouse on Binford Drive (building 50).
"Our Club Talk is a Bible study where we discuss issues that young people are going through. They are always surprised to realize how relevant the Bible is to their issues," Good said.
"I see these teens showing more courage in wanting to talk to someone about things that are bothering them. They are more courageous than adults when it comes to talking about their problems. They show more courage in wanting to deal with things in their lives."
That doesn't mean everything is all good times at the clubhouse. Good and his staff of volunteers deal with plenty of teen attitudes as they teach the word of God.
"They can be cynical about the right way, and the ideas of God and God's love. A lot of their feelings about God come through the things they experienced growing up and the friends they hang out with," Good said. "We want to give them good experiences of God and a place where they can make good friends. We want them to be able to trust us and believe us, and talk to us about their problems."
With so many years in the youth ministry, Good has many stories of teens who have struggled, and then who have grown up to be successful in life and have grown their faith as Christians.
"Teens can be so hard to deal with. They can have no motivation, a bad attitude and just be down in the dumps. Their dad might be deployed. Their home life might be a mess. They might not be keeping their grades up in school," Good said.
"But we don't turn them away. We don't judge them. We don't ignore them. We keep working with them. We are friends with them. We encourage them. We continue to build relationships with them. You never know when those relationships are going to be important in their lives."
Like any group, Redstone Club H2O has rules that its youth must abide by so that the group can function. But those rules are often easily accepted by youth who are looking for a place where they can belong.
Those rules will be in place this summer when Redstone Club H2O holds its summer camp July 21-25 at Lake Junaluska, N.C. The youth will stay in cabins, and spend the days rafting, zip lining, horseback riding and visiting the amusement park. Each day ends with a worship service, and there is free time when the kids can hang out, play games or watch movies together. Kids Camp for children in grades three through seven is June 26-29 at Shocco Springs in Talladega.
Whether at camp or in the clubhouse, Good is confident that the Redstone Club H2O program is providing a good place for teens to ask questions about God and to grow in their Christian faith.
"When they leave here, I hope they understand that the Bible is relevant to them every day of their lives, and that they know God loves them and they always have a place to turn when life's troubles get too much for them," he said.