Reaching Children Where They Are

It’s Important to Look Past Behaviors to See Precious Hearts

By Senior Chaplain Mike Wilhelm

Each Sunday, the congregation at the Boys Ranch Chapel is made up of people who are at different stages of their spiritual lives.

Our challenge each week is to reach people with the good news of Christ no matter how recent or how long their journey. Often, we see children who might be acting out in unhealthy ways, doing things that are bad for themselves or others.

We might be tempted to think of their behavior as rebellion, but I often see that the acting out comes from a soul that has been beaten down and has low expectations.

When a kiddo is acting out in off-putting ways, it’s not always easy to be compassionate and realize, “That child has received some nasty graffiti on their soul.”

The love of Christ needs to break through at the deepest level for them to get over these ways of being in the world.

a girl prays in chapel

Conversations at the Chapel Steps

Each week in chapel, at the end of the service, I sit on the steps, and the kids know if they want to come down to pray, they can. Invariably, there are three or four who come down to pray with me.

I ask them what’s on their hearts, and they say, “Well, Mom’s been in jail, and this weekend I got to see her on a supervised visit. Can we pray that she stays off drugs?”

Or a child who has been abandoned, then adopted and placed in care with us might be struggling with the idea of family. “Who’s my family? Do I belong? Do I matter?”

Children in all of these situations often feel guilty, as if they’ve done something wrong to lead to that abandonment or imprisonment. Some children might set themselves up for failure just to reinforce what they believe to be true: I’m worthless, I’m no good, and nobody wants me.

It takes a lot of time and a lot of loving faces – a whole community of people – for these hurting souls to begin to understand that yes, they matter.

Girls dressed as angels surround a manger scene.

Seeking God Through Cantata

Each year at Christmas, we have a cantata that brings the Christmas story to life, and often, we have some very unlikely angels in the cantata. I remember about 10 years ago, we had a girl who was a tough kid. I was surprised she wanted to be in the cantata, but she didn’t just want to be in it – she wanted to be Mary.

At every practice, she had on her Converse sneakers and was chewing and smacking gum with attitude. It would have been easy to be irritated with all of that – but she came to every rehearsal, and she wanted to be Mary. She was obviously seeking God, however imperfectly.

To me, seeing that girl as Mary in our cantata was a beautiful symbol of God’s love and grace to look beyond behaviors to see precious hearts.

That Mary has since left Boys Ranch, and I pray that she continues to seek God and find Him in the world beyond the ranch.

Scroll to Top