Reading, Pennsylvania might seem like the city to escape from for young people, but World Challenge’s partners are discipling youth leaders who are passionate about bringing God’s light to their city.
Amid the ordinary news updates about Tik Tok challenges wreaking havoc on Reading, Pennsylvania’s schools is a far larger issue that looms over many of these students’ futures.
They’re growing up in a town that, as noted by The New York Times, “has earned the unwelcome distinction of having the largest share of its residents living in poverty, barely edging out Flint, Mich., according to new Census Bureau data.” For many teens and young adults, it’s hard to see a future for themselves as they watch their parents struggle to make ends meet.
It may be difficult for some to comprehend how deeply poverty can affect families and how difficult it can be to escape, even in the United States. Perhaps even more difficult for many Americans to understand, poverty encompasses far more than each month’s paychecks. It can include a certain mentality, addictions, a lack of community or healthy relationships, or a prevailing sense of shame.
This broader understanding of poverty was an issue that deeply concerned David Wilkerson all of his life and informs the mission work and ministry of Gary Wilkerson and World Challenge today.
A Seed Coming to Fruit
Crystal is one of the dynamic young adults who has become part of the program “Feet on the Street” in North Reading, a ministry that partners with World Challenge. Crystal is passionate about addressing some of the less recognized aspects of poverty in her city and especially among her generation.
While some may be lobbying for better food kitchens or more government programs to support the community, Crystal is aiming to join a leadership discipleship program that will help her better reach more youth in her neighborhood for Christ.
Part of the reason for this has been her own journey toward finding purpose and joy. "I grew up in church,” she explained. “I grew up hearing about this man named Jesus. Most would call me a ‘Sunday Christian’ because as I got older, I just accepted Jesus on Sundays and played the role of a Christian well, but I was dead inside. No spiritual awareness.”
As a very young girl, though, a seed had been planted in Crystal as she watched a movie about Christ’s life. “I remember crying, asking ‘Why are they beating this innocent man?’ All I knew was that this man was innocent and being beaten for no reason. That picture stood in my mind all my life.” Years later, she heard God simply say to her, “It’s now or never.”
“That day,” she explained, “the picture of this innocent man became my reality and my truth. I gave my life and have been with Christ Jesus since.”
A Wealth No One Can Steal
Crystal found others who share her passion to help young adults find new lives in Christ when she walked into the church that hosts the “Feet on the Street” ministry. What’s more, they were eager to support and disciple Crystal as she grows into the incredible young leader that God has gifted her to be.
“They showed me the love, mercy, and identity of who Jesus is and who I am in him.” That knowledge that she is cared for and loved by God along with the strong community around her is giving her the confidence to walk out her faith in dark places.
She shared, “They have taught me, ‘Keep your eyes on Jesus, and keep your mission near. Don’t lose hope, and keep seeking God while co-laboring with Christ.’”
A vibrant hope in Jesus, discipleship in leadership and the arms of a strong community around her is making Crystal wealthy in ways that many people in the West could never fathom. Here she is witnessing God move and laboring for treasures that no one will ever be able to take from her.
Please join us in praying for our partners in Reading and for young leaders like Crystal who are pressing into God’s work for the next generation in the United States.