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Column: God’s love conquers all, changes lives

By Harold Keller / L’Observateur / April 10, 1998

The St. James Youth Center is located on the west bank of St. James Parish to the right of the Sunshine Bridge. It houses a maximum of 82 juveniles, male and female, between the ages of 11 and 17.

I’ve had the privilege of speaking there on a monthly basis for over five years. It is, without a doubt, the most difficult place I’ve ever spoken.

Many of the young people have been abused, are hurting, and are bitter toward family and society. Sometimes I feel as though my efforts have been in vain, but I’m reminded that God just want us to be obedient and leave the results to Him.

Most of the time, my friend, Danny Louque, accompanies me on my visits to the center.

Last month, after I finished speaking, two boys, ages 15 and 16, started hollering, screaming and threatening each other. The guards quickly, and with force, apprehended the two and moved them outside. I followed and asked the guards if I could talk to them. Reluctantly, they agreed.

I told the young men that I was glad this happened. They seemed confused and the guards looked puzzled, also. We had just finished speaking about love and forgiveness and I told them that God would now test both of them.

I told them that they needed to apologize and forgive each other.

After a half-hearted apology by each, I said, “Now, give each other a hug.”

They really didn’t want to do that, but they did. I told them that I loved them and that God was using this ugly incident to not only show them, but everyone at the center, the power of forgiveness and love.

This past Tuesday, Danny and I again went to the center. We spoke to the boys first (about 60 of them, five only 11 years of age). It was a tough session. One young man got mad at me and refused to shake my hand. I could feel the hate in his heart toward me. After the session, he refused to give me a hug. I tried to show him love, but he wasn’t buying that.

The last young man to leave the room came up to me and asked if I remembered him. Before I could answer, he said, “I was one of the boys that had the fight last month.” “How are you doing?” I asked. “Good,” he said. “I really want to change my life.” “Where’s the other young man that you had the problem with?” I asked. He replied, “He was released. He was doing well. We became real good friends and I miss him.” Wow! The power of forgiveness and love!

Danny and I then had a session with 17 young girls. This was the largest number of girls that I had seen at one time since I’ve been going to the center.

The meeting took place in the cafeteria. It was great! The girls were more open than any group in the past. I allowed any one who wanted to, a chance to share. Danny and I sat at different tables, each with a small group of young, hurting, teen-age girls. It was really a blessing!

After we left the cafeteria and we were about to leave the facility, I noticed I had forgotten one of my books. I hurried back to the cafeteria and as I entered, I passed a table of four boys, eating. One of them was the young man that seemed so bitter toward me. I got my book and, as I was walking past the same table near the entrance, the young boy said something. I stopped and asked him what he had said. One of the young boys seated next to him said, “He just wanted to tell you he was sorry for the way he acted.” I told him I forgave him and that it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. I smiled and asked if I could have my hug, and he got up slowly and gave me a hug. I then realized why God allowed me to forget my book.

As we got into the car to leave, Danny said, “Boy, I really needed this today! I feel so much better that I did this morning!” I did, too.

The lesson is really simple. When you’re forgiving of yourself to others who are less fortunate than you are, you feel so much better.

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