by Larry Valenzuela
UYWI is about powering the urban youth worker and we know that part of that is coming together and sharing our stories. Larry Valenzuela is one of those people, here is his story:
About a year ago, my perspective on youth ministry began to shift.
It started with a group of junior high school boys from my neighborhood that began to hang out near my front yard. They had an enormous amount of energy; riding scooters, skateboarding, and had vibrant imaginations. We quickly connected and began to develop a friendship. At first I thought they only wanted someone to hang out with socially, but soon after, they became extremely vulnerable about their home lives and deeper conversations resulted.
They see themselves as school misfits and are frequently in after-school detention or suspended, their home environment is tough, and of all the boys, only one has a father at home. The others live with their mother or extended family members.
My heart was burdened for these boys and I knew I could not just sit back and watch. With their family’s permission we agreed to make Monday afternoons a “pizza & talk time.” There was no real agenda other than providing a stable time to exchange weekend stories and place to stay away from the neighborhood distractions. However, the boys always focused their conversations around their family life. One by one they would tell me about their difficult week, conflict with siblings, and shared about wanting a better home life.
One night, as we walked home together, one of the boy’s named Nick opened up and told me that his stepdad walked out on his family the weekend prior to us meeting. Though he was sad, he was also relieved because all the arguments had finally stopped. He then shared that he could not wait to come and tell me, and that the only thing that kept him from running away from home was knowing that he would meet with me and the rest of the boys again that coming Monday.
At that point I knew I had to do more. His story kept me up all night and I prayed hoping that God would give me a sense of direction I did not know what to do or what my next steps should be if any. I had seen a few UYWI ads on social media but I wasn’t too familiar with the organization. That night I reached out through the general info email on the website requesting advice and prayer on how to respond to the needs.
The very next day I received a phone call from Larry Acosta from UYWI and he encouraged me to continue working with these boys. His words were refreshing, and I knew I contacted the right place. He also connected me with Robert Aboites, part of the UYWI team. I was overwhelmed by their coaching and wisdom. The care they extended was beyond a phone call. I honestly had no idea of the depth of experience and heart that UYWI had for reaching young people.
Not long after, I attended UYWI’s National Conference for the first time and found that I was not alone. They connected me with hundreds of other youth workers who had similar stories. The training was powerful, yet practical. I am very appreciative for UYWI. They provided timely advice, resources and direction to fuel my passion for the lost.
I am now working with our Pastor and partnering with Young Life and local high schools to create a strategy that will focus on our students needs outside of the church walls.
Youth Leader at Love International Ministries | Phoenix, AZ
Connect with leaders like Larry who share your passion at National Conference.