One of the prayers I say before entering God’s Word is to ask the Holy Spirit to open my eyes and to shape my heart around what I read. He has been doing that, specifically challenging me around how Jesus called His disciples. I was convicted that I spent most of my time trying to build up ministry and events to attract people to come to me on my turf. I started to feel a little like a Pharisee, who was more concerned about attracting people to the temple than about meeting the needs of people where they were. The Spirit really started to convict me that there are students in our city who will never set foot in a church. Through prayer, my heart really started to burn for those students.
As the Holy Spirit continued to work on my heart, He pointed that there is one place in our community where all of these students are gathered. I asked three other youth workers if they would come with me to meet with Linda Plante, the principal of the local high school. During that meeting, we affirmed Mrs. Plante in the school’s mission to encourage and challenge kids to get a great education and to use it to impact the world. We told her that we wanted to be a part of that and to help her in any way she saw fit. She quickly listed four or five different areas where they could use some extra help. The four of us went to a local coffee house and talked about those options and prayed for God’s wisdom about where we could impact students. In that conversation, God pressed upon our heart two words: Oscar and Mayer.
During our conversation with Linda, she told us that there was a group of students that had nothing to do and no place to go after school, so they would hang out in the park next to the school. The lack of options and structure led to some bad decisions on their part. They were often getting in trouble with the police, and their language and actions were upsetting many of the parents in the neighborhood. We felt that this was the place where we could follow Jesus. We decided that we would ask members of our congregation to donate hot dogs and pop, and once a week, we would hang out in the park, just spending time caring for these kids.
I still remember our first week in the park. As we were cooking the hot dogs and looking at four different groups of kids all around the park, I remember praying, asking, “God help me to find a way to invite these kids in a way that doesn’t scare them and make us four guys look creepy.” As I said “Amen,” a kid from one of the groups said, “Hey, can I have one of those pops?” I looked up and just had to laugh at how God works and answers prayers. I gave him a wave to come over. I told him to grab a hot dog as well. A bunch of his buddies said, “Hey, grab us one, too,” to which he replied, “Come and grab your own. I’m not your servant.” This is how God opened the door to connect with students at the high school.
We have been doing this for two and half years. (In Minnesota, we take the winters off because of the risk of losing a hand to frostbite.) God has taught me more through this experience than I could ever have imagined. It has quickly become one of my favorite times of the week and often I feel more effective in showing the love Jesus than I do during our planned programs. On a typical Thursday, we have between 30-80 students who come down for a free hot dog or two and a pop. They hang out from 15 minutes to an hour. We talk about their days, their families, and their experiences. We have found that they are very open about their lives and they have also come to trust and respect us. The very first time we did this, one of the students asked us if we were the cops. We explained that we were just a group of youth ministers who loved Jesus. Because we loved Him, we are called to show that same love to others. Every week, we get one or more new kids who ask that same question, and it gives us a chance to witness to God’s love for them.
We have seen how God is opening doors to many of those students; 90% of the students who come have never (or only on rare occasion) stepped into a church building. In my best estimate, God has given us the opportunity to connect with 500 or more different youth, through the simple process of giving away free hot dogs and a pop. It has also been a great witness to our congregation, which has seen this outreach vision and, for the most part, has different families donating all of the food to keep this going. We are just waiting for someone to donate the Oscar Mayer hot dog car and we should be set. We have four different families, who each take a week a month and do the shopping and get all of my supplies. With all that in place, it only takes about an hour and a half of my week to connect with 30-80 students, most of whom have never set foot in a church. I am thrilled to see that 10 of those students who started eating free hot dogs have joined one of our small groups this year and are being discipled.
I encourage you to continue to be in God’s Word, asking the Holy Spirit to point out needs in your community. When He presses on your heart, be faithful like the disciples, and follow Him. You will be amazed at how He blesses you through that obedience.