YFC Camp Goes to Prison

by DanWolgemuth on June 28, 2024

The name Carlos Portillo first came to my attention a few weeks ago in an email. The email had to do with a camp scholarship request that Carlos was making for a camp that our Suncoast YFC chapter was organizing. This was about a day camp. Three days long. Roughly 70 young people in attendance.

Carlos was looking to raise $4500 for this camp for the following items and activities: “This would cover shirts, water slide/dunk tank, two meals for staff and students, craft supplies, and outdoor activities.” Under almost any circumstance, this sounds like a reasonable request. Who wouldn’t want young people to enjoy three days of fun, relationship building, and an introduction to faith in Jesus?

But then I read on. These 70 young people are locked up. They are incarcerated in a juvenile detention center. And yes, Carlos, along with a YFC leader from Ohio and Polk County, Florida, join a crew of 17 other staff and volunteers to bring camp to them. For three days, the strict dress code of the facility, and the standard rigorous protocol are going to be sidelined. From June 25th to 27th, YFC Camp is going to prison.

All 70 young people in this facility have a story. Most have a very broken and unhealthy story. Which means that not only have these young people lost their freedom, it also means that many of them have never experienced childhood. The carefree joy of being a kid has been hijacked, or stolen, or ripped from their hearts and souls. Yes, bad choices along the way, but often a deck stacked in overwhelming terms against them. Freedom vanquished. A childhood extinguished.

Until this week. Until YFC Camp crossed the barbed wire. Until YFC Camp earned the trust of those in charge so that an event like this could take place. Until YFC Camp lived into the calling and commissioning of Jesus to “come to me” in prison. Never have we been more sure that Jesus was at one of our camps. He said He would be there. 

And that was why it feels so natural and appropriate to introduce these young people to one of their own. To Jesus.

Introducing a convicted juvenile felon to the relentless grace, mercy and love of Jesus is our mission. But it is the mission of Jesus first. He invites us into this sacred space. And from June 25th to 27th, Carlos is answering that call.

70 young souls. Loved by God. Made in His image. Infected and afflicted by the very thing we all are, sin. But reminded at YFC Camp that sin doesn’t have the final word. Grace does. Jesus does.

And so, on a water slide, or a dunk tank, or in a freshly branded t-shirt, a clear message of hope in Christ illuminates the fact that freedom is possible. Even before a felony sentence is complete.

Jesus said it, and we believe it…

“I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. (Matthew 25:36, ESV)”

And this week, we met Jesus at day camp!

And as you think of it, say a prayer for those 70 young people who now know that Jesus is with them. Always. Anywhere.

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