Mercy Moment

A Gospel-Centered Refuge for Teens

Grace Lutheran Church, Grass Valley, Calif., reaches out to local teenagers through an after-school program called the Hangout.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

(1 Peter 4:8)

The Hangout is a place to learn what love is about. Grace Lutheran Church in Grass Valley, Calif., hosts this after-school gathering in its old sanctuary, just down the hill from the local high school.

Deaconess Elizabeth Froh, who serves as director, is ready. She’s already set out the snacks, prepped the video games and written the day’s Scripture passage — 1 Peter 4:8 — on the board.

Deaconess Elizabeth Froh stands outside Grace Lutheran Church in Grass Valley, Calif.

Teenagers filter into small groups and chitchat. Others play a game of pool. One veges out with a video game. All graze on the food. In the former sanctuary housing the Hangout is a giant cross on the wall. It’s a not-so-subtle way of reminding everyone that God says “you are loved.”

“We’re meeting these teenagers right where they are,” Froh said. “Everyone is different and yet the same …. My reminder is to make sure you love.” She’s worked with students through some difficult issues. It’s not uncommon for students to come to the Hangout bearing the weight of suicidal tendencies, homelessness and abuse.

A high school student who attends regularly says she treasures the Hangout because it’s a place of peace. And for parent Jessica Mahnke, the Hangout is a place of salvation; God worked through her son’s friend to bring him to the Hangout. Before then, he was struggling in life. She says the change is remarkable.

“The Hangout truly is a work of mercy for the people of Grace, and a key way for our congregation to love our neighbors as Christ first loved us,” said the Rev. Duane Bamsch, pastor of Grace. “While most of these youths don’t see us as their church home, we still make sure they know that they are always welcome among us as those who are fearfully and wonderfully made by God.”

“It’s those relationships you build that are key to making something like this work,” Froh said.

The Hangout was started 10 years ago by members of Grace. Garrett and Pat Novak have watched from its inception. By the grace of God, the Hangout has grown into a steady stream of students throughout the years, and the Novaks rejoice to see God’s Church at work.

“We’re planting seeds. We don’t bring people to faith — God does that through the work of the Holy Spirit. We are called to tell others and share the Gospel. These teenagers know they’re broken and something is wrong,” said Froh. At the Hangout, she seeks to share her faith by teaching teens that “we’re not defined by who I am, but whose I am.”

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Erik M. Lunsford 

Managing photojournalist for LCMS Communications.

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