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A father to the fatherless

Jeremy Teulon of Woodville Corps.

Before I became a youth worker, I was a truck driver. But my passion has always been to see people grow into their fullness. I remember my supervisor telling me that I had leadership potential, and I said to him, ‘No way, I’m not a leader.’ But he could see things in me that I couldn’t see in myself at the time. So now that’s what I want to do with my life, helping people grow in their God given potential.

After I studied youth work through Praxis, God opened some really cool doors and I became the Youth and Community Worker for The Salvation Army in Woodville. I wanted to show the love and faithfulness of God to the young people of Woodville. Many of them have experienced abandonment, so the important thing is to be there again and again and again. That’s part of how our young people will experience the love and faithfulness of God in a tangible way.

We’re called Embassy Youth, with camps, a drop-in centre and mentoring. One young fulla who was part of our whanau lost his father to suicide. One day he sent me this text: ‘If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be the better person I am today. I truly thank you for everything you have done for me, respected greatly.’ Wow—that makes it all worthwhile! This young man was considered ‘at-risk’, and today he is in the training squad for the Colts rugby team.

We probably average around 40 young people at our Friday night drop-in centre, and it’s a safe space for them. We always have a ‘God spot’, where we bring a life message to challenge, equip and inspire our young people. Recently, some of the young people were a bit unsettled, and one of the girls piped up and said, ‘Be quiet, I want to listen. This is the only time of the week when I feel peace.’

Embassy Youth is a change agent influencing the youth culture of our town. Through it, the young people have discovered they are hugely valuable and of great worth. Due to our awesome team, we have closed the generation gap. Some of the older people are now ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle’, rather than people to intimidate on the street.

For the future of our town, I take my inspiration from the Bible’s Deuteronomy 8:3. I look forward to seeing the day when our town and district are realigned with God’s original creative intent.

I have taught religious instruction for many years at our local primary school, and recently, some college students asked me if I would come and teach at their school as well. So we’ve started a lunchtime group where we hang out and talk about life, Jesus and more. What’s so cool is that this was initiated by the young people.

I was also asked by the college if I could co-facilitate resiliency training for Year Nine students, along with two other teachers who are also Christians. We talk about issues like conflict resolution, facing challenges, identity, and how your past doesn’t have to shape your future.

When I first started youth work, I remember some of the guys saying to me, ‘Oh, you won’t stay; no one sticks around in Woodville.’ He’s in his twenties now and recently came back to visit me and catch up … there’s an irony in that!

By Jeremy Teulon.