reVision Houston: Reaching Kids on the Edge
By: Sherri Gragg
Luke chapter eight tells the story of a man who was driven to terrifying violence and destruction by his all-consuming personal torment. His community so feared him, that they exiled him to the tombs outside of their city where he was “kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles.” Luke 8:29 esv.
Until Jesus came.
A few short verses after this hopelessly lost man meets the Messiah, we find him transformed. The one who once “cried out day and night and cut himself,” (Mark 5) sits peacefully at the feet of his Deliverer, “clothed and in his right mind.” (Luke 8:36) But the work of redemption isn’t complete until Jesus returns the former exile to his community as a leader.
Reaching the Untouchable
It is this same spirit of restoration that is at the heart of reVision Houston as it seeks to reach at-risk youth: The young men and women who are dropping out of school, falling prey to addiction, and joining gangs.
The ones who have been exiled from home and community.
According to Charles Rotramel, CEO of reVision Houston, profound disconnection is at the root of the challenges that stalk these teens. “We began to realize that the way to break down the barriers that exclude these kids and that keep them from accessing a successful future, is to help the people that don’t know them get to know them- the people in our churches,” he said.
It is a model that has been incredibly successful. Through reVision Houston’s mentoring program, bridges have been built between two polar extremes of society- the men and women who fill our pews, and the teens who are in danger of becoming the next generation to fill our prisons.
St. Luke’s UMC Gesthemane is one of the twenty-six area churches partnering with reVision Houston. As a part of their investment in Houston’s at-risk youth, St. Luke’s UMC Gesthemane built a soccer field. Soon after the field opened in September of 2016, Rotramel realized God was doing something extraordinary in the lives of a group of Congolese refugees who faithfully came to the Sunday afternoon pick-up games.
“I kept seeing them getting better and better,” Rotramel said, “This past spring I realized the pick-up games had run their course. The kids had gotten so good that it wasn’t enough anymore.”
A Place of Belonging
Rotramel called the young men in for a meeting to explain that they were going to form a competitive soccer team, reVision FC, and that he wanted each one of them to be a part. It was the moment that changed everything. Suddenly, teens who were on the edge of society discovered a place of belonging. The young men bonded deeply with each other, and with their host church, St. Luke’s UMC Gesthemane. Church members are actively involved in the teens lives, attending their games, and asking about their progress in school. The teens spend most of their time at the church where they can be with each other, Rotramel, and other caring adults. Rotramel has found his role as coach to be a natural way to pour into the teen’s lives. He checks their grades, and discusses the importance of caring for their bodies through proper rest and nutrition. As their coach, he serves as a trusted guide not only in soccer, but in life.
Additionally, these young men from traumatic pasts have discovered an open door to a successful future. All four current seniors have plans to attend college next fall. At least two are on track to play college soccer.
reVision FC completed their first year in the Dynamo Dash League with
nine wins and two losses. This spring they will compete in the highest competition in youth soccer, The State Cup, with an eye toward the national championship.
Youth Sports Matter Award
reVision FC was chosen by Dick’s Sporting Goods from seventy-five contenders to receive the $120,000 Youth Sports Matter Award. A film crew of thirty, sponsored by Dick’s Sporting Goods, spent eight days with the team documenting their story. The resulting short film, directed by Emmy-nominated and Clio-winning director, Vincent Haycock, has been viewed over four million times.
Rotramel hopes that other churches will embrace similar soccer programs for the at-risk youth in their communities. “We don’t want to be the only one,” Rotramel said, “We would love to help other churches think about how they could do something similar. There is such magic here.”
UMC churches interested in providing community for disconnected youth through soccer should visit https://www.houstonrevision.org and contact reVision Houston CEO, Charles Rotramel at Charles@houstonrevision.org