When Buck Sutton, director of Teens for Christ felt God calling him to expand the ministry in 2001, he had no idea just how far the ministry would go.
“When people said we should expand outside Lima, I laughed,” he said. “We were a small ministry with a small budget, but the more I prayed, the more I felt it laid on my heart.”
Sutton started to share with people his vision of taking Teens for Christ beyond the Lima area. “I was thinking maybe Fort Wayne or Columbus,” he said. “Instead, we ended up in Nairobi, Kenya.”
From Kenya, the ministry has expanded to neighboring Uganda and Southern Sudan. They also have Teens for Christ chapter headquarters in Bangladesh, Lebanon, Nepal and India. Sutton hopes to establish ministries in Syria, Cuba, Pakistan and other African countries, as well.
Without international leaders, Sutton could not do this, though. Fortunately, he found three men that have headed up the ministry in three different international locations.
Moses Odhiambo, Africa
The first of the international leaders to join Teens for Christ, Moses Idhiambo’s own father was an evangelist in the small village of Kamuya in Kenya, Africa. His mother left when he was only 2 years old, and the family was extremely poor.
“We walked to school six miles barefoot,” he said, “and would sit on stones and write on the ground because we had no paper or pencils.”
His father sold the family’s only two goats so he could go to high school, and it was during his sophomore year that he became a believer.
Despite his conversion, Odhiambo had no intention of becoming a minister, but wanted to go into go into science or become an accountant. He ended up at the Emmaus Bible College in Nairobi where he started ministering to kids and teens and realized God’s plan for him was ministry, after all.
It was during this time that he met Tom Ahl who was on a mission trip to the area with other Lima businessmen. It was through Ahl that Odhiambo met Sutton and ended up becoming Teens for Christ’s first international leader.
Odhiambo started in 2005 with 25 kids and the numbers just kept growing. Now they are in 420 high schools reaching almost 150,000 teens each week.
The ministry in Kenya has 35 staff members and there are school teachers that volunteer in each school, as well.
It was through doing Teens for Christ that Odhiambo formed Echoes of Mercy which meets the physical needs of the kids to whom they minister.
“Many teens are the leaders in their house,” he said. “It is very difficult for them to find the money to feed their family. We tell them God is great, but they haven’t eaten in two days or they don’t have the school fee. What do you say to that teen?”
Odhiambo recently made one of his former students, Luke Onyango, the executive director of Kenya while Odhiambo is now the director of Africa. The ministry has spread into Uganda and southern Sudan, and Odhiambo hopes to start ministries in Tanzania and Rwanda in the coming year.
Simon Ladaa, Lebanon
Simon Ladaa lost his mother at the age of 10 when she tried to rescue two Muslim girls in a neighboring house. A bomb hit the house, killing all of them.
Ladaa’s father sent him to a Christian orphanage and it was there that he became a believer. He met Sutton through the Rev. Sami Dagher, a well-known evangelist in the Middle East. Ladaa came to Lima from December 2005 to July 2006 to do his training.
“I think it was the coldest day ever in Lima the day I arrived,” said Ladaa with a laugh.
When Ladaa returned to Lebanon, he started his ministry in Beirut, Lebanon. Although he lives on the Christian side in Lebanon, it can still be dangerous to minister to the Muslim teenagers because their parents may take offense.
“They will keep the kids in the house,” he said. “They threaten us, which is the scary part.”
Just living in Lebanon can be dangerous. Ladaa was in his room, ironing a shirt, when a bomb targeting a church next door went off.
“When in a bomb, you don’t hear any sound,” said Ladaa. “There is just wind, and you are flying. The Lord protected me that day.”
Currently, Ladaa and one other full-time person plus six volunteers minister to 120 teens per week at 12 different chapters throughout Lebanon.
Ladaa’s plans for 2013 involve ministering to Syrian teen refugees. “We will prepare meals for them,” he said. “Our vision is that when things get better, we will go there.”
Don Adhikary, Bangladesh
Adhikary grew up in a Christian home, but he was 17 years old before he became a believer.
In 2006, he was introduced to Sutton and felt drawn to the Teens for Christ ministry.
“God chose me,” he said. “It was a good opportunity, and I had the opportunity to do training in the United States.”
However, the Department of Homeland Security denied him a visa, so Adhikary did all of his eight months of training with Moses Odhiambo in Africa.
Adhikary’s country of 166 million people is 87 percent Muslim, which makes ministering to teenagers about Jesus Christ difficult and often dangerous for Adhikary and his family which includes two young children.
“We started with 12 kids and one chapter,” he said. “We now have 95 chapters, and in 2013 we plan to have between 125 and 130 chapters. It is difficult for us though. I get personal threats on my phone. I get calls that if I keep going, they will shoot me in the head. It is very risky in our country, but God gives us protection. All the power is God’s. He takes care of us.”
Adhikary has the only Christian teenage ministry in the country of Bangladesh and currently ministers to 4,000 teens each week with a staff of 10, plus volunteers. He plans to expand north and south into Calcutta, India and Nepal.
Currently, he is praying for six more staff members so he can reach up to 6,000 teens each week in the coming year.
For details about Teens For Christ go to www.teens-for-christ.org.
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