Quick. When you think about “the homeless,” what image pops into your mind? If you’re like me, in all likelihood, it’s an image of an elderly man, unshaven for weeks or perhaps even months, wearing clothing that probably hasn’t seen the inside of a washing machine in recent memory. He is pushing a shopping cart filled with things that you or I would throw away, and as he passes you on the street, you hear him muttering something that has you concluding that mental health issues may well be a part of his story.
There’s no denying it, in too many cases, that stereotype does fit, but it’s not the whole story.
Meet AJ and Alex, both in their twenties. They showered this morning, they’re wearing clean clothing, and as they walk the streets of Hollywood, no one gives them a second look. It just so happens that they’re homeless, too. They just don’t look the part.
According to this 2010 article in the L.A. Times, AJ and Alex are just two of many homeless youth in Los Angeles County, but there’s more to their story. AJ and Alex are gay, and regardless of what you and I think or feel about how tolerant and enlightened we have become, their sexuality is a key factor in their being homeless.
Beatings, restraining orders, merciless bullying in high school, rejection from the parents who gave them life, from the very ones with whom their hearts should find their safest haven, sexual exploitation and trafficking from predators roaming our cities, this and much, much more is what makes up the gut-wrenching stories of the nearly 1.7 million youth who are homeless on any given day in America.
Over 50 years ago, Dr. Roger W. Burt encountered just such needs in his own back yard in British Columbia, Canada. His heart was forever changed through an encounter with God and thus began his own preparation to minister to the deep needs of broken young people, loving them and leading them to the same refreshing fountain that nourished and healed his own soul. Since then, he has ministered to thousands of young people, seeing God call back to himself those you and I might have thought were a lost cause.
Fast forward to today, and Roger has embarked on the most ambitious project of his life, the Arizona Dream Center in Prescott, Arizona, one hundred miles north of Phoenix.
I asked Roger about the Dream Center and how he envisioned it being used by God as a means of restoration for broken youth.
“We’re going to provide short-term and long-term residential treatment and care, housing for the homeless and healing for the sexually trafficked.
“We’re going to provide educational and recreational treatment and use a faith-based approach to deal with every aspect of their issues.
“We’re going to train life coaches to come in and love on these kids, to teach them rubber-meets-the-road life skills: How do I apply for, get, and keep a job? How do I rebuild self-esteem? We will teach them about marriage, we will aim for a depth of transformation to the point where each of them is fully equipped to make positive contributions to their communities.
“We want to teach kids how to dream again. Like many of us, they’ve lost hope in the system, they have no faith whether it be Washington or Ottawa. They hear a lot of adults making a lot of promises but never seeing promises fulfilled. Their fathers come and go. It’s sad to say it, but too often we see pastors that go around laying empty hands on empty heads; kids who are wrestling with homosexuality, with drug and other addictions, we’ll lay hands on them and send them right back to the street. That is the dumbest thing! Kids need relationships! Look at what Jesus did, He laid down his life, he modeled the relational approach.
“I would add that our job is to love them and it is God’s job to judge and the Holy Spirit’s job (not mine, not the church’s), to bring conviction of sin. I really like what André Crouch used to sing, ‘He looks beyond my fault and sees my need.’ It is my prayer, my hunger that we don’t get distracted by the tattoos, the spiked hair, the LGBT flag, the drugs, that we look beyond all of that and see the real need. When kids get that kind of love, it draws them in like a magnetic force. They’ll know they’re genuinely cared for and that’s when they’re in the best position for God to begin to change their hearts. We won’t elevate ourselves above them or take a ‘holier-than-thou’ approach or condemn them. We’ll love them.
“I like to use the illustration of the idiot lights on a car. They come on when the oil gets low or the radiator is overheating or whatever. What does a wise car owner do? He pulls over, opens the hood, figures out what’s going on. The car’s issues in no way diminish the owner’s right to own and use the car, he surely can, but if he’s going to be a successful driver, he’s going to heed the warnings; he knows he needs to make a change. Maybe the radiator is clogged with residue and the fluid isn’t able to flow freely, similar to how we can so often find ourselves clogged up with the issues of life. Or maybe it’s my battery, I’ve been giving, giving, giving, and am drained dry. Or maybe I’m dealing with so much friction in my life, kind of like oil that has broken down in the engine and as a result, parts are wearing down like the pistons on the cylinder walls. The friction has me getting upset easily or making bad choices.
“What we’re offering is the chance, not to surrender the ownership of your life to me, it’s still your life, you have the keys, you have the registration, but lift the hood, maybe it’s time to flush the radiator, plug in and charge the battery, change the oil. God is a perfect gentleman; He doesn’t force himself on anyone. He knocks on the door and waits for us to let Him in. Similarly, we won’t force ourselves on kids, we’ll love them regardless.”
Here is where people like you and me come into play. Like any charitable organization, Arizona Dream Center simply can’t run without resources. Roger has negotiated extremely favorable terms with the current owner of Feather Mountain Ranch, but we of course can’t close the deal without the needed finances. Will you join us? Join us in prayer, for Roger as he leads the charge, for the finances needed to acquire the property, for a Timothy to come alongside Roger to be mentored in order to play a key role in the founding and running of the Dream Center.
We are a 501(c)3 charitable organization and you can make a secure donation here. Would you consider becoming a monthly partner?
As well, every time you make a purchase at Amazon.com, a donation will be made to the Dream Center. Be sure to tag Arizona Dream Center as your charity. Get started here.
Join us as we partner together with God himself as He breathes new life into dreams which once were dead. Join us as we work to reunite young people with their Heavenly Father.
To every AJ and every Alex we want to say, come to your heart’s true home.
Need help? Want more information? Want to get involved? Arizona Dream Center is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization. Dr. Burt may be reached at Roger@ArizonaDreamCenter.org