Bridgewood Christian Reformed Church in Savage, Minn., launched a new ministry in February 2020, offering meet-ups twice a week—Tuesdays for support groups, Thursdays for Bible study—to teens identified by county case workers as at-risk of various social ills. It's called Savage-Prior Lake TreeHouse and it's part of a growing network with the Minnesota-based TreeHouse organization, whose mission is to end hopelessness among teenagers.
The founding of Savage-Prior Lake TreeHouse goes back three years when Bridgewood CRC member Judy Halmrast felt called to work against human trafficking but she didn’t know how she could help. Halmrast sought out some local anti-trafficking organizations and, with their help, offered an eight-week class on the subject, hoping to hear from God how Bridgewood CRC could be a partner in combatting sex trafficking. “Toward the end of the class it became clear that we would be most effective in combatting sex trafficking by preventing it. Prevention was quite clearly God's leading,” Halmrast said.
That’s when they contacted TreeHouse, which has worked to create healthy relationships among teens since 1979. Offering “grace-based programs and environments where teens learn to know a loving God, build resiliency, develop healthy relationships, and plan for the future,” TreeHouse seeks an outcome where “every teen is rooted in the living hope of Jesus—unleashing untold potential in communities everywhere.”
“Our role isn't flashy,” Halmrast says of the congregation’s prevention approach. “We don't go in and rescue girls from bad men, nor do we step in to help when they get out. We don't know which of the students we are saving from sex trafficking, but we do know we are bringing hope to those who are without, bringing Jesus to those who desperately need him, and changing the trajectory of the lives of precious teenagers.”
Since February 2020, small groups of students have met at the church on Tuesday and Thursday nights to share their struggles and offer one another support in a safe space, led by mentors from Bridgewood CRC. Thursday nights are specifically focused on Bible study, along with support and mentorship. The church reaches about 42 teens and is supported by 10 volunteers. Other community organizations have supported the groups through donating meals, transportation, and financial support.
Just a month after the groups started, when the COVID-19 pandemic began and rates of self-harm, anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide in teenagers increased, Halmrast said the small groups were more important than ever. “We want to be part of the work of God to directly transform lives. TreeHouse redirects kids from hopelessness to hope, and many of these kids have given their lives to Christ. I can't think of an endeavor that is more rewarding. This is what drives us to continue to invest in this ministry.”