TNT Ministries looks to provide safe place for youth

By on October 15, 2014
(Photo by Preston Whitcraft) Mike Wenger, executive director of TNT Youth Ministry, leads group time at the Mohler Church of the Brethren. Area youth can attend any of the three centers in the Ephrata area for a safe and positive place to hang out.

(Photo by Preston Whitcraft)
Mike Wenger, executive director of TNT Youth Ministry, leads group time at the Mohler Church of the Brethren. Area youth can attend any of the three centers in the Ephrata area for a safe and positive place to hang out.

TNT Youth Ministry has a message for the Ephrata community. They have a safe and positive place for teens to hang out.
“We just want to put the word out there that we have these youth centers in the area and that kids are welcome to come to them,” said Mike Wenger, executive director. “Our youth centers have caring staff that will give them encouragement and support and help them reach for better goals and make better choices.”
TNT Youth Ministry began at Ephrata Mennonite Church, now Alive Church Ephrata, as a vision of outreach, acceptance and discipleship for the youth of Ephrata.
The centers are currently located at Akron Church of the Brethren, 613 Main St., Akron; Alive Church Ephrata, formerly Ephrata Mennonite Church, 510 Stevens Road, Ephrata; and Mohler Church of the Brethren, 21 East Mohler Church Road, Ephrata. Middle school and high school age students are welcome at all locations.
Wenger said although they are a religious organization, a Christian organization, they don’t force feed them faith.
“We earn the right to be heard,” he said. “And we do that through actions and love and just acceptance.”
Wenger said the centers focus on many different activities and that most of the churches have gyms to play dodge ball and gaga ball, which is an Israeli game.
“Gaga ball is really big right now,” he said, “So is indoor football, outdoor football and capture the flag.”
Wenger said each center also has a cafe.
“And sometimes we do a lesson and sometimes we don’t,” he said. “And the staff is always willing to listen if someone is going through some problems to help them make better decisions.”
Wenger said sometimes teens just come to the center to “hang out.”
“Right now it’s real big to just draw all over the tables,” he said, “but we have also done things like Minute To Win it-type games.”
Wenger said they will try to accommodate the kids when it comes to new activities.
“Whatever they want, we would bring in,” he said. “We are open to suggestions. If we have enough kids interested, we will see what we can do.”
The centers started all because of a parking lot.
One evening in September of 2000, nearly 150 youth appeared in the EMC parking lot after they had been kicked out of the Cloister Shopping Center (a favorite hangout for teens). The congregation chose to welcome them, viewing it as an opportunity to minister rather than as a nuisance, according to the TNT website.
Wenger said he was hired by the church to reach out to the the kids.
“When I pulled up in the parking lot to these kids, I could tell on their faces, ‘Oh, here we go, we are going to get kicked out again’ but instead it was ‘you are welcome to hang out here, we are glad you are here,’” he said. “I even had the church ladies make bake goods.”
And that’s how it started, he said. The ministry was initially called “Thursday Night Thing,” but as it grew and later became a non-profit, its name changed to “Teens Need Truth.”
Wenger said the reason for the name change was that a lot of kids were believing lies about themselves and their future.
“And we wanted to tell them that they were valuable and that we cared about them and that they do have the potential to have a great life and that there is hope out there,” he said. “That’s where truth comes from – we tell them that they are not failures, that they are not mistakes, that they are not annoying.”
There are a total of seven centers now, including the newest one opening in Hempfield.
“The interesting thing about what we do is we don’t rent buildings. Our cost is all personnel,” he said.
Wenger said they use church buildings for a couple of reasons. One is that they sit empty during the week so there is an opportunity to use the building more efficiently and effectively.
“The other reason we do it is there is a lot of support that a church will give. There are a lot of kids that are struggling financially,” he said. “We can go to a church and say we have someone who needs a jacket and members of a church will step up and help us provide for kids. I love to see congregations come along side the youth ministry.”
Wenger said on average, 20-30 kids use the centers each time they are open.
“We just want to remind Ephrata that we are here and that their kids are welcome,” Wenger said.
For anyone interested, the TNT Timber Trot 5K trail run will be held at the Woodcrest Retreat, 225 Woodcrest Road, at 9 a.m. Oct. 18. To register to compete at: online@tntyouthminstry.com.
For more information about the TNT Youth Ministry, visit: tntyouthministry.com.

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