Stories of An Incarcerated Youth

Posted on by Heidi Brunsting

By Gareth Unruh, Assistant Director, Juvenile Justice Ministry, Denver Area YFC

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says concerning listening…

“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them … Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But the person who can no longer listen to others will soon be no longer listening to God either…This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious works … Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by the One who is the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”*

  • I was sitting across from a 12-year-old listening to him tell me of his parents being in jail since he was four. He was in and out of children’s group homes until his aunt and uncle adopted him when he was 10.
  • I listened to a 14-year-old tell about the 16 placements he was in before getting locked up at 10 years old. Now treatment programs are his home.
  • An 18-year-old told me he can trust me because he has seen me since he was 12, coming in and out of the detention center I work at.

Listening builds relationship — relationship leads to changed lives. I had the opportunity to share my story with each of these young people because I have “earned” the right to speak into their lives after listening to them all these years. My story provides hope, because of THE One that leads my life. They heard how God has been pursuing me, and also them, their whole life. They have hope, God sees them and cares! They are allowing Christ to lead their life because of my listening to them, and in turn they are willing to listen to Christ! 

Who are you listening to? What is your life speaking? Who's trust have you "earned" and are you using that precious gift to introduce them to Christ?

This article originally appeared on and is being republished by permission.

*Excerpts from “The Ministry of Listening” in Life Together, trans. John Dobbenstein (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 97-99.

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