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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Here to serve

Vandalism strengthens a church's resolve to minister to at-risk youth

After four neighborhood children ransacked Bethel Lutheran and a charter school last August, the Phoenix congregation didn't get better locks and security alarms. Bethel turned the other cheek and got busy — renewing its commitment to youth in an area where juvenile crime is a problem.

The children — siblings aged 8, 9 and 13, and their 14-year-old cousin — were left unsupervised for hours before they broke into the church, overturning furniture, smashing equipment and discharging fire extinguishers. They took $11,000 worth of computer equipment, stereos, compact disks and other supplies. Police followed their footprints, marked with extinguisher residue, to a nearby home and recovered most of the equipment. Meanwhile, youth from Bethel and the school cleaned up the mess.

"What makes the difference between kids who help, who give of their own time and money, and kids who steal and destroy?" asks Kim Sterner, a pastor of Bethel.

Part of the answer lies in the low-income apartments that flank the church, which has increasingly been a target for young vandals.


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