By Janet Goreham
David Kiehn’s investment in D.C.’s inner-city schools is yielding a great return
|“The only one who can save these kids is Jesus. And He won’t just save them from eternal damnation, He’ll save them from their very lives.” |
On August 30, 2006, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to experience a day with FCA’s rapidly expanding inner-city ministry there. The ministry, spearheaded by FCA Area Representative David Kiehn, seeks to bring restoration and prosperity to the city by touching the lives of athletes and coaches in some of D.C.’s roughest areas. During my visit I met with football coaches at Dunbar High School and Anacostia High School. What I found was that change within D.C.’s inner-city doesn’t occur overnight by passing a bill or amending a law, but by reaching the hearts of its youth with the gospel.
– Jeremiah 29:7
Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
I meet FCA’s David Kiehn on the sidewalk outside the front entrance of Dunbar High School. We walk through the hallways of the school, stick our heads around the chalkboards and file cabinets that serve as make-shift classroom walls, and tour the school’s locker rooms. As we walk, he talks.
“It seems like there are a lot of folks who live in the suburbs who come into the city for the wealth and then they go back to the suburbs,” Kiehn explained over his shoulder as we headed into the front foyer. “So, the city never actually experiences the blessings of their productivity.”
We walked through two sets of black metal doors and down a hallway lined with dented lockers. My shoe stuck to a scrap of torn carpet. Kiehn continued, “I could hear God saying to me, ‘I don’t want you to do that. I want you to seek the peace and prosperity of the city.’” He shrugged. “And how else do you do that than by sharing God’s Word with the people who live there?”
In a strange but obvious way, this red-headed 26-year-old, who was raised in Chicago’s middle-class suburbs, has been anointed by God to minister to students in one of Washington, D.C.’s toughest inner-city high schools. After college at the University of Pennsylvania, Kiehn applied for positions in the Teach for America program. Three years of teaching math and history and two years coaching football at Dunbar High School enabled Kiehn to see that he could better reach the kids and coaches for Christ by transitioning into full-time ministry. He joined FCA staff in 2005.
Now, as an academic coach and a running backs coach at Dunbar, Kiehn focuses his attention on the spiritual needs of his boys by encouraging them to walk the straight and narrow, even when society pulls them from both directions. His vision? To see God revive the Spirit in Washington, D.C., through the changed lives of high school students across the city.
“The thing I love about inner-city ministry is that it really is all about God,” said Kiehn. “When lives are in so much disrepair and turmoil like they are in the inner city, who can save them but God?
“As a teacher, I tried to tutor kids. But, it wasn’t until they had Christ in their lives that I saw real change,” said Kiehn. “That’s why I wanted to go into ministry; the only one who can save these kids is Jesus. And He won’t just save them from eternal damnation, He’ll save them from their very lives.”
Just by talking to his players, Kiehn can see the negative effect sin has had on them. So when one of his players tells him that his father is in prison and his best friend has been shot, who else will Kiehn direct him to but Jesus?
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. – Isaiah 61:4
We enter Coach Jefferies’ office. Colorful photographs of former players and teams decorate the whitewashed brick walls of the head football coach’s domain. Many of the pictures are of former Dunbar players who are now playing college and professional football. During the meeting, players pop their heads in the room. “Whassup, Coach?” They nod, stop to acknowledge Coach Jefferies and Coach Kiehn and continue down the hall. It’s obvious that these athletes hold their coaches in high regard.
Dunbar football has claimed seven DCIAA* championships in the last eight years. “Everyone knows Coach Jefferies,” explained Kiehn as he nodded to a passing player. “When he sits down and talks to them, they’re going to listen.” Maybe this is one of the reasons why Jefferies has so successfully lead an FCA Huddle at Dunbar High School for the last 11 years.
“Coaching is an unbelievable platform,” said Jefferies. “If you have success and can identify with how the kids think, they say, ‘Hey, this guy knows what he’s talking about.’”
The clout of Dunbar football has not only led to wins on the field, but also has translated into victories in the lives of the kids. Because Coach Jefferies carries legendary status within the D.C. high school football community, his kids tend to believe what he says, whether it’s about football or God. “Whenever you say ‘Jesus’ or ‘God’ it’s a positive thing,” said Jefferies. “You can talk about it in any kind of way. I tell them, ‘Jesus loves you. He wants better for you. He wants you to prosper and wants you to be well.’ All you need is a little drop of that to give them hope.”
At one point Coach Jefferies even ruled that anyone who went to FCA Camp would make the team automatically, regardless of talent. “Each one of my players is on the team for a reason. God has brought each of them into my life for a reason.”
Currently about 30 of the 40 football players attend the FCA meetings. “I see players looking for hope,” said Kiehn. “They’re surrounded by so much garbage that when you share the gospel with them, it’s so refreshing.” And though Kiehn and Jefferies cannot be with their athletes all the time to help them make the right choices, they’re confident that seeds are being planted and that God will grow the fruit. “When you show them the gospel and they start understanding that God offers eternal life in Christ, it’s like, ‘Wow, that is what I’ve been waiting to hear,’” said Kiehn. “The message really resonates with them.”
|Williams (left) with Kiehn|
Be strong and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight. – 2 Samuel 10:12
We leave Dunbar High School for Anacostia High School. En route we pick up Saddi Williams, a graduate of Dunbar who played football at Bryant University (R.I.). As we cross the river and enter Southeast D.C., Williams discusses how God changed his life through FCA and why he’s returned to fight for his community.
“FCA opened up the broad spectrum of where God actually stood in my life,” said Williams, who was a Huddle Leader at Dunbar. “It showed me that God is ever-present, not just in church.”
Sunday morning services always had been a part of William’s childhood routine. Though his father didn’t attend, his mother often performed weekly covert operations to make sure he made it into the sanctuary. He accepted Christ when he was 13, but found it hard to talk about his faith with friends. “Nobody really wants to be the guy who steps out and talks about it first,” said Williams. “I know that I thought I was the only one who was a Christian.”
According to Kiehn, men in the city are classified as either “hard” or “soft.” A true man, by cultural standards, is often defined by his physical prowess, athleticism, wealth, success with women, etc. The Bible states that a true man is one who follows God’s commandments, which sometimes call for actions that could be misconstrued by society as weak. “In these kids’ minds there’s so much that they could lose if they step out for Jesus,” said Kiehn. “If you’re soft, you could get beaten up. So, it’s not easy. But the beauty of FCA in the city is that it gives kids the platform to talk about their faith. As a Huddle they have a chance to explore deeper things about their faith and really apply it to their lives.”
This is why Williams said that FCA re-established his boldness to “share the victory.” Now, after graduating from Bryant, Williams has returned to his old neighborhood to tell kids why Jesus is the only way to go.
“A guy like Saddi who grew up in these schools knows the ins and outs of the culture,” explained Kiehn. “So, when he speaks to a kid it carries so much weight because he’s been through it.
“That’s exactly the ministry we’re trying to do – raise people up from the city to reach the city. That’s the only way it’s going to change.”
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter, we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people. – Isaiah 64:8
We turn onto Good Hope Road. “This part is sometimes called ‘Chopper City,’” Kiehn voices. After parking in front of Anacostia High School, we head inside to meet Terry Dixon, academic coach and head JV football coach. The 26-year-old Dixon greets us with a grin. Kiehn’s Dunbar football attire amuses him. “You can’t wear that in here,” Dixon says as he extends a hand to the cross-town rival.
Terry Dixon realized how important FCA was for him during his football career at West Virginia University. This is why he hopes to bring a Huddle to Anacostia High School. Dixon ministers to these kids every day, with or without a Huddle. “You can tell by just talking to him how much he cares about his kids,” Kiehn said. “Every day he comes here and pours his life into them. He’s a father figure for 40 guys.”
For many of Dixon’s athletes, he’s the only male role model they’ve got. “I would say that 90 to 95 percent of my guys don’t have fathers,” said Dixon. “If there’s one thing I would change in the community it would be that fathers act like fathers.”
According to Kiehn, taking the father out of the house is exactly how dysfunction spreads. “Satan despises the father-son relationship,” explained Kiehn. “That’s exactly what destroyed him. God the Father sent the Son, Jesus, as the redeeming plan.”
While Dixon and Kiehn may not be able to teach the kids’ fathers how to be good dads, they can teach the young men on the team how to be responsible with their schoolwork, friends and choices. As a husband and father himself, Dixon tries to exemplify godliness through his commitment to his wife and son.
“Terry’s positive affirmation means a world of difference to his kids,” says Kiehn. “They will come by his office just to talk so that they can get a positive word from him. He’s a man of God, and he’s trying to live his life in a godly way. Kids are drawn to that. And it’s our job as FCA to encourage and equip Terry so that he can handle that responsibility.”
|“That’s exactly the ministry we’re trying to do – raise people up form the city. That’s the only way it’s going to change.” – Kiehn |
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’ – Zechariah 8:20-21
We leave Anacostia High School to head back to Dunbar. I’m silent, trying to absorb the experience. “So, that’s the reality that’s facing the city,” Kiehn says. “There’s great need here. But take a look at the potential that God has in this city. He can change Washington, D.C., through His gospel.”
For me the day was a blessing. I witnessed something firsthand that most will never see – God using FCA to transform urban students into warriors who will someday reclaim their city for Christ.
Photos by Dave Mercado