Discipling the Next Generation by Dr. David Dell Castro
COMMUNITY CONTEXT OF VICTORY OUTREACH INTERNATIONAL CHAPTER 1
Victory Outreach International was birthed in 1967 in a Mexican-American neighborhood called “Boyle Heights” in East Los Angeles.1 It was a specially selected group that God had chosen to reach: drug addicts, gang members, prostitutes, alcoholics, and anyone else who could be considered a reject or menace to society. In these environments throughout the world is where all Victory Outreach churches are planted and established. VOI magnetically appeals to marginalized people who come from backgrounds of poverty, illiteracy, gangs, and anti-social behavior. It attracts the unlovable and undesirable, those hidden people of society that some communities even deny having.
The Selected Target Group: The Promise
In strategizing outreaches and studying Victory Outreach demographics thoroughly, VOI has come to choose locations that are not typical suburban communities. In contrast, VOI ventures into the ghettos of the inner cities. Leaders and church planters contact localpolice officers of the city and ask about the highest crime rate areas, and this is where VOI outreach begins. Due to the grace and favor that God has placed upon the ministry, VOI goes to the places where most traditional churches would never go. VOI views such endeavors through the lens of Scripture, which reads: “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
The grace and favor of God have been with VOI in many dangerous environments from the very beginning until even now, although VOI ministers in vastly different parts of the world. In neighborhood parks, streets, and alleys, the dilapidated buildings and houses that become the congregating places are called “shooting galleries,” where drug addicts inject their heroin daily. This is where VOI goes to evangelize. These are the hot spots and fishing pools of evangelism that VOI targets when entering the inner cities in search of “treasures” to bring “out of darkness.”2 VOI is not interested in the beautiful, historical, scenic places every tourist might first go to see. Instead, we search for hardcore gang members, drug pushers, convicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, dysfunctional families, and the rest of the entourage associated with them.
The socioeconomic factor among lower-income people originally reached through VOI is not very inviting and promising. Most of the people in VOI’s demographic have social, financial, emotional, and domestic problems in their lives. Victory Outreach learned early in its history that most of the men and women needed to be re-parented. In other words, the basic fundamentals of human responsibility were not natural or ingrained through family upbringing and therefore had to be taught. This has taught them how to be husbands and wives and how to parent their children in a safe environment.
Their lack of discipline has been the challenge in Victory Outreach’s ministry since the beginning and continues to be one of many in the present day. Although VOI has seen families restored and new believers have achieved their God-given calling, becoming successful and prosperous in many ways, there still seem to be those who struggle throughout life. However, VOI does not give up on them. Instead, it needs to go beyond just dispensing information in a traditional way and look for spiritual formation in their lives that is rooted in Scripture.3 Spiritual formation that offers a transformational change in character and behavior that translates into Christian growth and maturity is why VOI teaches and preaches the gospel of Jesus.
The financial priorities within this select group that VOI reaches seem to be in a constant survival state. Growing up in a dysfunctional family is the normal scenario that most congregants have experienced. The healthy relational family environment was absent in most, but not all, of them. However, many of their children are now being raised in Christian homes with Christian values, with some even in middle-class surroundings.4
In the beginning, most converts came through men and women’s centers that were called Victory Outreach Christian Recovery Homes (VOCRH).5 After finishing their time in the recovery home, converts and new disciples would be gathered to form a new churchin the area. All the deficiencies of human frailties that come from the inner cities were evident in these congregants. This has been VOI’s church-planting model since its first congregational plant in East Los Angeles and continues in the present. Today VOCRH is also known as Victory Homes.6
The church-planting system was straightforward. A proven couple, called of God and confirmed by the church, would sense the calling to venture into a particular city. They would open their home to start making disciples of men and women who wanted to accept Christ in their lives. This is where informal and formal training happened. It was a developmental model of teaching people holistically to come into growth and maturity by seeing spiritual formation in their lives.
Essentially, churches are formed in order to create a Christian family for new converts. This new family cultivates a desire to grow, and they begin to absorb Christian values and exercise principles in their lives, which helps to alter their behavior and develop godly habits in their lives. Here is where VOI leaders are able to identify and notice believers’ lifestyle patterns, worldviews, and religious attitudes that come directly from family, culture, and the streets of the city. “In one sense,” says Oswald Sanders, “life comes largely in making habits and breaking habits, for we are all creatures of habit. It is the essential part of the soul’s education.”7
Through such intentional discipleship, Arguinzoni and Cruz learned their firstlessons in Christianity. They applied the truth, godly principles, and values taught to them personally by Rev. Wilkerson. While still in Teen Challenge, Cruz took responsibility for his life and made it his personal business to see Arguinzoni make it in Christ. Prayer, the Word of God, and evangelism were the primary building blocks of their lives.
Arguinzoni and Cruz did not complete their high school education, and the reason I know this is through conversations that I have had with both of them throughout my years of knowing them.9 However, this did not matter when it came to discipleship and leadership. Many of the people that VOI reaches also lack education. Many are dropouts from high school or even elementary school, while others have been in state prison mostly all of their lives and have become institutionalized.
Victory Outreach Christian Recovery Homes
One crucial challenge that VOI faces is teaching new believers its work ethic. Traditionally, this has been done through the one-year program at Victory Outreach Christian Recovery Homes. VOCRH instructs them in the basics of Christian doctrine from the perspective of Pentecostalism, along with VOI’s vision and values.10 In the fall of 2015, the name of VOCRH recovery homes was changed to Inner City Recovery Homes in order to function as a separate entity for liability purposes. After graduating from the program, those who live in the home assimilate into the church and become part of VOI. They learn to serve according to their God-given calling using their spiritual giftedness, talents, skills, and desires. Some of them go into full-time ministry, while others become solid role models and lay leaders in their congregations and community.
The VOCRH foundation was patterned after the Teen Challenge Center of Brooklyn, New York.11 Arguinzoni and Cruz played a great part in operating the center and learned all the essentials of instilling a Christlike atmosphere, so when new converts would arrive, they could feel the love and acceptance of God. Arguinzoni brought this with him from New York, and his wife co-led a team with him to assist Don Hall in opening the first Teen Challenge in Los Angeles.12 This was their precursor step to venturing out by faith and starting Victory Outreach Ministries.13
The success that Teen Challenge had in Brooklyn was also happening in Los Angeles. Even the secular world became curious about how such miraculous success in the inner cities was possible. In 1973, in Brooklyn, the United States Federal Government studied the difference in the success rate in secular recovery homes versus the faith-based program of Teen Challenge. The cure rate of drug addiction in Teen Challenge was 70 percent, while the percentage in their secular programs was at most 15 percent of graduates. Teen Challenge drew further interest, so the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, funded the first year of monitoring and evaluating the results of the Teen Challenge Program in Brooklyn.14
These studies entailed monitoring the students who graduated in 1968, entered the Brooklyn Teen Challenge Center and transferred to the farm in Rehrersburg, Pennsylvania, for further training to finish their one-year term. The Center in Brooklyn acted as an induction centerto detox from the drugs and life-controlling lifestyles. Once they graduated, researchers followed up seven years later.They looked for six characteristics around which they could gauge graduates’ success: living drug-free, no involvement with the law, achieving employment or enrollment in academia, belonging to a family unit, actively involved in a church, and being physically and mentally healthy.15
The survey was conducted under the leadership of Dr. Catherine Hess, who had previously served as the medical director for the New York Hospital Methadone Clinic. This study was to demonstrate that the introduction of a religious component into the treatment of drug addicts is the one aspect that produces a large success rate. The religious component used in Teen Challenge and VOCRH is “The Jesus Factor.” Teen Challenge Center and Victory Outreach Homes are not programs; rather, Jesus as the deliverer and savior of humanity is the truth of the matter. 16
Many VOI elders, pastors, evangelists, and ministers are graduates of VOCRH (the Home). Due to much success observed throughout the past Fifty-four years in men and women of VOCRH, we place much value in them, and the local church fully supports their leadership in spirit and financially. The director and staff teach the work ethic to the residents in the first nine months of the program. This work ethic is defined as a work therapy that begins to show and teach men and women the value and responsibilities of working and providing for themselves and their family. This is important because some have never worked a day in their lives.17 Training in VOI’s work ethic and spiritual disciplines happens through personal devotion, Bible studies, house chores, evangelism, and individual and group counseling. The fourth phase of the program is when VOCRH participants start looking for jobs and are assimilated into the life of the church to learn how to serve. These fourth-phase residents are in a re-entry stage and pay rent to the home and begin to learn responsibilities to prepare them for their future. There is never any financial charge for residents who want to come into the program to change their lives within the first nine months.
Today is not like it was yesterday. While Victory Outreach still operates VOCRH, the needs of congregants are different among newer generations. Today the majority of VOI’s young people have been raised in Victory Outreach churches by the pioneers of yesterday. They have not experienced the urban drug scene. They have not been raised in a drug-addict household or gang-affiliated family and seem to generally exhibit more stable emotional health due to their non-involvement in substance abuse. Within the VOI context, younger congregants are referred to as “G.A.N.G.” or “God’s Anointed Now Generation.”18 Thom S. Rainer would call these the “X” and “Y” generations. Generation X is often known as Busters, those born between 1965 and 1976, after the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964); these are followed by Generation Y, also known as Bridgers, born between 1976 and 2000.19 VOI still ministers to hardcore drug addicts, gang members, alcoholics, prostitutes—and likely will always reach out to these types of people—but the culture and times are rapidly changing, and younger Christians at Victory Outreach have experienced life beyond their families and neighborhoods.
Whether coming from VOCRH or raised in a VOI church, the younger generation is more open to broader ideas from outside their neighborhood and is influenced by other independent entities. They tend to be easily impressed by media, music, and cultural phenomena, and materialism.20 This is because postmodern thoughts and attitudes are interwoven into the very fiber of society. They begin to intrude very subtly through online images, culture, terminologies, and attitudes. The present concern is that VOI’s philosophy of ministry may start to shift away from its original boundary landmarks and biblical establishment by founding fathers and mothers if leadership does not remain conscious of it.
Men and women who enter VOI homes and churches today are coming in with different needs than those from the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties. Lately, heroin and methamphetamines have become an epidemic with today’s young people; and disorientated sexual preferences and gender identity seem not to raise an eyebrow anymore. Residents are no longer withdrawing from heroin as much but from methamphetamines.
Such drugs have serious psychological effects and require another type of treatment and spiritual care, which is more critical and dangerous.21 Bi-polar disorder is very common in VOI homes today—along with homosexuality, lesbianism, and even transgender situations that we have encountered in Amsterdam, Holland.22
Religious attitudes are changing towards the absolute truths of the Bible and are influenced by media, music, and movies. Even among Christians, the attitude tends to surface as a question: “What is wrong with gays and their lifestyles? They are not hurting anyone.” Tolerance becomes the unspoken answer when the truth is not proclaimed. Ethnic diversity even is influencing the gangs of today. There is now “a rainbow of gangs” that allow all ethnic groups to join and even the opposite sex.23 While gangs have their own unique culture, they are still subject to the influences of the postmodernity that has permeated today’s world, primarily relativism and pluralism. Relativism and pluralismmean that everyone has a truth, and people can relate them all together and tolerate oneanother in the name of unity, being politically correct with everyone.24 This opens the door to believe in anything, according to personal preference.25 If this is the case, then one must ask, “What was the for Christ coming and dying for the sins of the world if what we believe about Jesus doesn’t matter?” However, understanding the absolute truth about Jesus is what the gospel is all about (Luke 19:19).