by Bob Rainey
One of the students at Eastland High School posted on Facebook, "Parents lose their kids in wrecks because they had to drive down I-20 just to find a place where teens can have fun and not feel like somebody is out to ruin their day. And people wonder why so many teenagers drink and party?" This is just one example of why Eastland needed a safe, positive, non-threatening, and Christ-centered "hang out." The answer has been for years that the churches of Eastland work independently to offer better youth group facilities and experiences. However, because the "church" has a been tagged with the reputation for being a place of "strategic" love rather than a place to find the reality of God's love, a lot of the youth are leery of coming to anything a "church" offers.
At the end of 2011, the decision was made by the First United Methodist Church to develop an empty furniture store into the eCenter, a "neutral" place for all youth to hang out so that safe and honest relationships based on the love of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ could be established in our community. After adding a handicap accessible bathroom, painting, the purchasing of equipment, and hiring a full-time director, the eCenter opened during the week of February 13, 2012 at a cost of over $27,000. Donations from the community totaled just over $26,000.
Now, every day of the week with the exception of Wednesdays and Sundays, anywhere from 35 to 70 youth play pool, ping pong, video games, foosball, and air hockey, as well as eating a free dinner one night a week, watching movies in our big screen viewing room, studying the Bible at “Bible Fight Club” and having a place to study and just hangout. The eCenter has also hosted dances, 5th Quarters, and community birthday parties. One day and one relationship at a time, they are discovering that Jesus is real.
The scriptural basis for the eCenter comes from Acts 20:9-10, that says:
Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus (yoo-too-khos), who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!”
The “e” in eCenter stands for Eastland and everyone. But it also stands for Eutychus, the youth we no longer can afford to just talk to death about Jesus clouded with denominations and church affiliation. God revealed to the First UMC Eastland that it was time to embrace them and proclaim that they are alive.