From Prison to Youth Ministry – An interview with Gabe Dominguez
Few people have life stories like this one. My conversation with Gabe reminded me that God has plans for even those kids that seem completely lost. How can we in “traditional” youth ministry better reach the hard-to-reach youth? – Erin
Gabe Dominguez is not your ordinary youth pastor. Sure, he owns the same youth ministry books you’d expect to see on the shelves in any youth minister’s office. He joins the thousands of youthworkers that are big fans of Doug Fields’ Purpose Driven Youth Ministry. (In fact, if you ask Gabe, Doug is “his homeboy,” and the feeling seems to be mutual on Doug’s blog http://www.simplyyouthministry.com/dougs-thoughts-75.html )
Gabe’s background and Gabe’s youth ministry field set him apart.
Youth ministry at Mission Waco goes way beyond the traditional “Sunday Night Youth Group” model. There are afterschool programs, music therapy ministries, art therapy ministries, small groups, job training for teen dropouts and teen parents, mentoring programs and an extensive food program in partnership with local restaurants. Gabe understands from first hand experience the struggles his youth are facing – and he is passionate about keeping youth on a path to God.
The background. Gabe can tell you that he had a rough background…and that almost scratches the surface. At the age of 11, his uncle asked him to begin selling drugs…turns out he was really good at it. He spent his teenage years getting into trouble with gangs, selling drugs and firearms in his hometown of Waco, Texas. He witnessed more than his fair share of murders and gang violence as a teenager. At 18, he was already a father. At the age of 22, he arrested for machine gun possession. Before being sentenced to prison, a toughened, suicidal, gun-carrying Gabe reluctantly attended church with a cousin. Through the testimony of a guest preacher who had turned his life around (“He actually made it!”), God began the change in Gabe’s heart.
In the years since prison, Gabe’s heart and life have completely turned over to God. After his release, his daughter reminded him of a prison letter promising to take her to church. Around this same time, his brother-in-law introduced him to Christian Rock/Hip Hop. Much to his surprise, Gabe liked it. The positive messages in the music really helped him to move forward and continue to be a driving force in the Music Therapy part of his ministry today. He is passionate about reaching young people who are living rough lives on the edge and getting them to turn their lives over to God.
The ministry field. Gabe is the director of youth ministry for Mission Waco. (www.missionwaco.org). You may already be familiar with Mission Waco, it is well-known for the Church Under the Bridge worship service held literally under Interstate 35 near Baylor University in Waco, serving the poor and marginalized of Central Texas. (www.churchunderthebridge.org) Likewise, the youth ministry of Mission Waco, is reaching young people who might otherwise be turning to drugs, gangs or violence. Young people who are not only hungry for God’s love but also physically hungry or homeless.
Gabe is most passionate about the MDub Music Program in his ministry. Through MDub, young men and women get the opportunity to turn their real-life stories into professionally recorded hip-hop/rap music. The lyrics about real struggles and finding hope bring healing to both the songwriter and listener.
Questions and Answers with Gabe Dominguez
Q. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing his youth today?
A. Developing coping skills. Without enough mentors helping young people to realize their options, the youth he serves look around and see only a life of drugs, crime and gangs as an escape. These young people may be coping with witnessing a murder or having a mom in prostitution, they may be coping with not having a home or not being able to sleep.
We need transitional homes for youth – and there are not enough people to help when a young person is trying to turn their life around. Teenage brains are not fully developed and they need help. There is a desperate need for adult mentors who will love youth exactly where and how they are now, with all of the bad habits and problems, people who will be there to help youth have real life change.
Q. How can youth workers best help the poor?
A. Churches are not the hospitals for the hurting that they used to be. Realize it doesn’t matter if you have 50 or 100 youth coming to your youth programs. What matters is that you know what is really going on at the homes of your youth. Are basic needs being met? Is their home safe, loving, with food? Are parents involved? You need to be intentional about really knowing what’s going on and doing the best to meet real needs.
Q. If you could teach one message to the youth of the church, what would it be?
A. To the youth: Jesus loves them right where they’re at, with their messed up thoughts and everything. It’s okay to wrestle with God (Jacob did). It’s okay to have doubts. God is the hope of the world and the healing of their hearts.
Q. If you could teach one message to the youth workers of the church, what would it be?
A. Be balanced and healthy. Don’t be overcommitted. If we are not doing okay personally, we will not be a good role model for the youth. If you are overcommitted in your ministry, you’re not gonna make it long term.
Your priorities need to be in this order: God, Family and then your Job/Ministry.
If you are a youth worker called into youth ministry, remember that God provided your passion and call to ministry, everything is going to work out. The passion for young people is there, God will take care of the ministry.
Q. How can we help Gabe Dominguez’s ministry at Mission Waco?
Pray for the MDub Music Therapy ministry.