Written by Neftali Medina //
How do we change the world for the better? If you ask a hundred people this question, you’ll get a hundred different answers, but the core of the answers will always be the same: the need for a “unified entity”. People need to unite, someone or a community needs to lead. The answer revolves around a group, unified to fight for change and what they believe in. My answer is found through The Roadhouse.
My name is Neftali Medina, and I am the Director of The Roadhouse Ministry. I’ve worked with youth for over a decade, from infants, to toddlers, and all the way to twenty-somethings. This is my passion and what I live for, and I am a stern believer that God will pave a path for you, if you want him too. Every door I’ve walked through has lead me here, from my first part-time job at the YMCA, to a rejected church leadership position, and even a tragic end to a relationship. Every opportunity, both good and bad, has provided life experience that has flowed into making The Roadhouse what it is today.
As a ministry leader, I feel that I have the obligation to “do life” and be there for my students and volunteers. It’s this vulnerability and transparency that allows the ministry to grow and progress towards a greater understanding of respectfully tolerating social differences. Perhaps more importantly, it allows me to mature in the very same fashion. This ministry is a byproduct of not just my efforts, but the efforts of my Church, the students, and the volunteers. It’s a machine that only works when everyone makes the effort to sustain it. But more importantly, it’s an idea, fueled by the power of grace and sacrificial love that I believe has the potential to change the world.
At face value, the Roadhouse began as a small after school program, made to offer a safe environment for students. At its core, it was an attempt to break the grounds of social segregation and influence a sense of inclusive unity, where everyone would be welcomed regardless of ideology, theology, or philosophical understanding. It was definitely a different approach to youth ministry, with a focus less on church youth and more on the secular population.
What was something radical, proved to be a force to be reckoned with. Students began to mature, take the reigns of leadership, and guide others out of their respective realms of darkness. Depression was fought with friendship, and grace was displayed through our ability to keep every service we offered completely free. High school students thought it was wild that there was never a catch and that we just wanted to love on this community. Change was common place: troublemakers matured out of respect for those that accepted them; students from the LGBTQ community found a safe haven without judgement; and social recluses came out of their shells.
Over the years, the small after school ministry grew, adding more students and young adults to the mix. With the bigger population, we focused on pursuing small groups with an additional incentive thrown into the mix. I created interest-specific groups, targeting different popular trends with the hope that smaller communities would branch off from the Roadhouse umbrella. The idea worked, and students made it a priority to not only attend, but also take on leadership opportunities.
The leadership here is made up of young adults and attending students that have shown the capacity to lead. We don’t require a leader to believe in Christ, instead we look at what they’re capable of, how they treat others, and if they are willing to always improve themselves. Each leader is required to take on one of our offered Roadhouse programs and help maintain it, as well as it make it grow. To ensure that all of us are accountable, including myself, I work with each person and meet with them regularly as a both mentor and friend.
Working with youth for over a decade has brought me to this conclusion, that positive role models and a reinforcing community are the keys to paving the way for healthy change. Just as Christ led his apostles by living as He taught. His vulnerability allowed deep relationships to form and a strong community to arise. But when Christ chose his followers, he didn’t choose the most religious of his day. Instead, he went for those that he saw potential in. The Roadhouse followed this same idea, and opened its doors to everyone. It was a justice that our community needed, and it eventually became a safe haven for all of the students. Those that were hurt or felt isolated found a family. Social segregation, even if for those few hours after school, began to dissipate. People intentionally began to break the boundaries of ignorance, and saw others as what they were, human.
Originally hailing from the great city of Chicago, Neftali Medina has since embraced the warmer climes of Orlando, Florida. Three days a week, Neftali can be found at the Roadhouse, where he’s equally likely to be leading Bible study, dominating a game of ultimate frisbee, or overseeing a quest in Dungeons and Dragons. When not at the Roadhouse, Neftali enjoys free-lance writing and cultivating his beard.