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Minister builds bridges with gym nights

March 04, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mil.com

A youthful appearance could be a plus for Matt Sargent as he attempts to attract young people to the Extreme Impact Teen Ministry at the Hagerstown Union Rescue Mission.

"I want to reach out to the middle and early high school kids, the 10- to 14-year-olds," Sargent said. "My mission is to reach them for Christ."

In the early stages of his ministry at the mission, Sargent is beginning with open gym night on Tuesdays at the Shiloh Center in the old Hagerstown YMCA at 149 N. Potomac St.

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"From 4 to 6 p.m., we invite young people to come in to use the gym, swim in the pools," Sargent said. "We usually average about 17 kids, but some nights we have had as many as 38."

The evening starts with a short devotional, and there are snacks available. In addition to the physical activities, Sargent and a group of volunteers are around to lend an ear if a youngster wants to talk about something.

"We're trying to build relationships," Sargent said. "I call it building a bridge into their lives."

Another unique opportunity afforded by the mission is the chance Sargent has to introduce the young people in his program to some of the people who frequent the mission - people who have made some wrong choices in their lives.

Sargent, 30, is a veteran of youth ministry posts since finishing his studies at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. For five years, he was a youth pastor in Franklin County, Pa., with a year each in Florida and Virginia.

"I know the pressures of being a young person today and I want them to feel they can come and talk with me," Sargent said.

By spending time with them and providing fun and worthwhile activities, Sargent said he hopes to earn the right to be heard by them.

On the job in Hagerstown since September, Sargent and his wife, Staci, have two children and are expecting a third. Getting used to his surroundings and a newly remodeled office suite, Sargent is excited about his mission.

"I have big plans," Sargent said. "It's more than just kids hanging out at the gym."

After-school tutoring, a mentoring program and organized Bible studies are all in the works. In addition, Sargent hopes to expand his program into the older teen groups in the near future.

Sargent has a group of dedicated volunteers, but welcomes more help. There already are people who can drive vans to pick youngsters up for activities.

For more information about Extreme Impact Teen Ministry, call 301-739-1165.

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