Despite comprising only 13 percent of the U.S. population, roughly 40 percent of incarcerated persons in U.S. prisons are black. And while many outlets can tend to spend time disputing the reasons surrounding these numbers, the mentors of Kingdom Men Mentoring Program are committed to changing the lives of young men to defy these odds before the statistics become a reality.

Dr. Anthony Graham, pastor of New Hope Family Worship Center in Brooklyn, New York, launched Kingdom Men with other male leaders of New Hope’s congregation in October of 2018 as a response to parents who expressed their burden of addressing the many needs of their young males. Graham, Sean Bruno, Mike Keizer and Lloyd Lynch are dedicated to using biblical principles and sound teaching to invest in the physical, spiritual and emotional well-being of the congregation’s young men.

Graham believes the primary challenge these boys face is the lack of a father figure in their homes. According to the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau, more than a quarter of America’s children do not have a father — biological, step or adoptive — in the home, a statistic that is dramatically more staggering in the black community.

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This program came about because we sensed in our heart that there was a need, a deep-seated need existing in our community — and not just in the East New York, Brooklyn community, but probably across the nation — for fathers to step up and be examples, role models, mentors,” Graham said. The Kingdom Men mentors have set out to act, in many ways, as that missing figure to the young men they serve. Convening twice a week, Kingdom Men meet in individual and group settings to impart advice, emotional support, guidance, knowledge and motivation to the young men enrolled in the program.

Our main objective was to raise a future generation of young, godly men through this program, where you could see positive and permanent change in them so that wherever they go, they would have an impact, and you could actually see something different about them,” Bruno said.

The Kingdom Men mentors believe this change is rooted first in investing in the spiritual lives of these young men.

“We believe that in addition to all the other things that we can help young men explore and understand, they need to have a relationship with God,” Graham said. But this biblical teaching almost always informs understanding in other aspects of life.

The mentors offer assistance ranging from peer relationships to academic assistance. Nothing is off the table — whatever is on their mind, whatever issues they might be having with their mom, their dad, whatever is affecting their school work,” said Bruno. “They could talk to us about whatever they might be going through. And then we try to come up with ways we can assist them, even to getting the parents involved.

Parents and guardians are key program elements. A guardian, usually a single mother, initiates enrollment. Mentors work to ensure healthy relationships and more proactive communication. The boys are frequently reminded of passages such as Ephesians 6:1–3, Proverbs 6:20–23 and Exodus 20:12, which speak to the promises found in obedience when children honor their father and mother.

From its inception in the fall of 2018 with one participant, the Kingdom Men Mentoring Program has grown to six young men in the New Hope community, ranging from ages 12 to 17, and the mentors are looking to expand even further, transitioning out of the church umbrella and into Brooklyn.

Responding to this growth, mentors are asking for prayer as they work to obediently move into the margins: prayers that wisdom, insight and strategies to help the young men are made known; prayers that parents access this available help; and prayers for this careful expansion of Kingdom Men.

The mentors’ passion for these young men is unwavering, as they work to biblically refine their lives.

The statistics are speaking to us, so we need to do something,” Graham said. “I believe that if you touch a life, you could save a family, you can save a generation. Jesus is the answer; it’s not more jails — it’s Christ.”

So, we are trusting God that through this program, we will touch more young people, more young people will have a personal relationship with Christ and decisions will be changed. And as a result of changed decisions, we will have changed destinies.

This article originally appeared in Wesleyan Life magazine.