The “flash mob” was much smaller than some, which can involve hundreds of participants, and the crowd was even less, but there was no holding back when Allen Hall, pastor of Family Christian Center, busted out his old-school moves.
The gathering marked the end of Unite, a weeklong outreach for local youth groups from Patterson to Gustine, that attracted 150 teenagers.
Over the course of the week, the participants met at a different church each night to participate in games, singing and dancing and share food, discussion and Bible study.
Youth pastors from First Baptist, Sacred Heart Catholic, Federated Methodist- Presbyterian and Patterson Covenant churches and Westside Christian Center in Gustine took turns leading activities and conversations throughout the week.
Youth group members met with local homeless residents after the flash mob. Hall intends to make the unity outreach an annual event.
A diverse gathering
The collaboration was intended to break down denominational barriers, encouraging young church members to celebrate their diversity and create a stronger sense of community, Hall said.
While Hall said a sense of belonging among local youth groups can profoundly help children who might be considered “at risk,” it also can have a powerful impact on those from more stable homes, said Dale Torres Jr., youth pastor of First Baptist Church.
“There is such a wide range of diversity in Patterson that is represented in the individual youth groups,” Torres said. “There is a real benefit to bringing kids of different backgrounds together — not only for the understanding it gives the kids who do have more stability, but when they are real with each other, they reach out, and the kids who don’t have those blessings are brought in; they are made to feel welcome and they feel accepted.”
Esther Cantu of Westside Christian Center discussed the recent massacre at a cinema in Aurora, Colo., that left 12 dead and 58 wounded, as it was fresh on the minds of many participants. Nightly talks also included issues of unity, understanding, respect, boundaries and self image.
The flash mob was Hall’s idea to give local teenagers a positive reason to come together. He hopes to organize them on a regular basis in places that will encourage bystanders to participate and involve the larger community. Hall’s larger vision, he said, involves empowering young adults and showing they can make changes in their community.
“We want to slow down the rate of teenage pregnancy, violence, drug use, suicide and depression among our local teens,” Hall said.
Hall said he has seen a lot of change in Patterson in recent years with more violence and gang involvement among youth. He attributes the increase to a weakening of the family with youths turning to gangs for support and acceptance at younger ages than when he was growing up.
He said he has seen youths as young as 13 already embroiled in gang culture, even tattooed, who have reached out for help in getting away from it.
“We try to provide a family atmosphere at our youth group meetings and be that support for them,” he said.
Hall knows the dangers of this lifestyle first hand. He came to Patterson in 1994, from Richmond, a Bay Area city with one of the highest crime rates in the country. While Hall said his family provided strong role models, the violence in his community was inescapable. Most of his friends and peers were on a path to prison, or already there, and he said he was no different. Frustrated, his father kicked him out of the house and he came to stay with family in Patterson. He was just 18 years old and a high school dropout.
After a few years he began to break old habits and in 1998 he said he became a “born again” Christian. He has been Family Christian Center’s youth pastor since 2003.
Hall is earning his high school diploma through Patterson High School Adult Program. Today, he said most of his childhood friends are either dead or in prison, some of them for life. Some of those friends have asked Hall to keep an eye on their children to make sure they don’t repeat the same cycle.
Cantu similarly knows the temptations of street life facing today’s youth. She ran away from home at age 15 and was homeless in Patterson with her boyfriend, a Patterson native. The couple lived on the streets off and on for several years, becoming addicted to drugs during that time. They also got married and had two children in between. At the height of her addiction Cantu describes herself as “completely gone. I was hearing voices and hallucinating every day.”
Cantu became a Christian after attending a concert with her mother who had just been diagnosed with a terminal illness and eventually her husband joined her. Today they have three healthy daughters and are both youth pastors at Westside Christian Center.
She said she knew some of the drug addicts and prostitutes that youth group members encountered on Friday night because she used to live among them.
Both she and Hall emphasized the need to create a family-like atmosphere in their youth groups if they hope to keep young people on the right path.
“Pastor Hall’s vision is the same as ours,” she said. “We need to reach out to others to bring change in our community.”
Hall said a Facebook page is in the works to keep people updated on future flash mob gatherings.
Until then, online updates will be posted on the youth group’s Xtreme Impact Youth Ministries page, found on the Family Christian Center website at www.fccpatterson.org. The next flash mob is planned for the Patterson Skate Park this fall.
•Contact Lisa James at 892-6187, ext. 24, or firstname.lastname@example.org.