Briercrest alum helping to provide at-risk youth with a place to call home

Posted: February 19, 2014

Youth for Christ (YFC) is providing hope to some of Regina’s most vulnerable youth by giving them a safe place to call ‘home.’

“We have created four group homes that provide a safe and loving place, where vulnerable youth who are under the care of the ministry of social services can really have the best life they can possibly have, and work on their goals and move towards independence,” Rob Hartman, founder and director of the Jedidiah and Ezekiel group homes at YFC, explained.

The homes, which are run by about 30 missionary staff, provide 24 hour, seven days a week care and support to youth who would otherwise have nowhere else to go.

“The majority of our kids – their behaviours are a little bit too severe to be in foster homes, so that is why they would be in a home like ours,” Hartman, a pastoral ministry graduate from Briercrest College and Seminary, explained.

“Really what the kids are trying to do is they have learned to use their behaviours to manipulate adults into giving them what they want. So then we are trying to stand up against that in a positive way and to train the youth to be able to do what they sometimes don’t want to do and to help them make healthy decisions and positive decisions that are going to help them be successful instead of the dysfunctional decisions they tend to gravitate towards.”

The idea for the homes began back in 2010 after a long journey of preparation.

“I was a youth pastor for about five years and then I transitioned into not having a job at all. At that point I was really wondering what a person with a ministry degree does that’s not doing ministry,” Hartman explained.

“So, because I had a passion for working with kids, I started working for Ranch Ehrlo Society here in Regina. It is a huge organization that is a protective model that works with youth from all across Canada who have really challenging behaviours – addictions issues, mental health issues.

“They provide housing for them in a very structured and supervised environment where youth are receiving treatment and a whole continuum of care, trying to get them to have the best life they possibly can while working through their issues.”

It was while working at the Ranch Ehrlo Society that Hartman learned the necessary skills for what God had planned next for him.

“During this time I really learned how to run a group home really well. I was able to see that these kids I worked with, even though under the care of the ministry of social services, with a lot of issues, could actually achieve a great deal more than people usually would expect from them,” he explained.

“In the midst of working at Ranch Ehrlo I felt like I was doing really well and that it was an area I was gifted in and was a natural ability for me.”

It was this natural ability that helped Hartman make the transition into working for Youth for Christ.

“Youth for Christ had a home for 16 to 19 year olds and they were doing really well. So, the government wanted them to open homes for younger kids and the executive director, who I already had a relationship with through other youth ministry I had done, indicated to me that he wanted me to start a program for these younger kids,” Hartman explained.

“God had prepared me while working at Ranch Ehrlo, so from day one I came in intuitively knowing the type of policy and procedures I would need and how to structure the program and the staff. Really from A to Z I knew how we would do things.”

Hartman said it has been a crazy, but incredible journey over the past three years as he has been able to be part of what God is doing through these group homes. 

“I started with one home and I had the privilege of coming alongside at ground level in terms of even finding a home, purchasing it, purchasing everything needed for the home, finding and recruiting the staff, hiring and training them and then going through the growing pains of developing a program,” he explained.

“It’s been a very successful program and our partnership with the government has been amazing.”

Since the opening of the first group home, three other homes have been founded, which Hartman gives credit to both God and his staff for.

“I feel like we have an advantage because our staff are missionaries who are highly committed, they have a high degree of character because they follow Christ and we are all on the same page in terms of why we are serving and partnering with these kids – because we love Jesus and we know that He just loves these kids.”

Hartman chuckled and explained that founding and overseeing these four group homes was not exactly the ministry he had envisioned for himself as a young pastor.

“I’ve always just been aware of God calling me to pastoral ministry, but I think people, myself included, tend to look at this calling specifically in terms of church ministry and being a pastor and working in a church,” he said.

“I would have never ever conceived that I’d ever be doing what I am now because it is not pastoral ministry in the sense I had understood pastoral ministry to be.”

However, while it may not be within a church building, or involve a formal pastoral role, Hartman knows he is right where he needs to be.

“It’s really provided me a way to follow my call and serve the Lord without having to be in a church context. I realize I am still doing effective work for the kingdom,” he explained.

Hartman said he is honoured to be a part of the growing organization and grateful for the education he received while attending Briercrest.

“My time at Briercrest really built a foundation for me. It gave me a foundation that taught me to learn and be a lifelong learner,” he explained.

“Also, when I was there the faculty was very accessible and was willing to develop relationships with the students. One of my really close relationships today is with David Ernst (assistant professor of Christian ministry at Briercrest). He and I connect on a regular basis and that has been a longstanding relationship. He is somebody I can go to when I need to talk that will mentor me and give me advice and just be a friend.”

Hartman is still unsure what the future holds, but he has some big ideas he is excited about.

“I am looking forward to seeing where God takes our ministry in the future because I have some vision for it that is kind of audacious. I would really like to see us develop a program that is excellent, that we can grow and transfer across Canada within YFC,” he explained. 

“So first I’d like to see the province saturated with these homes, so that more youth in the province can have a more open door to a home environment like this and then eventually for our homes to be across Canada, but I know that is going to take a long time, like a 20-year goal.”