JustUs Youth Opens Doors to Mission: A Human Relations Day Story
January 06, 2011
By John Coleman
Working in a women's shelter at First Grace United Methodist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana, Nichol Lebreun sees a lot of rebuilding going on: rebuilding lives, rebuilding a congregation, rebuilding a city. She too is a living testimony to resilience and restoration, and for that she gives much credit to JustUs Youth, an empowerment ministry for young African Americans which is funded by the United Methodist Human Relations Day offering.
"My life was kind of rough," said Lebreun, now 26. She grew up in the tough South Central part of Los Angeles, California, in a family of seven children. "We got evicted when I was 15, and from then on, I lived in homeless shelters, friends' homes, and hotels. When I was a senior in high school, my brother died of a drug overdose, which left me depressed."
But Lebreun persevered. She studied music in high school and college, played saxophone with some top musicians, including Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, and taught music to elementary school children. She also joined Faith United Methodist Church in L.A., where her pastor pushed her to join JustUs Youth in 2005.
Her involvement in that new ministry opened doors to adventure and growth opportunities through the sponsoring General Board of Global Ministries. She attended the Global Youth Convocation in South Africa in 2006 and helped teach communities in the West African country of Gambia about HIV/AIDS as a Global Justice Volunteer in 2008. Then she went to First Grace Church as a summer intern to help with its recovery from Hurricane Katrina. The multiracial church, merged from two congregations, asked her to return.
Today, Lebreun is a case worker for Hagar House, the church's small women's shelter.
"I love it, especially meeting and learning from the women," she said. "I've lived in shelters, but some of these women have suffered from domestic abuse and sexual assault. They need a place like this just to be safe."
Lebreun always blends her mission work with her love for music. She took her sax to Gambia and taught music there. Now she plays and helps direct music at First Grace and is studying music education at a nearby college.
She also stays involved in JustUs Youth, helping to lead workshops on youth and young adult ministry at churchwide events.
"JustUs Youth is an inspiration to me," she said. "We help each other when we're struggling and hold each other accountable. We've been taught to speak up for ourselves, and we're pushed in new directions, like involvement in social justice ministry. This program empowers us, and it motivates me to know that The United Methodist Church is supporting it."
Learn more about Human Relations Day here and plan to take a Human Relations Day offering on January 16, or celebrate that Special Sunday on a day of your church's choice.