In his introduction to Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s Rome Sweet Home, the ever-awesome Peter Kreeft wisely observed that conversions are like snowflakes: No two are alike.
You can say the same about the New Evangelization. There is no one model or mold into which the Church’s efforts to reengage and transform the culture can fit. There are too many people, places, and needs for a one-size-fits-all kind of evangelization.
Recognizing that and adapting our efforts to present the Gospel so that they match up with the needs and culture of the people we’re evangelizing is the first step towards success. It’s the foundation for an evangelization that bears fruit.
And Bob Lesnefsky recognizes that.
In 2007, Lesnefsky (who is known to the world of Christian rap as “Righteous B”) founded Dirty Vagabond Ministries, an apostolic outreach to inner-city teens. Dirty Vagabond is an apostolate tailor-made for the kids Lesnefsky wants to reach and the world in which they live.
Although one of the cities Dirty Vagabond serves is my own (Steubenville, OH), I never knew much about the work they did. Then, a friend recommended I look into them. He thought there might be a story there.
Oh, was there a story.
In the decade or so that I’ve been writing for the Catholic Press, I’ve covered more apostolates, conferences, and missionary undertakings than I can count. All have been good and worthy. But few have impressed me like the work of Dirty Vagabond. What they are doing really is beyond impressive. It’s inspiring.
With the utmost fidelity, they preach the Gospel in places most people won’t risk going. And conversions are happening—conversions of faith and conversions of life that epitomize what the New Evangelization can accomplish when it’s done right.
The story start here:
It’s Tuesday night in Steubenville, Ohio, and about 80 teens, mostly African-American, are packed into the gym of a former Catholic school. Old televisions cover one of the walls. Some feature video games. Others old music videos. A swing hangs from the ceiling. The music — classic Motown — is loud, and a few teens are dancing. More are gathered around the table where free hot dogs are served.
It looks like a club, and it sounds like a club. But it doesn’t feel like a club. There’s no drinking, no drugs, no hooking up. Just laughter, conversation … and prayer.
The prayer comes midway through the night. A man in his late 30s with more than a few visible tattoos delivers a simple message about Jesus, makes it relevant for the teens with an anecdote to two, then asks the crowd if they have any prayer requests. One teen shouts out, “For my mom.” The crowd says, “Amen.” Another teen speaks up, “For my baby.” Again, the crowd says, “Amen.” And so it goes as one young person after another voices their intentions.
That’s a typical Tuesday night at the Urban Underground.