Sozo Missions – Providing Hope and Love for At-Risk Teens
Read the Remarkable Story of Young Lives Restored at Sozo Missions

Former gang member Dwayne Parker is the founder and director of the inner-city outreach Sozo Missions. His goal is to help kids coming out of juvenile prison and foster care, as well as to give the needed guidance to others to keep them from going down that road. Dwayne and his staff and volunteers work primarily with elementary and middle-school kids, providing love and meals to the kids. His staff spend one-on-one time with kids and provide ongoing support, visiting them in their homes and even attending their graduations.

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St. Paul was on his way to Damascus to seize some Christians when he was knocked to the ground and blinded. In his physical blindness, he was able to see his former spiritual blindness, was converted, and became the great missionary to the Gentiles. It only took one time for him, but for others it often takes several of these experiences.

Some people just have to get knocked to the ground over and over before they give up their old life to follow the Lord. But then they often go on to do great things . . . after they finally get it. Like Dwayne Parker, aka "Bishop Freeze" . . .

A Man on a Mission to Help Troubled Kids

Dwayne Parker grew up in poverty in the 1980s and started down the wrong path early. Without guidance and good role models, he made some bad choices and took some wrong turns . . . and then wound up the nearly inevitable destination.

Dwayne was early on involved in gangs in his home state of Florida and even started a gang in Tacoma, Washington. He said his

stepfather showed him how to sell drugs and put his first gun in his hand. And he ended up in prison. Dwayne spent a total of 13 years in juvenile facilities and federal and state prisons.

But then something remarkable happened.

It was 20 years ago, and Dwayne was on his way to prison again. He felt hopeless. But when he got to prison, Dwayne encountered a prison ministry where he experienced being genuinely loved. They told him that God could help – that this life he'd been living was not God's plan for him. And at that moment, 20 years ago Dwayne surrendered his life to Christ . . . and never went back to prison.

Well, that's not entirely true. Dwayne has been back to prison a lot, probably 30 or 40 times. But this time it's to minister to young people in juvenile facilities – to tell them that there is indeed hope, just as he himself discovered. Now, he conducts church services at juvenile prisons at least once a week and on holidays. He brings gifts to the young people on holidays, but, more important, he always brings a message of love and hope.

Today

And 20 years down the road, today, Dwayne is the founder and director of an inner-city outreach, Sozo Missions. His goal is to help kids coming out of juvenile prison and foster care, as well as to give the needed guidance to others to keep them from going down that road. Dwayne and his staff and volunteers work primarily with elementary and middle-school kids, providing love and meals to the kids. His staff spend one-on-one time with kids and provide ongoing support, visiting them in their homes and even attending their graduations.

Dwayne emphasizes that this is a holistic ministry. They teach the kids about the love of God and instill hope. But another of the primary aims is to help and equip the boys to become effective fathers and the girls to become loving mothers.

Bishop Freeze

"Bishop Freeze" seems an odd title, but it certainly fits Dwayne. For Freeze comes first from his gang involvement, and in his former life he was a graffiti artist who used the name Freeze. And now he's still an artist. It's just that his work is done in the lives of these kids. In addition, Dwayne was and is a rapper, with multiple videos, who uses the rap name Freeze.

So, as Dwayne tells it, he was once praying while in prison, and God told him to keep the name Freeze. But he was also to add Bishop to it. Hence Bishop Freeze.

A bishop is an overseer. And Dwayne is now the overseer of young people coming out drugs and prison. It fits, doesn't it?

Sozo Missions – A Refuge for Troubled and At-Risk Youth

Sozo Missions is "a youth and young adult ministry that seeks to restore individuals to a more intimate relationship with God and a more fulfilled and fruitful life" – a remarkable place where they strive to transform lives one at a time.

Sozo (σωζω) is a Koine (Biblical) Greek word that means "to save, keep safe and sound, or rescue from danger or destruction." It also means "to save" in the Biblical, Christian sense. And saving young people is definitely what they do at Sozo Missions – physically, mentally and emotionally, socially, economically, and, of course, spiritually. It was natural, then, that they would take the name Sozo Missions.

The mission, while simple, is both impressive and absolutely necessary: "Passionately sharing the love of Christ with hope to transform the lives of urban youth, their families, and the communities in which they live."

And an overarching vision informs every component of carrying out the mission: "To see spiritual transformation in urban areas of Bradenton and Sarasota, FL, and throughout the USA, by engaging youth in a life-long journey of following Jesus Christ."

Really, though, that barely scratches the surface of what happens at Sozo Missions. For much of what they do is all about just sheer fun and the joy of Christian living. Consider, for example, just a few of the various programs Sozo Missions offers . . .

  • Sozo Music helps teens "develop their musical talents and encourages youth to use their gifts for the glory of the Lord. The youth of this generation love music, rapping, singing, and dancing. Sozo Music equips, exhorts and encourages teens to be bold with their gifts. With their music, our Sozo Music teens are impacting their peers."

  • Sozo Sports aims to provide youth and young adults "a safe sports program that promotes healthy lifestyles, encourages moral character, develops self-discipline and builds the confidence needed to achieve personal success."

  • Summer Camp offers opportunities for kids to engage in (and for the very first time for some of them) kayaking, fishing, mountain biking, basketball, high ropes, swimming, hiking, fun games, and much more. "These camps provide a setting in which youth are removed from the pace of our culture to focus on the Bible, prayer, worship, and fellowship for spiritual growth." The purpose "is to build a solid foundation in each young believer's faith, while also imparting the truth of the Gospel to those who have not been introduced to the Savior." It is designed to be a life-changing experience our inner-city youth.

And it is indeed a life-changing experience for many of them. Maybe the biggest impact Sozo Missions has on the kids' lives happens at Summer Camp, especially the Squad Wars.

Summer Camp Squad Wars and Bandanas

The Squad Wars is an integral component of Sozo Missions' Summer Camp experience. Participants have the opportunity engage

and compete in several activities and sports, including swimming and a tug of war. The aim is to foster valuable skills and character traits such as:

  • Playing fair

  • Playing with integrity

  • Losing with grace

  • Giving a best effort regardless of failure or loss

Basically the Squad Wars is meant to inculcate good attitudes and develop character, all those attributes that contribute to success in life.

With over a hundred students at Summer Camp, they needed some identifying and unifying sign. Naturally enough, Dwayne and the students chose bandanas of four different colors for the different squads. And another piece of gang paraphernalia was baptized and brought into use for Christ. As Dwayne to aptly put it regarding the bandanas: "Before we were flagging for gangs, but now we're flagging bandanas for God."

But they still needed a source for the bandanas.

So Dwayne first prayed about finding affordable bandanas for Summer Camp. Then, like all of us, he went online to search for bandana sellers and came across Wholesale For Everyone. He ordered four dozen bandanas – and immediately became a loyal customer.

Besides the low prices, what truly sold him on Wholesale For Everyone was the superior customer service, as exemplified in Jeff, Wholesale For Everyone's Customer Service Rep. To sum up the experience, Dwayne said, "Great service – that's why we did business with them. They blessed us."

Sozo Success Stories

Are Bishop Freeze, Sozo Missions, and the committed staff and volunteers really making a difference? You bet they are. Just take a look . . .

Anthony

Anthony was angry at God – angry because his father had been killed by a car. Anthony was only 11 years old at the time, and he couldn't understand why God had allowed this to happen. He was angry and devastated, unwilling to forgive and about take the wrong path. But there was Sozo Missions.

Here's how Anthony tells it . . .

"My father and I were very close, and we could talk about everything. I trusted him and loved him so much. He had just been released from prison and was killed. This devastated me, and I couldn't find it in my heart to forgive the man who was on trial for manslaughter of my father. I've been attending Sozo for about three years, and now I feel like it's time for me to forgive that man and stop being mad at God. I believe God showed my dad mercy because he repented of his sines and gave his life to Christ right before he died. So, I'm thankful to God for allowing my dad to repent, and I believe he is in heaven with God. Thanks to Sozo, I've learned so much more about forgiveness and God's plan for my life."

Since then, Anthony has gone on to serve as a student leader at Sozo Missions, helping elementary and middle-school students and "encouraging them to live their lives for Jesus." With a gift and a passion for dance, he has also had the "opportunity to lead the Sozo dance team and travel with Sozo on mission trips throughout the US." Anthony started out as a Sozo Kid and is now a Sozo leader. And he adds, "I feel the Lord leading me to attend a local college after I graduate this year, and this will allow me to continue to serve with Sozo, but now as an official staff member."

That's a remarkable turn-around for this impressive young man – from being mired in anger and bitterness to a life of service. We'll let Anthony have the final word here . . .

"Unfortunately, many children today easily get discouraged and find themselves trapped in a cycle, especially those who live in disadvantaged urban communities like mine. They live in neighborhoods surrounded by poverty, violence, crime, substance abuse, stressful family life, and few positive adult role models. Help me and my Sozo team break the cycle and redirect these young lives in a positive direction. Together, we can break the cycle and bring hope to this generation and the next!"

Jovanny

Jovanny is the Sozo Sarasota Area Director, and he has seen – countless times – the amazing, life-changing difference an organization like Sozo Missions can make in the lives of troubled and at-risk young people. Just listen to what he has to say . . .

"I have been with Sozo Missions for eight months now, and it has been a huge blessing in my life. I get to use my God-given gifts to guide our next generation in a challenging yet fulfilling manner towards a Christ-centered life. . . . [I]n just the short period of time I have been with Sozo, I have witnessed the Lord saving young lives over and over again. Blessed with the opportunity to be a Sozo camp speaker, I witnessed 13 children and teenagers surrender their lives to Jesus and be saved. And just in February of this year, I witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit save dozens of young children at one of the ministry club meetings, Sozo Kidz.

"Would you please prayerfully consider joining my team with a monthly financial donation of any amount to help fund my personal staff support with Sozo? These tax-deductible donations can be made online via the Sozo Missions website. If a monthly donation is not doable, single donations are welcome and needed. You can also join my team by becoming a committed prayer partner."

Get Involved – It Matters

Starting life with few to no advantages can be a mighty tough row to hoe. And, besides, we all need a leg up at times. Helping these kids truly matters.

"Without a stable home, positive role models and tools for success, many young Americans fall behind their peers and experience a rocky transition to adulthood. Today, about one in nine individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither working nor attending school. Others suffer from poor health conditions that hinder their ability to develop physically or mentally. Such issues not only affect young people . . . but they also prove harmful to society as a whole. For instance, more than 70 percent of young adults today are ineligible to join the U.S. military because they fail academic, moral or health qualifications. . . . [W]hen youth grow up in environments with economic problems and lack of role models, they are more at risk for poverty, early pregnancy and violence" (WalletHub).

For proof, consider these troubling statistics. Within just the next 24 hours in this country . . .

  • ,439 teens will attempt suicide

  • 2,795 young girls will get pregnant

  • 15,006 young people will use drugs for the first time

  • 3,506 young people will run away from home

  • 2 teens will be murdered (From VeryWellMind, "The Truth About Troubled Teens")

In addition, at-risk and troubled kids, especially those from low-income families, are more likely to become a gang member, attack someone violently, and steal something worth more than $50.

So without committed, self-giving people like Dwayne "Bishop Freeze" Parker and great organizations like Sozo Missions, many of these kids will face nothing but insurmountable obstacles and hopelessness. And our larger society will suffer as well. But these people and organizations are making a difference and equipping these kids to live productive, Christ-centered lives.

"The positive outcomes to youth empowerment programs are improved social skills, improved behavior, increased academic achievement, increased self-esteem, and increased self-efficiency. Young people who are surrounded by a variety of opportunities for positive encounters engage in less risky behavior and ultimately show evidence of higher rates of successful transition into adulthood.

Research definitely shows that youth who have sufficient support . . . do well in life" (Social Solutions).

We all have a responsibility to help these people in their vitally important efforts. It matters. You can volunteer or provide financial support – whatever you can do according to your calling, abilities, and interests. These kids' success in life depends on it.

Check out Sozo Missions' website and Facebook presence to get an even better sense of the great work they're doing.

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