Finding a Fresh Start

Date Posted: 
Thursday, February 20, 2014

In Fresno, California, there’s a place where troubled teens can go to get their lives and their family relationships back on track. It’s a place where they find love, understanding, and hope for the future.

It all started in 2007, when a teenage girl named Stephanie came to live with pastor Gabriel Carvajal and his wife, Mimi. Stephanie was having issues with her parents and her home situation wasn’t healthy, so the Carvajals offered her a place to stay while she got her life straightened out. She ended up living with them for two years, until she got married.

Stephanie’s time with the Carvajals made such a difference in her life that after she married, she and her new husband, Tou Yang, felt called to pass it on. “They started doing the same thing,” says Mimi Carvajal, “taking in kids who were having issues, whose parents had no control over them.”

For the first year of their marriage, the Yangs shared their apartment with troubled kids who needed a place to stay, supporting them and helping them work through issues. Then their church, Koinonia Christian Fellowship (RCA) in Fresno, where Gabriel Carvajal serves as pastor, stepped in to help the Yangs expand their ministry.

The church rented a house where the Yangs could live, which helped take financial pressure off them. It also enabled them to take in more kids. Koinonia members donate food and other supplies to keep Manna Home running; the church also holds fundraisers to help with other expenses.

Life at Manna Home

Now, seven to eight teens live at Manna Home full-time. While the teens are at Manna Home, they are expected to help out around the house, sharing tasks like cleaning and other chores. They are also expected to put forth their best effort at school and participate in Bible studies, and they commit to Christian conduct.

Some of the kids come to Manna Home because of behavioral problems or problems in their relationships with their parents. “Their parents know they’re out of hand, but don’t know what to do with them,” says Carvajal.

The Carvajals’ daughter, Joanna, who has been working as a youth pastor for 10 years, plays an important role in Manna Home’s ministry. She serves as a liaison and mediator between the kids and their parents, helping them work through issues in their relationships. She also counsels the kids to help them work out personal issues. “She’s devoted her life to this,” says Carvajal.

If parents want to see if Manna Home is the best option for their teen, the Carvajals and Yangs first meet with them to discuss the issues their son or daughter is having. Then they have a conversation with the teen to see if he or she wants to give Manna House a try. “They need to want the help,” says Carvajal. “They’re not there against their will.”

If both the parents and the teen agree, the teen comes to Manna Home for a two- to three-week trial run. After the trial run, if the teenager shows evidence that he or she wants to make life changes, then the parents are consulted again. If they agree that this is best for their son or daughter, then the teen is accepted as a full-time resident.

Manna Home has had three residents who didn’t come for behavioral issues. They came because their parents were absent and they needed a family and someone to care about them. They found it at Manna Home.

“They wanted love,” says Carvajal. “They never knew what order was. They never knew what sitting down to a family meal was. They are so glad and happy that Manna Home is there.”

Those three, though they turned 18 and moved out, still come back to Manna Home regularly. They mentor the teens currently living in the house—and, along with Stephanie, are living proof that it’s possible to turn your life around.

As kids adjust to the rhythm of life at Manna Home, they are making changes in their lives. “They’re going to class, they’re finishing high school,” says Carvajal. “There are even some older kids in their 20s who are now finishing high school.

“Stephanie and her husband are great role models. The other kids look up to them and know that it can be done.”

Looking Ahead

“Right now [the ministry] is very elementary, very basic,” says Carvajal. “With the years ahead, I’m sure the Lord will show us how to grow, maybe find a bigger place.

“It’s important to emphasize that this is just something that happens when you’re open to hear the voice of the Lord, and have a congregation that’s willing to take this on and help out.”

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