The lives of more than 250 teen boys and girls in the suburban Chicagoland are drastically different today. And all it started with … a cheeseburger.
Dan Holzer and Fred Macaluso were serving together in their local church’s high school ministry. On one retreat in 2008, the two men were overwhelmed by the emotional brokenness they heard many of the kids unexpectedly share. Holzer and Macaluso were further grieved at how the kids chose to respond to the hurt they were experiencing. The kids — primarily boys — shared stories such as growing up with the pain of being in a divorced home or being the victim of physical abuse. Convinced that they were unworthy of anyone’s love or attention, some boys turned to coping mechanisms such as pot, alcohol, pornography and a number of other unhealthy choices. And then, they did get attention – but not the positive kind. One of the boys also shared the shaming judgments he received from friends, classmates — even family. He felt like he had been written off.
“At one point, we grabbed a cheeseburger and sat down together,” said Holzer. “We were both thinking that there had to be something more we could do for these kids. In one way or another, they were crying out to God for help. But, things like peer pressure had built up walls around them. We also believed that God was asking us to do more. But we weren’t sure what that looked like.”
A few months later, Holzer and Macaluso went to a leadership retreat held by The Crucible Project, a global community of more than 1,500 Christian men committed to live with integrity, grace and courage to fulfill their God-given purpose. In previous months, Holzer and Macaluso had been working within in this community of men to take an honest look at was — and was not — working in their own lives.
“I saw a lot of myself in those kids,” said Macaluso. “At 17, they were struggling with the same things that I was at 34. I too, had made a lot of bad choices. I screwed up big time. I wasn’t owning my faith. I was selfish. I nearly destroyed my marriage. It wasn’t until I started in The Crucible Project that I learned how to live a better way. I learned how to live authentically, with truth and grace. And I had a community of men to walk with me who I could trust to my deepest core.”
Two Life-Changing Questions
During its leadership weekend, Crucible Project Founder Greg Huston asked men to consider a question:
- “When you look at the world you’re in today, what’s wrong with it? What makes you angry?”
And then, Huston posed a challenge:
- “What is God equipping you to do about it?”
For Holzer and Macaluso, it was a God-ordained collision. “That started the path for me. My work in The Crucible Project had brought a lot of healing to me. I grew up in the church, but my time in that community of men is where I really understood that I was forgiven,” Holzer said. “We both knew that we needed to give the kids a taste of what we were experiencing. These kids — specifically boys — needed to journey with other boys and then be guided and shepherded by strong, Christian men like they’ve never experienced before. I’ll never forget the drive home from that weekend. We were on fire.”
Macaluso couldn’t sleep for days. With their own full-time jobs and families to juggle, the two men would gather late at night — and stay up through the wee hours of the morning — to pray for God’s leading, seek counsel and brainstorm a plan to infuse young men in their church with God-honoring emotional courage and leadership. They were guided by two of David’s Psalms:
- Psalm 51: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
- Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord …”
Building Project 5130
Over several months, Holzer and Macaluso met with Crucible Project leadership, Crucible Project men, Christian counselors, parents, and church leadership. Along the way, all offered the men constructive feedback, guidance, ideas and support on how to adapt the elements of a men’s Crucible Project weekend appropriately for teenage boys.
In May of 2009, they held their first weekend with six staff men and 11 teen boys. They called it Project 5130 (a combination of the scriptures guiding them). For teen boys, it would be the start of a journey with other teens to live with deeper levels of integrity and truth. The goal was for the young men to come away equipped to break through the barriers of today’s culture so they could live courageously in community, and with God-given purpose, passion and power.
“We told them this wasn’t the kind of weekend where they’d be throwing a football around. We’d be digging into the truth of their lives,” Macaluso said. “God opened the door, and he ordained every step of the way. We had no idea how it would work out, and it was a huge step of faith. But we knew enough that if we didn’t journey with these boys at a deeper level, their hearts could be lost to the world.”
Well … it worked out. Since that initial weekend in 2009, Project 5130 has held multiple weekends in the Chicagoland area. It has spawned similar teen ministry efforts in Houston, and emerging discussions are under way in other parts of the country. Additionally, Project 5130 sparked an entirely new ministry for teen girls called Made for More, a weekend uniquely tailored to teen girls who hunger for a deeper understanding of their value, identity and purpose as a beautiful, treasured daughter of God.
Made for More
“Once we had a few of the guys weekends under us, the girls in our church were seeing changes. So, they asked us to create a weekend for them,” Holzer said. “They saw the community, accountability and authenticity. And the girls wanted that for themselves.”
Holzer and Macaluso enlisted women from their small group and encouraged them to connect with Women Revealed, a Chicagoland-based Christian ministry devoted to encouraging and empowering women to discover and embrace the truth of who God created them to be. After countless hours of planning, Made for More held its first weekend in 2011 with a dedicated team of women leaders.
Today, both Project 5130 and Made for More are now part of 5130 ministries, a faith-based, not-profit organization that Holzer and Macaluso have established. It is comprised of a volunteer leadership team of about 30 men, boys, women and girls. Together, they are driven by three core values: Extending Grace, Walking in Truth and Living in Community. 5130 Ministries is not associated with any church or denomination and desires to partner with churches and youth groups.
Together, more than 250 teen guys and girls have completed a Project 5130 or Made for More weekend and continue to stay active in small groups.
Macaluso recalls one boy who came to an early Project 5130 weekend crippled with addictions, chased by gangs, and was confused and sacred. On his weekend, he was able to share his truth with other boys and men. He wasn’t judged. And he walked away — for the first time — with a hope he didn’t have before and a community of like-minded people to support him in his new journey. The following Monday, the boy signed up for a year-long Christ-centered program for youth struggling with addictions. Today, four years later, the young man is completely sober and studying to pursue ministry. He is routinely invited as a guest speaker to youth groups, where he shares his story about transformation, hope and healing in Jesus Christ.
Roots have been established. And they are bearing fruit in the young men and woman who have experienced Project 5130 or Made for More.
“Some of the boys who were on our first Project 5130 weekend are now getting married, and many of them come back to help staff our weekends, ” Holzer added. “It has been a crazy ride, but God always shows up,” It has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. But it also has been the most rewarding. Only God knows where it goes from here.”
And for Macaluso: “Only God can change hearts this radically. God put this on my heart and He kept it there. And I’ve argued with Him many times. I’ve told Him that I don’t have the capacity. I don’t have what it takes. How can He use a broken guy like me? But, He does. And I’ve never felt more fully alive.”
So … two questions for you:
- When you look at the world you’re in today, what’s wrong with it? What makes you angry?
- What is God equipping you to do about it?”
– By Jeff Madsen
Jeff completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2008 and graduated from our two-year transformational program. His mission is to build a legacy of surrender, simplicity and significance. Jeff is the owner of Legacy Nation, an independent corporate communications practice based in suburban Chicago. His heart’s desire is to write about ordinary people who leave extraordinary legacies.
Photo Credits: 5130 Ministries