Transforming cities one kid at a time

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Dirty Vagabond Ministries founder to headline Middle School Faith Rally

John Franko
Staff Writer

When it comes to inner-city youth ministry, said Bob Lesnefsky, the greatest poverty affecting young people is that they feel unwanted.

"It's more than physical or material poverty," he said. "They don't even feel noticed. They don't feel like anyone sees them, or wants them or loves them."

The young people need Jesus, he noted, but to get to them they have to first know that they are wanted.

As founder of Dirty Vagabond Ministries he is "Transforming cities one kid at a time."

The mission of his ministry is to bring effective youth ministry to urban communities. His anthem is to radically live the model of Christ.

Christians today, he said, are often afraid to stand out from others. They "throw a little Jesus into the mix" and expect others to just follow along.

The reality is that the Gospel is radical, he added. It is difficult and followers can stand out like a sore thumb.

"It means to be able to follow God to wherever he is calling me, at any point," Lesnefsky said.

Lesnefsky's wife, Kate, serves as director of the ministry.

The core values of Dirty Vagabond Ministries is that every person deserves Christ and urban outreach happens most effectively in the midst of the community. He adheres to a holistic approach to ministry and attempts to raise up young people so that they will remain in urban communities as pastoral leaders.

The greatest intimacy with Christ, his ministry stresses, is through sacramental life.

The ministry currently provides outreach in Steubenville, Ohio, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Rochester, N.Y. Lesnefsky brings young people to Sunday evening liturgies at St. Alexis in Wexford, where his brother, Andy, is youth minister.

The ministry also sponsors a summer camp in the Upper Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland.

Lesnefsky pointed out that while inner city kids are often looked at as being rough around the edges, their sins -- and desires -- are no different than their suburban counterparts.

"A lot of these kids have hearts of gold," he said. "They're crying out for help. They don't know how to dull their pain or hide their sin."

He noted that in the past 10 years, more than 50 kids have been baptized and come into the Catholic Church.

In addition to his work with Dirty Vagabond Ministries, Lesnefsky is a nationally known hip hop artist and speaker. Also known as "Righteous B," he makes some 100 presentations a year using hip hop music as an outreach to teens.

Youth ministry is most effective, he noted, when you embrace the culture of young people. Hip hop music is the path to getting their attention.

Bob has continued in his ministry, despite suffering a series a strokes in 2009 that required extensive therapy.

Lesnefsky, 33, described himself as a "standard Catholic kid" growing up in Philadelphia. He confessed to often being bored with the faith, but he pointed out that a retreat changed his focus.

"Then, I just could not get enough of God," he said.

He studied theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville and went into youth ministry as a way to give back to the faith. Following his marriage to Kate, the couple worked in youth ministry in New York, where they saw the violence and problems inner-city kids faced daily.

"It was a mess," Bob said.

The couple stayed with the ministry, however, and eventually realized they were being called with inner-city youth ministry. The couple has six children.

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Lesnefsky will headline the diocesan Middle School Faith Rally Nov. 4 and 5 from 7-9 p.m.

Participants can attend the Nov. 4 gathering at St. Louise de Marrilac School in Upper St. Clair or  the Nov. 5  program at St. Ferdinand Parish in Cranberry Township. Youth in grades 6-8 and their parents are welcome.

The faith rally serves as an introductory experience of youth ministry, through an enthusiastic evening of interactive music, prayer, story-telling and fun. The cost is $15. Commemorative T-shirts also are available. Parents are encouraged to attend with their children -- at no cost.

For more information, call the Department for Youth and Young Adult Ministry at 412-563-6373.

More information on the ministry is available at www.dirtyvagabond.com