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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Youth pastor takes message to kids
He doesn't wait for young people to find him. He's online, on the radio and willing to listen.
By GAIL HOLLENBECK, Times Correspondent
Published January 26, 2008
Brian Brijbag, 31, is a youth pastor for two different churches. He also has a cable show about culture.
BROOKSVILLE - There was a time that the Bible didn't mean much to Brian Brijbag. When he attended a religious school in New York City as a youth, he treated it as just another textbook.
"I treated religion as a subject for school," said the First Baptist Church youth pastor. "The Bible was just something I would read to answer questions for a test. It wasn't anything that was made personal to me. I didn't see it as an answer to the questions that were creating a void in my life."
Brijbag still had gnawing questions when he moved to Hernando County as a teenager and graduated from Springstead High School, where he met his future wife, Amy. Her father was an ordained Southern Baptist minister. "It was through my wife and her family that I got a lot of the questions I had in my mind answered," he said.
Brijbag also attended services at the local Christian Missionary Alliance church in September 1997. By then, he was a student at Florida State University.
"After the service, I asked Pastor (Lowell) Halbert if I could speak with him. He took the Catholic Bible I had in my hand and showed me that my answers were right in there all along.... I prayed to receive Christ and it was like a cloud was lifted."
A week later, Brijbag was baptized.
"At that point, all I wanted to do was be at church or around other believers for being built up and accountability.... Shortly after that, I began changing my focus to go into youth ministry as opposed to the business world."
Now 31, Brijbag is well known in the community as a youth pastor for two different churches, for his work on the Hernando County Fine Arts Council and because of his involvement in community events. He hosts the cable television program Hernando Culture, and he founded and emcees the Bandshell Bash each month.
On Sundays, he hosts a radio program ministry for those younger than 35, Fire Escape Radio, live from 8 to 10 p.m. on WWJB-AM 1450. That ministry has been nominated for the People's Choice Award, a compassion award from Somebody Cares Tampa Bay.
"I love this community, and I love being a part of it and doing things," the father of three said.
A special series that Brijbag will be teaching at his Fire Escape youth group at First Baptist next month will focus on getting young people to participate in local ministries, such as the Love Your Neighbor homeless ministry.
"We've been doing a series on how the church is not a brick building or just our youth group. The universal church is bigger than that," Brijbag said. "In February, we're going to have an outward focus that teaches the kids to allow the love of Christ to flow through them. I'll hopefully challenge the young people to be more active in the community."
Brijbag puts a lot of effort into making the hour-and-a-half Wednesday night group meeting enjoyable for teens.
"We start with an ice breaker or something silly for the first 15 minutes. Then we have worship for about 15 minutes with a praise team and music," he said. "Then we talk, and I present for about half an hour. That always includes some sort of video, and at the end I come back up there and we really hit the Bible stuff. The last half hour we break up into groups. That's where the meat of it gets done."
Since Brijbag became the minister of education and youth at First Baptist a year ago, the Fire Escape group has grown in attendance from seven to 70. He attributes the growth to several things.
"We have a diversified group," he said. "The majority are not church kids. Some have multicolored hair and piercings all over the place. I try to show the kids acceptance and love. I've found that a lot of teenagers have been hurt by the (universal) church or they have negative opinions of the church as being judgmental. I believe the church should hate sin and should judge sin, but we don't judge the people."
Brijbag thinks music has also been a big draw for the youth.
"We have a lot of concerts," he said. "We try to have a lot of Christian bands with all different kinds of music. Another big thing has been MySpace and Facebook (social networking Web sites). A lot of these kids have those things, and while there are definitely precautions that need to be taken, we've been utilizing them fairly effectively. On my personal MySpace, I have about 5,000 friends. The radio show has over 14,000 friends. There are over 600 young people in this area that are friends that we're able to contact."
For any teen interested in attending his youth group, Brijbag says he hopes they will give it a try.
"There will be something they can leave with that will be better because they came. I promise it won't be boring."
If you go
Get in touch
Fire Escape, the First Baptist Church youth group, meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the church, 420 Howell Ave., Brooksville. A special series, "Divine Fruit Producers," will begin Feb. 6. Teens and youth are welcome to call youth pastor Brian Brijbag at 796-6791 or visit any of the ministry's Web sites, including www.brijbag.com; www.fireescaperadio.com; www.myspace.com/brianbrijbag; www.myspace.com/fireescapeyouthministry; and www.myspace.com/fireescaperadio.