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Local youth group members learn to live without
Michael Jennings, 15, and Mason Bennett, 13, set up sleeping bags inside cardboard boxes Thursday evening. The teens have slept in the boxes the last few nights in a 60-hour experience of what it’s like to be homeless. - photo by Michele Hester

A group of teens sat among a cluster of cardboard boxes and metal drums serving as trash cans.

Near the North Georgia Premium Outlets in Dawsonville, the youths were experiencing what it would be like to be without credit cards, iPods — and a place to call home.

The students took part in The Cardboard City project in an effort to empathize for those who have been forced to live on the streets.

“When I was in seminary we did this and it was called ‘kingdom building,’ and they did a conference every year and so as students we all slept outside. It was sort of a poverty-awareness idea,” said Luke Syfert, associate and youth pastor at North Georgia Church in Dawsonville. “So I adopted that and made it for teenagers.”

The Cardboard City project is a combined effort of North Georgia Church, Harbor Worship Center and Church of the Apostles, and will give 50 to 100 students a 60-hour experience of what it’s like to be homeless.

The high schoolers will sleep in cardboard boxes with sleeping bags, pillows and without electronics like iPods and cell phones. They also will have basic meals with peanut butter and jelly or hot dogs.

The students, who participated from Thursday until today, attended school on Friday after sleeping without modern conveniences.

“It’s like their everyday life, so they have to go to school ... no showers, they are going stinky as they are,” Syfert said.

Live music, worship time and testimonies from formerly homeless people also was part of the experience for the teens.

“We will actually have street-style music, so it’s like on drums, cans, we’ll have a guitar and a harmonica,” Syfert said. “We will do some regular teenage songs, some secular songs and then we’ll do some worship stuff and then we have a lady that was homeless and is now recovered ... she’s coming out to share her testimony and then I will talk for about 20 minutes about Jesus and how he handled poverty in the world that he lived in.”

Brock Sutton, a Dawson County High freshman and a member of North Georgia Church, said he got involved with the project for the opportunity to share his faith.

“I decided to do it because I heard we can walk around and minister to people and I love doing that ...  fellowship and be around all of my friends and get closer,” he said. “I think that I’ll learn to choose my decisions wisely because seeing what they went through.”

Carly Kunkel said she wanted to participate because it was a local project.

“I did because I just think it’s a really cool thing and plus a lot of people say, ‘why don’t we do something here?’” she said. “Because everybody goes out of town or out of the country to do mission trips and never do anything in Dawsonville.”

Kunkel added that before heading to Cardboard City she was thankful for her comfy bed.

“Last night I was laying in my bed and I was thinking this is nice and tonight I’m not going to be able to do that,” said the Harbor Worship Center member. “It just makes you appreciate what you have.”

About eight to 10 students from Church of the Apostles were expected to attend the Cardboard City event.

Youth pastor at Church of the Apostles, JP Morris, said he was hoping the experience taught his students to be more of a servant.

“I believe that God made us to be outwardly focused, caring for other people as opposed to all about me,” he said. “A lot of what our culture says is that it’s all about me ... really the bottom line as far as Christianity is concerned, this isn’t about us saying, ‘look at what we are going to do and we care about people to earn favor with God.’

“The heart of the gospel is Jesus already did it for you and he came for you, so now our part is to say, ‘he did this for us.’ How can we not help other people?”

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