How one Gateway student started a citywide movement.
Jess Ford, a student from Gateway NRH, looked around as teenagers began to gather in the park. It was a warm summer evening and because of his passion to connect young people with Jesus, 155 students were coming together for Ignite—the monthly meetup Jess and his friends Caleb McKee and Michael Cendrick started last summer. The teens meet and share testimonies of what God is doing in their lives. Students are from different high schools and many are not believers—but thanks to Jess’s obedience, that’s beginning to change.
This meeting began with some of the kids sharing their testimonies, and as one 16-year-old girl began to speak, tears silently made their way down her cheeks. She had been cutting herself and struggling with suicidal thoughts, but since she started attending Ignite,
her self-destructive behaviors and thoughts stopped. She shared that she had never felt such tangible love, joy, and peace until she attended Ignite. Later that night, she and 11 other students gave their lives to Jesus. “It’s crazy!” says Jess. “We just sit at the feet of Jesus, and He shows up!”
Ignite started as an idea Jess had last June to bring young people together. Teens from all walks of life meet each month at a park in Arlington. Jess, in addition to leading the meeting, has worked out a way for sponsors to provide meals for every student attending. It started with a small group of 25 students who came for games and a message, but it has grown to 233 and spread throughout the Arlington Independent School District. At the beginning of the school year, Jess was able to get legal permission for students to lead a weekly Ignite Group in their high schools. He believes when students are leading the meeting, youth feel more connected and less defensive.
“We weren’t sure we would get permission for a Christian, student–led group, but we were so excited when it got approved,” says Jess. Now, these groups meet each week at their schools, and they all come together once a month for the big gathering.
Jess says he got the inspiration and courage to create this ministry from his friendship with Pastor Kyle Fox, who leads Gateway Students at the NRH Campus. “I met Pastor Kyle four years ago, and I have never been the same,” says Jess. “I had a school project and wanted to write something about loving your enemies, so I set up an interview with him. After hearing his heart and passion for Jesus and people, I was completely wrecked.”
In the four years since they met, Pastor Kyle has become a mentor to Jess, providing an example of what ministry looks like and urging him to not just sit on the sidelines but to actively participate in ministry. “I’ll gladly do ministry in schools, but that’s not my job,” says Kyle. “My job is to equip students to do ministry in their schools.” Part of that equipping process for Jess was overcoming a fear of speaking in front of people.
One Wednesday night during Gateway Students, Pastor Kyle surprised Jess by inviting him onstage to share his testimony, even though he knew Jess was terrified. Now, thanks to Pastor Kyle’s mentorship, Jess has no problem speaking in front of his own growing ministry and meeting other challenges that come along the way. “He has always been there for me, teaching me how to be a light in my school. That’s why I’m here today and able to lead Ignite,” says Jess.
Every Wednesday night across the metroplex, Gateway campuses are filled with students just like Jess who are mentored by their Gateway Students pastors, and something phenomenal is taking place. The next generation of world changers is discovering their sense of belonging as they encounter Jesus. And with Ignite, Jess isn’t just waiting for kids to come to church—he’s taking the experience of encountering Jesus out into the world, and the lives of hundreds of teenagers are being changed. And if other students can grow the same passion as Jess, the potential for students being reached across Dallas/Fort Worth is massive!
“You don’t have to change the world to be a world changer,” says Pastor Kyle. “You just have to change someone else’s world.” No one knows the truth of these words better than Jess Ford.
For more information about Ignite, visit twitter.com/igniteaggtown.