If you travel along an old country road in Kunkletown, it's not unusual to pass by a barn now and then. But there's one old dairy barn that no longer gives shelter to some of God's four-legged creatures. Instead, it offers shelter to some of God's children who have doubts, fears, questions about life and their own place in this world. It is a sanctuary for many each Thursday night.
It is known simply as The Barn.
It is a ministry to youth that began as a dream of a young couple many years ago.
Randy Sheagley was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Deb was born in Tokyo, Japan, the daughter of missionaries. They both went to Philadelphia Biblical University in Langhorne but didn't start dating until they both went to the American Institute on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, Israel.
"It was a very eye opening experience for a Christian," says Randy of their time in Israel.
He added that he knew Deb because they had several classes together. In Israel they studied archaeology, Hebrew and the Islamic culture.
Their friendship grew and he proposed to Deb while still in Israel and she accepted. They were married in August of 1986.
It was a dream of Randy's to have a camp ministry.
"The summer of my senior year I went to a Christian camp. Being one of the oldest there, the younger kids gravitated to me and that's when I decided I wanted to someday work with kids," says Randy.
After college graduation, he took a job as a teacher in a Christian school in Philipsburg. The Sheagleys moved to Kunkletown in 1989 on property that had an old dairy barn. They thought it was a great place to raise their two children, Joyelle and Jordan.
Deb's parents had started a camp ministry in Tokyo and they encouraged Randy in his dream of a youth ministry. They all thought the property's barn was the perfect place to begin a youth ministry and The Barn opened in 1991.
"We have what we call The Five Barn Beams. They are what holds the community of The Barn up and supports it. They are:
1. Love one another well
2. Encourage each other
3. Work together well
4. Challenge each other to grow
5. Pray for one another
"These are the five principles we are teaching on an every week basis," says Deb.
Being around the kids and listening to their issues and problems, Randy started thinking about how to help them and their families. It was Deb's brother who suggested they get their Master's degrees in counseling. They learned about a program that if a spouse attended the program, the other could go for half price. And so both earned their Masters degrees at Philadelphia Biblical University.
Today, Deb works part-time for Foundations Christian Counseling and Randy is a full-time counselor for VisionQuest for the northeast counties.
Their passion is to help young people who are lost and looking for answers, to help them understand that they are significant, that they have worth, and to help them realize what impact they can have in their world.
"We at The Barn, believe that God answers these most important questions through His word, the Bible, His spirit, and each other," says Randy.
Young people today struggle with things like eating disorders, drugs and self-inflicted violence. Many are full of shame and self-loathing. Some deal with family issues of divorce, stepparents and stepsiblings.
"The problems they face are overwhelming. How can they trust in a God who loves them when they do not even know what trust or love looks like?" Randy says.
The Sheagleys started The Barn to be a faith-based student ministry passionate about three things: disciplining, serving, and connecting.
"This takes form in one-on-one mentorship relationships with each student, in outreach to the local community, and in building a deeper community among the area churches to enable the Body of Christ to truly be united. The Barn is under the umbrella of a bigger organization, Touch the World, a ministry which seeks to build the kingdom of God through local, global and short term out reach and The Barn strives to see the kingdom of God flourish in the Pocono area."
How do they do this?
Through food, fellowship, fun and faith.
Every Thursday night from 7-9 p.m., The Barn rings with the sounds of laughter, singing and the word of God.
Thanks to raising $40,000 in funds, the structure underwent an amazing remodel.
The top floor of the barn has kids climbing a rock wall, dribbling and shooting baskets on the basketball court, and human chess pieces move across the 11' x 11' life size floor chessboard.
The downstairs received a new concrete floor with radiant heat and is warm and inviting with comfortable kid-friendly sofas and armchairs and a wood-burning stove. Young people are playing ping-pong, pool and air hockey game. The shelves are stacked full of books and board games ready to be read and played.
Kids hang out at the cafe area where the aroma of chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven disappear as fast as they can be baked.
Live music from guitars rock the structure as everyone is finally called to an area of built-in bleachers facing a stage.
Jeremiah Dowling, 24, a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and on The Barn's staff since fall of 2009 as ministry coordinator, gives an update on coming events and leads them into song praising the Lord. A message is shared.
As the evening comes to a close, hugs are as freely given as smiles and promises to see everyone again next week.
Joyelle Sheagley says, "The Barn means a lot to me" and another adds that "It's fun to hang out in a fun environment." Sara Dowling says she comes to The Barn for the fellowship and "to spend time with Deb and Randy. They're really interested in your life and show us what God can do in your life if you follow Him."
Kristy Meyer chimes in that The Barn "Is awesome. Everybody should come."
Adam Smith says that The Barn is a "Great time. Great place to fellowship with your friends who love God and a place to bring your friends who want to learn more about him."
"I go pretty much because everyone's like family and everyone's so close. It's a really great experience every Thursday night. I know I wouldn't get by without it," says Patrick McEntire.
"It's really fun. Really fun," says Anthony Graliski. "The emphasis is ... it's really fun," adds Joyelle.
Jeremiah says The Barn is a way to connect students from different youth groups. Once a month, he goes to a youth group in Bangor and visits different churches' all-nighters and other youth ministries.
"I tend to whatever the needs are in the different churches," he says.
One of those needs is The Barn's Project Reach, a Bible study held at Pleasant Valley High School after school. He also meets with a mentor group at Faith Christian School with 12 guys and they talk about Christian leadership.
"I go out into the community to help build a support system and raise support for The Barn," he says. "I am a stateside missionary because I have a heart for American teens."
A 2005 PV graduate, Jeremiah grew up attending the Mt. Eaton Church in Saylorsburg and is also currently the youth pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Kresgeville.
"I prayed a lot to God about where He wants me. This is where I'm meant to be at this time. I have a desire to see Christ come in the hearts of young people and seeing the churches come together in this mission is exciting," says Jeremiah.
The Barn rents out its facilities to youth groups. In March, April and May the Silo Youth Cafe is open and live bands come to play, some from Nashville and Lancaster. They have a Fall Murder Mystery.
The Barn is one of the mission branches of Through the World, headquartered in Allendale, NJ.
A Thursday night averages between 15-25 kids from 7th to 12th grade.
"Our hearts have been deeply touched by the lives of the teens God has brought to us," says Randy.
He prays The Barn's ministry will help them in their struggles to remain as lights in a darkening world.