By Sandra Zunino
For Christian Graham of Stevensville, faith is as much about what you do as what you believe. As Youth Pastor of Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church for the past nine year, he sets the example of community service.
“Community service is very important,” says Christian. “The kids enjoy it and when they start to learn that early on, it sticks.” Christian is in charge of ministry for middle school, high school and college-age students who attend his church and other churches as well as non-churchgoers.
Weekly gatherings provide a time of youth fellowship and bible study. Meetings start with movies, popcorn, games and just hanging out. “I never pressure them to sit in on bible study,” he says, “but they tend to trickle in and listen.”
Additionally, the group undertakes many outreach projects throughout the year such as cooking for the local homeless shelter, assisting with the Queen Anne’s County Christmas in April organization and helping with the Fifth Quarter celebration at Kent Island High School’s football games.
“We want the kids to experience Christian community,” he says. Each year he takes a group of enthusiastic kids to West Virginia to help repair homes for the elderly and impoverished. Youths enjoy the camaraderie of the group and the reaction of gratitude from the recipients, according to Christian. Christian emphasizes the relationships the kids develop are more important than the work they do.
“Once the kids cook at the homeless shelter, they all want to go back every year,” says Christian. “In general, people are pretty selfish, but once the kids understand the difference they can make, it’s an enjoyable thing.”
Connecting well with youth is second nature to Christian. In high school, he worked with middle school kids when his parents ran the youth programs in their church. While attending college, he worked in the Young Life youth program.
During Christian’s college years, he also turned his fascination with magic into a career. What started as a sideline eventually led to performing all over the country to both children and adults, including celebrities like Vice President Al Gore, President George Bush and ESPN’s Kenny Mayne.
“I’m kind of extreme in my personality,” says Christian. “I don’t do anything half way.” As testimony, Christian built his home using trees from his own property, milling the timber himself.
Additionally, he takes thousands of pictures each year from nature photos from backpacking trips to pictures at youth group members’ events. “If they are in a game or a play, I try to attend and takes pictures,” he says. “The pictures are a great way to connect with the families of the kids.”
Since 2001, outside of the youth program, Christian has traveled 15 times to El Salvador as part of a non-profit group. When a devastating earthquake leveled a third of the homes there, Christian was approached by a friend who wanted to help rebuild. “We brought down people, tons of clothes, toys, toiletries – 30,000 pounds of supplies over the years,” says Christian, “and we built about 40 houses.”
How one accomplishes so much in a lifetime is a mystery even to Christian. “I don’t know how I do it all,” he says “but I can’t not do it.” He credits his wife, Marianne, a volleyball coach at Annapolis Area Christian School, for support and his parents for setting the example.
Anyone interested in joining the Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church youth program may contact Christian at 443-262-1737 or email@example.com.