Spring 2020

About the cover

Christen Morrow Ara, Young Life Capernaum coordinator in the Southwestern Division, introduces her good friend, Zach, at YL2020. For more great moments from our time together, see page 14.

Cover photo by Todd Biss Productions

Filling Beds + Hearts

By Leslie Strader

Mark Booth, manager of Lost Canyon, Young Life’s camp in Williams, Arizona, believes it’s never been harder to reach kids, and never more important. He and his staff will do anything to make sure there’s never an empty bed at the camp when the gospel is being proclaimed.

With a long history on staff, working to bring every kid everywhere face to face with Jesus, Mark first felt this burden while serving as Lost Canyon’s marketing and development director. He knew the financial piece was one of the biggest obstacles to getting the furthest-out kids to camp.

From this burden came a vision. And this vision became a hands-on, God-ordained strategy that’s since provided thousands of Arizona teenagers — kids who have disadvantages and barriers to overcome in every aspect of their lives — a wide open door to experience life inside the kingdom. In this case, God’s provision has a name: LCAT, the Lost Canyon Advance Team.


LCAT was born in 2009, Mark explained, as most successful ideas in Young Life are: as an invitation to do life together.

“Development was a solo job, and I’m a team guy,” Mark explained. “So I put together a group of people to walk alongside me. These are friends of Young Life who would not be interested in being on a committee, but were excited about being a part of a team.”

The group of 10 started out doing projects on the property with a desire to “make sure Lost Canyon is excellent in every way.” The projects included building the mountain bike trail system, chopping down trees and, most recently, renovating a staff cabin. The LCAT is also committed to caring for the Lost Canyon staff. They’ve provided meals, Christmas gifts and faithful prayer.

Then in 2011, a practical need and spiritual opportunity collided

“There were two issues,” Mark said. “We needed to get economically disadvantaged kids in Arizona to camp, and we had empty beds in mid-December. I presented it to this team, and we started to figure out a way to get those kids to camp.

“We were looking for multiple wins — a win for the region, a win for Lost Canyon and most importantly a win for kids to encounter Christ.”

The LCAT began securing in-kind donations from food vendors and bus companies and inviting friends of Young Life and Lost Canyon to partner with them financially. Then areas invited kids based on need, from schools that had a high percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. That first year, 500 kids came for one weekend. After their initial efforts and partial funding, LCAT’s dreams grew, and their fundraising strategies became a little more intentional.


Mark Malouf, a home builder in Phoenix, is LCAT chairman this year and has been a part of the group from its inception.

“Young Life has always been a part of my life. My parents started a club in Phoenix; there was club in my house since the day I was born,” he said. “I’ve always had an affinity for camp and what goes on there and how the Lord changes lives in unique ways.”

Personal giving and inviting others to give are part of how the camp funds are raised, Mark said. But events are what makes the biggest difference. Every two years, LCAT hosts an adventure games weekend, which raises close to $35,000. A road bike race from the Grand Canyon to Williams also generates revenue. And adult guests help spread the word and enthusiasm.

“We get people to come to camp who have never been before, and get people involved with Young Life who weren’t before,” Mark said. “We hope to raise money to send kids to camp and at the same time, we want to tell people about what we’re doing. We ask them to donate, and to serve on that weekend. They stay involved, and they invite more people to be a part of it.”

Mark Booth added, “We want people connected to Lost Canyon and Young Life generationally. We want them to have ownership in what’s happening at camp and in our region for the long-term health of the ministry.”

In December 2019, full scholarships provided for more than 500 kids to attend one weekend. The remaining funded spots were spread over other areas so kids with a need could come with their own schools and leaders. A total of 900 kids came to camp on full scholarship in one month last year.

Over the last seven years, thanks to LCAT’s efforts, nearly 6,000 kids have attended the December weekends who wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. And part of the provision is also a future investment.

“Area directors typically charge the kids something — whether it’s $25-$50 — so they have skin in the game,” Mark said. “Since the camp is paid for, area directors take those funds and leverage them for kids coming to summer camp. It’s easier to get them to sign up later because they have a head start on their fundraising.”


The fruit from these weekends has been abundant, with more yet to come. On one level, it’s growth in numbers. And on another, it’s growth in the Kingdom.

Rick Wilson, associate regional director in Arizona and 44-year staff veteran, said LCAT’s ministry made a direct and eternal impact almost immediately.

“When the LCAT money first became available, Metro Phoenix was immediately able to double the number of kids going to weekend camps,” he said. “These LCAT weekends have seen some of the largest responses of all our weekends. There is a hunger in the kids and a responsiveness to the gospel.

“I look at what they are doing as strategic generosity. It is my hope that we continue to partner with Lost Canyon to find ways to grow the number of kids reached as we grow the number of weekends.”

Mark Malouf said LCAT is planning toward the future and right now, the sky’s the limit.

“We are committed to going however long the Lord leads us,” he said. “We’re a bunch of 50- to 60-year-olds talking about bringing in the next group of leaders to help keep this going. There will always be projects to be done at camp, and the need to raise money. But we want to grow into something a little bit bigger in the future. We’re dreaming pretty big at the moment.”

But Mark Booth said the greatest multiplier has been the kids who return home and tell their friends and families about their experience.

These camp weekends have been happening long enough that kids who met Christ the first year are now serving as leaders and bringing their own teenage friends to camp and to Jesus. That’s the kind of “win,” he said, that echoes into eternity.

“The longer I’m around, the more I see all of this as a long game. There are so many stories of kids going home and impacting their families, their friends, their schools and their communities. That’s part of the fruit of all this.

“It’s never been harder to be a kid or to reach kids. But it’s never been more important to reach kids. The efforts of the LCAT are impacting the Kingdom and that’s a win for everyone.”

Young Life Lite

Our Time (Just You, Me and 450 Campers.)

By Stacy Windahl

A father and daughter’s camp experiences unite their hearts in mission.

Imagine childhood as a Young Life staff kid. What could be better? (Staff kids, don’t answer that.) In addition to having a parent (or two) with a flexible schedule, familiarity with your school and friendships with kids you look up to, you’ve got a parent whose job allows your family to spend one month almost every summer together at a Young Life camp. Together — just you, your family and hundreds of kids you’ve never seen before. And your parent wants to meet them all.

The idealized picture of a staff kid’s childhood dissolves a little there, but for Annalise Hume, daughter of JC Bowman, field director for Young Life Small Towns, those weeks at camp with her dad were precious. JC’s wife, Barb, worked outside the home during her childhood, so for Annalise and her older brother, Jimmy, summer camp wasn’t a monthlong, family affair for all four Bowmans. Still, Annalise made sure she’d spend at least part of her dad’s camp assignment at his side. Why? “Because it was our time.”

Annalise cherished that time with her dad. “I loved it so much that in middle school I went with him while he served at a father-son camp.” More typically, for weeks every summer Annalise would sit in a back corner of the club room and listen again to the stories she’d heard so often (and ones she’d heard the week before). Sometimes those familiar stories hit close to home, with the retelling of Bowman family lore. Sensitive to this, JC sought his son’s permission to speak at the WyldLife camp Jimmy would be attending with his middle school friends. “I asked Jimmy if he’d be comfortable with me speaking. He said, ‘It’s OK if you speak. Just don’t tell any stories about me. Oh, and don’t tell them you’re my dad.’”

JC said Young Life camping has changed from years ago when staff families were less visible, and more behind the scenes. Today, families are not only visible at camp, there are generations of them serving together at camp. “That’s the legacy of our camping ministry, showing staff kids that in the midst of it all, they’re a part of the team reaching kids for Christ.”

Even as a preschooler Annalise believed she was a part of the team. On long drives home from camp she’d run club from her car seat, starting with fast songs, and ending with the talk. As an older child, she told JC she knew his messages so well she could deliver them verbatim.

“That’s true,” said Annalise. “The stories are committed to my memory. Once when my dad was speaking at Malibu, I saw him pacing outside the club room. That was normal. What wasn’t normal was the word change in his talk. Just one word, but I recognized it. Afterward, he told me that during his customary pre-club pacing and prayer, the Holy Spirit had led him to change it.”

These days, it’s JC who wants to be at camp with his daughter to hang on her every word. Annalise is now a Young Life area developer in New Jersey, and for seven years she’s had a camp assignment. JC spends time with her at camp whenever he can. During her first Washington Family Ranch Canyon program team assignment, JC drove five hours from his own program team assignment to be at club for one night.

Last summer, their assignments made a road trip like that impossible. Annalise was speaking at Rockbridge in Virginia while JC was the speaker at Young Life Adventures in Santa Cruz, California. Separated by 2,700 miles and three time zones, it was still their time — their time to deliver the message they knew so well, and the one they want every camper to know by heart: You are welcome. You are loved like crazy. You belong here in this BIG family of God.

From the President

Deeper Drives Innovation, Together Drives Growth.​

By Newt Crenshaw

YL2020 was a remarkable time for our global mission to worship, celebrate, learn, listen and, of course, laugh together in the presence of our good and loving God!

I believe the Lord gave me two vital messages for our mission to live out in the coming years. The first comes from John 14:12-14, ESV:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

As we grow in our relationship with the triune God, He invites us to creatively and expansively participate in His Kingdom. We must be attentive to deepening our own relationship with Jesus on a daily basis, not taking it for granted because we are serving Him. We need to grow in our intimacy with our Lord, believing in His unfailing love for us, and committing ourselves fully to Him.

Jesus followed this previous statement with this powerful promise:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.”

We have the most powerful Helper in the universe living inside of us — the Holy Spirit! He will apply all truth to our hearts as we trust in Him and will supply the power to do the works Jesus did, and even greater works!

Keeping in step with the Spirit, and being made more like Jesus, will propel us to find new ways to reach and teach more kids with the gospel. We talk often within Young Life about the importance of innovation, which could be summed up as “finding a way to reach the next kid.”

Here’s the second message I believe is vital for our mission: as we follow Jesus’ example and His command to reach and teach all kinds of young people with the gospel, and as our ministry increasingly and beautifully reflects the kids we are called to reach, we will grow!

Modeling God’s design for unity in the midst of diversity will be a catalyst for our growth in all the communities where He has called us.

One of our speakers at YL2020, Pastor Topé Koleoso, recited Psalm 8, reminding us of the variety within God’s creation, and His delight in that diversity, including the variety within humanity — each of us made in His image.

Our effectiveness in appreciating the God-given variety that exists within the body of Christ, and loving one another and seeking unity in the midst of our diversity, will be a great testimony that Jesus is Lord and King. He said so Himself:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, NIV).

He went further in John 17 to pray: “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that world may believe that you have sent me.”

​Our oneness within Young Life, within Jesus — empowered by our genuine love for one another — will be the most amazing fuel to drive our continued growth, expanding God’s Kingdom throughout the world.

May the Spirit so empower all of us to love one another with God’s love, so the world of kids may know that Jesus is Lord!

Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts.

A Giving Receiver

By Chris Lassiter

In December 2019 Marcus Johnson pulled off an amazing feat with his feet.

Marcus is a speedy Indianapolis Colts wide receiver, a volunteer Young Life leader at Pike High School and a huge admirer of sneaker culture.

He was able to combine his three passions — faith, football and footwear — in a unique way during week 11 of the National Football League schedule.

As part of the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign, Marcus was able to show off his love for Young Life through a special pair of customized cleats in a game versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which just happened to coincide with his best statistical day as a professional wide receiver.

“It was a really big moment,” Marcus said. “The Young Life cleats, my faith, having a really big game, that’s nobody but God. When people hear these stories, all you can do is thank God and acknowledge how He works.”


Marcus’s journey to becoming a Young Life leader is as unique as his journey to the NFL.

An undrafted rookie out of the University of Texas, Marcus’s lightning-fast 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash appealed to the Philadelphia Eagles. And while everything in his career seemed to be falling into place, other parts of his life weren’t as together.

“When I was with Philadelphia, I gave my life to Christ,” Marcus said. “That was about two and a half years ago. My rookie year in Philadelphia, I was going through a lot in my personal life … a lot of uncertainty. I was trying to figure out who I was, and who I was going to be in my faith. God just kept tugging at my heart.

“At the end of my rookie year in January, I remember being on my hands and knees by myself just crying and praying. I needed help. I was asking God to guide me and allow me to take the next step in my faith.”

It’s a prayer Marcus has seen God answer.

In October of his second season, Marcus was surrounded by teammates when he was baptized in a hotel pool before an away game at Carolina. His social media posts about the baptism went viral.

“I kept saying, ‘Hey I don’t know when I can get it done, but I want to get baptized,’” Marcus said. “I wasn’t even going to post it. I was going to keep that to myself. And somebody just encouraged me, ‘Man, you should post it. People should see that.’ And it blew up. I believe hundreds of thousands of people saw it. It was amazing to see how God worked in that moment.”

In 2018 Marcus was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. Pike Township Young Life Area Director Mike Newton came to Philadelphia after pioneering multiethnic work in the Roanoke, Virginia, area. Later, Mike moved to Indianapolis and was introduced to Marcus by a mutual ministry friend from Philadelphia.

“Mike was a major blessing when it came to holding me accountable,” Marcus said. “I went from sitting back and seeing how they operated everything to saying, ‘You know what, I need to take more responsibility in this, and I want to be a leader.’”


The NFL allows players to wear cleats to support different non-profits and charities once a year during the “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign. Marcus wanted to surprise Mike and the other Pike Township Young Life leaders by wearing the cleats in a game during the campaign week.

“My biggest motivation was to do a tribute to the Pike Young Life staff,” Marcus said. “I got traded to the Indianapolis Colts and I was going through a lot. It was bittersweet. I was coming off my first season-ending injury, and I think it was God sitting me down and giving me the opportunity to grow in my faith and in the community, and that started with Young Life.”

Mike was shocked when he first saw the customized cleats with the Young Life theme.

“To be honest, it was a total surprise,” Mike said. “Marcus didn’t tell me he was getting cleats made. I thought it was really cool. He’s not just a person who says this is a cause for him. He’s an actual leader who comes every week to everything.”

Due to a preseason injury, the cleats caught Marcus by surprise, too.

Marcus is the first athlete shown opening the cleats in one of the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” promo videos, and it’s because of his own stunned response to seeing the cleats.

Marcus, who was waived due to injury and then re-signed, said, “I was in limbo for a while, and I had forgotten I put the request in for the Young Life cleats. In week 11, we’re getting ready to do the ‘My Cause, My Cleats,’ and in my mind, I don’t have any. I don’t even think they had my request … It was a genuine surprise.”

Marcus is well acquainted with sneaker culture. And while he has a deep love and appreciation for shoes, he also has too much financial restraint to overpay for shoes. Still, he has a fine-tuned eye for sneaker details the way a museum curator may have for a particular artistic piece.

“When I first saw the cleats, I scanned everything,” Marcus said. “I didn’t miss anything; the way they designed the background of the colors and adding that little bit of flair with the blue laces. It just made it pop that much more.”

The old adage about looking good and playing good held up in Marcus’s case, as the wideout secured the first 100-yard receiving game of his young career. Included in the performance was a beautiful 46-yard touchdown reception, the second of the season for Marcus.

Mike had almost completed his commute home from church when he heard Marcus’s scoring play on the radio. He rushed into the house to catch the replay.

“I flipped out,” Mike said. “I went crazy. We all went crazy. I sprinted in the house. I’m yelling at the TV and running around.”

And, of course, Marcus had the perfect celebration to cap his touchdown.

“I just pointed the cleats out,” Marcus said. “I gave that moment to Young Life and the Pike Township chapter.”


The cleats also performed well off the field, raising $10,000 for Young Life Pike Township. Only New England Patriots legendary quarterback Tom Brady’s cleats raised more money during the campaign.

“They are going to be going into the Young Life Service Center,” Mike said. “It’s huge for us.”

And Marcus is happy to use his gift to give back.

“I was thankful,” Marcus said. “To see that money that someone put out for the cleats, it comes back to Pike and Young Life. I’m just excited to see how it helps us to grow the ministry.”

Even more valuable than the money he raised is Marcus’s presence with the kids as a volunteer leader.

“He has instant respect,” Mike said. “He speaks great truth to them, and they listen because of who he is. They want to be him, so he has a platform. And he carries that platform over to, ‘Hey, just don’t be like me on the football field. Be like me in how I live for the Lord.’”

Marcus believes he has a lot to share with the students he’s connected with through Young Life.

“The testimony I have is undeniable when you talk about faith and how God works,” Marcus said. “And that’s my biggest thing, making sure I’m humble and all glory goes to Him. I always tell people I know more about failure than success. My faith has held me through my trials.”

Believe, Be Loved, Keep Going

By Melissa Johnson

Jack Boyd strolls leisurely down the open hallway, smiling at a group of students as he passes by. His pants are a little baggy, and he’s wearing an old Ohio State crewneck sweatshirt. A sight to see in this northern Michigan high school. He sees his friend Cody down the hall, and hurries as best he can to catch up with him. After a few pleasantries, Jack leans in and asks, “Say, would you want to go fishing this weekend? I want to take the boat out, and the weather is supposed to be just great.” He has to listen closely for the answer, but a glow of excitement comes over the face of his young friend.

Meanwhile, his wife, Gretchen, sits in their home over coffee with a young woman who’s just been through a breakup. This morning she prayed with the Young Life area director, and this afternoon she’ll go for a walk with another woman who’s struggling to make a career decision. She’ll get a call from Jack later about how his “contact time” went, and then start looking through the book of Mark to make plans for the weekly Bible study she leads for a group of young adults.

Jack and Gretchen’s lives reflect a normal, daily commitment to ministry. Club, contact work, Campaigners, committee meetings. Repeat. So what’s the difference between the Boyds and your typical Young Life leaders? About five decades.


The Boyds started leading Young Life after first coming to faith in their early 30s. They were adult guests at Saranac in 1971, and soon afterward, they served as leaders in Sylvania, Ohio, for nine years while raising their three children. In 1981, they moved to Blissfield, Michigan, where they started a new area and volunteered as leaders again, for over a decade. Here they met Bryan Shaffer, then a college-aged leader. Bryan, now the area director for Southeast Michigan and associate regional director for the North Coast Region, said, “The ministry (in Blissfield) has since reached thousands of students for the Kingdom.”

Jack and Gretchen often reflect on their days as leaders in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Every few months the Boyds get a call, email or visit from a former Young Life kid. Some have come to walk with Jesus, and some have not. The couple wouldn’t trade a single moment spent with their Young Life kids. Their favorite memories to share are the moments with kids who spent their lunch break smoking in the parking lot, or the teens who cussed them out during club. More than once we’ve heard Gretchen say, “Jack, remember when we took that whole vanload of kids to see Queen?!”

It may seem like every Young Life leader has had a season where they’ve thought to themselves, “I’m getting too old for this.” That doesn’t seem true for Jack and Gretchen. When they moved to Traverse City, Michigan, nearly 10 years ago to be near family, they were in their mid-60s and thought they’d retire from their work with Young Life. In a few short months, helping grow the existing Young Life ministry in the Grand Traverse region became their top priority. For a season, Jack made it his full-time job to meet with donors throughout Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. His efforts resulted in the area hiring their first area director, Erin Wanschura, in 2015.

“I’d never had a Young Life leader until I became the area director for Grand Traverse,” Erin said. “Gretchen shows up in my life, remembers the mundane details, prays for me, cries and laughs with me.” As a “retired” marriage and family therapist, Gretchen continues to walk alongside Erin and dozens of other young women in her Young Life and church community. She’s the first to ask about the work of the Lord in teens’ lives, the loudest voice of encouragement for leaders and perhaps one of the most constant voices of prayer for the area.


Each time Jack pulls into the Traverse City High School parking lot he prays, “Lord, let me be open to the mystery.” What Jack might be too humble to see is that at age 78, every time he opens the door to this world of broken teenagers and turns up his hearing aids to make sure he can learn their names, he is himself a living mystery. In spite of the vast array of complex differences between Jack and these students, for Jack, the ministry of Jesus is simple: “Keep showing up.” And for the students and leaders around him, the hope is profound.

Bryan reflected, “The Boyds are one of the most significant spiritual influences in my life. Their primary concern has always been knowing Jesus and making Him known.”

The call of Jesus through the Boyds is clear: believe, be loved and keep going. Jack and Gretchen are living proof that if we keep following and serving Jesus, we’ll look more like Him and become more truly ourselves. They’re living examples of lifelong faithfulness in ministry, a true picture of fulfilling retirement. The Grand Traverse community and countless others are grateful to call them their Young Life leaders.

YL2020: A Pictorial

Every four years Young Life staff from around the globe come together to celebrate all the Lord is doing in the mission. In January, 5,500 gathered in Orlando, Florida, for a time of worship, laughter, prayer and inspiration to return home and continue giving their lives away to Christ and kids. We hope you enjoy seeing our staff being cared for with the same love they give to kids …

35,000 buttons involved in the Great Young Life Pin Trading game

5,500 Scripture journals / conference T-shirts / drawstring bags / Sackcloth and Ashes blankets (with 4,000 also donated to the local Orlando homeless shelter, and 1,500 distributed to our international camps)

115​ nursing babies in attendance

67​ videos created for the conference

55​ buses to transport everyone to Disney’s Animal Kingdom park

7Young Life clubs


Sharing a Sacred Story

By Jeff Chesemore

Titles like bestselling author, Dove award-winning singer/songwriter, speaker, Enneagram expert and therapist make for an eclectic (and long) business card. Ian Morgan Cron has found success in each of these occupations, drawing people to Jesus through this unique mix of gifts and abilities.

He’s also starred in some roles that might surprise you: hurting child, angry teen, recovering addict and Young Life volunteer/staff. This second list has informed the first, helping Ian to minister out of a healthy, honest heart to countless kids and adults.

“When I think about it,” Ian said, “all the things I do are in service to the same end: helping people enter into conversation with the mysteries of faith and their own lives.”

In many ways, he’s in the perfect position to help. For as long as he can remember, Ian has been engaged in his own mysterious conversations.


Born in 1960, Ian’s early years growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut, reflected the tumultuous times of what many call the “decade of discontent.” He writes candidly in his memoir (see sidebar on page 18) about his father’s alcoholism and the repercussions for the entire family. Trying to find some semblance of normalcy throughout a “train wreck of a childhood” left Ian lonely, confused and eventually battling dependency like his father. Wondering where God was in the pain, Ian’s story was marked by anger, rebellion and tears. It was during these turbulent years his best friend invited him to club.

“Tyler picked me up and took me to Young Life. Despite my efforts to not look amused, the ridiculous stuff going on up front made me smile from time to time. I’d forgotten the goodness of laughter when it wasn’t tethered to cynicism.”*

His initial impressions of club were mostly positive, but the real hook for Ian became the relationships he made at club, most notably with the leaders.

What brought me back to Young Life every Tuesday were Mike and Derek. Mike was the area director. Derek was a carpenter by day to support his work as a volunteer. I couldn’t wait to see the two of them every week because they made me feel as if they couldn’t wait to see me. In a room filled with 100 kids, one or both of them sought me out. It was intoxicating to have two older men see me — I mean really see me. If they’d just left out the talks about Jesus, club would’ve been perfect.

Disillusionment with God plus severe trust issues with his parents and the downward spiral into alcoholism made the journey a slow one. Over the next several years, the Father patiently wooed his child through the relentless love of Ian’s leaders and friends in Young Life and the church. Their gentle care proved to be a soothing balm for his blistered soul.

After graduating high school, Ian’s heart softened to the message of Jesus’ love and he began walking with Christ during his time at Bowdoin College. As he processed his newfound faith, Ian began thinking about his career, and what God might do in this next chapter of his life.


Upon graduation from Bowdoin, Ian floundered until Mike invited him to volunteer with Young Life in Greenwich. For the next two years, the other leaders on the team poured into Ian, as he learned to pour into kids.

Mike became my champion. He tended the long-neglected garden of my talents with great love. He blew on the glowing embers of my passion for writing and performing music, my gift for communicating the gospel with humor and my increasing love for God. What I thought would be a brief stint helping out a youth group turned into a vocation.

Ian sensed the Lord calling him to more, so he joined Young Life staff in 1984. “The transition from volunteer to staff person came about because the first men who really loved me cast a vision for my life. They encouraged me and saw my particular gifts and said they were valuable. Their deep care for me catapulted me in that direction.”

These years proved formative — Ian’s love for songwriting found an outlet and Dick Bond, the area director in Greenwich, encouraged this gift.

“Dick was so invested in me; he was my biggest fan. I can remember being on a Young Life weekend at the Harvey Cedars Retreat Center in New Jersey. He had me play a one-man concert of songs I’d written. I remember him telling me the particular gifts I had were special and in the hands of God could be used for some good things. I so desperately needed to hear that. He was one of the many people who loved me toward becoming a person.”

Ian spent eight years (1984-1992) on staff — two in Wilton, Connecticut, and six in New Canaan. Here he learned the slow, beautiful skill of building relationships with kids. Often it happened far outside his comfort zone.

“I remember trying to play basketball with kids and being a complete failure. I was the comic relief on the court, but it gave them a chance to teach me what to do. I didn’t care if I was good or not and I think that helped them not take themselves too seriously.”

Alongside his growing relational skills, Ian grew in the art of communication, specifically speaking and listening to kids with empathy and compassion. “One of the things I did well was I knew how to sit with kids in pain and be OK with it. I didn’t have to come up with solutions or fix them.

Upon leaving Young Life, Ian followed the call to pastor a church in New England. Since then, among his other aforementioned roles, he’s become a volunteer Episcopal priest who now calls Nashville his home. Neither age, nor geography have proven to be barriers to his ability to connect with people in need. “I just did Young Life for adults and it wasn’t much different,” he said matter-of-factly.


Ian has been in recovery for more than three decades. Over the years he’s learned the importance of his story — of every person’s story — and how we’re all longing to be known and loved. He’s quick to share this memory:

“I was in a 12-step recovery group meeting once where a woman spoke and her story was so sad. It involved selling her children for crack. When she finished, her story brought the room to silence. Normally there’s applause, but the people were so stunned by how far this woman had gone.

“This poor speaker is standing up there in shame and an old woman sitting in the back of the room broke the silence. She yelled out, ‘The Word of the Lord.’

“And all the Catholics and Episcopalians in the room replied, ‘Thanks be to God.’

“That old woman understood the gospel of this woman’s story — the good news of her life. In saying what she did she recognized her story’s sacredness in all of its brokenness and beauty. And it brought us to our senses.

“I think our stories are sacred and we don’t fully understand the power of the stories we inhabit. Often our stories are supported and perpetuated by wrong beliefs about ourselves and the world that we need to root out.”

These are truths he shares today through podcasts, sermons, seminars and songs. He’s thankful for his lifelong connection to a mission that was there for him during those critical years.

“Young Life taught me how to talk about faith in ways highly attuned to the audience. I learned how to present the gospel in ways winsome and heartfelt. I could read a room and speak directly to people’s objections and also to their pain. Through Young Life I learned how to bring reason and heart to this message.”

*Italicized text taken from​ Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me (Thomas Nelson, 2011).

Young Life Alumni Awards

​Sam and Linda Bradshaw

2019 Service to Young Life Award
By Shannon Harrell

In John 13, Jesus declares, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Sam and Linda Bradshaw have lived lives marked by love and are known for their generosity and commitment to loving and serving those near and far so that they may hear the good news of Christ.

In 1979, Sam and Linda’s extensive service to Young Life began when their son, Kent, started attending Young Life as a sophomore in high school. The Bradshaws then joined the local committee in Houston. Since their first encounter with the mission, Sam and Linda have served in a variety of critical roles as adult guests, donors, local volunteers and banquet hosts. They’ve also had significant impact in Young Life International, the Young Life Foundation, Young Life Military–Club Beyond and Developing Global Leaders.

After retiring as the president of Triad Energy Corporation, Sam lives in Houston, Texas, where he and Linda still actively support the local Young Life ministry and advocate for multiethnic Young Life where there is less local giving.

Field Senior Vice President James Rockwell said, “Sam and Linda are my role models. Many years ago when I was asked to move to Houston, it was my lunch with Sam that turned my heart toward Texas. He and Linda had such a deep understanding of calling and leadership. The love and support the Bradshaws showed me and my family marked me. I believe I’m a ‘bolder’ leader because of their influence. And their investment in me and our regional vision allowed us to reach thousands of kids, ALL kinds of kids, for Jesus Christ.”

While their passion for local ministry is contagious, Sam and Linda have also had far-reaching impact through several branches of Young Life ministry internationally. This has led the Bradshaws to generously support regions worldwide and to fund several Developing Global Leaders (DGL) students. DGL offers educational funds, life-skills mentoring and Young Life ministry training for the leaders of tomorrow in over 30 countries around the world. Since 2016, the Bradshaws have supported 15 different DGL students.

The Bradshaws also have a heart for military families. Young Life’s Club Beyond provides ministry to middle school and high school students worldwide. Sam and Linda have also been champions for Military Family Camp at Trail West and faithfully supported scholarships for these families. In 2009, this passion for Young Life’s military ministry led to Sam joining the MCYM Board of Directors.

In the words of Executive Director of the Young Life Foundation Jeff Rudder, “Anyone who knows Sam and Linda knows they exude joy, love, commitment, faithfulness and generosity! I have personally been blessed by their desire to follow Christ and to serve Him through Young Life and the Young Life Foundation. The head count in heaven will be higher because of them.”

Verley and Pearlean Sangster​

2019 Distinguished Young Life Alumni Award
By Jonathan Schultz

In late 1960, Verley Sangster was a young businessman who had recently lost his tavern due to revenue issues. At a crossroads, Verley met Bob Biehl, a man from South Bend, Indiana, who saw potential in Verley and asked to train him in the insurance business and organizational leadership. Here Verley first encountered the mission of Young Life through a breakfast club led by Chuck Lahman.

Following this initial introduction, Verley began serving on the South Bend Young Life committee, one of the first organized committees in Young Life. In 1971, Chuck Raymond arranged for Verley and his wife, Pearlean, to be adult guests at Frontier Ranch, in Colorado. The Sangsters were blown away by what they witnessed at camp that week, and came away with a passion to see more urban kids experience what they had seen.

It was October of 1973 when Verley made the transition from volunteer to Young Life staff person, becoming the director of the Young Life Center on Chicago’s west side. This center provided many resources to the community, including legal and medical aid, and urban youth development work. The center ran four Young Life clubs, including two high school gatherings run by area director Jim Chesney; while Verley led a Thursday night club for high school kids and a Friday night club for middle school kids. Some might argue these were the forerunners of our present-day WyldLife programs.

Under Verley’s leadership, his assistant, Amy Mannier, and former Young Life kid and volunteer, Angela Reeves, started one of the very first clubs for teen mothers. Angela joined Young Life staff following that, while Verley became area director in late 1970.

Eight years later, Young Life President Bob Mitchell promoted Verley to the position of National Urban Training director, a role he served in from 1978 to 1989. In 1989, President Doug Burleigh appointed Verley as the vice president of U.S. Field Ministries.

“In this role Sangster oversaw the six field directors, the Ministry Resources director and the associate field director for women. Over the course of sixteen years, Sangster had come a long way from his first position as an area director in Central Chicago. Doug Burleigh said he sensed in Sangster, ‘A man deeply committed to a prayer ministry with this mission and one who draws from significant spiritual resources in his own personal life. I believe Verley is uniquely qualified to hold together and unite this diverse field team in the United States Leadership’” (Made for This: The Young Life Story, p. 104).

As Denny Rydberg took the helm as president of Young Life, Verley’s influence in the mission continued, even as his title was changed to director of Multicultural Ministries.

In 1994, 21 years after coming on Young Life staff, Verley left to become president for the Center for Urban Theological Studies (CUTS) in Philadelphia, which he held until retiring in 2004.

Verley Sangster is a great leader, whose legacy lives on in and through the mission. His pioneering courage and visionary insight served to shape the mission’s work with multicultural and urban youth, teenage mothers, middle school and high school kids, and significantly impacted the training and equipping of countless staff and volunteers. Verley Sangster has been a gift to many within and outside of the Young Life mission.

JD Gibbs​ ​

2019 Young Life Posthumous Alumni Achievement Award
By Jonathan Schultz

JD Gibbs moved to Northern Virginia in 1981, when his father (Joe) accepted the role of head coach for the Washington Redskins. It was during this season he was introduced to Young Life, often hosting club at his house. In the words of longtime friend, Moose Valliere, “Because of JD’s personality and charisma, the biggest clubs were often at JD’s house; in fact, the only reason I decided to visit Young Life was because it was going to be at JD’s house. If it was OK for JD to go to Young Life, then Young Life was OK for me! I trusted JD that much.”

In the same vein, Dave Alpern, lifelong friend and current president of Joe Gibb’s Racing, said, “Arguably the most popular kid in our high school, JD would show up in the cafeteria and randomly sit at different tables, usually with the less popular kids, with his signature smile and a ‘Hi, I’m JD.’ It made the kids who needed it most feel valued and important. I know because I was one of those kids.”

Upon college graduation, he moved to Charlotte and co-founded Joe Gibbs Racing with his father. In the midst of all of this, JD became a volunteer Young Life leader for a few years, until recruiting Moose to come and start a new Young Life area in Norman, North Carolina. JD was on committee in this area until the day he got too sick to continue serving.

Professionally, JD treated his business career much the same as he did the rest of his life: building others up and using his influence to point people to Jesus. As Joe Gibbs Racing grew from a start-up family business with barely a dozen employees, to a world-class championship sports organization with nearly 600, JD never changed. Everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing knew that an interaction with JD was going to include a laugh, probably a bear hug and a meaningful exchange about something significant to that person.

From overseeing a giving ministry that sends funds to over 75 organizations in over 50 countries, to mobilizing a team of in-house chaplains to do “contact work” inside of Joe Gibbs Racing, JD knew how to treat his business as his ministry. Throughout, Young Life remained dear to JD’s heart, as he chaired the local committee, hosted countless Young Life banquets and events at the team headquarters, and even turned the Joe Gibbs Racing Christmas party into a Young Life club!

Most importantly, JD knew his primary ministry was to his boys (Jackson, Miller, Jason and Taylor) and his wife; and he was exceptional with both. JD married Melissa, his middle school sweetheart, in 1993 and, according to Moose Valliere, “As a parent, JD was THERE for his kids and his wife. In the crazy world of pro sports when the job is the ‘end all, be all,’ JD always did his best to step away and be with his family.”

In 2014 JD started showing symptoms of a neurological problem; he had a degenerative brain disease that was incurable. JD passed away on January 11, 2019, at the age of 49, and his impact was clearly seen at his funeral. Thousands attended to pay their respects, from old friends, to the NASCAR family, to Redskins players and coaches. JD’s dream was to help Windy Gap and to bring Young Life to every kid in the Charlotte Metro area, focusing on hard-to-fund schools, YoungLives and Capernaum. In his memory, the JD Gibbs Legacy Foundation was born in January 2019. Since JD’s death over $1 million has been raised.

Stacking Hands

By Sherri Nee

When Area Director Joe Wilson talks about Protestants and Catholics working together under the banner of Young Life, he compares them to the Cajun Navy, the diverse band of boat owners from the South who quickly organize to rescue thousands from floods after a hurricane.

In an urgent situation, these fishing enthusiasts, water-skiers and recreational cruisers don’t sit around and talk about who has the bigger or better boat, Joe said.

“It’s all hands on deck! Likewise, thousands of kids are drowning down here in Texas. They don’t know the love of Christ. So when it comes to rescuing kids, you don’t sit around and talk about little differences in Christian doctrine. You get a rope, you launch your boat and you start searching!”

This vision of stacking hands on the gospel in the Rio Grande Valley wasn’t Joe’s idea. An agreement between Young Life and the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville was formed a few months before he arrived in July of 2015.

Joe admits he was an unlikely candidate to lead this collaboration since he’s white and raised Baptist, and the Valley is 90% Latino and overwhelmingly Catholic. But he has an urgency to reach “every kid,” and his alliance with Catholics is now producing fruit along this stretch of the U.S. / Mexico border. Joe has recruited and trained three Catholic Latino Young Life staffers and is building a pipeline to hire more.

Hugo De La Rosa, assistant principal at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School in McAllen, said Joe may have felt like an unlikely candidate for the region, but he’s turned out to be the perfect area director. “Joe dove right in. He tries to understand the Catholic worldview. He’s willing to listen and find a way to work together. I can’t imagine we could have gotten anyone better suited to this area.”


There are 7,000 kids at the five Harlingen, Texas, high schools. A majority are Catholic, but most are disconnected from a church, and most of the Catholic churches don’t have the resources for youth ministry. The initial vision was to gather Catholic volunteers as Young Life leaders for these high schools. The hope was to re-engage these students and activate the faith they were born into.

Joe and a committee from the diocese held informational gatherings that attracted 140 Catholic adults who ranged in age from 35 to 75. But only 40 of them attended the leader training that followed, and most couldn’t commit the time needed to lead Young Life. A few were willing but lived 45 miles from the nearest high school.

“At the end of leader training, more people knew what Young Life was, but nothing in terms of leaders,” Joe said. So he tried another approach. “A white Baptist is not the best salesman for Young Life in the valley,” he said. “We needed some inside advocacy. We needed a Catholic.”

Recruiting and training a local Catholic to become an area director would take too much time, Joe said, so he decided to recruit some Catholic student staffers. He set up booths at colleges and Catholic conferences, asking students if they wanted training on how to be a missionary. Twenty signed up, and out of that group four had “Young Life DNA.”

The next year produced 30 students, and the following year 40 more. Each trip has generated a pool of Catholic Young Life volunteers, and each year, another volunteer enters Young Life’s Developing Future Leaders (DFL) program, which creates a pipeline for staff in underserved areas.

Reyna Conde, now on mission staff, was hired in 2017 and leads Young Life at a public high school. Lizette Hernandez, hired in 2018, and Danny Acosta, hired last year, both lead WyldLife at Our Lady of Sorrows. Their salaries are being covered by the local area, the South Texas Region and the Diocese of Brownsville.

“These leaders are from the Valley. They can speak the language. It’s magical. They can do in five minutes what it would take me five years to do,” Joe said.


In addition to this Latino/Catholic leadership pipeline, the Diocese of Brownsville last year began a pilot project with WyldLife at Our Lady of Sorrows. The after-school club competes with sports and academic competitions, but six to 14 students come regularly.

“It’s a small start, and we are hoping to keep it going,” said Hugo, who loves seeing the WyldLife leaders at morning assemblies and sporting events. “WyldLife has a special charism — the willingness to get into the messiness of kids’ lives and tell them and show them they are loved. When our kids go to WyldLife, they see a different experience of what it means to follow Jesus. They go to Mass and take religion classes, and Young Life brings that to life. They need both.”

The school, the parish, the diocese and Young Life Rio Grande Valley are all hoping this WyldLife group will grow. The school would like to open the club to some nearby public schools.


“I would never have put myself in this position of leading Young Life on the border with Mexico and leading a Catholic initiative,” Joe said. “When I started with Young Life, my goal was learning how to play the guitar.”

The 15-year staff veteran was drawn to Young Life because of a loss in his own life. His father committed suicide when Joe was 10 years old. “My heart for the fatherless is what keeps me going,” he said. “So many kids are walking around, looking for validation and ready to give themselves away. That’s why we need to join our Catholic brothers and sisters in this great rescue mission.”

“We need to enter into friendship based on the commonality of our faith — Jesus came, died and rose again. And we need to figure out how to enter into mission together.”


Gerald Garcia, Eva Flowers and Bill Taylor

Gerald Garcia
October 21, 1962 – October 30, 2019
By Kevin Suwyn, senior vice president, Latin America / Caribbean

It is with deep sadness that I write to share news of the passing of our brother, lover of Mexico and Young Life staff person of 33 years — Gerald Garcia. After many years of service to kids and our Lord, Gerald most recently gave himself, his passion and love toward the developing work in Mexico. He brought huge vision and relentless energy to advancing the Kingdom in this part of God’s world. This brother was led by the Holy Spirit throughout his days, and was a man who “started fires” — movements that are now spreading as we go to kids. Years ago Gerald came to the training center in Costa Rica and drew a 10-city vision map of Mexico with a Sharpie on our wall! That map stayed on the wall, and we were reminded to pray, and he kept dreaming.

Working with Gerald has blessed my life, even as he battled with brain cancer. As his body slowed down, he became even more focused on reaching “the next kid!” Perhaps Johny, one of our area directors in Mexico, says it best:​

“When Mexico was in need, he heard the call. When Chiapas needed an embrace, Gerald and Donna came to us and taught us to do ministry as a family, to walk together and trust in His perfect will. They challenged us to walk in faith and believe in the God of the impossible. Those of us who walked with him — we know he knew the heart of God.”

As his family has said, the best way to honor him is to “live radically, and love extravagantly.” Join us in praying for Donna, and their children and grandchildren.

Eva Flowers
December 20, 1928 – December 24, 2019
By Jeff Chesemore

Along with her husband, Bob, Eva Flowers was a pillar in Young Life’s early Colorado camping days. The couple were instrumental in the initial work at Rancho Caballo, the headquarters for Young Life’s horse program, and Trail West Lodge, the mission’s first adult guest lodge.

On Dec. 2, 1947, Eva married Bob (who preceded her in death in 2005), and over the next decade, Bob and Eva had four children, Vicki, Robert, Jolene and Ronald.

By 1958, Young Life was in need of a horse ranch for its three Colorado camps: Silver Cliff and Frontier Ranch in Buena Vista, and Star Ranch, in Colorado Springs. The mission purchased Rancho Caballo, a 640-acre ranch to alleviate this need. That same year, Young Life hired Bob and Eva to run the ranch and care for the 120 horses.

Eva recalled their initiation into the busy Young Life camp season. “The summers were filled with dealing with the horse program, building relationships with the wranglers and summer staff, irrigating and participating in the various activities going on at the camps.”

“We had met Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life,” Eva continued. “He enjoyed joining our family for my chicken and noodles and homemade rolls!” As Jim spent time on the ranch, he quickly realized this property could also be the perfect spot for his vision of a place where adults could observe Frontier Ranch and Silver Cliff’s camping programs. In 1964, his dream was realized with the opening of Trail West Lodge.

Eva quickly became Trail West’s secretary, head housekeeper and “worked wherever else there was a need.” The couple worked for Young Life for two decades, with Eva supplementing their income through driving a school bus. Over the years the Flowers family became synonymous with Rancho Caballo and Trail West Lodge, eventually seeing three generations serve there.

“I praise God the Father for letting me be a part of this beginning,” Eva said. “I praise Him and thank Him for bringing all the staff and the guests through the years. I thank Him for bringing many to know our Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. To God be the glory. Great things He hath done.”

Bill Taylor
July 10, 1932 – January 30, 2020
By Jeff Chesemore

Bill Taylor, who served in various capacities with the mission for 30 years, is now in the presence of his beloved Savior. He joined the headquarters staff in 1964 at the request of President Bill Starr, who recognized Young Life’s need for a new organizational structure.

These excerpts from Made for This: The Young Life Story explain the necessity of hiring a man of Bill’s background:

In 1964, the mission had outgrown the structure that had been in effect since 1941. Starr and the board set about to transform Young Life from a pioneering model, based on one man’s vision of management, to a corporate one, a challenging transition to say the least. The new president understood the growing pains that might ensue. “I think there’s a constant tension—in the ‘freewheeling, allow the spirit of God to direct’ (whatever that looks like), over against ‘how do we organize for mission effectiveness?’”

To accomplish this, Starr immediately surrounded himself with the right people. Starr brought in Bill Taylor, a businessman and committeeman from Chicago, who would help build on the strong foundation John Carter had already laid, by revitalizing the headquarters and its many moving parts.

Right away Taylor saw what Starr had known. “The real question was,” Taylor suggested, “Is this a professional business or a mission? Well it’s both. You can’t have a mission without both.

“There was a need to grow from a first generation to second generation company,” Taylor said. “This was a very critical stage in the mission. The mission would not have lasted if it hadn’t changed.”

Here are just a few of the creative ways Bill Taylor left his mark on the mission:
  • Installed Young Life’s first computer (!)
  • Created the Information Services department
  • Divided Young Life into three sections: Services, Camping and Field Operations
  • Formulated master plans for each camp
  • Helped with the creation and development of the Dale House

In his three decades, Bill served under four Young Life presidents in roles such as vice president of Administrative Services, director of Properties (Camping) and advisor to the International Division. Throughout his faithful tenure, he was quick to befriend young staff and encourage them as they endeavored to introduce kids to Jesus and help them grow in their faith.​

Women Who Love Young Life

Making a difference together.

By Jamie Lisea, Director of Women’s Engagement and Philanthropy

Sixty-one Women Who Love Young Life from around the country recently gathered for the first Global Giving Circle. The women pooled their individual gifts, creating a fund of over $600,000 in order to have a larger impact on the mission. They were presented with five Young Life ministry opportunities and then voted on where they wanted their collective funds to make a difference. What resulted was joyful generosity, women inspired by one another, and encouraged in their love for the Lord and the mission of Young Life.

And, this is just the beginning of a movement for women impacting local and global communities.

We believe the Spirit moved this group of women in unexpected places — and yet in step with where God is leading all of Young Life. The top award went to kids caught in “the system” (foster, homeless, trafficked and incarcerated youth). The Office of Innovation is coming alongside to establish and support an official missionwide ministry to kids who are statistically considered to be the least of these.

Along these same lines, we want to go “Together” — and women heartily agree with this. They awarded second place of $100,000 to Developing Future Leaders, an established program which trains and equips diverse young leaders, sending them out into rapidly growing ministries.

In addition, the women also directed much-needed remaining funds to Young Life College, Developing Global Leaders and Accelerating International Women in Leadership.

Giving circles like these are one of the initiatives coming from the work of Women’s Engagement and Philanthropy, created two years ago to engage ministry partners in increasingly meaningful ways. Giving circles have caught the attention of women and have gained traction at both the local and national levels. Local or regional circles happen when women gather for an evening, typically contributing $100 each, and participate in a similar process of hearing about opportunities and then deciding together where they’d like to direct their collective impact.

Giving circles offer a compelling combination for women: connecting with one another, sharing their love for Christ and learning about mission opportunities. Women love being invited into purposeful giving together, often being a part of a larger gift than they would be able to give on their own.

One woman put it this way, “We’re celebrating Young Life by our giving together.” Another said, “What a joyful way to be able to give back to a ministry that has been so transformative and important in my life.”

Young Life Spoken Here

Young Life’s mission in Kenya. ​ Est. 2005

Kenya has a population of approximately 48 million including 43 official tribes, meaning 43 languages and cultures. The country is divided into 47 counties, 19 of which have Young Life.

James Mungai Kamau, Matilda Kiumba and Martin Wamalwa are just three of the incredible staff serving here:

James has been involved in Young Life since 2006. ​ He served as regional director of East Kenya for several years before being asked to move to Tanzania to serve as a regional director there.

Matilda is one of three new regional directors in Kenya. The first female regional director for her country, she is both pioneering the way and modeling what it looks like for other young women here to be in leadership positions.

Martin has been with Young Life for 16 years as a volunteer leader, field staff, regional director and training coordinator for the Africa and Middle East Division. In October 2019, Martin was promoted to be the first vice president of Africa East, which includes overseeing ministry in Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.

By the Numbers
  • 161,000+ Kids Reached
  • 17,818 Kids and Leaders at Camp in 2019
  • 8,033+ Commitments to Jesus

Young Life is a mission devoted to introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith.

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