Relationships
Spring 2021

About the Cover

In a year where observing restrictions has been the norm, we’ve loved creating moments where we can tell kids, “Yes!” The cover shot encapsulates something we’re all longing for — a chance to experience joy, adventure and freedom. This young man is enjoying a great day near our Wild Ridge property in West Virginia. For more details on Wild Ridge, please see page 18.

Cover photo by Parker Sheppard

Truly Together

By Jeff Chesemore

Building a culture of belonging for kids with disabilities.

The Lord delights in surprises and throughout the 40-year history of Young Life Capernaum, the mission’s ministry with kids with disabilities, He’s provided us with revelations around every corner — literally.

In 1980 Nick Palermo, on staff in San Jose, California, entered Blackford High School for the first time to begin meeting kids. As he turned a corner on his way to the lunch room, he was nearly run over by 25 teenagers in wheelchairs. Out of this “chance” encounter, Capernaum came to be. For the next two decades the fledgling ministry continued to slowly expand throughout the country.

In 2000, the Lord was again working behind the scenes to bring about another approach in ministering with kids with disabilities. In Knoxville, Tennessee, a new kind of ministry model began, when a staff person, who had no knowledge Capernaum even existed, began pursuing young people with disabilities. Unbeknownst to him, his approach would create a ripple effect throughout the area, inspiring the entire leadership team to stack hands in reaching every kid – a beautiful illustration of God’s Kingdom.

Like Nick Palermo 20 years earlier, Brian (BT) Thomas, found himself drawn to the kids in the special education classes of the high school where he was doing Young Life. “When I went into the school, I always challenged myself not to walk past the first lunch tables to get to the kids I knew. I thought ‘shame on me to ever do that.’ Well, I realized I was doing that with the kids in the special ed classes. I sensed the Spirit saying to me, ‘Really? You’re going to walk past these kids?’

“I knew Young Life was for every kid in the school, and so over time I got to know the lady who worked with the kids in special education. She said, ‘You want to come in and love my kids and pay attention to them? Of course!’”

The progression of BT’s plan can only be described as organic. As with the traditional kids he worked with, it just took intentionality, time and love. Once he’d built these friendships, it was only natural to invite them to Young Life.

BT began bringing kids with disabilities into their traditional club, which was the beginning of what would one day be known as the “Together Model.” The full model now includes more infrastructure on leadership teams, as the area places at least two Capernaum-specific leaders at the high schools where they already have active Young Life ministry. These leaders are a part of everything the whole team is doing while considering the accommodations needed for their friends with disabilities. Ultimately, every staff person and leader joins together to mutually support all area ministries.

SPACES OF BELONGING

Soon the other leaders and Campaigner kids from the traditional club caught the vision. BT recalls a story involving his friend with disabilities named Brittany. “At club one night, one of the Campaigners guys was sitting next to her in club; she reached over and touched him on the arm during the message and he said, ‘I felt like Jesus was touching me.’”

Another one of those Campaigners kids was Kelsey Hamilton, who now serves as the regional Capernaum coordinator for Northeast Texas. Over the years Kelsey and many other students have served as “buddies” to their friends. “When I was in high school, the culture in Young Life was so inclusive, it wasn’t weird for me to bring Zoey or James, my friends with disabilities, to club.”

Terry, a junior at Halls High School, loves her experience in Young Life. “What I learn about God makes a big impact on my life and I wouldn’t be the same without it. When I went to the barn the first time I was really nervous and didn’t know what to expect or what I was going to do. But I felt welcomed and didn’t expect to see all my friends from school. In my old town I was never included in anything so when I went to the barn that was the happiest moment of my life.”

Will Acker, Knoxville’s metro director, said, “The beautiful part along the way has been how the buddies have come alongside and loved our friends with disabilities. When the kids with disabilities come to a traditional Young Life club and get greeted by seniors who love them and want to sit with them, it does something spectacular to the club.”

“The thing I love about the Together Model is that it dignifies our friends with special needs as first and foremost, a high school student worthy of pursuing,” said Candace Conglose, the Capernaum coordinator in Knoxville. “My friend Maren is firstly a high schooler at Bearden, so of course she is invited to club. And, like her traditional peers, she is worthy of every part of Young Life. On the leadership team, there are people who connect with juniors, football players and those in theatre. The Capernaum leaders have eyes for our friends with disabilities. And because our Capernaum leaders see that calling as the same as their traditional leader teammates, they have Campaigners, invite the kids to camp and club. Because, why wouldn't they? Our friends with disabilities have roles at traditional club and are included in the games, raffles and songs. People notice when they aren't there. And that is belonging.”

Eventually, the Knoxville team learned about the original Capernaum model and how they could also serve up a Capernaum club tailored specifically for their friends. So they did just that. The response has been overwhelming.

Adding a Capernaum club helped to ensure that every kid would have the space they needed, Kelsey explained. “One of the keys is that we give our Capernaum friends choices, something they often don't receive. We provide ‘both and’ (traditional club and Capernaum club) and allow our friends to decide which (or both) they prefer. This allows us to serve more kids and create spaces of belonging in our ministry.”

Another choice friends in Capernaum enjoy is attending their school's traditional Campaigners, the Capernaum Campaigners or both! The inclusive culture in Knoxville also includes their college ministry as well, Kelsey said. “We have had some of our Capernaum friends who have graduated high school go on to join the leader training program (Quest) and participate fully.”

Amidst all these choices, however, was one non-negotiable for the leaders. They decided they would not completely separate traditional and Capernaum ministries. Mary Kendall Akers, former Knoxville Capernaum director, explained, “The leaders said, ‘You’re never taking these kids out of my club; I’ll always have Capernaum leaders on my team. We can also start this Capernaum club, but if you take this part of the body out of the traditional clubs, the leaders and the traditional kids are missing out.”

NOT JUST FOR KNOXVILLE

Currently in its 21st year, Knoxville’s Together Model is in 11 out of 18 high school ministries, with the others also working toward this goal. Now this alternate approach is taking root in many parts of the country!

Kelsey, who actually coined the term “Together Model,” is taking the idea to areas in Texas looking to reach kids with disabilities. “Many areas in Young Life are now learning this is an option. They think to start Capernaum they must have fundraising, a separate ministry, etc., but it’s a lot easier to go from inclusion to adding a separate Capernaum club.

“Staff sometimes ask me, ‘Oh we can do it like that?’ I tell them, ‘Yes, you can! And you can even call it Capernaum!’”

Serving as the Midwestern Capernaum coordinator outside Chicago, Tasha Taylor is quick to praise the Together Model as the embodiment of the Kingdom of God. “The idea is giving Young Life staff a vision that reaching every kid does not have to be as difficult as is sometimes imagined. My experience has been that when people have kids with disabilities in a traditional club, the leaders often feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped by that prospect. It’s reactive rather than proactive, and that’s never a good position from which to do ministry.

“What’s different is that our folks in Knoxville were not simply ‘allowing’ people with disabilities to be there, they created a space of belonging for everyone. They broke apart the us/them dichotomy and asked what decisions need to be made so everyone can meaningfully be a part of Young Life. For some students that meant having a Capernaum club specifically tailored for them, for others it was creating that inclusive space in traditional Young Life, and for many it was both.” ​

Inspired by the great success in Knoxville, Tasha has been at the forefront of helping introduce this model in other areas/regions around the country. Areas from as far away as Eugene, Oregon, to Bismarck, North Dakota, to Wheaton, Illinois, have adopted similar methods to Knoxville.

This expansion brings a smile to BT, the unsuspecting pioneer of the model, who humbly offers insights on the 21-year-old adventure. “Don’t rob the local Young Life club of the blessing of having a Capernaum kid there. These kids taste life and they experience the gospel. I’ve been around kids from literally every corner of the globe. The joy on their face when we just love them, laugh with them — regardless of who they are — is proof the Young Life model of ministry does indeed work.”

No surprise there.

Young Life Lite

You Belong

By Stacy Windahl

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that public speaking anxiety (called glossophobia), affects seven in 10 people. Now imagine the statistic for mothers with a fear of speaking publicly about Jesus to their middle school daughter and her friends and classmates. (Let’s call that “lip-glossophobia.” Incidences of that anxiety condition would be high. Very high.)

Jocelyn Dalke developed that phobia almost as soon as her daughter Eliza, then in fifth grade, said, “Mom, you used to lead Young Life. Now there’s WyldLife. Will you be my WyldLife leader?” Jocelyn took her daughter’s request to heart. “When your pre-teenage daughter wants you to be around her and her friends, you don’t say no.” But that conviction gave way to fear that began to erode her resolve. “Why do I think you can do this? I was believing lies about myself,” said Jocelyn.

Her doubts lingered until she ran into a former high school classmate in their community of West Salem, Oregon. When Teresa Foote mentioned she was giving serious thought to becoming a part of WyldLife for her daughter Macy (and losing her nerve the more she thought about it), Jocelyn knew she’d found an answer and an ally. She just didn’t realize that she’d also found a dear friend.

Not long after, the two began planning how they could come alongside the community WyldLife ministry. They adopted a plan already in practice to host student breakfasts. They would launch Tuesday breakfasts for sixth-grade girls, and the following years, for seventh- and eighth-grade girls, so they could care for the group throughout their middle school years. They’d serve a breakfast buffet and then gather the girls for a brief message about Jesus. Could it work? Would girls come? Would they keep coming?

Jocelyn and Teresa hoped so, and they hosted their first breakfast in September 2018. The menu featured pancakes, sausage and a hot chocolate bar with unlimited whipped cream. As it turned out the whipped cream wasn’t quite unlimited. Thirty-two girls showed up at 6:30 a.m. for the first breakfast, and all of them liked whipped cream.

The breakfasts continued, and Jocelyn and Teresa, and their daughters as well, grew deeper in friendship. The moms discovered that while being WyldLife leaders might have been new roles for them, it didn’t require them to be different people. “I’d spent 10 to 15 years doing contact work without knowing it,” said Jocelyn. “Teresa and I and the families who support us have always been mission-minded, building relationships with kids and families with the intention of reflecting God’s love.”

Eliza and Macy said that having their moms as WyldLife leaders makes it more comfortable for the girls who attend. “They respect our moms and trust what they’re saying is true,” according to Eliza.

When the moms asked the girls to share their favorite part of their breakfasts, they were surprised to hear it wasn’t the (nearly) unlimited whipped cream. It was being dropped off at school after breakfast. The girls always pile out of a line of cars and everyone sees them arriving together as a group. Macy understands why that’s special. “This is a place where everyone is so loving and accepting. It’s about Jesus and realizing this is a place where you belong.” Which is what every mom wants her child (and other children) to feel, and why some even become WyldLife leaders.

From the President

Living as Temporary Residents and Foreigners

By Newt Crenshaw

In speaking with hundreds of Young Life staff, volunteers and partners over this past year, some recurring themes have emerged. As we struggle with recurring challenges (COVID-19 restrictions and loss, economic/job uncertainty, racial injustice, political upheaval, etc.), many of us have been fighting against the strong pull to become dislocated, disoriented and discouraged.

I have been strengthened and encouraged by many of you as these difficult times have pushed you to draw closer to our Lord Jesus, to find comfort in the scriptures and to deepen your prayer life.

One book in the Bible especially meaningful to me over the past several months has been 1 Peter. A leader even among the apostles, Peter wrote his letter to believers scattered throughout Asia Minor. He addressed these brothers and sisters in Christ as “temporary residents and foreigners” (2:11, NLT). I sense many of us have felt like “temporary residents and foreigners” grappling with the unprecedented set of circumstances we have been facing.

My wife, Susan, and I, along with our four children, lived for five years in Japan. While we had an unbelievably rich and enjoyable experience living, working, schooling and making friends there, we were always quite aware we were living in a foreign land. Brooke and Tate Johnston have lived in the UK as missionaries with Young Life for two decades. To this day, they still deal with many circumstances that make them feel as though they are foreigners.

Peter’s letter reminds us that as followers of Jesus, this world will often cause us to feel “dislocated, disoriented and discouraged” — as if we are all temporary residents. He gives his first-century readers, and us 21st-century fellow believers, sound advice when we find ourselves in these circumstances.

LOCATION AND ORIENTATION

First, he reminds us to “locate” ourselves within God’s living hope for us in Jesus Christ. He begins his letter by declaring:

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance — an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:3-4, NLT).

What a promise! Though this world often seems impure, defiled and full of change and decay, we have a living hope and a sure inheritance from our heavenly Father that has been secured by our Lord Jesus.

Furthermore, Peter identifies the believers scattered in all these different countries as: “God’s chosen people, royal priests, a holy nation and his very own possession.” He then tells us “as a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (2:9).

Here Peter defines our deepest identity and highest sense of purpose. In Young Life, as we show others (especially young people!) the goodness of God in Christ, we do so because God has chosen and blessed us to be His very own possession.

Second, we may feel we have lost our “orientation” in our daily lives. Brooke said as the UK has shut down due to COVID-19, she and Tate need to remind each other what day of the week it is as they often work from home and their boys have online school.

Peter gives us practical advice for our daily orientation. He warns, “Keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (2:11). Most of us are acutely aware the pandemic has catalyzed an increase in substance abuse, pornography, violent crime, abuse of others, anxiety and depression. Day-by-day, we need to rely upon and walk by the Holy Spirit who has made us holy (1:2), orient ourselves toward our God whose precious blood has saved us (1:18,19) and guard ourselves against destructive behaviors that war against our very souls!

Peter further says we should “be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (2:12).

What does this look like? It could mean starting an online neighborhood Bible study, making meals for someone who is sick and homebound, fixing up an elderly person’s home, or shoveling the snow off your neighbor’s driveway. It could mean volunteering at a homeless shelter, advocating for teens in the juvenile detention system or standing up for those who have been denied justice. It could mean discipling a group of middle school boys or girls, volunteering at a weekend high school camp, delivering a care package to a teen mom or participating in drive-by camp for our Capernaum friends.

Peter then reminds us: “For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority — whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed” (2:13). With all the political upheaval in our country, this may seem difficult. But, as we seek to live properly before our friends and neighbors, we need to show respect for our elected officials — even if we didn’t vote for them.

COURAGE

Finally, if we feel we have lost our “courage,” Peter reminds us that “even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life” (3:13-15a).

Suffering will be part of our temporary residence in this world. Jesus told us to expect trials and sorrows if we are His followers, but to take heart because He has overcome the world (John 16:33)! When we suffer for doing what is right, we become “partners with Christ in his suffering” (4:13).

As we encounter these various trials, Peter wraps up his letter by exhorting us to “humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor” (5:6).

So let’s sum up Peter’s sound advice to you and me in these trying times:

If you find yourself feeling “dislocated,” anchor your hope in the finished work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

If you find yourself feeling “disoriented,” live properly and honorably among your neighbors, keeping yourself away from worldly desires and respecting the human authority placed over you by God!

And finally, if you find yourself feeling “discouraged” in the midst of suffering, remember that your heavenly Father has chosen you and is protecting you by His power (1:2,5), and take heart that Jesus also suffered and “will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (5:10).

“All power to him forever! Amen” (5:11).

Newt Crenshaw
Young Life President

Lifeline

By Leslie Strader

How a longtime area director is connecting schools and students during the pandemic.

For the last two decades, Area Director LaTonya Stevenson has faithfully served middle school kids in her hometown of Dallas, Texas. As one of South Oak Cliff’s own, she knows the struggles of homelessness and food insecurity the families who live there face each day.

So last March, when COVID-19 accelerated the everyday challenges of these families, LaTonya and her team were ready to reach out with extraordinary love in extraordinary times.

TOTAL DISCONNECT

For years, WyldLife in South Oak Cliff has been a thriving ministry serving six campuses. In a typical week, LaTonya said 60 to 100 kids attended after-school clubs, meeting three days a week and rotating through three different middle schools. (LaTonya also oversees YoungLives​ in two high schools.)

“Everything just shut down so fast,” LaTonya said. “Suddenly, there was a total disconnect. It was shocking. I realized, ‘I miss kids!’”

LaTonya leads the club at Sarah Zumwalt Middle School, so that’s where she started.

“I started calling and texting, asking, 'What’s going on? How can we be of service?’” she recalled. “The impact of the pandemic was pretty devastating. But I told them I’m here, and I wanted to do what I could do.”

At the time, Edwina Woods was principal of Zumwalt and remembers LaTonya showing up one day while school administrators were handing out food and technology to families.

“She asked me what we needed,” Ms. Woods recalled. “I told her about certain kids who hadn’t checked in for school in weeks, and we hadn’t been able to get in touch with them. She said, ‘Those are my kids, and I’m about to go see them!’”

Names and club cards in hand (cards kids fill out the first time they come to club that provide leaders with their contact information), LaTonya and her team jumped in the Young Life van on a mission to find their friends.

KNOCKING ON DOORS

“We narrowed it down to those who’d come to the last two to three clubs but had not been to school online,” LaTonya said. “Some had no internet and didn’t know how to access what the school was providing. I had my iPad and showed them how to connect. We made sure they had all the resources they needed. We’d knock on doors, talk to parents, find out what was going on with the kids and then talk to the school. We made sure everyone had the same information.”

LaTonya said parents were feeling disconnected, too, and some were as happy to see the van pull up as the kids were. The WyldLife team made sure they encouraged the kids to continue to work hard in school, especially the YoungLives​ moms, many of whom were supposed to graduate that May. Leaders also dropped off diapers, wipes and formula for the babies.

“I watched all my staff knock on doors, take whatever was needed and continue to pursue their kids. From March to June, we checked in with about 250 kids.”

Ms. Woods said Zumwalt’s partnership with WyldLife was invaluable in keeping students on track.

“Thanks to LaTonya and her team, there was only one kid we were not in contact with. It could have been way worse, like the horror stories we heard about. But we soon had 95% of our students connected with technology.

“WyldLife was that extra arm of support. I had teachers and staff willing to go, but it’s not the same thing as your WyldLife leader showing up. Because kids knew they’d see her, they stayed connected to us.”

WyldLife also created a social media account critical in keeping up with kids.

“WyldLife had been a social media-free zone,” LaTonya explained, “but we had to connect somehow. So we created things like Miss You Mondays and Trivia Tuesdays on Instagram. It was a place for kids to check in and principals, too. We wanted to keep showing up however we could.”

And since COVID-19 impacted South Oak Cliff’s summer camp opportunity as well, LaTonya’s team planned a virtual WyldLife camp experience that included T-shirts, cabin time and daily porch drop-offs. More than 30 kids participated.

“Parents and grandparents were sitting in the background listening to the message every night,” LaTonya said. “A 10-year-old cousin of a club kid accepted Christ. I never thought God would use a pandemic to reach families. We are about kids, but kids are part of families and families are a part of this ministry.”

STEPPING IN AND STAYING PUT

Schools in South Oak Cliff met both virtually and in person last fall. Because of her long-term relationship with the campuses, some of the schools that needed support more than ever invited LaTonya to come back and help.

“We are incredibly blessed that our schools are letting us in at all,” LaTonya said. “We’re working lunches, picking up trash and standing six feet away. We only get 30 minutes, but it’s better than nothing. We make sure kids know Young Life is still here.”

Julie Clapp, vice president of WyldLife, said the relationships LaTonya has cultivated over the years are more than just carrying out the ministry’s mission. For many families, they’ve become a lifeline.

“WyldLife is about Christ and kids. It’s that simple,” she said. “That’s who LaTonya is and what she has lived out day in and day out for the last 20 years. She is still meeting middle school kids where they are and earning the right to tell them about Jesus. I can’t imagine how many more middle schoolers would know Jesus if we had a LaTonya in every community.”

While the pandemic continues to impact life as we know it, LaTonya remains faithful. Young Life has been a part of her life since she was a club kid herself. So whatever challenges arise, LaTonya said she plans to keep showing up and doing what she’s always done — loving kids where they are and pointing them to Jesus.

“Relationships don’t stop because you can’t see each other,” she said. “We have to keep pursuing kids at all costs. And the smaller numbers have enabled us to go deeper. We want to teach kids the Word of God and what it says about who He is. And we want to help the kids who have had more time in the Word reach their friends and their school. We want to take this time to turn regular club kids into leaders.

“Young Life is not canceled; it just looks different. We are called to reach every kid, everywhere, and we need to do everything we can to do that. As long as there are kids in South Oak Cliff who don’t know Christ, I’ve still got work to do.”

Passing the Baton

By Ned Erickson and Heather Motz

A grand gesture. A vision realized in Hong Kong.

There was only one thing left in the box, something he’d been saving for this very moment. After seven years in Hong Kong, Josh Powell, Young Life’s executive director for the city, was hurriedly packing up his office and handing over the keys of the mission to his successor. With his flight leaving soon, Josh picked up the last item — a silver relay baton — and felt the vast weight of the moment.

Four years earlier, like all those in attendance at the 2016 Young Life Celebration, Josh received a Young Life emblazoned relay baton during Denny Rydberg’s closing message. “Underneath your chair,” Denny said, “is this baton imprinted with Hebrews 12:1-2.”

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV).

Instructing everyone to take one in hand, he continued, “We‘re one team. The only way we are to succeed is if we pass the baton expertly.”

On his way out, Josh intentionally grabbed an extra baton abandoned on the floor. When discouraged from doing so by his wife, he told her he needed an extra one to give to his eventual successor one day. He dreamed of that handoff taking place in a meaningful ceremony on a grand stage.

Over the next several years, Josh and the growing team of staff and volunteers successfully established Young Life broadly across Hong Kong and the work flourished under his leadership. But always, Josh’s fervent prayer was for a Chinese leader who would take it to the next level. Since uprooting their home in Seattle in 2013, the Powells understood their calling to this global city was only for a season.

“When Young Life sent us abroad as expats to Hong Kong, we did not go in with the mentality that we were the long-term answer,” Josh explained. “From the very beginning our goal was to develop local ownership, stewardship and leadership. The ownership came quickly. Stewardship followed relatively fast. Leadership, and senior leadership in particular, by far, took the longest.”

A SUDDEN EMERGENCE

It had been a primary goal for Young Life in Hong Kong to be closely aligned with the local church, so it was not unusual when Josh invited a local church pastor, James Tang, to dinner one night. Well regarded across the city, James was a phenomenal communicator who preached in multiple languages with messages of love for young people; a perfect partner for Young Life.

Born in Hong Kong but raised in the United Kingdom, James had a unique cross-cultural capacity to minister in many contexts. He had deep family roots in the city and a special relationship with his father who passed away when James was only 17. Though departed, his father’s words remained and echoed in his son’s mind, “Be true to your calling.”

“I ended up following my father’s desire. My calling has always been to reach and teach the younger generation,” James explained. As Josh listened to his story on their first meeting, he felt an overwhelming sense he was sitting across the table from the answer to his long-prayed prayer, his future replacement.

Gradually and quietly, Josh and James continued to meet, growing their friendship and beginning to prepare for a transition both sensed God was directing.

The backdrop of this drama was, well, dramatic. Hong Kong was in the middle of an unforeseen massive social and political crisis. Tensions boiled over into historic million-plus-person rallies and violent street protests that often ground the city to a halt. The end of 2019 was an extremely tense time for the city and the Young Life team as ministry events and gatherings were frequently canceled due to decimated transportation services, and danger in the streets.

“You could hear the battles from our windows at night,” Josh recalled. “The pops of tear gas, the smashing glass, the barricades being built. At times we were right in the middle of it. Walking to work in the morning was like navigating the aftermath of a war zone. Streets were torn up; storefronts were all damaged, still smoldering fires in the streets.”

Just when things didn’t seem like they could get any worse, COVID-19 erupted across the border in Mainland China, sending Hong Kong into panic months before the rest of the world. As the world began to apply the lockdowns Hong Kong was already experiencing, Josh’s wife and girls became stranded in the U.S. on what was meant to be a short-term visit. Josh found himself alone in Hong Kong, scrambling to pack, tie up loose ends and reunite with his family before the window of global travel completely closed.

THE PERFECT PASS

In a rushed, last-minute meeting at the Young Life office in Hong Kong, Josh and James met for what they knew could be the last time for quite a while. With just hours to spare before Josh’s flight left for the U.S., they both realized their well-paced transition plans were not to be. Josh had filled a box with items to hand over; important documents, keys and manuals were each pulled out and presented in a crash-course on running the office.

James saw the look on Josh’s face as he stopped for a moment staring into an almost empty box. When he lifted the baton, James recognized immediately what was happening and out of reverence for the moment both men instinctively stood to their feet.

Josh relayed the story of the baton and of Denny’s speech and how he’d dreamed about and prayed for this moment for years. Josh told James, “I imagined this moment under different circumstances. It was supposed to be at a grand gala in front of hundreds of people. I’m sorry there’s no banquet, no stage and no grand gesture today.” This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

James replied, “You’re right, nothing has gone like we planned, but actually, it has gone perfectly.”

As Josh handed over the baton, the two men captured the bittersweet moment with a selfie. A quick embrace and a farewell and then Josh was off to the airport. Seven years in the rearview mirror and a harried exit without proper goodbyes to a people and a place that transformed his family’s life.

Josh recounted, “That baton passing moment was really hard, but almost all joy. It’s possibly the moment I’m proudest of in my whole career and one I’ll never forget. Realizing a dream is the greatest thing,” Josh said. “In this moment, I experienced the gift of witnessing the culmination of the vision that brought my family to Hong Kong in the first place. I could not be more confident in the new leadership of Young Life in Hong Kong and am thrilled I can continue investing my life in the leadership development there.”

Reunited with his family in Washington, Josh continues to love and support the Hong Kong team in his new role as Young Life’s vice president of East Asia. James is now well into his race and leading the local team with a lens of hope and opportunity. “You can sense the frustration, desperation and helplessness in the youth here,” James summarized. “But in challenging times, the good news of the gospel is really good news. This is our time and our chance to show them what, and ultimately who, love really is.”

Alumni Awards

2020 Distinguished Young Life Alumni Award

By Jonathan Schultz

David and Carol Eaton

When David and Carol pause and reflect on their involvement with Young Life over the years, their reflections travel back over seven decades of investment, influence and impact.

In 1954, David and Carol were teenagers growing up in Phoenix, Arizona. With the encouragement of Young Life Founder Jim Rayburn, David’s father and mother helped start Young Life there and, in David’s words, “My parents kept the first staff fed and clothed.”

David and Carol both attended Wheaton College, where they served as Young Life volunteer leaders. It was here David met future Young Life President Bill Starr, a man who became a mentor to David and dear friend to the Eatons. After finishing his undergraduate work at Wheaton, David went to law school while Carol served on Young Life staff in Minnesota for a year working under Jim Rayburn. In the early ’60s, the Eatons returned to Phoenix, where they settled down and David worked for the Jennings, Strouss & Salmon Law Firm, and then the Eaton International Corporation. He was also a general partner in both the Phoenix Suns basketball team and the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team.

During these early years, the Eatons joined a group of five other couples and started Young Life through serving as leaders, committee and donors. In Carol’s words, “Young Life had a significant influence on us and all our children. For 25 years the Sunnyslope High School club was in our home, causing us to build a new room, add furniture and replace the carpet multiple times. It was a place where people would gather, something we could believe in and an opportunity for us to be ministers of the gospel.”

In 1989 Carol joined the Young Life Board of Trustees, a role she faithfully held for 32 years. Carol had the distinct privilege of serving on the presidential search committees that led to the hiring of both Denny Rydberg and Newt Crenshaw, experiences she describes as “bookends to her time on the board.” During this time, the Eatons also became instrumental in the development of Lost Canyon, Young Life’s camp in northern Arizona. They also fell in love with and supported the Young Life work in the Philippines (through Eli Yasi) after hearing him speak at their church.

When asked how their involvement with Young Life has impacted them personally and professionally, David said, “Young Life and the people involved helped me in my journey toward a more rounded ministry. I learned how to be a Christian without being religious. I learned how to better love people and be influential for the Kingdom of God.” In Carol’s words, “Both David and I were raised in fundamentalist churches. Young Life and Fuller Seminary were very influential in our adult spiritual life and growth. I can honestly say Young Life has given to us a thousand times what we have given to it. We can never repay that debt!”

In the words of Young Life staff veteran and Chief Foundation Officer Marty Caldwell, “For almost 60 years, David and Carol have been mentors, champions, encouragers, coaches, committee exhorters, generous givers and prayer warriors. They have never been on the sidelines, always on the field making a difference. Their model of mission partnership stands as an anchor to many in Arizona, the Philippines and beyond. Their consistent focus on Jesus and young people has been unwavering, and those who follow the Eatons as they follow Jesus, know which way to go.”

2020 Young Life Young Professional Award

Valeria Saucedo

Valeria is the daughter of Mexican parents who made their way to El Paso, Texas, before bringing her into the world. Val knew nothing of Young Life until attending Southwestern University in Austin, Texas. Having grown up in a Christian home, and being eager to impact other students, Val immediately joined the new Young Life College ministry there, becoming the second Young Life College leader at her school. From there Val’s involvement with and influence through the mission became a series of ongoing opportunities to serve and grow:

  • Summer staff at Frontier Ranch
  • Volunteer leader with YoungLives, Young Life’s ministry to teen moms, while attending the University of Houston (UH) and working as part-time administrator for the Houston Heights area
  • First alumni representative on the UH Young Life College board
  • Committee person while studying to be an attorney at the South Texas College of Law, Houston

When asked how she continues to serve while juggling the demands of law school and life, Val said, “You only think about cost if you are in a deficit or in a budget. Serving is not draining. It gives energy and makes me more purposeful. Young Life is adding, not subtracting to my life.”

Val continues, “Through life struggles and disillusionment, Young Life was a tether. Especially in college, when questioning. The Young Life people were friends regardless.”

Professionally, Val said, “for communities of color we don’t have people to look up to, because they don’t look like us. (Only 2% of lawyers are Latina.) There is no mentorship. Young Life has served as a bridge to spaces I didn’t have access to, connecting me to trusted, safe people and experiences that widened my scope. Today, I get to meet with girls thinking about law school. I find myself impacting other young women of color.”

2020 Young Life Young Professional Award

Sean and Emily Rorden (with their kids)

Sean and Emily met at the University of California, Santa Barbara — neither having been involved with Young Life. It wasn’t until after they were married and Sean was teaching in New Orleans, while Emily attended Louisiana State University (LSU), that Sean had the opportunity to take 13 boys from his high school to camp at Young Life’s SharpTop Cove in Georgia. In Sean’s words, “That was my first true experience with Young Life. I was blown away by the mission, the intentionality, and it really sparked an interest to get more involved.”

This spark ignited many years and seasons of service for both Sean and Emily.

  • In 2007, having moved back to California to work as a firefighter, Sean led at West Hollywood Community Day School for three years. Emily helped with special events and supported Sean’s efforts while working toward her nurse practitioner credentials.
  • In 2010, after relocating to Santa Barbara, the Rordens joined the Young Life Santa Barbara East Side ministry. Sean helped with club and tutoring, while Emily hosted dinners, served on the banquet committee and encouraged women.
  • In 2015, now living in Pasadena and having welcomed their second son, Sean offered what he could to the brand new Young Life ministry at John Muir High School; Emily helped launch a new YoungLives​ ministry in 2018.

When asked why they choose to continue to serve while being first responders and parents, Sean said, “Once you get involved and are aware of the need, you can’t let go. We believe God is faithful and will provide in all of the necessary areas. Sometimes I am really tired, but when I show up and see those kids … it’s always redeeming and life-giving.” In Emily’s words, “It’s pretty simple. We just allow God to use us and the resources He has given us.”

2020 Service to Young Award

Steve and Jackie Humphrey

Steve and Jackie have 65 years of Young Life involvement, dating back to 1956, when attending Young Life club as 15-year-olds at W.W. Samuell High School in Dallas, Texas. Both Steve and Jackie remember the impact of Orville Mitchell as a Young Life leader and mentor who was critical in deepening their personal relationship with Christ. Jackie said, “Club was very similar then as what it is today. We sat on the floor, sang and learned about Jesus. It was a celebration of life and laughter and loving Jesus.” Both Steve and Jackie attended weekend camps and still have the New Testament that was given to them as teenagers.

Steve and Jackie did not date in high school, but reconnected two years after graduating and were married six months later in 1961. They had known each other since sixth grade, and had been married for almost 60 years at the time of this interview in 2020. In 1977, Steve left the large electrical company he was working for to start the family business in Grapevine, Texas. At the time, there was no Young Life there, but the couple joined others in praying, fundraising, recruiting staff and hosting events to get it started.

A.J. Chambers, Grapevine area director, said, “Grapevine Young Life has benefited greatly from three generations of the Humphrey family, but we are a small picture of their long-term impact. The mission is better off because the Humphrey family has given so generously of their prayers, time, energy, money and anything else they have to offer. I thank God for them daily.” Jackie said they love Young Life because “our own Grapevine children are dying on the vines before our very eyes. We can’t forget to share the gospel in our own backyard. Young Life is making an impact right here where we live.”

As their kids grew up, the family hosted clubs in their home regularly through Stephen, Leah and Randy’s high school years. During Leah’s senior year of high school, Steve Sr. had to estimate the total weight of all the kids coming to club to make sure the floor could withstand the weight in their upstairs game room.

In the ’90s, the kids started getting married and having their own kids. The entire family remains deeply involved in Young Life. Steve Jr. and Mary, Leah and Rick, and Randy and Scottie have all volunteered, prayed, donated and served Young Life as adults. Several of Steve and Jackie’s grandkids are currently serving as Young Life leaders. They have been influencers and advocates for Young Life in tremendous ways in their various communities, even assisting in the electrical wiring of the assigned team housing at Frontier Ranch. Humphrey and Associates, Inc., hosts one of the largest clay shoots in the country to raise money for Young Life ministry across North Texas; in fact, since 2005 this event, The Broken Clay, has benefited Young Life to the tune of over $1,000,000.

As much as this award honors Steve and Jackie’s incredible service to Young Life, it also serves as a tribute to the incredible life of Jackie. Shortly after informing the Humphreys of this honor, Jackie passed away. As stated so eloquently in her obituary, “Jacquelyn Oneta Pope Humphrey of Argyle, Texas, passed away on November 20, 2020, in Plano, Texas, from complications following open heart surgery. Jackie will always be remembered as a follower of Christ, a loving wife to Steve, a cherished and adoring mother and grandmother, and an inspiring adopted mom to the extended family she lovingly gathered in every circle of her life’s journey.”

Finding a Way in West Virginia

By Chris Lassiter

How a Young Life area and camp are ensuring new ministry continues during the pandemic.

Eric Zoodsma viewed southern West Virginia’s breathtakingly beautiful New River and was reminded of another famous body of water.

In early March of 2020, ministry was flourishing for Eric, the Young Life area director of Grand Rapids Southwest. The approximately 100 leaders co-laboring with Eric were meeting new kids, and clubs were growing both in depth and number of kids attending.

Then news came of the first coronavirus case in Michigan, and shortly after, of school closings. As a result, Eric and other Young Life staff nationwide canceled many summer camp trips and re-imagined others.

So when Eric pulled off a successful Young Life trip to Young Life’s Wild Ridge camp that summer, he felt like he had witnessed a miracle.

“It truly felt like God had parted the Red Sea for us,” Eric said. “It’s a miracle we could take 35 people from our area to West Virginia for a week.”

JUST SAY YES

Backpacking was a tradition in Eric’s area. As it became clearer the backpacking excursion would not happen, Eric began exploring other options.

Eventually, he set his sights on Wild Ridge.

At the beginning of 2021, West Virginia’s New River Gorge Preserve received the prestigious designation of U.S. National Park. Just outside of the aesthetically stunning rock climbing and whitewater rafting haven is Young Life’s Wild Ridge property.

Young Life’s vision for Wild Ridge is to create two camping experiences in one location. The plan is for a forthcoming traditional outreach camp to join the adventure camp, which has been running since 2016.

As other Young Life camps were shut down, the demand for adventure camping exploded. The open-air setting, West Virginia’s smaller population density, smaller camp sizes and outdoor living arrangements were all factors which allowed Wild Ridge to remain open.

Drew Baumann, the camp manager at Adventures Wild Ridge, had a simple philosophy. When leaders like Eric called, he would find a way to say yes. ​

“We were forced to innovate,” Drew said. “Being on camp staff, my job is to serve field staff. If we have field staff saying, ‘Hey, we want to come to camp,’ and we have to turn them away because we don’t have capacity, then we need to figure out an alternative. And that’s what we did.”

ALL TYPES OF DONATIONS

While Drew was trying to figure out how to say yes to Eric and other leaders, Rick and Heather Johnson were finding ways to say yes to Drew.

The Johnsons have owned and operated River Expeditions for the past 25 years. For the last five they’ve been more than great whitewater rafting tour guides for Wild Ridge campers — they’ve been ministry partners. And that was never truer than in 2020.

When Drew was forced to cut costs, the Johnsons worked with him on a special camp rafting price for the summer. And when Drew needed to figure out ways to provide additional temporary housing, it was again the Johnsons to the rescue.

“They have this cluster of a dozen cabins they refer to as rustic cabins,” Drew said. “It’s essentially a wooden shell with bunk beds and mattresses. Each one can accommodate five people. They’re located in this cul-de-sac. I talked to Rick and told him, ‘Hey, we’re expecting to grow a lot this summer.’ Rick said, ‘If you want to use the rustic cabins, you can use them for free.’”

Five years ago, Rick and Heather didn’t know much about Young Life. But the Johnsons have been so impressed by the ministry, they’ve become willing partners.

“We’ve just tried to help any way we can,” Rick said. “I think there’s all types of donations other than money. That’s something we could afford to do, were able to do and were very happy to do.”

A FAMILY AFFAIR

In addition to multiple “yes” answers from the Johnsons, Drew succeeded in doing ministry outside of the box because of a yes from the Sanders family.

The Johnsons let Drew borrow the rustic cabins. The responsibility of making sure that space gave kids the Young Life experience fell into the capable hands of Dan and Becky Sanders, and their teen twin daughters, Ali and Rae.

The Sanders were the perfect family for the task.

From their days as club kids in Carroll County, Maryland, Young Life has played a huge role in Dan and Becky’s story. Dan is a maintenance technician at Young Life’s Rockbridge Alum Springs. Becky teaches middle school during the school year, but she and the twins help care for the horses at Rockbridge during the summers. ​

With no horses or students at Rockbridge last summer, the Sanders were available to help at Wild Ridge.

“We’ve been doing camping ministry forever,” Becky said. “I’ve always said, ‘You could dig a ditch, take kids there and share Christ with them, and it will be the best week of their life. It doesn’t matter what you have. It’s Jesus that makes it the best week.”

During the summer of 2020, the Sanders family loaded up a black Ford 250 and made the two-and-a-half-hour trek to Wild Ridge. Dan served as the kitchen staff, making tacos, grilled chicken and even baked ziti over an open fire. Becky served as head leader, and the twins were the work crew, kayak wranglers and trail guides.

“They were a huge part of making our trip happen,” Eric said. “They bent over backwards and did everything. They pulled this off from scratch. Drew, Dan, Becky and their girls are all heroes in this.”

A HEALING PROCESS

Traveling in borrowed school vans, the 12-hour trip from Michigan to West Virginia was well worth it for Eric.

The students went whitewater rafting, dug deeply into the epistle of James — one chapter a day on the five-day trip — and were served incredibly well by Drew, the Sanders family and other volunteers.

In a year where literally everything was shut down during a pandemic, Wild Ridge provided healing only found in community, as well as a sense of closure.

“I think for a lot of our seniors, who were the bulk of the kids on this trip, there was this sense of ‘high school was stolen away from me,’” Eric said. “And this trip — in addition to the spiritual aspect — was very much a healing process for them.”

Although the methods changed in 2020, the motivation did not.

The mission is, and has always been, about getting kids to the feet of Jesus.

“We’re fighting for every kid,” Drew said. “Kids met Jesus off property this summer. And if we didn’t fight for kids, that wouldn’t have happened.”

Passages

Ted Johnson, James Davis, Francis "Steady" Cash and Jim Dyson

By Jeff Chesemore

Ted Johnson
September 9, 1928 – December 1, 2020

Always the great encourager, Ted spurred on countless men and women during his nearly 70 years of service with the mission.

In 1955, Ted became a sales, advertising and marketing executive with W. R. Grace Company, where he enjoyed a wildly successful career. It was during this time that his “volunteer career” with Young Life took off. Ted was fond of telling how he came into contact with the mission:

“The first time I heard about Young Life was back in 1953 in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was a rookie IBM salesman and the salesman sitting next to me said, ‘You ought to get involved with this Young Life thing.’ I said, ‘I just bought $10,000 worth of Penn Mutual. I don't need any more life insurance.’ Then he tried to explain it to me and I knew I wasn't interested, because I guess I was what you'd call one of those ‘church-disinterested’ adults.

“Later, my wife and I were snookered into chaperoning a busload of kids from Berkeley High School to Malibu in Canada, where we were Young Life's guests for a week. Bob Mitchell said he'd put me on the best salmon water in North America and I didn't have to go to any meetings, attend any meals, just show up on the bus when it left Berkeley. Well, that week at Malibu cost me everything I have, including my day job!

“I'm a victim of the adult guest program, which totally engaged me in what I've found to be just absolutely the best mission I could commit my life to and my money and everything we have.

“Coming back from Malibu, I asked Mitch what I could do. He said, ‘You can join the Young Life committee.’ I said, ‘What's that?’ He said, ‘Well, you come to Wilkinson's Restaurant next Tuesday morning at 7 o’clock for breakfast. The committee will be there, I'll introduce you, and by the way, would you be chairman?’"

Ted accepted both invitations and served as the Berkeley, California, chairman and eventually as chair of four other committees. In those days, there was also a national committee chairman who would give guidance and wisdom to the local committees spread across the mission. Ted was the last to serve in that role.

On August 1, 1990, Ted became the president for the Young Life Foundation, which financially encourages the strategic ministry work of Young Life. After 35 years at W. R. Grace, he embraced the new opportunity.

“We were living a life of quiet desperation in Santa Barbara: average seasonal temperature of 67 degrees, the Birnam Wood Golf Club, life was pretty good. But thank God we cut bait, moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and jumped in over our heads. We found out early this was not sales and marketing; but that money comes to Young Life through the grace of God, through the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of people to give what they give.”

Two years later, Doug Burleigh stepped down as the mission’s fourth president, and as the search began for his successor, the board of trustees asked Ted to lead in the interim. Not content to see the mission coast during this time, Ted focused on prayer and staff care.

After his interim presidency was completed, Ted resumed his position as president of the Young Life Foundation, eventually transitioning to a volunteer role with Young Life’s Development department in his final years.

An unabashed advocate for the underdog, Ted had such a heart for hurting kids that he helped create the Campership Legacy Fund. Made up of both current and estate gifts, the fund helps first-time, unreached kids all over the world have an encounter with Jesus through a week at Young Life camp.

When asked about the legacy he’d like to leave, Ted replied,

“I want to give everything I can give. Not just my money, but I want to give myself. I want to encourage you any way I can. I want to invest in this baby. I want to spend myself down to my last whatever I can give. I want to write a big check and I want the last check to bounce!”

James Davis
November 1, 1974 – January 3, 2021

The mission lost one of our best and brightest when James went to be with Jesus. As the first vice president of Africa West, he was an extraordinary leader and friend to those under his care. He faithfully oversaw the work in Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali, Senegal and Liberia.

A visionary, James helped start Young Life in Liberia in 2003 and led his people through the 2015 Ebola crisis. James also sat on the board of trustees at the University of Liberia. Thanks to his influence there are now more than 100 Young Life ministries in Liberia and 1,234 ministries throughout Africa West. James’ personal story is an epic one:

In 1992, 18-year-old James Davis found himself hiding from enemies trying to kill him. A violent civil war was raging in Monrovia, and James had already seen too much. In a moment, James prayed a prayer that changed his life.

“I experienced some terrible things during our civil war,” James said. “Several friends were killed and things went very bad with me. During my hideout, I made a promise to God that if He rescued me during the war, I would work for Him. The Lord answered my prayer, and I committed my life to Him.”

Soon after, James joined a church and, under the direction of an American missionary, started a Joy Club for the kids in his neighborhood. In 2002, James was practicing a skit. His role included a prop — a magazine. As he began to flip through the pages, what he discovered changed his life again. “As I read through the magazine, I came across many youth ministries and what they are involved with around the world, but Young Life caught my heart because it was similar to what I had started with high school and neighborhood kids,” James recalled. “Immediately, I began to pray … that if it was the will of God, I would do all I can to start Young Life in Liberia. After months of interaction and meetings with Steve Larmey, we officially started Young Life in Liberia in 2003.” (Taken from the Young Life Africa website)

Alexis Kwamy, who was promoted to vice president alongside James and Martin Wamalwa, remembered his dear friend. “My heart is broken, but one thing I know is you are being welcomed by angels in heaven, and our Lord Jesus is saying to you, ‘Well done, faithful servant.’ You have led all of us courageously, and we will miss you.”

Development Director for Africa Dyan Larmey recalled a man who lived life to the full. “He was a water-carrying, selfie-taking, drum-playing, leader-making, vision-casting, loud-laughing, family-loving, team-building man of God who relentlessly lived for others. In the 17 years I’ve known him, he was a loyal friend, an advocate for women in leadership, a sacrificial minister of the gospel and a reconciler of racism. He knew how to forgive and be forgiven. He knew how to demonstrate God’s love and be loved. His life brought glory to God and thousands of kids know the hope of Jesus because of his faithfulness. I know Jesus better because of him, too.”

Francis "Steady" Cash
September 18, 1942 – December 29, 2020

Few have epitomized the enthusiasm and encouragement of Steady Cash. His love for Jesus, his family and Young Life were evident throughout his 55 years of involvement with the mission. From serving as a volunteer leader to his strong leadership on the board of trustees, there was no mistaking his passion for Christ and kids.

Steady first encountered Young Life the way many do — through a basketball game. In the mid-’60s while playing a pickup game at the YMCA in Charlotte, North Carolina, he met Mal McSwain, the local area director. As the two became friends, Steady jumped into the ministry.

Alongside his wife of 56 years, Barbara, Steady was involved in just about every level of ministry. They volunteered with kids, chaired the Charlotte committee and served as adult guest hosts at Windy Gap and Frontier Ranch.

In 1989 Young Life’s board of trustees welcomed Steady on as a new member. Over the next 27 years, he served in various capacities, as chair (1998-2000), vice chair (1995-98, 2004-07) and on the search committee (1992-93) that recommended Denny Rydberg as the new president.

An enthusiastic supporter of camping, Steady first stepped onto a Young Life property when he was asked to bring his camera (he had a gift for photography) to document a week at Windy Gap.

“It was unbelievable watching kids get off the bus in one frame of mind and leaving in a totally different one,” Steady said. “It really fired me up, heightened my interest. I am extremely committed to kids meeting Christ at camp.”

Through the years, Steady and Barbara supported the ongoing development of Windy Gap (North Carolina), Rockbridge Alum Springs (Virginia) and Crooked Creek Ranch (Colorado).

The couple’s dedication to Young Life spread to their sons, Chip, Ed and Scott, each of whom has also been involved in the work.

Steady’s passions also included mission growth, especially within our multiethnic work. His dream was for Young Life to have a presence in every school and that every kid who comes to Young Life would meet Christ. He firmly believed “Young Life is one of the best kept secrets among evangelical ministries.” Further, he was convinced the mission was “a gem that should be introduced to many adults in an intentional way.”

Jim Dyson
May 17, 1950 – October 28, 2020

“Jim was a father figure who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
— BeBe Hobson, senior vice president, Focus Ministry and Diversity

These words from Jim Dyson’s best friend echo the sentiments of countless people who continue to walk in Christ years after their time spent in Jim’s club. After a two-year battle with ALS, Jim is now dwelling, pain free, in his Savior’s presence.

Jim came on staff in 1972 in Jacksonville, Florida. The mission was much smaller then, and the urban work (our term for it at the time) was still relatively new. It was in this era Jim began reaching kids like BeBe.

The two met when BeBe was 12 years old. Jim mentored his young friend from middle school through BeBe’s time on staff. Coming from different racial backgrounds, the two grew to love each other and provide what the other lacked.

“Jim would say the one thing he couldn’t be was black,” BeBe said, “so he put me around other black men who could give me what he couldn’t. That’s how I came to understand what inclusion really looked like. When you feel invited and valued, you can come with your whole self and bridge the gap. Jim allowed me to be me.”

In 1998, Jim was named vice president of Multicultural and Urban ministry for the Central Southern Division. Jim articulated the differences he saw between suburban and urban ministry:

“Suburban ministry serves two main functions: to introduce kids to Christ and help them grow in their faith, and to be an adult friend through the adolescent years. In urban ministry, we do the first two, then a third: making sure kids have the assets, skills and attitudes to make it in our society, to hold jobs, go on to college; we work on giving them vision for a future through things like tutorial programs and life-skill building.”

In 2005, he was appointed vice president of Field Ministry in the Eastern Division, a position he held until his retirement in 2014. He and his wife, Amy, served the mission faithfully and sacrificially for 42 years.

“Jim lived out justice, love and inclusion, not perfectly, but beautifully and progressively,” said President Newt Crenshaw. “We have a living legacy of Jim Dyson in this mission; his name is BeBe Hobson. If it weren’t for Jim, BeBe probably wouldn’t be with us. BeBe has persevered in this mission in a way probably few have. As we lament Jim’s loss, I have joy, because BeBe Hobson is still in our midst.”

Young Life Spoken Here

​Young Life Northern Ireland. Est. 2010.

A small country of 1.8 million people situated at the western-most point of Europe, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom but also linked with the Republic of Ireland which lies directly to the south on the same island. The relationship with these two countries led to 30 years of conflict known as the “Troubles.” While ongoing violence ended over two decades ago, the country is still in the process of establishing a peace based on genuine reconciliation.

It’s in this context Young Life appointed Craig Mawhinney to develop the work from scratch in March 2010. Contact work commenced immediately in Bangor (15 miles east of Belfast) which soon resulted in our first club in September 2010. The work has grown steadily since, now consisting of 18 different ministries (including the start of our mission in the Republic of Ireland), and we expect further growth after COVID-19.

Secularization has increased rapidly in the last 15 years and this developing post-Christian reality has afforded us many opportunities to partner with the local church and Christian educators in schools to present Christ to young people and be an integral part of their discipleship journey. We believe the best Young Life in Northern Ireland is yet to be done. Please pray for us as we serve Christ in the years ahead.

By the Numbers
  • 1,401 Kids Known by Name
  • 418 Average Club Attendance
  • 150 Kids in Campaigners
  • 120 Total Volunteers

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

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