Relationships
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Spring 2022

About the Cover

Throughout our history, we’ve enjoyed the privilege of taking thousands of kids to camp and delight in introducing them to the Lord in the midst of His beautiful creation. Throughout their week, campers like this one at Frontier Ranch enjoy adventures as varied as rappelling, water skiing, mountain biking and parasailing. These activities serve as signposts to a Savior who promises us an abundant life in Him!

Feature

Eighty Years of Camping

By Jeff Chesemore

[Editor’s Note: Some content originally appeared in Made for This: The Young Life Story.)

Young Life officially turned 80 in October 2021 and over these eight decades we’ve learned a lot as a mission, with both the Lord and kids​ teaching us! Our commitment to Christ and kids is as strong as it was in 1941, but our methods still adapt “to win as many as possible.”

This is certainly true in our camping ministry, where we’ve always sought to shape camp to the needs of kids — refining our offerings, schedules and locations to what works best. When plans didn’t succeed — like in the 1940s where we discovered kids don’t want to take naps at camp (go figure!) — we quickly let them go. Conversely, we’ve tried new approaches (like giving kids 20 minutes of silence to ponder all they’ve encountered in their week at camp).

What follows are just a few of these modifications, and how they’ve helped kids better enjoy the greatest week of their lives.

A PLACE MADE JUST FOR THEM

Years before Young Life was incorporated, the founder, Jim Rayburn, was taking ragtag groups of high school guys camping in the Lone Star State …

Jim loved introducing kids to the rugged outdoors, so they could marvel at its beauty and fall in love with the One who created it all. In the early days of the mission, Jim would take several boys out to the East Texas hills, where the camping was primitive. The day’s activities revolved around armadillo and rattlesnake hunts, hiking and sitting by the campfire at night.

Jim dreamed of having a place for kids where he could share about the Savior and His love. His wife, Maxine, recalled a time in 1935 when he said, “Maxie, I have a dream of a real camp for kids. A camp that’ll be so great that when they get out of the bus and they walk onto the camp, they’ll know somebody was thinking about them before they got there.”

From these humble beginnings came the purchase in 1946 of Young Life’s first camp, Star Ranch, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. God answered Jim’s prayer and over the next 76 years countless kids’ lives would be changed during their week at camp.

LEADERSHIP WAS KEY

In the 1950s lessons learned in the local field ministry often made their way to camp. Take for example, leadership. A Young Life leader, explained the mission’s second president Bill Starr, was always a driving force in the life of a kid. He or she led kids “in fun, at mealtimes, into competition, even in music. Leadership needs to take place in all we do. If it’s authentic, kids will follow. As I think back about the ideas that moved me, it wasn’t about being a hot shot with kids. It was the willingness to be vulnerable, to befriend and let the spirit of God do what He wanted. That’s a person who kids remember.”

In most summer camping programs, the “camp counselor” was traditionally someone the kids met upon arriving at camp. In the early days of the mission, when there were very few volunteer leaders to accompany staff to camp, Young Life also used adults and college students as counselors. Relationally, however, the ideal leader for a kid at camp would always be that kid’s leader from back home.

By the late 1950s, as more volunteer leaders joined the work, Young Life turned the corner from camp counselors to homegrown leaders. The same leader who had invited kids to camp, helped them raise money for camp and sat beside them on the bus ride to camp now interacted with them in all the camp activities. It was their leader from back home who helped the kids participate in the activities, articulated the gospel in cabin times and listened as their young friends processed what they were hearing. Best of all, leaders accompanied kids back to their shared hometown where their friendship continued.

DIFFERENT CAMPING MEETS DIFFERENT NEEDS

The 1970s witnessed the advent of wilderness camping in Young Life. Recognizing many kids wanted a more individualistic, natural experience, the mission created adventure camping, where kids could go backpacking, camp in tents, make their own meals and gather under the stars. All this with leaders from home who cared about them and shared with them what it meant to walk with the Savior.

Pushing themselves outside their physical comfort zones paved the way for kids to open themselves up spiritually. Like the 20 minutes of silence in a traditional camp, the peacefulness found atop a mountain or under a sky of infinite stars provided space for receptivity to the Spirit’s dealing in their lives. Having this play out alongside a small band of like-minded explorers also helped instill in kids their need for Christian community.

“My time spent at Pioneer Plunge [the adventure camp in North Carolina],” one Atlanta teen wrote, “was the greatest, most painful, joy-filled, cryingest, laughingest, into-it, out-of-it, concerned, indifferent, lovingest, hatingest time I ever personally spent! In other words, I’d do it again!”

THE DECADE OF CAMPS

By the early ’90s, as the mission exploded in ministries around the country and the globe, camps again filled to capacity. During the decade the mission established six new U.S. camps located in Virginia, Colorado, Georgia, Arizona, Oregon and Michigan.

In 1998 the mission also purchased Pico Escondido in the Dominican Republic, joining La Finca in Nicaragua and Malibu Club in British Columbia as the three international camps owned by Young Life and other international affiliate camps (properties not owned by Young Life) in France, Brazil and the Philippines.

YES, DO HAVE A COW

Since the beginning, Young Life leaders had been taking kids to camp, but nine years ago the mission decided to flip the script! Looking to reach kids who normally couldn’t attend camp due to geographical location or financial challenges, staff came up with the idea of a mobile camping operation. We called it Camp On Wheels or more affectionately, COW.

The idea was to take all the fun supplies we could fit (tents, inflatables, games and more) and load them into a trailer which our staff and volunteers could drive from place to place. Add in food, crazy skits and the good news about Jesus, and kids could enjoy a great camp experience in their own town. First implemented in Central America, Camp On Wheels traveled to more than 22 locations in five Central American countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama) in 2013.

The project has expanded globally and one of the most recent places to host a COW is Ethiopia. In the city of Adama, leaders brought 123 street kids to camp. In the weeks leading up to camp leaders started collecting clothing and when each kid climbed off the bus they were handed new clothes and shoes. After participating in Young Life’s newest Camp On Wheels, 74 of them said “yes” to Jesus.

A SUMMER LIKE NO OTHER … AND BEYOND

In many ways the summer of 2020 was almost a throwback to the days of Jim Rayburn, albeit with the accumulated wisdom of eight decades of camping. Because the pandemic caused the cancellation of our international camping program, local areas made regional or localized plans similar to the way we camp during the school season. Alternative camping became the name of the game, whether that was local “backyard” camps or day camps or small-group adventures. To our knowledge, however, no “armadillo and rattlesnake hunts” took the place of our modern-day programs …

What’s next? The last two years have been challenging to say the least. COVID-19 caused camping numbers to dip in 2020, and it will take time for them to rebound. But we are optimistic and humbled. Just last summer — in the heart of a pandemic! — we opened our first camp in Texas, the state where it all began.

Moving forward, we continue to make improvements upon our existing camps while exploring new locations around the globe, so we can welcome more kids to more places made with them in mind.

While these are certainly beautiful resort locations where kids can laugh, play and be themselves, they are much more. These are, to borrow a Celtic phrase, “thin places” — spaces where heaven and earth meet. For countless kids, a Young Life camp is where they first felt a closeness to Jesus, in whom heaven and earth also meet. This introduction to the Savior changes the trajectories of their lives, thereby changing their friends’ and families’ lives as well.

Only our Lord knows how many people have crossed over from death to life as a result of time spent at a Young Life camp. Only He knows how many more will ultimately join their ranks …

Young Life Lite

Heartbreaker to Milestone Maker

By Stacy Windahl
When the pandemic took away many senior milestones, Young Life leaders made prom possible.

Students, and high school seniors in particular, suffered many losses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among their losses have been the milestones commemorating their transition from adolescence to (near) adulthood. Like a fog, the pandemic settled and obscured the traditional markers of celebration and send-off. Homecomings, senior nights and even graduation ceremonies became virtual experiences. Many were canceled outright.

The fog lifted, at least for one magical night, in Waikoloa Village, Hawaii, in the backyard of Julie Clancy-Simons. Julie, a Young Life leader, met regularly with a group of seniors whom she’d befriended when they were sixth-graders in WyldLife. One day, while the girls hung out on Julie’s patio, she asked what they wanted to do for their last semester. The girls responded, “Maybe a movie night, or a beach outing? Or, Aunty Julie, could we have a prom? Here?”

Julie said she’d think on it. “I felt so bad for them. Prom had been canceled two years in a row. Their entire senior year was happening online.” But how to pull it off? As she made exploratory phone calls, the Lord started opening doors. She contacted a neighbor who is a banquet manager at a local resort and secured their portable dance floor. Julie’s church loaned chairs and café tables. Julie ran into another neighbor known for throwing epic parties, who offered his buffet tables, china and stemware for a sparkling apple cider toast.

Area Director Lane Morikawa borrowed his church’s 20-foot-by-40-foot tent, and planned entertainment. A committee member and a parent of a Young Life alum created an elegant menu. An artist in Julie’s prayer group created a “Young Life Prom 2021” sign to hang on the garage door and welcome guests, and Christmas lights were repurposed to add a twinkle. “The prom became a community project,” said Julie, “just because I asked.”

That April night, 13 Waikoloa seniors arrived in their dresses and suits. Young Life leaders dressed as waiters served beautifully prepared food. Music blasted and guests hit the dance floor to compete in a blindfolded dance contest. When the last two dancers removed their blindfolds, they were crowned prom king and queen. In true Young Life style, leaders dressed as senior citizens interrupted the festivities. In straw hats and aloha shirts with Walmart bags in hand, they asked where they could find the “senior prom,” an event they’d understood was for seniors just like them.

When the time came for a toast, each kid gave a tearful tribute to Julie. In turn, Julie, her husband, Gary, and Keoni, another Waikoloa leader, shared their memories and prayed over the kids. The evening closed with a slideshow capturing seven years of clubs, camps and work crew. Young Life Prom 2021 was complete, and a complete success.

Lane attributes the outpouring of support to Julie and the adults who “wouldn’t let the pandemic steal any more joy from these kids.”

Through the fog of a bewildering school year for Waikoloa’s seniors, Young Life leaders made something crystal clear: God will move heaven and earth, or, when needed, a tent, dance floor and stemware to express His everlasting love for them. No adolescent should move past the milestone of their high school years without being sure of that.

From the President

New Things!

By Newt Crenshaw, Young Life President

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”​ — Isaiah 43:18-19, ESV

As I write this in late February, we are eagerly anticipating the coming of spring, and with it the promise of new life — trees, flowers, grass all reappearing — to the delight of everyone, especially the Father.

He is the One who specializes in doing new things and bringing new life. Throughout Scripture, from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22, He reveals His divine creativity and inventiveness. Consider what He proclaims through the prophet Isaiah:

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19, ESV).

Today I want to celebrate the new works we’ve witnessed over the last five years, a period in which we — inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit — launched a movement called Forward.

With a rallying cry of “In Christ for All Kids,” we have focused on four mission strategies: Deeper in Christ, Together, Innovation and Growth. (For more specifics on the impact of these strategies, please see The Gospel Is On the Move article.)

PRODUCING FRUIT

This has been a time of exciting challenges and opportunities — right in the middle of this movement we encountered the pandemic, which has brought urgency to the word “Forward.”

True to His character, God has proven faithful. He has led us to new ideas and approaches, while helping us stay committed to our mission of “introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith.”

Here are just a few of these new things:

  • Cultivating a culture of belonging
  • Raising up disciples who make disciples
  • Developing Kingdom Leaders
  • Creating new funding models for hard-to-fund ministries
  • Improving trust, transparency and truth in our relationships
  • Forming new camping models to produce a wider reach

I would love to share with you about all of the specific developments we have experienced under Forward, but for the sake of brevity I’ll focus on three.

INTERNATIONAL CAMPING

During Forward, 557,823 kids went to camp outside the United States, and over 195,000 of these kids started following Jesus at camp (this number, in fact, is greatly diminished because of COVID-19). In Africa alone over 328,000 kids went to camp; afterward over 120,000 of them regularly participated in Campaigners, our weekly Bible study. Many will be the disciples who make disciples who then make disciples for generations to come.

WOMEN AND PHILANTHROPY

Women’s Engagement and Philanthropy, an entirely new work in the mission as of 2017, has raised $3 million to help fund various ministries. We have invited women to impact Young Life in innovative ways, primarily through the implementation of giving circles. Since beginning the program, we have held two national Global Giving Circle events, and over 25 local or regional giving circles where women come together, bring same-amount donations, pool these together, and then vote and direct where they want their combined funding to make the most impact in Young Life. This has been a game changer for the mission and for women who are leaning in and ready for more!

INCREASED DISCIPLESHIP RESOURCES

Our volunteer leaders and staff are utilizing several new discipleship resources to engage kids with the Bible. Young Life now has a formal relationship with both The Bible App and The Bible Project. Each of these important ministries have Young Life-specific Bible reading plans, with engaging questions for leaders to use for groups or individual kids throughout a semester. Both partnerships also offer translation services for our global mission. We also have three summer devotionals created for assigned teams, work crew and summer staff across our camps that can be used from year to year. Finally, we have been able to place 107,500 (English and Spanish) Bibles in the hands of kids during Forward, in our continuing efforts to equip kids with the tangible gift of the good news.

SPRINGING AHEAD

In this edition of Relationships, we celebrate the faithfulness of alumni over the years and the rich legacies we have in our camps, while we also rejoice over the new things God is doing in the lives of kids, from Hawaii to Poland to Minnesota to Vietnam to Nicaragua.

As I reflect upon Easter, it seems only appropriate that Passover and the Resurrection both occurred in the spring. Just as God delivered the Hebrews from death so they might experience newness of life, so our Lord Jesus delivered us from death so that we might live as new creations in Him:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV).

This is our prayer for every kid — that they might be new creations in Christ. May this reality happen for millions of young people in the months and years to come.

Here’s to all the new things He’ll do in Young Life … and your life too!

Newt Crenshaw
President/CEO, Young Life

Vignettes from Vietnam

By Heather Motz
"If Jesus cared for those 10 lepers, surely He also loves me."

HEAD HELD HIGH

With his head down, 16-year-old Thuyet walked alone on the streets of his small village near Daklak, Vietnam. He hid his face from passersby so they wouldn’t see his extensive acne and his shame.

Earlier that year, Thuyet quit school and had very few friends to call his own. But he did have one thing that brought him joy — music. Thuyet was a very gifted guitarist learning from his father. Occasionally his dad brought him along to play music for small weddings in town. Lost in the music, the teenager experienced small moments of freedom from his shame and embarrassment.

During one wedding, a Young Life leader sat in the audience and was moved by Thuyet’s beautiful performance. The two started talking that day and became fast friends. Several months after meeting, the leader invited Thuyet to Young Life camp; although nervous, he decided to go. The camp speaker shared the story of the “Ten Lepers” from Luke 17:11-19 and something clicked for Thuyet. He sympathized with the lepers as his own skin condition caused him to isolate and feel unclean. “If Jesus cared for those 10 lepers, surely He also loves me,” thought Thuyet. He decided then and there he wanted to follow Jesus.

After camp, leaders invited Thuyet to grow deeper in his faith through Campaigners. He now holds his head (and face) up high as he continues to learn and grow while sharing his God-given gift of music with his new friends.

NO LONGER ALONE

Houng, 15, worked every day in the grass fields of Daklak. Rising before dawn, she spent the hours between sunrise and noon, then 5 p.m. until sunset, helping her parents grow rice and vegetables while tending to the water buffalo and cows.

In this community where boys can be out of the house freely, girls are expected to stop attending school around the third grade to support their families at home.

Unbeknownst to Houng, in the same remote village two other 15-year-old girls named Em and Mi Quan were living out the same harsh reality. None of the three knew each other, yet their lives were practically identical — each born into poor families, all three incredibly lonely and without hope.

One day a Young Life leader, also by the name of Houng, encountered her namesake as she passed by the field where the teenager was working. The two Houngs struck up a conversation, but the younger feared she would get in trouble with her parents for talking to a stranger.

The next day the leader went to a different field where she met Mi Quan; from that point on, Houng visited each girl daily, and began building friendships with them. Eventually she met Em in the field where she worked and befriended her as well.

Houng asked the girls if they would like to come to Young Life club. The girls were eager to go but knew their parents’ permission was unlikely. The leader approached one girl’s mother and shared about club, asking if she would allow her daughter to have an opportunity to have fun and make friends. The mother said no.

Undeterred, Houng made it a point to visit their homes every day for nearly a year to help with daily chores and tasks. Over time she got to know the families well and vice versa. While building trust, Houng also prayed for these young friends and their families.

A well-respected pastor in the village who was friends with Houng visited the parents and suggested that it would be good for the girls to meet each other and come experience Young Life. A three-day camp was coming up in Daklak — could the girls come to that?

Now that they knew and trusted Houng, the parents were much less hesitant. While they would not allow the girls to be away from home overnight, they did give their blessing for them to attend one full day of camp. Houng and the girls were elated.

During that one day of Young Life camp, the three met each other, and after hearing the gospel, met the Savior as well.

Returning home, the girls didn’t feel they could reveal their decision to follow Christ, but there was no hiding the evidence. “We immediately saw the happiness and a new light in their faces,” the parents said. The girls began to attend club and Houng started a Campaigners group especially for them. Here, the girls asked many questions and grew in their newfound faith.

They’ve since developed a strong bond and are making a difference in their village. With their parents’ blessing, the girls began helping to care for children in the community and are partnering with trusted community leaders to petition the laws around girls and education. It’s their sincere hope to soon go back to school and earn their secondary education diploma.

No longer alone, Em, Mi Quan and Houng have found their place in the family of Christ and their identity as daughters of the King. And who knows? They might find themselves working in “new fields” before too long!

Common Bond | Wspólne Więzi

By Leslie Strader
A Catholic priest builds a bridge between the church in Poland and Young Life.
ENTER THE BARNABAS PROJECT

Father Łukasz Szymański describes his teenage years as “pretty turbulent and far from a life in friendship with God.” He grew up in Poland — which is 93% Catholic — but didn’t have a spiritual upbringing. He knew God was real, but He felt far away.

“It wasn’t until some difficult experiences one day when I called out to Jesus and told Him I wanted Him to guide me and help me change,” Fr. Łukasz said. “That’s exactly what happened. It was a breakthrough moment in my relationship with Him.”

God also gave him a friendship with a trusted, caring adult. “God placed a wonderful priest on my path who helped me build my relationship with Jesus,” Fr. Łukasz said. “He taught me how to be a good leader who guides people toward God.”

Fr. Łukasz’s relationship with Jesus began when he was 13, but he didn’t encounter Young Life until he was a 30-year-old priest serving in west-central Poland. However, once he discovered that Young Life’s mission, his own story and his daily ministry were beautifully aligned in purpose, he never looked back.

BUILDING A BRIDGE

Fr. Łukasz has been walking out relational ministry in his community for years. He serves a parish in Poznań, Poland, devoting most of his time to working with the young people there. He also teaches Catholic religion at the local high school.

In 2016, World Youth Day — an international meeting of the Pope with youth from all over the world — was held in Kraków, Poland. Fr. Łukasz was invited to help organize a service project alongside Catholics connected to Young Life in Poland and in the United States.

“I agreed to help because I wanted to get to know this new, interesting organization,” Fr. Łukasz explained. “After the service project, which was fantastic, I decided to visit the summer camp. By then, I already felt what Young Life was doing was close to my heart and something I was looking for. That’s how another beautiful adventure in my life started and lasts till this day.”

Al Anderson, regional director for Central and Eastern Europe, worked with Fr. Łukasz during the World Youth Day service event. He said the connection with Fr. Łukasz was a turning point for Young Life in Poland.

“Father Łukasz realized something like Young Life is what many young people in Poland needed to connect or reconnect to the church, and he felt Young Life could be a key piece of helping Polish young people take a critical step in their faith journey.”

But Young Life was unknown in Poland and needed special validity from the Catholic Church in order to be accepted in Polish culture and communities. Fr. Łukasz helped the mission overcome suspicions and earn the right to be heard.

“Father Łukasz realized that in order for parents to accept it, it needed to be blessed by leadership in the Roman Catholic Church in Poland,” Anderson explained. “So he worked hard to get us blessed as an approved ecumenical youth work from the archbishop. This paved the way for parents to accept us. The archbishop also asked him to be the spiritual director for the volunteers so they would have clear spiritual direction.

“He helped Young Life in Poland be seen not as a foreign organization, but a Polish organization with American roots. If we didn’t have the blessing from the archbishop and the connection Father Łukasz brings, we wouldn’t be reaching many teenagers in Poland.”

CLOSE TO HOME

God has used Young Life to change not only Fr. Łukasz’s community but his own family as well.

The priest goes to camp every summer and spends time ministering to the staff and serving teenagers who need to take that step of faith, just like he did. Three years ago, he invited his nephew, who was growing up in a home much like his was.

“I wanted him to experience the love of God and promised he would have lots of fun and meet great people,” Fr. Łukasz said. “He liked the trip and the people from the start, but most importantly he found a way to God. His leader played a very important role. They became friends and are in good relationship till this day. Currently he helps in organizing different Young Life events and is doing program at the city camp this year. I’m very proud of him and glad that, thanks to Young Life, he follows Jesus.”

Fr. Łukasz’s outreach to teenagers continues in his own parish in a unique way. After the sacrament of confirmation, many teenagers leave the church, but he tries to make sure this sacred event leads them, instead, to Jesus.

“We try to use this last chance to keep the youth in the church and help them build a relationship with Jesus,” Fr. Łukasz said. “We’ve prepared our own program with curriculum for each meeting, and we train leaders from different parishes to run their meetings based on it. I see huge fruit in this ministry. Some of the youth remain in the church and even decide to get involved in their local parishes.”

Working within the structure of the Catholic Church while adopting the heart of Young Life has transformed a centuries-old ministry in eastern Europe. Fr. Łukasz believes the two share a common mission and that cooperation and unity make the love of Christ shine brighter.

“We do not want to focus only on our differences, but rather see how much we have in common,” Fr. Łukasz said. “We do all we do for Jesus and His name. “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again”​ (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, NIV). We have something wonderful to share with this world — it is the good news — and we can do it together. I believe we can rise above the divisions and Young Life can be the bridge that unites all people.”

Alumni Awards

2021 Service to Young Life Award

By Jonathan Schultz

KRIS AND JEFF JONES

In 1970 Kris, a high school junior, discovered Young Life in Amarillo, Texas, when her parents helped start the Young Life committee there and hired Tom Wilson as their first area director. Kris appreciated Young Life as a place where she could grow closer to Christ and invite friends from school. “Many of my friends had never heard of a personal relationship with Jesus. For me, this was an opportunity to minister to them and it didn’t just change their lives, it positively impacted our school. We held club and Campaigners at my house often; in fact, at times there were so many kids coming we had to open the windows so kids could lean in to hear! One ‘class challenge night,’ we had 600 kids!”

Following graduation in 1971, Kris became a volunteer leader at two high schools in Amarillo, and also served on summer staff at both Silver Cliff and Castaway Club. She finished her education at UT–Austin and volunteered as a Young Life leader. “It was life-giving to share Christ with high school kids, especially alongside so many godly college friends!”

Meanwhile, Jeff was a Memphis, Tennessee, high school kid attending club. At a Young Life ski camp, gospel seeds were planted, but it wasn’t until he attended the University of Tennessee that he began following Jesus. It was the quality of the Young Life staff and leaders that really impressed him and led him to become a Young Life leader during his junior and senior years.

The two met when Kris was sent to UT–Knoxville by Campus Crusade for Christ, where she was on staff. They eventually married in 1983, and a year later, Kris became Knoxville Young Life’s area secretary for Steve Chesney. In 1985 she left staff to have their first child, but Kris and Jeff immediately joined the local committee — the first of 36 years they would serve on committee.

In the words of Knoxville, Tennessee, committee chair Chris Boyer, “Kris and Jeff have been an example of exceptional and unselfish dedication to Knoxville Young Life for nearly 40 years in various roles. They’ve been Young Life leaders, committee members, banquet chairs, led countless small groups for leaders, team parents, donors, faithful prayer warriors and hosted many functions.” Jeff also initiated the annual Knoxville Young Life clay shoot fundraiser, an event that has greatly benefited the area’s financial need, raising $23,000 in campership funds in 2021.

Jeff and Kris are quick to point out, “We have received so much more than we have given! Young Life is a place that God is moving and working, the joy has been ours. We’ve been so inspired by leaders and staff and all the kids involved. Over the years, we also got to see the beginning of Capernaum ministry, YoungLives​ and Urban Young Life [more recently named Multiethnic], which have all been so awesome for Knoxville!”

2021 Distinguished Young Life Alumni Award

By Jonathan Schultz

MARK AND KATE RODRIGUEZ

In Mark Rodriguez’s freshman year at St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, Arizona, his best friend, Orbi Gonzales, offered to introduce Mark to a certain girl if he would attend Young Life. Mark ended up attending club throughout high school, going to Woodleaf in 1975, where he began following Jesus. “Young Life helped me to live a faith-based life. I basically grew up through the mission.” Following school, Mark volunteered at Apollo High School, leading Young Life and coaching football alongside Orbi as a way of “earning the right to be heard.”

Meanwhile, Kate moved to Glendale in April of her sophomore year. Kate admits it was a hard transition, and the best thing that happened was “meeting my best friend (for life) Mary Z.” It was through Mary that Kate eventually met Mark, and the two were wed in 1985.

The newlyweds joined the Glendale Young Life committee, where they hosted gatherings and Kate, not having had a lot of involvement with the mission remembers, “We always had Orbi and his leaders and kids coming over to our house. I was raised Catholic and knew Christ; seeing leaders pour into the lives of kids and seeing teenagers being transformed by the love of God showed me how Jesus impacted people at a more personal level; I soaked it up.”

In 1989, the Rodriguezes transitioned to Yuma due to the family business operations. Mark’s father, Joe, began the business in 1950 focusing on custom produce harvesting. “The Growers Company” is “a company established on the premise of serving the customer’s needs while providing fair, equitable and opportunistic employment for all workers.” The business has grown to include over 4,000 employees throughout Arizona, Nevada and California.

Upon moving to Yuma, Mark and Kate introduced the community to Young Life, while Mark continued to serve on the Glendale committee. During this season, they helped create Lost Canyon and launched the Yuma Young Life area in 1997. After a visit to Yuma in 1998, President Denny Rydberg asked the couple to join the Young Life Board of Trustees, a role they continue to serve in 24 years later. Mark has served as committee chair for Yuma Young Life since its start.

Young Life Chief Foundation Officer Marty Caldwell said, “I have known Mark since the late 1970s and Kate almost as long. They are both ‘enthusiastic encouragers’ of people. Mark is the kind of partner who says yes before the question is asked when it pertains to helping Young Life grow and flourish. He wants lost kids to be loved and introduced to Jesus.”

“I don’t know of anything more rewarding,” said Mark. “The people involved at ALL levels of Young Life are some of the best people I have known. The stories over the years of young people’s trials, tribulations and redemption are none that I’ve heard elsewhere. Young Life works! It’s worked since 1941! And it still works in 2022!”

The Gospel Is On the Move

It often doesn’t feel this way, however. If you just watched the news or read the comment sections on social media, you could be forgiven for wondering how the gospel fits. How God fits. In the U.S., we feel as polarized as ever in living memory. Around the world, we’re still reeling from a global pandemic.

But the gospel — the good news that Jesus the Messiah reigns as King — has always been a subversive message. While He walked the earth, Jesus compared His Kingdom to seeds planted in the ground, which grow without our knowing how. He also said the Kingdom is like yeast mixed into dough — permeating in ways we cannot see, but producing great growth. And while crowds gathered from all over to listen to Him, Jesus was neither flashy, nor self-promoting; He never wrote a book or broadcast Himself.

We must not forget that the gospel was established by a Jewish carpenter from a backwater town at the edge of the Roman Empire. From this humble beginning, the good news has spread slowly but surely, resonating for 2,000 years.

In Young Life, we echoed this good news by launching our Forward movement, proclaiming in 2017: the gospel is on the move. Forward brought together the best of what we believed Jesus was calling us to do:

GO DEEPER WITH KIDS.We’ve worked this out by meeting kids in the spaces they inhabit, especially online.

GO TOGETHER.We recognize that we model belonging. The more our staff reflects the diverse Kingdom, the better kids can see how they can belong.

INNOVATE.We’ve been agile and quick to find new ways to reach kids, hold events and respond to a global pandemic that shifted our world in a matter of weeks.

GROW.​ We have put the infrastructure in place to keep reaching more kids with the gospel.

While the headlines may not draw our attention to the gospel, it’s there. We’ve had a frontline seat to this good news for the last 80 years, and perhaps even more poignantly, over the last five. The gospel is indeed on the move, because our God is on the move. This remains as true today, as it did five years ago, as it did 2,000 years ago when Jesus began traveling around Galilee with a message that would change the world.

DEEPER

  • Digital discipleship resources at DISCIPLESHIP.YOUNGLIFE.ORG.
  • THE JOHN PROJECT, a guide to learning God’s word, available on Amazon.
  • Average of 89,174 KIDS IN BIBLE STUDY​ (Campaigners) every week.

TOGETHER

  • 84% GROWTH OF STAFF OUTSIDE THE U.S.​ from 2016 to 2021.
  • 52% INCREASE​ in U.S. STAFF OF COLOR​ from 2016 to 2021.
  • 68% INCREASE​ in WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP​ positions from 2016 to 2021.
  • More kids who see people like them modeling what it looks like to follow Jesus.

INNOVATE

  • Camping programs in 2020 and 2021 SWITCHED to LOCAL CAMPING, cohorts, shortened camp weeks – and THOUSANDS OF KIDS MEETING JESUS.
  • Additional DIGITAL TRAINING FOR STAFF.
  • THOUSANDS OF HOURS​ spent online or outside, connecting with young people in any way we know how.

GROW

  • LARGEST SUB-SAHARAN MINISTRY​ in Africa serving orphans and children from Muslim households.
  • NEW CAMPS​ in ARMENIA and THE U.S.
  • 184,000 KIDS​ IN CLUB every week.
  • OVER ONE MILLION KIDS​ ​ known by name.

Passages: Loveta Sewell Price

February 15, 1923 – November 4, 2021
By Jeff Chesemore

The first Young Life club kid to meet Christ under Founder Jim Rayburn’s leadership, Loveta Sewell Price set many precedents alongside her husband, Add. Her gracious spirit and love for Jesus and kids have influenced countless lives for eternity.

Gainesville, Texas, the birthplace of Loveta Murphy, would also become the birthplace of Young Life, when Jim Rayburn began ministry there in 1939. Loveta attended her first club during her junior year, and having grown up in the church, Loveta remembered hearing the gospel afresh during Jim’s club talks.

“I was captured almost immediately by his message. It was the Bible presented in a way I had never heard before. It was a gift he had of making the story come alive. For the first time, I heard not only about God’s love, but also about His grace, which was not talked about very much.”

You can find references to Loveta in several of Jim’s diary entries. In one such entry in 1940, Jim wrote of Loveta’s conversion:

Saturday, April 7 (Gainesville)

“ … Felix (Parsons) and Loveta Murphy gave their lives to the Lord in complete surrender — an amazing and beautiful demonstration of the Grace of God.”

Loveta served as the president of the Gainesville club her senior year. Around this time she met Add Sewell, who worked alongside Jim as one of the first five Young Life staff. The two quickly hit it off, and on October 20, 1941 (four days after Young Life was officially incorporated in the state of Texas). Add and Loveta married. The man who officiated their wedding? Yes, Jim Rayburn.

From there the “first couple” of Young Life went on to pioneer so many of the fixtures we now take for granted.

Add stumbled upon the biblical concept of “contact work,” the simple but demanding practice of going where kids are, befriending them and sharing his life with them. He and Loveta built relationships with kids (and adults) in this way first in Tyler, Texas, and then in every other move they subsequently made.

Other firsts for the couple include:

  • Opening the Young Life Chicago office in 1944.
  • Helping develop the Young Life Fellowship at Wheaton, a training program for staff and volunteers.
  • Being instrumental in starting Young Life in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Helping Young Life acquire Malibu in 1953.

Add passed away in 2009, and in 2015 Loveta married her second husband, Andrew Price Jr. The 92-year-olds enjoyed six years of marital bliss together before Loveta’s homecoming. Loveta is survived by Andrew, her son, Steve, and his family. She was preceded in death by Add and daughters Julie and Jan.

We celebrate Loveta for her unique place in the mission’s history; for not only being the first club kid to begin a relationship with Jesus, but also for sharing the good news with countless other kids who yearned to know the Savior.

Young Life Spoken Here

​Young Life's Mission in Nicaragua. Est. 1988.

In the midst of a civil war that spanned the 1980s in Nicaragua, Jim and Sarah Hornsby moved from the U.S. to this small country in Central America. They initially started building homes, but as they asked locals what the greatest need was, they heard about the youth of Nicaragua who had nothing to do and little hope. With their background in Young Life, the Hornsbys knew just what to do. They began the work in Matagalpa, a small mountain city in the north, by forming baseball leagues for kids in the neighborhoods. By 1992, they found a property in the mountains and began developing a Young Life camp, La Finca, which is now also where 41&Change coffee is grown.

Nicaragua is the largest country by land mass in the isthmus of Central America; even so it’s only the size of New York State and, with a population of 6.6 million, is comparable to Indiana. Over the last 34 years, ministry has grown exponentially and now consists of 147 clubs throughout the country. Rosa Baca leads the ministry in the North and Sabony Rizo in the South. Their goal is to have a Young Life presence in every department (province) by 2025 — just four more to go!

Young Life in Nicaragua has consistently been propelled by the work of missionaries — initially the Hornsbys and others coming from the United States and then later by Nicaraguan leaders who were sent out to the next neighborhood, the next town and even surrounding countries. Please join us in praying as we reach “the next kid.”

BY THE NUMBERS:
  • 11,040 Kids Known by Name
  • 2,712 Average Club Attendance
  • 692 Kids in Discipleship
  • 515 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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