Relationships
Fall 2020

About the cover

We take kids to places they've never dreamed of -- physically and spiritually. T'Anthony, whose story appears in this issue, experienced the majesty of the British Columbia mountains, but more importantly, he encountered the Savior's love through his time in Young Life. Now as a leader, he shares that same love with other kids.

Chief Encouragement Officer

Young Life’s Mission Services supplies field staff with critical business intelligence support, including administration, Human Resources, legal assistance and full-service payroll. One of the most beloved unsung heroes in the Service Center is Eric Cox, a gentle steward of resource and expertise, who for 15 years has assisted field staff with area accounting.

Getting to know him usually begins with a phone call, but few would say it ends there.

“Field Accounts Payable, this is Eric speaking.”

Eric joined Mission Services in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2004, eager to love and encourage the field — a passion that emerged in Yokosuka, Japan, where he and his wife, Barb, had served as missionaries four years earlier.

“He was one of those people you could tell was going to be really relatable for people,” recalled Vicki Thompson, Mission Assistance manager, who first hired Eric. “And that’s what we need — people who can love on and care for our field staff.”

Vicki remembers Eric delivering mail to the Finance department while wearing a large pair of bug-eyed glasses. “That’s so Young Life,” Vicki said. “Where else would you see someone delivering mail with bug-eyed glasses, and everyone in the department coming to love that part of their day?”

Eric soon moved to Accounts Payable where he works for Field Accounting Manager Lori Kiel. “He’s built with integrity,” Lori said, “He has a big heart for serving the mission, which bodes well for serving and supporting the field.”

Early on, his missionary experience in Japan informed his conduct. To care for the field, he had to ask himself, “Can I be that listening ear, coming alongside, and being that source of encouragement?” Call after call, how he chose to answer this question led him forward.

It eventually took him to the Alaskan tundra.

The Last Frontier

The Accounts Payable team divides the states among their members. Eric’s responsibilities included Alaska, which put him in frequent contact with Kim Kopp who worked in the small village of Galena. Somewhere over the course of many conversations about area accounting, Kim confessed she didn’t like coffee.

Inspiration struck. “Every time I drive by a Starbucks,” Eric told her, “I will pray for Galena.”

So began a ritual, lifting the area and its staff in prayer each time he drove past the Starbucks on his way to the office. By the time he arrived in Galena as part of a Young Life Expeditions team in 2015, the staff already knew him quite well — they called him “Mr. Starbucks.”

Jan Beatty, Young Life Expeditions coordinator, organized the trip. “Eric recruited the whole team,” she said. “It was such an honor to be with him and a joy to see him connect with the people in Alaska.”

Field Senior Vice President Brent Cunningham was serving as the Alaska regional director at the time. “Because of his heart for the field,” Brent remembered, “he wanted to be more than someone who served in the cubicle. It’s kind of like he adopted us. And by adopting us, we adopted him. He’s part of the Alaska family.”

Tapping Out Prayer Texts

Already inclined to prayer, Eric wanted to sharpen his discipline. A challenge from his local church compelled him — pray for your pastor on the day of your birthday every month. So Eric did, every month on the 22nd, right alongside his prayer for Galena every time he passed a Starbucks.

He soon wanted to replicate the idea on a grander scale. “I can’t pray for everyone on the 22nd, so what are we going to do? Oh wait, everyone has a birthday.”

Since that time, one of the first questions he asks whenever he meets someone is: what’s ​ ​ your birthday?

“I pray for a heap of people. If I throw down a number, you’re more impressed with a number. It’s not the number to me, it’s ‘am I being faithful?’” Each person receives a short prayer text on the date of their birth, every month. He composes each prayer himself, ​ never copying from another source.

At times, he receives a thank you, or an “oh, I really needed that.”

“I love that we serve a God who is the Master of Logistics,” Eric said. “Cause I have no clue what’s going on in someone’s life when I send these texts. God knows. And He knew it needed to be there at that time.”

The Dark Woods

In March 2017, Eric’s wife, Barb, was diagnosed with cancer. She began chemotherapy the next month — a 12-week session that lasted through August. “They did some bloodwork,” Eric said. “Come to find out, it didn’t do much.”

Halfway through a second round of chemo that December, doctors conducted another blood test. “This was supposed to be the big guns,” Eric said. “It did nothing.”

Round three began the following April.

“Barb worked this whole time,” he remembered. “Very rarely did she stay home. But chemo just drags you down.”

Within a month her kidneys began shutting down and by May 21, Eric had a feeling the end was near. “These next three days were God ordained,” he said. Their daughter, Val — away attending school at Azusa Pacific University — called that morning to check on her mom. “I got a plane ticket,” she told her dad. “I just feel like I need to be there.”

The next day, just before another round of dialysis, Barb pulled Eric aside. “I’m done,” she told him. “I don’t want to do dialysis anymore. I don’t want to take vitals anymore. I am done.”

“I had a year to prepare for this,” he said. “You automatically start thinking, I hope we can beat it. But what if we don’t? I call it ‘going into the dark woods.’”

By the third round of chemo, Eric had begun to consider the inevitable. “I started thinking: Barb knows me really well. I’m a flexible guy, but I like to know what’s going on so I can prepare myself. If Barb knows me this well, and loves me this well, God loves me infinitely more. What if these dark woods are preparing me for what’s coming?”

On the morning of May 23, 2018, Barb left the pain of this world and went to be with her Savior.

In the midst of his sorrow, peace grew from the embrace of the Lord who welcomed Barb home. “When Barb did pass — and of course I can’t explain it,” he said, “because it's the peace that surpasses all understanding — I was totally at peace. I’m still at peace. I totally believe God ​ is sovereign.”

One Year Later

Today, Eric remains a consummate encourager. Every person on his list still receives a prayer text every month, and he continues to add new names. He also volunteers for the local Young Life College ministry in Colorado Springs, and maintains close connection with friends and peers at his church and at the office.

“I’ll be talking to somebody,” Eric said, “and they’ll say this weekend was terrible, I had a flat tire, but look at who I’m talking to.”

“Yes, I lost my spouse, but let’s take that heaviness off the table. Is what I’m going through bringing me closer to God, or away from God? Is your flat tire bringing you closer to God or away from God? That’s the crux of it all.”

As he walks through his grief, he continues to answer the call of service. Every time he sits down at his desk, every time he taps out a prayer on his phone, his faithfulness endures, driven by his devotion to the Master of Logistics.

Young Life Lite

This time for Africa.

Two YoungLives​ moms discover a shared past as African refugees and a shared future as friends.
By Stacy Windahl

Young Life camps love to shine a spotlight on campers. Bringing campers up front at club or on the stage in the dining hall gives them a chance to receive the cheers and applause of leaders and fellow campers. So when the program team at Timber Wolf Lake’s camp week for YoungLives​ learned they’d be welcoming a young mom from Indianapolis, Indiana, who was an African refugee — and who also L-O-V-E-D traditional African dance they knew they had to invite her up to show off some moves. Mutoni was invited to the stage as the sound tech was asked to find some “African music.” The best the tech could find on such short notice was Colombian-born Shakira singing “Waka, Waka (This Time for Africa).” It wasn’t exactly part of Mutoni’s traditional dance repertoire, but the word Africa was in the title, and it did have a good beat.

Undaunted, Mutoni did what she loves to do. She danced. And there was something about Mutoni’s movement that seemed familiar to another young mom watching her. This mom, Rose, had traveled to camp from Grand Rapids, Michigan, but her birthplace was Uganda. Like Mutoni, she was also an African refugee. She recognized that movement. Almost immediately in a customary expression of support, Rose joined Mutoni on the stage and the two of them connected performing Rwandan dance moves to the official 2010 FIFA World Cup anthem.

Rose’s journey to YoungLives​ camp that week had begun years before. She and her family lived in Nakivale, a refugee settlement spanning 71 square miles and home to more than 100,000 refugees in Southwest Uganda. Rose was born there and at 14 she became pregnant by her boyfriend, John. Her unexpected pregnancy had severe ramifications. Rose said, “My dad was very respected. A lot of people looked up to him and so it was very humiliating for him. We couldn’t stay at the refugee camp because I would have ended up having an abortion and my boyfriend would have been locked away.” Rose and John ran away seeking asylum through the United Nations Human Rights Council. For days, they camped outside the UNHRC building until someone listened to their story and helped them get into foster care in Grand Rapids.

Like Rose, Mutoni was born in a refugee camp, but this one in Rwanda. She left the camp at 14 with her parents and brothers, and together they moved to Indianapolis. She became pregnant at 15 after being drugged and sexually assaulted at a wedding, and the identity of her baby’s father is still unknown. Mutoni describes being a teenage mom in a foreign place as lonely. “When I came here, it was really, really difficult to have a baby and go to school at the same time. I love to connect with people. You still want to do the things you used to do.”

And that’s something Rose understands. She speaks five languages because, as she says, “Everywhere I go, I want to be able to talk, so I learn all the languages.” When Rose and Mutoni danced together on the stage that evening, Rose leaned in to ask, “Do you speak Kinyarwanda?” Sure enough, Mutoni did. And so began a friendship, albeit a long-distance one, that continues today.

“It doesn’t happen every day,” said Rose, “to just meet someone and you are friends right away.” Mutoni agreed. Because God knows the language of our heritage and the language of our heart, He answered Mutoni’s cry. “I was feeling lonely. God said, ‘I will send someone to help you, if you feel alone.’” On a stage dancing to “Waka, Waka,” or journeying through motherhood in a place far from home, two YoungLives moms have discovered a friendship and heard about a deeper relationship with God to remind them that they’ve never been — and never will be alone.

From the President

To Protect and Provide.

By Newt Crenshaw

Area Director Lise Green was closing up the South Valley fundraising booth at the Gilroy, California, Garlic Festival on July 28 when a young man with an automatic rifle began spraying the crowd with bullets. Lise heard the shots, hit the ground, then grabbed the high school girl crouched beside her and started running. The two fled into a nearby trailer and huddled with other Young Life volunteers and kids as the horrific scene unfolded. All of Lise’s team physically survived the shooting, and she continues to walk faithfully with adults and kids as they heal from the grief, pain and trauma.

Lise’s first thought as she ran from the gunfire that day was, “Which of these kids has not yet heard about Jesus?” In the urgency of the moment, the calling of her life was crystal clear.

As I travel, I meet men and women daily who remind me of the biblical leaders God raised up to protect and provide for His people, while revealing His redeeming love. Lise reminds me of Queen Esther. God has prepared and placed her in this strategic position “for such a time as this.” I thank God for raising up courageous leaders like Lise.

In San Diego, you will find a wild man on a motorcycle who reminds me of John the Baptist. Randy Giusta has been sharing Christ with kids for almost 50 years, sometimes from a surfboard. Like John the Baptist, you cannot put Randy in a box, but if you could, it would have to be a refrigerator box, because Randy is a big man. Shaking his hand is like gripping a catcher’s mitt, yet you will not meet a gentler soul. Years before we labeled it “WyldLife,” Randy sat in the football stands befriending middle school kids, making a way in the wilderness for Jesus to reach this tender population. A big man with a warm smile sitting by little people who need Jesus. I thank God for raising up leaders like Randy Giusta who create a safe refuge for kids.

In Liberia, God has raised up another leader who reminds me of Joseph, second only to Pharaoh when famine struck Egypt. James Davis, our new vice president of Western Africa, led the Young Life team in Liberia through its own natural disaster, the devastating Ebola outbreak in 2015. James said at the time, “We have lost family members and friends. We’ve lost our Young Life clubs and camps. We’ve lost our schools and our jobs. We’ve lost hope.”

Yet James kept leading and serving others in the midst of searing loss. He and his team made such an impact, they were invited to join the national Ebola Task Force as they gathered survivors together to talk about their needs. When James and his team walked into the meeting hall, 800 survivors began chanting, “Young Life! Young Life!” I thank God for raising up leaders like James who lead us through all-consuming darkness until hope dawns again in Jesus’ name.

Finally, in Central Asia you will find a bright light with a big heart named Zhanna Velilyayeva. Zhanna reminds me of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is a woman who lives the prayer of Mary daily, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be done to me according to your Word.”

Zhanna has faithfully shared Jesus with kids with disabilities for 18 years. Today she is the divisional coordinator for Capernaum in the Former Soviet Union (FSU), and her work is generating growth of non-Capernaum ministry as well. The kindness of Zhanna and her team toward kids with disabilities is bringing about the birth of Jesus in the most unexpected places in the FSU. I thank God for raising up humble servants like Zhanna.

Everywhere you look in Young Life, God is raising up leaders who embody His heart and Spirit. The Psalmist reminds us, “He who watches over you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:3, NIV). Clearly the Lord is wide awake today, protecting and providing for kids everywhere through His servants. Let’s continue to move forward in confidence in this mission, knowing “the Lord will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore.” Thank you for your partnership in Young Life.

Two's Company

By Chris Lassiter

John Fowler’s gray Corolla was loaded with all of the beach trip essentials; tent, grill, hot dogs, football, Frisbees, baseballs and mitts.

“When I go to the beach,” said the volunteer leader John, “I blow it out.”

But this blowout beach trip had hit an apparent snag.

John started receiving messages every Young Life leader dreads: the “sorry I can’t make it” message. By the time John was ready to make the 40-mile trip from Spanish Porch, Alabama, to the beach at Gulf Shores, it was down to one Young Life leader and one kid.

And not only was it one kid, it was Adam*, the quietest kid in the group.

John tried to put the brave “Young Life leader” face on, but he was disappointed.

“I was right on the edge of saying, ‘Hey, let’s just call it off,’” John said. “I was a younger leader, and didn’t realize that maybe this could be a good day.”

If John was unaware that the road trip was a divine appointment, he’d soon learn.

The initial words out of Adam’s mouth completely changed the trajectory of the trip down Highway 59.

“The first thing he said was, ‘I’m glad it’s just you and me.’”

Adam had a big brother who preceded him into the Army. Other than that, no father figure, uncles or grandfather. When he decided not to continue his track career, there wasn’t a coach involved either. He had lots of questions — specifically on dating — he was eager to throw John’s way.

The car ride turned into an incredibly detailed coaching session with John helping Adam plan his first date down to the smallest detail. They planned out vacuuming the car, rehearsing questions the girl’s father might ask, dinner options and appropriate return times.

Once that line of questions was exhausted, John then listened intently as Adam sought out affirmation on his post-high school plans. He had always dreamed of being in the Army.

“The whole day surprised me, and I realized, it was about me and this kid, not how many kids,” John said. “And God was definitely in it.”

What John didn’t know is that he would be one of the mentors walking Adam through the obstacles between him and the Army. It was John who promised the kid that if he gave the military entrance exam just one more try, he could pass it.

Once Adam passed — just as John had predicted — it was John who took him to a late-night steak dinner at the Waffle House. And it was John who helped arrange a going-away party for the soldier, complete with a camouflage cake topped by a plastic Army battle figurine at the local Pizza Hut.

It was also John who took the mini Bible out of the inside sleeve of his volunteer firefighter’s jacket and gave it to the new soldier. It’s the Bible John received a text about years later from Afghanistan.

“Still have the Bible,” the soldier said. “Still reading it.”

Many times since that initial Gulf Shores beach trip John has found himself in one-on-one situations. He now knows to look at them as God-ordained moments.

“Whether it’s a conversation or hanging out,” John said. “The most important thing I can do is be with that kid.”

*name has been changed

Even on a Zoom Call​​

As the team continues ministering through technology in the midst of uncertainty and fear, there​ are so many encouraging kid stories unfolding:

  • Military teens ​are now bringing club into their homes, where their parents are hearing the laughter, getting a snippet from an on-screen Bible study and seeing the positive effects of Club Beyond in their community.
  • Kids who were once too busy to talk, are now available to chat. One particular student who was hard to connect with ended up FaceTiming with Storey for over two hours! One small group leader regularly baked cookies for the girls each week they met. One week she delivered them to each girl’s home with a note saying, “Wait to eat these with me during small group.” That week she had 100% attendance!

Painting parties, “Lunch Bunch,” movie nights and one-on-one conversations have now all gone virtual. Storey recently heard a senior staff person say, “You can take away club, small group and camps, and it would still be Young Life; but if you take contact work, relationships, incarnation or the gospel out, then we cease to be Young Life.”

Storey is now using the virtual world to minister to military teens through relationships, conversations, Bible studies and more, all reinforcing the truth that Jesus is present — even on a Zoom call.

The Ordinary Matters

By Leslie Strader

The mission of Young Life is filled with stories. Some are dramatic and breathtaking, others are intimate and heartbreaking. Whether it’s at camp or in a club room or across the table over coffee, each one is a beautiful picture of God working in kids’ hearts. And nearly every time, His favorite tool is a Young Life leader.

But it’s not the records of the spectacular or impossible that measure ministry success. Equally significant work is done in the day-to-day, where staff and volunteers learn to look past the facades and love the forgotten and the furthest out.

The friendship of Callie Delaney and her leader, Maddie Crawley, staff associate for Grand Rapids Southwest, began just two years ago. But it reminds us why Young Life leaders show up for the ordinary — so their young friends will know where to turn when the weighty and painful circumstances of life overwhelm them.

Young Life started in Callie’s high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a full year before she decided to check it out. She attended a fall weekend and became a regular at club her senior year. It wasn’t long before Maddie — who moved to Grand Rapids to start Young Life at Caledonia High School — became a fixture in Callie’s routine.

Callie said Maddie would show up at her soccer games every week and check in just “to see what I was up to.” The pair started spending a lot of time together.

And Callie was growing in her faith: “I grew up going to church with my family, but I never thought about God outside of church until I started going to Young Life.”

Falling Apart

Two weeks before Callie left for Castaway Club the summer after high school graduation, one of Callie’s close friends passed away. Maddie had been there for Callie in the ordinary, now she would walk with her through tragedy.

“I would ask how she was doing that week at camp, and she’d say, ‘OK,’ but I could tell she wasn’t,” Maddie recalled. “She really struggled with the idea of death in general. We talked about how Jesus saved us through death, but that was painful to her at the time. She would say, ‘I know Jesus died to give us freedom, but this doesn’t feel like freedom. How can His death be freedom for us?’”

Callie described the week as “a week where I felt like I was in a million pieces and they were flying away in a slow motion wind that was completely out of my control. Life seemed full of darkness, but in no way was it lacking in God’s goodness. I laughed with my friends; we zip-lined, swam and had lots of fun. However, there was always the intense sense of hopelessness that kept surfacing in me when things got quiet in the club talks and cabin times.”

Maddie saw her struggle, and she didn’t let her friend wrestle with her doubts alone.

“I felt like all the things I had grown up knowing about God’s love were ripped from me. I could not grasp God’s truths that deep down I knew I believed,” Callie said.

“Maddie sat with me when I had no words. She listened to me talk in circles about all the things that did not make sense. She cried when I couldn't. She didn't leave my side. She reminded me that even though I couldn't see Him, God was still there. She said wise words. She grabbed my hand and held it tightly. While we sat together in the hard times and had the hard conversations, she never let go.”

Putting the Pieces Together

Maddie remembers the last night at camp when the light went on for her friend.

“We were looking at the stars that night, and she said, ‘I finally get it — I understand the freedom He gives me,’” Maddie said. “It was a mature way of experiencing her faith, which is just how she is.

“Relationships like Callie’s are hard when they’re processing hard things, but also very life-giving. [Young Life leaders] have the best job — the growth we get to see, the conversations we get to have. That’s the power of why we do what we do every day.”

Callie said her friendship with Maddie only deepened after camp.

“In the months after camp there were lots of long talks and phone calls and long walks. Day by day, piece by piece, life started to feel a whole lot less hopeless and a whole lot more full of energy and hope and light. I finally felt freedom. Which sounds easier than it was, but through the exuberant breakthroughs and the ever-frequent falls in the process, Maddie helped me get back up again and again. And she never let go.”

Callie is now a sophomore at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, where she is also a WyldLife leader. She said she hopes to have the same kind of impact on her middle school friends that Maddie had on her.

“I try to exemplify the grace and gentleness she showed to me,” Callie said. “I don’t have all the answers, but being someone who cares and listens like Maddie does is important to me.”

Maddie said she’s witnessed a true transformation in Callie’s life in just one year.

“It’s been a year of growth,” she said. “From going to camp completely numb with lots of big questions to having a lot answered through the ministry of Young Life and Jesus. I know she wants her WyldLife girls to experience the same thing.”

What once was a struggle has become a gift of faith, thanks to the work of God in the heart of a teenager and a faithful Young Life leader who has become a lifelong friend.

“The hopelessness I felt is now replaced with trust in God,” Callie said. “I have grown exponentially in ways that I never could have imagined. The past 10 months have been the best months of my life. God is no longer something I know, but Someone I know. And there’s a fire in my chest to chase Him harder and to know Him more.

“Today, I stand boldly in the love of Christ because of my Young Life leader. I am anchored in God's truths because of my Young Life leader. And I am forever changed because of my Young Life leader.”

Known and Wanted

By Jeff Chesemore

The oldest of eight children, T’Anthony (a.k.a. “T”) grew up in a rough neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky, before moving to Lexington, Virginia, when he was 8.

“My mama had me when she was 15,” T said. “My biological father walked out before I was born and I spent so much of my life trying to find a father figure.”

As a high school freshman, T attended his first Young Life club, where he immediately met Steve Rawls, the area director in Rockbridge County, and the man who would figure prominently in his life going forward.

“Steve met me right when I walked in,” T said. “I had never felt more known and wanted. At the time I didn’t feel like I fit in with ‘the Young Life crowd,’ but I wanted to go back because of the way that one man introduced himself to me.”

Over the next two years, T came faithfully to Young Life; a time in which he struggled with issues of identity. Attending a predominantly white high school, he wasn’t sure how to navigate in a world where he encountered racism on the one hand and temptations to prove himself as a young black man on the other.

“I was trying to find approval anywhere I could. I had people telling me I gotta drink and hook up with girls, ‘because that’s what being black is all about.’”

“During sophomore year I walked into a Dollar General store with some friends. One pulled out a gun and tried to rob the store. I took off running because I was scared. One friend got arrested. I realized shortly after that, ‘Man this is not what I’m built for. I’m not trying to live this lifestyle. This is not who I am.’

“After that my friends called me a coward because I ran. So then I just let Young Life pour into me, ’cause there was nothing else. I had lost everything that had given me identity.”

In the midst of this, Steve and another leader, Matt Hypes, just kept showing up. They patiently continued to love on T despite his doubts about God.

“He'd never picked up a Bible in his life,” Steve explained. “When he thought of God, he either rejected His existence (because of the brokenness of his life), or was just angry at a God who would let this happen to him.”

Old Me, New Me

T’s perspective on God took a 180-degree turn at Saranac Village (a Young Life camp in New York) in the summer of 2013.

“I remember talking to Hypes, sitting by the lake,” T said. “He told me God loved me so much and was proud of me. I thought, ‘This is what I’ve been searching for my entire life.’ I had been desperately hoping for someone to tell me those things; now it was coming from the Creator of the universe! I remember looking at the lake, mountains and stars and thinking, ‘This isn’t an accident.’

“I knew this was what I was meant for; I gave my life to Christ, came back home and hit the ground running. The ‘old me’ died at camp. I came home new. Things were still hard, but it was a night-and-day difference. The way I loved my family was different, despite all the brokenness in my home.”

Coming home, T began to “walk the walk”… literally. “After he met Jesus,” Steve said, “T would walk a mile to our house every Monday morning to be at Campaigners by 7.”

The walking soon became hiking. The next summer the 17-year-old joined eight other kids as Steve took them on a week of adventure camping at Young Life’s Beyond Malibu. Definitely out of his element, T struggled the first few days.

“The physical aspect was hard,” Steve said. “In T’s defense, we were climbing a 7,500-foot mountain with 60 pounds of gear on our backs. He began to share with the guys on the trip about an incredibly difficult childhood and his nervousness to come on this trip because he didn't feel like he fit in. I then had the incredible privilege of watching the other boys, who he felt distant from, wrap their arms around him, tell him how much they loved him and how much he inspired them.

“It was grueling,” T admitted, “but there was something about being with those guys that kept pushing me forward. It was one of the first times I really opened up and let people in.”

The trip prepared him for what he couldn’t see coming: T’s mom was moving all the kids back to Louisville because of a dangerous family situation.

“I came home right before my mama left and I would have fallen apart had I not gone to Beyond Malibu.”

Wanting to finish his senior year in Virginia, T stayed put, bouncing around between grandparents, an aunt and friends. Despite an unsettling senior year away from his immediate family, he graduated and set about determining next steps. Steve and his wife, Theresa, walked through the college process with him. Attending school in Lexington or Louisville didn’t seem to offer T the best opportunities to thrive.

Family Pictures

That same summer, Steve and Theresa moved to Chesapeake, Virginia, where he would be the new Young Life area director. Theresa suggested T should come along, live with them and attend college there. T gratefully accepted the offer and lived in a finished room above their garage for a year and a half.

“We took on a lot of support roles in his life,” Steve said, “teaching him how to study at college, how to navigate things. He was even in our family pictures that Christmas!”

“Steve is the closest thing to a father figure I’ve ever had,” T said. “He and Theresa are incredible people; they’ve loved me through anything that could happen to a person. I love them a lot.”

Seeing the change the ministry made in his own life, T became a Young Life volunteer leader in Chesapeake. Since 2016, this young man has led at a school with a heavy multiethnic population and now lives in a house with other leaders in a low-income neighborhood.

“I get to chase after kids who look like me,” T said, “to help kids who struggle with what it’s like to be black, poor, whatever. I share with them the truth that changed my life: Someone loves them and that Someone is the One who created them.”

T’s dream is to one day teach history at a high school in the inner city. “I want to go into the neighborhoods where most people don’t dare to go and remind people there’s hope. They don’t have to be a product of their environment.”

“He’s had a lot of ups and downs in the eight years we’ve known him and his family life has continued to be complicated,” Steve said. “We’ve all learned about the persistence of showing up for the long term; what happens when someone steps into somebody’s life and offers them a vision they didn’t have for themselves.”

But he’s no longer burdened by history — the world’s or his own.

“This faith, this journey is mine now. I’m excited to live in this and chase Christ every day and experience all the things He says about me!”

“I just wanted to say thank you. My son’s name is T'Anthony, he’s 22 and had a rough life but doesn't point fingers or wallow in self-pity, thanks to your program. He began attending Young Life in Lexington, Virginia, as a freshman. He now is a leader in a poorer Young Life area and wouldn’t have it any other way. Young Life saved my baby’s life. I truly believe this to be fact. Thank you isn't enough to express my gratitude.” — Lawren​

Swimming in the Deep End

By Stacy Windahl

It’s hard to imagine a Young Life camp without water. In pools, lakes, an ocean inlet and even white-water rapids, a week at a Young Life camp means water activities. That’s a lot of fun unless you’re an African American kid who can’t swim. A recent USA Swimming Foundation study found that 64% of African American kids cannot swim. That’s more than six in 10 African American kids who likely have, or should have, a fear of water, especially deep water.

That percentage, as high as it is today, was a lot higher in the 1970s when BeBe Hobson, Young Life’s senior vice president of Focus Ministries and Diversity, went to Southwind for the first time. He was only 12, and far too young for a high school camp, but he seemed more mature. BeBe’s uncle who was on part-time staff vouched for him, and given that BeBe’s dad had died of a brain aneurysm just two years earlier, camp leadership allowed him to stay. That’s when BeBe met Jim Dyson, and how a few years later he learned to swim.

Jim was an area director in BeBe’s Largo (Tampa Bay), Florida, area. He and his wife, Amy, were concerned about the number of drownings that occurred every summer, so they made a priority of teaching kids like BeBe how to swim. At that time, BeBe didn’t know many kids who could swim. It wasn’t the norm for African Americans. That made the learning experience all the more frightening. BeBe said Jim taught him “something far outside the box of what I knew or was comfortable with. I had to trust him and the body of water I was swimming in. Jim said he knew I had the ability to learn to swim, and I had to trust that, too.”

That was decades ago, and since then, BeBe and Jim’s relationship has only strengthened. “Jim’s led me into deep water time and time again. He’s been a father figure who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”

Led to Lead

Jim remembers meeting a young BeBe who was a leader, even as a little kid. “His mother believed (and I agreed) that he would always be a leader, one way or another — for good or bad.” BeBe grew toward the former. BeBe was heavily involved in everything Young Life had to offer from club to Campaigners. Outside of that, he was an athlete, a football stand-out in high school with a rushing yards record. When BeBe returned from college, their leader-Campaigner kid relationship became a deeper, peer-to-peer friendship.

As BeBe grew into leadership and went on Young Life staff, Jim mentored him, teaching him the importance of good credit, and how to fundraise. “At one time I raised money with car washes, chicken sandwiches and candy sales,” said BeBe. “Now I raise support sitting across the table from multi-million-dollar philanthropists. Jim taught me that. He taught me how to live and work in a largely white, Anglo ministry of the 1980s and to be who I was.

“Jim would say that the one thing he couldn’t be was black, 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.” BeBe was mentored so well that, eventually, he succeeded his one-time leader as the area director in BeBe’s hometown.

BeBe speaks of Jim with obvious admiration and respect acknowledging he was just one of the many lucky kids Jim drew into his circle of love and care. For BeBe, Jim has been a father figure, a dear friend and his boss as well. When Jim left his area director post to become the vice president of Young Life’s urban ministries in the Southern Division, BeBe replaced him. And BeBe followed again when Jim later assumed responsibility for Young Life’s ministry in the Eastern Division.

BeBe said, “Three times I followed him in leadership. Once I was even his boss. And another time, Jim stepped in for me when I could no longer work.”

“I Thought He Was Going to Die”

Ten years ago, BeBe was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that can attack the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood or brain. In BeBe’s case the disease progressed rapidly and for six months he was on oxygen 24 hours a day. For two years he left the mission and Jim stepped in to serve in BeBe’s absence.

“I thought he was going to die,” recalled Jim. BeBe thought he might, too, but God intervened. BeBe was given a miracle drug that put him and keeps him in remission. Five years ago, when BeBe was strong enough to return to his post, Jim retired. “You know how New Orleans residents refer to life as pre- or post-Katrina? I do the same thing — pre- and post-lupus,” said BeBe. “In those deep, deep waters, Jim never left my side. We still live a mile and a half from each other, and we talk all the time.”

Jim considers himself the lucky one. Through his friendship with BeBe and his heart for urban (now multiethnic) ministry, Jim’s seen God at work. He’s had a “front-row seat to watch the progress made in multiethnic ministry — to see it all unfold.” BeBe’s progression to become Young Life’s most senior leader over diversity completes that picture, one that started with an underaged, fatherless kid who needed to learn how to swim, and a white guy who loved him, and who wanted him to succeed at far more than that.

But as BeBe knows well from his personal experience, the waters don’t always stay calm for us or the people we love. Not long ago, Jim was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a devastating diagnosis. As BeBe said, “It’s likely that yesterday will be the best day Jim is going to have. You know, I used to ask Jim how he was doing. Now I ask, ‘How can I help you?’” These days, Jim can no longer lead the Monday morning Bible study BeBe regularly attended, but the two still partner in a mentorship program for boys at a local elementary school.

And just like the mentor he was and continues to be, BeBe says Jim is showing him how to live in the shadow of a consuming disease, holding on to Jesus as his Savior and strength.

“Jim taught me how to swim in the deep end of the pool and gave me a life skill I’ll never lose. But it’s what he’s taught me about swimming in the deep end of life that’s been life-saving and life-giving for me and for lost kids like I was at 12.” BeBe says he doesn’t know how to navigate the waters that Jim and Amy and all who love him are entering now, “but like always, I know Jim will be by my side to show me how.”

The Great Exchange

By Jeff Chesemore

One of the hallmarks of Young Life is going where kids are, anywhere in the world. But what if one day you discover the world has come to you?

That’s exactly what happened to Brent Simpson, a volunteer leader since 1985; for the last 15 of those years he’s overseen one of the most unique ministries in all of Young Life.

Drop in on the club he leads in Phoenix, Arizona, and you’ll find a room packed with energetic, laughing, inquisitive kids from countries like Brazil, China, France, Italy, Norway, Thailand and Vietnam, just to name a few.

This ministry, designed solely for foreign exchange students visiting the U.S., reaches up to 200 kids during their year in Arizona. Each school year begins with the Young Life Kickoff Party, with exchange students coming out from 12 of the local high schools. As the team prepared for last year’s party they eagerly anticipated the potential of 60 new kids showing up; 140 came through the doors that night.

“Hardly any of the kids know what Young Life is,” said Brent. “They’re leaving their country, coming to the U.S. for a year and looking for adventure. They don’t want to miss out on anything life has to offer, so Young Life is a great thing for these kids.”

I Never Knew ...

“When I think of ‘every kid, everywhere,’ my first thought is of Brent, the most faithful volunteer leader I know,” said Joseph Parisi, who now serves on Young Life staff in Oregon. “Brent has a heart for reaching the ‘furthest out kid who lives in your home.’ Not only has Brent volunteered countless hours, he’s also provided all the financial means of making it possible. My time volunteering with him was a huge part of my decision to join Young Life staff.”

For his part, Brent is very matter-of-fact about starting a ministry to these kids.

“In 2004 I was volunteering at one of the high schools here in Phoenix when I read about another Young Life area hosting an exchange student dinner. We tried it and had about 20 to 25 people show up. We decided to do this every year and try to plug these kids into their various high schools’ Young Life clubs if possible.”

The students showed such excitement for these annual dinners and bonded so well with each other that Brent wondered if he could start Young Life just for them. Convinced this idea could work, he decided to exchange the traditional model of ministering on a team at one high school for this unique opportunity. Brent left the team he was on and recruited a volunteer team to help him care for exchange students.

“There are so many stories from these kids about wanting to know more about Jesus,” Brent said. “Many have not grown up in the church and heard the message; they’ll often come up and say, ‘I never knew there was a God who cared for me.’”

Brent admits the students can be a little challenging to win over at first. “They’re skeptical; they come to this ‘Young Life thing’ and say, ‘We know there’s pizza and there’s fun, but we also know you guys are religious, so what is this?’

“You can even see the surprise on their faces during the first talk when I ask, ‘So why do we talk about God at a fun event like this? How does He fit in?’

“It’s then I explain why we believe God is necessary for a full life. They’re open and want to hear more. We offer them Bibles in their own languages and lots of kids take them.”

Advocates

It’s not just the students Brent and his team have had to win over. The best way to reach exchange students, he explained, is to contact the various exchange organizations through town.

“We would let them know, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this event and we don’t want your students to miss out. We’d love to have them attend.’

“At first some of the organizations were leery, but as soon as their students started coming, they heard rave reviews from the kids. Now the organizations ask us, ‘When are you doing this again?’”

They also turn to Brent and the team when they see their students struggling.

“I actually have exchange student organizations contact me and say, ‘We want you to call these three kids, they’re having a tough time. If you could get them involved in Young Life we’d appreciate it.’ One lady I’ve known for the full 15 years. She’s an atheist and I would assume not excited about the Christian message at this point, but she cares deeply about the students and is one of our biggest advocates. She had me to her house last year and said, ‘I want you to do an event here; I’ve seen the difference Young Life has made.’”

One day this same lady called Brent and asked him to contact Kan, a 15-year-old from Thailand. Attending the Young Life Kickoff Party was a game changer for the young man, Brent said.

“Kan shared with me later that he was about to leave and go back to Thailand because his school was big and impersonal and he felt on the outs. He came to the Young Life party and said, ‘You know, I’m going to stick with it.’ He came from an affluent family and at first he wasn’t interested in the things of God, but later that year he said, ‘Now I know that money is definitely not the key to happiness. I’ve seen God help me; if I hadn’t gone through this hardship I wouldn’t be who I am.”

Look at Me Now!

Kan’s story is not unusual, Brent explained. “I can’t tell you how many kids have told me, ‘I came to America expecting the best year of my life, but I was homesick, my school wasn’t what I thought, I felt like I didn’t fit in with my host family, it was difficult and so disappointing. When I got involved with Young Life, and made these new friends with leaders and kids, it completely turned my year around.’”

Every month Brent and the team hold a major event with kids. Dinners at someone’s house, riding go-carts, going to a movie, road trips and other options provide exchange students with an opportunity to invite other exchange students they know.

They’ve also begun a monthly Saturday breakfast, where 35 to 40 kids come out. “It’s a combination between club and Campaigners where we’ll sit in a circle, go around and have everyone share. Then we’ll play a game or two, and go deeper through the talk. Kids really engage with what we share about the faith.”

Some of those kids go even deeper. Take two friends, Duc (pronounced Duke) and Kent, from Vietnam and China, respectively. Both were drawn to the faith they saw in leaders like Brent and Joseph.

“When I came to Young Life,” Duc said, “I realized how good Brent, Joseph and the other people there are, so I started hanging out with them. They took Kent and me to church and shared the gospel with us. I really appreciate what Joseph and Brent did for me. They represented God to me.

“Before I came to Arizona I didn’t believe in God; I thought He was just ‘a god.’ I didn’t know what He had done for me. Look at me now, I believe in Him!”

Kent echoes his friend’s sentiments. “Before Young Life I didn’t know anything about God; I just respected Christianity as a religion. Since being in Young Life I have seen God reaching out to me, showing His attributes and power. Now, in Young Life, we are like a family.”

Students One and All

Another “student” blessed by this grand adventure is Brent himself, who is receiving a degree in showing himself grace when he can’t go deep with every student. “I’ve learned to relax over the kid we didn’t have a conversation with or the kid we didn’t get to go deep with because he didn’t come out to a lot of things.”

Brent’s discovered that for some kids, the ultimate commitment to Christ doesn’t happen within their exchange year. Take Alex for example. He heard the message, but returned to China without much of a change.

Brent was surprised to see a Facebook message from Alex that summer.

“Alex wrote, ‘Hey, Brent, I’m coming back to LA for my senior year of high school! Is there any Young Life there?’ Later he texted me, ‘I decided I’m going to a Christian school.’ A few months later, ‘I’m liking this school and I’m going on this missions trip with them.’ A little later, ‘Hey, Brent, guess what, I‘ve committed my life to the Lord and I’m following Him now!’

“I felt like I didn’t have any influence on Alex; but now his life has completely changed. I’ve learned I don’t have to worry; God’s in control. I love kids and I’ll tell them the truth when I have the opportunity, but God’s got the rest of it.”

This is evident as well in the experience of Brenda and Adrielly, two students from Brazil who attended club five years ago. They both signed up to attend the fall weekend at Lost Canyon, Young Life’s camp in Williams, Arizona.

“They were the only two girls from our club to go on the weekend and our leaders couldn’t go, so they went with another group,” Brent said. “I was praying, ‘Lord, these two girls barely speak English; they don’t know anybody. Please have Your hand on them.’

“They returned having the weekend of their lives, made great friends with the girls in the cabin and with their broken English they understood enough to meet the Lord! They came back from Brazil to work on summer staff last year and had a great experience!”

During their year here, Brent said, a lot of kids like Brenda and Adrielly go to camp, meet Christ, go back home and get involved in ministry there. Ultimately, this club has become a global receiving-and-sending ministry, and stands as a model of international influence.

“I’ve seen kids all over the world greatly impacted by this volunteer-run area,” Joseph said. “Many of whom returned to their home countries excited to share the gospel with anyone who would listen.”

Brent knows he’s had a front-row seat to what teenagers around the world are enduring. “I’ve been struck by how these kids are dealing with the same brokenness, family issues and temptations that American kids face. It’s a strong reminder that kids all over need the healing touch of Jesus; He’s the One who fixes broken things — and invites us all to follow Him.”

Just Being There

Every American remembers where they were on the morning of September 11, 2001. The terrorist atrocities carried out in New York, Washington, D.C., and rural Pennsylvania brought unspeakable horror and pain to a speechless nation and changed the course of history.

Like any traumatic event, the tragedy caused a stunned world to ask, “Why?” As hard as it was for adults to try and make sense of the senseless, it was even more challenging for kids. They asked the age old questions so many were wondering: “Why would God allow this? Where is He? Why did these innocent people have to die?”

Those living near the attacks, especially those who had lost loved ones, were particularly in need of attention. Like the leaders who had responded to tragedies throughout the previous decades, Young Life staff and volunteers quickly mobilized to care for any and all the Lord would bring their way.

In the Times Square/Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City, leaders began meeting with kids the day of the attacks in a space at a local church. Originally designated to be the area’s club room, the space quickly became a disaster relief area for Ground Zero workers. The next few days were filled with staff and volunteers continuing to do what they do best—being present in the lives of kids.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., leaders also reached out to kids in the aftermath of the attack on the Pentagon. Sam Branham, area director for Central Fairfax, Virginia, wrote in a newsletter that fall:

“On Wednesday, September 12, 50 or so high school students piled into my family room, sat with solemn stares and just wanted to talk about what had happened the day before. I was so impressed with the maturity of these teenagers. When they boiled everything down and reached a final conclusion, it was that people need to know God. They saw Jesus as really the only solution to any of the world’s problems.

In an effort to help kids in New York City and the children of those who died in the attacks, the mission established two funds. The September 11th Camp Scholarship Fund provided camperships to those who lost parents in the attacks, while the Young Life Manhattan Project helped fund new ministry sites in New York City: Times Square/Hell’s Kitchen, Harlem, Union Square, Gramercy Park, and the Upper West Side.

Less than a month after the attacks, on October 7, 2001, the War in Afghanistan began. The mission rolled up its sleeves to once again care for those affected by war. Young Life staff and volunteers continued investing in relationships with former high school kids entering the conflict, while MCYM (Military Community Youth Ministries) staff reached out to kids who were military dependents. This worldwide ministry, which had come to mean so much to so many in the military community, continued to faithfully serve kids both stateside and abroad, as their parents served the nation.

(From Made for This: The Young Life Story, pp. 145-146)

The Mother of Invention

Alongside these two accounts could go numerous examples of Young Life responding in traumatic times, like Hurricane Katrina (and other similar natural disasters), the Ebola crisis in West Africa, and on and on.

The coronavirus pandemic is perhaps the most unique challenge any of us have ever lived through. Staying at home is the correct response, of course, but our hearts long to be with the kids we’re reaching.

So we’re continuing the tradition, but in a nontraditional way. Simply speaking, we’re now going to kids — “from a distance.” Whether it be virtually through modern technology like Zoom meetings, FaceTime and texts, or the good old-fashioned methods of phone calls and handwritten notes, the mission continues to “do Young Life” with every relational means at our ready.​

Kids are still searching for meaning and purpose, and we’re still offering them ways to find The Way. Virtual clubs, Campaigners gatherings and one-on-one conversations are the methods of the day, and until the world is given the “all clear” signal, we will make the best of it.

Throughout our 78-plus years of ministry we continue to believe that, whether in the normal day-to-day or in uncertain times like these, Young Life truly is “made for this.”

A Lifelong Calling

By Emilie Jimenez

In 1975, Bobby Canupp walked into his first Young Life club. His friends, volunteer Young Life leaders at the time, told him he needed to come “check this out.” “OK, I can do that,” he replied. During this first club, he thought, This is crazy … I sure do wish I had something like this when I was in high school! “I always tell leaders that Young Life isn’t just something you decide to do,” Bobby said, “it’s a calling.” Now, 44 years later, Bobby continues to faithfully answer God’s call to build relationships with teenagers and love them exactly as they are.

The Stuff of Legends

“I love my hometown,” he said. “I haven’t found any other place I’d rather live.” Born and raised in Gainesville, Georgia, Bobby has worked at the same job, frequented the same restaurants and led Young Life at the same high school his entire adult life.

“I’ve been here so long, people accuse me of knowing everyone,” he said.

“We all joke that if he ever decides to run for mayor, it would be no contest because he’s known and beloved by so many,” said former Gainesville Area Director Skip Ecke.

Bobby’s steadfastness has made him the “stuff of legends,” said Susan Peterson, Young Life board member and former club kid of Bobby’s from the ’80s. “He is simply a caring adult in our small town who loves the Lord and cares deeply about high school kids. In my memory, Bobby was a leader to ALL kids, no matter what school, background or demographic — he was available and a true friend.”

Bobby has now walked two generations of Gainesville High School families through countless Young Life clubs, Campaigners meetings and camp trips. “I’m a leader now for kids whose parents were in my first club,” he said. Recently, Bobby was having lunch at a restaurant when a former club kid approached him with his family in tow. “I want you to meet the man who introduced me to Jesus,” he told his children. These are the moments that remind Bobby the time he has invested has been worth every minute.

Showing Up

Bobby admits he isn’t the up-front, entertainer type you might associate with many Young Life leaders. “I can’t play the guitar, I can’t sing, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. But I had one area director tell me, ‘Yes, but you do love kids. They can tell when you’re genuine.’”

While you may not find Bobby playing the guitar at club or doing program at camp, you will find this 67-year-old man showing up at Gainesville High School — walking into the lunchroom, sitting in the student section at a football game and frequenting high school plays. “The old definition for commitment as a Young Life leader is going to a JV track meet in the rain,” said Skip. “You’re going to be the only one there. That’s Bobby. He’ll be at that track meet. He’s that kind of guy.”

Learning New Tricks

Leading in the same area for four decades has certainly had challenges, including staff turnover. “I keep thinking this is going to be the last area director I’m going to train,” Bobby laughed. While he’s only joking, he truly has played an important part in equipping the eight area directors he’s seen come and go over the years.

Leanne Kinney, also a former club kid of Bobby’s from the ’80s, said, “As area directors come and go, Bobby is the glue that holds it together. He knows the committee, he knows the kids and he knows the leaders. He models relational ministry and Christlike love.”

Bobby said, “I always tell them you’ve got resources here and you need to use them. Don’t come in thinking you’re by yourself.” But he also realizes he has a lot to learn from each new staff person. “I never want to think that I know better than they do. These new people that come along have a lot to offer. I need to be willing to let them teach an old dog new tricks.”

One of those new tricks is social media. Bobby remembers the days of handmade Young Life club flyers. “I used to draw maps, print off a bunch of them, cut them in half, go to school lunch and pass out my maps,” he said. “That’s how we told kids about club. Now it’s all social media."

Bobby has embraced technology as another way to build relationships with kids. “I never thought I would have adapted. All of a sudden every kid in the world had Myspace and then Facebook and now Instagram.” A few years ago, the area director took some high schoolers on a road trip. One of the high school guys asked Bobby to follow them on Snapchat. “I grabbed my phone and the next thing you know, I had Snapchat on my phone. I don’t think I’ve ever sent a Snap but that app is still on my phone.”

Shifting Roles

From 24-year-old eager leader to 67-year-old faithful follower, Bobby claims he can’t do everything he once did (like climb 14,000-foot mountains). But there’s something special about the many different roles he’s played in teenagers’ lives.

“When we first started as leaders in our 20s, we were the fun older brothers,” Skip explained. “Then we became the dads many guys never had. Now, Bobby is in the role of a grandfather — this fun old man who isn’t ashamed to get a pie in the face. It also makes a statement that following Jesus is not just some fad you do when you’re young. It’s a lifelong commitment to Jesus.”

Inspired by Jim Rayburn’s commission to never stop telling teenagers about Jesus, Bobby has braved all of these seasons with humility and purpose. “Things have changed a lot over the years,” Bobby said, “but one thing that hasn’t changed is that kids still need Jesus.”

This fall, you’ll find Bobby in the same places he’s been for the past 44 years — at Gainesville High School, eating lunch with teenagers, cheering at basketball games, reminding high school kids they’re seen, known and loved by the God of the universe.

“Volunteer leaders need to be prepared to give their lives away,” he said.

And that’s exactly what Bobby is doing. People often ask him how long he’s going to keep leading Young Life. “I don’t know how to answer them,” he said. “It’s something God has called me to do. I think probably when it’s not time for me to do it anymore, He’ll let me know that too.”

Passages

Stan Beard and Chuck Ferguson

Stan Beard
August 18, 1940 – July 15, 2019
By Pam Moore, Director of Training

Iknow there’s much rejoicing as Stan is welcomed into the glory of the Master he served so faithfully, but for the countless lives he impacted here on earth, we’ve lost a great mentor, cheerleader and beloved friend.

Stan served with Young Life from 1965 to 1995 and held several roles, from volunteer leader to Southwestern divisional director to director of Ministry Resources. He worked in places throughout the southwest like Glendale, Arizona; San Diego and Colorado Springs.

One of Stan’s great passions was ministering to middle school kids; he chaired a task force on junior high ministry in 1986 and continued to spur the mission forward in our efforts with this age group. Stan’s other passions included: influencing the family system, relating and working with the church, research/development/implementation and training.

Stan and Marie have been some of my dearest friends since Stan hired me in San Diego in 1979. Stan was always an advocate for women in leadership and I feel humbled to have served under him. He always empowered me, believed in me, gave me opportunities, set me up for success and made me believe in myself. He planted a vision for me to serve in Young Life over the long haul. So much of who I am today has been shaped by Stan and Marie. Everything I learned about Young Life and about incarnational evangelism and witness, I learned from them.

The consummate encourager and eternal optimist, Stan sent me (and countless others) literally hundreds of handwritten notes of affirmation over the years. He started off every year of ministry saying, “This is going to be the best year yet!”

Finally, Stan was also a masterful storyteller. I never tired of hearing him tell the gospel stories. Every time he spoke, I thought, “I want to know Jesus like that!”

Stan, your legacy will live on and I’m grateful to stand on your shoulders. Thank you for always pointing us so clearly to the Savior.

Chuck Ferguson
May 16, 1940 – August 15, 2019
By Jeff Chesemore

Charles “Chuck” Ferguson served the mission of Young Life with gentle humility for 24 years. His footprints can still be found in places like Portland, Oregon; Yakima and Spokane, Washington; Phoenix, Arizona; Vancouver, British Columbia and far beyond. Chuck’s tenure concluded with nine years in the position of president of Young Life Canada.

While working in the U.S. Coast Guard, Chuck responded to the Lord’s call to work with kids. Coming on staff in 1963, he soon ministered in several areas while pioneering the work in others like Kennewick, Washington, and Moscow, Idaho.

Jeff Huber, who shares the same role Chuck once did — regional director in the Inland Region (Washington) — attests to Chuck’s tireless pioneering spirit.

“I’m tending to a garden Chuck helped till and plant. In 1968 he drove every week from Yakima to Walla Walla (130 miles each way) to help a room full of community members who wanted to start Young Life there,” said Jeff. “Some of those same people were there for Chuck’s visit 50 years later to encourage the new committee in their efforts.”

“I was privileged to be a friend and co-laborer with Chuck Ferguson for 52 years,” said Doug Burleigh, former Young Life president. “Perhaps a result of multiple moves and a strong gift of articulating about committed relationships, there were a small handful of folks disappointed or estranged from Chuck. He came and asked if I’d go with him to meet with these friends. On multiple occasions, we sat for hours as he listened and sought to understand. What followed were five words our world too seldom hears, ‘Forgive me. I was wrong.’ It’s a message that continues to speak to me and remind me — take the initiative to reconcile with those I’ve wronged.”

The same principles Chuck used as area director and regional director remained part of his repertoire as he went on to oversee the work in Canada. His love for the Lord and others continued to bless the country long after retiring this post.

“Chuck left a lasting legacy among board members, staff, volunteers and kids,” said Mike O’Leary, the current president of Young Life Canada. “He and his lovely wife, Jan, continued to visit us regularly and gave me great personal encouragement for the cause of Canadian kids hearing about Jesus.”

Chuck married Carol Premo in 1966. After Carol’s death in 2014, Chuck married longtime friend, Jan Kennedy, in 2015 with whom he happily spent his remaining years.​

Young Life Spoken Here

​Young Life Australia. Est. 1972.

Young Life arrived in Australia in the early 1970s when visiting basketball teams from Young Life USA toured Australia’s east coast. These tours gave impetus to local leaders to begin reaching young people with an incarnational approach. Strong ministry hubs were developed in Melbourne and Sydney reaching hundreds of teens each week.

In 2000, Young Life Australia was formed to bring the respective state bodies together under one organization. Glyn Henman was appointed CEO and given the task of growing the mission to reach greater numbers of young people. Young Life Australia’s mission is to build confidence, values and resilience in Australia’s young people through significant relationships with adults who model the love of Jesus Christ.

Today, we have 34 staff and hundreds of trained volunteers who mentor, lead and support young people in an increasing number of areas across Australia. Our leaders have even pioneered and support the work in Belarus, Lithuania and Macedonia. The harvest is plentiful and we pray for workers to join us in this grand endeavor of introducing our young friends to Jesus.

By the Numbers
  • 3,538 Kids Reached
  • 600+ Campers in 2018
  • 188 Total Volunteers
  • 34 Total Staff

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

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