Young Life; Breaking down walls, building relationships
Local Christian outreach organization brings teens together
By Meg Ferrante
It’s Young Life club night and as usual, you never know what you’re going to get.
Maybe it’s going to be condiment Twister. Or possibly bobbing for beanie weanies. This week could be flour wars. Or everyone’s favorite, the hermit crab trust walk. (It’s a club thing, you wouldn’t understand…) (Just kidding. For details, read on.)
A few things you know you aren’t going to get. Blaring ring tones. Kids hunched over their cell phones texting. TV and the internet. Judgement.
“You get to be yourself with people who understand who you are and where you are,” said Morgan County High School Senior Lauren Semrad.
“Kids today are always connected. At club, we give them the chance to be in the world, not of it,” said Area Director, Jessica Condit.
“It’s really big for us to try to get them to turn off the iPods and cell phones” and just have fun.
“When I first came, I kinda thought, ‘these people are crazy,’” said Callie Moore, a Morgan County junior. “But it’s great. And I like how it takes your mind away from everything.”
Young Life is an international, non-denominational Christian outreach organization for high school teens. One so successful it has spawned—among other ministries— a group for middle schoolers called WyldLife. Both groups are active in Morgan County and host fun weekly events, annual camps and casual daily social meetings in the hopes of building meaningful and mentoring relationships with teens.
In 1938, Jim Rayburn was a young, Presbyterian youth leader challenged by his minister to reach out to local high school kids.
Rayburn took his relationship-building ideas from Jesus himself. He went among the high schoolers, meeting them, eating with them and inviting them to join him. He hosted a weekly club, with singing, a skit or two and then a simple message about Jesus.
Condit said Rayburn was so successful, Young Life has done little to change the original formula except to build on his accomplishments. That first Texas group has grown worldwide to 19,000 volunteers and 3,100 staff. From one club to 600 ministries—like those for disabled teens and teen moms—in more than 50 countries. “We do whatever it takes to reach kids for Christ,” Condit said, “so we work hard to earn the right to be heard. We meet the kids wherever they are. Our thought is that if you reach out to the furthest kid… the net is going to pull in others on the way.”
The thirteen area volunteer leaders, all students from the University of Georgia, join Condit in going to the schools to eat lunch, hang out at the sporting events and take teens out to breakfast on Thursdays when high school has a late start time. For the most part, the schools support their presence.
“I know it’s hard. We don’t want to interfere with the boundaries,” Condit said. “But they want people in the schools who love and care about kids. And we’re always very open to do something to help the school and give back” in return for their open-door policy. Young Life volunteers work different events, sponsored a recent concert, and put on a conference called “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” as part of the Friends of Morgan County Youth Coalition. They are working to host a “Screen on the Green” family outdoor movie viewing after home football games.
For kids who want to become more involved, club nights are every Monday for high schoolers and every-other Thursday for middle school. Both meet in the activity room of the pole barn behind the Lions Club building.
“Club has been described as ‘controlled chaos,’ ” said Condit. “There’s a funnel effect… we go crazy, we’re really loud, we play outrageous games, we sing songs and we finally start to slow it down and move to a platform where we can speak about our message. The goal is to break down the walls that teens put up and get to a place where we can talk.”
High schoolers might end their meetings with a talk about needs and perceived needs. Or about sin and the cross. Middle school talks are more issue-based; friends, parents, what the bible says about what is going on in their lives. Recently, Condit shared with the high schoolers how Jesus was hesitant to perform his first miracle–turning water to wine at the wedding feast of Cana. She left them with this thought: “What do people ask us to do that we don’t want to… but we do it and it turns into something good?”
Another way for kids to grow in their relationships with their leaders, friends and God is through Young Life camp. Sharp Top Cove in Jasper, Ga., and Windy Gap in Weaverville, N.C. (two of 21 Young Life camps in the nation), aren’t really camps, Condit said. They’re more like resorts with zip lines, lake slides, climbing walls, high ropes courses and incredibly comfortable food and lodging.
“We like to say we’re taking kids out of their environment and giving them the best week of their life,” Condit said. “Kids get to do things that they don’t do every day. And camp is leader-centered – they go with you, they’re there for you, they go home with you and help you live out the shared experience.” Condit said it results in way less homesickness. And if the campers come home and want to make a new or bigger commitment to the Lord, the leaders will be there for them.
Volunteer leaders are the glue that hold the school-club-camp concept together. “There are these college students driving more than 30 minutes each way several times a week to do this, they spend the gas money, it’s a big time commitment… They are the heroes of this ministry. We couldn’t do it without them,” Condit said.
She also credits the community for their support as the area budget is 100 percent locally funded, mostly through churches and families. “God provides and He’s been great,” she said. The annual golf tournament and fundraising dinners also help.
Condit said that Young Life is always looking for teens who are interested in a place to come and laugh, relax, be among friends and learn more about God’s love. “Come and see for yourself. I can explain it until I’m blue in the face, but you have to come and see,” she said.
But head’s up if it’s hermit crab trust walk night. They’re going to lead you to a carpet covered in hermit crabs. They’ll warn you you’ll have to walk carefully around the crabs. Then they’ll take you from the room to blindfold you while half the crowd places the hermit crabs gingerly back in their tank and everyone else covers the floor in Frito corn chips.
You never know what you’re going to get, but it’s likely to be hilarious.