By Leslie Strader
Norma Madsen was a “church kid,” not the typical target teenager of Young Life ministry. But a fresh encounter with Christ at Frontier Ranch 54 years ago put her on the path to receiving a real relationship with Jesus, and for the last five decades, she and her husband, Doug, have been giving back to the ministry that has given so much to them.
“Young Life was a breath of fresh air,” said Norma, who went to Frontier Ranch when she was 15 years old. “I met Jesus as if for the first time at camp. There, I heard God’s invitation to be more fully human and fully alive. Since then I discover more every day that the God of my childhood was far too small.”
Currently, the Madsens are in the process of retiring from their construction, real estate development and management business in Madison, Wisc., but the couple will always be full-time servants in the kingdom of God. They met in Young Life’s volunteer leadership training at Wheaton College more than 50 years ago, and have been together ever since.
The Madsens spent the early days of their marriage under the teaching and training of Young Life mentors Marge Stone Petersen, Bill Starr and George Scheffer. “These were formative years of our marriage and ministry,” Norma said. “I will always remember George’s admonition to ‘walk your talk.’”
After graduation, the couple moved to Minneapolis, Minn.. and served as volunteer youth leaders in their church and with Young Life until a job opportunity took them to Wisconsin. There they established a business and started their own family of four children. Life moved along until one day, 15 years later, there was a knock on the door.
“A Young Life regional director named Jack Fortin saw our name on a donor list and drove up to hear our story and find out why we were giving to Young Life,” Norma said. “That was the beginning of a 35-year friendship. He and his wife, Sara, invited us to be partners with them to develop Young Life’s north central division. It was an experience of relational ministry and relational fundraising that was life-changing for us.”
Since then, Norma and Doug have been involved in every aspect of Young Life ministry. From her 14 years of service on the Young Life Board of Trustees to baking cookies and driving kids to club, the Madsens are committed to bringing the love of Christ to teenagers.
“This is a lifetime call,” Norma said. “God’s call to us as donors is as real to us as the staff’s call to full-time ministry.”
As part of that call, the Madsens have established a trust fund with the Young Life Foundation that they hope will help make camp accessible to more teens in the future.
“Our hope for our fund is that it would help make Young Life camps affordable for all kids,” she said. “We hope there could be a national effort to make camp more affordable so all kids can be included.”
As important as giving is to sustaining the mission of Young Life, Norma believes it’s also important to be involved in the lives of those the ministry is reaching. She and Doug live out that belief and hope their example will be their legacy.
“Young Life has shown generations of us how to live relationally with each other and with our Creator,” Norma said. “No matter how many zeros are in your giving, it’s nothing apart from prayer and giving time and attention and Christ’s love to kids, to volunteer leaders who give their time and to Young Life staff who give themselves to this most challenging vocation — managing a mission community of adult volunteers who reach out to kids in authentic friendship so they can hear the Good News.”