Interviews with Young Life Leaders

The following is an extended version of the article "Setting the Example" in the Fall 2011 issue of Relationships magazine .

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”
— 1 Timothy 4:12, NIV

In the last issue of Relationships we focused on leaders who have served for decades in Young Life and the wisdom they’ve received from their years of ministry. In the conclusion of our two-part look at leaders in the mission, we focus on the younger contingent and the powerful insights they bring. Just as the apostle Paul saw the integrity and leadership in Timothy’s life and how it could influence those around him, we’re blessed with thousands of younger staff and leaders who, through their exemplary witness, inspire kids, other leaders and the supporters in their communities every day.

This article is the second in a two-part series focusing on leadership in the mission.


Aldo Felix, Santiago, Dominican Republic
Training Director, Young Life and Developing Global Leaders program

Describe the world of kids you work with.
The world of kids I work with is relatively small. They have very few choices and many don’t attend school because they have to work to help bring in money to support the family. The majority of kids live with their mother or grandmother; many have never met their father and don’t want to know about him. Many sell and consume drugs, but are still very concerned about what they’ll eat the next day. They worry about their safety, and some worry about going to jail or being killed. They need love, support, education, understanding and solutions. They respond when they’re not judged for their situation, and they’re just looking for someone to truly listen to them. They’re hurting deeply on the inside, but respond when you show interest in what they do.

What joys have you experienced in your first few years with Young Life?
Having the opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a BIG reason to rejoice. I enjoy the sense of family I’ve found at Young Life meetings. I really love Young Life camp; it’s there I’ve experienced the most profound joy. I love listening and observing the kids when they arrive at camp so I can compare it to what they say at the Say-So on the last day. I can’t hold back the tears when I hear what Jesus has done in their life. The most recent experience was at training camp this past April. I was listening to my 14-year-old brother saying that he loved God and wanted to share the good news with his friends.

What’s your greatest desire for the ministry?
My greatest desire for the ministry is that every kid in the Dominican Republic have the opportunity to hear about Jesus and make a decision to follow Him, and eventually through that, impact the Caribbean, the continent, the world.

What has surprised you in working with kids?
There are always surprises working with youth; they are full of energy, they have the desire to be recognized in front of their friends. The thing that surprises me the most so far, is the hidden life story behind every kid. They are eager to find someone who will listen to what they have to say. They love to have someone who will sit down, give them the time of day and listen to their story.

What is your most difficult challenge at this point?
My most difficult challenge at this point is growing the Developing Global Leaders program in the Dominican. I want the students to be trained to be good Young Life leaders but also great students, and eventually great professionals as well as great parents to their future families. I want the program to make an impact on their lives, so they in turn can impact other lives for Jesus. It has been hard to find a balance for these students, and therefore we are looking into ways to develop this more.

What unique opportunities/challenges do you encounter in your ministry?
The ministry has given me the opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus in a fun way. We have the opportunity to invest long term in the lives of many kids. Some of the challenges I encounter in my ministry is that things do not always go as planned, we don’t always have the number of volunteers we need, and often times we don’t have all the funds needed to bring our ministry to the next level.

Any other thoughts?
I love God, love my wife, love my ministry and love kids. Thank you for this opportunity to share with you!


Tameka Richardson, Largo, Fla.
Area Director, Urban Young Life and WyldLife

Describe the world of kids you work with.
A majority of the kids I work with are African-American, unchurched kids. These kids struggle with identifying their worth, purpose and their own identity in life. The kids I work with deal with self-esteem issues, lack of positive male role models, abandonment, abuse, poverty, lack of discipline … and the list can go on and on. They have become so encapsulated with the media and technology that they’ve been able to mask these issues behind materialism and social networking to develop their identity.

What is your most difficult challenge at this point?
Being single in ministry, it can become so easy to dominate my time with doing Young Life stuff. Therefore, it can be a challenge, and I have to be very intentional to develop a healthy balance between Young Life and non-Young Life related activities.

What joys have you experienced in your first few years with Young Life?
I have actually been involved with Young Life over the last seven years in some capacity whether as a volunteer leader, student staff, staff associate and now as an area director. I’ve also been very fortunate to have worked within the same Young Life area during that time, until my recent move to Largo. It’s been an incredible experience to see kids today whom I began building relationships with and ministering to when they were in the sixth-grade. At first, they had no aspirations or hope for reaching their God-given potential. Since then, they’ve not only grown in their love and relationship with Christ over the years, but also developed skills, assets and goals that will influence their future as they graduate from high school. Within my first few years with Young Life, I have also had the great opportunity to work in a region that truly uplifts women through encouragement, mentorship and leadership opportunities. It’s especially enriching for a woman in ministry to feel valued and be offered roles within the ministry where women typically are not seen. Being afforded a variety of opportunities within the region has allowed me to grow as a woman of Christ, which has given me so much joy and continues to fuel my passion for doing ministry

What has surprised you in working with kids?
Their overwhelming desire to not only feel wanted but most importantly loved.

What is your greatest desire for the ministry?
I would love to not only see the ministry continue to uphold the mission and vision of Young Life but to also recognize and incorporate initiatives through club, camp and Campaigners that allows for holistic ministry to take place within an adolescent’s life.

What unique opportunities/challenges do you encounter in your ministry?
In my ministry I encounter many kids who are dealing with fatherlessness, who live in one-parent/guardian households, who lack vision or goals for their future, and who have a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Many of these kids do not see beyond their immediate surroundings and consequently have developed a “stuck” outlook on life.


Justin Ryder, Chesapeake, Va.
Young Life, WyldLife, Young Lives and Capernaum

What is your greatest desire for the ministry?
To see students become fishers of people and thoroughly enjoy, rely on, go to and trust Jesus for everything they need to succeed in that mission. My greatest desire is that they’d approach club ministry in their school with a heart to teach others to fish for people and this attitude would become the “norm” for a disciple of Christ in Chesapeake.

Describe the world of kids you work with.
I’ve heard multiple times this year that “kids these days have it easy.” It may seem like the world is handed to them, but I disagree. I think growing up today is a battle of being pulled in 1,000 directions at once, and that can be very dangerous for one’s soul. Many students I work with are that way. Their days are completely full with school, clubs, assignments and practices; there are pressures from every side to give of their time and energy. More than ever, I see students spread thin. It seems many times they don’t have time to stop and consider the most important things in life, or the important things become just another thing that fills up their schedule.

What has surprised you in working with kids?
I am always surprised and encouraged when I see seeds planted long ago in students’s hearts and minds come to fruition. I forget that this happens, and love to be surprised. Sometimes I only look at what’s directly right in front of me or how a student is doing on this certain day, and get discouraged. Then SURPRISE, a person who heard the Gospel two years ago at Hardee’s over breakfast and has missed every third club since comes to life before my eyes! It’s a surprise that always leads to praise, and reminds me that God finishes what He starts. It’s easy to be discouraged and expect a lot from students, so I’m surprised when they surpass my expectations and dreams for their walks with Jesus.

What have been the joys you’ve experienced in your first few years with Young Life?
The greatest moments of my time on staff, and of my life, have been when the triumphs/failures of trying hard to do “biblical Jesus-soaked ministry” have pushed me into Lordship with Jesus. Those moments are the definition of joy to me, when Jesus becomes everything I need and everything I want, and I feel a fountain coming alive in my heart. Those moments have been so satisfying and so worth pressing on.

What is your most difficult challenge at this point?
Right now, my greatest challenge is to get parents and adults from the point of interest and curiosity for the mission to the point of service and sacrifice for the sake of Jesus and what He is doing in our city.

What unique opportunities/challenges do you encounter in your ministry?
Chesapeake is an area that sends students to many colleges in Virginia. I believe we have been blessed with a special opportunity to train leaders and then see them take risks in other areas as they fill the leadership pipeline. I consider that a privilege and great opportunity. A challenge we face is recruiting, training and deploying leaders in an area that doesn’t have a significant opportunity to pull from a college.

Any other thoughts?
I’m dedicated to sacrificing and pressing on in this mission more than ever. My heart cries out on a daily basis: PRESS ON. God has done a lot in [my wife] Libby and me this year, and we’re more focused than ever before, because we long to help students. I love the opportunity to encourage our mission to keep helping people! As many as possible! This past year, when Libby was sick with cancer, hospital bills piling up and distractions galore, the thought crossed my mind: What if we have to quit? What if we spend the next six months at a treatment center? What if we’re taken out of this? Because that was not His will, every opportunity up at the school feels like a gift, every meeting with a student a God-breathed chance to love Jesus and help people. It taught us to rejoice in this great gift we’ve been given: The chance to do Young Life ministry. We’re praying for everyone — Press on!


Rich Youngman, Hoddesdon, UK
Area Director, Young Life

Describe the world of kids you work with.
Their lives center around school and the relationships built there; friendship circles are very important to them. They tend to be very busy with lots of different activities, clubs and sports. They have a huge range of choices and opportunities available to them, accentuated by being very close to London. We work with a very diverse socioeconomic range. Many kids we work with have plenty of money, while others have very little. Equally, family life can be very stable or very fractured. Very few have any experience or knowledge of Christianity, though many would say they’re Christian because they’re English, or their parents went to church when they were small. As a result, I think life can be quite confusing and changeable, so they have a great need for, and respond well to, a welcoming, accepting and stable environment where they can be themselves and loved for who they are.

What joys have you experienced in your first few years with Young Life?
Although it would seem obvious, without a doubt it’s been building relationships with some truly amazing young people and adults in the area. I’ve loved watching young people start to walk with God and then learn more about Him from what they’re experiencing. In addition, watching God’s amazing, gracious and always perfectly timed provision of all we’ve needed has been incredibly humbling; from His provision of money and practical gifts, to exactly the right people we have needed at just the right time.

What’s your most difficult challenge at this point?
It’s developing strategies for church integration of the young people who come to faith through Young Life. Many churches we work with have no teenagers at all and the majority of the young people we work with have no experience of church. This means we’re trying to bridge the cultural gaps in both directions to ensure the young people have the support and communities needed to become lifelong disciples of Christ.

What has surprised you in working with kids?
I seem to be continually amazed at the character, gifts and generally incredible individuals they are. Their capacity for fun, adventure and love has been an incredible witness to what God has put inside of each one of them. Unfortunately, it has also been surprising and very sad to learn of all that some of the young people that we work with have had to endure by the age of 15, 16.

What is your greatest desire for the ministry?
That it would radically transform the churches of the area into ones filled with teenagers who are passionate about continuing to reach out to the communities around them.

What unique opportunities/challenges do you encounter in your ministry?
The unique opportunity we have is the opportunity to powerfully impact the young people of the two towns we minister to for the kingdom of God. This is unique because we are the only Christian organization or group seeking to work with teenagers in our area, while at the same time we are providing some of the most vibrant and effective youth work of any agency in our area, Christian or secular. Unfortunately, only 1.5 percent of the 3,200 teenagers in our area are linked to a local church. As a result, there is a great need to address and we have limited leaders and resources at this point to do so. Thankfully, we have a big God.


Bekah Sanchez, Fort Hood, Texas
Staff Associate, Young Life Military - Club Beyond

What’s surprised you in working with kids?
The thing that surprised me the most is how unbelievably strong they are. We have students who throughout this last year have been experiencing the fifth year of their life where one of their parents is deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. During these times, they not only work to hold their families together, but to support their friends going through the same thing. They are kids whose whole life centers on humbly sacrificing their will for the good of our nation and the good of others.

Describe the world of kids you work with.
Our kids spend their time doing normal things like attending school and being with their friends. The only difference is that while engaging in these activities, many have the awareness that their father or mother is in the middle of a war. They work hard to be kids while at the same time working to hold their families together. They have their friends for support, but on average are called to leave those friends to go to a new duty station every one to three years. In this world of the military, the only constant is change. Throughout our community, death and suffering are never far from our minds. At any given time, half of our families are in the middle of a deployment and though for many people throughout our nation it seems as if the war is over or has died down, for our students the war has never let up. There are people still being injured and dying and our kids are well aware of that. What do they need? Jesus! They need to know there’s a loving God who’ll never leave them. That even though all their friends leave over and over and their parent leaves time and time again, God will never leave! And that no matter how close they get to Him and how vulnerable they are with Him, they will not have to say goodbye like they do with everyone else they love. There’s a constant firm foundation in military life and that foundation is Jesus!

What joys have you experienced in your first few years with Young Life?
My greatest joy the last couple of years has been realizing how many people throughout this community really have the desire to link arms and fight for these kids. I think coming into ministry it’s easy to think you are one person on a mission against the world, but God has made it completely clear to me that we’ve all been given specific gifts and He brings us together as teams, as the church, as Young Life areas to make up His body and be His hands and feet. We’re not alone in this battle for these kids. God provides people around us to encourage us, grow with us and share in the joy of seeing the lost become found.

What is your most difficult challenge at this point?
The most difficult challenge thus far has been making my time with the Lord sacred. Being in ministry, it can be very easy to substitute doing things for God for actually spending time with God. There will always be one more hurting person and another need to be met, but there is great value in being able to discern which needs God is actually calling me to fulfill versus calling someone else. It has become obvious to me that apart from God I can do nothing. I can work all day long for God, but unless it is Him working through me, then there is no kingdom value and I am working out of myself and without the power of God behind me. It is very easy to work out of myself, but it only leads to complete exhaustion and fatigue both physically and spiritually.

What is your greatest desire for the ministry?
My greatest desire is to provide an environment where these students are being fed real spiritual food. I believe that when God is present somewhere, people can feel it and those who are seeking are drawn to it. I pray we would be a place of restoration and healing, not only for these kids who are experiencing the pains and hurts of war and constant transition, but also for their families. I pray that our ministry would be a catalyst for change throughout this military community and the military community throughout the world. Every year, about 40-50 percent of our students move to other locations. Imagine what a huge change the Army would see if every one of those kids was passionate about sharing the Gospel.

What unique opportunities/challenges do you encounter in your ministry?
The most challenging part of this ministry is the constant transition. I have only been at Fort Hood for a year and a half and we already have almost a completely new group of students. Every six months or so, we have students who PCS (permanent change of station) to other locations throughout the world. Because of this lifestyle of constant change and loss, military kids are very good at making relationships very quickly, but they tend to lack depth and vulnerability. We earn the right to be heard within weeks, but being able to really speak into their hurts and the challenges they are facing takes much more time. It always seems that right when that point is reached, their parents get orders to PCS again. We have learned that the time we have with these students is precious, but God uses that and we have seen Him change lives, and then send those kids out to places all over the world.

Any other thoughts?
There are military kids all over this nation. They are in most schools throughout the United States, but many times go unnoticed. They are in constant transition so they may be in and out of schools in a year or two. You may be doing military ministry and not even know it! Keep your eyes out for this invisible population of students. They are amazing and need Jesus just as much as everyone else!


Tracee Cobb, Lee’s Summit, Mo.
Area Director, Young Life and WyldLife

What’s surprised you in working with kids?
I read a statistic that adolescents need five adults in their life to help shape their character and make it through these tough years. I got a text from a Young Life kid who has heard me quote that statistic: “You have been such an impact on my life and I wouldn’t know how close I would be with Jesus without you. I love you and am so thankful for you. You have no idea. I need you to be one of my five.”

I’m surprised:
• that students need five adults but many have maybe one
• that I get to be one of the five and what an honor it is
• by how open kids can be
• by how often I stand on holy ground when a kid opens his or her heart to share
• that they desire to be heard and loved more than anything
• that I get to call this my job

What joys have you experienced in your first few years with Young Life?
This message from one of our kids sums up the joy I feel about Young Life. I have joy when a relationship is formed, when kids get it, when they listen, follow Jesus the best way they can and get the vision. Here is the message:
"It's truly an honor to have someone I can trust and talk to that will listen to whatever I need to say without judgment. Someone I know will accept me for who I am, no matter who I am. I am honored to have someone who I know will help me get through the bad times and celebrate with me during the good. Someone in my life who loves Jesus and me enough to share His message with me. I am honored to have you and all the Young Life leaders help me find my way to God. I am honored to have role models like you in my life. Thank you for Young Life and helping bring my relationship with God, my Holy Father who loves me no matter what, together. It feels good to know there is always someone who you can go to."

What is your most difficult challenge at this point?
My most difficult challenge is creating more and more community support. Ministry is growing and growing, kids are saying “yes” to following Jesus, and leaders are coming back to leave a legacy in Young Life. Our greatest need is for our community to know we are about every kid, everywhere, for eternity and we earn the right to be in students’s lives and go to where they are. We are an outreach ministry that loves kids and desires for them to know Jesus. We need for our community to support Young Life and WyldLife with prayer and with finances.

What is your greatest desire for the ministry?
What I am learning is the more we take kids out of their element, remove them from distraction, and create a space for adventure and great conversation, God works. I'm not waiting for Young Life camp for God to move. I want Him to move now and know that He is.
At camp, we have a set day where we have one-on-one times with kids who are in our cabin. Young Life leaders meet with them, ask them how they are doing, listen, listen and listen ... and see what they need and where they are at with their desire to follow Christ and what concerns/questions they have about life. They open up their hearts and share; in those moments we stand on Holy Ground.
Well, I'm not waiting for camp for those moments. So I wanted that for the Campaigner ski trip. I wanted to pull them out of their life, their worries, sports, and struggles and have an adventure and great conversation. I wanted to find out what they fear, where they stand with Christ, their concerns/questions, how I can be there, how I can pray over them ... how we can trust Christ together. So among dance car parties, crazy skiing days, 14-hour drives, laughter, the beautiful mountains ... that happened. God showed up. He showed me each girl’s beautiful heart. They opened their hearts to one another and to me one on one. I was on Holy Ground. I am so thankful for each of them and desire to create more opportunities for myself and the other Young Life leaders to meet kids on that level.

What unique opportunities/challenges do you encounter in your ministry?
I had the opportunity to be an assistant coach of girls’ cross-country this past fall. I met 35 great girls and began to form a relationship with them ... earning the right to be heard. Many of the girls knew I was the area director of Young Life and began coming to club and even Campaigners. One in particular came week after week -- sticking to the sidelines and taking it all in. After hearing one of our new leaders share her story, she told me she wanted a relationship with Christ. I praised her for being bold and asking for help in how to do that ... her response, "I'm not bold. I've been wanting to do this for five months!" So new life begins!!

Describe the world of the kids you work with – how they spend their time, what they worry about, what they need or respond to, etc.
Our kids are very active in school, sports and the community. They desire to be known, listened to, loved and accepted. They desire community, fun, adventure and truth. They need five adults in their life. They need to be pursued and loved with grace and persistence. They need to know, that in all things, trust Jesus.

Any other thoughts?
I’m honored to be considered a friend by Young Life kids, to be an influence in their lives and to hear the details of their day — their highs and lows. I’m honored to know them, to be in their story, to be accepted by them and to love them as they are. I’m honored to sit beside them at basketball games, see them every day at school, give rides and have long driveway conversations at the end of the night. I’m honored to love Jesus alongside them, to be called and texted, to write recommendation letters. I’m honored to be one who listens, to be known as one they can go to for anything, to hear about their relationships. I’m honored to know their families, to have earned the right to be heard, to read the Bible with them, pray over them, cry with them.