A One-Day Small Town Jumpstart in Missouri

Hamilton, Missouri.

JC Penney was born there.

So was Travis Bowen. I met Travis when he was a student at Missouri State University. He became a Young Life leader there and he's now our area director in Camdenton, Mo.

We first talked about Hamilton three years ago. Hamilton's a very small town with 200 kids in the high school, very few who are known to have a relationship with Christ. We went, met with people and talked about forming a committee to start Young Life. Nothing ever materialized.

Two years ago, God blessed us with an amazing teacher-led Young Life start-up in Lawson, Mo., a town 30 minutes from Hamilton. Today there's a group of 10 teachers who have a club going there. There are 400 kids in the high school, and 50 percent of the kids have been to Young Life club this past year — they average about 100 kids a week in club and took 30 kids to camp last summer. Their Young Life teacher/team leader is Mike Dial. Mike is an old club kid of mine from the early 1990s. He's been teaching and coaching at Lawson for 10 years, and one of his old students from Lawson is Tara, who recently graduated college and is a brand new teacher in Hamilton.

Garrett, a student at Hamilton, asked Tara, "Can we start a Christian group like FCA or something?" Tara said, "I've heard that Young Life is awesome in Lawson." She talked to her old teacher, Mike Dial. Mike said to Tara, "Hey, why don't you grab a few students and come visit our Young Life club?"

Tara said, "OK."

Tara took Garrett and five other students from Hamilton to an amazing club in Lawson. It blew their minds.

Shortly after, Travis and I went back to Hamilton to follow-up with Tara and these kids, as well as a few of Travis' old friends. We drove four hours to get there by noon. We spent the afternoon meeting with a few adults, a pastor, a couple of teachers and a student or two. We had planned to gather with some adults and students that evening to talk about Young Life. We had also planned a mini-practice club for the 15 or so people we thought might attend, and then we would drive the four hours back to our own homes. Throughout our meetings that day, we were repeatedly told to not be disappointed if we had a small turn-out that night.

At 6:30 p.m. in the community building located in the center of the one street town, we gathered with adults who wanted to talk more about these Young Life small town, teacher-centered ideas we were sharing. No fewer than 25 adults showed up. Focused. Connected throughout the community. Passionate about Jesus and their town's teenagers who need Him desperately. At 7:30 p.m. the kids started showing up. They came in ... and kept coming. Fifty-four of Hamilton's 200 high school kids showed up. They were wide-eyed and curious.

Travis did an amazing job. Five minutes in, the entire town was thumping. These kids were on their feet dancing, singing, screaming and laughing. It felt like Young Life club at Frontier Ranch. I am not kidding. We were all flat-floored with our jaws-on-the-floor, witnessing a miracle in a very holy place. Young Life was theirs. These kids wanted it and responded. "Edger G. Hamilton," an egg farmer, showed up on behalf of the Caldwell County Egg Association to promote egg eating among Hamilton's young people. Shocking and hilarious things happened with a group of four Hamilton teenagers and a much-abused single raw egg. It was the talk of the town the next day at school. And much like our flagship Young Life clubs all around the country, as we transitioned club into a more contemplative tone, 54 kids and 25 Jesus-loving adults listened intently as we talked about Jesus. We remembered that time when Jesus stood toe-to-toe with Bartimaeus. We talked about how we see and know God's heart for us ... "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked.

That night, Lindsey (a senior) heard us clearly. The adults of Hamilton asked Lindsey and her friends, "What can we do for you?"

Lindsey responded, "We want Young Life." With a wide-eyed urgency she said, "This is the most fun we've ever had in our town. There is nothing to do here. All we do is drive up and down this street. Can we please do this next week?"

"Yes, Lindsey."

Travis Bowen went home early for Christmas vacation. He met with teachers and adults on December 22 and helped put on another little practice Young Life club that night. Hang on. Here we go!