Building in His Time

More than 70 rowdy teens — several armed with Coke Classic and marshmallows — filed into the Rigel family's downstairs living room.

It was the first-ever Young Life club for the students of Stuarts Draft High School. The story of Young Life at the school, however, can be traced back 10 years earlier to a prayer closet.

That prayer closet belonged to Renee Martin.

Over the years, Martin has maintained a compilation of scattered journal entries. The last decade's worth of accounts reveal an amazing story of God bringing Young Life to the rural, factory-filled community in the heart of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

The last year of Martin's journey has been filled with praise reports: a new intern, a full house at the inaugural club, 30 kids at the first Campaigner meeting and a free summer camp trip to Lake Champion for 40 Stuarts Draft students.

After years of praying and waiting — patiently at times and not as patiently at others — she's seen God answer prayer in ways bigger than she could ever ask or imagine.

"This was so over-the-top and unheard of that it can only be God. God wants to do things only He can do," Martin said. "This was so obvious — all God's working — that no one could say, 'Well, we raised the money,' or 'We did that.' It was all God. And that just put His stamp of approval on what He was doing."

In 1998, Scriptures about "God building something" started jumping out of the Bible at Martin. At that point, she had never heard of Young Life. She and her husband, Rod, weren't even seriously considering public high schools as an option for their teenage daughters.

As Martin continued in prayer, the Lord began to change both her family's heart and circumstances. The Lord began burdening her daughters' hearts for their friends. Shortly after, Martin began sensing the same burden.

"God opened my eyes to see these kids not as a threat but as kids who wanted to be loved," Martin said. "They were hungry, lost, hurting and broken just like the rest of the world."

Later, in 2004, she heard of Young Life for the first time while visiting her brother's church.

"There was nothing but four sentences announcing it, so I knew nothing of what it even meant," Martin said. "But the Holy Spirit's presence came so quickly and immediately that I knew that was the tool He wanted to use. The passion was already there. My heart was already there. My teenagers' hearts were already there. We just had no vehicle to make a difference. I felt the Holy Spirit saying, 'This is it.'"

After researching Young Life's website and meeting with local Young Life staff, Martin became more convinced.

"I knew," she said, "that I was made for this."

The next several years, however, seemed to be marked by inactivity. Except for time in the prayer closet. The season of calling out to God, according to Valley Young Life Area Director Dave Blanco, wasn't in vain. In fact, it was vital.

"We were waiting on the Lord's timing," said Blanco, who has these words of advice for any area director wishing to open up a new school. "Prayer, prayer and more prayer."

In 2008, Martin began to see her prayers answered in a major way.

In May, more than 125 people met in the school's cafeteria to learn about Young Life. Nearly $8,000 dollars was raised to help hire an intern. That money would eventually bring in staff person Courtney Jones, a recent James Madison University graduate who was instantly embraced by the community.

A few weeks later, Young Life Commonwealth Regional Director Scott Hamilton awarded 40 camp scholarship spots to Stuarts Draft High School through the ministry's Fill the Bus program.

"It really was a no-brainer," Hamilton said. "God was moving in an unmistakable way. There was one red-hot vision carrier and people with whom we weren't pulling teeth. The people were eager, not just willing. That's what we saw with Stuarts Draft."

Student participation at club, Campaigners and camp trips has been so overwhelming that Stuarts Draft has virtually no signs of being a start-up school in its first year of ministry.

"It's such a blessing," said Jones, the first-year intern. "I feel like I have to run to keep up with what God is doing at the school."