Believe, Be Loved, Keep Going: A Tribute to Jack and Gretchen Boyd

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Jack Boyd strolls leisurely down the open hallway, smiling at a group of students as he passes by. His pants are a little baggy, and he's wearing an old Ohio State crewneck sweatshirt. A kid with blue hair and dark clothes walks past and stares a little, maybe wondering what he's doing here. Jack is a sight to be seen in this Northern Michigan high school. When Jack sees his friend Cody a ways down the hallway, he hurries as best as he can to catch up with him. After a few pleasantries, Jack leans in and asks, “Say, would you want to go fishing this weekend? I want to take the boat out, and the weather is supposed to be just great.” A glow of excitement comes over the face of his young friend.

Meanwhile, his wife, Gretchen, sits in their home over coffee with a young woman who's just been through a breakup. This morning she prayed with the Young Life area director, and this afternoon she’ll go for a walk with another woman who’s struggling to make a career decision. She’ll get a call from her husband, Jack, later about how his “contact time” went, and then get to work looking through the book of Mark to make plans for the weekly Bible study that she leads for a group of young adults.

It is probably obvious by now that Jack and Gretchen are Young Life leaders. Their lives are depictive of a normal, daily commitment to ministry. Club, contact work, Campaigners, committee meetings, repeat. So what’s the difference between the Boyd's and your typical Young Life leaders? The answer is about four decades.

The Boyds started leading Young Life after first coming to faith in Jesus in their early 30s. In 1971, they were adult guests at Saranac. Soon afterward they became leaders in Sylvania, Ohio, where they volunteered for nearly 10 years while raising their three young kids. Then in 1981, they moved to Blissfield, Michigan, where they started a new area and volunteered as leaders again for over a decade. Here they met Brian Schaeffer, a college-aged leader. Brian, now the area director for Southeast Michigan, and associate regional director for the North Coast Region, says, “The ministry (in Blissfield) has since reached thousands of students for the Kingdom.”

Jack and Gretchen often reflect on their days as leaders in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, illustrating the close connections between what God was doing through Young Life then and now, in spite of many cultural differences. “Back in those days, kids came to know Christ during a club talk,” Gretchen said. Every few months the Boyds will get a call, email or visit from a former Young Life kid. Some of them have come to walk with Jesus, and some of them have not. For many others, Jack and Gretchen don’t know one way or the other. But the Boyds would not trade a single moment spent with their Young Life kids for any other project in the world. Their favorite memories to share are the moments with kids who spent their lunch break smoking in the parking lot, or the teens who cussed them out during club. More than once we’ve heard Gretchen say, “Jack, remember when we took that whole van load of kids to see Queen?!”

It may seem like every Young Life leader has had a season where they’ve thought to themselves, “I'm getting too old for this.” That just doesn't seem to be true for Jack and Gretchen. When they moved to Traverse City, Michigan, nearly 10 years ago to be near family, they were in their mid-60s and thought they would retire from their work with Young Life. In just a few short months, helping grow the existing Young Life ministry in the Grand Traverse region became their top priority. For a season, Jack made it his full-time job to meet with donors throughout Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. His efforts resulted in the area hiring their first area director, Erin Wanschura, in 2015.

Erin says, “I’d never had a Young Life leader until I became the area director for Grand Traverse. Gretchen shows up in my life, remembers the mundane details, prays for me, cries with me and laughs with me." As a “retired” marriage and family therapist, Gretchen continues to walk alongside Erin and dozens of other young women in the Young Life and church community. She is the first to ask about the work of the Lord in teen lives, the loudest voice of encouragement for leaders and perhaps one of the most constant voices of prayer for the area. With a love for Jewish history, and keen curiosity for current kid culture, Gretchen ably leads a team of over 20 Young Life leaders in study and prayer every Thursday evening.

Jack has chosen to lead Young Life at the alternative school. Traverse City High School (TCHS) has a reputation for being the school of last resorts, where students end up because the traditional model of education hasn't worked for them. Students who attend TCHS often come with dysfunctional family lives, academic and personal failure, mental health issues and various other culturally or socially unacceptable behaviors. For many in the outside world, TCHS looks a little bit like a family of misfits. But that has not stopped Jack Boyd for one moment.

Each time Jack pulls into the school parking lot he prays, “Lord, let me be open to the mystery.” What Jack might be too humble to see is that at age 78, every time he opens the door to this world of broken teenagers and turns up his hearing aids to make sure he can learn their names, he is himself a living mystery. In spite of the vast array of complex differences between Jack and these students, for Jack, the ministry of Jesus is simple: “Keep showing up.” For the students and leaders around him, the hope is profound.

It is a striking thing when years of experience are clothed in gospel humility. For Jack and Gretchen, Young Life is not new. Yet they still light up when a Young Life leader tells them about a new student they’ve befriended. The gospel and a passion for ministry are fresh and alive in this couple. Schaeffer reflects, “The Boyds are one of the most significant spiritual influences in my life. Their primary concern has always been knowing Jesus and making Him known.”

For those of us whom they currently lead, the call of Jesus through the Boyds is clear; believe, be loved and keep going. Jack and Gretchen are living proof that if we keep following and serving Jesus, we will look more like Him and become more truly ourselves as our lives progress into old age. They are living examples of lifelong faithfulness in ministry, a true picture of meaningful retirement. We in Grand Traverse and countless others are grateful to call them our Young Life leaders. Jack and Gretchen Boyd, we love you.