Leading the Charge

Young Life leader Robin Cramer says it all started at one table in the lunchroom of Burns High School.

When Cramer and the Young Life team in Burns, Ore., first started showing up for lunch on the campus of the local high school four years ago, they knew one freshman girl. So they started talking to her and her friends.

“We worked off this one little table, and it just grew from there,” Cramer said.

What happened in a high school cafeteria has become a Young Life club, part of a growing Young Life ministry in a remote city in Oregon. But before Cramer and the other leaders even came to that lunch table, God had been orchestrating people and events that would lead to the thriving ministry happening in this small Oregon town.

And about the same time, God was piecing together — in different ways — a Young Life ministry in Baker City, Ore., another remote town in a rural part of Oregon. Both ministries are led by volunteers who desire to reach kids in their communities for Christ.

A team begins
Robin Cramer’s husband, Bill, a Circuit Court Judge, knew a Young Life leader nearby in a city called John Day. The Cramers’ niece and nephew lived there and also attended club. Dave, the Cramers’ son, went to club with them occasionally.

“I just loved my Young Life experience as a high school student,” Cramer said. “I want that for our kids and for all the kids at Burns High School.”

The Cramers got curious and started talking to their friends. They also got in touch with Steve Fox, the area director for that part of Oregon, and attended some informal informational meetings. Along with two other couples from Burns, they attended an adult weekend camp at Wildhorse Canyon, a Young Life camp in Oregon, in 2000.

“All six of us left feeling like we’ve got to do this,” Cramer said. So they continued to pray and tell other adults in Burns about Young Life. “We had to earn the right to be heard with Young Life among adults,” she said.

In the fall of 2000, they brought some adults to John Day to show them club. Later on that fall, some kids from Burns attended a fall weekend camp. Club started in January of 2001, after nearly a year of praying, talking to other adults in the community and meeting kids. Dave Cramer was in the final semester of his senior year, and was helpful in bringing his friends to club.
 
A nearby example
Adults enthusiastic about Young Life in Burns had not only the club in John Day to look at for encouragement, but also the new ministry underway in nearby Baker City.

Eric and Kristy Sandefur had moved to Baker City from York, Pa., in 1997 because that is where he felt called to begin a practice as an orthopedic surgeon. Because of his profession and the popularity of local high school sports, the Sandefurs were often at Baker High School
sporting events.

After living in Baker City for about 18 months, the Sandefurs, who also volunteered with the youth group at their church, felt a strong call to start Young Life there. A native of Buena Vista, Colo., home of Young Life’s Frontier Ranch and Trail West Lodge, Eric Sandefur was active in Young Life growing up. Only the Sandefurs and another couple there, Bud and Virginia Carpenter, had heard of Young Life.
 
When Eric Sandefur contacted the Young Life regional director, John Franklin, they began to talk about the possibility of Young Life in Baker City.

“Like in a lot of other places, kids here are involved with drugs and alcohol, and teenage pregnancy is also a problem. Poverty is also a huge issue,” he said. “If something can make a difference, whether it’s Young Life or a church youth group, we wanted to be a part of that.”

Meanwhile, God was preparing another couple, Barbara and Carl Stiff. About four years before they met the Sandefurs, they had seen Malibu Club, Young Life’s property in British Colombia, while they were on vacation.

After attending an adult weekend camp at Wildhorse Canyon, they were hooked and ready to bring Young Life to kids in Baker City. The new Baker City team also spent time educating other people and churches about Young Life.

“There are prayer groups at every church in Baker City that pray for Young Life regularly,” Barbara Stiff said.

In the summer of 2000, three new leaders from Baker City took 12 kids to camp. Club started that fall and has been steady ever since.
 
Long-haul committment
For Young Life in Burns and Baker City, consistent prayer, informational meetings, trips to nearby clubs and experiences at camp have all been important to starting ministries there.
And Area Director Steve Fox emphasizes the importance of the person or a couple in the community who wants Young Life there, taking ownership of it and rallying people around it.
“In each community there is a ‘Paul’ who drives it,” Fox said. “There’s not a formula [for starting Young Life ministry], but what it comes down to is the Lord working in the hearts of one or two people.”
  
Volunteer vigor
Around the country, there are volunteers enthusiastic about ministering to kids and leading clubs. Young Life hopes to foster more of that in the years ahead.

Tom Hammon, senior vice president of Young Life’s Mideastern Division, is trying to develop more volunteer team leaders across the mission who will lead clubs.

“In the history of Young Life there are abundant examples of excellent work being entirely led by financially unpaid people,” Hammon said. “Area directors must see themselves as players and coaches in order to do this. They become the encouragers and equippers of the volunteers.”

In places like northern Kentucky, teams of volunteers are the norm. There are 71 volunteers, and more than 20 of the area’s clubs are led entirely by volunteers.

“Volunteers show that God is looking for anyone with a willingness to give his or her whole heart to His mission,” said northern Kentucky Area Director Rick Scherr. “Their discipleship work is just as strong. … They show that God could not care less who gets the paycheck or is ‘in charge.’”
 
Continuing strong
Ministry continues to grow in Burns and Baker City. In Baker City, close to 70 kids come to club weekly. WyldLife begins this spring. Barbara Stiff leads a Campaigner group and is at school every Tuesday with a tray of brownies.

“Girls will talk about their boyfriends or how things are at home,” Stiff said. “I love seeing their eyes when they see someone cares about them, even if they are just talking about a prom dress.”

Last fall, when Baker City Young Life was headed to a weekend camp, they didn’t have enough transportation for as many who wanted to go. “We were ecstatic that was the problem we had to deal with,” Eric Sandefur said.

What began as a stop at one lunch table at Burns High School has turned into a lunch hour filled with conversations with many kids. The summer after club began they brought nearly 25 kids to camp. Club continues to attract close to 50 kids each week, and the Burns leaders are motivated by their desire for kids to know about Christ.

“My faith has grown tremendously because this is all beyond what I know how to do,” Cramer said. “‘Lord, how?’ I ask. The work He calls us to do is very hard at times, but ministry is very much in His hands.”