What I've Learned from Kids

Jule, an exchange student from Everswinkel, Germany, knew she ended up in California for a reason. Jule, whose name is pronounced “Yoo-la,” wanted badly to be an American high school student for a year, but because her parents could not afford to send her on their own, Jule applied for a very selective scholarship. Out of the 30 students from her hometown to apply, Jule was awarded the money.
 
Originally, the exchange program had placed her with a family in Texas, but when the program’s plans changed at the last minute, Jule was bound for Fair Oaks, Calif., a suburb of Sacramento.
 
A friendship begins
Jule had heard about Young Life from friends at school, and she was excited to try it out. One night at club, Jule met Wendy Gutierrez, who is a Young Life leader in the north Sacramento area.
 
Gutierrez was immediately drawn to Jule’s friendliness, outgoing personality and big, bright smile. The two became friends, and in early November, they went to the area’s winter camp together.
 
“Jule began to see that God loved her in a personal way and that it was cool that Jesus was in human form and could relate to us; however, she also then became confused because she wasn’t sure what she believed,” Gutierrez said. “She was figuring out exactly what questions she had.”
 
Jule started to explore Christianity, and Gutierrez told her to read through the book of John. Jule started reading, and their friendship continued to grow.
 
“Christianity in Germany is quite different,” Jule said. “But especially in the younger generation, a lot of people don’t really believe or even know about [Jesus]. I always kind of believed in God. I guess I felt that there was something or someone who loved me, but I didn’t know about Him. I kind of had my own religion. I believed in God, but not in the way the Bible tells about Him. And I didn’t know anything about Jesus. I thought this whole story was just something like a fairy tale.”
 
Friends become family
Jule was enjoying her time in the United States, but living with her host family had become somewhat uncomfortable. Gutierrez and her husband knew Jule needed a different home, and they invited her to live with them.
 
Gutierrez was looking forward to being able to share more time with Jule, but she was careful to let Jule continue to wrestle with her own personal issues of faith — and be ready when Jule wanted to talk.
 
“I knew I couldn’t be pushy when it came to telling her about Jesus,” Gutierrez said. “I had to do it quietly by living out my faith in front of her.”
 
Which is what Gutierrez did as they spent a lot of time together — staying up late talking, eating cookie dough ice cream, visiting San Francisco, watching movies and singing Young Life club songs in the car.
 
“We had really interesting discussions all night long and couldn’t stop talking till midnight on a school night,” Jule said. “I also felt that I could learn a lot from her. She helped me out when I had problems, and I felt accepted by her. She wouldn’t have even cared if I was a Christian or not — she just loved me for what I am. She was kind of like a mom, a best friend and a Young Life leader in one person.”
 
On-screen impact
Jule asked Gutierrez to take her to see the movie The Passion of the Christ. After that, they spent many nights in the kitchen and the den up late talking about Jesus.
 
“Jule could not understand why God would allow so much torture,” Gutierrez said. “I told her that we all killed Jesus and our sin separates us from God. She quietly processed all of this. I think she was taking Jesus into her life very slowly.”
 
When Jule started expressing concern for her friends to know about Jesus, that’s when Gutierrez knew she was beginning to understand Christianity. But she also knew that Jule’s culture had groomed her to handle religion privately and very intellectually. “But Jule discovered Christ for herself,” Gutierrez said.
 
‘He’ll never let you go’
When Jule headed home for Germany, she had a pile of memories of living in America — prom pictures included — but most importantly, a new-found faith in Jesus Christ. Jule is looking for a church to attend and is enduring the “growing pains” of becoming a Christian.
 
“I try to read in the Bible as often as I can,” she said. “I don’t talk about God with my friends ’cause they wouldn’t understand.” 
 
Jule is attending a Young Life reunion for exchange students in the part of Germany where she lives. Recently, she sent this e-mail to Gutierrez:
 
“Now that I am a Christian, I feel like a new person. But I know that I am not alone because Jesus is with me.”