Bridging the Generation Gap

As the owner of the financial planning firm Hancock & Associates, Craig Hancock spends hours a day making sure the money his clients invest sees large returns. But every Tuesday at noon, Hancock sheds his tie and strolls into the cafeteria at Forest Hills Northern Middle School in Grand Rapids, Mich., to make an investment of his own.
The seventh- and eighth-graders that Hancock shares a sandwich with each week aren’t impressed by his suit or by his résumé. Nor do they seem to mind that Hancock is 41 years old and has three kids of his own. What matters to kids like eighth-grader Jake Sedalbauer is that Hancock shows up and shows he cares.
“Craig is easy to get along with, and he’s really funny,” Jake said. “I guess it is kinda weird [that he’s older], but he understands everything, and he’s always there.”
With his three-piece suit and conservative businessman haircut, Hancock may not look the part, but since 2003 he has volunteered as a WyldLife leader for Forest Hills Northern Middle School.
“I’m probably not as crazy as some,” admitted Hancock, who first heard of Young Life at a fundraiser two years ago. “But I still play sports and can do most of the things they can do. “I have a pretty serious job so this is an awesome release for me,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to get with kids and go crazy when five hours ago I had a coat and tie on and was sitting in my office, talking about people’s money. I am completely out of place in their world, but all in all, we’ve bonded pretty well.”
Investing in kids
That bond has its roots in more than just playing basketball and frisbee golf with kids. Two years ago, Hancock was a leader at WyldLife camp at Timber Wolf Lake. It was there that he realized the real impact of “life on life” ministry. “I noticed one boy who was pretty quiet,” he said. “When he asked about accepting Christ at cabin time, I knew something was stirring. Later that night, he asked if we could talk. So, we took a walk and hung out for a couple hours. We talked to God and each other. It was the first time I ever prayed with anybody [to accept Christ]. It was an awesome experience.”
The young man who Hancock prayed with that night was Jake Sedalbauer, who is now a part of Hancock’s Campaigner group.
“I felt closer to Craig and more comfortable talking to him, that’s why I asked him about (accepting Christ),” Jake said. “Now I’m praying more, reading the Bible and learning more about God. And Craig reminds me about it. He asks me if I’m doing that stuff.”
Hancock, who has three children of his own, says balancing family, work and ministry can be tricky. But he and his wife, Emily, want to serve Christ no matter what the obstacles.
“My family comes first, so it takes planning,” he said. “I couldn’t do it without Emily. Both of us are very committed to trying to make a difference through Young Life.
“I feel like a lot of families are busy and certain kids don’t get the time they need to talk. And they’re more apt to have a conversation with someone besides their own parents, so I try to make myself available.”
A mom to many
Bonnie Cypher has a history of making herself available to the students in the Forest Hills school district. In 1989, Cypher and a friend started a Young Life club at a high school in Forest Hills. Since then, she’s volunteered as camp nurse at Saranac, Windy Gap and Castaway. Now a 58-year-old grandmother of eight, she is “mother” to 17 Forest Hills middle school girls whom she pours her life into every week. “God’s given me the gift of being a people-person,” she said. “My husband tells me I’m good at small talk. But all that means is asking people about themselves in an unobtrusive way: ‘What’s going on in your life? How was the game? How was your trip to your grandma’s?’ All you have to do is love them and be friendly.”
Every Wednesday, Cypher spends the lunch hour at Forest Hills Northern, where she also volunteers to help the student council with events and projects. Thursday evenings she opens her home to more than a dozen girls for “Cabin Time,” their version of Campaigners. Throughout the semester, she picks up one or two of “her girls” from school and takes them to Starbucks to chat.
“I really love the relationship aspect,” Cypher said. “I love showing them that the Gospel is never boring. Christianity is wonderful, exciting and abundant, and it’s our responsibility to show God’s love. I’m constantly amazed that God lets kids love me. It doesn’t matter how old you are. I want to do this as long as God gives me the strength and energy.”
Eighth-grader Sarah Riebel met Cypher last year when Sarah came to club for the first time. Now, Sarah comes faithfully to club and to Cypher’s Cabin Time each week.
“Bonnie takes so much time out of her days and is so welcoming at her home,” Sarah said. “She takes time to get to know each girl. Whenever there’s a game or a dance, she always wants to be involved. She always listens to you no matter what. She’s just awesome.”
Choice of a lifetime
There are some obstacles with age and maturity, the leaders say. For Hancock, it’s balancing his family and work with his ministry. For Cypher, her energy level doesn’t always match that of a 14-year-old. But they don’t let those facts discourage them.
“If God calls, He’ll help you love them, and if you love them, they’ll respond,” Cypher said. “The thing that keeps us young is volunteering. They even say that in the secular world. How much better if we can use those skills to enhance God’s ministry and show kids a relationship with Jesus Christ? That’s the most important decision they’ll ever make.”