A New Kind of Cool

Like most kids, P.J. wanted to be cool. When he was in eighth-grade, he started hanging out with a group of older kids who were into drugs, drinking and gangs. P.J. was content being considered part of that crowd, despite the risks he was taking.

Perhaps it was his physical stature (he was on his way to being 6 feet tall), or the fact that his older siblings had already headed down a troubled path, but the rough crowd seemed like a natural fit for him. By his sophomore year of high school, P.J. was a known drug dealer, hiding behind a false persona of laziness and apathy. Most of his classmates didn’t even think he could read.

“I was really big into drugs, hanging out with gang members,” said P.J., who lives in Bonita Springs, Fla. “At first I didn’t care. I was having a good time.”

Stepping out
But last spring, during the second half of his junior year of high school, P.J. started to branch out from his familiar crowd.

A girl in one of his classes invited P.J. to his first Young Life club, and the timing of her invite was perfect — something was happening in P.J.’s heart. Even though he was selling drugs, he had already stopped using them. P.J. showed up at club by himself, an unusual thing for most kids to do.

“It was pretty awesome getting to know everyone, especially the leaders,” he said. “That’s what really drew me in — everyone being so nice.” One of those leaders who noticed P.J. was Bill Loy, the Young Life metro director in Ft. Myers, Fla. They met briefly that night and as the weeks passed, Loy and P.J. became friends. Pretty soon P.J. had signed up to go to camp at Windy Gap, Young Life’s camp in North Carolina.

Off to camp
Tucked in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Windy Gap was a treasure at every turn for P.J., who’d never seen mountains before. “I was just in awe of the scenery and stuff,” P.J. remembered.

Along with going horseback riding, driving NasKarts and palling around with Loy and the guys in his cabin, a highlight of P.J.’s week was listening to the series of talks at club. “I was thinking about what I was doing back at home, and I knew I definitely needed to look at where my life was headed.”

Over the week, as he heard the Gospel presented and talked with Loy about having a relationship with Christ, P.J. knew his life could be better than what he was doing with it. By the end of the week, P.J. had handed his life over to Christ.

Breaking away
As he headed home, he was reluctant because of what awaited him there, mainly people who wanted to buy drugs from him, but P.J. was determined to make a clean break from his old life. So he started to hang out with the other people he’d discovered were “very cool.”

In the weeks after camp, P.J. drove 35 miles each day to the local Young Life office. He’d hang out with Loy, help around the office or sit on the floor to read the Bible and explore the books on Loy’s bookshelves. He read almost non-stop, and told Loy what he thought of what he read.

At one point P.J. asked Loy, “Is it OK that I keep coming here? It’s really helping me.” Of course, it was perfectly fine with Loy that P.J. sought refuge there. P.J. also changed his cell phone number so former customers couldn’t get a hold of him.

Later that summer, P.J. headed to Crooked Creek Ranch, a Young Life camp in Fraser, Colo., where he served for a month on the pits crew, washing dishes all day, every day — not a task that would excite most kids. But P.J. was thrilled to be surrounded by kids who wanted to grow in their faith.

“I got a lot of advice from other people I served with about coming back home, about not worrying about losing my friends,” P.J. said. “They told me to just keep going.”

Growing strong
P.J. did keep going and growing in his faith. He showed his friends that his new life doesn’t include drugs and alcohol anymore. P.J.’s friends can’t count on him for drugs, but they can count on P.J. to bring them with him to Young Life club.

This past fall he also started training to become a leader for WyldLife, Young Life’s ministry for middle school kids. “Being able to have an affect on middle school kids’ lives before they get to high school is pretty cool.”

Definitely cool.