Kids Around the World

In Young Life, we care about kids wherever they happen to live. If kids live in cities, we want to share the good news of Jesus with them. If they live in the suburbs or rural areas, we want them to experience a relationship with Christ.

But the reality is that most of the kids who need to hear about Jesus don't live in the United States. They live all over the world.

I have heard some reputable leaders from other missions give this stat: 95 percent of kids live outside the United States and 95 percent of youth workers work within the United States. In other words, 5 percent of the youth population worldwide is served by 95 percent of Christian youth workers in the United States. And the remainder — the 95 percent of the world's young people — are ministered to by only 5 percent of committed youth workers.

Something is wrong with that picture. As I pray and ponder over this fact, I'm like you — I want to do something about it. I want us as a mission to be good stewards of our people and funds so that more kids can hear about Christ. Everywhere!

International roots
We are not just a United States-based ministry. We are an international one. And we have been for a long time. When Young Life was just 12 years old (in 1953), we sent our first missionary couple, Rod and Fran Johnston, to France. In 1954 Young Life Canada was founded. In 1963, Harry and Hope MacDonald headed for Brazil. In 1965, Young Life in the Philippines started and we continued to pursue kids wherever they happened to live.

Now we're in 54 countries from A to T (Armenia to Tanzania). We have 453 total ministries with 126 U.S. staff, 178 international staff and 2,484 volunteer leaders. That's progress and a good start but it's barely scratching the surface of what we want to accomplish. We want to renew our focus on international. We want to build sustainable movements more than we do individual ministries. We are praying, talking, thinking and strategizing about how to have a greater impact on the 95 percent of the world's youth population who live outside the borders of the United States. So, in the next months and years, you will be hearing more about international as we try to introduce more kids to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith.

This summer, Marilyn and I led a trip with 58 great friends of Young Life. It was a multi-generational journey to Africa. We ranged in age from 7 to the late 70s. We visited Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia and met with staff, volunteers and committee people there. We were all struck by the dedication of our American staff who have moved their families abroad; we were deeply grateful for the dedicated national leadership teams of staff, volunteers and committee members God is bringing to Young Life; and we were absolutely struck by the needs of kids. We attended an all-city club in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with 450 kids having a great time and hearing about Jesus. In Ethiopia, our group led a field day at an orphanage where the kids had been left parentless by AIDS. We were reminded of how Christ crosses cultures and how the Young Life principles of reaching out to kids works!

Primary needs
But in creating any mission movements there are two primary needs. People and money. Money and people. We need leaders from the United States to help us train indigenous leaders for our outreach to nationals. We need leaders from the United States to staff international schools and also people who are called to make a difference in the lives of military kids through our Young Life Military Ministry (MCYM). We need thousands of trained national leaders to impact their countries. And to get those people to those countries and to help pay nationals who may not be able to raise all their own support, we need money.

The money issue is a perplexing one. The bang for the buck in third world countries is astounding. National staff can live comfortably on the equivalent of $300/month in U.S. dollars. But to get our U.S. staff and their families to these places and to first world countries is much more expensive. And, yet, we need friends who are willing to give to both.

So I'd like to challenge all of us to take more of an interest in international in the years ahead. Please pray — that the Lord will raise up workers for the harvest field. Please consider — that the Lord may be calling you to join the team and go. Please give — generously and hilariously to our efforts worldwide. We are an international outreach to kids everywhere. And, with the Lord's guidance and generosity, we will impact more kids wherever they happen to live in the years to come.