Weathering the Storm

The pictures on TV show us much about the pain and devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. A wall of water destroyed homes, ended lives and left behind thousands of people who experienced unimaginable suffering. They've been picking up the pieces for months now, looking for the familiar … some connection to life before the storm. For many, that constant in the chaos has been Young Life.

By all accounts, Young Life's ministry has weathered beautifully among the ruins, proving that even when storms come and wash everything away, what is eternal will endure.

Something in common
David Bast, a native of New Orleans, was the Young Life metro director of the city from 1992 through October of 2005. Before the storm, he and his family evacuated to Dallas where he spent his time helping Young Life kids get in touch with Young Life in the communities where they ended up. He tells two stories that illustrate for him the power of the body of Christ in the midst of this crisis. First, there's Kyle Hutchinson, an "adopted" member of the Bast family:

"Kyle and his mom, Tanje, stayed through the storm but evacuated on Monday afternoon. With barely any gas, they made it up to Jackson. They were safe. Kyle didn't know where I was and couldn't reach me on the cell phone because they were not working. So Kyle called information and asked for Young Life. He got in touch with Vince Gordon (area director in Jackson), and Vince and his wife, Leila, took Kyle, his mom and other family members under their wing.

"The great thing is that Vince gets it. He understands that [they need more than] a Band-aid solution. He has helped this family get back on their feet. Kyle called me and said that everyone has been so nice to them and even gave them gift cards to Wal-Mart. While Kyle and his mom head to Fort Worth to be with other family members, Kyle's sister and her child are under the care of the Gordons. That is what the body of Christ is about."

Kyle and his mom now live in Plano, Texas, where a church provided a fully-furnished apartment for them and helped Tanje find a job. Kyle, a recent high school graduate, is also involved in Young Life leadership training there.

"Young Life was there when this family had a critical need in their life," Bast said. "Young Life came together and took care of this family. It's great to see people stand in the gap and help out."

And then there is Sam and Jeannette Thompson, who left New Orleans hours before sunrise on the day Katrina hit. They moved in with her brother in Carrollton, Texas, and, once they realized this was to be a long-term displacement, enrolled their sons — David, a sophomore, and Greg, an eighth-grader — in school. Jeannette Thompson explained:

"We went to register for school Friday after the storm. As a mom, I had been thinking of things that I wanted for my kids during this time, to help make sure they felt established. One of the things I wanted them to be involved in was Boy Scouts. That wasn't an issue. My brother was active, so they could go with him. But the other thing was Young Life, WyldLife especially. I'd been praying somehow we could find a Young Life group, but I hadn't started looking yet. There were so many other things to take care of.

"We were filling out paperwork at the high school and one of the teachers walked in, just full of life, and sat down with us and started talking. Right away he said, 'I want to tell you about this program called Young Life that your sons need to go to.' I almost screamed! I told him he didn't need to tell us anything, we knew all about it. What's so great is, I asked God to send us to Young Life and instead, He sent Young Life to us. The boys have realized that it's not just the leaders in our hometown who care for them; it's the mark of Young Life leaders everywhere."

Mike Cone was that Creekview High School teacher who came into the Thompsons' lives that day. "It was one of those things where God puts you in the place where He wants you," he said. "Christ's message was the same no matter who He talked to or where He was, and that's true for Young Life, too. Young Life is something familiar. These people have lost tangible things and relationships, so the ability to connect with someone they know cares about them is huge. That's why we're here."

Crucial connections
Danny White had been the area director of Baton Rouge for all of two months when the hurricane hit and turned the city upside down. "Leaders had family members from New Orleans moving in with them," White recalled. "One college guy had eight people living with him in his apartment. School enrollment has increased tremendously; traffic is misery. And it's not like it's over. It feels like we're still reeling from it. It feels like we've lost a month."

White said figuring the impact the storm has had on ministry, there is a long-term project. What the Baton Rouge leaders are doing now is focusing on what they've always done: building relationships.

"For us here, the benefit of Young Life — the glory of it — is we know kids. A lot of kids don't have anybody to vent to, but our leaders and kids who have relationships can sit down and talk through what they're thinking, feeling and experiencing. Some kids have so many extra people living with them, they need to get away sometimes. I know of one girl who calls her leader every day to come get her. And this deepens their relationship. The leaders are there to give relief, an ear and their heart.

"On the other side, leaders are meeting new kids at school. Last week, a leader met girls from New Orleans and the next night at a football game, she saw them, remembered their names and hung out with them. The girls were asking, 'How did you remember us? Why are you doing this?' So even in the not-so-deep relationships, Young Life still works. Leaders are stepping into their lives and starting to build relationships."

A firm foundation
The winds and rain pounded most everything in their path to rubble, but Young Life's foundation held fast. Young Life in the storm-ravaged areas may look different now, but Bast said he trusts the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

For Bast, the months following the hurricane were also personally trying, because as he tried to help put ministry back together in New Orleans, he was approached with the opportunity to join in Young Life's ministry in Jacksonville, Fla. Bast has accepted that call, certain that the future of Young Life in New Orleans is in good hands.

"I feel very confident that the Young Life ministry in New Orleans will continue to grow and thrive under the leadership of Kimberly Root who just recently became the Westbank area director."

About 30 kids showed up for the first post-Katrina Young Life club in that section of the city. Signs of Young Life will continue to appear all over the city. Although Bast and others mourn what's been lost, they are hopeful.

"We had kids in club six days before the storm. It was our first club, the best we'd had in a long time. I never thought that I might never have club like that again in New Orleans. But, it's all in God's hands and I trust Him. I've been so proud to be on staff with Young Life during all this. I've seen people care for each other and for kids. It's all happened just as it should."