All in the Family

Brian came from a good family, was a good student and was most often described as a good kid. Growing up in church, Brian came to understand that by living a “good life” he’d go to heaven, and since life was good, Brian had little to worry about. Then came middle school.

The middle school transition was a social stumbling block for Brian. He lost contact with his friends from elementary school, and found himself alone, angry and struggling in a world where most adults were too busy to notice and his peers were too cool to care. Brian withdrew, beginning a trend that continued into high school.

He entered ninth-grade, and his grades began slipping; little by little Brian was losing ground in his attempt to overcome adolescent adjustments. His dad, Paul Von Bloch, remembers Brian during this time as “painfully shy” and says he passed much of his time at the computer. Brian was hurt even more during his sophomore year when his family was abruptly confronted with the deaths of his grandfather and uncle. Brian resented God, and said he “cast his blame on God, whoever and wherever He was.”

His junior year, Brian made some friends at school, but the friendships were shallow. Brian was also battling depression and desperately wanted help, but didn’t try to get it from anyone. “At this point, I was really just looking forward to graduating so I could start over at college.”

But God had other plans.

God-given friends

Into Brian’s broken world entered two classmates named Ben and Brad. Both attended Young Life club, and Ben was a junior leader. Ben had been praying daily for Brian. In addition to praying, Ben regularly invited Brian to come to Young Life. Though Brian didn’t know what Young Life was, he decided he didn’t want to go. Ben refused to give in, and his persistence finally paid off.

After running out of excuses, Brian reluctantly attended club. He was shocked to find such a variety of kids inside — the slackers, the jocks, the valedictorian, the smokers — all laughing together, playing goofy games and singing along to popular songs. Brian was certainly surprised by all the fun, but was most stunned by leader Jay Mitlo, the area director for Pittsburgh. Brian recognized Mitlo from school events but had dismissed him as another religious guy. “There was something different about Jay,” Brian said. “He was unlike any other religious guy I had ever met.”

At club, Brian also heard about camp and was determined not to go. But once Ben and Brad signed up, Brian realized he didn’t want to be left behind. Brian dropped off his camp deposit with three days to spare, unknowingly taking the first steps on a path that would change his life forever.

Fresh start

Any anxieties about camp vanished when the bus Brian was riding on arrived at Lake Champion, a Young Life property in upstate New York. “I expected there would be a lot of praying and crosses everywhere, instead these guys came up on jet skis blaring music,” Brian said. That was just the beginning. The entire week at camp, Brian relished every experience.

Perhaps most surprising for him was when he heard God speak to him and experienced his heart soften for the first time. Even now as a college student majoring in English, Brian can’t find the words to describe it. Until Lake Champion, Brian had been counting down the days until college, where he could have a “clean slate.” It turned out that it would be Christ, not college, who would give Brian the fresh start he was looking for.

With days to go before entering his freshman year at University of Pittsburgh, Brian made a decision to put off college for one year for the purpose of learning more about Christ and deepening his relationship with God. Brian’s parents, always supportive, were surprised by Brian’s sudden change, but pleased about the new excitement in their son’s life.

Mitlo agreed to disciple Brian and take him “under his wing.” Brian became a volunteer leader for the area and learned to reach out to others the same way he had been befriended by Ben.

A ripple effect

At the same time, Brian’s mom, Linda, began working at a Christian health center and, with her coworkers, attended a conference on prayer. Though she had always been involved with the church. This was the first time Brian’s mom had a real “experience” with God. Jesus brought the two of them closer.

Over the next few years the trend Christ brought into the Von Bloch family continued. Sean, the youngest, was much like Brian — quiet, polite and reserved. Sean began coming to club in ninth-grade. The “kids” that Brian had led were now leaders themselves, and were reaching out to Sean.

Meanwhile, as Sean’s involvement grew, so did his dad’s interest. Ever the involved parent, Paul Von Bloch routinely drove Sean to Young Life activities and had met many of the volunteer leaders and Mitlo. Von Bloch said that he “was so impressed at the quality guys pouring into Sean’s life. Here were two seniors always including Sean, a sophomore. They were his best friends. It just blew me away.”

Von Bloch was also able to see Brian in action at Young Life. He was amazed that his son, who once mumbled more often than speaking, was now performing skits in front of 400 people.

In fact, as Mitlo recalled, the most pivotal moment in Brian’s walk with Christ took place while performing in front of a Young Life crowd — while wearing a large diaper. “That was when Brian trusted that Christ could do what he couldn’t,” Mitlo said.

Sean followed in Brian’s footsteps. During a trip to Rockbridge in the summer of 2004, a Young Life camp in Virginia, he committed his life to Christ.

But there was a different story going on for Stephen, their middle son. Socially confident, extremely athletic and naturally easygoing, he was nearly the opposite of his brothers. He went to Young Life and even spoke of Christ touching his heart, but really has gone his own way over the past few years.

Nonetheless, the brothers are very close and have a great relationship. Brian knows that the decision is Stephen’s and he prays for him to realize God’s love for him someday, and understands it must be in his own time.

A family affair

During the summer of 2005, Brian served on summer staff at Saranac Village in New York. Brian invited his parents to visit the camp as adult guests. The Von Blochs agreed to attend, not really knowing what to expect.

Known for its incredible camping amenities that cater to kids, Young Life extends adult guests the opportunity to experience camp. Adult guests can participate in camp activities, eat meals in the dining hall and attend club. Before his parents arrived, Brian spoke with the camp speaker, Rick Rogan, who would be presenting the Gospel message during the time his parents would be attending. Brian was confident his dad was going to have an encounter with Christ and make a life-changing decision.

From the very beginning of their visit, Paul Von Bloch felt comfortable and welcomed. After camp events, the Von Blochs joined other adult guests in the Saranac Guest House and spent their evenings talking. Von Bloch was moved by the meaningful conversations he had with other adults as they shared about their lives.

Von Bloch made the most of his camp opportunity, admitting with a laugh that he “had as much fun as any camper there.” And during the week, Von Bloch felt God tug at his heart. As he listened intently along with hundreds of high schoolers, Von Bloch had a “personal revelation.” He had heard it all before, but said, “For once it meant more than an intellectual exercise — God touched my heart.”

“Starting with Brian, my boys were transformed,” Von Bloch said. “I was watching what God was doing in the lives of my sons and it never occurred to me that I could have the same experience,” Von Bloch said.

When Von Bloch went home, he couldn’t wait to tell people about it. The first person he called? Brian.

“I hadn’t been able to talk to my dad before he left. I had watched him soak in the week, and at the end it seemed that something lifted off his shoulders. When he called, he sounded like a totally different person, I was so happy I could have cried,” Brian said.

That was a little more than a year ago. Today the Von Blochs are walking together, but each are on their own journey. “The last five years have been incredible,” Brian said. “I can’t wait to see what God has in store for our family. It has been so neat to watch. I am always in awe.”