Northern Exposure

This summer, Marilyn and I led a trip across parts of Northern Europe with 89 friends of Young Life. We had the great fortune to meet with a variety of our staff and volunteers there and were struck by their passion for sharing the Gospel with kids and their incredible talent.

We began the journey in Moscow. Fourteen years ago, Gary and Jeanne Parsons left California with God’s call on their heart to make a difference in what was then the Soviet Union. They moved to Moscow, rented a flat and started to meet people. In the midst of many adversities, they experienced Christ’s light piercing the darkness, and they witnessed kids meeting Christ. Now those kids are adults and have continued to follow Jesus. They in turn have led others to Christ who in turn have done the same. Of all the staff and volunteers, Gary and Jeanne are the only Americans.

A highlight in Moscow was a night at the Young Life House, where we met with about 20 staff and volunteers. The Young Life House is the hub of activities for the ministry across the city. Russian flats are too small to hold Young Life clubs so, on many nights of the week, the Young Life House is the gathering place for kids.

Next we visited St. Petersburg, a beautiful city with wonderful people. We were joined by 15 of our national leaders who had taken planes, trains and automobiles to join us. They represented the countries in the Former Soviet Union where we have a presence. We were struck by how cross-cultural the Gospel is and how cross-cultural the methods of Young Life are. Going where kids are, winning the right to be heard, sharing the Good News in a winsome manner, using club, Campaigners and camp — all are having an impact. This summer, 3,500 kids went to camp at rented facilities in the Former Soviet Union. And we have established a training center in the Ukraine for staff and volunteers. In these countries, we’re also ministering to every kind of kid: street kids, orphans, the disabled and kids from the middle class.

From St. Petersburg (with a couple stops in Estonia and Finland), we arrived in Stockholm, Sweden, where we met with the Scandinavian team. This is a team composed of Americans, Americans who have married Swedes and indigenous leaders including student staff who, in the midst of a very secular culture, are sharing Christ with kids. Scandinavia is different from the Former Soviet Union; but the prayerful effort of our staff and volunteers is the same, and kids are meeting Christ.

From there we went to Poland. Flying in for our meeting from Germany was Marty McCarty, our director of Young Life Military Ministries; Kristina McCloskey, one of our military staff members; and Bianca Garcia, now a volunteer leader who met Christ through our military initiative at West Point. We were struck again by the tremendous stress kids in the military feel when their parents are deployed and in harm’s way. In addition to the normal pressures of adolescence, these kids feel the danger their parents face, the constant moving and other pressures common to military families. All these create a difficult climate in which to grow up. But our staff and volunteers are there for the “military brats” (that’s what they call themselves) and they are making a difference.

I had four thoughts as we flew home from our 16-day trip.

  • There’s light in the North. Northern Europe has been described as “post-Christian” and maybe it is. But that description has not deterred our staff and volunteers from boldly moving forward and sharing Christ. And kids are meeting Him!
  • Young Life is a growing, international ministry. What is happening in the Former Soviet Union, Scandinavia and through our military ministry is happening in more than 50 countries. The International divisions are the fastest growing divisions in Young Life. More nationals are coming on staff. Camps opened this year in Tanzania for the first time. In Ethiopia, national staff led all their camps. We have a presence in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, Europe and Africa. God is moving and we have the privilege of being part of it.
  • The message of Christ cuts across cultures. So does the Young Life approach. There is no end in sight to the impact we will have through the power of the Holy Spirit.

My former senior pastor and great friend, Bruce Larson, has a saying I’ll never forget. “When God wants to teach you something, He takes you on a trip.” That’s what He did this summer for 89 friends and for Marilyn and me. I will be eternally grateful.