From the Grapevine

A Birthday Like No Other

At Young Life camp this past summer, Aden, who comes from a Muslim heritage, seemed very resistant to club at the beginning of the week. He eventually warmed up to sitting in on club, with his sweatshirt hood on his head as the speaker talked.

During one of their cabin times, his leader, Charlie Simpson, asked them what was something they’d always wished for in life. Aden confided that he’d always wanted a birthday party because he’d never had one. His mother, an immigrant from Africa worked long hours to run a local ethnic market, and he had the responsibility of caring for his younger siblings and doing all the housework. So Simpson and other Young Life leaders from Aden’s town of Tuckwila, Wash., secretly got together and decided to throw him a birthday party.

“God put it on my heart,” Simpson said. “I saw it as just one more thing to cement what it means to really meet someone right where they’re at.”

The head leader asked if the leadership team could help, other leaders asked if their kids could join in and the next night Aden was surprised with a birthday party to top all birthday parties. In the middle of the boardwalk, he was hoisted up onto a table and the whole camp sang to him and watched while he blew out the candles on his cake. They then formed a receiving line and each person wished him a happy birthday and presented him with some kind of gift — handmade cards, every imaginable item from the camp store, T-shirts from other groups and cash which they pinned onto his clothes.

“I’ll never forget this day,” Aden told his Young Life leaders, who continue to reach out to Aden as he explores the Christian faith back at home.

— Lisa Forsyth 

A Fan for Kids

When 35-year-old Young Life leader Rob Etheridge was invited to a football game tailgate party by one of the high school seniors he had been getting to know, he knew this was a special opportunity to be with kids in their world.

“The cool thing is that adults just weren’t welcome there, and there I was sitting in the midst of those seniors,” Etheridge said.

The music was blasting and a group of guys were standing bare-chested getting ready to “paint up” for the game. One of them turned to Etheridge and asked, “Hey, Rob, do you want to paint up with us?” Etheridge didn’t hesitate to join in.

“There I was — a mid-30s guy, bare-chested and painted up for a high school football game.”

As Etheridge and one of the high school guys walked to the stadium, Etheridge prayed for God’s guidance because he was beginning to feel a little nervous and wondering if he’d look too out of place. “I knew that this could be the end of Young Life for me if the Lord didn’t intervene,” Etheridge said. “I expected at least one student to ask what in the world I was doing, but no one did!”

Etheridge risked appearing foolish in front of a whole crowd of kids. But the experience allowed him to deepen friendships with his high school friends. It also reminded him that God blesses leaders’ efforts — especially the ones that put leaders’ egos on the line — to go and be with kids wherever they are.

— Aimée Kessick

Friends Make a Way

Lafayette Young Life leaders wanted to reach a group of kids who wouldn’t normally attend camp or club. They decided to do a kickball tournament, putting their Campaigner kids in charge of making teams and T-shirts for the event.

Brady, a sophomore at Lafayette High School, participated in the tournament and was invited to the last club of the school year. At club, he saw the camp promo video and immediately wanted to go to summer camp. At this same club, the Young Life leaders were raffling off campership gift certificates to go toward camp deposits.

A group of Campaigner guys, who were also a bunch of Brady’s friends, wanted Brady to go to camp, and they knew he would need to find a way to pay for it. These high school students decided to give all of the gift certificates they won to Brady. By the end of club, Brady was on his way to summer camp.

One of Brady’s friends helped him get hired for a job, where Brady earned the rest of his camp money. Thanks to his friends, Brady had the opportunity to go to SharpTop Cove last summer, where he experienced the extravagant love of God and committed his life to Jesus Christ. Since then, Brady has been eager to learn more about being a follower of Jesus Christ. He attends Campaigners regularly and is also excited to invite his friends to as many Young Life events as he can.

“I think that every person who meets Brady — whether it be a peer, someone younger or an adult — can see something genuine in him,” said Jon Robert Marks, Brady’s Young Life leader. “Brady is the kind of person who understands just how attractive a relationship with Jesus is and can show that to others.”

— Emilie Dorff

A New Reality

Alexa had just moved to a small town in Iowa, and spent the year struggling to make friends and find her place at a new high school. When Alexa’s friend from another town first invited her to Young Life summer camp, Alexa was hesitant. She didn’t know what to expect, had never been to Young Life club and didn’t know anyone going.

As Alexa joined the group in the van and met the Cedar Rapids Young Life leaders, she was instantly comfortable. She said, “It didn’t matter who you were or where you were from, we were all there for the same reason.” At Timber Wolf Lake, Alexa experienced what she called “ultimate reality.” She had the best week of her life, playing, singing, making new friends and experiencing life to the full.

The group of girls from Cedar Rapids talked openly and honestly during cabin times, and Alexa began to experience the most real relationships of her life. By the end of the week, Alexa had discovered what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. “How do I know this isn’t going to end when I get home?” Alexa asked, worried about returning to a non-Christian home and a town without Young Life.

Upon her arrival home, Alexa found out that while she had been at summer camp her mom had begun attending a Bible study and church. Her mom invited her to join her in becoming members of the church. God had provided an unexpected community for Alexa at home. “This is real,” Alexa said. “I’m a different person. I just have this contentment I’ve never had before.”

— Emilie Dorff