From the Grapevine

Back To Life

When Jackie started middle school, she approached her parents and declared, “There is no God.” By her freshman year of high school in Tucson, Ariz., stuck at a new school, cut off from old friends and a familiar community, Jackie had sank into deep depression. A girl at school introduced her to drugs and alcohol, as well as various forms of self-abuse, and by summer, her depression reached a peak. Her parents tried counseling. “Nothing helped,” Jackie said.

The next year, at a new school, Jackie met another young girl who invited her to club. There she met Young Life leader Amy Morales. “When I first met Jackie, she was very closed off … she was hurting,” Morales said.

Jackie won’t ever forget their first encounter. “I stepped into the house and [Amy] came right up to me and gave me a big ol’ hug,” Jackie said. “It was the coolest thing ever!”

That summer, Jackie went to camp at Lost Canyon. The experience, she said, helped her begin to heal and open herself up to others. On day five, she stood up and announced at the Say-So that she had accepted Christ. “That day was literally the end of my depression,” she said.

Last summer, Jackie underwent junior leadership training. At first, she just wanted to pay Young Life back. “If it weren’t for Young Life, I would not be alive right now,” she said. Her efforts, however, have grown into something more. Jackie now serves as a WyldLife leader in Tucson, Ariz., the first high school WyldLife leader in her area. Her service, she says, has become “this expression for me to show God how much I love Him, and show others how they can change their lives like I had.”

Jackie’s eagerness to share God’s love is undeniable, Morales said. “She is so full of love and has God’s love inside of her that she wants to spread everywhere. She knows the truth and she knows that God will always prevail.”

— Travis Johnson

Hooked for Life

Young Life leader Roya Rahimpour’s heart beats strongly for orphaned teenagers. And the success of the “Fill the Bus” campaign provided about 20 spots for kids in her area to attend camp at no cost. So with several days before camp and room for more campers she went to an orphanage in downtown San Diego. While waiting in the lobby, she met Steven. Since no one was available to meet with Rahimpour at that time, she went home.

The orphanage’s administrator finally called, and when he said there weren’t any kids to go on such short notice, Rahimpour asked, “What about Steven?” And with that, Steven was signed up for camp.

Camp was a welcome contrast to the life Steven was used to. During one cabin time discussion with leaders and other campers, Steven described that he didn’t know where his parents were and he would often walk the streets for days without speaking to another person.

When Young Life staff member Josh Fulks talked with Steven mid-week about his impressions of God and the things he was learning at camp, Steven seemed far from understanding God’s love.

Still, Steven seemed hooked on camp. One early evening, as kids were leaving the waterfront, Steven was trying to fish. Camp speaker Grant Hatasaki spent time talking to Steven and showed him a few things about fishing. It wasn’t long before Steven celebrated his first catch.

And by the end of the week, there was a bigger reason to celebrate. Steven’s heart was reeled in by his heavenly Father. On Steven’s last day at camp, he went on the New Believer’s walk, and then went back to the orphanage with a new Bible and new hope.

— Aimée Kessick

Faith Through Family

Julianna came to the United States to live with the Haddad family as part of the Amicus program, which pairs exchange students with host families who want to share the love of Christ by sharing their lives with international students.

An only child in her hometown of Munich, Germany, in America Julianna found herself surrounded by four host siblings, two host parents and a Young Life community ready to embrace her. Shortly after her arrival, she celebrated her 16th birthday and was amazed at all the friends of the Haddads who came to a party in her honor.

Because the Haddads are on Young Life staff, Julianna tasted club and Campaigners. But she was also intrigued by church, and looked forward to going with them every week. She became involved with a small group there and that, coupled with the loving and transparent relationships the Haddads sought to provide, gave Julianna fertile ground for her budding faith to take root.

“We trusted that wherever the seeds of faith fell, they would grow,” said Nancy Haddad.

Julianna, who tended to be shy when among large groups, developed friendships with Haddad and her daughter, Nicole. “Julianna was open to sharing what she felt,” Haddad said. “After a while she was more trusting, sharing her struggles, her feelings and her insecurities.”

The Haddad family could tell that Julianna didn’t need much prompting to explore Christianity. “We hoped and prayed that whether it was at our house, or down the road, she would find God,” Haddad said. “The words of Jeremiah 29:13 resounded in our hearts: ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’”

Sure enough, at a Good Friday service, Julianna made a decision to follow Jesus Christ. And a month later, she made a public declaration of her transformation and was baptized into a new spiritual family — with her host mother right at her side. Shortly before Julianna left America to return to Germany, the Young Life community again gathered for another birthday — but this party celebrated her re-birth into the family of God. She was showered with Christian books, CDs and DVDs to keep her encouraged on her journey and to remind her of her home in America and her new eternal home with God.

— Aimée Kessick

Leading from the Heart

Last July, staff member Laurel Hanson headed to WyldLife camp at Lost Canyon with a group of girls from low-income neighborhoods in Norman, Okla. She was eager to give them a taste of life outside of their everyday worlds, which are clouded with the effects of broken families, crime and drug abuse, not to mention temptations to be sexually active.

As a tutor at their school, Hanson had gotten to know these girls throughout the school year. “They literally fell into my lap,” she said. “I was tutoring another kid and they came and sat down at my table.” Through homework help and casual conversation, Hanson began to build a rapport with them. When she invited them to club for the first time, they accepted. “So I called each of their parents to ask them if I could pick them up for club.”

But Hanson found that her friendships continued to build slowly. In fact, one of the girls seemed to act just plain mean for about six months. “They don’t show a lot of respect for me, for my things, but they’re starting to see me as kind of a mom figure to them.” Their time at camp helped make that possible. That’s when Hanson learned more of their heart-breaking stories; and it’s where the girls learned about God’s desire to heal their hearts. “Camp was a place that they could be loud, crazy and act like kids,” Hanson said. “The change was from day one. We hung out, played, talked and had a close bond by day three.”

“These girls had the best time of their life. Not only was it fun, but their favorite parts were the club talks about Christ. They loved talking and asking questions about God.”

One night, after the club when the camp speaker talked about Jesus’ death on the cross, kids were given 15 minutes to sit by themselves. The time to be still and quiet provided the room for their hearts to soften and for the tears to flow.

“The majority [of these girls] have used drugs and alcohol and have been sexually active,” Hanson said. “That night they realized that Christ paid that price for them. And they cried, realizing that their heavenly Father erases those past sins and loves them unconditionally. It was an incredible experience. The transformation that I saw in each of those girls was absolutely supernatural.”

— Aimée Kessick