Hometown Harvest

Young Life didn’t come to the college town of Manhattan, Kan., when Jim Rayburn was a student at Kansas State University. That happened decades later through the work of passionate and prayerful college students following in his footsteps of faith.

The Busload That Never Was

In the summer of 1955, Charles Bascom, a Manhattan native and medical school student, was in a bus full of St. Joseph, Mo., kids returning home from the best week of their lives at Frontier Ranch. It had been an incredible week and, driving home through Kansas, Bascom couldn’t help imagining a day when kids from his hometown would have a chance to go as well. Maybe he would be the one to make it happen.

One day, perhaps. Meanwhile, God led Bascom and his new wife, Kay, to St. Joseph to voluntarily lead the Young Life ministry there.

Still, during those years, Bascom tried to get some Manhattan kids to go to camp with him. He even talked to the pastor of a church he once attended, but nothing ever happened. “I’m a provoker, not a finisher, I guess,” said Bascom. “Nothing came of it.”

Groundwork

Yet, something did. Through the years and even during his medical posts in Ethiopia, the Bascoms kept tilling the soil of his hometown with prayer.

Nearly 40 years later, in 1994, Bascom took a job at the student health center at Kansas State. It wasn’t too long before he and his wife became aware of another group also working the Manhattan ground. College students, mostly from the Kansas City area, were meeting together to pray.

Tara (Fisher) Shepherd was one of them. “It wasn’t on anybody’s map, yet here’s this group of college kids getting together and praying for Young Life to happen. We would even go to the high school at night and just pray that God would open the door. It was crazy. We almost had to be naïve to do what we did.”

Foreign Exchange

In 1996, this ragtag group of leaders began doing ministry at Manhattan High School. They would go to basketball games and hang out after school, but it was tough going. Shepherd said, “Hardly anyone would give us the time of day.” Regardless, they decided to start club. “It was like six foreign exchange students and 12 leaders. We were so uncool that the girl who lived in the house where we had club wouldn’t even come.” (Ironically, that girl later went on Young Life staff.)

Connecting the Pieces

Thanks to the tenacity of these passionate college students, slowly, their ministry gained momentum. Then, providentially, these college leaders connected with people like the Bascoms and other like-minded community members including Mark and Rita Wetzel, and Lynn and Jean Rundle.

One evening in 1997, the Kansas State Young Life leaders were invited to share their vision with a prayer group. Mark Wetzel recalled that there were four or five couples at the meeting. “These college students began educating us on what Young Life was. I was immediately drawn to both their heart for kids and the Lord. As a result, by default I think, that group became the first committee.”

Lynn Rundle admitted, “I was a little skeptical. Cautious. I wanted to make sure that this Young Life group was for real.” Nevertheless, he and his wife felt the urging from God to get involved. And after a training event in Oklahoma with Regional Director John Sharp, they were hooked.

Past, Present and Future Collide

From these humble beginnings a tight bond developed between these college and community leaders. Rundle said, “The committee hosted these leaders almost weekly for meals, prayer, friendship development and unofficial mentoring. We loved them, and they trained us in the mysterious ways of Young Life.

“There were lots of tears shed and prayers offered for the lost in Manhattan, Kan. And that is what a movement of God is, crying out for help and for His leadership. No, we didn’t know what we were doing, but somehow we always seemed to come up with what we needed.”

Tara Shepherd eventually went on student staff, and later, after graduation, she became an intern. In 2002, Manhattan hired its first area director, Luke Feather.

Feather grew up in Grand Junction, Colo., and attended Colorado State University where he was a leader. While serving on summer staff at Castaway Club between his freshman and sophomore years, he met a young woman by the name of Stacy Schmidt; she was one of the founding leaders at Kansas State.

A few years later, Stacy Schmidt would return to Manhattan as Stacy Feather, Luke’s wife.

Luke Feather’s marriage to one of Manhattan’s first leaders is just one way he senses a connection to Manhattan Young Life’s early days. “I felt this particularly the first years on staff, like the Lord really had gone ahead of us and was just preparing this place for the work. Having people like the Bascoms here is awesome. They are prayer warriors.”

“We’re kind of grandparents to this thing,” said Kay Bascom. “I wish we could still be in a Young Life club.” Feather finds ways to keep them involved, and it’s not that difficult. Yearly, the couple speaks at a leadership meeting. “At the beginning, these freshmen are like ‘who are the old folks?’ but by the end they are truly blown away. They just want more and more,” said Feather.

“Go back to the basics with the Lord,” they remind the leaders. “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Keep the focus on Him and His desire to have the entire high school crowd get an opportunity to make an informed decision about Jesus Christ.”

Members from that first committee and their children are still involved also. The Rundles remain committed. “We are believers in this ministry. We really are the blessed ones.”

College-aged Commitment

As Luke Feather reflects on the ministry, he is drawn to the first volunteers’ commitment to prayer. “It goes to show you the power of what happens when a group of folks gets together and is committed to prayer.”

Tara Shepherd, one of Manhattan’s first leaders, now volunteers with Young Life in Wichita, Kan. She said, “It really began with prayer. Over the years, I have struggled to remember that. There were so many times that I should have prayed more and done less.”

Mark Wetzel points to the passion, consistency and commitment of the volunteers who have come from Kansas State. “As parents we can influence our children a lot, but when a college person not only says it but makes it real, that’s what makes a difference. Over the years we have personally witnessed the wonderful things that have happened through college-aged leaders.”

“We try to be kingdom-minded,” said Feather, “so that when these leaders leave, whether they are doing Young Life or not, they will have the ministry truly in their hearts. It is amazing that KSU has provided staff people, pastors and missionaries all over the country and the world.”

And maybe more amazing to witness the ministry that thrives in the college town of Jim Rayburn who also walked on these sidewalks more than 60 years ago.