The Ripple Effect

Three years ago, high school junior John Sarver was depressed, doing drugs and far from God. His little sister, Jeanelle, had been suspended from school for fighting while their brother, Paul, was falling behind academically. Their stepsister, Michelle Culver, was into the party scene, dating guys she knew she shouldn’t and working hard to keep up with the in-crowd.

And their parents, Kevin and Lilia Culver, were on their knees. Lilia’s first husband, Jim, died in 2001 from cancer, and even with the fresh start through their new family, her three children were still reeling.

“They had always been pretty solid kids, but after their dad died, all that changed,” Lilia said. “They were pretty upset with God. One thing I prayed about after Jim passed away was that God would send godly men and women into their lives to be role models for them. I knew He was in control.”

Indeed He was. On a fall day in 2005, God answered Kevin and Lilia’s faithful prayers when John walked into his junior history class taught by Michael Cone, a teacher and Young Life leader at Creekview High School in Carrollton, Texas.

“That year, I had all ninth-grade classes except this one class of juniors,” Cone, part of Young Life’s teacher staff program, said. “John was always asking questions; he was bright and talkative. At first I thought he was a believer because he was a church kid. He had a foundation, so he wasn’t opposed to God. So I started inviting him to Young Life things.”

From a Religion to a Relationship

John and Paul’s first Young Life experience was a weekend camping trip. While there, the brothers got into a fistfight with some other kids, but Cone didn’t give up on them.

“I knew they had a lot of hidden hurts,” Cone said. John agrees he was going through a hard time when he first met Cone.

“I was depressed about a lot of things; I felt like I didn’t fit in,” he said. “One of the first things I noticed about Cone was that he was a Christian but he wasn’t boring. He was cool and always acting crazy. So when I heard about the Young Life ski trip that spring, I decided to go.”

It was this trip that turned John’s childhood religion into a relationship with the living God.

“I’d heard the Gospel my whole life,” John said. “If you asked me questions, I knew the answers, but it wasn’t in my heart. At Young Life, I saw the love of Christ lived out and that’s when His love reached out and touched me. It was the first time I felt fulfillment and joy. I’d been trying different things — drugs, working out, girls — but finally, I had peace about everything. Everything fit.”

From there, Cone said John “caught on fire.” The rest of the school year John attended club, weekly Campaigners and was a part of a discipleship group.

A Family Act

John then set his sights on Young Life camp, believing each of his three siblings needed to be there also. Sharing her son’s conviction, but without the funds to make his dream come true, Lilia set out a camp brochure at her hair salon station.

“People would see [the brochure] and say, ‘I love Young Life!’” Kevin said. “They’d give her hundreds [of dollars] at a time. The amazing thing is that she didn’t say anything about it. There was no sign or anything. They just saw the ministry name and responded with no appeal at all.”

Those donations provided funds to send her four children, their cousin and a friend to Frontier Ranch that summer. Paul, Jeanelle and Michelle believe their time at camp was crucial in healing their hurts and drawing them to God.

Now a college freshman, Paul said, “Religion was all I knew. At camp God showed me it wasn’t about facts or how good a person was. It’s a relationship He desires most.”

“I always believed in God, but I wasn’t a follower until recently,” Jeanelle, now a junior, said. “Now I talk to kids and tell them to come to Young Life. It helps me evangelize.”

Jeanelle said her relationships in Young Life helped her deal in a healthy way with her father’s death.

“I had lots of aggression and bitterness after my dad died,” she said. “I was questioning God … my dad was so young … why did He do this? But I found peace with it and I give glory to God for that.”

Michelle, a senior, gave up a leadership position on the drill team to volunteer with WyldLife, Young Life’s ministry to middle schoolers, after spending last summer on work crew. She said God used Young Life to transform her lifestyle.

“I thought I was a Christian, but my view then of what a Christian was is different from my view now,” Michelle said. “I learned it’s giving up what the flesh wants and walking with Him daily.

“It definitely changed my life and brought me out of doing a lot of bad things I was doing. It brought our family together.”

Kevin and Lilia agree Young Life is the tool God used to bring their family closer to each other and closer to Him.

“God has used Young Life to make a difference in all of us,” Lilia said. “God chose Young Life to reach my kids where they were at the time and I’m grateful for that. Now they’re not ashamed to tell anybody what they believe and who they are in Him.”

Around the time God stepped into their kids’ lives through Young Life, God intervened in Kevin’s life with a high calling. Kevin, who spent many years volunteering in church youth ministry, quit his job and enrolled in seminary. He has since become the “spiritual leader” for the Young Life ministry in Carrollton. He and Lilia host a weekly prayer time in their home and serve in other ways to encourage the committee and leaders there.

“Young Life is the best ministry to kids that I’ve ever seen,” Kevin said. “It’s given us a real community in our lifestyle. It’s where our friends are; it’s where our kids’ friends are. We’re a Young Life family now.”

Kyle Johnson is the area director for Carrollton Young Life and has formed a close relationship with the Culver-Sarver family. Johnson said this family has become “one of the spiritual rudders for Young Life in Carrollton.”

“Since we started [praying], God has moved in some pretty special ways that really blessed and challenged our ministry,” he said. “We agree the turtle wins the race. Consistent faithfulness snowballs into a great power of God. That’s what the Culvers have seen in their kids’ lives, and what we’re seeing in Carrollton Young Life.”

Just One Pebble

It all started with a high school junior in the classroom of a Young Life leader. Today, John is a freshman at Oklahoma State University and serves with an evangelistic ministry on campus. “God used Young Life in a big way in my life,” John said. “It was a God thing, being put in [class] with Cone.”

And the far-reaching impact of John Sarver’s faith is what keeps Cone going. “I reached one kid who reached out to his family,” said Cone. “That’s the greatest test of ministry — when you influence someone who influences others.”

One faithful Young Life leader tossed a pebble in his “pond” at Creekview High School, and the ripple of his ministry has affected a family who now makes it their mission to reach others for Christ.