From the Grapevine

Caller ID

“Hello?” answered Lauren Lielbriedis.

“Hi, I’m Alison from Young Life in Newport News, [Va.].” On student staff with Young Life, Alison was given the challenging task of cold-calling donors to invite them to the banquet.

“My caller ID says this is a 609 area code. Isn’t that New Jersey? I thought you said you were calling from Newport News?”

“It is a New Jersey number,” replied Alison. “Six months ago, my family moved to Virginia. I haven’t changed my cell number yet.”

“Oh, I recognized the area code because I grew up in South Jersey.”

“Really? I was born in South Jersey!”

“I went to Cherry Hill East High School,” continued Lauren, “in fact, I was involved in Young Life. My leader’s name was Jim Cunningham.”

“Oh my gosh! THAT’S MY DAD!” yelled Alison, totally shocked. After finishing the conversation, she immediately called her father.

 Jim Cunningham remembered Lauren and decided to call her right away. “She told me that in high school she was not a Christian and rarely attended club,” reported Cunningham. “But she remembered that I had told her the first thing she should do when she got to college was to find a Christian fellowship group.” Lauren took the recommendation to heart. At the University of Virginia, she connected with a campus fellowship, and they led her to Christ. Now, she is happily married, has children and is walking with Christ.

“It was an incredible ‘coincidence,’” said Cunningham. “What are the chances that my daughter would end up in a college in Virginia, that Lauren would end up in the same community as Alison, that Alison would be on student staff and assigned to call donors, that she would be the one to call Lauren and that they would make the connection based on a 609 area code on caller ID?” Cunningham smiled. “It’s no coincidence at all. I take it as an affirmation of our ministry to kids. God has a way of doing these things, even when we don’t always see the results.” It’s a special gift when we do.

— Ned Erickson

Pictures from Jenny

All was going as expected at our annual Young Life Capernaum club talent show, until Jenny graced the stage.

Jenny is vivacious to say the least. She always has a way of making us laugh, so for the talent show I figured nothing less than Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” to be sung with the most head flips, hip shakes and shimmies she could muster. When I asked her what song she was singing, she wouldn’t budge. “It’s a surprise!” she said with a grin. “OK, Jenny, but it has to be appropriate.”

I don’t know the name of the song she used, but I can tell you there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd. The song had an introduction that talked about Jesus’ life and His love. And that’s when Jenny had the emcee hold up her book of drawings.

The first drawing was a yellow gate with scribbles all around it. “Heaven’s gate” she explained, as she narrated each picture. It turns out her book was all about the life of Jesus, including a Christmas tree (for Jesus’ birthday), the cross with many people standing below and a rock (representing Jesus’ tomb).

That night everyone got a glimpse of Jenny that we hadn’t seen before. She was sincere; wanting everyone to know God loves them. For once she wanted God to have all the attention, and moved away from wanting the limelight. It was a proud moment in my life, one that every leader looks forward to, where I realized the impact God was having in her life. I dried my tears and hugged my friend. “Jenny, that was wonderful. I liked the song and your book.” With a humble smile she hugged me back and said, “Thank you.” We walked back to the bleachers together and took our seats, both of us beaming for different reasons, but each knowing that heaven had just touched earth.

— Kim Holland

The Least of These

For the last four years, Young Life Boston North Shore has taken a group to New York City to conduct service projects for the poor and homeless. In April 2008, in conjunction with the New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM) in Queens, 14 kids came along to receive special training for the work.

“They (NYSUM) do a great job of teaching kids to create great relationships and meet people on their level,” said Area Director John Grothjan.

Their work took them to the Port Authority homeless shelter where the line snaking out from the door really moved the kids, recalled leader Judd Meche. “Some of the kids pooled their money and got [the people in line] a pizza. One girl even gave up a sweatshirt she was wearing to a lady who needed it.” Touched by the service involved, one of the North Shore kids surrendered his life to Christ that very night.

Weeks earlier, Boston North Shore had raised $700 at a bake sale. On the final night of the New York trip, the leaders surprised the kids at Tompkins Square Park by handing the money back to them to help the homeless in creative ways. “They had two hours to do the best possible good that they could do,” said Grothjan.

One of the many people they met that night was a young man who had been an architect before he lost his job and landed on the streets. The kids learned that he loved to draw, and used their money to buy him a sketchpad and pencils.

Meche called the trip a big confidence builder in the power of prayer. “So much prayer went into the trip, and everything went so seamlessly,” he said. “God will reward you when you’re faithful.”

— Travis Johnson

Got the T-Shirt

Mattawa, Wash., has no stoplights, no recreation center, not even a dentist. Until recently, this small town did not even have a Young Life club. Meredith Shafer joined teacher staff late in 2007. As a school counselor, she had already established relationships with many of the kids in the district, and carried a keen insight into the community’s struggles against gang activity.

Kids in Mattawa schools abide by a strict uniform policy — tucked-in collared shirts and khakis; no colors allowed but black, white and maroon. On Fridays, however, the kids can wear any apparel that promotes school district spirit, like team jerseys or shirts.

Last March, the Young Life Mid-Columbia Region held an annual fundraiser, and asked area leaders to bring club kids along as servers. Shafer brought 14 kids to help, and for their efforts, each of them received a Young Life T-shirt. “The kids just loved them,” Shafer remembered. “They were so proud.”

The next day, Shafer asked her school’s principal if the kids could wear their Young Life shirts for “Spirit” Fridays. “Most of these kids are not in sports,” she noticed, and therefore would not possess any qualifying apparel. Her principal, a former Young Life leader himself, agreed and Young Life T-shirts began walking the halls of Wahluke High School in Mattawa.

Other kids saw the shirts and started to ask questions. Word spread that there was something new to do in town, and attendance at club has tripled since the start of the year. News has even reached community kids who were involved in gang activity, and were either expelled from school or incarcerated. “Letters are being sent to people in prison about club in Mattawa,” Shafer said.

Through those first T-shirts, the Gospel has cracked the hardened shell of the community’s gang culture with a sense of renewed hope, and a deep sense of pride.

— Travis Johnson