Passages: Add Sewell

Add Sewell
A man of firsts.

Young Life lost one of its founding fathers when Addison “Add” Sewell went home to be with the Lord on Sept. 6, 2008. Sewell was one of the original five staff members; the others being Jim Rayburn (founder of Young Life), George Cowan, Wally Howard and Gordon Whitelock.

Born on April 20, 1915, Sewell was raised in Wills Point, Texas, and upon graduation from high school drove his Model A Ford to Wheaton College in the fall of 1932. After graduation, Sewell sensed the Lord leading him to Dallas Theological Seminary — a providential direction indeed, because it was there he met Jim Rayburn, a sophomore at the time.

Along with the other staff, Sewell helped Rayburn start the Young Life Campaign in Gainesville, Texas, in 1940. As the school year began, Sewell headed to Gainesville to follow up on some of the kids from the summer campaign. He simply went to their football practice, and in doing so became the first Young Life leader to do what later became known as “contact work.” Rayburn wrote this about Sewell’s trip to the high school that day: “This is the most needed type of ministry in the world today. I pray that he may be the vanguard of hundreds of men whom God will raise up for this most vital of ministries.”

It was during those early years of the Gainesville club when Sewell met Loveta “Vettie” Murphy, the first club kid Rayburn ever led to Christ. Sewell and Vettie were married on Oct. 20, 1941, by … Jim Rayburn.

Out of those early clubs came kids like Roy Riviere, Tom Bade and Tom Raley. Emile Cailliet, in his 1963 book Young Life, remarked, “Thus out of this early period of activity in one small area of East Texas emerged, under the influence of Add Sewell, three of the most effective missionaries to high school youngsters.”

Other firsts for Sewell include opening the Young Life Chicago office in 1944; helping to develop the Young Life Fellowship at Wheaton, a training program for staff and volunteers; being instrumental in starting Young Life in the Pacific Northwest and helping Young Life acquire Malibu in 1953. Bob Mitchell, former Young Life president who’s known Sewell since Mitchell was 13, recalls the years they spent together opening and developing Malibu: “That first year of operation was a wonderful challenge and opportunity. God must have a great sense of humor — to put a couple of landlubbers from Texas in charge of developing the most beautiful water resort for kids in all the world!”

Sewell left Young Life in 1962 and moved to Seattle to work at the University Presbyterian Church under Dr. Robert Boyd Munger. He later joined the Presbyterian Counseling Service, and was named Pastoral Counselor of the Year by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. He helped many people with personal and family counseling until his retirement at age 80.

Speaking at Sewell’s funeral in September, Mitchell remarked, “He’s gone now, physically, but his presence and influence will never leave us. And he is in the presence of that One he taught us to worship.”

The late Tom Raley, who became a Christian in Sewell’s club in Pittsburg, Texas, once said, “I don’t remember much of what Add said or specific lessons, but I do remember perfectly how much I sensed his love for me. I learned about the way God loved me because of the way Add loved me.”