A Place to Belong

"Is Young Life anything like church?" the freshman asked. "Because a friend invited me to youth group once and I don't believe in God." This was Michael Marczewski's immediate response when Beka Marcille invited him to Young Life.

Marcille, the team leader at Tahoma High School, part of the Glacier Valley Young Life area in Washington, and the other Young Life leaders first met Michael at a school-sponsored overnight retreat where the leaders served as chaperones. After bonding over group activities and events, several kids asked the leaders why they would volunteer their time to chaperone the overnight. Together the team explained how they cared about high school kids, and then told them about Young Life.

Then came Michael's insightful question.

"We were up-front with our answer," Marcille said. "We explained that we did talk about Jesus after games, skits, competitions, songs and more fun stuff, and encouraged him to come check it out once for himself. But of all the kids we met and invited, he was the one we thought would never come."

Two days later Michael showed up by himself to club, where everyone warmly welcomed him. He continued to come every single Monday, even inviting kids and leaders out for ice cream after club one night to celebrate his birthday. Michael's father later told the leaders that it was his choice to go to Young Life for his birthday and hang out with everyone afterward. Michael became one of Young Life's biggest advocates at school, despite "not believing in God."

"He was the kid who would push to invite more people," Marcille said. "He was very encouraging, and would come up with new ideas for Young Life special events. Michael would always invite the Young Life crowd to anything he wanted to do. That became his circle; he totally embraced Young Life and our group."

Thinking it through

Later that year Michael was the first kid to sign up for the camp trip to Washington Family Ranch, Young Life's camp in Oregon, and the self-proclaimed atheist continued to be one of the most regular attendees at club on Monday nights. While away at camp, Michael took a lot in; this sponge-like process continued through the fall.

"God must have been working in his heart over the next few months," Marcille explained, "because one night after club he pulled Tim Jahn (one of the leaders) aside while holding a notebook and a Bible. Michael had decided to start reading through the Bible and was keeping a notebook with all his questions and thoughts, and wanted to discuss what he was reading."

"That was totally a God thing," Jahn said. "Michael was curious. He told me, 'We have required reading at school, so I decided to start reading the Bible — and I have these questions ... ' We went out to Dairy Queen that week and went over his questions. Michael and I just talked about Jesus. It was awesome."

That summer Michael returned to Washington Family Ranch, where at the end of the week he answered God's call on his heart and began a relationship with Jesus. "The thing that strikes me," Marcille said, "is that Michael was very thoughtful and intentional in the process [of exploring the truths of Christianity]."

Proper care and feeding

The leaders weren't the only ones involved in caring for Michael, however. Early on, Jahn told his mother about "this Michael guy" and she began praying continually for her son's friend. "Mom's a big prayer warrior," Jahn said, "and she was excited and praying every chance she got and always asking for updates — 'What's Michael up to now? What's he learning?' She was really, really excited when she heard he came to Jesus. That's big too — the power of prayer and having other people praying for
these kids."

Michael, who is beginning his senior year this fall, has seen many changes in his life since beginning a relationship with Christ. "I have become much more outgoing and that really allows me to excel at school. Not only that, but getting to know the Young Life leaders and Christ also changed my entire outlook on life!" Since his decision to follow Christ, Michael and Jahn have met weekly for one-on-one discipleship to help encourage him in his faith. Michael has also expressed an interest in helping out with a junior high club in the future as well as serving at Young Life camp on work crew next summer.

Furthermore, he's taken the initiative for his personal growth by attending a local church. "I have become very much involved with the church and looking into the values that the Bible sets out for all to follow. The Bible is a learning tool that also helps guide you in the steps of creating a full relationship with Christ."

Jahn has noticed the changes too. "Michael has more joy, more confidence and more purpose in life. There's an excitement to tell other people about Jesus." Michael echoes these sentiments. "Right now I am most excited about getting to know God and Christ even better. The more you get to know Christ, the more you find out about how you should live life."

"God loved Michael long before Michael ever believed or knew Jesus," Marcille said, "and it is an amazing privilege to witness the work of God's truth and Christ's love." Through the care of leaders like Marcille and Jahn, Michael experienced the truth which Jesus so powerfully demonstrated 2,000 years ago: here you can belong before you believe.