Fueled By Passion

Joshua Neff is no stranger to Young Life. In fact, he made his club debut at 4 months old. "I've known him all his life. He was the baby in our enlarging skit* at club," recalled Bill Loy, metro director for Young Life in Lee County and Immokalee, Fla. "Josh grew up with us."

More than 25 years ago, Neff's parents started Young Life in Cape Coral, Fla., as volunteer leaders. After leading, they continued to support the mission by serving on committee for more than a dozen years. "My parents have always been passionate about sharing Christ with kids though Young Life," said Neff.

Passion and adventure

Through his parents' involvement, Neff fell in love with Young Life at an early age. And, as he grew, God gave him his own great adventure in the mission — bringing Neff's experience with Young Life full circle. "Josh has been a club kid, Campaigner kid, full-time volunteer leader and now part-time mission staff as well," Loy shared. Like his parents, Neff has a passion for reaching kids with the news of Jesus' love.

Stepping up and stepping out

After restarting WyldLife in West Palm Beach with six other leaders during college, Neff returned home to Cape Coral where he found Young Life was no longer active. He immediately set out to rebuild the ministry his parents had helped launch two decades earlier.

Loy remembers talking with Neff about volunteering in the winter of 2006. "He was committed to see Young Life reach middle school and high school kids in Cape Coral again. After talking and praying, we decided to move forward and watched to see what God would do as we stepped out in faith."

And how God moved! In just a short amount of time, a WyldLife ministry took flight at Neff's old middle school. By the summer of 2007, Neff, along with other volunteers he recruited and trained, took a group of WyldLife kids to camp.

At the end of the summer, Loy and Neff met again to talk about plans for the coming school year.

"I was ready to bring him on as part-time staff for WyldLife because ministry had really taken off, when he shared that he felt called to restart the high school ministry," Loy said.

Again, the two stepped out in faith and watched to see what the Lord was up to.

Off and running

Neff set out to build a team of leaders — teaching them about the mission of Young Life and training them to walk with kids. He also began volunteering at the high school as an assistant soccer coach and substitute teaching whenever possible — helping build relationships with faculty and spending time with kids.

While focusing on contact work and laying a solid foundation for ministry, God brought a last-minute opportunity for Neff and his leaders to take a group of kids to Polar Bear Weekend at Young Life's Southwind in January 2008. Working in one of the most diverse and impoverished communities in the country (Cape Coral has a 17 percent unemployment rate, high crime rate and one of every three families lives in a home under foreclosure), Neff was given 15 full-scholarship spots to fill.

"It only took him five days to get 15 kids signed up," Loy laughed. "God, as He always does, hand-picked each and every one of those kids.

"They had all gotten into serious trouble. Josh had to get permission from all their probation officers just so they could attend the camp."

Attending winter camp opened the door for club to start. "We hadn't planned on starting club until the following school year, but God made it so obvious we needed to move on His timing and not ours ... it just happened His was sooner rather than later," Neff shared.

The group arrived home from camp on Sunday and had their first club Monday night. Kids from camp showed up and brought friends. "It really took off and grew from there," said Loy.

God's faithfulness and favor

Fall 2008 was just as wild, with God bringing kids of every background imaginable. "The kids at Josh's club are Mexican, Nigerian, Puerto Rican, Vietnamese, Sudanese, Anglo, Colombian and other nationalities," Loy said. They are the ‘furthest-out kids,' kids who are caught up in gangs and all kinds of trouble, kids from suburban neighborhoods, kids from all ethnic and economic backgrounds.

"It's really amazing," Neff shared, with a laugh. "It seems leaders typically draw kids who are comfortable with them because they are similar somehow, it's natural. These kids don't look, act or dress anything like me [or any of our leaders]. Here I am, Caucasian with more of a skater or grunge look and these kids are hard core. It's really cool."

God is using Neff's incredible love for the Lord to bring kids to the feet of Jesus. "Josh isn't your typical, super-outgoing and loud Young Life person," Loy explained. "He is pretty reserved and quiet. But he's so good relationally. He's approachable, warm and passionate about Jesus."

Neff's passion transfers to kids in countless ways, and his desire to connect kids with the local church has helped many find fellowship and opportunity for growth in their walks. Loy shared, "They have had at least a dozen kids meet Christ this year outside of club and he has done an incredible job of getting kids plugged into the local church. Almost 100 percent of the Campaigner kids are now active in local churches!"

There is no doubt God has and will continue using Neff to share Christ with all kinds of kids. Little did his parents know that volunteering their baby boy for a club skit more than 25 years ago would eventually lead to another generation of powerful ministry through Young Life in Cape Coral, Fla.

*A decades-old Young Life skit where objects (frisbee, ball, flower, etc.) enter a very large box that looks like a machine. When the objects come out the other side of the machine, they are much larger. For the last item, you put a baby doll in (or a real baby like Neff!) and out comes a high school kid dressed in a diaper ...