Young Life Lite

While fall is the season to celebrate a brand new school year, spring is the season to celebrate achievement. Award programs, graduation ceremonies and recitals pepper our springtime calendars. Applause and recognition are the order of the day.

It's true in Young Life too. Every spring, after months of training in leadership development programs called First-Year Fellowship (or First-Year Leadership), "first years" are celebrated as they "graduate." In these ceremonies, first years, most often college freshmen, are assigned to the leadership team and high school or middle school they'll be serving during the upcoming school year.

In West Toledo, Ohio, this celebration has taken many forms. One year it involved search lights, paparazzi and live video coverage of the first years' red carpet arrival. Prospective leaders entered a banquet room to the thunderous applause of current leaders, committee members, friends and family members assembled to hear the audited placement results concealed in large, white envelopes. "And the leader goes to ... "

The next year, the ceremony looked more like the NFL draft where 150 supporters gathered in a room decorated with streamers, balloons and school posters. Guests enjoyed a dessert buffet as they mingled and watched clips of "scouting combines" featuring prospective leaders as they were timed looking up Bible verses or sprinting through the hallway of a local school. At the designated time, representatives of area leadership teams announced their prayerfully considered match. "And for their first pick, Ottawa Hills selects ... "

In recent years, however, the approach has been more intimate; less silly celebration and more solemn ceremony. Mike O'Shea, area director in West Toledo, says the tone of leader placement changes with the size and composition of the first-year class. Two years ago, leader placement happened in the home of an area donor. The evening's events still included great food, laughter, big envelopes and raucous cheers. But it also included a message about the nature of leadership. "I cast the vision of what it means to be a leader. It's not about us, it's about Jesus. And leader placement is about first years giving their lives away for the sake of lost kids. The evening is really about the sacrifice these first years are willing to make for the Gospel."

One of O'Shea's newest leaders, a University of Toledo sophomore, understands the sacrifice. Mahamed "Moe" Moubarak, said leadership was something he resisted for a while. Until, Moubarak said, "I looked and focused more on Christ. I felt a strong conviction that God wanted this for me." At leader placement, when he heard the words: "And Moe Moubarak is assigned to Ottawa Hills High School," he was thrilled.

Moubarak's faith and his decision to become a leader are not embraced by his family. Even so, Moubarak believes faith cannot be inherited like a family name. "It is your own decision," he said. "I'm hopeful that something positive will come out of this situation with my family and I'm praying that Christ will bring us together." Until that time, Moubarak is eager to give Ottawa Hills kids the opportunity to make their own decision about Jesus Christ.

That kind of commitment happens in the spring around Young Life. No wonder we celebrate. "Kids are getting ready to give their lives away to the kingdom," said O'Shea. "We want to celebrate that and honor the spirit of their commitment in the best possible way."

And all of heaven applauded.