Young With a Mission

Just looking at the facts, you'd never put them together: young, white, single college girls and African-American teen moms living in poverty. On paper, it doesn't make sense. But Lisa Brown, Young Lives coordinator in Tallahassee, Fla., doesn't have time to consider the impossibilities. She's too busy connecting her young mentors and even younger moms with the love of Christ. And she does it all as a volunteer.

In 2006, Brown was fresh out of Florida State University and thinking about her future. That's when she first heard about Young Lives, Young Life's ministry to teen moms and their babies. Her heart was already inclined toward young moms and their children, and when she learned that Young Lives exists to serve them, it resonated.

"I had volunteered with Tallahassee's Pregnancy Help and Information Center during college," she said. "That opened my heart to poverty and single moms. My area director from high school came to Tallahassee to start Young Life after I graduated … and during leadership training he explained all the different Young Life ministries. When he got to Young Lives, I said, 'Wait … tell me more about that.' That's the moment it all came together."

Relentless pursuit of relationships

In January 2007, Brown, while working full time at FSU, started looking for mentors — women who practice "life-on-life" ministry with the girls, encouraging them spiritually and practically. She pulled from the pool of resources right in front of her: her friends. Their first club was in March.

"It's one of those things that, if God calls you to it, He'll bring you through it," Brown said. "I have a child development degree, but I'm not a mom. At first I was worried they'd think, 'Who does she think she is?' but it just works. God has done it. I don't know what else to say."

Today, Brown is a 25-year-old graduate student who works full time while volunteering to lead Tallahassee Young Lives. Brown's relationship with the pregnancy center has been a huge benefit to the ministry.

"We have a great relationship with the center," she said. "When the director found out about Young Lives, she said, 'What can we do? How can we help?' We have all our meetings at the center. [These young moms] need life skills and it's so neat to partner with an agency that's already doing those things and doing them well. They earn Baby Bucks by going to club and can buy bottles, diapers, wipes, even baby clothes."

In a little more than two years, Young Lives has grown from six moms to a core group of 15-20 moms who each have a mentor. Kristen Cortese is one of them. Like Brown, Cortese, 25, doesn't bring life experience to the table, but her heart is stirred by the idea of bringing the Gospel to this particular group of teens.

"I love the relational aspect of Young Lives," Cortese said. "I see God change people through relationships, with myself and the girls. It's about consistently caring about a person rather than just speaking the words. Christ and the Gospel are central to what we do. Without the unending source of love from Christ, this ministry would be impossible. He's clearly Lisa's motivation for this ministry. He's what keeps her going. She is so encouraging to us and relentless in her pursuit of those girls."

Jen Byard, Young Lives director, agrees. Last January, she had Brown lead a workshop on training and caring for mentors during the Young Lives Support Week at Oakbridge, a Young Life camp in Southern California.

"Lisa spends a ton of time and energy pouring into the lives of the girls and mentors. She goes above and beyond," Byard said. "It's a challenge to keep the mentors going when the going gets tough, but she's so good at it. She understands Young Life as a ministry and understands how to care for people."

Ministry success = go and tell

Brown's effectiveness is seen not only in the growth of the ministry in Tallahassee, but as far away as Champaign, Ill. When Erin Grace, a 25-year-old Tallahassee mentor, moved back home after college in 2008, Brown asked her to commit to starting a Young Lives club there.

Since then, Grace, while working full time, has started two clubs as a volunteer. With support from a strong committee, Grace says there are plans to grow even more.

"Building relationships with the girls is key," Grace said. "I've seen the difference someone can make in a teen mom's life. God uses Young Lives to do powerful things, and Lisa is such an encouragement. She's a great resource for anything I need."

While there are challenges in this ministry, Lindsey Patchell, Young Lives divisional coordinator, sees God working through Brown and her friends all the time. Patchell believes Tallahassee Young Lives is successful because these leaders have what truly matters: a Christlike willingness to go and tell.

"There are very few people I know who give their lives away like Lisa Brown does," Patchell said. "I have seen her heart break over the lives these girls are entrenched in. I have seen her weep over their sin, rejoice in their salvation and celebrate in the chains God is breaking in their lives. It is a true picture of Jesus ... He identified with our pain and entered into our sin. Lisa does just that. She loves a population that is hard to serve at times, but is in the exact place Jesus longs for us to be — with the lonely, hurting, broken and desperate.

"She has a vision to see Young Lives grow all over her part of the country and is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen — all as a volunteer."