A Well-Balanced Life

No car. No time. No experience.

On top of that, Yale University student Bryan Twarek has a no-nonsense major. But when close college friend Mike Lehmann approached Twarek about helping establish Young Life in urban New Haven, Conn., the senior pre-med student just couldn’t say no.

What Twarek did have — a heart and mind for ministry and a willingness to hang out with 13-year-olds — far outweighed any of his limitations. The last two years of ministry have been an amazing journey.

“I feel like I’m getting more from Young Life than I’m giving,” said Twarek, nicknamed “BT” by his father. “It’s neat that an organization can work both ways like that.”

A learning process

Twarek showed up for “Exercise Club” in blazing orange 1980s-era short shorts. While he’s perfectly fine making a fool of himself in front of 30 teens, getting to that place of comfort has been a process.

Fair Haven K-8 School, one of several schools involved in the Fairhaven WyldLife club, is less than two miles from Yale University geographically, but in some regards the two schools are worlds apart culturally. The Fair Haven School serves primarily black and Hispanic kids, quite opposite from Twarek’s upbringing in suburban Kansas City, Mo.

“I can say when I first heard that Young Life was starting here, I was incredibly excited,” Twarek said. “At the same time, after going to my first WyldLife club at Fair Haven, I was terrified. I had grown up in a suburban environment. I came from a big school, about 2,200 people. Young Life was popular and established. New Haven was completely different. It was an urban environment and a different population. Nobody had any idea what Young Life was. There was no community support behind it. We were starting from scratch, and I had never worked with middle school kids.”

Even though he was terrified, Twarek kept going back. At first, he just felt like the guy who made them laugh at club. But as he returned week after week — playing ga-ga (an inside handball type game), hanging out at the library or eating at Grand Apizza (a local pizza place) — real friendships began developing. No longer petrified, Twarek now looks forward to his time with the kids.

“It’s a slow-developing skill,” Twarek said. “I can see amazing progress in the last two years.”

New Haven … made for this

Besides being home to a prestigious Ivy League school, New Haven has a tradition for producing some of America’s favorite foods. Louis’ Lunch on Crown Street claims to be home to the original hamburger in 1900. Wooster Street is home to two of the nation’s most critically acclaimed pizza joints: The Original Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally’s Apizza.

Catherine Haist, a 1998 Yale University graduate, is working hard to make Young Life the next strong tradition in New Haven. In September of 2005, Haist took a job at Fair Haven Middle School. It’s now Fair Haven K-8 School.

“I really fell in love with these middle school kids,” Haist said. “Pretty soon into it, I realized how much pain and hurt was in these kids’ lives. I recognized it was a spiritual need.”

A conversation with Mike Kahmann — who was serving as the Young Life New Canaan committee chair at the time — birthed a vision for the ministry in her heart.

Haist was hired on as part of Young Life’s Teachers in Mission program and in June of 2008 — one day before receiving her teaching tenure — Haist resigned from the school and went on Young Life staff full time.

At the first club, 75 kids came out. Haist had the vision. She had relationships with the kids. All she needed was some co-laborers. Enter Twarek.

“It’s really just a God thing,” Haist said. “It’s a tribute to the mission as a whole. Kids are raised up through this ministry, and it means so much to them that they want to give back. That’s really the story of BT.”

Now that’s dedication

One of Haist’s favorite BT stories shows just how much the Yale senior is willing to sacrifice to lead Young Life. Twarek was teaching math and English at a summer camp for underprivileged kids in Boston.

He convinced his boss to let him off for a few days to lead his WyldLife kids at Young Life’s Lake Champion. Sleep deprived, he arrived back in Boston four days later, and immediately went back to work on no sleep.

“A little bit of a sacrifice,” said Twarek, trying to downplay the ordeal. “But it was worth it.”

According to Haist, that’s typical BT.

“After spending four full days at camp, running around with middle school kids, he must have been beat,” Haist said. “He’s willing to do that, never showing a hint of ‘Ah man, why am I doing this?’ That’s just who BT is. He wouldn’t have had it any other way. ”

Balancing Young Life with his academic work, social obligations and campus responsibilities has been extremely difficult at times. Twarek has learned to seek the Lord in prayer, manage his time wisely and delegate some responsibilities. Sometimes, he even has to say no.

“It’s a very difficult balancing act,” Twarek said. “I’d say my biggest regret with Young Life is that I don’t have more time to spend.”