Along the Road

For a high school senior, the last few months before graduation are all about closure — final experiences, lifelong friends and celebrations. It’s an unusual time to reach out to a stranger on the school bus.

That’s why Lauren Stutzriem knew without a doubt that she was fulfilling a divine appointment the day she started talking to a sophomore named Brittany.

On the surface, nothing about it made much sense: Lauren was a senior, with high school nearly in her rearview mirror, and her first impression of Brittany wasn’t all that good. She had noticed the younger girl on the bus because she was chatty and boisterous.

“She was really loud, and I thought, ‘I don’t think I would ever want to be friends with this girl,’” said Lauren, who finished high school in Northern Virginia and enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University this fall. “But for some reason, I felt this weird feeling toward her. God just kind of shoved her right in front of me, and all of a sudden we were friends.”

Brittany complimented Lauren on her hair, and before they knew it Brittany was sharing stunning details of a difficult home life. She had dealt with addiction and mistreatment in her family, and had lost her mother at a young age. A few months before she met Lauren, she had called a family friend and asked if she could move in, and her new guardians were providing love and stability. Lauren was amazed at how much Brittany had endured, and she yearned for Brittany to know the love of Christ. She invited her to Young Life.

A history of planting seeds

It wasn’t the first time Lauren had asked a friend to come to club. Ever since she discovered Young Life late in her sophomore year, she had been convinced that her classmates were searching and that Young Life could lead them to acceptance and purpose by introducing them to the Lord who made them.

“She just has this vision, and she gets it,” said Michelle Stapleton, one of Lauren’s leaders in high school. “She understands that we’re trying to share the Gospel with high school kids.”

Sometimes at Campaigners, Lauren would come up with ideas to draw friends to club, Stapleton said, like making invitations or organizing drivers to pick them up and get them there. But by the time she met Brittany, she was feeling discouraged. She knew she was planting seeds for the kingdom, but that didn’t keep her from wanting to see a harvest.

Then, to her surprise, Brittany showed up at the next Young Life club after that conversation on the bus. She had told Lauren that she believed in Wicca*, but there she was, listening to a talk about Jesus. The talk at the end made her a little uncomfortable, she said, and Lauren wondered if she would ever come back.

The next week, Brittany was back, and then again the week after that for the last club of the year. It was Senior Night, when the seniors planned and implemented every aspect of the meeting. Lauren asked if she could be the one to give the talk, and during that time she focused on God’s character and His goodness. If God is who He says He is, she said, He is bigger than any problem you might have and He is in control. She spoke about the difference Jesus had made in her own life.

“I’ve always wanted to give the talk, ever since I started coming to Young Life,” she said. “I’m really fond of sharing how I became a Christian.”

Words of life in the driveway

After Lauren’s talk, Brittany approached Stapleton and told her that she wanted to learn more about Jesus. Stapleton encouraged her, but she was leaving on a trip, so she asked Lauren to follow up. Before a week had passed, Brittany was already at church with Lauren’s family, and not long after that she brought Brittany to her first Campaigner meeting. Lauren drove her home from Campaigners, and the two were sitting in the car talking about the things Brittany had been hearing.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to push you into anything you don’t want to do, but do you think you’d be ready to accept Him into your life?’” Lauren shared. Brittany said she was ready but wasn’t sure how to pray, so Lauren led the prayer for her friend, then celebrated with her. Brittany was a new creation, and Lauren was reminded of how powerfully God can use willing hearts.

“She pursued her,” said Stapleton, “without going through me. She just did it.”

Lauren’s boldness with Brittany has encouraged the leaders and staff in her area, Stapleton said, nudging them to cross relational bridges and to be unafraid to ask spiritual questions of kids. It’s the kind of story that has become a shining symbol of what Young Life is hoping to cultivate — an environment where high school kids are so drawn to Jesus that they can’t help but tell their friends about Him. Even the committee has taken hope from the power of that one friendship, said Area Director Ryan Clegg.

For now, Lauren is trying to find students at her new college who share her faith and her passion for sharing it. She calls Brittany regularly to encourage her, and she’d like to be a Young Life leader. Wherever she ministers, she will keep expecting God to move in her world and to lead her to the people who, like Brittany, desperately need a dose of hope.

*Wicca is a polytheistic pagan nature religion, which includes the use of magic and witchcraft.