From the Grapevine

A Great Pursuit

Andy Hunt did not go looking for Young Life. It came to him. Contrary to the typical order of operation, he was, in fact, hunted down by a high school student. "A lot of people have told me that being invited to become a leader by a student is somewhat rare," Hunt said.

After graduating from college in 2008 with a degree in real estate and finance, he moved back to his hometown in Minneapolis. "Looking at what I wanted to do, I felt more and more called to return home, number one to be close to my family and to see [my brother] Nathan go through his senior year of high school.

"I knew early on that I was very focused on my career," he said, "but I was really looking for something more that I could be truly passionate about."

When asked to assist in coaching his brother's lacrosse team, Hunt agreed, soon learning God's heart for, and his calling to, high school kids. "I realized that I was enthusiastic about coaching," he recalled. "It wasn't the wins and the losses. It wasn't the getting outside and getting fresh air. That stuff was fun, but what I loved the most was interacting with these high school kids, who I felt a connection with and who I wanted to see succeed. The relationships I built with them were way more rewarding than anything else I could've experienced." Hunt's position led him to several solid friendships with players. Kevin was a senior defensive player and an active Young Life club kid. Noticing Hunt's natural leadership skills, Kevin suggested he look into joining the ministry as a leader.

Andy Swanda, Southwest Twin Cities area director, was a little hesitant. "When selecting leaders, we look at people's faith, calling, availability and lifestyle. How was a high schooler going to gauge that?" he said. But when Swanda met Hunt he knew within a couple of minutes that "Kevin had nailed it."

"He is a solid man of faith," Swanda said. "He really loves teenagers beyond the lacrosse field." Within a couple of weeks, Hunt was pursuing kids as a leader in the Private School Young Life area. "Kevin's invitation was in hindsight just so perfect," Hunt said. "What my heart was searching for, God worked through him to help me find."

– Cory Bordonaro


Leading for the Long Term

When Steve Garnier walked into a Fairfax, Va., Young Life club one April night in 1985, he didn't know what he was in for. He was about to graduate from college and, up until that point, had no prior experience with the ministry. But, after one taste, he was hooked. He became a leader that spring and was at Saranac Village, Young Life's camp in the Adirondacks, with kids that very summer.

"I was amazed at the opportunity that Young Life presented to gather a group of kids and give them an environment that was fun and exciting," he remembered. "And, it provided us the opportunity as leaders to present the Gospel in a non-threatening way."

Over the last two-and-a-half decades, Garnier's involvement has varied, but his heart for the vision is just as big as ever. Eight years ago, he shifted into a role leading Leesburg WyldLife.

"I noticed that the issues that kids were dealing with in high school back in the '80s and '90s, they were beginning to deal with in sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade," he said. "We needed to start to reach these kids at a younger age."

"I think Steve really believes that Young Life works, and that it's a good thing to give his time to," said Beth DeButts, area director in Western Loudoun County. "It's been really neat to be able to capitalize on what his team built at the middle school level. Those kids come to high school looking for Young Life."

Still heavily involved in the organization, Garnier began to focus on setting his high school leaders up for relationships with middle school kids. He has also had the unique opportunity to involve his entire family, most recently leading with his wife and oldest daughter.

"It's been a family event for the last seven years at least. It's actually meshed beautifully with our family life. It's a ministry that we can all share in. In 1985, I certainly didn't envision that, 25 years later, I would still be leading club, and with my kids. It's been a blessing from a parent's perspective to have Young Life and to see them come up through it."

– Cory Bordonaro


Belonging Before Believing

While just another day to most students, the organization sign-up day at Grays Harbor College in Washington was a pivotal moment in Jorey Phelps' life. Walking through the different club offerings, he came upon the Young Life College booth and recognized some of the leaders from his days at Hoquiam High School. While he didn't come out to club much in high school, he had a familiarity with the leaders and knew Young Life to be a safe group, and signed the interest sheet. After talking with the leaders there, Jorey spun around, approached the booth directly across from Young Life College's and also signed up … for the Atheist club.

After a month of faithfully attending both clubs, Jorey stopped going to the Atheist club. When Pat Farmer, the area director, asked him why, Jorey replied, "The Atheist club is just really angry and I got tired of it, so I'm just coming to Young Life College now. It's a lot more fun."

As the months passed, Jorey jumped into several of the different groups Young Life College offered. He started attending planning meetings, a small group on cooking, band practices and general hangout times. "Jorey was becoming immersed in the community of the group," Farmer said. "He was belonging before he ever believed in God."

In March, another leader, Tim Orrin, invited Jorey to come to church with him. At the end of the service there was an invitation for those who would like to begin a relationship with Christ. Jorey went forward, responding to the months of love and care he received from those around him.

"If it wasn't for these last four months of loving Jorey where he was at, he would never have gone with Tim to church," Farmer said. Jorey's life is indeed a new creation — from inviting his friends and older brother to Young Life College to putting the Bible on his iPod, to leaving the party scene to jumping with both feet into the community at the church. "With the Lord in my life I can do anything, but I don't do anything without my heavenly Father's consent."

Young Life College is custom made for kids like Jorey — kids who, for a number of reasons, may have never connected with Young Life in high school, or upon entering college are now beginning to ask questions on the subject of faith. For more information on Young Life College, go to younglife.org.

– Jeff Chesemore


Earning the Right to Hear

The 17 Young Life leaders in Hays County, Texas, have never led a club or taken kids to camp, but they are becoming experts in the most vital work of the mission: relationships.

For evidence, look no further than Todd Farnsworth, a student at Texas State University and a leader at San Marcos High School. When Farnsworth was placed on his new team in this startup area, he heard Area Director Ryan Hammett lay down a bold challenge. Before starting club or talking about camp, Hammet encouraged the leaders to spend time just meeting kids in the community.

So Farnsworth started visiting the San Marcos High lunchroom three times a week. On his first visit, he approached a big table of guys and made some small talk until, one by one, each of the guys made an excuse and walked away. All except Jacob, who stayed to talk longer than his friends.

Farnsworth kept showing up at the school, and every time he would stop and talk to Jacob and his girlfriend. The conversation stayed at the surface, until one day when Farnsworth sat down and Jacob said, "I have something I want to tell you." Farnsworth leaned in, but Jacob hesitated until his girlfriend encouraged him to tell him news that Farnsworth never expected to hear from two freshmen: Jacob's girlfriend was pregnant. Farnsworth responded with love and encouragement.

A few weeks after that conversation, when Farnsworth approached Jacob, he could tell something was wrong. This time Jacob didn't hesitate to share the thing that was closest to his heart with this college student who had so recently been a stranger.

"He told me that they had had a miscarriage," Farnsworth said. "He was just really brokenhearted. I said, 'Hey do you mind if I pray for you?' and they said, 'That would be great.'"

Jacob was one of 580 new kids that the Hays County leaders met in just three weeks this spring. But to Farnsworth, he is a friend, and a very real reminder of the significance of just showing up and viewing every lunch period as an opportunity to join in God's kingdom work.

– Bethany Bradsher