From the Grapevine

Freedom Behind Bars

When O.J. Wandrisco was first approached by his regional director, Chris Buda, about taking Young Life to Pittsburgh’s detention centers and alternative high schools, he said no. “It was a prideful response,” he remembered. “You learn a lot when you’re being challenged to change ministries.”

The call refused to lift, however, and soon Young Life took root in the underbelly of Pennsylvania youth culture. “Nobody was doing it, at least not in Pittsburgh,” Wandrisco said. “If we’re going after every kid, then it has to look different because kids are different.”

Here, reaching every kid means going to a place where cruelty and violence abound, and often lead to a life behind bars. “Kids are kids,” Wandrisco said, “and these so-called ‘tough kids,’ they’re just dying to talk to somebody.”

Wandrisco draws his vision for reaching out to these kids from Micah 6:8, which states, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Two years ago, Wandrisco found himself at Western Psychiatric Institute to meet Jack.* Jack was 15, awaiting trial for attempted murder.

For a period of several months, Wandrisco saw Jack twice a week. They often spoke about freedom. “[Jack] had read the Bible,” Wandrisco said. He had tried starting in Genesis, but Wandrisco suggested he start reading in John, the Gospel of Love. “God has a plan for you,” he told Jack. “You have worth, and you have value.”

Jack’s trial date approached and his sentence entailed a transfer to another correctional facility two hours away. The distance made visits difficult, but Wandrisco kept in touch. In the spring of 2009, Jack’s mother contacted Wandrisco to tell him Jack had become a Christian. She invited Wandrisco down to the correctional facility for Jack’s graduation. “He got his diploma,” Wandrisco said.

With barbed wire for a backdrop, Jack walked onto a stage with a smile beaming on his face. “It was just like a graduation party,” Wandrisco said, “but it was in prison.”

After the ceremony, Wandrisco shared a few moments with Jack. Jack said he finally figured out what that freedom they used to talk about really was. “It’s Jesus,” Jack said.

Over the last two years, Young Life has spread its reach to three of Pennsylvania’s alternative high schools. “It’s toxic, and it‘s a war zone,” Wandrisco said. “You show up, you love Jesus and you love kids.”

Jack’s sentence expires when he turns 21. Wandrisco plans to visit him again soon.

*Name has been changed.

– Travis Johnson

Kingdom Bridges

This summer, Young Life and Compassion International teamed up to bring a sponsored child to camp, and heaven got a little more crowded.

For more than 10 years, Mike and Gina Drexler, staff at Young Life’s Service Center in Colorado Springs, have sponsored Selenia, a young lady from Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program, in the Dominican Republic. Over the years they’d written to her and seen her grow up through pictures.

After the Drexlers visited Selenia in May 2010, they decided they wanted to send her to a local Young Life camp. “After our trip we were thinking about how cool it would be to send her and four or five of her friends to camp at Pico Escondido [Young Life’s camp in the Dominican Republic],” Mike recalled.

It wasn’t long before the Compassion country office and Katie Felix in Young Life’s Dominican Republic office were talking. A week before camp, Felix e-mailed that everything was set and the trip was a go. It was even funded by Young Life’s Campership Legacy Fund, part of the Reaching a World of Kids initiative, and other sources in the mission. But there was a surprise around the corner. God had plans for more than just Selenia at camp — He was about to make it a family affair.

“Gina and I were so excited that everything worked out. While we were praying for her and her friends’ week at camp, little did we know that there was a communications mix up and she took her dad and little sister to camp with her rather than her friends,” Mike said with a smile.

Felix shared that the camp staff weren’t quite sure what to do with Selenia’s dad at first, but they took advantage of the Lord bringing him there and welcomed him just like the kids.

Because of God’s leading, the Drexlers’ listening, and Compassion and Young Life’s ability to work together, Selenia and her dad both met Jesus that week. “Selenia’s dad had a total life change at camp. He walked away a new person,” Felix shared.

How awesome to know lives have changed and heaven has rejoiced as God used kingdom bridges to walk Selenia’s family to the foot of the cross.

– Erika Jay

The Foundation that Prayer Built

Jim Rayburn, Young Life founder, used to say that within one mile of every high school in America, there are enough Christians to reach that school for Christ. Dave Etling, area director for Eastern Shore Maryland Young Life, has seen this firsthand.

Back in the spring of 2007, Etling had been praying about a new chapter in his ministry. Unbeknownst to him, 10 hours away, a group of believers calling themselves the Maryland Keymakers was meeting in Cambridge to pray for the marginalized teenagers in their town.

A little more than two years later, after being assigned to oversee Young Life in Cambridge, Etling walked into a Keymakers’ prayer meeting. He soon began to see that God had been laying the groundwork for Young Life through these pastors, a dentist and other faithfully prayerful people.

The group had been praying for an organization to come into the community and meet the needs of teenagers. “The [Keymakers] were just looking for that specific tool that would be most effective,” Etling said, “and they found it in Young Life.” Out of the group, Etling formed a solid committee of supporters. Soon, new-to-town young professionals were volunteering to lead at the high school and hefty financial gifts were coming in, before the team had even begun contact work at the school.

When the Young Life leadership did start meeting kids at the school, it wasn’t long before a dozen of them had signed up for summer camp — all before the first club! “The whole thing is the power of the spirit of prayer, how things come together because people are praying,” Etling said.

In the summer of 2010, Etling was part of a group of leaders who took more than 30 kids to camp, during two separate trips. He is still in awe of the way God is working in Maryland. “God has been healing some things here,” Etling said, “and pulling together the like-minded people who want to make an impact on teenagers’ lives.”

– Cory Bordonaro

Parking Lot Praise

God works in mysterious ways, sometimes even on highways.

After the first year of Young Life ministry in Fallbrook, Calif., Area Director Rob Broyles and other leaders took a group of nine high school students to Woodleaf, Young Life’s camp in Northern California. “They were all totally blown away and had the best week of their lives,” Broyles said. “These guys and gals were not expecting anything they experienced. It was truly life changing for them.”

One student in particular had been on an arduous journey. Substance abuse and unrest at home led David to drop out of school before the year was over. But, when club started up in February of 2010, David was there. “With all the love he was getting from the leaders, God just drew him right into club,” said Broyles. “He came along from the very beginning and didn’t miss a Monday.”

David was also the first to sign up for camp and was one of the six guys who gave their lives to Christ while there. “The whole thing is a huge testimony to relationship, to contact work, to walking alongside these kids,” said Broyles.

While the girls were also having a great time at camp, leader Ryan Harvey said they were “digging their heels in,” against the Gospel. During the car ride home, though, Broyles said they realized “they didn’t want to go down the road they were going down anymore and they wanted to change.”

When the caravan of cars stopped for gas a couple of hours north of San Diego, Broyles was bombarded with news that the three girls had received Christ. “They all came running up to me, tears streaming down their faces,” he said. “It was a really precious time. We stayed at that gas station for about 20 minutes, our cars just stalled at the pump while we all hugged each other.”

Harvey was equally awed by the timing of what God had orchestrated. “We played worship songs in the parking lot and prayed, thanking God for working through the leaders and working in the kids’ hearts.”

– Cory Bordonaro