Be Careful What You Google For

Everybody’s doing it ... kids, teens and even grown-ups. Googling. Surfing the net. And it’s what Lisa Winchell was doing one day last summer when she surfed from her hometown of Rittman, Ohio, right to Young Life.

A high school teacher on summer vacation, Winchell was enjoying one of the great perks of the profession: relaxing days to think and plan, create and dream. Surfing the net, she started looking for youth groups similar to the one she’d been involved in as a teenager. “I just Googled ‘high school youth organizations’ and ‘Young Life’ was one of the first things that popped up,” she explained.

As soon as she started reading about Young Life, she knew she had found what she was looking for. A science teacher on staff at her own alma mater, Rittman High School, Winchell wished her own students had a place to connect outside of school.

Rittman is a “small town with a big heart,” so declares the motto of this community of 6,500 residents. This rural town is peppered with a handful of churches, a few stoplights, only a few fast-food options and just one high school. It’s a factory town, home to a Morton Salt facility. Recreation mostly revolves around high school sports and activities.

“In a town like ours, there’s not much to do, so kids find trouble,” Winchell said. “Our community needs something like Young Life.” Eager to learn more, Winchell attended the Young Life Teacher Summit and was “overwhelmed, excited and terrified all at the same time. I feel like I was made for this!” she said, unknowingly quoting the Young Life tagline.

When classes started in the fall, Winchell was sparked by a curious question from one of her students, Alison “Allie” Lapehn. “Miss Winchell, are you going to start Young Life here?” Surprised by Allie’s question, Winchell compared notes from the summer with her student. Allie explained that on a church mission trip to New Orleans, Young Life T-shirts were everywhere. “It seemed like everyone knew about Young Life except me!” Allie shared. “Kids just kept talking about how amazing and fun it is.”

So, when Allie got home, she Googled “Young Life” and discovered that the nearest club was in a town several miles away. “Of all the teachers in Rittman, Miss Winchell just seemed like the one who would start it,” she explained. According to Winchell it was Allie’s persistence that got things rolling. “Allie and her friends kept asking what they could do so I told them to bake some cookies and hand them out as invitations and they did.”

The cookies worked. A small but faithful Campaigner group now meets regularly with new kids coming each week. A committee is forming and camp and club are on the horizon. Winchell shared, “I feel like it is God’s perfect time for this mission in my town. The kids are excited about it, and it fits into the goals we have of connecting kids when we combine middle and high school into one building next fall.”

“I love Ephesians 3:20 in The Message,” Winchell said. “‘God can do anything you know — far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!’ I feel like God is showing me through Young Life that He can do anything. I’m just trying to be faithful. He has already done more in a short time than I ever dreamed, so obviously this is bigger than anything I could plan for anyway. I just want to enjoy God as He shares this with me.”