Walking in Wisdom

Young Life is a mission built on a firm foundation. Over our 70-year history we’ve learned much about the ever-changing culture of kids (clothes, music, media, etc.), their never-changing needs (to be loved, known, accepted unconditionally, etc.) and the importance of building relationships so they may know the Savior.

We’re thankful for the more than 3,100 staff and 29,000 volunteers who spend months, years and, in some cases, even lifetimes, working with kids. What follows are the thoughts and observations of seven “Young Life veterans.” The men and women in this interview have a combined ministry experience of 167 years, working faithfully with kids from all over the world, in all kinds of circumstances.

This article is the first in a two-part series focusing on leadership in the mission. In the fall issue, we’ll hear from leaders who are relatively new to Young Life about what they’re experiencing.

Al Anderson – Ostrava, Czech Republic
Area Developer for Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia
20 years ministry experience

What excites you most about working with kids?
The opportunity to influence and share Christ with the first generation of kids who have grown up without communism. Communism fell 21 years ago. Before that time in the Czech Republic, there was very little sharing or knowledge about who Jesus is. Now we have the opportunity to plant the seeds for a new generation of Christians.

According to a recent European Union (EU) study, the Czech Republic is the country in the EU where people believe in God the least and Poland is the country where people believe in God the most. So things are much different between Czech and Polish kids, but they all need to have a real relationship with Jesus. It’s been amazing to watch Czech teenagers, who say they never even thought about the idea of a God until they started coming to Young Life, then come to know Christ over a two- or three-year process. Almost every Czech student who has met Christ has atheist parents. It’s great when an atheist parent comes to us and says, “I am so glad my son or daughter is involved in Young Life; it has been a great experience for them.”

What unique opportunities do you find in working with kids in the Czech Republic?
It takes longer to get to know Czech kids, but once you’re a friend, you’re in. Czechs don’t hop around and change their friends very much. Almost all Czech teenagers want to know English. As an American, this is a great opportunity. Even our summer camps usually have an English teaching component so kids can get to learn English.

Living internationally expands my understanding of God. I get to interact with Christians who read the same Bible as I do, but help me see God in an even wider, deeper way because of their experiences and how they see God at work in their life. As an American I didn’t really understand what persecution was until I talked with people over here who were really persecuted for their faith during communism.

Martha Bice - Fort Dodge, Iowa
Volunteer Area Director
17 years ministry experience

What excites you most about working with kids?
Working with kids is a joy for me. I enjoy their friendships and just get to love them. Being on the other side of parenting has allowed me different perspectives. Situations that look scary can become manageable with the help of God. Today kids need adult mentors who care and listen. Each year kids are different because seniors graduate and we get new freshmen. Being a volunteer leader is never dull!

What unique challenges do you encounter as a volunteer area director?
We’re part of the Heartland Region, which covers three states: Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. I’m more than four hours from the regional office in Mt. Horeb, Wis., but never feel alone. Al Jackson, our regional director, has been affirming and supportive. He does monthly conference calls with all of us leaders and includes me in all regional events, which helps to keep me empowered and fulfilled. I treasure those Young Life friendships.

What’s your greatest desire for the ministry?
My dream is for Young Life in Fort Dodge to continue into the future, perhaps for 50 years as the La Grange, Ill., club has. We would love to have a paid staff person. I believe it will happen. Right now, many of my Young Life alumni are getting more involved. Many even have kids of their own. It’s so exciting to see how this continues to grow and expand. I love being God’s instrument to seek and save.

Vern Hill - Stillwater, Minn.
Senior Area Director
40 years ministry experience

What excites you most about working with kids?
I love kids because they have an energy no one else has. They’re creative, bright and have all kinds of new ideas. But I especially like kids because I think they see the world differently — probably more clearly than I do, so they’re my entrance into what the world is today. They keep me going; they keep me happy. We do a number of different programs in Stillwater and 15 years ago we started to concentrate on alternative populations — under-resourced kids, at-risk kids who spun us into kids in shelters, teen moms ministry, etc. … I find that all kids bring the similar energy of youth and I’m excited to walk alongside kids in this new era.

Are alternative kids more or less receptive to attempts at building relationships?
They’re harder — you have to spend more time earning their trust. We feed kids in our tutoring programs and our at-risk programs, and when they come in they’re testing us to see if we’re really serious about serving them. But once you build trust with them, they’re very receptive to the Gospel, because they know they have needs. It’s not like some kids who build this façade that they can handle everything themselves. These kids know they’re broken.

What has experience taught you that you didn’t know when you were younger?
My advice to younger people doing ministry is to give themselves a lot more grace. Really trust God and trust the relationship. Our primary focus is to build friendships and meet needs and that gives us a platform to proclaim the Gospel. If we’re building friendships and meeting needs, the Gospel is going to have a place to nest, a place to roost.

Bebe Hobson – Largo, Fla.
Field Vice President for the Southern Division
20 years experience in multicultural/urban ministry

What excites you most about working with kids?
When I see them reach their true God-given potential. To see kids really understand the true love that God has for them, no matter what their surroundings may be. When they really understand the God of the universe is madly in love with them.

What is your most difficult challenge at this point?
The largest challenge I see is lack of family structure and values. Most of our kids are being raised by single parents. They don’t know what it means to live and be loved in a real Christian family with value.

What has sustained you and kept you in ministry through the years?
The fact that I was one of the kids I mentioned earlier. It was mentors and my Young Life leader who helped save my life with the help of my Christian praying mother.

What is your greatest desire for the ministry?
That every kid, everywhere would have the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

Dyan Larmey – Tanzania, Africa
Area Developer / Women’s Initiative for
Young Life Africa
26 years ministry experience

What has sustained you and kept you in ministry through the years?
At the risk of sounding cliché, I’ve been sustained through my call from God for kids to have the opportunity to experience His love through a pursuant relationship. The opportunity to mirror the Incarnation is exhilarating for me! I so believe one person can make all the difference in the life of another, especially during the teenage years, that I continue to be sold out daily to be a catalyst for this to happen both on a small scale (encouraging one-on-one mentoring relationships) and a large scale (expanding Young Life to the next town, state or country). I’ll also add that God has always provided a supportive group of friends/partners to share in the journey. These relationships have helped sustain me through their godly encouragement and sacrificial partnerships.

What unique opportunities do you find in working with kids throughout Africa?
There are so many opportunities to work with amazing partners in ministry who teach me so much. Once unknown names like Fereselam, Nkosi, Hildegren, Lusayo, Tiowa, Mungai and Egide are now names of sojourner friends. The staff and volunteers of Young Life Africa are in the homes, cafés, shade of a tree or a daladala (bus) ride with kids. I’m in the background trying to help these hero leaders love kids in their neighborhoods, villages, towns and cities. I feel like my life is in the middle of a great big epic love story and God keeps introducing more amazing characters to get to know, love and learn from. Being a part of that story and its ever-unfolding theme of redemption is so humbling and beautiful. For eight years the setting has been in Africa. That makes it extra special, but I believe the stories are unique and beautiful wherever the scene is set. I still enjoy running a WyldLife club and raising up 12th-graders as the leaders. I love hanging out with international school junior high kids and talking about life’s most important questions. Being with third-culture kids presents opportunities to affect the world through a single school.

Nick Palermo – San Jose, Calif.
Founding Executive Director,
Young Life Capernaum
25 years ministry experience

What’s one perennial problem all leaders face, and how can they address it?
Discouragement — it eliminates people. One of my heroes, Tom Raley (longtime Young Life staff), told me if you stay around long enough in ministry, you’re going to go in the valley, where many people quit. But if you stay, you’ll come out of that valley and end up on a mountain. Then, if you stay long enough, you’ll come back to another valley! One little verse I’ve come to love is in Acts 14:22. After their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas go back to the churches to strengthen and encourage them, and they said to them, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many trials and hardships.” Recognize that. Don’t expect a smooth road; expect an absolute war zone.

What excites you about Capernaum and reaching kids with disabilities?
With Capernaum, I feel like we’re reading the book of Acts. It’s a Holy Spirit wave. We’ve gone from one ministry in 1986, and for [the next] 14 years consisted of five ministries. In the last 10 years, we’ve grown from five to 148 in 14 countries. I’ve been told several times we’re the largest ministry for teens with disabilities in the world. Families are used to agencies and services; they’re not used to volunteers coming in and reaching out to kids with no agenda.

Leaders involved with camp weeks say the same thing: “This is like ‘reverse camp.’ It’s affecting all of us!” I believe God calls us to any disability ministry to heal, transform and grow the body of Christ. We are so disabled. The real disability is not in our friends with disabilities. We tend not to recognize our own, because we can see theirs so vividly. The simplicity of kids who can’t walk or talk impacts everybody. What a message to us that it’s not about doing, it’s about being. I’ve really seen how incredibly disabled I am in terms of addiction to performance, achievement, people’s opinions. If a non-verbal kid was talking to me, he’d say, “What the heck are you worried about? God loves you! Just be.”

Emilie Schreiber – Eugene, Ore.
Young Lives Western Divisional Coordinator
19 years ministry experience

What excites you most about working with kids?
First, I love the challenge of connecting with hard kids and/or kids who wouldn’t go to church. Kids you really have to seek out and engage. Secondly, I love the conversations after you’ve earned the right with them. I love how they have such good questions and want to know the truth.

Funny thing is, right now, I’m leading a Campaigner group at a sorority and then I hang out with teen moms. One group is confidently pursuing the world, while the other is haphazardly navigating survival. The first seems to know all the answers, while the second is actually fulfilling their dreams (in parenting).

What unique opportunities do you find in working with teen moms?
I find these girls are really honest and raw. They’re real with nothing held back. I’m humbled by their authenticity as well as their selflessness in parenting! It’s a unique opportunity to witness God shape and influence their lives in powerful ways. I’m blessed beyond anything when a girl surrenders her life to Jesus at camp, with her baby on her hip, and her mentor at her side. With the tears of absolute surrender cascading down her cheeks, a whole family’s path is changed.

Working with teen moms has propelled me into understanding how, as it says in James 1:27, “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” [For me that means] to serve widows and orphans HERE in my city, in my country, and be changed myself by being there with them. I know that I have no experience that relates to the depth with which these girls have experienced loss, but I know where I lack, God makes up for it. By simply showing up, I’m blessed and my life is changed!​