Young Life Lite

The most expensive birthday party on record was hosted by the Sultan of Brunei in 1996 for his 50th birthday. Together with Michael Jackson’s $16 million performance, some beluga caviar and free-flowing champagne, the party cost $27.2 million. (Bear in mind, this guy paid his badminton coach $2 million.)

By comparison, the $62,121.25 tab for Amy McNamara’s 40th birthday party was a drop in the Sultan’s champagne bucket — but, still, quite a sum for a party that never was.

McNamara had the invitations printed, the DJ and caterer booked to delight her 100 guests. She had eight new dresses in her possession while she deliberated on the right one for her Valentine’s Day birthday party. But her heart wasn’t in it.

“I was really excited until something inside began telling me something wasn’t right. In the middle of the night, I prayed for guidance. The Lord spoke to me and told me to stop thinking of myself and start thinking of others.” That’s when McNamara thought again about the shootings in Williamsport, Pa., bordering her small town of Montoursville.

In early January 2008, a 49-year-old father was gunned down by teenage boys in an apparent gang initiation rite. McNamara thought of the boys and wondered how desperate for acceptance they must have been. “But most of all,” she said, “I thought of the 18-year-old daughter who was left behind without an earthly father. I wondered if she knew she had a heavenly father who loved her.”

And then she knew what she had to do. McNamara didn’t sleep the rest of the night as she planned the kibosh on her birthday bash. A week later, instead of party invitations, she sent out letters, a Young Life DVD, and brochure inviting her family and friends to bring Young Life to Lycoming County. While she and her husband, Tom, redirected their party funds to Young Life, she asked her prospective guests to tally what they might have spent on the party — the gas, new dress, baby sitter, card and fabulous gifts. If they, too, were passionate about kids, would they mail her a gift in the form of a check made payable to Young Life?

“Let me tell you, when I put those invitations in the mailbox, it was one of the scariest things I had ever done,” McNamara recalled. “I had no idea what the reaction would be. Would people think I was nuts? Would they dodge me in the grocery store? I had no clue, but I prayed over every invitation. By the time my 40th birthday rolled around on Valentine’s Day, a little more than two weeks after mailing the invitations, I had received almost $38,000.”

McNamara kept receiving checks after that, including a few for $10,000. In total, she received $62,121.75, enough to bring an area director and Young Life to Montoursville.

There wasn’t a birthday party in Montoursville on Valentine’s Day in 2008, but there was a celebration that day and every day McNamara hears about another Montoursville kid who meets Christ through Young Life.

“I think about how one innocent man died and how so many Montoursville kids now have the chance to choose life over death.”

Every time a Montoursville teenager makes that choice, Scripture tells us there is a party beyond compare — one hosted not by a self-indulgent Sultan, but by a King — for the kids He longs to call His own.