Sculpting the Next Generation

There was something wonderfully different about Megan VonStrohe’s new college roommate.
       Even though the University of Arkansas was more than 150 miles from her hometown of Springfield, Mo., Megan was excited about following in her big sister’s footsteps and spending her college years in Fayetteville.
       And, with a natural ability to acclimate quickly, she was equally excited about pursuing the college social scene. “I had the traditional party experience that first year,” Megan said.
       She assumed her freshman experience would typify the rest of her college years. Unbeknownst to her, a change of dormitories would also lead to a change of heart. As a sophomore, she moved into Gregson Hall with Julie Nelson, a Young Life College leader.
       That relationship would change the trajectory of Megan’s life.
Even though she had grown up in church, some of her experiences with organized religion had left a sour taste in  her mouth. She stepped on campus with some skepticism toward Christians.
       After living with Julie, some of Megan’s views began to change slowly.
       “I think that God softened my heart through her,” she said.
       She started by trying out ice cream socials, and other fun events hosted by Young Life College. Before long, she found herself in room 510 of Arkansas Union for club.
       “It was definitely contagious — a group of people having so much fun,” Megan said. “They weren’t afraid to make fun of themselves. I just wanted to be part of that. The community is what kept me coming back.” 
       Initially, Megan was very skeptical of Young Life College Director Robyn Stutts’s club talks on Jesus and the Christian faith. Over time, however, her doubts decreased as her understanding increased. Eventually, she came to the point where she embraced the message and, by the time her senior year arrived, Megan became a Young Life College leader.
       “I think for me it was a gradual change,” she said. “There was never like ‘one moment.’ Over the course of my sophomore year, Jesus opened me to some things. I came from being pretty far out — definitely not receptive to it at all — to a club kid to a leader.”

Stutts loves Megan’s testimony and others like it, because she loves college students.
       “I could literally spend all day with college kids,” said Stutts, whose home near campus is always open to University of Arkansas students. “I am so energized by them. You literally see them go from being a teenager to a young man or young woman. Being part of that transition is exciting to me.”
       In the mid-1980s, Stutts met the Lord through a college ministry at Southeastern Louisiana University, then she met her husband at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. The couple eventually moved to Little Rock, Ark., and, in 2005, Stutts heard someone present the ministry of Young Life at church.
       “That was my first real contact with Young Life,” Stutts said. “I had never seen it done before.   
       I got connected with Young Life and started learning more about the ministry and the philosophy of incarnational witness. That really resonated with me. I kinda felt like, ‘Hey, this is how we’re living anyway.’”
Initially, she went on staff part time in Little Rock, which led to a full-time position. In 2008, the Stutts family moved from Little Rock to Fayetteville, where she pioneered Young Life College.
       She found her calling on the campus.
       “College students are so open. Some of them crave adults who care about them,” Stutts said. “For me, it’s like putting the final sculpting piece on a generation.”

Same philosophy, tailored approach
With some variation, Young Life College looks similar to its high school counterpart. At Arkansas, contact work usually consists of the Young Life College leaders hosting a social gathering. For example, one night, about 80 students dropped in when the ministry hosted a cereal bar. Other events have included “Nacho Bedtime” with nacho chips and salsa served at 11:00 p.m. and the “Bowling Ball” where students wear semi-formal attire while bowling — they gave the proceeds to charity.
       At club, the humor is often more intellectual than physical. The club talks are longer and more in-depth. Small groups serve as the college equivalent to Campaigners.
       The results, however, are the same. Students like Megan are meeting Christ.
       “We’re Young Life,” Stutts said, “just a little more grown up.”

Another campus ministry?
When Stutts began Young Life College in the fall of 2008, there was a question as to whether the University of  Arkansas — which already has nearly twice the normal  average of students involved in campus ministry — needed another ministry.
       Stutts, who has worked with a number of ministries, believes the answer is twofold. First, a campus can’t have too much good ministry. Second, Young Life’s approach is distinct.
       “We’re meeting people where they are, being in their world,” Stutts said. “That’s our approach. There are thousands and thousands of students who don’t care about spiritual things, and maybe there are people here that Young Life can touch and reach.”