Setting the Example

"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." – 1 Timothy 4:12, NIV

In the last issue of Relationships we focused on leaders who have served for decades in Young Life and the wisdom they've received from their years of ministry. In the conclusion of our two-part look at leaders in the mission, we focus on the younger contingent and the powerful insights they bring. Just as the apostle Paul saw the integrity and leadership in Timothy's life and how it could influence those around him, we're blessed with thousands of younger staff and leaders who, through their exemplary witness, inspire kids, other leaders and the supporters in their communities every day.

Aldo Felix, Santiago, Dominican Republic
Training Director, Young Life and Developing Global Leaders program

Describe the world of kids you work with.
The world of kids I work with is relatively small. They have very few choices and many don't attend school because they have to work to help bring in money to support the family. The majority of kids live with their mother or grandmother; many have never met their father and don't want to know about him. Many sell and consume drugs, but are still very concerned about what they'll eat the next day. They worry about their safety, and some worry about going to jail or being killed. They need love, support, education, understanding and solutions. They respond when they're not judged for their situation, and they're just looking for someone to truly listen to them. They're hurting deeply on the inside, but respond when you show interest in what they do.

What joys have you experienced in your first few years with Young Life?
Having the opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a BIG reason to rejoice. I enjoy the sense of family I've found at Young Life meetings. I really love Young Life camp; it's there I've experienced the most profound joy. I love listening and observing the kids when they arrive at camp so I can compare it to what they say at the Say-So on the last day. I can't hold back the tears when I hear what Jesus has done in their life. The most recent experience was at training camp this past April. I was listening to my 14-year-old brother saying that he loved God and wanted to share the good news with his friends.

What's your greatest desire for the ministry?
My greatest desire for the ministry is that every kid in the Dominican Republic have the opportunity to hear about Jesus and make a decision to follow Him, and eventually through that, impact the Caribbean, the continent, the world.

Tameka Richardson, Largo, Fla.
Area Director, Urban Young Life and WyldLife

Describe the world of kids you work with.
A majority of the kids I work with are African-American, unchurched kids. These kids struggle with identifying their worth, purpose and their own identity in life. The kids I work with deal with self-esteem issues, lack of positive male role models, abandonment, abuse, poverty, lack of discipline … and the list can go on and on. They have become so encapsulated with the media and technology that they've been able to mask these issues behind materialism and social networking to develop their identity.

What is your most difficult challenge at this point?
Being single in ministry, it can become so easy to dominate my time with doing Young Life stuff. Therefore, it can be a challenge, and I have to be very intentional to develop a healthy balance between Young Life and non-Young Life related activities.

What joys have you experienced in your first few years with Young Life?
It's been an incredible experience to see kids today whom I began building relationships with and ministering to when they were in the sixth-grade. At first, they had no aspirations or hope for reaching their God-given potential. Since then, they've not only grown in their love and relationship with Christ over the years, but also developed skills, assets and goals that will influence their future as they graduate from high school.

Within my first few years with Young Life, I have also had the great opportunity to work in a region that truly uplifts women through encouragement, mentorship and leadership opportunities. It's especially enriching for a woman in ministry to feel valued and be offered roles within the ministry where women typically are not seen. Being afforded a variety of opportunities within the region has allowed me to grow as a woman of Christ, which has given me so much joy and continues to fuel my passion for doing ministry

Justin Ryder, Chesapeake, Va.
Young Life, WyldLife, YoungLives and Capernaum

What is your greatest desire for the ministry?
To see students become fishers of people and thoroughly enjoy, rely on, go to and trust Jesus for everything they need to succeed in that mission. My greatest desire is that they'd approach club ministry in their school with a heart to teach others to fish for people and this attitude would become the “norm” for a disciple of Christ in Chesapeake.

Describe the world of kids you work with.
I've heard multiple times this year that “kids these days have it easy.” It may seem like the world is handed to them, but I disagree. I think growing up today is a battle of being pulled in 1,000 directions at once, and that can be very dangerous for one's soul. Many students I work with are that way. Their days are completely full with school, clubs, assignments and practices; there are pressures from every side to give of their time and energy. More than ever, I see students spread thin. It seems many times they don't have time to stop and consider the most important things in life, or the important things become just another thing that fills up their schedule.

Any other thoughts?
I'm dedicated to sacrificing and pressing on in this mission more than ever. My heart cries out on a daily basis: PRESS ON. God has done a lot in [my wife] Libby and me this year, and we're more focused than ever before, because we long to help students. I love the opportunity to encourage our mission to keep helping people! As many as possible! This past year, when Libby was sick with cancer, hospital bills piling up and distractions galore, the thought crossed my mind: What if we have to quit? What if we spend the next six months at a treatment center? What if we're taken out of this? Because that was not His will, every opportunity up at the school feels like a gift, every meeting with a student a God-breathed chance to love Jesus and help people. It taught us to rejoice in this great gift we've been given: The chance to do Young Life ministry. We're praying for everyone — Press on!

Rich Youngman , Hoddesdon, UK
Area Director, Young Life

Describe the world of kids you work with.
Their lives center around school and the relationships built there; friendship circles are very important to them. They tend to be very busy with lots of different activities, clubs and sports. They have a huge range of choices and opportunities available to them, accentuated by being very close to London. We work with a very diverse socioeconomic range. Many kids we work with have plenty of money, while others have very little. Equally, family life can be very stable or very fractured. Very few have any experience or knowledge of Christianity, though many would say they're Christian because they're English, or their parents went to church when they were small. As a result, I think life can be quite confusing and changeable, so they have a great need for, and respond well to, a welcoming, accepting and stable environment where they can be themselves and loved for who they are.

What joys have you experienced in your first few years with Young Life?
Although it would seem obvious, without a doubt it's been building relationships with some truly amazing young people and adults in the area. I've loved watching young people start to walk with God and then learn more about Him from what they're experiencing. In addition, watching God's amazing, gracious and always perfectly timed provision of all we've needed has been incredibly humbling; from His provision of money and practical gifts, to exactly the right people we have needed at just the right time.

What's your most difficult challenge at this point?
It's developing strategies for church integration of the young people who come to faith through Young Life. Many churches we work with have no teenagers at all and the majority of the young people we work with have no experience of church. This means we're trying to bridge the cultural gaps in both directions to ensure the young people have the support and communities needed to become lifelong disciples of Christ.

Bekah Sanchez, Fort Hood, Texas
Staff Associate, Young Life Military - Club Beyond

What's surprised you in working with kids?
The thing that surprised me the most is how unbelievably strong they are. We have students who throughout this last year have been experiencing the fifth year of their life where one of their parents is deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. During these times, they not only work to hold their families together, but to support their friends going through the same thing. They are kids whose whole life centers on humbly sacrificing their will for the good of our nation and the good of others.

Describe the world of kids you work with.
Our kids spend their time doing normal things like attending school and being with their friends. The only difference is that while engaging in these activities, many have the awareness that their father or mother is in the middle of a war. They work hard to be kids while at the same time working to hold their families together. They have their friends for support, but on average are called to leave those friends to go to a new duty station every one to three years.

In this world of the military, the only constant is change. Throughout our community, death and suffering are never far from our minds. At any given time, half of our families are in the middle of a deployment and though for many people throughout our nation it seems as if the war is over or has died down, for our students the war has never let up.

There are people still being injured and dying and our kids are well aware of that. What do they need? Jesus! They need to know there's a loving God who'll never leave them. That even though all their friends leave over and over and their parent leaves time and time again, God will never leave! And that no matter how close they get to Him and how vulnerable they are with Him, they will not have to say goodbye like they do with everyone else they love. There's a constant firm foundation in military life and that foundation is Jesus!

Tracee Cobb, Lee's Summit, Mo.
Area Director, Young Life and WyldLife

What's surprised you in working with kids?
I read a statistic that adolescents need five adults in their life to help shape their character and make it through these tough years. I got a text from a Young Life kid who has heard me quote that statistic: "You have been such an impact on my life and I wouldn't know how close I would be with Jesus without you. I love you and am so thankful for you. You have no idea. I need you to be one of my five."

I'm surprised:

  • that students need five adults but many have maybe one
  • that I get to be one of the five and what an honor it is
  • by how open kids can be
  • by how often I stand on holy ground when a kid opens his or her heart to share
  • that they desire to be heard and loved more than anything
  • that I get to call this my job

Any other thoughts?
I'm honored to be considered a friend by Young Life kids, to be an influence in their lives and to hear the details of their day — their highs and lows. I'm honored to know them, to be in their story, to be accepted by them and to love them as they are. I'm honored to sit beside them at basketball games, see them every day at school, give rides and have long driveway conversations at the end of the night. I'm honored to love Jesus alongside them, to be called and texted, to write recommendation letters. I'm honored to be one who listens, to be known as one they can go to for anything, to hear about their relationships. I'm honored to know their families, to have earned the right to be heard, to read the Bible with them, pray over them, cry with them.