From the President

The best seats I ever had at a basketball game were during the years I coached middle-school kids. Courtside. Up close to the action. But in February, I had seats almost as good. A friend invited me to one of the great rivalries in college hoops: Duke vs. North Carolina at the “Dean Dome” in Chapel Hill. He already had four good seats and he had been given four more great ones — courtside, just a few feet away from where Dick Vitale and the rest of the ESPN crew were sitting. Eight of us went to the game. Four had the great seats for the first half; four had those seats for the second. The outcome of the game, for any of you interested, was a one-point win for Duke on literally a last-second three-point shot by a cool freshman guard over a 7-foot senior that left the home-team fans stunned. Amazing!

I say “amazing” but it wouldn’t be amazing to you if you didn’t see the game from my viewpoint. It might have been “pretty amazing” if you had watched on television. And it could have been “semi-amazing” if you had listened to the broadcast on the radio. It would have been “somewhat amazing” if you had viewed the highlights a few minutes after the game and “slightly interesting” if you read the report the next morning in the paper or online. But you would have had to be there to really understand how amazing it was.

So now I’m going to do the impossible. I’m going to tell you about an amazing series of events that occurred in Florida in January and most of you weren’t there. I’m hoping you might catch my enthusiasm. It all began with a weeklong training event that involved three important classes taking place in St. Augustine: New Staff Training, with 178 bright and enthusiastic new recruits; Winter Training (222 strong), for those in their first two years on staff studying in one of two seminary classes —Pastoral Counseling or Systematic Theology; and Area Director School (101 men and women), for those who had finished two years on staff and were taking the next step in their Young Life journeys. We value both training and seminary education highly in our mission and these staff members were seriously engaged in becoming better equipped to minister to adolescents.

When the training sessions were over, the action moved to Orlando for our “once every four years” Young Life Celebration (formerly known as the All Staff Conference), with nearly 4,000 in attendance. We invited some volunteers and committee people to represent the 35,000 volunteers in our mission. We invited 200 investors to represent the 175,000 people who give yearly to the work. But the vast majority of the 4,000 were staff and spouses, and we tried to give them the best four days of their lives. It was “truly amazing” to have the halls and meeting rooms filled with men and women who were committed to the same thing: introducing kids to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith. About 1,500 came in a few days early to attend one of our pre-conferences (International, Urban and Multicultural, Small Towns, Young Life Capernaum, Young Life Military, Young Life College, and Young Lives). Then the rest arrived and the celebration began! On the first morning, we kicked it off with the presentation of the flags of the nations. Seventy-seven countries were represented where we are currently doing Young Life, plus another 13 countries where we will soon be reaching out to kids. So 90 flags were marched to the front and placed for the duration of the conference by representatives from each of these countries. That in itself was enough to take your breath away and bring tears to your eyes. As the days continued, we were inspired by two speakers from outside the mission — Tim Keller and Francis Chan — and informed and inspired by fellow staffers. We listened to stories of kids. We prayed together. We laughed uproariously (including a bit of stand-up comedy by a lover of Young Life, Jeff Foxworthy). We worshipped. We attended seminars. We played. We rested. We spent time meeting new and old friends and sharing what God had been doing in our lives and in the lives of kids. And by the time the four days were over and the 90 flags recessed, we were ready to go forward, recommitted to pursue kids for Jesus’ sake and passionate about our initiative to reach two million kids a year by 2016.

I wish you could have been there. It was amazing. And a bunch of us had front-row seats!