Home Away From Home

Editor’s Note: What follows is the fourth in a six-part series looking at the ministry of Young Life College at campuses across the United States and abroad.

Most incoming college freshmen look forward to the changes that come with heading off to school. But starting over was the last thing Ohio State University student Lizzie Kiser wanted to do.

She’d already done it. Just before her senior year of high school, her family moved from the town she’d grown up in. With her sister away in college, and her parents busy with new jobs, Lizzie spent that year sad and alone. “I felt like I lost my home,” she said.

And as she expected, college was a rough transition. “I didn’t know anyone,” Lizzie said. “I was really unhappy and I tried to hide that from my roommates.”

One of those roommates was Emily Brown, and she too was uncertain about college, mainly because she wondered if OSU was the right school for her. However, she wanted to grow in her faith, and knew being part of the large community of Young Life leaders at OSU would help that happen.

On the first day of class, as Lizzie, Emily and their other roommate, Chelsea, were hanging out in the dorm, the conversation turned to Young Life, and then to religion in general. Lizzie told them, “I didn’t grow up going to church, so I guess I don’t believe in anything.”

Not long after that, Emily realized OSU was right where God wanted her to be. “One night, it hit me,” Emily said. “There’s an opportunity for ministry literally sleeping right under my bed. I have to hang out with her.”

Involvement work

That’s the kind of thinking that helped launch Young Life College at OSU last fall. David Drees, the Young Life College director at OSU, is equipping college leaders — who are students themselves — to reach out to their non-believing peers, develop relationships with them and provide opportunities to hear the Gospel.

And because of the sheer size of OSU, which has 43,000 undergraduates alone, the challenge is twofold: reaching a large and diverse student body, and keeping it relational. But Drees and his team don’t seem fazed by the number of students to reach. They know that even with a lot of ground to cover, it’s still all about relationships. To that end, they have taken the idea of contact work — going where students are — to a collegiate level. Drees likes to think of it as “involvement work.”

“We want our leaders to get involved in their area of interest and minister there,” he said. Last year, Young Life College leaders were involved in intramural softball teams, on-campus fitness classes, the Greek system and even the Pokemon club.

And sometimes — like in Emily’s case — it means being very intentional with the people they’re around every day. The more conversations she and Lizzie shared over lunch, in their room or walking to class, the more curious Lizzie became about Jesus Christ. Emily and Chelsea always invited Lizzie with them wherever they’d go, so it wasn’t long before Lizzie was making friends with other Christians, loving college, going to church and tuning in at Young Life College club.

“I had never heard the Gospel before,” she said. “I knew nothing. Club was a great way to learn about Christianity.”

Drees knows it’s friendships like Lizzie’s and Emily’s that bring students to club, and friendships that keep them coming back.

“We want to build trust at a relational level before they even come to club,” he said. So, instead of doing big, campus-wide events to introduce students to Young Life College, they’ve tried to create opportunities for students to connect with each other: an impromptu game of “spikeball” in the “Oval,” OSU’s grassy campus hub, a cookout or a late-night “cereal bar” on campus during finals week.

Whatever it is, Drees and his team try to ensure any get together — planned or impromptu — has a relational focus and “everyone there can be ministered to,” he said. So once a relationship has been established, it’s a natural step to bring them to club, where there are familiar faces, great music, big laughs, a Gospel message, and a personal testimony too.

And now Lizzie has quite a testimony to share. Just before Thanksgiving of their freshman year, Lizzie and her friends were on a Young Life retreat together. One night, alone outside, she cried out to God for the first time. “I prayed He would let me understand, give me a relationship with Him, and show me the love and home I had been searching for. That home is in Jesus.”

Engaging volunteers

As Emily continues to seek out and care for other students at OSU, Lizzie now leads Young Life at a nearby high school. This past summer Lizzie even went to Cambodia on a Young Life College missions trip. Already, these young women are living lives that will make an eternal difference.

“Great ministry on college campuses has a strong impact on the mission of Young Life,” said Wiley Scott, Young Life’s Eastern Division senior vice president. Scott said Young Life College ministries are a priority for several reasons. “Because adolescence is now considered to extend to the mid-20s, Young Life College allows us to be true to our mission of reaching adolescents with the Gospel,” he said. “It’s also a great way to engage volunteers, and it is where we can find and develop future leaders for Young Life.”

Lizzie and Emily may be two such leaders. “In high school I didn’t have anyone to present the Gospel to me,” Lizzie said. “I was so lost and so alone. If I can help one high-school girl, it’s worth it.”

Why is Young Life College a Game Changer?

Two Young Life College ministries existed in 2005. There are now 85 (73 national, 12 international).

In 2005, Young Life College impacted 700 students. We are now reaching 30,000.

Fifteen to 20 additional Young Life College ministries plan to launch this fall.

Sixty percent of students involved with Young Life College have no prior Young Life experience. This means Young Life College is introducing thousands of adolescents to Jesus Christ for the first time.

A recent survey* showed that 55 percent of students involved with Young Life College actively served within the mission of Young Life last year (Young Life leaders, summer staff, etc.).

An additional 15 percent of students served in their communities last year (homeless shelters, after-school programs, local churches, etc.). This means 70 percent of Young Life College students are being launched as kingdom leaders into God’s mission in the world.

*Survey conducted by the Young Life College missionwide office in June 2011, with 50 of 66 then-active ministries reporting.​