From the President

In early September, Marilyn and I were in San Diego to attend the wedding of the daughter of one of our board members. The wedding was scheduled in the afternoon so that morning we went for a walk on the beach in Coronado — a favorite spot of ours. One special feature of this beach is that Navy SEALS train there and, in the early morning hours, you can see these finely tuned heroes doing things both amazing and inspiring. Another feature is that at the north end of the beach there is a large expanse devoted to dogs. Anyone and everyone can bring their dogs and let them run on the beach and frolic in the water. On that Saturday morning there were lots of dogs doing both. I decided to count as Marilyn and I walked through the chaos and I know I may have missed a few but my total was 103 dogs! All of these canines had at least one human with them and many had multiple humans because there were many more adults and children there than there were dogs. And there were LOTS of dogs.

Ninety-nine were NOT on a leash. Four were and they looked with envy at those who weren’t. One bulldog even had a life vest on and was enjoying the water with his master. (Bulldogs are not known for their swimming prowess and I’m sure both master and friend appreciated the added buoyancy.)  What especially impressed me was how everyone was smiling — every human and every dog. It was a great day for all of them to be alive. And for us as well.

(By the way, when I took this job 20 years ago, some Young Life veterans told me leading the mission would be like taking 100 dogs for a walk with no leashes or like herding cats — which I’ve found to be only partially true. But I did get a better understanding of what they tried to explain to me as we walked through the Coronado beach dog park that day!)

The whole experience reminded me of Young Life. We’ve described our Young Life clubs and parts of camp as “controlled chaos.” Often it is. Like the dogs running amuck on Saturday morning. But behind the frenzy of the beach, there was something going on that was not immediately visible. Some dog lover was watching his or her dog almost all the time and he or she was very aware (for the most part) where his or her dog was and whether that beloved animal was OK. That’s the same in Young Life. We have multiple leaders at club and camp. And they know where their “dogs” are and how their “dogs” are doing.

Like the dogs on the beach, almost everyone at a Young Life club or camp is glad to be there and smiles abound. The sheer fun of being with your friends, out for the night (club) or for the week (camp), laughing uproariously at the skits and crowd-breakers, and being intrigued by the message about Jesus makes for a wonderful time “at the beach.” It didn’t look like anyone felt forced to come to the beach and that’s the way we like it in Young Life. You want to be there!

And because we care about kids individually, we know when someone needs a little extra help dealing with life, understanding the message, making a friend. So we provide life jackets for “bulldogs.” We want kids struggling to swim to feel more comfortable in the water.

And one more thing. When it’s time to go home, the dog owners go home with their dogs. They don’t tell them, “Find your own way,” or “Take the bus.” They say, “Come on, Brutus, let’s go home.” And you see happy, tired dogs and humans heading for the parking lot. That’s what happens in Young Life. When you go to camp, you go with your leader and you return with your leader. You know you have someone you can trust who has your back. And at club, you know there are adults who know you and want to make a difference in your life.

So at 2:00 in the afternoon that Saturday, I was sitting in a beautiful chapel on a university campus as my friend was preparing to walk his lovely daughter down the aisle. But just before the service began, I admit I grinned and thought about the 103 smiling dogs and the God-given design of Young Life.