Family Resemblance

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Emily (center) and friends enjoy the pool at Crooked Creek.

Sitting side by side, you can see the resemblance. Aby, Emily and Lily Monsivais share the same gentle smile and dark brown eyes, inherited from their parents, Luis and Alma, who work multiple jobs, hoping to give their family a better life.

The sisters also share a room in their family’s Lewisville, Texas, apartment, and have been known to swap clothes and shoes (like all sisters do) along the way.

Life together hasn’t always been easy, but recently, the girls have discovered one thing they were eager to have in common: a bond in Jesus.

Over the last few years, one by one, the three girls found their way to Young Life. Now they call their Young Life friends “family,” and are thankful for the ministry that’s changing their lives, connecting their hearts and giving them a new inheritance as children of the King and sisters in Christ.

A place to belong

It was the first week of Aby’s senior year when she found out she was pregnant. A.J. was born in April 2011 and Aby did what she needed to do to take care of her son and herself — attending class during the day, night school in the evenings and working in between.

Aby’s cousin saw she needed someone to relate to and the following fall, invited her to a teen moms group that met at her church. Andrea Brakner, the YoungLives coordinator for Lewisville/Flower Mound and a volunteer for the church’s teen moms group, quickly embraced the young mother and invited her to YoungLives.

“Whenever my friends used to tell me to come (to YoungLives), I was thinking we’d be sitting down and everybody would be reading the Bible,” Aby said. “But when I got there it was not like that at all. There were games, prizes, all kinds of music. And the ladies were super cool. I loved it.”

Brakner remembers Aby’s eagerness to find a place to belong. Aby had been feeling so isolated and lonely, and loved finding friendships and feeling connected with the leaders. She dove right in.”

Aby was grateful for the new support system, but there was some tension at home. A new baby on top of trying to balance work, school and family responsibilities was taking its toll on her relationships, especially with her sisters.

“At first, my sisters didn’t understand why I was going (to YoungLives) because this was a Christian thing,” Aby recalled. “I would come home and tell my parents about it, and they never stopped me from going as long as it helped me. But my sisters were like, ‘Why are you going?’”

Brakner often gave Aby and A.J. rides to YoungLives events. Over time, this helped Brakner get to know Aby’s sisters and her parents, who speak very little English.

“One of the best things about YoungLives is getting to know the whole family,” Brakner explained. “When I would pick Aby up, that gave me the opportunity to be in her home and meet her family over and over again. I just tried to be loving and kind.”

Aby went to YoungLives camp in the summer of 2012 where the Gospel was spoken and lived out all around her. Aby immediately thought of her sisters and wanted them to have the same experience: “I wanted them to get involved and see what I got out of it. I was so excited for them.”

Like another family

Aby engaged even more in YoungLives during the next school year and also worked on convincing her sisters Young Life was the place to be. When her middle sister, Emily, finally attended club, she agreed it was fun. But her time at Crooked Creek in 2013 made the real difference in her life.

“It was the best week of my life. There was time where you go outside under the stars, with no lights in the whole camp. And that’s where it hit me. The whole story. That’s when I realized I wanted to become a Christian.”

That same summer, during her second trip to YoungLives camp, Aby also surrendered her life to Jesus. 

Now Aby, A.J. and Emily attend church every week with Brakner. And the ministry of Young Life has become a part of their spiritual DNA.

Brakner said, “I’ve seen a true change in these girls, how their sweet hearts have been softened to each other. Their relationships are mended and growing.”

“Andrea is so great. She’s helped me out so much, through everything,” Aby said. “She knows my baby and even when he’s acting up she’s not annoyed. A.J. was six months old when we first went to YoungLives, and now all the babies are three years old. He’s made friends too. We all know each other.

“And people know him at church. When I was growing up, I didn’t know anything about church. A.J. knows what church is; when we (drive) by it, he knows it. That’s mind-blowing to me.”

Emily says her relationship with Jesus has had a big impact on her life at home.

“Now I feel more at peace in myself and with my sisters. My house is more peaceful,” Emily said. “It’s helped us open up more to each other and has built a relationship we didn’t have before.

“Young Life helps you find your way. You learn about God, the Bible, and they help you through stories you can relate to. You get attached to people from Young Life. They are like another family to me.”

Their youngest sister, Lily, who is 15 and will be in high school next year, has been watching her older sisters walk this road.

“Over time, once they started attending Young Life, I could see them changing by the way they dressed and their way of being,” Lily said. “I’ve changed my way of life by how I am now and by who I surround myself with.”

Lily went to WyldLife camp in 2013 and was involved in club in middle school, but is looking forward to going deeper in high school.

“My favorite thing about Young Life is the connections with everybody and how we’re all there for the same reasons — to find the right path with the Lord.”

A new generation

Brakner says she sees God’s hand on the Monsivais family tree, reaching down to the roots and using Young Life to water fertile soil.

“I’ve come to know and love [the girls’ parents] Luis and Alma,” she said. “Clearly God is working for them to be so open to people who just show up and want to love their girls.

“We went to A.J.’s birthday party in April, and Luis had tears in his eyes, thanking us for all we’ve done. He’s seen how his daughters’ hearts have changed. He was thanking us, but we know it’s Christ. We just point them to Christ.”

Now Aby is starting to pay it forward. The 21-year-old spent two weeks this summer at YoungLives camp serving on work crew, encouraging the campers who are just where she was not that long ago.

“Serving at YoungLives Camp was one of the greatest, most rewarding experiences I’ve had,” Aby said. “It’s amazing seeing firsthand how everyone works hard to serve God, and just to see how he works with the girls throughout the week. 

Lily and Emily went to Frontier Ranch together in July. During Say-So, Emily renewed her commitment to Christ and for the first time, Lily decided to trust Jesus as her Savior.

With this new and precious common bond, the girls were eager to return home and talk together about what their relationships with Jesus would look like at home.

“Without YoungLives, I don’t know where I’d be,” Aby said. “I didn’t know anything about God or Jesus and I probably still wouldn’t know anything. I wouldn’t have the relationship I have with Him or any of the help they give me or any of the friends I have. 

“I feel like every girl having a baby at a young age needs to get involved in YoungLives. It lifts up so much weight off your shoulders. I had [support] at home with my parents, but it’s different when a stranger shows so much love to you. And it keeps going. They stay with you.”

The kindred spirit that Aby and Brakner share has created a new generation of Christ-followers. Brakner says she knows their Heavenly Father is growing this lineage of faith. And this is only the beginning.

“We know it’s a long-term walkout,” Brakner explained, “but that’s why we do what we do. It’s all about Jesus changing lives, and it’s been awesome to witness it. A.J. is learning about Jesus in Sunday school, and that’s a whole new heritage for them.

“I see Jesus working in the whole family. These girls are pursuing and loving Him through some really hard things in life, and they are being transformed. It’s been transforming for me too. And that’s what I love about this ministry.”​​​​​​