“He Can Come Too”

​It was not exactly the nicest, smoothest or most flattering invitation, but it worked.

There wasn’t Young Life at John Wesley North High School my freshman year. Nobie Hill, the area director, was gathering some kids whom he thought would be helpers, inviters, leaders and core kids to get a club started. The meeting was to inform them about the mission of Young Life as well as inspire them to get involved and maybe go to Woodleaf (a Young Life camp in California) that summer.

My brother, Mike, was smart, funny, popular and a good athlete. No wonder he was invited to a meeting of movers, shakers and club starters. Me? I was a shy, insecure freshman living in the shadows of my four older brothers and sisters. I was a newbie to high school who was often asked, “Are you more like Mike or John [our oldest brother]?”

I was a decent student, an average athlete and unsure of my place on campus or in the world. One school night there was a knock on our front door. I could be assured it was not for me. A tall, thin man clad in a polo shirt, old jeans and faded white tennis shoes came into our house.

Unbeknownst to me, Mike had been waiting for a ride to go to the meeting. Before they could scurry out the door, the tall man introduced himself to all of us in an awkward display of social graces, “I’m Nobie.” As they made their way to the door, in what I am sure was not nearly fast enough for my brother, Nobie turned, looked at me and gave one of the least inspiring invitations to anything: “He can come too.”

It was an awkward invitation from a Young Life leader who knew the adventure I could have if I would just respond. I looked at my brother with eyes that were desperate to go anywhere cool, balanced with “Am I going to get punched for this later?” Mike nodded and I was out the door and into the orange VW bug as fast as I could get there. The thing I remember most about the meeting was the star-studded circle of cool kids and the movie about Woodleaf camp. I had never done anything that cool before in my life and I wanted to go to camp so badly. I knew our family could not afford it, but I hoped I could find a way. I also remember Nobie wanted to start taking us to the Young Life club that met at our rival school, the one with the prettiest girls in town. He didn’t have to ask me twice!

It was another year and a half before I made it to Woodleaf. I went with my two best friends, a couple of other guys and Mike. I had the best week of my life, just as advertised. I sailed, rode jet skis and trekked up a mountain stream to a place where we jumped off cliffs into a pristine pool of crystal clear water.

My enthusiasm for the female campers grew, but to be honest I had the most fun at the nightly Young Life clubs. The songs were great, the skits were hilarious and the messages made sense to me. They were spoken in plain language bundled between the funniest stories I had ever heard. One night I was told about the cross and Jesus’ choice to pay the price for my sins. It was clear and it was personal. I was given 15 minutes to go out, be quiet and ponder God’s love for me. I wandered in silence to a wooden bench on the front porch of Woodleaf Town.

I gazed into the bazillion tiny stars splashed across the sky and was in awe for the first time in my life. I sat in silence, looked at the stars and I realized the God who so magnificently made all of those also made me. The God who created me also loved me enough to look past my sins, and there were many, and want a personal relationship. God wanted to be my friend, and I needed a friend.

On that bench, I answered an invitation from the God of the Universe to join Him in a lifelong adventure. I dedicated my life to following Christ. I have been imperfect in my part of that promise, He has held up His part. I have continued on the adventure for 40 years, and I would not change it for anything. That week and that invitation changed my life forever. I grew closer to Him through my teen years. I made Him the leader of my life in my 20s; He walked with me as I raised my kids; He taught me love and grace in my marriage; and He held me when my son got Leukemia.

Jesus has guided my life, career and ministry choices; all of this because of an invitation from my lifelong friend, Nobie Hill. For four decades I’ve given invitations. I’m currently a Young Life leader at age 56. I’ve spent more than 25 years as a volunteer leader sharing the life-changing Gospel message in living rooms in the 1980s, in garages in the ’90s and at a winery in my son’s Young Life years. I continue to do the mixers, go to camps, and speak the truth in love and funny stories. I get to invest in the lives of our Young Life staff members. My wife and I host 20 to 30 Campaigner kids on Thursday nights. And I’ve had the pleasure of being a monthly financial donor for most of those 40 years.

Mostly, I am grateful to the God of those many stars who spoke His love into my heart. As a leader I’ve often had the joy of going back to Woodleaf with kids. On every one of those trips I’ve taken our area’s kids to the front of Woodleaf, pointed out where that bench was and told them the story of how I came to Christ. I marked that 40th-year anniversary this summer by doing the same thing with a whole new crop of kids. May God continue to use Woodleaf, Young Life and me to reach lost kids with the life-changing message of a God who loves them. One day, I look forward to standing in front of my Maker, the God of the Universe who painted the stars across the sky. That day, after I am done leading club and inviting kids to camp, I will meet Him face to face. He will point at me, look at the angels at heaven’s gate and say: “He can come too.”