From the Grapevine

When One Becomes 36

How two Nairobi leaders secured dozens of scholarships for neighborhood kids.

On the northeast side of Nairobi lies Kahawa West, a ramshackle community of cement block buildings with rusty corrugated metal roofs. Bringing transformation to a place like this would require nothing short of optimism, daring and pluck. Fortunately, Young Life leaders Kevin Mutitu and David Otieno, who spend countless hours working with the kids there, have these qualities in spades.

This wasn’t always the case.

Martin Wamalwa, Young Life’s regional director for Western Kenya, met these two young men five years ago, when they were still in high school and living in a Nairobi squatters slum called Soweto: “They were two young, naughty, rude, don’t-care guys, but I journeyed with them in contact work and took them to camp where they gave their lives to Jesus.”

Kevin and David returned from camp changed — not only growing in their newfound faith but also devoting themselves to their high school studies. Both passed the qualification exam to go to college. Unfortunately, Kevin and David were faced with the ever-present dilemma faced by those living in developing-world poverty:

They couldn’t afford to go.

Thus began the idea that would grow into Young Life’s Developing Global Leaders (DGL) program. DGL provides young men and women with college scholarships to a local university and keeps these exceptional leaders involved in local Young Life areas. The students are also matched with a mentor, participate in leadership and life-skills training, and recruit additional volunteer leaders. Given the low cost of tuition in the developing world, it would be an incredible bang for the buck.

In Nairobi, Kevin and David applied to DGL, were accepted and awarded scholarships — Kevin, to study business at the University of Nairobi; and David, to attend the tourism management program at Kenyatta University.

But Wamalwa dreamed of more. “In Kenya, we emphasize on our DGL students to be transformational leaders in Young Life but also to create tangible, practical change to the community they come from.” Wamalwa invented a leadership project which required Kenyan DGL students to each design an initiative for their community’s development. The only two requirements were: 1) the project needs to leave a lasting transformation on the community, and 2) project costs, if any, need to come from outside Young Life.

When Kevin and David pitched the idea of hosting an event entitled “Mr. and Miss Kahawa West” to Wamalwa, he was skeptical. “I told them, ‘Young Life doesn’t do beauty pageants and popularity contests.’”

“Trust us,” they said. Wamalwa acquiesced.

As part of their plan, Kevin and David invited the director of a local college to be a guest judge. By all accounts the event was a success. Amazed by what these young men were doing for their community, the director asked David what she could do to help. “Scholarships,” he answered without hesitation. She told him to come to her office the next day. David went and left her office with 18!

Shortly thereafter, Ryan Mohling, the director of DGL, was visiting Kenya. The students asked him to join them in prayer because, while generous, 18 scholarships wasn’t enough; that day David was going back for more.

He got double.

So from this one DGL scholarship entrusted to David, 35 more kids will now be attending college in Nairobi.

“Four years ago, neither of these guys would have been able to look you in the eye; because growing up in that slum, all they’ve heard was that they’d never amount to anything,” said Wamalwa. “What these men did … not even a political leader could have secured these scholarships.”

That’s DGL — student by student, raising up transformational leaders throughout the developing world. To sponsor a DGL student like David and Kevin please visit​.

​— By Ned Erickson

Jesus Levels the Playing Field

How Young Life’s Student Leadership Project changed Mark Gomez’s worldview.

Mark Gomez, an 18-year-old from La Grange, Illinois, and a college freshman at Indiana University, has a pretty extensive Young Life “résumé.” In high school, Mark went to Young Life camp at Beyond Malibu and served on work crew at Michindoh. He was a regular club attender who eventually became a student leader and an active volunteer in his local area. When you meet Mark, you can’t help but think of the potential he has for leadership and discipleship in his community. That’s where Young Life’s Student Leadership Project (SLP) comes in.

Every summer, 50 committed Christian high school students from all over the world gather for 10 days to engage in programs and activities that help prepare them for ministry in a multicultural world. Each student admitted to the program has demonstrated leadership and discipleship traits in Young Life activities, church, school and community. This past year, SLP hosted two sessions of students — the first at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and North Park University in Chicago, Illinois, and the second at Eastern University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A main focus of the program, begun in 2002, is ensuring diversity in the make-up of the group — race, ethnicity, socioeconomic, geography and church backgrounds.

Mark was a great candidate for the SLP, even though he came into the program with some doubts.

“SLP seemed like the perfect next step to develop my faith and leadership potential. But going in, I was nervous because it didn’t seem like I was as spiritually advanced as some of the other kids going.

Through SLP, however, Mark soon realized how long he’d had a relationship with Jesus didn’t really matter.

“Coming out of SLP, I learned that even though we think we’re all on different levels spirituality-wise, Jesus levels the playing field. No matter how much of the Bible we know or how often we do devotionals, we’re meant to learn and grow as Christians, together.”

The learning is not just reserved for the classroom. This summer, Mark’s group went to downtown Chicago, where they received an intimidating and humbling task.

“We all got boxed lunches and were told to go out on the streets with our prayer groups to sit with homeless people. My group sat with one guy for an hour and a half, just listening to his story. Even after everything this guy had gone through, he still believed in Jesus Christ. In fact, a lot of the stuff he told us about was making him draw closer to Jesus, too. I remembered sitting in class a few days earlier, when we talked about how you can’t fully serve someone you think less of, because regardless of who we are or where we come from, we are all sons and daughters of the King. Listening to this guy’s story really helped me believe that to be true and changed the way I view other people entirely. It’s probably the moment from the program I’ll remember the most.”

SLP focuses on five pillars of growth — Cultural Awareness, Servant Leadership, Service Learning, Spiritual Practices and Calling. Mark identified “Calling” as a huge area of personal growth.

“During SLP, I think I was able to see more clearly what the Lord is doing and is calling me to right now. I’m excited to minister to the kids on my college campus who believe they can find life and fulfillment in the party scene here. I’m just really excited to show them what Jesus can offer instead.”

For more information about next year’s SLP, please visit: Apply now — selection begins Jan. 1 and spots go fast!
— by Meaghan O'Connor​