Because of Him

When Rick Monroe first started hanging out with kids as a Young Life leader, a text was something you read inside a book, and no one ever put the words “social” and “media” together in the same sentence.

Unimaginable change has emerged in the world over the last 40 years, but Monroe says nothing compares to what he’s seen Jesus do to transform hearts and lives through Young Life.

Monroe was 22 years old when God called him to volunteer in Savannah, Georgia, and after 40 faithful years, God has called Monroe to step down. While his time as a leader may be complete, Monroe says he’ll never give up his passion for kids to know the love of Jesus.

The Call
Monroe grew up going to church every Sunday, but laments the experience was “boring as a brick.” He connected with a campus ministry while attending the University of Georgia and loved the games, singing and winsome message about Jesus. But their evangelism strategy was “a real turnoff.”

“It wasn’t relational,” Monroe said. “I wanted to win friendships, not spring Jesus on people out of the blue.”

The summer of 1974 before his last quarter in school, he gave a children’s sermon at a church where he had once served as youth director. Later that day, he received two phone calls from people who heard him speak — one was a job offer from a bank; the other was an invitation to be a volunteer leader at a place he’d never heard of before: Windy Gap.

He said yes to both.

After graduation in December 1974, Monroe loaded everything in his Ford Maverick and drove from Athens to Windy Gap. “When I saw the camp, and how they presented Jesus as exciting, not boring, I knew I’d found what I was looking for.”

Monroe attended his first club as a volunteer leader in January 1975, the same day he started his new job and joined the Young Life committee. He’s been impacting teenagers for eternity ever since.

For 25 years, Monroe was a volunteer leader at Windsor Forest High School and after that, Country Day High School. Offers to come on staff never tempted him. He said his specific call was to volunteer.

“Things happened to let me know that wasn’t what I was supposed to do. I was already doing Young Life. I just never felt led (to go on staff). It was always an offering.”

Monroe has also continued working with students at his church, connecting it with Young Life as much as he can.

“I see Young Life as a maternity ward — babies are born at club, Campaigners is the nursery where they learn to walk,” he explained, “and church is where we connect with God’s family to help us grow to maturity. I always told kids that someday, they will be too old for Young Life, but they will never be too old for the church.”

Evolution of the Teenager
Monroe has witnessed more than just evolutions in technology over the years; he calls what he’s seen “the evolution of the teenager.”

“In the early years you could tell a kid was from a divorced home, but not anymore,” he said. “ Used to be, any given weeknight when calling about camp, nine out of 10 kids were at home. Now, no one’s home.

“Kids try to focus on so many things, they can’t focus on anything. Young Life calls them to focus on the One that matters. What hasn’t changed is the truth of the Gospel and the need for kids to know it. There’s always a new group to tell. You’re never finished with that.”

While the need is always there, Monroe said he had to step away before he became “that guy” at the high school. “They respect you,” he said, “but don’t want to hang out with you.”

Though Monroe is stepping out of the world of kids, he said he plans to continue serving on the Young Life committee and support the mission in every way he can. He has persevered as long as he has because ministry gives him purpose and builds his faith.

“I think everybody ought to be involved in something with eternal value, something that lasts,” he said. “Because really, we are in the seed-planting business more than the results business. 

“When you plant a seed, you don’t see anything for a while. I’ve gotten phone calls from kids in their 20s and 30s telling me they came to Christ through Young Life. You never know on a Monday-to-Monday basis. You go by faith and trust God to do what He is going to do.”

The Next 40 Years
Ward Barnes is area director of Savannah Young Life and beneficiary of Monroe’s wisdom and experience. He said Monroe’s impact over time there is immeasurable.

“The word that comes to mind for Rick Monroe is faithfulness,” Ward said. “He’s seen some high highs and low lows, and forgotten more about Young Life than I will ever know. He’s given away more Bibles, prayed for more students, given more club talks, and seen more sports practices and games than anyone I know.

“Rick has benefited the whole community in unknowable ways. Dozens of staff, hundreds of leaders, thousands of kids have been impacted. It’s hard to measure this side of eternity. He’s part of the great cloud of witnesses in Savannah.”

When Monroe told Ward he was stepping down last May, Ward wanted to honor his friend’s legacy.

With the blessing of the committee and help from the Young Life Foundation, Ward set out to raise $8,000 — enough to send one student to a weekend camp at Windy Gap every year for the next 40 years.

“I contacted former club kids, leaders, committee and staff,” Ward said, “and everyone I called said yes. We ended up raising $11,000, and a very generous donor matched that. Now, we are able to send two Savannah students to Windy Gap for the next 40 years through the Rick Monroe Legacy Scholarship.

“We told him, ‘You’ve taken care of Young Life in Savannah for the last 40 years; we’re committed to the next 40 years.’ That’s an 80-year legacy for Savannah Young Life, thanks to Rick.”

But Monroe’s take on his legacy is a little different. In his view, he was simply a vessel.

“Anything people have seen in me that they like or that draws them has been Jesus in me,” he said. “The only reason I’ve had any affect has been the Holy Spirit working through me. All I’ve ever done has been because of Him. It’s been an honor to have been entrusted to give kids instruction about the only thing that really matters.”