From the President

​I received an email on Jan. 9 from a Young Lifer whom I’ve never met. At the time he wrote, I was in the midst of the last night of YL75 — our every-four-year celebration. When I finally read it, I was profoundly touched.

He'd seen reports of YL75 and decided to contact me. I want you to read it too. I've omitted some parts to protect his privacy:

Dear Mr. Rydberg,

Before a couple days ago, I’ll admit I didn’t know Young Life even had a president, much less who you were. As my Young Life leaders have told me about this conference and I follow the hashtag associated with it, I’ve found out about you, and how you’ll be retiring this year. I’m one of the eight million and something kids who’ve been reborn since you took office, and I’d like to tell you my story. I’m 17, a junior in high school and I’ve been a believer for close to two years, with the anniversary being June 18. Both Young Life and WyldLife have a strong presence [in my old town], but I never sought it out. Despite my parents coming from religious families, we only went to church once or twice every couple of years, and my only true religious experience came from Vacation Bible School at church when I was six, where their goal was to “scare straight” non-believers. I moved to (new city) after years of bullying, and I’d become a very broken person because of it. It left me depressed to the point of considering at best, drinking my pain away, and at worst, suicide. I now believe God brought me here for a reason — to bring me to Him.

However, I didn’t just get on my knees and praise God the second I stepped in my new school. Ironically, the first time I met Jonathan, I didn’t like him. He teaches freshman biology, and he had the misfortune of ending up with me at my most broken. I’d developed a “trust no one” attitude in life. Every time Jonathan tried to help me, be it with school or getting my life together, I not only pushed him away, I lashed out at him.

Just as I thought he’d given up, he brought up Young Life. At this point, I wasn’t as cold towards him, so I told him I’d think about it and see if my mom would drive me (my excuse for everything I didn’t want to do). It was by God’s will that my sister had been invited by her friends also, so I ended up going. What struck me the most wasn’t the music, the skit or the talk at the end; it was that despite my attitude for an hour of the day every school day for three months, Jonathan treated me like an old friend. I left club that night changed, and since that day, I’ve gone from a broken boy to a man with purpose.

Like any broken thing though, it still has cracks when it’s fixed, and I struggle with stress and fighting off depression every day. But it’s because of Jonathan and my other leaders that I’m fixed at all. I tell you this because without everything you did in your years as president to expand Young Life, there would be no Young Life here, no Jonathan the Young Life leader and no renewed me. It’s because of my leaders and you that my future looks bright, and I want to thank you. I’ll be praying for you and your life post-retirement, and I hope to meet you one day and thank you in person. I’m sure the leaders would love having the president at club sometime to play foursquare. Have a great day, week, month and year.


Why did his letter touch me so much?

He perfectly described the kids we’re pursuing. They’re all different but they all have stories, pain and needs. And their greatest need is to meet Jesus. In Young Life that introduction to Christ most often happens when a human does the introducing. In this case, it was his Young Life leaders — particularly Jonathan. And when kids meet Christ and begin to grow in their relationship with Him, transformation takes place. It’s not instantaneous. It still may have a few cracks. But it’s life-changing for now and eternity. And it’s why we push forward to the next kid, school, community or country; start Young Life, and introduce ourselves, and then Jesus, to adolescents, one kid at a time.

*Name has been changed.