Live, Love, Repeat

Natalie Nollan grew up watching lives change. During the week, high school kids considered her living room their second home. Year after year, she listened to her dad, Kenny Nollan, speak at Young Life clubs and banquets. And every summer, she looked forward to her family serving a month on assignment at Washington Family Ranch in Oregon, where Natalie said she “felt a lot of love.”

Her childhood was similar to most kids whose parents serve on Young Life staff. But her last 10 years in the role of Young Life volunteer and “club planter” have been completely unexpected. And the impact she’s made for the kingdom is anything but ordinary.

You might say, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Natalie has been flattering Young Life for years.

Where’s WyldLife?

It all began in 2006, when the Nollans moved from Seattle to Brighton, Michigan, when Natalie was starting middle school. Natalie was excited about jumping into the ministry she’d seen work through her family for years. Unfortunately, WyldLife didn’t exist at Maltby Middle School.

“Natalie came to me one day and said, ‘Dad, why isn’t there WyldLife here? Can you help start a club?’” Kenny, now Southern Divisional coordinator for Young Life College, recalled. “I told her if she really wanted it, talk to her friends and we’d go from there.”

Natalie accepted her dad’s challenge, and by the end of seventh grade, leaders recruited by Kenny from the University of Michigan took 25 kids to camp. WyldLife in Brighton officially kicked off when Natalie started eighth grade, and it’s still going strong today.

“There were kids from church and school coming and lots of community and parent support,” Natalie said. “When I went to high school, WyldLife continued and even morphed into a partnership with the church. It was an incredible experience.”

Bringing It Back

Entering ninth grade, Natalie found herself with Young Life déjà vu: club had dissolved at Brighton High School. So Natalie determined to bring it back.

Again she went to her dad with her big idea, and this time, he told her: “First, get people together to pray once a week. Then, identify and gather student leaders who can help you get this started. And third, look for a teacher to get involved. You do these three things, and I’ll help you.”

As part of her “strategy,” Natalie wore a Young Life T-shirt to school once a week. One day, a biology teacher named Jonathan Wendrick stopped her and asked if Young Life was on that campus. She told him about her efforts and invited him to see a WyldLife club in action.

Before long, a team of 30 high schoolers were praying in Mr. Wendrick’s classroom before school. And soon after that, Mr. Wendrick and his wife, Erin, joined staff. Today, they still lead a vibrant club at Brighton High.

“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Natalie said. “We were just friends trying to launch this thing together, so there were moments of challenge. But there were so many great moments — like watching my friends stand up at Say-So at camp, then figuring out together what happens when you try to really live that way.

“I believe everyone deserves to have someone pouring into their lives. Ultimately, I believe that someone is Jesus. I wanted my friends and the people around me to experience grace and freedom the way I had growing up.”

Beyond Me

When Natalie left for Lafayette College in eastern Pennsylvania in 2013, she planned to “take a break” from Young Life. But compelled by Christ, a love for people and the needs around her, Natalie soon found herself in a familiar starting place. After months of prayer, Natalie and a small group of friends kicked off Young Life College during her sophomore year, making her university campus the third Young Life club she’d “planted” since she was 12 years old.

“Natalie has the ability to relate to people like crazy, across the board,” Kenny said. “She’s stayed faithful to the truth of the incarnation and seen people’s lives flipped around once they became connected to the person of Jesus. It’s been fun to watch it all happen.”

Natalie has seen the Lord use her “live, love, repeat” model of ministry to transform hearts from a middle school gymnasium to a university coffee shop. While none of this was her plan, God’s purpose for her has been clear, and her obedience to His leading will echo for eternity.

“Whether Young Life ministry is in my future or not, I always want to live this way,” Natalie said. “It’s been my entire life experience. Being relational, listening to people’s lives, loving them, being engaged. That’s Young Life. That’s Jesus.​

“I hope my experience shows you can do this as a middle schooler or a high schooler or a college student. It’s not impossible — God can use anyone. It’s God through you. Because there’s no way I could’ve done this with my own strength. It’s beyond me.”