Young Life Lite

As a college student in Southern California studying to become a youth pastor, Ty Gallenbeck encountered the magician and illusionist David Blaine. Wanting to know the methods behind Blaine’s magic, he bought a book. And he started practicing.

Not long after, Gallenbeck met a magician at a Youth Specialties Conference who would become his friend and mentor. Danny exhorted Gallenbeck to practice until his tricks were perfect, and only then, to share his tricks with others. And then Danny told Gallenbeck to stop trying to be David Blaine and to simply be himself.

After two-and-a-half years of practice, Gallenbeck moved back to Delta County, Colorado, and his first gig. Unable to find a youth pastor position, he accepted a position at a local Boys and Girls Club. There he discovered the allure of illusions. “I quickly saw how some tough kid could come in, aloof and apprehensive. After one or two magic tricks, the walls would crumble. I watch their faces — the sheer wonder, amazement and joy of seeing something that is unexplainable. I never grow tired of that.” That was the first place Gallenbeck witnessed how magic could start the conversations that could change situations.

When leadership changes at the Boys and Girls Club led him to consider new opportunities, a friend introduced him to Young Life. A quick review of the website and Gallenbeck believed he had found an organization of kindred spirits. At a Frontier Ranch family camp he became convinced of it. “I remember the music playing for the walk-on skit was a song from (the Celtic punk band) Flogging Molly. I thought, ‘We’re at a Christian camp. Someone is going to get fired over this.’” To which he added, “I loved it.”

In 2009 he came on Young Life staff, working with kids even as he performed magic for corporate and private events. His area, Delta County, has suffered significant job losses recently. Two-thirds of the area’s coal mining jobs have been eliminated in just the last three years. So Gallenbeck’s tricks have become a helpful trade to sustain his ministry.

But recent economic crises were less difficult for him than a crisis of faith that the magic conjured up when he was in college and learning the craft. Seeing is believing, as the saying goes. But Gallenbeck said, “In my line of work, there are hundreds of things that you see with your own eyes that don’t actually happen. And when a look behind the curtain reveals all of it as a series of tricks, you begin to look for falsehood in everything.” Even in God Himself. So he took this bag of doubt and dumped it at God’s feet. “If you’re there,” he said, “I need to see you.” What he heard was the verse that’s become his life’s call: “For we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Having gone through that kind of faith crisis at a similar age, Gallenbeck uses card tricks not only to begin conversations, but also to encourage kids to reveal their own doubts. “Let’s talk about it, because it’s a huge part of my story.” Together, they talk about a God who is greater than any trick. A God who brings light out of darkness, faith out of doubt, who offers us all the assurance that it is only in believing that we can truly see.