Young Life Lite

Olivia Swindler is a Young Life staff associate in Grenoble, an ancient city in the foothills of the French Alps. Once an Olympics host city, Grenoble is also France’s second-largest research center, home to multinational tech companies and bustling with university students. Forty-one percent of its residents are students. Grenoble is a city of smart people — smart in a STEM kind of way. (Science, technology, engineering and math. Yeah. That kind of smart.)

Add to this distinctive, the French political philosophy, “laïcité,” or “secularization,” meant to guard its citizens from the influence of organized religion. Its strict enforcement and practical result is an absence of any faith-based activity in Grenoble schools where the high school day lasts from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Wednesdays when school must end by 1 p.m.

What’s a leader like Swindler to do to meet with super smart, overbooked girls in impenetrable schools? Make Wednesdays count. Olivia had a goal of deepening the friendships and Christ-centered conversations with three girls she’d taken to camp the summer before. When she suggested they meet on Wednesdays, Chloe, Allison and Claire agreed. Swindler went to their first gathering with a package of tissues on the ready, in case their conversations got deep.

When Swindler suggested they might study the Bible, the girls declined. “Boring.” Swindler asked about reading a spiritual book together. “We read too many books already,” they replied. Swindler says she could feel the tissues in her bag gathering dust when she threw out a Hail Mary suggestion, “What if we write down a question or two and each week I’ll pick one for us to discuss?” Perfect!

“I cut up slips of paper, and we all scribbled down our questions. I knew these questions would be profound.” As soon as the girls left, Swindler unfolded the slips to read:
  • ​If I hit myself and it hurt, am I strong, or am I weak?
  • When I buy cheese, there are holes in it. Does that mean the more I buy cheese, the more I am wasting my money?”
  • What if soy milk is just milk introducing itself in Spanish?
Swindler said, “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The only questions about God were ones I had written. All their questions had to do with memes.”

Memes are captioned photos or cartoons that spread virally. Their snarky, culturally aware humor makes memes popular with French kids. With prayer and Google, an undeterred Swindler linked these memes to gospel truths for their weekly discussions. For instance, since “soy” means “I am” in Spanish, she asked where the girls find their identity. After one difficult week creating meaning from memes, when Swindler was feeling like a failure, Chloe said, “You know what I love about this time, Olivia?” (Swindler prepared for the worst.) “You’re able to relate memes and things we see every day on the internet to God!”

At once, Swindler remembered why she loved her work. “Because at the core of Young Life is meeting kids where they are. If my girls love memes, then it’s my job to prayerfully link those messages to Jesus.” In so doing, Swindler and leaders like her share a truth that penetrates sophisticated cities, tribal villages and the town down the road. There is no subject, nothing seen nor heard that God does not speak into. And no fad or trend He cannot use to send a message of love — even, and especially, to meme girls.