Agents of Change

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The year was 2001 when Deodatus Kyara (“Papa Deo”), one of Young Life Africa’s founding staff, led a prayer climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. At the summit, Papa Deo received a vision from the Lord; a vision of fires lighting up all around the continent. The Lord was going to spread the gospel to teenagers across Africa.

Over the course of the next decade God delivered on His promise. Young Life grew and many followed in Papa Deo’s steps: traveling to Tanzania, seeing the Young Life ministry, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and returning home better informed, more engaged and inspired to join what God was doing in Africa. One of these people was Ben Pinkston.

Active Hearts

In 2014, Pinkston and his father, Steve, joined 22 alumni and friends of Young Life on a “Climb for Change” expedition to Africa, led by Pinkston’s Campaigner leader and longtime family friend Tom Ramey. Toward the end of a life-changing two weeks that included meeting Young Life staff and leaders in Arusha, serving at a Young Life camp and summiting Kilimanjaro, Pinkston and Ramey found themselves talking as they made their way down the mountain. Ramey remembers Pinkston reflecting on what he’d experienced and saying, “Tom, this is incredible! We’ve got to do something!”

Like Deo over a decade before him, God was using this “mountain-top experience” to speak to Pinkston; however, like many great ideas, it would take time to grow. In fact, it wasn’t until the following December at a family Christmas party that the two men continued their conversation.

Ramey and Pinkston reached out to Matt Stevenson, a former Campaigner kid of Ramey’s and friend of Pinkston’s. Like Pinkston, Stevenson was just getting started in his career. Though he’d been a Young Life leader in college, he was now in a season of life that made it difficult for him to be as involved with Young Life as he had in the past. The three decided to expand their circle, reaching out to more young professionals. The initial group included Pinkston and Stevenson, as well as Phillip Niels, Jake Kirkpatrick, Jonathan Thomas, Nick Jankovsky, Stanton Morrow, Beau Longino, and Evan and Chelsea Richardson.

This fledgling, nameless group, shared a love of Jesus, knowledge of Young Life, similar life stage and desire to be part of making an eternal impact in some of the hardest places on earth. Like a group of climbers setting out to scale Kilimanjaro, this group embarked on a life-changing adventure; one that grew their faith, offered unparalleled views and impacted lives for eternity. In the words of Phillip Niels, “There was a shared passion amongst all of us for Young Life in Africa. We were all millennials, with non-vocational-ministry jobs, but a background with Young Life. We were in a season of life where we weren’t actively participating, but we still had active hearts for the mission.”

Not knowing what they were doing, the group reached out to Senior Vice President of Young Life Africa Steve Larmey. Larmey introduced the group to Country X’s* need for $3,500 to sponsor kids to go to Young Life camp. After reaching out to several peers, and reaching into their own pockets, the group achieved their goal and sponsored 100 percent of the need for the summer of 2015.

Big Dreams

The next step on their journey included a stop in early 2016 at the Young Life Africa/Middle East committee gathering, where the core group continued to hear of the needs and dream about the future. It was here Larmey introduced the group to the idea of country sponsorship and the opportunity to not only help with the camping needs, but the operational needs in Country X. Larmey challenged them to dream big. It was decided five of the members would go to Africa in 2016 and climb Kilimanjaro. Each climber would try to raise $10,000, with a group goal of raising at least $35,000. When the sun set over this inaugural trip, $55,000 had been raised!

Back in the United States, the group again gathered at the 2017 Young Life Africa/Middle East committee meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, to gain a sense of what might be next. The group decided to also adopt Young Life Palestine, with a goal of raising $170,000. In the months following this gathering, others heard the vision and joined the group, resulting in their number swelling to over 40 people, 16 of whom committed to climbing Kilimanjaro in 2017. When all was said and done, $150,000 was raised and the needs of Young Life in Country X and Palestine were taken care of for the next three years!

In January 2018, members of this group joined other Africa/Middle East committee members in Dallas, Texas, and continued to dream about the future. As the group looked to the summer of 2018, they took on an additional country, Senegal, with the goal of providing for their Young Life operational costs for the next three years. The goal is $155,000, and members were again raising funds and “Climbing for Change.”

A Front-Row Seat

What has this opportunity meant to the original core? Here are a few of their responses:

“Being a part of this has allowed me to live out my faith and see God work.” — Ben Pinkston

“Getting to do something bigger than myself has been great. We get to have a very small part in people hearing about Jesus in countries where it can be dangerous and illegal. We get to be a small part of God’s work. That is humbling and cool.” — Matt Stevenson

“Seeing God’s hand in our own individual lives has created a great appreciation for what He is doing. I have the pleasure of knowing the gospel is being spread like wildfire; we have a front-row seat to the expansiveness of Young Life and what God is doing globally.” — Phillip Niels

“It has been a joy for Chelsea and me to be involved with this. Doing something for others who don’t have the same opportunities or privileges. Being a part of this community has meant the world to us.” — Evan Richardson

When asked his thoughts about this group of young professionals, Tom Ramey replied, “I’m 65 years old. Outside of my wife and children, it’s been the greatest privilege of my life to watch this happen. It has been the honor of my life! These young people are going to change the world, and they’re dead serious about it!”

If you would like to find out more about this effort, or learn how you can join in the fun, contact Ben Pinkston.

To learn more about Alumni and Friends, go to alum.yl.org.

*Called “Country X” throughout this article for security purposes.