God Loves to Be Trusted

In April 2018, I had the honor of interviewing retired Young Life staff veteran Chuck Reinhold. Here’s a short exchange from that time:

JC: Tell me about hanging out with Young Life’s founder, Jim Rayburn, when you were in college in the late ’50s.

CR: It’s one of my most cherished life experiences. Jim invited me to spend time with him at his chalet at Frontier Ranch and join him on one of his climbs up the mountain. It took us all afternoon to climb up and down that mountain and I loved every minute. Jim was personal, and it became obvious to me why Young Life was effective in communicating the love of God to teenagers. There was nothing exceptional about the trip except he was interested in me. He asked me about myself, my Young Life experience and Pitt football.

JC: Chuck, that’s so great!

CR: [For possibly the 10th time that morning] “Yes! Now tell me your name again … ”

This is the living contradiction that is Chuck Reinhold. Now 79, he’s in his 14th year dealing with short-term memory loss. The condition takes away much of his ability to remember bits of conversation or events occurring just minutes earlier, yet he still displays great clarity when it comes to recalling his life story from days gone by.

The dementia is believed to be CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), attributed to his football days in high school and college. As if ripped out of today’s headlines, the effects of so many hits led to the state he finds himself in today.

But how can he also retain such detailed memories of the bygone days? The answer comes directly from his neurologist and friend, Bill Malarkey, who said, “My research and that of others has shown positive inputs into our lives like Scripture reading and prayer have anti-inflammatory properties. In contrast, worry, fear and anxiety accelerate inflammation.”

Reinhold’s daughter, Hollie Birckhead, said, “In other words, Bill believes what’s protected our dad’s brain from getting worse over these past 14 years is his relationship with Jesus and his discipline of reading Scripture every day.”

The Imperfect Pioneer

The Lord has used Reinhold’s daily discipline of reading and memorizing Scripture (for more than 60 years!) to equip him as one of Young Life’s foremost pioneers. Since coming on staff in 1962, he’s always been a “starter,” whether it’s beginning new clubs, areas, training methods or the work in a foreign country. Consider just some of the Young Life ministries Reinhold began:
  • ​Clubs at Woodlawn and Dundalk high schools in Baltimore (1962)
  • The work in Rochester, New York (1965)
  • The training program for new staff (1969)
  • The work in Prince George’s County, Maryland (1969)
  • The work in Ethiopia (1998)
Armed with a twinkle in his eyes and self-deprecating wit, Reinhold would be the first to tell you, however, that 1) the glory for these accomplishments belongs to Jesus, 2) he’s still very much a man in process and 3) he is so thankful to have been used by the Lord.

That Quote

Reinhold has famously said, “I’m glad Young Life didn’t stop before they came to my high school!” When reminded of this quote Reinhold quickly added, “And me! I’m glad they didn’t stop before they got to me!”

If there’s one quote the larger mission of Young Life associates with Reinhold, it’s this one. Perhaps it’s so memorable because it’s both personal and universal ...

How many within the mission have thought the exact same thing? How many have thanked God Young Life didn’t stop before it found them?

Well, “Young Life” is usually a friend. And for Reinhold, that friend was Bob Scott.

Reinhold met the Lord on a Young Life weekend in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania, in 1956. The self-proclaimed atheist, who previously believed, “Christianity was for those who didn’t know how to have fun,” was drawn to Christ through the love of his leader, Bob Scott, who didn’t give up before getting to Mt. Lebanon High School … and Reinhold.

From Football to Far Away

A star athlete in high school, Reinhold received football scholarships from colleges up and down the East Coast — Ohio State, Harvard, Penn State, just to name a few.

“I was very thankful and humbled by it all,” Reinhold said of his football success and the attention it garnered. “It pressed me against the Lord.” [Another oft-repeated “Chuckism.”]

Ultimately, he chose nearby Pitt University, where he played alongside future NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka, who would open up holes for the halfback known as “bird legs.”

As he neared graduation in 1961, the NFL came calling. The Pittsburgh Steelers were well aware of the hometown hero and, not wanting to waste a draft pick, they inquired if he would accept the offer if chosen.

As exciting as this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was, God had other plans and Reinhold was perfectly fine with that.

At church one Sunday, the guest speaker wrapped up his sermon with this: “I’m going to an untouched tribe of people called the Anuaks in the wilds of lower Ethiopia. I’ll need some help. Anyone want to volunteer?”

The speaker was renowned missionary Don McClure, and sitting in the congregation that spring morning was Reinhold. You can guess  the rest.

“I had never felt God speaking to me so clearly,” Reinhold said. “I don’t think I even took time to think it through; I felt the Lord say, ‘Go up and volunteer,’ which I did. I never looked back. I was happy to turn down the Pittsburgh Steelers, no problem. I was so alive and happy to go on such an adventure with the Lord and this great man, Don McClure. I have never regretted that decision.”

In that year, Reinhold’s worldview exploded. Working with McClure and reaching out to this untouched people group in the wild African jungles taught the young college graduate the meaning of the phrase, “God loves to be trusted.”

“In Ethiopia, I had seen a huge God who took away my fear. I prayed every day, ‘Lord, what’s the most important thing I could do for you?’ Up to that point I didn’t have a clue what I would do when I got back home, but the Lord spoke loud and clear to me that high schools were lost tribes and Young Life was a mission to them.

“I asked myself three questions:
  • ​Was doing Young Life scary?
  • Were high schools lost tribes?
  • Should I then go there?
“The answer to all three questions? A resounding, ‘Yes!’

“I’m absolutely positive God took me to Ethiopia to help me see the lost tribe of teenagers, a tribe that has few missionaries.”

A Principled Man

Reinhold returned to the States and began his career with Young Life in 1962. His first assignment was in Baltimore, where he met his eventual wife of 50 years, Linda. He then moved to Rochester, New York, where he began the work there and back to Maryland to start a brand-new training program for incoming staff. He lovingly called the program “a graduate school for Christ” and set the bar high. The principles born out of this time left an indelible mark on the hundreds of staff who have sat under Reinhold’s teaching.

Consider this remembrance from Rick Rogan, senior regional director of the Greater Northeast:

“In September of 2016, I sat in a meeting with a dozen other Young Life staff. About a handful of us are still on staff because of Reinhold. Each day over our time together, someone in that room quoted what they learned from Reinhold over 25 years ago. ‘There is nothing more important than your personal walk with Jesus Christ.’ ‘There are no shortcuts to spiritual leadership.’ ‘Muslims don’t even think their Bible is the Word of God and they memorize it, what about you?’ ‘People are more important than programs.’”

Ethiopia, Part II

By the age of 59, Reinhold had spent 30 years on staff (another seven were spent serving at the National Presbyterian Church outside Washington D.C.). Feeling he owed the country of Ethiopia a debt of gratitude for all he received in his year after college, he and Linda moved across the Atlantic to start Young Life there.

“For me, the ultimate objective in returning to Ethiopia was simple. God willing, in two years we would leave behind 24 trained youth leaders. Think about the incredible difference 24 trained youth leaders would make in a country of 53 million. They, as well as those they touched, would multiply through the years until every school, neighborhood, business and government office would be infiltrated with the aroma of Jesus Christ.”

In the end, the couple stayed for more than seven years, and since returning to the States in 2005, the work in Ethiopia (and beyond) has indeed flourished.

Currently, Young Life is active in schools and neighborhoods throughout Addis Ababa and in 89 different towns and villages around Ethiopia. Over the last 18 years, Young Life in Ethiopia has grown 34 percent per year. Currently, over 15,000 kids attend Young Life outreach clubs every week and almost 10,000 kids are involved in weekly discipleship groups (from the Young Life Ethiopia website, July 2018).

Young Life’s Old Dominion Regional Director Joe Marks shared this telling story:

“Last year, at Young Life’s Global Leadership Conference, I was in a room with several African staff. I was talking with one of them and found out he was from Ethiopia. I told him my Young Life leader was Chuck Reinhold and that he had helped start Young Life in Ethiopia. The man next to him, who was not from Ethiopia, held up his hands dramatically and said, ‘Oh no, Chuck Reinhold is the father of Young Life in all of Africa!’”

The Adventure Continues

While Reinhold’s world may be a little more confined these days due to his memory loss, his wisdom continues to impact future generations of believers. Reinhold has been around the block long enough to have known every president of Young Life. In March 2017, Newt Crenshaw made it a point to have lunch with Reinhold. The meeting was significant to Crenshaw, who shared some of Reinhold’s wisdom with the mission …

“We all need to stay close to our Lord and pray that He would speak through us in every encounter we have. It is clear from the scriptures that trials and persecution should ‘push us up against the Lord,’ as Chuck Reinhold put it to Wiley Scott [Young Life’s senior vice president of the Eastern Division] and me when we visited with him in Washington D.C.”

Reinhold’s journey from a man of great leadership and vision to one with very limited outreach could cause tremendous sadness, his wife, Linda, said, but Reinhold never exhibits disappointment or frustration — only thankfulness. “He realizes he struggles with his memory, but this is just an inconvenience for him, not a hardship.

“Chuck’s life might be lived in a smaller environment, but his heart and mind continue to be full of meaning, joy and life. He simply says, ‘In Christ we all have a life worth living!’”

Reinhold, with a little help from family and friends, shares more of his story in his new book, A Life Worth Living, the source for much of this article. The work addresses Reinhold’s many adventures, while pointing readers to the life and leadership principles he’s shared with kids and leaders all over the world. The book is available for pre-order at online book sellers such as Amazon. Learn more at chuckreinhold.com​.