Young Life Lite

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​Signing on for [YOUNG] Life.

In April, credit card issuers stopped requiring signatures on receipts. They’ve gone the way of cursive writing lessons and autograph books. Quaintly archaic. Sad to say, your John Hancock isn’t worth much anymore.

Except in the West Salem, Oregon, garage of JoAnn and Terry Watson. Since 1989, the Watsons have collected the signatures of thousands of club kids who have autographed the walls, ceiling, woodwork and garage door. When those were filled, kids signed canvas panels. JoAnn has 10 of them rolled up and stashed in the attic. These signatures record what God can do in the lives of kids — and their parents.

It started as Young Life relationships often do. A leader serving as a volunteer coach discovers a discouraged freshman in the locker room and suggests they get together to talk. Before long, the athlete is coming to club. This particular athlete, JoAnn and Terry’s son, Chad, attended club and then camp at Breakaway Lodge. When Chad’s leader, Eric, had to leave camp to coach the state playoff game, he invited Chad to come along, if and only if the leader could share the club talk they’d be missing. So during their drive, Eric shared “the cross talk,” and Chad made a faith commitment then and there, and that changed the faith journey of the entire family.

The following fall, Eric approached Chad’s parents saying, “Just think about this … ” which JoAnn now understands to mean, “You’re about to go on a big adventure.” In this instance, the request was for the Watsons to host club in their home. (Sort of.) For just a few weeks. (Maybe a bit longer.) The Watsons owned a tent and awning business, and with the hope of holding bigger clubs in a larger space, Eric asked the Watsons to erect a 20-by-20-foot tent attached to their garage. Not long after, clubs that were never larger than 70 grew to 200 under a tent that eventually had side walls, a gutter system and commercial-grade carpet throughout the adjacent garage. “Just a few weeks,” extended to 10 years. And with the help of a parent committee, this home that hosted club at 7:45 p.m. began serving dinner to kids and leaders who’d show up at five. Eric recalls that the Watsons had to re-carpet their home three times due to the foot traffic.

During this time, signing the garage became a rite of passage. “Kids would come back and sign again,” Eric said. “People were in awe of this garage — in awe of the impact of this place year after year. The garage represented an open door. Anyone was welcome in this safe and loving place.”

Joann and Terry signed on for more than hosting club. JoAnn, an accountant, began helping with the area’s books and caring for leaders. And then she became a volunteer leader and the region’s student staff director. In her 40s. “I was scared to death of speaking,” she said. “I had to sit on a stool to give a talk, and I’d throw up before and after wondering, ‘Why am I here? Why me?’”

There are thousands who can answer that. West Salem kids who’ve grown up in faith and service. Chad Watson is now on Young Life staff as a Field Development coaching coordinator. That leader … Eric? Today, he serves as Young Life’s chief development officer. And there are others who are Young Life regional and area directors, business owners, bankers, teachers, moms, dads and followers of Jesus. Their names are written on the walls of an Oregon garage in indelible ink, and engraved for time eternal in the palms of God’s hands.