Believe, Be Loved, Keep Going

Jack Boyd strolls leisurely down the open hallway, smiling at a group of students as he passes by. His pants are a little baggy, and he’s wearing an old Ohio State crewneck sweatshirt. A sight to see in this northern Michigan high school. He sees his friend Cody down the hall, and hurries as best he can to catch up with him. After a few pleasantries, Jack leans in and asks, “Say, would you want to go fishing this weekend? I want to take the boat out, and the weather is supposed to be just great.” He has to listen closely for the answer, but a glow of excitement comes over the face of his young friend.

Meanwhile, his wife, Gretchen, sits in their home over coffee with a young woman who’s just been through a breakup. This morning she prayed with the Young Life area director, and this afternoon she’ll go for a walk with another woman who’s struggling to make a career decision. She’ll get a call from Jack later about how his “contact time” went, and then start looking through the book of Mark to make plans for the weekly Bible study she leads for a group of young adults.

Jack and Gretchen’s lives reflect a normal, daily commitment to ministry. Club, contact work, Campaigners, committee meetings. Repeat. So what’s the difference between the Boyds and your typical Young Life leaders? About five decades.

TAKING KIDS TO THE KING (AND QUEEN)

The Boyds started leading Young Life after first coming to faith in their early 30s. They were adult guests at Saranac in 1971, and soon afterward, they served as leaders in Sylvania, Ohio, for nine years while raising their three children. In 1981, they moved to Blissfield, Michigan, where they started a new area and volunteered as leaders again, for over a decade. Here they met Bryan Shaffer, then a college-aged leader. Bryan, now the area director for Southeast Michigan and associate regional director for the North Coast Region, said, “The ministry (in Blissfield) has since reached thousands of students for the Kingdom.”

Jack and Gretchen often reflect on their days as leaders in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Every few months the Boyds get a call, email or visit from a former Young Life kid. Some have come to walk with Jesus, and some have not. The couple wouldn’t trade a single moment spent with their Young Life kids. Their favorite memories to share are the moments with kids who spent their lunch break smoking in the parking lot, or the teens who cussed them out during club. More than once we’ve heard Gretchen say, “Jack, remember when we took that whole vanload of kids to see Queen?!”

It may seem like every Young Life leader has had a season where they’ve thought to themselves, “I’m getting too old for this.” That doesn’t seem true for Jack and Gretchen. When they moved to Traverse City, Michigan, nearly 10 years ago to be near family, they were in their mid-60s and thought they’d retire from their work with Young Life. In a few short months, helping grow the existing Young Life ministry in the Grand Traverse region became their top priority. For a season, Jack made it his full-time job to meet with donors throughout Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. His efforts resulted in the area hiring their first area director, Erin Wanschura, in 2015.

“I’d never had a Young Life leader until I became the area director for Grand Traverse,” Erin said. “Gretchen shows up in my life, remembers the mundane details, prays for me, cries and laughs with me.” As a “retired” marriage and family therapist, Gretchen continues to walk alongside Erin and dozens of other young women in her Young Life and church community. She’s the first to ask about the work of the Lord in teens’ lives, the loudest voice of encouragement for leaders and perhaps one of the most constant voices of prayer for the area.

OPEN TO THE MYSTERY

Each time Jack pulls into the Traverse City High School parking lot he prays, “Lord, let me be open to the mystery.” What Jack might be too humble to see is that at age 78, every time he opens the door to this world of broken teenagers and turns up his hearing aids to make sure he can learn their names, he is himself a living mystery. In spite of the vast array of complex differences between Jack and these students, for Jack, the ministry of Jesus is simple: “Keep showing up.” And for the students and leaders around him, the hope is profound.

Bryan reflected, “The Boyds are one of the most significant spiritual influences in my life. Their primary concern has always been knowing Jesus and making Him known.”

The call of Jesus through the Boyds is clear: believe, be loved and keep going. Jack and Gretchen are living proof that if we keep following and serving Jesus, we’ll look more like Him and become more truly ourselves. They’re living examples of lifelong faithfulness in ministry, a true picture of fulfilling retirement. The Grand Traverse community and countless others are grateful to call them their Young Life leaders.