Filling Beds + Hearts

​Mark Booth, manager of Lost Canyon, Young Life’s camp in Williams, Arizona, believes it’s never been harder to reach kids, and never more important. He and his staff will do anything to make sure there’s never an empty bed at the camp when the gospel is being proclaimed.

With a long history on staff, working to bring every kid everywhere face to face with Jesus, Mark first felt this burden while serving as Lost Canyon’s marketing and development director. He knew the financial piece was one of the biggest obstacles to getting the furthest-out kids to camp.

From this burden came a vision. And this vision became a hands-on, God-ordained strategy that’s since provided thousands of Arizona teenagers — kids who have disadvantages and barriers to overcome in every aspect of their lives — a wide open door to experience life inside the kingdom. In this case, God’s provision has a name: LCAT, the Lost Canyon Advance Team.

MULTIPLE WINS

LCAT was born in 2009, Mark explained, as most successful ideas in Young Life are: as an invitation to do life together.

“Development was a solo job, and I’m a team guy,” Mark explained. “So I put together a group of people to walk alongside me. These are friends of Young Life who would not be interested in being on a committee, but were excited about being a part of a team.”

The group of 10 started out doing projects on the property with a desire to “make sure Lost Canyon is excellent in every way.” The projects included building the mountain bike trail system, chopping down trees and, most recently, renovating a staff cabin. The LCAT is also committed to caring for the Lost Canyon staff. They’ve provided meals, Christmas gifts and faithful prayer.

Then in 2011, a practical need and spiritual opportunity collided.

“There were two issues,” Mark said. “We needed to get economically disadvantaged kids in Arizona to camp, and we had empty beds in mid-December. I presented it to this team, and we started to figure out a way to get those kids to camp.

“We were looking for multiple wins — a win for the region, a win for Lost Canyon and most importantly a win for kids to encounter Christ.”

The LCAT began securing in-kind donations from food vendors and bus companies and inviting friends of Young Life and Lost Canyon to partner with them financially. Then areas invited kids based on need, from schools that had a high percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. That first year, 500 kids came for one weekend. After their initial efforts and partial funding, LCAT’s dreams grew, and their fundraising strategies became a little more intentional.

GENERATIONAL CONNECTIONS

Mark Malouf, a home builder in Phoenix, is LCAT chairman this year and has been a part of the group from its inception.

“Young Life has always been a part of my life. My parents started a club in Phoenix; there was club in my house since the day I was born,” he said. “I’ve always had an affinity for camp and what goes on there and how the Lord changes lives in unique ways.”

Personal giving and inviting others to give are part of how the camp funds are raised, Mark said. But events are what makes the biggest difference. Every two years, LCAT hosts an adventure games weekend, which raises close to $35,000. A road bike race from the Grand Canyon to Williams also generates revenue. And adult guests help spread the word and enthusiasm.

“We get people to come to camp who have never been before, and get people involved with Young Life who weren’t before,” Mark said. “We hope to raise money to send kids to camp and at the same time, we want to tell people about what we’re doing. We ask them to donate, and to serve on that weekend. They stay involved, and they invite more people to be a part of it.”

Mark Booth added, “We want people connected to Lost Canyon and Young Life generationally. We want them to have ownership in what’s happening at camp and in our region for the long-term health of the ministry.”

In December 2019, full scholarships provided for more than 500 kids to attend one weekend. The remaining funded spots were spread over other areas so kids with a need could come with their own schools and leaders. A total of 900 kids came to camp on full scholarship in one month last year.

Over the last seven years, thanks to LCAT’s efforts, nearly 6,000 kids have attended the December weekends who wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. And part of the provision is also a future investment.

“Area directors typically charge the kids something — whether it’s $25-$50 — so they have skin in the game,” Mark said. “Since the camp is paid for, area directors take those funds and leverage them for kids coming to summer camp. It’s easier to get them to sign up later because they have a head start on their fundraising.”

THE LONG GAME

The fruit from these weekends has been abundant, with more yet to come. On one level, it’s growth in numbers. And on another, it’s growth in the Kingdom.

Rick Wilson, associate regional director in Arizona and 44-year staff veteran, said LCAT’s ministry made a direct and eternal impact almost immediately.

“When the LCAT money first became available, Metro Phoenix was immediately able to double the number of kids going to weekend camps,” he said. “These LCAT weekends have seen some of the largest responses of all our weekends. There is a hunger in the kids and a responsiveness to the gospel.

“I look at what they are doing as strategic generosity. It is my hope that we continue to partner with Lost Canyon to find ways to grow the number of kids reached as we grow the number of weekends.”

Mark Malouf said LCAT is planning toward the future and right now, the sky’s the limit.

“We are committed to going however long the Lord leads us,” he said. “We’re a bunch of 50- to 60-year-olds talking about bringing in the next group of leaders to help keep this going. There will always be projects to be done at camp, and the need to raise money. But we want to grow into something a little bit bigger in the future. We’re dreaming pretty big at the moment.”

But Mark Booth said the greatest multiplier has been the kids who return home and tell their friends and families about their experience.

These camp weekends have been happening long enough that kids who met Christ the first year are now serving as leaders and bringing their own teenage friends to camp and to Jesus. That’s the kind of “win,” he said, that echoes into eternity.

“The longer I’m around, the more I see all of this as a long game. There are so many stories of kids going home and impacting their families, their friends, their schools and their communities. That’s part of the fruit of all this.

“It’s never been harder to be a kid or to reach kids. But it’s never been more important to reach kids. The efforts of the LCAT are impacting the Kingdom and that’s a win for everyone.”