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The President’s First Year in Review » 3

Having a blast at Capernaum Surf Camp » 5

One doctor’s six decades as a volunteer leader » 10

Fall 2017 | Vol. 31 Issue 2

Collaborating to reach kids on DAKOTA 15





Publisher/President Newt Crenshaw is a publication of Young Life, a mission devoted to introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith. Relationships magazine is published three times a year (spring, fall and winter) by Young Life. If you’re receiving duplicate copies or would like to switch over to the electronic version, please contact the Young Life Mission Assistance team at 877-438-9572. We can also help you with the change of address or giving information.


Executive Editor Terry Swenson Senior Editor Jeff Chesemore Coordinator Donna McKenzie Copy Editor Jessica Williams Art Director Isaac Watkins


Young Life Lite From the President Passages Young Life Spoken Here

ABOUT THE COVER Pure unadulterated joy in the context of relationships — it’s what we want for every kid who steps foot onto a Young Life camp. During the week, leaders spend time with kids in all kinds of ways — riding GoKarts, hanging at the pool, drinking milkshakes and so much more — in an effort to help their friends experience the abundant life Jesus promises. Cover photo by Elias Johnson

Designers Rylie Bicknell Liz Knepper Joann Oh Diné Wiedey Contributing Photographers David Rathbone Nina Ricca Robbie Vallad

Young Life is a Charter Member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. P.O. Box 520 Colorado Springs CO 80901 Support Young Life at


With Your Heart on Your Sleeve Letter jackets for Dallas-area leaders tell their story. By Stacy Windahl Dallas leaders modeling their jackets.

The letter jackets were over-the-top, extravagant gifts, but Gilmer loves a good story. And he loves to help tell them.”

You were made for this

Jason Talley was a volunteer leader for five years before becoming a Young Life staffer in Dallas, Texas. As a volunteer he experienced firsthand Young Life’s gift for gifting. “When it came to leader retreats or parties,” Talley said, “I was always excited about the ‘swag’ we got.” So he felt a little gift-giving anxiety last Christmas when, as the new area director in the Garland, Rowlett and Sachse communities, he became the giver-in-chief. With a limited $30-perleader budget, he settled on Young Life string backpacks stuffed with assorted Young Life tchotchkes. Not a bad gift, but Talley was unenthused. “I wanted to go big, but I felt like I was going home.” His disappointment kept him awake on a Saturday night until he remembered a conversation he’d had a year earlier. Talley had met a man who noticed the Young Life logo on his shirt and wanted to know more. When the man learned Talley ministered to high school kids, he gave Talley his card. Then Ken Gilmer, CEO of Custom Chenille Embroidery, Inc. (CCE), one of the largest letter jacket producers in the U.S., added this: “If I can ever do anything for you, let me know.” First thing Monday morning Talley gave Gilmer a call. It took little to remind Gilmer of their conversation, and he agreed to meet with Talley at his CCE offices. After a tour of the massive facility, Gilmer invited Talley into his office and to the one chair that wasn’t draped in jackets or piled high in chenille patches. The office was humming. Phones were ringing, folks wandered in for signatures, papers were strewn everywhere. Then, as if a switch had been flipped, “Ken stops everything, leans forward and asks the question every staff person loves to hear, ‘So, what can I do for you?’”

“I said, ‘Ken, I have a crazy idea. You're going to think I'm foolish for even asking such a thing … ’” Then Gilmer leaned back in his chair, put his feet on his desk, closed his eyes and said, “Go!” Talley proceeded to tell him about his 35 leaders — volunteers who give their lives away to kids all year, going where kids are and telling them the greatest story ever told. “I would really love to treat them this Christmas with a custom Young Life letter jacket.” Gilmer’s reply? “We better get on it if you want them by Christmas!” Talley stopped him. That wasn’t exactly the crazy part. So Gilmer closed his eyes again, and Talley floated his all-in budget. $1,000. Motionless for a few (long) moments, Gilmer then bounded out of his chair and said, “Follow me.” Gilmer took Talley to a back room with blank letter jackets as far as the eye could see. He asked questions about names, logos, Bible verses and colors. He’d need everyone’s name and size by the following day — or sooner. Which is when Talley reminded him that he still didn’t have a price on the jackets. Gilmer paused. “How about $33.33 each?” (Now that was crazy. Talley figures the largest patch alone cost $36.) The letter jackets were over-the-top, extravagant gifts, but Gilmer loves a good story. And he loves to help tell them. Gilmer and his 50 employees appear to be in the custom letter jacket business. But it’s more than that. Gilmer would tell you that the patches CCE has designed for decades, and the jackets they decorate tell a story. “At CCE, we give kids the opportunity to tell their story. A letter jacket is their canvas.” Now 35 leaders in Dallas have their own canvas. They are identified by the story that unites them, the one that leads them into schools and games, coffee shops and concerts — and into the lives of kids.  



A Year in



It has now been a little over a year since I assumed the role of president of Young Life. Over the past 13 months I have been extremely encouraged to see so many of our methods fleshed out in the lives of our staff and leaders as they reach young people all over the world. These methods are listed below.


Praying for young people.

Going where kids are and building personal relationships with them.

Earning the right to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Providing fun, adventurous, life-changing and skill-building experiences.

Inviting kids to personally respond to the good news and walking in friendship with them regardless of their response.

Preparing kids for a lifelong relationship with Christ and a love for His Word, His mission and the local church.

Working in community alongside likeminded adults (volunteer leaders, committee members, donors and staff).

My first international trip was to Nicaragua, where 400 leaders and prospective leaders gathered at La Finca, already thrilled to learn about Forward (“Adelante”).


We are excited about the Forward movement, which has had a strong launch and acceptance throughout the mission. What follows is a small taste from my visits and the beautiful messengers (and recipients!) of God’s redeeming love story whom I had the pleasure of meeting …

The call and commitment of our staff and volunteers are our greatest assets. The indwelling Holy Spirit is our greatest power source. We want to create a culture of loving one another inside of Young Life that spills over into our communities and the kids we serve in a positive and life-giving way, always centered on the person of Jesus.

With Susan at Young Life club in Palestine. Our founder Jim Rayburn said, “The best Young Life is yet to come.” Our mission community will look back on this Forward period and marvel at what God has done in our midst. First, in us as followers of Jesus and committed colleagues, but also in how we have improved the historic methods of Young Life, while finding new ways to reach the next kid, next school and next community for Christ.

Thank you for making this an awe-inspiring first year for me. I believe it will go down as a historic one for Young Life!

Newt Crenshaw Young Life President

In Washington, D.C., with members of our Multiethnic leadership. Our strength as a mission will increasingly be in our diverse, indigenous leadership that reflects the kids we are called to love, serve, befriend and introduce to Jesus. We will only succeed in this effort if we create a culture where differences are welcomed and celebrated, harnessed and focused for God’s glory.


THE MOST Virginia Beach staff and volunteers get on board to help their friends ride the waves. By Chris Lassiter


Two of Stafford Craymer’s passions are hanging out with students and hanging ten from his surfboard. For this Virginia Beach North area director, Capernaum Surf Camp has married these two passions. Held each September, it’s a day where the local Young Life and surfing communities join forces to help kids with disabilities ride waves for a day. “I think this is one of the coolest things our area does,” Craymer said. “We get a chance to have parents, kids, volunteers, surfers; so many people together having an incredible day.” Craymer grew up two hours west of Virginia Beach. Within a few months of going on Young Life staff at the beach, Craymer fell in love with surfing, even purchasing his own royal blue longboard. One day over lunch, Craymer’s good friend Ross Byrd quizzed him about his ministry dreams. “On a whim, I just mentioned to him, ‘We live by the ocean. I love to surf. It would be really fun to teach kids with disabilities how to surf,’” said Craymer, now in his eighth year on staff. “Ross, who had experience running surf camps and helping out with Capernaum, said, ‘You set the date. You get kids there, and I’ll take care of the rest.’” Unbeknownst to the two friends, this “Capernaum surfing day” had existed years before under a previous area director. Only after they had begun their camp did they discover how God can resurrect a great idea!

Rock Stars

Hanging ten in Virginia Beach.



Craymer’s first Capernaum Surf Camp is a day forever etched in his memory. He remembers one mom in particular who was extremely reluctant to let her son, who uses a wheelchair and is non-verbal, participate in the event. At the end of the day, she hesitantly agreed to let her son give it a go. A team of eight volunteers got the woman’s child out of his wheelchair and on to the surfboard. “I vividly remember watching this mom as she saw this group of volunteers love her son like she had never seen before,” Craymer said. “I was standing beside this woman with tears just streaming down her face as her son rode a wave in. She continually said over and over, ‘I cannot believe this. I cannot believe this.’” According to Craymer, emotional responses are the norm.

“That is the story of every parent,” Craymer added. “Every parent is sitting there thinking, ‘I never thought my child would ever get the chance to experience anything like this.’ They are also seeing and experiencing the gospel the entire day as leaders and other volunteers treat their kids as rock stars.” Joe Marks, the Old Dominion Young Life regional director, oversees Craymer’s ministry in Virginia Beach. It’s hard for Marks not to be touched emotionally by the Capernaum Surf Camp. “A lot of kids in Capernaum, they know God in a way that is profound to me,” Marks said. “I’ve always been touched being around kids with disabilities. Their experience of God is so powerful.”

There are usually six or seven volunteers per surfer. Hannah, a high school senior and Marks’s daughter, was one of the many volunteers at last year’s event. “They were really excited and happy,” Hannah said of the surfers. “A lot of them were scared at first, so it was a big jump for them to get out and surf.” Capernaum Surf Camp has come to be a gift to everyone involved. “We have top-level surfers come,” Craymer said. “Every person says it’s the best day of surfing they experience all year. (And many of us volunteers aren’t the ones riding waves!) It’s arguably the most joyous day of my year and their year, too. There’s not one person without a smile on their face.”  

I never thought my child would ever get the chance to experience anything like this.”

A Big Jump Now in its fifth year — one year was canceled due to inclement weather — The Capernaum Surf Camp grows bigger every year. Last year, Craymer needed 75 pizzas to feed the attendees, and 50 paddle boards for the surfers. Paddle boards are more accessible than surfboards for surfers with physical disabilities. For the same reasons, the surf camp is held at a bay, because the waves are milder.

Sharing a laugh at Surf Camp.




Me By Pengchen “Patrice” Zhao,

Young Life College Student

How God used a series of “supposed setbacks” to lead me to Him.

Patrice with roommate and Young Life College leader, Brooke.


I was sitting alone in my home in Shenzhen, China, as hot tears rolled down my cheeks. I simply couldn’t believe my boyfriend would break up with me! My mind flooded with questions: “How can he be so cruel? Why is life so unfair to me?” Suddenly, even the admission letter from USC wasn’t enough to cheer me up. Oh, and did I mention: I didn’t even know what the letters “USC” stood for? I was a complete, hot mess: rejected by my dream school — UC Berkeley; feeling extremely guilty about going abroad (to the U.S.) for college and leaving my parents with huge loans and possibly the sale of our apartment to pay for school; and most hurtful of all, I got dumped! Ever since elementary school, I had hoped to study abroad. Now, I could barely summon enough energy to care — and I was leaving China for the U.S. in two months! Although the University of Southern California was a dream school, I still felt like a failure in my eyes, and I didn’t know what to do with my life. I wiped my tears, and started searching for something to read. Reading is the only reliable thing I knew that could take my mind off of things and soothe me whenever I needed it. No love stories, of course … but what?! This one book sounded interesting: Conversations with God (by Neale Donald Walsch). I wasn’t really religious, being raised in a non-religious family. I didn’t know if God really existed. Could He even hear me? What does “She” do? What does God sound like? Before I knew it, I had devoured the three volumes of the series in a week. For the first time, I actually felt like God was with me, always. The series talked about how God is always present and looking over us like a parent would a child. I started talking to God in my mind, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. And soon, I forgot about it altogether.

My First (and Best) Friend Then, freshman year started. I flew over the Pacific and landed in the completely foreign land of Los Angeles, California, where it seemed like nobody spoke my mother tongue. I was alone, but excited. Then, I met a person I couldn’t be more thankful for: Brooke. “Hey … Are you going to live here?” I asked as I passed by her open door in my suite. She looked up from the floor, with a beautiful smile on her face and a folded shirt in her hand. “Yeah! Do you live in this suite as well?” “Yeah …” I was a little unsure about how to continue a conversation in English. It felt weird, to have a full conversation in English. “Where are you from?” Brooke carried on the conversation. Her smile soothed my uneasy heart. “Oh … Ugh … China.” “Really? Wow! That’s amazing!” Her big eyes looked even bigger with surprise. She made me feel like I’d accomplished something truly impressive, just by moving to another country for school. In fact, I thought I failed, because some of my other classmates went to “even better schools.” I smiled, and our friendship began. Brooke invited me to Young Life College, which wasn’t an easy task. First of all, the USC club starts super late for me, because I always go to bed early. Secondly, I wasn’t religious and definitely did not identify as a Christian. Third, I was struggling to find my place and my new identity in college. Who am I outside of school? What do I like besides studying? For the past 18 years, my life had completely revolved around school. Now that I was in college and actually managing school quite effortlessly, what do I do next? No one was telling me exactly what to do; I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t imagine how going to Young Life or talking to God, whom I couldn’t touch or see, would help answer these questions. Freshman year passed, and I can’t remember how many times Brooke invited me to Young Life, but I never went.

Finding My Heart’s True Passion The next year the hole in my heart became even more noticeable to me: what am I doing with my life? Do I even have a passion? I knew I was interested in psychology, but why wasn’t I feeling a passion for it? I felt like I had so much time, but nothing to do, and I didn’t know what was missing.

Ben and Patrice. One night, I wandered into Brooke’s room around my bedtime, and asked her, “Brooke, how … how did you find your passion? How do you know your life’s purpose?” She seemed to be the right person to ask, because she was so passionate about what she was doing — art. “Oh … I think … I think God gives me my life purpose.” She answered slowly, then looked at me, “Does that make sense?” I shook my head no. She looked down, seemed to be thinking hard. I couldn’t remember how she explained it, but I remembered listening to it with all my heart. The conversation kept going until after midnight. Brooke finally said, “I think Ben Chambers, our Young Life College director can give you a better answer! Do you think it’d be OK if I give him your number and you can talk to him?” I nodded without hesitation, even though I had no idea who this Ben guy was. But I’d agree to anything, anything that could answer this question tormenting me for so long: What is my life purpose? The next day, Ben called me. I couldn’t remember the whole conversation, but I remember feeling so relieved to hear his voice, even though I didn’t know him. I remember him saying, “To find your life purpose, you need to find God first, because He’s the one who created you and He has every plan for you. You just need to find God first, and He will guide you and reveal to you your purpose and everything else you need.” At the end of the conversation, my face was covered in tears — happy tears, because for the first time in college, I felt like someone heard me. The following Monday, I decided to take a chance, risk some sleep and go to Young Life club.


It was the best decision ever. It felt like going back home. Now I’m hooked! Today, I wouldn’t say I know exactly what my life’s purpose is, but I know to trust in God. To trust He has a plan for me, to trust He hears me, to trust He loves me very much and to trust His love never gives up on me. And I’m learning more about my life’s purpose, as I learn even more about God. I’ve also learned how to see God in the people around me: Brooke, Ben and everyone I’ve met along the way. I also discovered the best way to learn is to do what Jesus did: serve others. So, I applied to Young Life camp and served at Oakbridge last summer. It was a leap of faith to accept the offer to be on summer staff, because as an international student, I’d have no place to stay once my camp assignment was over! All of a sudden, God led Ben to offer up his home so I could spend the summer with his family! While I was at Oakbridge, I found out I was accepted to a Master’s program I felt passionate about. I found the program shortly after I started going to Young Life and actually loosened up a bit on trying so hard to find my passion! My life just seemed to suddenly take a turn toward light and purpose. Sure, there are still times when I feel lost, confused and upset, but now I know God is always with me, and showing up in the people around me. Today, I feel so grateful for all the “failures” I thought I had. Had I not gone through an overwhelmingly stressful high school career; had my parents been rich and offered me everything I wanted; had my high school boyfriend not broken up with me; had I not been rejected by my dream school; had I not felt lost, I wouldn’t have opened the book series that initially introduced me to God. I wouldn’t have learned to strive for what I want. I wouldn’t have attended USC, and met Brooke or Ben. Finally, I wouldn’t have gone to Young Life and probably wouldn’t have chosen to follow


Patrice enjoying her first U.S. Christmas with Ben and his family. Jesus. Without God, I would have never felt satisfied in my pursuit of a purpose, because there’s always going to be a “next thing” for me to chase after. He has always been there, charting the path of my life, and nudging me toward the right people and the right places. I am so blessed and so thankful!  

Young Life College offers students a fun, accepting community to be a part of while exploring or deepening their faith. College students can also be great Young Life leaders for middle and high school kids. Most areas are eager to train and include college students as valuable members of their Young Life teams. For more information, visit:


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By Ned Erickson

Celebrating the “retirement” of a six-decade volunteer leader.

When you picture a Young Life leader, what image comes to mind? Young? Energetic? A college student, maybe? In the South, you can often measure a leader by the extent of their Chaco sandals tan or how fast they set up their Eno hammock. What you probably don’t picture is an 80-year-old pediatrician. This fall, Cleveland County Young Life in Shelby, North Carolina, will be celebrating its 70th anniversary, and Dr. Cecil “Lee” Gilliatt volunteered for more than 50 of those years. Counting college, medical school and residency, Gilliatt has been a leader since 1955. “In the fall of 1951, Billy Graham came to Shelby, and I became a Christian. The next day, a guy named Mal [McSwain] met me in the hall at school and told me I needed to come to Young Life. I did. And never stopped,” said Gilliatt. “I guess I’ve stayed with the ministry somewhat since then.” After 62 years, he’s decided it’s about time to retire.

An Ivy League Education … in Leading Gilliatt began working with teenagers while an undergrad at Dartmouth and became more involved while studying medicine at Harvard. During residency, he and Helen worked alongside Young Life legends Dan Komarnicki and Skeeter Powell to start Young Life in North Carolina’s Research Triangle. “The real, formal leadership began when I moved back [to Shelby] in 1967. Ronnie Austell was a pharmacist and led Young Life for 20 years. Helen and I started Friday morning Campaigners, which is still going,” said Gilliatt. “Twenty or 30 kids would show up at our house. One year we had 80. We just kept finding stuff to eat.” When Sid Bradsher was area director, they were having difficulty finding spots at Windy Gap, the local Young Life camp. “We brainstormed and prayed about what to do with the kids. Sid said, ‘Let’s have Windy Gap here.’ “‘What should we call it?’ I asked.

A surprised Dr. Gilliatt with wife, Helen.

“‘Gilliatt Gap,’ he said. Don’t ask me how long we did it because I don’t know.”

The Doctor Will See You Now “When I think about Doc and the legacy he is leaving,” said current Cleveland County Area Director Chad Sakada, “it is humongous. He has seen so many kids meet Jesus, so many families transformed.” Sakada continued, “But it’s also the way he goes to the school almost every day. When Doc walks into the lunchroom, he greets every kid. He coaches cross-country and track and still runs with them.” “Going to the high school is my refuge,” said Gilliatt. “It wasn’t easy being a pediatrician and a Young Life leader, but if I had a bad morning at work, the closer I got to the school, the lighter I felt. Being with my high school friends is its own type of affirmation.” Many of those friends, young and old, surprised Gilliatt for his 80th birthday on May 13 in the only place appropriate: Shelby High School. Former staff and leaders performed, “If Doc were not in Young Life.” John Austin presented Gilliatt with a book of letters. Sakada announced the creation of a campership legacy fund called, “Standing in the Gilliatt Gap.” A week later, Gilliatt spoke at “Senior Night,” the last club of the year. “It went well. I mentioned the fact that I was a senior as well then talked about Jesus and Peter’s first fishing trip and second chances.” When asked what he’ll miss most, Gilliatt said, “The things I love I’ll keep doing. I’ll go to the high school. I’ll coach, and I’ll still do my discipleship group.” Sounds like after retiring from Young Life, he’ll be doing … Young Life.  

The Gilliatts with family members at the celebration.

Dr. G. is one of thousands of alumni still intimately involved with Young Life. To learn more about Alumni and Friends, go to




Denise and Deonise.

Joey on the court.

Bekah (center) with high school friends.

Deonise is from Haiti and, as a Young Life committee person, I’ve had the awesome privilege of mentoring this young lady for nearly four years. She’s now in college and studying to be a counselor. Thank you, Young Life, for bringing us together through the love of Jesus and blessing me with our friendship. — Denise Crockett, committee, Seaford, Delaware

In December, Joey’s basketball team had their last practice before his team’s first game. As a senior, it would mean the world for him to play in the first game of the season since he’s never been able to play in a varsity game. Missing this practice would mean giving up that opportunity. While working to become a better player, Joey also decided to be a better disciple of Jesus. He wanted to share his experience of spiritual renewal with the other 40 kids going to weekend camp. Going to camp meant missing the first game of the season. I told Joey I understood if he couldn’t make camp as I didn’t want him to miss the first game. His reply was, “I have friends going on this trip who I want to meet Jesus and that’s more important than basketball. I’ll play the bench for that.” This sacrifice was the inspiration for the entire trip. His friends at camp had a great time and back home he had teammates wondering why he made that decision. Joey’s just one example of the 500 adolescent disciples we’re looking to make in Central Harlem. — B. Gregory Moore, area director, Central Harlem, New York City

There aren’t many rooms I enter where I’m greeted as warmly as the middle school cafeteria. Literally the second I step foot through the door, there’s an eruption of, “Bekah! Bekah, come sit at my table!” A few kids beeline straight to me and give me a hug. It’s a privilege to be trusted and invited to sit with kids and share a meal. I always leave with the thought, “I can’t believe I get to do this!” Then there are places I wish I didn’t have to walk into. This is also a privilege, but it’s harder. And if I’m honest, I enter with fear, wishing there was any other way. How do you walk into places where kids desperately want you, but don’t know how to let you in; where they want to push you away but desperately desire someone brave enough to enter their mess? How do you walk into loneliness, depression, divorce, extreme shyness, anxiety? How do you walk into the confusion of sexual identity issues? I’m coming to realize you just trust, put one foot in front of the other and keep showing up. Jesus invited people to follow Him. He didn’t tell them where they were going, what they’d be asked to do, or what the cost or reward would be. So, where would Jesus be, and are you willing to say “Yes” to that call?” — Bekah Siau, Young Life Military, West Point, New York


Laura and her son.

Priyanka, Mona and Suman.

Myron (left) with kids from the school.

We took Laura and her son to Carolina Point last summer. She’d been raised by two older brothers, who are not too much older than her. They’ve both been involved with gangs. When I asked if she thought her mother loved her, she said, “She gives me money.” She’s never heard much about Jesus. At camp she absorbed everything like a sponge and accepted Jesus as her Savior. We found out she had no birthday celebration — no cake, party, cards or gifts. When we asked about Christmas she said they had no decorations. We bought her lots of fun Christmas things and decorations. At the YoungLives Christmas party the girls received many gifts, as well as gifts for their children. One leader messaged her on Facebook to tell her how much we loved her. She replied, “That message brought me to tears!!! Thank y’all so much for letting me and Julian join YoungLives. It’s changed me so much. I’m happier and more outgoing. And I have so much support for y’all. I thank God He has brought each and every single one of y’all! I love y’all so much.” — Cathy Richardson, volunteer YoungLives coordinator, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Suman and Priyanka are best friends from childhood. Two years ago their families had a huge fight and told them not to talk to each other. Suman came to club, but Priyanka stopped coming because her family told her not to hang out with Suman. Months passed by ... Suman started growing in her walk with Jesus. She understood the value of relationship and the love and friendship of Christ which has forgiveness, chances, joy, peace and much more. So Suman prayed and on January 1 she finally broke her silence and wished Priyanka, “Happy New Year.” Both friends were so happy they started crying; seeing this, both families broke down and forgave each other. Six days later, Priyanka showed up to club with Suman. It was precious to see so much joy in their faces. Suman thanked God and believes Jesus is the true God who hears our prayers and answers each one beautifully. — Mona Bagdas, staff, Siliguri, India

It was 11 p.m. at the prom I was chaperoning for the high school where I’m a Young Life leader. The dance floor was packed and the music at full volume. Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder and a 12th-grade boy I barely knew said to me, “Myron, I’ve been coming to Young Life and wanted to ask you to pray for me that Jesus would come into my life and change my heart.” The Lord never ceases to amaze me with how He draws young people to Himself and allows us the privilege and joy to participate in that process. — Myron Salisian, volunteer leader, Pasadena, California


O Ordinary


by Leslie Strader

From the Young Life office into the hearts of teenagers in a single bound, Nina Ricca is the leader this German school needed all along. Nina Ricca considers herself an ordinary citizen. By day, she answers phones, tracks stats and budgets, and makes the occasional pot of coffee in the Deutschland, Austria and Switzerland (DACH) regional office for Young Life Europe. But like any superhero, this is just a ruse to conceal her true identity. Once she steps onto the campus of the Free Evangelical School in Lörrach, Germany, she’s transformed. Ricca uses the “ears of her heart” to listen to the hurts of students around her. She wields games and service projects to break down barriers to friendship. And with the love of Jesus, she’s learned to “fly above the walls with Him,” shining the light of the gospel into darkness. From regional administrator to direct ministry volunteer, Ricca is one of the everyday heroes God is using to move the mission of Young Life deeper into Europe, proving that man-made obstacles are no match for the power of Christ at work in a Young Life leader.

A Familiar Place It all started in 2011 when Dave Martin, senior regional director for the DACH Region of Young Life Europe, connected with the Free Evangelical School, a 1,600-student middle and high school, in Lörrach. He asked Ricca to join him for a campus tour so she could “listen with a German ear” to the conversations between them.

Kids hanging out at service club.


Once on campus, Ricca realized she attended the same church as many of the teachers and staff there. She also felt a connection she hadn’t expected. The school, she said, “felt strangely like home, like a familiar place to me, even though it was two years before I started doing direct ministry. At this point I was working 100 percent at the regional office. I hadn’t even thought of doing direct ministry.” In 2013, the staff switched their focus from Lörrach to ministry in Basel, Switzerland, a city 30 minutes away on the Rhine River. But Ricca wasn’t quite ready to move on. “I could not get peace in my heart knowing that nobody was loving kids at this school anymore,” she said. “I kept thinking that somebody needs to go to this school and get to know kids. So finally I asked Dave if he would be fine with me going there one day a week to hang out with students.” But, she admits, “It was God telling me to go. I didn't want to do it.” The first time a Young Life leader steps onto a high school campus — whether in the plains of the Texas Panhandle or the foothills of Germany’s Black Forest — the experience is the same: “purely awkward.” “There is no other word to describe it,” Ricca said. “I was standing in a room filled with teenagers who didn't know me, and I wished for something to hold in my hands, something to do or a role to fill. It reminded me of being the outsider at school, and I was not comfortable with it. Finally, I sat down at a table and grabbed a deck of UNO cards. But nobody wanted to play cards.” Still, despite the not-so-warm reception, Ricca said she had peace. “Strangely, in my heart I had the deep knowledge I was doing the right thing,” she said. “All of my human ‘Ricca-senses’ wanted to leave campus, go to McDonald’s, grab a newspaper and have a latte, just to flee from the awkward

A student paints a mural in a halfway house.

feeling. I knew God was telling me to stay and that was great for my faith. “I remember telling Dave in a meeting that I don’t have a ‘go’ to give up, but don’t see any sense in me being there yet. He said, ‘Ricca, it’s the rule of showing up. Trust me, I’ve been there, they will get used to you.’”

“The Leader In Me” Today, Ricca is not only the Young Life leader and official school volunteer, she is also on staff as campus chaplain, where she leads all the faith-related activities at school together with a teacher. And the Free Evangelical School has officially become a Young Life campus. Ricca leads a weekly Campaigners Bible study, and more than 30 students now come to Young Life service club each week, including Paul. And, they are still playing UNO on Wednesdays. “Our Young Life club is filled with the love of God and He is sending us the wildest, weirdest and most wonderful kids to hang out with,” Ricca said. “I believe Young Life is a powerful tool and that because it is awkward and we stay, that is how we fly above the walls with Him. He is teaching us the awkward feelings teenagers have all the time.” “My vision for Lörrach is that we reach every kid in this city, and this school is a great place to start. As a human I would not think this is possible. Thanks to this experience of the last three years, I have learned to believe nothing is impossible. He started this and it is His vision to call the teenagers into His family. I know that God is the leader in me.”  

Playing Her Cards Right Ricca was three weeks into her commitment to show up when one day, somebody else did too — “Paul,” a 13-year-old boy who recognized Ricca from church. She picked up the cards and started dealing. Before she knew it, she and Paul had a Wednesday routine: every week during second recess at 11 a.m., the pair would sit down and play UNO. And Ricca would pray: “I just kept praying that one day a Young Life staff member would come and find a school ready to start ministry.” Slowly, more students joined them. Ricca learned Paul had Asperger’s syndrome, which made her even more committed to their “date” and sensitive to bringing new students into their routine. But by the end of the school year, 10-15 students were playing cards with Paul and Ricca. At the start of the next school year, Ricca was invited by the school to be an official volunteer. During her training, she learned about the possibility of starting a service club on campus, and finally received permission to start one for the following year. By now, Ricca was three years into her showing-up, cardplaying commitment. But this had become so much more. The service club started small but strong: “Each week we ate and laughed and learned more about Jesus. We painted colorful murals at two homeless shelters, went bowling with refugee teenagers and took 15 kids to a weekend camp.” Ricca was soon out of ideas, but the club was growing. So she and her 15 kids met with the

city’s mayor to find out where their efforts were needed most. That meeting was significant for more than one reason. “That day, the mayor addressed me as the leader of the group,” Ricca said, “and I remember thinking on my way home, ‘I guess I am the Young Life leader that I wanted them to have!’ “To be very honest, up to this day, I don't know why God would give me the key to those wonderful kids’ hearts. I did nothing ‘the right way’ during my teenage years. I keep telling Jesus there must be a person out there who has more experience in being a Christian, in being a leader, in thinking strategic or structured or whatever. There is no way I would be the best He can give them. And still He chooses to let me love them, to open their hearts, to let me be their friend and mentor and sister. I’m very grateful and at the same time, I know it’s undeserved.”

Nina Ricca (left) and her friend on a walk.


KNITtogether How Young Life and the church are collaborating to reach kids on Dakota reservations.

By Jeff Chesemore

The senior from Standing Rock High School in North Dakota had never been to a Young Life event, but when, the night before the area’s camp trip, an opportunity arose for her to attend, she happily packed her bag and climbed in the van. Here she met Jessica Campbell, who was on Young Life staff at the time. “Quite possibly my favorite moment at Castaway (Young Life’s camp in Minnesota) was a conversation we had on our last full day,” Campbell said. “After picking out a Bible from the camp store, she said, ‘No one ever told me this before. No one ever told me you didn’t have to just blindly believe, but you could ask questions about God; you could still be smart, be me, be native and be interested in what Jesus has to say. How do I go home and tell my mom I’m interested in reading and hearing more about the Jesus she equates with putting her grandma in boarding school and hurting our people?’” These are the kinds of issues kids from Standing Rock face, and their Young Life leaders are delighted to walk alongside them in their quest for answers.

“Dakotas” Bringing Hope

Jess Campbell (center) with high school friends.


In the Sioux language, the word “dakota” means “friend” or “ally.” How fitting then that Young Life, which has always been about building friendships with kids, is seeing substantial growth throughout North and South Dakota. Straddling the two states is the 2.3 million-acre Standing Rock Reservation, which has made headlines in recent years for the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy. Residents, however, want you to know there’s more to Standing Rock and its people, including the fact that half of them are under the age of 20. Kids living here, as with many other reservations throughout the country, frequently battle “reservation despair,” a feeling of disenfranchisement commonly associated with issues like drug addiction, abandonment, poverty, health concerns, depression and suicide. The Native American teenager is three times more likely to die by suicide than the national average. Patrick Kelly, a Young Life staff member who grew up on the reservation, knows firsthand the pain one can encounter here. “There were times where we wouldn’t eat for

a day or two. My mom had a job at the casino, one of the largest employers on the reservation, and in middle school I had to move in with my grandparents.” In the midst of all this, however, Kelly also found hope. “Growing up I knew God existed,” he said, “but I didn’t have a personal relationship with Him. In high school, my leader Terry Star pursued me, and Young Life sparked that relationship. I grew closer to God every day. While family tragedies pushed me forward in my faith, I realized this was a journey I need to be on. I’d rather be going through tough times with faith than without it. And I know I’m closer to God today than I was yesterday!” It’s this same hope Kelly brings to middle school and high school kids today. “There’s so much these kids go through that can harden them, especially to the message of Christ. What they go through and who they hang out with can really affect how they believe. Many just don’t believe in God; the hardest part for me is seeing those who don’t want to believe. “Even though it’s tough, we still go to kids because so many benefit from this, even if they don’t show it. I speak to them out of love. They see a discipline and conviction in our lives they may not see outside of Young Life. We have a group of kids who stick close to their leaders and listen to what we have to say, and we can tell they’re our future leadership.”

A Generations-Old Footprint Future leaders are critical to the continued success of ministry here, which has been going strong for the last 20 years. Father John Floberg and his wife, Sloane, have been caring for kids in Standing Rock for more than three decades, first with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, and

since 2004, when Sloane became the first fulltime Young Life staff. The partnership between Young Life and the church has exceeded everyone’s expectations. “Young Life’s core theology and the Episcopal Church’s core theology is incarnation,” Floberg said, “and therefore we’re able to knit together a pretty vital and enduring relationship. We find Young Life doesn’t try to pigeonhole the church, but instead works collaboratively in a church partnership. It’s unique and critical.” The partnership, Floberg continued, is one where both sides contribute complementary strengths. “Because Young Life is a nondenominational organization, it relaxes people about whether they would have their kids attend. This is harder if the ministry is simply Episcopalian. “We had a substantial group of kids, but the work blossomed when the relationship with Young Life came into effect. And we have always said to other Christians on Standing Rock, ‘If you want to help out with this, we’re glad to partner.’ Young Life has been a base in opening up the relationship we

Kids from Standing Rock at Young Life's Castaway Club.


Knitting something together leaves freedom of movement versus welding something together or even sewing it together, where the pieces become so close it loses the freedom of two or three parties working together.”

have with other churches, in particular the Baptist church in Fort Yates. For several years they’ve had our volunteer staff come over and help and vice versa. Young Life opened up the door.” Of course, Young Life benefits from the strong presence of local area churches and takes great strides to build relationships with these churches. Standing Rock is an important example of how much the local congregations provide to the work of Young Life. “What a church brings to the partnership is a stability in the community,” Floberg said. “It brings a generations-old footprint which Young Life can step in to. When a ministry comes on a reservation, if you’re able to connect historically, you're more likely to be sustainable. If you’re coming in brand new, you’re only as strong as the staff is at that moment in time. If you transition staff, it may be like starting over again. “In our case, if there’s leadership transition — whoever the staff might be — they become ‘umbrella-ed in’ by a long-term relationship a church has with the community. That’s an important piece, as is credibility with the tribal council. It’s no longer Young Life as an ‘outsider’ coming in, rather it becomes part of what people recognize as belonging.” This collaboration, Floberg said, is all about what God is knitting together. “Knit is a pretty intentional word,” he said. “Knitting something together leaves freedom of movement versus welding something together or even sewing it together, where the pieces become so close it loses the freedom of two or three parties working together. “Young Life fits well with our church. We have a longtime theological principle called the ‘via media,’ which means the middle way. We’ve found where Young Life and the church have connection in the middle rather than asking if we’re lockstep at the edges. We don’t have to be lockstep at the edges. We need to be knit at the core.”

More Work in More Places The knitting will continue in the months and years to come as the work expands. Jessica Campbell said, “Young Life and the Episcopal Church have undertaken a collaboration to launch four new Young Life areas on reservations in North and South Dakota using the same model we’ve used in Standing Rock.”


Bonding at Castaway. The reservations in the plan include the South Dakota side of Standing Rock, Cheyenne River (central SD), Rosebud (south/central SD) and Spirit Lake (northeast ND). While each plan is being initially funded by the Episcopal Church, the hope is for each model to be ecumenical in nature. The Spirit Lake model, for example, will be a collaboration between many denominations, including Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic and Lutheran churches. To fund the endeavor, the Episcopal Church has provided a three-year, $600,000 grant to help start these areas and put staff in place. In the first 18 months of the plan, staff and leaders will focus on developing the local work; during the second half, they’ll continue building upon the ministry and show it to potential donors who can help with financial sustainability. An exciting and important piece of this plan will be finding and raising up a group of indigenous leaders from each of the communities, Floberg said. “We’re putting a training program in place to make sure indigenous leaders are getting the support they need to do consistent and lasting ministry.” These leaders will play a critical part in reaching more kids, like the girl Campbell befriended at Castaway. “I love that we have a Jesus who stands up to our doubts,” Campbell said, “a Jesus who meets us where we are, and creates and loves all people and cultures.” Just as Jesus sacrificed Himself for those from “every tribe and language and people and nation,” so Young Life leaders continue to be “dakotas” to kids living on reservations throughout the U.S. As these kids benefit from Young Life’s ongoing commitment to “every kid, everywhere,” they will, in return, show us all a larger, richer vision of God, His people and His kingdom.  

A Generous A family’s act of loving hospitality makes the gospel come alive. At the final session of a leadership training summit earlier this year, Erik Hofmann, one of Young Life’s senior area developers, told the story of Dean Field. Years ago, Hofmann sat with Dean in the stands at his daughter’s soccer game in Medina, Ohio. Dean didn’t want his children to graduate high school without experiencing Young Life. He decided to open his home and offer his gifts to help bring Young Life to their tiny hamlet in Northeast Ohio. While Hofmann told the story, Adam Goodreau sat in the audience. Flooded with memories, he began to weep. He knew Dean Field; he had even become friends with his daughters. In fact, Dean’s wide open heart, and the love of his family, had led Goodreau to the very seat he now occupied. “I was going to a Young Life club with a high school I was not a part of,” Goodreau recalled. He was a senior that year at Cloverleaf High School. His ideal Friday night consisted of playing guitar in his bedroom. Though he lived half an hour away, friends from Medina High School invited him to club in the basement of Dean Field’s house.

Like a King One evening at club, Goodreau’s future turned on the whims of the weather. “It started raining like I’d never seen before,” he said. The streets flooded. Rising waters carried stray trash cans down the road. Goodreau’s peers, most of whom lived nearby, chose to leave their cars and run home. A 30-minute drive through lonely country roads, however, separated Goodreau from his bed that night. “I started to get a little concerned, because I didn’t know how I was going to get home.” The Fields offered to let him stay in their basement for the night. Dean’s wife, Lori, brought him blankets and even offered him a change of clothes. “The next morning when I woke up, Mrs. Field was making breakfast,” Goodreau said. “She offered me fruit, offered me cereal, offered me all kinds of things.” The family’s unexpected generosity affected him in a profound way.

By Travis Johnson

“I was treated like a king ... it really blew my mind,” he said. “I was like, ‘Whoa, who does that?’” Goodreau had grown up in the faith. Under the guidance of a mother who read the Bible with him regularly, he accepted Christ at a young age. “I had really awesome ‘head’ knowledge of Jesus,” he said. His overnight stay in Dean Field’s home, however, touched his heart. “I experienced the love of Jesus in such a tangible way. From then on, it was like, how can you ever be the same after experiencing that kind of love?”

Continued Influence Sadly, Dean Field passed away from cancer the next year in 2014. “He was a very loving, compassionate man who used his resources to bless others,” Goodreau remembered. “The way he loved his family, and the way he loved his community, the way he loved the Lord was just amazing.” His legacy endures today as Young Life continues to grow in the community. WyldLife ministries began this past fall, a first step in touching the lives of Medina’s middle school students. Goodreau, meanwhile, will enter his senior year of college this fall at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Dean Field’s legacy of abundant obedience continues to influence Goodreau’s outlook on the future. “We are to follow the Lord obediently,” he said, looking back, “but we’re also to live abundantly and share the love and blessing that He’s gifted to us — that’s exactly what the Fields did.”  

I experienced the love of Jesus in such a tangible way. ... how can you ever be the same after experiencing that kind of love?”

Adam Goodreau at Rockbridge.











nytime. nywhere.








My grades have gotten really good, and I feel like a lot of stress has been relieved."





In Young Life, kids don’t just meet Jesus at camp ... By S. Michal Bennett

Sometimes, in the midst of contact work, club, Campaigners and camp, it’s possible to lose sight of the fact that God can reach kids absolutely anytime and anywhere. Young Life banquets are fundraising tools, and often associated primarily with numbers, donors and donations. Yet, a banquet can be so much more. Emilee, a middle schooler in Rocky Mount, Virginia, had never been to a WyldLife club. Holly Zabloski, a WyldLife leader and Emilee’s English teacher, hung out with the eighth grader and talked to her about life and what the Bible says about it. “She kind of knew about WyldLife,” said Zabloski, “and she seemed mildly interested in it.” Then one day a friend invited Emilee and her mom to the Franklin County Young Life banquet. “It’s unusual for a kid to come to a banquet,” said Zabloski. “It’s usually parents or teachers or other interested community members.” At the banquet, college freshman and WyldLife leader Ben Campensa stood in front of the 200 people there and, for the first time publicly, told his story of a broken home, years of drugs, drinking and partying in high school, and feeling like he didn’t deserve to come to Christ. He was one of the first kids Franklin County Area Director Isaac Nagle and volunteer leader Ben Brodin had made contact with four years before. Ben said, “Ben [Brodin] was my leader and constantly going after me. But I was still going to parties and drinking and doing all sorts of stupid stuff.” He went on to share about his 2 a.m. conversation with Nagle in the cabin at Rockbridge, Young Life’s camp in Virginia. That very night he gave his life to Christ. “After that,” he said, “the weight of everything I’ve done, everything I’ve been through, came off of me. Yeah, I still struggled, but having Ben and Isaac with me and just pursuing Christ even more made those temptations subside and gave me the strength to overcome all that.” Ben’s words caught Emilee’s attention and struck her deeply. His story “related a lot to mine,” she said. “The cutting, his family issues, everything — it seemed like my past. It surprised me how much God had changed his life and everything. So, I realized that’s what I wanted.” At the end of the banquet, she went to Zabloski in tears, and told her how moved she Kids in Franklin County.



Always at your fingertips



Young Life ALUMNI



was by Ben’s story. “Monday, I went to school and told her I was ready to give my life to Jesus. We prayed that morning.” Nearly a year later Emilee is a different young woman. “My grades have gotten really good, and I feel like a lot of stress has been relieved,” she said. “I used to be really stressed, but I feel like now I can talk to Jesus and He can help a lot.” As for the leaders, they’ve realized they each have a story to tell of God’s love, and He can use that story to create another testimony in someone else’s life. “We started ministry five years ago,” said Nagle. “It was just Ben Brodin and me. Ben invested in and ran after Ben Campensa, and it’s now gone beyond the two of them. Ben’s testimony was so powerful that this girl wanted what he had. And one day, she’ll have a story and maybe share that.” They’ve also been reminded God is not limited by programs and expectations. “I had become focused on the money that keeps our ministry growing,” Nagle said, “but the Lord pointed me back to what that money goes towards: His daughters and sons coming back to Him.” How fitting, then, that at a banquet where we invite people to invest in kids, a middle schooler came in touch with the One who’s completely invested in her.  

Check out the FREE Relationships app for iOS and Android. From the app store on your mobile device, search “Young Life” to learn more and download.


ENCOUNTERS 2018: Latin America/Caribbean Division DOMINICAN REPUBLIC ENCOUNTER February 17-24 — Go, See and Engage Young Life in the Dominican Republic! Experience Vida Joven in the local community and at the national camp, Pico Escondido. Complete your stay in the Dominican Republic by visiting the beautiful Samaná Peninsula complete with whale watching, snorkeling and amazing waterfall hikes.

GALÁPAGOS ENCOUNTER June 22-29 — Go, See and Engage Young Life In Ecuador! Experience the local culture and Young Life alongside staff and leaders in Quito. Then be amazed as you explore God's creation in one of the most unique locations in the world ... the Galápagos Islands.

These trips are perfect for all ages and provide awe-inspiring ways to see the world with Young Life! Visit for details. To explore more opportunities to serve Young Life around the world, go to 20


By Jeff Chesemore

Char Meredith Hartzell 11/26/21 – 3/27/17 On March 27 the mission lost a dear friend in Char Meredith Hartzell, a woman who loved to tell the story of what God was doing through Young Life. Hartzell was a gifted writer who, among her many contributions, blessed the mission in 1978 with It’s a Sin to Bore a Kid. The book, which told the history of Young Life’s first three decades, was a favorite among staff and volunteers for years. Tracing the story from Jim Rayburn’s seminary days in Dallas through 1977, the work painted the picture of a mission continually learning how to better reach kids. Throughout her illustrious career, Hartzell also worked faithfully on many other books and articles, including Tough Love with Bill Milliken and His Quiet Splendor with former president, Bill Starr. She also served as the editor for Focus on Youth, Young Life’s magazine to adults, which ran from 1967 to 1975. Each edition introduced parents and committee to a specific issue facing adolescents during that turbulent era. A graduate of Wheaton College, where she was classmates with Billy and Ruth Graham, Hartzell married John Meredith in 1944. In 1948, she gave birth to their only child, Rick. Following John’s death in 1961, she went into full-time freelance writing to support Rick and herself. In 1979 she married Wesley Hartzell, who preceded her in death in 1982. Rick wrote, “She was a pioneer, a gifted writer, a loving mom and grandmother. She knew deep loss in her life and yet radiated authentic joy. She seized moments and loved people outrageously and without reservation. She had a wonderful passion for life, and she was in the vanguard of subscribing to a Christianity that acted upon a genuine social concern. Her life was full of grace and risk and spunk and courage and compassion and fun.”  

Michael Aguilar 5/7/87 – 5/22/17 Michael Aguilar, our area director in Olancho, Honduras, is now with his beloved Savior. In May, Aguilar lost his life in a motorcycle accident. Dan Jessup, Young Life’s senior vice president of Latin America/Caribbean, said, “Mike and Daniela have been a testimony of answering God’s call with courage, faithfulness and love for kids.” Kevin Suwyn, regional director for Central America, shared some of Aguilar’s words of wisdom to the leaders in Honduras: “Always listen to the voice of Jesus so you will know what to do next.” “Any time you see a kid, remember that Jesus might be sending you to that kid.” “Don't be afraid to make decisions!” “When one leader leaves, another must rise up.” “If I die doing this work, I'll die happy.” These leaders told Suwyn, “We are going forward with the vision of Jesus and kids Mike left with us.” Please join in praying to the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” for Daniela, the entire team of leaders and the kids.  




HAITI In 1999, a small contingency of Haitian leaders visited their neighboring country, the Dominican Republic, to see Young Life firsthand. After much prayer and training, they gained a new vision for Haiti’s youth and adopted the motto, “Nou Kapab” — with God’s help we can! With this newfound courage, determination and belief that “with God all things are possible,” they began sharing the lifechanging message of Jesus with young people. Of the 10.4 million people living here, more than half are under the age of 20, making Haiti ripe for Young Life ministry. The community of leaders is determined to reach the next generation for Christ, which they’re doing well — surpassing 10,000 kids reached, 200 volunteers and 28 club ministries this year.

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YOUNG LIFE Is Young Life an important part of your story? Would you consider including Young Life in your estate plans? Young Life is building for the future in our mission of reaching kids, and we need your help! If you’ve already included Young Life in your plans, or have interest in discussing a legacy gift opportunity, please complete the coupon below.

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Relationships Fall 2017  

Relationships is a publication of Young Life, a mission devoted to introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their fa...