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Relationships WINTER 2012

Young Life provides sanctuary for one Tennessee teenager. pg. 5 Reaching kids in “the city that never sleeps.” pg. 9 YoungLives changes a 16-year-old and her one-time teenage mom. pg. 15

CONTENTS REFUGE Through the good times and the bad, Young Life provides sanctuary for one Tennessee teenager.





SERVICE WITH A SMILE Alumni and friends pull together to support local Young Life areas.


Young Life leaders reach out to kids where “the world came to live.”

GOD HAD A DIFFERENT PLAN Two perspectives on how YoungLives has changed a 16-year-old and her one-time teenage mom.


OVERCOMING THE DARKNESS Young Life College at San Diego State University.

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2 3 4 8 13 19 22

From the President In Your Own Words Young Life Lite Young Life Online From the Grapevine Passages Parting Shots

ABOUT THE COVER The more things change, the more they stay the same! Oct. 16, 2011, marked our 70th anniversary of reaching kids, and our mission remains clear: to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith. The kids on this cover may be decades apart in regard to dress and style, but their need to hear the timeless, life-changing message of God’s love is identical. We’re also excited about the next 70 years, as we’ll continue to tell the “old, old story of Jesus and His love.”



ll of us reading this article have lost loved ones. And clothes and one blanket. Ninety-five years had come down to some of us have suffered the loss of a mother, which less than I’d take on a short road trip. in some ways, because of the lifelong nurturing a Naked we come into the world and naked we go out. So mom provides, can be the toughest of all. Almost three years it is good to stop from time to time and say, “In what am I ago, my mom was “promoted to glory” and on Aug. 20 of this investing and accumulating?” year, Velma Henderson, my wife’s mother and my mother-in Jesus told His audience not to store up treasures on law, went home to be with the Lord at the age of 95 years, 11 earth. Instead store them up in heaven. I’m not writing today months and 18 days. She just advocating an austere missed her 96th birthday. and super simple life. But There are many lessons I am suggesting that we to be learned when you’re concentrate more on our serving as one of the treasures in heaven because caregivers as a person’s there will come a day when earthly life is coming to an our children will look at end. But what has struck me some of the stuff we’ve with both mothers’ deaths saved and “stored up” and are the words of Jesus in His say, “I wish Mom or Dad had Sermon on the Mount. thrown that away before we “Do not store up for had to.” So much of what yourselves treasures on we have — our treasures — earth, where moth and rust are someone else’s trash. destroy, and where thieves Here’s what I’d like to break in and steal. But store store up: up for yourselves treasures in • A rich relationship with heaven where moth and rust the Lord. do not destroy, and where • Great relationships thieves do not break in and with those He’s placed steal. For where your treasure in my life. is, there your heart will be • A heart for the lost. also” (Matthew 6:19-21). • An investment with my Velma lived in Portland, earthly resources Naked we come into the world and naked Ore., most of her life. At — time and money in we go out. So it is good to stop from the age of 91, she decided particular — to help lost time to time and say, “In what am I to cease mowing her lawn, kids and adults meet cleaning the gutters on her Jesus so that some day investing and accumulating?” roof, and driving her car in heaven we can have a (which she was doing at this great party knowing we ripe age) and move closer to us in Colorado Springs. At that influenced each other on earth. time, we went to Portland and helped clean out her house I’m grateful for my mom. I’m thankful for my motherbefore the sale. I made many runs to the Salvation Army’s in-law. I’m grateful for the lessons they taught me in life. outpost to dispose of much of what Velma had accumulated And I’m thankful for the important lesson they taught when at that point — and she wasn’t a hoarder by any means. Later, they left this earth to be face to face with Jesus. “Store up for when she was under the care of hospice, we closed up her yourselves treasures in heaven.” cottage where she had been living and taking care of herself. It was much quicker to do than her Portland home. Less stuff. Denny Rydberg And when she died on that August Saturday night, Marilyn Young Life President and I took the last of her possessions from the room in the skilled nursing wing. It amounted to one old suitcase of 2 / WINTER 2012

IN YOUR OWN WORDS Our readers share their thoughts BEYOND BELIEF Karen and I just finished a great week at Frontier Ranch as adult guests (our daughter Annie was a leader with her Fort Worth club). I was reminded in a fresh way how good Young Life is and the difference it makes in kids’ lives. The level of excellence was beyond belief. The camp facilities, the program staff, the speaker, and even the food were all first rate. The sense of mission and the love for kids was very evident. The planning and the intentionality of every aspect of camp were impressive. I have been around organizations a long time and I know this stuff does not just happen … it takes strong and thoughtful leadership. On a personal note, it was 42 years ago I re-dedicated my life to Christ at Frontier Ranch as a high-school camper. As I reflected last week, I was overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness to me over all these years as well as His faithfulness to Young Life. — Dave Bere, Hinsdale, Ill.

THE IMPORTANCE OF RAIN JACKETS! I was touring the National Palace in Seoul, Korea, recently when it started to rain. I pulled on my golf rain jacket that I carry while traveling without giving it a second thought and shortly thereafter this young woman comes up to me and asks if I am a member of Young Life. (I then realized I was wearing the jacket I had received as a participant in The Bryant Jones Young Life Golf Tournament in San Jose, Calif.) I told her about the jacket and she goes on to say that Young Life was a major influence in her life. She was from the Dallas area and that encounter made a lasting impression on me. Keep up the good work. — Jeff Foster, Cupertino, Calif.

is a publication of Young Life, a mission devoted to introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith. P.O. Box 520 Colorado Springs, CO 80901

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If you’re receiving duplicate copies of Relationships 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.

“FAMILY” SNAPSHOT This photo has one of those Young Life legacies behind it that brings tears of joy to this mother’s eyes. The boy in the photo, taken at Saranac Village this summer, is Joey Best, and the girl is Catie McCook, the granddaughter of Bob McCook, who served as area director in Chester County, Pa., from 1968 to 1982. Bob spoke at a weekend retreat at Harvey Cedars in Long Beach, N.J., in December 1977. During his “cross talk,” the Jesus I had heard about from my youth finally became more than a church story. He became a real manifestation of a loving God who I needed to deal with ... to reject or accept. So, 35 years later you find me doing my best to serve that God and, wouldn’t you know it, Young Life has always been there. Leading as a college kid in Shippensburg, Pa., trying it out as a young married couple back in Downingtown, and then serving on committee for Chester County. And now, I’m a parttime area administrator. So I thought it was very special that Joey, my son, went to Saranac with the granddaughter of the Young Life leader who led me to Jesus. If Bob McCook is both my spiritual father and Catie’s natural grandfather, then this picture of Joey and Catie is really a snapshot of one of the legacy-laced miracles you come across in the ministry of Young Life. — Annette Best Chester County Young Life Area Administrator

Publisher/President Denny Rydberg Executive Editor Terry Swenson Lead Editor Jeff Chesemore Coordinator Donna McKenzie

Copy Editor Jessica Williams Lead Designer Jason O’Hara Designer/Illustrator Luke Flowers Contributing Photographer Dan Dyer

Young Life is a Charter Member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

YOUNG LIFE LITE By Stacy Windahl

Sharing the love of Christ through laughter


ost people reading the words “pass” and cocoa, donated Taco Del Mar lunches, T-shirts, and the “cranberry bowl” in the same sentence would think possibility of earning the coveted Cranberry Bowl MVP one thing: Thanksgiving Dinner. Not so among kids toilet seat trophy. The event offers all this and the annual and leaders in Portland, Ore., where those words can mean discovery that these cross-town competitors are not so only this: Football — on Veterans Day. different from each other after all. This year and every year since 2000, rural and suburban Jordan, now the president of Portland Leadership kids from Greater Clackamas County and city kids from Foundation, said, “We were all about reconciliation and Portland Central have gathered on the eleventh day of the bridging the gap between kids who wanted to be together, eleventh month to take part in a popular gridiron skirmish. but didn’t know how. The Cranberry Bowl was the vehicle But unlike similar competitions, the teams in this game to connect them.” Jordan and Williams continued this are chosen only after kids and leaders arrive, and then they connection for a decade by also committing to schedule just count off, two by their areas’ fall two, in an imprecise weekend and summer draft. Kent Williams, camp trips together. Greater Clackamas How fitting area director, said the game is played the bowl game isn’t on Veterans Day, about area superiority especially considering and “seeing whether the holiday’s origin. my people can beat Before 1954, Nov. 11 yours.” The Cranberry had been known as Bowl is about unity Armistice Day. The and fun. This event day was established focuses on the joy by an Act of Congress of playing. “There in 1926, “inviting the is no overtime, no people of the United offense, no stats,” States to observe said Williams, “just the day in schools kids playing football and churches, or with their leaders. other suitable places, Occasionally it is ultra with appropriate competitive, but once ceremonies of friendly we settle down the relations with all other “We were all about reconciliation and bridging the peoples.” leaders, we’re able to gap between kids who wanted to be together, but enjoy a wonderful day You can debate chuckin’ the pigskin.” whether a field behind didn’t know how. The Cranberry Bowl was the vehicle When Williams Westmoreland Park to connect them.” — Anthony Jordan arrived in the Portland is a “suitable place,” area from Seattle, Wash., where the Cranberry Bowl has a and whether kids attired in sweatpants with football storied history, one of his goals was to partner in ministry flags stuffed in their waistbands is “appropriate,” but with the urban area of Portland Central, led at that time by the Congress of 1926 might be pleased to know that Anthony Jordan. The two were of like mind and heart when in a distinctly American game, played among kids of they kicked off Portland’s inaugural Cranberry Bowl. different colors and cultures, American ideals of unity On Veterans Day in 2000, kids from neighboring, but and understanding are commemorated in the form of a culturally distant, communities became teammates and Cranberry Bowl. For their part, Williams and Jordan are friends. “All we asked was for kids to show up, ready to thrilled that four quarters of fun under the banner of play some ball with some kids they’d never met before, and football has resulted in the shared experience of Young Life have a great time,” said Williams. camp and authentic friendship in the name of Christ. These days the event promises even more — lukewarm 4 / WINTER 2012

Refuge By Bethany Bradsher

Through the good times and the bad, Young Life provides sanctuary for one Tennessee teenager.


arly in Kelsey Hayes’ high school years, there was a time when Young Life was the high point of her week. She had always felt welcome and loved there, but when she became pregnant during her sophomore year, Kelsey stopped showing up on Monday nights. Her son, Jase, was born just before the beginning of her junior year, and Kelsey was navigating teen motherhood — and the news that her grandmother had pancreatic cancer — without seeking the support of her Young Life friends. That all changed the afternoon Kelsey’s area from Murfreesboro, Tenn., prepared to take its fall weekend trip to SharpTop Cove, Young Life’s camp in Georgia, and she came to the buses to say goodbye to some of her friends. In that parking lot, Kelsey saw leader Jenifer Niederwerfer, with whom she had always had a strong connection. Niederwerfer was going to be leading Kelsey’s friends at camp, and all at once Kelsey craved the encouragement and connection to the Lord she knew she could find through Young Life. “She got on her bus to help some of her friends, and she looked at me and said, ‘I miss Young Life. I want to come back,’” Niederwerfer said. “She said, ‘I really wish I could go to camp with you.’” Niederwerfer sprang into action, finding Area Director Matt Thomas in the parking lot to formulate a plan. Thomas said that if Kelsey could come up with a deposit quickly, she could go to SharpTop on the late bus. Forty-five minutes into the trip, Kelsey called one of her friends to say she was coming on the weekend.

Catalyst in a crucial work

That spur-of-the-moment decision was the catalyst in a crucial work the Lord did in Kelsey’s life through Young Life. Even as she walked through one trial after another, Kelsey became firmly convinced the Lord’s love for her was steadfast and her place in His family was permanent. “She kind of felt like God stopped loving her because of the decision that she had made,” Niederwerfer said. “She felt like her baby was the consequence of her sin. She came to know the level of forgiveness and God’s grace that He gives us, to know that the all-loving, all-forgiving God loves her.” When she initially encountered Young Life, Kelsey was more interested in seeing her friends than anything, she said, and when she stopped coming to club it was because she was afraid what the kids there might say about her pregnancy. But over time, her relationship with her leader and the peace she found from trusting Christ truly made Young Life vital to her. “When I first started going to Young Life, it was more of a

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Niederwerfer and Kelsey pre-“Hoe Down” at Windy Gap.

Kelsey (second from left) with her best friend, Paige, and leader Jenifer Niederwerfer holding Kelsey’s son, Jase.

social thing,” she said. “It turned out that my bond with Jen and her love for Christ and just her spirit is what drew me to get closer to God. It completely changed my whole outlook.” When Kelsey’s grandmother passed away from her cancer, she constructed a support system of Niederwerfer and her Young Life friends to help her cope with the loss, as well as raising Jase. She heard about the area’s summer trip to Windy Gap, Young Life’s camp in North Carolina, and started to dream of going despite her family’s financial limitations. Niederwerfer was determined to help her raise the money, and they succeeded in collecting the full amount. Kelsey’s parents offered to keep Jase, and she was off to camp. “We arrived at Windy Gap and to me, it looked like nothing less than a little slice of heaven,” she said. “I walked with God for a full week and got to know Him and the group of girls more than I had ever known them before. Camp showed me that each person as an individual really does matter.”

“We arrived at Windy Gap and to me, it looked like nothing less than a little slice of heaven.” — Kelsey Hayes Songs of life

Kelsey’s camp experience shored up her faith and prepared her for the most trying crisis on her already-rocky path. In early December of her senior year, Kelsey’s dad committed suicide. On the brink of despair, she was at her house one night when she heard singing outside. She looked out the window and saw something unforgettable. “When her dad died, we went and did a candlelight vigil in her front yard and sang,” Niederwerfer said. “She ran out and jumped into my arms.”

Niederwerfer and Kelsey enjoying their week together at camp in 2009.

At the time of Kelsey’s father’s death, the Murfreesboro Young Life staff was planning for its annual fund-raising banquet, and Thomas had already asked Kelsey if she would share her testimony on that night. But when he heard about her loss, the area director was ready to find someone else, because he knew her pain was so raw. Niederwerfer approached Kelsey and was surprised to learn that she was still more than willing to share her story. “It was really neat to see Kelsey become, not just a role model, but a hero for Young Life,” Niederwerfer said.

By her side

“Young Life has changed the lives of so many young people and I can whole-heartedly say that they have definitely made my life easier to deal with,” Kelsey said at the banquet. “I have been through a whole lot more than most of the people my age. One thing has always led to another for me since I have been in high school, and I am so blessed to have Young Life by my side.” Even though it was hard to recount her pain that night, Kelsey said she was determined to share what she had been through and how God had met her, because many teens think they are immune from the types of struggles that marked her high-school years. “It was kind of like my opportunity to make people understand that bad things happen to good people,” she said. “Because I just think the biggest mistake everyone makes is that they’re so quick to judge people. I got pregnant when I was 15 and it was not easy and it wasn’t what I would have wanted. But I just thought that was something that would never happen to me.” Today Kelsey is going to college part time, working part time and teaching little Jase to cling to God no matter what life brings. Life is still hard at times, she said, but she can’t imagine where she would have been if she had not found refuge in the Lord through the relationships formed in Young Life. 6 / WINTER 2012


Alumni and friends pull together to support local Young Life areas.

and a Side of Slaw By Ned Erickson


Two of the Young Life BBQ booth founders with their daughters, left to right, John and Sophie Kautz, Kelsey and Todd Silver.

“We couldn’t pull it off without the help of three amazing ave you ever wondered what would happen if you community leaders: Todd Silver, John Kautz and Brad Henning.” took the love of Christ, good business sense and the Inspired by the success of the Young Life BBQ at the relational engine that is Young Life — then added in Yakima Fair, these three men, along with Bob Lewis, Sally a few thousand pounds of rotisserie beef? Well wonder no Crowe, Tom Jacobs, and Jim Brown, formed their own barbecue more! It’s been happening for 30 years now at the Western committee to prepare for the 1982 Puyallup Fair. It’s been Washington Fair. running ever since. Known locally as The Puyallup Fair, it ranks in the top 10 “On a busy Saturday, things are just flying. We’ll have six of most-attended fairs in the United States. From Sept. 9 cash registers running. People are taking orders, preparing to Sept. 25, the fairgrounds will host more than one million food, serving customers, and having a ball. It’s a gorgeous visitors, and more than a few will visit one of the two Young testimony to see the body of Christ working so hard with Life food booths run by volunteers from Gig Harbor, smiles on their faces,” said Todd Silver. “It’s a great PR event Lakewood/Steilacoom, Puyallup, and University Place/North for Young Life.” Tacoma Young Life areas. “We’re willing to do exhausting work to raise funds for In 17 days, the local Young Life community (staff, leaders, kids,” said Stewart, but he stresses the benefit goes beyond kids, parents and friends) will serve more than 15,000 pounds finances. Kids get to see the devotion of barbecue beef sandwiches, 10,000 Kids get to see the devotion of of caring adults. Adults get to see pounds of teriyaki chicken, and 15,000 pounds of turkey legs, not to mention the caring adults. Adults get to see the enthusiasm of kids. Leaders use coleslaw, baked beans, fountain drinks, the enthusiasm of kids. Leaders it for contact work, which allows the community to see ministry in action. and fixin’s. In fact, if you stacked the cans use it for contact work, which “Kids have actually met Christ while of baked beans they go through, the pile allows the community to see on the job,” said Stewart. would be 50 feet higher than Seattle’s Silver explains the essence of Space Needle! ministry in action. what happens at the Puyallup Fair this As you can imagine, it takes a lot way: “[The Young Life BBQ] is a community gathering around of people-power to pull off such a feat. On peak days, the the ministry to love the kids. It’s just great to see the smile of operation requires 50 volunteers per shift. By the end of the the body of Christ.” two-week event, more than 1,500 volunteer slots will be filled. Both Silver and Stewart believe their success could be “It’s a lot of work to get people out there,” said Ross Stewart, replicated. If you are interested in learning more, please University Place/North Tacoma area director. But it is well worth it. Since 1982, the Young Life BBQ (and contact Todd Silver at The hard-working people in this article are all alumni later the Young Life Teriyaki) booths have brought in more and friends of Young Life. Visit the Alumni and Friends than $8 million in gross sales and close to $3 million for local website at to join, update your Young Life areas. information and reconnect with your Young Life friends. “Essentially, it’s a restaurant operation,” said Stewart.

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YOUNG LIFE ONLINE Connect with the mission @

New Trustees


Gov. Bill Hasl

Young Life is governed by a Board of Trustees, whose ultimate responsibility is to control and conduct the affairs of the organization. The Young Life Board recently welcomed two new trustees — Governor Bill Haslam of Knoxville, Tenn., and Regg Jones III of Old Greenwich, Conn., both of whom will serve on the Board for the next four years. To see more about our newest Trustees, read the full story online at Select “news” in the “Take me to” drop-down menu on the home page.

On Young Life’s Facebook page:

Regg Jones II I

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Myia Hernandez So happy we have Young Life at my high school now! God’s about to do some amazing things! Daniel Valentine I just got back from Timber Wolf Lake ... THE BEST WEEK OF MY LIFE ... can’t wait ‘til nxt yr ... Young Life is wats up. Elizabeth Brannan Thank you Young Life for entering my sons’ lives. What a great organization!!

Tweets overheard recently: Back from Young Life :) Amazing night. Found out the greatest news ever too! OMG, too excited. Ready for Meily Teer whatever God has planned for me. @mmeily

Follow us on Twitter! @YoungLife Just left my last Young Life club as a high school student. How bittersweet. God has provided me @TheRealKHen w/ so many incredible blessings through Young Life.

Early morning ninja practice. The things we do for Young Life. Carly Gierczak @cgierz

8 / WINTER 2012


ew York City is a place of grand sentiments: “The Big Apple.” “The city that never sleeps.” “Gotham.” “The melting pot.” For Young Life leaders, the city’s young people evoke large sentiments too. For more than half a century, caring adults have worked with teenagers here. Today, the opportunity to reach the more than 5.3 million kids in and around the city has never been greater and the mission is looking to add to an already rich tradition.

One teen to benefit from their patient endurance was Bo Nixon (see page 11 ). Nixon and his wife, Mary, have worked with leaders and kids on the Lower East Side for decades. Their faithfulness has since led to work in other parts of the city too. Along with Harlem and Brooklyn, there is currently ministry in Manhattan, historically a hotbed for Young Life and a beachhead into the city, said Paul Coty, associate regional director for the New York Metropolitan Region.

Humble beginnings

The city is calling

The 1960s marked a new chapter in the mission of Young Life. Over the previous two decades, the work centered primarily on reaching kids in suburban high schools. As the mission grew, however, many in Young Life felt their hearts stirred toward pursuing teenagers in the cities, who were also desperate to hear the Good News about a loving Savior. Young Life’s presence began in New York City in 1960, when three concerned men, Harv Oostdyk, Vinnie Pasquale and Bill Milliken, answered God’s call to care for hurting teenagers. The trio began hanging out with kids in Harlem and the Lower East Side, slowly and faithfully building relationships of trust.

In New York Harbor, Lady Liberty invites the world to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Many yearning for that freedom are kids, whose needs cannot be ignored by the men and women God continues to call to care for them. Paul Coty is one such man. He left the teaching profession convinced the kids he was teaching needed more from him. “I was offered the opportunity to pursue an administrative degree,” he said. “I turned it down believing God was leading me into full-time ministry.” On staff since 1999, Coty’s vision has not waivered. During the spring of 2006, Coty and the Young Life

The Mission in Metropolis Young Life leaders reach out to kids where “the world comes to live.”

By Jeff Chesemore

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team prayed from the roof of a local church. “The rooftop allowed us a full view of the entire city. As committee, staff and volunteers prayed, the Lord gave me a vision of the city’s kids coming to the feet of Jesus and then transforming the communities where they live. My prayer was, ‘Lord give me the kids and don’t move me until you allow me to see both the transformed and those transforming.’” Coty, who also continually asks the Lord to raise up more laborers in New York’s “fields,” was thrilled to see a kindred spirit, John Wagner, move to the city in August 2011. Wagner may be new to New York, but not city ministry. On Young Life staff for 29 years, he has been intimately acquainted with the work in Washington, D.C., since 1982. The past year has been a year of calling for Wagner and his wife, Gae. At a Senior Leadership Team meeting last fall, Wagner listened as the speaker shared from Acts 2, where visitors “from every nation under heaven” gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Peter shared the Gospel with the people there and thousands were saved. “All I could think about was New York and the opportunity there to proclaim the Gospel to literally the whole world,” Wagner said. “I sat there, unable to move, tears streaming down my face, crowded by those around me and yet having a sense of being completely and utterly alone. God had spoken to me this clearly maybe four or five other times in my life. It was both exciting and frightening at the same time. “It was as if God had gripped me by the shirt collar. I was being called. I couldn’t wait. My world was exploding. I was so excited. I was scared to death.” In June, Wagner entered a brand new role for the mission: senior vice president for the Greater New York Division, which encompasses Metropolitan New York, Long Island, Westchester County, N.Y., Northern New Jersey and Connecticut.

Big town, big challenges

Wagner and Coty know reaching 5.3 million kids is a Herculean task. “The educational, financial and social needs are immense,” Wagner said, “Families, schools and neighborhoods are in chaos, so how we engage in ministry in this kind of setting, and what we may need to do differently or what new ‘wineskins’ may be needed are all things we need to figure out.” The challenges to the work are threefold: people, name recognition and finances. Like the rest of the mission, this city can never have too many quality leaders. Wagner said, “The diversity of New York is one of its great strengths and also one of its great challenges. One size doesn’t fit all here. We’ll be challenged to find leaders in different communities who can understand and speak the language of a particular culture and have the DNA of Young Life.”

Coty agreed, “We need to create a pipeline of leadership that doesn’t exist yet. The greatest Young Life work is yet to be done. In a city this size, we need to find more than a few good men and women.” An international organization with a presence in more than 70 countries, Young Life’s name recognition still remains a work in progress in New York City. “Most people here have never heard of Young Life,” Wagner said, “so in most communities, with most leaders, administrators, potential volunteers or donors, we are starting from scratch.” Finally, greater outreach requires greater resources. “To grow the work we’ll need to raise a substantial amount of new money in a place where the Christian community is small and so is the pool of money attached to it,” Coty said. “We’ll need a financial plan that rallies funding from all over the country.”

A marriage of strengths and vision

Young Life does not come to this battle unarmed, however. God has equipped the mission with unique strengths and vision vital to the call. “We are excellent communicators in Young Life, which will help us in a large city where we aren’t well known,” Wagner explained. “We know what it means to ‘earn the right to be heard’ which will be huge here. We have a strong track record in cities, in raising money, we train well, we are hugely relational, and we love all kinds of kids.” These strengths flourish when married to the vision for the city. Young Life has developed a “District Development Plan” to strategically begin reaching kids throughout the city. Among New York’s five boroughs, the city has created 59 community districts. The vision is twofold: first to place a caring adult staff person within each community-district, who will create/produce a model ministry in a specified neighborhood. A model ministry includes people praying, volunteers doing contact work in its various forms, a committee of adults to help support the work, and a group of kids engaged in club, Campaigners or going to camp. Secondly, the district development approach creates an inroad to additional neighborhoods within that community-district. Such inroads are critical for the mission’s growth. “It’s been said Manhattan is ‘the island where the world came to live,’” said Wagner. “I have also heard that within a 25-mile radius of the Empire State building, there are 21 million people. Twenty-one million! That’s a big club. The density in and around this city is amazing, which means in a relatively small geography, we have the potential to reach literally thousands of kids. “I realize it will take all of us. It will take churches getting on board, an absolute army of volunteers, huge amounts of money and funding, and people from ‘every nation, tribe, people, and language,’ if we are really going to stand a chance of pulling this off; but what a testimony to the body of Christ if we do.” 10 / WINTER 2012

Bo Nixon By Aimée Kessick


o Nixon has been on the front lines of Young Life’s inner-city work for decades. In fact, it’s where Young Life first found him. In 1959, Bo was the president of one of the largest gangs in Manhattan. Young Life was just beginning its reach to the inner city. Work had been under way in Jersey City where Harv Oostdyk and Bill Milliken had reached a young man named Vinnie Pasquale, whose life of drugs and crime was transformed when he was introduced to Jesus. Oostdyk, Milliken, Pasquale, and Dean Borgman, under the guidance of George Sheffer, set their sights on New York City, and headed into Bo’s neighborhood. Slowly, after spending much time on the basketball court and hanging out in the neighborhood, learning names, Milliken got to know Bo and his friends. A year after first stepping into their world, he invited them to camp at Star Ranch. Hesitant and still leery of Milliken, Bo declined. But when his friends came back from camp, Bo was impressed that Milliken had delivered on every promise he’d made about the trip. Bo vowed he’d go next year. And he did. Up in the mountains of Colorado, Bo was awed by speaker George Sheffer’s Gospel message and the penetrating questions he asked campers. On the night

WINTER 2012 / 11

campers were told about Jesus’ crucifixion, Bo recalled, he talked to God for the first time: “Lord, if you can do anything with this life, you can use it.” Back home in the city, Milliken continued to be a faithful friend and spiritual guide to Bo who began his journey with Young Life, and has been doing ministry in the city ever since. In 1973, as a response to the extensive needs they saw in the lives of at-risk kids, Bo and his wife, Mary, established New Life of New York City. Thousands of kids have been served by Young Life-trained staff and volunteers, who are building relationships with kids through a range of programs at New Life’s three outreach centers in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Brooklyn and Queens (Springfield Gardens), and as they do contact work in the surrounding neighborhoods. “I’ve had the privilege of learning from Bob Mitchell, the Sheffers and Tom Raley,” Bo said. “We knew that God was calling us for the long haul. Our leaders had told us that if our community was going to change, we needed to be in this for the long haul.” For that steadfast commitment and years of service to the mission, Bo was honored recently by Young Life’s Board of Trustees. John Wagner, Young Life’s field senior vice president in New York City, said Bo’s legacy will be his faithfulness and willingness to sacrifice. “He gave of himself in a very tough place, year after year, to literally thousands of hurting kids so that they would know Jesus. His faith, endurance and his work is unmatched in the mission.” Wagner added that the Nixons’ impact has been due to their incredible partnership as a couple. “It is ‘Bo,’ but, it is almost always ‘Bo and Mary’ and they have always been a team. You can’t think of one without thinking of the other, and they have been terrific together.” Wagner also credits Bo for being a “beacon of hope” to other urban staff. Paul Coty, an associate regional director in New York, would agree. “He’s really been a father to me,” Coty said. “His wisdom and longevity speak for itself.”

Colleen Holby By Aimée Kessick


hen Colleen (Koppert) Holby learned about Young Life as a Wheaton College student in the early 1950s, she didn’t know where it would lead. She just knew she had to be a part of it. “I wanted to reach kids, but I had no idea how,” Holby said. “When I heard about Young Life, I thought ‘Wow, this is something else.’” As the original hub of college volunteer leaders, Wheaton offered fertile training ground for Young Life ministry. George Sheffer, a pioneer in Young Life who would help inspire the mission’s early reach to the inner city, trained the students. Holby was placed on a team with Sheffer, Barb (Jantzen) Meredith and Johnny O’Neil — and remembers feeling humbled by the spiritual elders who surrounded her. “[Sheffer] was very disciplined. I learned from the best.” After graduating from Wheaton, she ministered on Young Life staff in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Boston. Though Holby spent most of her time ministering to kids in suburban neighborhoods, she’s had a heart for kids from the inner city too. During her time in upper-middle class Darien, Conn., she had a close look at Young Life’s progressive inner-city work developing in nearby New York City. In fact, she’d often take her kids to club in the Lower East Side. “The kids from our club loved it,” she said. Holby met her husband, Duncan, in Boston, left Young Life staff in 1970 and later earned her master’s in counseling. In 1978, she became the assistant chaplain at Children’s Village (CV) in New York, which provides extensive residential and community services to at-risk kids. She was soon ordained by the United Church of Christ, and Father Benedict Groeschel, a nationally recognized Catholic priest, recommended her for director of Pastoral Care, the position she holds today. But Young Life is still in her system. Since the 1980s, she’s been taking kids from CV to weekend and summer

camps at Lake Champion, Young Life’s camp in lower New York State. “There isn’t a kid from CV who doesn’t want to go back to camp,” Holby said. Young Life staff and leaders are welcomed at CV. Young Life staffers Bill Paige and Paul Coty have had a major impact there. Holby said, “I know the kids are getting, from Bill and Paul’s limited time, the best spiritual leadership I know about.” Coty said, “Rev,” as she is affectionately called, “has the energy and passion of a 20-year-old. She is incredibly committed to watching the lives of the boys of Children’s Village be transformed by the power of Christ. Her vision for those young men combined with her passion for Young Life creates the platform those young men need to experience life in a way that is truly transformative.” For what she’s offered kids through her life of ministry, Holby recently received Wheaton College’s 2011 Distinguished Service to Society Award, which in the past has been given to people like Billy Graham and Todd Beamer. These days Holby is also passionate about introducing local African-American clergy to Young Life, and bringing the ministry into hurting communities. She has her sights set on Mt. Vernon and Yonkers, N.Y., where violent crime is high and the need for incarnational ministry is great. “There are so many places that don’t know about Young Life. I think our staff have so much to offer kids.”

(Page 11, top): Bo in the 1970s; (Bottom, left to right): Mary and Bo (center) with their family; John Wagner; Paul Coty. (Page 12, top): “Rev” with a student in the ‘70s; (Bottom, left to right): Rev with Bill Paige (far left) and friend; With kids from Children’s Village.

12 / WINTER 2012

FROM THE GRAPEVINE A fruitful selection of stories from the field

Showing Up

By Erika Jay

After a particularly rough day, the last thing leader Mike Thornton felt like doing was going to a soccer game at Southern Lehigh. Feeling angry, tired and not in any mood to hang out at the high school, he called fellow leader Kelly Griffin to let her know he wasn’t going. “I called Kelly, explained to her the kind Mike Thornton, front left in sunglasses, with kids at Saranac Village. of day I was having and attempted to get out of going to the soccer game that night,” said Thornton. To “I had to pause to pick my jaw off the his surprise, she wouldn’t hear it. “But, Mike, you really should go tonight.” Thornton and Griffin went back and ground. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I forth for several minutes. She won. “I took the hint didn’t even want to be there and God and told Kelly I would go, but I wasn’t happy about it,” Thornton conceded. sends me a kid who needs help.” Driving to the school from work, Thornton came — Mike Thornton up with his game plan. “I went to the school straight from work and got there about a half an hour early. Things have been rough at home and I decided to start There was no one there yet, so I went to the top of the reading my Bible. I don’t understand it all. Do you mind bleachers, sat down, crossed my arms and made sure I if I talk to you about it?” looked angry enough that you wouldn’t want to talk to For a moment, Thornton was speechless. “I had me.” Little did Thornton know, he was in for a surprise. to pause to pick my jaw off the ground. I honestly The Southern Lehigh mascot is the Spartan couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even want to be there and who dons a feathered helmet, leather skirt, arm and God sends me a kid who needs help.” As Thornton sat leg bands, metal chest plate, and carries a sword in awe, he thought, “Wow, God is awesome and wow, I and shield. Once the game started, the mascot ran am such a dope.” up into the student section, where Thornton had Thornton and Dan spent the rest of the game unintentionally sat, and started to rally the crowd. talking about Jesus, except when the team scored and He then made a beeline for the top of the bleachers, they had to break so Dan could run the bleachers in all heading straight for Thornton. “Hey, you’re that Young his Spartan gear yelling with the student section. Life guy,” he said, “My name is Dan. I came to Young That night, Mike Thornton showed up and God Life club a couple of times and remember seeing you showed off. Dan heard the Gospel and his life, as well playing the guitar.” He went on, “I’m glad I ran into you. as Thornton’s, will never be the same.

WINTER 2012 / 13

A Small Town Goes Wyld By Travis Johnson Megan Mathews was a freshman when she first attended Young Life at Topsail High School in the small community of Hampstead, N.C. It didn’t take long for her to get hooked. “Something just clicked,” she said. “I could bring all my friends, even ones that wouldn’t go to church with me.” Leaders drove 30 miles from the University of North Carolina campus at Wilmington three times a week for club, Campaigners and other after-school events. As the school year ended, however, lack of funding combined with the long-distance commute made it impossible for the leaders to continue their efforts. For the time being, Young Life was forced to shut down in Hampstead. The next year, tragedy struck the community when a 15-year-old Topsail student drowned at Cape Hatteras, 200 miles up the coast from Hampstead. In the wake of that awful day, however, the community grew closer together. Megan can still recall the memorial service, where 200 of her peers came to know Christ. “It was like a revival,” she said. “It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.” By Megan’s junior year, the community was ready for Young Life to return. While attending family camp at Windy Gap, Young Life’s camp in North Carolina, Megan’s parents, neighbors, aunts, and uncles formed a committee. With Megan and most of her friends only a year away from graduating high school, they opted to begin an effort to reach out to middle-school kids. “We wanted to start with WyldLife so the kids in middle school would know what Young Life is,” Megan said.

Extravagant Love

The committee held its first banquet in the high-school cafeteria. Word spread and enthusiasm for Megan on work crew at Crooked Creek. Young Life continued to grow throughout the community. All they needed was someone to lead. “We found this middle-school leader named Doug Maners,” Megan recalled. Though he had no prior experience with Young Life, Maners taught seventh-grade math and science at Topsail Middle School. The committee quickly recognized his love for kids. After attending leadership training, Maners turned a fledgling effort into a full WyldLife experience. “All the kids love him,” Megan said. Fifty kids attended the first Topsail WyldLife club. Megan and 15 of her friends came to share the love of Christ with each one of them. “I love them so much,” Megan said. “I love hanging out with middle schoolers.” As the school year progressed, the club sometimes drew more than 60 kids. Plans are currently under way to bring Young Life to Topsail High School in the near future. In the meantime, prayer remains Megan’s biggest lifeline as she continues to pour out the love of Christ to middle-school kids. “You have people’s hearts on the line,” she said. “God has to walk you there.”

By Amanda Kolman

Justin Forbes, Northern Palm Beaches area director, knows he hit the jackpot with leaders Jimmy Carrol and Jad Davis. Two years ago, Carrol had been praying about where he could serve in the mission and felt a nudge toward Young Life’s Capernaum ministry, even though he had very little experience with kids with disabilities. When a chance meeting at the mall reunited Carrol with his old Young Life leader, Davis, who was currently teaching students with disabilities at Dwyer High School, a Capernaum club was born. The two men have been leading club together since it Kids in front of their “camp transportation” started last fall, drawing 25 students on the first day. to Southwind. The following spring, both men were thrilled with the excitement Young Life camp generated among students. They worked hard to convince parents their kids would be well taken care of, and by the beginning of the summer, 20 students and leaders were signed up and ready to go to Young Life’s Southwind camp in Ocklawaha, Fla. The day they were to leave for camp, students were beyond excited to board the buses and be on their way. Little did they know, Forbes had been doing some convincing of his own with the bus company to help make this the trip of a lifetime for these kids. Instead of a bus, Forbes asked the bus company to send a stretch limo, complete with sparkling cider, lights and a dance party! “We wanted to be extravagant, a picture of the Gospel from the moment these kids showed up,” he said. The reaction was exactly what he hoped — the students went wild. Shortly after they arrived at camp, kids were divided into teams and given matching, colored bracelets. Barbara, one of the students from the Northern Palm Beaches area, entered the dining hall and asked where she should sit. When asked what color bracelet she had, she said, “Oh, I’m not on a team color. I’m with the limo group!” The students’ experience of extravagance paved the way for them to hear about and experience the extravagant love of Jesus throughout their week at camp. And it’s certain they won’t easily forget that the road to the best week of their lives was traveled in style. 14 / WINTER 2012

Two perspectives on how YoungLives has changed a 16-year-old and her one-time teenage mom.

A daughter’s perspective, by Courtney Ewell


y mom had me when she was 16. I turned 16 on March 10, 2011, and I could not imagine having a kid at this age. My mom has sacrificed a lot for me and she has not missed a volleyball or basketball game. She has always supported me in everything I have wanted to do. There have been times when our lives were not perfect, but I have an abundant amount of respect for her because she had me and there is no greater gift than the gift of life. I remember going to YoungLives camp with my mom and she seemed happier when she let God into her heart. Inviting God into her heart was a battle because my mom had a hard time trusting anyone, but whenever we would go to YoungLives her personality changed and it was a safe place for her to go and be a kid again. I also remember that all the staff and volunteers were very nice and welcoming, which made YoungLives a fun place. If my mom was not involved with YoungLives, I do not think I would know God. Her involvement in YoungLives has showed her how to trust and love, which were two things my mom really struggled with when I was younger. My mom and I are very close and since she had me when she was 16, it has allowed me to see her grow and change over the years and I think YoungLives helped her change for the better. I know my mom would do anything for me and I think she went to YoungLives because she knew I needed her to be able to love unconditionally. YoungLives helped her put her guard down and love me unconditionally. I have volunteered for YoungLives because it has a positive impact on my life and I want to return the favor to a teen parent to be able to go to camp and be a kid again. I am proud of my mom for graduating from high school and going to college to become an accountant. I am a sophomore in high school and I hope to move to North Carolina and graduate from one of the best schools in America — Duke University. I want to become an anesthesiologist. My mom has supported me through everything and I want to do everything I can to make her

WINTER 2012 / 15

“If my mom was not involved with YoungLives, I do not think I would know God.” — Courtney Ewell proud. I have learned from what most people call my mom’s “mistake,” but I am not a mistake. I do realize, though, that having a child is hard work and I do not plan on having any kids anytime soon.

Courtney and Amber after a shaving cream fight at Washington Family Ranch.

A mother’s perspective, by Amber Stamps The last time I wrote an article for YoungLives was 16 years ago. The title to my article was, “Why Me, God?” That is exactly how I felt. I couldn’t understand how there could be a God. Why did God let me get raped, molested, abused, and emotionally tortured? My life is exactly like so many other teen parents. If I were to describe my childhood, I would say, “I survived.” That is what I remember. Picking myself up after each horrific incident and moving forward. My life changed the day I got pregnant. My life was no longer without purpose and I finally saw a glimpse of God. Instead of thinking, “Why me, God?”, I realized that God was giving me one of the most precious gifts in life — a baby girl who I named Courtney. God was trusting me with a baby girl. I knew from that moment on I wouldn’t be a victim any longer. I legally emancipated myself from my mother and got my own apartment. My father died before I was born and I thankfully had Supplemental Security Income to rely on. I didn’t just want to survive, though. I also took a part-time job as a housekeeper. I took honors classes in high school and graduated with a 3.89 GPA. My first YoungLives camp was in Corbett, Ore. I didn’t know anyone but I decided going to a YoungLives camp was “At camp, we learned about God and going to be better than staying at home and dealing with His grace and were around leaders, my life. My daughter was only 2 months old when I went. mentors, and staff who all modeled She cried the entire night and I remember a woman coming out into the hallway and asking if she could take Courtney so God’s love. Camp is a safe place where I could get some sleep. I nearly cried at the offer and I was the world isn’t judging us for being so confused why someone would want to help me. My entire life had taught me not to trust or let anyone into my life, but young and having babies. Instead, it is God had a different plan that day. The woman could see the a place to be loved and cared for and fear in my face and she promised to stay right outside my to learn to let others into our lives.” room with Courtney. This was the first time I realized what YoungLives was all about. They are women who want to build — Amber Stamps relationships with teen moms who are broken. Camp was amazing. I was able to be a teenager and laugh and play games and go on the zip line and pamper pole. YoungLives camp challenges us as teen moms to overcome our fears. Many girls were scared of heights or of being in bathing suits or going up on stage or of simply being silly. At camp, we learned about God and His grace and were around leaders, mentors, and staff who all modeled God’s love. Camp is a safe place where the world isn’t judging us for being so young and having babies. Instead, it is a place to be loved and cared for and to learn to let others into our lives. It took five years for me to finally commit my life to God, but I remember it as though it were yesterday. My rock is placed in the huge rock pile at Washington Family Ranch, and the day I finally gave my life to God a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. My life today is great. I’m engaged to a wonderful man and Courtney is a sophomore in high school. She is in the International (Top left): Amber at her first YoungLives camp Baccalaureate program at Columbia River High School and wants to go when Courtney was a baby, (Top right): Amber with to Duke University and become an anesthesiologist. After obtaining program director Brandyn Miller and Courtney, age 5; my associate of arts degree and several accounting certificates, I (Above): Courtney and Amber, present day, enjoying decided to go back to school and complete my bachelor’s degree at Washington Family Ranch together. Washington State University. I have one semester left and plan to obtain my CPA license and start my own accounting firm. The fall of 2011 marked the 20-year anniversary YoungLives changed my life and I volunteer and work of YoungLives. To read more about our ministry with teen parents because I know this program can make a to teenage moms, go to and click difference. One teen parent at a time. on “YoungLives.” 16 / WINTER 2012

Overcoming the Darkness Young Life College at San Diego State University

By Leslie Strader

Editor’s Note: What follows is the second in a five-part series looking at the ministry of Young Life College at campuses across the United States and abroad.


our years ago, you could count the number of students involved with Young Life at San Diego State University on one hand. Actually, one finger; in 2007, only one student on the campus of 35,000 was known to be active in Young Life. That same year, 75 SDSU students were arrested for trafficking in cocaine and marijuana as part of the largest drug raid in collegiate history. The drug, alcohol and party scene cast a long shadow over what seemed to be a dark, unreachable campus. So, Young Life decided to send John Byard to shine some light. Now, more than 200 students attend Young Life College club each week. Young Life College Director Byard’s only explanation? They are drawn by the irresistible love of Jesus.

At the speed of light

Byard and his family moved from Arizona to California three years ago fully aware of the situation at SDSU, but also certain of God’s call. “I was confident the Lord was with me, but not confident we’d have a club of 200 from zero so quickly. He moved much faster than I thought,” Byard said. “I’ve seen the Lord redeem what happened at the school. He’s orchestrated many different things to move the campus in the right direction.” The students themselves are among the tools God used to get the school on the right road. Young Life Staff Associate Sullivan Saunders and junior Victoria Kent are good friends but also partners in ministry. Before joining Young Life staff, Saunders attended the

(Left to right) Andrew Sewell, Victoria Kent and their friend Kara.

WINTER 2012 / 17

University of Alabama and watched her own Young Life leader build a Young Life College ministry there from the ground up. She met Kent the first week of Kent’s freshman year and has seen God use her in amazing ways. “She came to SDSU looking for a Young Life community,” Saunders said. “She’s been such a light in her dorm and to her group of friends. She’s never shied away from unbelievers. Young Life College has been huge in keeping her eyes fixed on Jesus.” Kent added, “College can be a dark time. You can get lost in dark things. To have a place where you can see light and have somewhere to go when you feel like you have nowhere else to go, I think that’s changed a lot of kids.”

Questions and answers

Junior Andrew Sewell was only marginally interested in Christianity until Kent invited him to his first Young Life College event at the beginning of their freshman year. “I was sitting in one of the commons rooms in our dorm and I heard someone saying, “Anyone want to go to a bonfire?” Sewell recalled. “I wasn’t doing anything else. It turned out to be a Young Life College event. So I was introduced to Victoria and Young Life on the same day. “She kept inviting me to club. The bonfire was pretty awesome, so I went. I really liked a lot of the guys there. They were willing to open up and were interested in my life.” Intrigued by Byard’s club talks, Sewell met with Byard to ask him some questions. The spring of his freshman year, Sewell accepted Christ. He went through Young Life College’s

Victoria Kent and Sullivan Saunders at Young Life College club.

leadership training program his sophomore year and this past summer served on summer staff at Woodleaf. “As I met with John, all my worries and fears were answered,” he said. “I knew this was something I’d been missing out on for all these years of my life. I knew I needed His mercy. Young Life has allowed me to be my real self. There’s no façade.”

Leading in community

Kent and Sewell are on the Young Life College leadership team together, where Sewell runs the audio/visuals for club each week and Kent is in charge of freshman outreach. Another team helps organize community service projects like barbecues for the homeless in city parks. “Not everyone knows what Young Life is, but they think it’s a good group of people doing positive things on campus,” Kent said. “Being a part of the leadership team has been really affirming for me these past few years. I feel like I’ve been tested more since I’ve been away from home. But it keeps me accountable. Young Life has been my backbone.” Saunders agrees the leadership program is an important piece of the Young Life College ministry. “It’s essential to what we’re doing in Young Life College,” she said. “I think it’s important to be reaching people outside so they can see a great community of people loving each other well and having a great time. We really are going to where students are. A large portion of our club is non-believers. We have a vision for the school and are constantly talking about what ministry should look like. We want to listen to the leading of the Lord.” Byard marvels at the dramatic change he’s seen in the campus over three years — from a history-making drug bust to a growing family of believers who loves their lost friends and shows them saving faith. “One of the joys we’ve seen is students who chose to come to SDSU because they heard that Young Life is here,” he said. “We’re a presence on the campus. We’re connected to other organizations; we’ve had an impact on the Greek system. Students have met Christ their first semester on campus. There are so many stories of lives being changed because of Young Life. “We’ve created a culture of community on campus. We’re a family that people want to be around.”

“All my worries and fears were answered. I knew this was something I’d been missing out on for all these years of my life. I knew I needed His mercy. Young Life has allowed me to be my real self. There’s no façade.”

— Andrew Sewell

























WHY YOUNG LIFE COLLEGE? • Each year an estimated 75,000 freshmen arrive on college campuses with Young Life experience. Young Life College wants to be there when they arrive. • Research indicates 61 percent of college students become inactive in their faith involvement, and various denominations estimate that 64-94 percent of their high-school students stop attending church after they graduate. • Sociologists suggest that adolescence now extends well into the 20s. Young Life College is uniquely positioned to have an immediate impact on campuses because: • Young Life understands adolescent culture. • Young Life staff and volunteers are experienced in working with this age group. • Young Life staff and volunteers establish relationships with former club kids who are now in college. • Young Life is established in many communities and/or has a healthy reputation to build upon. To learn more about Young Life College, go to and click on “Young Life College” in the drop-down menu. 18 / WINTER 2012

PASSAGES Honoring those who have served the mission

Katie Parsons May Nov. 28, 1983 - July 16, 2011 By Bailey McElravy

“Katie Noel Parsons May met Jesus’ open arms on July 16, 2011.” So begins the article announcing her passing in a California newspaper. But for all who knew her, Katie can never be contained to an article nor confined to the bed at UCLA Medical Center where she spent her final moments. She was the very light of Jesus Christ — full of joy, laughter and a fierce determination to live her life for others. Katie was the daughter of Gary (founder and current vice president of Young Life Russia and the Former Soviet Union) and Jeanne Parsons, the older sister of Hannah and Tatyana Parsons, and the wife of San Luis Obispo Area Director John May. “She took her role as a big sister very seriously as she loved and reflected Christ to her younger sisters throughought her 27 years, giving them comfort and advice,” Jeanne Parsons said. “They all three had the opportunity to serve together at Woodleaf one summer — Katie on summer staff, Hannah on work crew and Tatyana as a camper. She was always available for them and it’s one of the reasons she had a passion for counseling and her graduate work took her to Fuller Theological Seminary to pursue a degree in Marriage and Family Counseling. She was the exceptional daughter every parent dreams about!” Eight years ago, Katie was diagnosed with the rare lung disease Primary Pulmonary Hypertension, and began the battle

From left, Gary and Jeanne Parsons, with daughters Hannah, Tatyana, and Katie.

that would eventually claim her life at age 27. Still, many of those who knew Katie were unaware of her illness — so incredible was her joy and zeal for life. She was completely focused on her Savior and devoted to bringing other people closer to Him. She was the best partner in ministry that John could have asked for, teaching leaders in small group studies up until her last hospitalization, and even leading two Young Life Expeditions trips to Russia and Ukraine last summer. Three years ago, she met the love of her life in John. John proposed on his birthday; the greatest gift she could give him was her hand in marriage. They wed on Nov. 20, 2010, and experienced eight months of marriage with unwavering courage and unconditional love. Whenever someone expresses sorrow at their short time together, John is quick to remind them that it wasn’t just eight months, it was three years with the most gorgeous woman he had ever met. When she passed, John turned to his mother and said, “I am the luckiest man in the world … because she loved me.”

Katie and John.

Through a campership legacy fund established by her family and friends, Katie’s impact will extend beyond her life. To experience more about her celebration of life and legacy, please go to: or, where you can support “Katie’s Kids Campership Fund.”  WINTER 2012 / 19

Javza (Jackie) Nyamdavaa March 13, 1966 - June 28, 2011 By Donna Hatasaki

Jackie with her husband, Nyamaa.

Javza (Jackie) Nyamdavaa, the national director for Young Life in Mongolia, was clutching a list of kids’ names when she stepped into the presence of Jesus on June 28, 2011. Jackie was returning from a week of Young Life camp where 150 kids had heard the good news and more than 100 of them had decided to follow Christ, when a tragic van accident took her life and the lives of two volunteer leaders, Yalilt Chogsomjav and Myanganbayar Surenjav. All of the kids’ names were in Jackie’s hand that evening as she was safely delivered into the hands of her Redeemer. “My mom gave her life for this,” said Jackie’s son, Tuvshindayar, who was one of the 10 passengers in the accident. “I will give my life for the Mongolian young people too. I’m 1,000 percent committed to the Young Life ministry.” His unwavering commitment was yet another reminder of Jackie’s impact on her family, friends, kids, and colleagues. “Jackie was outstanding working with teachers and was respected by the principals throughout Ulaambaatar,” said Clif

weekly discipleship training and working in local Young Life clubs. In addition, Jackie continued to build good relationships with teachers and administrators across her community. “She created a Young Life week in the high schools,” Davidson said. “She and her team would greet all the staff with coffee and donuts every morning for a week. They would greet them with Young Life hospitality, shaking hands, clapping and serving them. It was remarkably successful, and it was Jackie’s idea.” Jackie met Christ through the Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) teachers’ program. So many teachers were meeting Christ that Cru invited Young Life to make the most of the opportunity and begin to reach the kids in the schools through the teachers. Jackie was one of those teachers and attended her first Young Life camp in 2000 as a volunteer leader before stepping onto staff three years later. Jackie quickly developed into a gifted camp speaker and in 2010 spoke to approximately 750 kids, more than 500 of whom

“My mom gave her life for this. I will give my life for the Mongolian young people too. I’m 1,000 percent committed to the Young Life ministry.” — Tuvshindayar Nyamdavaa Davidson, vice president of Young Life Asia Pacific. “Before Jackie came to work for Young Life, she taught Russian and English in the Mongolian school system. She came on staff in 2003 and was one of the key people who helped us learn how to connect with Mongolian culture, particularly with kids.” Besides leading an “extremely healthy and productive Young Life club,” Davidson said Jackie had also launched a Young Life college program where some 30 college students are involved in

decided to follow Jesus. She was also diligently involved in translating discipleship materials for kids into Mongolian as well as Precept Bible Study materials for adults. Jackie leaves behind her husband, Nyamaa, and two sons, Tuvsindayar and Tugsuu. Financial gifts to help offset medical expenses and help the injured survivors may be made to Young Life X531 at Any surplus funds will be used to help Mongolian kids attend camp.

20 / WINTER 2012


Ellie and D Young Lif rew Holcomb with e Capern aum st Brian “C oop” Coo affer per

CONSIDER GIVING the Made Right CD to family and friends this

Christmas. All proceeds go toward helping our Capernaum friends with disabilities attend Young Life camp. This compilation CD by musician friends of Young Life celebrates that we were all made right, and one day all things will be made right because of God’s grace and love.

ARTISTS INCLUDE: Sara Groves, Drew and Ellie Holcomb, Ryan Long, PW Gopal, Christopher Williams and Andrew Osenga.

Order today at All proceeds go toward helping Capernaum friends with disabilities attend Young Life camp.

SNOW CREEK CHALET NO W AVA I L A BL E! Friends of Young Life have recently given the mission Snow Creek Chalet, a beautiful mountain retreat located next to our camp, Crooked Creek Ranch, in Fraser, Colo. The chalet sleeps up to 10 people, and with pricing 50-70% less than comparable chalets/lodges in this Winter Park ski area, it may be the perfect spot for your Colorado getaway.

Burnet, Texas June 3-9 OR June 9-15: Camp Buckner near Michigan ale, Hillsd near indoh June 24-30: Mich Antelope, Oregon near h Ranc ly Fami n ingto Wash 7-13: July Arizona July 15-21: Lost Canyon near Williams, , New York Aug. 4-10: Lake Champion near Glen Spey

or helping in other ways, go to

WINTER 2012 / 21


• Small church retreats

• Leadership retreats

(staff, committee, etc.)

• Small Campaigner or college ski trips • Staff sabbatical or vacation (discounts given for stays more than 10 days) • Auction offering at Young Life fund-raising events


Call (719) 381-1913 or email

PARTING SHOTS A collection of photos from the field 1, 2) Then and Now! Mary Kotnour from Rio Rico, Ariz., shares photos of her time as a Minnesota camper at Castaway in 1972, and 39 years later, as a leader at Lost Canyon this summer. Thanks, Mary, for your faithfulness to Christ and service to the mission! 3) Campers from Damascus, Md., enjoy canoeing at Timber Wolf Lake.

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FEATURE PHOTO Anthony Fernandez, deployed with the Oklahoma National Guard, proudly displays a Young Life banner in Afghanistan! While in high school, Fernandez helped start Young Life in Stillwater, Okla. About life in Afghanistan, he said, “It breaks my heart seeing a lot of these people in such poverty; but to them it’s just another normal day. I also see a lot of teenagers, and think ‘what a cool place [it would be] to start Young Life.’” The mission thanks Anthony Hernandez and the thousands of alumni who serve their countries so sacrificially in the Armed Forces.

22 / WINTER 2012

P.O. Box 520 Colorado Springs, CO 80901 ADDRESS SERVICE REQUESTED

At Trail West, we help your family grow stronger and healthier, both spiritually and relationally. We provide programming and activities that include every member of the family, and that honor God in the process. At Trail West’s Family Camp, each member of your family will strengthen their relationship with Christ, as well as with each other ... and experience the “best week of their lives” in the process.

15% discount

for reservations made before

Dec. 31, 2011! (on selected weeks)

Drawing Families Closer. Closer Together. Closer to God.

Call us at (719) 395-2477 to reserve your week.

Relationships Winter 2012  

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

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