The Rest of the Story

This is a continuation of the previous post, Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney, written at the suggestion by a young friend (Björk) who encouraged me to capture the story of the beginning of my journey with Young Life. Interestingly, I was visiting Björk’s company offices earlier this week. I looked at the office building across the street – it’s where I was formally introduced to Young Life.

In the last posting I mentioned that a couple from my community had providentially stumbled onto Frontier Ranch, suggesting that I check out Young Life as a solution to a vision that was evolving to better care for the kids in our community – kids of various and/or no church backgrounds. This is the rest of the story…

Wanting to find out more about the ministry, I looked up “Young Life” in the Yellow Pages (yes, Yellow Pages) and placed a call with what turned out to be the regional office. They connected me with a Young Life office located closer to my community. Calling that office, I had a 5 minute conversation with the Area Director, Jim Green. He gave me an “elevator speech” of the mission of Young Life. It was only a five minute conversation because Jim was literally headed out the door to serve at a Young Life camp for a month. He said we should reconnect in a month to explore this further.

A month? Patience was a virtue that I lacked. Somehow I ended up with a book written in 1963 by philosopher Emile Cailliet about the Young Life Mission. I spent the month waiting by reading the book – twice. Everything I read drew me in. I couldn’t wait for Jim to return from his month at camp to find out more.

Upon his return, Jim suggested I come to his office (across the street from Björk’s present-day office) for a bag lunch together. He wanted to show me a couple movies (movies, not videos) about Young Life. I took a long lunch and drove 40 minutes to meet with him. He had a couple reel-to-reel movies tee’d up for me to watch. The first one was a general, very well done, informational movie about the mission of Young Life.

The second movie blew me away. It was called A Time for Living, an award-winning film featuring Young Life camps across the United States and Canada. I was hooked! I had never seen anything like it in my life. I went to Bible camp once as a kid but it was nothing like this!

I was 23 and wondered how I might get to attend a Young Life Camp.

Asking what next steps might be, Jim suggested I round up a handful of adults from our community for an informational meeting about Young Life and the possibility of starting the ministry. A week later 20 adults crowed into my living room to listen to Jim and his committee chair describe what Young Life could look like in a community like ours. We were all spellbound. Why had we never heard of such a thing?

At meeting’s end Jim told us that a group of kids and leaders were headed to Frontier Ranch in a couple weeks and I should try to round up a few kids and tag along. Long story short, two weeks later I was accompanying 10 high school kids on a trip that would turn out to be the “best week of their lives.” And it turned out to be the best week of my life, too. What I witnessed that week was transformative for me…

I witnessed unconditional acceptance. To my utter surprise, Frontier Ranch had a smoking pit. Since the ministry drew kids that were far from God, as one can imagine some might have been smokers. The kids were invited to camp to discover Jesus, not to expereince behavior modification. In a world where American Christendom was moving toward what Christian Smith described as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, this was extremely good news to those expecting religious people to tell them what they should not be doing. As an early Christ-follower, I found it quite intriguing.

I witnessed high adventure. The movie A Time for Living showed high adventure and it wasn’t just a marketing ploy. The kids (and I) experienced things few of us had ever dreamed of doing. For example, one day we took buses up to St. Elmo, CO, a mining ghost town, then proceeded to climb 12,822′ Chrysolite Mountain. Not many have experienced hiking close to 3000′ above treeline!

I witnessed excellence. In 1950, Young Life had the opportunity to purchase a resort in British Columbia that was originally designed to attract Hollywood-types. As they considered the purchase Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, took the board of directors to visit Malibu Club. As I understand it, a board member asked what would need to be changed to turn it into a youth camp. Rayburn’s response was something like, this: “We want to bring kids to camp to meet the King of Kings. If this place is good enough for Hollywood folks, then wouldn’t it be good enough for the King’s kids the way it is?” I witnessed the attitude of excellence for the King’s kids that week at Frontier Ranch.

I witnessed leaders engaged with kids. My prior observation of adults involved in youth ministry was them primarily playing the role of crowd control. They often stood off to the side while the kids participated in the program. During “chapel,” they stood or sat around the perimeter, shushing kids as needed. That week I saw leaders fully engaged, participating, hanging out with, and sitting among the kids they brought to camp. Years later Guy Doud, 1987 national teacher of the year, referred to Young Life leaders as “Jesus with skin on.” At Frontier, I witnessed kids fully engaged with everything going on, including the talks about Jesus. Leaders engaged with kids and kids engaged with Jesus! Wow!

And I witnessed Jesus in a new way. I heard Jesus talked about in new and fresh ways. The speaker, Mal McSwain, talked about Jesus in a manner different than I had ever experience. He was a story-teller, helping us picture Jesus in a way that brought him to life. Jim Rayburn always said that if kids could meet the real Jesus, they would fall in love with him. And kids did.

Upon returning home from Frontier Ranch, I started a Campaigner group with the 10 kids that I accompanied to camp. In Young Life, “Campaigners” is the name of the small groups focused on helping kids grow in their [newfound] faith. Through Campaigners, leaders continue to walk with kids as they learn how to follow Jesus. That group of Campaigner kids, their friends, and I ended up starting Young Life in our community – introducing kids to Jesus and helping them grow in their faith for over 20 years. And it all started with a broken down station wagon on the road to Buena Vista, CO.

(In the previous post, I suggested that my involvement with Young Life over the past five decades has had a most significant affect on my theology and my journey to becoming a “practical theologian.” That’s the next post.)

Chili Con Carne 2.0 (or Geometry 101)

Circa 1987. After a 5 year stint with Young Life, we decided it would be healthy for family and me to return to the world of engineering. I took a structural engineering position in Red Wing, MN, designing high voltage electrical transmission structures. My desire to work with high school kids, however, had not diminished, so I went to some Red Wing High School cross country meets. Not only did I meet a few kids, but also the coach, discovering he was the geometry teacher at RWHS. I asked him if he had a need for a tutor. His response: “YES!!” So, I began to volunteer at RWHS 2-3 days a week during my lunch hour.

In the meantime my wife, Barb, and I joined a small group through the church we were attending. One of the members was particularly fascinated that I chose to tutor high school students with no apparent agenda. A bit out of frustration, he finally asked, “How do you make the transition?” I knew what he was asking. He wanted to know how I transitioned from tutoring to telling kids about Jesus. My response was politically correct – kids needed caring adults in their lives regardless of any potential to share the Gospel. He was not satisfied with my answer. Nor was I. It was one of those times I went away thinking there must have been a better response.

I lay in bed that evening running the conversation through my mind, wondering what a better response might have been. Around 11:00p, I sat up in bed and said, “I get it!” Barb (who was sleeping and a bit annoyed at being awakened) asked “You get what?” I said excitingly, “I am the transition!”

In the previous post we posed the question “How was Jesus sent?” in response to the directive to his followers, “In the same way the Father sent Me, I am now sending you” (John 20:21). If we are to follow that directive, then it’s important we consider how Jesus was sent by the Father. In the post we considered the incarnation of Jesus, his taking on of human form and living among humanity. “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).

So what? How does that affect what 21st century Christ-followers do? It affects everything. As followers of Jesus, He lives in us through the Spirit. The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Galatia of this: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). And to the followers in Ephesus he prayed they realize the resource of the Spirit within and that “Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him” (Ephesians 3:16-17). Just as Jesus was an incarnate being, so are we!

That means when I attend a cross country meet or tutor high school students, Jesus is in their presence. To borrow a term from Guy Doud, the Staples, MN, educator who was the national teacher of the year in 1986, we get to be “Jesus with skin on” to those around us. We become the transition!

What does that look like for you and me as we live out life? It means when we cross the road to be with our neighbor, Jesus is visiting her. It means when we engage in a conversation with the checkout person at Walmart, so does Jesus. We don’t have to work so hard to share Jesus – we can’t help but! To be “Jesus with skin on” is the highest calling and privilege afforded to Christ-followers! “In the same way the Father sent Me, I am now sending you.”