Young Life Banquet 2012
Introduction: You know, bios can really make a guy look good… what you just heard is only part of my story. You and I each have one, a story to share, an unfolding narrative
Throughout my 10 year affiliation with Young Life, I have met scores of leaders and area directors and committee members and donors from all different parts of the country, and two threads link this organization across ecclesial, theological, and social boundaries:
First, the people committed to this organization love Jesus and long for teenagers to experience the same.
And second, every person has a story about how they fell in love with Young Life.
And for the next 5 minutes, I want to share with you mine.
Move 1 - Using one word, how would you describe your first weekend at college: I think across the board, all of us would at some point would say, awkward, right?
Your first weekend is crazy awkward! Think about it: a high school graduate uproots from typically their one and only known community, which includes their family and friendship networks, moves to an entirely foreign and new place - often many hours away from home, pays lots of money to live there, and then is immediately thrusted into a dormitory - a giant hotel filled with a bunch of kids their same age - and then is strongly encouraged to participate in a bunch of activities - albeit fun and exciting - in order to meet the people who will then most likely become their lifelong friends - perhaps even meet a person that they’ll marry.
Does this describe your first weekend at college? This was my experience, and even as an extrovert, all of this left my head spinning.
I moved into college on a Thursday, and I remember sitting on my bed on that Sunday night - my roommate was away - I was all alone for the first time since moving into my new town, and I just wept. I felt so overwhelmed. I thought to myself, what did I just do!? I’m in college - I’m experiencing what I have been dreaming about since the start of high school - and I’m terrified.
Is anyone with me?
The next morning, I left my room, and I headed for breakfast at our student restaurant called the Cave.
Just before I walked in, this random, unknown girl jumps in front of me - never seen her before. She walks in front of me and literally forces me to stop walking. She looked at me in the eye, poked her finger in my chest, and she said, “You look like you could be a Young Life leader, follow me into the Cave right now.
I followed her because on the surface level she left me no choice. Throughout the years of our friendship, I learned that when Julie speaks, you listen, who now by the way, works for the CIA!
But truly I followed her because she invited me into her world... she noticed me, a lowly, frightened freshman. She saw through whatever stereotypes that were associated with a person in my position, and she recognized me for who I could be.
So I followed her into our student restaurant, the cave, where she led me to a secluded booth in a dark corner. At this point, I started to wonder whether or not she cared that I looked like a YL leader, if you know what I’m saying… But there sitting in the booth, I met a man named RD, who I later learned was the YL area director at the town where my college was located.
He sat slouched in the booth... with sunglasses on… and motioned for me to take a seat. He looked reminiscent of the Godfather… honestly, this scene was even more bizarre than what I am making it sound.
After I sat, he slowly removed his sunglasses - to which I realized that this man was at least 50 years old - and he asked me in a raspy voice, “Tell me your name.”
I said, “My name’s Ryan.”
He said, “I’m R.D. Do you know why you’re here.”
I responded by saying, “Julie told me that I look liked a YL leader and told me that I should meet you.”
RD leaned in, and then he asked, “Have you ever heard of YL?”
I said, “Nope.”
And then he asked me a question that took me off guard. He asked me if I would share with him about the people who invested me during high school.
Move 2 - So I told him about:
A man named Mr. McCune - He was the honors teacher at my high school. He found me in the hallway one afternoon during my class change with my head in my hands. Without missing a beat, he said, “why don’t you stop by my office for a quick sec,” knowing that I could be late for class, but recognizing that more than class, I needed to talk. He asked me to share with him what was up… I told him about my parents’ divorce - girl troubles - college anxieties - everything. He gave me permission to visit his office whenever I needed to chat, and I took advantage of it nearly every morning before school during the last few months of my senior year.
I told RD about another man named Shuan Butcher. His name was spelled S-H-U-A-N, so I affectionately called him Shoe-Ann! ShuAnn and I served together on a community board, and he took me under his wing. Occasionally, he and I would go out for a burger. He’s listen to my high school stories, and then he would share with me his. He taught me how to regain trust in others.
I told RD about Jeff Evans, my Scoutmaster. He befriended my during my years at scouts and constantly encouraged me to reach for that next step and then the next step and then the next step… He encouraged me to take risks - literal ones like climbing a mountain or repelling off of a cliff - but then more subjective ones like stepping into roles of leadership and not fearing my potential.
I told RD about another guy named Rob Ely. He and I met when he asked me to fetch him a mountain dew during a camp that we attended together. He was a Pastor to Students and Families at my church. He believed in me during seasons of my life when I did not believe in God or myself. And through his patience with me, I saw a side of Jesus that I did not know existed - one drenched with grace, love, adventure, and excitement. Later in life, Rob worked with me to discover my own call to serve Jesus and is church by serving students.
I told RD about Rev Morgan, my pastor, who took my family under his wing after the divorce of my father nearly destroyed us. After we moved across the country from Sacramento to a little town in WV, Rev Morgan was the first to open his arms to us. I saw the love and hospitality of Jesus through the love and hospitality of Rev Morgan. Even to this day, he and I still dialogue and share pastoral stories - he now in his eighties, me now in my late twenties - and a man who has been serving as a pastor for more than 50 years.
And last I told RD about my mom… about a woman who endured the trauma and devastation of a divorce, the challenge of raising two off the wall, hormonal, and highly energetic boys, and set aside her personal career ambitions and worked at JC Penny in order to provide food and care for her children. She sacrificed her own pleasure and social desires for the sake of a stable environment for my brother and me. Praise God for her decisions...
The list can go on and on and on… and at this stage, this list did not include all of the other connections and people that have invested into me since college, seminary, and my pastoral career.
Move 3 - After I finished sharing my stories, RD grinned for a moment and looked off to the side. I could see the wheels churning. Then he leaned across the table and said, “You’ve already experienced Young Life, you just didn’t know it.
Young Life is Mr. McCune. Young Life is Shoe-Ann. Young Life is Jeff Evans. It’s Rob Ely… Rev Morgan… and even my mom. Young Life is merely an avenue by which caring adults may build healthy and faithful friendships with kids for the sake of Jesus. That’s it.
You and I all well know the pressure and challenges that our students face in high school. I have had several students share with me about the pressure for them to participate in the party scene. They described it like this, and I quote, “It’s a centrifugal force sucking me in.” Our students face competitive pressure to attend the allusive ideal of the “perfect school.” And we don’t have time to talk about all of the issues surrounding sex and relationships!
And these things aren’t unique to Marin. They are true of every community.
So, think about your story. Think about the friendship cultivated by a caring adult who walked with you, showed Jesus to you, and bestowed wisdom upon you during some of the most formative, volatile, and tumultuous years of your life.
Imagine their faces and friendship toward you. Whether you are new to YL or have been involved for years, you already know the culture and ethos of YL through the investment and friendship of those people in you. It feels familiar, though you may know nothing about it.
We need Young Life in Marin. We need the vision and purpose of this organization. We need the joint venture endeavors between Young Life and other churches. We need to support folks like Shea, who love Jesus, love teenagers, and long to see these two worlds collide! And we need to invest our partnership into it by way of our time, our resources, and our financial commitment.
Partnerships look like a variety of things:
Between Kids and other Kids - Take JP for example. Between leaders and kids - Take Elle for example. Between Leaders and other Leaders. Take my mentorship of Dylan for example. Between the Committee and the Community. Take Jodi for example. And between Financial Donors and the sustainability and health of the Young Life Organization in Marin.
I want to invite you to partner with us in the grand adventure of serving Jesus together by serving our students. We are all in this together, pulling together, and striving together for the sake of our kids. The only difference may be the role and function that you have in that process.
Tonight, I want to invite you to partner with Young Life financially. Our work, investment, and time with students requires a financial base from which we faithfully and prayerfully use to sustain the Young Life in Marin. This includes a variety of expenditures, ranging from the salary of our new Area Director, Shea Morgan, to camp scholarships for students whose families may be experiencing financial hardships, such as mine when I was younger, to enjoying a soda with a student at a park. The budget encompasses all of this.
There are three ways to invest. I will share two of them with you, and then later, you will hear Tony speak of one more.
First, we want to invite those who feel so led to give a large sum one time. These investors make up a small group of donors, which works well for those who travel and are not present often to take an active, on-going role in the organization. We value these partnerships greatly, and we want you to know that for you to give one time means more to us than you know that you would respond to your call to support our endeavors.
Second, we want to invite those who feel so led to become monthly donors. Many of the donors in Marin county choose to donate on a monthly basis for two reasons: 1. You can budget for your donation and often give more to the organization in the long run. And second, these folks often want to remain involved in the organization on a long term, ongoing basis.