Western Great Lakes Young Life

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The Best of 2017: Top 5 Blog Posts

Here are our Top 5 blog posts of 2017. Don’t miss these great stories of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Thank you for following along and being part of the story God is writing in the Western Great Lakes Region!

1. WGLR Women of the Year

2017 Women of the Year

On International Women’s Day, Western Great Lakes Young Life honored and celebrated women around the region who we see making a positive impact in the lives of kids in their schools, churches, organizations, and communities. Read about each of the nine nominees here.

2. Lakeshore Young Life Welcomes New Area Director

Josh DeHaan Welcome

A story highlighting our newest staffed area, Lakeshore Young Life. Read how God is moving along the lakeshore and paving the way to unite three areas in order to introduce even more kids to Jesus. Read the full story here.

3. A Lasting Legacy: Celebrating Jay Lindell’s 35 Years with Young Life

A Lasting Legcay

“When you consider how many kids’ lives have been impacted because of Jay’s leadership, there is no doubt the kingdom of God has grown because of it.” We gave thanks for Jay Lindell and celebrated the 35-year legacy he left in Greater Holland Young Life and throughout the entire region. Read the full story here. 

4. A New Perspective

A New Perspective (2)

Mike Bredeweg has been to camp more times than he can count. But one weekend, Mike got to see camp through new eyes when he accompanied his friend Nolan, who is blind, to Fall Weekend at Timber Wolf Lake. Read the full story here.

5. Wyoming Young Life, An Answer to Prayer

Wyoming YL Quote 2

The story of how one local pastor and his congregation had been praying for opportunities to engage with the local schools and bring the Gospel to young people, and how their prayers were answered when they teamed up with Young Life to start up a ministry in Wyoming. Read the full story here.

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See our Top 9 Instagram posts of 2017 here. 

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Western Great Lakes Young Life Regional Update | 2017

“God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.”
—2 Corinthians 5:19-20 (MSG)


We hope this 2017 Regional Update will provide you with brief snapshots of the ministry taking place throughout the western half of Michigan and northwest Indiana.

If you’ve been following our social media pages this month, you might have noticed that every day we posted a brief snapshot from each of the 30 Young Life areas that make up the Western Great Lakes Region. If you missed some or all of them, you’ll find them all here in this post.  

So take a seat, and enjoy viewing this brief regional update. You might even catch yourself making comments throughout like: “Yes!” “That’s awesome!” “Way to go, God!” or “Thank you, Lord, for all you are doing!”

We hope you will be encouraged by the stories of transformation and growth you see here. Know that these stories represent the stories of hundreds more middle school, high school, and college students which we can’t even begin to share in one blog post. There’s no doubt God is at work right here in our little corner of the world.

Come and see what we’ve been up to throughout the year by the grace and guidance of the Lord.

(Note: If the slideshow doesn’t begin automatically, click on the play arrow.)

C U R R E N T  N U M B E R S

Currently, the Western Great Lakes Region is made up of…

O U R  V I S I O N

We dream of seeing Young Life in every county in our region by the end of 2022. Right now, Young Life ministry exists in 18 of the 36 counties in our region. We are praying for Young Life ministries to begin in the following current and developing communities:

Battle Creek, MI
Berrien Springs, MI
Cedar Springs, MI
East Jordan, MI
Elkhart, IN
Fennville, MI
Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation
Houghton, MI
Iron Mountain, MI
Lake City/McBain, MI
Lake Superior State (Young Life College)
Lowell, MI
Manistee, MI
Marquette, MI
Michigan Technological University (Young Life College)
Niles, MI
New Buffalo, MI

 T H A N K  Y O U

Thank you for the many ways you celebrate with and cheer on the mission of Young Life. What a joy it is to be serving on this mission field with the encouragement, partnership, and prayers of people like you!

Chris Theule-VanDam
Regional Director
Western Great Lakes Young Life

Filling A Void For Kids On The Fringe

How Young Life and the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation are working together to reach youth in the city

As Matt Cambridge sits working at his desk, he glances up to look at the floor-to-ceiling mural before him. The mural depicts a beautiful garden on the left with a rushing waterfall and trees full of color and life. Moving to the right, the garden transforms into the city of Grand Rapids with its iconic blue bridge and cityscape.  

This beautiful mural is located inside the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, where Matt Cambridge serves on Young Life staff in a brand new partnership.

The exploring of this partnership began back in the spring of 2017 when Shannon Bruin, who is the Project Manager at GRCCT and also volunteers as a Young Life committee member, approached Eric Zoodsma from SouthWest Grand Rapids Young Life with the idea. They were having conversations about how to reach the “furthest out kids” in the city and how to increase diversity and inclusion in their Young Life ministries which historically have been mostly in suburban schools.

“Together we realized that the ‘furthest out kid’ isn’t in the suburban school and not always in a school at all. We developed this partnership as a way to explore solutions in bringing Jesus to the furthest out kid through a new lens,” shared Shannon.

This led to the birth of a new partnership at GRCCT, modeled after a similar one Young Life has with Wedgwood Christian Services. Young Life would employ a staff person to work at GRCCT with the youth and staff already there. 

The Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation was established in 2015 when residents of the city came together with the common goal of providing at-risk youth with opportunities for transformation through meaningful relationships, work, education, and community development.

Bethany Christian Services is one of the organizations working collaboratively out of the Center. Other partners include Tabernacle Community Church, along with two social enterprises (Building Bridges Professional Services and Rising Grinds Cafe) and a for-profit company (Double O Supply and Craftsman). GRCCT is a unique entity of cross-sectoral collaboration.

GRCCT modeled the transformation they hope to see in their neighborhood by renovating an abandoned, 120-year old industrial building located on Madison Ave, in the heart of the Madison Square neighborhood.


Since its beginning, GRCCT has served over 400 youth, between the ages of 14-24, mainly truant, low income, refugee, foster and homeless youth of Grand Rapids.

GRCCT offers a variety of services for disadvantaged youth: GED/HS completion courses, employment opportunities, vocational training and certification, life skills development, housing support, social services, and mentoring.

In the two months Matt Cambridge has been working there, he’s noticed that it’s also a place of respite where youth can be found playing pool during their lunch break or getting a much-needed nap on the couch. It’s the perfect place for caring adults to meet adolescents on their own turf and build relationships with them.


In the midst of all the good work happening at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, there was a growing need for spiritual formation as a centralized initiative.

“They are seeking to have spiritual conversations and spiritual structure,” observed Matt. “Young Life can provide that structure and those opportunities to talk about Christ with kids, to take them to a week at Young Life Camp but then come home together and continue that relationship and those conversations.”

Matt Cambridge was the perfect person to get this partnership up and running. Currently in his second year of grad school at Michigan State studying Human Resources, he was willing and able to jump right in.

“He’s a natural leader and innovator,” shared Matt DeHoog from Greater Grand Rapids Young Life. “I saw that in him when he was a volunteer leader in college and was thrilled that he would step into this role and help us figure out what this partnership would look like.”


Left to Right: Matt DeHoog (Greater Grand Rapids YL), Justin Beene (Director at GRCCT), Matt Cambridge (YL Partner), Eric Zoodsma (Grand Rapids SW Area Director) and Julian Goodson (Staff at GRCCT).

As Matt Cambridge works to develop a Young Life presence at GRCCT, he has developed an 8-person committee and leadership team, comprised of staff who are already working with youth in the city. Matt’s role will be, in part, to equip these leaders to carry out the model of Young Life through relationships, club, camp, and discipleship.

Part of the strength and opportunity of this model is that staff already are in the lives of these kids, and the center serves as an incredible space to carry out Young Life, foster these relationships, and share Christ.

Justin Beene, Director at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation shared, “Our partnership with Young Life is shaping up to be a real opportunity to holistically develop young people—not just in their education and vocational talents, but also in helping them understand their true identity, affirming their God-given worth and value, and growing in that relationship and understanding.”

Back to the mural. The redemption story from the garden to the city and the Biblical themes of justice, transformation and renewal depicted in the mural aren’t lost on Matt as he works under the backdrop of such a powerful piece.

“I sit in the middle of those two. It reminds me that we’re all, in a very real way, still sitting and standing and working in between those two realities,” Matt wrote on his blog.  

“Behind me,” he continued, “there’s a simple sign that reads: Every youth is one caring adult away from being a success story. I take a deep breath and, though I don’t have all the answers, remind myself that there is goodness happening here.”

Introducing Savannah Smith, Regional YoungLives Coordinator

We are pleased to introduce Savannah Smith as the new Regional YoungLives Coordinator for the Western Great Lakes Region. YoungLives has been entering into the chaos of teenage motherhood for the past twenty years, impacting both teen moms and their children, making a difference for the generations to come.

“I am thrilled to be able to work alongside Savannah. Her enthusiasm, Young Life background, and passion for kids to know Jesus will have an incredible impact in the YoungLives ministries in the Western Great Lakes Region. She has already jumped in with both feet. This has been a huge blessing to the region, and also an incredible gift and source of encouragement to me. We are better together!”

—Jane Lemmen, Midwest Division YoungLives Director

Below is a Q&A we did with Savannah. Take a moment to get to know her and see her heart for YoungLives in the Western Great Lakes Region. 

Savannah, when did you first get involved with Young Life?
After I graduated from Calvin College and started my first full-time job, I was eager to find a way to serve my community. I had a couple of friends who led Young Life in college and I decided to check it out. I emailed a local YL leader and quickly fell in love with the ministry. I was a volunteer leader for three years, then a Staff Associate in Central Grand Rapids, and now I am happy to be back on staff as the YoungLives Coordinator for the region.

Tell us more about your role as Regional YoungLives Coordinator.
Teen pregnancy is in all of our communities and teen moms desperately need caring adults who love and value them. In my role, I’ll serve as a resource for new or existing YoungLives ministries. We currently have five ministries in our region, which is a great start. We still have a lot of gaps in our region and so many teen moms we are not reaching. I have been encouraged so far by conversations happening in Benton Harbor, Muskegon, and Little Traverse Bay. All of these communities are currently praying and taking steps to start a YoungLives ministry. It is our goal that every staffed Young Life area in our region will have a YoungLives ministry.

Screen Shot 2017-11-02 at 11.25.40 AM

Savannah (middle) with some of the WGLR YoungLives ministry leaders.

What do you love most about the mission of Young Life?
I love that Young Life goes where kids are. I did not grow up attending church and I am so thankful that people didn’t wait for me to show up to introduce Christ to me. Instead, God used adults who were already in my life to share the gospel with me.

What was one of your most memorable experiences as a YL leader?
I went on a backpacking trip with 13 senior girls. During the trip, the girls shared that they found it difficult to read their Bibles and many of them wished they made it more of a priority. They had a night where they spent some time alone. That night, as I was climbing into my sleeping bag for the night, I looked out and saw one of my girls in a hammock with a headlamp on reading her Bible. The next day, she told me she read the entire book of Luke. I love that in Young Life we give kids opportunity for fun and adventure (like climbing a mountain!) but we also create space for them slow down, sit in the quiet, and connect with a God who loves them.

backpacking 3

Savannah with Young Life girls on a backpacking trip.

Can you tell us a little about your family?
My husband Josh and I have been married for six years. We met at Calvin College and have lived in Grand Rapids ever since. Josh is in his 3rd year of a 5-year general surgery residency program at Spectrum. We have a two-year-old son James who is so fun and definitely keeps us busy.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
As a family, we love to be outside. We love to go to the beach or hiking. My husband and I are big sports fans so we enjoy going to football or basketball games. But I also love a quiet house, a cup of tea, and a good book.

What is a little-known fact about you?
I am a huge Michigan State fan. When I was in 6th grade I was a ball girl for the Michigan State Women’s basketball team. I loved being able to attend the games and felt a part of the team. At the team’s banquet at the end of the year, I won “Ball Girl of the Year.” One other thing. When it comes to music, I think I am a teenage girl at heart. My husband and I went to a Justin Bieber concert when we were dating and I would love to go to another one!


Lakeshore Young Life Welcomes New Area Director

In the neighboring cities of Muskegon, Spring Lake, and Grand Haven, Young Life has been introducing kids to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in faith since the 1970’s, starting first in Grand Haven, then Spring Lake, and finally moving into the Muskegon Oakridge community five years ago.

Over the summer, a decision was made by the Young Life committees in these three areas, along with leadership from Associate Regional Director Kevin Eastway, to merge the three into one unified area called Lakeshore Young Life.

With this merge, we are excited to announce that Josh DeHaan will serve as the first Area Director of Lakeshore Young Life. The dreams and prayers of many in these communities have finally come to fruition.


“We are excited to have Josh and his wife Tiffany join Lakeshore Young Life this fall,” Kevin Eastway shared. “Josh has a passion for empowering leaders to grow and follow Christ with their whole lives and is looking forward to combining that passion with his love of kids to help develop this new area.”

For Josh, the call to youth ministry came over eight years ago after studying chemistry at Hope College and coaching football at Holland Christian. It was at that time when he says he felt God calling him off the pre-med track and into ministry with teenagers.

Soon after, two friends named Joe Graham and Tommy Gordon invited Josh to check out Young Life club. Josh recalls: “I went to the first club of the year and was hooked. After a couple years volunteering [as a leader], I applied for staff and have worked for the last eight years.”


Josh (pictured middle) with students from Holland at Beyond Malibu.

For those eight years, Josh served on staff with Greater Holland Young Life and is currently working on his Masters of Divinity at Western Theological Seminary.

As Josh steps into this new position with Lakeshore Young Life, he is mindful of the story God has been writing in each of these communities over the past decade and more.

Young Life staff like Church Partner Bryan Jackson in Grand Haven, Scott & Sheila Addison in Spring Lake, and Jack Droppers, former Young Life Church Partner who pioneered Young Life in Muskegon-Oakridge, are just a few who have helped pave the way for Young Life to grow along the lakeshore, in addition to many other faithful volunteer leaders, parents and prayer warriors.


Josh (third from right) with Grand Haven Young Life leaders.

“It is evident that they have a huge heart for all kids in Grand Haven, Spring Lake and all of Muskegon County and they have been praying for this to happen for a long time,” said Josh.

A unified Lakeshore Young Life will set the area up to build a stronger, more diverse Young Life community in order to reach even more kids.

Josh and Tiffany are excited to join the Muskegon community, a place they have close ties to already knowing some friends and family in the community. They hope to be listeners as they learn how to best serve the schools and form groups of adults who want to see Young Life in Muskegon County.

“My prayer,” says Josh, “is that God will lead us to the right places to start Young Life. It is a big area with a lot of school districts but I could see Young Life starting up in a lot of new places in the next few years.”


Josh and the leaders from Lakeshore Young Life, together for the first time at Leader Weekend 2017.

What Josh loves most about Young Life’s mission and hopes to build on as they expand ministry along the lakeshore is the emphasis on leaders being present in kids’ lives and the accessibility of Young Life to any kid, no matter what kind of background in faith they have.

“Leaders are present in the lives of kids. Kids know that leaders care because they are a consistent presence, not requiring the kid to come to their events, but meeting them where they are at. If a kid wants to get involved in Young Life,” says Josh, “all they have to do is connect with a leader or show up at club. You can’t get much more accessible than that.”

>> Please join us in welcoming Josh to his new role with Lakeshore Young Life. We anticiate the Lord accomplishing great things in and through him and the teams of leaders in Spring Lake, Muskegon, Grand Haven and beyond.

>> Are you interested in learning more about Young Life along the lakeshore or want to get involved? They are praying about and looking for God to bring people together to begin YoungLives (ministry to teen moms), Spring Lake WyldLife (middle school ministry), Mona Shores WyldLife, and Young Life in some of the Muskegon schools.  If you are interested in helping make this a reality, please contact Josh.


DeHaan_009Josh and Tiffany DeHaan have been married for six years and have two young children, Evelyn (4) and Charlie (1). They love to cook and sit around a table with people. They recently canned a huge batch of salsa to enjoy year-round. In their words, “the table is a sacred place where we can share food and share our lives.” Other sacred moments for Josh in youth ministry include the trips he’s taken kids on to places like Wilderness Ranch and Malibu because of the deep conversations and friendships that are formed while hiking together in the mountains.



Get to Know Sara Webb, Regional Capernaum Coordinator

IMG_5628We introduce Sara Webb as the new Regional Capernaum Coordinator for the Western Great Lakes Region. Capernaum is the branch of Young Life that reaches students and young adults with disabilities. In Capernaum, life-long friendships are formed in a fun and inclusive environment where friends feel loved, welcomed and celebrated while learning about the best friend of all, Jesus Christ. 

Lyn TenBrink, who leads Capernaum Young Life for the entire Midwest Division, has such a big and beautiful vision for every Young Life ministry to grow in diversity and care for kids with diverse abilities.

She says, “It is so thrilling to be part of a region that backs up that value by having a vision for Sara’s full-time role as Regional Capernaum Coordinator.  Having known Sara for a very long time it almost feels like her life experience has been building toward this position. She has so much knowledge of Young Life, passion and vision for kids with diverse abilities that it really feels like she was made for this!”

We think so too and encourage you to get to know Sara in this little Q&A below: 

How did you first get involved with Young Life?
My two older sisters were involved in YL at South Christian. If I wanted a ride to school on Fridays, I had to go to Campaigners with them at 7:00am. I am almost sure I never missed a single Campaigners meeting all four years. I also went to club and am thankful for my leader Jocelyn.

Tell us about your career background.
I have worked at Wedgwood Christian Services for the past seventeen years, the last fifteen of those years I was leading Young Life there. That job prepared me for my new role with Capernaum Young Life.

What is your role as Regional Capernaum Coordinator?
In my new role, I will be training and walking with our YL Area Directors to grow Capernaum Young Life in this region. We want to have a Capernaum YL club in every area. Our goal is to have eyes for every kid in our community. I will also be supporting the existing Capernaum clubs. We have discipleship as a goal for our Capernaum friends. I want to help find and connect them to ways they can grow and serve as co-laborers in the mission of Young Life.


You’ve been involved with Young Life for many years, what are some favorite memories?
I have many great memories. At Wedgwood, my favorite moments were always at club—watching kids laugh, let go of everything else in their messy lives and just be kids. It was always a holy moment to see joy and laughter return to kids who had been robbed of those gifts, even if for only an hour every week.

What do you love about the mission of Young Life?
Young Life is about loving kids the way Jesus loves them, right where they are, in the midst of the mess. I love the way Young Life gives kids the opportunity to grow in their faith and have a relationship with Jesus.  

Tell us about your family.
I have been married to my husband Jahan for fifteen years. We have an almost thirteen-year-old son, Malachi. Jahan works at Harrison Park (GRPS) as a College and Career coordinator and in partnership with the Challenge Scholars Program. Malachi is a 7th grader at FHN. We also have a five-year-old Boston Terrier named Thor (who is sometimes my favorite). He loves me a lot and is almost perfect.  

What do the three of you do for fun?
We love road trips. Our son is a train fanatic and we have been to almost every train museum or park in a four-hour radius. We love visiting big cities. We have a list of all the big cities we would like to explore; Philly and Boston are next on our list.  

We all know Young Life isn’t the only thing that defines you. What else would you like us to know about you?
I am left handed (lefties are always right). I am a book nerd without any shame. I have over 40 first cousins ranging in age from 10 to 45. (My mom has nine brothers and sisters and my dad has six brothers and sisters. My grandma does not recommend having 10 kids.) I am a U of M fan—as part of my marriage vows. I love documentaries. I love my hammock. Did I mention how much I love my dog? 



Leadership Weekend 2017 Recap

“You can be a great Young Life leader but still miss Jesus. I don’t want that for you.”

The need to remain in Jesus was a theme that sprang forth during the annual Western Great Lakes YL Leadership Weekend on September 15-17.

The weekend’s speaker Daniel Lai helped challenge the 235 volunteer leaders gathered at TWL to put first things first: “The only thing you need to do is fall in love with Jesus. One way to do this is by listening to Him.”

Daniel Lai has been with Young Life since 1999 and currently lives in the Bay Area where he serves as Metro Director for 
San Francisco Young Life. Daniel’s intimate knowledge and heart for the mission served to bring a message that was relevant to leaders, life-giving and broadened their view of what YL looks like outside of the Midwest.

His message was paired with practical tips and spiritual disciplines leaders could take home into their everyday lives—practices like Lectio Divina and the Prayer of Examen.

He didn’t hold back when addressing leaders to be bold in their leadership: If you are going to do ministry to the furthest out, like Jesus, it could damage your reputation.”

And later, sharing: “The country is changing. Are we ready to change in Young Life? Can we make Jesus accessible to all kids?”

Mid-way through the day on Saturday, leaders and staff gathered for the “State of the Region” address from Regional Director 
Chris Theule-VanDam.

“The state of the region is what God is doing through you all,” Chris shared.  “As a region, we are set up to share the love of Christ with more kids than ever before in this region.”

Chris presented two unique challenges to YL teams and leaders. First, what can each team do to know 500 kids by name by the end of the school year? And then, what needs to happen so that every kid receives a personal invitation to club this year?  

Then, to help leaders see the bigger picture of Young Life around the region, Chris introduced seven local YL Area Directors who each gave a testimony of how God is at work in their area. It was uplifting to hear first-hand of answered prayers and the plans and dreams of others being achieved.

“It was encouraging to pull the lens back and hear the big picture,” shared one leader.

Another remarked, “It’s great to hear how other areas [in the region] are doing and the ways in which they continue to grow.”


Leaders took to Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #YLLeadership2017 to post about their experience at Leader Weekend and foster a culture of learning as leaders.

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For those who came to Leader Weekend hungry—physically or spiritually—there was an abundance of food for the body (thanks to the Timber Wolf Kitchen and Work Crew) and also food for the soul (thanks to the worship team and seminar leaders).

Those who came longing for a break from the craziness of work and life back home found intentional moments of worship, prayer, rest and spiritual growth.

Those who came searching for authentic community and fellowship discovered the time spent with their YL teams helped facilitate that bond.

Those who came exhausted and worn out from the start of a school year found time for rest, play and renewal.

Those who needed to hone in on the best practices of a Young Life leader found there were opportunities to learn and grow in seminars like: “Helping Others Grow as Christ Followers,” “Thriving as a College Leader,” “Ministering to the LGBTQ Community,” “How to Do Relational Ministry,” “Leaders are Learners,” “Building Bridges” and others.   

Leadership Weekend was tangible proof that God is doing amazing things in this region through our volunteer leaders. This ministry wouldn’t be what it is without their commitment to and love for the Lord and for kids. Keep going, leaders, and may God equip and bless you as you reach the farthest out kids this year at your school and club.

What Kids Are Saying About Camp [Summer 2017 Series]

Camp changed the way I look at life and really made me appreciate this life I have been blessed to live. I loved cabin time because it opened my eyes to the realities of the world.”

—High School Student, Northwest Grand Rapids Young Life

“This week was one of the most incredible weeks of my life! Having the opportunity to experience God’s love and beauty through the new relationships I made and through His creation was truly amazing. It’s something I will remember for the rest of my life, no matter how hard it was.”

—High School Student, Northeast Grand Rapids Young Life

“I know that God can move the mountains, but this week he used the mountains to move me.”

—High School Student, Eastern Ottawa Young Life

This summer was my first time at camp. At camp I learned that just because you did some pretty bad stuff you can always turn back to follow God and he will still love you the same and that just because I am this big strong guy doesn’t mean I don’t have a weakness.”

—High School Student, Michiana Young Life

I’ve learned a lot about patience and being more disciplined in my faith through my time here at SharpTop.”

—High School Work Crew Volunteer, Kalamazoo Young Life

Young Life camp has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Through this ministry I have grown my relationship with Christ and truly felt worth. The dark in my life has been lit by my love for Jesus and my acceptance of Him into my life.”

—High School Student, Grand Traverse Young Life

“I was pretty on the edge with religion and I still had so many questions…I was hesitant to go to camp, but decided to go because of [my YL leader]. During that week, I found God. I felt God pull me into him. [My leader] and I were reading through the Bible and the word “baptism” came up numerous times. I asked him about it and he said, ‘It’s giving your life to Christ. It’s an outward expression of an internal thing.’ I immediately said to him, ‘I’m ready to give my life to Christ!’”

—High School Student, Southwest Michigan Young Life

[Don’t miss what these high school students from Portage Young Life had to say about their week at Castaway.]


Learning to Let Go at Castaway [Summer 2017 Series]

Submitted by Maddie Stalheber, Mission Staff with Grand Rapids SouthWest Young Life

Taylor* had signed up for camp early on in the semester and had been eagerly awaiting the trip to Castaway. It seemed nothing would stop her from boarding the bus to camp, until just five days before she was to leave.


On the Monday before camp, Taylor tragically lost her best friend. Taylor attended her friend’s funeral on Friday yet still boarded the bus to camp on Saturday night. In her grief and sadness, she trusted that Jesus had a plan in this confusing and shocking time.

Our week at Castaway was magical and full of surprises for Taylor, but it was also a time for her to process her deepest loss. All week long, Taylor was pumped about any activity involving water but every time we walked past the climbing wall she would look me in the eyes and say: “Don’t you even dare make me try that.”

0FE8DF85-BCD3-458B-8FD5-B0253F5321E1Eventually, it was our cabin’s turn to do the climbing wall. We sat on the bench looking up at the wall. I begged Taylor to just put a harness on and try climbing up to the green line. (The green line is around five feet from the ground is used as a way to test the automatic belay system.) Finally, Taylor agreed to climb to the green line.

What happened next was a moment only our Father could orchestrate.

Taylor courageously climbed to the green line. Upon realizing she would need to let go of the wall, lean back and gently fall to the ground, she froze in panic. For thirty minutes the summer staff volunteer and I tried to persuade her that she was fully capable of coming back to the ground safely.

At one point the summer staffer said: “Hey, Taylor, you never thought at the beginning of the week when you heard the phrase ‘Let Go and Let God’ that you might have to physically let go of this wall.”

Taylor began to cry and the summer staffer realized something bigger was going on.

Clinging to the wall from five feet above ground, Taylor spoke what was so heavy on heart: “If I let go it means she’s really gone. If I let go it means she’s never coming back.”unknown

The summer staffer and I continued to encourage Taylor through this defining moment and slowly she took her hands off the wall, leaned back and let the automatic rope system bring her gently to the ground.

When she was standing safely on solid ground the summer staffer was able to share with her that he had tragically lost his brother a few years back. He shared: “Taylor you can’t do this on your own. You have to let Jesus in.”

What a powerful moment. It was so evident how that summer staff volunteer was so clearly hand-picked to be working the climbing wall that day, in that hour. As he shared his own experience of losing someone close, his words brought Taylor comfort and a created a moment of divine connection by revealing painful parts in both of their stories.

Thanks be to God for the way He orchestrates moments just like these at camp, and for how He uses our painful stories to encourage and comfort others in their grief.

* Name changed for privacy

East Kentwood Returns to Camp [Summer 2017 Series]

Submitted by JR Roberts

After a decade of not sending kids to Young Life camp, East Kentwood Young Life was back this summer, thanks to community members coming together for the youth.

It was only a year ago that Young Life leaders began walking the halls of East Kentwood High School to rebuild a club there. We passed out donuts, met students, and invited them to come to club on Wednesday nights. Our club quickly grew with many freshmen coming each week. Leaders spent the year pouring into these new friends, playing basketball, grabbing milkshakes, and hanging out with kids in order to get to know them more.


As summer drew near, we invited our friends from East Kentwood to come to camp with us at Timber Wolf Lake. On July 10th, twelve students and four leaders set off for the best week of their lives.

The group consisted of all freshmen boys, many coming from broken homes. As they hopped off the bus, smiling work crew volunteers greeted them with high fives and the program team began to crack jokes and help them feel welcomed. Bags were thrown on beds and then the exploring of camp began.

The zip line, go-karts, high ropes course, giant swing and the other camp activities simply blew them away. They thought going to camp meant old cabins with spiders, not a resort for kids.

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The first night, our camp speaker shared about the beautiful world we live in and how it began in the beginning with God. Most of the group was very reserved, a couple shared how they were angry at the speaker. Later that night in cabin time we unpacked these feelings and the boys shared their perspectives and then asked us to share why we believed what the speaker had shared.

Each day at camp we had club and cabin time where the boys continued to open up about their past experiences—hurts and joys—and asked more questions about God. On the last day, two of the boys accepted Christ and the others were more open to talking about God and asking questions.


Hearts are being turned towards God and we look forward to what He has in store for this new area in the next school year!

familyJR and Natalie Roberts both serve Kentwood Young Life—Natalie is employed by Young Life as Mission Staff and JR volunteers as leader and committee member. JR is the Director of Development at Sunny Crest Youth Ranch, a safe home for abused and neglected boys. He also serves as President Elect of Caledonia Kiwanis Club. They share a passion for building relationships with kids from all backgrounds in order to lead them to Christ.

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