Western Great Lakes Young Life

our stories | you were made for this

Author: Western Great Lakes YL (page 2 of 5)

Remember at WyldLife Winter Weekend When…

This camp story was written and shared by Mady Riedlinger. Mady is a student at Hope College and a WyldLife Leader at West Ottawa in the Greater Holland Area.

Something incredibly special happens every time I go to camp with my middle school friends. And WyldLife Winter Weekend was full of very special moments.

From the first step onto the bus, the energy was up, the Holy Spirit was present, and the bonding began.

And we're off! Timber Wolf Lake, here we come!

A post shared by Greater Holland Young Life (@younglifeholland) on

Camp has a way of allowing us to become more in touch with the people God created us to be by unplugging from our phones and tuning into intentional conversations and countless games of gaga ball. Camp teaches me about the power of presence and opens my eyes to the numerous ways in which God is already at work.

Winter Weekend was where middle schoolers and leaders came together and experienced the power of the Gospel through incredible speakers, programs, and daily actions of forgiveness and grace. We got the real and raw version of each kid and leader in those cabins, and that is where we saw the Lord work in the hearts of each middle schooler that had the opportunity to attend.


West Ottawa WyldLife Girls and Leaders

Our camp speaker, Cesar Castillejos, brought the Word to us in transformative ways and provided tangible examples of God’s love and forgiveness. His countless visuals relating to scripture brought new life to the stories that some of our kids have heard over and over. He challenged kids and leaders alike to identify our sin and unplug ourselves from the non-lifegiving sources of identity that we so often think give us life, but don’t.

We dug deep in cabin talks, revealing the struggles we face related to identity and sin. And of course, there were tears. The Black Bear cabin without a doubt came away with new revelations of God’s tangible love for us all, and how God continually calls us to follow and embrace Him even when we doubt.

We left camp with softened hearts, tired eyes, full stomachs, and sore muscles from a variety of winter and gym activities—all signs of a Winter Weekend experienced fully.

Although I love Timber Wolf Lake, I think my favorite part about Winter Weekend is what happens when we get home. Many of our conversations start with “Remember at camp when…” and we continue to strengthen the bonds we have formed. We don’t want that “camp high” to fade and therefore continue to remind one another of the good times and good talks we had.

Winter Weekend was incredible. God blessed every single second of our time together, and I am confident that He continues to bless our conversations reflecting on His unconditional love. Winter Weekend allowed many doors to be open to conversations about who we are and how we are loved by the King of Kings. God bless Timber Wolf Lake, and praise be to Jesus for West Ottawa WyldLife.


“Winter Weekend, oh how we miss it already!”

Western Great Lakes Young Life’s Women of the Year | 2017

International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8. On this day, we wish to honor and celebrate women in the Western Great Lakes Region who we see making a positive impact in the lives of kids in our communities, schools, and churches.

The following nine women have been nominated by a Young Life staff member as one of our 2017 Women of the Year. These women are not affiliated with Young Life in any official role, and yet we see them as important partners in this mission of shining a light of hope and love into the world of adolescence and into the communities where we are called to live and serve.


Emily Berry, Counselor & Social Worker at Grand Haven High School

“Emily is a phenomenal school counselor. She engages well with both students and parents on a personal level. She has been working with many parents and the principal to help with the growing suicide problem. She also helps Young Life leaders meet new students at the school.”
[Nominated by Bryan Jackson / Photo credit: TCM Counseling]

mary behm

Mary Behm, Head Secretary at Forest Hills Eastern High School

“Mary (pictured above on the right) is a welcoming, inviting, and encouraging presence to anyone that enters Forest Hills Eastern. Her welcoming nature is especially appreciated by WyldLife and Young Life leaders entering the school to do contact work.”
[Nominated by Kaitlin Huissen]


Lindsay Cherry, Teacher at Harbor Lights Middle School

“Lindsay (pictured above on the left) is a passionate teacher who is loved by her students. She creates space for kids to learn and grow outside of the normal classroom setting. She looks for ways to engage students and ignite a passion within them to be the best they can be.”
[Nominated by Crystal VanHekken]

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Lonna Ellens, Community Volunteer

“Lonna is constantly serving others. She puts on a tailgate event every year for Unity Christian during football season which serves over 700 people. She works/volunteers at a retirement home in Grandville and has also worked with kids in an after-school program and story hour program through her church.”
[Nominated by Caleb Ellens]

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Tamika Henry, Principal at Allendale New Options

“Tamika is a faithful leader and principal at Allendale New Options. Recently multiple students shared how they feel acceptance and hope since being at the school. Tamika meets students where they are and shows them abundant grace, hope, and respect, which students have in turn learned to give themselves and each other.”
[Nominated by Ryan Elders and Rachelle Gelder]

Cheri Honderd

Cheri Honderd, Executive Director and Founder of Hand2Hand

“Cheri is the founder and director of Hand2Hand, a non-profit that works with local schools and churches to provide meals for kids (free and reduced) who are at risk for going hungry on the weekends. Cheri is talented and driven. Kids lives are being impacted because she saw a need in her community and did something about it.”
[Nominated by Ryan Elders / Photo credit here]

Christy Lipscolm

Christy Lipscomb, Pastor at City Life Church

“Christy is an incredible leader in our city. She demonstrates the love of Christ in her teaching each Sunday and gives great vision to our community with regularity. Christy spearheads numerous activities around issues of justice and is a “voice for the voiceless.” She is an awesome model of what it means to lead by example and with humility.”
[Nominated by Kevin Eastway / Photo credit here]


Laura Minkus, Community and Youth Worker at Heights of Hope

“Laura (pictured above on the right) does it all! She attends band concerts, birthday parties, cross country meets, school musicals. She is anywhere kids are.  She gives life to kids in a way I have never seen. Her presence is inviting and sincere. She is a real gift to the kids in the Holland Heights community and beyond.”
[Nominated by Crystal VanHekken]

Cara Montgomery, Teacher at Harbor Lights Middle School/Macatawa Bay Middle School

“I have known Cara (pictured above on the right) as a dear friend and sister for many years but it wasn’t until I started working for Young Life that I got to see the amazing teacher she is. She has a HUGE heart for kids! She works with a variety of students in small groups to help them be successful in school and life.”
[Nominated by Crystal VanHekken]

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

—Matthew 5:16 [The Message]

Why We Do Committee

Over the past year, we’ve dug deeper here on this blog into the 5 C’s of Young Life: Why we do contact work, club, camp and Campaigners. Today we’ll conclude this series with why we do committee.

We all know how committee meetings can too often be associated with long meetings and not-so-thrilling agendas, focusing only on the task at hand. But that’s not the experience of Scott Addison, committee chairperson for Spring Lake Young Life. Scott gives us this glimpse into what makes their committee meetings different:

Committee meetings can easily be all business. But there is something about sitting around a table and sharing a meal that slows things down and helps you focus on the people in front of you less than the tasks at hand. The tasks are still important, but relationships trump them.

Relationships are at the heart of Young Life—whether it be the relationship a YL leader builds with a teenager or the relationships that form between committee members, staff, and volunteers. At the center of all we do is this desire for everyone involved in the mission to be drawn deeper in relationship with each other and with our Savior.

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Spring Lake YL committee member Cyndy (center) along with a YL leader and student.

In the Western Great Lakes Region, Young Life is organized into 32 local areas in order to best reach kids in their own communities. Some of these areas are staffed with a director, staff associate, administrator, mission staff, and possibly church partners. However most areas have no staff and are led by volunteers alone. We have 19 volunteer-led areas.

Behind each one of these areas is an amazing team of adults from the community who partner with staff. They are the Young Life committee. We like to think of them as the backbone holding everything in place.

Having a dedicated, dynamic committee is a lifeline for every local YL area. But it’s especially true for a volunteer area like Spring Lake Young Life.

“As a volunteer area, our YL committee is managing all behind-the-scenes aspects of Young Life in our area, including leader recruitment, special events, and fundraising,” shared Scott.

Committees oversee finances, foster donor relations, pray faithfully for kids and for Young Life, plan events like fundraisers and community socials, and support the staff and area director.

So, who are these amazing committee members who do it all? They are adults who care about kids and are committed to Young Life’s mission to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith.

Spring Lake Committee

Spring Lake Young Life Committee | Winter 2017

Many of them are parents who have their own kids involved in Young Life. You’ll also find some who were Young Life kids themselves long ago, and who want to see today’s kids come to know Jesus in the same way. Some are pastors, teachers, social workers, or doctors who understand the importance of building relationships with adolescents today. Some are builders, bankers, small business owners or community leaders with unique skills and circles of influence who want to be used in their community to make a difference in the next generation.

At their best, YL committees beautifully reflect the community they serve as each member brings with them diverse perspectives, skill sets, and resources.

“Our committee members leverage their own networks and circles of influence to find new leaders and help create events for our YL community to connect,” shared Scott. “Young Life has grown in our community thanks to our committee’s collective efforts, whether it be hosting leader feeders, praying for kids during club time on Mondays, or hosting events like our annual hayride.”

Scott and his wife Sheila, who is the Team Leader for Spring Lake Young Life, have appreciated the diversity of ideas and experiences and the collective wisdom shared by their committee members as they discuss pressing issues or how to grow as an area.

Recently, Spring Lake Young Life experienced a time of uncertainty and was thankful for a committee that came together, stayed strong despite turnover and remained unified in vision. Scott reflected more about that time:

“After a year of sending kids to camp and recruiting a team of leaders, we were down to only one leader and nothing specific was happening with kids. It was a low point. We felt out of ideas and were not certain what was next, but being at the bottom together and continuing to do what we needed to do—pray and ask—was a memorable time. No one bailed on the vision. We continued to meet, pray, and maintain community, trusting God to grow our numbers.”

Scott sums up his YL committee experience with this: “It all feels like a blessing from God.”

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Scott & Sheila Addison (pictured right) with Spring Lake YL leaders at a mini-golf fundraiser which raised money for kids to go to camp and brought awareness of YL to their community.

If you are reading this and thinking to yourself, I love Young Life; I love kids; I could do that! Consider joining a Young Life committee. Here’s more info on what that entails.

Another way to get a taste for YL committee is to attend our upcoming Committee Training Day. RSVP through your local Young Life area or contact us here for more information.

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Don’t miss the other articles in this series: Why We Do Contact Work, Why We Do Club, Why We Do Camp, and Why We Do Campaigners.

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Following God’s Lead in Glen Lake

A story of being faithful to God’s gospel, listening to His direction, and following His lead.

By Abby Deters


Abby (pictured second from left) with Young Life girls at camp.

Like many Young Life stories, Glen Lake Young Life’s story began with a passion, a group of people, and a prayer. A passion that believes every kid deserves to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in a real, exciting way; people who love Jesus Christ and care about kids in Leelanau County, MI; and a prayer that God would open the doors for His gospel to be displayed through Young Life.

“From the start, it was overwhelmingly clear that God was moving towards Glen Lake and we either had to jump on board or get out of the way! I’ve never felt such a strong push for such a small school in Northern Michigan,” added Erin Iafrate, Area Director for Grand Traverse Young Life

Glen lake Aerial

Aerial View of Glen Lake, near the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo courtesy of MLive.

Glen Lake is a town with a couple of churches. A town with less than 200 high schoolers. A town of tourism that multiplies in the summer—thanks to the beautiful Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore—and clears out in the winter. But it is a town that God cares deeply about. 

Within this small, tourist town, a few individuals rose up and said “yes” to pursuing the mission to bring Young Life to Leelanau County. They began praying, dreaming and reaching out to other people and churches in the community to see exactly where Young Life should begin.

One of these key players was Pastor Dan DeVries, the new pastor of Glen Lake Community Reformed Church. Dan is a graduate of Hope College and Western Seminary in Holland, MI and had worked in youth ministry for several years. Not long after Dan began working at the church, God spoke into his life through prayer and invitation from others to have the church and Young Life partner together.

Here’s how Pastor Dan tells the story:  

When I arrived as the Pastor at Glen Lake Church, I went out to lunch with some of our students and asked them, “How many kids at your school do you think are Christian?” Their response was, “Maybe 10%.” My heart broke in that moment and I began to pray in earnest for God to use our church to reach kids.  

One day as I was praying, God said “Young Life.” I didn’t know what to think, but in the coming days I received both a phone call and an email inviting me to come to a Young Life meeting, so I decided to go. As I listened to the conversation that night, the team was hoping to start Young Life at Glen Lake Schools, which is only a mile or so from our church.

The next week I met with Erin, the YL Area Director for Grand Traverse. It was clear that our desire was to partner together instead of competing for kids. She told me about the Young Life Church Partnership and after some research and conversations, it was clear that this was what God wanted for us.  

We began a pledge campaign to raise funds for the position, because otherwise we would not be able to make it work. By the grace of God, funds began to flow in, and in August of 2016 we hired Abby to be our Director of Student Ministries. The entire journey has God’s fingerprints all over it and we are so excited to see what God is going to do in our community!

“The Lord was speaking loud and clear,” reflects Erin Iafrate. “As Glen Lake Church and Grand Traverse Young Life began the process of hiring Abby as our Young Life Church Partner, every wall that we came up against—fundraising, voting, budget approvals—fell as we followed the Lord’s call.”

With this new partnership in place, we began praying boldly for three new leaders, three Leadership Support people, new relationships with kids, a club space, relationships with the school, kids to come to camp, and the reputation of Young Life to become known in the Glen Lake area.

About a month into the 2016-2017 school year, God provided one new male leader and one new Leadership Support team member. That same month, Young Life received the school administration’s blessing to have a presence in the school and relationships with faculty were developing.

Throughout the beginning of the semester, our team kept hearing God say, “Be faithful, keep showing up, listen, follow, and I will provide.” And he did! 

God opened seats at lunch tables for leaders to enter in and have conversations with kids—talking about life, school, relationships, movies, embarrassing moments, the latest dance trends, and Young Life.

These conversations had developed into relationships, which led to Glen Lake Young Life bringing their first group of history-making campers to Fall Weekend at Timber Wolf Lake. Through this experience, kids’ eyes were opened to the ministry of Young Life through games, music, cabin time, and the camp speaker.

With new energy, word about Young Life continued spreading. Shortly after camp, we placed two new volunteer leaders and two more Leadership Support Team members. With a full team of leaders, God said, “One more thing…I have a club space for you too.”  Wow! God is good, amen?!

Beginning a new ministry is scary and exciting all at the same time. It requires us to trust God a little more, to take steps of faith, to not be afraid to pray big prayers and to keep showing up even when it is hard.

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Glen Lake Young Life’s First Club | January 2017

Abby Deters  is the Young Life Church Partner at Glen Lake Reformed Church. She is passionate about Jesus Christ and kids and longs for every kid to have the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ in a real, exciting way.

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

13873097_10208721817335742_6810782610543718097_nJay Lindell was recently honored for 35 years of service on staff for Young Life, the past twenty-five of those years were as the Area Director for Greater Holland Young Life. Jay recently stepped out of the YL Area Director roll and accepted a new position as Executive Pastor of Christ Memorial Church in Holland. He will continue to oversee Young Life’s Church Partnership program in the Western Great Lakes RegionThis post is a tribute to Jay’s 35-year legacy in our region. Many staff and friends of Young Life have contributed stories and words of appreciation for this article.

Jay Lindell joined Young Life staff back in the early 1980’s, before many of the millennials who are reading this were even born. A lot has changed in 35 years, wouldn’t you agree?


Jay and Jeanne Lindell (pictured left) with the Young Life team circa 1981/1982.

If Facebook could provide a “timehop” back to that day, it would recall the early days of MTV, the launch of the space shuttle Columbia, and the first personal computers. Artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna were topping the charts, and Star Wars: Episode V—The Empire Strikes Back had just been released.

Young Life was only 40 years old when Jay came on staff. Back in the day when songs like Don’t Stop Believin’ and Sweet Home Alabama were considered “Recent Hits” instead of “Classics/Oldies” on the Young Life Leaders’ Club Song List.

Around the same time, another long-time YL staffer and former Holland Area Director, Jeff Munroe, joined Young Life staff too.

“We both had hair in those days,” says Munroe. “Jay’s hair and ultra-suave mustache made him look like Tom Cruise’s tail gunner in Top Gun. You couldn’t get cooler than that.”


Jay’s early days on Young Life staff began with him as a trainee in Grand Rapids and later as an Area Director in South Bend, IN. Jeff Munroe shared the following about how the hardships of those early days equipped Jay for the years to come:

“I remembered Jay as a young Area Director in South Bend, admitting to feeling overwhelmed and wondering whether he could do the job. It took remarkable courage and humility to do that. However, the hard lessons of the first decade are what made the last two and half success-filled decades possible. God has a way of shaping, molding, and forming us for ministry that none of us would sign up for. We glibly say, “You are the potter, I am the clay,” without thinking for a moment what it feels like to be a lump of clay. Jay can tell you it doesn’t always feel good. But if we want to be something and do something of value for the kingdom, we have to submit to being a lump of clay in the master’s hands. Jay did that, and the result is untold thousands of young people who have been introduced to Jesus Christ and grown in their faith.”

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Jay (pictured right) with a group from Young Life.

One of those untold thousands of young people is Cyndy Schurman. Cyndy was only sixteen when a friend invited her to Young Life club. It was YL leaders like Jay who influenced Cyndy’s deep love for the Lord and for the mission of Young Life.   

“Jay has been a constant throughout my journey with Young Life,” said Schurman. “He organized my work crew assignment at Trail West, connected me with the Area Director in the college town where I became a leader, recruited my husband and me for leadership when we were newly married, and was there to greet me when I got off the trail at Wilderness with a group of high school girls. Jay has been the face of Young Life for me as long as I have known what Young Life is…his presence has inspired and influenced my journey.”

During Jay’s tenure, Greater Holland Young Life grew to one of the largest Young Life Areas in the country, with 20 ministries and over 150 volunteer leaders. “God has blessed this work because of Jay’s humble and prayerful leadership,” shared Bob Haveman who serves on staff for Holland YL.

Greater Holland Young Life Staff

“Jay has always been encouraging, promoting Young Life and it’s mission to whomever would listen and wherever he had the chance,” shared Tami Poll, Co-Team Leader in Hamilton who has been involved with Greater Holland Young Life for the past nineteen years. 

Poll continued, “I have seen tremendous growth in Holland YL and so much of that is because of Jay’s leadership. Jay has a way of listening, asking questions and helping think through issues without just telling you how you should proceed. He has left a legacy of how to lead an area by example.”

“But it was never about him,” added Bob Haveman. “It was about teenagers hearing the story of Jesus.” 


YL Leader Weekend | 2011

“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,” shared Jane Lemmen, who was hired by Jay over ten years ago to lead YoungLives in Holland and currently directs YoungLives for the Midwest Division.

Authenticity and wisdom are attributes Jane appreciates about Jay. “He is someone who is willing to pray for you and is someone who welcomes being prayed for. His love for God, his wife, his family, as well as his service to Young Life, have all been a testimony to his relationship with Jesus and his commitment to loving God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving his neighbor as himself.”


Jay with Young Life Capernaum staff from the Midwest Division

“Jay’s legacy is his consistent, caring, and gentle moving of the Kingdom of God forward,” shared Chris Theule-VanDam, Regional Director for the Western Great Lakes Region.  “He is always thinking about the next step, the next leader to recruit and train, the next staff person to bring along, and ultimately the next kid to share the Gospel with. The other unique quality Jay has brought to Young Life’s mission is his love for the church. It’s natural for Jay to lead our Church Partner program and it’s a natural fit for Jay to go and serve his church at this time as well. We are thankful for Jay.”


Jay with Student Staff in Chicago.

Recently, on a fall weekend at Timber Wolf Lake, a group of YL Capernaum girls was asked by their leader to imagine what Jesus looked like. To get the conversation rolling, their leader Jeanne Page suggested that maybe Jesus had long hair, but she was soon interrupted: “Oh, no,” one girl spoke up. “Jesus doesn’t have any hair. He’s bald. He looks just like Jay Lindell.”

Jay, you have truly been the hands and feet of Christ to a countless many people. Your career in Young Life is an inspiration. YOU are an inspiration. Congratulations on 35 years of dedicated service to kids and to Christ! We thank God for you! 

>> An Invitation <<
Please join Greater Holland Young Life for an Open House to celebrate with Jay & Jeanne Lindell on Saturday, February 25 from 5:00-7:00pm at The Good Earth Restaurant in Holland.

>> A Gift that Keeps on Giving <<
With deep appreciation for all Jay & Jeanne have given to the Holland community, an endowed scholarship at the Holland/Zeeland Community Foundation will be set up which would send two Capernaum kids to Young Life camp every summer.

“Jay has made a tremendous impact in my life as a mentor, colleague, and friend. It was an incredible blessing to begin my ministry career with Jay in Holland. I could not have asked for a better person to play an instrumental role in my life as I stepped into the world of ministry as a 22-year-old kid who was ready to take on the world. To this day, Jay is one of the most trusted voices in my life and I am excited for him as he steps into the next season of ministry.”

—Joe Graham, the Multi-Site Director for Harbor Churches.

“Jay loves the Lord and he makes that clear. He’s been a great Area Director to work for because he firmly believes in the mission of introducing kids to Jesus and helping them grow in their faith. He’s always been great a casting a vision for the staff and keeping that in front of us but never telling us what to do and how to do it. He always leaves room for freedom and inspiration and I greatly appreciate the way he has led me.”

Kyle Raak, Greater Holland Young Life

“Jay has had a lasting impact on my life and the lives of many Young Life kids, leaders, community members, and other Young Life staff. He has shown what it looks like to have healthy boundaries with family and Young Life work, how to be graceful and thoughtful in decision making, and how to lead in a way that invites others to lead.”

Matt DeHoog, Associate Regional Director for Greater Grand Rapids

“Jay is steady, present and caring. He’s been a great example of humility and what it means to be a servant leader in Young Life and in his community.”

Kevin Eastway, Associate Regional Director, Western Great Lakes Region

“Jay, you have been a faithful servant, leader and friend for so many years in Holland. The city will never be the same because of you and what you have done. You are an inspiration to all of us!”

Jenna Perkins, Eastern Ottawa Young Life

“Congratulations on 35 years on YL staff. What a career you have had but mostly what a legacy you have left. Thank you so much for your investment in the next generation of Christian leaders as well as all the young high school students that you have ministered to in South Bend and in Holland. It was my privilege to have had a season with you as the Senior Vice President. I also want to say thank you to Jeanne. What a gift she has been to so many! Well done good and faithful servant!”

—Gail Ebersole, National Field Director at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA

Jay and his wife Jeanne have been married for 34 years. They have three children; Zack and his wife Allie, Katie, and Jacob. Jay is a graduate of Hope College and Western Theological Seminary, an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and teaches in the Studies in Ministry department of Hope College. Jay will continue overseeing Young Life’s Church Partnership program in the Western Great Lakes Region

Get to Know Mike Bredeweg

We are thrilled to introduce the newest member to the Western Great Lakes Regional YL Team—Mike Bredeweg. Mike is our new Associate Regional Director for Southwest Michigan. He is no stranger to the Southwest Michigan Area, having previously served as Area Director there for thirteen years. 

We asked Mike a few questions so you could get to know him a little better. See what he had to say below…


Mike, when did you first get involved with Young Life?
The first thing I ever did with Young Life was go to camp the summer between my Sophomore and Junior year; that was the summer of 1983. I had heard my friend Todd Brooks tell me how much fun he had at camp the summer before. I decided that I wanted to go. I still have life-long friends from that first trip. That next year I got in involved in club and Campaigners.

Can you tell us a little about your family?
I have been married to Lynda for 22 years. We actually met at Castaway while we were both on assignment. She was a head leader and I was a work crew boss. She works as a Social Worker at a local hospital and also is a counselor at a practice near us. We have three kids: Noah is a sophomore at Calvin College, Hannah is a senior in High School, and Sam is in 8th grade. We have been very involved as a family in Young Life. Lynda helped start the Capernaum club in our area and Noah and Hannah have both been WyldLife leaders. Sam actually got to be on Program Team for our 2015 Leadership Weekend as a 7th grader.

What will you do as the Associate Regional Director for Southwest Michigan?
Great question! I am helping to start Young Life in new communities. I will be specializing in working with smaller communities that will probably never have a full-time staff person. We are working together in these towns to identify the key people and resources that can help us start Young Life ministry in their town. I am also trying to work with communities that have a culturally diverse population. I believe that if we can involve adults that best represent the demographics of the kids we are trying to reach, we can better develop a ministry that will more effectively reach a wider group of kids. It has been fun to see who God is calling to live out their lives reaching kids and connecting them to Jesus.

What do you love most about Young Life?
I love that people are drawn closer to Jesus. Kids are drawn to Jesus as they are introduced to him and learn what it means to follow him. Adults grow closer to Jesus as they trust him enough to step out of their boxes and be faithful to reach out to others. I am drawn closer to Jesus as I hear the stories of others and I have to put my faith into action and trust God beyond my fear.

Tell us about one of your favorite Young Life stories.
I have been doing this a long time! I have enough stories to fill an entire book. It is really hard to pick a favorite. I love seeing lives changed. I am very grateful for the chance to take my family down to Nicaragua and be involved with Young Life for a couple weeks there. It reminded me of the beautiful simplicity of this ministry. I saw leaders set up a couple soccer nets and a sound system in an open field in Matagalpa and the next thing you know, hundreds of kids come pouring down to the field. As I heard the stories of kids, so many of them talked about Jesus giving them a purpose in their lives. So many people feel like they have no purpose and nothing to contribute to the world around them. It is one of my favorite stories because I saw an incredible change in some of my favorite people in the world…my family.

It’s evident that you love Young Life, but what else do you love to do?
Two things that I love to do are counter-productive. 1) I love to ride my bike in the summer. It is the best way in the world to see things at a perfect pace. It is not as slow as running and you miss too much by car. I have discovered that I love the same thing about checking out the world by kayak. I get to see familiar places in a new light and go places I have never gone before. 2) I love to go out to eat with people and talk. This is the part that works against the biking and kayaking, but it sure is not going to stop me from enjoying great friends and great food.

What is a little-known fact about you?
I love to dance.


Mike and Lynda with their Capernaum friends this past Thanksgiving.

Is there a question you have for Mike? Comment below or connect with him via Facebook or his Blog.

Life in Color

We’ve all seen “before and after” stories when it comes to home remodels, makeovers, weight loss, etc. These things are a hit because of the significant change from start to finish captured in one picture or one 30-minute show. What we don’t see is how the change lasted or how the change impacted the life after the “after.” In fact, it’s easy to get far enough removed from the after that we forget about the drastic change.

We all have a “before” story when it comes to knowing Jesus. Some of our “before and after” stories are more drastic like someone who loses 100 pounds in 90 days. Others of us have stories that feel less easy to capture in a simple photo-like comparison. Yet still another group of us are living before as a “current” story without knowing Jesus personally.

As I reflect on my “before and after” story, Young Life and a few volunteer leaders are at the center of my transformation. Recently I was listening to Pandora Radio and OneRepublic’s song Life in Color immediately gave me a picture to describe my “before and after” story.

Young Life leaders took the time to invest in me enough that I trusted them when they invited me to camp. I had no confidence, I didn’t really like myself, and I had no real direction or meaning…my life was gray on a good day. After a week at camp, I heard—for the first time in my life—about a God who wanted a personal relationship with me. A God who came to earth to live among us because He cared about who I was and died so I could live.

My favorite lyrics from Life in Color are, “You’ve seen me at my worst and yet you see hope in me.” Now, 17 years and a OneRepublic song later, I have words to describe my “before and after.” Because of a few Young Life leaders living alongside me at my worst and investing in me because of the hope they had for me, my life went from gray to life in color.

This fall I had the opportunity to speak at a Young Life banquet where the theme was Our Story—the story of Young Life, the story of the area, the story of leaders past and present, and most importantly the before and after stories of countless kids coming to know Jesus.

The kids’ stories were told through cardboard testimonies. Cardboard testimonies are a beautiful way of capturing before and after stories. There is something powerful about a black permanent marker message on a brown piece of cardboard. On one side of the piece of cardboard was the “before” and the other was the “after.” Paraded across the stage were kids with cardboard testimonies saying things like:

“Constantly afraid | Comforted in Jesus”
“Bound by perfectionism | Free and full to be good enough through Jesus”
“Unclear about future | Hope and trust in God”
“Empty, alone, no confidence | Alive and confident”


Young Life is the best in the business of helping kids identify their current spiritual reality and come to know a personal, loving God through a relationship with Jesus. The reason Young Life is the best in the biz is the leaders.

Young Life leaders take the time to get to know the pain and struggles of adolescents. While a beautiful “before and after” story may be the ultimate goal, leaders invest in the before. They see the worst and still see hope in kids. They spend countless hours with kids, helping them identify their fears, live among their struggles, and offer a perspective of hope in an otherwise seemingly hopeless landscape of adolescence.


Our stories are much bigger than this one moment of transformation. As I reflected on the story that has been told in the area where I was a Young Life kid, I realized that someone had sat in the exact same room 17 years prior and gave money to Young Life so that leaders could be the best in the biz at loving me.

Another reason Young Life is the best at what it does is because the stories of lives changed live on from leader to leader, donor to donor, and kid to kid. Young Life invests in more than the “before and after” story.  We get to see the change of a life after the “after.”

This is the time of year when we reflect on our own stories—stories of the past year and the years to come. This is the time of year when we decide how we will give and support a variety of important causes. This year, I want you to consider how you can be a part of the ongoing story God is telling through Young Life leaders in your community and across the world.  

Jesus came so that we could “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  This is life in color.

Mark VanDellen currently serves on the Finance Committee for Northeast Grand Rapids Young Life. Mark is a Certified Profession Coach, founder of MVD Coaching and hosts an online weekly video devotional called Faith in Five, which is designed to discuss practical spiritual concepts in 5 minutes or less. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube.

Eight Years Later: Come and See


WyldLife kids from Northeast Grand Rapids YL

In 2008, we had a dream. Led by our previous Regional Director, Jeff Munroe, we dreamed of expanding the reach of our ministry to adolescents.

We looked carefully at what it would mean to reach every kind of kid in the Western Great Lakes Region. At that time, we set this goal:

By the end of 2016 we would:

  • Increase from 80 to 120 excellent ministries 
  • Grow to 1,000 volunteer leaders

This strategic plan was something we could all get excited about because we had such an all-star team of volunteers who were equipped and supported by our paid staff. We felt confident about such a big goal because God is a big God who does amazing things and has proven Himself faithful time and time again. 

As  a region, we focused on four general goals, leading to actions steps, in order to accomplish the plan:

  • We will recruit, train, equip and sustain teams of volunteers.
  • We will focus on quality at every level of our ministry.
  • We will grow both deep and wide—deeper into the communities where we already operate and wider into new communities.
  • Every area will operate in financial health.

Greater Holland Young Life at their Fall Banquet

As we near the end of 2016, we now wrap up this 8-year strategic plan with much celebration!

  • We celebrate that we have grown from 80 ministries to 120 excellent ministries. That’s 50% growth!
  • We celebrate our 770 volunteer leaders (and 51 part-time and full-time staff). We started with 505 volunteer leaders in 2009. Our volunteer leaders grew in number by 53%! Young Life leaders go to amazing lengths to connect with kids and help them know how dearly loved they are. Young Life leaders run marathonsdress up as a Pokemon, and even arrange for a surprise visit from Lecrae.
  • We celebrate the 20,755 kids we know by name in the region.

Kenowa Hills Young Life at Fall Weekend

Here are a few other things we’re celebrating this year:

  • We celebrate sending more high schoolers and leaders than ever before to fall weekend camps—a total of 1,421. Back in 2009, we sent 665 to fall camp. That’s 114% growth!

    Grand Traverse Young Life

  • We celebrate that 14 new clubs which were simply dreams at the beginning of this year have started up or plan to start in the new year. One of these brand new clubs is at East Kentwood High School. EK is like no other school in the region; there are over 50 countries and 50 languages represented in the EK school community. God has truly gathered the nations together in that place.
  • We celebrate that since 2008, we have grown from having 13 Young Life areas to now having 30 in the region. Northwest Grand Rapids is one of our newest YL Areas.

Momentum builds as Young Life College launches in Grand Rapids.

It’s clear that we’ve grown in number over the past eight years. But how else are we growing? One way is that we’re on track with our Core Values:  

  • We strive to be “healthy people on healthy teams doing healthy ministry.”
  • We keep Jesus Christ central in our lives and message.
  • Our ministry method is incarnational.
  • All of our ministry is supported by prayer.
  • The role of paid staff is to recruit, train, equip, and sustain teams of volunteers to do ministry.
  • We look, think, and act multi-culturally.
  • We create an environment which encourages longevity for volunteers and paid staff.
  • We work responsibly in relationship with the larger church of Jesus Christ and pursue partnerships with churches and other like-minded organizations.
  • We train at every level of our ministry and encourage both theological depth and creativity.

Earlier this month, our regional Young Life staff gathered for a quarterly staff meeting. At this meeting, we celebrated all these things through times of worship, storytelling, affirming one another’s strengths, and encouraging each other in the unique ministry we are each called to. We also spent time sharing and giving thanks for how we have noticed God at work over the past eight years.


Photo booth fun at the Regional Staff Meeting

So here we are today, thankful for the past eight years and still dreaming and praying boldly for God to continue the good work He’s already started.

Our staff spent some time in reflection and prayer, considering how God might be leading them in their own YL area as they move forward into a new year and into a new season of ministry.

Below is a video sharing some of these hopes and dreams. We offer them up to the Lord as a prayer.

Chris Theule-VanDam
Regional Director

New Staff Brings Fresh Start to Caledonia Young Life


Maddie (pictured right) with a YL student.

Madeline Stalheber grew up near Houston, Texas and attended the University of Texas at Austin. She’s a Lone Star State girl at heart, but God had a way of drawing her to the Mitten State through various roles at our region’s Young Life camp, Timber Wolf Lake.

Maddie was involved in Young Life as a high schooler and then chose to lead Young Life at Dripping Springs (part of Young Life Austin) while she was in college. Later she interned, not just once, but three different times at Timber Wolf Lake: two summer-long internships followed by a year-long internship. “Working in the kitchen was so fun, but I realized how much I missed the relationships with kids.”


Maddie (bottom right) with the YL Interns at Timber Wolf.

This longing to return to direct ministry is what led Maddie to accept Area Director Eric Zoodsma’s request for her to help get Young Life started again at Caledonia High School. Maddie agreed and came on as Mission Staff for the Grand Rapids SouthWest area this past June.  

Young Life had existed in Caledonia up until a few years ago. Recently, Jamie De Vries, Director of Worship and Student Ministries at Lakeside Community Church, began asking Eric what it would take to rebuild a Young Life club in Caledonia.  

Over the last few months, we’ve had more and more interest from parents and the community about how they can support Young Life at Caledonia High School. We have a few leaders in place, and Maddie has been doing a great job,” says Eric.

Right now, Maddie and the GRSW Young Life staff are hoping to rebuild Young Life in Caledonia from the ground up. This means working hard to build community around their team, recruit more leaders and cast a vision for a thriving Young Life ministry in Caledonia.

Maddie’s desire is for Young Life to be known in Caledonia as a ministry that cares deeply for kids in the community. Caledonia High School is a small community and Maddie hopes to know everyone and for Young Life to be familiar to all.

“God led me to a town I had never even heard of. The Lord has already been opening doors; He is so faithful,” shares Maddie.  


Maddie and the Caledonia YL Team

Please give a warm welcome (as she’s still getting used to our cold MI winters!) to Maddie and join us in praying for her in this new role as Mission Staff for Grand Rapids SouthWest Young Life. Pray also for Young Life in Caledonia to take root and to be a great blessing to adolescents and families in that community. If you feel led to give financially to help support Maddie and Caledonia Young Life, you can do so at giving.younglife.org/Caledonia.   

#YLThankYou | Dear Young Life Supporters

The following thank you letter was written by a Young Life leader from Grand Haven Young Life this summer. While it was written to their local supporters, the sentiment holds true and can be shared with everyone who supports and partners with the mission of Young Life. And by everyone we mean YOU!

July 2016

Dear Young Life Supporters,

About two weeks ago, I arrived home from a week at Castaway Club in Minnesota where I was blown away by God’s goodness. I just want to take a moment to say thank you to those of you who supported the mission of Young Life in Grand Haven through prayer and finances this past year.

I had the privilege of spending a week serving and growing with six incredible young girls from Grand Haven High School and I just want to share with you a little about what Young Life is, what it means to me personally, what we experienced at camp, and how it shaped the lives of both the girls and myself.


A year ago, I was asked to join the mission of Young Life. I didn’t have any prior experience with Young Life, being only familiar with its name, and didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but I am so glad that I said “yes.”

It reminds me of what Paul wrote in Romans 8:26-­30 about how the Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t know what to ask for because he knows us better than we know ourselves and God is always working toward the good of those who love him. Young Life has not only made a difference in the lives of students but in my own life as I have sought (imperfectly) to be the hands and feet of Christ in their lives. It has been exactly what I needed this year.

So, what is Young Life?

Young Life was founded in 1941 by a man named Jim Rayburn with the central idea that, “everyone has the right to know the truth about Jesus Christ…They have a right to know who He is. They have a right to know what He’s done for them. They have the right to know how they relate to that. They have a right to know Him personally. Furthermore, they have a right to make their own choice for Him…So, the Big Dream stated another way is this: It is a group of people bound together in the single-minded purpose that there is no price too high to pay to see to it that young people have a chance to know the Savior. That’s not just what Young Life is about, that is all that Young Life is about.”

So, the role of Young Life is to create a space for kids to encounter Christ by going out to them and reaching them where they are at.

Young Life Camp gives students a space to connect with Christ outside of their daily routine. The staff at the camps work hard to make camp “the best week of your life” and eliminate barriers that might keep kids from connecting with the Gospel message that is presented to them through nightly Club meetings after days filled with activities like parasailing, field games, square dancing, zip lining, and swimming.


Everything they do is intentionally thought through so that students have the best possible chance to make a meaningful connection with Christ. While the Gospel message is presented clearly, as one of my girls commented during our cabin time the first night, “they don’t shove Jesus down your throat,” but rather it is presented as a choice.

And, I think that treating the Gospel message in this way—making it a personal choice, rather than force feeding it to an unwilling subject—makes it even more appealing and opens up the floor to more authentic discussion.

Young Life Camp gives students a space to be vulnerable and honest about their lives, faith, and doubts in a capacity that they would not normally have in just their day-to-day conversations.


While Young Life has only been back in Grand Haven for a year, I have already seen God at work in the lives of the kids that I have made contact with and it has already made a tremendous impact on my own faith journey as it continues to pull and stretch me.

Thank you again for your support for this program in Grand Haven! Please continue to pray for the program as we head into our second year and start up small groups with the students.

In Christ,

Paige Deur

Whether you’ve given financially, prayed continually, read the stories posted on this blog, shared them on social media, encouraged a Young Life leader or kid close to you, or cheered on the mission from the sidelines—we GIVE THANKS for you!

God is at work around the Western Great Lakes Region—from Grand Haven to Grand Rapids, from Harbor Springs to South Bend and everywhere in between. THANK YOU for being part of what God is doing!

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