Western Great Lakes Young Life

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Category: Caledonia YL

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.

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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

New Staff Brings Fresh Start to Caledonia Young Life

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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.”

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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.  

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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.