Western Great Lakes Young Life

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Category: Camp (page 1 of 2)

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.

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!”

#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!

Set the Stage, Sit Back and Watch

In this guest post written by Erin Iafrate, Area Director of Grand Traverse Young Life, she reflects on her summer role as Camp Speaker at Timber Wolf Lake in August.

“I could have called anyone, Erin, but I called you simply because I want to be with you,”​ the Lord said to me, right when I started to get prideful of my public speaking skills or anxious about trying something new.

“Okay, Lord, I hear you.”


Erin Iafrate speaking to a club room full of WyldLife campers at Timber Wolf Lake.

In the hustle and bustle of a week at Young Life camp, there are many roles and activities that help make it the best week of a kid’s life. There’s Work Crew, go-carts, leaders, kids and skits—just to name a few. But there is one role at camp that is completely different and stands alone: Camp Speaker.

It’s slow, reflective, lonely, planned out, heavy. It’s a role where you spend more time with the Lord than with people. (And boy, do I love people!)


(Photo credit: Meaghan O’Connor)

It’s one where kids see you for a short time each day up front and on stage, but then you become the most backstage person throughout the week. Just being able to watch…

…Work Crew kids hit their limit and experience friendship grounded in Christ.

…the whole club room celebrate a kid as he shows off his yo-yo skills on stage.

…a girl, who AFTER MONTHS, is just starting to trust her leader enough to go on the ropes course with her.

…a leader come up to me with tears in his eyes, in fear and amazement, after his 8th grade guy told him he wanted to have a relationship with Jesus.

Camp speakers get to set the stage, sit back and watch.


WyldLife campers from Greater Holland Area.

Every day at Young Life camp, camp speakers take on the impossible task of explaining the glorious mystery of the Gospel. And then sit back and watch.

Explaining how God created the world and created them uniquely. And then sit back and watch.

Telling how God wants to be with them so badly that he came to this messy earth as a Man named Jesus. And then sit back and watch.

Showing how Jesus can take any form of brokenness and death and bring about new life. And then sit back and watch.


WyldLife campers from Southwest Michigan hear how much Jesus loves them.

Sharing how a life with Jesus is our way to full, adventurous, satisfying and eternal life. And then sit back and watch.

To set the stage, to sit back and to watch.

To watch others jump in instead of jumping in myself. To watch others feel honored leading cabin times. To watch others experience joy while serving meals in the dining hall to Capernaum campers. To watch other leaders go home on busses with kids.

This summer, kids saw Jesus at Young Life camp. And so did I.


Erin speaking to a group of campers the morning of the new believers walk. (Photo credit: Valerie Litwiller)

Only God Could Do This: The Story of Kenowa Young Life

Meet Spencer, a Young Life kid-turned-leader. Never in his wildest dreams did he envision himself paving the way for a brand new Young Life club to emerge in the Western Great Lakes Region. Especially one bursting at the seams and reaching over 100 kids each week.

Here’s how it happened; it’s an amazing story that only God could’ve orchestrated.

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Spencer grew up in Grand Rapids and came to love Young Life as a student at Calvin Christian School, where he later became a YL leader. He says Young Life helped him “make sense of this crazy world we live in.” 

Enter Kenowa Hills.

After graduating from Hope College, Spencer took a position as a special education teacher at Kenowa Hills High School, a growing public school located in the NW suburbs of Grand Rapids.   

While teaching at Kenowa Hills, Spencer was still regularly involved in Young Life at Calvin Christian; the two schools were located on opposite ends of town. A group of students from Kenowa began following Spencer on social media and noticed he posted a lot about Young Life. Eventually they asked him what this Young Life thing was all about.

“You just gotta come and see,” replied Spencer.

One night, they did. Two kids from Kenowa Hills showed up to club at Calvin Christian.

As Spencer reached out to these students, he invited them golfing, unsure if anything would happen, but it was worth a shot. 

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It seemed to work because they came to club again the next week. This time they brought friends. Spencer gave the club talk that night. These kids were hooked.

The following week, eight kids from Kenowa showed up. 16 showed up the next week, then 24. “What’s happening here?” was Spencer’s reaction.

And their numbers multiplied.

What a great problem to have, right? Some Young Life clubs would give anything to see their club grow exponentially like this, while others long for the diversity this club was experiencing: kids from different schools and diverse backgrounds coming together for club each week.

The differences between the groups were striking. Spencer observed that kids from the Christian school often had a ton of great things going for them. In many cases, they had teachers, youth pastors, parents and other family members looking out for them, caring for them and training them up in the faith. Many kids he knew from Kenowa often had nobody in their life doing that.

“It was very eye-opening for both groups,” Spencer noted. “But it got to a point where having the Kenowa kids at club was suffocating Calvin’s own growth as a club and it became clear that Kenowa would need to form their own club.”

So one club became two.

But Kenowa had no committee, no leaders, no YL staff and no plan in place. A new Young Life area typically forms from a group of interested adults who want to bring YL to their community. At Kenowa it was happening backwards. They had a dedicated teacher who simply made himself available and invited kids into what he was doing, and they had a group of kids who wanted to belong and be loved.

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Spencer knew Kenowa needed a leader. He followed his heart to be that leader, even though it meant leaving a community that was comfortable and close to his heart.

As things took shape at Kenowa, Kevin Eastway, Associate Regional Director for the Western Great Lakes Region, provided direction to Spencer. Kevin shared that “having a teacher who loves and respects kids goes a long way in starting a new YL area. Spencer is always outside of his classroom, greeting kids and inviting them into his life and the lives of the leaders.”

Outside of class, Spencer started “Bro-time” (similar to Campaigners) every week—two hours of real talk about life. And then in the Fall of 2014, Spencer took those guys to Fall Weekend at Timber Wolf Lake as an unaffiliated group.

They forged ahead as a developing area.

Without a committee and without funds Kenowa moved forward, trusting in God’s perfect timing. The next step was to meet with the students to discuss the future of Young Life at Kenowa. Spencer recalls 55 kids showing up that February night to express their interest in meeting.

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The weeks went on and kids kept showing up. 60-70 kids were now coming to club—kids who had never heard the Gospel. Kids who wanted to go to church, but knew nothing about church.

Momentum was building and news kept spreading. An interest meeting held that spring with Regional Director Chris Theule-Van Dam, Kevin Eastway, Spencer and others helped cast a vision to the community. Soon after, a YL committee was formed.

That summer, thanks to a generous donor, Kenowa brought their first group of students to Timber Wolf Lake for summer camp. Sixteen students—each with unique backgrounds and perspectives—were able to experience one of the best weeks of their lives and wrestle deeply together about life and faith.

As club started up that fall, Spencer planned for a dozen kids to show. Instead, 100+ kids showed up and literally crammed into someone’s basement. For many of the kids at club that night, they were hearing a brand new Story that would certainly change their lives forever. “I was so humbled,” reflected Spencer after giving the club talk that night.

The second club, 180 kids showed up. “What is happening?”
Spencer laughed, knowing deep down that this type of growth is nothing but the work of God. “We’re trying to figure out how to control the beast.”  

As they quickly outgrew the basement, a barn became available for club so they could spread out. The next problem was figuring out a sound system so kids could actually hear. To Spencer, these were “beautiful and incredible problems.”

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As Kenowa YL grew, God brought more leaders. “We now have great leadership from Jake Wielhouwer and the committee; they care for leaders well, care for each other well and invite people into the story of Jesus with bravery,” reported Kevin.
Kids love to be with the YL leaders at Kenowa—their excitement has been contagious.”

This past fall, Kenowa Hills became an official Young Life area and took eighty kids and leaders to Fall Weekend at Timber Wolf Lake.

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For one student named Alex, fall camp was life-changing. Alex was a lonely, confused teenager. Trouble pursued him at home and school, with the law, with girls and gangs. Feeling hopeless, he said to Spencer one day, “I’m not sure if I even want this [diploma].”

As Spencer spent time with Alex and showed how much he cared, he helped Alex see what a diploma could mean for him and why it was important.

One day, some YL kids were hanging out in Spencer’s classroom. Alex was there too. Out of the blue, one guy went over, gave Alex a great big hug and invited him to eat lunch with them. Something about that hug connected these two guys and for the first time ever, Alex didn’t eat lunch alone. He had friends. They invited him to fall camp and Alex found himself there. But even better, Alex met Jesus.

“God is up to some inexplicable things in Kenowa Hills,” reports Kevin.

And it all started with a teacher who made himself accessible to kids, who cares enough about them to open up the door to his classroom and to his own life and faith.

And now with 50 kids signed up for camp this summer and over 100 kids being reached at club and by 6 leaders each week, they attribute this growth and success to God. Only He can do a work like this — to God be the glory!

10858383_10203054526544801_7682121948821953698_nSpencer Vanderheide, in addition being a teacher and Young Life leader, is also a singer/songwriter who blends pop music with his own unique style. S. Martin is known and loved as a Young Life camp musician and has performed at a variety of YL camps and venues. You can listen to his music here or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

You can follow the unfolding story of what God is doing at Kenowa Young Life on Facebook and Instagram. Take note of the infographic below designed by Young Life which tells more of their story and join us in praying that camp costs would not be a barrier for any student desiring to go to camp this summer. 


Why We Do Camp

When Jim Rayburn suggested Young Life purchase its first camp property back in 1946 (Star Ranch), no one would have imagined that over the course of seventy years the camping program would grow like it has.

Young Life reports that each year, more than 100,000 kids around the world spend a week or a weekend at one of 29 owned or leased Young Life camps around the United States plus a number of international locations.

At every camp, and for every kind of kid who attends, the vision is the same: to get kids away from the pressures of everyday life, provide them the opportunity to think deeply about what really matters in life and give them an experience of a lifetime.


All images courtesy of GRSW Young Life.

With another camping season approaching, staff and leaders often ask: How do we get kids there—how do we fill our buses? And kids are asking: What is Young Life camp really like?

In Part 3 of our series on the 5 C’s of Young Life, Staff Associate Casey Blair from Grand Rapids SouthWest Young Life tells us Why We Do Camp.

Western Great Lakes Region (WGLR): Casey, many refer to camp as an experience of a lifetime. For someone who’s never been to Young Life camp, how do you begin to describe it?

Casey: I start by saying that it’s completely indescribable. With that disclaimer, Young Life camp will truly be the best week of your life for reasons you can’t understand until you’ve experienced it. Kids from across the country come to the most amazing camp imaginable to not only hear the story of Jesus, but also experience the joy of Jesus. Everything from the food to the music to the unpredictable events each day point kids to the extravagant love that only Jesus is capable of. And you do this with people that become some of the best friends you’ve ever had.


WGLR: What happens at YL camp to make kids feel so celebrated and loved?

Casey: Everything that happens at Young Life camp makes a kid feel like a hero because that’s how Jesus sees us. Kids get to play games with hundreds of people cheering for them whether they win or lose. Kids get to conquer their fears in a safe and supportive environment. It’s a full week where kids are loved by the people around them without any judgment or expectations.


WGLR: What is it about getting kids “out of their world” that provides the perfect environment for them to hear Christ’s message and come to know Him?

Casey: Life has so many distractions; it’s hard to avoid them—especially for high school and middle school students. Young Life camp takes kids away from the routine of life, which includes drama with peers, conflict within the family and so many other adolescent pressures. In this place of relief from life’s craziness, they get to hear the message of Christ and have the time of their lives.

WGLR: Some kids say that camp stretched them spiritually and physically. In what ways does this happen?

Casey: Camp stretches kids spiritually because, regardless of their upbringing, they are hearing about Jesus in a new way and wrestling with spiritual questions. Physically, camp can be an exhausting experience, which opens up room for a group of kids or leaders to really support each other. There are opportunities to face fears (like the high ropes course) and complete tasks that can only be done with a group. This not only pushes kids physically and helps them grow, but also builds community, breaks down walls and makes deeper conversations possible.


WGLR: What are the most important things leaders must do to get kids signed up for camp?

Casey: Building a relationship is the most important thing, and then committing to go to camp with them. It’s one thing for a leader to say, “Hey, there’s this awesome camp you should go to this summer; you will have so much fun!” But it’s a whole different story when a leader spends months at club, Campaigners, Wendy’s, basketball games and school plays becoming friends with a kid and then says, “Hey, I’m going on this amazing adventure to camp this summer and I want you to come with me.” That invitation is much harder to turn down.

WGLR: If camps are staffed with work crews, summer staff and assignment teams, what is the role of a Young Life leader at camp?

Casey: YL leaders are there to be the one-on-one connection. It’s amazing how many workers all participate in the great experience for kids, but Young Life leaders are the only ones who go home and maintain friendships with kids after camp. Leaders lead cabin time, have discussions about life and the Gospel, hear kids’ stories and have one-on-one talks with kids on a deeper level. Leaders are the closest, most consistent example of Jesus’ love.


WGLR: What kind of follow-up happens after camp?

Casey: Praying for kids as they return from camp is one of the first priorities. Oftentimes, teams will start a Campaigners group after camp to continue the conversation about Jesus. Leaders also make it a point to have conversations with kids as they continue to process their experience. Follow-up is so important because Jesus doesn’t just exist at camp; we want to help kids integrate their camp experience with the rest of their lives. For kids who make the decision to follow Jesus at camp, we welcome them into the faith community and walk closely alongside them as they begin their journey of following Jesus.

WGLR: What’s your favorite Young Life camp story?

Casey: It’s actually a story that Eric Zoodsma, area director of Grand Rapids SouthWest Young Life, shared with me. Here’s the story:

Michael came to Castaway with us in June and had the best week of his life. However, after club on our first night, I wasn’t sure that would be the case. Michael found everything he could to complain about—mainly that the music in club was too loud. He told me he was not coming to club ever again that week. One of our other leaders pulled Michael aside and talked with him. He offered him a pair of earplugs he brought for sleeping at night and told Michael he could use them during the singing at club. Throughout the week, we watched Michael open up and meet Jesus in a way he never had before—largely in part to some twenty-five cent earplugs, and a leader who cared enough to meet Michael right where he was at.



  • Timber Wolf Lake is a Young Life camp located in our region. Situated in the beautiful Northern Michigan woods, thousands of Young Life and WyldLife campers experience the best week of their lives at TWL each summer. Timber Wolf is used the rest of the year for Fall and Winter weekends and other retreats and conferences.
  • Young Life provides sponsorship opportunities to ensure that every kid has the opportunity to go to camp. Contact your local area to find out how you can help send kids to camp this summer.


  • Join us in praying boldly for even more kids to sign up for camp this summer.
  • Read the other articles in this series: Why We Do Contact Work and Why We Do Club
  • Share this post using the social media icons below or subscribe at the top of the page to receive notifications in your inbox whenever there is a new post.

Reflections from the Wilderness

A guest post by Kyle Roskamp, Young Life leader from the Grand Rapids SouthWest area.

Whoever invented Wilderness Ranch is stupid. But also amazing.

That might be a difficult phenomenon to process, but if you’ve ever watched JR Smith play basketball or listened to the new Justin Bieber songs, you know what I’m talking about. Some things are just amazing and stupid at the same time.

How can Wilderness Ranch even happen?


Logistically, how can 15 people survive together in the woods for five days? I mean, it took the settlers at Jamestown about 19 seconds before they were like, “Wow, sleeping outside isn’t awesome, let’s build a legitimate shelter really quick because there are things like bears and gnats and cougars outside and not dying sounds very fun.” How am I, an embracer of the 21st Century, supposed to deal with such travesties as no toilet paper, no clocks and no 4G LTE wireless data? How can I trust myself to clean my own water, cook my own meals and traverse a landscape whose price for tomfoolery is a 5,000 foot drop to my death?

Emotionally, how can it happen? I’m an experienced attender of slumber parties, and one thing I’ve learned is that after spending ten hours straight with someone, things get weird and tempers get short. How was I supposed to spend a week with these people, while trying to have positive interactions with them while climbing a 14,000 ft. mountain in a state of constant hunger and exhaustion? How can you possibly have room for Jesus when all you can think about is eating another coconut Clif bar?

But it happened.

I can only compare waking up on the first morning of Wilderness to the first time I heard Call Me Maybe by Carley Rae Jepsen on the radio. Transcendent moments are usually retrospective. The gravity of significant moments is usually lost until those moments are gone. Their absence creates a gap, and the desire to fill that gap is what truly makes these moments beautiful in hindsight. However, once in awhile you fully understand the significance of a moment while you’re experiencing it and in the midst of it, you understand what that moment means to you now, and what it will mean in the future.

When I poked my head out from under that tarp on the first morning in the woods—much like when I heard Carley Rae belt that hook for the first time in the Spring of 2012—I knew it. This moment was something special. This week was going to go triple-platinum.

Did it ever.


Wonderful things can happen when you take distractions out of the equation. Having to look nine people in the face for an entire week while they laugh and bleed and cry and struggle and sweat is something special. These nine people, stripped of everything they usually hold dear, were left with the most raw, unencumbered versions of themselves. There’s nothing else like it.

I used to think Jesus was far away. I used to think “being the face of Christ” was a cliché metaphor that just meant I was supposed to be nice to people. But I’m wrong.

Asking me about my favorite time I saw the face of Christ on the trail is like asking me about my favorite star in the night sky because there is an endless amount of perfect, beautiful stars.

I saw the face of Christ sixty-five thousand times in the mountains. And the face of Christ is the best:

It’s Tony and Connor passing out Crystal Light packets. It’s Jake telling the same stupid Magic Owl joke over and over. It’s Katelyn and Erin pulling each other to the top of the mountain when they’re both about to puke.

It’s waking up and making the classic “OH MY GOSH I MISSED YOU GUYS SO MUCH” joke to your friends because you’ve seen them every second for the last four days. But then you realize you actually did miss them, because the moments you spent in your dreams with your heads eight inches from each other are moments you didn’t get to spend together.

It’s eating breakfast under a sky that you thought couldn’t possibly be painted that blue.


It’s incredible what loving nine seemingly random people can do to you.

It makes you say things out loud that you haven’t told anyone but your pillow.

It makes you hope things for them that they haven’t even considered for themselves.

It makes sitting in the back of a bus for 29 hours listening to Taylor Swift songs seem like the best party in the history of western civilization.

We did a lot of cool stuff. We climbed around a waterfall for lunch, we climbed across a knife’s edge, we peaked a 14,000 ft mountain. Those things were awesome. But those things really don’t matter to me.

What matters to me is the people. It’s seeing the way we are all consistently blind-sided by the Holy Spirit and the work He does in our lives. It’s developing authentic relationships—beyond the photo edits, the subtext of social media posts, the outfits, the pressure of the universe. People who show me everyday why I love Jesus so much. All because of those stupid mountains.

Nine of my 15 best friends are teenagers now, which is weird because I’m a 23-year-old dude about to graduate college. But, whatever.11144957_705713589560651_1344893772149921972_n

I know it’s probably strange, the love I have for those nine weirdos. When you get back into places that have running water and wi-fi and toilets, it gets complicated. In the real world, I have much less in common with those kids than I did in the forest.


But it doesn’t matter. Because every time I see these clowns for the rest of eternity, after a minute and a half of awkward silence, we remember. We remember that we don’t have a ton in common, but we do have in common the only thing that really matters.

Jesus had some of those people. People who loved and cared for each other regardless of circumstances. People whose only goal was to make each other the best version of themselves, a version that served the Lord, served other people and brought joy to everyone they met.

Jesus had 12.

I have nine.

That’s more than enough.

Never The Same After Michindoh

This June I had the incredible privilege of speaking at Young Life’s WyldLife Camp Michindoh. We got to tell close to 1600 middle school kids the amazing news about how Jesus loves them and the life He imagines for them!

My favorite moment each week was being a part of the “new Christian walk.” We would give kids a Bible, help them learn how to use it, write in in, and encourage them to live it out. The walk went throughout camp and we talked about how we can get stronger in Jesus outside the gym, left our “dirt” at the mudpit to experience forgiveness, fled from the smell of the garbage, and then headed to our new “home.”

My favorite stretch of the walk was leading kids up the hill behind the dining hall. When we opened the door the entire work crew, summer staff, and assigned team families were inside giving them a standing ovation cheering as they came in the building. It was not just a polite clap but a raucous and sustained roar as kids continued to roll into the dining hall. Watching each of their many faces melt from shock to joy as they felt welcomed and celebrated.

At the beginning of the walk I would tell kids that all of heaven rejoices when one lost person comes home and how nuts heaven must be right now as a hundred or so kids come home to their Father who loves them. In the end it was more than words…they saw it, they lived it out, they knew it was true.

It was so great for kids but I also got to see the faces of my friends who had worked so hard all week to love and serve these kids. They would watch as more and more and more kids came through the door. Kids that God had called home. Kids that said “yes.” Kids they had served, and cleaned up after, and prayed for. It was not just words, they saw it, they had lived it out, they knew it was true.

My prayer is that none of us will ever be the same.


388537_10151402785554652_1442712024_nMike Bredeweg has been on Young Life staff for 25 years and lives in Benton Harbor with his wife Lynda and their three kids. He loves to ride his bike and travel with his family and go out to eat with friends. The best part of his job is getting to do ministry with old friends and seeing how God has touched the lives of his kids through this ministry.

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