Western Great Lakes Young Life

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Western Great Lakes Young Life Regional Update | 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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C U R R E N T  N U M B E R S

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

O U R  V I S I O N

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

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

 T H A N K  Y O U

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

Chris Theule-VanDam
Regional Director
Western Great Lakes Young Life

Filling A Void For Kids On The Fringe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing Savannah Smith, Regional YoungLives Coordinator

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

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

—Jane Lemmen, Midwest Division YoungLives Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

backpacking 3

Savannah with Young Life girls on a backpacking trip.

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

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

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


Get to Know Sara Webb, Regional Capernaum Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



Leadership Weekend 2017 Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wyoming Young Life, An Answer to Prayer

When Chris Hall, a pastor and church planter from Wyoming, MI, first heard about Young Life, he called it “an answer to prayer.”

Chris Hall serves as the preaching and teaching pastor at Elevation Church, a new but growing church plant located near Wyoming’s Lamar Park. Hall and his wife have called Wyoming home their whole lives. The Hall’s three children are now the fifth generation to grow up in and love the city

As the largest suburb of Grand Rapids, the city of Wyoming is also one of the fastest growing cities in the state of Michigan. There are seven school districts in the city of Wyoming. The halls of these schools are filled with hundreds of adolescents who reflect the diverse neighborhoods they come from.

Elevation Church had been praying for opportunities to engage with the local schools ever since their beginning when they held weekend services in the local junior high school. At that time, they observed a spiritual need in the schools and saw a huge opportunity to bring the Gospel to young people.

Meanwhile, discussions about starting Young Life in Wyoming had been taking place between Matt DeHoog, Young Life’s Associate Regional Director for Kent County, and Eric Zoodsma, Area Director for Grand Rapids SouthWest Young Life. Matt invited Chris Hall into the conversation; it didn’t take much for Chris to jump on board.

“Matt began to walk me through the basics of Young Life,” Chris described, feeling as though Matt was “speaking his language.”

“Instead of reinventing the wheel, why not join this Young Life thing,” was Chris’s first thought.  

This connection wasn’t accidental. God was clearly at work in this startup process, pulling the right people together. “We are just stepping into what God is already doing,” shared Chris.

To establish a Young Life presence in the Wyoming schools, Grand Rapids SouthWest YL took a step and hired Rebekah Blair to serve as Mission Staff for Wyoming.

Rebekah Blair YL pic

Rebekah Blair (pictured center) with a few Young Life girls

Rebekah joins her husband Casey Blair, who already serves on Young Life staff in the same area. Previously, the couple served Young Life in the Kalamazoo area while studying at Western Michigan University. In this new role, Rebekah will focus on starting up new clubs at both Lee High School and Wyoming Middle School.

“Young Life meets kids where they are,” Rebekah shared when asked what Young Life is all about.

Instead of waiting for students to show up where we are, we go to them and get to know them in their own space, whether that’s at lunch, sports games, or before school. Students don’t have to go out of their way to make our program work, we meet in their neighborhoods and in their schools. I think there’s a lot more authenticity because we’re going into their spaces,” she continued.

As Young Life works to get its feet on the ground in Wyoming, Rebekah and others are praying for leaders to step up—leaders with both a passion for the community and a commitment to seeing kids come to know Jesus.

“Historically, we’ve not been a community that breeds leaders,” reflected Pastor Chris. “We tend to be the ones who carry a lunch bucket to work and leaders tend to come [to us] from other communities. They have some tie to the city, but don’t live here.”

Those from the community who have heard about Young Life seem eager to embrace the model of relational ministry. The hope is for more churches in Wyoming to be open to the idea of coming together to reach more kids at Wyoming Middle School and Lee High School.Wyoming YL Quote

“I’m praying that kids will see Christ through their Young Life leaders even before we start running club,” added Rebekah. 

Wyoming Young Life has plans to have leaders walking the halls of both schools by Fall of 2017.

For more information about the partnership between Elevation Church and Young Life in Wyoming, click hereTo partner with Wyoming Young Life financially, click here.

You can follow along with Young Life in the Grand Rapids SouthWest areaon facebook.


“The big deal is we think the power is in us individually. The power is in us collectively. It is in the church.” – Dr. John Perkins

Rebekah and Casey Blair


More about Rebekah Blair: Rebekah is from Bloomfield Hills, MI where she attended Southfield Christian School. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a degree in Organizational Communication, though she says the best part about Western was meeting her husband, Casey. In her free time, Rebekah enjoys hanging out and talking with friends, reading, eating and being outside (preferably by a lake).

Welcome, Rebekah! We give thanks for how God has prepared you for this role with Wyoming Young Life and are excited to see His Kingdom grow through your leadership and ministry. 

Greater Holland Young Life’s New Area Director Is “All In”

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 10.35.52 AMJust over a month after being hired as the new Area Director for Greater Holland Young Life, Chris Hofland was feeling the love and welcome from local high schoolers at club one night as they happily decked their new AD in the face with pie.

Thankfully, Young Life’s crazy club antics aren’t new to Chris. He’s been on board with the mission of Young Life ever since he was a high school student himself who went to club and earn his way to camp by painting a YL leader’s house.

Chris, who grew up as a pastor’s kid, says that Young Life helped reinforce the importance of having a relationship with Jesus Christ and inspired him to share his faith with others.

“In my adult years I’ve been able to volunteer as a head leader at fall weekends as well as flip pancakes for WyldLife,” said Chris, a Hope College graduate who has called Holland his home since moving from Iowa at the age of five.

Chris is well-suited as Area Director in Greater Holland Young Life not just because he can take a pie in the face or flip pancakes for hungry middle schoolers.

His knowledge of the community, strong network, and passion for building authentic relationships will be a great asset to a Young Life area which holds the record as the largest YL area in the world.

“I would not be in this position if Young Life was not rooted in relational ministry,” shared Chris. “Young Life provides space for eternal relationships to be developed as we introduce kids to the incredible truth of Jesus Christ and invite them to see how to live it out. Young Life truly is an authentic place for discipleship whether you are a student, leader, or staff member.”


Those who know Chris speak of his engaging personality which creates enthusiasm and energy wherever he goes and in whatever he does.

Jerry and Dana Root, long-time Holland Young Life supporters who have known Chris for many years, are excited to see how God will use him in this new season of leadership. They shared this: “His mission-minded heart will inspire Holland area Young Life to grow into new ways of being used for God’s Kingdom.”

The Greater Holland Young Life Committee wrote this in an announcement made to their area last month:

“Chris has a great love for Christ, an extensive history of teaching, coaching and ministering to youth. We are excited to have Chris on staff and look forward to his leadership.”

Chris’s array of work experience includes teaching for Holland Public Schools and then serving as Local Missions Pastor at Central Wesleyan Church, among other community involvement. These experiences have more than equipped him for this new role.

“Both of these roles have given me access to falling in love with our community and developing meaningful relationships,” Chris reflected.

Dr. Brian Davis, Superintendent of Holland Public Schools, commented: “He has demonstrated the servant heart and character needed for a position such as this. As a former educator, he also understands the critical importance of building relationships, mentoring and supporting young adults to be successful in school and in life. Filling the shoes of Jay Lindell who has held this position for 25 years is a big responsibility. It is important that we have someone who can carry forward the mission and service of this very important work.”

Chris’s servant heart is a common theme from those who know him. And the fact that he is “all in” when it comes to serving the Lord with his life and work. His dynamic faith and passion are an inspiration for others to be “all in” too.


Greater Holland Young Life Club

“My prayer is for each student to hear the truth of the gospel and experience a transformed life,” shared Chris. “And for leaders to see how their faith journeys are most impacted through living out their faith through discipling students.”

“My heart gets excited about being part of the lives of students being transformed by the incredible gospel of Jesus Christ. Seeing lives changed is powerful.”

Please join us in welcoming Chris Hofland as Area Director for Greater Holland Young Life. We are thrilled to have him join the Young Life staff here in the Western Great Lakes Region.

Hofland Family

Chris and his wife Susan and the proud parents to their crew of kids: Trent (20), Logan (17), Grant (16), Lauren (10), Carter (8), and Owen (5). Fun facts: Chris love pickles and was adopted as an infant. Favorite things: spending time with family, playing golf, coaching soccer and cheering for the Iowa Hawkeyes (Yes, even in Michigan).

A New Perspective

Written by Mike Bredeweg

In 26 years on Young Life staff, I have been to camp more times than I can count. I have literally spent a year and a half of my life at Timber Wolf Lake. I have directed many weekend camps and know the routine in and out. But during the weekend of November 18, I got to see camp through new eyes.

Seven of our local Capernaum friends joined thirty-five kids from our area for a fall weekend at Timber Wolf Lake in Lake City, Michigan.

Over the last two years, I have become friends with Nolan. I was excited to get to spend the weekend with him. It was his first time to Timber Wolf Lake and my first time leading someone who was blind. I got to see the weekend through his eyes and he got to see it through mine.

Nolan absolutely loved the energy and humor of club. I would explain the videos to him and any other visual things that were going on. Nolan laughed louder than anyone and was shocked at the outlandish things that the program characters would say. Nolan was captivated by the speaker’s words. I enjoyed club as much as I ever have because of Nolan!

It was a wild weekend with tons of activity, blowing snow, incredible meals, and lots of walking. I have never been so responsible for another person as I was during my weekend with Nolan. Nolan helped me be in tune with the sounds of camp and the smells. Nolan knew there was a lake before I ever told him because he smelled it—that is incredible to me!

Nolan lives in a world of sounds so the weekend was almost a constant conversation: discussing what was going to happen, where we needed to be next, what was discussed at cabin time, how his life is going.

One of my favorite moments of the weekend was when our Capernaum crew went to the climbing wall. The wall was a risk. I kept asking myself, “How in the world is this going to work?”

One of the elements on the climbing wall is basically a railroad track going up the side of the gym. I helped Nolan find the first couple logs to hold on to but soon he was higher than I could reach. He kept going, and going, and going. Nolan is not afraid of heights! How incredibly brave to climb when you can’t see. Nolan taught me so much about what faith really looks like. I learned so much this weekend.


Noland on the climbing wall

I went as a leader to teach my kids but I realized how much I had to learn from them all. Those who are blind can teach us to see what is really going on around us; they can show us the people we miss. Kids with a limp can teach us how to walk out our faith. Kids who process simply can remind us of the simplicity of faith and how to trust like a child.

“For we live by faith, not by sight.”
— 2 Corinthians 5:7

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]

Tamika headshot

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]

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

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