Story by
Hope McPherson

Photos by
Jerry Gay


SPU Students and Alumni Join Young Life's Campaign to Reach Kids for Christ

A school principal's daughter approached a Young Life volunteer. Easter is about more than just the Easter Bunny, she said tentatively. Right?

The school bus was full of rowdy teens, but one student noticed a Young Life volunteer reading a book he'd never seen before. "What's that?" the boy asked.The volunteer lowered his Bible and answered.

"There is a void out there," says Jeff Vancil, Seattle Pacific graduate of 1973 and regional director for Young Life in Western Washington. "It's not an overstatement to say that 80-90 percent of the kids in Western Washington haven't set foot in a church."

To help fill that void, large numbers of SPU students and alumni work with Young Life, befriending teens and introducing them to Christ. Their impact stretches throughout the worldwide ministry - from Young Life International President Denny Rydberg '67, the 2000 Alumnus of the Year, to the ranks of committed volunteers.

As teens face today's intense influences, the work is vital. "With so many spiritual opportunities out there, why do teens listen to us as Young Life leaders?" asks Margie Meberg Atkinson '65, Young Life's vice president for human resources. "I think it's because we befriend them and we're there for the long haul."

In 1993, John Forsyth '86 became a "church partner" for a new Young Life club in Tukwila, Washington. Believing God called him to that ministry, he raised support and became a full-time volunteer in the diverse city. Soon, his wife, Lisa Jefferries Forsyth '87, was also a volunteer leader.

Now Forsyth is often at local basketball and football games and anywhere else teens gather. "Our strategy is to go where kids go," he says. Like other Young Life leaders, he also leads club night each week, a time during which 30-40 kids gather for goofy games, singing and learning about Jesus. "It's all with the hope that relationships will be built and walls will fall down," he says. "Relationships are the key."

Often those relationships shape future volunteer leaders. Seattle Pacific sophomore Chris Kattenhorn points to Young Life's impact on his own high school years as the reason he now volunteers in Bellevue. He also reels off the names of fellow SPU students involved throughout greater Seattle. "They were involved with Young Life in high school, and now many want to return the favor," he says. "And it was really easy to become involved at SPU because there are so many options."

One option for student and alumni volunteers is a new Young Life ministry, Open Door. It began five years ago to meet the special needs of physically and mentally disabled teens. When Raissa Murren '99 heard about Open Door, she was intrigued. "It really sparked my interest because I have a disability," she says. "Kids with disabilities are often forgotten and pushed aside, but they need Christ just as much."

Murren, who has cerebral palsy, got involved during her freshman year at the invitation of friend Andy Schneider '99. To help gather volunteers and firmly establish Open Door, they turned to Urban Involvement, a student-run organization at Seattle Pacific that matches students to extensive service opportunities throughout the city. It worked. "SPU is our largest hub of student involvement," says Murren.

About 30 kids - all with physical or developmental disabilities - attend Open Door's weekly club night at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. "For a lot of these kids it's the highlight of their week," says SPU junior Kara Shaffer, Seattle's current Open Door leader. In the large Young Life club she attended as a high school student, disabled teens often got lost in the shuffle. "That doesn't happen in this group," she says.

Soon another Open Door begins in Bellevue, Washington. Jen Nelson '99 is already laying the groundwork in local schools, building relationships. "We'd like to have an Open Door in every community," says Vancil.

Not all Young Life volunteers work directly with teens. SPU Fellow Iral Barrett, a former member of the University's Board of Trustees, has been a Young Life volunteer for 45 years. He no longer works with teens as he did years ago, however. Now he co-chairs the steering committee for Washington Family Ranch, 100 square miles of property gifted to Young Life by a Montana businessman. Barrett, retired chairman of Supra Products Inc., is helping raise the $10 million needed for the new summer camp's renovations.

Of more than 24,000 Young Life staff and volunteers, about 10,000 are local committee members. Those committee members help in a variety of areas - from prayer support to fund-raising to being "adult guests" at the popular summer camps. "There are many opportunities to be involved with Young Life," says Barrett.

Seeing the widespread interest past and present students have in Young Life, five years ago Seattle Pacific began a Young Life academic track for students who minor in youth ministry. While some students volunteer with teens while in college, others intend to enter youth ministry as a career. "It is this group we are trying to serve," says Les Steele, professor of Christian formation and chair of the Department of Theology. In addition to requiring courses in the Bible, theology and educational ministry, the track requires a two-year internship with Young Life. "Several of the first students to complete the track have moved on to full-time staff positions with Young Life," says Steele. "They've taken on important leadership roles, and I believe they will play a significant role in the future of Young Life."


Editor's Note: To see a sampling of the many SPU students, alumni and board members who are, or have been, volunteers or paid staff for Young Life, click here. If you volunteered with Young Life or were a staff member, this is also the place to add your name too.

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