With the help of my wife Amy and the Executive Young Life Committee, I have made a decision to transition out of my role as Area Director of Young Life Michiana. It is a decision based on what I believe is right for the area and for me.
I plan to continue to lead Young Life Michiana through a healthy staff transition, which we estimate will take place between August and November. Amy and I plan on remaining in the South Bend area and plan to continue to serve Young Life here as volunteers. We have been very involved in getting Young Life going in the PHM school district and plan to follow through.
Young Life will be in great hands in Michiana. I am so excited that my partner in ministry over the past two years, Caryn Schierbeek, will be our next Area Director! Caryn is a great…
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“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 NLT
It was almost a year ago that I got this verse tattooed onto my foot. (Sorry, Mom.) Why? Because four of my Young Life girls wanted to get various tattoos and piercings in honor of an 18th birthday. So, like any self-respecting YL leader, I went along and joined in the fun.
All joking aside, this verse carries some serious weight. It comes at the end of God charging Joshua with his call to assume leadership and lead the Israelites forward. As I considered the role of Area Director in Michiana, much of God’s encouragement to Joshua rang true for myself.
Similar to Joshua and Moses, Brad Sytsma (outgoing Area Director) and I have been on this journey together. I consider it a great privilege to have learned from Brad as I watched him lead our area with great, prayerful wisdom and discernment. I have learned from one of the best, I know the journey we have been on, and I am confident I have an idea of where God is calling us next. This transition in leadership does not come with the same grief as the shift from Moses to Joshua—it comes with great celebration as Brad continues on in His calling. I am celebrating with Brad who was not only my boss, but also my friend (pal!). I am also celebrating with his family who I love.
Verse 9 was the third time God commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous in His charge. Through my time of consideration (and still now) I took a look at the meaning of strength and courage. Strength defined is “the ability to resist being moved or broken.” I realized strength is not necessarily speaking the loudest or having the answers. (Thank goodness!) Instead, strength is the ability to remain unwavering in pursuing God’s vision and call. When contemplating courage, I saw the action of stepping out in faith to a space where there may be no visible or easy solution. (Joshua’s faith was tested when he was called to lead the Israelites by way of the Jordan River—a path that Joshua needed God on.)
Finally, God says, “Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you will go.” While the journey may seem scary at times and could bring along some tough trials – GOD IS WITH US.
I believe God is calling us to an exciting, challenging path. Our journey includes going onto the campus of Notre Dame, into the city culture of South Bend, into the suburban culture of Penn-Harris-Madison, the community-minded culture of Mishawaka and beyond! Not only is Young Life in Michiana called to love and share the Good News in all of these pockets, I believe we are also called to create a unique Kingdom culture that brings all of these pockets together.
My husband, Brent, and I were so blessed by the words of encouragement we received from our local Committee and other friends in the area as we prayed about beginning a new season. I am thrilled to be able to say that I get to be the next Area Director of Michiana!! As this journey begins, I ask that you pray for me to be strong (remain steadfast on the path God is calling us to) and courageous (move in faith to places that present challenges.) Please also pray that I love all those I’m called to with great joy and care.
God is doing some amazing works in Michiana. I am so proud of our volunteer leaders who are loving students well. God has helped us build great relationships with each other and with our high school, middle school and college-aged friends. We have some great foundational things in place, and I am confident that no matter where God is calling us to next, He will be with us! We need God!
In the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul writes to the church in Corinth describing their testimonies as letters from Christ–a result of the ministry–written with the Spirit of God. These stories, he says, aren’t written letters but letters that remain in the hearts of those who hear them. (2 Corinthians 3:1-3)
This passage resonates deeply with me since, I too, have the privilege of hearing and being part of many of Christ’s stories in the lives of kids. I would like to share two of these stories with you. I pray that as you read them they serve as a testament to God’s ministry here in South Bend, and remain in your hearts so you may be mindful and praying for us as we start this school year.
Story #1 from Tondrew. Tondrew is a student at Washington high school who came to Wyldlife with his leader, Tom. My leader friend, Jake, has done an incredible job of continuing a relationship with Tondrew. Jake challenges Tondrew, encourages him, and meets with him regularly to wrestle through the challeges of Christian living. Tondrew came to summer camp for the first time as a high schooler and also served for one month at Castaway Club in Detroit Lakes, MN on Work Crew.
So I thought being a YoungLife camper was the best it gets. We learned a about the Lord and some of his miracles. I got to meet a couple new friends. We also are some delicious camp food! But being a apart of the team that makes that happen, Work Crew ! OMG it’s something else. If you thought being a camper was the best it gets, you should rethink that. My Work Crew opportunity was life changing! I got a chance to see God work in ways I’ve never seen before. My faith in Christ grew so much from the time I started my month, and the time I ended my month. Work Crew gave me the chance to find who I really am ! And I’m so Blessed to have such AWESOME leaders like Caryn and Jake to help and encourage me to further my relationship with Jesus and, making this trip happen ! Oh and the best part is you can eat camp food for a month long! I met some amazing people and I know we will be life long friends. It was just so awesome to be around people who are all Jesus lovers as much as you love him. The Environment was so friendly. I just loved working with people who loves Christ! This was literally the best month of my life by far. I’d have to say that was a little taste of what Heavens going to be like!
Story #2 from Maddie. Maddie was a senior at Adams high school. I met Maddie through her group of friends this past year. Maddie raised money for camp through a sit-down meeting with our Committee Chair, Mike. She has had a very trying year filled with difficulties. Some of those difficulties became so intense, that a couple weeks before going to Young Life camp, Maddie was not sure she wanted to go anymore. Read about how her week at Timber Wolf Lake was.
I couldn’t have went if it werent for Mike. He helped me financially because he knew Timberwolf is life changing. Timberwolf isn’t like any other camp. When the best week of my life came to an end I was very scared to come back home. I had to face the hurt again, the stress, work, family, not knowing if I can really do this on my own. On the way home I found myself almost crying, I was praying. I almost didn’t even realize I was because it has been a while since I’ve prayed. But on that bus ride home I prayed to God and asked for strength to get me through this crazy thing we call life. Ever since then I knew I wanted to better myself. I have fixed my ways and I have been happier. Even though it was very hard and at times I felt alone, I knew I wasn’t because I had Caryn there.. I had God there. Words cannot explain how blessed I am to be back on the right track. I know God put Caryn in my life for a reason. What can I say, she pushed me to go to camp. She knew it could help me. Caryn knew I needed God.
Thank you, Jesus. As we remember the days of summer and this school year begins, will you join me in covering our year with prayer? We are praying for many things, but mostly we are praying that more kids will come to know Jesus Christ.
Our other prayer requests:
- That South Bend adults join the mission of Young Life.
- More volunteer leaders on the Clay leadership team.
- Relationships and prayer – that in all things we are relational and caring and we remain prayerful.
- For the faculty at Adams and Clay high schools.
- For the Adams leadership team: Sydney, Jake, Max, Katelyn, Sarah, Cooper and Paul.
- For the Clay leadership team: Chris, Katie F., Katie H., Isaac and Ryanne.
It was one of the first days I was at school this year. A young man, we’ll call him “C”, was sitting alone at a classroom table. He was visibly not like the other students in the classroom. Tall, rock band t-shirt, thumb rings, wide-leg jeans and a notebook of poems and sketches. I said “hello” to him, but my attention was mainly focused on building relationships with my female high school friends.
The following week, I brought one of my leader-friends, Max, back to the same classroom to meet the students. Most of the guys wanted to talk with Max about his shoes — I still don’t remember what was most awesome about them, but apparently they were a big deal. C remained in the back corner, but I could tell he was watching. He hung around after class for just a few moments to chat with Max about a video project they were working on. C was never solidly on my radar, until one day he came up to me and said, “Hey Caryn, how are you doing today?” Not sure how many of you know anything about teenagers nowadays, but having one of them ask about you is a rare moment!
C has never come to any YL events, but when he sees us in the halls or lunchroom, he always makes a point to say hello.We greet him and exchange a few words, but C has never been a “part of YL.”
A couple weeks ago, Max and another leader went to get coffee after church. As their waitress dropped off their cups of coffee, she leaned over to Max and said, “I’ve been told by that guy over there to give you a hard time.” Max looked over and to his surprise saw C sitting with his grandparents! For the next half hour Max, C and C’s grandparents spent time chatting together at a table in the diner. It wasn’t C’s time spent at YL events that impacted him. It was God’s love shown through small interactions and the leaders’ presence at school.
So often, success in Young Life is measured with numbers. How many kids are coming to camp this summer? How many kids do you have coming to Club? Campaigners? Rarely are we asked, “Have you impacted any kids’ lives by being present in their world?” or “Have you been a part of a teenager’s first experience of Christ’s love?” It is a common temptation of YL leaders and staff to focus on numbers and performance, but I wholeheartedly believe Christ sees how Max showed C His love throughout this semester as a total success. While I love Club, it is important for me to remember that our goal is to lead kids to Christ, not YL events.
I cannot believe that Brent and I have been here in South Bend for over one year now. My 1 year work-i-versary was May 1! We are nearing the closing date on our first home here in town, and we feel extremely privileged to be a part of ALL that God is doing through Young Life in South Bend.
As I evaluated this past year with my volunteer leaders, we took a look at our accomplishments as a team. Here is what they named as our biggest accomplishments this year:
- “I think it is cool to look at our team and see that now we are actually friends. We spend time with each other for the sake of being together rather than just meeting.” – Sarah
- “The turnout and interest in Club this year has been awesome especially considering this was the first year we have had Club.” – Sarah
- “I like that we are in the school so much this year compared to last year. We can walk in now and be known by kids.” – Max
- “Kids notice when we aren’t there. They want us to be there.” – Paul
- “It has been awesome to start a Bible study with Tondrew.” – Jake
- “I just feel like our team is on the same-page and very like-minded.” – Jake
Many of my high school friends at Adams right now are senior girls. I’ve only been their friend for a year, but I feel as if we have been through a lifetime of ups and downs. I am honored they invited me into their lives. Here are some of their reflections of the past year:
- “I love how involved with our lives you got and how you were actually like our mentor. You’re another person for me to talk to when I don’t want to talk to may parents or friends. I love how much pure fun I have in Young Life and I’m not worried about being judged.” – Dobbie
- “…coming to YL has made me make new friends and do things I didn’t think I would never do. Also made me make more unforgettable memories.” – Braylen
- “I really look forward to Mondays. Every time I go to Club and we have our talk I am always motivated to be a better person. Just being a part of Young Life makes me want to help others. Everybody is so nice and especially Caryn. I have never met anyone that would bend over backwards for me. I can honestly say she has never let me down and is always there for me. I love being a part of YL. Not only did it make me gain a stronger relationship with my friends, but it also helped me have a stronger relationship with God. I can truly say I’m thankful and blessed.” – Maddie
- “I can say that Young Life has truly changed my life for the better. It has turned me into a better person. It has strengthened my relationship with God and given me the Father I have always wanted and needed. YL has opened my eyes and made me realize that there’s more to life than I actually expected that there’s always another option and God will show you that option. I’m so grateful for YL and for the lifelong friends I have made there. I love the people there. They are truly my family and I will always love each and every one of them…” – Aubrei
All of these accomplishments and memories are non-numbers based, but rather relationship-based!
Some great numbers-based accomplishments were also reached this year:
- We had nearly 20 leaders at fall leadership weekend — compared to four last year!
- We had 23 people go to Timber Wolf Lake for fall camp — the largest Area fall camp trip in years!
- We had 18 Club gatherings this year– compared to none last year!
- We had 17 Campaigners gatherings this year.
- Our summer camp bus is FULL at 37 people! — our largest camp trip in years and 14 more people than last year!
God is doing work! We are so grateful. Thank you for your continued prayers and support.
I feel so much has happened in the past two months. I cannot even begin to describe even the highest of highs and lowest of lows we’ve experienced. During this time, I’ve been reminded to lean on God during all seasons. In the book of Hosea it says, “I took care of you in the wilderness, in that dry and thirsty land. But when you had eaten and were satisfied, you became proud and forgot me.” (Hosea 13:5-6)
This isn’t a new concept. I believe it is in our human nature to run to God when we are in need and to try and sustain ourselves when we are “satisfied.” I’m reminded of the importance of asking for God’s help and strength in tough times but also thanking and praising him in the good.
Here are some things I’ve learned as I’ve been walking with God and people in ministry.
Ministry is Sacrifice.
Humanly, there are many days I think ministry is about me. When I have to move my schedule around so I can pick a kid up from school, or change my hair appointment so I can make it to ChickFilA and school lunches, or get a pair of pink pants ruined because the off-brand whipped cream pie got on them, I think to myself, “What about me!” (Embarrassing, but true.) Other days are lonely without being around people in my stage of life, or draining because I’m sitting in my car with a girl who is crying and telling me her darkest life secrets. While the sacrifices are real (some more real than others), I also can’t overlook the fact that all of my days are filled with seeing others love each other well and seeing God move in miraculous ways. Ministry isn’t for me. It is for the Kingdom. Thank you, God, for allowing me to be in a front row seat to what you are doing.
Ministry is Celebration.
We get to celebrate 4 kids coming to Club and 19 kids coming to Campaigners in the same week. We get to celebrate the leader who gives the talk for the first time without sweating through their crew neck. We get to celebrate new boyfriends and girlfriends, basketball wins, new cars, mended friendships, awkward moments, SNOW DAYS, and also tiny “aha-Jesus!” moments. There are also huge “aha-Jesus!” moments like hearing a kid speak candidly and honestly about what a scripture passage meant to them. Thank you, God, for the Celebration!
Ministry Takes People.
Ministry requires the participation of people. These people are kids, college friends, college volunteers, parents, school faculty, YL colleagues, community members, Committee members, and donors. Everyone is important and impactful. Also, don’t discount the quiet people. They’re often the ones who think deeply and pray earnestly. Thank you, God, for providing the friends I have.
There Are Constant Voices Around You…God’s Voice Should be Loudest. Ministry Takes Prayer.
When in ministry, people will always have something to say to you. A lot is good. A lot is bad. People tend to see where you’re not doing ministry more than where you are. It is easy to want to be everywhere and do everything. Taking the time to pray about where you are and where God wants you to be is essential to avoiding burnout and stress. Thank you, God, for your calling and guidance.
Ministry Introduces You to New People.
For many of us it is easy to stay around people who are exactly like us. Who hold the same beliefs, who have the same sense of humor, who all shop at Target and Costco, etc. In the short time I’ve been in South Bend, I’ve met many people who are nothing like me. For one, most Indiana residents drive about 10mph slower than me on average. But seriously, I’ve met believers and non-believers, the “haves” and the “have-nots,” parents with jobs and those without, straight kids and gay kids, kids who love me and kids who think I’m creepy, cheerleaders and athletes, artists and outliers, brown kids and white kids. While it’d be easy to rule out those who are “different,” I wholeheartedly believe God has a heart for all these people. I also believe that my friends and I are called to show God’s heart to these kids and adults by loving them; not ostracizing them or condemning them — even the slow drivers. God showed his concern for the city of Ninevah in the book of Jonah “Ninevah has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I be concerned for such a great city?” (Jonah 4:11) South Bend has around 101,000 people living in it, and I think God is concerned for all of us.
Right now we are praising God for…
- Our adults who support us through prayer, food, and opening their homes to us.
- For all our high school friends.
- For Jake and Paul who joined the Adams team.
- All our leaders at Clay and Adams.
- For Chris and Katie who are leading the Clay team.
- Brad and the YL Committee.
Right now we are asking God for…
- Discernment when loving our high school friends in really difficult circumstances.
- Additional adult support from all communities in South Bend.
- Adult and college-aged volunteer leaders.
- Around $3,000 in additional funding for Caryn.
Friends, I am so grateful for all of you, and I’m excited that I get to share the many ways God is shaping me and this ministry!
Well, friends, it is nearly 10PM on Christmas Eve-Eve, and all our extended family has been visited. This is our first Christmas in a different state from the rest of our family. Our tree didn’t go up until last week Sunday, and we had around 4 days to enjoy it in our tiny Mishawaka apartment before we loaded up and headed to Michigan. I like to think I was blessed with extra time with our tree as I also spent those 4 days knocked out with the flu — fever and all. Happy Holidays to me!
This year has flown by and shocked and surprised us at each turn:
- Brent and I married on December 28th last year.
- Four months later we moved to Indiana. (May)
- I immediately started fundraising for camp, and Brent commuted to Kalamazoo for classes.
- One month after our move, two of Brent’s best friends got married in Michigan. (June)
- The weekend of the last wedding, (1.5 months after we moved) I experienced my first overseas travel to the Dominican Republic.
- 2 weeks after my trip to the DR I went to Timberwolf Lake with 21 Michiana Young Life kids and leaders. (July)
Since that first camp trip:
- We have started regular Club and Campaigner meetings at Clay and Adams high schools.
- I have started building real, deep, friendships with both HS friends and Notre Dame College friends.
- Last school year around 6 girls were attending Campaigners regularly, this summer I had around 13 girls at my house every week, and just a few weeks ago we had 22 guys and girls at our house for dinner!
- We took over 10 more leaders to leadership weekend than last year, and around 13 more leaders and kids to Fall Camp than last year.
- We have had 3 All Area Clubs with between 25-40 high school friends.
- We have around 13 fully-invested Notre Dame friends who are loving kids on a regular basis.
- We have community adults who are investing in the health of our volunteer leaders.
- We know nearly 175 high school kids by name of all different races, family situations, friend groups….and counting!
This journey in South Bend has been inspiring. God is present in this ministry and continues to provide for us in all ways. Speaking of which — Brent graduated last weekend with his Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy, AND he has already been offered a job in South Bend! Thank you, Jesus! What a wonderful affirmation (and great Christmas gift) this job offer has been!
As we celebrate this holiday season, we ask for prayers for our leaders and staff as we continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all types of kids in South Bend. God has done immeasurably more than we can imagine in this ministry already, and we are looking forward to all the many days ahead of us. Thank you to all who continue to make this adventure possible through prayer, funds, and love.
Merry Christmas, friends!
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” Luke 2:10b