Meeting the youth on their turf
Crook County's Young Life group members and leaders want local middle and high school age students to know that they care.
They might pop up at the school, hosting Flapjack Fridays in the morning and hooking students up with hot pancakes and an enthusiastic greeting to start their day. Perhaps they interact with kids during school lunch or maybe at a sports practice. But wherever they go and whoever they meet, the goal is always the same.
"The contact with students is all about building relationships, building friendships and letting students know that there are adults in the community who care about them and want to see them succeed," says Jacob Salmond, the area leader for the local organization.
Young Life is a faith-based nonprofit that was launched in 1941 by Jim Rayburn under the name Young Life Campaign. Crook County's group is one of many throughout the country that seek to develop relationships with them and provide them an opportunity to learn about Jesus and the Gospel.
Salmond notes that Young Life employs a no-pressure approach to sharing the message of Christ with young students. Meeting students on their turf, initial interactions focus on building a rapport with kids and getting to know them and what their interests and activities include.
"We respect the separation of church and state," Salmond stressed. "We are there not talking about God, not praying for kids at school."
The goal, he said, is to develop relationships, meeting them where they are, "to earn the right to be heard." Fostering those relationships are a mix of adult leaders and student members – kids are oftentimes reaching out to their friends.
"Then, as students know about what we are doing and are interested in finding out what goes on in Young Life outside of school, they are certainly welcome to come to any of our events and that's where we will share about Jesus," Salmond said.
But even if relationships never reach that point, the emphasis on growing relationships and caring for students will continue.
"We want students to know that we love them and we care about them regardless of their response to the Gospel," he said.
The approach seems to resonate with many of the students. Young Life hosts a weekly club where kids are welcome to gather, have fun together and learn about the Gospel. About 75 people attend it on a regular basis. A Campaigners group, which Salmond likens to a Bible study group, draws about 20 kids per session. And camp, a fun-filled trip that serves as the culmination of the group's work throughout the year, draws nearly 100 kids per summer.
"I think that (no-pressure approach) is why the response has been so favorable to Young Life in this community," Salmond said. "I can't make anybody believe anything – I'm not going to try. But I am going to offer them a chance to hear about Jesus because I think everybody deserves a chance to hear about him and decide for themselves if they want to have anything to do with him or not."
Those individuals who do choose to participate in club, in Campaigners or other activities, comprise what Salmond calls "an awesome group of Young Life students who are all in." As an example, he recounts a prayer walk that students participated in this past Tuesday morning.
The weather was near freezing, but students committed to praying as they walked a loop that included Crook County High School, Crook County Middle School and Pioneer Alternative High School.
"It was so cool," Salmond gushed. "Sometimes they were praying out loud, and sometimes just walking in silence. It was cool to see a group of high-schoolers not looking at their phones, in silence, unified around this idea of praying for their schools."
Young Life is funded entirely by donor support. The organization consequently holds fundraisers throughout the year and relies on monthly donations from about 90 monthly supporters. Those donated funds pay the staff and sustain local Young Life programs and help students raise enough money to attend camp each year.
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