The premise is simple: meet young people where they are and love them wherever that place may be.
For more than 70 years, Young Life has been impacting the lives of middle school and high school students in nearly every corner of the world.
By being present at football games, going to popular local hangout spots, and volunteering to coach sports teams the Auburn-Opelika Young Life leaders work hard to foster genuine relationships with the high school and middle school students they meet.
Whether they are needed as a mentor, confidant, role model or friend, Young Life leaders are willing to walk alongside students in their daily lives and problems.
Mitchell Springfield, a senior psychology major at Auburn University, currently serves as a WyldLife leader at Lee-Scott Academy. The WyldLife program is a branch of Young Life that is specifically geared toward middle school students. (Photo, right: Grayson Temple)
“One of the most important aspects in this ministry is being consistent; [which] means consistently showing up for these kids, consistently hanging out with these kids, consistently showing these kids Jesus in both actions and words,” Springfield said.
The relationships formed between Young Life leaders and the students they reach are based upon vulnerability and trust. However, as with any relationship, these friendships require significant amounts of time and effort.
Jake Ankenbrandt, senior at Auburn University studying creative writing, is no stranger to the hard work associated with building relationships through Young Life. Ankenbrandt has served as the team leader at Lee-Scott Academy Young Life for two years, following his role as team leader for Lee-Scott Academy WyldLife for three years.
“The biggest thing that I've learned as a leader is how to love people unconditionally,” Ankenbrandt said. “It’s an odd thing to try and love someone who doesn't want to love you back, and who often rejects you when you try to get to know them. That is the life of Young Life leaders: rejection after rejection—you learn to love in a way that is not normal.”
The leaders who give up their need to be perceived as perfect and subject themselves to the vulnerability that comes with rejection, almost always see positive changes in their relationships with students. Over time, a sense of trust is developed and students begin to let Young Life leaders into their lives.
“At the end of it all, The Lord has answered prayers and has been so faithful to this ministry,” Ankenbrandt said. “I'll leave [after graduation] knowing that the future is bright and knowing that high school and middle school students will continue to be reached with the good news of the gospel.”
“They have worked their way into my everyday life, and I'd like to think I have worked my way into theirs,” Grayson Temple said.
Temple is a senior journalism major at Auburn University and is a member of the Lee-Scott Academy WyldLife team, serving middle school students.
The focal point of Young Life is centered on weekly Young Life Club meetings. The official Young Life website describes Young Life Club as a “party with a purpose” that is “controlled chaos” designed to be the best night of the week for students. Comedy sketches, games and music allow students to have fun with their friends and leaders in a safe environment.
Before the end of Young Life Club, a message is shared by a Young Life leader about the love of Christ. These simple messages are designed to spark longer and more intentional conversations between students and leaders outside of club meetings.
Auburn-Opelika has experienced significant growth in the number of leaders involved. In just four years, the number of Young Life leaders in Lee County has increased from nearly 80 to more than 120 leaders. Additional outreach programs such as summer camps, weekend retreats, and local camping trips are including higher numbers of students each year.
These developments can be attributed to the innovative leadership of area directors Eric Faison and Mary Margaret Godley over the past several years. Faison and Godley have raised standards for leaders to be as consistent and present as possible in the lives of students.
“They put leaders in the best position to succeed and to love kids, and it has made all the difference,” Ankenbrandt said.
Auburn-Opelika Young Life has proven to be a strong program in the Lee County community for more than a decade. The positive impact that leaders have on high school and middle school students is immeasurable, and is earned through perseverance and honesty. To get involved or learn more about Auburn-Opelika Young Life, visit Young Life's website.
The Lee-Scott Academy WildLyfe team after a weekly club meeting. (Photo: Grayson Temple)
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Started in 1939 by Jim Rayburn in Gainesville, Texas, Young Life was designed to be an avenue for caring adults to create authentic friendships with teenagers in order to share their love of Jesus Christ.
As of June 2015, there are Young Life programs in approximately 6,936 schools with 68,385 volunteers who are making an impact on more than 1,864,257 kids globally. While these numbers are large and impressive, they become real and personal at a local level. The Auburn-Opelika Young Life program reaches six local schools in the surrounding Lee County area with nearly 120 volunteers.