Here is a column I wrote during my early career in print journalism with The Times Leader (Martins Ferry, Ohio); the column was published on June 22, 2008.
COMING up through the ranks as the son of a teacher, it seemed I was always involved in clubs that took up a lot of my time in the summer months. If I wasn’t at camp, we were at a local fair or some other community event. I do not regret being involved in any of these clubs or events, but I have grown up to find the groups that I want to stay involved with on a regular basis.
For me, I have always enjoyed working with young people. This has led me into coaching and teaching 4-H classes in the summer, but it has also led me to another rewarding challenge of being a Young Life leader. Challenged by Dave Etling and Kevin Hildebrandt, former Wheeling Park High School Young Life leaders, I always knew there was something better for me in life, and I wasn’t living it in the best manner. Fighting the many temptations of adolescence, I attended a Young Life summer camp at Lake Champion in Glen Spey, N.Y., during the summer of 2000.
Not knowing what I was getting into, I hopped on one of three buses from the Ohio Valley to have the “best week of my life” as Young Life typically describes it. Getting away from the drama of everyday life, I had the chance to go whitewater rafting when traveling to camp and enjoyed some extreme challenges like I have never experienced before in my life while at camp. That week I got to live life-on-life with people and let go of all the problems in my everyday life. It felt unreal. Not to think about television or the Internet, which was very popular because cell phones were not in total control in that day yet, was something I wasn’t used to.
My intentions of the week were to go have a good time and be with a couple of my good friends. The result of the week was so much more. I got the chance to listen to Scripture in a non-threatening manner and decide if what my leader was telling me was something I wanted to look into. Well, I took the Gospels in wholeheartedly and decided I wanted to have a relationship with the Lord.
Walking a Christian path isn’t one many people talk about, but it hasn’t been a lonely journey. Many of my friends took the same path as I did that week eight years ago, and one of them currently leads Young Life in the valley with me. We both led at Martins Ferry for a few years during college and decided it was best if we moved to a new school that needed leaders.
Walking away from such an awesome group of kids, I realized I was moving along because it was the best choice for my walk in Christ. I was meant to help build another group, and it has been so sweet. Traveling across the county, I now lead at Union Local where I also coach at the junior high level.
During the second week in June, I took 17 Union Local teens plus six adult committee members to Rockbridge Alum Springs to camp. Everyone in the group had some idea of church or God, but many of them were unsure of the path they were heading in life. All of them are good kids, and I had the pleasure of hanging out and sharing life experiences with them. I learned what many of them go through on a daily basis and for others, their fears about moving away to college in the fall. I found that many of them have things they want to share with people, but do not always have that person to talk to at home.
Having a teenager open up to you and being able to share life together is amazing. My guys’ cabin of 10 teens will continue to leave a mark on my heart for a long time. Also leaving that same mark will be a group of Martins Ferry leaders that I once led as a college student and are now leading other teens to Christ.
Now that’s breathtaking!
To think, it all started eight years ago when a Young Life leader started to talk to me and invited me to camp. I always admired my Young Life leaders. Both of them were All-Americans in my eyes. They had a great passion for the Lord and wanted to see the best in me. One now lives on the eastern shore in Maryland and the other in New Jersey, but I still keep close ties and have occasional telephone conversations with them.
Joining the Ohio Valley Young Life staff will be Valerie Bennett on July 1. She comes to the area as an intern after leading in Buckannon, W.Va., during her undergraduate years at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Valerie will be working with teens from the St. Clairsville area.