Fulfilling Dreams

This was originally posted by Young Life Africa earlier this month.

At the end of May, I had the wonderful opportunity to go on a Young Life Expedition trip to Kenya. To be honest I didn’t really have any expectations going into the trip. I had been on African soil twice before, so I just assumed it would be like the other two times. Boy was I wrong. This might sound cliché but the moment I landed and got off the plane I knew this was a place that God would keep me coming back to. There were more than a few moments that impacted my life while I was there.

Each day we got to help out at Young Life club. Even though club is nothing new to me, I still always left club in Kenya in awe. Not only did I see the authenticity of the joy, and togetherness of the people there but I also felt it.I felt it through the angelic voices of the kids worshipping God. I felt it through each move that kids would do in many of the dances that they did. I felt it through the messages that one of the Regional Directors Martin would give. Just a whole lot of love!

I also want to talk about the leaders I met. Steve, Sam, Koko, Peter, Jonathan, Nyas, Jamila, and many more leaders showed me what it means to truly love one another. I was excited to wake up every day to spend time with them, hear their stories and to just do life with them daily. It was beautiful to see how God used them to reach kids. Their love for the kids is the closest thing to unconditional love I’ve ever seen. I can now say that the leaders I met, and even some of the kids have turned into my family. People I can now call my brothers and sisters. When I was in Kenya God reignited a spark in me that I haven’t seen, or felt in a really long time. 

While I was on the trip I believe I became that person that God truly created me to be, which is a passionate, joyful and loving woman. A few years ago, a dream was placed on my heart to lead trips of kids (specifically of color) on trips to Africa. If you didn’t know, it’s not really that common in African-American communities to visit Africa. I’ve always wanted to change that, I just didn’t know how.

Until I went on this trip. While I was there I was told I was only the second African American to go on a Young Life expeditions trip to Africa. Something I hope will change in the future. I began to share my dreams with the leaders as well as staff there. My dreams of bridging this gap that has been around for years between Africans, and African Americans. My dream of bringing kids and leaders from Kenya to experience Young Life in America as well. The more we talked the more I realized this is exactly where God wants me to be, and this is what God wants me to do.

This trip was life-changing for me. The Kenyan staff, leaders, and kids truly changed me. God changed me. I loved my time there so much that I have decided to go back in December 2018 to stay for an entire month (or more). I’m excited to learn more from YL Kenya. I’m excited to keep building the special relationships I built. Most of all, I am excited to see what God has in store for years to come!

— Mikayla Metzler

 

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Putting Faith Into Action

The following post was written by and published by Young Life in the Western Great Lakes Region.

From March 16-23, a group of eleven from Greater Holland Young Life traveled to the Dominican Republic with Young Life Expeditions. Through YL Expeditions, kids and leaders are called to put their faith into action by GOING, SEEING and ENGAGING in a cross-cultural setting. Together this group spent time serving at Pico Escondido, connecting with Young Life communities in Montellano, Puerto Plata, and Jarabacoa and immersing themselves in a new culture.

Below is a reflection written by Jazmin Martinez, the only high school student on this trip.

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The group from Greater Holland Young Life consisted of three adults, seven college students, and one high school student.

“I know God can move mountains, but this week the mountains moved me.”

Before we knew it, we had arrived in Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana. I can remember the particular smell of the airport—the tropical, wet, hot, but pleasant smell. Once we walked out the door, we were greeted by Isa and Jose Gabriel who, before long, would impact our lives in tremendous ways.

We hopped in a van with another group from Naperville, Illinois. They told us to get comfortable because we would drive some distance to get some food. The van was hot and tightly packed, but the view was simply gorgeous.

“But the most beautiful part of our trip was how many rich conversations I was able to have.”

When we arrived at the house our first night, it was dark and raining outside. We were told to get out the van, and I remember being bombarded with people greeting us, “Hola, Hola! Come in, come in!”

We went in and circled around the living room to introduce ourselves. Ironically our Dominican friends introduced themselves saying, “Hello, my name is…and I’m…years old.” While all of us Americans said, “Hola, me llamo…and yo soy de…”

Being fluent in Spanish was a great advantage I had over others, but it was so cool to see everyone talk to one another even if they weren’t comfortable with the language.

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“Throughout our trip, God redefined love.”

Our Dominican brothers and sisters displayed much love on a regular basis. They easily gave up their beds for us, allowed us to use their water, made sure we were fed well, and when they say they love you they truly mean it. The Dominican Republic is a very action based society, they don’t simply say I love you, their actions make you feel fully loved.

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“It’s incredible what loving strangers can do to you.”

I walked more than I ever would at home with them. I hiked a waterfall with them, shared a bed with them, shared personal thoughts with them and saw them push through tiredness. I observed them being weird and had some of the best laughs with them.

The love I have for my team and the love I have for the Dominican people is pure. Whenever I see them their presence brings a different type of joy to me, different than anything I have experienced at home.

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“It was time to work. I was in a group with Jo, Jess, and Steph. I have never laughed so much while working hard.”

“This was truly the best week of my life!”

I met so many amazing souls, learned more about myself, and felt God’s presence like never before. God made it very clear that my purpose on this trip was to discover this concept of identity. I learned it does not matter where my parents are from or where I am from. What matters is I’m perfectly made in God’s image. My purpose is to love others, serve others, and spread the gospel. I did not expect to grow so much in such a short amount of time.

The Dominican Republic stole my heart and I cannot wait to be back!

A Young Life Imagineer

Are you familiar with Walt Disney’s staff of “Imagineers?” According to their website, “Building upon the legacy of Walt Disney, Imagineers bring art and science together to turn fantasy into reality and dreams into magic.” Did you know that we, Young Life, have our own version of “Imagineers” on staff? Our Camp Construction department blends their love of Jesus and passion for gospel proclamation with the art and science of construction and landscaping — so kids might experience “the best week of their lives” and know God’s love and invitation personally. Chris Marshall, one of our construction project managers, specializes in preparing places for kids to meet Christ and grow in their faith — and has done so in some pretty unique locations!

 

Nineteen years ago, Chris joined the Young Life team and set to work transforming an abandoned commune in Oregon, which Dennis and Phyllis Washington had acquired and then donated to Young Life, into an oasis where kids could hear about Christ. Most recently, he has served as project manager over the construction of Creekside, Young Life’s WyldLife camp at Washington Family Ranch.

 

Chris has also played an integral role in the transformation of a former “Young Pioneer communism camp” in Armenia into Young Life’s newest camp, “Pioneer.”

 

We acquired this property in 2013 with dilapidated buildings that were being overtaken by Mother Nature. Chris had the eyes to see future Young Life kids playing on a beautifully manicured plaza where formerly kids paraded under the communist flag. Last summer, Pioneer welcomed its first campers ever, thanks in part to Chris’ hard work and dedication.
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“Chris’ extensive experience in camp operations makes him unique in the mission as a project manager and a master planner. He does his job with such excellence because he wants kids at camp to have an environment that matches the message of God’s extravagant love. He wants to create a place where a kid can climb a tree and hear Jesus say, “Come down. I want to go home with you today.” His work is evident every day at Washington Family Ranch and Pioneer, but it points to Jesus not to Chris. It’s never about Chris; he did what God called him to do and what he is most passionate about, creating and building for God’s Kingdom work.” — Rich Ellerd, Camping coordinator

 

Thanks, in part, to Chris’ faithful and creative work, properties are being redeemed and transformed into locations where kids are introduced to The Way, The Truth and The Life. Hallelujah!

— Chad Sievert, Vice President, Camping

From Oregon to Moldova

“Well… this is as close as we have ever been.” I said, just inches from a fellow Young Life leaders face. It was my first ride on a “mishutka” – Moldova’s main transportation throughout the city. In American eyes, this is a 12-seat van with 30 people inside – getting to know your neighbor has never been easier.

My name is Annie and I’ve been to a few places. Throughout my 4 years serving Young Life, I have gone from my hometown, to NW Seattle, to small-town Corvallis, Oregon – all within a year! It was a lot of moving – but now I can see that the Lord was preparing me for what was ahead: serving in Ukraine and Moldova! With a language and culture foreign to me, I was worried there wouldn’t be much I could give. Little did I know, the mere sound of my voice made children marvel. They come, tapping on my shoulder and tugging on my sleeve, just to say “Hello. How are you?” with thick, beautiful accents. They love Americans!

A year ago, the Lord put Europe on my heart in a mighty way – but I had no idea where. When I felt Him later nudge for Moldova … I still had no idea where! But all it took was one e-mail to Young Life Expeditions!  They immediately began to help this nudge become reality for this mystery country!  It all started with my first month serving at the Young Life Center in Ukraine where I was warmly welcomed by Regional Directors, Sasha Utkin and Sergey Romanyuk who have decades of Young Life experience between them. I was given great training which included attending an amazing Young Life Former Soviet Union (FSU) All-leader conference in Armenia!  The experience was incredible – I was so very impressed with the leaders from the many countries of the FSU – they are so full of grace and so very FUN!

Next came my migration to Moldova and my deep connection with Area Director Ted Setchek and his wife, Lena.  Again I was wonderfully greeted, given great training and am now a part of Young Life Moldova weekly clubs and diverse ministries – including my very own English club!

People have told me that my “big move” is impressive – but I wish these same people could see what I am seeing. Day in and day out, these teams depend on our God for just about everything. He fills their homes with bread, joy, kids, and laughter. And from what they receive, they do not keep to themselves – they spend their weeks being Mothers and Fathers to many, visiting orphanages, loving on kids who have few adult role models and sharing everything they have.

So…how do you go from Oregon to Moldova?

I’m still trying to figure that one out. But, honestly, I’m more in awe of the heart He had to change behind-the-scenes. How do we become generous, God-fearing people? How do we share, even when we have little? How do we become anything remotely close to beautiful, wonderful Jesus? One verse explains this to me:   “… or do you not know, the riches of His kindness are meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4

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Repentance is the beautiful, continual act of walking closer and closer to God. And through His kindness, we desire to live Godly lives. From His kindness, these leaders hearts shine out in glorious ways. From His kindness to me, I now stand alongside a team who humbles me every day. I never expected He would lead me to Ukraine and Moldova. But then again, years ago, I never expected I could be in a relationship with Jesus. (but hallelujah – we can!) As I get to know people I never thought I’d meet, I’m becoming more thankful that Jesus chose to meet us and how kind He truly is.

I hope as you read this, you say “yes” to whatever He’s nudging you to do. Who knows – maybe it’s to join us this summer! I sure hope so. But we don’t earn His favor – it’s His kindness that leads us to a life closer to Him. So get quiet and listen… He’s probably nudging you to places you never could have expected.

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Written by: Annie Beckstrand

See more of Annie’s experience and these Ministries on Facebook: YOUNG LIFE MOLDOVA or YOUNG LIFE UKRAINE  and   www.ukraine.younglife.org    or www.formersovietunion.younglife.org  For information on how you can serve with Young Life Expeditions contact Carrie Fraser at cfraser@sc.younglife.org   

Fellow Citizens with God’s People

It feels like chaos at first. Everyone stumbles off the bus, bleary eyed and a little carsick. They just spent an hour driving through afternoon traffic, excited and hot, taking in the new surroundings after getting off a plane. After months of anticipation, they are here – they’re really doing it. They are in the Dominican Republic! The driver drops them off at the door of a small house on a busy street. A tall, friendly Dominican guy and a long and lean Dominican girl are cheering for them as they get off the bus. But where are they?

 

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The team has arrived at their homestay, a three day journey into another world, where Young Life club happens on rooftops, roosters crow at all hours of the day and night, and nervous children peek around buildings, laughing and chattering excitedly. Jose and Isa, the team’s hosts, usher them in to the house, which turns out to be much larger than it appears on the street. It contains a maze of rooms and then opens up into a big patio in the back yard. Jose’s grandmother, who owns the house, is beaming at the new arrivals from the kitchen. She wants to say something, but knows they won’t understand her.

So now what? Well, the other Vida Joven leaders are not there yet – so the team must wait. They aren’t exactly aware that they are waiting for other leaders from that area. They know they are waiting for something, so they prop on furniture and talk about the trip, taking in their surroundings. Eventually, other Vida Joven leaders begin to trickle in, greeting every person with a kiss on the cheek, causing the girls to laugh at the awkwardness and the guys to sweat out of nervousness. After about an hour, Jose and Isa call everyone’s attention and introduce the leaders. They aren’t your typical Young Life leaders in college– these are skinny teenagers who look like they just went to summer camp themselves. The reality is – they did, as the team slowly learns. These teenagers have become a part of the ministry and are now sharing it with their friends, all while in high school.

The leaders take their new friends to their homes, each person from the team will stay with another teammate and a Vida Joven leader. The introductions are stiff – the Americans still don’t really understand what is going on and the leaders are energetically showing them their bed, their fan, the bathroom – explaining how you take a shower with a bucket… while the Americans stare at them in the fog of traveling since three am. The Vida Joven leader gives the Americans time to “bañarse/shower”, but the Americans don’t understand – why shower? They aren’t dirty… they probably won’t even shower until they get to Pico, after all – a bucket shower feels like too much work, and with cold water? The thoughts run in their mind while the Vida Joven leader waits to see what they are going to do. They plop on the bed and lean back, so it appears they aren’t going to shower. The leader shakes her head in confusion and goes to clean up herself, after all – tonight is club! We must look out best!

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Fast forward twenty four hours to see the team helping clean up a basketball court with the leaders from the area. People are laughing, throwing water at each other and random dogs walking by, jumping to reach spider webs, and carrying tables to set up for a banquet. It looks like a whole different group of people than those that arrived on the bus yesterday. Everything looks different after a night of “sleep” (or tossing and turning on hard mattresses and listening to roosters crow). The team has also realized something important – that in the midst of all the differences and new things to learn, these Vida Joven leaders love Jesus too. They are their brothers and sisters, and share a common love for Jesus, laughter, and weird games that involve eating cheese puffs.

The team has seen the power of being welcomed into someone else’s world, and being served by them – realizing that Jesus had a whole lot more to teach their hearts than maybe they had to teach the Dominican Vida Joven leaders.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” – Ephesians 2:19-21

— written by Allison Preg Heredia

The Impact of Work Teams

At Pico Escondido, we love work teams. Their impact is huge!

This spring we had a trip leader who participated on a team here in 2001. It has been fun to hear her comparing experiences and also comparing pictures taken from the same places 17 years apart. Below you will see two of these photos. The difference is dramatic. Almost everything in these photos was done by US work teams, even the few structures that were present in the older photo, and the trees, which were almost all planted by work teams.

Work teams continue to have a similar impact on the physical structure at camp. They have built gazebos, constructed an entire amphitheater, installed benches, fabricated bleachers for club, created a trail and covered much of it with rock, painted, done lots of landscaping, and on and on and on.

But even though much of what exists at Pico Escondido was made at least partially by work teams, their impact doesn’t stop there. The entire camp facilities and infrastructure are a tool for the Gospel presentation, so their work helps create eternal benefits. Second, our staff and volunteers are energized by the work teams. They are given the gift to see through the eyes of a newcomer the beauty of this place, and through telling them our stories we are reminded of why we do what we do – to present Jesus to adolescents and help them to grow in their faith.

If you have come to the Dominican Republic on a work trip, thank you! If you haven’t, come and see and be a part of this great experience!

Written by Roy Clifford…learn more on their blog.

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Hauling Rocks

Stephanie and Jess became close friends in middle school and went on many mission trips through their local church. In the spring of 2008, while attending Hope College, they decided to go on a Young Life Expedition to Pico Escondido in the Dominican Republic. This spring, 10 years later, Stephanie and Jess returned to Pico Escondido!

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“Pico Escondido looked so different than it did in 2008. When we first went, there was no gym, no big swing, no extra dorms, or even an athletic field! In 2008 the “swimming pool” was a big hole that was stream-fed, the cafeteria was a lot smaller, and even the gazebo was still in the dream-stage!”

 

This year Stephanie and Jess got to see a finished gazebo (in 2008 they helped stain wood for it), they saw the retaining wall (that they hauled rocks to help build) holding up the side of the mountain by the athletic field, and they swam in a real swimming pool!

Although there were so many changes, the coolest part was that Pico was still the magical, peaceful place they remembered. They still got to work alongside incredible Dominican staff and kids as they worked on building projects. They still got to see Young Life club in action-but this time see how much it had grown, and they still so very much felt the presence of Jesus in that place! Pico Escondido will forever hold a special place in their hearts, and hopefully next time it wont be ten years in between visits.

Hauling rocks in 2008, and still hauling rocks in 2018!