A Healthy Dose of Ohana


Young Life University Southern California (USC) to Molokai, Hawaii. March 11-19, 2017.

Our Young Life Expeditions trip was three years in the making. In 2014 we didn’t have enough interest in a trip and it wasn’t until this spring that our team of 14 finally boarded a plane for Molokai, HI.  It was everything I hoped that it would be and an even greater amount of what I never expected.

We traveled to this self-proclaimed “Friendly Island” and birthplace of the Hula with these preconceptions: it was a former leper colony, there were no stoplights, and there would be a high level of poverty. However, when we arrived the story had so many more facets. We were welcomed by a people in Molokai who were not only far from
impoverished, but rich in heritage and pride in their island culture. We were treated to a healthy dose of OHANA which means family. We were greeted as cousins, uncles, FarmingGroupShotbrothers, and sisters of our hosts. We were invited to worship with them, celebrate a birthday feast with them, assist in Young Life ministry with them, and take part in weekly sports activities with them as if we were fellow citizens of the Molokai community.

As opposed to serving them, we served alongside our friends in their endeavor to preserve their beautiful island and its resources. We did so by helping paint and beautify the grounds of the church and the adjoining pre-school. We also learned about the importance of keeping the beaches of Molokai clean in light of the constant debris that found its way to the shores of Moo’momi Beach as a result of the tsunami in Japan. We learned about the vital and integral farming resources that fill the small island and help feed and provide a living for the population of approximately 7,000 homesteaders.  In the process we were each invited into the privilege of planting a tree and labeling each one with our names. This earned us an invitation to become honorary members of theBen's Tree Hawaiian Tropic Fruit Growers (HTFG). We were blessed to be able to clear overgrown foliage from the property of a single mother of two who had just acquired her property, but found it too daunting to clear it herself. We did so while she was teaching at school and left before she came home to the surprise of a slightly improved landscape.

There was much beauty to see in the sheer cliffs, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, and unique beaches that are unlike any beaches we have seen in Southern California. In all of its quaintness, the small downtown area of Molokai bore a charming resemblance to Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and offered a warmth that was ever-present in the frequent gestures of its citizens who would never hesitate to wave “hello”. Exchanges like this and laughs shared with our new friends over games made it difficult to leave.  When the time came many of us were not ready to go home, simply because we had been made to feel so at home. In the end, each participant expressed their desire to return to this friendly island full of culture, delicious fruit, and citizens so warm that they would truly give you all that they have if you express the need to have it. In so many ways, they were far richer than we could have ever imagined, and they shared that with us through their love, grace and “others-oriented” way of life.  MAHALO Molokai for sharing your warm and wonderful wealth with us!

Until we meet again….

Written by: Ben Chambers, YL College Director USC/UCLA

International Travel as a Single Woman


Here at Expeditions, we’re all about team and group travel but we also know there are plenty of people who have gotten the travel bug from  Expeditions. We get it! We do too! We thought it might be helpful to  offer a few Cultural Intelligence and Safety travel tips.  We’ve reframed  these tips from our team training for women who might find themselves traveling solo and not serving on an Expedition.

Here are some tips for all you single ladies that will help you be a street smart traveler!

  1. Let your family or friends know  your travel itinerary and ways to contact you – call, text, email.

  2. International Cell Phone
    1. Get a sim card when you arrive or contact  your cell phone carrier before you leave to set up a temporary international plan
    2. Be sure to have phone numbers of emergency contacts
  3. Do your research
    1. Spotting tourists a mile away  – I used to live in San Francisco, and you could always spot the tourists in the summer by their clothes – shorts, tshirts, sandals.  They looked ridiculous because it was usually 50 degrees and foggy in the city.
    2. Educate yourself on the local dress, customs, food, transportation, etc – talk to friends who have visited the place you’re going, look up travel blogs, buy a book or download an app!
  4. Have local contacts
    1. Arrange airport pick-up – don’t accept ride offers
    2. Translator or guide – you’ll want this person(s) not only for great local suggestions but also for translation help at markets, where they usually give you the “foreigner price” aka about 10 times the local price.  They can help you translate the culture (example in India – tell you when to bow or not to shake someone’s hand with your left hand)
  5. Have a plan
    1. Spontaneity can be fun but it can also be stressful if you aren’t familiar with the area where you’re traveling.  Be sure to research attractions, activities, and restaurants beforehand so you get the most out of your trip!
    2. Google Maps and other travel apps will help you figure out the best routes.
  6. This ain’t the South (of the United States)
    1. Eye contact and smiling, especially directed at men, isn’t always the best decision
    2. A nonchalant acknowledging smile in the South can be translated in some countries as “I want to be your friend (or more!), please talk to me.”  Simply being “nice” could put you in a situation you’ll regret.  Don’t risk it.
  7. You’re not in Kansas anymore – don’t go wandering at night
    1. Yes, this might be common sense, but many women wrongly assume they can do the same thing as they can in their town or city at home.
    2. If you do choose to go out at night, be sure to go with someone, preferably a male.

Written by: Megan Stephens

Where It All Began… Expeditions In The Holy Land


It is hard to believe that the Gospel transcends cultures. And it is even harder to believe that we actually don’t believe it. Most people find their way into a bubble and struggle to ever make it out. This bubble is what some might call a “comfort zone”. We see it all the time and shake our heads, all the while making ourselves comfortable in our own bubble. But what happens when you break free from that comfort zone? It is usually there that we experience the incredible. There we find compelling truth. For me, leaving my comfort zone meant seeing that the Gospel transcends culture. Though simple in nature, and easy to believe conceptually—seeing it for yourself and experiencing it is a heart piercing and life changing encounter. This is what I found out for myself in the summer of 2015 when I took a trip with Young Life Expeditions with a group from James Madison University to Israel and Palestine.


The Garden Tomb just outside of Jerusalem

It was a trip with two agendas: tour the place where Jesus walked—where his ministry took place, and run a Young Life camp in Palestine. The theme of the trip was yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We learned about the events of yesterday (the rich history of the Middle East), the people and culture of today in a different part of the world, and what we can do to change tomorrow for ourselves and others because of all we learned. And that is what we did. We learned the history of sights such as Mount Carmel, Megiddo, Jacob’s Well, Jericho, Bet’shean where we learned about that city’s struggle with the temporary things of this world, the Jordan river where many were baptized, Jericho, and the Mount of temptation. One of my favorite places was visiting a tomb where some believe Jesus might have been buried. Whether or not that was the actual tomb, it was compelling to see it empty! Easter feels even more real now as I have seen the places where the events actually took place.

But the learning did not end there. We also went to a small city called Zababdeh. Everyone spent the day and night with a host family. Many found this to be one of their favorite parts of the trip—learning the culture of followers of Jesus, sharing in meals and fellowship, and connecting with them in a way many never would have imagined!

Something I’ll never forget from our trip was when someone said, “It seems like our cell reception is better here. We can hear way more from God.” And it was true, but we also know that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So the difference is left to us. He hadn’t changed, but we had. We were so strongly connected with Jesus and growing in our understanding of the Bible as we walked in the places where it took place.

The second half of the trip included running a Young Life camp. We all had no idea what the Lord had in store before that trip. How could anything top all that we learned touring the Middle East? But for me, this was the most life-giving part of the trip. Before the trip we imagined how much would be different for a camp in the Middle East, but the reality was so much was the same. There were leaders who poured out love to earn the right with teenagers who came to camp and experienced the best week of their life. That week they heard the gospel and many responded. We watched lives change from death to life because of Jesus.


A shot of the team from JMU and all the campers after field games at the camp

The Gospel transcends cultures. The Gospel changes lives. That week it changed mine all over again. Often we put ourselves in bubbles, and we can put Jesus in one as well. But the Gospel is so much bigger than that and when we let ourselves and our ideas out of that comfort zone we transform.

Written by: Landon Dermott

A Day in the Life of Isa Emiliano


I recently returned from a short trip to the Dominican Republic where I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days working alongside Vida Joven (Young Life in the DR) staff and leaders in the Monte Llano community of Puerto Plata.  During our time in the local community we joined leaders as they did contact work with kids, attended church, went to club and built some benches to be used in the local club “room”.  We were hosted by Isa Emiliano, who serves as the Area Director in Monte Llano, and her team of volunteer leaders. During the trip I sat down with Isa to discover just a little bit about what it looks like to be an Area Director in the Dominican Republic.

IsaJeff Tait (JT): Isa, tell me a little bit about how you became a Vida Joven leader and eventually wound up on Vida Joven staff in Monte Llano?

Isa Emiliano (IE): “While I was in college in Santiago studying to become a civil engineer my sister, Chris, met Julia Veloz who was on Vida Joven staff and was working to grow ministry in my home town of Puerto Plata.  Chris became one of Julia’s first volunteer leaders and was the first person to tell me about Vida Joven and their ministry to teenage kids.  Ironically, I spent a weekend at Pico Escondido for a church retreat and met Julia as well.  Julia encouraged me become a volunteer in Santiago.  Initially I focused on doing contact work with girls in Santiago…which eventually turned into a girl’s Bible Study.  From time to time I would come home to Puerto Plata to help with club.  So that was my introduction to Vida Joven…contact work with girls and weekly Bible Study.  After graduation I moved back home to look for a engineering job.  I started volunteering with Vida Joven in Puerto Plata during this time and was asked to consider to coming on staff.  As I waited for job offers to come in, I prayed that the Lord would make it clear where He wanted me.  The only calls I got were from Vida Joven friends asking if I was still praying about  joining the Vida Joven staff.  This seemed like the confirmation I was looking for…”

JT:  Tell me a little about what contact work looks like in Monte Llano and how you use Camping in your local ministry.

IE: “As a team we spend a lot of time doing contact work with kids in our community.  Kids in Monte Llano really love volleyball so every Tuesday and Thursday we meet kids at the local gym to play for a couple of hours.  Beyond volleyball on Tuesdays and Thursdays, our leaders spend time hanging out with kids wherever they might be.  I imagine this looks pretty similar to contact work in US.  Wherever the kids are, that’s where we try to be.  Watching movies…getting to know their families… typical contact work stuff.  As far as camping goes, we take kids to Pico Escondido for week long camp in the summer.  We also take kids who have been to summer camp to “growth” camp…it’s probably similar to a Campaigners weekend camp where they learn how to grow deeper in their faith.  Finally, if we have students who are interested in becoming student leaders, we have a Student Leadership camp.”  

JT: Isa, what are the biggest challenges for Vida Joven in your community? What are kids in your community struggling with?

IE: “Well, right now we are “earning the right to be heard” with some of churches in the community.  They just aren’t sure who we are and what we are doing.  Along the same lines, it’s been challenging to get to know some of the people in the community too.  Similar to the church, they just don’t know who we are and why we do what we do.  They are coming around though!  We’re always looking for more leaders who are willing to invest in kids from this community.  

As far as kids in Monte Llano go, I would say their biggest struggle is their relationship with their families.  Many kids from our neighborhood come from broken homes.  Dad’s not around and mom is working all time.”

JT: What’s a typical Tuesday look like for you?

IE: “I wake up and spend time with Jesus and then go into the office.  From 3:30 until 7:00 I go meet leaders to play volleyball with kids.  After that I usually go spend time with some girls…either doing Bible Study or just hanging out.”

JT: What three foods are always in your kitchen?

IE: “Ha… let me think…bread…eggs…plantains.  Always have plenty of plantains!”  

Written by: Jeff Tait

How Service Can Help in Making Disciples


“What you do has far greater impact than what you say.”  ~ Stephen Covey

As you plan for a semester of Campaigners and look to make disciples, is service a part of your plan? There are many verses in the Bible about service: “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28); “do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh, rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13); “He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

Blanco GuysLiving a life of service is the way God created us. It’s in our DNA. When our focus is on loving Him and loving other people, we experience the full and abundant life Jesus spoke of in John 10:10. As we strive to help kids grow in their faith, we have the privilege of challenging them to serve, to give their lives away, to live for something bigger than themselves. As we welcome them into a community of faith, they will need more than fellowship; they will need mission too.

Most good things have been said far too many times and just need to be lived.

How do we move from talking and teaching about serving to actually serving?  How do we incorporate service into our yearly Campaigner plan in the midst of everything else we manage as Young Life leaders?

Start simple. Start local. Start this year. Encourage your small group or Campaigners to partner with a local organization, care for the poor in your community, volunteer as buddies at a Capernaum Camp, go as childcare workers on a YoungLives week, help as work crew at a Young Life fall weekend, or…

Serve as a team with Young Life Expeditions!  

Expeditions has opportunities around the world including at home in the US. We realize YL leaders juggle many things, which is why we work to serve you and handle the logistics of your trip.  As you humbly serve and make disciples of your kids, you will be part of growing Young Life around the globe in an international movement to love kids into His Kingdom.

Scott Berg, Young Life Regional Director, said “Expeditions was a beautiful experience that boosted the encouragement of a small band of people who care about their Appalachian community in rural West Virginia. The presence of 21 energetic Jesus-loving workers was a blessing that the community literally could not believe until they saw what the team accomplished. It was awesome!”

Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates and ways to serve.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” ~ 1 Peter 4:10

Written by: Mike Miller

Young Life Grows in Poland Through Service


The summer of 2016 was a historical one for Poland!  Every third year, millions of youth from various Christian traditions from around the world gather at World Youth Day. They hear encouraging messages, engage in multi-cultural worship, experience fun program events and participate in Holy Mass with the current Pope. Last summer Poland hosted World Youth Day 2016 (WYD2016) in the city of Kraków.

Phillipe & KubaKraków is not far from the city of Poznań, where Young Life Area Director Kristyna Kvasničkova leads a group of 20+ volunteers with Young Life clubs across the city. Young Life Polska saw a strategic opportunity to partner with WYD2016 and worked to organize a Young Life service project. As they made plans with the Diocese it was decided the project would take place in a small town outside of Poznań called Grodzisk Wielkopolski.

The week of service finally arrived and Young Life groups from New York, Iowa, Wyoming, Czech Republic and Poznan came to serve with the hope of building positive relationships with the local parish and schools.  The teams spent the week painting classrooms, sanding and restoring playgrounds and interacting with teens from Godzisk.  They were supported by a Young Life Expeditions team that helped by sorting materials, preparing the sites, cleaning up at the end of each day as well as completing several other projects at the end of the trip.

One of the highlights from the week was the nightly Young Life club. The first club had nearly 300 people including local Grodzisk teens, families and town officials.  Other World Youth Day Pilgrims from Qatar, Philippines, and India even joined in on the Young Life fun. In order to engage everyone in the room, a bilingual, multi-cultural, multi-generational Young Life club was planned. A Poznan Young Life leader, Filip Nowicki, led program in Polish while a YL Expeditions team member from Virginia, Nick Despins, led in English. Together they bounced around the stage, made people laugh and highlighted kids, leaders and priests, who were there to check out the craziness of Young Life. At the end of the week the work projects were completed, new friendships were formed and the spiritual foundation was set for everyone to continue on to Kraków to be a part of WYD2016.

poland 1The project brought an energy and excitement to the town of Grodzisk and during the week Filip was building relationships with the locals by inviting them to join the club music team and reaching out to parents and school officials in the community. Through tears of saying goodbye and invitations to return, it was clear that kids in Grodzisk were looking for adults like Filip who cared about them in the relevant and real way that Young Life leaders do. Kids began contacting Young Life Polska asking to be a part of the group and the after-effect in this small town is still going on today.  As a result of the service project, Filip became the first Young Life Staff member from Poland to be hired. His focus is in Grodzisk, running a new Young Life Club called IMPACT, where kids and leaders do projects throughout the community while building relationships with each other and diving into topics of faith and teen life. Filip’s first volunteer leader is Jakub, whose introduction to Young Life was being on the music team at the service project.  Together they are making history by developing Grodzisk’s first Young Life Club!

Written by: Diana Sanderson

Pack Like A Pro


Sometimes, this is how I feel about packing…it’s too overwhelming!  I GIVE UP!

…or maybe I just want to take my dog wherever I go.


Confession: I am not a planner.  It cramps my spontaneous, keep-my-options-open style.  Except when it comes to packing.  I lived in India for 3 years after college, and now I travel almost 4 months out of the year, domestically and internationally.  However, I didn’t learn how to pack well until recently.  Last March I was gone for a month (Nashville, India, Nepal, and Hong Kong) and each place required a different kind of outfit.

Nashville… hipster

India… salwar tops (long tops that cover your bum)

Nepal… trekking clothes and boots

Hong Kong… conservative but cute/western (those women are super classy!)

I only took 1 checked bag, 1 carry-on suitcase and my backpack (considered my “personal item”).  How did I do it?  Here are some tips and product recommendations:



  • I packed my heaviest items in my carry-on suitcase, so that my checked bag wouldn’t exceed the 50-pound weight limit.  Bring a rolling carry-on suitcase so you won’t break your back with those heavy books or shoes
  • Timbuk2 is my favorite!  Durable, life-time warranty, and lots of compartments!

Airport Security

  • Shoes – wear ones that come on and off easily
  • Laptop – if you bring it, make sure you have easy access because you usually have to put it in a separate bin when you go through security

Plane Carry-ons


  • Tops that will go with one or two pairs of pants
  • T-shirts – if you’re going on a service trip, you can re-wear shirts on work days!  Everybody will stink so no one is going to notice or care
  • Shoes – be strategic! Tennis shoes, sandals, semi-nice shoes for non-work times

Shampoo/Conditioner/Body Wash

  • Don’t bring the whole bottle, use travel containers.  Put them in a plastic bag or consider buying a travel bag like this one from Eddie Bauer

My Go-To Items