By Rachel Mari
Young Life in Greater Bergen County is celebrating five years of inviting kids, teens, and young adults to follow Christ and grow in their relationship with Him.
The national ministry was founded in 1941 in Dallas, Texas, but came to greater Bergen County only recently. Young life started its work locally with high school and middle school ministries in Ridgewood, NJ and has expanded to add Capernaum (a ministry for adolescents with special needs), Young Life College at Ramapo College, and YoungLives for teen moms and their babies in Paterson.
“Altogether, we have more than 120 students regularly attending and we’ve had more than 300 students involved since 2014,” said Jim Lloyd, area director for Young Life Bergen County.
Young Life offers programs for youth of all ages—middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college students. According to its mission statement, Young Life aims to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith by praying for them, building relationships with them and earning a right to share the Good News. The ministry provides fun, adventurous, life-changing, and skill-building experiences; inviting young people to respond to the Gospel and helping them develop a love for the Bible, God’s mission.
Young Life is also about developing the next generation of leaders. Some high schoolers serve at Young Life camps and WyldLife (the middle school group), or serve as a “Buddy” at a Capernaum camp.
“Now that we have all five expressions of Young Life ministry active, we are seeing how they give energy to each other,” said Lloyd. “The Capernaum ministry, for example has been taking off. It has also provided great discipleship opportunities for middle school, high school, and college students to serve as Buddies. High school and college students also serve with YoungLives by doing childcare and providing meals. Those ministries have also provided great opportunities for local adults to get more engaged with Young Life.”
College students are also invited to get involved in various roles with camps and short-term volunteer service in the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, India, and the Philippines.
Meanwhile, while the ministry in Bergen County is thriving, it is not without its challenges. “I think that the Northeast is generally more challenging than other parts of the country where religious organizations are more welcome on school campuses,” said Lloyd. “For example, Young Life leaders in Texas, Virginia, and Ohio are welcome to visit students during lunch. That is just not able to happen here in New Jersey.”
Getting support from local adults is also an issue. “It is also a challenge to recruit adult volunteers to serve as leaders,” Lloyd explained. “Bergen County is a time-starved area where people are very busy. So many people work long hours in New York City and are tied up with commuting, which makes it difficult to be present around students.”
Yet, the work is rewarding for adults who care about kids and who serve in various capacities. They can serve as staff or volunteer leaders; on committees that pray for and promote Young Life in their communities; and as part of the financial support team (regional and area staffs are responsible to raise 100 percent of their budgets).
Currently, Lloyd is celebrating his ten-year anniversary with Young Life and is looking forward to what will happen in the future. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few! We pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send more workers,” he said. “We hope to reach more students in more schools and communities.”
Young Life starts in a community when a group of adults come together with a common vision of reaching lost kids and seeing Young Life as a tool to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith.
“Adults do this by forming a local committee and being advocates for the ministry with their schools, parents of kids, other organizations, and churches,” Lloyd said. “We’d love to develop more church relationships as kingdom collaborators around this common vision of reaching kids.”
For more information about Young Life, visit bergencounty.younglife.org.