Last week I heard the news. “After 51 years of successful and fruitful ministry, Youth Encounter is shutting down operations and closing its doors”
I told my housemates here in Houston. They expressed concern and asked how I felt about the news. And a week later, I’m still not sure of my response.
In eighth grade I went to a weekend retreat. Having recently moved, it gave me a chance to actually feel like I could connect with my group. That weekend reminded me that church/Christianity could be fun. And there was a group there that weekend called Captive Free.
My senior year I attended that same retreat as a student leader for my youth group. A “junior guide” they called me at the event. Still great. This group called Captive Free (new people, same name) was there. College-aged people who liked to make music and hang out with teens. One of them, Beckie, led some breakouts for the junior guides, and told me I should consider doing Captive Free.
College happened. Honestly, I had forgotten about Captive Free… and maybe couldn’t have recalled that those volunteers were even connected with something bigger called Youth Encounter. But God had plans. As I prepared to graduate college, Youth Encounter, and the idea of volunteering with them, came back into my world.
Year 1 – I met
five, four people who became my teammates, learned how to do music and youth ministry together, traveled in a 15 passenger van, spent three months in East Africa, had our lives changed by an accident (and by the people we met), did 7 weeks of VBS
Year 2 – God called me to a second year, 3 new teammates, several new states, new joys and pains, 3 months in Taiwan and the Philippines, amazing people and cultures, 8 weeks of VBS
Year 3 – Doors opened for me to move to Minnesota with a few YE alumni, start working in the Youth Encounter office, learn the ups and downs of “adult life” with amazing co-workers and housemates
Year 4 – Feel more comfortable in my YE job, the joys and pains of volunteers and staff coming and going, admin-ed a couple events, returned to an alumni VBS team
Until hearing about the end, I hadn’t thought about how I had spent FOUR years with Youth Encounter. The same amount of time I had spent in high school. And how some of the volunteers and staff I had possibly spent more time with than my actual family over those four years.
Despite how much I’ve written, it’s only a glimpse of what Youth Encounter has been and how it has helped me grow. Many have spoken (better than I could) about the loss of ministry with Youth Encounter closing. But in all of this, there is so much joy being shared. I know that each person connected with Youth Encounter has been, and will continue to share what they have learned with all around them.
Thank you to my teammates, fellow alumni, YE staff and co-workers, housemates, host homes and volunteers. God has equipped us, and calls us to continue to go.