Category Archives: Youth Encounter

February 2012

Share your story.  Be a witness. Tell me about yourself.

It seems people want to know about other people.  We want to hear stories – adventures, tragedies, romances.  And maybe, we even want to know people and be known by them through the sharing of our stories, our experiences, our lives. So here we go.

February 2012, I am traveling in Tanzania with my CrossFire team.  We’ve been in the country for about a month, and some other missionaries have offered to help pay for us to take a day off and go on a safari.  Pretty sweet deal, so the five us head off one day to Arusha National Park.

It’s a beautiful day – sun out, but not too hot. Rather than try to explain the safari itself, I’ll let some photographs from the day tell the story.

Yes, it was a bit tourist-y of us, but after a month of cross-cultural ministry it was nice to have a day to just enjoy.

Less than 30 minutes after that last picture was taken, our team and safari driver were headed out of the park. As we come up and around a corner, there is a large bus coming quickly at us. The roads are dirt, and wide enough for 1 1/2 vehicles… maybe. So, our driver does his best to pull over to the side to get out of the way. Everything is fine.

For about five seconds.


Then we feel the jeep tilt.



The next thing I really remember is being upside down in the vehicle. At least two of my teammates are crying/screaming… and there is clearly commotion outside of the vehicle. The other male on my team is already out of the vehicle, I convince the girl who was in the back with him and I to get out, and make it out myself. We are way down the hill (later we decided that we rolled 4 1/2 times). I look at my teammate with the “what the hell do we do?” look. Maybe I used words… I don’t remember. He says he’ll get the other two girls, because the third is having a panic attack, so I coerce her up this hill…

Many Tanzanians are up there (more than the 5-10 who had come down to our jeep) and they try to get water for us. Eventually the rest of the team makes it up. One girl looks beat up and the other has been carried up by several men.

[there is no way to share how many thoughts and questions were racing through my brain at this point. and possibly no way for anybody to understand unless they also have been in a severe accident in a foreign country]

Through much miscommunication and several cultural barriers we make our way from the park to the police station (because the accident had to be reported….) to the hospital. The girls insist that the guys get checked out too, but we both politely refuse to make sure we know what’s happening with the ladies of our team. The hospital decides that the girl who was carried up the hill needs to go to a larger facility, so I travel with her in an ambulance. She gets x-rays. I talk with one of the pastors we’ve been working alongside. He convinces me to go back and sleep… the adrenaline was finally wearing off at midnight during the x-rays.

I crawl into bed, finally aware of some of my own pain but too exhausted to care. When I wake up in the morning, I’m so stiff and sore. It’s Sunday. I’m alone and beat up. But one of the teens asks me to go to church. I have nothing better to do (because I can’t get to either hospital until after church anyway), so I go. We walk very slowly. Myself with a noticeable limp in my left leg.

The church service was nothing spectacular. In fact, it was kind of terrible.  There was a guest pastor from the US… and he used a football analogy. American football analogy in Tanzania. [facepalm]. But during one of the songs – Great is Thy Faithfulness – though I was busy being annoyed at the choice given the circumstances of my team, I felt some brush past my left side. I looked over, but nobody was near. Whatever, maybe I was going crazy.

The three teammates from the other hospital joined me later that day. The next morning as we’re going to the larger hospital, I realize that I’m not limping anymore. With no specific prayer on my part… and no way of anybody else knowing to pray that specifically, I could walk without (much) pain.

Fast forward through hospital (teammate with compression fractures in her back, another with a broken rib and arm) and physical therapy and time spent not as a team of five all in one place. We had a lot of pain to process. Coming back together as a team of five wasn’t easy. But we talked. And we prayed. And we continued to do life together.


We ended our year together. We ended our year healthier than most would expect after an accident like we experienced – both physically and emotionally.

It’s been five years since that day.  And there are days, weeks that I don’t think about what happened. But this is a reminder, to myself if nobody else, that God has and does still work. That each day has value. That life is better lived together.


2016 – a year

What a year it has been.  There is much to be said…and maybe much that shouldn’t be said. But this post shares some of the ups, downs, in betweens and lessons of my year.

January – A lot was packed into one day that stands out for this month.  It was Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service, which meant I wasn’t at school. It also happened to be my birthday. It also was the day I cried in front of my housemates – and realized (for many reasons) that love isn’t easy, but it is good.

February – The month that brought closure to Youth Encounter and me. They announced their closing and I went to one of my last events to lead breakout sessions in San Antonio. Family and friends visited during the first Come and See weekend. With a couple of my housemates, I enjoyed my first Shabbat service and meal.

March – Mission Year ran a 5K in Houston to raise funds…and actually had fun! Spent my spring break with friends in the Northwest and back in the Twin Cities. Spent a late evening with Tommy, Josh and McKenzie that made us feel like real friends, outside the Mission Year world.

April –  Our neighborhood mourned the loss of Ms. Helen – a grandmother of sorts to all.  We experienced our first “flood” which kept some of us home from work for two days.  I was introduced to the Your Other Brothers blog.  The Mission Year Houston teams took a day trip out to Galveston – and we had cupcakes by the ocean.

May – We participated in Green My Hood and got to care for one of our most dear neighbors. At school, the students (and staff) turned into robots for state testing. And in Mission Year world, Caz came for a training that shook me and made me question… lots.

June – Our family and friends joined us in Houston for another weekend. Also, we helped our neighborhood put on an art exhibit on what emancipation looked like/meant to them. Their were several shootings around the country… which meant more after living in Houston. And one of our neighbors had us all over for dinner to express his gratitude for our presence.

July – Independence Day was spent with Tommy and the Holy Family church plant, which was a nice break from 3rd Ward living. We had the Luu’s over to our house and then they treated us to a creative, community evening at their place later in the month. My school offered me a job at their primary academy?!?  Also, we finished our Mission Year with a retreat in New Braunfels – full of food, tears and laughter.

August – Lived with the Carpenters for a month while Tommy and I tried to figure out our own living situation. Spent time relaxing and then getting to know the staff during RYSS training weeks before school started.

September – My older brother got married! Which meant I got to see family that I hadn’t seen in awhile as well. Tommy. Moe and I took a spontaneous day-trip to Galveston. And the new Mission Year Houston volunteers arrived.

October -Decided to go to Life Group with a friend made through Mission year.  Although it was primarily college students, I got good vibes from them.  Talked about connecting with another group and then met Chad & Maddy, who have helped the transition to “real” life after Mission Year.  Also, the presidential debates happened…. Tommy and watched these together…. emotionally.

November – In order to get some real fall weather, I visited a friend in Delaware – which was a great escape for many reasons. I visited & volunteered at a couple art and cultural festivals. And my Life group took care of my Thanksgiving plans!

December – At school we had at least one full week of Christmas related activities – pictures with Santa, Jingle Jam dance, class parties, staff secret santa. Advent party with Tommy and the Holy Family group. And then a Dallas-delayed flight back home to spend almost two weeks with family in Kansas.

Some of the top books I read this year – The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber, Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen, and  Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

A few lessons that I think I’ve been learning:

  • Practice gratitude – So many times this year, when I found myself frustrated or confused or apathetic, something or somebody would remind me about the importance of thankfulness. And, when I’m attentively do daily gratitude, it’s easier to keep perspective.
  • Being present – This was literally the story of ALL of third trimester of Mission Year for me.  And most of second trimester.  It’s very easy for me to start thinking about the future and wanting to make plans on my own time.  But God is faithful. And there have been so many good moments that happened in the “here and now” that I may have missed out on if I had let myself get stuck in planning and worrying.
  • Messy is okay – So much of me wants organization. My education taught me to strive for the best and only show my good side – even weaknesses can be turned around in a “good” interview. But through the 7 people I lived with for most of the year, and some long distance friends, I am continually reminded that life is messy, I am messy… and it’s okay to not have everything make sense.

The Stars


Darkness.  Night. All-enveloping in a way that produces both fear… and peace.

Some of my most peaceful, happy moments have occurred while looking at stars.  I think back to college and the trip to middle-of-nowhere Missouri and being shocked at how many stars you could see when there was little to no light pollution.  Or of my two summers on staff at Youthfront Camp West – the occasional night watch, or evenings on the weekends talking to other staff and just enjoying the view from the field or the waterslide tower.  I think of Youth Encounter trainings at Luther Dell – middle-of-nowhere Minnesota, and again being surprised and awed by the stars. And again, staying up late, under the stars talking about life.  I remember moments in my overseas travels and being comforted that the friends and family that I was missing were still present as I looked at the stars, knowing that they would be seeing the same stars.

Most recently, the stars were brought to my attention at the reception of my brother’s wedding.  Outdoors, beautiful weather, wonderful time with friends and family.  While everybody was chatting and dancing after dinner, I went out to the porch.  I looked up at the stars… and breathed. So much happening that weekend, and in my life, it was nice to see the stars and breathe and rest – even for a moment.  Seeing the stars reminded me that as much as I enjoy parts of Houston, it cannot be my forever home because I miss the stars, the open spaces too much.

I’m unsure what draws me into deep, reflective spaces when I’m under a sky full of stars, but it seems to be.

Ready, Set, Go!


Ready. Set. Go!

This is coming to you a day late, but, in my defense there was a dinner that I needed to go to on Friday and I ended up taking some people home from it so I didn’t get to my computer until almost 10pm – and that’s too late for me to consider (remember) a blog post.

And ready, set, go may be accurate for this photo as well.  It’s from the end of a weekend conference that I was facilitating.  One of my co-workers had done the planning, but there were too many events that weekend and they needed me to be the face/voice of our organization for the weekend.  Ah!!!

So, I felt thrown into the weekend. And there were hiccups, for sure – like a kid drawing on  the carpet of one room… or the elevators being down for most of the weekend…… But it was still such a great time.  Parents were gracious with me and the hotel, the bands, speaker and volunteers were wonderful, the youth all seemed to have a good time and not be too loud.

At the end of the weekend, the volunteers were cleaning out our hospitality room…and for some reason there were hot dog buns leftover…but no hot-dogs.  They graciously gave me the buns as my “trophy” for a successful weekend.

But honestly, the weekend filled me more than I felt like I did anything for anybody that weekend.



Photo sent in by – Sarah Kearney   (feel free to comment, email a photo for a future post)


Writing the title of this made me think of the following song…. if you care to listen:


Moments (SB16)

Before life gets away from me (read – I get busy with third trimester and spending time with people in Houston), I wanted to share some of the memorable moments from my Spring Break.

  • The trek (breakout session) I led at the Seattle QuakeZone went so well.  Getting to listen to teens talk and ask questions about justice is pretty great.
  • Speaking of the event, it was the last YE event that I attended! Crazy to realize, but got to have some great times with the other staff/volunteers/band/alum of YE throughout the weekend1918554_10153400331496766_791146496353427813_n
  • Also, as a morning person, on Sunday of the event, I was up too early, but got to catch a brief sunrise.  (Brief because its the northwest and was cloudy/rainy almost always). So it was extra striking to get the glimpse of sun before the day started.
  • Portland, Oregon is beautiful. I LOVED getting to spend time there with Annie & Alex, and the waterfalls…. I could have just stayed there – if I had the appropriate rain gear.
  • Surprisingly good prayer time while doing a labyrinth at the Grotto with Annie. Thought/prayed a lot about the future, direction, learning from the past and trusting God.
  • While waiting in the Portland airport, there were some kids playing together – one girl and two other sisters.  The individual girl thought her plane was boarding so she left, then ran back to say goodbye and give hugs.  Her plane was not boarding, so she ran back and the three giggled and continued running around.
  • Reunions are good, and kept happening throughout my break.  Including one where my co-workers drove with me to meet up with the Cooleys in Wisconsin. Good food, better catching up and sharing life with these awesome people.  IMG_20160318_212029469
  • In all four states – WA, OR, MN & TX – I had awesome opportunities to experience hospitality as friends opened up their houses to me and bought me meals.  A joy to spend time with them – and to try local foods! (food trucks, pho & VooDoo donuts)

IMG_0598  IMG_0601

  • Sunday – time to catch up with the team in Houston and relax before jumping back into the full Mission Year life!


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.

PicMonkey Collage

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.


Adjusting Focus (6/13/15)

This is my third time on team.  So by now the schedule, the processes, the lifestyle should be fairly normal to be, right? While all the guidelines are the same – my teammates, the places we are going, my team jobs and I myself am different from the last time I was on team.

Heading into our first week of Vacation Bible School, I was feeling overwhelmed.  Being  a summer team, we had only been together for about two weeks.  One of my roles this summer is working on our schedule – both with the churches and for the team.  It’s not something I’m used to doing.  As we went to our first stop, I was excited because it was a camp – and magical times happen at camp.  But there was no internet and limited cell service.  How was I supposed to prepare for VBS?!?  What would I schedule for our team?  I couldn’t work on what the team was going to need.  If you know me, this just is not an ideal situation.  I like to plan and I like to take care of people around me.  I felt overwhelmed with my inability.

We took some time in the morning to just be at camp and with God.  Overwhelmed was all I felt, and the word that kept circling my mind.  And then these lyrics came to mind:

God, I run into Your arms

Unashamed because of mercy

I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You.

The lies had been winning.  My situation was drowning out truth.  I had lost focus of my source.  God reminded me in those lyrics that HE is the one that should be overwhelming.  His love, humility and grace, the way he created the trees, the mountains, you and I – this is truly overwhelming.  And the way He shows up when you need it (and are paying attention).

Our team ate dinner in small groups, and I had such a good time with my group.  One of the counselors was even from Tanzania, so I got to sing in Swahili with him.  And then our team led campfire worship – which was so much fun and took me back to some of my times at camp.  Not only did God fill me, but used my team to fill the camp staff before they started their summer.

Sometimes you just need to adjust your focus.

Briefly, the last 1 1/2 years

This is an overall update on my life and how God has been moving.  After two years of volunteering with Youth Encounter, I took a job with them in the fall of 2013.  I have been living and working in the Twin Cities,  Minnesota for the last year and a half.  This has been a season of growing – in faith as I found a new church, in life as I rented housing with friends, and in work as I adjusted to an office.  There have been many ups and downs with these – the broken dishwasher, driving in ice/snow, free movies in the park in the summer, late night conversations with roommates, going to youth events with my job.

While I have overall enjoyed the past year and a half, recently God has been pushing me toward something different.  Customer service is something I do well, but at this point in my life, I want to be more involved in people’s lives.  This summer, Youth Encounter is sending out an additional team to cover Vacation Bible Schools at 4 churches – and I’m going to be part of that team!  Team will give me a chance to transition back into hands-on ministry, while still having some time to help with summer projects at the office.  Being able to hang out with kids and do host home ministry and have time to wrap things up at the office is such a blessing to me.

All of this is in preparation for what God has in store for me this September.  I have signed a letter of call with Mission Year that will start September 4.  Mission Year is “a year-long urban ministry program focused on Christian service and discipleship.  Volunteers will come alongside what God is doing in the city by partnering with local churches, non-profits, leaders, activists, and neighbors who are transforming their communities.” My placement should be announced by July, and I look forward to sharing more with you about my city, my team and my “job” placement later.

With all that God is up to, would you consider coming alongside me for the journey?  Having gone overseas and being in a ministry environment for the past 4 years, I know that having a community of prayer warriors is priceless to the success of the team and ministry.  Additionally, there are costs associated with both of these opportunities.  Youth Encounter is asking me to raise $1,000 to help offset the costs for transportation, materials, etc.  If you want to financially support me, Youth Encounter and their continued ministry, check out

More information to come soon about Mission Year!


This is an overdue entry. But, really, I just haven’t gotten in the mindset of weekly blogging – which is what I want to get to, assuming I have something to write about each week. And if I don’t, maybe I need to change something. But I digress.

June 26-29 was the high school IMPACT conference that I got to help with. Awesome speakers and musicians. I got to lead a small group of 14 youth, which was pretty cool. Maybe we didn’t get as close as some groups, but I think it was good. One guy wants to be a pastor, and boy, could he pray! One of the freshmen committed to reading more of the Bible because he realized it’s importance. Good stuff.

And though it was a conference for youth, there were many messages that I was hearing and taking in throughout the weekend as well. Probably the biggest one for me was the importance of truthful identity. One of the musicians had two songs that talked about Abba – and he took time to expound on this. Every time we sang those songs, or when I prayed to Abba that weekend – I just felt close to my Abba, Father, God. Something about being able to call God Abba is just authentic and beautiful. And further in one of the songs it says, “God loves us. Is for us. Adores us. We are not orphans.” I don’t know how to explain it – but those words are just. so. good. I am part of God’s family. You are part of God’s family. Our Abba, Papa, is on our side! He loves us and calls us his own!! Words on a screen cannot express the joy.

More happened. Plenty of fun and meaningful moments. Maybe they’ll come up in later posts. I’ll end with this instead:

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:15