Young Life groups mix faith with fun
The question seemed straightforward enough, so Jenna Maneotis raised her hand: Who likes bubble gum?
She’s normally not the volunteer-in-a-new-situation type, but it was her first Young Life meeting, and she was going with the flow. So, sure, she likes bubble gum.
That’s how she ended up blindfolded, trying to find a piece of Dubble Bubble in a tray of flour using only her mouth, then attempting to blow a bubble.
“That’s pretty typical for a Young Life meeting,” she said, laughing.
Maneotis, 17, a senior at Grand Junction High School, is one of more than 300 students who participate each week in Young Life, an international nondenominational Christian ministry for youth that celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.
The Grand Valley Young Life will hold its annual fundraising banquet, called “Cheering for Kids” and featuring speaker Mike Ashburn, at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Two Rivers Convention Center.
“The mission statement (of Young Life) is introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and faith,” explained Luke Feather, area Young Life director. “The hallmark of Young Life is that our leaders who volunteer, they enter into the world of kids. We go to football games and basketball games, we go to practices and choir concerts. We’re building a relationship with kids, we’re letting them know they have a right to be heard.”
Young Life, founded in 1941 in Texas, has been in the Grand Valley since 1982. Currently, there are Young Life clubs at Grand Junction, Palisade and Fruita Monument high schools, as well as a group for young moms at R-5 High School, clubs at Redlands, East and Bookcliff middle schools and a club for students with disabilities.
Young Life has a close association with local schools, Feather said, but leaders do not proselytize at the schools. In fact, he said, while Young Life is a program to introduce kids to Christianity, the emphasis is on the relationships between students and leaders.
“(Young Life leaders) remember your name, they remember what you have going on,” Maneotis said. “You know that they really care about you.”
She said a typical Monday night meeting starts with games and music — “it can get pretty crazy and outrageous,” she said — then transitions, for the last few minutes, to a spiritual message.
“We’re not preaching at them,” Feather said. “We’re just talking about stuff that matters. (Young Life leaders) are just pretty open and honest about their own struggles and sharing how God has helped them overcome it.”
The emphasis, Feather said, is building faith and community. And, of course, having fun.
A recent Wednesday afternoon meeting of Wyld Life, the Young Life group in middle schools, at East Middle School involved a free-form and fast-paced game of capture the flag. The next day, Capernaum, the Young Life club for youth with disabilities, visited a Fruita pumpkin patch.
“You make really good friends in Young Life,” Maneotis said. “And you have fun. It’s a place where you can be yourself.”