In 1938, a young Presbyterian youth leader, Jim Rayburn was challenged by one of his professors in seminary: his assignment was to view Gainesville, Texas, as his parish and create ways to reach kids who otherwise would have no connection to the Christian church. As a result of Rayburn’s assignment, Young Life was born.
Rayburn, along with four other students, officially founded Young Life on Oct. 16, 1941, and the rest is history.
Young Life is a nondenominational program dedicated to giving every adolescent the opportunity to meet Jesus Christ and follow Him. After finding Christ, Young Life is designed to help teens grow in their faith. It is a nationwide program with local groups led by local leaders who typically go through five months of training in their freshman year of college.
Collette Cerveny is one of those leaders. “Being a Young Life leader means taking a ton of time to plan many things, teach and spend time with kids at the high school I lead at. My role is always changing as I continually try to be a positive role model and show high school kids Christ.”
Cerveny says she enjoys being a Young Life leader very much. “It’s all volunteers who lead Young Life. My Young Life leader made a huge impact in my life. I never understood what Jesus had to do with my life as a high schooler, and she helped me learn so much. I have the privilege of doing that every day now.”
There are many important parts to being a Young Life leader. “Living above reproach is the most important part of being a Young Life leader for me,” Cerveny said. “It challenges me and I am continually growing in my faith.”
Each Young Life group is composed of students from a single high school, although there is no official connection between the school and Young Life. Three students who go to the Fairmont Young Life group are sophomores Audrey Coleman and Jon Watkins and senior David Steele.
“Young Life is something very fun to do on Monday nights,” Coleman said. “My favorite part of Young Life is getting to see all the people who come every week.”
However, there are many different parts of Young Life, according to Cerveny. “All aspects of Young Life are important: campaigners, club, fall weekend, camp; the list goes on and on.”
However, some people feel that Young Life is not for them.
Fairmont junior Kassidy Madlinger is one of those people. “I don’t have a problem with it if people just go to it, but I do if they try to push the religious themes they talk about at Young Life onto me. We all go to a public school. Students here shouldn’t be pushing their religion on me.”
Madlinger started forming opinions about Young Life after she went one Monday night. “I went to Young Life once, and I just wasn’t that into it. In some ways, I personally think it could be considered a cult, even,” Madlinger said. “My big problem with Young Life is the kids who go and don’t practice what they preach. They want the image of being a strong and faithful Christians, but they don’t act that way. I’m not saying all the kids who go to Young Life are like that, but some are.”
Watkins understands Madlinger’s point. “Not all the people who go to Young Life are proclaimed Christians, though,” Watkins said. “So if some of those people don’t lead a Christian lifestyle, it’s probably because they’re not Christian. Before Young Life starts though, there’s another group called Campaigners, and that’s like a Bible study. All the kids who go there are proclaimed Christians.”
Cerveny doesn’t know why anyone feels that Young Life is a cult. “I’m not sure why anyone would feel that way. But I do know many kids call it a cult before they come, and when they do come, they love it and have a lot of fun,” she said. “I would encourage those people to come and make a judgment for themselves.”
Coleman agrees. “Some people think it is a cult because the people involved have a lot of fun and tend to talk about Young Life a lot. Also, at the end there are small messages from the leaders about God, which may give some people the feeling of a cult, I guess.”
Steele has been a member of Young Life for three years. “I believe Young Life truly has helped me grow in my faith,” Steele said. “The leaders handle religion, a very touchy subject, very carefully, and don’t come on too strong.”
Steele feels that Young Life is a central part of his life. “It’s made my life easier by helping me grow closer to God. My faith has improved so much over these past three years, and I have met wonderful friends I would not have met otherwise.”
So what do you have to do if you want to join?
“Young Life cannot be joined,” explained Cerveny. “There are no dues, no sign-ins, no participation requirements and no elected members, such as president or vice president. Anyone can come whenever they want. Young Life is a ton of fun. High school students can learn about how the Bible relates to their everyday life.”
The Fairmont Young Life group meets at Parkview Community Center at 4100 Glenheath Dr. at 8 p.m. on Monday nights.
Coleman encourages everyone to come. “Young Life is a ton of fun, and to prove it to yourself, you should come sometime, because it’s worth it.”