Young Life awarded for more personal ministry

Published 3:38 pm Monday, February 20, 2017

Young Life on the Pamlico may strive to tell young people about Jesus Christ, but it’s no ordinary youth group.

The organization approaches evangelism from a relationship point of view — focusing on building connections with students and earning a right to be heard.

“We would never turn a kid away from Young Life. Our target is the un-churched or de-churched kid. That doesn’t mean that plenty of church kids don’t get involved,” said Tom Johnson, area director of Young Life on the Pamlico. “The first question is not, ‘Do you go to church?’ The first question you ask is, ‘What’s your name?’”

Young Life on the Pamlico was recently honored as the 2016 co-Nonprofit of the Year, awarded by the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce in January.

Although some may see it as controversial, Johnson said confronting a student about the Gospel before establishing a bond will have little to no effect.

“Contact work is really the foundation. It really is everything,” Johnson said. “Without a relationship, none of it really sticks.”

Johnson recalled when he got involved with Young Life — an impromptu ride to the mall with his school’s Young Life leader, which set off a spark of interest in a place where he could fit in.

That’s why Young Life hosts a variety of fun events to attract a diverse crowd of students. What some may view as a gathering of hypocritical sinners is actually the perfect setting to lead students to Christ, according to Johnson.

“I want to err on the side of being around sinners,” he said. “We’re for every kid. … Whatever kid the Lord gives us, we’ll run with it.”

Washington’s branch of Young Life started in the early 2000s. It has grown to include three groups: Young Life, for high school students; Wyldlife, for middle school students; and Young Lives, for teenage mothers.

Its mission work is compounded into the C’s: contact work, which Johnson said is the vast majority of what the organization does; club, weekly or monthly events geared more toward the “un-churched;” camp, which includes youth trips to Carolina Point, Florida, Rock Bridge and Colorado; and campaigners, smaller groups geared toward students who want to grow in their faith.

Winning the Chamber award was a reminder of all the work Young Life leaders put into the organization, according to Johnson.

“Really, I was grateful for the team that we have,” he said. “Those people are the ones that drive this.”