Planting the seed

Saturday, December 1, 2001

Walk around the campus at Cape Girardeau Central High School at noon and you're likely to see James Green hanging out with the students, eating lunch or talking about sports.

He can talk about last night's basketball game because he was there. He knows who's starting or sitting the bench with an injury. He's seen the Tigers win some and lose some. Like any loyal fan, he's devoted to the team.

But more important, he's devoted to building relationships with the students who attend Central High School. Green is a staff leader with Young Life, a nondenominational Christian group for teens.

"We want every kid to hear the Gospel," he said. "We plant the seed and see what happens."

Young Life got its start in 1941 in Texas and tries to reach teen-agers through friendships, fun and fellowship as a means of sharing the gospel message. The group has been active in Cape Girardeau for about 19 years and only a year in Jackson, Mo. There are about 1,400 students at schools in Cape Girardeau and Jackson.

The group meets each Monday at 7:30 p.m. at 616B Broadway. Any high school student is welcome to attend.

Green and his group of volunteer leaders know that students do more to influence other students so they encourage club members to bring friends to the gatherings.

It's always tough getting the students to open up and accept an adult, but Green keeps trying. "It helps that I'm here in my hometown," he said. "I knew their older brothers or sisters and I went to that high school."

While friendships and fun are the seed, weekly club meetings and Campaigners Bible studies are the food needed for growth. The club meetings are an hour-long and filled with crazy, goofy skits and contemporary songs and Top 40 hits. It's nothing like Sunday morning church -- and that's intentional.

Excitement and energy

The Young Life founder used an outreach approach with music, laughter, games and skits. "You can use all those to reach kids," Green said. "We use secular music because that's what they're listening to." But that isn't the only music Young Life plays. Praise and worship songs and hymn choruses are also part of the plan."

For some teen-agers, sitting in a pew on Sunday morning does little for them. Young Life offers them some excitement and energy they might not see otherwise. "They might not know what to expect," Green said. "They've heard it's fun and the end might be a surprise to them."

It was for Green, who came to his first Young Life meetings when his wife served as a volunteer leader. "There's a contrast in that hour." He enjoyed the energy and fun but then heard the gospel too.

Shawn Steger, a senior at Central, has only been to Young Life twice but likes what he's seen so far. "I come for the fellowship. It something outside of school where I can get together with my friends and people who I know care about me and love me and love God," he said.

Steger was invited to come after hanging out with Green, who visits the school about three times a week.

'Shaped my life'

Stacy Kinder, who serves on the Young Life steering committee, was involved in the program as a volunteer leader during college. And though her children aren't yet old enough to be involved, she wants to continue supporting the program.

"Having a Christian influence during high school was one of the key things that shaped my life," she said. "We want to let high school kids know that God wants to be part of their life, even at a young age."

Young Life leaders usually try to plan as much silliness as they can to get the students attention, partly to buck the stereotype of lifeless Christianity. During "Bingo Night" games, students won prizes that included a five-gallon bucket of pickles and two $50 camp scholarships. Green donned a dog costume and paraded around the room throughout the night.

On "Backwards Night" everyone was supposed to come with their clothes on backwards, but a few forgot. A costume night was a big hit around Halloween.

On a typical night, about 80 students pile into the upstairs room of the building on Broadway where the sound system might blast out the latest from Creed or Smashmouth and strobe lights dance around the ceiling.

Students find seats wherever they are available, on the floor, atop four huge rounded benches or on the edge of a pool table sitting off to the side.

A stage and overhead projector are at the front of the room and three or four students start off the night leading songs, which start fast and progressively get slower and more reflective.

Finding refuge

One week after Green talked about missing the mark and never quite measuring up to perfection, Deb Tracy spoke to the students about admitting their failures and finding refuge in God.

"God doesn't say, 'clean up your act and I'll be around,'" she said. "He sent a piece of himself to us because we were hurting."

"The most profound thing you can do in this life is to live for him," she said.

The devotions at Young Life are a progression of messages that explain salvation. The leaders start by talking about God's ideal world and how sin separates people from God. The semester-long series ends with the plan of salvation.

It's not like any of the Young Life leaders have all the answers, Green said. But they can point the students in the right direction to find those answers for themselves.

"We take people where they are and love them regardless of whether they respond to the Gospel or not."

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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