Jaclyn Vander Waal — Staff Writer
Dordt students have been offered the opportunity to serve through Young Life International, a parachurch ministry that involves caring adults who work alongside churches to show the love of Christ to high schoolers.
Alex Vasquez, area director of Young Life Sioux County and a 2018 Dordt graduate, is passionate about the youth in his club. His goal is to make the community around him better. He said he strives “to be a leader and a bridge between different sub-communities.”
Vasquez has seen his role in Young Life overcome many barriers among students in the Sioux Center community—barriers of ethnicity, culture, denomination, gender and age.
“Young Life has been the vehicle that Jesus has given me to make a difference in the lives of the people around me, for this community and for myself,” he said.
Five Dordt students—seniors Matt Benardis and Kristin Rundle, and juniors Faith Anderson, Brady Mackey, and Grace Lepensky—and two Dordt alumni—Paige Visscher and Marcus De Weerd—have helped Vasquez develop the new club over the past year as Young Life leaders. Northwestern College students and alumni are also involved. Young Life Sioux County is listed in Dordt’s club directory
Vasquez instructs Young Life leaders to avoid chasing students down with Bibles. Instead, they must earn the right to be heard by participating in students’ daily lives. The leaders seek out students and get involved in what they enjoy.
“Every leader here is making a difference,” Vasquez said.
These trained leaders have found that Young Life is all about building relationships with high school students in the community. Each leader has three to eight students with whom they closely connect. They share meals, talk over coffee or ice cream, go out to a movie, and attend their games and concerts.
Mackey started getting involved in the lives of his Young Life students by coaching the Sioux Center Storm hockey team. Although he only knew the basics of the sport prior to coaching, he found it to be an excellent way to get to know his students. He has seen the effect investing in these students has. They quickly warmed up to him as a leader and were willing to share aspects of their lives with him.
Initially, he said the leaders had to go out of their way to be involved in the lives of the students. Now, it’s a two-way relationship. The students also reach out to them. For example, he went to one student’s Boyden-Hull High School football game. The next day, the student showed up at his Dordt football game.
“They invite us over to their games and events and desire a relationship with us,” Mackey said.
Anderson has witnessed how high school students crave deep relationships. Students benefit from having a person to go to with their joys and successes but also with their sorrows and frustrations. She found that the most important part of leading is being willing to listen to her students through their highs and lows.
“A lot of high schoolers feel alone.” she said, “It is great to be a person they can go to.”
Not only does Young Life provide students the opportunity to express their feelings, it also allows them to be themselves without fear of judgment. Conversely, Anderson also enjoys being herself and having the freedom to be weird, a welcomed break from the stress of her own life and college.
Simply being involved in a student’s life can have a big impact. A student more reserved about her faith shocked Anderson by stepping up and proclaiming her faith at Young Life’s Castaway Club camp this summer in Detroit Lakes, MN. It encouraged Anderson to see how small actions such as talking with her students over coffee can lead to great spiritual growth.
“God didn’t intend discipleship to be optional,” she said. “It wasn’t meant to be something that was easy or that would fit in the mold of your life but should shatter that mold and allow God to reshape it into something amazing. I have seen God work in amazing ways in my life and in the lives of all those involved in Young Life, and I am waiting in anticipation for this next year and what God will do.”
Anderson said her experiences with the students of Young Life have blessed her and challenges her fellow Dordt peers to consider leading. She said it is a step of faith that they will never regret because nothing is more rewarding than helping others.
“Kids need leaders. High schoolers need someone to lean on. I’m blessed every day by my involvement with Young Life,” Mackey said. “Our slogan is: ‘You were made for this!’ and that is so true.”