Program inspires teens to embrace faith

By Shari Goldstein Stern

Dallas high school teens have a unique opportunity to deepen their understanding of faith while enjoying adventure, fellowship and making new friends. Since 1939, that Young Life (YL) mix has proven successful. Many teen participants stayed active in the organization throughout college, and many of those volunteered as a Leader in early adulthood. A Leader guides each club, and most say they found profound enrichment in their lives. Both young women and young men are involved in Young Life.

Young women from Hockaday High School enjoy hanging out with their Young Life friends.
Photo courtesy of NDYL

With roots in Texas, YL’s mission is to introduce teens and adolescents to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith. In 1939, James Chalmers Rayburn, Sr., a pastor for the Presbyterian Church, started the Gainesville, Texas chapter of the Miracle Book Club for high school students. 

The book club was transformed into YL in 1941. By the early 1950s, YL had started ministries in 25 urban areas. In 2019, YL had more than 700 ministries located in 324 cities reporting about 18,000 members. 

David Imthurn has been associate area director of North Dallas Young Life (NDYL) for almost two years after joining the staff in 2015. He was formerly the YL staff associate for W.T. White High School. The White Rock resident is responsible for the North Dallas area, which covers Northwest Highway on the south to Arapaho at the north. He works with both public and private schools. NDYL currently serves 13,000 middle and high school students who are active in their ministries.

Imthurn says he regrets he was not involved in YL in high school himself. When asked if his friends were YL members, he answered emphatically: “They were the ones whose lives changed. They went from thinking about themselves only, to beginning to look at life differently. YL leaders across the world share their faith with their high school friends through casual and organic conversation.”

Daredevil Samantha Havens is energized by encouragement from her WRYL friends.

When asked his favorite part of coming onto the Dallas staff, Imthurn quickly replied, “That was getting to meet my wife, Carolina.” 

Grady Dill is staff associate for White Rock Young Life (WRYL). The “friends,” to which the teens are appropriately referred, are students at Woodrow Wilson High School (Woodrow) in Lakewood. “We are friends because we hang out,” he explains. Those phrases are staples in the vocabularies of each of our new YL friends. Dill hopes to expand the area to include students from J.L. Long Middle School and others.

Dill participated in YL while in middle and high school and volunteered as a Leader in College. “The reason I believe in and want to work for YL is to get into the lives of kids. Teenagers need mentors in their lives to share Jesus and introduce them to life in the full.” He shared something he heard once: “Kyle is a member of a YL club. He said, ‘Young Life is where I can be myself — broken and all — and I can trust that I will be loved and accepted for who I am.’” 

WRYL averaged 30 friends at club meetings pre-COVID. Woodrow has about 50 members. Dill said: “I would love for YL to be in more schools to share the gospel with more middle and high school friends. They are in a position where they have a lot of potential to grow. The past year I’ve seen friends growing.”

Both YL staff members agree that they make good friends among themselves and hang out often, largely because they have the same ambitions in life.