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Group helps youth build relationships with Jesus

POSTED: October 22, 2011 1:30 a.m.
/Photos for The Times

The Gainesville-Hall County Young Life Club meets every week with the aim to bring middle and high school students together for laughs and fellowship while learning to build a relationship with Jesus. The group holds a weeklong camp twice a year.

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Instead of telling members there is one path to building a relationship with God, Young Life leaders and volunteers strive to walk beside teenagers on their individual journey.

"We are a nondenominational ministry," said Andrew McCleskey, Gainesville-Hall County Young Life executive director.

"For us, it’s about stepping into the lives of middle and high school students, meeting them where they are, earning their friendship and sharing with them about Jesus."

Young Life is an international organization with the mission of "introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith."

The international group celebrated its 70th anniversary this year, while the local chapter has been active for more than a dozen.

"The meat of Young Life is building relationships with kids," McCleskey said.

"(With permission) we go to their turf — football practice, pep rallies, lunch, those sorts of things. We really want to become a part of the school fabric."

The in-school meetings are just an introduction to Young Life; the real action happens after school.

"Every Monday, we meet for Young Life Club. It’s a lot of high-energy fun," McCleskey said.

"We sort of live by the quote that says, ‘Laughter is the serious business in heaven.’

"Some people say the meetings are like controlled chaos, but if you can get a room full of high school kids laughing together, the walls start coming down."

During the hour long meeting at the Young Life office on Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville, McCleskey says there is a lot of singing, a lot of games and a lot of good-natured humor.

"I always tell the kids that it’s the most fun you’ll have on a week night for sure," McCleskey said.

Although the weekly meeting is referred to as a club, you don’t have to be a "member" to attend.

"We have about 60 to 70 kids coming every Monday night," McCleskey said.

"The good thing about Young Life is that it is for every kid, everywhere. Anyone is welcome to drop in."

The majority of the local chapter’s membership comes from Gainesville High School, North Hall High School and Lakeview Academy, McCleskey say.

"We’re in the process of trying to determine what it will take to reach kids at other schools, especially at the middle school level," McCleskey said.

In addition to the weekly meetings, the local Young Life chapter also gives its members two opportunities to attend weeklong, Young Life camps each year.

Ultimately, the fun excursions and meetings are a vehicle for teaching kids about God’s love and encouraging them to develop their own relationship with Him.

"We tell kids about Jesus and stay committed to them regardless of the decision they make. We just want to show them there are adults in this community who care enough about them to walk beside them," McCleskey said.

"Jesus is the answer to life, but we’re not going to force it on kids. We love them enough to tell them the truth, but we respect them enough to let them make their own decisions about it."



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