My Week with Young Life


Throughout my college years, I had the opportunity to work with Young Life, a ministry whose primary work is introducing high school students to Jesus and helping them grow in their faith. Although neither a Young Life participant in high school nor a leader in college, my closest college friends were Young Life leaders, and they had a huge influence on the person I am today. In an effort to give back to the ministry that played such a pivotal role in my life, I used my volunteer time to devote a week to Young Life at Frontier Ranch, the organization's property in Buena Vista, CO.

Young Life camp takes place at Young Life properties around the U.S. and gives students the opportunity not only to spend time doing outdoor activities with friends, but also to learn more about themselves and their faith. A big part of making sure the experience is special for campers is work week, when Young Life leaders and adults from around the country prepare the camp properties for campers before they arrive. This usually includes cabin maintenance, painting, building, paving and a variety of other duties.

I took part in two work weeks as a student at Texas A&M and they were some of the most memorable moments I had while in school, so taking part in a third was something I really looked forward to. It wasn’t just a chance to work. It was a chance to unplug from the fast pace of life I so often get bogged down by and enjoy beautiful scenery, a slower pace of life and no work email or social media.

During the week, I was offered the opportunity to lead a cabin of college-age Young Life leaders by heading up a few maintenance projects and leading a Bible study in the evenings. While I had excitedly envisioned going through the week under the radar with limited human interaction, I welcomed the opportunity to stretch myself as a leader.

My time at Frontier Ranch revealed important lessons that continue to resonate with me. Here are a few:

Be more present. Knowing that I would have limited service, I turned my personal and work phones off at the beginning of the week. Ultimately, I ended up leaving both off for the entire week. Without all of the usual distractions of a phone, the evenings provided ample time to get to know some of the other volunteers, listen to Young Life leadership share stories and experiences, and lead a Bible study in my cabin. Most importantly, each evening also gave me time to read, reflect and pray, which I don’t often give myself enough time for back home.

The fruit from these conversations and restful moments of reflection have continued to stick with me after my time in Colorado. This was one of the most rewarding parts of the trip for me. In my daily life, the technology I surround myself with constantly nags me for my attention. Taking those out of the equation for the week cleared my mind. Technology has become a necessity in today’s world, but moderating the role it plays in our daily lives is key to improving relationships, regaining focus and reducing stress. For me, that means setting aside specific times dedicated to checking my phone so that I’m not constantly looking at it throughout the day. It also means making sure that I’m prioritizing time with others over time with technology.

Be more grateful. I often tell friends that the reason I was able to go to Young Life work week this year is because of my company’s paid volunteer time off policy. The response it elicits (usually surprise) reminds me how fortunate I am to work for a company like Pinkston. It’s extremely rare to work for a company that values giving employees the opportunity to invest in other people and communities outside of the workplace. I’m grateful to work for a company that provides me with such important opportunities for growth.

Additionally, volunteering my time at Frontier Ranch gave me a new perspective on what others in my life — from friends, to coworkers, to family members — have purposely and carefully done to help me grow as an adult and as a Christian. Just as they had given their time and energy to me, I was giving my time and energy to help provide summer campers with an unforgettable and life-changing experience. My reason for devoting time to Young Life was rooted in the gratitude of knowing that others have done the same for me throughout my life.

Embrace leadership. I did not anticipate being placed in a leadership role while at Frontier Ranch, but am glad the opportunity presented itself. I led a Young Life project team that rebuilt a staircase on the side of the mountain using railroad ties, laid a concrete drainage swale along the road leading into camp and contributed to various other smaller projects throughout the property. We managed to complete each project with time to spare.

Because I had no construction experience to speak of, I particularly enjoyed the challenge of taking on projects that taught me a few new things in the process. I also embraced the challenge of leading and encouraging others who were working alongside me. Additionally, leading a Bible study of 10 college students at workweek helped me learn how to lead the deep, vulnerable discussions necessary for quality relationships.

These leadership experiences encouraged me to pursue more opportunities to lead and grow with others. We often view leadership as an inborn, genetic trait, but I don’t think that’s true. I believe that leadership is a characteristic that is developed through proactively discovering or creating opportunities for yourself that may seem difficult but ultimately lead to personal or communal growth. Don’t wait for leadership opportunities to reveal themselves to you — go out and find them. It’s not a matter of whether or not you have the capability to lead, but in what capacity you choose to exhibit leadership. Embracing your ability to lead can be daunting, but it will help you grow and learn more about yourself. Leadership roles should always be viewed through the lens of opportunity.

Looking back on 2018, spending a week at Frontier Ranch with Young Life was certainly one of the highlights of my year. I’m extremely thankful for the chance to serve in this capacity and I can’t wait to do it again.

Hunter McKay is Manager of Research at Pinkston.