Column: What it means to ‘meet kids where they’re at’

Left to right, Jackson Hole, WY Young Life Leaders, Alyssa, Alli, and Lindsey.

Leah MacFarland
Oxford Stories

As a high school student lost in the throes of divorce, friendship drama, depression and anxiety, I desperately needed someone to meet me where I was. My Young Life leaders, Alli and Lindsey, did just that.

Young Life is a ministry founded in 1941 on the values of Christianity and the desire to lead young kids to Christ. Unlike other ministries, however, Young Life focuses on meeting kids on their own turf, going where they are and forging friendships where they feel known.

Our meetings don’t look like a church service. Instead, Young Life club on Monday nights is full of loud singing to contemporary artists like Taylor Swift and Shawn Mendes. It’s full of skits and laughter, announcements that pertain to the kids, and at the very end, a 10-minute message about this guy named Jesus Christ.

I have been actively involved in Young Life since my freshman year of high school, attending camp every summer, becoming a student leader my senior year, working at the camps, and becoming a high school leader when I got to Oxford.

Lindsey started out as my youth group leader with my church, but she was originally very strictly a church friend. I saw her on Sundays and Wednesdays, and that was pretty much it.

When Young Life really picked up momentum in my hometown, Lindsey started showing up at school, sitting by me at lunch, inviting me to coffee, and offering to get lunch with me.

When I met Alli the next summer, she started doing the same thing. Offering to drive me anywhere I needed to go, taking me skiing when winter came around, and inviting me into her home. When she insisted that I come to camp with her that summer, it was like someone finally wanted to know me and walk through life with me.

Both Alli and Lindsey had this incredible love for Jesus that shined through everything they did. They were selfless, loving, and understanding. Any question I had was met with grace and the best answer they could muster. Every mistake or heartbreak was met with open arms and a shoulder to cry on.

Most importantly, both of these women showed up for me in everything. They were at every performance, every concert, and they were the first people to congratulate me the minute I stepped off the stage at my high school graduation.

And even now, they show up. Alli calls me once every couple of weeks to ask how I’m really doing, if there’s anything she can be praying for, and to share pictures of her new baby boy, Dillon.

Lindsey texts me to check in, wondering when I’ll be home, asking how school is going, and wondering if there’s anything the Lord is doing in my life that I want to share.

It is the presence of Lindsey and Alli in my life and their commitment to loving kids in a Christlike fashion that led me to my love for Young Life.

It is because of Alli and Lindsey that I decided, when I got to college, I wanted to lead kids the way they led me, and so I found myself on the Oxford High School Young Life leader team.

Every Monday night, I get to drive all around Oxford and pick up the girls that have let me into their crazy high school lives. We scream-sing Lizzo and One Direction. We laugh about how dumb high school boys are, and sometimes, they ask me questions about life and the Jesus guy we’re talking about.

As often as I can, I show up to lunch at OHS, sit with my Young Life girls on their turf, and they introduce me to their friends. And, when Friday nights come around, I am right there with them in the student section as we cheer on the Chargers.

And even better, when summer comes around, I get to go with them to camp and watch as they experience the best week of their lives.

Ole Miss Junior Leah MacFarland, center, with her Oxford High School Young Life girls at their freshman adventure camp in Cleveland, Tennessee.

It’s not exactly normal for me, a 20-year-old college student, to voluntarily spend time with 16-year-old high school sophomores. And they think so too.

That’s why, in Young Life, we have this thing called “earning the right to be heard.” Kids won’t listen to me, won’t want to spend time with me, and most certainly won’t want to hear the Gospel if I haven’t earned the right to any of those things.

Earning the right to be heard looks like showing up for them. It means being at every production that Tacie is in, even if she’s in every single one (there’s four this year). It means watching Lexi and Mary Mac’s soccer game in 30 degree-weather that makes my fingers feel like they’ll fall off. It means watching Maddie dance every Friday night on the sidelines of the football game.

Being a Young Life leader is so much more than just talking to kids about Jesus. It is so much more than preaching to them and asking them to listen. Being a Young Life leader means doing life with kids, making them feel known and loved in a time where they feel invisible to everyone.

This means that I listen to their boy problems. I let them rant about how unfair their parents are, and I let them know that, once upon a time, I was right where they are.

The Young Life hand sign. Picture taken by Leah MacFarland at Young Life’s camp property, Malibu Club in Egmont, British Columbia, Canada.

It is a privilege to be a Young Life leader. Those Monday nights when my eardrums are blown out in the car before we even get to club are my greatest joy. Watching as my girls listen to someone talk about Jesus and knowing that they are going to want to ask me questions about it later is a blessing I don’t deserve.

Earning the right to be heard, showing up for kids, and meeting them where they are has altered my college experience. Pouring into high school girls that are hurting the way I once was is a picture of a greater plan and a larger purpose. It is proof that there was more for me after high school, something that I want these Young Life girls to know and to trust in.

Young Life lives and loves by the motto that “You Were Made for This,” and how lucky I am to have been made for a ministry that is sure to make room for everyone –no matter the color of their skin, their socioeconomic status, or their religious beliefs.

Leah MacFarland
Leah MacFarland

Leah MacFarland, 20, is a UM junior working on her degree in IMC and specializing in public relations. She grew up in the shadow of the Grand Tetons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, but found herself in the South to experience college football, the Bible belt, and a warmer climate than the nine-month winters she was used to.

MacFarland spent all four years of her high school career actively involved in Young Life, a Christian ministry focused on college-age leaders going into high schools to walk through life with students. After several years of going to summer camps with Young Life, she worked at Malibu Club, a Young Life camp in Egmont, British Columbia. After this, she decided to work long-term with Young Life.

MacFarland is now pursuing a career in public relations with the intent of becoming field or property staff with Young Life. Her goal is to speak at Young Life camps in the summer and work as a full-time staff person in Oregon or Washington.

MacFarland leads sophomore girls at Oxford High School and has continued to work at Young Life camps in the summers. She spent last summer working at Washington Family Ranch Canyon in Antelope, Oregon.

With her involvement in Young Life, she spends a lot of time during the semester at Oxford High School football, softball, baseball, volleyball, and soccer games supporting her Young Life girls, and on most weekend nights, she can be found supporting her students in the OHS band or musical theater performances.

MacFarland was actively involved in musical theater for the majority of her high school career and plans on auditioning for spring performances at UM. As a creatively-minded person, she aspires to be a public speaker and spend some portion of her life on stage performing. She hopes to become more actively involved in campus this semester after dropping her involvement in Greek Life.

When she isn’t at Ole Miss, she is at home in Jackson Hole skiing, hiking, or paddleboarding on Jackson Lake. She waitresses at a restaurant in her hometown and enjoys working in the food industry and interacting with tourists from all over the world.


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