Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My Experience of Young Life Camp As a Catholic Adult Guest

This guest post was written by Hugo de la Rosa, a Catholic teacher and campus minister in the diocese of Brownsville, TX. Hugo and a delegation of other Catholic leaders from S. Texas, participated at a special YL-Catholic Adult Guest Program at Camp Buckner in February.

Twelve brave souls made a pilgrimage from the Diocese of Brownsville in the Rio Grande Valley (very bottom of South Texas) to Camp Buckner over Valentine’s Day weekend. We were invited at the request of Michael Havercamp and Bishop Daniel Flores, head of the over 1,000,000 Catholics who live in our area. Our goal was to experience a Young Life weekend camp as adult Catholic guests.

I’d never heard of Young Life before this invitation, so I was entering the experience with no preconceived notions of what to expect. We had the pleasure of meeting with Michael the morning of the weekend, and I drove over to the Camp with him; these were my initial impressions after those two conversations:
  • Young Life’s stated mission is to intentionally & passionately reach kids at the margins – the unchurched, the ones who do not have an active connection to Jesus and his church (in whatever denominational flavor that happens to be; Young Life is non-sectarian and not focused on any one Christian tradition)
  • This initiative to reach out to the Catholic Church goes hand in hand with Pope Francis’ desire for a new evangelization, using methods and steps that may be new, risky and messy; doing everything in a “missionary key,” going beyond the confines of what is safe and comfortable, reaching out to kids where they’re at
  • It aims to tie kids back into their own faith traditions, or, as sometimes happens, have kids join the faith tradition of their adult leaders if no connection to another faith tradition exists
  • The basic message of the Gospel is delivered in engaging, age-appropriate ways to help foster a response that ultimately leads the child to a relationship with Christ and his Church
  • Young Life aims to bring young people to Christ through attraction, and only later will they receive appropriate catechetical / liturgical formation in their own faith traditions
  • They aim to foster one on one relationship between adults (college age and up) and kids (middle school / high school / college)
  • This relationship is fostered through one on one meetings, small group meetings, and weekly/monthly Club meetings
  • Adult leaders will spend at least 4-6 hours each week with direct contact to their kids (visiting schools at lunch, attending extra-curricular activities, etc.)
  • This investment of time and attention gives the adult leader the “right to be heard” in the child’s life – eventually leading to conversion experiences at weekend or week long camps (such as the one taking place this weekend)
  • The Catholic Church, while being very good at sacramental and catechetical instruction, sometimes lacks in helping to foster a prayerful, direct relationship with Christ
  • A partnership with Young Life can help bridge that gap
  • Because much of Young Life is led by evangelical / non-denominational adults, having a Catholic presence (i.e. developing Catholic Young Life leaders) is crucial to leading Catholic students back to their parishes

The rest of the weekend bore out those initial impressions. I saw staff greeting teens with enthusiasm and genuine care, using music, costumes/personalities & humor to create an engaging and non-threatening environment for the campers. I saw leaders gathering together to plan and pray, intentionally choosing their teenage friends to be part of activities that would help bolster their self-esteem and bring them closer to God. I saw a definite Young Life culture that leaders and participants shared, bridging generational, cultural, denominational and economic differences.

At Club I saw youth and adults who were joyous and joyful. The music, games and antics started at a fast pace, eventually moving towards a short message that introduced elements of the Gospel to the gathered crowd. I then saw youth being led by their mentors for some reflection time. And then, most powerfully of all, I saw youth and adults spending free time together, playing games, and simply talking one on one or in small groups.

It strikes me that this goes to the heart of Catholic social teaching – leaders were engaging with these adolescents not as a ploy to “get them to church,” but because of their inherent worth and dignity as people lovingly hand-crafted by their Creator. Even if the gathered young people never grace the hallowed halls of a church building, they will have experienced the love of God through the love of their adult leader. While the end-game is eventual Church membership and church service / activity, even if that doesn’t happen we have still loved and served them as Jesus loves and serves us.

The specific charism of Young Life – reaching out to disenfranchised youth with no other purpose then to love them as they are; the no-pressure environment, the pre-evangelistic nature of it; the acceptance of meeting them where they’re at, going to their schools, going to their games, getting to know them; investing the time to “earn the right to be heard” (a phrase that I love!) – it sounds so very . . .Jesusy to me. J

I think that all of us came out of the experience with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the ministry that Young Life leaders are exercising all over the country. I came back humbled by the willingness of the staff and leaders to share with us as Catholic adults. I came back personally challenged to incorporate the culture of Young Life into my own ministry as a teacher and campus minister at a PK-8th grade Catholic school. I came back energized and excited at the prospect of partnering with such a vibrant and obviously Christ-centered community.

I think that a partnership between Young Life and the Catholic Church (specifically in my area, but all over the country as well) has the potential to be life changing for both adults involved in ministry and the kids that are ministered to, and I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to be a small part of making that a reality.


  1. May God be with you and all you serve with Hugo! I am so happy to hear that you had a chance to see and hear what YL is all about....introducing the unchurched and lost to our loving Christ! It's a wonderful thing when we come together as believers, reagrdless of denomination, and do our best to act as Christ instructed and simply love these kids. Thanks for your comments and I wish you and your ministry all the best moving forward...welcome to the YL family!! -Murray Sales YL Grosse Pointe, MI

  2. What a heart warming post, Hugo. And you did quite a job of summing up the basics for one with such a brief exposure. If the greater, world-wide body of Christ would simply act as one and reach out to a hurting world in love and acceptance for all, what an exciting day that would be. My father was the founder of Young Life (Jim Rayburn Jr.) and he spent some of his time at the end of his life talking with young students for the priesthood in Rome. This would please him as it does me. Jim Rayburn III : jimcrayburn@cs.com

  3. Thank you both very much for you kind words and your prayers - prayers as well for your ministry and personal endeavors on my behalf! I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend (I've since stolen the Banana Song and used it in class and on our 2nd grade retreat), and it was great to see so many adults loving the young members of our churches.Thanks as well to Micheal for giving me a chance to share my thoughts!

    Blessings & Peace,


Thanks so much for your input. I pray that this dialogue may be a blessing to you personally and to the ministry you exercise in Christ.