Thursday, April 28, 2016

Second Catholic Bishop Signs Missional Agreement With Young Life

On Monday, April 25, the Most Reverend William Francis Medley became the second U.S. Catholic bishop to enter into a collaborative agreement with Young Life to reach a world of kids together. Nearly one year after a similar agreement was reached in Brownsville, TX, the Diocese of Owensboro, which covers the western third of Kentucky, acknowledged “the simplicity and purity of the mission of Young Life” and highlighted Young Life’s methods – going where teens are, building real relationships, and earning the right to be heard – as inherent to the Catholic tradition and essential components of the new evangelization.

“This agreement is so important,” noted Melinda Prunty, Director of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Owensboro. “We might do well with those kids who come to us, but we need help reaching those kids we don’t even know are out there.” Melinda played a critical role in the nearly three-year process that culminated in Monday’s signing. “We have so much to learn from the deeply relational approach to Young Life’s ministry,” she continued. “This is about introducing kids to Jesus and helping them grow in their faith. I pray that our Catholic clergy and youth ministers see the broader vision and walk side-by-side with Young Life.”

Chris Dillbeck, the local Young Life area director in Owensboro, has been a tireless force for bridge-building since he started Young Life there in 2012. His winsome spirit and ecumenical vision forged relationships that transcended denominational affiliation. One former youth minister in the diocese, Danny May, tells the story with great joy and wonder. “Three years ago, Chris walked right into my office, introduced himself and to the ministry of Young Life. From our first conversation, I could see that he was building bridges with the Catholic community.” Since then, the two have become good friends and partners in the mission to reach lost kids. “Young Life enabled me to reach students in the public schools that I would not have had without Young Life. That’s why I volunteered to help Young Life freshmen orientations and club events. That’s why my wife and I support Young Life to this day.”

Dillbeck believes this is more than a practical agreement to reach kids. “This is another step in unifying the Bride of Christ, the Church. I truly believe this pleases the Lord.” He also hopes it will draw more Catholics into a permanent state of “going out”, putting everything in a “missionary key,” as Pope Francis has exhorted. “This agreement opens the door for Catholics to be a part of this dynamic mission, and gives us a template for partnership moving forward,” he said.

Paula Schmidt, Coordinator of Religious Education at St. Pius X in Calvert City, could not be more excited about this new spirit of partnership. “When I first heard about Young Life coming to Kentucky, my first and only thought was ‘AWESOME’!” Paula was raised Catholic, attended Mass with her parents, and eventually got confirmed. “But my experience with Young Life helped me see my faith in a new light,” Paula says. After attending many weekly Young Life clubs, she went to summer camp at Frontier Ranch in Colorado. “Young Life planted a seed of faith and helped it to grow. That same faith is now flourishing as I serve the Church today!”

Brett Hersma, Young Life Senior Vice President over the Midwest Division, attended the historic signing in Owensboro and concluded by saying, “This agreement helps to formalize what we already believe – we all care deeply about kids, and we want them to be alive in their faith. It’s important for more communities to see that Young Life and the Catholic Church are making strides in working together for the sake of Christ and kids.” Our prayer is the same as that which Jesus prayed on the night before he was betrayed, that we may be one, so the world would know Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Every kid, everywhere, for eternity.
Chris Dillbeck (left), Michael Havercamp, Bishop Medley, Brett Hersma, and Jack Nikcevich

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Introducing Marisa Avramovich: Our Newest Member of the YL-Catholic Relations Team

Marisa, her husband Dave, and daughters Katie and Ella

The movement of the Holy Spirit continues to deepen the relationship between Young Life and the Catholic Church around the country. In response to God’s leading and the growing demand for YL-Catholic collaboration on the west coast, I’m happy to introduce Marisa Avramovich, who officially joined the Catholic Relations team this month. Marisa is a beautiful spirit, a native Californian, and a practicing Catholic with Young Life experience dating back to her childhood. She has already hit the ground running in her role to facilitate deeper relationships and practical partnerships with Catholics in the western United States. Please help me welcome her aboard!

“My upbringing as a Catholic was a central part of our life,” Marisa explains. “It really set a great foundation for my life.” Growing up her family attended Mass at a Catholic Newman Center in Riverside, CA where her parents were intimately involved in the lives of students. “We’d go on weekend retreats, help cook food, and facilitate the weekend with the Dominican priests. Catholic liturgical life had a strong influence on how my parents raised me and my brother. It’s something I’m trying to recreate now as a wife and mother of two!”

Young Life was also a big part of her family growing up. “My mom was a Young Life leader and both my parents were involved with committee.” It all started when her mom attended Young Life club as a high school freshman.  And her dad’s first exposure to Young Life, one that changed his life forever, was, well, her mom! “Growing up with Young Life was so fun! We had club in our home. We did weekend work camps. I really got to know some of my mom’s club kids. The summer before my 6th grade year, we went to YL Family Camp and it was one of our favorite family trips!” And her dad, who is now an ordained Catholic deacon, was all in. “My dad was really great in supporting my mom doing ministry with those kids which was cool for me to see as a young girl.”

Marisa always saw Young Life and her Catholic faith as complementary. “I was extremely fortunate to grow up Catholic, to receive such strong catechesis, and to benefit from such great Dominican preaching! This has impacted my ability to share the Gospel with kids today.” And yet it was in Young Life that the light really “clicked” for her. “It was my work crew experience. I was serving kids alongside other followers of Jesus. It was so powerful. I had such a sturdy foundation with my Catholic faith, and yet that summer something changed. I went from belief to a lifestyle. It was a springboard for my faith journey and eventually helped me discern my vocation in ministry.”

Marisa has served in many staff roles in Young Life over the last ten years. She’s worked in Young Life clubs and WyldLife clubs, suburban and urban areas. She’s been a staff associate, area trainer, area administrator, and divisional Student Staff coordinator. She left YL for a couple of years to do youth ministry at a Catholic parish before returning to Young Life after marrying her husband, Dave, who is the YL area director in Pasadena, CA.

In many ways, being married to Dave, who is Presbyterian by tradition, has expanded her vision for unity within the body of Christ. “Dave and I both love musicals,” she says, “and in particular, Les Miserables. There’s a song that says, ‘Take my love, for love is everlasting. And remember the truth that was once spoken . . . to love another person is to see the face of God.’ I believe that being married to Dave has helped me to see God’s face. We choose to love each other at our best and at our worst. The trust that comes in doing that, to me, is a direct correlation to the trust we put in loving Christ.”

“The theme of our marriage is ‘Love Always Hopes,’” Marisa shares. “We stand hopeful in our interactions with each other, our children, our ministry team, the kids we minister to, etc. I believe that in our ecumenical marriage, we, as two people who come from different faith traditions, ultimately stack hands on the Holy Trinity, acknowledging the work of God in the lives around us, hoping to help others understand who they are so that they can see themselves as children of the living God.”

“I love what Pope Francis says,” Marisa continues:

Every morning, on rising,
we reaffirm before God our decision to be faithful,
come what may in the course of the day.
And all of us, before going to sleep,
hope to wake up and continue this adventure,
trusting in the Lord’s help.

In this way,
each spouse is for the other
a sign and instrument of the closeness of the Lord,
who never abandons us.
~ Pope Francis, The Joy of Love

Marisa is so passionate about this new role. “I love both my Catholic faith tradition and Young Life, and I see how easily they can complement each other.” She knows so many kids who are restless, who feel disconnected, who want so desperately for their lives to be meaningful. “So many kids need to connect in meaningful ways with the person of Jesus. If they only could know WHO He is, they could then know how that can shape the way they live their lives. I think that both Young Life and the Church have so much to offer!”

And she’s also excited to serve Young Life staff in the western U.S. “I pray this work will help staff as they develop relationships with disconnected Catholic kids, to help strengthen their faith and plug them back into their local parish. We need to nurture lifelong discipleship in kids that won’t conflict with the faith practices of their families.” Marisa hopes to have meaningful conversations with both Protestants and Catholics that will help open doors and hearts to a better understanding of one another.

The YL tag line, “You were made for this!” certainly applies to Marisa as she embraces this important new role. “As someone who is a ‘cradle Catholic’ and who has also been raised in Young Life, I feel like I’ve been prepared for this role my whole life!” We lift you up to the Lord, Marisa, and pray that He will do mighty things for the kingdom through your love and faithfulness!

*For consultation in YL-Catholic relations in the western United States, or to simply welcome her aboard, please contact Marisa at 951-288-4584,