Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Big Dreams, Big Impact in the East


“Right now God is doing something special and I think it is going to have a significant impact on the future of our Church,” says the young man in his late 20s. When you look at that impact in western Massachusetts, Steve Fydenkevez is a big part of it. Steve is helping Young Life and the Catholic Church come together on the ground level, developing relationships that will yield fruit in local parishes and dioceses for years to come.

Steve grew up attending St. Mary’s Catholic parish in Longmeadow (Springfield MA Diocese) and was exposed to Young Life through the parish youth group’s annual summer trip to Saranac Village, a YL camp in the Adirondacks. “The relationship I had with my YL leader (who is now a Catholic priest actually), absolutely played a significant role in my development as a Catholic adult,” he says. The memory of those experiences at YL camp helped to spark a passion in him while sitting in Mass one day:

I remember one particular morning looking around the church and realizing that my wife and I were the only ones under forty who were not with their parents. I knew that if we didn’t do something more to reach our middle school and high school friends now, this entire generation would be lost. This is the future of our Church, I could not do nothing! I knew right then that what our Catholic youth needed is what Young Life works so hard to develop in teens - relationships with Jesus Christ.

Steve is recently married and works in the insurance industry just south across the Massachusetts border. He came back to Saranac in the fall of 2016 to attend a Young Life leader weekend. After hearing more direction from the Lord and talking with other YL staff who are trying to bridge the gap between the Church and YL, Steve began to direct his passion toward St. Mary’s the and opportunity he saw there.

Since then, God and Steve have been laying groundwork to establish a fruitful model for YL in a Catholic parish. The process has been intentional and broad in scope, including people of influence from the parish and the diocese. “Through the open lines of communication both sides have continued to grow closer in the vision of working alongside one another to reach kids,” Steve says. The recruitment and training of college leaders has been a strong focus and Steve notes a real symbiotic relationship between YL and the Church:

There are five colleges within a 15-minute drive of the church. This is a very Catholic part of the country. A stand-alone Young Life area would have a very difficult time getting into these schools and reaching potential leaders. Working with the Catholic Church however, we have a legitimacy that otherwise would not be possible. On the other hand, Young Life has the tools and resources to prepare these young leaders to reach kids in a way that the Catholic Church doesn’t have. It’s a real win-win! 

As Young Life begins to gear-up for FORWARD, our dream is to take kids “into the deep” as they walk with Christ, and working with parishes like St. Mary’s is a natural fit. “My dream is that we would see a Young Life Club and Campaigners happening at St. Mary's,” Steve says. But it’s more than just Catholics in Steve’s vision. “It’s time for us to come together as a Christian community. We want Catholic leaders alongside Protestant leaders reaching out to all kids in town. We’re talking about high school kids receiving the Sacraments for the first time - being Baptized, receiving the Eucharist, and being Confirmed - because they were introduced to Jesus Christ through the love of a YL leader.” 

Steve is changing the missional landscape in western Mass, but the process is also changing him. Rather than directing his attention solely to his career path, Steve is now pouring his energy into starting YL in Longmeadow and collaborating with St. Mary’s. “God is absolutely present in this,” Steve says. “In all my life I have never felt Him so much. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve all laughed together at the obvious presence of God in all of this.”

Having a significant impact on the future of our Church… that’s a great dream.  Having a significant impact on the lives of young people… that’s a great dream too.  What a gift that we get to walk alongside servants like Steve who are rolling up their sleeves to make both dreams happen. 
Steve and his wife Francesca

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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.

Michael