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Ventura County Religion | RELIGION

Fun, Games Help Ministry Reach Teens

November 25, 2000|ALEX FIELD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VENTURA — It's a nervous moment on club night. Thirty skateboard- and scooter-toting teenagers are gathered in Andy Claydon's living room, waiting for the revelation of that night's game.

The 30-year-old youth minister repeats an earlier question: "Can I have four volunteers?"

Some shaky hands rise; there is snickering from the back of the room. Others try not to make eye contact. Claydon, with his wife Jess, is the driving force behind Young Life in Ventura.

Young Life is a Christian mentoring program for junior high and high school kids that is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo. The ministry, which isn't connected with any particular church, meets weekly with teens throughout Ventura.

Young Life consists of several basic elements: regular club meetings, summer camps and what Claydon considers most important--extracurricular activities, such as mountain biking, surfing and skateboarding. Activities can even be as simple as a leader and a student getting together for lunch.

"When an adult acknowledges a kid where he's at, the results can be powerful," Claydon said. "We say: 'When we invest in a kid, we will know them for the rest of our life,' but that investment is hard."

Sixteen-year-old Brianna McIntosh says she regularly attends Young Life meetings because of the people and the message.

"I came at first because of my friends," she said. "I kept coming because I felt welcome and it keeps you in check."

A Young Life leader, Rachel Boydston, has been involved with the ministry for more than a decade. Now 28, Boydston was a member of Young Life from age 17 to 19, and years later she decided to go into leadership after moving away from her original group. She reconnected with the Young Life chapter in Ventura and has worked on the staff for the past two years. She said she finds it inspiring to work with high school students.

"I get to surf and mentor young women and show them that there's a God on this Earth who loves them," Boydston said. "And the kids have a fresh, brand-new look at reality. Besides, grown-ups don't like to go camping and kids do."

Ventura High School student D.J. Buss, 16, says he enjoys hanging out with friends and learning about God.

"I think more when I'm here, than when I'm at school," he said.

Tom Steffan, youth pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Ventura, said working with Claydon and Young Life has been a positive experience. Steffan said Young Life has tried to pull together several youth pastors from this area through meetings and events.

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"Young Life is like a first step for kids who aren't used to going to church," he said. "It kind of serves as a place where both churched and unchurched kids can come together."

Claydon's meetings, which draw 30 to 60 kids on Monday nights, are held either at his home or at the home of a club member. His phone list of Young Life teens has more than 100 names.

A typical session lasts about an hour and combines silly songs with usually outlandish games, followed by a short, poignant talk rather than a sermon.

These games, which serve as ice-breakers for visitors, range from Water Balloon Jeopardy (losers get doused) to Food Twister (involving whipped cream, chocolate syrup or apple sauce).

On a recent night, the game is "Roxanne," calling for four volunteers to eat a marshmallow each time they hear the word "Roxanne" in the Police song of the same name. Claydon is a walking encyclopedia of participatory games, drawing from an extensive recreation background.

He also meets with kids at Ventura High School for lunch off campus a few times a week and serves as a volunteer coach for the school's wrestling team. Students started their own Young Life club on Ventura High's campus that recently began to meet weekly.

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Claydon, a Santa Barbara native, said he sees his mission through a large scope.

"My goal is to have 10 volunteers involved at each high school and junior high school in Ventura," he said. "The biggest challenge is encouraging people to keep investing in kids' lives."

The national organization was founded in Texas in 1940 by Jim Rayburn, a churchgoing man who was frustrated with the options for teenagers to learn about religion. Mark Patterson, senior pastor at Community Presbyterian Church in Ventura, is Rayburn's grandson.

Patterson says Young Life has had a profound effect on his life, teaching him how to talk with young people in a meaningful way. His grandfather was discouraged that youths were expected to just show up for gatherings at his local church. Rayburn thought ministers should instead go where the kids were already gathered.

"He said, 'The biggest problem with Sunday school is that it's on Sunday and it's called school,' " Patterson recalled.

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