The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


July 2, 2012

Young Life marks 15th year of ministry in Joplin area

JOPLIN, Mo. — When it comes to having an impact on young people’s lives, Joplin Area Young Life has set the example for the past 15 years.

Thanks to the efforts of Margie Moss and Sue Dixon in bringing Young Life to Joplin in 1997 and the hard work by the current director, Jeremy Ritchie, and other adult leaders, the results have been simply remarkable.

Although the nonprofit Christian outreach to high school and middle school students has a simple approach, Ritchie and the volunteer leaders who surround him consider it essential.

Meet the young people on their own turf, whether at school or out of school, such as at the mall, at ball games or wherever they might be hanging out.

“We talk about incarnational ministry and how Jesus came to live among us, and that is what we are trying to do with the kids,” said Ritchie, a former youth minister at Christ’s Community United Methodist Church who also worked with The Bridge Ministries in Joplin. “What we are trying to do is go from our comfort zone and our adult world and enter in as missionaries in the youth culture and live with them.”

Ritchie emphasizes that Young Life is not so much about taking youths to church and getting them involved in programs as much as “one-on-one doing life with them.” That might entail going up to them while they are hanging out on a parking lot and just talking or joining them on a disc golf course, for example.

Ritchie, a native of Gainesville, Fla., calls it a relationship-based ministry where the Young Life leaders’ interests become the     same as those of the youths.

“There is no step one, step two, step three and we hit our goal with them,” he said.

Tim Head, one of the leaders who teaches at East Middle School, said a lot of what Young Life does is involved with trust.

“When you see them in Young Life, they want to know that you are there for them and not going anywhere and trust you and what you are doing,” he said.

In addition, after last year’s tornado, leaders have had to deal with the effects of that storm on young people’s lives. They want to feel a sense of security because they feel like they don’t have the security they had before the tornado, Head said.

A camp is held every summer at one of Young Life’s more than 20 properties across the United States. It provides a time for youths to get away from the pressures of everyday life in a beautiful setting that helps them put aside those pressures.

Becky Dean, a former director, said the camps provide good lodging, top-notch entertainment and activities to help “kids see the excellence and dream of an amazing life with God.”

This year’s camp for 47 ninth- through 12th-graders will be held July 17-24 at Lake City, Mich. The WyldLife camp for up to 25 sixth- through eighth-graders will be held July 8-11 near Lampe on Table Rock Lake.

The vision for Young Life in the Joplin area grew from a vacation trip to Colorado where Margie Moss and her husband, Dick, met a couple from Georgia and their two sons, the latter of whom made a lasting impression. When asked the source of their beliefs, both boys said Young Life.

Since Margie had been looking for a Christian youth group for their daughter, Kate, Young Life seemed a good fit. So on their return to Joplin, Margie and her friend, Sue Dixon, got the ball rolling by contacting the Young Life national headquarters in Nashville, Tenn. The challenge of raising start-up money was met in a week and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Joplin has become one of more than 800 communities across the United States where Young Life is working. More than 3,100 staff members and 28,000 volunteers are involved in more than 60 countries to impact young lives.

The idea for the dynamic Christian organization originated in Texas in 1938 when a young Presbyterian youth leader, Jim Rayburn, was given a challenge to consider the neighborhood high school as his parish and develop ways of contacting youths who had no interest in church. Rayburn started a weekly club that developed like wildfire, and Young Life was officially born on Oct. 16, 1941, with its own board of trustees.

Young Life is non-denominational and has been from the outset. The staff and volunteers are affiliated with a wide range of Christian denominations, both Protestant and Catholic.

In the 1980s Young Life added two new ministries, WyldLife and the Capernaum Project for youngsters with disabilities.

More information about the organization may be obtained on the website at

For the Joplin branch, you may visit www.joplinarea.young or call Ritchie at 417-623-3144.

Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802, or email

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