As befits any organization which revolves around the school calendar, October has always been a busy month for Young Life. But as busy as you may be right now, I hope you’re not as busy as Jim Rayburn was seventy years ago this month.
I had the great privilege of editing and publishing Jim’s journals (“The Diaries of Jim Rayburn” — availablehere). Part of the difficulty, of course, was determining which entries should make it into the book. For those of you who have seen the book, you might be surprised that what we published was only about a third of what Jim wrote! With that in mind, I went back into Jim’s journals to get a more detailed picture of what was going on seventy years ago this month, as Young Life officially came into being.
Jim was living in Dallas and leading clubs on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday each week (for decades, staff were expected to lead more than one club a week; this included every level of staff, from first-year trainee all the way up to Rayburn). If that wasn’t enough, keep in mind that the Monday club in Gainesville, Texas, was almost two hours away, and the Thursday club, in Houston, was six hours away (the speed limit was only 40 in those days). He was also laying the groundwork for the legal incorporation of Young Life, as well as preparing to start a new club that he would lead at an orphanage in Fort Worth, the Masonic Home.
Break out your Texas maps and you can see that Jim put a lot of miles on his late-model Pontiac that month. On Thursday, October 2, he was in Houston. Prior to that he was speaking in Nacogdoches. Saturday the 4th saw him in Ennis, helping start a club there. On Sunday he spoke to the 250 kids at the Masonic Home in Ft. Worth.
The second week of October saw him leading his normal Monday and Tuesday clubs. He came down with a migraine and had to bail on his weekly trip to Houston. He did, however, lead a meeting with 100 kids at the orphanage on Friday. Saturday the 11th was a board meeting.
On that day his journal notes, “The Board met and Young Life Campaign is now official. A wonderful four hour meeting closed with a fine season of prayer just before midnight with all members of the original Board present and all matters passed and Constitution adopted unanimously. Praise the Lord.” The monthly budget of $893 was adopted.
The incorporation papers were filed on October 16, making that the official, legal birthday of Young Life. So, happy 70th birthday, Young Life!
One final note: It’s important to know what Jim himself said about Young Life’s birthday. In a talk to the Young Life staff titled “Mission of the Church,” Rayburn said, “Young Life started in 1940. Don’t you believe the manual, it says 1941, but it was 1940. It really started seven years before that. But I didn’t know that.”
By 1940, he was referring to when he did the first work using the name “Young Life,” which was the tent campaign in Gainesville, Houston, and Dallas, that summer, just after Jim graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary. Increasingly during the 1940-41 school year Jim and his crew separated from Miracle Book Club, the organization they were originally working with. When he said, “It really started seven years before that,” he was referring, of course, to Mrs. Clara Frasher and her friends who prayed for the students at Gainesville High School. If you’d like to read that story, see Jim Rayburn III’s book,“From Bondage to Liberty,Dance, Children Dance.”Kit Sublett was on Young Life staff in Houston for twenty years. He is the editor of “The Diaries of Jim Rayburn,” which is available atAmazon.com and in bulk at WhitecapsMedia.com.