Why I Keep Going: The Story of a Young Life Leader named Juan

March 1, 2016

Written by Juan Perez, a volunteer leader in Lincoln, NE. If you would like to share an idea or encouragement with thousands of YL leaders around the globe, here’s how you submit a guest post. 

When I run into old friends, classmates or family members I often get these types of questions, “Are you still doing that Young Life thing?” Or “You still hanging out with those high school kids?” and my favorite one, “I see you’re keeping the yearbook open.” Most often these questions are well intended, but there’s always that perplexed look or just straight confusion accompanying it.

I mean come on, what we do as YL leaders is NOT normal. Who in their right mind would want to constantly go back to any high school, let alone their alma mater?

To answer those questions I often reflect on my own high school experience. I enjoyed high school a lot. My parents were awesome. I was very fortunate that they loved me well. In high school my friends were my life and they loved me well, too. I went to a school that had great teachers and coaches that taught me well. But for some reason something was missing. I was loved in all aspects of my life and yet I still had this emptiness that robbed me of living fully and authentically.

I should mention that I have been doing Young Life since I was in 6th grade, casually attending club and Campaigners. Then one day in the middle of my freshmen year of high school, this gigantic former college football player with huge muscles named Jake came to club. Normally your first interaction with anyone is a casual introduction. Well, with Jake, my first interaction was him wrestling my friends and me and eventually sitting on top of us during the club talk because we couldn’t be quiet.

I honestly don’t think I ever formally met Jake, but I immediately knew I could trust him. Jake would then show up on my turf. He would come to lunch, my soccer games and he took me to camp and changed the course of my life. It wasn’t until my first year of leading I realized that Jake didn’t do all those things because he liked the attention from us guys, or he wanted to be cool. He simply just wanted us to know that we were loved. Loved by him, but most importantly, loved by God, and that it didn’t have to stop there.

Here I am years later. It’s my 5th year of leading and the guys that I have known since they were in 8th grade are now seniors in high school. It’s been an awesome journey with that original group and a lot of guys who’ve joined us along the way.

I started leading Young Life because of Jake, but I continue to lead Young Life because God’s love carried way beyond my Young Life leader.

Some of the dudes I get to invest in, I see almost every week. Some I may see once or twice a month and still there are others who I haven’t seen in months or even years.

I was fortunate to have a good high school journey, and yet I still needed to be told by someone that I was loved. Many of the parents of the guys that I lead are loving and they do their best to speak life into them, just like mine did. I also know that there are guys who don’t have the best home life or have gone through some really hard things. Either way, in my eyes, every kid — no matter their background is, deserves to know they are worth showing up for. 

I’m just glad I get to be the one who shows up and gets to tell them that they are loved… by the same Jesus who loves me.

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