I still remember the first day of camp in Kakamega, a region in the Northwest of Kenya on the outskirts of the vast rainforest. It was here where busloads of kids singing and cheering could be heard from down the road before pulling into the front gates of Young Life camp. They jumped out of the van and into a dance that almost seemed choreographed, at least to the Americans observing from outside (our American group had never seen such a mass of kids our age that all were apparently professional hip hop dancers). We were blown away by the joy and exuberance that these kids brought with them. But we realized that they were not just excited to dance and play games, but they knew that this camp was where they could experience Jesus Christ. This was a discipleship camp, and these kids were touched by the transformational power of the Spirit.
For anyone that has been involved with Young Life in the United States, it is surprising how similar the ministry is in Africa. Granted, there are certainly some breaks and gaps between these two cultures that are hard to ignore. In Africa, clubs usually meet with a dirt floor and minimal equipment for sound and games, camps typically take place at a high school, events and meals are hardly ever on time, and leaders are presented with the challenge of getting kids to clubs and camp without access to cars.
Despite all of these differences, I was blown away by how clearly I could recognize the DNA of Young Life so far away from where I grew up next to the Young Life headquarters in Colorado Springs.
Regardless of how wide the ocean is that separates my hometown from the leaders and kids I met in the depth of the Kakamega rain forests, kids share many of the same troubles, struggles, and burdens. It brought to mind “no temptation has overtaken you but that which is common to all men” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Depression descending into drug addiction, entanglement in sexual struggles, families torn asunder by the effects of alcohol. At Young Life camp, our group was able to witness this evil and despair overpowered as it came into contact with the transformational love of Christ. This message was proclaimed by the words of the camp speakers and the actions of the dedicated leaders.
I found it beautiful to see God raising up leaders in the plains of the Rift Valley, in the cities of Nairobi and Addis Ababa, and in the Rain Forest of Kakamega to battle these timeless symptoms of the virus of sin. I realized that even the strongest medicine or the longest list of vaccines cannot defeat this illness – Christ alone is the antidote that is setting kids free all over the continent of Africa.