How come guys like you care about me and my gang?” That penetrating question often asked of our Young Life leaders comes this time from a Negro boy named Russell as he walks the littered streets of Lower East Side Manhattan late one Friday night. A thousand fellows and girls stand around aimlessly within the space of several blocks. Many of them have been “high” since 9:00 P.M. There is little else to do. All their lives they have been told, directly and indirectly, that they are nothing, nobody. Any motivation they may have had to accomplish something has been nearly wiped out. These inner-city people are unwanted by society, including most Christians.

What should be the Christian’s attitude toward these deprived people? Why is the world in revolution today? Could the reason be that one segment of sinful, self-centered society determines it is going to gain the possessions of another segment of sinful, self-centered society, which is equally determined to prevent this? Should a Christian be surprised at such a revolutionary situation, when he knows that only Jesus Christ can transform people’s lives? Why do middle-and upper-class college students, both Christian and non-Christian, come to me and say: “Who am I? I am last in the System—big government, big business, big church, in each of which money talks.” Why must Christians listen to embarrassing questions from agnostics and Communistically oriented persons? Because they have too long avoided facing up to their responsibilities to broken humanity, desperately in need of healing.

The “good people” of Christ’s day derisively called him “the friend of publicans and sinners.” When God invaded humanity, it was not by chance that he came through the Jewish nation (already long despised by most of the rest of the world). And even beyond his national identity “he was despised and rejected by men.” Therefore I, as a Christian, can tell my rejected friends that Christ understands them at the point of their deepest hurt! Only one who has been rejected can understand the hopelessness that pervades the minds and hearts of millions of deprived persons found throughout the world, and concentrated in big cities.

The population explosion, automation, and urbanization are relatively new to the world. Man has not yet learned to live satisfactorily with them. Physically he lives closer to his neighbors than ever before, but the social barriers to relationships with them grow higher and higher. Many persons are doing a commendable job in trying to remedy the depravity in the large metropolitan cities. I honor the sociologists, social workers, and others who are dedicating their lives to alleviating these tragic and rapidly growing problems. And I feel that the Christian Church in general has lagged far behind in meeting its God-appointed responsibility to the inner city.

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God was aware that humanity was in trouble. What did he do? Only an all-wise and totally loving God could have devised such a marvelous plan. He entered the human race through a peasant woman and had his angels announce his coming to rough and rugged shepherds. At the same time, he made known his incarnation to wise and economically elite rulers who traveled thousands of miles to worship at his feet. The Lord knew that in 1966 no one would be able to say:


I cannot think

that death will come

silent, still

or gentle-fingered

hut rather

it must



Split my tissued bones

in one lightning-fractured

tick of second’s hour

and this new-woven flesh

that somehow will be

still-remembered me

now fused with Christ

will flame

in pause eternal.


“I am too poor, too tough, or too wise, too rich, to need Jesus Christ.” God spanned all segments of society so no one could be excluded, either by himself or by others. To be a faithful disciple of Christ, the Christian, regardless of his social position, must have equal concern for all people. The Church of Jesus Christ cannot remain a middle-class cultural society in which members gather around their kind rather than allowing all who desire to, to gather around Jesus Christ. This is what more and more becomes our burden in Young Life, an independent organization that seeks to evangelize youth.

The words that could perhaps best characterize the inner-city phase of Young Life are: identification, communication, and nurture.


God has led us in Young Life to go and live with the people we are seeking to reach. This means that our leaders take up residence in the neighborhoods. They spend many hours studying the people by spending time with them on their “turf,” where they are dominant. People are relaxed in that atmosphere, and our leaders get to know them as they actually are. Through Christ we accept them right there, and this is vitally important to a lasting ministry. But we dare not stop with this.

At first these people do not trust our leaders. Why should they? They have been hurt too many times. They have developed a sensitive radar system that enables them to feel, without any exchange of words, whether or not they are really liked. If they do not sense a true love, it matters little what is said about Christ or anyone else. Only God the Holy Spirit can implant this quality of love in a person. Many of Young Life’s new leaders endure months of inner struggle while God points out unreality in their lives. The Lord greatly uses the lives of inner-city kids in the cleansing of these Christian leaders. Most leaders tell me that the first six months of living in the inner city do more for them than they could possibly do for the people. “Hit and run” evangelism is not very effective in such environments.

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Another point of strategy that our inner-city leaders believe God has shown them is “zeroing in” on those between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two. In this group are usually found the neighborhood leaders. There is a fantastic “grapevine” in the crowded city, and it is important that good news get into this effective communication system. When our workers penetrate this grapevine, they are in. The neighborhood leaders control the grapevine, so they must be won or most effective work will be stopped. Sometimes it takes months of prayerful effort to win the friendship of neighborhood leaders, but this pays off.

The power of Christ is amazing as one watches it work in humanly impossible situations. The “way of life” of some 50,000 people in a two-square-mile area of Lower East Side Manhattan has been changed because most of the former gang leaders are now committed Christians. Scores and scores of kids now profess Christ, and this one section of New York is as safe as any other community of our land. This achievement came through five years of sacrificial, dedicated effort by Bill Milliken and many other leaders. A juvenile judge in Jacksonville, Florida, is an ardent promoter of our program in that city because of the quality of the work done by the Jim Hornsby family and their fellow workers who have lived and labored in economically deprived areas of that city, In Dallas, Texas, Bob McGhee and his workers have been the Holy Spirit’s instruments in bringing to Christ some boys in “Little Mexico” (Dallas). The top leader in that area, who ran the lives of about fifty boys, is now a deeply dedicated Christian. He is a detached worker for the YMCA, and his boss says this nineteen-year-old man is one of the finest in the department. Yet it was only last spring that Bob and I got him out of jail three times for robbery. Equally productive ministries are being carried on in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, and a work is beginning in Chicago.

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The leaders develop friendships with the kids on the streets, on basketball courts and softball fields, in pool halls, and in other places where they gather. Christ tells us to go, and that is what we are doing. The founder of Young Life, James Rayburn, used a phrase twenty years ago that expresses a basic requirement for reaching an adolescent: “Winning the right to be heard.” The leader must also be a good listener, or he will be an ineffective communicator.


The Young Life Club meets on a week night in a church building, a recreation center, or one of our own centers. The meetings vary in size, for many reasons. There is some lively gospel singing, an appropriate but amusing skit for fun, and a short “punchy” message concerning Jesus Christ. The meeting is a rallying point and usually provocative. Spiritual results come mostly through individual talks between a leader and a fellow or girl.

Campaigners is a Bible study for the committed Christian. The leader tries to show how Christ is available for help in every area of life.

Cross Carriers is a leadership-development group. Ten or twelve persons gather in a deep sharing experience that helps to develop integrity in every area of daily life. Through this experience each person becomes aware that he needs the others as brothers in Christ. Members develop a deep friendship that leads to earnest prayer for one another’s problems.

In Pittsburgh, Reid Carpenter is starting a group of non-Christian fellows in whom he hopes to develop a sense of responsibility toward their community. As the members become committed Christians, they can carry on as partially equipped ambassadors of Christ.

Camp, weekend and summer, is one of our most productive situations. A counselor lives with, plays with, eats with, and talks with four kids for the weekend or an entire week. The total program is designed to enable the camper to relax so that he can hear that he is very important, since he is made by, like, and for God. Only then is it time to tell him that God loves him.

Only God the Holy Spirit can change these kids who express such distrust and hate at first. As they experience God’s love through a Christian counselor-friend, their barriers crumble. Transformed lives result. Last summer at the end of the camp week a boy who had scarcely talked to anyone all week came to me to ask what love was. He had an illegitimate daughter six months old, and he said he thought that love was what she needed so she wouldn’t become a beast like him. Many conversations flood my mind as I write these words. What a tragedy it is that superficial barriers prevent us from looking on these people as first-class human beings whom Christ loves.

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This phase of our program merits volumes, though only a few sketchy comments can be made here. Obviously, what I have already said covers the major part of our spiritual nurture. Let me also point out that living with the fellows and girls in apartments and homes is extremely important for the development of Christian character. Through a home where love and discipline prevails, one of the greatest needs of young people in the inner city is met.

Harv Oostdyk, our New York area director, has pioneered in the field of Christian nurture with amazing results in the lives of Harlem young people. The program of remedial educational therapy for dropouts aged sixteen to twenty-two has caught the attention of leaders throughout the nation. Christ brings motivation to a life where previously there was none. It is the Church’s responsibility to help these budding leaders realize their dreams and hopes for a worthwhile life.

Part of our goal in Young Life is to reach and train indigenous leaders. If we continue to lead all dedicated Christian leaders out of the inner city, conditions will never change. We want to see many of them go back during and after training to be Christ’s agents in changing the neighborhoods.

In Kansas City, Thor Hagen has opened a recreational center where kids can enjoy supervised play of all kinds, in all our work the leaders develop, coach, and train athletic teams, and this too is important. Young Life has developed committees of men in some areas to help kids with adequate skills obtain jobs. Many, many types of Christian nurture are needed to cope with the problems of inner-city dwellers.

Our inner-city work has the assured support of Bill Starr, Young Life’s executive director. We shall continue, in the name of the Christ who was himself rejected, to minister to the rejected youth of our large cities. To the inner cities we shall go, to live, to be accepted, to accept others as they are, and by deed and word to show the meaning of Christ to those who have-surrendered to cynicism and futility before they have really begun to live.

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