Church brings kids together for fun, faith

<I>TIMM COLLINS photo</I><BR>Grant Chinn dodges water balloons at a recent Young Life meeting in Seaview. The meetings, held Monday evenings between now and June 7, begin at 7 p.m.

SEAVIEW - A youth group is finding a way to bring people together to have some fun, get to know themselves and each other - then learn about Jesus Christ.

Shooting hoops, talking, whispering, shouting and laughing, but there is no crying. Twenty kids line the walls and sit on the floor of Grant and Jeni Chinn's family room in Seaview, waiting for "club" to begin.

The one couch in the room is spoken for and packed with five tenth-grade girls. The rest of the kids sit on the floor along the wall or squeeze together in the middle of the room.

The feeling of closeness transcends the seating arraignment. There is a feeling on commonality. Everyone is a friend; everyone is equal.

The room begins to quiet as voices trail off in anticipation. Suddenly, bursting from the next room, Grant Chinn joins the group in seemingly mid-conversation.

"Here is a $5 bill," his energy illuminates the room as he offers a challenge to open the meeting. "You have to hold on to your toes and jump over it. The first person who can, gets to keep the five."

This is a more difficult task than most realize. Several of the boys give it a try, elbows and knees flying in all directions before collapsing, defeated, in a heap on the floor. Pastor Jarrett Johnson was the only one to successfully make the jump, but he was seen practicing before the event.

In its simplest form, this is most of what Young Life is all about. Challenging young people, and then helping them to help to themselves.

Next Chinn asks for volunteers for a race. As a blue tarp is laid on the floor, four girls and four boys step forward for the donut-eating contest.

In this event, each girl lays face up on the floor, their teammate holds a donut on a string just above their head. The goal is to be the first team to finish the donut without using any hands. Between each bite, the holder of the string must dunk the donut in chocolate syrup.

The race is a messy one, and in the end there was no clear winner. Everyone had fun, and that is another component of Young Life.

"Everyone must have fun. That's one of the rules, not that we have many rules," said Grant Chinn. "We don't want kids to feel like they have to do something that isn't going to be fun. That's really how Young Life got started."

Young Life began in 1941 when Jim Rayburn, an assistant youth pastor in Gainesville, Texas, was commissioned to reach the high school kids who weren't coming to church. Rayburn had no ideas how to go about this, so he just headed off to the local high school to meet some kids and planted the seed for what would become Young Life.

Today it is called "incarnational ministry," and the principle has remained the same: go to the kids, love them unconditionally, inform them about Christ and let them make their own decision about following.

After the pastry race and renditions of "Do-Wa-Diddy," and "Proud Mary" led by the club band made up of volunteers, the action moves outside.

Teams of half a dozen or so club members fought for position on the lawn for a water balloon toss using bed sheets. Team members grabbed the sheets by the edges and placed balloons in the center. The goal was to throw the balloon in the air and catch it without breaking it. Teams quickly found this could be difficult if the throw was not directly over the center of the sheet.

There were many clean catches on this evening, and a few near misses, but as the task became more tedious with higher and higher throws, teen distraction began to creep into the meeting.

Temptation and record-April temperatures eventually gave way to a water balloon fight. Chaos took over as balloons whizzed through the air, mainly towards Chinn. Some teams still trying to catch balloons in their sheet risked being struck but continued to work together.

"Most meetings have a little craziness," said Chinn after the melee. "Think of every meeting as a controlled chaos. Humor breaks down walls and barriers, and by the time we talk about Christ, everyone is more open ... more relaxed at the end of the meeting."

As the hour meeting begas to wind down, it was time for the message. Call it a lesson or a prayer, but this is when club members learn about Jesus Christ. On this evening the message was given by Renee Hartford Hurlburt.

Quietly the group listened to a song about walking on water played on the stereo in the clubroom. Some Young Lifers have never been to church, others have never missed a Sunday service, but it doesn't matter, said Chinn, Young Life is about reaching people.

"It is not like there are points given out if you know all the stories," said Chinn. "Young Life is about informing people of the choices they have. Yes, we want to introduce people to Christ, but we want people to make their own decisions about where it goes from there."

After the song Hartford Hurlburt explained her choice. She wanted the kids to know if you have faith, you can do anything.

"I chose this song because it says so much about what you can achieve," she said. "You can reach your goals if you believe and you try hard enough.

In short, if people have faith, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished.

"You can walk on water if you really try," she said.

Starting with the May 3 club meeting, the club will be putting together a mock version of the television show "Survivor." The club will be split into teams or tribes and compete in different challenges. Chinn said they would probably not vote people out of the game because in the end both tribes are winners.

"I don't want to give away any secrets," Chinn said. "But I will tell you this, they are going to have fun."

The Survivor games will continue through the month of May with the final meeting of the school year held on June 7. Meetings start at 7 p.m. Monday evenings at the Chinn home, 38th and Pacific Hwy. in Seaview. For directions or further information about Young Life, please call 244-0583.

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