Introducing the Life*Leadership*Legacy Campaign: December 2014

Posted on by Ed Kaczmarek

Greetings in Christ from Fresno/Madera Youth for Christ!

This is your regular monthly letter.  But I think you’ll quickly find it to be anything but regular. 

In 2015 our local YFC chapter celebrates 70 years of faithful ministry.  Through 70 years of reaching kids for Christ, how many kids’ lives have been changed… how much heartache was averted… how many future community leaders were transformed through the ministry, going on to impact countless others?  It is certain that God has chosen to use this ministry to transform our community in a significant way.  At the same time, this may be the most decisive moment in YFC’s history.  In this letter I’d like to lay out for you YFC’s amazing journey to today.  And… the time has come to introduce our Life*Leadership*Legacy Capital Campaign for ministry expansion. 

If you would, please carve out a few minutes to settle into a comfortable chair and consider Youth for Christ.   I’d like to tell you the story of how we got to where we are now – and share the thrill of where we are heading.

70 years of faithful ministry

In 1944, the national movement of YFC began under the leadership of Torrey Johnson.  Among his partners in evangelism was a young fiery preacher named Billy Graham.  The movement spread like wildfire across our country, and even skipped over to Europe as WWII came to an end.  Here in Fresno, a group of courageous men formed a nonprofit organization – Youth for Christ Center, Fresno, California – with a start date of Feb. 2, 1945.

Those early years focused on Saturday evening rallies and music nights.  Many came to Christ, understanding the gospel for the first time at these events.  Witnesses recount the fun, humor, great preaching, and great music of those days.   And many in our community were forever changed.

The first Executive Director of our chapter was Bart Bartels, back in 1952.  He worked with a young man named Buford “Bufe” Karraker who at that time was new to Fresno.  By 1956 Bufe was in charge of the ministry.  During Bufe’s 26 year tenure as Executive Director, the ministry grew exponentially, bearing much fruit for the kingdom of God.  Many among us remember great ministry leaders from those times: Larry Ballenger. Doyle Daniel.  Bruce Baloian. Mike Reinhold. Larry Melikian. Norm Wiens. Jennifer McCord. Alan Doswald. Kurt Madden. Mike Gonsalves. And so many others.  Ben Lester took the leadership role after Bufe.  There were challenges, to be sure; but the list of faithful servants goes on and on.  A new program called Campus Life came into being as it was recognized that the campus was the heartbeat of the youth community.  And many in our community were forever changed.

Campus Life of the 1960’s and 70’s was a phenomenon.  Remember the Bible quizzing, goose chases, Bug Night, burger bashes, camping trips, bike trips, scavenger hunts, Faith Festival, Seaside Seminar, Scream in the Dark; and, of course, the infamous electric chair?  Campus Life clubs representing almost every local high school met in churches and in students’ homes.  Faithful supportive parents braved groups of 20-200 kids packing into living rooms and back yards.  Kids played crazy games during Impact nights, then got down to faith issues on Insight nights.  YFC essentially became the city’s youth group since many churches did not yet have their own.  And many in our community were forever changed.

By the 1980’s the Campus Life concept had expanded into the middle schools with Teen Dimension, later called JV, now called Campus Life M.  Fresno/Madera Youth for Christ was the first YFC chapter in the USA to pilot this program.  Bill Letourneau, H. Spees, and David McGlasson took their turns as Executive Director.  Recognizing the needs of incarcerated youth, YFC ventured into the cold hallways of the juvenile justice system, sending volunteers and trained chaplains into the lives of hurting kids.  By the 1990’s we were also working with a particularly outcast group of kids – our teenage moms.  So many times these young ladies were ostracized from their families or otherwise lacked the support needed to finish school, to be a good mom, to find hope in Christ.  We were there for them.  And many in our community were forever changed.

In the new century, work continued with every kind of kid.  Randy Mewhirter became E.D. and carried the banner of Campus Life.  Campus lunchtime clubs, led by student leaders under the coaching of YFC staff, became particularly effective as the Supreme Court ruled Christian clubs to be constitutional.  Kids were trained to lead their friends to Christ.  It was clearly understood that if you could get to the heart of a kid early, you could prevent a lifetime of hurt – including the hurt they might bring upon others.  Intentional outreach to urban youth gave birth to our City Life program.  While the gang member on the corner was the only image of a man that many kids had, YFC was there to intercede with Christian role models.  And many in our community were forever changed.

By the time I arrived on the scene on Feb. 2, 2006, Fresno/Madera Youth for Christ was reaching over 5,000 kids per year at 26 ministry sites; on average, 500 kids per year were making decisions for Christ.  Slow and steady growth through difficult economic times brings us to today, where we reach kids through 38 different clubs, middle and high school campuses, three juvenile correctional facilities, a recording studio, a martial arts program, Saturday Sports, tutoring, and so on.  And – you guessed it - many in our community are still being forever changed. 

By now you might have gathered a theme.  Youth for Christ has been used by God in an unusual way, over many years, to transform the lives of kids so that they might live abundant lives here and in eternity.  Times have changed, but we have a longtime motto that hasn’t: YFC is geared to the times, but anchored to the rock.  The times call for new methods of evangelism, new strategies to reach ever-changing generations of kids, and ever changing demographics. 

When YFC began, the computer didn’t exist; now, just about every kid carries a powerful one in their pocket.  Communication, community, church, relationships – all have undergone a multitude of change and have endured epic challenge.  And through all these years, YFC has responded to the call to share Christ, in love, in relationship with our youth.

Lately the Lord has been stirring our hearts for change.  A few years ago I began to recognize that our ministry, though powerful and effective, could not even keep pace with population growth.  I felt frustrated that while our budget was growing incrementally and amazing ministry was happening, the need was growing exponentially.  I sought the Lord and sought the advice, counsel, and prayer of many godly men and women within and beyond YFC.  There was no denying a call to greater things; but in what form?

We began a process of evaluation.  YFC’s current office was established in 1973 in downtown Fresno. Over time our office has been transformed into a vibrant downtown ministry center reaching urban kids through tutoring, a recording studio, skateboard ministry, faith-infused martial arts, etc.  While our current building is “busting at the seams” with ministry, our location has become less relevant and accessible to the populations expanding to the north and east. Our ministry team frequently faces resistance when inviting students and/or adults to participate in events or trainings at our downtown location.  It’s just not feasible for north Fresno kids to come with any frequency to our downtown center.  We began to ask, “Does the Lord have plans for us beyond the walls of our current ministry center?”

The Lord’s answer seemed to be “expansion”.  In the Spring of 2012 we surveyed a group of supporters through a capital campaign feasibility study.  Our survey group strongly supported the idea of adding a facility.  Testing the concept, we rented a home near Madera High School as a ministry platform.  We loved the results.  We then took a gigantic faith step and started looking for property to purchase in north Fresno that could serve as an additional Fresno/Clovis site – a future student ministry center.  We had some false starts but we kept pressing to find what the Lord had in mind.  And what we found blew us away.  We are now in escrow on an 1,800 square foot home with separate apartment, game room area, and swimming pool in a park-like setting - all on 2.5 acres. Ideally situated on Chestnut south of Shepherd, - just four minutes’ drive from Buchanan, Clovis West, and Clovis North high schools - this site will become YFC’s Campus Life Center for Student Leadership!  The City of Fresno has given us our provisional Conditional Use Permit and all signs are saying “GO”. 


We believe God will provide the funding for this bold step through the Life*Leadership*Legacy Capital Campaign.

The brochure inserted with this letter will tell you more about the campaign.  Through the campaign we intend to:
• strengthen and enhance current ministries at the City Life Center downtown;
• purchase and remodel the new Campus Life Center; and
• establish an endowment that will fund this ministry long after we’re all gone. 

To turn this amazing opportunity into reality, WE NEED YOU.  We need hundreds, if not thousands, of friends of YFC to support this campaign.  We need you to give the largest gift or pledge that you’ve ever given to YFC – over and above regular giving. We are holding a major event on March 3rd – our 70th Anniversary Banquet featuring Ruth Graham as keynote speaker (see insert).  At that event we will call for pledges in support of this campaign.  While you may choose to give a “startup” gift toward this campaign right now, we will need supporters to commit to a multi-year pledge through 2018. At the banquet we will more fully lay out the Life*Leadership*Legacy campaign.  If you are unable to attend, we’ll send you a pledge packet in early March and we’ll look for your response by the end of March. 

Here’s what I am asking you to do right now: PRAY for this ministry.  PRAYERFULLY seek what God would have you do to support this work.  IN PRAYER ask God if, and how much, you should pledge over the next few years.  Plan to bring friends to our banquet and prepare to make a lifelong, even eternal, impact in the lives of this generation of kids.

Thank you so much for taking this time to consider YFC.  May God bless you, and may God bless the efforts to which He has called us!

Ed Kaczmarek


Download the published December Newsletter!

Download the Life Leadership Legacy Brochure

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