Young Life’s International Heritage

Jim RayburnYoung Life has been around long enough to have made a very real difference in the lives of many millions of young people all around the world.

The foundations for the organisation were laid in Texas in the United States of America in 1938. Jim Rayburn was a gifted youth leader in Gainesville in his late 20’s, when he had a life changing moment of clarity and a burning desire to work with disinterested teenagers, instead of those who already attended church services.

Jim’s philosophy was an instant hit. His weekly youth club was loaded with music, funny skits and exciting games, plus easily digested positive messages that connected with the kids. Young Life was founded in 1941 and it didn’t take long for the movement to gather momentum.

Jim Rayburn encouraged his young staff in the forties to “walk in wisdom towards those who are without.” Jim wanted to help teenagers by providing hope, identity, and purpose; an understanding as to who they are, where they come from, and most of all, where they are going.

Soon Young Life was reaching out to youth all over the USA and then Canada, and then other countries further afield.

Today, the organisation operates in more than 70 countries. and has around 5,600 personnel and 67,000 volunteers globally, who work directly with young people or who serve as local committee helpers or board members.

The Home-Grown Australian Movement

Young Life commenced in Australia in 1972 after naval officer, Arthur Ongley, bought a book about Young Life from his local bookstore in Sydney. He read it and became convinced of one thing: this is what he wanted to do with his life. Having no ties to the international movement, he simply began a Young Life program, working part-time out of his home in Northmead.

Unbeknownst to Arthur, Cliff Johnson – a teacher from Colorado Springs with Young Life experience – moved to Melbourne and quickly saw the need among young people in his community. In 1973 he began Young Life in his school’s vicinity, and both states experienced growth and expansion with more young people benefiting from Young Life’s investment into their lives.

In 2000, the New South Wales and Victorian branches of Young Life joined forces and Young Life Australia was born, with a national office based in Ryde, Sydney.

Rapid expansion followed, with more regions being represented within NSW and Victoria, and the addition of the ACT and Queensland.

Today, the Young Life Australia network has over 40 staff and more than 300 fully trained volunteers in the field, who mentor, lead and share their faith with young people. Young Life is still growing, with work currently expanding in regional NSW and South-East QLD.

So the journey continues, with the same willingness to make a positive, lasting difference in the lives of young people.