A Semester of Unknowns

I could not have dreamed up what the fall 2023 semester entailed. Financial turmoil. Car repairs. Anxiety for reading British literature. But... the Lord showed up in ways where I needed him the most: deepening my community, relational growth in ministry, and a love for where I am in life. I'm still learning how to fully surrender to God, but he is with me every step of the way!


Jacob Link

12/9/20239 min read

In a word, the fall 2023 semester was... challenging. But as per usual, the challenge provided the space for some of the sweetest joys in the difficulties of the grind of college life.


First of all, God provided in so many ways. I can't share them all here, let alone remember all of them. But let me share a few of the most notable. God provided financially. I knew that joining student staff would be worth the challenge in fundraising a salary. Multiple times throughout the semester I checked my fundraising portal and saw gifts that had arrived from unexpected places. I am happy to saw that as of writing this I am about $150 away from being fully fundraised. God provided with my car. This semester I faced more car issues than ever before. It started on my drive to school in August when my check engine light came on in Indiana. I had to get my engine manifold replaced, which was covered from a very generous donation. Then, my tire blew out on the highway (also in August). I'm grateful for the tire warranties that saved me a significant amount of money and for my friend Jordan who met me on the highway to change my spare. Finally, in November I noticed reduced power in my car, which was a result of faulty firing in the engine. I had to replace the engine coils, but I am so grateful for D&K Auto in Cleveland- a Christian-owned repair shop. Even in these unexpected and frustrating circumstances, the Lord provided beyond what I thought he would.


I am so blessed by the community I have found at Lee University. This semester I really leaned into the community within the English major. I finished a major paper that I've been working on since last spring and submitted it to a journal for publication. Unfortunately it was rejected from the MJLC, but I plan on submitting it to other journals. I was honored to present a 10-page section of my paper at the Lee University Literary Symposium in October. This was the first time I presented a professional piece in a setting like this and I really enjoyed it! I was also inducted into Sigma Tau Delta- the English honor society. My hardest class this semester was British literature as it forced me to approach literature with a critical lens I had not used before. I loved getting to comment on the theological elements used by the authors and playwrights. Shoutout to my Brit lit class (AKA Schrock's chicken coop) for being so fun to discuss literature with and being a place that I looked forward to each week! Community was deepened in our Young Life team this semester. Being on student staff has afforded me the opportunity to facilitate growth and community amongst our leaders. We have been intentionally creating spaces to talk about our faith, our individual ministries, and how we can better reflect Jesus in our leadership. I'm so grateful for my team that I get to lead with at Cleveland High School and how we care for one another. Additionally, I am so blessed for the many friends I have in my life at school. They encourage me in the hard moments, celebrate me in the good times, and push me to be stronger in my faith. I could not thrive without all of their support. A huge shoutout goes to my roommate, Bricen, and his girlfriend, Michaela, for being my best friends and some of my biggest motivators. They have helped me to appreciate the current stage of life I am in and to notice all of the small blessings in the day-to-day. We've had some great adventures this semester, and I'm excited for what the spring has in store! My friends and I have been talking a lot about the concept of surrender this semester (which is also my word for 2023) in how we take the good, bad, joyful, dark, open, and hidden parts of ourselves to give to the Father. Living in community lets you learn from others' perspectives and gives your friends opportunities to speak life over you in the unknown, unexpected, and seemingly unnavigable situations.


While unconventional in almost every aspect, this semester of ministry has been one of the sweetest I have been a part of. The Spirit worked in me to help me with daily surrender, and he worked through me as I made the space for leaders and students alike to feel seen, known, and loved. Here is a portion of a prayer I wrote to God while at SharpTop Cove in October. Prayer is an intimate part of our faith between us and God and while I don't often share my private prayers, I believe that this portion of "A Prayer for the Lord's Faithfulness" truly does provide a picture of what it is like to do ministry in the context of young people.

"Ministry is hard. It's challenging, frustrating, and emotional. Someone recently said that contact work in Young Life is hard because it takes work. Kids reject you. They stand you up, they ignore your texts, and they don't engage in your conversation. Communities are against you. They don't understand your motives, they don't see the vision of your ministry, and they don't acknowledge the authority of the Great Commission.

Ministry is also so sweet! As you continue to pursue high school kids, bridges of friendship are built. The walls kids put up start to break and fall down. They tell you about trauma and struggles and difficulties. They bring you into every part of their lives. They look forward to sharing life with you. They expect you to be there and show up. They want to be asked good questions. They tell their parents and friends about you. They invite others to join you in your hangouts." (10.28.2023)

After summer break I was both nervous and excited to come back to Cleveland for ministry. I spent the summer immersing myself in the Bible and preparing leadership development resources for my team of leaders. I was excited to put what I had learned over the summer to use but also nervous because of the gap in relational ministry with being home for the summer. My first year of being a Young Life leader at the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 consisted almost entirely of contact work. I put myself out there in the world of kids hoping to find "my group." There was a group of kids on the margins that I met the very first time I showed up to the cafeteria of Cleveland High School on October 13th, 2022. The story behind this day is super sweet.

I had just transferred to Lee and met the Young Life staff associate, Flippo. He casted his vision for the ministry and what my role could be on the team. Come October, classes are in full swing and I'm ready to step into the role of a Young Life leader. I called him up and he told me that we would go to lunches to meet kids. I was a bit nervous, but I figured since he would be with me it wouldn't be too bad. I walked up to the school, got signed in, and headed to the lunchroom. I found Flippo and was waiting for him to introduce me to some kids that he already knew. Except that never happened. He told me to "go meet some kids." This freaked me out at first, but then I realized if I was going to be called to do this I was going to have to rely solely on the Lord's guidance and strength over my own. I said a quick prayer asking for the Spirit to guide me to the students with whom I was supposed to talk to that day. I went to talk to the first group of kids I made eye contact with. At first I had no idea how this was going to go and how I was going to relate to these kids. I started by asking their names and what some of their interests were. These kids were primarily introverted and were on the fringes of the school. While my initial reaction was of fear in how I would relate to these kids, I actually saw myself in them and their stories the more I saw them and listened to the details of their lives. My interaction with these kids was not a one-off conversation. After our initial introduction, I kept showing up every week. Every Thursday I would come to lunch to just talk and laugh with these kids. Oftentimes I wouldn't even say much, but I listened intently and showed up to be a consistent source of joy in the lives of my newfound high school friends.

I share this story because this is the group of kids I was returning to this fall. I had put in the hard work already of earning the right to be heard. Last year I took the process of relational building with students pretty slow as I was learning so much and had never led in this type of capacity before. But this year I wanted to be more intentional, more consistent, and more creative in my conversations and interactions with high school kids. So I was! I intentionally texted them to make plans even when they ignored my texts or if it took 3 weeks to make plans (as it often does with teenagers). I consistently showed up to lunches just like last year. I didn't meet as many new students this semester as I had hoped to, so that is one of my goals for the spring semester when I go back. Since a lot of my contact work this semester was outside of school, I had to get creative. We walked around the mall, got Taco Bell, went on car rides listening to metal music, played arcade, got coffee, went to the downtown Halloween parade, and much more. Ministry this semester did not have a dull moment.

For those of you still reading, thank you! Before I end this blog post, I want to say something about the conversations I had with students this semester. I was pretty direct about inviting students to Young Life events and camp this semester, which I hadn't been last spring. While the times and dates just didn't work out for my kids to make it to an event, I count it a win that I got the confidence to ask and keep asking. One of the most powerful tools we have as Young Life leaders is the tool of invitation. Our invite shows that we care and that the individuality of our students is seen and valued. The pattern shows that it tends to take leaders numerous invitations to get a kid to Young Life. There is so much power in the consistent invitation. It shows that you will not give up on a kid. I hope my kids see that in me that regardless of their presence at an event I will always be their friend and will always show up for them. And I do not show up to be liked or to check off a task on a todo list or to convince them to come to an event. I show up for the pure reason of showing up to live life alongside of my adolescent friends. I hope that my presence gives them some joy and laughter in their week and presents them with a version of Jesus that is different from what they have heard and rejected.

I am eternally blessed for the opportunity I have to invest in the next generation of young people. While being on student staff with Young Life is not always easy, it is always rewarding. The admin tasks and leadership facilitation can sometimes feel overbearing, but I am always so excited to hangout with my high school friends. They share about the raw details of their lives (sometimes too much of things I did not need to know haha). I get to be a caring adult in their life who listens just to listen. Some of my favorite conversations I've had with students have happened over the last month and a half. Students have so many walls up. These walls are often due to traumas, insecurities, identity crises, or a way to distance themselves from others. Adolescents are in a mental health crisis that is worse than it has ever been. The consistency and intentionally of my presence for this group of rag-tag teenagers in Cleveland, TN (we call ourselves "the squad") has resulted in many of these walls beginning to break and come crashing down. Students are sharing about traumas and broken relationships. They have opened up about church hurt and the hypocrisy of Christians they've interacted with. This has given me the sweet place to be a different picture of Christianity: one of love and comfort and of authentically knowing people. My prayer is that this will continue next semester and that I'll get to keep asking good questions that bring barriers down.

Thank you Jesus for your provision this semester and for continually showing up in unexpected ways when we feel like we have done everything in our power. And thank you reader for your investment in how the Spirit is moving in my life to impact the eternities of my friends.


"You kept Your word so many times that I lost count"

This song has been my anthem this year. Every time I go out to do contact work I play this song on my way there. And on the drive back to celebrate the work the Spirit did in my time hanging out with teenagers. Go give it a listen- you'll be glad you did!