Here I Raise My Ebenezer!

In May 2023, I spent a week in Naples, Florida alongside of about 45 other college students with Chattanooga Young Life. We rested, laughed, worshiped, and built a strong community together! Here are my reflections on the week and the past year leading up to this seemingly insignificant beach trip.


Jacob Link

5/17/20238 min read

Naples 2023: The best college week of the year! Before I tell you how this trip grew me and why I'm so pumped to come back to Chattanooga in the fall, I need to setup how I even got to southeastern Tennessee. With all of the downtime I had during the pandemic, I had decided that I wanted to become a high school English teacher. For my first 2 years of college, I attended a community college in my hometown. In November 2021, I was searching online for colleges I could transfer to in the following fall semester. At that point, I had spent the entirety of the past 3 semesters of community college online in my bedroom and in my final semester, I would only have 2 in-person classes. I was feeling extremely isolated, lonely, and in dire need of community. Most of my friends had moved away at this point in my college journey, so my weeks primarily consisted of work and hours spent in front of my computer trying to find the motivation to complete my college assignments. When searching for colleges, I wanted to find a private, Christian school where I could serve students through ministry and receive a high quality education and training to enter into my own classroom one day. While perusing the lists of top schools based on various criteria, I found Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. My mom and I signed up to do a virtual visit via Zoom to get a look at the campus and hear a personal story of a current student. I knew right away that Lee was the school for me. They put Christ first and there were so many ways for me to get involved. Soon after that meeting, I committed to attend Lee! The spring 2022 semester gave me a lot of hope and the Covid mandates were starting to be lifted one by one. I had the opportunity to observe a classroom teacher as part of my Intro to Ed class, so I went back to the high school where I graduated from, Hononegah Community High School, and observed a handful of teachers that I never got to say goodbye to in 2020 totaling over 50 hours spent in multiple classrooms.

Throughout the semester I had met with my high school Young Life leader, Jared Ekberg, who is the area director for Illinois Stateline Young Life, a few times and he suggested that I serve on summer staff. I knew I needed something exciting to look forward to and a fun way to spend my summer so I applied. I ended up serving on the Naskarts team at Windy Gap in Weaverville, North Carolina for a month. I thought I was going to camp to get to experience the beauty of another Young Life property and meet some new friends, and while the Lord totally did that, He also showed me what a life of surrender looks like. I had so many thoughts and worries about the future fogging up my mind that were preventing me from enjoying the everyday goodness of life. In my quiet times at camp, God revealed to me the need to surrender all of those things to Him. Summer staff showed me what living in Christian community looks like and how each person is such a valuable asset to the group as a whole. I met so many great people. This experience felt so different from high school work crew. I felt like the interns and assigned team treated us as themselves and wanted to be friends. I got really close to a few Young Life staff members on the assigned team during the month and I still talk to them regularly about ministry and my personal faith. I had two conversations during the month that I was not expecting at all that have completely changed me. To give some context first, I was planning on not doing Young Life in college because Cleveland didn't have an active ministry and the closest area was Chattanooga, which would be a 40 minute drive one way. I was prepared to just get involved with another ministry. But...God had other plans! I met Matt Anderson, who was the dining hall boss on assignment and is on Young Life staff in Georgia. As I got to know him, I found out that Matt went to Lee. He knew David Haskins, who is the Chattanooga Young Life Metro Director. Matt said I didn't need a Young Life area to do Young Life, so I was thinking of how I could make that work and I was grateful to have a connection now in Tennessee that he provided to me. But, God didn't stop there. During the second week, I was giving the ride talk and guidelines for Naskarts and introducing myself to a group of high school girls who were getting ready to ride. I was explaining to this group of girls where I was from and how I would be moving to Tennessee, but that I wouldn't be doing Young Life because it didn't exist where I was moving. For whatever reason, I had decided to wear my Lee shirt that day. The girls' leader, Lizzie, asked if I went to Lee and I said that I was transferring there in the fall. She told me how a new Young Life ministry was being started there and headed up by a guy named Flippo! I was ecstatic! I had been praying all spring for the Lord to prepare a place for me in Cleveland to serve Him and to find a community where I could belong and develop friendships that went deep below the surface. Lizzie connected me with Flippo and after camp I texted both him and Haskins telling them about how hopeful I was for what the Lord was going to do.

I moved into my dorm at Lee in the middle of August 2022 and was excited for my first real year of college. I decided to be placed with a random roommate and the Lord couldn't have been more faithful with who He roomed me with in Hicks 206. My roommate, Bricen, is from Central Illinois and is my closest friend in college. Like me, his personality leans more on the introverted side. Over the course of the year, we engaged in deep conversations about life, faith, and surrendering to God. Before moving down south, my Young Life leader Jared and I prayed that I would have a roommate who would become a close friend and who I could share the difficulties of life with. I am so blessed by the ways He answered these prayers and how Bricen and I encourage each other to live more like Jesus as each day passes. Shortly after moving in, I met Flippo for lunch. He told me his vision for the ministry and for being a leader. He asked me "how much do you want to invest into Young Life" to which I said "a lot!" I knew that ministry was not going to be easy, but I was ready to invest all that I could into it. In high school I stretched myself so thin with involvements in so many clubs and organizations, but in college I wanted to give all of myself to just a couple of groups. This year feels like a blur, but there were so many great moments and ways the Lord showed up in and out of Young Life. Last summer, Windy Gap was the place where the Lord led me to people who I now do ministry alongside of and who helped me to find Young Life in Cleveland. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to wrangle at Windy Gap 4 weekends each semester this year for weekend outreach camps and retreats. Each time I return to 'The Gap' I am reminded of the Lord's faithfulness and I feel like I get a spiritual recharge every time I am back. In Young Life, I started doing contact work at Cleveland High School in October by showing up to lunches in the cafeteria where I remained consistent until I left for home in May. I met a handful of kids and they have really begun to open up with me. I got connected to the other Chattanooga Young Life leaders and feel like I have so many partners in ministry. We have a team of 8 leaders (3 guys, 5 girls) who joined our team by God's grace and provision for this ministry. Our staff associate, Jake Flippo, officially joined Cleveland staff from approval of the Tennessee Region Young Life. Our ministry in Cleveland, TN has started small, but with everything we have done the Lord has been faithful beyond anything we could have imagined.

Now that I've caught you up on this past year, let me describe the Naples trip and how it shifted my perspective. After being home from college for only 3 days and making the 12 hour drive back to Illinois, I flew back to Chattanooga on May 6th. Early the next morning, I joined 4 other guys as we drove down to Florida. The bonding in the car was unreal and the conversations kept us all awake (or most of us, anyway). We were the I-75 boys! In the words of Flippo, "W team, let's ride!!!" From that first conversation I had with Flippo in August, he had been telling me about the electric community that happens in Naples and how I had to be there this year. I didn't think I would be able to go with having to drive back home beforehand, but I knew I had to be on this trip, so the Lord made a way and helped me find a reasonable flight. This trip was so restful and the waves gave me so much peace. Over and over again in stories that were shared and morning devotionals, I heard Psalm 139 mentioned, so I went to read what it said. I walked the beach each afternoon amazed at the beauty of God's creation and the innumerable grains of sand that grazed the beach. In fact, more sand was being added each day as Naples was still recovering from the hurricane. As I put my feet into the sand I was at a loss for words as to how much the Father lavishes His love upon each of His children. We can go days without thinking about His love for us, but it is all around us in the simple and complex beauties of life. The final idea I want to mention from Naples is the idea of raising an Ebenezer. Since I was in high school, my favorite hymn has been "Come Thou Fount" which has a line that says "Here I raise my Ebenezer." The concept of an Ebenezer goes back to the times of the Old Testament when the Israelites were wandering in the desert for 40 years and never saw the Promised Land in their generation. While they never saw what God had promised, they would raise an Ebenezer, which was a physical reminder of where they had been and what the Lord had brought them out of to keep them going towards what was next. Nostalgia has always been something that I've valued. It seems like every summer for the past number of years I take some time to do some simple reflection of how I have grown over the past year. I find it incredible how the Lord can work and change your heart in the span of 1 year. 1 year ago I didn't know a single person in the state of Tennessee, let alone know how Young Life would play a part in my college journey- or if it would at all. Now, 1 year later, my best friends are people I get to do ministry with and I've experienced firsthand how the Lord provides relationships in our lives when we need them most but least expect them. I am so grateful for the opportunities I've had this year and I am so pumped for the ways the Lord will work in and through me when I come back in the fall. I get the awesome privilege of going on Cleveland Student Staff next school year where I'll be able to meet even more students, and I'll get to show them the light of Christ and share the gospel with them. Check out my Young Life page for more information on Student Staff with how you can partner with me, and keep an eye out for a post coming soon about my reflections of the first year of Young Life ministry. Thank you for taking time to read how the Lord has shown His faithfulness in my life this year!

Your friend,


Psalm 139