PROSPERITY —This year marks 25 years Young Life has been in Newberry County. The ministry was established to meet teenagers, high schoolers and middle schoolers, wherever they were in their life.
Young Life was founded in Newberry thanks to Lewis Davis and a group of Newberry residents who wanted to bring this type of ministry to Newberry County.
During those 25 years, Young Life has impacted hundreds of youths throughout the county. One of those youths was Matthew Dean, who was a member of Young Life during the early years.
“I cannot believe it has truly been 20 years since I’ve been in Young Life, and made memories and relationships that truly last a lifetime,” he said. “Jesus liked to tell stories, and I think each and everyone of us has a story to tell, and we don’t have to make it as complicated as we make it.”
Dean grew up in Newberry on College Street, he was born in the 1980s and he said he had a wonderful and supportive family. When he was three years old his father passed away.
“You always hear stories about kids and youths and children and young people letting things be an excuse. Don’t let that be an excuse,” he said.
When Dean was in the fourth grade he went to camp, not a Young Life camp, but he said it was still an awesome camp. He said he remembers laying in his bunk and being upset. He said he was upset because he kept asking Jesus into his heart, and he didn’t feel anything.
“The leader that was with us said, ‘Matthew, not everyone feels something, it’s not about the feeling, it’s about you believing, about you accepting you are a sinner, that Jesus died as a perfect replacement for you, and you committing your life to live for you, not just saying it one time,’” Dean said.
While Dean said he accepted Jesus in the fourth grade, he didn’t really understand what that meant. Then when he was in middle school, Newberry County Young Life came into his life.
“My junior year of high school, I grew up going to Newberry Academy, but my junior year of high school I said, ‘alright, I have had enough rules, I don’t wanna tuck my shirt in, I don’t wanna do all this other stuff, so I’m going to public school,’” he said.
Dean began attending Newberry High School, and he did some things he knows he should not have done, which led him to be suspended.
“Guess what weekend it was I got suspended, Camp Windy Gap. How about that, does the Lord have perfect timing, even if we don’t think he has perfect timing, when we make some stupid decisions as a teenage kid, when we probably should have gotten the junk kicked out of us,” Dean said. “So we went to Windy Gap, was an awesome experience to experience God’s grace and forgiveness, and to go and worship Him and be ourselves.”
Fast forward to Dean’s senior year, he said he remembers his mother praying over his college application packet, asking the Lord to do what he is supposed to do. Dean’s dream was to go to Clemson, but was denied.
“He (God) had a plan for me, that plan ended up being a leader at Young Life in Newberry, and staying in Newberry. I was able to do the best skits ever, some celebrity Jeopardy, some of the best games ever, attend awesome Young Life camps. Best part of all, got to share Jesus Christ with every single student,” Dean said. “Those memories and skills helped lead a full time ministry after college, I learned more volunteering with Young Life than I did in any of my college classes.”
A current Young Life member is Amir Cromer, a senior at Newberry High School. Cromer has grown up in Newberry with his mom and two sisters. He said he thinks his family went to church when he was younger, but he does not really recall.
“Growing up in Newberry, I was that curious kid, I was the kid that was going to take that extra mile and get to know people and get to see how life really was. Growing up in church, I never really learned anything, or got anything out of it, until my fifth grade year,” he said. “My step brother actually snuck me in this thing called Wild Life, which is Young Life for middle schoolers.”
Cromer said when he walked in it was “crazy,” he said everybody was everywhere, and having a fun time.
“As club goes on I see this guy on the drums, Justin Setzler. We had really good times together, throughout my middle school years he was just my really good friend and mentor, from sixth to eighth grade. He went to Wild Life Camp with me, he helped me pay for those camps, I went over to his house and he taught me how to farm,” Cromer said. “My middle school career Justin took me under his wing, not just Justin, but my other Young Life leaders also.”
When Cromer was in seventh grade, that is when he said he learned who Jesus was. However, it wasn’t until his eighth grade year that he understood who Jesus was.
“My eighth grade year I received one of the worst pieces of news I’ve ever received, it was that Justin was not going to lead Young Life anymore,” Cromer said.
When his ninth grade year came along, Cromer said he had to start all over again because now he was in high school. During that year his mentor changed, it became Eddie Long. He said Long became his best friend and his mentor.
“He supported me like a friend should,” Cromer said.
In his ninth grade year, Cromer said he knew about Jesus and he talks about him. It was when he went to Carolina Point, a Young Life camp, that he realized for himself that God wanted what was greater for him than Cromer could ever want for himself.
“My high school career, never one big moment, one big camp, that I gave my life to Jesus. What made me follow Jesus is a mission called Young Life and the Young Life leaders. These guys poured into me every day. These guys did life with me, which was very important for me. Growing up, I didn’t have a father figure, meant a lot that they came, they did life with me. They would try and be my friend, not one time did they push religion and Christianity on me, not one time,” Cromer said. “I started reading the Bible more and more, and I made connections.”
Cromer added that the leaders never turned their backs on him, no matter the mistakes he made.
“My Young Life leaders taught me that Christ still died for you, he loves you. Where you are right now, he loves you. That is the most important thing about Jesus, that is key. Without knowing that in your deepest part of your life, Jesus still loves you, he still died for you,” Cromer said.
To learn more about the Newberry County Young Life Banquet visit newberry.younglife.org/Pages/Banquet25.aspx.