Thanks for taking some time out of your schedule to catch up with all that God is doing through the ministry of YOKE, and to keep us in your prayers. We just wrapped up our annual banquet and are looking forward to launching a new year of clubs – both of which you can read about in this month’s newsletter.

In case you missed our banquet, I wanted to share my annual address about what God has been doing in the life of our team. If you’d like, you can still watch the whole event on our YouTube Channel, but here is my update.

It’s a great time to be a part of YOKE. It’s true, the last 18 months have brought some unprecedented challenges. I was thinking back recently to March of 2020 when we were faced with the decision of potentially cancelling our spring camp. Camp is the highlight of the year for staff, volunteers, and students. We knew that it would be the last YOKE experience for our eight graders. It’s such a significant part of our mission that we really wrestled with that decision. In retrospect, it seems like the easiest decision that we made all year.

The thing about challenging times is that they also yield some incredible opportunities. As we’ve been considering the opportunities before us, our team has been reading a book together this year called Canoeing the Mountains – it’s a book on adaptive leadership by Tod Bolsinger. The author draws leadership lessons for a changing world from the adventures of Lewis and Clark – the explorers that President Thomas Jefferson tasked with finding a water passage across the new Louisiana Territory to the Pacific Ocean.

Everything that they knew pointed to such a passage and the new President recognized its significance to the young country. Historians Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns describe the defining moment in Meriwether Lewis’s life as he stood at the Lemhi Pass:

No American citizen had ever been there before. This he believed was the Northwest Passage: the goal of explorers for more than three centuries, the great prize that Thomas Jefferson had sent him to find and claim for the United States.

With each stride, Lewis was nearing what he expected to be the crowning moment of his expedition and his life. From the vantage point just ahead, all of science and geography had prepared him to see the watershed of the Columbia and beyond it, perhaps, a great plain that led down to the Pacific.

Instead, there were just more mountains – “immense ranges of high mountains still to the West of us,” he wrote, “with their tops partially covered with snow.”

At that moment, in the daunting vista spread out at the feet of Meriwether Lewis, the dream of an easy water route across the continent, was shattered.

Bolsinger writes, “there was no water route, there were miles of snowcapped mountain peaks in front of them, they had no trail to follow, food was scarce in this rugged terrain, and winter was coming…history is defined by this moment and all they could have done.”

According to historical geographer John Logan Allen, that moment atop the Lemhi Pass was when the “geography of hope” gave way to the “geography of reality.” They didn’t grieve for what might have been. They simply accepted reality, adapted, and pressed forward together.

The last 18 months have been a study in adaptation for us. What does a school-based mentoring program do when you can’t be on school campuses? How do you continue to train leaders and impact students when it’s not even safe to gather?

Bolsinger writes that “adaptive leadership is about letting go, learning as we go, and keeping going.” We know that Lewis and Clark decided that their mission ultimately was about discovery – about getting to the Pacific coast by any means necessary – and so they kept going.

Our team kept going as well because we also understood the significance of our mission. When we couldn’t gather in person, we adapted, engaging students on Zoom and social media. When most of our college students went home, we adapted. We combined clubs and were able to serve more schools with fewer leaders. When schools closed to volunteers, we adapted. We found off-campus and outdoor locations for every club to meet.

Just as it seemed the 2021 school year might be a return to a more “normal” existence, another surge in the pandemic has us facing an uncertain future. We let go, we learn as we go, and we just keep going. In his book The Monkey and the Fish, author Dave Gibbons wrote, “those who follow Jesus embody fluidity, adaptation, and collaboration.”  It’s what Gibbons calls the third-culture way. “Adaptable to changing circumstances. To changing cultures. To complex crises and problems. If there’s one quality that matters most to the fate of the church in the twenty-first century, it’s adaptability.”

Lewis and Clark certainly had some valuable assets as they went off the map into uncharted territory. And so do we. As we gaze at the vista before us, it is clear to us that what got us here won’t get us there. What assets do we have as we go off map?

  1. We serve a big God – We believe in a God of abundance, not a God of scarcity. We believe in a God on mission – we understand that God is not helping us with our mission; we’re helping with God’s mission.
  2. We’ve got a great team – we’ve got the largest and most diverse board of directors that this organization has ever had. They are providing resources, expertise, advice, and connections that benefit us all along the way. The same is true of our staff. Our staff has a combined 53 years of work experience with YOKE and they absolutely love what they get to do.
  3. We’ve got a great mission – to impact middle school students by equipping passionate, faithful mentors to help those students discover their identity and purpose in Christ. We all understand the importance of those middle school years and as we look around our community, we see that no one else is doing what we do. Beyond that, we can see the results – some of which you’ll be hearing about tonight. When we see generations of lives being changed by the Good News of the Kingdom, we understand the gravity of the moment and the importance of what we’ve been called to do.
  4. As I look around the room tonight, I’m reminded that we’ve also got some great collaborers. We’ve got a community of school partners, church partners, alumni, and financial partners cheering us on. We’re so glad that you’re on our team.

We let go; we learn as we go; and we keep going. Thanks for going with us.