The first time I heard about Youth for Christ, I almost killed Maher el Hajj!

We were sitting in a Lebanese diner after a long day of fun activities that Maher and a few other Youth for Christ people had organized for us in our school’s playground. After having explained what Youth for Christ was all about, Maher was now talking to us – a group of preteens, barely thirteen – about summer camp. As I listened, I was absent-mindedly filling a cup with coke, orange juice, ketchup, mustard, garlic mayo, salt, pepper, and a chewed-up chunk of left-over grilled chicken. “So who wants to sign up?” Maher asked, looking around at us. We all fell silent; no one wanted to leave their mothers that summer.

Unfortunately, I was sitting right next to Maher, so he turned expectantly to me and said, “Will you sign up?” Panicking, I grabbed at the first thing that looked strong enough to shield me. It was the cup of gunk, now starting to smell of fizzy garlic. “I’ll go if you take a gulp of this,” I said. It only seemed fair really; one gulp, one more camper. I was sure Maher wouldn’t do it because the concoction had turned poisonous puke green. But then again, I’d only known Maher a day; the crazy Youth for Christ streak hadn’t come out yet, surprisingly enough.

That summer, I went to my first summer camp. Maher had taken a sip of the blend – through a straw he’d stuck up his nostril!

After that summer, I began attending Youth for Christ meetings religiously every other Friday, and haven’t missed a single camp either. On a non-spiritual level, Youth for Christ had a major impact on my personality. At thirteen, I was shy, reserved, and insecure – as most, if not all, kids are at that age – but when I went to camp, made friends, talked to leaders, and played the games that required teamwork, I changed full circle. I was around people who loved and cared for me, who listened to me and made what I had to say into something important. I had that at home with my family, but never with my friends. Youth for Christ became this other family for me. It helped me become more outgoing, talkative, and confident.

On a spiritual level, words fail to describe the impact Youth for Christ had on my life. I grew up in a Christian family and Christ has been a part of my life since day one. But, again, this is in my family circle. With friends and even relatives, Christ and Christianity, a life of Believing, started falling to the bottom of my list of priorities. What Youth for Christ did – and is still doing to this day – was lift that faith I had in God and permanently place it at the top of my list. It is a struggle to keep Him my first priority, but it’s getting much better with age.

I have given the best six years of my life to Youth for Christ, and how do they repay me? By making me their servant. You heard me, a servant! I’m nineteen and am a ‘Student Servant Leader’ for the Youth for Christ leaders at the centre in Elissar. If I’d known that day in the diner that I’d end up a servant at Youth for Christ…I’d do it all over again. Did you seriously think I was complaining? I’m too old to be part of the Dive Up club (it’s for fourteens up to eighteens), but not old enough to be a 20 Plus leader, so I’m in the awkward transitional phase. In other words, they didn’t really know what to do with me (I just wouldn’t go away).

Basically, what I do is help out around the centre; if the leaders need help with the games, discussions, food, or clean-up, I’m there to assist. I’ve never been in a position at Youth for Christ where I wasn’t having fun. This isn’t an exception. I love watching the other kids – one of whom is my little sister I must add – running around the place playing one of the games the leaders came up with, or scattering themselves on the floor to listen to what the speaker has in store for discussion. It makes me feel like I can almost touch the difference between where I was at 13 and where I am today.