National representatives of well-established European junior youth organizations in Austria, Switzerland, Romania,
Italy and Ukraine, plus representatives from other nations where similar organizations are in the process of
consolidation and organizing, met May 12 - 17, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain, to found
The English name "YoungStars" (think "youngsters") was selected, a doctrinal statement agreed upon and a
basic organizational structure and strategy established.
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
Early in our ministry, 1966, we assumed responsibility for a young struggling
church in Ampflwang, Upper Austria. We soon had a large number of children and a
a dozen teenagers, but there
were many kids in town who felt too old for the children's group and who were not readily accepted by the youth. Having
worked with Christian Service Brigade in America, I started a boy's club for kids of this age group. In the winter,
we built a rowboat and in Spring, we rebuilt the engine of a donated Fiat,
painted the car and sold it for enough money for summer camping expenses.
During tour first furlough in 1968, we registered for a leadership training seminar of Christian Service Brigade in the Northwoods of Michigan.
We hoped to gain more insights into this kind of work and establish a similar organization or even a
subsidiary of CSB in Europe. The latter never happened, but our burden for what Germans call "Jungschar" (best translated
"young-group" but it refers to kids around 8 to 15 years of age) never waned.
During the seventies, we worked in the provincial capitol of Linz and began a youth ministry.
We also oversaw
a church plant in Steyr and began a printing and publishing work. In 1981, we returned to Ampflwang and helped the church become
indigenous. In 1984, we founded an Austrian Bible Institute.
One of the first students was Kurt Mühlematter, who entertained a vision of establishing a youth organization to reach
Austrian kids of "Jungschar" age. He too felt that this age group was being largely over-looked in many churches. Kurt
and Ralph agreed to work together to make their vision reality.
Kurt's enthusiasm and Ralph's connections proved to be a good combination. Ralph served in the leadership of The Austrian
Fellowship of Evangelical Churches (ARGEGÖ). Having a print shop was also a big plus. Even before Kurt graduated,
leadership training courses were conducted, summer camps held and a number of church clubs were organized. A national
committee was selected in 1986 and the ABÖJ (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Bibelorientierter Österreichische Jungscharen )
was registered in 1992. Click here for a report on
the 25-Year Celebration in 2017.
After many clubs were started in Austria, Christians in neighboring countries began to request help in beginning similar
works. In 1999, Kurt decided to concentrate on international expansion under the name "JUROPA." In 2001, Ralph
helped Kurt organize and carry out the first of many International Training Camps for Youth Workers. It was held in
Slovakia with nine nations participating. Ralph made a promotional video of this event and soon other European countries
wanted to get on board. Further training courses were conducted and several national organizations were established,
but they chose their own names and developed strategies and programs independently. Kurt visited and encouraged these
struggling national groups, but it soon became apparent that a central European organization was needed to facilitate
the work. In May of 2014, YoungStars International was born!
What was first reserved for German-speaking kids in Switzerland and Austria is now being offered in much of Europe.
YoungStars is closely connected to nature. Kids become involved in many outdoor activities such as Camping in tents,
rafting, canoeing & kayaking, hiking, mountain climbing, repelling, swimming and many similar activities. The program
includes courses in First Aid, various crafts, ropes & knots, survival methods etc.. Safety has been of supreme importance
from the very beginning. The Austrian organization required health checks for kitchen personnel, life guards for water
sports and a camp nurse before it was required by law.
The Arbeitsgemeinschaft Bibelorientierter Österreichische Jungscharen, is a typically long German name that means,
"working fellowship of Bible-oriented Austrian junior youth groups."
YoungStars is shorter and easier to remember, but "Bible orientation" and "working fellowship" are still the
heartbeat of YoungStars International. Stronger, established organizations help struggling new groups. Austria helped
to start Czech and Slovakian groups, taking tents, ropes and other gear into these countries for camps and then donating
them to the young national organizations. After ten years of healthy growth, Romania is now assisting the founding of sister
organizations in Moldavia and Poland.
The recent decision of Boy Scouts of America to open its doors to gays and lesbians has caused some American Christians
to withdrawal from that organization. YoungStars International has already been asked if there are plans for
westward expansion. Only the Lord knows where this will lead, but we are thankful and encouraged at how God is providing
and blessing. Stay tuned!
Ralph V Harvey
(Ralph and Verna Harvey served 38 years in Austria and are now living in New Jersey serving as "Avant Ambassadors").