YoungStars International (YSI)
Early in our ministry, we assumed responsibility for a young struggling church in Ampflwang, Upper Austria. There
was soon a large group of children and a good-sized teenager group, 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 restored a donated Fiat (rebuilt the engine
and painted it, and sold it to a church member for enough money to pay for summer camping expenses.
During the seventies, we moved to the provincial capitol of Linz and began a youth ministry.
We also oversaw a church plant in Steyr and opened the Avant print shop. In 1981,
we returned to Ampflwang and helped the church become indigenous. In 1984, we founded a Bible Institute
in that town.
One of our first students was Kurt Mühlematter, who entertained a vision of establishing a youth organization to reach Austrian kids of 8-14 years (called "Jungschar"
in German). He felt that this age group was being largely neglected in many churches, a burden which
I also shared. Kurt and I agreed to work together to
bring our vision to fruition.
In addition to involvement in churches and the Bible Institute,
I also served in the leadership of the Austrian Fellowship of Evangelical Churches (ARGEGÖ). Kurt's enthusiasm and
leadership skills together with my connections made a good partnership. 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
Arbeitsgemeinschaft Bibelorientierter Österreichische Jungscharen (ABÖJ)
was established in 1992.
After 50+ 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, Kurt, Ralph and other helpers conducted 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 these chose their own names and developed strategies and programs independently. Kurt visited and encouraged the struggling national groups, but it soon became apparent that a central organization was needed to facilitate the work.
THE BIRTH OF YOUNGSTARS INTERNATIONAL
National representatives of established European junior youth organizations met May 12-17, 2014 in
Barcelona to found YoungStars International.
The English name "YoungStars" (think "youngsters") was selected, a doctrinal statement agreed upon and basic organizational structures and
a strategy were established.
The original Austrian ABÖJ or 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.
What was first reserved for German-speaking kids in Switzerland and Austria is now being offered in
nearly all Europe. A key component of the international organization is cooperation and help. Stronger, established organizations help struggling new ones. When Austria helped to start Czech and Slovakian groups, they took tents, ropes and other gear into these countries for camps and donated them to the young national organizations. After ten years of healthy growth, Romania is now helping Moldavia and Poland to get started.
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.
Only the Lord knows where this will lead, but we are thankful and encouraged at how God is providing and blessing.
The recent decision of Boy Scouts of America to open its doors to gay leaders has caused some American Christians to withdrawal from that organization.
YoungStars International has already been asked if there are plans for westward expansion. Stay tuned!