ABÖJ, JUROPA and YoungStars International

The Austrian "Jungschar" organization (ABÖJ) celebrated its 25th anniversary in September, 2017. Having had much input in this ministry, we were of course invited to participate in the celebrations. Unfortunately, we couldn't make the trip to Europe at that time but our hearts were there.

It was a joyous occasion attended by many who served faithfully since its founding as well as others who participated in the programs as youth and are now in some way engaged in the work.

Although we couldn't attend, our granddaughter, Julia (center in the next two photos) was very much present! Here she presents the special anniversary cake with two friends.

I was one of the few "originals" missing but my heart was there!


Early in our ministry, in 1966, we assumed responsibility for a young church in Ampflwang, Upper Austria. We soon had a large number of children and a a dozen teenagers attending, but there were many kids in town who felt too old for the children's group and who were not readily accepted by the older teens. 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 to pay for a summer camping trip.

During our first furlough in 1968, we participated in 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 (Bibelschule Ampflwang).

One of the first students was Kurt Mühlematter, who entertained a vision of establishing an organization to reach Austrian kids of "Jungschar" age. He too felt that this age group was being neglected in most 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. You saw pictures of the 25-Year Celebration in 2017 above.

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, 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!

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 organization, met May 12 - 17, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain, to found YoungStars International.

The English name "YoungStars" (reminds of "youngsters") was selected, a doctrinal statement agreed upon and a basic organizational structure and strategy was established.

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 other 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 even 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 and keep praying!