Students Rise to the Challenge of Creating Change on Their Campuses and Around the World
Everyone, regardless of age or background wants to feel like their life matters; like what they do makes a difference or at least helps to bring a positive change in someone else’s life. Oftentimes, pastors will point to The Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25 in the Bible as an example of how being responsible with a little, can lead to the ability of reaping a lot. The basis of the story is that a master gives three men money and then goes on a journey. When he returns to settle his accounts with them, he finds that two of the men doubled their money, and one was afraid and had only the same amount he was initially given. The master was pleased with the first two and extremely disappointed with the third. In Matthew 25:29 the master says, “For the one who has will be given more and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”
These same principles have become the foundation for Project 25, a program where middle school and high school students are given $100 dollars with the challenge to see who can make the biggest difference with what they have been given. San Diego’s youth answered the Project 25 challenge in many unique ways; from feeding the homeless and providing backpacks, to raising money for cancer research, designing community murals, and supporting teachers facing lay-offs. Their efforts weren’t just on a local level either; some projects had global effects like caring for Japanese tsunami victims and funding secondary school for a student in Malawi, Africa. Altogether, students performed 12,000 hours of community service through Project 25.
Nate Landis is the man behind the vision that has taken off like a wildfire and ignited the passion for service in the hearts of many young people. Landis founded the non-profit, Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), to connect kids to the resources of the kingdom of God by linking churches to schools. By pointing to healing, hope, and transformation through Jesus Christ, UYC equips kids with skills needed to take on any aspect of life. Risen talked to Landis about this incredible project and the rewards of working with youth.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: How did you come up with Project 25?
Nate Landis: I was sharing about the ministry of Urban Youth Collaborative at the Barnabas Group[a national ministry whose members have a passion to serve other ministries with their diverse passions and talents] one morning and Denny Bellesi [founder of the organization Kingdom Assignment] came up to me and said, “I do this thing called Kingdom Assignment where we give out $100 bills and ask people to do something for others after reading the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. Then they have to report back in a few months. The stories are amazing. Maybe you could try it with your clubs. We might be able to fund it.” He gave me one of his books and walked away.
At that time UYC had 27 clubs going every week. I wrote a proposal and they gave us a check for $2,700 to launch the idea in San Diego. My good friend Mark Bell, High School Pastor at The Rock Church, started dreaming with me about what might be possible. We came up with the name Project 25 to give the concept a memorable identity and connect it to the parable in Matthew 25.
Our first year was such a success that we expanded it to 50 schools the second year and invited Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) clubs to join us. In year two, we added the online sign-up and YouTube posting feature. This made it easier for groups to join and share their stories with each other.
RM: Wow! So with the teaming of the organizations, how many schools do you allow to participate?
NL: Between UYC and FCA, we facilitate 112 campus club meetings every week throughout San Diego County. We will invite all 112 clubs to sign up for Project 25 this year. The first 50 school clubs that register online will be admitted into the service challenge. To receive $100, each participating club must agree to:
• Read the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25
• Prayerfully identify a need in their school, community, city, or world that they want to meet to make a difference
• Work as a team to multiply the funds for the sake of others and the kingdom of God
• Post a one-minute YouTube video that gives an account of their work and tells the story of what they did
• Come celebrate what God did through them at the Project 25 Campus Awards – our red carpet program hosted at The Rock Church.
RM: What surprised you the most about the way kids responded to Project 25?
NL: I was blown away by the creativity and significance of the projects our kids came up with. We live in a culture where the media mainly offers negative images and stories of young people. We wanted to challenge students and provide opportunities for them to showcase all the good that they are capable of. They rose to the occasion. Kids will rise to whatever expectations we place on them –whether high or low.
As a team, our kids leveraged their $100 with non-material assets, creativity, relationships and hard work to meet needs around them. For kids with fewer material resources, this project taught them to harness all the other assets available to them in their communities.
Altogether, our kids learned that “life to the fullest” comes from what we give away, not from what we take or keep. That’s what Jesus meant by saying, “Those who try to save their life will lose it but those who lose their lives for me will find it.” I think our kids learned this firsthand through Project 25.
RM: What is the most rewarding aspect of working with middle and high school kids?
NL: I get stoked when kids realize that they are vital leaders in the kingdom of God. Good youth ministry happens when youth become the ministers who transform their schools, families, neighborhoods, teams, and communities through the power of God. Adults are the coaches in the spiritual game of life. Kids play on the field. They’re the ones that make things happen through relationships with their friends.
Every revival in history has had three things in common: prayer, confession of sin, and young people. I believe God will bring a revival to our nation when middle school and high school students don’t wait until they turn 18 to make a difference in the world. God doesn’t check IDs. He only looks to see if someone’s heart to ready to respond to him. My greatest reward comes from watching students realize that they can be powerful change agents for the kingdom of God wherever they live.
RM: Why did you start Urban Youth Collaborative?
NL: I started UYC because God began showing me how many of San Diego’s middle and high school kids are never in church. We did a survey of churches in San Diego Unified School District a few years back and found that 90 percent of kids have no regular or meaningful connection to a local church. God wants his kids back. We’ve developed a strategy for getting local churches linked with campuses where they can do meaningful work, both spiritually and in other holistic ways.
Adults are the coaches in the spiritual game of life. Kids play on the field. They’re the ones that make things happen…
It all came to a head for me one day at a stop sign in front of San Diego High School. I was getting ready to pick up football players for the pre-game meal and chapel service that we hosted for them every Friday. Suddenly, the bell rang and this multi-racial sea of 3,000 faces came pouring out of the school. My car was surrounded by students who had little chance of knowing Christ if nothing changed. Plus, the football team had 18 academically ineligible players that year and many students in poverty. As I looked out at the students walking by, I thought to myself, “These kids are never going to come to church unless we find a way to go to them first.” Then, almost audibly, I heard God say, “Whom shall we send? Who will go for us? Who will reach these kids?” I started to cry, raised my hand in my heart that day, and said, “Here I am, Lord, send me.”
I had a new marriage, a mortgage, and a comfortable youth pastor job that let me afford a San Diego standard of living. When you have a master’s degree in Divinity, the Presbyterians take good care of you. That night, I went home to my wife and said, “Honey, I think I need to quit my job. God wants me to go after the kids that nobody is reaching.” She looked and me and said, “I think that sounds wonderful sweetheart.” So, five years ago, I left everything to start UYC. Today, we have 38 churches working with 2,000 kids every week at 60 middle and high schools from San Ysidro to Oceanside.
RM: Incredible. How did UYC’s partnership with Fellowship of Christian Athletes develop?
NL: I believe God has led UYC and FCA together to accomplish our goal of seeing an outreach Bible club on every campus in SD County by 2020. We want to see that happen at all 280 public middle and high schools by linking each campus with a local church. In turn, we walk each church through proven options for holistically serving students beyond the weekly meeting.
FCA is one of UYC’s key ministry partners. We work collaboratively with them at all 60 campuses where our churches serve. Last year they provided 75 full-ride scholarships for our inner-city students to attend sports camp at UCLA for a whole week. That amounted to $35,000 worth of scholarships. They also provide scholarships for our students to attend their annual Holiday Bowl breakfast each winter. Given our high level of partnership throughout San Diego County, it was natural to include them in the second year of Project 25 as well.
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