DOVE CARES SPOTLIGHT
Shining a Light on the Causes Supported by the GMA Dove Awards’ Creative Community
It was the spring of 1995. Sixteen-year-old Brandon Heath was invited by some friends to attend Young Life club at a suburban Nashville home. After some singing and some games, the tone of the evening grew more serious. “One of the leaders got up and shared their story, and I heard a little bit of the gospel for the first time that night,” Heath recalls. “I didn’t know at the time how much my life was about to change.”
“Club,” Young Life’s term for their weekly meeting, ended up becoming a routine ritual for the young high schooler, so he soon signed up for summer camp at Malibu Club, one of more than 30 camping sites operated by Young Life in North America.
Malibu lies 100 miles north of Vancouver on the mouth of the Princess Louisa Inlet and is only accessible by boat or floatplane. It’s an eight-hour boat ride from Vancouver, and the nearest road is 60 miles away; but the views are worth the complicated logistics. “These mountains rise straight up out of the ocean, and they go to 8,000 feet. They’re all snow-capped; and it’s just apparent that God is near,” describes Heath. “You’re just cradled in creation, and it was such a great place for me to find Him.”
Heath became a Christian that week at camp, but more than that, he found a new family of like-minded believers. It was at Malibu where he discovered his identity and first learned the art of community. His life-changing camp experience came at a pivotal time in Heath’s life when he was struggling with bitterness and resentment toward his father, whom he blamed for his parents’ divorce.
“Young Life helped me learn what forgiveness was, and it pointed me to Jesus,” the multi-Dove Award winner shares. “That really was a bedrock of healing for my life.”
Every summer, Heath travels back to Malibu, something he’s been doing since 1997 when he signed up for Work Crew. He failed to realize it at the time, but his formative years working at Malibu shaped his musical calling as well. It was the place he met producer Ed Cash (Chris Tomlin, Dave Barnes), who was one of the worship leaders at Malibu the summer Heath gave his life to Christ. He also met singer-songwriter Bebo Norman there. Norman ended up recording a song Heath wrote (“Soldier”), opening the door for the budding songwriter to sign a publishing deal.
“My first audiences that I played for were at Malibu. Every week new kids would come in, and I had no idea, but I was building my fan-base,” he says. “It was a huge turning point of who I am today.”
Heath says it’s Young Life’s unique approach that sets them apart from other faith-based organizations supporting students. “Number one, their goal is every kid. It’s not necessarily the kids who grew up in church; it’s every kid,” he reiterates. “My club consisted of stoners, goth kids, a few jocks—it was very diverse. They really want to reach kids who have never heard the gospel, and I love that about them.”
Despite the fact that Young Life played such a pivotal role in Heath’s personal journey, he admits the organization is often misunderstood. “Young Life gets a bad rap around some cities because they know the Young Life kids are the smokers and the drinkers, but the ones who end up finding Jesus end up turning their lives around,” Heath contends. “I think sometimes church communities don’t understand that Young Life is going after the farthest out kid, and I was one of those kids.”
Heath believes in their mission simply because his testimony stands as proof that God uses Young Life to change people for eternity. In addition to his annual trek back to Malibu each summer, throughout the year, the singer often plays at Young Life benefits. He also contributes “content songs”—songs that share the gospel message specifically written with high school students in mind—for club, often co-writing with the “Nashville Nine,” a self-dubbed group of local songwriters who cut their teeth at Young Life. The group includes everyone from Drew and Ellie Holcomb, to Matt Wertz and Andrew Ripp, among others. The artists involved forfeit all publishing rights to these songs and give full ownership to Young Life so that they can be freely used throughout their ministry. It’s one way they can give back to an organization that left such an indelible mark on their lives.
Heath also pays homage to Young Life with his latest album. Last summer’s trip to Malibu inspired No Turning Back (Reunion), appropriately produced by Ed Cash. As the memories came rushing back from that summer nearly two decades ago, Heath knew there were infinite stories to be told recreating that fateful week in 1995 when everything literally changed. “I was sitting in the last club, and I was just like, ‘I want to make a record about that summer. This is the record I have to make.’”
Young Life is an evangelical faith-based ministry based in Colorado Springs, Co., that facilitates weekly club meetings in cities all over the U.S. and more than 30 summer camps across North America. In addition, Young Life offers additional ministry arms, including WyldLife for middle school students, YoungLives for single teenage moms, and Capernaum for young adults with disabilities. To learn more, donate or get involved, visit www.younglife.org.
For more information on Brandon Heath and No Turning Back, his new album inspired by his first summer at Young Life camp, visit www.brandonheath.net.