IGNITE THE FAITH: YDisciple takes youth ministry to ‘next level’

Ignite-the-Faith-funded effort a boon to teens, leaders

What happens when you take a half dozen teenage girls and have them meet weekly throughout high school to pray, study, chat and bond?

Makayla Brockhaus said it gave her enduring friendships and a deeper faith.

Brienne Fanta said it gave her a growing prayer life and stronger values.

And adult leader Michelle Zuhlke said it gave her a second family and a lot of joy.

All three said they are grateful for the life-changing formation of YDisciple, a program that helps form teens into Christ’s disciples.

St. Ludger Parish in Creighton provides the training, but donations to the archdiocese’s Ignite the Faith campaign fund the YDisciple program.

About five years ago, the parish switched from a large youth group gatherings of 20 to 25 students of both sexes to the more intimate YDisciple groups, which are all male or all female and meet in leaders’ homes.

With the larger, co-ed groups, “the content was good, but no real change was happening,” said Zuhlke, whose husband, Dillan, also has been involved in youth ministry at St. Ludger. 

“It wasn’t possible to make deep relationships,” Michelle Zuhlke said. “So that’s why we switched to the small-group youth ministry.”

And that brought about a “total change.”

“We really get to invest in them,” Zuhlke said of the students. “And they’ve really grown. We’ve seen a lot of fruit, which is what you want to happen.”

Fanta, now a freshman at Wayne State College, said she learned to pray not just when she wanted something, but to thank God in good times and bad. She’s joined a Catholic Bible study group at Wayne State and has formed friendships and made choices based on values that were formed during YDisciple, she said.

YDisciple prepared her to answer questions about the Catholic faith, and if she didn’t have the answer, Fanta said, that was OK, she could offer to look into the subject.

YDisciple strengthened her values, she said, making it easier to ignore some of the temptations that come with college life.

Growing closer to the members and leaders of her YDisciple group was one of the best results,  Fanta said, and she considers the young women and their adult leaders – Zuhlke, Bev Nelson and her aunt, Colleen Fanta – her close friends.

At first, opening up to everyone was an adjustment, said Brockhaus, now a junior at Wayne State. “But our leaders made it easy.”

The teen group would meet for about an hour and a half on Wednesday evenings. Typically the girls and their leaders would start with snacks and conversation in the kitchen of Colleen Fanta’s home. They would then study, using videos from YDisciple, the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the Bible.

Prayer was also key at the meetings. But the girls went even further, deciding to  meet for Mass on Friday mornings before school.

“We had a lot of energy from church,” Fanta said. “It really strengthened us.”

 Through YDisciple, the teens encouraged each other and shared struggles, “becoming more of a family,” Zuhlke said.

“The end goal” of YDisciple, she said, is for the teens to “take ownership of their faith and live in a relationship with Jesus.”

Brockhaus had been part of the former, large youth-ministry gatherings at St. Ludger. They were helpful, she said, but it was easy to “get drowned out.”

“In the more individual setting I learned a lot about my faith.”

While at college, Brockhaus said, she continues to talk with Zuhlke at least once a week and often turns to her for advice. Brockhaus even became a godparent for one of the Zuhlkes’ four children.

Brockhaus also joined a Catholic Bible study group at Wayne State. And like YDisciple, the group is small and all female.

“It’s not as great as YDisciple, but it’s similar,” she said. 

In YDisciple, “we dove really deep and looked at a lot of aspects of our lives,” Brockhaus said. “It opened my eyes. I learned a lot about the church and my life. We took it to the next level.”


For more coverage on Ignite the faith, see our E-Edition here.

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