Youth Feature – 100 years old, but still Young Life

Ross Knight
01 February, 2011 3 min read

100 years old, but still Young Life

In 1911, two unknown young men from Ireland started a movement that would be used by God to bring the gospel to thousands of young people; and to bring blessing to many Christian works in the UK and abroad.

Their names were Frederick and Arthur Wood, and the movement became known as the National Young Life Campaign, specialising in one aim – youth evangelism.

In the early days, the Wood brothers preached the gospel at evangelistic crusades up and down the country. It was at one of these meetings that a young Lancashire man who loved detective novels listened to Frederick Wood preaching on ‘The greatest detective – be sure your sin will find you out’.

He was converted, lent his musical talents to the Young Life crusades, and later moved to America where he was greatly used. His name was J. Sidlow Baxter.

Evangelistic meetings continue to be a central focus of Young Life (YL), with local branches organising regular events, such as bonfire parties, barbeques and bike bonanzas, each including a clear evangelistic talk.


Christian young people involved in the work are encouraged not only to bring their friends along, but also to share the gospel with them. They can practise this by attending local open air meetings organised by YL, or by going on annual open air preaching weekends.

One girl, encouraged by YL in her desire to see souls saved, went out to China as a missionary in 1932, despite the fact that she had been rejected by the China Inland Mission as inadequately trained and had no other society to support her.

She is now famous for her selfless gospel service to the Chinese, in the face of war, disease and great danger. Her name was Gladys Aylward.

Today, around 20 local YL branches continue to challenge young people to give their ‘utmost for his highest’. The movement either has or has had former members serve the Lord with a number of missionary organisations, including New Tribes Mission, UFM, SIM International and Africa Inland Mission.

It has also been an influence in the lives of a number of evangelists with the Open Air Mission – and, in turn, benefits from their encouragement in open air work.

The Wood brothers’ legacy filters down in other aspects of YL work too. In 1911, the first YL magazine was published entitled the Campaigner. Now the latest in a long line of YL magazines is called Helping others to Christ.

The brothers also founded the popular Aberystwyth summer conferences, which in turn led to evangelistic holidays for young people being started. A number of these are still run by YL Holidays, including activity camps in England and Ireland and a sports camp in Wales, all of which have been used by the Lord over the years.


In the early 1950s, members of the Bedford YL branch ran a seaside mission in Llandudno. This work, begun by Verna Wright (later a professor of rheumatology) and Lance Pibworth (a ‘humble farm labourer’), grew into United Beach Missions (UBM).

UBM now sends teams to 35 centres in the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe to run evangelistic missions each summer (see for more details).

In this centenary year, YL has much to thank the Lord for and plenty to pray about for the future. One opportunity for this is the national Centenary Weekend Away at the end of February, where Roger Carswell (also a former YL-er) will be speaking. Another is through the 2011 evangelistic missions, organised by branches (see for details).

Looking back with joy over the past 100 years, it is important to remember the warning of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:10, and not to say ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ as today we seem to be surrounded by so much ungodliness.

However, YL can look back with thanksgiving, placing the emphasis not on ‘us’, but on ‘Him’, remembering what the Lord has done. So let’s look back for encouragement; look up for strength; and look on and be challenged to do everything possible for the sake of the gospel.

Ross Knight

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