By Chatham Kennedy
One of the many joys in life is watching God tuck the world in as the sky fades into an arabesque of awe-inspiring pinks and fading blues. This scene becomes even more picturesque when one is viewing it from the mountains of Frontier Ranch or seeing the sunset reflect off the crystal lake at Sharptop Cove.
However, this joy doesn’t even compare to that of watching high-school students become best buddies with special needs campers at Capernaum week in Arizona. It’s no wonder that Elizabeth Nenon, a leader of Young Life at Jackson Prep and Jackson Academy, continues to fall more in love with her job and these kids.
Drive through northeast Jackson and you are likely to find a rearview window proclaiming the words “Young Life,” a ministry to adolescents world-wide based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado, which focuses on demonstrating to students the power of a relationship with Jesus.
Nenon has been a part of this organization since she was sixteen. She says, “I was taught to fear God and respect God, but I didn’t know that God thought that I was awesome. When I went to Young Life, I began to understand what a relationship with Jesus really meant.”
Nenon’s heart for Young Life drew her away from Middle Tennessee State University during her junior year to attend a college in Memphis so that she could volunteer as a Young Life leader in her hometown.
Whether in college or afterwards in her jobs of banking and outside sales, Nenon spent a majority of time with high schoolers. In addition to that, much of her vacation time was consumed with Young Life trips. Not long after launching her business career, she took a significant pay cut and went to work for Young Life full time. For Nenon, this was a huge stretch because no one in her family had ever done anything like this, but it was worth the risk.
Nenon’s Young Life journey took her from Memphis, Tennessee to Huntsville, Alabama to Aiken, South Carolina before she landed in Jackson, Mississippi twenty-one years ago. Her first Mississippi school was Hillcrest Christian. After Hillcrest, she grew ministry to Terry High School. Nenon was then asked to be the Jackson Metro Director as Young Life worked to enhance its inner-city ministry.
In addition, she helped grow Young Life throughout the state in places such as Clarksdale and Oxford. She later became the Associate Regional Director for ArkLaMiss region while still pursuing kids with the good news of Jesus Christ at Jackson Academy and Jackson Prep for the past fourteen years.
Nenon says, “I didn’t ever want the next job. I didn’t ask for the job, it was just given…I should always be present where I am and have my bags packed in case God asked for something different.” Starting October 1, Nenon will be the new Strategic Development Coordinator for Capernaum mission-wide, Young Life’s ministry focusing on teenagers and young adults with disabilities, but keep Jackson as home base and remain in ministry locally.
Tenth graders at Jackson Prep and Jackson Academy look forward to Young Life camp the way little children anticipate their first visit from the tooth fairy. As summer weaves it’s way into the end of May, students pack their bags and head off to a one-week camp, in recent years at either Sharptop Cove in Georgia or Frontier Ranch in Colorado, which varies depending on the year.
Former alumni and adult volunteers serve as leaders who pour into the lives of these students. Nenon says, “What makes Young Life different than other camps is that you go with your leaders and come home with your leaders.” High school juniors have the option to attend Capernaum. These students are weeklong buddies for the disabled campers.
Nenon began Capernaum Fun Life meetings in Jackson two years ago for local students ages 14-22 with physical and intellectual disabilities. Since then the buddy trip and Fun Life have massively impacted the hearts of students who have participated. Jackson Prep senior Caroline Pringle reflects on her experience saying, “It was incredible. It made a huge impact on my life.”
Thirty-four years ago, Young Life imprinted itself on Nenon’s heart. Since then, she has been giving kids the same opportunity. Nenon seeks out personal relationships with her students saying, “Some kids are still calling me when they are forty-four years old because I was their Young Life leader and available when they were sixteen… That’s how I keep my sanity…I hang out with kids.”
Nenon is a testament to her faith and an ultimate difference maker.
Chatham Kennedy is a senior at Jackson Prep and a member of Pinelake Church.