At the Saranac Adult Camp in September 2000.
The history of Asian Young Life dates from the mid-1990s, when our current area director, Brian Hall, was a graduate student involved in a research study of Chinese Christian Fellowship, an Asian American student group at Rutgers University. As Brian developed relationships with people in the group, he took some of his new friends to Young Life-sponsored adult and leadership camps held at various Young Life properties so that they could get a taste of what Brian had experienced when he was a teenager involved in a Young Life group in Gloucester County, NJ. Over time, he and some of his Asian friends — impressed with what they saw — caught a vision for using Young Life as an outreach tool to minister to Asian American teenagers.
Talk turned to action in the summer of 2003 when two Sunday school teachers — Tony Lin and Esther Tsai — took a group of eight Asian American teenagers from their church to Young Life's Saranac Village for a week of Young Life camp. Needless to say, the kids loved it, their lives were changed, and, thus, Asian Young Life was born.

FIRST 5 YEARS: 2003 - 2008

On August 1, 2003, Asian Young Life was established as an official Young Life "area," with Brian Hall serving as the area director along with volunteer leaders Gerald Juan and Mike Shum in Bergen County, Tony Lin and Esther Tsai in Morris County, and Mike Sun and Karlvin Wong in Middlesex County.

In Bergen County, the ministry started with a handful of teenagers from East Bergen Christian Church in Teaneck, a Chinese church where AYL leaders Gerald Juan and Mike Shum attended and where they assisted with the youth ministry. On Sunday afternoons a few hours after church services ended, Gerald and Mike would bring about five to seven teenagers from the church to Brian Hall's apartment for what was called an Asian Young Life "Campaigners" meeting. Five of those teenagers, along with quite a few more from Morris and Middlesex counties, went to Asian Young Life camp at Saranac in the summer of 2004, totaling 50 people all together. The new ministry was off to a great start!

Our area director Brian Hall got a job as a social studies teacher in September 2004 at the Academies @​ Englewood, a public high school in Bergen County. This would become significant as many students from Brian's school began to get involved in Asian Young Life. In fact, students from that one school would eventually go on to make up about two-thirds of all students in AYL.

In April 2005, we made history by holding the first-ever Asian Young Life club, held in Cresskill in Bergen County at the home of Caleb King, one of our teenage participants. To the delight of everyone involved, more than 65 teens and 11 leaders were in attendance. That summer (2005), we took 84 people to Young Life camp, giving Asian Young Life the unique distinction of being the largest group at the camp that week.
Momentum from camp continued as students who went to Saranac in the summer of 2005 eagerly invited their friends to attend our Bergen County club meetings during the 2005-06 school year. In December 2005, our club broke 100 people in attendance for the first time, and our club in February 2006 drew more than 150 people.
That summer (2006), Asian Young Life broke yet another record by taking 108 people to Saranac during the third week of August, making up more than half of the people at Saranac that week. Aware of the significant number of Asians at camp that week, Young Life assigned a Chinese American Young Life leader from California named Daniel Lai to be the camp speaker just for that one week of summer camp. In addition, Asian Young Life leader and intern Neah Lee provided special music for the week. It was later reported that our Asian Young Life group was responsible for 15 percent of all of the Asian teenagers who attended all Young Life camps in North America that entire summer.
In November 2006, Asian Young Life made history again by starting a second club, this time in Morris County. The Morris County ministry was led by Tim Lo — the youth pastor at Chinese Christian Church of New Jersey​ in Parsippany — and by a team of other dedicated leaders also from that church, including Michael and Jennifer Chen, Tony Lin, Esther Tsai, and Sophia Lo. To everyone's astonishment, about 135 people showed up at the first-ever Morris County club, held in East Hanover at the home of Stephen Ko, one of the teenage participants. Over the course of the 2006-07 school year, Asian Young Life continued to attract many teenagers to its subsequent Morris County club meetings. Unfortunately, significant leadership changes on the Morris County team at the end of the 2006-07 school year brought an end to the short-lived Morris County ministry.

SINCE 2008

​Since 2008, Asian Young Life has become much more focused, recognizing that it is better to develop a solid ministry in one location than it is to spread itself too thin by starting many ministries scattered in numerous locations. With this in mind, Asian Young Life has spent the past several years building up its Bergen County ministry by experimenting with various programming models in an attempt to best reach and impact Asian American teenagers in this one area only. 

Not surprisingly, this more focused approach has enabled the Bergen County ministry to thrive. Here are some examples of the growth in AYL... In February 2017, we took 220+ people to our Winter Getaway at Lake Champion, the highest number to ever attend a weekend retreat in AYL history. In August 2016, we took 103 students and leaders to our summer camp at Saranac. And in December 2016, we shattered all previous club attendance records by having the largest club in AYL history with 285 people in attendance! Sadly, the number of leaders working with AYL has not kept pace with the number of teenagers attending. We desperately need more adult volunteers.

01club.jpgIt is hoped that as we become more effective in Bergen County that we can export what we learn to other parts of the United States but only as God raises up additional adult leaders who have a burden for ministering to Asian American teenagers in their own geographical areas. Until that time comes, our leaders continue to impact dozens of Asian American teenagers every year through the development of meaningful one-on-one relationships, high energy club meetings, an effective Campaigners ministry, life-changing camp trips and community service projects, and much, much more. Simply put, our ministry is making a difference in the lives of Asian American teenagers. With much room to expand, the best is yet to ​come!

How Go​d is Using Young Life to Reach Asian Teens

The following story appeared in the spring 2004 issue of the Young Life-published "Saranac Times" newsletter and is based on an interview of our area director Brian Hall and volunteer leader Tony Lin.

When Brian Hall began his doctoral thesis, little did he know that God had a much bigger assignment in mind. It seems as if God used Brian's interest in religion to spark a series of events that not only led to numerous people hearing the good news of Jesus Christ but also the formation of Asian Young Life in New Jersey where a unique population of teenagers is hearing the gospel.

It began as basic doctoral research. After earning a master's degree in sociology at Rutgers University, Brian's longstanding interest in the sociology of religion led him to study a Chinese Christian group at Rutgers as the subject of his doctoral dissertation. In 1998, while he was conducting research interviews, he met Tony Lin, an undergraduate student at the university who had at that time just become interested in Christianity.

Tony and his family had immigrated from Taiwan to the United States when he was a teenager, and he remembered well his frustrations and anxieties of adjusting to a new culture. Although he adapted quickly to American life, he connected with friends who shared his culture and language; however, religion was never a significant part of his family's life.

As he got older, like most college-aged students, Tony began to ponder the bigger questions of life. He had begun exploring Christianity through discussion groups and campus fellowships. So, it was no surprise when he met with Brian for an interview that their research-based discussion would gradually turn into discipleship. "Brian was interviewing me, but I was the one with so many questions," Tony said. "That was really the beginning of many more discussions and the start of a long friendship." It was also the beginning of an unexpected ministry.

As Tony and Brian's friendship grew, Brian invited Tony to a Young Life-sponsored "Adult Camp" at Saranac in 1999. Tony remembers the weekend as a fun retreat and a steppingstone in his own faith journey. But it was his second trip to Saranac the following year that remains etched in his memory as the impetus of great things to come. That year, Tony invited a handful of his Asian friends, some he had known since high school, none of them Christians. "It would have been a little awkward to invite them to church right away, but it was great being able to invite them to a Young Life event first," he said, "Young Life is wise to those who are without."

Upon returning home, Tony got more involved in his church, and with its support, began incorporating Young Life-style activities into its Sunday school program. Through his work at his family's watch business, through church, and through basketball, he also expanded his network of Asian American friends. By the next Saranac Adult Camp, he brought many more of his friends, in addition to his cousin and their friends as well. Then, in fall 2003, Tony, Brian, and others brought 63 college and adult guests to Saranac, most of whom were Asian Americans.

Perhaps the most exciting development occurred in summer 2003 when Tony introduced Young Life to some of the kids from his church. He and another volunteer Sunday school teacher took 8 kids — almost all of whom were from Taiwan or China — to a week of outreach camp at Saranac.

Launched by the excitement generated at Saranac, back home in northern New Jersey a group of volunteers are pioneering Asian Young Life, an all-volunteer area reaching out to Asian teenagers. "I can really relate to these [immigrant] kids, because I was one of them," Tony said recalling memories of when he first arrived in the U.S. "With the language barrier, the cultural differences, and their parents busy working, these kids are really needy. So while they are being introduced to American culture, we can also introduce them to Christianity and the person of Jesus," he said.

The volunteers have reserved 35 spots at Saranac to bring even more Asian kids to camp in summer 2004, and the new ministry is generating enthusiasm and support from caring adults. Brian and Tony, who still meet regularly, anticipate there will be an equally large group at the summer's end Saranac Adult Camp as well. "This is a great example of how the Young Life mission works through camping to affect the lives of so many people ... kids, adults, entire communities, and ethnic groups," Saranac property manager Ryan Silvius said.

As for Brian Hall, he successfully earned his Ph.D. in 2002 and now teaches social studies at a northern New Jersey high school where, not coincidentally, he is also the advisor of the school's Asian Club. He's also serving as the area director of Asian Young Life and looks for any opportunity to share the gospel with the Asian people he loves so much — an assignment he welcomes any day.

- by Toni Morse


Young Life Asian Young Life | 24 W Railroad Ave PMB 148 Tenafly, NJ 07670-1735

Phone: (201) 777-0295

Connect With Us: