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Culture Ministry News Shining Lights

Club Beyond Offers Military Teens Worldwide Community and Connection

Family issues more important than pay for service members

Men and women in uniform make many sacrifices for their country, but the biggest sacrifice may be their own families. 

According to the 2019 “Military Family Lifestyle Survey” of some 11,000 respondents, family issues outweigh concerns about pay or health care: 

  • 45% of survey respondents said their biggest concern was the amount of time they spend away from family. 
  • 44% said their top concern was dependent children’s education.
  • 42% cited military family stability. 

For thirteen-year-old twins Mary and Mark, life means following their Army father from location to location. They’re already frequent travelers, having moved eight times. 

But the latest move—from the garrison at Ansbach, Germany to Fort Carson near Colorado Springs—was less disorienting than most, thanks to Club Beyond, a Christian ministry to military teens organized by Military Community Youth Ministries, a group that’s celebrating its 40th anniversary. 

Mary and Mark found a community they could call home in both Germany and Colorado. 

“It’s life changing for them,” says the twins’ mother. “It was a safe place to go, out of the house to be themselves, away from siblings and have fun. It was reassuring for me because I felt like I didn’t need to worry about them.”   

They’re not alone. Every week, some 2,300 middle school and high school students attend Club Beyond gatherings at 27 Army and Air Force sites around the globe, including larger U.S. bases (Fort Benning in Georgia, Fort Hood in Texas, and Fort Jackson in South Carolina) and international installations (Ramstein Air Base in  Germany and Camp Humphreys in South Korea). A Club Beyond has been meeting at West Point since 1997. 

The permission process is underway for new clubs at Navy and Marine installations. 

“We want to bring Club Beyond to as many military installations worldwide as possible,” says Marty McCarty, MCYM Executive Director, “because we want to ‘be there’ for these teens when they arrive at their next installation.

“These teens move every 18 to 30 months and we want to provide them with something familiar they can grab onto, to provide some added-stability to their lives.”

Kids pay the price

Regular relocations can be jarring for young people, who must start anew making friends, attending school, and finding a place to belong. 

Children who move from base to base may have difficulty forming deep, lasting relationships because they know they could be moving on again tomorrow.

Young people who were varsity athletes or first chair violinists at their old schools need to start all over at their new schools. Not even National Honor Society accomplishments travel with them.

Military kids also deal with the absence of mom, dad, or possibly both, when parents are deployed for long periods to the other side of the world.

In addition to the unique challenges military children face, they must also deal with the universal challenges of growing up, finding out who they are, and deciding what they want to do with their lives, while avoiding substance abuse, various digital addictions, and depression.

Back in 1980, two of the world’s largest youth ministries, Colorado Springs-based Young Life and Denver-based Youth for Christ International, came together to develop a better way to serve the unique needs of military youth after struggling to do so on their own for years.

The two ministries jointly created Military Community Youth Ministries, and Young Life still offers significant support. The salaries of MCYM’s 14 Colorado headquarters employees and its field staff are paid by Young Life—which does not do its own military youth programs—through a “donated service” arrangement.

(YFC ended their legal partnership with MCYM in 2016, yet the two organizations continue to collaborate together in order to serve as many military teens as possible.) 

Ecumenical approach

Military commanders and chaplains invite MCYM to serve their teens, allowing its staff and volunteers access to installations following background checks.

MCYM raises its annual budget of $3.4 million through donations and fees, and rents office space from Young Life.

Club Beyond meetings are ecumenical (MCYM is a collaborating member of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry). Meetings are held after school and resemble Young Life meetings, where fun meets faith. Gatherings start with games and activities, include food, and conclude with a brief Christian presentation.

“We are deeply committed to supporting installation chapels, chaplains, and commanders, and to operating in an ecumenical manner that honors all religious traditions, as we provide Club Beyond to Military Teens,” said McCarty. That’s our operating environment and that’s our enduring commitment.” 

Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.