Guest Post by Claudia Mahaffy: My Faith Journey to College

Back in the spring of 2015 I was just your average 11th grade student. Touring college campuses and trying to find my best fit. I remember making a check list of everything I wanted in a college, but the only two important ones worth mentioning where: Big and Far from home. Turns out my parents thought other criteria might be more important, and they took me to a place that was the complete opposite. They decided to take me about an hour from our house to a college called Nyack. I was not happy the entire ride up. The school did not meet my criteria, and no one, not even my high school, knew that this place existed.

Well, to make a long story short, after only 5 minutes on campus, I loved it. The diversity, the views, the welcoming faculty. All exterior things, mainly.

Fast forward to late June of this year. I was at my graduation party greeting all my guests. Many of them are church-going people, and they are all congratulating me on my success and telling me that God is really going to do great things for me at Nyack. It was still a couple months away so I wasn’t thinking about it all that much. But two days later my parents sat me down to talk about my future. It’s probably the third scariest talk you can have after the sex talk and the about-to-go-into-high-school talk. I sat there at the end of their bed and after a couple of minutes I in was in tears. They broke the news to me that the financial package the school was offering was just way too high, and they did not want me leaving college buried under the all-too-familiar pile of student loans that many students graduate with. They told me it would be smart for me to transfer to Nyack after completing two years locally.

I had already met my roommate, paid my fees, and gotten my schedule. Now I had to put all that aside and think about my 22 year old self getting out of college. Although it was hard, I knew that what they were saying made sense, and I decided to listen. That night I started finding other colleges to apply to. I shook it off as best I could, put all the emotional aspects aside, and tried to stay focused on making a good future for myself.

About a month later, after about 12 times being put on hold by two local colleges I applied to, I was getting a bit fed up. A month till most colleges started, and I still didn’t know what I was doing, or if it would be too late to apply. Then, two weeks ago, I was on my way home from work and checked my missed calls. I saw that Nyack had tried to reach me. I didn’t think much of it because they didn’t leave a message. My mom joined me on the train, and when I told her about the missed call, I got choked up. My future had been set. I was ready to go to Nyack. And now I was sitting here not knowing what I was doing while all of my friends were gearing up to leave in just a few weeks.

My mom then proceeded to tell me a story I had heard before but really had little to no impact on my life. This time, however, it hit home for me. She told me about a similar incident that had happened to her in college. It was too pricy for her to return to school, but God had made a way and provided for her to go back, and eventually she graduated. She encouraged me to go home and pray and seek God for the answers I needed, and told me that He would give me peace. When she said that I shot everyone a text on my recently texted list and said, “pray for me.” I even sent it to some people I’d be going to Nyack with that I had met online.

When I got home my dad told me that the director of admissions had contacted him in regards to my status, and asked whether or not it was official that I was dropping Nyack as an option for next year. My dad told him the issue and explained that they didn’t want me graduating with such a huge amount of debt. He gave him an amount that he thought would be more reasonable and manageable to pay off, and said if they could get down to that number we would be able to consider it. The director completely understood and said he was going to do everything he could to see if he could find me more money. After hearing that I had to remind myself to be neutral about the situation at hand and remember that things might or might not work out the way I wanted them to. When I got home I went straight to my room and began praying and reading my Bible. I lost a lot of sleep over the next two nights. I attended a prayer meeting where people encouraged me and prayed for me.

A couple days later we sat down as a family and my dad shared the results with me. I was playing out all possible circumstances in my mind, waiting for him to say, “Sometimes God shuts a door, but that’s okay. ” He informed me that he had spoken to the director, and that the director told him he requested and was able to secure enough financial aid to make it feasible for me to go to Nyack. He was within a thousand dollars of the number my dad had given him! I broke down in tears. God had done a miracle, and I had just lived it for myself! I was so amazed at how good He was to me in that moment.

Now, the night before finding all this out, I had been reading the story of how Abraham was tested and was asked by God to sacrifice his son, but was then stopped by a voice from heaven. Then I saw this verse: “Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”)” (Genesis 22:14). That was a huge sign from God for me that gave me peace when I didn’t have any answers. God took me to the top of the mountain, out of my comfort zone, and He provided.

I am so thankful for the opportunity given to me by God. He has deepened my faith and trust in Him. When I first visited Nyack, it was exterior things that caught my attention. During the last few weeks, however, it has been their interior that has impressed me. I have seen the heart of Nyack during this tough time. They are the kind of school I want to be a part of. They didn’t simply shut the door on my face and pity me. They believed that if God wanted me at Nyack He would make a way. Thank you, Nyack admissions staff! Thank you for your giving spirit and the love that you have shown me. I am so blessed to have people who see my potential and want to invest in me. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me these next four years. Thank you to everyone who prayed for me during this season of life! God works in great ways. Trust in him and He will do amazing things.

Claudia’s Graduation 

It’s hard to believe that our baby Claudia is now a high school graduate! We are ao proud of her accomplishment and more importantly the beautiful woman she has become. ​

Claudia for President!

On Wednesday we were very excited to see Claudia in her first meeting as the Roslyn Christian Club president! We are very proud of her and praying for a great year of students coming to know Christ and being encouraged in their faith.

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We Now Have 2 High Schoolers!

On Tuesday last week Natalia officially graduated from 8th grade and we now have a high school freshman and a senior in our home. Where does that time go? Proud of our girl!


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Operation Finish Well

I am about to share with you two of the most important things about good youth ministry, so read all the way to the end.

I know, I know. Probably 90% of you reading this live in places where school has been out for several weeks. But here in New York we find that keeping our kids in school for half of the summer is benef … no, wait, is utterly ridiculous! But, for (I am certain) politically-motivated financial reasons, most of our students are still in school.

Last year my good friend Laurie Bolton sent me an idea that she did with her students that I knew instantly I wanted to do. She delivered “study break” goodie bags to her students while they were in finals week. So, this year I went out and bought lots of junk food and little goodies, wrote a poem; we bagged them up, and divvied them up by zip codes among our team of awesome adult youth leaders who delivered the surprises to unsuspecting students. This, we called Operation Finish Well. It was awesome!

Perhaps you are a healthy food person and you are offended that we would deliver sugary goodness to our students. Someone even told me that the sugar would kill their precious brain cells, and that we should have taken them healthy snacks like fruits and veggies, etc. I get it. I understand. You’re totally right. We should have. But I had two thoughts about this … 1) We wanted our kids to be excited when they received the packages. 2) We are actually trying to help our kids learn humility. I’ve been told that the students in our area are really smart, and we think we are serving them and teaching them that they are no better than anyone else by killing off a few brain cells in order to be more average. I’m kidding, of course. lol! (Seriously, point noted.)

This whole operation highlighted two hallmarks of good youth ministry. 1) Stealing ideas, and 2) Junk food.

Feel free to re-steal (But give Laurie props for the idea!).

And feel free to give your students healthy food … which most students will consider junk food and promptly throw away. lol! (Sorry, I was in a joking-kind-of-mood writing this. I’ve been reading Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan – the funniest book I have ever read. Post about that coming soon.)IMG_3359 IMG_3362

Passing the Leadership Baton

Many of you may remember the excitement we experienced 8 months ago when our youngest daughter Natalia started the first-ever Christian Club in her middle school. All year they averaged almost 30 students in weekly attendance, and it was awesome watching the influence they had in the school and beyond. A few weeks ago, they received a Certificate of Merit from the New York State Assembly for their project of sending Valentines to Veterans which is going to be framed and displayed in the school!

After an amazing school year, yesterday we attended the final club meeting of the year. We have been so proud of our girl for all of her hard work and leadership. She assembled a great team of her peers and led them as together they led the club all year. Perhaps the most impressive part of her leadership is that right from the start she recognized that as an 8th grader this was her final year in the middle school, but she wanted the club to continue long after she was gone, so she was looking for future leaders from day one.

About 3 months ago, she and her team really started praying, watching, and talking with the younger students who had been faithful and active in the club, and who had a desire to be lights in their school. Two months ago she approached two 6th graders and asked them about the possibility of them leading next year. After they accepted, she began training them, giving them opportunities to lead, and giving them leadership feedback. Yesterday, as we celebrated a great inaugural year for the club, Natalia and her team formally handed the baton of leadership to the aforementioned students and prayed over them.

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Video: Natalia Speaking at Youth For Christ Banquet

Last night was one of the greatest highlights of my life as a father and as a youth pastor. I had the privilege of sharing the stage with my daughter at the Youth For Christ banquet as she shared about starting a Christian Club in her middle school. Our family is so proud of her!

Natalia with banquet speaker Pastor Dimas Salaberrios of The Bronx


How One Boy Overcame Bullying and Changed Hearts

The Dream Has Come True!

Today, after months and months of prayer and hard work, our daughter Natalia’s dream of starting the first-ever Christian Club at Roslyn Middle School came true! They had 11 students there for their first meeting, and they all left saying they had a good time. We are very thankful to the school administration for their support, to Mrs. Marx for supporting the club as their advisor, and to Emma Rucci and Long Island Youth For Christ for their guidance in walking Natalia through the process of getting the club started. We are SOOOO proud of our daughter who is such a courageous leader. Yeah God! Way to go Natalia! You are making an impact and leaving a legacy!

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10 Things I Do To Support Christian Clubs

IMG_6367I used to think “I’ll just leave campus ministry up to great organizations like Youth For Christ and Young Life who specialize in working with schools.” However, in the past few years, as our culture has been shifting, I have realized that in order to be effective in youth ministry, I had to be more active and intentional in supporting students on campus as a major aspect of our church’s youth ministry. In addition to attending their games, concerts, plays, etc. (which I have always done), I have sought to encourage and support the student-led Christian Clubs that meet at schools. In doing so, I have realized that YFC and Young Life actually want youth pastors from local churches to be involved. Here are 10 ways I support Christian Clubs.

  1. Pray. Whenever I think of students throughout the day, I pause to pray for them. When I drive by their schools, I pray for students by name. I pray for Christian students to be faithful in their witness for Christ so that kids (and teachers and administrators) who don’t know Jesus will come know God’s love through them.
  2. Attend. I love to attend Christian Clubs and just be a fly on the wall. Currently I attend 3 clubs in our area each week, and I visit a few others throughout the year. It’s interesting to observe how each one functions. They’re all similar, but all unique.
  3. Speak. Occasionally a club will invite me to speak, which I always enjoy. I love the opportunity to share the gospel with those who are seeking, and to encourage the Christian students.
  4. Food. Kids love free food. Sometimes I randomly show up with pizza, tacos, or donuts. (Note: Always communicate with the club leaders ahead of time in case they already have food planned.)
  5. Fundraisers. Each year one of the clubs does a pizza fundraiser. I use some of our youth ministry budget to buy a bunch of pizzas and donate them to the club. I have also done things like printed materials for them. (Important: Don’t give them money as that can cause unnecessary questions and problems for the club.).
  6. Transportation. Here in New York, most of the Christian Clubs meet after school. Sometimes kids need transportation in order to participate. I offer to take kids home if they need a lift. (Note: Follow your church or organization’s guidelines for transporting students in accordance with insurance policies and safety practices.)
  7. Feedback. As I am a fly on the wall in the clubs, I can observe things that they do well and things that they can do better. After the meetings, the club leaders usually meet together to debrief and plan ahead. Sticking around for these meetings is an opportunity to help them think through things strategically.
  8. Soul Care. I really enjoy meeting with the leaders, not just to talk about the ins and outs of the clubs, but to talk about their own soul care. It’s not just about having a cool club, but about ministering out of the overflow of their own hearts, and that begins by cultivating their personal relationships with Christ.
  9. Resource. What do clubs need to succeed? Bibles? Mentoring? Leadership training? How can I provide that for them? Recently my own daughter had the dream to start the first ever Christian Club in her middle school. I networked and connected her with my friends at Youth For Christ who met with her, provided her with a manual to help her with all of the logistics, and met with her to mentor her. A Youth For Christ staff member and I both accompanied her when she met with school administration. We have sought to give her everything she needs to get her club going and build it for success.
  10. Leadership. Hands down the most important thing that student leaders need to be reminded of is the importance of developing other leaders. It’s easy for them (and all of us) to get caught up in the now. The club may be going awesome, but what will happen next year when you graduate? The one flag that I am constantly waving before club leaders is a long-term vision for the club. When they graduate, who will take over the club? How will they be selected? Will they be ready to lead when you leave? What are you doing now to encourage and empower them to lead? This is the hard work of leadership. Helping current leaders identify future leaders, and equip them to lead once they leave is of utmost importance.