Growing up in the 1960s in rural Berkshire, Graham Coyle’s parents ran a pub. Neither had any real faith in God but both had been to Sunday school. At around five Graham’s mother sent him to the local village chapel with some friends because she wanted him to have a choice about God. He attended throughout his childhood and teenage years and decided from an early age to follow Jesus as a result.
When Graham went to college, he encountered two lively Christian lecturers and attended the Christian Union. “It made a huge difference to my faith. I was introduced to what it meant to live life in the Spirit”, Graham shares. At 22 he was ready to leave college and realised that he didn’t mind what he did as long as he served the Lord, so Graham started looking for opportunities.
Joining Youth for Christ
He came across a number of organisations which interested him in the back of ‘Buzz’ magazine (now ‘Youth & Children’s Work’) and wrote to them. One of these was Youth for Christ. After being invited to a training weekend he was selected to be part of Youth for Christ’s fledgling teams project in 1983. “It was all very new”, Graham says. “I hadn’t heard of Youth for Christ before and didn’t know anybody in the movement when I joined.”
In the era of campaign evangelism, sixteen 17-27 year olds were divided into two teams. In the run up to ‘Mission to London’: an event led by Louis Palau, Graham’s team was dispatched to do street evangelism in Brixton. Tensions between the local community and police remained high after riots had taken place the previous year. “You could feel it in the air”, Graham recalls. “As the young and naïve leader of the team, I was scared. It was a pretty wild ride for a country boy.”
Graham learned two things through the experience. Firstly, that despite a big coordinated up-front mission “with all the razzmatazz” there did not seem to be much fruit. Secondly, leading a team through this made him determined “to find out what had been missing”. He also helped others, one of whom was Ann – the other team leader. In the process a relationship grew which would eventually lead to marriage.
As his year with Youth for Christ was coming to an end, Graham asked his former house church in Canterbury if they’d pray for him as he sought his next steps. The leader told him about an exciting new training centre, led by Bob Gordon and Colin Urquhart that was open to the Spirit’s leading. God directed Graham to apply and he soon found himself at Roffey Place alongside a number of people he knew through Youth for Christ. It turned out to be a really special time for Graham and Ann.
Called to Serve
Three years later the couple, now married, moved to Worcester to work with a church there. “God called us to come and join the church so we did”, he shares. Initially, Graham was employed as a part-time driver for an industrial chemical firm but a Christian school called The River School needed someone for one term so Graham stepped in to help. He ended up teaching PE, amongst other things, before becoming the head of the school after some years. Graham now has a much wider role, working with other Christian educators across Europe and beyond through the group of schools that The River School belongs to, The Christian Schools Trust.
Youth for Christ’s impact on their lives didn’t end there. Graham and Ann’s two daughters spent a year serving God after university in a Christian volunteer context. The eldest did hers with Youth for Christ. “It was fun for Ann and I to revisit our roots”, Graham admits. “Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the situation that people were in during my year with Youth for Christ and what they were dealing with.” Graham has also found that God never lets anything go to waste. “I’ve been able to draw on the things I learned in my early twenties on those back streets of Brixton and understand that God is a good Father who doesn’t permit anything in our lives that isn’t ultimately for our good.”
Graham also recognises the same spirit in the movement today that he encountered years ago. “Youth for Christ is still about pushing out into culture with the uncompromising message of the gospel. It gives young Christians the opportunity to take the good news of Jesus into all sorts of situations.”
“I can now see that everything God has led me to do since my time with Youth for Christ has been about the same thing,” Graham concludes. “It’s been about introducing kids to people who love Jesus through a whole range of experiences and understandings of the world.”
“I can now see that everything God has led me to do since my time with Youth for Christ has been about introducing kids to people who love Jesus…”