Sam Sherrard: Thirty-three Years of Commitment to Youth

April 1999

 

Ajith Fernando

After 31 years of ministry with Youth for Christ, the founder of YFC in Sri Lanka, Dr. Sam Sherrard, has left YFC in order to give himself full-time to pastoral ministry. For the last several years Sam worked with YFC while at the same time serving as Senior Pastor of Leeward Community Church in Honolulu, Hawaii. He will continue in this position at the church full-time while also doing a radio ministry which is aired over several stations.

 

Sam has held many positions in YFC over the years. From 1966 to 1974 he was National Director in Sri Lanka. Then he went to Hawaii where he took over a struggling YFC work and saw it grow into a dynamic work making a huge impact on thousands of young lives. In 1994 he was appointed Area Director of YFC for the Americas, and in 1996 he became YFC’s International President.

 

YFC has changed a lot over the years. But the foundational principles which Sam helped us develop continue to be our hallmarks. During the early years Sam kept telling us that we should focus our evangelistic ministry more on Sinhala and Tamil speaking youth and on non-Christians. It was left to master discipler Brian Blacker to get this off the ground during his two-year stint as Acting National Director between Sam’s leaving and my taking over. These ministries have grown so rapidly that they represent the bulk of YFC’s work today.

 

Yet the principles which Sam introduced still remain our hallmark. Let me mention some that mean a lot to me.

  1. The basis for all ministry is the Scriptures. The inerrant Word of God is the standard for all life and ministry. Sam not only taught us the Scriptures, he also led us to love it and believe in it from cover to cover.
  2. Youth work is such a glorious work that it is worth giving one’s whole life to it. The greatest thing we can do for a young person is to introduce them to the Saviour so that they will escape eternal damnation and receive eternal salvation. That continues to be the passion that propels us in all we do in YFC.
  3. It is not enough to lead people to Christ. We must also carefully nurture them. We began to refer to this process of nurturing believers as “discipling”. We learned that there is no substitute to deep and time-consuming commitment to young people. I suppose the legacy of this practice of discipling is the hundreds of YFC alumni who are now actively participating in the life of the church in Sri Lanka and abroad. What a joy it was for me to attend a conference of heads of churches and organisations recently and find that 12 of the 75 or so there had either met Christ or grown up in YFC.
  4. Fellowship takes time! This is a feature that is increasingly coming under fire in this busy world. But if we want to develop relationships that really help youth to grow within a caring community, it is going to take time—time to chat and pray. What memorable times of fellowship we had with Sam in our young days! Presently I am part of what might be called an accountability group that meets regularly. Of the five in this group four belonged to those of us who used to meet with Sam regularly in the late sixties and the fifth joined in the seventies.
  5. If we are to reach young people who are uninterested in religion, we will have to try out previously untried methods that may seem outlandish to some sincere people. While criticism hurts it must not stop us from using “all possible means to save some” unreached youth.
  6. Innovative youth ministry will include bold ventures of faith that involve taking big risks. But once we launch out on such a venture we must carry it through to a finish without giving up. And how often we wanted to give up, but Sam would not let us! We learned that faithfulness includes the refusal to give up when we encounter obstacles. And we mustn’t be afraid to dream big dreams for we have “a great, big, wonderful God”.

 

On behalf of the thousands of people who met Christ in YFC in their youth, I want to say, “Thank you, Sam, for 33 years of commitment to youth”. On behalf of the staff of Sri Lanka YFC, I want to say, “You make us proud of our vocation”.