For James and Marisol Rockwell, nine years has flown by. Hanging out with teenagers, organizing parents to serve along with them, branching out into new ministries. Two more boys added to their oldest son. A hefty scrapbook contains many of those memories: multiple photographs, letters filled with sentiment and smile.
In the middle of the summer, James Rockwell got a phone call that would ultimately lead him and his family out of Columbus.
“They were very kind and said I’d done a great job and needed to do something bigger,” said Rockwell, formerly the Columbus Area Director for Young Life, who for the past nine months was associate regional director for Georgia and Alabama. In between, he oversaw Young Life areas in and around Columbus.
Based in Colorado, Young Life is an international evangelical Christian organization that “brings the good news of Jesus Christ into the lives of adolescents with an approach that is respectful of who kids are and hopeful about who they can be,” according to its Web site.
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The focus is on meeting kids where they are, whether at ball games or bowling alleys.
As soon as he and his family find a house, they will move to Houston. Rockwell is the new regional director for Young Life there, and has already started work from a distance. He oversees 40 staff in an area more concentrated geographically than what he covered here.
On to Texas
His move was somewhat unexpected. When he signed on as associate regional director, he envisioned a two-year commitment. He worked under Mark Springfield, based in Atlanta. Using Columbus as his base, Rockwell traveled about three days a week. Then the regional director’s job opened up in Texas. Around the same time, Rockwell was the speaker during the month of June at Young Life’s Colorado mountain camp, Frontier Ranch.
“There were tons of kids from Houston and of course I had no idea then (about the job),” Rockwell said.
The phone call came from headquarters, with President Denny Rydberg and Executive Vice President Ty Saltzgiver ultimately making the pitch.
It’s unusual for someone from one region to move to another, so he’s humbled by the opportunity.
“I don’t think it’s about us,” he said. “It’s about everything God is going to do in us.”
Impact in Columbus
When the Rockwells came to Columbus in 2001, they hardly knew anyone. He and Marisol are from Atlanta. But nearly 200 people who eventually became friends bid them farewell last Sunday, at a friend’s farm in Harris County. There were roastings and toastings, and the scrapbook presentation.
One of them was Billy Blanchard, president of CB&T and Rockwell’s incoming committee chairman in 2001.
“We got to be friends very quickly,” Blanchard said. “He followed some incredible successes. He came in and took the strengths (from previous area director Frank Ivey) and enhanced them.”
During Rockwell’s tenure in and around Columbus, he helped birth the following: a Young Life club at Fort Benning; Wyldlife, the Young Life ministry to middle schoolers; and Young Life Urban, which reaches out to minority students. Weekly large gatherings are called “Club,” and smaller-group Bible studies are “Campaigners.”
“It’s great I could be a part of it,” said Rockwell, involved with Young Life in some capacity for most of his 41 years. The Rockwells have been members of Crosspointe Church in Columbus, where Billy and Olivia Blanchard are also members and many others connected with Young Life.
Still an SEC man
In Houston, the Rockwells will experience more racial diversity. A city of 2.3 million people, it has the third-largest Hispanic population in the state, and more Hispanic-Americans than any other Texas city. Other sizable minority groups include African-Americans, Pakistanis, Indians and Nigerians.
A graduate of the University of Georgia, Rockwell insists his loyalties will remain with SEC football — even though cowboy hats might be added to his attire.
Young Life’s birthplace is Texas. It was founded in 1941 by a Presbyterian minister, Jim Rayburn. Young Life formed in Columbus in 1982.
“It’s a huge honor because there’s really rich ministry in Texas. There’s so much history, and great ownership,” Rockwell said.
Allison Kennedy, reporter, can be reached at 706-576-6237