By Melissa Brookman
Jody Reynolds, coordinator of church and parent relations, uses her love of Jesus Christ and her passion for students to spread the gospel to youth groups in churches across state lines. Several students described Reynolds as loving, caring, and a mother-like role model to many students at University of Northwestern – St. Paul. These feelings stem from her role as the leader of Youth Crew, a Northwestern organization that ministers to high school students in local churches.
Reynolds was born into a Christian family in the small town of Rush City, Minnesota. Attending Northwestern was a family tradition, and three of her siblings graduated from the school as well. Reynolds began her Northwestern journey by pursuing an undergraduate degree in youth ministry.
Her plans quickly changed when she started dating her husband, Tim Reynolds, because he was also going to school for youth ministry. The couple realized that it was rare for a youth ministry couple to be hired by the same church. So, Jody Reynolds decided to change her major to Christian Education. This way her options would abound and she could continue to work with her husband, regardless of where God called them to minister.
Jody Reynolds graduated with a degree from Northwestern in 1997. Looking back at her college experience, she stated, “I really liked that Northwestern was a non-denominational environment. It didn’t matter that I had friends who were Lutheran or Baptist. I was getting challenged to walk and meet others where they were in their faith and to learn to grow together.”
Over the years she worked at a Christian travel agency and booked entertainers for Christian retreats and getaways. Learning how to communicate effectively and finding out what people were really looking for helped sharpen her skills and prepare her for her role in Youth Crew.
In 2011, Reynolds returned to Northwestern and joined the Office of Church and Parent Relations. Reynolds stated, “I wanted to return to Northwestern because I loved how everything was centered around Christ. The opportunity to travel with college students while ministering to high school students was amazing.”
When Reynolds first took on the leadership role in Youth Crew, she was not happy with how the organization was operating. Students were using PowerPoint presentations to spout off statistics about Northwestern. She said, “It did not feel like we were ministering to the youth as much as we were just promoting the school.”
She worked hard to turn the program around and focused on helping kids grow in their faith alongside peers who were just a couple years older than them. Miranda Zimmer, a criminal justice major who is part of the crew said, “Being a part of Youth Crew is such a blessing to see how the Lord works, being able to reconnect with some of the same students year after year. Working with Jody is a blast; she always brings so much joy and excitement everywhere she goes. She also cares deeply for each one of us and is constantly checking in and asking how we are doing.”
Youth Crew currently has 18 student workers who travel to different churches every Wednesday. Depending on a church’s needs, the crew creates curriculum or shares testimonies. This year’s theme is “Words.” It is a broad theme to help kids focus on God’s words, or on any other words that have made an impact in their lives.
Krista Bain, an educational studies major, said, “One of the things I love about Jody is that she is so relational. She genuinely cares about my life and cares about how God is working in my life. After any conversation I have with her, she always asks to pray and encourages me in my life and my walk with the Lord. I joined Youth Crew right away my freshman year and Jody was a huge reason that I did this.”
Reynolds is adamant about hiring diverse student workers for the crew. She explained, “You don’t need to have a ministry degree to tell people about Jesus. If we are reflecting Christ, people will see what we have to offer.” She said that she needs every kind of student to join the crew. She needs worship leaders, computer savvy students, and anyone who is willing to share God’s love with kids. She is always seeking out students who can play the acoustic guitar, either solo or as a band member, to help with worship.
In 2016, Youth Crew visited 32 churches, 11 of which were multicultural churches. A total of 832 students attended the gatherings. The crew traveled over 2,000 miles that year, and they drive up to three hours one way to visit a church. As a result, high school students are being influenced in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. In 2017, Reynolds hopes to minister to at least 40-45 churches.
Reynolds noted that the biggest struggle she encounters with the crew is that Northwestern students tend to graduate sooner than most college students. Many of the students have prior PSEO classes and finish their degrees a year or two early and they may not even join the crew until their senior year. She said that she wishes she had more time with them to help minister to other kids. Bain commented, “I love connecting with students on youth crew nights, making them feel loved, known, and included. I think that is what Jody does for college students. She is all about connecting with students—making them feel loved and known—especially by God.”
Reynolds knows that she will continue her time at Northwestern for years to come because Northwestern is so family-oriented. She and her husband have two children, including 17-year-old son Micah, who has already applied to Northwestern as a music major to continue the family legacy of pursuing a Christ-centered education.