by Sarah Bartlett Borich ’02 - Cedarville, OH
Story Update: John Sorrell '02 has an opportunity to carry the torch in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. But, he needs your help because participants are chosen by popular vote. Vote now!
John Sorrell ’02 knows a thing or two about the impact of youth ministry. Growing up, he seldom attended church. When he reached junior high, a friend took interest in him and began inviting him to youth activities and eventually to camp, where he accepted Christ at age 14. “At the time I wanted to be a lawyer,” he says. “I never even considered doing anything else.” It’s been an interesting journey from that time to the present, however. John is now living and breathing youth ministry as the first full-time youth pastor in Beijing, China.
It’s clear that God began guiding John down this path back in high school. “During my senior year, I had the opportunity to be part of a trial case,” he recalls. “I was able to sit in the courtroom and everything. I began to understand that being an attorney wasn’t for me. At that point, I really started praying and seeking God’s will for my life.” John also prayed with his youth pastor about the many upcoming decisions in his life, including his college choice. “I don’t even remember how I found out about Cedarville,” he laughs. “I talked my parents into visiting with me, and my mom immediately fell in love with the school. Within an hour, she said I could go!”
A turning point for John came the summer after his senior year of high school when he participated in a mission trip to Mexico. That’s when God laid the passion for youth ministry on his heart. “I knew from then on that no matter where I am, I’ll be working with teenagers,” he remarked. “I love watching them be challenged and grow.”
John’s years at Cedarville as a youth ministries major were full of opportunities for him to learn and prepare for his current work. He was a resident assistant and served as president of Chi Delta Nu, the University’s youth ministry organization. He also participated in Getting Started and served on the planning committees for CedarMania, Junior Jam, Summer Previews, and the High School Leadership Conference.
In February of John’s sophomore year he had lunch with the pastor of Lebanon Evangelical Free Church in Lebanon, Ohio. The church was looking for a youth pastor, but at only 19, John wasn’t interested in the job. “I told them no at first,” he says. “But through God’s leading, I was voted in as youth pastor by Easter.” He spent the rest of his student career commuting between Cedarville and Lebanon to serve as full-time youth pastor at the church.
John planned to stay in his youth pastor position after graduation and attend seminary with the church’s financial support. But once again, God had other plans in the works. He began planting a new desire in John’s heart during a junior-year chapel focused on teaching opportunities in China. “It was the first year they were going to start teaching in Chinese high schools,” he remembers. “I had never considered reaching out to kids in that way.”
He started praying about the opportunity, with the support and added prayers of his church. “I prayed that if I was supposed to go, God wouldn’t let the passion in my heart die,” he says. Throughout the next year, John got more and more excited about going to China and knew that it was the Lord’s next step for his life. In December of his senior year at Cedarville, he was voted onto the China team. He has been living in Beijing full-time since August 2002.
During his first year in China, John learned that he did not have a gift for teaching English. “I hated it,” he admits. “I loved being here, loved working with students, but I was just not at home in the classroom.” He became involved in youth ministry at a fellowship for internationals in Beijing, first as a counselor for a weekend retreat, then as a leader, and finally as a co-director. He soon learned that the father of one of the youth group members was starting a new church in the city for diplomatic and business families. John wanted to become involved, so he stayed on the teaching team for another year, and soon after became the youth pastor at Capital Community Church. At the time he was voted in, he became the first full-time youth pastor in Beijing, a city of 15 million people.
It was a hard concept for John to wrap his mind around at first. “God brought me to China, but here I was, not working with any Chinese people,” he says. “I had to realize that there are 3,000 to 5,000 international kids within a few miles of my house whom I can reach. These are third-culture kids, and that can be a difficult thing to work through.”
John is also involved with Pioneer International, an organization that sends tent-making families throughout Asia. A few years ago, John attended a PI conference in Thailand, and by day three, he was running the youth portion of the event. “These kids are scattered all over the continent,” he explains. “For many, the annual conference is the only youth group they experience all year. They’re amazing - the perfect youth group.” John keeps in touch with the kids online and
now works with one of the families to lead “Worship and Intercession Training” treks into the Himalayas.
John’s passion for reaching international kids in Asia seems to have no limit. Two years ago, he and his roommate decided to start a paintball company as a business venture and as a means for outreach. “There were only two paintball companies in all of Beijing,” John says. “They used low-quality equipment and charged very high prices. We brought our equipment in from the United States. We knew that providing a good product would be a great way to get to know more students.” John and Joe are also looking for some land to build a Christian youth camp and conference center - another potential first in China.
“God is doing some amazing things over here,” John states. “I plan to stay until God tells me it’s time to leave. Beijing is a great home base for working with kids from all over Asia, and we’re praying that God will lead more workers here.” To that end, he and a few others are spearheading a new organization they call “Youth in Asia.” “It’s not a popular name with some,” he laughs, “but there is an element of dying to yourself to come here and serve. You give up a lot of comforts when you leave home to live here.” The mission of the organization is to bring young people with a passion for teens to Asia through internships - people who would traditionally take youth ministry positions in Western society. “There are so many teens here who just fall through the cracks,” John laments. “In a city of 15 million people, there are three organized youth groups, two full-time youth pastors, and 13 volunteer youth workers. It’s a big contrast to back home in Lebanon, Ohio, a town with 14 full-time youth pastors.”
John asks other Cedarville alumni to join him in praying for Asia and for guidance in his ministries. “There are so many needs here,” he stresses. “I often ask myself how we can multiply this work. Kids are crying out for mentors. It reminds me of that passage in Matthew: the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”
To learn more about internship opportunities in China through Youth in Asia, contact John at jsorange at gmail.com.