Kathleen and Ryan Silvius make their home on a small part of the 42-ace peninsula of Young Life's Saranac Village. Originally called Prospect Point Camp, built in the early 1900s for copper magnate Adolph Lewisohn and designed by William Coulter, the camp still houses many of the original chalet-style buildings.
Being a part of the staff of Young Life is more than just a job to Ryan and Kathleen. They met at a Young Life Club and have spent their lives dedicated to providing other children the same experiences they had, whether through volunteering, leadership or as YL employees.
Young Life began when a youth leader and seminary student in Texas was asked by his minister to act as if the high school students were his parish and change the way young adults viewed the church. With this task in mind, Jim Rayburn developed a weekly club for kids that included singing, skits and a simple message about Christ. From that, grew an international organization with more than 800 communities across America and in more than 50 countries.
Kathleen and Ryan Silvius with their son Hudson and daughter Ellie
(Photo — Diane Chase)
"My title is camp manager," says Ryan. "We have 15 full-time staff and 15 summer interns. Each month we have a new team of 45 college aged volunteers and 40 high school volunteers and 12 field staff. Each new weekly group is typically 300 campers with 175 staff."
He continues, "Most youth groups are event based. We are the antithesis of that. We are relationship based. Other organizations may plan activities kids go to, in a new YL area we may not start club for a few years. YL leaders will go to kids' schools, dramas, games and build relationships. Anything that we do is about building relationships. This has been the philosophy from the '40s and I think in some ways it works better today."
It was through YL," informed Kathleen, "that I met college-aged leaders who had made a decision to follow Christ and were living out that decision in their lives. I got to know them and they invested in my life."
Kathleen smiles, "Right now I'm a National Buyer for Young Life. Young Life has stores in all 18 of their camps and my role is to find things that work in all of those stores, on a national level. What that looks like is going to buying shows and gift shows, purchasing items and working out the details collectively for everyone. It's been nice to have some kind of work outside of my home. It has provided a healthy balance for me."
She continues, "I also went to the University of Missouri. We were actually in leadership together as two college people ministering to high school kids. I think that was the first connection we had with each other. From college we continued to mentorship and then on committee and then staff. We followed very similar paths. But this was our first camp staff experience."
We had been in Tulsa, Okla. for about six years, Ryan in his career (medical pharmaceutical sales for Novartis) and me teaching. I definitely have to say that I loved what I did. I felt that I was made to teach middle school. But we wanted to start to have a family so we started that process and had a lot of loss associated with that. We lost three pregnancies in the second trimesters. Some were farther along and more hope connected to them. With the fourth pregnancy we both had a sense that if this one wasn't going to work life was going to change. We weren't sure what or how but we both had a sense for that. We had both reached a certain level of success in our careers. We had built a house. We lost that baby in the beginning of the third trimester."
Ryan quietly interjects, "She was a still birth."
Kathleen says, "So in the process of losing our daughter, having that loss of a dream. Having children was an important part of our married life. The idea of changing careers and doing something totally outside of us started to rule in our hearts. We had been invited to see a piece of land that YL was considering building a camp. We had always worked directly with the kids. The camping side of our ministry has a long history and is very healthy. I thought "what a match for your gifts.' And through a conversation with some folks in our life we got an interview."
Ryan tipped his head in thought, "It may not be quick to other people but for us six months later we were here."
"Yes," Kathleen says, "Six months from losing our daughter in January we were unpacking our moving van here after changing careers. That was 2000."
At that time they started to work toward becoming 46ers. In 2004, they achieved their goal.
"We became 46ers on Haystack," Kathleen says. I love the outdoors. As a kid I played every weekend around the woods by the creek by my house. The challenge to be a 46er was about finishing the goal. There are definitely some mountains that I only climbed to finish my 46er that will remain nameless," she laughs. "Now I just climb my favorites. I just enjoy the process."
They agree that part of the appeal of becoming 46ers was the goal itself. Another part was that it gave them a reason to leave the camp on their days off. Throughout it all they continued to pursue the dream of becoming parents.
Kathleen paused for a moment. "We wanted to be parents. We weren't sure how we were going to get there," she said. "We had tried to get pregnant. We weren't going to go down that path again. When we first came here I think there was a real need to grieve and heal and the first couple years I needed to put some perspective to what I had gone through. It had all happened back to back. After having some time to grieve we decided to adopt."
Ryan remembers, "We started the process for adoption in Tulsa. We really had wanted to birth our own family but as we started to research adoption we became more and more drawn to it. Domestically there was a longer wait so you knew those kids were going to get good parents. But overseas we felt that we were rescuing someone. In Russia if children aren't adopted by age three, the results are staggering, they have a higher than not probability of never being adopted."
"We just really wanted to be parents," says Kathleen. "We were going to adopt a little boy. So Hudson was the little boy that was offered to us in November 2002. The process involved lots and lots of paperwork. In January I was doing my devotional prayer time and had this feeling that we were going to have two children. I told Ryan about it and he had written the same thing in his journal as well. We were wowed."
They called the agency to see about the possibility of adopting a second child and were told no. The paperwork was in process for one child. So they left for Russia for the initial meeting of their son. They went to Russia to adopt one child and came back with two.
"We went to see Hudson in the orphanage and just said an unequivocal 'yes,'" her voice shakes. "We left and we are riding the high of that day when we get a call from the orphanage. Earlier we had told the adoption agency we would still be interested in adopting two. Our initial reaction is that something is wrong. Are we going to be bribed? So we go back to office and are told that a little girl is available.
"Now let me backtrack to a time that I was teaching back in Tulsa at a Catholic School and had grown very close to a nun there, Sister Jacinta. One day after having prayed for us when we had lost one of the pregnancies she told me I would one day be the mother of twins and I thought she was crazy."
Ryan interjects, "Well, crazy in that we had difficulty carrying one pregnancy the thought of carrying two was ludicrous because the problem at that time was carrying them."
Everything worked smoothly for the Silviuses. Kathleen called Sister Jacinta to let her know her prophesy came true.
Kathleen laughs, "Her response was, 'Of course!' So we went over with one child in our hearts and our minds and came home with two. There was about a month between the first trip and the second trip and people asked if it was difficult leaving. In some ways yes but in others I had a whole new vision to get my brain around. I don't really even remember much."
Ryan smiles, "My favorite part of the story is to be able to tell people that the kids are sort of twins. They were 14 and 17 months when we adopted them. Hudson is the older and Ellie the younger. They will be entering second grade at Petrova Elementary in the fall."
Kathleen grins, "The kids are at this great age. They are seven and we feel it's the golden age of childhood. The first years you are home bound and we ask them to come along in our lives and now they are asking us to come along in theirs. It is an exciting stage to be a part of. I just enjoy watching their lives just bust open with friends over, riding bikes, getting their grownup teeth."
Ryan agrees, "They can do so much. We went to St. Lucia this spring and it was just magical. They could swim, snorkel."
He sums it up by saying, "We see our life more like we are following God in the process and its not determined by the circumstances or obstacles that we run into. Our lives' purpose is not going to change based on circumstances. There may be something wonderful that comes out of it. I do know that the older I get the less control I realize we have. When I was younger I saw things more black and white. I felt we had more control to steer our lives."
"Now I know that I may not control all circumstances in my life but I can control my response to them," Kathleen calmly states. "We have made decisions to avoid or pursue certain things. Some of the hardest things that have come our way have been of no real making of our own. They have truly found us along with some of the greatest blessings. We are two goal driven people whose response to the unexpected has been the real journey of life; some times easy, some times not. It's to find the good in it."