Bishop Travell Travis, Esq., President
(757) 528-8529

National Youth For Christ History 1954-Present

A succinct description of the beginning of the National Youth for Christ (NYFC) was published in the very first edition of The Way of the Cross Messenger (The Messenger) in 1954.

In February of 1954 the Young People’s Union at the Mother Church in Washington, D.C. underwent a reorganization program which resulted in the establishment of the National Youth for Christ movement of the Way of the Cross Church of Christ, International.

Under the able guidance and direction of Sister Isabell B. Ford (eldest daughter of Bishop H.C. Brooks – founder of The Way of the Cross Church of Christ, Inc.), this new organization made considerable progress in a short period of time.  A planning committee worked very closely with Sister Ford to make plans for future meetings and envisioned a program of interest for the NYFC.  (Published in The Way of the Cross Messenger, May 1954, Volume 1, copy number 1, page 3).

“We petition youth in this church and elsewhere to unite with us in this endeavor to put Christ first and foremost in their lives,” recalls Bishop John E. Williams, a charter member of the NYFC.  Before the NYFC was organized, church youth activities were languishing somewhat because members of the Young People’s Union (the auxiliary that preceded the NYFC) were maturing and the organization had evolved into one that primarily served the needs of young adults and young married people.  Sister Ford, who had recently attended the youth meeting of a prominent national organization, was inspired to develop a group to address a broad spectrum of the needs of church youth, including spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and recreational needs.  Bishop Williams remembers that Sister Ford called a number of young people and invited them to an interest meeting one night.  Many agreed, thinking the new activity would get them out of attending regular tarry meetings.  However, they were mistaken because the first thing Sister Ford did was gather the participants upstairs in the old women’s choir room to pray and tarry.   After the prayer meeting, Sister Ford then presented them with her ideas, and solicited their input, about a new youth auxiliary  Later that year, they held the first annual convocation during the Fourth of July holiday; inviting youth from the other Way of the Cross churches.

Subsequent issues of The Messenger reveal that the NYFC made steady progress through the years.  For example, the December 1955 issue reports that, three days prior to the General Convocation that year, the NYFC held its 2nd Annual Convention.  Representatives from eleven affiliated churches attended.  The April 1955 issue of The Messenger reveals that Sister Isabell Ford “continued to provide the courageous, efficient and inspirational leadership needed to carry this auxiliary on to certain success in the aim to place Christ first and foremost in the lives of the youth in the church and surrounding community” (The Messenger, volume II, copy no. 2, page 2).

On July 5, 1957, Deacon Samuel Carson welcomed visiting delegates to the 4th Annual Convention of YFC held in Washington, D.C.  Presiding officer, Elder Benjamin Wells, was the opening speaker, and there followed a plethora of activities, including a panel discussion, a talent program in which all churches present were represented, a platform service for young ministers, and several evangelistic services.  Elder Leroy Cannady (now presiding prelate of the Way of the Cross Church of Christ, International) gave the closing sermon that year. Officers elected were Elder Benjamin Wells, president; Sister Isabell Ford, supervisor; Deacon Samuel Carson, executive secretary; Sister Mae Wooten, recording secretary; Sister Jessie Brooks, assistant recording secretary; and Sister Leone Davis, treasurer.

For the 6th Annual Youth Convocation in 1959, participants included Minister Willie Hunter of Newport News, Virginia (the opening speaker), Sister Helen Easton of Calvert County, Maryland; Sister Magdaline Persons of Franklinton, North Carolina, and Sister Mazie Washington and Brother Alphonzo Brooks of Washington, D.C.  Their subjects were “Love”, “Brotherly Love”, and “In the Shadow of the Cross”.  Deacon Samuel Carson did a presentation on the “Missionary Journey of the Apostle Paul”. Lunch that Saturday consisted of a yard picnic which was served “camp meeting” style.  The August 1959 edition of The Messenger lists the national officers appointed as: Sister Isabell Ford, national supervisor; Deacon Samuel Carson, supervisor’s aide; Sister Mae Williams, executive secretary; and Sister Leone Davis, treasurer.

In the late 1950s, the youth decided that they wanted to meet more often than once a year, and a schedule of meetings was planned. Mother Ford suggested that these meetings be called “jubilees”, anticipating that they would have times of great joy.  Initially, the decision was to hold three of these meetings a year, but the press of a crowded national calendar soon reduced that number to two, one in late October and one in late February.  It was also decided that, since Washington, D.C. was centrally located, and because the NYFC convocation was generally held there, each year one jubilee would be held in the north and one in the south.  Following this plan, over the years, NYFC meetings were held in Kittrell and Williamston, North Carolina, Newport News and Martinsville, Virginia, Hartford, Connecticut, and New York, New York.

In August 1963 the NYFC held its 10th Annual Convocation in Washington, D.C.  According to The Messenger, the NYFC had made “great strides,” reaching several of its goals under the able leadership of its National President, Elder Willie Hunter, with the assistance of his…staff of national officers and committee chairmen.”  The article further reports that, “By then, youth jubilees had attained such outstanding proportions that they rivaled the general convention in attendance, scope and national participation.”

By the 12th Annual NYFC Convention in 1965, national officers were no longer elected to one-year terms.  In October that year, at the time of the fall jubilee, Elder Willie Hunter of Newport News, Virginia, resigned as national president. During the spring jubilee held on February 12, 1966, Sister Isabell Ford, the national advisor, announced that Deacon John Kearney of New York, NY had been appointed acting president.  A subsequent issue of The Messenger reports that, under the active guidance of Sister Ford and Deacon Kearney, the national youth convocation and other youth projects were great accomplishments that year, for they were both spiritually enriching and financially successful.

At the Saturday afternoon business meeting of the 13th Annual NYFC Convention (August 12, 1966), Bishop H.C. Brooks appointed Elder John E. Williams of Philadelphia, PA, as the new national president; Deacon John Kearney of New York, NY, became first vice president again; Elder Samuel B. Davis of Hartford, CT, became second vice president; Brother John Cooper of Newport News, VA, became third vice president; Brother Booker Yelder of Washington, D.C., became executive secretary; and Deacon Leroy Washington, of Washington, D.C., became national treasurer.  Elder Williams made the following appointments: Brother Alphonzo Brooks, parliamentarian; Elder Samuel Davis, editor of The Messenger; Sister Deborah B. Ford, hospitality chairperson; Brother Tertius Foster, publicity; Sister Emily Crandall, membership; Minister Robert Watts, nominations; Sister Constance Thompson, director of music; Brother John Cooper, programs; and Sister Ruth Alford, fundraising.

Deacon John Kearney currently serves as chairman of the National Deacon Board.  To date, he is the only individual to serve as the head of two national auxiliaries.  At age 82, he is the oldest living former NYFC president and continues to faithfully attend every national meeting of the NYFC.   Deacon Kearney now resides in Henderson, NC.

On June 12, 1967, the entirety of the Way of the Cross churches experienced a great loss, when the founder and presiding prelate, Bishop Henry C. Brooks, passed suddenly and unexpectedly.  Bishop John L. Brooks was chosen as his successor during the General Convocation that year.  In 1968, one of the highlights of the 16th Annual NYFC Convention was the crowning of Miss Youth for Christ.  New national officers elected for the 1969-1970 term included president, Elder John E. Williams; first vice president, Minister Alphonzo Brooks; second vice president, Deacon Robert E. Dargan; third vice president, Brother Allen Easton; treasurer, Deacon George Hatfield; and chaplain, Minister Terry Hicks. Emily Crandall was appointed acting executive secretary.  The site selected for the 17th Annual YFC Convention was Ransom Way of the Cross in Henderson, North Carolina, where Elder Walker J. Foster, the national evangelist, was acting pastor.

During Elder Williams’ administration, the NYFC set up a more formal organizational structure, holding elections to select a president, vice presidents, executive and recording secretaries, a treasurer, and a parliamentarian. They also established committees, both standing and appointed, to take care of the various responsibilities concerning national meetings, including programs, membership, hospitality, music, fundraising, publicity, and others.  During these times, there were complaints that the NYFC Convention and General Convocation were held too close together, so it was decided that the youth should move their meetings to the last week in June; a decision that holds unto this day.

Elder John E. Williams, Sr. served as the 4th president of the NYFC from 1966-1972.  Elder Williams would later be appointed the first auxiliary bishop of the NYFC in 1979 and in 1995 became co-vice bishop of the Way of the Cross Church of Christ International.  Bishop John E. Williams, Sr. passed away December 8, 2008 at age 74.

After previously serving as first vice president, Elder Alphonzo D. Brooks of Washington, DC, was elected president of the NYFC.  During Elder Brooks’ administration, the NYFC went to new levels of achievement.  Elder Brooks further developed the duties of the executive officers and documented them in the first constitution and by-laws for the NYFC.  To utilize the gifts of past officers, Elder Brooks also instituted an advisory board consisting of the national overseer and past presidents.  In 1988, Elder Brooks developed the intermediate youth ministry to develop programs and train leaders from youth between 13 and 21 years-old.  Elder Brooks embarked upon an ambitious program to have the convocation visit parts of the country where no Way of the Cross church was located.  During his administration NYFC conventions were held in such places as Baton Rouge, LA; Chicago, IL; Detroit, MI; Cleveland, OH; Chattanooga, TN; and Dallas, TX; to name a few.  The NYFC Mass Choir rerecorded two live albums.  The first in 1978 and the second in 1988 entitle “I’m So Grateful: Live in Chicago” which featured such national recording artist as Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Darius Brooks, and De Atra Hicks.

After 19 years of service, Elder Brooks stepped down from office in 1991.  He currently holds the record for the most years as NYFC president having served as the 5th president from 1972-1991.  Elder Brooks would later become national advisor to the NYFC and in 1995 became co-vice bishop of the Way of the Cross Church of Christ International.

In 1991, District Elder Earley Dillard of Martinsville, VA was elected the 6th president of the NYFC.  Elder Dillard was the first president from the south in over 25 years.  Elder Dillard worked to bring greater geographic diversity into the leadership of the NYFC.  During Elder Dillard’s administration, the first and only female, was elected to the rank of vice president.  Sister Delphine Easley of Baltimore, MD, was elected 3rd Vice President and served for one term from 1993-1996.  During Elder Dillard’s administration, conventions where held in such places as Dayton, OH; Charleston, WV; and Orlando, FL.   Elder Dillard also enhanced the fellowship opportunities of the youth by instituting such things as a national basketball tournament, trips to nearby amusement parks during conventions, and a semi-formal gala for the intermediate youth in 1993.

During Elder Dillard’s administration, the NYFC suffered a tremendous loss with this passing of its founder, Mother Isabell Brook Ford on May 28, 1994.  After stepping down as NYFC president in 1956, Mother Ford would continue to serve the NYFC as National Supervisor and later as National Advisor until 1991.  In 1990, Bishop Brooks appointed Mother Ford “church mother” at the Way of the Cross Church in Washington, DC in recognition of her tenure as the longest serving member of the Mother Church.  In 2002, the NYFC and the trustee board of the parent body established a national scholarship in memory of Mother Ford.

Elder Dillard served as NYFC president from 1991-1996.  Elder Dillard was elevated to the office of bishop in 1996.  In 2002, Elder Dillard was appointed auxiliary bishop of the NYFC and served in this position until 2009.  Elder Dillard currently is the diocesan bishop for Virginia and chairman of the pastoral council.

In 1996, Elder Keith Nesmith from Andrews, SC was elected the 7th president of the NYFC.  Elder Nesmith came up through the ranks of the NYFC having served on the local, diocese, and national levels.  In 2000, Elder Nesmith commissioned the development of the first website for the NYFC and reinstituted the publication of The Way of the Cross Messenger.  In 2002, under Elder Nesmith’s leadership, as previously noted, the NYFC with the parent body established the Mother Isabell Brooks Ford Scholarship Fund.  Also in 2002, the NYFC recorded its 3rd album, “So Many Things About Jesus.” During Elder Nesmith’s administration, conventions were held in such places as Washington, DC; Norfolk, VA; Baton Rouge, LA; and Martinsville, VA.

After 6 years of service, Elder Nesmith stepped down as NYFC president in 2002.  Although only 42 at the time, Elder Nesmith felt that it was his obligation to give opportunities for younger men to serve as NYFC President.  In 2008, Elder Nesmith was elevated to the office of bishop and currently serves on the national ordination committee and national trustee board.

In 2002, Elder Melvin Easley of Baltimore, MD was elected the 8th president of the NYFC.  As the first non-pastor to serve as president since Deacon John Kearney, Elder Easley had the unique capability to travel to churches to lead youth crusades and revivals to strengthen local youth departments.  During Elder Easley’s administration, the Daughters’ of Destiny and Sons of Zion were instituted to further train and develop the young women and young men in the NYFC.  Also during Elder Easley’s tenure, the NYFC conventions were combined with the General Convocation from 2004-2007 and held in such places as Alexandria, VA; Greensboro, NC; and Henderson, NC.  Elder Easley served as president during the 50th Golden Anniversary of the NYFC in 2004.  Elder Easley conceived the design for the national logo currently in use and in 2005 worked to help establish a church in Greensboro, NC.

Elder Easley served as president from 2002-2007.  In 2008, Elder Easley was elevated to district elder and appointed national evangelist for the Way of the Cross Church of Christ International.

In 2007, at age 29, Elder Travell Travis of Martinsville, VA, was elected the 9th and youngest president of the NYFC.  Elder Travis began working with the NYFC at age 13 having served as Intermediate Youth Vice President (1991-1993); Intermediate Youth President (1993-2000); and Second Vice President (2000-2007).  During his administration, the NYFC initiated the young adult ministry for 18-30 year olds; a national bible bowl tournament; and a national academic recognition service.  In October 2007, the administration revised the mission statement and established core principles for the NYFC.  During his tenure, the administration has worked hard to use current technology to enhance communication with the local churches, in particular by developing a new website in 2007 and through the use of mass e-mail.  The administration is also currently using newly created social networks sites such as Youtube, Facebook and Myspace to reach the youth.  In October 2008, the NYFC hosted the first live webcast of a national meeting; allowing people from all over the world to view jubilee services live via the internet.  In addition to being our current NYFC president, Elder Travis is also a college professor at Hampton University and a licensed attorney.

These vignettes provide a brief glimpse into the activities of the NYFC over the last 55 years.  During this time, the NYFC has been graced with leaders who have gone on to serve with distinction throughout the Way of the Cross body.  The people who have served the NYFC through the years make up a veritable “Who’s Who” of the Way of the Cross Church of Christ International.  The NYFC has served as an effective training ground for men and women who have gone on to become bishops, pastors, first ladies, missionaries, and deacons holding positions on the national, diocese, and local levels.  When the National Youth for Christ was founded, the group selected as its permanent motto the admonition to “Put Christ first and foremost in your life.” The clarion call best expressed the objectives and aims of the organization then, and its relevance is no less important today.

The Way of the Cross Church of Christ International
National Youth for Christ


Mother Isabell B. Ford
Elder Willie Hunter
Deacon John Kearney
Bishop John E. Williams, Sr.
Bishop Alphonzo D. Brooks
Bishop Earley Dillard
Bishop Keith D. Nesmith
District Elder Melvin Easley, Jr.
District Elder Travell Travis, Esq.

Deacon John Kearney
Bishop Alphonzo D. Brooks
Elder Robert Eugene Dargan
Bishop S. David Neal
Elder Scott Miller
District Elder Henry C. Lancaster
District Elder Richard Simon, III
Elder Eric Jackson
Elder O’Brien Echols
Bishop Bennett B. Gamble, Sr.
District Elder Troy V. Carter
Minister Ezra Easley

Bishop Samuel B. Davis
Elder Robert Eugene Dargan
Elder Scott Miller
District Elder Henry C. Lancaster
Bishop Keith D. Nesmith
Bishop John E. Williams, Jr.
Elder Christopher K. Hairston
Bishop Carl W. Miller
District Elder Travell Travis, Esq.
Bishop Eric L. Cannady
Elder Christopher S. Hairston

Deacon John B. Cooper
Bishop Allen Easton
Bishop Terry A. Hicks
Bishop David K. Fuller
Deacon Vernon Spriggs, Sr.
Elder Christopher K. Hairston
Missionary Delphine C. Easley
Elder Eric V. Jackson
Elder O’Brien Echols
Minister Ezra Easley
Elder Eric V. Jackson *
Elder Johnathan Mintz

Missionary Evelyn Mae Williams
Brother Booker Yelder
Sister Emily Crandall
Missionary Evelyn Mae Williams*
Missionary Geraldine Porter
Missionary Margret Johnson
Missionary Queen Spriggs
Missionary Roberta Knight
Missionary Laura Thomas
Missionary Keevie W. Hairston

Sister Leone Davis
Bishop Leroy Washington
Deacon George Hatfield
Deacon James A. Hicks
Bishop Earley Dillard
Bishop Larry Whitfield, Sr.
Deacon Earl Dodson
Elder Johnny Little
Elder Celister Richardson
Deacon Tony Williams
Minister Ezra Easley
Deacon Audi Hicks

* Served non-consecutive terms under different administrations.