YOUTH SPECIALTIES FOUNDER MIKE YACONELLI DIES IN CAR ACCIDENT
By Kathleen LaCamera
Mike Yaconelli's innovative and inspired gift for ministering to young people touched the lives of countless United Methodists and other Christians across the US and beyond. Yaconelli, who founded, "The [Wittenburg] Door" Christian satire magazine and co-founded the Youth Specialties resource company, died in a car accident on October 30 near his home in Yreka, California. He was 61 years old. Yaconelli was driving his father's truck when it veered off the road and hit a light post.
It figures Mike would be doing thathelping someone.
I first met Mike face to face 14 years ago at the Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival in England. He was a frequent and popular speaker at the festival. People, especially young people couldn't get enough of him. I remember being forced to stand well outside the perimeter of the tent where he was speaking because of such large crowds. Afterwards I waited as Mike spoke with fan after fan as they thrust copies of his latest book into his hands for an autograph (Mike was a prolific writer on the subject of Christian spirituality). When at last we spoke, he didn't rush me or inch away. I asked him if he would do a feature interview for a United Methodist television series I worked on called Catch the Spirit. Several months later I, along with a video crew turned up in Yreka, to pay Mike and his wonderful dancer wife, Karla, a visit. They were incredibly gracious and insisted we all stay for a barbeque after we finished filming. From the deck of their home overlooking Mount Shasta, I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever witnessed in my life.
But the first time I really met Mike (though I didn't realize it at the time) was when I was a young associate pastor in DESPARATE need of new material for my youth group. The Door magazine with its outrageous, chaotic and utterly lucid take on all things Christian fed the budding theologian in me, while the program ideas from Youth Specialties resources helped my youth group to thrive.
Mike just knew things about the life of faith. Consider the titles of his latest books: Messy Spirituality: God's Annoying Love for Imperfect People and Dangerous Wonder: The Adventures of Childlike Faith. He knew when to laugh at the ludicrous excesses of piety. He could recognize the holy in the most ordinary in a heartbeat. He had little time for that which separates people from the love and acceptance of Godincluding, at times, the Church. He wanted so much for people, especially young people, to experience the fullest life possible as a child of God. And he did his part in spades to nurture that reality.
However, reading the account of Mike's death in his local paper, the Siskiyou Daily News, the details of Mike's international life were at a minimum. What was there were quotes from local teachers and youth leaders who said that counsellors would have to be brought into the local high school to help the kids there cope with news of Mike's death. The small local church, he helped to found and lead has lost its pastor. This is a man who had a BIG life but still took pleasure in the very small details of home and community. That is a special combination.
Mike's death is an unimaginable loss to his wife, Karla, their five children and four grandchildren. A fifth grandchild is due in January. For many of the rest of us, we'll find it hard to imagine how this lively passionate man could be gone. Because Mike Yaconelli has always been about life. In the wake of all that has happened I imagine him saying, 'Okay you guys. Now all my mouthing off needs to pay off. Get living! For God's sake and for yours."
God bless you, Mike Yaconelli. Godspeed.
A memorial service will be held in San Diego, California on November 15th. Check the Youth Specialties Web site for more details.