I NEVER HAD LUNCH WITH MIKE YACONELLI
I never visited Mike Yaconelli's church in Yreka, California. I was never the victim of his practical jokes. In fact, I never even had a conversation with the man. So why, when I heard of his death, did I react with shock, disbelief and the need to call all of my youth worker friends to help me try to make sense of the tragedy? Why, in the grief-tinged week following, did I continually visit the Youth Specialties website and try to remember all of the times I had seen Mike? It was oddly comforting to remember that I had been at his last convention. I had participated in his last Bible study. I had heard his last speech.
I am one of those on the outer ring of Mike's influence. There are those even farther out. In my 18 years of youth ministry, God has blessed me with hundreds of youth. They have never heard the name Mike Yaconelli - but he has made an impact on them in ways they will never know! You came to youth group with a friend and had a blast playing some crazy games? Thank Youth Specialties. You learned something about yourself and about God in a serious discussion in Sunday school? It was initiated by a Youth Specialties Talk Sheet. You committed your life to Jesus Christ on a weekend retreat? Guess where the retreat outline originated?
My volunteers are closer into Mike's sphere of influence. Yaconelli? Of course they remember the name. They also remember the out-of-control guy on the volunteer training videos! They not only remember the crazy humor, the irreverent stories, and some practical advice, they remember feeling affirmed and valued for loving kids in Christ's name.
Affirmed and valued. The cynics may look at Youth Specialties conventions as exercises in merchandizing and marketing. Those who have spent a year of 60-hour weeks cleaning out the church van, running yet another fund-raiser for the summer mission trip, and fighting battles within our churches, our culture and ourselves know better. Youth workers hear the pain and struggles of teenagers. Mike always gave the impression that healong with the convention staff heard the pain and struggles of youth workers.
Heard and cared. Cared enough to get the very best in speakers and entertainment. Cared enough to make us feel loved and encouraged us to rest and love ourselves. Cared enough to then challenge us to pick ourselves up, take a breath and return to our responsibility to God and our youth.
Mike's legacy? How about the concept of messy spirituality? Messy spirituality? You bet. It isn't easy to forgive the junior higher who pulls a chair out from under a volunteer leader. It isn't easy to keep an orderly office or make yourself take time to read your Bible when you're constantly running out the door to a high school football game or winter retreat. It isn't easy to love anyone after a lock-in. Maybe youth leaders know better than almost anyone does why we need a savior. Mike taught us that.
I never had lunch with Mike Yaconelli, but I'm one of thousands who can say that he made a difference in my life. Well done, good and faithful servant. We can't wait to hear how you shake things up on "the other side"!
Peggy Osborne, Christ United Methodist Church, Bethel Park, PA