It is with a sense of great privilege and deep, deep sadness that I reflect on Mike Yaconelli, what he was to me personally and how he influenced, inspired and blessed the ministry of which I am a part.
In October 2000 I was sitting one evening in a restaurant in the centre of Belfast. Mike Yaconelli sat next to me; Mark Oestreicher, Present of Youth Specialties, sat across from us. We had just finished a training conference for Youth Leaders from Irish churches. Deeply tired yet full of gratitude to God for what He had done through the event it was good to relax and reflect. Suddenly Mike turned to me and announced that he wanted me to be his guest at a Youth Specialties retreat to be held for Youth Pastors and leaders in California the following spring. This retreat changed my life. How and why is another story. What is so terribly important here is that Mike Yaconelli saw exactly what my personal and ministry life was in desperate need of and he was prepared to give me the gift of finding that out through the space created by this 'sabbath' retreat. A gift that I cannot begin to explain, measure or quantify. This was the pastoral Mike.
The prophetic Mike told us in Ireland everything that was hard, difficult and to some, downright offensive. He could not stand our obsessive denominationalism, he hated our Protestant/Catholic divisions, he struggled with our conservative worship. But he loved our love of the bible, he rejoiced in the hoards of young people in our churches and he got blown away by the potential that existed for reaching kids with the news that Jesus loved them no matter how messed up they were. He brought that message to us personally. He gave hundreds of us the vision and passion for a ministry to kids and young people through the YS conventions and resources and he challenged us through his writing to be real and to demand that our churches be real. Real about the struggle of faith. Real about the mistakes we have made as leaders and churches and real about the issues that face 21st century christians. He was an uncomfortable, provocative speaker of truth. Consequently his impact was vast.
I, and many like me in the business of Youth Ministry in Ireland, thank God so much for this man. Isn't it so tragic that we only realise what we had when it is gone. So it is with Mike Yaconelli.
To Karla his wife, Mark his son (who lead that life changing sabbath retreat), his Dad and the rest of his family as well as the YS staff , may the peace of Christ surround you, sustain you and comfort you.
Director of Youth Ministry
Presbyterian Church in Ireland