In 1994, I drove a rusty old van from Minneapolis to Chicago for Youth Specialties’s National Youth Workers Convention. I was an exhibitor for a little start-up mission organization called, YouthWorks. I had purchased a used display, blown up some photos of our mission trips, and put velcro on the back to hang on the display. I’d also made up a brochure on my Mac Powerbook 100 and printed 1,000 copies on some leftover paper in the office that we’d been given.
When I arrived in Chicago, I didn’t have the money to pay for the union workers to rig up the YouthWorks booth, so I drove up to the front entrance of the Hilton and flagged down an elderly bellman. I handed him a $50 bill and said that if he could get all my boxes to my booth space without being accosted by union workers, I’d give him another $50. He did, and I did.
I set up the booth and handed out brochures all weekend. As I dropped the brochure in youth workers’ bags I’d say, “Affordable mission trips.”
I did that for three years until I left the employ of YouthWorks to work as a pastor in 1997. In 1999, Tic Long of Youth Specialties and said that YS had added a third city, St. Louis, to their offerings, and he was wondering if I’d teach a “critical concerns course” with Brian McLaren on “postmodern youth ministry.” I think Tic may have gotten the idea from Mark Oestreicher who was at that time the publisher at YS and had contracted me to write a eponymous book.
This year I’m back at the NYWC, and back in the Exhibit Hall. I’m here to promote and network on behalf of sparkhouse, for whom I work part-time. More specifically, I’m telling folks about re:form, which is, quite honestly, the best confirmation curriculum ever created. I know I sometimes hyperbolize, but in this case I’m not. It really is the best.
While it’s not as emotional for me to be back as it is for Marko, I do feel his pain to a certain extent. Speaking on the big stage was a high, for sure, and an affirmation that my message was appreciated and valued by the community of youth workers. But when I was a speaker, I made a point to walk through the exhibit hall every year and talk to the exhibitors, since I knew those were my roots. Now YouthWorks owns Youth Specialties, and I’m back in the exhibit hall, again with a product in which I strongly believe.
If you’re here in Nashville, stop by the booth!