Full Circle at the National Youth Workers Convention

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.

That began a 10-year run of speaking at the NYWC, culminating with a turn on the big stage in Pittsburgh in 2008 that was, um, shall we say, memorable.

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!


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