Thursday, May 29, 2008

Be Real - Lesson Learned Series

Recently I had an opportunity to go into a local jail in my city…no it wasn’t because I was sent there for doing something wrong. I was approached by a friend of mine who leads a weekly Bible study with the “Juvies” with the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry. He goes every Wednesday, and meets with any of the young men who want to join him for about an hour in a Bible study and discussion time.

I’ve had lots of experience over the years working in and around the prison and court system, but it’s been a while since I’ve been involved in a regular group like that. So I accepted his invitation and sat in on his group. There were about 10 young men in the room and even though we didn’t get into all the things they did that got them placed in this facility, I could tell there were years and years of pain and poor choices represented in that room.

They were very open to the leading and discussion guiding of my friend, and it was a lot of fun to help answer questions and point them to the source, which is Jesus.

After the class was over, I sat in with the Prison Chaplain as he led one of his groups that day as well. His group was not the Juvies, no these guys were hardcore! I sat in a room surrounded by murderers, rapists, and who knows whatever else got them where they were. It was interesting as I watched the Chaplain interact with these guys. I mean he knew what they had done, he knew every detail but yet he addressed each guy with love and respect and challenged them with the truths of God’s word in a way that was inspiring and filled with hope.

He didn’t water it down; he didn’t make the message soothing so that these guys would like him…no he gave it to them straight up. He told them that according to God’s word because of their sin they deserved death, he told them that separation from God in hell for eternity was where we all deserve to go because of our sin, but because of Jesus we can have eternal life which is the furthest thing from what we really deserve. He was real, honest, open, tough and full of Hope with these guys who were doing time for what they did.

As he was speaking so truthfully it reminded me of the first time I took my youth group to Adventure Camp in West Virginia. It was a miracle that we were even allowed to go in the first place especially after the parents meeting I had in order to explain and convince them that it was going to be all right to take their kids rafting, rappelling, and Mountain Biking for a week in the New River Gorge of WV.

I think it was probably the “Assumption of Risk” form that they had to sign that made them a little edgy. The form said “All of the activities at Adventure Camp have an element of risk involved. You are assuming the risk for your child…If they get hurt or die you are releasing the camp, and won’t sue!”

Yeah that was an interesting meeting, but the bottom line was that I knew that if we could get our kids out of their comfort zone and challenge them with some things they would probably never get do, we would start to see some qualities like, faith, teamwork, unity and trust begin to emerge.

Well, they bought it, and we loaded up the van and headed south to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia for a week of fun and challenge through extremely risky adventures like rafting, rappelling and mountain biking.

Everything was going great; we were ready to tackle our first challenge of the week, whitewater rafting the class 3-5 rapids of the lower New River. We got our life jackets, oars and helmets on and proceeded to the waiting area where the guides were assembled to go over the rules and expectations for the day. We were really excited and full of anticipation; there were smiles galore, as we thought about how awesome this day was going to be.

Excitement abounded, that is until the head guide stepped to the front and for the next 30 minutes explained to us how risky this adventure really is. He didn’t pull any punches. He had kind of a monotone low speaking voice that would get louder and louder until he would come to his crescendo, which was also the main point he wanted to deliver to us. It went something like this…

“Ladies and gentleman it is my job to inform you of the inherent risks, and dare I say DANGERS of what we are about to partake of today. Rafting may look like a fun sport to the novice, and fun it is, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the crucial elements that you need to abide by if you want to come back from this trip ALIVE!”

What? I sat in the back of the group, and when he proclaimed that little gem, every single one of my leaders and students swiveled their heads in my direction and glared the most hideously evil glare I have ever seen in my life. Without words they were saying to me “Pastor Brent, what have you done? Have you brought us out of our land of comfort to die here in this gorge? Dude, when we get back… if we get back, you are SO FIRED!”

I admit I was a little concerned as well especially when the guide continued his explanation of each of the pieces of equipment that would hopefully keep us alive on the trip. Here’s basically what he said…

“Ok, if you want to come back alive, actually enjoy this day, and experience the incredible things we’re going to experience here’s what you need to know about your equipment. See this yellow plastic hat? It’s called a helmet, it belongs on your head at all times, it is a very important device because if…I mean… when you get flipped out of the raft today and your head hits a rock…if you don’t have your helmet on (Insert Crescendo) YOU’RE GONNA DIE!

See this oar? This oar is a very important tool, it will help direct you and your fellow raft mates through very treacherous waters today…if…I mean… when it gets stuck under a rock it will act like a catapult and send you flying across the river, usually headlong into a rock, which if you don’t have your helmet on and firmly fastened (insert crescendo) YOU’RE GONNA DIE!

See this beautifully adorned floatation device? It’s called a life jacket…key word…LIFE! If…I mean… when you get tossed, chucked, launched and or catapulted out of the raft, and fly headlong across the river and hit a rock, you may have a temporary reprieve since you were wearing your helmet, but if you don’t have your life jacket on and securely fastened, you’re going to find yourself swimming with the fishes and (insert crescendo) YOU’RE GONNA DIE!”
At this point those evil looks that my group was giving me had turned into some serious laser guided death glares complete with a few hand motions of clenched fists being shaken in my general direction.

What had I done? Why did I bring my group on this adventure experience only to be known as the Youth Pastor who went to camp with 20 kids and returned with maybe half of them? Why couldn’t we have just gone to “Kumbaya Camp” like every one else? I felt so bad, until the guide began his monotone caveat to his previous truth filled monologue of death.

Here’s what he said, and I am so glad he added this next part, not only because i
t relieved some of the pressure from me, but it became the theme for our week, and for many of our kids, for the rest of their lives…He said…

”You know guys, life isn’t easy, in fact it’s downright dangerous, and too many times in life people set out without knowing the real deal. Today I want you to know the real deal, but you know what, if I stopped there and didn’t tell you the rest of the story what a message of doom that would be. You know God is that way as well, He wants us to know that there are dangers out there, the devil is sneaking around ready to pounce, but if we follow Jesus’ way and obey His commands for our lives, we will experience life in a way that others can only dream of…Today on this rafting trip, I want you to obey the rules, keep alert, trust your equipment and more than anything follow the guide! You see if you follow the guide, you will not only come back alive, you will experience (Insert Crescendo) THE RUSH OF YOUR LIFE!
The Christian life is that way as well, if you keep your eyes on the Guide (Jesus) He will lead you through tough, choppy, class 5, 6, and 7 waters and even though you may not understand it at the time, you will look back on it and realize that He knew what He was doing all along, and was right there with you in your boat…That’s the real deal! Now who wants to go rafting?" (Insert Eruption and mass jubilation from the crowd).

What an incredible day we had...each adventure was introduced in a similar way, and each adventure taught us in vivid fashion what things like, faith, trials, pain, hardship, trust and Salvation are all about.
The guides gave it to us Real, and my group responded, in fact they responded so much, that for the next 12 years or so every single year we took a group to experience the life changing adventure that events like rafting and rappelling afford to those who are willing to obey and follow the lead of the guide.
So as I sat there watching the prison chaplain being authentically real with his group, and realizing how it’s so crucial for us to speak the truth in love, even when it’s hard, I was reminded again of how incredible God’s plan really is, and I was challenged to be real with the group of inmates that I’ll be meeting with each week.
You see, not only was I watching and observing that day…the Chaplain invited me to take a group of hardcore inmates who know all about the real deal of life, but now need to know the real deal about life to it’s fullest through Jesus.

My wife and I prayed about it, and the other day I accepted the invitation to go into the city jail every Wednesday (when I’m not traveling), and BE REAL with my group of guys who need to know more than anything the caveat to the monologue of death which is…

”If you follow the guide, you will not only come back alive, you will experience (Insert Crescendo) THE RUSH OF YOUR LIFE!”

Lesson Learned

Monday, May 26, 2008

Masek's Insights to the Lesson Learned Series

Last week I wrote a Lesson Learned article called "Worst Ever?" - Here are Bill Masek's Insights into what I wrote...

Masek's Insights (for a lack of a better name)
What can I learn from your lesson since I know you are not telling us to practice being inadequate? I have found there is only one time that is beneficial to seem inadequate... and that is when you are dealing with the opposite sex.

For instance, I remember being in the college laundry room looking very inadequate trying to clean my clothes. The next thing I know there is some strange female doing my laundry and folding my clothes. The only thing that I learned was to always look pathetic when doing laundry, or vacuuming, or washing dishes... the same thing goes for girls who want guys to fix their car or carry something heavy.

Unfortunately or really fortunately God is not that naive for us to take advantage of Him. So as I said, trying to be inadequate to let God shine brighter probably wouldn't work in the long run.
Besides God working in spite of our flaws, what is the common thread in all of Brent's examples? Being ready to do whatever God asks 24/7! For all of us, there are going to be times when our tries are less than stellar and we feel like fools. We know that we will never be perfect, but at least there was an attempt. God can work through attempts and show His power and glory through these jars of clay He calls humanity.

It is when we don't try, or have excuses of why we didn't do something that God cannot work through us. We are not defeated until we decide we will not do what He calls us to do. To this day I think Nike's motto "Just Do It!" is the best advice.

The younger generation will always model what the generation before them is doing. It is up to us whether they will be a generation who will try to do amazing and impossible things, or a generation of emotionally paralyzed people who do not know how to succeed, actually do not even know how to try to succeed.

It's time that we all start being fools for Christ. It's not about trying to look like a fool, we do just fine without trying, but being a fool because the world cannot believe we have enough faith in God to believe it is worth trying the outrageous and unbelievable.

I've said it may times to Brent, "You are a fool, don't stop being this fool. You are a fool for preaching while drugged up. You are a fool to not only be at an all night-er but trying to preach to a bunch of teens at 4am. You are also a fool for being a youth pastor, and even more of a fool to give that all up and be a missionary that trains other fools." Again Brent, don't stop being this Fool.

The only question is, how can we become more foolish?
Time we all start being a little more foolish.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Who are you Living for?

A few weeks ago I took a trip down memory lane as I was visiting my home town. I had some time to kill, so I visited some places that hold a special place in my memories. I'm talking about The Little League, Babe Ruth and Thorne Street Basketball parks in my old stomping grounds of Horseheads, NY.

Three parks that bring back so many memories every time I just drive by, and now this time I actually got out and walked around, and observed the very places that my brother and I along with many friends spent tons of hours growing up.

I remembered some of the pep talks I received in the dugout, as well as some of the trash talk I dolled out on the court. Those were good times, good times for sure. As I strolled down memory lane though, I realized that the things that motivated my energies and efforts of 25-30 years ago, have failed to materialize for me, I mean I was like every other kid playing and working on those fields...I wanted to make it to the big time, make lots of cash, drive a nice car, live in a huge house, and be famous. The bottom line really was that I wanted to be known, and remembered for being the best!

This video clip from the movie "Facing the Giants" really puts it into perspective. When it's all said and done what really matters is who we're living for...Ourselves or God.

Trophies will tarnish, rewards will fade, and accolades will become empty...but a life lived for God and His purposes is what it's all about.

Who are you living for?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Insights to the Lesson Learned Series - Introducing Bill Masek

I wanted to let you know that a very good friend of mine named Bill Masek is going to be writing some insights into what I've been writing about in the Lesson Learned Series.

Bill and I served together in ministry during many of the things I've written about, and he's one of those guys that always caused me to pause and ponder what God is doing, and what He is potentially trying to say to me. Bill has his Masters Degree in Counseling, and was used of God then and is still being used of God now in my life and ministry. Here's an excerpt from one of his writings where he puts the relationship that he and I have in ministry into perspective...

"The first time I really connected with Brent wasn't a verbal conversation as much as it was a look that we gave each other from 100 feet away. There we were, having a few years hearing about each other through mutual friends, meeting at a few youth events, but never connecting. I found myself as a leader heading off to do a missions trip with Brent's youth group without much of a conversation between us. Here we are in a major airport with 25 teens and 10 leaders and I figured out what my job should be without even discussing it with Brent. Since I had been on 10 youth missions trips in the past I knew there should always be youth leader bringing up the rear of the back to make sure that none of the teens gets lost in the shuffle. I positioned myself there with out Brent knowing, and as we began to load onto the plane Brent looked back to make sure there was a leader bringing up the rear. He looked back to see if someone was there, I looked back at him with a nod that spoke a million words. Without conversation and even time to know each other we both understood that we were on the same page...."
Bill, is a great resource and a great encourager and I'm so glad to be able to post his insights from a counseling perspective to my articles.

We're looking for a good name for his series of responses so if you have anything catchy let me know.

Here's an example of he will be doing.... I wrote the article called Excuses, Excuses as a Lesson that I learned that will hopefully serve as an example to youth leaders of things to avoid or ways to process similar situations that they will face in the future.

Bill read what I wrote and brought a counselor's perspective to the situation that will help the reader learn some potential reasons behind why I did what I did, so they can also deepen the learning in their lives, as well as in some cases, totally avoid the dumb mistake all together (mistakes like posting this picture to illustrate exactly how Bill served in a leadership role on our team by filling in and serving where needed, even if it was the back of the bus...but I have no idea how to crop out the fact that the student behind me is scratching her nose...I was there it was a scratch not a pick...Lesson Learned)

Here is what Bill wrote about the Excuses, Excuses article...

If only you could go back and let "Junior High Brent" know that most likely most guys his age, in the same circumstances would end up doing the same thing. Even at the age of 37 I think if I ran across an episode of Scooby Do I would sit there with great expectation hoping that Scrappy would appear. We can admit that now, but back in those teen years we do not have the realization that almost every guy is in the same shoes that we are. If we haven't grown out of cartoons by the time we are forty we certainly hadn't grown out of them during our Jr. High days. A truth like that would have saved all of us a lot of shameful feelings about ourselves.

Isn't that what God does to excuses, He brings truth to them. Whether we are talking about Moses or our own lives, He sees through our excuses and calls us on them. Moses' excuses were based on feeling inadequate and insecure with who he was. God didn't give Moses a chance to believe his own excuse of why he was the wrong person for the job, and right away God made it about who He was and not Moses.

As I walk away from your article I am realizing that we have to look at excuses from two perspectives. First is on a personal level where we all need to reflect on how we label our own excuses. What are we trying to hide with our excuses. Maybe we make excuses to put the blame on others, or maybe our excuses are made to hide our ugliness from the rest of the world. Either way, and no matter what the reason is that we make so many excuses, God wants us to call things as they are, and with this action we can have freedom.

The second perspective is seeing how we can use others excuses as ministry opportunities. Whether there is truth in the excuse or not, there are opportunities to open the door for deeper conversations. In the example of your "bizarre excuse", I am sure the young musician wasn't late to practice because of the incident the night before. He got away with not having to give a truthful account of why he was late because everyone was preoccupied with his injured face. For this teen he used his "victimization" to hide the truth. Imagine what could have been revealed if at some point you took him aside and said, "I'm sorry your nose got caught up in the bass, but can I ask why you were actually late tonight?"

I think people gain respect when they challenge someone's excuse, especially if it is a real poor one. Even more important, I think people gain respect when they reveal truth in someones life. As a youth leader, once you prove that you care and cannot have the wool pulled over your eyes then teens tend to listen and be more truthful. This kind of happened with Jesus and the woman at the well. As soon as the woman realized Jesus knew everything about her she knew that there was something divine about Jesus. With that realization about Him, she opened up and gave her whole life to Him. Likewise we shouldn't let these ministry opportunities go by. With an excuse there is a shame, hurt, embarrassment and/or ego that needs to be healed and freed.

See what I mean...good stuff! I'm excited about bringing these insightful tid-bits to the blog, so be looking for more of them in the future...if you have a catchy name let me know, Bill and I will send an autographed copy of our first book to the winner (you're patience will be tested, I wonder what Bill would say that that tells about a person?)

Leave a comment with some catchy names for Bill's Series...thanks!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sitting at the Kid's Table - Lesson Learned Series

Recently I had a chance to spend some time with my extended family at a graduation. My sister in law received her Master’s Degree, and several members of the family were in attendance to witness this milestone in her life.

The graduation ceremony went very well, the singers, the readers, the testimony givers and everyone involved in the program did their jobs without a hitch. The message that was delivered by the College President was concise and straight to the point; it was shaping up to be an awesome day of celebration.

The Graduates were each called by name to walk across the stage to receive a piece of parchment that costs thousands of dollars, and I’m sure countless hours.
I remember sitting there taking it all in, listening to the cheers when the family members of the named graduate walked across the stage, and watching the scurry of the designated picture taker as she got in the perfect spot to snap the shot when her family member or friend’s name was called.

It was fun for me to watch all of this going on in the crowd, and it made me think of how much each graduate must be loved, and appreciated.
I mean if they weren’t why would they be there? Why would family and friends brave terrible weather, long distances, crowded roads, and less than comfortable chairs to sit and watch them walk across a stage?

Why? Because they’re known, loved, appreciated and on this particular day…Respected!

It made me think of another very special occasion in my household growing up, where everything on the outside said “we love you, appreciate you and respect you”, but based on the actual appearance of things and actually the configuration of the table and chairs; a very different message was being communicated.

I’m talking about Thanksgiving Dinner, at my Grandma & Grandpa’s house, sitting at the Kid’s Table!

You know the kid’s table don’t you? It’s the broken down, rickety old, cob web covered card table that your grandparent’s drag out each and every year for occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and Graduation celebrations.

In theory I understand the concept of the Kid’s Table; its purpose is to provide a place for the young ones because the big table doesn’t have enough room. Ok, I understand that it’s usually due to a space or seating issue that the kid’s table is needed, but let’s think a moment about what message it’s sending.

Here are a few potential messages that the kid’s table is sending to those sitting at it…

· You’re a second class citizen (only the adults matter around here)
· You’re not worthy of the succulent delicacies present at the big table (bologna, fruit salad and sippy cups compared to Turkey, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy and all the trimmings)
· Your opinion isn’t important (I mean when is the last time a member of the kid’s table has ever interjected a discussion topic that enhances the spiritual, emotional, and mental capacities of those lounging at the big table?)
· You have to reach a certain age and or height to be deemed worthy of the big table (much like many young people are treated when they want to step up and step out in a leadership role)

Now, I’m just having a little fun with this whole kid’s table thing because after all, I was given food, drink, comfort and surrounded by family during each and every gathering. I surely didn’t miss many meals, so I’m not really complaining, just pointing out that fact that I think we need to be careful that what we say matches up with what we truly believe, because messages can easily be misinterpreted if we’re not careful.

Each and every kid’s table experience for me came with "sippy cups and bologna", but also came with hugs, kisses, and words of encouragement from family members who loved me.

What if I didn’t have that? What if I was left to decipher what I was seeing, as a reality statement from those around me? Statements like “You don’t matter”, “Your opinion doesn’t count” and “You’re a second class citizen” would start to trickle down into my psyche, and as they say “perception becomes reality.” I would’ve been in a bad place mentally and spiritually that’s for sure.

So, as I process a very cool graduation ceremony for a very special member of my family, where I saw love, appreciation, community, and respect put on display, I'm thinking about the messages spoken or unspoken that I'll send to my son as he graduates from Kindergarten in a few weeks.

I’m just so thankful that God is there with camera in hand, ready to let out a cheer when our name is called and we walk across the stage, whether it's kindergarten or for our Phd.

He loves us, accepts us, and has prepared a place for us.
In fact there is plenty of room at His banqueting table. I don’t believe there is a Kid’s Table with Him, we’re all welcome and encouraged to bring friends, because there’s plenty to go around!
Lesson Learned

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Standing Out - YMInsights Series

12/02/2007 – Journal Entry - Kenya
• 9am – 2pm – Attended Church
o I was picked up by Willis and we went to Ruiru Baptist Church

o Sylvester introduced me to tons of people and I felt overwhelmingly welcomed from the moment I stepped into the church. I was struck by the fact that I was the only white face as far as the eye could see but not one person looked at me and showed any signs of surprise or judgment or anything negative…I got the same welcome from everyone…that was so cool!

Have you ever stood out? You know you were visiting a foreign place, whether it is a country, city, new school, new church, new job or whatever. What feelings did you have? What thoughts were going through your mind? Were you scared or excited?

I know when I was in Kenya in December 2007; I was all of the above and more. This was new territory for me, and man did I stand out. I mean everywhere I went I felt the eyes of people who had just as many questions for me as I had for them. Eyes that were at times piercing, and at other times wondering…who is this guy, what’s he all about, where’s he from?

It’s interesting how we make observations and assumptions about people before we even know them, and many times our observations turn into judgment statements before those judgments have been tested.

I know I often find myself doing that with people from time to time, and that’s why on this particular trip to Kenya, I was so moved by the overwhelming welcome and encouragement from a group of people who knew nothing about me, except that I was a Giant Mazoongu (white dude in Swahili).

In fact I had the kids laughing at one point when I told them in Mexico the kids called me gigantor in Spanish because I’m so much bigger than them. It wasn’t long and I heard shouts of “Gigantor Mazoongu, Gigantor Mazoongu”, and we all laughed and laughed.

I’ve been working on processing my thoughts, feelings and experiences from that trip, and I just remember feeling like everywhere I went I stood out, people were locked in on my every move, and focusing on every little thing I said and did. It was pretty incredible in some ways, and pretty intimidating in others, but the bottom line for me was that people were curious to find out more.

You know, I wondered if that is how people view me back home. Watching to see what I say and what I do, not because I’m some great person but because I’m a Christ follower, and I stand out from the crowd...or do I?

In Kenya I stood out for sure because of my ethnicity and skin color, but it made me pause and ask myself if my lifestyle matches up with what I claim to be true or if I just blend in with the crowd.

Standing out is a tough thing, because wherever the spotlight is shining it gets hot, and when we step up and stand out for our faith, it’s as if a bulls-eye is painted right on our chest. Everyone is watching and waiting for you to do one of several things. Maybe they're waiting for you to trip up and show yourself a hypocrite or maybe they’re waiting for you to do something amazing for God and give Him all the glory.

Whatever their motives are, whenever we stand out the paparazzi are out in force, with cameras ready to snap away.
I’ve never been a big fan of standing out in sports, or music or anything in pop-culture because I've seen so many one-hit wonders in my day, but I’m learning more and more that that’s exactly what Jesus wants us to do...Not be a one hit wonder, but be a faithful, steady testimony of God's love and grace to others. When we live that way, we're bound to stand out!

He doesn’t want a bunch of chameleons that blend in with every fad and trend that the world offers.
No He wants us to step up, and stand out for Him. It’s a tough deal, but is exactly what He called His disciples to do, and is what He is calling us to do as well. The only problem is that many times we stand out in the wrong ways and for the wrong reasons.
It’s not about earning some magical brownie points with God if we’re “martyred” for our faith, it’s more about learning to be so much like Christ that the counter-cultural nature of His plan in our lives shows us for who we really are in Him…aliens and strangers in a peculiar place. A place that is not our home, but a place that we’ve been called to live life to it’s fullest in all of God’s power and strength.

When I was in Kenya, I definitely stood out, and it is my prayer that In the US, and everywhere I go, I would stand out because God’s way really is the best way, and His way isn’t about comfort, convenience or even camouflage. No it’s about showing the world the difference that the difference maker has made in our lives, and amplifying that truth wherever we go, and to whoever we meet.

Jesus is calling us to stand out, because he stood out, and is drawing all people to Himself, it’s amazing to me that He wants us involved in that process.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

WOW What a Year!

This week marks the one year anniversary of joining the Youth Ministry International team, and wow, what a year it has been.

We have seen God do some amazing things over the course of this past year, and it has been an exciting ride. I’ve blogged about most of the events that are listed below, so rather than go into detail in this post; I thought I would just list the month, and the event as a visual of what I’ve been up to and where God has taken me over the course of 1 year.

The upcoming months are starting to take shape as well, and it will be incredible to see what God has planned, as we continue to represent Him and the causes of International Youth Leader Training, and Leadership Development worldwide.

We would love to come to your church, camp, conference, retreat or whatever, so take a look at your schedule and let us know how our ministry can partner with you.

Thanks to everyone who has prayed for and contributed financially to our ministry, it’s working; God is using us for His purposes!

We are not at full support yet, so we’d appreciate your continued prayers with us regarding that. We know God is faithful, and will provide.

The “Lesson Learned” and “YMInsights” article series have both been getting some traction with people, so we’re really thankful for that, and it’s been fun interacting with readers, and discussing how God is using the articles in His own ways in people’s lives.
Well, besides, writing, consulting, counseling, providing logistics and encouraging our international trainers, here’s what I’ve been up to this past year…God is certainly good!

January 2007
· Taught YM 102 Youth Culture at Kiev Seminary, Kiev, Ukraine

February 2007
· Strategy Meetings, Louisville, KY

April 2007
· Spoke at Flower City Work Camp, Rochester, NY

July 2007
· Led Missions trip to Reynosa, Mexico
· Facilitated Personal Leadership Development Seminar with YMI missionaries, Redding, CA

August 2007
· Led Adventure Camp trip to Beckley, West Virginia
· Spoke at Fishkill Baptist Church, Fishkill, NY
· Spoke at Rev-Hi Youth Event, Rochester, NY

September 2007
· Spoke at Centerpoint Church, Concord, NH
· Spoke at Student Ministries at North Baptist Church, Rochester, NY

October 2007
· Led PLD Seminar and CTG Seminar at Word of Life Conference, Schroon Lake, NY
· Officiated Wedding and did ministry in Poughkeepsie, NY
· Spoke at Missions Conference at True Memorial Baptist Church, Rochester, NH
· Represented YMI at Missions Emphasis, Eastern University, Philadelphia PA

November 2007
· YMI Board Meeting, Louisville KY
· Spoke at Camp “Be The Change” at Ruiru Bible Church, Ruiru, Kenya

December 2007
· Spoke at Kenya Baptist Theological College, Limuru, Kenya
· Spoke at North Baptist Church, Rochester, NY

January 2008
· Taught YM 102, Youth Culture at Kiev Seminary, Kiev, Ukraine
· Spoke at KTS student ministry, Kiev, Ukraine

February 2008
· Spoke at Countryside Church. Contoocook, NH
· Spoke at ICYM Event, and Taught YM classes at Boyce College, Louisville, KY

March 2008
· Spoke at Rev-Hi Youth Event, Rochester, NY

April 2008
· Spoke at Flower City Work Camp, Rochester, NY
· Spoke at North Baptist Church, Rochester, NY
· Spoke at Tabernacle Chapel, Poughkeepsie, NY
· Spoke at The Community at Creekside, Poughkeepsie, NY
· Spoke at Tabernacle Baptist Church, Poughkeepsie, NY

Each of these places and events has a bunch of stories and situations attached to them, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to interact and engage with each person, place and ministry opportunity.
The above pictures were taken in Kenya, and the two guys are Massai Warriors that I met when I was there. I got an interesting lesson in culture as I got to know them. It was kind of funny when the guy on the left was interrupted during a conversation I was having with him…on HIS CELL PHONE! Technology even in the Massai Mara!

The next several months will include ministry trips to Virginia, Florida, Malaysia, Western NY, and the Hudson Valley, with several more possibilities in the works...One year down, and God willing many more to go…thanks for your prayerful support!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Thank You Youth Leader - You Just Hang On

This video clip and the following article say it all...Thank You, Youth Leader! Don't give up...You Just Hang On, you are making a difference!

You Just Hang On
by: Mike Yaconelli

I don't know why volunteers volunteer.

I don't understand why most professional youth workers decide to stay in ministry. Most of you are underpaid, unappreciated, disrespected, mistreated, and abandoned.

Oh, I know there are exceptions. There's a small minority of youth workers who are paid adequately and treated well, but the rest—the majority—are beaten down, burned out, and constantly criticized.

We just finished our three national youth worker conventions, and I was once again made painfully aware of how badly most youth workers are treated by the churches they serve.

All about the Numbers

One youth worker told me his job is now in jeopardy because his senior pastor recently went to a mega-church seminar and decided they're now going to become a mega-church, too. The pastor returned and announced, "You need to get with the program or think about going somewhere else. Your youth group is way too small, so you need to step up to the plate."

Now here's the crazy truth. In the majority of churches, if your youth group numbers run around ten percent of the total congregation, you're normal. Ten thousand in your church? One thousand kids. One hundred in your congregation? Ten kids. It really doesn't matter if you're Ed Schmuck or Doug Fields; ten percent ain't bad.

Sadly, for many churches it's all about numbers, and the youth workers in these churches end up judging their own worth and ministries by how many kids attend their events. Lots of kids? You're doing a great job. Few kids? You're worthless.

But for many youth workers, it isn't the lack of numbers that's killing you, it's the constant criticism that eats at your soul and makes you wonder why you're doing this.

Constant Criticisms

You're bringing in the wrong kids. "You were hired to minister to the children of our church, not to bring in 'riff-raff' from the outside. Those kids could have a negative influence on the good kids we have." Hmmm. I thought the wrong kids were the right kids. I didn't realize youth workers were hired just to baby-sit the church kids so mom and dad could have some time to themselves.

The kids misbehave. They're too loud (so is their music), they don't sit still in church, or they don't even bother to come. They're rude, and they often interrupt or ask disruptive questions. And they dress weird. Can't you talk to them about the way they dress, especially for church?

You have too many programs. Oh, they want you to have lots of options, lots of things for the kids to do, as long as it doesn't interfere with sports, drama, ballet, SATs, college visits, etc. Any time there's a conflict between a church camp and football camp, you're supposed to understand which is more important…and it isn't the church camp. When one youth worker suggested that spending a weekend thinking about God was more important than the regional finals in swimming, she was told she needed to get her priorities straight.

The youth don't respect property. How many times do you get in trouble because of a stain on the carpet, a mark on the wall, trash in the parking lot, or cigarette butts in the Jones Memorial Rose Garden? Or kids sitting on the "holy" furniture, lying on the floor, or leaning against the wall? I'm sorry, but I thought the building was meant to be used. I thought stains, marks, and kids all over the place were good things. I didn't realize that protecting the building was more important than using it.

The kids are dangerous. "Why, I was almost knocked over by a skateboarder. Can't you do something about them?" Yeah, I guess you should tell the skater kids not to come, so the churchy folks will feel more comfortable. Bummer, too, because I thought the fact that skateboarders want to be at our church would be a cause for celebration—not a nuisance to be eliminated.

You make mistakes. Duh. Of course you make mistakes. That's what happens when you follow Jesus with passion. Mistakes are part of success. Mistakes validate your ministry, because it means you're taking risks.

No wonder so many youth workers call it quits after 18 months. No wonder volunteers decide to un-volunteer. What's a wonder is how many youth workers decide to stick it out. You keep going even when your budgets are cut, your salaries lowered, and your integrity questioned. Your lives have been ruined by your callings. What can you do? You just hang on because…well…because Jesus hung on (if you know what I mean).

I'm in awe of youth workers, and I think Jesus is, too. I just wish the Church felt the same.