(Mark Oestreicher, Jeff Thune, and Me at Ped Mall in Iowa City)
This summer is the 20 year anniversary of when I first "got it."
You see, I was a Christian butthead. I grew up in church, prayed "the prayer" every night ("God if you didn't hear me last night, I really don't want to go to hell. I invite you into my life once again as my personal Savior."), but I had a problem. I was an angry, violent, insecure skate punk.
My mom, along with Sally Kuphal (my friend's mom), conspired to get Joe and me on a mission trip to Mexico. They brokered a deal with Marko, the junior high pastor, that we would both go if we could be together the entire 10 days of the trip. And so it happened, we went kicking, but not screaming, because we figured, "Ehh, it can't be that lame if we can be together. We should be able to endure this uncool group for a week."
It was the first time I prayed out loud in a group (other than my family), saw poverty, got caught up in corporate worship, felt "called" to something bigger than skating, made friends other than Joe... (One of them I'm currently planting a church with. Cosmic accident?)
I look back on that summer as one of the top ten defining moments of my life.
But somewhere in the middle- between a 13 year old spoiled American skate punk and a loving and good God- was a junior high pastor who believed that 13 year olds are worth it.
Nineteen years later, as divine providence would have it, Jeff Thune and I got a Facebook message from our old junior high pastor, "Hey, I'm in Iowa City doing some training for youth pastors. I heard you guys are here! Let's hang out." Of course, 20 years later he's going stronger than ever, loving teenagers (he still has a small group at his church) and training youth workers (he travels the world, speaking, writing, and mentoring).
From 13 year old punk to 33 year old church planter. That's me. I have a trail of people to thank along the way.
Thanks, Marko, for believing that teenagers can change the world. Bless you, my friend.
P.S.- You can find Marko at markoestreicher.com