I love the YS Conventions. The first time I attended was in Philadelphia in 1997. The theme, Only a Fool, hit me right in the heart as I was in full-on ache to be in youth ministry full time, and attempting some discernment about how, when, where that could even happen, or even if it was supposed to.
I was already a “seasoned” volunteer (who really knew nothing!) of close to 10 years, had never once had a ministry budget. I spent hours wandering around in the store carefully choosing what I could afford to buy with my own money to stretch the most Kingdom impact out of for the kids at the church I was serving. I don’t know if the person who noticed my painstaking browsing was a YS staffer or a volunteer, but after a while that person started talking to me and (because it’s so difficult to do this) pulled my story out of me. She was very encouraging, helped me make some choices and check out my purchases, which came in just a few cents less than what I had to spend.
I went on with my conference day, full of speakers and music and places where God spoke and I listened, places where I spoke and God listened. None of those places was clearer than the sight I beheld upon returning to my hotel room to find the door decorated with handmade signs and streamers thanking me, by name, for loving kids sacrificially. I stood in that hallway and cried. I sat in that hallway and cried some more. Once I could see again, I noticed the bulging white plastic bag of goodies. Much of the resource material I’d considered but left behind in my deliberations was in that bag, along with a signed copy of Following Christ by Joseph Stowell. His talk that weekend was a marker for me, and I’ve re-read or referenced that book a dozen times over the years. An incredible, supernatural bit of affirmation and encouragement, made possible because someone was paying attention.
No surprise, then, that each of the YS Conventions I’ve attended since – I’ve lost count, maybe 5 or 6 – have been with the firm intention of connecting and listening for the purpose of encouraging. While that has looked a little different every time, that’s my heart when I go. That moment of encouragement was pivotal for me in continuing the journey, and I’m willing to bet that YS staffer/volunteer had no idea it would lead to a 20+ year commitment to sharing the Seriously Ridiculous love of Christ with kids and youth workers.
PS – Oh, and thanks, God via YS, for that nice full-circle thing you did on the themes for me, I love it when you do things like that!