in about 1990, 20 years ago, i had two dudes in my middle school ministry in omaha, nebraska. mark arant was a short kid, fairly quiet (at least at church), and not interested in much other than skating. jeff thune was also small, not as quiet as mark, but just starting to individuate himself from only being known as the senior pastor’s kid.
today, those two guys are now 33 year-old men, planting a church in iowa city, iowa.
i’ve followed their stories on an off over the years, thanks to facebook and a few mutual friends. i ran into jeff at a youth worker event about 5 years ago. both guys were youth workers for a while (among other ministry roles). but they felt called to start this church in iowa city that is especially targeted at connecting with the 40,000 students of the university of iowa.
i was in iowa city last weekend for a speaking gig, and had a chance to reconnect with mark and jeff. man, there is just about nothing better for the heart and ongoing calling of a youth worker who’s been around the track a few times to see now-adult former students with a significant faith. i thought i’d have youth ministry fuel for at least a year merely based on the comment mark made as we said goodbye, “hey, thanks for building into us, man.”
but then, i saw this — mark’s blog post from the other day:
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.
i read this to a youth ministry friend who is also “seasoned” and she started crying, even though she’s never met mark and jeff. this is it — this is why we do this thing. this is why. thanks, god; this is why.