Archive for the ‘Youth Specialties’ Category

Six years, 2 months, and 8 days ago, the world of youth ministry and the faith community at large suffered a devastating loss with the death of my husband, Mike Yaconelli.  At the same time, Youth Specialties, the company he co-founded and had shepherded for the previous 30+ years , lost both its compass and its captain. Within a few years, there were signs of the strain the company was under … and not many years after that, its struggle to stay afloat became painfully apparent. Then in 2009, the organization lost its long-time first mate and rudder with the shocking and inexplicable layoff of Tic Long, along with most of the staff who’d been with the company for any length of time.  To say that it was a very dark and sad day would be a huge understatement.  Frankly, at that point, I didn’t expect the organization to survive very long into 2010 … and with the many changes that followed, I’d have bet the farm on that expectation by the final quarter of 2009, even as I held out the hope in my heart (and on my blog) that God was somehow doing a new thing.  Secretly, however, I think a large part of me simply wanted the bleeding to stop and wished that YS would just get it over with and die already. Selfishly, it had just become too painful for me to watch any longer.

When I learned that YouthWorks (an organization Mike and I both loved for many years) was going to acquire Youth Specialties, I was very skeptical. From a purely business perspective, I thought they might be certifiably crazy, because I truly thought it was “game over” for YS … but in my heart, the flame of hope burned a little brighter. Then I was told that Tic was being offered the opportunity to step back in as YS’s Executive Director.  I knew that he had several other offers on the table … did I dare to hope that he would accept this one instead? What I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt was that there was no one on the planet better equipped for the job.  He knew Youth Specialties inside and out, he’d been an irreplaceable leader in the company for 30 years and was largely responsible for its previous halcyon days, and he was unequivocally part and parcel of YS’s heart.  But more importantly, apart from my husband, I couldn’t think of another person who genuinely, truly, passionately, and unabashedly loved youthworkers more than they loved YS or any measure of achievement either personally or organizationally.  And THAT, I knew, had always been the “secret” of Youth Specialties’  “success.”

When Tic told me that he had accepted the “job” … I cried … and hope became “the thing with feathers.”

To say that the past two-thousand-two-hundred-and-fifty-nine days have been unbelievably tumultuous and scary for Youth Specialties would be a huge understatement. By the same token, to say that today is an incredibly hopeful and happy day for youthworkers around the globe would also be a huge understatement … but limited as I am by the confines of the English language, it will have to do.

Today IS an incredibly hopeful and happy day for youthworkers around the globe … and, since I’m all about understatements right now, to say that I am THRILLED is, perhaps, the biggest understatement of all.

Thank you and congratulations, YouthWorks, for your sage understanding and perception in soliciting this incredible leader and youthworker …  and thank you, Tic, for once again rising to the call. Yac is giving you a HUGE “Woo-hooooo!” shout-out from heaven.  May all the glory go to God.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

–Emily Dickinson


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First of all, I want to thank Doug Fields for his support as a guest on Walt Mueller’s blog :

Doug, your words are the voice of authority, objectivity and wisdom amid the throngs of mistaken assumptions and conjecture.  Be assured, Yac is giving you a shout out from heaven.  He truly loved, admired, and respected you, Doug, and you’ve continued to exemplify the humility and character and extreme giftedness he saw in you from the beginning.

In Western society, when something happens that we don’t like or consider “wrong,” unfortunately the tendency of the masses is to try and find someone or something to blame. This is a fear-and-anger-based response rooted in the discomfort and messiness of the unknown.  While the reaction is understandable, I believe God calls us to higher ground:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.  (Philippians 4:8-9, The Message)

It saddens me to know that my decision to sell Youth Specialties to Zondervan more than three years ago is being added to the list of things and people to blame, however I fully understand that sentiment.  Truly, I do, because I’ve had the same thoughts and have second-guessed myself many times over.   Therefore, it is not my intention to be in any part defensive, I simply want youth workers to know the following:

For several years prior to Mike’s death, he and I were actively searching for a way to send Youth Specialties into the future and divest ourselves of its ownership because we knew that, if we continued to own it until he/we were old and gray or died, it would be irresponsible stewardship of the calling and gift God bestowed upon Mike clear back in the late ‘60s. Mike believed his vision for the future of the company was coming to an end.  He was tired, and his life focus was shifting.  He wanted to “retire” (like he would have ever fully done that!), spend more time with the kids and grandchildren, and write. In the late 90s, we had taken the journey of Zondervan purchasing YS. It did not come to fruition for many reasons.  At that time, we were given to understand that the opportunity would probably not circle around again, because then-president, Bruce Ryscamp (who was president for the better portion of our 30-year partnership with Z), would be retiring soon. Taking that to heart, we immediately began pursuing a number of other options.  It kept Mike up at night.  It kept BOTH of us up at night. A lot. At the time of Michael’s tragic death, we had yet to discover a viable opportunity.  After his death, it isn’t that I didn’t want to continue running YS – I couldn’t, for many, many reasons, not the least of which is that I simply could not do it without Mike.  Our partnership in shepherding Youth Specialties was welded at the hip.  We worked side-by-side 24/7.  We talked about Youth Specialties and its future long into the night – almost EVERY night. His weaknesses were my strengths and vice versa.  We were two halves of the same brain.

After Mike’s death, Tic and Marko really stepped up, and I’m ever so grateful that they did, because I was worthless. Nonetheless, I still carried the same weight on my shoulders that Mike and I had before he died:  How to send YS into the future?  Only this time, it was doubly heavy.  Much to my extreme surprise, the opportunity with Zondervan DID come around again in 2006 and, this time, all the puzzle pieces tumbled into place. While I know that things here on earth are not some kind of divine puppet show whereby our decisions and actions carry no weight or are somehow out of our control, I will say that things fell into place in a way that can only be described as “divinely orchestrated.”  With an opportunity before me that Mike and I were anguished to think would never come around again, and with Youth Specialties beginning to show some serious signs of distress, though much prayer, many tears, and with guidance from trusted friends and advisors, I released (sold) YS into the hands of the people who’d been our trusted friends and partners for 30 years.  Given the same circumstances – even knowing what I know now – I’d make the same decision today as I did then.

Despite the fact that much of corporate America is corrupt, I want to unequivocally state that being “for profit” is not synonymous with that corruption.  We’ve never made any bones about the fact that Youth Specialties has ALWAYS been a “for-profit” company.  From its inception, Mike wanted it to be absolutely clear that Youth Specialties was not hiding underneath the umbrella of “not for profit” as were so many of the television ministries of the day that were soliciting millions upon millions of dollars from people while building palaces and paying exorbitant salaries and buying private jets. Being “for profit” is part of Youth Specialties’ legacy. Selling it to another for-profit business was not incongruent, it was comparable.  I also want to remind people that, back in 1989, when the San Francisco quake ended the National Youth Workers Convention before it ever started, it was Zondervan who rushed to our side with big dollars (which were a gift, not a loan) and rescued us from going under.  No, Zondervan is not the “evil empire.”  Youth Specialties would never have become what it did without Zondervan.  Period.  That’s absolutely the truth of the matter.

Although I could venture some very educated guesses as to why many of the things that have taken place over the past 3+ years have happened (including why Marko was just let go), I refuse to do so because, educated as they might be, they would still be partly guesses.  Suffice it to say, in the face of no profits (and especially sub-profits), every for-profit company must make some very harsh and difficult decisions, not the least of which is reducing overhead.  I don’t know the details, but if I did, and if Mike and I still owned Youth Specialties, we might have had to make some of the same decisions that Zondervan has.  There’s no way to know. We can be upset and disappointed with their methodology, but character assassination is almost never a wise idea.

I’m extremely sad to see Youth Specialties where it is today, but I believe that the downward spiral ultimately began on October 30, 2003 when my beloved husband died, and I’m not sure there’s anything anyone could have done to rescue it from this, even though many, many people have given it their very best shot – especially Tic and Marko and all of the YS staff … but Zondervan as well.  And if I know nothing else, this much I know is true: Our God is the One who causes the phoenix to rise from the ashes.  And God has not stopped caring for kids, youth ministry OR youth workers.  Zondervan will continue publishing quality Youth Specialties titles, and with Jay Howver as YS’s publisher, I can guarantee you they won’t be vanilla. And perhaps the new shepherds of YS events will launch a National Youth Workers Convention beyond our wildest dreams.  We must be content to wait until God reveals the new thing He is doing:

Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
rivers in the badlands. (Isaiah 43: 18-19, The Message)

This past August, the theme of the 2009 Greenbelt Festival in England (which Yac so loved from the mid-‘80s on) was “Standing in the Long Now.”  I leave you with the words of this theme (written by Kester Brewin) that graced the festival’s program.  May they restore our perspective and our focus:

Just how long, exactly, is this now?

How long, they cry, how long?

The shutter snaps, and a moment is collected,

frozen it might seem in lens, ink, and fibre,

but look closely: each photo is but a short piece of video

1/1000th of a second perhaps, enough for me to blur.

The gate rattles and the dust speckles,

each frame thrown up and over, through the light for an instant,

and out onto the screen,

to bounce back as smooth film,

my eyes fooled by the speed of these tiny fragments of time

flying incessantly to my cortex

saying Now. Now. Now.

Buy.  Love.  Lust.  Consume.  Instantly.

Forget how soon, how long is now?

I am about to do a new thing:

Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Sometimes, yes, and sometimes I don’t know:

My God, 600 years between your saying and birthing

really is a very. long. now.

But wait: “Boulding suggests that we calculate the present

by subtracting the date of birth of the oldest person we have known

from the likely passing on date of the youngest in our family.”

The 600 years between your saying and birthing

now contracted to just 3 long presents.

Are you about to do a new thing again?

For Palestine … one quarter of a long now in pain.

For Burma … one fifth of a long now under military rule.

For this feverish earth … a few long moments into the carbon age.

All too long.  All too long.

Now, we pray, now,

spring forth into the now,

before these moments last too long.

My love to youth workers across the globe. Take heart. Be courageous. Never waver.  Your impact is colossal. (And Yac loves you still. 🙂 )

Karla Yaconelli

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