If you know me or if you have been following this blog for very long, then you know how important the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC) was to me over the course of my ministry. It was at those amazing events that I received much of the encouragement, creativity and insight that helped me sustain my ministry for 28 years. I have already posted about Dallas, 1982 and Atlanta, 1987 and The Country Quakers. I continued to attend as the 1990's went on, and the more I was there the more I became connected. I mentioned in Monday's post the great Yohann Anderson, the group singing guru who became a friend over the years, albeit a friend I only saw once a year. There were many others who fit that same category. Mike Yaconelli, Tic Long, Duffy Robbins, Tony Campolo, Todd Temple, Jim Burns, Doug Fields, Mark Oestricher, Rick Bundschuh and Tiger McLuen were among the great minds of youth ministry that I came to know through my experiences at the NYWC, and they helped form my ministry in many ways. But my favorite years at the convention came in the mid 1990's, when I was rooming with the Banana Splits!
Ray Luther had followed me as youth pastor at Springfield Friends Meeting in 1995, but I had known Ray long before that. He had been one of The Country Quakers back in 1987, and we had remained good friends. Tim Vestal I had known even longer, going back to the days when he was a youth in North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends. But we had not been very close, and I had not been in touch with him since moving to Kissimmee in 1994. Somehow, we all reconnected and decided to room together at the 1995 NYWC, along with my Summer Intern, Jerry Hanbery. It was a perfect match. Together we roamed the halls of the NYWC in Anaheim, Denver and Philadelphia (at least) before Ray became a Senior Pastor and Jerry left me for a career in grad school. And we OWNED the place when we were all together. We scammed our way onto the front row any time there was a band or speaker we particularly wanted to see. We got lots of extra freebies by helping set up the main hall before general sessions. We sat in the "Peanut Gallery" on stage with Third Day, and Mac Powell (with his hair dyed blond!) came over and sang to us. We laughed as Ray danced with his name tag (I can't explain it, you just had to be there), as Tim ran to brush his teeth at every break and as we all swooned over Laurie Polich. We celebrated the great bands and made terrible fun of the duds. We worshipped together, prayed together and skipped workshops together, making sure NEVER to miss a meal or a general session. We rocked the hotels we stayed in with our own hit song "The Escalator Has An Emergency Stop." You know it: "The escalator has an emergency stop, one at the bottom and one at the top..." OK, so Ray made it up (actually Tim did; see comment below) and we were the only ones who knew it, but we still had fun singing it!
We certainly had our adventures. After the Anaheim convention we all went to Disneyland together and had an amazing time. Ray developed sleep apnea over time and had to wear a breathing mask with a massive hose at night, causing us to refer to him as "The Elephant Man." One night the mask fell off, we all thought Ray was dying, and Jerry went flying across to the other bed to save him, which in fact almost killed him! But the best thing ever was the year (Denver, maybe?) when our expert in all things bizarre, Tim, got us started singing the Banana Splits Theme Song ( from the late 60's Saturday morning children's show of the same name) everywhere we went. The only problem was we didn't know the words. We only knew the Tra-la-la part (see video below), which we actually sang Fa-la-la. But we sang often and with gusto, laughing hysterically at ourselves because we couldn't remember the words. We became "those Banana Splits guys." And we loved it.
So this my shout out to the NYWC, which made my ministry so much better, and to Tim, Ray and Jerry, who made the NYWC so much better. I love you guys! Banana Splits forever!!!
Because of Jesus,