We’re kicking off our summer series, Every Summer Has a Story, with an interview of my co-conspirator in The Youth Cartel, Mark Oestreicher. Even though we live about 2 miles apart we each travel enough that we actually don’t see one another regularly. Marko travels about twice as much as I do… he travels so much that Rick Steves asks Marko for travel tips. I caught up with Marko to hear a bit about his summer as well as his thoughts on summer in youth ministry.
Adam: What’s summer look like in your ministry?
Marko: I sort of have three ministry fronts:
- At my church, where I volunteer as a middle school small group leader, we take a break from our mid-week program (which is mostly small groups). I think it’s a great thing for volunteers to have a little breather. Of course, the ministry doesn’t shut down; but I have some “time off” from my role.
- At the Cartel, life doesn’t slow down. It used to be (way back in our early years, about two years ago) that summer was slow and easy for us. But these days there’s no slowdown. Finishing work on our August and September product releases, working to build out our fall events, and my ongoing involvement with our Youth Ministry Coaching Program keep me hopping!
- Then, I have outside ministry involvements, like speaking and writing. But those slow down significantly for me over the summer. Only a few speaking gigs, and I’m not working on writing a book at the moment.
Adam: Got vacation plans? What are you up to that isn’t work?
Marko: We’re taking an early and simple summer vacation this year, since both my kids (17 and 21 years-old) aren’t home. In late June we’re renting a small house, with some friends, that has a view of the ocean. It’s only about 20 or 25 minutes from my home; but it will give me some intentional downtime. We’re gearing up for some more big-time vacations in 2016, so we’re keeping it low-key this year.
Adam: What’s your dream summer vacation?
Marko: I absolutely love international travel, and going to new places. Next May my wife and I are planning a 30th anniversary trip to Italy. But I think my dream summer vaca might be one of those European river cruises where you have a comfy room, but explore a different city every day. For it to truly be a “dream’ vacation, it would need to be a nice boat and a long trip!
Another SUPER cool trip I have planned next year (not in the summer, but at Spring Break): for years I’ve been hoping to take a Father/Son adventure trip with Max, my son, before he graduates from high school. Next year is his senior year. So I’m using airline miles and some savings, and we’re heading to Easter Island together!
Adam: Favorite summer youth ministry story.
Marko: How about a story that was the WORST at the time, but hilarious to me now? Those of us involved refer to it, semi-fondly, as Puke Camp. We had about 150 junior highers at summer camp (from several churches), and a nasty virus barreled through on about the 2nd or 3rd day. 95% of the campers and counselors had uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea. We couldn’t get through five minutes of a meeting time without someone loudly puking. We lost all control of who was in what cabin, as kids moved at will to the cabins that had the least amount of vomit and diarrhea. Of course, we had to cancel camp on day 4, call all the parents and have them pick up their kids. The camp had to bring in people in hazmat suits to deep clean the place.
Gotta love youth ministry!
Adam: Favorite part about summer in youth ministry?
Marko: I think it’s the relational opportunity, particularly offered by camps and missions trips and other travel stuff. So much of the relational part of youth ministry seems to happen in little bite-sized bits — an hour there, twenty minutes there, a text. But spending the afternoon swinging hammers with teenagers, or multiple days together in a cabin offers a completely different level of interaction. Even though the experience of those trips is “not normal life,” the relational interaction feels more like “real life together.”
Marko has authored about 70 youth ministry titles over the years. But earlier this year he wrote his very first book for the general Christian audience, Hopecasting. If you are looking for a book to take on your vacation or need a book to focus on to ignore loud teenagers who aren’t sleeping in their cabins, I highly recommend it.