First the selfish part. With Rolly’s passing my world lost some of it’s light. A rich texture in the fabric of my life has been removed. I am and will always be grateful for the friendship I shared with Rolly. Proverbs 17:17 says “A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for a time of adversity” Rolly was my friend and brother. We shared tears of laughter and tears of pain. We have seen each other in our most vulnerable moments and spoke with trust words we feared to say out loud. We argued, collaborated, created, prayed, dreamed, laughed, challenged, encouraged and….Loved. I will miss all of that. So let me tell you a bit about me and Rolly but I hope mostly about Rolly. I would have never predicted us to be friends when we met about 30 years ago.
I was cocky….Rolly was humble.
I was loud…Rolly was quiet.
I worked with Mike Yaconelli…Rolly worked with Dawson Mcallister.
I drank….Rolly Didn’t (At least back then
I was impulsive…..Rolly was measured.
I was uneven…Rolly was steady.
I was left leaning…Rolly right leaning
I stirred things up…Rolly smoothed things out.
Rolly was a super insider to the conservative youth worker world and that whole world made me crazy at the time.
Nothing really matched up excepted for this:
Rolly loved Jesus and so did I.
Rolly loved students and Youth Ministry and so did I.
I was passionate and so was he (in fact, Rolly was one of the most passionate people I knew, you just couldn’t tell by looking at him)
I liked to try new things and take chances and so did he. (Another surprise, Rolly was one of the biggest risk takers I have ever known but again that was not easy to see at first glance with him)
We both loved to give new people chances and completely LOVED to discover & launch new talent.
We also both LOVED to create environments for people to experience God.
As you might guess the things we had in common drew us together in the end and stayed unchanging while the first group of things I listed either changed or didn’t matter.
So we would come across each other ocasionally in the youth ministry world but nothing really clicked. At one point, Rolly had taken over the Youth for Christ chapter in Detroit and changed it’s name to Young River. He was uncomfortable with the current state of youth ministry (part of which he helped create) and was searching out new ways to reach and develop students. One of the things they came up with was a big event that was ahead of it’s time and featured music, speaking but also skateboarding, BMX, a whole XGames vibe. Kind of a teenage Chaos for Christ (my words not his) event where all kinds of crazy stuff was going on intended to attract all kinds of different type of kids. This whole experience shows some of Rollys amazing qualities.
#1 Creative outside the box thinker. Trying something completely new.
#2 Risk taker. I say this because the whole farm was bet on this. They set up a 12-18 city arena tour and it all crashed and burned. Rolly lost everything and Young River closed. That was a real risk not the pretend risks we so often take.
#3 Heart for developing and empowering for young leaders. Actually part of the reason for the failure was Rolly gave real decision making power to younger leaders on his team and some of the decisions they made lead to the failure (decisions by the way that Rolly was against but he had empowered them so he was sticking with them)
#4 Loyalty (See #4) This is only one example of this, but Rolly stuck by all the people that had worked with him and when it all hit the fan put their well being before his in getting all of them set up in different jobs or situations, helping with their fininical crisis.
#5 Integrity Rolly stepped up and took responsibility for the whole financial fiasco that followed. He personally made calls to artists, speakers, arena management…. everybody to try and work things out. Because of who he was, many people stepped up to help him or forgive debt. Because of the way he handled it, for years to come he could still work with all those people.
It was around this time that YS was experiencing a lot of growth in our conventions.At the time, I was doing way too much. I was working with the venues, creating the program, “calling the show”, being onstage, leading our team……needing help but not knowing it.
I decided to hire Rolly to come and help us. I was actually hiring him because I hated seeing what was happening to him, knew he needed the money (even though we didn’t pay him much), wanted him to know some people still believed in him and that he had value. I didn’t really think that we needed him….boy was I wrong. That year in Nashville a friendship and a partnership that lasted many, many years was born. Over the years Rolly added so much to the National Youth Workers Conventions and to my life. We could not have grown the conventions to be as creative, powerful and meaningful as they became without out him.
He did that for us and did that for others. Rolly was the only thread that ran through all the DCLA’s He was the constant and God used him to minister to thousands and thousands of kids. No matter whose name was up front: Campus Crusade, Youth For Christ or Youth Specialties it was Rolly’s name behind the scene guiding it.
Rolly worked for so many diverse organizations. If it helped students know Jesus, he was all in. It didn’t matter if you were Black, White, Asian,Native American, Liberal, Conservative, Urban, Rural, Rich or Poor, Rolly was willing to jump in and help . Here are just a few of the ministries Rolly has served over the years besides YS with and the others I mentioned:
Dare 2 Share, Greg Stier’s ministry
JAMA, A Mostly Korean ministry
Ron Hutchraft Ministries, Working with Native American teens
Archdiocese of Detroit
Urban Youth Workers Institute, creating a first class training event for urban youth workers
The list goes on and on, Salvation Army, D6 event, National Network, Compassion. The list goes on and on but I think you get the idea. Rolly had aKingdom perspective.
I have lost a friend but the church and youth ministries everywhere have also lost a friend. Most of them just don’t know it.
Rolly did ministry all over the world and I would love it when he would drop some crazy story over dinner like when he was kidnapped and I forget if it was in Africa or Eastern Europe but they threw him into the back of a van, swept him away, and he thought he was going to die. They ended up having him go back to the hotel and get all his money (funds they were using for ministry). He was pretty sure they would kill him once they got the money, so on the street just before reaching the whole group, he threw all the money into the air and ran. They had to chase him or the money, they chose the money. Or the time they were doing ministry illegally in the Soviet Union and he was being followed by the KJB. Crazy stuff and he would just casually drop it while we were passing the green beans. He was freaking amazing.
Rolly was so forgiving and non-judgmental of people. Very seldom did he have something negative to say about someone (even though he had plenty of reasons). I think that quality is what allowed him to work with so many differient ministries and so many knuckleheads like me. He would always keep his focus on serving Jesus and students and if that meant doing it with all of us meatballs, so be it.
I will treasure our many conversations.When Rolly was with you he gave you his complete attention, a wonderful gift that made you feel so valued. As I put on my face book post I know that Rolly has already heard these words from his heavenly father “Well done my good and faithful servant“
I Loved Rolly Richert and now he experiencing love in it’s fullest form.