Tony Livigni grew up in an Italian family in northeast Ohio. While he and his family were primarily Catholic, Tony would say that he lacked a real, personal relationship with God. As a high school student, Tony describes himself as “painfully and awkwardly shy.” He was in a continually depressed state, spending most of his time playing his guitar and listening to heavy metal music. With his long hair and dark clothes, he was not an approachable person.
Tony had never stepped foot in a non-Catholic church until he was invited by his Aunt Andrea to her church. Tony remembers his aunt fondly as not only a loving and amazing woman, but also the first person in his family to be “sold out to Jesus.” It was during his dark years of high school that his aunt became a “beacon of light.” Aunt Andrea loved others so incredibly well and included Tony in that affection. She was volunteering with her church youth group and invited Tony to attend. Tony did not understand much of what was going on that first visit but discovered two things — there was a cute girl in attendance and this place was different from anything he had ever experienced.
The church was small, slowly dying, and had no pastor. The youth group, while also small, was led by caring volunteers who simply loved students. It was here that Tony first heard about Momentum Youth Conference (formerly called BNYC) to be held that summer in North Carolina. He was invited to go, and because he wanted an escape from his town and home life, decided to go.
On the ride to Momentum, Tony sat in silence with his headphones on the entire trip. During the opening session that evening, Tony heard the Gospel presented clearly for the first time. His first thought was, “How come no one has ever told me this before?” He wondered if someone had shared with him, and he simply was not listening. He remembers being faced with a choice that night — he could walk away and continue living his life or embrace the message’s truth and make his life different.
Tony chose the latter, and that summer in 1996 sparked an incredible fire in his life. The following school year brought life transformation. Tony started to develop good and strong friendships within the youth group. He started loving people. All these things helped him overcome his awkwardness and isolated habits. In 1997 Tony returned to Momentum Youth Conference and this time heard about a unique ministry opportunity called Travel Teams (formerly Operation Barnabas). Students were on the main stage sharing testimonies of how their lives had transformed that summer. He signed up.
The summer Tony spent on Travel Teams was the most life-changing summer of his life. While previously Momentum Youth Conference was the pinnacle of his spiritual experience, Travel Teams was where he learned “the best place to find Jesus is when you give your life away.” Tony preached his first sermon on that trip. Afterward, former Travel Teams Director, Timothy Kurtaneck (“TK”), approached him and said, “You have a gift, and you have a responsibility to use it.”
Tony dedicated his life to full-time Christian ministry that summer. He remembers one church they visited where the team was sleeping in the church basement. The pastor recommended they sleep with cotton balls in their ears to prevent cockroaches from crawling in. Tony recalled, “I remember thinking, I had never been more joyful and fulfilled than in that moment. It is in giving your life away, and dedicating your life to serving, where life is found.” The more he has studied the Bible, the more he believes the principle “if you lose your life, you will find it” is true — a lesson he learned on Travel Teams.
Following high school, Tony studied at Moody Bible Institute. He returned in the summers and led Travel Teams three times. He attributes those summers with providing the best leadership training he has ever received and credits his current leadership abilities to his experiences on Travel Teams and with TK. Tony eventually returned home to Akron, Ohio, and led college ministry for seven years under Pastor Jeff Bogue, Lead Pastor at Grace Church of Greater Akron and President of Momentum Ministry Partners. It was at the college ministry program where Tony met his wife, Jessica.
Tony was given opportunities to regularly preach and had a front-row seat to watch that church explode with growth under Jeff’s leadership. In 2012 when the church decided to launch a new campus in Medina, Ohio, Tony and Jessica were asked to lead it. Fast forward nearly a decade, Tony and Jessica have been married for over 14 years and have four children. His church has seen incredible intergenerational movement and the college ministry continues to rapidly grow. Reflecting fondly on his life story Tony said, “It’s been a wild ride.” He concluded by simply stating, “Momentum changed my life.”
A version of this story originally appeared in a newsletter from Momentum Ministry Partners. Find more information about Momentum on their website here.