Why I Love Playtime


At about 5:00 every afternoon I finish telling Bible stories on my porch, put on an  Australian kangaroo leather hat, change clothes, and walk to a nearby park for what can only be referred to as “playtime.”

Usually when I’m within eyesight of the park kids will start calling out “Mr. John” and running towards the gate entrance.  For twenty minutes we will play some kind of game, usually “lashing hat” which is their favorite.

It consists of me trying to hit them on the arm with my kangaroo leather hat (not too hard) and their running away.  Sometimes we play a variation where someone steals my hat and takes great joy in “lashing” Mr. John 🙂  Recently we started a game called prisoner where Mr. John was taken prisoner and had to escape jail.  This led to an embarrassing experience on Friday when the “prisoner” was forced to sit down and catch his breath.

In the beginning I visited the park every afternoon to get to know the children’s names, but now I look forward to gametime as an opportunity to connect them them in an unstructured way.

When reaching children one thing you learn very quickly is the need for structure or rules, and someone who isn’t afraid to enforce them.  This is particularly true for ministries like Bible club that I run four days a week at Tabernacle Baptist Church.  Since there is expensive audio equipment and the children are fascinated by singing into microphones, we have four very serious rules.

  1. No going past Mr. John:  I stand at the third row and teach them sitting on the back rows
  2. Nobody gets water, or goes to the bathroom:  both are on the Church stage and too close to the sound system
  3. Nobody gets on the stage for any reason
  4. And nobody touches the microphone for any reason

Unfortunately just having rules and enforcing them is not enough because some children just enjoy breaking them.  There is a group of three girls that always come by about 15 minutes before Bible club and try to come in, if they do get in the entire group will immediately run to the stage (knowing that I can’t keep all of them away) so I’m forced to keep the Church gate locked till they leave.  Also there are some children I won’t allow to come in Bible club knowing they won’t obey the rules, and at least three times a week I’m forced to “escort” children out of the Church.

To be honest I’m a big softie and don’t enjoy doing things like this, but at the same time having a ministry without structure (rules) means the kids will pretty much just do what they want.  And part of my calling as a missionary is not only to evangelize children, but disciple them so that they are prepared for the real world.

However after the structured ministry there is in my opinion a need for unstructured ministry where the kids are basically allowed to be kids. In fact I would go as far as to say sometimes the need for unstructured ministry is GREATER than structured ones!  

Children are filled with enormous amounts of energy.  For much of the day they are asked to keep calm and contain that energy in school or at home, so they are looking for a place to let that energy out. For children in Barrouallie that place is the park, unfortunately while there their energy turns to the wrong kind of things

  1. like arguing with and threatening each other
  2. Fighting
  3. Keeping others from using something they want (swings, slide)
  4. And creating lots of chaos
  5. An unstructured ministry like playtime gives children an opportunity to expend their extra energy towards a fun and positive game instead of fighting.

A few Saturdays ago a little boy learned how to successfully defend against the lashing hat during playtime.  Instead of running away as I lashed him with it he turned and grabbed onto the hat with both hands so as I tried to pull the hat free suddenly ten tiny hands began to lash Mr. John excitedly.  That day and the expression of absolute joy on his face was a reminder that though the work of missions emphasizes a structured ministry, it often begins during playtime.

Why I Sweep the Floor After Devotions


My morning routine usually goes pretty much the same

  1. Walking into the kitchen at 5:30 and turning on the coffee (editors note:  I NEVER get up that early in America but having roosters in the vicinity makes it hard to sleep much later)
  2. By 5:45 I’m the porch drinking coffee, after two cups feel somewhat human
  3. Around 6:00 I start watching sportscenter or the news for thirty minutes
  4. At 6:30 I’m having devotions with a Ryrie Study Bible
  5. And then about 7:00 I start sweeping the house

no seriously I always sweep the house after devotions

Actually sweeping isn’t a very strange thing since I keep the doors open whenever I’m home (the sea-breeze makes it cooler) so its common for dust and sand to be tracked or blown in (especially when kids are around).  But 6:55 in the morning IS kind of a strange time to start cleaning.

Actually sweeping that time if day isn’t just about being clean or organized, it gives me a chance to meditate and pray over what I’ve just read from God’s Word.

Like many of you I sometimes struggle with meditating on the truths of Scripture after having devotions.  I realized that part of my problem was going directly from Scripture to sitting in front of my computer working through a seemingly endless to-do list, which left no time to just stop and think.  

So a kind of “unplugged work” that didn’t use any kind of electronics was necessary…work that allowed for silence and moments without mental distraction.  

Hence the sweeping 🙂

My morning sweeping ritual usually consists of two different things. I either think through a Bible verse from that mornings devotions (I’ll spend ten to fifteen minutes getting it in my mind first) or work through the HEAR method of Bible journalling  mentally (Highlight, Explain, Apply, Respond).  And of course this kind of meditation usually leads to prayer.

As an illustration let me use a verse the Lord helped me memorize from yesterdays devotions, Nehemiah 9:33

Neh. 9:33 Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly: (emphasis added)

As I swept, dried dishes, and folded laundry from the day before my mind was first struck by the word “just” in that verse.  However the more I thought about it  “In all that is brought upon us” made a greater impact because it refers to the sovereignty of God who places everything that happens into our lives.

That thought of God’s sovereignty led to prayer

  1. Lord thank you for ordering the small parts of my life as well as the huge parts
  2. I confess that often I question the justice (goodness) of what you “bring upon me” thinking that somehow I know better
  3. This improper attitude leads to stubbornness that doesn’t trust your love
  4. Help me focus not on the circumstances of life, but the one who brings them, and trust your love

Not every day has such a life-changing truth but for me that really isn’t the point. The point is allowing God to speak in the stillness of the morning hours, and then meditating on the truth He has given for the rest of the day.

The world we live in is filled with constant noise, interruptions, and busyness so sometimes the best thing we can do is create a moment of silent reflection among the clamor.  And in the midst of that moment allow the still small voice of God to speak.

A Selfie-View of Missions, And why I Don’t Take Pictures of Faces


I’ve always been fascinated by technology and “playing” with computers or electronic devices by seeing what happens when I hit certain buttons.  This used to annoy my father who wanted me to fix an electronic problem with his laptop without hitting any buttons (I couldn’t) eventually he started handing it to me and leaving the room because seeing me randomly hit buttons was too stressful and normally ten-minutes later it was fixed 🙂

Thankfully most problems mom and dad encounter now deal with cable tv’s or Roku boxes and the answer can be found in a very important document I left for them last year.

This love of playing with technology has affected my ministry in many ways, but most of all how I communicate with supporting Churches and prayer partners.  In 2009 while a missionary in Melbourne Australia my communication philosophy turned from sending email updates to using social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (I still try to send at least two email updates a month).  There are three reasons for this.

  1. Social Media reaches a larger group of people
  2. It communicates on a much more regular basis, and creates a stronger relationship (your able to share the every part of ministry good, bad, and yes even the ugly sometimes)
  3. And pictures speak more powerfully than words

That last part is one of the most important reasons why I used social media…pictures speak to people.

as an illustration let me show you a picture of my breakfast from yesterday

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Thankful for the delicious fruits of Saint Vincent

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I know that seven likes doesn’t seem like much, but the same picture got twenty-two likes and five comments on Facebook.  That’s thirty-five total connections (including the Instagram comment) for a bowl of fruit.

The power of pictures and the technology at our fingertips (particularly those with smartphones) is a the same time an incredible blessing, and a terrible curse.

It’s REALLY easy to to fill your social-media feed with carefully edited and cropped selfies of other people, or group photos.  I personally have a rule against taking pictures of “people” and sharing them online because the focus goes from relationship development to gaining likes or comments.

And when the focus of a pictures is to get likes or comments instead of building a true relationship then missionaries are using technology for their own glory (and yes I am guilty of this ocassionally).

It’s not easy to keep away from the “selfie view of missions” but the Lord has helped me develop two important rules.

Rule Number One:  Take pictures of things, not people

When we take pictures of people it will automatically pull on peoples heart-strings and bring an emotional response.  Sometimes this is okay, but 90% of the time I don’t take pictures of faces (there is a large amount from VBS last summer, other than that one of a child reading a book).  I do this because pictures of people get likes (especially cute children) and I could easily get into the habit of sharing those kinds of pictures just to get likes.

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Coffee and a Bible story

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Rule Number Two:  If you do take a picture of somebody, take a picture of the back of their head.

During ministry in the States I enjoyed introducing children to “Kev the Kangaroo” and letting them sign him if they were good.  Pics of these moments were too good to pass up but there was one hard and fast rule…you don’t face the camera. 

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Kev IV came to sparks!

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Now this is actually difficult because children WANT you to take their picture!  Last Friday I got some kids to take mine to use as a new profile pic at the top of this post, and ended up taking five group photos of them.  Usually when taking Kev pictures I have to explain that Mr. John doesn’t want to see your face because he is sharing the picture online.

It is hard sometimes to refrain from taking pictures of people on the mission field and share them, but I almost never do it.  Not just because of the real privacy issues (especially dealing with children) but because pictures aren’t meant to be about my glory anyways.

Ticks for Bama


Last February after many failed attempts at keeping the kids in Bible club under control (rewarding those who obeyed, punishing those who didn’t) I finally found something that worked…Mr. John’s tick sheet.

There’s nothing elaborate about this system, in fact most of my tick sheets are on the back of a cereal box like the original one pictured above.  I did use a notebook a few times but didn’t continue, (wasn’t big enough) and during the summer went as far as using a posterboard, but find the cereal box works best because it can easily be folded up and carried in a backpack.

Yesterday afternoon after Bible club one of the boys was on my porch scanning the tick sheet, then looked up with shock and said “hey Bama has more than me!”  Now he was referring to “Obama” (not hard to figure out where the name came from) but everybody calls him Bama for short.  He was surprised because Bama  doesn’t answer lots of questions in Bible club (he is younger and it’s harder for him to comprehend what I’m teaching) while he did.

His question was obvious…How can somebody who answers less questions than me have more ticks?  I told him ticks where given out not according to how many answers you give, but how hard you work.


Children today live in a world where the most intelligent and gifted are usually rewarded.  In my opinion this is unfortunate because there are children like Bama who have a hard time with tasks others can do easily, but it’s also necessary because there has to be a standard to evaluate success (if you get an A in the class then you’ve done a very good job). The problem is people like Bama have to sometimes work two or three times as hard for that A as others.

The answer isn’t to lower the standards of success, but instead celebrate hard work and obedience MORE THAN achievement.  Particularly for the Bama’s of the world.

If Bama’s having more ticks than him shocked this young man, then seeing who had the most ticks would have given him a heart-attack.  Currently in the lead with fourteen ticks is a young boy who struggles more than anybody else answering questions, in fact if he ever does answer one it’s because somebody whispers him the answers.

He didn’t ask me why that boy was in the lead but I could have told him

  1. He’s almost always the first one to Bible Club, and almost NEVER misses a day
  2. He LOVES our songs and I can always hear him singing louder than everybody else
  3. EVERY DAY he comes after Bible club for another Bible story at my house
  4. He’s brutally honest with me about the hard questions (confesses openly he will go to Hell right now if he dies)
  5. And most of all he obeys me

One story sticks in my mind..more than anything island children love to eat good food.  And because of this of course they love MY food.  85% of the time I refuse to give any out, not because I’m an evil person, but word travels fast (people found out I gave Bama five peanuts last Saturday morning and were upset).  Because of this I’m very careful about cooking lunch or dinner and eating it outside.  One morning I was cooking some hot dogs (a favorite of the kids) and heard a voice at the door.  The tick leader wanted a story.  I calmly told him I was eating lunch and would have to do it later.

Now the smell of hot dogs being cooked would lead to asking for (or demanding) one almost every time…but he without a word turned around and left.  I was honestly in a state of shock expecting a big argument, but was met with simple obedience (he was rewarded with bread later).

We do live in a culture where rewards are given out to the especially gifted or intelligent and that needs to happen.  But there are moments God gives us to reward others, and we have a responsibility in those moments to honor the Bama’s and Chave’s (my tick leaders name) of the world because they deserve it.

After I announced him as tick leader Chave jumped up and started doing his “victory dance.”  I’m not usually a fan of dancing but let him do it because there aren’t too many opportunities for him to break out a victory dance in front of friends. May we live in a world where the children who walk away even though the smell hot dogs can perform their victory dance.

When God Calls You to Give Someone KFC


image courtesy of http://svgblog.blogspot.com/2010/04/kentucky-fried-chicken.html

Yesterday I along with a veteran missionary went to visit a girl we knew who had been in the hospital for almost a month because of heightened blood pressure and exhaustion among other things, due to a slight heart defect she was born with (very small hole in her heart).  We honestly didn’t know what to expect, so were happy to see she had gained her strength, and was hoping to come home later this week.

As I drove to the hospital I asked the Lord for an opportunity to share Christ with Sarah (not her real name).  She knew the Gospel and frequently attended Bible club, but didn’t quite seem ready to place her trust in the Lord. Knowing situations like extended hospitalization can lead a person to think about eternity I felt certain the Lord would open the door for us to share the Gospel…but He didn’t.

The fellow missionary and I did discuss spiritual things with Sarah and read some Bible verses, but there was no opportunity to explain the good news of Jesus.  

However there WAS an opportunity to do something very special.

After a few minutes of small-talk the other missionary asked “what do you miss?”  She thought for a few moments and excitedly said “I miss good food!”  And about a half-hour later we handed over a chicken dinner from a nearby KFC (she was very grateful).

As we were on our way to pick up the chicken the missionary said “you know that girl won’t forget this the rest of her life” and in a way that’s true.  I’m sure the combination of us visiting, and getting her “real food” at a time in life when was stuck in the hospital (wasn’t even able to walk around) made a huge impact upon her.  That act of kindness will probably lead to a stronger friendship in the future, and opportunities to share Christ.

Often in missions are minds are focused on sharing the Gospel which is obviously a wonderful thing (that’s what God calls us to do).  But the most effective evangelism is done when we have built “Gospel bridges” into the lives of individuals.  In other words we show kindness and compassion while ministering to the needs they may have, over time that knowledge that we truly care about them will open the door to share WHY we care.

I didn’t come yesterday planning to buy Sarah KFC, but in hindsight that’s the best thing I could have done because God was already working on her heart.

After we got the chicken I dropped the pastor off then parked, and walked down myself.  As I got there Sarah was carefully opening a box, and once she got it open pulled out a handful of Gospel tracts.  This young lady confined to her bed (especially at the beginning) had lots of time on her hands and nothing to do so God sent other Christians with tracts that I’m sure she read more than once.

The point is Sarah didn’t necessarily need someone to share the Gospel with her in that moment.  She needed someone who she could ask her hard questions, who could explain the deep truths of Scripture in simple terms, who could clarify what Scripture teaches till the Holy Spirit convicts her heart.  And that’s usually done in a relationship.

I’m eternally grateful that God’s plan for our lives includes sharing Christ, but sometimes it also includes building “Gospel Bridges” with delicious chicken.