In 2009 about a month before my first furlough I began ministering at a Church plant in the community of Craigeiburn, and a year later returned to lead the Church while their Senior Pastor was on furlough. This new ministry opportunity excited me, but we were still in the “getting to know each other” phase of a relationship since I had only been there three weeks and it had almost been a year since then.
Three months were spent preparing a sermon series on the life of Abraham but that didn’t help me calm my nerves during the first message. I ended up talking fast enough to become a regular cast member on Gilmore Girls1, telling jokes that were hilarious two hours ago but now just resulted in awkward silence, and approached the fellowship time like a kid at the first boy-girl dance.
Two weeks later things had completely changed; I was still talking way too fast but there was no longer a need for an interpreter, people were actually laughing at my jokes, and the fine art of drinking coffee while talking sports following the Church service had been mastered.
Part of this change comes from just becoming comfortable around these Believers and their getting to know me, but a big part of it comes from the moment I played Settlers of Catan.
It started innocently enough; a young married couple at the Church were having friends over to play a board game and asked me if I wanted to come. Knowing this was a great opportunity to get to know people I immediately agreed and six hours later walked through their front door.
The first thing I noticed was the wife who taught Elementary school and had said three words to me in the first two weeks at Church sitting at the kitchen table playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare2 while her husband played COD at another computer. Soon it became apparent that the quiet reserved personas that I had seen at Church weren’t the real people.
Within a half-hour the entire group of four friends (or the core four as they called themselves) had arrived and we began playing Settlers of Catan. For those of you who don’t know what Settlers is, it’s a strategic board game that involves building, selling products, making deals with other players, and crying a lot while eating chocolate (if your me). It was traditional for the core four to play a game and since Settlers was their favourite they decided to use it as my “initiation experience.”
I didn’t see any problem with their seating me between the husband and wife but today what they were planning can be seen a mile away.3 It took about five minutes for the husband to offer a deal that according to him was “very good for me” but obviously wasn’t, it was harder to turn down the deals his wife offered, didn’t notice the knife in my back until it was too late. Needless to say within twenty minutes my chances of winning were gone, so after learning the first rule of Settlers4 I embraced the role of entertaining people.
From a young age the Lord has created me to be an entertainer, while talking to people is a struggle, I love doing things in front of large crowds of strangers. So around the board game I sort of started doing what I do best..make people laugh and that night the legend of JB was born.
In the Australian culture everyone has to have a nickname for some reason, unfortunately you can’t give yourself a nickname it has to be bestowed upon you by another person. So when someone called me “Johnny boy” during the initiation night I promptly told him nobody could call me that and it was shortened to JB. Eventually JB became my entertaining side that came out in relaxed situations and was always ready to put on a show during games nights.
1. Like the time I jumped up and down on their couch imitating Tom Cruise and embarrassed myself in the process
2. Humming the wrong song for a humdinger in a game of Cranium
3. Telling my scary story “taileybone” complete with all the lights out and shining a flashlight on my face
4. Losing at every board game and halfway through focusing on just entertaining people and eating a lot of chocolate
5. The time-honoured non-subtle way of changing the subject “so how bout those Yankees?”
6. Smashing everyone in Crazy Bridge.5
In a sense those board game nights became a release for me as I become JB for a few hours. Over time those “Settlers Experiences” meant more to me because over laughter and fellowship the stress and anxiety of Missions life could be forgotten. I’m not saying we should escape our struggles or isolate ourselves from them, but there needs to be a release, that moment when you can just relax with friends. It is important to be driven and focused as we serve the Lord, but it’s important to remember the need to be goofy every once in a while as well.
1 Okay come on guys we all know you watch it so don’t judge me
2 And doing much better than me, I am what’s know as an “easy kill” in games like this
3 I see myself running in slow motion towards 2010 John screaming noooooo!
4 Don’t Trust Anybody!
5 If there was a world title for Crazy Bridge I would definitely have it and wear the Title Belt twenty-four hours a day