Earning the Trust of Teens in Four Not So Easy Steps

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One of my favorite ministries in Australia had to be a Religious Education class teaching fifth and sixth graders in a Public School.

There were numerous challenges to this ministry; The greatest challenge however was earning their trust….

I’m grateful to say by our last class (in the picture above) I had earned their trust and respect, but it was a long hard process. As a ministry to others who work with teenagers some of the most important lessons learned along the way are included in this post.

1. Be Honest: The first time we met, one of the boys asked “have you ever swore in your life?” After trying to change the subject he looked me right in the eyes and said in a very serious tone “answer the question”

Instead of trying to lie about it I confessed to using bad language a few times in my life, but confessing it to the Lord right away. His next question was “why did you do that?” and it led to a conversation about the Gospel

2. Be Answering: Teens have hundreds of questions about God and few people who will actually answer them. The Lord used a simple exercise that asked the students to write down questions they had for God to teach me this.

While most students wrote a few lines one girl started writing furiously and kept going after the others were finished. When she handed me her paper I had to take a picture of it to remind me of the need to answer their deep questions.

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3. Be Effective-I don’t care how crazy a group of kids is, there will always a way to motivate them. Shouldn’t be
surprising that giving a candy bar to the best behaved student allowed me to control eight teenagers (it also worked for eighteen kindergartners by the way.) The important thing is bringing a form of structure or discipline into their lives in a way that works, since many of them don’t have it.

wpid-img_03302-2014-02-24-19-40.jpg4. Be Listening: As important as the lesson is, there were moments in class when the Lord allowed me to learn about, or minister to a students deeper need. This meant having more than one conversation with students who were no longer BFF’s and immersing myself in teen girl drama for the sake of the Gospel, it also meant helping a student who was moving to another Country and would never see her friends again understand God was still Loving.

The road to earning trust is long and hard…that’s why so many people haven’t traveled it. However if your willing to put in the hard work God will give you a powerful influence in their lives.

Remembering My Call

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Monday morning while I was working at the kitchen table my mother handed me a folder with a huge smile on her face. I looked down and realized they were emails they received from me during a Missions Trip to Melbourne in February 2004. A three-week trip that God used to place a burden upon my heart for the Australian people.

It was really encouraging being able to look through the emails sent to them almost ten years ago, but there was one in particular I was interested in finding. Because it was written the morning after the Lord called me to Melbourne.

The three week missions trip had left no doubt in my mind that the Lord wanted me to serve Him in Australia, but when people ask how I know I’ve been called my mind goes back to a moment that took place the first Tuesday.

New Missionaries were coming onto the field that afternoon and I was surprised to see a huge group of Aussie Christians waiting for them. The moment that family came through the doors separating customs from the main airport those Believers jumped over the bar they were supposed to walk around and welcomed them to Australia   As I watched from the back of the crowd with all of my heart I wanted to be those people.

That night Melbourne became home for me, and the place were I would always leave my heart.

The next morning I wrote an email to my parents with tears streaming down my face (names of the Missionaries have been blurred although they are still faithfully serving in Australia.)

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There have been moments in life when it would be easy to wonder whether or not the Lord has actually called me to Melbourne (especially during the Visa process) but if I close my eyes I can see those Australians embracing my Missionary friends, and it makes that desire to return home stronger.

Surviving a Non-Christians “Evaluation Stage”

IMG_0386The Lord allowed me to become involved with many ministries in Australia, but only one involved meeting with Buddhist’s, Muslims, Catholics, and individuals who had no interest in God whatsoever.

An interesting thing about Australia is the big cities are filled with immigrants from other Countries so you won’t see many “true blue Aussies” with the authentic Australian accent.  This results in people who do know the English language, but struggle using it in everyday conversation since there are many who speak their own language (they end up speaking it most of the time).  To remedy this some of the local libraries started something called a Conversational English Group were people could simply come and practice their English speaking skills for an hour and a half.

Attending this group as a volunteer wasn’t really all that hard…sharing with everyone I was a “Baptist Minister” did give me cause for concern.

Though it was challenging, my time with the Conversational English Group taught me everyone in the world is searching for people who are real (or have something different about them); and a consistent Christian testimony that earns a persons trust will speak louder than any Gospel Presentation.

During one of our last sessions they threw a big going party in my honor complete with food, gifts, and a cake that said come back soon John in big letters.  The truly special part was before the meal when one of them asked me to pray, I watched as Buddhist’s, Muslims, Catholics, and even those with no interest in God bowed their heads and prayed along with me.

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That kind of influence didn’t happen overnight.  Instead it came from living out the Gospel in front of them for more than a year.  Slowly they moved from an attitude of skepticism to one of acceptance, asking questions about God, and introducing me to their friends as “John the Baptist Minister ”

When you identify yourself as a Christian, that is a good way to make yourself accountable, even to non believers. By saying in your workplace (without being obnoxious), “I am a Christian,” by saying to members of your family or in your neighborhood or among your friends, “I am a follower of Jesus,” you are putting that stake in the ground, and they will be watching you and evaluating you.

And frankly, they will be evaluating God, too. They are will be thinking, So that is how a Christian acts. That is how a Christian treats his wife. That is how a Christian treats her husband. I get it. That is how a Christian raises their child. That is how a Christian does thus and so. . . . They will be watching you. And nothing is worse than getting your behavior corrected by a unbeliever, especially when they are right.  Greg Laurie

Sadly many Christians never get past the “evaluation stage” of relationships with Unbelievers because their beliefs don’t really match up with their actions.  This is why I would like to share with you the most important lesson learned through the Conversational English Classes, and something that will absolutely make or break your evaluation stage.

We were talking in one of the first sessions about the differences between  Cultures when one of the students asked me how America was different from Australia.  After thinking about it for a moment I told them that we were too fat because fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s serve much bigger portions than you would get in Melbourne.

This kind of surprised them since most Americans have the reputation of covering up their faults, and my answer led to a discussion about the weakness of US policies for about an hour.  Those kinds of conversations earned the trust of the other group members since I was showing a commitment to being real or honest, even when the answer hurt a bit.

That honesty eventually led to sharing my struggles with them (what made me angry, frustrated, sad) and telling stories about God’s comfort in those times of need.  With every story or experience I shared they gained more trust or confidence in me, and soon we were all sharing the personal side of our lives with one another.  This kind of impact came however because I was willing to be open about what was going on in my life and use the struggles as an opportunity to share Christ.

To be honest getting through the evaluation relational phase with the group members wasn’t hard at all since it was obvious they were watching my life very closely.  However I’m convicted by the question ‘how many times have I failed to pass the evaluation of a lost person, and never even realized it?”

Why Footy Is the Greatest Game in the World

One of the things I truly miss from Melbourne is the sports since they are a sports crazed culture, and more than any other I miss the Australian Rules Football (or footy).  For months I have been telling Americans it’s the greatest game in the world but they didn’t seem to believe me…so here’s the proof

How to Be Australian: Use a Pebble of the Gospel

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Last weekend I had the opportunity to teach a Sunday School class at Church and decided to discuss the differences between sharing the Gospel in an American and Australian culture.  While the message we share never changes, there is a huge difference in the way the unsaved are reached in Melbourne Australia because they don’t have the background we enjoy in the States.  America was built upon strong Christian principles and today even those who have no interest in Christ have at least a basic understanding of the Gospel, it isn’t true with Aussies whose Country began as a prison camp, and in many cases don’t agree with the foundational truths of Scripture.

Continue reading How to Be Australian: Use a Pebble of the Gospel

Why I Wrote a Ministry Resume

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast week the paperwork for my permanent residency visa officially began with sending my immigration lawyer a resume of everything I have done that’s ministry related in the last ten years.  This may seem strange, but in many Countries all permanent visas are only given to people who are “skilled workers” or individuals who fill a specific skill set needed in Australia.  Since my subclass is Religious Worker, it is necessary to prove that I have the proper credentials and education.

Writing a resume of ministry opportunities is sort of a weird experience (wondered if the amount of coffee I made for friends made me a barista) but it reminded me that God will provide us with opportunities to reach people if we are faithful to Him.

In 2009 I prepared for my first furlough in the States and to be honest wasn’t very excited about what the Lord was doing through me in Melbourne.  Most of the first two and a half years was spent learning the Australian culture, developing relationships, getting ministry experience, and finding the ministry that God had planned for me.  These were very necessary (but frustrating) experiences because I wanted to be involved in an active ministry such as teaching at a Bible College.  The problem is before starting that kind of ministry a foundation must be laid, which takes at least one year, and probably two.

There were many nights during those first two years that while awake in bed I asked God why He had not provided the ministry that was so deeply desired.  His response to me was always the same….wait.

Looking at my resume you can see an explosive growth in ministry opportunities outside of the Church.  This list includes teaching Bible in two public schools, leading a conversational English group which had five non Christian religions in it, teaching English to a young man with special needs,  tutoring children (many of them Muslim) with their homework, becoming a volunteer teachers aid at a school with children from low income families, and teaching computers one on one with senior citizens (including one Jehovah’s Witness).  Within the Church I was able to begin discipleship and counseling ministries.  All of these opportunities began in late 2010 after I returned to Australia from the first furlough.

There is no doubt in my mind that if I had tried to push through the waiting period of ministry during those first two years then ministry opportunities would have come, but those would be nothing compared to the incredible outreaches God provided following that time of waiting.  This truth is precious to me as I begin another ministry waiting period which centers on filling out paperwork for my visa (which will take a minimum of six months).

Part of those frustrated emotions from 2009 have started coming back recently along with an attitude of complaining.  “Why is God putting me in a situation where the only thing I can do is fill out paperwork and send emails?  Doesn’t He understand the great spiritual need?  It’s almost been a year sine I have come back on furlough how much longer will it take?”  In these moments of frustrated waiting it’s refreshing to remember that God provides His greatest blessings to those who are willing to wait.