Category Archives: Confessions of a Missionary

Racism is a Heart Problem, Not a Skin Problem

As one of the few white people in my community (I’m usually the only one) I’ve had lots of conversations with Vincentian friends about racism.

And had some fun experiences because of my whiteness as well

A few weeks after coming to Barrouallie I was walking down the road, and a man called me over. He smiled and said, “why is a white man walking up and down my street?” For the first few months the name “white man” stuck, not because they were being racist, but because they didn’t know my name. Today they all call me John.

Experiences have shown me that racism does indeed exist

But what some people call racism, isn’t racism.

Racism is an attitude that looks upon other people groups as less important than you, this is sin pure and simple. Yet, there is a growing belief that racism is something inherent that all white people are born with. Because we (white people) experience privileges other people groups may not experience, we are therefore racist.

Let me be very clear about this…..

Racism has to do with my heart, not my skin colour

Over the last six-years, the Lord has helped me live in unity with my Vincentian brothers and sisters. This has nothing to do with my being “anti-racist” or becoming more “inclusive”. I just treated them with respect and dignity as image-bearers, and they did the same for me.

It’s a joy to see how the people of Barrouallie “look out for me” because I “look out for them”

  1. Last year I suffered from a severe stomach virus so we couldn’t have church. The next day many people from the community asked what had happened.
  2. Another time I got sick, and had three separate friends to come by, and see how I was doing
  3. A few months ago my car hood wouldn’t latch properly. Three people came by to tell me it wasn’t closed, and then a neighbour helped me fix it
  4. Another day I left a car door open (still not sure how that happened). A friend came down, and told me it was open….nothing was taken
  5. And a few years ago I went home for Christmas and let a young man in the community drive my car while I was gone. The week after I got back a woman motioned me over and whispered “I saw somebody else driving your car!”

The point is it’s possible for people from other races to live in harmony

You just treat them with dignity and respect

And it helps if you’re part of the same family 🙂

There is no easy fix for racism friends, but I can tell you the starting point is your heart instead of your skin colour.

A Stone in Their Shoe

As a missionary in Australia, I read the book “Tactics” by Greg Koukl, and absolutely loved it. In my opinion, it is one of the best books on how to understand the beliefs of others, and share the Gospel.

one of my favourite principles in his book is called “the stone in the shoe.”

He explains it this way

here is my own more modest goal. I want to put a stone in his shoe. All I want to do is give him something worth thinking about. I want him to hobble away on a nugget of truth that annoys him in a good way, something he can’t simply ignore because it continues to poke at him.

Koukl in this article rightly speaks against Believers trying to “close the sale (bring Salvation) as soon as possible.” Of course, when someone is open to hearing the Gospel, or the Holy Spirit leads us to, we should definitely share the whole Gospel.

However, most conversations on the mission field has shown me its better to “put a stone in their shoe” so to speak.

Give them a Biblical truth that the Holy Spirit can then use to bring conviction.

I recently told a story that reminded me of this truth. The Lord allowed me to be involved in a conversational English group in Australia at the local library. In this group there were buddhists, muslims, agnostics, catholics, and a baptist minister 🙂

The first week I was there they asked me what I did, and I explained my work as a missionary. For weeks I waited for the moment to put a stone in their shoe…give a biblical truth that would make them stop and think.

Finally one Wednesday morning we were discussing church attendance if I remember correctly, and led by the Holy Spirit I said “you know, I hate religion.”

That was it

About ten minutes later we went home, and I asked the Lord to bring that up again next week if it was His will.

We’d barely started the next week when a woman who I believe was saved turned to me and said. “John you said something last week I didn’t think a minister would say!”

Then in a public library I had the privilege of explaining the difference of a works-based relationship with God, and accepting Christ as your Saviour.

Satan loves to tell us that we have to share everything at once (and the person MUST get saved) or our attempt at evangelism is a failure. Nothing is farther from the truth. The Holy Spirit can use just one Biblical truth to lead someone to repentance.

It is not my job to convict people, thats the Holy Spirits job

My job is to faithfully share what God has said…..one rock at a time

Sitting with the Hurting….Celebrating wiht the Rejoicing

A few weeks ago, I read a statement from a missionary friend in Togo, Africa describing missions that really spoke to me.

Feed the hungry

Sit with the hurting

Celebrate with the joyous

The more I read those words, the more I realised the he was right. A massive part of missions is simply developing relationships. Evangelism is done as we develop relationships with the unsaved, and share the Gospel. Discipleship is done as we develop relationships with Believers, and teach Gods truth.

Because relationships are some important, they must be constantly nurtured and cared for so you don’t drift apart.

Of course, life happens, and sometimes you have to rebuild those relationships

One of the greatest effects my cataracts had on ministry is I no longer interacted with people. Not because I didn’t want to, but because the poor eyesight made it incredibly difficult to recognise people. As the medical furlough got closer, I spent more and more time at home.

While I am grateful for the time in America getting my eye surgery, thats more time apart from the people of Saint Vincent.

The sad fact is, by the time I get back, my close friends will be acquaintances 1. So I must rebuild those relationships.

  1. With meaningful conversations (direct eye contact, listening ear, kind words)
  2. With quality time just being present
  3. With genuine concern
  4. And with constant communication

More than anything else….its just being there for them.

A big part of me wants to hit the ground running when I get back to Saint Vincent in daily activity.

But the best thing I can do is just sit with people

Mourn with those who are hurting (without trying to fix the problem)

Listen to those who are struggling

And rejoice with those who are blessed

  1. People you know, but don’t have a close relationship with

When Ministry Is Boring

For the last week, my “office” has been a small kitchen table at the house my father was born and raised in, lovingly called the “West Virginia House.” Being here with my parents as the medical furlough comes to an end is a time of rest, relaxation, refocusing, and making of memories.

It’s also very boring

before you get upset, let me explain what I mean by “boring.” Ministry (and missions is particular) emphasises activity. Becoming involved in evangelism, discipleship, and leadership development keeps a person very busy! Before my cataracts began to bother me, most of my day was spent going from one place to the next, ministering to people.

“Boring ministry” is a season that emphasises mental work, prayer, and personal reflection instead of constant activity. Obviously this is incredibly necessary. But sadly because we aren’t actively “doing things” it can be viewed as wasted time.

NOTHING can be farther from the truth!

The interesting thing is you cannot do active ministry properly without those periods spent studying and planning.

There are many reasons why the boring seasons of ministry are precious, but let me share a few

  1. You do big things: I have completed notes for a college-level Eschatology class during the medical furlough, and am working on notes for a class on the Major Prophets covering 180 chapters of Scripture! This took lots of reading, typing, and working on a computer. Time I could have never created in an already busy schedule
  2. You get perspective: A common problem in ministry is that you need to take a step back in order to see things clearly. I’ve done a lot of thinking lately about how to reach the people of SVG lately while helping my dad work in his garden.
  3. You can hear God: Now of course God doesn’t speak in an audible voice. Yet often we can get so busy we aren’t paying attention to how He is leading in our lives. Its in the quiet moments of life we can hear Him the clearest.
  4. You will come back stronger: A personal goal of mine is that the John Wilburn who returns to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines will be much stronger than the one who left. I’m not just referring to my eyesight, but to have a deeper walk with God, and a more focused purpose. Personal development takes time, but it’s well worth the time spent.

Part of me wants to dive back into the work of SVG, and thats okay. But at the same time I gladly submit to the boring days of ministry, since its often in those God does the greatest work.

Missions is….making communication a priority

2 Samuel 18:33 And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!

I read this passage in my devotions a few days ago, and been thinking of it a lot. David here is mourning the loss of his son Absalom, who had tried to take kingdom away from him, and had been killed in battle.

the interesting thing about this passage is David had many chances to be restored to Absalom when he was alive, but never did it. He wanted to be restored to his son after Absalom had murdered his brother Amnon (13:39) but refused to even him when Absalom returned to Jerusalem (14:24). It wasn’t till two years later that David was reconciled to his son (14:33).

As the day of battle approaches, it seems David feels sorry for this poor relationship with his estranged son. Before the battle he asks Joab the general to leave Absalom alive (18:25), and after he was killed, mourned as if the life of his son was more important than his army (19:6).

What is the Moral of the story?

Communicate with loved ones while you can

For a missionary this takes a bit more concentration and focus, but thankfully not much effort. The thing is, I haven’t seen my family face to face over two-years 1, but am able to keep a strong relationship using social media, and texting tools.

Honestly making communication a priority is tough for me because I am a task-based individual who focuses on accomplishing goals each day. Because my family and friends back home aren’t with me, texting or communication with them can be pushed to the background.

The truth of the matter is that sin, pure and simple.

God has given me not only relationships, but countless numbers of technological tools that allow for continual communication with family and friends. If I get so wrapped up in my own agenda or “to-do list” that loved ones are neglected, I’ll find myself like David missing them after they are gone.

The application for all of us is set aside time for communication

  1. Send a text message
  2. Have that FaceTime chat
  3. Write a letter (even if you have to email it)
  4. Call just to see how they are doing
  5. Make communication a part of your life

I am grateful for the strong relationship with family and friends as a result of technology. But at the same time am recommitting myself this year to communicating more, so that I won’t try to reconnect too late.

  1. Interestingly I am accustomed to being away from home, though there are days when homesickness still hits me
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