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From the Archives: Why Missions Needs Boundaries

originally published January 5, 2019

One of the greatest challenges in missions is balancing our love for people, with our understanding that they have a sin-nature.

I had a conversation this morning with a woman who had begun allowing one of her grand-daughters friends to come over and play at their house. She was always careful to feed him, and give him money for a treat if her grand-daughter got one. It wasn’t till recently she learned he had been stealing her money a little bit at a time.

  • My heart goes out to this grandmother because she saw a child in need, and helped him.
  • But I see how that love created an attitude of entitlement on his part,  which eventually led to taking what he wanted from her

Sadly this isn’t anything new…early in ministry I realized the hard way meeting all the needs of those around you just creates an attitude of dependence because people with a sin-nature will never truly be satisfied.

This, of course, doesn’t mean we don’t meet any of their needs or think that those needs aren’t important. Instead it means we don’t meet every one of them.

In other words there must be boundaries….

For me some of those boundaries are built on two important rules:

  1. nobody in my house without my permission
  2. and nobody comes onto the porch without my inviting them there

And since rules must be enforced of course, I have a guard dog named Vincy on the porch who makes sure people don’t come through the gate without permission.

Honestly I wish life wasn’t this way

  • I wish you could leave your door unlocked and open without fear of anyone stealing
  • Or walk alone at night without worrying about what might happen
  • Or let everyone into your home freely
  • But you can’t

Because the world is never truly satisfied, sometimes you have to set up boundaries and guard-dogs. And remember sometimes saying no is the most loving thing you can do.

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

A Life of Quiet Excellence

Being on a medical furlough has given me a lot of time to think, and plan about future ministry opportunities in Saint Vincent. This helps a lot because it allows me to slow down, and focus on specific goals that I want to achieve .

During this prayer and planning phase, my mind kept going back to the words “quiet excellence.” This gives the idea of someone who is consistent and faithful (quiet) and gives 100% to everything that they do (excellence). So I’ve decided to make “quiet excellence” my personal, as well as ministry goal.

Quiet excellence is also a reminder for me, that in the eyes of God, consistency is much more important than activity.

I say this because activity focuses on “being busy”, while consistency focuses on long-term results. And finishing the work God has given.

There’s nothing wrong with being busy of course, but most of the time an activity emphasis means you burn out quickly.

I can remember going for a run with my brother once. I’d lost lots of weight, and wanted to see if it was possible to actually get home before him. For the first mile and a half of our three mile run I left him in my dust. But at the mid-way point I started hurting. Finally by mile two I was forced to start walking, and soon was passed by my brother running a consistent pace, and with a huge smile on his face.

Consistency doesn’t attract the attention that activity does. But it goes farther at an even pace, and accomplishes much more in the long run.

The thing about consistency is its simple, but not easy

James Clear, author of the awesome book “Atomic Habits” gives a very simple (but at the same time difficult) approach to consistency.

  1. Do Less: Focus on one main thing instead of trying to do many things at once
  2. Do it Now: Don’t allow yourself to become distracted from accomplishing that one thing
  3. Do it Right: Keep working till its done right

Consistency isn’t glamorous at all….its just repeating that process over and over again over many years.

But it has an incredible impact

I believe at Judgement Seat of Christ where Believers receive crowns to lay at the feet of Jesus, the honour won’t be given to the “successful.” The greatest blessing will be given to those individuals who faithfully did the work of God day in, day out, whether people noticed or not.

And I desire to be one of those consistent people

Not because to bring honour to myself…..

But so that the work I can do on this earth can be used to worship my Saviour.

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.

The God Who Orchestrates the Small Things

Its been almost a month since I flew from St. Vincent to the States for surgery on both of my eyes for cataracts. Strange feelings filled my heart as I left SVG. On the one hand I was excited to be getter those surgeries done, on the other hand I was very nervous.

Because of the cataracts sight in both my eyes (especially my left one) was severely compromised. I’m pretty sure I was legally blind in the left one. The problem is going through airports and customs often involves reading signs, which it was incredibly difficult for me to do.

Specifically I was worried about two things

  1. Getting through Immigration in Miami
  2. And finding the gate for my connecting flight to Richmond, VA

Finding the gate for my flight is what really bothered me since often its necessary to take shuttle busses, and read lots of signs before finding the right place.

The first answer to prayer was the immigration at Miami was shockingly not very busy! There was an added blessing since with my bad eyesight, I accidentally got in line for non-US citizens. That however actually was a blessing since reading the screen on their machines would have difficult.

After retrieving my bag, and going through security, I checked the gate for my departing flight. Fully expecting to spend a lot of time getting there, I noticed my flight left from gate D42, and then turned to see where I was.

I was standing at gate D5!

In about ten-minutes I was sitting at my gate, and thankful for God guidance in my half-blind state.

This experience reminded me of the small ways that God orchestrates things for us

  1. He planned for me to come at a time when Immigration wasn’t busy
  2. He planned for me to accidentally come into the non-US citizen line
  3. And He planned for me to come out ten-minutes away from my departure date

That got me thinking how many times God orchestrates situations in my life, but I am too busy, or distracted to notice

The thing is, whether we notice it or not, God is constantly working things out for us behind the scenes. Often it isn’t as obvious as my situation, but it’s just as important. Because it shows God genuinely cares about the big, and small situations of our lives.

My experience in Miami has reminded me its important to slow down, and think of just how many things God orchestrates for my good each day. And then to worship Him for His constant goodness.

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