The Sacrifice of a Missionaries Mother

Thursday morning I finished reading “A Tribute to Mothers Who Send their Children Into Missions” by Lori McDaniel, and sent the link to my parents with tears in my eyes.  The entire article is excellent, but one paragraph spoke to me in a special way.

A mother of a missionary celebrates with her extended family during holidays, but she can’t wait to snuggle up with technology when that video call comes from her child overseas—even if it means she must patiently hit “call again” as “no connection” repeatedly appears on her screen.

There are moments of homesickness or loneliness in Barrouaillie, but missionaries, friends, and countless children who shout “Mr. John!” mean those moments don’t come very often.  Though part of me will always miss mom and dad the strong relationships on the mission field are used by God to fill the void of being away from family…so it’s easy to think sometimes other relationships will fill that same void in my parent’s life.

But it doesn’t

The truth is we missionaries (Including myself) often get so wrapped up in the busyness of daily ministry that we forget about the emotional pain of those still at home.  Yes God gives grace, yes it is a sacrifice they make willingly, yes they are incredibly proud…but it still hurts sometimes.

Thinking about Mothers day and Thursdays article reminded me of the morning I accepted the call to full-time missions.  The Lord had been dealing with me for months (I was too scared to go), but after a veteran missionary, Chick Watkins preached from the last book of John there was no more running.

As I knelt at the altar my mother came down and put her arm around me.  She thanked the Lord for my obedience to His will and gave me over to a life of missions.  In that moment I didn’t realize the worries, concerns, and questions that were going through her mind, but they didn’t keep her from obeying God’s Will for my life.

Today she rejoices in the Lords work through my life and every morning texts to ask how my “fur babies” (puppy and cat) are.  But its necessary to remember those texts and brief video chats can never take the place of actually being there.

There are still moments of concern, worry, or even heartache. It’s in those moments she remembers that prayer many years ago, and once again lays me upon the altar.

The kind of sacrifice that is precious in the eyes of God

Learning to Love the Friend Zone

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As a teenager I spent a lot of time in whats commonly called “the friend zone” [1]. It usually began with my showing interest in a girl and included a conversation that began with the words “we need to talk” and ended with the words “your a nice guy” while a knife was stuck in my heart 🙂

For a young man the friend zone is the last place you would ever want to be since your constantly reminded there’s no possibility of a relationship. But looking back on my teenage years I can see it as an important part of healthy relationships.

The key difference is instead of coming on too strong and being relegated to the friend zone awkwardly, men must choose to enter it at the beginning of a relationship before dating begins.

Normally the friend-zone isn’t something you would enter willingly
1. You will usually be spending time with the young woman and her friends instead of yours which can be sort of awkward
2. Anyone who enters the friend zone realizes there is absolutely 0% chance of dating her
3. And its common for the young woman to interact with you in a different way than other guys  [2]

So why should I subject myself to something like this willingly? Because in the friend zone you can discover what they are really like.

its my personal opinion there needs to be a relationship stage before the initial “coffee dates” where we truly learn about the person. This isn’t just to think through compatibility, but for a Christian its to ask whether or not this is a person God may have chosen for them to marry.

It is possible to learn about the person while going out for coffee or ice-cream, but in reality a commitments already been made [3] and they won’t be sharing too much of themselves at that point anyways.

The common pre-coffee stage for Christian young men is something I call a “stalker stage” which involves spending time with her whenever possible, and studying like theres an exam on her life next period [4]. While you may gain some information this way its way too obvious, so your not really accomplishing the goal of finding out what kind of person she is.

The friend zone is different because the emphasis is on learning what kind of person they are by observation instead of asking lots of questions. Being a guy they could never see themselves dating is awkward…but you can see how she responds.

  1. To discouragmeent-what is she like on a bad day?
  2. To failure-does she just give up or keep trying?
  3. To anxiety-What worries her? How does she respond to things that are frightening?
  4. Or to anger-Does she have a temper problem?  The she does get made what kind of things calm her down?

It won’t take long to get a firm understanding of what she is like on her best and worst days. You will also know whether or not this is someone you want to pursue a relationship with.

Of course if you do find out this persons someone your interested in then you have to successfully “escape the friend zone” which definitely isn’t an easy feat. However many times being able to observe people over time allows us to work past the initial emotion, and realize they aren’t as perfect as we imagined them to be.


  1. for those who don’t know, this is when a person your interested in isn’t interested at all in dating you, but still wants to hang out as friends. Its leads to very awkward situations  ↩
  2. she will talk and interact as if your “one of the girls”  ↩
  3. One to find out if the other persons truly interested in you, and express your interest in them  ↩
  4. constantly asking her very personal questions, and grilling her friends for information  ↩

There needs to be a dating stage before the “Coffee Stage” of a relationship

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A few months before leaving Barrouallie I began teaching on relationships at our Young Adults meeting every Friday.  During each these lessons we discussed what a dating relationship would look like if our final goal was marriage with the person who God had chosen for our lives.

Some of the changes this would bring were obvious (you ask “is this a person God may want me to marry?” Instead of “am I attracted to this person?”) but others took a lot more time to truly understand.  One truth in particular took them weeks to grasp because it goes against pretty much everything they believed about relationships.

There has to be a dating stage before your pre-dating stage

I know this is confusing so allow me to explain…

95% of the time a couple won’t go out and start dating right away since even though they may be really interested in a person, they don’t truly know them.  Therefore instead of asking  that person out on a date you would invite them to something that had a lower commitment level like going to get coffee or ice-cream.  This would allow you to get to know each other after working through the initial “awkward silence” and if your careful it can even be done without anyone else finding out.  The general idea is after going to get coffee or ice-cream a certain number of times your ready to make a decision about entering a dating relationship.

Now I have nothing against the coffee stage of a relationship because it keeps things from becoming too serious right away.  This is especially true if your thinking of marriage in the coffee stage since there’s no way to know whether or not that person is someone God may want you to marry without learning more about them.

My point isn’t that the coffee stage is a problem….instead I think we should make it longer by creating a separate relationship stage BEFORE the coffee stage begins.  

Now before you start looking for a Bible passage that teaches this there isn’t.  My belief that there needs to be a pre-dating stage for our pre-dating stage comes through my own teenage years.

Take a few moments with me this afternoon and remember what it was like to be a teenager (go buy some stridex pads for your acne if it helps).  How long did it take you to go from “wow that persons beautiful!” To “do you want to get a cup of coffee?”  If your anything like me while the physical act may take a week or so , mentally you were already thinking of conversation starters and jokes for the upcoming coffee “date”

Did you notice that there was no real evaluation stage where I focused on learning what kind of person she was before entering the coffee stage?  

“Oh come on!” You might say, “the coffee is all about learning what kind of person she is!”  That’s true, but in all of my first coffee stage dates I didn’t really learn too much about the person

  1. Because I was too busy trying to get through the awkward silence
  2. Thinking about what I should (or shouldn’t) be saying
  3. Trying to make myself look awesome (I am awesome, but it’s hard to be that way in a stressful situation)
  4. And attempting to find the deeper meaning in everything she said

After the first or second coffee date one of two things happens…either you become comfortable with each other and move into a dating relationship, or drown your sorrows in pepsi and baked goods.  Either way the result of a coffee stage proves there needs to be a relationship stage before it.

For those who don’t move on a pre-coffee stage would save heartache and empty calories

And those who move into the dating relationship still don’t truly know the other person….they are in a position to get to know the person better, but following the coffee stage have just become comfortable with one another.

Think about all the pain, sorrow, and empty calories that could be avoided if there was a stage before coffee.

What if we knew that guy was an egotistical jerk, or that girl was incredibly controlling BEFORE the pre-dating stage.

What if it was possible for us to honor God by only taking that first step with those who we feel may be God’s will for marriage instead of going from interest to coffee in seconds?

Learning to Love the Padlock on my Relationship Gate 

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I was having lunch with friends at Wendy’s recently so over Frosty’s we talked about my ministry in St. Vincent.  After going through a lot of the normal questions one of them smiled and asked, “so are there any cuties on the island?”  When my response was to reach for another French fry she laughed and apologized for asking,  but the truth is I’m used to being asked questions like that, and don’t mind it at all.

That wasn’t always true because being in a relationship and eventually getting married  used to be a very big deal to me since all of my friends were getting married.  So when people asked a relationship question it just remained me of something I wanted but didn’t have…however today I use those questions to explain a padlock God has lovingly placed on my relationship gate.

Between bites of a double with cheese I told them that my calling to Missions had a lot to do with my being single.  There’s no doubt in my mind a job that doesn’t involve leaving family and friends for years at a time and entering other cultures would mean being married with a mini-van full of kids.  However it’s hard to find someone single who is called to missions and crazy enough to start over in a new culture (all missionaries are a little bit crazy)

Being a Missionary means my list of requirements for someone who will enter my relationship gate (start dating or going to get coffee) is a bit different than others.  Usually the list of questions you ask  before opening the gate looks like this;

  1. Do I find this person attractive?
  2. Are they saved and growing in the Lord?
  3. Is this persons personality or likes and dislikes compatible with mine?
  4. Do we have the same goals?

For a missionary other questions are asked;

  1. How will they respond to not being with family for years at a time?
  2. Are they able to adapt to a different culture?
  3. What will happen when they cannot get things in the other country they are used to getting here?
  4. How good are they at adapting to circumstances?
  5. And most importantly are they called to Missions?

Apart from places that emphasize missions like Bible College it’s incredibly hard to find people who can meet these qualifications so in a sense missions places a padlock on my relationship gate.  This doesn’t mean I’ll never be married, but it does mean my relationship questions go much deeper than is she attractive?

Right after college I viewed that padlock as a curse since it eliminated many young women who I was interested in dating because they weren’t called to missions.  Some people believe that young women who are willing to become missionaries should be accepted as well but it’s my personal opinion both individuals in a couple should have a personal calling to missions.  It’s simply too easy to become discouraged in ministry and give up on missions.

In my late twenties there was an incredible temptation to remove the padlock of missions and begin a dating relationship with someone who I felt would be willing to become a missionary, but with the Lords help that padlock remained intact.  Today I am incredibly grateful for that because the same padlock I viewed as a curse is a tool for God’s Glory.

A few months ago I was speaking at a young adults meeting in Barrouallie about God’s desire that dating relationships should be focused on our future husband or wife.  A big part of this is being careful about who we even begin dating (open the relationship gate for) to honor our future spouse.  To illustrate this I told them about a girl Sandy (not her real name) who I was absolutely crazy about, but she wasn’t called to missions so we never even went for coffee (Sandy has a specific calling to something other than Missions).  The young adults were shocked one of them said “man why couldn’t you open the gate!  Maybe she will come to Barrouallie with you!” We ended up having lots of conversations in later weeks about whether or not I should have let Sandy into my gate, but it flowed into conversations about their own relationship gates.

In a way way seeing someone who by the power of God and with His help keeps a relationship gate padlocked showed them it was possible to be different than the unbelievers who let one person after another into their gate hoping each one brings happiness.

There are still days I’m annoyed by the padlock on my relationship gate but God gives strength and allows that gate to be a testimony for Him.  There may be a day when God brings someone into my life and that padlock is removed, but if I go to Heaven single that is fine by me…because that locked gate views singleness is a gift instead of a curse

Relationships Have a Person not a Roadmap

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A few years ago I began meeting with high school seniors once a week in a mentoring program.  Usually our first sessions would deal with practical things like being organized, how to study for a test, and using a to-do list so you don’t forget things.  As the weeks went by though a lot of our conversations started dealing with their personal issues outside of school.

I’ll never forget a student named Josh (not his real name) bringing up one of those personal questions at the end of a session.  I would end by asking if there was anything they wanted to talk about and his answer was usually a quick no, but that day instead of being his usual outgoing self Josh was looking down and absently picking a piece of the table.  Without looking up he quietly said, “yea man uh how do you ask a girl out?”

I couldn’t help but smile since he was asking a 38 year old single man a relationship question but that smile quickly faded after realizing Josh was actually expecting an answer.

We ended up spending about fifteen-minutes going over some basic principles about what to do when asking a girl out;

  1. Make sure you aren’t too serious right away (his initial plan of flowers and a poem was quickly rejected)
  2. Instead of going  on a date you take them out for something relaxed like coffee
  3. The goal of this coffee is to learn more about the other person…not to profess your love
  4. And most importantly you allow her to take the next step (give it some time after coffee before moving into a serious relationship)

Josh did appreciate these words of wisdom and we ended up having lots of conversations about what a relationship should  like, but the truth is I didn’t give him what he wanted.

Josh was looking for a roadmap for relationships that would look something like this;

  • Step One:  Coffee
  • Step Two:  Exchanging of phone numbers after third coffee
  • Step Three:  First date after fifth coffee at which time relationship becomes “Facebook official”
  • And so on

While having a step-by-step process in relationships would be awesome, the truth is such a roadmap doesn’t exist.  

That’s not really surprising when it comes to relationship books because all they can do is give principles that lead to healthy relationships instead of practical steps that works for everybody.  The interesting thing is we don’t find a step by step process for relationships in Scritpure either.  There are principles just like in the books and passages that teach on marriage (Ephesians 5) but nowhere does it say “thou shalt become a couple after the third coffee.”

Why is that?

There’s no doubt our dating relationships are important to God since marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church (Ephesians 5:24-25) so wouldn’t it be easier for God to give clear steps that keep us from making a mess of things?  The truth is God hasn’t given a roadmap because He has something much better planned.

You see the Lord knows that relationship roadmap would become an Idol to us.  We wouldn’t physical bow down and worship it but that process would exert a huge amount of control on our lives.  Now instead of coming to God and asking Him what our next relationship step should be we turn to our trusty roadmap.  Even worse the focus of our relationship would be on keeping rules (emphasizing outer things) instead of following Christ (speaks towards heart and attitudes).  The best roadmap in the world would still rely on human strength or wisdom and at the end of the day it would be all about me instead of God.

So in love God refuses to give us the clear roadmap we crave but instead gives something much better….a person

Not just any person, but a person what has been chosen and set apart by God for you alone.

This makes all he difference;

  • Now instead of focusing on steps to take I focus on the person God has chosen for me
  • The knowledge God has chosen someone for me makes purity personal (I keep myself pure for her)
  • Now the question isn’t “what does the roadmap say” (emphasizing works) I ask “how do I honor the person God has chosen for me (emphasizing purity)
  • The question isn’t “who do I think is beautiful?”  But “which one of these men/women could be God’s Will for my life?

It would be simpler if God gave us a roadmap for relationships but it would lead towards a self-centered way of life…so in love He gave a person instead.

A Battle Plan for “Look Away Moments”

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As a single missionary I’m well aware that integrity online (as far as what I will or won’t watch) is a very serious issue.  That’s why I have accountability partners, Bible verses to use when temptation comes, and the latest Internet filtering software for all my electronic devices.  It is a little uncomfortable asking my parents to put a password on a new internet filter, but it keeps from much more awkward conversations taking place later.

Having a battle plan against things like pornography is absolutely necessary…yet it’s getting to the point where I need a battle plan for what comes on every night.

I happen to love television drama’s that have long story lines and plenty of action; think something like Lost (in its first three seasons), or 24.  That’s why I loved streaming services like Netflix that allow me to watch my favorite episodes over and over again.  Eventually I got tired of watching those programs though so the search began to find a new favorite action/drama program.

The good news is there’s no shortage of tv shows that fit these requirements 

The bad news is there’s also no shortage of things in those programs that don’t honor God

While these programs don’t show pronographic material the relationships in most of them are patterned after the worlds philosophy that simply uses one person after another for your own benefit.  This subtle message doesn’t destroy as many lives as porn, however in a way it’s more dangerous because people watching it begin to view others (particularly the opposite sex) as people to be used instead of honored.

Apart from that there were “look away moments” where I had to either look away from the screen, or turn it off (including things like profanity and violence).  At first they only came once in a while, but I began to notice look away moments becoming more and more frequent.  While dramas may have more of these then others it’s becoming incredibly difficult to find shows that don’t have look away moments, and in a few years I’m afraid it will be almost impossible.

Because the morality of television is dropping lower and lower in my opinion it’s time for Christians (men in particular) to develop an intense  battle plan against those “look away moments.”  A plan that involves a simple but difficult choice…if it’s not news or sports don’t watch it.   Now I am aware men watch a LOT of sports so this doesn’t seem too difficult, however watching just sports is a conscious choice or commitment to place massive limits on what enters your mind.

This commitment led me to start an experiment Saturday by only allowing myself to watch sports and news for two-weeks, up till now things have gone well and I’ve kept up my end of the bargain except for NCIS last night (old habits die hard).  Lord wiling by the end of those two-weeks it will be a habit so sports will make up 98% of my television viewing.

I’m not doing this today because NCIS is filled with “look away moments” but because the days coming when all our programs will be filled with “look away moments.”   And if we wait till then to start looking away it will be too late.

Thoughts on being a forty-year old virgin (and why it’s okay)

ProfilepicLast Saturday I enjoyed the  Wilburn family tradition of going out for my birthday and playing a game my brother calls “who can remember an embarrassing story about John” like every other year we all ended up laughing so hard tears came out of our eyes.  This time was a bit different though since I turned 40 and in His sovereignty of God has called me to a life of celibacy or virgnity.

Being in a culture where people use one another to fulfill their own desires, and marriage is looked upon as a source of happiness you won’t find many single people in their forties.  A single virgin in their forties should probably belong in a museum somewhere!  Honestly you know people find your situation strange when a movie uses it as a punchline like “the forty year old virgin” and no I haven’t seen the movie it would just make me sad 🙂

Though there are challenges with being a forty year old virgin I accept it as God’s Will and He gives me strength.  This wasn’t always true because being single seemed like a curse in my twenties, particularly since all of my friends were in serious relationships or getting married.  More than once I asked God why He chose me for this “burden of singleness” in my younger years but never really expected an answer.

Thankfully God gave me one anyways

It’s easy for a married couple to stand up and tell people their relationships (dating and marriage) are to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, so instead of selfishly using one another for our own purposes we should minister to one another’s needs.  But the single person can stand up and say “that’s easy for you to say as a married person you don’t know how I feel!”

That’s the thing…I know how they feel

I’ve walked their road, and am still walking it with God’s help

A few months ago I began teaching on relationships in my Churches Friday evening young adults meeting.  One of the foundational points was you shouldn’t date anyone unless they’re someone you feel led to marry.  In other words there was a pre-dating process where you learned about the person in a group setting.  Only after they passed certain prerequisites was the dating process begun…we eventually started referring to this as opening the gate

About the fourth session I told them about a young lady named Tina who I was madly in love with (not her real name, I’ll tell it to you for a million dollars in unmarked bills).  She was an absolutely perfect fit for me with one exception…Tina wasn’t called to missions.  One young man in particular was shocked after learning we didn’t go on a date.  “You didn’t open the gate for her?”  He asked “she may have been willing to become a missionary!”

I explained to him that there was a chance Tina would become a missionary, but personal experience had taught me those kinds of commitments don’t last.  In a deeper sense it’s my belief Tina was God’s Will for another man so I didn’t open the gate.

Please understand I don’t share this for sympathy or matching-making (I’ve got plenty of that trust me!)  Instead I share it because there are many others who God’s called to virginity and singleness.

People who won’t open the gate (even if they REALLY want to) except for the right person

People who find their identity and fulfillment in Christ instead of the self-esteem or intimacy of others

People who know how it feels…and can share with younger singles not only the struggles but God’s grace

They day may come when God opens the door for marriage, but if He doesn’t that’s okay.  Because the world needs to see Believers who walk the road of virginity with submission and courage.