Getting Them to Hell

I walked with a little girl to school this morning who regularly attends bible club, always sits on the second row during Church, and enjoys taking notes during the sermon, but does not know the Lord.

As we walked along I asked her “if you got hit by a car right now where would you go?” without a moment’s hesitation she responded “hell.”

That answer didn’t surprise me since she told me that at least once before while sitting on my porch, but still isn’t quite ready to be saved.

Walking away from the school I began to pray that she would someday be ready to accept Christ.  But also thanked God that 8-year-old knew she was going to hell.

Lately I’ve been asking many children in Barrouaillie this mornings question (if you died right now where would you go) and it seems EVERYBODY is going to Heaven!  However when I follow-up by asking “when God asks why He should let you in what will you say?” the children are no longer confident.

The truth is many children (and adults) know they will go to hell, but are too embarrassed to say that publicly, so they just say Heaven instead.   While I would definitely prefer for this girl to accept Jesus on the way to school that open confession meant she grasped her need of Christ, and opened the door for conviction from the Holy Spirit.

Bill Faye in his book “Share Jesus Without Fear” explains that our goal when witnessing is to share the Gospel clearly.  Even when this doesn’t lead to a Salvation decision, it focuses the mind of that unsaved person on the Gospel.  He illustrates this with the following conversation.

  1. Christian:  Are you willing to accept Christ right now?
  2. Unsaved person:  Not really
  3. Christian:  Why Not?
  4. unsaved person explains reason and its clarified by Christian (so your allowing _______ to keep you out of Heaven?)
  5. Christian: Let me ask you this if you died right now where would you go?
  6. Unsaved person:  (mumbling) Hell
  7. Christian:  Where would you go?
  8. Unsaved person:  (stronger voice) Hell
  9. Christian:  Okay drive safe!

You can clearly see how this conversation forces them to meditate (think about) their eternal destiny.   

Part of me wanted to put pressure on the girl to accept Christ on the way school this morning but knew Salvation had to be HER OWN CHOICE.  So as we got closer I encouraged her to find the pastor’s wife, a fellow missionary, or myself when she was ready to accept Jesus.

A few minutes later as I walked around the other side of the school she ran up and called my name (went through two passageways to get there).  I calmly asked what she wanted (praying to hear the words “I am ready”) but she just giggled and looked at the ground.

That’s okay because the Spirit of God is working her life, and someday soon I pray the angels of Heaven will rejoice because she is ready.

Pinnocio and Pre-Understanding:

One of the more interesting things I’ve learned about Biblical interpretation while preparing Hermeneutics notes is how we bring pre-conceived notions to a passage.

Scott Duvall and Daniel Hays in their book Grasping God’s Word describe this as preunderstanding

Preunderstanding refers to all of our preconceived notions and understandings that we bring to the text, which have been formulated, both consciously and subconsciously, before we actually study the text in detail.

Our preunderstandings can come from many different places

  1. Family background
  2. Experiences growing up
  3. Culture
  4. and even media!

One fascinating illustration Duvall and Hays use for preunderstanding points out how we subconsciously bring our own views to the story of Jonah

A good illustration of culture’s subconscious influence on our understanding occurs when we read the book of Jonah and then try to visualize Jonah inside the great fish. Try to imagine this scene yourself. What do you see? Do you see Jonah squashed-up inside of the tight stomach of a whale, with no space between him and the stomach walls? Most people do not see that image. Many people, including ourselves, see Jonah inside a circular-shaped stomach, about six to eight feet in diameter, with a little bit of water at the bottom. Obviously this is not really what the inside of a whale (or fish) looks like.

To be honest I’ve always imagined a whales belly to be quite large, and never really thought of Jonah being cramped….however when you think about it a whales belly wouldn’t be able to accommodate a grown man that way!

In a way this is strengthened from the pictures we see like the one below from the Jesus Calling Bible Storybook


However the authors have a much more interesting idea about where that image originally came from

So why do we see this? Where might this image come from? We suggest it comes from the movie (or book) Pinocchio. In this Walt Disney movie a whale swallows the main character, Pinocchio. The movie then presents us with a scene that portrays Pinocchio sitting inside the whale (a barrel-shaped room on its side, six to eight feet in diameter, etc.). This movie thus leaves us with a subconscious image of a person sitting inside a whale.


In a way when reading Scripture our mind often “searches its data banks to find a picture that visualizes the event.” There’s nothing wrong with contextualizing Scripture of course, but preunderstanding limits who a passage can be interpreted BEFORE observing the text.  

This is VERY dangerous.

More than anything the idea of preunderstanding has challenged me to make sure I’m allowing Scripture to speak for itself instead of bringing my own interpretations to it.

Using Personal Time for Discipleship

When thinking of the word “discipleship” I get the idea of two people in deep discussion with a Bible, and coffee (if they are lucky.)  However this view overlooks the many opportunities for Discipleship we have in the daily experiences of life.

Mark Dever in his book “discipling” gave a very interesting thought about using personal time to train or find new leaders


On those occasions when my wife asks me to go the grocery store, I typically break into a cold sweat for fear of getting the wrong thing (my issues, not hers!), and so I often bring a brother with me. That way, we can spend intentional time together, and he can share the blame.


I’m pretty sure they didn’t discuss Theology while comparing different kinds of dressing, but being together gave an opportunity to share how God was working, and how they could pray for one another.


The Lord is slowly beginning to help me seek teachable moments with others in this personal time instead of Bible Study.  Not because we shouldn’t have Bible Studies of course, but it opens greater doors.  
The thing is no child would come over to have a Bible study with me…but they love to do things with me.  And its during that shared personal time the Gospel is shared.


Last Saturday I FINALLY got around to washing my car (it was in very bad shape) and instead of doing it myself asked two of my best Bible Club students to help me.  After being washed twice, rinsed, and dried off I took them on a ride to the next village and back.  Then we sat down on my porch and ate pringles potato chips while reviewing what we learned in Bible Club about God.

While eating pringles and sitting on my porch doesn’t fit into what we normally view as Discipleship trust me when i say that it is.  Those boys will vividly remember that car ride, those snacks, and discussing the Holiness of God.

Another blessing of using personal time for Discipleship is the Holy Spirit opens the door for some amazing conversations about the Gospel and our need of Christ.

A few weeks ago I was throwing a football around with some of the kids and jokingly said “boy I’m good at this!”  A little girl immediately shot back “but you aren’t as good as God Mr. John” (I had to agree).  Many conversations like this have taken place because personal time has been spent just being with young people.

Of course I look forward to the day when one on one Bible studies can begin.  But until that day I’m happy eating pringles on the porch, and explaining that God loves us more than we could ever know.

The Books I Read My Children

Because of ministry with children in Barrouallie I’ve become an avid collector and reader of children’s bible-story books.  There are a number on the market but the Lord has helped me find a few that really minister to the hearts of kids….I share them with the prayer that they would speak to yours as well.

1.  The Jesus Storybook Bible:  If you have a young child and don’t own a copy of this book stop reading this right now and go buy one (no seriously I’ll wait).  Did you get it?  Okay then lets continue.  I absolutely love this book because it describes in detail how familiar bible stories find their fulfillment in Christ.  The pictures, and easy to read stories make it incredibly easy to keep the attention of children from any culture

2.  The Bigggest Story (Kevin DeYoung): This is a shorter book but excellent because it emphasizes two main points of the Gospel

  • We have failed God
  • And God is our Rescuer (ultimately through Christ)

The Lord used this book to emphasize the Gospel in the hearts of many Vincentian children with one of them praying to receive Him.  The pictures in DeYoungs book are of a more artistic style, but help with drawing attention to the story

3.  Everything a Child should now about God (Kenneth Taylor):  The idea behind this book is that it would be Theology for children.  Since every story is only two pages (one has text and the other a picture about that text) and it uses very large print its easy for the children to follow along…I usually hear them reading along out loud.  The pictures are also excellent because they have lots of small items the kids like to point out.

This book is very helpful when discussing deeper truths about God.  In the last week we talked about angels, God being a spirit, God’s eternalilty, and His Holiness

Finally here’s a couple of things I’ve learned about reading books to children:

  1. Rule number one ALWAYS use a REAL BOOK not one on a tablet…trust me it wont go well
  2. Learn to read upside down-both the page and its picture must be facing the child
  3. Sit down in a chair if possible-it centers the children’s attention, and causes many to sit at the front
  4. If you can follow along with a pencil as you read the words-helps kids read along
  5. Make notes in the book that can help with discussion
  6. Ask questions about the pictures (what is the boy doing?)
  7. And always review using earlier pictures before starting that days page

What’s been exciting for me is to find children’s books that are more theological such as DeYoungs and Taylors, as well as “I Am” 40 reasons to trust God by Diane Stortz.  May we thank God for the basic books such as the Jesus Storybook Bible, but make sure that we teach the deeper truths as well.

The Conversations of a Spiritual Parent

Last Wednesday two days after carefully explaining new disciplinary rules to the students who attended my computer lab ministry I was forced to enforce those rules by leaving early, and shutting things down for a week.

On the way back I was reminded how much of ministry can  be referred to as “parenting” since it involves taking a parenting role of children.

Surprisingly spiritual parenting doesn’t usually involve discipline, but having conversations with children that are ideally done by parents.

  1. Teaching them right from wrong
  2. Laying down ground-rules that can be followed up on
  3. and patiently explaining why they aren’t going to get what they want

In the last three days I’ve

  1. Had a fifteen minute conversation with a group of boys who stole fruit out of a bowl I had on the porch (I willingly give this out but they have to ask for it) then five minutes later came asking for water.
  2. talked with a young man who came to Church yesterday and  (1) played video games downstairs after Sunday School (2) went to a nearby shop for cookies coming into the service 15 minutes late, (3) and laughed and talked during the sermon.  Yet he confidently demanded a reward for coming
  3. And explained to a boy who was “too sick for school” that if he was well enough to come by my house for water and a story, he was well enough to be in class

The sad thing is the parents of these children in Saint Vincent want to be there explaining why what they’re doing is wrong.  But most of them work all day, so the kids are left to either extended family members, or in extreme cases their friends.  And while there may be a greater need for spiritual parenting in SVG, make no mistake, its in the States as well.

Conversations like this are frustrating and exhausting because you don’t see a change in the child’s life…and on days like last Wednesday when they celebrated as I drove away from computer lab (in their mind they won something) you want to be quit.

We keep going however because its in those conversations they understand how the world truly works.

We keep going because they need authority figures who will actually say no

We keep going because it shows we care

and we keep going because the good shepherd never tires of going to search for us


One-Year Visa Praise


February 23, 2017

Dearest Friends,

You know one of my biggest prayer requests since coming to SVG full time has been gaining a more permanent visa.  Unfortunately there is a lot of confusion about how to start this process, so I continued renewing a visitors visa every three months.

Each time there was an extension I asked if it was possible to apply for something longer, but always told that couldn’t happen till later.  In December an immigration officer told me that it would be possible to apply for a one-year visa in May.

Last Thursday (February 16th) I came to extend the visa and was told it was possible to apply for a one-year immediately!  This was a huge answer to prayer so I went directly to the Prime-Ministers office and picked up an application form.

By Monday morning I had everything they requested but was told that a criminal check from the US would be necessary before the application could begin.  This is an understandable request but frustrating since I expected to start the process that morning, and mail moves VERY SLOWLY from the States to SVG.


The Lord worked this out for His Glory however since my mother went Monday afternoon to the local courthouse, obtained a copy of my criminal history (nothing there), and sent it to SVG by fedex.

Wednesday morning after receiving a final extension to my visitors visa I went to grab some groceries, and while checking out got a call from Fedex that the criminal record had arrived, all I had to do is walk over and pick it up!


Because of the Lord (and some huge help from my mother) one week from the time I was informed it was possible to apply for a one-year visa, my application is being processed!

Please pray with me that this process moves smoothly and the visa will be accepted.  And rejoice along with me in how God worked everything out.

In Christ,

John Wilburn

My Morning Walk With God


A little over three weeks ago I started getting up at 5:30 then at 6:00 walking to a nearby community called Kearton and back.  Initially this was done to lose my dreaded “American Weight” but by day three I noticed a significant but unexpected change.

God in His Infinite wisdom has created me as an activity-centered person, which means I view inactivity as laziness (though it definitely isn’t).  I prefer to hit the ground running out of bed and dive immediately into work.  However that leads to either confusion about what should be done next, or trying to do everything on my list (either failing, or not doing it the right way).


My commitment to a morning walk after 5:30 devotions did wonders because it gave me a concrete purpose.  Suddenly instead of running around trying to accomplish ten or twenty things I was focused on a few goals that came through meditation on Scripture.

There is more than ever a need in our lives to not only read the word of God, but meditate on it.  By that I mean stop, think, and pray through the passage in unplugged silence.  And though I’m still not very good at it myself, part of that mediation means simply giving the Holy Spirit room to speak (obviously not in an audible voice).

Being someone who loves activity the early morning walk is an idea way to meditate on Scripture, though I’m probably getting a reputation for talking to myself (praying) during them.  The important thing is creating a time of silence so that you can think about the Scripture passage God gave that morning, and then allow Him to speak to your heart.

A few weeks ago I was having a really rough morning.  I was struggling with discouragement, tons of challenges on my mind at once, and just didn’t feel like doing anything.  It wasn’t till later that I remembered why.  At 5:30 that morning I chose to hit the snooze alarm a few times instead of getting up, and didn’t get my morning walk in.

It was shocking how much not having that time affected me.

Don’t get me wrong God is glorified in our busyness…but He is more glorified when we choose to walk in silence with Him.


The Moment I Said Goodbye to Netflix


Here’s the simple truth behind reading a lot of books: It’s not that hard. We have all the time we need. The scary part—the part we all ignore—is that we are too addicted, too weak, and too distracted to do what we all know is important…  Charles Chu

Until three weeks ago my way of relaxing every night was sitting on the porch and enjoying the cool night air while watching Netflix.  What changed that was reading from John Owen one Wednesday afternoon.

In writing on Matthew 26:41 (“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”) Owen spoke of people who blindly walked into temptation instead of being careful about entering into it.

In that moment I knew Netflix could no longer be part of my evenings

Now by itself Netflix isn’t bad of course…but I turned my mind off and “zoned out” while watching it.  In a way letting down my defenses, and giving Satan the perfect opportunity to attack.

So while enjoying some well-earned relaxation my mind:

  1. Began to indulge itself (just one more episode)
  2. Became distracted from what God had taught me during the day
  3. Entertained thoughts of discouragement or depression when things were bad
  4. And “medicated” my frustrations instead of bringing them to God
  5. Most of all it left me wide open for Satan’s subtle lies

Since then I’ve watched Netflix very little (during lunch) with Scripture (the Psalms) and books in its place….it may not be as entertaining as Netflix (though it often is) but ensures my defenses stay up.

Along with the spiritual blessings, choosing a book instead of Netflix develops me more personally.

Last month Charles Chu wrote an article on this subject called How to read 200 books a year.  The most interesting part of it is “I want to say reading 200 books a year is an amazing thing. But the truth is, it’s not. Anybody can do it.”

Chu points out that reading 200 books seems big (417 reading hours a year) but then the average American  spends 608 hours a year on social media, and 1642 hours on TV.  In other words, there is time to make a solid commitment to reading, but it must replace what we normally use for relaxation.

To be honest I don’t see myself reading that much a year, but the Lord is teaching me the blessing of reaching for a good book instead of my laptop.

Why We Exchange Niceness for Kindness


Here’s the problem, though. Niceness and kindness aren’t interchangeable. Nice is cheap. It costs you nothing. Nice avoids tension and always strokes your ego, even if Ray Charles could see you’re wrong.

Kindness, however, tells you what you need to hear. It won’t stroke your ego because you’re awesome. Kindness loves you too much for that.

Yesterday Frank Powell wrote the above quote in”8 Christian Values that Aren’t Really Christian”  And pointed out a very important lesson about ministry as well as life.

Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is confront someone

Now this doesn’t mean confrontation is always loving (note the word SOMETIMES).  In my experience 85% of ministry drama can be dealt with using loving and wise communication.  However there will always be that other 15% that requires confrontation.

Powell points out in those situations we have a choice between being Nice, or being Kind

  1. Niceness is interested in defusing the situation, and making the person feel better
  2. Kindness is interested in helping the person grow by pointing out a weakness, or mistake they have overlooked

Though in the short-term Niceness looks better, its actually incredibly unloving because it allows a problem the person doesn’t recognize (or refuses to recognize) to continue.

After a two-week stay in the States I returned with what’s affectionately called “American weight.”  Some Vincentians told me I actually lost weight after getting back (being nice) but the thing is their niceness didn’t change the fact that my belly was big.

Thankfully I had the brutal honesty of pictures from Disney World


This picture in particular (and others from Disney World) revealed to me no matter how many Vincy’s are nice and tell me I’m in shape, the massive belly is still there.  And its a friendly reminder that my eating habits need to change.

  • it gets me up at 5:30 in the morning for my 6:00 AM run
  • forces me to start a strength-training program
  • helps trade junk food for vegetables
  • And keeps me from eating all the sweeties I’m supposed to be giving children

In a sense confrontation done in love is like that picture that reveals a side of the person they don’t want to see so that they can change it.

And in the long run that’s a lot more loving than acting like the American weight isn’t there.

Putting Out the Fires


For Missionaries and others serving the Lord lots of ministry involves dealing with drama.  Because of this we often find ourselves as “firefighters” putting out fires caused by relationship issues, miscommunication, and stress.

My initial attempts to put out these fires were disastrous…but then the Lord helped me learn two very important lessons

  1. Your job isn’t to fix the problem, its to put out the fire
  2. Your goal isn’t to be understood, but make sure it never happens again

Your Job Isn’t to Fix the Problem

During my first years as a missionary when drama would result in blowups I saw it as my responsibility to explain why the person was wrong, and how they could do better in the future.  It’s true that loving confrontation is a part of these situations however in the heat of the moment people are thinking with their emotions instead of their head.  The most loving and gentle explanation will be seen by them as a direct attack.

It is to put out the fire

Because of this my question while approaching explosive drama changed.

Instead of “why has this happened?” it became “how do I defuse it?”

Experience has taught me it’s far wiser to put out the fire with wise words and then approach why the fire erupted in the first place.

Your goal isn’t to be understood

Let me say this as clearly as I can…you need to apologize

While this isn’t true for every case, in most of them you did something to create that raging inferno.  And there is almost always a logical explanation why you did what you did.

We must remember rationalizing our actions is like throwing gas on the flame.  It’s tempting in the heat of the moment to defend yourself (especially when being attacked) yet the heartfelt “I’m sorry” can still defuse the most volatile situation.

But make sure it never happens again

Apologizing means my mind instead of focusing on explaining why I’m right (or their wrong) is consumed with making sure it never happens again.  Usually this means after dousing the fire with an apology I suggest a plan to make sure things don’t get this bad in the future.

Sadly ministry will still involve putting out one fire after another.  But by God’s Grace we can use those heated moments to live out a Gospel that restores relationships.