In life I have known some extraordinary people. The work of ministry brought me face to face with all manner of God’s image bearers. I have seen a rainbow of the spectrum of human emotions, like light split through a prism. Some of it has been wonderful. Other moments of it have been heavy in my heart. While some of the people I have known have been like emotional weight lifting, the greatest I have known have been emotional giants, lifting the weight with me so that we would not grow weary. They have been like cave divers, chasing down the avenues of the sources of each thought and its source of pain and destiny of hope.
This morning I’m thinking of three people who I got to see at the onset of a lifestyle of ministry and missions. All three are people who once worked for me, either as volunteers, or as peers, or both. All three are people whose influence upon me weighs ten times what I ever taught them.
I met Phil Parsons as his life was in crisis. He can witness to you the effect of making long-term choices without a good foundation and what doing something because the culture says it’s what we do will do to the freedom of the human heart. Phil was hurting, but instead of turning to bitterness like so many in his situation have done, he just let his broken side be raw for a season. He was honest about what he had done and what the consequences were doing to him. It wasn’t perfect, but it was humble, and he was, therefore, teachable.
In those days, Phil began to absorb the Bible and its truths. He took the shaky foundations of his life and refounded them on the Rock of Jesus Christ.
And then we aimed him at teenagers.
I have never before or since known someone to wield a group as loco and loyal as Phil’s “goon squad.” Phil’s natural ability to know someone and ask more questions than tell stories lent him the uncanny ability to draw people who were ready to be known.
I know. That’s everybody.
And that’s the point.
Phil draws a large people to himself and then creates an exclusive group. Who do they exclude? No one I’ve met, yet. But he creates a safe and loving and knowing “us” out of his people. They feel valued and anticipated. They are known. They are mentored.
And when they pick up on his catch phrases, they are potent. Like a fart in an elevator, only funnier.
I met Sarah Brandt while she was in college. Her sister was a part of the youth group and she would come to visit home on occasion. Her father, the chaplain, would proudly bring his daughter attending school and majoring in youth ministry to chapel and glow like a newborn star. Her mother would gush her affection for her right along with dad. She always came across as knowing she was cherished, but unspoiled by the affection. She was shy, quiet, and unassuming. She was also excited about the work she saw as her life to come.
I contacted her when she was getting close to graduation. I needed another hand for the work I was doing and I missed the partnership of another full-time laborer. Sarah looked at the work and asked God and God said “yes.” She went through a long process of raising funds as a missionary to be sent by a large team of supporters to her new mission field.
The fund raising process is refining. It is not an obstacle. It’s not what you have to do to get there. It is the very first ministry of your new life. It is hard and hunts down the great and grave insecurity that lives within the heart of a new missionary. Sarah walked that road with eyes open to the work internal and external. Then she came to Kansas.
Chase McAllister left Hawaii right before I got there and returned when my time there was just entering its fourth of five acts (Shakespeareanally speaking). If you have ever studied the drama of the old days you know that the first and second act introduce characters and how they will interact. It defines the flavor of conflict, but not the ultimate problem. The third act normally includes a very heavy moment none of the characters can control or prevent. The fourth act is then all of the pieces moving around the gravity of that one moment. Sometimes a writer will introduce a new character to unbalance the action.
Enter Chase, stage right.
The funny thing, looking back, is that Chase knew the history of the place I called home far more potently than I. He preceded me, after all, and had lived through a very discouraging time which forged the excellent foundations of the community that was the fertile ground I came to work. In many ways, Chase would come back to reap the benefits of his hard work, something highly uncommon in the military community.
He had been a member of the praise team. He auditioned for the praise team again and was turned down. He looked to put his efforts into another thing and it was almost immediately apparent that was the wrong place to be. Chase was faithful in every work to which he committed. But I asked him to work with the teenagers with me. There had not been a youth program when he was there before, so he was unprepared for the three ring circus that now occupied the little chapel near the Freedom Tower.
Phil went to work as a missionary to military kids at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Right off the bat, he met resistance from some people who wanted to maintain the status quo of who was allowed to be in the group and who needed to be kept at bay. As I said, in Phil’s exclusive group, the entry criteria consists of “breath of the living God.” Phil married his wife and coached boys and girls toward the heart of God. He partnered with chaplains in need of help to reach into their community. He took conflict with people who wanted to say “no” to his work and instead found a way to work on the same team as them so they could both work the problem from the same side of it, instead of being problems to one another.
When he left Georgia, he took his students on a camp and baptized more students in a single day than I baptized in the seven years preceding that moment.
Sarah’s first week on the job with me was amazing. We looked at a plan for the year, even though I already had a soft plan in place. She looked at my plan and almost immediately diagnosed a problem. I was in a rut. She looked at the program and unrutted it. She brought fresh new ideas into the mix and a rejuvenating excitement for the girls in our ministry. While we had potent female volunteers, there’s something even stronger about having a female staff person. We developed a partnership in the work that built on trust. We played off of each others’ work. She played straight man to my goofy. She taught powerfully. She loved potently.
And then she proved what loyalty really is.
As happens in ministry, conflict came up. Details are distracting but here’s the basic mode. I was heavy handed in correcting a situation. Kid’s parent overreacted and started going to war on me. I ignored my culpability in the problem because the overcorrection did not merit the abuse. Boom. Lines drawn.
Except Sarah passed very easily and care free through all of the lines. You can’t paint her with a brush she hasn’t approved, and you can’t make her an enemy to a friend. I asked for loyalty and she point blank told me that was exactly what she was doing. She guaranteed me that loyalty is looking a friend who is being the south end of a north bound horse in the face and telling him that a son of the Most High ought not imitate a horse’s hind end.
While most of us had neutralized ourselves by bunkering down, Sarah stood tall and invincible in the line of fire, took a couple of rounds to her soul, and saved a community.
It wasn’t easy for Chase to know that he was supposed to lead but not be able to do so. In our conversations I did not sense in him a desire to have a leadership position or title. In eleven years I definitely saw my fare share of people who wanted a title so they could be seen as a leader and therefore being seen that way become effective leaders. Chase instead knew he was an effective leader. He sought leadership so that he could wield it for other people’s good.
I know that’s splitting hairs, but it matters. Without the leadership position, Chase still led people and did so under the authority of the people over him. With leadership, he did so with more freedom and creativity.
I watched him fall in love with student ministry and its eccentricities. I watched a part of him come alive as he led them in games and slowly gained their respect and trust.
I also watched God teach him a few important details about key words we use and don’t use when serving God and people. He can explain them better than I can, but I will tell you this: I will never volunteer again in my life. I will, however, serve.
When the moment came and my family knew it was leaving Oahu, heaviest on my heart was the question of who would lead my people. Much like Moses, I loved and knew them; their glories and pitfalls because we had walked so closely. Like Moses, I asked God for someone to lead my people. Like Moses, God told me that He already had a guy in mind and he was standing right next to me.
There were people who made odd objections to him. He had, in times past, been a different guy. He needed to grow. He wasn’t mature enough yet.
What I never said but always chuckled to myself was, “you should have seen me eleven years ago.”
Chase did not say “yes” right away to everything I was asking. He agreed to hold down the fort until a full replacement could be found. But he went to seek God’s mind and heart on it first. And I do not mean that he asked God to give him approval for the thing he really, really, really wanted. I mean he took time.
Phil is now leading a Youth for Christ chapter in Leavenworth county. He has forged partnerships with multiple schools across the county, including a key middle school on Fort Leavenworth to provide hope, care, home, and goon squad to students across the county. He is working on building up what has potential to be a massive force for good in eastern Kansas. He and his wife love each other epically and cherish their son like people who know the value of children. Phil could put twenty people to effective work tomorrow if they all beat down his door. Today, he will reach into the life of at least one person and make him or her feel their Kingdom worth.
Sarah is a missionary serving the teens attending the Black Forest Academy in Germany. Her gentleness is a much needed resource for people far away from their normal home and from people who speak their native language. Their oasis of family in such a beautiful and alien surrounding makes it possible for young people to learn their value to God and their hope and future in Him. Sarah comes across as tireless, even though I know the work can grind you down. She will always be a hidden stability that people will take for granted, but miss when she’s gone.
Chase is working on standing up a Youth for Christ chapter to support the military youth of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. One of the secret fears unexpressed by people watching was that handing off a program built by an eleven year veteran to a year one rookie would have atrophy consequences. My last year there, the program that usually averaged 50 students a night, at best, grew to 75. Would the program last? Would the people come? So many students moved this last summer.
The first youth meeting this last week swelled their numbers to over eighty students.
But let’s not get hung up on numbers.
Chase also lost nearly all of the student band members and a band leader.
I just looked at a picture that my replacement, musically speaking, Jeanette posted up on a social media platform. There are more students stepping up to serve on the music team now than we had before. There are students stepping up to serve who would not have dreamed to stick their necks out. They have been challenged, invited, empowered, and supported by the team that Chase leads.
And they’re just getting started.
The reason I’m writing about all of this today is that I thought about and prayed for them yesterday. I had a super cheesy moment. I was working an orbital sander, kicking up clouds of sawdust and sweat that would make Pigpen from Peanuts choke. I smelled a funny smell in the air and then a flash. And a crash of thunder. I walked to the huge roll up door of the shop with the radio blaring 80’s music and looked at the heavy clouds looming through the sky. I could feel the oppressive humidity that comes right before a deluge and I could smell the air getting ready for a storm.
A familiar boom chick boom chick drum entry sounded and then Phil Collins began to sing about rain. I sat in the entrance feeling the new cool air filling the shop and drying my sawdust crusted sweat into a fine wooden concrete film. I surveyed my life and wondered for probably the hundredth time in the week what I’m doing.
And then my mind filled with friends who serve and I had a small measure of clarity invade the moment. It blossomed into joy and pride. I am so glad to know these three people. They have been there for me when I was falling. They have been God’s very specific answers to very specific prayers.
They are missionaries.
Chase is in the opening process of seeking long term partners to invest in his ministry. If you are interested in helping him stand up a program of highest importance in the Pacific theatre of operations for the military, please consider giving. You can find his support page Here.
Phil has begun his affiliate and now needs financial room to grow. Every dollar you invest in his ministry is shepherded wisely and efficiently. He and Amy watch their dollars like hawks and lavish it the way it was intended by the teachings of Jesus. Their support page is Here.
Sarah is back in Germany for another school year. Please pray for her ministry as she’s right in the heart of where God has sent her. She came back to the US for some much needed family and friends time. She would also be grateful for your financial support to more potently enliven the work she does with students in Europe. Her support page is Here.
Please consider being part of the sending process for these three missionaries. They have demonstrated their ability to stay the course. They are strong and live their lives closely to the Father. They listen to His voice and obey His commands, even in the face of negativity adversity. Gifts are tax deductible. More importantly, they are needed for continued ministry.