equipping & encouraging indigenous youth mission leaders with the Wilderness Ministry Institute

What if there was advent but never Christmas?

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In his well known book, The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis introduces the realm of Narnia, a kingdom Lucy & Edmund soon learn is firmly under the control of the white witch who has used magic to make sure that it is always winter, but where Christmas never comes.

Could you imagine living in that kind of world?  

During advent it is easy to look ahead to Christmas knowing that we are celebrating the birth of our Savior.  But especially at this time of year we are supposed to wait.  To hope.  To long for something different.  The tree is decorated, Christmas baking is under way, and the kids open the advent calendar and often comment that they simply "can't wait for Christmas!"

In many ways this season also reminds us of our opportunity as missionaries.  Have you ever paused to consider that in the world today are millions of people who are stuck in the long winter of Narnia?  Young people all over the world are longing for something different and are looking for meaning, purpose and something beyond their everyday life.  

What they are looking for is Jesus.  

I've been reading the Chronicles of Narnia to Daniel & Mattea, and the genius of Lewis is that he tells a story of a place that though mythical, causes us to think about our own world.  Just as Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter were called by Aslan, despite their imperfections, to break the enemy's grip over Narnia, the Lord continues to call His people today to be ambassadors of His kingdom.  

But as Paul rhetorically asks in Romans,
"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'"

During this season I'm reminded of the many young people who haven't heard the Good News of Jesusand my motivation to continue in the work the Lord has called us to only increases.  We are so thankful for the opportunities He gives us around the world to train, encourage and support leaders who are engaged in youth outreach and discipleship.  

This advent, we want to encourage you to remember the many millions for whom Christmas isn't coming, who are stuck where it is 'always winter', and to ask the Lord how He wants us all to join the chorus proclaiming the truth that Christ, the Savior, is born.

"Tazzie" time...

A few weeks ago, together with my colleague & friend, Ashley Denton, I had the privilege of spending a week with several ministry leaders in Tasmania. "Tazzie" as they call it is an island state off of the southern coast of Australia. We were invited to come facilitate a time of prayerful consideration for some new, more focused efforts to engage the younger generation there with the Gospel. Australia on most accounts is probably one of the most comfortable and developed countries in the world, yet it is a place of tremendous spiritual need. 

University of Tasmania and the State of the Church in Australia

To give you an example, at the University of Tasmania there are only about 300 students involved in campus ministries or churches and there are 26,000 students on campus. Some researchers estimate that if the current trend continues, there will be no more churches in Australia in 2050. That is how fast the culture is abandoning what used to be a fairly vibrant church.

Spending the day with some students in Hobart, Tasmania on Mount Wellington

The Uniqueness of our "Stage 1" Work

This trip is what we in Nexus call "Stage 1." Since our goal is to equip and encourage the local leaders in their evangelistic efforts to reach young people, we approach these "First Steps" very carefully, with a posture of prayer and attentiveness to what God is doing and what his agenda for reaching young people might be. After 3 years with Nexus, this was my first “Stage 1” trip. Stage 1 is really about preparing to see God at work, to prayerfully consider the right questions to steer the discussions, and to be open to whatever God wants to do. We aim to be very sensitive to where people are coming from. This is important because the kind of time and energy that we typically invest in our partners is so significant that we want to make sure that there is a long term trajectory to our partnership.

Well, after spending a week with some very catalytic-type leaders, our sense is that it's time for Tasmania. We had time with probably 50 different people, but as we prepare to move forward, let me introduce you to just a few of the catalytic leaders we met...


Scouting out routes for outdoor ministry. Mount Dove overlooking Wineglass Bay

Introducing... Some of the Catalytic Leaders we Met

My colleague, Ashley Denton, met Felicity when he spoke at the Youthworks Conference in Sydney, Australia in May 2013. Through their conversation it became apparent to him that things may be stirring in Tasmania. Felicity is one of the main reporters for the BBC in Australia. She has an evangelists heart in a culture that does not talk much about evangelism. She is also uniquely visionary in that she thinks much bigger than the average person her age and in her place in life. At the airport when Ashley and I left, Felicity pulled out a piece of paper to show us. She had spent much of that night sketching out a state-wide vision for how to develop relational evangelism and outdoor ministry among youth. She reminds me a little bit of what I imagine what missionaries, Amy Carmichael and Gladys Aylward must have been like!

Simon: We had the privilege of staying at Simon's house during our visit. He is an elder at a presbyterian church and a high school teacher. Simon really impressed me with his passion for Jesus and his openness to stepping out big time to take a long hard look at what needs to be done to truly engage young people in Tasmania. He is going to be a key advocate among a church planting movement there, and he is a natural "gatherer" who I think will help us connect with many other key people.

Tim: Here was one of the wonderful surprises for our trip. Tim has deep connections throughout the state among people who can help get some legs under the outdoor ministry aspect of our strategy. He understands the power of using adventure and camping to introduce kids to Jesus and help them grow in their faith. And the very interesting thing is that he is on his way out of Tasmania to serve as a missionary in a Muslim country where Nexus has other relationships. Tim is going to be in a very key position in this creative access country and I think we might be able to partner in that country on some ground breaking ministry.

Campbell: He is a pastor in a church planting movement that is part of the Vision 100 Network. Their vision is to see 100 new churches planted throughout Tasmania. Campbell sees the need for re-doubling their efforts to reach students and seems very keen on our relational evangelism approach.

A Season of Prayer for Tasmania

Thank you so much for your prayers and support that enable us to cast vision for more effective student ministry in places like Tasmania. Would you consider praying for our new Tasmanian partners if the Lord brings them to mind in your prayers? There is a lot of work to do, but in my estimation this is a profoundly important time and the key leaders to get inertia going are already there and ready to move forward.


What a tumultuous world we live in.  With all of the many things taking place in the world  over which we have no control it would be easy to despair:  mass murder in Syria, a power-hungry despot in North Korea, the deadly explosion of the fertilizer plant in Texas, malicious bombings during the Boston Marathon, and the list goes on.   As I said, it would be easy to despair .....if we didn't know Christ.  
As Christians we look in a different direction (or at least we should) when we are overwhelmed by the outright brokenness on full display in the world around us.  We remember that The Lord is ultimately in control, and seek to be actively engaged in His Kingdom work taking place in our lives and communities.  
As I read about what is happening in the world around us, my motivation to "Make known His deeds among the nations & Proclaim that His name is exalted" only grows.  A few weeks ago I was able to spend time with young leaders from around Eastern Europe who all came to Austria to participate in a training we offered together with our wonderful partners at Scripture Union in Austria.  Above is a link to a video where the director of this ministry, Hans Widmann, shares some of his thoughts from this training.
Josiah, my oldest son, was also able to join me in Austria and we had a very meaningful time together as father and son.  Not only did he get to see first hand "what Dad does", but we had a great time enjoying that special time together.

Equipping Indigenous Youth Mission Leaders

Our vision is to see a generation of indigenous youth leaders equipped, encouraged, & trained to effectively share the Good News of Jesus in their own countries.

iphones in the backcountry...

Here’s a blog I shared on my friend Ashley Denton’s website. You can read some of his excellent articles by visiting his blog at www.outdoorleaders.com
When I started leading outdoor trips years ago, I would make sure that participants didn’t bring their Walkman (a portable device that played tapes or CD’s — look it up on Wikipedia if you don’t know what I’m talking about).  It really wasn’t much of a problem because back then, unlike iphones and other Smartphones today, the devices were so large and needed so many batteries that it simply wasn’t practical.  More than impractical, however, people viewed those devices differently than they do today.  In the 70‘s, 80‘s & 90‘s, teenagers enjoyed their tunes but didn’t seem to be as dependent on their personal technology as the teens who arrive at the trailhead today.
It was during the decade that I led an outdoor program in Sweden that I realized that iPods weren’t merely a passing trend but a generation-defining topic.  You could ask youth not to bring phones on an outdoor trip with them, but rarely would that succeed.  You would merely set up a “me vs them” scenario right from the beginning.  Even more than that, many parents would panic if they weren’t able to call their kids or text them whenever they wanted.
Long gone are the days of a Walkman being a luxury — for many youth today, their ipod or iphone is more important for them to have close at hand than anything else in their backpack.  Since outdoor ministry is first about transformation, outdoor leaders who understand the art of
facilitation need to view this seeming obstacle to a “true wilderness experience“, as an opportunity to help young people see how their addiction to connectivity might be wounding their soul. No longer is a phone merely for communication; it is a primary tool for interacting with the world:  It is a portable movie theater, communication device, camera, personal computer & the main way people stay in touch (at least on a superficial level) with friends.
After I realized that students on outdoor trips would bring their phone or ipod regardless of what my packing list said, I decided to experiment by simply leaving any instruction about these devices out of the pre-trip info.  Instead I waited until the trailhead to see whether or not they brought them along, which of course they did.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders… (Hebrews 12:1)
Instead of dismissing these devices outright, I would start a conversation with students about the devices they use, and asked how they thought their electronics would impact the outdoor excursion.  This would lead to a discussion about what appropriate boundaries might be, which usually results in some kind of agreement that we’ll have some activities & discussions where we’ll leave the devices in the backpacks and other times (like the first night after an evening discussion) where they are encouraged them to use it as much as they want (and in general I find that teens will stick by these agreements when they are part of deciding what the boundaries will be).
I’ll be the first to admit that this approach can at times present a challenge and has its flaws.  I’m also not fully convinced that it is the best possible approach, but I have found several advantages to it.
First, this creates a context for conversation.  If one of our goals of outdoor ministry is long term transformation, then we need to be teaching in such a way that the daily life of our students is impacted.  If a young person has their Ipod with them on the trail (because they have it in their pocket all the time anyway), then as an instructor I have great chances to interact with them on the meaning, value & purpose this device (& what’s on it) has in their life.  I also have a wide open door to ask how they typically use it, and if & when it might or might not be appropriate.
Secondly, the content they listen to (or watch) provides a valuable window into what they think about & value.  I’ve yet to find a young person on the trail who won’t be eager to play one of their songs & talk about what it means to them.
Thirdly, this approach doesn’t create an awkward dynamic from the beginning with youth going out of their way to hide their device or regularly wander away from the group.
Fourthly, the batteries go dead more quickly.
And when the batteries go dead, then you have even more opportunity for meaningful discussion about a wide-range of topics.  Time on the trail becomes an opportunity to ask meaningful questions and listen to their answers (and it seems to me that a majority of teens don’t have adults in their lives who do this).
The outdoor excursion also becomes an opportunity for meaningful shared experience.  When so much of young people’s lives are defined by their electronic devices, the real, tangible, authentic experience together with other people on an outdoor adventure make that much greater of an impression.  Your friendship deepens beyond your status on Facebook as you labor for hours to reach a peak, or share a (somewhat) burned bowl of pasta on a cold fall evening.
All of us leading outdoor trips are going to have to interact with this topic at some point regardless of whether you adopt a ‘no electronics‘ policy or encourage students to strap a generator to their pack.  An important question, I think, is “how can we intentionally interact with the electronics so ubiquitous in our world today in a healthy way.”  And when we are being driven by intentional questions, then we will invariably have great opportunities for meaningful interaction on a wide variety of topics.
My experience is that if we are willing to have this conversation in a constructive way, then there won’t only be opportunities to talk about it before the batteries die, but also toward the end of the trip as we are processing potential outcomes.  I’ve found no better time to
lead a meaningful discussion about our electronics than when have had multiple days in a row where we didn’t even miss them.  The time outdoors is perhaps one of the best (& only) opportunities to ask our students to reflect on their daily interaction with the electronic world and to make decisions about healthy usage going forward.
Ultimately we have to remember that technology isn’t necessarily good or bad in and of itself.  There is no intrinsic value in these devices — only the instrumental value we place on it.  How we utilize the technology around us is what determines its moral value in our lives.  Helping young people reflect on their use of the technology can ultimately strengthen what they take home from the backcountry, and be a meaningful part of the conversation as we point them to Christ.
Dec 2014
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