Christmas 2015

In past years I would write a Christmas story for my family. This year is no exception, and so with the help of my young friend, Philip Phiri, I wrote a Christmas story that includes some of his memories from Malawi, Africa.

Here is our story: The Insider

The lights across the river cast a beautiful array of green and red along the ripples of the Lilongwe River. Tropical rain pounded the surface of the water, but Stephen and a group of twenty homeless boys stayed dry underneath the Sir Glyn Jones Road Bridge. They enjoyed the glow and warmth of a small fire. He pulled a roughly woven wool blanket around his shoulders and tried to find a comfortable place to lay his head. It was Christmas Eve.

“There will be good luck tomorrow,” piped Jonathan, Stephen’s older brother. “The bins will be full of scraps and the maids will all be in a good mood. They will look the other way and let us take what we want. Tomorrow we will not fall asleep hungry.”

The thought was little comfort to Stephen. “I wish I was not hungry today! I wish we were not always waiting for and hoping for tomorrow.”

“You will see,” said another boy from the back row. “Even the guards at the golf course will be in a good mood. We will have good luck and make some good money.”

“I don’t want to go back into that river,” Stephen said. “Someone else can get the golf balls. There are crocodiles in that water.”

“You will do as you are told,” said Captain, the oldest of the boys. He lifted the blade of his panga, a machete-like knife with a double-edged blade.  “If we don’t get at least 100 golf balls a day we can’t be at the gate selling them to the foreigners. You know the rules.”

“They are stupid rules,” Stephen mumbled. “Stupid rules made up by stupid guards who only want to get their share. Tomorrow I’m not going to play by their rules.”

“And then you’ll go hungry,” Jonathan punched his brother. “Now let’s get some sleep, before the fire burns out and the cold sets in. I’m tired.”

Stephen shuffled a piece of cardboard over a dry patch of ground, lay down and closed his eyes. He tried to remember his last Christmas at home with his mother. She was a kind lady, respected by everyone in her community, even after his father’s death. Why she moved to the capital city and married Mr. Big-shot, the name he and his brother gave to their step-father, was a great mystery. Mr. Big-shot resented that he must work to feed children who were not his own flesh and blood. The brothers were told to leave when a baby sister was born, sent away when Jonathan was ten and Stephen was eight. Two years had passed and they were part of the “Hard Core,” a rough band of street children known for thievery, their mischief and foul language.


The boys woke up to the glorious dawning of a beautiful Christmas Day. The rainstorm had passed and golden slivers of light filtered through the trees that lined to river. It was early and the birds were singing. A pair of storks stalked the banks of the river, fishing for their daily catch. The cool morning air would give way to hot, humid summer temperatures, building to an afternoon thunderstorm and evening rains. The weather pattern was predictable and the boys knew that they needed to take advantage of the fine weather.

Stephen bundled his blanket and few belongings and made a bold declaration. “I will not swim with crocodiles today,” he said.

Captain rose to his feet, his panga strapped at his side. “If you do not come with us you will have to find your own food and we will not protect you. Run away, now, before I kill you!” Captain reached for the handle of his weapon, running his fingers along the edge of its wooden handle. He looked like a lion, ready to pounce on its prey.

Stephen stood to his feet, ready to run if Captain took a step closer. Fear filled his eyes as he took a step toward the path leading up to the road. “I will go,” he said.

“Wait! What will you do?” asked Jonathan. “You are better off staying with us to protect you and provide for you. Where will you go, my brother?”

“I am going back to Zomba today; back to where my uncles and aunties will care for me,” said Stephen confidently. He did not know exactly how far Zomba was, nor if he could find a way to catch a ride, but he was determined. “I pray God will help me, for it’s a special day. Don’t you believe that miracles can happen on Christmas Day?”

“Miracles?” scoffed Captain. “Miracles don’t happen for boys like us.”


Two hours later Stephen found himself near the outskirts of the city. An elderly couple had pointed him in the direction of the M-1 highway leading out of town, and told him it would eventually lead to the road heading in the direction of Zomba. He knew that he needed to hitch a ride on a bus or truck that could take him the two-hour drive, but there were few cars on the roads and the city was quietly waking up. He flagged down a bus headed for Lake Malawi and Zomba, but the driver would not let him ride without paying the fare.

Stephen was hungry, and so he did what he and his brother had done for the past two years; he began to search the garbage bins of houses of the Magwere District. Stephen did not know this part of the city, so he watched carefully as he made his way into the residential part of the community, cautiously taking back roads and smaller streets to avoid any guards or police. The houses looked new and were all safe behind high brick walls. It was before 8:00 a.m. and maids were putting out the night’s rubbish in the bins. Stephen was certain that there would be some scraps for him to fill his stomach.

Stephen heard a commotion as he turned a corner, stopping to hide behind a mango tree. A security guard stood at an open gate, trying to hold back two large dogs that had spotted a rabbit out on the street. The large German Shepherd was tugging at the end of its leash and broke away, chasing the frightened animal towards the end of the street. The guard handed the leash of the smaller Labrador to someone who stood behind the wall. He took after the dog, which had now taken a side street and was in pursuit of its own special Christmas treat.

The guard, in his haste to chase the dog, had dropped a large, black garbage bag just outside of the gate. Stephen cautiously made his way towards the open gate and was just about to reach for the bag when another boy, about the same age as him, stepped out from behind the wall. He held the brown Labrador’s leash as the dog began to bark.

“Stop it, Beanbone. Stop it!” The dog settled down and took a position beside his master, keeping an eye on the frightened scavenger.

Stephen’s eyes grew wide with fear as he looked at the other boy. “I, I …” he stammered. “I am only looking for some food.”

The boy looked confused. “Why are you not with your family? It is Christmas Day.”

“My family lives far away, in Zomba,” said Stephen. “And I have no food. Please, may I look to see if there is any food?”

“What is your name?” asked the boy. “My name is Isaac.”

“I am Stephen.” He looked at the dog, which now lay relaxed by Isaac’s feet. “Did you say your dog’s name is Beanbone? What kind of a name is that?”

“He likes beans and he likes bones,” Isaac replied. “I’ve had him ever since he was a puppy and he’s my best friend.”

“I used to have a dog,” Stephen started, “but then we moved to the city.”

“What happened to your dog?” Beanbone’s head twisted as Isaac asked the question, almost as if he understood every word.

Stephen sighed and shook his head. “My step-father made us give him away because he ate too much food.”

For the first time Isaac noticed the bundle of Stephen’s belongings, and that his clothes were dirty and torn. “You don’t live around here, do you? Where do you live?”

“No where,” Stephen admitted. “I live mostly under the bridge with a group of street kids, but I don’t want to be with them any more.”

Just then the security guard turned the corner, struggling to control the German Shepherd that was intent on heading back in the direction of the rabbit. He noticed Isaac standing by the open gate, talking to a complete stranger.

“What do you want, boy?” he called out. “Why do you bother us on this day?”

Stephen took a couple of steps back as the German Shepherd now focused its attention on him, trading its barking for a low growl. Isaac and Beanbone stepped between the larger dog and Stephen and held up his hand. “Squeeky! You sit!” The dog obeyed reluctantly, keeping an eye on the stranger.

“His name is Stephen and he is heading to his home in Zomba. All he wanted was to see if we might have a bit of food.”

Isaac turned to Stephen. “This is Mr. Mdunwe, but we call him Walter. He works as a guard at my father’s medical clinic. He came to spend Christmas with us because his village is far away.”

“We have no time for him,” Walter said. “We must get ready for church. Your father wants to leave in 20 minutes.”

“I will get him,” Isaac handed the leash of the second dog to Mr. Mdunwe. “He will know how we can help Stephen.”

Minutes later Isaac returned with a tall, smiling man. His broad smile revealed perfect white teeth. “Isaac tells me that you are from Zomba,” he said as he greeted Stephen. “Our pastor’s wife comes from the city and she knows many people there. Maybe we can help you. Please, come and sit in the shade.” He gestured for Stephen to come into the shaded courtyard.

Mr. Mdunwe spoke up. “Sir, we do not know where this boy comes from. He may be sent by a group to spy out the houses in the area. They send a small child that gets pity when he tells a sad story, then he goes back to report to the gang and tells them about all of the things that are worth stealing from the house. I think he’s one of these “insiders” that come to do harm, not good. I strongly advise against this.”

Isaac’s father looked at Stephen, then back at his employee. “We will treat him like we ourselves would want to be treated,” he assured. “And it is Christmas, there is no better time that we show some Christ-likeness.”

Stephen followed Isaac and his father as they stepped into the courtyard, where they sat down at a stone table. Mr. Mdunwe closed and latched the gate, then took the two dogs and released them in a dog pen that ran along one side of the white, concrete house.

“Do you go to church, young man?” asked Isaac’s father. “We will be leaving soon and you could join us if you would like.”

Stephen looked at his ragged clothes and flip-flops. He shook his head and said, “I don’t think that I … I don’t think that I am ready to go to church. I have no good clothes.”

“You can borrow one of my shirts and a pair of shorts. And most of the kids wear sandals,” chirped Isaac. “There will be games and balloons and the Christmas pageant.”

“My father used to take us to a church in Zomba,” Stephen recalled. “I think it was the Prespitarian church, or something like that. I was very young; maybe 4 or 5 years old. I can remember that I was part of the angel choir.”

“Maybe you mean Presbyterian,” said Isaac’s father. “We go to a Baptist church, but it is not very different from what you are used to. If you would like to join us, you should perhaps get cleaned up. I am the choir director and need to arrive early.” Stephen nodded his approval.

“Follow me!” Isaac instructed. They entered a side building that Stephen assumed was the maid or servant quarters.  Mr. Mdunwe watched from the side, keeping an eye on the street child’s every move.


Stephen and Isaac sat in the back seat of the family sedan. Isaac’s parents rode in the front, talking as they drove. Stephen marveled at what a little soap and a clean set of clothes did for him. He wondered why this family would show such kindness to a boy they did not know.

The car fascinated Stephen. He did not want to tell the family that the last time he was in a car was when the police caught him, his brother and one of the other gang members in a shopping centre after closing hours. They hid in a bathroom and waited until they thought nobody was around, but were caught by one of the security guards. They were shoved into the back of the car, driven far out of town, and beaten with police clubs. The two policemen left them and told them never to return to the city, but they were back with their gang later the next day, finding their way back by following the banks of the river.

The church building was a simple white-brick structure with a tin roof. Everyone was dressed in their best clothing. Most men were dressed in black suits, with a white dress shirt and colorful ties. The ladies wore bright patterned dresses and black dress shoes. Children were happily playing a game of balloon volleyball, doing their best not to stain their Sunday clothing. It was an African church, but Stephen couldn’t help notice that most people looked very distinguished, yet out of place, in their European clothing.

“My mother always made us wear shoes to church,” he whispered to Isaac. “That’s one of the things I didn’t like about church.” He wore a pair of borrowed dress sandals, and was much more comfortable. “The other was when the ladies always hugged and kissed us. Do they do that at your church?”

“I just think you better get ready to get your cheeks pinched,” smiled Isaac. “Everyone will want to meet our visitor.”

Isaac was one hundred percent correct. The line of ladies waiting to pinch and hug and kiss the children as they arrived was almost more than Stephen could bear. He wasn’t used to the affection and kindness. “If they’d seen me yesterday, digging for trash out of garbage bins, I wonder if they’d still be treating me like a king?” he thought.

The service lasted for nearly three hours. Stephen found it hard to sit still through the three choirs, but found the children’s Christmas play more interesting. He laughed as Isaac played the role of the Innkeeper, pronouncing that “there was no room at the inn.” The pastor promised a short message, but after the first hour people began to get restless. He spoke of all of the characters of the Christmas story, including the donkey and a lamb he called Eunice. Stephen’s mind began to wander.

And he was hungry. Stephen’s stomach churned and began to growl, and he realized that he had not eaten anything that day, except for one shortbread cookie back at the house. In an act of mercy, Pastor Milton set aside two full pages of notes, pronounced the benediction and blessed his congregation.

Most of the people made their way out of the church quickly, heading home to prepare a special Christmas supper. The children knew that they must wait until after supper to open their presents, so they were anxious to get the formality of the special meal out of the way. Isaac’s family waited, hoping to speak to the Pastor Milton and his wife about Stephen’s family.

The pastor and his wife were an older couple, apparently with no children. They smiled as they were introduced to Stephen and invited him and Isaac’s family to sit down. They listened to Stephen’s story, asking questions as he told them about his father’s death, his mother’s new husband, and the lives he and his brother led in the city.

“Did people call your father ‘Barney’?” asked Velma, the pastor’s wife. “I think I can remember a family from the Presbyterian Church that fits your description. He died in a train accident and left a widow and two small boys. That must have been five years ago. The last I can remember she left for the capital and people say she married a cruel and hurtful man. There was a brother named Peter, who I think still lives in Zomba. Could this be your family? Did you live on the road to Maganga and to Lake Malawi?”

Stephen looked, wide-eyed in disbelief. “I do have an Uncle Peter,” he said. “And we lived not too far from the lake. My brother and I would ride my father’s motorcycle and go swimming when he had days off from work. I remember one Christmas, even through it was pouring rain, we went swimming.”

“Tomorrow we plan to travel to Zomba,” said Pastor Milton. “We could give you a ride and see if we can find your Uncle. We could try to find your brother too; we have room in our car for both of you. Would you like to do that?”

Stephen couldn’t believe his ears and was speechless.

Isaac tugged at Stephen’s sleeve. “Now do you see why you came to our house? How else would you ever have met Pastor Milton? Who else but God could work such a miracle?”

Stephen remembered Captain’s words. Maybe God can do a miracle for a boy like me, he thought.

Isaac’s father whispered something to his wife. She agreed to whatever was spoken, and he rose to his feet. “We would like to invite you all to have Christmas supper with us today. We have been blessed and have enough food for all of us – and even an “insider” who sent to us from God.”


Christmas 2014

Dear Friends and Family,

One year ago at this time we were getting ready for Christmas, wondering if the persistent rain showers would eventually give way to snow and grace our Christmas with a white blanket; something that doesn’t happen too often in the Lower Mainland of B.C.

We also wondered what 2014 would hold, with the only guarantee that change was imminent. Dwayne had given notice to the Missions Fest Board that January 2014 would be his last conference and that they needed to begin to search for a new leader.

The prayer-filled process to work with the Board of Missions Fest and groups of volunteers to look for a new Executive Director was rewarded. On May 15, 2014 Dwayne became the “ex-Executive Director” of Missions Fest, passing along the responsibilities of this ministry to John Hall. At the same time many of you joined us as we waited and prayed that God would open a door for us.

We were just as surprised as some of you as to where we ended up. Some of the doors and connections with overseas ministries never did come to fruition, and other opportunities were firmly closed. By the end of May we were praying that God would take us to one clear place where we could be involved in ministry together, and that the open door would come soon.

That open door was Hazelglen Alliance Church, in the region of Kitchener, Ontario. They were looking for someone with a passion to teach the Word of God and a heart to mentor and disciple the many young adults attending the church (the region is host to three major universities, including the University of Waterloo). We visited the church in June and enjoyed the opportunity to meet the people and see some parts of the city and area. It didn’t take long and Dwayne was asked to come and serve as lead pastor of the congregation.

The months that followed were a blur, as we sold our townhouse in Surrey and moved across the country. We visited family and friends along the way, and were welcomed by the church in mid-August. We stayed with Dave & Mary Patterson, our new friends and board chairman, as we looked for a home. We took possession of our wonderful home in the SW corner of the city on October 1st.

Rhonda eventually found a part-time position with a company that works with senior home care. Kayla came with us and found it challenging to find full-time work, so she opened a pet grooming business that she runs out of our home. Brett stayed in BC to finish his computer programing course at Kwantlan University College in Surrey, BC. He’ll be with us for the Christmas break!

God has led us to a pleasant place. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know our people, as well as the city. We’ve already had family visits from Dwayne’s parents, brother and his wife, and Mom Hamm and Albert. We have a spare bedroom and a hide-a-bed for visitors, and look forward to hosting many of you and showing you around the Kitchener / Waterloo region.

Allow us to finish with some specific greetings:

To our friends and colleagues from Missions Fest Vancouver; we applaud the way you have continued to carry the torch and come together as many different local churches under the banner of the Great Commission. You have faithfully worked with John and new leadership to ensure that Missions Fest is a catalyst to spur churches and individuals on to do “greater things” in the wonderful work of the Kingdom of God. We thank God for our friendship and the work He is doing through you.

To friends at Peace Portal Church; we miss our times of fellowship with our small group, staff that we had the privilege of working with, and the many supportive and godly people that we came to call friends. You were our church home for nearly a decade and we thank God for you.

To our new church family at Hazelglen Alliance; we look forward to all that God has for us in the New Year. You’ve welcomed into your church family and given an opportunity to use our gifts for the Lord. This is a new chapter in our lives and we trust that God will use this time for a great harvest in this place, as well as around the world.

To family – thanks for your prayers and support through this year of transition and change. We cherish our times together and look forward to your trips “out east.”

And to all who read this letter – May you experience a truly joy-filled and Christ-honouring celebration.

As I write this letter we are once again in the midst of our Christmas preparations. We’re tracking a massive weather system that is coming towards us from the Gulf of Mexico. It will bring rain showers, but it just might turn cold enough by Christmas Day to give us snow. Otherwise we’ll be looking at a not-so-ordinary green Christmas in Ontario. Maybe it’ll help us to feel more at home!

Merry Christmas!

Dwayne & Rhonda Buhler

P.S. Everyone likes a surprise at Christmas! Dwayne has posted a new Christmas story on his LukeFiveTen blog. The Escape takes place along the Hungary / Austria border in 1947, nearly two years after World War II. We hope you enjoy the Christmas Eve story.
Read the story at:

I Press On


Pressing On

Paul, in Philippians 3:14 says, “I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” What is that goal? How do we know that we are getting there? 

The goal is related in a previous verse, and is often stated in the simple phrase, “to know Him, and to make Him known.” For Paul this was to know the power of his resurrection and participate in the sufferings of Christ (Phil 3:10). It was something that he acknowledged was unatainable, yet a goal worthy of his efforts and attention. He was sitting in a Roman prison, an older man, when he penned these words. There was still something to strive towards. 

This Easter weekend I am reminded that there are still mountiantops to reach; goals to strive towards. We can stand atop some of the physical peaks that surround us, yet there are still spiritual heights to which we must press on towards. We are not to settle or be content with our present state, but to seek the same power of the resurrection to keep us as we seek God in our daily lives. We press on – we look to new heights. We long to know Him deeper and experience His power and leading as we head towards the goal.

Christmas in Another Country: An Interview

Grace Fox, (see speaker, author and Co-Director of International Messengers – Canada asked me to answer a couple of questions about Gold, Common Sense, and Myrrh.

Question: Gold, Common Sense and Myrrh is a collection of ten short stories that all take place on Christmas Eve. How did that come about?

Dwayne:  One year I was working on preparing for a class and a writing deadline in the days before Christmas, wanting to get things done so that I wouldn’t have to work over the holidays. My kids, who were five and seven at the time, knew that I was upstairs in my office, and Rhonda had told them not to bother me.

My son snuck up into my home office one afternoon and asked: “Daddy, why don’t you write something for us?” That year I wrote Woodcutter’s Tale and we read the story on Christmas Eve. The kids never forgot and the next year, as soon as we turned the calendar to December, they were asking if there would be another Christmas Eve story. There was no turning back after that, and it became part of our family tradition.  We read Dad’s story on Christmas Eve, and then the biblical account on Christmas morning.

Question:  In the introduction of the book you mention that living in a different country forced you to celebrate Christmas without all of your normal traditions. What was that like?

Dwayne:  It was the first year we celebrated Christmas in Brazil. Rhonda and I were in language school and lived about two hours away from any of our missionary colleagues. Our three-foot plastic Christmas tree resembled a scene out of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and even though the malls had some decorations, we couldn’t quite get over Santa’s bikini-clad helpers. The sweltering heat of the Brazilian summer, combined with the odd smell of manioc flour fried in olive oil, garlic, onions, and bacon, didn’t fit our “normal.” It was the first time we didn’t have our family with us, and one of the times that we were faced with a deep sense of loneliness.

Christmas 1990 – Campinas, Brazil

We found ourselves asking; “What are we doing here?”  Answering that question helped us, because it caused us to focus on the why of Christmas, and not just the what. We were there in Brazil learning the language in order to be able to communicate the story of Christ, his coming to earth, and purpose to bring us back into right relationship with God. We found that once the trappings were stripped away, what we were left with was the story; and that was good enough for us to make it through.

Question:  The stories take place in ten different countries. What was the thought behind that?

Dwayne:  I think that it came about more by accident than a plan. The first story was written as a historic enactment. The second was written during the year we were leaving Brazil, and I wanted to highlight those things that my kids had grown up with. The third year we found ourselves in Mexico and it seemed natural to use the story to teach the kids something about the new culture around them.

As the years went along, it became a part of the fun of the story for the kids to guess where Dad’s story would be from. I’d give then hints and even promised a prize for whoever first guessed the location of the story.

The stories became a source of deepening my faith and personal understanding of the greatness of the gift of Christ, especially as I discovered more and more that when you strip away the stuff of Christmas, it’s His story that stands out. I found myself learning about the variety of traditions and the reason for some of the things that we do in our celebration, and found ways to include them in a story. The normal things that we do – like manger scenes and crystal stars – all have a deep meaning when you understand where and why they became a part of Christmas traditions around the world.

Question:   Which stories are your family’s favorites?

Dwayne:  That’s interesting! My daughter is a cross between Doctor Livingston and Doctor Doolittle, so her favorite has always been Puppies for Christmas; there’s just something about the thought of a Daschund running loose in a chaotic airport on Christmas Eve that she loves. My son is an adventure seeker, so he remembers stories like Danger Pay and The Refugee; anything where there’s a bit of action and the chance of someone getting shot appeals to him. For Rhonda and me, our special ties to Brazil and Mexico make The Miracle in Rio and A Piñata for Rosita our favorites.

Question:  So … where’s this year’s story going to be from?

Dwayne:  That’s a big secret! You’ll have to be at our home on Christmas Eve to find out.

Gold, Common Sense and Myrrh is available at Amazon (Paperback and Kindle editions) and Smashwords (Electronic editions)

Gold, Common Sense and Myrrh: A Christmas Collection


Christmas Collection Religious FamilyGold, Common Sense and Myrrh is a collection of ten short stories that take place on Christmas Eve. A part of my family’s Christmas Eve tradition, we traveled around the world, visiting a poor family in Rio de Janeiro and witnessing the kidnapping of students in an international school in Laos. The stories span history, going back to a missionary family in the South Pacific in the 18th Century and to the Canadian Prairies during World War II. The final story ends in Bethlehem with the tale of a woodcutter and his son as they accompany the shepherds to the manger. Gold, Common Sense and Myrrh reveals the wonder of the Christmas story, seen through the eyes of people from different nations and cultures.

I know of no better time of year to snuggle up with a great storybook than Christmas. Each tale in Gold, Common Sense, and Myrrh is worth the price of admission. Many of them will stay with me for life. I smiled, I cried, I thought. I sprained my wrist turning pages.
– Phil Callaway, speaker and author of Laughing Matters

These stories transport readers to another time and place, to cross-cultural experiences where they discover the true meaning of Christmas. They engage the imagination and grip the heart. Make reading this book a treasured family tradition.
– Grace Fox, speaker, author and national co-director of International Messengers Canada

Available at and at Amazon Kindle E-book version.

The Line

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Sometimes I have trouble with one part of Proverbs 3:5-6; What does it mean to live the straight path of life? I wonder if people in Saskatchewan understand this verse differently from those who live in Squamish?

Those who live on the prairies know about straight roads that stretch for hundreds of miles, without a curve. If you stand on your toes you can see the Manitoba border from Swift Current.

For others who live along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, a straight road is that uphill section which allows five seconds to pass the slow moving truck in the slow lane. The words straight and mountain road just don’t seem to go together.

Many times life resembles a curve-filled road with unseen dangers or circumstances around each bend. My life has had few “Saskatchewan stretches” where I knew how everything would work out.

My work on a survey crew helped me understand the importance of a road’s centre line. An engineer plots the course of a road and everything else revolves around the plan he forms. Building the road hinges upon the centre line, guiding every foot of pavement that is laid.

Once the asphalt has cooled, a centre line is painted to guide drivers around corners. Although they can’t see around the curve in the road, motorists trust that a well-meaning engineer placed the line to protect them.

I believe that the Master Engineer has placed a centre line for us to follow. It is found in His word, seen in people who don’t have all the answers, and experienced when we place our trust in Him when we don’t always know how things will turn out.

God’s Carpentry

One of the most influential relationships of my life began with a simple phone call. I was in one of my obnoxious adolescent moods when I heard the phone ring. I grabbed the receiver and delivered my well-rehearsed greeting: “City Morgue—you stab ’em, we slab ’em. The good ones go to heaven and the bad ones go to . . . hello!”

Without missing a beat the person on the other end of the line replied, “This is your Aunt Martha, and that’s the rudest thing I have ever heard from anyone your age. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

“Um, well, I, ah, I don’t have an Aunt Martha!” I stammered. “Who is this?”

The caller’s laugh revealed his true identity.

“Oh! Hi, Pastor Tim. Do you want to speak to my mom?”

Tim Tjosvold, the new youth pastor at our church, had tried to talk with me on a number of occasions. Up to that point I had been only an observer, not a participant, in the life of the youth group.

“Well, I wondered if you could help me out,” Tim said. “As you know, we’re working on a youth choir production, and I was—”

“I’m not a singer,” I said, hoping to cut the conversation short.

“Well, no, not everyone is. But you see, there’s a great deal of drama in the production and—”

“I’m not an actor, either,” I interrupted him a second time. There was a pause on the other end of the line.

“We also need someone to help out with props and a few other odd jobs. Would you be willing to swing a hammer with me for a couple of Saturday afternoons to help make a small stage?”

I was the last person in the world who should have been invited to swing a hammer. Tim was probably the second-to-last person. We were both “handyman-challenged.”

I couldn’t think of a good reason to refuse Tim’s request and soon found myself committed to working with him. In spite of countless bent nails and hours of frustration, we became friends. The time Tim and I spent together during those weeks produced more than a small, precarious stage. It laid the foundation for mentoring.

Whether or not it was a conscious decision on his part, Tim engaged me in a discipling relationship. A biblical example of this is the relationship between Barnabas and Saul (who would later be known as Paul). Together, they taught and ministered to the believers in Antioch, a task that built trust and companionship between the two men (Acts 11:25–26). From a discipleship standpoint, the key element was not what the two did in their time together but the relationship that developed.

Barnabas acted like a master craftsman as he imparted his life to Saul. We observe four basic principles of construction in their relationship that can help deepen our understanding of the concept of relational discipleship. I saw these same traits in Tim while we swung hammers together on those Saturday afternoons.

Commitment to Craftsmanship

A wise builder demands an excellent finished product. This requires that he or she invest time and personal attention throughout the building process.

The fundamental principle Barna-bas modeled as he mentored Saul was the attention he gave their relationship. Barnabas’ traveling to Tarsus to seek out Saul speaks for itself; the elder believer showed interest and saw potential in this man.

When a godly person spends time with eager learners, he or she is bound to leave a lasting impact on their lives. Structured discipleship programs or studies have their place. But discipleship is not an assembly-line process. No program or method can take the place of relationships that influence others toward Christlikeness. As we rub shoulders with godly men and women, something rubs off on us.

Commitment to a Blueprint

The successful builder follows a plan throughout the construction process. He or she knows how the final product should look even before cutting the first two-by-four.

Clearly, Saul learned this from Barnabas, because later in his life he wrote of two key objectives in a discipling relationship. The first goal is character development—working to “present everyone perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28). The second is the multiplication factor: those in whom we invest our lives will also “be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2).

Although a task or project can be included in the time spent together, the project is not the focus. Teaching ministry skills may also be part of the process, but even that is not the primary reason to be together. A discipling relationship focuses on helping others become more like Christ.

Commitment to Progress

Profitable builders are familiar with the saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The phrase applies not only to construction but also to imparting Christlike character to others.

True disciplemaking takes time and a commitment to the growth of disciples. This is not an easily measured process, since the important foundational stages often do not offer visible results.

There is no way to measure the full extent of Barnabas’ influence upon Saul as the new believer observed Barnabas’ prayer habits, devotional practices and sense of integrity. That Saul emerged a different person after his time with Barnabas is undeniable.

Discipleship is not a microwave-oven operation. Much like the process in Saul’s life, disciplemaking requires a commitment to steady growth toward the desired goal of maturity in Christ.

Commitment to Equip

A wise builder knows that part of his or her job is to coordinate skilled laborers. In the event that trained workers are not available, the builder equips others, sharing from his or her own skills and experience.

The best way for people who are called to ministry to prepare for the task is to work with an experienced person who can “show them the ropes.” Barnabas equipped Saul for ministry by working with him, not by merely passing along knowledge. The men spent time in the streets and in people’s homes, not in a classroom. They touched the lives of real people and dealt with tough issues in a church overflowing with new converts.

A builder knows the job is done when he or she can step back and look at the completed project. The result of disciplemaking is not a visible structure, but Christlikeness. The effective discipler builds into the lives of others, developing relationships that result in mature, reproducing followers of Christ.

Tim Tjosvold never has admitted that he had mixed motives when he called me that day years ago. But I suspect that building a stage was secondary. I’m thankful that this godly man came into my life first and foremost as my friend but also as one who would point me to Christ—even if it meant doing something as ordinary as swinging hammers on a couple of Saturday afternoons.

Note: Tim and Brenda Tjosvold now serve in Niger, one of the poorest nations in the world.

Meet my Friend Brian – Cambodia

Brian McConaghy is a man with a burden for the people of Cambodia. In 1989, he visited South East Asia for the first time. As a Forensic Scientist for the RCMP and having grown up in the political turmoil of Northern Ireland in the 1970’s, Brian had seen a lot of the dark side of human nature. Yet, what he witnessed in the Cambodian Thai border refugee camps on that first trip, appalled him and changed his life forever.

Determined to take action, Brian founded Ratanak International, a charity dedicated to the restoration of post genocide Cambodia. This was the start of a long journey that has taken Brian and Ratanak through many challenging and rewarding times in their desire to be servants of the Khmer people.

One of the biggest challenges came in 2004 when Brian was asked by the RCMP to undertake an investigation of a Canadian pedophile. The perpetrator had been arrested for torturing locally prostituted women. Upon his is arrest videotapes had been seized depicting him abusing little Asian children. Brian’s assistance was needed to identify in which country these child victims were located.

For the first time, Brian was confronted by the faces of little girls, as young as 6, being assaulted on videotaped evidence. Despite feeling totally overwhelmed by the circumstances of these children, Brian was determined to respond. During this case he said:

“I am overwhelmed by the daily hell (a term I do not use lightly) experienced by these children and have no idea how they survive as long as they do. Yet, I am stubborn in my belief that here, there can be hope. I remain convinced that the penetrating light of Christ can punch holes even in this darkness. This is not a time to be passive — it is a time to roll up our sleeves and climb down into the muck at the bottom of the barrel — just as Christ would do.”

If you come to see Brian speak this year at Mission Fest, you will see how Christ has and is restoring the lives of these children, and in so doing, is bringing hope to Cambodia.

For more information go to

The Fountain

It was an amazing sight. Red liquid cascadedSpiritual Lessons from Jell-o from one level to the next, shimmering in the light. If it had been an ornate fountain at a five-star hotel it would have been beautiful. Instead, it was my refrigerator.

The red liquid was not a colorful fountain, but red Jell-o that oozed its way into every nook and cranny of the appliance. A sticky mess now faced me.

I wished I hadn’t lectured the kids that morning about cleaning up after themselves. They looked on, wondering if I would do as I said. To add to my dilemma, I knew if I mopped up we would be late for church.

They didn’t hear the struggle within me. Strange sense of humor you have, Lord. Bad timing at best. Can’t I just teach my kids a lesson without having to live it? Would you rather have me clean this up or get to church on time? And to top it all off, I’m the pastor!

“Pick up a rag and get to it.” It wasn’t an audible voice, or a burning bush experience. Something inside just told me that it was the thing to do.

The next 30 minutes were spent on my knees. Not in deep, soul-searching prayer. They were spent taking every item out of the fridge and cleaning it. Every shelf needed to be taken apart. The Jell-O even got into the hinges. What a mess!

The thrill of watching dad having to clean up after himself wore off quickly. My kids made their way to another part of the house to await our departure. But I know they noticed. They learned something that morning, and so did I.

As a parent I am watched by my family. Do I complete what I request of my kids? Will I get upset over spilled milk? Do my time requirements get used as a cop-out for making exceptions to our house rules? How will I react to an unexpected puddle of Jell-o on the kitchen floor?

It’s all a part of the teaching process related in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. We teach as we sit at home, as we drive in the car, and as we walk through life. We’re called to teach on the fly. We teach in the good and in the bad. Our example puts flesh on the bones of our faith. The flowing red cascade of Jell-o in the fridge only served to test if it was real.