Thursday, January 31, 2008

Parents of Encouragement - Jonathan & Kristen

Jonathan and Kristen Whitmore are in Tokyo. They recently returned from Thailand midyear and vacation in Ko Samui. Kristen and Jonathan lead one of the two STINT teams in Tokyo. There are actually 35 STINTers and staff who work on the campuses in this vast city. During their team meetings this year, they have been praying for the Lord to introduce them to students with soft hearts. One of these students is Yusuke who is a freshman. Jonathan met him at an English lunch in the fall and Yusuke has begun to take an interest in studying the gospel with him. Jonathan’s prayer is that students like Yusuke will have their hearts captured by Christ and experience a new birth.

Speaking of new birth.... If you think there are just the two Whitmore’s in this picture, look again. Maybe the 2nd pic will help. Yes, that’s right, Kristen is pregnant! Jonathan explains, "Yes, we were trying. No accidents here, we’re just a crazy young couple who decided to get pregnant while living in a foreign country. Ha. We’re not planning on having the baby in Japan, however, even though I think it’d be pretty awesome to give our child the precious gift of dual citizenship. Here are a couple specifics you could ask the Lord for: 1) a healthy baby! 2) Kristen’s health… she’s been a champ so far, but she’s definitely had her share of queasy mornings. 3) The Lord’s direction for where He wants us next year (it’s pretty cloudy right now, and that affects where we’ll have the baby). Also, Kristen’s due date is August 22nd, in case you were curious. Thank you SO much for your prayers!”

I was thinking they could name the baby Excel since Kristen loves it so much. And Excel could work no matter if it's a boy or a girl. But then again that 'Excel' might put too much pressure on them to succeed. Never mind.

When the apostle Paul writes his final letter, he asks Timothy to bring three things to Rome - his coat, his parchments and Mark. It's an interesting request because we know on Paul's first STINT, Mark had deserted them and when Mark wanted to reSTINT, Paul didn't think it was wise. This caused a sharp HR disagreement and the pair of leaders split.

So how did Mark go from being someone Paul didn't want with him to someone who he most wanted when he was in a Roman prison facing a certain death? I imagine we all have or will have a Mark on our teams sometime. Maybe they won't physically go back to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:13). But we will be asked to lead those who check out, shrink back, rebel, back-stab, desert us or we wouldn't say 'they are helpful to me'.

I am not really sure why Mark left when he did. Things got a lot worse afterwards with stoning and being run out of town. All they had faced so far was a crazy sorcerer. But he left. Perhaps he was jealous that Paul and not his cousin was getting the lead role in the drama. Maybe he didn't like the ministry to Gentiles. Maybe he didn't like the Greek food. Who knows? Though Luke's narrative in Acts follows Paul instead of Barnabas and Mark, we can find a few clues in scripture that might be helpful.

1. An encourager invested time in him. Barnabas means "Son of Encouragement". He believed in people, including Paul, when no else did. Someone who has 'deserted' the team needs a leader to believe in them and encourage them to get back in the game. Encourage means to inspire with courage. No failure is greater than God's mercy. If the gospel is the gospel to the Japanese, Turks, Serbs, etc, then it's the gospel to us and those on our teams too.

2. He came to grips that Jesus was a servant and we are called to serve. (Mark 9:34-36; 10:42-45)

3. He stepped out and served again. Not sure what got Mark back on Paul's good side but we also see as he wrote to the Colossians that Mark was among the very few Jews who worked for the kingdom alongside Paul and he proved to be a comfort to him. (Col 4:10-11.).

There are a lot of Marks out there and when we are honest we might be or have been a Mark to someone else's Paul too. Sometimes in the life of the leader we need others to help us sort it all out because it feels like failure if we have someone that's tough to lead. Maybe the best thing is for them (and you and the team) is to finish their stint in a regional office in "Cyprus". My opinion is those times come when a person either doesn't want to change or doesn't have the capacity to change.

But for most, it's just remembering His call on their lives, renewing their desire to follow no matter what the costs, getting loved-up by a leader who believes in them and being sent back out to serve.

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