Jason Birkin and his wife Shirley spent many years church planting in the Philippines, today they continue to work alongside the local church there. We asked him the question –
What was the most difficult thing you faced during your time as a church planter overseas?
Simon: Well hello everybody and welcome back to the Lessons from the Field podcast. Podcast where we ask cross cultural church planters the hard questions about ministry and life overseas amongst unreached people groups. I’m here with Brad as usual.
Brad: Hi Simon.
Simon: Hey Brad, thanks so much for joining us again, thank you to everyone who’s here listening along. It’s great to have you.
Brad: [inaudible 00:00:34] getting questions coming in?
Simon: Yeah, that’s right. Lessonsfromthefield.org is our website. There’s a contact form there. You can ask questions and we will-
Brad: Keep them coming.
Simon: We will put them to the best person that we can think of to answer that question.
Brad: So that’s good, isn’t it? We want it to be interactive, right? So people are bringing in questions, send them into the website and we’ll get them out to people on the field.
Simon: Yeah, we’ve got a good network of people that we can contact their Bible translators, church planters, et cetera. So yeah, let us know. This episode as always is brought to you by AccessTruth. You can visit AccessTruth at accesstruth.com. There’s plenty of resources there which are really helpful in learning more and being equipped to take the good news to the ends of the earth. Today we want to talk to you about an event that cross view is putting on, is that right, Brad?
Brad: Yeah, we can do that.
Simon: Sort of an event.
Brad: Yeah. So May next year we’re putting on an exposure trip called Explore. So Explore, Simon is a 12 day exposure trip journeying through Thailand, Indonesia, Java, and Bali. We’ll let The Book of X guide us as we consider what it takes for the gospel to spread. So we’re going to be looking at four different worldviews, three major religions. Over two nations. So there’ll be one team, one epic journey as we-
Simon: One team, one epic journey.
Brad: [inaudible 00:02:09] but it’s an opportunity for people to engage with a great commission. To be able to see I guess firstly how that applies practically to their life and also it helps them ask the question what’s it going to take to cross borders and barriers to effectively communicate God’s love to people in another culture and language group?
Simon: Okay, so you do, I believe it’s structured in a way that you go out, you do stuff in the community, but then you also do some learning, some not classroom type stuff, but yes, some interactive-
Brad: Less of the stuff and more of the learning. To tell the truth. So we won’t be going and doing ministry per se. We’ll be observing and talking to people in their context who are doing it.
Simon: But also doing lessons, right?
Brad: Yeah right. We’ll be going through a program called Going Global, which AccessTruth is producing and we’ll be ready by then and we’ll be going through that, which is stepping through how the gospel spread in The Book of X. And so we’ll be going through that and letting that guide us using the narrative of The Book of X guide us, how the gospel spread and the obstacles that were overcome and we’re going to be looking at that all still applies today. It’s exactly the same today. So we’re going to be doing that and talking to people, visiting different contexts and looking at what the challenges are and how those challenges can be met. We can have confidence in going out and tackling those barriers that are in the way and overcoming those obstacles with the help of God and his spirit.
Simon: Perfect. All right, so if you’re interested in going on that trip, you can head to crossview.com.au. And you’ll find it under the Explore tab.
Brad: Under the training tab.
Simon: Training tab-
Brad: Yeah, look for Explore.
Simon: And the Explore will be there. And also if you’re maybe thinking that this Going Global course is sounding pretty cool. Keep an eye out on that for the AccessTruth website. We’ll let you know when it launches properly but that’s going to be a really exciting new resource at AccessTruth as well.
Brad: Very much so.
Simon: Okay, so today we are talking to another church planter. His name is Jason Berkin. Jason and his wife Shirley spent many years church planting in the Philippines. And today they continue to work along the local church here in Australia. But I believe he’s a Kiwi, or at least he sounds like a Kiwi. Do you think?
Brad: We couldn’t find anyone else so we had to get a Kiwi on.
Simon: Right. That’s a bit cruel, Brad.
Brad: Sorry mate.
Simon: Come on!
Brad: I married a Kiwi Simon.
Simon: You did.
Brad: I can say that stuff.
Simon: True, I’d forgotten about that. All right, so today we’re asking Jason the question. What was the most difficult thing you faced during your time as a church planter overseas?
Jason: I’m thinking through it now. There were a lot of physical things that were really hard. One of the great things that I thank the Lord for is that we began at a very young age when we did. And I think even though we were looked down upon by others for being so young and people often used to make jokes about us being so young, I really believe again that this is part of God’s plan because there’s no way that I would ever go in there now at a later age and live like we did and do the things that we did.
Jason: But we were so young, we had no children yet. We’d only been married a year. Very naive. We just knew that God wanted us to go forward and whatever he put in our way we realized we didn’t have a choice but to trust him. And we did some really crazy things. I think back now. Lived amongst the people, eating their food and relying upon them for everything, making ourselves vulnerable in that situation.
Jason: And that was hard physically and Shirley will probably share a little bit more about how hard it was to learn, not only to eat their food but to learn how to cook on the fire and eat, things that we would never eat otherwise. And there was a lot of physical things here.
Jason: But the most difficult thing for me I guess was learning patience and learning to trust the Lord where we want everything to happen quickly and we wanted people to respond quickly and we wanted results. And I think that that’s something that is in all of us. People expect that there’s going to be results from our ministry that we’re going to get into ministry really quick.
Jason: But God’s program in this situation was that we had to be trained and even though we had three years training with the organization before we went out there, it was only just really scratching the surface. And as we got into each situation, God was developing us and preparing us for things that are going to happen further down the track. And we couldn’t get all that training all at once and just expect that we’ve made it.
Jason: But that was one of the hardest things, was trust in the Lord for a response. Especially when you had spent all that time learning three languages and making relationships. And then you’re told, we can’t listen to this teacher because the spirits won’t let us. That was a let down and we’re thinking, Oh Lord, what are we doing here? We’re just wasting our time.
Jason: But again, the Lord showed us I’m working. And when the time is right, I will cause these people to respond. And so our job was to pray and to trust the Lord. And oftentimes we don’t like to pray and to spend time waiting on the Lord to answer. We just want to move ahead and do our own thing. But that’s been really hard. But I remember times on the trail where it was really hard walking and you were, for hours you’d be heating up and your body would be hot and then it would be a downpour of rain and freezing wind and your body would go into cramps and you’re thinking, Lord, why am I going through all of this when people don’t even want to hear your message? And I’d be praying for the people, Lord stir their hearts and Lord caused them to listen. And I pray for them individually. And a lot of those people never did respond.
Jason: But the first one did. And from there, people responded, but in the Lord’s time. So I guess the hardest time for me was during those times of waiting and when you’re suffering physically and things don’t seem to be happening, just being willing to trust the Lord, for that. Now I’m talking about not just days or weeks, but years of someones waiting and living in the jungle for two years before there’s ever even a response and waiting for five years just to see one person come to know the Lord. But that’s been really hard.
Jason: But in the long run after all these years now we can look back and see the grapefruit and results from those small seeds that were planted in the beginning and just been willing to wait upon the Lord. Even today I still want to run forward and I haven’t yet learned to be patient, but just knowing in your heart that God is the one that’s in control and he’s going to work out this plan according to his timing and we need to submit to that and allow him to be Lord in our lives. I think that’s one of the big lessons that I’m learning still in life.
Simon: Alrighty Brad. Some pretty real stuff there. I liked how honest he was about it. It wasn’t over spiritualized necessarily. He was talking about he and his wife moving overseas after being married for only a year.
Brad: At a young age, right?
Simon: Yeah. And being the butt of people’s jokes and all that kind of thing.
Brad: [inaudible 00:09:48].
Simon: Which, I get it. I’m a young guy.
Brad: I was once too.
Simon: I got married young, had kids young and also I started school a year earlier than most of my peers it was at a time when the school age starting thing changed in Tasmania.
Brad: You were the youngest one in your classroom?
Simon: I was always a whole year younger than everyone.
Simon: So I get the whole, you’re young sort of vibe.
Simon: It’s the theme of my life.
Brad: [inaudible 00:10:14].
Simon: Yeah. So I really identified with him there and he was talking about how some people’s expectations… Also he was talking about expectations of being trained and just getting out there and getting it done. And how that was a difficult thing to get on the field and then be halted by a whole lot of stuff. Just be roadblock after roadblock. Do you think, Brad, here’s a question for you. Do you think that is a problem with mindset? Do you think that’s a bad way of thinking to get to the field and be thinking, “Right, oh, this is a roadblock. Oh there’s a road block, this is really holding me back.” Do you think that’s a bad way of looking at things?
Brad: I’m thinking there could be advantages to overcoming that. So yeah, that can be a hindrance for sure. And we do need to monitor our expectations when we go to the field and definitely not be influenced by unrealistic expectations because we really don’t know. We really don’t know when we head out the context that we are can look very different for different people in different contexts.
Brad: But I was thinking when he was talking Simon, when Jason was saying that he went out in a young age and immediately, when he said to that, I casted myself back to when I first went off to do Bible college training. I was 20 years old, got married at 21 and I was thinking how clueless I was in so many things. But I think sometimes with God that’s an advantage. I think when we’re young like that we’re often really flexible. Which is a definite, a quality to have when cross-cultural church planning is to be flexible.
Brad: I think also when you’re really young, you are also teachable. I think if you can be humble enough to know, you know what, I actually don’t know a lot. And then if you can have the right people around you, and I think if you’re flexible and teachable and trusting of the right people and certainly putting your trust in God. I think you’re you’ve got a massive head start. You’re a massive head. You’re really actually in a really good place. And so I just find it so inspiring when I see these young people on the mission field in their early twenties often with a couple of little kids in tow and there they go there often they’re out there, they’ve already got themselves trained and they’re so young and they’re out there and they’re not intimidated. They’re not, sure people might be looking at them going what do you know but they’re honest enough to go, “Not a lot.” And it doesn’t stop [inaudible 00:13:04] and God really uses people like that. It’s very exciting to see. Yeah.
Simon: He mentioned God using that time of, not roadblocks but that time where you’re wanting to get out there and do the work. But time and time again you’re like, “Oh no, we can’t do it yet. There’s more to learn.” He mentioned about how that’s God’s preparation and as you said, being young and enthusiastic, is good in that situation because you’re hitting roadblock after roadblock and for someone who, maybe in your time of life now Brad get over there, we’re just going stop it. Can’t do it again. Not a third roadblock. Going home. No I know you’re not. But that extra enthusiasm.
Brad: Yeah, the tenacity, right?
Simon: Yeah, that’s a good word. We can’t attribute that word to ourselves though. Or you. No. That was Greg. Greg gave us that word.
Brad: But I remember it. It was important.
Simon: If you’re listening Greg, we use the word tenacity a lot.
Brad: He hasn’t got copyright on. tenacity, right?
Simon: But Greg if you listening, we use the word tenacity a lot in Western Sydney now. You’ve influenced Australian culture.
Brad: One word that Jason used was really central to everything he was saying was the word patience. Think of the patience, right? And saying that getting to the point that you understand that this isn’t going to happen quickly. Right. And that being okay with that. And so having expectations maybe from back home, from your friends, from your family, from your supporters and having these expectations, but being able to say, you know what? I know that this isn’t necessarily going to happen quickly and that the results will come in God’s time and that you can rest in that and trust him and know what he’s doing and rest in that and just keep looking to him and trusting-
Simon: Praying. Jason said.
Brad: He did, didn’t he?
Simon: Trusting, praying and waiting.
Simon: Yeah it’s a big deal.
Brad: Yeah. He did he went on there and he followed up the patients and talked about prayer. And that’s right. Praying all the time, right? Yeah.
Simon: And then he moved into talking about suffering a little bit in the context he was talking about praying and trusting God when he is on that big hike and it’s all hot and sweaty and then suddenly the freezing wind comes in the rain and you get all the cramps and you feel like you can’t go on and you’re like, it’s such a physical thing. It’s such a human thing to be like, “Okay, I’m sore. I can’t do this anymore. God, what are you doing?”
Brad: Misery comes in.
Simon: Yeah, that’s right. It’s real misery. And then a little while later you’re like, “But the gospel.” There’s that perspective that we lose, the human side of it. And if we weren’t to pray to God all the time and keep him involved in our thoughts, we would just give it up.
Brad: Right. We’re talking-
Simon: This misery would send us home except for the glory of the gospel. Right?
Brad: Right. So what happened with Paul and the apostles, when they’re dragged out of the city and beaten to an inch of their life?
Simon: Went back in.
Brad: They dusted themselves off and kept going. Right?
Brad: So what’s the sort of person is the person that does that? It’s someone who’s compelled. By the gospel. And that’s right. Simon, [inaudible 00:16:29] for the gospel, right?
Brad: For the gospel. Jason mentioned something I thought was pretty important that you have things like managing expectations, learning patients, dealing with real physical suffering and hardship. And he said some of those things can be mitigated by good training.
Simon: And strategy. Did he use the word strategy?
Brad: Yeah, well we know that that’s definitely a factor, right? And having those wise heads around you, connecting in with the right people at the right time with people who can walk alongside you and mentor you through these things. Right. We’re not, none of us are islands and that’s not the way ministry happens.
Simon: That’s not the way the church is built.
Simon: Yeah. And you definitely need that when you’ve got two years before there’s even any kind of gospel presentation. And then five years he said before they had any sort of response to the gospel.
Brad: Yeah. And now he said [inaudible 00:17:36] towards the end he said, but now I look back at the fruit. So hindsight’s 2020 but at the time it can be very slow, right.
Simon: That’s right. So you’ve got that immediate physical suffering and then you’ve got two and five year waiting period of putting your heart and soul into presenting the gospel to these people. And nothing seems to be happening. Such a human thing.
Brad: You got to play the long game.
Simon: Yeah. We can’t say, that’s why we have to trust God. Because we cannot see the end, but God can always see the end from the beginning. It’s so great.
Brad: Yeah. It’s like that with our individual walks with Jesus. We’ve got to play the long game in a individual walk with Jesus, whoever you are, wherever you are, listening to this you may not be preparing for cross-cultural ministry. You may just be putting one foot in front of the other and doing it pretty difficult. And I would say that all of us, whether we’re reaching out cross culturally or living our day, one day at a time in that we need to just be trusting Jesus every day, playing the long game and going, “You know what? It’s going to happen. Everything is going to come together. In God’s timing, and we know that ultimately it’s going to happen.”
Brad: When Jesus resolves everything in his own time, it’s going to happen. Right. And so we look to him, we trust him, we have patience and one foot in front of the other, whether we’re reaching out or whether we’re living our lives one day at a time, wherever we are whatever we’re doing.
Simon: Yeah. All righty. Well, I think that’s it for today.
Brad: That’s it?
Simon: Yeah. I think that’s it.
Brad: It’s good to talk about difficult things, aye.
Brad: It’s good to have these reality checks Simon, where you know what, it’s a hard slog. It’s a tough gig.
Simon: That’s one of the things that we’ll probably come back to over and over in these Lessons from the Field is all the difficulties.
Brad: That’s right.
Simon: We’ve got a lot of questions lined up and a lot of them are about how this affects your family, how this affects your marriage, how this affects your friendships at home, how this affects all sorts of things. It’s-
Brad: And we don’t want to put on a podcast of missionary biographies. Where, okay and today’s superhero is… And this is all the amazing things that happened. And it’s like, we can get that, but we want to-
Simon: A quick talk can help.
Brad: Yeah, that’s right. And I think that’s really helpful when people identify with that. Right. When they go you know what, okay, I’m thinking about reaching out or I’m currently reaching out on somewhere and you know what, I’ve been here for 18 months. And this is hard stuff.
Simon: And I listen to this podcast and Jason said, “Trust, pray and wait.” And that God is always in control.
Brad: That’s right. Align myself with God’s expectations. Not even sometimes my own or the people around me, but align myself with his expectations and keep putting one foot in front of another.
Simon: Yeah. And you can trust this guy cause he’s done the job too.
Brad: That’s right. He’s our expert in the field.
Simon: Yeah, that’s right. Cool. All right Brad, thanks so much for coming along again today. It’s always good to have a chat with you. I really enjoy it. Hope everyone out there does too.
Brad: [inaudible 00:21:10] remind people about that new resource that AccessTruth is-
Simon: Yeah, you beat me to it. Yeah. Okay. So it’s called EquipEngine. You’ve probably heard it in the last episode. EquipEngine is a brand new resource produced by AccessTruth. It’s an online learning management system designed for churches, bible schools, and mission agencies.
Simon: You’ve probably come across a online learning management system if you’ve ever been to university. It’s that website that you log into that has all your lecture slides and your quizzes.
Brad: Submit your assignments and stuff.
Simon: Yeah that’s right. So we’ve got one now. Access truth, it’s called EquipEngine. So you can go to equipengine.com there’s lots of different pricing structures for a different size groups.
Brad: Depending on how many users you have and how many courses you want to upload.
Simon: Yeah, that’s right. And you also have the option of adding in any of AccessTruth’s paid for courses that’s included in the price.
Brad: Depending on the package you get.
Simon: Yeah. Most of the packages include it.
Brad: Okay, nice.
Simon: So yeah, head over to equipengine.com. As always, thanks for listening. Thank you, Brad.
Brad: Thanks Simon.
Simon: And we will see you next time.