Author’s note: I first met John when we were both somewhere around the ages of 8 and 10. He and his family, American missionaries to Haiti, partnered with my church in North Carolina. We later would become pen pals for a short time (this is pre-AOL messenger days, people), and then continue to keep in touch throughout the years during his family’s annual visits to the States. In 2003, John moved back to the states permanently to attend college, and I followed his journey through undergrad then seminary then post grad life via social media. When I discovered he was moving back to his Haitian hometown this year after living in the States for a decade, I knew it wasn’t a decision he made lightly. I admire John’s authentic and thoughtful approach to life. I wanted to feature his story because I knew what he would share would be helpful to twentysomethings who find themselves shifting between cultures. - LVZ
Q. Tell us a little bit about your education background and how you decided on your career path:
I got a B.A. in Theology from Portland Bible College (Portland, OR) and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Asbury Seminary (Wilmore, KY).
I can’t say I really ever planned on going into Biblical education or pastoral ministry. Through most of high school, my only goal was to learn guitar and play in a rock band. I was into Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, basically anything from Seattle that I could get my hands on. During my senior year of high school, I discovered that I could write and that changed my trajectory. I thought for a while I might be a journalist, but I really had no clearly defined career goals in high school that I can remember. I was pretty lonely and depressed a lot of the time. I didn’t fit in where I lived. When I was 16, I had a come-to-Jesus moment where the Gospel began to make more sense to me than it had before. I was still depressed a lot, but now I had a real hunger for the Bible and a desire to know Jesus and find out what he wanted me to do. My dad being a pastor, I had easy access to answers, and I ate it up, but I was hungry for more. When my Dad came back from a conference in the Pacific Northwest with a brochure for a tiny school I’d never heard of, I felt the Holy Spirit confirm that was where I needed to be. It helped that the school was in the Pacific Northwest, where I’d always wanted to go.
Four years later, I graduated with a degree in Theology. It was exciting, but then the balloon dropped. I got a job at Starbucks to make rent, but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. After working for a year, as a matter of both curiosity and desperation, I applied to graduate school and got in.
As for how I got from there to Haiti: to make a long story short, in 2010, just before the earthquake, I went to visit my parents over Christmas break. While waiting in an airport terminal for a plane to the town I grew up in, some guys who were working there found out I was in seminary and started asking me all the questions they had about the Bible. It started with two guys, but before long, a small crowd had gathered. The Lord opened my eyes in that moment and I saw the urgent need for discipleship that exists in Haiti. There was so much hunger evident in these young guys, but so little solid teaching available to them. I told the Lord shortly after that that if he wanted me to go back to Haiti, I would. The door opened after graduation, with the Bible school my parents founded offering me a position. There was a catch, though: it could not offer me a salary. At the time, I did not have the desire or, to be honest, the faith to raise all my own support, so I moved to North Carolina and got a job instead, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. The door to teach opened again last fall, and this time I was ready. I built a website, set $15,000 as my goal for the year, and asked everyone I knew for money. I didn’t really know whether it would even happen at the time, but God brought every penny in on time.
Q. John, as a missionary kid you were constantly shifting cultures between living in Haiti and visiting the States. Tell us a little bit about what that was like:
It had its benefits and drawbacks. It definitely gave me a perspective on the world that most folks don’t have. I got to see and feel the ache of grinding poverty up close. I also spoke three languages by the time I was a teenager and had a passport full of stamps. The drawback was that I wasn’t really from either country. In Haiti, my brother, sister, and I were the only white kids in church. In America, during the summer, my parents would be at a different church in a different town every week, and we stayed any one place long enough to make friends. Loneliness was a hallmark of adolescence, and the fear of being lonely again was a big hurdle for me to overcome in making the decision to return to Haiti. Still, the overall benefit of being multicultural — the ability to move freely between cultures and think with a global perspective — is not something I would ever trade.
Q. What were your primary motivations for moving back to Haiti?
I can’t think of anything I would rather do! I would gladly teach almost anything for free, but to be able to teach God’s Word to people who will go out and shepherd God’s people in a country I love deeply is a privilege almost beyond words.
Q. Did you find it was an easy or difficult decision to make?
It was a difficult decision to make in some ways — it really took me several years to ramp up to it mentally. I turned it down once. When the choice presented itself again last fall, though, all the pieces were in place, my heart was in the right place, and it was an easy decision to make. It was time.
Q. What are your longterm goals?
I haven’t really thought much past this year, but I suppose that long term, I would like to play a more active role in developing a network of churches and ministries all over Haiti and the Caribbean basin — resourcing, equipping, and encouraging existing churches, and planting new ones. I’ve also had a latent desire to do ministry in France for a while now. If the Lord were to open that door one day, I would gladly walk through it.
Q. What are some ways you plan to accomplish those goals?
Since we train up and send out church planters, I will have a network of fellow ministers in the Gospel all over Haiti and hopefully beyond. My goal will be to maintain those friendships, resourcing those new pastors with things like books and helping them develop plans for their own Bible schools and leadership training programs, if need be. I would also like to help pastors who are near one another sync vision and share resources and strengths through events like regional conferences.
Q. Talk about what has been one of the highlights of your twenties:
I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit over the last 10 years. At the end of a long trip to Europe about five years ago, I got to run down the beach in St. Andrews, Scotland, where the Olympic trainees run at the beginning of my favorite film, Chariots of Fire.
Q. At the end of every interview, we ask the same question: If you had a big group of your twentysomething peers in a room, what is one piece of advice you would like to give them?
Trust God. So much of the angst, doubt, and a turmoil of my 20′s (and several of my poorer decisions) could have been avoided simply by trusting God fully. God saves us through promises. For example, “Abraham, I am going to give you a son.” Abraham had no way of knowing at the time God made him the promise how long it would take to come to pass, or how painfully he would be stretched along the way. In a similar way, the 20′s for a Christian can be a painful time of uncertainty, doubt, and a lack of direction. To be in relationship with Jesus, however, is to have the assurance that the pain will have a point, to trust that the dead-end job, the girl who got away, or the questions you don’t have answers to will not last forever. God has promised to work all things together for the good of those who love him, and God keeps his promises.