The following was written by J.J. Stark of Kootenai Christian Fellowship. He shares on his year of serving in Browing, MT as a part of IGNITE Class 10. We hope you will be encouraged by the words of this young man as he testifies to the goodness of God to reward a life that forsakes all for His kingdom. The work God accomplishes in and through our interns in the IGNITE program would not be possible apart from the faithful support and prayers of our sponsors. Together we are making disciples in all parts of the world for the One who loved us first.
The Shepherded Life
Ignite: to set ablaze with fire, to initiate a new venture; it rings of expectation, promise, and hope.
IGNITE: that which God does to the life yielded to Him.
My name is J.J. Stark, and this is the account of my IGNITE Class 10 internship. IGNITE, a branch of Potter’s Field Ministries, is a one-year missions and discipleship program. It is broken into four phases: Training, Field Time, Re-Entry, and Home Church service, and designed for young men and women who desire to serve the Lord in a deeper way. The transformation that takes place in this single year is radical and lays the foundations of faith in Him that cannot be removed.
During my time in IGNITE, Psalm 23 became alive and tangible to me. Interestingly, it parallels and accurately describes my transformation starting in IGNITE that continues to take place now. Let this be a testament to God’s supreme mercy, grace, and love displayed.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
The three-month training period began in Antigua, Guatemala. Being from a small town in Northwest Montana, this was an incredible time for me solely by experiencing the culture. The training center truly has God’s hand on it and turns down the noise of the world so that His voice can be heard. Every morning was a time for each intern to have personal devotions, instilling the importance of setting the Lord above all else. Most days were spent in a variety of classes with different pastors and instructors, preparing us for the field on which we were to serve. These were anything from Biblical studies on characters like Moses, Nehemiah, and David, to puppeteering and classroom teaching methods. All throughout training we did outreaches into the city such as pancake breakfasts and hospital visits, where we would put the learned methods of sharing the gospel to action. Also, we participated in the weekly Potter’s Field Kids (PFK) Club held at the Center. Getting to minister to and interact with the kids was a delight, and despite the language barrier I still managed to get to know a few children. These were the “green pasture and still water” experiences, as I gleaned and grew tremendously from them. My favorite time in training was our “On the Mount” class. This was designated time occasionally given to take our own time and sit before the Creator: be it reading the Word, praying, or worshiping Him. It was here that my biggest battles were fought, where I wrestled with the Lord, and where I learned to let go of “me” to let God be God. Now, On the Mount has become vital to my walk with Christ Jesus as I live for Him, as “He restores my soul.”
The most pivotal point during training for me was the night of team commissioning for Field Time. I was put on a ground-breaking team for a new PFM Location: Browning, Montana, USA. It is located on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation just east of Glacier National Park. As excited as I was for the commissioning, I must admit I was simultaneously shocked and confused to be going there! Like I mentioned before, I am from a small town in Northwest Montana only a few hours from Browning, so it almost felt like I was going home. Little did I know, however, it would teach that “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me…”
The Blackfeet Nation: A once strong and proud people, horse-mounted warriors controlling vast tracts of land throughout Northern Montana up into Canada; a people who have since been used and betrayed over the years, and have sunk into poverty stricken and near hopeless living conditions. Yes, in our very own United States of America there exists a place that feels as though you have entered a whole different country (and a third world country at that). Not only on the material level do they suffer, but spiritually also. Into this setting Team Browning went, and upon arrival, it felt as though a dark cloud was hanging over the town. For the first time in my life, though I couldn’t have defined it then, I felt I was walking “through the valley of the shadow of death.”
Although during training there were frequent sessions for my team on Browning, the information and preparation were somewhat limited due to it being new to PFM Location. Despite knowing it was going to be difficult starting out, I still found it a hard transition. Coming from the structure and activity in Guatemala to a lower activity location and having to formulate our own structure was challenging. Establishing relationships was an interesting process, and there were many!
I cannot say enough about how welcoming the pastor and his family were throughout the entire time, as well as the church body. The community, however, is still to this day one of the most unique I have been in. The people seem to literally live day to day, with rarely any consist routine. Unemployment is high there, as well as the use of drugs and alcohol; it isn’t uncommon to see people wandering the streets and alleys doing whatever they want.
Shockingly, the children also wander the streets, despite whether they should be in school. Because of this “irregularity” in the town, it was interesting setting up the PFK Club there, and we found very quickly that getting consistent numbers of kids was going to be hard for a while. However, it was through this that relationships with them were planted. We began walking around and advertising PFK, and soon we could gather a decent core group. Instead of idly roaming around town, the kids randomly started to come to the church more to hang out, outside of Kids Club. Home life for many of them is broken and very strained due to substance abuse, so for them to recognize the church as a safe place was good in one sense, but heartbreaking also. Often the homes lacked a father figure; I remember several different times young boys telling me that they didn’t know where their dads were. This opened a unique opportunity for me to build relationships with them just by spending time with them and taught me to be equally meaningful and intentional in ministering to every child, be it one or thirty. One of these was a little boy named BooBoo, who stole my heart with his sweet but also mischievous spirit. Many an hour did I spend with him, playing soccer, throwing a football, and teaching him how to rope. My prayer is that he saw the love of Christ through these things.
“…Your rod and staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.”
It was a tough platform to work with at times, to say the least, but looking back now it was nothing compared to the platform of my heart that the Lord had to work with! There was another element to the “valley of the shadow of death.” Despite the ministry that was happening all around me, I let myself become calloused to the very gospel message I was proclaiming. I began closing in and isolating myself from the rest of my team. It led to me going stir crazy with personal struggles because I was not crying out to God, and caused my team a lot of tension due to my self-impatience. Yet, it is most often in the valleys where the richest feed is found. God’s sovereign plan was to heat me to a temperature hot enough to reveal the impurities in me, as with dross in gold purification. During this time, Potter’s Field asked me to come into Whitefish to help remodel the new MUDMAN restaurant they were opening. This was the most pivotal time of the program for me. For the first time, I felt God’s rod and staff correct and comfort me, and then reveal the rich feast that was prepared before me. It forced me to look at my life, and He showed me how I was not letting Him be supreme in my life. He is teaching me to be His lamb and to let Him be my Good Shepherd, who knows me better than I do, and does what is best for me, whatever it may take. I am learning to know His sweet voice and follow where He leads.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Re-Entry was a wonderful time of reflection, as well as preparation for what lay in the future. Getting to see my classmates after being apart for six months and hear the testimony of what God is doing was rejuvenating. He is on the move throughout the world without a doubt, and lives are coming to Him through the salvation of the gospel. What was even more amazing was the change that had taken place in all of my classmates. Each of us grew dramatically, everyone having met the Lord in ways we never had before. This was only furthered as we began to process our field time and speak of the things we witnessed. Re-Entry prepared us for the return home and the transition back into our home culture. The classes helped us begin formulating the experiences into messages we could clearly relate to our society.
Since being home, God has continued to mold me more into His image as I walk nearer to Him. I have had the privilege of getting to work alongside my pastor, not only through the church but also in his construction business. Being discipled in this way has been invaluable, as he selflessly pours into me in daily life. The Lord has called me through this time of Home Service to help lead and teach in my church’s youth group and Sunday school. Why He would use me in such a way is beyond my comprehension, but His ways are higher than mine. It has been an honor to be able to serve in this capacity, as the youth continually challenge me to draw near to Christ and seek His face. Thankfulness to God continues to grow in me for each day He gives. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
IGNITE has taught me to glorify Him in every fleeting moment, and to shine His light into a dying world. But most importantly, God Almighty has taught me to say: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
‘Til the Whole World Hears
J.J. Stark // IGNITE Class 10 // Team Browning