“The None Zone” – a 3 min video about the unchurched Northwest

“Video -The None Zone – click here”– 3 min


Teenagers are my mission field.

Today I am leading a team from Youth Dynamics to Urbana 2012 in St. Louis. With 16,000 young adults in attendance, it is certainly the largest missions conference of its kind in the U.S.

But why would Youth Dynamics be at Urbana? We are a stateside youth ministry. What business do we have at a missions conference? Conventional wisdom might say we don’t belong, that we should be at Youth Specialties or some other youth ministry conference to recruit staff. So why are we at Urbana? Simply this… we are missionaries. Here’s why:

1.       The U.S. is a legitimate mission field; the Northwest is as dark as any region in the States.

We are constantly battling with the Northeast as the most unchurched region of the U.S. In fact, the Northwest is called “The None Zone” because of it unbelievably high % of people who have no religion or religious affiliation at all. (See our new 3 min video on the “Rise of the Nones”)

2.       Teenagers are an unreached tribe.

I just finished reading a book by Vincent Donovan, the first missionary to work with the Masai tribes in Tanzania. Another one of my heroes is Jim Elliot, missionary martyr to the Auca Indians in Ecuador. I imagine I see Northwest teenagers in the same way they both saw the people God called them to reach ….  I see them as lost tribes. Teenagers need missionaries to live among them, to be Jesus with skin on, to a people who have never met Him.

3.       We raise our own salaries.

I speak at regional and national Youth Ministry Conferences. When we try to recruit staff there, youth workers come from a paradigm that says: “How much will I make?”  “What will my salary be?” However, at a missions conference, those who are answering God’s call to missions have already crossed that mental barrier. They know that they will have to raise their own salary to follow God’s call on their life. The questions then become… “Could God be calling me to be a missionary in the U.S.?”  “Could I see myself using adventure ministry to reach lost teenagers in the Northwest?”

4.       We are all about the Gospel.

Yes, we take teenagers on all kinds of amazing experiences. White-water rafting, kayaking, rock-climbing, hiking, mountaineering, etc., and I would contend we have some of the best adventure guides in the wilderness industry. But for us, adventure ministry is not an end to itself. It’s a tool. Our aim is NOT to convert young people from being indoor people to being outdoor people. Our staff uses adventure ministry to introduce teenagers to Jesus and to go deeper if they know Him already. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if they love the outdoors, they still go to Hell without Jesus.

5.       Lastly, the Church has stopped seeing youth ministry as missional.

It used to be that pastors and church boards saw youth ministry as a key strategy piece in reaching lost families in our local communities. That’s changed. Tragically, some are even questioning its legitimacy in the local church. This may be a bit of an overstatement but I contend that for the most part, youth ministry in the church used to be a place where we reached the lost; now it’s become a place where we take care of the saved.

Missions has always been my first calling. I remember the service as a Bible college student where I went to the altar, knelt, surrendered my will to His, and said “Wherever you send me, I’ll go.” I fully expected that meant I would be living in a mud hut in Africa soon after. But surprisingly He never asked me to go overseas to do missions. He asked me to do youth ministry in the States. And 27 years later He continues to ask me to reach lost tribes of teenagers in the unchurched Northwest. I’ve taken students all over the world on short-term mission trips. And every time God rocks their world. Inevitably on the ride home some of them begin to ask the questions… “What if I knew their language?”  “What if I understood their culture?”  “How many more could I reach then?”

Then I remind them, “You do know a language. You are a native to a tribe and a culture that others do not understand, the American Teenager.”  And I challenge them:  “Whatever your end up doing with your life, wherever you end up… Be missional with your life.”

We are all missionaries, we just all don’t get paid to do it.


­­Is 52:7 “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news.”

Who’s chasing whom?

A professor friend recommended a book to me the other day. It’s over 30 yrs old and I have no idea how I missed it. It’s called “Christianity Rediscovered” by Vincent J. Donovan. He was the first missionary to introduce Jesus to The Masai tribe in Tanzania. He found he had to strip the Gospel down to it’s bare essentials. He discovered that much of what most missionaries were peddling was not really the Gospel, but something else. Just what is the Gospel? What would you communicate to a culture that did not know of Jesus, Father God or the Church? I think this discussion is very relevant to the post Christian culture we now find ourselves in in the United States. I believe the tribes of teenagers that we are called to in the Northwest are perhaps nearly as ignorant of the real Jesus as the Masai were when Donovan encountered them.

Here’s a cool story from the book I thought I’d pass along to you.

“Months later when all this had passed, I was sitting talking with a Masai elder about the agony of belief and unbelief. He used two languages to respond to me – his own and Kiswahili. He pointed out that the word my Masai catechist, Paul, and I had used to covey faith was not a very satisfactory word in their language. It meant literally “to agree to.” I, myself, knew the word had that shortcoming. He said “to believe” like that was similar to a white hunter shooting an animal with his gun from a great distance. Only his eyes and his fingers took part in the act. We should find another word. He said for a man really to believe is like a lion going after its prey. His nose and eyes and ears pick up the prey. His legs give him the speed to catch it. All the power of his body is involved in the terrible death leap and single blow to the neck with the front paw, the blow that actually kills. And as the animal goes down the lion envelops it in his arms (Africans refer to the front legs of an animal as its arms), pulls it to himself, and makes it part of himself. This is the way a lion kills. This is the way a man believes. This is what faith is.
I looked at the elder in silence and amazement. Faith understood like that would explain why, when my own was gone, I ached in every fiber of my being. But my wise old teacher was not finished yet.
“We did not search you out, Padri,” he said to me. “We did not even want you to come to us. You searched us out. You followed us away from your house into the bush, into the plains, into the steppes where our cattle are, into the hills where we take our cattle for water, into our villages, into our homes. You told us of the High God, how we must search for him, even leave our land and our people to find him. But we have not done this. We have not left our land. We have not searched for him.  He has searched for us. He has searched us out and found us. All the time we think we are the lion. In the end, the lion is God.”

Of course he is the Lion. It’s so easy for me to think this evangelism thing is all on me… I forget that “the Hound of Heaven” is also pursuing us with a vengeance.

It’s not about guns.

My heart is broken over the 26 women and children who died during the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut this week, just as my heart broke with Columbine, with Paducah, Kentucky and with every school shooting since the one that happened in nearby Moses Lake, WA on Feb 2, 1996. But this one is especially heinous. Little kids this time. Unfathomable. More innocence lost.

As a youth worker for 27 years, I have followed these tragedies with more than just a passing interest. Teenagers have been my life, my entire adult life. Good kids, troubled kids, kids at risk; I’ve literally worked with thousands and thousands of them and helped raised two boys of my own with my wife.

People are asking tough questions right now. How did this happen? Do we need police and metal detectors at every school? How can we make sure this never happens again?

Here’s what I know:

  • It’s much more complex than simply locking all the guns away.  I’m not a gun owner, but I know this: violence is bound up in the heart.  Ever since Adam and Eve’s son Cain killed his brother Abel, violence has been a part of the human condition. If it wasn’t guns it’d be knives. If it wasn’t knives it’d be rocks. You probably didn’t hear about the 22 children that were stabbed at a school in China on the same day as the shooting in Connecticut. (CNN story). In fact, Wikipedia cites 21 dead and over 90 injured in China’s school stabbing phenomenon since 2010, and sadly most have been elementary school children. Here’s a quote from the last paragraph of the CNN article. “A number of measures were introduced at the time, including increased security at schools across the country and a regulation requiring people to register with their national ID cards when buying large knives.” Similar questions, similar issues, different weapon of choice.
  • Societal Factors: While parenting is the single biggest influence in the life of a child, you and I both likely know some seemingly great parents with a teenager that has gone sideways on them and conversely a fantastic teenager who came from a horrible upbringing. It’s a bit of a conundrum. It’s not always a straight line from cause to effect. But something is happening in our culture that hasn’t happened before, so we need to ask: what has changed in our society in the last 15-20 years that could be contributing to this? I’m sure the loss of family is playing a role; but it’s more than just divorce; lots of kids are spending time isolated from what family they do have at home. Parents are overworked trying to stay afloat, while the internet, television and texting all contribute to kid’s isolation. There’s also no doubt that violence in our culture has increased exponentially; with video game industry equivalent to movie revenue now in the U.S., both taking in around 10 Billion each 2011. But there are millions of responsible gamers and movie hounds who don’t act out their fantasies in the real world. Mental Illness is also at an all time high in our culture. “Physicians wrote over 400 million scripts for psychotropic drugs in 2009, four times more than two decades ago, and enough to provide a script for every man, woman and child in the United States and Canada.”  [i]

It’s possible that any one of these could be a contributing factor in what we’re seeing happening in our culture, however, it’s also possible that the answer is:

  • D) None of the Above. Sin never makes sense. As deeply as we search, we may never really know what was going on in the shooter’s mind to drive him to do what he did. That’s because normal people under normal circumstances would never come to that same conclusion. Thankfully. That’s why the behavior is aberrant. We may never understand the reasons why.

Unfortunately, many times I have had the privilege ministering to a family who has just lost their child. It’s usually been a teenager who has died in some tragic accident. The parent’s pain is excruciating to watch. I’ve not seen any other pain that even comes close to losing your child. As a Pastor people often ask: Where was God when this happened? Why didn’t he prevent this? Why did God take my child?

First, I don’t believe God took these children. John 10:10 Jesus says that “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come that you might have life to the full.” God is the giver of life, Satan is the thief who steals it away.

Secondly, “Why did this happen?” This is a question that people can get stuck on forever. You will likely never get an answer to it other than that there is evil in the world and free will is God’s prime directive. Other people’s bad choices impact you and me. Why did this happen? is perhaps the wrong question.  At some point the question needs to morph into “What do I do now?”

Lastly, “Where was God when this happened?” I believe He is right there with us in our pain. He weeps when we weep. The Bible says in Psalm 23 “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” This verse tells us several things. First, God is with us in our darkest hours, even in the valley of the shadow of death, and secondly, that He will walk us through the valley. And while we will never forget, thankfully, this valley of death does not extend forever.

Please join with me in praying that Jesus will bind up the broken-hearted. And that this scourge of evil will cease in our Nation.

~Mark Moder

[i] Selhub MD, Eva M.; Logan ND, Alan C. (2012-03-27). Your Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality (p. 35). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.

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