Inciting Incidents


I never had my 16th birthday.

Seriously. The day simply didn’t exist for me.

On the day before my birthday I boarded a 747 in Los Angeles that would eventually take me to Melbourne, Australia. Somewhere in the midnight darkness of the Pacific Ocean we crossed the International Date Line. June 23rd became June 25th and my special day of the 24th simply vanished into some space-time continuum that I still don’t fully understand.

I was on my way to Boronia, Victoria, a suburb outside of Melbounre. (Picture the southernmost part of Australia’s east coast) It was a Sort Term Mission trip, and it was a trip of firsts for me.

It was the first time I had flown. I guess go big or go home would be the appropriate thought there. My first flight ever was an Indianapolis to Chicago leg of what would be 40 hours in the air, round trip. I wasn’t sure if flying would terrify me, or excite me, or whether I would need to make use of the special baggie I found the airline had graciously left in the seat pocket in front of me.

It was my first extended time away from home. I had been to summer camps a few hours from my house, but never spent two weeks on the other side of the world. I think my mom had more trouble with this than I did. At the end of one phone conversation in which I described having flipped a go cart and catching it’s engine on fire (true story), my worried mother told me from half a world away that I should probably go to bed now.

(Confession time, I didn’t listen. I spent the evening watching Mr. Bean.) 

It was also my first mission trip. It was the beginning of what has become an 18-year odyssey of travel, ministry and stretching that I could never have imagined. One of my passions has been to encourage others to take part in at least one short-term mission trip in their lifetimes. I have taken part in over 20 teams to countries across both oceans. I have led trips and participated in trips. I have encouraged, cajoled, and pushed to get others to join me.


Because those trips more often than not become Inciting Incidents.

We recently returned from a week in the hills of Costa Rica with a team from our church. Several of our team had never traveled outside of the US, much less spent a week set aside specifically to be an expression of Christ’s love. I watched from a distance as Amber, a Rivertree’r and teacher, sat with a man named Reuben. Reuben is a tough looking former sailor with an anchor tattoo on his arm and a tooth missing from his smile. When I asked him about the tattoo he grinned, flexed his muscles and said in broken English “I’m Popeye the sailor man!” Neither spoke the others language, but they sat for hours learning from each other. Amber’s view of the world has been forever changed.

Looking back on my trip to Australia, it was also the first time that I realized that the God of the universe might have use for me. As a Middle School student I had horrible self-esteem. Looking back, I can’t pinpoint one traumatic moment that caused it, I just remember thinking that everyone else was looking at me and finding reasons not to like me. I had unknowingly placed this burden of self-doubt on God as well. What in the world would he need with a skinny, pimple faced kid from mid-Michigan?

As we walked through those two weeks and I was challenged to share my faith in word and deed I began to see myself and God in an entirely new light.

That trip was an Inciting Incident from which the entire rest of my life trajectory was changed. After graduating from High School I went off to college to study ministry. It was there that I met my wife. I may have missed my 16th birthday for that trip, but I gained a view of God and myself that is still with me 18 years later.


This post is part of a group blogging project celebrating the release of Inciting Incidents (Moody Press), a book featuring the stories of six creatives who share honestly about surviving life’s difficulties while attempting to do great things. You can visit the “Share Your Story” section of IncitingIncidents.Org to check out posts from other synchroblog contributors, or visit the sites of the authors: Sarah CunninghamJeff GoinsDave HickmanBlaine HoganTracee PersikoStephanie SmithMandy Thompson and David WenzelIn addition, you can hear more about the project in this NPR-style interview series by Moody Radio.

Also, if you pick up the book in the first two weeks, Moody will give you a bundle of free resources, including two full-length e-books. The book is available immediately at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Christian Book.