Surfers, a Sailboat, and “Special Kids”

“We’re buying a sailboat so we can sail to Peru and spend a year surfing…” With those words my discipleship group broke up or at least floated into the sunset.

I had spent just two months discipling these three young men.  I brought a couple of them to the Lord and spent lots of time answering questions, surfing and leading them in Bible study.

I losing them to a “surfing safari.” Yet, I didn’t own them. If they quit their jobs and went surfing for a year, the Holy Spirit would keep working in their lives.

I challenged them to discover how God could use them on their trip—to inventory how they were equipped for ministry.

We talked about how they might use their surfing abilities and the boat to serve God. They would own the boat for several months before sailing. They got into the possibilities of overnight boat camps and surf trips for Junior High boys. These guys got worked up to think that God could find a use for their boat and surfing abilities. They grabbed hold of the concept of stewardship.

After leaving town for a couple of weeks, I returned to hear more adventuresome ideas…

“You had a great idea about a camp, but we want to do it with physically and mentally disabled kids instead of Junior Highs.”

I asked, “Will a boat be safe for young people with disabilities?” Their reply, “What do you mean boat? We’re talking about that camp you said we could run for kids.” I had to remind them about the boat and Peru. The potential for ministry shined so bright that the surf trip had faded into oblivion.

Special Kids

That summer they camped for two weeks with “special kids” at a national park. The U.S. Marines even loaned them tents. Our church bought an old bus and the Marine Corps sent along a couple of young warriers to help with chores.

Just two years later they were ministering to sixteen hundred special kids from all over California and Arizona. They ran camps in the park until a local church camp “loaned land” for a more permanent campsite. They stored equipment in our church building and ran their office from borrowed space with volunteer help. It was a shoestring operation, but they affected hundreds of families.

Nearly every child who attended their camps and outings came home with Jesus as their savior. Non-Christian parents found the Lord through the love of these young guys and their many friends.

Food for Thought

I have a question for you… “What if I had discouraged them over the surf trip for fear it would interrupt my plans for their lives?” You can be sure the camp would have never been born.

As leaders, the Bible challenges us to stewardship. We are to nurture and equip the saints to the work of the ministry. That doesn’t mean we just work to fill all the slots in our church management charts. We must develop the raw material of their lives.

These guys reeked of substance. They were strong athletes. They turned good looks, and charm, into leadership skills. Their own close friendship was an asset. Being single, allowed plenty of free time. They brought secular skills for the job. One was a lifeguard and another taught physical education to disabled boys and girls in the public schools. And they had the Holy Spirit gifting and leading them in paths of righteousness.

My job was to guide the package toward maturity and fruitful ministry.

Spend Time With Your People

Discipleship requires personal contact. You need to know them and they need to know you.

They were close enough to know his heart and the values that really drove his life. Today, we trade relational ministry for mass media and information dissemination.

Administative meetings are necessary. But, do you disciple your own staff, let alone others? Can you (without thinking) name your three closest disciples? Can your disciples do the same? We need personal contact with our people. It’s the only way to uncover their potential.

This brings us back to those three surfers. Training continued via informal conversation and time in prayer about ministry needs. I moved from discipler to coach while the Holy Spirit remained their guide into all truth.

God led those men beyond that camp into other ministries. One became a pastor, another a school principle, the third a businessman with a heart for the Lord. The Spirit’s plans were bigger than the camping program and certainly bigger than the discipleship group I led.

What do you think?

Love your input on this. I’ve learned to avoid too much control, what about you?



18 thoughts on “Surfers, a Sailboat, and “Special Kids””

  1. Ralph,
    This is an amazing story of Jesus’ church functioning as it should! You made a statement that stood out to me “Discipleship requires personal contact. You need to know them and they need to know you.” This is a huge component to the miracle behind this story.
    I think another was the surfers where in the “dream big” mode, the Peru trip in all. So many people wont set down their smart phones to take time to imagine and dream big things for the kingdom.

  2. When we see such incredible potential in people, it’s a natural tendency to want to direct their lives where we think they should go. But, like you said, the Holy Spirit needs to be their guide! He’s way better at it than we are anyways! Thanks for the inspiration today.

  3. I love how the Lord gives us a little bead on some target and we aim for it but later as He pulls back the sight we see the much bigger and better picture that maybe ig He gave it all up right from the start we might have become paralyzed. I have many more things to tell you but would blow your minds right now. Later however the Holy Spirit will reveal it to you~Jesus sav

  4. Hi Ralph, I am always amazed by how God uses you to see and develop the raw material of ordinary people into fully formed followers of Jesus. This story reminded me not only of your influence and touch on my life, (a 22 year old rock drummer-surfer-high school drop out that resulted in planting a church a year later) but how important it is for us pastors and leaders to stay focused on investing the necessary time with their disciples to identify, cultivate and release them into the ministry assignments God is preparing them for. Thank you once again for reminding us of what matters most.

    1. Lots of people thought we were crazy to help you plant a church. But, you had evangelized and were discipling a small congretation. You ran out of cars to bring them to our church. You were the obvious choice. That you pastor the same (but larger) congregation and have multiplied churches is proof that we need to believe in people when others don’t. Thank you for being my friend!

  5. Mickey and Suzie Hall

    Ralph,I think I recognize those surfers,when we find ways to encourage people in their gifted ness it’s amazing what the Lord Jesus can do.We have often thank Our Heavenly Father for yours! Enjoy Every Step!

  6. Ralph, after living in Hawaii for 19 years and sitting under you for 14, you did not discourage Joyce and I when we left away. I do still remember your comment to this day. You told me, ” I know that God has great plans for you and Joyce, but I did not know that leaving Hawaii was one of those.” We are still seeing God’s will revealed in our lives here in Austin. I never dreamed that I would get involved in juvenile detrntion ministry (they do not call it prison or jail), but I did. I finally ended up turning it over to an individual who could pursue it full-time with a 501(c)(3) and take it further than I could. His goal is to replicate what we did in Travis County in all 254 Texas counties. My next goal is to see a thriving Hispanic church planted in Southeast Austin. I personally think it would explode in size. The fields are certainly white for harvest.

    1. Great goal. There is a super opportunity for cross-cultural ministry. You make contact with one individual, start a micro-church and let it go from there.
      Proud to call you my friend!

  7. Thanks Ralph!

    “I [was] losing them to a “surfing safari.” Yet, I didn’t own them. If they quit their jobs and went surfing for a year, the Holy Spirit would keep working in their lives.”

    Incredibly mature and biblical perspective that is easy said than done, thanks again!

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