John Bradshaw - Conversation with John Boston
It's an amazing story. As a matter of fact, it's an amazing collection of stories, or a collection of amazing stories. Recently reunited with his birth mother for the very first time, pulled from a car wreck he had no business surviving, by what could only have been an angel. And if you think that can be all there is, no, there's plenty more. His name is John Boston, and this is our conversation.
— John Boston, thanks so much for joining me on Conversations.
— John, it's so good to be here, thank you very much.
— Man, I hardly even know where to start, because there's so much to talk to you about. But I mentioned a moment ago that you were recently reunited with your birth mother, for the first time in your life, since you were born. We'll talk about the car wreck as well. You're involved in ministry, life for you is ministry, ministry and family, of course. Why don't we start at the beginning and talk about this incredible reunion between you and the woman who brought you into the world? Where do we start with that story?
— Oh man, well, I was adopted as a baby, so my biological mother gave me up and I'm 38 now. And so I just met her this year, not too long ago. And I was raised in south Florida, very cosmopolitan community, different cultures, but I was raised in an African-American home, and my mom and dad were incredible. I joke with them because I say they didn't know what to do, so they did everything. We didn't want for anything. I thought we were very rich. I had no idea I had very sacrificing parents. And went to Christian school my whole life, and went to Christian camps in the summer, and surrounded by family, always. But even in all of that, John, if I had to be very transparent, I would say that I still deep down inside wanted to know where I came from.
— So, how do you find out that you were adopted?
— It's a funny story. I was teasing one of my older cousins. They were playing double Dutch jump rope, and I kept grabbing the rope because I couldn't do it. And my cousin just kind of said, that's why you're adopted. And it was kind of a slight, like a slam. And I said, oh wow. And I ran inside and we were at my grandmother's house. Everybody was gathered around, we were having a meal, like we did every Sunday. And I said, mom, am I adopted? And my mom said, it didn't happen like this, but this is exactly how I remember it. And she said, well, yes, well, and I said, so does that mean I don't have to listen to you? You're not my mom? I was about six or seven years old, you know, silly kid. But for years, my parents, they nurtured me, as their child, and they wanted me to understand, we want you to find your birth family one day, but that's how I found out. And my parents did everything they could to make sure they answered every question they could answer.
— Aren't adoptive parents awesome? Aren't they heroes?
— They are, man.
— Your parents, John, had to deal with you because you were born to them.
— Yeah, they had to deal with me all right.
— As most parents have to. And for me, I felt like I was chosen, you know. My sister used to joke with me and say, you were the cutest puppy at the humane society and that's how we got you.
— So when you're a kid and you learn that you were adopted, did that shake you up? Did it bother you? Or was that okay?
— I don't remember not knowing I was adopted, but as I grew up, my family, I had such a loving family, everything that I dealt with was internal. It was the sense of rejection. Like why would my parents give me up? How amazing could I be the way my parents raised me to feel like I'm amazing and incredible. How amazing could I be, that the person that gave birth to me, gave me up? And so deep down inside, I carried that for many years, into my adulthood. That sense of not feeling like I was enough. For some adoptees, it plays out in rebellion, for others it plays out in being a people-pleaser and an overachiever, and both are very difficult to deal with. And I landed on the latter, being the people-pleaser, wanting everybody to be happy.
— We're gonna talk about some of, some of the gaps in there, college and life and professional life and so on, 'cause there's a lot to talk about, but let's drill down a little bit further here. So you're a kid and you learn that you're adopted. Your parents were very supportive and very loving. So you had a fantastic home environment. When did you get the idea in your head, I would like to learn something about, or even meet my biological parents?
— I think when I was little, I don't know how old I was, but my parents, there was a day, I guess it came where I had been thinking about it. Maybe I said something or did something, but my mother and father, let me know, John, when the day comes, when you want to find your biological family, we want to help you. We'll do what it takes to help you. And they pulled out some adoption records, with non-identifying information and shared that with me, and said, well, this is all we have, but I'm sure there answers out there and we'll figure out how to get them. And so I think I was a preteen. I wasn't that old, but at the same, my parents were very open about it, and again, that openness was matched by this immeasurable love that they had for me and my sister.
— It seems like that would be a heavy thing for an 11 or 12-year-old to be dealing with. Is it, or is it just a thing that if you're in that situation you deal with?
— Oh no, you know kids, children are just so resilient. I think that they calculated how much they wanted to share, and when would be an appropriate time, and they never had to hold my hand to do a search. I didn't really aggressively search for years. I think because I was fearful that I might be rejected again somehow.
— Oh yeah?
— So that fear was lurking in the back of your mind?
— Oh yeah, oh yeah. I think so. There were times when I made an attempt, and I said, oh, it's gonna cost too much money, and I'd just drop it. Oh, it's gonna take too long, and I let it go. But I think when somebody really wants something, they'll go for it.
— So how do you go about that? You say, you know, I'm adopted, I know I'm adopted, let's talk about the mechanics of this. How do you go about finding your biological family? What do you do?
— Well today, it may be a lot different than it was 15 years ago. And in my case, in this instance, what I did was I did an at home DNA test, and I thought it would be just bam, this is your birth family. This is your lineage all the way back to Adam. This is how it goes. I didn't really know the details of it, but I had a friend encouraged me. Why don't you do this DNA test? I carried it for a year. I ordered it, but never took it.
— I think it was fear. I think it was just this unsteadiness about it. Like, well if she gave me up, and then I would hear these horror stories, you know, some people hear beautiful reunion stories. I was kind of focused in on the horror stories. Like don't contact me. I gave you up for a reason, I don't want to hear. And so finally I did it, turned it in. And really John, the first person who was most closely connected to me, they did indicate they didn't want to be contacted. So that would have been a first cousin. And so I said, okay, I'm leaving it alone. And I left it alone for several months. Then we found ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic, and we started doing things that we don't normally do, and got a notification that another cousin wanted to reach out to me, a little further distant cousin. And we reached out, we actually connected. He was living about 90 minutes from me. We became great friends. And I posted a picture online. That picture had thousands of likes. And I had a search angel, a researcher reach out and say, I think with this information, I can help you find your birth mother. I didn't think much of it. I was just about to preach in the Cayman Islands.
— Which is a great place to preach.
— It is a great place to preach. I was in Georgetown preaching, virtually, in this instance. And I said, I'll reach out in a couple of hours and let you know. And that night she said, I can find her tonight. This is enough information to find her. And that night she worked on it. I woke up maybe 10 hours, 12 hours later. And there was a notification. She said, John, this is her.
— Just like that.
— Now this is her. This is her name, this is her picture.
— She had her picture, she had her name. She had been in the newspaper for something. She had the article. She had the death, obituaries, not death certificate but obituary of my biological grandfather, my maternal side. And she said, the only way this is not your biological mother, is if she has a sister that there's no record of, who's the same age, who gave up a child for adoption at the same time.
— This was her.
— This was her.
— What's it like seeing that face for the first time?
— It was really, there was a lot of cognitive dissonance, because my reality is completely challenged now. My sense of identity is challenged because this is, I'm raised in an African-American home, but this is blonde hair, blue eyes, white, Caucasian woman, and beautiful. She's a beautiful, beautiful woman. So I was happy about that. I was like, oh, this is not so bad, you know, but I reached out to her and sent a message on Messenger and didn't think she'd respond. I said, hey, I know is a crazy question, but I'm working with a researcher to put together a family tree. And I'd like to know if you could tell me your mother's maiden name, and that'll help confirm some things for me per the researcher. And she responded back and she said to me, well, how do you think we're connected? And I didn't want to, I thought it would be weird to say, I'm your son, and I'd like to come and meet you, so I didn't say that. I said, well, knowing this information will help me know. And so she said, well, I'm asking because I lost a son many years ago. And immediately the window opened, a door opened for me to say, well, what do you mean, you lost a son?
— And she wrote back, and I remember it coming in. You know, you see these little dots, these ellipses coming up and she said, I gave up a boy for adoption to protect him. I jumped up out of bed, and I just couldn't believe it. I didn't know what to think. I walked around for a moment and I just responded, I was adopted. And she said, well, this is when he was born. This is where he was born. And I said, that's when I was born and where I was born. She said, oh my God, you're my son. Yeah.
— What's that moment like.
— Really, it's indescribable. It was, I couldn't put into words, the flood of emotions that filled my mind, my heart. And some people say things like, it's a dream come true. It wasn't even a dream come true. I thought it was impossible to ever find my biological mother or to connect with her. And then we talked later that day, lots of tears, lots of, she asked me to forgive her. And in that first conversation, I didn't have a sense of resentment. The only feeling John that was clear to me was gratitude. Because when she shared with me that she was in an abusive relationship, and that she gave me up for adoption to protect me, and knowing the home that I was raised in, and the love that I received, I was grateful that she made this ultimate sacrifice to give me safe passage. And so there was never forgiveness that needed to be extended. It was gratitude.
— What did your biological mom go through? I mean, what I'm saying is this. She's on the end of a computer. She gets a message saying, do you know, could this be, could we be, what's she experiencing? What's going on in her heart and in her mind? Was she hoping to meet her son? Did she go day-to-day thinking, somehow I got to track him down? I'm just saying, what's it like on the other side, on the other end of the computer?
— You know, as she tells the story, she shares how she went to a show called Unsolved Mysteries, in her later years to try to go back. She talks about how the week after she left the hospital, when she gave birth to me, how every day she had to fight herself, not to go back and say, no, I changed my mind. I want my boy back. And she never denied me to her family. And I just want to share one little thing to help really convey what I'm saying. Her husband, she's been married now for 21 years. And her husband called me, the next day after we first spoke, and he said, hey this is Duane, and I'm your mother's husband. And I just want to tell you something before I say anything else. And I'm like, oh boy, here we go. This is how it all ends, you know? And he said, I went on a date with your mother 21 years ago. And on our first date, she told me she had a boy, a son, and her family was not intact. And that one day she was going to be reunited with him. So I want you to know your mother never denied you. And I want to welcome you to our family.
— Oh man. Man, that's powerful, isn't it?
— Yeah, it was.
— Yeah, that's powerful. So, now you're meeting family?
— Like brothers and sisters, half brothers and sisters?
— Cousins, maybe grandparents, potentially?
— Nieces, nephews, brother, I have a brother, I have a sister. My mother adopted other children.
— She did?
— Yeah. Yeah, got through that abusive relationship, that difficult situation. And it's really her story to tell, but I know she doesn't have a problem with me saying this, but my mother was raped, and she was assaulted and violated. And the man that she was with was not the perpetrator. It was someone else that she did not know, a stranger. And so in her life, she continued to face some trauma through the years. God settled her journey, in this beautiful way that it is now. And really I was protected from a lot of hurt. I was protected from a lot of trauma and a lot of pain. And my brother and sister are beautiful. I'm grateful that I've met them. We talk, I think we talk every day, probably. I talk with my biological mother every day. My nieces are just absolutely beautiful. I have a grandmother who's still alive. Yeah, she's Grandma Judy. They call her Ma Ma Judy.
— Sure they do. Yeah and so, and she loves me to death. I think I'm her favorite already.
— Of course.
— Yeah, I was the first born grandchild and I have aunts and I have uncles, and everyone has embraced me.
— That's just gotta be wild. There's this whole new world.
— It is a whole new world.
— Opens up to you. Now let me ask you this. You're African-American. Well, okay, you're biracial.
— Right. I'm both.
— You were raised identifying as a black man. And now, did you have any knowledge that your biological mother was white?
— I did, I knew from the identifying information, but to see it and to live it and experience it, it's very different.
— So now, you're going to meet grandma, who's lily white.
— And nieces and nephews and brothers and sisters and cousins, and they're all as white as me.
— What does that do? How does that impact, maybe not at all, maybe some, your own sense of self identity? You would say all your life, I am black. And now, I'm not denying your blackness, but I'm saying now you go, I'm as white as I am black.
— So just tell me if that impacts, or how that impacts the way you identify yourself, look at yourself, think about yourself.
— It, you know John, it's a really difficult situation to navigate internally. It does challenge my sense of identity, because we live in a very racially charged time. But I will tell you this, when I met my family, sitting on the porch in Tennessee, drinking sweet tea, and I was the only black person there. And my daughter and wife were there. We integrated the property, probably the neighborhood. And while my daughter was shooting guns with her uncle, and riding ATV, this is not my world, okay. But not once did we talk about race. There was no, so you're black, or so you're white. It was literally, you're my son, you're my nephew. You're my brother, you're my uncle. It was family. And I did have one of my nieces, her sister came and said, you know, Cheyenne is saying, I can tell everybody I have a black uncle now. And so that was probably the only thing that came up. But the funny thing is that I wanted to share, is that I think for me internally, it gives me a whole new perspective to consider in how I measure my own identity. And so, yeah, it affects that, it does have an impact on it.
— It's a fascinating story. And a lot of people can identify with it on some level, because there's so many people who are adopted, and now, you know, with people getting DNA tests, people are getting all kinds of surprises.
— They are.
— This is not my father. There are support groups around the country now for people, who've got surprise results from DNA tests. So it's all become this very dynamic, somewhat charged, I don't mean that in a negative way, interesting situation. People got to travel through some waters that a couple of decades ago we wouldn't even have had to think about.
— And being here right now for me, and being a black man and identifying that way, being in this place, it is I think refreshing, because some of the frustrations I've had about the racial tension are eased, because I'm sitting at the table, I'm having the meal, I'm having the conversation, and it's not about race, it's about how are we connected? And that's really been inspiring from my journey.
— It sounds like this has been a really enriching experience.
— It has been.
— Just has to be, and an enriching story to share. I appreciate you telling it, there's more. There's a car accident John had no business surviving at all. It had to have been an angel. We'll talk about that in just a moment.
— I'm glad you've joined me today on Conversations. Well, my guest is John Boston. As a matter of fact, it's not just John Boston, it's Pastor John Boston. We'll talk in a few moments about how his fascinating life brought him around to ministry. We'll talk about his ministry passions, as well, before we're done here. But John, I want to ask you about an accident, you had no business surviving. Clearly God felt otherwise, but take me back to that day and describe to me what happened.
— Sure, thank you, John, for letting me be here with you. It was 2015, and I just left church. I was pastoring in Columbus, Ohio, and I dropped my wife and daughter off at home. And I was gonna go to a friend's house to pick up something I left the night before. And so I was on Airport Road, near the airport. And I was coming around a bend; a car swerved into my lane. It was just a two-lane road. And I didn't see it, a way to get around hitting the car other than to swerve off the road a bit. And so I did, but I was coming around the bend. And as I came around the bend, I hit a power pole that I didn't know was there. And I don't really remember hitting it, I just remember realizing that I had been in an accident, and it was extremely hot. I grew up in south Florida, so I know hot. But this was like stepping in an oven, and I didn't see smoke. I didn't see any flames, but I could just feel this intense heat, and I later learned what it was. As I looked to open the door, I couldn't open the door, tried to take off my seatbelt, couldn't take off my seatbelt. And I looked at the windshield, and there was, the windshield was melting in the car, and it looked like rain drops. And as one of those drops hit the dashboard and melted through, and I saw it hit, you know, your adrenaline is high, and so you're processing things at a faster rate, so it seems like time has slowed down, and it hit the floorboard and it went through, and I looked at the ground, and then I looked...
— It went through the floorboard?
— Went through the dashboard, went through the floorboard, that one drop, I just remember that one drop. And then I remember looking over to the passenger window and it was folding in the car, like a piece of paper. And I touched my head to my headrest, and I said, "I can't get out of here". And in that moment, the door that I could not open opened, and a man reached in and took off the seatbelt that I couldn't take off, got me out of the car, walked with me or walked me maybe 20 yards away from the car. And he said, "You're gonna be all right. What's your name"? I said, "It's John". He said, "My name is Johnny". He said, "What's my name"? And I said, "It's Johnny". And he said, "You're gonna be fine. The police are on their way. And I can't be here when they get here, but you're gonna be just fine". And he went and got in his car, and I looked back at my car. And when I looked back, there was no paint on the car. There was no glass. The tires were gone, and the car was melting into the road. What happened was a transformer landed on the car and the power supply never stopped. It opened up, and the car conducted all of the thousands of volts of electricity in this industrial area, as the transformers are stepping it down to residential, and that car was conducting that electricity.
— Okay, let's go back a little bit here.
— Heavy, heavy.
— It was conducting that electricity while you were in it?
— While I was in the car, never stopped. Matter of fact, hearing from firemen later and the power company later, when I got the bill for the power pole.
— No way.
— Yeah, absolutely. The insurance covered it. But when that transformer landed, it didn't break. They're designed to reset themselves. And I just learned this later. I don't know these things, and there's no way I should have survived. There's no way anybody could have reached in that car. When the police came to the scene and the paramedics, paramedics actually got there first, and they said, "Well, who's in the car"? I said, "Well, no one". They said, "Well, what are you doing out here"? I said, "Well, I was in the car". They said, "No, you couldn't have been in that car. It's not possible". I said, "No, I was in that car". And they took me in as a trauma 2 patient, into the number one trauma hospital in that city, capital city, and which means I was conscious, but failing. And they thought that I had inhaled a lot of the fumes, and the toxicology was off, and seemed like things were broken. And for some reason, John, I couldn't remember anything. I had this sense of loss, and I'm good with numbers. I remember numbers. I don't even have to put them in my phone. I just remember people's numbers; this is a silly gift. I wish I was like a classical pianist or something. But, but yeah, so that car was conducting that electricity, and there's no way anybody could have touched that car. Yeah.
— I just want to let that sink in for a minute. That's okay, question I was going to ask you before but did not want to interrupt you. So you're in the vehicle; you can't get the seatbelt off. You can't get the door open. You see the windshield melting, and you've explained why that was now. Tell me about the fear that you experienced.
— In that moment, I just sensed that I could not get out on my own. I felt that I was in an inescapable situation. If I had to describe it, I used to wrestle with my older cousins when I was little, and they were older and bigger, and they would get me in a hold, and they'd make me tap out or say uncle, and I can't breathe, I need to get out. Let me out now. They say, we're not doing it to you. And that's how I felt in that moment. I felt like I was powerless to do anything, to get out.
— Who was Johnny?
— No one found him.
— They look for him?
— They looked. As a matter of fact, the same people that produce a major, major network syndicated show reached out to my wife and said, you know, "We want to find him. We're doing a show. We want to give him an award, a reward for what he did". And they looked, they couldn't find him, and police in that city, they shared a description and couldn't find him. They just had questions... what happened? Maybe to prosecute the car that came into my lane. They just wanted to put it together in their investigation. They never found him. Johnny, I didn't think of it, but when I got to the hospital, I thought, he said, "You know, I can't be here when they get here". Maybe he had a bad past.
— Shady character.
— Yeah, this is what I was thinking. And so I remember the name of a police officer, because I couldn't remember a phone number for my wife, and the hospital found a bulletin from the church in my jacket pocket, called the church, couldn't reach anybody. They called that officer, the officers there at the hospital with me; he left a soccer match with his children, went and got my wife, brought her over to the hospital. And she came in and prayed right away. Lord, undo whatever the enemy is doing. And they later discovered that I had a traumatic brain injury, and they ran tests. And it left me as if I had had a massive stroke.
— Very debilitated, couldn't, right-side weakness. Couldn't walk without assistance, drooling. Couldn't speak properly, couldn't enunciate my words. Couldn't write. And I went to 23 hours of therapy every week, because I didn't want to be inpatient. Vestibular for balance, cognitive issues, speech, occupational, physical therapy. And I'm here today. You can't tell. I use it when my wife asks me to do things around the house: "I have a brain injury, and I can't handle it".
— Can't be bringing that trash in.
— Yeah, absolutely, can't make it happen.
— That's right.
— But that's what it left me with. They didn't find Johnny. They couldn't figure out what happened, how anybody could have actually touched the car, how I could have gotten out of the car. And even today, my therapist, the doctors, the neurologists, they can't fully explain how I was able to function. Now, I'm a university professor. I teach and travel around the world speaking. And five years ago, I could not do that. Matter of fact, I stopped speaking for a while, because I was so embarrassed at how I had to put my speech together.
— Let's come back to that. Let's go back to Johnny. You did not say, I think Johnny was an angel.
— Why didn't you not say that?
— He just seemed such a real person. He was dirty, I remember his hands were dirty. And when my wife came to the hospital and prayed, she's the one who said Johnny was an angel. And it makes sense, because I've caused a lot of trouble in my life. So it would make sense that I'd have a dirty angel, doing all the work that he has to do.
— Cleaning up after you.
— Absolutely, so it makes sense.
— You know it doesn't make a bit of difference whether it was an angel or not, because it was miraculous.
— It was.
— And clearly God intervened in a very, very powerful way. How soon after this accident, did your brain injury issues become apparent.
— It was immediately apparent, but there was so much happening, we just weren't clear about it. I got tested a few days later, someone from the church said, hey, why don't you go see a doctor? And I think they had come to visit me. And they said, you know, I just want to make sure everything's okay. And they were in the medical field, so a few days.
— And someone said you had a traumatic brain injury, question first, How'd that happen to you? Hit your head, or was it the electricity? What was that?
— It could have been one or all of those things. It could have been that I hit my head. There was nothing left of the car to know, and I didn't have any contusions or bruises on me. It looked like I was perfect, as perfect as I was. Yeah. And so there's no way to know if I hit my head or if just in the impact, my brain was jostled inside my skull. They're not sure, but they treated it. And I asked God to give me another chance at a normal life or a semblance of normalcy. And I went back about nine months after therapy started. The people I work for and with, we're talking about what my disability process would look like, how to apply. The paperwork was drawn. And I begged God for just one chance to work at better faculty to serve his kingdom. And he gave it to me.
— Traumatic brain injury. You hear those three wounds. I've got two questions for you. The first one is, what runs through your head when they start throwing around words like that?
— What's gonna be normal now? It took me years. As a matter of fact, it wasn't until very recently that I accepted some of my new limitations.
— And you have them?
— I do, I still do. If I get too fatigued, I get fatigued faster now.
— But when I get too fatigued, it is difficult for me to put my thoughts together. I've learned how to step aside and say, let me just take a break and come back to this.
— It's probably good to learn that anyway.
— Yeah, it got me out of a lot of board meetings.
— Yeah, that's right. Use that to your advantage.
— Yeah, yeah.
— Second question. What was it like for your wife to hear those words?
— I think for her it was difficult when my little girl was learning to write, and my wife's husband who was strong and primary breadwinner, sole provider, was learning to write alongside her. When my daughter was playing with blocks, and building her dexterity, I'm sitting with her rebuilding my dexterity. And so I think, you know, I used to play with my daughter a lot and throw her up, and we take long walks and hikes and do things like this, swim. And I think it was difficult for my wife, seeing a semblance of the man that I was, and I'm probably most grateful that she didn't have to become my care provider for the rest of my life.
— Was it a steady trajectory of improvement upwards, or was it bumpy? When did it get the most frustrating for you?
— I think it was, well, it was depressing. And so I had to overcome the emotional impact, because who I was was there, but I couldn't bring him out. I could have the thought, but I couldn't put it into words.
— And your early thirties at this stage.
— It's not supposed to happen to a young man.
— Sure, sure. And I think people around me praying, encouraging me, saying you're going to get better. And it was difficult to talk about, but I had very close friends who came and they would share that John, you have to first get through the depression, because I just couldn't deal with people. I would cry. It was just, it was uncontrollable. And part of that was the injury, the emotional difficulty. But once I made it through that difficulty, the physical part, it almost came overnight. It was the up and down in the sense that physically I couldn't break through the emotional impact. And so if I tried to take a step forward, I felt like this is gonna be the day I'm gonna walk without a cane. This is gonna be the day when I can read a sentence with fluidity. It's just going to be clear. And when those days would come and I couldn't read the sentence, or I couldn't walk without a cane, those are the days that just set me back and set me back again.
— How long were you battling with this? You were pastoring a church, leading a congregation.
— They grew more when I had the brain injury, so clearly it was the holy spirit growing. Then people say I was a good pastor. It was like, no, I was a broken pastor. He had a very good holy spirit.
— We may need a few more broken pastors. How long were you back walking with a cane and unable to string sentences together?
— It was almost a year. Almost a year.
— Were there times when you said, this is it, this is what I got forever?
— There were times. I think that was what was so hard about it, I couldn't accept it. I would think up until that point, if you have a brain injury or a stroke, that you would not feel yourself, but I felt myself, but I couldn't bring him out, I couldn't bring me out. And that's what was very difficult. It's almost as though, you know, I felt like I could run, but I couldn't really take a step. So that's what was difficult. And by the nine month mark, John, I remember a night, I determined that I was gonna give up, or God was gonna come through for me. And that was just internal, I didn't say anything. I couldn't use devices because I was trying to heal. So I wasn't reading. I wasn't online. I couldn't do any of those things. And so that night I had early bedtimes, because I needed a lot of rest for my brain to recover. And that night I prayed, I said God, if you give me this chance, I believe by your spirit I won't let you down, if you give it to me. And the next day I went in, this is about the nine, ten month mark, and I tested out of the facility. I asked them to test me and they said, John, you may take the test and you may do very well, but you also may do very poorly, and we think this is not the best day to do this. And I said, just please do it, and I'm okay. And I just knew in that moment, if I failed it, I was just gonna give up. But I didn't fail, and they said, well, let's give you another test. Let's give you something harder. Can you walk over there? Can you turn the corner without hitting the wall? Can you read this paragraph? Could you read this page? And they would call other therapists in, and that day I walked out and they gave me a solid bill. I had to do another MRI. And they said, John, the damage is still there, but for some reason, you're functioning back to a level of normalcy.
— Unbelievable. And so what you're saying is this just, it came back?
— Yeah, yeah, about the nine, ten month mark.
— It just came back?
— That's amazing. So you're a pastor, you minister to people, that's your life, you pour yourself into other people. What have these experiences? We talked about your adoption and that just amazing story. And this accident, your recovery, you know what it's like to be a disabled man. You were disabled for a year, let's say. What's that done for your empathy, for your ability to reach other people, for your ability to understand what other people are going through?
— From that experience, I have seen, I was appointed to a task force, with a mentoring initiative, with the White House. And I went on to do some things with the Pentagon in the United States. I traveled to the borders of war zones to bring some relief. And I'm saying that for a reason, I found that it was in my brokenness, that God was able to use me in a whole new, powerful way. And in terms of my empathy, a lot of people think that they have to get themselves together before they can be used. And I'm just kind of, my message for the past several years has been blessed are the poor in spirit, and those that have the need.
— Fantastic, he's John Boston, I'm John Bradshaw. I'm glad you're with us. This is our conversation. And we'll have more in just a moment.
— Thanks so much for joining me on Conversations, joining us, actually, because my very special guest is John Boston. John, I really appreciate you being here and taking your time.
— Thanks so much for having me. This has been special.
— And one thing that we've not talked about yet is how life, you know, it goes this way in that way, but it went this way for you into ministry. How'd you end up in ministry?
— Well, I was raised in a Christian home. I thought I would be a veterinarian. I was a big animal lover and I still am. But my junior year in college, I had been running from this call because as a child, I would preach, you know, guest speaker at children's days and youth days. And lots of do association. A lot of people said that you should go into ministry, and I just wasn't interested in it. I don't know exactly why. I didn't mind preaching and doing evangelism, but in that junior year, I just felt overwhelmed with the sense that this is what I should do. Changed my major, did everything I could to finish in theology, finished in theology. And I pastored in South Carolina first. I was 21 when I got to my first church.
— Yeah, and I remember the first day I got there, and I greeted the elders. One of the elders said, oh, goodness, the conference sent us a baby. So yeah, 21.
— So where in South Carolina where you?
— I was near Myrtle beach in a place called Hemingway.
— Tough assignment.
— I was a missionary, somebody has to pastor on the beach.
— Yeah it's tough, 21, sent to the beach. Shepherd the people of God. That's fantastic. So what other ministry, tell me some of the other ministry stops you've made.
— Well, we were there, we had a two-church district. And then I got married about four years into my pastoral ministry, five years into ministry, and my wife and I...
— How'd you meet your wife?
— Well, we met at a youth congress in Augusta, Georgia, and when we met, I knew in that moment I was gonna marry her.
— You did?
— She was stunningly beautiful, but I just knew. But it would be seven years before we go on our first date.
— So she did not know in that moment?
— No, no. And I wasn't willing to say, this is what God told me.
— I think that was wise, I think there was wise.
— That's kind of crazy when you do that.
— I think it more often happens that the male knows, but the female takes a little time to come around and catch up.
— That seems to be the way of things. We'll both get in trouble for that.
— But it's very interesting that in that moment you felt like this is the one. My father met my mother and he said to his friend, I'm gonna marry that girl.
— My mother found out that he said that, and she said, there has to be better men than that. There has to be better than that. And she married him anyway. So you traveled around in ministry.
— Yeah, so we planned a church, and then we went from there. We were in Atlanta, Georgia, and worked as an associate pastor with Carlton Byrd. And from there, I was in Milledgeville, Georgia. Wanted to really quit ministry. I just didn't sense that I could do what it is I wanted to do in the structure that I worked in. And the person who was responsible for all of the churches, they call him a conference president, and he encouraged me to stay. And I stayed and I put a letter in, he didn't accept it. I wanted to resign. And I was like, no, I want to go do ministry a different way. I want to do something a little bit bigger. I don't want to, you know, have to deal with these rigors in this context. And in central Georgia, in Milledgeville, Georgia, I was able to lead a public evangelistic meeting. And we had in two sites, 5,000 people show up here in the United States.
— That's a big meeting.
— It was a big meeting. And as a matter of fact, that was just after I thought I should leave, because I didn't think I could do that type of ministry. And I'm so glad I stayed and hung on just a little while longer.
— So what was that kind of ministry that your heart was yearning to do?
— I have a heart for people that don't have a faith culture. And I meet a lot of people as I travel, even here in the United States, in the first world context in particular, that have an understanding of faith in God, that's really a poor representation of his love. And I have a heart for them. And so traveling, preaching at churches and federations and camp meetings and youth conferences, that just wasn't my thing. I got lots of invitations, and I praise God for every one of them, because they were so valuable and enriching, but I had a heart for being on the corner, or leading a series that only reached people that had never been to a church, or talking with people that felt like they didn't want anything to do with God. That's where my heart was.
— We know that you were in Columbus, Ohio, then somewhere, somehow you find yourself in Australia.
— Crocodile Dundee here.
— What was that all about?
— Well, we had a great ministry in Columbus, and I got to work with the civic government on state, city, and federal levels. And I met a guy named Tom who was going to Australia to work, and I was doing a presentation about all the things that were happening in Columbus, Ohio. We were fighting childhood poverty. We were working with immigrants. We were just a lot of beautiful ministries. The Lord was really doing something special there. And he said, man, would you be interested in moving to another country? And I had just said to my wife, I think it's time for us to consider going to serve in another part of the world. And so that night I was in central Florida for this event. And we drove, I drove to Fort Lauderdale when my wife was visiting with my family, drove back, we had dinner with Tom, and he gave us his pitch. I'm going to Australia. It's the greatest place on earth. Why don't you come? And we said yes. And we went and I focused on reaching, it was right up my alley, John. I focused on connecting and reaching students and families that had no faith experience, or very limited faith experience. And that was my focus the whole time.
— Students, so you were working with young people?
— Yeah, teenagers.
— Okay, so tell me what, talk to me about working with young people, because they're the great mystery with every church, no matter what denomination, is losing them by the ton.
— I don't know where to begin. I kind of want you to just take it away, but how do we reach and retain and speak to young people things of faith?
— I have a philosophy of ministry that I apply. And I don't know if you consider my ministry a youth ministry, but I primarily have worked with young people. But my philosophy is that young people don't meet Jesus in sermons, they meet Him in service. And so for me, I always found ways, like we had atheist young people in the schools I worked in. Young people that had difficult experiences with church, didn't want anything to do with it, but I asked them, hey look, could you just read this for me? I didn't try to exegesis the texts or go very deep into it. Could you read this for this program we're doing? Hey listen, I'm gonna be speaking, and these are my notes. Could you go over this for me? And I found that as they serve, and not just in the church context, but hey, I found a whole bunch of people that don't have a home, and they were burned out of their home, a big family. Could you guys come over with me and help pass out some food, give them some love, support. And I've found in doing that, that young people, they're in line, they're in queue to hear God speak to them, because they're the hands and feet of Jesus. And so surely God is gonna share his heart for them in that experience.
— We tend to think don't we, that what we need for the kids is another program, another program. Programs are okay, in their place. Programs, we've got to have programs.
— Is it programs that reach kids?
— No, no, not at all. If they have a place, I'd say they're in that 10% of 100% range. 90%, you gotta be out there, you gotta be engaging. And when I say engaging, I'm not talking about a better sermon or better music. As a matter of fact, I worked in some very difficult places that didn't have great music or set design or a budget for set design. And just sitting around listening, talking, making sure that I'm not trying to change their mind, but I'm hearing what they have to say. And when I hear them, they want to hear me, and I think one of the most powerful compliments I ever had working with a young person, was a young person came to me and said, I want to get baptized. I said, I know that, you know, you don't really want anything to do with God. Why do you want to get baptized? I didn't say, let me put you in a Bible study. I was genuinely curious. And he said to me, he said, well, you said that you were baptized, and I'm so tired of hurting the way that I hurt, and you seem to have such peace. I just want to do whatever you did to get what you have.
— Nice. Yeah, that's fantastic. Young people, do young people want to know God?
— Young people have probably one of the most insatiable appetites for God on the planet.
— How do we introduce them to God? I mean, you've said service, but at some stage you've got across the line and say, there's a being, a God, there's something behind this. How do we introduce them to God?
— We can't divorce proclamation and compassion. But I have found that when our evangelism practice is transactional, meaning I'm gonna show up, I'm gonna present, I'm gonna preach. I'm gonna give you a program, and I'm going to ask you to make a decision. Then if you do make a decision, then we've got like other things we can do. But if you don't, God bless you, sayonara, see you later. I've found a lot of success, a lot of success. In Australia, when I was there, we had the highest number of baptisms in 30 years. And not that that's the only measure of successful ministry, but in that instance, it was significant because the largest portion of that came from teenagers, from young people who made decisions. And it happened because I was able to proclaim, and we had programs, but we continued to journey with them. So the success then was not in their decision, but our ability to follow up and follow through with them, not just if they say they want to be baptized, but just in their life, just showing up. You wanna play soccer? I might have a heart attack running on this field, but I'll play soccer with you. Well, tell me about your mom. Tell me about dad, tell me about home. What's happening in your world? You got a girlfriend? Oh my goodness. I mean, what does she think of you? And I think in them being heard, and being seen, it gives them, this vulnerability that we share, that an adult can listen to a young person or child. It gives them the sense that, well, you've heard me, I want to hear you now.
— Same question, two different ways. You've got a church congregation, they got a half a dozen teenagers, or 10 or 20, but I'm thinking maybe a little, not a little teeny, tiny church, but a smaller church. In the real big churches it's easy to find talented people and people with time. What do we say to that congregation? They got half a dozen young people, they hardly even know what to do with them. They desperately want them to connect with God. They desperately want them to be in church. They desperately want to grow in their faith. They go, we got these half a dozen young people, what do we do with these animals?
— John, I have an answer for that. And I'm very confident about my answer, and it's not arrogance. It comes from experience and lots of failure. And this is my very concrete answer on that. Smaller church, you want to reach your young people. Don't see your young people as the group in your church. See your young people as the group in that city. Consider yourself the mentoring hub for all of the young people in that community. And when you do that, you're going to show your young people what discipleship looks like. You're gonna equip them to be the ones to share their experience with those that don't have whole homes, healthy environments. And that is how we won in ministry.
— Now let's bring it from the church to the family. Is a family that are three teenagers, 14, 16, and 18, or one, and she's 17 and a half. And it's like, we think we're practicing Christianity in our home, but the kid's just not getting it for some reason. Now we could go all psychoanalytical on this, but what do you say to that family? It might be a single parent. It might be a good old fashioned nuclear home. What do you say to the parents about reaching the heart of their children with the gospel?
— I think that looking at the ministry of Christ, at a well, in the middle of the day, in the heat of the day, at the pool of Bethesda, with a bunch of sick people, finding himself on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm. I think that young people have storms. Young people face sickness. Young people find themselves in difficult positions. So you got to find yourself there with them. And the idea is not to ask them to come where you are, the idea is that they need to know that you are where they are. And with that being said for the parent, I don't want to speak too deeply to it, because I don't have a teenager, but I've worked with them for 16 years now. And what I have found is that when parents are trying to reach their children, it's often that they're trying to reach their children to become something that they think they should become. Instead of trying to ask God, how do I nurture this in my child? I had one child. It's not that they weren't interested in church, they were. They actually enjoyed, they came by force, but they wanted to be an artist. And their parents said there's no money in art. And so you can't be an artist, because you can't provide for yourself. You can't make it. You need to be a doctor, like your father was a doctor, and his father was a doctor, and that's what you're gonna do. And then they came to me and said, could you talk to my daughter? She doesn't want to do anything with church. She's not liking it. When I talked to the young lady, not because the parents asked me, but because she was a part of the youth group at the church. She said, well, all they want is what they want for me. They're not interested in what I want. And so I encouraged them, go to an art class with your daughter. See what happens. Went to the art class. The daughter was baptized within a year. Not because they went to the art class, but because they decided to hear her, to be with her. And a lot of times the young people, what they're rejecting is not church. They're not rejecting God. They're not rejecting faith. They're rejecting, whatever it is, is gonna hit their parents the hardest, because their parents have not heard them. And I think that that's a principle that if practiced, will yield good results.
— I think it's impossible for any of us who are a little older to look back and say, that wouldn't have worked for me. All we wanted was for our parents to come alongside us and say, what fires you up? What are you interested in? Let me walk alongside you. What fires you up? We don't have much longer, but what fires you up?
— I'm very, very passionate about reaching people that have the wrong idea about God. This is what fuels me. That's why I loved Australia, very secular environment. I'm going on my way to do a series in Oregon right now with a very secular environment. I think for me, finding new ways to reach people, when everyone else says it's not possible, we're not gonna be successful in this area. Those people don't want to hear. I love going in that space and trying to find a way forward, because I think that what we have is beautiful, and it's powerful. When I was a kid, my father didn't like snakes or lizards. But when I was having difficult times, he'd take me to the pet store. He wouldn't let me bring a snake home, but he'd take me to the pet store. And he'd say, you look at them all you want here. I'll bring you back tomorrow, if you want to. And I think that for me, that's kind of how I approach ministry. I love to find people. I may not live the life they live, but I want them to know I'm willing to be here with you, and I'm gonna be here whenever you decide that you want to accept Christ into your heart.
— Take one minute and tell me a little bit about what you're doing now. See we need to do this again. There's a lot of ground we haven't covered, a number of things we need to flesh out a little further. Talk to me about what you're doing right now.
— Right now, we oftentimes we lose people. We have great content in ministry, but we lose people in connecting with them, once they've indicated an interest of some sort. And so I'm trying to work on a system, a program or back office initiative to reach people where they are. So in Oregon, I'm doing a series. We're only targeting nonbelievers. We're not trying to get a bunch of church people to come. I know that's hard because that limits your crowd, but we're doing it completely online. And I'm hoping that the result will be, we find a solution to reach people that have no faith context online.
— Man, I'm grateful that you took your time to be here. I'm a little upset with the clock, 'cause I think somebody was pressing the fast forward button on the clock and we have zinged throughout time. I hope we get a chance to talk again, 'cause there's a lot more ground to cover, but man, God bless you. Some incredible experiences. I've been blessed. We've been blessed. I'm really grateful you took the time. Pastor John Boston, thank you my brother and God bless you.
— Thank you.
— And thank you. What a blessing to have you with us today. I hope you've been inspired and encouraged and richly blessed with Pastor John Boston. I'm John Bradshaw. This has been our Conversation.