John Bradshaw - Conversation with Jeff Scoggins
He is an author, a pastor, a missionary, an organizer of missions, he's an administrator, and he's written another really fascinating book. He's Jeff Scoggins, I'm John Bradshaw, and this is our conversation.
John Bradshaw: Jeff, thanks so much for joining me. I really appreciate you being here.
Jeff Scoggins: Thank you, thank you.
John Bradshaw: So you've written this book, I've hidden it behind me, and I wanna pull it out right now. "Regrets on an African River," a collection of fun stories from your life in the mission field, largely growing up in the mission field. We'll talk about that in a minute, I really wanna talk about some of these stories and more, but let's get back to the beginning for you. Where did you spring from? Tell me something about your early life.
Jeff Scoggins: I have a hard time answering the question "Where is home"? Let's put it that way.
John Bradshaw: Ah, okay.
Jeff Scoggins: I was born in Germany; my dad was drafted at the time, and so then we came back, and I spent actually the first 10 years of my life down south in the U.S. At that time my parents got a call to go to the Middle East, Beirut, Lebanon, which was exciting because there was a war going on, and there are stories in the book about it. And then after that we came back to the US for a little while, and then to Africa, so I spent some time in Rwanda and then went to school in Kenya, at the mission school there, so I was back and forth between there. Came back to the U.S. again, went to college, got married, and went to Russia with my wife, so I spent three years in Moscow...
John Bradshaw: As newlyweds you went to Russia?
Jeff Scoggins: Well, yeah, it was within the first two-three years, something like that.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, that's newlyweds.
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah, and so...
John Bradshaw: Wow.
Jeff Scoggins: ...and then interspersed within that, mission work in the U.S. as well, kind of overseeing the entire mission... outreach that we were doing as a church.
John Bradshaw: So you were doomed to be a missionary.
Jeff Scoggins: I guess if you wanna call it doomed, yes.
John Bradshaw: You were doomed to be a missionary.
Jeff Scoggins: It couldn't be a greater privilege.
John Bradshaw: Oh, how fantastic. So you went to Lebanon.
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: Was it the food that attracted you guys?
Jeff Scoggins: You know, it was my parents, and I have no idea what attracted them. But I know that I absolutely loved it. I did not wanna leave.
John Bradshaw: Oh yeah, even though you were in the middle of a war-torn situation? Because Lebanon is a beautiful place and a fascinating place and I've found the people there to be wonderful. What do you remember about it?
Jeff Scoggins: I remember everything about it, and I remember not being able to sleep when we came back because it was too quiet.
John Bradshaw: Oh.
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah, so we...
John Bradshaw: So what were you hearing, What was the noise?
Jeff Scoggins: Oh, we could sit on our porch, which is on the hill overlooking Beirut, and we could watch the tracer bullets and the bombs blowing up and everything. And for the most part we were fairly safe where we were...
John Bradshaw: For the most part?
Jeff Scoggins: Well, we spent our nights in the bomb shelter every once in a while.
John Bradshaw: What about the other part? The most part you're safe, the other part?
Jeff Scoggins: The other part we were going to bomb shelters.
John Bradshaw: Did you never look down at the tracers and just think, you know, it's not outside the realms of possibility that something could veer off course?
Jeff Scoggins: Well, it happened; I had several five-gallon containers full of shrapnel and bullets and stuff, so yeah, no, it happened. But we just weren't all that concerned about it. I was the first few nights. In fact, there's a story in the book about my first nights there, and it's titled "How to Get Unused to War". Or "How to Get Used to War," maybe that was... I don't remember, but anyway, the whole idea in there is that you get into anything for long enough, and you get used to it.
John Bradshaw: So true.
Jeff Scoggins: And the same happened for war, and my point in the book is the same happens with sin...
John Bradshaw: Absolutely right.
Jeff Scoggins: ...till you get to the point where you just, you don't even think about it, and you start to frankly even miss it when it's not there.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, yeah.
Jeff Scoggins: So as wild as it was, yeah, we were used to the war, and we were, amazingly enough, reluctant to leave it because we actually said that to our parents, "We don't wanna go. We're gonna miss the war". So it's crazy stuff, but it's what you can get used to is something.
John Bradshaw: 'Cause somebody who's a parent right now heard you say all that and said, "Oh, I could never, oh, we could never," and so maybe they could never. But your parents thought, "Oh, yeah, taking our kids into the middle of a war, that's okay". What sort of adjustment was that like for you as a kid to go from somewhere here in the US to a totally different culture? You left all your friends behind, all whatever your creature comforts were here behind, you go to a foreign place, foreign food, foreign people, foreign language, and a war. Did that have a negative impact on you in any way?
Jeff Scoggins: Not in the least. Everybody talked about culture shock. I never experienced it... until I came back.
John Bradshaw: Oh, tell me about that.
Jeff Scoggins: That was a culture shock.
John Bradshaw: Why? It was home.
Jeff Scoggins: It was home, but I had already been homeschooled at home when I was there, we went and I was with mission kids and in the mission field, and I understood that. It just took me... it was instant; I could pick that up. When I came back, I didn't know what the dirty words were. I didn't know what the latest movies were. I didn't know, you know, all these different things, and kids, especially at that time, could be brutal. And I just wanted to go. I just wanted to get out; I wanted to go back. And...when I started to figure out how to get along in this kind of society again, I kind of went the opposite direction, I went to the other ditch, and I think... they never said it, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if that's why my parents said, "We're going to Africa". Because I was figuring out a little too well how to get along in this kind of a culture.
John Bradshaw: So you didn't know the music and the movies and the pop culture references and so forth. I'll come back to my question for you in a second, but I have an observation. I was talking to a missionary kid... I bet you know who he is... and I asked him how he identified coming back to the... how he identified after living overseas for so long. Come to find out he has a foreign parent, and he really identifies with that culture more. I'm looking at him... you're an American man. Well, he looks at himself and he goes, "No, I'm this other nationality". Okay. And he explained why that was. He said, "Coming back to live in the United States, I'm playing catch-up. I don't know this, I don't know that, I don't know the other". He'll end up back in the mission field because that's where he feels comfortable.
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: ...and coming back to this, to the garbage, it's not all garbage, but coming back to the garbage can be a really difficult adjustment. When you were growing up as a kid in Lebanon and you were deprived of movies and deprived of popular music, and you were deprived of McDonald's, presumably, and you were deprived of all of that, did it ever feel like deprivation? Did you ever feel like, "I'm missing out on something"?
Jeff Scoggins: I didn't even know about it. I didn't even know about it. I didn't care about it; it was just not important. And it even took me a while when I came back to decide, okay, maybe I better make this important. And...that was a mistake, frankly.
John Bradshaw: Why did you make it important?
Jeff Scoggins: To be accepted. To get along. The bullying, that kind of stuff, there's stories in the book about that.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
Jeff Scoggins: It was rough. It was rough. But I wouldn't change it, even if I could, because it grew me as a person in ways I don't even understand totally.
John Bradshaw: Uh-huh.
Jeff Scoggins: I can now go back and forth between cultures with no problem.
John Bradshaw: As a kid, you're born into the mission thing, you understood why you were there, but let me just dig into that a little deeper. Did you really understand why you were there? What was the depth of your understanding "We are here to be missionaries"? Did you take that on board as a kid?
Jeff Scoggins: No, I didn't. For us it was just a new place to live, for me and my brother and sister. We knew that my dad was doing mission, and I grew up with the idea in my mind that I would do the same, not necessarily overseas, that wasn't the point, it was just that life was about ministry, no matter what we did.
John Bradshaw: Okay, so you did kind of take it on board.
Jeff Scoggins: I took it on board...
— ...but I would have taken it on board, I think, even here, so, maybe not, though, who knows.
— Yeah, well, we don't know. And like you said, maybe, but you certainly did then, so I find that really interesting. You were in a ministerial family, your parents were serving as missionaries overseas, and it was inculcated in you somehow, whether implicitly or explicitly, "This is what my life's gonna be. I'm going into ministry".
— I never expected anything else.
— How fascinating. Okay, okay, so let me ask you this. So there are parents today who would wish that their children would grow up to do something a little more meaningful than record TikTok videos. How would you advise those parents to go about establishing a culture within their own culture of ministry? Not that every kid needs to be a pastor or a church school teacher, but what do we do as parents, give us one, two, three little piece of advice to help our kids see a greater meaning in life than...
— There's absolutely no substitute for believing that yourself as a parent. And if that is what your life is, and that's really all your kids know, it's not something that you feel like you have to inculcate. It's something that just is. Now, that doesn't mean every kid is going to go into the ministry.
— But that, like you said, it doesn't have to be a pastor. You can be a mechanic and be in the ministry.
— So, it's... it's really truly about... that's authentically what you are as a family. And if that is the case, then everything else belongs to the Holy Spirit.
— I asked you for three, I got one, and that's probably gonna be enough because I must ask you this. It pains me, but I wanna ask you how you feel. You're involved in mission from a global perspective right now. You strategize; you plan; you identify areas of need. I can't wait to talk to you more about that. Our greatest resource as a church, however you define church, is our people. You might say, if you wanted, that our greatest resource, among that greatest resource, is our young people. But you see young people throwing their lives away, and I don't just mean making poor lifestyle choices, that's an easy target, but people have been doing that forever. I don't mean that. I mean, man, kid, you've got great potential, and you could do so much for God. What does it do to you to see the amount of young people we have not turned on by mission or ministry? That's gotta break your heart.
— There is absolutely no question. But I have to say that neither am I surprised. When we allow our children to become a part of the culture the way that we do, what else do you expect? I think it was Gordon Bietz once that said, "You buy where you shop," and he was talking about something else, but the same thing works for any situation. If that's what you do in your home, and if it's all about your phone and your iPad and the movies you're watching and stuff, that's what life is going to be. But if life is, revolves around other things, that's what it will be as well. So the one thing that I can say... well, I could say many things... but one of the things that I can say about the way that I was raised is that my parents were always completely authentic, and for them, that's what they did, and so that's what we did. And if you do something else, then what do you expect? That's where your kids are gonna go, for the most part. Now, I say that carefully, because there are parents that will...
— Of course.
— ...say that, you know, that our whole life... there is another ditch, and, you know, it doesn't matter which one you fall into, the devil's happy either way, you know? And to where the kids feel like this is forced, where it's whatever, and then they'll rebel against it. I understand. But this was a completely authentic, unforced kind of situation.
— And the thing we remember too is... you can have the greatest parents who give their kids the greatest upbringing. At the end of the day, a kid has their free choice.
— That's right.
— And they're gonna do what they're gonna do.
— That is absolutely right.
— However, we cannot get away from the fact that we, to an enormous degree, prepare our kids for the choices that they make.
— There's no question.
— Yeah. So, Lebanon came and went. You came home. When you as a kid, who was starting to get a little wild and wooly, went back to Africa, did you chafe against that, or was it like, "Ah! Blessed relief! We're back to the missions"?
— No. I was angry.
— Were you?
— Oh, I was angry. And there's a story in the book about it.
— I was very upset, I did not want to go. I had worked hard for what I had "gotten".
— It took me years before I recognized... that my parents had probably done the right thing.
— Yeah, it was. And it was... there it wasn't a difficult transition for me culturally.
— It wasn't a difficult transition for me in school, none of that. It was just pure and simple being upset to leave what I had gained. And you know, it was a formative time. I was, what, 14 years old or something like that.
— Mmm. True.
— And so I had worked hard to find those friends and make those friends, you know, and so that was... When I got to Africa, once I made new friends, everything smoothed out and everything was okay. But until then...
— So, you made it to Rwanda... your family went to Rwanda?
— Okay. And where was this in terms, in the timeline? This was before the terrible...
— This was well before the genocide.
— My parents actually ended up spending seven years, and they left about two years before the genocide happened, yeah. And then I was, I only stayed in Rwanda for about a month, and then I flew off to school in Kenya.
— And so my school bus was an airplane, and I went back and forth for a couple of years there.
— This is something we could spend hours talking about, but I only intend to ask you this question and dwell on it very briefly, just about Rwanda. When the genocide occurred, did your parents ever say, "We saw this coming"? Was there ever an indicator for them, or did it kind of take them by surprise?
— I think it was a total surprise. For all that we knew, the two tribes got along just fine. But obviously there was something going on below the surface that we didn't see.
— Right. You may never even been able to see from your vantage point.
— Exactly. And as foreigners, maybe we never could have. But everything was completely peaceful and fine when we were there, so...
— "Regrets on an African River". Man, I picked up this book; I started to read; I couldn't put it down. It was one of those books that you get that annoy you because when it's time to sleep, you'd rather read than sleep. So let's talk about some of the stories in the book. This is the life and times of Jeff Scoggins growing up in the mission field having way too much fun and sometimes a little too much mischief.
— We don't have a lot of time before the break, and I expect that this story is only gonna get partly told before we go to the break, and that's fine with me.
— There's a story in the book called "Regrets on an African River" called "Regrets on an African River". I read this story: you guys in a river, and a male figure... was he a family friend or an uncle? You'll tell me. And I thought, oh man, this is big trouble. Tell the story.
— Okay. I can tell the story in half an hour. To do it in two minutes is gonna be a challenge.
— Yeah, we'll just...
— So I won't try.
— We'll dip into it, and we'll pick it up after the break.
— Okay. It was the director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Carl Wilkens, who was there and drug us into this, and it was me and my cousin Cameron. And we took off on a trip down a river filled with hippos and crocodiles, and we didn't make it home that night.
— Hold tight. Deadliest animal in Africa after the mosquito...
— ...is the hippo. Did you know you were getting into a river that had hippos in it?
— We did. We were armed.
— "We did. We did".
— With baseball bats.
— "We were gonna shoo the hippos away". So were you guys...
— Is this typical behavior for missionary kids, or were you mad?
— No, I wasn't mad.
— Mad crazy, I mean.
— Carl himself was fearless, and that's...
— So that's what that is, huh?
— It's contagious.
— You know, we were 20 years old at the time... invincible.
— So, yeah, he warned us; he said, "You know, there's crocodiles and hippos," and we said, "No problem, that's fine".
— It's a little bit about that thing you mentioned earlier, proximity to danger; after a while you don't see the danger. But is that... like today there are missionary kids doing the same thing, going down... or have they learned you just stay way?
— I don't know if I can answer that very well, but I suppose there are. Mission kids are a different breed.
— I'm trying to understand their minds here.
— They are a different breed.
— So you're saying you probably weren't the first, and you probably weren't the last.
— Probably not.
— Okay, so you got on a boat, you're in a river with crocodiles and hippos.
— Yes, and we had some exciting times.
— What can go wrong?
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah, what can go wrong? And it did. It got dark, we tried hiking out, we tried all sorts of stuff, and we couldn't. We ended up sleeping under a hay bale the whole night long. And the next day the French military came looking for us in a gunship coming down the river. Anyway, there's a whole story there we can't tell.
John Bradshaw: So there were people back there who were expecting you to get back.
Jeff Scoggins: I even told Carl and Cameron, who were with me, I said, "You know, we have the easy end of this because our parents are right now worried sick thinking that we are dead or something". And they didn't sleep the whole night, you know. And we did, a little bit. But...
John Bradshaw: Not them.
Jeff Scoggins: But not them, no.
John Bradshaw: And were they worried you were dead, or were they saying, "Oh those guys will be fine"?
Jeff Scoggins: No, no, my guess is they thought we had gone down or something had happened, yeah.
John Bradshaw: That's just one of the stories. We'll talk about more in just a minute. Glad you're joining us for this. With Jeff Scoggins, I'm John Bradshaw. More in a moment of our conversation.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to "Conversations," brought to you by It Is Written. My guest is the man who wrote this book, "Regrets on an African River"... oh... "and Other Adventures". It's an adventure story. Stories from a young fella who grew up in the mission field. These were his experiences. Jeff Scoggins, you must have had a great amount of fun writing the book. How did it come about?
Jeff Scoggins: It was an accident. I have the stories, I keep a list...
John Bradshaw: Yep.
Jeff Scoggins: ...of everything that ever happens to me that someday may be a story for sermon illustrations or whatever it may be.
John Bradshaw: That's very smart.
Jeff Scoggins: So, I was pastoring in Minnesota, and I put out a monthly newsletter, and I would always start it with a story of some sort. And so over the years, as people read these stories, they began to bug me about it: "You need to put these into a book". And I'd just smile and say, "Yeah, I'll never write a book". And...finally I just had them all together and thought to myself, "Well, why not? It wouldn't even require anything". So I put 'em all in one file, sent 'em off to a publisher, and they took it. So...
John Bradshaw: I'm glad they did. We need more books like this. You'll remember in the days of yore there were lots of mission books, and it seemed like every missionary wrote a missionary book, almost...
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah, yeah.
John Bradshaw: ...very inspiring. I don't see nearly as many of them today, and I wish I did. So, you wrote the book; you were a minister of the gospel; you collected the stories, got around to writing that book. Let's talk about a couple more of the stories in there. There's one that I remember. You were in the house, decided you were gonna practice some karate moves, got too close to a wall. There's a point I wanna make after you tell me that story. Tell the story; it's a great story.
Jeff Scoggins: Okay. This was in, you know, we say "mission field," and so we're thinking these all have to happen in Africa or the Middle East or something, and they don't. The mission field is everywhere, and this one actually happened in South Carolina. We had just come back from the mission field, from Beirut, and we are renting a house short term while we were figuring out where we were going to be. So the house didn't even belong to us, and I had my own room, probably for the first time ever in my life.
John Bradshaw: Wow.
Jeff Scoggins: And so I thought this was pretty cool. We went to the library, and I checked out a bunch of martial arts book because I thought that was pretty fun. I was probably 12 at the time. And...so I'm there practicing judo and throwing my brother over my head and, you know, different things like this. And, well, one day I'm practicing kicking, and I didn't realize how weak Sheetrock was and put my foot all the way through the wall. Not wanting to tell my dad what happened, I took a poster that was on the other side of the room and thought it would look really good on this side of the room, an Egyptian mummy or something like that, and I stuck it there over the wall. Well, we ended up finding where we were going six months later or something, and we packed up to move out, and I decided I would donate that poster to the next person that was gonna be in that room.
John Bradshaw: Very generous.
Jeff Scoggins: Very generous.
John Bradshaw: Leave it right there.
Jeff Scoggins: My dad came in through in a last inspection as we were cleaning up the house and getting it ready, you know, to turn back over to the landlord, whoever it was, and he said, "Why are you leaving your poster"? And I said, "I just thought I would leave it". And my dad said, "I don't think so," and went and took it down and discovered the big hole in the wall. So...yeah.
John Bradshaw: "Be sure your sins will find you out".
Jeff Scoggins: And that's my point in the story, is we sometimes think that, you know, if enough time goes by, our sins will go away, and that's not the way God deals with sin.
John Bradshaw: You know, one of the things that really struck me about this book, and the book did not need to be this way. It's this book here, "Regrets on an African River: and Other Adventures". The book did not need to be this way, Jeff, but you wrote the book with spiritual lessons. And I don't mean this: "I stayed out in the sun, and I got warm, and it reminded me of the warmth of God's love". That's a legit lesson.
Jeff Scoggins: It is.
John Bradshaw: But that's pretty gentle.
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: There are no lessons like that. I mean, you don't hold back. You talk about sin and righteousness and obedience and... I'm not meaning to say it's overbearing, I don't mean that, but you kind of go for, not for the jugular, but you make it count; your spiritual lessons count. There's a reason you did that. You didn't soft-pedal or sugar-coat, worried about stepping on somebody's toes. I mean, these are meaningful lessons is what I mean. Why did you go there when you could have painted this any color you wanted?
Jeff Scoggins: I was pastoring at the time, and I was dealing with real people with real issues, so these stories arose out of situations where it wouldn't have been wise to tackle the problem face-on, but a story with an illustration, I mean, that's how the Bible works, for the most part. I mean, most of the Bible is stories, and they're very effective in that way. They come kind of at an oblique angle, you know, rather than just punch where people won't listen very well. And so I hoped that the Holy Spirit was guiding as I wrote those stories, often for specific situations, and hoping that the people would actually read them and maybe apply it to their life. Only time will tell how that worked, but that's the reason, because most of these come from real-life situations.
John Bradshaw: I mentioned earlier that it was my belief that you were doomed to work in missions; it just seemed to be that way. But you've spent a considerable amount of time in the pulpit as a local church pastor. Two questions: First, was that comfortable, or did the jacket not fit quite well? If you were just chafing to get out into the mission field. That's one question, and the second question is, tell me about pastoring. So, when you were a local church pastor, were you... was it like, "Man, this is not me; I need to get out"? Or did it fit you well?
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: I'm not saying, "Did you do a good job or not"?
Jeff Scoggins: No, I hear you.
John Bradshaw: I'm just saying, was there an impatience to get to the mission field, or was it all okay?
Jeff Scoggins: No. If you had told me that I would be a pastor when I was going through college, I would have laughed in your face.
John Bradshaw: Interesting.
Jeff Scoggins: I would never... I wasn't a public speaker. I wasn't... it just wasn't me at all. I did communication and commercial art; that's what I did in college. And I always wanted to work for the church but never even considered the idea of being a pastor, yeah. So when I started working for the church, I was working in communication, and I did that for a long time, and then I ended up in our mission department, if you wanna call it that, and loved it, but it was more administrative in that kind of a situation. And the thing is, after we came home from Russia, we decided to start a family, and I didn't wanna be traveling all the time,
John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm.
Jeff Scoggins: And so I said maybe I should try pastoring, and even that was a bit of a shock to me, because if you look, if you look at the gifts of the Spirit, pastoring was not mine. And so I said, "God, if You want this to work, number one, You need to open up the doors, and number two, You're gonna have to equip me, because You have not". And He did.
John Bradshaw: He did?
Jeff Scoggins: He opened the doors, and He equipped me. I really felt called to that position for the next 12 years, and it took a significant pull to something else to even pull me out of it. In answer to your second question, it's the most brutal work I've ever done in my life. But it's also the most rewarding. I guess the two go together. People can be cruel, and... and to remain Christ-like through it all is not something that's easy to do.
John Bradshaw: Let me ask you about that, about the cruelty. And I know you don't say that from a woe-is-me crybaby perspective.
Jeff Scoggins: Not at all.
— I know you don't. We both know many pastors, and it's likely that every person watching right now knows or has known pastors who have been run out of the ministry by unkind people.
— What kind of a toll does that take on an individual? And you can speak from your own experience, or more broadly, and on a family, because typically a pastor has a spouse, and the spouse, who is the second self of that pastor, can't help but take an amount of that on board. Talk about that. Maybe your comments will encourage someone to be a little more circumspect in their dealings with their pastor.
— Okay. It's a difficult subject and deserves its own programs. You're absolutely right; it does take a toll. And there are many things that I learned over time that really helped me. Number one is it's not about me. And if I ever have the idea that I can do this in my own strength, I'm fooling myself. I have never grown so spiritually so fast in all of my life. I mean, if I were to, you know, track my progress, when I became a pastor, my spiritual life went like this. Because I had no choice. I was dealing with painful situations that I was clueless to know how to deal with, and so the only option I had was my knees, and... and I saw God work over and over and over again. I also tried very hard to protect my family. Whether this is for every pastor or not, I don't know, but I simply did not share a lot of the stuff that I was dealing with. I just didn't talk about it. I put some pretty strict boundaries around my time and I'm eternally grateful that my church members allowed that.
— Mm. That's good.
— And I was perfectly open with them what those would look like, and I set... what I did was I set very low expectations for my congregation, and then... with leaving me room to exceed them. And so I set them low, and then I went over and above them because I knew I had that latitude. But I committed to only two nights away a week so I could be there for bedtime...
— ...when my kids were really little, and I wouldn't change that at all, and that's very difficult for a pastor to do.
— Is it possible for every pastor to do? Because even recently I've spoken to friends who've said... and this one guy really surprised me... several children. I just didn't expect him to say, "I burned out"...
— ..."and I had to step away". Another guy burned out, probably not such a surprise, owing to just he's such a focused...
— Yeah, yeah.
— ...workaholic kind of a guy. Can every pastor... put up healthy boundaries? Is it possible for every pastor to do that?
— Yes, it absolutely is. Jesus Himself could have been the busiest, most overworked person in the world. And yet He didn't, okay? God is never going to call us to something that's going to destroy us or our family. That's not His calling. Now, the boundaries that I set up for me may not look the same for somebody else. That's fine.
— Sure. Yep.
— But no, I would say that if you are called to pastoring without boundaries, you're not called to pastoring... or any ministry for that matter. Life is made up of boundaries, and we have to have them.
— I was once at a pastors meeting, and the leader of that church organization of that part of the country instructed the pastors...
— ...that they are to take time off.
— It was really interesting to hear that, very refreshing to hear that.
— Yeah, yeah.
— We want our pastors to be healthy and not broken by things that they could and perhaps should control.
— Okay, Russia? This long.
— What was that like? You were in...Moscow?
— Moscow, Moscow. That was hard on me simply because we lived in a big city, and I'm not a city guy. You know, I'm a country boy, and I prefer that. So that part of it, the job, I loved.
— What were you doing?
— I was involved with what we called global mission, and we...at the time were trying to plant 300 new churches in the former Soviet republics. The Soviet Union had fallen about eight years before or something like that, things were open, and we were gonna take advantage of it.
— How did it go?
— It went very well. We actually ended up with 311.
— And we ended up having to raise about $3-4 million. And... I remember I got the first $10,000 gift, and my wife says, "Great, now do that 100 more times"...
— ...or however many it was. And at that point I just like, I suddenly understood how much money that much money was. And... but God provided. He sent it, and we bought little house churches and planted those churches. Now, I didn't do that myself. We had 300 young men that we brought in that were from the cultures and from the languages of the places where they were...
— ...and trained them and sent them out and did it, so it was an amazing time.
— Yeah, fantastic.
— Okay, so most recently you've been working in missions in a global scale. How do you do that? How are you like, okay, here's a world.
— There's a whole lot of it to reach,
— ...and you... and others beside you... are tasked with effecting that.
— So take me to the drawing board and tell me what that looks like.
— It's an interesting story, a long story, and a story that's not yet finished.
— Sure. Well, it won't be until Jesus comes back.
— Well, that's true too. One of the things that I had already had experience now... I had worked there before and then in Russia and then coming back again to the same office where I was before, so I had a background already of several years of this. And what I realized when I got there was that we really as a church didn't have a very good picture of where we are and where we're not in terms of people groups. Now, we could plant; we could plot... well, actually, I was going to say we can plot where our churches and such are, but we actually can't because we were in so many different systems that there was no one single system that has everything.
— Aha, sure.
— So we know that we've got churches and hospitals and schools and all of this around the world, but there's no central place where you can just go look at it. You have to find it in all the different places.
— That's really surprising.
— It is very surprising. And so we started working on that, but also we started working on prioritizing the people groups around the world so that we could see which ones we've reached and which ones we've not. And when I say "reached and not," that doesn't mean that we've baptized every single person, but that means that we have made enough impact in the group that they have the personnel and the resources and all those things that they need to be able to continue the work for their own group.
— People groups as opposed to languages, give me an example.
— Well, there's lots of ways to divide up people groups and you have to pick one.
— And so we picked languages; that works for about 90% of the world. Other places, like the US, where I'm at now, that... you can't just divide up by language; you've gotta do a little bit more than that. But anyway, we prioritized all of the people groups of the world. There's about 7,000 languages in the world. And we have something... as our church, our denomination... has something in 974 of those groups, and when I say "something," that is as low as the bar can go.
— Hold tight.
— That means if we have a brochure, we counted 'em.
— Yeah, hold up...7,000?
— Seven thousand languages.
— Seven thousand languages, and the church, of which you are a part, we are a part, has some kind of presence in 900?
— That means we may have a pamphlet in that language.
— Yeah, yeah. So of that 900, we've got something meaningful... you described "meaningful", in how many of the 900?
— I don't even know. I have no way to break that down.
— Okay, less than 900?
— "This gospel of the kingdom"...
— Yeah, I know it.
— ..."shall be preached in all the world for a", "I saw another angel"...
— I know.
— ..."fly in the midst of heaven"...
— I know.
— ..."having the everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, kindred", have mercy!
— I know it. Well, it's not as bad as it sounds.
— Sure, and some of these languages, you've got 25 people.
— Exactly, exactly.
— But still, man, still.
— So that leaves us, give or take, 6,000 languages; that still represents about three billion people.
— Hey, listen, let's be honest. You take a look at a map of the United States, and you plot all the churches in a map of the United States, we have some deserts...
— ...where we're just not present, significant areas of people. In some areas we're doing real great. Other areas, it's as though it's the 10/40 Window.
— The 10/40 Window is our big challenge. And does everybody what 10/40 Window is?
— They will when you tell them.
— Okay, 10/40 Window, that will take the latitude lines 10 and 40 degrees and then specifically kind of across West Africa, all the way over into Asia, into China; if you just draw a big square around that, that's what we call the 10/40 Window. It's not really a nice rectangle.
— And why are we excited by the 10/40 Window?
— The 10/40 Window is the place where Christianity in general has just not been very effective, and I don't know what the current statistics are, but they say like .01% or something like that of Christian presence in these places.
— So you look at countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Turkey... Give me some more countries so people understand this thing.
— All of the Middle East, all of Asia, Indonesia.
— Oh, Saudi Arabia and Iran and Iraq.
— All of those areas, yes.
— Yeah, and in some of those places, there's, I mean, to all intents and purposes, zero Christians, I mean, to all intents and purposes.
— Yes, it's the non-Christian... if you just pull it out and just say the non-Christian religions of the world, that's who we're not... we've done pretty well in reaching those with a Christian worldview, a Christian background.
— Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
— Those without, we've done, as Christians overall, we've done, we've managed very little.
— Okay, so I have a question, therefore I know you'll have an answer for me. I'm gonna give you the break to think about it. The question is, okay then, missionary man, how do we reach these people that we're not reaching? Ah, he'll have an answer for us in just a moment.
— Yeah, I wish.
John Bradshaw: Can't wait to hear it. With Jeff Scoggins, I'm John Bradshaw. This is our conversation, brought to you by It Is Written.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to "Conversations," brought to you by It Is Written. You know I like to ask my guests nice softball questions, just lob and easy ones so they can just knock it right out of the park. So, a moment ago you heard me ask Pastor Jeff Scoggins a real easy one. You've been involved in mission since you were a kid, and we discussed a second ago the 10/40 Window, where there's essentially, to all intents and purposes, no strong Christian presence. That's, in fact, I think that's a very accurate statement. How do we reach these people? How do we introduce people who are not in a Christian context? I'm not talking about your backslidden Christian neighbor down the street in Tupelo. I'm talking about in nations where it's hard. How do we reach 'em? Or how do we go about getting to the place where we might be able to reach them? This is what they pay you the big bucks for. You're charged with nutting this out. What's the thinking, whether in your sphere or in Christianity broadly, about how we're gonna get the gospel to these places?
Jeff Scoggins: Huh. You recognize how difficult of a question that is, so... I wish I could say that there is an easy answer, but I do believe there is an answer.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Jeff Scoggins: Okay. But it's not what we've been doing; it's not business as usual. There are place when mass evangelistic meetings will still do something...
John Bradshaw: Oh, 100%.
Jeff Scoggins: ...powerful.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, we're involved in those.
Jeff Scoggins: But there are places where that doesn't work anymore.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, you know, I conduct large evangelist meetings around the world, but I...
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: ...I don't know that I'd have a great deal of success in Aleppo, Syria
Jeff Scoggins: You wouldn't. We have an example of something that works.
John Bradshaw: Give it to us.
Jeff Scoggins: Jesus.
John Bradshaw: Mm. Tell me more.
Jeff Scoggins: There's a Christian author that calls it "Christ's method alone," and it doesn't yield huge numbers of baptisms. It's slow; it's difficult; it's very relational, where Jesus spent time with the people, so much time that He gained their sympathy, their trust, their confidence, and then He met their needs, whatever those needs were, and then finally after all of that, then He would say, "Follow me". So it's a one-by-one thing, situation.
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah, yeah, except... I'm agreeing with you, but I wanna mention this. Except massive baptisms did come right there.
John Bradshaw: That's right.
Jeff Scoggins: When I was a local church pastor, ah man, I had this wonderful church. All I've been blessed with is wonderful churches, thank God, just so good. But in one church I met an elderly man who'd been raised in a mission field. No point in naming it, just... I could, but I won't. And I said to him, "What was it like winning souls in that mission field"? He said, "Oh, pastor. If we baptized one, there was a celebration". But in more recent years, the challenge in that part of the world has been building churches fast enough to keep up with the converts.
John Bradshaw: That's the way it works.
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah. So, yes, it's slow, and I think what I'm gonna say is it's slow initially. And man, I don't know whether that means in Somalia one day soon we're gonna see thousands flocking to Jesus. I don't know how that looks. But what I do know is that in these unreached... I'm not disagreeing with you.
Jeff Scoggins: No.
John Bradshaw: I'm just adding a little hope. So...
Jeff Scoggins: Yes, you're absolutely right.
John Bradshaw: ...what does that look like in downtown city X?
— We do something that we fund, projects that we call Urban Centers of Influence...
— ...where we'll go into a city, and we'll start a business of some sort; we'll figure out what the community needs. It might be a restaurant, a vegetarian restaurant. Maybe it'd be a diabetes remission type of thing. Who knows what it might be...
— Sure. Yeah, yeah.
— ...something that will begin to support itself eventually by the income that comes in from the community, but then we have our, the goal really is to start new worshiping groups around the city...
— ...and so that's just one example of something that we do, particularly in the cities, that does this. But it's, again, very relational, starts off small, but the hope is, like you say, it will grow, and then Pentecost comes.
— Yeah, that's right.
— So what you're telling me is that this is clearly very targeted. You don't throw a dart at a map.
— There's gotta be some research done, because do you need the diabetes thing, or is it the restaurant, or is it a barber shop?
— Or whatever the case might be.
— You've gotta have the people, the people. The best-laid plans are gonna come unglued if you can't get the people.
— There's a reason Jesus said, pray for the harvest workers.
— So how do you get... I wanna ask you a question, then follow up with an obvious one. How do you get, how do you find... the right people are there. The answer to every prayer you've ever prayed for a laborer is breathing right now; maybe they just don't know it. How do you go about finding missionaries, and I think you know where I'm going here. How do you find these people?
— Yeah. Where I work now, we are not involved in that piece of it. It happens at the local level.
— They're doing the finding?
— They find them, yes.
— Okay, but the finding is taking place?
— The finding is taking place, and as we talk to them and work with them in finding these people, it's really... when Jesus went looking for the 12 disciples, He spent all night in prayer before He chose them, right? This, as far as I'm concerned, is all a prayer thing, you know. And when Jesus says, pray for the workers in the harvest field, then that's what we do, and He then provides. And then when we start with money, the idea of "I can't do this because I don't have enough money," I don't think God's able to bless that. But when we start with the people, the money always comes...
— ...always comes; the resources are always there. And so God works with people.
— God's got deep pockets.
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: Yeah. I wanna come back to the obvious question in a moment. What I do wanna ask you is to tell me about a success story. I understand you may not be able to give a country or anything, but even just the concept of a success story... the desert was barren, but now there's at least plants growing out there. Share something in whatever wise way you can to encourage us to know that it's difficult, but God is greater.
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah. The best stories come from places we can't identify.
John Bradshaw: Right, of course.
Jeff Scoggins: So I will speak in generalities.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Jeff Scoggins: We have young people that... we can't get into certain countries, say at all as a Christian missionary. There's no way.
John Bradshaw: Which is really interesting.
Jeff Scoggins: Oh yeah, absolutely.
John Bradshaw: Places you can't go.
Jeff Scoggins: You can't.
John Bradshaw: You can't. But there's two types of people that can go to such countries: businessmen or businesswomen, either way, and students. And so, we have a program for one part of the world specifically where we call them Waldensian students, so there's a background to that you can share someday. But...
Jeff Scoggins: Yeah, yeah.
John Bradshaw: ...they go to school in country X. Yeah, they go to school, but it's a cover, if you wanna put it that, and their idea is to make contacts in that university, wherever they're at, and start a small group there, and we've had some very interesting beginnings on some things there.
Jeff Scoggins: Mm. Mm.
— Another thing that we've been working on is what we call the Tent-Maker Program... from the Apostle Paul who went out... self-supporting missionaries, and would begin to do whatever work needed to be done in places, so in places where a businessman or a doctor or somebody can get into those places, and that's what they do. And it's legitimate, it's real, they're not just faking it, and they're doing that business, but at the same time they are a Christian influence in that place.
John Bradshaw: Somebody is thinking, "Man, I don't know about the ethics of that. They don't want Christian missionaries, and you sneak 'em in". So tell me about the ethics of that. I don't have a problem with it.
Jeff Scoggins: If somebody has an ethical problem with saving somebody's life, then I would have questions for them. So if somebody's about to walk in front of a bus, and all I can do is grab them by the hair and jerk 'em back, I hope they're not going to say, "Why did you pull my hair"? We're talking about people's lives here.
John Bradshaw: And lots of lives.
Jeff Scoggins: And lots of lives. Now, I'm not advocating dishonesty. I'm saying don't go in and fake that you're a student. If you're a student, be a student, be the best student you can be, and be real about it. But to say I'm going to save somebody's life while I'm here, I don't see any problem with that at all.
John Bradshaw: Somebody is wondering if mission service is for them. And mission service takes on many different hues, I expect, but what I'm gonna talk about is going to somewhere you don't currently live for the purpose of sharing Christ. How do you identify that in a person? Maybe you don't. How does one identify that within themselves?
Jeff Scoggins: I think it would start with an impression, a desire to go. That's not the only way. Someone could be called without knowing it, I suppose.
John Bradshaw: Right, right, right.
Jeff Scoggins: The Apostle Paul was. But I think that any time that we receive an impression of some sort, and it keeps hounding us, it very well could be the Holy Spirit. And so I would say no matter what the situation, no matter what you're thinking about, don't ignore your conscience ever; pay attention. It can also come in the form of other people talking to you. It can... God doesn't usually come direct; He speaks through other people. And so if someone says, "Hey, I think you would make a great missionary, pastor, something like that," then it's at least worth looking into it.
John Bradshaw: We've kind of got away, I think, in the West from the missionary culture. I notice countries like Brazil are sending out many, many more missionaries than they've ever done before; I think Korea is the same.
Jeff Scoggins: Yes.
John Bradshaw: In United States, Western countries, it seems not so much. Now, I know in a lot of church universities, lots of kids go out and do a year or a half-year, and that's really, really encouraging to me, so there's a strong culture there. Mission giving, down precipitously from where it used to be. Have we lost something of the fervor for missions, or are you gonna tell me, "No, no, no, things are just as good as they've ever been"?
Jeff Scoggins: No, we have lost, but this is not an unusual phenomenon. Thinking theoretically or historically...
John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm.
Jeff Scoggins: ...Christianity has always moved, okay? So when it started out with Jesus and the apostles, it was very much located in the 10/40 Window.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, true.
Jeff Scoggins: And the church boomed there and then declined, and just before it died, it leaped to Europe and to beyond, and then it leaped to the United States. The same thing is happening as it fades in Europe and it fades in the United States, it's going to the global south. And so I'm not saying that it's a good thing that Christianity dies anywhere...
John Bradshaw: Sure, sure.
Jeff Scoggins: ...but I'm saying that God is in control, and Christianity is in no danger of dying. If it... and as an overall, it may fade in some places and lose. We are in a war, after all, the great controversy.
— Yeah, yeah.
— And so give and take and ebb and flow is to be expected. But...Christianity is going to continue to move, and...until Jesus comes.
— How do we regain something of that fervor for missions? You know, well, I'm here and that neighbor's a Christian, that neighbor's a Christian, that neighbor's a Christian...
— ...that neighbor is a Christian, that guy, ehh, not too sure. There are countries where not one in a million people is a Christian, and we've gotta be concerned about that. If the fervor is waning a little bit, how do we get that mission fervor back?
— Probably by doing it.
— The reason that we had mission fervor before in the way that we did was because people were doing it, and they were writing books...
— That's right.
— ...about it, right?
— Lots of people were doing it.
— And so there was... I mean, everybody understands this idea of viral, right?
— Yeah, yeah.
— Missionaries or the missionary life was a viral concept once upon a time, and that is because it catches fire. If we let it die, then it's our own fault, but it's going to catch fire if we are able to talk about it and write books about it, and that's part of the reason that I wrote that mission book, is because I want to contribute to that.
— Yeah. I have said this to many guys who do kind of what you do. I've said, "Beats working for a living". And I say that facetiously...
— ...but what I mean is to be involved in missions... look, there are some real challenges right now, but you've read the end of the story, and you know that the gospel will go, will go to every last corner of the 10/40 Window, every country in the Middle East, in Africa, in Europe, in Asia, in the South Pacific. So that's pretty cool, right?
— Yeah, awesome.
— You're on the winning team here.
— Okay, okay, switch gears just a minute, because you've written... ai-yi-yi!
— Quite a few.
— There's a lot of work here, man.
— You've written, in addition to the missionary book...
— ...look at this: "You Can Understand the Book of Revelation," "A Simple Guide to the Book of Genesis," "A Simple", I love the title, "A Simple Guide to the Book of Revelation", but I get it, "A Simple Guide to the Book of Isaiah", someone just moments ago said they've read your Isaiah book... Paul's epistles. Hey, where did these come from? What are these about?
— That comes from my own personal Bible study. I never intended to write. If you'd say... if I wanna say "I'm gonna sit down and write a book," I can't ever do it. It doesn't work that way for me; I just... I will blank. While I was pastoring, this was the way, my own personal Bible study, I started journaling, I started getting deeper and deeper as I did that, starting pulling in the work from other authors and experts and things, and I was constantly getting questions from my church members, you know, what about this and what about that, and I would answer them, and I started to notice how often my Bible study that morning or that week had prepared me for that question.
— Yeah, sure.
— And it was just mind-blowing to me. And as I started to gain, get all of this large volume of written stuff...
— I'm listening.
— ...I started to think to myself, why am I just keeping this on my computer? People are asking me this; that means there's other people out there. Why don't I just put it together in a book?
— I never even asked anybody to publish it, I just did it and put it out there, and it was a smash from the beginning, and so I just kept doing it, and right now I'm working on "A Simple Guide to the Minor Prophets".
— Now, whether that will become a book someday, I still don't know.
— So, anyone interested in getting the books, where do they go hunting?
— They're on Amazon and that kind of place. My personal website is scoggins.biz, and you can find all of my podcasts and sermons and videos and where to get the books, all of that stuff there; that's the easiest one-stop shop.
— Outstanding, outstanding. Well, we sat down ostensibly to chat about your book, about missionary adventures when you were a kid. Looking forward, do you see more adventures to come?
— Without a doubt, I work for the Lord. There is always adventures.
— It's an adventure, isn't it?
— Always, always, always, never a dull moment.
— Absolutely fantastic.
— Wish you the very best, thank you very, very much for your time. This has been invaluable. I've been personally enriched, and I know many, many other people have been as well. This program will be watched again and again and again. Thank God for you. Hey, and by the way, thank God for your parents.
— That's...no question, absolutely.
— Yeah, thank God for your parents. Thanks, wish you all the best.
— Thank you so much, John, it's been a real pleasure.
— And thank you for joining us, what a great amount of fun this has been. Again, I'm gonna repeat a web address for you to find Pastor Jeff's podcasts and sermons and books and things he's written and, maybe in the future, more things he'll write. Go to scoggins.biz, that's B-I-Zed... or Z, if you must. Great to have you joining us, I'd love to see you again in the not-too-distant future. With Jeff Scoggins, I'm John Bradshaw, and this has been our conversation.