Monday, August 31, 2009

"I've Got This..."

During the late 70's and early 80's I would work at New Garden Friends Meeting during the school year and at Quaker Lake during the summer, but would always find time to take the New Garden group to Myrtle Beach for a few days. We would camp in those days (actual tents!) and it was always lots of fun. I don't remember the specific year, but one of those trips was the scene of one of my favorite stories.

One night a group of us had gone for a walk on the beach and found ourselves down by the Ocean Drive Pier (since destroyed by a hurricane). The beach end of the pier had a bait shop, a small restaurant and an arcade. Several of the guys decided to hit the arcade, and I went with them. These were mostly high school guys and included a kid named Bruce, an outstanding athlete and all-around ladies man. As we walked in the front door, Bruce and the others stopped and began to whisper to each other. Across the room at one of the arcade games was a blonde girl about their age, and she was gorgeous! They stood and discussed which of them was going to approach her and if any any of them actually stood a chance with her- she seemed to be out of their league. Bruce, of course, was quite certain that she would be unable to resist his charms! He was getting ready to walk over. She turned so we could see her face better and their excitement rose, while I began to laugh inside. I knew her- Sonya Hunsucker from Quaker Lake. She had been a camper and her little brother had been in my cabin just weeks before. So as my guys drooled, I stepped in front of Bruce and said "Don't worry about it guys. I've got this..." I strolled across the room until I caught her eye and she smiled at me. I then said something like "hi there" and walked straight to her, where she gave me a big hug. I whispered in her ear what was going on, and that she should come outside in a few minutes to help me finish the gag. She stepped back, gave me another hug and a kiss on the cheek, and said very loudly "OK cool, I'll meet you outside." I walked back towards my guys, their mouths hanging open. Bruce was in hysterics. He demanded to know what was going on. I told them to go out on the pier, that she was coming out to meet them. We walked out, and she joined us shortly. And she played it to the hilt. I asked her name, and she told me and then I made introductions. Then as the guys began to talk to her, she turned away from them and asked me if we could go somewhere and talk. Again, mouths were hanging open all around! As we started to walk away (holding hands, of course!) I couldn't keep a straight face any longer. I burst out laughing and so did Sonya. We let the guys in on the joke and they could not believe what we had done! Bruce told me later that he convinced that he had been under-estimating my charm, and that I was the man! Turns out it was just a lucky coincidence, but it certainly was fun- and it took my relationship with those guys to a whole new level.

Following Jesus is all about LIFE TOGETHER, living life with Jesus and with His followers. Making memories, having fun and loving each other are all apart of the journey. Thank you, Sonya, where ever you may be, for being a lasting memory for all of us!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, August 30, 2009

And I Love Her...

Today, August 30th, 2009, my wife Marilyn and I celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary! The picture you see here is from the very beginning, our honeymoon cruise to the Bahamas in 1986. I cannot even begin to tell you what having this incredible woman by my side for all these years means to me. In Genesis, God creates a "helpmate" for Adam. Marilyn has certainly been that. She has been by my side in ministry for so many trips and events; so many midnight phone calls; and so many times when it would have been easy to give up. She is an incredible mom to our son Will. She is my best friend. And she she has suffered through more than any one person ought to because of my sin and stupidity- yet she loves me anyway. And I love her...

So today we rejoice in the love that God has given us. We move into the future with Jesus at the center of our lives. And I close with the words of her favorite artist, Billy Joel:

"She's got a way about her

I don't know what it is

but I know that I can't live without her..."

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, August 29, 2009


I mentioned yesterday how much I learned about student ministry during my 7 summers on the staff at Quaker Lake Camp. Among the things I learned was how to pull off a great prank. Like most camps, the staff at QLC has to find ways to amuse themselves during a long, hot summer, and we did- OFTEN! We not only had previous staffs to show us the way to a good prank, we had the movie Meatballs, which was popular at the time. And we all wanted to be Bill Murray...

The first prank I will mention was a revenge prank. I travelled across the country with Carl Semmler and Alan Brown (you'll hear more about this trip at a later date), and Carl had, on a very hot, muggy night in New Orleans, gotten up in the middle of the night and pushed buttons until he turned on the heat, because he was chilly. Alan and I both woke up in puddles of sweat, and when we tried to make him aware of his error, he threw a glass ash tray at us. Fast forward a few weeks to all 3 of us working at camp. Carl always slept in a sleeping bag like a mummy. So one evening I unzipped the bag and emptied and entire bottle of baby powder in the bag. When Carl climbed in that night in the dark, the powder flew and he, his bed and most of the room was buried in powder. It was awesome. Even more awesome were all the pranks he pulled on the female staff before finding out it was me- 5 year later!

Prank number 2 involved grand theft, clothing! During a junior high camp my first summer a cabin of girls had pranked my cabin in some small way, so we decided to strike back. One afternoon, while the girls were all busy, we sneaked into their cabin and stole all of their luggage, placing it in a corn field behind the main lodge. We also found that one of the girls had some "day of the week" panties, so we took "Friday" and froze them! They came back to their cabin, panicked, looked everywhere, and we finally had to give up the location of the luggage after the camp director got really angry with us. We did not, however, give up the frozen panties until breakfast on Saturday (with a formal presentation in front of the whole camp, of course!), which has always made us wonder what panties did she wear on Friday? As with most great pranks, this resulted in a rule change which forbid guys from entering girls' cabins for any reason...

Quaker Lake allowed counselors to tell ghost stories in those days, and one of the favorites was about The Quaker Lake Hand. The story has something to do with a camper loosing his hand and the dismembered hand haunting the camp for many years. One night, with 30 or so 9 and 10 year old campers gathered in one cabin, a couple of the guys were telling the story. I had the bright idea to, at the crucial moment in the story, put my hand behind a glow-in-the-dark frisbee and slap it against the screen of the cabin. It worked- screams were heard all over camp, and the next morning a number of campers showed up for breakfast packed and ready to go home. Oops! Once again rules were changed, and ghost stories were banned.

As you can see, we were creative and daring in those days, and these 3 stories just scratch the surface! There will be more to come. But I learned a great deal from all of this silliness. I learned that you have to be careful with how you treat people, even in the name of fun. I learned that creativity is a gift that must be used with some degree of caution (although it took me a LONG time to learn that lesson well!). And I learned that life, lived together in the name of Jesus, is never boring! Now if I could have only shaken the nickname The Baby Powder Kid...

Because of Jesus,

Friday, August 28, 2009

OTJ Training

I spent one year working at Centre Friends Meeting before my second summer at Quaker Lake. In the fall of 1979 I was working at Cedar Square Friends AND New Garden Friends, my home meeting. I eventually had to give up Cedar Square and settled in at New Garden, serving from '79 until 1984. I continued to work summers at QLC through 1983. I say I "worked" at these churches because in the early days I has NO idea that this was a ministry. It was fun, it made me a little (very little!) money and it was something I seemed to be good at, but it was a job. I had no training- in those days there just wasn't much training, and only huge churches has full-time youth pastors. I was not a youth pastor- I was a youth leader. The only things I knew to do were to follow the examples of my youth leaders from high school; work with I had learned being part of Young Life; and learn from Neal Thomas and Wally Sills, our amazing Camp Directors at Quaker Lake. Fortunately, these resources had much to offer. And even better, there was nothing that could have prepared me more for what was to come in my life than my years as a cabin counselor at QLC!

One of the first things I participated in as part of the staff was a staff canoe trip on the New River with the group you see pictured above. I learned a great deal about group building and what it means to share common experiences. I also learned quickly that with nearly every trip you take comes a story that is embarrassing to someone! This canoe trip had such stories.

We made camp along the river after our first day of canoeing, and after dinner and after dark people began grabbing the rolls toilet tissue and heading up the hillside into the woods to take care of "business." I was preparing to take the trek when one of the other counselors, Susan "Boom Boom" McBane, returned and handed me her roll to another counselor (Mark Farlow, maybe?). She took her flashlight and shined it up the hill to an empty area with large trees, telling me that is where he should go. She then shined the light in another direction, telling us "don't go over there- Jan is over there." And she was right. We knew she was right because her flashlight beam was shining brightly on Jan Osborne, who was now squatting for all to see! Well, not for all to see, because Susan still had no idea what she had done, and continued to hold the light steady on Jan. We were howling with laughter, Jan was trying to move out of the light, and we all had an unplanned memory that would connect us forever. The following day Susan would again make us laugh when she dove out of our canoe (she still blames it on me!) because we took on some water in the middle of a class 3 rapid called either Buzzard's Roost (because the buzzard's wait for swimmers there) or Molly Brown (because a young woman named Molly Brown once drowned there)! In the midst of all the danger of water and huge rocks, Susan was screaming- afraid that the snakes were going to get her! She survived unharmed, and we tortured her about snakes for the next several years.

People remember stories. Jesus taught in parables because He wanted people to think and to remember. Quaker Lake and New Garden Friends Meeting filled my memory with amazing stories that gave me some excellent "on-the-job" training in youth ministry- and I'll be sharing some of those stories over the next few days. You know, somehow it is not much of a stretch to picture the disciples in the woods, and Peter with a flashlight...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Over my years in youth ministry the number one question I would get from students and their parents was, "How did you get into this anyway?" It's not a short answer, but it's a fairly simple one. I grew up in NC as an only child.  My family was very active in a United Methodist Church until I was around 9 years old.  At that point, their church split over a pastoral change (if you stay with me over the coming months, you will discover that pastoral changes in Methodist churches have NOT been good to me!) and my parents were caught in the middle. They wound up dropping out of church completely, and really never went back. But that didn't mean they gave up on God.  We still prayed, still read scripture, and still attended Asheboro Friends (Quaker) Meeting whenever we were visiting my maternal grandparents.  My mom's dad, the late Carl Clark, was one of those guys who wasn't doing church right unless he beat the pastor there on Sunday mornings.  He ingrained in me a love of the church- eventually. On the whole I was more than happy to stay home on Sunday mornings and watch Notre Dame football highlights with Lindsey Nelson and Paul Hornung. At this point, sports were my life, especially baseball.  In the summer after 7th grade my new friend Steve Semmler invited me to go to church camp with him at a place called Quaker Lake, but I couldn't because of baseball. Plus, I wasn't ready for the whole "church thing" just yet.

All of that changed once my 8th grade school year started.  Steve kept inviting me to youth at New Garden Friends Meeting, and I kept making excuses not to go.  Finally, in late September of 1972, I relented and went roller skating with the group.  I would love to be able to tell you that Steve's evangelism techniques or a life changing vision from God changed my heart, but the fact is that a girl we'll call Becky (since that was her name!) was going skating too!  And that was all the inspiration I needed. While nothing romantic ever came of my crush on Becky, I was hooked on youth group. I went with them on a couple of trips to the beach and to Sam Levering's apple orchard in VA, and then the following summer I went to Quaker Lake for the first time. I entered high school with the people from that youth group- Steve, Becky, Beth, Tammy, Carl, Lisa, Martha and others- as the most important people in my lives, and they would remain so for all of my high school years, and for many, beyond. And the youth leaders who shared their lives with us- DB3 and Beth, Louise, and Rob and Barbie- inspired me greatly for the next 30 years.

During those years I also became obsessed with working at Quaker Lake upon graduation.  I volunteered pretty much the entire summer of 1977, and then was hired for summer staff in 1978. Towards the end of the summer a local pastor, David Robinson, came to me and asked me if I would consider being the youth leader at Centre Friends Meeting. It sounded like fun to me, so I said yes.  I had no idea that I had just started down a path that would lead me directly into the service of God and into 28 years of amazing people, places and stories. I was 18 when I led my first youth meeting. I might as well have been Peter stepping out of the boat- I had no idea where I was going or how big the waves were going to be, but Jesus had called me, and I had answered. Bring on the tsunami....

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

So here's the deal...

Walt Disney once famously said about the company that bears his name "never forget that it all started with a mouse." The life/ministry story that you will share through this blog, that of Carl Jones, might be summed up by saying it all ended with a mouse- and a keyboard. But life, and faith, are not about the destination. They are all about the journey. And the journey can be very messy. There are roadblocks and detours, and bridges that wash out along the way. Everyone has struggles and failures. The late Dan Fogelberg wrote:

"Along the road your steps may stumble
Your thoughts may start to stray
But through it all a heart held humble
Levels and lights your way..."

For those of us seeking to be disciples of Jesus, the Christ, this is particularly clear when we look at the lives of the disciples. They often stumbled. They seldom knew what Jesus was talking about. And they sinned, despite walking daily with the Son of God. But they persevered, and in the end they changed the world in the name of Jesus. And thus it has been for me. My life had been filled with enormous successes and happiness as well as miserable failure. But through it all, the light of Christ has illuminated the path.
For 28 years I told students in my youth ministries that there are only 3 things in the Bible that we couldn't argue about. First was "in the beginning God..." We could discuss the method God used, or when the dinosaurs came, but "in the beginning God" was not open for debate. Neither was John 3:16.  Jesus, God's only Son, came and died and was resurrected for us. And finally, we can argue the Revelation of John until the end of time and we still will not understand what it all means until we see Jesus face to face! But we cannot, we must not, miss the revelation found in the Bible's last book- GOD WINS!  And so do the followers of Jesus Christ!
So I begin this story be telling you that I am secure in my destination. I know that I know that I know that through grace I have been saved. This blog will be about the journey. It's about finding joy in the journey, and understanding how God works among us. And most importantly, it's about how the overwhelming, ridiculous grace of Jesus Christ is available to even the chief of sinners like me. The stories I will share here are true.  I hope they will make you think and make you smile, for many of them are funny.  After all, no matter how you look at it, life is funny.  I mean I'd laugh- but all this happened to me!

Because of Jesus,