In June 2018, my family and I moved back to Canada (where my wife and I grew up) from serving at a church for 3 years in Fort Myers, Florida.
We decided that this transition was going to be different than any other we’d made before.
When we started packing for to move back to Canada from Florida, we made our goal to only take with us the essentials – clothes, toys (for our 3 boys), linens and some kitchen items that were less expensive to move than to replace. We moved from Fort Myers, Florida to Woodstock, Ontario, Canada in a 5×8 uHaul.
Within 2 weeks of arriving back in Canada, we bought a used 29 foot travel trailer and started renovating to travel through Canada and US for 12 months. (if you want to follow along on our family’s adventure, here’s the facebook page and our instagram account)
One of our primary goals while traveling is to visit all different churches along the way. This is how we spend most weekends – as first-time guests at a new church. Some of these churches you may have heard of. Others, even we had never heard of, but here’s an ongoing list of the churches we’ve visited, what our experience was like as guests, and what we’ve learned along the way.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my late father-in-law, John Power. His birthday would have been a few days ago. He traveled all over mentoring pastors and speaking at churches and started a Bible College in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada where I attended the 2-year program. At the end of my first year in 2004, he moved from Saskatoon to be the Pastor at the church where I grew up in Woodstock, Ontario. So, when I was finished college, I moved back home and married my wife.
We spent a lot of time at their house both before we got married and after we got married. With few exceptions, we would go to their house for lunch on Sundays, spend the afternoon talking about church, crash on the couch for a nap, and wake up for dinner and a movie.
He was a communicator like no one else I know. He was practical in everything he taught, gave you something to implement right away, and did it with memorably quick wit.
On December 6, 2008, Celine and I were at church for a worship night. Part way through, I was pulled off stage and told that my father-in-law had gone out to shovel snow, had a heart attack, and passed away without any warning.
At the time, Celine was 4 months pregnant with our oldest son. Our boys didn’t get a chance to meet him, but if he was here today, here’s what I think he would tell them.
Everyone has potential
He saw the potential in everyone. If a mistake was made, he would continue to push that person toward their potential. He could paint a picture of possibilities for someone that they hadn’t even imagined about themselves. He chose to see potential even when others couldn’t see it in themselves.
You have something unique to say and your view on that will resonate with the people who need to hear it
Turning a radio on doesn’t create the radio waves. Radio waves are happening all around us all the time. A radio, when tuned to the right frequency, can interpret those waves. It doesn’t matter that you may be saying something that you think has been said before. God will create connections with people tuned into your frequency and they’ll hear it from you. There’s nothing new under the sun… except you. The same message people need to hear, but said by you, will resonate with someone.
He was the first person I knew who would send out a weekly email newsletter to their church. (This is before mail chimp or email marketing was a thing … this is straight up copying and pasting a list of email addresses we had into the BCC field.) The interesting thing was that he wasn’t sending out emails to promote upcoming events at church, but he was sending out follow-up thoughts to what he spoke on the previous Sunday or teasers about what he would be speaking about the next Sunday, because he knew that the message he had on his heart was resonating with people. We would regularly have people come to hear what he had to say simply because they got forwarded that email from someone in our church.
It wasn’t by accident that he said the same things over and over, and that he worded them the same way with the same inflections. It wasn’t robotic, but intentional. It didn’t matter whether we heard him speak at our church or watched a video of him speaking at another church, it was consistency at its finest. We always heard “I’m part Jewish and part Irish. I’ll fight you for a good deal on potatoes.” And everyone who came to our church was clear on what our core values were and how we were going to live them out.
Connect with stories
Since he spoke at many different churches in many different areas, it was important for him to connect with whoever he was speaking to. We still meet people who will say they felt like he was a friend right from the first time they heard him speak. He connected with people who had it all together and people who were so far lost they had no idea they were lost.
This picture is of the head waiter on a cruise we went on together. By the last night of the cruise, the head waiter almost hovered over our table for the meal to talk and trade jokes and stories. We got incredible table service that week.
He would talk about being a long-haired hippy looking for hope in the wrong places and putting the wrong things up his nose. He would rarely go without telling about the constant frustration he would have in his early career as a radio DJ – that every time he moved stations, they would change to a country music format. Even though very few people listening were probably ever radio DJs, he used that as an illustration to connect to the frustration of not feeling like we’re getting anywhere in life.
Whether he was sitting on a plane, in line at the store or meeting a server at a restaurant for the first time, he could find a common connection with whoever he met.
He would say, “If you can get someone to tell you their story, they’ll probably let you tell them yours, and that’s your chance to tell them about Jesus.”
Connect with humour
At any given time, we were only moments away from hearing another joke. He would say, “I’m not bald, I’m just taller than my hair.” Or, because he hated fish, he would point out that when Jesus fed the 5,000, the Bible says he gave thanks for the bread, but didn’t express any thankfulness for the fish …
I can’t even begin to list the number of times we would fall apart laughing in his kitchen, and Celine and my mother-in-law would come in to see if everything was alright. We had so many inside jokes, we could get each other to bust up from a single word or phrase.
The first thing you say may be the last thing someone remembers
While most guest speakers would start with, “Thank you to the Pastor for letting me speak today,” he would start with something like, “God loves you so much and there’s nothing you can do about it.” And when a server would come to the table and say, “My name’s Lisa. I’ll be your server today,” he would say, “My name’s John. I’ll be your tipper today.”
Here is a clip where he starts with, “When Jesus wanted to heal people, often times, he would teach them … He wanted to teach them because often the most important healing that takes place after you’re saved is the healing between your ears …”
Always take a moment to thank and encourage
If you have the time, help someone see an opportunity to grow. But if you only have one moment, just encourage someone. He knew how to set himself up to be an encourager.
When we would go out to eat, he would order a large coke with no ice (not because he didn’t like ice, but because he wanted to see if the server was going to pay attention). When they brought him a large coke with no ice, he would say, “Thank you so much. Do you know how many people add ice anyway? Your tip is going up already.” And I promise, I’ve never had better service in a restaurant than when I was with him.
A husband and wife shouldn’t just love each other, but they should love being in love with each other
This one speaks for itself, and how he loved his wife spoke for itself. Celine came with this expectation into our marriage, and we love being in love with each other.
It takes humility to rest
I never appreciated a Sunday afternoon nap until we started making Sunday afternoons at Celine’s parents house part of our routine. You could argue that I was making different choices as I got older, but it wasn’t unusual for him to take a few days a month to go away or encourage me to watch TV and stay in bed all day now and then, because he understood that relaxation is a form of trust, knowing that God’s guiding our steps, we don’t have to send that one more email in order for people to stay at our church or make one more phone call or invite that new family to dinner just to appear welcoming. There are times for all of those things, but also a time to rest.
Live a life that people talk about years after you’re gone
I don’t know that he would have used these words, but here I am, late at night, sitting on my laptop 9 years later thinking to myself that I need to write this so I can show my boys as they grow up to appreciate it. I hope this for myself, and I hope to instil this in my kids.
My wife got an email a few months ago from friends who had vacationed in Hawaii. While they were there, they visited a church to see what it was like. When our friends told the people at the church that they were from Canada, someone asked right away if they knew John Power. He had never been to Hawaii, but at some point a connection was made .. An incredible coincidence, and yet, a reminder of the impact he left.
If you knew him, what was your favorite quote? If you hadn’t met him, I hoped there’s something here to learn and his legacy lives on.