Model Trains and Tadpoles

Photo credit: Bret Wells

Photo credit: Bret Wells

Model Trains and Tadpoles!
What Does Missional Mean?, Week 11
by Adam White

What do model trains and tadpoles have in common? This newsletter article!

This week we are looking at two stories of missional living from two different communities of faith, a local church and a neo-monastic community.

Our first missional story comes from Wendi Bernau, current Pastor of the Arts here at Missional Wisdom. When Wendi worked at White’s Chapel UMC, she thought of the idea of having a model-train layout to be placed in the church’s gathering space for Christmas programing. “Not the big kind of trains you ride on,” Wendi explains, “but the O scale Lionel trains, with scenery and little scavenger hunt type objects (like Santa, Superman, a giant squid) hidden among the trees and buildings. I got approval for this project and immediately sought out someone in the church who knew something about trains. I found Hal, an 85 year old man whose enthusiasm for all things trains is unmatched. His wife later told me that involving him in this project had brought new life to him; she had not seen him so excited about anything in a long time. He promoted the project at great lengths, and Hal was a recruiter, collecting people to join the project who knew things about trains and layouts.”

The creation of this ministry, saw Wendi, Hal, and many others invest their time, resources, gifts, money, presence, and collaborative efforts in something truly spectacular that people could gather around to share community and fellowship.

Wendi goes on to express that, “The best part about this project was how it brought people together. From the initial idea, through Hal’s enthusiasm and the inspiration of the scenery makers, to the buzz of excitement over the amazing train layout, this thing turned out to be bigger than anyone imagined. People came from all over the community into the church to see the trains, inviting friends and neighbors. The church was open and welcoming to guests, inviting them to participate without guilt, shame, pressure or requests for donations. There were probably about 75 people who worked on the train project in one way or another, many who donated time, money and other resources; but the number of people who were touched by the presence of these trains was in the thousands.”

Changing tracks from trains to tadpoles, a story about community, family, and outreach comes from Bret Wells, one of the current Leaders at the Missional Wisdom Foundation. Bret, his wife Rachel, and their three boys lived in a neo-monastic community based in Burleson, TX, for several years. This story starts as a lesson from Bret’s wife Rachel teaching her three boys about caring for tadpoles and the science behind it. The boys headed to a local park on numerous occasions, gathered the tadpoles, and, through some research and learning with their mom, they were able to raise several little frogs and then release them in a creek behind their house.

Bret writes, “The boys learned a lot about biology, ecosystems, caring for animals…but I think Rachel and I were at least as mesmerized as the boys.” On their third trek to the park to catch tadpoles as a family, other children and parents joined in the fun.

“So we shared our sophisticated amphibian collection devices (dixie cups) and invited them to join us. Several kids jumped in and added their catches to our bucket. But one family, after a brief conversation with Rachel and I, got a large bottle from their car and started their own collection for home.

“There was only one little girl who didn’t catch a single tadpole – the one who didn’t want to get her feet wet. It’s difficult to catch tadpoles without getting in the water.

“However, there were a few times the ‘new kids’ got frustrated that their ‘slap-the-water-with a cup’ technique didn’t yield many catches. So I’d say, ‘Hey, wanna see how I do it?’ I’d model my craft, then watch them try it once or twice and then I’d wander off. Sure enough a few minutes later: ‘Hey! I got one!’ The best part was that after a few catches, most of them tweaked the process to suit their own latent skills and they began catching even more.”

Through being open to sharing their experience with others, the Wells family was able to naturally live as a missional witness.

“And really, that pretty much sums up the missional-incarnational life. We simply live our faith out in the open, trusting that God is willing and able to bring us into contact with others. Of course, we have to be willing to share what we’ve learned and also be ready to learn from others.”

Whether it is sharing a wild idea about a model train ministry in a local church or a family being open welcome and learn with others while catching tadpoles, Christ invites us into a missional way of living each day.

In the name of the model train and tadpole witnessing stories of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Invitation to Missional Mindfulness:

  • What stories of missional living relate to you and your community?

  • Where is God possibly leading you to experience sharing a missional witness with others in your local area?