Do You Have
Buzzing Outside the Box
by Stephen Beck
I was 15 feet atop a ladder surrounded by tens of thousands of swarming bees when the man (safely behind his screen door) asked if I was interested in sharing my thoughts on God at an upcoming Rastafarian gathering.
The genesis of these rather unique circumstances came about as a result of a family meeting a year before. As one of those weird families without television or Internet at home, I posed a question to my family. “What can we do with our free time that will allow us to spend enjoyable family time together, minister to the people on the island of Saint Croix, and give us new and comfortable opportunities to share the gospel?”
Witnessing to a Rastafarian man in the middle of an angry swarm of bees is not the “comfortable opportunity” that immediately came to mind.
It is obvious at a glance that our family is definitely not of Caribbean descent. When knocking on doors and meeting people in the community, it is often hard to overcome the “outsider” status in order to establish a comfortable witnessing opportunity. Sure, witnessing is not always comfortable, but my reference here is not to my own comfort or ease of mind, but the ease of those to whom I am witnessing. People are more likely to listen to what I say when they are comfortable with my reason for talking to them in the first place.
That brings me to chasing bees…and ultimately chickens and students. As a family, we set out to spend enjoyable family time doing interesting things that could be used in a broader context of ministry. We live in the tropics, so vegetables, fruit trees, and weeds grow year round. We began clearing bush for a small garden and ran into a wild beehive, so our family got bee suits. Yes, they even make kid-sized bee suits (that also double as a wonderful demonstration of Ephesians 6:11-17). Of course, most everyone in the community thought I was crazy until I started giving away honey. Then a man from our church got interested, and we invented a 50-gallon bee vacuum.
Before long, our bees and little garden grew to become a large community garden; from a couple of laying hens to dozens and dozens of laying hens (and a few iguanas); and then, strangely enough, to coaching cross-country track.
Because absentee fathers are a big problem on the island of St. Croix, several boys from the Free Will Baptist school began begging to come and work on “my farm” (for free). When I reminded them that we would be pulling weeds and cleaning up after chickens, it did not deter them. I realize that allowing multiple teenage boys to run three miles (one way) to my house on their days off to shovel out my chicken coop sounds more like a violation of child labor laws than ministry. Maybe it was the novelty of the idea or the interaction, but day after day these students showed up. They watched, at times in bewilderment, at how our family interacted. We talked about things they enjoy doing, about chickens, about running, about life, about bee stings, and about God.
My children said they would enjoy running, so we began a school cross-country team. At a recent 5K race with over 100 participants, my runners took six of the top 10 places. As we near the completion of six years of ministry on Saint Croix, on this island of 60,000 people, I am referred to as principal or pastor. I am also known as the egg man, the chicken man, the bee man, and though you would never guess it by my agility or my 5’10” 230-pound build, the running man.
When I visit neighbors, we exchange fresh produce and talk about bees and chickens and eternity. One neighbor, who would pretend not to be home when we would visit, will no longer let us walk past her house without coming out to greet us. The meandering story behind this narrative is in many ways so unplanned and unforeseen. Yet, it is exactly what we asked God to enable us to do with our family and our time. My prayer is that our family will experience ministry together, not be subjected to it.
Please don’t misunderstand. Sharing eggs or gnips (a tropical fruit) is not a substitute for sharing my faith. I don’t have the process down to a science. I do a poor job at sowing and reaping (with or without a bee suit), and there are always setbacks along the way (like the day a mongoose ate half of our flock of chickens). But, I am surrounded by a team of people who love God, are supportive, and make it possible for me to be a chicken farmer, a bee man, a running coach, a school principal, and by the grace of God, a light for Him.
About the Writer: Stephen Beck serves as principal of the Free Will Baptist school in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Read more at www.stcroixfwb.com.