By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
ASIA—Before Kirkwood (last name omitted for security reasons) signed up for the International Mission Board’s Journeyman program, he was trying really hard to ignore the Holy Spirit’s conviction on his life. He felt he was being pulled to do something big, but he wanted safety, he wanted his music, and he wanted to control his own destiny.
It was February of Kirkwood’s senior year at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., where he was finalizing his studies “to become a rock star.” His mother suggested that he think about what he would do after college, but all he wanted was to make music for a living.
The son of a pastor in northeast Maryland, Kirkwood kept thinking, “I can get my music and my career running, then there will be time for Jesus down the line.”
But his mother, who served as an IMB Journeyman 30 years ago in Kyoto, Japan, suggested he apply to be a Journeyman and serve in overseas missions first. IMB’s Journeyman program allows recent Southern Baptist college graduates to serve alongside career missionaries for two to three years overseas to learn the “tools of the trade.” The program was conceived in 1964 in the shadow of President Kennedy’s new Peace Corps.
Headstrong on his musical career, Kirkwood instead auditioned in Nashville to become an entertainer on a cruise ship, like many of his friends. Despite good auditions, Kirkwood didn’t make the cut.
At 6’6”, he was too tall to fit into the costumes.
“What it amounted to was this: I was being funneled into what I was supposed to do,” Kirkwood explained. “God was pushing me a certain way.”
Kirkwood had been hesitant about applying for the Journeyman program because, in his words, “I didn’t think I would get along with people who wouldn’t have had the active rebellion that I did.”
But he also knew pride was taking a toll on his Christian walk. So after a season of fasting and prayer, he sent a text message to his mother in Feb. 2008. “I applied for the Journeyman program,” he wrote. She still has the text message on her phone.
Ultimately, Kirkwood moved home after graduation for six months, “during which the Spirit kicked a lot of that rebellion out” of him before he moved to Asia to serve for the next three years.
When he met the missionaries with whom he would serve, he realized how naïve he had been to think that no one had ever doubted or had tried to run away their faith. “I’d been fooled. Everybody’s story just looks different,” he said.
The missionaries, who had been in the country for almost seven years already, were a perfect fit for Kirkwood’s artist persona. “They let me grow into myself,” he explained.
It took about 12 months before Kirkwood had a “good beat” about what he was good at doing. His leaders let him focus on his strengths, which included going into the mountains to research the unreached people groups in their target areas. His task was to meet people and gather as much information as he could about their cultures.
“My degree wasn’t in climbing mountains, but because I had a strong back and an ability to learn the language, it was a great assignment for me,” he said.
He called the time “really rewarding,” explaining that as his language skills grew, the more rewarding it was. Initially, he relied on translators to help lead him in the villages. Later, he served as a translator with American mission teams who helped with the task.
On days he didn’t travel, he met with nationals one-on-one, in English corners or in small group studies. It was in one of these exchanges that he met Samuel.
By this time, Kirkwood was fluent enough in Samuel’s heart language to share the whole presentation of the Gospel with him. Kirkwood pursued Samuel for several months but felt he wasn’t making headway, so he started focusing efforts on others God brought to him.
To Kirkwood’s great surprise, about five months later, Samuel asked Kirkwood to take him to church. Within three weeks of that text request, Kirkwood baptized Samuel.
“He was really, really ready. That was a huge thing for me,” Kirkwood remembered. “At that time, I was at such a low point spiritually… It was like, ‘Wow, I have not been on track and I haven’t been loving people, but God still chose to do this through me.’ And that really humbled me even more.”
Kirkwood called the experience one of the most important that’s happened to him in his walk with Christ. “It really is what the Spirit wants to do through His people who follow Him,” he said.
All the while, music has been in the back of his mind. He even cut an album (krkwd.com) entirely in the nation’s native tongue. Completing his three-year stint, he is coming home to now pursue a music career.
Yet, he admits he still struggles with whether or not his music will be “up front” with his faith. “I think God calls us to different things,” he concedes, pausing to think, “but in my life, especially recently, I can’t think of any down side to claiming Jesus. I really can’t. So that’s what I am doing.”
To learn more about the Journeyman program, visit online at http://going.imb.org.