Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Family Forte: The Traveling Ten Year Old

by: Topher Wiles
     “Can a 10 year old make a difference in the communist, socialist, and challenging state of Cuba?”  That was the question I wondered before and after my trip with Ethan a couple weeks ago.   I struggled with fear and doubt as we approached this trip together, concerned for my son’s safety and usefulness during our first family foray into Cuba.  After the trip I received this message from that beautiful island country that answered my question.  
Ethan praying with little David in Matanzas, Cuba
     “Dios les bendiga hermanos, gracias por todo el trabajo realizado en su estancia en Cuba, los jóvenes pudieron tener las mejores condiciones gracias a la obra de amor hecha  con las manos de todos ustedes, muy especialmente del pequeño y ya gran misionero Ethan. Las más ricas bendiciones de Dios para todos. Hoy Susana usó para traducir un texto la Biblia que él le regaló. Mil gracias nuevamente. Un abrazo en Cristo. – Ludmila”
     Here is Ludmila’s message roughly translated. “God bless you brothers, thank you for all the work done in your stay in Cuba, the young people have the best conditions thanks to the work of love done with the hands of all of you, especially the little and already great missionary Ethan. God's richest blessings to all. Today Susana used the Bible he gave her to translate a text. Thanks a lot again. A hug in Christ. – Ludmila”
  Believe me, the need is great.  It’s hard to describe to you the poverty in places where the social services and resources to better yourself just don’t exist.  It is an annual reminder of how blessed I am to live in the United States where truly anyone can find success.  I shed tears each and every time I’ve left those countries, due to the plight of the beautiful people there.   
Ethan and Susana in a Bible class working on telling
the story of the paralytic and his friends in
Matthew 9:1-8.
   Allow me a few words for explanation. For the last 8 years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel to underdeveloped countries in Central America to help meet the needs of poor and share the loving story of Christ.
     As a father, I believe the experiences would do a world of good for my own children as they develop.  To build relationships with kids in other countries, to get their hands dirty and bodies sweaty under the hot sun for little or no reward, to see the inescapable hardships that others experience on a daily basis: these are all reasons why I took my second son on his first international mission trip.  I knew the effort would leave a mark on him, but would Ethan be able to leave a mark on others? 
     Ethan is a good kid, don’t get me wrong.  Yet, he’s like most 10 year olds, as much of his focus is spent asking for more dessert and video games.   Yes, we’ve had Ethan studying Spanish since 1st grade.  Yes, we’ve taught him world cultures and geography in social studies classes.  Yes, we provide a structured schedule so that he reads Scripture daily, helping him desire to serve and love others.  Even so, I still wondered if it was worth the large monetary, time, and energy investment to take my son on a mission trip at such a young age. 
     Ludmila’s description of my son being the “little and already great missionary Ethan” settled my quandary once and for all.   
Ethan breaking up gravel for flooring the kitchen
in the sweltering Caribbean sun.
   Ethan swung a pickaxe with gusto to break up a gravelly dirt pile for flooring while we built a kitchen that would feed elderly and orphans in Cuba.  Ethan kneeled in prayer alongside children with different skin colors, accents, and experiences.  Ethan also wrote a short letter and a prayer into the cover of a bilingual Bible and gifted it to Ludmila’s 12-year-old daughter, Susana.   Ethan showed that in that culture, youth can be an active participant in success now, not just the future.  Yes, I now believe that the time, energy, and money invested to help Ethan be a part of Central Church of Christ’s mission effort will pay dividends in my son’s life and the lives of others in the world. 
   That young man may not have been the build site manager, mission trip leader, or class teacher but his example, friendship, and gifts left a lasting mark on people in Cuba.
     Most of all, it gave this dad a renewed respect for the influence a young person can have in bringing faith, hope, and love to a world in need.  My gratitude goes out to all of you that helped support Ethan through prayer, encouraging words, and donations.
     Parents, I know the lure of our culture pushes us to spend exorbitant amounts on our children’s travel experiences such as basketball tournaments, band trips, and Disney experiences.  I urge you to also set aside time, money, and efforts to give your children a mission experience serving the hungry and hurting of the world.  You and the world will be glad you did. 

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12
(Author’s note: Due to volatile situations and government relationships, I must be cautious and measured with what I write publicly about the challenges of serving in Cuba.  If you have any questions about the state of the Cuban people, the government, or the needs, I’m happy to share my experience privately with you.  If you’re curious how to prep your child for missions, I’ve got a few ideas as this is our second successful effort for our children to be foreign missionaries. To ask questions, share your own experience, or meet together to talk, please email me at

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email,, or through our website,

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Family Forte: The Simple Virtue of the Yellow Vests

by: Topher Wiles

     I’m like most of you, growing up hearing quick quips like “it’s good enough for government work” and “How many government workers does it take to change a light bulb?” Being influenced by a culture of regular jabs at our civic workers makes even the best of us look for the lazy as we travel down highway construction zones. Yet, a recent TDOT worker in Sparta made me reconsider my culturally influenced perspective and reminded me of one of my important parenting principles for building strong families.
Point out the positive more than naysaying the negative. 

     Have you ever been a part of a church or met a family whose identity is defined by what they don’t do? Rather than being known for the fruit that they bear, how they make the world a better place, or how they bring glory to God, they focus on a checklist of things they don’t do that makes them “righteous.” In reality all they are creating is self-righteousness. As a dad, this pitfall is an easy trap to fall into as one of my primary roles in training my kids is discipline and correction. You’ll frequently hear me tell my boys, “Wiles men don’t whine,” “My boys will not lie,” or “We don’t hit.” If I’m not careful, I build a code of conduct that isn’t focused on positive communication, integrity, and gentleness but rather is a simple list of “do nots.”

     It takes purposeful and intentional effort to point out the positive more than naysaying the negative. As a parent, my positive efforts have lead me to create new mantras such as, “The men of the Wiles family don’t hit, but we do handshake, hug, help, and hold each other accountable.” As a preacher it means that I focus more messages on the positive ways Christ changed our world rather than negative behaviors. Yes, I’ll still tell people to abstain from drunkeness, sex outside of marriage, and the love of money; things that constitute the “milk” or elementary teachings of the Bible. However, the primary focus of most messages deals with cultivating a hope through salvation in Christ that breeds the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I want our church and my family to have a reputation for how we love God and our neighbors more than being known as “the church that doesn’t have musical instruments” or “the family that doesn’t watch tv.”

     That is why the TDOT workers I witnessed on Tuesday are so valuable. When I see those bright yellow reflective vests, no longer will I be conditioned to think they are lazy trying to gain as much hourly wage for as little work as possible. The group of men at Pressed 4 Time on North Main Street in Sparta got my attention for their respect, courtesy, and willingness to work. It was standing room only for lunch at this swift little sandwich shop located just across the road from the building where Central Church of Christ meets. I love to frequent this establishment because of their welcoming smiles and their Buffalo Kickin Chicken toasted sandwich. (Topher’s Tip: Add the dipping ranch and the homemade sweet-heat pickles and you’ve got an explosion of flavor in every bite!) All the tables were full on this lunch hour and this team of four yellow vests were occupying one of them when another group of four locals walked in.
I nabbed a quick cell phone shot of the sweeper.

     Due to rising popularity of the cafe, Annie and Sharon were literally “Pressed 4 Time” in taking orders, bussing tables, and delivering food, all while responding to smalltalk, smiling politely, and welcoming the new group who would need to wait for a table. The TDOT boys looked like they’d been sweating hard out in the sun that summer day and needed a full hour lunch break to rest and recover when they saw the new group walk in needing a table. Even though they weren’t finished with their food yet, the yellow vests recognized the dining dilemma, wrapped up the remainder of their sandwiches “to go,” and began bussing their own table. They cleaned up their own trash and quickly wiped their table, much to Annie’s protest. Then, one went an extra step and grabbed the broom. Noticing that his boots left mud tracks on the light colored floor under the table, he worked to quickly sweep every nook and cranny around the table and then also swept the rest of the main walkway through the restaurant. How often do you witness restaurant patrons doing the dirty work? In under a minute, the polite group of TDOT workers had Pressed 4 Time ready for the newcomers and were hopping back in their work truck.

     In that minute, my perspective of “good enough for government work” was changed by these four reflective vests, especially the broom man, who put a high value on respect, courtesy, and working hard to serve others. As a parent and preacher, I could naysay the negative by telling my kids, “Don’t leave your toys on the floor,” or chiding congregants with instructions, “Don’t leave Sunday lunch waitresses regretting that you were there.” Yet I know my words will have more impact if I frequently point out the positives in life like the time I witnessed the Simple Virtue of the Yellow Vests. Always strive to be like these four workers as you seek to serve your community, be respectful of your neighbors, and leave every place better than you found it.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” - Galatians 6:9

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email,, or through our website,