August 2008 – Since 1976, Joe White and his wife Debbie Jo have been directors of Kanakuk Kamps, founded in 1926 in Lampe, Missouri. White is well known for his crucifixion drama in which he plays a Roman cross builder. AFA Journal visited him in his Kanakuk office in June to talk about Men at the Cross, a new discipleship ministry which White launched July 12 in St. Louis.
AFA Journal: Give us a nutshell look at your work at Kanakuk Kamps.
Joe White: I moved to Missouri in 1972 and started youth work through Young Life and Kanakuk. There was only one camp and I was working with my dad. In 1976, my dad asked me to take over the operation. Now there are 12 camps here. Four are dedicated to inner city kids from about 530 cities around the nation. They’re called Kids Across America.
Eight Kanakuk Kamps are for kids from around the world. We train kids to be Christian leaders in the context of sports and outdoor recreation.
We work with 22,000 kids each summer. We have a staff of 2,700 college athletes from 330 campuses around the country. They’re young men and women who are on fire for Jesus and love kids. We have about 125 full-time employees.
AFAJ: What other ministries are you involved with?
JW: We started a ministry called Cross International with 18 schools in Haiti. Now Cross International works with 20 to 30 nations and about 300 ministries around the world where we feed, clothe and educate the poorest of the poor.
After Dark is another ministry the Lord called us to. We go to 20-30 college campuses a year for evangelistic crusades. Working with local campus ministries, we pull in several thousand kids and enlist them in a lifetime of Christian leadership.
AFAJ: How did God lead you to begin Men at the Cross (MATC)?
JW: In 1996 I began to speak for Promise Keepers (PK). I spoke at 80 or 90 PK events. By the grace of God, I was able to see close to 200,000 men come forward to the crosses I built. I do a drama where I play the role of the Roman cross builder. It just puts the cross in a man’s lap. Today, men live vicariously behind a TV screen. Everything is safe behind the TV screen. We see crucifixion, we see murder, we see illicit crime and it doesn’t affect us.
But there’s something about the crucifixion drama; it takes the cross off the screen. Men have to deal with the cross. Out of that 10 years with PK, the Lord called me to lead a men’s movement.
AFAJ: Why is the crucifixion drama important to you?
JW: It’s hard physically. I’ve had leukemia for six or seven years, and I went through prostate cancer last year. But I’ve prayed to the Lord, “Take away anything I’ve got, but please don’t take away the ability to present the crucifixion.” He uses it so richly to bring men to that point of decision, where they have to choose to follow Christ and give their lives to Him.
Every time I get to build the cross, I feel like the most blessed man alive.
AFAJ: What are the plans for MATC?
JW: The debut event is July 12, the first of eight events in 2008. In ’09, there are 19 events planned and in ’10, maybe up to 25. Our goal is to go to different cities and have a place that’s accessible to every man in America so we can go back to these cities every year and reignite this discipleship movement.
Crusades are great – Luis Palau, the Grahams, PK. But MATC’s calling is to begin a move to make disciples according to the Great Commission in Matthew 28 and Paul’s mandate in 2 Timothy 2:2 to love a man to Jesus until that man’s ready to love another man to Jesus. We pray that when MATC comes to a city, it will continue to create waves of disciple-making until Jesus comes back.
AFAJ: What practical things will men take away from MATC?
JW: First, when a man comes to an MATC event, we want it to be an be experience so that men will just absolutely fall in love with the Lord. We want to give a man a chance to radically commit his life to Jesus Christ at the cross.
Two, we will equip a man with a tool kit; we’re giving each man two 24-week, Biblical discipleship studies called One 2 Won.
We take 24 basic pillars of faith that every young disciple needs to know and put them in this study. Every man will leave MATC equipped – tool kit, crescent wrench and screw driver, the basics to train and equip a man as Paul equipped Timothy until Timothy is ready to equip another man.
The third element is to remind a man that his first Timothy is his wife. According to Ephesians, he’s to nourish her in the faith. Most of us as men do not shepherd and nourish her spiritually. Then we want to remind them that our second Timothy is our son and our daughter. We are not just to raise our kids, we are to disciple and shepherd, to memorize Scripture with them and have devotions with our kids led by the father.
AFAJ: What about the man’s own spiritual development?
JW: The fourth message is the Ephesians 2:10 message to remind every man that we’re God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. Every man has a purpose in the Great Commission, and we remind men that all the elements of life, all the difficulties of life are shaping us for a very unique purpose that God has created each man to fulfill.
The fifth message is to challenge each man in his own vertical relationship with Christ, to help a man grow spiritually as he is discipling his Timothys.
AFAJ: How did you come to adopt the Paul-Timothy discipleship model?
JW: I went to a prison in Marion, Ohio, where prisoners had been praying for five years that we would come in and do a crusade. We went in not knowing what to expect. It was a high security prison; most of the guys were violent criminals locked away for decades. It had been a very violent prison for years.
But when I built the cross, I saw 1,200 men stand to their feet to express their absolute love and commitment to Jesus. It took four hours to go out and hug these men and listen to their stories. It was a rich time of bonding, and I saw that the prisoners and the guards and the warden walked as one. When the warden was introduced, they gave her a standing ovation.
When they introduced a white guy who had been president of the Aryan Society, the biggest black hate group in the nation, African-American prisoners gave him a standing ovation. So I began to ask what was behind this transformation. Six years earlier, six men had gone in with one simple philosophy – to love one man to Jesus until that man was ready to love another man to Jesus.
Then those six would love a man to Jesus and those 12 became 24 and those 24, 48. In six years, this entire prison was transformed. The Lord was saying to me, “If this can happen in a prison among violent crime offenders, murderers and sex offenders, what could happen in a nation if you’d adopt that philosophy?”
That is the philosophy of MATC. If two men will disciple two men every six months and no one drops the baton, in 16 years, 8.5 billion men [will be discipled]. And that’s just two men! We’ll be starting with 10 or 15 thousand guys – it shouldn’t take long until the nation is transformed. It happened in the first century. Why can’t it happen again?
AFAJ: How does a man find a Paul-Timothy relationship?
JW: I have two Timothys right now. I met them both on the golf course. I befriended one and found out he’d been suicidal. He’d been up on the water tower trying to jump off, but never had the courage to take that last step of suicide. I led him to Christ, then began to mentor and encourage him in the faith.
That man’s in church and is married to a Godly woman. He has a precious little baby who looks at him like he’s her hero. He is one of the finest Christian man you’d ever meet.
The other had never been to church, had never had God in his life in any way. I began to pray for him that he would become a Christian and would become my Timothy. After two years of prayers, I had a chance to lead him to Christ, and now I meet and study the Bible with him and see him mature in the faith. Soon, he will be a Paul and have his own Timothy.
AFAJ: How else will MATC help men mature in their walk with Christ?
JW: Our Web site will be a place of nourishing and growth. Partnering with a group called Eye-Questions, Gary Smalley and Gary Rosberg and I have answered dozens of questions eye-to-eye on video where men can ask us every difficult question about marriage, every difficult question about being a dad that they can think of. So when they go to www.menatthecross.org, they can hit these questions and get answers on how to be a better husband and a better father.
Men at the Cross: Empowering Men to Reach Men
In one- or two-day arena events, MATC will feature speakers such as Kurt Warner, Stu Weber, Tony Evans, Gary Smalley, Joe White and Max Lucado, training men how to disciple others. 2008 events include:
• Houston, Texas Aug. 22-23 Toyota Center
• Omaha, Nebraska Sep. 5-6 Mid America Center
• Ft. Worth, Texas Sep. 13 Will Rogers Aud.
• Hershey, Pennsylvania Sep. 19-20 Giant Center
• Charlotte, North Carolina Sep. 26-27 Cricket Arena
• Dallas, Texas Nov. 22 Potter’s House
• Springfield, Missouri TBA Springfield, Expo