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Skillet

In the early spring of 1963, my Grandma Leverett (my mom’s mom), was pregnant with her seventh and final child, Skyla Gay. Grandma’s two oldest daughters were also pregnant. Rachael would soon give birth to Gregory Kent, and Cindy would soon give birth to Noel Ray (moi). That made Greg my cousin and Skyla our aunt. Born just weeks apart, we all grew up together in a small Southern Indiana town. Skyla and I lived in the same house, more or less. She lived in the front part of the musty old shotgun one story at the corner of 9th and Western Avenue (Main Street, now) with her mother and several older siblings. I lived with my mother and little sister in the back of the house, which had been subdivided into a couple of efficiency apartments. Ours faced the alley behind the house and had a large living room that doubled as the bedroom and a kitchenette that you passed through to reach the bath. The tub was one of those old-timey ones that stood on four short legs fashioned to look like dog’s feet or bird’s claws (I can’t remember which). The old house had settled over the years, and I could let go of my toy truck on one side of the living room and watch it roll by force of gravity into the opposite wall. The walls had 10 inch paint-caked victorian baseboards and loud, raised-velvet wallpaper with a giant fleur de lis print. All the doors had rusty brown skeleton locks whose skeleton keys had been lost in decades past.

Fire in the Belly

Around the time we three brats (well, Greg wasn’t really a brat), advanced to the third grade, Skyla began to make a habit of be-bopping down the side of the house to the back apartment where we lived whenever she sensed my mother’s boyfriend, Wayne, might be around. Skyla felt an obligation to her older sister, who was sixteen years her senior. Skyla always had a sermon welling up in her innards and needed to preach hellfire and brimstone to someone. Mom’s boyfriend, Wayne, was always a big, easy target. And, he needed it. Wayne was a jolly sort. He was shortish, with a jiggly belly, pasty skin, freckles, and a red, bushy, Freddie Fender-style afro, the hairline of which slid down the front of his forehead a little too close to his brow. Wayne had a pronounced over bite, gambled some, and drank a little more. He’d come by the back alley apartment on Fridays after getting paid and give my sister and me some cash to go eat supper at the local Burger King. We’d greedily grab the bills and burst through the flimsy, dark green painted screen door, bee-lining for Burger King and a delicious Whaler fish sandwich (well, that’s what I always got). When Wayne saw Skyla through the side window, coming around the house with a quick step, he would raise his eyebrows, pucker his lips, and whisper, “Whoop, whoop. Here comes Preach. E’erbody look out!”

Well, Skyla knew Wayne was in need of spiritual help, and she was practiced in the art of bringing wily sinners to repentance. At four feet tall and skinny, with aquiline features, a stringy, dishwater blonde ponytail, and a sassy, bobbing head, she’d start right in with the preaching. Wayne would be shuffle-dancing around the slanted living room floor in his burgundy plaid, hip-hugging, double-knit polyester leisure suit pants and plain white tee shirt, holding a drink and trying to sing the words to Billy Swan’s I Can Help. She’d let him have it with whatever she’d heard the preacher say down at the church that Sunday. Wayne, a little tipsy and squinting from the Viceroy dangling from his lips, would go toe-to-toe with the little dynamo. This was never a good move and always ended in delicious drama. Skyla would stand right in front of him, bent at the waist, one knee locked and the other crooked, wagging her head, with one hand on her hip and the other pointing her finger as she preached. “Look at you,” Skyla would snark. “Been drinkin’, hadn’t cha? You need deliverance. Don’t you know, ain’t no drunks gettin’ into heaven? You’re goin’ straight to H-E-L-L!”

Wayne would wobble around with a silly look on his face, “Who do you think you are, Preach? All you do is come around here and preach! Ain’t you got somethin’ better to do, PREACH?”

This would infuriate the tiny evangelist. “That’s it, I’m tellin’ Grandpa!” she’d whine. And, out the door she’d go, head thrown back, marching to some distant beat, arms a swingin’.

Grandpa and Grandma Jackson lived next door and owned their house and the one we all lived in. Grandpa, who was Skyla’s grandfather and my great grandfather, was a strict Methodist. Never cursed and never drank. Smoked a pipe in his early years, but gave it up. He was 6 feet tall, with thin white hair that was wispy on top. He had a slight paunch that was hard as a carp. And, he was very old school. He was born in 1901, so he lived through the depression in his thirties. He always wore a hat, clipped coupons, and frequented government offices and shoe repair shops, and the like. He taught me to rotate my shoes, shine them myself, and keep them resoled. I relished knocking around town with him while he ran errands and took care of whatever business occupied his days. He gave me hideous bowl haircuts in the makeshift barber shop he ran for the family in his cool, damp basement, where he also helped me setup a small workstation for building model cars. He was a real Grandpa. Anyway, he rarely ventured to the back apartment unless he was going to fix something. So, Wayne was usually safe.

Mischief and Malevolence

As we grew up, Skyla and I were like brother and sister. Climbing trees, telling scary stories at night like, Bloody Fingers, and spying on the grandparents, were the usual amusements. Sometimes, when I was chasing Skyla around the outside of the house, I’d let her get ahead of me and then trip myself so she could get away. She would stop and screech out an evil cackle that made me howl on the ground with laughter, holding my belly and thrashing around like I’d broke my leg. We were stupid together.

Skyla had a rivalry with one of her teenage sister’s boyfriends. Rick, who eventually became my uncle when he married Skyla’s sister, Drucilla, used to come around the house in the summer time to cut the grass (we didn’t say, mow the lawn). I guess he was trying to get in good with the grandparents. One day, Rick was near heat exhaustion after cutting the big yard with the push mower, and he asked Skyla to get him a glass of ice water. Skyla returned with the water and continued playing in the yard. After Rick chugged it down, Drucilla, who’d been watching the whole thing, got suspicious when she eyed Skyla trying to hide the large grin on her face. Drucilla figured it out and started giggling, her shoulders bouncing uncontrollably up and down. When she caught her breath, she yelled out to Rick, “Skyla gave you toilet water!”

Rick tried to play it off and let out a half gasp-half laugh. Then he started to grimace and convulse with a herky-jerky move that sent Drucilla into a fit. She peed herself, as she often did when she got to laughing too much. Skyla just walked away in triumph, muttering under her breath, “That’ll teach ya …” Skyla added much richness to my early life. She had nerve and was always cooking something up. I guess that’s why she was “Skillet” to me.

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Battle for the Streets of Paris

Dispatch France 2015: Traveling for the Institute

Another airport, another jet, another flight for the Bible Institute.  I think of entering an airport as being swallowed up into the system.  Sooner or later, the system spits you out at the other end, usually with your luggage.  This time it spit me out at Charles de Gaulle International, with my mommy in tow.  My dad died a couple of months ago, and she wanted a change of scenery, so she decided to join me.  I came to teach young leaders how to defend their faith in the face of generationally entrenched atheism and the ever-encroaching threat of Islamic terrorism.  There’s a spiritual battle going on in the streets of Paris, and the evil one currently has the upper hand.  My students, mostly twenty and thirtysomethings, are the last line of defense.  These young folks are the very future of European Christianity.  If they fail here, all will be lost.  They not only have to hold onto what precious little ground the Church still possesses, but they also have to take back ground that has been lost over the centuries to the Enlightenment, apathy, too many wars, and who knows what else.  Less than two percent of Europe’s population are born-again evangelical Christians.

At the breaks, hands shoot up.  Questions come fast and furious.  The students are decidedly not having trouble with the material, which I am delivering through a series of three 4-hour lectures in Christian Apologetics: Arguments for the Existence of God, Evidence for the Veracity of the Bible, and a Defense of Christ and the Resurrection.  The students are biblically grounded and doctrinally astute, so the material comes easy for them.  I can tell from their questions that they’re experienced in combat.  They’re on the battlefield of the streets of Paris engaging their culture every day.  It’s just that they are not adequately equipped for an environment so hostile to Christianity.  They need this training.  They hang on every word.  A young woman wants to know how to explain the concept of God to her Buddhist employer.  A young man wants to know what to say to his Muslim friend who claims the Bible is corrupted and full of inaccuracies and legend.  They all want to learn the skills of handling themselves in spiritually adversarial situations.  They’re soaking it up.

On the jet home now, I am reflecting on my encounters with the students and smiling with tears.  The French woman next to me watches as I write this post and keep drying my eyes.  I’ve got Smokey Robinson playing in my ears, and my head is bobbing up and down with the beat.  A sense of satisfaction and accomplishment washes over me.  I’ve made a difference for the kingdom.  I’ve trained front line soldiers who are taking the fight to the enemy.  I came here to join the resistance and to lend a hand in the battle for the streets of Paris.  These dynamic young leaders are retaking their streets, one house at a time.  And World Hope’s got their back.  This is why I do what I do.

Noel R. Vincent, Associate Director
World Hope Bible Institute

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Rusty Nail

I drifted in and out of sleep as strained voices rose and fell on the edge of my consciousness. The faint notion of bodies scuffling in the next room crept into my mind. I tried to bring myself fully awake, but did not have the will. I was in the top bunk and Lucinda was in the bottom one. Our bedroom in the small hundred year old, Early American-styled log cabin was on the creek side of the house and the window looked out across the way at Papa and Granny Bellar’s home next door, maybe 100 yards to the north on Monroe street in Charlestown, Indiana. Papa (he and Granny were no relation to us) had a farm he worked out on Highway 3 towards Otisco, growing corn and tobacco for the local markets, but lived in town. The year was 1968, and it must have been fall or winter.

Mommy burst into our room breathless, flipping on the lights, and allowing the door to swing around and clatter into the wall. Between chest heaves, she blurted out, “Get up kids, we’re leaving!” Her hairdo was a wreck. We scrambled out of bed rubbing our eyes and trying to get them to focus. Lucinda in her pink flannel nightie started to cry, and I in my Lone Ranger footie pajamas, snapped at the waist, started to worry. I was 5, Lucinda was 4, and Mommy was 21. I had been wetting the bed for a few months and could not get control of it. I’d wake up wet in the night, distressed, shuffle down the hall to Mommy and Daddy’s room, and crawl into bed with them. I once remember waking up from a dream where I was in a giant sink and the spider woman kept trying to turn on the fawcett and wash me down the drain while the Lone Ranger kept turning the water off to save me. Mommy and Daddy were always both gentle with me when I woke them up wet.

What could possibly be going on in the middle of the night? Our life was idyllic in the small Indiana town. Our daddy, Mousie, was short, stocky, and balding with a broad nose and a big happy grin. He tickled us and told us stories about scary red-eyed trolls in the basement under our room. We’d nearly faint with fear, but what delicious fun. While Mommy made supper in the kitchen, Lucinda and I would stand at the screen door every night waiting for him to come home from the Ford plant across the river in Louisville, where he drove a fork lift. Every set of car lights we saw coming down the road were exactly like his, exactly. We just knew the next car would pull into the driveway, and if not this one, then the next one for sure. The anticipation killed us. He would squat down on one knee and scoop us up into his arms, and we’d bury our faces in his prickly whiskers. I loved his heavy black lace-up work shoes, the white crew socks he wore, his white pocket tee-shirt with the maroon Pall Mall pack inside, and the blue Dickies he rolled up enough so the socks showed. He was Daddy. We didn’t know any different. We went by his last name, Hall.

Mommy told us to get on our car coats and hurry out into the kitchen. Mousie was sitting over in the living room chair where he watched the news and read the paper every night after supper. He and Mommy were having a fight. We’d never seen such a thing before. A bar counter separated the kitchen from the living room, and old black skillets and kettles hung over the bar helping to divide the space in two. Lucinda and I were both now balling. Mommy said Lucinda was going with her, and then to me said in a taunting tone, “Are you coming with us or staying with your dad?” I was speechless. What kind of question, what kind of choice, what kind of horror? I collapsed onto the kitchen floor in a pile of sobs. Lucinda clung to her leg.

Mommy helped me up, walked us out the side door, and across the crunching gravel driveway, to our 1956 copper and cream 4-door Chevy Bel-Air. She must have driven around town for a while, finally settling on the police department parking lot across from the town square as the safest spot for the night. I awoke to the tap-tap-tap of a police flashlight on the back seat window. I saw a policeman standing there, but was afraid to move or say anything. He kept tapping, Lucinda stirred, and then Mommy sat up in he front seat, tried to smooth out her hair, and rolled down the hand crank window lever to speak to the officer. He said something about how we couldn’t stay there, and Mommy fired up a cigarette, started up the car, and drove away. We never went home to Mousie again.

I don’t remember Rusty being with us when we left. Rusty was our half brother and was only 2 when all this happened. He must have stayed behind with his father, Mousie. That makes sense now. Mommy and Mousie divorced and a custody battle raged over Rusty. Lucinda and I adored him. Mousie’s family was powerful in our small town. His older brother, Clay, was the mayor of Charlestown, and his next oldest brother, Jim, was police chief. Mousie was a part time constable and his other brother, Ray, ran Hall Bros., which was an appliance store, auto repair shop, and Sinclair gas station. The family was connected. Who knows what sorts of shenanigans went on during the divorce and custody battle, but, apparently, the judge in the case had had enough and remanded Rusty to the custody of a foster home. We were devastated.

One weekend, Rusty had come to stay with Lucinda, Mommy and me in the back alley apartment at my Great Grandpa Jackson’s in Jeffersonville where we were living about 12 miles from Charlestown. We had barely gotten used to having our baby brother back home with us when Sunday night rolled around and it was time to take him back to the foster family. Rusty was scared and screaming and throwing a fit. Lucinda and I were threatening to kill the judge and the foster family and the police and the president and anyone else in authority who had failed to recognize the brutality of separating us. We all began to groan and wail as Mommy wiped the tears from her eyes and drove us along the road in hopeless resignation. When we arrived at the home of the foster family, Mommy stopped the car at the head of the driveway and rested her sad head on the steering wheel. We were hysterical. Rusty would not budge. Lucinda thrashed and squealed. I could not make her pain stop. I could not console Mommy. I could not reassure Rusty. I could not keep our family from being wrenched apart. It was monstrous. The foster couple came out on their porch to see what was all the commotion, but they kept their distance. I wanted to kill someone. I needed someone to die. I was dying inside. I thought my heart would fail me. No, no, no! I could not accept the reality of the situation. The frenzy got so out of hand that I nearly blacked out. The stress, the despair, I was out of options.

Mommy composed herself, got out of the car, opened the back door, and picked Rusty up and carried him toward the house where the foster couple and their now gawking children were waiting. I grabbed Lucinda’s hand and we held on together, shaking as we watched. Mommy’s shoulders heaved and Rusty squirmed in her arms as she walked, and then struggled to hand him over to the foster family. I have never seen such a display of strength in any human being. It was the only thing I could hang onto. That day, she was my hero.

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The Art of Surviving the Lost Suitcase

Dispatch Africa 2014: Traveling for the Institute

Last time, I gave you “The Art of the Ice Cold Shower,” snappy tips for getting along without hot water in the wintertime near the Himalayas in Northeast India. This time, it’s surviving a lost luggage situation in East Africa near Kilimanjaro (or, “How I Represented the Bible Institute in Gym Shorts and Nikes”). The day started like any of the last three. My driver, the able Bishop Joel Chege (sounds a little like “Reggae,” as in the Caribbean music), who looks exactly like Muhammad Ali (exactly, I tell you), was 30 minutes late. Joel is our on-the-ground coordinator for World Hope Kenya. This morning, Joel had stopped by the local G4S office (Kenya’s version of UPS), to collect my giant camouflage duffel bag (let’s just call it “Mr. Duff”). But, the thin, scrupulous, all-business female desk clerk would only release it directly to me, so Joel came round to the Thomson’s Falls Lodge, where I had been holed-up for 3 days with my cousin, business partner, and fellow World Hope Bible Institute faculty member, Dustin Martin. I awoke that morning with the same underwear I’d donned the morning I left Houston a week earlier, and was anxious for Joel to arrive. He picked us up, and drove us straight back to the G4S office, where I was delighted to be reunited with Mr. Duff, after a lovesick 7-day separation.

It seems that, while I had taken the Houston-Newark-London route to Nairobi, Kenya, Mr. Duff had taken the Houston-Newark-Zurich route, stopping over in Switzerland for few extra days to attend a lost bag convention in the bowels of the Zurich airport, before catching up with me in Nairobi. Mr. Duff had finally arrived in Kenya the previous night, and had taken the red-eye from Nairobi to Nyahururu (sort of like “not a guru”), where Dustin and I were teaching a little systematic theology to around 90 local pastors and ministry leaders. Dustin was doing ecclesiology (a study of the Book of Titus concerning the pastoral and administrative aspects of leading a local congregation), and I, eschatology (a study of the Second Coming, the apocalypse, the end of the world, and what not).

Mr. Duff had arrived in Nyahururu at 5:30am from Zurich. When, a little past 9:00am, I strode through the front door of the cramped, second floor G4S office (and not a bit out of breath, mind you), I saw Mr. Duff plopped slovenly on the floor, looking like he had just stumbled in from a three-day drunk. He had that helpless, tortured, “Where am I?” look. I attacked him on sight like a hungry leopard, wrestling him into submission (I was pretty rough, I have to say.), and wildly unzipping compartments here and there to see if everything was in order. I started hyperventilating, partly from joy and partly from fear. Mr. Duff had obviously been molested. My Slides (cool flip-flops without the toe thingies) were gone. So were the two pairs of hip cargo shorts that Stephanie always made me wear when we went somewhere we might be noticed.

Anyway, I was miffed. The G4S clerk was demanding I stop groping Mr. Duff and produce some I.D., but I was throwing a fit about my Slides (I was glad those cargo shorts had found new owners…probably, some needy Kenyan family had made them into a tent). Turns out the G4S people had removed everything in the outer zippered pockets for my safety and relocated them to the main compartment, which they secured with a heavy duty red zip-tie. (Yippee, the Slides were there. Bummer, so were the shorts.) Our reunion was bittersweet. After the initial excitement, I remembered how we had got to this point in the first place. Sure, it was good to get some fresh skivvies (I’m a tidy-whitie kind of guy myself, but to each his own.). But, I was entirely put out with Mr. Duff. Had I known his travel plans involved that lost bag convention in Zurich, I certainly would never have agreed to have taken him on this trip. Well, here are a few tips for getting along without your best travel buddy:

Tip #1 – Don’t yell at the lost luggage clerk. It’s a very bad move. I’m guilty of this grievous sin. The lost luggage clerk is the guy who holds your future in his hands. He’s the difference between smelling like a dirty clothes hamper or smelling like a professional international business traveler. Adopt a solicitous attitude. Grin broadly like you haven’t a care in the world. Start right in with the flattering. Things like, “I’ll bet you’ve got a PhD in lost luggage recovery,” or “You must be the airport manager,” can work really well. If the clerk blushes, you’re in good shape. If the clerk gives you an, “I’ve heard that line before, sir” sort of look, then you’re in trouble. Immediately change your tactic. Go straight to the begging and pleading. Throw yourself on the mercy of the Global Baggage Handlers Union. Appeal to the clerk’s sense of duty to humanity. Try to look desperate, lost, and confused. (You must get this guy motivated if you are to have any hope at all.)

Tip #2 – Bring an extra pair of underwear in your carry-on (I didn’t). I used to do this, but stopped after exposing them one too many times to old ladies and airport security officers when I opened my briefcase to take out my laptop. Seems like there was never a good place to stuff a pair of undies that didn’t sooner or later create an embarrassing moment when they flopped out onto the floor. I’m back on the wagon now (there’s a fresh pair in my briefcase at this very moment).

Tip #3 – If it’s too late, and you’ve already messed up on #2 above, that is, if you’re already traveling while reading this epistle and your bag is gone, not to worry. There’s always the old flip-and-slip. On day two (or three), just flip those undies inside out and slip ’em right back on. Just flip-and-slip, that’s it. Who’s going to know? You’ll feel fresh again, and that’s all that really matters, right? If you’re as old as me, you can actually do this indefinitely, because either you won’t care, or you won’t be able to remember when you last flipped-and-slipped. Going commando is always an option at this point, but it just isn’t my style.

Tip #4 – You can’t turn your socks inside out, they’ll look funny. Baby powder! Just pop into the hotel commissary or local supermarket and pick up the largest bottle they’ve got. I have found that you can buy baby powder world-wide. Apparently, it is in high demand. Just sprinkle a little bit of heaven into your socks and shoes, and you’re a new man. This trick also works wonders in your skivvies. However, if you wear boxers, all you will accomplish is powdering your feet again (that’s why I’m a tidy-whitie guy – nothing leaks out, and if you travel a lot, it might be worth the switch).

If you enjoyed this helpful travel hint, leave me a comment. I would love to hear from you.

Like it? Don’t like it? Leave me a comment!

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The Art of the Ice-Cold Shower

Dispatch India 2014: Traveling for the Institute

A recent event (this morning) in a far away land (a jungle near the Burmese border) prompted the writing of this log entry. It’s winter here, lows in the 40s. I flew 32 hours, counting layovers, from Houston, was picked up by my regular and able driver, Alem (rhymes with “call ’em”), then took another 2.5 hour drive out of the bustling city of Jorhat (sounds like “pour hot”) past three Indian military installations, through a crowded open vegetable market (with all the attendant horn-honking and hand-gesturing), across a couple of large tea plantations, and into the exotic countryside to reach my destination. How’s that for a 102-word sentence (I was trained by the Apostle Paul)?

As Associate Director for World Hope’s international Bible Institute, I am charged with, among other things, the oversight of our Bible College in Tuli (too-lee’), Nagaland, India. I have come to formally install the College Principal I appointed when I was here last June. I am also here to untangle some messy legal matters related to the ownership and use of our 60-acre campus. I will have to meet with the local Village Council on this one. We have squatters.

The College, which sits atop a lush green hilltop deep in the Naga (as in “naugahyde”) jungle, enjoys 360 degree vistas that (I know it’s clichéd) catch your breath. The early mist hangs low in the cool of the morning between lofty peaks. The only sounds are the occasional chirp of a songbird, the intermittent drip of the dew from the leaves of the tall rubber trees scattered about, and my own shuffling footfalls as I move gently along a scenic path, careful not to disturb the birth of this new day. Surreality. Bliss. Paradise.

The College offers a full 4-year Bachelor’s degree in Theology (BTh), as well as a 2-year certificate program, and has 30 full-time students who live on campus and receive their education free of charge, thanks to our donors. We need to expand the facilities to grow the college, so I am also here to look into some construction projects and explore the possibility of launching a sustainable farming operation on the campus. I plan to attend to a few other items as well.

I travel quite a bit. My Scheduling and Events Coordinator (I call her the Calendar Nazi), Crystal, tells me that I only traveled 91 days in 2013 (India, of course, Peru, Indonesia, Hawaii, and Africa a couple of times, plus domestic travel – a lite year). Needless to say, I am an experienced traveler. I have slept in jungle huts and Ritz-Carleton suites. I have traveled by Amazon rickshaw and private jet. I have met Maasai warriors (I was made one, they call me White Rhino) and U.S. Presidents (well, one, anyway). In all my travels, I have developed an impressive set of survival secrets. I’m self-taught, as they say. Among these artful skills, if you will, is a particularly essential one that has kept me fastidiously festooned (that is, impeccably attired and well-groomed – or, looking good, for you hicks and rednecks out there) on five continents. What was once hidden, I now make known to you: the art of the ice-cold shower. No one who regularly circumnavigates this celestial ball can ever be sure that his next shower will be a hot one. I have perfected this talent, and, oddly, thought of you just this morning when I was in the very act of exercising it with all the unflappable matter-of-factness of a Russian masseuse. The thought occurred to me, “Why keep this genius to myself?” So, here we are. Now, this will take some practice, but with time, you too can master the art of the ice-cold shower.

Step One: The Initial Commitment

Start with a little self talk. Let your vanity run wild. What will people think if you don’t shower? What if someone calls on you to give a talk at the UN? What if you have to take an elevator ride with the Spice Girls (I know, I couldn’t think of anyone better)? What if that special someone drops in for a visit? What if Lorne Michaels calls and needs you to fill in for the Weekend Update? You can talk yourself into this. There are ways. Be creative.

Can’t get your pride in gear? Stiffer measures are in order. Try talking yourself into it by sniffing your feet. Walk or jog for about 15 minutes before trying this one, but it’s a winner. Your feet are your private mine shaft canaries. If they smell like dead birds, it’s a cinch you’ll go for it. Still no luck? Use one of the sweaty socks you just took off as a chaser. Cup the business end of the sock over your nose and mouth and run around for a couple of minutes. You get the idea.

Still having trouble? Sniff your armpits. Take off your shirt, expel the air out of your lungs, close your mouth, and raise your arms high. Snap your head in the direction of one of those gnarly emitters of the salty and the pungent, and briskly inhale, snorting through both nostrils, alternating casually between armpits, to get the full effect. Still not working? Try to figure out which armpit is the ripest. It may take several rounds of this to fully convince you. But, it works every time.

Step Two: The Pre Game Pep Talk

As soon as you have talked yourself into it, reality sets in. You turn on the faucet and hand test the water. Aha! It’s much icier than you thought. Frost forms on your eyelids and brow. What if you get hypothermia and die? What if all your hair freezes and breaks off? You can think of a million reasons to change your mind. But, you can do this. As the Queen says, “Stay calm. Carry on.” Instead of freaking, keep reinforcing the benefits. Keep reminding yourself how refreshed and utterly alive you will feel when the deed is done. Your goose pimples will look like ostrich skin boots. That’s a plus. Keep trying new ideas. You’ll think of something.

Step Three: The Tribal Ritual

I prefer the guttural scream. Something like a high-pitched “Aaaaaaaah, Aaaaaaaah!” at the top of your lungs will almost certainly do the trick. It’s my signature move. I have also used the “Yaaaaaaaah, Yaaaaaaaah!” approach, which does nicely, as well. Adding the “y” sound gives it a little something extra; a little more oomph, and a little more flair. We could all use a little more flair, don’t you think? The key here is to give it all you’ve got. If you are in the jungle, this is perfectly acceptable. If you are somewhere that someone might call the cops, just scream into your towel. But, don’t overdo this step. One or two quick screams will get the job done. If you are light-headed and out of breath when you step into the frigid spray, you could pass out and collapse onto the shower floor. Not to worry. The glacial waterfall rushing down upon you will snap you out of it straight away, but you may have broken something in the fall. Imagine calling for help in a naked, goose-pimpled, blotchy-dimpled, broken extremity condition. Let’s not go there. Others have tried the trusty shadow boxing technique, and still others what I call the flimsy dance (throw your head back, dangle your arms, and run in place) with some success. But, nothing delivers real anxiety relief like the guttural scream.

Step Four: The Insertion

Now, here’s the tricky part. Don’t jump in all at once. I suggest washing the hair (or head, in my case) first. Sort of gets you into it. Wash and rinse. Next, grab the soap, wet something, and wash and rinse it. Then move to the next part, wash and rinse it, and so on. In a couple of minutes, you will have washed and rinsed your whole body. If you get impatient and just jump in all at once, there are only two possible outcomes. One, you will stiffen and topple over like a possum playing, well, possum, mouth agape, eyes wide, pupils dilated. Hypothermia will be your certain end. The other is you will add completely new guttural screams to your repertoire as you run stark naked streaking through the area, mind-boggled at your own vanity and stupidity. The shower will never happen, and you will be mentally scarred for life, refusing ever to shower again under any conditions. Trust me. I’m the professional here. Wash one part at a time. It’s how it’s done.

Step Five: The Final Rinse

By now, you have more or less adjusted to the cold water, and it has become almost tolerable. You can finally jump into the chilly downpour, like you’ve strangely wanted to all along, and get one good all-over rinse before grabbing the towel. To dry off, I suggest starting with the head, just like normal. You can handle this step. You’ve been here before. But, be careful reaching for that towel. Don’t bend over more than about 15 to 20 degrees. The pads of your feet will now be numb, and your footing won’t be sure. Let’s not have an unsightly calamity on the shower floor.

Step Six: The Extraction

Breathe. It’s almost over. Holding your breath will only exacerbate the pain. Remember Lamaze class? Control your breathing and you control your pain. Your eyesight may be somewhat diminished at this point. It’s normal. You’re freezing. Your glasses are on the counter, but the bigger problem is the lack of steam on the mirror, even if you can’t see well. You are going to get an eyeful of your physique as you step out of the shower. For some, this could be the most brutal step in the process. Focus on the towel. Ignore the mirror. And, try not to think about the indignity of it all. You can take it from here. You’ve done it. You’ve mastered the art of the ice-cold shower. I’m so proud.

If you enjoyed this helpful travel hint, leave me a comment. I would love to hear from you.

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No Free Lunch

My 6th grade year at Eastlawn Elementary School in ’74 and ’75 was formative for my character, at least on one front. The year began with a thrilling revelation for my little sister, Lucinda, and me, along with our Aunt Skyla, who was, incidentally, the same age as us, and with whom we lived in the same home at the corner of 9th and Main in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Also sharing the home, and the one next door, were our mother, our little brother, Rusty (when he visited us, since he lived with his father), our grandmother, a pair of great grandparents, three other teenaged aunts, one teenaged uncle, and let’s not forget Big Rita, who worked as a grocery store clerk and rented a portion of one of the houses as an efficiency apartment. Us three kids, Lucinda, Skyla, and me, were given the juiciest morsel of information: we were going to get our school lunches paid for in advance for the whole school year. We didn’t think to question this delicious news. The three of us brats immediately cranked up the gossip mill around the neighborhood, running to this one and that, letting it slip that providence had shone on us. Every kid on 9th Street knew our good fortune within hours. We were coming up in the world, and wanted everyone to know it. Hmph. We’d turn out yet.

Throughout that school year, I’d proudly whip out my tattered and worn pink lunch card while standing in the cafeteria line, and flash it around among my friends to boast about our family’s having miraculously come up with the funds to pay the entire school year’s lunch bill in advance all at once while the other suckers had the blue lunch tickets and could only afford to buy them a week at a time. They’d roll their eyes at me or punch me in the arm and tell me to shut up. I relished those moments. Hey, you had to get your glory where you could. The little people had to have their tickets punched each day. Oddly, my ticket was never punched. While somewhat jealous of this hole-punching ‘privilege,’ I decided it was not worth the trade off of giving up my paid-up pink card. So, I quickly dismissed my momentary lapse into jealousy to bask again in the glory of my good fortune.

One day, well into the school year, I was sitting in Mrs. Vandergriff’s class, just after a scrumptious school lunch of pizza (with American cheese on top) and two half-pint cartons of ice-cold milk. I loved the school’s cafeteria food. Call me crazy. Or, maybe it was just better back then. Mrs. Vandergriff was a short and stocky, boyish-looking teacher with a thick, brown bob hairdo and short 70s-style smocks and dresses that she comically wore a size or two too tight. She looked like she ought to be a P.E. teacher instead of English or Social Studies, or whatever it was she taught. I once was sent to the principal’s office by my Home Room teacher, Mr. Bland, for passing to a friend a note which was folded up into the shape of a tabletop-football triangle and contained the declaration, among other mindless trivia of the day, that “Mrs. Vandergriff’s skirt sure was short today.” The scrawled blurb was followed by a crudely drawn smiley face.

Mr. Bland, who was aptly named, was no McGruff the Crime Dog, and usually didn’t take notice of minor mischief. He was crinkled, greasy-haired, skinny, and wore a skinny tie and a skinny suit each day, always had dandruff on his shoulders, had a long, ample nose, which he enjoyed picking, and mostly gazed out the window of his stuffy, stale classroom, palm on jaw, pinky-finger in nose (we called him “Booger Bland”), while we worked on whatever project he had given us minimal and vague instructions to complete. He was probably in his 60s, and past the point of effectiveness as a school teacher, had he ever been gifted as such. He spoke a little like Bela Lugosi (the original Dracula). Not with the Hungarian accent, but with the raised eyebrows, back-tilted head, wide eyes, long upper lip, and slow dramatic annunciation of each syllable, that were all signature Lugosi. Standing in the principal’s office that day (his name escapes me), unable to deny the statement about Mrs. Vandergriff’s short skirt, and, after all, being caught red-handed, I settled into a remorseful and downcast look, drawing imaginary circles on the principal’s tile floor with the toe of my frayed red Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers (bought for me by my Aunt Drucilla, herself a teenager) until the questioning was over.

Anyway, back to Mrs. Vandergriff’s class on that fateful day. Still enjoying the memory of my pizza and milk with the occasional loud burp, someone came into our classroom and called Mrs. Vandergriff over to the door. The two conversed for a brief moment, and then the person handed something to Mrs. Vandergriff and left the room. Mrs. Vandergriff turned around, still standing near the door, and curiously raised my prized pink lunch card up in the air. As she did, she said, “Someone left their ‘welfare card’ in the cafeteria. Come and get it.” She emphasized the word “welfare.” Stunned and mortified, I slunked down in my seat and tried to look invisible. I caught the eye of a couple of my close friends, who also registered disbelief on their faces. No one said a word. I looked out of the classroom window in agony, begging for the hellish eternity to pass. My face was getting hot, and I started to sweat an itchy sweat that attacked my face, neck and arms. I had been exposed as a fraud.

Mrs. Vandergriff repeated her plea, but everyone sat motionless. After a few beats, with consternation on her brow, and then eventual recognition, she slipped my cruel, pink, scarlet letter into her smock pocket and walked back to her desk, directing everyone to return to the lesson which had been interrupted by the visitor at her door. Grateful that the immediate pressure had passed, I wanted to become a bug and just crawl right out the open window next to me. Perhaps I could join the circus or the army? I never had to see these people again, if I played it right. I would have to get started as soon as school let out. Where was the circus, anyway, or the army, for that matter? Surely, someone at one of those places could rescue me from this madness. Were they in bike distance? The humiliation of this disclosure was life-threatening for this 12 year old loud mouth. I thought I’d collapse and fall out of my seat dead. I had been duped. I was the real sucker. I resolved right there and then that, no matter what happened, I would never claim that hideous pink lunch card. I should have known, it being pink and all. The rest of the day passed without incident, and after school, no one brought it up to me. I was relieved, and on the walk home from school, tried to forget the whole thing. I was pretty hot at the grown-ups who’d suckered me, but, I figured, complaining to them would only humiliate them, too, so I dropped it.

The next day at school, it didn’t occur to me that lunch was going to be a problem. I had no lunch, and I had no lunch card. I simply couldn’t claim the pink monster, and bringing a sack lunch from home would have made obvious whose lost “welfare” card (emphasis on “welfare”) it had been, and, further, would have exposed me to the grown ups in the family who had colluded against me, albeit with more or less good intentions, I suppose, trying their best to provide for me, while hiding the embarrassing truth from me at the same time. If they found out, they’d make me claim my card. But, by the following day, I’d forgotten all about the previous day’s incident. I didn’t realize the jig was up until I was standing in the cafeteria line with all my friends and, by force of habit, reached into my pocket for my trusty, prepaid-a-whole-year-in-advance, pink lunch ticket. First, I panicked because I thought I’d lost it. Then, I really panicked when I realized I actually had lost it the day before, and was reminded of the circumstances regarding its recovery by the authorities. My panic found new levels of horror as I realized that I was next in line to order.

One of the nice old ladies behind the steam table said something like, “What’ll it be, sonny?” I froze. She said something again, which I now could not hear because I’d gone temporarily deaf. My friend, Bobby Moses, was in line behind me and nudged me forward and out of my stupor. A moment later, I heard him quietly say behind me, with a touch of compassion in his voice, “What are you gonna do, man?” I knew then that he knew what was happening. A jumble of thoughts were racing through my mind at a snail’s pace. I was curling my toes in my sneakers and squinting at the menu board behind the old lady at the steam table, trying to think of something to say. Suddenly, I blurted out, “I’m not hungry.” She looked at me quizzically, head cocked behind her rhinestone encrusted cat-eye glasses, but seemed to accept that.

I remained in line, moving along with the other kids who were either picking up their full trays of fresh, hot, yummy-looking food, or else ordering a couple of cartons of milk to wash down the homemade lunch they’d brought. If I just hung on, I’d get through the line undetected and sit with my friends while they ate. They were kids and would buy any excuse for not eating that I came up with. Tomorrow, I would definitely need a plan. You always needed a plan. I was stupid not to have seen this coming. I got to the table with my friends, and without warning, waves of hunger and cravings came over me as I watched my pals woofing down their lunches. The kids with the blue “sucker” tickets, or jingling cash they’d brought that day, had Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes, brown gravy, green beans, and a roll. I was biting my nails, it looked so good. Bobby saw me looking at his two outrageously gorgeous peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with the big smushy white bread, lovingly overstuffed by his mother that morning with the utterly delectable peanut butter and jelly that was now oozing out the sides and onto the wax paper in which she’d wrapped them. Without a thought, Bobby picked one up and handed it to me. Then, without a word, picked up the other one, took a giant bite, and slid one of his two cartons of milk over to me with the back of two fingers, while still holding onto the sandwich. I instantly loved this kid for loving me. Gratitude washed over me, humility and gratitude. I dug in, and we all laughed, and kidded, and enjoyed our lunchtime together.

I never claimed that pink monster. I never brought my lunch from home. For the rest of the school year, Bobby repeated the same gesture without ever discussing it with me. We became close friends. He’d invite me over after school sometimes for more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. His mother knew I was from across the tracks, but she overlooked it. Bobby introduced me to his sisters and his dad. Oh, to have a dad. Once in a while, we’d swim in Bobby’s freezing cold above-ground pool. It was unbearably icy, but we shivered with glee, screaming at the top of our lungs in anticipation of the cold shock, each time we launched ourselves into the air for another canon ball or belly flop. His house was sort of at the edge of the school’s property and backed up to a railroad track that divided the school’s property with the adjacent neighborhood in which Bobby and his family lived. We sometimes put pennies and nickels on the tracks that we hoped to return later and find smashed. I have such good memories of Bobby, and his family, and his home. It seemed so wonderfully normal. I’ve never forgotten his kindness. Bobby Moses is part of the reason that I can’t see people in trouble and ignore them. Young boys in trouble especially break my heart. I lost an inch or two of my innocence that year, but I also learned two profound and enduring lessons.

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18

“A friend loves at all times.” – Proverbs 17:17

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Okay, Questions Anyone?

Dispatch Indonesia 2013:

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Indonesia teaching the first session of our curriculum on Soteriology (Doctrine of Salvation) to about 80 aboriginal pastors and ministry leaders. I was teaching through two interpreters. One translated my English into Indonesian, and the other translated Indonesian into the local dialect. When I broke for questions, no one moved. Crickets. I asked my first interpreter, Benwell Wampy Christiansen, if they had correctly translated my invitation for the students to ask questions. He said, “Yes, sir. We did.” I asked them to repeat the invitation to the students once more. They did so. The students sat motionless. A large fly buzzed around the room. A few of the of the men shifted in their seats. This went on for several sessions. No one ventured a question all afternoon. Finally, at the end of the day, I encouraged my interpreters to really press the students for their questions. One of the older men reluctantly spoke up in his native dialect. When he finished speaking, Benwell interpreted the old pastor’s remarks. “What you are teaching is from God. It is His Word. It would be a sin to question what we are being taught.” There was lively, hearty agreement among the 80 students.

Training in Tiom, Indonesia

On the one hand, the aboriginal pastors in this remote jungle of Papua, Indonesia (three hours along gravel roads to the nearest airstrip) were utterly teachable and humble to the bone. On the other, it was a frightening state of affairs. If false teachers came through the area, and the students held the same attitude, it could be disastrous for the churches in the region. I admonished the students to be good Bereans, accepting theological instruction from no one unless the students had “searched the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). World Hope Bible Institute stands as a biblically conservative theological voice around the world. We are training these pastors with doctrinal precision and instilling in them a passion and reverence for the inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority of God’s Word. Supporting World Hope Bible Institute through prayer, giving, and traveling to teach makes you our co-laborer in Christ. Thanks for being on the team.

Our Tiom, Indonesia Students

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Nightfall over Jakarta

Dispatch Indonesia 2013:

It was the oddest thing. The captain came over the intercom system and said, “It is 6:00pm, you may now break the fast.” Nothing more was said, but a low murmur rippled through the commercial aircraft’s cabin. A young man across the aisle opened his meal and began to eat. I pondered this for a moment. The plane descended, and I was nudged out of my thoughts. I glanced left over the two vacant seats next to me and peered out the window of the jet. Night had fallen over Jakarta. I could see the pretty lights of the city stretching out for miles, stopping abruptly at ocean’s edge. As we approached the runway, the thought occurred to me that something was off. Then, I saw them. Small explosions were bursting just above the architecture all over the city. One here, one there. Then another, and another. Images of Gettysburg flashed through my mind. I had the sense that police and emergency vehicles were moving through the city. At once, it hit me. Fireworks.

I had been teaching Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) to around eighty aboriginal pastors for two days in a remote jungle region, high in the lush mountains of the island of Papua (pah-pooh’-uh). My teaching partner, Ronny Serworwora (I know, don’t try.), our interpreter, Benwell Wampy, and I finished our work yesterday and then drove down out of the mountains for 2 1/2 hours to a small hotel in the airport town of Wamena where we would spend a short night. This morning, we departed the hotel, groggy and hungry, at 4:50am. We had an early check-in for a private flight to Jayapura (like, “May I pour a cup of tea?”), where I alone would go on to connect to Jakarta on a commercial flight, leaving my compadres in Jayapura for some other business there. The private flight out of Wamena was a six-passenger, single prop transport with an outfit called Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Pretty Indiana Jonesy for this Indiana boy. They carry weary ministry travelers to the more remote regions of Indonesia, and probably other parts of the world. Our pilot was a 30ish young man from northwest Houston named Daniel. He was wearing an Astros cap. One private flight, two commercial flights, and 6 1/2 hours of airtime later, I touched down just after sunset in Jakarta at 6:33pm local time.

As the plane rolled along the runway, the rains came, no doubt dampening the festive spirit, but not the resolve of the revelers. As I type this now from my 15th floor hotel room in Jakarta, I can hear the faint puffs of exploding fireworks all around. I can see the bursting light show below through the foggy window of my room. As an experienced hunter, I can also single out the distinct rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire. It is going to be a long night. It sounds like the Fourth of July. It is an Independence Day of sorts. It is the final day of Ramadan. Muslims worldwide have been fasting for a month to gain approval from their Allah. The fast ended at dusk. Darkness blankets this city; the darkness of Islam. There are 200 million Muslims here, the largest Islamic nation in the world. Just the thought of it is overwhelming. And, with all the discomforts of traveling here, it would be easy to say “Let the Muslims have it.”

Showers and toilets are optional in this land. Sometimes you just have to get along with the local customs, and do the best you can. A shower could be a broom closet sized room with a bucket of tepid water, a coffee can sized scoop, and a drain in the floor, as well as anything else the family needs to store there. Bring your own soap and towel. A toilet can be the same drain in the floor, the same bucket, same scoop. Bring your own paper. Whether showering or toileting, disrobing is recommended. Food is another interesting matter. Cooking here, especially in the jungle, means making sure the thing being cooked is dead. Really dead. It must be that burning the poor animal beyond edibility releases its spirit or something. Ketchup means chili sauce. Tomato sauce means ketchup. Soy sauce means too hot for this gringo. Breakfast is a supper-style meal, with fried rice, noodles, stews, or soups, and yes, desserts.

The tribal people beyond the big city, the aborigines (check the map and see that Indonesia is the nearest country to Australia, from whence these magnificent people hail), are a curious lot. They populate the countryside and like to stare. They invade your personal space, stare at your face, look you over, and stare some more, always with eyebrows high in a playful and inquisitive grin. They will stand and stare for 10 or 15 minutes without shame and without moving or glancing way. Your mere presence draws a crowd. Ignoring them is useless. Nonchalance only makes them more curious. You can never tell if they are wondering whether the big white man can fit into their boiling pot, and how long it would take to field dress him, and how many aborigines would be needed to carry him, or whether they are hoping he has some cigarettes or loose change to give out, or whether they just haven’t seen one this big and handsome before (I recognize that my good looks can be intimidating to the average jungleman). I think it must be the latter, because the women giggle and cover their mouths when they see me.

This guy greeted me at the jungle airport in Wamena. He came straight up to me, in all his near-naked fabulosity (only a string held an orange, cone-shaped phylactery over his

Papua Aborigine

personal business). He smiled confidently, squeezing my right forearm and bicep, and alternately bowing his arms out from his body at the waist, making fists to show he recognized my manly bruteness. We exchanged knowing looks. He was impressed. He couldn’t have been 85 lbs, but he was as lean as a white tail buck in the springtime. I wouldn’t have messed with him. Loved his hat. No telling what his tribal religious beliefs were, but it is almost certain that he was not a Christian. The darkness in this jungle region isn’t Islam, it’s witchcraft. In the small village I was teaching in, the locals wanted to kill a woman in the area who was believed to be a practicing witch doctor whose curse had brought about the death of a local man. This remote valley was closed for a thousand years and rediscovered as a lost civilization by Dutch missionaries. The progress of Christianity here has been maddeningly slow. Syncretism (the blending of old pagan practices and beliefs with Christianity), like an encroaching weed, keeps overtaking the small, beautiful, spiritual garden the Dutch planted here more than a century ago.

Whether Muslims in the cities or witch doctors in the jungle, the people of Indonesia need Christ as much as your neighbor, co-worker, or family member. World Hope Bible Institute is bringing the light of the Word of God into this darkness in a different way. We are not here to evangelize these people. We come behind the evangelists and church planters. Without sound teaching, the church will languish and fall into error and sin. Our job is to shore up the churches here with a professionally written, 16-course, scholarly program of study so they may regain their doctrinal health and grow into spiritual maturity. We do this by training their pastors. It isn’t leadership training, it’s in-your-face biblical theology. Ultimately, it is the mature local believers who will be the ones to expand the kingdom and win this nation for Christ. The church has a foothold here, but just a foothold. When you support this ministry by prayer, giving, or traveling to serve and teach, you are personally taking ground from the enemy. Come help us hold the line and advance.

Praying fervently and regularly, giving out of limited financial resources, and sacrificially traveling to these locations is inconvenient, hard work, and, frankly, a pain in the neck. But, if I may take a page from Sir Winston Churchill’s book, “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Night has fallen over Indonesia. Help us keep the light on.

“Let us not grow weary in doing good. For at the appointed time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9

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Fire in the Hole!

Dispatch Indonesia 2013:

I lobbed the massive IED (improvised explosive device) into their midst. Pandemonium ensued. Everyone ran for cultural cover. It was a Scripture grenade (my lecture on 1 Corinthians chapters 12, 13, and 14). A sort of Molotov cocktail of truth; a Bible bazooka, if you will. I delivered the expertly-crafted IED with the all the deftness and delicacy that my professional training afforded me, and I hit them right in the kisser. Bodies were everywhere.

I was invited to speak at a pastors conference at Jakarta Baptist Theological Seminary in Jakarta, Indonesia. It is literally at the end of the earth. You can go due east from Jakarta across the Pacific for more than 12,000 miles before running into Columbia on the west coast of South America. Indonesia is made up of over 18,000 islands and is the largest Muslim nation on earth, with 246,000,000 (that’s million) people from about 300 indigenous tribes. Indonesia is located at the extreme southeast end of Southeast Asia, sandwiched snugly between Singapore and Australia.

I was invited by the past president of the seminary, Ronny Serworwora (I know, don’t even try to pronounce it.). Ronny told me that there was much abuse and controversy in the Indonesian Baptist churches concerning the spiritual gift of tongues, and asked if I would take on the topic at the pastors conference. So, I strapped on a couple of prayer ammo belts across my chest, tied a red bible bookmark ribbon around my forehead, clenched a MacArthur Study Bible in my teeth, hitched up my drawers, and jumped into the fight. The antidote to most controversies in the church today is a good Bible and a proper hermeneutic (Gotcha with that last word, didn’t I?). Hermeneutics is the theological discipline of biblical interpretation. There are rules. Follow the rules of interpretation, and you won’t get into trouble. Break the rules and you’re suddenly in no man’s land.

The room was full of about 40 or so men and a few women, all of whom were either students at the seminary or local pastors and church leaders from around Jakarta. Pretty sharp bunch. I took the group through an exposition of the text (a verse-by-verse study). Things were going well until I started to feel that vague but familiar and dreaded tingle in my innards. You know what I’m talking about. I tried to ignore it, but that never really works, does it? Naturally, it would not be ignored. I mean, I can talk about this, right? They’ve got those animated bears doing that Charmin commercial and all now. Well, before I could take in the full implications of the predicament I was in, it rapidly grew into a gaggle of moving cramps that felt like a swarm of tunneling moles. I kept teaching and looking at the audience to see if they could tell what was going on, but thankfully, they were thus far oblivious.

Every time my interpreter, Halim (who was awesome, was theologically trained in Wales, and whose name rhymed with Kareem, as in Abdul-Jabbar) repeated my remarks in Indonesian, I did that urgent, desperate, guttural plea thing under my breath – “Oh God, no! Oh God, please! Oh God, no! Not right now! Please! This must be Satan, trying to stop me! Oh God, HELP!” I was moaning, and rebuking the devil (not a biblical concept) and starting to do a clandestine version of the diarrhea dance. Pains were shooting up my back, and my legs were getting numb and wobbly. I leaned on the lectern and tried to gingerly wiggle into just the right position without giving myself up to the audience. I stood up straight again, sweating, spoke for another minute or so, hoping for a miracle, and then Halim interpreted. While he did, a wave of heat came over me, and I buckled at the knees. I saw spots. It was time. The baby was coming.

Mortified, I bit off the words, “10 minute break!” to the audience. Then, grimacing, I mumbled through gritted teeth to Halim, “Where’s the toilet?” He led me to a back room, and I rushed in. There was a toilet, per se, but no paper. Where the paper roll would normally have been, there was a water hose attached to the wall instead. It had one of those kitchen sprayer head thingies on it. I had feared this moment ever since learning several months ago that I was traveling to Indonesia for the Bible Institute. Stuart had told me stories. But, I was in pain and just went for it. I finally figured things out, and when it was all over, was surprised and a little proud I had survived the ordeal. I returned to the class with confidence and resumed the lesson as if nothing had happened.

After finishing the second chapter, the audience was demanding I stop the lesson and open a Q&A. I had explained the teaching of the Apostle Paul on the subject. In short, spiritual gifts were from the Holy Spirit, they were distributed according to His will, not everyone got every gift, they included tongues, prophesy, teaching, mercy, leadership, evangelism, helps, knowledge, wisdom, faith, administration, healing, and so on, they are not talents or character traits, every Christian got at least one gift at conversion, other gifts could be given later, we should pray for the ones that build up the church, tongues was an evidence of conversion, but not the evidence, they should operate out of love, pride has no place in the discussion, they are distinct from the fruit of the Spirit, they are in operation today, and they will be done away with at the Second Coming of Christ, when there will no longer be a need for them, since God the Son will be with us (Emmanuel).

The questions came like mortar rounds. Is the occasion of the Apostles speaking in tongues at Pentecost in Acts 2 the same as the gift of tongues? Yes. How can you know if a person has a specific gift? The church discerns and affirms or denies the presence of a gift according to its adherence to Scripture. How do we know if someone has the gift of healing? If they give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, cleanse lepers, heal the lame, and raise the dead – all of these were performed by Christ, and the apostles, and should be evidence of the presence of the gift today, thus, Benny Hinn does not qualify as having the gift. Can a spiritual gift be taken away? Romans 11:29 states that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable, and this is clear in the life of Moses, whose sin kept him from the Promised Land, but did not cost him the gifts of miracles and prophecy. The Q&A went on for half an hour, and my time was up. I dismissed the group, but several stayed on for another half hour and asked more questions. They were all hospitable and kind, and listened to the voice of Scripture. That’s the thrill and the joy. Teaching the truth with lively Q&A from learned and able students is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. And, I’m the biggest ape in the barrel.

Jakarta Seminary President, Ronny Serworwora and his daughter, Michelle.
Ronny Serworwora and his daughter Michelle.

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The First Grade

It was the first day of first grade. I was enrolled in the old cinderblock and tar Pleasant Ridge Elementary School, which naturally sat atop Pleasant Ridge, an escarpment that rose about 40 feet above and ran alongside Highway 3 for about half a mile, roughly between the Charlestown Police Station, which was just off the town square, and the two lane road that led to the World War II housing project that lay up the hill and opposite the JayCee grocery store in Charlestown, Indiana. Next to the old school, a new school had been built for the bigger kids. It was modern, by Charlestown standards, and was named after Jonathan Jennings, whoever that was.

In the wintertime, Daddy would take us, my little sister, Lucinda, and me, snow sledding down Pleasant Ridge, straight toward busy Highway 3. Somehow, we always seemed to crash or fall off the sled before ever even getting close to the highway, but every time we launched, we knew that time it would be the end for us all. The thrill of uncontrolled speed made us scream till we gagged. I can still remember the cold wind stinging our faces, Lucinda’s nose incessantly running, our hot breath steaming in front of us, and being layered up like mummies so we could hardly move, which was only a problem when we crashed the sled and needed to woggle ourselves onto our feet again in the knee-deep snow and work our way back up the ridge for another suicide attempt. Daddy, whom everyone called “Mousie,” was a fun-lover and usually game for anything. Mommy didn’t sled. She’d wait at the top of the hill at the edge of the school parking lot, tending to our baby brother, Rusty, smoking cigarettes, and generally complaining someone was going to get hurt. Though we didn’t know it at the time, Mousie (his real name was Earl Wayne Hall) was our stepfather. He and Mommy had married in 1965, and we kids, Lucinda and I, took his last name. Rusty Wayne was born two years later. When Rusty got big enough to say his name, he said he was Hudty Hayne.

The old Pleasant Ridge school house atop the suicide sled ramp.
The Old Pleasant Ridge School House

Anyway, I had waited and fidgeted in the hot sun for what seemed like hours to catch the school bus on Monroe Street, just across the road from our nineteenth century, Early American-styled log cabin. Mommy, in posh house shoes and pedal pushers, with her slept-in, misshapen, teased beehive, wore a sleeveless, pale yellow, cotton top with a stand up collar. She leaned in the frame of the flimsy screen door and watched me, occasionally inspecting her finger nails, brow furrowed, with a Viceroy between her lips. Two or three buses came by, and then one finally stopped. She nodded it was okay to climb aboard. I was nervous. I had my Land of the Giants metal lunchbox with the glass lined thermos and the screw off lid that doubled as a cup. I also had a satchel I didn’t like very much with some sort of school supplies inside. I think she had also given me a bit of last minute change, in case something came up on my first day. An envelope was safety-pinned to my shirt. I figured it probably looked silly, but I tried to ignore it. When I climbed the steps into the big yellow school bus, I was relieved to see other kids with envelopes pinned to their shirts, too. The bus smelled stale and rubbery.

The old log cabin on Monroe Street where I grew up in Charlestown, Indiana.
The Old Log Cabin in Charlestown, Indiana

It took forever for the bus to get to the school. I knew where the school was, more or less, and the driver seemed to be lost, going all over town, turning this way and that, stopping to let other kids on, and sometimes talking to their mommies. It eventually occurred to me that I was not the only person for whom the bus rolled. A few of the windows were down on the bus, but mine was not, and it was getting stuffy. I was too new to make any unilateral decisions, so I sat quietly, annoyed at the bus driver and all the kids. I watched everything and everyone, but tried not to make eye contact. I was petrified that someone was going to speak to me. No one did.

All the teachers wore flowered dresses and seemed old. The ones with glasses had strings tied to the sides that draped around the backs of their necks. This was puzzling. The strings were too long to hold their glasses on while they played a game of tag. The teachers were all pretty matter of fact. I got into a little mischief during lunch. I got a hold of a fork and used it as a catapult. My ammo was a pile of loose peas on the tray of the boy next to me. I let the first one fly, and to my chagrin, it landed at a most inopportune location. I had failed to consider the range and trajectory of my missile. This would have been really fun in my backyard with those little green army men and some dirt. The landing zone was the food tray of the short, stumpy teacher sitting at the head of our lunch table. She snapped a glare in my direction, jumped from her seat and stormed toward me, lips pursed and arms swinging, elbows high. All I could do was mumble, “Uh-oh.”

She snatched me up by the arm and called to another teacher who leapt from her own seat and came up alongside us. The three of us marched in unison to I didn’t know where. I can still remember the clack of our shoes on the shiny square tiled floor, the musty smell of days gone by, and the vaporous dust that was evident in the sunbeams that filtered through the windows of the classrooms and into the long, shadowy hallway. We stopped outside of an empty classroom, and the second teacher, skinny, rigid, and determined, disappeared inside. She returned in a flash with one of those ball and paddle games, but without the ball and the long elastic rubber string that attached the ball to the paddle. I was never any good with those things. I started to point out the defect of the missing ball and rubber string when the first teacher (the short, stumpy one) grabbed the paddle, spun me around and whacked me three times on the bottom. Neither teacher said a word. I was stunned. It had come out of nowhere. My rear end was on fire. I couldn’t remember Mommy or Daddy ever whacking me that hard. I couldn’t even remember them ever whacking me at all. Threats were the only thing I ever got from them. It was madness.

When I got back to class, I was uneasy, but no one said anything, and I was more than happy to pretend it never happened. Maybe the other kids saw the brutal attack and were cowed by the experience. I, for one, had arrived at two conclusions: you didn’t want to flick peas in the cafeteria, and you didn’t want to tangle with those teacher ladies. I decided right there and then that I’d play their game and go along with whatever they said. At the end of my first day of first grade, I whispered to myself, “Twelve years, I’ll never make it.” I didn’t even know what a year was, but I knew it must be a really long time. Twelve of them would be torturous terror.

“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” – Proverbs 22:15

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Violence on the Border

Dispatch India 2013:

After seven days of very productive work for World Hope Bible Institute (I serve as Associate Director), and basking in the pleasure of having accomplished all my objectives, I sat exhausted in my favorite chair at the home of my hostess, Amenla Jamir, and her extended family. Amenla (uh-men’-luh) serves as our full time Director of World Hope India. She and her two associates, Allem (as in “column”) and Achi (Archie minus the “r”) have been carrying me around, putting up with me, and generally looking after me since I arrived here nine days ago. They are super-fabulous.

Amenla is a single mother whose husband died six years ago of malaria, leaving her alone with two young boys. She lives with her sons, her elderly mother (whom we all call Mommy), and a young girl she has taken in who helps her care for the boys. Her home is made of concrete, is somewhat primitive by American standards, but nonetheless adequate. It sits atop a steep hill in the jungle on the edge of the 5,000+ populace village of Tuli (like Julie), in the farthest reaches of northeastern India. Allem is our Director of Missions in India. He is tall, stubborn, bossy, and drives too fast, is very impatient, has a heart of gold, loves Jesus, and reminds you of Mr. Spock. We fight like brothers. Achi is Amenla’s second cousin. He lives 4 hours away in Dimapur (rhymes with “feed the poor”), but helps her with the ministry as an ombudsman. He and his wife run a small Christian hostel for college boys back in Dimapur. His staccato version of English is hard to keep up with when he gets excited, which is only when his eyes are open. He looks like a young Japanese military officer, all detail oriented, on top of everything, and conscientious in the extreme. He grins a lot, wears cool aviator shades, and I call him FBI, which he just loves. We crack up.

I was spent from nearly two weeks of traveling, training, preaching, ministering, praying, meeting, touring, inspecting, fighting off biblical swarms of bugs, helping everyone with their Indian accent (mine is impeccable and much better than theirs), and trying to teach Allem to drive. As I swooned in the wilting and inescapable jungle heat (no a/c here, I think it’s illegal or something), trying hopelessly to cool off in front of the floor fan, which I had commandeered from the family on the first day I arrived and kept close by at all times, Amenla took a call on her cell. She sat nearby, and over the buzz of the fan, I could sense concern in her tone. Then, I heard the words “gunfire on the border.” I sat up. The border was only 15 minutes beyond the edge of our village. The border between Nagaland, the province I was staying in, and Assam, the neighboring province where I had done some work during the week, was “closed.” I had been told, ostensibly, that the border workers were “on strike.” What I did not know was that there had been a long running, and sometimes violent, dispute over the boundary between the two states. The disagreement began when Nagaland was carved out of Assam and declared a state in 1963. The issue arose over which of two British-era maps to use, one drawn in 1875 or the other in 1933. Assam preferred the latter.

Amenla hung up the call and looked at me gravely. “We must leave now.” She told me that tensions had erupted earlier that day when a tea plantation manager from Assam crossed the border into Nagaland, against public warnings, and was shot. It was 4:00pm. I was not scheduled to make the 4-hour drive from Tuli to Dimapur through Assam until the following morning to catch my 1:20pm flight to Calcutta and then connect to Bombay and head for the U.S. That wasn’t going to happen now. My entire entourage was Naga. If we ventured into Assam in open daylight, if we could even get through the “closed” border crossing, we could be captured and killed in retaliation by the hostile Hindu activists protesting at the border.

Our other option was an 8-hour drive over the treacherous mountain road from Tuli to Dimapur. This would avoid the border crossing. However, taking this route, and leaving now in a rush, had its own problems. We needed to get everyone packed and out the door, and the car fueled up and on the road as soon as possible. With a 4:30pm actual departure, we would not arrive in Dimapur until after midnight. The narrow, twisting road was heavily traveled and situated precariously above deep, lush valleys that dropped off sharply just inches from road’s edge to the remote and uninhabited jungle floor hundreds of feet below. No guard rails, no lights, and no 9-1-1. If something went amiss, we might not be found for months. Without hotel arrangements in Dimapur, or a food plan for the evening, it would be a long night. I called our crack jack-of-all-trades, Kitty Sandel, in Houston, rousing her from a deep sleep at about 5:50am her time. Groggy, she struggled to understand the situation, reassured me they would work out a hotel, and leapt into action. I hung up confident. “Let’s go!”

Something we had not counted on. The narrow mountain route was 275 kilometers long. It was worse than the shorter route through Assam. There were no straight-aways, none. We were constantly either leaning left as we rounded one curve or leaning right as we rounded the next. The road was so destroyed by the heavy trucks that lumbered daily along its course that they could scarcely be called potholes. They were more like mortar round blasts. You didn’t drive over them. You drove down into them and then up out of them. It was maddening. You were in a constant daze, staring ahead into the blackness, with nausea from the motion sickness. My supper was a cup of warm milk, a handful of corn flakes, and a moon pie, which we picked up at a tiny roadside shop about a third of the way into the trip. I had rejected a restaurant for several reasons, not the least of which was because we needed to keep moving.

Our 8-hour drive time estimate ballooned into 13 pitiful hours of hunger, sleeplessness, irritation, and anxiety. We did not arrive in Dimapur until 5:30am the next morning. We had averaged just 21 km (or 13 miles) per hour. Our driver, Allem, had only stopped us twice for about 10 minutes each to close his eyes and rest his dizzy head on the steering wheel. He had driven us straight through. He was fully committed to his work, including getting me safely to the airport and back to the U.S. Happily, I am finishing this post from my favorite armchair in my own home in Houston. A 13-hour overnight trek along the sorry mountain route, 4 aircraft totaling 23 hours in flight, another 16 hours of layovers in 4 airports, and I had traveled for 52 hours straight. When I landed in Houston my heart was full of praise. Chick-fil-A, shower, sleep.

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The view from my room in the jungle hideaway. (click to enlarge)
The view from my room in the jungle hideaway.

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Above My Pay Grade

Dispatch India 2013:

Yesterday, the little old man next to the church where I was teaching, a Mr. Ao (as in ouch), asked me to pray for his wife’s poor health.  He was a retired evangelist, and he and Mrs. Ao had been preparing the food each day for the students (rice boiled in rain water).  I knew immediately that I was in over my head.  Here this guy had been kickin’ Satan’s butt for 50 years among the hostile Hindus, and I had just turned 50.  I was embarrassed.  I should have been asking him to pray for me.  I laid hands on the woman and prayed for several minutes while the two of them prayed along and, every once in a while, slapped their hands together and shouted.  They were into it.  I was getting nervous and running out of words.  I was sincere, but I just felt inadequate.  I didn’t want to let these sweet people down.  What if God didn’t answer?  When I finished, Mr. Ao called for an interpreter.  He said he had a vision for me.  The Holy Spirit showed him a white horse on the World Hope campus in Houston (he had never left the jungle).  My children were astride the horse and very happy.  My wife stood by shaking my hand.  He said my wife had told him in the Spirit to pray for me.  What, in God’s name, to make of this?  Then, he said he was going to pray.  As he did, he nearly broke my fingers and wrist with his intensity.  It hurt enough to take my mind off his prayer and make me hope it would be over soon.  When it was, I was relieved and turned to the interpreter for some insight into the man’s words.  The interpreter didn’t have a clue, the man had prayed in tongues.

My interpreter, Agit (sounds like “dodge-it”) is on the left, and Mr. Ao is on the right.
Agit and Mr. Ao

Today, I finished the third and final day of theology classes here in Nagaland with around 44 students in all (mostly youth workers and a number of pastors).  Their grandparents were headhunters.  The soggy tube sock I kept on the pulpit next to my iPad for sweaty head wiping worked great.  Anyway, every group is different.  This was a shy bunch.  We wrapped up early, so I opened the floor for Q&A.  The usual.  How old is the earth?  When is divorce allowed?  Where did the devil come from?   What about the dinosaurs?  Pretty routine.  I closed the session and sat down on the bench next to the pulpit to rest my weary bones.  I was wiped out.  I was not prepared for what happened next.  A young girl, maybe 15, came with one of the pastors and asked me to pray.  She had given her heart to Christ, and her Hindu family had thrown her out on the street.  What could I do but feel humility and compassion for this pretty young girl whose life was turned upside down for the sake of Christ?  I prayed as intensely as I could.  I was worn out after teaching for three days in the heat and humidity of the small church.  When I said, “Amen,” I dropped onto the bench.  Another pastor was tugging at my arm.  I looked up and twenty or so people were lined up for prayer.  A young couple had had three miscarriages.  A woman was being beaten by her husband.  A high school student wanted to get into college to study theology.  They just kept coming.  I wanted to love them all so much and give them something.  I thought of Jesus and how He would minister until he had nothing left.  I started to cry.

Christian woman being harassed and beaten by her Hindu husband. Our World Hope India Missions Director, Allem (like “column”), is on the left. (click to enlarge)
Christian woman being beaten by her Hindu husband.

Before leaving, I was told that a new convert (an older woman) had come from a nearby village.  She had heard I was there from World Hope and wanted me to baptize her.  The locals tried to talk her into coming to the church service for baptism on Sunday.  Nothing doing.  I asked if I could counsel with her and she agreed.  Through my interpreter, I asked her about her conversion and what it meant.  She knew.  Why had she decided to follow Christ?  The prayers of some World Hope workers had healed her.  She wanted to give her life to this God.  Her husband was a Hindu and was harassing her daily.  I would not deny her.  We went across the road to a tea plantation, with the entire class in tow, and I baptized this precious woman in a stagnate pond.  I feel two inches tall and yet a deep sense of peace.  Humility before the Lord works that way, I guess.  The smaller I am, the larger He is.  Lord, keep me small.

Hindu woman raised to newness of life!

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Headhunters

Dispatch India 2013:

Headhunters?  Stuart!  Nobody said ANYTHING about HEADHUNTERS!

The village of Tuli (rhymes with Julie) is literally in the jungle.  I mean deep river gorges that rise up more than 200 feet to palm covered peaks above the cappuccino-colored muddy waters of the Milak (sounds like “me lock”) River.  The heavy green vegetation is so thick that it is impossible to walk more than 5 feet into the tall jungle without a band of machete-wielding natives.  It’s the monsoon season here, and the rains have come.  Who knows what the Celsius conversion is, but it is 100% sweltering.  Everyone, the men, the women, and the young people, all carry sweat rags, men smearing and wiping, and women dabbing and blotting, every few minutes.  I picked up on this cultural cue and started carrying a white tube sock along so I could mimic the locals and fit in better.  I am staying with a family here and they have given me the use of a nice floor fan.  It’s on a 15 foot extension cord (actually 2 long green wires, bare on the ends, that you just stick into the socket), and I carry it as I move from room to room like an oxygen tank.

(I literally just smashed a wicked looking bug the size of a small Tonka truck.  It was flying around the room, buzzing like an Apache attack helicopter gunship.  It was after my head.  I was hopping and hooting and swinging one of my number 14s like a mad samurai.  When the dust settled, the bug lay there on its back doing the hoaky-croaky.  I gloated in silent victory.  Did the happy dance.  Just then, another big one crawled out of my bedroom, Geemanetly!  It took flight, nearly smacked me in the head (Why do they always go for the head?), and made me flinch and wiggle and slap myself stupid trying to get it off me.  It flew up into the ceiling fan and popped like a balloon.  Happy dance.  At this very moment, my room is being swept for bugs.  They laugh at the big American here.  It’s the jungle.)

The entire area is mountainous and remote, and the tribe that inhabits this Shangri-La is the Naga (like naugahyde).  Headhunters, with those choppy bowl haircuts and everything.  They are mostly shortish.  They chose this region for its remoteness as a defense against their enemies (other Naga).  The Naga are broken down into various sub-tribes, all of whom are headhunters.  So, they headhunted each other, and all lived under the canopy of this lofty jungle fortress, hiding from each other.  A kind of grown up hide-n-seek where the loser loses his, well…never mind.  In 1872, a Baptist missionary and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. E. W. Clark, came to the region known as Nagaland and faced down these savages, evangelizing them, and eventually winning the entire province to Christ.  By 1930, all headhunting had ceased, and the people were serving the Lord.  Today, Nagaland is considered Christian and the people have adopted a western appearance.  The power of the gospel is rarely as evident.  I am here to train local leaders in theology, do a little speaking here and there, and set a few things in order at our Bible College.  Compared to the work that’s gone on here before me, I feel pretty insignificant.  But, it feels good to help build on the foundation that was laid.

“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  – 1 Corinthians 3:11

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The Long and Winding Road

Dispatch India 2013:

I traveled for 3 days to reach the far northeast corner of India (north of Burma and east of Nepal), just below the Himalayas on the Chinese border. Grueling, I tell you, grueling. I left Houston at 2:45pm on Saturday afternoon and arrived here in Tuli (sounds like Julie) on Monday night at 9:30pm, making connections through Newark, Mumbai (Bombay), and Kolkata (Calcutta), finally landing in Dimapur (sort of rhymes with “we assure”). From Dimapur to Tuli, the four of us (a driver, two escorts, and me) then drove nearly 5 hours packed air tight into a stifling, tiny Suzuki super mini sub-compact over what could best be described as the surface of the moon. Crater-sized potholes littered the sometimes rocky, sometimes muddy, sometimes paved (excuse me while I choke on the word) “road.” After three days of travel, I was exhausted to the point that I could not maintain consciousness, sleeping fitfully while sitting upright, head bobbing, with knees in the dashboard of the tiny Suzuki super mini sub-compact as it meandered through the countryside beyond sunset and into the eerie night.

Two icky armed border crossings (each state here thinks it is its own country), a near miss in the pitch-blackness with the rear end of an elephant, and our journey ended when our driver suddenly veered off the so-called “road” into the darkness of the jungle and floored it up an impossibly steep dirt path, heavily rutted and slippery from the rains. We only got about 30 feet up the path when the itty-bitty wheels started to lose traction and slip and spin. The engine sputtered and died as the vehicle slid sideways toward the embankment. Not good, and I had had enough. I shook myself fully awake, gathered up my energy, and escaped the tiny Suzuki super mini sub-compact, in one smooth, twisting, flailing, spastic, Spider-Man kind of move, with that Bruce Lee howling screech thing at the end, just in time before the driver let the vehicle free-fall back down the path, nearly squashing a fellow passenger who had also exited, and smashing a parked motor bike. It came to a stop out in the middle of the, ahem, “road.” Since I was already halfway up the path, I preferred climbing the rest of the way up on foot, where at least if I died, I would go down swinging on my own wits. At last, we had reached our home base on the remote jungle hilltop. SLEEP!

You say there was a time change in there somewhere, so it wasn’t really as bad as all that. Oh yeah? That right? Well, huh, who cares what you think? I suffered miserably…for the Savior. And, I’d do it again in a heartbeat (but only in winter). See my entourage below in the tiny Suzuki super mini sub-compact. (click to enlarge)

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The tiny Suzuki super mini sub-compact death trap.

The tiny Suzuki super mini sub-compact death trap.

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Travel Buddies

Dispatch Africa 2013:

I mention him enough, so I thought I’d give you some of my keen insights.  I promise that everything I am about to say is the truth, honest injun’.  The right reverend apostle and prophet, Dr. Stuart L. Sheehan, is president of World Hope Ministries International and Executive Director of its Bible Institute.  Every bit the scholar, leader, and legend, when he is on the mission field, he works like an ordnance reloader in a fighting battleship turret.  He never comes up for air.  He is as skillful in debate as he is with a fiddle under his chin.  He thinks with both sides of his brain.  He can woo the hardest heart with the most delicate winsome bravado.  In a breath, he can drop a ranging impala at 350 yards, without mussing his fabulous hair.  He’s got real moxie.

I am his proud, erstwhile, and trusty companion; sort of like Trigger.  We trot the globe together in search of untrained pastors, wild and dangerous adventures, rare and exquisite dietary delights, and air conditioning (seriously).  What I like about Stuart, er, uh, Dr. Sheehan, is he lets me be me.  He understands me.  He knows I am just out there, but I don’t mean any harm.  He laughs at my jokes and gives me straight-up advice.  He loves me so much, that when we were doing some speaking in Kilimanjaro last week, and I was suffering from a bad case of Montezuma’s Revenge, he had sympathy pains and spent a day in bed, close to a bathroom.  That’s friendship.

When nobody’s around, Dr. Sheehan likes to let it all hang out.  He kills me.  He has a knack for funny noises.  I call him droopy drawers.  He knows everybody, everywhere.  Flying home the other day, he knew three people on the plane from our connection in Frankfort, besides the two of us.  He is a master of dialects and linguistics, and a lot of other things that sound really cool like that.  As soon as he leaves U.S. airspace, his accent changes into that debonair Dos Equis (XX) guy.  But, he is the real most-interesting-man-in-the-world.  He writes books, carries an entire Radio Shack store with him everywhere he goes, can preach the horns off the devil, and makes goo-goo-googlie eyes at his wife, Amy, every day we’re on the road, even if she can’t see him on the Skype, and he freaks if he can’t reach her on the Vonage.  His adoration for his children is beyond description.  Did I mention he can pop a wheelie on a Harley at 60 miles an hour?  Well, I’ve never actually seen him do that, but I bet he could if he wanted to.

Lover, artist, theologian, counselor, hunter, comic, and international man of intrigue.  Someday, I want to be like him.  Anyway, he’s my friend.

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Stuart is pictured here drawing down on that impala in Lobatse, Botswana – April, 2013.

Stuart impala hunt

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Border Crossing

Dispatch Africa 2013:

Crossing the border today from Kenya into Tanzania was a hot, boring, and uneventful affair, except for one exchange with a couple of locals which I feel compelled to confess.  While waiting in the car for our papers to be approved by the border agents, or some other such business no doubt being deftly handled by our driver, and about which I knew little and cared even less, I was approached by a decrepit old tribal woman bearing trinkets for sale.  She was an oddly cute, slight little woman, and her face was as leathery, shiny, and black as an old shoe.  She wore the distinct bright red garb of the Maasai tribe, whose lands stretched from Nairobi, Kenya, some two hours to the north, deep into Tanzania to the very base of Mount Kilimanjaro, which lay to the south and was our planned destination.  Her long, hoop-like ear lobes, which were colorfully adorned with charms and beads, dangled in the warm, dusty wind.  Her eyes were unavoidable.  They had the distant, glassy look of the blind, but there was little doubt she was closely watching my every move, searching my face, demeanor and gestures for the faintest of buying signals.  She smiled as she walked, stretching out her arm to me, holding handmade bracelets and other curious items that I could not readily identify.  She said, with the sweet and humble drawing back of her chin into her chest, “You buy.”

Politely, I said, “No, thank you,” and smiled back warmly.

She continued to approach and said, “You buy.”

Politely, I said, again, “No, thank you.”

With both her hands now well into the car through the window, she said, “You buy.”

“No, thank you.”

This went on for two or three more exchanges, and then she abruptly changed her strategy, adding, “You buy fo Mama, I take pik-chah,” (picture).

Not knowing whether Mama meant my wife or my mother, I thought to myself, “This is getting personal.”  I kept smiling.  She kept smiling and trying to hand me the trinkets.  Then I said, again, this time with a really solicitous tone and as delicate and syrupy a grin as I could fashion, “No, thank you.”

She set her jaw, and deadpan, said, “Tawn doolahs,” which I took to mean, ten dollars.  Another tactical adjustment.  She was a no nonsense pro.

Just as I said, “No, thank you,” again, a second old Maasai woman, only slightly younger, approached.  She also started handing me things and negotiating with me.  I figured she was called in as back up.  They probably have some signal or something.

I asked the first woman her name, and she said, “Mama.”  Since she was Mama, I now was wondering if she had been asking me to buy the trinkets for her all along.  I felt as though I had stumbled into one of those Abbot and Costello routines.  I asked the other woman her name, and she said something unintelligible, so I tried to mumble it back to her.  She frowned.  They both closed in.  More one-sided negotiating with their prices now randomly moving up and down with nothing from me but a grinning and polite “No, thank you.”

I bobbed and weaved; they thrusted and parried.  I remained pleasant and calm; they didn’t bat an eye.  Two or three more ‘you-buys’ followed by two or three more ‘no-thank-yous’ and I finally said, “Look ladies, you need to work on your sales strategy here.  You have not sufficiently created the need.  That’s your trouble.  You must first create the need in the customer’s mind, then fill the need with your best solution, then answer objections, and then ask for the sale.  You’ve gone straight to the close.  This tack is not going to work with mazungu (white man).  If you had offered me, let’s say, an icy cold Coca-Cola, or maybe a big juicy Fuddrucker’s hamburger, I’d have said, ‘Now you’re talkin,’ because I’m getting hungry and thirsty out here in the hot wilderness, but you have rushed headlong into error.  Tisk, tisk, tisk.  Fools rush in.”

They both stared at me for a half a beat and then the older one said, “You buy fo Mama, tawn doolahs, I take pick-chah,” and then the other one started in.

Seeing right through it, but with my head starting to spin, I ignored this new triple combination tactic, and with a wry eye inquired, “Mama, do you know Jesus?”

She said, “Yes.”

I asked, “Are you a Christian?”

She said, “No.”

I said, “You are not a Christian?”

She said, “Yes.”

I said, “You are and are not a Christian?”

And with a winning smile and a confident nod of the head she said, “Yes, you buy.”

She would not be deterred.  She had assumed the role of Abbott; I was Costello.  By this time, Stuart, who was sitting in the back seat, was wetting his pants.  He was slapping the seat in front of him, slowly shaking his head and whispering, “You slay me.”

I said to the older woman, “If I could can your tenacity, I could conquer the world.”

Just then, our driver popped open his door and dropped into the driver’s seat.  He said, “We are ready to go,” and then fired up the engine and drove us through the border crossing into Tanzania.

From the back seat, still holding his belly and chuckling, Stuart stammered out, “You just broke every single rule of evangelism.”  I was strung out and exhausted and couldn’t think of a snappy reply.  So, I just settled back into my seat and thought of far away places as we sputtered down the road toward our next adventure.

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See Mt. Kilimanjaro below, crowned with a halo of clouds.  (click to enlarge)Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

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Last Night Among the Maasai

Dispatch Africa 2013:

I spent the day teaching the Maasai for seven hours on my feet, which included more than 2 hours of impromptu Q&A.  Sublime, but I was beat.  When I returned to my room at the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Guest House in Kajiado (rhymes with Colorado), I flopped onto the threadbare sheets of my bed and tried to think back over the day.  How intelligent are the Maasai.  Though their culture gives the appearance of a simple and unlearned people, which in reality is a true assessment of who they are, they are not stupid.  It would be all too easy for Westerners to dismiss them.  But, their minds are sharp.  They are quick witted, they grasp the most difficult philosophies and doctrines, their questions are penetrating, and their rebuttals are on point.  What a pleasure it is to train these people.  As I marveled at the intelligence, beauty, cheerfulness, and strength of these fine people, my mind drifted to a melodic voice that I could hear somewhere off in the distance.  After a moment or two, I zeroed in on the haunting sound and realized from whence it came.

On the way to the guest house this evening, my driver, a local Maasai pastor named Samuel (his wife’s name is “Precious”), pointed to a Muslim mosque a mile or so outside of town.  I could see the minaret tower clearly.  As the sun was setting, the minaret came alive with the hypnotic voice of song calling all Muslims to evening prayer.  A faint dread trickled over me.  Alone in my room, 10,000 miles from the love and comfort of home, the seeds of depression sprouted up through the surface of my thoughts.  After falling in love with the Maasai people and meeting so many Christians among them, it broke my heart to know that Islam was working its evil power in the hearts of the unsaved Maasai.  Then, as quickly as those thoughts had come, I was immediately reminded by the Spirit of God of the power of the gospel and of the need to train the leaders of the Maasai churches in Africa and to equip them to combat the forces of evil that surround them.  In this moment, I know I am just where I belong.

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Turning 50

Dispatch Africa 2013:

Well, I turned 50 today (April 15th).  I spent the day teaching systematic theology to a group of about 30 Maasai Christian pastors in the bush of southwestern Kenya, toward the Tanzanian border (I am not making this up.).  It’s the raining season here, and everything is green in sub-Saharan Africa.  The animals are dancing and prancing around like it’s the senior prom.  Short of Jesus coming back, the day could not have been improved upon, except if I had been surrounded by my family and friends, and if someone had invented a nifty pocket-sized air conditioner.  Maasai sounds like moss-eye.  Here are a few of pictures of typical Maasai warriors:

maasai-warrior1 maasai-warriors-dancing-in-maasai-mara_1024x768_24332 elderthomaschamberlin

See how they jump?  Check out the cool ears.  My students informed me that tomorrow they will be taking my measurements, and on Wednesday they are planning to make me an official Maasai warrior and will be giving me a custom made Maasai warrior vestiture.  I am so excited I can’t stand it.  Me, a Maasai warrior.  This is a very great honor.  Maasai warriors are so brave that four of them can take away a fresh kill from a pack of lions.  National Geographic has made a documentary of their amazing feats of courage.  I will try to live up to the image.  Hope I don’t have to steal dinner from a lion or marry the chief’s daughter to become a warrior.  I can tell you this much for sure, I have decided not to get my ears done.  Last year, a group of Maasai students in another region of Kenya gave me a Maasai name, Mazungu Emuny (sounds like ma-zoon’-goo eh-moon’-yee).  It means white rhino.  I don’t know where they came up with that, but I like it.  Except for the horns, I kind of look like a big white rhino, well, a little bit anyway, I guess.  They are preparing my battle implements: a sword, a club, and a spear, which they plan to present to me on my next visit.  (Stuart, can I go back soon, oh please, oh please, can I, huh, can I, huh?)

My driver for the week is Joel Ikaba Chege (rhymes with Peggy).  Bishop Chege is a 60 year old church planter who oversees more than fifty churches, including his own church, where he serves as senior pastor.  He has built a school and an orphanage and cares for hundreds of children.  He has been assigned to keep me in line or out of trouble, I forget which.  He is like “M” or “Q” in those James Bond movies.  You know, the person who tells you about how you are going to die on your next mission, but here is an ejector seat and some x-ray glasses?  I like to call him Papa, mainly because he keeps telling me that he needs to beat me.  Beat me?  He says, “Noel, you need beating; I must wheep you.”  I don’t really think I need a “wheeping.”  But, he is of the Kikuu tribe (kick-oo’-you).

Turned 50, chilled with the Maasai, became a warrior.  I have arrived.  How did you spend your last birthday?  This was how I spent mine.  Don’t be a hater.

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I Met an Old Man Today

Dispatch Africa 2012:

(read this one slowly, as you breathe; that’s how I took it in)

The deep lines in his thick, broad, tanned face, the sad sagging of his soft gray eyes, and the uneasy shuffle of his pained and lumbering gate belied his exuberance for life, and human intimacy, and Christ.  He had a gentle, almost rhythmic, voice that made you long to lean into his heavy bosom or slip your shoulder under his arm like a hound anxious for affection.  He at once put you at ease and told you of his love for you.  I had just met the man.  His sincerity was intoxicating.  I tried to make him feel comfortable in my presence, which only made me feel impish in his.  He was a man of simplicity and substance.  He talked incessantly throughout our two-hour trek from Gaborone, Botswana, through the border crossing, and down to Mafikeng, South Africa, all the while telling his secret tales with the quiet passion of a mother soothing her child’s wounds.  He was stooped at the shoulders and round at the belly with a large handsome nose and a close-cropped head of disheveled salt-and-pepper locks.  In his earlier days, he might have been Dick Tracy.

Abraham Steinberg, our driver for the day, was born and reared in Lobatse, Botswana.  He is of Jewish and Dutch Reformed decent.  His grandfather had immigrated and settled in south-central Africa.  His mother was a local protestant girl who met a handsome Jewish man and fell in love.  The young couple married, had two daughters, and a son.  Abraham grew up as a farmer with his family and still raises cattle on his 2,500 acre ranch today. He owns a butchery and a rock and gravel quarry.  He is 70.  I asked him how he became a Christian with a name like Abraham Steinberg.  In his thick Afrikaans brogue he chuckled and, rolling his “Rs” said, “I drank my Christianity from my mother’s breasts; I don’t remember ever not loving Christ. I’ve just kept growing in Him.”

Abraham had offered to drive Pat Knowlton, one of our faculty members, and me to a meeting for the Bible Institute when requested to do so by his former pastor, whom he “loved like his own son,” and with whom we were to meet the following day to discuss expansion of the Institute into South Africa.  When asked, Abraham had jumped at the chance to serve and meet new friends.  He gave us a local history lesson as we drove through the hills skirting the edge of the Kalahari desert.  But, he seemed to mostly talk about love.  He thanked us for coming to Botswana and to his people, saying “As long as you come here, all you will find is love; that’s what we are.”  He characterized Jesus’s feeding of the 5,000 not as walking through the crowds with His disciples giving out a piece of bread and a piece of fish to this one, a piece of bread and a piece of fish to that one, but as “Here is love, here is grace, and love, and grace, and love, and grace; He just kept giving it until all were satisfied.”

Abraham was as affable a man as I’ve ever met; so tender, and jolly, and certain.  When he made a point, or thought something funny, he’d nudge my arm or knee with the back of his gnarled and bent, sun-scorched fingers.  He confessed small sins to me and winced as he recalled them.  Petty to me, they mocked him in his thoughts.  There was a holiness about the old man that humiliated me and made me wish I’d yielded more to the Spirit in my life.  As we talked, he had to keep snapping his head toward me to read my lips because he was deaf in one ear.  His son was killed three years ago in an automobile accident at age 27. His, son, Abraham, IV, was a rugby player.  Abraham told me that junior “would hold the ball out, challenging the other team, whispering ‘here, try and fetch it.’”  The old man loved his son, and his son loved him. That’s just how it was; more could not be said.  The loss of his son’s life, his companionship, his future, crushed the old man, taking inches off his stout stature and snatching from him something he could not articulate and something about which I feared ever knowing.  But, he pressed on in search of more life to live and more sons to love.  At the end of our journey, I bid the old man farewell, and sought the safety and sanctity of my room at the guest house.  As I sat on the bed sobbing and wrenching and thanking my heavenly Father for the old man’s life, I could not help but envy his son who, though he had lived briefly, was so cherished by an earthly father such as I had never known.  I met an old man today, and I crossed a few borders with him.

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Abraham driving us across the Botswana-South Africa border. (click to enlarge)
Abraham Steinburg - border crossing 2012

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The Boys of Botswana

Dispatch Africa 2012:

Just a quick update.  I am currently in Botswana Africa leading courses for the Bible Institute.  Traveling with me is Dr. Pat Knowlton of Creede Baptist Church in Colorado.  He is teaching Biblical Interpretation (Hermeneutics) and I am teaching Expository Preaching.  The students (24 of them) are soaking it up.  The Q&A times are the most fun.  They are a lively bunch with insightful questions, and we are having a great time getting to know them and training them in these important disciplines.  They have a deep love for their countrymen and want to see them come to Christ.  These men and a few women desperately need this training.  They are surrounded on all sides by witchcraft, ancestral worship, post modernism (the relativity of truth), and prosperity doctrine.  False prophets abound here.  We are teaching them how to interpret the Bible and how to preach it for life change.  If we teach them nothing else, this will get them far ahead of the evil one and his work.

On Thursday afternoon, when we complete the coursework here in Gaborone, we will travel across the border into northwestern South Africa to the city of Mafikeng, which is the capital of the province.  We have a meeting scheduled there on the campus of North-West University on Friday morning with a group of Dutch Reformed pastors who are interested in establishing a Bible Institute campus in Mafikeng.  We hope to meet with leaders and students to finalize the arrangements for a new campus.  It will be the first campus we have established in South Africa, and is only about two hours away from Gaborone, Botswana.  Gaborone begins with the “H” sound and rhymes with “macaroni.”  It is our hope that the Gaborone and Mafikeng campuses will be a “circuit” for which we can deliver courses using the same U.S. instructors to teach in both locations on a single trip.  This will save considerable funds and will be the best use of our faculty resources.  Most of our faculty would prefer to get the best bang for their travel buck.  Getting the opportunity to teach two groups of students in two locations in different countries so close together is appealing.  Moreover, given the nature of scheduling the coursework for such a circuit, the instructors would also get the opportunity to preach in local churches on the intervening Sunday morning.  This is also appealing.

Please pray for the students we are training that they will learn and apply what we are teaching them.  Also, please pray for our safety as we travel, and that we are successful in establishing a campus for the Institute in Mafikeng.

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Botswana I

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Disneyland

Dispatch Africa 2012:

The Great Rift Valley stretches over 3,000 mi. spanning two continents from Mozambique in southern Africa across Egypt, under the Red Sea, through Israel to Syria in western Asia.  It is a geological fracture in Africa’s crust so large that it can be seen from space.  It is the result of two tectonic plates in the process of separating the African continent into two distinct land masses.  A river runs through it.  At its southern end lay a broad expanse that belongs to the ancient Maasai people (I mentioned them in a previous blog: legs, ears, cows, clubs, bad dudes.).  The view from the car is spectacular.  Both mountain ridges enclosing the valley rise up serenely to your left and right in the distance.  You are sure the leopards are resting somewhere up on the mountains, in the cool shade of the day, colluding with one another, before sauntering down to the valley for a tasty group meal around supper time.  They’re agreed.  They’ve decided on the meat-lovers special.  They plan to share.  In the foreground, you enjoy the pristine vistas of short, stringy acacias, and free-roaming giraffe, impala, and gazelle, grazing lazily in the afternoon sun, oblivious to the evening’s dining arrangements and the role they will play in the set menu selection.

This is the life.  What a vacation. Who could call this work?  I had spent the morning in the valley teaching theological truths to 122 spiritually hungry pastors and leaders from the churches among the Maasai people.  Teaching people who hang on every word is better than food.  Well, not really, but you know what I mean.  At noon, my driver arrived, so I left Stuart to continue the work there and began the 2 hour trek back to the airport to catch a flight to western Kenya, where I would spend two days on my own teaching 188 pastors and leaders among the Nandi (rhymes with blondie, try it) tribal people, along with some Tanzanians and Ugandans, in a remote area 40 km into the African bush. (I feel like Indiana Jones, or somebody.)  The only thing missing was a little adventure.

As my driver, an African named Dennis, coaxed his tiny car up from the floor of the Rift Valley to the high escarpment upon which is situated Kenya’s capitol city, Nairobi, a long, but faint squeal gathered momentum and interrupted my meditations.  Naturally, being a trained professional driver myself, my eyes instinctively darted to the instrument panel where, to my horror, the temperature gauge pointed straight up to the “H” (which stands for hotter than Hades).  We were overheating.  I started to pray.  We were between mud hut villages, and sitting on a blind curve.  Pre-WWII lorries lumbered up the hill and around the curve past us, creeping ever so carefully, as impatient travelers piled up behind them like marching columns of centipedes.  A tow truck and a repair shop (I’m so sure there’s one on every corner.) might take all day.  Still an hour away from the airport, and then facing two flights and a one hour drive on the other end to make it to the village of Lemoru for something to eat before the natives retired for the night, the situation did not look good.  After praying, I checked the gauges again, and the engine light came on as the vehicle slowed and sputtered.  Consternation washed across the driver’s brow, furrowing it into a Ruffle’s potato chip.  He pulled the vehicle off the road just as the engine went kaput. When he tried to start the engine again, I cautioned against it. Pushing the engine harder at this point would only exacerbate the problem and create more delays and repairs, possibly even a blown head gasket.

While I waited in the car, ever the image of the pious and unflappable pastor, prayerfully trusting in providence, the driver exited the car, opened the hood and popped off the radiator cap.  Steam spewed violently, splattering the windshield, and he was nearly burned.  Hands on hips.  Stomping around.  Nail-biting.  More stomping around.  Waiting.  Waiting.  Then, without another thought, he trotted to the back of the vehicle, as happy-go-lucky as you please, and collected a full jug of water that he apparently carried around for just such instances.  Boy Scout?  Uh-uh.  This was the routine.  I was miffed.  How could the transport company have sent me a broke down vehicle and a driver with too little sense to protest such working conditions?  Duh.  3rd world (I’m learning.).  I decided I wasn’t tipping him the full expected amount.  We stopped 3 more times for water, and once for a new radiator cap (which did exactly nothing), before reaching the airport sweaty, hungry and disoriented, but just in time to catch my flight.  Probably goes without saying that he dropped me at the wrong terminal, but who’s keeping track, anyway?  Honestly, I’m reporting this so-called transport company to the AAA; they can do something about this sort of thing, you know.  Disneyland?  Uh, not.

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Lost and Found in Nairobi and Other Oddities

Dispatch Africa 2012:

When we landed in Kenya yesterday, the weather was quite warm, something or other Celsius, and our transport vehicle had no air conditioning.  Duh.  3rd world.  Stuart and I fiddled with the nameless vehicle’s windows for several minutes to get two of them cracked, just in the nick of time to rescue ourselves from roasting in the 4-wheeled toaster oven.  B movie comedy, really.  In all the commotion, I think I dropped my passport in the back seat and left it there when we got to our accommodations in Nairobi.  I did not discover the error until after midnight.  Panic.  Prayer.  Emails.  Peace.  Sleep.  In the morning, the bus company called to say that my passport was en route to me at that very moment.  Relief and praise to Him who alone controls the destinies of men and who, in His mercy, looks after His absent-minded, globe-trotting servants.

Incidentally, I am writing this update from a shack of a church in a village called Isinya, 2 hours south of Nairobi.  The floor of the church is a combination of dirt and parking lot gravel.  The chairs are those cheap white plastic lawn chairs with the weak, spindly legs.  The walls and ceiling are corrugated steel sheets that collect the sunlight and transform it into microwave heat inside.  A single light bulb hangs thoughtfully above and somewhat to the side of the pulpit.  The people sit expressionless as we work up a powerful sweat doing our shtick.

Stuart and I are tag-teaming a registration conference among the Maasai (moss-eye) tribal herdsmen of northern Kenya.  You know these fellows.  They are the nomads with the walking sticks and the cows.  They wear brightly colored togas of red or purple, and their earlobes hang down to their shoulders.  Yes, their ears hang low and they wobble to and fro…  Most of them are over six feet tall and their legs are as long and skinny as vaulting poles.  They are warriors, and the men all carry clubs, along with their walking sticks, everywhere they go.  Their faces are as cold and set as iron.  They don’t allow photographs because they fear their enemies will steal their spirits.

Anyway, I had just finished speaking and returning to my seat when Stuart was called again to the rostrum to deliver the next and most serious section of the conference.  The room was deathly quiet except for the knitting sounds made by the 3 inch black spider that hung ominously in the rafters above my head, weaving her sinister web.  Well, Stuart had been sitting too long in one of those fancy plastic lawn chairs.  When his name was called, he tried to rise a bit too quickly, and made several calculation errors.  The laws of physics were about to be proven once again.  For too many painful and exhausting minutes, the poor chair had struggled and strained to support his ample weight.  (He’s no scrawny Maasai, you know.)  As he pressed down on the chair’s arms to stand and walk to the pulpit to preach, one of the chair’s legs dug into the soft dirt, and the other three legs twisted and tipped at an odd angle.  Stuart, already half way up and out of the chair, pitched forward, lurched to his right, and was flung onto the ground in a ridiculous herky-jerky move like a large bag of cement wearing slippery wet flip-flops on the wrong feet and one size too big.  The dust cloud would have made Pig Pen from those Charlie Brown cartoons more than proud.  Stuart got to his feet while the entire room of stoic on-lookers erupted in raucous belly-laughter.  Stuart is the master.  He knows how to lighten up a crowd.  He was a good sport and used the episode as an illustration in his sermon.

Afterward, on the way back from the big doings in Isinya, there was a minor fender-bender on the road to our accommodations.  A French woman had run into the back of a small Toyota carrying two merry, but oversized passengers and one very irate tribesman, who was their designated driver.  The ruckus stopped traffic for half a mile, and sidewalk gawkers and roadway rubberneckers (no, it is not a phenomenon exclusive to Houston) started to form a crowd.  The man was throwing a fit, but the woman could see no damage.  He demanded reparations; she remained aloof.  He insisted; she resisted.  He threatened to call the authorities; she crossed her arms and harrumphed.  He jabbed a finger at her; she rolled her eyes.  He knew his rights; she knew hers, too.  Stale mate.  After several minutes, the tribesman gave up the fight, and stormed back to his vehicle, muttering as he went.  The two hapless motorists climbed back into their respective autos and slinked away.  The irate tribesman?  Our driver.  The passengers overstuffing his Japanese compact? You guessed it.

Oh yes, and we were attacked by a puff adder (look it up).

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On Safari in Limpopo

Dispatch Africa 2012:

Well, we went from stranded on the roadside and overnight in a dumpy hostel to living the high life at Trophy Game Safaris hunting ranch outside Polokwane, where the wild game gourmet food is fabulous and the African plains vistas, dotted with gigantic termite mounds and leggy acacia trees, are breathtaking.  Our hosts are the proprietors, Tino and Amanda Erastus; a lovely couple managing 4,000 acres loaded with wild game including cape buffaloes, impalas, monkeys, ostriches, giraffes, wart hogs, jackals, several other critters which I won’t try to spell, the occasional cheetah, and the odd cobra or puff adder.  It really is something to behold.  Words fail to describe it; pictures can do it no justice.  It must be experienced – the light cool breeze on your face, the warm sunny sky, the animals darting to and fro, or staring suspiciously, the smells of the savannah, the happy faces of the locals who work the ranch, and the sounds of strangely familiar yet incomprehensible languages.

Stuart and I had a blast as we blasted upland game from the back of a speeding hunt truck, guided by Tino and his able assistant, Annes (“on us”). The hunting is brisk, but challenging. We are shooting from the back of a moving truck and only using a dog, a large lunking female Rhodesian Ridgeback named Sasha, to help locate the dead birds.  We picked up 7 birds in the morning hunt before returning to the lodge for a brilliant brunch, meticulously prepared by Miss Amanda and her crack kitchen staff of local African women.  We hope to add significantly to the bird count in the afternoon hunt. In the meantime, enjoy the picture.  More of our exploits later.  Ministry is heck.

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Stuart, 3 Francolin Partridge, 4 Guinea Fowl, and Noel 3-1-12

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Two Nights Ago in the African Bush

Dispatch Africa 2012:

Stuart, Johannes (yo-hawn), and I left a successful meeting with Dutch Reformed missionaries near the Mozambique/Swaziland border of far northeastern South Africa.  We drove for about an hour through the mountains as the sun set.  When we came down out of the mountains and drove along a remote road in the African bush on the eastern edge of the Kruger National Wildlife Refuge, one of the top safari ranges on the continent, the front left wheel made a loud crunching thump and then popped off its lugs and flew out into the roadside terrain.  Johannes was driving and managed to swing the steering wheel sharply to the left at that very moment, which put our vehicle halfway off the road and out of the way of any potential passing traffic.  In a split second we ground to a stop on 3 wheels and 1 hub.

No one was injured, but we were stranded on a roadside after dark, with no signs of a town or village in sight in either direction.  According to the GPS, we were about 25 miles from the nearest town, which was too far to walk in the starlit night.  As we stood around in the dark trying to assess the damage and chatting up our options and good fortune, we began to smell the scent of a larger animal.  Lions were known to be in the area, but the more likely concern was a roaming leopard.  We commiserated.  Just then, a car approached and slowed as it came over the rise.  It crept along for a hundred yards or so and then stopped.  I heard a thump coming from the direction of the vehicle, and then saw thin shadows pass in front of the headlights.  A tall skinny African had stepped out of the vehicle with both of his hands held behind his back and out of site.  As he began to shuffle across the road in our direction, leaning oddly to one side, something didn’t seem right.  So, I moved around Johannes, a smallish chap, to intercept whatever was about to happen next.

The man looked at us quizzically for a long moment and shouted something in the Afrikaans language that Johannes understood.  The man was offering help.  Johannes waved him off.  The man took another look or two at the three of us and left.  Johannes pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and it chirped as he dialed a number.  Within a couple of minutes, he informed Stuart and me that a wrecker was on the way.  In total, we waited about an hour in the dark before the wrecker driver arrived, hitched us up, and drove us to the next town, Lydenburg, where we would be bedded down for the night in a local hostel.  We checked-in, dropped our bags in the room, and made it to the café for a steak just 10 minutes before the kitchen closed.

Chomping down our steaks with laughter and camaraderie we couldn’t help but note how things could have gone very, very wrong that night.  The Lord protected us and provided for us, and we were very grateful, indeed.  Your prayers for protection and provision were heard loud and clear in the throne room.  Thanks for supporting us on our African adventure.  Looking forward with anticipation to what the Lord has in store for us tomorrow.  Praise to the Most High; praise His holy Name!

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2012-02-28_12-55-37_500

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Zimbabwe is On the Map

Dispatch Africa 2012:

Dr. Sheehan and I representing, World Hope Bible Institute, gathered with national leaders from 3 Baptist conventions on a wild game preserve conference facility near Gweru, Zimbabwe in a historic meeting to consider launching a Bible institute to provide theological education for indigenous pastors who have no other training option. The meeting concluded with leadership from all groups electing to use the Diploma in Ministry from the World Hope Bible Institute to satisfy the basic educational requirements for ordination across their 3 conventions.  This allows new church plants to have qualified and recognized pastors throughout the nation.  This could also be a first step toward unification of the 3 conventions into a single more effective national convention.  The group joined for a photo (below) including WHBI faculty member Noel Vincent, missionary Dr. Greg Fort, Dr. Stuart Sheehan, and Baptist leaders from throughout the nation.

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Zimbabwe crop

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