Friday, April 29, 2005

Another Link in the Chain

During that first month in October, we saw several families return to New Life. Hester Hitchcock, Floyd and Eleanor Cunningham, part of the Skidgel family. We also had several visitors.

Floyd began to measure attendance by the number of cars in the tiny parking space -- a long, potholed, dirt driveway where cars parked end-to-end. Our record as we entered November was 14 automobiles.

We needed to complete the conversion of the garage into a chapel of sorts. To do so, we would need to put a sub-floor on top of the concrete slab that had so many cracks it resembled a spider's web. The walls of the garage sat on a single row of hollow concrete blocks; we would need to fill them with insulation to reduce the draftiness from the arctic weather trying to find a way inside. A ten inch platform was planned to elevate the pulpit area; we wanted the garage to feel a little more like a sanctuary. The windows behind the pulpit area needed to be replaced. The exterior of the garage-turned-chapel, was a mix and match of different sidings. We would also need a drop ceiling to cover the exposed wooden rafters. Drop lights were strung across the rafters; we would need new lighting.

To complete that little punch list, we would need to take a big step of faith. The congregation of New Life was not a collection of the Rich and Famous. We were still struggling to keep the lights on and the mortgage paid!

Someone had given me Dalton Skovil's name. Dalton was a believer and a builder. He also owned a hardware and building supplies business. Dalton met me at the "church" and gave me some good advice, a pat on the back, and a generous supply of free building materials.

With zero cash, Charlie and I began to put in the sub floor. As we laid out pressure treated 2 X 6, and began to frame in the floor, I asked Charlie to stop and pray with me. We desperately needed $1,400.00 now! At that point, Charlie was not one to pray out loud, so I began to pray asking God to supply this need for cash.

Within seconds after we finished praying, I received a phone call. It was John Linnehan from Ellsworth. On the other end of the phone John said, "I just got done praying with my two sons. I told them that we had $1,400.00 dollars to give to a mission project. I asked them what they thought the Lord would have us do. They told me to see if Pastor Shorey needed it in Presque Isle." Then John asked, "Do you need it?"

Did I need it? You bet I did!

I was a young pastor. I believe God was letting me know that the mission of New Life Baptist Church was as important as that of any cathedral or mega church -- anywhere!

This was another link in the chain of events which revealed the goodness and glory of God.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Ray of Hope

Our contact with the Power Company went well; they graciously extended us time to get our act and finances together. Washburn Trust held the mortgage on the farmhouse. I nervously and humbly went to the bank and met Albert Hobbs and Glenn Carson. My meeting with these two men was a ray of hope. They treated me with tremendous respect and kindness. They were familiar with the church and knew about our struggle for survival. As I remember the conversation, they put no pressure on me and assured me that they were confident New Life would get on its feet.

At that moment, they were more confident than I was.

Our first Sunday was. . . interesting. We had a piano, but no piano player. We had 13 people, a pot of coffee and 36 donuts. Josh ate 3 of them (the mystery lady did not show up, but we were prepared). Four of the attendees that Sunday were the Shoreys!

I worried and prayed over my first message. As it turned out, I preached from Acts 17. Our house church was literally surrounded by potato fields. So, I preached a sermon I titled The Tater Family.

In Acts 17, I found 3 Taters:
IrriTaters, Those who mocked(32),
HesiTaters, Those who would hear Paul another time (32b), and
ImiTaters, Those who believed and followed Christ as Paul did (34).

It was a homiletical masterpiece! Wouldn't you agree? I gave the invitation and four people responded -- they got up and left!

I know what you're thinking, but it wasn't my family.

During the week, I made contact with some of the folks that had been previously connected with the church. I don't remember any of those conversations going very well; those I talked with seemed confused and angry. There was one who contacted me; she asked for a meeting. The way my other calls had gone, I was not filled with high expectations!

If Albert Hobbs and Glenn Carson were rays of hope, Paula was a blinding light. We sat around the kitchen table with cups of coffee. Sandy and I listened as she shared her heart. She was very straight forward; her eyes were constantly rimmed with tears. Getting New Life off the ground had put one pastor in the hospital and another who knows where! Her desires were simple; she longed to see a church that would reach the lost and be passionate about the same things as Christ. She had wanted to quit, but couldn't. Paula was competent, clear thinking, and indescribably committed to Christ. Every word she spoke resonated with Sandy and me.

Paula reminded us of Phoebe in the New Testament.

Picking Up the Baton

To pick up the baton, we would have to move into a turn-of-the-century (as in the 1900s!) farm house that would make our little ranch and former cottage look like palaces in comparison. By October, we were on our way to Presque Isle. We had been in contact with the church through Myrna Smith, one of the few surviving members. We set a date and time to head north and meet with the faithful remnant.

Once again we stepped into the old farm house. Our first impression back in August had been less than favorable. Now, a wave of hopelessness threatened to drown both of us. The interior was dark. The drapes were dark and the wall paper was dark brown with big burnt orange flowers. When the door closed behind us, the soft sills that held up the house that sat on a stone foundation had settled, leaving an inch and a half gap under the door. The gap provided a stream of light and a steady blast of cold air on our ankles! Inside we were introduced to Irma and Charlie Hitchcock, Don and Theresa Ross, Myrna and her husband with several adopted children. Another lady -- whom nobody seemed to notice -- never looked up when we entered the house, but steadily grazed on the coffee, punch, and donuts.

We huddled up; I tried to be reassuring and pastoral. Secretly, I was fighting my own battles. I was only 27 years old and had enjoyed the safety net of working for a more seasoned pastor. As the saying goes, "There is quite a difference between riding a horse and walking beside one." We prayed together with our little flock for the first time.

When I finished encouraging, coaching, cheerleading and praying, Myrna handed me an overdue notice for a couple hundred dollars; the power company was going to turn off the electricity in five days. Then she handed me bills for three past due mortgage payments of $454.00 each. I looked at the bills and then looked at the group around me. Charlie drawled in a raspy voice, "I'm tired of all this." Irma was silent. Don and Theresa were committed to keep going. The mysterious other lady kept grazing on the coffee, punch, and donuts.

Everyone else left.
Sandy cried.
I stood in a daze.

Early the next day, I pleaded with God and then went to the bank and power company to plead with them to give us some more time. At the bank, God already had a redeemer in place!

Leaving Paradise

Let me give you a little more background. At the time of our trip to northern Maine, I was serving in another church plant in absolutely beautiful Ellsworth, on the picturesque coast of Maine. I was the first paid staff member other than the pastor. My responsibilities were to lead the youth, direct the choir, develop evangelism and outreach, go on hospital visitation, clean the church, and teach Sunday school. I earned $150.00 a week.

When we first moved to Ellsworth, we lived 16 miles out of town, in a cottage that had been moved, by flat bed truck, to the edge of man-made Graham lake. Our undrinkable tap water was pumped about 150 feet from a cove of the muddy lake (we had to walk through the woods to a spring to get drinking water). The water pumped from the lake was so stained that when you filled the bathtub (no shower) you could not see your feet!

After a few months of living in the cottage, Sandy and I bought our first house through FmHA, a program for first time home buyers that was government subsidized at a 1% interest rate. The house cost $44,000 (I remember it well because my license plate number was 44000E). We were thrilled with our new house -- it was an exciting time for us.

We thought Ellsworth was paradise. We were loved, cared for, experienced tremendous success, and our time there was nearly carefree. The church had gone to great lengths to get us out of the cottage in the woods and into the little ranch style house. One family bought us a new bedroom suite and others gave us furniture. It seemed like the entire church family shared our excitement in being homeowners. It was there that I met Aubrey, one of the best friends I would ever have.

While in Ellsworth, our second son, Joshua, was born in Blue Hill, a quaint little town near Ellsworth reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. Josh was everyone's baby! Justin was old enough to love our new neighborhood and had a great time with Waynie and Tiger, twins who lived across the street. Sandy had a tub, shower, paved driveway, and no coyotes howling just outside the front door!

We had lived in this house for less than a year when the prospect of going to Northern Maine was presented to us. My pastor, Barbara and Aubrey, and Jack and Sharon were our confidants at the time. They prayed with us and let us share the questions we were struggling through. My pastor wanted us to stay, Jack and Sharon wanted us to stay, and Barbara just cried at the thought of us leaving.

Aubrey assessed it this way, "New Life has a pastor. You are not convinced that a second church plant in that sparsely populated area is your calling. The door is temporarily shut."

A few weeks later I got a call from Rocky, a pastor friend in Houlton: "Bill, the pastor of New Life left in the middle of the night. What are you going to do?"

I responded, "I am leaving Paradise!"

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A Burning Woodstove

Several months had passed since visiting the founding pastor in the hospital. The fledgling church had shrunk from 30 to 10 and called another pastor. I wrestled with that a bit. I was sure God had called me to pick up the baton. Perhaps we were to go further north, but much more would require a visa -- we were nearly in Canada! So we spent most of the day in Caribou and the surrounding area.

On our way back from Caribou to Ellsworth, Sandy and I decided to stop at New Life Baptist Church. New Life was a house church, meeting in a farm house built in the early 1900's. As we pulled into the dirt driveway I had to navigate around several huge potholes. Our eyes took in the detached garage to the right of the house, a recently built stable, and a rickety out-building with a sagging roof and splintered clapboard siding.

We knocked on the door of the house. The pastor answered, and invited us inside. Seconds after we introduced ourselves, the pastor began to unload his dissatisfaction with the whole situation he was in. The only warmth in the house came from the woodstove that was burning! Yes, it was now late afternoon in early August, and a fire was needed to keep the chilly air from invading the house!

Now, I need to explain something. My wife is a Texan. The sight of a woodstove burning in August gave her horrors. She had already gone above and beyond the call of duty in marrying a Yankee, leaving the great state of Texas, and living beneath missionary standards in the woods of Maine! Sandy's commitment to Christ has never been a question. As we were leaving the driveway, Sandy said, "It's already cold and it's August! I don't want to leave our new home!"

(Hi, there, this is Sandy...I've been reading Bill's blog and I just had to break in on this one. What I really said was, "WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO LIVE HERE???

...OK, now I feel better...)

As best as I can recall, the long trip back to the coast of Maine began very quietly. I believe we were back to Houlton, about an hour south, before we began to talk about Presque Isle. The conversation ebbed and flowed between, "We can't!" to "Are we to go?" We weighed the pros and cons. We had to have God's mind on the matter.

If the decision was to be made based on convenience, it was obvious that we would not go. We have learned, though, that convenience is usually the furthest thing from God's mind.

Just a While in Presque Isle

I am going to take a new path with the blog and share with you some of the memorable times we had in the first church where I served as Senior Pastor. I will be taking you to a place where snow is measured in feet, schools close for a month during harvest, and moose occasionally gaze through the church windows during services. All the stories I share will be true, but in some instances, names will be changed to protect the innocent and to shift blame for my stupid mistakes onto someone else!

My wife likes to quote Dickens when she thinks of Presque Isle: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." My memories are a bit more positive.

Take a walk with me down this new path...

In 1983 my wife Sandy and I made a trip to the northernmost county in the state of Maine, Aroostook County. We were looking for a little city named Presque Isle. It was early August. Much of the trip up Interstate 95 caused us to ask the question, "Does anyone live up here?" We traveled through vast stretches where we saw no houses, vehicles, or signs of civilization.

Several months earlier, I had gone to visit a pastor in the hospital. Like me, he was a church planter. This pastor had labored in Presque Isle since 1981, trying to plant a church. As he lay there in the hospital, he was a very sick and very discouraged man. As I stood there, praying over him, God was speaking to me, telling me to pick up the baton and take the next leg of the race for him.

Sandy and I drove into Presque Isle, looped around a few streets, then crossed a river, and headed further north to a city named Caribou. Once there, we stopped and got some information about the area. As I remember it, the top of the brochure said, "Aroostook County, The Crown of Maine." At that time of year, "The Crown" was encrusted with emeralds. We traveled through miles and miles of potato fields that were a beautiful emerald green.

We left Caribou and headed east on the Fort Fairfield road. Steadily we climbed to one of the higher elevations in the area. The sky was crystal clear that day and we could see for miles. We stopped the car and began to pray. We were seeking God, asking Him to confirm His direction for our lives.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Easter Morning

Our bus ride -- which should have been a 6 hour trip -- turned into a 13 and a half hour odyssey. By the time we got to the border, it was closed. Once again, we tramped from hostel to hostel trying to find a place to rest our weary bodies. Once again, we went to bed very late and trusted God to work out any details. We had been out of communication with our U.S. contact for about 36 hours. Somehow, God would get us home.

On Easter morning, we repacked our gear and headed for the border crossing. I am quite certain that I have been in church every Easter since I was born. I am certain, that in 25 plus years of ministry, I have preached from a pulpit in the U.S.A. on Easter Sunday. For Easter 2005, I was over 10,000 miles from the beautiful sanctuary where I normally proclaim God's Word. I was sitting beside a large river that is the boundary of two countries. On one side of that river was religious freedom; on the other side, Christianity is violently opposed. The Roadmakers were on the dark side of the river.

We were at the border crossing before it opened, so we stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall cafe and got something to eat. To be honest, I was feeling a little melancholy. I missed the congregation I served back in the southeast. I wondered how the greatest weekend in the history of the world would go (we were 13 hours ahead of them.) For me, Easter eclipses Christmas as the most important Christian celebration. Also, our adventure was coming to an end.

There were no churches where we were. None! But, the kingdom of heaven was there, at that moment, dwelling in the hearts of 8 Roadmakers! As the sun began to rise in the east, we decided to celebrate communion on communist soil. Bill R. bought a loaf of bread -- symbolic of the body of Christ -- and we broke it. We had no grape juice and chose not to buy wine, but we observed the symbol of Christ's shed blood with coffee and mango juice. We quoted scripture from memory, prayed, our eyes filled with tears, and our act of worship ascended into God's presence as a sweet sacrifice.

Down at the river, we got into long skinny boats and headed for the shores of a free land. Halfway across the river we could see our "M" friends standing on the banks. They were elated -- and relieved -- to see us. One of them was talking on a phone, letting our contact back home know that we were safe and accounted for.

Writing this last entry about our mission has dissolved me to tears. Why? Many years ago, when I was sixteen, God called me to follow Him. I would have never guessed that the Adventure would unfold as it has. At that time of my salvation, to be forgiven of my sins would have been enough. Now, I find it hard to believe or describe the depth and richness of the new life I received. The words of an old hymn come to mind, "Sweeter as the years go by, sweeter as the years go by. Richer, fuller, deeper, Jesus' love is sweeter -- sweeter as the years go by."

Monday, April 25, 2005

Charles in Charge

Think of the worst seat you have ever had. At the movies -- on an airplane -- any event. I am willing to bet that Charles outdid you! We all were packed like sardines into a beat up old bus that bumped and chugged over potholes the size of Volkswagons, crossed swollen rivers, spun through mudslides, knifed around hairpin turns, and literally crawled up steep mountains. None of us had a seat quite like Charles'.

Next to Charles sat a woman with two children. When you consider what those little ones endured, they were outstanding -- no crying, screaming, or kicking. Keep in mind, though, that little ones get sick and have to go to the bathroom. Our bus was stopping for neither.

Yes . . . poor Charles sat next to a woman who was either holding a child's head out the window so he could vomit or sticking his little fanny out the window so he could . . . well, you get the picture.

Of all the Roadmakers, I believe Charles made the greatest adjustments. The trip was foreign to anything he had ever done in his life. He has been on mission in Mexico and his job has required him to fly out of the country more than most. However, he had never been involved in any escapade as rough and tumble, treacherous, or rugged as this.

On our hardest day of hiking, Charles walked point for many miles. When we had the option to hitch a ride, he wanted to stay on foot and slowly drink in the adventure of the strange but beautiful countryside we were traversing.

Charles got sick, but pressed on. When others got ruffled, he stayed poised. Everyone of the Roadmakers recognized him as a quiet, competent, and steady comrade we each could depend on -- and we did!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Back soon.

I will be unable to post for the next couple of days. I would like to invite you to go into the archives and read some of my earlier posts.

Enjoying the Adventure,

Bill

Real Men

There were only two other white people on our bus -- both of them were women. One was from Montreal, Canada, the other from Oxford, England. The two did not know each before the trip. They became traveling partners when they discovered they were headed toward a common tourist attraction.

What did I see? I saw men go out of their way to treat those women with great respect and look out for their well being. I saw men do what God has always intended men to do -- I saw old fashioned chivalry!

Don't misunderstand me -- they were very competent and capable women. They were highly educated, hoisted backpacks as big as ours, were adventurous, and courageous. They handled all the hardships of the next 13 hours as well as any man on the bus. They had already navigated through 2 challenging legs of their journeys before we met them.

Their presence brought out the best in all the Roadmakers. Frank, Bill R., and I had conversations with them that applauded their grit and leaned toward the gospel. For one of them, the purpose of the journey was to "find herself." Both Frank's last conversation and mine with that particular woman (unknown to each other until later) ended with our commitment to pray that she would find what she was looking for.

I watched the two women warm up to the good intentions of the Roadmakers. They expressed appreciation for our kindness to them and our commitment to the mission we were on. The conditions on the bus were deporable. I have no doubt that God intersected our lives as a testimony to the difference in men who know God, know they are men, and respect God's image in the fairer sex.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Landslides and Floods

Landslides and floods closed our departure route. This was the sad discovery that Bill R. made by an act of Divine Providence. During the night -- while the rest of us slept -- Bill and Trevor located an internet cafe and sent an S.O.S back to the States. In short, the dispatch let people back home know that we were stranded; it might be several days before we could get out of the country.

Larry, our contact in the U.S., let the prayer teams know of our plight. Immediately, a hundred or more people began to pray for us.

In the wee hours of the morning, Bill and I bowed before God and prayed, "Lord, if there is a way out of here, help us to find it."

The next morning we got the Roadmakers together and explained the situation. Everyone had an assignment. We located a 17 passenger plane, but were told it was booked solid and wouldn't fly again for two days. We checked an alternative route to another departure point -- a 20 hour bus ride. Our last option was a two day boat trip. It wasn't looking good.

We found another internet cafe in the building beside our sleeping quarters. The owner of the cafe spoke English fluently. I explained our situation. She told us a way had been devised to get around the landslides and flooded roads -- we should be able to get to our destination. We sent the good news to our contact stateside.

By 6:30 a.m., we were at the chaotic bus station. Bill R. and Frank haggled with the ticket office to get tickets. Finally, we secured the tickets. At 10 a.m., the bucket of bolts -- they called it a bus -- chugged out of the parking lot. It smelled of urine, perspiration, mold, and scents I have yet to identify. Our ride lasted 15 minutes.

The bus rattled to a stop. We peered through the mud-splashed windshield and saw that the bridge in front of us was washed out. The driver told us to get out and cross the river via a rickety bamboo foot bridge. We descended down a slippery hill to the bamboo poles stretched across the stream. One man in his early 60's slipped and skidded down the hill, never letting go of his suitcase. Bill and Frank rushed to his aide. Thankfully, the only thing bruised was his ego.

Once on the other side, we boarded another bus -- this one was worse than the first! The number of riders doubled. The 6 hour ride would turn into 13 and a half hours of adventure!

Stay tuned...

Monday, April 18, 2005

Weary

As we left the village, I remember looking over my shoulder and wondering, "Was the soil ready for the seed we have just sown?" The country we were in is violently opposed to Christianity. In fact, since arriving home I have read in The Voice of the Martyrs of many atrocities against believers there.

How costly would our obedience to "go into all the world" be to those we went to?

We marched on for hours. At another village, a couple of the Roadmakers joined some kids in a game of volleyball. In this game, the volley was done using feet and head only. The young players could kick a ball that was a couple of feet above their heads! Brad and Evan picked up the sport quickly and were fully engaged in friendly competition. I chose to be a spectator, but I did so with much envy!

Finally the dirt road turned to pavement. A couple of young men on bicycles approached us; one of them spoke English very well. We got a great laugh from one of his questions. He had met another American, a professor from one of our many universities. He asked us, "Do you know Tom?" I guess he didn't realize that there were probably hundreds of Toms teaching in hundreds of different universities.

It started to rain and fatigue set in. On that day many of us had walked over twenty miles. Also, due to a number of logistical complications, we hadn't eaten since early that morning.
There was no turning back and there was no Burger King or McDonald's! We pressed on.

A road sign told us that the town we sought was only 3 kilometers. Don't you know it -- the place we were to stay that night was on the other side of town. We walked another 3 miles. We got to the hostel and it was full; we experienced a deeper appreciation for Mary and Joseph!

The hostel attendant pointed up the street to a place where we could get some food. We stepped into the wet, pitch dark night, and headed out. Finally, some food! Once again, Frank deciphered the menu, talked to the cook, and helped us order something that we were sure was fully cooked. The risk of food poisoning was always factored into those decisions.

Bill R. found us some rooms; he was the hero that night. Most of us slept off the ground on boards covered by a layer of fabric. We pushed out of our minds the question that plagued us, "When was the last time this bedding was cleaned?" At 11:15 p.m., I was out like a light.

Bill R. stayed up most of the night keeping rats off Evan and Brad while they slept!

The next 24 hours would be the wildest any of us have ever spent!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Across The Border

The Mission -- as we planned it -- was completed, but God would expand it!

Finally we crossed the border! Our last day in the Big Country was calamitous. There was no shortage of adrenaline flowing through the veins of the Roadmakers! We would need it; the next leg was more than we bargained for. Once across the border we loaded our gear into a pickup. A very small pickup. We squeezed into benches in the truck's bed and two of us stood teetering on the tail gate. We geared up for a long six and a half hour ride that would slash through one country and bring us to another. The ride was long and hardly uneventful.

The area we were in experienced one of the most severe rainfalls in one hundred years. This was supposed to be the dry season. The road turned to soup and a large vehicle was mired down in the middle of our route. We could ride no further. We made the decision to foot march to our destination -- approximately eleven miles.

We tramped along through semi-tropical landscape. We were caked with mud to our knees. The trail was an endless series of undulating hills and valleys. The villages we passed reminded us of pictures out of National Geographic. We saw thatched huts, naked children running around in the yards, and people bathing in the muddy rivers. Pot bellied pigs, chickens, countless goats, and water buffalos roamed freely. It is hard to describe how this environment affected our senses.

At one of the villages, a teenage boy carrying an acoustic guitar greeted us. One of the Roadmakers is a good guitarist and singer. We asked the boy if Trevor could play a song on it; he gladly handed him the guitar. With the top string missing, Trevor played the song, Ancient of Days. All the Roadmakers were singing and clapping their hands in rhythm with the music. Many of the villagers gathered around us. It was a God ordained moment. We gave testimony to the One who had carried us more than ten thousand miles from home.

Glory and honor...
blessing and power...
be unto the Ancient of days.
From every nation...
all of creation...
bows before the Ancient of days.

Every tongue in heaven and earth...
shall declare His glory.
Every knee will bow at His throne in worship.
You will be exalted, O God...
and Your kingdom shall not pass away,
O Ancient of days.


We prayed that God would bless our listeners with the gift of interpreting our language.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Trouble On the Border

The Roadmakers traveled toward the border in two groups of four. Our group arrived a few hours behind the other.

All of us believed the coast was clear. I know all of us wanted to bring back a sample packet of the material we had trudged many miles to deliver. My pedometer told me we had walked seventy two miles.

At the border, I approached the first group far too casually. They were sitting in a room to the left of the area where the border officials were. With a look of panic and fear, one of our guys said, "Get rid of any material! They found a packet on one of us and detained us!" My first response was to find Bill. He was, by far, the best trained to handle the situation. In his cool and calm way, Bill said, "Get the guys and follow me." I did!

We left the border station and went directly across the plaza to the public restrooms. A couple of things to keep in mind: first, we had to deal with an incredibly insistent woman who charged us to use the bathroom, and second, these bathrooms could make you vomit. Bill collected all of our packets, broke them up and forced them, by hand, into the filthy hole in the squatty.

Let me explain what happened to the first group that got detained. As I do, keep in mind how cleverly God intervened in the situation...

We believed they were stopped and searched because someone from a previous village reported them. Also, the driver who brought them to the checkpoint was questioned; he confirmed that they had made several stops along the way.

It is also significant that once the guard found one packet, he quit searching. If he had not, he would have found a half dozen others. When he asked one of our guys what he would find when he "opened" the packet, our guy answered very shrewdly, "Some guy gave it to us. I think its pictures of naked American women!" The guard immediately took it to his superior; they opened it with the Roadmakers looking on. No doubt, the guards were disappointed when their eyes beheld a presentation -- with pictures -- of the fall of man and his rescuer Jesus Christ!

God showed up another way. Before they were stopped and searched by the guard, their visas were stamped to cross the border. If they had not, there is no doubt that they would have spent a part of their short term mission trip behind bars!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Toward The Border

That evening we boarded a bus for a four and a half hour ride to our next location. Our driver was a psycho! He passed cars, busses, and trucks on blind curves -- countless times. In the middle of nowhere, we ended up sitting for an hour while they cleared away an accident. After a while, we just resigned ourselves to God's protection. I can guarantee you that the guardian angels riding with us chewed their fingernails down to the quick!

We arrived late in the evening. We walked in a light rain at least another mile to a hotel. All the Roadmakers would be together for the night. We met up at a restaraunt to eat. Frank, who could converse in the native language, ordered our food. We asked God to bless it -- thankfully, none of us got sick. We swapped war stories amid an atmosphere of deepened camaraderie.

Back at the hotel, we divvied up materials for the next day's mission, then tried to get some sleep. We got almost none; deafening thunder claps, brilliant lightning, and torrential downpours kept us awake. Throughout the night, we prayed for the rain to let up. In the morning, God took charge of the weather and the rain stopped.

Once again, we got on public transportation and sought out our villages. Bill and Charles went one direction and Evan and I went another. The route Evan and I took revealed incredible vistas: mountains shrouded in clouds as the sun peeked through, washing the lush green patches of corn and rice in soft light.

We traveled southeast and made drops in several small villages. We walked on. Our primitive map said, "Look for a large tree and turn left into the next village." Believe it or not, the tree stood out among thousands of others! We turned, circled the quaint village, and left the good seed without incident.

Next we headed northwest and came upon another village. I spotted a great place to make a drop and reached for a packet. Just before I released my grip, I was surprised to see there was already one there! Bill and Charles were supposed to end their route at a beautiful island village. They got mixed up, crossed a bamboo bridge, and had already covered the village that we were in. But God kept our mission a secret, and we quickly found our way out.

We came to a river and spotted a group of young migrant workers. We saw that they were smoking something, and watched them scurry to hide their contraband. When we walked up to them, they let us take pictures of them and their make-shift camp site. We continued on, crossing a bamboo bridge that spanned a shallow creek.

Working our way through a dense patch of bamboo and brush, we came to an absolutely filthy stream -- another open sewer. It was no more than twelve feet wide, but we did not want to wade across it. I had an open wound on my foot and did not want to risk an infection; our mission was far from complete. We dragged a couple of long bamboo poles to the edge and made a bridge we could scamper across. Soon we were safe on the other side, making drops and heading toward the border. Another mission completed!

At the border, though, four of the Roadmakers ran into all kinds of trouble!

Monday, April 11, 2005

My Name Is Emok

Brad and I finished traveling up and down the canal and started toward our next objective. We walked mostly on paved roads -- it was uncomfortable. We had been evangelizing an ethnic group. Everything about them was distinct: the archictecture of their homes, their colorful dress, and their agrarian lifestyle. Each community stood out like a sore thumb within the prevailing culture.

We picked our way through side alleys, rice paddies, stands of corn, and indigo fields, making drops along the way. The villages were very small with only one way in and one way out; I didn't like that.

We made all our contacts. Key landmarks, a school and an airport came into view. We had successfully followed our crude maps once again! Now it was time to find a way back to our rendezvous point.

The school we passed had just let out and skads of 8-10 year old kids zipped by us on bicycles. They would giggle and yell, "Helloooo, O.K.!" as they passed (I have know idea where that came from, but I heard it over and over again). We would return a greeting in their language.

I was caught off guard when I heard a child's voice ask in broken English, "What your name?"

I turned and saw a young boy dressed in the orange robes that distinquished him as a monk. I responded, "My name is Bill. What is your name?"

"My name Emok."

"Emok, do you speak English?" I asked. I soon discovered that I had heard all the English Emok knew!

Immediately, God had access to my heart and called me to pray for Emok. I found myself asking aloud that the gospel would find a way into Emok's life. I prayed that his eyes would be opened to the true God. I prayed fervently that he would be delivered from any spirits that bound him, and that Emok would become a Truth Bearer among his own people.

Since that encounter, I have prayed for Emok's salvation every day.

The World Is A Book -- Turn A Page!

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page." Saint Augustine

There are people who cannot travel. There are also people who will not travel. From what I have learned about Saint Augustine, I believe his remarks were directed to the latter group of people.

God constantly expands the boundaries of our lives. Why does He do that? Because we are in Him through faith, and He wants us to explore the frontiers of His greatness and glory.

What do we do? Often, we resist God and shrink His boundaries. Often, we fail to ask ourselves, "Is God offering to be my guide to some unknown place? Is He challenging me to turn a page?" We resist God's prodding to turn a page, and choose to re-read the same pages over and over again.

Sometimes, we feel like the young eaglet -- immature and naive -- being shoved out of the nest in order to force it to leave its comfort and security to discover the purpose it was destined for -- soaring!

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." said Augustine.

But remember, there is a great difference between what I cannot do and what I will not do.

Is God calling you to turn a page?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

An Eerie Sound!

Brad and I crossed the river and started back in the direction from which we had come. Soon we made a right turn through a densely settled village. The atmosphere of this village was different; it seemed that we were invisible. The people we passed gave no indication they recognized our presence. We continued on and turned left as the trail took an upward slope.

We heard the temple before we saw it.

From a higher elevation somewhere out in front of us came an eerie sound -- rhythmic chanting syncopated by drum beats. The effect was chilling. We worked our way toward the sound. After a few minutes, we turned a corner and found its origin. Directly above us loomed an ornate temple. To the right, we could see a group of young men circling a giant drum. As if in a trance, they struck the drum in unison and chanted a prayer.

We were at the foot of a long set of stairs. We stopped and conferred with each other and God as to whether we should proceed up to the temple. God gave us a green light. We started up the stairs at a pace which conveyed respect; our ascent never drew a glance or turn of the head from any of the devotees.

Soon we had to make another decision: would we enter the temple or stay outside? Once again, we conferred with one another and with God. Once again, we sensed that we should proceed.

Inside the temple, the walls were painted with scenes intended to tell a story. I remember many scenes of water, horses, warriors, and violence. Toward the front stood an altar decorated with flags and colorful displays.

For the first time on our mission, I felt incredibly distressed by what I saw. A mixture of sadness and indignation settled over me. I scanned the murals one more time, prayed against all the temple stood for, tucked the gospel among the prayer flags on the altar, turned, and walked away.

It seemed like so little against such darkness.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

A Key Encounter?

Just after sunrise we were on a small bus and headed west. Brad and I were partners for this shorter trip. In less than an hour we were at our starting point.

We had to backtrack a short distance to begin our route. We followed a disgustingly polluted canal south for several miles. Further ahead we would cross it; the ethnic groups we were seeking resided on both sides of the canal.

From time to time the cool and gentle breeze of the early morning would be defiled by the stench that arose from the waterway. The canal was little more than an open sewer. We walked along quietly, the silence occasionally broken by the sound of a chorus we sang, a prayer against the spiritual darkness, or the click of a camera shutter.

At the first village, a young man stood at the gated entrance. His smile and gestures let us know we were welcome. We started up an incline lined by acres of neatly manicured trees. This village had more prayer altars than I had seen in any other village -- spiritual bondage on display.

We meandered off the road making drops in strategic places. I remember thinking that the workers would probably find the materials by lunch time. I tried to calculate when we would be out of the area. We were not far from a major city and the police could be summoned here in a matter of minutes.

As we wandered through the orchard we came across an unusual shrub. I will try to describe it. Think of a small tree planted on each corner of a square. Picture those trees, all the same size, growing toward the sky, but having their brances intricately braided together. Each intertwining branch criss-crossed to form a perfect netting of little rectangles. It was impressive.

As we stood admiring this work of art, a man came walking toward us. We learned that he was the creator of the fascinating shrub. We asked him if we could take a picture of the master with his masterpiece. He posed for us.

He motioned for me to join him beside his tree; he wanted me in the picture with him. Next, he led me back up to the foot path; he wanted another picture! He put his arm around my neck and shoulder and we posed like old army buddies. But what happened next was the best. He asked for a pen and paper, wrote down his address, and let us know he would like us to send him a copy of the picture. We will!

Brad took the address and put it in an empty film canister for safe keeping. We left our new friend and headed toward the next village. A question was on both of our minds: "Did we just experience a key encounter? Could this be the door, opened just a crack, for the gospel to make its entrance?"

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Ignorance is Bliss

Earlier in the morning we had sent another team on their way to make drops. Their route required them to rent two bicycles, load them on the top of a city bus, travel 55 kilometers east, make contact with the villages we had targeted, and then pedal their way back to the major city we were scattered throughout. They had been training for a couple of months and were eager to get started.

We devised a way to inconspicuously debrief at the end of each day. In this day's debriefing, our biking team explained to us how they had either "frisbee'd" (think of a paper boy winging newspapers into the front yard) or handed the gospel presentations directly to the people they encountered. They were wide eyed with excitement and confident that the Spirit of God had given them liberty to break with the predetermined tactics. The predetermined tactics were to leave the information where it would be found after we left.

As they described their day, alarms went off inside us! In this country it was customary for the police to show up in the middle of the night and arrest people like us. Tolerance toward those who distributed "propaganda" was zero! We were sure our cover was completely blown. That night we slept on pins and needles, certain we would be getting a visit from the police around midnight!

Thankfully, the police did not show. The next morning we asked our biking missionaries, "how did you sleep?" Their response? "Great!"

Sometimes "ignorance is bliss." Clearly, this was one of those times.

Monday, April 4, 2005

He Has A Machine Gun!

We trekked through villages separated by less than a quarter of a mile. Each one had a distinct personality which seemed to communicate a class structure. We noticed that the wealthier villages were on higher elevations. The homes were better constructed and perched grandly above the other communities. We wondered if they were the homes of the plantation owners.

Zig-zagging through alleys and streets, we continued to make our drops. It all felt very clandestine.

Six to seven hours from the time we started, our routes were completed. The long foot march to a main road began. We had to find transportation back to our base. The first day had been an adventure. We were feeling good!

The day, however, wasn't over yet...

At the main road we flagged down a bus. We got on the bus and were surprized to see two other Roadmakers. We pretended that they were just a couple of backpackers from the states and introduced ourselves. We settled into our seats for the ride back.

The bus lurched to a stop. I drowsily looked past the driver through the windshield. There stood two soldiers in fatigues. In seconds, the bus door slid open, and one of them was on board. I was now fully awake!

I will try to describe what happened next. To quote a line from a great story teller, "I am not sure this is exactly what happened, but it is the way I remember it."

My partner is an Army Ranger; he has seen it all. Coolly appraising the situation, he indicated the soldier and said quietly, "This guy is a rookie. He will want your visa. Don't give it to him. I will pretend I can't understand what he wants. He'll get frustrated and leave."

I distinctly remember thinking, "He's not looking at you, he's looking at me! He wants my visa! He's getting frustrated with me!"

The coaching coninued, "Just be cool. Don't give him anything."

Will you think less of me if I am completely honest? I would have given him the deed to my house! The situation then became more intimidating. Outside, the second soldier paced along in step with his comrade inside; this soldier had a machine gun! The only thing separating us from him and a spray of bullets was the thin wall of our bus!

"He has a machine gun!" I said to my partner in a hushed voice. He sat up and craned his neck so he could see the other soldier. He reponded to me with no emotion, "Don't worry. He doesn't have a magazine in it." I make no claims to be the smartest person who ever lived, but I immediately thought, "He can put a magazine in it!"

Eventually, we gave the soldier the documents he wanted. My partner handed them to him upside down, and the soldier pretended to read them. "He can't read," Bill said. I thought, "Great! They give machine guns to guys who can't read!"

Finally, the soldiers left, the bus cranked up, and we bumped down the road toward our rendevous point. That night we would get little sleep. Tomorrow, I'll tell you why...

Saturday, April 2, 2005

Reckless Abandon

The people who scouted out the villages possessed a faith that looked somewhat reckless. Why? Because they did not depend solely upon a map to show them where to go! They planned, but depended on God to ultimately lead the way and direct their steps. They were at ease with the unknown.

They are uniquely bonded together as husband and wife. One of them is very creative --the mission he conceived and we executed was the first of its kind. The other has an eye for detail and is gifted at organization. Both of them are abandoned to God's purposes for their lives. We observed them swapping their agenda for God's on several occasions. We sensed that they truly trusted God to equip them moment by moment for whatever situation might arise. That was the beauty of the relationship they shared.

On our walk with God we had to learn this, too. There were times when one of us had a gut instinct to take a route other than the one sketched on paper. Other times we were harrassed off route by some unforseen circumstances, like Old Stone Face. Such instances exposed us to the reality of Proverbs 16:9...

"A man's heart plans his way: but the LORD directs his steps."

Only God could merge our options into His seamless plan. Every day became a classroom -- we were being taught how to discern God's direction and agenda.

Don't misunderstand me -- plans are necessary -- but our plans did not always match the Lord's. He would have to show us the direction He intended us to go! We found ourselves asking "Which way, Lord?" When we did that, God graced us with unusual and almost instantaneous discernment.

Does that kind of faithwalk seems reckless? Is it hard to explain? Yes.

Maps

We were working from a hand written map. Once we got used to the cryptic notes, we became proficient at deciphering them. As I read the sketchy maps, I was reminded of my childhood in Howland, Maine. As a boy I used to make maps and detailed drawings of forts. I would tear them up and hide them in pieces, building suspense and intrigue. One place that was special was a nearby island (I was sure Indians were still there in hiding) I drew maps of places I could cross the Penobscot river to get to this island. I mapped its shape and took note of its pecular topography. I buried stuff and came back later to dig it up.

The spirit of adventure is still strong in me. The older I get and more mature I become in my walk with God, the more I realize that He would not have me "bury" that spirit. I will not.

As I stood in the middle of a rice paddy reading those hand sketched maps, I realized that they were directing me to another treasure; I was digging through another layer of the glorious heart God gave me.

Friday, April 1, 2005

Hide and Seek

We continued along the ridge; we could see the next village off in the distance. This village was considerably bigger than the one we had just left. The settlements were always on the valley floors and surrounded by hills of different heights. The bigger the valley, the bigger the village. The road we walked on rose and fell with the contour of the ground. The slopes on both sides were terraced, cultivated with meticulous care and order.

We trudged toward the village in the same direction the military vehicle had just come from. In the back of our minds we wondered if there would be another encounter with the stone faced military guy. Soon the village was directly below us; we looked for the entrance point on the crude hand written map we carried. We deciphered the directions, turned left, crossed a bridge, and descended into the village. Immediately we met a man and woman. We spoke to them in their language, giving them the customary greeting. I gestured toward my camera for a picture. The woman shook her head back and forth adamantly -- there would be no picture taken of her!
Once again we turned west and set our sights on the back edge of the village. The procedure never changed: go through the village and make sure the drops were behind you. Never retrace your steps -- ever!

We were always being observed. Every time we attempted to make a drop, someone would be watching. They weren't watching with the curiosity we experienced in the last village; they were keeping an eye on us. We could feel a tension. We also noticed that we did not see one child outside. We believe the villagers had been warned to avoid us.

Next, we came upon a man seated on the ground splitting pieces of wood into ever finer strips. After observing for a few minutes, we could see he was making chop sticks. I managed to get a picture.

Pretending to take pictures, we used our camera as our own means of surveilance. If the coast was clear we would make a drop -- at least 75% of the time it was not! Creativity prevailed and we managed to find a few places where the Great Treasure we left behind would be found.

At this point we had ridden a bus for 2 1/2 hours, ridden a tuk-tuk eight miles, and walked three to four miles. It was a beautiful day, and a gentle breeze kept the 85 degree temperature very comfortable. We crossed a thin land bridge that separated rice paddies and walked along a field of indigo. With another mile behind us, we turned right and headed east.

Our game of hide and seek continued.

Stop!

Jesus parable of the "The Sower and the Seed" was always on our minds as we thought of our mission to get the gospel to this forgotten people group. We looked for favorable soil to plant the seed. We deposited the gospel in places we believed it would be discovered, and prayed against the Buddhist shrines. We then left the village and headed northeast.

"That's the third time he's passed us," my partner said. His tone was serious.

"What are you talking about?" I responded.

My partner was an Army colonel with an impressive resume. He survived Desert Storm, Somalia, and many other violent situations. He was always very aware of what was going on around him. He let me know that he had seen the same unmarked vehicle at a military headquarters back in the city. We were being followed!

We took a dirt road to our left that parted the brush, gradually rose up out of the valley, and trekked into some foothills. I was relieved; I figured we were "out of sight and out of mind." I began to look for places to leave the gospel. I saw a great place in a grove where they were growing tea -- a collection place for the pots they grew them in. I reached into my pack and got ready to make a drop.

My partner breathed a single word: "Stop!"

I turned toward his voice and saw a vehicle come bumping up, over, and around a corner on the ridge where we were walking. The four-wheel drive slowed down. The narrow path we were on caused me to turn sideways and suck in my stomach as he drew up beside me. I caught a glimpse of military fatigues on the driver, whose face was no more than 8-10 inches away from mine. The sight is still vivid in my memory. He had an unusually thin face -- bordered with jet black hair. I could see that he was giving me a hard glare even though he was wearing sunglasses. I raised my hand, waved, and said, "hello" in his lanquage. He didn't twitch. He seemed to be debating about whether or not to stop. He did not.

I believe the Holy Spirit sent him on his way.

Close call!

Believe it or not -- we now had a fresh bounce in our steps and a tempered courage. God used that incident to remind us that this was His mission, He was in control, and that He was ordering our (and everybody elses -- even a communist's) steps!

We stopped for a moment and talked about how quickly we went from a National Geographic moment to a potentially threatening situation. We once again prayed for the Spirit of God to bring all our thoughts into captivity to Christ, not swayed by our environment.

In the next village there were always eyes watching...