Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Fireside Story

We have had several interesting experiences with fire and this fine Saturday I thought I would share one with you. You might consider this a new take on the term fiery trials.

Back in 1997 the civil war had just ended and the people of Gondor were in a fierce battle to see who would get a seat at the power sharing table. There was gunfire in the streets every night and many were assassinated or just burgled and killed. Usually the gunfire would pick up just after dark and continue until around midnight. Sometimes it went on until 2am but not usually later than that. One night I was awoken by a huge boom followed by a series of crackles that sounded like semi-automatic gun fire. I rolled over and noticed that it was 4am. I said out loud, 'Come on guys, go to bed!' Just then the phone rang. I then thought oh no! Is this something to do with one of our team! Sure enough it was Gimli who lived just two hundred yards up the hill from us. "Strider! Our neighbors house has just blown up. Can you get up here and help us get our stuff out of our house before it catches fire and burns down?" Gimli's house had an adjoining wall and roof with the house next door to him. I told him that it sounded like a lot of gunfire out there but I would try. I stuck my head of out our front gate and our street was quiet. I could see the fire raging up the hill with flames going up more than 50 feet in the air. I walked gingerly up the street. I know that 'gingerly' is not the right word- well, it is the right word but it was a silly thing to do! Anyway, I got to the corner and there was a guard outside a Red Cross house. I asked him what was going on and he said he didn't know. He had not seen anybody but it sure sounded bad up there. So, up there I went. When I got to Gimli's house I could see the problem. There was no gunfire. The fire was blazing so bad that the asbestos roofing sheets were exploding in loud crackling burst. I ran into Gimli's house and we started taking stuff out and putting it on a porch on the other side of the yard from the fire. I felt the adjoining wall with the house that was on fire. It was not hot at all. More than that the roof that ran as a single roof over to the neighbor's side was not burning. The fire stopped at the property line! We got everything out- including the extremely heavy 286 computer that I carried myself. To be fair Gimli told me to leave it. He was right, it wasn't worth it. But then the fire department came. I know I was surprised to see them. They negotiated with the neighbors for a price and then they put the fire out. Yes, you read that right. It turned out that the natural gas had spiked and their kitchen had blown up. The next day everyone exclaimed what a miracle it was that God saved Gimli's house. The fire was huge and hot and it had no effect on anything on Gimli's side. Gimli told the neighbors about Jesus and while no one came to faith right then it had to be a powerful witness. Gimli has never forgotten that I braved the seemingly dangerous streets to come and help him. Of course, I consider my most valiant effort that night to have been lifting that 286 computer.

Monday, November 16, 2009

When the Road Is Too Long

Last week we were invited to a wedding out in the Argonoth. The village there is about four hours away over a couple of small passes and then across a river. We have done a couple of projects out there and there are several people who have shown interest in listening to the truth. Arwen and I got the boys ready and we headed out about one in the afternoon so that we had plenty of time to get there by the six o'clock start time of the wedding. Only one problem, it rained. All day. When we got into the passes and over the main dam in Gondor there was roadwork that had turned into pure mud, landslides, stuck cars, tractors shoving earth every direction. It was a nightmare. One humorously frustrating thing happened. As we waited for a large landslide to be cleared out the cars behind us started passing us and forming a second lane, then a third, finally a fourth lane was formed waiting for the road to reopen. When the road did finally open we discovered that the cars on the other side had done the same. Two sets of four lanes of traffic converged and no one could get by anyone else. I thought it was pretty funny. Arwen made frustrated hand gestures to the cars trying to pass us on the inside. When it was all said and done we reached Osgilioth about six o'clock and it was dark. We still needed an hour and a half more to reach the Argonoth and there was no way I was going to try and cross that river in the dark in the rain. I had a friend who lived in Osgilioth who I owed a visit to anyway. We stopped by his house and it was dark. It turned out that there was no electricity but he and his family were all there and very happy to see us. We came in and sat down and they began to prepare to feed us. Several neighbors came over and we sat and talked all evening. I was getting frustrated though. I was looking for an opportunity to share truth and it just was not happening. My friend was in and out serving the guests and the guests were talking among themselves except when they wanted to hear a funny story or two from me. The chance to share a Biblical story was not coming and I was concerned that I was somehow missing a good opportunity.

Finally, the neighbors left. Arwen put the boys down in an adjoining room and my friend and I talked into the late night. I was still not really finding an opportunity to share spiritual truth. Then, at 11:30pm he shared some personal struggles he was having at work. He shared about struggles with his boss, ethical issues with his department. He wanted to quit but that would be a breach of contract from his side, making him look bad. Then, at nearly midnight I shared some stories of Jesus. Then just after midnight I shared truth about our Lord and encouraged him to trust in God. He listened and agreed with me. My friend has heard a lot of Gospel over the years and it had never really touched him before. Now, it seemed to resonate, 'I need God in my life.' He did not commit to Jesus right there but for the first time he wanted me to pray for him and he was determined to do it 'God's way' in his decisions at work. I was amazed. It may seem like a small step to some of you but it is the biggest step I have ever seen him make in ten years of knowing him.

We have a saying on our team that says that if you can't spend the night don't bother going. I don't always live by this but this story reminds me of the truth of it. When we spend the night with people we stay past the polite guest phase and hang around for the deep conversation phase of the day. The vast majority of decisions to follow Jesus come after 10 pm. At least, that is what I have heard from those who claim to know. If we are not staying late then we miss the chance to talk to people when they are finally ready to slow down enough to think deeply about life. Let us go and proclaim boldly the truth of God's love, and as long as we are going we should spend the night.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Of Traveling, Documents, and Stamps

I have not told of many of my travel adventures because they don't always have a devotional point. Some are funny and other stories are just incredible but I generally like to write things that glorify God. But then again I am wanting to get some of these stories down in written form so.... With acknowledgment of the fact that I could do nothing and go nowhere without God's guidance, strength, and protection here is one of my favorite traveling stories.

Back in 1996-7 I lived for a year and a half in Rohan before moving to Gondor. There was much to arrange and figure out. How do I get there? How will I get a visa? Where will I live? With whom will I work? All these needed answering before actually moving to Gondor so I made a lot of trips across the border in 1997. 19 to be exact and after years of therapy I will be much better, thanks for asking. There are various routes to get from Rohan to Gondor and I will simplify the story by describing the routes as follows. The Southern Route involved a 12 hour drive to a border guarded by a lot of young thugs. It was the time of the civil war and the Southern Border was dangerous. The Northern Border was the easiest to cross, the only problem was that I was in Southern Rohan wanting to go to Southern Gondor. North was easy, but way out of the way. The Middle Border was very tough. It was the closest to me and the shortest route to where I was going but the border guards were always tough and then there was the 12,000 foot pass to contend with once you crossed. The Middle Route could be crossed and Minas Tirith reached in as little as six to eight hours if all went well- it only ever went that well once but it did happen! Anyway, so after a long introduction here we are, me going over the pass to Minas Tirith and spending a very nice week in the big city working out housing plans etc. I heard that there was an in-country flight from Capitol of Minas Tirith to the Gap of Rohan- right next to the Middle Border and only an hour away from my home in Rohan. Too good to be true. But even though the flight was infrequent it was going this week so I got a ticket and boarded the plane. It was a little 17 seater with two prop engines and it looked very old so I took a picture of it before I boarded. The pilot saw me take a picture and noticed that I had a decent 35mm camera and he invited me up to the cockpit as soon as we took off. I half stood, half crouched in the doorway of the cockpit for the whole forty-five minute flight. He would veer over to the left and say, 'Look, there is a beautiful mountain lake. Take a picture!' Then he would veer over to the right and he would say, 'Look, there is the mountain pass that the cars go over. Take a picture!' Back and forth over the beautiful mountains of Gondor we traveled. As we approached the airport I took a final picture of the town and the runway and then told him I needed to sit down and fasten my seatbelt. The pilot was puzzled by this. Why? When I did sit down I noticed a couple of things. One, I was the only one on the plane with my seatbelt on, including the pilots. And two, someone had thrown up in the middle of the aisle, probably a result of our veering back and forth over the mountains so I could get my pictures.

When we landed I was stopped at the gate of the airport and told that since I was a foreigner I had to register- even though this was an in-country flight. No big deal. I registered and then started to leave. A soldier came over and told me that I could not leave yet. The Security Forces guy wanted to talk to me. I waited around. Finally, as the last taxi in the parking lot was leaving I ran out and got in. As we began to leave the soldier stopped us and said I could not leave until I talked to the Security Forces guy. He had the gun so I got out and watched the last taxi drive away. This annoyed me so I was not in a very agreeable mood when the Security Forces guy finally got around to talking to me. He searched though my bag. Twice. Three times. He asked me a lot of questions and then he would leave for a while, then come back and asked some more. I was starting to get really fed up when the soldier said, 'Look, he just wants some money. Give him a little money and he will let you go.' That did it. I was determined now. I had saved eight hours by not having to drive and if this guy wanted to hang out with me all day then that was just what we were going to do. The old traveling rule was, 'If you have time you don't need money.' So, I smiled, I talked. I was patient and I told him that there was no way he was getting my money. A funny thing happened at that point. He found a $100 bill and said, 'Oh!' as if this was a big deal. I told him it was my money and it was no big deal. He said that since I was going to Rohan I had to have a certificate for the money. Now, at that time Rohan used these currency declarations but Gondor did not. I told him that I would get one when I got to the border. For a man looking for any excuse to harrass someone this was not good enough. I found an old certificate that I had but interestingly, it had no stamp. In this part of the world a document without a stamp is no document at all. Well, we went round and round about this and then went to his Security Headquarters where we went round and round about this for an hour and a half more. Finally, when he realized I would not give him anything and he was thoroughly fed up with me he put a stamp on my Rohan Certificate and let me go. I walked into town found a taxi and went to the border to go home. Once at the border the usual gang searched my bag again. As they searched and harassed me- they were never nice at the Middle Border- I noticed that my camera was gone. It was a large, 35mm Pentax in a black bag about the size of a loaf of bread. It was not in my bag. I told the guys that that Security Guy must have stolen it. They actually felt sorry for me and let me go. I went home and tossed my bag on the bed and told my wife what happened. Then I went and unpacked my bag and there was the camera! It was a miracle but what kind of miracle was it? Were the guards and myself at the border blinded from seeing it or is the Security Guy wondering what happened to the camera he stole? I don't know.

Two weeks later I was back in Minas Tirith. There was no flight to the Gap of Rohan so I took a taxi to the Southern Border Crossing. At that time there were around 30 to 40 armed thugs with a bad attitude waiting to harass anyone wanting to cross. I got out of the taxi and was surrounded by these guys- mostly young kids in their late teens. They took my passport and handed it around and then they asked if I had any dollars. I replied that I had $200 on me at the time. They told me I had to give it to them and I refused. They said I had to have a Certificate for the money. I told them that Gondor didn't use these Certificates but they replied that that was not their problem. If I did not have a Certificate then I had to give up my money. Just then I remembered that I had the same bag as I had had two weeks previously. I took out the old Certificate from my bag and said, 'Look, I have a Certificate for the money!' They said, 'No, that is a Rohan Certificate. You need a Certificate from Gondor.' I told them to look at the stamp. When they looked at the stamp that the Security Guy had stamped my document with two weeks before they broke out laughing. The stamp clearly said 'Gondor' on it! They called their Commanding Officer over and told him I had beaten them at their own game. They let me go and I said a quiet 'thank you' to God for the way he guided me through the weird wild circumstances that is Middle Earth.