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“I’ll Be Back”

He is Risen!

Happy Easter for all of you in the Northern Hemisphere!  For us down here, we’ve already celebrated Sunrise service on the beach, followed by countless folks being baptized in the surf, including 7 or 8 from our church!   My hat’s off to the those pastors who risk life and limb to wade out into the waves that threaten to take all the participants straight on to Heaven. It’s all in the timing.
After a brisk gathering on the sand (which by the way was blessed with no rain and a beautiful sunrise, in spite of the huge storms we’ve had all week, including most dreary forecasts for this morning), we made our way to church and a full house where we enjoyed great music, great preaching, and great chocolate!
Today I’ll keep this brief, since many of you are scurrying around with your own celebrations. But I just have to share a little tidbit I picked up when we were in Israel recently.

Remember the words of Matthew 28:2-6? “Suddenly there was a great earthquake because an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled aside the stone and sat on it.”  I think I’ve mentioned this before, but this is the only mention in the Bible of an angel “sitting”. After all, they would never sit in the Presence of God. And I think it’s yet another illustration of what has just happened in that empty tomb. The angel is sitting, and his message is, “He’s not here”.

And then, if that wasn’t enough, the angel went on to say to the women in verse 6,  “He is not here! He has been raised from the dead just as He said would happen.  Come see where His body was lying.”

Now, I learned in Israel about a Jewish tradition that I believe many of us today also practice without knowing where it came from.  We’re told that if they leave the table during mealtime, to run an errand or whatever, they FOLD their napkin so the host knows they’ll be back momentarily. In other words, “Don’t take my plate; I’m coming back.”

Can you see where this is going?

Jesus was already GONE before the stone was rolled away. Opening the tomb was not to let Him out, but to let us in, so that we could witness what had happened.    And just so there was no mistaking His intention, Jesus took the linen napkin that had covered His face… and neatly folded it.
Something to think about as we continue through this wonderful day.  He’s alive, and He’s coming back!


As Those Who Have Hope

Good morning,

Today if you’ve checked your calendar, you’ll notice that it’s Palm Sunday.

As it turns out, Tony and I have just “Walked where Jesus walked” (or in the words of an exhausted lady in our tour group, we ran where Jesus walked), but the experience was definitely life changing, there’s no doubt about that.

In the course of our tour, we retraced the steps that Jesus must have taken as he entered the city that fateful Sunday when people laid down the palm leaves and their cloaks to welcome him into the city.

Of course it was an emotional experience for us, to think about that day, and the days to come that make up the entire ‘Holy Week’.  On Palm Sunday, His entrance was triumphant. He was their Messiah and they were pretty sure He was going drive out those Roman infidels and save them. And save us He did, although it didn’t really play out the way the crowds had hoped for at the moment.

But what an experience, to realize the MESSIAH came into the city, did everything that was necessary to fulfill prophecy and then died and was resurrected, with the promise of coming back someday!  I knew that, of course, but standing on the road where that week began brought it home to me with new eyes. And if that wasn’t enough, we continued into the city that day and stopped at the Western wall of the Temple, colloquially referred to as the “Wailing Wall”

And why is it called the “Wailing wall”, you ask?

Because this is the ONLY place where contemporary Jews can approach what’s left of their temple.  It’s maybe 100 feet long, divided between the men and women and that’s ABOUT it.  If a Jew wants to really pray, that’s the only place they can go.  They cannot offer sacrifices like they used to in the Old Testament, because that would require going to the one site designated by God, and which unfortunately for the Jew, is now occupied by the Muslim “Dome of the Rock”.

I think this is just SAD on so many levels.

The Jews do not recognize Jesus for Who He was, and so they continue to wait and pray and yearn for a “Messiah” to come and save them. They cannot worship the way their traditions and their Torah tells them to, so they have to resort to crowding into a small chunk of the remaining wall and try to voice their prayers there. The picture that is attached (if you’re getting this by email) spoke volumes to me.  You see a mother, her head bent in prayer while her child sat in the stroller.  On the back of the stroller, there hung a bag with a happy Mickey Mouse cartoon on it.

Most of you out there reading my blog know and have experienced, as we have, the love of a parent for their child. Part of that love is the HOPE for a future that is filled with life, opportunity, the peace of God, and maybe a bit of fun.

What tugged at my heartstrings that day was the sight of this young mother, tears in her eyes, her hands outstretched to the temple wall, praying as those who have no hope …. And her child looking on from a Disney-decorated stroller.

Thank you Lord for the hope that is ours because of Easter. May that hope and joy and peace reach out beyond borders and into the hearts of people everywhere.

Happy Easter!


As Luck Would Have It

Hello from Sunny Australia,

We arrived home on schedule April 1st. We’d had another great flight, this time on Singapore Airline’s spin-off economy carrier, “Scoot” which was as nice as any plane that’s brand new.  It has absolutely no frills (nothing like a meal or a blanket or a movie) but it’s cheaper than flying “staff” with Qantas so we were happy to use it.

This whole week has been spent ‘digging out’, or more specifically “wading in”. Apparently it rained and was stinking hot the whole time we were gone.  The weeds are legendary and right now as I’m writing this, I’m procrastinating between getting out there in the lingering heat and working or……just taking another nap.

For the next few weeks I’ll probably be reviewing some of the interesting thoughts that came to us along the way.  Of course, Israel was the real ‘thinker’ with so many very important things happening there.

Our guide, Sam, was a wealth of information. He was a young Christian Egyptian who knew and loved the Lord and also loved his job, leading our group and teaching us about where Jesus walked. Tony kept telling him he should be a preacher, but he said humbly that he felt his calling was to share the history of the Bible and Christ with those who came his way.

And so as we passed down thru Galilee, we came to the most probable place where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, (Matthew 5:1-7). Sam pointed out interesting things we might not have thought of. For example,  by standing at the top of the hill with the people below (as noted in the Scriptures) the lay of the land accommodated the projection of His voice so that all could hear. What they heard that day has come to be known as “The Beatitudes”.

Sam went on to explain that in the language of the day, Aramaic, the word “Blessed” or “Ashari”: can actually be translated with any of the following three words: blessed, happy and lucky.

I had to laugh to myself because I have a very conservative Christian friend that always chided me whenever I said I was “lucky”; reminding me that of course that with God, there are no chance happenings … only those things predestined to occur. Therefore nothing was left to luck.

And yet here was the Son of God saying “Blessed, happy and LUCKY are you who……….”

And that sums up our feelings about our whole trip.  We returned with full hearts, “Blessed”…….and “Happy” and having felt very “Lucky” on several occasions!  God is indeed good to us.

Till next week, Marsha

Joy in the Journey

Today as you’re reading this, we’ll be pouring ourselves into our very last day of this two-month adventure.  We will start with Tony preaching in Japanese, and then leading the last session of his Anagaion study course.  That’ll be about the 10th time he’s presented or led it on this trip and are hearts are full to see how it’s already working, changing lives around the globe.

Then when the last hurrah has ended, we’ll head for the airport and spend the night on “Scoot” airlines … similar to riding on a city bus, but at least it’s new and dependable, and did I mention, cheap?

Tomorrow, April Fools day, we will arrive home with happy hearts.  In fact our “hearts” have swelled so much on this trip, I think that can explain our added girths as well.  At this writing, I can say we haven’t have a single travel glitch. We lost NOTHING, never fell down and disgraced ourselves and I suppose as frosting on the cake, had not a single drop of rain on our heads!  (well, there might have been a drop or two in the space of 5 minutes in London, but we don’t count that).  God has been immeasurably good to us.

But enough about us, I’d like to tell you a little story about the first Prime Minister of Singapore,  a fellow named Lee Kuan Yew.

Singapore was ‘founded’ as an important British port in the early 1800’s under the leadership and vision of Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles.  Most of you recognize that name for his legendary 5 star hotels located around Asia.  Sir Thomas had a plan, and made a city based on ethnicity, made up of Indians, British, Muslims etc.

Fast forward thru WWII and the Japanese occupation to the surrender, when the whole peninsula of Malaysia, Borneo and Singapore became a British protectorate and then achieved complete separation from Britain in 1965. Seeing as how I was 15 that year, it seems like only yesterday!

On the eve of complete independence from Britain, word came from Malaysia that they wouldn’t continue including Singapore in their federation.  Lee Khan Yew, the prime minister of the island of Singapore had about 24 hours to decide what to do.

The other day at the National Museum, we watched a broadcast of Lee speaking to a “Meet the Press” episode, and it spoke volumes to me.

He said, “Our only resources are our people.  We have no water, no electricity, nothing but YOU, the people of Singapore!

And today, after an almost seamless 50 years, we can see what the giant city-state of Singapore has become. People have often commented on the ways their laws are strictly enforced, referring to Singapore as “Disneyland with a Death Penalty”. I think they may have softened a bit over the years, although Tony narrowly missed a $500 fine on the train the other day for taking a sip of water to control his cough. The guy with the badge and ticket book was on him instantly, but I guess he took pity on the fact that he couldn’t stop coughing.

Personally, we couldn’t be more impressed.  Singaporeans have banded together to build a beautiful city, spotlessly clean, amazing infrastructures, cordial and happy people who often stop and chat with you,  multi-races living peacefully…….need I go on?

I think my “take away” from this city is that sometimes you’ve just got to pull yourselves together and get on with it.

And I might add, the Japanese church here is no exception.  I have been so impressed with the strong work ethic we see in this church: people digging in, helping, attending these Anagaion classes, leading outsiders to Christ.  Last week a deacon told Tony, “I’ve waited my whole life for this study course”!  There is a strong group here of young adults (professionals) that every week bring in new people.  One fellow brought a Japanese young man to church that he’d met at a trade fair; it was his first time to step into a church. He got Tony’s very direct kick off salvation sermon right between the eyes and left saying that he wanted to know more ……… stuff like that.

Like Singapore, it may seem sometimes that all we have as Christians are people; but with God’s help and His strong Hand, that’s more than enough to get the job done!

CYA next week if we can find the computer!!  As I said on Facebook, “Thanks for travelling with us!”

Our friends James and Mary Tipps, whom many of you know, celebrated their 67th anniversary this week (It makes our own upcoming 50th look like a stroll in the park!).  I’ll never forget meeting them when Tony and I had just become engaged. Mary said, “If you follow God, you’ll have a wonderful marriage” …………. and she and James are loving testimonies of the truth of that.

Happy anniversary, you guys. Thanks again, all of you, for remembering us in your prayers. As the songwriter Michael Card sang, there really is “Joy in the Journey.”


Lines in the Sand

Good Morning!

Happy to report that we’ve made it to Singapore and Tony has already preached his first sermon at the International Japanese church of Singapore, launching a two week “event” with his Anagaion Bible Study.  We’ve been excited about this for a long time and are happy to be finally able to do it.

But let’s talk today about our visit to Beruit this last week.  I’ve asked a fellow missionary friend who lived thru the whole thing to help me with the facts, so I’ll add what she has to say here also.

I guess I spent the whole week in awe and wonder, both at such a beautiful city, and the terrible destruction that has been tearing stuff up here for centuries, most recently until the late 90’s.

My friend says, “Israel attacked Lebanon n July of 2006 –bombing bridges and other infrastructure.  It was a 34-day war that Lebanon calls the July war.  Israel calls it the Israel Hezbollah War.  All Americans had to be evacuated to Cyprus during that period.  Not only were our personnel evacuated, but there was a large mission trip group there.  Not a nice time”.

Now, thankfully, there have been no serious attacks (car bombs, etc) in the city for about 4 years, and they’re only averaging one or two suicide bombers a month.  It’s never in the news because no one in the world cares anymore.  People know where to go and where to stay away from, and I believe they were watching for us at the same time, that we didn’t try to do something stupid!

When my friend was a short term missionary like we were, but to Lebanon instead of Africa,  the population was about 60% Christian and 40% Muslim.  During the 1975-1990 Civil War, many Christians left if they had the money and a way to leave (i.e. a country who would take them).

She continues, “About 100,000 Palestinian refugees came to Lebanon when Israel became a country in 1948 and multiplied.  After the 1967 war in Israel, more refugees came.  In the early 70’s, PLO leadership made themselves undesirables in Jordan and were kicked out.  They came to Lebanon.  They began flaunting their weapons and power outside the camps in Lebanon, which finally erupted in the spring of 1975 into the civil war.  The civil war was much more complicated with many more players, but the first skirmishes were between the Palestinians and the Lebanese Falangists (a Christian private army).   Really, the whole Middle East issues are almost impossible to keep straight, impossible to get a handle on, and only the Prince of Peace will be able to straighten things out.”

And she goes on to report, and she should know, having married a Lebanese missionary and living there all these many years, exactly the thing I’ve been trying to say all week:

“Like all the Middle East, there is a surface of life going on as normal, but under the surface is a cauldron of gasoline and the smallest spark could set things alight.”
For us this week, we’ve seen more different nationalities and heard more languages in one place than I can imagine.  For our last night, we went to a fancy Lebanese restaurant for one last ‘feed’ and the sweet little girl there let us guess that she was Ethiopian.  We tried to relate but she didn’t speak English.  We mentioned towns where we’d worked in Ethiopia, but were met with blank stares. Who knows? She may have been born in Lebanon, maintaining her culture, for generations.

Walking home one night (we felt 90% safe most of the time, just more afraid of falling unnoticed into a gaping hole or tangling ourselves up in rusty barbed wire), I told Tony, “I feel like this city is a great ball pit like you have at McDonalds, so many different colors and nationalities, and all mostly fitting together and getting along”.

However, The Bible more of less indicates that we’ll never have peace in the Middle East. What I saw in Beirut was what they wanted me to see, the bustling shops, the beautiful lights along all the avenues at night.  I know there’s still deep strife here and it’s so sad that we can’t hold hands and sing Kum Ba Ya.  The recent Moslem shooting in New Zealand is a tragic example of this.

I wanted to see the cities of Tyre and Sidon, mentioned often in the Bible and visited by Jesus.  We were told that it’d be safe to go there, but not to spend the night because somehow, it’s too close to the border and deemed a trouble spot. It turned out that we couldn’t organize a ride anyway, so we just stayed put.   When we were in the Galilee area a few weeks ago, we were just 70 miles or so from these places, but that line in the sand kept us away.  Damascus, which has never been a ‘tourist option’ at least in the last memorable years, is only about 50 miles from Beruit, easily walked in a couple of days.

Speaking of the ‘lines in the sand,” we had some James Bond dramas coming into Beruit by plane.  We’d gone into Israel and Cyprus on our Aussie passports , as we usually do, and once the lady caught the “Jordan” stamp from a couple of years ago.  Well, she gave me the third degree about why I’d gone there, who did I see and what did we talk about. She finally bought it that I was a dumb tourist and didn’t have any nefarious plans, but it made me nervous.

So on a whim, I suggested that we switch to flying on our squeaky clean USA passports, even though I’m not completely sure what they think of Americans in Lebanon.

Checking in at the airport to fly over from Cyprus,  the first question was, “Have you used this passport to visit Israel?” to which Tony calmly replied, “NO”.  Absolutely true, we’d been in Israel on our Aussie passports.  Then when we were clearing immigration to leave Cyprus ( a country which I believe is neutral to all this infighting,) the agent couldn’t find our entry stamp.

Again, Tony, who could double as a spy as I’m wringing my hands and thinking of fainting or confessing everything, said casually, “Oh no, we used our other passport to come in”.  Again absolutely true but necessitating nerves of steel.  The guy shrugged, looked at us with palatable enmity and slammed our passports down, jerking his chin to the exit.

I’m too old for this.

And now two weeks doing what we love in city that’s not too shabby either!

More about that next week,


Paragoric for the Soul

Good morning, or evening….

Tony wrote this blog today, as explained below.  We’ve had another great week, leaving Israel, tired and full of inspiration.

Today finds us in Cyprus, so it’s only fitting that I talk about Barnabus: born and raised Cypriot, Church Father, missionary to the Gentiles, and friend and fellow worker with Paul the Apostle.

Together this dynamic duo traveled all over the land, bringing the Gospel and planting churches, sometimes accompanied by Barnabus’ cousin, John Mark. That fact led to a falling out between Paul and Barnabus in Acts 15 because of something J. M. had done. They parted company for awhile, but apparently were reconciled because the next time we see them mentioned is in Colossians 4:10. It’s a long story, but here’s the part that speaks to me today: we find Paul and John Mark, along with “fellow brother” Aristarcus together in prison, where Paul describes them as a “comfort”.

The Greek word there for comfort is “paragorea”. Sound familiar? That’s where we get the word for “paragoric”. How many of you older readers can recall a time when your mother gave you a spoonful of that foul-smelling, worst tasting medicine? It was awful, but looking back, you’ll have to admit, it made you feel better.

The reference is especially meaningful to me today, because Marsha and I both have come down with the screaming banshee, head-bashing cold from the Other Side. It’s not often that we both get so incapacitated at the same time, and let me tell ya, it puts a damper on your travel plans! But God is good as always, and we find ourselves parked for four days in a rather tired yet quaint hotel with nothing we have to do, and nothing much of note to sight see in Cyprus, so we can just be miserable together. I’m so thankful this hit us now, and not next week, when we’ll be hard at it in Singapore, trying to introduce the Anagaion program to Japanese churches there.

And I’m so thankful that I have a little Paragoric here at my side. She’s as sick as I am and therefore not worth much, in terms of running at my beck and call, but she’s exactly what I need as I am hopefully what she needs right now: a comfort.

We leave tonight for a few days in Beiruit.  We’re excited about the sights there and hopefully we can finally see the “Cedars of Lebanon”, provided either Solomon or the war didn’t get them all!

Thanks for praying for us.  We’re flying standby from Beiruit to Singapore, so would appreciate getting on that flight!

Love you all, Marsha

Let us go up

Isaiah 2:3, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”

Hello from Jerusalem,

I’ve come to think that Jesus must have been very fit.

Did you know that it was a six to seven day WALK from Galilee to Jerusalem?  And just about anywhere else in Israel, for that matter.  We’ve travelled by bus, but each day we return to our rooms with 6 or 7 miles on foot to our credit.  That’s not counting the climbing and whatnot, and Jesus did it every day of his life.  WOW

This evening, after another 12-hour day, with half of us dozing in exhaustion, our bus pulled into a lookout on a hill outside of Jerusalem, and as the sun went down, they played that song I haven’t heard since George Beverly Shey days, “ The Holy City”.

Maybe you remember some of the words,

Last night I lay a sleeping

There came a dream so fair

I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there
I heard the children singing
And ever as they sang
Me thought the voice of Angels
From Heaven in answer rang
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Lift up you gates and sing
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna to your King!”

What a taste of heaven awaits us! As we all sang along, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. I think I’m going to have to take some time to sort out all the feelings we’ve had this week, but suffice it to say, you’ll be hearing more about this trip.  Furthermore, I totally recommend it; do it now if you have any strength left in your earthly bodies!

I’ve got to sleep now.  Between hiking in Masada, swimming in the Dead Sea and just standing agape at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered; between all those and about ten other “Oh by the way” stops, we’re shattered.  In 10 hours we’ll pack another three days’ into one, then start packing for Cyprus, a place we’ve never been but have always been curious about since we were once asked to be interim pastor at a church there.

Let me leave you with something I heard today at Masada. If you’re not familiar with the story, please look it up; it’s such a heart-rending account of a small band of Jewish rebels and their families, making a last stand at one of Herod’s fortresses on the shore of the Dead Sea. For nearly three years, the Romans surrounded, laid siege to and finally built an incredible ramp up to the walls that would allow them to break in and make short work of the rebels.

The night before they breeched the wall, however, the defenders made a pact to kill their families, then kill themselves rather than let the Romans have the opportunity.

Today, Israeli soldiers come here on a regular basis to make what they call a “Masada Oath”. They vow that they will never give up the cause, fighting to the death before allowing their enemy any cause for victory.

Today God’s people face an enemy who would love nothing more than for us to roll over and accept defeat. The real tragedy is that for God’s people, victory is already assured… and yet we are so easily deceived, so willing to concede defeat.

Lord, make us strong and open our eyes to those who are “with us” (2 Kings 6:16).

Until next time,


God of Wonders

Today’s blog will be slightly out of sync, as we are again on the move, but I wanted to tell you about our Finland adventure.

This week I had an unexpected reversion back to my toddler days.  It wasn’t that pleasant to finally realize, as an adult, how a 3-yr old must feel when dressed for cold weather.
We arrived at our “Northern Lights Village”, about 20 miles from the town of Ivalo and, because our plane had been late arriving,  were ushered hurriedly into dinner, and then directly to a staging area to get equipped for our evening sleigh ride to ‘search’ for the northern lights.
When we had managed to get the requisite layers on, they came at us with the jumpsuit.  It took two of us to enshroud Tony in the waterproof, cold proof, gear, kindly engineered to prevent you from taking a deep breath.  Another smiling and agile person did up my boots for me, as by then I couldn’t reach them to save my hide.
We walked out into the night, goose-stepping like Zombies.
Then I remembered I had forgotten to use the facilities we had passed on the way in. Alas, unlike the toddler, I just had to accept my fate and bear up as I was manhandled, shoved, squeezed and tamped into what they called a “heated sleigh”.  We thought of it more as a tin can on skis.  Eight of us were packed into this tube of terror, each one trying in vain to find a comfortable way to sit, as the hoon on the ski doo responsible for pulling us, shot off at a reckless speed.
And then came the crash.  I believe Tony prayed it in because he was at a 45-degree angle, feet up, with his back jolting at each icy ridge in the trail.  The driver took a corner with a bit too much cavalier of an attitude and broke the yoke, sending us mercifully into a deep and soft snow bank, stopping abruptly while we all screamed, mostly in delight at the chance to be freed from this metallic mangler intent on crushing us.
Are we having fun yet?
Relieved, we extracted ourselves, limb by limb, from the sleigh (as they had so wrongly called it) and rejoiced in the frigid but beautiful North Woods. Tony suggested we all walk back to the lodge, but our guide mumbled something about “wolves” and radioed for rescue. Not to be dissuaded, I flopped on my back and made a snow angel (number two on my Finnish bucket list) and let the falling snowflakes revive me.
After what seemed like hours, and several sleigh changes, a welcome campfire and some loganberry tea (further exacerbating my aforementioned predicament), we arrived home and got to our cabins.
After an hour or so, we realized that we had a backed up toilet (not our fault; it was that way when we arrived), but after the sleigh ride, that was nothing.
But God is good. We couldn’t have predicted it, but the next day was absolutely glorious.
They gave us a new, nicer smelling cabin, we learned the long forgotten toddler rule, to “take care of business before suiting up”, and joined another, slightly better driver and enthusiastic guide for an hour’s ride to a Lapland museum, followed by a short hike thru a virgin forest finishing at a welcome fire and a three-course picnic of Michelin standards.
And then it got dark.  It was still snowing and there was no chance to see the Aurora Borealis……or so we thought.
Our friends have in their possession a buzzer that goes off when the elusive lights are approaching and we had just enough time to extricate ourselves from our delicious dinner of reindeer and exotic salads to zip up, tie down and hurdle ourselves outside.
There is no describing the wonder and beauty of the Northern Lights.  Even Disney hasn’t been able to mimic them.  Later from our bed we tried to sleep but kept getting woken up by light shows coming in thru our glass ceiling.
And so is life.  Sometimes it’s such a struggle, both physically and mentally, and we wonder if it’s worth it….but then, just in a breath of cosmic magic, you find that it is.
The sewer moments, the restrictions of our earthly clothing and the cold………and then the magic!
I always say this, but isn’t God a wonderful?  Such an ammazing artist.  Doesn’t He give us awe-inspiring gifts?
Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.”
And of course the song by Third Day, “God of Wonders” comes to mind as well,

Lord of all creation
Of the water, earth and sky
The Heavens are Your Tabernacle
Glory to the Lord on high

God of wonders, beyond our galaxy
You are holy, holy
The universe declares Your majesty
You are holy, holy

Lord of Heaven and Earth
Lord of Heaven and Earth
And in the words of so many Jews throughout civilisation  “Next time in Jerusalem”!  It’s been 35 years since we’ve been there and we’re looking forward to seeing it again, Lord willing!

Stand by…


Old Clothes and Lobster

Our friends, Tom and Bonnie Hearon and we watched with nervous anticipation as the clock ticked.  We had been told that it might take as much as three hours to get thru the immigration into Cuba, but in fact it was just a matter of having the correct paperwork, being polite and waltzing thru with no problems.  We were well ahead of our meeting time, so first we had a very long cup of coffee, sitting in the plaza like Hemingway.  Then we began to pace. We had been anticipating this meeting for months, and, as the time arrived and then passed, we hoped that it wouldn’t come to naught.

Finally, about 20 minutes later, as Tom and Tony strolled in ever increasing circles, wondering about every single Latino man who might meet our idea of a Seminary President, Tony noticed a small girl holding a penciled sign that said “Tony Woods”.

We jumped in the van with her and her husband. Victor is the full time seminary driver and they were late because of course there was no parking.

We left the dock and drove more or less directly to the Baptist Seminary that sat perched high on a hill overlooking the entire city of Havana.  We were impressed on many levels.  The campus was quite well kept and the buildings were also well maintained and pretty.  We were told later that while the seminary was begun by Southern Baptist Missionaries in 1906, the present building was built in 1950. Tom and I agreed that we were also “built in 1950” and consider ourselves fairly well maintained as well.

We were met by the president, Pastor Barbaro, who delighted us for several hours talking about Baptists in Cuba, accepted Tony’s Bible study material and promising to spread it around to see if we can get it into Spanish.  He told us, perhaps politely, that this is just what the churches need.  Please pray with us that it gets used.

We were humbled and amazed at the history of this far flung little place that few of us have ever even thought of.

Pastor Barbaro is currently working on his Phd at Southwestern Seminary, his thesis is examining the fact that the Baptists, since work began by our missionaries in 1906, have never really changed their theology.  He outlined the “Big 4” denominations and how over the years they have changed, either radically to the left or to the more Charismatic.  Only Baptists remain.  Now this could be seen as a bad thing, except that the denomination is growing and the seminary now has over 200 students and in addition to the main campus, has 8 satellites throughout Cuba.

We so enjoyed the deep conviction of this wonderful servant leader (who was actually moving house and carved out enough the time to see us) and came away in awe. We’d love to go back and help somehow.

Later talking together, the 4 of us came to realize that even though we’d served as missionaries in about a combined 7 or 8 countries, this was the first time we saw first hand a country where to be a Christian was not only at some times dangerous, (the seminary dropped to ONE student during all the turbulent revolution years, but somehow remained open), but on a day to day basis was and continues to be very deprived of what we have always considered ‘normal’.

For example, these folks can’t travel freely, they can’t access materials or even internet.  In today’s world, these things seem to us like normal ‘human rights’.  We were talking about Tony’s Bible study materials, and realized that the Cubans cannot access them unless someone physically takes the thumb drive with the files on them. Even then, they would have trouble printing the books, but would have to rely on reading them on the seminary’s private computers. They (don’t laugh) cannot access Amazon……that is a shock to us these days!  They cannot get packages in the mail.  Again, unbelievable.

And yet the denomination grows.  On Sunday we took ourselves by a lovely stroll to the “First Baptist Church” called “Calvary”,  It was founded in 1898 and is housed in a former theatre, so it was literally ‘church in the round’. There were over 600 in attendance, we were ushered into the balcony and sat on very flimsy plastic chairs.  Some of my prayer time that morning was that I wouldn’t drop to the floor with a distracting explosion.

No one spoke even a smattering of English but we were welcomed with open arms.  Tom and Bonnie were comfortable as they speak Spanish but we just hung on to their shirt tails as we sang and listened to the 45 minute sermon delivered by a passionate seminary student.

Afterward, a deacon who’d studied medicine many years ago in South Africa, gave us a tour of church, while they were ALL in Sunday school. He mentioned that the music was not his liking (full band, etc),  and I pointed to him and said “Old” and we all had a good laugh.

To sum it up, Cuba was a huge blessing to us.  Not only were the people wonderful, everything we saw from “cleaned up around the port area as to give a good impression to the Cruise guests” to get down and dirty poverty in the outskirts, was clean and beautiful.

Oh, and the Old Clothes and Lobster?  After church we went to a Cuban restaurant recommended to us by the Seminary.  It was where Obama had eaten on his ‘tour of Havana”.  Apparently he loved the dish they call  “Old Clothes.”  We did too. (although we pointed out to the waiter that was about the only point we agreed on with Obama).   It’s basically pulled pork, which Pastor Barbaro says is delicious because the pork is “grown naturally”.  And the lobster?  Tom ordered that as it was only $12!   This place could grow on us!!

I’m sending this late because of our inability to find reliable internet.  Probably next Sunday your inbox will be empty again, but we’ll catch you when we can.  We’re in London now getting bundled up to head north to Finland and hopefully the Northern lights!

Till next post, Marsha

A Stop to Re-Fuel

This morning as you’re reading this, I’ll be about to speak to a group of ‘veterans’.

By that, I mean ‘veteran missionaries’. Our little band of what’s called “Journeymen” in Baptist circles, went out in 1973 to all the world.  There were 80 of us back then and still are almost as many, but after a lot of cancellations because of health and family matters, there were only about half of us (with our spouses) who were able to come to the reunion this year.

While the Journeyman program only allowed for two years on the field, we were young, and two years represented a lot of time, so the experience has stuck with us.

This particular reunion is especially being held for the benefit of being with our leader, Stan Nelson. While we were buzzing around with our own lives, he has become nearly 90. He lives in this area and we thought we should all try to see him while we still have the chance in this life. Two months ago, his own precious wife went to be with the Lord after several years of debilitating illness coupled with dementia. But now, as I look into the eyes behind that face so etched with pain, I’m thinking Stan may well outlive us all. He comes to us with a strength born of hardship, and a spirit that can only come from God.

Stan was able to speak to us for quite a while today, and he never fails to awe us with his wisdom.  As usual, he had our full attention and we were either laughing or crying as he recalled each of our names and details from 46 years ago, an uncanny “gift” he had back in the day, and which has never left him.

Here’s what I’m talking about: When Tony wrote the book, The Road Rising several years ago, Stan wrote the Foreword for it. Here’s how it began:

“Impoverished imagination removes the color and the zest in our biblical readings.  Because of our environment’s usage of the visual, the inner world has shrivelled and become nearly extinct.”

… and then Stan continues on to write about the book, and how it possesses that elusive element of imagination wrapped around a message so vital that it has to be seen, heard and experienced.

You can see how it is that Stan has always inspired us so.

Anyway, back to the retreat, for some reason they asked me to deliver our closing sermon.  I reminded them that Southern Baptist Women don’t preach, so they told me I could ‘share’ instead.  I think it’ll be hard for Tony to sit on the bench this time!  You can imagine that I’ll thank you for your prayers this morning!

Then, after I finish, we and another couple will head for the airport to Miami where we’ll board a ship and travel around thru some Caribbean islands, the goal being to spend next Sunday at the Baptist Seminary in Havana, Cuba. Tony will be giving them his discipleship course, Anagaion, and hopefully talk about the possibilities for a Spanish version.

By the way, here’s an off-the-wall idea, just in case the Lord might be leading you as you read this. The seminary got hit by a huge hurricane a couple of weeks ago, resulting in lots of broken windows and damage to their one vehicle. We’re planning to give them what we can spare to help with relief efforts. If any of you would be interested in contributing, let me know by email before next Saturday. We can “add to the pot” whatever you’d like to give, then you can deposit into our Stateside bank at your convenience. Just a thought.

Our trip is going well, we’ve been in good form, surviving in two carry-on suitcases, and are looking forward to and hoping we’re ready for the next adventures.

We probably won’t be able to send out a blog next week, as we’ll have no internet when we reach Cuba.

But we’ll look forward to telling what we find in Cuba, as soon as we get back to internet, as we’re quite intrigued ourselves.  We chuckle at the fact that while Cuba appears happy to have ‘cruise people’ arriving, if you want to alight, they offer you a visa; $50 for everyone except Americans; for them it’s $75.  (Fortunately we also have Aussie passports so we’ll try to use those).  And then presumably, when you get to shore, you get to do several hours of voluntary ‘community service’ for them, before you can do any sightseeing!  So funny.  We’re hoping that our letter from our church will convince them that our community service will be visiting the seminary, but who knows, we may be picking up trash as well.

I heard a piece of Cowboy wisdom this last week we spent with my sister.

“For every mile of road, there are two miles of ditches, tread carefully!”

Happy Trails, Marsha