Thursday, July 24, 2008

An Amazing Time in Jail

On Sunday, Dad and I went for our regular, once a month visit to a local jail to do church services for inmates.

We had the most incredible time there that I think we’ve ever had.

When we arrive each time, an officer comes and checks our driver licenses and writes them down in a log book. The officer this time had the last name "Tompkins" on his badge. (Names have been changed.) It just so happened that at the homeschool convention on Friday I had bumped in to a woman named Phyllis Tompkins. We had gone to the same church as the Tompkins family in the early 90s and had not seen them since then. So, just on a chance, I asked him, "Do you know a Phyllis Tomkins?" He said, "Yes, it's my mom!" What a 'coincidence'! We enjoyed getting caught up on new

Then, we had three really good meetings with three groups of inmates. The second group of 9 was especially incredible. The guy who has become the spiritual leader in that dorm was, last time I saw him a month or two ago, a mocker. The transformation in his life is remarkable—his face looks different. At the end Dad said something about “Is there anything you guys want to get free of?” Almost immediately this young man said, “Yes, pornography. I have been getting out on work release some days, and when I do, I have had the opportunity to look at porn.” Then almost immediately, a Native American guy said, “I need to be freed from what I have euphemistically called recreational drug use.” Another guy said “Alcohol”. There was an unusual level of brokenness and humility in this group. And it was evident that the brokenness of the leader was trickling down to his dorm mates. He quietly told us afterwards, “I didn’t want to confess my porn addiction, but God told me I needed to.” When you see sights like that, it just makes you praise God that you were even privileged to be in the room.

In the third group a man began having a panic attack. He started sweating profusely and was crying some too. Some of the other men laid hands on him and Dad prayed. He was able to calm down again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Homeschooling Convention (part 2)

Saturday morning before the conference started I went out to eat with two other VOM reps at Burger King--the closest place within walking distance that wasn't too expensive. Interestingly, the Burger King was a suite in the bottom of a huge skyscraper, and it had the address of One First Street. (Talk about easy to remember.) It turned out that we were not the only people who liked Burger King's prices. About 5 or 6 homeless men were eating there too. The clerk got a big chuckle out of my order (a chicken salad with hash browns) but since Burger King's motto is "Have it your way" what could she say?

As we concluded our meal I decided to take a picture of Lu and Marva, my fellow reps. I pulled out my camera and a guy sitting in another booth behind them and to the right held his red hat over his face. Apparently he did not want his picture taken!

Here is the picture I took. You can just see the corner of his elbow at the right side of the picture. I wish in retrospect that I had him in the picture too, it was so comical. He must have had a guilty conscience about something. As Proverbs says, "The righteous are bold as a lion, but the wicked flee when no one is pursuing."

We had to take turns eating lunch because that was our high traffic time at the booth. The official rules said we couldn't bring in our own food to the exhibit hall. (That is how they keep the restaurants in the convention center in business.) A number of people had (possibly unknowingly) started violating that rule and there did not seem to be any one clamping down on them. So there was some doubt in my mind about whether the official rules applied at this particular event. But I didn't want to risk violating the rules so I took the ice chest with my lunch outside to eat it. Unknown to me, this decision was guided by God. While sitting outside a father I had not seen in about 10 years ran over to me. He was there to drop off his kids at the youth event. He could not go inside the building himself (it cost money to attend the convention, and since he was not planning to attend himself there was no reason for him to pay). So if I had not come outside I would never have seen him.

Here is a picture of me with him and his two children. They were just infants the last time I saw them.

When I went back inside, I discovered that the rules were indeed being enforced. An elderly security guard saw me coming in with my ice chest and said "No ice chests allowed!" But by this time all I had in my ice chest was water and ice. I showed the guard and she said, "We still aren't supposed to let ice chests through. You need to take it out to your car." But the keys were with Lu in the exhibit hall. "Could I leave the ice chest with you while I go get the keys?" She got frustrated--other people were walking by that she needed to watch--and said "Is there some way you can hide it under a table in your booth?" I assured her that there was, and took my watery ice chest in to a secret spot in our booth!

So I was really glad that I had gone outside. I had a clear conscience about following the rules, and I got to see a friend.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Homeschooling Convention (part 1)

Last Friday I traveled to Phoenix's downtown district -- now called "Copper Square"-- to do a booth for VOM's "Kids of Courage" products at a large homeschool convention.

Part of the front of of the Phoenix Convention Center's west building:

A bit of the exhibit hall's (basement's) 42,000 square feet:

Of the many interesting people we met, of the many old friends we spotted again, of the many things we learned about boothmanship, I cannot now speak in detail.

I will restrict myself to sharing about four interesting events related to this trip.

First, how this trip even came about is somewhat remarkable. I had assisted Kids of Courage director Brad Heil and his wife at last year's booth here, but only for one of the two days. I wrote him again this year -- twice -- to see if we were going to have a booth again this year but never heard back. When I was at the VOM National Conference last month, I had the unexpected chance to have lunch with Brad, one on one. (Read more details about our lunch in my blog entry about that day.) At the end of our meal, I asked him about whether we would be doing a booth at the Arizona homeschooling convention this year. He told me basically, "I am so swamped that I don't have time to plan it, but if we are not too late to get a booth and you can plan it, I'll be happy to back you!"

This was on June 28th, leaving less than 3 weeks before the convention. As it turned out, I was just barely in time to get a booth.

I had a choice between a corner booth and a non-corner booth. The non-corner booth was cheaper. I was thinking “corner booth” meant in the corner of the room, which would be less traffic so I couldn’t understand why someone would pay more for it. I picked a non-corner booth. Then after mailing the check I was remembering last year that our booth was at the “intersection” of two aisles. It hit me that that was what they meant by a corner booth, and why they would charge more for it. (You get traffic from two directions instead of one.) I figured, “Oh well, too late now, lesson learned… and prayed that the Lord would send us the traffic we need anyways. A couple days later I got word in the mail that we’d been given a corner booth area… apparently they'd run out of the cheaper spaces and had to give away the corner booths at non-corner prices.

On Friday of the convention I overheard people saying that there was going to be a ballgame that night at the Chase Field, very close to the convention center. I had heard so many people (like Mark Cahill, Tony Miano, and Steve Sanchez) talk about the joy of evangelizing at ballgames that I decided to give it a try. It's not every day you find that many people together in one place, particularly when you live in Rimrock, Arizona. I had no idea when the game would start or end and I didn't get over to the ballfield until about 8 PM.

The game, which turned out to be Diamondbacks versus Dodgers, was already well underway when I arrived. Right as I got there, about 10 police officers or security guards came running from all directions towards the ticketing gates. I mean running, not jogging. Even though whoever they were after was a long ways from me, it was still a sobering sight. I asked another bystander what was going on and he told me he'd heard they were after someone who had drunk too much.

It was ironic to think of all the thousands of people gathered in the stadium enjoying a game, while for those police (and the drunk) life was more serious and potentially deadly than ever.

As it turned out, the area of the building I had come to was a place where people would come outside to smoke during the game. (Smoking is not allowed inside the stadium.) There was a small but constant stream of people coming out to smoke and a small but constant stream going back inside. I started handing out copies of my favorite tract to them. (The cartoon format makes it ideal for people with low literacy levels--which is becoming more and more of the US!)

I got a lot of rejections--people saying "No" or just walking by pretending not to see me. More than normal. But afterwards I figured out a lot of it probably was because they were beginning to feel grouchy from nicotine deprivation. Some of them were somewhat inebribriated. One guy I saw was especially pathetic, laughing hysterically with a few of his buddies, but his face was totally wasted looking. Despite the fact they'd come to a game to be entertained, I don't think I saw anyone who actually looked happy. Profanity was as prevalent as the cigarette smoke.

I found the contrast striking between the nice, friendly homeschoolers I had been with earlier in the day and the ragged, coarse ballfans. But I was glad to be there. In a way, what I was doing was the natural outcome and goal of being homeschooled. Our parents don't go to all the trouble to teach us at home to isolate us from interaction with the world, but to prepare us to go into the world and change it for the glory of Jesus.

Some people threw the tracts on the ground or put them in the ashtrays. I retrieved most of these and gave them out to other people. (For one thing, why waste a good tract, and for another thing, I didn't want to get in trouble with authorities for the litter.) I kept moving slowly around the area so I couldn't be accused of loitering and kept out of the gateway so I couldn't be accused of blocking it. (I'm not sure if I would have gotten in trouble for either of those, but I didn't want to risk it, especially since I wasn't sure what the rules of the park were.) As it turned out, the gatekeepers left me totally alone even though they saw what I was doing.

I had three fairly good conversations. One was with a Christian from Casa Grande who had brought 37 kids from the youth group up from the game. We had a nice chat and I couldn't help but wish they were all outside telling people about Jesus instead of inside watching the game. Nothing wrong with baseball in itself but it was sure a lot more fun and meaningful (and less expensive) doing what I was doing than what they were doing.

A second conversation was with a friendly but lost guy who was very talkative and allowed me to go through the 10 Commandments with him. His friend got impatient and went back in to the game. My guy yelled to him really loudly, "I'll be there in a minute, I'm going through the 10 commandments right now and I'm on 4 of 10!" (I think perhaps he had had a few to drink too, and just had not yet reached the slurry stage.) When we got through he said, "Well, I'm batting .500 and I don't think that's too bad!" I was not quick enough on my feet to handle all of his erroneous reasonings and he went back inside.

The third conversation was with a young man (about 17?) named Nate who was really searching for answers. I answered them as best as I could but I didn't do as good as I wish I had. I really enjoyed talking with him. The hungry look in his eyes will remain in my memory for a long time. His parents came over eventually and they went back inside.

I left to return to my hotel about 9:20, knowing I had to get a good night's rest to be ready for the second day of the convention. On the way back to the hotel, I passed out a few more tracts to some people outside a nightclub and to some KISS characters (creepy looking people) handing out fliers about their upcoming events in Phoenix.

There was a good police presence (even a cop on horseback!) so I didn't really feel scared during my time "out on the street". In total, I was able to distribute about 150 tracts that night. Praise the Lord, it was really enjoyable!

I realized that if Christians want an easy place to evangelize, the ballgames are definitely one good place. Especially if they could be there when people are going in and coming out at the beginning and end of the games. A well-organized team of Christians could share the good news with more people in a single night than many churches do in a year. Later I learned that there are over 2000 events every year in Copper Square. Obviously, not all of them are this big, but still, what a great place to meet people who need to know about Jesus!

You'll have to wait until my next installment to hear about the other two things that happened the next day!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The "Foolishness" of the Incarnation

Muslims stumble at the idea of God becoming man. They can imagine God letting a man into Paradise, but they cannot imagine a God coming to earth to live. Without being overly coarse, I have heard Muslims ask if our belief that Jesus became a man means we believe that God went to the bathroom.

They also stumble over the idea of Jesus' ancestry. That God would choose to list in His genealogy a man and woman guilty of prostitution (Judah and Tamar), a Gentile (Ruth), an adulterer/murderer (David and Bathsheba), is absolutely repugnant to them.

One Muslim apologist, in concluding his remarks on this subject, wrote (in rather archaic English):

Why should God give a "father" (Joseph) to His "son" (Jesus)? And why such an ignoble ancestry? "This is the whole beauty of it" says the pervert. "God loved the sinners so much that he disdaineth not to give such progenitors for His 'son. "
I couldn't have said it better myself. Jesus' ancestry of sinners did not pollute Him, but rather showed that Jesus fully entered into our humanity. He was born with no advantages. He came from a "dysfunctional family" like the rest of us. He grew up in poverty, in an oppressed country, in what we would today call "third world living conditions". He lived perfectly despite all of these "handicaps", removing our ability to use them as excuses for our own sinfulness. We can no longer blame our sinfulness on the bad examples we learned from our ancestors.

Thank you, God, that You left the glories of heaven for earth, to save a wretch like me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fight Lust (part 2): Run to the Light!

To read part 1, click here.

You cannot gain victory over lust if you're fighting the battle secretly.

Our natural pride tells us, "You can do it on your own." God's Word--and experience--show otherwise. God gave us families and churches specifically because we can't "do it on our own".

Allow me a few quotes:

12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3, NKJV)

16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5, NIV)
We confess our sins to God for forgiveness but confess our sins to other people for accountability.
5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1, NKJV)
My Dad likes to say that secret sin is like a loaded gun pointed at your head, but when you share your sin to another mature believer who will hold you accountable, the bullets fall out of the gun.

I will not elaborate in detail because many others have written excellent articles on this topic. Here are links to two:

Accountability, by Kenneth Boa
What the Bible Says about Accountability --

The point is, if you have secret sin, get it out in the light. Take the power out of the secret! Find freedom by humbling yourself before God and men!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Free Bible Overview Curriculum

If you find it difficult to understand the "big picture" of the Bible's message, Mom turned me on to a web site that is a great tool., founded by John Cross who pioneered the use of "chronological" Bible teaching, has a treasure trove of helpful, free tools, including eBooks, MP3s, and videos.

Whether you're new to the Bible yourself or just want to learn to share it better with others, this site can be a big help on your journey.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The "Foolishness" of the Cross

From a Muslim friend on Skype (pardon the mistakes--English isn't his first language):

he can u Imagine that there is a judge in the court, and there are criminals. The judge should punish them for what they did, this is his job. Then suddenly this great judge says: (bring my only begotten son here. He pointed to the criminals then he told them (come kill my son and crucified him because I will let him to die for you sins. Is this a good Judge? Is this love? Is this the wisdom of God? Did he solve the problem or he committed another problem and another crime?

I would slightly disagree with my friend's summary of the atonement. God did not have to tell us to kill His Son--we killed Jesus readily because His holiness showed us how sinful we are, and we didn't like to see ourselves as being that bad!

However, in the main, his understanding of the death of Jesus as a substitute for our sins is correct. And yet, do you see how appalling the cross is to him?

This reminds me so much of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1, particularly where he said, "Is this the wisdom of God?"

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“ I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (NKJV)

Praise God for the cross, which exalts both the holiness and love of God, and shows our own goodness to be filthy rags. May I never glory in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. "Is this the wisdom of God?" Yes!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Trip Home

Other than telling you that the trip back to Arizona went great, that we were well fed by Lu and well chuckled by Dick, there are only two events worth mentioning.

We were passing through western Oklahoma and saw a sign for a town named Altus. Dick said to Lu, "Isn't Altus where your brother Howard spent some time in the Air Force?" Lu agreed. A couple minutes later, Lu's cell phone rang--it was her brother Howard! We all had a good laugh.

We stopped at the cross in Groom again so we could get some food out of the trunk. I figured the cross should be a good place to evangelize (natural conversation starter!) but I was having trouble getting up the nerve to try it. There was a guy heading towards the old Suburban parked next to us so I decided to at least see if I could start up a conversation with him. It turned out he had just graduated from The Master's Seminary in California, which is where my pastor graduated from. He and wife and five children were moving to eastern Oklahoma to plant a church. That's not the first time I have met an interesting Christian while trying to evangelize.

The Big Name Speaker

Sunday morning we had our most famous, "big name" speaker at the conference, Gracia Burnham.

Gracia and her husband, missionary pilot Martin Burnham, were captured by Islamic rebels in the Philippines in 2001. They were hostages for over a year until rescued by the Filipino army. During the rescue, her husband was killed and she was injured. Here she is with President Bush after her release and recovery in 2002.

I first bumped into Gracia at her book table in the foyer on Saturday. She was shorter than I had expected, with a seriousness refined by her experiences, yet easy to talk with (a rare combination). I asked her what her new book ("To Fly Again") was about. She started explaining and I put a copy in my bag. Then I realized what I had done. Maybe the lack of sleep really was catching up with me after all! I quickly pulled the book, PAID her for it, and then put it back in my bag! After getting home, I discovered that she had even pre-autographed it.

What I appreciated about her, both in our short, informal conversation and in her message on Sunday morning, was how "ordinary" she is. She never comes across as a superwoman. She told us, "The hardest thing about being a hostage was seeing what I was really like. I came face to face with a Gracia I didn't want to see: a hateful Gracia, a coveting Gracia, a despairing Gracia, a faithless Gracia."

In a way, perhaps this ironic contrast of our "big name speaker" being very humble is a fitting summary of the entire conference. It was a powerful conference, despite the fact--or perhaps because of the fact--that most of the speakers were "nobodies" as far as the world is concerned. I haven't even had time to tell you about the speakers from Romania, Egypt, Bangladesh, Cuba, and China. You won't find many of their names in the news or on the New York Times bestseller list.

26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”[ (1 Cor. 1, NKJV)

And that is the message of the persecuted church.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Saturday's Conference (part 2)

Saturday evening we had a speaker from North Korea. Mr. Kim was a very stoic, dignified looking man, impeccable in his dark suit. I'd guess he's about 45 years old. Unlike all of the other speakers, he had written out his entire speech before hand. His translator, a bilingual Korean-American woman, had written out the entire English translation too. So both of them were reading from a script, so to speak. He grew up in North Korea and was a commissioned officer in the North Korean military. Eventually he escaped to China and lived for a while in a safe house run by Christians.

I guess I should interrupt his story for a minute to give you some background on NK in case you don't know. South Korea is so afraid of North Korea that they are VERY reluctant to accept defectors from North Korea. It's really tragic. There are only 13,000 NK defectors in SK. But there are 300,000 more defectors hiding in China. Chinese Christians are sometimes the only people willing to house NK defectors -- they are willing to embrace the risk. China hunts them down and when they catch them, they send them back to North Korea. It is a crime to defect from NK so when the defectors get repatriated they are usually put in a gulag and die. China repatriates several hundred NK defectors a month. If this is news to you, you would be greatly benefited (and agitated) by watching the documentary Seoul Train.

Back to Mr. Kim. He lived in a Christian "safe house" in China for a while where he learned about God. He had never heard of "God" before but decided He must be like Kim Jung Il. Mr. Kim decided this "God" must not be as powerful as Kim Jung Il because "God's" hymnal had only 558 songs, while Kim Jong Il's had 600.

He was told they would try to get him to South Korea if he would first copy the Bible by hand. He tried a little bit but the Bible was so big and he decided this was unreasonable, so he left the safe house. He was arrested a few days later by Chinese police. He was tortured by North Korean authorities--all his fingers were broken. He prayed desperately to God, "If you let me live, I will give my life to You." As he was on the train to the gulag, his chance came. The bathroom was so unsanitary the guards didn't like to go all the way in with the prisoners. He jumped out the bathroom window while the train was moving. Praising God jubilantly, he made his way back to China again (despite the fact that his face was on wanted posters). He returned to the same safe house, where he was welcomed unconditionally. In 1997 he made it to South Korea and is working to help his fellow North Korean people.

But here was where the story got really interesting. He did not become a true Christian until last fall. He had gradually been able to build up a small enterprise in NK that was helping people -- but the government caught the people and confiscated their equipment. He tried to save them, but they were publicly executed as spies. The final prayer of one of them was something to the effect that he wished he could continue living in NK so that he could keep telling people there about Jesus. Mr. Kim was very angry with God for allowing this to happen, and angry that he'd ever gotten involved in trying to help NK people. Through this shattering of his efforts, this brokenness, he wound up "at the foot of the cross" and was brought to a genuine relationship with Jesus.

This dignified man reading from a script (which he also had read at an identical conference the previous week) started crying before us that night as he told us how he had become a Christian.
One other neat story from NK. The most common Korean translation of the Bible was not well translated. This causes a barrier to NK and SK people alike as they try to understand it. The NK government wanted to show their superiority to SK, so back in the 70's the NK government commissioned a very scholarly team of translators to produce the most accurate translation of the Bible into Korean that is possible. They did an outstanding job, even according to international Bible scholars who have reviewed it. But the NK government, in true Marxist fashion, only printed 300 copies of the Bible, and kept them in a university library for use in teaching students why Christianity isn't true. However, a copy of this Bible has been smuggled out to SK and is now being reprinted and distributed in mass quantities.

The other speaker on Saturday night was a man from the Arabian Peninsula. (I'm going to abbreviate that A.P. for the rest of this article so I don't have to keep spelling Peninsula, and I'll call him Brother S.)

The man who led Brother S to Christ was a farmer from Iowa who had never been overseas before. But in the early 80s he felt like God wanted him to go to the AP so he did, and began striking up conversations with young men he met. Brother S said this man had so little understanding of Arab culture that he would, metaphorically speaking, walk on you without knowing it. But despite his ignorance, God honored his passion for seeing Muslims meet Jesus. Brother S finally prayed the sinner's prayer just to get this farmer-evangelist off his back. But he became very depressed and eventually 6 months later he truly gave his life to Jesus and was delivered from a life of drug abuse. He became so happy that he could not keep his mouth shut. To us in the audience he said, "How happy are you in the Lord? Have you found a great treasure? Or have you only found 10 dollars?"

He explained to us why the people of the AP are very arrogant. First of all, because they speak Arabic, the holy language that Allah speaks and used to dictate the Quran. Second, because the Quran says they are a blessed people. And there's proof! They think, "When we dig for water, we get oil! When we have a war, the US comes to fight it for us! We're blessed!"

"Most Christians who come to the AP come for money, not for missions."

"It takes ground troops, not just the air force (satellite and radio broadcasts) to win a war."

He partnered with some Filipino Christians to distribute 4000 Jesus Films. The police caught some of them. He surrendered himself to the police in exchange for getting the Filipinos released. He was pressured to sign a paper saying he would stop evangelizing. He refused. The police checked with the local churches to see if he was associated with them. All of them disowned him, and said they did not participate in evangelism.

He was released unharmed.

He placed an ad in a leading magazine -- "Need help understanding the Bible? Call this number..." He had to get a second phone line.

Five experts in converting Christians to Islam came to try to convert him back to "the true faith". They came every week for 22 months and they had long, noisy debates into the wee hours of the night. Several times they got so noisy that Brother S' wife (listening from another room) was worried he was about to be killed. But in the end, 3 of the 5 became Christians! Praise God!

I was so captivated by Brother S's message that I went to his "breakout session" afterwards to hear him more. This group was much smaller and I was on the front row. It was an informal Q & A time. And it was here that I got what was for me probably the single greatest life-changing message of the whole trip.

I had what I thought was a really good question for Brother S. I raised my hand and said, "It seems that a lot of the missions efforts for the Muslim world (what little efforts there are for the Muslim world at all) are being targeted at some of the softer Islamic countries like Morocco and Indonesia. Would it perhaps be a better use of missions resources if we focused specifically on Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula? This way we would be digging out Islam at its very roots. If Islam died out in Saudi Arabia, it would probably die out everywhere in the world."

I thought he would say something like, "You know, young man, you are really insightful. This is what I have been telling mission strategists for years, but none of them seem to see my point. That is why I have such a heart for the Arabian Peninsula..."

Instead he looked at me and said, in essence, "Stop worrying about being strategic and go reach your neighbors." He said it very graciously and not in those exact words. But wow, that was a very convicting message to me personally. My neighbors seem like the hardest people in the world to reach, and maybe that is the whole point of it. Maybe once I've reached my neighbors it will be all downhill from there? He then said that he and his wife have been living in the US for the last two years while his wife goes to seminary. He told me that she has reached every house in a circle of 50 around their house. When they brush her off, she figures out another way to go back again.

With that new thought ringing in my mind, I went to my dorm room and tried to get some sleep. I actually lost a lot of sleep at the conference. I was so full of adrenaline and new experiences and ideas to process that it took me a couple hours to get to sleep each night. But somehow or other my body adapted and I was able to feel energetic for the whole conference.

Next post I'll tell you what happened on Sunday morning, the last session of the conference.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Saturday's Conference (part 1)

The conference on Saturday went from 9 AM to 9:30 PM, and if you could stay awake for the play Juliet, you could stay up till 10:30 PM. I didn't! (It wasn't Romeo and Juliet--this Juliet was about a Christian woman in Romania whose husband was imprisoned.)

On Saturday morning the speaker that impacted me most was Steven Khoury, a Christian Palestinian pastor. In Israel and Palestine, Christians are very much in the minority. There used to be a substantial Christian presence in Bethlehem, where Steve grew up--but most of them were Christian by birth and not by "second birth". Due to increasing pressure from Muslims, a lot of these Christians have emigrated to other countries. The remaining Christians are a double minority. They are hated by the Palestinian Muslims because they don't hate the Jews. And they're distrusted by the Israelis because they are Palestinian. I was impressed with Steve's message. He told a number of moving stories about miraculous salvations, escapes from death, and courageous Christians. For a guy who's about my age, Steve has really had a dramatic life. I brought home a copy of his book, Diplomatic Christianity. The basic premise of the book is that as Christians, we tend to be too diplomatic ("politically correct") when telling other people about Jesus: afraid to just come right out and tell them the truth about Jesus!

I was impressed by Steve, but I was even more impressed by what I learned about his father, Naim Khoury. In a way, Steve is simply living out what his father has built into him. Naim was the first in his family to turn from dead orthodoxy to a living relationship with Jesus. Naim is the one in his family who first became a lightning rod for persecution. Steve has grown up in the middle of it. Their church in Bethlehem has been bombed 14 times. At one particularly violent season they used to keep buckets of water at the front of their church so that when someone threw a Molotov in, they could just pour water on it and keep going.

Steven is now trying to start his own church up in Jerusalem. Actually he's started it up several times, but it is incredibly hard to get a permanent location. Whenever they find a place to rent, Islamic vandals attack it so badly that the landlords evict them.

You can learn more about Steven and his father by watching this short video on their web site.

At lunch, there was supposed to be a picnic on the grounds of OWU. I'd already paid my $5 for a ticket. But it started raining so the picnic had to be moved inside the gym. I got in line and noticed the line was moving very slowly. So I decided to go back to my room and drop off some of the things I was carrying and then come back and get in line again. Once again, God used a seemingly random decision to guide my steps. When I was almost back to the line, I bumped into Brad Heil, who is the director of Kids of Courage, VOM's children's curriculum. Last summer we'd worked together at the Kids of Courage booth in the Arizona Families for Home Education convention. Here's a picture of me with Brad's wife Diane at the booth.

And here's a picture of Brad with area coordinator Dave Clayton in Brad's office. (Brad is on the right.)

Anyways, Brad saw me walking by and invited me out to lunch. I gave my picnic ticket to a guy in line who didn't have one and we drove to Arby's.

This turned out to be "a God thing" because Brad and his wife are going through a tough time now on more than one front. He has a heavy workload (there are only two people in the Kids of Courage department, including him) and he and his wife are primary caregivers for his mother in law. It was amazing how similar his mother in law is to my mother's father, who just died earlier this year. We had gone through many of the same struggles with Grandpa that he and Diane are going through with "Mom", so I was able to really identify with the pressure he's under. It was great getting to pray for him and I appreciate Brad being so transparent about how he was really feeling. Perhaps in God's providence part of the fruit of this pressure may be the lives of children transformed by their encounters with Kids of Courage.

I later heard that the picnic wasn't all that good anyways -- not enough food to go around.

In the afternoon, Michael Wurmbrand got a chance to address the whole group. He shared more classic stories from his childhood. (And no, I didn't take this picture either.)

When he was 11, his mother was arrested. She never had a trial so she never knew how long she would be in jail. The policemen confiscated all of the household belongings, made a list of them, and made Michael sign the list. Then he was left on the street to fend for himself.

When he was about 17, the police called him in. It turned out that the officers who had confiscated all of the furniture had made some money on the deal. They had deliberately written down inferior descriptions of the furniture they confiscated. (For example, a nice piano bench was written down as "piano bench with 3 legs".) They then sold the nice furniture on the black market and substituted damaged furniture that they'd gotten elsewhere. So, as things happen in Communist regimes, these officers later fell out of favor and were imprisoned themselves. Under torture they confessed to this furniture sleight of hand. Now at this point we would expect that the police would apologize to Michael and give him the nice furniture back. Nope. They told him he had collaborated with criminal theft against the government by signing the inventory. They said, "Since you are young we will have mercy on you and not put you in prison, but you will have to pay back the amount that was stolen from the government, with interest." This came to about $80,000 US. For the remainder of his years in Romania, they garnished 20-25% of his wages. He never would have gotten it paid off if his parents had not escaped from Romania and sent him the means to repay the debt.

Another anecdote: one of Richard's torturers told him, "You'll never get out of the country. You'll never see Westminster Abbey." Why he would specifically mention Westminster Abbey I have no idea, but the torturer was later jailed himself, and Richard later preached at Westminster Abbey.

Richard was preaching in a meeting shortly after his escape from Romania in 1966. A woman in the audience was crying almost the whole time. She came up afterwards and showed a clipping from a 1948 newspaper talking about Richard's imprisonment. She had prayed for him for 18 years without knowing what had happened to him.

A Romanian Christian (I believe his name was something like Kiefer Martin) walked 3 miles to a train station. When he arrived, he realized he had forgotten some important papers at home, but he didn't want to carry his suitcase all the way home. So he decided to hide it in some bushes and pray that God would protect it from being stolen (thievery was rampant). He returned home, got his paper, went back to the train station, looked in the bush, and his suitcase was still there. He was jubilant, thanked God, and thought, "Now I can handle it from here." He walked up to the ticket counter to get his ticket, set down his suitcase while he was talking to the clerk, and when he looked down his suitcase was gone! The lesson he learned was that we always need God--we are never truly able to handle life on our own.

The verse of Scripture that Michael highlighted for us was Job 1:9 -- "Does Job fear God for nothing?" He asked us whether there was something "commercial" about our relationship with God. Are we in it just for what we get out of Him, and not for God Himself? The story of Job is a reminder that the real battle is between God and satan. The question in dispute is whether we "fear God for nothing". May we say with Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him."

The second half of Saturday was even more important to me than the first, but you're going to have to wait to hear about it until my next post!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Conference Starts

Friday night the conference started, and I will just be able to give you a small sampling of what we actually experienced that night.

First up were two brothers from Iran, both older, mature Christians. One of them couldn't speak English at all so the other translated.

He shared how he met Jesus with us. In the late 70's his son moved to the US and married a Christian woman. He was so upset that he flew to the US, determined to one way or another remove this dishonor from his family. Instead, he began to be impressed by their faith in Jesus. One day he prayed, "If You show me You're God, I will accept my daughter in law, and I will accept You."

Three days later he got a call from Iran informing him that the government had decided they'd made a mistake. After the overthrow of the Shah, the new regime had confiscated a large amount of money and the trucks he used for his business. Now they had returned everything to him! This was nothing short of a miracle and he realized this was the sign he'd asked for.

He has had numerous encounters with the police and has been beaten many times.

He told us of one new convert who rode 27 hours by bus -- each way -- simply to get baptized. This struck home with me because I know how sore I was after a total of 15 hours of sitting to get to Bartlesville. I can't imagine sitting for 27 hours just to get baptized!

It was hard to understand some of what he said, but one thing that did come through very movingly was when this white-haired man started crying as he talked about how good God had been to him. He is somewhat feeble and required assistance to go down the steps off the stage.

Next was a woman from the Marxist-controlled zone of Columbia, also speaking through a translator. She and her husband have been ministering there for 20 years. She told us numerous stories of Christians being killed by the guerrillas, and numerous stories of God miraculously protecting them from death. This is the mystery of God's providence that we can even see in Acts 12, where God allowed James to be beheaded but sent an angel to rescue Peter.

One story that was moving to me was when the guerrillas interrupted their church service, grabbed her husband and took him outside and started to lead him away. The men of the church followed. The guerrillas tried to push them back. But the brothers replied, "What you do to him, you must do to us." They let her husband go.

During the Friday night session, I actually got to meet and sit next to Daniel (DJ) Elkins, one of the 8 young people who went with VOM to Vietnam in 2006. Their experiences there are chronicled in the video "Underground Reality: Vietnam". This has become the best selling video VOM has ever released. For more details (and to view a trailer) you can visit this website.

Here's a picture of DJ in Vietnam as he prepared to deliver 50 pounds of Bibles (in his pack) to a national believer. (And no, I didn't take this picture!)

Daniel's life was greatly impacted by his time in Vietnam and it was neat to meet him and see how he's growing in the Lord.

After the Columbian woman, we had a choice of 4 breakout sessions. I chose to go to hear Michael Wurmbrand, son of Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand who founded VOM in 1967. Richard was an incredible man whose books and messages have greatly impacted me although I never got to meet him in person.

Michael shares his father's penchant for telling fascinating stories. Here are a few, not connected together in any particular way.

When he was a child, his father told him a story about a rich man who saw a beggar but only gave the beggar some moldy cheese. When the rich man died and went to heaven, he saw many people eating excellent food but he was forced to go off to a separate table which contained only... moldy cheese! The moral of the story was that we should give others our best.

A few days later his father was given, out of the blue, a really nice, expensive suit. He had one suit already but it was old. Michael said, "Now that you have two, you'll want to give one to Brother W" (a poor believer who had no suit at all). His father said, "And which one shall I give him?" Michael recalled the moldy cheese story and said, "You should give him the suit which you wish to wear in heaven." And so it was that Richard gave the new suit to Brother W just a few hours after receiving it.

When Michael was 11, his father was in prison. Michael was doing well in school and one day the school officials announced that he (along with others) would be awarded the coveted "Red Necktie" of the Communist Youth society at a special convocation. He excitedly told his mother the news. But she told him, "When it's your turn, get up and tell them 'I do not wish to wear the necktie of the government that imprisoned my father.'" This was very hard for him to do. He was angry with his mother at the time, but now he looks back on her courage with great fondness and love. He did as she told him, and it so shook the school that it ended the red necktie event there for several years.

Eventually Michael's mother was imprisoned too and he was left on the streets. It was a crime to help children of political prisoners. A 28 year old single young Christian woman took him in, as well as another boy in the same situation. Her 71 year old father had to go back to work to make enough money for them to have food. For this "crime", she later spent 6 years in prison and had physical repercussions from it for the rest of her life. After the Wurmbrands escaped from Romania they helped her to escape also. She never married, but spent the rest of her life in France and was active in VOM's work there.

Dinner with MacDonalds

No, I didn't say at McDonald's!

A new rep from New Mexico, John MacDonald arrived at OWU on Friday afternoon, too late for the team meeting. It was great to finally personally meet John and his 19 year old son Daniel (good name). They offered to take me out to dinner, and I didn't take long to accept!

Since I knew the restaurants in town slightly better than they did, I suggested we go back to the Chinese buffet (where I'd just had the team luncheon earlier in the day). The young guy at the counter was very happy to see me again. I think he was hoping I had brought another group of 19.

Here's a picture of John and Daniel in our booth.

I started telling them about the lunch with Mujahid. While I was in the middle of describing Mujahid's story to them, who should walk into the restaurant but three Muslim women! And where should they sit but in the booth right behind me! I was momentarily speechless, trying to figure out what God wanted me to do. I have only seen a Muslim woman in person a couple times in my life, and never more than one at a time. Now here were three, and in Mayberry USA, "Leave it to Beaver" Bartlesville, Oklahoma at that!

I regret to tell you that I do not have a heroic ending for this story. I didn't know what to do, so consequently I didn't do anything! Afterwards I realized that I could have paid their bill and left a note behind that said something like “I paid your bill because Jesus has paid for my sins – this meal is a gift to you from Him” or something like that. (Seems like I always get great ideas -- afterwards.)

The event was sobering to me. I sensed God was trying to show me the urgency of reaching the Muslim world with the love of Jesus. I missed this opportunity, but I hope it motivates me to pursue many more.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Team Luncheon

I wanted to have a special luncheon on Friday for the reps from my territory (Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico). Some of them I had only met via phone calls and email. So, when I got to Bartlesville, I put my antenna up for a good place to have it.

I asked Lu to check into it while I was at the Area Coordinator meetings on Thursday. When I got to the meetings, I also asked Mr. B if he had any recommendations, since he lives in Bartlesville. He said, "Why not just have it in the side room at the Bistro where we ate last night?" That sounded good to me, so he made reservations for my group to have lunch there the next day.

When I got back to my dorm room that night, a note from Lu was on my door. She had made arrangements for us to have the meal at a Chinese buffet!

So, now I had to choose between the two. I'm giving you all this detail because later you'll see how God guided me (without me knowing it) to make the right choice.

I had been to the Chinese buffet in 2006 and liked their food (and pricing) better than the Bistro. I also knew that the buffet had better parking and location. On the other hand, Bistro had a side room for us to use, whereas the buffet was more or less all one big room. But I decided I would rather eat crow with the Bistro than having to make Lu eat crow with the Chinese. So, I called Mr. B, got the number for the Bistro, and the owner was very nice in accepting my cancellation.

I was hoping to give my reps the chance to hear directly from someone from overseas (a real, live persecuted Christian) at the lunch. I remembered how incredible it was when I got to have breakfast with Getaneh Getaneh from Ethiopia at the 2006 conference. (Here's a shot of Getanah after that breakfast.)

So I looked around the VVN banquet hall to see who was there from some other country. I only saw one foreign-looking family and they looked like they were from India. I thought, "Well, they would be OK." So I went over and introduced myself to the father and asked if he would like to bring his family to my team lunch. He readily agreed.

To my surprise, he turned out to be someone I was already quite familiar with. His name is Mujahid el Masih, and he co-authored a book with his ministry partner David Witt. David lives about 25 miles from me and worked for VOM for a number of years, before founding Spirit of Martyrdom earlier this year. David's father Bill Witt (himself a VOM rep) was the one who first suggested that I should become a representative for VOM. Mujahid lives in Colorado, and I had already been encouraging my reps in that state to get in touch with Mujahid and try to arrange meetings for him. (Sometimes churches are more receptive to having someone from overseas come and speak than having a local rep. In these cases, the local rep can tag along and help answer questions and distribute information about VOM.)

At the VVN banquet that night (Thursday) I handed out little hand written slips of papers to my reps who were there (a few were missing), giving the location and time for the team luncheon (high noon at the Chinese buffet). I gave one to Mujahid too.

When I returned to my dorm room after the prayer meeting on Friday morning, two unsettling events hit in quick succession.

First, Lu discovered the Chinese buffet owner had misunderstood. She had told him we would be there from noon to 2:30. He had thought we wouldn't arrive until 2:30. Because of the heavy lunch traffic, my team would not be able to sit all at one table: we would have to split up.

I seriously considered trying to switch the meal back to the private side room of the Bistro that I knew would still be available. But the idea of trying to contact all my reps with a new address (and the complex parking instructions) did not appeal to me, especially since I had less than an hour before the meal was to start. We would just have to go with the Chinese buffet and do the best we could.

The second interruption was a knock on my door room door at about 11:20. I was sitting at my desk, trying to call several reps who had not yet even heard that there would be a meal at all, when Mr. R and Mrs. B, both senior VOM staffers, came in to tell me there had been a mixup. I had to vacate my room and move into another dorm room because someone else was going to be using my room that night!

There was some humor in the situation. These two people, with obviously heavy responsibility for the conference, getting stuck with the allocation of dorm rooms. Mr. R actually helped me carry my baggage over to the new room. Mrs. B told me she had stayed in my new hall when she went to school at OWU years ago. (Here's a picture of Mr. R at the banquet the previous night. He is on the left.)

As soon as I had moved to the new room, I had to leave for the luncheon.

There were 19 of us all together, and we ate our lunches at 3 tables, then I had everyone move their chairs around and kind of form a circle in one corner of the restaurant. I introduced Mujahid and he stood up and began to share his testimony. It didn't take him long to get into full preaching mode. He was speaking so enthusiastically, extolling Jesus, that you could hear him throughout probably 1/3 to 1/2 of the restaurant!

As it turned out, there were 7 other people having lunch at the restaurant who were in Bartlesville for the VOM conference. They were from Arizona. (Coincidence?) Even more amazing, I recognized 2 of them. I had met them in the Tulsa airport at the end of the 2006 conference!

Here is a picture of us at the Tulsa airport in 2006:

And here we are at the conference in 2008:

When these 7 heard Mujahid start preaching, they moved their chairs over next to us to listen better!

He was born in a nominal Christian home in Pakistan, became a zealous Muslim as an adult, then had a genuine and powerful encounter with Jesus! He evangelized very boldly in Pakistan, despite the serious risks. Multiple times he was miraculously delivered from imminent death at the hands of angry Muslims. It was a powerful challenge to me to be more bold in evangelism.

Rather than telling you everything that Mujahid said, let me simply recommend that you listen to some of his messages online. You can find some on his ministry web site, and also on Sermon Audio.

We then had about 10 minutes of good solid prayer, where we prayed for Mujahid and he prayed for us.

It occurred to me afterwards that if I had held the meeting in the Bistro's side room, the others in the restaurant would never have gotten to hear Mujahid. Sort of the same mistake we sometimes make in church: we preach the gospel well within the church, but not out on the street where the unsaved are at.

The rest of the meeting was also very good but not worth describing in my blog. Here are a few more pictures. (For security reasons, I cannot show you any pictures of Mujahid or his family.)

Friday had been a powerful day for me already: the prayer meeting, and then the lunch with Mujahid. The day was not yet over, and the conference itself had not yet officially started!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Prayer Meeting

Several weeks before the national conference, I was thinking back about the 2006 conference. I remembered that on Friday morning, after the Thursday night VVN banquet but before the conference officially started, there was no scheduled activity and I wound up having to "kill" some time.

What could my fellow reps and I do to use Friday morning of the 2008 conference well? Furthermore, it would need to be something that didn't require a lot of planning by the VOM staff in Bartlesville--they already had their hands full just planning the conference.

The idea hit me, hopefully from the Lord, that we could have a prayer meeting. I sent out some emails to other area coordinators and several wrote back enthusiastically about the idea. Bill Wos offered to bring his guitar and lead in some songs. But we would need to pick a location and format for the meeting quickly -- some time between when we arrived on Wednesday and the anticipated meeting time on Friday morning.

Last Thursday, while I was in the area coordinator meetings, Kathy checked with the administration of OWU to see if we could have the prayer meeting in a building right on the OWU campus. They were incredibly receptive. Initially they offered the use of a very nice performance hall. When the area coordinator meetings were finished around 3 on Thursday, several of the area coordinators and I joined Kathy to examine the meeting hall. It was beautiful -- but not what we wanted. Steep steps, fixed seating, narrow walkways all contributed to an environment more suited for a performance than a prayer meeting that we hoped would be very participatory.

We trooped down to the cafeteria. I remembered how bad the acoustics were there in 2006 when Russell Stendal tried to speak. But it was very open, level floored, plenty of room to move around, and lots of moveable chairs. Bill found a portable sound system. We checked with OWU administration and they heartily endorsed our new location.

So, a couple hours later at the VVN banquet, I announced that we would be having a prayer meeting at the OWU cafeteria "in the building by the pond" the next morning at 9:00. My announcement was the very last announcement made at the banquet so I was hoping people wouldn't forget. I stood by the doorway as people were going out, but only a couple of them told me they were going to come.

The next morning it was raining. When I arrived at the cafeteria at 8:30, only a couple people were there--area coordinators who were helping to organize the event. But people began to show up--eventually an estimated 50 to 70 of them! Even my very busy supervisor, Mrs. E, came--for which I was very appreciative.

Bill led in a few simple songs, and then invited anyone who wanted to pray to stand up and do so. He offered the use of the microphone at front for those who feared their voices might not carry. He gave a few simple reminders (like, "This is a time for just praying--don't preach, don't describe the prayer request to us first, just pray!") and then stepped away from the microphone.

For about 60 seconds, which seemed like about 5 minutes to me, there was silence, with no one up in front. I think that is one of the most moving sights to see in a meeting of believers -- no one in charge but God! There is a legitimate and very vital place for leadership in a meeting, but in this particular case I felt we were warranted in letting go of the reins. In order to become a VOM rep, people have to go through fairly extensive screening, so I was not too worried about someone "flaky" taking control of the meeting. I was, however, worried that perhaps no one would get up at all. Bill had told me beforehand, "Sometimes people are scared to be the first one up. You might have to get up yourself and be the first pray-er in order to 'prime the pump'." But for some reason, I didn't feel like I was supposed to do that. During that 60 seconds of silence, I was praying in my heart, "God, this is Yours. If this whole thing was Your idea, move someone to come up and begin the prayer time. I don't want to 'jump start' this thing with just my own human power and psychological tricks."

The silent spell was broken. A woman walked up to the microphone and read Psalm 23. I had never before noticed how appropriate Psalm 23 was as a prayer for the persecuted church. She was followed by another person... and another... and another...

There followed one of the most wonderful times of prayer I have ever enjoyed in my life. I really don't know how to describe it to you. It was glorious. It was passionate. It was joyful. It was victorious. It was utterly spontaneous.

About 10:00, we interrupted the meeting to transition to praying at various prayer stations that had been set up around the room. This gave an opportunity for more people to pray at the same time for various topics such as "The families of those persecuted", "The Chinese Olympics", "The persecutors", etc. At one part of the room, Mrs. E had set up a laptop with a recent video showing a 25 year old Christian woman being killed by her Muslim neighbors for refusing to deny Christ. I had never seen an actual murder before. It was gruesome, very sobering. But yet we could not see the end of the story: we could not see on the video her welcome into heaven, or how many of her neighbors may yet be converted due to her dying witness.

People ran out of steam on the prayer stations sooner than we had expected. We wrapped up the meeting around 10:30. Perhaps we shouldn't have interrupted the first part of the meeting so soon. But we were doing what we thought was best at the time, and God honored it in spite of our ignorance.

Many people commented afterwards on how much they enjoyed the prayer meeting. It was anything but boring. I am not sure what all the ingredients were that caused it to be such a blessing. But I think it had something to do with us all being "in one accord". As reps, we all shared a common passion for the glory of God to be advanced around the world through His suffering but victorious bride. We laid aside more personal prayer requests (bunions, backaches, finances, wayward children, etc.), which might be called "defensive prayers" and focused on prayers for the advancement of God's kingdom around the world, what we might call "offensive prayers".

It may have been just as well that the meeting wrapped up earlier than expected, because my next adventure was just around the corner, unplanned by me.

But wow, wouldn't I like to be in another prayer meeting like that one!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Great Meetings

When we rolled in to Bartlesville last Wednesday, the first thing we did was check in to the OWU dorms. They couldn't find the key for my room, so they gave me a better room. This slight alteration was to come back on me a couple days later. But in the short term, it gave me the chance to meet Dave and Jan from Iowa. Dave is the area coordinator for that state.

Dave and Jan are really a neat couple. They made a trip to southeast Asia earlier this year, and actually God timed it so they wound up in Burma (Myanmar) 4 days after the cyclone hit.

Our dorm rooms shared a common bathroom -- with no lock on the doors -- and I passed on the really handy tip that my Dad taught me years ago in a similar dorm situation. You take a piece of paper, write "Bathroom in Use" on the bottom, and stick it under the door to your neighbor's room when you are in the bathroom. Then when you're done, you pull it back and leave it on the counter in the bathroom for them to use under your door when they use the bathroom. Simple, and prevents a lot of embarrassing moments.

Dave, Jan, Kathy, and I (and a number of other area coordinators and VOM staff) congregated at a small bistro in downtown Bartlesville for an informal meal that evening.

Bartlesville has a very charming downtown that looks like something straight out of the 1950s.

Here are a few shots of people gabbing.

Next morning, we left at 7:30 for area coordinator meetings. It was really nice to get to meet others in person that I had talked with via email for so long.

In a conversation with one of the upper level VOM officers, I knew a person who fit a very unique job description he was trying to fill. This was one of the best things that happened to me that morning. I love "networking" in this way (although I must confess that usually my ideas don't work out as well as I envision). Hopefully this one will turn out to be of benefit to VOM and the people we serve. If so, it was certainly God who caused this connection to happen because it was unusual that this man mentioned this need in his conversation and it was unusual that I knew a person who may fit that need.

In order to maintain better continuity in my story, I am going to skip over the events of Thursday afternoon (I'll come back to them in my next post) and tell you about the VVN banquet. This is for all area representatives and area coordinators. Some of the upper VOM leadership such as Tom White came to this.

It was a great place to meet new people and hear inspiring stories of what God is doing.

Here are Mr. R, the man who coordinated the whole National Conference, and Mr. B who leads the VVN. Both of them worked very hard the last couple weeks.

I sat at this table. Brandon, the man on the right, turned out to be a fascinating high school history teacher who has an encyclopedic brain. The couple at left were missionaries in Africa.

This picture has an interesting story. At the 2006 VVN banquet, my friend Carl (who was with me) saw this Frank Lloyd Wright building across the street from where the banquet was held and said, "I think it's ugly." We chuckled so hard over his comment that this year I got this picture. It's too small to see, but the sign I'm holding says "Carl's Favorite Building."

A woman sitting to my left at the table (I didn't get her picture) was from Lima, Ohio. I asked her if Stanley Tam, the Christian philanthropist who gave his business to God, is still alive. She said he is indeed alive. He has turned over management of US Plastics Corp to one of his son-in-laws, but he didn't like doing nothing, so he has started a small woodworking shop. People can just come in and talk to him! To read a great message by Stanley Tam from 2004, click here.

One other interesting story: during the VVN banquet they recognize each of the area coordinators with a round of applause. As I was wait for my name to be called, my cell phone rang. It was one of my area reps whom I had been anxious to hear from. My name was called, I stood up, with the phone against my ear, still talking to the rep. Everyone clapped. The rep on the other end, oblivious to what was going on said, "Hooray for whoever that was!" I said, "Actually, they were clapping for me!" It must have made me appear very hard-working, to even take a call when I was in the limelight. Ha ha!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Trip to Bartlesville

I'm going to break my account of last week's events into several posts because telling the whole story all at once would take more time than I have to write (or you have to read!).

I left home at 5:50 AM last Tuesday. An hour's drive brought me to Dick and Lu's home in Flagstaff. Lu has been a VOM representative for over a year and a half now. Kathy, a VOM rep in training, had arrived at their house the night before. We pulled out about 7:30 AM in the Dick and Lu's red 2007 Chevy Impala.

Dick and Lu drove us all the way to Amarillo, TX the first day. The first part of the trip was the rather sad Indian reservation areas, where the only signs of prosperity are from the casinos. May God bless the faithful few Christian workers who labor to spread the love of Jesus among the Native Americans.

I had never been in a car with XM (satellite) radio before. I have to agree it's very nice to have a radio that is advertisement-free (and even tells the name of the song being played on the console) but I'm not sure I'd be willing to pay $12 a month for it. (Must be some Scotch in me.)

On the drive, I skimmed pieces of a Christian History and Biography magazine Dick had about China. One part about John Sung really struck me. When John Sung got on fire for Jesus, his seminary authorities thought he had gone insane and had him committed to an asylum. During the 193 days he was in the asylum, he read through the Bible 40 times. Wow. It's no wonder God was able to use him so powerfully. I'd like to read more about him, I don't know much.

Although flat, I found the grasslands of north Texas quite beautiful this time of the year.

We had dinner at a Cracker Barrel in Amarillo. I have to confess, I'm not sure if I've ever eaten in a Cracker Barrel before. If I did, it was a long time ago. They've done a nice job of creating a country "atmosphere" in their store/restaurant combos. I don't know if this was something about the culture of Amarillo or the culture of Country Barrels, but I noticed that most of the patrons were dressed conservatively. Not elegantly, but there were few T-shirts and a lot of collars. I do happen to be partial to collars myself so I felt very at home in Country Barrel. :)

Oddly, it seemed to me there were also a greater than average number of signs for strip bars across that region of the country.

We had a good night at the Quality Inn, then left about 8:30 AM.

About 40 miles east of Amarillo is the little town of Groom, Texas, where the largest cross in the western hemisphere is located. It's 190 feet tall.

You can see my own pictures of the cross (and the surrounding "stations of the cross", Calvary, empty tomb, abortion memorial, and gift shop) on my photo album at

There is also a much more professional set of pictures on the official Cross web site.

I got to drive across most of Oklahoma. To a guy from the desert, Oklahoma looked gorgeous, and it only got better the further east we went. I felt like I was driving through the pages of Country magazine. God has really blessed our country with some beautiful territory. You know, we could have all been born in Chad and stared at sand and mud for most of our lives. We're also really blessed, I realized, with great roadways. Anyone who's traveled to a third world country can tell you, our road system (and the general compliance of drivers with traffic laws) are a tremendous privilege.

We pulled into Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville, Oklahoma around 4:30 PM.

And that's where things really started getting interesting. But you'll have to wait for my next post to find out.