Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sober Joys

Friday, June third, I got my first look at the new US headquarters building for The Voice of the Martyrs.  Although VOM has been headquartered in Bartlesville, Oklahoma for a number of years now, the ministry has undergone such rapid growth in the past few years that it was bursting the seams of its previous facility.  They actually had to divide up parts of the ministry among various buildings scattered across town.

Now they are located on a beautiful campus on the outskirts of town in facilities that give them room for even further expansion if God so guides.  If my memory is correct, VOM has invested about $35 million in the new facilities and property.  But they did so without ever cutting the amount spent on ministry each year, and only owe about $6.5 million which should be paid off in 3 years.

The offices are in the building at left; the warehouse is the large, flat building at right.

If you notice the office building above, the architecture should look vaguely familiar.  That's right; it was intentionally designed to remind people of the Roman Colosseum.  It's an odd dichotomy having a beautiful brand new office building in the shape of a place where terrible tortures were inflicted on people, including Christians.  I pray that those who enter this building will never forget the suffering and triumph our Christian forebears experienced in that Colosseum. 

As we walked up to the building for our morning meetings, I stopped to get my first look the Martyr's Wall. 

Something like a church equivalent of the Vietnam war memorial, the Martyr's Wall is a gorgeous marble wall on the outside of the building listing many people who have actually died for Jesus.  It tells the year of their death, a short synopsis of how they died, and their name.  Names are intermingled from all eras of church history, from the early church to modern times.  Spaces have been left blank to allow room for more.  Of course, only a small fraction of the hundreds of millions of Christian martyrs have been listed on this wall.
If you look carefully, you'll see that the marble is somewhat glossy and you can see a foggy reflection of my image in the wall.  I noticed this as I was taking the pictures.  It is sobering to see one's reflection in this wall.  But not morbid.  I think that every true Christian wants to honor Jesus not only with his life but also with his death, whether that means under the sword of a Muslim fundamentalist or under the scalpel of an American surgeon.  I felt sobered, but it was a joyful sobriety.

I had decided to give a bit of that sober joy to my fellow Area Coordinators.  After entering the building, I put on my orange jail jumpsuit and handcuffs.  I wear these sometimes when representing the Voice of the Martyrs.  It's fun to observe the reactions of people when they see what appears to be a jail escapee walk into their church.  This was my first time for a number of the other Area Coordinators to see my costume. 

Well the morning meetings went fast, and I came away with one nugget that I put to immediate use.  After asking for help in time management as a VOM Area Coordinator, I learned that one key to time management is reducing distractions, and that one way to reduce distractions is turning off the email notifications on my computer.  Not only did I have the Pavlovian bell, but I also had two visual announcements popping up for every incoming email.  No more!

VOM provided lunch for us at Tumbleweeds, a local restaurant.  (I don't think they even know what tumbleweeds are in Oklahoma.  Come to Arizona and I'll show you some real tumbleweeds.)  I decided that gracing a public restaurant with my jailbird outfit would be stretching the limits of public propriety, so I took off my orange jumpsuit and attempted to take off the handcuffs.  That's when I realized I had a problem.  See, I have two pairs of handcuffs.  I had assumed that both of them used identical keys.  And wouldn't you know it, I had brought the key to the other pair.  But it wouldn't unlock it.  I was so thankful that this time I had only cuffed one hand, not both.  But still, the idea of having to wait three more days to get the cuff off my wrist was a bit frightening.  Although not tight, it was already beginning to hurt a bit.  Not to mention wondering what every gas station owner on the way back would think of the guy filling his vehicle with handcuffs dangling from one arm!  However, I realized that I would have 20 VOM friends to corroborate my story should anyone at Tumbleweeds give me trouble, so why let a little steel stand in the way of a good lunch?  I will add that I did tend to keep my left wrist behind my back or under my napkin for most of the meal.

I also realized that perhaps Jesus had allowed this key mixup to occur to help me identify more with the persecuted church.  (After all, that was supposedly my reason for wearing the outfit in the first place.  Duh!)  Although I am accustomed to being able to take the handcuffs off whenever I want, many Christians do not have that luxury.  They are "ambassadors in chains" like Paul.  So I figured that if I had to wear cuffs for 3 more days, that was still a lot shorter than the years that many of my brothers and sisters have been in bonds.

The rest of the day was spend with VOM people so I didn't have to worry about people seeing the cuffs.  Next up was Dave Brackemyre, the director of the Voice Ministries department at VOM giving a sample presentation to help the reps he supervises (such as me) ideas on how to improve.  I recorded the first part of his talk.

Dave did a great job.  Even though he has probably spoken about the persecuted church more than any of the rest of us, and even though his primary work now is administrative, and even though his personality at first seems very dry and dispassionate, he actually got choked up a time or two during his hour-long message.  I think it's beautiful that his heart is still moved by the sober joys of serving the suffering saints around the world.

Another good thing happened during his message.  I had time to examine my cuffs and the key more carefully.  Through close scrutiny I discovered that the key had gotten a small piece of lint from my pocket down in the hollow center which was preventing it from fully engaging in the cuff.  Using a tie-tack and a small screw driver from Bonnie's Swiss Army knife, I got the fuzz out and got the cuff off.  Freedom!

My roommate Kevin and I had an hour before our next event.  He wanted to visit a tack shop to buy a couple things for his wife, who is apparently quite the equestrienne.  I have no interest in horses but he had the wheels so off we went to Yocham's Custom Leather Saddlery

It turned out that God had a purpose even in this seemingly random distraction.  After wandering around bored in the huge barn-like structure that was filled with an amazing assortment of horse supplies and home decor, but surprisingly empty of people, I sat down to watch the owner tapping away with his leather-working tools.  Leather working had been a hobby of mine during my childhood (I even still have my Tandy kit wallet to prove it!) so at least I knew something about what he was doing. 
this is just one small part of the store
Then his wife hollered from another part of the store, "Are you guys with the Voice of the Martyrs?"  We happily confessed that we were.  Her husband then asked me, "Do you know Russell Stendal?"  It turns out that the intrepid Colombian missionary had been in their shop a few times himself to buy stuff for his own horses.  I listened with fascination to Mr. Yocham tell how Russell uses horses to reach certain remote areas of the Colombian jungle.  But then it was my turn to tantalize Mr. Yocham by asking if he'd heard that Russell was a hostage of the FARC for 5 months, or the unforgettable "pig story".  He hadn't. 

Rescue the Captors - 1 (Rescue the Captors, Volume 1)So Kevin and I had a nice chat with our new friends (and Family members) the Yochams before heading out the door to our next adventure.  

(But to finish the story of the Yochams, it just so happened that the next day Russell was speaking at VOM's conference, and I told him about our conversation with the Yochams.  He gave us a copy of his first book (Rescue the Captors) to give to them so that they could read the hostage and pig stories for themselves.)

Well, the next thing that Friday night was the prayer meeting.  I had been looking forward to this prayer meeting ever since the 2008 pre-conference prayer meeting.  There is just something special about getting that forty VOM representatives together in one place with one heart for one purpose.  This year we had only an hour.  And we wound up meeting in a warm, humid upper room in a church gymnasium with a choice of soggy couches and steel chairs.  But you know that a prayer meeting is good when I complain that we had to stop after an hour.  God guided: we stayed focused on kingdom-building, Jesus exalting praying; no one monopolized the praying; a few songs of praise were interspersed; our hearts were stirred and joined together despite the fact that many of us scarcely knew each other beforehand. 

Do you wonder why over three hundred people give thousands of hours every year as volunteer speakers for the Voice of the Martyrs in the United States?  Why dozens of them traveled from all over the country to a little town in northeastern Oklahoma for this conference? 

It is this.  This finding of Family in horse barns and stuffy gyms.  These are some of the sober joys that come in suffering for Jesus, and in serving those who do.

VOM provided a dinner for the reps that evening.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Of Photo Galleries and Parking Gears

On June second we pulled out of Amarillo.  We stopped at the cross in Groom, Texas.   

The wind was fierce, so we didn't stay long.  But they did have a new statue since my last visit.
the archangel Michael and satan
And the visitor center is nearly finished now.

The Catholic theological bent is still prominent, sadly.  But still, it's a great place to meditate on Jesus' passion, and to talk to other visitors about Him.

The Tulsa skyline
After skirting Tulsa (and a wild time getting on highway 75 north, since the exit from I-244 was closed!), we were in the home stretch.  Here is a video clip of 2 minutes of our drive.  One thing that was a great blessing in our travel is that when we were talking with each other, often our conversation was about Jesus.  In this clip you'll hear Lu summarize part of a sermon she heard.
I stayed in a hotel, but my four friends stayed with Dale and Joanne, a kind Christian couple in an incredibly beautiful part of Bartlesville.   All of Bartlesville seems beautiful to me, so that's saying something!
Dale and Joanne's neighborhood
When you enter their home, one of the first things you notice is the wall in the foyer that is covered with photographs.  I mean covered.  Then you realize that the photos don't stop in the foyer, but continue on into the dining room, and kitchen.  What a great use for walls, and what a great way to remember to pray for friends!
This is just a small part of the wall(s) covered with photos.  I picked a picture at random and asked Dale if he could tell me about the person.  He could!
Lu, Bonnie and I left Andy and Barb with Dale and Joanne, and headed out for a 6 PM dinner appointment with a number of other VOM reps.  But Bonnie wanted us to stop by Walmart so she could get a digital camera.  And then Lu asked her to get some Gatorade there too.  I was inwardly stressing about whether we could still make it to dinner on time.  I was driving Lu's vehicle, which is about 20 years newer than the cars I normally drive.  One of the quirks of her vehicle (perhaps true of all newer vehicles?) is that you have to put the vehicle into "park" before anyone can get out.  When the vehicle is in "drive" all of the doors are automatically locked.  So we pulled up in front of Walmart, and I put the car into park so Bonnie could get out.  She disappeared into Wally World and I prepared to drive over to the Walmart gas station to fill up.  But to my horror, I couldn't get the car out of park!  Was there some kind of glitch in this new fangled thing?  Had the computer become confused?  I turned the car off and on.  Got out and opened and closed Bonnie's door again in case there was something ajar.  Still stuck in park.  Tried praying out loud a time or too but God didn't answer (although in retrospect I'm sure He was smiling).  Vehicles were starting to pull up behind us, confused why we were stopped right in front of Walmart.  I tried to wave them on past us.

I suggested to Lu that we change seats and she try it herself.  After all, she is the vehicle's owner.  Maybe it would cooperate for her.  But she too was unable to escape the clutches of "park".  She suggested I pull out the owner's manual.  I feverishly flipped to the page that described how to get the car out of park.  (Thank goodness it was in the index.)  "Oh, it says you have to push the brake pedal!" I said.  She did, and to our amazement it worked!  Then, our amazement turned to embarrassment.  Of course you would depress the brake pedal before shifting out of park.  I had instinctively done so many times on her vehicle already on this trip.  Why had this simple fact temporarily exited both of our brains at the same time?  And in front of Walmart no less?  I later realized that God was giving me a gentle spanking for getting so worked up about "my" schedule.

Well, we had a good laugh, filled up with gas, picked up Bonnie, and still made it to the dinner on time.

Well, we made it to the dinner location on time.  But the owner of the deli where we were to have dinner didn't.  He had agreed to open his deli specifically for our group (who wouldn't for 30 people?), but somebody forgot or wrote down the wrong day and we all wound up having to go to Ocean China instead.  
Here are shots of some of my friends as we wait for the deli owner
No one seemed to mind.  It was great just to see each other again, and the location was irrelevant.  But I do feel sorry for the deli owner.  Who knows, maybe he was at Walmart?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Meeting Mrs. Sperry

The five of us left Flagstaff early June first, driving toward the sun.

Our destination was a VOM conference in eastern Oklahoma, but it seems God taught me as much on the journey, as He did at the destination.

Lu volunteered her 2006 Trail Blazer for our trip.
Sign at a place in Joseph City where we made a pit stop.
Of course there were trains running parallel to us.

In the unlikeliest place, we found a stunning collection of antique cars.  The tiny town of Endee, New Mexico, has a Russell's Travel Center.  What seems at first to be just a very nice truck stop also includes a chapel and an assortment of exquisite old cars, beautifully showcased.  Here's a video tour:

While I find it appalling that anyone would squander that kind of money on paint, steel, and glass, it did provide an illustration of the lavish grace God pours out on the unlikeliest of people.  Including me.

It was nearly 8 PM before we pulled into Amarillo.  We stayed with a Christian widow none of us had ever met before, and I felt bad that we arrived so late.  She had prepared dinner for us, and had waited to eat it with us.

But she proved to be incredibly gracious.  Her house felt like "home" within just minutes.  If you've seen the Christian film, "The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry", her house (and hospitality) reminded me a lot of Mr. Sperry.  Even down to serving us vanilla ice cream, which of course I had to sample!

She has a lot of roots in Amarillo, having lived in this house for 42 years, through raising three children and the death of her husband.  She told us how her father was converted as young parent, and how Jesus changed his life.  This legacy has now been passed on to her grandchildren.

"Mrs. Sperry's" neighborhood
Breakfast the next morning proved to be just as delicious, with eggs, hash browns, fruit, and bacon.  You can "sit in" on the conversation with this video:

Honestly, I don't think Jesus would have gotten better treatment in her home than we did.  It was a great lesson to me on the power of Christian hospitality.  And not the last I would get on this trip.