Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

We the People

Recently I was contacted by two different newspapers asking me to comment on the Terri Shiavo case. At first I hesitated, commenting that there was a lot about this story that I was obviously not privy to. As I write this column, Terri is in her twelfth day of being off the feeding tube.

Like many of you, I have listened to the endless coverage, and conflicting stories surrounding this woman that has taken on a bizarre circus-like atmosphere. There is an abundance of finger-pointing, blaming, criticism, and character assassination; not to mention emotions that run the gamut, including “Just let her die with dignity,” to “The Bush brothers could save her if they wanted to.”

I make no bones about being a supporter of President Bush. I like him. And I believe he is honestly doing what he thinks is best. I also believe he will not break the law as it currently stands. Too many people have spouted off that he (and/or his brother, Florida Governor Jeb) could take matters into their own hands. There’s a strong reaction in me that likes that idea. But, allow me to point out a bigger issue that we face.

For decades, we the people have not taken seriously the selection of judges and lawmakers (senators and representatives). We have been more enamored with personality than with principle. We often ignore that part of the election ballot where we have the opportunity to vote for local judges. We rarely know them personally, so we don’t bother to take the time to inquire. “Leave it to someone else! What can it hurt anyway?”

Judges have been appointed to the highest courts in our land by a Congress that isn’t as concerned with selecting those who will interpret the law, as they are those who will make law. Judges, including the Supreme Court, are to interpret law. What has slowly been taking place in our judiciary over the years is a gradual shift from interpretation of law to creating law. Creating law is the role of the Congress. That’s why they are referred to as “law makers.”

We the people must get involved in our government now, or we will continue to be subjected to further abuses of the law, and poor laws proposed and enacted by members of Congress. Terri Shiavo is an example of where we the people have been misrepresented. When those who are incapable of protecting or defending themselves are killed or allowed to die, our nation has a rottenness in its bones. We cannot continue in this manner and expect the blessings of a benevolent God to continue. That would be a mockery. The question I have been asking for several years is, “Why should God bless America?” Ask yourself, “Why should He?”

The “slippery slope” is when a society takes a certain path of poor decisions, which leads to more poor decisions, until we find ourselves in a state of anarchy, and our rights gone. In my study of history, democratic societies eventually fail when they ignore their freedoms. They presume those freedoms will always be there. They allow rulers to encroach on these same freedoms, only to wake up one day to a dictatorship or autocratic form of government. Do not be so na├»ve as to think it could not happen in the United States of America. It is already happening.

Bottom line – if you choose to get all worked up over the imminent death of Terri Shiavo, who may well be dead by the time you read this; or the slaughter of the innocents through laws of abortion; or the court ruling removing “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance; or any number of laws that are heinous, then get involved! Work hard at having people elected to office who will uphold the laws of the land and not undermine our rights as Americans. Speak out on issues. Let your voice be heard. But do not ask our leaders to break the laws we have allowed lawmakers to make. That would lead to anarchy.

We have the power. We are still the people!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Refreshingly Refreshed

It’s the first day of spring, and the Mission Team has returned from Peru. In a special service last night at the church, we had a Post-Peru Celebration. Fourteen of the seventeen members on the team were able to make it, sharing their vivid experiences and the various ways they saw the Lord work through them during our two weeks in the land of the Incas.

As we were driving home after the service, my wife, Isaura, mentioned how much she had enjoyed the evenings activities, particularly the enthusiasm of the team members. About half of the team was on their first mission trip of any kind. The age range was from 19 to 74. But what particularly impressed Isaura was the contentment each member exhibited. Here we had traveled in excess of twenty-thousand miles by air to work in the construction of a church in a land and climate that was new to all of us. Sure, a few got sick for two or three days, and there was the occasional accident, the worst was a fall requiring ten stitches. We even had one member’s wallet stolen by a pickpocket. Tacna, Peru has the dubious distinction of being the
Pickpocket Capital of the World.
But nothing could dampen the enthusiasm that was clearly evident.

Several people on the team used their vacation time from work to go on this trip. That’s commitment!

The attitude of the team was something to behold. There was a lot of laughter and friendly horseplay from start to finish. For instance, everyone found it amusing that I have the ability to close my eyes anywhere, anytime and be asleep in seconds. They even took pictures of me in various places and positions of repose. Why this is of interest, I have no idea. Then there was Jack who works for a funeral home. He wore a T-shirt that reads,
Why walk around half-dead, when we can bury you?
Then Pastor Ed from our San Francisco church, was teaching a Bible study each afternoon to a group of children in the park near the site where we were building the church. One day he was teaching about Zacchaeus and his interesting encounter with Jesus. As the story goes, being a small man yet wanting to see Jesus, he climbed into a tree to get above the crowd. Jesus saw him sitting on the branch and called him down so they could have lunch together. By way of illustration, Pastor Ed, being a small man himself, climbed into a tree so the children could get the idea. Believe me, he had their attention.

But the best part of the whole experience of being in Peru for me was when Fred announced last night that he had recommitted his life to Jesus Christ. Fred’s in his fifties and is the son of a Baptist preacher. He has not been walking with the Lord for a long time. A prodigal, if you will. He was invited to go on the trip by one of the other team members because we needed someone skilled in welding ceiling trusses. Fred did weld the trusses, but God had plans Fred could not have imagined!

Isaura wisely noted that many people plan vacations for months in advance, often running off to exotic locales where they spend all of their time, money and energy in self-indulgence, only to return home exhausted and needing another vacation. And, I might add, often being unfulfilled.

What a contrast with those who spent their vacation time giving of themselves to others, returning home uplifted, satisfied and refreshed, content in having done something for others.

There’s a verse of scripture that addresses this found in Proverbs 11:25:
A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

Think about this, especially considering this is Easter week. This was the week in which Jesus gave himself sacrificially for us on the cross of Calvary, fulfilling the Father’s will. For Jesus, nothing could be more satisfying or refreshing.

If you’d like to be refreshed, I’m taking applications for next year’s mission team.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Semper Fi, Mac

I never cease to be amazed at the different encounters I have in my travels.

As I mentioned in my article last week, I am in Tacna, Peru with the mission team from my church where we are working toward completing the construction of a new church. It is the Tacna IML, which is the abbreviation in Spanish for the Free Methodist Church (IML is: Iglesia Metodista Libre).

After working very hard all week spreading dirt and rocks, mixing cement, welding trusses and all the rest that goes into a major construction project, we rewarded ourselves on the weekend. Friday afternoon about four o’clock the ladies on our team put a birthday cake in the oven. More than three hours later they pulled it out. Working with a Centigrade oven can be challenging. The cake never did rise much, leaving all of us to think we would merely be enjoying one very large cookie. To our surprise and delight, the cake actually baked and was quite tasty. This was all done to celebrate Ann's birthday on Saturday.

So, on Saturday morning we chartered a bus (not to be confused with Greyhound or Trailways), and headed toward Peru’s neighbor to the south, Chile. The first town inside Chile is Arica, where our host pastor in Tacna hails from. Great town which sits right on the Pacific Ocean. It was lunchtime so we decided to eat at a very nice restaurant sitting on the rocks of the shore, overlooking the harbor and beach area. Business was slow, so our party of twenty-one was a nice diversion for the restaurant staff. They seated us on a partially enclosed balcony where we could enjoy the view and the cool breeze.

Being ever interested in what’s around the next corner, I wandered off to explore the rest of the eating establishment with camera in hand. There were several delightful views from various places in the restaurant, so I kept clicking away.

I had noticed a middle-aged man when we first walked in, standing at the windows looking at the ocean view with drink in hand. I was struck immediately with two thoughts: First – he’s an American (Yes! We Americans actually look, dress, stand and move differently). Second – I was willing to bet he was prior military, quite probably a Marine.

I was standing a short distance from him, positioning myself for a camera angle on the coastline, when we caught each other’s eye, followed by verbal acknowledgements. This opened a
conversation in which we quickly discovered we had both served as Marines in Vietnam, though at different times. We also share the same first name. He served with 3rd Force Recon in Vietnam from ’67-’68. This was the same time period my brother was a Marine CH46 helicopter pilot in Nam. Chuck told me he had left the Marines after a tour of Embassy duty in Madrid, Spain. He returned home and spent the next thirty years serving as a police officer in central Illinois before retiring.

We talked for some time before being interrupted by one of the mission team members informing me that my shrimp soup was on the table getting cold. I invited Chuck to bring his drink and join us, which he did. I further discovered that he was in South America traveling alone on his motorcycle. His goal is to ride to southern Chile before heading back home to the good ol’ U.S. of A. He began his sojourn last September!

One of the ladies on our team is married to a retired Marine gunnery sergeant who was also with 3rd Force Recon in Nam, only a couple of years after Chuck. I wanted Anna to meet him since I knew it would be meaningful to her, and later when she got back home, she could tell her husband. Small world!

Chuck sat at the table with us until we’d all eaten our huge lunches, including ice cream for some. It was my duty to pay the tab for the team, after which I walked outside with Chuck to rejoin the team at the bus. We were still talking when the maitre‘d came running out with Chuck’s backpack. He politely thanked the man but explained that he had to come back in to pay for his drink anyway. The maitre‘d then said he’d thought Chuck was with our group, so he’d added the bar tab to the lunch tab. Since I’d already paid the tab for lunch, it was a done deal. Now, we Free Methodists lean toward being teetotalers, and the pastors are sworn to it personally. So you can imagine the hooting I received when the mission team discovered I had inadvertently paid for Chuck’s drink!

It has been said that if two Marines are in a room full of people, they’ll find each other. This is a true statement. There is a brotherhood, camaraderie, a shared experience that all Marines have. Chuck and I, from different parts of the United States, wind up meeting, not on some war-torn foreign shore, but in a sleepy little town on the coast of Chile.

I know a little something of the hell Chuck went through in Vietnam. Let me simply say it was an honor to meet him. And I’m proud to have bought him that drink.

Semper Fi, Chuck! Here’s to the Corps!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

An Open Book

I’m in another part of the world again, only this time it is not with the military. This is a short-term mission trip to Peru, a country located about mid-way down the west coast of South America.

Not long after assuming the role of senior pastor at my church in Ripon, I shared a deeply held belief I have with the head of our Mission Committee. That belief, which is not unique to me, is that a church that is not involved in missions is a dying church. I challenged the committee to think big, because I wanted God to receive the credit and the glory for any missionary endeavor we engaged in. So, our first trip was to Ethiopia in the spring of 2002, where we worked in a new medical clinic in the capital of Addis Ababa, plus missionary work out in the farther regions of that historic land. We followed that up with a trip to Malawi in the fall of 2003. This time we labored in back-breaking work to erect a church in the town of Mzuzu.

The trip to Peru is actually our 2004 trip that was bumped to late winter of 2005 due to climactic conditions. In any event, we are here, and already the experiences have been memorable, as well as challenging.

Last Thursday night, the seventeen team members stayed the night in a hotel near the San Francisco airport. You see, our flight was leaving at seven the next morning, which means we had to be there at five. Everything worked out just fine, and we were on our way to Peru, stopping in Atlanta, Georgia for our connecting international flight to Lima, Peru. The two flights totaled ten hours of flying time.

We arrived at the Lima airport at eleven-thirty at night on Friday. The shuttle that was to pick us up, didn’t. We wound up taking five cabs loaded with people and luggage to the Holiday Inn in the center of the capital city where we had reservations. Or so we hoped! I will not bore you with the details of our experiences with the hotel. Suffice it to say, all did not go smoothly, but we managed to work it out.

We spent several hours Saturday walking around parts of central Lima, taking pictures, and being amazed at seeing a huge McDonalds, along with a Pizza Hut, Burger King, and Dunkin Donuts, all in the same circular intersection. That afternoon we had a shuttle bus to take us back to the airport for our continuing flight to the city of Tacna, Peru, our final destination. This place is located in the southern most part of Peru. The Free Methodist Church has several churches in Peru, but this one in Tacna is where we are to help complete the building project for their new church facility. Currently, they meet in an old theater house for their Sunday night worship service. They also have a Saturday night Youth service, so after we arrived last night, the youth all came barreling into the pastor’s house where we are staying. These young people, aged fourteen to twenty-five, were refreshingly gracious, greeting us with hugs and a kiss on the cheek. They stayed until quite late, repeating the hug and kiss as they left. It was quite a welcome for us.

Today, Sunday, the mission team had its own worship service in the house before heading out to stroll around the markets. Many of the same young people spent the day with us, showing us the local restaurants and making sure we got the best deals on souvenir items.

Tonight we attended the worship service in the theater where Pastor Samuel serves. He arranged for some cultural exposure for the ¨norteamericanos.¨ Several young men and women dressed in the traditional colorful garb representing the areas where the Free Methodists have churches. They also served us samplings of the food from those areas. Pastor Eduardo Paulino, a friend who pastor’s our Free Methodist church in San Francisco, and one of our team members, was the preacher. We sang and had a wonderful time of worship. I was wondering about the offering and whether they do it the way most churches in America do, by passing the plate down the rows.

Well, they do take the collection down the rows, only it’s not an offering plate – it’s a Bible. The team (all seventeen of us) was seated together in two rows, and none of us were expecting to have an open Bible passed to us as an offering plate.

It did make me think for a moment. How appropriate, really, to have the open Bible used as the spot for you to place your monetary offering. Would any person really want to have their life be an ¨open book?¨ After all, here’s the book that lays bare the soul of everyone. The written Word of God emanates from the pages, causing a person to, hopefully, be a bit more honest in their dealings with God.

Am I likely to institute this same practice in the Ripon Free Methodist Church? No, I seriously doubt it. But it did give me pause to rethink the way we give back to God what is his in the first place.

But I can’t quite shake the question: Am I comfortable having my life as an open book when held up to the light of Scripture?

Are you?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Boomers and Backyard Bomb Shelters

I’m one of those classified by sociologists as a Baby Boomer. That’s my generation. We’re the ones who grew up reveling in the exploits of our fathers being the heroes of World War Two. My own step-father served as a Marine in the Pacific from 1944-46. I still have his picture taken of him in his “Alphas,” the wool-green uniform with corporal stripes on the sleeve. It’s one of my proudest pictures.

The “Greatest Generation” accomplished more good for the freedom of the world than even they could have known. Three despotic nations, Germany, Italy and Japan, formed an unholy alliance to rule the world. They had the military muscle to make it happen, and to enslave the rest of the free world. In my studies of WWII and the battles fought, I never cease to be amazed at the determination of the American people, and in particular, the American fighting man. The Army and the Marine Corps developed amphibious assault, a technique relatively untested prior to the island campaigns through the Pacific.

In June 1940, the British Army found itself backed against the English Channel near Dunkirk, facing annihilation by a relentless German Army that was giddy in believing they were eliminating their toughest opponent. The temerity of the British saved the day when ordinary citizens caballed together an unlikely flotilla of dinghies, yachts, and anything else that would float, sailing them across the Channel to rescue their beleaguered warriors who would live to fight another day.

As the Free World basked in the glory of freedom from fanatical rulers, a dark cloud emerged on the political horizon. The Soviet Union was rapidly becoming a world power. They controlled the eastern halves of Berlin and Germany. In the years following WWII, the Soviets moved against hapless Eastern European nations, gobbling them up in a fashion reminiscent of the Nazi take-over of the same region only a few years earlier.

Then the jet-age came into its own, allowing folks to cross the Atlantic in record time. Americans were on the move. Tourism became a booming industry. Close on the heels of the jet-age was the race-to-space. There were only two players in this: the USSR and the USA. Coupled with this was the ongoing weapons race. Each nation had a growing number of missiles, many carrying nuclear warheads, aimed at the other’s key national targets.

As a 50’s kid, we soon learned how to take cover in class should we be attacked. At the time, we were living just outside New York City. Even as an adolescent, I knew one of the first places to be targeted would be NYC. Hiding under my desk was not going to change the outcome. We were toast!

Then we came up with the Bomb Shelter. Remember those? I used to wonder what would happen if you owned a bomb shelter. Here you have it well-stocked with fresh water, canned food, and a battery-powered radio when the alarm sounds. You and your family (amazingly) are all home at the same time. You race to the backyard bomb shelter, equipped for the four of you. The hatch is closed and locked, and you begin the wait. Then there’s a frantic rap on the hatch. It’s your neighbor and his family. Won’t you please let them in? Glad we never had to find out!

Here we were a few decades ago worrying about a cataclysmic encounter with another superpower. Today, we smile whimsically when we think of the backyard bomb shelters. The former Soviet Union, though still dangerous, is no longer a major world power.
Let me ask those of you who can remember back to the days when America was crossing philosophical swords with the Soviets. Did you ever think you would see this Communist juggernaut dismantled in your lifetime? How about East Germany free to reunite with West Germany? Who made that happen? We did.

Did you ever think you would see the Russians move toward a democracy? They’re not quite there yet, but they’re moving in the right direction. Did you ever think you would see an American president (Reagan) challenge the “Evil Empire” to “tear down this wall”? Did you ever think you would see an American president (Bush 43) travel to Europe and scold the Russian president (Putin) for not making a genuine effort at the democratization of Russia?

Or how about this: Did you ever think you’d see democracy in Afghanistan, the country that was regarded as the Soviets “Vietnam”? Did you ever think you’d see Iraq become a democracy? How about the Ukraine? Or the Palestinians?

Then today in the news we see that Egypt – that’s right, Egypt – and their president of twenty-four years, Hosni Mubarak, has declared his nation will have free and open democratic elections later this year. Why? Pressure from the streets of the Middle East. Mubarak sees the handwriting on the wall. There has been a significant uprising fomenting in Iran, and now in Lebanon wanting Syria out of their land so they can determine their own destiny. That, my friends, is called democracy. It’s also called Freedom on the March!

Why has this happened? Because America is still the beacon of hope and freedom to the world. We are also the one nation that has the will, the capability, and the fortitude to aggressively oppose world terrorism, and to bring freedom to the oppressed. Nations are yearning for freedom, a rare commodity outside of the United States.

I am so excited to be living during such a time as this in our history!