Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Listening In - Part 2

Just wanted to follow up on a couple of more stories from chaplains that I heard during the Free Methodist Chaplains Annual Conference in Rochester, New York last week.

This particular chaplain wound up going to Quantico, Virginia in 1965 where he would go through Marine Corps Officer Training and be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. He tells of one incident during their training when one of their training NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers), a sergeant, walked into the squad bay and announced, “The peace is over! We’re going to war!” Of course he was referring to Vietnam. If you’re a Marine you’ll appreciate this attitude. The rest of you will simply scratch your heads.

Later, after his Marine officer days were over, Dave would become a Navy chaplain, eventually retiring after many years of faithful service to God and country. But you have to ask the question: How did Dave get to this point in his life? Dave will tell you it was when two Christian men made a huge impact on him when he was in his teens.

During his high school years, his father took ill. Dave was wrestling with all the God stuff he heard about in church. He was far from convinced that this was a path he wanted to follow. You could say that the jury was still out. Dave was leaning away from trusting the Lord.

Dave and his folks lived in Wisconsin on a farm well removed from town. Only days after his father had been hospitalized, the weather turned severely cold, causing the water in their well to freeze. This was critical and life-threatening. One of the men from their church heard about their predicament and decided to do something about it. Every morning before going to work, this man would fill two ten-gallon jugs full of water, drive the ten miles from town to the farm and drop the water off on the front porch. He would come by later in the day to pick them up again for the next day’s delivery. Dave says he can remember waking up in the morning, hearing the water jugs thumping on the wooden porch. This man made these daily water deliveries seven days a week, from November till the middle of May when the well water finally thawed.

Dave’s father passed away during this time, leaving him lost and disheartened. Another man from church realized this young man needed another man to talk to. He showed up one Saturday morning at 5:00 am announcing that he needed someone to go fishing with him. Dave wasn’t sure what to do, so he went along. This occurred every Saturday throughout the summer, providing Dave with a man whom he could discuss his hurts and troubles.

Both of these men took on the responsibilities of caring for a hurting family, and in particular, a young man struggling with his faith. Later on, Dave realized that he wanted to be like these men. And if that meant following Jesus, then so be it.

The church today needs to have men and women like this. We need folks who will look for opportunities to touch the lives of those who have been hit hardest by life’s setbacks. Christians of all ages need to accept the responsibility of ministering to others in Jesus name. You can make a difference – just like these two men did in Dave’s life.

Saint Francis of Assisi is quoted as having said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”

Are you listening?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Listening In - Part 1

As I write this week’s article, my wife and I are in Rochester, New York where we have been attending the Free Methodist Church’s Annual Chaplains Conference. This is a wonderful time to connect with other chaplains throughout our denomination.

As such things go, there is always business that has to be done in order for any organization to effectively function, and we have done our fair share of infrastructural maintenance. My observations over the years have been that the best part in attending such events is the opportunity to meet with colleagues and fellow chaplains, renewing acquaintances, and sharing stories.

I thought I might share several of these stories with you that I picked up during our two-plus days together. The experiences of some of these Free Methodist chaplains range from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Chris was one of the chaplains in my discussion group on the second morning. He is a Jail Chaplain for a county jail facility in New York State. The prisoners in this lockup are mostly druggies, forgerers, and the like. Most spend less than a year in this facility. Chris shared one rather humorous situation in which an inmate was informed that his mother had died. However, the family was so disgusted with his irresponsible lifestyle that they specifically asked the corrections facility to not allow him to attend the funeral. The inmate was distraught over not being present for his mother’s funeral, so a couple of the COs (Corrections Officers) figured they could discretely take him to the cemetery and have him view the burial from a position elevated above the gravesite, undetected by the family and friends gathered below. As the inmate stood amongst the trees, shackled, and in the snow, he inched closer to the edge to look over at the ceremony. As luck would have it, he leaned a bit too far and fell, sliding down a bank of snow, crashing headlong into the casket. This, obviously, created no small amount of furor from the family. The poor inmate was stuck on the ground with his irate father kicking him until the COs could extricate him from the embarrassing dilemma.

Just this morning as we were all saying our goodbyes, another chaplain, John, shared this most heartwarming story. You remember the Elian Gonzalez case from 2000? This was the young Cuban boy brought to the U.S. by his mother, but she died enroute, then rescued by an American fisherman, and eventually was returned to Cuba to be reunited with his father. It was a big story involving controversy over his return to Cuba and the arguably mishandling of this situation by then Attorney General Janet Reno and the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) officers. A number of churches were very involved, including one of our Free Methodist chaplains. John says that when the administration ordered that the boy be returned to Cuba he felt that he should give both Elian and his father something to take back with them. He first gave each of them the newly minted Sacagawea dollar coin, but decided that was too materialistic. So he then gave them a Spanish bible from the ABS (American Bible Society). They no sooner got back to Cuba when a message to John came through requesting 15,000 more bibles which the ABS promptly provided. Even through this horrific international incident, God worked in such a way as to have young Elian and his father be the means for bringing thousands of bibles into this tightly controlled communist country.

Next week I will conclude with two more stories from a chaplain who shared how, during a crisis in his teen years, two Christian men had a major impact on the direction of his life.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On Vacation

Funny thing about vacations. Think about it – Why is it that we go on vacation, exhaust ourselves doing whatever it is we do, only to return home dreading going back to work because we’re tired! What’s wrong with this picture?

Isaura and I have been on a short vacation this past week attending a family reunion in Delta, Utah. We drove out at the start of the 4th of July weekend, traveling over Highway 50, a transcontinental highway that begins in Sacramento, California and ends in Ocean City, Maryland. It is euphemistically referred to as the “Loneliest Road in America.” Must be true because after we passed through Fallon, Nevada and began the four hundred and twenty mile jaunt to Delta, we probably didn’t see more than thirty cars the whole trip. The only signs of civilization were in the three towns appropriately spaced for such a long trek: Austin, Eureka, and Ely (pronounced: eel-ee). Highway 50 roughly follows the old Pony Express trail of yesteryear.

We had our sister-in-law, Edna, with us. She had been in Modesto visiting family, so we were her transportation back home to her hubby, Tony, Isaura’s brother. Edna is from Brazil and has only been in the States a little over three years, so as we were driving out of Sacramento toward Reno, I asked her if she’d ever seen Lake Tahoe. She had not, so I turned off at the North Lake Tahoe exit and gave her a brief tour of the area which included lunch at the Gar Woods Restaurant situated right on the Lake. Beautiful setting, excellent dining, and well worth the time spent out of our way.

We rolled into Delta about 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning. My wife unfortunately had one of her rare bouts with dizziness which lasted for a couple of days, relegating her to bed while family and friends were stopping by to visit. She couldn’t even lift her head off the pillow, virtually causing her to be quarantined to the bedroom. You know she’s sick when she misses church on Sunday! By late Sunday afternoon, however, she was beginning to feel well enough to come downstairs and visit with her cousin, Hazel and husband Joe.

On Monday, Independence Day, we were to spend the afternoon and evening at cousin, Rick and Lorena’s for a big family reunion replete with Barbeque tri-tip, burgers, deviled-eggs, potato salad and all the other great food stuff you would expect to find for such a celebration. Their home is on a small lake just outside of town. They and their neighbors had purchased gobs of fireworks for later that evening. The town also had a fireworks display ready which we would be able to watch from where we sat on the lake. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating. Huge dark clouds rolled in about 7:30 after everyone was comfortably arranging themselves for the impending fireworks performances. The power boats that had been pulling kids and adults around the lake all day had been secured; folks were still nibbling on various food items that had survived the initial onslaught of hungry family members; and everyone who had been in the water was now out and wrapped in big towels, snuggled down waiting for the fun to begin.

A ferocious wind storm blew in which also cooled everyone down to the point where Lorena grabbed a bunch of sweatshirts from the house and divvied them out to those who had not come prepared. One of the sayings about Delta is, “If you don’t like the weather right now, wait ten minutes and it will change!” At this point, folks started saying their goodbyes. Isaura and I did the same, arriving back at Tony and Edna’s just as the clouds opened up and dumped a lot of water, effectively ending much hope for fireworks displays that night.

On this trip I managed to get in two rounds of golf at a very nice course in Delta, called the Sunset View Golf Course. Sounds more like a retirement home, but it is a well-maintained 18-hole public course. However, it was hard to ignore the cloud of gnats that pestered you from start to finish. Also, any exposed flesh was a magnet for the mosquitoes, as well. But the weather was good and I was playing well, so all was right with the world!

Tomorrow Isaura and I will begin the long drive home, only this time we’re going to try heading south toward Las Vegas, then over to Bakersfield and up Highway 99 to our home in Ripon.

I can already see it – We get home and we’ll need a couple of days to rest from our vacation!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

To Be Free

            This past week I was having a meeting with a friend and fellow colleague in the ministry, Pastor Terrie Johnson. We were discussing the history of the church in America and the divisiveness caused by slavery within Christendom. Now, Pastor Terrie is diminutive in physical stature, but don’t let that fool you! She is energetic and excited about life and ministry. She is a black-American born in Mississippi during the period of the segregated South.

          In our conversation, I reminded her of the history of the Free Methodist Church and the reason we are called “Free” Methodists. Actually there are a handful of specified reasons for the word “Free” being attached to the front end of the denominational name. But a primary reason for the use of the word “Free” focuses on a decision that a group of Methodist ministers made in 1858 to take a stand against slavery. Pastor Benjamin T. Roberts attended the Annual Conference that year and attempted to express his concerns on a number of issues within the Methodist Episcopal Church (United Methodist Church today). He was unable to persuade the powers that existed to change their position on slavery. He and several of his fellow pastors were removed from the rolls of the church. They were forced out because they believed adamantly that slavery was a sin and needed to end.

          Those who are called Methodists are often referred to as Wesleyans, for the simple reason that such people followed or adhered to the teachings of the Reverend John Wesley, who is attributed by some historians as having prevented England from going through the ravages of revolution which France experienced just a few miles across the English Channel. God so used this man and his preaching that England literally became a transformed nation.

          So one evening I pulled a volume off my bookshelf entitled, History of the Free Methodist Church, Vol 1, and perused the section describing the history about the Methodist Church and its spiritual decline by tolerating slavery. Let the record be clear as to Wesley’s stance concerning slavery. The following statement should be sufficient, written by Wesley in 1774. He referred to the heinousness of slavery as “that execrable [disgusting] sum of all villainies commonly called the slave trade.” He wrote a tract, “Thoughts on Slavery,” which he distributed during his travels on horseback (circuit riding) all over England. This tract caused Wesley to fall into wide disfavor among the publishers of newspapers, and among political leaders and leaders of industry. “Its publication brought upon him much censure and opposition, and also subjected him to great ridicule in the various publications of the time.”

          The tract that Wesley wrote inflamed the nation, pricking its conscience, and awakening a righteousness that had been suppressed because of the lucrative aspect of slavery. Wesley wrote the tract “before the first society for the abolition of slavery was formed, and seventeen years before the efforts made by [William] Wilberforce and others to abolish the system of slavery under British rule.”

          Only four days before his death, March 2, 1791, Wesley “addressed a dying exhortation” to the Parliamentarian, William Wilberforce, known as the British Abolitionist, toppling the evil system of slavery throughout the British Empire. The following is a portion of that exhortation to Wilberforce. “Unless the Divine power has raised you up to be as Athanasius against the world, I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise, in opposition to that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But, ‘If God be for you, who can be against you?’ Are all of them together stronger than God? ‘O, be not weary in well doing!’ Go on, in the name of God, and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.”

          Tragically, at the very time that England was ridding itself of the stain of slavery (circa 1800), the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) in America was forgetting its founder’s Abolitionist stance. Over the next several decades, American Methodists, as well as other Christian denominations, slipped into “a compromising attitude and a softened tone respecting this great evil.”  Ministers who spoke out against slavery, or attended Abolition meetings, or demonstrated sympathy toward ending this egregious, inhumane policy toward another race of people was met with banishment and defrocking by the church.

          Having been expelled from the MEC, Reverend B.T. Roberts and his gutsy band of ministers and their wives, felt led of God to establish a new denomination in 1860, known as the Free Methodist Church. A key tenant of the faith is, “No man has a right to own another man. Every man has a right to be free.”

          Unlike the British Empire’s peaceful transition, the fledgling America endured the ravages of a Civil War, 1861-65, over slavery at the cost of nearly 700,000 men.