Marines.Together We Served

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Miraculous Impact

Roots in Ripon
25 July 2016
Chuck Roots

A Miraculous Impact

It was the fall of 1998. I had just accepted the call to be the senior pastor of the Ripon Free Methodist Church.

Before I could begin my ministry in Ripon, I needed to complete a military commitment I had made which required me to spend all of September working on creating a new web page for the Navy Chief of Chaplains at the Pentagon. It was a great time! I was able to stay at my brother’s home just outside of our nation’s capital, commuting into D.C. every morning, wending my way through the insanity which is the Beltway gridlock, and going for a run on the streets of Washington D.C. during my lunch hour.

However, I was anxious to return home to California and begin my new ministry in Ripon. My family and I were living some 20 miles south of Ripon in the town of Turlock where we had settled after I had left active duty as a Navy chaplain. In August of ’98 the superintendent for the Free Methodist Church asked me to prayerfully consider being the pastor of the Ripon church. Isaura and I definitely heard God’s call to Ripon, and made all preparations to assume this new venture.

Jerry and Gayle Mottweiler had been members of the Ripon Free Methodist Church since the mid-80s. When I arrived they were in their early 60s. Each had grown up in the Free Methodist Church. Jerry’s father had been a pastor, serving churches in the Mid-West and California. Jerry’s older brother was also a pastor and had even become a superintendent. Gayle was from the Pacific Northwest, eventually meeting Jerry in Sacramento.

This couple is what all churches need when it comes to commitment and dedication. They served in leadership positions without fanfare or the need for recognition. In the nearly twenty years since we first met there was not one instance when they did not step forward and accept the challenge of ministry, which included numerous short term mission trips to Africa, South America and the Caribbean.

Jerry was the delegate for our church, representing our congregation within our conference and the denomination as a whole. Gayle became my secretary, serving alongside of me for fourteen of my sixteen years as the senior pastor.

But here’s the kicker: All of our future experiences very nearly never occurred because of an accident Jerry and Gayle were in while I was in Washington D.C.

One Friday evening in September of 1998 they had finished an early dinner and decided to drive to town to do their weekly grocery shopping. They live fourteen miles out in the country so even to drive to the small town of Ripon had to be planned. The drive was almost entirely through farm land. Street lights were not on these country roads.

Jerry was driving them home from the store when the unexpected happened. As they came around the curve of a road where there was an entrance to a trucking yard, their car, a Ford compact, felt like it had exploded. Stunned and dazed, Jerry realized they were parked on the side of the road. Confused, he and Gayle were now in a tangled mess that once was their bright red car.

Here’s what happened. Nighttime had settled in while they were shopping, so they were driving home in the dark. A truck hauling metal I-beams had pulled into the driveway of the trucking yard. The truck had not fully entered the yard, leaving extended I-beams sticking out into the roadway. Coming around the curve, the headlights had not picked up this danger before Jerry and Gayle’s car slammed into the protruding beams. The top of the car was nearly sheared off from the impact with all windows being shattered.

People came running to their aid as these two godly people extricated themselves from the tangled mess. Apart from bumps, bruises and some nicks by flying glass, they were both in sound body and mind. Nonetheless, they were placed on back-boards and transported to a nearby hospital where they were x-rayed, and then released to go home. They kept hearing others say, “You just don’t walk away from that kind of an accident.” Indeed!

Jerry’s words say it best. “The distance from the point of impact to the place where our car was stopped was at least one hundred yards. The car had reached that point having avoided any oncoming traffic on that two-lane road, and then coming to a stop between two power poles off on the right side of the road. We could not have seen through the shattered windshield to steer the car, or to bring it to a stop, even if we had been aware of what was happening (which they were not!). We found the engine running and the automatic transmission was in the Park position. Our eyeglasses were unbroken, lying on the floor of the car.”

I learned of this accident a short time later and was amazed that they had not been killed, or at least seriously injured. I saw the pictures of the car. Wow!

Jerry and Gayle became very dear friends to Isaura and me. I often referred to Jerry as “Mr. Free Methodist,” and that his job was to keep me in line with his knowledge and background in this denomination. Gayle likewise was as faithful and loyal a secretary to me and our church as you could ever have asked for.

Last November Jerry left us for his heavenly home after having reached his octogenarian years. Gayle has moved to Colorado to be near their daughter and grandchildren.

I miss them both, but I am so grateful that God allowed our paths to cross. Their lives were a tremendous impact on ours. Jerry said it best: “I do not know why we were spared in this accident, but it appears evident to us that God is not finished with us on this earth. We will continue to give him all the credit for our still being here and will continue to do whatever we can for Him with whatever time we have left.”

Amen, Jerry! I’ll see you again, my friend.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Reflecting on France

Roots in Ripon
18 July 2016
Chuck Roots

Reflecting on France

The year was 1960. For months we knew we would be moving to Paris, France. My stepfather was entering into a business venture with several other American business men to develop American style supermarkets in Europe.

We stayed with friends in northern New Jersey our last few days in the U.S. We even celebrated the 4th of July with them. On the 5th of July we boarded a SAS flight (Scandinavian Airlines) from Idyllwild Airport (known as JFK International today) flying to Copenhagen, Denmark where we made a connecting flight to Paris. The reason for this route had to do with Air France being on strike, requiring us to make a more circuitous route to get to our final destination.

As exciting as this move was, I was also leaving behind things that were very important to me. I was nearly 12-years-old and had a huge collection of comic books, many of which were originals, though I had no appreciation for their value. I also had a sizeable collection of baseball cards. I used to buy packs of bubble gum just to get the cards inside. Another way to get more cards was to “flip” for them. In challenging another kid, you would each stand holding a card around the edges with one hand. At the same moment you would both let go of your card, watching expectantly as the cards flipped toward the ground. I don’t remember if you won with the card facing up or down. Too long ago. I just remember that I was pretty good at it.

Another way to get baseball cards was to “scale” them. We’d gather outside during recess near the wall of the school and scale our cards with a flick of the wrist to see who could get their card closest to the wall. The winner would get all the cards scaled. I had to leave these collections behind when we moved to Paris.

I also left behind my favorite Lionel train engine. It was orange and sat proudly on a large plywood table with a weaving set of tracks in the basement of our home in New York. We couldn’t take that either.

But mostly I was sad to leave behind a budding career in baseball. I guess that’s a bit optimistic, but I had vision of being a professional baseball player. In Little League that Spring I was undefeated as a pitcher. I even pitched a 2-hit game which was announced on the local radio station that same evening! Sigh . . . what might have been.

We no sooner arrived in Paris, plopping down in a hotel just off the Moulin Rouge, when the French had their Independence Day celebration, July 14th. Friends invited us to join them for the evening’s festivities. We drove to the Palace of Versailles for the fireworks display, never realizing what was about to take place. In my brief childhood I had sat and enjoyed numerous 4th of July displays sitting on the grass while the sky was lit up with a countless array of brilliant burst of light. What could these French people do that could come close to an American Independence Day celebration? Well, let me tell you . . .

Arriving at the Palace of Versailles was only the beginning. This magnificent structure was built in 1682 in the French Baroque architectural style and sits on seventeen acres. There a numerous ponds of water acting more as reflecting pools strategically placed around the grounds with neatly trimmed hedges creating an artistic design which is spell-binding. At night, the subdued lighting establishes a mood of enchantment rarely experienced in my life (the city of Toledo in Spain at night comes to mind). As hordes of people respectfully flocked onto the grounds we found a place to sit looking across one of the ponds, expectantly awaiting the fireworks.

The environment definitely set the mood so that once the fireworks began it truly was the highlight of the evening. Whoever determined how many fireworks were to be used was a genius. From start to finish a variety of flashing colors, booms, and all the sounds, smells and sights of such a display were rolling over us until you were nearly gasping for breath from the barrage of furious pyrotechnics. And it went on for quite a while. I don’t remember how long, but it beat any fireworks I’d ever seen in the U.S. all to heck.

I’m reflecting on these moments from 56 years ago because of what happened this past Thursday, July 14, French Independence Day, in Nice, France. My range of emotions has vacillated from shock, to tears, to anger and back again in no particular order. As a pre-teen living in Paris I could travel alone anywhere in the “City of Lights” on my own without fear.

Our world has changed. And the change is not good.

The wanton murder of people celebrating their nation’s independence is evil and must be stopped. Children walking in the glow of fireworks celebration with their parents are killed by a religious fanatic who only wants to bring death to those who do not share his beliefs. This cannot be tolerated.

I firmly believe that the prime reason for this insanity in our world is that the United States of America has been so weakened over the last eight years that our strength and might is no longer feared.

A strong, robust America makes evildoers fearful everywhere in the world. It also gives hope to those who desire freedom and liberty.

America – a renewed America – must emerge so our grandchildren will know peace through strength.

God, please bless America again with courageous and righteous leaders!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Open to Ladies

Roots in Ripon
11 July 2016
Chuck Roots

Open to Ladies

There is a term that has become somewhat of a catch phrase in the past few years. The term is “Bucket List.” I’m not sure what the origins of this expression are, but it seems to indicate that we humans have a list of things we’d like to do or accomplish before we depart this life.

Do I have a bucket list? Not really. There are certainly goals I set for myself, and there are other goals that the Jesus set for me. I believe I have managed to complete the ones I’m aware of. Otherwise, I’m waiting for the Lord to reveal the next hurdle. Yes, I’m retired from the military, and I’m retired from pastoring a church, but I believe Jesus has more for me right around the corner. That’s the fun part of walking with him.

One of those items that I suppose could be placed in a bucket list was an experience I enjoyed this past week. I was a volunteer at the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) Open Championship held at CordeValle Golf Course in San Martin, California.

The reason I say this experience “could be” in a bucket list is because I never thought I’d have the chance to do this. As a pastor my weekends were taken. Even getting away for a week was difficult. But last October I saw an announcement on the Internet asking for people to volunteer to work helping with this major golfing event. This is the “Big One” for the ladies. So I checked my calendar for July 4-10. I was available, so I signed up on line. Within a day or so I received an email informing me that I was being assigned to work in the Practice Area. Well, I knew what that meant! The practice area is the driving range, practice putting green, and the chipping area. It means I could see these fabulous golfers up-close-and-personal every day while they prepared for the tournament.

Solna was our boss lady for the practice area volunteers. She hails from South Africa and was absolutely delightful to work for and with. Realizing I was traveling some distance each day to perform my volunteer service, she scheduled me to work early afternoons to early evenings. This help me avoid rush hour traffic. My drive from home in Ripon to San Martin is nearly two hours barring traffic problems. So to reduce my commute time and minimize my gas consumption, Isaura and I decided to stay the week at her mother’s home in Los Banos. This cut my time on the road every day by an hour each way. Was I ever glad for that!

The practice sessions for the golfers began on Monday, July 4th. When I arrived at the designated parking area, I quickly discovered that my brand spanking clean car was not going to stay that way. Parking was in a farmer’s field where hay had been cut leaving stubble and dirt. We were four miles from the golf course so we had to rely on a caravan of school buses to ferry us back and forth.

One of the comical moments during the week was this sign posted in the parking area that read, “Preferred Parking.” I had to chuckle at this. I mean we were all parking on dirt and hay stubble! Preferred? I don’t think so, except the preferred parking was a bit closer to the shuttle buses.

There was lots of security of course, each of us having to wear a plastic USGA (United States Golf Association) tag authorizing us to work in our respective areas. Copious amounts of food and beverages were made available at the Volunteers Tent which was close to the shuttle drop off. From there I had to take a smaller shuttle bus to the driving range, which is where I spent the majority of my time.

The weather was quite agreeable, yet a wind picked up during the week, challenging the golfers out on the course. Except for that it was all very comfortable. Caddies and players would come to the range to use the facility, checking in at our tent to pick up a bag or two of golf balls. We would ask for the player’s last name, and then take a pre-printed plastic insert with their name stenciled on it and slide it into the appropriate slot on the name placard. Then one of the volunteers would carry the placard to the spot on the driving range where the player was hitting practice shots. We would angle the placard so that golf fans who were cordoned off from the players could see who was practicing. It was also to benefit the media that was ever-present.

I think most of us consider athletes of this caliber to be spoiled and demanding, acting in ways that would be considered impetuous and insolent. I am most happy to report that nothing could be further from the truth. In my six days working the driving range, there was not one time that I witnessed anything remotely close to what I might have considered to be bad behavior. Instead, caddies and players alike were pleasant, courteous, and thoughtful. Caddies, and even the players, would often bring back the empty red bags that had held the golf balls. This may not sound like much, but the USGA only allocates a certain number of these bags for our use (20-25 balls per bag). We frequently running low on bags with balls. By bringing the empty red bags back to us, we were able to stay on top of the demand for more bags of balls.

All the big names in women’s golf were there: Cristie Kerr, Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Anna Nordqvist, Stacy Lewis, Gina Piller, Amy Yang, Christy Kim, Karrie Webb, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Sandra Gal, and Michelle Wie. Not only did these ladies demonstrate excellent golf skills, but they were genuinely decent people. There was a lot of hugging as players who knew each other were reunited in this tournament. There was also a fair amount of good-natured bantering between players in the practice area. Even the caddies and coaches frequently engaged in this give-and-take.

I’ve been asked if I would do this again. My answer is yes, if the course being played is reasonably close. It was a great experience, and it made me appreciate all the effort that goes into pulling off a successful professional golf tournament. And especially the efforts put out by the countless numbers of volunteers required!

I love golf!

Monday, July 04, 2016

Blessing America

Roots in Ripon
4 July 2016
Chuck Roots

Blessing America

A few months ago I was approached by a friend who asked me to write a series of articles for the Manteca Bulletin about the formation and history of the United States of America. The purpose for the request was to highlight the seminal moments and grave decisions that were critical in the establishment of our nation.

 It has been solemnly stated, and rightly so, that if we forget our history then we are doomed to repeat it. However, in the case of the United States the opportunity to repeat the mistakes may be our undoing. Here’s what I’m referring to.

Our nation came through the crucible of discord, rancor and war before anything remotely close to normalcy settled across our land.

There is good reason for the phrase, “God Bless America.” The pilgrims who first set foot on the shores of Virginia and Massachusetts struggled mightily in dealing with the obstacles and adversities they faced. There were innumerable instances where nothing except the hand of God was responsible for the outcome as these colonialists were learning to breathe the air of freedom.

A cursory study of the life of our First President, George Washington, should put you in a state of awe, realizing just how much he and our forefathers at that time had to endure for this nation to be free from the tyranny of the British monarchy. During the French and Indian War, Washington proved to be a valiant and courageous leader. In the battle of Monongahela in 1755, for instance, Washington was atop his horse leading his men against a fierce Indian force. The chief of the Indians instructed his warriors to aim their muskets at Washington. During the battle, Washington had two horses shot out from under him and four bullet holes were discovered in his cloak. Later, in meeting the Indian chief, Washington was told that the reason the Indians eventually surrendered was the belief that the Indians had determined that Washington was a mighty leader who was being protected even against bullets.

So then, was George Washington blessed by God? I firmly believe he was, and not just because of the one instance mentioned above, but because a list of similar miracles that surrounded his life and the lives of so very many of the other Founding Fathers.

Almost without exception, a key element in the lives of the framers of our nation was a strong belief in God. This was not some tip-of-the-hat acknowledgement of the Creator, nor did they think of themselves as good people because they attended church regularly. No, these were men who took their faith in God seriously. The evidence of this is all over our most important documents: The Mayflower Compact, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, to name just the primary ones.

What was the one key factor for America surviving and then thriving? In my humble opinion it was prayer. George Washington was a man of prayer, taking time each morning to search the Scriptures in prayer. And no less a worthy than Benjamin Franklin was given to prayer, conveying its importance at the Continental Congress during that delicate time when none of the states’ delegates could seem to agree on the form of government the United States should have. Read what 81-year-old Ben Franklin said to the assembled delegates.

“In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard; and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance?

          “I have lived, sir, a long time; and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see in this truth – that God governs the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writing, that ‘except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little partial, local interests, our projects will be confounded and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages. And, what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war, or conquest.

          “I, therefore, beg leave to move:

          “That hereafter prayers, imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.”

Washington, Franklin and a host of others were (and still are) a blessing to America for one simple reason: They trusted in God. And they lived their lives so as to be a blessing to our nation and to the world.

You and I will no doubt never have our names remembered the way these men did. But you can be just as great a blessing to your nation and the world by being a person of prayer.

So instead of imploring God to bless America, you be that blessing because it is through you and your faith in God that God will gladly bless America today and into the future.