I made a quick trip to New Orleans yesterday. While there, my wife and I visited the downtown area. I decided not to take this guys advice, especially if I had to pay for it, lol.
This is probably the longest memoir I’ve written. I hope you will take the time to read as it is one of my favorite memories.
In 1962 Mom & Dad were assigned as Missionaries of the Church of God (Anderson, IN) to the small country of British Guiana (Guyana), South America. A new church had been started in the Back Dam on the Demerara River. The only way to get there was by ferry. We traveled that route several times learning a lot about the country from what could be seen along the shores. Observation from the upper deck of the S.S. Carr (pictured) revealed a tiny reflection of how fortunate I was. Humility captured my thoughts each trip, constructing piece-by-piece exposures of a different kind of life. An open admission of how deprived these people were, could not be hidden. This was a life I would never live, only observe.
East Indian women squatted on the banks with their body between their legs dunking clothing in the water and beating them with a wooden mallet. Ragged clothes hung between two trees and blew in the wind to dry. Children with only a shirt ran naked-bottomed through the yard chasing chickens, or rolling a rusty bicycle wheel with a stick for fun. A small boy, too young to work with his dad in the rice patties, or Bauxite (aluminum ore) mines, cast a net catching fish for a supper meal. Another child used a spear, or bow and arrow to impale fish. Waving to the captain, he returned the gesture with a toot-toot bringing large smiles. A rough growl, a convincing bark, came from an ugly dog running up and down the shore as we passed. Dugouts filled with harvest from large family gardens made its way down-river to market in Georgetown.
This is the kind of town Linden was in the 1960’s, an underprivileged Hindu town with people eager to hear about a man named Jesus. When the church first started it was held in a bottom house (Pictured). The country of British Guiana is under sea level. Homes were built on ten foot high stilts, leaving the under house open. With the exception of a few older church buildings, the start-up churches Dad worked with were held under these.
There was one problem. The Demerara divided Linden. The pastor, Rev. Daniel Watson, needed a boat to travel not only across the river but also deeper into the Back Dam. How else would he be able to minister and invite others to this new beginning? Dad agreed and contacted Anderson Headquarters to see if they would purchase a new boat.
Once approved a second problem arose. How would we get this new boat sixty-five miles up river to Linden? “There is only one way to move it to Linden,” Daniel said. “I will drive it.” Mom & Dad reminded him of how small the motor was, and that he would have an exhausting day driving it from Georgetown. “I know,” he said. “There is no other way to move it.
Dad had a separate conversation with him that we were unaware of until we got home that night. He laid out an amazing adventure. We were going to ride the first twenty-five miles to Atkinson Air Base, the only airport in the country. The base was also home to a handful of American and British soldiers who were stationed there. Past that point there was a road made of burnt earth. There is a procedure of laying seasoned logs in place covered in clay. There are many layers of each. Once set on fire, the logs bake the clay. This process creates a hard- jagged rock that overtime returned to the dirt and the mud it was originally made from. Because the road to Linden was not maintained, ruts and holes made it passible only to those who had a four-wheel drive vehicle, several spare tires, a lot of time, and strong teeth. This trip by boat sounded like a magnificent voyage. We were excited about the trip and stayed awake most of the night before.
We woke with a great eagerness for our day. Dad arrived early so he could sign the paperwork and accept the new boat around noon. “Where is it?” Mom asked. There were dozens of similar boats coming and going. The mission boat blended with others. “There it is,” Dad said. Pointing toward an armada of small boats we saw him. Brother Watson was recognizable by his safari hat and round glasses. No one else wore a hat like his. He saw us wave, smiled, and pulled up to the docks.
I was disappointed. Shouldn’t this be a little larger boat? From above the large shipping dock the boat looked like a dugout until it docked. I believed being a mission boat it would stand out from the others. Except for the canopy, this one was no different than any number of other boats.
Upon docking we viewed a brand-new, four-by-sixteen foot wooden flatboat painted industrial marine gray. The canopy had a slight contrast but I was not complaining. We would need this covering to keep us out of the tropical sun. The three of us boys said our goodbyes and boarded the boat. Mom & Dad waved from the dock and grew smaller in the distance.
The river’s deep brown color is primarily the result of the massive quantities of silt carried from up-river by the currents. So powerful are these currents, that the ocean retains the Demerara’s brown color for a considerable distance out to sea creating a shoreline of muddy beaches. Georgetown sits at the mouth where the river empties into the North Atlantic Ocean. The rivers width and depth allows oceangoing vessels up to 5,000 tons to navigate up to Linden. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demerara_River)
For a long time we traveled south of that gateway about thirty feet from the shore. Watching the water ripple along side the boat, I was enticed to drag my hand in the water. I didn’t dare. I was reminded of the many tropical dangers that could not be seen from above. I was not about to have my hand eaten off by piranha, or shocked by the electricity from a knifefish, or eel. This short distance from the ocean troubled me. There was no telling what might like to eat me for lunch. There were many legends about different river monsters in this, and the other rivers in British Guiana. Thoughts of danger continued to rear their ugly faces. What would happen if a large ship swamped our boat from its wake and we sank like others in the past? This was a shipping lane after all. I shook that thought off in a hurry.
I could not deny, however, that after an hour this adventure was not very much fun. I sat in a small, wooden, and insignificant craft half way to our destination with a native pastor I didn’t know very well. Conversation was minimal. My two brothers were bored. I could not get out and neither could they. We were speeding down the river highway at 13 knots, or 15 MPH. The view grew monotonous, as all I saw was weeds. Once in a while we passed another small boat going to or coming from market. We waved and said hello. Passing a native shack, we watched and waved at people we would never see again. Bamboo-covered banks overtook higher weeds. A fish splashed nearby. I wished I had a fishing pole, or something to occupy my mind and pass the time.
At the rate we were traveling our trip would take approximately two hours. I wasn’t sure if I could take this quest much longer, but I had no choice. Mom had packed a lunch and a few things to eat for the journey. A thermos with cold water had grown warm from the humid sun. Taking a snack, my brothers grabbed theirs and handed one to Brother Watson. I wanted more but knew it was too soon. My brothers learned long ago that if I ate mine early I would sneak, and without them knowing, eat theirs later. We did not need a fight while cooped up on this boat? Besides, What would I do later with all the goodies gone?
The engine popped and sputtered generating a white smoke to rise from the back of the boat. What was wrong? I watched Brother Watson fiddle with a few levers on the motor. The motor straightened out and kept going for a while. Later the same thing happened. The pastor said a few unintelligible words; the motor sounded like a grinding chain but continued working. I grew worried that we would be stranded in the bamboo where anaconda and poisonous dart frogs lived.
The motor snorted and came to a complete stop. This time it would not cooperate with the pastor. He pulled the starter cord until he was exhausted. He sat down to catch his breath. I asked what was wrong. The answer I feared most was spoken. “I don’t know,” he said. That’s when I discovered we didn’t have any paddles to help us stay close to the shore.
The boat began to drift, not the eastern shore closest to us, but the western shore, on the other side of the Demerara. We were powerless. The shipping lane was in front of us.
Large ships passed on a regular basis. All we could do is pray one would see us in time to correct their course and not hit us. We continued drifting. With regenerated strength Brother Watson began cranking a cantankerous new motor, to no avail. The motor would not start. The tropical wind continued to blow us across the river at its widest point.
A bauxite ship passed at a distance and blew his horn. Was he saying hello, or telling us to get out of the way? We waved. He tooted again. By the time his wake hit the front of our boat it had faded to an inconsequential swell. Thankful hearts were grateful another ship could not be seen in either direction. The mission boat floated like a piece of driftwood captivated by wherever the wind wanted us to go. Drawing closer to an unfamiliar bank we visualized where our boat would hit the shore. We realized it was not a hospitable site. Humans did not populate this part of the Demerara’s west bank. The population here was mostly unseen, sometimes heard, others not. The land was a dense and dark jungle. Any creature you can summon in your mind probably lived there.
Easing into the underbrush and tree limbs hanging over the river we knew for certain this was not going to be an enjoyable situation. Native folklore spoke of an old hag who had a pet snake with a fishhook tail. The snake looked for vulnerable little boys. When found, he cast his hook out to catch the child. Paralyzing venom anesthetized its victim until he could drag him back to the old hag where she ate him for dinner. I knew this story was not true, but at twelve years old, in an unfamiliar country, and stuck in the abysmal undergrowth of a powerful river the tale did cross my mind. I just made sure I was sitting between my two brothers so one of them would go first.
There was nothing to do, but sit, pray, and hope for deliverance. Brother Watson tried the motor. It would not start. Small boats like ours did not travel this side of the river. Commerce was on the other side. What did this mean? No one was coming. The three of us sat in fear of our lives. A two-hour trip had turned into four. Evening was approaching and we were on the remote side of the Demerara with a dead motor, a large river, and shipping lane between home and us. We sat awhile. Brother Watson pulled the starter cord awhile. We sat awhile. Brother Watson pulled the starter awhile. Even us three boys tried pulling the cord a few times.
A short piece of wood floated past our boat. One of us harvested it from the water. I believe God sent this lumber our way. He even painted it white. This was a perfect piece of wood to use for a paddle.
“While you paddle, I’m going to let the motor rest awhile,” Brother Watson said.
Taking turns each of us used what strength we had to move the boat away from shore and toward the east. The boat seemed to be lethargic, as no movement was felt. The only motion was that of the water swirled by the makeshift paddle. The currents took us back toward Georgetown. The headwind was the same that had pushed us across the Demerara. Gauging our progress by watching the shoreline grow in distance, our determination built as we moved one grunt at a time. Needless to say, I was glad I had saved my lunch. While one paddled the others ate.
Another hour had passed. A ship headed toward us. Understanding the need to get out of her way before she reached us, we paddled that board with steadfast courage. She came closer. Our concern grew. Fear of not making it out of her path shook us to the marrow of our bones. She grew larger and wider the closer she came. Standing up, Brother Watson pulled the cord one single time. A chattering started. A wake grew behind us. The forward movement jolted us to our seats. A cool breeze refreshed our senses. The started motor helped us avoid a re-embodiment of driftwood. We were free of uncertainty for the first time since we left the docks that morning. God started that motor just as he had sent the board to move us from the underbrush.
By making it out of the shipping lane in time we were safe. A toot from the ships captain blew in the wind. Waving a final farewell our boat moved toward the eastern shoreline. There was still another hour before we would make it to Atkinson Field. The sun had set and twilight became our guide. There were several inlets covered in bamboo passageways. Finding one that exposed the highway, the mission boat maneuvered through shallow waters until it drug bottom. Tying off the boat to a bamboo. I hopped out and ran for help. The terrain was muddy and slippery but I managed to keep my balance and pulled myself forward one cane at a time. I no longer cared creature might lay in wait for me. I was ready to be free of the confines of that boat.
I climbed up to the road. My brothers were right behind me. A few cars passed along side, followed by a bus carrying more natives than it should. A few more minutes passed when a car pulled over. I was never so happy to see Mom & Dad. They got out of the car and ran to hug each of us. We hugged them just as hard.
Mom & Dad had spent the afternoon, while we were stranded, driving up and down the road in a panic looking for us. They had stopped and asked if there had been any boats capsize or sink during the day. They asked if anyone had seen three white boys and an Indian walking around the area. Each was anxious and worried that we had been hurt, or worse. A two hour exploit had become and all day calamity.
In the end, this day had been an adventure. Though not planned the way it turned out I should at least say it was daring, and a memory I will never forget.
One year later Dad found out that Reverend Watson was using the mission boat to make personal money ferrying people across the river in Linden rather than for mission use. Dad took the boat from him and gave it to an associate pastor who continued the ministry and grew the church. Since that time other churches have started in bottom houses of other small villages throughout the area.
Note: the country of Guyana is now 40% Christian, PTL!
I wanted to share my photography blog with you today. I thought this opportunity was such an amazing example of God’s creative beauty. Hope you enjoy!
Pushing and grunting did no good. Kicking did no good. Three twenty something year old men could not push a snag down a mountain in northern Tennessee. Though dead, the tree was still standing and we struggled to move it. “Come on, we can do this,” Ash said. The resolve to our purpose of knocking this deadwood off the cliff would certainly be rewarded with a manly feeling of achievement. Commitment to the task culminated in the tree rocking back and forth. Woody debris fell from its sides. With each push and moan the base of the tree became weaker. Anticipation grew. We knew it was going down.
A desperate chittering and clicking at the top of the tree forced us to stop and look up. A frightened squirrel flittered back and forth at the top investigating the demolition. She leaped into the air and displayed a graceful glide down the mountain. What a site! This flying squirrel was one of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen. The parade was not over. One by one, her pups climbed into view, hurled themselves into the air, and coasted down the mountain to their mom. Not one, not two, but four of these babies put on a show of magnificent beauty.
We stood in awe and humility, astonished that while we loved nature, we had no respect for her. We had nearly destroyed their home. Together we agreed to move on and let the tree stand.
Our first day ended and we hiked our way down the mountain to Mike Ashburn’s Grannie’s house. Grannie’s home was typical in rural Tennessee. Built in the 1940’s it was an old clapboard siding home with a tin roof and neighborly front porch. Her life was set in the old ways, unfamiliar to me. Echoes of hardship grooved a patterned face acquainted with rural life. Her home was small but open and welcoming. I shall never forget the pencil portrait hanging on her living room wall—two old mules, husband and wife. Someone had given it to her to remind her of her husband who had passed many years before. I could tell by the way she talked, she loved that drawing, but not as much as she missed him
Though it was late spring there was coolness in the mountains that would bite you in the butt if you didn’t cover up. We slept on old feather beds covered in handmade quilts. At the end of the bed was a thunder mug to keep us from trekking the darkness to the outhouse. Most enchanting was the fireplace sitting on the floor against the wall. It was not a wood fireplace. I was so tired from hiking the mountain that first day, sleep overcame this unacquainted odor of sulfur from coal. Morning brought a refreshing air about it. While snuggling under the quilts I could hear Grannie wrestling pots and pans in the kitchen.
Yes, there is a God. Hearing Ash hug his Grannie, I walked into a favorable aroma of fresh bacon in the kitchen. I was ready for an amazing breakfast. With the aforementioned came farm fresh eggs, and cathead biscuits. I don’t remember what kind of jelly she pulled from her pantry but it was homemade and delicious. In case you don’t know why they are called cathead biscuits, it is because they are about the size of small cathead and very fluffy (recipe: http://www.mtnlaurel.com/recipes/766-old-fashioned-cat-head-biscuits.html)
Our purpose for being in Tennessee was to go caving. I had never experienced this sport but was eager to try. Grannie warned us to be careful. “There have been people lost in those caves and never found,” she said. Her caution made us a bit nervous. Still, we were young and stupid and moved on in our manly pursuit.
The first cave greeted us with a huge, amphitheater entrance. We entered walking tall and daylight showed our way. The path began to narrow to a point where we had to crawl on our knees. Not too far in, the ceiling started moving. Huge cave spiders crawled upside down. I knew they would not hurt me but it was still creepy wondering if one would fall on my back and into my clothes.
We arrived at a point where the stark reminder Grannie had given earlier made us aware of possible danger. We were able to stand again and walk through eight to ten foot tall cavern trails. Awareness that water had, over time, carved these rugged walking channels brought caution. Yes, we had marked our journey so we would know how to get back to the mouth of the cave, but what should we do if water arrives? This thought initiated our climb to the top of these walls scooting forward with only spread out arms and legs holding us above the floor.
A small opening, illuminated by our flashlight, suggested we climb in to see where it would go. On our bellies we crawled a few feet before I said, “Stop!”
“What’s wrong?” my little brother, Dick, asked.
“Back up, I am face to face with a bat.” My light shined on a bat, just inches away. I am glad I saw it before I climbed through and knocked it awake. I shudder to think my reaction to that proposition. The response would not have been a calm one, I assure you.
Ash told Dick and me this cave was very long. No one knew where it came out. Dye was placed in the channels many years before and it turned one of the rivers red. There was still no sign where the cave ended. The suggestion was that the cave traveled under the river and seeped up into the riverbed through an underground spring. We enjoyed the cave for several hours, memories of this one time event were gradually embedded in my mind. We had one more cave to explore but desired a much-needed rest for our throbbing muscles. We went back to Grannie’s for lunch and enjoyed her company while she listened to our adventure.
When Ash told her we were going to the cave by another grandmothers home, this upset her. She raised a second red flag. “That cave is too dangerous. Some have even drowned and washed into the mountain and never been found. There are underground springs that gush through the rock this time of year without warning.” She didn’t beg us not to go, but her voice pleaded.
Okay, so now we have fought off cave spiders and a bat—worried about getting lost in a huge cave that has no end, and now we have to be fretful about an underground torrential river burying us in the mountain for eternity? These are the thoughts I kept to myself on the drive to this cave. I was unsure I wanted to continue this exploration. But, being the man I was, I sucked it up and persevered with the other two manly men.
The entrance to this cave was smaller and extremely wet. We were still able to walk in. Once inside, the area was small. There was an opening in the wall just large enough to crawl inside. Filled with thoughts of this being my last day on earth, I went last. There was a choice. Go right, or, go left. The right tunnel would take us uphill, the left tunnel would take us downhill. Uphill was chosen. We slow crawled on our bellies through a narrow passage with shoulders rubbing both walls. The floor held about an inch of, “colder than a frog’s butt,” standing water soaking our clothes. The chill prompted me to remember Grannie’s warning. There had already been water rush through here, and not too long ago, I thought out loud. “I’m backing out and getting out of here,” I said. Crawling backwards was slow. I didn’t think I would ever reach the entrance. When I did, I climbed through to live another day. My words must have been what the other two wanted to hear; they were right behind me.
We met Ash’s other grandmother, a beautiful Appalachian woman. We stood outside her home to visit. Our clothes were too nasty to go inside even though she asked. Wet and cold we left for Grannies. We spent one more cold night snuggled down in feathers and covered in quilts. We left for Anderson (IN) early Sunday morning.
This was an adventure I will never forget. Considering the unpleasant thoughts of death at any moment, I never want to go caving again. Once was enough.
As we continue our discussion on Bridges, Keith Haney has presented his eye-0pening interview allowing us to understand a little more about our black brothers and sisters. Read this interview and listen with your heart. Evaluate your own feelings in light of his words, and in light of God’s Word, and decide if there is more you can do as a Christian to encourage one another.
For all those who have been waiting for my Bible Study on One Nation Under God: Healing Race In America. It is coming out March 4, 2017. Here is the link to the promotional site. Sign up for updates on the release date.
The unfaithful preacher
(David Porter, “The Nature and Power of Truth“)
Ministers of the gospel hold a place of immense responsibility to God and the souls of men. If they suppress the truth as it is in Jesus, for fear of offending their hearers; if they substitute laxness of principle, for the doctrines of the cross; dry external morality for practical godliness–they do it at an awful peril. They are not placed on Jerusalem’s wall to amuse the multitude with a mock religion in human attire. They are not sent forth to fabricate new theories, or gloss the truth, to render it less offensive to the carnal heart. For no such end was the Christian ministry instituted. The gospel heralds are not at liberty thus to aspire. They are ambassadors from God to deliver His message in its true spirit and genuine simplicity. If they depart…
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I recently ran across this post on forgivness. Our God is so good and he promises us that, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10
Could you forgive someone who killed your loved one? A few years ago, I reconnected with a long-distant friend on Facebook and phoned her to catch up. She told me about her husband’s heinous murder and the heartache that followed his death which included her grown son’s drug addiction. I sat there, glued to the phone. But it wasn’t the details of his murder or her son’s addiction that captivated me as much as her response to these events.
Time passed and I was inspired as I watched my friend get involved in prison ministries. I asked if I could write her story and share the message of God’s grace and forgiveness with others. This is Wendi’s incredible story Inside Job that was published in the online magazine: Now What?
BRIDGES – If you are following us in the Bridges series, here
is our next post, by Pete Gardner. Thanks Pete!
This post is being written as part of the Bridges group, seeking to close the divide that is creeping into our society. I want to thank Susan Irene Fox, Andy Oldham and Lilka Raphael for their work on this project and for inviting me to be a part.
I will l readily admit that I have prejudice in my blood. I have long been leery of other races and religions, of people who speak in a foreign accent, or who speak another language when I am present, and of people who may not be as responsible as I in finding work and getting their lives in proper order. Yes, I have a lot of problems in this area. I joined the Bridges group to try and get some direction and answers to deal with this prejudice, and it has helped tremendously. I have been pondering this post for a while…
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