Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Africa, A Mission Trip

When Pastor Don mentioned the upcoming trip, something twinged in my heart, but I shrugged it off. "No, thanks, God," I said. "Africa is too much to handle." 
A few months later Pastor Don mentioned it again, and my heart jerked in my chest. Astounded, I told God "It just isn't happening. Africa is too much for me."
A month before the trip, Pastor Don told the church there was still time. I turned to Darling and said "I think I have to go to Africa."
That's how it is with me and God.
Darling, of course, said she wanted to see what God had planned in Africa.
So in the middle of March, 2011, Darling and I went on a mission trip to Africa.
When we returned Pastor Don asked me to say a few words about the trip. This is a modified version of that.

I could talk about the flight over, but it’s a haze in my mind, with memories of Pastor Don and Darling talking to people about Jesus Christ, but that’s not news to anyone here either.
I could talk about meeting Pastor Muhoza Lewi, and if I accomplished nothing else except meeting this modern-day Moses, that would be enough. But there was too much. The stories of a man who sees things in this world that others do not would encompass a book. Besides it’s his story, not mine.
I could talk about the Genocide Memorial, a testimony to the evil in the hearts of men on the same scale as the Holocaust against the Jewish people. Or mention the final thing I heard in that memorial – a video of a young girl who saw her family brutally killed in front of her, saw men murder her two little sisters in a manner that cannot be described because it burns at my heart. Her plan to destroy these enemies was so fierce I shuddered, and I wouldn’t be able to do it. She forgave them through the power of Christ. But I can’t talk about that. I still try to wrap my head around the genocide and cannot do it.
I could talk about the eight extraordinary people who traveled with me.
I could talk about Pastor Don’s unwavering commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his untiring efforts to help people in a land where hope is scarce.
I could talk about Shelly and her bubble machine and how her consistent smile brought joy to all the children she met, and delighted each of us as well. Or how, with a servant’s heart she made sure Pastor Don never worried about receipts or the mundane and how she always checked on each of us to make sure we were doing okay.
I could talk about my lovely bride, who hugged everyone and lavished the love of Jesus Christ on everyone she met, in a physical way. No one was safe from her hugs, and no one wanted to be. Or how I saw her pray over a man who was embroiled in evil and I watched that darkness lift from him. That’s another great story, and you’d love it. I’m a lucky man.
I could talk about Candace, and her sharp eye for details, recording this different world around her in her notebook with powerful words. At one point she jumped up and danced with the singing women.
I could talk about Andrew and how he saved the day a number of times with his guitar and his honest desire to truly know these people, these brothers and sisters we were visiting. They liked the guitar, but they really went wild when he added a drum sound when he was playing.
I could talk about Amanda, whose sweet nature and loving care touched each of us on the team and each person we visited. Her smile alone communicated that she, and all of us, cared for them. Her quiet tears at some of the harder things we saw, like the sea of hungry widows and orphans, or the shadows of what happened in the Genocide Memorial echoed our hearts as well. She was a treasure to us all.
I could talk about Dee and how she ministered to the needs of the widows, bringing them the hope of Jesus in a land of darkness. How in a land where widows and orphans have few women champions, she stood tall and offered them a vision.
I could talk about Sherry and her love for all the people we visited, and how she got up and danced with Pastor Lewi’s father. Or how Sherry came down one morning and said to us “I feel like I’m an onion and God is peeling me away one layer at a time. If He keeps this up, pretty soon there won’t be anything left of me.” And after we stared at her for a second she lit up like a lamp. “Oh, that’s where I want to be, isn’t it?”
But these aren’t really my stories to talk about.
So I thought about my story. This was a trip to a foreign land, a trip on two levels, physical and spiritual.
I could tell you how I prayed unceasingly for God to tell me why he brought me to this Dark Continent. Or how I got to tell people “Imana irabakunda” or “Mungu anakupenda” which means God loves you in two different languages. How a man in a small village loaned me a Kenyan-Rwandan bible and I read John 3:16 to them in Kenyan-Rwandan. I didn’t know the words, but we all know God’s heart and the language didn’t matter.
I could tell you the story of how God sliced my heart open at the Genocide Memorial. How He tore at me as I looked over one-room mud huts with no electricity, no water, no bathroom and saw starving widows and orphans as far as my eye could see.
I could tell you how God woke me with a message and how He used that. Or that I got to preach, which was pretty cool. I could tell you of the attack of dark spirits against my soul and how Satan got the upper hand, but went a little too far. Or how the entire team prayed together with Don’s leadership and strongholds in our lives were torn down. I could tell you these stories, but I’m not entirely sure what to say about them. I’m still working on them in my mind.
I could tell you how I found a CLEAN SHIRT in my suitcase, put it on that last day and felt almost clean for the first time in two weeks. Then I spilled something down the front of it.
And then it occurred to me. There is a story that is unique, and I want to share it.
We were on the flight home, finally, and I’m sitting there next to Darling just grinning and humming. We stop in Entebbe and are delayed for a bit, and I keep grinning and humming. And they turn off the air conditioning and I keep grinning and humming. And there are other delays and we still have over thirty hours of travel ahead of us, and I’m still grinning and humming. And Darling turns to me and says “You sure seem happy.”
I replied. “They can delay us, they can stall us, they can shut off the air conditioner. I don’t care! We’re going home.”
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? That’s the attitude every single Christian needs to hold dear to our hearts. We need to keep smiling when this world pounds on us and delays us and makes us sweat. Because we’re on a journey, and our destination is home, with God Almighty. This is just the trip. We’re going home!

I took this from my main blog, O-Dark-Thirty, where it is the first blog post I ever made.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Timeshare Nightmare

Some days, I just cannot manage to get a post finished. That's today.

Darling was sick all night.

The thing is, aside from throwing up she was also cold - like ice cold.

The last time that happened we were vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, at a super-nice club.

We booked it with an exchange of our timeshare, so had to attend one of their sales meetings.

Let me just say, if you EVER are in a timeshare meeting - don't buy. The high-pressure tactics are designed to influence you to buy what they have. Just. Don't.

Walk away. They'll come after you and make deal after deal. Keep walking and enjoy your vacation.

We bought. Yeah, you read that right. The pitch they made us was incredible. The young salesman was our best friend, our son, our brother - all rolled into one. He was willing to consolidate all three of our existing timeshares (I confess. We speak from experience here.).

I wanted to get our timeshares down to a single one. We signed. That was Saturday.

Oh, and the half-hour sales pitch lasted three hours. The entire morning gone in a sales meeting.

Back at the room I thought to do some research. Turns out, this is a standard sales pitch. They get you to sign papers to buy their property, and have you sign papers to sell your other timeshares.

Which they never do.  You're stuck with ONE MORE timeshare.

I called on Sunday to cancel this deal. The business office was closed Sunday.

First thing Monday morning I called. After much persistence on my part and resistance on theirs, I managed a meeting with someone to cancel the deal.

At first, the guy was conciliatory. He even continued to drop the price of the timeshare, down to ten percent of the original cost.

Not a chance.

Then he got belligerent.

Too bad.

Then he cancelled, and basically threw us out of his office.

The story isn't quite over.

Some fellows outside his office caught us and made us a sweet deal. We didn't have to buy a timeshare at all, and they could help us sell ours.

Sell our timeshares! A dream come true!

Just sign here, sign here. These are worth a lot of money. We guarantee they will sell. We'll send the money to this credit card account we're setting up for you...

I should have seen it coming. They charged my "new" credit card over seven grand and it took months to get that straightened out.

Another scam in Mexico.

To make it all worse, Darling shook hands with a guy that was sick. She became ill.

Cold as ice, deathly pale, feel bad sick.

We had no travel insurance for this. Plane tickets to come home early cost a fortune.

I dampened towels, put them in plastic bags and micro-waved them. I used those to warm her up.

She was a trooper, though. Two days later we got home and the Doctor said she had pneumonia.

Worst. Vacation. Ever.

So - Timeshares NO. Mexico NO. Deals in foreign countries NO.

Please learn those lessons from us, and not the hard way.

Thanks for reading. I'll post pictures later. The resort was beautiful. The people, not so much.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

San Antonio, February 2019

Alamo. NOT the rental place.
Not all our trips are epic, but I'll share them anyway. 

A few weekends ago we traveled to San Antonio, Texas to visit my life-long friend John. He and his wife flew in from Michigan for a conference.

From Houston to anywhere of size is three hours, minimum. SA hits that sweet spot. We've driven there and back in a day, but that's not something you want to do unless you have to.

Or have a travel van. Maybe I want a travel van...

Back on point. What do you do in SA?

You can visit the many ancient old missions that dot the map near the city center.

Nothing we immigrant USA citizens have built is more than five hundred years old. By European standards, buildings are almost new around here. To see ancient, we need to find Indian ruins or go to Italy.

John's Darling Wife, Rachel, did most of that touring during the week when we couldn't make it over there, but that always leaves two things I love about SA - eating and the Alamo.

We spent a wonderful evening catching up with John and Rachel, ate a lovely dinner and went to see the Alamo on Saturday morning.

A parade blocked our way. For the San Antonio Rodeo.

Huh? San Antonio has a rodeo? 

The parade wasn't too long, but the pictures captured the vibrant image of the history of this great Texas city.


We did eventually cross the road and get into the Alamo. I have seen it before, of course. It looks smaller than I remember.

Texican heroes of the Alamo
We enjoyed a wonderful time with our friends.

Lest you think I'm not grouchy about it - well, I'm not. Funny huh? I always enjoy myself during road trips with Darling.

Wait a second. Come to think of it, I had a difficult time finding a decent parking place in the city parking, which is where you park when staying at a fancy hotel in SA. And I lost the car when we went to leave.

I almost forgot that.

Thanks for reading.

Here's a few more pictures of the rodeo.

Texas has flowers on Groundhog's Day

Happy Cowboys/Cowgirls

The Houston Rodeo has bigger horses.
Just sayin'

Caballeros! Harken back 150 years...

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

First Bus Trip

I'll cheat a little on this post and go back in time to my second Travel as an adult - the trip that brought me to Houston almost four decades ago.

The first Travel as an adult was a plane trip to California as a graduating ChE. I told everyone it was a job interview, but it was really about a girl with a job interview. That's all I'll say on that.

I detest buses.

Let me clarify that. As long as I am conscious and have a choice of transportation, I won't ride on another public bus in the United States. That was a promise I made to myself in 1980, and it's worked pretty well so far.

Oh, I think the bus system works well. My oldest son just returned from another city on a bus. If the bus wasn't available, he would have stayed home and missed a short adventure. So, buses are okay, for the young.

Sometimes something happens in your life, though, that creates a long-term impression. My mother's cooking had a long-term impression on my next older brother, and I'll tell that tale soon. From long exposure to parents who smoked, all four of my father's sons detest smoking. For me a traumatic bus ride to Houston, Texas forever soured me on riding buses.

I need to say public buses. A few years ago Darling and I went to Israel and we had a great time. We rode a giant travel bus, and it was fantastic. There were only a handful of us from the church and our bus driver, Rami, could maneuver that thing like a space shuttle pilot docking to the International Space Station.

Darling and I also took a public bus in Cabo, Mexico when we went on vacation. We wanted to see more of the local area, and we decided we could use the bus system. Cheap, almost timely, and we got to mingle with a lot of fascinating and kind people who were only too delighted to practice English on us. We hurt their ears with our Spanish.

But a US bus trip? On purpose? God willing, never again.

In 1980 I was fresh out of college and heading to Houston to live with Nick, a college roommate, and find a job in the chemical industry. I had no money for a plane ticket and Nick had no car. He used local, in-town bus transportation.
I have to amend these thoughts, because I think that in-town bus systems usually rock. In East Lansing they used to be top-notch, though I haven't used them in years. When I was in Michigan State University, though, I loved the bus system. A quarter got me where I wanted to go and another quarter brought me home again.

And the Metro in Maryland? That rocks! I was there a few decades ago and went searching for where we lived when I was in seventh and eighth grades. I found the house just a few blocks from a Metro station in Rockville. My buddy and I promptly availed ourselves of that service and did a bit of a tour through our Nation's capital. That was a fun trip.

We did some work while we were there also, but that's the boring part of the story.

So I had no easy way to travel from Rockford, MI to Houston, TX in the middle of the summer of 1980. I had little cash, and my family had none to spare. I had no car (and did not own one for any of my college career, though Grandpa was willing to sell me one for a song. That's another story). I had enough cash from summer jobs to take a bus to Houston.

One bag held everything I owned in the world, though my parents were willing to ship me a few small pieces of furniture once I got a job and settled. I climbed up the steps of that Greyhound and was off on my life's adventure.

Two days later I stepped off a bus in Houston, TX, in the hot humid air of a night on the fourth of July and swore I'd not ride on a bus again.

Sure, it looks big, but it gets smaller as it moves.

The trip was two days long. I don't know what route we took. I bought what I could afford at the time. The air conditioner on the bus barely worked. We stopped in every small town that had a crossroads and someone waiting with a bag.

A very large woman sat next to me on the bus and she perspired the entire time she was in the seat. At the time I weighed in at on hundred forty pounds, dripping wet. And dripping wet I was when we made one of the few stops to get something to eat and drink.

The rest rooms on the trip were abysmal. Were there any on the bus? I don't know. Since I drank minimally and ate almost nothing, I only needed to relieve myself a couple times, and I touched no surface of any of those places. The outhouse at Grandpa's cottage was cleaner.

I was missing everyone a lot during the trip, scared of what I'd do, how I'd do, where life would take me. I'm sure that this feeling pervaded the entire trip and made it more miserable than it was.

During one dark part of the night, dozing in my seat, my head bouncing against the bus window I awoke and saw millions of tiny points of light in the distance, white and amber lights as far as I could see. For a moment I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven, but my sticky shirt reminded me of the bus, and I slipped back into my traveling fever.

Looking back it was probably the mercury and sulfur lights in chemical plants as we drove through Louisiana, but I didn't know that.

When we arrived in Houston and I stepped off that bus for the last time, I resolved it would be the final time. Nick's smile of welcome was a beacon of safety.

The night was dark, the air was humid and I'd never seen such giant cockroaches in my entire life, but I was done traveling by bus.

(Originally from my O-Dark-Thirty blog)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Darling's Canada Trip Photos

So this one is almost all pictures. I made comments on them, but what else do you expect from a Travel Blog? You must have pictures, or it didn't happen!

Yeah, they aren't in any order whatsoever. I tried, but editing them once I put them in here is annoying, and I'm grouchy enough.

Even when I'm home.

Enjoy. Thanks for reading - uh, looking.

The church across from our Vancouver hotel.

Train doorway into adventure...

A pika on Whistler's Mountain in Jasper

Darling and I on Whistler's Mountain in Jasper

Chipmunk, Whistler's Mountain

Train outside Jasper train station

View from Jasper Train Station

Along the route, Jasper to Vancouver

More Jasper to Vancouver

Darling still managed to capture good pics from a moving train

Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountains 

Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountains

Vancouver to Seattle

A nice vista, Vancouver to Seattle

What's with the ancient power poles?
They were everywhere along the tracks.

West Coast, somewhere between Vancouver and Seattle

Hulking beach wreck
West Coast, somewhere between Vancouver and Seattle

West Coast, somewhere between Vancouver and Seattle
This is probably out of order. Hi Boeing!

West Coast, somewhere between Vancouver and Seattle

West Coast, Vancouver to Seattle

Yeah, I have no idea where this one was.
Seattle. My Darling and a local officer.
Thanks for your service, officer!
Seattle Fish Market

The viewing car, Seattle to Chicago

Between Seattle and Chicago

Between Seattle and Chicago.
Darling can capture vistas.

... and sunsets

More scenery. Be glad I didn't post it all.

West Coast, near Seattle


Seattle. See the sign in the window?

Vancouver Aquarium
Really. They have birds, too.

Vancouver Aquarium

Bridge in Vancouver
The viewing car. Along the west coastline.

Miserable bird.
I mean, I think he's miserable.


Africa, A Mission Trip

When Pastor Don mentioned the upcoming trip, something twinged in my heart, but I shrugged it off. "No, thanks, God," I said. &qu...