Monthly Archives: March 2016

Filling In The Story

“The bonds of matrimony are a good investment, only when the interest is kept up.” Anon

The little sayings I find are insightful. But now I’ve founds some with humour. As for this post, it explains how and why we ended stuck in the mud, all one night.

Here’s how Doris and I came to be stuck in the mud all night with our old van there in the interior.  The weather was warm as we travelled that afternoon over that dirt road where we later were stuck in the mud. Our trip was almost an hour’s drive through coffee farms to the village of José Bonifácio; there we had planned to hold a service. Doris would have her accordion with her or the little portable organ. The music interested everyone and Doris would have a special story for the children using Flannegraph pictures. I was prepared in my accented Portuguese to speak about some aspect of the salvation message of our Lord. All that was part of what was involved in planting a new church.

But we had no sooner arrived than the rain began to fall. We did not wait to cancel the service for nobody would appear during a rain. We wasted no time in turning around for home. Why? It was the roads. All the interior roads were dirt so that when it rained the road’s surface turned to slippery red gumbo. Besides that they were graded with a high crown in the center so that the water would quickly run off and the road would easily dry. So when it was slippery with the mud it was the most natural thing for a car was to wander till it visited the ditch.

That same muddy road was the reason we had a flat battery. Because of the mud we were travelling carefully and slowly. But the old style generator that vehicles had at that time could not handle the load of the lights at that slow speed. In the darkness of that moonless night I could not keep the van on the road. It slid so easily into the ditch–we were stuck in the mud. As far as we knew our only neighbors were the millions of coffee bushes.

Our predicament also affected two laymen from our congregation. We had let them off at a simple home close by the roadside. They were to conduct a service there while we went on our  way to José Bonifácio. When we stopped, a number of children came running out from the house and across the dirt yard to meet our van. They were excited for the two men had come to their home. There would be a story for the children and in any case just having visitors out in the country was a big event. We planned to pick up these two men on our way back home.

But when we did not appear our men slept on the floor. Why on the floor? These country homes were small and so poor that even the children there may have slept crossways in one bed. There were no extra blankets in this home to soften the feel of the typical brick floor. I imagine that next morning the men were feeling cold and their bones must have been aching. This home would have been typical of many where there were the barbeiro bugs. This blood sucking bug can be dangerous for it may pass on a dangerous parasite.

What did these two stranded men have to say to us when we arrived? Certainly no words of criticism for us. As usual Brazilians are kind perhaps to a fault.  Instead these men shared their story of being able to complete their mission telling the story of Jesus. I am sure it touched the lives of the listeners for those who led the service were similar in many ways to those who listened. They all had so much in common.



Chilled to the Bone in Brazil, an edited re-post

“The most important thought I ever had was that of my individual responsibility to God.” Daniel Webster

As our van shuddered to a stop in the mud we looked out to see the coffee bushes standing sentinel-like in the semi-darkness. They were black under a moonless sky little more than an arm’s length away. Our vehicle sat tilted in the muddy ditch that ran parallel to an impassible road. The place–the middle of Brazilian coffee country.  Doris and I soon felt cold, very cold that winter night even though the temperature was nowhere close to freezing. There was little we could do except hug each other for warmth since the van had no heater and if it had, it would have been useless. The battery had gone flat and it was unable to start the stalled engine. There was no hope of that changing for there was no way to get ourselves out of the mud.

We were chilled to bone for Doris and I were used to the heat of the tropics. That afternoon we had counted on hot weather so we had worn nothing but the lightest of summer clothes. So the only way to keep warm that night was to hug each other–closely. Even so we shivered and wished the long hours would quickly pass. But the time dragged slowly. We were alone and isolated out in middle of coffee fields with only the coffee bushes to watch over us.

There was another chill that reached us that had nothing to do with the weather. It was the chill of worry. In our case we had left our two children, one three and the other five, in the care of a local girl in our home in the village of Neves. Our promise had been to be back home about 9:00 p.m. Would the baby sitter consider her job done at a certain hour and go to her own home leaving our children alone? What might happen if the house were left unlocked all that night? Of course we loved our children but that night they were exceedingly more precious. We had no idea what danger might confront them—or even happen to us alone on a distant road.

And yet another chill. The local papers had carried the news of the murder of a taxi driver. It happened  one night at a crossroads not far from where we lived. Though Brazilians are normally kind and considerate, yet criminals may be exceedingly violent. They often murder when robbing someone for that takes care of witnesses. We were stuck far enough from anyone that our presence was unknown to most of our friends.

And still yet another chill nagged at our minds during the night. The van had a flat battery and there were no mechanics or batteries available for miles beyond those coffee fields. And then we were in a muddy ditch with no idea who might help us or even how or what vehicle would be available to pull us back onto the road.

After an all-night of hugs, we were delighted to see the sun rise over coffee fields. Little by little I could make out the row housing where the workers lived on that coffee plantation. A little later I could make out in the distance a group of men, workers no doubt, waiting for the day’s orders. Could they help us? I had no idea but that is where I headed. I explained my predicament and they offered a hand. What could a few men do?

This was their solution, no doubt quite obvious to them but not to me. They came with their wide hoes they used to clean around the coffee bushes and with them they scraped the mud away from the wheels of the car so the tires might have traction. But I understood something they did not know. The previous evening the battery would not turn the engine.

But as I switched on the ignition this time, the starter growled and the engine turned over so slowly. Then I heard the engine fire on a couple of cylinders and then start. I was able then to drive out of the ditch and head for home.

So how did we find our children and the baby sitter? They were all asleep when we arrived home. I suppose they felt there was no use staying awake just because the parents were away somewhere.

Chilled to the bone? Yes, in more ways than one. But so much more could have gone wrong than just getting stuck in the mud. How do Doris and I explain it? We are sure that guardian angels were on the job, obeying the orders of the eternal King, our God.

Why did we find ourselves stuck in the mud on that road? Check in nest week.


More Yet From Our Passports

Telling the story from the history I’ve found in our family passports is taking as much time as the trip itself. Well, it seems that way. This one begins with our last day in the Jerusalem area.

From the Kidron valley we travelled to the Mount of Olives to see the Tomb of Lazarus—actually it was where he had lain till Jesus brought him to life. We did a bit of wandering around Jerusalem and if I remember correctly it was near the Damascus Gate that I got as nice ring for Doris with lovely Alexandrite stones. Those stones change colour depending on the light source.

That pretty well covers our time in the Holy Land—a short but busy stay. We then took a taxi to the airport near Jerusalem and flew to Rome with a stopover in Athens. As I look back on those travels I recall our family flying together from Cairo to Beirut. We were the only young folks on that plane. All the others were older showing much grey hair. So many times I’ve been thankful to God we did that travelling when we were young—still in our thirties—when we still had strength and energy. Our children still recall parts of that trip for we dragged them along wherever we went. My, my how our children trusted us when they were young!

Our travel details from Rome to Luxemburg now get sketchy for we have no more entries or exit stamps in our passports–till over a year later. And memories aren’t too clear either. This time in Rome we didn’t do any sightseeing. We were there to catch a train for Luxemburg for our plane for Canada flew from there. We chose to fly from Luxemburg because it was the cheapest flight available. We boarded the train in the evening with births paid for. We had learned a hard lesson on the all-night trip from Hendaya to Marseille. This was an eighteen hour trip or more. We woke in the morning travelling through the mountains with their tall snow-capped peaks and streams flowing beside the tracks. Lovely.

In Luxemburg we found a small home/hostel, a pensione that had the thickest duvet comforter on our bed that I’ve ever seen. I’m sure, as usual, it was a taxi driver that made suggestions and got us to where we needed to go. The next day was Sunday so we wished to be in a church for worship. After some questioning we found an international congregation. The pastor spoke our North American English so we hit it off right away. Perhaps another reason was the small congregation. After lunch at their home, they took us sightseeing through the country. I recall passing through villages and farming areas where, our host explained that often the barn was linked to the house. The highlight of that day was the view of one of the castles built years ago—but it was not open to visitors.

Since Doris has relatives with blood lines that go back to the Shultzes in Cologne, Germany, we rented a car and drove from Luxemburg via the autobahn North to Koln. Well that is how Cologne is written locally but with two dots over the “o.” We listened to the stories of how they as children endured the terrifying years of WWII. Cologne was an industrial city and had been nearly bombed out of existence by the allies. They told a story of parcels their family in Canada had sent to them right after the war. Once there was included a small bar of soap, the kind we might find here in a motel. It was so precious the children squabbled over it. At that time they were hungry and had practically nothing. But when we were there they had gotten on their feet and owned their own factory.

We then drove back to Luxemburg. There we caught our “cheapy” plane that flew us home, passing over the city of London and making two stopovers. One was Iceland and the other was Gander. Then on to Ottawa—or was it Toronto or New York? That is the way our ten years in Brazil ended—with a whimper. A year and a half later our family was transferred to Haiti. In the interval I spent most of my time travelling across Canada and the States–I was promoting missions in churches and camps. That was the end of an era, a huge chunk of our lives that was both difficult and rewarding. What more can I say?

Never Ending Passport Stories

“Our duty is not to see through one another, but to see one another through.” Anon

The passport does not tell an orderly story. The stamp, Republique Libanaise comes before the visa stamp for Egypt. The same goes for the one years later for Costa Rica. But the passport is forgiven for it still brings back the gigabytes of memory that might be forgotten. The name for the capital city in Lebanon is spelled Beyrouth in the passport. We took a taxi from the airport to one of the nicest hotels, part of an international chain in the city. That evening we wandered up and down some of the streets close by and ended up buying a camel saddle. Mind you, it was the kind we might use in our living room not on a camel. I’m sure we were not considering that we’d have to carry it all over Europe to get it back to Canada.

The next day we exchanged money and made arrangements to get it back to my brother-in-law Norman in Egypt. Now a strange note about money—after we sold everything in Brazil and bought our air tickets, Doris carried every dollar we had in her purse. The big reason was that U.S. dollars could be exchanged anywhere but not Traveller’s or personal cheques. The Egyptian exchange rates were a good example.

Something else of interest. When we were in Beirut the political situation was relatively quiet. But in the months and years to follow, terrible fighting occurred so that sections of the city were largely destroyed. The lovely hotel where we stayed ended as rubble. What a pity all the useless destruction and suffering in the world! And another interesting note! The reason we were in Beirut is that planes from Egypt were not allowed to land in Israel. So Beirut was the way around, for anyone to get to Jerusalem from Egypt.

We did not join a tour group in Jerusalem but made our way wherever wished and when we wished. Our stay was in a YMCA hostel not far from the Damascus gate. I recall two things about the hostel—it was cool enough to make our stay a bit uncomfortable and that we had to carry our luggage up three floors to our room. In Jerusalem we had the opportunity to visit the Church of the Sepulchre. History says it was the likeliest place for Jesus tomb. It was extravagantly lovely but did not seem nearly as real as the Garden Tomb outside the city walls. While in the Holy City we went down to the pool of Bethesda—down yes for the city has been built up on rubble over the centuries so the pool is “down.” The story in John 5:1-11 tells of Jesus healing a disabled man at that pool—so it was special to be at places where Jesus walked.

We planned that our plane tickets would allow us just a few days in the Holy Land. Our combined memories don’t tell us how long we were there nor does the stamp into the Kingdom of Jordon. The stamps in and out of the Jerusalem airport were in Hebrew so that’s no help. Certainly we needed to make good use of our time. The best way to get where we wanted to go was by taxi. They seemed both reasonably priced and quick. We visited Bethlehem with the Church of the Nativity that has the low entrance that is described as the Eye of a Needle. While there we visited the Shepherd’s Field and the cave that might have been used as the stable, the real birthplace of Jesus. Close by was the Tomb of Sarah, the wife of Abraham though over the centuries, it is hard to be sure of the accuracy of the story.

I recall a special scene as we travelled from Jerusalem down to Jericho and the Dead Sea. A shepherd was leading his flock of sheep close by the road and it brought to mind the words of Isaiah used in Handel’s Messiah. “All we like sheep have gone astray…” Too, Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd. Jericho seemed to be a sad city of refugees forced there by Israeli occupation. Not far away was Elisha’s Fountain with water that has been running during the centuries.

In the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem we saw the Absalom Pillar. It is supposed to be built by Absalom as his own memorial and it has the marks of stone thrown at it. Those stones remember his rebellion against his father, King David. Then we stopped by the Garden of Gethsemane that commemorates the agonizing prayer of Jesus before his death. Not far away is the church of St Anne (the mother of the Virgin Mary) located at the start of the Via Dolorasa near the Lion’s Gate of the city. We visited the Church of All Saints close by where we were shown a piece of the ancient mosaic floor of a church destroyed by earthquakes centuries ago. From that area we could look across the Kidron valley to the walls of Jerusalem and the Golden Gate that is closed up solid. Jewish religious tradition teaches that the coming Messiah will enter Jerusalem through this gate.

From the Kidron valley we travelled to the Mount of Olives to see the Tomb of Lazarus—actually where he had lain till Jesus brought him to life. We did a bit of wandering around Jerusalem and if I remember correctly it was near the Damascus Gate that I bought a nice ring for Doris. It has lovely Alexandrite stones that change colour depending on the light source.

That pretty well covers our time in the Holy Land—really a short but busy stay. Then we took a taxi to the airport, stopped a few hours in Athens and then on to Rome. As I look back on those travels I recall our family flying together from Cairo to Beirut. We were the only young folks on that plane. All the others were older showing much grey hair. So many times I’ve been thankful to God we did that travelling when we were young—in our thirties—when we still had strength and energy. Our children still recall parts of that trip for we dragged them along wherever we went.



Yet More Stories From Our Passports

“What is not started today is never finished to-morrow.” Johann von Goethe

No doubt about it, we landed at the Cairo airport for the proof is a page in my passport of just Egyptian writing. Others of my siblings could read it but not me. We paid a fee to enter Egypt for there are three cancelled stamps, in this case paper ones. One says the fee from those stamps went to help the Unesco Campaign to Save the Nubian Monuments. That needs some history–the Nile river was damned back with the Aswan High dam and when Nasser Lake began to fill it was flooding some truly historical statues of immense proportions—the Nubian Monuments. It is such a pity but we did not get to travel up the Nile past Luxor and on to Lake Nasser.

My family there in Egypt drove us up to Luxor using the mission car. There we stayed overnight before crossing the Nile to see the archeological sights on the other side. You might think “up” would be going North towards Alexandria but “up” is used to mean going South towards the headwaters of the Nile. Luxor is the site of the ancient city of Thebes and the area is often described as an “open air museum.” We visited the Temple of Luxor with a tall obelisk at its entrance and immense statues of fanciful animals and ancient Pharaohs. We marvelled at the extravagant size of the images, something our machinery would be hard put to do even now. Our visit to Luxor touched only a fraction of the antiquities you might see if you had the time. When there we did travel the short distance to Karnack to see more, much more of the elaborate temples and carvings. In ancient times, those two cities were tied together with elaborate burial processions.

Then we crossed the Nile by boat and were confronted by the Colossi of Memnon, two huge statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. For 3,400 years they have stood some sixty feet tall as guards to the mortuary temple of a Pharaoh; this temple was the largest of any temple of ancient Egypt. But now, along with the city of Thebes, it is gone. Not far away is the great temple of Queen Hatshepsut that was another mortuary temple. Once again it is vast, beautiful and layered in construction as was familiar to builders when the city of Thebes was the capital.

Along our way to the Valley of the Kings we came upon a man with his boys who with a bit of shade from a sheet of tenting were carving alabaster and selling it to tourists. We stopped and I went away with a little jar made of this soft, semi-transparent stone. They had no tools that we could see except chisels, hammers and files. But what beautiful work! For years I kept that vase on my church office desk holding pens and pencils. Well, that was till the day I knocked it on the floor and the soft stone shattered.

We wondered, as we travelled to the Valley of the Kings, at this desert area with its forbidding rock cliffs, hills and sand. But that is Egypt when it is not on the banks of the Nile or near irrigation networks. I think of Jesus who must have known about these deserts in the Middle East. He declared of his followers that from them would flow living waters. The Living Water flowing from our Lord is the water most needed to-day. It would meet the need of a world in conflict.

The Valley of the Kings was the preferred place for the burial crypts of the Pharaohs from the period 1539-1075 B.C. for they had roots in that area. Most of the tombs had been robbed but the one of Tutankhamun (King Tut) was discovered intact. So together we descended the steps into the underground chamber that opened into the burial place of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. The huge stone sarcophagus is there still intact.

The mummy’s solid gold coffin has been removed and we had the opportunity to see it in the Cairo museum. The artifacts and furniture from this tomb that we saw in Cairo have travelled the world. DNA tests in 2008 have confirmed that Tutankhamun who is known as the boy king was the son of Akhenaten and he reigned just 10 years. Pharaoh Akhenaten is another intriguing story for he banished their many gods preferring just one god. Was it possible Moses learned something from Akhenaten?

On our trip back to Cairo we stopped at the Abydos temple that is remarkably well preserved; it was there we saw the beautiful bas-relief figures of Pharaohs and gods. Much of the paint has remained  vibrant enduring well over 3,000 years. I don’t recall much more of that trip except the peaceful scene of the sailboats carrying freight on the Nile River. Mind you, that is quite a sight with the palms near the river and the desert hills farther away on either side.

One thing about those desert hills and dunes that I should mention—Norman and Velma had plans to drive us out into the desert to have a picnic lunch. But there was too much wind all the time we were in Egypt. Such an expedition would have been made miserable with the blowing sand.