It ain’t over ‘till it’s over

I saw in the news that Yogi Berra died.

That’s a sharp reminder and a bit of a jolt to someone my age who remembers the golden age of baseball when Yogi played for the New York Yankees and Ted Williams for the Boston Red Sox. Those were the days when Stan Musial hit home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals, Bob Feller pitched for the Cleveland Indians and Al Kaline played for my beloved Detroit Tigers.

There may be those who question that those early years of the 1950s were the Golden Age of baseball, but for me and my generation, they were.

Someone once said that baseball was at its peak when you were 12 years old. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it was at its peak when you were 12.

That certainly was true for me. I could tell you the name, position and batting average of every Tigers player and most other players, at least in the American League. I kept box scores, clipped newspaper articles, pitched every game as I listened to it on the radio and bounced a ball off the front porch steps.

And, I dreamed of being a major league player—preferably for the hometown Tigers.

The game and I have both changed over the years, but I’m still a fan. There is not much more relaxing than to go to a game and watch every pitch while keeping an eye on the scoreboard—unless it’s watching a game at home with a bowl of popcorn on your lap and a Vernor’s in your hand.

The golden age was when you listened to far more games on the radio than you watched on TV. One reason for that was that television baseball was in its infancy and they only ran a game or two on the weekend. It was telecast by one (that’s right, only one) camera placed behind home plate. That camera displayed the whole field, never moved—just like you were sitting there in the stadium. And the picture was black and white.

Then there were fewer Major League teams, and none west of St. Louis or south of Cincinnati. But you could hear any game you wanted at night because almost all were broadcast by the 50,000 watt, clear-channel radio stations. One great thing that hasn’t changed is that many of them are still available in that same way. And the radio call of the game has always been better than the television play-by-play.

Today, however, I root less for one team and more for the multiple teams I have followed when living in Louisville and Miami and Atlanta. If I really just want to watch a game and relax, I wait up for one between two west-coast teams in which I have less interest. Then, I just watch the game and the strategy and bathe in the tradition of America’s Past-time.

With the passing of Yogi Berra we not only lose a great player, but an American icon. Known for his scrambled use of the English language (“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded,” “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” “Ninety percent of this game is half mental,” “It’s deja vu all over again.”) he was a familiar face on television talk shows and in TV commercials, as well as signing baseballs for kids at public shows and games.

And, with the passing of Yogi and other players from the Golden Age when I was 12, I lose a little more of the childhood innocence that made the sport so exciting. But my enjoyment of the game has never slacked and never will.  

If I was close enough I would go to his funeral. As he once said, “Always go to other people’s funerals. Otherwise, they won’t go to yours.”

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Is God still calling or are we just not listening?

Recently we received a newsletter from D & D Missionary Homes in Florida which stated that the number of missionaries that they are serving has dropped. The director said that the reason is the decline in how many missionaries are going out to work around the world.

Now, that got my attention and made me wonder. Is the work done, so we don’t need as many missionaries anymore? Or, is God no longer calling people to international mission work?

Both guesses are wrong—dead wrong.

Unfortunately, as mission agencies have moved out of traditional locations where they worked for decades saying that the work is done, we have been given the impression that workers are no longer needed.

Indeed, many places have developed a strong evangelical church and now many indigenous congregations are springing up across places such as Latin America.

But the work is far from done. While the evangelical church in the region is strong and growing and local churches are reaching out, there is still much to be accomplished. I remember one of our teachers in language school in Costa Rica lamenting that there was (and is) such a concentration of missionaries and Christian workers in the capital city of San José while hundreds of towns throughout the country were without even one evangelical church.

Of course the living in the capital is comfortable where there are good hospitals and restaurants and super markets, English-language schools, theaters, golf courses, concerts and so forth.

But it’s the small towns and rural areas where churches need to be planted and nourished and encouraged. And it is the festering slums of so many urban areas where people seek a word of hope, the Word that comes in all its fullness only through Christ.

And, while in some countries of Latin America the church is strong and growing, there are other locations, such as Venezuela, Uruguay and northeastern Brazil where there is great need for evangelistic work and church planting.

Even where the church is strong, there is still much need for missionary teachers, professors, camping trainers, Bible study leaders and others to fill the gaps, come alongside local Christian pastors and servants and move the work forward.

If there is still a need in Latin America, consider the overwhelming needs, especially in the so-called 10-40 Window, that vast stretch of territory from Asia through Africa and the Middle East where Christianity is nascent or even absent. Those fields are tough but rewarding. And someone needs to go. 

Yet, too many potential servants hem and haw, drag their feet, look for the paradise where THEY want to serve.

The late Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, spoke several years ago at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. There he challenged his listeners to listen for that call of the Lord and to take seriously the old hymn which says:

I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord,

O’er mountain, or plain, or sea;

I’ll say what You want me to say, dear Lord,

I’ll be what You want me to be.

Challenging the congregation, he said that in today’s world, we would rather sing it this way:

I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord,

Let’s skip the mountain, or plain, or sea;

I’m happy right here in Kentucky, dear Lord,

Africa is for others — not me.

So the needs are there and are obvious.

But is God still calling people to serve him abroad? Or are we just not listening?

Indeed, the call of the Lord is still strong and powerful, but some are just tuned out and not hearing it.

Perhaps we think the work is done. Or that our short-term trips are doing the work. Or that God is calling someone else but not us. Or that we need a comfortable place to live and enjoy the good life while we go about our mission work. Or that, just simply, it’s not the right time.

Maybe our focus is in the wrong place. Maybe it’s focused on us and our schedule and our desires and our uncertainty.

As I have worked with the pastoral search committee at the International Christian Fellowship in Honduras, I have heard several potential candidates reflect that this isn’t “the right time,” for them to consider an overseas ministry.

And I want to say, whose time is it that we are talking about anyhow—ours or the Lord’s? Yes, the children are growing up and our parents are getting older, the church music director has resigned and the building isn’t complete. There are all kinds of things that aren’t complete—and to be honest, none of them ever will be totally finished. And, there will never be the ideal time in OUR schedule to make a radical move.

Meanwhile violence occurs, Christians are persecuted, people die without ever having heard of Jesus Christ, churches struggle to find leadership and small towns go without a Christian presence.

The time, in fact, is urgent and now. And it is God’s time that calls us and challenges us, not our own agenda.

The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God, who will thwart our plans and frustrate our ways time and again, even daily, by sending people across our path with their demands and requests. We can, then, pass them by, preoccupied with our important daily tasks, just as the priest–perhaps reading the Bible–passed by the man who had fallen among robbers. When we do that, we pass by the visible sign of the Cross raised in our lives to show us that God’s way, and not our own, is what counts.”

To interrupt our lives means to break in, to disrupt, to abruptly change our direction and our goals and our ideals and what we are doing and to be ready to follow Him, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

As we watch the TV news or read the newspaper, we learn of people suffering for our Lord; people who are walking in aimlessness and sin; people who are seeking truth and more importantly, the Truth that we find in Jesus Christ.

God speaks to us in that oft-quoted verse from Romans 10:13: How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

Now is God’s time. He is still calling. We need to be listening.

If you are feeling a nudge to consider serving Him anywhere He might send you, let me suggest that you read The Missionary Call; Find Your Place in God’s Plan for the World by my friend, Dr. David Sills. David was a colleague of ours in Ecuador when we lived there and now teaches at Southern Seminary. It is the best book I know of to help understand God’s call to serve Him.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com.

A gold mine in our own kitchen

I’ve been reading the fascinating story of a supposed “gold train” that has (maybe) been discovered in Poland. It’s a long-rumored train that disappeared just before the end of World War II loaded with stolen jewelry, gold and other riches.  

Who needs to travel all the way to Poland for such a treasure? I’ve discovered a similar stash of valuables right in our own kitchen.

I was helping Polly sort out her store coupons this morning and went searching for paper clips to keep those from the same section of the store together. It was a brilliant idea on her part.

The first place to look for some of those elusive paper clips was in our kitchen “junk” drawer. At first, it was a difficult search. I found a few hidden under various scraps of paper and tangled around a bunch of loose rubber bands.

As I waded through an unbelievable collection of miscellaneous jun….er…..things, I kept uncovering more paper clips scattered through the drawer.

It dawned on us that perhaps it would help to put all of the clips in one plastic sandwich bag, the tangled rubber bands in another, and so forth. I even discovered a few (ouch!) thumb tacks, all sitting point up as we ran our hands through the drawer.

What we found was amazing. We gathered together enough paper clips to supply Staples for a month, enough rubber bands to send spit-balls flying through the air at anyone we would meet in the next week, and enough (ouch—another one!) thumbtacks to pin everything in the drawer to a large piece of plywood.

In addition, there were some real gems: what looked at first like a handy six-inch ruler, great for measuring those short, out-of-the way places. It turns out it was the broken end of a ruler, but, who cares. We kept it anyway—you never know when you have to measure some short distance in a hard-to-reach space. And it fits in nicely on top of the two or three other rulers we didn’t know we had.

Same for the pliers we found that had been missing since who-knows when, and the multiple pairs of scissors which answers why I can never find one when I need it.

We discovered some washers that won’t fit on a garden hose but maybe, just maybe, were left over from when they installed the new dishwasher a few years ago. Who knows when the thing will spring a leak and threaten to flood the whole neighborhood by the time I get to Ace Hardware and back with replacements. Well worth keeping them on hand.

Then there were the odd pieces: an hour hand from a clock someone had given Polly. She’s not sure where the clock might be, but we kept it anyhow. You never know.

We really reorganized things, threw a very few things away, and the drawer now looks half empty. It probably won’t take long to fill it up with all kinds of valuable (ouch! Another one!) stuff.

Oh yes, there were the two very small coins from the Czech Republic—probably worth less than a penny apiece. I doubt our bank here in Carrollton will cash them in. But, we have heard that there is a town in Texas made up mainly by people of Czech descent. We put the coins in a back corner of the drawer to save them for our next western trip—we can leave them as part of our tip in a Czech restaurant.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com.

Was this in your newspaper?…Continued

In response to my recent blog posting focusing on the unbelievable violence in El Salvador, a friend wrote the following. My response follows:

I just read your blog about the violence in El Salvador.  Those numbers are staggering—hard to get your head around.  I completely understand the burden and even the anger you feel as this overwhelming problem goes unaddressed.

I have been giving a lot of thought to the illegal immigrant issue so thank you for providing this perspective; however, what you are advocating poses a lot of questions for me.  How does the United States influence or even dictate action to the government of another sovereign nation?   I know how we have done it in the past but I am not sure if military intervention is always the best choice, nor is cutting off financial aid (even though that aid often does not reach the people).  Has El Salvador asked for our counsel on the matter and have we refused?  If the military is the only solution are we spreading ourselves too thin as we attempt to police the internal conflicts of numerous nations around the world?  I don’t approve of the derogatory comments made by presidential candidates casting all illegal immigrants in a negative light, but wouldn’t it be economically disastrous if we allowed unlimited numbers of unscreened immigrants into the United States?  If our economy is overwhelmed and crashes by the influx, then we can help no one—at home or abroad.  I am also skeptical of our ability to effectively address the issue of gangs or mob violence in other nations as we are apparently incapable of addressing those same issues at home.   The latter is not an excuse but just a sad reality.

We know that corruption in government exists everywhere including in our own country but it does seem to be worse in developing nations.  What can be done in the long term scheme of things?  I will never forget standing in the unfinished hallway of the school in Paraguay as Mary Sue Givens was pointing at a blank wall inside the front door.  She told us that the wall was reserved for pictures of graduates of the school who went on to make a real difference in government and society because they were grounded in Christ and would serve their country and not themselves.  What a vision!   I have repeated that story many times—I will never forget what she said.  I am not saying that we should not be involved in the current crisis in El Salvador (even though I am not sure what kind of intervention that would be) or other places where our presence is requested, but I would also advocate that real change in a country must come from within.  That, in my thinking, is the only long-term solution.

My Response:

You have touched on some excellent questions and issues regarding the immigration issue, most of which I too question and with which I am sympathetic. I will try to respond to a few of them.

Indeed, the United States is overwhelmed by immigrants that come across our southern border, legally and illegally. And, I agree with most in saying that we need to get control of the situation in some decent manner. (Europe is also facing an unprecedented influx of immigrants as detailed in these two (one) (two) stories of recent days.

Part of the reason for writing the recent blog on news coverage of the tragic toll that violence is taking in El Salvador (and also Honduras where we are currently living) was to draw the attention of readers to that significant story and the affect the problems there have on Salvadorians and Hondurans.

When we understand the severe problems of violence in Central America as well as the extreme poverty and unemployment, we can better understand that those streaming across the Rio Grande River are not the misfits of society that some have portrayed them as but are adults and children who desperately want to escape the unending crisis and hunger and poverty and find the better life in North America that they see on television.

Unfortunately, the solution may not be as easy to solve by fleeing to the U.S. as they imagine. Perhaps a better answer might be to help provide some of the economic and social improvements where they live—that will stop the flow far faster than any military or political moves or the construction of a wall.

In my 2007 book, From Rio to the Rio Grande, Challenges and Opportunities in Latin America, I quoted Dr. Rodolfo Garcia Zamora of the Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico who said, “If the U.S. would take half of what it is investing in militarizing the border and invest it in economic development in Mexico, in ten years the migration to the U.S. would be going down.”

I still believe that he is correct. I also believe that the same methodology would help provide jobs and a more secure situation in countries such as El Salvador and Honduras. If you have no job, or are so under-employed that you can’t survive, naturally you would look elsewhere for work and a safer haven.

A major stimulus to flight among Hondurans and El Salvadorians (who make up a large portion of those coming over the border) is the gang-related violence that is part of the narco-trafficking that is taking place throughout the region. The drug cartels in Mexico are integrated with and using the gangs of their southern Central American neighbors, creating the violence and chaos that you find in parts of Mexico and the rest of the region.

While numerous U.S. companies have factories in Mexico and Honduras, further investment in not only economic development but a functioning justice system will, undoubtedly, lead to more stability and an encouragement to those who flee to remain at home near family and friends.

My research has shown that there are three ways for a young person to get out of a gang. One is death—probably at the hands of another gang member or the police.

The second is by joining an Evangelical church and remaining in it. I first read that in the book Los Capos: Las narco-rutas de Mexico by the Mexican journalist Ricardo Rivelo. Later I confirmed it in an interview three years ago with a Honduran pastor: “The two pastors agreed that the only way out of a gang is either to be killed or to accept Christ and join an evangelical church. Pastor Rodriguez said that a former leader of a gang is now a part of his fellowship. “But if a member is allowed to leave and join an evangelical congregation he had better not ever leave the church. If he does, he will be killed,” he warned.”

The third way I just learned and wrote about recently concerned an American businessman in Panama who purchased an old warehouse in the original heart of Panama City. It was infested with squatting gang members who he hired to help with construction and maintenance. Today those guys are out of the gang, working for him, giving tours and have become responsible members of society. Finding a legitimate job was a pathway out of a gang for those men, and could be for others.

Ultimately, I am sure you and I will agree that to overcome this evil will only ultimately be achieved when those who live and promote violence come to know and follow our Lord Jesus Christ. And that will take people, Latin Americans but also North Americans and other foreign missionaries, who are willing to go and live in those gang-infested, violence-prone areas to share the Good News. We met several Latin families several years ago who are doing just that. (You can read about one of them here.)

While throwing money at these problems won’t necessarily solve them, it can help. Unfortunately our politicians continually want to cut our foreign aid through USAID, the very organization that is trying to help countries in Central America and elsewhere build solid justice systems. And the support of full-time, career missionaries to those areas is dropping as fewer young people are willing to follow the Lord’s call to tough missionary service, living in slums and rough neighborhoods while they share and witness to Christ’s love.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com.

Milestone in reach at Guatemala pediatric clinic

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

Guatemala City—3,000 surgeries in four years.

3,000 surgeries for needy Guatemalan children.

3,000 surgeries done “with a great heart.”

That is the enviable accomplishment that will be realized in early October at the Moore Pediatric Surgery Center in the heart of this Central American capital city.

“It’s a dream accomplished,” said Doctor Ligia Figueroa, the Medical Director of the center. “We have reached that goal because of great doctors, great medical care, great follow-up and great hearts.”

The center, which is owned and operated by the Nashville-based Shalom Foundation provides a variety of surgical procedures.

All of the operations are performed free-of-charge by teams of pediatric surgeons who donate a week or more for travel to Guatemala to accomplish the procedures for low-income and special-needs children who would otherwise not be able to afford the care.

While it took four years from the time the center opened until now to do the 3,000 surgeries, the next 3,000 will be reached much faster Dr. Figueroa said. “Our schedule for next year is full and many doctors are expressing an interest in coming here.”

Dr. Figueroa, who is also a pediatrician, explained that since the facility opened in 2011, local staff and visiting doctors have become familiar with the equipment and procedures and thus, their efficiency and that of the clinic has improved. With that, they have been able to perform more surgeries in a week-long visit.

The Moore Pediatric Surgery Center provides services in many fields except neurology and cardiology. Medical teams normally perform 50 to 80 surgeries in a week-long visit depending on the number of surgeons and the complexity of the medical problems. One recent dental team provided over 100 surgeries in a four day period.

Several pediatric dental surgeons remarked on the modern facilities and equipment that are available compared to similar hospitals in other mission settings. “This is just like a surgery suite in the United States,” remarked one doctor. “That makes the work easier and faster.”

The Moore Center and its U.S. parent organization, The Shalom Foundation, were founded by Nashville concert promoter and former CEO of the Country Music Association, Steve Moore, after a trip to Guatemala with a group from his church. Later, his relationship with the Monroe Carell Jr Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville convinced him that a first-class medical center was needed to care for needy children.

For more information on the Shalom Foundation and opportunities for service, write to:

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com.