Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Vietnam Redux

Talking about the Word with the amazing Yen!

One week from this moment I am in the friendly skies on my way to Hong Kong and then Saigon. Here are my thoughts after my first mission to Can Tho, a life changing experience. Prayers, please, as I prepare! This is from August 4-5, 2011. 

Good morning from the back of a cold bus somewhere between Houston and Abilene on the way to the TCSA inservice. The drought is devastating- the farm fields look like Nebraska…in late October. I cannot sleep right now which is predictable but I slept three pretty good hours last night. Catching up on Facebook is a nightmare. I have the faculty in-service devotional Monday and I’m assembling it mentally. You can probably guess my topic! Let me share a few things wrapping up my twenty-six day mission to Vietnam:

-One of the hardest things about the trip was that I missed the final episode ever of Friday Night Lights. I have not had the time to watch it on the computer. No more Riggins brothers, Buddy Garrity, Lyla, Landry, Smash, Tyra, Coach Taylor, etc. They will be missed.
-For a country with a communist government, Vietnam felt amazingly relaxed to me.
-The citizens are not allowed to own guns.
-People smoke inside buildings, something almost extinct in the US.
-While they are becoming wealthier, they are dealing with high inflation. I saw some incredibly luxurious stores and some gut wrenching poverty.
-If pho is not the National Food of Vietnam, it should be!
-I would never wear sandals while on a motor bike- seems like a good way to lose some toes.
-I've never been any place before where the whole country was surrounded by water.
-The Vietnamese are amazingly gracious hosts and hostesses. They take great joy in food and its presentation.
-Like China, if you hesitate, you are lost. People don't let you into a line. I was in the first seat of the bus and almost the last one to get off. In a mall, I offered to let a little old lady go ahead of me on an escalator but she just stood there. Her daughter told me in English that her mom was confused because that does not happen here.... and she thanked me, which I appreciated.
-Since Tom was sick, we watched quite a bit of television. Sabrina was a terrific movie with no sex/violence/profanity. Tom made me promise to watch Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? I liked the Discovery Channel!
-I learned alot about mission work firsthand. Everything costs money and it has to come from somewhere. Tom thinks this church can become self sufficient but it is not there yet.
-Ten dollars a month for public school and many families cannot afford it. He has sponsors for over one hundred kids with the funds coming from Christians in the US and Singapore.
-We take freedom of religion so much for granted. As they are completing their new church building and clinic, I heard Tom explain why they needed curtains over the windows and doors- so people cannot look in and tell the church building is a church building. They have grown to the point where they need to move around to avoid suspicion. American churches would/should envy their growth.

-I have yet to meet a Christian in Vietnam or China who owns a car. The ease which we are able to navigate our country is mindblowing compared to Vietnam. The number of motorbikes is staggering as is the number of people who travel between cities on buses.
-Nothing personal, AT+T, but my internet connection was better in Can Tho than Texas.
-I’ve become accustomed to drinking only bottled water and keeping my mouth closed on the shower. Speaking of showers, I miss water pressure as much as hot water.
-People want to practice their English with you in Vietnam. Unfortunately, their vocabularies tend to be hello and maybe thank you, unlike me who can handle hello, good-bye, thank you and me in Vietnamese!
-The most efficient airport I have been through is Saigon. The second is Seoul/Inchon in Korea. The worst? Well, it is on American soil.
-I’m not sure if this is good or not but I have become adept at slipping back into my comfortable way of life very effortlessly.
-This may seem strange but I’m more likely to slide in Bible reading and prayer time on mission trips than at home.
-I tend to relate everything on these trips to Honduras where I made my first trip and the majority of them. Truthfully, in rural areas, there is little discernible difference between Honduras, China, Haiti, and Vietnam.
-In the US, we teach kids to look both ways before they cross the street. In Vietnam, that philosophy leads to paralysis. There, they walk out into the road and assume the motorist will avoid you if you walk on a predictable course at a predictable pace.

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Life Outside The Bus

(Picture is from the website
Eight days from this moment, I am on a very big plane somewhere between Chicago and Hong Kong on the second leg of my trip to Vietnam. After Hong Kong, a flight to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City and then a four hour bus ride to my destination of Can Tho. It will be trip number nineteen for me and the fifth to Vietnam. I'm working through my to-do list with a family reunion in Arkansas this weekend sprinkled in. But before Vietnam, there were two memorable missions to China and before that, a wonderful week in Port-Au-Prince with Hope for Haiti's Children. The majority of my out of the US missions, though, have been to Honduras, eleven to be exact. I started with the wonderful TORCH MISSIONS which centered in Tegucigalpa which for us morphed into SHINE MISSIONS, focusing on the Choluteca area of Honduras. It was such a learning experience for me. Although there were plenty of mission examples in my own family, I had never stepped out in faith. Truthfully, I let coaching high school basketball get in the way of going into all the world. On these Honduras trips, I now see I was being prepared for the time when I would be able to travel on my own to Asia. Our leaders in those years were Steve Davidson and Chad Hedgepath, men of faith who taught me so much about serving others. Some folks start something and walk away- these two, with their beautiful wives Lisa and Shelly, have maintained their focus over several decades.

Honestly, after so many trips, the memories start to blend together and it's hard to separate them mentally. My acquiring a digital camera before my first China excursion has allowed me to sort the recent trips somewhat but not perfectly. My first memory of Honduras came in mid-July of 1998 as we rode in from the airport in Tegucigalpa to the Baxter Institute, our home for several weeks. I was appalled by the abject poverty I witnessed for the first time but as the missions mounted up, my capacity for being appalled sadly diminished. One thing I loved about these missions, especially the early years, was that we would have a devotional at the end of each usually exhausting day. Since our groups were predominately teenagers back then, they were alternately joyful and thoughtful with a little bit of boisterous thrown in. I still bite my lip when we sing We Shall Assemble and Light The Fire in worship, two songs of praise I first heard in a storage room in Honduras. Funny what touches you even years later. When Chad was leader of our Shine groups, he initiated what would be a tradition at the end of each devotional every night. He would ask the mission team, "Where did you see Jesus today?" What I'm going to tell you is to me the most moving moment of all those trips and there have been a ton of moments.

It was about ten years ago and one day, our mission team went out to a Honduran village in the hills. We split into two groups, with one staying at the bottom of the hill to have Bible studies with children and the rest going up into the elevated areas to do some work, as I recall, on a house or the church building- we always worked with local congregations. All of a sudden, it rained and I mean torrentially. I've seen monsoons in Vietnam but this one still impresses me. That night, Chris Norwood, a youth minister and teacher, told us about Sarah. She looked, to me at least, like a surfer girl, and she was from Chattanooga. Her father had been a basketball star at Vanderbilt and had played in the NBA but it wasn't something she brought up. And that night, Chris related how he had seen Jesus in Sarah that afternoon. Chris was with the group interacting with the kids down below. He said when it started to rain, all the Americans got back on the yellow school bus that carried us everywhere we went on those trips. Everybody, that is, except Sarah. She had come over a thousand miles to serve as the hands of Jesus, and she had arms full of clothes she had brought for the little ones. I will never forget what Chris said next about Sarah:
"She had a look of desperation on her face."

As soon as I found my journal, I wrote his words down. They have made their way into a dozen devotionals since then.

Look, I know why everyone else got back on the bus. I undoubtedly would have done the same if not a half mile away in the elevation huddling in some nice lady's hut. The bus was dry and safe and protected and comfortable. What was outside was not. Sarah took the difficult path that day. Sometimes, I fear we have made our practice of Christianity one of comfort and nonchalance instead of the urgency which drove Sarah in the rain. When I tell our students in chapel about Sarah, I stress that we can either live our lives on or off the bus. I remind them that many people come to athletic events and observe from the stands and bleachers but they are merely spectators. The contests are played out on the fields and the courts and the diamonds, on the tracks and in the pool. That's where the heartaches and disappointments come but that's the arena where the rewards are earned and joy is achieved. When I was a high school basketball coach, often our admissions department would tell me we had a new student who was interested in playing on the team. I was excited about the new student part, but truthfully, you cannot win with kids who are merely interested- you have to have at least a few with a sense of desperation, just like Sarah. Jesus told us to Go; he didn't tell us to Hang around. The world outside the bus is where the spiritual battle is being waged and it needs soldiers on the side of righteousness. I have never seen Sarah since that July trip years ago but I know this; she fought the good fight that day. She's still making a difference.

Applicable quote of the day:
"Desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius."
Benjamin Disraeli

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Shining

At the end of the Civil War, Susan Warner penned a simple hymn for children based on Matthew 5:14-16 called Jesus Bids Us Shine. I find it applicable almost 150 years later and wished we would sing it more. We need its message.

Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light,
Like a little candle burning in the night;
In this world of darkness, we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.

Jesus bids us shine, first of all for Him;
Well He sees and knows it if our light is dim;
He looks down from heaven, sees us shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.

Jesus bids us shine, then, for all around,
Many kinds of darkness in this world abound:
Sin, and want, and sorrow-we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.

To watch and listen to a little girl named Sydney sing Jesus Bids Us Shine, please copy and paste below:

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Bill

It started three weeks ago with an e-mail. A computer security company had this message delivered to my e-mail address:

Thank you for renewing your subscription. The following email is a summary of your order.

There was a small problem- I had not ordered any program from them. I called my brother, Scott, who HAD installed a different system on my laptop at Christmas  to see if perhaps it was something he added. Scott told me it was a scam so I forgot about it...... until it showed up on my bill five days ago. I contacted Michael Fonville who has graciously purchased two laptops on my behalf and installed their security systems. He told me that I might have had it on my previous laptop, it wasn't on this one, and suggested I contact them to cancel it and hopefully get a refund. Easier said than done.

I called on Friday morning to an 800 number on their website. Immediately, I was connected to a lady who stayed with me until the end. To say I am an unarmed man in a gunfight when it comes to tech issues is the understatement of the century. But the woman, who was extremely nice, was patient with me and walked me through the process. Now this may not be a shock to you but to get this billing, WHICH WAS PERPETUAL, turned off, I had to log into their stuff and she carefully helped me with each step. She apologized constantly that it was taking so long. Once she had guided me through to get to the place where my order was canceled, she began on the matter of the refund which included another employee. While they were doing that, she ran a diagnostic scan on my laptop on my screen. It was like she invaded my laptop! She was circling things on her end and I could see them on my end. She pointed out some threats from the scan and asked if I would like her to take care of them. OF COURSE! She was explaining something called an optimizer and how helpful they are to ward off viruses. Would I like one? YOU BET! And then she puts the options for billing on my screen; one year at $149 or five at $349? HOLD ON! I THOUGHT THIS WAS FREE! Oh no, she explained. I told her I didn't want it, that I would let Scott make decisions like that for me. She informed me she had five years training and my brother did not. Well, I stood my ground and she backed off and in a minute, it was over. She told me the refund had been approved but would take 5-7 days of the billing cycle to be reflected. She was semi-curt as we ended our chat but not unkind. Sixty minutes had elapsed from dialing to hang up.

There were several things at play here. One is that the workers painting my apartment bathroom/kitchen/doors/baseboards came in the middle of the conversation which did not help my focus factor. But other parts of this vignette are typical of our lives. I had a problem I didn't know about because I was careless. I am pretty sure I've paid for that the past several years because I don't pay attention to my bills- I just write the check and mail it! And I almost ended up with a much higher bill than the one I called to get rid of initially! After all was said and done, the company sent me yet another e-mail with these words:
That wasn't true- I'm just not protected by them. 
But  the biggest takeaway I had was that this nice lady wanted me to trust her and not Scott when it came to what was best for my computer. Look- I am not begrudging her right to earn a commission and she did get my refund/dislodge the billing mechanism, but I am nothing to her. On the other hand, I have known Scott since the day he was born and I trust him. I know he will always have my best interest at heart even when I don't comprehend what is going on with my laptop. It's like that hymn we sing. Fill in the blank for me:
" 'Tis so sweet to trust in ____________."
What would you write in there? Company A? Betty? (Not her real name!) The government? We know the answer- Jesus. And here's the great thing about my debt of sin when the bill came due. He paid it. And no service operator was needed to intervene.

Applicable quote of the day:
To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer.

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at

Saturday, June 27, 2015

All Because Of A Door Lock

Basketball camp ended last Friday for the summer so my attention has turned completely to preparing for my mission trip to Vietnam which begins in eleven days or on July 8 if you want me to be specific. Completely was probably a poor choice of words two sentences back because I still have odds and ends to take care of that have nothing to do with thirty hour flights to Asia; stuff like picking up my clothes from the cleaners who coincidentally happen to be Vietnamese. There were also several car related items to tend to. The first is a twice annual free rotation of my tires at Discount Tires. (Free in that I have a contract with them!) There was one other vehicle issue to address. About a month ago. my driver side door lock got jammed up and would not allow my key to be inserted. My colleague, Jose Ramirez, who knows everything car related, told me there was no easy fix and to take it to the dealer which in this case is the nice folks at Russell and Smith Honda. That's where I found myself this past Wednesday at 7 AM, hoping to be first in line for the service department. I wasn't and the gentleman who waited on me told me to expect to be there for three to four hours. I had not anticipated that much of a time span so I did not bring my laptop, book, legal pad to work on ideas, etc. I did have my phone but if you know me......................... I settled in for the duration. 

I saw her walk up to the Russell And Smith guy working at the desk right in front of me. Her husband was distracted and the lady told the employee her husband was hard of hearing. The couple came to sit in the three seat mini-waiting area where I was.  As she ended up sitting by me, I asked if she would like me to move so she could sit by her husband. She laughed and informed me that they had been married for fifty-five years and he had picked up the Houston Chronicle so we began talking. And we talked until my car was ready, which incredibly was before 10 AM- the age of miracles is not in the past.

I found out their car, one in the Honda hatch back series, was leaking, a potential nightmare in Houston this summer. She told me she was seventy-seven and her husband, a retired contractor, was eighty six. She still works full time at the VA as a pharmacist and she laughed as she explained how computers have made her life easier. She talked about her kids and grand kids- one just graduated from high school in Seattle and has been accepted to Cal Tech! They love to travel to national parks and encouraged me to go to Utah and see what nature has carved out of the stone. They met at a wedding in Houston where she was born- he came from his home in NYC where he had spent his life. The rest is history.

Her name was Lee but then it might be Li- I just spelled it phonetically. Her parents had moved here from China to make a better life. She spoke a little bit of Chinese; her dearly beloved had more of a vocabulary as her in-laws had sent him back to China for school for several years. Her kids and grand kids, to her regret, are not conversant in the language of their great grandparents. I could somewhat relate. My great grandparents were immigrants and my grandmother spoke Danish until she was five. It wasn't passed on, to my dad's chagrin, and is lost to the Hawleys/Petersens at least to my knowledge. But what really got to me was when she talked about her mom. When she was little, living here in Houston, they never ate meat. They only ate vegetables and fruit and the like. It wasn't a religious edict- they just could not afford it. The moment I most recall, though, had to do with why they probably ate as they did. Lee/Li told me that her grandparents had died of starvation back in China. In all of my life, I had never had anyone tell me that before. It explains maybe almost everything in her life; her perspective on the world from her parents' viewpoint, her feelings concerning wealth, her love for the US. It made me think that  journey her parents made was the same one my great grandparents made- to stake out a better life for their descendants they would never meet. I watched a documentary on Neil Diamond last week on YouTube- my chief source of entertainment these days- and was reminded of the immigrant struggle when he spoke of his roots and when they played his favorite song of mine, They're Coming To America from The Jazz Singer. The Bible is full of stories of  men and women of faith who moved to make a better life for the future generations, even if it was forced or they did not realize it at the time. Abraham and Sarah, Ruth, Rahab, Moses- the list is long. My parents made decisions based on their kids, the first one being a move from Brooklyn to Nebraska so we could live in a more small town atmosphere. Moves my relatives made, with the Lord's guidance, brought me onto the scene and still make a difference even after their passings.

When my car was fixed, in less than three hours, my new friend and I said our good-byes and wished each other the best. My bill, $246!!!, could have been much worse according to Jose, but now I don't have to crawl in the passenger side. I left wishing we could have kept talking and I left wishing I could speak Danish. And I left thanking God for those who came before me who I would not recognize from faded photographs but who made tough choices at tough times. And I praise God they did.

To watch and listen to Neil Diamond sing Coming To America, please copy and past the link below:

Applicable quote of the day:

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Dent

I spent several mornings this week taking care of car issues. I love my car and have been careful with it but things happen. This is about the first mishap. It is from April 10, 2011

As I have mentioned, I often ask the Lord for something to write about. He answered my prayer this Sunday but not in the warm fuzzy way I was hoping for. I prefer that moment of clarity when I realize some great truth or noticing one of my students having a breakthrough. You see, I noticed something when I washed my car this afternoon; someone hit my still new Honda Fit yesterday. I know it was yesterday because I came out of the fitness club after working out and my outside mirror was turned sideways, the way they are constructed if contact is made. It was odd and I looked but saw no marks or scratches on my light blue 2010 model. (A lady at school says my Honda's shade of blue is periwinkle but I'm not sure.)  But today, as I washed the bottom of driver's side door, I found it. There is a four-five inch place where the paint is gone accompanied by a small indention. I have to tell you my heart sank. For the past three hundred seventy-five day, I have tried to protect the car from any damage from weather, other drivers, or my own carelessness. It was on my mind in worship services tonight even as I tried to fight it off.

I knew it was coming eventually, the thing that causes our prized possession not to be quite so prized anymore. They had to know, the other driver. I can't believe you can bump another car with enough force to pop back a mirror and not know something was wrong. But, maybe they did get out and like me, saw nothing. Maybe they were scared or uninsured or .........., you fill in the blank. Truthfully, I've done the same. Maybe not with a car but I've done something wrong and hoped no one would notice. I've spoken harshly about another's character and hoped they wouldn't hear. I've acted innocent and thought NOBODY KNOWS. Of  course, I always knew and the Lord always knew. Not much escapes His sight, does it? I can pray the guilty party has a change of heart and leaves a note on my windshield. That might be a tough example for me. I don't have enough paper to cover my hit and runs.

Applicable quote of the day:
"Accidents, try to change them - it's impossible. The accidental reveals man."
J.B. Priestly

God bless,

Luke 18:1
E-mail me at

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ike's Mark On Me

They say it's Hurricane Season again! Growing up in Nebraska, hurricanes were things which happened in other place to other people. Here are my thoughts about living with millions of folks through Ike. It is from Septmeber 24, 2008.
It's never easy to put perspective on any event when you are still in its grasp. Hurricane Ike left its toll on southeast Texas and on the individual lives of millions of residents. With time on your hands, and a nine PM bedtime, there is ample space for self inspection and evaluation. Life is returning to normal, but normal will have a different definition at least in the short fall. A Sports Illustrated writer has a weekly column entitled, Ten Things I Think I Think. The following are thoughts that have passed through my mind in the past thirteen days. And, let me preface my remarks by stating that I had it extremely easy.

I can live without nearly as much water and electricity as I typically use and I think I am frugal to begin with due to my trips to Haiti and Honduras.

It was nice being able to go to bed so early but I discovered I don't need ten hours of sleep. I put my mattress in front of the sun deck for more breeze and have left it. It's OK until I have company.

Next time, I would make sure I had a flashlight, more matches and candles, a much bigger ice chest, and maybe a battery-operated radio.

Hot food is never overrated. The last thing I would have eaten was a can of Comstock Premium Blackberry Pie Filling that came from Dad's pantry. You can put almost anything on uncooked ramen noodles- at least olive oil, cold Ragu sauce, cheese- and it is edible.

I can drink week-old, cold coffee and not think twice about it.
Disasters are hardest on the very old, the physically impaired, and the poor.

Electric scooters have to be recharged every few days. This becomes an ordeal without power. Our apartment staff set up generators to recharge the ones that could be brought to the office area...and they do not roll easily without juice.

Elevators are a lifeline for those who can't go up and down the stairs. A ninety-four year old lady named Mary lives on the same floor as me. She cannot navigate the stairs but she walked down the hall, bracing herself against the wall just so she could see the outside world from a different angle.

No power encourages reading! I read half of a book on the inside story of Saturday Night Live and began re-reading Oswald Chambers' My Utmost For His Highest.

I missed the Internet more than I thought and I missed television less than I thought.

It is possible to get somewhat accustomed to not having air conditioning, at least when the weather is cooler like it has been the past week or so.

Calamities bring out the best and worst in people. Let me concentrate on the best. I witnessed so many putting themselves out there to bless the less fortunate. Many took others into their homes when the lights failed to return. Many volunteered at shelters and distribution centers. One of my favorite memories is of the local police chaplains who came to Braesridge Apartments and served hot coffee with biscuits and gravy.

I don't agree with our mayor in all of his political views but I think he is great in a crisis. He stands up for the citizens of Houston and admits when mistakes are made. You have to feel someone is fighting for you...and I feel Bill White does.

Although I think I made pretty good use of my time, I always do better on a schedule.

The land-line phones work even when the power is out....IF you use an-old fashion phone and not a portable one with an electric base.

The Lord remains in control and we can't do anything about the weather. We can manage how we respond and what we can do to make it better for those around us who can't help themselves.

Applicable quote of the day:
It is better to meet danger than to wait for it. He that is on a lee shore, and foresees a hurricane, stands out to sea and encounters a storm to avoid a shipwreck.
Charles Caleb Colton

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at