Waiting for the World to Change

Dedicated to the FBI (Fixers, Builders and Instructor) of River Oaks Community Church.

We recently returned from a mission trip to Children’s Lifeline in Haiti. That kind of an experience can have a way of taking over the top shelf in your mind at least for awhile, and I thought it might be a good blog topic. When I mentioned this to Sue Shetler, who got Lori Abney’s well-deserved nomination for employee of the day on Monday, she expressed the valid concern that the topic did not have enough to do with building a boat.

This caused a moment of painful reflection about the fact that the boat is moving so slow as to not have enough interesting material for a weekly commentary. Then I thought, with a blog title like Building Redemption, maybe I will just carry on. Look for boats along the way!

Our group was mostly comprised of guys from the River Oaks Community Church FBI (Fixers, Builders and Instructors). International travel can be difficult, and this was no exception as one passport was not accepted because of “water damage.” This caused two of our group to be left behind. One of the international rookies, Rick Frey, almost got lost going through security, Jake Showalter had to prove the beeping was not caused by a weapon in his hip and John Geisler had a frantic search for his passport, which was ultimately successful. Jan and I gave an unintended “gift” of $150 in a baggage swap to a random Haitian “TSA” agent. In Haiti, this must stand for “Thieves, Swindlers & Associates”.

Somewhere, John Peeble’s iPad got up and took an unsupervised walk away (refer to “TSA”, above), and a lunch delay just about left a few more of us in Miami. After all, most of us besides Jon Kauffman, do have figures we have to maintain, and who could be sure that the rice and beans coming up would sustain us. Eventually we were united in the friendly skies of a One-World American Alliance airplane. Just another day at the office. Below are all of the FBI guys at the airport.

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It was only a three hour flight from Chicago to Miami, and two hours more to Port Au Prince. We ended up in our same time zone, but no mistaking that it was a world away. From Indiana to Haiti in February 2014, there was nearly one hundred degrees of temperature swing. English is not so helpful there, as Creole is a curious mix of French and as many languages as the places people in Haiti came from. These journeys were unfortunately often without their permission, and now the trap of poverty makes it nearly impossible to leave.

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Below are the types of boats desperate refugees have taken on ocean journeys.

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Even my own children were trying to escape on a raft.

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We were given the task to be builders of the wall for a new orphanage, but it turns out the first test occurred walking to work. As we left the mission compound into the village on the way to the work site, we were mobbed by children who wanted to hold a hand and come along. Of course, they really wanted to know if our hearts were as big as our hands. Here is Wayne Loucks’ hand held fast.

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My first clue that this test would be passed was when Jake Showalter had told about his last trip with a few tears in his eyes. The big heart of our Heavenly Father was obvious in each of the men.

Here is Jake Showalter driving with Daniel.

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Thumbs up for Mike Sherer, John Peebles, Wayne Loucks, Mike Gingerich, Rick Frey and the children.

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John Geisler with two new friends.

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Rick Frey with his sponsored daughter.

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Mike Gingerich has his lap full.

IMG_1742Five boys and fun with Jon Kauffman.

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John Peebles and my sister Anne Crist at the work site with three boys.

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Me with a boy on my shoulder at an orphanage.

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The FBI group with the ones that came along.

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The next test was figuring out what to do at the job site. Among us were all sorts of craftsmen, an engineer, business and organizational leaders, managers, and possibly the most complete collection of Fix-it knowledge ever assembled for an international trip. We even had a professional mason, which fueled our aspirations of tackling a big project with the will to “get ‘er done.”

But the FBI are men of prayer, and go forward with humility. Mike Gingerich, the brick mason, saw that the Haitian men were already started and he respected their right and responsibility to take ownership of their project. What they needed was for us to move some huge piles of rock. We got in a line and passed them along, to the places where Joubert, Oskah, Wohb, Pierre, Edmond, Djimi, William, Imaniel etc. were working. Here are some of the crew.

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Some of us began mixing mortar, carrying it to the masons, and bringing them rocks for the wall. Over a day or so, the respect of working hard shoulder to shoulder began to be felt, and communication became more expressive. It started with stares, pointing and other hand signals, and moved on to approving nods, smiles and the occasional fist bump for exceptional service. This might be for bringing an extra bucket of mud, a big rock, or finding just the perfect size rock for the next spot.

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In this process, and without much verbal exchange, we became brothers. By the week’s end, we had visited some of their houses, and shared their concerns for their families. We went to Haiti to build a wall and instead we built a bridge.

One man told me recently of a get rich quick scheme that I was not able to dispute. He said he went to Haiti years ago as a young man, and he has been rich ever since. It kinda makes my current boat delays seem like not so much of a problem. Below you can see the back end extensions and the sheer and trim lines developing.

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Wayne Loucks summed the trip up well when he said, “We changed Haiti a little. Haiti changed us a lot.”

“Whatever you have done for the least of these you have done unto me.” Mt. 25:40

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Winter of the Soul

There are those few hearty ones who love winter. Having grown up in North Dakota and northern Michigan, my dad is one of those winter enthusiasts. In his childhood, the winter was for ice hockey and later on, he added skiing to his list of cold fun. On January 25th, it was his big day to have a big party and take some of the family skiing for his 88th birthday…

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Nearly everyone loves the beginning of winter, hoping for that first pretty white snow blanket for Christmas. As a child, I couldn’t wait for the snow to cover the hill beside our house at 4333 Myers Avenue. The days were long growing up at our house, with no TV or video games, and a cello needing to be practiced, so inside created little attraction.

The neighbor kids, along with any number of other friends would come over to share the sleds and toboggans, and sometimes dad would ice the runway for a speed rush. Of course, we had to make nice jumps also to teach my nine-year-younger brother Joe how to fly. He is shown below with some neighbor friends.

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Here, Margaret, Jane and I are getting ready to slide!

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An extra big thrill occurred when dad and mom packed us up to go to Harrison Hill for the great long runs on our toboggan.

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When the creek froze, we skated. My first pair of skates (age two) were the double bladed strap-ons that kept getting passed down, and I kept working my way up through the series of old skates in the family skate box. Once in a while the creek would flood and the ice would freeze so we had our own skating rink in the back yard.

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Eventually I my feet grew to the size that inherited mom’s white figure skates. They were past their prime with knotted laces and floppy ankles. This was embarrassing when we went over to the Concord Junior High tennis court, which the fire department flooded in the winter for ice skating.

Finally, I appealed to my dad and I got my very own pair of brown leather hockey skates just like his. He was the only dad around who could skate backwards in fast circles. For the decade ending in 1973 with my high school graduation, we were a pretty much an unstoppable pair on the neighborhood hockey scene.

Then there was the Christmas of 1963, when dad got ski equipment for the whole family. The boots were more like heavy leather hiking shoes, with inner and outer tie strings that took what seemed like eternity to put on. The skis had a toe holder with an adjustable cable to hold the heel forward. These did not meet any particular safety standard, but that was a fine time when people accepted the risks and responsibilities of living freely. Personally, I was immediately bound and determined to qualify for the ’76 Olympics downhill.

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Mom joined right in and quickly got the hang of the old rope tow which was the only way to the top, and no small accomplishment. Although, once at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, legend has it that she was going a little out of control and didn’t stop before taking out a whole row of neatly stood-up skis.

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My sisters got into the spirit also, but more on the fashion end. They designed and sewed their own ski suits and were an automatic sensation from Swiss Valley to Bittersweet, and even in Colorado.

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Generations pass and traditions tend to recycle making new winter memories.  When our children were young, we inherited some old skates and found some more in Grandpa Ed and Grandma Marge’s closet and restarted the skating tradition on Neufeld’s pond.  This was the site of Jan’s training as she practiced after school in seventh grade, aspiring to be the next Peggy Fleming.  As you can see below, Austin also had to endure the white skate stage as he and Adrienne plan the hockey strategy.

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We also continued the skiing tradition and here’s Adrienne on cross country skis.
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It was always a highlight when Uncle Joe came around for tubing.

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. . . But on that 25th day of January, the temperature and wind chill finally exceeded Dad’s will to face the elements and he changed his mind. This made for the first time in 50 years that he did not grace the ski slopes of Swiss Valley. Eventually, the thrills and pleasures of the mind and body go away. Fortunately, our knowing God can sustain the joy of the spirit.

Sometimes, like 2014, the cold goes on and there are still 12 foot piles of dirty snow in the Wal-Mart parking lot. When the spring only teases and refuses to come there can be a season of winter of the soul.

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The boat is in such a state. My neighbor Don came over yesterday and said, “I thought it would be almost done by now!” So little forward motion has been accomplished over the last three months that the goal of getting it in the water this year seems only possible if the basement floods. When the project intended for a year still has a year to go after the turning of four seasons, discouragement can descend into the shop.

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Fortunately, my neighbor Mike Perron was listening to my woes and he responded, “If you want a boat this spring, you can go buy one. Where’s the journey in that?”

Well, . . . yeah.
Thanks, Mike.