Sunday, December 25, 2011

Where is the Line to See Jesus

I confess that my flow of tears kept me wiping my eyes during the Christmas Eve candle-light service. The chair alongside me where my darling Frances always sat, was vacant.

But I was cheered up by Christmas morning. There’s nothing like watching your own grandkids perform in the Christmas program. It’s worth coming home even if it means a 24 hour trip. 16 year old Michelle sang her first solo, “Where is the Line to See Jesus?” (See story and lyrics below) While Evan 14, played an obese Santa Claus receiving little kids on his lap in the mall.
And of course they finished up with children in costume doing the manger scene.
And as always, our son, Tim, is so inspiring as he leads the worship!

Oh yes, Felipe got into the act by telling his version of the Christmas story to the kids who sat on the floor on the platform. (Michelle was my helper.)
The service was capped off by a stirring message by Pastor Lance Lowell on “unreached expectations.” He started with several videos of disappointed and angry kids who didn’t get what they wanted for Christmas. They were tearing open their presents then in a tantrum, screaming, “That’s not what I wanted!” Then he reminded us how the promised Messiah, coming as a humble baby in a manger, did not meet the expectations of many Jews. They were expecting a powerful Victor to stamp out their political enemies, but this Victor triumphed over the enemy of our souls. They expected a worldwide kingdom to be established with the Jews in power. Instead King Jesus established a worldwide “spiritual Kingdom.” They were expecting a King that would aid the poor and stamp out the oppressor. Yes, He brought hope to the poor, but His battles were won against Satan, the “spiritual oppressor.”
Then Pastor Lance made it personal. We must each accept Him as the “promise fulfilled”. We must accept Him as our “personal Savior.” And we must “proclaim Him to all men.” Good stuff!
After church we shared a wonderful afternoon at Tim and Cheryl’s home, along with Cheryl’s extended family, opening presents and enjoying a delicious home cooked meal with turkey and ham and all the trimmings!
Tomorrow I will take Tim and Cheryl and the kids to the Rain Forrest Café in San Francisco where we will meet for lunch with Ron and Elisabet. Then later this week I plan to drive north to Portland, where, Lord willing, I will see Mike and Mary, and my three living siblings and the rest of my extended family in their regular January first reunion.

So… Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!


Song story and Lyrics: "Where's the Line to See Jesus?"

“While at the mall last year, my four year old grandson saw kids lined up excitedly to see Santa Claus. Having been taught as a toddler that Christmas is the holiday that Christians celebrate the birth of God's son; with the innocence of a child, he asked his mom, ‘Where's the line to see Jesus? If Christmas is Jesus' birthday, why don't we see Him more?’ As his grandpa, I was so happy that little Spencer understood the meaning of Christmas at such a tender age, and then the words for a song were jotted down in just a few minutes. The song was inspired by my grandson, and the message was inspired by my Savior. Out of the mouths of babes come profound truths that many adults can not understand. Hopefully Spencer's observation and our song will cause people to reflect on the love of Jesus, and the certainty that one day we will all stand in line to see Jesus. Merry Christmas everyone.”

(An Original Song)
Performed by father and daughter, Steve Haupt and Becky Kelley
Inspired by grandson, Spencer Reijgers
Written by Steve Haupt and Chris Loesch
The story behind the song, as told by Steve Haupt:


Christmas time was approaching,
Snow is starting to fall,
Shoppers choosing their presents,
People filling the mall.

Children waiting for Santa,
With excitement and glee,
A little boy tugged my sweater,
Looked up and asked me.

Where’s the line to see Jesus?
Is He here at the store?
It’s Christmas time, it’s His birthday.
Why don’t we see Him more?

Where’s the line to see Jesus?
He was born for me.
Santa Claus brought me presents.
But Christ gave His life for me.

As I stood in amazement,
At this message profound,
I looked down to thank him,
he was nowhere around.

Little boy at the mall,
Might as well have had wings,
As the tears filled my eyes,
but I heard him sing.

Where’s the line to see Jesus?
Is He here at the store?
It’s Christmas time, it’s His birthday.
Why don’t we see Him more?

Where’s the line to see Jesus?
He was born for me.
Santa Claus brought me presents.
But Christ gave His life for me.

In the blink of an eye,
at the sound of His trump,
We’ll all stand in line at His throne.
Every knee shall bow down,
every tongue will confess,
that Jesus Christ is Lord

Where’s the line to see Jesus?
Is He here at the store?
It’s Christmas time, it’s His birthday.
Why don’t we see Him more?

Where’s the line to see Jesus?
He was born for me.
Santa Claus brought me presents.
But Christ gave His life for me.

Monday, December 19, 2011

There is no place like Home

Last Tuesday I arrived back at my home in Modesto… a whole world away from Rooster Camp and the Island Church in Argentina. It is always good to come home to family, our church family and our children and grand children.
Saturday afternoon I drove our son, Tim, and his kids, Michelle 16 and Evan 14 out to Knights Ferry, a quaint old town hiding nestled down in a canyon alongside a beautiful river in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

A long covered bridge adds atmosphere alongside the ruins of an abandoned mill. It’s always a fun place to go hiking.

Evan squeezed through the bars at the old mill.

Evan and I climbed the rocks.

Michelle sat on in a high place to draw a picture of a tree. She excels in graphic arts and has quite a collection of her pictures.

As the sun was setting, Tim, who is an excellent and highly experienced photographer, moved about with his camera shooting unusual portraits...
one of me holding my camera taking a picture...
another of me with Evan on the porch of that old rock building, one into the sunset a silhouette of Michelle drawing that picture. The shots of both Evan and myself on the rocks. I shot the one of Tim and the kids (top) with my little pocket camera.

California is filled with interesting places to visit. You can go for a drive and visit lakes, rivers, the sea coast, high snow covered mountains, famous gold-rush towns, the incredible scenery of Yosemite Valley, forests of giant Sequoia trees, old steam engines and much more.

But the best place to visit is home… where you can sit down with your own family and friends and share experiences.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

River Island Church

I just got back at my borrowed "Prophet's Chamber" after a wonderful long day at the delta island church. It’s a 3 ½ hour trip out there on one of our five small church bus boats (35 to 45 passengers) and about the same to return. Left early this morning.
Pastor Cocholo is at the helm of the "Betel de los Alcanfores" boat and his wife, Lilia, always smiling, sitting beside him.
"Lip-burnng hot mate" (a strong tea drawn through a metal straw) is shared by all on board.
After one hour on Canal Arias, we turned to drive down a narrow canal for 25 minutes to pick up two families.
It is late spring and the flowers were blooming, especially the hydrangeas and camellias.
We stopped along the way to pick up more families, among them Juan and Juana Chico and their son, Victor. Juan was on the verge of suicide in 1984 when the Holy Spirit literally struck me in the chest alerting me to stop as I was driving the Messenger of Peace boat past their little shack alongside the river. Victor was a baby in arms then. He is now a musician who leads the worship at the island church.

I hugged and kissed the cheeks of some of the dearest people in my life. We reached many of them for Jesus years ago. One by one we stopped with the Messenger of Peace boat at their little shacks on stilts. We shared the wonderful story of Jesus with them and flooded them with His divine love. Some of them were little kids back then.
Now they are married and delighted to have their children meet Felipe. Many of our first converts are already with Jesus.

What a blessing to be able to minister to them one more time!

One of our five church bus boats, the Nelly, the one that hit a submerged tree trunk and sunk last year, has been restored. Some boys are the first ones aboard her as she will soon load up to carry many families back to their homes, some left their homes this morning at 6 AM and won't get home until 10 PM. All day at church with Jesus and His friends is the best day of the week for them... and for me, too.

It's bed time and I am exhausted and hungry. I lost the apple I was planning to eat for dinner… somewhere along the line. I'm hungry, yes, but so very full of the joy of the Lord!

Buenas noches.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Road to Rooster Camp

The town is called “Campo Gallo” which translates “Rooster Camp.” It’s located about 150 miles from nowhere in the northern part of the province of Santiago del Estero. I enjoyed a great service there last night! Packed church! Many youth. Lots of little kids. Good people, loving people, hugs and kisses on the cheek from big men, elderly ladies and little children.
I am reminded of Jesus’ words when told that his mother and brothers were outside wanting to see him. He looked around at his crowd of followers and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers.” Some of my close family members live in “Rooster Camp.” (Spiritual family, of course.)

But the 150 miles of road to get there took me over 4 hours and then more than 5 hours to return in the dark. I have seen many roads of all kinds in my lifetime, but this one was without doubt the most difficult of any. It had been paved at one time and here and there would have 100 yards of pavement… or a half mile… but with huge potholes…
most of them about 8 inches deep and some so huge that they covered most of the road and 18 inches to almost 2 feet deep! Then the damaged pavement would come to an abrupt end and a drop off of about 8 to 10 inches onto a gravel road. Unfortunately parts of the former pavement were sticking up out of the gravel to grab the underside of the car. I had to slowly lower the car into deep holes and climb out on the other side… hundreds of them. Progress was slow going, but much slower in reduced visibility after midnight as I returned. There were cattle, horses, sheep, goats and pigs loose and grazing beside the road.
Most of the time mine was the only vehicle around. Sometime in the middle of the night on this lonely road I got sleepy and pulled off on a little spot I found by the road and slept soundly for maybe 30 minutes before going on. There were a few stretches of good pavement. I would get up to 40 mph or so and suddenly have to slam on the brakes again and lower the vehicle into a pit. Several times I was surprised by a huge pit and fell into it headlong. The poor car took a terrible beating, but kept on going even when I went through deep water… I don’t know how deep. I just know it sounded pretty deep as it made waves and then I came out on the other side. There were several stretches of miles of good road, but even then I dared not speed since a huge crater could appear at any moment and often did.

It was a challenge, but well worth it for the blessed fellowship we enjoyed as we worshipped as a family. After church the pastor begged me for a date to come back. The Wednesday previous they had gotten mixed up in the dates and had announced me for last week… and had a great crowd… only to find out they were a week early. So I could not consider leaving them out only because of a badly damaged road. I was safely back in my hotel at 5 AM.

Thank you Jesus! All is well. It’s now 3:30 PM Thursday and I think I’ll take a much needed siesta. Service starts here in the big city of Santiago del Estero is at 8:30 tonight. I continue preaching every day at least once. Recently I have had only about 4 or 5 hours sleep at night, but I’m doing fine, although I confess I would prefer 8 hours.


Monday, November 21, 2011

The Storm

Sunday night, November 20. I am ministering in the city of Oran, very near the Bolivian border. Just as people were gathering for the service, a powerful storm of lightning, thunder and a virtual cloudburst hit us. Families, who were walking to church, came running in... soaked to the skin. Some were mothers with little babies in their arms. Some were families of three or four riding through the mud on little motorcycles. I was surprised that in spite of this driving rain the church filled up clear to the back rows.
The pounding sound of rain on the metal roof was deafening. The audio system was a good one, but no match for the roar on the roof.

I called the children forward and tried to do something with Perfume and Felipe, but the storm pounded so hard on the roof that Felipe had to yell to even be heard through the speakers. His act was obviously much less effective than usual.

I was preparing to read Acts 20:24 as a text to minister when the lights went out and the sound system with them. Now in the dark all we could hear was the roar of the pounding rain on the roof. Within 5 minutes or so they got the church's emergency generator going and we had sound and lights again. I started to preach and in another 5 or ten minutes the city electricity came back on… so the generator had to be turned off… and again we were plunged into darkness with only the roar of the rain until the system could be restored and the sound turned back on. Still I had to yell through the sound system to be understood and even then I’m not sure my voice effectively reached the back rows.
The whole evening service a struggle. Like the disciples in the storm, Pastors Pancho and Susana Farias and I were pulling at the oars with all our might.

Finally as I was closing my message the rain let up some and the distractions lessened allowing for a great altar time. Almost everyone was on their knees seeking God, many until after 11 PM.

My regular reading through the Bible this Monday morning, took me to Matt 8:23-27. It’s the story of a swamped and sinking little boat with Jesus calmly asleep in the stern. Was that storm related to the powers of evil? Was the devil trying to drown Jesus? Or was the Father in heaven saying, “These boys are sailors. They’re used to this lake. These fishermen have been sailing it most of their lives. Crank it up a notch… more wind… higher waves… swamp that little boat until these sailors realize that it is out of their control… until they have no choice but to call upon their Master.” Maybe I am too self-sufficient. Maybe God is cranking it up a notch so that I’ll fall again at the feet of my Master and admit my helplessness.

Ironically the theme of my message last night was “God is with us and He never makes mistakes”.

This morning I wrote this little prayer: Father, You are in control of the wind and the rain. Perhaps I am not supposed to question the “Who done it?” and the “Why'd they do it?”, but to ride out the storms of life with total faith in You… for I am not alone… I am not alone! Hallelujah! I am not alone in this “boat of ministry”. You, Jesus, Creator of the sea, the waves, the wind and the rain… You are in the “boat of life” with me. Immanuel, God is with me! My little insignificant craft may be tossed about on the sea of life’s storms, but the Master of it all is resting in the stern… calmly at peace and in full control of every circumstance. Thank you, Jesus.

Your missionary with muddy shoes.


Friday, November 18, 2011

God's Gentle Rebuke

True, I have been running full speed, sometimes living in less than ideal circumstances, ministered 11 times in 3 days and looked up at God and said, “How am I doing?” I expected to hear angelic applause. Silence. Very LOUD silence!!!

So I went to my regular “read thru the Bible” scripture for today. It included where Paul is defending his apostleship: 2 Cor 11:23-29 “… I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? … In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.”

And God said, “Bro Ralph… What was that that you were telling me… (and bragging to everybody else on earth) about your achievements?” And I crawled into a hole and hid.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tears of Joy

My hotel room is smaller than a single car garage; it smells stuffy since it has no windows except the transit over the door which opens to the dark lobby; the paint on the wall is cracked and peeling off in places; the plumbing leaks water onto the bathroom floor constantly; each time you flush the toilet you have to lift the lid on the tank and reach down into the water to raise the float that sticks and floods the floor; as is common in many older hotels here, the shower rains down on the whole little bathroom soaking everything; the pillow on the narrow bed is a stiff, hard bolster; I had to request towels and soap since none were in the room; the situation is not ideal. But here I am… hardly able to see the computer screen for tears of joy!
Today is Tuesday November 15. I rose at 5 AM for the two hour drive from Tucuman to Metan. My first ministry opportunity this morning was at 9 AM to more than 300 excited children K through 7th grade in a public school. This was followed by a short TV interview with Felipe. From there at 11 AM to another public school to minister just to the fourth graders… about 60 of them.
Had lunch with two pastors and a 45 minute rest and back at 3 PM for the afternoon student body of about 300 students in the first public school and at 5 PM 300 more in the other school . At 6 PM I was taken to a juvenile retention center to minister to three teenage boys. Rodolfo is a clean, sharp looking 14 year old, Domingo is 17 and looks like he might have had a rough life. Faustino is also 17. None of the three smiled much. All three listened intently to Felipe’s Bible story. Then I ministered to them in an informal way, finally leading the three of them and their two police guards in the sinner’s prayer.

I went back out to my car along with the two pastors that accompanied me and opened the trunk to put Felipe and my accordion back in. Suddenly I found myself bent over the open trunk sobbing… unable to see clearly for my tears. My heart breaks for those 3 teenage boys. Pastor Carlos, who ministers there weekly, has promised me that he will give them each a copy of Nicky Cruz’s book “Run Baby Run” in Spanish this weekend. I took no pictures of these boys, but their faces are imprinted on my heart.

So what makes me weep for joy while sitting here at the computer? It is simply the privilege God is giving me to touch so many young lives with the message of Christ’s love and hope for a brand new start.

I must leave now for the evening service…
Today four exciting school events, one TV interview, the Juvenile Detention Center and finally the church service. Almost non-stop 5 AM till midnight. A great day! So rejoice with me!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Blessed by Eduardo

Last night I was privileged to minister to a church full of children at the suburb town of La Florida. Pastor Nicolas Torrente, who had bussed them in from a low income neighborhood where their youth teams regularly minister, held the suitcase as my pet skunk, Perfume, came squirming out.

Every kid in the church that dared to risk losing a finger, reached out to touch Perfume. They should have known there was very little danger, since I had assured them that “She hardly ever bites.”

Eduardo, who lives in a wheel chair, enjoyed petting her, too.

Before leaving on the bus all the kids piled up on me and around me for this picture. A lot of these kids haven’t got much to look forward to… except the wonderful love of Jesus.

The bus drove away and Eduardo was wheeled to the front at his request. Here is a brilliant young man trapped in a twisted body that does not allow him to speak clearly nor move his limbs with full control.
Thinking that he had come for prayer, I prayed with him and sat beside him for a picture. Sometimes he could get out a whole sentence quite understandably, but other times his thick tongue could not be understood and I just nodded my assent. He told me how the Lord uses him to carry the message of Christ’s love to his classmates at his special school.
But now he was telling me something that I could not understand at first. Finally I discovered the real reason that Eduardo had asked to be wheeled up front. He wanted to pray for me! With obvious difficulty he raised his hand and placed it on my head and prayed a deeply earnest prayer of blessing on me. I understood most of it, but some words got blurred by my own sobs and some were obviously spoken in a beautiful heavenly language. The Lord Jesus, who was standing by very close to us, was listening and understood every word!

I drove back to my hotel counting my blessings: health, strength to walk, voice to talk and sing and the list goes on and on… and now an added “super blessing” by my friend, Eduardo.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Retired Preacher’s Paradise

Pastor Misael and I set out early last Saturday morning for the 120 mile drive. The little village of Mutquin is up a winding road climbing into the foothills of the Andes. You guessed it. That’s the road as shot from the valley floor. For over 25 years Pastors Misael and Sara Nieto have poured their lives into the provincial capital cities of Catamarca and Santiago del Estero and into many little towns like Mutquin. They have started more than 30 AG churches including the mother church in Catamarca that seats over 1,000.
Pictured is Pastor Misael (on right) discussing the work with a fellow minister.

Pastor Misael reminds me of Jesus. He touches people. He sits with them in their humble homes. He weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those that rejoice. Little children and the elderly alike come running into his arms.

As we drove into Mutquin a lady came running to the car window thrilled to see her pastor. (Photo) Store owners hugged him.

We visited several humble homes. One was this 94 year old saint, Francisca, who beamed with joy to see her pastor.

Another was this elderly lady, Segunda, known as the “soul winner”. She has been an instrument of blessing to this town. “Right there in that corner,” she said, as she pointed behind me, “right there is where the Baptist pastor received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”

I turned and shot a picture of the moisture damaged “sacred corner.” How many had found Jesus there? Only the Lord knows.

The mountain above us was rumbling with an angry thunder storm leaving its top painted white with hail while worship rang out from the little church in Mutquin Saturday afternoon. What a blessing to be chosen to share God’s Holy Word!

Three hours later we were at a larger town called Sougil located in a valley as large as the San Juaquin Valley in California.
The service was held on the lawn in front of the church due to the heat inside. I’m not sure they could have squeezed that crowd inside anyway.
The Castilleros (youth) were all there early with great enthusiasm. Excellent young musicians, a sweet trombone, a soft sax, key board and guitar complete with singers set the backdrop. The crowd gathered as the sound of worship drifted across the town. Children beamed with delight at Perfume and Felipe. God gave me a special freedom as I preached to a responsive crowd.
Sunday evening I ministered in the mother church to about 800. Hundreds knelt at the altar service. God was there! Men, women and youth wept unashamedly as they dedicated their future to the Master.

How many of you retired preachers out there get to preach in 8 very different places in 6 days?! When one year ago the Lord spoke to my heart telling me that He had a new chapter for my life, I could never have guessed I was in for so much delightful fun.


Catamarca cactus in bloom

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mission Accomplished!

Tonight was a much bigger open air event than last night. This was put on by the “mother” church here… a church planted by Missionaries David and Carol Ellis along with a young Argentine Pastor, Alberto Ferrando, about 20 years ago. The mother church has now planted several other churches.
Three of these daughter churches are in needy areas and feed a full meal every day, except Sundays, to about 100 neighborhood children each. None of these churches receive help from the government. It is the Church in action with voluntary workers. I visited the kitchen where the ladies were stewing a huge pot of lentils that really smelled good. Kids of all ages were already seated at the table long before the food was ready. The mother church kitchen provides a hot lunch daily (except Sundays) to about 40 university students from the campus nearby. Chi-Alpha is alive and well in Argentina.
About once a month they choose one of their daughter churches to do an “outreach” event in an open plaza… using talent and medical specialists from the local church and the mother church. Today they took over the plaza all day.
They set up several special tents. Each one was attended by a specialist, dentists examining kids and adults and giving a new tooth-brush and paste to each with instructions on how to use them, a pediatrician checking babies, a gynecologist and his doctor wife for the women, someone giving free haircuts and more.
I think there were 16 medical people in all. Several of them were medical students from the university here. I don’t think they did a lot of treatments, but mostly consultations and health giving advice. In the meantime games were going on all day with the children.

At about 6 PM the kids’ program began… a couple of youth dressed as “magician and helper” pulled a string of colored cloth from an empty hat… and finally a stuffed rabbit. A clown act was well planned and really cute with a “wannabe clown” interrupting every circus act by sneaking on stage, trying to copy the act and getting scolded and pushed off,
a “terrifying” lion show with cute little kids dressed as lions and finally four women with identical expressionless face-masks and dressed as mannequins in a store window. This last one was designed more for adults (and there were lots of them there, too), and was very well done. A background voice spoke for them. When “the store closed” they took off the masks and came to life discussing what it might be like to be real people walking freely on the street. They knew their lines and mouthed the words very well. In all they put on a really good show.
Perfume and Felipe were hits as usual, delighting all ages. Then I preached to them about how Jesus treated an adulterous woman and how her religious accusers went slinking away in shame. I told about the “invisible miracle” that took place while Jesus lifted the burden of guilt and shame from her shoulders and took her guilt, her sin, her shame, her condemnation and her death upon Himself and gave her the free gift of a new life. Jesus was offering her a new beginning, a fresh start, which He calls being born again. That woman, trapped in shameful sin, represents each one of us. Then I gave the invitation. Many responded. I talked with a few of them afterward. Hugo is 48 years old, but I would have guessed his age as in his 60s. He has colon cancer and has been operated on many times. His wife is a pretty lady, but suffering from Lupus. Hugo obviously had never given a thought to spiritual things before and knew nothing… a round zero… about Jesus and the Bible. He told me that he was really touched by the story about that sinner lady and how Jesus gave her a new life. He and his wife are going to start their new life as of today.

Sometimes the best things happen after the lights have been turned off and the chairs taken up. God often leads me to somebody that is just standing around waiting for a chance to meet Jesus.

Check out the pickup that carries the chairs and equipment back to the church.
Mission accomplished! Buenas noches!