Friday, December 28, 2012

Nice Family Stuff

Christmas has been my favorite time of the year every since I was a little child.  It was always a time of singing, a time of giving and receiving wonderful gifts, a time together with the family and always a time to thank God for His greatest Gift of all... His Son, Jesus.  The Apostle Paul wrote, "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" 2 Cor 9:15

The sad song says, "I'll be home for Christmas... if only in my dreams."  But mine is a dream come true.  I have been able to return to California and Oregon to be with my family even when I have spent the greatest part of the years 2011 and 2012 in Argentina.

It couldn't get much better than this: Grandson Evan sang a medley of fun Christmas tunes with a group of ten teenage guys mostly from Modesto Christian School.

Michelle sang and played the keyboard while her dad, Tim, directed the worship team on Christmas eve.  

I got somebody to shoot this of me with my only two, very special grandkids on Christmas eve.

Then on Christmas Day we enjoyed exchanging gifts along with Cheryl's family.  And I got my part of the bunch in front of the tree for the family picture seen at the top of this blog.

Yesterday, Thursday, the 27th we drove to San Francisco for a fun afternoon and evening with my son, Ron and his wife, Elisabet.  

We enjoyed going through the Cable Car Museum and walking Pier 39 and finally a great Christmas/Birthday Dinner at the Fog Harbor Restaurant on the pier.  

Tim's birthday is December 30, mine December 31 and Elisabet's is in January.

Michelle (17) and Evan (15) are the best of friends.  I have never seen siblings enjoy each other so much as these two! 

Lord willing I will be able to see our other son, Mike, and his wife Mary in a few days at our New Year's celebration.  I expect to go north about 800 miles the first part of the year to be with other family members.  I should be able to see my sisters, Carol (widowed) 90 years old as of December 24 and healthy... and Joanne (83) and her husband, Don... plus a lot of nieces and nephews and cousins.

Have a wonderful 2013!  Plan to make it count for eternity!  


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Tug of Love

Yes, I'm back in California for Christmas.  I have nice neighbors that watch over my home for me when I am gone.

Sometimes they say, “Wow, Argentina must be a beautiful place because you keep going back!”  

Then I tell them, “Yes, there are astoundingly beautiful places in Argentina, but I do not return to enjoy nature’s beauty.  

I return for the Argentine people.  I love them… hundreds of them, thousands of them… and they know how to express their intense love for me.  Elderly people... young families... 

...children whose eyes light up when they reach out to touch Perfume (my skunk puppet) or when they see my side-kick, Felipe... 

... youth that remember when they first saw Felipe as a little child and crowd in to see him again… 

... and children, especially the little wide eyed children that sometimes run up and wrap their arms around my legs while I stand talking to someone in a crowd after church.  

But I guess it is the witnessing of a life that has just found a new beginning in Jesus that tugs most strongly at my heart… 

... pulling me back in my retirement years to the land of God’s call upon my life.

In Argentina they ask me when I will be back with them again.  I tell them maybe March 2013.  We'll see.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

It was a Holy Landslide!

All good things must eventually come to an end they say... that is, except for heaven, of course.  And that should be coming up soon... but right now I'm returning to the USA for Christmastime with the family.

My final weekend was Friday through Sunday, December 7-9 with four services scheduled.  Friday night I was with Pastor Guillermo Prein.  I dropped briefly into a staff meeting before the church service.  

Then I set up my Hawaiian Guitar on the platform while the many back-to-back cell groups were meeting as they do regularly one hour before service.  Although it may be hard to distinguish, these are circles of small groups, each led by a "lay pastor," a man, woman or youth, that is responsible for the spiritual well being and growth of that group.  It sounds like a "chinese laundry" in there!  One group is praying, another singing "happy birthday" and another worshiping or reading scripture.

Totally aside from these "pastoral" groups there are hundreds of "GO" groups meeting all over the city.  "GO" stands for "Grupos de Oración" ("Prayer Groups").  Several years ago when I inquired about a total count of those signed up and regularly meeting in these groups, the number exceeded 30,000 and was growing.  

Chairs are rearranged as the main services are held in the same L shaped building which we helped them to purchase in 1982.  Only one section of the congregation can be seen in this photo.  It was a joy to minister there once again.

Saturday night I ministered with Martin and Analia Scalfoni, a young couple that are planting a new church in Barrio Luro, another neighborhood of Buenos Aires.   

Little girls love to touch Perfume, but sometimes are hesitant.

Sunday morning it was Beccar, a suburb of Buenos Aires.  Ricardo and Patricia Fontanet, long time friends are pastoring here.  

They pack 'em in like sardines.  You can't put a foot down without stepping on someone.

Sunday night, what a blessing!  I received an invitation to minister in the Los Olivos church, where my son Ron's wife, Elisabet, is from and where I had not been invited to minister for 35 years, ever since they withdrew from the Assemblies of God and formed their own tightly closed organization.  

Pastor Jorge Roman agreed to hold Felipe's suitcase for me.  

During the message and at the altar time God blessed greatly.  

It was a "holy landslide!"

After church many old friends came crowding around, saying "Do you remember me?"  Everyone remembers me because I preached there many times years ago, but I have to confess that I only remembered a dozen or so of them. 

I just checked where, when and what I have preached during 2012.  My records show me which Bible story my little side-kick dummy did for the kids, what chorus I taught the church or school and what I preached about to the adults on each occasion.  Of the 183 times I ministered during this year only 24 of those cases are within the USA!  Plus I have driven 12,531 recorded ministry related miles, most of them on some of the most dangerous roads in the world (so they say) in Argentina and flown over 35,000 ministry miles.  

Oh yes… and I’ve been tightly hugged and kissed on each cheek by 14,245 elderly ladies, young ladies, cute teenage girls, kids and yes, (you’d have to see it to believe it) men of all ages.  It’s just a way of life in Argentina.  My count might be off a few thousand on the hugs and kisses, since they are not really recorded in my database.  It is a wild estimate, but it’s got to be close… ha. 

It’s great to be retired!  If the Lord let’s me live till this New Year’s Eve (my birthday), I’ll be 81 years on this spinning planet… and feel like I’m just getting started.  


Thursday, December 6, 2012

What? Grandpa Braggin' Again?!

Last night, Wednesday, I was invited to minister to the cell leaders of a granddaughter church in the city of San Justo. 

Background: The mother church is the "ghetto church" which the Lord helped us to plant in La Boca in 1973-76.  Out of that church have come many daughter churches.  I lost count long ago. 

Now many of these daughter churches, such as the "Catedral de Fe" (Cathedral of Faith) in Buenos Aires with Pastor Osvaldo Carnival, have come to maturity and are birthing daughter churches... let's call them "granddaughter churches!"  Pastor Osvaldo told me that in recent years the Lord is telling him that his church is "mega enough" (my term, not his) having surpassed 30,000 believers and God is directing him to release pastors and plant daughter churches.  Since then they have been birthing at least one new church per year and they name them all "Catedral de Fe."

San Justo's "Catedral de Fe", with Pastors Gustavo y Susana Rossi, is only about five years old.  Already they have miraculously acquired their own building and are growing rapidly.  This Wednesday night they were commissioning a new group of cell leaders.  In this photo the new ones are lined up on the platform.  Pastor Gustavo is laying on his hands.  His wife, Susana, at far right with microphone is leading in prayer.  The most elderly of this group is 83 years old, (brother under pastor's hand). The youngest is 16.  Their discipleship cells average about 10 people and meet in restaurants, businesses, homes, parks, anywhere and everywhere. 
Now take a look at this what appears to be a "congregation".----> This isn't the congregation.  These are just the cell leaders and their families!

Am I braggin'?  You bet I am!  I'm braggin' on Jesus that can take our fragile, fumbling efforts in a low income area of the city and produce fruit that continues to bear more new fruit generation after generation!  To God be the glory. Great things He has done!


Monday, December 3, 2012

Grandpa's Braggin' Again.

Every grandpa brags about his grandkids... so here I go again. 

Just before I left Modesto to return to Argentina a couple of months and exactly 61 preaching engagements ago, my 15 year old grandson, Evan, was trying to convince me if he could get a gasoline powered weed-eater motor... he had figured out a way to make it power his bicycle.  He is always loaded with wild ideas so I listened and said, "Maybe."  Now his dad just sent me this message and video.

About 3 months ago or so Evan mentioned to me that he wanted to get a little gas powered weed-eater motor, modify it, and mount it on his bike.  I thought it sounded a bit tricky, and we really don't have that many proper tools for that kind of stuff.  But he kept insisting, so one Saturday we went looking at garage sales and found this perfectly good Homelite 30cc gas powered weed-eater for only $20.   It was in such great shape that I almost hated to see it destroyed, especially since I really had my doubts about the possibility of any success in this endeavor.  But Evan started tearing into it, chopping off this and that and mounting a steel peg to the drive shaft.  Then he took some shelving rails that I had in the garage and hadn't used.  He cut and bent and drilled them to make a motor mount that would hold the engine over the rear wheel.  Unfortunately, we forgot to make sure we knew which direction the motor spun before disassembling it, so he mounted it on the wrong side of the bike.  We couldn't figure out why it wouldn't start.  So after a number of tries, we decided to push the bike backwards and then lift the rear-end and, sure enough, it fired-up just fine and spun the rear-wheel full-speed backwards.  It didn't take him long to modify the motor mount and put the engine on the other side.  And off he went! 

Please Check out the 2 1/2 minute video... just click on and enjoy. (You might have to copy and paste the URL in your browser.)

Proud Grandpa Ralph

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Young Radiant Faces

My eyes have been on the young during these recent months and I have had the privilege to minister to many of them in many locations these past months.  Three cities this past weekend... City of Miramar, City of Mar del Plata and at a great Youth Congress of the Cathedral of Faith, Buenos Aires.
They are beautiful children, dedicated teenagers, youth seeking God's best for their lives.  They are just at the beginning stages of life, many are making life-changing decisions. 
I am at the other extreme, closing out the final chapters of my ministry.  Yet God has seen fit to allow me to reach out to these young lives with the challenge to serve Jesus.  I must decrease and they must increase.  They hold the keys to the advance of the work of God in Argentina and around the world.
<--- Friday night at Miramar Assembly of God.
Saturday night Youth Service at Mar del Plata First Assembly of God founded by Missionaries Norm and Mary Ann Campbell in the 1970s. --->
Sunday night at Buenos Aires "Cathedral of Faith Youth Congress" we had over 2000 excited youth from this one church which we helped to plant in 1984 and which is now discipling over 30,000 believers and many daughter churches.
I have been greatly encouraged by the level of dedication to Christ that these youth demonstrate.  They are quick to come kneel before King Jesus and place their all on the altar of sacrifice. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pushups... (an open note to my friend, Sam.)

Thanks, Sam, for the tip.  I did the 13 question test* (see internet address below) and discovered that I am going to live 102 years!  Oh dear me!  I say, “Okay, Lord, but only if you give me the energy, ability, voice and the invitations to preach several times per week until you take me home!”  

Sam, I learned a great secret from tall skinny 80+ year old Evangelist Hal Herman while he was preaching a church-planting crusade for me in Argentina… along with his much younger, beautiful wife who was a concert violinist.  It was really his wife that told me his secret.  She said that he did 80 push-ups alongside the bed every morning upon rising! 

For many years I have been trying to get out and do a brisk walk early in the morning… usually two miles when I am in California.  But about a year ago I decided to try to strengthen my upper body muscles.  Instead of trying to do pushups off the dirty floor (since I live from hotel to hotel) I decided to do them off the bed.  I place my feet stretched behind me with only my toes touching the floor and push up off the bed.  This is much easier to do than to push up off the floor, because you are not totally horizontal and thus lifting less of your body weight… depending upon the height of the bed. (Try it.)  I started with 15 pushups, went to 24, then to 34… many times to 50 or 60 and on occasions have gone up to 80… and one time recently to 115.  Yesterday I did 45, today only 34.  I always stop when my heart tells me to. When I was in California I was doing 34 before my 2 mile fast walk and 34 more after my walk just before my shower and 34 again before retiring at night… to arrive at 100+ per day. 

Advantages: I can do this almost anywhere.  It does not require joining a gym plan and paying money.  It does not require losing time driving to the gym.  It does not require buying some clumsy, expensive workout machine to clutter your living room.  But it successfully does get me breathing deeply (hyperventilating).  It pushes my heart-beat up to somewhere near 100 and makes my whole body perspire.  Since I have a history of heart problems, I asked my doctor several times about the wisdom of this.  His answer seems non-committal.  He said, “Well, that gets easier to do with practice, doesn’t it?” Duhh!  So?  Anyway my biceps have expanded noticeably. 

Now when I look in the mirror I see this young, powerful body with bulging muscles flexing all over the place.  Then I put on my glasses and see some scrawny old man that must have just dropped in to visit without knocking.  But the old man feels better about himself now… ha.

Ralph (sprinting into his final 22 years on this planet)

*(for the 13 question test to discover how long you will live... go to

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Monte Hermoso" "Mount Beautiful"

Monte Hermoso is a hilly town on the Atlantic seacoast about 300 miles south of Buenos Aires.  Like many others, Pastors Juan Carlos and Claudia Gomez have been our special friends for many years.  I gave them four days, Sunday through Thursday, since, beside the "mother church" which they founded, they have also started works in several surrounding areas.  Pastor Gomez really squeezed this lemon (me) dry!  Nine events in four days, plus two interviews, an FM radio station and later in this TV station that uses the calm Atlantic ocean lapping at the beach as a live backdrop.  Above Felipe is announcing, "I always wanted to be a TV star."

We enjoyed a blessed morning service in the church in the city of Coronel Dorrego and then at 4 PM we were setting up everything for a meeting in the park near the "mother church" in Monte Hermoso.  4 year old Jonatan was asking questions about everything. 

A curious doggy is very cautiously checking out a wiggly Perfume.

As usual, little faces were all aglow when Felipe showed up.

 The camera caught the "Happy-Sad" face in a very unhappy moment as I was explaining the "Bad News" that one needs to understand in order to appreciate the "Good News."

(Click on pictures to enlarge.)

Moments later the camera snapped right when the face was in the process of being inverted.

This little girl that I chose as my helper was a first-time visitor at this event.  Many of the other children are regulars at the church Bible classes.

A group of adult onlookers seemed to enjoy the "show" as much as the kids.

We did 5 PM afternoon kids events plus an 8 PM adult service in different locations every night except Monday this week.

Today, Friday, I have just driven about 250 miles and arrived at Miramar, another seacoast tourist town where I will be ministering tonight.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Astonishment and Disappointment

Today I suffered both astonishment and disappointment in a single day.  Guatraché, where I am staying in a little hotel, has a large colony of German Mennonites nearby.  One can see them walking on the streets all dressed exactly alike.  The men and boys in long sleeved checkered shirts and bib-overalls and the girls and ladies in long dresses, bonnets and hair parted in the middle and pulled back inside a black scarf which hides under the bonnet until they remove it to eat.
Several Mennonite families like this were eating in the restaurant where I was having lunch.  Maybe it was because I have distant ancestors that were German Mennonites, but I could not resist going over to their table to speak with them.  Two couples and a baby were at this table.  I asked them if they were of German descent.  The young man replied, “We speak German.”  Obviously he spoke Spanish, too, but I actually think he didn’t know what “German descent” meant.  He asked me where I was from.  I told him I was from California in the United States of America.  He asked me, “Is that far from here?”  As I tried to explain it to him, I realized... here was a sharp young father (on right) that did not know where North America was and had absolutely no concept of distance.  I was astonished beyond comprehension!  I requested, and they gave me their permission to take the above picture at the table, but they did not look up.
Later I was told that these Mennonites do not allow their children to go to school and do not home-school them either.  And that the Argentine government had to give them status like a separate nation since Argentine kids are required to go to school. 

Then this afternoon I was scheduled to do a kids event in a public school in the little country town of Darregueira about 20 miles away.  All had been previously arranged by the local AG pastor who is starting a new church there.  We were promised freedom as long as we did not promote a certain religion.  We arrived with Felipe and my little amplifier.  But now a different lady principal came out to meet us.  The “morning principal lady” that the pastor dealt with had seen my video and loved it and given her permission, but now we were dealing with the “afternoon principal lady”.  She was very wary and said we could do our event only if we did not mention the name of Jesus.  She said there might be a “Jehovah Witness” or atheist’s child there that could report her.  I told her that Felipe has only one name that he sings about and tells stories about… and that is “Jesus.”  I tried to imagine myself working out a dialog with Felipe without mentioning Jesus… impossible!  And without purpose!  So we walked away disappointed. 

But the pastor had prepared flyers to hand to the kids as they left school and many of them showed up at the church along with their parents.  It was a super challenge that night to control them since they were a rowdy bunch and unaccustomed to be in church, but I managed to make it though with the help of the Lord.  I think some of the parents who were lined up against the back wall were hearing the message of the gospel for the first time. 

This little barefoot lady saw Felipe and immediately it was "love at first sight."  She ran to the front and reached up. 
I stooped down and she gave him a hug and didn't let go.  I think she wanted to keep him!

We witnessed no great break-through, but perhaps, just perhaps... a seed was planted.

As often happens, after church the kids begged for another showing of Perfume and Felipe.  I am a soft-touch and can't resist little charming kids.

They swarmed me to pet Perfume.  She was suffocated with loving hands.

I will be preaching in the southern part of Buenos Aires province on Thanksgiving Day since I am ministering daily.  I am hundreds of miles from the other missionaries in Buenos Aires so I won’t be able to attend their wonderful Thanksgiving Day feast.  I will greatly miss the fellowship.  But don't feel sorry for me. I am right where I want to be!



Thursday, November 15, 2012

Surprise Kids Festival

Tonight, Wednesday, November 14, I ministered in Guatraché, a small town in the province of La Pampa.  I have to always be ready for surprises.  Monday I ministered twice in Doblas… first at the grade school and then at the church.  Then last night in the city of Machachin.  Tonight in Guatraché I was surprised to find the church decorated with balloons inside and out.  Without me being advised they had announced a “Festival para Niños” at 8 PM an hour before the 9 PM church service.  Now I am advised that tomorrow afternoon I also have a school event before the church service.
Although the church leaders had never seen me, they had seen videos of me with Felipe on Facebook and gave out printed invitations in the public school and even had the school teachers announce this “festival” to their classes.  We had 35 kids and parents come… almost all of whom had never been in the church.  I gave them the whole shebang: Hawaiian guitar, Perfume and Felipe. 

Then with the accordion I taught them the chorus, "I have decided to follow Jesus."  

The happy and sad face represented the "Good and Bad News": forming the short illustrated message. 

Both kids and parents joined me in the prayer to invite Christ into their lives at the close. 

At the final “Amen” I gave a “Libro de Vida” (Book of Life for kids) to each one. 

After most of them left we started the main service with a small group of adults.  One lady and her little girl, there for the first time, stayed through it all… and both knelt at the altar at the time of prayer.  Some of the people were sobbing heavily as often happens.  God sometimes does deep stuff at an altar of prayer.
So, including the kids events (that actually require much more effort than preaching to adults) that makes 9 preaching events in the past 5 days and I have two more tomorrow.

What an awesome privilege the Lord has given me to minister to the little people as well as the big people!  Every one of them is a precious jewel, worth dying for.   
Speaking of dying for something... Today I received these photos that I had requested from the Horacio and Mabel Zara, pastors in Henderson.  They stand by the tomb of Missionary Frederick Clements, buried here at only 46 years of age.

Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains sterile, but if it dies it brings forth much fruit.” (John 12:24)  Missionary Clements planted his life here in a small town.  He gave it all.  (Click on photo to enlarge.)
Now the Henderson church has produced at least 54 ministers and minister’s wives!  And through just one of those pastors, Jose Manuel Carlos in La Boca, another 87 more whose combined churches surpass 75,000 members!