Saturday, April 28, 2012

I Had a Big Brother

My name is Ralph.

I had a big brother.  His name was Melvin.  When I was a 2 year old toddler playing with building blocks on the floor he was 13 years old sitting at the piano running his fingers over the keyboard like a pro, playing “Stars and Stripes Forever” and many other classics.  I memorized the melodies in my little mind and said to myself, “Someday I am going to play the piano!”  Mel taught me to ride a bike.  Training wheels were unknown in those days.  He ran behind me holding me up as I weaved back and forth over the sidewalk.  Then when I came to a stop at the end of the sidewalk I turned around and saw that he was half a block behind me.  He had released me when I was balancing on my own.  My big brother could do anything.  He could kick a football higher than the telephone pole on 61st Avenue.  To prove it he kicked the ball so hard it went into the sky, but he lost his balance and sat down hard on the ground and we both laughed and laughed.  

I had a big brother.  His name was Melvin.  He was a straight A student.  I came along 11 years later in the same grade school.  The teachers that had taught him remembered him and made a big thing out of me.  “Oh, here comes another Hiatt!”  I know I disappointed them.  Mel was highly disciplined.  I was a “happy-go-lucky” kid.  Mel was a hard act to follow.  
I had a big brother.  His name was Melvin.  Most important of all I knew that my big brother was a genuine Christian.  When I was about 10 years old, World War II came, and my brother joined the US Navy.  Mom read his letters to us.  They proved over and again how he maintained his Christian life while others mocked him and how God was watching over him and guiding his path.  He served for a while as Chaplain's Assistant and played the organ.  The US Navy put him through Purdue University to study aeronautical engineering.  Then he graduated just when the war ended.  I stood in the street for hours in front of our house waiting for his 1939 Buick to appear.  That night Mel slept with me in my bed in the attic.  I was 14 years old, I think.  We talked a lot.  He was concerned about my soul.  He wanted to know if I was a real Christian.  He asked me how I knew.  I didn’t know how to explain it to him so I wept as I said, “ I just know, that’s all!”  I always cried easily.  Mel was all excited about a beautiful girl named Ruth Alice that he had met in Indiana.  He showed me pictures and told me all about her as we laid in bed there in the attic.  He was going to marry her.
I always wanted to be like Mel… to follow him as he followed Jesus.  We got better acquainted years later even though our paths seldom crossed. 

I still have a big brother.  His name is Melvin.  Last week at 91 years old he moved to his new home in heaven.  Today at his church in Seattle they are celebrating his life and ministry.  I am 10,000 miles away in Argentina and cannot be there.  But one day very soon I’m going to get together again with Mel.  I’m going to give him a big Argentine hug and we are going to have plenty of time to talk!  
See you soon, Mel!


Monday, April 23, 2012

Circuit Ridin' Preacher

Frustration! So much happening and no time to record it!   Every day has been filled to capacity either preparing to minister, ministering or pushing my little "horse" to her limit... driving sometimes hundreds of miles.   Maybe I can at least share a few happenings.

--Missionary Don Exley’s church in Martinez, greater Buenos Aires, urgently needs to finish their new building with seating for 1,500.  I took the above panoramic photo while Don and his co-pastor Nathan Grams were serving communion. I literally could not find a place to be seated.  Many were standing around the sides.  Finally a thoughtful young man looked at my white head and gave me his seat.

 --On my final Sunday morning in the Buenos Aires area, April 15, Don invited me to preach.  I played the Old Rugged Cross on my Hawaiian guitar while they projected a rough sketch of the scene of Calvary that I had made years ago.  Back in those days it was my custom to do a painting on stage before preaching.

What a thrill just to witness what God is doing! I preached on the cross, “foolishness and an offense" for the lost and "the power of God unto salvation” for those who choose to embrace it.  At the close 12 newcomers came forward for salvation. Don can be seen praying with them at right.

--Villa Adelina, another suburb, only a few miles from Martinez.  Alberto Duran, a pastor’s son, was a teenage friend with my 3 sons.  They did crazy stuff like camp out in the delta islands eating whatever they could fish out of the water and oranges off the trees.  Now Alberto has served as a pastor for many years and has grandchildren of his own.  He held the suitcase while I got out Perfume and Felipe during a blessed Sunday night service, April 15. 

After church I got this spontaneous hug.  I get lots of them from little ones and I relish them... every one.

--San Vicente is a brand new work about 50 miles south of Buenos Aires.  Our Share Holders raised $4,000 to help them get started several months ago.  Here is Pastors Robustiano Acosta’s whole congregation as they hosted me for a special Monday night service in their rented hall, April 16.  

This teenager is a recent convert.  Obviously he loves holding the pastor's baby who is saying, “Hey, you’re not my daddy!”

Pastor Robustiano and His wife, Gisell.  Beautiful people!
(You can always click on photos to enlarge them.)

--Now 800 miles later, (after the Cordoba Leader’s Retreat) Saturday April 21, I’m ministering in Entre Rios province at another new church in the city of Gualeguay with Pastor Hugo Ramirez.  This shows just the kids that could fit in one frame. What’s with this friendly little gaucho named Felipe?!  Even many of the adults were pushing forward standing behind the kids with captured fixed attention.  

--Sunday AM, Gualeguaychu, I ministered with Pastors Claudio and Adriana Collazo, another of the works we helped to plant in the 90s by raising the funds to purchase the property and preaching the first meetings. 

--Sunday PM, last night, I ministered in another AG church in Gualeguaychu, with Pastor Pedro Segovia.  In 1994 we parked our large mobile home beside his church while we ministered throughout this area.  Last night we had a powerful Holy Spirit move at the altar time.  I finally got to bed at 1 AM.  

I was up and out at sunrise this morning when I captured San Martin, who liberated Argentina from Spain.  There he was... riding his horse in the plaza.

Tomorrow I’ll be privileged to minister in another church which we helped to plant years ago 50 miles further north in the city of “Concepcion del Uruguay.” 

Good night! 

Your very own "Circuit Riding Preacher."  Ralph 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Double Miracle

Pictured above our Hotel in Los Cocos in the Cordoba mountains. 

Some of you know that my only brother, Mel, 91 years old, was dying earlier this week.  I wrote my sons and wives this note on Wednesday:

Last night’s contact with Mel was a real miracle.  I am in Los Cocos, high in the mountains of Cordoba, in a National Assemblies of God of Argentina Leadership Retreat along with about 150 pastors in leadership positions with their wives, many who also are in leadership positions.   

Last night it occurred to me that even though the WIFI connection here is "off and on", very weak and extremely slow… I could at least try to reach Mel via Skype hoping to just maybe be able to talk to him one last time.  Miracle number 1:  I immediately got through to Alice (his wife) who answered the phone.  Then I talked to Dan (one of his 5 sons) and asked if there was any chance that Mel might hear me if he put the phone to Mel’s ear.  He said that Mel was in a "deep medically induced sleep" and that whole day he had not been able to communicate hardly at all, but he would give it a try.  I heard Dan say, "Dad, your brother, Ralph, is on the phone from Argentina." and he placed the phone by Mel's ear. Immediately Mel answered me and recognized it was me in Argentina.  He responded to me several times during our conversation! 

I was so thrilled to get to pray with him a little, thank him for being such a godly example to his little brother and in effect to say, “See you later”.  I really don’t remember what I said, but when I hung up I realized that I had just witnessed a double miracle. 

And I was flying so high that I interrupted the evening meeting to share my joy with the whole gang here.  Everybody there rejoiced with me.

Mel passed away about 15 hours later.  His last verbal response was by phone to me, here in Argentina 10,000 miles from his home in Seattle.  What a comfort to have the Lord of double miracles on our side!


Friday, April 13, 2012

Generous Geniuses

Meet the genius, Argentina Missionary Ed Dabello, that installed my cruise control.  He did it for free and beside that... his wife fed me royally while I watched him work.  

I took a close up shot of the finished detailed work.  There is probably not a professional in all of Argentina that could have figured out the wiring schematic on this, much less install it so neatly. 

Then here is Hugo… the famous mechanic that worked on my car in the 1980s and with whom I prayed to give his heart to the Lord.  

He worked on my car yesterday for 5 hours just getting it in perfect shape for the long trips ahead… and refused to accept payment. 

Several of those hours were used up replacing a tiny light bulb that cost only 75 cents.  To get to it he had to use special tools to take off the grill and practically dismantle the whole front of the car… and put it back together perfectly.  He is a specialist in Alfa-Romeos and other millionaire’s cars… but he stooped to work on a humble year 2000 Peugeot 405.
Afterwards he asked me for the privilege of becoming my "official personal mechanic."  What can I say?!

It’s good to have friends… especially dedicated Christian, generous, genius friends.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

He called me by name!

I have a 91 year old brother, Mel, a wonderful Christian and example to me all of my life… who is apparently dying in Seattle right now.  I cannot go to see him.  The distance is too great.  His wife and extended family are gathering to see him off to his new home in glory.  I confess that I am hurting… partly because I miss Frances so much… and partly because I cannot be with my brother and family at this time. 

How thankful I am for the resurrection of Christ and the hope of heaven! 
(Click on Photos to enlarge)

This morning I did a brief devotional for a small group of teachers at the Martinez Christian School where I am temporarily staying.  I took just one marvelous word from the text in John 20.  Mary Magdalene was weeping in front of the tomb.  She was confused and heart-broken.  Not only had they killed the One who had lifted her out of a pit filled with demons, but now they had stolen his dead body from the tomb!  Then came just one word that turned her darkness into daylight, her hopelessness into joy and the dead silence of that early morning into music… “Mary!”  Wheeling around she cried out, “Raboni!”

That’s my resurrected Jesus!   The Good Shepherd calls His sheep by name!  (John 10:3) 
Years ago during a School of Missions in Springfield, I had a wonderful private experience with Jesus.   He called me by name.  Frances would be arriving in a couple of days.  After a powerful morning chapel I chose to skip lunch and returned to my room.   I was on my knees beside the bed when a light brighter than the noon-day sun filled the room.  I did not open my eyes, but could see the light through my closed eyelids.  I felt Jesus enter the room from the window.  He sat down on the bed beside me and began talking to me.  I answered him and the two of us were quickly locked in unique, intimate conversation, just Jesus and me.   I am not a mystic.  I have never been one to hear voices or see visions.  But there I was… carrying on a two way conversation with Jesus.  It was awesome!  A one-time-ever-experience!  I had a notebook right there and actually wrote down some of the insightful things He was saying to me. 

Then it happened.  I heard Him say, “Ralph, I love you.”  I was so overcome I didn’t know how to answer.  I cried out, “Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you!  Thank you!”  Then came His astounding words, “Love cannot be answered by ‘Thank you’.  Love can only be answered by love.”  And now bursting with tears, I cried out, “Oh Lord Jesus, I do love You!  I love You!  I love You!”  

A knock at the door interrupted our conversation.  It was my good friend, Bruce Manning, missionary to Chile.  “Hey, man, how come you didn’t come to lunch?  Are you okay?”  I told him I had been praying.  Then he said, “Come on, let’s go to class.”  I replied, “Not yet.  The class doesn’t start until 2:30 PM.”  Bruce replied, “It’s 2:30!”  “No way!”  I looked at my watch and could not believe it.  I thought I may have been with Jesus in conversation 20 minutes at the most, but over two hours had passed!   

Later I realized what Jesus was saying.  Imagine two lovers locked in an embrace.  She looks into his eyes and says those wonderful words, “I love you.”  Then he answers, “Thank you very much!”  No, never!  His answer must be, “I love you, too.  Oh, how I love you!”  Jesus said it and I’ll never forget it.  “Love can only be answered with love!”

The school teachers were wiping tears from their eyes, some with mascara running down their cheeks.  Their uniformed students were waiting out in the huge foyer.  As the teachers left the lounge I heard a little boy ask his teacher, “Why are you crying?”  I didn’t hear her answer, but I think maybe someone heard Jesus calling them by name this morning.  “Mary! 


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It would make a cat jump 3 feet straight up!

Written to my kids and grandkids, but shared with you who might like to look over my shoulder:

Dear tribe:

It’s Wednesday night, day 7 here in my little borrowed “prophet’s chamber” under the +-5,000 gallon water tank. The weather has been gorgeous until tonight about an hour ago. It has threatened on and off all day, but it hit just as I was leaving a classy restaurant tonight with a great missionary couple, Rocco and Ellen Ditrolio, who had invited me out to a lovely dinner at the “Kansas”, probably the classiest restaurant in this area. The change in the weather all started with the typical Buenos Aires fireworks display. Powerful flashes of lightning and ominous tumbling thunder. Although the pavement was dry, I ran to my car. I knew sky was falling. I had just started the engine when the first big splats hit the roof and the windows. Do you remember? Those first drops are about a half cup of water each. And they sound like hail hitting the roof. I am convinced that these are really great hail stones that mostly melted before striking their victims. By now it has settled into nice California-style drenching rain while the light and sound show continues to make it impossible for even the sleepiest dog to doze off.

This weather was supposed to hit yesterday, but yesterday was the day that Missionary Ed Dabello had promised to help me install the cruise control in my little Peugeot. This involves crawling around under the car and working under the hood and under the dash for hours… no garage. So I asked the Lord to hold off on the storm for a day and He took mercy on us. We made the final cruise control connections this afternoon and tried it out… Praise the Lord, it works! Ed Dalbello is a wizard indeed… a true missionary who can do anything. I could never have installed it and almost surely there is not a mechanic in this country that could have deciphered the complicated book of instructions. I’ll still need to make a few final adjustments, but from now on I’ll not have to be sitting in one position, pressing on the throttle for 5 hours at a time out there on the highway.

BAM!!! Wow! It sounds like full-scale war outside. And a few huge bombs are hitting very close to home. BAMMM BAM and double BAM! That one would make a cat jump three feet straight up. You would love this display. It is great to watch “from safely inside”.

I confess that I am impressed… no, “overwhelmed” with the incredible reception I am getting everywhere. This could become addictive. Maybe it already has. I believe I could rent a little apartment here in Buenos Aires and just minister in different churches in the area nearly every day of the week for the rest of my life and probably never exhaust the possibilities. However, I have the “call of the wild” within me… drawing me to distant, forgotten little churches in unimportant towns where nobody goes and nobody cares.

Love the whole bunch of you.


Six Violins

Now here's a new slant on how to plant a church in the heart of a great city; violin lessons for all. Jeff Bradbury, son of Canadian missionary- pastors Ray and Margi Bradbury, is an accomplished violinist. He is helping children and youth acquire good violins and teaching them to play them. He has 13 students at this moment. They will be performing in the famous Plaza Congreso on Good Friday.

Last night, Tuesday, I had the joy of ministering in their church. The children performed interpretive dance while six violins played and Jeff sang (far left in background.)

Their rented hall is located in the heart of one of the most active parts of Buenos Aires city... only two blocks from the huge Congress building. The area is overrun with crime, prostitution and sin of all kinds. Towering shabby-looking apartment buildings with small businesses on the street-level fill every space. There are no vacant lots.

Pastors Ray and Margi are praying for miracle funds to purchase an adequate building. Thus far friends and offerings have brought in $200,000. But they will need at least $300,000 cash in hand to purchase the gutted building they are hoping for.

Interesting Note: Margi (seated front row at left) is the granddaughter of Fred Clements, also from Canada, one of the first Assemblies of God missionaries to this country from 1929 until his death in 1939. He is buried near the great church he planted in a small country town called Henderson. A seed was planted and a great harvest of dozens of ministers came out of that church. Brother Clements, your labors were not in vain! The seed is still producing fruit in 2012!


Monday, April 2, 2012

Palm Sunday Morning (Pictures below)

We were just rookie missionaries in our third year. Things were going great for us in Cordoba in 1967. Already we had helped start several churches. With sadness and against our personal feelings, we had succumbed to the firm orders of the Superintendent of the Argentine Assemblies of God. We had uprooted our family from comfortable Cordoba, where my ministry seemed to be blossoming, and moved 300 miles further interior to San Juan, a virgin area with no Assemblies of God presence… and where the education for our three boys would have serious limitations.

Paul and Betty Hoff were also new missionaries in Argentina. They were working in the area of rheir expertise as educators in our River Platte Bible Institute. But our Argentine national superintendent ordered them with the same firmness…” You can't just be an educator. You have to pioneer a church. It is an absolute requisite to remain in Argentina as a missionary!”

One day when I came to Buenos Aires from the interior I found the Hoffs very distraught. They were practically ready to leave the field. I encouraged them to stay and accept the challenge. “But,” they insisted, “We are professors, not pastors or evangelists!” So I told them Frances and I would leave the church we were planting in San Juan for two weeks to hold their first evangelistic outreach. With that promise they took the challenge and rented a small hall in the suburb city of Remedios de Escalada.

We got permission to use an open lot a block from the rented hall. Frances and I gave it all we had! This was long before my little dummy friend, Felipe, existed. I played the Hawaiian guitar and painted a picture every night which illustrated my message, then I gave it away the following night as a reward for whoever brought the most new people to the event. Frances worked with the children together with Betty. Within two weeks or we had a nice group. And a few of them were firmly converted.

Paul and Betty Hoff often thanked us for helping them get started and admitted that this church-plant experience was one of the brightest spots in their ministry. They later turned the church into the hands of an Argentine pastor and moved to Chile to establish a Bible School.

After that initial crusade and until yesterday I had only ministered in this church 3 times; in 1977, 1982 and 1985. Yesterday morning, Sunday, April 1, 2012 (Palm Sunday) I visited this church at the invitation of the Argentine pastor, Jorge Stolarczuk. He welcomed me with joy. We had served together on the national youth team when we were a lot younger. We enjoyed a marvelous Palm Sunday service. At least two people came to Christ. All of us were profoundly touched by God. One of Pastor Jorge’s sons, who is very good at photography, took some pictures of the service. You'll see a string of them below.


Pastor Jorge Stolarczuk and Ralph
Hawaiian Inspirational Melodies

Petting the Skunk, Perfume
More Petting
Felipe obviously overjoyed to be back in Argentina
Intrigued with Felipe
Even their teachers are intrigued. Check out the expression on the face of that little blond kid, one of pastor's grandsons. (You can click on the photo to enlarge is you wish.)
Teaching a new chorus to go with the message.
What a thrill to preach in Argentina again!
Altar time. Dedication prayer.
A final blessing from Pastor Jorge and his congregation. "Go with God!"