Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Red and White Checkered Jacket

I did not write the following account.  It was emailed to me in Spanish over a year ago from a former Argentine ministerial student in my Evangelism 101 class in Bible School.  It refers to an incident that happened over 30 years ago.  I had not intended to publish it, but finally decided to translate it into English to share it with you.

(Please note: Everyone in Argentina knows me as Hermano Rafael.) 

Dear Hermano Rafael:  

I don’t know if you will remember this incident.  It happened so many years ago.

We were parked on a corner near the entrance to Isla Maciel.  (You will remember that this was a zone that consists of emergency shacks covering a huge area that did not have a good reputation… drunkards, drug addicts and prostitutes... no?) 

We were carrying our guitars and you had your accordion.  We were new at this… inexperienced youth, but with a desire to serve the Lord.  You were wearing a checkered sport jacket with large red and white squares that made you visible from 4 blocks away.  We respected your spiritual investiture, but (with due respect) not your choice of clothing… ha.  We were thinking that the people that lived here would grab you, jacket and all (and us with you) and hang us on a tree.  But no…

We stopped singing stored our instruments in the car and you started walking on a narrow pathway leading us into the heart of the mass of shacks.  The truth is we were terrified.  The area we were entering was not pretty, nor the faces either.  But your face and soul were shining… and we followed you.  That’s the way it was… nothing bad could happen to us because we were working for God and you were our example in this.

Suddenly you stopped in front of a liquor bar.  It was made of corrugated metal, windows with no glass and a door frame with no door… and just like that you walked inside.  Evidently you were crazy!  We could see nothing inside so we just stood outside paralyzed waiting to see what would happen.  After a while you came out with your arm around a man that was sobbing with tears flowing and you presented him to us as our new brother.  He had on a jacket with jeans and strapped on his side a .38 revolver, but this was insignificant.  He was our new brother with scars on his face… scars that between tears, sobs, hugs and love… our brother was beginning a new life.

Our new friend would never have known that there existed another kind of life… if it had not been for a crazy north-American evangelist dressed in a red and white checkered jacket named Rafael… OUR PROFESSOR OF EVANGELISM.

Clarification:  This area of Isla Maciel where we entered is called Villa Tranquila (meaning Tranquil Villa) which had to be someone’s sarcastic joke since there are somewhere between 15,000 to 25,000 squatters crammed into a single mass, with raw sewage running in ditches and where, I am told, murders still happen almost every week. 

I remember that jacket.  It was classy.  The red was more of a maroon and the white like a silver gray.  I liked it… but looking back it was probably not a good choice of attire for the area where I was ministering.  Ha!

Hermano Rafael (Or just Ralph)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Folded Five Dollar Bill

It was 1953.  Frances and I purchased a little trailer house to live in while going to Southern California Bible College in Costa Mesa, (now Vanguard University).  We rented a space at Shady Lane Trailer Park in Anaheim only about a mile from where Disneyland is now.  Frances attended SCBC for one year then took a job as a sales girl at Kress “five and dime store” in Anaheim to help pay my school bill.  I think she earned about 45 cents per hour.  She had to quit when she was obviously pregnant.  Our beautiful little Ronny was born at the Orange County Hospital.  He was so cute! 

While we were living in Shady Lane Trailer Park Frances became friends with Nancy, a newly married young lady.  I remember that at a crucial moment in that girl’s life, Frances was there to love her, counsel and encourage her.  She is still serving the Lord today and writes me often in response to my blogs.

I was carrying a full load at SCBC in Costa Mesa, and working in the afternoons at an ARCO distributorship in Anaheim.  After class every day I would drive a gasoline tanker delivering fuel until 6 PM and then operate a service station each night alone, attending the pumps, doing oil changes and lube jobs, tire repairs and much more and closing at 10 PM.  The service station owner, Harold and his sweet little Christian wife, Rosie, also lived in our same trailer park.  Harold was a hard man to work for, very vocal and adept with an unholy vocabulary.  When he was upset, which seemed too often, he could turn the air green with his language.  He seldom said a sentence to his hired help without a string of curse words.  He hired and fired 16 men during the first year I worked with him!  Actually, some of them quit because they couldn’t stand him yelling and cursing at them. 

Early on, Harold made a lot of fun of me for turning in a five dollar bill that I found all folded up late one night out by the gas pumps.  I was earning $1.25 per hour then.  Later he gave me $50 extra to help pay the hospital bill for Frances when Ronny was born.  I think that was equivalent to $500 or more of today’s money and covered about one third of the whole maternity bill.  He was always polite and kind to Frances... and to me, too, off the job.  

After almost two years working for him, he fired me in a cursing rage for requesting and insisting on every other Saturday night off to go preach to the military men in Victory Servicemen’s Center at the New Pike in Longbeach. 

Three months later, when I was delivering gasoline to his station, he begged me to come back to work for him again… because he couldn’t trust anybody else with the cash-box to work alone at night.  He said something like, “You may be stupid, but you don’t steal from the cash box!”  I needed the work and agreed on the condition that he let me have every other Saturday night off to go preach.  It was a deal!

We kept in contact with Harold and Rosie after they moved and opened another station and car repair shop in Agua Dulce, north east of LA.  We even visited them at their new home.

After graduation, we left the area, towing our little trailer house 400 miles north to Carmichael, California where we would serve as assistant pastors.  Frances was pregnant with Tim, but back in those days you didn’t say the word "pregnant"… you were just “in a family way” and this was only discussed by women in private. 

Years later, as missionaries from Argentina now on deputation, I was driving my little VW bug up I-5 going north out of LA.  My son, Mike, was with me.  I felt such a burden for Harold’s lost soul that I decided to go visit him although it was 40 miles out of my way.  These were the days before cell phones so I could not call them.  I drove there, and was very disappointed to find no one at home.  I placed a note on the door and stood there and prayed for him asking God to save him.

I don’t remember how much time passed, but one day we received a letter from Rosie saying that Harold had been wonderfully saved while watching Jerry Falwell on TV!  They found out where I was preaching for a Missionary Banquet and drove all the way to Sacramento to hear me.  Harold pressed a $100 bill into my hand.  They invited us to dinner and months later we drove to Agua Dulce to eat with them.  There at the head of the table the new Harold was blessing the food… praying in the same name of the Jesus that he had formerly cursed!  It was so beautiful it brought me tears.
While sitting there at the table he reminded me about a five dollar bill that I had found out by the pumps and turned in.  Could it be that this five dollar bill had chased him for over seven years?  I am told that Harold became as vocal in his witness for Christ as he had been before with his unfit language.  He became a respected deacon in his Baptist church and served God until he passed away.  I still am in contact occasionally with his widow, Rosie.  Their son, Donny and all his family also follow the Lord!

Somebody lost 5 bucks out of their pocket, but it went to a great and eternal cause.

Ain’t God good?!!!


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Exactly 50 Years Ago!

It happened in May 1963, 50 years ago!  Frances and I were flying to the Assemblies of God headquarters in Springfield, Missouri for final missionary approval.  

 It had all started the previous year.  We were serving as pastors of the Assembly of God church in the little mountain town of Colfax, California.  We loved the location, the church and the people.  (Photo Main Street Colfax)
(Photo Colfax Assembly of God) In the spring of 1962 we organized our first mission convention and enjoyed receiving several missionary speakers that week.  On Thursday night Ruth Couchman, a tiny lady, came to us.  She was dynamite in a small package!  Among other things she said with authority, “I am asking God for five missionary couples to come to Argentina!”  That night I knelt at the altar and wept uncontrollably as I felt God calling me to Argentina.  

During the following weeks God reconfirmed that call over and again.  I was bursting with excitement, but my dear wife, Frances, felt no call and was troubled about leaving our church, her mother, brothers and sisters, and taking our three little sons out into an unknown future.  She struggled with this for three months, but finally signed the application papers and the process began.  I knew her well.  Once decided, she would never look back.

Now, one year after my call, we flew to Springfield to stand before the World Missions Committee, including Executive Director Phil Hogan and Field Director Mel Hodges, for approval or disapproval.  After dealing with my health issues, their first question to me was, “Ralph, how do you know that God is calling you to Argentina?”  With great enthusiasm I and told them how God had placed a burden for the lost in that nation.  Their second question was directed to my wife.  “Frances, how do you know that God has called you to Argentina?”  My heart hit the floor.  Frances was always totally transparent and I knew what she was going to say before she said it.  I heard her words, “God never called me to Argentina.”  I knew that was the end of the line, but Frances continued.  “I never was even called to be a pastor’s wife, but I married this guy and there can be no doubt that God has called him to Argentina.  And I believe that it is my place as his wife to go with him and stand behind his ministry wherever the Lord may lead him.”  I was watching the expressions on the faces of the committee members.  It looked like they were in shock.  They sent us out of the room and we waited for a long 20 minutes.  Finally Mel Hodges came out to talk with us.  He asked us, “Would you be willing to go to Chile instead of Argentina?  I was stunned by the question, but said, “We certainly would if that is the place of greatest need.”  “That is all I needed to hear,” he replied.  “You are approved to go to Argentina!”  

That was 50 years ago last month when this picture was taken.  Our three boys played ukuleles and sang in most of our services.  They could really sing and strum those ukes.

Fifty wonderful years!  
I tell you that there is nothing like the Assemblies of God World Missions organization!  Of course you know we retired six years ago when I was 75 years old.  But we could not get Argentina’s wonderful people out of our hearts and we returned to Argentina every time we could.   And almost immediately after the Lord Jesus carried Frances away to her heavenly home, God has called me again.  I have ministered throughout the entire country during these past almost three years.   Lord willing I will leave again for Argentina on October 2.  I already have my ticket.  

Although fully retired, I work under the leadership of Assemblies of God World Missions, alongside and in full cooperation with our Argentina missionary team… almost as if I was a full time missionary.  So here goes my 51st year with the AGWM!   Praise God for health and strength!


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Special People in My Life

Allow me to introduce a few of them:

Anna Droll, an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God, has been on staff at Carpenter’s House church in Modesto for a number of years.  

Now she and her husband, Raymond, are dedicating themselves to touching some “unreached tribes” in the extreme corners of rural Ghana, Africa with the love and message of Jesus.  Special people!

Martin and Charlotte Jacobson, from Kentucky are missionaries to Argentina and directors of our Patagonian Bible Institute, the Assemblies of God’s southernmost Bible institute in the world.  

Last week they were visiting California and spoke at a sectional minister’s meeting here in Modesto.  Their leadership, along with Missionaries Eddie and Diana Echevarria, is preparing and sending out many young couples into Argentina’s most needy areas and even to several other countries around the world.  Their motto is: “From the Ends of the Earth to the Ends of the Earth.”

Chuck Roots, Pastor of the Free Methodist Church in Ripon, California; Navy Chaplain to the Marines, served in Afghanistan; Baghdad, Iraq; Kuwait and ‘who-knows-where-else.’  

He publishes a weekly article worth reading, called “Roots in Ripon” in the local newspaper ‘Ripon Record.’  In his articles he speaks out boldly for Christian principles.  Last Friday I enjoyed a delightful lunch with him at Spring Creek Golf and Country Club.  Please take a moment and go to his website , read last week's article "My Country" and if you are interested... you may follow the instructions at the top of the page to subscribe and receive it each week.   

Truthfully I have hundreds of "special people" in my life and each one is worthy of a whole page of pictures and details.  These are a just a few that I have been privileged to fellowship with this past week.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What do I do for fun?

It's a question that people ask me occasionally.  I sometimes struggle to find a decent answer.  I don't watch much TV.  I don't play computer games.  

My son, Ron's wife, Elisabet, who he snatched from Argentina, thinks skydiving is great, but somehow it doesn't appeal to me.  She also just completed a 55 mile race on one of her two Arabian horses in high mountain rough terrain... and finished fourth!  She  has enough blue ribbons and trophies to fill a wall!  Her husband, Ron, 58 years of age, still loves to play soccer.  His younger brother Mike, 54, was a semi-professional soccer player.  He now plays golf, but I was never good at that.     

So what do I do for fun? ...besides occasionally going hiking with my son, Tim,  and grandson, Evan?  
Well, I am reading a lot these days.  And have been greatly blessed by the journals of great missionaries of the past.

And yesterday I enjoyed giving a "flat-top haircut" to a plant that was going wild in my back yard.

Today I cut off a dead branch from one of the two palms in my front yard.  This however, was almost like work... ha.

Then sprayed for ants, covering, as always, the circumference of the entire house.  Definitely not fun, but a necessary evil.

But for fun?  Well, I often randomly sit at the piano and worship the Lord... sometimes bringing to mind and singing some old chorus such as "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!  There is just something about that name."  Or going way back there to "Standing Somewhere in the Shadows You'll find Jesus" and "Precious Lord, Take My Hand, Lift me up, Let me Stand..."  And sometimes the tears flow... 'cause I've always been a cry-baby.

And, oh yes, just for fun I am learning to play my new Golden Tone Hawaiian Steel Guitar... and even producing computer generated rhythm and orchestration backgrounds with a program called "Band in a Box."  I started learning the Hawaiian guitar when I was 16, but I only took 6 lessons.  I really need to take some more... one of these days.  

Now since I am going back and forth to Argentina frequently, I decided to leave my eight string "Magnatone" Hawaiian guitar there and recently purchased this "Golden Tone", also eight string, to have something to play here in the USA.  I love to play the old hymns... just for myself... like "He Hideth My Soul in the Cleft of the Rock that shadows a dry thirsty land...,"  "I Come to the Garden Alone" and many others.

Am I having fun yet?  You bet!  My darling Frances is gone and I miss her more than words can express, but she did not leave me alone.  I've invited Jesus to share my home with me and we have a good thing going!