Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It's Just a Stick

God spoke, “What is that you have in your hand?”  And the pastor answered. “Oh, this?  It’s just a stick.”   Exodus 4:2  (My paraphrase.)

I have never ceased to be astounded at how God can take us, flawed as we are, and use the “stick” we have in our hands to activate His miracles. 

Who could have imagined that a ventriloquist dummy could ever be a useful “stick” in a missionary’s hands?

In 1974 when we were planting a church in a ghetto area of Buenos Aires called La Boca, we had a young Bible School student named Dolly, helping us.  She was always ready to preach on the street corners and seemed a bit "too spiritual" for some of her peers, but she was a woman of prayer and obviously in touch with God.  Occasionally she would privately bring an important “word” to me.  
In a quick visit to the USA my ventriloquist brother in law, Monte Fast, also a minister, had donated his little dummy to me.  He had a different name and had painted red hair.  I renamed him "Felipe." 

The very first time I showed him to the children of our ghetto church, Dolly was present.  After the service she came up to me with that look in her eye.  I thought, “Oh!  Here comes another one!”  She declared, “God is going to use that dummy in a marvelous way!”  She was serious, but it sounded like a joke to me and I inadvertently burst out with laughter.

Only a few weeks later, Felipe, now had black hair, a mustache and was dressed as an Argentine 'gaucho' (cowboy).  I tried him out in Plaza Guemes, a crowded city park in a classy part of town.  After seeing the large group he attracted and the way they all stayed to hear me preach, I had to go back to Dolly and ask forgiveness for laughing at her “prophetic word.”  

Now, 40 years later, I am still often astounded by what God has accomplished with this "stick in my hand."  I repeatedly discover both men and women, who are now involved in powerful, effective ministry who testify that their first steps toward Christ were under "Felipe's ministry."  

Liliana, wife of Evangelist Dante Gebel, is one example:

She presented me to this crowd (below) of 80,000 youth last December, by telling how she as a little child, dedicated her life to God in a service with Felipe and me.  (Note: Her husband, Dante, was the speaker.  I only gave a brief testimony.)

On another occasion
in Southern California
Liliana Gebel poses
holding Felipe's hand
Many of these youth stood for 5 hours packed like sardines at this event.  Near the close of the service they are seen below praying fervently.   

So Hey!  Here's my point:  What is that you have in your hand?


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Speed-the-Light Pajamas

This picture was taken in 1963, two years before the following incident, but it gives you the idea... and I would have to go through about 3,000 slides to find another one taken closer to the proper date.

Our Mikey, the littlest guy in this picture, turned 6 years old aboard the Del Mar ship on May 19, 1965 during our 21 day ocean voyage to begin our labors as missionaries in Argentina.  We had just finished a year in Costa Rica studying the Spanish language.

All our clothing, office equipment, household items and much more came with us on the ship in sealed drums, plus a few crates.  We moved into a temporary house in Buenos Aires and began the process of getting our official documents and purchasing a car. 

Speed-the-Light, the Assemblies of God official youth missions project is dedicated to providing vehicles, projectors, sound systems and other equipment for missionaries all over the world.  They had raised  $3,500 with which we were able to purchase a brand new 1965 Rambler Classic car directly from the factory, made in Argentina. 

So there was a lot of excitement at our house about our new “Speed the Light” vehicle. 

Ronny (10), Timmy (8) and Mikey (6) were looking on as Frances reached deep into several barrels filled with wonderful things donated by the WMCs “Women’s Missionary Council.”  She pulled out a brand new pair of pajamas and handed them to Mikey.  He was delighted.  He held them up in his hands and yelled, “Are these Speed-the-Light pajamas?”

Little Mikey is now 55 years old, happily married and manager of a successful business in Seattle… and here I am… still ministering in Argentina long after retirement.  I have it in my blood.

And today I am thanking the wonderful people of the Assemblies of God churches for supplying our family with almost everything we needed for living in a foreign country, allowing us to dedicate our lives to the task of winning the lost.

You really can’t blame MKs for getting it all jumbled in their little heads.  There was the “Boys and Girls Missionary Crusade” the BGMCs.  Then the youth were called “Christ’s Ambassadors,” the CAs.  And the Women’s Missionary Council, the WMCs… that later became the WMs.  And Light-for-the-Lost, the men’s project providing us with Gospel literature... and of course, Speed-the-Light …supplying us with our pajamas… ha!


Friday, July 11, 2014

Secrets of Ventriloquism

There are some hilarious stories surrounding the history and superstitions related to ventriloquism!  But in Argentina, a land where it has mostly been seen only on TV and that very seldom, I get all kinds of questions.  Frances used to stand next to me holding the suitcase.  A couple of times she was asked if she was doing the talking for Felipe.  Another time in Argentina I was doing a radio interview in a provincial capital city in the south when the MC asked me if it was true that ventriloquists are born with two stomachs. The guy was serious!  The word ventriloquism actually comes from the Latin, which is very similar to Spanish, and means “to speak from the stomach.”

One old man way out in the delta islands always asked me very seriously how Felipe was doing.  What am I going to say?  I am sure that he thought he was alive.

Rarely little kids, sometimes the most brilliant 3 or 4 year-olds, are frightened out of their wits and run away crying.  They are smart enough to know that that "thing" is a "thing" and as such should not be looking at them and talking.  Most little kids easily fantasize that he really is talking, but they know I am a vital part of the act. 

Felipe is always really nice to kids.  He doesn’t insult them, or embarrass them.  He gets his Bible stories all mixed up, but I correct him and hopefully the kids get the message.  The strange result is that kids identify me with Felipe.  He flirts with the little girls and tells them how cute they are.  Then after church little kids, boys and girls both, sometimes run up to me and wrap their arms around my legs and want me to bend down for a kiss on the cheek and they hang all over me.  I love it.  It’s wonderful!

Years ago we were in the USA doing itinerary and living in Santa Cruz next to the Bethany camp grounds.  I was asked to do a Felipe act every evening for a Kids Camp.  After a couple of days some of the bigger kids, 10 or 11 years old, started yelling, “We know who is talking.  You can’t fool us.”  

I decided to fix them good:  I had a little flat tape recorder and hid it in the suitcase.  I purchased a “continuous tape” that repeats itself every 45 seconds.  And I recorded on it the sound of Felipe screaming, “Let me out of here!  There’s a cockroach in here!” and several other similar outcries.  Then I put a hidden toggle switch on the outside of the suitcase to activate the recording.  

So the last night of the camp I had a little girl holding the suitcase for me as usual.  Felipe did his thing and as always resisted going back into his case.  So after his dialog, now with the little girl holding the case I finally got him to say his final good-byes to the kids.  The little girl was supposed to carry him over and place him beside the grand piano.  As I was zipping up the case I flipped the switch on and now as she was carrying the case away you could hear him screaming, “Let me out of here!  There’s a cockroach in here!”  She put him down quickly and hurried away.  But he kept on yelling stuff, like “I want a drink of water!”… and more.  I was finished with my part, so I walked over, picked up the suitcase and yelled at Felipe to be quiet as I said goodbye to the kids and walked out with both Felipe and me yelling at the same time to each other. 

But this gets better: Before returning to Argentina, I changed the tape to Spanish and kept the tape recorder in the case.  One day I had the Mission’s Area Director in the back seat of my car while driving through the streets of Buenos Aires.  I hit a pot-hole or something and it switched the tape on.  The Area Director said, “Ralph, you’re not going to believe this, but I think I hear Felipe yelling in the trunk of the car!”  I had to pull over, open the trunk and shut him off.  Of course I had to tell him.

I very seldom used this trick though, since it was really an overkill with my quite successful little show which I still use just before preaching.  

But the best one came when I was way out in the maze of canals and rivers of the ParanĂ¡ Delta.  I had a young pastor with me for the first time enjoying the exciting ministry we had, and still have, out in this river wilderness.  Our Messenger of Peace boat had a storage area under the prow.  It was a crawl space where we kept the food supplies, my accordion, Felipe, etc.  We had arrived at one of the places where we were going to have a service.  I had tied up the stern to the dock and had climbed up on the dock.  The young pastor crawled into the storage space and was getting my accordion out.  There he was with his ear almost next to Felipe’s case when he inadvertently hit the hidden switch.  Felipe started yelling, “Let me out of here!  There’s a cockroach in here!”  This young pastor came out from the crawl space like he had been shot.  He looked up at me where I was standing grinning at him on the dock, twenty feet away.  Then he looked back at Felipe’s case, then back at me... as Felipe kept yelling.  Finally he said, “Man!  You are good at that!”  I jumped into the boat reached out and picked up Felipe’s case and flipped the toggle switch which was hardly visible.  I said, “Shut up, Felipe.”  And I never did tell him how I did it.  Well, he never asked!  Ha!  

And did I ever tell you about the lady in the Oakland airport that was running the security screener?  I always carry Felipe on, so he goes through the machine.  She stopped the belt and asked, “What in the world do you have in there?”  I told her that I was a ventriloquist and that was my dummy.  “Can you make him talk?”  she asked.  I said, “Only if you let me take him out of the case.”  Now the people behind were getting nervous, so she turned the machine over to another screener and came over.  “I’m due for a break and I want to see him and hear him talk,” she said.  So I pulled him out.  Now this lady was blonde and did not look anything like she might speak Spanish, but without me even realizing it, Felipe started right off talking to her in Spanish.  And behold, she really did speak Spanish.  So he said something and she answered him and now there was a little conversation going on with her and Felipe all in Spanish.  Suddenly Felipe said to her, in Spanish, of course... “The guy that is holding me in his hands doesn’t speak a word of Spanish.  He doesn’t even know what we are talking about.”  I had to interrupt the little liar.  I said, “Felipe, You know that isn’t true!”  And we all, including the bystanders, had a great laugh.  And, fact is, I am still laughing because the whole thing was Felipe’s idea… not mine. 

In all, Felipe has, for forty years now, been an interesting tool to attract people of all ages close enough to hear the preaching of the Gospel of God's love.  And that's what its all about.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

My Pastor during my early teens: Wm Booth-Clibborn

In my last “Then and Now” blog I mentioned my pastor during my early teens, William Booth-Clibborn?  Some have written showing interest in this story… and I have sent them the additional information below.  If you are interested, read on:  

William Booth-Clibborn was the son of La Marechale (The Marshall) Catherine Booth, eldest daughter of William and Catherine Booth who founded the Salvation Army.  La Marechale founded the Salvation Army in France where my pastor was raised.  She also founded the Salvation Army in Switzerland where she was imprisoned for preaching in the open air.**  My pastor was baptized in the Holy Spirit at 15 years of age while studying in a boarding school, then called to ministry and traveled for years as an evangelist.  After a sad divorce and now as a single man… he planted and built Immanuel Temple in Portland, Oregon where I attended.  He was an excellent violinist and wrote many songs, his most famous was “Down from His Glory” for which he borrowed the melody from “O Sole Mio.”  He was an unusually brilliant preacher who could make the Bible characters come to life upon the stage.  And he preached Jesus as I never heard any other do.  Late in life he left that pastorate to travel the world again as an evangelist and finally retired and married a widow lady while he continued to write books.  I visited in his home several times.  He was vibrant and seemed always in the process of writing several books simultaneously.

In 1969 I visited him in the hospital while I was in Portland on furlough from Argentina.  He was aged and very ill.  He was hooked up to tubes and could not turn over to face me, but he could still could give orders that made you obey.  He told me to open a certain drawer.  I did and it was full of copies of a new book he had just published, named “Saved by Sight.”  It is an amazing treatise on seeing Jesus through the revealed Word.  He ordered me to now turn to page 68 and read it out-loud to him.  I read a few paragraphs, but hardly realized what I was reading without the context.  He stopped me and said, “That is what you need down there in Latin America!  Put 5 dollars in the drawer and take that book with you.”  I did.  The next day I went back to the hospital to return his glasses that I had accidently put in my pocket… and I found that he had passed away! 
The book sat on my shelf in Argentina for several years.  Then when I was preparing a Bible study to give at a national pastors retreat in the Cordoba mountains of Argentina, I picked up his book and was captivated by its message.  And when I got to page 68 I immediately recognized what he was referring to when he directed me there.  It followed a chapter called “Look and Live”… and opened a new chapter called “The Brazen Serpent Sign.”  He starts with the bronze snake on a pole that Moses raised up in the desert and then leads up to the cross.  But in this chapter he tells how the bronze snake was kept and later worshipped by the Israelites and had to be destroyed by King Hezekiah.  (2 Kings 18:4)  The scriptural account declares that it became a worthless idol (Nehushtan).  Then he compares it with the crucifix seen everywhere in Latin America and wherever Roman Catholicism is prevalent.  He postulates that the image of a dead or dying Jesus hanging on the cross actually tends to hide from our eyes the true revelation of the crucified and now resurrected Christ.  And in his book he denounces vehemently the Roman Church for its pomp and idolatry.  

**La Marechale, Catherine Booth-Clibborn, my pastor’s mother, was thrust into the Neuchatel prison in Switzerland for defying the government orders by preaching to several hundred of her converts in an isolated clearing in the forest.  From that prison cell, while suffering a stench so nauseating that she pressed her face against the window bars to breathe, she wrote a beautiful poem, “Best Beloved of my Soul” that was put to music by Victoria Booth-Clibborn Demarest, one of her daughters.  It was first sung in a prayer meeting at Exeter Hall in England while La Marechale was still in prison.  I copy it below for your inspiration and enjoyment.  She wrote it first in French, but then translated it herself into English.  (The MarĂ©chale by James Strahan, D.D., Marshall Morgan and Scott, LTD.  London : : Edinburgh  Chapters 5 and 6)    

I often go to my keyboard and sing this song… and can seldom finish without weeping in the presence of my beloved Savior. 

Best Beloved of my soul,                                                                                                           I am here alone with thee 
And my prison is a heaven
Since Thou sharest it with me.
All my life is at thy service
All my choice to share Thy cross
I am Thine to do or suffer
All things else I count but dross.
Wicked men may persecute
Banishing to solitude
They should know my joy is Jesus
Whom they never understood.
At His voice my gloom disperses.
Heavenly sunshine takes its place.
Bars and bolts cannot withhold Him.
Hide from me His lovely face.
Love almighty, changeless love
More than mother’s love is Thine
Can my heart be ever lonely
Comforted by Love divine?
Calm amid the raging tempest
We can well afford to wait.
Truth and justice soon shall triumph.
Christ, his cause will vindicate.
Best Beloved of my soul
I am here alone with Thee!
(These words were written by Catherine Booth-Clibborn
Daughter of General Booth of the Salvation Army
Written in Neuchatel Prison, Switzerland
Where she was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel)
Song and music from "Victory Songs No. 4 Special edition for The Demarest Campaigns"





Thursday, July 3, 2014

"Then" and "Now"

Don't feel you have to read this.  It is only my devotional journal for today.  My SOAP.  S=scripture, O=observation, A=application, P=prayer.  I'm just letting you look over my shoulder if you wish.

S.  Philemon 10-16  "I appeal to you for my child, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, Onesimus, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me.  And I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that in your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; but without your consent I did not want to do anything, that your goodness should not be as it were by compulsion, but of your own free will. For perhaps he was for this reason parted from you for a while, that you should have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother…" NASB

O.  There is an obvious “then” and “now” in this letter. “Then” is a slave named Onesimus who once served Philemon, who was “parted from him” most likely as a runaway slave.  “If he has wronged you”, back “then”… “now” put that on my account.  “Then” he may have stolen from you, but “now” he is profitable to both you and me.  “Then” he was a slave, “now” he has become my son and since you are also my son, you have new relationship.  “Then” you were master and slave.  “Now” you are brothers.  

Do you have a “then” and “now”?  That’s what Jesus offers us. 

A.  Paul adds this comment: “And in case you didn’t realize it, you owe your very life to me.”  For some reason every time I read this portion I think of my Pastor William Booth-Clibborn.  I do not recall the details, but I am sure he used this same kind of rhetoric on me at one time… politely demanding something of me... and then reminding me that I owed it to him.  The fact is that I owed more to him than I realized at the time, since he took time on Sunday afternoons with two teen-age boys, Erwin Bush and myself, insisting that we ride our bikes the 5 miles across Portland to the church, arriving an hour before evening service time, for him to take us down that curving stairway at the base of the altar… down to the basement prayer room to “teach us to pray”.  He also encouraged me to memorize Psalm 103 and give it before the church, not as a rote memorization, but with proper emphases and hand motions that would make this beautiful Psalm come alive, something that was extremely difficult for me, for I was very bashful.  He promised me a book from his library if I did it.  I was 15 years old, going on 16, and I did it.  I went into his library with the idea that I was going to choose any book from his library, but he chose the book.  

It is a paperback book that is falling apart now, but is still in my library.  It is called “The Blood Hunters”, by Gordon Hedderly Smith. (Zondervan 1943) I just now pulled it down from the shelf and read again his dedication to me, penned in his unique handwriting. “To Ralph Hiatt in recognition of application and memorization of the Scriptures that was exceptional.  With a wish for a great and useful spiritual future… W. Booth-Clibborn.  New Year 1948.” Okay, now I am in tears.  

The book is a heart-breaking story of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Hedderly Smith, CMA missionaries to French Indo-China before and during the 2nd World War, in the area now called Viet Nam (1929-1943).  It tells of their efforts to reach the most primitive and dangerous "savages" with the gospel, their advances, their setbacks, the Japanese invasion, and finally how they were ordered to leave their converts behind possibly to die as martyrs as they would have to flee the country for their lives.

P.  God, through my tears, what is my prayer today? First these are tears of thankfulness for Your servants of the past… these pioneer missionaries who risked their lives almost daily… and for my pastor who cared enough to take his valuable time with us to point two teenage boys in the right direction.  Then as I reread today his dedication note referring to a “great and useful spiritual future” I am overcome… as I now look back on that “future” and have witnessed with my eyes what only You, my God, could have accomplished… Yes, I am overcome!  Where am I in this picture?  Where am I now at 82 years of age?  Can You use me?  Can you fill me again with Your Holy Spirit?  Can you anoint me again with Your Holy oil?  Can you charge this old body with renewed physical strength?  Can I rise again to minister Your Holy Word to a lost and perishing world?  Oh my God, I am Yours and Yours alone!  I have no other purpose in extending my days on this condemned planet.  But if I am given more time, let me be an example to my offspring… offspring both by DNA and spiritual offspring… and may I still be used to reach many more lost ones!  And, like Onesimus, may they have a blessed testimony of “a then” and “a now!”  Amen.