November 18, 2014

Further Adventures of Missionary Max: Made in the USA

Chapter 2 of the second Missionary Max book. You can read the previous chapter here, and buy the first book here.

Though living on Cabrito had never been part of his plan, now that he had been there for six months, Maxwell Sherman could not fathom the thought of leaving. From the time he woke up in the morning to the time he went to bed at night, life on the tropical island offered nonstop adventure and discovery. He thrilled at finding yet another back street, trying another culinary novelty (usually at the home of his friend Bernardinho) or finding some forgotten relic of this island’s storied past.

And yet, with all of this, if there was a time he looked forward to most every week, it was the Sunday evening worship with his little congregation. He eagerly anticipated every aspect of the service. The Cabritan people were naturally musical, and the song service was beautiful and heartfelt. Most of the hymns they sang were American or European in origin, but the congregation gave them an island flavor their composers never dreamed of.

But the part Max enjoyed most was the sermon. This had surprised him at first, given how he had initially reacted to the prospect of preaching with anxiety bordering on sheer terror. But now, a few short months later, there was nothing that thrilled him more than the privilege of standing in front of that group of people and sharing what he had learned from the Bible. He had chuckled more than once at the notion of his professors from his brief stint in college seeing him now, pouring over the Bible and other reference works, making sure he got everything right before presenting it to the congregation. They would certainly find no similarity between this Max and the party-boy Max who rarely cracked open a text book during his short but colorful career in higher education.

For their part, the Cabritan congregation loved their new, unintentional missionary, green though he was. He brought a freshness and enthusiasm to the Bible that they had never seen before. And, discontent with mere platitudes, he consistently strove to draw out the meaning of the Scripture text he was expounding. They tolerated--and even looked forward to--his occasional trip-ups in the Portuguese/Creole language of the island.

And indeed, this of itself was a novelty. While previous missionaries had spoken in pure Portuguese (considered the language of the elite on Cabrito) Missionário Max made every effort to speak in the hybrid language spoken by most of the people in their everyday lives. This endeared him all the more to his congregation.

There had been some raised eyebrows at first, and even a couple accusations of “profaning” the holy text. But Max did his homework, and was careful to explain that since the founding of the Church, the word of God had been presented in the common language of the people--beginning with the New Testament texts that were written in the language of the grocery lists and sales receipts of ancient Greece. For this and many other pieces of information he was grateful for the small library left behind by the Blakes in their hurry to flee Cabrito.

Thinking of the Blakes caused Max’s mind to wander briefly in a different direction. He had heard nothing from the missionary family that were his predecessors since that day in the airport--his first in Crabrito, and their last. At times he was tempted to question their decision to leave Cabrito, but Santana had threatened their young sons, and Max knew that many men who face adversity without flinching will crumble at the prospect of any harm coming to their children.

Whatever the case, that fateful moment in the airport had changed Max’s life forever. Instead of returning to the US after two weeks with pictures for a scrapbook and little else, Max had found himself plunged into the intrigue and adventure of life on Cabrito, and his heart intertwined with the life of the little Peace Church.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all to Max, the little church was growing. Besides the soldiers and their families, several people from the surrounding communities, as well as some of Max’s neighbors from the Old City had begun to attend. Some were merely curious to see what this Gringo called Missionary Max was all about. Others, however, were clearly being transformed by the Gospel.

The service was almost over. Max had preached his heart out from one of his favorite parts of Genesis--the account of Abraham, his almost-sacrifice of Isaac, and God’s last minute provision of a ram. The story had “Jesus” written all over it, and it was that kind of thing that Max enjoyed preaching the most.

Now he was standing off to the side as three teens led the congregation in a final hymn. His eyes scanned the school-room the congregation had been using since their chapel had burnt down shortly after Max’s arrival in Cabrito. During the week around fifty children of varying ages and one harried teacher used this space. Now the wooden desks were piled up to one side making room for several rows of plastic chairs, divided by an aisle down the middle. From the ceramic-tiled ceiling a single fan whirred and vibrated in a valiant-yet-futile effort to keep the air circulating.

Yes, it was a far cry from the picturesque, Civil War-era sanctuary where he had worshiped back in Upstate New York, yet Max had never felt himself to be more a part of the Body of Christ than he did here. His heart was full as he contemplated each person in attendance. Bernardinho--his first real Cabritan friend--was there with his family. His daughter Isabela--Max’s translator back in the days when he needed one--was one of the teens leading the singing. A few benches back sat Ray. He was still “on the fence with the whole religion thing” (his words), but he came every Sunday with his daughter Ilana, and seemed to pay attention.

Ilana herself was growing in her faith by leaps and bounds. Since finding Jesus that day in the jungle, surrounded by angry Yamani Indians intent on making a meal of them both, she had taken to her new faith with a passion. Almost daily she telephoned Max with questions about the meaning of one Bible passage or another.

Now, during the service, as Max continued to scan the little congregation, his eyes rested on Mary Sue. She was conspicuous, and it was not just because of her pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes. While the Cabritans--a naturally close people with little notion of “personal space”--sat shoulder to shoulder on the long wooden benches, the American girl sat several inches away from the nearest person. Back when they were both in the U.S. her parents had enforced a “six inch rule” on them, indicating how close they could be to each other at any given time. By the looks of it, Mary Sue had taken that rule to heart and expanded it to a whole foot.

Ten days with Mary Sue in Cabrito had been tense, to say the least. A more accurate word might be “excruciating.” She reacted adversely to just about everything she saw. The sights, sounds, and smells of the open-air market frightened and disgusted her. The food made her sick. Her living quarters--a spare room at Bernardinho’s house--though comfortable by Cabritan standards, was nothing compared to her pillow-filled quarters back home.

In fact, to Max’s great annoyance, she had begun to compare everything she saw to America--out loud. He had lost count of how many times she had begun a sentence with the words “In the United States we…”

Even more annoying was her attitude towards Ilana. It was obvious that Mary Sue was threatened by the beautiful girl from the jungle, and she took every opportunity to belittle her in Max’s eyes.

“Are you sure she’s a Christian, Max? I saw her wearing shorts.”

“I read that the jungle people here are cannibals. Wouldn’t it be weird if you found out Ilana has actually eaten people?”

“It would be great if Ilana could spend some time in America so she could see how real Christian girls act.”

This last declaration was made to Max, in Ilana’s presence. Ilana, who had endured Mary Sue’s asides up until that point with magnificent aplomb, was visibly taken aback. She turned abruptly and walked away. Mary Sue sighed.

“Some people just can’t handle the truth.”

Max had put up with Mary Sue’s attitude so far, but seeing the effect her acid tongue had on Ilana, he could no longer be quiet.

“Listen, Mary Sue, I don’t know what you expected to find when you came here, but you need to understand that this isn’t the farm country of Upstate New York. You can’t expect the people here to act like Americans, because they aren’t. They are Cabritans, and there are a lot of things that they do that Americans could learn from. And,” here he took a deep breath, “there are a lot of things that you could learn from Ilana.”

Saying that made Max feel good--at least for the moment. Mary Sue, on the other hand, was mortified. Back before Max had started this wild (and somewhat ill-advised, she could see now) escapade in Cabrito he had always deferred to her spiritual maturity. She wasn’t sure what had happened to “her Maxwell,” but she most certainly didn’t like it.

“What could I possibly learn from her?” she asked, incredulously. “She, she....” Max interrupted her before she could finish.

“She knows how to hold her tongue,” he said, and immediately he regretted his inability to do the same. Mary Sue’s eyes watered up, her lips trembled, and, with a stomp of her foot, she turned and ran into Bernadinho’s home and to her room. She didn’t appear for the rest of the day, not even when Bernadinho’s wife called her down for supper.

Later Ray had asked him if everything was alright. He said Ilana was very upset, wondering what she had done to offend Mary Sue.

“Max, I don’t claim to know much about the womenfolk,” he had said in his typical, straightforward manner, “but it seems to me that this here girlfriend of yours needs an attitude adjustment.”

That dramatic episode had taken place Saturday morning. Now it was Sunday night, and as he stood before the congregation waiting for the last notes of the final hymn to die down, he noticed that Mary Sue’s eyes were still somewhat red. She had been glaring at him during the entire service.

Then the back door of the auditorium opened, and with amazing swiftness his upset girlfriend became the least of Max’s worries.

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November 17, 2014

Talent Night

The First Regular Baptist Church in São Luís hosted a talent night on Saturday. Here are a few pictures...

Time for a little saxophone!

Óton and son.

Trophy table.

A Medley of Hymns

Bre Guiles, a MAP-er spending some time with us, participated with sung, accompanied by a recording of her boyfriend on the guitar.

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November 15, 2014

Musical Interlude: Amy Dickson plays a violin concerto on the saxophone

Things like this simultaneously encourage me and make me want to pack it in.

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November 10, 2014

Further Adventures of Missionary Max: Reunited and It Feels So...Strange

Chapter one of the second Missionary Max book. Read the all important prologue here. Buy book one for Kindle here.

Chapter 1: Reunited and it Feels So...Strange

Maxwell Sherman, popularly known as “Missionary Max” to an increasing number of the residents of the island of Cabrito, felt as if he were facing his execution. He was fairly certain that this was not how one was supposed to feel while standing in the airport awaiting the arrival of one’s girlfriend, and yet there was no denying it--that was exactly how he felt.

“You must be so excited to see her after all this time.” The observation came from the raven-haired beauty standing next to him. “What has it been... six months?” Ilana, the beautiful native woman he had met in the marketplace (and then saved from a horde of angry tribesmen intent on turning them both into human shish kebab) looked at him with an innocent grin, her eyes dancing. “I so want to meet her. She must be a special girl to have captured the heart of the great Missionary Max.”

“Yes, she's very special.” Max agreed, although not with much conviction. He was wondering what Mary Sue's reaction to the presence of Ilana would be.

Ilana had insisted on coming, and Raymond Sand, the gruff American jack-of-all trades, had insisted on bringing them in his rattletrap Volkswagen Beetle that served as a part-time taxi. As Ray had been instrumental in getting them out of a rather close scrape with death in the dense Cabritan jungle, Max didn't feel comfortable turning him down. Not to mention the fact that Ray was Ilana's father—a fact she had discovered shortly after their dramatic evacuation from the rainforest.

Max, who had faced down jihadists, drug runners, and most recently a horde of maddened tribal warriors without losing his nerve, felt a tremendous sense of anxiety as he awaited Mary Sue's flight. He had grown to love the island of Cabrito in the short time he had lived there. He loved its people, its many cultures blended into one, its lively music, its colorful dress, its delicious (if different) food—and he was not at all sure how Mary Sue would react to these things.

Igreja da Paz--Peace Church, the little congregation where Max had become the reluctant pastor upon the hasty exit of the original missionaries, was doing much better than Max could have anticipated. The incident on the runway back in October had caused a few of the soldiers present to come to services out of sheer curiosity. Some had returned with their families, and Max was having weekly Bible studies with three of them.

Max was getting a few hundred dollars a month in support from his home church in Upstate New York. He supplemented this meager income by giving martial-arts lessons. His reputation in this area had grown after word spread of his performance at the Yamani festival. There he had defeated--in friendly hand-to-hand combat--the best of the Yamani warriors. Then he had bested millionaire empresario--and the island’s de-facto ruler--Emídio Santana, who had actually been trying to kill him.

The income from the American church and the martial arts lessons allowed him to rent a little apartment in the Cidade Antiga, the old colonial section of Santo Expedito--little changed since its establishment by the Portuguese almost five centuries earlier. Looking out his iron-latticed apartment window, Max could imagine the Portuguese colonists, in their 16th and 17th century finery, walking the same narrow cobblestone streets, greeting friends and neighbors and plying their wares.

It was a beautiful setting, yet, try as he might, he could not picture Mary Sue thriving there. Life in Cabrito was raw and unvarnished, and Max knew that Mary Sue Perkins was accustomed to “well-cooked and varnished.”

Not that there was anything particularly wrong with that. Max had to admit that this was actually one of the things that had attracted Max to her in the first place. She was innocently naive, blissfully unaware of the evil in the world--a subject with which Max, a former Army Ranger whose résumé included special operations in many parts of the world, was all too familiar.

In the sheltered Perkins home Max had found a stable, loving family atmosphere, which, if a little stifling at times, was something he desperately longed for. He had not known the safety of a healthy family relationship since his father died when he was a teenager. When he met Mary Sue and her family, he had found it again.

No doubt about it, Mary Sue was beautiful, proper,

Then there was Ilana. The island girl, raised in the jungle and educated at Columbia University, was anything but “safe.” In fact, she could be straight up dangerous. On the day of their first encounter Max had watched her flip a would-be mugger onto his back. Then he had accompanied her to a banquet at the presidential mansion where she seemed perfectly at ease among the high society of Cabrito. A few days later he saw her in her ceremonial native garb (and paint, lots of paint) leading the feverish festival dances of the Yamani people. And that very night they ran for their lives through the jungle, chased by a horde of Yamani warriors bent on turning them both into human pincushions.

No, safe she was not. But she was full of life! Her emotions ran deep and full. Her dark eyes could be pools of sadness one minute, and sparkle with merriment the next. Her laughter was infectious, her energy knew no bounds. And in the months since his arrival on Cabrito, Max had found himself increasingly drawn to her.

Max shook his head. This will never do... The sound of propellers mercifully interrupted his thoughts.

Through the second-floor observation window he saw the twin-prop plane drop its landing gear, touch down rather haphazardly, and then slow to a stop on the runway. The aluminum stairway was rolled into place and before long passengers began to disembark.

“Look! There she is! I recognize her from the pictures,” Ilana squealed excitedly. Max squinted to make out the passengers through the streaked window pane. The girl descending the staircase had flowing blond hair and was wearing a blue-jean jumper that went all the way to her feet.

As he watched his Mary Sue he reflected on how Ilana, the unwitting source of his inner conflict, was much more excited to see his girlfriend than he was.

If she only knew...

Ilana tugged impatiently at his sleeve. “C'mon Max! She's almost here!”

Max and Ilana went down the stairs and over to the “foreign arrivals” door. In a surreal sort of way it occurred to Max that all arrivals at the Santo Expedito International Airport were foreign, as there was no other airport on the small archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic.


The voice was Mary Sue's. He looked up to see her running across the lobby to meet him. In an instant she was in his arms. As Max held her, the doubts that had assailed his mind began to melt away. Her closeness, her familiar perfume… he squeezed her tight, and then looked into her upturned face. Those big, innocent blue eyes, the pert little nose, the ruby-red lips… Max instinctively bent in to kiss her.

“No no! You know better, Maxwell Sherman. The first kiss is for the wedding, remember?” Max remembered, as the climate that had built up came crashing down around him. Mary Sue and Max disengaged and Max turned to Ilana, who was looking at them, her head tilted, quizzically. Max wondered if she had heard that little exchange.

“Mary Sue, I want you to meet my friend Ilana.” he said, somewhat awkwardly.

The American girl turned her attention to Ilana. Max noticed a flicker of disapproval on Mary Sue's face as her eyes quickly scanned the island girl's t-shirt and blue-jeans. Mary Sue never wore anything but dresses. But then she smiled and extended her hand.

“Heeeeloooooooo” she said slowly, exaggerating every vowel that came out of her mouth. “Myyyyyy naaaaaame iiiiiiis Maaaary Suuuuuuuue.”

Ilana looked surprised, Max's face turned beet red. “Er… Mary Sue, Ilana speaks perfect English. She studied at Columbia University.”

Ilana quickly recovered her composure and took Mary Sue's hand. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Mary Sue,” she said, with the characteristic twinkle in her eye. “Max has told me a lot about you.”

“Oh, yes. Well, it's good to meet you too.” An awkward silence followed. Finally Ilana spoke up.
“So, no kiss until the wedding day, huh?” So she had heard it.

“Yes,” replied Mary Sue. “Max and I decided that would be the best, most God-honoring thing to do. Isn't that right, Maxie Pie?”

Ilana arched her eyebrow. “Maxie Pie?”

“It’s my pet name for him. And he calls me ‘Suzie Poo’, don’t you, Maxie Pie?”

Max blushed to the very core of his being. His input into the kissing moratorium had been minimal, he had had absolutely no part in choosing the pet name “Suzie Poo,” much less “Maxie Pie.”

“No kissing until the wedding.” Ilana mused. “Well, I think that’s so… romantic.”

“You do?” Max asked, incredulously.

A mischievous grin spread across her face. “Sure, Maxie Pie.”

Once again Max’s face became redder than his hair. “So, Mary Sue, you must have some luggage?” He suggested, desperately trying to change the subject.

“Yes! Yes I do.”

“The baggage claim is this way,” said Ilana. “You two lovebirds follow me.”

Minutes later they were all standing next to the baggage claim belt, looking at the six jumbo suitcases Mary Sue had brought.

What can she possibly have in all those suitcases? Max wondered.

“I would have brought more,” Mary Sue said, as if reading his thoughts, “but I'm only staying for two weeks, so I just packed the essentials.”

Max and Ilana both looked at her, and it dawned on them that she was completely serious. Finally Max spoke.

“Um… we may have a problem getting all this into Ray's taxi.”

“My Dad has an airplane!” suggested Ilana with a grin. Max shot her a withering glance.

“Well, no sense waiting around.” Max said, reaching out and grabbing the handles of two suitcases. Ilana did the same, and they began rolling the enormous volumes toward the door. Looking back, Max saw that Mary Sue was just standing there, looking at the remaining two bags. “Are you coming?” he asked.

“Isn’t there someone we can pay, like a coolie or something, to carry these two bags?”

“That’s India, and no, the taxi’s right outside the door,” Max explained, a little exasperation creeping into his voice.

“In that case, I'll just wait here while you take those cases, then you can come back for the rest.” Ilana glanced at Max, who just rolled his eyes. Ilana shrugged and they both began wheeling the suitcases to the door.

Ray was leaning on the yellow Volkswagen beetle that served as his taxi when the two arrived. His eyes widened at the size of the suitcases.

“No she's not moving here.” Max answered Ray's unasked question. “And there are two more where these came from.”

Ray let out a low whistle. “Shoulda brought the plane.”

“That's what I told Maxie Pie here,” said Ilana brightly.

Ray’s eyebrow arched in the same way his daughter’s had moments earlier. Max shook his head and turned to get the rest of Mary Sue’s baggage, muttering under his breath about apples and trees and the relative falling distance of the former from the latter.

* * *

On the other side of Santo Expedito, in the presidential mansion that the residents of Cabrito called the casa branca, Presidente Osvaldo Ferraz was smoldering with resentment. The catalyst of his ire was the way Emídio Santana--scion of the wealthy Santana family and de facto kingmaker on Cabrito--waltzed in and out of the executive palace like he owned the place. Only the fact that he owed his title, his position, his power--probably even his life--to Dr. Santana kept him from blowing up every time it happened.

Overgrown rich kid! Ferraz muttered under his breath. Daddy’s away, and the big boy must play.

Emídio Santana, son of billionaire financier George Santana, sat casually behind the desk (my desk, Ferraz reflected bitterly), feet propped up on its mahogany surface. Behind him, to the right, stood the woman known to Ferraz only as Conchita. She was dressed in a black business suit that matched her jet-black hair and man-with-no-eyes sunglasses. And all of these matched the shiny black of the Berretta 92 holstered at her waist. A beret, also black, completed the ensemble. It bore an insignia on the flash: a lightning bolt behind a shield.

The insignia was a new addition, one that had caused the presidente brief pause when he had first noticed it a few weeks past. It wasn’t used by the Cabritan military, that much he knew. Something in the back of his head had clicked, as if he had seen the “lightning shield” before, but with everything else going on there was little time to think about an odd military patch. Indeed, what bothered him more than the patch was the woman who was wearing it.

Ever since the debacle on the runway of the Santo Expedito airport, which had seriously damaged Emídio Santana’s standing in the military, he had taken to traveling with Conchita at his side. And even though Conchita had been taken out of commission rather quickly by a blow to the back of the head on that fateful day, it was clear she was, under normal circumstances, not someone to be trifled with.

President Ferraz had a reputation on Cabrito for being a prodigious ladies’ man, and he had tried to work his flirtatious magic on Conchita the first time they had met. The response was an unchanging, stony glare. It was the same expression she wore on her face right now, and it annoyed him to no end.

“I trust my plans meet with official presidential approval.” Emídio was talking. “This is an important step for the security of our little republic.”

“Let me see if I understand,” replied the presidente. “We are creating a special force of elite, highly trained warriors, under your direct command. Is that right?”

“Exactly!” Santana smiled.

“And the reason, again?”

“The reason is that the performance of the regular army has been, shall we say, unsatisfactory, of late. I worry for the safety of my beloved island home.”

The reason, thought Ferraz, is that you were thoroughly humiliated by an old woman in front of the army and they will no longer do your bidding, so you need to find other people to carry out your dirty work. Wisely, he left this thought unsaid.

“Now, we won’t need to train these soldiers, because they will come to us already trained,” Emídio explained.

“And where on Cabrito are you going to find men with the kind of training you are talking about? I only know of one, and I doubt very much that he would be willing join your little...squad.”

Santana’s brow furrowed at this obvious reference to Missionary Max. Was Ferraz needling him? Of all the impertinence! He would have to be dealt with later.

“If you are referring to that insufferable American, rest assured, the last chapter of that story has not been written. Nobody makes a mockery of Emídio Santana and lives to tell about it.” Santana looked at Ferraz and repeated, pointedly, “Nobody.”

Ferraz swallowed hard. “So, I have the honor of your presence and of the ever-lovely Conchita (He glanced to see if his compliment had had any effect. It hadn’t.) because...”

“Because of course I want to do everything legally, and we need your signature on this authorization.”

Ferraz almost choked at the word “legally.” There had been no such concern when Santana mounted a huge narcotics-producing operation in the jungle, using Cabritan military resources for its protection.

No, the reason for this sudden concern for legality was obvious. He wants a scapegoat, he reflected ruefully. If something goes wrong, it will be my name on the document, not his. He will have plausible deniability, and I’ll take the hit.

Still, Ferraz removed a pen from his shirt pocket and bent over the desk (his desk, blast it!) to sign the paper that Santana slid towards him.

“Just one thing…” Ferraz looked up from the desk, pen poised over the paper.

“What is it?” Santana was impatient.

“This elite force we are bringing in… for our own protection of course… what is it called?”

Força Relâmpago… the Lightning Force.”

Ferraz’ eyes flicked to the insignia on Conhita’s beret, and in an instant he knew what was happening. If he signed that paper, any advantage he had as Commander-in-Chief of the Cabritan armed forces--such as they were--would be negated by the presence of a highly trained army that answered only to Santana.

But, having no other option, he bent over the desk and signed the document.

Santana beamed at him. “Very good, senhor presidente. You can rest assured that you have made the right decision for the security of our beloved nation. Together with the emergency measures to be carried out shortly, this will guarantee the stability of your administration for the foreseeable future. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Osvaldo Ferraz understood perfectly. His was a game of survival, and for the present his survival depended on his cooperation with the Santana family. Of that he was certain.

Still, at this juncture, it wouldn’t hurt to have a little insurance…

And as Santana and Conchita left his office President Ferraz sat down at his desk (finally!) and racked his brain to think of what that insurance might be.

* * *

Back at the airport, Max, Ray, and Ilana were tying Mary Sue's massive suitcases to the roof while Mary Sue watched. With a final tug on the chord, Ray turned to Max and wiped his brow. “There, I think that will hold.” he said. “Let's go. Ilana and Mary Sue, you can ride in back. Maxie Pie can ride up front with me.”

Max rolled his eyes, knowing that he would probably never live the name down.

“Finally!” exclaimed Mary Sue as Max held the door open for her to get in the rattletrap Volkswagen. “Such a long wait… and after a very uncomfortable flight.”

As Max closed the door and walked around to the other side, he reflected on his own first ride in the rusty "beetle", and shook his head. Mary Sue, you haven't seen anything yet.

* * *

As the sun began to set over the ocean, a thin man in military fatigues picked his way over rocks and driftwood on a narrow strip of beach that accompanied the edge of the Ipuna jungle. His eyes scanned the thick vegetation until at last they found a large embankment. A narrow, almost unnoticeable trail wound up through the tall grass and into the trees where they grew densely together. The man followed it until he came to another embankment. A crude cave had been dug into its face, and smoke rose up lazily from a small fire. A second man sat in front of the fire, as fat as the first man was thin.

“Did you find it?” The fat man’s question was in the tongue of the Yamani tribe.

“I did… It was right where you said it would be.” Diego held up an object carefully wrapped in a bright red cloth.

“Give it to me.”

“First, you must know that it was not easy convincing the great Santana of the truth of your story. He was less than impressed with your service six moons ago.”

“Bah.” Olanawehe spat into the fire, causing it to sizzle and spark. “How was I to know that the flying machine would appear? If it weren’t for that crazy old man, both Missionary Max and that girl would not have escaped.” He rubbed his ample stomach wistfully.

“Nevertheless,” continued Diego, “Santana became interested when I mentioned your tale of Emerald Island. He has named you chief of all the tribes to be found there, with me…” here Diego cleared his throat, “with me as the official coordinator of Yamani affairs.”

Olanawehe stared at the thin soldier through beady eyes. His partnership with this devious, wheedling little man was one of convenience, nothing more. Both were hungry for power, and, for the time being, they could help each other obtain it. The cunning Yamani witch doctor knew, however, that this would only be a temporary alliance—and an inconvenient one at that.

“Very well,” he said at last. “Did the great and generous Santana say anything else?”

“As a matter of fact, he did.” Diego shifted on both feet, not certain how the old Indian would accept what he was about to say. “The great and, as you say, generous Santana has ordered a troop of skilled warriors to the Emerald Island to insure our success.”

Olanawehe grunted. This was not at all to his liking, but he saw nothing he could do about it. He would have to put up with the intruders until he had taken his revenge, then he could deal with these new interlopers. But in order for him to get the vengeance he so desperately wanted, he needed the object in Diego’s hand.

“The great and generous Santana is also very wise,” he intoned, solemnly. “Now, if you please…” he held out his hand. Somewhat reluctantly, Diego handed him the object.. Olanawehe slowly pulled back the folds, then triumphantly held up its contents: a gold necklace from which hung a green pendant in the shape of a leering monkey. Diego couldn’t help but notice that the expression on the face of Olanawehe was almost identical to that of the emerald primate.

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November 7, 2014

The Parable of Timmy and the Trampoline: A Hopeful Example

This is the third and last of my “Timmy” posts. If you haven’t, you should read posts one and two first.

In this final installment, I want to use my own family (the one I grew up in) as a positive example.

A little background. As I mentioned in the previous post my parents were (and are) unabashed Christian fundamentalists, of the conservative variety. What’s more, for most of my formative years we were a part of Bill Gothard’s ATI program—which has produced and appalling number of “Timmys”.

And yet, my parents raised four boys into adulthood, none of whom went through more than the normal period of teen/young-adult rebellion. Today all four of them are Christian fundamentalists of the conservative variety (granted, that looks a little different than it did in the ‘90s), serving the Lord in various capacities in their churches. All have healthy (to date) marriages. Two of us are in full-time ministry. And perhaps most remarkably, none of us are bitter at our parents.

So what happened?

Of course my first, knee-jerk answer would be “the grace of God”. And, although I haven’t talked to Dad specifically about this post, I’m fairly sure his answer would be the same.

But as I reflect on this, there come to my memory some very specific things Mom and Dad did that helped their children avoid the “Timmy” syndrome. I list them below, in hopes that they might be of service to those who are currently raising kids.

1. My parents clearly communicated the reasons for their rules. While there were many times we chafed under what seemed like unnecessary sacrifices (the absence of a TV, for example), there was never the impression that their motives were other than our wellbeing. We were never left in the dark.

2. My parents encouraged curiosity. While clear limits were placed on the influences they allowed in our home, within those limits there was great freedom to explore. Dad had a large library with books written from a variety of points of view, which was my personal intellectual playground. As small children they read us the classics, when we got older they read us deeper stuff. In my early teens, the highlight of my week became the arrival of the U.S. News and World Report.

3. My parents protected, but did not isolate. Homeschooling was never seen as a way to keep us from the world, but rather as a way to prepare us to go out into the world. Concerts, political events, community involvement, it was all part of the curriculum. They encouraged all of us to get jobs as teenagers, and even let me go to Brazil as a teenager…by myself.

4. My parents laughed, a lot. My memories of dinner time almost always center on hilarious moments, like the time Dad couldn’t figure out what my brother wanted him to sing, so he made something up. And the jokes: Mom’s “Tiz Bottle” or the classic “Foot, Foot Foot, and Foot Foot Foot.” Not to mention the constant punning sessions.

And they laughed at themselves. One of the rules was that we could not leave the table while somebody was still eating. Mom would often sit there with her glass half full “encouraging communion” while the rest of us were itching to leave. One day one of my brothers (I shall not mention Daniel by name) waited until Mom finally finished her glass and started getting up, then quickly filled his glass and bade her sit down again. As I remember, everybody got a kick out of that, even Mom.

5. My parents filled the house with music. There was an extensive LP collection (remember LPs?), and not everything in it would fit into Bill Gothard’s “approved” list. There were piano lessons, trumpet lessons, clarinet lessons, trombone lessons, and French horn lessons. And we sang. My parents were apt to break out into song at any moment. Tremendously embarrassing to a teenager, which is why my son is embarrassed when I do it now. Among my favorite memories are of us standing around the piano and singing.

6. My parents demonstrated biblical discernment. If there is one aspect that has to be emphasized above the others, perhaps it is this one. Some of the most valuable lessons my Dad taught me were when he would read something in Gothard’s material, put it down, and say “this is wrong”. It taught me not to take everything that came from Oak Brook as Gospel truth. My parents eventually grew out of the Gothard movement, and even before they began that process they gave me the tools to do the same.

7. My parents encouraged us to make our beliefs our own. Two conversations have stuck in my memory over the years. One was in my Dad’s office, where he was talking to one of the men of the church. He quoted someone (Chafer, I think) who said “If you have no systematic theology, you are the slave of the one who does.” A short while later, at an ATI event, Bill Gothard disparaged systematic theology, as he was wont to do, at times. I reminded my Dad of the quote he had read, and his response was golden: “What do you think ‘seven universal, non-optional principles’ are if not a way of systemizing your theology?” And it slowly dawned on me: Gothard et al were trying to get me to substitute one systematic theology for another—theirs.

Of course my parents did not do everything right—and neither have my son’s parents. We are all fallen, and all in need of grace. Yet, as I look back, these attitudes on the part of my parents made a huge difference in my life. My brothers may have a different perspective, but in my case, they are seven reasons why my name is not “Timmy”.

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