Lessons Out of Appleton.

Guest post by my Dad. To see all of his previous guest posts, click here.

I was angry.  But then, I had a right to be! As I arrived at the airport and turned in my rental car, I received a text message that my 10:15 flight was delayed until 2:30. Why couldn’t they have sent the text 15 minutes earlier? At least then I could have kept the car and seen the sights that were to be seen in beautiful Appleton, Wisconsin.

As I approached the ticket counter, there were several other travelers in line in front of me. All seemed to have the weariness on their face that I was feeling. When I finally got to an agent, she was quite helpful, seemingly not affected by the other travelers that were as angry as I. She informed me that there was a mechanical issue on my original flight and that they were bringing in another airplane for us, causing the delay. She dutifully checked other possible flights and connections, through different airports that would get me home at some hour more palatable than the 9:48pm now scheduled (instead of the 3:15 I was originally scheduled to be home.) No dice. I was to sit in Appleton for the next four hours, then sit in Detroit for FIVE hours, because the delay would cause me to miss my connection.  I could feel my anger rising.

About an hour in to my wait, I got another text from the airline. My delayed flight had been rescheduled now to 12:30. Good news. I could now make my connection in Detroit and all would be well. I gathered my possessions and trudged toward the gate.  Boarding seemed to take an extra long time and I wondered for the thousandth time why they load airplanes front seats first. Although we were the only plane leaving Appleton, we sat interminably at the end of the runway. The pilot finally came on the intercom and explained that Detroit Central was trying to work us in to the landing queue, so we would have to wait.


Finally airborne, the flight attendant barely had enough time to get down the aisle with the drink cart before we were on final into Detroit. The weather was bad and it was a bumpy ride. Our gate must have been at the other end of the airport because we taxied for at least 20 minutes. As we got off the plane, I realized that unloading is only slightly more efficient that loading. I checked with the gate agent for my next gate – B-15. We had arrived in A terminal. Good thing I had carried on my bags and not checked anything – if I hurried, I could still make the flight. Rushing from the end of the A terminal to the center, down the escalator and through the quarter mile long tunnel to the B terminal, turn left and hustle down to gate 15.

Something wasn’t right.

No one was around.

No airplane was at the gate.

I went across the concourse to gate 14. After waiting for two other passengers to ask their questions, I finally got to the agent. No, the Birmingham flight at B-15 had left four hours ago. The 3:10 flight is at A-43. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!

Back through the B concourse, through the now half mile long tunnel, up the escalators turn right and run to the gate. Just in time to see the gate agent close the door to the jet way. “I’m sorry sir, you weren’t here, we allowed a standby passenger in your place.”


I tried to calm down, and succeeded, but only a little. When the supervisor arrived I calmly explained the events of my morning, although through clenched teeth. He listened carefully, repeated back the story to me in order to let me know he understood then apologized for inconvenience.

INCONVENIENCE! This was going to go down in memory as one of the worst travel days in memory!  And I’ve had quite a number of bad travel days – MOSTLY ON HIS AIRLINE!

He did offer a food voucher so that I could at least have a decent meal while I waited the FIVE HOURS for my flight. I went to my new gate (in Concourse C no less) and settled in to wait. And wait. All the time fuming about my “inconvenience.”

When we finally boarded I settled into an aisle seat, calmer now and beginning to realize that I was only an hour and a half from home. It’s going to be okay.

Then she came in.

She looked to be about 25. She had a baby strapped to her chest and a toddler in tow. They, of course sat in the seats directly across from me. She was struggling with her carry-on bag, a diaper bag, a booster seat, and the toddler. I helped her get settled, putting her carry on in the overhead as she dealt with the toddler. The baby was fussy and I was beginning to think that my bad day was about to continue. Sometimes babies don’t react well to cabin pressurization and scream the whole flight. Great.

Luckily, all three of them were sound asleep by the time we had taxied out and headed for Birmingham. It was a quiet flight and I had a little time to reflect on the day – trying to put my anger behind me and focus on the fact that I would soon be home and I could sleep in my own bed. I mused about the marvel of modern air travel in general and how you could wake up in Appleton, Wisconsin or San Francisco and sleep in your own bed that night 2500 miles away.

I also began to think about the times that things hadn’t gone the way I planned, but somehow God had worked things out in the end. Things I could never imagine. Things for His purposes, not mine. But in the end, looking back, His hand was undeniable. This seemed to be a lesson I had to learn over and over again.

My quiet reflection was interrupted by the pilot. He informed us that there were severe storms right over the Birmingham airport and we were going to circle for a while over Huntsville and see if they would clear out in time.  He said that we had about a thirty minute window, then we might have to land in Huntsville, refuel and wait out the storms.

Instead of anger or a feeling of inconvenience, I felt a reassurance. Reassurance in the fact that the airline was making judgments made on safety concerns, not flight schedules. Reassurance that God was in control, even of this. We circled for a while and every circle when the plane turned north, I was treated to a beautiful sunset in the west. And when the plane went west, I could see the thunderstorm over Birmingham lighting up the sky.  I reflected on the beauty and precision that is creation.

(Meanwhile, Rachel was on a mountaintop photographing the same sunset and storm over Birmingham.)


The fuel window closed and we began to descend into Huntsville. The flight attendant informed us that we would deplane into the terminal and would would be given further information there.

The young mother woke up and asked me what was going on. I explained. She didn’t seem too surprised. She began to rouse the toddler and try to position the sleeping infant back into his carrier. I asked if I could help in any way. She looked at me and asked if I could hold her baby. I was glad to. He snuggled up on my chest and continued to sleep soundly. Mom began to try to get everything organized and I made a casual remark about her bravery, traveling with two kids and all. Three actually, she corrected me. Her husband was in the back of the plane with their five year old. They were a military family, headed home to a small town outside of Birmingham for the first time in two years. From Germany. For her husband’s fathers funeral. They had been traveling for about 36 hours, she thought – she had lost track. Still she had a smile, a weary smile, but a smile.

I helped her with the toddler and her carry-on bag to get down the stairs (no jet way, we deplaned onto the tarmac) and her husband and other son came off the plane a few minutes later.  The Dad had his arm in a sling, having had shoulder surgery a few days before.

The gate agent informed us that the flight crew were at their max hours, and so there would be a bus arriving to drive us the rest of the way to Birmingham (two hours by road), and that we needed to gather all our belongings and wait at the curb. I went to baggage claim with the young family. They had four bags, three car seats and several other items.

“You need help,” I said to the Dad.

“No, no, we have it,” was his reply.

“That wasn’t a question,” I told him. “That was a statement.”

I gathered what I could and we made our way to the curb. I could see what appeared to be some moisture well up in his eyes. “You are the first person to offer us any help since this trip began. Thank you.”

I felt some moisture in my eyes, too.

The bus trip to Birmingham was thankfully uneventful. As we arrived at the Birmingham airport around midnight, I saw a woman on the sidewalk begin to run along beside the bus. When we came to a stop, she was waiting on the young family. When they got off the bus, she hugged everyone, but scooped up the toddler and infant. It was then I realized that she was a Grandmother meeting two of her grandkids for the first time.

I helped Dad unload their bags and car seats from the belly of the bus.  When all were piled on the curb, he stuck out his hand and thanked me profusely. Mom introduced me to the Grandmother, who was still clinging to her grandkids. She thanked me too.

They were thanking ME. I felt ashamed. Here they were, away from family, serving our country and returning home under these circumstances, and still were able to manage a smile.

And then I realized that possibly God had orchestrated my whole inconvenient day to be here to help this young family.

But as I sit here, writing these words, I realize I was not the blessing to them. They were a blessing to me.

God had used my whole day not (only) for me to be there to offer my meager help, but to teach me something. I too often get wrapped up in my own world, outraged at seeming inconveniences, angry when things don’t go as I plan or envision. My plans are so short sighted. My vision is so limited. God grant me wisdom.

“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.”
-Isaiah 55:2

When Missionaries Fight Crocs.

This is the last installment of my Missionary Friend’s Stories, and then I’ll be back soon to tell of the adventures that have befallen our family in the past two weeks. To read the whole Missionary series, click here. I am eternally appreciative to my friend for covering for me while I was out – she’s been a delight to host.

My husband is a nutcase.

Certifiable really.

Let me explain:

Last year, two children were killed by crocodiles in our area. Both were young boys on their way home from school. One had been taken while he was cooling off in a calm pool by the water’s edge, and another while checking his fishing line for a catch. The crocodiles in our area are not huge – usually about 7-8 feet long. Thankfully, our river can’t support the monster-sized ones you see on National Geographic shows. But no matter how big, a crocodile in his own territory, especially in water, is a force to be reckoned with.

The local community was in an uproar – something needed to be done. But in a culture where witch doctors are believed to control the crocodiles who do evil work for them, not a single one of the locals was willing to go croc hunting – at least not on their own.

Here is where my husband enters the picture.

My hubby is known for being a bit of a “cowboy” missionary. He does the crazy things no one else is willing to do – either because they cant MacGyver a way to a solution or they are not out of their minds enough to do it. He is often called upon to get everyone out of sticky situations – with snakes, with complicated construction problems requiring creative solutions, and yes, with crocodiles. He also hunts with a bow and arrow (albeit a compound bow with snazzy broadheads), which makes him somewhat of a local legend in these parts.

The local community knew just who to call to help bring some peace of mind – my hunter hero hubby. Within days, he had come up with a float, line, and bait system that included a massive hook homemade out of rebar along with a deal with our local butchery (friends of ours) who donated as many cow hearts as they had every week to the cause.

For weeks we tromped down to the river, across the river (yes I know that seems risky but hey – we had to get to the “right” place apparently) setting baits and hoping the croc would come and take them. Several times the local guy who was helping us would call excitedly to say a croc had come, but it was always gone by the time we got there. (I went along quite often just to witness the adventures and make sure my husband came home in one piece.)

Then one morning we got the call. The float was going back and forth across the river, and had been for a while. There was a croc. We loaded up our little kayak canoe combo and headed out. When we arrived, the float was halfway under the water (meaning something pretty strong had pulled it down as it was a big float), and everyone was convinced the croc was down there. My hubby paddled out, attached a rope to the float and then came back to shore. Everyone wanted to help pull – even the little kids – but not even the whole group could pull it free. My hubby decided he would just cut the line, leave the hook and set a new trap. The locals were not convinced.


“No Pastor- we have to get the croc out of there- if you leave it, it will get strong again and kill more people!”

“Pastor, just swim under and pull it out, then we will be safe!”

Right. Just swim under the murky brown water into the croc-infested river where you are certain a croc is now dead (hopefully dead!) and pull it out. It seems so easy, but none of them were volunteering for the job.

Although they are afraid of crocodiles, it is for the most part because they think the crocodiles only attack when the witch doctor tells them to. They are more scared of the “evil” in the crocodile than of the crocodile’s natural dangerousness as a result of its massive crushing jaws and insane amounts of razor sharp teeth, coupled with a powerful “death roll” capability when in water. Of course my husband is more concerned with the teeth/jaws/death roll than any perceived “evil”- but try to convince the locals of that! All they knew was the missionary was scared to go in the water with the witch doctor’s crocodile – just like them.

“Pastor, let us call the witch doctor, he lives right over there, he will tell the crocodile not to attack and then it will be safe for you.”

Now here is a missionary moral dilemma. He obviously can’t condone calling the witch doctor, but by not going in, they would assume he was scared of the evil spirits. And so, my hubby came to the only logical conclusion that a creative cowboy hunter could come to: In order to prove he was not scared of the spirits and demonstrate God’s power, he would jump in and try to get the hook – and possibly the crocodile – out.

(I sat on a rock in the middle of the river and held my iPad up at just the right angle to get cell service so I could Google how long crocodiles could survive under water. According to Google, we were in the clear. So I gave the “it’s up to you, honey” okay.)

He swam down, nearly had a heart attack when he touched flesh, but then realized it was the cow heart. The croc had wrapped the hook around a fallen tree and gotten away. Again. Which meant my husband was now swimming in a river with a potentially injured croc who was FREE.

Back in the boat he went and that was the end of croc hunting for that day.

(Side note- I took a picture just moments after he paddled off, and when I looked at it later, saw a croc about 30 feet behind where he had been – AAAAAHH!)

The next week, we were called again- this time a croc had badly injured its tail on the cable attached to the bait and hook and could not swim. It was holed up in a cave near the river, and they were ready to catch it.

Or rather, ready for my hubby to come get it.

This is one of the times in my life that I look back and realize that God does hand out a certain amount of peace and an ability to deal with things just when we need it. I don’t think I could deal with this sort of thing today as calmly or casually as I did last year. For some reason it seemed fine to me to watch my hubby crawl into a cave no more than a foot and a half tall armed with nothing but a flashlight and his camera to try and get a look at a badly injured and cornered croc.


And for some reason, my hubby thought that was a smart idea.

It wasn’t.

As the crocodile glared and hissed at him, he thought better of it and made a hasty retreat to make a plan. First, they tried smoking the croc out by shoving in large bundles of burning green grass. He just closed his nostrils and eyes and waited it out. Crocs can stay under water without needing air for over an hour, so our little smoke bundles were not really a bother.

Then the creative MacGyver side of my husband came out. He got a 16 foot piece of steel rebar, used a hacksaw to sharpen it into a point, and crawled back in. (I think I should get extra brownie points for putting up with this sort of thing, right? Like, if there was a gold star chart for “women who have husbands who do crazy stupid things”, surely I’d be near the top of the list of sticker winners for sure!)

Once he was about 6 feet from the now panicked croc, he fed the rebar up to the croc’s side and poked him – hard. An angry crocodile makes a noise very similar to a roaring lion. The loud roar started emanating from the cave and I watched as the locals started panicking – all they could see was my husband’s kicking feet (trying to get traction to hold the croc back with the homemade spear), and they were certain evil spirits were making the noise as not a single one of them had ever heard a croc make a noise like that before.


After a few seconds of panic and chaos, one of the local guys finally heard my husband yelling for someone to PLEASE hit the end of the “spear” with the large mallet we had brought. He jumped in and hit the spear through the croc while my husband held it in place against the tough skin of the struggling and now VERY angry reptile.

They dragged the injured croc out, and my husband was able to put the croc out of his misery – screaming like a terrified schoolgirl as he did it.


The people were ecstatic and carried the dead crocodile to the community leader like a trophy. We have no idea what became of it – we only know that now every time we show up to the community, my husband is regarded as a brave and wise man, and his word means something – he gets a level of respect usually only shown to elders. My hubby was able to use his skills and (stupid) courage to demonstrate Christ’s love to a community in mourning.

We sometimes forget as missionaries that it is not always our teaching and preaching that will impact the most – it is our actions and our willingness to serve in the craziest of circumstances that makes the most difference. Whether it be helping to treat a severe and embarrassing medical need despite the awkwardness, or putting one’s own safety on the line and trusting in God’s protection to help a community feel that “justice” had been served. Many in our area are now convinced that even if the witch doctor does have power over the crocodiles, God has more power – all because a crazy missionary was willing to swim with and get up close with a couple of angry crocodiles!

And, to ease your mind, last year we were able to build a fantastically safe and sturdy bridge that now allows the children and the community to safely get across the river – even during the rainy season! This year, not a single person was hurt by crocodiles in our river.


The Baptism.

This is the fourth fantastic story in a series from my friend The Missionary. To read the whole collection so far, click here.

Shortly after our arrival in the far far far away place we now call home, one of our staff members approached us and asked if he could take an hour off that afternoon. He wanted to go down to the river that our mission base borders, because his church was having a baptism and he wanted to be baptized. Well, no self-respecting missionary is going to say “NO, you cannot go get baptized”, so of course, we let him go. Then he invited us to come along and watch.

Just after we got there, a group of about twenty adults and a bunch of babies and children arrived, singing and dancing as they came. I chose to watch from the river’s edge, on a rock outcrop that allowed me an elevated view of the proceedings. But my hubby, never one to shy away from the action, scrambled across the river with our worker to get to the small pool at the base of the rapids where the baptisms were to take place.

As the church members waded into the water, the guy in charge* started waving his arms around and shaking his fists and contorting his face like the devil himself was trying to escape out of his body – either that or he was realllllly badly constipated.

(* I have no clue what to call this guy.. he was surely not “just” a pastor, often times guys from these churches are referred to as prophets or apostles or some such name that denotes their absolute authority and power and allows them to pretty much say whatever the heck they want.)

To make it more visual for you, he was wearing a long white billowing tunic made from a sheet, with long, wide sleeves that flapped about wildly every time he shook his arms because they were now of course wet and flinging water everywhere and in everyone’s faces.

As my hubby and I watched from our respective vantage points, the singing intensified, and one by one, people came down to the river to be baptized.

Now, for those of you who are churchgoers – whatever variety- you know baptism usually happens in one of two methods; full on dunking (otherwise referred to as immersion), or sprinkling. I’m not here to debate either of those. I am here, however, to tell you that what we witnessed that day more closely resembled a W.W.F. Wrestlemania event mixed with a modern musical on demon possession.


The guy in the white billowy tunic sheet outfit would grab each individual (most of them women) by the back of the head and push their heads forward under the water rapidly and forcefully, shaking and chanting as he did so. Anyone who “fought back” or was somehow not happy to have their head repeatedly slammed under the water – perhaps gasping for air or trying to pull his hand off their head when they started panicking – received more dunkings than the rest. The leader would get almost angry with them as he fought to drown the demons out of them.

He would pause at times to grab at their heads and fling spirits over the rocks and into the farthest edge of the river, cursing them as he did. (I’m assuming that is what he was doing.. he could have been flinging small fish, but I don’t think that would have required the shaking, head flopping, eye-rolling and general appearance of epileptic seizures that he kept demonstrating.)


My husband kept looking up at me and mouthing “Should I do something?” as we watched woman after woman forced under the water, gasping for air, clawing for something solid to hold onto. And then, with each woman, as quickly as he had begun, the leader would stop, declare them clean, and they would emerge, singing, dancing, smiling and thrilled to have taken part in the church’s annual Wrestlemania Down at The River.

It was extraordinarily hard to sit there and “respect the culture” when I truly was worried for each woman’s safety, even if they didn’t seem concerned before or after their turns. But we did. We watched and respected.


BUT THEN they started baptizing the babies.


I just about leapt off my rock cliff, into the shallow river below and grabbed those children myself. My hubby and I had an eye conversation because talking was out of the question with the noise of the river and the frantic singing going on below. It was one of those eye conversations, mixed with a few mouthed words and a lot of hand waving. To the best of my recollection it went something along the lines of this.

Me: “Oh my stars he is going to kill them.”

Husband: “I’m sure he won’t kill them.”


Husband: “What should I do?”

Me: “If that kid stops moving, I don’t care if it ruins every relationship we have in this community you will not under any circumstances allow that man in a sheet to kill that baby because he thinks it’s got the devil in it. I WILL NOT BE ALLOWING THIS TO HAPPEN ON MY WATCH. I WON’T.”

Husband: “Right but what should I do?”


As each baby was pried from its mothers arms by a crazed looking very wet man, they started to cry. Of course. What kid doesn’t cry under those circumstances? But to this guy, that was an obvious sign of rebellion and resistance (one would assume being brought out by the demons inside.)

The louder or harder the baby cried, the more he dunked them, until they stopped screaming and kicking and instead held on to him as the only solid thing in their little worlds, even though he was the reason for the insanity. He would “grab” the demons and fling them around, often times wrestling them himself and having an all-out screaming fit before throwing the offending spirit off into space and grabbing the next kid.

At the time it scared the bejeebers out of me. I stopped taking pictures because I was worried that I would accidentally take a picture of someone’s death and that just seemed wrong. Now that I have been here a few years, understand the culture a bit better, and know more about this particular church, I am not as frightened of the baptism ritual.

This is the reason we are here. To train pastors to study God’s word and teach them to read all of the scriptures, not a tiny portion. From what we gathered from our worker that day, a few years ago this denomination had a special speaker at their annual conference – a foreigner with little understanding of the culture and the people he was speaking to. He talked about the importance of casting out demons and that demons can be strong. He failed to mention that not every human being is possessed. Our host country’s culture is full of traditional beliefs regarding spirits and ghosts that inhabit and possess people. Many believe that if their ancestor did bad things to a neighbor, that neighbor will haunt the family – attacking, causing sickness, pain, suffering and death – forever. This church decided that they would combine traditional beliefs with what this speaker taught and it evolved into this bizarre display.

Just a few weeks ago we again witnessed this same church baptizing in our little river. We were better prepared for the spectacle this time around, but still – it is breathtaking (and not in a good sort of way) to watch. This time, the church members waved up at us as we sat on our rock to watch, and the leader, seemingly spurred on by the viewing gallery consisting of us and about ten ladies who had been washing their laundry, put on a show of epic proportions. There was shaking, eye-rolling, arm flapping, screaming, hopping, jumping, dunking, and all sorts of flinging of spirits. But at least this time he seemed much calmer with the babies – woot!