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A New Journey!

airplaneIn twenty minutes, I’m getting on the plane to Frankfurt, Germany, which is the beginning of 41 days on the road in Europe.  We will be working with English-speaking churches in Germany, Ireland, and Scotland to help them either establish or advance their FriendSpeak programs.  Then I will be conducting a workshop in Turkey.   After that it is Italy (5 churches), France, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, and back to Germany to touch base with works interested or possibly interested in hosting Let’s Start Talking teams.

There are going to be lots of trains, planes, and automobiles, hopefully without the adventures of the movie by the same name! Lots of meetings, lots of working meals, lots of new beds, but mostly lots of new people.

I guess you can see that this is not a vacation–never more than two nights in the same location, but that’s OK. The part we enjoy are the conversations about the kingdom, with people we may not know but with whom we have so much in common because we are all about sharing the Good News.

Although my blog may be a little sporadic while we travel, I will certainly try to stop long enough to share with you some of the special pleasures of our trip.

Time to board.  Pray for us as we pray for you!

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medical recordsAlthough anyone can get sick anywhere in the world—including at home, with a few precautions, you can minimize your chances either of getting sick or of irritating some pre-existing condition you might bring with you on your mission trip.

Here are some things that Sherrylee and I have learned to do—and we have rarely been sick in all of our travels to all parts of the world. I’m not a medical doctor, so the information I’m giving to you is totally based on experience. If your doctor tells you something different, then he is right!!

  1. If you deal with chronic health issues, choose your destination more carefully If you have severe asthma, you might want to go to a place that does not have severe air pollution. If you have knee issues, you might not want to go to a church that meets on the fourth floor with no elevator.  If you have immunity issues, you might want to go to a more hygienic country.  You do have choices! God’s people all over the world need help, not just in the countries that would most endanger your health.
  2. Go with people who understand your health needs. This is usually a spouse or near relative, but if you are not going with someone that close to you, then go with a good friend to whom you can fully disclose your health situation. If you are not willing to tell someone the full story, then you probably should not go.
  3. Get all of the appropriate vaccinations and shots before you go. The CDC is an excellent source of information about health and foreign travel. You may have a travel clinic in your city, and they too will provide good information and the medications that you need.
  4. Take all the medications/equipment needed with you for any chronic condition that you have, including prophylactics to prevent the onset or to control an unexpected attack or event.   You cannot count on getting medicines you might need, nor seeing a doctor for a local prescription, so get enough for your whole trip–and a little longer–to take with you.  Be sure and put your important medicines—whatever you can’t do without–in your carry-on, just in case your checked luggage does not make it to you! I always include my extra contact lenses and/or an emergency pair of glasses. And if you are prone to bronchial distress or events related to diabetes or hyper allergic to . . . anything that could become life threatening, just be sure you take with you whatever you would keep handy at home.
  5. Don’t go if you are already sick! This seems so logical, but after you have bought expensive tickets and made very important plans, it is hard not to get on the plane.  It might be easier to make the right decision if you have Travel Interruption/Cancellation insurance that covers illness. It is also possible to change most tickets for a fee—which is worth it to you, to your fellow passengers, and to the hosting people you might be infecting if you go.
  6. Try to adjust to local time zones as quickly as possible so that you stay rested. Starting your trip more rested and sleeping on the international flight go a long way towards helping you feel good when you arrive and adjusting more quickly. Short-term missions do not lend themselves to lots of rest, so if your health requires more rest, you may have to sneak away for a nap every now and then.
  7. Be aware of everything that goes in your mouth! We all wish we had iron stomachs that could eat anything anywhere, but most of us don’t. On a short-term trip, you really don’t have enough time to adjust to local bacteria like a long-term worker can, so you just have to be careful.  Water is a big culprit. Safest is not to drink anything that is not bottled—with the lid commercially closed. Safest is to use the same bottled water to brush your teeth. Foods that have a high water content can be bad also, so avoid lettuce, soups, ice cubes, and jello that are made with unknown water.  Honestly, this is very hard to practice 100% consistently, so take the approach of just minimizing your exposure to bad water as much as you can.
  8. Wash your hands a lot—with soap. While I’m generally opposed to overuse of anti-bacterial hand products, I use them regularly when traveling overseas for added protection.
  9. Follow the suggestions of the local hosts. If they say use a mosquito net, then do so. If they say don’t eat from street vendors, then don’t. If they say, take malaria meds, then do it.  The only thing you have to be careful about here is when you are with locals who have not traveled out of their country and do not understand what your special needs might be.
  10. Know the difference in yourself between minor sickness and major sickness. Almost everyone who travels internationally has experienced some degree of upset stomach and/or Montezuma’s revenge. Most people don’t die even from food poisoning that can occur no matter how careful you are. One can become dehydrated though, so treat your symptoms and monitor your condition even with minor things so that they don’t become major. In almost all countries, you can trust local doctors for treatment of minor sickness, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if a minor illness seems to last too long or you begin feeling even worse.

Again, let me say that if you are in pretty good health, then you can participate in most short-term mission programs. But even the healthiest of us will be more effective on our mission trip if we stay healthy!  We don’t have complete control over that, but these few tips will certainly help you.

Now, Go . . . into all the world!

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Our family car was a 53 Chevrolet like this one.

Sherrylee and I both grew up in families that liked to make road trips!. While we were still dating, her family decided one evening to drive through the night to Atlanta to shop at Rich’s Department Store—eight hours away! Her family used to drive from Fort Lauderdale up to Jacksonville, Florida to visit grandparents—only a six-hour drive today, but 8-10 hours before the interstate highway saved us from getting behind big trucks on a two-lane stretch or the red lights in small towns that stopped you even in the middle of the night after the sidewalks had been rolled up!

My family traveled from Fort Worth to Glasco, Kansas, every year to visit my grandparents. With Mom and Dad and the smallest child in the front seat and the three other children in the backseat–in the days before seatbelts, a/c in cars, and minivans–we always traveled through the night, mostly, however, to preserve my parents’ nerves, I suspect.

Last Friday Sherrylee mentioned that she thought we needed to, and Saturday morning, we decided to drive to Nashville to visit a dear friend who is very sick. We left on the 700-mile trip three hours later! Our plan was to return on Monday, but because of too many relatives in Nashville, a little car trouble, and the need for a predictably good internet connection for an LST board web conference, we did not get away until almost 7pm, so we spent the night in Memphis and drove in on Tuesday. I don’t do all-night drives anymore!

I’ve noticed among the younger people in our office—and that’s almost everyone else—that long car trips are not even a considered option. Those with children seem sometimes forced into them by the economics of travel, but they seem to dread the trip itself.

If you decide you might even try a longer road trip—for any reason, here are a few ideas to make it fun and easier for you.

  • Don’t try to cover so much ground that you are rushed—either leaving or arriving.My personal preference is no more than 8 hours per day when you have to get somewhere, although this trip to Nashville was eleven.
  • Don’t let meals and restaurants be what defines your trip!  It’s so easy to overeat and feel bloated while traveling. You are not getting that much exercise while riding in the car, so take it easy on the eating. Keep it simple and lighter!
  • Use good music, downloaded podcasts, and especially audiobooks to make the trip fly by! On this trip, Sherrylee and I listened first to Condolezza Rice’s book A Memoir of My Extraordinary Family, Ordinary Family and Me, which was quite interesting.  After that we started The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Bryant. The book itself is very interesting, but the man who reads it mispronounces names of Hall-of-Fame baseball players, which I find particularly irritating.   We rent and return our audiobooks from Crackerbarrel restaurants, which makes them very reasonable. You just have to watch that you don’t buy a bunch of other stuff every time you stop.
  • Use a GPS, even a cheap one!  No single technological innovation has relieved my stress in driving more than a GPS system.  I’m never lost! If I miss a turn, the nice lady immediately recalculates and gets me on the right track. I know how far it is and how long it should take me, and if I need a detour around traffic (as we did yesterday in Arkansas!), it quite handily re-routes us through new territory. Also, I love that it looks for nearby restaurants and gas stations!
  • Make sure your car and tires are in good shape.  Nothing ruins a trip more than a blown tire or a leaky hose out in the middle of nowhere! I “risked” a bit on the trip to Nashville because I knew the car needed an oil change badly, but I got it done in Nashville and even replaced a tire that they discovered was worn while changing the oil.
  • Smartphones not only provide some security in case of a breakdown, but let you call ahead for hotel reservations or avoid inconveniencing someone you might be meeting. We were trying to meet someone for lunch in Little Rock who was driving to Nashville yesterday; we got stuck in a construction site jam after leaving Memphis, but because we both had cell phones, we were able to coordinate our travel and meet in DeValls, AR instead.
  • Allow for saying YES to some unplanned pleasure.  While driving through Little Rock, Sherrylee noticed a big antique mall, which to her is like a good bookstore is to me. Rather than being goal oriented and thinking, “No, we need to get home before 10pm, it was so nice to say, “Yes, sure—why not!”
  • Road trips are great times for longer conversations.  Turn the book off, turn the ballgame off, turn the music off, and see what interesting things can pop up in conversations between mile markers!

I’d love to hear your stories of road trips and what you do to make them fun!

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Nothing challenges your sense of the existence of real time like international travel. Look at how relative time is in our world:

  • Twice a year 49 out of the 50 states change the clock one hour for daylight savings.
  • When it is 12 noon in Texas and the Sunday football game is about to start, it is 1:00pm in New York and the Californians are still in church because it is 10am. So what time is it really?
  • The tip of Chile is 6000 miles from Dallas and is only one hour ahead of Central time, whereas Tokyo—about the same distance—is 14 hours ahead of Dallas.

Sherrylee and I left DFW at 10pm on Saturday, flew direct to Brisbane for 15 hours, but on the ground it was Monday at 5am.  When we return from Sydney, we depart on Monday at 3:20pm and we arrive in Dallas on Monday at 3:45pm—20 minutes later!!!

So what time is it really?  Or is there a real time—anywhere??

Then you have the “sense of time” or whether time has a feel to it.  Does time move at a different speed depending on whether you are in a boring movie or at a thrilling ball game?  Do children have any sense of time?  Is it something you learn?

Time is somehow connected to intervals between events. We have a great need to know how long since the baby ate—in fact, the baby’s body has a rhythm that demands certain time intervals be acknowledged!  Most time is measured by the time it takes for the earth to travel around the sun—which has for millennia been recognized to be about 365 days plus or minus. Days have been measured in all sorts of ways: watches, quarters, hours, tidal rhythms, lunar patterns, etc.

So there may be time, but the only way we can talk about it is to agree on some standard of conversation. If Texas says it is noon and California says it is 10am, someone has to explain why both of these answers could be correct.

And so it is with good and bad, with moral and immoral, with definitions of colors, of words—of life and death.  The only way we can talk about any of these is to agree on some standard of what is true.

The world becomes a much more difficult place when we quit talking about what we have in common and start focusing on what is different.

I think that “live at peace with all men, as much as it depends on you” (Romans 12 :18)means being willing to search together for “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8)—and primarily to believe that people can agree on these things for the common good.

So,  if you ask me what time it is, I will tell you it is 8:25am on Tuesday, July 24, but you might say, no, it is 5:25pm on Monday, July 23rd. If we will keep talking, we will come to an agreeable understanding, won’t we!

If that works for time, maybe it will work for other things that we seem to have trouble agreeing on.

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 On Sunday, those gathered were from Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, Switzerland, Ukraine, Russia, Australia, South Africa, Iran, Iraq, and Texas.  We used three different songbooks and the Greek, Cyrillic, and Roman alphabet.

The Lord’s Prayer was prayed simultaneously multi-tongued. The Spirit interceded in an unutterable language according to St. Paul in Romans 8, to make the thoughts of our hearts known to God.  Regardless of country of origin, the bread was broken in Ƙoinonia (Fellowship) and the cup was taken with Agape for the One who bought His Church with His own blood.

I preached twice yesterday in Athens at two wonderful congregations. I told them that their services at first reminded me of the Tower of Babel, but as I thought about it, I realized that God had used different languages to drive men apart in that story because of their haughtiness and pride.  Jesus, of course, came to break down the walls and unify people,which is why we could all sit together in one room. Our different languages are the remnants of punishment for our pride, but what seems today like a barrier is, in fact, the hope and promise of feasting with all the nations at the banquet of the Lamb.

These multi-national churches are like a taste of heaven!

And why is this?  Not so long ago, I reminded you of what St. Paul said in this same city two thousand years ago, when he had the opportunity to talk about the Unknown God with the Athenians:

From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 

God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. Acts 17:24

We visited with four Muslims who will be baptized next week. We talked with a Christian Iraqi preacher who fled with his wife and three children because of death threats.  We heard about twenty-five Africans in Athens training to be preachers.

Greece is considered unreceptive! Churches in America will not spend money in Europe because post-Christian Europeans don’t want to listen to American missionaries!

But what about the rest of the world that is in Europe? What about the nations?  What about all the world? What about God’s Spirit being poured out on all flesh?  What about God putting people in the exact place where they should live so that they will seek Him and find Him?  What about the peoples that God has put in Europe?

Maybe that’s too many rhetorical questions, but just come to Athens and see.  Visit the islands, enjoy the ruins and biblical sites, but don’t forget to see the nations!

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I understand why some people just refuse to travel internationally! CONTROL!  The fact is that when you are traveling long distances and to foreign countries, you are forced daily to realize that you are not in control of your life at all!

Sherrylee and I are traveling in Europe for the next couple of weeks.  Virtually every year since the beginning of Let’s Start Talking, we have made what we call “site visits.” Typically, these are either visiting with missionaries/churches who have strong interest in inviting LST teams, but with whom we have had no previous relationship.  In other words, they don’t really know us and we don’t really know them. Rather than risk sending a team to a host that is not what they appear to be or who does not really understand how we work and what an LST team needs, we have found it essential to see these new sites and meet the people to whom we may send teams.

Our first stop this year is Scotland!  Several churches in Scotland have FriendSpeak programs which have proven to be very effective with the immigrant population in Scotland, but this is our first invitation to send an LST team.

Tomorrow night then I leave for Ternopil, Ukraine, for a couple of days, then to Athens, Greece, where we have just begun working in 2012, and then to Italy where we will meet with three different sets of workers near Florence and Rome.

We sandwiched this trip between work we had to do in Mississippi and Tennessee and more work in Washington and California, where we will go after Rome.  Then we fly back to Nashville, where we started our international travel twenty-four hours ago, to pick up our car.

We stayed at a particular hotel near the Nashville airport because they agreed to let us park our car there for a month without extra charge.  I was just slightly skeptical about this arrangement being too good to be true, so I checked with the desk person when I checked in and was completely reassured.

As we were checking out again, I thought I would just remind the new person at the desk of our arrangement . . . at which point she says, “Well, that will be $7/day and have you filled out the paperwork!”  That was the first reminder that we are not really in control!

The second incident was just as unavoidable. Flights from the U.S. to London often arrive earlier than scheduled because the jet stream speeds the flights going west to east. On this day when we had a fairly tight connection at London Heathrow, our plane was put into a holding pattern for twenty minutes because of congestion at the airport.

Then, with just barely time to make our connection, the British version of TSA pulled my carry-on off the conveyor because I had a Kindle in it.  The innocent bag sat there, waiting to be hand inspected for about 15 minutes. Then they take everything  out, swab it for explosive dust, run all my electronics through the scanner again—as they are calling out our name at the nearby gate for final boarding.

We missed our connection to Edinburgh!  A very nice BA agent was able to rebook us for about two hours later.

One of the things we have learned over the years is that most things that go wrong in international travel can be fixed without much damage—not everything, but most things. With a little friendly conversation, the hotel agreed to waive the extra charges because of the misunderstanding, and the re-booking agent at Heathrow gave us breakfast vouchers which he didn’t have to do!

Such kind gestures should remind us that we are not in control of the good things that happen either! In New York City of all places, we had a four-hour layover at JFK before we boarded our British Airways flight to London. A very nice BA agent broke all the rules and invited us to spend those hours in the First Class lounge! Then she gave us vouchers for a free supper in the lounge, and then she asked if she could take our boarding passes and try to get us better seats!

She just joined the Travel Agent Hall of Fame!

So being out of control works both ways, which is something those afraid of losing control often forget.  Sure, things go wrong—but perhaps if we also gave up taking credit for all the good things that happen to us, we’d better realize the pleasure of being completely in the hands of our sovereign, loving  God.

If He is in control, then what have I to fear?

 

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Yesterday, April 11 was our anniversary—and this year it was the first day of a month of traveling together for LST. I can’t say for sure, but it is probably not the first time we have been traveling on our anniversary.  The blessing is that Sherrylee and I have done most of our traveling together over our forty-one years of marriage.

 In fact, we traveled together quite a lot while we were dating. We started dating in the summer/fall of 1969 and that Christmas we drove together from Fort Walton Beach, Florida,–her home—to my home in Fort Worth, Texas, 775 miles, spending one night with her uncle Richard’s family in Gretna, New Orleans on the way.  Within the next 12 months, we drove to Atlanta, to Missouri, to Searcy, and back and forth from Oxford, Mississippi, where I was working, so from the beginning, we have enjoyed the road.

Since then we have driven and flown uncountable miles, and certainly 90% of them have been together, so surely we have something to share about traveling with your spouse—or just traveling together and making it work!

  1. 1.       Traveling together doesn’t mean you travel the same way. Sherrylee and I pack differently, so we always opt for two small suitcases instead of one larger one. We have an understanding that we don’t pack into each other’s suitcases unless there is no other choice.  It just makes things work better.
  2. 2.       Sherrylee is more spontaneous, so I decide where we are going to spend the night, and she works out what we do along the way.  That satisfies my need to know where we are going and hers for having surprises along the way.
  3. You never have more time to talk about your life than when you are on a long trip. Every major crisis or decision in our life has taken hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to talk through.
  4. Don’t start the deep talking in the first hour of your trip. It takes a little time to decompress from packing up and getting out the front door before you are really relaxed enough to start taking on heavy topics.
  5. Road trips are great places to share audiobooks.  In the states, we have used Cracker Barrel book rentals, but now you can just rent online, download into your MP3 player and listen in the car.  Podcasts are also something that we listen to together in recent years. We especially like News from Lake Wobegon by Garrison Keillor—which is a free subscription.
  6. I’m OK when she wants to sleep for a couple of hours, and she’s OK when I want to listen to a ballgame. She usually reads magazines while I listen, and I usually think while she sleeps. (I know that makes me sound weird, but I’m basically an introvert with a very active interior life!)
  7. Our one big area of conflict after all these years has to do with someone’s definition of SHOPPING as recreation! Smartphones with lots of apps are an answer to prayer! I find a place in almost any kind of store and entertain myself while Sherrylee shops.

As you have noticed, most of these suggestions have to do with road trips—which we both strongly recommend to you. But traveling by air has its own set of lessons. For instance:

  1. Trust your spouse to have brought her passport/ID and don’t keep asking about it.
  2. You can get aisle seats across from each other, so everyone gets the seat they want.
  3. You can get lots of reading done at the gate, while your spouse browses the Duty Free store.
  4. Sometimes one of you is a little more anxious about ticketing, security, customs, and immigration  (me!) than the other (Sherrylee), so you might need to give them a little more space during those moments!

After all the miles, we love each other more and would always choose to travel together rather than apart.  As you can read between the lines, we’ve had our meltdowns while traveling—like the time Sherrylee threw the map out the window because I wasn’t following her instructions!  Now she doesn’t take it as personally because I don’t always do what the navigation system says to do either!!

So, go jump in the car and go somewhere with the one you love the most. It’s great for your marriage! And if you find yourself on the road on your 41st anniversary, may you be as happy as we are!

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