24 Dogs and a Dead Alligator

They call this low country but I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because it’s the southern side of South Carolina. Dogs run free here in packs of four and five. They’re strays and no one cares for them, at least that’s what Miss Linda from the local newspaper said. She stopped to do a brief interview of a guy the townspeople were describing as Moses.

Walking through Fairfax, four dogs of various sizes and appetites spotted me strolling through town. They started to bark and yelp and make their way toward my leg bones when I decided I better cross the street. There wasn’t enough traffic to slow them down until a gentleman in a pickup saw my plight. He slowed down, placing his truck between the dogs and their noon day lunch…that’d be me! He actually “escorted” me down main street. I felt like the mayor on fourth of July! I was tempted to smile and wave but I thought I’d better just concentrate on scurrying on down the road. When he determined I was in the clear, the kind driver sped up, waved and drove off. Unbeknownest to me, one of the dogs decided to make another run at me. He never saw the truck that hit him. Neither did I but Lucy, unfortunately, saw the whole thing happen.

That wasn’t my only encounter with multiple mutts. Over the next three days, I encountered dogs in groups of two’s and four’s and five’s. If you know of anyone who sells leashes, collars or pet sedatives, send’em on down to South Carolina…there’s a market here!

On our first journey, I met a dog trainer who gave me some insight on seemingly aggressive canines. She said some were just territorial, they would make a lot of noise just to drive you off their domain and then be done with it. She said never be aggressive with a dog. Face them, stay calm and make yourself bigger. She told me to use my stick to hold them at bay but not to threaten. Generally, I face the animal, point the staff downward toward the dog and move it side to side….much like someone looking for water with a divining rod. All the while, I’m moving down the road sideways whispering “Blessed be the Name of Jesus.” I got a lot of practice with my sidestep these past three days as I encountered two dozen of God’s little (and not so little) darlings.

Dogs I’m kind of used to but the road I was on walking out of Allendale toward Sylvania, GA had swamps on either side of it. I knew they had alligators in Florida but did they have them this far north. I wondered what I would do if I saw an alligator. How fast do they move? Could I outrun it? I pictured myself heroically subduing the reptile with with trusty staff and right in the middle of my day dreams, I glanced over to my left and saw an alligator on the lane next to me. Thump! Thump! Thump! Be still my heart…I took a closer look and thankfully it was dead. I don’t know what he would have done with me if he was alive but I know this…even dead he quickened my step and improved my prayer life! “Blessed be the Name of Jesus!”

Friendship Addiction

Drugs and alcohol. We hear about them so much, the damage they do to human lives doesn’t even seem to register on our “I care meter.” Today I met a gentleman who is addicted. He was trembling as I held his hand and prayed. When I asked him if he had ever tried to quit, he said he had, but then he “slipped back.”

God directed me to ask him if after he had gotten clean, if someone had offered him a taste. He said they had and it was then I began to see the drug problem through a different set of lenses. The words that came out of my mouth had nothing to do with giving up drugs or even giving your life to Christ but it did have something to do with giving!
I started to talk with James about giving his “friends” the boot! He had the power to stop using. He had proven that. Now he had to “withdraw” from his associations. The people he hung around with…they were his real addiction. He had to quit them or they would kill him in the name of friendship and the brotherhood.
As I spoke to him, he listened, he smiled shyly and his eyes brighten a bit. He began to understand something that he never saw before. If you hang around with thieves, you’re likely to steal rather than get a job. Hang around with drunks and drug addicts, you’re likely to drink, snort and smoke and then push the stuff on others to pay your own pusher. But…if you will change who you associate with, then you change! Hang around with honorable men and you’re likely to become honorable. Surround yourself with Godly men and your own Godliness will begin to shine.
Did what I say make a difference? Whether it did or didn’t, it needed to be said. But more is needed….you and I need to pray for James and anyone we know that may be like him. People are coerced and pressured into doing things that are harmful to themselves and to their families for a momentary high. Why do they do it? For acceptance to begin with. Then they isolate themselves within a small group of users. They have no one to tell them they are valuable children of God and they begin to crave, not just the drugs but the deceptive words that counterfeit family; “We’re family, Bro.” “I got your back.” “It’s just you and me against THEM.”

Lord God, there is a spider web in our society that catches the unwary. It shows itself like a glittering diamond necklace in the moonlight but it is dangerous to those it ensnares. It is full of deception. Drug and alcohol addiction steals the hopes and dreams of Your children. We ask You, Father, to help each of us encourage those around us. We do not know who is on the fringe of falling into this deadly trap. Give us boldness to speak love and hope into friends, family and strangers alike, for all are Your children. Protect us, O God, and our families from being lured into this life ourselves.

Diamonds

Two days of rain thanks to Tropical Storm Nichole and then two days of brilliant sunshine and mild temperatures! We’re in beautiful North Carolina and each hour of walking seems to bring the nicest people my way.

Miss Elizabeth is an artist/journalist who is working to help the flood victims of Pakistan. She told me the Pakistani people are filled with fear because of terrorists and lack, yet the fabric of
their family remains very strong and close knit. We talked about how in America, it seems the family is fragmented as we struggle
amidst our abundance. The fear in Pakistan draws the family closer in an effort to survive. In America survival is taken for granted and yet the distractions of our wealth and independence often divide us. The difference between the two cultures does not exist in the people themselves but in the outside circumstances and our fearful reactions to them.

Lynn is a young man who is not trying to solve global issues. He is more concerned with the ”invisible” people around the corner. There’s a family that has been living in an abandoned house for the past two years. They have no transportation, no “real” address and so, no job. No job means no money which translates to no food, no heat in the winter, no air conditioning in the summer and literally no existence in the community. He “stumbled” across them, recognized the problem and God touched his heart to do something about it. Lynn has enlisted the help of a few loving folks to, not just donate money, but learn how to work the system and use the resources available to help these folks get re-established. Lynn inspired me. I heard God whisper “Go and do likewise.”
Janese and Leslie drove by our parked RV and “just had to stop.” We must have talked with them for an hour! They were delightful. Saved through the ministry of Chuck Smith (Calvary Chapel), acquainted with the House of Prayer in Kansas City, we listened to worship music with them and found we had a lot in common.
Adam raises horses and he and his wife Mary were on the way home when their curiosity stopped them. Although our conversation was brief, we got a picture together, became friends on Facebook and plan to stay in touch.
Marcus & Dustin are a couple of twenty-something guys who had passed us early in the day. They couldn’t stop because they were on their way to a Baptism. Dustin prayed that God would let our paths cross again and so it was. Lucy had pulled into a parking lot, I had finished up for the day and was changing into my 21st century clothes when they came by. Lucyah talked to them for awhile and then once I got presentable, I went outside to meet them. They seem to be intrigued by what we were doing and I was pleased to meet two such young, respectful men of God.
Americans are like diamonds…each in a unique and beautiful setting, each with a different dimension and each extremely valuable.

The Story Stops the Glory

We were getting out of the RV when we saw her approaching from the back of the vehicle. For a moment, I thought about going around the front to avoid talking with her. “Why?” I thought. We’re out here to talk to people not walk away from them! So we turned toward her and said, “Hello” and wonders of wonders…she said “Hello” back! And so a conversation began and before long we had a new friend. We asked Meredith if there was anything we could pray for her about and she said she wanted to receive her Prayer Language.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the term…prayer language refers to speaking in tongues. It’s an utterance that may be indistinguishable to anyone except you and God. Some Christians practice it, others dismiss it and still others are a bit afraid of it. But right there in the parking lot, we joined hands and prayed. It was a beautiful experience as we all felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. We said our good-byes and Meredith strolled home with the name of Jesus on her lips.
As we walked across the parking lot toward Wal-Mart to pick up some supplies, we saw a man getting out of a motorized cart attached to shopping basket. He seemed to be struggling making the transition from the cart to the car even though his wife was helping him. I wanted to stop and pray with and for him…but I didn’t. As we continued to the store, I thought “I should go back and pray with that man.” Lucy looked at me and said, “Do you want to go back?” “No,” I replied. I was feeling foolish.
A day or two later I talked to God and then Lucy about what happened. trying to figure out why I didn’t stop and bless that man. I have met all kinds of people on the road and speaking with them has never been a problem. We approach each other, we talk, share and pray. Why was this different? Lucy laid it out in simple terms and the Holy Spirit convicted me of the truth of her words.

“You gave yourself time to make up a story. You said something to yourself like… ‘He’s going to tell me to mind my own business.’ or ‘He’ll yell something like…I don’t need your @#%* prayers!’ Many times, we write, produce and direct a Hollywood movie in two seconds or less. Then after we’ve written the story…we believe it! God gives us a chance to be a blessing and then we do our edit and the next thing we know…our story stops the opportunity to show God’s glory.” Lucyah sat quietly as her words pierced both my mind and my spirit.
How many times, Lord? How many times have I passed up an opportunity to acknowledge You and be a blessing? How many times have I passed up a Divine opening to let Your healing power or Your Words of encouragement flow through me because of a story I made up out of fear? How many times have I let my story stop Your Glory?
Forgive me, Lord, but more than that…help me fear no more.

People!

These last few weeks have been….interesting. People of every personality type and background stopped to walk and talk with us.

Crystal took her car into the shop and decided not to wait for the bus. She started to walk home and saw me up ahead. As she got closer, she wasn’t sure she wanted to pass me, talk to me or just linger behind. Finally she took a deep breath, stepped up her pace, came along side of me and said “Good morning.” We struck up a friendship right off the bat. She had stories to tell and I had time to listen. Over the next hour I discovered she was a Christ follower, a retired high school teacher and a person with lots of energy and a positive attitude. When we finally arrived at the place where she had to turn, we both felt bad. Neither one of us wanted to say good-bye.

It’s an unusual church and then again it’s not. It does things in a unique fashion but it loves people just like Southwest Community back in Olathe, KS. The ROC (Richmond Outreach Center) looks like a shopping center on the outside and a convention center on the inside. Its focus on people who have had issues with drugs, alcohol and the law. You see a lot of people with tattoos, piercings and black leather here. The ROC has a launder-mat, a thrift shop, a computer lab, a free medical clinic because people re-starting their life need a hand up with practical things.The man that took the time to tell us about The ROC and show us around is affectionately called “Doc.” He retired from the military as a physician’s assistant and now gives his time and talents to Christ through the ministry. Besides being a man of skills, Doc is the most excited person I have ever met. He bubbles over with the joy of Christ! They purposefully keep him away from the coffee pot. They’re afraid the caffeine will put him in orbit! Just being in his presence, lifted our love level ten degrees! Doc at the The Roc…if you ever get to Richmond, look him up but watch out…he’s a hugger!

Jake was worried and when he saw me he felt that God wanted him to stop. He has a court date coming up and he doesn’t want to lose his kids. He is in the midst of an messy divorce…are there any other kind? He knows Christ but has a hard time putting his cares into the Master’s hands and leaving them there. (Sound familiar?) He was seeking an answer when he saw me walking down the road. We spoke for nearly an hour and then we prayed together. Joint custody was all he asked for but we asked God that regardless of how much time Jake spent with his children that he would always be a father that exemplified integrity, strength, courage and love. AND no matter how tempted he might be….never say anything bad about their mom!

I had only walked 6 miles when a old rustyVW bus pulled up and a man that could have been Jack Nicholson’s twin got out. He came around and opened the side door and said, “I’ve come to get you.” Well, he got my attention but I wasn’t going to get into the bus! He explained that a friend of his had seen me but was on his way to oral surgery and couldn’t stop and so he had sent his friend to “get me” so he could talk with me. Just then, Lucy pulled up across the street. “Jack” asked us back to his house and so I said to Lucy,”Are you up for an adventure?” “Sure,” she replied and off we went following someone we didn’t know to a place we didn’t know. You always need a certain amount of discernment when you make these kind of blind decisions but remember when Jesus was asked to come…he did.

As it turned out his friend thought I was Buddhist monk. I guess he didn’t notice the cross I wear. This particular gentleman followed a religion called Sufism. He said he believed in the divinity of Christ but also believes there are many paths to God. Other people joined us that evening. Jack commented that drugs enhanced the spiritual experience and soon the atmosphere quickly turned to alcohol and pot and so we left. It was sad to see people who are lost and want to philosophize as they get high but won’t listen to the Truth even though they invited one of His ambassadors in.

Melissa’s tee-shirt had a picture of a pit bull and when I asked her about it, she told me she was an animal rights activist. The Pit Bull on her shirt had been set on fire! She went on to tell me tales of how horribly some of these animals are treated and as she spoke I could see the tenderness of her heart. As terrible as some humans treat animals and other humans, we must remember they are a twisted minority. There are many good and loving people like Melissa who do more than just care…they get involved. As human beings, God has created us to be stewards of this world; the land, the people and the animals.

Avarett is a man I would love to hang out with; he’s an original. He’s in his mid fifties, never had a television and never used a remote control! He’s the editor of the local paper. He is a thinker and has opinions on just about every issue. I agree with some and probably disagree with a few but he’d be fun to argue with because he makes you think! Some folks had called him to tell him “Moses” was walking through town and so he met Lucyah and I on route 360 just outside of Keyesville. We spent about an hour together before he had to leave. He was covering a political fundraiser that evening. It wasn’t too much later, Lucy got a call. It was Avarett inviting us to dinner…but he wasn’t going to be there! (I told you he was an original.) His wife Susan was delightful and we got to have dinner with the whole family. We even parked our RV in their front yard! Wonderful evening!

The Indigent

It was winter and he was living outside. He was chilled to the bone even when the wind didn’t blow. The two women he loved most in his life, both lost the war against cancer. An only child, and now he was alone. He drank to forget but that didn’t help so he smoked crack cocaine and he fell deeper and deeper into depression and isolation.

The Salvation Army offered a a warm place to sleep and he took it. He didn’t want the help. He hated asking for help although he knew he needed help. His days were lost in a fog; his nights in self pity. Mike didn’t know where to go or what to do. Each Saturday, he would go to Monroe Park. Christians came there to tell people about Jesus. “I don’t need to know about Jesus,” Mike thought. “I just need some help.”
It never dawned on Mike that Jesus was the help he needed. He thought he needed money and a job and a place to live and food. He needed a way to get all that. He hated asking for help but…this Saturday, he did. Not only did these Christians tell him about Jesus but they told him that Jesus was the Way….to get straight, get right, get a job, money and food. That day Mike took his first step forward; he listened, he believed and he accepted Jesus Christ as His Saviour.
These Christians didn’t just pray for him, they took him to a group home, got him working doing whatever needed to be done and got some food in his belly. He did all sorts of jobs for nearly six months before he told them…he was a dentist!
A dentist! Dentists aren’t homeless. They’re highly educated professionals. Dentists make lots of money, marry beautiful women and have children with a perfect smile. Whoever heard of a indigent dentist? Scripture, however, tells us that it rains on the just and the unjust. In the words I saw on a passing tee-shirt “Life Happens!”
He had lost his license due to his lifestyle but he soon began to learn that all things are possible with God. Through a series of events orchestrated by the Holy Spirit and the encouragement and love of Christians and Mike’s own courage, his life was resurrected! Little by little God has driven off alcohol, drugs and unworthiness

and Mike is getting stronger. Soon he’ll be able to be take full possession of the promised land of his life. Today Mike is working in a dental practice in Northern Virginia. He’s in the re-learning phase of things since his profession has advanced in his absence.
I share this story with you because I met Mike today. As I sat across the table, I had a difficult time imagining him as a drunken, dirty, smelly, homeless man. He was clean cut, personable, bright and in love with the Lord. Although he is a textbook example of the transformation that a life yielded to Christ makes, I wondered…..
How many people do I write-off as beyond help? How many homeless people have I passed by and didn’t speak with? And if my judgment was right 99 times out of 100…how about the one where I was wrong…isn’t the one worth the effort?

Saturday in America

Walking through Richmond, I noticed a woman sitting on a low wall watching me approach. “Got any money?”, she asked with a shameless smile. “What do you want with money?, I replied. “Need to get a cup of coffee and something to eat.”

I fumbled in my bag….DVD’s, phone, rock, a small bag of almonds and raisins but no cash. I always carry twenty one dollar bills in a small pouch to share as I can with folks along the way. It always freaks them out to have a “holy man” give them money. I think most folks have the idea that you give to “church” people but they don’t give to you. I looked around but couldn’t find the cash; must have left it in the RV, I thought. I offered Marie my snack of almonds and raisins but she politely refused.

Walking down route one, I turned onto Azalea St. and made my way to Chamberlayne. I hear a loud angry voice behind me but didn’t know if someone was calling me or just shouting. I walked to the corner, crossed halfway across the street and heard the angry voice getting closer. The traffic light had changed and I was stranded on the island in the middle of the street with traffic coming. I turned around to face “the voice” and I saw an unstable gentleman with matted dreadlocks, a multicolored beret style chapeau and a four foot long piece of PVC pipe heading my way.

He joined me on the island and asked me what I was doing. When I shared I was walking for Christ, his response was a loud and angry “BULLSH*T!” He then informed me he was a Muslim (a fact I’m not sure that they would be happy about) and then said “ALLAH!” several times. The light changed and we walked across the street together. I thought he was going straight and I was turning but as the second light changed, my friend went with me. I asked Willie why he was so angry and he went on a tirade about white people and the government. This was the first time I was glad to have a dark tan.

I told him people were people; some good some bad. I shared that I knew good black people and bad black people; good whites and nasty whites. Oddly, he agreed and told me of how he was very drunk one day and dropped his wallet containing $25.00. Three white women were following him, picked up his wallet and returned to him money intact. He was very surprised and touched by that.

He asked me if I wanted to go with him and get a beer. I said “I don’t do that any more.” He laughed. “Any more? That’s funny.” He asked me what changed me and I told him Christ. He just looked at me. As we continued to talk, I realized that Willie’s mental capacity was severely damaged by his lifestyle. He was not a man you could reason with but he was a man who you could plant seeds into.

Willie spoke of his wife very tenderly. He took care of her, he said. I wondered about their life and how they came down this road. I could see that beneath his cursing and anger was a heart that deeply cared for a woman. “I don’t know what I would do without her” he said. His demeanor was calm and serious. I wanted to dwell on his goodness at this moment so I said, “We know you’re a good man, Willie.” “WHOSE WE? He yelled.
“You and I, Willie. You and I” I replied half-laughing. He smiled.

He took my hand. “I’ve got to get back to my wife. She’s down there.” He said pointing south. I said “No, Willie, you have to up that street. That’s where I met you.” He held onto my hand and then we hugged. “Love ya, Willie.” I whispered…don’t know if he heard me. He zig-zagged across the street, waving his PVC pipe and shouting things I couldn’t understand.

I hadn’t gone far when I briefly encountered another man of the streets begging on an island between traffic. He, like Marie, asked me for money and again all I could offer was almonds and raisins. He was hungry; he took them.

I wonder about people; the roads we travel, the choices we make. What happens? I envisioned all three of these people as toddlers and then a great wave of sadness overcame me. It seems to be the way of the world; the way it’s always been…even in America. There are some you can help, some who can’t receive help and some who don’t want to be helped. So what are we, as Christians, to do?

Simply love them as best we can.
Pray for them as they come to mind.
Be thankful for what we have.
Share as we are able.

Surely

“My mother died in 2005 and since that time it seems my siblings can’t get along with each other. My father is still with us and I want us to become close again but I don’t know what else to do.” Joanna was beginning to get emotional.

Here we were on the street: a little 4’8″ bald headed white guy dressed funny and a 5’10” heavy-set black woman hugging each other as cars whizzed by and people looked on. Neither one of us cared a lick. I knew Christ, she knew Christ but more importantly…He knows us.

I love to pray for people as I walk; so many people and so many different issues. Some ask for healing of their grandpa from cancer, others ask for a touch of God upon their handicapped child. I always feel a twinge of sadness in my heart and a certain sense of gratitude as I quietly thank God that those problems aren’t afflicting my family.

This prayer request was different though. This one touched me and troubled me. It touched me because my own family is fragmented. It troubled me because family divisiveness is avoidable and correctable. Conflict in the family is almost always a matter of pride. We don’t understand each other and we’re too proud to ask for clarification. We have expectations that are never expressed and yet when they’re not met…we’re hurt. We have unrealistic views of what a family should look like and how “it” should act.

Friends are people we choose to have in our life. Family are people who are involved in our life through adoption, birth or marriage. Once you’re family…you’re family forever. Surely, we can put aside our pride for a moment and get along to share a meal or a holiday. Surely, we can pray that God bless our family (even the ones who push our buttons) with His best. If we can’t stand to be with “that woman” for an hour, surely we could be nice for twenty minutes and casually her presence.

God whispered to me as I walked today, “Nick, make an effort to be your best, regardless of response. Time is fleeting and life is precious.”

Sloooooow and Eeeeassy

Speed is matter of perception. A hundred miles an hours is a fast clip for a car but is very slow for a commercial aircraft. Ten miles an hour is a pace that just might win a marathon but will finish dead last in a sprint.

My perception is continually shifting when I think of this, our third 3300 mile walk across America for Christ. Deep within me, I want to be the hare, fully of energy and speed, and anxious to finish; gotta go, gotta do, hurry, hurry!
Like Dorothy, I want to get back to Kansas; to our friends and our church and familiar surroundings. Even though it’s summer, I find myself humming, “I’ll be home for Christmas. You can count on me.”

But, God and Lucy remind me, the journey is not about miles nor speed nor time. 3300 miles is just the name of the journey that tells us when we began and when we finish. The walk for Christ is about people. It’s about acknowledging Christ, building relationships, listening to stories, looking for people’s strengths and assets and encouraging them to use what they’ve got. It’s about loving people as best we can whenever we can. That all takes time and cannot be rushed.
God and Lucy remind me that the beginning our trip was fraught with mishaps and so it may be at the end. The significance of this mission trip is not determined by speed in which it is completed. Our culture values an action by how quickly it is done. God measures by how nobly a thing is done. Our job is to simply take our time and love well as we go.
Slow and easy wins the race,
Embrace God’s people and feel God’s grace.
Slow and easy; no need to hurry.
Don’t be anxious, fret or worry.
Bless and love as best you can
Take time to love your fellow man.
“Slow and easy,” whispers Christ,
“To show some kindness and just be nice.”

Grumpy Almost Misses It

“Where are you going?”

I was deep in thought and didn’t like the idea of being disturbed, plus I hadn’t been in the best of moods the last couple of days. Even though I was walking America for Christ, I didn’t greet Officer Benson with any of the joy of Jesus in my heart. We went through the normal routine…”Name…Birth date..License…wait for a moment while I run this.”
As the officer did his job, the Holy Spirit spoke to me. “You’re not being very nice.” “I know,” I mumbled back. I was beginning to mentally beat myself up when I heard from the Holy Spirit again. “I’m not condemning you, Nick. I’m just reminding you that you are better than you’re acting. A little smile or pleasant conversation wouldn’t

hurt.”
I noticed that police car said commercial law enforcement. I said, “I have a question for you”. He leaned against his vehicle, smiled and said “I have a couple of questions for you too.”
Well, it turns out there are only about 45 commercial law enforcement units in the state. They check on the weight of the trucks and in general, make sure the truckers are doing what they are suppose to be doing. As Steve and I talked….yes, police officers do have first names…I found out he was a born again believer, teaches Sunday School, is currently doing a series on the differences between Christianity and Islam and has a heart for people who do not know the Lord. He also has a group called Friends 4 Life that is open to all denominations and prays for needs as they arise. I enjoyed listening to his passion for the Lord and I began to genuinely like him.
As we parted company, the Holy Spirit reminded me of how close I came to missing out on meeting this wonderful man of God. Steve and I are friends on Facebook now and I have the feeling we’re going to be friends for a long time. He has about five years or so before he retires from the force but I wouldn’t be surprised if we found ourselves in the mission field together.