Thursday, January 23, 2020

“I heard a loud rush of air and I realized I’d been holding my breath”



Within minutes, Ron McIntosh, our pilot, strode across the pock-marked tarmac to meet us. “Sorry I’m late,” he said. “Bad weather in southern Colombia forced me down.” We’d soon learn that pilots, travelers—all of us—wrote our schedules in pencil, not ink, because of weather and iffy communications.

Our first look at The Evangel
So there our family stood with our first four Lomalinda friends: Ron, Loren, Laura, and Doug. We were off to a great start.

At the time, we didn’t realize Ron had a reputation for his exceptional skills in challenging circumstances and that, day by day, he was living a story that many still talk about all these years later.

Budd Davisson, an accomplished airplane guy himself, wrote one of the most enjoyable articles I’ve ever read, a piece about Ron and the legendary Evangel. Budd’s article, “Evangel 4500,” begins with him sitting next to Ron in the copilot’s seat as they approached a landing strip in the Amazon jungle:

“As we turned final, my heart nearly stopped because it was wedged solidly against the back of my teeth.

“We had the gear down and were pointed at this ridiculously tiny box canyon. It wasn’t actually a canyon, but it might as well have been because it was just a slit in the jungle and the trees on three sides were 60 feet high. What was scaring . . . me was that the whole ‘canyon’ was a little over 900 feet long, and we weren’t exactly flying a Super Cub.

The sweat running down my legs was starting to pool in my boots. . . . 

“I figured the pilot, Ron McIntosh, knew what he was doing, but twin-engine airplanes just don’t land on airstrips like this one—not more than once anyway.

“We crept over the first row of trees and Ron slowly brought the throttles back and started to flare. . . .  I couldn’t take my eyes off the trees at the other end of the runway. I thought about my wife and child. I thought about the five bucks I owed a friend. 

“The trees were staring down on us as the tires thumped onto the runway, and I instinctively slid my feet up on the rudder pedals to help Ron smash the brakes to the floor.

“Then a crazy miraculous thing happened: We stopped moving. Just like that.

“The brakes helped a little, but even so, we hadn’t used more than two-thirds of what they laughingly called a runway.

“Then I heard a loud rush of air and I realized I’d been holding my breath. . . .

“Was I scared? I’d prefer to say pensive, but I’ll have to admit that I saw the Evangel 4500 do things that no twin-engine plane has a right to do.” (Click on this link to read more and see photos:Evangel 4500” by Budd Davisson.)


Oh, what adventures awaited us!

What remarkable people God was giving us as friends!  


Thursday, January 16, 2020

Of spiders in soda pop bottles


We rounded a corner and exited the forest and, from our spot high on the east edge of the Andes Mountains, Dave and I gasped at the view.

A vast low expanse of steaming plains spread out before us, stretching east, north, and south—the llanos. An azure sky stretched to eternity, clean and searing and clear. Somewhere out there, way out in that immense humid unknown, we’d find our new home, Lomalinda.

For the next half hour, we dropped to an elevation of a thousand feet. Numb toes and fingers warmed, and we peeled off layers of clothes. We didn’t know it at the time, but we wouldn’t feel cold again for seven months.

We skirted the town of Villavicencio, crossed a river and, three hours after leaving Bogotá, turned in at the airport, a short row of low buildings. At times we had wondered if we would arrive safely, but we did, with barf bags still in pockets, unused.

We piled out of the taxi—Dave, Matt, Karen, and I along with our traveling companions and new co-workers, Loren, Laura, and Doug Rush.

The cabby opened the trunk and he, Dave, and Doug started unloading our bags, but Loren took me aside. “We need you to stay here and watch the rest of the luggage. Don’t let anybody steal it.”

I was shocked—I’d never heard of such things happening. The guys carried our bags inside and Laura guarded them at that end while the men returned to the taxi for more.

We had arrived at 9:30, the scheduled time for our flight to Lomalinda. Laura and Loren scanned the small airstrip. “I don’t see the Evangel,” Laura said, referring to our mission’s little white and blue plane.

Our family had already experienced a small dose of cross-cultural living during our one brief day in Bogotá, but upon arriving at the Villavicencio airport, we stepped deeply into our introduction to cross-cultural living. (Within a day it would become cross-culture stress, if not full-blown culture shock.)

It started when Laura, Karen, and I needed to use the restroom. After asking the guys to watch the luggage, we pushed our way through a filthy door decorated with purple polka dots.

The toilets had neither seats nor lids. That made me kinda grumpy.

But on a pleasanter note, Betty Welch, that dear lady we’d met at our Dallas orientation, the one who cautioned us to hire only taxis with meters, had given us another priceless bit of advice. “Always travel with your own toilet paper,” she’d said. Thanks to Betty, we were prepared.

 When we rejoined the men, we continued searching the skies for our plane. In the open-air terminal, hot and muggy, flies landed on everyone and everything. We Seattle people struggled with the heat and humidity—and especially with those flies.

SeaTac International this was not. Scrawny dogs wandered in and out, nibbling at trash on the floor. A rooster crowed somewhere. A man sat at a table eating, a parrot perched on one hand.

Laura strolled over to the control tower and hollered up to the man, asking, in Spanish, if the Evangel was on its way. (Now, tell me: How many of you have walked over to a control tower and yelled up to the guys on duty?)

She came back with disappointing news. “The tower hasn’t had any communication with Lomalinda.” Laura waited a while, asked again, and returned bearing the same story.

By then we’d grown hungry, but the thought of eating in those surroundings made me gag.

We couldn’t drink the water—it would make us sick—but Laura said we could drink bottled soda pop, so we ordered one for each of us. They were warm—no refrigerators.  (One more cross-cultural surprise. But an even bigger surprise awaited me.)

Loren said, “Before you take a drink, you need to do this.” He took out his handkerchief and wiped the bottleneck, inside and out. I couldn’t believe the filth that came out on it. (Yet another cross-cultural jolt. But the biggest one came next.)

“Oh, by the way,” he said, “check inside. Sometimes spiders or cockroaches float around in there.” (from Chapter 5, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: AFoot-Dragger’s Memoir)

What an introduction to cross-cultural living!

But here’s the sobering thing: That couple of hours at the airport was only the beginning.

Standing there on that foreign soil, I wondered, 
“What’s next? What other icky stuff will we live with? 
What other surprises will smack us between the eyes?”

Entering the unknown can be painful. Distressing. Sometimes even calamitous.

In Luke 9:34, Peter, John, and James were standing on a mountain with Jesus when a cloud enveloped them, and the three feared as they entered that cloud—that unknown.

“How often we fear as we enter into some cloud of the unknown,” 
Amy Carmichael wrote many years ago, 

and then she asked this blistering, haunting question: 

“Shall we be led through it, always caused to triumph? 
or shall we fail?” 

That day at the Villavicencio airport, 
if I could have looked ahead into the next few days, 
I’d see my 29-year-old self 
teetering on the edge of failure.


Thursday, January 9, 2020

A hush and God’s whisper


We’d been riding in a taxi through the Andes Mountains for two and a half hours, holding on for dear life along steep, narrow roads that curved left and right and left again. Stretches of road—with no guardrails—teetered over drop-offs of hundreds of feet. 

Every few moments the driver blasted his horn and we bolted forward. He used his brakes as often as his horn. Buses and cars careened toward us down the mountainside and around corners.

I wanted to cry, Will this ride ever end? But I couldn’t speak—near-hysteria had taken my breath away.

But the trip wasn’t all bad. Luxuriant tropical vegetation surrounded us—hibiscus in red, pink, and white; leggy poinsettia trees in full bloom; carpets of flowers in orange, magenta, and gold.

Coleus, tall and crimson, grew beside the road, and philodendrons and other tropical plants I couldn’t name—all nestled among the woodlands. The vegetation was different from what we’d always known in Seattle, yet beautiful.

Watch now!” our traveling companion, Laura, grinned. “You’ll see something special!

A few seconds later we rounded a corner and exited the Andean forest and, from our spot high on the east edge of the Andes, Dave and I gasped at the view.

A vast, low expanse of steaming plains spread out before us, stretching east, north, and south—the llanos. An azure sky stretched to eternity, clean and searing and clear.

Somewhere out there, way out in that immense humid unknown, we’d find Lomalinda. (from Chapter 5, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir)


I’ve always remembered that surprising, vivid scene.

Forty-three years later, my heart still races when I relive it.

It was as if a hush invaded the taxi
and God whispered:

“I, the Lord, made everything,
stretching out the skies by myself
and spreading out the earth all alone.”
Isaiah 44:24, NCV


At such times we mortals can only
fall on our knees and say:

“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker,
the Maker of heaven and earth.”
Psalm 95:6, Psalm 146:6

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they exist and were created.”
Revelation 4:11, ESB





Thursday, January 2, 2020

Our hair-raising drive through the Andes


The steep, narrow road through the Andes curved left and right and left again—no wonder people got carsick—and, without guardrails, those drop-offs took my breath away.

Every few moments the driver blasted his horn and we bolted forward. He used his brakes as often as his horn.

Buses and cars careened toward us down the mountainside and around corners.

Drives through the Andes were the stuff of legends—not myths, not made-up tales, but the histories of dozens of families. (If you missed recent posts about terrifying trips, click on Of Andean hairpin turns: I tried to stifle my hysteria and No, no, no! Don’t look down!)

Today you could sit down with anyone who spent time in Lomalinda and he’d tell you hair-raising accounts of journeying through the Andes—stories about upchucking, of long delays due to mudslides, other delays at police checkpoints, and reports of filthy restrooms along the way.

But especially you’d hear stories about the dangers of the trip: appalling road conditions, no shoulders—only drop-offs. You’d hear about urgent prayers for safety. (If you missed it, read No, no, no! Don’t look down!)

So there I sat in a van-type taxi with Dave and our kids, ages four and six, careening down those infamous roads.

I tried to stifle my hysteria, but Laura wasn’t fooled. She was returning to Lomalinda after studying Spanish in Bogotá for the summer and knew the route well.

“We have such a good cab driver,” she said. “He’s driving more cautiously than usual because he has new seat covers.”

What? A good, cautious driver?

And what did new seat covers have to do with anything?

I must have looked frantic because Laura hurried to explain, “He doesn’t want us to get carsick all over them.”

Rattan furniture for sale in the Andes
High in the mountains, we saw houses smaller than those near the city, patched together with scraps of wood, bricks, sheets of metal or plastic. Emaciated dogs poked at ever-present trash.

The longer we traveled, the fewer houses we passed—shacks made of boards or branches, dirt floors, gaping holes in walls. Chickens and pigs meandered in and out. Metal signs, fastened to homes or fences, advertised Lux Kola or Alka-Seltzer.

Some places displayed bananas in front, or papayas, or hand-crafted rattan furniture in hopes travelers would stop and buy. Children played in yards. Laundry, draped over bushes, dried in sun that poked through fog.

Our driver slowed and pulled to a stop. Uniformed men approached.

A potty stop in the Andes
“Don’t worry,” Laura said. “This is a checkpoint. They’ll look through our bags for drugs or weapons.”

The cabby got out and showed them his receipt. They poked through our luggage, without really looking, and they were finished. The driver hopped back in and we resumed our journey.

Sometimes we spotted shacks hugging steep mountainsides. Crops clung to land that appeared too steep to navigate, let alone cultivate.

Luxuriant tropical vegetation surrounded us—hibiscus in red, pink, and white; leggy poinsettia trees in full bloom; carpets of flowers in orange, magenta, and gold. Coleus, tall and crimson, grew beside the road, and philodendrons and other tropical plants I couldn’t name—all nestled among the Andean forest.

“Watch now!” Laura called. “You’ll see something special!” (from Chapter 5, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir).


Thursday, December 19, 2019

No, no, no! Don’t look down!


Drives through the Andes were the stuff of legends—not myths, not made-up tales, but the histories of dozens of families. (If you missed last week’s post, click on Of Andean hairpin turns: I tried to stifle my hysteria.)

Today you could sit down with anyone who spent time in Lomalinda and he’d tell you hair-raising accounts of journeying through the Andes—stories about upchucking, long delays due to mudslides, other delays at police checkpoints, and reports of filthy bathrooms along the way.

But especially you’d hear stories about the dangers of the trip. You’d hear about urgent prayers for safety.

Linda Wheeler Hollingsworth recently told me of bus trips she and her family took several times through the Andes from Pasto to Puerto Asis while, for many years, her parents served as linguists and Bible translators among Colombia’s Siona people.

Linda writes,

“The bus was usually packed with standing room only, shared with all manner of livestock and people .  . .  and to top it off, loud Colombian music with the occasional translated Cindy Lauper or Stevie Wonder thrown in. My favorite was ‘Solo Llamé a Decir te Quiero.’ [Note from LT: If I remember my Spanish correctly, I think that’s I Just Want to Say I Love You.]

“We could look out the window and see down the mountain in a fog-covered abyss. One of the dual back tires would often hang over the edge. The driver drove pretty fast. . . .”

Read that paragraph again. Imagine sitting beside Linda on that bus.

At that point in the recent conversation with Linda, her older brother, Jim Wheeler, spoke up. “That was the craziest bus ride I remember! I think we did it three or four times.

“The really wild rides were in the old chiva buses. The driver would stop at El Mirador where we had to wait on the one-way traffic to make it up the cliff/mountain. . . .

“I remember walking with [brother] Franky over to the edge of the lookout. We couldn’t see the bottom because there were too many clouds in the way, but we could look off and see the broccoli-like jungle thousands of feet in the distance.”

After waiting for the one-way oncoming traffic to finish, “the driver’s assistant would call everyone into the bus. The driver would light a candle at the nearby shrine, jump into the driver’s seat, cross himself, and then gun the engine for the wild ride down.

“We could see the wheels hanging off the edge. . . .

“What really freaked me out was looking up as we went down the switchback road and seeing saplings sticking out of the mountain on the underside of the road above us. Then I realized that [moments earlier] we had been riding on that same stretch of road in a six-ton bus!

“We could see crosses all along the way where travelers must have fallen.

“One time I was sitting toward the front of the bus. The driver’s assistant looked at me, pointed to his eyes, pointed down the side of the mountain, then shook his finger, ‘No, no, no!’ Better not look down on that trip!

“Often the assistant had to get out and guide the driver around a hairpin turn. That’s when the wheels would really hang over the edge!

“We were always very glad to get to the bottom!”

I guess so, Jim! I guess so! Thanks for sharing your stories with us, Linda and Jim.

These accounts make me tremble. 
How about you?

Can you imagine being a parent in such a locale 
and pushing hard to carry out work God had led you to do?

While contemplating that, I remind myself that God’s ways are not always our ways. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV).

His ways are higher than ours—that is, He doesn’t look at life in the same way we do.

When His ways crash against our ways, we need to do a “doggie head tilt.” (Mike Metzger: “If your head never tilts, your mind never changes.”) When God asks us to do something that seems crazy, we need to look at life from a different angle—from His angle, not ours.

Jesus warned those who wanted to follow him, saying “Count the cost before you set out” (Luke 14:28).

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me but loves his father, mother, wife, children, brothers or sisters—or even life—more than me, he cannot be my follower. Whoever is not willing to carry his cross and follow me cannot be my follower. If you want to build a tower, you first sit down and decide how much it will cost, to see if you have enough money to finish the job. If you don’t, you might lay the foundation, but you would not be able to finish. Then all who would see it would make fun of you, saying, ‘This person began to build but was not able to finish’” (Luke 14:25-30, NCV).

Those who decided to work in Colombia had taken those verses and Proverbs 20:25 seriously: “Don’t trap yourself by making a rash promise to God and only later counting the cost.”

I believe each family that relocated to Colombia to serve God, like Linda and Jim’s parents did, counted the cost ahead of time. One of those costs was harrowing trips through the Andes, and while over the years some Lomalindians did suffer injuries, some of them serious, I’m not aware of any deaths.

In the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, our colleagues experienced much worse dangers than Andean roads, especially at the hands of Marxist guerrillas.

But they kept working there even when it was dangerous, even when it didn’t make sense.

At such times, Oswald Chambers’ perspective helps us make that necessary doggie head tilt: “Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you might not understand at the time.”

What courage my colleagues chose!
What faith they demonstrated!

And what a privilege God gave me 
to work alongside them and learn from them.


Thursday, December 12, 2019

Andean hairpin turns: I tried to stifle my hysteria


The taxi driver returned, a receipt in hand—a permit to transport us, our fellow traveler, Laura, said—and we set off again, our eyes and throats stinging from exhaust. (If you missed last week’s post, click on Setting out before dawn in Bogotá.)

We passed hundreds of people on foot—businessmen in dress suits, youngsters hurrying to school, and women clutching metal lunch containers—all wearing poncho-like thick wool ruanas.

Bogotá lies at 8,700 feet above sea level. When we climbed to 11,000 feet, we entered a layer of fog, and a chill crept into the taxi. Scrubby trees dotted rocky terrain throughout the Andes towering over on all sides of us.

The steep, narrow road curved left and right and left again—no wonder people got carsick—and, without guardrails, those drop-offs took my breath away.

Every few moments the driver blasted his horn and we bolted forward. He used his brakes as often as his horn.

Buses and cars careened toward us down the mountainside and around corners.

I tried to stifle my hysteria, but Laura wasn’t fooled.

“We have such a good cab driver. He’s driving more cautiously than usual because he has new seat covers.”

What? A good, cautious driver?

And what did new seat covers have to do with anything?
 
I must have looked frantic because Laura hurried to explain, “He doesn’t want us to get carsick all over them.” (from Chapter 5, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir).

Later, we would learn from new colleagues in Lomalinda that severe carsickness plagued most of them on drives through the Andes. Their memories are still vivid all these years later.


Jim Wheeler, who was in eighth grade our first year in Lomalinda, recently shared the following childhood memories about that route through the Andes:

“I remember waking up early to an old wind-up alarm clock [and] getting dressed, having a light breakfast, and hauling our suitcases and boxes to the first-floor entrance.

“Mama would give us all Dramamine as the taxi driver loaded up the car. Soon we were packed into the car (six of us in my earlier memories, eight later) and headed out of Bogotá.

“The car ride was fine in the city, but the higher up the mountain and the further away from the city we got, the faster the driver would go.

“I always loved driving up in the Andes and looking way down into the valleys where small farms made patchwork designs so far away. The mountains were always so green, even at 12,000 to 14,000 feet.

“I always did NOT love the taxi going so fast around the corners. . . . Almost every taxi ride on that route involved somebody (usually several of us) needing to stop to lose our breakfast. Most of the drivers would . . . stop because they didn’t want a messy, smelly taxi. They counted on another fare returning to Bogotá—if they drove fast enough with the right circumstances, they could make two round trips. . . .

“I loved and hated those rides.” (Thanks to Jim Wheeler for his story.)


On that day, though, our family’s second day in Colombia, carsickness should have been the least of our worries. But it wasn’t. That’s because none of our new colleagues had yet told us about the real dangers of the trip: those drop-offs without guardrails.

No one had yet told us about a taxi full of young parents and infants, the driver going too fast on wet roads and around sharp curves. Nor had we heard they’d plunged off the edge, rolling hundreds of feet into an abyss. 

Those were pre-seatbelt days—but by God’s amazing grace, everyone in that crash lived to later tell about crushed body parts and broken bones, about climbing or being carried up the steep terrain back to the road, and about their hospital stays.

Others of our new colleagues would later tell us of buses careening off the road and tumbling down steep mountainsides, leaving every person injured, and of helping wounded fellow passengers back to the road and, eventually, into ambulances.

Be sure to come back next week because I have more stories about harrowing trips through the Andes.


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Setting out before dawn in Bogotá


Before dawn on Tuesday, August 17, 1976, in our little borrowed room in Bogotá, the alarm clock jarred us into consciousness.

Groggy and shivering from the cold, we pulled on layers of clothes and stuffed barf bags into pockets, remembering Laura Rush’s words from the previous day:

“Don’t forget plastic bags.”

“Plastic bags?”  I had asked.

“Right. Most people get carsick on the drive through the mountains.”

Sigh . . . .

Downstairs in the office, we and the Rushes assembled baggage, seventeen pieces.

A van-like taxicab hummed outside the open office door, its red taillights aglow.

Shivering in the dark, we piled our luggage inside and on top and in every nook and cranny.

We must have resembled Moses and his family when they set out for Egypt, as imagined by Chuck Swindoll, who wrote:

“What a sight that little family must have been as they headed down the desert road . . .  the family’s belongings . . . tied to the donkey’s back. They were leaving a steady job, family, security, and the familiarity of their own surroundings. Midian wasn’t much, but it had been their home for forty years. And now they were on their way. . . .” (Great Days with the Great Lives)

In Chapter 5 of Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go, I wrote:

Soon hints of daylight peeked through a haze. Bogotá’s streets already bustled with cars, pedestrians, donkey carts, and buses belching noxious fumes. 
Our taxi driver zigged and zagged around snarled traffic. We clung to door handles and bumped against each other. 
The driver brought us to a halt on a block lined with one-story buildings, soot-covered, grim. Decaying fruit and vegetables littered street and sidewalk, along with shreds of yellowed newspapers, bloody spittle, cigarette butts, and more. I forced my eyes to focus instead on our cabby, who darted through a filthy door. 
A pack of men spied us. They wore woolen garments, torn and frayed. Hair tangled, matted. Teeth missing. Faces and hands smudged with the gray that clung to doors and walls and air. 
One of them sauntered toward our taxi, stooped, and peered at us, his nose nearly touching the window. He snarled what was, I guessed, an obscenity, tottered sideways, turned, and shuffled away. 
The driver returned, a receipt in hand—a permit to transport us, Laura said—and we set off again, our eyes and throats stinging from exhaust. (from Chapter 5, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go)

Be sure to come back next week—I’ll tell you about our wild and crazy journey! I’m so glad no one had yet told us horror stories about the journey we faced. If they had, I’d have been terrified to set out through the Andes in that taxi. In my case, ignorance was bliss.

Chuck Swindoll asks all of us:

Have you stepped out in faith like [Moses did] recently?

Have you made a move, followed the nudging of God,
into realms you wouldn’t have even dreamed of five years ago?
He will honor your faith as you trust Him in that kind of walk.

Those who remain in the false security of Midian
never get to experience what Moses experienced
on that winding highway to Egypt—
the sense of moving in the strong current
of God’s will and plan.

Press on!


“I heard a loud rush of air and I realized I’d been holding my breath”

We'd been  waiting for two hours at the Villavicencio airport with our traveling companions and new co-workers , the Rushes, when they...