DIPPING DEEP INTO FAITH
For all of you who are old geezers, have you ever wondered how you were back in those days when nothing could go wrong? Remember when you were so steeped in idealism that you felt like you had the world by the tail and were swinging it at will? And because you saturated your life with the work of God’s business, you knew that He would never fail you?
We now consider such faith as sometimes a “blind faith,” but in looking back it was unquestionable faith. It was real love for the work of our King Jesus. We moved on in our lives without all the old-age apprehensions with which we are so often cursed in our old age. We just assumed back then that everything would turn out just fine. And, it did. But we must conclude that our young lives proved that God was working then. He is still working today to bring glory to Himself through His people. In fact, our love for God has increased far beyond what it was in our youth. In those days, we never allowed fear to overcome our love for His business. We live by the same principle today.
If you were that way then—but now in old age a little apprehensive—you have so many victory T-shirts that it takes several closets to hang them all. Of course, some of them you have just packed away in boxes and stored in the attic. These are probably all those black T-shirts that remind you of those times when you stumbled over your youth. Nevertheless, the power of the love of God continues to spur us on in the face of any war or pandemic.
I have my own closets, as well as those black T-shirt boxes in the attic. Because of all the victories, however, I have no regrets for the spiritual idealism with which both Martha and I began our journey with God over fifty years ago. We have lived several lifetimes throughout our journey of love for the work of God. Each life was a resounding proof that God has worked so wonderfully in our lives that we are sometimes overwhelmed concerning the awesome power with which He labored in order to give us several victories. In fact, the results of His incredible power in our feeble lives is a resounding testimony to the fact that He works in the lives of all His people who have relinquished themselves to His overpowering love.
We would not be so presumptuous as to claim any glory for His wonderful work. He simply empowered our abilities. As I scribble these few words I am humbled by the incredible power that we certainly have from a God who works all things together for our good. The minor thing that Martha and I can claim is that His work in our lives from the very beginning of our spiritual journey together with Him is that He loved us so much that He would not allow Satan to defeat us regardless of all our black T-shirts. He scared the fear of the unknown out of us by empowering us with His love. Therefore, we cannot imagine having lived different lives.
The most fulfilling experience of life is when two people in the union of marriage experience together the wonderful work of God as they engaged in doing His business along their spiritual journey. There is nothing more fulfilling than to grow old together in one another’s arms while still doing Divine business. We have sought to return His love for us in the past by not fearing that which was before us in the future.
In the beginning, it was a typical clear-blue sky in 1974 when the south coast winds of the Mississippi Gulf Coast whipped up the sands of the white beaches. It was a fateful day of ministry conclusions and a destiny of beginnings. On that day of beginning, there stood before a crowd of farewell folks two idealistic young parents with four children whom they committed to their spiritual dreams. The oldest of the involuntary sibling team, Angella, was six years old, and the second, Matthew, was three. The last two, Cindy and Lisa, both in soggy diapers at the time, were two and a half and a little over six months. Here were two determined parents who were young enough to perceive no fear concerning the epic journey on which they were about to embark for a land to which they had never ventured before. Little did they know that they stood at the brink of a cultural paradigm in life to which they would never return. The two parental units were about to step into a new social and cultural paradigm that would end only when the Lord Jesus would again call them once again into an eternal paradigm of rest.
For the past nine prayerful months the two parental members of this expedition had worked feverishly in order to scrape together enough support from friends and churches who surely thought the two adventurers were somewhat of a questionable state of mind to do what they were about to do. Nevertheless, the parental squad worked themselves and their children through sixteen different documents each in order to go on the expedition. The authorities of their future countries of residence required all this documentation in order to launch them into the unknown of an intrepid journey that would eventually end up being a lifetime of a never ending story. In all the documentation, they even had to acquire an Act of Congress because they were immigrating to a far away foreign country for the name of Jesus.
On the day of his inauguration in 1933, and when America was in the midst of the Great Depression, newly elected Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Most people on that occasion within hearing distance of that statement did not understand what Roosevelt was saying. What the newly elected President, in the midst of a depression, was communicating to the American people was the fact that if we succumb to our fears of the present depressed economic conditions of America, then we will give up. The economic environment would thus reign over and conquer their hope. Fear would destroy their aspirations for a better future. When a people lose hope, they are finished. Therefore, we must fear that fear that would detour us from moving on.
The Holy Spirit said the same thing in different words in another context: “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). In fact, the Spirit went on to say, “He who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn 4:18). If Peter had allowed fear to control his life, then he would never have taken that first step out of the security of the boat on his way to Jesus. That first step revealed that he loved Jesus more than he feared the mighty waves of the prevailing storm (Mt 14:28,29). If we allow fear to reign in our lives, then we too will stay in the boat. But our love for our Lord Jesus must always conquer our fears of the unknown. We must step outside the security of the familiar. We must take our families and board the plane in order to preach the gospel to the world.
It was all so surreal at the time as Martha and I, with our four children, were about to throw ourselves into a storm. We were at the edge of a boat as Peter, ready to launch into doing something that had always been the spark of a dream in the back of our minds. In her youth, Martha always had this illusive dream of going east to China as a missionary. Myself, it didn’t matter where we would go, as long as the ship set sail for the horizon of the earth. We both dreamed about going somewhere from the day we were connected in marriage. And now, we were on our way south to the land of coffee … Brazil. And at the time, neither of us drank coffee. Nevertheless, when God goes to work in one’s life, he or she can do some marvelous things. And to this day, I am a Brazilian converted coffeeolic.
On the day our ship set sail in the air, I can still remember all of us standing in front of the Gulfport church building with a crowd of older people who surely—as I can now understand—thought that we had lost our minds. But there we were for prayers and good-byes from faithful brothers and sisters who had nurtured us since the days we had graduated from Bible school.
The children of this fearless mission crew, as you can imagine, were somewhat confused with all the excitement of the moment. Someone had suggested that we give them a sedative in order to better cope with the long flight south. I still have this movie picture in my mind of Martha scurrying here and there chasing siblings with a bottle and spoon in her hands. She was persistently extending the spoon in order to entice the four minors of the expedition to partake of the juice. They all eventually relinquished to the wishes of their mother who foresaw anxious times coming. Unfortunately, the juice seemed to work in reverse. It might as well have been an “upper” because the four minors of the crew could not get over the excitement of the moment, nor for many moments thereafter. The juice probably took them down a notch or two in excitement because they were so “high” throughout the trip. After all, they were only victims in this saga of two small-town parents in their mid twenties who were following their dream into a land where they sought to return the love of God that was displayed on the cross.
During those days, we continually reminded ourselves of what Jesus said to His disciples before they had any understanding of the mission upon which He was about to commissioned them: “Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already for harvest!” (Jn 4:35).
And then our saga began. What came next seemed to be a broken film in an old forgotten movie. It was only emotional stamina that kept us tunnel visioned during what seemed to be an unending nightmare from which we both would struggled to awake. We traveled through endless flying tubes and camped out on airplane and airport floors and lounge seats in airport terminals without end. All I can remember from the serial flights and airports that eventually ended us in Sao Paulo, Brazil was that number three, Cindy, wept almost all the way because of all the turmoil of the world that engulfed her. The leader of the crew could probably have done the same if he had not maintained his Scottish stiff upper lip.
At the time, we really did not realize that our lives had changed forever. A cultural paradigm was in the process of shifting, and we would never again be those two innocent small-town youth of yesteryear. This was only the first chapter of a never ending book that is still in the process of being written by that once young parental crew.
Before the adventure began, we had packed two suitcases full of disposable diapers. This was done in order that all the untrained bottoms were covered for the trip, as well as a supply for at least a week when we beached at our destination. Every member of the expedition of this venture had been given some type of carry-on luggage. Therefore, even the sibling members were issued a few diapers in their packs in order to service the two youngest of the crew. I had to recant all my previous complaints to Martha before the trip concerning all her bulk buying of the diapers, which at the time seemed extravagant. But her foresight in this matter seemed to be prophetic. What eventually transpired on the expedition from Mississippi to Brazil was the deposit of a stinky diaper in every trash bin at every airport along the way. Surely the airport cleaners the following day had concluded that the Dicksons had passed this way. We left a stinky diaper trail from Mississippi all the way to Brazil.
When the final flight approached to what would be the “village” of our new home, my first vision of the settlement as I gazed through the window of the airplane sent an unsettling thought through the mind of this Kansas farm boy. At the time of our arrival, over eleven million other human beings formerly had the same idea about settling into Sao Paulo as we did. What startled me most was that the sky scrapers of the city extended over the distant horizon in every direction. Being a farm boy who had come from a Kansas farm, and then immigrating to a town of about 35,000, it was initially an awesome sight to behold. Then reality struck as I pressed my nose against the window. This airplane was going to dispatch these small-town Kansas people into this mass of humanity and concrete.
“Are we really doing this?”, I said faintly to Martha. “How many years did we commit to live in this concrete jungle?” As I write this, you must believe that I am not exaggerating. After residing in Sao Paulo for a short time, one day our crew went to a shopping center. As we passed the garden equipment display outside the center, we were still able to identify this small patch of grass that was planted for advertising purposes. It was about the size of a vehicle hood (bonnet). Our oldest fell down immediately to hands and knees on the grass, and like a caged animal taken from the wilds of the jungle, she crawled on the grass while moving her fingers gently through every blade of grass. The now seven-year old hypnotically uttered, “Grass! Grass!” I still have that picture implanted in my mind. As a Kansas farm boy, I thought, “Is this the destiny to which I have brought my children?” A cultural paradigm had truly shifted.
And then came that final sweet sound of airplane wheels screeching on the runway of Sao Paulo International Airport in order to end our nightmare. At least we were jolted awake from a moment. It was now time to wake up to reality. That landing signaled the beginning of a new walk with God. The sensation went through Martha and myself, “WE SURVIVED … no, we have arrived.”
And then all the beginnings started. At the airport, there were hoards of people everywhere. There were lines here and there that led to somewhere. As stumbling zombies after such an epic journey, we just bumped along wherever the multitudes carried us. From those crowds, we were initiated into a megacity of human species who seemed to be everywhere. We were simply numbers in the midst of a mob trying to get through customs and immigration at the same time. It was then that we pleasantly discovered one of the most marvelous characteristics of the Brazilian culture. Brazilians loved children, and we had plenty in hand and on hips at the time. If you had small children, therefore, you went to the front of the line. So here came this official to fetch these two zombie parents with their four small free passes that allowed us to be led from the back of an extended line right to the front. So to the front we were marched. Thank you, Jesus.
We deducted that Someone up there was working overtime for us. Our four sibling emissaries got us through customs and immigration in a flash. Faith had brought us this far, and our Father had not yet completed His special journey for us. You must understand that we were total strangers in a foreign city that was so intimidating. It was one of those times when faith needed to kick into high gear. We simply relinquished to the circumstances and followed our instincts, assuming that God would also influence our instincts.
Once the immigration officer went through our series of passports, we were let loose into the maize of humanity in Sao Paulo. We were on our own. At the time that did not feel good. We had no idea who would meet us at the airport or where we would dispatch our bodies for the night. So you can only imagine that when the last sweet stamp sound on our passports rang in our ears, Martha and I looked at each other and thought, “Now what?” No words came out of our mouths because we were somewhat dazed youth in a foreign mass of humanity who spoke only gibberish. We craved for someone to say at least one word in English in order to bring some familiarity to the environment. But no such deliverance was uttered, and we knew no Portuguese.
In the midst of that hoard of people in the terminal, I look up and saw a familiar face come rushing through the doors of the terminal. The face of deliverance was also looking directly at me. And then joy ran through our souls when the words were yelled out, “Roger!” It was Carl Henderson who had come to deliver us from the mob of arrivals. Traffic jams had delayed him, but God made sure that he would be there just in time to deliver us. I could write a book on how God always delivered us just in time. I know what Peter felt when Jesus grabbed his hand as he was going down.
It was then that Martha and I learned to hug like Brazilians. We embraced Carl until he had no breath, feeling that we had now been delivered. Now the next quest on this eventful adventure may seem somewhat impossible to understand, or comprehend, for all of you who are not acquainted with the old Volkswagon Beetle. I am not stretching the truth here, cross my heart. Because he and his wife lived in a small apartment, Carl secured a taxi to take us to a hotel where he had rented a room for us for a few days.
So the taxi pulled up to the curb, and sure enough, it was one of those Beetles. Now you must use your imagination for this moment. Add up the figures of people and envision the space in that minute Beetle. There were two adults in our family, plus the four siblings of our crew. Add Carl, and then the taxi driver who occupied the two front seats, Carl being issued one of the siblings. Remember all our luggage? Don’t forget those diapers. Can you imagine two adults and the remaining siblings being crammed into the back seated of a Volkswagon Beetle? We proved that it could be done. There was luggage and diapers everywhere. There was people everywhere. That tin can taxi then rushed off with a pack of human flesh squeezed everywhere possible.
And then the real adventure began. If you have never taken a ride in a Brazilian taxi, then you will not understand our first real encounter with controlled road rage. It was total offensive driving, and supposedly, the taxi driver had somehow concluded that we were the only vehicle on the road and he had to get us to the hotel before closing time. We clutched one another as caged monkeys in that back seat, praying that we had come too far to end up mangled in a pile of smashed vehicles. So when we survived the flight to the hotel, after hearing only the terrifying screech of tires when we turned corners, Martha and I loosened our grip on one another and our children. We then we started to breathe again. Either fortunately, or unfortunately, I eventually converted to offensive driving in Brazil. Since those Brazilian days, Martha sometimes reminds me that I still live with that curse unto this day. While in Brazil, Martha decided that she would keep her sanity and never drive while we lived in the country. I think she wanted to preserve herself as a mother of four children. I was expendable.
I supposed God wanted to immediately embed us in the real world of urban Brazil. He placed us right in the middle of downtown Sao Paulo. So into this mass of eleven million humans, we were landed after what seemed to have been an eternal venture from a land that now seemed to be in another galaxy far, far away. Downtown Sao Paulo was a good introduction to what we would experience from then on. Walking down the streets in the downtown area was an experience of shoulder to shoulder bumping. In the beginning, it seemed like the entire eleven million people were always coming my way when I just wanted to walk down to the shop for an expresso.
We firmly believe that God led us to a mission in Brazil. One evidence of this is that He led us to the fellowship of other experienced evangelists who ushered us through the culture and work. I have always looked back and been so thankful that God provided a smooth landing for us in that ministry. He knew that we needed a gentle ushering into the rest of our lives, and so He provided. It was an experience that these many years later I have accredited to God for providing us with that which would continue to this day a half century later to where we now are as world citizens. But surely know, I still do not like cramped airline flights. Neither have I ever had a desire to own a Volkswagon Beetle, nor to check into a hotel. And for your information, I have not handled a dirty diaper since. There is some bad experience in my past that makes me feel good when camped in the middle of nowhere in Africa with clean smelling air. And in reference to living in Sao Paulo, Martha and I made a visit through the city about twenty years after we lived there. We both said to one another, “How did we ever live here?”
But then there is that part of Brazil that I miss. The Brazilian culture made an indelible mark on my behavior that has never faded away. For example, when people talk about social distancing today, I silently express this inward chuckle when I remember our Brazilian days. Asking Brazilians to socially distance is like asking this hugging and kissing people to deny who they are. I have to admit these many years later that I still have a little Brazilian in me in reference to communal brotherhood. This emotion especially rises to the surface when I have this innate urge to have a cafezinho (expresso) down at the local corner bakery on Friday evening with the local bros.
And then when my driving is a little aggressive, Martha is quick to remind me that we are not in Brazil.
Can God deliver a farm boy from the chaos of a concrete jungle? Yes He can! Just look below at our deliverance in our old age. We now live in the small hamlet of Philadelphia, a small settlement of about one thousand people that is twenty minutes north of Cape Town, South Africa.