THE POLLSTER My mother, Wanda Dickson, was a pollster, as we called them back in those days, and still do. These were patriotic volunteers who sat for a day at a designated polling (voting) station across America while people in each community came in to cast their votes for a particular candidate. They carried out their duty with grave seriousness, knowing that any democracy depended on the integrity of a nation’s voting system.
I was only hip-high to a jack rabbit in those days, maybe ten or eleven years old. It was over sixty years ago, back in 1950s. And let me add to her story that she was a Democrat. Now saying that she was a Democrat then certainly assumes a definition that is far different than what a Democrat is today. The same goes for Republicans too. Those were different political parties in those days because the people were different. Nevertheless, there is always some political confusion in all political parties throughout history.
Now to add to this political confusion, my grandmother, who was, according to my mother’s thinking, “one of those Republicans.” Now I have no idea where, when or why my mother jumped ship to a different party than her mother, but she did. But please keep in mind that when I say “Democrat” or “Republican,” the definition of these two political parties back then was far different than they are today. If you are over sixty years age, then you will understand this difference. The only thing that has survived to this day that has any similarity with the parties of the past are the names of the parties. But what makes the vast difference between then and now are the people.
Nevertheless, my mother and grandmother back in those days had their differences. However, when grandmother was over for a stay on the farm, I confess that I never heard the two discuss or argue any politics. Both of them were first determined patriots of America, regardless of any political differences they might have had. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the president at the time, had led America to win the war for freedom from the Nazis, and that was far more important than any political positions of either the Democrats or Republicans. It was an era when patriotism to country stood far above any political parties, for everyone had lost some friend or family member in that war in order to restore the right to democratic vote for European countries.
I can vaguely remember once when in my presence my mother said to my grandmother something that had any political connotations. I think it was something like, “That’s what a Republican would do.” My grandmother simply replied, “Ah, fooy.” And that was the end of that conversation, if indeed it could be considered a conversation. After this minor diversion in the real discussion at the time, they both returned to talking about canning corn or whatever few events transpired out there on that isolated Kansas farm.
When it came to some election day, however, my mother truly revealed who she was as an American patriot. All of us children at the time were quite awed at her total and complete reverence to the responsibility for which she had volunteered. She drove three miles east to Neola—the local village of two families where the township voters would come to vote. Neola had been designated the polling station for York Township. It was there that she would sit all day alone, waiting for voters to come in and cast their votes. No one was allowed to be with her at the voting station, and so it was a time to read one’s Bible. No political literature or placards or whatever was allowed within sight of the voting station. As children, we once bought her a “democratic watch” with the picture of an elephant on the face of the watch. But when she went to perform her patriotic duty at the polling station, the watch was always left behind.
This was a farming community with only a handful of farmers in the region. I remember that we once asked her one day how many people came in to vote. She was quite reluctant to give an answer, but finally confessed that seven people had come to vote—like I said, it was a small voting district.
But what impressed us children at the time was how seriously and honestly she considered this patriotic responsibility to serve her country by preserving the integrity of the voting system. When one of the seven voters came in to vote, she was not allowed in any way to watch them when they voted. (“Watching over” was mandated only at the counting station where two sets of eyes always counted each vote.)
At her small polling station the votes had to be folded, sealed in an envelope, and then placed carefully in a secured box that was covered. Late in the afternoon when it was time to terminate all the voting at a designated hour, she said that all the sealed-enveloped votes had to be then sealed in the ballot box. “Under no circumstances whatsoever,” she reminded us children, “could anyone be allowed to touch that box except myself.” We were all enthralled at how seriously she sought to preserve the integrity of the democratic system of voting.
On the very day that voting had been concluded, the box of ballots would then have to be immediately transported to the county voting center, where she signed off the delivery. Under no circumstances was she allowed to take the box of ballots home that night and turn them in the next day. The sealed ballot box had to be turned in on the same day of voting. All she knew about the votes in the box was that seven people had voted. We asked, but she would not even tell us who the voters were. She handled the entire matter as if there had been seven hundred thousand voters who showed up to vote, instead of just seven.
She followed the written voting requirements for a pollster as if she were in obedience to Holy Scripture. To her, it was all a matter of integrity and honesty to preserve the democracy of a free America. She once reminded us that in two wars hundreds of thousands of young Americans had given their lives to restore the right to vote in Europe. Because they gave their lives to fight for such, voting was not something to be taken lightly. The integrity of a democratic nation depended entirely on how the people conducted their system of voting.
Our mother also once said to her children that if she violated either her honesty or integrity she would have to dismiss herself from being a pollster because such would have violated her moral standards as a Bible-believing Christian.
All of us children were simply impressed that on this day of her life her integrity as a human being and Christian were truly revealed. Under no circumstances could there be any violation of the written requirements for being a pollster, in which thing she took great pride, even though there were only seven voters in the township. Subsequently, her children were very proud of her because she, as a patriotic American, never messed around when it came to pollster responsibilities. She took her Christian moral values right into that Neola polling station.
As I write these words about those days when there was certainly another paradigm of society in American history, there is a certain sadness about the present and future of America. In that social paradigm of yesteryear the moral standards of the time dictated honesty, integrity and true patriotism to a country in a free world, which world had only a decade before slaughtered over fifty-two million people in a world war. That was the greatest American generation that fought for freedom and integrity in which voting was a guarantee of freedom. It was a generation that knew the cost of freedom, but sadly it was a generation that is now fast fading away from American history. And since it is fading, it will never again exist because the majority of the citizens of the new America have long given up on the moral standards that are taught in the Bible.
Since many of the American society today have turned away from God, they have turned away from the moral standards that preserve human civilizations. When even the pollsters of a society are allowed to lose their moral compass, then we know that the candidates for whom votes are cast, have already lost their compass, and thus, a God-focused moral foundation for society is fading away. If my mother were alive today, I wonder what she would think of the scandalous polling shenanigans that in an American society that has lost its moral way?
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.
FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOSPEL We—a tribe of six—had finally shuffled ourselves into our own rented castle among almost ten million humans in Sao Paulo, Brazil. At the time we were still dazed by the multitude of different crunched cultures in an endless city that spread over the horizon. And most intriguing of all, the smog of the big city was eye-watering. Afternoons were as if a horror movie were in production and this brownish monster was hovering over the unfortunate inhabitants of Gotham City. Nevertheless, we felt somewhat reassured by shuffling our apprehensive clan into our first residence in this jungle of mixed humanity.
Suppressing every feeling to isolate ourselves into an unnatural lockdown, our first selection on the menu of neighborhood was to meet the neighbors. On one side of our settlement were Brazilian nationals. No problem there. Since we had four siblings from six years to six months, Brazilian hospitality had already poured out on us since our arrival overwhelming warmth … or maybe unspoken sympathy.
Camped on the other side of our encampment, however, was a German couple and their thirteen year old daughter. Since we had signed a peace accord with Germany after the great war, a United Nations conference was initiated. Being themselves foreigners in a strange land, they initiated a gracious move to invite Martha and I over for evening dining.
Martha and I were still just out of small-town America, myself being a small-town farm boy, and Martha was the city girl … well … town girl. Fortunately, we had lived for two years in Dallas, but that was only a sprint through big-city culture, and besides, in Texas there are no strangers. We then ended up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In our trivial introduction to life outside the Kansas cultural cocoon, we knew little about being drafted into the human coffee grinder of Brazil … and indeed, the coffee was terrific. It was simply a luscious experience to have one’s culture ground down into an expresso.
But knowing nothing of German culture, we eagerly accepted the invitation for an evening meal with our newly acquired neighbors. It was all so new to us. Our German friends knew a little English and Portuguese. We knew a lot of English, but little Portuguese, and certainly no German. Martha and I were still at the stage of moving into a new land, but a move to a land where we knew not the language of the land. We would often go shopping in a food store for tinned foods. If there were no art work or pictures on the labels of the tins on which there was only writing in Portuguese, mealtime back at the house was always a surprise event as to what we had bought at the store. Everyday, therefore, was another exciting exploratory adventure of what we would eat for the day.
So we were somewhat prepared for another entree on our list of unusual foods. Fortunately, our neighbors’ thirteen year old daughter knew a smattering of English that she had learned at school. She was thus the official interpreter for the evening.
When the evening came, we arrived in our evening dress ware, knowing nothing about what to expect. As young foreigners ourselves, we just assumed that we were out on another adventure to learn the culture, and especially the cultural foods of another tribe.
Our hosts were certainly presidential in presenting an eloquent atmosphere for a meeting of the league of nations. All dress was formally casual. The table presentation could not have been arranged with more precision for some foreign diplomat. Our hosts surely used a measuring ruler to lay out all the dishes and silverware. Glasses where regimented in-line on the table better than a group of disciplined German soldiers. Throughout the dining room, candles illuminated the serenity of the moment as we were ushered to our proper seating.
Once positioned, the lady of the hour brought out the starters that teased our taste buds for the main course. While working laboriously through our interpreter, the conversation was somewhat strained as we all sought to communicate with some precision what we wanted to say. When there was something lost in translation, repetition was necessary, but always softened by warmth that all of us needed in order to settle ourselves in for the evening.
And then it was the moment of the hour. Our host politely excused herself from the table, made her way back into the inner sanctuary of the kitchen, and eventually came forth with two large bowls. As she neared the table, I first became somewhat anxious, not trusting my vision in the dim light. I glanced over to Martha who was closer for inspection. And now she too slightly stiffened at what she discovered in the two bowls.
Our host was so gracious, not knowing that she was dealing with two young Kansas small-town transplants who knew only meals of tatters and gravy, with well-done beef that was baked just this side of being crisp. But when we looked into those two bowls, I am sure our host sensed our hesitation, and possibly wider than usual eyes. It was a Kodak moment of surprised in slow motion.
When we were initially seated at the table, both Martha and I thought the center presentation of the table was certainly exquisite, if not quite unique. There in the middle of the table were these two large candles burning under two pots that were covered with lids. We thought these were unique table decorations, and so commented our host for the presidential table presentation. We had no idea that we were revealing our Kansas naivete.
But Martha could not take her eyes off what was in those two bowls that our host eagerly placed on the table. Neither could I. We both thought, “What will we do?” Our minds were swirling, wondering what and how these Germans must usually eat. Was this something left over from the war? How could we possibly turn away from something that our host had spent so much time in preparation to please her guests.
Our host sensed tension in the air when she asked Martha how much she wanted of the contents of the two bowls. I was glad that she had first asked Martha. I was trying to recover from shock as to what I should do. I know what the apostle Paul said in reference to all food, “Ask no questions.” But at this moment, I was about to go beyond Bible instructions. I was about to blurt out a catalog of objections and questions concerning the contents of those two bowls.
So Martha sheepishly responded to our gracious host, “I’ll just take two small pieces.” I thought she was so brave. So following her lead, I too bravely said, “Give me the same,” though I could have settled for none. For the entire meal, I felt that I could just as well fill myself with the starters.
It was then that the understanding German mind of our host finally kicked in. The dots of the surprised expressions on the faces of the two foreigners, and the small blocks of chopped raw beef in the bowls, finally made our host realize that she was dealing with two uncultured locals who knew little about international cuisine. It was then that her Emily Vanderbilt etiquette went to work.
She very graciously explained, “This is a fondue meal. You can take the little forks on each of your plates, stick them into the squares of the raw meat in the bowls, and then cook them in the two pots of oil that are heating over the two candle flames. When they are cooked according to your liking, don’t worry, we have more raw meat in the kitchen.”
Her daughter was also graciously smiling as she translated these words for the two new natives.
Oh, did we all laugh … and relax. We two foreigners had just become international. So the evening went into the late hours. The food was just out of this world, at least out of our Kansas culture. I am sure our two new German friends have told this story a thousand times over about inviting over to their house the two naive Americans in Brazil who had never before experienced a fondue meal.
So Martha and I walked away from that educational experience with a reaffirmed principle of gospel living. And since I am writing these words almost fifty years later, a lot of different cuisine has passed through our teeth. In all this, we are thankful that God taught us early in our international ministry never to allow food to be an obstacle to friendship and preaching the gospel. An international Jew of the New Testament said it best: “I have become all things to all men so that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the sake of the gospel so that I might be partaker of it” (1 Co 9:22,23).
Among the numerous animals for which my father attended on a Kansas farm in central America, were sheep. He always had between 400 to 500 of these wool-bearing creatures. Because sheep demanded so much maintenance, none of us three brothers, once grown, ever wanted to posses another sheep. It is not that they are not lovely little creations, but that they require some serious maintenance. But this may be why the Great One created them. He needed to give us an animal that would teach us how to care for others as He cares for us.
My once close relationship with sheep taught me to be a care giver, as well as a loyal follower. It all started in my younger years with a particular orphan. During the time of year when the mama sheep were at the end of baking in the oven new baby sheep, there were cute little miniature sheep—lambs—popping out in the dangerous world everywhere in the pasture.
There can be nothing more innocent than a cute little newly born lamb. But at the same time, there is nothing more dependent than these little balls of fluffy wool who constantly wiggle their tails as they sumptuously drain milk from their mamas. Unfortunately, sometimes either by coyotes, or the untimely death of some mother sheep, an orphaned lamb must be rescued by humans. It is then that the real adventure of sheep farming springs into life.
I must have been no more than shoulder high to a mama sheep when a particular mama sheep orphaned her cuddly offspring into the care of humans. This was my first experience with raising orphaned lambs. At the time, I thought it a thrilling opportunity to have a lamb as a pet? So I adopted and named, and thus, Woolie became my adopted friend. But before you consign yourself to running a lamb orphanage, there are a few facts of life—not human life, but lamb life—that you should know. I speak as a seasoned lamb/sheep whisper who experienced the adventures that these little innocent critters can unload on those who are so brave as to accept the responsibility of becoming the mama to a lamb.
So into my youthful arms came Woolie. He was a cute little critter from the time when his mother met her demise one fateful night when the coyotes roamed the Kansas prairie. It was in the early morning hours when my father heard the baying cries of an orphan who had lost his mother to the dangers of life. My father subsequently rescued little Woolie and brought him safely to the comfort and care of the farm house.
It was indeed exciting to nurture from a bottle this little “pet.” We warmed the milk, poured it into a Coke bottle, put a nipple on it, and then little Woolie went to work sumptuously draining every drop. At the time, it seemed that I had become the “duck mother” to an orphan of another species. Little Woolie took no concern for this difference, knowing only that I was a warm body who held the bottle that satisfied his relentless hunger. From his lambhood, therefore, he would not leave my side, always hoping for a Coke bottle full of nourishment.
When Woolie was just a little staggering lamb, all went well. But when the Coke bottle feeding gave way to the regular sustenance of abundant hay, then things began to change.
Cute little Woolie became this obnoxious big sheep who could not stay away from his adopted human herd of people. Whenever we were working on the machinery of the farm, there was that obnoxious sheep right there in our midst, nosing his way here and there in order to intrude into our business. After all, Woolie surely thought that there was a Coke bottle or bundle of hay to be discovered among the gears and bearings of the machinery.
Sometimes when we opened the door of the truck, he, as the dogs, would just jump into the cab. If dogs were welcome to do such, Woolie reasoned that he too should be accepted just as some flee-ridden dog. But after a few harsh words and an unpleasant tug on an ear, Woolie was extracted from the cab of the truck and left bewildered as we would drive away, leaving him standing there forlorned as to why he too could not go with the humans as the dogs. He surely could not understand why his devotion to follow was crushed as the truck disappeared down the road and out of sight.
If you have grown up among sheep, you know this story. Once a sheep has relinquished himself or herself to you, you cannot drive them away, and you cannot drive away from them. They are so innocent in this way. You have become the adopted mother and the bonded herd of their fellowship in this world. Where you lead, they will go. Where you are, they want to be. And so was Woolie. He was as God made him.
In about a year after I adopted Woolie, my body had advanced in growth to place my head not far above the tall shoulders of Woolie. Throughout his growth, and our encounters with one another, Woolie was able to take me through countless adventures. One of these adventures was indelibly imprinted on my conscious memory even to these sixty-five years after the experience. If my mother were still alive, she too would bear witness that what I experienced on one eventful day with Woolie, or caused to happen, became the subject of many stories she would tell throughout her years. She wrote a regular column in a local newspaper. On one occasion, she wrote of this eventful day, which if I had the original column, I would simply repeat it here verbatim.
The occasion was on a calm summer morning at our farm house in central Kansas. My mother had previously invited numerous farm wives together for her regular weekly Bible fellowship, which she commenced to teach on the day of the extravaganza. So you can picture all these refined women calmly sitting in all their made-over refinery in the living room of our old farm house. This was always a special day for the area wives to experience an occasion of social finesse. They were all there with their Bibles open, totally focused on receiving as much nourishment as possible from the Bread of Life.
But then, there was an invasion of the animal kind. The whole episode originated from my own hunger. Unfortunately, the relief to my physical duress was in the kitchen. But between me and relief was this crowd of focused women in the entire living room of the house. So I quietly came up to the front door of the house, and took a cautious peek through the cracked door. There I discovered a calm gathering of women who were seated in a circle in great solitude and concentration. But I was dreadfully hungry. I thought that I could just stealthily walk unnoticed through the midst of the multitude who were so engrossed in the subject of the hour. They would not notice me at all. If I were quite, they would not be disturbed. At the moment, hunger was in control of my stomach, and food had become an obsession that distorted my plans of invasion. Therefore, I reasoned, what would be the harm of me just quietly sneaking through their midst on my way to find sustenance in the kitchen? So hunger won out over being a shy farm boy. I quietly opened the screen door of the house. I then shuffled as quietly and unnoticed as possible through the gathering of refined society.
But then, for some reason, all chaos spontaneously generated among the multitudes. I can still remember the exact location in the living room in which I stood when the horrors of the moment broke into pandemonium. High octave shrikes from exasperated female voices penetrated my ears. Commotion turned into chaos everywhere behind me. The multitude of excited females were uncontrollably jumping up here and there, spilling cups of coffee and tea on delicate dresses and carpets. Tables were overturned and papers of class notes went flying. Clutched Bibles were turned into shields against flying debris. Pens and pencils became projectiles that were launched at the invading monster. It was as if a Kansas tornado had just entered the house behind me. Since my face was focused toward the food in the kitchen, I could not figure out why my supposedly quiet slither through the multitudes would cause such a fiasco. I was at first puzzled.
And then what was transpiring behind me was sternly announced to me by my mother. She screamed out, “Roger Dickson, get that sheep out of here!” I said, “What sheep?” “That sheep,” to which she angrily directed her stiffened index finger. When I turned around, there was my faithful disciple, Woolie, right on my heals.
Unfortunately in the midst of the social chaos of the moment, Woolie was also caught up in a moment of ecstasy. And as all sheep do when they get excited, wide-eyed and terrified Woolie now began releasing little brown pellets from his posterior. He just could not help himself. Surrounded with all the female hysteria in the room, it was only for him to have an involuntary natural response. Subsequently, smashed pellets by churchgoing shoes only intensified the hysteria of the chaos.
What had happened was that before the door had closed behind me, Woolie was right there edging his nose in before the door closed. He then instinctively followed his master. Regardless of the chaotic social environment that was transpiring, Woolie was dead focused on following where I lead. He was focused on following the one who nourished him all his life into a fully grown sheep who was somewhat fat at the time because of all the nourishment we had given him from the day he was orphaned. He was now extremely obese Woolie. He was a full grown monster of a sheep who had dared to go where no sheep had gone before, just to stay close to his master. He never grew out of his desire to follow me wherever I went, regardless of the hostiles through which he had to traverse in order to stay close.
I would do the same to traverse through the hostilities of this world to stay close to my Master and Savior, Jesus.
Suggested reading: FOLLOWING JESUS INTO GLORY http://www.africainternational.org/files/Book%2059.pdf