Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pastor Johnny

The Badjao are a seafaring, tribal people whose home waters span the entire region of Southeast Asia. They are sometimes referred to as "Sea Gypsies" because of their migratory habits, and are famous for having such affection for the sea that they even build their houses on stilts above water, beyond the beach, and connect their communities with a network of bamboo walkways high above the surf.

Like many people groups who carry the moniker "gypsies," the Badjao are not always well-accepted by the land dwellers they encounter in the places they settle and are often known to keep to themselves.  Though I remember seeing a picture in elementary school about the people who built their homes on stilts, I never imagined I would have a connection with them.  All that changed, when my brother-in-law and fellow missionary, Ramon, stumbled across a community of Badjao "by chance," and ventured to get to know them.  To his surprise, he found that there was a small and healthy church in in the midst of the Badjao community in Bohol, and he was fortunate to meet the members and to begin to form a friendship with the Badjao church's leader - Pastor Johnny.

Ramon found that Pastor Johnny wasn't just a church leader amongst the Badjao, but a leader throughout the whole community.  Pastor Johnny is humble, hard working, kind and caring. He leads not only with his words, - he leads with his life! We have been blessed to know this precious man for many years. You may have heard the question, "who heals the healers?" Pastor Johnny is in that number! Once, Luz and I became very upset a few years back when a major outreach seemed to be unraveling,  Pastor Johnny and his wife pastored us with a kindness and encouragement we've never experienced before.  Their taking time for us in the midst of a significant mishap gave us perspective, enabled us to regroup and to carry on the mission successfully.

He also has a great sense of humor. A year ago, we sponsored a special event 3K family run in Tagbilaran, the hub city of Bohol. Because we said it was a special event,  Pastor Johnny and the Badjao came dressed in more formal church wear. Being Badjao,  they all ran anyway and beat many competitors! I don't remember seeing any of them sweating.  Pastor Johnny got the biggest kick when he noticed that a young Badjao mom, in a long dress and flip-flops outran me - carrying her baby! He teased me about that the whole trip!

Pastor Johnny continues to serve the Badjao with his wife and family and a host of up and coming leaders.  He has one of the most effective discipleship ministries I have seen for new Badjao Christians. When someone first comes to faith and asks, "How do I follow Jesus?" Pastor Johnny enrolls them in his school on the spot with two words, "Follow me!" From that moment on, the new Christian will literally follow Pastor Johnny around, observing him in every kind of situation from business dealings, to family dynamics, to dealing with other Christians outside of the Badjao community who are slow runners, slow swimmers and can't navigate by the stars in the open sea, yet think they can "help."

I love Pastor Johnny. Please pray for this special Brother,  his family and the work that they do in an environment that is hard, tough and challenging on even the easiest day. They remain people of the sea - always the sea - but people who are transforming a community all around Southeast Asia with the love of Jesus! I'll be sharing more about Pastor Johnny in the coming times.

Luz, Sam and Pastor Johnny

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Black is Beautiful!

Black is beautiful!  Not a revolutionary declaration,  but an affirmation of value and worth that all people possess as creatures of the Living God! I was able to proclaim a message of Hope 2 days ago to an Aeta Chieftan who leads a tribe of aboriginal Filipinos.  When I shared that I have always been eager to visit an Aeta village because of our similarity in appearance and skin tone,  he matter of factly retorted,  "That's unfortunate,  because we're ugly." I was stunned, but blessed to share with him that my people, for a time, were  similarly misinformed,  but by God's grace have learned that while all have sinned and fall short of God's glory, yet in His sight, all are precious and beautiful for all reflect His handcrafted image! I gently replied, "No Sir. Black is beautiful and YOU are beautiful!" I'm  not certain he was convinced,  but it started some reflection. What a privilege to encourage, help and learn from others!  There's more to share about our visit to this tribe and other work as well!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

It Builds Character! Plebe Boxing at West Point

West Point is defined by many experiences that go unseen by the general public.  One of those experiences is Plebe Boxing.  It is mandatory for all male cadets and every one who enters the hallowed ground of West Point will experience the power and the glory of unarmed conflict in the Ring.  I injured my right shoulder early in my Plebe Year and had to undergo surgery to correct the problem.  Because of the timing of my injury, my boxing class was delayed to my second year as an upperclassman.  That initially caused me some concern, because I could easily imagine the Department of Physical Education (DPE) arranging for upperclassmen to be assigned make up classes with lean, hungry Plebes who would be more than willing to provide quality entertainment to the instructors by pummeling unfortunate yearlings for three action-packed rounds.

Fortunately, even DPE isn’t THAT cruel and I was relieved, to an extent, to see that the class was filled with my own dear classmates.  At one of the early sessions, a very seasoned boxing instructor retained at West Point especially for teaching “the Sweet Science” and one who could have easily taken on the role of “Mighty Mick” in the Rocky series asked us if there were any questions.  One of our classmates ventured to ask a technical question, “Sir, what is the most devastating punch in boxing?” The instructor rubbed his chin thoughtfully and responded with a gleam in his eye, “The Left Hook to the Balls!  Totally illegal, but utterly devastating!!”  “Here we go!” I thought to myself. “Another life-altering experience brought to you by the ‘friendly’ instructors of DPE!”  I had no idea how true that sentiment was!

We were most of the way through the semester with the graded bouts underway.  The adage, “You win some, you lose some” applies with a good dose of grunting, blood and pain added in for good measure.  I had the questionable fortune of gaining the attention of the instructors and being named “Section Marcher” or the person who forms the class and reports attendance.  One instructor in particular, a cowboy type with an easy-going drawl, but the kind of physique and visage that rivaled Hercules, really “liked” me.  I kept my hair “high and tight” meaning "Ranger-style" with very little hair on the sides and back and closely cropped on the top.  I also had a loud voice when it came to certain disciplines that required “sounding off.” "Cowboy" liked that.  When another classmate was initially named section marcher by an officer whose accent identified him as having origins in New York City, "Cowboy" overrode the choice demanding, “Naw Sir!! That’s not the one I want!  I want The Marine!!” The New York DPE instructor responded with a smirk, “Jackson, get your @%^# up here!” I was the new Section Marcher. 

As we battled our way through the semester, I noticed that I was in the same weight class as the most accomplished boxer in our group.  I understood that that was always how things worked at West Point.  If you were Joe Frazier, George Foreman would somehow show up in your boxing section. If you were Superman, your opponent would be supplied with generous doses of Kryptonite - that's just how West Point works.  My suspicions that I would one day face "The Best" were confirmed as “Cowboy” gleefully drawled, “It’s ‘George’ and the Marine!”  I even thought I heard CPT New York utter a “Yee Hah!” at the announcement.  We donned our equipment, touched gloves and we were off!  

Initially, I was encouraged.  I had a jab, and it was connecting. It seemed my right hand was finding a home too. Unfortunately, he had a whole tool box of skills and the shop was opening.  I remember my head suddenly turning uncontrollably and weird noises emitting from my lips as he gave what must have appeared to be a step by step demonstration of a speed bag drill executed on a human head.  He became so at ease moving my head from side to side that he relaxed his guard and I thought I saw an opening.  Seizing my opportunity, I threw what was intended to be a perfectly timed counter left hand when, half-way through the punch a searing pain shot through my left shoulder. My “good” shoulder.  It had somehow come out of socket!  “NOW??” I thought to myself.  I tried to imitate Ali’s ducking and dodging to escape his counter-counter assault, but found myself merely blocking “George’s” punches with my face!  I could hear “Cowboy” and “New York” yelling some expletive-filled instructions, but nothing short of a Claymore Mine could’ve gotten him off of me. Then I saw “it.". A HUGE, nighty-night right hand that surely would have destroyed the walls of Jericho, even without Joshua!  I tried to say “My shoulder’s out!” with my mouthpiece in, but it must’ve sounded like an insult because fractions of a second later, WHAM! Impact!! It was the best right hand that has ever connected to my face in fistic combat!  It lifted me off of the canvas, spun me around and landed me on my left side. 

I didn’t feel any discomfort on my face, because suddenly my newly hurt shoulder was on fire with searing pain.  I looked for my left hand and oddly couldn’t see it!  When I finally found it, I noticed that I hand landed on my left elbow, twisting my arm rapidly and grotesquely over my head and behind my back, much like a sadistic child would twist a dolls arm. I thought wishfully, “Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems.”  Then a dear classmate who ran to comfort me saw my condition – and threw up! The medic on the scene exclaimed, “I’m not touching that!”  Both “Cowboy” and “New York” were beaming with satisfaction! A Ranger-Qualified classmate who had served with the Ranger Regiment boomed, “Best Fight of the day!”  All I was wondering was, “Does this count as a knock-out for ‘George?’” If it did, it meant I’d get an automatic “F” and I’d be reporting for another “fun-filled” adventure in West Point Boxing the following year.  As I wondered, I was put on a stretcher and transported to Killer…I mean, Keller Army Hospital where a new adventure in repairing yet another shoulder would begin! This is West Point Boxing. This is the way character is built as a Cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point!