Dedication

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the enduring memories of my experience as a camp counselor in my Boy Scout years occurred when I was asked to teach a troop of special needs scouts how to swim. By the end of the week, however, two of these scouts were swimming. Both had the swim routine down before I met them, but both also faced certain obstacles to finishing the course.

The first had perfect form in swimming the American crawl, but only in shallow water where his fingers touched the bottom. He became violently upset when I prodded him to venture into deeper water. The second swam just fine, but thought it was more fun to be rescued by the lifeguard. He would swim a lap or two in his swim test. Then, a great big smile would come on his face and he would pretend to drown. I can still see the horror on the faces of those watching me get mad at a drowning scout—that is, until they saw him stop drowning and finish his swim test.

Isn’t that so like us when hear God’s call? Swim in deeper spiritual waters? Who me, Lord? Stop focusing on myself and step out for Christ? Who me, Lord? I think the hounds of heaven have been after me all my life. Yet, in the chaos of life frequently cloaked God’s presence day to day.

A woodcut called “The Ship of Fools” has hung over my desk since 1985. A couple years back I learned that this woodcut satirized a practice prevalent in the Age of Reason in Europe of driving special needs individuals out of the towns or placing them on boats (Foucault 1988, 3-37). For years, however, this woodcut symbolized my experience of the chaos of life. Yet, God blessed me in unmistakable ways which with the passage of time lifted this cloak over his presence.

One example of the lifting of this cloak occurred on a Sunday morning as my mind drifted during a long sermon by a Guatemalan friend. I prayed to God: why am I sitting here working in Hispanic ministry? I have no Hispanic heritage; my preaching in Spanish is weak and boring. Why am I here? God reminded me that I came to Christ through the testimony of a young man named Nicky Cruz[1] who I realized for the first time was Puerto Rican. It came as a surprise because at age 13 when I came to faith I had no idea what a Puerto Rican was—to me, Nicky Cruz was just another member of a street gang in New York. If I am a fool for the Lord, it is because he called me from the first day of faith.

This example illustrates that one of the ironies of life is that we are often strangers to ourselves. Our desires, motivations, and purposes lie behind a veil that cloaks our shadow side, limiting our personal growth and relationships, especially our relationship with God. Pulling back the veil accordingly offers the hope that we realize our potential, become comfortable with others, and welcome God more fully into our lives. One of my purposes in writing this memoir is to lift this veil.

Richard Niebuhr (1937, 1) observed that: “All attempts to interpret the past are indirect attempts to understand the present and the future.” I explore my past in this memoir not only to understand the past, but also to inform my call into pastoral ministry. During the darkest days of my career, several verses hung on my office wall:

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isa 43:1-3)

Much like God called the Nation of Israel out of slavery to human masters, God calls us out of slavery to our own desires and sin. In doing so he also blesses us so that we can bless others (Gen 12:3).

Consequently, this memoir focuses on the history of my personal journey of faith and call to ministry so that those that come after me will be encouraged in their own faith knowing that Christ walks along side of us each step of the way.

Soli Deo Gloria.

References

Foucault, Michel. 1988. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (Orig Pub 1965). Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Vintage Books.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1937. The Kingdom of God in America. New York: Harper Torchbooks. (Review: Part 1 ; Part 2 )

[1] My parents took me to see the pre-release showing of a film, The Cross and the Switchblade, which told the story of the dramatic conversion of a young gang leader, Nicky Cruz. The film starred Pat Boone and Erik Estrada (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amg_Q4aT6Mg). We viewed the film in Constitution Hall in Washington DC.

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