| Gordon Ministries


If Ellen Can Be Friends With George Why Can’t We Be A Little Kinder

So you pray to nothing about something and nothing happens.

What did you just prove?

That nothing exists!

I pray to God the Father in the name of His Son Jesus about something and something happens.

What did I just prove?

You’re not sure.

Your experience proves there is no divine being or benevolent entity.

Yet, my experience is uncertain at best or does not prove the existence of anyone or anything beyond the natural realm.

I have no problem tolerating or even accepting your experience.  

My experience is quite different.  

Can I, at least, be allowed to have my experience and interpret it how I choose?

Do I have freedom of choice?  

I’m not asking you to accept my experience.

I’m not asking you to embrace any idea or any one or thing.

I accept your freedom of choice.

If you don’t want to know why I choose to believe, based on my personal experiences, you have the freedom to stop reading.  Just realize if you do choose to stop reading you will miss some very interesting information about William Blake, the artist responsible for The Ancient of Days pictured above.

Whether you are still with me or not, I’m going to explain my choices and my interpretations of mylife’s experiences.  

My mother took me to a small, country church when I was only three weeks old and I never missed a Sunday morning, night service or Wednesday night prayer meeting after that.  Of course, I had no choice for at least the first ten or twelve years. 

But, sitting in church three times a week did not make me a Christian any more than sitting in my garage would make me a car.  And, I had friends who regularly sat in those pews every week for years, who later just walked away and never came back.  Why didn’t I?

That Moment Between the Trees

Two weeks before my seventh birthday I was running in the grassy field between my grandfather’s house and my uncle’s.  I stopped between two trees, looked up at the clouds backlit by the afternoon sun, and had an epiphany.  

I didn’t see anything in the clouds.  No mystical shapes came into sight.

I didn’t hear a voice.  Not a sound.

I just knew, at six years and fifty weeks, that God was real.

I didn’t fall to my knees.  

I didn’t shout, “Hallelujah!”  

I didn’t even have an intense emotional experience.

I just knew.

Then I ran on to see my cousins at my Uncle J.B.’s house.

A few hours later we returned to that small, country church for the evening service.  At the end of the time, as he always did, Pastor Olin Riley gave an invitation for anyone to come forward and accept Jesus.  To his utter surprise, and probably everyone else’s, I stepped out and walked to the front of the church.  I was officially born again and welcomed into the church.

Two weeks later, having reached my seventh birthday, I was baptized by total immersion along with two of my friends.  

Then, life continued as usual.  

That may have ended my religious experience and I may have walked away later had I not added experience after experience to that moment between the trees.

Let me note that people are unique and frequently assign radically different interpretations to identical experiences. 

Recently I was listening to Gay Hendricks’ book, The Big Leap, when he talked about his own encounter with God. 

 “I had a personal experience early in my life that left an enduring impression on me.  It was the first spiritual experience I can really remember clearly and it happened when I was five years old the summer before I was in elementary school.  I was playing by myself in the side yard on a hot summer day in Florida. I had just come home from spending a morning in a children’s program at my family’s church.  The program featured stories of Jesus, art projects involving Jesus and songs of the Jesus loves me variety.  There was a great emphasis on Jesus’ role as the son of God.  As I was playing outside I was thinking about the son of God part of the story.  What did this mean exactly?  I’d never known a living father because he had died during my mother’s pregnancy with me.  So I didn’t have any felt sense of what it might feel like to actually have a father.  Suddenly I found myself wondering if I too was a son of God.  It seemed if Jesus could be a son of God maybe I could be one, too.  This thought sent a thrill through me.  A wave of exhilarating feeling I can remember as vividly as if it happened a minute ago.  I looked up through the branches of the trees at the blue sky shimmering in the tropical air.  Is that where my father lives, I wondered?  Is that where I came from?  Then a special kind of awareness settled into me.”  

The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks, Appendix:  Baby Steps and Big Leaps, My Early Adventures As an Entrepreneur

Even though Gay’s experience and my own are so strikingly similar and we both have very vivid memories of them over sixty years later, our interpretations and eventual conclusions have not been the same.  While my interpretations, conclusions and additional experiences have further confirmed my belief in the God of my youth, Gay’s have lead him to a more universalist view of all things spiritual.  This is evidenced by the guiding principles of the Hendrick’s Institute.  

Although I do not embrace his whole world view, I accept that these are his and he has a right to them.  The point of this article is to ask that I might have the same freedom to my world view.  

Too often we have afforded such freedom to people only posthumously.  William Blake (1757-1827) is now considered “a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. What he called his prophetic works were said by 20th-century critic Northrop Frye to form ‘what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the English language.’ His visual artistry led 21st-century critic Jonathan Jones to proclaim him ‘far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced.’ In 2002, Blake was placed at number 38 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.” 

Yet, during his lifetime Blake was not only largely unrecognized but was brutally assailed as an eccentric madman.  One critic suggested Blake’s eccentricities far exceeded his abilities.  Writing about an exhibit of Blake’s work one reviewer called it a display of “nonsense, unintelligibleness and egregious vanity,” and referred to Blake as “an unfortunate lunatic.”  

To say that his contemporaries were intolerant of his poetry and art would be an understatement.  Part of this intolerance stems from Blakes mystical experiences and his interpretations of those events.

At an early age, Blake began experiencing visions, and his friend and journalist Henry Crabb Robinson wrote that Blake saw God’s head appear in a window when Blake was 4 years old. He also allegedly saw the prophet Ezekiel under a tree and had a vision of “a tree filled with angels.” Blake’s visions would have a lasting effect on the art and writings that he produced.  

When his younger brother died, Blake said he saw his brother’s spirit ascend to heaven clapping joyfully as he flew upward.  

Blake’s favorite design, which he reproduced numerous times as both watercolors and illuminated etchings, was The Ancient of Days.  The title is based on a verse in Daniel.  “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man camewith the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.”  

The Ancient of Days, God, holds a compass in his hand as he brings order to chaos in creating the earth.  This is based on Proverbs 8:27

“When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:”

The image has been used by everyone from Stephen Hawking to the funk band Slave for a soul version album cover of their third album, The Concept.  

It is interesting that the cover for Hawking’s book, God Created the Integers, printed in Great Britain by Penguin Books used Blake’s painting but the U.S. edition changed the cover to a totally non-religious, innocuous design.

The U.K. Version of Hawking’s book

What gives?  Americans couldn’t handle a classic image of God?  Is Blake still being ignored or too controversial for modern sensitivities?  

Let’s give Blake, and each other, a break.  We are all different.  We have similar, but still, unique experiences.  Freedom of choice allows freedom of interpretation.   

When Ellen DeGeneres was harshly criticized for sitting beside former President George Bush at a  Dallas Cowboy’s football game she responded by saying, ““I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s okay that we’re all different. Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say be kind to one another, I don’t only mean the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”  

If Ellen can be friends with George, can’t we at least show a little kindness to those who are different and may interpret their experiences differently?

Blame it on the Black Guy…or the White Guy…or any Foreigner

Learning to Minimize Injustices while Maximizing Perks

He did it! No, he did it!

“Do either of you know where the can of money we had collected for that special need has gone?” Lukas asked.  Lukas, Asim and I were counting the contributions to our small non-profit, all volunteer organization.

“I have no idea.  Is it missing?” 

“I haven’t seen it in several weeks and I’ve looked everywhere.”

“How much had we collected?” I asked.

“About $320 [¥35,000].”

 “Well we better find it or they’ll blame the gaijins [foreigners]),” I said.  We all laughed and agreed most of the local people would never suspect a Japanese when there were foreigners around. Our volunteer group is about 70% Japanese with the other 30% from various other countries.   Lukas and I are both white Americans while Asim is from a war-torn African nation.

“I saw on the news an older Japanese lady drove her car to the bank and went inside to get money,” Asim said.  “When she came out, she took a taxi home.  Her car was gone so she called the police and reported it stolen.  She told the police, ‘I noticed foreigners on the street near my house so it must have been one of them.’  Later someone called to say her car was outside the bank—where she had left it.”

“Well, if we don’t find the can I could line up all the foreigners and demand, ‘Who took the money?’” 

“It’ll be the black guy,” Asim deadpanned.

He said it so matter-of-factly we burst out laughing.  We laughed at the absurdity but acknowledged the truth of the stereotyping we all face in Japan, especially Asim. He’s the only African in our organization right now.

MLK and the White Man from AL

The chairman of the graduate school’s English Department announced, “Kazumi’s master’s thesis is about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement.  You’re assigned to be her advisor.”

“Why me?  Why not Clark or Marvin?”

“You’re from Alabama.”

“Right.  I’m the white man from Alabama so that makes me an expert on the Civil Rights Movement.”

“Well, Marvin’s from Canada and Clark’s from a small town in northern California.”

Alright, so our resident Canadian probably didn’t know much about American civil liberties and I remember a conversation with Clark.  It went something like this.  “I never saw an African American except on TV and in the movies until I was eleven years old.  I can remember walking into my dentist’s office and there was this black lady sitting behind the receptionist desk.  I froze.  I stared at her and then screamed and ran into the parking lot.  It took me a while to get up my courage to go back for my appointment!”

“Okay, so Marvin and Clark are out but you do realize that Martin Luther King was not exactly our hero in south Alabama.  At least not in my family.”

“But, you did grow up during the ‘60’s in Alabama and you speak English so you get to oversee Kazumi’s thesis.”

For the next two semesters I met with Kazumi for ninety minutes a week helping her narrow down her broad topic.  We decided to focus on two of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches—his most famous speech, I Have A Dream, and the last speech he gave in Memphis shortly before his assassination.  Although reluctant at first, I can say I greatly expanded my knowledge and appreciation of Dr. King.  For one thing, I had no idea how many Biblical references and images he used.  Kazumi would never have picked up on most of those having grown up in a Buddhist family and me being the first Christian she had ever met.  The time was educational for both of us.

When people learn I am from Alabama, I have been asked again and again, “Why did you treat black people so badly?” Or, “Why is America so prejudiced?”  On occasion I have been defensive and even asked, “Why did you discriminate against the burakumin?” Or, “What about your treatment of Koreans born and raised in Japan since WWII?” Or, “What about compensation for the Korean comfort women?”  This hasn’t worked very well because they usually don’t know anything about those topics.  It’s not like I can ask these questions and they immediately recognize their own prejudices and say, “Oh, yeah.  I guess we’ve done the same thing.”

Look At My Face

Asim and his wife, Aamira, are the two most educated people in our NPO.  They both have PhDs from Japanese universities in highly technical fields.  Aamira was a medical doctor before joining Asim in Japan.  Yet, these two highly educated, ambitious people have never been able to get any work related to their fields or degrees.  Aamira teaches English part-time at a private language school and Asim works as a stock boy at a local supermarket.  He did have a part-time job as a lab assistant at the university where he received his PhD but it paid less than the supermarket.

Every night after work, Asim submits his resume online to Japanese companies in his area of expertise.  He has never gotten one reply.  When someone recently asked him, “Asim, why can’t you get a job?” he said, “Look at my face.  It’s black.”  Most companies in Japan still require a photo be attached to a resume.

It’s Not Just the Streets of L.A. That Are Dangerous

Before we met Asim and Aamira we became friends with Piloma, an African American young woman from New Jersey. She came to Japan on the JET program to teach English at a local high school.  Piloma and a Japanese friend attended the Tanabata festival in a nearby city during the height of the celebrations.  Returning to their vehicle just off the main street they met a trio of inebriated locals, two men and a woman.  After verbally abusing Piloma, mostly for being a woman of color, one man grabbed her from behind.  As he held her firmly the other man and woman took turns punching and slapping Piloma until she collapsed in the street.  Her Japanese friend, a younger woman, finally overcame her shock and horror and began to scream uncontrollably.  The drunken triad slowly staggered off into the night. 

As soon as Piloma was able to stand, she and her friend reported the incident to a local policeman.  He informed them the attackers were probably members of the local yakuza connected to a group operating in the harbor town.  Since there were no other witnesses or cameras it would be impossible to find the perpetrators or prosecute.  He did not encourage them to pursue any further action.  Piloma understood and returned to America soon thereafter.

Minimum Wage IS Better Than Nothing

At the same time we met Piloma, we were helping Kofi from Ghana.  Kofi was a stout, very strong man who had lived and worked in Japan for twelve years doing the hard, dirty work young Japanese would not do.  His construction foremen knew he was here illegally and treated him terribly.  We could tell how bad Kofi’s week had been by how forcefully he worshipped on Sunday morning.  When he had suffered repeated verbal abuse, Kofi would sing and shout out his frustrations in song.  Luckily for us he was a good singer.

I kept encouraging Kofi to return to his family.  When he came to Japan on a three month tourist visa, his two sons were four and five years old.  Although he telephoned every week, he had not seen his boys in twelve years.  Kofi endured the abuse for his family.  He was making only minimum wage here but there were no jobs at all back home.  Kofi faithfully sent as much as he could to his family every month.  After twelve years (wasn’t that movie titled Twelve Years A Slave) he was able to return home and find employment.

We Can’t All Leave

So, should all non-Japanese leave Japan like Paloma, Kofi and so many others?  Where do you go to avoid discrimination?  Granted, some countries are better than others.  Asim and Aamira would have less discrimination in some countries but they have been warned by family and friends not to return to their own country for fear they will be killed.  If they can find work in their fields in another country they will most certainly leave Japan.  Some of us are working but still have to endure prejudices. Several of my children have relocated to other countries but others do not want to leave.  Japan is their home. 

Learn to minimize the injustices and maximize the benefits.

I tell my children, and others, you have advantages and disadvantages because you are different.  Learn to minimize your disadvantages and maximize your advantages.  Minimize the injustices by not dwelling on them.  Grieving over the “why” will not help in any way.  Forgive and let go as much as you can.  Concentrate on the benefits you enjoy.  Not being Japanese affords a certain freedom.  For one thing, you aren’t expected to conform to all the social norms because you, as a gaijin, could not possibly understand them anyway (as I have been told).

Do You Have Real Black People Singing Gospel?

Black Gospel music has been popular in Japan for many years now.  Taking advantage of that our NPO asked a young African American couple from Memphis, Tennessee to perform at a concert.  Reba was an awesome singer imported as a soloist for weddings and receptions.  She had grown up in a black Pentecostal church in Memphis and was the genuine article. Her husband, Johnnie, was not as accomplished vocally but he was a charming entertainer who knew how to work the crowd. 

The night of our big concert in the best venue in town a local Japanese man called to ask, “Do you have real black people singing the Gospel music?”  Then he added, “I’m not coming if you have Japanese or white people singing Gospel!”  I informed him that yes indeed we had REAL Black people singing.  When he hung up I turned to Johnnie and said.  “This is your time in Japan.  You better enjoy it.  They wouldn’t come if I was singing!” 

Actually, all the backup singers were Indonesian except for Micah, my very white daughter. So we did sneak in a white person but Reba had spent hours getting my fifteen year old’s hair in tight cornrows.  Micah, who is a great singer, was coached by Reba and allowed to perform at the concert.  Just before the event Micah wistfully told us, her parents, “I wish I was black!  Why did we have to be white?”

My Indonesian son-in-law, despite his excellent Japanese speaking skills, was repeatedly turned down by wedding chapels to perform western style ceremonies.  On the other hand, I repeatedly turned down ceremonies because of my other work in Japan.  Although my Japanese was not so good, I was the stereotype of the wedding pastor everyone wanted. 

“You look like a wedding pastor,” I was told.  “You’re older, got gray hair,” and patting my stomach, the wedding coordinator said, “and slightly plumb.  You look like a priest.”

My son-in-law, who barely spoke English when he arrived in Japan, was hired as an English teacher at a boy’s high school because his Japanese was so fluent and the boys could easily relate to him.  I believe looking Asian was a benefit, too.

We must downplay the disadvantages, which often are based on unfair prejudices, and emphasize the perks we enjoy because of other biases.  There are opportunities I will forever be denied because I am a gray-haired white man from America.  But, there are doors open to me simply because I am a hoary headed Caucasian from the West. Minimize one.  Maximize the other.

Besides there is no place on earth free of all discrimination.  As George Aiken said,

“If we were to wake up one morning and find that we were all the same race, religion and nationality, we’d find some other reason to hate each other by noon.” 

Except for my daughter’s all names in this article have been changed to prevent further discrimination.

You Can Overcome Your Fears

It’s never too late

I’m not afraid if you are with me!

Too many of my early decisions were based on avoiding feared objects or events.  Avoidance is not a strategy for happiness or success.  Fears are self-limiting, and if unchallenged, are debilitating.  Fortunately, by the time I was eighteen I had begun to significantly challenge those fears. Had I not overcome I would have forever been trapped in a very narrow place.  The following strategies will help you begin to overcome your fears. 

Choose Who You Emulate

This is a Good Snake!

“Come away from that window!”

My mother was too terrified to look.  I was too fascinated to obey.  Her father, my grandfather, was holding a King Snake wrapped around a garden hoe above his head. 

He knew my mother and grandmother would not even look out the window much less join him in the yard.  So, he shouted loudly enough for me to hear.

 “Don’t ever kill this kind of snake.  This is a good snake.  It eats rats and kills rattlesnakes.”

I should have chosen to emulate my grandfather, not my mother.  But, I was too young to understand then.  I know better now.  Choose carefully who you emulate.

Understand the Origin of Your Fears

Understand the Origin of Your Fears

My mother inherited many of her fears from her mother who inherited them from her mother. She feared snakes and thunderstorms.  She remembered her mother gathering the children into her bed, holding them and shaking in fear at the thunder and lightning.  From what little oral history we have, my mother’s grandmother was the same.  So I can trace the origin of my family’s fears back about four generations.

David, a fearless warrior (remember Goliath) later spent years hiding in caves to escape a jealous and ruthless sitting king. Later he wrote, “Give me understanding that I may live!”  Understanding the origin of your fears is a good way to overcome them.

Don’t Yield to Irrational Thinking

My mother also had a fear of drowning in the ocean.  She loved the beach and the sound of the surf and motion of the waves.  But she would not go into the water.  Our family took a vacation every summer alternating between the beach and the mountains.  The years we went to Panama City, FL we’d stay at a hotel on the beach. But, it had to have a swimming pool!  My father, who didn’t seem to be afraid of anything, always complained about the colossal waste of paying for that swimming pool beside the beach.  My mother usually won out since the vacation was really for her and the kids, not for him.

For twenty five years my father was a federal fireman on the base at Fort Benning, GA and later at Ft. Rucker, AL.   He would be work for twenty-four hours and then return home the next day.  We took extra precautions those nights he was away.  If the family was out after dark, we would come into the house and lock all the doors.  Then it was my job to go from room to room and look under all the beds and inside the closets to make sure no one was hiding in the house.  This did not make any sense to my young mind.  I mean, we had just locked ourselves in.  What if someone was hiding under a bed?  We couldn’t get away.  But, this made perfect sense to my mother so that was our ritual whenever dad was away.

My father yielded to my mother’s insistence on swimming in a pool beside the ocean because it was easier than disagreeing.  We searched the house for people hiding under beds and inside closets because we were kids and had no choice.  Besides, my protests did nothing to calm my mother.  When you have a choice, especially in your personal life, do NOT yield to irrational thinking that perpetuates unreasonable fears.

Respect Sound Logic

Although I was not terrified of snakes like my mother, I still did not like them.  When we first moved to Japan we lived in a country place surrounded by rice fields.  My oldest son and daughter loved playing with the kids in the neighborhood and frequently brought home live specimens.  One evening we were watching TV in our living room.  My son handed me a Coke bottle.  Never taking my eyes off the TV screen, I took the bottle and started to unscrew the cap. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a triangle shaped head swaying upward toward my hand.  In one smooth action I screamed, jumped and threw the bottle.  My son retrieved the coke bottle and said, “It’s just a snake, dad.” 

My first thoughts were not “this blessed child is a gift from God.”  Had my wife not been in the room I may have done something regrettable.  I did not fear snakes like my mother, but I did agree with her that the only good snake is a dead snake and not even that in the house.  Although only 6 out of 7,000 reported snake bites in America result in death, they can still lead to nasty infections and complications. 

The Desire for the Reward Must be Greater Than the Fear

When I was eight years old I was asked to memorize ten Bible verses and stand in front of our small country church to recite them. I have no memory of why.  It may have been something to do with our Vacation Bible School we had every summer.  Anyway, what I do remember is my grandma Beck promised that she would buy me a pair of red, Converse sneakers if I did it.  Although I had a real terror of public speaking, I overcame my fear to win those Converse sneakers.  The first verse I quoted, and the only one of those ten I remember, was “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” 

Red Converse Sneakers

If you don’t have a benevolent grandma dangling a red pair of sneakers before you, you must decide on your own reward.  Your desire for that reward must be greater than your desire to avoid what’s feared. 

Love Is A Powerful Motivator

“It must be love for you to drive those lonely roads home after midnight!” my father commented.  I didn’t think about it that way.  The only way to spend time with the young woman I loved (and eventually married) was to drive the thirty two miles from my house to hers.  And, since we wanted to spend as much time together as possible, I frequently drove home well after midnight.  My father’s observation has remained with me for almost fifty years because it was true.  John the Beloved said, “Perfect love casts out fear.” 

My desire to be with the one I loved was greater than any fear.  Love is an excellent motivator to overcome fear.

Fear is a Choice—So Don’t Choose It!

In the soon to be published children’s book, ANNA:  The Message, Anna is having a conversation with three children, all of whom have survived catastrophic events.  Although Anna is very young, she shares her insights into overcoming fear.  

“I used to feel afraid, but I learned a secret.”

“What’s the secret?”

“That you don’t have to be afraid.  You can choose not to be afraid.”

“How do you do that?”

“Fear is a choice.  So I don’t choose it.”

         Elysa could not let Charlie do all the talking.  “How do you NOT choose it?  I’m afraid before I know what’s happening!”

“The very second I feel myself going toward fear I stop myself.  I say, ‘I do not choose you fear!  I choose ice cream!’”


“I love ice cream.  I hate fear.  I hate the way it makes me feel.  I hate that helpless feeling fear brings.  I love ice cream and the way it makes me feel.”

“I love root beer.” Elysa said this simple sentence with almost no feeling.

“No fear, just root beer!  I like that.  It rhymes.”  Charlie laughed so hard at his little rhyme Elysa and Anna had to laugh along. 

Anna had learned that fear is a choice.  She also understood that if one emotion or reaction is a choice, then you can learn to make another choice.  Elysa recognized that her experiences had made fear her default setting.  Anna explains that any setting can be changed. 

Your life experiences may have created a default setting of fear.  But you can use these strategies to create a split second gap between a fear reaction and a reasoned response.  That first split second allows the freedom of choice.  Each delayed fearful response is a victory.  The gap between the default setting of fear will increase until you can create a new default setting.

For me, recognizing the difference between my grandfather’s responses and my mother’s, provided the first choice toward freedom.  I chose to emulate him.  Then understanding that so many of her fears, which had become my fears, were based on irrational thinking further gave me the opportunity to choose a reasonable, logical response.  Respecting that some of those fears were founded in real danger, I could still choose my reactions. 

Knowing the reward resulting from an appropriate choice further strengthened my resolve.  At ten a new pair of red Converse All Stars was sufficient to push me past my stage fright.  By the time I was eighteen it took a much higher reward—spending time with the love of my life.  Whatever the motivation, the end result is a greater freedom from the limits of our fears.

No matter where you are you can start to overcome your fears and thus your limitations.  Part 2 of this series will suggest more strategies.

Just Walk Through The Open Door

Who knows what will happen?

http://Philipp Pilzon Unsplash

That door just opened. Why are you standing there like a deer caught in the head lights?

I don’t know what’s on the other side.

You’ll never know if you don’t walk through.

What if it’s something terrible?

What if it’s something wonderful? 

You’ll never know if you don’t go through! 


Too many are so busy searching for that elusive golden opportunity they fail to recognize the open door before them. Other’s watch a door open but stand immovable, contemplating whether to walk through. Frozen by uncertainty.

“I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Mark Twain

After three weeks traveling around south India, Johnny and I were working our way back to Japan. We had an eight hour layover in Mumbai. When we stepped off the plane, we could immediately see giant billboards with towering images of the latest Godzilla reincarnation. We had landed on opening day of the American version of the classic Japanese movie monster. Johnny had grown up in Japan and seen every Godzilla movie ever made. He was very eager to see what Hollywood had done to his childhood hero.

Theatrical Release Poster for Godzilla 1988 filmWe had eight hours to kill so we hopped into a taxi to take us to the largest theater in town. People were everywhere. Indians love movies and especially in Bollywood. By the time we 

got to the ticket window every ticket for the next three days had been sold. They closed the window in front of us. Johnny was sorely disappointed.

This was my eighth trip to India and I was almost twenty years older than Johnny who was on his first trip to the sub-continent.

“Let me see what I can do.”

To his horror, Johnny stood politely in place and watched me walk through the theater doors when they opened for the next showing. The doors quickly closed behind me.

I had no idea what I was doing but the doors had opened so I walked through. While everyone else was rushing toward their seats inside, I stood in the center of the large lobby looking rather lost. A young Indian man approached and asked, “Can I help you sir?”

“My friend and I are on our way back to Japan and we have eight hours before our next flight. He grew up in Japan and has seen every Godzilla movie ever made and is dying to see this one. This was our only chance but all the tickets are sold out for three days,” I explained as fast as I could.

He paused and thought for a few seconds. “Let me see what I can do. Wait right here.” And he walked away.

I still didn’t know what I was doing so I just stood there looking around the very spacious and ornately decorated lobby. It reminded me of the old theaters I had seen in movies. Within a very short time, the young man returned.

“Where’s your friend?”

“He’s still standing outside.”

“Go get him and follow this fellow. He’ll take you to your seats.”

“Thank you so much,” I blurted out. “How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing. It’s on me,” he said and walked away. I learned later he was the manager.

I quickly opened the doors and motioned for a very concerned Johnny to join me. As we followed the young fellow up a stair case I told Johnny what had happened. We followed the usher to private box seats in the best viewing position in the theater. Johnny was not particularly pleased with what Hollywood had done to his beloved monster but we had the best seats in the house. And, they were free.

If I had not walked through that door we would have just gone back to the airport. We would have missed an amazing experience. The only story we would have had to tell was how bored we were spending eight hours in the Mumbai airport.

Now you could argue that those theater doors did not open for me. They opened for people who already had a ticket. That’s true. But there was no one standing there yelling, “Ticket holders only!” I walked through those doors believing that the least I could do was gain more information about possible tickets. What was the worst that could happen? I’d be asked to leave. I knew I could always play the dumb foreigner. I’d had lots of practice doing that in Japan already.

Just walk through the open door!

If it’s not open. Start moving toward it anyway. 

You Can’t Steer a Ship That’s Not Moving

When I moved to Shizuoka city in 1988, I needed a full time job. I applied at the national university where I already had a foot in the door teaching part time. The head of the department was very positive and I thought surely I had an open door. A few weeks later, with a long face, Honda sensei called me aside. 

“Gordon san, I’m sorry to say the committee decided to hire a man from England. It came down to you and him. I wanted you but we had a problem.”

“What was that?” I asked although I was almost afraid to know.

“Well, you are 35 and he is 33.”

“Yeah. So what was the problem?”

“There is a Japanese professor who is 34 years old. Because you are 35 you would have to sit ahead of him at the faculty table but he’s been here longer and should be ahead of you. They didn’t want to embarrass him by seating you closer to the head table but they couldn’t do that because you are older. So, they’re hiring the 33 year old. I’m so sorry.”

I learned later the younger man did not even have a Master’s Degree which was one of the requirements for the job. I had the degree and more years teaching experience. But appearances at the faculty meeting trumped degrees and experience. To state it mildly, I was bummed. 

I had moved toward a door I thought was open only to find out it was not. But movement provides steering. Within three months I was offered a full time position at a private university that paid more and had greater benefits. Although I had applied there two years prior, the door did not open until the other one closed.

Even if you don’t see a door, start moving. Do something.

Don’t freeze in the headlights of an oncoming car. 

There’s enough road kill already!

At least make a moving target!

Who knows? You might just run into something amazing!

I Didn’t Prepare My Daughter To Go To College in America

But what could you expect from a white assassin with skin disease?

http://Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

My daughter, a Type A, high-drive personality, had prepared and planned for years to go to school in America.  She was on schedule and right on target when she transitioned from the small town community college to Auburn University, my alma mater.  She enthusiastically signed up for classes. Hannah was as eager as any freshman straight from the sticks going off to school in the big city.  Eager to fit in, she spotted a promotional poster for the “Minority Club” and thought, “That’s me.”

Although Hannah is dark skinned she was clearly not like the young lady standing behind the sign up counter.  “Hey,” she greeted the student in her best Southern drawl. She had easily acquired the local accent after two years in lower Alabama. “I’m interested in joining your club.”

“You can’t,” the young African American informed her.

In innocent, disbelief my daughter asked, “Why not, I’m a minority?”

“You can’t join the Minority Club,” the student repeated.

“Why not?  I’m a minority.”

“But you’re not black,” the girl replied.

My daughter is often as stubborn as she is naive. So she persisted. “The sign does NOT say Black Club, it says Minority Club.”

“You can’t join because you are not African American,” the girl said sternly.

“But I am MOREminority than you,” Hannah said, matching the girl’s stern tone.  “I’m half Japanese and half Bangladeshi and I grew up in Japan.  I’m a mixed-race Asian living in Alabama ANDI’m a woman!”

“Well, you still can’t join the Minority Club because you’re not African American.”

Hannah decided this club was probably not a good fit for her and moved on.  Two years later she graduated Summa Cum Laude and wearing cords from two honor societies.  The Minority Club had no idea what a special lady they had denied membership because of her ethnicity.  

On one of our trips home from Japan our family met Mr. Shimoda, a local business man.  Mr. Shimoda had moved to Alabama shortly after World War II.  He was a delightful Japanese man who had boldly made his way in an often hostile environment.  Although small compared to most Americans, he was of typical build and stature for men of his generation.  I’ve always remembered his charming smile and positive attitude.

“When I moved to Dothan shortly after the war everything here was segregated.  There were signs everywhere—“Colored” and “White.”  Water fountains were labeled “White’s Only” and so were public toilets. If people were lining up to buy a ticket there was a line for Whites and a line for Colored People.  At first I was confused which line I should get in. I knew I wasn’t White but I wasn’t the same color as the people in the Colored line either.”

“So, what’d you do?” I asked.

“I decided to just get into which ever line was shorter or quicker.  Sometimes I’d get in the White line and sometimes in the Colored line.  If I really had to go to the toilet I’d just use which ever toilet was empty,” he said.  Flashing a mischievous smile, Mr. Shimoda added, “You know, nobody ever said a word to me about either line or toilet.  I guess they couldn’t figure out what color I was either.”

Wouldn’t that be great if we just stopped trying to figure out what color we are?

Tim Kimbril, Sarah & Ricky in New Delhi (1984)

Growing up as a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant male in the deep south afforded me certain privileges which I did not understand nor appreciate at the time.  It was not until my second trip to India that my “skin shading” became a concern.  My contact in India, another WASP from Alabama, loved to take me out to the villages, particularly where they had never seen a “white” man.  “The heart of India is in her villages,” he loved to say.  “So if you really want to see India, you’ve got to get out of the big cities.”  We only transited through New Delhi on our way to far more remote areas.

I remember that first village we entered. My friend was much more tanned than I and he had a beard and dressed like a local. He also spoke Hindi.  I clearly stood out as the foreign white guy. Children came rushing out to see me—the star attraction, much like the circus clown coming to town.  They followed me everywhere and wanted to touch my white skin.  I had been forewarned about this behavior and took it all in stride.  It was amusing and a bit flattering to be the center of attention.  Nothing in my hometown had ever made me stand out—certainly not my skin color.

This was great until it came time to take a bath. With no indoor facilities all baths were outside.  I was given a bucket of water and a dipper.  When the kids saw I was going to take a bath they excitedly followed me behind the building where I was seeking some privacy.  They wanted to see if I was really “white all over.”  They had no idea that I was actually “whiter” in the hidden parts.  Thankfully my friend shooed them away and I learned to wait until dark to bathe.

I got used to being the first “white man” people had ever seen and taking a bucket bath in the dark.  I could draw a crowd just by walking into town.  But, I was not prepared for the affect my “freckles” would have on some.

When we relocated to a small village in south India, the children rushed to meet me and followed us into the home of our host family.  They were staring at my exposed arms which were covered in freckles.  One of the little boys who spoke very nice English asked, “What are those?”  

“Freckles.”  He had no idea what freckles were.  I gave some far too complicated explanation about the abnormal distribution of pigmentation and explained that where I came from there were many people with freckles.

He nodded and said, “Skin disease,” in English and then explained to his buddies in the local language.  

“No, no, no,” I quickly said.  “Freckles are NOT skin disease.  My ancestors were Scotch-Irish and I have tints of red in my hair.  Freckles are very common in fair skinned people with reddish hair.”

He shook his head seriously.  “I see.  Skin disease,” and explained once again to his buddies.  Now that they “knew” my condition, the novelty of my appearance had worn off and they ran outside to play soccer.

As I traveled more throughout India I realized that if an Indian had freckles like me he probably didhave some form of skin disease or leprosy.  My coloration, or discoloration, caused me to stand out in ways I had never experienced in Alabama.  Most of the time we used my “skin color” to advantage.  

Walking through the streets of a larger village one night, a drunk man was startled to see a white face up close.  He took me by the arm and spun me around to face him.  

“Why did you kill President Kennedy?” he demanded. 

“I didn’t, I swear!  I was only twelve years old!”  

Before I could say anything else and maybe cause a scene, my friend, Rajan, pulled me away.  “He’s drunk.  Let’s get out of here.”

“But I didn’t kill Kennedy.  I was only twelve,” I insisted.  Now I was acting like the drunk man.  Like my innocent daughter trying to join the Minority Club I wanted to argue my case.  

“I believe you,” Rajan said, “but he never will.” 

So now I was the white assassin with skin disease. I didn’t have the language skills nor the opportunity to clear my name.  I had to return to America leaving an indelible impression on the native children and town drunkard.

So how can a white assassin man with skin disease prepare his mixed-race daughter from Asia to go to college in America? He tells her his stories and the stories of others.  I had no idea the types of discrimination and unfair treatment my daughter would encounter. I could not prepare her for what was coming because I did not know.  But, she had heard all my stories and the stories of many others.  From these she learned how to respond to surprises.  

“I’ve always hated white men from Alabama!”

“I want you to know I forgive you.”

“For what?” We just met less than an hour before.

“I forgive you for what you did to my people. I’ve always hated white men from Alabama.  I just wanted you to know I forgive you.”

Rarely at a loss for words, the first ones that came to my mind were immediately rejected and wisely unuttered.  They would not have helped our shaky start.  My second thought was, “I sure hope youfeel better because Icertainly don’t!”  I kept this to myself, too.

Actually, I don’t think I said anything. She blurted out her confession, which she had apparently been rehearsing since meeting me, turned and quickly walked away.  I learned later she was from somewhere in the Rockies and had never actually met a white man from Alabama.  I was the lucky first one.  As part of her training before arriving in Japan she had taken a two-day course on reconciliation which included the need to forgive those who had racially, culturally or religiously discriminated against a culture or people group.  This was her first opportunity to practice what she had heard.

My forgiver was the only African American member of a team of young men and women, ages eighteen to twenty-four, who had just arrived at our facility in Japan to help with summer activities.  Each member introduced themselves by name and place of birth.  Our family did likewise which identified me as the white man from Alabama.

After my original surprise, I was more than irritated.  She had made some serious assumptions about me, the first white man from Alabama she had met.  I don’t know my family history very well but I am pretty sure we were poor farmers who barely got by and we certainly never owned any slaves.  I’ve only seen southern mansions in the movies.  Also, she had yet to meet any of our church members from ten different countries who often represented a variety of races and cultural and religious backgrounds. She had no idea how far this white man from Alabama had come.

Growing up in a small town in southeast Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement afforded little opportunity to experience racial diversity.  It was simple.  You were either black or white.  We were about 50-50.  There had been one Mexican boy in my third-grade class but his family had moved away after a year.  I couldn’t understand why they suddenly left. Thinking back now I’m not surprised they relocated so quickly.

Lessons from a small country Church

We rarely missed a Sunday church service just like all my friends and almost everyone in our town.  Church was our meeting place.  It was the center of social activity.  Outside of school, church provided almost all networking opportunities.  And, if you really wanted to know what was going on in town, just attend the Wednesday night prayer meeting and listen to the prayer requests. “Pastor, could we pray for Mavis Smith?  Her good for nothing, drunk husband showed up one night last month and disappeared the next morning with all the money in the cookie jar.  Now Mavis thinks she’s with child again.”  Those were far more juicy details than God needed to hear.

It was in that environment I experienced my greatest mental and emotional conflict.  One Sunday night our small country church had a business meeting to discuss what to do if any of our black neighbors tried to enter the church during a service.  In that meeting a group of men were selected to escort the wayward party out the front door and give them directions to the nearest church that matched their skin color.  This was certainly a more civilized solution than what we heard another church had done.  After installing a large glass picture window in the front of the church the deacons took turns sitting in a rocking chair caressing a shotgun in their lap.  

While the “escort and direct” solution seemed to please all the adults, I remember being deeply disturbed at the inconsistences in my upbringing.  Every year we took up a special offering to send missionaries to Africa.  Being a missionary to Africa represented one of the greatest callings you could receive from on High.  Yet, if one of our local African American brothers set foot in the door, he would not be welcomed but shown where to go.  

It was rumored one of my Sunday School teachers was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and kept his hood and white sheet in his closet at home.  That rumor was never verified but I do remember arguing with him about the contradictions between our missionary vision and our “escort and direct” policy. His bald head would turn very red as he tried to explain to us, mostly me, that God intended for every living creature to reproduce “after their kind” and that He intended for us to stick to “our kind.”

Lessons from “Poppa” and “Ma Beck”

Poppa, my mother’s father, loved to sit on the front porch of his farm house.  One Sunday afternoon he was telling me how important it was to love everybody and how he did, indeed, love everybody.  Shortly thereafter a local man of color who lived down the road walked by.  My grandfather unleashed a string of expletives that preceded the “N” word in reference to the passerby.  He saw no inconsistency in his previous admonition to “love everybody” and his last statement.  I did.  And, I knew that if I repeated those words to his daughter, my mother, she would quite literally wash my mouth out with a bar of Ivory soap as she had done before when I repeated a word my older brother taught me.  That wasn’t considered child abuse back then.  That was washing out a dirty mouth.

My childhood environment had many such glaring contradictions.  Ma Beck, my father’s mother, once told me how she enjoyed going to the KKK rallies.  “That burning cross is especially beautiful against the dark sky,” she said.  Ma Beck loved singing the old hymns as she gazed upon that glowing cross.  “Besides,” she added, “They serve the best Brunswick Stew I’ve ever tasted.”

The incongruities were just too unsettling. When I moved away from my hometown to attend university, I also moved away from that little church. Fortunately for me, I met some wonderful people who shared my views and sought to practice what they had been taught. But, to elaborate here would be too far off topic.

From AL to India to Japan

The journey from a lily-white segregated upbringing to my current multicolored, multicultural environment took me through India and finally Japan.  I made five trips to India and two shorter ones to Japan before relocating in the land of sushi and Toyota.  When we arrived in Japan on August 3, 1985, we planned to visit some friends, tour around and move on to New Delhi in three weeks.  Those three weeks will be thirty-four years this fall.

I took twelve hundred photos my first two trips to India.  Everything I saw was so different from south Alabama and I thought I’d probably never get there again.  I’ve now been to India eleven times and, all together, spent over thirteen months there. 

After my third trip I was showing a senior relative slides of Tamil Nadu in south India.  He leaned forward, looked intently at my close friend Rajan, and summed up his thoughts with, “Why them’s just a bunch of n***s.”  I was appalled.  I tried to point out the differences between Africans and south Indians but to my relative, they were both black and that’s all that mattered. Yes, Rajan was a very dark skinned south Indian, but he was so different from Africans in so many ways.  Yet, to my kinsman, it was necessary for him to put Rajan in his little box.  He was black and that made him a n***r and he was forever filed away in that little cubby hole.  There was no need or desire for me to explain anything more about Rajan’s physical features or the many cultural differences.  My relative knew what he “was” and that ended the conversation.  

My relative’s lack of interest and curiosity could be explained by a conversation I had with another, older member of my family. He could not understand why I enjoyed making trips to other countries.  When asked, “Don’t you want to see the world?” he replied, “Why would I want to leave Abbeville?  I’ve got everything I want right here.”

My first born son spent a year in L.A. (Lower Alabama) and couldn’t wait to get back to Japan. One reason was the local newspaper.  It indeed was local.  He said just one page had state news and the international section was only a few articles buried in the middle of the paper.  A second reason was the reaction he received in class at the community college. He didn’t think like everyone else. He had lived in Japan 12 years and traveled to India and several countries in Europe.  He had friends all over the world.  So, when he answered a question in a Western Civics class, the student in front of him turned and asked, “Why do you think like that? That’s stupid.”  He felt that was the general attitude of most of his fellow students.  His “way” of thinking was so far removed from their own they could only label him as “stupid” and refused any further interaction.  He returned to Japan after one year and has never lived in America again.

We worked with two different churches in Japan before we were asked to move to our current city and start a new kind of assembly. A young couple came to the pastor we were working with and asked him to start a church where “everyone was welcome.” The American man, who spoke very fluent Japanese, was married to a Japanese lady who spoke very good English. Together they had visited church after church in Shizuoka city.  They explained that in one church people were very friendly to him as a foreigner but did not speak to his wife who was married to a foreigner.  In another church people were friendly to her but did not speak to him.  In some churches, no one spoke to either of them.  Finally, they attended a meeting where the pastor said, “Thank you for coming this morning but we think you would be much more comfortable in a church that has foreigners.”  He recommended the church we were attending about one and a half hours away.

The older pastor over us encouraged my wife and I to start a meeting in that city, just to see what would happen.  After one year of Friday night meetings we decided to move there and start regular Sunday meetings as well.  I talked to one of my seniors who had been in Japan for thirty plus years and was an American married to a Japanese.  I explained the situation to him and said we wanted to start a bilingual, international church where everyone was welcome regardless of their race, language or cultural background.  A church very different from the one I grew up in.  At that time our city was about 450,000 people with 32 small churches—all in the Japanese language with 99% of the people the same race.  He told me, “I think your city is large enough to have an international church but remember, there are people who will never set foot in your church because you are welcoming foreigners!”  I told him, “That’s okay, there are 30 other places they can worship.”

I’ll always be a white man from Alabama.  I can’t change my skin and I won’t deny my place of origin.  But, I did change my attitudes long before leaving America and I have intentionally changed and molded my environment.  This May our church celebrates its 34thanniversary. We have former members living in 26 countries around the world which include Ghana, Nigeria, and Benin.  We’ve also had people from Uganda and South Africa and currently have a family from South Sudan who have been with us for more than ten years.  And, we have people from The Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, China, south India and Singapore meeting with a small group from the U.S.  White people, like myself, are in the minority.  We are multiethnic and multicultural with all shades of black and brown and in between.  And, you will hear English spoken in a wide variety of accents.

All white men from the south were not slave owners nor are they racists.  It’s good the young woman from the Rockies could forgive me for what she thought I did to her people.  I had to forgive her and I tried to make sure she had a positive experience in Japan, even if her host was a white man from Alabama.  


http://Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

“I’ve had six doctors tell me I was going to die.  I buried everyone of them!”  My grandfather, whom I called “D,” loved to tell me his story.  “D” was very large. I’m sure he would be in a Class III obesity category today.  But this was before such categories existed.  He suffered from many obesity related illnesses but kept on going until he was almost 85.  He loved to say, “I’ve had six doctors tell me I was going to die.” Then he’d let out a hearty laugh.  “I buried every one of them!”  They all said he would die in the hospital, but he got out.  Eventually, he attended each doctor’s funeral.  “D” always told me, “I’m not gonna die until the Master says it’s time.”  “The Master” was his term for God. Why did “D” outlive his doctors when, by every natural indicator, he shouldn’t have?

I live in a world I don’t understand and I can’t explain.  Last year I talked with a man from Sweden who only believes in science.  He does not believe there is a god or anything supernatural.  Of course, he doesn’t believe in religion.  He truly believes, at the core of his being, that there is nothing beyond this physical world and all that exists can be explained by science. 

I, too, love science and have since junior high school.  The first biography I remember reading was about Albert Einstein.  On July 20, 1969 I sat transfixed before our black and white TV and watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.  I entered university determined to be involved in the exploration of space, “the final frontier” and “to boldly go where no man has gone before!”  And I would have made it too, but I reached a point where I could not fake my understanding of math any further and gave up. 

Although my underdeveloped math skills prevented any foray into space, I still love science.  And, I also love the Bible and truly believe, at the core of my being, that God exists and that there are many events and experiences that science cannot explain and never will.  A friend once said, “It’s too late to tell me miracles don’t exist.  I’ve already seen too many.”

Take Bobby for example.  He just celebrated his 81st birthday.  Bobby was one of those stereotypical sailors who couldn’t wait to hit as many bars as possible at every port of entry.  And, typically he was a heavy smoker.  By the time he was 30 he had emphysema so badly he could not walk up the three steps in his apartment from one level to the next.  He had to sit on the 3rd step to catch his breath.  His wife said, “I always knew where Bobby was because his breathing was so loud and raspy.” 

One morning she was cooking in the kitchen and realized she didn’t hear Bobby breathing.  She frantically ran through the living room and up the 3 steps to the bedroom.  She expected to find him lying on the floor dead.  Bobby was standing at the sink shaving–breathing normally.  His emphysema was completely gone.  His lungs were normal again.  That was over 50 years ago.  Why Bobby?  How did it happen? 

When I was in my mid-thirties, an elderly man called me.  “I’m in the hospital and the doctors say I am going to die.  I don’t want to die.  Will you come pray for me?”  I couldn’t turn down his request but didn’t want to go alone.  I called his grandson, who was a good friend, and asked him to go with me. 

“I can’t do that,” he said.

“Why not?  He’s your grandfather.”

“I think it’s his time to die.”

So I went alone.  I didn’t need someone going with me who thought the man should die.

The grandpa got well and went home.  About 18 months later he returned to the hospital for a different ailment.  This time he didn’t call.  He was ready.  And, he died peacefully.  Why did he get 18 months more?

Some believe science and the Bible are at odds with one another.  Sir Isaac Newton is considered one of the most brilliant men who ever lived.  Yet, Newton spent more time studying the Bible than math or science.  There were so many phenomena he could not explain yet he felt intellectually engaged by studying the ancient scriptures. 

I can’t explain so many things.  That used to really bother me.  But, now I have peace with the fact I don’t have to understand or explain everything. 

When I came to Japan I could not understand the Japanese ability to accept contradictions.  During the time of obon, which we are nearing in the middle of August, grandmothers (especially) light small fires outside their houses to guide the spirits of the dead back home.  This never made sense to me because most of these ladies had a butsudan inside.  They religiously placed water and rice before the photos of deceased husbands and grandfathers for their daily sustenance and offered prayers to them.  Yet, once a year, in the middle of August, they would light fires to show their spirits the way home.  Then at the end of obon they’d light the fires to guide the spirits back to wherever they came from.   The contradiction, in my Western mind, was “if they are there every day requiring food, water and prayers why the need to light a fire to guide them back home in August?” 

I presented this apparent contradiction to many students over the years. It never seemed to bother even one of them.  To them, there was no contradiction.  The spirits were there all the time and yet they returned every August and then left again. 

Similarly, I cannot explain why some are healed and others are not.  Honestly, I have prayed for more people who died than those who recovered. 

I have a theology for healing but not a formula that always guarantees the desired results.  I still believe God heals and does miracles but have no explanation for unanswered prayers.

I only know that I never turn down a request from anyone who wants to live.  I will agree with them for more life.  I have to believe with those who want to live.  Before he died, Moses exhorted the children of Israel, “Choose Life!”  That’s still good advice. 

I know that if you don’t ask you don’t get.  But, just because you ask doesn’t mean you receive the answer you want. 

While I’m at it let me throw in one more little miracle.  My dear friend Jane underwent menopause when she was about 26.  The doctors told her, “Most of your body is that of a normal twenty six year old but your female organs are those of a seventy year old woman.”  She never expected to have any birth children.  When she finally married at 36, she and her husband knew the chances of having a family were zero to none.  Yet, they did want children.  Within a few years Jane conceived and eventually gave birth to 3 large boys!

Why Jane? 

I know five couples right now who desperately want children and have been trying for years.  Nothing yet. 

When they ask for prayer, we pray.  I don’t even attempt an explanation these days.  But, as long as they want to ask for a miracle, I’ll keep asking with them.

Mary didn’t understand all that was being said about her little baby by the angels, the shepherds and the magi.  So she pondered what she saw and heard.

I love that ancient word.  To ponder is to consider deeply and thoroughly.  To weigh carefully in the mind. 

I live in a world I cannot understand or explain.  But I don’t have to.  I can ponder.

BLACK? WHITE? OR BOTH? The Irrelevance of the Exterior

Photo by Isabella Jusková on Unsplash

“Okay, class.  What are these?”

“Zebras,” everyone said in unison.

“Now, can anyone tell me what color is the zebra?” DM asked.

“Black and white,” they shouted.

“One more question,” DM said with a slight grin.  “Is the zebra a white horse with black stripes or a black horse with white stripes?”

“A white horse with black stripes, of course,” exclaimed little blue eyed, blonde haired Suzy.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” disagreed Mapalo from Zambia.  “Everyone knows zebras come from Africa and ALL agree zebras are black with white stripes!” he declared with absolute certainty.

“You’re both wrong,” asserted Omar.  “Zebras have black and white stripes.”

So, what is it?  If you are black and from Zambia, black is the best and most important color.  The zebra must have black as it’s foundation color.  But if you are blonde and very pale skinned, then white is the dominate color and the black stripes are enhancements to the base coat.  However, if you grew up being careful not to emphasis the superiority of any one color, race, or nationality, zebras are not either, or, but both.

Such distinctions are irrelevant to hungry lions or hyenas.  They know the good stuff is just beneath that black and white exterior.  That’s true for people, too.  The good stuff, the real stuff, lies beneath the visible pigmentation. 

Sauntering in a Wife-Beater in the Wrong Neighborhood

in the Florida Panhandle

“I had been working with my uncle remodeling the interior of a large house in a very ritzy neighborhood,” Jason said.  “My uncle had run into town to buy supplies so I decided to take a walk.”  Jason mentioned later he was dusty and sweaty and wearing a wife-beater shirt, as his friends called it.

“I’m just moseyin’ along, enjoying the cool breeze and admiring the beautiful houses when I glimpsed a black and white slowly gaining on me.  I’m being racially profiled I thought.”

“What’d ya do?” I asked.

“I was ready,” Jason said.  “And sure enough the cop car pulled up beside me so I stopped.  A policeman stepped out.”

“What are you doing in this neighborhood, young man?”

“I’m working on a house down the street with my uncle.”

“Do you have any I.D.?” he asked without smiling.

“Yes, sir, I do,” I said very politely.  “That’s when I showed him my Alabama driver’s license and my Japanese identification card.”

“Why’d you show him the Japanese I.D.?” I asked.

“Well, I knew he thought I was Mexican.  I’d been out in the sun a lot and gotten pretty dark.  That makes the Filipino side of me really come out.  And nobody ever suspects I’m a Japanese Filipino.”

“What’d he say?”

“He was really surprised I was Japanese.”

“Well, we had to check you out,” the officer said.  “One of the neighbors called and reported a suspicious man walking around looking at the houses.”

“Were you scared?”

“Nah,” Jason said casually.  “I know how to act.  This was not the first time.  I intentionally moved very slowly and kept my hands where he could see them all the time.  And, I was careful to say, ‘Yes, Sir,’ and ‘No, Sir.’  I knew I was in the South.”

“That’s great.”

“Yeah, I didn’t get nervous until I was walking back to our work site and saw the cop car following me.  When I got to the front door, I was praying, ‘Oh, God, I hope Uncle Mark didn’t lock the door!’ because the cops stopped right outside the house.”

“When that door opened I walked in like I owned the place.  But my heart was pounding.”

Jason kept his head and his attitude.  He knew he was being profiled but felt like the police were just doing their job.  Besides, he knew who he was and was secure in that knowledge.

Sam Adams, a comedian featured on Dry Bar Comedy, was doing a show in Hershey, Nebraska at The Bar.  He was clearly the only man of color in the room and maybe in the town.  A short, white lady came up and asked, “Can I take a picture with you.”  Just before they took the picture she looked up at Sam and said, “I’ve never been this close to a black man before.”

Sam looked down and said, “I’m not black.” 

 “What?  What do you mean?”  she said in shock.

This is what he told her, “Just because I’m dark doesn’t mean I’m black any more than because you’re light means you’re white.”

“We all have a true color.”

“When the U.S. does a census the first category you have to check is race.  Now the first box is White and the second category is for my race.  They have multiple choices.  Black, African-American, Negro, Running back, Rapper.  But they had a little box to write something in.  The write in box is what made me decide to find my true color.  Now how do you do that?  Go to a hardware store.  Go in the paint section.  I took those little paint chips and put them on my arm.  It took me about 15 minutes to find my true color.  I’m a shade of brown called Chocolate Indulgence.  All you people been told you’re white.  Not true! You’re a shade of pink called Papaya Smoothie!”

I admire Sam and Jason.  They keep their heads and a positive attitude.  They recognize we all fall victim to racial stereotypes and profiling.  Jason likes to surprise people with his Japanese citizenship and Sam makes a living by getting others to laugh.  And, both make friends wherever they go.

I’ve been profiled many times in Japan.  When we first moved into our current house in Japan we were visited by the local policeman in charge of our neighborhood.  He politely introduced himself and proceeded to gather the necessary information about our dwelling.  In Japan the authorities need to know exactly who lives in a house.  In the event of an earthquake, which is fairly common where I live, they would want to make sure everyone was accounted for in case the house collapsed.  After collecting his data, he turned to make one final comment.

“Right after you moved in we received a call from someone in the neighborhood.  They complained foreigners were kissing on the front porch.”

“Really?” I said stifling my urge to stick out my lower jaw and do my best impression of Tallulah Bankhead’s “Really, darling.”  However, I did look directly at the bathroom window of the house next door.  The elderly lady often flung the window open and poked out her head whenever she heard us talking outside.

“You know in Japan we don’t publicly show affection,” he said.

“Really?” I asked, again stifling my Tallulah impersonation.  (She was from Alabama you know.)  “Have you been to the park downtown at night?”

“Yes, yes, I know what young people do down there but you live in a neighborhood with many elderly women.  That kind of behavior upsets them.”

We had just had my second daughter’s wedding and had many foreign guests from America staying at my house.  However, to this day, many years later, no one has admitted to smooching on my front porch. 

The policeman politely dropped his inquiry and so did I. However, it had been assumed that foreigners would be the one’s demonstrating an ODA (Ostentatious Display of Affection). 

We no longer offend the lady next door because she moved away and a much younger family moved into a newly built house.  The elderly gentleman who lived behind us and regularly got drunk and yelled at my children for being too noisy has moved to the northern island to be near his grandchildren.  Presumably they are quieter then my teenaged boys.  So many of the senior citizens in my area have died or moved away and been replaced with younger, more tolerant families.  They are quite different from those who lived here before.  I believe they are more international.  Or they just don’t want to upset the older foreigners living across the street!  I now have the potential to be like the grumpy old lady who stuck her head out the bathroom window. 

I don’t intend to.  They are young with babies and toddlers and teenagers of their own.  If I see them smooching on the front porch I won’t call the police.  I might take a picture with my cell phone though.  Just in case my friendly neighborhood cop returns I’ll have something to show him.

Is the zebra black with white stripes or white with black stripes?  Or, is the zebra both black and white?  Is Jason Mexican or Latino or a Chinese Mexican, as he was once called in AL?  Or, is he a Filipino-Japanese-American? Or, taking a cue from the hungry lions and hyenas, that exterior appearance is irrelevant.  Underneath all that he is a talented, wonderful guy.

02/15/2019 | February 2019 Newsletter

“If anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 TLV

Give to the Gordons

“How can we help you make 2019 your best year ever?” Can we partner with you in any way to improve your life this year? Let us hear from you! We really want to know. Please write and tell us!

Children’s Hospital Enhancement Continues

“The wilderness and the desert will be glad, and the desert will rejoice and blossom…it will blossom profusely and rejoice with rejoicing and shouts of joy” Isaiah 35:1-2

Children’s Hospital Enhanced

Sarah continues to add new improvements to the wilderness area at the children’s hospital. She’s still recruiting helpers and needs more. Her ideas know no bounds, but, alas, her body does. Pray for people to come along side to help finish this project. Today she had Lew, Ako, Matison, Emma and Aya working.

There is Still so much to do:
Churches in Japan

Recently I met with a group of Japanese pastors in Tokyo to discuss our lives and pray for one another. Although it was good to get together, their situations were distressing. The youngest pastor is hoping to move to another area because he has worked in a city for 5 years and does not have even 1 member. Another is preparing to move after working in his city for

Church Birdhouse at Children’s Hospital

over 10 years. He only has 10 members and figures they can do fine on their own. Our host pastor has about 10-15 members. We prayed for another who couldn’t attend the meeting. He has never been able to develop a church after many years in the same place and has basically quit what he was doing and now just cares for his wife. I’ve got the big booming church with 70 members! We’ve still got a lot to do in Japan! We need a break through.

Rejoice with us:

March 3 we will baptize 2 young boys & 1 young girl!

Prayer Requests

1. We came close but did NOT reach our end of the year financial goal. Please consider making a New Year contribution to our work through Gordon’s Equipping Ministries.

2. I will be taking Aya, Emma and 2 others to Indonesia from March 15-25 for our annual mission’s trip, mainly in Jakarta. We will need about $1,200 each, mostly for plane fair and ground transportation in country. This is a sensitive time in Jakarta because of elections so we will be particularly careful and have more limited opportunities than previously. Pray for the finances and for our protection!

Lifestyle Alterations

I remember an old Garfield poster that said, “I’m not overweight, I’m undertall.” So, if I was 6 ft. 1 in. (186cm) tall, I would have a BMI of 24.9 and be normal weight today! I don’t need to lose weight, I just need to grow 7 inches (18cm) taller! That is strangely encouraging.

Since Jesus asked, “And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?” (Luke 22:25 KJV) I am assuming I will not be adding to my height any time soon. Therefore, I must continue to exercise and lose a few more pounds.

4.11.1990 visiting AL. in the Dothan Progress.

Almost 19 years ago the Dothan Progress featured this photo with an article about the visiting missionaries from Japan!

Thank you! We need your continued Support!

Before leaving for Indonesia I have to complete my Japanese taxes (due 3/15). Summing up 2018, I realized we had almost 20% less income.This was a significant drop both in U.S. support and in income produced in Japan.
God bless you and thank you for standing with us as we move forward.


Ricky & Sarah

12/15/2018 | Meeting 80+ Young Mothers

“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.Isaiah 40:11

Thank you for Praying for the Gathering of Mothers! 

Koto YMCA Leaders

We had 80+ mothers and teachers gather at the kindergarten on Monday morning to hear an explanation of “The Mysteries of Christmas.”  The room was appropriately decorated with angels and Mary and the baby Jesus and the wise men and Christmas star.  So, when I talked about those “mysterious, supernatural events” I could point to the decorations.  Micah did a great job interpreting.  Marie, who just moved to Tokyo the week before, joined us and played the piano for Micah to sing “O Holy Night.”  It was great!  Micah had never sung in front of the other mothers and the whole group gasped when she started!  She’s now the star soloist at the kindergarten and has been invited to sing at upcoming events.     During the second half of the meeting we let the mothers ask questions about children and child rearing.  Sarah fielded most of the questions.  They wanted to hear from a “mother” so I just added little comments.  One mother told Micah later, “I wish I had grown up in your family.”  Another lady said, “They should move to Tokyo and start a church.”  The young mothers particularly enjoyed the relaxing, jovial atmosphere.  Usually these gathering are very formal and a bit stiff.  We intentionally tried to make it joyful and friendly.  THANK YOU for praying for us!
I’ve posted my entire message (only a few pages) on my blog spot if you would like to read about “The Mysteries of Christmas.”  Just click this link:Ricky’s Blog

You May make contributions by clicking this link to our website!

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Rapidly Approaching the end of 20181.  Children’s Christmas party 12.08.182. Christmas Party, 12.24.18, the BIG one3. We have 30 days until the close of an eventful year. Please consider making an end of the year contribution to our work through Gordon’s Equipping Ministries. As we close out the year we need about $25,000 to finish in the black. Christmas is a time to celebrate the miraculous and we do believe God still does miracles.

THANK YOU for your  Continued Support!

God bless you and thank you for standing with us as we move forward.  

Ricky & Sarah