When I'm in Mexico where our Latin American outreach is based, my "Taco Bell" Spanish doesn't get me very far. I mean, how much meaningful communication can you have when all you know are words like "enchilada" and "burrito grande"? "You look burrito grande today." Our Director of Latin American Ministry, David Isais, is a wonderful translator and my best hope of communicating while I'm there. Needless to say, I light up when someone there is fluent in English - I can converse unassisted! In the course of talking with one bilingual, Mexican man, I learned he is involved with automobile racing in that country, sort of the Mexican NASCAR. He's an engineer. When I asked him if they have anything like America's Indianapolis 500, he told me they don't do long distance races like that. They can't. Then I asked him about the pressure of repairing a race car during one of those pit stops, and he informed me that they don't have pit stops. They don't stop. But they can't go as far as cars that do.
Since we're not all military types, it's probably good to explain what a beachhead is before we talk about one. A beachhead is not where the beach begins, or a guy who just thinks about getting to the beach all the time. In wartime, a beachhead is very serious business. It's a small piece of ground you try to take as your first step in taking all the ground that your enemy holds. For example, during World War II, two of the world's greatest generals went against each other when the Allies set out to take North Africa back from the Germans. General Dwight Eisenhower, the commander of the Allied forces, planned to land and take three important beachheads. German general Rommel - the famous "Desert Fox" - basically said, "We must stop Eisenhower within 48 hours of his landing - or we won't stop him." They didn't stop him. And five months after Eisenhower successfully captured that first beachhead, Rommel had to flee and surrender everything, including 250,000 soldiers. But he lost it at that first beachhead.
My plane had left the gate at O'Hare Airport in Chicago - and I thought we were on our way. Wrong. First, they routed us across the backside of the airport - I think it was in Wisconsin. Then, after a slow, meandering tour of that huge airport, we finally ended up in a long line of aircraft waiting to take of. Well, after a while, I got a little impatient. That's okay. What's important is that the pilot not getting impatient. We don't want him to go until the tower says it's okay. He knows you don't take off until you've gotten clearance from the tower - no matter how long you have to wait.
A few years ago I was touring an American Air Force base where they have housed nuclear missiles and B-52 bombers for many years. Along the way, the briefing officer told me something that made me very happy that the Cold War between us and the Soviet Union is history. Because it turns out that the Cold War almost got a whole lot hotter. My host told me about a couple of instances during the 1970s when our planes thought the U.S. was about to be under nuclear attack. In one case, the tracking seemed to prove that, so our pilots scrambled into their bombers, armed with nuclear weapons, and took off to retaliate against the Soviet Union. Obviously, that never happened, but the planes were actually in the air. The problem was in a little computer chip that had created an error in communications. It's pretty scary. There could have been bombs dropped, based on erroneous information.
"Should I call her, Dad?" That was a common question as our boys were teenagers. Like most boys their age, they were unsure of what kind of response they would get from a certain girl. I can remember at that same stage staring at the phone for 45 minutes and thinking of the most suave way possible to start that conversation. But when I heard her voice, I would just croak out this "hello." Now there were a couple of girls I just picked up the phone and called, no problemo. It was the same with my sons. There were these rare girls who just knew how to make a guy feel - well, safe.
Kasey pretty much blew high school. He's one of our ministry team and he's a walking miracle. The pain of his childhood set him up to make some lousy choices, like drugs for example. He quit high school and was headed for a wasted life or an early death until he met Jesus at the age of 19. He left all the junk of his past behind him and started a passionate study of God's Word, like memorizing some hundreds of verses! Kasey wanted to get a college training, but he knew that meant taking the G.E.D. test, to get a Graduation Equivalency Diploma. He had pretty much he failed math, he failed English and all the subjects he was about to be tested on. They were timed tests - something like 25-50 minutes. But at the beginning of each test, he bowed his head and prayed for about ten minutes. The teacher administering the test walked up to him and said, "Excuse me, but I think you're going to need all the time. It's challenging to get it done with all the minutes you've got. You've got no time to pray." Kasey's answer? "There's no hope if I don't."
So much of the furniture and equipment in our office is a God-story. He has miraculously provided so many things through His people - things we could never have been able to buy. One of those things is our telephone system. A Christian brother was upgrading the system at his company - and donated his old system to us. And that old system is great for us! Now our phones have this battery of buttons on them - most of which we have just been looking at or ignoring. We have had no idea what they do. Our Team has been so busy that no one has really had the time to read the manual! Finally, we assigned that research to Jeff - and the other day, he reported back to our Team. He showed us all kinds of sophisticated tricks our phones could do - and here we've been settling for just using a phone line and the "hold" button. These phones are amazing. They've been amazing all along. We've been slumming it - when we could have been going in style!
The scene is a high school assembly where I was speaking. I've asked five students to come on stage with me. One young man is blindfolded and standing in the middle of his four friends. They form a square around the blindfolded guy - one has a $10 bill to give him - if he chooses to come to their corner of the square. The problem is the other three are going to tell him they have the $10 - even though they don't. In fact, they each have something else to give Mr. Blindfold if he comes to their corner. One has a super-soaker squirt gun to baptize him with, one has a full trash can to dump in his arms, and the other has a whipped cream pie to put in his face. This poor young man in the center knows three of his friends will be lying about having the money, one will be telling the truth - but he has to decide, sight unseen, which corner he will go to. They each make their convincing pitch for why what he wants is in their corner. Then, he has to decide which voice he will follow. Right choice - he walks away better off. Wrong choice - uh, messy ending!
I had a busy schedule of speaking in the Chicago area that week - but I had one night free. It happened to be during Founder's Week, the outstanding Bible Conference that's held by Moody Bible Institute every year. When I heard that one of my favorite speakers was there that night, I told my wife - who was able to make this particular trip with me - that I wanted to attend. And we did, along with some of our ministry team members. Now, since we would be arriving a little late, I called and asked that some seats be reserved - they were kind enough to accommodate us. But something very unexpected happened that night at Founder's Week - very unexpected. The president of the Moody Alumni Association began reading a brief biography of the person who was to be honored as this year's Alumnus of the Year. The more he read, the more familiar this life story sounded - to my total shock, he was describing me. Well, my wife says I slowly sank in my chair and fought a losing battle with the tears in my eyes over God's amazing grace in my life. Now, afterwards, I had a thousand questions about how I had actually ended up at that meeting that night. My family and team members had been involved in an eight-month process to maneuver me to Chicago for that week and to a schedule that led right to that place. I was sure it had been my choice - but I had actually been skillfully directed to that choice through the imperceptible workings of someone else. And as for the seats I reserved that morning, they had been reserved for a long time!
The hazards of shopping at a mall. Let's see: overheating your credit card, pickpockets, an occasional mugging, being run into by a ship. Wait a minute! That is exactly what happened to about a thousand Christmas shoppers at the Riverwalk shopping complex in New Orleans. Navigating the most dangerous stretch of the Mississippi River near there, a freighter suddenly lost power. In or near its path were two cruises ships holding 1,700 people and a riverboat casino with 800 people on board. The potential was there for hundreds of fatalities. But the pilot of the freighter got his emergency horn wailing and that gave people on the ships and in the mall a warning. He dropped his anchors in a desperate attempt to at least slow the ship and somehow managed to steer without power between those three ships. Yes, the freighter plowed into the riverfront stretch of stores and restaurants, but because of how that pilot responded when things were out of control, the people were saved. Here was the amazing headline: "None Dead in New Orleans Accident."