Thursday, September 21, 2006

Turmoil in Oaxaca

A year and a half ago Melinda, Jenna, and I spent two weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico. We took some intensive Spanish lessons in the morning, and accompanied Rod, Connie, and Courtney Johnson to Indian villages to see the people and to observe the places where they were serving. (See my blog posts from May 9-22, 2005.) UBC had already sent one medical team to Oaxaca in 2004, and another would follow in the fall of 2005.

Meanwhile, UBC and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship entered into a relationship with the Johnsons. They are AsYouGo Affiliates and we are their "Encourager Church." You can read an article about them in the September/October 2006 edition of The Fellowship.

As an Encourager Church, our responsibilities are outlined in a covenant we entered into with CBF and the Johnsons --

  • Provide a system for prayer support.
  • Provide a means for promotion of volunteer needs among congregants and others.
  • Act as the primary point for encouragement and member care.
  • Give administrative support (e.g., newsletter, board members where needed, assistance in ‘off field assignment,’ etc.)

I want to emphasize what is NOT in the agreement. Rod and Connie are NOT in UBC's annual budget. If they were, I'm afraid they would receive relatively little in relationship to their needs. They receive NO FINANCIAL SUPPORT from CBF. They are volunteers. ALL OF THEIR FINANCIAL SUPPORT comes from the gifts of God's people. I encourage your support of their ministry.

If you have been following the news out of Mexico these days, you know of the turmoil in Oaxaca. Our medical mission trip this September had to be cancelled due to U.S. government travel advisories to the area. Rod and Connie continue to pursue ministry to the least and the lost in this area.

I received the following email from Rod and Connie today:

We are currently in Saltillo, Coahuila. We were in a village yesterday with a fellow missionary family. I preached, and it was a good service. We were able to provide food packets for 15 families at this place. Also left some school supplies.

Today we will be heading into the mountains and will make contact with a new village or two. We have no idea what the names of the villages are. Just saw them on a mountain. We will take food packets and school supplies as offerings. Pray that we will follow the leading of the Lord.

The situation in Oaxaca is still very tense, but no acts of violence for a few days. The roads are open during the day to let food and supplies into the city, and are then locked down at night. There are guerillas in town, and the army is outside the city. At this time we plan on heading toward Oaxaca in a few days. We have peace about going. We will talk to some local pastors before we actually go into the city.

We appreciate your prayers and support. We need them. God bless you all,

Rod and Connie

Please offer your generous prayer and financial support to these servants of God during troubled times in Mexico. You can donate to their ministry by designating your gifts to Oaxaca Missions through UBC.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Groundhog Day in Cocoa Beach

I arrived in Cocoa Beach, FL too late Tuesday night to get to take the bus out near Launchpad 39B and see STS-115 stacked on the pad awaiting lift-off on Wednesday afternoon. But I consoled myself with a confidence that the next morning I would witness my first shuttle launch. After eating a hamburger at a little grill, I stopped by Starbucks for a cup of coffee, purchased a pack for the next morning, and took a stroll on the beach. I checked into room 412 at the Wakulla Suites, sharing quarters with Randy Targhetta, Jeff Waldo (who were out at the pad), and (eventually) David Mitchell. Around seven I joined Joe Tanner's family and friends gathered at the Sunset Grill (see "The Capitalist Pig"). We visited a while over dinner and then headed for our rooms, anticipating the events of the next day.

I awoke at 6, and searched the kitchen in our suite for coffee filters. I had a pack of Starbucks and a Mr. Coffee was provided. But I could find no filters. I asked at the front desk, and the fellow there told me the launch had been scrubbed for the day. Something about a fuel cell. He promised to have housekeeping bring some filters by my room. I guess the look on my face at his news of a delayed launch and a delayed morning coffee moved him to compassion. He said, "Just a minute" and disappeared into the Wakulla's not-yet-open coffee shop, emerging with a half dozen industrial sized filters and a look of pity. I managed to get the oversized filter working with Mr. Coffee, kind of like putting a Depends on a newborn.

When the rest of our group emerged from their beds, we had high level decisions to make. Waffle House or MacDonalds? Stay for another launch attempt or reschedule flights and head home? Stuff like that.

David Mitchell had to return to Houston. Randy, Jeff, and I decided to wait, along with David and Mary June Biford, who moved from the next door Hampton Inn to the Wakulla as well. We'd wait for a word from the Mission Management Team who would be convening to decide what to do about the launch. We had a mole in the meeting and were able to get news before the general public. But they would not be meeting until 1:00 and we had to check out of our room by 12:00. So we checked out and found a place for lunch, then hung out in Starbucks, waiting for the mole to call.

We learned that we might have a chance at a Thursday launch. So we rescheduled flights and checked back into the Wakulla, and were sent back to room 412. That evening we shared some awesome seafood gumbo with the Tanner clan that one of the group concocted in their room. And then we went to bed, hopeful for a launch on Thursday.

The alarm went off at 6 on Thursday. I got up and made another pot of Starbucks. We learned that a Thursday launch was off. Possibly Friday. The Mission Management Team would be meeting at 1:00. We had to check out at 12:00. So we ate breakfast at the Sun Rise Diner, went back to the Wakulla, packed our bags, and sat in the lobby for a while. I walked down to Starbucks and worked on the sermon for the next weekend. The MMT started late and ran late. Finally we reached our threshold where we had to decide to stay or go, and opted to stay. I extended my car rental, rescheduled my flight, and checked back in to room 412 in the Hotel California, AKA Wakulla Suites. We headed to a restaurant for dinner, then returned to share a piece of peach pie with the Tanner clan, and put ourselves to bed.

The alarm went off at 6 on Friday. I got up and made another pot of Starbucks. The launch was proceeding. I got us some sausage biscuits from McD's and we ate them while watching the mission preparation on NASA tv. Then we checked out of the Wakulla for the third time, and headed for the Cape. As we were leaving, our mole called to inform us of problems that had developed with the ECO sensors and let us know that the launch was in jeopardy again.

Nevertheless, we drove to the Cape, passed through security, boarded a bus for the Saturn V Building, and enjoyed a couple of hours in the space museum while the countdown continued. The scheduled hold at T-20:00 came and went. Then at the scheduled T-9:00 hold, the announcement came over the loud speaker--the launch was scrubbed until 11:15 on Saturday.

I got within three miles and 23 hours of a shuttle launch. But that was as close as I could get. Jeff and I had to return for the weekend. Randy decided to stay one more day. David Mitchell called and said he was coming back out for the Saturday attempt. David and Mary June determined to head back for Houston. So I called Southwest Airlines and rescheduled my flight for the fifth time.

The trip home was uneventful, but when I heard my phone alarm go off this morning, I was afraid I would open my eyes and find myself in room 412 at the Wakulla Suites. Then at 10:15 AM, Houston time, I sat at my television and joined a few million others, doing what I have done often since May 5, 1961, when as an eight year old I watched Alan Shepherd ride Freedom 7 116 miles into space and plunge into the Atlantic a mere 302 miles away. I watched dedicated men and women in the U.S. space program pull off a picture perfect launch, sending Atlantis on her way to the International Space Station and back -- a journey that will take eleven days and cover about four and a half million miles. And, like so many of the launches I've watched on television over the past twenty years, this one carried a friend of mine aloft.

I look forward in a couple of weeks to seeing Joe Tanner back in his designated pew on Sunday mornings. And I look forward to another opportunity to watch a launch. I'm shooting for STS-117.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Out to Launch

I’ve been a fan of the U.S. space program since I was a kid. My cousin took a job as a secretary at the Johnson Space Center soon after it opened. She used to bring me all kinds of photos of the early Mercury astronauts and their vehicles. Then followed the Gemini and Apollo programs. One entire wall of my bedroom was covered with the reminders of the guys with the “right stuff.”

When NASA launched those early missions, my mother allowed me to stay home from school and witness the event on TV. With those earliest flights, I got to stay home and witness the entire mission, since they were so brief. She would write me an excuse and send me to school late.

I visit the rocket park at JSC now and see those Redstone rockets and they look like toys compared to the huge Saturn V’s or the shuttle stack. I wonder how anyone could allow themselves to be strapped to the top of such contraptions.

When human beings took their first steps onto the lunar surface, I was a high school student, traveling home from a church mission trip to Great Falls, Montana, on a Greyhound. I remember hearing the news that we had actually set foot on the moon.

I never really dreamed that I’d find myself living in the community in which men and women spent their time making those amazing flights happen, or that some of those souls would be dear friends of mine. But here I am.

I have never gotten to witness a space shuttle launch, but I’ve tried and tomorrow I will try again. This will be my third attempt. The first time was back in 1990 when Guy Gardner was the pilot for STS-35. I flew to the Cape in a private plane with some friends only to have the mission scrubbed for several months. A couple of weeks ago I drove out for the launch of STS-115: two full days with my wife and daughter in our 1996 Town & Country, lightening strikes the shuttle, Ernesto decides to attend the launch, mission scrubbed, and two full days of driving back to Houston.

Today I’m going to try again. I’ll fly Southwest Airlines to Orlando this afternoon and hope to see the Atlantis off on her voyage a little after noon tomorrow. I think that if at the last moment NASA decided that they needed one more rider on board, I’d raise my hand and volunteer immediately. I guess I’d be a pastornaut. I’d have a lot of explaining to Melinda to do later.