The Social Policy!!

[PB&J 5]

After two weeks at sea, we reached the Canary Islands. I’ll spare the reader most of the further adventures and anecdotes so we can move this story along.

After the Canaries, we sailed to Spain. Soon it was time for OM’s annual conference, which is a time of orientation for new recruits, and debriefing for those going home. I went with a busload overland to Belgium (stopping at the Eiffel Tower only long enough to use the public restrooms under the Tower, and to eat peanut butter sandwiches which had been packed by the hundreds in big plastic bags – true story!).

There were ministry opportunities prior to the conference. In Belgium I joined a team doing outreach in the Flemish countryside. I was the women’s leader, and reams could be written about being the second in command under a man crippled by indecision. It was his third team, as he’d been given a third chance to get it right. Major diplomatic skills needed as I was a newbie, wedged between an impatient team of newbies and a leader in denial!

Peter spent the month doing outreach in London, day after day visiting Muslims in their homes or mosques, engaging in conversations about faith, and learning more about Islam. He had not been permitted to travel with us by land because of his South African passport. This was the time of sanctions, and many countries denied entrance to anyone bearing that passport. It was hugely unfair to him of all people.

Four weeks passed, and we all met up again at the Belgian Bible Institute in Leuven. Peter flew in from England. During the course of the conference, we started running into each other frequently! We found we had similar interests. We also coincidentally ended up in the same Dobson workshop on parenting. (Wait, was that a coincidence?)

Of course, thanks to the Social Policy, we didn’t spend a lot of time alone.

What – you don’t know what the Social Policy is? The world famous “SP”?

A Spotlight and a Secret

[PB&J 4]
My addiction to the sea was instant and permanent. A two week ocean voyage… just the thought was delicious! To sit by the cool damp rails early morning, back leaning against the book exhibition, watching the sunrise – reading, meditating, journaling

The ship community, used to dealing with thousands of visitors every day, could now slow down a bit. We still had to work of course (it was a small village that had to continue to function), but a convivial and relaxed feeling took over the ship.

The bookcases on the upper deck were pulled in and secured. The main lounge area, where we normally hosted conferences, was cleared. Islands of people, some with few, some with many, some quiet, some loud, popped up around the lounge. Sleeping bags were scattered here and there. We played games, read, watched movies (from a very limited video library), talked for hours, and – drum role – planned a talent show!

What better way to nurture that sense of community? We brainstormed and crafted our acts. What could I do? NOT sing, as it might drive people to jump overboard! But dance – my heart’s passion since childhood – that I could do. So, despite my shyness, I performed a lyrical dance to a beautiful song…

And guess who ran the lights? Yes, none other than Peter! (I love to tease him about this part of the story). He shone the spotlight on me, and was smitten…

Okay, yes, I may be exaggerating. But for the first time, he definitely noticed me. Surely he was thinking only of my spiritual potential as he watched that dance… (Actually he was in the middle of leading a super intensive training team, so helping with the show was a nice little break for him).

And so we sailed the ocean blue. The voyage was quite peaceful. In fact, at one point it was uber-peaceful, as we spent a couple of days in the doldrums! Did you know that the doldrums really are the doldrums? Not a breeze, not a sound, the ocean seemingly asleep… it is truly eerie.

There was one special moment that has impacted my life forever. Days had passed without land in sight. I was standing on the upper deck, just thinking. The salty breeze was blowing my frizzy hair. I sense God’s all powerful presence impress this truth on me: our ship could be swallowed then and there by the deep waters, in an instant. The ocean would quickly smooth itself once again, and there would be no evidence for anyone that we had crossed that spot.

My breathing deepened and slowed, and I felt as if my DNA was being imprinted with the understanding that we are in absolute dependence on the mercy of God.

Absolutely surrender to that absolute dependence. The secret shared with me in a vast saline cathedral.

The Pressure Cooker

[PB&J 3]

We were in Vitoria only a week. I just had time to fall in love with the Brazilian culture and start to learn the language. My new job was in the pantry – setting, serving and clearing tables, drying hundreds of dishes, and generally tidying up the dining room!

Never had dining room duty been so much fun, because most of my co-workers (also new recruits) were very lively and musical Brazilians! Despite the seasickness and the steaminess of the pantry, we spent many a shift singing and perfecting a two-towel method of speed drying plates.

Every crew member had a regular 8 hour/day job to keep the ship community afloat. These jobs rotated. Our formal ministry training and experiences were apart from those jobs. I dare say the “mundane” jobs taught us as much – probably more – about long term survival in ministry.

Ship life has often been compared to being in a pressure cooker. All the ingredients were there for something astonishingly delicious, but the true blending of flavors couldn’t happen until relational boiling point was reached! (To carry the analogy further, once that point was reached, it was often noisy!)

Somewhere in the pot was Peter. He had worked first in the engine room, then in the electronic department. They handled all the techie side of ship life: sound systems, lights, show setups… they even repaired our frequently burnt out small appliances! He got to practice lots of creativity in fixing or rebuilding electronics, as often parts were not to be found (or afforded). Now he was in the Training Department, leading Intensive Training teams (I’ll explain those in a future post!).

We remained completely oblivious to each other’s existence that first week.

Until it was time to cross the Atlantic.


[PB&J 2]
My two weeks as a volunteer in Valparaiso passed quickly. Our land teams went well.

Most vivid memory: my team leader, a Brit named Howard, arguing vehemently with a pastor who was chastising some on our team for not raising their hands during worship. He angrily confronted Howard with, “The Bible says ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord!'” Howard, Scofield Bible in hand, retorted, “The Lord also says, ‘Be still and know that I am God!'”
Classic! My training in church unity had begun. Peter and I still chuckle when we remember that encounter.

Peter! Ah yes, well, the ship sailed away from Chile, headed round Tierra del Fuego, stopped at several ports in Argentina, and eventually made it to Brazil. Peter sailed with it, not thinking much of me, and me not thinking anything of him.

Meanwhile, I applied to join the ship’s all volunteer crew. I could think of nothing more fulfilling than serving people, and the Lord, with this crew from 45 nations… My brother, who’d been a bit of a prodigal, also applied. He was accepted. I, the “faithful one” was rejected!! Wounded pride, wrestling with God, some healing of a spirit of rejection, and several months later – a wonderful letter arrived, inviting me to join the ship in Brasil. Brasil!!

I was 19. The ship Director’s wife and young children picked me up at the airport. They were my new “ship family.” The adventure had begun! I will never forget the feeling of possibility rising in my chest, as I walked up that gangplank in Vitoria.

When Harry Met Sally [PB&J 1]

… no, wait, that script’s been written.

Let’s go with When Peter Met Barby.
Don’t mean to be self-indulgent. Several months back, when I ran a list of potential blog posts for my readers, How We Met was the top choice! Now, our daughters can attest that this story could take a year to tell… Never fear, dear reader, we will try to condense.

I was born during the Ash Rain… [I always wanted to start a book that way! I actually was born during the Ash Rain, in Costa Rica. My mother had to keep the coffee picking basket where I slept covered with cloth diapers for months to keep the volcanic ash from falling on me… Already I digress!]

Which is a long way of saying that I was born in Costa Rica, and Peter was born in Capetown, South Africa.

Fast forward past the growing-up adventures and focus on the year 1982. I was living in Santiago, Chile, when I heard of this amazing floating book exhibition that would be visiting Valparaiso. They needed volunteers, and, being the volunteery type, I went for it. I spent two weeks living on board the MV Doulos.

One of my responsibilities was to serve as translator for the ship personnel (which hailed from 45 countries at the time). The leader of one of the land teams, which was heading out to spend a week inland, approached me to go with his group.

I had already committed to another land team, and told him so – apparently in a less than gracious way.

He thought I was a spoiled brat.

His name was Peter.

To be continued.

Fair or Not Fair?

I was thinking about this dichotomy:
Life is not fair – a bad thing can happen, unexpectedly, to nice people who did absolutely nothing to deserve it.

Life is fair – in life you reap what you sow… the seeds you plant bear fruit after their own kind. If you are generous, people will be generous in return.
So which is it?

Deadheading and Moonlight

I was just outside under the moonlight, in our front lawn deadheading… no not the gratefully passed on kind, but the blooms are wilted on the plants and need to be plucked off kind…

For those of you who don’t garden, it’s important to pick dead flowers from the plant. This allows the plant to focus its energy on pushing forth new blooms. You get more flowers that way.

9:30 at night is not the traditional time to do it. But it works for me.

There is a slight breeze, and the street light (on the fritz) fades in and out, light winking at me through the palm branches. Crouching there in my muddy bare feet, the thought just keeps nagging me: do I let Gardener do the same to me?

What activities, thought patterns, habits are faded blooms that need removal? What new things are just waiting for that extra bit of strength on my part, to begin to bloom?

Then I get distracted. The street light is completely out – and it is very dark only 25 feet way. I am in the light. Reminds me of the aftermath of hurricane Wilma, when we had no electricity for a week. Light was so much more than symbolically important then…

So I get even more distracted, now time-traveling emotionally back to the finca (farm, sort-of) where we used to visit my grandparents in Costa Rica… They had no electricity, and as we approached in the pitch black night through the curvy roads, under a distantly brilliant starry sky, we could see the kerosene lamp through the windows…

Upon our arrival, the guest of honor was always the car battery. My dad would hook it up to the TV set, and the family that cared for Abuelito and Abuelita could watch TV. This was a once a month treat for their children!

Oops, Barby, come back to the present… gotta finish the little gardening jaunt – it is getting late…

But wait, that bush really needs to be pruned… So I grab the pruners and trim the branches that need to be cut back, so the plant can grow stronger.

Then, as I stand there in my muddy bare feet, holding the pruners with now dirty hands, the thought just keeps nagging me: do I let God do the same to me?

What activities, thought patterns, habits are branches that need pruning? What new things are just waiting for that extra bit of strength on my part, to begin to grow back stronger than ever?

I don’t know, dear Gardener. It’s up to you.