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Fatherhood and Friendship

August 15, 2008

It is our honor to be allowed to savor each moment of our kids’ development, enjoy good health, righteous laughter, free air, and the privilege to travel around a bit and enjoy meeting and fellowshipping with God’s people. Currently we are in the States, enjoying and relaxing under wonderful freedoms and liberties. Truly we feel most blessed to experience such a rich life that God has graciously granted.

I have been serving God (with mixed success) as a missionary for 12 years in a closed Communist country in Southeast Asia. Doubtless it has taken its toll upon us. Heat, dust, rain, mud, corruption, long waits, miscommunications, misunderstandings, betrayals, deceptions, dangerous roads, malaria, risky foods, and the never-ending weight and pressure of trying to advance God’s Kingdom under the pressure and oppression of both Communism and Buddhism—not to mention a multitude of straight cultural differences. These are all things that we deal with on a day-to-day basis in ******, and we aren’t alone. Many people, upon seeing conditions as these, marvel and make mention of “sacrifice.” Personally, I don’t feel I’ve given up or lost anything, and think the term “sacrifice” to describe our joyful life is over-dramatic.

So, why do we continue to live, love, and serve in ******? I believe it is because men have a tendency to transpose their relationship and assessment of their earthly father upon their Heavenly Father. We have seen children of alcoholics, upon conversion as adults, have a difficult time trusting God with the most basic things (food, clothing, money, etc). Perhaps because Daddy would come home raging drunk from time to time and couldn’t be trusted. Whether Daddy’s heart was towards his children or not was always in question. We have observed kids from very conservative, religious backgrounds raised up to perform to high expectations in the public arena of “church” in order to glorify their parents. Upon reaching adulthood these kids usually (if not rejecting God completely) live a lukewarm life of hypocrisy, thinking their Heavenly Father only wants a performance a couple times a week to make Him look good, all the while missing out on the true joy of being a child of the King, and living an overcoming life of holiness and service. Parents, take heed!

Joy is not something that can be found or “obtained.” Joy is something that you will one day discover by accident (and perhaps realize you have had for some time already) after you have denied yourself and given yourself over to serving God and others. True joy cannot be sought after, but will be experienced after you have forsaken your own self-interest in the course of fulfilling God’s will.

Ever since I can remember, my Dad has always been my best friend. I cannot begin to describe how much fun we have had together. There was never any doubt concerning authority or his being in charge of the family, but the overriding theme and flavor of our relationship was friendship and involvement.

strong in spirit

We were NOT Christians. Mom and Dad were hippies. I may have gone to Mass with my grandparents a half dozen times or so, but Dad was agnostic. Drugs, philosophy, and humanism describe the environment and philosophy in which I was reared. The only times as a child my dad would talk about God were the times we would see a crippled person. Dad would stare upon this person with unfeigned compassion, nearly tears, and always say the same thing to me: “But for the grace of God, there walks I.” Dad made sure we watched the programs on PBS that showed the poverty of Africa, Cambodia, etc. Growing up, we were always aware of poverty and that we were very fortunate to be living in the wealthiest nation on planet Earth. Dad grew up a military kid in post-war Germany and Japan, and like many of his generation, his childhood ended forever in Vietnam.

Looking back as an adult now, we were very, very poor by American standards when we were growing up. But we didn’t know it then. We never felt poor or underprivileged at all. We were always the lucky ones, because we were always doing things with Dad. Dad was ALWAYS doing things with us. We were his life and passion. I remember being 4 years old riding on the motorcycle with Dad to college and sitting next to him in class. That was fun. I was the only kid there! Oftentimes Saturday was special because I would get up early and go to work with Daddy.

Mom and dad were always in love. They were (and are today) inseparable. From time to time I would hear my dad’s friends talk of an up-coming trip or outing as a “chance to get away from the wife and kids.” This was a strange, foreign concept for me. Dad would always take mom along. They often worked together, leaving us to public schools and babysitters. They were the only constant in our lives. We moved from town to town and state to state often. I attended 13 different schools by the 7th Grade. Often we moved three times during one school year. It’s no wonder we were close to one another. In the early years we were never in one place long enough to develop strong bonds outside the immediate family.

In 1984 we moved from Colorado to Tennessee and things just got better. I was now 12, entering manhood. Our time was filled with school (public school), archery tournaments, hunting, and working construction during the summers with Dad.

My dad was a financial failure due to the amount of time he spent with us kids. As said before, Mom and Dad were hippies, and as such disdained materialism and the amassing of wealth. In the final analysis Dad valued time spent with us over dollars and financial security. We were HIS kids, he was paying for us, and he was bound and determined to get his money’s worth of fun out of us. “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Luke 12:15. Countless times he would take off from work, or leave early, for sake of my archery tournaments or for hunting. So many times the weather wouldn’t permit dad to go to work. Strangely, those days always happened to be the days when I was too ill to go to school. Oddly, about a half-hour after the school bus came and went I’d feel somewhat better and we would pack up and go hunting. After all, if you’re going to be sick, you might as well be sick out in the woods having fun, right? Mom would just roll her eyes over the whole thing and write out a “sick note” for me to take to school the next day.

jumping ship

My early teenage years were just working and playing and working and playing and working and playing with Dad. I made good grades in school, but usually referred to the place as The Concentration Camp. Once we were driving down the road, stoned, when Dad read out a sign on the side of the road, “Hickman County Board of Education.” “We sure are” Dad dryly added. I laughed myself to tears.

Being lost, I’m sure my parents made many mistakes raising us kids. And they are the first to admit such. That being said, I believe the reason all four of us siblings have gone on to love God and one another is because there was never any doubt that Dad’s heart was towards us. It was never doubted that Dad had our best interests at heart. “…what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” Matthew 7:9-11.

In 1989 we sold everything we had and moved onto a bare piece of property in Cane Creek. We lived in tents, then an old school bus that we set up on blocks. We bathed, laundered, and drank out of the small creek that ran thru our land (drinking UPSTREAM of all other activities), cooked over an open fire, read to each other by oil lamp at night (when sober enough to do so), and fished and hunted for much of our food. We also had a number of little pot gardens here and there that provided some much needed income in the fall (Sorry folks. Historical fact. Wish I could change the past, but I can’t.)

People thought we were crazy for trying to pioneer homestead in this day and age. We knew how people thought about us, and it didn’t faze us a single bit. Looking back, much credit must go to my mom. People were amazed that she willingly endured such, but she determined to enjoy it as much as anybody else. She had followed my “crazy old man” for so long already, I think she was hooked on the wild and woolly ride. God bless a good mama!

After living this way for a year, a freaky big lumberjack kind of guy named Mike Pearl introduced us to the gospel of Jesus Christ. My father and I were both born again on the same night, at the house of a man named Conrad. I was 18 years old. After my conversion it was easy, in fact, natural, for me to fully trust God’s will and design for my life, as I had always trusted my earthly father’s. I left for the mission field in 1996 with less than $300 promised monthly support and around $800 in my pocket. After 12 years on the field I testify to you this day that God has always taken care of me and been faithful. And God is aware of my needs on a much deeper level than food and raiment, just as my dad was always more concerned about our hearts and souls than foods, fashions, and vehicles.

teaching responsibility

In summary, my dad may have “lost out” concerning many things the world has to offer, but he managed to keep those true treasures of things eternal. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:25-26. We are all grown now and raising our own families, yet we remain today a tight-nit bunch with 13 grandchildren among us. I have heard Mike Pearl refer to my dad as his “best friend.” We have all come a long way.

In conclusion, I implore parents, especially fathers, to carefully evaluate your life’s priorities, and where you will invest your time and heart. Ask God to grant you understanding in your own situation, and repentance where needed. Ask God to open your eyes to the true, lasting treasures and riches of your children’s eternal souls. One man’s heart that is right towards his kids can change an entire church. One church with strong families can affect a whole community. One city or state can influence an entire nation. Let’s consider the very last verses of the Old Testament: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:5-6

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