Saturday, June 02, 2007

Welcome to our World

Yesterday was a special day. My wife became a grandma. I'm not sure I'm ready to be called "grandpa." However, a very special girl was born at 8:24 AM to my daughter and her husband of almost 6 years. They are wonderful parents and seem much better prepared for this moment in life than we were twenty-five years ago.

We are so blessed to have a healthy mother and child. The birth was a C-section, something we never experienced, and as a result there was no labor or long hours of waiting before the birth. Madison Nevaeh Sullivan entered the world after a scheduled surgery weighing exactly 8 pounds and measuring 20 1/2 inches long.

To Madison I say, "Welcome to our world. We will join your parents and the broad network of family members and friends to create a safe and loving environment for you. I met you in your mom's room and you slept in my arms, seemingly quite content and trusting. You already have a place in our hearts and will always have a place in our lives. We love you! (p.s. you can call me anything you want!)"

Click here for more pictures!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pics from the Trip

I've started uploading pictures from our trip to Spain and Portugal. To see our postings click here!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Missions trip to Spain and Portugal

If you want to read about the missions trip to Spain scroll down to "Another Missions Trip" and read the installments as they were posted. Enjoy!

The Long Day Home

The night was way too short when my alarm rang at 4:00 AM. However, after spending the last nine days in hotels and traveling about the countries of Spain and Portugal we were ready to get on board the airplane that would begin the journey home. We met in the lobby at 4:30 to load up the vans for the last time and make the fifteen minute commute to the Lisbon Airport. Since it was so close we didn’t bother tying down the suitcases on top the van, rather we put them in every available spot in the vans and held some on our laps. We unloaded at the international terminal and said goodbye to our new found friends, Missionary Gary Sones and the Wiggins family. They were driving back to Madrid this morning so they could return the rental van before noon.

Missionary Markham parked his car and came in to assist us with check in if we needed help. We roamed around the arieport until we found the appropriate counter to check in on the Luftansa flight to Frankfurt, Germany. There was an Asia soccer team lined up at the counter that seemed to be taking a lot of time. Finally another counter opened and the agent took those of us who were lined up behind the team. However, she had problems with the printer for the boarding passes and each transaction was taking 15 minutes or more. At this rate we would never get everyone checked in before take off even though we were two hours early. We were about the third in line and finally got checked in. They must have opened up more ticket agents after we went through because the progress improved and everyone was able to get checked in and to the gate prior to boarding.

We were a quiet and subdued group, probably due to the early hour and the emotional drain of the last week’s events. I just wanted to get on board and take a nap! The plane was an A320 to Frankfurt and was similar to the one we rode from Munich to Madrid coming in. I went to sleep almost before we left the runway and only woke up long enough to eat the cold cut sandwich they served for breakfast.

The Frankfurt airport is a large modern structure and a major hub for air travel through this part of the world. We had about a three hour layover there before our final leg of the journey back to San Francisco. There were a number of shops in the airport, a virtual mall for duty-free shopping and tourist souvenirs. We were sucked into a couple of shops and bought some postcards and a couple of items to prove we were in Germany. When our flight was close enough (about an hour and a half) we cleared security – a real pat down. My laptop was selected for additional screening. They did the explosives test on it. The agent was a very tall woman with the voice and manners of a man. Not too sure about their security personnel!

We boarded a United 747 scheduled for a 2:00 PM departure from Frankfurt bound for San Francisco. We flew northward over the artic and down across Canada, Washington, Oregon, and into California. I was stuck in a window seat (I prefer the aisle any day), however, I enjoyed seeing the snow, the plains of the Yukon territory, and the Canadian Rockies as we chased the sunlight. We left Lisbon at 7:00 in the morning and after about 18 hours we arrived in San Francisco at 4:30 the same day. Gotta love flying west! It is usually easier just to accept the local time and forget trying to figure how long you’ve been up or how many hours you’ve lost!

It was a pretty uneventful flight (that’s a good thing) with only minor delays on the meal service. They were having electrical problem in one of their galleys where they were warming food. The idea of having “electrical problems” 36,000 feet in the air over the ocean or the frozen artic is not a very comforting thought! Eventually, they warmed our entrees in another galley and brought them after we had eaten the salad, bread, and cup of ice cream. I wrote some and did some planning on the computer, but tried to sleep whenever possible. The blow-up neck pillow is a “must have” on these long international flights. It sure beats a crick in the neck!

The flight attendants were warned of turbulence about thirty minutes out of San Francisco. They rushed the final snack service bringing us a cold sandwich, chips, and a Mars candy bar. Strong winds were expected on the approach to San Francisco so the flight attendants were instructed to keep their seats and forego the final cabin inspection before landing. With that kind of warning we were a little apprehensive about our landing. However, it was not as bad as it sounded. There was a pretty dense cloud cover and low lying fog over the Bay Area so we couldn’t see a lot until we were nearing the airport. I got a good view of the San Mateo Bridge and just a few minutes later we were touching down on the runway that brought us back to the USA.

We cleared the passport checkpoint and waited on our baggage. When we did not get our bags for awhile it made us a bit apprehensive due to our experience of delayed luggage going over. However, pieces of our bags begin to appear eventually and we were greatly relieved when the last piece was picked up from the conveyor. When we left the Underwoods were waiting on one last garment bag. I’m not sure if it was retrieved or not as we continued on through customs and headed for the BART terminal in the international terminal. The Miraflors had also arrived on BART so we were able to ride together as far as the Eastbay where they had to transfer to a train that would take them on to the Pittsburg station. The Dublin/Pleasanton train is the one that is direct from the airport and doesn’t require a transfer. We called Marcy to arrange a meeting for our arrival in Pleasanton. She had kept our car at her place during our absence. We arrived in Pleasanton about 7:00 PM and had to have an “In N Out” burger before we headed over the Altamont and home in Stockton.

Tomorrow is class, a staff meeting, and back to work and reality. Home, sweet home!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Lord’s Day 2.0

The local churches schedule their services for the evenings so there was not a morning service to attend. Instead the opportunity was taken to get all the missionaries and the “Pastors on Missions” team together for a special time of worship and devotion. We got up the same time as usual, had our breakfast in the hotel dining room and then met with our group in the lobby at 10:30. Most of us got the message that it was to be a ‘casual’ service. The other’s arrived in typical Sunday morning attire. I’m glad I got the memo.J

We van-pooled to the little church we met at Friday evening in the area near Missionary Markham’s apartment. The service began without preliminaries as we sang a couple of older worship songs including “I could never out love the Lord.” Gayla played the keyboard, Brother Wiggins played their guitar, and Arthur Law played the drums. There was a wonderful presence of God as these pastors and ministers joined their hearts and voices in praise. Missionary Markham spoke for a little bit with a great burden and evident passion for the work in Portugal and Spain. He shared a bit of the personal struggle that led him to leave the work in Brazil to come to Portugal.

Missionary Gary Sones spoke next. His message addressed four areas: 1) You must know you are called. 2) You must have a God directed strategy. 3) You must have passion and a burden. 4) You must have a vision. The power of God moved in us all and spoke to our hearts on different levels. You could tell that God was speaking individually to pastors concerning their own calling, burden, and direction for their churches. The missionaries moved around the room praying for each couple. This was probably the most significant service for us personally on the trip.

Brother O’Keefe concluded the service with some remarks from Acts chapter 13 as he made application to the call and burden of missions. He concluded by calling Missionary Sones and Markham to the front where we in turn prayed for them. At the conclusion of the prayer he presented them with a monetary gift from the pastors on this trip in excess of $1000. It was our way of thanking them for the organizing, planning and directing of this tour.

We returned to the mall that we ate at on Friday for lunch. Everyone had euros so we split up and ordered what we wanted from the food court with the instructions to meet again at 2:30 for our trip back to the hotel. We had just enough time to spend some more money! We bought another gift and I picked up a shirt to wear home. Everything I have is dirty by now! Gayla finally found a purse from Spain and purchased it in Portugal. She can rest easy now…

The group was split into three for services this evening. Paul Bertram preached at one of the services, Arthur Law preached at the little church we were at this morning, and Clayton Brown preached in Cha where we were last night. Gayla and I joined the Browns and Miraflors to ride with Missionary Sones to the service in Cha. After one wrong turn we corrected our course and arrived at the church just as they were ready to begin. Within fifteen minutes the place was packed and the extra chairs were set out and occupied. They begin with jubilant singing and worship. During the worship one lady was taken to the baptistery for baptism. When the service was turned to Missionary Sones, he again introduced us to the congregation and asked me to testify. There was no English to Portuguese interpreter available so Brother Sones interpreted into Spanish which most of the people can at least understand most of what was said. They seemed to anyway! Stacy Miraflor sang and played the chorus “You Deserve the Glory.” After she sang through it in English she switched to Spanish. Immediately, the congregation recognized the song and began to sing along in Portuguese and there was an anointed response. It was beautiful.

Clayton Brown preached in Spanish with a Portuguese interpreter. The interpreter was a young married woman in the church. It was also the first time she had interpreted. Though many could probably get the gist of the message in Spanish the translation helped more to understand what was being preached. He read from Matthew 5:14 and preached about the light of the world. Being English only I had no clue what he said so we nodded our heads and said “amen” at the appropriate intervals! There was a good response at the altar call with sinners crying out to God. This is a wonderful church with a good work going on.

Following the service, Sister Ruth’s husband announced that it was her birthday! They brought in a huge birthday cake and invited everyone to stay for the celebration. We had to stay and had to eat a few of the things prepared as well as a piece of birthday cake. It was rather good, not too sweet, with a strawberry layer filling.

We visited for twenty minutes or so and then headed out. They had to send some food items with us, more for Brother Sones who will be driving back to Madrid tomorrow with the Wiggins. It was a wonderful gesture, but there was no place to keep the food overnight to prevent spoiling. They are giving and loving people.

We met up with the rest of our group at the KFC/Pizza Hut that we went to last night. I didn’t eat much at the church so I ordered some pizza and salad. We fellowshipped a little more for our last night in Portugal though things were a little subdued with the prospect of our early morning flight out of Lisbon. Brothers Wiggins and Sones completed the accounting and gave us the total of our expenses for the week. We reimbursed them for all the food they purchased and the tickets for the tours and attractions that we participated in.

When we returned to the hotel at about 11:00 we went immediately to the room to complete our packing and to post my last blog from the country of Portugal. I also made a copy of all our digital pictures for Clayton. He will take pictures from everyone in our group and compile them on a DVD for each couple in the group. I offered to make the DVD available of all the video I took on the trip. It will require five DVDs to record everything. I’m not sure when anyone will have the time to watch it!

It has been a most fulfilling and productive missions trip. We have enjoyed a balance of ministry, sightseeing, fellowship, and the extra blessing of being ministered to by the missionaries and from our fellow ministers. Our lives have been enhanced, our burden for ministry challenged, and a greater desire to see the world reached with the gospel. Thanks to the Western District Foreign Missions for making this opportunity possible!

Christ Life Community

This is the Christ Life Community church that we attended Saturday and Sunday night. It is a great church in Cha (pronounced Shaw).

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Scenes, shopping, and salvation

I woke up early this morning so I caught up on my blogging for the last two days before going online to post my latest updates. I also checked email and the headlines to catch up a little on my lack of internet time this week. I also uploaded a couple of pictures onto the blog and copied all the photos off of our camera so I would have plenty of room for more!

We again ate breakfast in the cafeteria at the hotel before our scheduled departure at 10:00. The plan for the day is to visit an area north of Lisbon called the “mouth of the devil” on the coast and then go shopping at the largest mall in Portugal. The ladies (and Wayne Miraflor, no doubt) are ecstatic. We again took a drive up along the coast only this time we stopped to see the natural crater in the rocky shoreline that formed the “mouth of the devil.” It is a huge hole in the rocks where water rushes in when there are high waves and tides. Today the waters were very calm and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. It was on the cool side but the sun shone warm on us. After taking pictures and viewing the natural beauty of this Atlantic coastline we walked up the hill to a little flea market area where several vendors were selling various goods from Portugal and beyond. Gayla shopped for some gifts and looked at leather purses.

From there we drove 20 to 30 minutes to what was reputed to be the largest mall in Europe when it was built and still is at least the largest in Portugal, Centro Colombo. I would have to say it rivals any I have seen. It was three to four stories high and was sprawled out as well in different directions. It boasts of over 400 stores and 19 anchors. We arranged a meeting place for 3:00 and everyone went their own way. I went with the three missionaries (Sones, Markham, and Wiggins) and we found our way to the food court. I was able to treat them to lunch and the Americans ate food from an Argentine grill, prepared by Brazilians, sitting in the largest mall in Portugal while discussing our experience in English – truly an international experience! When they turned their attention to missionary business I excused myself to go looking around and ran into my wife and the Krantzes. We shopped a little more before our appointed meeting time to head back to the hotel.

We were again able to take a bit of a nap before getting ready for church. We met in the lobby at 6:15 for a planned 6:30 departure for two different services this evening. Gayla and I were assigned to a group with Brother Sones that were going to Cha (sounds like Shah) for service. It is a small rural church about 45 minutes from downtown Lisbon. The Bertrams, the Krantzes, and the O’Keefes also were a part of this group. Brother O’Keefe was scheduled to preach tonight. We got to the church about 15 minutes before time to begin. The pastor of this church is a woman and she was meeting with the ladies when we arrived. There were a few minutes after the closing of the ladies meeting before we got started. The pastor from the church we were in last night also came and brought his family and a young man that would serve as the interpreter tonight.

It was a beautiful, if simple, little church building built right at the side of the road. It would probably hold about 80 people or so and it was filled by the time church started this evening. They had a guitar, keyboard, drums, bongos, and large congas as well. Their singing was beautiful in spirit and it seemed everyone joined in and sang in unison with all of their hearts. After about four worship choruses and the offering, Brother Sones was given the service. He introduced each of the pastors and had us stand. He spoke in Spanish so I’m not sure what all he said about us! The Portuguese are usually able to understand a Spanish person, especially if he talks slower and more clearly. That way Brother Sones was able to communicate without an interpreter.

Loraine Bertram sang a worship chorus in Spanish and English. She has a beautiful voice and sang wonderfully. Brother O’Keefe followed with the message for the evening service. He preached from Hebrews 11:6 a message of faith and salvation. The young man that interpreted is a shy youth just out of high school. His family attends the church we visited Friday evening. He is only 21 and this was his second time to interpret. He has spent some time in Italy and has a good command of English. Though he was quiet and unemotional he was able to communicate the message and there was a wonderful response in faith when the altar call was given. The people are so open and receptive to the Spirit of God and His Word.

The Portuguese people in these churches are very friendly and loving. We greeted those we met from the first service like old friends we had not seen in a long time. Though we are unable to communicate with many of them due to our language barrier there is no barrier in the Spirit and the love of God is felt between us.

We made the trip through the little communities and back down from the hills to the freeway (or should I say toll road) toward Lisbon. We stopped at a little station and dining area beside the road where we had a choice between KFC and Pizza Hut. We chose the pizza combo which included two slices of pizza, a small salad, and a coke for about five euros. It was really quite good. We made it back to the hotel about 11:30 and then had to set our clocks forward an hour. Daylight savings time began tonight in Portugal. This is the second time we have been through the time change this Spring besides the international travel and adjustment of our clocks. It will surely take us awhile to get our biological clocks back on schedule.
Pastor and family in Lisbon, Portugal. The kids all play music and sing in church. Wonderful family!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Seeing the city – Storming the castle

We were able to sleep in a little more this morning since we are through with our traveling. We got up about 8:30 to get around and ready for breakfast. Our room here at the Holiday Inn includes a nice breakfast buffet in the cafeteria. We ate with the Krantzes and Gary Sones, and were soon joined by the Bertrams. It has been interesting to see the development as a group between the individual pastors. We have been able to know each other much better in the short amount of time we have been together. Shared experiences help us grow in our interpersonal relationships. I have begun to feel the passion and burden of the pastors in our group as we have visited, ministered, and relaxed and had fun together.

We met in the lobby of the hotel at 10:00 this morning and piled into the vans. I was unsure of where we were going, but it really did not matter because I planned to go anyway! We took a route around the city of Lisbon where we had many wonderful views of the Atlantic Ocean. Lisbon is a port city and the capital of Portugal with an apparent thriving economy. The waters of the Atlantic seem much prettier from this side of the globe. The colors were rich blue and green. We didn’t stop along the route so I’m not sure if my pictures, hastily snapped from the windows, will come out at all.

Our route led back through the narrow streets of a city neighborhood that could just as easily have been in some of the coastal California towns. We ended up on a very narrow switch back mountain road that led to one of the highest points outside the city where an ancient castle was built hundreds of years ago on and around the rocks of the peaks. It is called the Pena Palace. We drove as far as the gates (and the ticket counter) and then paid our ticket fare for the trolley that would carry us on up the mountain to the palace.

The sheer size and color of the Pena Palace is extraordinary. The influence of many cultures and art are evident. There are turrets, guard towers, a clock tower, and lookouts all around. You can see the entire valley area and it overlooks the ocean. It was originally built as a summer palace of one of the more extravagant kings of Portugal’s history. When it became hot in the lower elevations he moved to the mountain top palace where the ocean breezes come blowing through the windows of the palace. The Palace dates back to 1839, when King Fernando II (1816-1885) bought the ruins of the Hieronymite Monastery and started to renovate it for use as a residence.

We took a lot of pictures from the various vantage points around the castle. They did not allow any photographs inside the castle, but there were abundant opportunities for pictures on the outside. The interior rooms were fully furnished with gorgeous antiques, many of the items originally belonged to the royal residents. There was even a chapel, ornately furnished, reflecting the Catholic influence.

From the castle we drove back down the switchback roads to the city. Our destination was the favorite chicken place of Missionary Gary Sones. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed for a two week vacation. It appears we will be unable to enjoy the blessing of his favorite restaurant. Plan B was to go a small restaurant in a mall where you pay six euros for all you can pile on one plate. (I practiced restraint here!)

The mall was very similar to one in the States. There were different brands of stores but the normal variety of electronics, clothing, accessories, books, cameras, and a large department store called Carrefour. According to Gary Sones it is somewhat like a Wal-mart super center. The food court had some recognizable labels, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Haagen-Dazs ice cream that I recall.

Today we had enough time after our morning tour and afternoon lunch to return to the hotel for a little siesta before going to our first service in Portugal. It was a welcome break as we have been on the go constantly since our arrival.

We met in the lobby for our commute to the service at 7:30. This small church is a storefront building not too far from Missionary Markham’s apartment. It is about a 30 minute drive from the hotel, depending on the traffic and the speed of the drivers! We have made many comments on the latter, but have to admit that we have been driven safely about the country and have had the luxury of not driving, something very different for me.

Their service began at 8:30. Many people in the large cities commute to work on public transportation. By the time they get off work, commute home, and eat a meal, it is not possible for them to get to church very early. So they have a later service and just cut out the unnecessary preliminaries. Most of the group came in right about 8:30 with some arriving after the service began.

Our group of twenty (including the missionaries) more than half filled the small church building. The pastor of this assembly has a wonderfully talented family. They range in age from about 8 to 12. His oldest son plays the drums. His daughter plays the keyboard and sings beautifully. Another son sings and received the offering for the service. Their mother led the worship working with the children. There were about thirty in attendance besides our group. The place was packed and two or three stood in the back.

After the singing and worship Missionary Markham introduced the visitors from the States and called on some to testify. Ron Krantz was the preacher for this service. He preached to build the faith of this small church. He brought some visuals to help illustrate his points. He spoke of the problems we have, but emphasized God’s great ability to cover our problems using different size balls and a clay pot to cover them. The interpreter was a young college student, a black girl from Angola who was articulate in English and Portuguese. She did a great job of staying up with Brother Krantz. There was a great move of God and a response of faith to the Word of God. As people began to respond in prayer, the service turned into a prayer meeting and many of the visitors (several have been in home Bible studies) began to pray and open their hearts to God. This was a wonderful congregation and the people were open and receptive.

We returned to the hotel after a brief visit with the people of the congregation. The restaurant in the hotel and the one we ate in around the corner was already closed when we arrived. There was a small deli café where some purchased pastries or drinks. Gayla and I retired to our room and ordered a ham sandwich and a fruit salad to share. The “ham sandwich” was a dinner roll cut in half with two thin slices of ham on it. No lettuce, no cheese, no tomato, no spread! I guess if you want something else on it you have to ask for it!

We are now in our final weekend and our thoughts are turning toward home. We can’t stay away forever! Soon, it’s back to our world.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sevilla and the trip to Lisbon, Portugal

The Hotel Ibis provides a modest buffet breakfast for six euros. We came down to the café about 8:30. After eating so late in the evening we are not usually hungry but we eat anyway! I had some cafe con leche, coffee with milk, a croissant, some cold cuts and cheese, jelly, fruit, and whatever else looked good at the moment.

The plan developed for this morning, to prevent having to guard the vans all morning, was to take all of our luggage to room 17, the overnight residence of the Wiggins. Sister Wendy Wiggins would stay there with their daughter Meagan while we shopped and saw some sites about town. We got an extended check out for 1:00 on that chosen room.

Those that desired to go shopping were dropped off in the same area as last night only this time they knew more of what was there and where to go. They hit the sidewalk with determination while some of us stayed in the van to go find parking near the river walk area and the Plaza de Toros. Brothers Sones and Wiggins, Clayton Brown, Arthur Law, and I set out toward the bull fighting stadium, Plaza de Toros, Real Maestranza de Sevilla, where we took the guided tour that was delivered in Spanish and in English. (See for more information about the bull fights in Sevilla.) We learned that this is the second oldest bull fighting ring in the country but possibly the most famous. Not only did we sit in the seats where the crowds come every Sunday from April through June, but we were guided through the museum where the heads of the more famous and courageous bulls were mounted on the walls. There were also stories of some matadors who were killed in these barbaric rituals including two as recently as 1992.

The most exciting thing occurred on our exit from the Plaza de Toros. We were looking over a few souvenirs sold at a table on the sidewalk in front of the Plaza. This was also near the stop for the horse drawn carriages that give rides to romantic couples along the river walk. While standing there a large and loud cement truck came down the street. The horses were spooked and begin to jump and jerk. The drivers were quite unable to control them and one turned its carriage over in an attempt to side step the conundrum. That in turn caused the horse to fall and she was unable to get up while harnessed to the capsized carriage. The lead horse bolted and was heading for the street. Clayton Brown assisted in calming the horse and getting hold of the reins. Motorcycle policemen in the area were almost immediately on the scene observing the whole fiasco and no one seemed to know what to do. I knew what to do … step back, stay out of the way, and don’t get run over!

When things were somewhat restored to controlled chaos we crossed the boulevard to walk along the river. I took several pictures along the walk which included the golden tower. It is no longer golden, but is a very old navigational tower build by the river to help direct the traffic from years gone by. The river continues down to Cadiz which is the port where Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World with the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria. When much of the trade came by ship this was an important river to bring goods into Spain and other areas of Europe. Cadiz once served as home for voyagers Ferdinand Magellan and Amerigo Vespucci.

While we continued our foot tour, Brother Wiggins went to the bus station to see if a package had arrived for Brother Sones. Some items that were to be taken back to the States were inadvertently left in Madrid and they were having a difficult time getting them delivered in a timely fashion to meet up with us along the way. We will be flying out of Lisbon and not returning to Madrid. Unfortunately, the package did not make it. The bus company only sent them out this morning. So much for overnight delivery.

After a quick McDonalds stop for a Coke (still no Dr. Pepper), we headed back to the vans and worked our way through the noon time rush hour to the arranged spot to pick up the shoppers. We returned to the hotel on a scenic route (i.e. Brother Sones tries a new route and ended up lost) but we found our way back to the Hotel Ibis. We loaded up, tied the bags more securely than ever, and made our way to Burger King! I ordered a number 7, a chicken sandwich, and ended up with a double whopper or something. Oh well, it wasn’t a bad hamburger. If I was here long I would definitely learn Spanish, if only to communicate my order correctly!

Today was one of our longer drives. It was estimated to take about four hours to travel to Lisbon. Of course, with a large group and stopping for the sandbox, fuel, or to check the vehicles, it turned into a longer journey. To pass the time and to keep Brother Sones awake we asked and answered questions concerning the Bible, ministry, and evangelism practices and theories. Brother Sones is a great soul winner and a believer in Bible studies as a means of converting and developing people. It was interesting and challenging to hear his views and feel his passion on the subject. We managed to keep our discussions to civil subjects and avoid divisive issues with controversy! Arthur Law who had been sick for two or three days and sleeping most of our day trips was awake and in fine form. He added to the discussion and even challenged Ron Krantz to chess on the laptop (on a Mac, I might add).

As we continued on the scenic route we found the countryside to be beautiful valleys and farms. There were some olive orchards but they became less plentiful and other agricultural production seemed to be taking place. Some of the small community towns we went through seemed like something out of the past, almost like a small country town in parts of west Texas complete with grain silos, but all built right along the main road coming through. There is a different feel to it. It seemed like they were frozen in the past and you got the impression that very little had changed in the last century except for the cars coming through. One thing I’ve never seen anywhere else (and I hope small towns in the US never see) is the placement of a red light as you come into town. Just as you stop it turns green much like a metering light for freeway access. It was very successful in slowing traffic before you got into town. Dumb, but successful! There was no crossing street at the light. Its sole purpose was to slow the traffic coming through the community!

We crossed the line into Portugal some time later in the afternoon without a lot of fanfare. There were no crossing guards, no customs, inspections, or protocol. It was much like passing from one state to another in America. A simple placard on a signpost indicated we were now in Portugal. The only difference I could detect was that the roads seemed to become a little more narrow! Also coming into Portugal we save an hour; a new time zone caused us to roll our clock back an hour. Now we are only seven hours later than Pacific Time. I believe Sunday they start their daylight savings time and will spring forward thus causing us to lose the hour that we just gained. As long as we get to the airport at the right time on Monday I will be happy!

Some where along the route we stopped for gas and the “sandbox.” I intended to purchase another one of those exquisite ice cream bars but was unable to communicate with the dear lady commandeering her post as proprietor of the wayside station. While I was asking someone in our group how to say ice cream in Spanish she turned her attention to help someone else in the other room. Since she spoke Portuguese she might not have understood anyway, so I just went back to the van without my ice cream! We made one final pit stop before coming into the city of Lisbon. I finally got my ice cream at this progressive little joint that could speak a little English and had the ice cream out where I could pick it up and present it for payment. We also bought some bottled water and snacks for the hotel room. We get to stay in the same hotel room for our last four nights in Portugal!

It was dark when we arrived in Lisbon, but it appeared to be a large and beautiful city. The downtown area is very modern where we are staying in a Holiday Inn – Continental Hotel. It is rated at four stars and is very nice. The lobby is very modern looking and would fit at home anywhere in the States, except for the acrid smell of cigarettes in the public areas. They have not adopted the smoking ordinances that we enjoy in California. Fortunately, the rooms we have are non-smoking and very comfortable. The rooms appear to be newly refurbished and have hardwood floors with all conveniences including a king-size bed. It has one of the tea kettles I love. It is basically a water heating coil in the bottom of the water picture, but with the 220 volt current it boils the water in a matter of minutes for making tea or an instant cup of coffee, Nescafe!

We are on the ninth floor looking out over a beautiful city. The airport is not far away because we see the large jets coming in low over the city. The lights of other high rise building are on the cityscape.

After we checked into our rooms we met at a little café around the corner from the hotel. We immediately noted that the taste of the food here is superior to what is the common fare in Spain. After eating we went back to our room, #912. While Gayla washed her hair I blogged our journey.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gibraltar to Sevilla

Plan A (we often went through several plans during the course of a day) was for us to rise early, have our breakfast, and leave the hotel for a tour of Mount Gibraltar promptly at 8:00 AM. We were to have our suitcases packed but left in our rooms until we return at noon to check out and load the luggage in and on the vans. This would prevent having to stay with the vans all the time. To prevent theft of our suitcases and valuables someone has stayed with the vans at all times when we have been touring or eating. Brothers Wiggins and/or Markham have usually stayed behind to keep an eye on things. We all appreciated their sacrifice to insure the protection of our luggage.

We set our alarms and rose early with the seagulls. You could hear their cries in the early dawn over this Mediterranean seacoast town. I slept much better last night and woke refreshed. We showered and dressed, repacked our bags, and made our way downstairs for the complimentary breakfast about 7:15. It was really quite nice, especially to be included in our accommodations. It was a buffet with some hot items, like fried eggs, some rare looking bacon, fat and greasy sausages, pork and beans, and something that appeared to be scrambled eggs. There was an assortment of breads (typical European) fresh fruits, cold cuts (I’ve never understood that for breakfast), cereals, juice and coffee. We made a nice meal and met our group in the lobby on time.

We made the drive to the city that surrounds the base of Gibraltar, which we learned is still under the crown of Britain. They speak English, trade in the British pound or the Euro, are mostly of Spanish descent, and have talked of independence from Britain for many years. As a result we all had to show our passports for entrance into the country and when exiting the area back into Spain. The rock is an important area for defense in the region. All shipping, trade, and defensive craft must come through the straits of Gibraltar or the Suez Canal to gain access to the Mediterranean Sea. Just eight miles across the straits is the continent of Africa and the country of Morocco. Something else I learned was that there are two fairly large Spanish cities on the African continent. Spain retained control in that area to ensure their protection.

The first stop on our tour was at St. Michael’s Cave. After a short drive about half way up the mountain our vans dropped us off and we entered a large cavern. Cement walks, ramps, and wooden bridges provided easy access through the cave. Accent lighting provided adequate light and lit up the various formations in the cave. The main room of the cave was large enough that they created a stage and seating in an amphitheater design that would accommodate over 100 people, I would guess. Someone said that weddings have been conducted there besides other events. It was interesting and obviously totally exploited for commercial tourism! We made a bathroom stop and shopped for curios before proceeding to our next stop.

We were able to see about six or eight monkeys while in the next area. We found that there are about 300 apes in all that live on the island and that they divide themselves in about 6 packs. Ron Krantz was the only one who got close enough to allow one of the apes to jump on his back. It was rather short-lived and I missed the opportunity to get a picture!

A good stiff walk up the road (maybe ½ mile) there is an entrance to a man made tunnel that goes around near the outside of the mountain. There are holes cut out through the rock where ancient cannons were once used to defend their position from invaders. The entire tunnel is about one mile down the inside of the mountain. I may have gotten halfway down when some of our group started coming back out. I had taken a lot of pictures of the cannons, displays, and the city and sea down below, so I returned to the surface with our group.

We took more pictures from this vantage point outside the tunnel that is probably about halfway up the sloped side of Gibraltar. The Mediterranean is so beautiful from this viewpoint. It has a rich blue-green color. Across the bay you can see the city where we spent the night. It is an incredible view.

From this last stop on Gibraltar we headed back down the mountain in the attempt to get back to the hotel on time to retrieve our bags. Well we didn’t make it in time. First there was the traffic that was difficult to maneuver on the narrow and twisted streets. We also had to stop for diesel (both vans are diesel powered). At the little gas station Missionary Sones found Dr. Pepper! He, being a true Texan, could not resist the purchase of two cans of the heavenly brew. I’ll have to remember that passion when he comes to the states. Shouldn’t be too difficult to remember since I usually have an adequate supply.

Spanish signs do not always provide sufficient direction to get us where we need to go. Brother Sones headed off a different direction than that we came because he saw a sign pointing in another direction. We eventually found our way back to the Autovia, but we were sufficiently delayed that we did not make our checkout time at the Reina Cristina. However, after a call from the missionary, they kindly allowed us back into our rooms to retrieve our bags.

By the time we got out suitcases tied down and everyone loaded it was time to eat again! We headed out to find a Burger King (great Spanish food) but ended up looking for a McDonalds. There are more McDonalds that BK’s so it proved to be a little faster to find one. It was quite a nice McDonalds. I felt like I was back in the states except the attendant couldn’t quite understand my English (which sometimes happens in the states) and the signs were all in Spanish.

We took the scenic route to Sevilla, the location of our next night stop in Spain. Driving along the coast provided some outstanding views of the Mediterranean. We stopped at an overlook for picture taking and marveled at how clear and close the mountains from Africa appeared. There was also a tourist shop at this little vista. I purchased two ice cream bars. Mine was a chocolate covered vanilla on a stick with almonds chopped up in the chocolate shell. It was absolutely the best I believe I have ever tasted. At 2 Euros each it was well worth the extravagance!

Most of the roads through the scenic route were “Arkansas style” roads, that is two lanes, narrow, with little or no shoulder. On one occasion we had come onto a broader three or four lane road and Brother Sones attempted to pass another vehicle that was impeding his progress. Just as we whipped around to pass there was a popping sound and one of the suitcases tied to the top of the van slipped over the edge and dangled along the side window of the van. He slowed, found a safe place to pull off the road, and came to a stop before completely losing one of the Bertram’s suitcases. Some of the more gifted rope artists among us secured our load and we continued. We were thankful not to have lost another Bertram suitcase!

We arrived at Hotel Ibis about 7:00 PM just as it was getting dark in Sevilla. The ladies had been promised for two days that there would be time to shop in Sevilla so they were holding us to it! The plan was to check into the hotel, get back into the vans for a trek downtown and shop for a bit while Brother Sones scouted out a place to dine for our evening meal. Among the beautiful old buildings of the area there are narrow pedestrian streets lined with stores and shops of all kinds. All were rather expensive (some were very expensive, like Burberry) but there was a distinct European feel in the shopping here. I priced a few pairs of shoes before deciding that I would save my US dollars for Marshalls, Ross, and TJ Maxx at home! With the current exchange rate of 1.33 per 1 Euro it is not to our advantage to shop in Europe.

I escorted by wife from shop to shop (being interpreted --- I followed my wife from shop to shop). She did however find the perfect purse for our daughter but she was undecided. I suppose we will have to return tomorrow to complete the purchase! (An excuse for more shopping!) However (due to my sharp skill of observation), I spotted a Starbucks on a street corner across from some of the shops. Well, I had to try out Starbucks in Europe! Even with the barista’s limited English skills I was able to communicate in Starbuck-ese and ordered a venti White Chocolate Mocha! It was very near to the taste of what we get at home. I did not attempt to request decaf coffee or fat-free milk; neither did we discuss whipped cream. So it was delicious!

We met with our group outside the El Corte Ingles – which they say is something like Macy’s (I thought it more like Sears). Regardless, it is the largest retail chain in Spain and provided a recognizable meeting place for our group. From there Brother Sones had us follow him on foot several blocks to our dinner spot. It was a small café with a decent and clean appearance. We rearranged the place to line our tables along the way for our group of twenty. We are trying to adjust to some of the European customs. One is eating dinner so late in the evening. I’m not sure they all do it but it has been our custom here. It has been 9:00 or later every evening! Another is custom of having meals in courses rather than all together. Conceptually, I like it. However, it seems a bit strange to eat cold vegetables out of a can and call it salad. I had the potatoes drowned in a white garlic creamy stuff … also cold. The next course was a choice between meatballs (served on a few French fries a spoonful of canned vegetables and some broth), pork (chunks of meat served over a few French fries with some gravy), or paella (the yellow rice stuff with chicken or seafood surprises)! Most of us went with the meatballs. After some ketchup and salt it wasn’t bad. I didn’t ask what the meat consisted of!

We made it back to the hotel about 11:00 and were instructed to meet the following morning at 9:15 for another adventurous day in Spain and the trip to Portugal!

Mediterranean Sea

On the Mediterranean seacoast near Malaga, Spain.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Alhambra to Gibraltar

My stomach cramping continued through the night and fever and some nausea further complicated my sleeping. When the alarm rang at 8:00 I didn’t really feel like going anywhere. But, since staying in bed was not an option I rolled out and begin to get ready for another day.

We met at 9:00 AM for departure from the hotel and to make our way out to Alhambra, the ancient fortress city just outside of Granada. It was the last holdout by the Moors when the Spaniards retook the country in the past (I purchased the visitors guide and will worry about the facts of history later). Missionary Sones entertained our van with a mixed monologue of fact and fiction of his own version of the historical events of this area. He adopted a somewhat British/Stoneking accent adding to the effect.

For 10 euros per person we were granted access to the final fortress holdout of the Moors. We toured the royal palace which was absolutely phenomenal in the intricate carvings and décor that the Muslims left on it. White marble flooring covered most of the palace interiors. Arches, columns, and windows provided a photographers dream throughout the place. Courtyards and water pools were seen inside the palace grounds. Though the whole idea of a “palace’ sounds wonderfully romantic, the truth is they were probably cold, drafty, and have a sordid history of war, attacks, and bloodshed to the royal family when there was an overthrow of power.

After the palace we toured another area where we had access to a lookout area higher on the walls. It seemed the stories of medieval times, even biblical times, came alive while gazing up at stark walls and massive doors that secured the ancient cities. The location of some of the areas also provided natural defenses by their position on a hill and surrounded by ravines and streams. Some distance away the snow topped peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains were within sight. These are the mountains for which the California mountain range was named. I have seen several names and references here that the Spanish explorers bequeathed to us in America.

We left Alhambra about 2:00 and planned to drive to Malaga on the Mediterranean coast for lunch. By this time I was feeling much better and began to think I might be able to eat today. The trip was enhanced by Abigail O’Keefe who ran a constant commentary on the beach ministry on the Mediterranean seacoast. Fortunately, we are early enough in the year that it’s a bit cold to worry about the clothing situation on the coast! We also passed the time by singing some of the old songs as off-key as possible. We started with some of the ancient classics of the hymnbooks and ended up with some Lanny Wolfe favorites and classic worship choruses. At least it kept Brother Sones awake as he drove us further south and toward the sea.

We came through some more hills and miles of Olive orchards. Spain is a major producer of olives and olive oil as evidenced by the agricultural bounty. As we got closer to the coastal areas even the residential structures begin to change. The appearance seemed more like some of the coastal areas of California. Coming into Malaga it also seemed more like California because we got in our first major traffic jam – home, sweet home!

By the time we got to Brother Markham’s favorite buffet we were ready to eat anything and call it good! The restaurant was just across the street from the beach and offered some traditional Spanish foods (not to be confused with Mexican food), some Chinese, and some traditional buffet items. I started out with the wok selection. I picked out the raw makings of a stir-fry and took it to the chef who boiled it for a couple of minutes before frying it all in a wok to perfection. On my second round I sampled some of the other offerings. Though I felt 100% better, I tried to refrain from eating too much because I sure didn’t want to be sick the rest of the day!

Leaving the buffet we walked across the street and down to the beach where we picked up a few shells and took some pictures to prove we were really here. Some of the shells were similar to those we find in California while others were of unique designs and colors that were new to us. We made our way up the beach for a block or so and then back to the vans for the final hour or so of our journey today.

The final leg of our journey brought us to Gibraltar, named for the rock along the straits to the Mediterranean Sea (or was the rock named for the town). This is another very beautiful area. These coastal areas are very popular with the Europeans for vacation spots during the warm summer months. We are staying in a beautiful old hotel, the Reina Cristina, that reminds me some of the Coronado Hotel in San Diego. It is very old but a beautiful facility that has earned a four star rating.

We met our group in the spacious lobby about 8:00 PM. We visited a bit then decided that salad or soup and bread would be a sufficient dinner tonight since we had eaten so well in the mid afternoon. They have a beautiful restaurant in the hotel so we had our soups and salads on linen tablecloths and drank our bottled water in wine glasses. We sat with the Ron and Deena Krantz and visited over dinner.

About 10:30 we came to the room and I purposed to catch up on my blogging before retiring. Internet service is available; I’m just not sure what the cost will be here. I guess I’ll either get up early enough in the morning to find out or post these ramblings later when I get access again.

In the old fortress city of Alhambra outside the city of Granada, Spain.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Madrid to Granada

I still felt a little under the weather this morning. Initially, I attributed my ailment to too much Chinese food last night. As the day wore on it felt more like a stomach virus. This is not the kind of feeling you want to have this far away from home and with so many miles to cover!

We skipped breakfast and packed up our suitcases for the next day of travel. There was just enough time to go to the dining room for a cup of coffee before the appointed time to meet the others in the lobby. By 9:30 we all gathered with our massive amounts of suitcases to pack in two vans and Missionary Markham’s car trunk. One of the vans was a rental, a diesel powered Mercedes van, from It has a fair amount of space behind the last seat. Most of the luggage was packed in this space. Missionary Sones has a SFC van which we also packed with bags. The remaining four suitcases went on the top of the van secured to a luggage rack. We may have looked something like the Beverly Hillbillies as we headed down the road.

The first part of our journey was about an hour and a half trek south of Madrid to the ancient town of Toledo. We stopped once on the way for a “sandbox” break while several took advantage of the stop for various snacks. Toledo was once the capital city of Spain and is famous for its swords and knifes, Toledo steel. The oldest part of the city still has the ancient walls surrounding it and the ancient gates still stand. Access to the city comes through the wall around the gate since modern vehicles would not have fit through the old passage. We roamed around the streets and alleyways of the old city which is now a major tourist attraction. There are numerous shops with assorted souvenirs for purchase, Missionary Sones advised us of one shop where anyone in his group is given a 20% discount. That is where most of us purchased some souvenirs: pocket knives, postcards, letter openers, fans, hair accessories, etc. I didn’t see anyone buying the swords or fencing supplies!

Lunch was an adventure. Missionary Sones cautioned us that it was an experiment. It was a different place than he had tried before. They seated us in a small backroom where Krantz started getting claustrophobic. I noticed he sat where he could get out easily. The first course was either salad or spaghetti. I chose the salad. It seemed like this is kind of a traditional salad because we begin to see it everywhere. It was lettuce, tomato, a few other vegetables with a spoonful of tuna on top. Oil and vinegar is the dressing of choice with nothing else to choose from! The second course was a traditional Spanish dish of yellow saffron rice with a few seafood surprises (or chicken) in it, called Paella. The final course was a meat dish with fried potatoes (French fries seems to be a staple). The choice of meat was lamb, chicken, or pork. That was easy; I chose chicken. Basically, it was a roasted drumstick. Oh, yes we topped it off with dessert. The choices were flan, pudding, or ice cream. Flan seems to be the consistent choice of Spanish fare. The food was good but according to Brother Sones it would not be a place on his recommended list for the future.

Following lunch we took a drive outside the city to a vantage point where you can view the entire city from another hill. It was a beautiful spot for pictures. Which is why Wayne Miraflor suddenly realized that he had left his camera behind at the little restaurant. Brother Markham drove him back down the hill to the city in the vain hope that the camera might still be in the bathroom where he has laid it on the sink. Amazingly enough it was turned in and was waiting for him to come back and claim it. God must be with that man!

Today was one of the longer drives of the week. When we left Toledo we continued south to Granada. It would take about three to four hours but seemed much longer in the packed vans. I’m afraid we all took a little siesta as we drove through the flat land plains southward. When we awoke there still wasn’t too much to see but an occasional house in the distance. I must say the road system in Spain is very modern with freeways (Autovia) providing safe and smooth travel around the country. As we got closer to Granada we drove through a mountain range with deep canyons and gorges. It was a beautiful drive.

We finally arrived at our motel for the evening after 8:00 PM. It was the Hotel Ibis, a conservative but clean accommodation. We all met in their small café for dinner about an hour later after we settled in our rooms. I still was not feeling well but hoped that by eating something I might feel better. The menu selections were similar to lunch. I’m catching on that the menu and items offered don’t vary too much at restaurants in Spain. After I ate some spaghetti, bread, turkey (instead of Chicken) and potatoes, I excused myself and went to the room to try to rest and get over this virus or whatever is plaguing me. There would be no blogging tonight.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Lord’s Day

I awaken feeling alert and refreshed. Knowing the way jetlag feels from previous trips abroad I thought perhaps is was the middle of the night and worried that I would be unable to sleep anymore through the night. Reaching over to touch the button on my Treo 700p I was pleased to see it was only 10 minutes prior to the sounding of my preset alarm at 7:00 AM. I arose and begin the process of getting ready for our first full day in Madrid and the services that we were scheduled to attend.

A complimentary breakfast was served in a small dining hall on the floor below ours. Though it was a simple menu with selections including toast (looked like Texas toast from home) topped with butter and preserves, churros (minus the sugar and cinnamon), and an assortment of packaged Danish delights (or should that be Spanish delights). Coffee was offered (with or without hot milk); and packages of cocoa mix could be added to hot milk to make hot chocolate. A few members of our group were already there and availing themselves of the offerings.

Upon returning to our room I examined the programmable safe in the closet. It seemed simple enough to use. You just enter a number of your choice and hit the pound key. It automatically locked until you entered the same number again. It was of an adequate size to hold both of our laptops, our phones, and my wife’s wallet. I carried her passport with mine. With our service schedule today I really didn’t want to lug our laptops in my backpack but I was reluctant to leave them unprotected in the hotel room. We assembled in the lobby and divided up into two prearranged groups for transport to the services. My group was to attend service with the congregation of the pastor and missionary Gary Sones. From our group Paul Bertram, pastor from the San Diego area, was to preach in the morning service while Wayne Miraflor, Antioch, CA, preached in the other church in the southern part of the city of Madrid.

We arrived early at Tabernaclo de Vida but some were already assembled for prayer. The auditorium was a former bridal hall where wedding receptions were once hosted. It was tastefully decorated and six huge chandeliers were suspended from the high ceiling. The sanctuary was thoroughly furnished with musical instruments, sound system, computer projection and lighting. The padded chairs (dining room style) were arranged in close rows and would accommodate about 400 people (388 were present this morning). The service was well organized but spiritual and lively. A praise team sang out in harmony with the worship leader. A young man read from the Scripture. Another led in prayer. Missionary Sones dedicated two small infants brought by their families in the course of the service. Ron Krantz and I were called on to leave a brief testimony and greeting to the congregation. Paul Bertram preached from a Scriptural setting in Genesis 14 concerning the four kings that were defeated in the slime pits when Lot was taken into captivity. He related it to 1 John 2:16 as the present kings of this world that could bring us into captivity: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life, and the devil. The message was well received and many came to prayer in response to the altar call. At least four received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the morning service.

We met up with the other group for lunch following our services at Vip’s café, a Denney’s style establishment. I sat by Missionary Sones and we discussed Christian Life College among other things. He gave me permission to speak with his daughter about visiting the college in about a month as she is making some life decisions. The Sones are originally from Texas and were in Life Tabernacle in Houston. Texas gave us something else in common to talk about. Texans have to stick together!

We left the restaurant and the vans transported the group back to the hotel for a siesta! I volunteered to go with Missionaries Sones and Markham, and Pastors Miraflor and Krantz, to the airport to check on our missing luggage. We stepped through the international arrivals gate (like we knew what we were doing) and approached the guards separating us from the baggage claim area. They allowed us to go to the counter but denied access to Missionary Sones. Brother Markham stayed in the background and came along with us to help us at the customer service counter. I presented our baggage claim tickets and the form we received the previous day. We were directed to a conveyor at the opposite end of the huge baggage claim area where an assortment of luggage was awaiting someone to claim it. Joyfully, I recognized one of my suitcases. We began to check off the numbered tags and pull them off the conveyor, loading them on baggage carts. According to our inventory there were still two bags missing when we finally checked off all that were available. Brother Markham and I waited with one cart for the arrival of another flight from Munich or Frankfurt. One of my suitcases had a tag that indicated it had arrived through Frankfurt.

When the suitcase did not appear to be among the arriving luggage we reluctantly left for the hotel. It was after 4:00 PM and we were scheduled to leave for the next service at 4:45. There was a lot of jubilation over the 16 bags that were delivered to the waiting recipients at the hotel. Unfortunately, the one suitcase we were missing belonged to Lorraine Bertram. She was pretty bummed but was coping with it. We quickly freshened up and changed into our dress clothes for the evening service.

Tonight our group attended the church in south Madrid, Tabernacle of Praise, where Brother Gerardo Guervara is the pastor. Missionary Markham took us there in one of the vans. This auditorium seats about 250-300 people and was very close to being filled for the service. I met briefly with the pastor who was going to translate the message for me. I gave him my Scripture text and a brief overview of the message so that he could have a frame of reference by which to interpret. We entered a very exciting worship service. Again the music was well organized, the presentation was good, and a wonderful spirit of praise was evident. Worshippers filled the altar area, dancing and praising God as they sang out to God.

Missionary Markham introduced me and the pastor interpreted into Spanish. After a few remarks, my wife and Lorraine Bertram joined with me and we sang an English worship chorus, How Great is Our God! I preached on the subject, Built on the Rock, from Matthew 16:13-18. I brought out that the church is built on Jesus Christ. It is not built on a man (like Peter), nor is it a physical structure, nor is it built on our own ideas or philosophies. It must be upon the solid rock, Christ Jesus! There was a good response and it appeared that several visitors came forward during the altar service.

Brother Markham drove us back by the other church where they were still in the altar praying so we returned to the hotel and met them there when they concluded. We walked several blocks from the hotel to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. The meal was brought out family style. They continued to bring food out until we were all stuffed. It somehow seemed strange to see Chinese waiters conversing freely in Spanish as we dined on fried rice, almond chicken, and assorted other dishes. I guess it is no more strange than hearing Chinese speaking English in America!

We got back to the hotel about 11:00 PM. It was a long and exhausting day, but one filled with the blessings of the Lord. I was too tired to stay up and blog so I took a Melatonin and retired. It was either Jetlag or indigestion that kicked in about 3:00 AM so I got up, turned on the computer and begin to relive the events of the day. Since we are eight hours ahead it is still early evening at home. If I can get online I will post these ramblings and try to get some more sleep before breakfast.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Arrival in Madrid

We arrived on time in Munich, Germany. It is a beautiful airport, not too big, but modern and utilitarian in design. It seems consistent with some other areas of Europe, not that I’ve seen that many. We were very glad to be off the plane after the trans-Atlantic flight. The only consolation in rushing off to another flight was that it was the final leg of our journey to Spain. We only had about an hour to get to the next gate for departure to Madrid. The connections seemed way too close for international travel. It left no room for tardiness or mistakes. We found our gate easy enough after a brief pit stop, and stood in line for maybe ten minutes for boarding on an A320. It really seemed small after the wide bodies we had been on previously. I would compare it to a 737. I’m more acquainted with the Boeing line of airplanes than the McDonnell-Douglas planes or other manufacturers.

By then we were all a little dazed as we sat and waited for our departure. My wife engaged in conversation with a young girl next to her from the western slope of the Rockies in Colorado. She was with a group of school youths who were coming to Spain for Spring break. While others go to the Rockies to sky for spring break, the natives go to Spain for nice weather, I guess.

The airline was still Lufthansa, but a third language was added to the safety announcements on this flight. After the routine German and English, a female attendant came on with a Spanish translation for the benefit of the Spanish speakers on this flight to Madrid. How many ways do we need to hear where the exit slides are located and how to fasten a seat belt? The diet changed also. I have no idea what I ate but it had a different smell and taste that the choices we had enjoyed earlier. We were quick to discover that Spanish food is different than Mexican food. Food in Spain is more Mediterranean than what we normally identify as food for the Spanish culture. No jalapenos or habaneras here!

We arrived in Madrid two hours later around 2:00 in the afternoon on Saturday, local time. It was clear and mostly sunny looking out over the farmlands and clusters of communities across the landscape. The airport was a little older and didn’t have the look of modernity seen in Germany. It was spread out over a lot of territory and we drove for several minutes after touchdown before arriving at the appropriate gate. We made our way down the last gateway and followed the universal and multilingual signs to the baggage claim area.

We clustered around the designated conveyor belt that was expected to present our baggage. We waited as suitcase after suitcase appeared in the doorway and was snatched up by various international travelers and nationals come home. It soon became apparent that none of our group was receiving baggage. Much to our disappointment the doors closed and the conveyor stopped without a sign of our suitcases. We lined up with other disappointed, agitated, and somewhat angry passengers at the “Lost and Found” window representing Lufthansa Airlines. Missionary Gary Sones got permission to come past security and to our rescue. He was able to explain our situation and the agent took notes of our descriptions of each missing suitcase and our claim tags that would match them. They promised to let us know if any word of our baggage was received.

Missionaries Markham (Portugal and Spain) and Wiggins (AIMer to Spain) met us outside the customs doorway. They brought vans to transport us from the airport to our hotel for the first two nights in Madrid. We checked into the hotel and settled in. It doesn’t take long when you have no luggage. Fortunately, we packed some underclothes and a few toiletries in our carryon bags. We took a nap and stretched out our tired and aching bodies after a long 26 hours from leaving Stockton to arriving in Madrid.

We freshened up and prepared to meet the group for an orientation session and dinner with the missionaries. The orientation was held at the local Bible school where they train the national students for ministry. It is a second story rented flat about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. The original church in Madrid was started in this facility until they outgrew it. The church had about 33 members when Missionary Sones arrived to assume the work. It grew quickly and eventually they split into two groups so one could begin in the southern part of this city of 6 million people. Since then both groups have prospered and been responsible for beginning 20 more works from those who were converted and sent out from here. The orientation was presented by D.H. O’Keefe and Missionaries Markham and Sones. The purpose of the trip and the burden for missions was presented by Pastor O’Keefe and Missionary Markham informed us of some changes in service schedule. In all we will be ministering in 10 services during our stay. I was asked to speak in one of the churches in Madrid Sunday evening.

The missionaries also explained our travel schedule and asked us to be prompt when a meeting time was set for our transportation. Missionary Sones is handling all the logistics of moving our group and making arrangements for our meals and services. At the end of the week we will be given a total of the amount of meals we have consumed … eat now, pay later!

We left the Bible school/headquarters building and walked two or three blocks to a restaurant nearby. It was a good meal served in three courses. It was a simple little restaurant you probably would never pick out as a tourist hot spot, but the food was very good and we enjoyed a time of getting acquainted with our traveling partners. We enjoyed a salad (or soup), choice of meat dish (I chose beef) with fried potatoes, and dessert. We walked back to the hotel and retired about 11:00 this evening. Of course, I had to stay up longer to catch up on this blog. It is only 5:00 PM at home … but 1:00 AM here. I’ll have to try to adapt to this time zone and ignore my biological clock!

Hope you enjoy reading along as we experience our mission!

The Journey Begins

Last night, we had our weekly Friendship Group meeting with our church (our brand of small groups). This week we met at the Pleasanton Public Library, community room. Occasionally we are able to secure the room for our group meetings. It was a good turnout. Perhaps the awareness that it would be our last meeting before our departure to Spain caused them to be present! Ethan Brumfield, our former youth pastor, was with us during his spring break from the University of Central Florida so we returned home rather than staying overnight in Pleasanton. It made for a late night, but we were so thrilled to have Ethan with us that we wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. We finished our packing and preparations for the trip and finally got to bed about 1:30 AM.

An unwelcome alarm sounded at 5:00 AM. The earlier the setting, the more obnoxious the sound of any alarm! We drug ourselves out of bed and prepared for our 6:00 AM departure for the Bay Area. Though the early morning traffic was heavy as anticipated, we made it to Marcy’s place in Livermore by 7:00 AM. She went with us to the BART station in Pleasanton and will keep our car at her place during our trip. We purchased our tickets to the San Francisco Airport and made our way up the escalators to the boarding platform dragging our suitcases and carryons with us. Thank God for wheels on suitcases. Since the Pleasanton/ Dublin station is the end of the line we were able to get good seats with room for our bags. We dozed a little along the hour and 20 minute trip to SFO.

From the BART station we took the Air Train to the International terminal before realizing that we needed the domestic terminal (the first leg of the journey is to Washington D.C. - Dulles Airport). We took the hike to the domestic terminal and found the United ticket counters. Standing in the check-in line we saw the Bertrams and the O’Keefes coming along behind us. We attempted to use the electronic check-in but for some reason it only showed our itinerary to Munich, Germany, rather than Madrid, Spain. I sure didn’t want to arrive in Madrid to find that our bags had gotten pitched out in Germany! An attendant shifted us to another line where we again were told to use the electronic check-in. I explained the situation and the attendant walked us through the process. She finally had to do the check-in herself and got our seat assignments, our bags checked (all the way to Madrid), and our frequent flyer miles credited. We’ll definitely rack up some miles on this flight!

At the gate we were formally introduced to Paul and Lorraine Bertram from San Diego and Ron and Deena Krantz from Oroville (Gayla works with Deena Krantz on the Ladies Ministries board). Also on the trip are Bro. & Sis. Morgan Underwood from Yuba City, Clayton and Jan Brown from Napa, Wayne and Stacy Miraflor from Antioch, and Donald and Abigail O’Keefe (Western District Foreign Missions Director) from Pittsburg. Arthur Law from Bakersfield was also on the trip but was not present at the gate. We begin to look for him and worry just a little that he might not make it in time. However, just prior to the boarding process he arrived and our group of 15 was completed.

Due to a large number of reservations for this segment of the journey to the nation’s capital, United Airlines substituted a Boeing 747 aircraft. Normally, the 747 is not used for domestic flights so the switch caused a little back log as they had to reassign many of the seats, especially business passengers and those in First Class, as well as those who had their seat assignments early. We made it on board, a beautiful sunny day in the Bay Area with a near on time departure, just a little after 11:00 AM, and headed east for a cold and snowy reception in D.C. United’s domestic flights no longer have complimentary food service so we purchased a cold sandwich in the airport to bring with us. We ended up buying another turkey wrap and snack box during the flight … fine dining at 36,000 feet in the air!

We had an on time arrival in Washington D.C., actually a little early. Unfortunately, because of the cold winter storm, the Boston and New York airports were either closed or severely restricted thus creating a back up of traffic at other airports in the region. There was also an ice storm just prior to the beginning of the snow at Dulles causing all departing flights to be grounded until the ice could be cleared. As a result the gate we were supposed to arrive at was blocked by another airplane waiting to depart. The captain advised us that we would have to wait about 30 minutes on the tarmac. Later he came on and updated the announcement that we would have to wait for the departing plane to be “deiced” – another 20 minute delay. After over an hour we inched up to the gate. The flight attendant came on the intercom to advise us that, unfortunately, the tire on the jet way had blown out while it was about 8 feet from the door! I’ve never heard of that happening. The alternative back up plan to get us off the plane was to bring “people movers” to deliver us to the terminal. These people movers are like huge buses on hydraulics! They crammed about 50 people in each vehicle. Fortunately our group was not split up and we were all in the first transit to the terminal. We quickly located our needed terminal and gate and sprinted off for an “on time” departure. According to the monitors we were to leave from gate B36. However, when we got there no one was around. We continued down the concourse and found that the correct gate was B45 … wow, they do things different in our nation’s capital. Half of our group made the sprint and we boarded the aircraft first. The other half (the older half! Sorry) waited for another “people mover” to bring them across the tarmac to the B terminal. They made it on time. We were all onboard, together again! One minor concern (at this point) is the fear that our bags may not have made the close connection in Dulles. We may arrive in Madrid with the clothes on our back and whatever we carried on! We have been assured that if our bags are not with us they will be delivered to the hotel we are staying at in Madrid.

We were delayed at least 45 minutes in our departure from D.C. because we had to wait for the crew to deice our plane before take off. This plane is smaller than the 747, I think it is an A340, a wide body. It still has two aisles but only 8 seats across the plane instead of 10. It is also all one layer rather than the two story behemoth. This airplane and flight crew is Lufthansa, the German company that is also a partner with United Airlines. We immediately saw the difference as the announcements were all bilingual (German and English)! Other differences included complimentary service of alcohol (I didn’t), German speaking flight attendants (fortunately bilingual), and the meals served (with a European flair). The service was good and the meal was tasty (or I was really hungry). After sleeping for awhile I decided to update my travel blog before our snack time and the arrival in Munich. Hopefully, they made up some time in the air (it was a 7.5 hour flight) so that we will be able to catch our Madrid flight in Munich. We only have about an hour scheduled between these two flights. We have the promise of a nice long night in a Madrid hotel before we start the week with services and sightseeing. I think I’ll be ready to lie down!

Thanks for your prayers! Remember to pray for me Sunday! God bless.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Another Missions Trip!

What a surprise just one week ago when Pastor D.H. O'Keefe, WD missions director, called to say there had been a cancellation on the "Pastors on Missions" trip and I was the next one on the list! He invited me to join them for a missions trip to Spain and Portugal leaving March 16th ... just eleven days away. I asked for the details and the costs for my wife to join me on the trip and then promised to get back with him the following day. We weren't really able to talk about it too much until my wife returned from a ladies prayer meeting late Monday evening. We discussed all the commitments we would have to cancel, find substitutes for, or rearrange in order to go. Never knowing when another opportunity like this might come we finally decided to make the decision to go and spend the rest of our days before the trip making arrangements for our absence.

Our church has been very supportive. They were thrilled that we were going together on this trip. The last three international trips I’ve taken with other preachers. My wife made one trip to Canada to speak at some ladies meetings without me. So this is our time to go together! I certainly prefer it that way. Because we have such good and dedicated people attending our church I have great confidence that everything will go well. I invited guest speakers to minister and my assistant, Jarrod Wilson, to take care of the teaching load. I think everything is organized and ready!

Dr. Daniel Segraves, president of Christian Life College, was also very supportive of us taking this missions trip. I discussed the opportunity and he assured me that we should go. With that approval, I set out to find substitutes for my classes and arrange tests and some cancellations for the week and a day that we will be missing from classes. I only had to cancel two classes; I’m sure my students will be disappointed!

There has been a strong missions emphasis at the college, this year in particular. Brian Henry and I made the trip to Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India last October to minister in a conference in Anand. Just one month ago a team of eight students went to Hyderabad, India to minister in some of the village areas of that region. Following that a team of about 15 students went on a missions trip to Mexico. I feel that this exposure to various parts of the world gives enlargement to the vision of our students for an enhanced concept of world ministry. It also increases my frame of reference and passion for other people of the world. As a result our church is blessed by this exposure to the worldwide vision of the Gospel through our ministry. We are very thankful for another opportunity to participate in international missions ministry.