We returned this morning from Richmond, where we had spent the night after arriving late from Orlando. Many happy memories fill our minds as we reflect upon the past week. A few highlights:
The service was superb. Each member of the very international crew treated us with courtesy, and went out of their way to give us a pleasant experience. Their dedication and cheerfulness impressed us greatly.
Once I thanked a woman who was shining the railing. She responded, “It’s my duty, Sir.”
“Yes, but you do it well, and I appreciate it,” I replied, struck by her humility. If only I had the same attitude about the work God has given me to do! Truly, we are all “unprofitable servants.”
All along the way, we encountered believers.
As we boarded the mini-bus to the beach in Nassau, we saw “The Lord is my shepherd” written on the door. We said to the driver, “The Lord is our shepherd, too!” He gave us very helpful information and advice on how to go through the luxury hotel to the sands beyond, where we could gaze upon the clear waters of the Bahamas.
Likewise, the driver of the open-air bus from the beach on St. Thomas persisted in playing a Christian radio station, despite the complaints of a passenger who had already had a bit too much to drink and wanted some entertainment.
Jack runs a very simple drink stand – a shack, really - at the peak overlooking a lovely bay on St. Maarten. As soon as out tour bus pulled up for a photo opportunity, we noticed the homemade billboards all around his place, filled with Scriptures. Down in Phillipsburg, we had seen many signs extolling the value of freedom from slavery, but here, high above, Jack’s sings said that freedom comes only in Christ.
“Is this shop your work,” asked my wife.
“No! It is my witness!” he boomed, cheerfully.
She saw his fearless devotion to the Gospel, and asked, “Is the spiritual warfare here hard?”
“No! The war is not hard; the war has been won!” Another laugh.
“This is the most glorious time in which to live,” he asserted.
“Because every day brings us closer to the Rapture!”
We descended from his mountaintop with a fresh appreciation for the spiritual wealth he possessed, despite the decrepit state of his surroundings.
We had met a similar sort of faith in Nassau when Dori bought a stylish straw hat for me from Patrice.
“Has the recession affected your business?” Dori inquired.
“Yes, it has. Times are uncertain for us. But when He is in the boat, we smile at the storm.” Her calm, dignified demeanor backed up her words.
One day, as I made my way out of the Lido restaurant to an upper deck, I passed a group of black people sitting together. The handsome man at the head of the table had a large Bible open in front of him. As I went by, I heard him say, “The bottom line is, we are sinners saved by grace.”
“Amen! Preach it, brother,” I chimed in. So he did, repeating, “The bottom line is, we are sinners saved by grace.”
The woman who led our tour of St. Martin/St. Maarten seemed to direct our attention to almost everything we passed.
“On your right you will see a mango tree. Some banana trees are over there on the left. As we round this corner, look for the iguana. There is our elementary school… our hospital… our new athletic stadium… the police station with housing for the gendarmes and their families…”
Meanwhile, Dori and I marked the contrast between luxurious homes for the rich and the run-down dwellings of the common folks. The state of disrepair, even poverty, struck us as we rode around an island entirely dependent upon tourism. Even the new buildings were small and unimpressive.
At the conclusion of the tour, since it was their national holiday, she sang the national anthem, which extolled the natural beauty of the place. Her heartfelt love for her country, small and poor as it is, moved me deeply. I was ashamed of myself as I realized that I had focused too much on what was not pretty (aside from the stunning scenery), while to her everything was important, all progress was significant, everything was beautiful. What a blessing it would be to have such a way of seeing life!
These lessons from the ordinary people whom we encountered came in handy each night at dinner. We had discovered to our delight that two of the other three couples at our table were dedicated Christians, and the fourth couple attended church regularly, though they did not seem to have the same sort of faith that the rest of us did.
Partly to encourage everyone else, and partly to provide food for thought for the fourth couple, I would share what I head heard each day.
The first night, Dori and I held hands and said simple prayer of thanks for the food when the first course arrived. On the third night, another of the couples did the same; the third followed suit the night after that, and on the last night, the wife of couple who seemed most mature in their faith said, “I want to pray for all of us before we begin. Is that OK?” She then offered a lovely thanksgiving for the fellowship we had enjoyed and for the birthday of one of our companions.
She and her husband took the initiative to befriend us. We shared the dance floor with them several nights, and ate three meals just with them. By the time we parted, we had become quite close, and we hope to keep in touch. That is possible, since they live near Dori’s sister in California.
How different it could have been for us! So many of the people on board seemed to live for the pleasures of the moment, oblivious of God and his ways. Repeatedly, when I asked fellow passengers on the elevator what they liked most, they said, “The shopping. It’s all about the shopping”
Or, “The shows.” Well, I could not share their appreciation for some of the entertainment. The bits and pieces of two shows we saw and heard before walking out were lewd and coarse. Free drinks were offered on the last evening before dinner, so we went to the Ebony lounge for a glass of wine. Watching the well-lubricated crowd whooping it up, I had a very uneasy feeling that they might not all be ready for the Lord’s return. Was this a cruise ship to nowhere for some of them?
(I should note that this was on the Carnival line, a company noted for its Los Vegas atmosphere. Since the cruise was basically free, we had no choice about which line to take. It would only be fair, also, to point out the efficiency, cleanliness, and overall excellence of the ship and the crew.)
For me, the highlight was dancing with Dori to the tune of the “Tennessee Waltz” sung by Jim, the country music performer, and to “Unchained Melody” performed by a handsome Filipino duo. Other happy moments included reading on the deck while watching the blue sea go by; swimming in azure waters on the beaches of Nassau and St. Thomas, watching the sun go down below the far horizon, and listening to Andrea play classical pieces on the piano during high tea in a dining room looking out over the waters receding behind us.
Those waters were rough, by the way, for the winds were high and the seas roiled as a result of Hurricane Ida, hundreds of miles away. When I thanked Andrea for her music, she replied, “Well I could have provided much better for you had I felt better and the waters had been calm.” It seems that she was seasick the whole time she was giving us what seemed to be a flawless performance. I suppose she considered it her duty.
Before leaving home, Dori and I had agreed that we would leave ministry to Chinese on shore. This was to be a total vacation from our ordinary work – no emails, no computer, no planning, and no seeking out Chinese with whom to share the Gospel.
But I could not refrain from taking advantage of openings with a couple crew members. Forsina comes from Macedonia, and is an Orthodox believer. Someone had given her a Macedonian language Bible in Port Canaveral, which she read daily at first, until she got too busy. I urged her to resume that salutary habit.
When I noticed that P.T. came from Thailand, I asked about her religion. “I am a Buddhist. I believe in Buddha because it is true. He helps me to do what is right”
“What happens when you do wrong?” I asked.
“Well, you know it! You know it right away.”
“What do you do then?”
“I improve myself.”
“But what happens when you can’t improve yourself?” I pressed.
She had no answer, so I said, “That’s why I believe in Jesus. He shows me what to do, helps me do what is right, and provides forgiveness when I fail to improve myself enough.”
We talked several times over the next few days. I hope to be able to send her a Bible in Thai.
God used not only the wise sayings of other believers to encourage my faith, but also spoke to me through observations of little things. For example:
The elevators go in only two directions. You are either going up, or you are going down. There is no third destination.
As you prepare to board the ship, you are with the crowd, several abreast in an amorphous mass. Nearing the gangway, the line becomes double, but then narrows to single file when you approach the entrance. Finally, you pass through the inspection point, one by one, each person presenting his I.D. card for inspection. Without that mark of belonging, you cannot board the ship, no matter how much money you have, or how beautiful you are, or anything else you might possess. The card, and the card alone, gains you access.
Our vessel was very large, and caused a considerable wake as it churned through the sea at more than 19 knots. The waters were white behind us for quite a distance, clearly marking our passage. Not too far in the distance, however, there was no trace of our ship’s presence. I thought: Some people make a big impression as they journey through life. They write books, accomplish much, benefit many, even become famous. Not long after their death, however, almost all of them are forgotten, appearing, at best, as a short entry in some biographical dictionary.
We are home now, happy for what God gave us for one short week; mindful that the Lord has His people all over the globe; keenly aware that many do not know Him; thankful for the humble service of those who make the world go around; aware of the gap that separates the rich from the rest; and not completely ready to face the tasks lying before us!
All good things on the earth come to an end. But there God’s love is everlasting, and a blessed future awaits us that will far surpass any vacation we have briefly enjoyed.
November 14, 2009