Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pearl's Mothers

This was written by my friend, Shirley Mcmillan, under the name of "Pearl."  Shirley is now Director of  the Foster Grandparents Program at Ouachita Baptist University. She is, herself, one of these Saints spoken of.

(By Shirley McMillan)

          "I beg your pardon!  I never promised you a rose garden.  Along with the sunshine, there's gotta be a little rain sometime."  The words of this song came to mind as I reflected back on my first Sunday as substitute teacher in the More Mature Women's class several weeks ago.  I was a bit apprehensive of showing up to "teach" this group of women who "knew me when I was yet in my mother's womb" (including my mother, herself)! 

          What could I teach them about Habakkuk's message of living by faith?  They already knew the life applications of the scripture:  that "you can bring your questions and doubts to the Lord"; that "you can trust God in any and all circumstances"; that "you need patience to wait upon the fulfillment of God's promises".  I think I learned more than they did that day.

          As I've heard various Christians say from time to time, "My life is my witness", I have thought "what a cop-out!"  That is, until I recalled life experiences of these ladies who had helped raise me through the years.  I sat and wrote the following tribute to these saints whose lives have been an open book of faith.
"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
 though the olive crop fails and the fields  produce no food,
 though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior."  (Hab. 3:17-18)

 Although my daughter was killed, I will rejoice in the Lord.
Though my grandson died too young, the Lord saw me through it.
 Though my son took his life, God gives me the strength to face tomorrow.
 Though my husband is so dependent on me, and my own health is failing,
God is giving me the grace and courage to face life one day at a time.
 Though my husband was an alcoholic, God never left me, and it all worked for good.
 Though recuperation from surgery has been a long struggle, God has encouraged me through all my friends and with His presence.
 Though life is lonely without my husband, God comforts and strengthens me.
 Though my children seem to have gone astray, God assures me that He will complete the good work that He began in them.
 "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me."  (Psalm 23:4)
 "The sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
  He enables me to go on the heights." (Hab. 3:19)
 As I finished writing, I knew that life application #2 was the message for that day's lesson:  "God's Word is not something to selfishly hoard."  These women might not consider themselves "super Christians" with "edge of your seat" testimonies.  But I beg your pardon!  In this life of rain storms and thorny roses, their lives have spoken of God's faithfulness to continue shining into the dark corners.  "And he that has the answer must run with it." (Hab. 2:2) 

Friday, February 14, 2014

True Diary of an 1858 Wagon Train

This will be my last post for awhile, maybe a month. I have to prepare for prison life, then I've got a short stint to do at Pine Bluff Prison. (Prison Ministry, if you haven't been reading.) And, I'm just now getting a handle on historical fiction, and my next book is underway. This fiction stuff is hard for me. My mother taught me not to lie, and my Gillum Do-Right Mechanism is totally against it. But somebody smarter than me told me that possibly, not all of Jesus' teaching parables were totally true, and if that's true, He's a man I wouldn't mind being in the same boat with. My problem seems to be, reconciling fiction with downright lying. Fictional writing is good, Lying is not. OK, I can do this. In fact, I'm really beginning to enjoy it. Already got ten pages full of lies er, I mean, fiction. All in all, it's a story that I'm beginning to really like.. At worst, maybe my stint of Prison Ministry will balance out a few tiny little white lies/fictions. What do you think? Take care, my friends, and God bless.
My two sets of great-great grandparents traveled from Georgia to Arkansas on this wagon train. The man who scouted for it, probably a distant kin, wrote a daily diary as they went. The Blackburns and Robinsons were my ancestors. I'm including a few of these true daily posts that I thought you might like. Thanks for Reading, see you when the weather's warm!

          November 11, 1858.
     We had on our train a very entertaining couple. We came to a place where people were raising a log cabin, the very sickliest crowd I ever saw.  Our man asked the crowd, “How long have you people been dead?” Right there we were almost in a fight; but our man apologized by begging pardon telling the cause of his mistake was they buried people where he came from long before they looked half as bad as that crowd did. Then we had to retreat, double time, and beg off.

     November 23, 1858.
     Four inches of snow on the ground this morning. We leave Thomasville, pass through very thinly settled hills and valleys, water very scarce. I must tell you that we had been living on Irish potatoes for several days and still doing so.  These we had to dig out of the snow; no bread stuff to be had. They would all tell us, “Our folks are all gone into Ar-can-saw, about fifty miles away, to mill with wheat. Looking back tonight, I found some flour for sale in Thomasville.  But it being in the night, we had to chase the chickens out of their roost in the flour bin. I concluded to wait until morning, then stick to our potato digging which was not so bad with fat quail, squirrel and pigeon. Meeting nothing of note, we camp in Howells' Valley after a day's travel of twenty miles.

     November 24, 1858.
     I must state here that I was sort of a handy boy to look up something to eat, and tramped ahead with my gun. Frequently, I would be requested to look out for various things to eat, this time it was butter. I soon found a place I could get all I wanted if I could wait for the housewife to churn, which I agreed to do. I heard the lady chasing the pigs back of the house. I looked around there and saw her chasing the pigs out of a large wooden churn. Had it been a stone one I think I could have stomached it, but not a wooden one. I told her I was in a hurry, and if she got it ready maybe she could sell it to the train when it came by, and I would move on knowing well that my folks would not buy as they left that to me. In camp that night one of our ladies bawled out that if anyone wanted butter she would divide out her stock. She described the place to me and I knew at once she bought the butter where the pigs were chased out of the churn. But I would take none of it which they all thought strange, because I was fond of butter. I gave no reason that I would not take any of it, only that there would not be enough to go around if I did. After the butter had all disappeared, I let out my secret. If you have ever saw a mad crowd of women, that was the maddest. One of my aunts said she would never forgive me. We go into camp having traveled eighteen miles.

    December 15, 1858.
     Four of us, viz. John H. Blackburn, Alfred S. Robinson, John Coon and the writer started for White county, but changed our course and headed for the Arkansas River Valley. Our object to look out for a satisfactory location. We traveled on horseback, leaving the balance of our troops in camp near Huntsville. Our trip led us over rough lofty mountains. We came to the white river, and traced it to its source. We passed over other high mountains, struck branches of the Mulberry river, then descending the mountains into Johnson county, took up lodging with one, Mr. Jones, a good distance from Huntsville.(This foursome traveled on to the Arkansas River Valley to Galley Rock, in Pope County. The Blackburns and the Robinsons, my ancestors, found their promised land, and settled there.)
     Mr. Darr tells of seeing a  three hundred pound catfish on the ferry while crossing the Mississippi River. Members of the wagon train were advised to shave their heads before the trip, to make themselves less attractive to Indians. He tells a cute little story about a mess he found himself in, before the trip even got started.
      "Must tell how I got in a tight place at our first camp.  Many of the neighbors came to our camp and amongst them was a pretty and attractive young lady with the good name of Prudence, who made many remarks of regret because she could not accompany us as she had kinfolks amongst us. The writer, not looking for anything more serious than a joke remarked, “Why not go with me?” Oh Jerusalem! But she answered, “This is so sudden, but I will answer you in the morning before you leave camp.” Now, what was I to do? No trouble if her answer was “no,” but if “yes” the devil I would have to pay as I could not even care for myself, of course I would have to back down if yes, and treat it as a joke. But I done better. I hit the road and was several miles on my way at sunup. This taught me never to joke with a young lady on this subject unless prepared to foot the bill."

Monday, February 10, 2014

Kairos Prison Ministry: #38

Kairos will travel to Pine Bluff Prison next week for our four day visit, Walk #40. The last walk I did was #38 last February, but I didn't talk much about it. Not because I didn't want to, because I always come back really pumped up, ready to tell the whole world about my wonderful experience on a Kairos Inside team. But I remembered there was a word or two written about “hiding our good works under a bushel” and I was not sure how Kairos felt about that. But I heard the Chairman of the Board of Kairos International speak last night, and he mentioned we need to get the word out about the great work Kairos does, since we usually have a shortage of good men available. And, since it's my habit to tell you all I do, want to do, and think about doing, I was delighted to hear that. It just so happens that that chairman is a good old Arkadelphia boy, but since I have never met a Kairos man who wanted to be publicly bragged on, since it is not him actually making all this possible, but God, I won't mention names here.
     Each four day weekend is called a “Walk.” Two per year, and this was the 38th Walk at Pine bluff. In between Walks, a small group of Kairos men go down to the prison each week, attend services in the chapel pretty well put on by the Men in White who are graduates of the Kairos program, just to support and keep contact with them. Kairos seems to have reunions at the drop of a hat, also.We stay in touch with these men.
     The team I was a part of for this walk consisted of 21 men, from all over Arkansas, from many Christian denominations. We prepared for this walk by meeting most Saturdays this winter leading up to Feb. 21. We  worked and prayed toward making ourselves humble, vulnerable. Each man sets  his denomination's specific beliefs and customs aside for the duration, and we work to become one very close group in working for Jesus Christ. One group, one purpose. Period. I would gladly drive to Little Rock any time just to be in the midst of those twenty men. But again, it's not all about these men. It's what God does through these men.
     We are all commanded by Jesus to visit him in prison. But it's not practical for every Christian to actually go inside. Hundreds and hundreds of other Christians become our outside support team. They provide constant prayer during the time we are there, posters and good wishes to post on the walls, donations. I personally dislike asking for money, but nothing in this world gets done for free. We also take in 50 dozen cookies each, usually more, provided by the support team. The first thing we do upon reaching Pine bluff is bag up 1000 bags of 12 cookies each. Cookies play a very important role. Every single person inside those walls is going to have a good mess of cookies delivered to them, personally, twice during that time, so they love to see Kairos coming. They love us before we even show up!

We work with  inmates chosen from a group of volunteers.  Each morning, those 24 men come in, one at a time, and are met by twenty one smiling Kairos men singing “When the saints go marching in,” clapping, shaking their hand, and all ready with a hug if they want one. Most all do. They get few hugs in that prison. That entrance moment is very powerful. Many are crying before it's over, both inmates and free world men alike.    
     Six inmates are seated at a table, along with two Kairos laymen and a clergy. Each group stays together all week. We listen to stories and talks  by clergy and laymen alike, each with a specific point to drive home regarding their walk with Christ. The talks and stories are pretty well scripted, chosen from those proven to work hundreds of times before.
     Each table of men then discusses the story.  The inmates  make a poster showing their feelings about this story, and this poster reflects that. The inmates then take their poster up and explain it to the whole group. Platters of cookies and fruit are served by  Kairos graduates, along with drinks, usually cool aid, coffee, and water.
     From time to time, we all move into the chapel for singing, praying, and short talks. Plenty of break time is provided, a good time for visiting and building relationships. Each day goes from early morning to late at night, with meals served at these same tables, on place mats usually made by the children on our support team. Good will and love posters from many other Kairos groups around the world are being posted daily on the walls.
     And thus it goes. By the end of the first day, each table of men is usually a pretty tight group. These men, to my experience, have no wish to be smart alecs, or show how tough they are. They're fully grown men. Broken men, who finally have come to see the need to put their broken lives back together, as best they can. Many come to realize that through the grace offered by Jesus Christ is a good way. Some see it as the only way.
Some come in skeptical, and leave that way. Some just come for the good food and the cookies, but usually leave with  more. But every man who accepts Jesus becomes a good example, at least, and some become God's missionaries in a very dark place. Kairos stays beside them, all the way, during their journey. A group of Kairos men go to Pine Bluff each week to support them as these new Christians conduct a church service each Thursday night.
     When I was trying to explain Kairos to Barbara, she said, “So, a very large part of your job is to model for these men the forgiveness, love, and grace available to them by God. Is that right?” Well, I had never heard it put just that way by Kairos, but I guess, that's about right. 
      We never ask why they're in there in the first place. God can forgive them, and we're not there to judge. Personally, I'd rather not know. But if they wish to talk about it, we're there to listen. Many do.

     Men cannot repair those broken families surrounding these men, or fix their broken lives, the physical and emotional scars, the heartbreak. But God can  change their hearts, and often does.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Kairos Prison Ministry

We of Kairos are preparing for Walk 40, our next four day visit to Pine Bluff Prison, to train 24 Men in White in the ways of Jesus. These "Walks" occur twice each year. It will be during the last full week in February. My next post will describe Walk 38, which I will post in four days.
This post is a message I gave last week, at the weekly church service led by graduates of past Kairos walks. The service begins with several hymns. Then a short talk, such as this, the only speaking role Kairos normally plays at these services, is given. Afterwards, the men break into small groups to discuss the question posed in the talk, followed by an "open mike" period so all who wish to may be heard. They tell it like it is, speaking clearly and frankly. No "put on" here. We then get in one very large circle, prayer requests are given, and we "Pray out."  Kairos men are always there, to support these Men in White as they conduct their own church services every Thursday night. Last night, 50 Men in white were present. On their way out, almost all of these men shake our hand or hug us, sincerely thanking us for coming. As many have said, "You could be anywhere in the world you want to be tonight. Yet you chose to come here." What a blessing such words are to us Kairos men!

When Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount, which probably covered several days of preaching, he was followed by very large crowds. His disciples, the closest associates of this popular man, were probably tempted to feel important, proud, and possessive. Being with Jesus, they could get prestige – offered money and power.

Jesus took them aside and warned of these temptations. He told them, be willing to give where others take, love where others hate, help where others abuse. He told them, by giving up your own rights, you will be rewarded. Maybe not in this life, but in everything God has in store for you in Heaven.
For those who grieve, bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes. A garment of gladness instead of mourning. A garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

When one is torn apart by sorrow, take comfort in this promise of complete protection and relief. All who are God’s children receive a seal to protect us through tribulation and suffering; all who have been faithful, when given that which God has promised us, will have no tears for suffering, because suffering is over. No more tears for sin, because we have all been forgiven of our sins; No more tears for death, for all those who are believers have been resurrected to die no more.

What Jesus, and we believers say contrasts sharply with the words of the people who are proud and prideful, thinking they have already, in this world, attained a righteous state.

When we reach the rewards Jesus has promised believers,  
Jesus says: Happy will be the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven
Happy will be those that mourn, for they will be comforted.
Happy will be the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Happy will be those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Happy will be the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Happy will be the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Happy will be the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Happy will be those who are persecuted because of Righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and give light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds, and praise your Father in Heaven.
How can you let your light shine, as Christians, in this place you live in? If you talk the talk, and proclaim yourself to be a Christian, do you walk the walk when you leave this place we meet in on Thursday nights? Do the unsaved masses look at you, and think, “He’s a Christian. I want to be like him.” Or do they think, “If that’s what a Christian is, I want no part of that.”

There is no more fertile mission field, anywhere, than right here at Pine Bluff Prison. You can help God’s light shine, right here where you live, or you can help to put it out, by your example. It’s up to you. Question: How can I be a good example for Jesus Christ, once I leave this room, and go back to my dormitory in this prison?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Hard Winter Camping: Conclusion

While we lived at Fayetteville in the 60’s and 70’s, we usually spent every spring break at Watson, with Barbara’s parents. Barbara didn’t really care how many nights I was gone there, because she had all her sisters and her folks to visit with, and could care less about what I did. I made the most of it. Her Daddy, Sport, was a farmer and a tough old man, he loved to fish and enjoyed laying out on the river bank all night, so we usually took his middle buster, plowed a row across the old hog pen, picked up about a gallon or two of those giant Buckshot worms, and headed for the river. Southeast Arkansas, near where the Arkansas River and the mighty Mississip’ join, is not like other places I have fished. It’s pretty much the catfish capital of the world. There’s no legal limit on catfish there, and on my best night, I caught 78 catfish.  Weight wise, my best catch down there was 300 pounds, spread out over 40 or so fish. But, there’s only a small window between freezing to death on the river in early March, and getting eaten up by mosquitoes in late march. In early March I often found myself sitting in the truck with a lantern for heat between line runnin’s.  Or hugging my campfire. In late March one just had to tolerate, as much as possible, the swarms of skeeters.

 Back in pioneer days, there was a town down there named Napoleon, Arkansas, right on the banks of the mighty Mississip’. All that’s left of Napoleon in modern times is the grave yard. Or was, I should say. The big river finally washed away even the graveyard last year. That’s just the nature of a very large river. They move around a lot. There’s also a little strip of land that belongs to the state of Mississippi on the Arkansas side.

Anyway, looking at the tombstones, every one there died by the time they reached the ripe old age of 26. They seemed to have moved on rather quickly from those vast hoards of skeeters, or died early from malaria. Delton, my brother in law, and I once camped at the confluence of the White River and the Mississippi. We set up our tents well before dark, sprayed down the doorway good with mosquito dope, went inside really quickly, and spent a little time, locating those who managed to rush in with us, and picked them off one at a time. Then, we could sleep. Or would have, had it not been for a buck deer who so resented our presence that he spent a good portion of the night, running up and down behind our tent, snorting and stomping. Or maybe, he was just trying to get away from those hoards of skeeters.

Cossatot Falls is a nice place to go, if you’ve never been there. The name Cossatot means “skull crusher.” It’s in mid western Arkansas, and is now a state park. It’s a spot where the Cossatot River cuts right through the top of a tall ridge. How could that happen, you might ask? Well, the Ouachita mountains are relatively young mountains. They were formed when another continent bumped into the southern end of North America, and gradually wrinkled up the earth, forming long ridges. The river was already in place when this started, and as the Mountain slowly rose up, the river slowly eroded it down. The hardest rocks were the slowest to erode, and they remain, sticking up at an angle in the river bed. It not only makes a neat place to look at, and make pictures, but it also produces the highest rated white water between the Smoky mountains and the Rockies. Six or so major falls in a relatively short distance, with the river dropping 40 feet in one eighth mile. The baddest rapid is named Washing Machine, rated IV+. I find myself going there regularly, to either show it off to someone who’s never been there, or to just look at it again for myself. The river eventually empties into Gilham Lake, named after me, probably. (OOPs! There they go, misspelling my name again.) I took a Canadian couple, my friends Doug and Cora-Faye, to see it once. She just would not leave when I told them we had to go, lots of other places to see before we sleep. She wanted to stay there all day.
Anyway, let me get back to the point of my story, hard camping. Years ago, before it became a State Park, Corey decided one Christmas that we should go to Cossatot Falls, camp out. We didn’t have any winter sleeping bags then, but the day was pretty warm, so we went. When it got dark, it started getting much colder than we anticipated, so we drove up on a mountain, found a truck load of pine knots in the dark, and that kept us busy, and warm, until close to midnight. Then, burning those pine knots kept us warm for a good while. But we had not anticipated the fact that we would eventually get sleepy, and that’s where the cold came in. Corey put on all the clothes he had with him, and tried to get in his bag, but it would only go on him up to his waist, what with all the coats he had on. We finally pretty well kept each other awake the rest of the night with our chattering teeth. The thermometer said 19 degrees, but the river WAS beautiful the next morning at daylight, with all the fog arising from the falls.

My latest episode of hard winter camping came a couple of years ago. I found a minus twenty degree sleeping bag at a garage sale. I figured I could take anything an Arkansas winter could throw at me with that bag, and my little tent. So, I went into the Ouachita mountains, drove until I had completely lost myself in those hills and valleys, found a likely spot with plenty of wood on the ground nearby, and set up camp. I spent most of the afternoon dragging up plenty of wood to my campfire area. I set up my tent, built a good fire, got really close, and just sat. As an old man, I find I can be happy for a long time, just sitting by a good campfire. It was getting really cold again, in the teens, with a stiff breeze. At bedtime, I went into the tent and started my small propane stove, got the tent cozy. I got in my bag, warmed it up, then turned off the stove. I didn’t like the idea of having a stove on when I sleep in a tent, just too many ways that can come back to bite me. Tomorrow morning, I would just reach out with one arm and light my stove, let the tent get warm, then get dressed. Everything would go perfectly. The bag was actually for two people, so I had plenty of room to bury up in it. But I DID have to breathe, so I had to leave a little tunnel to breathe through. The side of my face next to the tunnel lost all feeling that night, and stayed that way for a few days. Also, I was forgetting one thing. Old men usually have to get up a couple of times at night. And I was now an old man. That part didn’t work well. I didn’t have a good system worked out to keep from freezing during those expeditions. All in all, though, it was a good trip. I found my way back out of those mountains the next day, although it took the best part of a day. And, a few days later, all the feeling came back into the breathing tunnel side of my face. So all’s well that ends well.

I’m now planning my hard winter camping trip for this winter, but not while it’s as cold as it has been lately. Those single digits just won’t work. And, I’m going to do like my dad always did in the winter. I’m taking a jug into that tent with me. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

So, if you read in the paper, “Really old man found deep in the Ouachita Mountains, mysteriously transformed into a human icycle,” You’ll be able to put two and two together, and figure out the details. Anyway, I can think of no better place to meet my maker than in the mountains, or on the river. Not that I’m in any rush about that. I’ll be fighting for every last breath, even if I live to be l00, though the Gillums aren’t famous for that.