Too much starch …

Most of you know of my encounter with the owner/cook at a cafe’ here in Jame’s Cistern when I was here in 2008 where I tried to order peas and rice along with mac and cheese. Well I went by to see the owner of Lee’s Cafe (Leona) to remind her of her challenge and to let her know that when I was in Freeport three years ago I shared that story with the owner of the cafe’ where I ate while on Freeport and he, Dudley, laughed and said “This is my sister Leona”. When I told her the story she just laughed and laughed

Me and Leona

but I she said that she was a bit embarrassed for saying that but I told her she should not. I told her it was like eating at my momma’s table and I felt right at home. Well this year it has been about like eating with my momma because I have eaten there more than anywhere else. The way my meals work here is that I bought supplies for breakfast when I flew in, the students provide supper or a snack during a class break and I usually go out for lunch. A modest lunch here can cost as much as $25. The food is always good but after a while that gets to be costly. So I decided to basically land at Lee’s Cafe’ where I can get lunch for between $8 and $13. The menu varies from day to day but is always excellent. I have had her fried chicken (said to be the best on the island), some of her fish,several of her sides and today had the cracked lobster and peas and rice.

Today's lunch

Saturday I was scheduled to go for breakfast for her famous stew fish (not a fish stew but a Bahamian way of preparing fish) but there was a water main break and she was closed. Which means I will have to wait until my next trip because she only prepares stew fish on Saturday but I do hope to make it for breakfast tomorrow (cooked my last egg yesterday) for grits and tuna, another local favorite.

Sunday on Eleuthera

When I first came to Eleuthera in 2006 all of my students were black Bahamians except for two men from the island of Spanish Wells Just north of Eleuthera

Donald and Jared

Donald and Jared were from a congregation on the island called The People’s Church. My first encounter with them (they may forget) was their questioning why I was giving them a additional textbook since they already had one for church history (I went through and distilled the book to bring out the most important people, events and dates). Well I told them to help them take notes. They ended up thinking that was a great idea, thought it was great of me to think of it and right off the bat we hit it off. One of the things that I try and stress throughout the entire course is the Biblical truth that God blesses his church when the gospel is the center for all of life, ministry and mission. I talk about how the church at large and individual people throughout church history were constantly “recovering the gospel” and impacting the church in great ways. It turned out they and several in their church were “rediscovering the gospel” as well. They were learning from teachers and through their personal experience that we are not nearly as good as we think we are and that the gospel is incredibly more deep than we imagine. I particularly remember how they were very encouraged when I shared with them a story that Rose Marie Miller used to tell about speaking at a conference at one point and standing up and saying: “My name is Rose Marie Miller and I am a recovering Pharisee”. One of them (I can’t remember) shouted out “That is what I am a recovering Pharisee! Now I know what I really am”.

Well we struck up a friendship that sadly could only be carried forward on Facebook and via email. That was until the next year when the People’s Church invited Eleuthera Bible Training Center to teach their two year curriculum on Spanish Wells. That I meant that in 2008 I was asked to return to Eleuthera and teach Church History on Spanish Wells.

Again it was a great two weeks with me establishing new relationships. I was able to renew some of those relationships today as I headed north to catch the ferry to Spanish Wells to worship with them. Jimmy Buffett (most of you know I am a big Buffett fan – one of you who helped finance this trip actually sold me a Buffett CD once at a local store in the ‘Boro – and I have found that Buffett definitely sounds better in the Tropics) has a song entitled “I Have Found a Home” about living in the islands and he says: “The days drift by, they don’t have names”. That is certainly true here and there are times I have to figure out what day it is. That did not happen today but the time is always hard for me to figure out. The clock on my computer is central time, I set a clock for eastern time (the time in Eleuthera) but the electricity goes off so often here that the clock is often wrong. I was planning on attending worship but did not plan on going to Sunday School. After all I am here serving the Lord and need some time off!

Well somehow I got there and hour early. I really don’t know how that happened. As I replay the morning I cannot figure out how I left an hour early but it was clear after getting there that our Father wanted me there for Sunday school. Sunday school was on the Jesus. Nothing new, nothing novel just a gentle reminder of who Jesus is and what he did for sinners like me. No matter how many times I am reminded of the fabulous truth is never enough. Donald taught Sunday school and tried over and over to remind all of us there that Jesus is always enough.

Then for the sermon it turned out that Donald was preaching as well. Donald is what Presbyterians would call a ruling elder but the church is without a pastor and so on many occasions Donald is taking the responsibility for bringing the Word. He preached very courageously from Colossians 2 on the uselessness of man made rules and regulations for sanctification. He stated several times that Jesus is sufficient for justification and for sanctification. Spoke to and encouraged my heart. If you look at the sign you can likely figure out that Jesus is the antidote for religion. So it was a great Lord’s Day on Eleuthera and Spanish Wells. Returned to the center to eat supper with a group of young adults from a church in Greenville who are here on a short missions trip helping with outreach to Jame’s Cistern. It was a great time of food and fellowship.

Donald teaching Sunday School

Amazing Students

As I walk down the high hill behind the Eleuthera Bible Training Institute where my apartment is located, I look with amazement at the glorious sunset and think about my students waiting in the classroom for our class to begin.

I am always amazed by the students that I encounter teaching with Caribbean Ministries Association. To date I have taught here on Eleuthera, in Freeport and on Spanish Wells an island just north of Eleuthers. Since this class is just one of 10 in the 2 year curriculum it is easy to see that these students are serious about leaning in order to be better equipped for ministry. I must say, however, that the students from Eleuthera hold a special place in my

Some of my students this year

heart. In many poorer communities pastors and church workers tend to be bi-vocational, they hold down a “day job” and also serve the church. That is certainly true of the folk in my class. In getting to know them I found out a few of them are teachers, one owns a local restaurant (see last blog entry about The Front Porch), one takes in laundry, several of the men are in construction and there is a wide variety of job among the other students. One of my students, Edouard, is originally from Martinique, an island in the French Antilles, and came to Eleuthera over 20 years ago to work at the Club Med here. In 1999 hurricane Floyd devastated Eleuthara and destroyed most of Club Med which never reopened. Edvard has since then been working in the refrigeration and air conditioning. His native language is French and seems to still struggle a bit with English but is still here every night

Edouardis on the left

I find myself amazed that these folks work all day and then come out for these classes for 3 hours each night. They are real students, not just going through the motions, not just doing these classes so they can get a certificate from Eleuthera Bible Training Center. And why are they taking the class? They are involved with and committed to ministry on the island of Eleuthera and they want to be better equipped for that calling in their lives.

As I have mentioned before that the class in Church History is just one of 10 classes that are part of this certificate program at EBTC. It is the next to the last class to be offered and I sometimes tell my classes that it is next to the last because Caribbean Ministries Association is afraid that if it was the first or second class no one would come back after this class. After all classes in Bible and preaching and teaching and the spiritual life are clearly seen as having application to the Christian ministry but Church History? I certainly think it is important and the folks at CMA think it is important and it us usually exciting to see how after the first two classes most students begin to see the importance of studying Church History.

Last night I finish the first week of classes and look forward to having some time this weekend to prepare more fully for next week, spend some personal time in the Word and prayer and to visit Spanish Wells to worship with many of the folk who were in the class there.

The Slow Pace of Life

Twin Brothers Seafood and Steakhouse is the closest thing you can find to a chain restaurant on the island of Eleuthers. There is the original

Twin Brothers Seafood and Steakhouse

in Nassau and four other locations on Grand Bahama but I believe that this is the first one they have established  out the outlying islands. Real twin brothers, Buddy and Danny McCardy are from Hatchet Bay on Eleuthera where they open the restaurant and where I decided to have lunch yesterday. I usually fix breakfast at the center and the students take turns bringing “snacks” for class (which usually turn out to be meals), so I have the open opportunity of the day to sample the wonderful Bahamanian cuisine.

The Twin Brothers was recommended by several of my students from Hatchet Bay and it certainly lived up to their recommendations.

After being here for two entire days I finally was able to enjoy one of my favorite local

Conch Fritters, worth the wait

dishes, conch fritters. They were some of the best I have had with a very spicy remoulade sauce. Along with the fritters I had an excellent fried grouper. The sides included rice and beans (the Bahamanian variety, not red beans and rice), some red cole slaw and some of the famous Bahamanian mac and cheese. They have their own special way of cooking it here that really is wonderful

I came prepared to wait to be served, brought a book with me (Practice Resurrection by Eugene Peterson – one of my three major reads hopefully for this trip). No one is in a hurry here and the food is prepared fresh, so I have learned to be prepared to wait. I have looked at several Eleuthera  restaurant reviews online and it amazes me that people are often complaining about slow service at eateries on Eleuthera. I assume that these are written by Americans like myself who are usually in a hurry. I want to write back and tell them that you really don’t come to Eleuthera to do things quickly Information found at Twin Brothers(except cover the entire history of the church in 9 3 hour lessons!) so just relax.

More information found at Twin Brothers

Twin Brothers

I find that having opportunities to wait on Eleuthera are good for me. I have eaten at two restaurants so far. The other, The Front Porch, also in Hatchet Bay was very good as well and I found out that it is owned by one of my students. It was very nice as well and the service was nice but slower we American expect . I have found, however, that the laid back way of life is not only enjoyable but is also a great tool for learning patience. My wife and children will tell you of my regular struggles with patience. I tend to be in a hurry (when I am not in Eleuthera) so being here is a great help in that department. It also makes me examine my approach to what we tend to call our work ethic. I know that if things everywhere moved as slowly as they do here in Eleuthera that productivity would greatly decline but I also wonder if there is a bit that we can learn about slowing down and enjoying the company of others, slowing down to rest and refresh, slowing down to take some time to notice the “rumours of glory” that God lays out for us everyday. I know that I need to take time to look for the reality of God’s grace all around me

Decor at Twin Brothers

Eleuthera 2012 – First Day

Just a short note after a very long (thanks to Jim Soyster for picking me up this morning at 4:00) day. Arrived on Eleuthera around 1:30 with most folks on a plane here I have seen in my 3 trips here. Flying into North Eleuthera rather than Governor’s Harbor may be the reason because it closer to Harbor Island the touristy area here and hope to many starts for cruises.

There are many things that draw me to Eleuthera. First the ministry of Caribbean Ministries Association who operate the Eleuthera Bible Training Center who graciously allow me to teach church history.

My view from EBTC every morning

This is the view from my hilltop apartment at EBTC every morning. The view at night, with little light pollution, is just as beautiful, perhaps even more spectacular. Debbie (my wife for those of you just surfing the web and stumbling here) have encouraged me to “lighten up” about folks who joke about me “suffering for Jesus teaching in the Bahamas” so I am. I will admit that this is a wonderful place to do ministry. It is nice to be warm when it is cold back in Tennessee. It is nice to be able to snorkel in the month of February. But I still want folks to know that this really in ministry and not just a vacation.

One of the other things that I love about the Bahamas is the food here. Every culture has its own particular foods, beverages, and treats. That is certainly true here in Eleuthera whether it is something as simple as a local soft drink that I have come to love (like  Bahama Goombay Punch, I have found nothing in the States quite like this) or the unlimited variety of conch dishes that are found here – hope to have some conch fritters for lunch today – or the wonderful local dishes like peas and rice, peas and grits or their special take on mac and cheese.

But the thing I love about Eleuthera the most is the people I meet here. The locals here are  laid back and very friendly and try and make you feel at home. When I was here teaching in 2008 I went to a local restaurant located in a gas station. I was placing my order of fried chicken, peas and rice and mac and cheese when the owner of the restaurant who was taking my order said: “No, no you can’t have peas and rice and mac and cheese order another side”. I asked him why and she said “This is too much starch”. So it is sort of like eating at your momma’s table.

But the people that I find the most delight in are my students. They come from a wide variety of vocations (almost all ministers and church workers here are bi-vocational) and denominations. It is exciting to see these folks going through this two year program (my church history class is just one of 10 classes offered over a period of 2 years) of ministry training. People who work hard during the day and then come and sit through 3 hours of class each night. I’ll write more about my students during the week. It is off to a good start

John, David and Paul

If you are a Christian you might think it an odd question to ask what John Stott

David Brooks

and Paul Simon

have in common. After all John Stott was the most prominent Anglican evangelical minister who passed away last year. David Brooks is the popular editorial writer for the New York Times who (depending on your point of view) is either slightly liberal or slightly conservative. He also happens to be Jewish. Paul Simon, also Jewish, is one of the best known singer-song writers of the past 40 years.

Well some may recall that back in November of 2004, Brooks published an article in The New York Times taking Tim Russert to task  becasuse, as host NBC’s Meet the Press, he had invited Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton on the show to discuss religion and public life. Brooks said “inviting these two bozos onto ‘Meet the Press’ to discuss that issue is like inviting Britney Spears and Larry Flynt to discuss D. H. Lawrence. Naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school”.  As I said Brooks is hard to classify. He is critical of the right’s “religious man” and the left’s “religious man” Brooks goes on to say the press would do well to look to people like John Stott as a spokesperson for Evangelical Christianity. He does note, however, “A computer search suggests that Stott’s name hasn’t appeared in this newspaper since April 10, 1956, and it’s never appeared in many other important publications”. He suggests that Stott is busy doing what ministers should be doing and that is why so little notice is given to him but that he is a much better person to tell non-evangelicals what evangelicals really believer. You can read the entire article still on line.

So that is the link between Stott and Brooks but where does that leave Paul Simon in the question. Simon, who is also from a Jewish background describes himself as “a non-religious person”  but over the years there have been various mentions of God, faith and even the Christian faith in his songs. Simon himself acknowledged “For somebody who’s not a religious person, God comes up a lot in my songs”.This is especially true of his latest (and in my opinion best since Graceland ) album,

So Beautiful So What. The first song, Waiting on Christmas Day, includes the sampling parts of a sermon preached in  1941 by a prominent African-American pastor, J.M. Gates. Simon heard the sermon on a set of old recordings and decided to include it on the album. The second song, The Afterlife, records a persons experience in arriving in heaven and being told:

“You got to fill out a form first
And then you wait in the line
You got to fill out a form first
And then you wait in the line

God and his Son visiting the earth is the beginning of the song Love in Hard Times. 

So where does John Stott come into Simon’s story? Well in 2004, Simon was recording in England and read David Brooks’ article on Stott. He decided he wanted to meet Stott and an article in Christianity Today  records Simon’s word about the events:

He decided he wanted to meet Stott, and a friend helped connect them. Simon called the theologian and offered to take him out for dinner. He said Stott told him he didn’t go out much anymore and instead invited the musician to his flat for tea and biscuits.

“I’d say we spent two or three hours there. I talked about everything that was on my mind about things that seemed illogical, and he talked about why he had come to his conclusions.I liked him immensely. I left there feeling that I had a greater understanding of where belief comes from when it doesn’t have an agenda.”

“It didn’t change my way of thinking, but what I liked about it was that we were able to talk and have a dialogue.”

Simon said the conversation was meaningful to him because he was “disheartened” by so much divisive rhetoric in American culture, particularly when it comes to religion.

“I was interested in speaking to the John Stotts of the world and other evangelicals because my instinct was that the animosity is not as deep as being depicted in the media, and anecdotally speaking, I have found that that’s the truth.”

Folks who do not hold to the Christian faith might find this just an interesting story but for me, a man who has wrestled with faith and doubt, belief and questions for almost 40 years now it is a whisper from my heavenly Father, see I really am in control. See I really do surprising things, I can use the article of a Jewish editorial writer to be the means by which   a self described “non-religious” singer-songwriter of international reputation would see out wisdom from one of the world’s greatest ambassadors for Jesus. Or as another Anglican writer once put it “Aslan is on the move”

To quote Paul Simon: “I’m going to Graceland
Graceland …
I’m going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

Teaching Church History in the Caribbean

About 8 years ago after preaching at a regular Sunday morning service I was greeting people at the door and a man that I did not recognize came up to me, complimented me on the sermon and then asked me “Would you be interested in teaching church history in the Bahamas?” I told him that I had never taught church history in my life and wondered why he would ask me that.

The man turned out to be Dave Hawkins, brother-in-law to one of my elders and coordinator of training for Caribbean Ministries Association. Dave explained that he noticed that I had several illustrations in my sermon involving church history and thought it was likely something that I was interested in. He said he would call me about the ministry he was involved in but encouraged me to begin praying about teaching church history in the Bahamas.

A few days later Dave called me and introduced me to Caribbean Ministries Association. A ministry started in the late 1980’s by Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga to Lighthouse Baptist Church in James Cistern, Eleuthera, Bahamas. The church had sent a group down to Eleuthera to provide relief after one of the hurricanes of the 1980’s.

Eleuthera is not what you call a tourist island. There are many small towns dotting the north-south road on the island that are mostly poor. But there are many churches, staffed by faithful men and women who have never had the opportunity to have a formal Biblical education. The folks from Woodland Park had a vision for a training center that would provide training for men and women involved in ministry on the island. This vision resulted in the Eleuthera Bible Training Center (EBTC) that would provide biblical training in ministry for the people of Eleuthera.

So in March of 2006 I headed to the beautiful island of Eleuthera to teach my first class in church history for the Eleuthera Bible Institute. Since then I have taught Church History for CMA three times and now they have asked me to return an teach twice this year once in Eleuthera and once in St. Martins where they have established a vital ministry and are now on their second cycle of the two year program

These are some of my students during one of our classes. Classes are held at night because almost all of these people are bi-vocational, that is they have regular day time jobs in addition to positions in ministry. During my first class I had a police chief, a travel agent, a customs inspector and many, many other occupations represented. It was a great joy to see these men and women give their evenings (after a long day of hard work) to sitting in a class they hoped would give them greater tools for serving their heavenly Father.

My time in Eleuthera this year begins next week and my time on St. Martins is scheduled for November So I am off again a week from tomorrow. I return to Eleuthera to teach another section of Church History. This time my class will be between 20 and 25 students. I am looking forward to the trip. I have had the opportunity to teach for CMA on a couple of other islands but Eleuthera is my favorite. It is not a rich touristy, island. Most of the people live in difficult circumstances but the folks I meet are warm, friendly and really know what it means to walk with Jesus. Most of the places I eat for lunch or dinner are simply mom and pop places and after being there for a few days I settle into one of the places and almost become a part of the family. Some of you have heard my story of going to one of the places and ordering fried chicken and peas and rice (a wonderful Bahamian traditional dish) and mac and cheese and having the lady who was taking my order (also the owner and the cook) say that I could not have both because it would be too much starch! So it is like being with family!

I would ask you to pray for my time there. Pray that I will not just communicate the facts and dates and people of church history but that I would be able to help these men and women see that the church has prospered spiritually throughout history only when the gospel is the center of her ministry. Pray that they would catch a vision for making the gospel the heart of their own lives and their ministries. In the past, the times when this concept has lead to discussion has always been the most exciting and the most fruitful times of the two weeks.

As with most mission trips of this nature, I need to raise the funds necessary to get there, pay to print my teaching material, meals to eat and this years a bit of salary to make up for what I will miss because I am away from the office for two weeks. If you are interested you can send a check to: Nation to Nation, A Ministry of Hickory Grove Presbyterian Church. The mailing address is 84 South Greenhill Rd., Mt Juliet, TN 37122 and designate (for tax reasons the check needs to be made out to the full name  Nation to Nation, A Ministry of Hickory Grove Presbyterian Church)   I would greatly appreciate support in this and with the trip coming up in November. Here is a picture of most of the folks from my first class. They were really a joy to teach and I hope to be able to see some of them again on this trip.

I know that I have been pretty sporadic about blogging but I will try and keep you posted during the two weeks I am there. Again, pray that these folks might catch a new vision of what God has done and continues to do as the church lives out of the power of the gospel and points all of her children to the gospel as the center of all of live and ministry.