REFLECTIONS FROM THE ROAD

We recently returned from a five-week trip of a lifetime to celebrate my upcoming 80th birthday this month. The trip was planned to precede my actual birthday so that all our family could gather before school began for the fall semester. We visited many friends along the way, but our main purpose was to spend extended time with our family— especially our four special granddaughters.

Our 5,325-mile trek culminated at the Wilderness Resort in the Wisconsin Dells area. We had a fantastic time as a family staying all together in a huge rustic log cabin, and enjoying a few action-packed days. Aside from some interesting drama that caused us to “improvise, adapt and overcome,” we had a fabulous time. The capstone to the trip was a memorable birthday dinner at the premier restaurant of the resort. Our little three and half-year-old granddaughter wondered why Grandpa’s birthday went on and on…but she can’t imagine the memories that will live on for years to come.

During the trip, we passed through several states, cities, and smaller towns. I came away with some definite impressions and observations that led me to take notes and plan to write my reflections. Here are some of those thoughts:

PROSPERITY

Everywhere we traveled there seemed to be evidence of prosperity — at least the appearance, or “shell” of prosperity. The highways, shopping mall parking lots, entertainment venues, and vacation locations were teeming with vehicles and people. Americans were out — unmasked and masked — in droves, everywhere. Still, at a closer look, there were obvious cracks in the outer veneer.

Large “anchor store” spaces were obviously empty in most shopping malls. Even the famous Mall of America has store closures and has resorted to clever concealment of large empty spaces. Lesser strip malls are often severely lacking or are barren wastelands. And everywhere the ubiquitous “hiring now” signs cried out from fast food shop doorways to prominent help wanted banners on larger businesses.

Then the evidence of aging and deteriorating infrastructure were all over the place. City streets in the environs of the embattled Twin Cities seemed to be in especially bad shape. We steered clear of the problematic areas where violence previously erupted, but the signs of wear and tear on public roads highlighted the conundrum prevailing in cash-strapped municipalities.

People were out spending and enjoying their prosperity, but it seems to be only skin deep.

COMPLEXITY

Maybe I am showing signs of my age, but travel seems to be much more difficult than we’ve previously encountered. We drew on many years of experience traveling for Positive Action for Christ when we were still working. I believe right now things are much more complex all over the country. We visited familiar areas from the past and found expanded highway interchanges and roadway challenges. Metropolitan expressways were especially daunting.

Then there was the lingering, and in some cases surging, influences of Covid on so many facets of life. Hotels offered grab bag breakfasts, instead of the usual fare. Many restaurants still prohibited indoor seating, and the confusing signage on doors often gave unclear guidance about mask policy and social distancing. The majority of patrons were going about their business without masks or concerns about distance. However, some individuals, or whole families, steadfastly wore masks, but still entered into proximity to maskless people. It was bewildering at times.

UNCERTAINTY

We also encountered disappointing customer service situations where telephone personnel or online systems seemed incapable of helping at all. We continue to struggle with several issues after we have returned home. One thing we learned was that most companies are shorthanded and struggling to find workers, or to cover their customer service operations with the overworked and under-supported staff that they currently employ. The refrain seems to be: “Go to our app or website to get your problems solved,” and that medium just does not provide individualized solutions at all.  

There was an underlying feeling of uncertainty due to the possibility of civil unrest, continuing divisive politics, mixed messaging about Covid, and the unpredictable effects all of these things are having on a tenuous economy. In spite of all of this, people were going about the business of their daily lives.

ACTIVITY

Everywhere we went people were out enjoying summer to the fullest. Families were traveling the highways and jamming the fun places far and wide. And the truck traffic was abundant. I have a theory that trucking has increased on the interstates to supply the distribution points for the online ordering that then gets fulfilled through more truck and delivery traffic to the consumers. At the same time shopping areas seem to be alive with eateries, niche shopping enterprises, and creative entertainment ventures.

SPIRITUAL VITALITY

The most encouraging aspect of our trip was the ministry we were able to participate in among family and friends, and the churches that we were privileged to visit. All of the ministries we visited were vibrant and vital – even during these challenging times. We met, and heard, for the first time the new pastor at Calvary Baptist in Chattanooga, where our daughter and family worship and serve. Pastor Powell assumed the pastorate during the Pandemic and he is bringing blessing and leadership to that large work.

Then we were greatly blessed to share in an unusual and thoroughly encouraging Sunday morning at Pastor Bruce Cournoyer’s church in Madison, Wisconsin. Our son Kirk joined us as we participated in an outdoor service followed by a cookout with the folks of Calvary Bible Fellowship. This warm and growing body of believers was not able to use their usual rented facilities on that morning, and so one of their members hosted the church family at their beautiful home and yard in the country. What a delightful group!

The next Sunday found us at the historic Fourth Baptist Church in suburban Minneapolis. This is the church body where Connie grew up. It is where we met and were married and served before launching out into ministry 55 years ago. However, today Fourth is growing and prospering in their relocated facilities in the expanding western suburbs, while their sister church Family Baptist continues a vital urban ministry in the city neighborhood. Both bodies of believers are serving and showing evidence of health and effective ministry. We were especially struck by the large attendance and marvelous congregational singing on a summer weekend. Pastor Morrell’s expositional message was so practical and it is easy to see why the Lord is blessing that work.

Our final church opportunity was unusual because it was the annual meeting of Calvary Baptist Church in Watertown, Wisconsin, where we attended for a time when serving at Maranatha Baptist Bible College. What a blessing that service was to us! Our dear friend, and faithful tax accountant, Corey Pfaffe gave a stellar church treasurer’s report with great news and spiritual discernment. His presentation was a testimony to the goodness of God during the last year and a half of faithfulness on the part of the Lord and His people. Pastor Bob Loggans gave a wonderful challenge in the service and then treated us to fellowship at Culver’s with his wife and dear friend Char Cedarholm.

We also spent time with many treasured friends and family members along the way and shared memories of past ministry experiences with them. They were all a great blessing to us. What a joy in each one of these experiences to see how God is faithfully sustaining and using His people to declare His glory.     

Grace Outside the Beltway

In January of 1984, Bud Weniger let me know he was taking the presidency of Maranatha Baptist Bible College. I instinctively knew our family would need to move to the Washington D.C. area so that I could fulfill the next step in the ministry where God had placed me. Our home in 1984, and the office for the American Association of Christian Schools, was in Normal, Illinois, where Bud was my boss at AACS, but more importantly pastor of Calvary Baptist Church.

It was not practical to keep the office in Normal long term because I would continue to work under Bud after he moved to Wisconsin. AACS needed to either move to Watertown, Wisconsin, or to the area of the nation’s capital where a good bit of my work activity was focused. I realized right away that the D.C. area was the only logical choice. Thus began a year and a half journey to Northern Virginia.

My responsibilities with AACS, as Executive Director, required me to travel extensively. Within a few months of this turn of events, I was appointed to the Exemplary Private School Recognition Project committee by Chuck O’Malley, Executive Assistant to the Secretary of Education for Private Education. That appointment increased my travel to Washington to once a month over the next year. At the same time, I still traveled all over the USA and Canada on behalf of Christian education. It simply made sense to relocate the AACS office to the DC area and to move our family there so that I would be home more often. That was the plan.

By the summer plans were beginning to take shape and so we took a family vacation to the Washington area to introduce our kids to the beauty and historical significance of our nation’s capital. We also intended to begin house hunting.

That trip was memorable. First, because we followed the advice of a colleague to book lodging in a short-term apartment complex for a week that turned out to be a mini-nightmare, but we survived. Second, we met our valued real estate agent, Ken McKeehan. Kenny owned White House Real Estate Company and was extremely knowledgeable and well connected in the Northern Virginia housing market. He was also a wonderful Christian and member of the church that became our home church, and he became a dear friend.

On one Sunday afternoon, Kenny gave us a tour of possible homes and quickly steered us to the Pleasant Valley subdivision in western Fairfax County, just south of Dulles Airport. It was there we found a split-level model home that led us to say, “Yes, that will meet our needs nicely.” In December of 1984, we signed a contract to have a new home built. Even though in January the price jumped by $10,000, we had a locked-in contact at the original price. God’s grace led us and we moved in by late June of 1985 right after Kristy graduated from high school. It was a whirlwind.

It was through Kenny that we were introduced to his neighbor and close friend, the legendary NFL football coach Joe Gibbs. It was the coach’s wife Pat, and son Coy, that became our close friends, although we met Joe and their other son, J.D., on several occasions. Our youngest son Chad was a classmate of Coy, and they played football together for several seasons. Connie and I would sit with Pat at the games and we came to have great respect for Coach Gibbs and his family. They are an amazing story of God’s grace. We treasure the memory of those Friday night football games when we sat with Pat Gibbs watching our boys play. The coach was always pursuing a Super Bowl, and the Redskins won one the season just after we left Virginia.

The move exposed our family to the “fast-lane” lifestyle of the sprawling Washington-Baltimore metroplex area. Our house, in the suburb of Chantilly, was 30 miles straight west of the U.S. Capitol, but 20 miles outside of the Capital Beltway. For three exciting and taxing years, we became very familiar with living and struggling in the “outside the Beltway” environment.

As we were planning to move I determined that I needed Connie to join me in the AACS office. A close friend in ministry warned me that might not be a good idea, but I learned quickly that it was the right idea – and thank the Lord we walked that stressful part of the journey as a team. We worked together opening the first Washington area office for AACS at 10195 Main St., in historic downtown Fairfax, Virginia.

Several years before moving Connie and I began to take evening walks due to the example of her parents following her father’s heart attack. In Pleasant Valley, Virginia, the walks through our subdivision became a regular exercise in receiving God’s grace. Looking back we see how God taught us the sufficiency of grace during that time of struggle. In remarking about modern day advertising a current Bible commentator observers that marketers preach the, “power to escape weakness in leisure, but Christianity offers power to endure weakness in love.” We found that to be true.

Today every time we watch a newscast reporting on the political struggles and tensions in Washington, D.C., we hark back in memory to our three years living outside the Beltway. We enjoyed immensely the beauty and history of the area, but we remember the suffocating traffic and congestion, plus the pressures of a fast-lane lifestyle. It took its toll on our health and family.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. During those years we were privileged to participate in the growth and maturing of the Christian School movement. We met many fine Christian educators, valued leaders, and servants of the Lord. We also rubbed shoulders with many hard-working politicians and dedicated public servants. The Lord allowed us to make life long friendships with wonderful Christian people who live and survive in the Washington area. We realize now that God was gracious to help us survive that environment, and after three years escape to Wisconsin. We learned to trust God and walk with Him in a deeper way.  

Connie and I took many day trips to well-known and lesser-known historical sites, and I always loved seeing families enjoying the Capitol Mall – which I think of as America’s “Main Street.” I am afraid the area is even much more stressful today, but I know the ability to survive from 1985-88 was due to God’s grace. We found that truly, “God’s grace is sufficient” for our every need. To repeat an old gospel song, “We wouldn’t take nothing for our journey now.”

Grace & Guidance for Learning

The good old days are gone. But many good lessons of the past have been profitably passed on. Likewise, valuable wisdom skills are transmitted from generation to generation. These legacies are worth treasuring. Most of us do not disparage the influence of our grandparents – but we often thoughtlessly discount the past. The cherished personal memories we have received from those who influenced us and guided us often transcend the latest whiz-bang fads or eye-popping technology.

Dennis L. Peterson is a friend of mine who is an author and historian and a former editor and educator. He blogs and passes on many valuable insights from lessons that a study of history affords and the wisdom that can be gleaned from family heritage.

Recently Dennis wrote an article entitled The Ring. Here are some interesting and excellent excerpts from that thoughtful and engaging piece.

“I got Daddy’s high school class ring…It was a small ring…Today it fits me and, in fact, I have a little trouble getting it off at times, especially when it’s hot and my fingers have swollen…”

“Inside the upper shank is engraved “10KJOSTEN,” indicating the gold composition of the ring and its maker. The Josten’s firm was founded by Otto Josten, a watch repairman in Owatonna, Minnesota, in 1897. (The apostrophe later was dropped.) In 1906, the company began making emblems and awards, including rings, for schools. They added yearbooks in 1950…”

“Today, I wear Daddy’s ring as not only a replacement for the college ring I lost but also a constant reminder of Daddy, my memories of him, and the character traits he taught me, more by his example (and his discipline!) than by overt, formal instruction.”

You can read the whole story at https://dlpedit.wordpress.com/2021/04/30/the-ring/. You can also profit from Dennis’s finely honed craft of writing – especially his careful telling of stories and the wisdom that he gleans from digging into the fuller lessons found in historic events, things, and most of all, people.

I wrote the following to him.

I love your sense of history and quest for learning and finding meaningful thoughts and truth in the basics of life. You stimulate others to search their roots, interests, and exploration of new and different things.

Your story resonated with me. When I was a student at Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, in Owatonna, Minnesota, I worked one year as an information guide at the Jostens ring plant that was two blocks from campus. I took small groups of people through the plant to see how rings were designed and made. I especially loved showing visitors the World Series Championship rings that the craftsmen created. As I remember the Pittsburg Pirates 1960 championship ring was on display and it had a replica of Forbes Field on the crown of the ring. They had a few craftsmen that were unbelievably talented artistically. That was an amazing experience for me as a college kid.

As I remember a guy by the name of Charlie Hermann recruited me for that job. It was through my association with the Owatonna Parks & Rec director that Charlie was directed to me. I only worked a few times each month, but the experience had a profound influence on me at the time. Many years later I learned that Charlie rose to be a Vice President in the huge corporation that Jostens has grown to be in the business of publishing and recognition products. The ministry Connie and I retired from – Positive Action Bible Curriculum – had books printed by the Jostens company.

I’ve learned that Charlie Hermann became a legend in Jostens’ organization. He was a super motivational speaker and dynamic personality. The Jostens website recorded this about Charlie:

“We’ve come to associate his face with a Jostens sales meeting, service awards banquet, training seminar, a management development program, high school commencement address, or some other kind of special occasion for Jostens or the community. To many people throughout the organization and the United States, in fact, Charlie Herrmann is Jostens.”

Some people have super personalities like Charlie, and others are faithful and consistent influencers like Dennis Peterson’s dad. Their contributions to our lives are like beacon lights to illuminate our paths and guide us in our quest to find God’s truth and gain a helpful understanding of life. Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.

Games and Adventures

About 1950, I discovered a game that became a dominant part of my life for about five years. The table-top game was named Ethan Allen’s All-Star Baseball game. It was launched in 1941 and produced by a Chicago company Cadaco-Ellis. This game was a fore-runner to the current fantasy sports phenomena that has grown into a multi-billion dollar business estimated to involve over 60 million people worldwide. But in 1950, All-Star Baseball (ASB) was a relatively simple board game in a box and was marketed to pre-teen boys who loved baseball. I fit the bill completely.

Not sure how I discovered the game, but I quickly became hooked. The game’s creator, Ethan Allen, was a former major leaguer who became the head baseball coach at Yale University for many years. He was George H. W. Bush’s (the future president) baseball coach at Yale and was a respected teacher of the game.  ASB used real players and real statistics and produced very realistic results.

The game consisted of a mock ball diamond, a spinner, and a series of round disks representing individual major league players. A current website (https://baseballgames.dreamhosters.com/CadacoASB.htm) explains how the game worked: “The disks, with a die-cut rectangular center hole, punched out, were placed over a small cardboard block mounted on the game-board, a spinner spun over it, and the wedge number — 1 through 14 — at which the spinner stopped indicated the result of each at-bat.” The spinner would land on a number indicating a walk, single, double triple, home run — or an out via strikeout, ground out, or fly out.

The number “one” indicated a home run. A home run hitter like Mickey Mantle would have a much larger slot for a homer than speedster Richie Ashburn. Mantle was the all-star centerfielder for the Yankees in 1952, and Ashburn was the all-star centerfielder for the Phillies, my favorite player at that time. Ashburn was not a power hitter, so his home run slot was slim, but his singles and doubles were large because he was a consistent hitter who beat out bunts and stretched singles into doubles. I was captivated by the accuracy and realism of the statistical results.

My neighbor Steve joined my excitement, and we organized so that each of us conducted a 50+ game schedule with two separate leagues. Then we had a world series of our own at the end of our season. We had a great time keeping all of the statistics just like we read in the sports pages of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. But this was our league, and to us, it was not fantasy — it was real.

A few years later our family moved to Chicago, and I persuaded two of my new friends, Butch and Pat, to go with me on an exploration to find the headquarters of Cadaco-Ellis, the manufacturer of my beloved game. By searching the massive Chicago phone book, I discovered that the company’s offices were on the 14th floor of the 20-story Merchandise Mart, near Moody Bible Institute, on the north side of the downtown loop.

Butch and Pat weren’t too interested in my game adventure, but they agreed to go if we could stop at the magic shop on Randolph Street, a few steps west of State Street. I can’t believe my mother allowed me as a 13-year-old kid to go with two friends downtown Chicago via the Elevated/Subway train. We had a ball on the “L” — running back and forth between cars and acting like typical jerks. Then they introduced me to The Treasure Chest that I’ve recently learned was owned by a famous Chicago magician who hosted a local TV magic show. We had a great time traipsing up and down the Chicago streets, exploring The Treasure Chest and running the stairways of the Merchandise Mart. Those were truly different days.

I’ve not been a big game person the rest of my life but was enticed by Connie about three years ago to join the monthly Mexican Train Tournament conducted here in Maranatha Village. This event draws around 100 or more every month to play in six-person table configurations of this challenging and competitive game. Some strategy and thinking are required — which I like — but lots of luck is needed. I am amazed that we have a handful of octogenarians, and beyond, that are so sharp and have so much luck. Several of these ladies win over and over. We’ve dragged our kids into Mexican Train, and the granddaughters were overjoyed this Christmas to get their own set.

Mexican Train with the family at Christmas 2019.

But we are also still adventuring. The Lord has allowed Connie and me to travel extensively in ministry for many years. During those trips, we continued to explore new places and new experiences. And we are still doing it today as we have launched out over the past seven years to explore the adventures of Florida. This coming summer Connie and I are praying about a new adventure…stay tuned.

The Journalism Road

Lindblom High School, 6130 S Wolcott Ave, Chicago, IL 60636

Sometime during my Junior year at Lindblom High School on Chicago’s south-side, I made decisions that became life-shaping for me. I don’t remember when, but I told an academic counselor that I was not going to take Chemistry or Trigonometry. No way. I was being herded along in my large public school, during the post-Sputnik era, toward a science career. I just put my foot down and refused to take those two subjects. I agreed to take Physics and College Algebra – but the two Senior-level courses were a bridge too far.

I’m not sure why they accepted my youthful decision, which I admit was partly motivated by taking the easy road. I was always the guy that wanted to figure out the easier way to do something. That just made sense to me. So I elected to take three courses that would be academically less demanding – and they have made my life so much more productive. God was gracious in guiding an immature kid to make decisions that would have a profound effect for good on my learning and subsequently on my life serving the Lord.

First, I took Typing. I don’t know my exact rationale, but somehow I thought, in the late 1950s, that typing would be beneficial. I guess I knew that I was going to Bible College and that I would need to know how to type. I worked the summer after graduation as a bell-hop in a resort and saved my tip money to buy a portable typewriter that I used all through college and seminary. I also learned the rudiments of keyboarding that did not become significant until years later with the roll-out of Windows 95 and my initial immersion into computers.

Second, I took Spanish. Again, I don’t remember the precise reason. Perhaps the other choice before me was Latin, and I thought Spanish would be easier. Or, maybe the options included an English literature class with Mrs. Rule that I would avoid at any cost. Not sure, but I learned to understand English grammar much better by studying Spanish. But most importantly, my brief excursion into Spanish prepared me for later studies in Greek and Hebrew during my post-graduate studies in seminary.

Finally, I chose a semester of Journalism as an English credit. That was my most significant decision – and I can’t take credit for the life-shaping impact that single semester experience has had on my life and ministry. Today it is evident that God’s grace was setting me on a course to prepare me for tasks in the years to come.

In that class, I was exposed to all the facets of newspaper writing and production. A domineering lady was the teacher and served as the sponsor for The Lindblom Leader, the school’s large eight-page broadsheet newspaper. She assigned students in her class to write articles for The Leader and called us reporters. Then she recruited, or appointed, individuals (usually her pets) to become the editorial leaders for the next year – as Seniors.

I was quite pleased when she chose me to be the Front Page News Editor. That meant I could direct the reporters, design layout, create headlines, and run everything about the first page of the paper.

This went along smoothly at first, and then our overbearing advisor changed from being flattering to controlling. I would later learn this was her method of operation every year. She would recruit with sweetness, and then she would change to become dictatorial and controlling. She wanted the editors to spend all their time in her newspaper office under her fiefdom. But some of us had another life too.

Lindblom Technical High School

School auditorium with two balconies

At first, I humored her, but then started to realize she was grooming me to be the Editor-in-Chief for my final semester. I determined I could put up with the aggravation, but balked when she wanted to dictate who would take my place as News Editor.

Ultimately she told me that she was making the decisions and that was that. I said, fine, but then she didn’t need me and I resigned. That was it. I never went back and my career with The Leader was over. My relationship with the rest of the staff was not harmed; they were glad that finally, someone stood up to her.

Years later at our 50th Class Reunion, I had the opportunity to talk with the female classmate who wound up taking the Editor-in-Chief position. She said the sponsor was still her old self for that last semester, but my stand helped the staff to gain a little more respect from the old gal. But I have to take my hat off to that teacher. She taught me the basics of writing news stories and “putting the paper to bed” in the parlance of old newspaper layout jargon.

In all of my ministry positions, it has been my responsibility to lead or contribute to organizational publications. During my time with AACS I edited four different publications. Now with the wonders of technology, I write copy and within minutes have it whisked away electronically to spread information around the world in literally seconds. And that makes my job easier – just like I worked so hard at so many years ago. 

The Lakers, Streetcars & Libraries

At the age of twelve, I began taking the Oak-Harriet streetcar to regular visits at the Orthodontist in downtown Minneapolis. I would catch the iconic yellow trolley on 50th Street, a few blocks from our house on Vincent. I remember that fabled ride wound around the beautiful lakes of Harriet and Calhoun before turning north toward Hennepin Avenue for my final destination on Seventh Street. After visiting the dentist, I would walk over to Tenth & Hennepin to take in the wonders of the old Minneapolis Public Library, next door to First Baptist Church.

I don’t remember what I looked at while visiting the library. But no youngster would ever forget the Egyptian mummy lying in a creepy sarcophagus on the landing outside of the main reading room. Years later, humorist Garrison Keillor, who is a year younger than me and who also visited that library in the same era, memorialized that frightening ancient corpse in one of his Prairie Home Companion monologues. Keillor’s mention of the spooky mummy on his broadcast brought that vivid recollection back to my mind.   

I probably went to the Periodical section of the library and read the Sporting News or other sports-focused magazines that were beyond my slim budget, but devoured given the opportunity. I was captivated by all the major sports of baseball, basketball, football, and even hockey. But the main focus of my life at the time was my Minneapolis Lakers, the five-time champions of the fledging NBA in the early 1950s.

The Lakers were my heroes. I remember purchasing a crystal radio set – truly a prehistoric gem – that I could listen to with the aid of some antique headphones. With this wonder of 50s technology, I would listen to the Lakers games called by Dick Enroth on WLOL radio. What endeared the Lakers to me was a personal thing. It is hard to believe that 1950s NBA stars were real people that lived in the neighborhood.

Jim Pollard, the Hall of Fame forward of the Lakers, lived in a bungalow about five blocks from the parsonage where our family resided. On a Saturday morning, I brazenly rang his door bell and requested an autograph. He came to the door in his robe and obligingly signed a piece of paper for me – and I like to think he patted me on the head. Then on another occasion, I persuaded an older friend to drive me to the home of George Mikan, the first 6’10” NBA superstar, at his ranch-style home in Edina. The gentle giant came out to meet us and signed an autograph while writing on the chest-high (to him) roof of our car. 

Left to right: George Mikan, Slater Martin, Hall of Fame Coach John Kundla hoisted on Mikan’s shoulders.

Then one time my dad took me to an NBA doubleheader in the old Minneapolis Auditorium. The evening featured the Lakers, and three other NBA teams, in a two-game format. During both games, the players from the other two teams were sitting courtside watching the action. I circulated among the players that night and garnered over 25 autographs. But, alas, those prized signatures have been lost in the dust bin of time, along with my valuable baseball cards. 

Still, that wasn’t all. The sparkplug scrappy guard of the team was Slater “Dugie” Martin, and perhaps my favorite player. His wife worked part-time for Hooten Cleaners, owned by Floyd Hooten, and a member of our church where my dad was pastor. Think of it…an NBA wife working part-time to help make ends meet. Besides, someone said that Bobby Harrison’s (another well known Laker) mother lived in a house at 50th & Vincent, and where he stayed with her when the team was in town. I never thought to question that assertion when I was a seventh-grader and passed that house on the way to school every day. It just made sense at the time.

I was living in a time-warp where my heroes were real people who took an interest in little people. Today five of those original Lakers are enshrined in the basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. That is the Mt. Olympus of basketball. All of those experiences seem surreal now.

Hall of Famers: 22 S. Martin, 17 J. Pollard, 34 C. Lovellette, 99 G. Mikan, 19 V. Mikkelsen, Coach Kundla

Now through the wonders of Google and Wikipedia we can reach back into time and confirm with certainty things that we remember dimly. On Saturday, April 3, 1954, I took the streetcar to the Minneapolis Auditorium – by myself – and attended the second game of the NBA championship series. I paid two bucks ($2.00, I swear) to get in and saw the Syracuse Nationals even the series with a 62-60 win over my Lakers. Here is proof:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1954_NBA_playoffs. I know it was that game because it was on Saturday – during the afternoon, and the only time I could have attended.

In the seventh game of that series the Lakers finally won their fifth, and last, championship in Minnesota. I never have forgiven the Lakers for moving to Los Angeles—where there are no lakes. They should have renamed the team “Stars” or “Surfer Dudes” or some other SoCal moniker. Big bucks took over the game, the players, and sold the fans a world-wide brand that is not known for a personal connection anymore.

Beautiful Lake Harriett in the background. A few of these trollies are available to ride every summer.

My love affair with libraries, learning, and curious investigation began back in that time. I started reading all the basketball, baseball, and football statistics every Sunday in the Sports section of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Then everywhere we moved, I became acquainted with the library facilities available, and my investigative curiosity began to spill over into other areas of life, ministry, and leadership responsibilities. The real leap forward came when I joined Positive Action for Christ in 1996 and was given my computer and told – you are on your own, buddy. No more secretary; no dictation; or ‘nuttin. 

Frank Hamrick and his team in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, made me jump off into the stream of the world-wide-web. I’ve been swimming and continuing to learn ever since.

Tennessee Travelers

In the summer of 1966, just one year after we were married, we embarked on an unforgettable adventure to Tennessee. Early in June I drove our new Ford Galaxie 500 to Chattanooga and Connie followed two weeks later on the train, with our cat Floyd. This journey to the old South was so that I could take summer school classes at Temple Baptist Seminary. My credits were transferred back to Central Seminary in Minneapolis and allowed me to accept the position of Assistant Pastor in Normal, Illinois beginning that September, and graduate from Central the following spring.

What an experience that summer was for two rookie yankees in rebel country. We lived in a little apartment above a workshop on a wooded lot just two blocks from the Georgia state line. No air conditioning in the house or car, but we had a mean patch of poison ivy in the area where Floyd roamed. One day Connie collected Floyd out of the undergrowth and acquired a horrible outbreak from the toxic stuff. She learned to spend many hours in the air-conditioned Cierpke Memorial Library on the Tennessee Temple campus to avoid the heat and the wretched poison ivy.

During that summer we were introduced to the amazing Highland Park Baptist Church, led by the indomitable Lee Roberson. That was the heyday of Dr. Roberson’s long and effective ministry. We met the noted song-writer Charles Weigle, who we learned years later lived previously in Sebring, Florida, our current hometown. Dr. Weigle was a lifelong friend of industrialist George Sebring who founded and built our community in Central Florida. Today Weigle’s earthly remains are buried in the local cemetery less than a mile from our Village.

Another fascinating experience we enjoyed was to spend a day at JumpOff Baptist Church, one of over 60 chapels connected with the Highland Park church. One Sunday, Connie and I rode with Larry Ressor and Randy Faulkner to experience the truly unique church perched on top of the mountain near Sewanee, Tennessee. Larry was a seminary student and the pastor of this chapel. Both of these men have gone on to serve the Lord faithfully in fruitful and notable ministries over the years, and we fondly remember their passion for serving those folk in that humble backwoods chapel.

JumpOff Baptist looks the same today

During that day we were introduced to the unique person and ministry of Dr. Philip Marquart. This brilliant man was a Harvard trained M.D., with a proficiency in psychiatry, and a teacher of psychology at Tennessee Temple College. Dr. Marquart had been teaching the adult Sunday School class in that simple country church for many years. During his class teaching time we witnessed this kindly and scholarly gentleman patiently coach the grown class members to read the scripture passage for that day’s lesson.

It occurred to me as I watched the dynamics of that teaching hour, that Dr. Marquart was not only teaching these folks the Bible, but he was teaching them how to read. Probably the only reading instruction some of those adults had ever received in their life was in this Sunday School class year after year.

Following the services that morning Connie and I had the privilege – or the frightening occasion – to ride back to Chattanooga with the good doctor. He engagingly lectured us all the way down the mountain on the old three-lane U.S. highway 41. The problem was that only one lane was devoted to going down the mountain and elderly Dr. Marquart used as much of the road as he could to drive and to teach. Never will forget that day.   

A typical site on old US 41

Twelve years later I returned to Chattanooga to meet Charles Walker, as part of my duties with the American Association of Christian Schools. In 1978 Charlie was the relatively new executive director of the Tennessee Association of Christian Schools, and I was the brand new field director for the AACS. We became fast friends and about 15 years later Connie and Charlie conspired to introduce our daughter Kristy to Charlie’s son Brian, and the rest is history.

Now we travel to Chattanooga as often as we can to see our precious granddaughters, Ariel and Amelia Walker, along with Kristy and Brian, of course – and the whole Walker clan when possible. After 15 years of childless marriage for Kristy and Brian our gracious heavenly father chose to drop two needy little girls into our family. We have never been the same since. Those girls are now fine young ladies and true trophies of God’s grace. You can read the rest of their story at: https://gracejourney.blog/2019/04/28/grace-journey-for-two-girls/

The Blessings of Travel

In the spring of 1960 youth pastor Don Nelson invited me to join the 4th Baptist youth group on a Western Camping Trip to the mountains of Wyoming. I was intrigued and jumped at the opportunity. Our family spent every summer in northwestern Wisconsin at our summer cabin, which I enjoyed immensely, but I always dreamed about traveling to faraway and adventurous places.

As the trip started I was assigned, with several other guys, to ride in the back of an old hearse that was loaded with duffle bags. It was a great place to stretch out and lounge, and do what young guys do – goof off. We were traveling straight through from Minneapolis to the Black Hills, and so as nighttime came I drifted off to sleep. Sometime in the wee morning hours I was rudely awakened at a rest stop and ordered by Nelson, “Carlson, you drive!” 

I will never forget driving that hearse, with the wind blowing through an open window, and desperately fighting to stay awake. But I was hooked! This was adventure and I loved it. Still do. 

Connie’s family had traveled on vacation several times out west; including all the way to the west coast. She was already intrigued by journeys to the mountains and ocean; even if it meant being crammed into the backseat of her family’s two-door coupe. Going on a two-week trip with her friends in 1960 was right up her alley. And it was on that trip that we met, and Connie trusted Christ as her savior. Our grace journey began.

Since that time Connie and I have traveled all over the U.S., Canada, and a dozen foreign countries. Several years into our ministry we borrowed an older tent camper and journeyed to the southeast. In a few years we purchased a pop-up camper and have owned five different trailers since. With those towable units we’ve gone from sea to sea, and from Canada to Florida, and many states in between.

As our family grew we introduced our children to traveling and they have continued the tradition with their families. Then we also introduced to our kids the love for bike riding that both Connie began as youngsters. In the 1970s we incorporated bicycles into our family adventures.

Through our lives we’ve ridden over 4,000 miles and it all started exploring the eastside of St. Paul with our kids.

Through the years our little family has visited many historical sites, the mountains of the west, and many states across the country via automobile and later camping trailers. In 1983 Connie’s parents invited us to join them in Florida for spring break. They had a small RV and would spend their winters in various places in the warmer climes of Florida. Little did we realize that on that trip we would stay with them in a campground that is less than 3 miles from our present home at Maranatha Village. 

In 2002 Connie finished her teaching career and joined me in the ministry of Positive Action Bible Curriculum. On a ministry trip to the Midwest we purchased a new camping trailer and pickup truck for a tow vehicle. Over the next 12 years we owned three different trailers and used them to travel to various conferences and events to promote ministry materials and connect with customers. 

Every time we left on a trip we would hitch-up our traveling home, and then stop for a moment of prayer in our driveway before heading down the highway. Our prayer was always, “Lord, give us ministry opportunities along the way.” It became a matter of blessed curiosity to wonder at that juncture what the Lord would bring our way.

On one occasion we were in Elkhart, Indiana, and discovered a truck accessories shop where we purchased an item. While in that store we met a man by the name of John who was from Canada. John was a contractor who hauled travel trailers from the northern Indiana factories to Canadian RV distributors. He was a friendly guy, with a loyal dog, and we could tell he was lonely. We were able to witness to him and give him a book with gospel truth. That was one of those unscripted spiritual appointments.

We’re praying about celebrating my 80th birthday next summer by hitting the road again for a road trip to visit family and friends in the north. This will require the finding and purchasing of another kind of RV. As a result, we are in the market for a smaller drivable motorhome. If the Lord gives us the health we desire to continue our ministry of travel next summer and I am calling the projected trip – Target 80. We would appreciate your prayers for this potential venture.  

The Blessing of Christian Education

Prior to the Second World War private education was generally associated with Catholic and Lutheran religious schools that were known as parochial schools.  There was a small group of Christian schools serving the Reformed denominations, and then an even smaller smattering of independent Christian schools. I believe the current Christian school movement received its impetus in the early 1970s spurred by the development of the curriculum publishers A Beka Books and Accelerated Christian Education. From that time Christian schools, and ministries to support Christian education, grew dramatically.

Connie and I served in and around the Christian school movement for 40 years. Initially Connie taught at all levels from kindergarten to high school and then at the college level. Then she joined me in administrating a national Christian school organization, two Christian colleges, and finally we served side-by-side in a Bible curriculum publishing ministry. In that final ministry we traveled to teacher’s convention and interacted with Christian school teachers and administrators. Ultimately we also exhibited at home-school conferences and interacted with several thousand home-school parents. In all of these years one could say that we saw the good and the not-so-good aspects of Christian Education and the Christian school movement.

Unfortunately not every school that opened during the boom years was an adequately conceived and supported educational institution. Many schools operated in less than ideal facilities, and were underfunded and understaffed. Still, we can attest to the fact that we’ve met thousands of bright, resourceful and dedicated servants of the Lord who labored in Christian education. And we know countless adults today who are products of Christian schools and home-school education who are very productive and impressive members of society.

During the presidency of Ronald Regan I served on the U.S. Department of Education’s Exemplary Private School Recognition Project committee for four years. This group of educational leaders represented all facets of the private school universe at that time. We reviewed dozens of school nominations and then voted to reward the most “exemplary” schools each year for their effort.

During that experience our entire group of participants learned some important things about effective schools. The most notable schools were not marked by financial prowess, or magnificent facilities, or faculties with distinguished intellectual accomplishments. Instead, in every case there was a head of the school who was a respected, caring, and strong leader in the institution. Faculty members were enthusiastic teachers who relished the focus and commitment of their leader, and poured themselves into their student’s lives. This was true in financially deprived urban schools or in well endowed suburban institutions. People made the difference. Leadership was essential, and caring instructors followed their leader in impacting students in the classrooms.  

Early in the 1980s I began to give a convention workshop that addressed the three greatest challenges that confronted the Christian school movement at that time. I said they were:

  • The challenge of governmental interference that was an ever-present reality facing Christian schools in the early days of the movement.
  • The challenge of demonstrating educational legitimacy and ultimately proving academic competency by student outcomes.
  • The final challenge mentioned in that workshop remains a persistent struggle for the movement today.  That challenge is the mission to produce godly young people, who are the products of the Christian school movement. 

Even though great strides have been accomplished in securing legitimacy and liberty the spiritual battle has not yet been won; the task has not been finished.  Perhaps because our battle with sin will never be completed until Christ returns.  Perhaps it is because we have not placed as much emphasis upon the spiritual dimension as we have upon the educational program.   Perhaps it is because ungodly societal influences have become more powerful and pervasive.  Nevertheless, this is still our greatest challenge in our schools, churches and homes.

In 1986, the late Alan Peshkin, a professor of comparative education from the University of Illinois, wrote a book entitled God’s Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School.  I participated extensively with Dr. Peshkin during his research and became a personal friend. He was a renowned ethnographer who wrote penetrating studies about varied educational experiences all over the world based on extensive fieldwork.

Alan spent many hours in Connie’s classroom, as well as those of other teachers in the school. He told me that the level of education was excellent, and he was deeply impacted by the commitment and convictions of the faculty, staff, and students. Being a secular Jew, he was troubled by the evangelistic commitment of Bible believing Christians, but he did not doubt the sincerity of everyone involved. Perhaps his most penetrating analysis was his comment that the Christian school’s “total institution is imperfectly total, perhaps inevitably so, because unlike the Amish, its adherents live mainly within the world it rejects.” That was an astute observation, but I would disagree with his use of the word “rejects.” As believers we do not reject the world – but we are called to minister in the world. The Christian school may be an imperfect world, and it is, but the ministry of impacting lives for time and eternity is a blessed privilege.

Recently, in our retirement community, Connie and I attended the memorial service for one of our residents, who had been a shut-in since we came to Maranatha Village. We knew her only from Facebook posts and some email interaction. But at the service where her life and service for the Lord was celebrated, we learned that she had been a classroom teacher in two Christian schools for 39 years. It became apparent early in the service, from the testimonies of her family members, that Linda Bond had touched hundreds of lives. Her legacy was that of a “life well lived” in pouring herself into students. That testimony has been repeated over and over in the hundreds and hundreds of classrooms in Christian schools over the years. That is the blessing of Christian Education.

After reviewing records of the Exemplary Private School Recognition Project, I discovered that Linda Bond’s school, Arlington Baptist High School, was listed as one of the recognized schools among the 1984-85 recipients. That was the first year of the project and Arlington would have been presented their recognition certificate by then Secretary of Education William Bennett. Linda taught Spanish for 25 years at Arlington Baptist.

The Christian Education Road

I experienced twelve wonderful years of pastoral ministry during my time as a youth pastor and as a very young senior pastor. People asked me was it a difficult decision to leave the pastorate in St. Paul to take a position with the American Association of Christian Schools in 1978. I always responded that I never made a decision to leave the church; instead God just led me along.

Let me explain. In the mid 1970s I challenged the people of Faith to consider establishing a Christian school in our church facilities. We studied, planned, and prayed as a church; and then took a secret ballot vote that was 100% for launching the school. To seek guidance and mutual protection we aligned with the fledgling baby organization of the Minnesota Association of Christian Schools.

I’ve described in an earlier post entitled  Political Grace how the Lord thrust me into the political arena as an unschooled legislative liaison for MACS. And how, by His grace, I developed a deep personal relationship with two politicians who were bold believers and witnesses for Christ in the Minnesota legislature. I crammed an informal post-graduate course in government relations and religious liberty into two years.

AACS Leaders: Carlson, Davis, Janney, Walker, Munro, & Weniger

This whirlwind of experience landed me in the place where my former boss, Bud Weniger, asked me to help him with the new responsibilities he had acquired administering AACS. That process was a slow step by step journey that was God’s plan all along. I had no other choice than to follow His guidance each step of the way. Now I see that it was all a part of His grace journey for me, and for our whole family.

Bob Kelley was an encourager

So, in July of 1978 we found ourselves in the first home we were able to buy, and back in Normal, Illinois. It was just a few days after we arrived that I received a phone call from a dear friend of mine, Pastor Bob Kelley, who was on the board of the Tennessee Association of Christian Schools. Bob said, “Gerry, we are in a meeting, and the TACS board is considering pulling out of the AACS.” He went on to say that he stuck up for me saying, “Gerry Carlson has just been hired. I know him. Let’s give him a chance to see what he can do.” Boy, that was pressure right from the git-go.

Jerry Tetreau

At the time AACS had about 600 member schools scattered around the country that were mostly attached to 17 autonomous state organizations. However, AACS’ service and communication to the schools and state organizations was limited and undeveloped at that point. Folks were paying dues and feeling like they weren’t getting much for their money. My task was to get on the stick — and serve the state associations and schools. A new friend, Jerry Tetreau, said at the time: “Yesterday would be soon enough.”

Over the ten years we served with AACS I traveled to most every state and several Canadian Provinces promoting, organizing, communicating, and building relationships with people. I loved it! During that time I met hundreds of dedicated, talented, and godly servants of Christ in the Christian school movement. According to my records I took 280 trips and traveled about 325,000 miles by air and car. When we left AACS in 1988 there were over 1,600 member schools and 40 state associations. It was an exciting time and regularly I fielded questions from secular news reporters about the dynamic growth of Christian education.

Britt Airways Beech 99 commuter that I flew many times to O’Hare Airport.

Little did I know that on one of my first trips I would meet Charles Walker, the guy who made the Tennessee Association tick, and he would become our daughter Kristy’s father-in-law many years later. Connie and I sit in our Florida Room every morning in Maranatha Village and marvel how yielding to God’s leading in the 70s landed us in our present home and place of ministry. We are still able to serve and follow the Lord on our Grace Journey.

In my next installment of Grace Journey I will write about some of the triumphs and trials, blessings and burdens of the Christian School movement.