Category Archives: Biographies

Someone To Remember

pretty-elderly-ladyI walked into her home. It was dark. A small light in the kitchen was the token illumination for her humble home, which was sparsely furnished with tattered cast offs. Among the few old pictures decorating the walls, there was one of a beautiful woman with dreams in her eyes…the elderly woman standing in front of me. She was still pretty and neat, her white hair neatly pulled back in a traditional European bun, garbed in a coat – in the house.

James 1 admonishes us to visit the widow and the orphan. This evening’s visit was my attempt at reaching out of my comfort zone to be an obedient Christian.

She invited me to sit down. She was very talkative in her Eastern European accent, which I found comforting (being introverted). She told me how much she loved the preaching of the pastor of our church. As she could no longer attend church, the deacons faithfully brought her the tapes of the Sunday sermons.

I thought: Why does she like this pastor so much? He says nothing. I listen and listen, but all I hear every week is, “You can make a difference!”  I could feel my critical heart becoming even more cynical, fueled by my awareness that this poor woman was living in a ghetto with no resources and shattered dreams.

“Why is that?” I asked.

She answered in her lyrical voice,  “ He talks about my Lord, Jesus Christ! He is all I have now!”

Throughout the evening I heard her story. She grew up in Latvia, not far across the river from the Tsar’s palace. Her father was the Tsar’s personal doctor. But sadly, the royal family was murdered one fateful evening in 1917, and even her father could not bring the dead back to life. In spite of the unrest and instability of Russia, Latvia continued as a peaceful state. Lilijan grew up privileged. She was beautiful. She sang. She married a congressman of Latvia. They started their family.

Life did not stay beautiful. Dreams were shattered as Hitler did his thing and eventually Stalin did his thing. Latvia was nothing but a pawn in the world revolution. One night, political madmen came in and killed her husband.

Somehow, pregnant Lilijan escaped with her young daughter. They made their way through Eastern Germany.  People were starving.  Soldiers were everywhere. She talked about how Christianity became much more than an ethnic tradition, how Jesus became much more than a name, and how God became much more than an impersonal deity as He met their basic needs.

Lilijan came to the United States as a refugee and started life over. She was no longer a Latvian princess. No one seemed even to remember Latvia after the Soviet Union swallowed it up. She became a line worker at a GM plant and eventually married, only to be discarded later in the American way.

Liljan had two children. Her daughter, Rose grew up, got married and moved away She would visit but not often. Lilijan’s son suffered from schizophrenia, making her life extremely difficult when he wasn’t hospitalized. She continued to love him and have hope for him. She longed for the day when she would be in that country that her Savior had prepared for her. She longed for her Prince of Peace.

As I listened to her that night, I did not understand. It all seemed so hopeless. What  a sad ending. Certainly not the stuff of a Jane Austin novel!

Even though I was a mother of two at the time, I was still a child in my soul. I thought as a child. I wanted to dream. I did not know God shatters dreams to reveal to us the desires of His heart that will make us whole.

But now, many years later, after disappointments and quiet tragedies that broke my heart to heal my soul, I am a woman. I no longer think like a child. I can see more clearly. The name of Jesus now lifts my soul. Whether I am in a ghetto home or a palace,  and whether I’m in a traditional church with the facade of ancient stability that echos the songs of ages past or I’m in a postmodern warehouse that markets itself with popular Christian rhythms, I can now say with Lilijan: I rejoice when I  hear the name of Jesus! I am thankful to be with those who worship God. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

(This post was written by Connie Sikma, from my writers’ group. Connie didn’t have any pictures of Liljan, who is now with her Prince of Peace. However, a sweet friend from my Sunday school class kindly allowed me to take her photo for an illustration. Thank you so much, Connie and Shirley!)

 

Before Black History Month Ends: Take Time to be Charmed by the Queen of Katwe

queen-of-katwe Have you seen Disney’s Queen of Katwe?
It’s a perfect movie for celebrating Black History Month! queen-of-katwe-enjoying-her-first-snowQueen of Katwe is a glowing tribute to the brilliance and beauty
of African people, as well as their capacity for integrity and perseverance.

queen-of-katwe-accepting-recognitionWhen I first started preparing for this post, I was tempted to complain that the shortest, darkest month has become Black History Month, and that if I were running the country I’d choose March or May—long beautiful months…until I read the reason why. carter_g_woodson_portraitDr. Carter G. Woodson (African American with a PhD from Harvard who is known as the Father of Black History) chose the second week of February as “Negro History Week” because two men who were very influential in elevating African Americans, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, were born then.

lupita-nyongo-as-nakku-harriet-in-queen-of-katwe Do you get frustrated by my rabbit trails? I hope not. phiona-mutesi-in-queen-of-katweAt any rate, Queen of Katwe tells the true story
of a young girl named Phiona Mutesi, kampala-uganda-in-queen-of-katwewho grew up in “Katwe,” a slum of Kampala, Uganda. harriet-in-queen-of-katweHer father had died, and Phiona’s mother, Harriet,
fiercely defended the children, vegetable-market-in-queen-of-katweworking constantly in a street market selling vegetables so they could survive. phiona-at-mission-school-in-queen-of-katwePhiona and her little brother, hungry,
wandered into a mission school, where they were fed. missionary-with-child-in-queen-of-katweWhile there, they also met Robert Katende, a young missionary  robert-katende-praying-with-children-in-queen-of-katwewho coached soccer  chess-game-in-queen-of-katweand taught the children chess with the hope of helping them learn skills benjamin-in-queen-of-katwethat would enable them succeed in life generally. phiona-mutesi-and-madina-nalwanga-in-queen-of-katweThe rest is history
(current history:Phiona is only 21 today and still going strong!), returning-to-school-on-mission-bus-in-queen-of-katwebut I don’t want to say too much so you can fully enjoy the movie. receiving-prize-in-queen-of-katweAnd, if you have any school-aged children in your life, it would make a wonderfully inspirational movie to share with them too. Disney does it so well!

slum-of-katwe-in-kampala-uganda-in-queen-of-katweBear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:2-10)

(I took all the photos while watching the movie, except for the first [publicity poster] and the B&W of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, which is public domain, from Wiki.)

Loving: More than a Just a Name

loving-movie-posterMuch more than just a name, Loving is “an absorbing, beautiful piece of American cinema” (Paul Heath, The Hollywood News) based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving. marriage-of-richard-and-mildred-loving-from-loving-movieLoving is a PG-13, 2016 movie recently released to video that has been highly rated. It’s already won 19 awards and has been nominated for 82 more, including an Academy Award nomination for Ruth Negga in her leading role as Mildred Loving. February is Black History Month. If you haven’t watched this moving film yet, February would be a great time to see Loving and start putting love into action by understanding and loving our dark-skinned citizens more.   🙂  ruth-negga-as-mildred-in-the-movie-lovingAlthough I sat through the entire movie feeling petrified that something terrible would happen to this young couple—and they did suffer many hardships for their interracial marriage (which was still against the law in Virginia back in 1958), I was able to sigh happily at the end. Their case, trying to legitimize interracial marriages throughout America, went to the Supreme Court in 1967.   richard-loving-in-the-movie-lovingIf you’re a white supremacist, I beg you to look deep into your heart and try to figure out why. What makes you think white is superior to any other skin color?  I promise you that, apart from skin tissue, we’re all the same colors underneath.  richard-and-mildred-loving-with-lawyer-from-loving-movieCaucasians, Mongoloids, and Negroids are all similar in what’s inside our bodies, brains, and hearts. When I look into my heart, I find that I’m a sinner, just like everybody else. I find that I’m imperfect. I find that very, very little of what makes me “good” has anything to do with me. Some of it has to do with how I was created in the womb, who my parents were, and all the advantages I had as a child growing up. The rest is attributable to God’s redemption through Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. The only thing I can claim is believing and surrendering my life to Christ, and even that I know is a gift of God for which I can only thank Him.   mildred-and-their-first-child-in-the-movie-lovingIf you think whites are in any way superior to any other race, on what do you base that? Certainly not the Scriptures, which teach that God created all of us in His image, that we are all marred by sin and in need of a Savior, and that the death of Christ occurred to break down the walls between us and unify us into one glorious body, the Church of Jesus Christ, the bride of Christ. mildred-loving-in-the-movie-lovingIf you separate yourself from your brothers and sisters based on race, you’re separating yourself from the body of Christ and the love of Christ. God calls us to love and humility. Will you answer that call?the-lawyer-who-helped-in-the-movie-lovingBut now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
(Ephesians 1:13-22, ESV)the-movie-loving-mildred-feeding-their-baby

 

Larry Rivera and Elvis Presley: Choosing the Slow Life

aloha-begins-with-me-larry-rivera-and-alanWhile at the Mayo Clinic conference last week, we saved mega bucks
by eating at various hole-in-the wall restaurants in nearby Koloa alan-at-the-grand-hyatt-kauairather than venturing into the luxo locations on site at our resort. garden-island-grill-menu-kauaiAmong these, one of our favorites was the Garden Island Grill, ono-fresh-catch-of-the-day-at-garden-island-grille-kauaiwhere, between 6-8 pm on the weekends, Larry Rivera entertains his friends, larry-rivera-with-his-new-friend-alanfamily, and new friends (whoever happens to be passing through).

larry-riveraLarry is 86. The day we visited, he was celebrating his 60th anniversary with his lovely bride and says he’s still on his honeymoon! They have 6 kids, 17 grand kids, and 18 great grand kids. Furthermore, he can say all their names in 35 seconds (±). Want to hear his story?  larry-rivera-sings-at-the-garden-island-grilleLarry was born in 1931, the sixth generation in a long line of Hawaiians born in Kauai. He started working at the Coco Palms Resort at 20, was called to serve in the Korean War, and by 24 (1955), he was back to work at the Coco Palms singing with his group called “The Beach Boys.” He says the ones we know today “stole” his band’s name and ended up with all the money and glory, but who cares? “I’ve got all this love!” he beamed, his arms sweeping the audience where his wife sat smiling and then flying out and up to embrace his island and the sky, where His Father sat smiling. (Rivera is an ordained minister as well as a musician.) larry-rivera-singing-with-a-friend-and-his-wife Larry’s long musical career included such highlights as teaching Bing Crosby how to sing (Hawaiian style), watching Frank Sinatra nearly drown on Wailua Beach (surfers rescued him), having John Denver join in a hula with his daughters while Larry sang, and having Elvis Presley and Patti Page sing background vocals for him while they were visiting at Coco Palms. (Actually, Larry said Elvis was an unusually sweet person. He would bus tables just to be kind if things got to hectic at the restaurant, and he paid $500 for one of Larry’s songs!) In 1961, the wedding scene from Blue Hawaii, starring Elvis Presley, was filmed at Coco Palms. Larry was 30, and Elvis was 26. Very sadly, Elvis Presley died just 16 years later at age 42 from “cardiac arrhythmia” (caused by an overdose of a pain killer, Codeine, and a nonbarbituate sedative, Quaalude). He was divorced by then and only had one child, Lisa Marie. He has four grandchildren (whom he never met), and no great grandchildren at this time.  kathi-at-the-garden-island-grille-kauaiI don’t know about you, but I would personally choose Larry Rivera’s life over Elvis’s any day. Larry has lived more than twice as long, is still fit at a fiddle (balanced on one leg and did other tricks for fun), working hard, living well, and full of love and joy. Alan and I were both totally delighted and inspired. If we make it to 86, we’ll have been married 64 years. (That’s 20 more years; think we’ll make it??) Would I ever love to be able to work a few hours singing and sharing the love of God and man with those around me at his age, wouldn’t you?  hawaiian-time-signHow did he do it? Well, for one thing, he chose the slow life. He chose to stay in his homeland among his own people. He chose to stay with his wife. He chose to remain faithful to His God. To me, those are admirable choices! What do you think? Would you rather have fame and fortune, or love and happiness?dinner-at-the-island-grille-kauai“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).

(“Aloha” is used by Hawaiians as a greeting, both “hello” and “goodbye,” but ultimately it means “Love… affection, peace, compassion, and mercy!”)

 

 

Unsullied Sully: The Miracle on the Hudson

sully-front-coverOne of my favorite movies from 2016 is a thrilling biographical drama about American pilot Chesley Sullenberger, “Sully.” Sully was a 57-year-old fighter-pilot-image-from-sully-movieformer fighter pilot, glider pilot, and expert on aviation safety as well as the U.S. Airways pilot assigned to Flight 1549 on the morning of January 15, 2009. sully-and-jeffry-skiles-in-movie-sullySully and copilot Jeffry Skiles were commissioned to fly from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina with 150 passengers on board.airway-flight-leaving-laguardia-sully Just three minutes after takeoff, their Airbus A320 collided with a flock of geese and lost all engine power. air-traffic-control-officers-in-sullyAlthough some air tower control officers thought Sully
might be able to reach an airport, hudson-river-sullySully (who had logged 19,633 total flight hours) believed his only hope
was to land his craft in the icy waters of the Hudson River, preparing-for-crash-landing-sullywhich had never been accomplished successfully before. sully-passengers-preparing-for-crash-landingAlthough this event became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson” ditching-airplane-on-hudson-riverand was described as “the most successful ditching in aviation history,” ditching-aircraft-on-hudson-river-sullythe incident was carefully scrutinized and debated in court. ferrry-to-the-rescue-sullyI don’t want to ruin the suspense if you haven’t already read all about it passengers-on-wings-of-airbus-320-after-crash-landing-on-hudson-river-sullyor remember the incident when it occurred, but even if you have,rescuing-passengers-sully I still think the movie is very inspiring…waiting-on-the-wings-for-help-sullyto see the way people worked together to survive,emergency-helicopter-crew-to-rescue-sully and the bravery, valor, and courage of the many officers and citizens aquatic-rescue-helicopter-jump-sullywho were involved in the rescue. chesley-schIf you want to be inspired to live an unsullied life of integrity and heroism
…this is for you!

The integrity of the upright shall guide them” (Proverbs 11:3).interviewing-survivor-on-sullyHe [God] delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth
” (Daniel 6:27, ESV).

Have You Found The Crown?

the-crown-front-coverThe Crown is a fabulous historic drama about the early life
and reign of Queen Elizabeth II over the United Kingdom. winston-churchill-and-elizabeth-ii-from-the-crownMy daughter recommended it, and once Alan and I started, we could hardly wait to see the next episode…like a great book you don’t want to put down! from-the-crownThis 2016, 10-episode T.V. series garnered well deserved
but outstanding ratings: of 8.9 on IMDb and 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.The CrownThe first season follows the life of Queen Elizabeth from her 1947 wedding queen-elizabeth-ii-and-prince-philip-on-their-african-tour-from-the-crownto 1955, queen-elizabeth-ii-as-a-child-from-the-crownespecially focusing on her family relationships, flashbacks to her childhood, winston-churchill-and-queen-elizabeth-ii-from-the-crownand the development of her close alliance
with Prime Minister Winston Churchill. the-crown-being-madeThe producers expect to continue the series over six seasons,
each covering a decade of the queen’s reign up right up to the present day. preparing-for-a-state-dinner-from-the-crownThe Crown, which cost $130 million to produce,
is the most lavish TV series ever produced, and spared nothing, 1E61AFFAincluding $35,000 to make a wedding dress for the first episode…just one of 7,000 costumes used throughout the series. princess-margaret-and-vanessa-kirbyAlthough there was some Hollywood  sensationalizing, the overall consensus of critics is that The Crown gives a credibly accurate portrayal queen-elizabeth-ii-with-an-aide-from-the-crownand is without a doubt the most intimate and humanizing look queen-elizabeth-ii-and-claire-foyinto the royal family ever.young-queen-elizabeth-ii-from-the-crown If you’re interested in British history during the time when the United Kingdom was the greatest, most influential kingdom on earth, check it out! molten-gold-becoming-the-crownIt’s remarkable!

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,  and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:4-6)

Bucket List Special: The World’s Largest Waterfall—Victoria!

salto-angel-falls-by-paulo-capiotti-wikiAlthough Angel Falls in Venezuela is the world’s highest waterfall (3,230 feet), WasserfŠlle von Iguacuand Iguazú Falls  in Argentina and Brazil is the widest (8,858 feet), victoria-falls-as-seen-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabweVictoria Falls in Zambia is usually considered the largest waterfall in the world,victoria-falls-as-seen-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabwe-3 because—based on its combined width (5,604 feet) and height (354 feet)—victoria-falls-as-seen-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabwe-4it boasts the world’s largest sheet of falling water. monument-to-christian-explorer-dr-david-livingstone-zambezi-national-park-zimbabweEver since studying the life of David Livingstone as a teenager,
I’d dreamed of seeing this magnificent waterfall, and I was not disappointed! hiking-on-trail-in-zambezi-national-park-zimbabweOn our tour of southern Africa last fall, we spent one long morning hiking the trail in Zimbabwe National Park facing Victoria Falls, victoria-falls-as-seen-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabwe-5and we had several hours to thrill over the beauty
of this magnificent natural wonder of the world. victoria-falls-rainbowAlthough we know it as “Victoria Falls,” so christened in honor of Queen Vic by the Scottish missionary doctor who first viewed the falls back in 1855,steam-rises-from-victoria-falls-on-the-zambezi-river the local name (in the Tonga language) is Mosi-oa-Tunya,
“The Smoke That Thunders.” victoria-falls-rainbow-fallsThere has been a devastating 20-year drought in this area,zambezi-river-and-victoria-falls-as-seen-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabwe so the waterfall has diminished into a series of falls along the Zambezi River,victoria-falls-as-seen-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabwe-9but that didn’t detract from my awe or pleasure one iota. victoria-falls-as-seen-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabwe-1We went on a sparkling, cloudless morning, alan-and-duncan-on-trail-in-zambezi-national-park-zimbabweand our guide had us walk to the end and then meander back victoria-falls-rainbow-1 so we’d see all the rainbows from the eastern sun reflecting off the steamy spray. victoria-falls-as-seen-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabwe-2As we hiked along, I thought about how easy it was for me to walk this path…
but how hard it must have been for David Livingstone, the original pathfinder, who paved the way 150 years ago with his own blood, sweat, and tears. statue-of-cecil-rhodes-in-capetown-saIn the nations of southern Africa, many of the statues of Cecil Rhodes have been torn down, because he was a British imperialist who oppressed the people. plaque-honoring-david-livingstone-on-trail-in-zambezi-national-park-zimbabweConversely, people still love David Livingstone, because he held “high Christian aims and ideals” and truly sought the welfare of the African peoples.

david-livingstone-by-frederick-havill-national-portrait-gallery-london-wiki-but-may-not-be-publishable-without-special-permissionIn fact, when Dr. Livingstone died (of malaria and internal bleeding from dysentery), his body was buried in Westminster Abby, London, but his heart was buried in Africa! He gave his life (blood, sweat and tears) to love and serve God

victoria-falls-as-seen-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabwe-7and man. It was his heart to end slavery and oppression… to set the captives free!thorns-in-front-of-victoria-falls-as-seen-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabwe Dr. Livingstone was a disciple of Christ,
who came to set us all free from oppression and slavery to sin.victoria-falls-seen-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbzbweHave you been set free? Are you willing to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and other courageous people who have given their lives to share the Gospel? fisherman-near-victoria-falls-as-seen-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabweAnd he [Jesus] saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). victoria-falls-from-zimbabweIf the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

(Photos of Angel Falls, Iguazú Falls, and the painting of Dr. Livingstone from the National Portrait Gallery in London are from Wiki. The rest are mine, taken on our recent trip to southern Africa.)