I am not really Ben Peterkins’ grandfather

My pastel portrait of Ben

We have spent so much time with Mark and Tracy Peterkins, they turn out to be like our adopted children. Hence, their three children, Stephen, Ben and Megan have wound up calling me “Grandpa Tony” and Jeanne, they call “Aunt Jeanne”. They love us both the same but have been taught to be rude to me by calling me an older title than my younger looking wife. It is a fond form of insult they learned from their father. We are neither. Officially, I am not their grandfather and Jeanne is not their aunt, but we are happy to be treated that way. For us, visiting the Peterkins’ would be like dropping in on any of our children and their families.

Two years ago I was here in Ottawa for the purpose of celebrating the older brother’s Christian  “bar mitzvah” (a small coming of age party).

Showing no preference, we timed our visit to coincide with this special event and set aside Monday, August twenty-second for this very purpose. The idea was quite similar to the earlier one. As he did for Stephen, Mark invited both Pastor Ken Roth and I to take part in and pray a blessing over young Ben. Additionally, we were joined by Ben’s real, flesh and blood grandfather, Ed Dooner.

It all started at four in the afternoon as I waited in my car along Riverside Drive. It was Mark’s idea to bring Ben out to the Dooner family cottage that has sat on the bank of the Rideau River for at least seventy years. This is all meant to be a surprise, so when Mark turned the corner and onto the side road where I sat waiting, young Ben seemed slightly mystified by this turn of events. He was especially puzzled when his dad instructed him to get out of the van and take a walk with me. Though he was a little apprehensive, I bought his courage by giving him a brand new, commemorative “Buck” knife (something he has always wanted) that I had bought for him a few days before. He suddenly liked the idea of walking down a bleak country road with an old man. I made certain we had the compulsory and rather serious advisory conversation on the way, and though I didn’t quote Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” I shared some of the contents along with a complete exegete of  1st Corinthians 11:6 (actually 13:11), including a precise Greek translation of each word : ). Frankly, it was a pretty simple talk that could be summed up by the phrase, “Don’t be stupid.” This concept, he thoroughly understood. The rest of what I said will likely fade from his memory in a very short time.

The Dooner Cottage

Ken would be waiting with a ready canoe, where he would take Ben on a similar tour. Please note that Ken was given the more dangerous of the two chat events. I am well-known to have virtually no center of gravity and both Mark and Ken intended for Ben’s first day of manhood to not be his last as well.

Art Shot, Mark Peterkins

While I am happy to take part in this special occasion, I have a  compelling end in view when Mark makes some colossal meal to punctuate the festivities. I was not disappointed, as he offered up shrimp and sauce, hummus, rice crackers, baguette,  grilled filet mignon wrapped in bacon, fried mushrooms, sauce, potatoes, fresh green beans, corn on the cob and more stuff that becomes a blur.

Art Shot, Ken Roth

 

After all of the eating we celebrated by various presentations, including a sword with a blade big enough to kill Goliath if necessary. As a last act we all gathered around Ben, laid hands on him and prayed for him that he will become a man of spiritual valor.

Ken and Ed deep in conversation

 Some might see this as a rather silly way to spend a day, but I think not. Almost all religions other than evangelical Christianity have what they might call “Rites of Passage.” I believe that symbols of this nature, especially where fathers pass a spiritual blessing on to their children, make unforgettable impressions that last for a life time. It is my guess that we don’t do enough of this sort of community event and leave our youngsters to pick their way through the faith on their own. I believe this almost picture perfect day will stick with Ben as long as he lives. 

Wings and Things

Kelsey, Lynne and Brody

On Thursday evening we visited with Lynne McDiarmid, Lynne’s daughter Kelsey and her husband Brody at their home not far from where we are staying. The last time I saw Kelsey, she was probably less than ten years of age. It is my guess that her parents Lyn and Lynne, along with two brothers, began attending Chapel Ridge in the late eighties. After several years with us, they moved to Wales, back to Canada (Calgary), then back to Wales. So I had completely lost track of the kids. It was a complete surprise to see a twenty-six-year-old and married Kelsey. Kelsey became a Christian while attending Chapel Ridge, so chances are I baptised her but I just can’t remember. Nevertheless, it is so nice to reconnect with folks who, even with the miles and years  in between, go right on with the Lord. Brody, her husband, once attended our sister church Kanata Wesleyan, now called The Bridge. Kelsey met him when she was but fifteen and after all of the years re-met and married him. The flame never died.

Lyn (Mr. Lyn not Mrs. Lynne) was at a church board meeting so we missed him. After lots of catching up we had their famous “hot” wings and a time of prayer before going home. We await the answer!

It’s a Family Thing

Jamie Robertson

On Wednesday (Tuesday I went fishing with Mark. See an earlier blog) we were mostly left to ourselves. So in the morning I arranged to meet my long time friend Jamie Robertson at a Tim Horton’s in Stittsville while Jeanne popped over to see Sylvia Vincent and her daughters, Heidi and Jacqueline, who were our neighbors for about five years when we lived on Flewellyn Road.

Jamie likes to refer to himself as a “God chaser” and I think he has described himself well.

 

Bud, Jerry, Tony, Debbie, Kerry and Jeanne

Later in the evening we went to dinner at Jerry and Kerry Narraway’s house. The Narraway clan turn out to be our oldest family connection in Canada. We have known the Narraways, their children, in-laws and out-laws since 1976. We were first introduced to Bud when he came to do an electrical service for my advertising office. He had already been warned about me by a real estate agent who told him to be leery of me because I was some sort of religious fanatic. Bud’s younger brother Bobby had already succumbed to the same disease while visiting Australia, and while he spent time sleeping on Bud’s couch he shared what he had experienced. Bud’s wife Debbie didn’t let on but she was interested and would always ask God ( in the best way she knew how) if what Bobby was saying had any truth to it. She expected some sort of bolt of light from the sky but didn’t ever get such a thing so wondered what to make of Bobby’s claims.

Around this same time Bud popped around to my office and met me. When he was finished wiring a couple of plugs, he just asked outright, “Are you some kind of religious guy?” I asked what he meant and he told me that he had been warned about me and just wanted to know for himself what I believed. Unknown to me, I pretty much told him the same story his brother had told him. This must have aroused his curiosity so we talked more – me explaining the gospel. In those days I was pretty aggressive and passionate in my presentation but it didn’t seem to set him aback at all. In fact, quite the contrary. From that point on we occasionally talked on the phone. After a couple of weeks, I invited him to what they called a “Full Gospel Businessman’s Fellowship Breakfast.” He may have accepted the invitation simply because he thought it would be good for business. As it turned out, he went and on that Saturday morning something happened to Bud. He caught the same thing that Bobby and I had caught. He became a Christian. When he got home that day, he was a different guy. Debbie, his wife, couldn’t make it out but now she felt surrounded and isolated. How could it be that Bobby and then Bud had this and she didn’t? They must be losing their minds and now what was next to happen? No doubt they must have been brainwashed.

When it comes to speaking her mind, Debbie was not then or is she  now intimidated or gagged. Right away she was on the phone calling me, telling me she was coming over and wanted to know what I had done to her husband. Thirty minutes later she was at our door and not in a pleasant mood. In she came and before she took a seat she was firing questions at me. It was all a front. She was ready and a straw could have pushed her over. I think I answered her questions fairly well but it didn’t matter. That wasn’t what she was really after. Within minutes Debbie had committed her life to Jesus and from that point on, for almost five years, our two families were almost inseparable. We spent almost every weekend together and their children, Leslie, Jed and Mel became first cousins to our kids, Sky, Rachel, Amy and Matt. Somehow, even with years of separation, we are still family. With Bud and Debbie we inherited their families. Bobby and Jerry became close friends of ours too, and so our family continued to grow with adopted uncles and aunts joining in.

So, on this evening we had supper with folks we have known for almost forty years. We have grown old together. Bud and Deb’s children are grown and married with children even as ours have. We have all been mutually blessed.

Jerry and Kerry hosted with a table full of great food. I asked myself how any of this makes any sense? Without the gospel, we’d not even have a reason to be in the same room. Our collective lives would have never intersected. I understand how Islam and Jehovah’s Witnesses or Roman Catholicism bring people into community. Us and them religion and dogma force people into community. But real Christianity brings people together in an organic, relational way. A living Christian faith ties unrelated people to one another in a familial way. The Bible makes this clear by telling us that people who love God wind up loving one another. “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.”  When people stop walking in the light, three things are unavoidable. First, they lose fellowship with God. Next, the blood becomes ineffectual. Finally, they lose fellowship with other believers. It is the blood and obedience that brings us into a common light of shared life (community). Some that we once knew in the same way we know the Narraways are no longer in the family. They have sunk into apostasy and in so doing, they have lost not only a relationship with God but also this amazing worldwide brotherhood with it.

A Lesson in Staying Power

Linda, Liz, Jeanne and me

On Monday evening we sat at the table of Liz Renaud and Linda Hache in Bridlewood. We simply don’t have enough energy to tell you about the journey we have shared together. The details could fill a book or make for an amazing soap opera series. Most of it you wouldn’t believe anyway.

Liz was first to come our way. I can’t exactly remember the exact details and even if I thought I had them right Jeanne and the other two would straighten me out. I’d get it wrong.

If my memory serves me correctly, Liz was already a Christian when we met her. She had been attending another Free Methodist church in the area but heard about us and decided to give us a look. This is back in the days when we had no “permanent dwelling place not so much as even a place to put the sole of our feet.” We were wandering from skating rink to library to a double-wide community center in a trailer park, to a house on Leacock Drive and then finally to the present location, a church building on Flewellyn Road. We picked up her sister Linda when we finally settled in our church building four years after Liz came on board.

These ladies became a reason for the growth in the early days as they turned out to be inviters as well as authentic, reliable deaconesses. Whatever needed to be done they did it.

Liz and Linda are our friends. They are also nothing alike. Liz calls herself a “Realist” which actually means, “blunt.” No one needs to wonder what she is thinking. The truth is, Liz gets it. She has stuff figured out way ahead of time and calls a spade a spade. I have rarely disagreed with her observation and perspective. She reads situations like a hawk. This being said, she is gracious and forgiving. She gives a “sucker an even break” and knows what it is to have walked in his or her shoes. She would be first to tell you all of the ways she has screwed up, so while she calls things the way they are, she doesn’t judge and gives lots of room for others to learn their own lessons without her help.

There were many times when Liz didn’t have it easy but she never gave up. Today, she makes frequent trips to England where she helps her daughter and son-in-law in their ministry with OM’s outreach to Muslims.

Her sister, Linda, (Well, what can I say?) she’s quite different. Linda is rather dreamy and mystical (in the good way). She loves to worship, read books and meditate. Again, like Liz, Linda exudes love.

Linda has had no easy time of it. She raised four children on her own. Jason, her youngest, is now working as Registrar at Bethany College of Missions in Minneapolis.

Linda was as tenacious as Liz and when the two got hold of the gospel they meant business. They were “steadfast and unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” They did not faint in doing good but committed themselves first to the Lord and then to His people.

I could say much more, and I suspect they are slightly nervous as they read this hoping that I keep a lot of things to myself. If I told you all of what they have faced you might wonder how they continued to go on. Others have faced nothing by comparison and yet they are off in a corner whining. What is the difference? The difference is simple and everyone needs to get this for themselves. They simply made up their minds where they would stand, come hell or high water.

I wish there were a thousand of these believers in Ottawa who would, after all, continue to “STAND.”

“As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?’”

Since 1512 people have lustily sung Martin Luther’s lyrics to “A Mighty Fortress” but perhaps only a remnant were sure of the truth of the words. Why don’t you read them again as a litmus test for yourself? Remember, the man who wrote them experienced betrayal on every hand.

  1.       A mighty fortress is our God,

            a bulwark never failing;

            our helper he amid the flood

            of mortal ills prevaling. 

            For still our ancient foe

            doth seek to work us woe;

            his craft and power are great,

            and armed with cruel hate,

            on earth is not his equal.

2.         Did we in our own strength confide,

            our striving would be losing,

            were not the right man on our side,

            the man of God’s own choosing.

            Dost ask who that may be? 

            Christ Jesus, it is he;

            Lord Sabaoth, his name,

            from age to age the same,

            and he must win the battle.

3.         And though this world, with devils filled,

            should threaten to undo us,

            we will not fear, for God hath willed

            his truth to triumph through us. 

            The Prince of Darkness grim,

            we tremble not for him;

            his rage we can endure,

            for lo, his doom is sure;

            one little word shall fell him.

4.         That word above all earthly powers,

            no thanks to them, abideth;

            the Spirit and the gifts are ours,

            thru him who with us sideth. 

            Let goods and kindred go,

            this mortal life also;

            the body they may kill;

            God’s truth abideth still;

            his kingdom is forever.

Up’da line: Carleton Place and Maberly

Linda and Jack Marner

After a leisurely morning we drove out to Carleton Place for a visit with long time friends Jack and Linda Marner. We were clear in letting them know that we would be going to the Hoggs’ afterward and pretty sure that they would lay on more than we could possibly eat, so, “go light.” We assured them that coffee or tea would be all we need. You will learn that Canadians are not able to restrain themselves and “tea” might mean exactly what we got, sandwiches, cole slaw, chocolate squares and in every way pretty much more than we could eat, but eat we did as we have as little restraint for eating as Canadians have for serving.

We spent almost two hours going over old times and then praying.

Jack is a really smart guy and I encouraged him to use his intellect, biblical/apologetic and technological skills as well as gifts in written expression to assist those who just don’t always know what to believe.

Fred, Darlene and Julie

At around three we parted company and drove out to Maberly some hour away to see Fred and Darlene Hogg. Fred and Darlene were members of our congregation in Kanata from almost the day we began. Fred initially brought Darlene and their first two children Katelyn and Sandra to Sunday School and then went home, but one Sunday he made the mistake of attending a church service and the rest is history.

Fred and Darlene became leaders in the church. They were with us as we moved from a double wide trailer house (alla community center), to a house (alla church) on Leacock Drive and the final location in a farmer’s field on Flewellyn Road. They helped us build a church building near Stittsville on eleven acres of land.  They eventually had two more children, Julie and Ron. They raised great children. Katelyn and Julie are nurses while Sandra is a graduate in public affairs and policy. Ron is working in sports broadcasting. I always wonder if those growing up in Christian homes attribute their success to the influence of the Gospel? Where would many of these young people be if not for the Christian faith?

The Hoggs are quick to acknowledge God’s grace in their lives and if I had time in this blog I’d tell you about their grandson Luca Ruggiero’s miraculous recovery (most Ottawa news carriers reported it). Hit by a car broadside, Jimmy and Katie’s little three-year-old boy took the brunt of the impact and in so doing wound up on life support at CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario). As the news got out that Sunday night and Monday morning, the entire church of Ottawa went to prayer on his behalf. Not expected to survive, Luca made it and is now on his way to recovery. Though this will no doubt take a lot of time and care – perhaps he will never be what he might have been – he is a miracle and a blessing. See the story here:

http://ottawa.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110409/OTT_luca_recovery_110409/20110409/?hub=OttawaHome

Joel Williams

As we drove into the drive of their recent acquisition, an austrian styled home off Highway 7 south of Maberly, a young man hung around the edge of our conversation. I should have known him but out of context I was clueless. Once introduced to us, I was embarrassed because I did know the fellow. I have known him since he was in diapers. Joel Williams is now thirty-one. He is the son of old

Enjoying

Merrickville friends, Fred and Rosalee. Fred was simply one of the best musicians and songwriters I have ever known and now his son follows in his footsteps. A graduate from Humber College in guitar, Joel spent a few years playing country music in a touring band but now, settled in the faith, is a worship leader for Northgate Church (Calvary Chapel) in Perth, Ontario. As the evening progressed and Fred grilled steak skewers on the deck we sat around listening to Joel pick and sing. 

When Jeanne and I were at Chapel Ridge Church for the 25th Anniversary, I preached a message that wound up on the internet. The message was entitled “Like Jumping to Catalina Island.” When Joel heard it, he wrote a song by the same title and put it on his MySpace page. You can hear it with some other tunes at  http://www.myspace.com/joelliamsmusic  . I was honored. He and his dad are in the process of making a CD together and we can’t wait to get a copy.

Julie, Fred and Darlene’s daughter, arrived back from a soccer game and joined us for a good visit and dinner. Julie is now a nurse. Now in her twenties, we have known her since she was a baby.

Small Burning Bushes on the Backside of the Desert

When I was called to preach I had this idea that I might (by God’s grace) be the next Billy Graham or Jimmy Swaggart (thankfully, not). Well, it hasn’t quite gone that way – at least, so far, it hasn’t gone that way. I normally (actually, I never) preach to conference halls or stadiums full of expectant and admiring mass gatherings. My work is ALWAYS in a basement, a home, a tiny, hard-to-find church in the country, café or hot, stuffy, upstairs rooms that sits atop something like an auto body shop.

Like anyone, I would love to preach to huge audiences but the Lord told me a long time ago that I am called to serve “the back side of the desert.” I suppose someone has to go there and most people won’t, preferring to be the key note speaker at major events. My rule has always been to take whatever invitation comes my way. This means small churches in places like Parham, Ontario to Svinvoll (Pigville to be precise), Norway; Wyoming, Minnesota; and a hundred other places that barely show up on a map.

Upon hearing that I would be available to preach the week of August 7th, my agent and good friend Pastor Ken Roth of Chapel Ridge Free Methodist Church, scheduled me to preach on Wednesday night at a Haitian church plant in the east side of Ottawa. When we arrived in front of a community center the parking lot was packed with cars. There happened to be a carnival on the same evening so I jumped out of the car and ran up the stairs to a small room where singing was already in progress. I entered the room where there were as many microphones as there were people. We were still in a David and Goliath situation with the neon lit rides having far more appeal than conga drums and synthesizers. Nevertheless, the Haitians went right ahead singing with all their might until about twenty or so people arrived. An hour and a half later, I rose to preach for about thirty minutes with translation.

I was surprised at how similar the Haitian meeting was when compared to the Congolese services I led in Charlotte some months before. Though continents apart they turn out to have a lot in common. The style of music and French language were almost identical. I doubt if they know this and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if they could have a shared experience of visiting each other’s churches.”

After the service we stayed for sandwiches and soft drinks and then made our way back home by 10:30.

Visiting Joe and Suna Zellers in Baltimore

Some twenty or more years ago my son, Sky brought to our home in Kanata, Ontario his new friend, Suna. In time, Suna became a good friend, started to attend church and in time became Christian herself. Suna grew as a Christian, became a Sunday School teacher and about four years later went on to Bethany College of Missions, spent a year working with homeless children in China, returned to Minneapolis to finish her degree, met Joe, got married and went to Africa for about nine months.

Joe and Suna still remain our friends so we drove around to see them. They have two daughters of their own now, Virginia and Olivia. On the day that we visited the girls were away at camp. More recently they have taken into their home three other children, Megan, Mike and Ralph. All of these five children are close in age.

It was great to spend time with them again and catch up. Many of our Canadian and Bethany friends will be glad to hear about them. They’re doing great and going on with the Lord.