Preparing for the 2013 Texas Water Safari
In my early days of leading volunteer teams to serve among the nations, I developed a really good general packing list and several country-specific packing lists. I depended on these lists because my biggest fear was arriving at some remote part of the planet missing something really vital or important. It’s always frustrating when something like that happens, especially when you are in a place where you can’t just go out and buy what you need.
Packing has always been my least favorite part of the travel experience, but I have made peace with packing and have developed some efficient packing methods that continue to serve me well. As a result, the packing process is not as painful as it once was and, after so many trips around the globe, I have not used a packing list in years. My packing list is now totally engrained in my brain.
I have however, had to develop a new packing list — not for my international travel but for competing in the Texas Water Safari, the world’s toughest canoe race. When my son Jonathan and I prepared for this race last year, we had a very specific list of what to pack in addition to the mandatory items specified in the race rules. Our list guided us in packing just the right amount of nutrition and other items without over-packing and adding unnecessary weight to our canoe.
Our safari packing list is very important because if we forget to pack something, tough luck! We have to do the race without it. Racers have to carry all of their own nutrition plus required first-aid supplies. Our team captain can re-supply us with water (and if necessary, medical aid) at the specified check-points along the course. Thus the need to maintain an accurate packing list and to make certain that we pack carefully.
Today at lunch, Doyle and I purchased yet a few more of the things we will need for the safari. We have just about everything on our list except for an assortment of batteries for our lights, GPS, and SpotTracker. We will buy our nutrition the week before the race. We are very conscious of the need to pack light but also to make sure that we have everything on our list. No excess.
As Doyle and I picked up a few more things on our list today, I thought about my favorite packing list in the Bible — tucked away in the popular Old Testament story of Joseph. When Jacob reluctantly agreed to allow his sons to travel to Egypt to purchase food during a famine, this concerned father told his boys to pack some of the best products of the land, including “a little balm and a little honey” (Gen. 43:11).
The mention of “a little balm and a little honey” illustrates the wisdom of Jacob. He knew that his boys might need a little balm along the way to nurse aches and pains and a little honey for nourishment and refreshment. These are two items we should always carry with us as well. We should be prepared to offer a little balm to those who are weary and a little honey to those in need of encouragement. It will make our journey and theirs more meaningful and pleasant.
Thank you for following our journey as we prepare for the Texas Water Safari in June.
Preparing for the 2013 Texas Water Safari
November 3 of last year was a day of small beginnings. That was the day Doyle and I began to train for the Texas Water Safari ultra-marathon canoe race. With a borrowed canoe, we set off for San Marcos to paddle the first 16-miles of the race course. The day did not go exactly as I had hoped. Having never paddled together, Doyle and I were all over the San Marcos River, and I do mean all over the river ― to the left and to the right, on top of the water and even under it a couple of times. Talk about a rough start, it would have been more discouraging than it actually was had we not laughed along the way.
I returned home more than a little nervous on that day, but hopeful that we would improve with practice. Small beginnings often are characterized by hard work, slow progress, discouraging setbacks, second thoughts, and lots of reflection. Doyle and I had made a commitment to do a 260-mile ultra-marathon canoe race and our first step on that journey was faltering at best. Having completed this race earlier in the year with my son Jonathan, I had a pretty good idea of what it takes to make it to the finish line. Doyle and I had no choice but to make a commitment to take another step.
Since our day of small and questionable beginnings, Doyle and I have trained hard, taken paddling lessons, made a dozen trips to and from the river, spent lots of money on our gear, studied the race course, and had almost daily pep-talks about the race. On May 5 we participated in our first race together, the Texas River Marathon ― the preliminary race to the Texas Water Safari. We met our personal goal of finishing this race in under seven hours. The important thing is that, although we were far from the fastest team on the river, we finished the race in good form.
A little after 6:00 this morning, Doyle and I headed to Luling to do another training run from Zedler Mill Dam to Palmetto State Park on the San Marcos River. I can honestly say that we have developed into a really good team, not necessarily fast, but really good. We have learned to read the river well, paddle at a pace that should enable us to reach all of our checkpoints on the safari on time, have not had a single spill since that first day on the river, know so much more about our strengths and weaknesses, and are more determined than ever to complete the safari in less than the one-hundred hours allotted.
As Doyle and I made our way down the river this morning, I thought about Zechariah 4:10, a favorite passage of Scripture that says: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (NLT). That’s good advice. New ventures and adventures often begin small. However, if we will keep at it and not give up, then one day we will look back on these small beginnings and see the progress we have made. Doyle and I are committed to finishing the world’s toughest canoe race in June. Unless something out of our control prevents us from doing so, we hope to reach the finish line on time. Thanks for following our journey.
In July 1935, God used a woman named Mrs. Montgomery to reach out to her neighbors in San Antonio, Texas. For months, this persistent woman had asked her neighbor, Mrs. Martinez, for permission to take her kids to church. Finally, after more than two-dozen visits, Mrs. Martinez agreed to let her children accompany Mrs. Montgomery to church. When Mrs. Montgomery stopped by to pick up the kids on Sunday afternoon, Angel, the oldest of the kids, did not want to go. However, when he learned that those who attended the summer bible school would receive free ice cream and a bag of cookies, Angel decided to go. He said that in those Depression years, his family could not afford ice cream and he really wanted some ice cream.
Angel attended the bible school but got much more than ice cream. For the first time in his life he heard a clear presentation of the gospel and decided to return the following day. On July 8, Angel arrived at the church a little late because he had been shining shoes on the sidewalks of San Antonio. He arrived in his bare feet and holding his shoe-shine box. Angel listened attentively to the story of Jesus and Nicodemus that afternoon and placed his faith in Christ for salvation. The rest is history.
In September of that year, Angel preached his first sermon and began his journey into vocational ministry. In the course of his 60-year preaching ministry, an estimated 500,000 people came to faith in Christ. Angel also memorized the entire New Testament and could quote chapter and verse without hesitation. He was a brilliant man and a powerful orator.
Who would have thought that the 13-year old shoe-shine boy from San Antonio, Texas had within him this kind of potential. And what might have happened if Mrs. Montgomery had not been so persistent or if the church had not had enough volunteers to work with children that summer? Angel’s story reminds me that we should never underestimate what God can do with small beginnings. And, his story teaches that each of us can play a significant role in the work of God’s kingdom. We must, however, be willing to lay aside comforts, ignore distractions, and engage in the kind of work that will outlast us.
I love Vacation Bible School. For the past thirty-five years in ministry, I have seen thousands of children attend VBS and hundreds of these trust Christ for their salvation. None of this would be possible, however, without the many volunteers who give of their time to teach classes, provide snacks, lead singing and craft projects, and do all of the things that make VBS fun and meaningful for children. For Kingsland and many other churches, Vacation Bible School is only weeks away. I encourage you to make the most of your summer by serving in some capacity in your church’s VBS. And while you’re at it, do what Mrs. Montgomery did and invite a neighbor to join you.
A few weeks after I arrived at Kingsland in the summer of 2005, Mary Whittington, one of our members, invited me to a breakfast meeting with Kurt Dillinger, the President of Life International. Life International is an evangelical Christian organization that multiplies healthy, Christ-centered, life-giving ministries wherever abortion is provided worldwide. Kurt and his staff are committed to helping people come to new life in Christ while they work to protect pre-born lives from abortion.
I listened politely that morning as Kurt shared about the work of Life International on the mission field created by abortion. And then, Kurt said something that captured my interest in the plight of the pre-born. He said that babies in the womb are the world’s largest hidden and most vulnerable people group. I don’t think I heard anything else he said because those words in particular disturbed me.
I thought about Kurt’s words all day. And, that night, I could not sleep as I thought about this hidden and vulnerable people group in need of champions. That night, the Lord convicted me that in addition to all of the other unreached people groups I would lead our missions ministry to adopt, He wanted for me to lead us to adopt the pre-born as one of our people groups.
In the following weeks and months, we worked with Kurt and his staff to underwrite and to help start The Comforter’s Center in Kampala, Uganda. Our people embraced the vision and gave generously to make a pregnancy help center in Kampala a reality. We purchased a building for the center, ensuring that it will have a geographic presence to promote the sanctity of human life even beyond our generation.
The best news of all is that out of all of the abortion-minded young women who have visited the center over the past seven-plus years, more than 1,100 have chosen life for their babies. And, many of these women have come to faith in Christ. A couple of days ago, I received the first quarter report from Veronica, the Director of The Comforter’s Center. Since the first of this year, the center has served 449 clients. Of these, 56 chose life for their babies and 47 women professed faith in Christ. One woman named Yowerina, shared this story:
I had planned to have an abortion without telling anyone. I had the money and I wanted to do it at the abortion clinic. I was so afraid of how my parents and the church would react learning about my pregnancy. My college friend took me to The Comforter’s Center. I told the counselor that I am a Christian and I know that abortion is murder but also I know that God is gracious to forgive me. They told me that is not a biblical formula for forgiveness. After much counseling I asked them to break the news to my family. They said they will have to give counseling to my parents before they can do that. They met my parents and I was surprised to receive loving responses from my parents. They affirmed to me that everything will be ok. Now as a family we are enjoying the blessing and the gift of my baby, Jonson. My Daddy enjoys his company and is proud to introduce him to his fellow colleagues as his grandson.
Thanks, Kingsland, for supporting the work of The Comforter’s Center. I am grateful every time I receive news from Veronica about how God continues to use the staff at The Comforter’s Center to encourage abortion-minded young women to choose life for their babies and to find new life in Christ. That is indeed comforting news!
The month of May is a bittersweet month for me. Four years ago, my beautiful mother spent her last birthday in the hospital. Little did we know as we wished her a Happy Birthday on May 19 that she would succumb to cancer before the end of the month. Dealing with her absence is still tough. At times, especially when I am alone, I am still easily overcome with grief. I miss my mother and everything about her ― her presence, the sound of her voice, her words of encouragement, her laughter and tears, and our weekly conversations. I treasure each and every memory that I have and give thanks daily for her influence in my life.
I am especially grateful for the love that my parents had for one another. As a kid I never doubted that my parents were deeply in love, and I do mean deeply in love. Their love for one another is perhaps the greatest gift they gave to me and my siblings. It was an anchor that made our home a safe and secure place. Four years after Mom’s death, Dad still visits her grave every morning. He has his quiet time on a bench at our family plot and makes sure that Mom’s grave is always adorned with pretty flowers. My Mom would not be surprised by this because she always knew how much Dad loved and cared for her.
This Mother’s Day, I miss my beautiful mother and am grateful beyond words for her. I could not have asked for a better or more devoted mother. I know how much she loved God and loved people. I want to continue to honor her memory by loving, caring for, and serving those in need. These are the things she encouraged me to do and that always warmed her heart. Although I will never get over her death, I am still learning to cope with her absence. And, that’s ok. That’s my new normal. And that’s what I’ll have to keep doing until I see her again.
This month is tough for me because of Mother’s Day, my mother’s birthday, and the anniversary of her death. But this month is also special because on May 23 we will celebrate my son Jonathan’s birthday. And, yesterday morning, Jonathan proposed to his best friend Aubrey Williams. We are thrilled at this news and are so happy that Aubrey will be a part of our family. We look forward to seeing them both later this month. Mom would have been so happy for Jonathan.
I am excited that Jonathan and I will get to spend the day together on his birthday because we have scheduled a training run on that day as we continue our preparations for the Texas Water Safari. That’s right! Jonathan wants to paddle the last 30+ miles of the race course on his birthday. We will be joined by several other TWS teams and plan on cooking steaks at Seadrift at the end of the day. This is a hard month for me emotionally, but I am grateful that God has blessed me with special memories of Mom, a son whose birthday we will celebrate this month, and the joy of welcoming Aubrey into our family.
My friend Doyle and I had scheduled another training run for today as we continue our preparation for the Texas Water Safari ultra-marathon canoe race in June. However, what we did not schedule was a 70% chance of rain that washed our training run down the drain. It makes me a little nervous to miss this opportunity to train because the big race is only a month away. We will have to work out a time to get back on the river sometime in the next week to make up for it.
I had my heart set on another adventure on the river today. The last thing I wanted to do was to stay home and listen to the falling rain. So, I decided to embark on another one of my get-lost-on-Texas-backroads adventures ― in the pouring rain. I figured that this was a great opportunity to get a new perspective on the sights along Texas backroads. I love how the rain changes the light and makes colors a bit more vibrant. As I traveled down Interstate 10 toward Brookshire this morning, it looked like it was nighttime.
Once I got off the beaten path I was able to slow down and enjoy the sights. As you might imagine, most sane people stayed home so I pretty much had the backroads to myself. I drove down some really cool and winding backroads. I absolutely love the what’s-around-the-next-bend-in-the-road feeling that I get when the road ahead turns one way or the other. Today’s drive did not disappoint. Every little road had its own share of surprises for me. The rain did make it a little hard to take pictures but I managed to snap a few shots along the way.
I enjoyed driving through Sunnyside, Texas in the pouring rain and later passing by a little road named Gray Sky. And, the old abandoned houses and buildings hidden away on these backroads always stir my imagination. They make me wonder who lived there and where they have gone and what memories they still carry with them of these long abandoned places. Of course, I never tire of seeing windmills and stopping to look down railroad tracks that seem to go on forever. I especially enjoyed one backroads sign along a bend in the road with two arrows pointing toward each other. Decisions, decisions!
I’m glad I did not stay home today. The rain gave me a whole new perspective and appreciation for the beauty of the Lone Star State. The older I get the more I love Texas, the place I call home. As much as I enjoy traveling the world and seeing amazing and interesting places, there really is no place like home. Texas is a beautiful place both in the sunshine and in the rain.
My friend Brian Stone and I recently had a long conversation about making the most of opportunities. Brian and I have a mentoring relationship and regularly challenge one another to think deeply and live wisely. In the course of our recent conversation, I told Brian, who is much younger than I am, that I have reached the age where I am more aware than ever before of the fact that time is killing me ― and because time is killing me I do not have the luxury of killing time.
When I was a younger man the years ahead of me seemed endless. I felt as though I had all the time in the world. Even so, I was gripped by a nagging sense of urgency as a young man. I hated the thought of wasting time, putting things off, and letting opportunities slip away. I intentionally looked for ways to squeeze every drop of living out of every day. I still do that. Even so, I don’t always get it right and do miss opportunities along the way. I do, however, learn quickly and turn regret into fuel for better decision-making.
Now that I am an older man, my sense of urgency has gone into overdrive. Every day and every opportunity to do good is more precious to me than ever before. The thought of wasting time or slacking off has taken on sinful proportions. I feel like Mother Teresa when her peers nagged her about slowing down and taking rest. She replied that she would have plenty of time to rest after drawing her last breath. But, while she had opportunity to do good and to impact the lives of others, she was determined to seize the day.
Knowing that time is killing me has sharpened my thinking. It’s easier for me to say no to the things that are less than strategic. I want more than ever to invest in the next generation and to engage in initiatives that will outlast me. And, while I have time, I want to do audacious and hard things, the kind of things that are indeed God-sized. I would rather fail trying to scale a higher mountain than to be content picking flowers on little hills.
I love what Charles Spurgeon said when he was preaching from the text, “All power is given unto Me … Lo I am with you always.” Spurgeon said, “You have a factor here that is absolutely infinite, and what does it matter as to what other factors may be. ‘I will do as much as I can,’ says one. Any fool can do that. He that believes in Christ does what he can not do, attempts the impossible and performs it.” Spurgeon’s words challenge me. They will not let me become content just sitting on the dock of the bay. I prefer to be on the ship headed to another horizon.
So, I live with the awareness that time is indeed killing me. Every minute brings me closer to the day I will draw my final breath. And that is why I am not content to just mark time or to kill time. Since time is robbing me, I am determined to rob time and demand that it give me something in return. Being passive is not an option. Having good intentions is not enough. Making excuses is not cool. Living selfishly is not acceptable. I want something more in exchange for what time is taking from me.
I understand that, ultimately, what I get out of time is up to me. Every minute is like an empty cup. I can leave it empty or fill it up with something meaningful. I choose to fill each minute with living that honors God and then offer each of those minutes back to Him as a living sacrifice. And when the day comes that I have no more minutes, I want to have lived in such a way that even my dust will continue to tell the world of God’s faithfulness.
For the past several months, Doyle and I have been training for the grueling 260-mile ultra-marathon Texas Water Safari canoe race in June. We have paddled almost 200 miles together on the upper sections of the race course and have improved considerably over the past several months. Yesterday, we finally got to put our training to the test as we competed in the Texas River Marathon.
The Texas River Marathon is a fast-paced 34-mile canoe race on the Guadalupe River. The race starts in the old town of Cuero and ends in Victoria, Texas. This race is important because it is the preliminary race for the Texas Water Safari in June. The finishing positions on this race are used to determine starting positions on the Texas Water Safari.
This year’s Texas River Marathon was my eighth marathon canoe race and Doyle’s first. I was especially glad to see my son Jonathan at the race and many friends from past races. The paddling community in Texas is one of the friendliest bunch of folks I have ever met. There is never a shortage of encouragement from seasoned racers and the crowds along the way. As one of the newer guys on the paddling scene, I have always felt welcomed at these races.
This year’s Texas River Marathon was shortened from 39 to 34 miles because of changes in the start and finish points. Doyle and I set a goal to finish the course in seven-hours or less. We enjoyed paddling with my son Jonathan and his paddling partner Bob on part of the course. But, of course, these young boys eventually pulled ahead while Doyle and I just tried to maintain a steady pace. Our goal for the water safari is to maintain a pace that will enable us to finish the course in less than the 100-hours time limit.
Doyle and I paddled well but we were passed by a lot of boats. We had to remind ourselves that our goal was to finish the race and not to kill ourselves trying to keep up with younger or more seasoned racers, many in lighter and faster boats. I am happy to say that we finished the race in 6 hours and 54 minutes with only 5 minutes and 8 seconds of stop time along the way. As Doyle said, “That’s not bad for two guys with a combined age of 109.”
In some ways I wish I still had the strength I had when I was a young guy having adventures on the water and on the slopes. But the reality is that I can still have a great time doing hard things if I will just pace myself and enjoy the journey. I am glad that my son Jonathan encouraged me to join him in competing in marathon canoe races when I was 55-years old. I like the challenge of doing hard things because it keeps me young at heart. So, I plan to keep paddling and portaging and enjoying the challenge of hard things for as long as I can.
The children of the Zabbaleen, Cairo’s garbage people, have been on my heart since my trip to Egypt last month. Life for these kids is difficult at best. The only childhood they know is that of living among piles of garbage. They have no fear of filth because, from the time they are able to walk, these kids help their parents sort through collected heaps of Cairo’s cast-offs in search of items to sell. Every family member must get their hands dirty in order for the family to make enough money to live from day-to-day.
As you might imagine, living among and working with garbage has its risks. The Zabbaleen kids are susceptible to disease because they have no concept of how germs and disease are transmitted. They do not wear gloves nor do they have sufficient clean water with which to wash their hands. They pick through garbage and then eat their meals with the same dirty hands. They get cuts and scrapes like any other kid but live with the added risk of infection.
In spite of the challenges of living among piles of garbage, Zabbaleen kids manage to find ways to have fun. Their toys are found objects thrown out by Cairo’s wealthier families. These kids have never unwrapped a new toy at Christmas or on their birthdays. They have never whined about wanting an upgrade or the next new anything. When your world is hemmed in by the high fence of poverty, you don’t know what’s on the other side. All you know is the world within those walls.
Kids will be kids, even in the toughest environments. While visiting the Zabbaleen, I was touched by the smiles and laughter of the children. They are resilient and they are survivors. And they deserve the opportunity to improve their lives and to have a way out of the poverty that has kept them in garbage for generations. Because the Zabbalen kids must work, they do not attend school. Unless that changes, little else will.
This summer, we will challenge our Kingsland kids to raise funds to build a school for the Zabbaleen kids who live in the village of Helwan. With the help of our partners, we hope to construct the school quickly and already have an Egyptian teacher ready to serve the children. This is just one slice of our community and spiritual development strategy for the people of Helwan. We look forward to making a measurable difference in the lives of the Zabbaleen in the coming years.
- AMONG THE NATIONS
- HOLIDAYS | HOLY DAYS
- LOCAL ADVENTURES
- LOCAL | GLOBAL ISSUES
- PEOPLE | PROFILES