Early Thursday, July 2nd, we started our journey to the Bible Conference in Prescott, AZ. We decided to drive to save some money and enjoy a road trip. We left Sparta at 4 in the morning and made Colorado Springs in 13.5 hours. Getting into Colorado Springs around 4:30 their time. It was a strait drive along Highway 70. We listened to a Louis L’Amour novel to help the time go by. We packed food and had come across a pick your own peach orchard just before leaving so we had some delicious peaches.
Colorado Springs has the markings of a wealthy city. We had time for dinner, (thoroughly enjoyed a Wasabi Steak), a visit to a book store and cruising around the city. We cruised through Garden of the Gods, not to be confused with Garden of the Gods back in Illinois. We would also drive by Garden of the Gods in Utah.
The next day we started our first trip through the Rockies. We climbed out of Colorado Springs going west and then north along 67 and 126 and then west along 285. The country was beautiful but we had our fist “ahh” moment when we came over Kenosha Pass overlooking South Park. We didn’t get a picture but it reminds me of the scenic shots from the movie Shane (filmed in Jackson Hole Wyoming). We moved onto Alma where we were going to take an unimproved road over the mountains into Leadville, but the snows had not cleared enough to make the passage so we had to turn back and head up to Highway 70 and go west passing the ski towns of Breckenridge, Frisco and Vail. At Glenwood Springs we headed south to Carbondale and Highway 133. I should mention that our entire time in Colorado (all of 42 hours) was interspersed with spectacular thunder storms. Highway 133 greeted us with a highway closed sign. A mud slide had sealed off the highway two hours before we got there. We had to get back on 70 passing the oil fields, a great source of real wealth and real jobs, and make our way south on 50 and 550 to Montrose.
Leaving Montrose we were surprised by a cherry sign. Had to stop as the peaches were just about finished. They were delicious cherries just picked that morning (some leaves and stems still attached). Apparently this area does real well with cherries, apricots and peaches. These cherries were delicious. It gave us a little flashback to our yearly trip to Yakima from Seattle to pick cherries.
We made it to Black Canyon of the Gunnison that night about 8:30 with just enough light to set up a tent and make the ranger’s slide show. The next morning we hiked the ridge and hiked through the country all before the center opened. We drove to the different lookouts and then visited the center, learning about the Gunnison Tunnel. This caught our attention and we were told a educational tour was just starting. We raced down to the bottom of the canyon and caught most of one of the best tours given by a ranger that I have experienced. Joan was impressed by his use of different teaching styles. It was here that my Zambia cap started a Zambian conversation with a traveling nurse who goes to Zambia yearly. She mentioned that the governor of Colorado had spent time working in an outback hospital in Zambia with his family.
We headed south on 550 over the mountains through Ouray and Silverton both worth more time than we could give. Heading for Durango we were getting hungry and began to think about some good Mexican food. Didn’t spot anything in Durango and went on to Cortez, what looked good was closed, after all it is Saturday the Fourth of July. We switched to desiring some Navajo fry bread, specifically a Navajo taco. From Cortez, we headed north hoping for some Navajo tacos and some of the best tasting beans in the world. Yes, we were heading for Dove Creek. We found a down home café and asked about fry bread. They apologized and pointed us up the road where the Forth was being celebrated. We would be sure to find some Indians doing business there. We were not disappointed. There was a lively gathering happening with lots of young people. The Indian family stands were doing a great business with their Navajo fry bread and tacos. Joan and I settled down for a great picnic in the shade. We were joined by another couple who gave us their travel history and work history and we swapped stories about different places. They directed us to the only store in town for our hoped for beans.
We drove over to Monticello in Utah and headed south. Joan wanted to stop in Bluff, Utah. She had camped out under the sandstone bluffs and remembered the special taste of the water. We filled our water bottles and drove around the houses built just under the bluffs. Quite fantastic that you could own a home sitting in the shadow of these bluffs.
We drove onto Mexican Hat. Joan had helped build some of the structures in the town in her day. We drove down to the San Juan River and turned around and started the final leg of our day’s journey. We passed by the distinctive namesake of Mexican Hat as we headed south to Chinle. We arrived in Chinle, AZ that night about 9 after the drive through Navajo country.
The next day I preached for Pastor Artie Aragon. I had sermons ready and felt especially good about the sermon I would preach that evening. The morning service was also attended by 70 Koreans from the US who came each year on a missions trip to the reservation. The church is very proud of the fact that it is not a mission church. It and its baby churches are self sustaining. The Koreans after years of frustration on their trip came to Artie and asked him how the church managed. Now every year they spend one weekend with the church and this year it happened to be the weekend we were there.
The face of the Chinle church has always been a group of strong Navajo men who would come and put up the tent in Prescott for conference. That night I preached a message: “Who are These Guys?” taking male traits from Luke 9. The sermon was preceded by some native dancers from New Zealand who were also visiting Chinle at that time on a missions trip. I meant the sermon to be a tribute to a strong church that was producing real men for the Kingdom. Artie, who has a great story of his own, treated us real good on the day before we would all head down to Prescott for conference.
The next morning Joan and I got up early and headed for Canyon de Chelly. We had drove around the rim on Sunday in between services now we drove to the point overlooking the White House Ruins. We took the hike down into the canyon that still supports people farming and herding much like they did in the past. It was a last beautiful hike before we started for the bible conference.
Conference started with a great surprise. As we drove up to check into our hotel we were greeted by a man who recognized my Zambian hat. It was Benjamin Katubiya owner of BUK Truck Parts of Zambia. He was here on business and decided to take in the conference. We spent the week with him and it was great to get to know him better. It is good to see a man committed to Zambia who could just as easily make camp in the U.S. He shared his testimony with us. He had been attending a prosperity church desperately chasing the illusive dollar. The prosperous life brought him to a place of not having enough Kwacha to take a bus across town to go to church. His sister had been attending the Potter’s House. He had always mocked her and had told her he would never go to a church that has to meet in a tent. Well, he came to church, in the tent, heard a sermon by Pastor Steve Bowman, got saved and has never left. Since that time he has prospered.
It was great to have Pastor Mitchell back from Australia. I never felt good about him going to Australia, certainly there was someone else who could have gone, but he went and now he was back looking good. He preached about doing the work that God had called you to in the place where you are at. A great relief for all of the pastors wondering if they should move on. This would be balanced out later on in the week by Pastor Richard Ruby. Pastor Mitchell’s Friday night sermon got personal as he described the physical and mental torment that accompanied his trip to Australia. No, he didn’t want to go, but he did. It was a wonderful sermon that talked about the combination of a man doing his part and God doing His. We sent a work into Cambodia and into Bolivia as well as many couples sent out to start new churches in the states.
We had great fellowship during the week. Audra met us in Prescott and stayed with us through the week and afterwards when we visited Wickenburg. We met up with Tom and Marjean Cunningham and Larry and Debbie Elliot, both couples in Zambia with us, for ice cream. We had a lunch with Gene and Cheryl LaValley of Athens, Georgia, Sergei and Anya Golubev from Vologda, Russia and Tim and Sue Moynihan from Oceanside, CA. Every time I see Sergei I have a special pride, feeling like I had a hand in helping him along. I preached for him in Sokal, Russia way back in 1995 when he was a 20 year old pastor. I believed that God wanted him to know that he would someday preach all over the world. I remember thinking to myself afterwards that I might have been stepping out in the flesh. Well that church in Sokal eventually sent a pastor into Viet Nam and Mongolia and now Sergei is the leader of our Russian churches preaching all over the world.
Had a great time at the Peterson’s (on their way to Santa Fe), the Walters (great to see their daughter doing well) and the Richardson’s (it was interesting being together with a group of men all out of the same church (tempe) I was a little jealous). We got together with the Hernandez’s and the Lynche’s as well as the Bardin’s from Wickenburg and Steve and Jeanie Bowman along with Antony and Jackie Miller who used to be in Zimbabwe.
Conference ended and Joan and Audra did some last visiting while I packed. We parked Audra’s car at the church and headed for Wickenburg via Phoenix. We need to visit the Chinatown Ranch Market for some sundries that cost a fortune in Illinois as well as the assorted oriental treats centering around what I have always called Li Hing Mui. We then visit the Ranch Market that gives you a little taste of Mexico right in the middle of Phoenix. We get spices and such but we are really here for the inexpensive, delicious, authentic, (did I say delicious) dishes from the restaurant inside the store. This combined with the Mexican drinks is a winner we can’t pass up. We were also going to visit the Starbucks in St. Joseph’s hospital, our pilgrimage of remembrance, but it was closed. We spun up to Wickenburg, took a nap, and met Pastor Dave and Dianne Robinson for ice cream. I was going to preach a bit of an end times sermon with some liberal dashes of hope for the future so mine and Pastor’s conversation was a perfect refresher for the next day’s sermon.
The Wickenburg church was a breath of fresh air. It is very similar in make up and history to our church here in Sparta. These are many of the same folks that were in the church when I wandered through town in 1983 and got saved. Certainly not my plan. It is a privilege and honor to be able to preach to them as someone they have invested in time and time again. I tried to preach a sermon Sunday night about health to give them a picture of our first year here in Sparta.
We left early the next morning, got Audra’s car in Prescott. Joan and Audra drove to Ashfork with me following. We said our difficult good-byes and Audra headed west on Highway 40 and we headed East. First stop, possible breakfast with the John and Molly Robinson in Flagstaff, John is working so onto the Arizona crater, too expensive; onto the petrified forest, getting off the highway and entering the park from the South. Beautiful and informative. Next stop, Santa Fe where we walk around the market, it wasn’t crowded like I had described it to Joan from my visit a couple of years earlier. Off to find a camping spot in the Santa Fe National Forest. We drove into Pecos, NM and followed Highway 63 along the Pecos River to a Y. We went left to the Holy Ghost campground at the end of the road and set up camp along a stream just as darkness fell. Got up early and made our way to Las Vegas, NM. I always wanted to visit this town. I was scheduled to preach here before coming to Sparta. Our Fellowship has a church in this small town that has started over 15 other churches. Early that morning we were cruising around the town, stopped and had some coffee at a shop that “proudly served Starbucks coffee” and ended up adding a sweet bun (a cinnamon role deep fried) along with our coffee. As we were leaving town we happened to see Ray Ruby going for coffee at a local hotel with some of his guys, I slowed down and told him he has got a nice town and off we went.
It would be a long day of driving as we left Las Vegas, (the plains). I took 104 out of town and the flat grasslands prepared me for what was ahead of me. The next thing I know we are going up and down and around some beautiful mesas all the way to Conchas Lake and hitting the highway in Tucumcari. Onto Springfield MO where we spent the night. The next morning I tried to find the Assembly of God bookstore (Radiant) that I did business with years ago and running into difficulty we just started for Saint Louis and home. We stopped at Costco and bought hamburgers and hotdogs for our outreach Saturday. Got home preached my sermon using the illustration I got from the Ranger’s presentation about the Gunnison Tunnel, that it was a game-changer in how technology was used; our game changer is the love of God. We had our outreach Saturday with a film and 25 cent hamburgers and hot dogs and had a Ukrainian man named Victor get saved and make both services Sunday. Life is good. I’ll put together some photos in the photo section.