Thursday, August 2, 2001

The lady next to me on a recent airplane flight made me feel good about how far I had to travel that day. I only had to cross the country - she was doing that, too, but she had just connected from Europe to America. But she was still excited enough about her trip to Europe that she was happy to talk about what she had seen there. Frankly, I can only remember one thing she told me about - it was something I'd never heard about before. She had visited some of Europe's most majestic cathedrals. And she had learned that underneath the cross atop these cathedrals, the architects and builders had built in a gold ball. In that ball was a copy of the plans for the cathedral - safely hidden away in case something ever happened to that magnificent structure...so folks would know how to rebuild it.

It has always been challenging to take our "On Eagle's Wings" team of young Native American believers to do reservation outreach. But going to Alaska to do it has meant a really challenging challenge! With a suicide rate 20 times greater than that of the rest of the young people in America, the young Native Alaskans are a desperate mission field. You can probably imagine that the logistics of this kind of outreach are pretty exciting - especially when some of the villages you're in are 400 miles from the nearest road! The entire team has to be transported by missionary planes and fishing boats! Since the planes are just single or twin-engine aircraft, you can choose between taking less people with more luggage or more people with less luggage. Since we need every seat filled with a team member, the sacrifice is going to be in how much baggage each of us takes. The limit is 20 pounds per person - for five weeks! It's hard to travel that light, but it's important. When you carry just the basic essentials, you can move more people and go a lot farther!

When my friend Floyd was a little boy, he was taken to church with his family more Sundays than he could ever count. But for some reason, one of those experiences stands out specially in his mind.. That Sunday, as every Sunday, the six members of the family were stuffed into the cab of the family truck for the trip to church. As they went into the church that day, my friend's father gave him a nickel and a penny to put in the offering - which he vividly remembers doing. He even remembers that he put it in a little brown envelope.

If you've ever checked your suitcase when you're about to take a trip by airplane, you know what they do with our luggage. No, not lose it. Not usually. The ticket agent determines what your final destination will be, he prints out an adhesive sticker with that destination on it, and he puts it around your suitcase handle. And then you settle back in your seat, knowing that bag will meet you at the other end of the trip. With the millions of bags the airlines handle daily, it's amazing that most go straight to the right destination. Now there are some exceptions. Like the one I checked in Idaho about two weeks ago. Oh, I checked it through to my final destination - Newark, New Jersey. It's still floating somewhere out there in the Baggage Twilight Zone. Well, like I said, most of the time they get it to your final destination.

It's the word you hope you'll never hear when you're in your doctor's office - cancer. But recently there's been a beautiful four-letter word that may go with that ugly word. It's the word "cure." The possible breakthroughs have to do with one of the greatest killers of women - breast cancer. But the discoveries may turn out to open up ways to cure other cancers, too. This entirely new approach to fighting cancer - one that has shown promising results in lengthening the lives of terminally ill cancer patients - has been described as "attacking cancer at its genetic roots." The gene is called HER2, and it produces this protein on the surface of cells that ultimately helps accelerate that abnormal growth that becomes cancer. Scientists have now developed a treatment that attacks this genetic malfunction that causes some cancers. One researcher offers hope to millions who have cancer or who may develop cancer when he says, "If we understand what is broken in the malignant cell, we may be able to fix it." They're calling this one of the hottest areas of cancer research. And it makes sense - stop the cancer by stopping its genetic root.

The lady in the airplane seat next to me was from Norway. And I knew she had experienced something I needed to know about - winter months with very long nights and summer months with very long days. With our Native American team planning major summer outreach among Native young people in Alaska, I was especially interested in what our days would be like up there. My neighbor from Norway made the answer very clear - they would be endless! She said that even after all the years living there, she never can sleep much in those northern days where there is virtually no dark. I thought, "O-o-o, it should be a lot of fun getting our team to sleep at night, when there is no night." But then I was curious to know about those December days when we have only about nine hours or so of daylight. She told me about a time when it was, in her words, "almost always dark," where she lives. It's hard for me to imagine weeks where you basically never see the light of the sun. It's not hard for me to imagine the way my Norwegian neighbor said many people feel during that time - really depressed.

My dad had taken me on all kinds of rides at Riverview Amusement Park that day - but he wanted to take me on their biggest roller coaster, "The Bobs." I did not share his excitement. I'd seen the commercials with people screaming in terror as they were catapulted through space on those murderous ups and downs. But I gave in. As we were subjected to those heart-stopping heights and drops, Dad tried to talk to me. I didn't scream, I didn't cry - I didn't do anything. I was frozen. No sounds, no expression, no signs of life.

Little Eddie's daddy had agreed to play hide-and-seek with him. So while Eddie counted, Daddy hid. Then Eddie opened his eyes and started the search. Behind the curtains in the living room and the dining room. No daddy. Under the dining room table, the kitchen table, in the kitchen closet. No daddy. Which meant Eddie was going to have to look upstairs. Unfortunately, his father was nowhere in the bathroom or either bedroom. Which left only one place to look - the big closet - which had a light switch Eddie couldn't reach. With his heart beating a mile a minute, Eddie opened the closet door and stared into pitch-blackness. He felt to the left. No daddy. He felt to the right - R-R-R-R-R-R-R! It had to be a big bear! Eddie ran as fast as his little legs could go down the hall - R-R-R-R-R! The bear was chasing him! Down the stairs, through the living room, the dining room, into the kitchen, to the back door. R-R-R-R-R! He couldn't look back, but the bear was right behind him! And the kitchen door was locked! Suddenly the bear reached out and grabbed Eddie - and hugged him. It wasn't a bear trying to hurt him, it was a Daddy trying to hug him!

Our daughter's all grown up and a mother herself now. But she still remembers the day she got lost at the grocery store - and all the feelings that went with it. She was four - her baby brother was in the grocery cart - she was walking ahead of us as we browsed the aisles for our next meals. Somehow, she got way out ahead of us and into another aisle. She kept walking until suddenly she realized that her parents were nowhere around. She remembers it as one of the traumatic moments of her young life - she said, "The aisle was so long, the shelves were so high, and I felt so alone."

It's a true story, courtesy of Ida Mae Kempel. The names have been changed. Jeremy was 12 years old but he was only in the second grade, seemingly unable to learn. His body was twisted, his mind was slow, and his teacher, Doris Miller, often became exasperated with his squirming and his grunting noises. But at other times, he spoke pretty clearly and distinctly, as if a spot of light had penetrated the darkness in his brain. No one could have guessed that Jeremy would end up teaching his whole class - and his teacher.

            

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