Sunday, January 25, 2009

Remote and beautiful

Cozumel and Cayman Islands

My wife and I enjoy cruises and have been on many of them. We always have more fun when we are with people we know. For a number of years we liked to go on a cruise sponsored by a friend who worked for our National Home Mission Department. He knew how to make you have fun and was always a great host.

One of our last trips with him was a trip to the western Caribbean which included Cozumel, Mexico and the Cayman Islands.

Cozumel is 11.5 miles from the Mexican mainland and one of the largest cities along the Riviera Maya coastline. It is Mexico's largest island and has a mix of cosmopolitan restaurants, hotels and shops set around astounding natural beauty. It has become famous for its superb scuba diving, and as a cruise ship destination.

We departed from our ship on a tender and arrived at the port in Cozumel. Four national leaders all saw carnival looking horses, and like kids we hopped on them, laughing and forgetting we represented a large denomination. After a few minutes of fun we noticed our wives beckoning us to come on. We buttoned our billfold pocket, but it didn’t do much good as we saw many shops with “sell” on the owners mind and “sale” on our mates.

After a day of Cozumel we took the tender back to the ship for our meal and presentation in one of the show auditoriums.

The next morning we woke to the beautiful blue water surrounding Grand Cayman, located about 150 miles south of Cuba. The Cayman Islands are made up of three main islands. The largest and most developed, Grand Cayman, has a population close to 35,000 and is 22 miles long and 8 miles at its widest point. Grand Cayman has become a good tourist destination in recent years. George Town is by far the most modern in the gulf, with more than 500 banks and is the offshore banking center of the Caribbean. Many businesses cater to the locals even though some still stock with the tourist in mind which my wife can attest to.

Cayman has the only green sea-turtle farm of its kind in the world. Once a multitude of turtles swam in the surrounding waters of the islands, but today these creatures are few in number practically extinct elsewhere in the Caribbean and the green sea turtle has been designated an endangered species

Also Grand Cayman's west coast is where you'll find the famous Seven Mile Beach and its expanses of powdery white sand. The beach is litter-free and sans peddlers, so you can relax in an unspoiled, hassle-free atmosphere.

Due to the beauty of the island, it has become a place of retirees drawn to this British Crown Colony and is a site of major condominium development.

While these two islands are great to visit, it is better when it can be done with friends.

“On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city,”- Acts 10:9

Sunday, January 18, 2009


After nearly two weeks in Greece, touring Athens, Corinth, and a week cruising the Aegean Sea seeing some of the most unique islands in Greece.
When we returned to Athens before we were to fly to London, England, we decided we should get something to remember this great land.
Our wives had an interest in different things so we split up and set a time to meet near our vehicle.
Richard and I departed toward the Acropolis to see the Parthenon and to view Athens from the highest point in the area. From the top you can see the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, also known as the Herodeion. It was built in about AD 160. Today it functions as a theater and in the summer months host concerts and performances of ancient drama, lyric theater and dance as part of the Athens Festival.
One can have a panorama view of all of Athens from this height.
As we started back to the entrance we walked by the Mars Hill section that Paul recorded in the Bible.
The next thing I knew was Richard was preaching out loud. I asked him, “What are you doing?”
He said, “Now I can say I have preached on Mars Hill.”
We both laugh and start down the long walk back to the village stores. I told him I wanted to see if I could find something for the house as a souvenir and made my way down a side street off the main center of shops, which experience had taught me were usually tourist traps. He darted into a store which didn’t look inviting to me so I told him I was going farther down the street.
A sign in the window of a small extremely nice shop said, “Clearance Sale” caught my attention. I walked in and was greeted in English. After some small talk, I found out he was from Chicago and had come to Athens to liquidate this store left him by his recently deceased father.
Already, I saw his goods were much cheaper than the same items in some of the previous shops my wife and I had been in.
He said, “I have reduced most of the inventory by 75%, but I will give you a good deal if you buy a lot of stuff. I just want to get back home as soon as possible.”
After browsing about, I picked up a number of things I liked and believed my wife would enjoy also. The first was a large black urn made out of terracotta that was handmade and painted with 24K gold of various Greek people of mythology.
The second item was a plate made by Dakas Keramik that was also black with 24K gold painting of the Parthenon made on the island of Rhodos (Rhodes).
As I laid the two items on the cash counter he said, “Since you like these, I have a set of six full size cups and saucers also black that match them which are also of 24K gold of Greek Gods, etc.”
Unlike many places I have been he kept his word and I was very satisfied with the price he charged me.
My friend came into the store and said, “Alton we are late to meet our wives.”
When we saw them we were expecting them to have an arm full of bags, but not a one was seen.
Then my wife saw I had some things and her first words were, “Let me see what you bought.”
Putting the sacks on a flat area I began to open to let her see them.
“O, I like that! What else did you buy?”
With each opening she agreed I had made a good choice.
Then the final words, “How much did these cost?”
She didn’t believe until weeks later when she saw my credit card bill.
At the hotel where we were staying we walked into the gift shop and she found what she always liked to bring home--a doll made in the native country.
“I need that to put with my other collection of dolls,” she pleaded.
Today all these beautiful items are decorated around the doll reminding us of the beauty of this part of the world.
“Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.”-- Acts 17:22

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gary Cooper and Alvin York are not the same.


While in a series of Teacher Training workshops each evening for area churches in Monterrey, Tennessee, I found my days somewhat boring with little to do in that small town. One evening I asked the pastor if there might be some place I would enjoy seeing.
He said, “Have you ever heard of Alvin York?”
At first it didn’t register until he blurred out, “Sargeant York--the war hero!”
Now that did register, because one of my favorite movies was when Gary Cooper played the role of Alvin Cullen York in the movie “Sargeant York.” York was born to an impoverished farming family on the Tennessee and Kentucky border in north-central Tennessee on December 13, 1887, the third of eleven children, and faithful to the small mountian church called the Church of Christ in Christian Union.
Up until a few years before the war, York was a hard drinker and prone to fighting in saloons. His mother, tried to convince York to change his ways to no avail. But one night during heavy drinking he and a friend got into a fight with other saloon rowdy’s and York's friend was killed. This bothered York so much that he finally became a Christian, no longer fighting or drinking. On June 5, 1917, at the age of 29, Alvin York received a notice to register for the draft.
Because York now belonged to the church he applied as a consentious objector, but it was not approved.
While visiting the mill he ran, and the grave where he is buried, I saw his real picture for the first time. In viewing his picture there was that sense of, “That can’t be him. He doesn’t look like Gary Cooper at all.” Funny how we build in our minds what we think one would be like.
In one of the diaries which he kept in the army from day one, He recalled something that struck me as being more important than looks when he said: "The Germans got us, and they got us right smart. They just stopped us dead in our tracks. Their machine guns were up there on the heights overlooking us and well hidden, and we couldn’t tell for certain where the terrible heavy fire was coming from… And I'm telling you they were shooting straight. Our boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home. Our attack just faded out… And there we were, lying down, about halfway across the valley and those German machine guns and big shells getting us hard.”
Another record said, “As his men remained under cover, and guarding the prisoners, York worked his way into position to silence the German machine guns.”
Again York recalled: "And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. I didn't have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush… As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting… All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn't want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.”
The York homesite museum had photos and personal artifacts of Alvin York and his family. It also contained many books and films about York. One very interested story the Movie doesn’t highlight is follows: “One of York’s prisoners, German first lieutenant Paul Jürgen Vollmer of 1st Battalion, 120th Württemberg Landwehr Regiment had emptied his pistol trying to kill York while he was contending with the machine guns. Failing to injure York, and seeing his mounting losses, he offered to surrender the unit to York, which was gladly accepted. By the end of the engagement, York and his seven men marched 132 German prisoners back to the American lines. His actions silenced the German machine guns and were responsible for enabling the 328th Infantry Regiment to renew the offensive to capture the Decauville Railroad.”
York was a corporal during his heroic action. His promotion to sergeant was part of the honor for his valor. Of his deeds York said to his division commander, General Duncan, in 1919: "A higher power than man power guided and watched over me and told me what to do."
Alvin York died at the Veterans Hospital in Nashville, Tennesse in 1964 and is buried in Wolf River Cemetery in Pall Mall, Tennessee.
Besides seeing the area of this noted hero, I met his son who is the park ranger for the Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park that commemorates the life of Alvin York, one of the most decorated soldiers of World War I. How fitting that a son is protecting the remains of one of our nations greatest.
Returning back the 50 miles of winding mountian roads, the pastor and I discussed how God’s son was sent into battle to war against the powers of the Satanic one so we could be protected and saved.
His rewards were the decorations of scars, lacerations, thorn pentrations, and a spear in His side and then He dies that we could have life.
“For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” --Romans 5:10

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Where Parks are Plentiful.

UTAH: The State of beautiful Parks

After a couple of days at Zion National Park, where a drive through the park can be absolutely breathtaking with the rock walls towering 2,000 to 3,000 feet above a car, we made our way to the unusual Bryce Canyon National Park.
From our first view I knew it was one of the most scenically diverse places I had ever seen. Bryce is famous for its unique red rock spires that are often called “Hoodoos.” They are different, often grotesque, and with an imagination eerie. Surprising to me was the horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters here on the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah.
I made two trips to the canyon just to see the ancient trees and scenic views from the rim. There were Ponderosa pines and high elevation meadows with fir-spruce forests around the rim of the plateau that abound with wildlife. This part of Utah also boasts some of the world's best air quality, offering panoramic views of three states and approaching 200 miles of visibility.
Bryce Canyon is a small national park in southwestern Utah but rich in beauty and history. It was named after the Mormon Pioneer Ebenezer Bryce and the Canyon became a national park in 1924. In fact it was on March 13, 1919 that the Utah Joint Memorial passed legislation urging the Congress of the United States set aside for the use and enjoyment of the people a suitable area embracing "Bryce's Canyon" as a national monument under the name: "Temple of the Gods National Monument."
After eating in the National Park lodge we headed to the log cabin and made ready for bed. My wife opened a bag of some candy fudge eating a piece or two leaving it open on the table.
The prayer of thanks for the day was barely said when we both were in slumberland.
Our restful sleep was interrupted by the rattling of paper in our room. I rolled out of bed, turned on the light, but didn’t see anything.
Being in the middle of nowhere it was so quiet and at that time of night only a few lights were on as I viewed the grounds through the windows. So I turned off the lights again and was back in bed, but this time with a flashlight we had.
In less than an hour I heard the rattle of paper again and this time I slowly clicked on the button of the flashlight and saw a squirrel with a good size piece of my wife’s fudge which he dropped as he headed in desperation to and up the fireplace.
The next day we headed on up to Salt Lake City, but there are many spectacular Utah destinations around Zion and Bryce. Namely; Capitol Reef National Park, Lake Powell, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Anasazi Indian Village State Park, Petrified Forest State Park. A little farther are the Arches and Canyonland National Parks.
The face of Utah's population is changing. Within a generation, the state's 60-and-older crowd will be larger than the school-age population, part of a nationwide demographic shift, according to a University of Utah study.
This shows that retirees are finding the scenic of the western states inviting.
My wife and I have always enjoyed Utah, but if you travel on Sunday you will find very few places open if they are locally owned. It would probably do all of our states good to go back to the days when the Lord’s Day was a day of rest and worship.
“Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.”-- Isaiah 56:2