Yep. I had decided that wrestling with my hair was too much, so I did the best thing that anybody could do… cut it all off.
It started from a feeling that God was asking me to fast… after all, fasting is talked about all through the Bible. Then it continued with a realisation that most of the food I was eating was not really good for me. Finally, it all came to a head when I received a book I had purchased about fasting that turned out being all about health. It showed me that a fast was what my body needed to re-establish itself, allowing me to begin a new, healthier diet.
So now I had two reasons for fasting. The first was to seek more of God, and the second was in search of improved health. There was only one condition though… it had to be a pure water-only fast. Nothing, not even juices or drinks, could be included if it was going to be for health also.
It seemed easy. Just stop eating.
When I turned 40, it was a really big deal. Unfortunately for me, the people around me did not think the same way, and so my 40th birthday came and went without any fanfare at all. I guess when you are in the middle of Peru, surrounded by students and constrained by activities relating to the mission in which I am involved, it is pretty hard to organise something big.
A couple of eggs smashed on my head, which seems to be a customary thing for those with birthdays in Peru, and a card signed by a handful of friends were about the only reminders that this was actually one of the biggest days of my life.
The age of forty for me was one of the greatest milestones in my life. It brought with it many discoveries both about who I was and where I was going that caused both conflict and serious growth during this time. To have celebrated it in some big way would have helped me pass through this process at the time.
Now it does not matter anymore. Of course it did at the time, but it was one of those things that after a year it was no longer important. Now I am turning 41. This seems hardly significant at all, as most of my struggles relating to this new age are now over.
Turning 40 was like the entry into adulthood, it was the turning of a corner in life that revealed that I could not remain young forever. Perhaps for others this happens at 30 or another age. For me it happened at 40.
So when my birthday comes and goes it is no longer matters greatly to me. Sure, celebrating with good friends or doing something nice on the day is always great, but it is no longer a necessity. I can relate now to my late grandmother who saw every birthday the same as any other day.
Apart from some eats (as seen in the pic) for presents, there was nothing more to identify my birthday this time. No big party, no phone calls outside of family (maybe everyone is too used to me being overseas), no expensive presents, no anything. Yet somehow it seemed right. This time… I liked it like that.
This was the first birthday I have celebrated in Australia for over ten years… and the quietest one too.
More photos after the break…
Loaded with a huge pile of books balanced precariously on top of each other, I turn the corner for the umpteenth time and pass through the crowd of young people gathered outside after dinner. One jumps up from his conversation and walks beside me asking if I needed help. It quite surprised me. This was the first offer for help that I had heard since starting to move all of my gear from one room to another on the other side of the YWAM base. The only thing that the crowd had done before this was to withdraw their extended legs from my pathway.
It caused me to ask, “Where has the help gone?”
Living in community, one generates friendships and comradeship. When an event such as that which happened today occurs, you would expect others to take notice and want to help out, especially if they have free time. Yet amongst a crowd of young people there was not more than one offer for help and that only for a moment. So where were the offers for help, the inquiries as to if help was needed, the interest in what was happening? It didn’t come, there was no response to get involved. This quite surprises me.
The people about whom I am writing are not bad people. They are friendly, kind and courteous, and if asked they all would have stopped what they were doing and come to help. Yet I did not ask, as I had passed by them quite a number of times by then and decided to wait to see what response they would give on their own. Yet they did not give any response beyond a few comments as to having a lot of stuff, or feigning that I had stepped on one of their feet, and a couple of jokes. It appeared as though they simply did not see any need to get involved, which left me carrying load after load on my own, cutting through their conversations and groups, and walking past them over twenty times until everything had been moved from one room to the other.
What caused this lack of initiative? This lack of involvement? I cannot say, but it certainly left me surprised.
Where did the help go? It appears that unless you ask for it, it does not exist.
A Day of Small Beginnings
It was a bleak day when I set out towards town, ducking down to follow alongside a burbling stream with the aim of walking along the rocky beaches facing Lake Nahuel Huapi. This was a more preferable route although a little longer than that of following the roads.
The dark threatening clouds that I saw hanging ominously over the windswept lake when arriving at the beach threatened to make the day wet and gloomy. Yet a there were a few slender rays of sunshine forcing their way through this grey landscape, reflecting off the water’s surface and sweeping over assorted buildings that caught the eye in their radiant glow. This land of contrasts presented such an amazing scene as to remind me of just how fortunate I was to be in a place as beautiful as this.
Reaching the town around lunch time, I stopped by my favorite chocolate shop for a delicious hot chocolate and some lunch. With that rudimentary and yet delightful task completed, it was now time to conquer the snow. You see, it had snowed only two days earlier leaving the mountains covered even to reaching down as far as us where it droppd a little snow onto our lawn.
The Joy of Snow
Having lived in tropical and subtropical climates for my entire life, snow for me is still a novelty. Although my experiences have included moments of skiing on the mountains, the whole idea of living in a place where I could see the entire process of transformation from a green and sunny summer to a snow covered winter totally fascinated me. So when the snow fell that night I was as ecstatic about it as a young boy, running around wildly in the yard and covering myself in snow.
I swore to myself that I would head up one of those snow covered mountains on my next day off. The two nights leading up to today were extremely late and followed by mornings starting way too early, and the deep black circles under my eyes indicated that my body had a profound need for rest. Yet this was the only day available to me for the next two weeks, so my Aussie instinct of “She’ll be right mate” kicked in and I determined that nothing was going to deter me from getting to the mountains. After all, I had eaten well enough in the morning and had some food with me for the climb.
Choosing the Mountain
To make things easier, I decided to get as close to the mountain as possible before starting my climb. Cerro Cathedral seemed to be the best choice as it is Bariloche’s main ski centre and the bus would take me right to the base of the mountain. So after climbing on the right bus, I sit down for the 40 minute ride and head out ready to conquer the snow.
Surveying the mountain as we are arriving, I see two main ski paths coming down from the top and decide to climb up the main one on the left. Being somewhat safety conscious I stop by a local worker to advise him of my intentions and then start off full of energy. Progress is easy in the thin snow at the base of the mountain and the slopes are not too steep when following the roadways. The weather was also good for this time of year with all of the menacing storm clouds hanging out over the lake and leaving the entire mountain clear.
With a strong sun and no wind it was not long before the clothes I had on became far too hot. The energy created by climbing fast up a mountain requires just the minimum of protection and so everything came off except for the singlet top which remained to provide a little protection from the sun’s rays. It felt more like spring than winter.
Ignoring the sign saying that I was leaving the area of the ski zone, I assumed that it would be possible to catch up with the main track by cutting through the shrubs. But after a heavy fall of snow, the shrubs are bent over and loaded with snow above, and present mounds of snow covered branches that end up trapping feet beneath you. So after struggling with the shrubs for 15 minutes, showered upon by snow from above and falling into it every time my foot got trapped below, I decided that it would be easier to retrace my steps and find another way up. There was, and it was only around the corner from the sign that I had ignored. Lesson learned.
After finding the entrance to the ski slope and making good progress, the ground started to take on a much steeper angle and the snow grew deeper. Although it was now more demanding my progress was still good. The fresh snow however proved a lot more of a challenge than first anticipated.
There were two layers of snow, the first was light and fluffy and reached up well over my boots while the second layer even with its crusty firmness could not hold my weight and would give way under each step, sinking each leg in almost up to the knees. This two-stage process for each step combined with the lifting of sunken legs from the deep snow and an ever steepening slope eventually took its toll. Progress became slow and laborious. There was no rest from the deep snow.
Slowly but surely, not giving up nor slowing down, I finally make it to the top of the first section of the slope and throw myself into the snow face first to make an imprint and to cool off a little once I am there.
After taking a detour and following the service road I continue my way upward following the skiing slope. The mountain continued straight upward, steep and hard. All seemed fine as I continued to push myself to maintain the same rhythm as before. Up ahead I could see the main cable car lift building and restaurant. The idea of stopping there for a rest sounded fantastic, but somewhere along the way I lost the ski track and ended up in snow as deep as my waist. The going got very slow.
It was at this point that my body started to show signs of exhaustion. Lifting leg after leg high enough to drag through the deep snow, falling over and picking myself up again after discovering a rock or plant buried beneath my feet, and walking over unstable, semi-frozen snow that sometimes held me up and other times would let me sink deeply was enough to sap any remaining energy that I may have had left.
Finally coming out of the deep snow, I find my way along the service road for the last few hundred meters. The snow was still very unstable and many times I found myself stumbling as one foot sunk randomly through the semi-frozen surface. The struggle from the last part of this climb had exhausted me and this last unpredictable section seemed as though it would never end.
Finally reaching the complex, it was incredibly dismaying to see it not only closed but still under heavy renovations. I had been climbing a little over two hours to reach here. Looking around, the only place that I could find without snow was in a corner of the patio, with nowhere to sit. I stop here and take some highly needed rest, enjoying the view and cooling down after the effort of climbing.
Before long my feet are getting very cold and I quickly discover that my feet are sodden. The untreated leather boots were wet right through. The much colder weather at this altitude quickly started to strip away any warmth that I had generated during the climb. Layer after layer of warm clothes that had been stuffed into my backpack were quickly removed and worn to keep what little warmth remained in my body. With the heavily thermal clothes layered up to five layers deep I was warm enough to consider eating lunch. The only problem was that I had forgotten to bring it with me. In my pack the food that remained was a block of cheese and some stale bread with a packet of honey-drop sweets.
Water was also a problem as I had run out of water on the climb. A nearby ice wall was dripping enough to be able to suck water from the melting snow and provided the liquids that my body desperately needed. The energy however just could not be found in the foods that I had brought with me. Even though I ate some of the hard stale bread and as much cheese as was possible to stomach at one time it was not any of the instant energy foods required by a worn and tired body. The honey-drops were the closest thing to what I did need but when I tried to eat them I felt sick and stopped. The idea of getting sick on top of a mountain that I still need to walk back down again was not a favorable idea.
The weather also had started to close in, with clouds of snow forming overhead and a wall of white cloud clutching the opposite ridge. My goal had been to reach the summit of the mountain, but when my body does not gain any energy after resting and with the weather closing in this idea is quickly put to rest. Where I am will have to suffice for today.
Heading Back Down
Finally it is time to return back down the mountain. Rather than return the same way in which I had come, I make my way over to the other ski slope that I had seen on my way in. I make a false start by trying to reach it by climbing a steep hill up to my armpits in snow that was impossible to climb and which sapped much of the little energy remaining. Instead I follow underneath the cable car towers, weakly struggling along until reaching a service road traversing the mountain that will take me there. From here the going is easier but with deeper snow and I stumble often.
Somewhere in my mind was the idea that upon reaching the ski slope everything would be an easy ride back down by sliding on my belly like a penguin. It was not to be. The snow was very soft and powdery and any attempt at sliding even on the steepest sections of the slope was stopped short behind a wall of snow. Snow plowing would have been a better word for each attempt.
Making my way back down the slope by walking, the ground beneath the snow is uneven and full of surprises. Every few steps I find myself falling or stumbling and having to lift myself back out of the snow. With already extremely low energy levels being sapped more and more by every fall I finally reach a point of sheer exhaustion and collapse into the snow. Every step had been an effort and every fall required strong mental as well as physical exertion to get back up again.
Calling for Help
As I lie there my thoughts turn to the task ahead. What would normally be a very easy descent had now become a massive task. The idea of trying to make it down the long and steep ski slope in my current state seemed somewhere between highly difficult and impossible. The signs my body was giving off indicated a desperate need for energy and rest, two things that were not available to offer it in my current position.
There on the deserted ski slope it felt more remote than it was. As I considered my options the idea came to me to call and ask for prayer from my friends. I had never prayed for something like this nor had I ever asked for prayer for something like this but it seemed a very reasonable option in my current state.
What happened next defies reason. At least from my perspective it does. While I had been lying on the snow I had also been monitoring my body and the signs it was giving me. Within a couple of minutes of asking for help all of the signs that had indicated exhaustion in my body disappeared and a new strength rose within me. It was not like a fresh strength as though I had not climbed at all but rather a strength that gave me a desire to continue my downward plight.
Lying there a little longer just to be sure this was not a passing feeling I rose to my feet to be greeted with a new strength. It was a strength that covered over the exhaustion that I was feeling, and not only a strength but also a fresh desire to get down this mountain.
The Final Return
Now back on my feet I head off walking through the snow. The same uncertain ground is beneath me yet I find that I am no longer stumbling. As I continue downward there comes a crest in the slope where I can see the base of the mountain and all of the buildings again. Progress is good but it still seems slow so I decide to start running, throwing myself down into the snow at times just to see if it is possible to slide. Each time I throw myself down I am stopped almost as quickly behind a wall of snow. Sometimes in using my arms to drag myself along I can make it a little further but the effort for the results is just not worth it.
The energy and stability with which I am descending surprises me. Not slowing down nor holding back I continue running down the mountain slope. My cold and wet feet are now freezing and starting to hurt with the cold yet the rest of my body is breaking out in a profuse sweat from the effort expended in the run. Finally I reach the very last section of the slope where it is covered with people learning to ski and enjoying the fresh snow. It is here where I discover a track in which by sitting down it is possible to slide freely, and do so all the way back to the car park.
My descent was now over, and the mountain adventure had ended. Energy levels were low but nowhere near as low as they had been at the point of the phone call for help. All that remained now was to wait for the bus to take me back home. I had done what I had come to do; I had conquered the snow.
After calling my friends again to let them know that I was safely down the mountain, I returned home on the bus and stopped at a nearby restaurant for a hearty, solid meal. Then after a short walk home, I threw myself in the bed and rested. Even with the extra energy that came through the prayers of my friends it had not taken away the exhaustion that I had previously felt. But I felt great for having spent the day in the snow, climbed a mountain, and seen another part of Bariloche that I had not seen before.
I had conquered the snow!
See more photos…
What just happened to my friend Paul and me still has my head reeling. It felt like I was living a movie scene… except they were real people chasing me, with real bullets flying over my head… and I was in some serious danger.
It all began as we were walking back to our home after visiting a church in the city. Our home is about three kilometers from the city limits, along a long and dark gravel road, a planned cluster of properties that form a suburb outside of the city.
As none of us have vehicles and the bus service only passes three times per day on week days, we tend to walk everywhere. This is not a great problem, and most of us enjoy this time if the wind is not whipping up clouds of dust into our face and the temperatures stay above zero degrees Celsius. Even so, walking takes a significant amount of time and we are always looking for shortcuts to the places we are going.
Wind whipping up the dust along the roads of the Quintas.
Taking the Shortcut
It so happened that the shortcut that Paul and I were taking this night was a very remote area outside of the city. We were cutting through here to save ourselves an extra ten or twenty minutes of walking, and with Paul suffering some pain in his leg with every step, it seemed worth it at the time. Little did we know what was about to happen along this lonely dirt track.
When we had passed through here heading for the church at the start of the night, it occurred to me then, that I had foolishly brought everything with me related to both money and identification. My passport, credit cards, driver’s license and all of the information about my travels was stored in my mobile phone. There was nothing left at home that could identify me. How careless I had been, especially when my travels to Australia were in just two weeks. But nothing would happen to us I reasoned… after all, it never has before.
Taking a different shortcut during the day, about the same distance from the city.
Although I believe that God can heal, it is very rare when I am praying for somebody that they are healed right then on the spot. You see, my mum was healed of the fast acting strand of multiple-sclerosis over twenty years ago, and my shoulder was instantly restored to normal, from being virtually pulled from the socket and stretching the ligaments beyond repair, after my mum and her “prayer team” prayed for me.
I have heard of many instant healings and even miracles during my life, but only for two or three have I been present to witness. They were unmistakeable however.
One was for a friend with extremely sore eyes that were very blood-shot after sleeping with his contacts in all night in front of a fan. When I prayed for him, the pain and soreness disappeared and the redness was reduced dramatically. He was amazed at the difference, and went away happy. Later in the day he mentioned to me that some discomfort had returned again, although it was not as bad as before. I do not know why this happened.
Another time I prayed for a weakened hand which was instantly restored to strength.
Both of these times I felt very strongly that I should pray for these people. The next time I did not happen this way. Recently, while in Peru, I was asked to pray for a woman with an excruciating headache. She was instantly healed.
Not knowing about her pain, I was passing through their house where we were staying when her husband called me and asked me if I could pray for her. Just by looking at her I could tell that she was in a lot of pain. Her eyes were bloodshot and filled with tears from the aching.
So I gently placed my hands on her head and prayed. I felt nothing while praying, just a slight warmth on my hands. When I had finished, I asked her how she was feeling. With a smile coming from a relaxed face she said that the headache had gone. Then she grabbed her throat and said that the pain that she had experienced there was also completely gone too.
The pain from her face had left, and her eyes no longer watered. She smiled and said thanks, and then I moved on. Why this happened to her and not to any of the countless others for whom I have prayed for, I do not know. Why my friend’s eyes started to cause discomfort again in the afternoon when they were perfect after I had prayed for him in the morning I do not know either.
The only thing that I know, is that I have seen with my eyes that people are healed when you pray for them. Not all of the time, but sometimes. And for me, that is enough to encourage me to keep praying for people.
Maybe the next person I pray for will also be instantly healed.
A doctor seated beside me told me of how he and his Catholic priest would head over to his place for a number of beers. Sometimes they would get so caught up in their conversations that they would drink until they had become drunk. His question was, "what harm is there in two guys getting slightly drunk at home?"
The implication however, was that getting drunk was perfectly fine because if the priest did it with me it must be ok. Talking to him further revealed that he had a number of children who were now teenagers. This doctor mentioned that he would never drink in front of them. This directly contradicted with the man’s first statement.
We started discussing this point, arguing that if he was not willing to drink in front of his children, then it was obvious that he held a value that drinking was wrong. If it was not wrong then there would be no problem in drinking in front of them. It may also be, for arguments sake, that the value was about it being wrong to get drunk. In either case, this value was being violated when the doctor would drink to excess with his priest.
Not only this, but each time he drank with his priest, he was fooling himself into thinking that everything was alright because his priest was also part of the act, dissipating part of his guilt. Perhaps he was reasoning with himself that it was ok to drink because he felt that he could control himself, or for some other weak concession that he was making for himself. In reality, he was trampling all over this value of his which so clearly showed itself when his children were around.
After violating a value for a sufficient amount of time, our conscience does not remind us so loudly of our error and we start to sear it as with a hot iron, becoming less and less sensitive to it. Soon we do not even hear it, but it does not change the fact that we are still acting against it.
Being true to ourselves is identifying those values that we hold and starting to live true to them, obeying our conscience no matter how weak its voice may have become. It is through doing this that we will experience true peace, both with ourselves and with others.
So many times I have heard people talk about this denomination or that denomination or this “religion” or that “religion” and so on. The reality is that we are all simply people standing before a living God. All of this talk simply creates divisions; an “us” against “them” mentality.
Having grown up without knowing much about God, save for some time spent in a Sunday School briefly, when I found Him, my life was not spent in one denomination but many different ones. From one to another to another I went, partly because of my family’s constant moving, and partly because I was not looking at the outside or structures, but rather searching for people that lived what they believed. If I found it in a Catholic Church then that was fine for me. If I found it in a Baptist church then that too was fine. As was any denomination that was there.
My belief was not always welcome, but I always found it hard to describe what I felt about all of this to people. Normally I would just tell them that it does not matter where people come from or which denomination or religion they come from, but only that they love God and live this in their lives.
Now, in reading this email, I found this explanation that seemed to be so much clearer in explaining how we are simply people before a living God, nothing more and nothing less. The labels are nothing.
Let me state here and now that man, not God, started every denomination, institutional church, and house church on the face of the earth. Some may be following God’s will, some only think they are following God’s will, and most are just doing what they want to do with no thought to God’s will. We aren’t interested now in explaining how or why they do what they do, we simply wish to state that man does all these things, not God. The Kingdom is within you. There is only One Church, and that is the Church that Jesus is building. There is only One Flock, and One Shepherd. Everything else is periphery.
When we see how much of this is man’s doing we are liable to become upset over it all, but God just bypasses and transcends the boundaries we put up between one another. God is just too big to confine Himself to working within one little sect, whether they are “in” or “out” of the religious system. God has never blessed a denomination, and He never will. He blesses people, not movements. He judges people, not systems. He only sees one thing, and that is His Son. He only gives us one thing, and that is His Son. If you have the Son, you have Life. If you do not have the Son, you do not have Life. This is the only thing God is looking for.