Monday, September 15, 2008


Our time away from Milton-Freewater is drawing to a close. We have only three more nights before we fly away from Scotland, and only two are here at Clachan Seil at Ardara Cottage. Sensing how quickly time flies, our hosts, the Rae's, offered us one last adventure: a trip on their sailboat, the "Weaver" to the Garvellachs and the Corryvreckan Whirlpool. On Sunday, after worshiping together, we donned wet-weather, sailing gear, and boarded the "Weaver".

(Interestingly after services, a newly retired couple who had moved to Seil got to talking to us. As a child the man had an aunt who took him and his brother to the Adventist church near their home. His brother became an Adventist pastor. He was fascinated to meet an Adventist pastor in a Presbyterian church. "Such a small world!", he kept saying.)

Fortunately, this was as calm a day as one could ever ask for, so absolutely no motion "queasiness". It fact, it was so calm, that we motored there and back rather than unfurling the sails, and they could even turn over the helm to an absolute neophyte. :-).
But the goal was to visit an ancient monastery on one of the "Isles of the Sea" (the meaning of Garvellachs) where an early-Christian community of Irish monks formed their base for outreach in the 500's AD. It is also the legendary burial site of St. Columba's mother, Eithne. Although not totally intact, one of their famous rock "beehive" huts still stands. These rock huts were impervious to rain (and to say that on a western Scottish island means something!) and some even say to wind. No mortar was used, just flat stones, and they've held together for 1500 years!

It was amazing walking around their ancient village, and then up to a gap in the crest of the island, from which we could look down at the rock shelf just higher than the waves on this calm day. Such dramatic views.
Together, we prayed up at Eithne's grave for God to continue finding people who would carry the good news of Jesus to their own corners of the world, and beyond. How wonderful it will be when God's work is done and Eithne, with her son Columba, can stand together before their Creator on that great Resurrection day.
When we scrambled over the shore rocks to get back onto our inflatable dingy, (I'll let Vonnie describe her bravery), we headed south of Scarba to the sound between it and Jura. There lies the world's biggest whirlpool, Corryvreckan. Robert told us, as we motored quietly along, how the British Navy once sent a frigate through the sound at the wrong time and nearly lost it! He reassured us that "today" all conditions were ideal. And he was right. And still it was impressive. Seeing the huge "boils" of water, many times bigger than our sailing boat, and seeing the white caps that would appear in patches, on a perfectly calm day, reminded us of what might be when the tide is even faster and the winds are at gale force. Apparently the underwater topography includes a pinnacle that helps cause the eddies and currents that can take a vessel totally out of control.

Another memory from the past is that a local sailer used his knowledge of Corryvreckan to survive a Viking raid. While he successfully made his way past the whirlpool, the persuing Viking raiders were all lost in its swirls! And the name of the whirlpool remembers another young Norwegian, "Vreckan", who lost his life to the whirlpool trying to win the hand of a local chieftain's daughter.

If all this makes it sound like we have been enjoying our sabbatical to the fullest, then you are getting the right idea. This has been an experience worth a lifetime of memories.

As we think (and even dream) about returning, it is with the awareness that the stream of life has continued while we have been away. And we will want to hear your stories from Summer 2008.

We learned from Debra's weekly "Church Life" email that dear Don Portenier has passed away. Our hearts go out to Etta as she faces life without him. I will be anxious to find out what happened to this dear veteran.

For those who live in or near the Walla Walla Valley, I can say, "See you soon!" We are scheduled to fly in on Sunday morning the 21st.

(And once again, I want to thank Autostitch demo for allowing me to weave photos together into a panorama. And I will encourage viewers to click on any photo you want to see more closely. Most will enlarge to allow looking at details.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sabbath Worship, Nature Style

At The Edge Of The Woods

Since there is no Adventist Church on our island, Ole and I have been attending the Church of Scotland on Sundays and having our own worship services on Sabbath. This morning, however, we decided to join a nature group from the island on their monthly nature walk. This month, the topic was "Lichens", and I have never had anything to do with lichens. I really didn't think I would be very interested, but the walk was to be in the Ballachuan Woods, and I thought I would enjoy seeing the ancient, perhaps nine-thousand-year-old, stand of hazelwoods. At the edge of this wood is believed to be the location of a very early Christian church in Scotland, built by one of the early Irish missionaries to Scotland, Brendon, who lived in the 400's and 500's. We walked to the woods past the ancient stones.
Raindrops Hanging From The Moss Stems

We met in the Church of Scotland churchyard, brought by our Ardara Cottage hosts and fellow "naturalists" and believers, Robert and Maura Rae. About seventeen people were gathered in the misty morning, all wearing Wellington boots and rain gear, ready to walk and learn from two biologists who have specialized in lichens of the area. They told us there were at least two hundred and eighty varieties of lichen in this particular woods. I was amazed that there could be so many, and then they told me that there are two thousand varieties of lichen in the United Kingdom and many more throughout the world. What a creative mind our God has to think up all the variation in nature.
Vonnie Inspects The Lichens

We walked along a country road, downhill past a herd of Highland cattle grazing in the wet grass, until we came to a stile and climbed over a fence into the Scottish Wildlife Trust land. We followed their path through pasture lands, across a stream, over more fences and stiles, and finally we entered the filtered light of the Hazel woods. It was a fairyland of shapes and textures and colors. Mosses and lichens of all shapes and descriptions clung to the twisty, tangled branches of the ancient trees. Andy and Anna, the biologists, so lovingly, so reverently, so gently taught us about each wonder -- their eyes wide with an innocent, childlike delight as they showed us each new species. We were worshiping together.
Hazel Glove Lichen

I learned so much! I learned about the lacy "lobe" family of lichens that look like a fancy miniature lettuce growing midst the mosses on the branches and about the "graphidian" lichens that decorate the branches with a dainty foreign-looking script, like the most delicate graffiti imaginable. I saw the rare "hazel gloves", a fungus with tiny fingers, like hundreds of miniature, orange rubber gloves reaching around slender limbs. Then there was the jelly-blob lichen that looked like slime dripping from a branch and the glue lichen that re-attached fallen twigs or glued two neighboring shoots together. I loved the oak moss that trailed like pale green hair throughout the woods and the dog lichen that looked like a collection of black-spotted puppy's ears. (If you lifted them up, you would find tiny dog's teeth on the bottom of each one.) My very, very favorite, though, was the plum lichen that looked like tiny ruffled leaves of grayish-lavender cabbage, intricately textured and decorated at their hearts with tiny, gorgeously-ruby-red beads.
"St. Olaf" Visiting the Woods

There was so much more -- like "shingle" lichens and "Norwegian spotted belly". (The older lady I was walking with made me laugh by saying she wasn't sure she wanted to see that one.) After three hours, we were all soaked, our hair hanging in dripping strands over foreheads and cheeks, but we could hardly bear to leave our woodland chapel. God was so tangible in the sheer beauty of the miniature world of artistic masterpieces I have usually taken for granted or completely ignored. We walked back through grasses hanging with droplet jewels, our hearts joining in with bird songs, children of a heavenly Father -- feeling so loved.
PS If you would like to see some REAL photos, some professional photos, of lichens, here's a link we learned of this morning. (I especially recommend the "picture index" on the site.) Mike Sutcliffe, the photographer who created and updates the site, took Friday off from his work in Newcastle on Tyne and drove the six hours so he, too, could join the nature walk. Vonnie and I both enjoyed talking to him.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Basking in Beauty Again - We Apologize

It's hard not to want to share delightful moments. Please ignore if you're bored :-)

This week ended an hour ago when Vonnie and I walked to a shore-line north of our cottage to see the afterglow of the Sabbath sunset. We stopped there to sing some songs and take a few snapshots. Of course they can't capture the sounds of the herons winging by, or the waves way out on the sound, or other subtle delights for the ear. But it's special to post these photos anyway.

The anchorage is named Puilladobhrain, and my attempts to pronounce it, to imitate the Gaelic sounds, are undoubtedly humorous.

The far hills, across the big sound, are the hills of the Isle of Mull, at the far west of which is the Isle of Iona, "holy isle", of fame because Columba used it as his missionary base in Scotland.

I'm also including some other sunset photos from this week - of the rainbow and of Vonnie with the glow above the gorse patch.

Hope you have a wonderful Sabbath - and watch for that low moon.

Pastor Olesen

Friday, September 5, 2008

Jerusalem Stories, #2

Hello everyone,
Since Ole and I are just basking day after day in the glorious beauty surrounding us here in Scotland, we don't want you to get bored with the tediously repetitive ecstasy of our blog, so I thought I would try to write a little story every day from the adventures we had in our travels that I didn't have time to report. I thought I would start with the weekends we spent in Jerusalem, so here is:

Jerusalem Story #2:

During the weeks Ole and I were at the dig in Israel, we had to leave the Kibbutz every weekend because our cottages were rented out to vacationers. We kept going back to Jerusalem because we found it endlessly fascinating. I had written to my children about the personal anguish I experienced the first weekend. (That was Jerusalem story #1.) My heartbreak was the result of two factors. First, I had very high expectations that I would experience an unparalleled closeness to God when I visited the very places that Jesus had walked. I was very disappointed in the commercialization of the Holy City and in the tension between the various religious groups. Secondly, we were treated very rudely again and again in our encounters that first weekend. We finally realized that the Arabic people we were trying to relate to thought that we were Jewish. (Ole's new beard and his nose made him look the part of a Jewish resident. We began to notice that all the Jewish bus drivers, security guards, restaurant owners, etc., spoke to him in Hebrew, whereas they spoke to other tourists in English.) We learned that there had been an incident that weekend: two Israeli policemen had been shot and killed very close to where we were staying, and so tensions were heightened, and we were feeling the nasty emotions directed at us. I finally ended up in tears, and God sent a lovely Hebrew woman to comfort me – an unforgettable experience. After God's intervention through her, I was fine, and the next weekend we had an entirely different and wonderful experience.

We checked into our hotel on Suq Khan-el-Zeit in the Old City on Friday afternoon, showered off the 5000-year-old dust from our dig at Gath, ate hummus and pita bread at a little Arabic restaurant, and walked through the ancient streets to the Wailing Wall to be present for the beginning of Sabbath. We had to walk through a security checkpoint, but there was a sign that assured us that the chief rabbis of Jerusalem had ruled that operating the turnstiles did not constitute a violation of the Sabbath. No photographs are allowed to be taken near the Wailing Wall on Sabbath, but we watched in fascination as hundreds of Orthodox families, dressed in their Sabbath costumes, came to pray, sing and dance. We were sitting on a low wall at the edge of the Plaza that adjoins the Wall when I became aware of a man sitting next to me on a section of wall that was a bit higher. I looked up into his kind face, and we began to visit. Eventually, he moved down beside Ole on our low wall, and we talked for more than an hour as the Plaza gradually emptied and we were left alone in the soft Jerusalem night.

He told us that he was Jewish but had been born and grew up in Lebanon. His dear elderly parents and some siblings still live in Beirut, but he had managed to escape about twelve years before and had been living in Jerusalem ever since. He described his childhood and youth as an agonizing struggle to belong in a society that rejected him, his family, and everything about his culture. As a little boy he was consistently the victim of bullies, and there was no authority to protect him – they looked the other way. His dear parents struggled with poverty as their shop was boycotted. Every interaction with the community was filled with threats and disdain. During the civil war, they were detested by all sides. People often spat at them and said, "Why don't you go back where you came from." His sensitive heart was tortured by an inability to find a sense of identity, to feel good about his heritage. Eventually, he was able to fly to Cyprus and from there back to Israel where he claimed "Alia" or the Right of Return for anyone whose mother is Jewish. He gave up his right to ever return to see his parents in Lebanon, but he keeps hoping to be able to bring them to Israel as well.

He told us "For several years after I came back to Israel, I had dreams within dreams." We weren't sure what he meant, but he explained that he would have a nightmare that he was back in Lebanon, suffering as he had before. He would wake up terrified. He would get up and walk about his bedroom touching the walls, the furniture and telling himself, "No, this is Israel. I am free. I am safe. I belong here. I am in Israel." But even as he tried to convince himself, he would not be certain that this was reality. He suspected that he was only dreaming that he was in Israel – because he had dreamed of that for so long. He would go back to sleep, and the nightmare of being back in Lebanon would return, and he wouldn't know which was reality and which was the dream. Eventually, those nighttime horrors subsided and now he praises God every day that He brought him back to the promised land.

As our new friend struggled to help us understand what Israel meant to him, Ole and I thought we could grasp for the first time how desperately important this homeland was to Jewish people all over the world. This conversation helped us to be more sympathetic with their determination to hang on to this land even though it meant soldiers with machine guns on every corner and rabbis and scholars who carry pistols in their belts at all times.

As we walked back to our Arabic hotel through the ancient streets, now quiet and dark, we tried to imagine our escape from this sad world to our true home. Will it take us some time to really believe we are in the New Jerusalem? During the first years of the millennium, will we have dreams that we are back in the land of death and sorrow?

Sabbath morning dawned sunny and still. We walked out of the Old City through the Damascus Gate, to the Garden Tomb. A British Christian organization cares for the lovely gardens that surround the possible site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial. We walked to the cliff with the rock formations that looked like a skull. Was this Golgotha? We walked back down into the garden and found the huge winepress that indicated this might have been the vineyard of the very wealthy Joseph of Arimathea who buried Jesus in his own new tomb. A group of young Christians had gathered in a small gazebo and were singing hymns with a guitar. We spent more than an hour in prayer and reading the story again of our Savior who endured so much to ensure that we do have a true Home to go to and can claim the Right of Return.

In the afternoon, we walked to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. This photo is of the ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane that may have been the very ones that heard Jesus' prayer the night he was arrested.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Scottish Distractions

Our major purpose here on Seil (pronounced "seal") is to write sermons and two books we have dreamed of. But sometimes it's not easy! Because of wonderful opportunities and necessary exercise. Let's talk about the distractions this Sunday evening.

Yesterday, Sabbath, after some home-therapy for Vonnie's "owies" (left over from her fall in Leeds), we used
some maps to choose an afternoon walk to the ruins of a castle. First we walked up onto the moors behind Ardara Cottage trying to cut cross country to the road. Then we took the road to Ardencaple. Once there, the keeper told us how to reach the castle, but after litteraly getting bogged down (in the soggy, soggy bog), we turned back. However, the owner of Ardencaple, a very large estate, came by on his "quad" and offered to drive us both since he was looking for some stock over there. In the end, Vonnie didn't want to go so I hopped up beside his dog and off we went. On one corner the dog slipped off, so I decided to hold on to the dog the next time. But then I slipped off myself! Praise to my Savior (physical this time), no harm done, and on we went to the remaining ruins. He took a photo of me up there with the nearest, more northerly castle hidden in the mists far away. Apparently in the middle-ages, this castle was one of a series throughout the western isles that could signal each other with fires that the Vikings were raiding, giving folk time to seek shelter. Ardencaple, it turns out, was owned before the current owner, by the mother of the Princess of Wales, Diana herself. Our host in Ardara Cottage told us later that when Frances Shand Kydd, 68, was dying, she still lived on Seil, and occasionally her grandsons would be flown in on royal helicopters. Apparently Diana had her own room at Ardencaple, but we haven't learned if she did part of her growing up here. I found the estate so charming that I hope she did. This photo is of Ardencaple, and Diana's bedroom window is the top one on the right.

This Sunday morning we accepted Robert Rae's invitation to join him for Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) services at Kilbrandon Church. The lay-preacher, a "Reader" for the Church of Scotland, introduced Vonnie and me, mentioning that I was the first Seventh-day Adventist preacher to visit their congregation. We both enjoyed his thoughtful sermon on creating a warm and welcoming congregation. Although a small group were there, it felt like the message was getting through.

By the way, Kilbrandon Church is named after Brandon, one of the early, early Christian missionaries who evangelized Scotland after the Romans pulled out of Britain. Evidence shows that his first church, the first village he lived in sometime in the late 400s or early 500s, was just down-hill from the current church on the edge of a loch/lake near the shore of Seil Sound. Brandon is the one who may well have sailed his boat all the way to North America, even before the Vikings found their way there.

In fact, one lady who arrived midway through the sermon, caught up with us in the parking lot and invited us, along with Robert, to join her for "tea" this afternoon. After helping Robert go out to his sailing yacht, "Weaver" and remove two, big, marine batteries - bringing them back for recharging, we changed clothes and went to Fiona's house, an old hotel. Vonnie, in the meantime, had picked a bowl full of blackberries, and made them into a pie (without a recipe, or a roller, and using a centigrade calibrated oven!).

When we all (there were five of us there) sampled it, we were all amazed at how delicious it was. In fact we finished off the pie in one sitting! And the conversation was wonderful. Fiona is the daughter of a British Navy Admiral, and lives (has homes) throughout Europe. When she learned we had been at Tel es-Safi / Gath for four weeks, she invited us to come back to Greece where she has one of her homes and offered to take us to many more sites and collections.

And again, the views were magnificent. Once again I want to give credit to God for making such a place. And I also want to give credit to "Autostitch" for letting me use their demo software to create the panoramic views. I urge you to click on the photos and see them as large as your computer allows. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Scottish Views

While the weather has been consistently cloudy, often rainy, and rarely sunny, (the storekeeper told me they had a "drought" of six weeks back in May), still this is a beautiful place to be. While Vonnie and I are successfully using our computers to write (and communicate by email and blog), we do get out and see the beauty as we can.

#1 - a autostitch of two photos of kayakers on the sound that separates the Isle of Seil ("seal") from the mainland.

#2 - looking down from the hill above our cottage past an old fence corner to a wonderful house on the mainland.

#3 - the 200+ year old stone bridge, named the Atlantic Bridge that connects Seil to the mainland. Until a modern bridge was built to the Isle of Skye to the north, also crossing an arm on the Atlantic, this stone bridge was the only bridge over the Atlantic Ocean - or so they understood.

#4 - picking ripe blackberries on our walk back from the store and Post Office in Balvicar, two miles from our cottage.

#5 - Vonnie, searching for blackberries (and not finding them) near the top of the hill behind our cottage. Later we found plenty down the hillside closer to our cottage, and had a bowl-full for supper.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Campus Adventiste to Dover

This rainy Monday morning in Scotland, I want to share two days worth of traveling last week. A week ago yesterday, we woke up in a guest room at Campus Adventiste de Collonges-sous-Salève, just across the border from Geneva, Switzerland. We packed up our rental car to return to Cointrin Airport in Geneva, but made one last stop to see if we could say hello to my old roommate from 1965-1966. René Collin and I lived at Les Sources (the springs) that school year after I returned from selling books in Sweden.
We were so blessed. Even though we had missed René at church the day before, and although they weren't home on Sabbath afternoon, here were René and Régine this Sunday morning. We had just enough time before needing to catch our train in Geneva to stop and share some brief stories and memories - and set the camera up on the porch railing for an auto-shoot. We have exchanged Christmas cards with the Collins for years, but this was Vonnie's first time ever to meet them!
At René's suggestion, I refilled the car just across the border - but I was scolded by the owner of a new Mercedes station-wagon when I took a photo of it. Vonnie always says her 1994 Mercury Sable station-wagon is the most beautiful car on the road - still - that I wanted to document that the Mercedes designers have produced a model that is so similar!
By God's blessing we got on the freeway that took us straight to the airport, turned in the car, and hopped on the TGV (trés grand vitesse, or very great speed) that would take us to Paris.
(This is probably a good place to say that the word "hopped" is a euphemism for dragging two big suitcases and one heavy computer-bag and camera bag on their three sets of wheels, plus Vonnie's full back-pack and another hand-bag, and finally a hat. Then having to lift them all onto the railway car before searching for the right racks or storage areas - and sometimes discovering later on that they are in the wrong storage areas and having to move them all over again. On one train, in fact, we discovered we were on a car that wasn't going to our destination, so had to move two cars down. I ended up hauling the big bags, one at a time, out onto the platform and onto the new car during one brief stop! And in the stations we've discovered that sometimes there are elevators, and sometimes not. And there are sometimes escalators, and sometimes not! Try to imagine Vonnie with her backpack, big suitcase and handbag going up an escalator! Or me huffing and puffing up and down the stairs to the bridges over the tracks, one suitcase at a time. It was often downright scary - and proved damaging a few days later when Vonnie tripped on some uneven pavers as we were just pulling our loads up to the Leeds train station. Her knee, her shoulder, her neck and lower back are all still paining her as we move into our studying and writing phase. Yet, thankfully, she can still walk comfortably! Or so she claims.)
At one point the announcement came that our train had reached its maximum speed: 300 kmh/186 mph.
It was on this leg of our journey that we found ourselves sitting across a table from a grandmother and her 7-year old grandson. I had fun translating for her and Vonnie as they discussed family first, and then our two separate trips to the Holy Land. She had been with a tour group - a pilgrimage - and she and Vonnie shared how they had both been less than satisfied to visit the historic Church of the Holy Sepulcher. When Vonnie described how much she had enjoyed the Garden Tomb, just north of the current walls of the Old City, the lady was shocked that her tour had not included it. In fact she was downright upset that they hadn't even mentioned it! And when Vonnie produced a brochure from the site - in English - the lady dearly wanted to have a copy. When I tried to explain that the traditional site for Jesus' death and burial was probably right, but that the Garden Tomb seemed much better at preserving the feel of what it had probably been like, she laughed with joy when I told her that Vonnie disagreed with me and feels that the Garden Tomb is a much better candidate. She was so excited to learn that there was some other place beside the 1700 year old "tourist trap" that is holy to Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, and Ethiopian believers.
By the way, when I told her I was a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, she described how in her ancestral home of Cameroon, Africa, one was either Catholic, Charismatic or Seventh-day Adventist. Those three faith groups make up the majority of Christians there. She said she felt blessed to be traveling with a pastor.
In Paris we hired a taxi to take us from one station (Gare de Lyon) to our next station (Gare du Nord). It was fun just getting to drive through the streets of Paris again, and a whole lot easier than getting down to and up from, and on and off the underground Metro.
Our next stop, we thought, was Calais on the English Channel or La Manche as the French call it. Yes, our tickets did take us all the way there, but we had to stop at Lille, France, and leave the express station and "hop" back on a local train to Calais. After a taxi detour to the docks (for another man hoping to catch a ride across the Channel yet that evening), we settled into our room at "The Cottage Hotel".
The next morning a taxi delivered us to the ferry dock, and before long we were through customs and passport control and churning our way towards the cliffs of Dover. We started in a light rain and ended with broken sunshine. This was one of Vonnie's favorite parts of the trip. She remembered her father's retelling of the Dunkirk evacuation at the start of WW II, and of the first woman to swim across the Channel. She loves the ocean anyways, and wanted to be outside in the sea air the whole time. Here are a few shots:
We spent the rest of the day on two trains: one from Dover to London, (where we had to take "the Tube" to another station, and from London to Leeds in northern England. There we once again were in a wonderful Hilton Hotel by way of Merrel and Marie's gift. All in all it was a good day; in fact, one never to be forgotten with the delights of the Channel crossing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Arrival at Clachan Seil

Dear Family and Friends,

On this Friday evening, Vonnie and I have arrived at our final, sabbatical, destination: Ardarra Cottage, in the little village of Clachan, on the "wee Isle of Seil". Here we will work, and rest, until it is time to fly home to Milton-Freewater.

This morning we awoke in a guest house in Edinburgh, Scotland, (on a street that seemed to be nothing but old row homes turned into guest houses). We ate a wonderful breakfast before pulling our luggage to Haymarket Train Station, two blocks away, where we boarded a train for Glasgow. Once there, we transferred to the train for Oban, up the green, green, western coast.

In Oban, we stored our luggage and went shopping for our cooking needs, and then took a taxi out to the isle. Once our driver helped us discover the address, we were welcomed by a dear Christian couple who could hardly break away from telling all their adventures in Christian life and ministry both here, and in Oban.

The "cottage" is really a house, duplexed to their house, with a living room (two photos are out of the living room window this Friday evening), kitchen (that's Vonnie putting away groceries), bathroom, laundry room, and two bedrooms (master and guest with bunk beds). I think you can see Vonnie's delight at being here! Believe me, my face mirrors hers!

I just wanted to wish everyone a wonderful Sabbath rest and share the joy of being here.


PS Now that we're settled for several weeks, and we have good access to the internet, we will continue to post several more areas of interest that we haven't had time to share.

PPS As I work on sermons, I invite anyone reading this from Milton or Blue Mountain Valley Churches to suggest a topic, a Bible story, or a Bible passage you would like to hear me preach on. I won't promise to do it, but I just might :-).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Rome to Collonges-sous-Saléve

Writing this Saturday night from the girl's dormitory office on the Campus Adventiste of Collonges-sous-Saléve, France. 44 years after I left France, Vonnie and I have explored my old school together - even attending church services this morning with me translating a fascinating sermon by a lady, the secretary of the school of theology here. It has been a wonderful day!

But, of course there are stories to tell of the journey. Only our children and Harold Rich, Milton First Elder, have heard directly from us about the pick-pockets who cut off Vonnie's pouch with all her ID in it - while we were on the way to the Athens Airport. Obviously we have continued to travel (since we are here, now), but in between, there was a one-night delay in the airport with basically no decent sleep. When we arrived at our rental room in Rome, just after noon the next day, we could only go out in the evening - after a long nap!

The morning of the next day, Tuesday, Vonnie obtained a new, temporary, passport at the Embassy/Consulate. But that afternoon and evening, we did our exploration, visiting the famous Trevi Fountains, the Pantheon, the Mamertine prison where Paul was emprisoned, and the Colosseum. That evening we visited a wonderful plazza, Novanno Plaza?, and enjoyed the music and the street artists. Amazingly, we met a woman from southern California who went to church with a family very dear to us! We, all three, were standing in awe that God could bring us together amidst the thousands and thousands prowling the streets as tourists.

On our final day, we visited the Vatican and saw the main basilica, the Church of Saint Peter. I was reminded that church building projects are often filled with emotional trauma. The building of St. Peter's was no exception. In fact, it split the western, Christian church! How? When the Pope of Luther's day started selling pre-paid forgiveness warrents (indulgences) to pay for the construction, Luther led out in what became known as the Reformation.

Two sad things happened when we left St. Peters. The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel with Michaelangelo's ceiling frescos was closed. One day later, we discovered that our camera memory card had "crashed" and we lost (so far) all our photos from that day and part of the next.

This included when we flew over the coast of Italy and over the French-Italian Alps, with Mont Blanc right underneath us. Perhaps someone can help us retrieve the data, but for the moment we are grieving that loss, in addition to the lost days due to the stolen passport.

We flew to Geneva on Baboo Airlines. "FlyBaboo" is their slogan! It is a 4-year old airline out of Geneva flying smaller, commuter airplanes, but believe me, it was a fantastic flight with wonderful service. We were able to use a promotional price, but we suspect the regular fares will still make them very competitive.

In Geneva, we rented a car and drove back into northern Italy - through the famous Mont Blanc Tunnel. Pricey, but absolutely wonderful. We arrived in Turin, looking for directions, when a storm broke. I raced through the first drops into a bus terminal to ask for help when it suddenly scared us all. Even the local fellow was shaking his arm saying, "Mama mia!" Strange, strange hail - more like ice chunks than marbles. And wind! Whew! When they helped locate our street, I had to wade up to my ankles just out the front entrance to our rental car and Vonnie who was sitting in awe hoping she wouldn't be washed or blown away.

The hotel, with a front door on the 4th floor (3rd floor in Italy), was lovely. We struggled to get away what with doing some planning online for the final leg of our journey to the UK.

When we did, we drove the hour or so to the Waldensian valleys: Val Pellici and Agrogna. With the skies still threatening, and sometimes delivering, we arrived to an area on full summer break. Nothing was open, but we did visit some amazing sites of Waldensian history. We've included a couple of photos, including one of me in front of the statue of their warrior pastor who helped reconquer the valley in the 1600s so the survivors of the crusade and massacres could return from exile.

At our last stop of the day, high on the side of a valley, we met a Waldensian family from Missouri, coming back to visit their family roots. Together we found a small museum there, open, honoring the Waldensian women who through the ages have been spiritual leaders. We both want to learn more.

When they started the 1/2 hour walk to the infamous cave where the anti-Waldensian crusaders built fires at the entrances and suffocated everybody inside, we had to turn back towards France. With the freeway system through Mont Blanc, we arrived at the girls dorm on the Adventist Campus just at 8 as the sun was setting Friday night.

This Sabbath morning, we went to a part of the Bible study and then for the church service. Wonderful, as I reported above. In the afternoon, we had the privilege of driving up the side of the Salève mountain, onto the broad "ridge". It remains as beautiful as when I explored it in 1964-1966. But to do it again with Vonnie by my side! This "impossible dream" came true today.

Tomorrow we take a train from Geneva to Paris, and then from Paris to Calais. After a night there, we will cross the English Channel, or La Manche, on a ferry, and use our BritRail passes to reach Leeds. After a day exploring York (that's OLD York, not New York), we will travel on to Edinburgh for two nights, and finally our retreat in a cottege on the little islet of Seil off the western coast of Scotland.

We have entered the final half of our sabbatical and we will eventually be flying back to the Walla Walla Airport and Milton-Freewater. I hear we will find two wonderful changes at Milton Church: a new platform, inaugerated by Jaime Jorge this same Sabbath, and a remodeled, Fellowship Hall kitchen. What wonderful leaders to have kept our church family focused and growing while we have been away.

Bed-time calls! And I need to add the photos. God bless you all.