The Adventures of Yazoo and Huckleberry (Ch. 4)

As we were eating lunch I was able to meet Kevin’s friends from his club. One of them was the shepherd of the club, and this was the first time he was meeting for a real business meeting with Fulmer and Switzer. This was a big surprise to me. I felt honored and centered being there with them. I didn’t feel adequate to be there, but I knew I was supposed to be. This shepherd openly lead us in prayer before we ate, which was at first frightening to me because we were in a public space, but then I embraced the connection we had together and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Now, at this point I started noticing the absence of serving utensils. Well, that is because we all used our own chop sticks to pick out whatever we wanted off of the main dish platter or out of the main soup bowl. Yes, double dipping of the chop sticks is approved! I made myself okay with this situation by repeating in my mind all of the vaccinations I had taken before coming on this trip. I am happy to report that I did not get sick on the trip, as far as I know, yet. But I did go ahead and take a dose of pin worm treatment when I made it back to the states as a precautionary measure.

After lunch we made our way to the closest Starbucks. We each ordered something and then headed over to the city office of the agriculture company. The company has an office in this big city and one in a smaller city near the villages where we will plant trees and find people of peace to share THE business plan with.

When we arrived at the office, Fulmer was excited to show Yazoo the space. Fulmer had worked with Kevin to set up both office locations. Each location is set up to be used for business planning and overnight stays as needed. The locations will be a great asset for the business as a whole, and for the big club back home.

We briefly talked through some possible revenue streams while sharing some of the pecan samples with the group, but that was not the main purpose of this meeting.

The local shepherd wanted to talk with all of us about the needs of the club and the flock. His flock is in need of materials to share THE business plan with villages in their language. And his flock needed a plan for growth. The backstory is a good one. This shepherd and Kevin came from the same village, they went to school together in a city near their village. They had each been exposed to THE business plan by a man who was there teaching English when they were children. But the village itself is still a UPG, and is surrounded by UUPGs.

Fulmer and Switzer had a few ideas on how to get them some materials created in their language, but the process takes some time for translation and confirming the meaning is accurate.

The shepherd also shared how the government is slowly finding members of clubs in the area. They go missing for several days before being returned and sometimes they do not return. There are official sanctioned clubs and buildings set up for clubs that remain in the country, but the version of the message shared in those buildings are not THE true plan.

After some time in prayer, Yazoo covered the four fields program with Kevin, the shepherd and their friend. We then started talking with Fulmer and Switzer about future training and story translations needed for the UPG/UUPG groups.

It was getting late in the day, so we decided to part ways and head back to the hotel.

Fulmer dropped us off at the hotel and went to his place. Switzer, Yazoo and I changed clothes and walked about a mile to the huge six story mall for a small dinner at a Burger King. This city is beautiful at night. I have never been to Las Vegas, but there are several buildings here that I think would fit right in on the Vegas strip. Outside of the smell of sewage that occasionally wafts by, I really enjoyed this city and the mix of modern building design and classical architecture of the historic downtown.

We were already very tired so we quickly made our way to BK and went back to the hotel that night. At last check I had 16026 steps in on the Garmin Forerunner 235.

No sleep came for me Sunday night.

I probably should not have had the late Starbucks. I won’t be drinking coffee on Monday, just my Zipfizz.

Here is where that bed near the window fits back into the story. I wasn’t able to sleep, and I had left the curtains open a bit. Our hotel was surrounded by huge high rises on three sides, and the other side had an Olympic size pool, tennis and basketball areas. I’m convinced those were actual Olympic training areas.

I laid in the bed that night just staring up at those high rises and watching lights go on an off in the windows and thinking about what those people must be doing at all hours of the night. I knew the food trucks stayed open late, but it was 2:00 AM local time and the city still wasn’t yet asleep. I had brought some Tylenol PM with me on my doctor’s advice, but I didn’t take it before bed and I didn’t want to be chemically tired on top of physically tired the next day, so I didn’t take any after going to bed.

It was also an emotionally tough night. It didn’t hit me the first night because I was so tired, but on this second night I started feeling the distance away from my family. We were almost a full 12 hours ahead of my home timezone, so I called/texted my wife and talked to her around the time she was leaving our home club. Her words calmed me, and the Comforter soothed the pain in my chest. You know the pain I’m talking about, that pain of being away from the familiar and having a slight fear of never being able to return. I had not felt that pain since I was a young child.

The Adventures of Yazoo and Huckleberry (Ch. 3)

Tent Making. Like Paul’s stay in Corinth, the Adventures of Yazoo and Huckleberry are funded by our day jobs and skills. Today was going to be partly tent making, fellowship and strategic planning.

We were headed out to start our week at an international agriculture expo. It’s amazing because when we planned our trip, we had no idea that expo would be happening in that city at that time. Yet, the timing was perfect.

Scooter snuggies are a big deal here. Yes, scooter snuggies. It was cool as we headed out into the city and there are scooters everywhere. On the cool mornings, some people have this snuggie looking thing that they wear while riding the scooter. The city has a huge lane just for scooters. Almost all of them are electric scooters. The city I was in was not smoggy at all which was a wonderful surprise. I noticed that many of the lights were LED or CFL and very nice bike paths lined the roads as well.

As we were riding out toward the expo center, I was amazed at the sheer number of people. I’d never been in such a big city. In the United States, the biggest city in terms of population I’ve ever been in is probably Houston. As I was able to start seeing around some of the buildings I noticed a huge mountain range in the distance. That’s when I looked up the elevation of the city and noticed that it was higher in elevation than Denver. I was getting excited about going up into the villages later in the week.

The expo center is on the edge of the city and out near a huge lake. The architecture was amazing and iconic. After going through security and a full car inspection, Fulmer parked underground in a multilevel parking garage and we piled out to experience the event. Luckily we were all wearing those matching polo shirts with the company logo on it.

I was able to experience so many different new vegetables, fruits, meats, flowers, eggs, nuts, and see the tools of the trade used on the farms. I enjoyed it greatly. We were also able to watch a group of ethnic minority singers perform wearing their traditional clothing. I wish I could share the pictures with you.

It may seem odd for a guy who has made his career in IT to be on a trip in a far east foreign land wearing a polo shirt with the logo of an agriculture company with three other American guys, walking around an international agriculture expo and making deals for the acquisition of pecan samples.

I’m here to tell you it’s not strange in the slightest.

Yazoo and others have started an agriculture business in this country, and they are starting out with planting pecan trees in villages. This business will hopefully one day fund itself and help pay the salaries of a few company employees who can visit the villages and make friends with peaceful residents. Friendships lead to opportunities for productive conversations.

Fulmer and Kevin had been talking to a business owner who had a pecan farm a few hours southwest of the city. All of his pecans are hand shelled and the farm is subsidized by the government to help get the pecan industry going. We were visiting the booth of this pecan farmer. I smiled and nodded while a young man talked about his product. I pointed and offered money for the shelled pecans I wanted and paid for probably a one pound bag of hand shelled pecans. It was a good price. Then the owner of the company who had been talking to Yazoo and Fulmer grabbed my money back from the young man and gave it back to me. We are building relationships for the agriculture company.

Now at the time I was buying those pecans for me to eat during the week. Because I love pecans. But, God had other plans for those pecans. After the expo, Fulmer asked to take the bag home that night and use his vacuum sealer to create smaller sample size bags to hand out to people as we told them about our company. That idea would prove to be a very useful tool over the next few days. Pecans are not a well known product in the villages of this country, because they are not a native crop. But they are a hot commodity in the bigger cities.

There’s something you should know about four guys who barely know each other driving up to a huge international expo in a far east foreign country in a city of nearly seven million people. None of them will take note of where they parked.

When we left the expo we walked backed to the parking garage and luckily we collectively remember which direction we walked from. But once we go to the garage, we couldn’t find the car for nearly an hour. And we were supposed to meet Kevin and the cousins for lunch. Kevin is our partner from this country and the business manager.

We tried using our Google location history, but that didn’t work well because we were under ground. We split up and took different rows in areas we thought looked familiar. That didn’t work. I had prayed while I was walking for God to help us find the car, but we did not find it.

“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matthew 18:19-20 NASB

After an hour Fulmer pulled us together and we all took about thirty seconds and prayed together to find the car. We then split up and not more than five minutes later, we found the car. God is good. We just had to pull together and agree in prayer.

I already knew that God had His hand on this trip and this experience was just another confirmation of that.

Now to lunch.

It would be my first time meeting Kevin. And he would be bringing a few friends with him. Yazoo and I found out, after we reached the restaurant, that they are all part of an underground club. Kevin is employed by the company, but he is young and is excited to meet the big boss, Yazoo.

I was so excited to meet Kevin as it would be my first time meeting a club member from this country and I had heard stories about how he was risking his safety for the cause. I had prayed for him for months without ever having met him. We were especially praying for his family to hear the Word and join the club.

And one of the reasons I had for going on this trip was to teach Kevin everything I knew about building relationships and making good first impressions when going to business meetings. Tent making like Paul. I was going to use my talent to build the club.

When we arrived at the restaurant there were several unique things I learned about local culture and how food service is done in this region.

First, there is a service that picks up all the plates, glasses, chop sticks, cups and bowls during the day. The company washes it all, and returns it to the restaurant in heat sealed wrapping. I saw this in several restaurants and they must all use the same service because all the place setting looked the same including the chop sticks.

Secondly, there aren’t really serving spoons or forks most of the time. Everyone just uses their own chop sticks and grabs what they want out of the family style serving bowl.

We let Kevin order for us and everything was interesting. I recognized most of the foods but not necessarily from it sitting on a table at my house. I had all my shots and immunizations, so I dug in. And I really enjoyed it. But, I did not eat the chicken’s head. I gladly allowed the other honored guests to have that.

You’ll notice that I have a cup of tea. No, it’s not sweet. But it is good. I tried several fresh local teas while I was there. And I brought some home to use in my daughter’s tea pot.

The big plate with the steamed hand (buns?) wrapped around a bowl full of pork belly was very good. Not healthy, but very good. And we had rice at almost every meal.

The Adventures of Yazoo and Huckleberry (Ch. 2)

“And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”
Luke 10:2‭-‬3 NASB

You’ll notice that I’m being fairly cryptic in these posts. You won’t see city or town names, and the names of the people are changed. I have purposefully omitted pictures that could be used to distinguish our location as much as possible.

We left Northwest Arkansas on Friday morning but the long flight and layover put us at the hotel just after midnight Sunday morning (local time).

I slept on the bed near the window and I peeked out that first night, but it was rainy and a little foggy so I didn’t pay attention much about what I was seeing.

I slept well that first night. A full five hours. The bed and pillows were comfortable and clean. I really enjoyed the hotel and all the room amenities. Our host company man had picked out the hotel, so I didn’t know what to expect.

With the currency conversion as it is, you can get in a really nice hotel for a good price. We took advantage of that on the nights we could because we didn’t really know where the agenda was going to take us.

The big window in the shower was only slightly creepy since there was a huge highrise next to us. And yes, it had a full height toilet. But, the bathroom door was frosted glass and faced the sleeping quarters. So, only marginally awkward.

The alarm went off that first morning at 6:30. I planned with Yazoo to get a workout in before we started our day. As I looked over to check on Yazoo he was already up trying to make some coffee with his little instant coffee packet he had in his kit. The room had a kettle to heat water quickly, but not a proper coffee pot.

We both had kits set up for each day. With hindsight, I overpacked kits. I probably had over 20 pounds of daily kits created. I was preparing for village life with no real understanding of what the word village meant. I eventually ended up leaving several of the Premier Protein bars in the office in another city were the FS office is located.

Daily kit

The temperature outside was nice for a morning workout, probably 55 degrees Fahrenheit. We were located in an area that is like springtime temperatures year round. It is a mountainous region and the elevation in this big city was higher than Denver, CO. However, because of the numerous high-rise buildings, we could only see those beautiful mountains when we went on the roads that looped around the city.

We did a short 30 minute body weight and jogging workout in the parking lot of the hotel. This is when Yazoo informed me that hocking loogies and spitting them on the sidewalk is encouraged in some countries for health benefits. After the workout I washed my hands vigorously even before jumping in the shower.

He also later told me that they use grey water pumped out of big trucks with sprayers to water the hedges. Thanks, brother. I’ll do my pushups with more vigor next time.

Our host company man, who we will call Switzer, didn’t join us for the workout so he showered before we returned to the room. Yazoo offered to let me go next. When I was done he offered me some electrolyte powder that he had brought with him. Yazoo said his super buff fitness loving friend who doesn’t eat carbs told him about it. So, I grabbed a complimentary bottle of water, poured it and the powder into my over-sized double walled stainless steel water jug, and took a few sips. I’d be keeping this container filled up anytime I had the chance.

After showers we learned that we would be staying in the same hotel for the next two nights. So we transferred some items around between our rolling carry-on and our backpacks. Then we headed down for breakfast at the hotel. I didn’t know they had breakfast so I had eaten a Premier Protein bar.

The breakfast at the hotel was excellent. It was also very different. There was a type of bacon on the buffet, but I’m not sure what animal it came from. I ate it anyway. I had more coffee and a few other local foods including a version of yogurt. Which I surmised was a good idea to help get my intestinal flora ready to deal with all the local foods.

I also ate a steamed bun. Which has an odd translation to English when you look at the description next to the steamer. There were many different kinds to choose from. But the one translated as “bacteria sachet” really caught my eye, and I had to have it.

After breakfast we waited for the taller company guy, who we will call Fulmer, to pick us up to get our day started. We had the privilege of being accompanied by two company men most of the week. And I am so thankful that I was able to meet them and build lasting memories while experiencing the providential hand of God throughout the process.

Fulmer’s home base was in the big city we were staying in. He and Switzer are both full time with the company in the big Asian country. They each have their family with them and have been there for several years.

Now Switzer was staying with us in the hotel and was home based in a city about three hours fast train ride north west of where we were. But, he was good friends with the regional leader over Starbucks locations in the region we were in. And he enjoyed reporting back about every store he visited. We had coffee at Starbucks almost every day and sometimes twice.

I’m not generally a huge Starbucks fan, but when in a large Asian country where you don’t know what anyone is saying and can’t read the menus, I am a huge Starbucks fan.

You wouldn’t know unless you’ve been outside your home country, but when you enter a place that reminds you of home it brings comfort.

Because I live in a smaller city back home and I don’t frequently visit big cities, I had never heard of a Starbucks Reserve store. In this large city, there were three. And folks, this was good coffee. The first couple trips in I played it safe, but Switzer kept getting some reserve beans/roasts. So, I ventured out eventually and ordered some coffee that they make in this contraption that I’d identify as only ever having seen on that show Breaking Bad. Yep, it was really good!

After getting our coffee on that first day we sat out on the Starbucks patio for a few minutes and discussed operational security for the company. Switzer told us that we would probably be awkwardly stared at and that was perfectly normal. He told us to just imagine that we are dancing bears on a ball or something weird like that.

Switzer then drilled us on our story in case we were taken into custody. Yazoo is an international business owner, really, and was there on business. I was simply a tourist and was tagging along with Yazoo on his business trip. All true. We all got a company polo with the logo embroidered on it. Fulmer had gotten a good price so we each had two to wear.

This is the point were I found out that we would have access to a washer and dryer during the week at Fulmer’s place if needed. I over-packed. And this will cause a little regret later on when I had to choose not to purchase a few gifts that I wanted to bring home because of luggage space. I did end up leaving a pair of dress shoes there with my new friend, Kevin from Asia, who you’ll meet in Chapter 3.

The Adventures of Yazoo and Huckleberry (Ch. 1)

It was my first trip outside of the U.S. and it was going to be a big one.

Caution but not fear. We are headed for Asia.

Yazoo is a cool travel companion. I don’t talk much, and he loves to teach from his experiences.

Let’s start with a Correction of Errors. Put a snack in your backpack, not just in your rolling carry on.

My plan was to transfer a snack to my backpack once we landed after our short flight from NWA to Dallas. But that didn’t happen, our flight was delayed. We ended up having to get on a standby list which would put us in Dallas at 10:25, and our flight to “very large city in Asia” was leaving at 10:55.

Well, we landed and parked by 10:25, but the pilot didn’t park close enough to the ramp! When we all sat back down they moved the plane and we tried again to unload.

Yazoo called AA Flight Advantage when we were about to land to ask our next flight to wait on us. But I’m not sure if they did. We sprinted through the Dallas airport like two crazy men from Terminal B to the train to take us to Terminal D. Then we sprinted to gate D##.

They were yelling at us to hurry because everyone was already seated. We got on the plane at 10:53 and had to move someone who had been given our seats.

And our carry on bag had to be put up front about half a mile away from us on this big 787B Boeing. So, I just had to eat whatever snack they gave me.

This was a huge plane with a second floor for crew sleeping quarters.

I am thankful we made our flight. Thank you, Lord, this must be in your plan. I didn’t want to stay in Dallas overnight.

After settling into our seats I found power ports to keep my phone charged and a personal movie screen that I could control like my own tablet with movies.

It was a 14 hour flight from Dallas to “big city in Asia” so I watched a few movies.

We had seats at the emergency exit so we were able to stretch our legs. But all three seats were filled and the whole plane was full. So we were cramped elbow to elbow.

They served three meals on this flight and they were not bad. I didn’t eat most of the last meal as it was basically just rice and I wanted to eat meat when I got to the airport.

I never was able to get any sleep, so the plan was to just stay awake until getting to “final destination in Asia” at near midnight local time. I thought I would sleep like a rock and set my internal clock to the new time zone.

“Big city in Asia” is huge. When we got close to the airport I started seeing all the highrise buildings. They are everywhere. It’s amazing how much fog/smog hangs around those buildings.

Once we unloaded we had to go get our transfer ticket for the “Asian country” airline flight to our final destination city. I didn’t have any trouble going through security at XNA, but the boys in “big city in Asia” were very thorough. They even took one of my backup batteries because the markings had been rubbed off from old age.

Once we got through security we found some food. McDonalds in “Asian country” has some really good chicken wings. No kidding.

Mcdonalds has different food at the Asian locations including bubble teas. We both got the spicy wings which were really good but risky.

We had a five hour layover in the airport so we looked around terminal two for a while before relaxing again. I picked out a shop that I wanted to stop at on the way out for some souvenirs for the family.

While at the airport we also took time to brush our teeth and use some of the Dude Wipes we brought to freshen up.

This too was a slight change of plans. We originally planned to stay in the AA Admirals lounge, because Yazoo is like super gold platinum member or something. He said it had showers and free meals. What he forgot was that the lounge was in the International terminal, which we had already exited and could not get back in! 😀

We were blessed to get good seats on the flight to our final destination because we sat on a three person row, with only the two of us. I was really feeling the lack of sleep by this time. I had been awake for almost thirty hours with only small head nods for sleep.

We had several moments of scary turbulence on this flight. We flew through some thunderstorms and I could see lightning outside the plane windows.

Were were on a big older Airbus with 63 rows and 8 wide seating with two aisles. This was a three hour flight with a movie in another language.

This is the point where I found out that the movies I had downloaded on Vudu didn’t work. I just watched the in flight movie the best I could and held on as the plane jostled around. It was a weird movie. Something about a circus and the workers fighting ninjas and an elephant?

I admit that eating those spicy chicken wings was a bad idea. I reflected on that decision a couple of times as I held on for dear life in the restroom at the back of that plane. Luckily I had my wet wipes handy.

But oddly I think the Lord was looking out for me. When we got to our final destination I stopped in the restroom at that airport and all I found was those Asian squatty potties. These are basically porcelain lined holes in the ground. I was so thankful that I had gotten all the spice out on the full height plane toilet. 🙏🙏

When we arrived it was about midnight local time in our destination city, but the company men we were coming to visit were there waiting for us. I was glad to get to the hotel alive, because even at midnight traffic was heavy compared to my town.

And I was correct in my assumption, I slept well that first night.

Isaiah 26:4 NIV Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.

Christmas Gifts for those in need – #GoatFundMe

For the past 3 years my family has received the Baptist Global Response (BGR) Christmas gift catalog by mail.

We started a tradition where I’ll give the catalog to my children and allow them to circle the gifts that they would like to purchase for those in need.

We like to do this with BGR because we generally get a letter back from them with stories about how our donation was used to help bless the people in the way that was represented in the catalog.

Because we own chickens of course one of the items we always purchase is chickens. And because it’s such a great need we also now add in water filtration systems. You may remember the Global Relief Run I directed with my local church last year was raising funds for water filtration.

It’s such an uplifting experience to get the letters back from BGR and to hear the stories of how these gifts are actually used.

I’d encourage each of you to take a look at the online gift catalog and select a gift or two to purchase this year. Make it a yearly tradition for you and your family.

BGR Christmas Gift Catalog link

BGR Christmas Gift Catalog

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