Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Snatched from the Flames!

image: oreo.usmessageboard

Imagine you live in Colorado right now. But not just anywhere. You live in Colorado Springs. There are upwards of 30,000 people, cramming and bottlenecking every road and back road. Cars and trucks, trailers and U-Hauls jammed to overflowing, are all crawling at a snails pace.
But the fire isn't.
It's raging.
The wind is skipping it along, chasing from house to house.
Explosions are everywhere as everything combusts.
The heat from the day is unbearable, let alone that heat coming from the approaching fire. It's laced with the smoke of everything from wood to plastic, churning up in a billowing cloud of choking, dry fumes.

Now imagine you are asleep.
You don't know all this.
The fire is bearing down on your home, sweeping into a now empty subdivision of deserted housing.
Everyone is evacuated and fleeing to safety...everyone but you.

Maybe you took an extra sleeping pill last night, when everyone said it looked like the fire was certain to go the other direction and may even be contained. Maybe you just slept in from a hard day's work.
Whatever the reason, there you are. Lying in your bed. Deep in Neverland, and even in the middle of your favorite dream.

The house is only just beginning to warm up. If your eyes were open you'd see that it was growing strangely dark just outside the window. You'd notice the orange and yellow reflections on the glass, dancing and lapping their way to your doorstep.

Just then there's a knocking on the door! Then a beating, rapping! You were all tucked away, safe and secure last night, even remembered to lock the doors. Just as your eyes are starting to twitch, a sharp, steel axe crashes through your nice oak door. It's violently ripped away, and then slammed with alarming force again into the same hole, over and over.
That beautiful door is reduced to splinters in a matter of seconds, and you've just began to enter into reality.

The dream is over.
What is that smell?
WHY is it dark?
WHAT was that horrific sound coming from outside your bedroom door?!
Just then he bursts into your room! A grizzly, dirty old man. His face is covered in ashes and sweat, and his breathing is shallow and burdened. He's shouting words, but you can't understand!
You shoot up out of your bed, rigid and gripped by fear of the axe in his hand.
The axe that he drops carelessly as he begins to rush toward you.
Just as if your dream has turned to a nightmare, you find you can't move, can't think, and everything is happening in slow-motion.
It doesn't matter.

In a moment he's at your bedside.
Before you can hit him, you realize he's scooped you up into his arms, and just as you begin to beat upon his chest and scratch out his eyes your mind begins to awaken from the slumber, his words begin to form pattern. You understand for the first time what he's shouting,

"The fire is almost upon us! You have to get out NOW!"

It's then, as he's stumbling down your hallway, drenched in sweat from the burden of carrying you over his shoulders, it all begins to soak into your mind. The smell of smoke. The lack of oxygen. The fire outside the window.... your lungs fill reflexively and you hear yourself screaming,


He bursts out of the entry to your home just as it begins to be lapped by the flames, and you behold the scene of total carnage strewn before you. As if an atomic bomb has exploded, the world is in chaos!
The inside of your throat is raw.
You can see wild animals bounding from the tree line, racing anywhere, any direction that leads away from a horrible death. 
The firemen are exhausted. 
Water is growing scarce.
Choppers and planes are flying overhead.
The media and press are suffocating.
Tempers are flaring.
Panic begins to set in....

You are filled with terror and horror! But he is racing you to the only vehicle left in the street, a fire-truck with blinding sirens. For the first time you feel a wave of comfort wash over you, a gladness that you are in this old brute's grasp. This brute. This man... This hero.

Driving away from the fire, dodging all of the burning embers, you realize that you're going to make it. All is lost, but your life is gained.

You are thankful. No, overjoyed. Exuberant!

He drives you right into the shelter, and you are greeted by other rescued souls, all gathered together and recanting their tragic stories.
Someone hands you a cell phone and you call your family. When you hear that soft and uncertain, "Hello?" on the other end of the line, you burst forth in emotion!

Tears flow on both ends as your loved ones realize you are safe. You find deep thankfulness in your heart, and you gulp for air, desperately launching into your story, of how you were doomed to the flames, unaware of the danger. Your speech breaks out in broken sobbing as you tell the story of this miraculous old man who risked his own life, wading into that burning hell to find you.

You find out then that it was them who'd tried to reach you, watching the news on the television. When they couldn't raise you on the phone, they'd launched into an all out battle plan to find you, calling every hotline and local fire department, speaking with every police station and every front-desk sergeant within 50 miles, giving them your name and address, afraid that you might not know.
And that desperate calling paid off. All the way to this old man, willing to walk into the fire for a total stranger.

You were saved, and he becomes your friend. Years go by and you still are happy to tell his story of heroic proportions. You smile every time you think of him. You gush over him when you reminisce your memorial rescue. Your friends have heard the story a thousand times, and they'll hear it a thousand more.
The paper even wrote up an article. There was an award given by the mayor.
Such a good story, and it warms every heart it touches!

'You will know them by their fruit. Grapes aren't gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a rotten tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire. So by their fruit you will know them.' ~Matthew 7

Now friend, I ask you.  When I open my Bible to talk to you about this man named Jesus, this Savior, this Hero, will you understand?
And if this Rescuer has also snatched you from the flames, won't you be glad to talk about Him, to remember the gift of such everlasting grace?  Won't you be leaping in your heart to pour over his story?  Won't you just be dying to tell another soul, sleeping in their beds?

A Day with Ray: Part 2

photo: apoinc

2400 volts of electricity passed through Raymond Defenbaugh for almost half an hour. It only takes 1700 in the electric chair, and only a few moments, but none of that mattered in 1963, when a young Ray hit the high-wire power line with his tractor. The man next to him reached out to help, and 39 years later, Ray showed me the indentation of that man's thumbprint, all that would remain, as the current then shot through him and instantly took his life, literally blowing him up.

Many people stood around, wetting their pants as they witnessed the horror, trying to figure out how to get him away from the current. When they finally did, they put him in the car to take him to the funeral home. There was nothing else to do. Ray was dead.
But God wasn't finished with him yet. In the car where they'd laid Ray's fried body for the trip to the funeral home, he woke up.

That's right. I said he woke up. 2 minutes at a maximum of 2,000 volts, that's what experts deem necessary to execute a villain in the chair. Ray was in the hot seat for nearly 30.

In the confusion and panic a 17-year old Ray commenced to fighting the man in the car and kicked the windows out. He'd lost his right arm and most of both of his feet, where the current had passed most violently. His blood had boiled and his heart had fibrillated, and so it was no surprise when doctors moved him to an auditorium, to gather round, to study and poke.

None of them could believe it had happened, and so man did what man does best, they chose not to believe. They said that because they couldn't believe it was possible, it therefore hadn't happened, and that would be the end of it.

There was just one problem with that line of thought, and that was the 18 people who were there, who saw it with their own eyes and could prove otherwise.
Ray was back from the dead. A walking, talking miracle.

And that's how he explains his faith ever since. When he went to Russia, the worst parts, he said they sent all the bad boys there. But the people there told Ray that they didn't believe in the book of Revelation because a professor in the area had just proved to them 100% that it was just a story. Ray gave them his testimony and said that just because a story sounds unbelievable doesn't mean it didn't happen. He told them that he was there, teaching them, alive and kicking today, and they could take it or leave it.

The father of the man Ray stayed with was the head of Russian secret service. One day Ray said he wanted to go to church, but the Russian got mad and said,

"You will not find a church here because they are all gone, it was my job to shut them all down, and I did my job very well."
But Ray wasn't one to quit. The next week he said he wanted to go church again, and the Russian got angry and said,
"You must not be hearing me very well, I said I did my job well!" Ray smiled and said, "Well... I found one."

You could have knocked the Russian over with a feather.
Reminiscing those days, Ray took a deep breath, "I believe the only true church is the persecuted church."

I told him that I knew why I was supposed to come, it was to meet him, and that I could tell that of all the people in this conference, his wisdom was different.

When I told him I noticed his wisdom was godly and not from man, this gentle man shared one last time, "You can start and run a bank, you can start and run an ethanol plant, you can invest, you can come to this conference as I have all these years, and it does not take a brain. When we run across someone with the Holy Spirit, we will recognize it in one another, that same spirit, and the Bible tells us it's so. I believe it, and all of it, because if there's any part we're going to decide we can't believe is true, well then I'm too ignorant to choose."

"I hope to connect with you again some day, Ray." I said, giving him a hug. "Oh, we will see each other again." He smiled, casting a nod toward Heaven.

So, reader.  Is this a true story?  My son even asked that when he read this.  Is it not most fantastic?  Is it not most unbelievable?  Is it unexplainable and out-of-this-world?   All of the above.  
What can I tell you about Jesus?  I never met the man in person.  I have to rely on the words of his most faithful followers, these men and women who, when given the opportunity to recant and deny their belief in the Christ, chose rather to die, because how do you un-see something?  How do you say it didn't happen, when you know that it did?   The truth is you don't.  You go to your execution, and as most historical accounts show us, you go in worship, praising God, and even using your last moments to proclaim His Majesty.  

I met Ray.  I hugged him!  I saw the thumbprint in his arm.  More importantly, I heard the wisdom from his still beating heart and I witnessed the love of this same Jesus in his eyes.  Today, we are brothers, and that is all a gift.   In the words of Ray,  "You can take it, or you can leave it."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Day with Ray, Part 1

The men I pray with, my brothers in the States, work for a company called Bion, which makes standards to measure and regulate the ethanol industry. God brought us together last year by no small feat, and the arrangement, the relationship between us, has always been something we knew to be of a larger design than we could understand. My friends included a chemist, a former-banker, and a discipler of men, and so to us it was no strange addition to the mix to heap on a photographer, and his family, committed to spreading God's word in Haiti.

On my return to Stateside, we quickly caught up, had coffee, and reminisced, but it felt pertinent to make use of our short time together, and so on the day they asked me to join them for a business trip to Minneapolis at the FEW Ethanol Workshop, I didn't close my mind to the idea. Even though I am not a chemist. I am not into ethanol. I have no knowledge of the business, and I didn't even have a pass to get in.

Still, I felt a call to go, and I came home to tell my loving wife that I knew it was her birthday and all, but I really felt God wanted me at this conference....again....for ethanol.

I waited for her reaction. It's largely why I love her so. "Sure honey." She said. "Why not? It will be fun to see what God has in store for us there."

When my banker-friend/encourager Todd told me that it cost $700 per person, I don't mind telling you there was a lump in my throat. I told him maybe I could just sneak in and shoot pictures, and being the wise and careful one among us, he referred me to the Minneapolis Convention Center, to atleast ask for a press pass.

The next morning, walking into the large lobby, we came right to the front desk. I gave the man my name. He instantly handed me a free media pass, and from that moment on I had the right to go wherever I wanted within the conference, doing what God has granted me to do, take pictures, free of charge.

I shot and shot, everything I found that caught my eye, and then I listened. I absorbed information. Nothing was really making any sense to me, a country boy from Wyoming with a missionary's objective in Haiti no less. What did I care or know of United States ethanol? I only knew to be obedient to the call to go, and to keep my eyes open.

That's when I heard Ray, an elderly gentlemen on the stage, amidst a panel of business men. They all talked profits, margins, the bottom line, futures. Every other man on the stage had on a suit and a tie. Ray stood out to me. He wore a farmer's vest. They were all clean-shaven, Newsweek cover types. Ray had a long, white Santa's beard, and I knew even before he spoke that I liked him.

In the flurry of pointless words and the wisdom of man concerning the uncertain and therefore frightening future, just about the point where I thought my brain might just wither away and die, his voice took the stage, in a careful, soft, and gentle way.

"Where I'm from," He said, "we have this river. And you can bounce here and there, from bank to bank, and be carried wherever the current takes you. But....But, if you can just find a fixed point, upstream, why, you can set your sights, plot your course, and in the'll get there."

The rest of the men paused. I sat up in my chair, from my near-coma experience. What was that? Was that...wisdom? I was listening now. That man made sense.

Again the others began to talk about cutting back, hedging, selling out, and a hundred words may as well have been none, as if I were watching politicians debate the color of the sky. And then he spoke again,

"It's like the chicken hawk. You ever see the chicken hawk? He sits there, and he watches. He studies. He waits for just right critter to come along. He calculates his move, and because of his patience, it's amazing, he always gets his prey."
The others sat in silence. The moderator looked to the audience speechless, no words coming from the man with the gift of gab. I watched some oriental fellas in the front, looking at eachother, shrugging their shoulders. But to me, and to the two Bion guys sitting there with me just as out of place, it clicked.
"I once had a fella call me on my phone. My family bought me this little bluetooth gadget that goes on my ear, because I try not to ever miss a call. It's hard to drive a truck, sip on some coffee, and answer a cell-phone, and all with one hand." He said, revealing to me for the first time that he was missing his right arm up to the elbow.

"This man told me if I sold my ethanol company, he could make me a very, very rich man. I told him first off, I didn't start that company for one man to be rich, I started that company for the benefit of an entire community, and besides when people get rich they just get greedy, and what was he trying to do to me, ruin my life? The man hung up and that was the last I ever heard of him."

I looked again at my friends. We were all smiling. Ray was right on track.

The session ended and my friends and I talked. I had a sure feeling that I was supposed to meet with Ray somehow, to ask him about his faith, but when I found him outside the amphitheater, he was deep in conversation with four or five other men, all plucking his brain.

I said a short prayer. "Ok Lord. If I'm supposed to talk with this man Ray, have him look over this way and give me the opportunity......." I waited. "Or, maybe not." I said.

We all began funneling into the seminars to go to the classes. First I tried a class that was something or other about yeast prop, and ratios, and after 3 minutes I knew I was an orange amongst the apples, and so I left and decided to try my prospects in another class. The one on Leadership sounded like I might find some fruit, but after 15 minutes listening to HR reps talk about how to make the little worker bees feel good while bashing them on the head with classic corporate mumbo-jumbo, I realized I was listening to something regurgitated at best. When the lovely woman at the front began talking about her high heels and how we all ought to watch out when we see her coming, I made for the door.

I began to do what I do best. "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it".  Up and down the streets of Minneapolis, realizing the irony that while you might put me in the middle of the mountains of Haiti and I'll find my way home, plunk me down in the middle of giant skyscrapers and I'm as lost as a mouse in a maze, looking for his cheese.

I finally made my way back to the convention center, and began to roam the halls.

"Lord. Why do you have me here? I'm here, but I just don't understand what business you have with a guy like me in a place like this."

Just then my discipler-friend Justin called out my name. It sounded like he was a million miles away and in a bathroom stall at first, but when I wheeled around, I saw him waving at me from the end of a very long corridor. When I popped around the corner, what a sight did I behold. My two business friends, plunked down as if it were a Sunday picnic in the park, in the middle of this large rotunda of glass overlooking the city.

"What are YOU doing here?!" I said. "Aren't you the guys that are supposed to be taking in all this ethanol talk?"

They just smiled, "We just had to take a break. All this talk about money and the almighty dollar, and we just kept thinking, where is God in all of this? How do we fit? That's when Todd saw you walking down that glass hallway."

That was fair enough for me. How could I fault them? We were all in the same boat, so I sat down right there with them, and we began to do what comes naturally in times like these. We prayed.

Little popcorn prayers, you know? Bouncing around from guy to guy, seeking the face of the Almighty in the least likely of places.

Todd opened up Scripture and began to read, and peace came over three men, strangers in a landscape of suits, with the great leveler of Jesus Christ as our common denominator.

"Guys. I really feel like I'm supposed to talk to Ray." I said. "I think I'm supposed to ask him where he's at with his faith. But I think he's left the convention. I haven't seen him since this morning."

We got ourselves up and made a plan to leave, to go back to the motel and meet up with our wives, and at just that moment, Justin called out, "Hey Dan! There's Ray!"

Well then! Okay! We began to follow him, formulating our plan...right up to the point that he began to enter the Men's restroom.

We all stopped, dumbfounded.

"I'm surely not going to follow him in there!" I said.
"Hey, you'll have a captive audience." Justin smiled.
"Well, I'm going to go get the car." Todd said.
"Oh no your not. I need you right here."
"I don't know. Moral support?" I smiled. I needed the encouragement of my friend.

Just then out walked Ray, and I can't figure out if it was divine intervention or just the sight of three men staring at him speechless just outside the restroom, but he stopped dead in his tracks and waited for us to approach.

"Ray. Hello." I said, careful to shake with my left hand and not bring attention to his right arm. "My name is Dan. I'm a missionary in Haiti, and I work with these guys. I mean no disrespect, but I think I'm supposed to ask you, sir, where are you at with your faith?" Then came the pause. I gulped. Ray squared off his shoulders to me and squinted his eyes down to me, and at that instant I was pretty sure this old-timer could whip me.

"What do you meeeeeaaaaaann?" He said, drawing out the 'mean' as if he were about to dissect me on the spot.
"Are you asking me if I'm saved?" I could've sworn he sounded just like John Wayne. I felt like a mouse, coming eye-to-eye with the dreaded chicken hawk.
"Are you asking me if I believe in the Bible? Do I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior?"
"Uhh----Well.....yeah." I managed.
"I believe without Him, I'd be sunk." He said, his shoulders softening, his eyes widening, his mouth curving up into a smile.


"I'm a Gideon." He said. "You know what that is?"
"Yes sir. I used to be one."
"Oh yeah?" He grinned. "So what did you do that they had to kick you out?'"
"Well, I was going to Haiti, and I couldn't get them to give me any Bibles. So I just left and bought my own."

He let out a chuckle, "That's funny. You know I did the same thing in Russia, back in the Parastroika days. The Gideons wouldn't give me any Bibles either, so I bought my own."

I knew right then and there why I'd come all this way to the city, to an ethanol workshop. It was to meet Ray, and to be encouraged to stay the course. It was the rest of his story that brought it all full circle for me, as different business men drifted into our conversation about God. An amazing story, that you just might not believe unless you'd seen it for your own eyes.... (to be continued)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Spider's Meal

If in five years you can see my faith is not a part of me, I ask you now to intervene...

The smallest incremental steps,
a purposed dive into the depths,

Into the pits of low despairs.
Tangled, caught in the spider's snares.

It's here I bid you come find me,
lift my head and set me free

Cut the silks that chain and bind,
blow on the embers of my mind

And kindle that fondest memory,
the truth that Christ did set me free

And how it felt when His face turned
Away from me, how my heart burned

To flee the shadow of that eclipse,
to hear forgiveness on His lips.

To restore, redeem, renew this child
And rescue me from that reviled.

It's then will I remember Grace
And feel the warmth of His embrace.

To know His love does yet abide,
Down in the deep, within, inside...

And depart the nightmare I've made real,
I shall not be the spider's meal.

-Dan Elliott 6.17.12

....sometimes these words just pour out of me. Happy FATHER'S Day.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Open for Business in the US

Hello everyone!

My family and I have returned from Haiti for the summer and we are reopened for business. We intend to continue with our photography as a means of supporting our work in bringing Bibles and discipleship there.

605-582-8259 is our phone. is our email.

Thanks for all of your blessings! We pray we can bless you through great images and keepsakes from the chronicles of your life, while paying it forward for those who have not yet heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. - Dan Elliott