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)

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