The new news is that it looks like the Melanoma has made a new home in my body. I made a video of the journey of discovery to give context to the journey. I will add new ones as we continue the diagnosis and treatment. For those curious ones (like me!) there is a screen shot of the CT scan here.
The bullet points are (1) blood in my urine led to a CT scan that showed a beautiful, but cancerous bush in my bladder. It will come out on Monday afternoon, Oct. 25 and be biopsied; (2) strange stuff in the CT scan prompted a second contrasting CT scan of my lungs that confirmed “multiple bilateral lobular solid pulmonary nodules/masses of varying sizes in all lobes”; (3) a PET scan showed most of my body is “unremarkable” (my new favorite word!) and three “hot spots”: bladder, lungs and gall bladder; (4) an early morning needle biopsy of my lungs will be taken Thursday, Oct. 21; (5) Dr. Corcoran will review results with us Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 26. (6) Hopefully, the biopsies will explain what is perplexing everyone: why do I have three apparently unrelated hot spots in my body?
When I had the Melanoma before, I laid out four principles to guide me: (1) When I go to the past look for lessons, not regrets. It is easy for me to shred myself for what I did/didn’t do; (2) in the present build plans based on what I actually know so I can act wisely and responsibly rather than feeling helpless; (3) the future is where the “what if’s” are. Satan dwells there. Don’t dwell with him; (4) Jesus is in the present, look for Him. Like the bush in Exodus 3, He is easy to miss.
There is so much to be thankful for today. Sherry and I celebrated a half century plus a quarter decade of marriage at Depoe Bay last month. Even with all the COVID restrictions we had excellent food, great weather, and wonderful views. One trip was down to Cape Perpetua Lookout. I took a trail walk from Devil’s Churn Lookout down to the Spouting Horn where the Pacific rages high, arranging for Sherry to drive down and meet me at the visitor center, only to discover that it was closed. I did a lot of checking before discovering her back at my starting point . . . not that there were a lot of options along Highway 101! I remembered another walk up the narrow canyon inland from the spouting horn where a close friend decided to explore near the rift and almost got washed away by a big wave.
Health is a point of thankfulness in COVID days. None of our family has been hit with anything, not even a cold. Family relationships are strong. Joy lost her senior year events, including her lead role in Grease and involvement in state music and drama events. But she decided to join Ecola Bible College, which still meets at Cannon Beach Conference Center. Her work scheduling is done by Cyndee, herself an Ecola alum, actually doing my class there so long ago. Grateful for God’s intervention that brought us together. Donn brought Elizabeth and Michael out in August so we could hang. Unfortunately COVID meant cancelling our plans for Thanksgiving in Kansas City. We will do family time via Zoom, a very 2020 thing!
Western Seminary is having its largest enrollment ever and my Leadership Cohorts and the new Master of Applied Biblical Leadership are both growing quickly so my teaching load is enormous. We have two cohorts each in Portland and Costa Mesa plus a new on beginning in Boise next term. I get to hang out and pastor a most exciting group of men and women through that work.
My role at The Bible Project continues. In addition to my board role, I was leading the staff in what was initially called “Happy Hour with Gerry”, times to explore theological questions in an open dialogue format. That all went by the wayside with COVID, but the work of the Project continues to grow. It is stunning that views of our videos have exceeded 200 million. We have at least 10 videos in 18 different languages and 55% of our views come from outside the United States! And then there is the blog and the podcasts.
I did two weddings and continue to be a pastor to pastors and a help for the hurting.
There is so much more I could add to this list of gratitudes but this is enough for now
This is a COVID-19 first: I “preached” today’s sermon at Grace from my family room to a camera and Jim. It’s the new way in a “Stay home; Stay Healthy” ordered world. Later this morning I will watch myself preach from that same room as part of our 10:45 service. It’s a very strange world.
All my classroom teaching and weekend speaking until at least mid-May has been cancelled. Elizabeth’s two week school trip to France to live with a French family, followed by a week where Donn and Susan would join her for their own tour is off. We were going to bring Michael here for the week. Cannon Beach Conference Center is closed so Cyndee is beginning a four week furlough. Joy’s senior year was going to have a lot of thespian activity, including a state convention, several performances, capped by a starring role in Grease. We still have slim hopes for Grease. A lot of loss. None of these are exceptional.
Thankfully, my job is still way more than full time so my income is not impacted significantly – and Uncle Sam if going to send us $2,400 relief check, if I read the news correctly. I am thinking about how best to give that away.
I got to help cancer patients yesterday morning by donating platelets again. It is a two armed process which is very strange after many one armed blood donations. My Ortega’s blanket from Chimayo, NM and my Urbana curve helps keep me warm. Laying still for three hours and not moving my arms for most of that time (needles in both elbow joints restricts movement!) left me really stiff and exhausted, which isn’t the norm. But a good night’s sleep and I am back to normal.
There are lots of ways to help beyond my normal pastoring and counseling which are now limited to phone, Facebook live, and Zoom. We did take out from one of our favorite restaurants as a way to support them in their time of shut down dining room.
We left the Curry House and Phil Metzger snapped this picture of us: him, me, Sherry, Christina, Ryan and Terry. The laughter here was typical of our lunch. That laughter was more around the marvelous things God is doing than the goofing around that was also rampant. I have to say Sherry and I were going to treat the group in thanks for all they had given us. Terry responded by choosing a cash only restaurant – and we had already given away almost all of our Hungarian Flourins so we were not able to accomplish our goal. I am a long term relationship person so there is a certain pain to meeting so many marvelous people knowing that I will never see most of them again in this life.
We did our packing and went early to bed, knowing our early morning departure meant there was a 3:30 am alarm set. I woke to do a bathroom visit and saw the message that our flight was delayed by 25 minutes which set off my travel anxieties stemming from a short layover in Amsterdam. We got to the airport in plenty of time only to get a note from the checkin machine to see the service desk. The kind lady notified us that the delay meant we could not make the Amsterdam connection so we would need to be switched to another set of flights. In my mind, I saw my carefully chosen seats disappear to be replaced by center seats for the 10 hour hop to the west coast. My imagination proved true. Worse than that our wheel chair assist also disappeared for our Paris connection so Sherry had to make the long walk to our departure gate with very tight time constraints. Had not another kind woman helped us get wheel chair passage throught the passport control, we would not have made the connection. Fortunately our 39F and 40F seats were with amiable seat mates who were understanding about “excuse me, please” and I could reach up and touch Sherry from time to time.
Reflecting on our time
I was deeply impressed by the power of the Golgota (Calvary) movement in Central Europe. Not only is the gospel preached powerfully and worship done in very lively ways, the church very intentionally reaches out to marginalized populations like the Roma (Gypsy) people, drug addicts, as well as orphans and widows. Part of my commission was to lay groundwork for reaching into the growing LGBT community in a country where they are legally excluded. The transforming power of Jesus is at center of life.
Expositional preaching typifies Calvary everywhere. It is done well here and there is a deep commitment to equipping young preacher/teachers to continue the Bible centered work. I knew the Americans would be doing that, but was excited that those from Central Europe were also deeply committed to exposition along with equipping and empowering younger leaders.
When I teach I usually pack my time with challenging material, both intellectually and applicationally. In my first session, I found that the leaders were eating it up with rapt attention and insightful questions. The challenges of translation were eased by very high level translators who could comprehend quickly and translate naturally. They were quick to ask clarifying questions to confirm understanding.
My ending thought was “when can I get back here?” Maybe that is why the keys to the flat still in my pocket when we went through airport security (!!!!!)
Sherry Atkins fetched us home from the airport, stopping at Panda Express to get some supper for our exhausted selves. We did some unpacking and a few “gotta get it done” things. I was able to make it until about 8:00 before I fell into bed for a 12 hour sleep. Sherry was coming a bit later but had a coughing spell and was slower but also had a renewing 12 hour sleep. I was renewed enough for a Saturday trip to give pastoral help in a most challenging situation. Happily God moved powerfully. I am deeply grateful to be a minister of the gospel in Hungary as well as Western USA.
A big part of the joy of doing these kinds of conferences is meeting amazing people. Attila Nyári is one of those folk. He came up and introduced himself telling me that he is one of the leaders in the church and also is deeply involved with leadership in the Lausanne Movement. We quickly established that we had several mutual friends, small world hitting again. I soon heard of some of the amazing things he is doing. When I heard that Western is one of the seminaries he is looking at for his Master’s Degree, I quickly began figuring out how we could advance the agenda! If God wills!
I was also pleased to see that Portland is represented in the people involved here in Budapest. Cara wore her Powell’s shirt just to prove that she is a Homie!
My morning session was on Work and Rest, a topic very relevant to the bi-vocational ministers that are typical here in Central and Eastern Europe. They mostly get that work is the gracious expression of YHWH’s creative energy in service of others to create shalom, whether it is in the pastorate or missions or anywhere else. Reflecting on how to do Sabbath rhythm when there is so much to be done was fruitful for us all.
I had my last look at the Rákóczi út and Elizabeth Bridge with its beautiful buildings. Our flat is just two blocks to the right.
The day finished at the Curry House where seven of us gathered for food and stories. As Phil and Jeremy shared about the church’s ministry in the European Refugee crisis a couple of years ago, I was astounded first aat the crucial role they play as thousands of refugees and opportunistic immigants with through on their way to Germany. Then I was astounded at how peaceful it was as they were here and how confrontational and dangerous it was in the news accounts. They told how reporters would stage scenes in order to sell their stories. May the Church of Jesus Christ be known for helping helpless people and speaking truth even when it does not sell.
Can you find place where the Golgota Budapest church meets? It’s a down town church so it is just on the street. It is not one of the historic church denominations so there is no “church” building. But there is a state of the art coffee shop on the ground floor in front of an old theater area which where the church comes together in three gatherings on Sunday and again two or three times during the week. Still haven’t found it? It’s the round awning to the right of the table umbrella. Once you have experienced it, I don’t think you’ll miss it again. The view below is what you see as you round the corner.
This is inside during a service. It looked pretty much like this for the conference.
My morning session was on women in leadership – a MOST controversial issue, though not as much here. The range in Evangelicalism is from Egalitarian (all offices and ministries open – gender is not an issue) to Male Elder (Elders are men, but all offices and ministries open to non-elders may be filled by men or women) to Male Teacher (women must not teach or have authority over men in the gatherings of the church). The church here is mostly Male Elder, which I am happy about since that’s my position. The discussion was intensely biblical and followed raptly. Pam Markey, a legend in the Calvary world, followed with practical suggestions and then we did the Q & A together.
I went back to our flat to fetch Sherry for the afternoon session. Fortunely the bus system here is easy to navigate – all busses along the main road so we just get on any of them. She joined for the sessions on handling discouragement and depression. In her gentle pastoral way, she quickly connected with many of the women who wanted her to stay longer!
As the sessions finished, Janni, the pastor of the church told everyone that Wednesday night meant regular church service so be sure to keep close tabs on all your personal belongings. If you close your eyes to pray, please hang onto your purse. It is an announcement I have never heard done that specifically. It says a lot about the range of people who come to this gospel based church.
As we walked back from our lunch, we saw this street painting of the famous TIME Man of the Year from January, 1957. It is the Hungarian Freedom Fighter, people who rebelled against the Communist regime that took over the country at the end of World War II. That occupation would continue after the rebellion was crushed violently, but the memory lives on.
Sherry and Christina Cokenour went to the Great Market Hall, completing the adventure that was postponed from Monday because of snow. It is 3 floors of Hungarian paprika (for goulash, fruits, vegetables, pickles, fantastic salamis, fresh fish, Tokaj wines, souvenirs, bags, clothes, pans and pots, home style meals, and the famous Hungarian Langos. They didn’t sample everything but it was close! I asked Sherry what her favorite part of the adventure was. “Everything!” she quickly responded.
She and Christina laughed, talked and giggled through the vast hall. It was a very special “girl time”
Today was my LONG day: double session starting at 9:00, ending at 20:00 with full involvement in conversations and sessions all day. I was wiped when I got back to our flat and slept long.
The morning started with a session on LGTBQI issues I shared with Phil Metzger. It is not yet a super hot topic here since Hungary is a very conservative country. But there is a large LBGTQ community in Budapest and Calvary has always had a heart for hurting people so thinking this through biblically and pastorally was helpful. Typical of the many questions was “what do we do if a gay couple with kids receives Jesus and comes to our church?” Tough but very real questions. They want to do things well. Questions did not stop just because the Q & A was dismissed for lunch
A German, a Finn, a Texan, and a Theology Professor went into Mazel Tov for lunch . . . Sounds like a bad joke but in fact it was a great time to share cultures and what Jesus is doing in each of them while enjoying Jewish food in an enclosed section of street between ancient buildings. I handed my phone to the server, telling him I was a tourist and needed a picture. He laughed, took the phone, snapped the picture and handed it back to me for approval. It was my turn to laugh – he had done a selfie so I had a great picture of him!
Calvary Budapest has just opened an outstanding coffee shop, fully comparable to the finest in the city. The coffee is at Stumptown level, the service excellent and the prices competitive with the other high end shops. This business helps fund the church while serving the downtown community. I now stop for a “filter coffee” each morning.
The evening session was titled “Gospel Challenges” which left a LOT of room for topics. I finally decided to do “Where is God in Suffering?” a topic very relevant to Hungary with its revolutionary past. This is a very intense presentation so doing it in short time with translation had me a little anxious. Fortunately with Ildi translating so well, it went well.
I present three views, Meticulous Providence (God ordains evil for His greater glory and our ultimate good); Active Providence (God is at war with evil using good as His primary weapon); and Free Will Providence (God allows us to choose evil for the sake of true loving relationship). I told them they are all held by good and godly people and that I would would ask them to vote on which one I held after I presented the three. Interestingly, I was voted Free Will by about a 50% majority. When I said is was Active Providence (God is at war with evil using good as His primary weapon) they were surprised and there was cheering from the “winners”! I then explored how to respond to the Serpent’s charge that God either does not really care or can’t do anything by pointing to Emanuel, the God of the universe going through horrible suffering. There is no way He does not care if He does this – and He is doing things, though it’s often not obvious what He is doing.
It took a long time to get the discussions wound down after session ended
Today was kind of a snow day. The weather called for “wintry mix” which can mean snow, ice, rain or not much. Sherry and Christina postponed their date to go to the Grand Market. We can’t see outside from our otherwise marvelous flat, so I went down to the street to discover that there was no ice or snow so Sherry joined me in the 100 meter walk to a local McDonalds to meet Endi Kovács, a true Hungarian Christian intellectual. While he was at Regents in Vancouver he became close friends with folk like Eugene Peterson and James Houston.
Over Bacon McMuffins and my Caffe Latte in a glass (a whole new way to do things!), we immediately went into deep conversation. His background is with InterVarsity, Vineyard here and in Europe, and the USA as well as the Hungarian Reformed Church. It was fascinating to hear his perspectives on many common themes. Sherry was very patient with us during our two hour conversation. It would have gone longer, I am sure, but it started snowing and Sherry does not do well in slick streets. He wallked us to the entrance of our flat and we bid each other God speed.
The Conference began with supper – a great way to begin. I ate with Arpi, the head of the Hungarian Calvary Bible College and two new friends from Finland. Hearing what is happening in their country was fascinating. It is such a different culture with only 5.5 million people in the whole country and a unified culture, a socialized system with a minority working to support a large majority either in government service or retired. The pressures on the system are a great context for the church. The clallenge is getting the good news to a culture with a cultural narrative of church domination from the past. Sounds a lot like the US!
After an enthusiastic half hour of music, some familiar and some totally new, the lesson was a perspective on the gospel from a fellow who is working in Jordan. I have to admit sadly that in the warm theater seat and fairly familiar material, I took an involuntary nap.
I am on twice tomorrow with more than a bit of concern. The TV style projection system is integrated with their recording system but the result is that quite small and my Power Points got some quick revision after I got home, but they will not only be exclusively in English (the people will have fill in the blank handouts in English and Hungarian), but with translation, the time will be very short for complex material like my opening session on LGBTQI issues. I am also speaking into a culture which I don’t know on a most controversial issue. Prayers, please!
We had the morning to ourselves and used it to get some work done – I am still professor of theology and pastor of pastors. The joyful work was giving Bethany Allen input for her sermon at Bridgetown. I am eager to hear it. Amazing sermon on feelings and Sabbath, part of the BT series on Practicing the Way.
Terry and Christina Cokenour and their girls picked us up for lunch at Vak Varju – the Black Crow. If you look at the website, you can get a “taste” of our experience. There were many jokes about Russell Crow and Darth Vader, reinterpreted to be a stylized black crow with a helmet
The food was marvelous, with full time taken to prepare it which gave lots of time for conversation. But it was super hot with sun shining into the enclosed patio and four powerful heaters going full blast. I felt for the server who brought our food trying not to drip sweat on it! You can see the beauty of Sherry’s pork tenderloin dish.
Golgota 11 Church
Terry and I, along with the girls, went to the building where the church meets. Sherry and Christina went out and enjoyed some girl time over treats at a local bakery.
We did the setting up, chairs and sound equipment, practiced the songs and talked a lot about ministry in this area. Hungary is technically Christian but almost wholly unchurched. So there is a lot of work to do.
I tried to capture some of the feeling of the area: fitness center to the left, Burger King in the middle and “Com Condo” on the right. These are what we called Stalin Apartments in other eastern block countries I have ministered in: very basic solid, functional only apartments for workers in the communist economy. Now the people are updating the apartments in very attractive ways even as the exterior remains the dingy concrete.
The church, Golgota 11, Golgotha 11, the Calvary Chapel in District 11, was finishing a short series on reconciliation so I started with 2 Cor. 5:11-21 on the reconciliation that leaves the “fleshly” perception with it’s bitterness and hurt behind for the “new creation” where we don’t count tresspasses against people because of what God did making Jesus who knew no sin to be sin – meaning our sin shame and fear was absorbed by Him in some mysterious way so we can become the full Christlike righteousness He has for us.
I went to the parable of the prodigal in Luke 15, focusing on the first son who betrayed his father, shaming him, emotionally killing him. The Father does not go after the son, because in the young man’s pride, it would seem more controlling domination, perhaps. But this son’s partying ends up destroying his own life.
The key to reconciliation is first the son coming to his senses (think 2 Tim. 2:25-26) at the end of his pride and rebellion and remembering life with the Father. The other side is both the Father letting love for his son and the memory/hope of their relation overcome his hurt and shame. The son’ repentance (coming back home and to Father) and confession (I have sinned and am no longer worthy to be your son) along with the Father’s Ex. 34:6-7 compassion and love combine to produce the sweet fruit of reconciliation.
Had the son not repented, coming home with “Hey, Dad, I’m back. Kill the fatted calf so I can party” or had the Father demanded that the son earn his way back into the family with years of servanthood it would have been very different. No reconciliation would have happened. It is always a two sided work.
I spoke of an example from my pastoral life where a woman committed adultery against her husband. They went through this sort of process and were fully reconciled after both gave a ton of shame and pain to Jesus by the power of the Spirit. I heard later that a person present who, completely unknown to me, is in the process of reconciling with an adulterous spouse. Other advised never do that, it never works, you can never trust. The sermon brought hope to that marriage.