The Streets of New York – in the 1980’s

This past week my husband spoke to the residents of the Teen Challenge Center in Saginaw, Michigan.

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This is not the first interaction we have had with this organization.

Our first experience with Teen Challenge occurred in 1985 in New York City.  Just one year after we were married we spent two weeks at the center in New York working on the streets with Christians from all over the United States.

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This center was started by Dave Wilkerson.   A pastor of a small church in Pennsylvania, in 1958, after he saw a photograph in Life Magazine of seven teenagers who were gang members and on trial, he felt led by the Holy Spirit to go to New York and share God’s love with them.  When he entered the courtroom and asked to speak to them, the judge had him removed from the courtroom.

His burden for the young people caught up in the gangs became so strong that he began a street ministry to the young in New York.  His work with the gangs was very successful and he founded Teen Challenge to continue that work.

His story was made into a movie The Cross and the Switchblade in 1970.  By today’s movie standards the movie itself would not measure up to the acting and directing skills of today.  But the message is powerful and if you have not seen it, I encourage to look it up.

We met each morning as a group sharing a simple breakfast and then a time of worship.  Afterwards we broke out into smaller groups of about twelve or fourteen.  We spent a few minutes sharing how things were going for each of us and then we hit the streets of New York.  We partnered with member of local churches as we walked the streets talking and sharing with those we met on the streets and in the subways.

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This was our team.

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This woman was in her 70’s and we were so impressed that an “old woman” like her would join us on the streets of New York.  (Now I’m 71 and my husband 79 – maybe she was not so old.)

For someone from the Mid West this was quite an experience.  This was not the New York of today – but the New York of the 1980’s.

The city was near bankruptcy.  With the introduction of crack-cocaine, there was widespread drug addiction and violence.  Our team was told when we walked down the streets in Manhattan to always have the woman walk on the outside with the man next to the building entrances.  They said women had been pulled off the street into drug dens.  Some neighborhoods we entered we told to not take pictures because we might get shot for taking a picture of a drug deal going down.

Walking in Manhattan we saw signs like this everywhere.

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Stores like this were everywhere.  Our team moved among this neighborhood inviting people to our evening services.

 

Graffiti was everywhere.

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My husband on the subway.  In the 1980s, over 250 felonies were committed every week in the system, making the New York subway the most dangerous mass transit system in the world.

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On schools

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On stores

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Even on churches

What was really sad to me was when I saw beautiful murals that the local population had painted – and they did not even respect their own community – but painted graffiti on the murals.

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There were burnt out cars sitting on the streets and we often saw people sleeping in them.

 

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Each day we walked the streets in a different community and each evening we held street services in the area where we had spent the day.

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And how did all this walking the streets, holding services, meeting the drug addicts and homeless people on the street work out?

We will never know for sure in this life.  There were many different reactions.

  • While holding a service in Washington Square, a young man came up to the area where the musicians were playing, turned his back to us and mooned us.
  • In Manhattan a young man cursed at me and told me to “mind my own business.”

But then there were:

  • Several homeless drug addicts listened to us and came back with us to the Teen Challenge Center where they stayed and committed to the 12 month program to beat the drug habit.  Again, I have no idea how many stayed with the program but I do know the Teen Challenge program in New York has had a high success rate helping people beat addiction.  It was good to see the ones who came back with us in the beginning of our two-week stay.  To watch their eyes go from a blank, glassy look to a clear, coherent look.  To see their listless walk become a brisk lively walk.  To see the dull expression on their face turn to one of hope and smiles.
  • One young man my husband talked to had never heard that Jesus loved him.  After praying with my husband, he wept with joy.  We did not leave these people after such an encounter.  The local churches we partnered with continued to mentor and help them in their attempts to turn from cocaine and to begin a new life with Jesus Christ.
  • On the subway one day we found a pimp beating up on one of his “girls.”  Scared to death, but unable to ignore this, our team of 14 stepped in between the pimp and his “girl.”  He threatened us but we did outnumber him.  He got off at the next stop and we took the young girl with us back to the shelter to help her get free from prostitution and start anew.

The years have gone by and we often wonder about some of those we talked to, shared that God loved them, that there was hope and offered help.  Where are they now?  Did they stay with the program, with the local churches?

We will never know in this life, but I think how awesome it would be to meet one of them in heaven some day and hear their story of victory over cocaine.

So thankful that New York City did finally clean up much of the city and I hear today it is a beautiful place to visit.  Doubtful that I will never get back, but thankful for the two weeks spent on the streets of New York City in the 80’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for Remembering!

This month two of my grandchildren are graduating from college.  A granddaughter in North Carolina is getting her BS and will be starting law school in the fall.  A grandson in Tennessee is getting his Master’s.

As I rejoice in these two grandchildren’s success and hard work, I wonder where did the time go?  It was only yesterday they were playing with puzzles at my kitchen table or playing on the merry-go-round at the park.

As my grandchildren grow up, go to college, start careers, get married, have lives of their own and also live so far from me (grandchildren in Texas, Illinois, North Carolina, and Tennessee – but only one in Michigan where I live) it is only natural that my time with them is limited.  The circle of life turns and we old folks are no longer an active part of their lives.

But I often relive times spent with them as they grew up.  My granddaughter who is graduating was such a cute baby.

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When this picture was taken I was in the Philippines along with my husband and youngest daughter teaching in a Bible college.  I missed her first year but I always treasured this picture her mother sent to me in the Philippines.  Sometimes I feel sad that I missed her first tooth, her first step.  But thankfully I was back with her by her second birthday and shared so much joy watching her grow up.

Her first step toward becoming a lawyer was getting her Associate’s Degree.

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Now she has completed the second time with her Bachelor’s Degree.  So excited for her as she takes this next step and enters fall school.

One of my prayers for my grandchildren has always been that when the time was right, God would give them a Christian husband/wife.  It was my joy two years ago to see the answer to that prayer.

 

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But sometimes I must confess I wonder if the memories I treasure are held in such esteem by my grandchildren.

So – today my heart is so happy.  I got a text from this granddaughter that said:

Brandon and I are at the mall and we saw a carousel.  It made me remember all the times you and Grandpa took me and my brothers to the mall to ride the carousel.  I love you!”

What can I say to express my joy!

If someone has given you great memories be it a grandparent, a parent, an aunt or uncle, maybe a school teacher or a youth leader, take time to let them know you remember.  We often wait until someone has died to share how important those memories were.  Sadly, it’s a little too late then.

Thank you Barbara Rose for remembering!

 

 

 

 

Mom, You Left Too Soon

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My mother, Fern, and me, Barbara Fern

 

In the last years of my mother’s life she lived in southern Illinois while I lived over 300 miles away in northern Illinois.  I worked a Monday-Friday job and my husband was a pastor which meant his job required work on the weekends.  Thus, it was hard to have a chance to get away for a few days to visit her.

We took some vacation time and made a visit three or four times a year.  When we drove in the driveway she was always standing at the door anticipating our arrival.  Every time we left she would stand on the porch and wave until we were out of sight.

Becoming interested in doing genealogy research on my family I began asking Mom and Dad to tell me more about their childhood.  On one of our last visits, they took my husband and I to the cemeteries where grandparents were buried, to the place where my mother grew up, to the school my dad attended as a small boy.  My husband took a videotape of our adventures that day.

In February 2006 my husband retired and I was so excited as that meant we would have weekends free to visit my parents.  Now I could visit more and begin writing down their stories and take pictures of places from their childhood.

So, early in April we sat out to visit my parents.  I knew Mother would be so happy to hear that I was going to be able to start coming down more and that I wanted to hear more about her childhood and her family.

My excitement soon turned to worry.  When we arrived I found my Mother in great pain.  She had made a doctor’s appointment for that afternoon.  I took her to the doctor expecting to hear that she had some “bug” that would require some medicine and rest.  All prepared to stay and help her recover, I was shocked when the doctor admitted her to the hospital for tests.

The first couple of days seem pretty routine and we had some great visits in her hospital room – just the two of us talking.  On the third day Mom took a turn for the worse and I called my two sisters to come.  Something was wrong – much more than routine.

Mom quickly went downhill as the days passed and it became clear she was not going to make it.  The time came when we had to make that dreaded decision.  Do we continue to do treatments that were clearly painful or do we let her die with dignity and in peace?  A tough decision.

A few days later Mom was gone.

Gone – before I got to write down those stories.

Gone – before I got to spend more time with her.

It has now been thirteen years since Mom left.  As I age myself I begin to understand her more.  I find myself doing and saying things to my children that she once did and said to me.  Often I see that my comments are not welcome.  I’m being bossy, old-fashion, interfering.  All the things I once thought about my mother.  Now I realize while she may have been (and I certainly am) bossy, old-fashion and interfering, her motives were one of love.

Gone – before I could say, “Mom I understand you now.”

Gone – before I could say, “Mom, I’m sorry.”

 

The Call We Didn’t Want – Can’t Forget!

It has been four years since we got that call – but the memory is still fresh in our minds.

After that phone call I stopped blogging for several months.  But finally, I realized that is not what Keith would have wanted.  Today – we still remember not just that terrible phone call – but we recall the memories we have.

For my husband the memories are multiple.  Keith was his first born.  Named Paul Keith he was known to all but the family as Paul – but to us he was Keith.

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Paul’s oldest son, Paul Keith Lane with his sister, Loretta

I did not meet Keith until a few months after I married his father.  Keith was 24 at that time.   Paul’s daughter, Loretta, was very ill and in the hospital.  Paul had flown down immediately to be with her.  I waited until our son, Will, could get home from college so we could fly down together.  At the Dallas airport I asked them to page Paul Lane to meet us at the main terminal.  I was quite surprised when Keith walked up and said “I’m Paul Lane.”  What a way to meet your step-son.

But step-son is not a word I like when talking of Keith.  I came to love him as my own and I’ll never forget the day he asked if he could call me “Mom.”  Memories of all the times he came to visit and the close relationship we were able to build are mine to treasure forever..  He loved to cook and when he would visit he always made the best potato salad in the world.

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We had a red bud tree planted near his grave in his memory.

 

Here is what I wrote when I began blogging again.

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Unexpected, Unwanted Call

I last posted on my blog in April. While we were on vacation, we got that unwanted, unexpected phone call in the night. A police officer called to tell us that our son had been found dead in his apartment. While we knew he was not in good health (a disabled veteran) and would probably not live to be an old man, we still did not expect to be planning his funeral. As my husband sadly said, “No one should bury their own child.” Yet, we know that many do – some burying their children at a much younger age than our son.

I stopped blogging

At times of great grief, your world seems to come to a halt. My husband and I are great Scrabble nuts as I shared before in

Confessionns of a Scrabble Addict  (https://barblaneblog.com/2015/02/22/confessions-of-a-scrabble-addict/) .

But suddenly we no longer wanted to play. It was as if continuing with our favorite game was somehow to make his death seem unimportant. Every time I sat down to blog, I could not decide on a subject. Should I continue to write about the silly, every-day part of my life. How could I do that when I’m supposed to be grieving? Should I continue to write on more serious subjects. I just did not have the heart for that. So – I stopped blogging.

But the world does NOT stop turning. 

But, even if we would like it to, the world does not stop turning.  Life goes on – and that is a good thing.  While we will always miss and grieve the loss of our son, we are so blessed with other children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  We do no service to his memory to stop loving life.

Let the games begin – the blogging continue

So – tonight we are going to play a game of Scrabble and I am returning to my writing.

 

Do You Know These Women – Part III

On May 5, 1961 Alan Shepard, Jr became the first American in space.  Mercury-Redstone’s 15-minute flight was watched by some 45 million television viewers.

I was one of those eagerly watching.   Our junior high school classes suspended the day’s teaching and brought in television sets so we could watch this great moment in history.

What exciting times!  In the years following Americans continued to watch the launching of many rockets and learned the names of the astronauts who were heroes as the Mercury project launched six manned spacecraft between 1961 and 1963.

  • Alan Shephard, Jr – first American in space in 1961.
  • John Glenn – first American to orbit the earth in 1962.
  • Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin – first to reach the moon in 1969.

Today these men’s names are easily recognized and recently a movie was even made about Neil Armstrong, whose first words as he stepped on the surface of the moon has been celebrated:

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

While these men have enjoyed fame, the women who worked behind the scene to make these space launches a success are known by few.

One of these women was Katherine Johnson.  Born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in 1918, Johnson clearly had a brilliant mind.  In school she advanced ahead several grades and attended high school by the time she was thirteen.  Enrolling in the black West Virginia State College, she graduated with highest honors in 1937 and began teaching at a black public school in Virginia.

Selected by Dr John W. Davis in 1939 Johnson, along with two male students, were the first black students to be enrolled in West Virginia University.

In 1952 Johnson learned of an all-black computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ at the Langley laboratory in Virginia.  There Johnson analyzed data from flight tests and studied the effects of wake turbulence.

Johnson provided math for several of the engineers and did trajectory analysis for the first launch into space in 1961.  As the engineers began to recognize Johnson’s expertise she was asked to work with them in constructing a worldwide communications network that linked tracking stations around the world to IBM computers in Washington, DC, Cape Canaveral and Bermuda.  When John Glenn was preparing for his orbit around the earth he was concerned about the math computations that predicted where he would reenter the earth’s atmosphere.  He was not comfortable with relying on the machines’ calculations.  He asked them to “get the girl” to run the same numbers by hand that the computer had run.  “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.”

Johnson retired from NASA in 1986 after contributing to the Apollo mission sending men to the moon and working on the space shuttle program.  She has received many honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  This highest civilian honor was presented to her in 2015, at age 97, by President Obama.  NASA also named a building after her – the Katherine G.  Johnson Computational Research Facility.

When you consider the time in which Johnson achieved such success – a time when women had much fewer options opened to them as we do now – but also a time when black Americans were still living under Jim Crow laws in the south – she is an amazing example of courage, determination and brains.

To read much more about this amazing woman and her fellow computers – Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, check out the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly.

A movie has also been made based on this book.  I would recommend the movie, but to get the complete story, you need to read the book.  As all movies do, some liberties were taken in the movie.

As they say “behind every successful man is a women” this is certainly true in our space program.

These women’s history should be taught in school along with the names of the astronauts.

Anyone Remember the Icebox?

Long before electricity came to my grandmother’s house she had an icebox.  This was a wooden box usually lined with straw or sawdust that sat in the kitchen or pantry.  The ice man would come around with a 25 to 50 pound block of ice.

My mother grew up with the ice box and even after she got a refrigerator, she referred to it as the ice box.  So that is what I called it.

Until one day my daughters suggested I needed to come into the modern world and call the appliance by its correct name – refrigerator.

As a pastor’s wife I was supervising a church meal and asked a young girl if she would get the salad out of the ice box.  A few minutes later one of my daughters came to me laughing.  The young girl had come to her and said, “Your mother asked me to get the salad out of the ice box.  What is she talking about?”

It took me awhile, but I finally learned to say “refrigerator” not “ice box.”

Anyone remember the ice box?

It Has Been 35 Years!

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35 years – but the memory of that time is still clear in my mind.

I had moved back to Illinois from Missouri to be near family.  My husband of 13 years had been killed in an accident and with him my dreams of a home in the country was gone.  With two little girls to raise by myself I needed the support of family.

At the time of the move the thought that I would ever love again to me seemed impossible.

But as time passed and the years ahead all alone seemed so hard, I began to wonder if I could find happiness again.

And then I met him.

Thirty-five years this month this wonderful man asked me to meet him for coffee one morning.  Nervous and wondering if this was really the right thing to do I said yes.

We both were scared as our relationship began.  His first marriage had ended in pain and sorrow as his first wife announced one day she no longer wanted to be married.  Trying to raise his two teenage children alone he was lonely too but also afraid.

Would he be hurt again if he gave his heart away to me?  Would his kids be okay with this new relationship?

I too was scared.  How would my girls feel about this?  Could I really love someone again?  Guilt also entered my mind.  If I loved again, would I betray the memory of my first husband?

During those first days in February and March I played this song over and over as I prayed and asked God for wisdom in this new relationship.

Thankful we overcome the fears and were married.  Bought our first home!

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Thirty-five years since we met for coffee.  My, what those years have bought.

  • 20 grandchildren
  • 9 great-grandchildren
  • there has been sorrow – death of our oldest son and three grandchildren
  • there has been joy – seeing our children married, grandchildren born
  • we have walked the streets of New York with a team from Teen Challenge witnessing and reaching out to drug addicts
  • lived as missionaries in the Philippines
  • been pastors of three churches, music ministers
  • survived my husband’s heart attack and my battle with breast cancer

Today as I think back to that first coffee date, I’m so thankful he asked me and that I said yes.