2015 Church-Wide Mission

We had a wonderful week in Perry, SC.

I am convinced that the building that goes up is almost incidental. So much more is happening. Relationships are being built that will last forever. And the good that God is doing in the world is known only to Him.

That is especially evident to me now. In our Construction Ministry, we say certain things all the time. We say we are “Living the Call Wherever He Leads,” and “We’re Here by Divine Appointment.” That has never been more real to me than in this effort. Plans were made long before the awful event at Emanuel AME in Charleston. Now here we are, a diverse but still mostly white congregation, with help from others as far away as NY and Louisiana, working together with African American brothers and sisters from Perry. We didn’t set out to make a statement, but I believe a statement is being made by God’s design. That statement is, “In Christ, we are one. In Christ, love wins!”

WJBF (Channel 6) Coverage



Deep Sadness. Deeper Pride.

“The Lord has given. And the Lord has taken. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

I knew when I heard Annie’s tearful hello that the news would be hard. She had just come from her appointment, where her doctor was unable to detect a heartbeat for the child she still carries. She had been so hopeful after the miscarriage earlier this year. Things were progressing so differently, so much better. She really had been radiant.

And then, out of the blue, this crushing blow.

Our hearts are utterly broken.  And though I’ve never felt so helpless as a father, I’ve also never been more proud of this young lady who told me through her tears, “I know God’s purposes are good, even when we cannot see it.” I am in awe of her faith, her depth. Even now, she finds it in her to rejoice for this child whose spirit has returned to God who gave it, even while this body is still in her womb.

She’s so amazing.

And she inspires me to say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I serve Him.”

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.


Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right (Arranged and Performed by Brandon Fox)

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
His holy will abideth;
I will be still whate’er He doth;
And follow where He guideth;
He is my God; though dark my road,
He holds me that I shall not fall:
Wherefore to Him I leave it all.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
He never will deceive me;
He leads me by the proper path:
I know He will not leave me.
I take, content, what He hath sent;
His hand can turn my griefs away,
And patiently I wait His day.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
That my Physician sends me.
My God is true; each morn anew
I’ll trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
He is my Friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me harm,
Though many storms may gather,
Now I may know both joy and woe,
Some day I shall see clearly
That He hath loved me dearly.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
Though now this cup, in drinking,
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it, all unshrinking.
My God is true; each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart,
And pain and sorrow shall depart.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken.
My Father’s care is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall:
And so to Him I leave it all.

Baptism and Church Membership (Pt. 3)

Dear Friends and Fellow Missionaries:

This is the third in a series of articles in which I hope to clear up confusion about the issue of baptism, the separate issue of church membership, and the relationship between the two.

In my first article, I addressed the issue of baptism.  Baptism is an “ordinance,” which means it was specifically instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ for His Church.  It is the first act of obedience for anyone who has declared his trust in and allegiance to the Lord.  So, baptism is not only available for all disciples of any age, it is and should be encouraged, even expected.

In my second article, I showed that “church membership” is not an ordinance.  Jesus said nothing about it.  And I showed that the Bible uses the term “member” differently than we do, not referring to someone whose name is on the roll of a local church, but rather to speak of someone who is an active part of the body of Christ, functioning with other members

So, that leaves a question – what is the place of “church membership,” as we commonly call it, in the modern context?

Church membership, as we commonly use that term, is a manmade concept.  Now, that doesn’t mean it is automatically bad.  In fact, it is a device created to fulfill the Biblical mandate, “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” 1 Cor. 14:40.  In other words, Jesus said He would build His Church, but He did not leave blueprints for every detail of how local assemblies of His people should be managed.  He dealt with doctrinal matters, leaving it to us to follow the teaching of the Apostles.  But as to practical matters, He simply left us to exercise wisdom and sound judgment, giving only the mandate to do things in a way that brings honor to Him.

Now, Baptists adhere to what is called “congregational polity.”  That is, we do not have a hierarchy like the Roman Catholic Church, where decisions are made by those in authority and handed down to the people.  Rather, we are autonomous and self-governing.  That authority rests, under Christ, in the congregation as a whole.  And so, we have developed devices by which the congregation may express itself.  We have congregational meetings.  And, more to the point, the congregation votes.  As a pastor, I have a voice.  Biblically, that voice should be given a certain deference and respect.  But my voice is just one in the congregation, and no one person has the final voice in congregational polity.  Doctrinal issues are determined by Scripture, but we decide practical issues as a body.

Now this is the point at which it becomes so important not to confuse baptism with church membership.  You see, a child of six or eight may be old enough to know right from wrong, and that he needs forgiveness for his sins.  A child may be mature enough to meaningfully love God and turn to Christ sincerely for forgiveness.  Children may surely commit to following the Lord Jesus as His disciples.  When they do, they should be baptized.  We want them to. We encourage that.  We work toward that.

When a child recognizes her need of a Savior and turns to God by faith in Jesus, she has become a “member” of the body of Christ in the Biblical sense.  But is that child, or should she be, a “church member” in the modern sense?  Should a six-year-old have a potentially decisive vote on whether or not we spend several million dollars for a building, or undertake a major renovation, etc.?  Nothing in Scripture requires such a view.  Indeed, I personally think such a view is contrary to the Scriptural principle of doing everything in a fitting and orderly way.  As I see it, placing children in charge of such momentous decisions is no more fitting and orderly than allowing children to decide who will be the next President.

And so, when children have come forward to say they trust in Christ and want to be baptized, I have consulted with them.  If I believe they are sincere and understand the meaning and importance of what they are doing, I baptize them.  But that is not the same as those children “joining the church.”  That is a separate matter altogether.

So, what about those instances when children have said that they wish to join First Baptist Church?  Well, presently, that is their right.  Our Bylaws state that “Candidates for membership may present themselves” in five different ways.  And so when anyone, including children, have “presented themselves” as a “candidate for membership,” I have presented them to the church for a vote.  Our Bylaws state, “Upon acceptance, the candidate’s name shall be added to the roll of members.”  And so we have done that.  And our Bylaws state, “Members are entitled to participate and vote in all transactions of the church.”

As I have explained, I don’t think that’s the best system.  But it is the system that is in place and so I have sought to honor it.  But, given the confusion that I now realize exists, with some thinking that children who have been baptized thereby “joined the church,” while others (including myself) have thought, “No, they were simply baptized,” I plan to propose in the future that we amend our Bylaws, and I would amend my practice accordingly.  My proposal is fairly simple – that we require all members to be the age of majority to have voting rights.  That way, children can be received into membership, recognized rightly as part of the body of Christ and as part of this community of faith, without the concern that such membership conveys voting rights that might be inappropriate for children.

When I say I plan to make such a proposal in the future, understand that it will not be immediate.  That is because, as I announced recently, I am already working with our Constitution and Bylaws Committee to amend our Constitution on another more pressing issue having to do with our beliefs and policies concerning marriage.  I believe these amendments and policy changes are necessary to protect FBC’s religious freedom and shield us from future liability.  When the CBC has had ample time to consider the proposals, they will be vetted through our Deaconate.  We will then hold congregational meetings to discuss these issues, and eventually vote the proposed amendments up or down.  I estimate that vote will occur this Fall.  I hope you will participate and stay well informed as we move toward that vote.  Then, after we have dealt with this more immediate “marriage” concern, we can deal with the “membership” concern.  But I think it is “decent and orderly” to address those issues independently and on their own merits.

I hope I have added clarity with this series of articles.  If not, please know that I am available to discuss this (or any other issue) and would welcome the chance to sit down and talk in a private setting.

With love and devotion,


Baptism and Church Membership (Pt. 2)

Dear Friends and Fellow Missionaries:

This is the second in a series of articles in which I wish to clear up confusion about the issue of baptism, the separate issue of church membership, and the relationship between the two.

In my previous article, I addressed the issue of baptism.  I showed that baptism is an “ordinance,” which means that it was specifically ordained by the Lord Jesus Christ as a rite to be followed by His Church.  It is the first act of obedience for anyone who has declared his trust in and allegiance to the Lord Jesus.  Therefore, baptism is not only open or available for all disciples of any age, it is and should be encouraged, even expected.

Now, let’s move on to the issue of church membership.

Church membership is a more difficult issue, I think, for two reasons.  1)  It is not an ordinance.  Jesus said not a single word about church membership.  2)  While the New Testament speaks of church membership in a certain sense, our language and our understanding have changed so dramatically that when we talk about “church membership,” we just are not talking about what the Bible is talking about. To some (perhaps most) of us, “church membership” means that a person is placed on the roll of a particular church.  They “join” a church, as one might “join” a fraternal order or a country club.  And just as a member of the country club is entitled to certain rights and privileges, so the church member is entitled to certain church rights and privileges, such as voting.

But the Bible just does not use the term in that way.  Instead of talking about our rights and privileges, it speaks of membership in terms of our responsibilities and obligations to one another.  For example, consider Romans 12:4-8:  “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

See how different this Biblical idea of church membership is from our modern concept.

Even at the definitional level, the Bible is talking about being a member of the broad body of Christ, not a particular local church.  And while we may use the word “member” to describe a person listed on a church roll, the Scriptures simply do not use the term in this way.  In fact, “member” in the Bible almost always means an individual part of a body (see, e.g., Matthew 5:28-29 and Rom. 6:19).  So, to be a “member” in the Biblical sense is to be an integral part of the whole, a vital component, a part of the whole without which the body would be incomplete.

So in the Biblical sense, “each member belongs to all the others.”  Biblical membership, then, is not concerned with our privileges, but with our responsibilities.  Belonging to one another enables us to fulfill those Biblical obligations we could not fulfill otherwise.  It is how we strengthen one another, edify one another, encourage one another, support one another, bear one another’s burdens, and hold one another accountable.

This Biblical concept points out a key deficiency in the modern notion of membership.  Under the modern idea, some choose a church and join as members based upon what they may derive from it.  This ought not be our motivation.  Biblical membership is not caught up in the question, “What do I get out of this church?” but rather, “What do I bring to this church?”  In the modern sense, people change churches like they change cable providers.  Does that sound compatible with the Biblical definition of a “member?”

Also, you will notice that the Bible knows nothing of a “member” which does not have a function.  In other words, a church “member” in Biblical times would not be someone who is listed on a roll, but rather someone who is functioning within the body.  Obviously, not all members have the same function.  “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” Some are teachers, others quiet encouragers.  Some have money, others energy.  Some use public leadership skills, others privately demonstrate the gift of mercy.  But there is simply no such thing as a member without a function.

We recognize this truth when it comes to our physical bodies.  We would be alarmed by something which draws from our body without contributing to it.  We would not consider such a growth to be a “member” of our body at all, but rather a threat to our health.  Shouldn’t we look with the same alarm upon this modern notion of a “member” who draws from the body without actively participating in the life and health of the body?

And so I ask the question, “Are you a member of First Baptist Church?”  Are you a vital part without which we would be incomplete?  Are you functioning in some capacity?  If not, why not?  Why not make the commitment to connect, to participate, to actively be involved in the life and health of this body?

As a pastor, I have a great concern that we add more members in the Biblical sense.  I have no interest at all in simply adding more names to our church roll.  Indeed, I think pastors and churches who do that for their own glory should be ashamed.

Now, with all that said, there is still a place for “church membership” in the modern context.  And that, God willing, will be the subject of my next article.

With love and devotion,


Baptism and Church Membership (Pt. 1)

Dear Friends and Fellow Missionaries:

It has recently come to my attention that some people are confused about the relationship of baptism and church membership.  I want to use the next few articles to address the issue of baptism, the separate issue of church membership, and the relationship between those two.  I hope that will clear up the confusion.

So, let’s begin with the issue of baptism.

I think we can gain a biblical understanding of baptism by asking three primary questions:  1) What is baptism?;  2) Who should be baptized?;  3) When should we be baptized?; And, 4) How should we be baptized?

Q:        What is baptism?

A:        Baptism is an external and physical symbol of an inward and spiritual reality.

Baptism is an open declaration that Jesus has changed us, and therefore we are His disciples.  We are confessing that Jesus is Lord, and that we intend to not only believe in Him but obey everything He has commanded us.

  •  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matt. 28:18-20

By going down into the baptismal waters, we are telling the entire world:

      1.         Our sins have been washed away.

  • And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. Mark 1:4-5
  • When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for [i.e., because of] the forgiveness of your sins.” Acts 2:37-38
  • And this [Noah’s ark] is a picture of baptism, that you are now saved by the power of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Baptism is not a removal of dirt from your body; it is an appeal to God from a clean conscience.  1 Pet. 3:21

      2.         We identify with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection

  • What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Rom. 6:1-4

      3.         We intend to follow Jesus’ example of life.

  • Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.  Matt. 3:13-15

Q:        Who should be baptized?

A:        Everyone who truly trusts in Jesus.

  • Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Acts 2:41
  • But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. Acts 8:12-13
  • So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.  Acts 8:34-38
  • Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.  Acts 9:17-19
  • While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.  Acts 10:39-48
  • One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.  Acts 16:14-15
  • The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.  Acts 16:29-34
  • Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.  Acts 18:8

Q:        When should they be baptized?

A:        As soon as possible after they commit to following Him.

Notice in all of the passages cited in answer to the preceding question, there is no delay.  When people truly receive Christ, they want to obey Him immediately.  Therefore, we do not baptize infants who are incapable of expressing their commitment to Christ.  We do, however, baptize children who are capable of doing so.

Q:        How should we be baptized?

A:        By immersion in water.

The word “baptize” is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizo, which quite literally means “to immerse.”  In literature other than the Bible, the word was used to describe sunken ships.  In the Bible, it is sometimes used to refer to things other than water baptism, but always refers to being totally and completely immersed in something.  For example, Jesus speaks of His suffering as a baptism (Matt. 20:22), and our salvation is spoken of as being baptized in the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; John 1:33).

So, although other Christians may use sprinkling or pouring, and although we choose to see the method of baptism as a secondary issue, we believe that the Biblical mode of baptism is full immersion in water.  What else more beautifully communicates being buried with Christ in His death and being raised to walk in His new life?  In support of this view, I note that in every single instance where the method of baptism is described in the Bible, people went “down into the water” or “came up out of the water,” which is hardly necessary for sprinkling or pouring:

  • As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.  Matt. 3:16
  • And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.  Acts 8:38

In the next article, I want to address similar questions regarding church membership, and point how these really are two very different things, not to be confused with one another.

With love and devotion,


“What a Dream I Had”

I dream.  I dream a lot.  I don’t mean metaphorically, I mean I dream every night while I am asleep.

And I remember my dreams. That may be because I accept as true the Scripture:  ”For God does speak—now one way, now another—though man may not perceive it.  In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.”  Job 33:14-18

Now that doesn’t mean I’ve had “visions” as the prophets of old.  I don’t even think that’s what this passage is talking about.  I think it means that we should pay attention to the content of our dreams because it is one way that God speaks to us. In fact, I think He sometimes waits for us to stop all the whirring and spinning of our conscious minds so that He can be heard through the quiet of our subconscious minds.

Well, enough theology. Let me tell you about last night’s dream. It was powerful to me, very moving, very meaningful.

It was a Sunday morning. Worship was about to start, and I had finished my “pre-sermon” ritual (a topic for another post, perhaps). Though I was the pastor of the church, it was not FBC Barnwell where I now serve. The building was different, more modern. The worship center was semicircular like an ampitheater, or perhaps an orchestra pit, with front rows lower than the pulpit and successive rows gradually rising until the back pews were at eye level with the speaker.

As I walked into the sanctuary, sermon in head, I was startled by several young people, who had been active in the collegiate ministry in Clarion, PA. They had been waiting for me to walk in so that they could surprise me. I began to hug them. As I did, I looked around and saw that the room was full of those former students. Maybe three hundred of them.  I recognized their faces.  Somehow, they had organized a trip down for a surprise visit. My heart overflowed with joy!

The congregation was a bit confused about what was going on. People were standing around because the seating had been taken up by this unexpected influx. Then, as the service began, I discovered that the worship leader was in on this surprise.  He had arranged for some of the young people to speak briefly, sharing the story of their pilgrimage through Clarion. Some even had videos or slides to show.  Some wanted to sing.  I became uncomfortable because this was going to drag on and the service would run long. Really long!  First I realized I had to cut back the sermon. Then I realized I had to eliminate the sermon. Then I realized that the service was going to run extremely long even without the sermon.

Finally, after a parade of young people, I had a chance to speak. I felt pressure because the congregation was clearly ready to leave. I had to be brief. So I just asked, “How many of you came to know Christ while in Clarion, or got back on the path in your walk with God after you had strayed?” Hands went up all over the room. Choked up a bit, I just looked with silent awe that God would allow my family and me to have been part of that.

Then I woke up.

I told Debi about the dream. She asked what I thought it meant. I’m not really sure. I think it may have to do with several factors, a few streams that all came together to form one river of thought.

One factor may have been a very sweet Facebook post recently by Megan Hampton. She talked about our home being full of college students all the time.  She wanted her family’s heart and home to be open like that. I replied, truthfully, that we felt as if we were the ones who had been blessed by their presence.

A second factor may have been Thanksgiving, when all nine of my children, plus two spouses, two grandchildren, and an unofficial son, all gathered at my brother’s home.  His family was there, too, and we met baby Olivia for the first time. At one point, an old joke came up about my “retirement plan” – 6 weeks apiece at each of my children’s homes. Ben laughingly said, “I guess that’s one long-term benefit of having so many kids.”  I responded, “Do you want to know the real benefit of so many kids?” “What?”, he asked. “This!” I said, motioning to look around this house full of family, full of joy  “This is the real benefit.” And in some sense, that’s also how I think of those “college kids.”  They’re my family, too.

A third factor may have been the passage of Scripture we read as a family last night. Paul asked the Corinthians, at least twice, “Do I need a letter of recommendation for you? Aren’t YOU my letter of recommendation?” He talked about the profound mystery of God storing the treasure of the gospel in jars of clay, and that he would “partner” with us in the work of redemption. Imagine that – the infinite and perfect God partnering with finite and flawed humans to restore a fallen cosmos! That’s breathtaking to me.  Like the gospel itself, it’s almost too incredible to be believed. So I found myself in wonderment about this just before bedtime.  Maybe that played a part in my dream.

Or maybe I just needed comfort. Maybe I needed reassurance that all the hardships of ministry, all the sacrifice I’ve asked of my family, has not been in vain. That the precious souls of precious people have been touched.  And even if the impact was minimal, still it was good.

And that’s how I felt when I awoke. That God is great. That God is good.

What a dream.

Salinas to Guayaquil to Cuenca

Yesterday, I ate breakfast on the terrace at the hotel in Manta, where we were treated to the sight of a whale. I understand they migrate in July and August, but you can still catch the occasional drifter in September. I’m glad I did.

Today we ate at the hotel in Salinas, then began the trek over to Guayaquil. Before we left Salinas, we stopped at a place called Chocolater. It is not called that because they produce chocolate, but rather because the sea is very rough there, and pounds against dark brown rocks. The frothing waves against the dark brown shore creates the appearance of hot chocolate, especially from a distance. Close up, the water is a beautiful turquoise blue. As are the legs and feet of one of the most interesting birds I’ve ever seen, the Blue-Footed Booby. These cluster together on the rocks there. And for the geographical nerd in me, it so happens that this point is the westernmost point in Ecuador (someone there said continental South America, but I’m not sure that’s right).

Greg drove. I repeat – better him than me. As we approached Guayaquil, he had a few choice comments about the relative strength of his colon and the pending explosion. Next time, we’ll know to do buses. $3.80 from Manta to Guayaquil, and we could have saved all the wear and tear on Greg’s anatomy.

They stayed at the airport hotel to prep for an early departure. I decided to hop a late bus back to Cuenca. I’m just drawn to this place for reasons I can’t quite explain. I walked back to my hotel, arriving around 11 p.m. The young man behind the desk this time did not speak any English. I asked for a solo room, and he said yes. I asked for two nights and he said yes. Then, in his gallant attempt to communicate, he said “Twenty dollars.” I wondered if that could be right, so I pulled out a $20 bill and asked, “This much?” He shook his head, punched the number 30 on his desk calculator, then showed it to me and said, “Twenty!” Realizing that he simply confused the word “twenty” with the word “thirty,” I pulled out the right amount for 2 nights. As he turned to put it into the drawer, he muttered under his breath, “Ay, gringos, gringos, gringos!” I’m not sure if he meant for me to hear it, but I let it pass because I think he believed I was trying to talk him down on the price of the room. He must have been thinking, “What does this look like, an open market!” :-)

Then it was off to bed in my new (even if temporary) home.

In Salinas

Today we left Manta and traveled south to Salinas, going through not only a variety of smaller towns, but apparently a variety of ecosystems as well. Leaving Manta, we passed from beach to Badlands to rain forest, all in the space of about 50 km. It’s one of the things I have loved about Ecuador so far. One can be on the coast or in the mountains, in a bustling city or a quiet village, even in the new world or the old world, all for the price of a bus ticket, all in a country the size of Colorado. What an incredible variety.

Manta was nice, but not exactly my cup of tea. It was heavily industrial and a major commercial port. That means lots of people, and frankly lots of dirt. I enjoy peace and quiet, and Manta was hopping.

So I was happy to stop for a while in Puerto Cayo, a smaller town along the coast which is absolutely picturesque. The pace of life there was clearly more laid back, more of what I expected from Latin America. We walked the beach and drove here and there throughout the village. I have seen three different House Hunters International programs featuring Puerto Cayo, and I made contact some time ago with a good man who bought a house there. He has helped me immensely to prep for this trip, and even while I’ve been on site. Many thanks, Steve.

Then we finished the trip arriving in Salinas. It’s not exactly my kind of place, either. There is definitely a party atmosphere here. There is also a large number of expats here, too. In fact, as we were searching for a hotel,m we walked by an open restaurant, where the bartender took one look at us and said, “How y’all doin’?” Is it that obvious?

When we did check into our hotel, it is a bit pricey, but it is also a 2 BR suite that I could share with Greg and Debby. So instead of my usual spartan accommodations, for a little extra I will spend the night in an apartment overlooking the Pacific, and the windows of the dining area open up completely to create an indoor terrace. It’s been fun to see how the other half lives. :-)

Tomorrow we tour Salinas, then in the evening, we return to Guayaquil. Greg and Debby return home Tuesday a.m., I don’t fly back until Thursday, I’m thinking of returning to Cuenca for my final two days. That seems to fit me well. Besides, I was able to buy an alpaca blanket and sweater there that we haven’t found anywhere along the coast. Debby Chambers really would really like to get one, so maybe I can pick these up for her as a way of thanking them for their constant generosity.

A Perfectly Wonderful Lackluster Day

It’s pretty cool when you can say, “Nothing much happened today,” and the day was still great, right?

The day began with breakfast on an open terrace at the hotel. If I ever lived in a place like this, such a terrace is now a must. Simply splendid.

Then we explored more of Manta. It turns out to be a bit of a disappointment to me. It doesn’t have the old-world charm of Cuenca, nor the sleepy fidhing village feel of Puerto Cayo. It’s just a bustling third-world city which happens to be located on a wonderful stretch of the Pacific Ocean.

So, things were more mundane and less adventuresome. But that really worked out fine. I took a walk along the beach. Here, the ocean churns up a few shells, but mostly rocks. Yes, rocks. And they’re fascinating. Basalt. Quartz. Conglomerates. I’m taking some home, and I’m almost as happy with them as the alpaca blanket.

I sat on the balcony watching all kinds of birds. There are flocks of pelicans, who don’t dive into the ocean so much as they smack into it, with great force and noise, creating giant splashes. I’ll have to do more research. Are they trying to stun their pray with shock and awe? Are they just clumsy? And there was another bird, much smoother in its approach, but I don’t know what kind of bird it was. Instead of diving straight down like the pelicans, these went into the ocean diagonally and seemed to scoop up their lunch on the fly. Then there are these kites. Watching them use their split tails as rudders is simply fascinating.

Since not much else was going on, I took a good long nap. I didn’t realize how badly I needed one.

And then it was out to dinner at a local sports bar. Well, it should really be called a “sport” bar here, since soccer is the only option. But I had a little taste of home, a good bacon cheeseburger.

So, my gringo moment of the day? I told Greg that I hoped the water in the shower was better than the water from the foot sprayer, which had a strong smell of sulphur. Greg laughed and explained that wasn’t a foot sprayer, it was the South American version of a bidet. Are you kidding? I told him the water smelled so bad that it may be the only bidet leaving you worse off than when you began! :-)

Tomorrow, we begin moving down the coast. Puerto Cayo is next, and Salinas is Monday.

In Manta

I met my friends Greg and Debby Chambers at the Guayaquil airport this morning. They are great friends, and just great people in general, among the best of people in the world as far as I am concerned. They are intelligent, generous, good-hearted, kind folks, and just plain fun to be with. I’m glad I get to share a leg of this trip with them.

The plan was that they would rent a car, and together we would travel the coast, hitting Bahia, then Manta, then Puerto Cayo, then Salinas. As it turns out, we may not do all of that. The rental car is very expensive and comes with only 400 km. free mileage. Above that, we have to pay 38 cents per kilometer (61 cents per mile). So we scratched Bahia off the list and settled for Manta.

Here in Manta, Ecuador, I experienced another first. Believe it or not, for all my travels, I’d never seen the Pacific Ocean before today.

After lunch at the beach, we went exploring. We caught a local bus and toured downtown near Central Park. Frankly, I just didn’t find it too impressive. We ate supper, however, at a very nice pizza place that we stumbled upon. Great pizza, great ambiance. Then we hopped a bus back to the hotel. Or so we thought. We need to go about three miles to our hotel, but a block after picking us up, the bus turned left and headed back into downtown. We disembarked almost exactly where we had boarded and waited for a second bus. This time, we made sure it was headed in our direction. A comedy of errors, but we’re in Ecuador, so who cares.

We decided to share a hotel room. I’m notoriously cheap when choosing hotels. Greg and Debby … not so much. But as I say, they’re generous people and so rather than finding a $50 per night room for me, they opted to let me stay with them in an oceanside room at an upscale hotel. It has one queen bed and one single bed. Greg was quick to point out that I got the single bed. But before bedtime, we sat out on the balcony for a couple of hours and simply enjoyed the wind in our faces and the sound of crashing waves in our ears.

Ahhh … Pacific means “peaceful,” doesn’t it?