Charles: Three Hours From the Federal Penitentiary #183

This past Tuesday morning Sally Jo and I boarded a United jet in Portland for our flight back to Albany, via Chicago. Our seats were aisle and center, and while we were getting settled, a 5’ 10” solidly built black man came for the window seat.  He was obviously uneasy.  When I sat down he was telling me how expensive a hamburger was in the airport – and coffee too.  Then his questions began: “Could he get food on the plane? (It is expensive, but don’t worry.  We have 4 granola bars.)  What was the screen on the seat in front of him for?  When should he put on his seat belt?” I asked if he had flown many times, and he laughed.  “Three hours ago I was in solitary confinement at the Federal Penitentiary.  I’d been there for 3 years – a room about the size of a bathroom that had a sink, toilet and bed.  I was in there 23 hours a day – the food was awful!!”  I asked why he was in the penitentiary.  “I got caught after 10 armed robberies – banks.  After being in the Pen for 10 years a man came after me, and I stabbed him with a table knife.  I did not really hurt the man, but it was considered a violent act – and into “the hole” I went.”

Three hours before, a trusted prisoner had dropped him off in front of the terminal building with his plane ticket to Chicago.  The prison had provided him the clothes he was wearing, $30 cash, and then he showed me his bright yellow prison identification card, and a debit card issued by Chase bank with his picture on it for non-prison identification.  There was $3.00 in the account.  He also had $60, earned before he was sent into “the hole”, building solar panels for government use.  During the next 3 ½ hours I learned to appreciate Charles – who was articulate, did not use profanity, and was very knowledgeable about national and world affairs.  I also learned much about prison life – like the fact that in his cell he had books, paper, something to write with, and a radio – that was it!  .  Charles did not seem bitter – he knew what he had done.

“Do you want to hear one of my poems?  I already had one published!”  Sure!  Then with rhyme, and the rhythm of rap, Charles recited his poem.  He began with creation and continued with how Satan came to be, man’s struggle with disobedience to God, man’s fall into sin, the story of Cain and Abel, and more – all in the Old Testament.  After perhaps 10 minutes he abruptly stopped.  Sally Jo and I listened, fascinated.  It was beautiful…well done, I don’t know how best to describe the experience.  Theologically and sequentially he had it right.

As I reviewed the events of the New Testament, Charles added some details.  I told of Jesus birth, His growing up years, His baptism, and His miracles.  I told of the triumphal entry, the response of Jewish leaders, and the crucifixion. Charles reminded me that a criminal hung on each side of Jesus.  When I began to tell what happened when Jesus was crucified, Charles asked for my legal pad, and made some notes.  After telling about the darkness, the curtain in the temple torn from top to bottom, the earth quake, and the resurrection, he smiled.  “Thanks. I didn’t have a good ending for my poem.”  I then talked about the significance of Jesus life, death and resurrection for each of us.

Charles told how, when 10 years old, he was sent to a Juvenile Detention Center run by a Methodist church, and about Miss Nancy, who had taken a special interest in him, and kept up with him.  (He would get in touch with Miss Nancy as soon as he could.) He told how he went to a Baptist Church.  When I asked if they had an excellent black choir…he got excited – he loved music!  Then he sang to us a chorus he had learned in Sunday school.

Charles would like to publish a book of his poems.  I told him about the inter-net resource bible. crosswalk and gave him our son Dirk’s church number, explaining that Dirk would help him if had trouble using it.  I also gave him our home number.  Charles used my cell phone to call the people who were meeting him at the United Arrival area.  They     had two hours to get him to the half-way house.  We showed Charles where he should go to meet his car, and then gave each other big hugs.  As we parted, he said he would call us in a couple weeks.  I think he will!

Perhaps you have been the “Miss Nancy”, or the choir member, or the Sunday School Teacher, or the person in the plane.  Someone who will be remembered,   because you are living In Partnership With God.

“The steps of the godly are directed by the LORD. He delights in every detail of their lives”  Psalm 37:23.

His Deerfoot Experience/Training is Foundational to His Ministry #182

This Deerfooter uses his DL training/experience to the extreme!  He is the Director of TIMO – Training in Ministry Outreach.  TIMO is a two year training experience for young people looking to gain a foundation for a lifetime of ministry.  It is a team-based approach to church planting among un-reached people groups.

We have e-mailed for many years, and after a recent e-mail I asked him to tell me his DL story.  Upon reading it, I asked permission to send it on to you.   Due to his ministry situation, his has asked that his name not be included.  Watching the 3 minute video (please do – with cursor on blue video…push down & hold control key –  while you left  click!!!) will put this Deerfooter’s life/letter into context.  (The parenthesis in italics are mine)

The Torch Passed On – and On!


I worked at DL the summers of 93 and 94.  I started in Woodsmen for a couple sessions, then a couple sessions on the island.  Next summer I did Island and then Voyageurs with Daryl Babcock.  I can’t remember, but it was either that summer or the next summer that Brian Gill and I led a DL mission’s trip to Venezuela to work with Peter McMillan at the camp he was trying to get going.  I don’t know what ever became of that camp (it is doing well – totally under Venezuelan leadership), but co-leading that trip was a pretty important experience for me as I started a trajectory of being involved in cross-cultural missions.  Then the summer of 97 I came back and was a Guide Leader along with Gordon Koppin, Peter Smith and Ken Meyer.  (That summer there were 28 qualified Guides)  I think it was an experiment of doing 2 guide groups, in a staggered way.

How did DL prepare me for what I do now?  Wow… where do I begin?  DL was my first real shot at leadership. Someone thought I was qualified to lead 8-10 year olds for 2 weeks at a time, do devos for them, shape them spiritually, keep them safe, teach them wilderness skills and take them on overnight hiking trips…twice!  And somehow, by the grace of God and with some good training, serious accountability, and mentoring, I rose to the challenge.  And loved it.  I learned how to communicate my relationship with God to others and teach them insights I was gleaning from the Scriptures.  I learned to do things with excellence – that was the word for the morning devos one year.  I learned that I had a lot to learn!  Growing up as an MK (missionary kid), I thought I pretty much had everything all figured out – but DL showed me my pride and my need for humility.

Chief – I think DL is an IDEAL place to recruit young, godly men who are interested in exploring missions.  As you probably know, TIMO is looking for DL kind of guys.  It was great to be there this past summer and share about our extreme TIMO team going to Lesotho to live among the highland shepherd boys – the last un-reached people group in this small mountain country, and share about how this team is open only to single, young men who know how to live simple, rugged, high adventure lifestyles with a love for the outdoors.

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.”  Matthew 28:19-20

He Serves In Partnership With God

Building Godly Men #181

After 18 years, what do I remember about our Voyageur trip? Canoeing through the storm on the first day, getting up at daybreak to enjoy the actual sunrise and the stillness of the morning, and the calls of multiple loons.  I remember leisurely days on the water, seeing moose, and having our choice of campsites when we stopped about 3:30.   I remember quiet beauty that surrounded us, great food, floating a section of the river in lifejackets, locating the logging trains identified on our topographical maps, surviving the rapids, and helping campers sharpen their canoeing skills.  I remember sitting around campfires.  I remember none of the “great” Bible studies or devotions Nick and I prepared. I do remember responding to many questions, challenges.  What do I remember?  It was a fun trip!

In response to my IPWG # 177  “Terror! Triumph! Thanksgiving!” I received 3 e-mails from people who had taken the Allagash trip, one of which I quoted in the 12/10/12 IPWG.  Each remembered having an incredible trip.  None wrote about the great spiritual content of the trip.  So…did the trip fail to accomplish its primary objective?

When leading a Voyageur trip, we were doing what Jesus did for most of his 3 years of active ministry.  Jesus lived with his disciples, men who began their time with Jesus knowing nothing about “Christ-like living”.  With Jesus, they saw    people being healed and fed.  They heard Jesus pray.  They were in the boat when Jesus calmed the storm.  They watched Jesus tell stories to answer the questions of people seeking understanding, and they watched him respond to hostile people, and using the opportunity to explain God’s truths. They experienced Jesus answering their questions, even some questions they were thinking, but did not ask.  The disciples learned the living of love and forgiveness. Jesus’ ministry was almost totally in response to what was happening around Him.

And our campers observed our lives, just like the disciples observed Jesus’ life.   We did not heal people, but hopefully we lived our lives as Jesus lived His – responding to what was happening around us.  Jesus prayed.  We prayed.  Jesus was sinless – no mistakes!  There is no doubt in my mind that our voyageurs saw us make people judgments, say unloving things.  Our campers also heard us admit mistakes, ask for their forgiveness.   Jesus was God.  We were living In Partnership With God.

As we responded to our situations, the Holy Spirit often brought to our minds what we had heard, previously thought through.  This has been my experience throughout my life.  Therefore is it unrealistic to believe that this same Holy Spirit can bring to the minds of our Voyageurs in future years what they experienced, observed, and heard on our trip together?

Recently I received two e-mails from Dr. David Howard, professor of Old Testament at Bethel Seminary.

The first was a copy of the five page letter he wrote to his nephew when the nephew was about to enter the Guide program.  The second was a follow-up on the first.

“One of the sentences I wrote to Joel was this one, speaking about my counselors’ faithfulness in devotions, They didn’t hit home runs every night with their devotionals, for example, but they were faithful and we knew they really loved the Lord.” 

That imagery comes from you, actually.  In the mid-1980’s, our family was driving east to New England and we stopped for a night at DL; we stayed in one of the cabins above the basketball court.  Our only child at that time was 3 or 4, as I recall.  In conversation with you, Jan and I were talking about building a proper atmosphere at home, including good family devotions.  You made the comment about not hitting a home run every night, but about the importance of faithfulness.  It was very freeing for us, and affirming, and we refer to it often.  So, thanks for that, too!

God uses our words – words we do not remember saying.   He also uses our lives – in ways we cannot imagine.

Major Nick Dotti, US Army, Continues To Live In Partnership With God #180

Nick asked Jesus Christ to become his Savior as a DL camper in 1985.  He then led his mom and sister to the saving relationship with Jesus Christ.   Continuing at Deerfoot, Nick became a Guide in ‘91.  In 1994, when Nick was 19, 6’4’ 220lb, he agreed to have me as his assistant counselor on the Allagash River Trip.  This was the beginning of our 18 year friendship.   Nick returned in ‘95 to counsel and be welcomed into the Lone Eagle Fellowship.

Nick had missed two summers, due to required training in the Army, when I asked him to be a Guide leader for the summer of ’97.    This would have required him to delay his plan to enter the Army in June of ’97.  Nick stuck with his plan, and today Nick feels his “rush into Army training over the chance to be a Guide Leader” was one of the worst decisions he has ever made.  Soon he was deployed to the border between South andNorth Korea – a lousy place to be.  Alcohol and sex were the norm, and these months were really tough on Nick – no Christian fellowship, even with the chaplain.

During these months Nick set the goal of getting into the U.S. Army Special Forces.  He knew the challenge to get in and to go through the initial and on-going training would be incredibly tough.  After acceptance, only 15-20% completed the training. He also knew that the quality of the soldiers in the Special Forces would be exceptional.  Through these years Nick would come to DL for a week to teach survival to staff and campers, and occasionally for work weekends.  We communicated often, and the frustration with being unable to meet the girl he would like to have as his wife was real – very real.  He was approaching 30.

One Memorial Day Work Weekend Saturday Nick saw a 115 lb girl, baseball cap on backwards, dripping with sweat, ripping apart a wall in the barn.  She was impressive To Nick!   On Sunday morning, when people were being introduced, he learned that Martha was John Foley’s daughter, and getting married in early September.  Heart sank, once again.  That afternoon they were working together dropping a 200’ spruce tree by Dun Loggin when Nick learned that it was not Martha, but her sister Karen, that was getting married to Tim in September.  Telephone numbers were exchanged and Nick and Martha managed to get together every weekend through the summer.  Their relationship was charging forward.  John, and his wife Mary Jane, were increasingly concerned about this mysterious soldier sweeping their daughter off her feet.  On changeover weekend, when John came to lead the father/son weekend, and Mary Jane to help with camper registrations, Martha and Nick met them at DL.  John and Mary Jane came to talk with Sally Jo and me about the situation.  I remember telling John and Mary Jane they could trust Nick, and Sally Jo reminded them that either they could get on board, or get run over.  That evening the four of them had dinner together at Melody Lodge.  The Foley’s swallowed hard and gave Nick and Martha their blessing.

Nick learned he would be deployed to Iraq in March, so in August they both moved to Colorado, Nick to the base he had been assigned, and from which he would be deployed in January.  The morning after arriving at the base, Nick bought a house where Martha would live, and into which Nick would move after their December wedding.    That afternoon Nick reported to his commanding officer – and learned he would be deployed in August!!!  Nick requested and received permission to be one of the last to deploy – he could catch up with his Unit late in September.  Nick and Martha decided to get married, and received permission from the Foleys to have the wedding on the Sunday afternoon following sister Karen’s wedding on Saturday night – but no one was to know until after Karen’s wedding except me and Nick’s immediate family.

During the Karen and Tim’s reception, Nick and Martha quietly invited each member of Foley clan to their wedding in the Foley’s back yard the next afternoon.  The weather was perfect, the neighbors brought over plants to beautifully decorate the yard, and the wedding was incredible.  Nick’s vow to Martha took several minutes, for he had lots to vow to Martha due to the military life they would be living.  I think everyone was in tears…except Nick.   Sally Jo and I sang the benediction: The Lord bless you and keep you, may his light shine upon you, and give you peace.     Then Nick scooped up Martha and walked down the aisle…as we cheered.

After their wedding, I began writing letters to Nick and Martha – which morphed into the current In Partnership With God.

Today Nick and Martha are stationed near Washington DC, are active in the “Image Church”, a new start up, and have 3 healthy, wonderful children.  Nick Dotti is first of all God’s Man…then an Army Man.

Major Nick Dotti’s military responsibility today?  Nick, and his staff of 23, fill time sensitive, mission critical requests for special operators deployed world wide.  If Nick and his team fail at their job, the mission may fail and/or lives are lost.

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”1 Corinthians 15:58    True for me, for Nick, for you!