Alfred Place Baptist Church

Grand Rapids 2007

We flew from London Gatwick to Newark, New Jersey and one of the books I took with me was George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards. I have had it for four years but had read only the first 200 of its 500 pages. Picking up the narrative at that point the reader is at the time George Whitefield arrived in Northampton and the two great preachers meet and the first awakening of that community takes place, soon to be followed by another. It was a great place to recommence the book. The extremes of some speakers in the revival caused Edwards to do two things, defend the concept of an awakening, defining its essence, and then he went on to acknowledge that numbers of the religious phenomena observed at that time were no guarantee of a regenerating or sanctifying work of the Spirit. Edwards’ observations came to full fruition in his Religious Affections. I read it carefully and completed it. I was filled with admiration even though the author is more of an Old Light than a New Light. George was with me at Westminster Seminary; what stature he has shown. What a corpus of work he has left behind. The life of Edwards is a magnificent achievement, extremely informative and quite moving. It made me feel a new understanding and affection for Jonathan Edwards. The final chapters in which he outlines the arguments of his two last works on the Freedom of the Will and the History of Redemption and places them in their historical context were particularly helpful. I am so glad that I was enabled to complete this book.

We had some difficulty hiring a car in Newark airport because we wanted to drop it in Grand Rapids at the end of the three weeks. Some firms did not permit out of state drops and the one that did was a little expensive, but we finally hired a new Toyota and were soon out of Newark, our backs to the New York skyline, and on the road driving the four hours to Carlisle, Pennsylvania in unpleasantly heavy Friday night traffic. There were two long hold-ups, but we arrived by 7 p.m. and blessed to stay with Brad and Mindy Wenger. He owns a delicatessen and had arranged a wedding supper that evening. They had had a whole pig turning on a spit over a barbecue pit and Brad had brought the pig’s head home with him. I remember how we prefects on the last Friday night of the Christmas term at the Scientific, Literary and Debating Society in our super boys grammar school paraded into the hall a pig’s head carrying candles and singing, “The boar’s head in hand bear I . . .” I sang it to Brad and Mindy in Carlisle. Beak your heart Bryn Terfel . . .

Saturday morning we borrowed from the Carlisle library an audio book for the 850 miles journey to be driven to Grand Rapids on Friday, and we also purchased the cheapest mobile phone for thirteen pounds from Radio Shack which would give us fifty minutes of conversation so that we could contact people in Grand Rapids once we had arrived there. Saturday afternoon a young couple from Hazleton, 90 miles away, came by to pick us up. Into the mountains around Wilkes Barre we were taken, an area of coal mining and so a long-time centre for Welsh and Polish communities. The Hazleton church is pastored by Tedd Tripp but he was in Leeds at the Caring for Life Conference. We stayed with scientist Dale and Lesley his wife out in the countryside, and had another informative visit. They are a spiritually minded family who lived in Korea for three years and had many insights into and admiration for Korean piety, but not unthoughtfully. There are two parallel tracks in Korean Christianity, the first being the Korean, showing itself in such things as respect for elders, a virtually Buddhist attitude of reverence and communication with your forefathers who have died, manifesting itself in attendance at special high places on hillsides on certain days. There is also the determination not to cause offence by challenging the ethics of actions of fellow staff, especially those senior to yourself. They spend some evenings in the week with these colleagues until the early hours of the morning in bars and clubs. Justification for all this is found in quoting the fifth commandment to honour your parents and those in authority, and also to live at peace with all men. Alongside such Korean ways of life runs the Christian ethic of absolute truth and rejection of idolatry or any hint of communicating with the dead. They live in these two antagonistic worlds; ultimately only one can prevail.

I discovered I had left my lecture on John Newton back in Aberystwyth, but found it on the Banner of Truth website, and so Dale downloaded it for me ready for the week ahead. I spoke to 40 folk at the Sunday School adult hour at 9.30, and at 10.45 I preached to the congregation of 150. In the lunch downstairs I sat next to a splendid self-acknowledged ‘geek’ named Paul Thompson who has designed and built a very useful piece of hardware. I had my memory stick with me and so I found that through his invention I could insert my memory stick into this hardware next to the recording equipment as I left the church. In 5 seconds it had transferred to it the morning sermon, and again, the Sunday school hour message. It works perfectly. I inserted the stick into my laptop and soon was listening to the beginning of my message loud and clear. Paul is trying to market it – without too much success yet – but I bought one from him and will see if it can be attached to the equipment in our church. It needs no power; it runs from the computer. His website is http://Computer-Geek.org.

We were taken back to Carlisle for the evening service where I preached to that splendid congregation pastored for the last five years by David Campbell who quickly followed Walt Chantry at the end of his thirty-nine years there. The church is full of children, young people and couples and it was good to meet up with old friends especially the elders, one of whom, Tom Richwine, is one of the trustees of the Banner of Truth. There were four of the grandchildren of Ernest Reisinger present, many great grandchildren and even great-great grandchildren. They assured me that I had done ‘a good job’ on Grandpa’s life which was kind. I was largely an amenuensis. Tom made interesting comments about the future of the Banner of Truth judging that the finest works of the Puritans had been reprinted and that it would be hard to improve on that golden age of reprints, and the works of John Murray, Iain Murray and Dr. Lloyd-Jones. “Why shouldn’t it be one future aim to translate into Chinese the hundred best books of the Banner of Truth?” he asked me with a twinkle in his eye. Interesting days ahead. We are still anticipating the fascinating resources of experiential Calvinism now made available to fertilize the hearts and minds of many new writers in the 21st century.

Monday we took off on the hundred mile journey south-east to the Delaware river valley fifty miles north of Philadelphia in the Pocono mountains. Soon we could pick up familiar radio stations from that great city which stations I used to listen to over 45 years ago in the background of my study in Machen Hall as I parsed Greek or memorized Hebrew. Regretful nostalgia may not be indulged in.

The Conference centre was splendid, a fine motel complex with expansive grounds set between the river and the forested mountainside. The Lutherans own it. There were tennis courts, swimming pools, a softball pitch, a shuffleboard area, a café with ice-cream and soft drinks. The dining hall was large and attractive; we were served by young people on summer vacation. The meetings were held in a concert hall, the podium being in the middle of the stage. There were plenty of Bible activities for little children during the morning when the rest of us were at the hall’s meetings from 9.30 until 12. The afternoons were free for walking the river bank or sitting in one of the shaded gazebos to read or write on one’s lap-top. There were organized games
at the pool, or a mile race, golf, a paint-balling event for $30, and then everyone attended the evening preaching service at 7 which I took on all four nights. I began with John Newton and then spoke on God Created Me, Sin Ruined Me, and Grace Restored Me.

Derek Thomas and Rosemary arrived Monday afternoon and we ate together. He had been at the Memphis General Assembly of the PCA where they had debated the New Perspective on the apostle Paul on Wednesday. He seemed satisfied with the result, not a ‘classic presbyterian fudge’ as I, an independent, had unkindly predicted to my best friend. Certainly they came to no ultimate final decision on the subject and sent it back to be further investigated, but when it was voted on just a 100 to 150 men supported the New Perspective, about a tenth of those present. Derek preached excellently on the temptation of Christ, the transfiguration and the cross. Another 29 year-old Reformed Presbyterian preached two vigorous messages from Exodus, and Ian Campbell preached twice on Jeremiah and that was grand to hear after all my studies in the last few years. Keri Orchard and Jonathan Stephens of the Welsh Evangelical School of Theology, Bryntirion, were unexpected guests for the entire conference as part of their fund-raising and public relations tour of churches and institutions. Over one lunch I spoke with Jonathan while Keri and Iola had a long chat about his family’s pilgrimage. Small world. They had been to the PCA General Assembly and were going to the Founders’ Conference where David Wells was speaking.

On Friday morning at 5 we got up and at 5.30 prayed together and took off on the 700 mile drive to Grand Rapids. How easy a drive it was with no hold ups and we immediately found the house of Dave and Joy Kwekel. We arrived at 5.30 having traveled along the Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana turnpikes, the longest being the first of those states and it cost us $12 in tolls.

We were taken by Dave and Joy to a ‘holiday home’ by a lake not far from them. What would you call it? A chalet? A bungalow? A little wooden house? It seems about fifty years old and has two bedrooms, a kitchen living room and a bathroom. There is a lean-to with a settee and comfy chair; it has large windows and then 20 feet of decking to the water’s edge down a few steps; a long dock a metre wide goes out to the lake and then it is a quarter of a mile across the narrow lake to the houses on the other side. We cannot see the ends of the banana-shaped lake. There are fine houses everywhere, small and large, all except two being lived in all the year round (ours is one of those exceptions). They surround the lake with trees behind them which trees are also in all the gaps between the houses. There are speed boats and boats for the more sedate families – decks on tubular cylinders – canoes, small rowing boats for the anglers, launches, water bikes and pedaloes. Many motor boats pull young people on rubber rafts, twisting them over the boat’s wake making them shriek as they bounce into the air. It is a delightful if noisy scene. Next door there is a family of four or five children with a 14 year old girl as the oldest, and in the morning I watch them from the deck as they are out on a pedalo with a large aluminium fishing net. The girl looks after the younger ones and bosses them about in a kindly way. Their grandfather limps along on the shore and mows the lawn to the water’s edge dressed in shorts and baseball cap. The father in his swimsuit occasionally makes an appearance; he swims in the evening to a tethered raft and slide which is not far out. Sand has been poured onto the lake bottom around its edges but it is not firm like sea sand. It gives because underneath is the mud. One has to walk on this a long way as the lake is shallow through weeds and pointed stones to get up to your waist, and so I quickly gave up on swimming. I am not a swimmer. I do not look like a swimmer. My daughters perform hateful imitations of my desperate swimming and my grandchildren are embarrassed.

The fauna is interesting; the birds begin to sing at 4.30 and momentarily wake us up. It is hot – in the 80s – and we keep the windows open. A pair of birds seems to claim territory rights over our trees and decking and when I go out for a walk they create a fuss flying around over my head complaining. They are black birds with red wings. I asked Mrs. Kwekel, “What do you call those black birds with red wings?” She told me, “Red winged blackbirds.” “Oh.” It made sense. They have a tuneless persistent chirrup, but further away other birds constantly sing. A flock of silent loons paddle across the lake, and doves are cooing from somewhere if you crane your ears. As I was reading on the deck this morning a groundhog came out from his home under our decking, and then, when at that moment Iola came out to join me, scurried back under. We were never to meet again. Squirrels and chipmunks are in or under every tree and regarded as an unmitigated pest. Rabbits run around and last night I saw a stoat or weasel or mink or ferret. Who knows? It didn’t hang around to be identified. A truck has hit a skunk nearby and for a half-mile each side of it the air is pungent. Dave’s dog had a tussle with a skunk and got coated with that evil-smelling spray. There is a large aerosol one can buy to spray any unfortunate dog so foolish as to attack a skunk to make Fido acceptable in the precincts of the house.

The shallows at the borders of the lake are full of minnows but when you walk out to the end of the floating dock, 40 feet out, there are large fish lazily swimming through the vegetation. Dave says he will bring his rod down for me, but I have never enjoyed taking the hook out of a fish’s mouth. This morning an otter was diving and catching them; he bobbed up and down in the water his tail sticking out one end and the little hands holding the fish to his jaws at the other (I have borrowed a pair of binoculars from Dave for the weeks here). I have also seen terrapin and turtles paddling along under water. Driving here through the forest we met a doe and her fawn coming out into the road and then, frightened by our car, making a hurried retreat into the woods. The fawn was beautifully patchworked. We also see the occasional flash of a red cardinal bird – one of the most delightful in the USA, and in the sky are eagles. No not kites or buzzards, huge, massive, sheep stealing, mighty eagles . . .The farm lands are rich between here and Grand Rapids 12 miles away, with many fields of corn, wheat, soya beans and other crops I don’t recognize. There are also herds of Jersey cows, but we are a little too early for the baskets of blueberries and raspberries on sale at farm gates which we enjoyed a few years ago.

On Saturday I spoke on beginning and continuing the Christian race to 70 teenagers at a rented Baptist camp by another of those hundreds of lakes that pock-mark this agricultural state of Michigan. How splendidly the kids behaved. One group came down from Ontario. He was a dairy farmer, a newish Christian, and he apologized having to leave before the end of the meetings with the teenagers he had brought, wanting to make the 5 hour journey back and milk his 200 cows before the Lord’s Day began. Between the messages there were games – ‘potato and spoon’ races and a tug of war, thirty girls versus twenty boys which the girls won effortlessly – twice, the boys huffing and puffing and digging their heels in were yet dragged sliding over the grass as the girls just gently and steadily pulled them all over the field. Then they took canoes out onto the lake and threw one another into the water to heartrending shrieks, “No! . . . No! . . . Noooooo!” Some of the children have been adopted from Russian and Korean orphanages. Some of the boys decided to set out and swim right across the lake, just jumping in and setting out, five or so of them together, a
nd they chatted to one another all the way across – I could hear their echoing voices – until they finally clambered out, dots on the horizon on the other side. My mother would have been horrified. They picked up a camp pedalo and peddled back. A gang of women worked in the kitchen and Iola put on her apron and helped them. The food was splendid and I had some fine conversations with some of the older young people and also with a doctor whose wife was working away in the kitchen.

On Sunday I preached in the Providence Reformed Church to about 140 people half of whom were under 18. The four elders (who seemed such mature men) led me out and one shook hands with me at the bottom of the pulpit steps. We all prayed silently and then I started the service; an elder read the ten commandments and the scripture which I gave him. We sang metrical psalms to an organ accompaniment. I could hear the loud voices of the many children. Great. Two thirds of the way through the sermon we sang the third hymn and then I continued to the end of the sermon, which was on contentment. Some of the people there would not appreciate this kind of Puritan preaching on sanctification. All that is needed is Christ glorified and offered in justification. There is a strain of Dutch experiential Calvinism brilliant on the theme of the free offer and the finished work of Christ but not Puritan in the experiential outworking of the Christian life. They think that as long as you know you have Christ you are content. But what would they think of James’ letter, breathed out by the Spirit, without any reference in it to ‘Jesus?’

We had lunch with a family who has ten children. Fourteen of us sat around the table and enjoyed chicken vegetable broth and ice-cream. Bob’s first wife was killed in a car crash carrying their third child. Coral’s husband was an enormously godly man who might have become a preacher. He ran a food business and then a disgruntled employee shot him dead. I had preached on contentment, but how those five fatherless children showed contentment on the Lord’s Day following their father’s murder. Every Sunday on their way to church they would sing together in the car, and this particular Sunday Coral and her dead husband’s parents had little heart to sing, but then the children spoke up. “We’re not singing! Why aren’t we singing the hymn we sing each Sunday, ‘Safely through another week’?” Their father lay dead and the children’s trust was in the faithful Father. They all sang through their tears knowing that their father was indeed safe in the arms of Jesus. So Coral and Bob later met and married, and God has given them three children of their own. Bob is a carpenter and led the family devotions with kindly majesty. A very wonderful home. You know that hymn of John Newton’s?

Safely through another week,
God has brought us on our way;
Let us now a blessing seek,
On th’approaching Sabbath-day:
Day of all the week the best,
Emblem of eternal rest.

I preached for Joel Beeke at Heritage in the afternoon; it is a benediction always to be with him. In July he is speaking in south Wales at a conference on revival and preaching in Heath Evangelical Church, Cardiff for the third time on a Sunday. Before he comes to Wales he is preaching in conferences in Brazil, Mexico and afterwards in the Netherlands. He is home in Grand Rapids for just three days in July. I finally preached again in Providence in the evening and at the end of the day talked and fellowshipped with the Kwekel family in their home. So the first twelve sermons have been preached and our holiday is beginning.

The days of the middle week in the USA seemed a bit samey, sitting, reading, shopping, cooking and eating. They ran into one another; the temperature is perfect in the mid eighties, but it is not humid. The best part is the breakfast, cherries and orange juice and apples. The raisins in the raisin bran are much softer than those bullets back in Wales. The lake is quiet, just the antics of the blonde headed children next door following their big sister give special fascination. The only child, Geoff, was projecting his childhood back and dreaming of brothers and sisters. Centre city Grand Rapids has been emptied of businesses and shoppers, like most American cites, by the out of town shopping malls. There are few streets of houses in walking distance of the old heart of the city, but there have been strenuous attempts to rejuvenate it with fine new buildings, stadia and the updating of some great hotels, but the streets are deserted of pedestrians unlike the bustle of Aberystwyth. How often does Iola come back from walking to the shops and say, “Town was packed.” We had planned to take the train to Chicago for the day on Wednesday and so we went to Holland railway station the day before to book our tickets and find out where it was. Finding the station took an age. We followed the railway tracks as they wander through streets and back yards – completely unfenced – but then they disappeared where no road could go (into cement manufacturing yards), and so round and round Holland we went searching for the station. The Tourist Information lady did not help with her cross on the small scale map of the town indicating where the station was. We hunted in vain and then, as we were driving away we saw a sign and followed it and stumbled across a little completely unmanned building. We tried to book our tickets on a machine with a credit card but it told us that the seats were all taken. That surely could not be. Incredible. So our adventure to the windy city and its famous science museum was abandoned. We were briefly downcast. We returned home and had supper in a café near our wooden house. The clam chowder was a bit salty and the shrimp were coated in batter, but it was inexpensive and different. We took a doggy bag of the uneaten shrimps home, and I ate them. Normally they turn green in their polystyrene packages in the fridge. We went across to Dave Kwekel’s home to get our washing done; this home by the lake has no washing machine; its only absence. He had been with officials from the Salvation Army in Kalamazoo that morning. They were going to rent a vast building to use as a furniture and charity shop and a kind of soup kitchen for vagrants. It had all gone smoothly and soon they would be signing up. He had two other appointments during the day. This is part of his work. As we had driven back from church on Sunday we passed halls of residence of the university and he had said he had been the negotiator and developer of those buildings. What a happy Christian and a loving family man he is, as well as a successful businessman.

We went one Thursday morning to Seventh Reformed Church where Dick de Witt had been pastor and where I had preached for three weeks seven or eight years ago. I went to chat to its new Welsh pastor Tim Trumper, but he was out, and then 2 miles along the same road we drove to the Puritan Reformed Seminary at 11.30 and enjoyed the bookshop. Calvin Beeke has a summer job working there along with his sister Esther. Joel had been counseling a young married couple with tremendous tensions and we left him get back to his studies for Sunday’s sermons.

We drove five minutes to the Grace Immanuel Reformed Baptist Church on Peachcrest Circle and met up with its pastor Greg Nichols and his wife ‘Ginger.’ He has often told me that I was the first person from whom he heard the gospel when I did a pulpit exchange with Al Martin in the summer of 1971. We were given a conducted tour of this new church building, two years old. It is quite magnificent. Can you imagine how you would design a contemporary building and what you would put in it? It is all there, before your longing eyes, its educational facilities and its main auditorium, its rooms for Sunday School, officers’ meetings, a vast kitchen, teenage games, toilets desi
gned as if they were in your home, library, and lounges – whatever you want. Breathtaking. Over 200 meet there on Sunday mornings. I took one of the CD’s of his recent sermons on the exclusive salvation of Christ; it was really grand preaching. Greg and Ginger took us out to lunch; she is one of ten children all of them professing Christian siblings. The Nichols have four children in their twenties; the one boy is studying journalism and has recently interviewed the leading pastor of the ‘Emerging Church Movement’ in Grand Rapids in its Mars Hill Church. What a mess that movement is; modernism with feelings.

We went on from there to a mall; Iola was looking for something to get for Gareth and Rhian’s wedding, but had no joy. There are comfy armchairs and even secret lounges in this mall and I could read and complete Bob Godfrey’s story of his discovery of the historic Christian faith, An Unexpected Journey. The Apple Ipod was launched that day with maximal publicity; new staff were brought in to handle the expected crowds and security men to maintain some order. It was the most anticipated I.T. event of the year. I went to the store that evening to find 8 people wandering about, a bored security man on duty at the door, and an opportunity to pick up the gadget and get it to work. The next day we had a meal with Joel Beeke and Mary and the three kids. Calvin was driving his sisters to church a month or two ago when his parents were out of town. A driver did not notice him and waved a lady to drive out of a side street and – wallop! – the two cars collided, knocking his car into the lane of on coming traffic, but he had the presence of mind to hit the accelerator and to get onto the verge before any cars could touch him. The lady was very good about it all and no one was hurt, in fact Calvin could drive her back home.

Our time in the little white house by the lake ended on the Friday; we packed and headed for the home of Gary and Julie Timmer where we imagined we were staying in their ‘granny flat.’ In fact they were going away to their lakeside house for a vacation and we house sat for them. It is a most beautiful home, maybe ten years old at the most, set in its own grounds on the top of a gentle hill overlooking the sun setting over Grand Rapids. There is a paddock in the front and a mowed field in the back surrounded by tall unmown grass for ten yards, surrounded by a forest. Sometimes wild turkey walk across the field or deer. The living room stretches up to the top of house and there is a balcony from which the children coming from their bedrooms can lean over, I guess, and talk to their parents. We had their parents’ bedroom complete with an en suite which had a Jacuzzi. It is quite delightful; we were stunned to have it and we were there until the Thursday. The oldest boy Seth is in his early twenties and he works downstairs, but he is generally out. We have not seen him since we arrived here. Maybe he is with them. It is a peaceful comfy home with a grand library of puritan and Banner books.

One of the Boatright sisters, Michelle, who has been to Aberystwyth with her sister Heather, lives here in Grand Rapids with her husband and we visited them a coupe of times. They have a pretty little baby girl called Samantha. They are attending an Orthodox Presbyterian Church which has hundreds filling the place each Sunday. There are in fact 150 children aged under twelve. Think of it! The ‘Philadelphia Conference for Reformed Theology’ which moves around the USA came to Grand Rapids last year with Derek Thomas as the main speaker. This OPC church largely supported it, and 700 came for the three days. It returned again this year to smaller crowds.

On Saturday we had lunch with Tim Trumper. He is settling down in his first ministry as pastor in the large Seventh Reformed Church. I wondered where he would begin such a ministry and he is giving four messages on preaching and then in the evenings speaking on Jesus Christ the evangelist and examining the cases of the Saviour’s ministry to such people as the woman of Samaria and Nicodemus. “How are things in Wales?” he asked me. How does one answer such a question? I think that Dr. Lloyd-Jones has left us a good legacy. It is certainly easier to answer questions about our family. I hope he has a good long ministry here. He is certainly another hyphenated American, ‘Welsh-American,’ and will live between two continents and cultures like the Dutch-Americans who are so thick on the ground here who are another grouping who once used to turn their necks around and gaze at their mother land with fascination. This is not so much the case today.

On Sunday I preached three times at the Reformed Baptist Church of Holland, Michigan. I had preached there last year and enjoyed it. The congregation is 200 at the morning and evening services, with many families and children. Young men and middle-aged men abound. There cannot be a congregation of reformed Baptists of such strength anywhere in Europe. We stayed with Bob Niemic and his wife for lunch. What strong affection they have for Alec Taylor in Birmingham, England, with whom they had worshipped for a few years a decade ago. Bob has gone out into business on his own, and now he employs 20 men and that business is going from strength to strength so that they are thinking of opening a branch in Europe. I was urging him to consider setting it in Aberystwyth.

Monday we had the privilege of visiting Bob den Dulk in his beautiful home out in the country twenty miles west of Grand Rapids on Lake Murray – what a propitious name for men like us who had sat together at John Murray’s feet 46 years ago. Bob was having chemo once again on Tuesday and he looked a bit thinner than I have known him and his hair had lost its bushiness. There is no activity of the cancer in the pancreas or the kidneys but the tumours in the liver do show signs of growth. He said, “We leave it in God’s hands knowing he does all things well.” The outward man is perishing, but the inward man is being renewed. He feels the cold, and was dressed in a warm dressing gown, gloves and socks with a blanket over him. How the hour and a half flowed by and we talked of our friendship over the years and the people we had known like Ernie Reisinger, Iain Murray (he was reading The Forgotten Spurgeon) and the Westminster Seminary staff of yesteryear and his own experience as principal/president of the Escondido Westminster Seminary. He speaks so warmly of Hywel Jones and his influence to good there. They are obviously close.

His three sons are each about five years older than our own three girls and the denDulks are farmers, one arable and two dairy. They decided to move here one by one from California a few years ago and they have bought extensive lands. The two sons who are into dairy farming milk 17,000 cows daily. They brought seven or eight Mexican families with them from California and now three more such families have joined them. Their ability to care for cows is exceptional. Father, sons and grandchildren all worship in a C.R.C. church a few miles away pastored by Bob den Dulk’s cousin, another den Dulk, and a graduate of Westminster Seminary. How sad that the C.R.C. general synod this year overwhelmingly accepted women preachers with little arguments against it. Many conservatives have left the denomination. Henceforth it will be hard for Bible-obeying men to enter it or to remain within it. For fifty years the tide of modernism has been entering it, and, like the gays, liberals never stop until they are in charge of institutions.

We parted after an hour and a half happily interrupted from time to time by daughters-in-law calling a beloved father-in-law, and his California cancer specialist calling from his car as he was driving to his hospital – almost 2,000 miles away. All these are regular calls. I read to him psalm 116; we prayed and bid farewell with the parting words
of our most beloved teacher Cornelius Van Til, “we shall soon meet at Jesus’ feet.” Later that evening Nellie and Bob read it together and he pointed out a few verses to her especially, “How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD. I will fulfil my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people” (vv.12-14).

On Tuesday we drove north fifty miles from Grand Rapids to the port of Muskegon and boarded the ferry to sail the 75 miles across Lake Michigan to Wisconsin to the city of Milwaukee. The boat was a new catamaran and it was full of passengers and fifty or so cars and motorbikes. There was no view crossing the lake, just the narrow strip of coast. I went up on the top deck half way through and was sorely buffeted by the wind, hanging on to the guard rail. In two and a half hours we were across and had gained an hour going from eastern time to central time. We took a taxi and in 12 minutes were in centre city Milwaukee, a fine town with splendid new buildings and also well cared-for hotels and apartment houses, churches and shops a century or more old. We took the river-side walk sitting and watching little boats motoring up and down, but our main destination was the city museum. We found it and entered at the same time as 500 black children dressed in yellow T-shorts with their women staff dressed in blue. The children were well-behaved and we kept bumping into them as they moved from one display to another. It is good not to talk in whispers in a museum – as if you are in church. The museum had no works of art or pottery. It was all the history of Wisconsin from the time of the dinosaurs until today with large exhibits of Indian homes, the streets of Milwaukee in the last century, dinosaur, mammoth and whale bones, insects – bugs and butterflies – and then, unexpectedly, a butterfly house with hundreds of the creatures flying about and landing on your arms. The little children appreciated that.

We took a taxi back to the boat; it was choppier by night but not unpleasant. A man asked if he could sit next to me and soon I was engaged in conversation with him. A fork-lift truck driver he was returning from a cycling holiday in the Black Hills of Dakota with his friends. They had visited Mount Rushmore and seen the huge heads of the four presidents carved out of the rock. I asked him if he went to church and he told me that it was in a church singles’ group that he had met these men, but that it had been an effective group resulting in most of them except him getting married, but they had all kept friends. “What church do you go to?” I asked him. It was the Calvary non-denominational church near the Christian Cornerstone University across the road from Joel Beeke’s Puritan Reformed Seminary. It is a huge congregation, with three identical morning services. That is Grand Rapids. What a humble man he was and the journey across the lake sped by.

On our last full day we enjoyed a typical Independence Day, July 4th, with our dear friends. We drove thirty minutes to the little town of Dorr, Michigan. We could not enter the town as the sheriffs – a man and a woman – stopped us, directing us up a side road to park the car and walk into town carrying two collapsible chairs. We were the stragglers; most of the best places in the front (to gather up the handfuls of sweets thrown out by the people on trucks, tractors and horseback) had gone. We walked half a mile and stopped at the cross roads in the centre of the town where the Independence Day Parade was due to start. It was led by veterans from the 2nd World War, the Korean, Viet Nam and now Iraq wars. We sat down on a slight slope behind many families, and then the drums rolled and the old soldiers began to march followed by various old army khaki vehicles.

What a parade of small town American moved us to delight in the next hour, the fancy dogs, the fire engines, BYRON TWP, SALEM TWP, DORR TWP (TWP is ‘township’). They sounded off their sirens and little children cried. Antique tractors were in abundance, Co-op, MM, John Deere 70 and 4010 Diesel, the John Deere Silage Special 582, (“Custom bailing”), Deerson and Rowcroft 66. Young teenagers drove some and an old farmer who looked 80 with a straw hat drove another _weren’t they once high and long and thin? There were antique cars, a model Ford and then the Chevrolets from the mid 50s with their now banned fins. One was a souped up T-Bird driven by a young man with a For Sale sign in the window and a telephone number. There were motorbikes, some tiny for children – their fathers walking alongside them, and other old ancient models sparklingly clean. The bicyclists similarly were accompanied by mothers and Old Glory had been taped to the cycles. The local firms all were represented by their huge trucks, Black Gold Transport, Turbo International Truckers, Leboy Tarmac Layer, St Andrews Lumber, A1 Asphalt and a crane, (“Proud to be American”), Byron Downs Horse Boarding Lessons and Training, Maynard Water Conditioners and Purifiers (“Salt and Bottled Water”), Master Shift Transmissions, Bill’s Village Autocare, Viking Robotics, Lincoln Welders, the Heritage Farm (with a bored calf on the trailer), Fifelski’s Auto Service, Adam Lenhart Builders, Lenhart’s Lawn Services and Snow Plowing, Greenway Transportaiton International Inc. of Wayland Michigan.

Then the floats went by pulled by lorries, one was the local rock group, woops, no, it was the Moline Baptist Church group. The Bagside Church Wayland announced “All Nations One Faith.” The Calvary Church of Wayland, not to be undone, was seated on an ancient fire engine. There was the Cross Wind Fellowship (“like a breath from heaven”) with young people in colour coordinated T-shirts giving out leaflets. The Epiphany Lutheran Church announced the dates of its VBS with a huge model of the ‘Holy Bible’ and there were the St Stanislaus Eagles (“We Teach as Jesus Teaches”). Moline Christian School had its float, as did an anti abortion group, and a blood donation group with more leaflets. A few people dressed in animal costumes came walking along waving – Pluto – and also the ancient policeman costume. No one was on stilts. All these people were throwing out handfuls of sweets to the crowds and the little children ran out into the road to scoop them up and fill their plastic bags. The vehicles were traveling at such a snail’s pace there was no danger. The horses came through in batches, palamos, shires pulling a dray, five black people (one woman) dressed as cowboys sauntered along on their frisky stallions, but the riders had no candies to throw out. However, the Women of the Moose on their float did (“Join the Moose!”). So did the United Bank (“United We Stand Supporting Our Troops”), North Dorr General Store, the County Kitchen Restaurant, B.C. Pizza (“All You Can Eat for $5.99) were also generous. There was also Mark’s Merchandise Emporium, and Integrity Eye Wear, Dick’s Market (“Our Family Sewing Your Family Since 1955”), Bunker Hill Chill’N’ Grill, Rent a Wreck of Dorr (“The Smart Alternative; Don’t Let the Name Fool You”), Stallard and Sons Asphalt Paving (“We Improve Your Image,”), Floormart (“RU Due for New?”), DeYoung’s Carpet Cleaning (“Truck Mounted Steam Cleaning”), and then came along three floats with three successful Beauty Queens, Miss Alegan County 2007, Amanda Marshall (Hooray), Miss Hopkins 2007 and the first runner up and the second runner up and the little prince (Hooray). Along came two yellow beat-ups car that looked as if they had been taken out of a scrap yard. A large placard on the roof of one announced DAD while the billboard on the other declared KID. Black Gold Transport was pulling a long trailer covered in two h
eaps os sand with two small boys trying to look cool tethered to two mini motor cycles on top of each (“The Stars and Stripes for Ever!”). “Your Car Wash is Open,” announced another truck. Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians Gun Lake Tribe, Finally along came the Allegan County Sheriff, the parade was over and the crowds drifted happily away. What a magnificent way to spend Independence Day in the USA. We missed the 1 p.m. Beautiful Baby, Terrific Toddler Contest on stage (“For information call Jane (616 681-7278), and the Not So Newly Wed Game at 3 p.m. (“On Stage. Join the Fun! Contestants will be randomly selected from the audience. Offering fabulous prizes donated by area merchants”), and we even missed the Duck Derby at 5 p.m.. But on we went from that to Dave Kwekel’s to a barbecue and hamburgers by the pool. It doesn’t get much better than that does it? The day ended with the night sky full of exploding rockets and many bangs.

The day following there was nothing to do but to pack and drive to the airport, deposit the car with Budget and get our planes from Grand Rapids to Newark and from Newark to Gatwick arriving an hour late, but still, home at 7.30 Friday night Keith and Rhiain meeting us at the station. Home where we belong, full of gladness for our American friends, our safety and the anticipation of the months ahead.

GEOFF THOMAS