Category Archives: places

Bună ziua, Romania!

Romania

I have a very special place in my heart for Romania. So many memories.

If I could take you to a box full of pictures, I could tell you story after story about the cities I visited, the people I met, the food I enjoyed, the time I came close to dying after drinking the water, the relationships, the church services, and the fish soup I just couldn’t eat.

If we had a while, I’d tell you why “Este o zi bună pentru a muri” became a repeated phrase every time we got in a car. What does it mean? It’s a good day to die.

I’d love to tell you about an overnight ride through the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps in a sleeper car straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.

You’d get a chuckle if I told you the story of me telling a Russian girl of the Romanian tree-dwelling vaca while walking through a park.

You’d laugh at the story of what led to recording a beautiful Romanian girl play her guitar and sing in a pink-tiled bathroom.

You might even tear up at the stories of sharing the gospel and Bibles with people who had been crushed under the foot of a communist dictator. And, how would you react if I showed you a picture of the approximately 80 people that accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior in one meeting I preached in village outside of Alexandria?

You’d be fascinated with the flag I was given, a flag with a hole in the center, a tattered piece of cloth that was actually drug through the streets of Timisoara during the revolution of 1989, just 2 years before (30 years ago, now).

But that was then – this is now.

And Romania has internet, internet users, and people who read my blog once in a while.

I’d love to find out whatever happened to the 80 in that village.

Maybe they’re the one’s who visit this site! Wouldn’t that be great?

Mulțumesc, Romania!

 

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Sawubona, South Africa!

Sawubona is Zulu for “greetings” or “hello.”

I’ve never been to South Africa, but I was very close a few years ago when I was in Zimbabwe. As a matter of fact, while I was there I enjoyed two items that came from South Africa: a great mattress and Peri Peri hot sauce (which I love).

I know I have a few followers/subscribers in South Africa. Please know that I appreciate you and pray for you and your country.

If you are in South Africa reading this, leave a comment! We’d love to hear from you.

Hamba Kahle!

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Church History and #50

The History Room

Does your young, newborn of a 20th century church have a history room? Probably not.

The last church I pastored was considered “historic,” but is was only founded in 1946, not even the 1800’s. It didn’t have a “history” room, only a file cabinet.

But this church (Bethlehem Baptist) was founded in 1791! Therefore, it has a “history room” where old church records are stored. And let me tell you, reading the minutes from a church business meeting held 230 years ago is a trip!

How Times Change!

One of the things that rarely gets discussed in modern churches is church discipline. I mean, it’s very rare that a church member gets called to the carpet for sinful behavior these days, much less barred from fellowship or excommunicated. Yet, spend some time in the history room here at BBC and you will find out that things were a LOT different 200 years ago.

I hereby submit, for your edification and entertainment, selected readings from the minutes of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

  • Jan. 1, 1791:  “Excommunicated Robert.” That’s it. Nothing else was recorded!
  • May 20, 1791:  “Restored James Spratley to full fellowship.” Well, at least something positive happened.
  • June 6, 1792:  “Church met in conference . . . Stephen Renfroe is brought on trial & gains fellowship. ‘The church still seems divided concerning a pastor & 12 of the members rise & declare themselves grieved with the calling of Benjamin Thompson as pastor. Confusion & death is like to take place.‘” Ummm, that doesn’t sound good!
  • Sept. 28, 1792: “Ch. met in conf. Nothing of note came before us. Love seems to abound.Let’s hope so!
  • April 27, 1793: “[Bethlehem Baptist Church] met in conference. No business presented. Br. Baker, his wife, & negro join us by letter. (Br. Baker later becomes Pastor) Nothing unfinished. Love abounds.” It’s about time, don’t you think?
  • March 14, 1794: “David Wilborn is censured by Sister Taylor for injustice in measuring corn.” Where did the love go?
  • June 14, 1804: “Took under consideration the conduct of James Blunt & it being made plain… Alexander Smith confessed to drinking too much. Sister Little complained that Br. James Taylor had run off a part of her land. Neal, Walker, & Edmund May (Mayo?) to reconcile matter.”
  • March 18, 1815: (One month after the War of 1812) “Friday before the 3rd Sunday in April set apart as a day of thanksgiving to God for the aversion of impending danger & the return of his mercy towards us as a nation in delivering us from Wars & bloodshed & restoring peace in our country.”
  • Jan. 15, 1820: “Br. Manning & Barber to cite Jeff & wife (colored) to attend next conference to answer for some charges alleged against him viz: dishonesty & preaching without leave of the Church. Sister Molly a woman of color, dismissed by letter. She formerly belonged to David McCard.” Seems a “negro” had been preaching without permission. He justified himself by saying he’d never been told not to. Then, two months later, the church met and decided, “As to Jeff’s preaching, the ch. thinks proper for him to lay down the practice of taking texts to advance doctrine from, but recommended him to use the gift in public of singing, prayer & exhortation.” Ah, yes! Those colored people sure knew how to sing, didn’t they?

Like I said, things sure have changed in the last 200+ years, haven’t they?

And then there was #50!

So, with all this history, my curiosity got the best of me: I wanted to know where I fell in the lineage of pastors. How many had there been, and what number was I? When I figured it out, there had been 49 men who served a total of 56 tenures here at Bethlehem (a few had been asked to serve a second or third time).

That made me the 50th man to be pastor! Or as one deacon called my last night, the “golden boy.”

Portraits of pastors (mine isn’t up, yet). But this is only 20. 30 more are missing.

Yep, I’m the 50th pastor serving in the 57th tenure … and the second Baker. But THIS “Br. Baker” ain’t got no slaves!

“Love abounds.” For real.

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Namaste, India!

It never fails to amaze me how this blog can be read by people around the world in places I may never be able to visit. Therefore, I want to start doing some shout-outs, some “hello’s” to my friends and readers in all these distant, far-off lands.

Today I want to say Hello (namaste) to all you guys in India! Howdy!

It is an honor that you would stop by and read my blog. Please leave a comment, if you would, and tell us about yourself 🙂

God bless you!

Anthony

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Adventures In History, or “Break’n the Law”

Learning the History

One of the activities that occupies my time is learning the history of the area where I pastor. Believe me, there’s more than enough to keep one learning for a long, long time.

But learning local history is vitally important for getting to know the people one’s called to shepherd. And being that I’m not a local, not even close, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to go on some adventures in order to get a “lay of the land.”

That is why, after learning of the existence of an abandoned mental hospital, I had to learn more, and if possible, in person.

The Unofficial History

The place that I’m talking about is Central State Hospital, founded in 1842 as the  Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum. At one time this was the largest mental hospital/asylum in the world, “serving” up to 13,000 people.

Central State has a long and sorted history with a mixed reputation for healing and horror. From what I have been told by locals (you know, the kind that sit around in the barber shop even when it’s not time for a trim), strange and unexplained things have happened since the “residents” of that place were “let loose.” And when you read the stories that hit the news in the years leading up to the hospital’s closing, you’ll understand.

This hospital was HUGE. We’re talking a self-supporting town! There were a couple of hundred buildings, including a power plant and a cemetery with 25,000 graves! And really, what more needs to be said?

Sadly, even though the hospital was founded as a place to help people, the help they offered for generations was nothing short of horrific. At one point there were 100 patients to every 1 doctor – and NO psychiatrists or psychologists! Common treatments of the confined, those who suffered from anything from depression to schizophrenia, were things like electro-shock, surgeries, and straight jackets.

What’s worse, parent’s in Georgia used to use this place as a threat to make their children behave. They would threaten their unruly children with, “I’ll send you to Milledgeville!” Horrifically, it was a threat with weight, for it’s been said that Central State Hospital was a place “where you sent people away to be forgotten.”

The Unofficial Tour

If you look up Central State Hospital on YouTube, you will inevitably find videos of people exploring the abandoned ruins of this facility. And what’s more, many of those are focused on the creepy and “haunted” aspects of the property. As a matter of fact, Central State is considered one of the most haunted places in America.

However, if you go to MY YouTube channel, what you will find is the video I’ve attached to this post. It is a video of what an unnamed friend and I saw when he offered to give me an unofficial tour.

The only thing is that what started off as a drive around the place ended up with me deciding to get out of the car for a closer look. And once we did that, and once I saw that there were no locks and no signs saying “KEEP OUT!”, I went in.

WARNING: Don’t do this!

“Break’n the Law”

After about an hour of walking around in an abandoned prison essentially meant to house handicapped and elderly prisoners until they died … and after several times of mimicking TV ghost hunters by calling to the unseen down black, unlit hallways, “Is anybody there?” … we retraced our steps and found our way out into the sunlight.

Before we made it to the car, a female security officer in a van came down a weedy, overgrown single-lane drive and rolled up beside us. “You are not allowed to be here…you need to leave now,” she said with all the seriousness of somebody being paid to guard Area 51. “Oh, OK. We were just looking around and about to leave,” we replied.

“Just so you know, we’re not giving warnings anymore – we’re just calling the police and they’re taking people like you to jail,” the security officer then informed us. But then she let us go with a warning.

Back in the car, my friend, also a preacher, asked, “Would your church had fired you if you’d gotten arrested?”

“Probably not,” I said. At least I hoped.

“We literally could have gone to jail,” my friend said. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I replied. “But it feels a little adventurous knowing we broke the law and got away with it.” I couldn’t help but remember MTV’s Beavis and Butthead from back in my younger, stupid years: they’d do something moronic, then act like would-be renegades while singing, “Break’n the law! Break’n the law!

This, however, was pastoral research.

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Music Flashback With Audio! The Album that Never Was

Nashville

Back in July of 2013, a year before Katie went to college for a music degree, we spent a couple of days sitting in front of microphones in a studio in Nashville.

My daughters and I, along with Daniel Ziegenmier and Steve Castlen, were creating what I believe could have been a surprise hit – Katie’s debut CD. But, alas, the finished product was not to be.

Below is the story, along with photos and music I just uploaded to YouTube (scroll down to listen to them).

Goat Farmer Records

goat farmer recordsBelieve it or not, Katie (the recent graduate from Bryan College) was picked up by Goat Farmer Records in Nashville, TN. Yes, Goat Farmer Records. GFR was an independent label focusing on alternative bluegrass and Americana, and we were the label’s first Christian artists!

Being that GFR was not Sony, Capital, or Sparrow Records, the recording budget was limited. We were not flown to Nashville, nor did we receive big bonuses and specially prepared food during sessions. No limo picked us up at the hotel, either. But, what we did receive was a warm welcome, a laid-back atmosphere, and the opportunity to have fun.

If nothing else, this poor preacher didn’t have to fork out $10K for studio time. Can I get an amen!?

Unfortunately, the Christian message and mission of Katie’s music developed an uncomfortable vibe, and the label’s owner and chief engineer (Joel Ziegenmier) thought it best to release Katie and not pursue finishing the project or promotion.

Future attempts at recording also proved unfruitful, so Katie never got to put out the CD that we thought would be a blessing.

Pictures

Everybody loves pictures, so here are a few images from our sessions.

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Mr. Monkey goes everywhere.

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Daniel on the cajon, Haley on the Uke, Katie on guitar, Joel setting up, and me on bass (out of view).

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It’s hard to explain.

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Katie likes the Neuman u87 (microphone).

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Steve Castlen on drums.

Unlike many other groups, we get to play our own instruments! No hired studio musicians to replace us – no sir! But of course, that means recording music takes longer and requires a lot of work. Amazingly, one can get tired while having fun.

The Present and Future

While Katie was in college for 5 1/2 years, she wasn’t able to focus on her own music much, even though it was partly her creativity and potential that earned her a music scholarship. Even though she has written a couple of songs in the last 5 years, most of her time was spent learning music, including operas in multiple languages.

Now that Katie and Haley are moved out and on their own, and now that Katie is done with college, my hope is that she will return to writing and recording, especially since her voice has matured and her musical knowledge has been expanded.

If you like what you hear in the links I’ve included below, please contact Katie and let her know. Encourage her to rekindle the gift that God has given her.

Bonus Picture

rockers

Mirror Image (1993). That’s me, my sister (Rebecca), Jody Gould, and Steve Castlen back in the day 🙂

The Album that Wasn’t

The following “studio roughs” were recorded at the now-defunct Goat Farmer Records in Nashville, TN. Even though the audio quality was good, no post-editing was ever completed, so the critical ear will hear a few mistakes.

Also, Katie was only 17 at the time of these recordings. Her vocal and music abilities have greatly improved over the last 6 years!

Don’t you think that last song would make a great video? Even a great commercial for a cute car?

If you are a record label, Katie’s available 🙂 

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Where’s the Coffee?

Preparing Sunday lunch in Zimbabwe, not Georgia 🙂

Food

It doesn’t matter where in the world you go, food is a universal need, even here in the middle of Georgia. However, what people eat and drink when they are hungry can vary greatly between location and culture, and Georgia is no exception.

Consider the following observations…

In Romania:

When I was in Romania, I found out that ground pork wrapped in cabbage leaves (sarmale) was the national dish, and I enjoyed it. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember any food in Romania that I didn’t like.

…except that soup.

Once, when staying in an apartment, the host family made fish soup. When I looked into the bowl, several little fish glared back at me with glassy, broth-covered eyes. Considering that the fish had to have come from water that was heavily contaminated by industrial waste, I had to refuse it. Before I did, just to be sure I was doing the right thing in offending my hosts, I dipped a spoon into the broth and tasted it…I had a metallic taste in my mouth for a week after that.

At least there was coffee.

In Zimbabwe:

As opposed to Europe, food choices in Africa can be a little more adventurous, especially for an American. However, for the most part, the food I ate in Zimbabwe was pretty much the same as in the States. The only thing I was told NOT to eat was anything from the bush (i.e., monkey).

The reason for the similarity is that Zimbabwe’s food had a history of English influence, so finding familiar food was not a problem, just as long as you knew what to ask for. Don’t eat their “biscuits” with gravy, if you know what I mean.

The only thing I couldn’t stomach in Zimbabwe was a desert made of bananas, pinto beans, green onion, yogurt, and Thousand Island salad dressing. After one spoonful I was done. My American palate had met its match.

But, at least, there was coffee!

In Georgia:

Look, believe me, the food down here is great, and other than when they spring something new on me, like pineapple sandwiches, it’s pretty much like anywhere else in the South. However, I’ve come to learn that we have a completely different understanding of one key food group: Barbecue.

The best I can tell, once you’re exposed to raw kaolin (the clay mined from the ground), pine trees, and higher-than-average heat, what the rest of the South does with pork doesn’t matter. Somewhere in their rich, rich history, these folk evidently developed a subconscious hatred for the pig. They like to eat it, but first they must pulverize it then torture it with a light bath of BBQ-flavored vinegar.

But at least there’s coffee, right? Uh, well, sorta.

Beverages

Like with food, it doesn’t matter where you go – people have to drink. Of course, what they drink depends upon the quality of the water and whether or not the locals have an excess of potatoes.

But, regardless, everywhere I’ve been in the world, from North America to Europe to Africa, one drink has been there for me, waiting around every corner, offered at every function, even boiled in pots over an open fire …coffee.

That is, except in middle Georgia!

Seriously, in Romania I woke up to a big, cast-iron pot full of dark, fragrant, exceedingly rich coffee over an open fire. Yes, there was electricity where we were staying, but because there were more than a few of us, and since coffee was a must for breakfast, they broke out the pot, lit a fire, and poured in the grounds.

In Zimbabwe, coffee was offered everywhere I went, including homes that prepared their meals in a mud hut! Even in an Ethiopian airport, where few things were recognizable to a Westerner, there was a coffee shop serving that familiar, satisfying, nerve-calming, caffeinated friend.

But here? Coffee? What coffee?

No joke, I’ve been to multiple fellowships, dinners, meetings, you name it, and I can’t tell you one time – not once – where there was any coffee offered with the desserts! Where else, except maybe the Sahara, do you go to an important meeting and find only water and iced tea, but NO coffee?

I don’t understand it.

All I can figure is that the folk down here are so laid back, so calm, so chill, so full of the “peace of that passes all understanding,” that coffee isn’t needed. Sweet tea is the cure-all for everything.

Or, it could be that they learned other ways to cope with stress way back when Union blockades stopped the shipment of coffee to Confederate troops. I don’t know.

Either way, I’ll survive. I’m tough. I’ll even grow to enjoy the way they do their BBQ.

It’s not like I have to have coffee with every meal and meeting, right? It’s not like God commanded locally-grown Georgia pecan pie be accompanied by a cup of dark roast, right?

I may need your prayers.

 

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