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Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Sergey and Lena
 Our village, Rzhischiv, was built around a wide inlet along the Dnieper River. This cove was forged between two incredibly large rolling hills. Over time the river has steadily cut away at the once majestic mounds and exposed its clay body to the harsh and ever changing elements. For the tourist and wedding party, seeking to capture the most exquisite photos of the area, these scalpeled (my own word) hills provide the perfect vista of the spectacular Dnieper. This great river runs all the way through Ukraine from top to bottom. It is deep enough to have scheduled overnight passenger ferries from Kiev, located in the center of the country, right down to Odessa, at the coastal shores of the Black sea in the south. 

It has taken me over a year to learn how to pronounce Rzhishchiv. I have had to clinch my teeth while speaking through the corner of my mouth in order to make a feeble attempt at this word. I still don’t have it down pat, but it does produce a welcoming smile from the locals when I try to say it. I have noticed a slight and subtle gleeful pride exhibited, when they politely correct my butchered enunciation. I am proud of them being proud of their town’s name. It’s how it should be.

Buster's first introduction to swimming. Out like a shot!

My dog, Buster, loves to swim. On his first visit to the Dnieper River, I had to drag him into the water with his leash. It is an inexplicable fact, that fear of the unknown can change the very stalwart, into cowering and whimpering cowards. There was no reasoning with my dog. He did not understand this was going to be fun. At the first chance he was out in a shot. But I left that day well satisfied with the few moments of this new introduction of water to him.

On our next visit, he was a tich more explorative, venturing farther out into the deep. Obviously, being smarter than him, I used the oldest trick in the book to entice him into the water. ‘I tossed a stick approximately four meters out into the river, and told him to fetch.’ I know my dog, and I knew he just couldn’t resist the opportunity to “fetch.” I simply capitalized on his inbred desire to please. Before fear could grip his imagination, he was jumping into the water chasing after the now floating piece of wood. He instantly ‘doggie-paddled’ through the water to retrieve the stick, and I am sure he was amazed at how he was being buoyed while paddling. He was focused on his object and in the process was finding new confidence in the water with every stroke. Today, as soon as he sees us heading for the car, he’s at the gate waiting to be taken to the beach. We no longer need to entice him; he runs right in, without any goading and loves every minute of it. What a water baby he has turned out to be.

Giving Buster some welcomed encouragement.

Now before you think this is another story about our menagerie, let me tell you right up front it’s not. It is actually all about my “Blackberry.” On one of our recent trips to the Dnieper, I had my phone in my swimsuit pocket while swimming with Buster. We had spent over 40 minutes in the water before I realized it, and it had been submerged all this time. I felt sick to my stomach. After all this was the ‘Blackberry Edge.’ A master piece of ingenuity and design! Once home I looked up on the internet to see how others had dealt with their water-logged cell phones. I became engrossed in how to take it apart piece by piece.

Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, I did not have the right screwdriver to completely undo the base from the mother board. Instead I took my wife’s hair dryer and blew dried it for a few minutes. I then replaced the battery to see if it would light up. Not a chance! Nothing! It was as dead as a doornail. I tried plugging it into the power source to see if would take a charge. I read later that this was the last thing you should do. They were right; nothing lighted up and so I sadly discarded my $500 friend on one of the art studio tables. There it lay, taunting my already melancholy heart day after day. I was almost convinced into entertaining getting an iphone. Whew! That was a close one. If you wear Levi’s you don’t buy Wrangler’s. If you drink Coke, you don’t buy Pepsi. If you were raised on the King James you do not buy the NIV. If you use a Blackberry, you do not buy an iphone unless it’s for your wife.  A week passed and out of the blue I thought I would plug it in one more time. Bingo! (Oops) I should have said, “Praise the Lord.” The battery was taking a charge. Today, I have a fully functioning phone. I have been through all of the apps and nothing seems to have been affected. So there you have it. What was lost has now been found, what once was dead is now alive.

In the 'Old City' of Warsaw.
I’ve said all this to actually bring you to the moral of the story. Jesus alone said, “He is the resurrection and the life,” and it is always amazing to me how He dispenses life at His own unique time. Noline and I were in Warsaw, recently. We were invited to stay at the Nigerian Ambassador’s official residence. We were also meeting Bettina there, as she was beginning her vacation. To our delight we were picked up in a chauffeur driven black Mercedes. Our bags were wheeled to the car and the doors were opened and closed for us. I thought to myself, “I could get used to this.” Our Ambassador and host is a strong believer and staying in her home was one of our great delights. I have exhorted her to write a book, “Ambassador for Christ.” She has incredible stories of those she has met and witnessed too, in her many years representing her country abroad.

After preaching in a local church on Sunday, the pastor, his wife and a group of intimate friends came over for a dinner party, hosted at the residence on Monday evening. Among these special guests was a young engaged couple. I asked everyone if I could share a short twenty minute teaching during desert. (How could they turn me down? Right!) As I opened up the scriptures I noticed that this young couple was focused intently on the teaching. Abruptly, at the close they stood up intending to leave as a prearranged ride was waiting for them. The Ambassador, accustomed to exercising great authority told them to sit down and not to leave until I had prayed for them. I simply thought they wanted a ‘blessing’ on their future life together. That is when the Ambassador revealed the young lady was not a Christian and her fiancé was not walking with the Lord.

They see eye to eye on most things!

In a few moments of time, discerning faith had already risen in their hearts through the preaching of God’s Word, I asked the question all of us have been confronted with, by the Holy Spirit at one time or another. “Would you like to receive Jesus Christ into your life?” Both affirmed their desire for change and so we all got onto our knees and prayed together inviting Jesus Christ to become both Lord and Savior. He rededicated his life to the Lord. We came away from Poland with a fresh appreciation that we are only servants doing our Lord’s bidding. For us, going to Poland on this trip was actually a last minute change in our already busy schedule, “but we must needs go through Warsaw.”

I think there is something of a test which comes to all of us. Are we willing to obey the voice of the Lord for one person? In this case it was two. I do not know what will come from this very powerful weekend in Poland; but then again, it was Jesus, who said; “I am the resurrection and the life” and not us. If a miserable Blackberry can come back to life and give us joy, how much more joy is there in heaven when two lives come into eternal life?

We are off to the States tomorrow the 10th to visit with our other two children and their wonderful spouses and very excited children. My next blog will be Stateside.


  1. Hi Neil. You may remember me from some email correspondence back in 2005 when you tried to help me. I never said thanks for your help but I do appreciate it.

    It is great to read your blog as it really seem that you are enjoying your new life in that part of Europe. Your blog writings indicate that you find rich meaning and significance in every thing you do in life, even in the small things, even though you are no longer pastoring a so-called mega church. I do not know why you have given that up but I am sure you have not given up seeking more joy and fulfillment in your life's activities. To spend time with a spouse that you love and finding opportunities to share your faith with an individual - that is real joy, significance and richness. I hope your future will be great and your ministry too.

  2. Neil Rhodes is a simple stupid money loving man who never loved God but his reputation. A complete idiot.