The dictionary defines the word “mundane,” an adjective, thus: (1) of or pertaining to the world, and (2) noting or pertaining to the everyday concerns of this world rather than to spiritual matters.
During my sixty-one years as a pastor, or Minister of the Gospel, the bulk of my ministering may have been in spiritual matters, but a significant portion was in the everyday concerns of this world, of which I now speak.
Mundane Ministries in Mexico
Our son, Steve, in preparation for a full-time Christian vocation, was pursuing a Bible degree at Azusa Pacific University. Carolyn Koons was one of his professors heading up APU’s Mission Outreach Department. Steve was a favorite of Carolyn’s, and headed up the missionary oriented Student Chapel. Alva, my dear departed wife, and I got acquainted with Carolyn through Steve, and hit it off right away.
Carolyn was starting a short-term missionary outreach for the APU students during Easter Festival in Mexicali, Mexico. She invited Alva to go with her on the first venture, to lend moral support and practical help. It was a great success, and plans for the next year were expanded to include youth groups from various churches in addition to APU students (a device for recruiting new students).
So Alva and I and the Chapel’s youth group headed for Mexicali on the second outreach. Lillian Roque (Ruth Benning’s sister), together with her other sister, Bea, and her husband, met us in Mexicali and were our interpreters. We were assigned to a little church to conduct vacation Bible school type ministry during the day (where I was not really needed) and evangelistic services each evening (where I was totally involved).
The dear Mexican Pastor of the little church approached me during the day with one of our interpreters. He explained that he had a problem with the front doors of the sanctuary and wondered if I could help him. I followed him to take a look and found that the front entrance was a double door, both of which had sagged so badly that they could be closed only with great effort and loud scraping. I told him I would be glad to fix the problem if I could borrow his saw. He explained that he didn’t have a saw, that only a carpenter would have a saw. I told him I would see what I could do. Back at camp for supper, I asked around and found one person who had a wood chisel, and another who had a hammer, but no saws.
The next day I told him I would do my best with the hammer and chisel. I took the doors off their hinges, drew lines across the bottom of each door where I wanted to cut, took a deep breath, and started to chisel off, one inch at a time (the width of the chisel – and not very sharp). What should have taken ten minutes with the proper tool took hours with the chisel, but I finally got both doors shortened and hung them back on their hinges. The Pastor tried them out and was overjoyed, grinning from ear to ear and acting like he had just won the lottery. I guess it gave the church a little more credibility (versus the magnificent doors on the Catholic churches and cathedrals).
The only thing he would like better than the doors would be if he could marry Lillian. He was single, and fell in love at first sight, asking her to marry him and stay there in Mexico, but Lillian for some reason declined. We teased her a lot about that whole scenario.
Anyway, after that experience I always took enough basic tools to insure an easier outcome on any needs I encountered.
Another year, at a different church, I again had a door issue to solve. The Pastor led me outside to the back of the church and behold, two ramshackle, one-person outhouses stood close together. Ordinarily, that would be a deluxe situation – two outhouses! The issue? There was only one door – and it wasn’t attached to either outhouse. If the door was leaning against one of the doorposts as you approached, you looked into both outhouses to see which was the cleanest and had a catalog or something there, you picked up the door and backed into that outhouse and carried out your business while somehow keeping the door between you and public view. If you approached and the door was in use you had a decision to make. I figured that in a practical sense the church had one outhouse by day and two outhouses (sort of) by night. But I digress.
After several days and several trips around town I bought plywood for another door, hinges for two doors, a locking device for two doors, and two paper holders, and installed them. My wonderful Mexican- American translators sadly observed that they would soon be stolen. Oh well, I did what I could.
The Azusa Pacific University’s Mexicali Outreach grew by leaps and bounds until several thousand persons would attend each Easter Festival. The Church at the HQ village in Mexicali had no facilities to properly handle the food for such a bunch. They particularly needed a walk-in refrigerator for storage of perishables. Carolyn asked me if I could design the facility and bring down a team during the summer to build it. There was enough room in an existing building for it which provided an existing concrete floor and roof. One of the Chapel’s parishioners worked at our local SaveMart. He told me they were modifying their walk-in refrigerator and thought they would give us the big insulated double door from the old unit. I asked them and they kindly gave them to us. I designed the room around the doors with heavily insulated walls and ceiling. They could buy ice in Mexicali, so cooling was to be furnished by buying ice and putting it on racks with a big fan to blow over the ice and around the room. This eliminated the high cost of a refrigeration system that would only be used once a year. Carolyn ordered the lumber and insulation and had it waiting for us on the site. The team and I arrived with the two gift doors (another door project) and we went to work. It looked great, but would it work? The next Easter festival they found out – it was great. It has served their needs for many years and I think it is still in use.
Alva and I led a Chapel team to the APU outreach for fifteen years or more. At first we were assigned to a different church each year. But then we settled on a church in the village of Chiapas Dos and became closely knit with them. It was usually very hot when we were there, and our youth were pretty stinky after a day of activity with the local kids. So I built a shower on the outside wall of the Pastor’s house with solar heated water. Our team members could rotate showers so they could get a turn every other day. We were thus a little more couth for the evening services.
The little church building was on the Pastor’s property, out in the sticks, and few people were within walking distance. A big subdivision was opening up about a mile and half away, so the Pastor bought a couple of lots on which to build a bigger church surrounded by a lot of people. Our older male youth committed to work each time we went to Mexicali, and myself and other adults agreed to make trips to help build the new church. The Chapel sent monthly offerings to help buy materials. At the next APU outreach we laid out the slab floor/footings. The locals would dig the footing trenches, level the floor space, and put in the outside forms. A team would come down before the next outreach and pour the foundation and floor. The team turned out to be Jim Harrison and me – pretty small team. But Jim was in the concrete business and I was quite knowledgeable and experienced also. We thought we could do it, though Jim could not take his power-trowel because there was no electricity yet.
When we arrived we were glad to see that the locals had done their job, so with a few refinements we were ready. Jim and I and the Pastor went to the transit mix plant and arranged for the concrete to be delivered the next day. We told them that we were the only two workers so they should space the three trucks well apart. When they arrived the next day at the appointed time, all three trucks came at once. We were aghast, and protested strongly. The foreman told us it was OK. They had felt sorry for us with just two workers, so had brought their new pumper to help us out, free of charge. They would empty all three trucks in a hurry. Wrong!
The pumper had no hydraulic power to handle the hose, it had to be manhandled. The hose was smaller in diameter to make this possible. They had never used it yet, and didn’t know you had to pump a clay slurry through first to lubricate the hose. So, when they started it up, the pumper only half-filled the hose and stalled. Now they had a hose with concrete stuck in it, the hopper of the pumper was full of concrete that it wouldn’t pump out and was getting hard fast. We fooled around with them for a while, then Jim and I told them to start unloading the other two trucks and we would hand spread it and their own men could try to clean out the pumper and hose.
It was hot, the concrete was setting up fast, difficult to rake and screed, already needing to be troweled. We were both sweating like pigs. There was enough concrete even though part of the first truck was wasted, but we were exhausted and the whole 25 x 40 foot floor had to be hand troweled. We had to temper (add water to) the concrete in order to smooth it with our trowels. I think there was a somewhat continuous “Help us, Jesus!” going on the whole time. We both thought we were going to die as missionaries in a foreign land.
Amazingly, the floor ended up being acceptable. We ended up being completely zonked out. If I remember right, we didn’t have time to be angry with the concrete truck foreman – after all, his intentions were good. So we didn’t have to forgive him. By the next morning we had recovered, and laid two courses of concrete blocks around the perimeter before we left for home.
When the next APU outreach rolled around, Alva and I parked our ministry travel trailer next to the new church building. The locals had finished the block walls and I could work on the building while the Chapel team did the VBS at the old church. The Pastor had built a little store on the new property, so I hooked the trailer up to an outlet on the store. I noticed a little tingle when I grabbed the doorknob of the trailer. I asked the Pastor if he had any electrical problems in the store. He said that people had complained about getting shocks when opening the door on the store. I got out my multi-meter and checked the polarity at the meter box. It was reversed. At that time there was no inspection by the electric company (owned by the government) or anyone else. Whoever hooked up his electricity for him had not put in a ground rod, and had hooked the hot wire from the pole to the ground wire of the store. Fortunately, no one was electrocuted. There was no way for me to turn off the power from the pole, so I very gingerly corrected the hookup with the feed being hot. Whew!
It would be a couple of years before the new church was finished. The old church on the Pastor’s property is still going, with meetings on Saturday. The new church meets on Sunday. The old Pastor is gone, but his daughter and son-in-law keep both works going.
One of our families had a foster daughter named Terry, a fine Christian girl. She had a calling from God to be a missionary to Mexico, and was enrolled in a Spanish language Bible institute in La Puente, CA. Before she graduated she had learned to speak Spanish and met a student from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, named Chago. Terry and Chago soon married, and moved to his home town as missionaries. The missions organization that sent them was building an elaborate Gospel center there. Chago, being a Mexican citizen, was put in charge of the project. Chago knew me through Terry, and was aware that I did considerable construction related work. His sending Mission was preparing a work team to go down to San Luis Potosi and work on the project. He asked me if I could go to help in the areas none of the team members were familiar with. The Chapel allowed them to borrow me for a couple of weeks, and off I went. I worked with the team in various ways on the project. Chago asked me if I would stay on for another week as he had a special project that needed doing. It was OK with the Chapel, so the team went back and I would fly home after finishing the project.
Terry and Chago were living in a nearly finished building on the complex. One of the things that wasn’t finished was the bathroom, which still lacked a door. They had an opaque cloth hung over the opening, but kept having embarrassing situations as the cloth could not be locked. (Oh-oh, another door project.) If he had spoken sooner, we could have bought the door and I could have hung it before the team left and gone home with them. But that was the problem, he couldn’t buy a door. The metal doorframe they had used with the masonry construction was an odd size, and he wanted me to build the door to that odd size. I told him that with the few tools we had between us that I could probably make a slab door, though it was easier said than done. I measured the frame carefully and we went to buy the materials – which also turned out to be easier said than done. At that time you had to go to a different store for everything. We went to one store and got a couple of sheets of thin plywood for the faces. We went to lumber yard where they planed the frame material to my specifications from rough lumber. We went to another store for the hinges and lockset. We went to another store for paint. The bare wood needed to be primed and then painted with an oil-base white paint. They had the paint, but no primer. I asked Chago if they had any turpentine, thinking I could add some to the paint and that would give better penetration like a primer would. The clerk didn’t understand turpentine, no matter how I asked it through Chago’s interpretation. In desperation I said it was made by destructive distillation of coniferous wood. If you can believe it, his face lit up and he rushed to get a sample. I gave it the smell test, and voila, it was the right stuff. Somewhere along the line we found some glue and we were off to make a door. It turned out quite well, and after a difficult installation, it was finished, and the troops were overjoyed.
Chago found a flight for two days later, and said he wanted to show me around the city the next day. We ended up the tour at a park just below the dam which provided the water supply for the city, so we climbed a steep path to walk cross the dam. It was big, and 200 feet above the downstream elevation. The dam was beautiful, and the railing along the edge was fancy stonework. To my utter amazement, about half way across, fifty feet or so of railing was missing! No warning signs, no temporary barriers, no nothing. I asked him how long it had been missing. He didn’t know, it had been that way as long as he knew anything about it. I couldn’t believe it. In the States, someone would be hung by their thumbs if that was allowed. He said the authorities figured the parents knew enough to keep their kids away from the edge. It was too expensive to replace.
Mundane Ministries in the Chapel Area
The above lengthy account covers events that occurred in Mexico over a period of a little over fifteen years, but took only about twenty weeks of time all together.
In contrast, the local mundane ministries described in a couple of paragraphs below were a continuum which began in 1955 and extended till 2011, when I could no longer drive because of my failing eyesight (fifty-six years versus twenty weeks).
The incidents were even more mundane. All kinds of carpenter work, plumbing repairs, unclogging sewers, electrical repairs or additions, seeing that houses could be securely locked, repairs on furniture, appliances, even cars, helping move, getting wood for those who heated with it and countless other things. Much of this work was done for single moms. I usually became aware of needs in the course of pastoral calls at parishioner’s homes. Or Alva would hear about needs in her extensive phone ministry and send me off to help.
I was sometimes criticized by other pastors for this mundane work, but I found it to be of spiritual benefit. The people served felt they were cared for by the church family. Their friends would take note, and come to the Chapel. It proved to be an evangelistic tool. It was a good way for me to get better acquainted with the Chapel members.
The bonus in it all was that I loved doing that sort of ministry.