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Hosting Justice

I first met John Nunnikhoven in Chester, VT where he lives across the street from my in-laws and ministers in the same prison as them. His hot sauce omelets are the stuff of legends. His post today is a lifelong testimony of learning to pursue justice.

In the Christian home of my childhood, I saw the Christian life as a struggle while we waited to be summoned home where we would finally attain Eternal Life. This was some ill-defined life, mostly where the saints stood around praising God forever. In between was a life of toil, of persecution, and long-winded prayers by Brother Whatchamacallit regarding all the sin in the world but that we who were Saved and needed to go out in the Lord’s Work to preach John 3:16 to the poor sinners in deepest, darkest Africa.

This wasn’t too captivating to a teenager more enthralled with the onset of hormones.

Married at 21, I had three children and a reasonably successful career in industry, while living our version of the American Dream; accumulating the toys and walking the life of a dedicated materialist and godless thinker whose worldview was shaped by Brave New World and Atlas Shrugged.

Now there’s a mess for you.

Inn Crisis 

A severe case of mid-life crisis culminated at 42 in 1979 with the purchase of an inn in Vermont where we were going to make our fortune catering to the XC skier. The Lord had other plans. Less than 96 hours in business and we were summoned by the Holy Spirit, working through a joke, to begin a journey on the King’s Highway, little knowing that the journey began in the Here and Now, not at some ephemeral future time.

Progress was slow but thanks to the Lord working through many Christian guests, there was progress. We wandered through several churches, always moving in the direction of a deeper faith but there was and still are, many layers of dross to be removed.

The big breakthrough came when I was given a copy of a manuscript that later became Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. He made me realize that when Jesus preached, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is available to you now” He really meant Now and that Now encompassed every aspect of my life.

From the Inn Side Out 

As I began to think through the implications of this understanding, I realized that I had new dimensions to my life as a innkeeper. I had far more to consider than supplying a comfortable bed and good meals to my guests, in short that 1 Peter 4:11b, “whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (NIV) was to be the driving principle of my life.

This meant that I needed to examine five specific areas and bring them before the Lord for guidance. These were:

1. Our practices in dealing with our guests. For example, I needed to be very careful about the advertising copy that I wrote. I was an expert at telling the partial truth and allowing the guests to form their own conclusions about what was not said. The Holy Spirit reminded me that Truth was the whole Truth.

2. Our practices towards our suppliers. They deserved a return for their efforts and God-shaped consideration when something went wrong.

3. Our competition was to be respected and assisted wherever possible. It finally soaked in that a good competitor was an asset, I needed him to keep me on my toes.

4. Our staff must be treated with respect and dealt with as mature individuals. Sometimes this was tough, very tough but how could I tell them of life in the Kingdom when I had just completed a tirade about their incompetence? One disappointment was that I was never able to figure out how to supply health insurance that they and we could afford.

5. The community in which we lived and operated. We needed to do everything within our abilities to bring the righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit which is life in the Kingdom to the village. For example, we sponsored an annual concert, The Celebrant Singers, to bring the Good News to the Village using contemporary music to carry the message.

Quo Vadis?

We retired in 2002 and began to live the Good Life of Retirement. The Lord had other plans. I was accepted into Chuck Colson’s Centurion Program in 2004 and began the most exciting period of my then 68 years. Commissioned in early 2005, we found ourselves in August of that year as volunteers in a local prison, again as the result of one of my joking remarks.

This has become a full time ministry to inmates, ex-inmates, homeless, abused women, addicts and others among the lost, the least and the lonely, the very ones Christ came to serve.

In addition, we are associated with the Fellowship of Ailbe, a group of men seeking to bring those factors of the Celtic Revival, the factors that made it the longest lasting, the widest spread revival in Christian history, to today’s Church.

The Lord has been good to us, very good as we have accepted His invitation to live according to His Word and to trust in Him for all things. But we are still learning to live out Micah 6:8 and Matthew 25:31-46

One lesson learned early on was that doing the Lord’s Work was not necessarily preaching John 3:16 to the poor sinners in deepest, darkest Africa but that the Lord’s Work was to be done wherever He placed us. We serve as His hands and feet, His salt and light among the culture of today as His ambassadors from the Kingdom of Heaven to the Kingdom of Man. What a blessing to have citizenship in a Kingdom operated according to the Word of God.

Thanks John for sharing your story! Be sure to check out John’s meditations on the Psalms:

Voices Together Volume 2 Voices Together Volume 2 By John Nunnikhoven

Voices Together Voices TogetherBy John Nunnikhoven

About the “Doing Justice” Series

For 2013, we’ll spend each Friday looking at a new story about the ways someone is doing justice or acting justly. Christianity is a religion about action. Beliefs are important, but if those beliefs don’t translate into concrete action that reshapes how we live, it’s literally all in our heads. Using Matthew 25 and Micah 6:8 as our guides, we’ll be sharing stories that illustrate what acting justly could look like today.

How to Follow This Series

For starters, make sure you do two things:

  1. Subscribe to my blog (see the links at the top of the center column).
  2. Subscribe to my e-newsletter where I’ll share updates about the series.

Searching for Words After Irene and the Flood in Vermont

Chester Vermont

My father-in-law’s picture of the back yard with the water rising.

I had a couple evacuation plans in mind, but I didn’t think we would use them. I knew where we should drive our car or what order we needed to pack things if we needed to escape the flood.

The water started to rise in the late morning on Sunday. The creek started to overflow its banks near my in-law’s house, our temporary base before our move to Columbus, OH. Most days you can jump across some rocks on this gentle creek. On Sunday the creek filled up its streambed and then filled the hay field behind the house.

We noticed water creeping into the field and thought, “Wow, that’s unusual.”

An hour later we were worried. The creeping creek became a roaring river. It filled the huge field right up to the 3 foot high stone retaining wall around it. It lapped over the sides of the wall and flooded the basement. We had electricity for most of the day, but the water pump was knocked out early in the afternoon.

Soon water poured over state highway 103 at the end of the road.

As we watched the water rise, we learned that other towns in the state were devastated. One home we used to rent in Arlington was severely flooded. Another home that we used to own may have been damaged from what I know of the flood plain nearby.

Towns where we used to go for dinner out had water rushing down their main streets. Brattleboro, Wilmington, and Manchester were all familiar haunts during our time in Vermont, and all sustained flooding and damage to varying degrees.

It’s a strange thing to be in the middle of a potential flood evacuation and to learn that many of your favorite towns are sitting under three feet of water, only to find that the rest of the world is moving along as if nothing is the matter. I could hardly handle Twitter yesterday.

The flash floods around us attacked my simplistic, easy-going approach to most days. I usually try to post something on Twitter about my writing, a humorous rabbit story, and then a few retweets of my friends’ stuff. I usually try to work on my writing and read something constructive. When you’re afraid of waters rushing into your house, the present crisis adopts a kind of urgency that overrides everything else.

For part of the day I could only watch the water rise, trickling over the ridge that separated the house from the river.

Perhaps the thing that made me stop and look for so long was the realization that our lives are such fragile things. We get these reminders from time to time when we see an accident or watch a loved one struggle with a life-threatening illness.

I’m not talking about the fragility of electricity, water, or internet access. I’m talking about a day when you wake up, brush your teeth, and watch a raging river pour toward your house. Big, terrible, things can happen to us any day. And yet so many days, they don’t.

I’m grateful that the only casualty to the flood among us was the hot water heater. Some people lost their homes or businesses. Life is fragile. In an instant, our investments can be washed away. It’s a not-too-subtle reminder to invest in the things that cannot be washed away in a flood.

Scavenger Hunt and Daring Rescue on the Battenkill River

So we took our kayaks into the Battenkill River yesterday with Julie’s folks who splashed along in their canoe. The river was running high from all of the rain, meaning the shallow Battenkill was perfect for 2-hour boat trip.

We had blue skies, rushing water, and ample breeze to make it a glorious afternoon. We packed all manner of chips and candy in the canoe for a mid-way pull-off on a sunny beach or pile of pebbles in a convenient location.

The current shot us along, but overall, things plugged along swimmingly. About 30 minutes into the trip we came upon a party of about 20 teenagers who I hope were at least college age. They seemed to be having a good time, only they called out to us that we may find some bobbing beer cans downstream.

Someone had the bright idea of chilling the beer in the water.

Ha, ha. I thought. Silly teenagers.

We got a kick out of that. Then, about 20 minutes later my mother-in-law is spinning the canoe around to spy on some suspicious objects in the bushes along the side of the river. My father-in-law had to paddle really hard to make this happen. I couldn’t believe she went through so much trouble to pick up trash, but soon realized she had zeroed in on beer cans.

Seven to be exact. She found an apple too. The beer consisted of a smattering of brands, including one 24 oz Coors Light. As I bobbed around waiting, I managed to snag a can out of the river as well.

This find made us extra vigilant for anything metallic in the water. Soon I nabbed a beer can off a rock by sweeping around it, digging hard upstream, and eventually taking shelter behind the rock to pull in the can.

By the time we stopped for our snack we had eleven beer cans.

Our little rocky bit of land happened to be along a narrow stretch of river where the current picked up a great deal. While enjoying our lunch we noticed a lady in a kayak rocketing through the current. She tried to grab onto a tree hanging over the stream to wait for her husband—whom we later heard had capsized just moments before.

Hanging on to a tree in a strong, swift current is a bad idea. Trust me. She flipped over while trying to hang on to the tree. She managed to hold on to her paddle and kayak while floating down the current.

Now it seemed that she should have just floated down to a calm area and all would have been well, but instead she tried to get into her kayak. And as if demonstrating for me, onlooking kayak novice who knows next to nothing, she promptly half-sank her kayak by trying to get into it.

By this time I ran down to the bank, but she couldn’t swim over to me. Julie and her dad ran down stream and swam/walked out into a pretty swift current to pull her in and get her settled upright again.

It wasn’t a rescue in the face of death or danger, but it was certainly a rescue in the face of unpleasantness. It was a swift current that could have made a wayward kayak tough to handle. We watched her water bottle and her husband’s water bottle zip downstream from us. Soon she and her rather wet husband paddled away while we finished up our lunch

With our soaked rescuers and stash of beer cans, we eventually paddled on to the Georgi in Cambridge, NY. Upon arriving we found one of the couple’s water bottles on the rocks.

And so we not only enjoyed awesome weather in a fantastic river, we also fished out of the river eleven cans of beer, one apple, one kayaker, and one water bottle.

Not bad for a Sunday afternoon.

Birthday Planning Underground

It’s Julie’s birthday today. I have installed myself as the master of ceremonies and have kept every single detail as secretive as possible. It’s been a tough year, as is every year if you’re a special education teacher, and so I wanted her to have nothing at all to worry about. For whatever reason I also decided it was really important to surprise her completely, so all planning has been done on the underground.

This can add a bit of pressure to daily life. I have to scan everything I say to make sure I’m not giving up any clues. I also have to carefully watch my e-mails and what I say on the phone. I’ll be relieved tonight when I can end the duplicity.

I’ve been planning the “birthday meal” all week and have been cleaning the house in bits and pieces so it’s ready for tonight when her family comes over. I hope to grill some food (I won’t say what in case she reads this), but there’s rain in the forecast, so I’m hoping that it isn’t too hazardous to grill with an umbrella. I even cleaned out the rabbits’ cages, but those losers already made a mess of things. The futility of rabbits.

I’ll post tomorrow on the success of the party and whether or not my umbrella went up in flames.

The Unofficial Notes of the Arlington Town Meeting

I attended the Arlington town meeting last night in the sweltering gymnasium of the Arlington Memorial High School. It was a solid 2 and half hour affair that covered school budgets, fire hydrants, emergency preparedness, special ballot initiatives, and legislation.

If you’re not familiar with town meetings, they’re a gathering of citizens typically before election day where they essentially have an opportunity to review the town and school board reports in order to grill their elected officials on their budgets, initiatives, past accomplishments, and future plans. This is a time for the tax payers to talk back in an open forum and to have a conversation with their elected officials. It also provides an opportunity for the elected officials to address these concerns, hopefully resolving them once and for all.

For the most part I was very impressed with Arlington’s town meeting. Though the high school tuition is rather high, it’s hard to know where to make cuts since the school has produced great results, earning awards over the past year for academic excellence. The school board did an excellent job answering questions with the one exception of computer costs. Apparently the school board is prepared to spend $1500 per computer for labs that will have close to 175 computers. Many residents jumped all over that, challenging them to consider other options since many computers can be purchased for $800. Continue reading

Arlington, Vermont Featured in Yankee Magazine

I visited the Yankee Magazine site for November/December and thought that I recognized the covered bridge on the home page… Wait a second, that’s the bridge 2 miles down the road from my house!

When you don’t have all that much going on in your home town, you have to build up what you do have (for example, Bennington, VT built a monument for a battle that occurred in nearby Hoosick Falls, NY and christened the one-day slug fest The Battle of Bennington). Arlington has one of the most beautiful and hence photographed covered bridges that just happens to be next to Norman Rockwell’s former home and studio.

So we try to make Arlington look pretty hot, even if it’s a has-been when it comes to the arts. But hey, I’m doing what I can to put Arlington back on the map.

You can read up on Arlington in the Yankee article. I drive by the bridge and horses shown on their site every day, so it feels pretty neat that Yankee is featuring my neck of the woods as a travel destination.

Unfortunately every day is not a “vacation.”