Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Marx, the Mob, and Missions"

One section in our new book, Faith Seeking Understanding, that would make a great movie, is Chapter Four: "Marx, the Mob, and Missions," by Bill Prevette.  The title gives you just a glimpse of Bill's amazing story.  The sets are worthy of a Bond flick: gangsters in the Caribbean, the Pacific Crest Trail, fishing in Alaska, a coup in Cambodia, with flash-backs to an orphanage in North Carolina.  This is, after all, an Assembly of God missionary we're talking about. 

So it is hard to decide which section to excerpt.  Iny-Meeny-Miny-Mo.  Buy the book, and read Bill's whole story, plus Plantinga, Rausal, Yancey, Stark, Adeney, Richardson (a movie has already been made of his life) and others besides. 

Bill and Ky Prevette
Ancient mariners often labeled the margins of their known world by writing on maps, “Here there be monsters!”  I began sailing Dragonfly toward my own far edges (and monsters) when I began offering charters around the Caribbean.  St. Martin provided a good base for operations, as it was a playground for the rich and famous from Europe and the East Coast of the United States.  I made connections with unethically wealthy people and learned how to set up “front businesses” for laundering money.  I flew in and out of Miami and offered to move any commodity or product for a price.  I thought I had hit the “big time.”  Lyrics from one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs sum up this phase of my life fairly accurately: “I made enough money to buy Miami, but I pissed it away so fast.”  The more I consumed, the greater became my addiction to hedonism and power. 

In the summer of 1982, I helped sail a classic Sparkman and Stephens yacht, let us call her Mystic, from the Caribbean to Martha’s Vineyard. The yacht was due for a major overhaul at a shipyard there and it’s owner, “Vinny,who treasured it greatly, flew to Europe and left me in charge.

As you might imagine, the logistics of lifting a twenty-ton yacht out of the water are complex and expensive. On this occasion we had a disaster, the marine railway malfunctioned and the lifting equipment failed. To our horror, the shipyard owner and I watched Mystic plunge from the shipping cradle into Vineyard Haven Harbor.  She sank to a depth of fifteen feet; her magnificent interior, electronics, engine, and period furnishings fully saturated and altogether ruined by the salt water.

On receiving news of this calamity, “Vinny” immediately flew to the scene and was murderous with rage; no financial settlement would be quench his Italian temper. I felt as if I had become a character in Good Fellas or The Sopranos.  It became clear this situation was unraveling and someone was going to be seriously hurt.  It dawned on my cocaine-saturated brain that if I continued in this lifestyle, I was likely to end up either with a bullet behind the ear or spending the rest of life looking over my shoulder . . .

Desperately wracking my brain for solutions, I remembered the words of a mature and sober friend: “Bill, with your willingness to work hard, you can build a good career and make plenty of money legitimately.  You don’t need to bend the rules to be successful” . . . I called Bob from Vineyard Haven, told him of my fears and asked his advice.  His answer was quick and to the point. “Get yourself on the first plane you can!  I think you know where this is headed.  For God’s sake, use your head – come here and we will talk.”  This time I listened . . .

I flew to Seattle, where Bob welcomed me into his home.  He offered me honest employment remodeling one his factory warehouses.  He told me I would be working alongside a concrete contractor.  Since the opportunity gave me “safe, mundane” space to sort out my next move, I gratefully took the job.  

Occasionally during these stressful months, I called Ky.  She had been chasing her own monsters, living in a New Age community in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, experimenting with mental telepathy and psychic massage. Ky had always been drawn to spiritual encounters; but as far as I was concerned, all religion and spirituality, no matter what the source, was a sham. On our last call, she said she had “found Jesus.”

I scoffed and ridiculed her. “Sure, everybody finds Jesus – just check out your local jail – but what difference does it make to any of them?” I ended the call in anger.  In my experience, Christians were hypocritical, deceived simpletons who wouldn’t think for themselves. But despite my ridicule, Ky began to pray that I too would have a reckoning with the Living God.

Shortly after arriving in Seattle, a letter came from Ky.  She had sent it to Martha’s Vineyard, the last known address she had for me, and it had been forwarded. I was surprised to hear from her and opening the letter brought additional consternation as it was written in a language that sounded strange to my ears:

“Praise God, Hallelujah! How are you, Bill?  We were in church tonight and our pastor gave a word of knowledge.  He said, ‘someone is praying for a man named Bill and he is going to come to know Christ through a man named Bob.’ I was so excited to hear this because several of us are praying for you regularly.  I don’t know what is going on with you, but I believe that our friend Bob is going to have an influence on your life for Christ.  Are you planning a trip to see Bob in Seattle? . . . ”

What bizarre code was this? I knew Ky was involved in something she described as a “Bible-believing, Pentecostal church.”  Weren’t these the people who handle snakes and speak in strange tongues?  The letter made no sense.  Ky was in Marin County, California; neither of us had seen Bob in years or spoken of him in our intermittent phone conversations.  The letter was dated the day before Mystic sank . . . How did Ky know I was going to Seattle before I did? And what in the world was a ‘word of knowledge’? . . .  I surmised that Ky’s psychic practices were bearing fruit.

Postscript: Faith Seeking Understanding is a unique new book featuring insights from such Christian thinkers as Phillip Yancey, the eminent sociologist Rodney Stark, philospher Alvin Plantinga, Oxford historian of science Allan Chapman, anthropologist Miriam Adeney, quantum physicist Don Page, and many other thoughtful people. It's a great Christmas gift for all kinds of people, including pastors, students, missionaries, and non-Christians who want an intellectually-rewarding yet low-key, noncombatative approach to Christianity.  The book will not be available on Amazon until early 2013.  You can order the book either from William Carey Library, or from us.

If you order from us, the price is $13, plus $3 shipping. We are also offering a special deal this Christmas: just add $10 and no extra shipping, for any of my other books, or a total of $58 + $3 shipping, for all six. This is a great package for students, pastors, or church libraries.

Our mailing address is Kuai Mu Press / PO BOX 403 / Fall City, WA 98024

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