An Angel on Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is an annual festival in New Orleans which attracts hundred of thousands of people for a week or more of parades, parties and merry-making. Although the basis for the celebration heralds the coming of Lent in anticipation of Easter, the festival has no resemblance of a spiritual event. In fact, just the opposite.

The four years Cathy and I lived in New Orleans while I was taking my surgical training at Charity Hospital, we were not believers in Jesus Christ, and our commitment to even regular church attendance was marginal. Our first year of life in the city we did attend some of the parades and even went down to Canal Street on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) to observe what a huge crowd looks like. We were generally turned off by the drunkenness of the revelers, and the overall rowdy behavior which was overlooked and tolerated by the New Orleans police officers.

The second year we decided to go to the French Quarters one night with our neighbors with whom we shared a duplex apartment on the West Bank in Gretna. Jerri and Bob Herold were a couple originally from St. Louis and about our same age. They did have 3 small children with whom we quickly bonded. We were newly weds and had no children. This particular night we wanted to go to Pat O’Briens, a very famous and popular piano bar. This entertainment venue featured group singing, Dixieland jazz music and, of course lots of liquid refreshment which was not too objectionable to Cathy and me in those days. We seldom ever went to such a place, but this was a special occasion with our neighbors.

The crowds on the back streets of the Quarters that night were not oppressive, but as we neared Pat O’Briens we noticed a large crowd had gathered outside the door and what appeared to be a gigantic crowd inside. A horse-mounted New Orleans’ policeman approached us; looked directly at me and said, “You folks look like nice people and my advice is for you to turn around and go home!” At the same time we watched as 2 mounted policemen rode their horses up into Pat O’Briens in an effort to break up the crowd inside which had become rowdy and dangerous.  As frightened people began spilling outside, the four of us made a hasty retreat and headed for home! That was our last visit ever to Pat O’Briens.

Cathy and I had still not learned our lesson concerning the French Quarters because the following year in 1967 when Cathy was pregnant with our first child John Aaron we made another sojourn on Mardi Gras to experience the crowds. In looking back the only explanation for our getting on Bourbon Street was my immaturity and stupidity!

As we began attempting to move forward I quickly realized we were trapped in this massive crowd which had to move in unison or couldn’t move at all. There were people in the mob ahead of us who wanted to move toward us, and this stopped any movement whatsoever. It was at this moment I knew if one of us happened to stumble and fall we would be trampled to death, because it would have been impossible to stand back up. I had never experienced such anxiety bordering on terror as at that moment.

Standing directly in front of us were 3 men whose faces we could not see, but we knew they were members of the notorious motorcycle gang Hell’s Angels. Their black leather jackets had the logo of the organization on the back. The one immediately in front of me was huge, weighing at least 275 pounds and had a shaved head  long before that style became popular. He was an intimidating man even from the rear. Fortunately I could raise my hand enough to tap him on the shoulder, and when he turned around he gave me the worst scowling face I had ever seen and blurted out, “What do you want?!” In as polite a tone as I could muster I said, “Sir, will you please help us? My wife is 5 months pregnant with our first child, and we are very scared she might fall and be killed. Can you please get us out of this crowd?” It seemed like an eternity while he looked at the two of us, looked down at Cathy’s enlarged tummy and finally said, “Stay right behind me.” He put both his fists on his chest and extended his elbows outward so as to appear like a giant bettering ram while shouting the words, “Get out of my way!” He repeated the words several more times. He was wide enough for Cathy and me to move directly behind him.

I don’t know how it was possible, but that enormous crowd parted just wide enough for the 3 of us to move forward for about 50 feet until we reached a side street, probably St. Peter’s Street which intersects Bourbon. There were lots of people on that street also but enough space so we could quickly exit to safety. We made our way back to Canal Street and safe walking having never been able to thank our new Hell’s Angel friend.

The Bible speaks of angels being large, fierce creations with supernatural strength, and whose only purpose is doing the will of God which includes protecting His children. Cathy and I are firmly convinced we encountered one of “Heaven’s Angels” that afternoon in the French Quarters, and he saved our lives. I never again looked on the organization as an enemy of mine. Also Cathy and I learned our lesson well, and resolved to never go again to the French Quarters during Mardi Gras. In fact since becoming believers 10 years later, we have no desire at all to see the French Quarters at any time.

Dr. John

PS: Cathy and I believe God spared our lives by His mercy that day even when we did not know Him nor acknowledge Him as Savior. (Romans 5:8)


“These Teeth Never Have Fit Right”

Uppere Plate

I have always enjoyed the interpersonal relationships I had with many of the men for whom I provided medical care. My Dad (Pop) was a great story-teller, and I used to listen to his stories for hours at a time. Growing up and later having a medical practice in a relatively rural area afforded me access to many men who enjoyed hearing and telling interesting life stories. I tried my best to not have any patients waiting in my office to see me while I was encouraging patients ahead of them to tell stories unrelated to their medical issues. Certainly not all of my story-telling friends were patients, but friends I had met along the way who were not looking for a doctor. Because most of the hours of each day were spent either in the hospital or in my office, most of my accounts come from those settings.

I had done a surgical procedure on a gentleman who was retired from a supervisory job at the local oil refinery, and who was also a well-known fisherman. He had spent many years fishing the local lakes and rivers during his leisure time while employed, and now in retirement he was able to fish three or more times a week. During the office visits he made during his surgical recovery period I had the opportunity to ask him about any previous or current “fish stories.” Probably the funniest fishing story I ever heard came during one of those post-operative visits.

“James” had a regular fishing partner named “Roy” with whom he fished every Saturday morning for years. James owned the flat bottom aluminum boat with a twenty-five horse power motor in which the two of them fished. They would choose the lake or river to fish during the week, and by 8 A.M. on Saturday morning they would be at their favorite fishing spot for that particular body of water.

James said “ole Roy” had a habit when they arrived at their usual spot of taking out his upper false teeth plate and placing it on the metal seat between them. He said he did that to “rest his mouth.” He would then proceed to fish for an hour or so until there was a lull in activity. At this point he would say, “I guess it’s time to have a snack” and would reach around to get his upper plate, secure it in place and proceed to eat a candy bar, apple or whatever snack he had brought. James said he had watched Roy go through this same routine “for years” when he decided one morning to pull a prank on him.

As they reached their designated spot Roy took out his plate as usual and placed it on the seat. When he turned back around to start fishing James took out his own upper plate, placed it on the seat and put Roy’s dentures in his shirt pocket. They fished for a couple of hours until Roy said, “Let’s have our snack. The fish don’t seem to be biting right now.” Roy took the plate which he did not recognize was not his own and placed it in his mouth. James said Roy rolled it around two or three times and even tried with his index finger to get the plate properly seated, all to no avail. Much to James’ chagrin he watched as Roy took the plate out of his mouth saying, “My dentist never has gotten these teeth to fit right”, and sailed the plate out into the lake. James said as he saw his own dentures sink, he said to Roy, “I guess we go to the same dentist, because these teeth of mine have never fit me right either”, while throwing the plate in his pocket into about the same area of the lake! They both had a good laugh about their sorry fitting teeth and were glad to finally do something about it.

James still chuckled about the expensive lesson he learned that morning and admitted it took him several years before he had the courage to tell Roy what he had done. He said it didn’t matter to Roy because he had already made up his mind to get rid of those teeth. James said, “I wish I had known that sooner, I would have even thrown them for him and saved myself a whole lot of money!”

Dr. John

The High Cost Of Peace and Contentment

Zimbabwe Farm- Before

Zimbabwe Farm- Before

Zimbabwe Farm- After

Zimbabwe Farm- After

Spiritual lessons are best learned in the crucible of life and many if not most are painful and difficult. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippian church told them the contentment and joy he experienced while incarcerated in the Roman prison was learned by having a lot (of stuff) and then having nothing. In a culture which today measures success and happiness by the amount of stuff one has Paul’s formula for contentment is often rejected as foolish (Phil. 4: 11-13). During the time Cathy and I were dealing with plans for retirement and thoughts related to how much money we might need I met an unusual person with a serious medical problem. I was about to learn a wonderful lesson on peace and contentment.

A lady who was in her 80’s was brought by her daughter to the Wound Care Clinic seeking advice and treatment for problems with her lower extremities. Both ladies were very polite in their demeanor and pleasant in their personalities. They spoke with considerable accents, but their English was excellent. My first question to most people whom I meet in Branson is, “Where did you come from?” Their answer was, “We moved from California.” I didn’t doubt their truthfulness but asked, “Are you originally from California?” knowing their accents were not Californian! “No, we lived most of our lives in Zimbabwe.” I had never met anyone in the states from Zimbabwe, but I had conversations with a few pastors from that south African country while on two separate mission trips to South Africa in 1999 and 2003.

My next question to them was, “What caused you to move from Zimbabwe to California?” thinking perhaps they had children living there and wanted to be closer. What they told me shocked and deeply saddened me.

In the early 1980’s the nation of Zimbabwe was undergoing tremendous political upheaval. There was a revolution for control to take back farmland owned and controlled by whites for many years. The leader of the revolution was Robert Mugabe, a fierce guerrilla fighter. When his forces prevailed and he became president he began a massive land reform by which the beautiful and productive farms owned by whites were nationalized and turned over to native Zimbabweans. In previous years the farms were so bountiful the country was known as “the breadbasket of Africa.”

One fateful morning with no warning an armed militant group appeared at the door of their farm and also the door of their daughter and son-in-law’s adjacent farm. They demanded both families immediately evacuate their homes and farms by order of the new government of Zimbabwe, and each were presented some official looking papers which seemed to validate their demands. They were told they could take the clothes they were wearing and a few valuable possessions they could individually carry. The shock and horror of such news caused such immediate emotional reactions the son-in-law of my patient suffered a heart attack and died the same afternoon.

In recounting the events of that painful day I could tell it was still difficult for them to relive those experiences, so I stopped asking questions. Despite their great losses I did not discern lingering bitterness or hatred in either of them. They had both seen their lives rebuilt and re-directed through God’s power. Following their move to California my patient’s husband lived another ten years and died when he was in his late 70’s from a chronic medical problem. The daughter had re-married a few years prior to her father’s death. Her husband was originally from the southwest Missouri area, and the family decided to move here to build a new life. They were both active in a strong local evangelical church and were sharing the love of Christ through the church’s ministries and in their personal walk.

Since the day I heard their story I have often wondered how I would handle similar circumstances. None of us are immune to sudden cataclysmic life changes upon receiving bad news, but no one really knows how they will respond. The unexpected appearance of a law enforcement officer at your front door at 3 A.M. to tell of the fatal car accident, the phone call from the doctor’s nurse telling you the doctor needs to see you immediately for your biopsy results, or the early morning appearance of armed government officials on your farm banging on your front door. While there is still calm weather with clear skies I must be refreshed and reassured by God’s unchanging Word to know He alone is sovereign and nothing catches Him by surprise. He has promised that though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is with me; His rod and staff will comfort me (Psalm 23). In the midst of any storm He has said; “I will give you beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness that you might be called a tree of righteousness, the planting of the Lord that He might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3)

That morning in my medical clinic I met two trees of righteousness who witnessed to me the reality of God’s promises to them, and in my hearing and observing God was greatly glorified.

Dr. John

PS: Tragically for the country of Zimbabwe, many of those lush farms which were nationalized during the 1980’s were poorly managed and maintained by inexperienced and ill-trained farmers. A large number are no longer productive and have been abandoned.