Deadline

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41rawi3qfkl-_sx326_bo1204203200_After what must be years, I have finished reading a storybook, Deadline by Randy Alcorn. I’ve enjoyed the book. Unputdownable and of 426 pages.
Two of the characters die, one goes to heaven and the other to hell; the storyline goes in and out of the earthly realm seamlessly. To do this, the author develops his idea of heaven. I would not touch a book like this, if I were not confident about the author’s theology and world view. And even then, I’d normally have been worried about such an attempt, but I think the subject was safe in this author’s hands.

One day, we hope to find out how well his imagination compares with the real thing. About this, in his note at the end of the book, Randy Alcorn writes: “I have therefore taken biblically revealed truths and developed (hopefully not distorted) them in a speculative (hopefully not reckless) fashion. I have carefully studied the biblical accounts of the afterlife and sought only to include concepts and portrayals which conform to or at least do not violate any biblical teaching. While much herein is extra biblical, I have sought never to be unbiblical . . .”

Most of the time, I was comfortable with the author’s imagination; I felt that he had perhaps over developed the guardian-angel theme, and under played the guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the daily life of a believer.
However, I found the afterlife descriptions refreshing and exciting, filling me with greater resolve to make what remains of my time on earth count for Jesus.

I think the author has been a trifle too ambitious in wanting to incorporate the many contemporary issues and topics that have been included in the story. Thankfully his skill nearly matches his ambition, and the interest of the reader is sustained through the book, at least mine was.

I wish I had kept tabs of the many times during the reading of the book that I was tempted to post a quote from the book on Facebook. Below are some of the bits that pop out when I thumb through the pages.

Finney marveled not only at what Zyor was telling him, but that the angel had never ceased to wonder at an event millions on earth affirmed in their doctrinal statements with such little wonder at all . . .

And just when we thought Elyon could not surpass this greatest miracle with another, there came the greater one.” Zyor stood, and his voice trembled, not only with awe, but now with unmistakable anger.
“That little hill, where little men were permitted to do unspeakable things to Elyon’s Son . . .

“. . . When you were first closed out of the Garden of God, I thought He was done with you. You have seen so many things here that cause you to wonder, and you have barely begun to see. But for me, the greatest wonder is that you are here at all.

“We writhed in agony, ” Zyor continued. “We had never thought such pain possible here in the perfect realm. And yet we grew to know—though not completely understand —that all this was necessary to meet the demands of Elyon’s justice and His love. He did not need us to rescue Him. With a single word, with merely a thought he could have unmade all men . . .

And now at last, he’d been united with Jenny. He was no longer on the underside of the tapestry, where all he could see were the snarls and knots and frays. He was now on the top side, where he saw the beautiful work of art woven by the Master Artist.

Dealing with the uniqueness of human beings the angel explains

I am spirit capable of taking on a body. You, however, are spirit and body integrated into one. That which you take for granted—for instance, inhaling with your body the fragrance of a flower and having it move your spirit—is something I have never experienced, and cannot.

And perhaps the section I enjoyed the most comes earlier on in the book (pages 76-79). On the subject that we will not know everything as soon as we get to heaven.

Finney said, “I understand things so much more clearly than when I was in the other world. But there’s still so much I don’t yet know, so much I fail to understand.”
Zyor looked puzzled. “That surprises you?”
“Well, yes it does.I always though when we got to heaven we’d understand everything.” . . .
“Do you mean,” Zyor measured his next words, “that you thought you would be God.”
Well, no. Of course not.
“Who but Elyon understands everything? To expect to understand everything is to expect to be God.”

Of continued learning in heaven

The great wise warrior seemed genuinely perplexed. “I do not understand why. And I certainly cannot imagine why anyone would want such a thing. Learning requires curiosity, exploration, evaluation, and dialogue. To be granted the product of knowledge without this process would violate what it means to be a creature. It would circumvent the process of growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord . . .

Of boredom in heaven

“Boredom? Here? It is unthinkable. Heaven is the very opposite of boredom. It puts one in the presence of the Beloved himself, and of multitudes of beloved ones. Lovers are never bored, for their delight is in each other . . .

I would gladly recommend this book.

Heading home

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This will be my last post in this series. Philip and I are on our way home to Auckland after spending four weeks in America.

We made new friends everywhere we went.
We met some old friends from childhood days.
We met family.Some very close family members and others not so close.

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The meeting of the three Johnson brothers (my husband being one of them) and their wives, in America of all places, will become something of a historical landmark for our family. This close circle of six will get smaller in the years ahead as one by one we head home to be with the Lord and His perfected people.

Life is uncertain and we live in different countries. Soon we will get caught up in our own lives, and It is possible that we may not meet again this way. But we have a great hope that we are all heading home. This is the same hope that the Apostle Paul had, when he said: “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

May we live lives that make our heavenward direction evident, continually being transformed to the likeness of the Saviour—full of purpose, love, and good works.

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Ending on a lighter note

Finally some notes on how the US is different from anything I’ve experienced before.

Queues are “lines” in the US, and boy, are they long! You stand in line—in long lines—everywhere.

Toilet flushes, on average, in the US are different from those in New Zealand—more efficient and seemed to involve a suction/vacuum effect.

Doors to individual toilet stalls in public rest rooms have gaps (about a centimeter wide on both hinge side and bolt side), and some privacy is compromised.

School buses look like those in storybooks.

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Yogurt and  chips come in larger packaging than I’m used to.

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But then everything in the US is on a slightly larger scale—larger houses, wider roads, and greater portions in KFC (although the burger in McDonalds was the same size, if not smaller). Our last meal in the US was outside the Costco store in Norwalk LA, where a little money went faaaaaaaar.

Burgers can also be referred to as sandwiches. In fact any bread/bun that has a filling seems to be described as a sandwich.

Of course foods like Hot dogs and corn dogs are common here.

Paper bags. Unlike in New Zealand, stores use paper bags.

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I conclude this post, as we wait to board our flight home from Sydney. Only seven minutes left for boarding time, and so I stop this series here.

Grace Community Church

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Going to Grace Community Church to listen to John MacArthur preach was a great deal to us, up there along with going to Disneyland and Universal Studios. Hero worship is disgusting and John MacArthur, the Pastor of this church is just a man. However, we respect the work that he has done in the Church of Jesus in our day, both in reaching people for Christ and also in edifying believers around the globe.

Philip was the first person in our circles to hear about him; this was in 1981. He had some old books, one I remember was about the work of the Holy Spirit, that John MacArthur had written back in the day. So we deem it a privilege to have been able to come and hear him, someone who has played a big role in moulding the way we think about the things of God.

We decided to attend the second service, at 10:30 a.m. As we have done these last couple of days, we used Uber and got dropped off inside the church campus.

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The Master’s College Collegiate Choir and Orchestra presented several Christmas numbers. It was beautiful. The Pastor, John MacArthur led the service. At one point he asked the ushers to give Welcome booklets to visitors. [Visitors were invited to the Welcome Center, where they could have some refreshments and also receive one of John MacArthur’s books. We did go later on and we did get a book, which was nice.]

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After the music was done and it was sermon time, the choir and orchestra left the stage. John MacArthur began his sermons on John 17 today, and after the elaborate introduction, he covered Verse 1.

Introduction
We know that Jesus prayed constantly during His time on the earth; the gospels tell us He did. But we know precious little about what the content of those prayers were. Here in John 17, we have 26 verses of Jesus’ prayer. This prayer is plain and yet majestic, just as it is at once simple and profound.

The passage may be divided into three parts:
Vs 1-5  Jesus prays for His own glory
Vs 6-19 Jesus prays for His disciples
Vs 20-26 Jesus prays for all believers

The petitions Jesus made of the Father in Vs 1-5 have been answered. The rest of the prayer is ongoing. Indeed, Jesus is our high priest and intercessor,and continues to intercede for us.

Verse 1
John MacArthur than continued to explain Verse 1, speaking about each of the phrases in bold font below:
When Jesus had spoken these words, a he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, b the hour has come; c glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you    (John 17:1 ESV)

Immediately after the service, we were greeted by a lovely couple—the Rosenbaums—seated behind us.

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They showed us the Welcome Center before leaving. After a cup of coffee in the Welcome Center, we went to the Book shop, where I met a sweet Indonesian girl called Sylvie. We bought some books to keep as a remembrance of this day, as well as some to give away as gifts for others.

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We took a few final pictures outside

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We spent the rest of the afternoon in Citadel Outlet. We could not help thinking that the Outlet Mall in Katy TX is nicer, and everything had been more reasonably priced.

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It was time to get to our hotel room, where we would spend our last night in LA. For Philip and I, this would be our last night in the United States.

LA stands for entertainment

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What I, a 50-plus South-Indian visitor from New Zealand, think about Disneyland and Universal Studios:

Disneyland (on Friday)
Cost $ 99 per head
Did it live up to the hype? In some ways it did and in some ways it did not.
I always knew that Disneyland was for children, but it hit home how much, when we were there. Most of the entertainment offered was targeted for the young child. I was amazed to see hundreds of strollers with toddlers. It was Friday, and Disneyland was so crowded that it was very difficult to find a suitable vantage point anywhere along the parade route. Yet it was a heartening kind of difficulty, when you see how much children are loved in this country, evidenced all day long by these ubiquitous mums with strollers and dads with children on their shoulders. Another consequence of the large number of people was the long queues (long ‘lines’ as they say here) and long wait times before every show/ride.

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In India, my generation did not grow up with Disney cartoons. Many of our children did however. So mums like me who watched the old cartoons over and over when our kids were little have grown to cherish this charming old baby sitter.

Disneyland still had the old dreamy magic for me. But for those like Philip who had had little to do with Disneyland, it was plain boring. To liven things up, we did Star Tours, which was entertaining. And then . . .  we stood in the 10-mile long (seemed that way) queue to “do” Space Mountain. We did not know what it would be like till it was too late. The kind of roller-coaster thrill Space Mountain provided was unnecessary and risky for people like us. Somehow we survived it.

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Universal Studios (on Saturday) )
Cost $ 95 per head
Comparing Disneyland and Universal Studios is like comparing apples and oranges; they are very different. While the children have not been forgotten, they are not the primary target audience in Universal Studios.

Having learned from our experience with the Space Mountain ride from last night, we steered clear of the roller-coaster type of rides, although the Jurassic Park one was sorely tempting. But we found plenty of shows to keep us entertained. The ones we selected were Shrek 4-D, Universal’s Animal Actors, and WaterWorld.

But the best show of all was Studio Tours, which is a compilation of shows (King Kong 360 3-D and Fast & Furious – Supercharged), exploring old Hollywood sets.

These last two days, I have seen people holding a long edible something in their hands. I wanted to buy one, just to see what it was. Mystery solved. It is called a Churro stick and is akin to bread, sprinkled with sugar.

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Discovering Uber
Out of sheer necessity, L.A. having no convenient and inexpensive public transport, we learned to use Uber. It has been absolutely great. I downloaded the Uber app in my phone and linked it to my credit card. When we request for a ride, within minutes we find ourselves being driven to our destination in a comfortable car, with a polite and friendly driver. The emails I get from Uber after each ride are clear and helpful and give me the breakup for the amount I have been charged. I look forward to trying Uber out in Auckland.

Houston TX

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We were up by 2:00 a.m.,  so we could be ready for the taxi (Apex Taxi Flagstaff). The taxi took us to Amtrack Railway Station. We were prepared for the cold, dressed like Astronauts again. Not much after that, at 3:30 a.m. the shuttle (Arizona Shuttle) arrived.

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We reached Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport at about 6:10 a.m. All of us changed into more comfortable clothes, suitable to the Phoenix climate, before settling down to some doughnuts and coffee.

We then made our way to the Security Check. When Philip and I went to get our suitcases, we were told that both our cabin bags had to be inspected as something odd had been noticed. After about ten minutes, an official picked up one of the suitcases and gingerly brought the suitcase to a table. Apparently my laptop should not have been there; I should have taken it out. A few swabs were taken around the laptop before that baggage was cleared.

The official, who was very polite and pleasant, brought the second suitcase to the table. The culprit this time was a gift-wrapped item. This was a gift from a nephew in Auckland to my favourite cousin PANnan in Houston. The gift was a showpiece, a Lighthouse with a scripture verse on it. The suspicion was that it contained a liquid of some sort. He shook it  to see if it contained any liquid and took it away to show another official. It was finally cleared as well.

When we reached the gate, to our dismay we read the announcement that boarding for our 8:15 a.m. flight was closed. For a good 10 minutes, we had no idea what the outcome would be. We had just one day in Houston to see folk in The Woodlands as well as folk in Katy; would we be able to reach Houston in time? Then the agent booked us into another flight that left at 10 a.m.

Cousin PANnan and Julie came to the airport to pick us up. There was a bit of a delay because Philip and I had to take the mono rail to the next terminal, pick up the baggage, and return. [We later wondered why the checked baggage was allowed to leave Houston before us when we had missed the flight. Isn’t that a lapse in security? What if a terrorist checked in a suitcase with an explosive and did not show up to board?]

We were all meeting PANnan after a long time. As for his wife Julie, we had never met her in all these years. It was a joyful occasion. It was tight fit in PANnan’s car. Vino and I were in the back seat with a large suitcase on our laps. Not only was it uncomfortable, but we could not see anything of Houston during the drive. So PANnan pulled over and we adjusted the luggage so we could see outside.

After so many years, i got to see PANnan’s house. Julie made wonderful tea, which we had with buiscuts. As it was late, we decided to skip lunch.

PANnan and Julie drove us around to get a feel for The Woodlands, which is a  beautiful suburb in Houston. We also went to see PANnan’s workplace.

Several areas had lights up for Christmas.

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When we got back we switched to the car that had our luggage, and started at about 7:15 p.m. for David and Sangeetha’s house in Katy.

We reached after an hour or so. It was a joyful meeting. Sangeetha had made a lovely meal.

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After an enjoyable evening, we gathered for a quick photo session. it was then time to say good by to PANnan and Julie.

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The four of us who had travelled earlier in the day were tired and we fell asleep before our heads could touch the pillow.

Behind the house is a reserve and walkway, where we took a little walk. A large sized river runs along the middle. Apparently, they get visits from alligators.

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We left a little before noon to see something of Katy and go to an outlet mall. The little boys Pavit and Tanish were charming.

On the way back, we picked up some biriyani that David had ordered.

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The airport shuttle arrived at 4:00 p.m. After Sekhar annan said a word of prayer, it was time to say goodbye.

 

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This tour in America is a rare treat for us. We got to meet many relatives and family. But now the goodbyes are coming in fast. Not only have we just said goodbye to David and Sangeeta, Philip and I will not see Sekhar Annan and Preeti Akka anymore during this visit.

With friends on earth we meet in gladness,
While swift the moments fly,
Yet ever comes the thought of sadness,
That we must say, Goodbye.

No parting words shall e’er be spoken,
In yonder home so fair,
But songs of joy, and peace, and gladness,
We’ll sing forever there.

Anzentia I. Chapman 1889

Grand Canyon

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We bid goodbye to Sekhar Annan and Preethi akka at Houston airport; they were going to spend a few days with Sangeeta, their other daughter. We intended to join them in a couple of days. But for now, we had to rush and catch our flight to Phoenix.

At Phoenix, we had to rush and get on the shuttle. Grabbing some doughtnuts and chips, we were soon on our way to Flagstaff. The weather was lovely—warm and sunny. It was a three-hour trip during which the vegetation changed and so did the weather.

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These typical Arizona cactus plants were not to be seen after a while.

The shuttle dropped us at Amtrak Station in Flagstaff and the hotel picked us up from there, as a complementary service, which was nice. The air was a bit nippy, even though we seemed to be basking in the sunshine. A goods train passed when we were at the station. I thought that trains in India were the longest in the world. But this one may have been several kilometers long; it seemed that way anyway.

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Our hotel Little America was somewhat classy. Christmas decorations were elaborate and pretty.

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Pleased to see the Bible in the drawer. May God bless the faithful Gideons.

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Meeting Steve and Marla Cole
Knowing that we had this evening free in Flagstaff, over a month ago, I had wondered if we would be able to meet other believers in this town. I searched intelligently online and “chanced” upon the Coles. Steve Cole is the pastor of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship. I emailed him and he suggested that we all go out for dinner.

We found them to be gracious and friendly. We discussed family and church. Philip thought Steve looked familiar and realised sometime during the evening that he had referred to some of Steve’s online material when preparing for his Bible Studies on Acts. It was an enjoyable evening. (The restaurant was called Seasoned Kitchen.)

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Marla had decided to join us for the Grand Canyon tour on the morrow. We now knew that both Flagstaff and Grand Canyon registered below-zero temperatures.

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Tour to the Grand Canyon
The temperature was minus 12 degrees centigrade and we put on layer after layer of clothing.  We felt like astronauts walking on the moon.

At 7:00 a.m. we were met by Nate Loper from Canyon Ministries and Marla Cole. After an introduction from Nate, we set out. He gave us our free copy of Tom Vail’s book Your Guide to the Grand Canyon, A Different Perspective.

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We stopped at McDonald’s to grab some egg muffins and hot chocolate for breakfast.

We then got to see a video ‘Wings over Grand Canyon’ for the hour-long drive ahead. Listening to Nate and Marla chatting was also interesting as they both knew a lot about the Canyon, had done stuff there (hiking on many different trails, river rafting, Marla had almost gotten washed away in a flash flood, etc.), and loved it.

On the way we saw patches of snow in the sun.

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We entered the Grand Canyon National Park. This national park  manages only a part of the Grand Canyon.

The most famous canyon in the world, extending for 277 miles along the Colorado River; many overlooks, hundreds of miles of trails, and vast areas of inaccessible wilderness. http://www.americansouthwest.net/

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Among the first glimpses of the canyon

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When we came to the Mather Point Amphitheatre, Nate gave us something of a geology lesson, and spoke about the various layers and the types of rocks. We also noticed that various formations of the Canyon had religious names like Vishnu, Shiva, and Zoroaster.

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We started to walk along the South Rim for half a kilometer or so, with Marla, while Nate moved the van to the next location and joined us again. We saw some more of the Canyon.

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The glare of the sun made me take some photos blindly. But most of our photos were alright.

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The Yavapai museum was informative.

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The comparison of these three formations (Shiva Temple, Isis Temple, and Cheops Pyramid) was interesting. Isis had all the layers that Cheops had plus one more, while Shiva had all that Isis had plus one more. The Grand Canyon is all about erosion, with some parts more eroded than others.

 

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We saw Bright Angel Lodge that Mary Colter designed to blend with the surroundings. She was indeed a brilliant woman. Before the day is over, we would see another of her great creations called the Watch Tower. At the Bright Angel Lodge, I was glad to see the fire and stood by it warming my toes.

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Then there was Bucky’s cabin. In this picture, I had to choose between getting a clear picture of Surendar Annan and Vino’s faces or step back and get a proper picture of the cabin.

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The Kolb brothers who set up the Kolb Studio seem to have been a unique set of brothers indeed and were known for the photographs they took of themselves and others at the canyon.

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It was time to go and have lunch at Maswik Foodcourt. The food here was reasonably priced and tasty.

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Next, we came to Grandview, the point developed by Pete Berry, miner turned hotel manager. The stories about this place were interesting and the views were good.

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Next, we went to Lipan Point, where the views were spectacular. The Colorado river is more clearly visible from this point.

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A young lady was selling jewelry at Lipan Point, some of it from rocks obtained from the canyon. The pieces were all hand made by members of her family. Her grandmother had taught her the skill, and in turn, she had taught two others in her family. Each piece was priced at $ 15 or at $ 25 for two.

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In the van, Nate explained the Creationist position that he holds. This view better explains the Great Unconformity in the sedimentary layers. It also better explains the global nature of the sediments—how similar layers are found all over the world, although the grand canyon is unique in the way the layers are exposed to full view. His explanation of how the tides would have been different during Noah’s flood and it’s role in sedimentation was very new to me and made a great deal of sense.

Finally we went to the Watch Tower, also designed by Mary Colter who designed Bright Angel Lodge.

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The reflectoscopes or special mirrors made of black onyx were really cool and gave us a clearer view of the scene in front of us.

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The views from here were spectacular, as expected.

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Once in the van again, Nate explained the unique nature of the Grand Canyon’s formation. He explained that it was formed by a catastrophic and sudden event, more specifically erosion by a large amount of water. According to Nate’s position on this matter, this catastrophic event occurred shortly after Noah’s flood. He had a reasonable explanation for the large volume of water required, namely from past lakes. His theory better explained why erosion debris was not found at the base of the canyon, why the delta of the Colorado river was so small in spite of the large amount of debris that needed to be accounted for. Explaining this in greater detail is beyond the purview of this post, but if you are interested in this subject, click here.

At some point during this talk, an elk made his appearance. So I got out of the van to take a picture. After I returned to the van, I came to know that elks sometimes attack. Phew!

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Nate read from Psalm 104:5-10 and prayed, before driving us all back safely to Flagstaff.

He set the earth on its foundations;
it can never be moved.
You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
But at your rebuke the waters fled,
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains,
they went down into the valleys,
to the place you assigned for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross;
never again will they cover the earth.
He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains.  Psalm 104:5-10

Goodbye Potomac and the East Coast

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We were happy to attend the Sunday service at Kavitha and Vinod’s church, Montgomery County Campus of Maclean Bible Church. We praise God for every church where the gospel is presented faithfully.

The children registered for Kid’s Quest and attended another service. We grownups had our service in the main auditorium. A short meditation, time of singing, prayer, and announcements were led by the campus pastor and others from this campus, while the main sermon was conveyed to us live on a big screen from the main campus.

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Saying good bye to the children, our great nephew and great niece. I believe this visit is an important one because it gives Simon and Anna a good idea about this Kiwi thaathu and ammaachi for the first time, and it will serve as a foundation on which to build a relationship, going forward.

The shuttle will arrive for us at 3:00 a.m. in time for our 5:45 a.m. flight to Phoenix via Houston. Kavitha has made sandwiches for us to take. And has set the coffee machine to turn on at 2:30 a.m.

Goodbye Simon and Anna. Goodbye Vinod and Kavitha. Goodbye East Coast.