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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Two men I never met who touched my life

Uploaded: Apr 7, 2015
The deaths this past week of two public figures—one a broadcaster and one a pastor-- brought back fond memories of how both had touched my lives.
The broadcaster was Lon Simmons, a Bay Area fixture for decades who called the Giants, the A's and the 49ers in a career that resulted in his election to the Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Of the comments I read in the Tri-Valley Times over the weekend, the one from Giants' president Larry Baer resonated because it mirrored my experience. Larry talked about how as youngsters we listened on our transistor radios to Lon and the late Russ Hodges call the Giants' games decades ago. Listening to those games on the radio was our only access other than going to the ballpark because there were minimal televised games.
Of course, Simmons also had other memorable calls that now are part of broadcasting history. We were fortunate to have Simmons, Hodges and the late Bill King calling Bay Area pro sports teams.
The second passing of note for me was the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, founding pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County. Schuller started his church in a drive-in movie theater telling people to come as they are. It grew into one of the first megachurches with its "Hour of Power" broadcast seen in countries around the world.
Until 2004, if I was surfing on the TV, I would have skipped right by that broadcast. It took on new significance in that year because the church hosted a men's conference with my favorite Christian author, John Eldredge. My schedule worked so I could attend a day of that conference and hear Eldredge speak.
We went to the worship service on Sunday and saw Eldredge interviewed. That piqued my interest and I tuned in the following Sunday morning to "Hour of Power." It became a regular Sunday routine to watch the broadcast before going to church.
About a year later, God used Schuller's broadcast and another one of my favorite authors, the Rev. Bruce Wilkinson (he wrote the best-selling book, "The Prayer of Jabez). God had called Dr. Bruce to found Dream for Africa.
The organization took large groups of North Americans to Swaziland and South Africa to work alongside Africans to plant backyard gardens with highly nutritional greens. The staple diet in the rural areas of Africa is boiled corn meal. Adding greens can boost people's immune systems in countries that have been ravaged by AIDS.
Dr. Bruce gave the message that last Sunday in April and ended by calling people to Africa. The Holy Spirit hammered me and it became clear that God wanted me to go to Africa.
I went that August and by May of the following year was the founding board chair of Heart for Africa, the successor group to Wilkinson's non-profit (that's cutting a long story quite short). Incidentally, while in Swaziland on that trip and enjoying fellowship with a local congregation after worship, Robert Schuller showed up on the television.
I served six years with Heart for Africa with Canadians Ian and Janine Maxwell providing the staff leadership. I had a front row seat as I watched God take us from Swaziland to Malawi to Kenya and back to Swaziland with what is now Project Canaan. The 2,500-acre parcel is now home to more than 80 formerly orphaned children who are being cared for and educated there. A new abandoned or orphaned baby comes to Project Canaan about every 11 days.
The commercial agricultural side of Project Canaan employs more than 200 Swazis and women also are employed making jewelry and crafts for sale here in the United States.
You can check it out at www.heartforafrica.org.
I am grateful for the part that each of these pastors played in helping me follow God's call to Africa.
A sad note: Schuller's ministry did not end well. In 2006 he had transitioned leadership to his son, Robert A. Schuller, who was later removed. There were struggles within the family and with the ministry board. The recession in 2008-2009 reduced the donations. The church ended up in bankruptcy in 2010 and the Crystal Cathedral was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. It is being remodeled and is scheduled to open in 2016 as Christ Cathedral.

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