WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
“We had another terrific day over that awful, overheated, windswept land of desolation. Through vast stretches, there are no landmarks by which the pilot can determine his course. He must depend absolutely on his compass. You fly for hours with nothing but sand beneath dust storms which sweep up and hide the sun.”
“The Bishop Is In A Hurry!” published by Robert E. Daniel
I have received an advanced copy of a new book compiled and edited by Robert E. Daniel titled “The Bishop Is In A Hurry!” which contains the letters from Bishop Arthur J. Moore as he traveled the world supporting and strengthening the Methodist movement to make disciples for Jesus Christ. I allow myself one chapter each morning before I begin that day’s work so I may think about Bishop Moore, his travels, and experiences throughout the day. Bishop Moore never ceases to amaze me and to speak to our present-day trials and tribulations, gifts and blessings, questions and concerns.
The piece I quoted came from his flight from Belgium to the Belgian Congo in 1936. Flights for this journey were a new, innovative way to travel and Bishop Moore must have taken a bit of criticism for this expense because he defended this decision in his writing. He had already spent seven months in the Orient, 25 days sailing to Europe, and another month visiting Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Belgium. After all this time, the Bishop really was in a hurry to get to Africa and attend the conference meetings there. However, his enthusiasm for this modern convenience cannot be hidden and he boarded that plane in Belgium with the excitement of a seven-year-old child on Christmas morning.
The plane, which also carried mail and medicine, only had a crew of three, including a pilot, co-pilot, and radio mechanic. It also only had room for three passengers, which included Bishop Moore, his friend Homer Rodeheaver, and a third, unnamed traveler. The engines, located at both the front of the plane and the back, were so loud that talking to those sitting nearby was impossible. Flying just 8,000 feet above the ground, Bishop Moore remarked that the trenches of the Argonne Forest from the World War (WWII had not yet started) could still be seen and marveled at the French Alps just a few thousand feet below him. After traveling over the Mediterranean Sea, the plane landed in northern Africa, completing the first day.
The next three days of travel would take the passengers and crew over the Sahara Desert where they would find vast stretches of sand with no landmarks in sight. The overheated air currents made their flight choppy and everyone was nauseous. The plane landed in an oasis the first night where the passengers had a hard time finding water to drink because all that was offered were whisky and wine. During the second day in the desert, the crew landed at the “loneliest spot I know anywhere in the world” where there were only two men working at a Shell Oil Company gas station. Bishop Moore ate no food in the morning due to nausea but nibbled on some dried figs and chocolate he carried with him. He filled his ears with cotton to “soften the everlasting hum of the three motors,” but his nerves were frayed. Then, on the third day (why is it always the third day with Christians), the plane encountered an African tornado. “The lightning flashed and the wind handled our huge plane like a leaf. We were blown sideways – lifted upward – and dropped into huge air pockets.”
There are times in our religious lives where we might feel like we are with Bishop Moore flying 8,000 feet above a vast, desolate sea of sand with no landmarks in sight. We are virtually alone, the noise in our ears is deafening, and we are unable to communicate with others, even those near to us. Our nerves our frayed, the air is hot and choppy, and our stomachs are nauseous. When things couldn’t get any worse, we are hit with an African tornado and the lightning blinds us and reminds us how truly vulnerable we are.
What should we do? Will we never get off this plane and out of the desert?
“Leaving Bison-Sank, we were off for our longest single hop of the entire flight – from 9:05 a.m. until 4:55 p.m. without the sight of a living thing. Almost halfway the company has erected in the desert a white cross. It is the one guidepost in that wilderness of sand. Find that cross and all is well. Miss it and you are lost. I have no words to describe our thrill when we sighted it about 2:00 p.m. Our pilot made a circle about it and then took a straight course for Niamey, where we are spending night. What a parable of life! The way of the cross leads home.”
Bishop Moore wasn’t yet out of the desert, but he had found the cross and that led him home. And we all say together, “Thanks be to God!”
Anne Packard serves as Conference Historian and director of the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on St. Simons Island. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.