Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Marshall Islands and Our Man in the Marshalls

It snowed in the Pacific Ocean on March 1, 1954, or so it seemed to the fishermen casting their nets for tuna near the Marshall Islands on that early Monday morning.

Big, white flakes were falling from the sky.

The men on the Lucky Dragon #5 fishing boat marveled at the falling flakes. One fisherman palmed a snowflake and put it in his mouth. It didn't melt, nor did it have any taste. The fisherman quickly spat out the gritty flake.

It wasn't snow.

Pulverized, radioactive coral was falling from the sky as in a winter snowstorm. The men on the boat concentrated on their tuna fishing while the white ash continued to cover them like icing on a wedding cake. After a few hours, the white stuff stopped falling. The fishermen believed the ash a nuisance, but none thought it deadly.

The red dot is the location of the Marshall Islands
But they had become dead men walking.

The white stuff, later called "death ash" by these same fishermen, was the radioactive fallout from a hydrogen bomb the United States military had detonated in the Marshall Islands of the Pacific.

Those who came in contact with this radioactive substance would suffer from life-long illnesses or die a premature, painful death. Their moving stories are told in the book The Day the Sun Rose in the West.

What had happened? From where had the nuclear ash originated?

At 6:45 am on that Monday morning, March 1, 1952, the United States military detonated in the Marshall Islands the largest thermonuclear (hydrogen) bomb ever created. The U.S. government called the bomb Castle Bravo.

From 1946, the year after World War II ended, til 1958, the U.S. military conducted nuclear testing operations in the Marshall Islands, detonating 67 nuclear and thermonuclear bombs. The bomb dropped that Monday morning, March 1, 1954, was the largest of the 67 bombs. The snowflakes that fell on the fisherman 70 miles away were pieces of coral from the island that had been pulverized, radiated, and blown into the stratosphere, only to fall back to earth like snow. The men on the boat had seen and heard the explosion, which seemed like “the sun rising in the west,” but it was the ash that fell during the late morning and afternoon which killed them.

According to nuclear physicist Robert A. Naballa, the combined explosive yield of the sixty-seven nuclear bombs detonated in the Marshall Islands during those twelve years was equivalent to one Hiroshima-sized bomb detonated daily for nineteen years. 

The 29 atolls and islands that are the Marshall Islands
Pacific Islanders who originate from the Marshall Islands are called Marshallese. Because of the American government's testing of nuclear weapons on their islands, the Marshallese found their fish had become contaminated, their coconut trees gave them poisoned milk, and their radiated land grew radioactive vegetables.

The Marshallese people were doomed.

Many Marshallese women began giving birth to children with deformities. Marshallese men died at a young age from cancer. Many Marshallese starved for lack of quality food. The Marshallese needed help.

In 1986 the United States Congress signed into law the Compact of Free Association which allowed Marshallese people to come to America without visas, work at American jobs, and start new lives in America.

Thousands of Marshallese people have come to Enid, Oklahoma.

Enid, Oklahoma has the largest "percentage to population" of Pacific Islanders than any other city in America. Most of the over 5,000 Pacific Islanders in Enid, Oklahoma (Pop. 51,000) are Marshallese.

They need our help.

Though the Marshallese pay taxes, and though the Marshallese are allowed to join the United States military, the Marshallese do not qualify for Medicaid or other government benefit programs.

They are the forgotten people of the Pacific.

The Story of Yohanes Tetuko Arwakon

The jungles of Papua
The little boy had been tied to a tree all night.

The East Java villagers of the Pacific Islands called him "the devil child." His mom had gone to local witch doctors for blood rituals. She had given birth to three girls, but no boy. After the sixth witchdoctor performed a unique fertility blood rite, she became pregnant. The boy was born on March 31, 1979. They named him Yohanes.

The boy's first memories were nights spent tied to a tree in front of the family home. His father refused him to sleep in the family house "lest the devil enter."

The villagers, afraid of the boy, told his traditional tribal parents that they would either have to sacrifice a daughter to the gods to break the curse or give the boy away.

The boy's parents chose the latter option.

The people of Papua, where Yohanes Arwkon lived as a boy 
When the boy was five, an auntie who lived far away came to the boy's village to take him away.  He still remembers the image of his mother in the yellow dress, crying on the porch as her little boy stretched out his hands, screaming to his momma,
 "No, momma. Please, don't let me go." His father stood on the porch with his arms crossed.

The boy would never return to his parents' home. He'd see his mother only once more, shortly before her death.

That's how life began for Yohanes Arwakon, Emmanuel Enid's Pastor to Pacific Islanders.

But the painful memories became the seeds for God's purpose in Yohanes' life.

The auntie who took Yohanes as her own was the only Christian in Yohanes' extended family. She and her native Papuan husband had been unable to bear children. So they adopted Yohanes and gave him their last name, Arwakon. It was under their influence that Yohanes Arwakon received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior as a young boy in the swamplands of Papua.

Yohanes Arwakon, Emmanuel Enid's Pastor to Pacific Islanders

Yohanes and Yenni in Indonesia (2018)
Yohanes Arwakon's adoptive parents were Christian missionaries to the cannibal tribes of Papua, Indonesia. They worked among the Asmat tribe in the early 1960's. Yohanes' adoptive father, Yunus Arwakon, was a fellow missionary with Don Richardson, author of The Peace Child. Don worked among the Sawi tribe, while Yunus Arwakon worked among the Asmat people, the rival tribe to the Sawi.

In 1962, Michael Rockefeller, son of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, disappeared among the Asmat cannibal tribe of Papua. Missionaries serving alongside Don Richardson and Yunus Arwakon reported seeing "a white man" among the cannibal tribes of the swampland of Papua (e.g., the Sawi and the Asmat), but the mystery of what happened to Michael Rockefeller has never been solved.

Paul Young, Pastor Wade Burleson's friend and author of #1 worldwide bestselling novel The Shack, also grew up in the highlands of Papua with his missionary parents during the early 1960's. The Arwakons served with the Youngs, the Richardsons, and were close friends with Finn Torjesen, the TEAM leader in Indonesia, and later China.

Yohanes Arwakon
Born in Java, adopted by Christian missionaries and raised in Papua, Yohanes grew to manhood among the tribes of Papua. His parents sacrificed to send him to the University of Manokwari. Growing up, Yohanes read many missionary biographies such as John Wesley, Charles Wesley, John Newton, William Carey, David Livingstone, Martin Luther, Hudson Taylor in China, DL Moody, Polycarpus in Martyr Rome, Adoniram Judson, Robert Moffat,  and Charles Spurgeon,. He was deeply impressed with their life stories. Yohanes surrendered his life to evangelical Christian missionary service.

But fulfilling his call as a missionary would have to wait for a few years as Yohanes was trained for his ultimate calling. Yohanes' education was in Community Planning. After receiving his college degree, Yohanes Arwakon went to work for the large American company Freeport-McMoran in their Indonesian division. Yohanes worked as the Deputy of the Executive Secretary for the Seven-Tribes Economic Bureau of LPMAK. His high-level position in Freeport-McMoran involved oversight of a billion dollar endowment to assist in Community Planning among some of the same Papua tribes with whom his father had ministered as a Christian missionary - the.Amungme, Kamoro, Moni, Mee, Damal, Dani, Nduga. 

Yohanes' job was to develop free medical clinics for the Papua tribes, expand the educational opportunities among tribal children, and provide job opportunities and training for tribal adults. Yohanes was in charge of the annual disbursements of the billion-dollar endowment that Freeport-McMoran established to "improve the tribal communities" around the world's largest mine, the one owned and operated in Indonesia by Freeport-McMoran.

 2017 Marshallese Children's Christmas Party at Emmanuel
Yohanes was a successful businessman, recognized for his work around the world. The United States Department of State selected Yohanes in 2013 to attend their prestigious International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP), a school which names David Cameron, Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, and a host of other world leaders as its graduates. Yohanes completed the school, which focused on community planning in 2013, and to this day, remains the only Indonesian ever chosen by the United States government to attend. 

After working for 12 years as a community planner, Yohanes Arwakon and his wife Yenni and their three boys came to Enid, Oklahoma and we interviewed him for the job of Pastor to Pacific Islanders. Our Leadership Team, after hearing Yohanes' Christian testimony, receiving the highest recommendations from his former bosses at Freeport McMoran, and visiting with pastors and missionaries in Papua, voted unanimously to license Yohanes as our Pastor to Pacific Islanders. Unlike Indonesian churches, our church in American recognizes gifted men and women and empowers them to serve according to their giftedness. We see "Pastor" as a "verb" of service and not a "noun" of status.

The 5,000 Marshallese in our community are in need of professional community planning assistance. The United States government has abandoned the Marshallese when it comes to their medical care, the educational opportunities for their children, and providing a host of financial and job training seminars. Emmanuel Enid believes that Yohanes Arwakon is the perfect man to help the Marshallese in Enid assimilate into American culture and to benefit from all that America has to offer.

Our Man in the Marshalls

The United States Department of Homeland Security and the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) gave Emmanuel Enid approval for the Religious Worker (R-1) Visa which allows Yohanes to work in community planning among the Marshallese in Enid as the Pastor to Pacific Islanders.

Yohanes and Yenni and the Marshallese in their home in Enid
Yohanes began his at Emmanuel Enid on August 1, 2017. For the past year, Yohanes has begun connecting social services in our community for the assistance of the Marshallese. He heads our English as a Second Language Program and has been heavily involved in Enid Public Schools, assisting our educators with the fast-growing population of Marshallese children. Emmanuel Enid and Yohanes were beginning to work with state government to apply for better health care for the Marshallese, and it was our goal to develop free medical clinics for the specific needs Marshallese people have.

Yohanes work among the Marshallese came to an abrupt end on March 8, 2018, when the American Consulate in Jakarta, Indonesia refused Yohanes and Yenni to return to America. They'd gone to Indonesia to visit Yenni's ailing father, and when it came time to come back to Enid, the American Consulate said "No."

Yohanes, Yenni, Wade, and the Arwakon Boys in Enid

The American Consulate says Yohanes needs an E-4 PERMANENT Immigrant Visa, not an R-1 Temporary Immigrant Visa. The E-4 requires a much longer application process, as well as two years of employment at Emmanuel Enid.

So, Emmanuel Enid, the most generous evangelical church in the state of Oklahoma, is not only going to continue to pay Yohanes salary and benefits until the E-4 is approved (August 1, 2019), but the church is also paying to relocate Yohanes, Yenni, and their three boys to the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the city of Majuro.

For the next 18 months, Emmanuel Enid will have "Our Man in the Marshalls"

Yohanes will learn the Marshallese language, work with the RMI government, connect with families of loved ones who live in Enid and do community planning in the city of Majuro. When Yohanes comes back to Enid in 2019, he will be even better and more qualified to serve the Pacific Islanders.

Christ's Love in Us Becomes Christ's Love from Us

Yohanes, Yenni at the 2017 Marshallese Thanksgiving Dinner
Why would a church go to such great expense for our ministry to the Marshallese people?

Why would Emmanuel Enid move a man and his family to the Marshall Islands to be better prepared to minister to the Marshallese people?

Why would people like Yohanes and Yenni and their three boys (Jonathan, Paul, and Noel) risk everything to fly to Majuro, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, to spend a year or more learning the culture and the language of the Marshallese people with whom they minister in Enid, Oklahoma? The Arwakons could live comfortably in Indonesia with the resources Yohanes has earned from his executive position with Freeport-McMoran. So why be a missionary to the Marshallese, focusing on Community Planning, living and working among people with so many needs?

I'll tell you why.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  (Matthew 25:31-40)
I keep thinking about that fisherman in the Marshall Islands who tasted the white ash in 1954 and died. His grandkids could be living among us in Enid. I want them to know that there are some American Christians who truly care about them as people. We want to love the Marshallese not just with our words but we shall declare our love for the least of these by our actions.

Godspeed, Yohanes Arwakon. The people of Enid, Oklahoma look forward to your return among us.

Majuro, Capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and home for the Arwakon family until August 2019

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Christ's Kingdom is Both a Kingdom and a Kindom

In preparation for Resurrection services on April 1, 2018, our Production Director, Brian Sallee, placed a "glass globe" within a stage light so a cross made of different English words will be projected on the front wall.

One of the words on the bottom right of the cross looks like a misspelling. It's the word KINDOM

"Somebody forget the 'G'" - will be the response of many on Easter Sunday.

Not really.

It's intentional.

Christ's Kingdom is both a Kingdom and a Kindom.

The Kingdom of Jesus Christ is the place where He reigns in the hearts of His people. He reigns now in our hearts, and one day His reign will be over all the earth when the curse is completely reversed.

Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Therefore, His rule is a Kingdom

But the Father has a family. If you will, you may call them "His kin." We who will live under His rule have a forever family.

Kin-dom is a word that reflects the kin of the King, or in other words, His people.

The Kindom of Christ is a shared community of equals who serve each other under the Kingship of Jesus Christ.

The inspired teaching of the New Testament reflects both concepts of Kingdom and Kindom.

The Apostle Paul plants small house churches, and then later writes to the people worshipping Christ in those assemblies. Paul calls the Christians gather adelphoi, the Greek word for sisters and brothers. 

Christians are united in a family of people who share a common loyalty to the Lord Jesus. 

Paul and the other New Testament writers promised that the Jesus would one day rule over all other empires of this world. His Kingdom and His Kindom will reign forever.

I love talking about Kingdom work, Kingdom service, and Kingdom ministry. When I use the word Kingdom, I'm using it in a biblical sense.

The Kingdom is defined by our King. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We bow to His authority alone. 

But I have no hesitancy speaking of a Kindom.

In the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Kindom is defined by "the least of His kin." Our objective as Christians is to be servants to all. Christ's Kingdom is best represented by a people who understand the Kindom. 

So this Easter, let's be reminded of what our King teaches:
"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me." (Matthew 25:40, 45)
There is no hierarchy of power, potency, and prestige in the Kingdom of Christ. In His Kingdom, worth is measured from the bottom up. Christ is as much in those the world calls the least and the littlest; the frail and the forgotten; the abused and the abandoned as He is anyone else who surrenders to His authority.

Christ's Kingdom is both a Kingdom and a Kindom.

Remember that the next time you hurt one of His kin with your actions and words.

The King does not take lightly the abuse of His kin.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Richard Nixon and Remembering People's Names

Yesterday I had the privilege of having breakfast with 83-year-old Dr. Jack Dancer and his son Brian Dancer. Brian is a new member of Emmanuel Enid, the church that I pastor, and his father was in town for a visit. Brian knew I'd be interested in some of the stories his dad tells, so they invited me to breakfast.

Dr. Dancer is a surgeon and a fascinating man. He is a graduate of George Washington University's medical school, a former professor of surgery at OU Medical School, a highly successful Air Force surgeon who was commissioned to be the surgeon on the Search and Rescue Mission of the only United States atomic submarine to ever sink (the USS Scorpion), and a long-time successful surgeon in Shattuck, Tulsa, and Stillwater. (Edit: Two commenters pointed out that the USS Thrasher also sunk in 1963, making TWO nuclear submarines that have sunk, not one).  Dr. Dancer retired about 10 years ago at the age of 73, but he still serves on many prestigious national medical boards.

Dr. Dancer told me that while he was in medical school at George Washington University (1957-1961), he worked at night (after classes) as the elevator man for the United State Senate elevator in the old Senate building. He regaled me with stories about Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy,  and a host of other U.S. Senators with whom he rode privately on the elevator over the course of four years. His stories and anecdotes of the various senators, including LBJ and JFK before they became President of the United States of the United States were fascinating.

But there was one story that stood out to me.

When Richard Nixon was a Senator from California (before he became President), he used his elevator key and Jack Dancer took manual control of the elevator and went to Senator Nixon's floor. When the elevator opened, Richard Nixon looked at Jack and said, "You're new here, aren't you?"

"Yes sir," Jack replied.

"What's your name?"

"Jack Dancer."

"Whose patronage are you under?" asked Nixon.

It was customary for elevator worker and security guard jobs in the Senate building to be given to students in the Washington D.C. by various U.S. Senators in a patronage program.

"Senator Barry Goldwater," responded Jack.

Jack had attended Arizona University where he obtained his Bachelor's Degree in chemistry and physics before going to medical school. It was while in college at Arizona that Jack met Senator Goldwater.

"Are you still in school, Jack?"

"Yes, sir. I just started medical school at George Washington University."

Are you married?" the future President asked.

"Yes sir, I'm married to Joy Sue."

"Any children?"

"Yes, we have two kids, Sheila and Brian."

"Well, I'm glad to have you on the Senate elevator. Nice to meet you!" With that, Richard Nixon stepped off the elevator in the basement and took the underground trolley to the Capital to cast a late night vote.

Dr. Dancer continued telling me the story.

"I didn't see Senator Nixon again until over two weeks later when once again Nixon used his private elevator key to call me to his floor. When the elevator arrived and the door opened, Senator Nixon got in and I closed the door."

"Hello Jack," said the Senator, "How's medical school?"

"Fine, Senator. I am enjoying it."

"How's your wife Joy Sue?"

"She's doing well, thank you."

"Well, I know it must be a difficult transition for her, especially watching over the two little ones. Tell me, Jack, how are Sheila and Brian doing?"

Jack Dancer was stunned.

He was a lowly elevator boy, and here a powerful Senator from California not only remembered his name, he remembered the name of his wife and two small kids.

The conversation continued until the elevator reached the basement and Senator Nixon stepped off and bid Jack goodbye.

"That conversation occurred 60 years ago and it has never been forgotten by me," Dr. Dancer, said, "but what happened the next time I saw Senator Nixon is what taught me the importance of knowing peoples' names."

A few weeks later Jack was alone in the elevator again with Senator Nixon, and the future President once again inquired about each of Jack's family members by name.

Jack said, "Senator Nixon, I must ask you a question. How can you remember names like you do?"

Nixon paused, looked Jack in the eye and said, "Jack, I'm a politician. I learned a long time ago that names are important."

"Yes, Mr. Nixon, but I ride with other Senators, and they don't even remember my name. Why are you different."

Nixon then reminded Jack of the Bible story where Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord. "What is your name? Jacob cried, What is your name?"

Nixon said, "Jack, Jacob knew what every politician ought to know. When you know a person's name you control that person."

"That lesson," Dr. Dancer told me, "is a lesson on leadership I've practiced since."

As I've since reflected on Dr. Dancer's anecdote, I can't help but reflect on Jesus' words:

"I am the good Shepherd, and I know my sheep" (John 10:14).

Pastors aren't trying to control people, but we are wanting to lead people.

I can't lead anyone unless I know their names.

It's a challenge I give over and over to myself and the other pastors at our 3,500 member church. 

There are many reasons, psychologists say, why we forget names. 

But pastors should work harder than anyone to remember names. 

Nixon's motives for remembering names may not have been the same as ours, but if Nixon can remember everyone's names, so can we.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Baptist Blogger Calls Upon Guidestone to Help SWBTS Professors with Their Retirement Needs

When Charles Spurgeon picked up his quill and wrote for The Sword and the Trowel Magazine in 1887, the Baptist evangelical world read every word Spurgeon published. Spurgeon blistered the English Baptist pastors and theologians of his day for their departure from orthodox, biblical Christianity.

Spurgeon's very public fight with liberals came to be known as The Down-Grade Controversy.

Another Baptist writer is picking up the proverbial pen 130 years later, and Southern Baptist pastors, trustees, and theologians who have departed from orthodox business practices or others who have been harmed by such practices are guaranteed to be reading every word this Baptist Blogger writes from now until the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, Texas (June 2018).

The modern writings should be called The Sword and Throw in the Towel because each word is a blistering indictment of what is happening at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and I predict that trustee leadership at SWBTS will eventually "throw in the towel" and reverse themselves.

We'll see.

Until then, you can read the Sword and Throw in the Towel for yourself.


Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Red River Logjam and Lessons in Leadership

One of the most remarkable but little-known stories of American history is the source of some great lessons in entrepreneurial leadership. It is the story one man's extraordinary and successful effort to remove the longest and most massive logjam in American history, called the Great Raft, or more precisely, the Red River Raft.

When Napoleon sold 828,00 square miles of French land to the United States in 1803, a transaction we call The Louisiana Purchase, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson determined that the United States had better explore this vast new land. Everyone knows that the President appointed Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to investigate the Missouri River, but very few realize that President Jefferson also organized two additional expeditions to explore the two other major rivers that dump into the Mississippi from the west - the Arkansas River and the Red River.

The Red River Basin
The team assigned to explore the Red River was called The Freeman-Custis Expedition, named after Thomas Freeman, a surveyor, and Peter Custis, a medical student, appointed by President Jefferson to lead the scientific team. The expedition was delayed for a variety of reasons but finally set off in May of 1806 from the spot where the Red River flows into the Mississippi River, on the eastern boundary of what we now know as the state of Louisiana. One month into the upriver journey, not yet even halfway across modern Louisiana, the team reached a settlement called Natchitoches. At the time, the Red River north of Natchitoches was unexplored by anyone but the Caddo Indians - and with good reason as the Freeman-Custis Expedition would soon discover.

The Logjam on the Red River
The expedition left Natchitoches and shortly came across an obstacle in the Red River, a hindrance that eventually become known as "The Red River Raft." In essence, the team had found the largest and oldest logjam in the history of North America. The Oklahoma Historical Chronicle describes the obstruction as being over one hundred miles in length. In some places the logjam completely closed the Red River, creating lake lagoons where the water backed up into tributaries. It was not a solid jam the entire way, for a few places along the Red River Raft being comparatively free of driftwood. But in some places men could travel across the Raft on horseback, the logjam being so dense and so aged that a considerable vegetable growth arose, including full grown trees. It was said that in a couple of places along the Raft, extending for several miles, one could even pass over the river itself and be unaware of its presence. In 1941, Dr. Norman Caldwell wrote a fine description of how the great Raft was formed centuries earlier:

Drift formations began at the mouth of the river as a result of a higher stage of water in the Mississippi, the waters of the lower Red River being at such times quiet or "backed up". Below Alexandria the Red River is naturally meandering and of slow current. Drift wood floating in such quiet water would accumulate into obstructions, such formations tending to "tighten" as the waters receded. Once established the raft continued to grow, the average yearly accumulations amounting to about one and a half miles of drift . . . As the obstruction grew and progressed up the river, it rotted away at its lower end and disintegrated, the river thus becoming clear again. The raft was thus like a great serpent, always crawling upstream and forcing the river into new lateral channels.

By the time of the 1806 expedition, the Red River Raft had grown to well over 100 miles in length and was continuing to snake north as the southern end decayed and the northern end grew. It made passage to the northwest via the Red River a journey filled with incessant fatigue, toil, and danger, doubt and uncertainty. In other words, it was unnavigable. This is the reason why the Freeman-Custis Expedition, what Thomas Jefferson himself had called at the beginning "The Grand Excursion," became a grand failure. No new geographic information about the upper reaches of the Red River was obtained.

The Red River mission was a political setback for President Jefferson. The materials that Freeman and Custis did collect were vastly overshadowed by the achievements of Lewis and Clark, who had returned in 1806. The Red River was one vast logjam, and there would be little exploration of northern Louisiana, southern Arkansas, southern Oklahoma and northern Texas because of the inability to navigate the Red River.

Enter Captain Henry Shreve

Henry Miller Shreve ((October 21, 1785 – March 6, 1851) has often been called the "Master of the Mississippi," while others refer to him as the "Father of the Mississippi Steamboat." From an early age, he loved the river. Henry began his career on the river by river working on keelboats in the Ohio and Mississippi valley. In 1807, at the age of 22, Shreve made his first trip to St. Louis from the Ohio River valley. Within a few years, he was captaining his own vessel, transporting goods between New Orleans and St. Louis. Shreve is said to be the first captain of a steamship on the Mississippi, a ship he called "Washington." Though many had predicted the new steamship would fail, its shallow hull and deck-mounted engine allowed for easier navigation. Within a few years, Shreve had a fleet of steamships and revolutionized transportation along the Mississippi and rivers westward. But it was another invention of Shreve's that led to the breaking up of the Red River Raft.

The Snagboat patented by Shreve
In 1827, Shreve patented the snagboat, a boat he used to clear fallen trees and other debris that often clogged the rivers. Just a year earlier, President John Quincy Adams had appointed Shreve as Superintendent of Western River Improvements, a position he held for fourteen years through both the Jackson and Van Buren administrations.

Shreve was ordered in 1832 by Secretary of War Lewis Cass to clear the Great Red River Raft, now over 150 miles of dead wood on the Red River. The task, particularly in 1832, bordered on impossible. But through seven years of incredibly difficult work, extraordinary leadership, and dogged determination, Shreve and the United States Army Corp of Engineers successfully removed the Red River Raft. Shreve constantly battled inadequate funding from Washington, D.C. and the elements, but despite all obstacles, both political and natural, the massive Red River logjam was cleared.

Shreveport, Louisiana, named after Captain Shreve
The area of the Red River where the Raft was most concentrated is now named in his honor - "Shreveport." The people who live in modern Shreveport, much less those who live elsewhere, know very little about Shreve but were it not for his leadership, the areas affected by the flow of the Red River would not be nearly as thriving and progressive as they are today.

It was on April 11, 1833, that Captain Henry M. Shreve and the U.S. Army Engineers arrived at the lower end of the raft and began their work. Shreve brought four "snag boats" and one hundred fifty men to do the impossible. To understand the enormous effort required to clear the Red River Raft, one merely needs to read the contemporary descriptions of the work. Shreve and his men fought the heat, snakes, wild animals, quicksand on the river's shores, all the while fighting a constant battle for supplies from Washington, terrible shortness of funds, mechanical problems, Indian attacks, and a host of other impediments. But Shreve never quit. He never gave up. Eventually, the largest and oldest logjam in North America was cleared.

How Henry Shreve broke removed the logjam of the Red River is a fascinating story, one that teaches us several lessons on true leadership:

Captain Henry Shreve
(1). What some consider impossible is only seen as a challenge to leaders.
(2). The people getting muddy doing the detail work often never see the end result.
(3). It is the ability to see the big picture that gives perseverance through problems.
(4). Logjams that prevent progress must be confronted, tackled, and intentionally removed.
(5). Those who criticize the removal of impediments to progress are the ones history forgets.