Steve's Yarns-- All those years growing up
and living in Oklahoma, California, Arizona,
Texas, and Africa..... Ain't done growing up 'til I get over on the other side :-)

Steve Van Nattan







By Steve Van Nattan


The following stories are true. If I fabricated them, they would not be nearly as interesting.

Answer: New York City needs no fiction to create suspense, shock, and awe.

I have survived a revolution in Kenya, a Marxist coup in Ethiopia, and all of California's most notorious freeways, Roosevelt Road in Illinois, but, my dear friends, nothing in my life consumed as much of my adrenaline as my visits to New York City.

The bizarre thing about NYC is that, if you manage to avoid the hazards, and if you can avoid being devoured by the mad residents, you will come away with some priceless memories, and you will meet some of the world's most colorful and generous people.




Consider my preparation for entering the jungles of New York City at age ten.

I was born in Los Angeles, grew up riding a street car (the "green car") through sage brush at about 20 MPH to get to downtown with my Mom. Later, Dad and Mom took me to an old farm house on river bottom land in Oklahoma where I ran through the woods picking up pecans and wild onions and digging sassafras roots. Dad pastored several small rural churches that met mostly in school houses.

We then moved to Arkansas where Dad pastored three small churches in the Ozark Mountains. I rode the deacon's donkeys and terrified my folks when I told them I found a kitty with no tail (bobcat). Then, we moved back to the Mojave Desert in California where I chased red racer snakes and built secret tunnels in the lot next door.

Then, out of the blue, my folks decided we were called of God to go to Africa to be missionaries. Imagine that-- live in the jungle, play with gorillas, and be chased by lions and crocodiles. That was almost more exciting than my daily afternoon radio series, Clyde Baitey's Circus, The Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger, and Yukon King.

Dad and Mom told me that the mission we were going with wanted us to stay in their headquarters in NYC for a few weeks to get our shipment ready and make arrangements to go by freighter to Africa. That sounded exciting to a kid going on eleven and running in the sage brush in the Mojave Desert.

We arrived in NYC in our big long huge 1949 Buick straight eight, and we checked into the mission headquarters on Henry Street in Brooklyn. At once I realized our Buick was not the biggest car in the world after all. We arrived at the aging red brick eight story building called African Inland Mission headquarters. I decided something was fishy. They told me I was going to New York City, but I ended up in Brooklyn- dirty Brooklyn. Dad explained that Brooklyn was part of New York City- it was one of its five boroughs. Burros were wild donkeys, not cities, and how could one city be five cities? It was as clear as mud, but it covered the ground.

Before long the experiences flooded in. It was mid winter, and my California coat would not work. So, off to add some wardrobe. After that, my Dad found reason after reason to go all over NYC buying bits and pieces for our venture into Africa. Things got a lot more interesting to a 10 year old kid.

My favorite memory was when we visited a street, about three blocks long, where a lot of Jewish businessmen had their shops. This was on the lower east side of Manhattan I suppose. None of them had a big enough shop to hold all their stuff for sale it seemed, so they put all this merchandise out on the sidewalk on tables with a zillion wooden compartments. There were countless bits of this and that to look at. I wandered all over looking at things I had never seen before. Nearby I found a chess club filled with antique Jews in black overcoats. I gazed for a long time at those aged men, smoking cigars, sitting motionless, and filling the air with smoke so that I could not see the back of the room. VERY mysterious. I would still love to go inside and challenge one of those old fellows. I would probably be whipped with a "fool's mate" in a flash.

Another great memory was the street vendors. Today, they have almost all been wiped out by nanny regulations and extortionist fees they now have to pay the city government. But, in 1953 there were hot roasted chestnuts, hot dogs with all the fixings, pop corn, and hot pretzels with mustard-- all sold by vendors chattering about their stuff being the best in NYC. I never have had a pretzel like those ones since then. What a treat on a cold day in the city.

I also loved the automats. I really feel for you poor folks in NYC who never went to an automat. They are all gone today. This was a restaurant that looked more like a post office inside. When you went inside, you made change if you had none, and then you got a tray and got in line.

Everyone filed by, along a wall filled with small boxes with glass windows like mail boxes. You could peek inside, and you could just barely make out that what you saw was pie, baked beans, creamed corn, or some meat dish. You did not get to read a menu with lots of impressive French adjectives to convince you the food might be safe and tasty. You simply dropped the correct number of nickles in a slot, opened the door, and what you saw was what you got.

It was institutional food for sure, but to a kid who grew up dodging rattle snakes and picking chiggers out of his toes, this was heaven-- like getting lunch by mail. You then found a place to sit down, and our family was forced to find single vacant seats here and there around the room. If you wanted to eat alone like high toned folks up town, tough luck. I ate across from an old Italian gentleman who was very kind, spoke to me like I was important, and I did not understand a word he said. But, I liked his exuberance and smile.

The Africa Inland Mission headquarters building was on Henry Street. It was about eight stories high and built of red brick. The outside was early American dustbin, but the inside was comfortable on the ground floor and a bit stately. You had the feeling that the ghosts of great missionaries might be lurking about. The upper floors were pretty dull. I spent most of my time in the yard behind the building playing in the dirt, which is hard to find in NYC.

I began my long journey into the rest of the world in a prayer meeting in Brooklyn, and I would not have it any other way if I could.

I also loved to hang out the window and watch life pass by down on the streets below. I heard a fire engine siren, so I ran to see if it would come down our street. WOW, a ladder truck. There was a driver in the front and a driver in the back end of the trailer. The truck was WAY too long to make it around the narrow street corner, and I was watching for it to run into something. But, the guy in the tail end had a huge steering wheel which he turned frantically at the intersection, and my jaw dropped as the ladder section flew on through the intersection only to suddenly stop and go on around the corner. HERE IS A LADDER TRUCK IN ACTION. Here is a video of the man on the trailer tiller from his perspective. SEE VIDEO The point is, he has no brake pedal, the engine driver goes around the corner, and the tiller driver has to steer the rear wheels whether he likes it or not.

As in all missionary guest houses, aka headquarters, the evening was ended with mandatory Bible reading and prayer. The Daily Light was read of course, as it was used all over the British Empire in missionary evening devotions. I was amazed the way these people prayed right around the world. Africa was the main attraction, but every day some urgent bit of news came in from Ceylon, China, or South Africa-- and places I had never heard of, and it MUST be brought to God's attention. I began my long journey into the rest of the world in a prayer meeting in Brooklyn, and I would not have it any other way if I could.

While we were there, a family with a teen age daughter was in residence. I was in fourth grade, and girls were still at best a novelty, more often, a pain to deal with. This girl and her family had no business going to Africa to be missionaries because the parents were troubled, and the daughter had thoroughly baptized herself in Hollywood and love songs. She would corner me and sing love songs like Sweet Lailani and she would tell me about movies she had seen. At first I was fascinated, but eventually I started avoiding her. I was NOT ready for a teeny bopper, but there were other things lurking about also.

There was Lillian Halstead. She had been a missionary all her life in the Congo. She had zeal like no other lady I had ever seen. She had been sent home to retire, and there was gossip years later in my hearing to the effect that she went a bit off in the mind in some way, what with bouts of malaria and the steamy heat of the Congo. Rain forest living has a way of working on your brain. I could not tell it though. Every day she went out with a big load of Gospel tracts and dove into the subway system. She would lay tracts on railings and other flat surfaces and then come back to the mission HQ. The next day she did the same, but half an hour later. She did a whole rotation daily, covering the rush hour crowds at half hour intervals, and then she went back and started it all over. I was in awe of an old lady who could figure out how to get the Gospel to everyone in NYC, or so it seemed to me. NEVER in all my visits to NYC, did I see anyone else with the amount of zeal Lillian had for giving out the Gospel right where she was.

But, Lillian was also a terror to me, while I admired her. She decided I needed to memorize Scripture verses. She gave me a New Testament with Psalms, and she made a list on paper of the verses she expected me to memorize and glued the list in the fly leaf. She did not ask my permission, and she did not ask my Dad. My Dad found out about it, and I was sure he would rescue me from Lillian, but he just grinned and let her have at me. I could not hate this lady because, while grilling me on Bible verses, she would tell stories from Congo that would make the hair on my neck stand up. She was a great story teller.

So, I would try to avoid the romantic air head teen age girl, and try to avoid Lillian, and lose every time. I still recall time after time being nailed by the girl, being in the middle of Sweet Lalani, and sweet Lillian coming to my rescue, only to set me down and drill Bible verses for an hour. That was when I first took a liking to the book of Psalms, and I still find myself opening to Psalm 103, her favorite, when I need to talk to myself about the Lord.


By 1953 New York had abandoned the overhead trolley routes and dived underground. By 1953 there were five levels of subways. You got on, the train started rolling, and you found that maddening map on the wall with all the routes of each company in different colors. You almost always had to change lines at least once to get to your destination. That meant exiting at a station and walking over cat walks in space, hanging over the tracks below, that felt like they were not held up very well. And then you would be directed down one level to the line you needed.

I still recall the terrifying feeling I had when we once had to take the subway at the fifth level down. The station was damp, dark, and dirty. Stalactites hung from the ceiling, and I figured out they were alive-- some sort of algae or fungus-- with water dripping from them. My Dad speculated that the water might come from leaky sewers, so I tried to weave back and forth so I would not get dripped on. I promise you, if your kid lacks an imagination or creativity, take him to New York City for a week or two, and he will have exciting nightmares for years.

Subway trains were dirty back then, the stations were dirty. Hey, New York city was dirty. There was graffiti all over the subway walls, the trains, and anything flat, and all of NYC had some sort of gray-black crud on everything, even the trees. The trees, what few there were, were encased in a wrought iron fence so people could not drown them in urine when they walked their dogs. I did not like subways, and I have avoided them the rest of my life on other visits to NYC. Anyone who gets a romantic feeling from diving down the mouth of a viper that big, and who gets a rush from breathing ozone, is just the sort of person who will love NYC.

One good memory I have from this first visit was our visit to Keswick, New Jersey. This was a Bible Conference on the model of Keswick in England. I still recall standing in a large group of missionaries from all over the world and singing. Every person in the place had sung the old powerful hymns until the were memorized, and they all sang fiercely. Every third man was a proficient song leader and had a great voice. "Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice....." I bet they did that day.

Our visit to New York ended when we boarded the Robin Wently, a freighter with passenger accommodations for 24, and off we went to Cape Town and up the east coast of Africa. That will be in another yarn soon.



Furlough is a going and coming memory, with a million miles between, and too much dessert at too many church picnics. There is the arrival for furlough at NYC, and then there is the departure from NYC back to Africa.

On our furlough in 1959 I was older and wiser about grown ups. I understood them better. The mission headquarters was still the same building, but we were there in mid summer. It was horribly hot and humid. We lay around sweating and panting hard way up the building in an apartment. The only escape was to go to the kitchen in the basement. The missionaries there would cook their own food in the kitchen and eat together, and food was shared around. It was fun. One day we all got quiet to pray, and while some man was praying, Austin Paul, the missionary to Congo who traveled all that country with a brass band playing for African churches, was zipping up and unzipping his jacket to the rhythm of "Sound the Battle Cry." He was in Brooklyn only in body. His soul and spirit were in some mud brick church in Congo. When the prayer ended, Austin Paul at once said, "This zipper would make a great musical instrument wouldn't it?"

We visited the big famous museum in NYC, and I was in awe, but all I really remember was the mummy of Matumahupmobile the Great, or something like that. He may have been a fine Pharaoh, and a kind and decent husband and father to his family, but 3000 years had taken their toll on the poor fellow. He looked like a bag of rubbish that had fallen off the chariot and been dragged ten miles. I felt sorry for him. His facial expression also hinted that he might feel a bit tired of his confinement.

We walked down to a promenade along the Hudson River, and it was amazing to find this secluded little park overlooking the river (if you ignored the freeway beneath your view), while it was surrounded by trees and even a bit quiet.

While we were at the mission HQ the Weises from Congo were there also. They had a son who was a very likable smart aleck. I liked him, mostly because he was fearless. I later realized he was a bit too fearless though.

The photo is of the promenade in winter.

The two of us decided to take a walk down to the promenade on the river one evening, and on the way back we were accosted by a small street gang. They half surrounded us and started threatening us. Dick at once began to wail in terror, grabbed his groin, and yelled, "You guys scare me so much I think I will wet my pants." He then roared and roared in laughter at the gang leader, while the gang leader tossed a knife back and forth from one hand to the other. I was terrified, but Dick said, "Come on Steve, these guys are a bunch of babies." We walked off and did not look back. I learned something about the power of audacity that evening.

The next morning, Sunday, my family and the Weise family all went for a walk in the neighborhood. And, what do you know, along came a matronly lady with a teen age boy in tow. It was the gang leader all dressed up spiffy for Mass. Dick made a large point of greeting the kid generously and wishing him all manner of delights and joy. The poor kid looked like he had dropped four sizes and was still shrinking.

I recall that popular music in 1959 was all The Everly Brothers, Cliff Richard, and Elvis. I found Elvis made me nervous because he sounded like he was losing his breath all the time. The Everly Brothers were my favorite, and they had every bit as much hair as Elvis did. My Dad was not impressed, so we came to a compromise, and he said I could listen to polkas which were in fashion in much of America than. After furlough Trum Simmons got me into Glenn Miller and the Big Band era.



So, we have gone to Africa, come back, and gone again, right? The last trip home was to come to go to college in Biola College in La Mirada, California. I flew out of Nairobi, and some history is needed for you have never experienced it.


1962- We went to the Nairobi International airport, and we were sitting in the waiting area musing. I was leaving my parents to go it alone in the USA. They were undoubtedly wondering if they were doing the right thing. I was not as mature as I thought I was, but even so, I was not over confident. Africa was my home, and our furlough in 1959 had been a revelation-- I was going to be a freak in the USA. I was a person with a world view I had experienced, not read about. I had lived a life in the bush where I had room to roam and had to take responsibility for myself. I had little or no nagging and nannying from my parents, and I could make use of my life very much as I wished, and I liked life that way. Now, here I was sitting in possibly the most modern venue in the Third World in 1962-- the Nairobi Airport. And, on the other end of this journey was BIOLA College, and I had a morbid sense that someone would soon be managing my life for me, and I would be keeping a tight schedule...... horrible thought.

Just then a man came breezing into the airport and up to the ticket counter. My Dad said, "That's Narkin." Narkin, if that was his real name, had shown up in Tanzania when we lived there about a year before I was leaving for the US. He had joined the missionaries at the Sunday afternoon English service at the Mwanza guest house of the Africa Inland Mission.

Narkin was nervous as a wet hen at these services but came several times. My Dad decided the guy was very shady and using the mission for a cover for some reason. When anyone made small talk about the Bible or Christian issues, the old boy went dumb as snot. Narkin was also a fantastic impromptu pencil and portrait artist. My Dad went into town one day to visit the TOM's (Twinchie Overseas Mercantile) agent. This was a Dutch shipping company that handled all Netherlands business interests in Tanzania.

Dad saw Narkin out front of TOM's doing a portrait of an African lady, and Dad asked the TOM's agent if Narkin had shown any interest in his business. He said he had and was a very entertaining and pleasant guest, and he and the agent hit it off. My Dad asked the agent if Narkin had by any chance shown an interest in his books and records. The agent said he had and he had shown him his bookkeeping and just about everything to do with TOM's business dealings. Dad told the agent, "That guy is not just an artist. I am convinced he is an industrial espionage agent, and he came here for the express purpose of seeing your books." The agent about wet his pants.

So, there we were later, sitting in the Nairobi airport, and Narkin was buying a ticket on the same South African Airways flight I was to go on. I about panicked. But, my Dad had his ways with the wicked.

Dad went right over to Narkin and bellowed in an overly jovial manner, "Why, if it isn't our old friend Mr. Narkin. And, how are you doing these days? Going back where you came from?" Now, it was Narkin who was about to wet his pants. His face panicked, he excused himself and rushed around here and there trying to be in a hurry to go somewhere. Just then, in the door came the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) of Kenya in their gray business suits and a fierce look on their faces.

And then, I got on the plane. What a way to leave Africa. But, what a Dad I had. By his actions Narkin may have gotten caught, for the CID probably were standing watching the crowd. I never saw Narkin on the flight. If he was on the plane, he sure didn't want to cross with the son of that crazy missionary back in the airport. Many times in my life I saw my Dad rush up to some potential criminal or trouble maker and bellow like a mad man, roar with laughter, and start talking about some pointless subject. This always caused the potential trouble maker to rush off and made sure Mom and us boys were not his next victim.

On the flight to London I sat beside a very old British lady from South Africa who was fleeing from the country to go back to England. Her husband stayed behind to sell the plantation and follow her. Independence from Great Britain had resulted in the new African politicians trying to abscond with the plantations owned by White British and Dutch settlers. The lady's life was a shambles and she told me she had never actually lived in England and did not look forward to it. So, she buried her fears and grief with cocktails for one-- many of them. We landed in Zurich to refuel, and her cocktail and my coffee were sitting on the fold down tables. I realized the lady was not in any shape to referee a cocktail when the plane bounced at touch down, so I picked up my coffee and her cocktail and held one in each hand as we landed. "If Dad could only see me now, he would be horrified." The Duchess of Tipsy said, "Shank your so mush young man. I shouldn't have done sho well myself."

Off to London.

London to Los Angeles was nonstop over the North Pole in a TWA Constellation. This was the last of a fleet of monsters with three tails. I was impressed at being in such a long lovely airliner at take off, and then they served the cocktails, and the party started. These globe trotters partied for 14 hours nonstop all the way to LA. Before long the cabin smelled like the south end of a horse, and the smell of sweating bodies added much to the grief. I ended up smelling like a pub in Soho, but, I survived.

As I checked through customs I saw that Ted and Mary Honer and some RVA grads were in the LA Airport to welcome me. Ted and Mary had been staff members in Rift Valley Academy while I was there. They were standing next to a group from my home church in Downey, California, mostly the youth group. They had met each other, and the curiosity of a missionaries' kid's return to the USA was rich in the atmosphere and in their conversation. Ted and Mary were prepared for my strange entrance because Mary, a missionaries' kid, had told of her return to the USA about the same age I was, and she knew what the fish-out-of-water experience was like. The youth group all had fantasies in their minds of what I would look like from watching too many Hollywood movies about "White Man Conquest of the Dark Continent" themes. Well, this White man was in no shape to make a Cary Grant entrance. I had the stiff neck like Grant, but that was about all.

I was dressed in style when I left Nairobi. I wore a tweed hunting jacket with the leather patches on the elbows, and an Italian straw fedora with a leopard tail hat band. I cut a cool dapper image sitting at a table on the patio of the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi. Not over dressed, but continental with a touch of the bush- people greeted me like one of the folks. "Just in from the bush, old man? Any luck with the Nile Geese this time of year?"

But, in LA I looked like Bozo the clown.

I was cross eyed from lack of sleep and oxygen, and I smelled like a bar tender. All my teenage friends were in shock and awe. Up until then, they were doing pretty well not laughing at this spectacle from the jungle, but that ended pretty soon.

I had shown all my possessions to the customs lady and was repacking. She looked down as I finished, and there on the counter was a tooth brush. She picked it up, handed to me, and said, "I think this is yours, sir." I knew it was not, because mine was in my coat pocket where I had put it to use on the plane. So, I reached into my pocket, pulled it up, waved it in a semi-drunken manner, and said, "No, here is my tooth brush."

As I turned to walk toward my friends they were rolling on the floor. Ted Honer, droll and restrained as he could be, had totally lost it and was holding his sides in pain. I realized I had been had, but I was not sure who got to me. Never mind, I went into their waiting arms and was welcomed by all my friends. My revenge was the satisfaction that they were gassed by my TWA party clothes which were reeking of Johnny Walker, British sweat, and fine Turkish tobacco.

Then I got into Irvin Pearce's 55 Chevy which he had restored, and he gunned it out onto the big six lane boulevard in front of Los Angeles International Airport, spinning his wheels. Irvin meant no harm as he showed off his V-8, and he turned and grinned at me. I panicked, grabbed the dash, and started to head for the floorboard before a head on collision. Irvin caught on and slowed down and said, "Sorry Steve, I forgot you drove on the left in Africa didn't you?" Yeh, Irvin. Spin those wheels after I get through culture shock please. By the way, Gary Stahl, the name is Van Nattan, not Manhattan.

We went to Irvin Pearce's home where they had a big gathering of my home church people for a bar-b-que picnic to welcome me home. I was cross eyed with fatigue, and all I remember was the black olives which I had not seen for years in Africa. I also remember Lena Pearce's sympathy when she realized I was totally zoned out. She must have passed the word because everyone started trying to comfort me, and that always feels good.

I was "home," and I was not too impressed with America so far. I got over it, and with the help of a guy named Lynn McGinnis, who was a US Air Force brat, I was escorted into the reality of US life and college. Danny Keihew, a Kikuyu student from Kijabe where I went to high school in Kenya, was a good friend at BIOLA College to help me over the bridge as well. Dave Morrow, an older school mate from Rift Valley Academy days, refereed when I got weird and strange. "Don't be a hick burp, Steve." Thanks Dave, I needed that.

I believe the culture shock was mutual to the staff of Biola College ("University" now after they got rid of this liability with the State Board of Education). Had it not been for the tender mercies of Dean Siemens and Dr. McNeely I would have been run off as unteachable and for other offenses we must not let the DHS learn about.

I wanted you to review the return of yours truly as a sort of rite of passage so that the next escape from America via New York City would be in perspective. Furthermore; some of these events from the past will be read here by co-culprits and missionaries' kids who must follow me, and I have a duty to see if I can make the path smoother for them. Just don't drink the water, and don't breath the air.



College days ended in 1967. I crammed a four year college major into five years, what with working part time, billiards, and pier fishing at Laguna Beach. I drove to Michigan and married Elizabeth, spent time in the US Army, and was teaching in a Bible Institute. During this time we felt God wanted us to return to Africa as Missionaries.

Later, my wife and I and our young daughter Mary had made it through the process of applying to the Sudan Interior Mission to go to Ethiopia as missionaries. We were poised to begin deputation to raise support, and some friends had already promised to help. But, the mission wanted us to come to New York City to their headquarters to have a look at us. We would be given orientation by "veteran missionaries," and then these same people would hold court and decide our destiny, that is, if they could imagine we were potential missionaries for real.

The fish bowl effect was a cause to tremble. We did not want to fake something we were not, but we also intended to avoid making ourselves look weird. After all, we both had grown up with "veteran missionaries" and "missionary pioneers," and we knew some of them were fussy and vain, while most of them were really heroic and worth giving a serious listen to. Having been through this as a kid when my parents did the same thing with AIM, I was sort of prepared for the experience. Our daughter Mary was at the charming age, so we let her go first as often as possible.

Any man who has two charming diplomats like this,
and does not send them through the door first,
ought to have his head examined.

But, it was quite a different thing to be the ones under examination-- not just a kid along for the ride. The headquarters was in an old hotel on 73rd Street in Manhattan. We had graduated from our childhood NYC experiences, moving across town from Brooklyn to Manhattan for our next dose of NYC. We were put on the ninth floor of the mission headquarters, riding an aged uncertain elevator up, and our apartment was the one Paganini used when he came to New York City long ago. I do believe I smelled the odor of rosin in the room, or was it the fragrance of New York City?

It was a very old hotel and had hard wood oak decor everywhere, with big massive hand carved railings and sculpted plaster works on the ceiling. It was definitely UP TOWN from the musty old building we stayed in years ago in Brooklyn. Elizabeth had stayed in the Brooklyn mission Africa Inland Mission HQ as a kid with her missionary parents. This present mission was working at trying to bring the old hotel all the way back to close to perfect order, and it looked impressive.

Our window looked out over a back courtyard in the middle of the block, and all the buildings around the block backed onto the shared courtyard which was a large grassy area with odd bits of this and that around which people used to escape the noise of the streets. I looked down, and below us on the ground floor was the back of a store in the building right next to the mission building. It is common in NYC for the ground floor to be all stores, while the upper floors are residences. The very top floors in NYC are occupied by aging retired US Presidents and Senators.

I considered the weary stripped awning on the back of the store below. There were what looked like milk cartons on the top of the awning. Strange. I mentioned this to one of the missionary staff and learned that the lady just above the store packed here cat's poop into the milk cartons and dropped them on the awning. New York City promised to be its old self for me again- crazy, unpredictable, and wonderful. The only thing that prevents NYC from being mistaken for any other Third World city is that they cleverly pack up their cat and dog dirt so they can hide it from tourists. Thoughtful, is it not?

Every day we had classes to learn mission policy and indoctrination. It never ceases to amaze me that the Apostle Paul managed to start so many local churches without a mob of "Great Missionary Statesmen" to teach him how to say, "Whosoever will may come."

There were several other couples there in the same situation as we were, and two single ladies wanting to be nurses in Ethiopia. We were given introduction courses in Ethiopian culture and in being missionaries, some of which was familiar to me. But, the part of the process that was insane was in the person of a man who was an alleged professional Christian counselor (read that shrink). He was obsessed with Group Dynamics counseling, and he had convinced the mission to use us candidates as guinea pigs as he tried to help us get ready to live with one another. He did this by doing everything possible to cause us to get into fights and scraps with one another. Two of us married men sensed that the plot was a crock, and we pretended to be raging at one another. We managed to unhinge the shrink himself and save our own sanity. Thanks for the help, Joel.

I gather the shrink was planning to bring some sort of order out of the chaos he was creating, but he never pulled it off. He showed no evidence that he really knew Christ as Savior, and every evidence that he knew Belial as his lord, for he loved to see people hate each other. The mission realized that leading people into temptation was not like our Lord and Savior, and the shrink was never called back.

Night time in NYC is NOT quiet and peaceful. We were up late and looked out the window down at the street, and you would not believe how many people were busily walking to their destiny at 3 AM. One night a burglar alarm went off across from the mission in an art store. We went to a window overlooking the street to try to see why the alarm would not shut off. There, standing on the street, gazing into the front window of the art store, were three bored NYC cops with their hands on their hips discussing what to do. After a while, they got into their cars and went away. The alarm stayed on all night and kept some people awake. In NYC neither the residents nor the cops are startled by anything, and much that would cause other Americans to cower in fear is considered status quo by New Yorkers. The owner of the store came to work in the morning, found nothing amiss, and turned off the alarm. It was just another night in New York City.

We all went for walks in the evening which often ended in an Orange Julius nearby. We approached an intersection on one of these outings, and the two single girls were walking ahead a short distance. They stopped for a "don't walk" sign, and a cop car rolled up and stopped right in front of them. The cop in the passenger seat rolled down his window, and said, "Welcome to New York ladies." What? How did he know they were visitors? Well, later we realized that "don't walk" signs are only a relic from the past. In the modern NYC no one pays any attention to those signs. They walk when they can avoid being hit, which is most of the time. No promises. So, if you want to avoid looking like a tourist in NYC try to walk the way the locals do.

Speaking of walking, I was looking along a wide boulevard in NYC one day, and I was amazed that pedestrians were walking in all directions with virtually no regard to traffic lights. They were even walking diagonally-- it was a small convention in the middle of the intersection. Over half of them were clearly walking against the light.

Nothing much has really changed since the 1920s.

There was no traffic at first, but then a huge city bus came roaring along with its horn blaring, and I thought, "This is terrible- there will be some dead bodies there after the bus goes through." I kid you not, the walking fools kept at it until the last second, and then they all jumped this way and that like pop corn, and after the bus passed..... no dead bodies. It takes some noive to survoive in New York City. You may quote me on that one.

We had to go see a doctor to be examined to learn if we were fit to go to Africa and survive. This man was doctor to several missions in the city, so I had seen him years before when I was a kid with another mission. The doctor had always been a practical man with plenty of knowledge of tropical sickness, and his advice had been very useful. But, since I had seen him as a kid, the good doctor had been through a divorce, and he had developed a new specialty-- sex. He questioned us closely, alone, husband and wife, about our sex life and how often we had sex. If he found a great difference between the husband's and wife's answers, he would go into fine detail on the assumption that one or the other felt deprived. When he did this to a doctor who was one of our group, the doctor told him to take his vile mind and ship it. The two single ladies were warned by the doctor not to become lesbians. When we all heard this we were enraged, and someone spoke some blunt words to some mission leaders about their choice of doctors. The doctor was dropped by the mission after our ordeal. I guess it was our ministry to help SIM root out perverts and mental cases from their midst.

I need to tell you about finding the doctor's office. We got on the subway to go to the doctor's office, and as the train rolled along we stood and pondered the map of the subway system. We knew where we wanted to go, but which of those colored lines do we take? We would have to change trains at least once. This is terrifying when you feel like a mole under a patch of carrots. Also, we were told there were certain stations we must never get off at because the people up above were violent. Perhaps this is why "poor Charlie rode forever" on the Boston MTA. He was scared he would end up in a bad part of town.

A take-charge sort of lady came along, clearly Jewish, and said, "Are you folks lost?" This New Yorker could tell by just looking at us that we were aliens from a distant planet called Michigan. We said we were lost indeed. She got our information about our destination, pondered the map, and declared, "I'll just take you there-- I'm lost too, so we'll all be lost together." Then, with a boisterous New Yorker laugh, she really did take charge. I was wondering if we were being helped, or was this an eccentric in need of amusement?

No, she told us we would all get off soon, and she lead us via cat walks and damp tunnels to another subway line. After a ride on that one, we got out, and she hustled us up the stairs to the street, and as we came out she told us the doctor should be about, "half way down that street right there on the left side." We thanked her, and she disappeared down the stairs to catch the subway to her home. Whatever you hear about New Yorkers, and there certainly are some mad ones, there are some very kind and compassionate people in that monstrous city. That lady had to pay to get back on the subway, and I suspect she went way out of her way to help us.

Our car was a perfect curse to us in NYC. We had to repark it every night, back and forth from one side of the street to the other, so that the street sweeper could sweep the gutters. They have to do this every night, alternating back and forth, so that NYC does not become buried in trash and dog dirt in a couple of days. Right, dog dirt in places where you may want to walk on dry ground. A ticket for the car being on the wrong side was 75$ in 1973! One evening a member of the mission staff suggested he drive our car home to his home in New Jersey and park it in his back yard. We were delighted. A car in NYC is a real curse.

Well, when I went with the man to get the car to bring it to the mission just before we were to leave for home, I had observed how New Yorkers drove during our stay, and I knew the secret. One must possess shameless nerve, and once you commit, do not look around so that they think you are insane..... like them. So, I came along the Henry Hudson Parkway in reasonable peace, only having to dodge a few large auto parts and some lumber to keep from tearing the bottom off of my car. I turned into the down town Manhattan area, and I came rolling up to an intersection that was full of cars, some of them clearly cheating on the traffic lights. I had seen the method of clearing a path as we moved around the city, so I went New Yorker. I laid on the horn without letting if off, and accelerated. It was like the Red Sea parting before me. It was wonderful. It was absolutely terrifying too. I cruised through to the screech of tires all around, waved, and decided I could not do this again. I could not afford the shrink afterward.

Each missionary candidate was given a work assignment in the building to clean and detail fixtures. This was, no doubt, a test to see how we got along and how well we could take orders. While I was doing my afternoon work assignment, a charter flight of 300 missionaries was to leave Kennedy Airport and carry missionaries to Nigeria, Ethiopia, and finally Nairobi. The mission never did it again because they figured if a plane ever went down with a charter of that many missionaries, it would overwhelm the mission to keep many of the mission stations open without them.

Well, I had been assigned the task of cleaning the ginger bread plaster sculpting at the top of the wall around the dining area. There was a thick layer of prehistoric dust and grime embedded in this decoration. I had gotten about three quarters done in two weeks, and we would be going home in a couple of days. I was determined to finish it so I would not leave a legacy as the guy who almost finished his assignment. The 300 missionaries were all taken to Kennedy Airport in the cars of mission leaders, and there was to be a big send off with prayer and singing of hymns at the airport. I hated to miss it, but I told my wife to go, and I would stay and work.

I was alone on the bottom floor. I even wondered if anyone else was in the whole building. Well, someone was. A retired missionary lady was on the fifth floor working in an area where mission equipment was stored.

A fearful voice came on the intercom, "Is there a men in the house?"

I was at the top of a tall step ladder sweating, scrubbing, and dressed in my grubby work clothes. I waited. Surely there would be some man left behind who would help the damsel in distress. "Hello, is there a man in the house?" I was it, it seemed. I got down quickly, took the elevator up, and presented myself for the emergency of the moment. It seemed a large carton of lab equipment for the mission hospital in Igbaja, Nigeria had been left behind. It was supposed to go on the charter plane with the missionaries. The hospital was in desperate need of more equipment for some reason. Thus, I was the knight in shining armor (sweaty Levi's) that would deliver it to the airport. That meant escorting the big box by taxi.

We made a study of taxis and police cars during our whole time in NYC, and honest, we never saw one that did not have at least one dent in it. Some had fenders and bumpers dangling and clanging as they went by. This is not encouraging if you have to ride in one of these bumper jumper chariots.

The lady called a cab, gave me plenty of money to cover the cost and a good tip, and I changed clothes. I went out the front door, and the cabby was just pulling up. "Where you wanna go, mack?" I told him "Kennedy," and we only had 45 minutes until flight time. The cabby become frustrated and told me that was pretty much impossible to do in such a short time. I then did something I did not realize I was doing. I pushed the button of a New Yorker that makes him do courageous and mighty things. I said, "Well, you do the best you can, sir. This is a box of lab equipment for a missionary hospital in Nigeria. It needs to go on a plane leaving soon."

It was transformers time in Gotham. Now, nothing was impossible.

The cabby suddenly became twice the knight in shining armor that I was. He jammed the box in the trunk and said, "Let's go buddy." What a ride folks! I have ridden the Montezuma's Revenge at Knotts Berry Farm, and I have ridden at high speed through African mud holes five feet deep, but that ride is still vivid in my mind to this day.

The cab was an aging Plymouth, but it would go. The cabby took off straight on down 73rd Street, and when he got to the next boulevard he turned north, went to the next side street, and turned right against a red light. He did this zigzag trick to keep making progress in the direction of the freeway and Kennedy Airport, and he managed to never have to wait for a light. He would dive down a side street as if he could see around the corner, but he could NOT. We came on a delivery truck, and there was no room for us to go past it. Correction, there WAS room. I am here to prove it. I estimated that he was missing trucks and obstacles by as little as two inches.

All this time I was in the back seat trying to get philosophical about the near misses, since there were no door handles. I was captive. I am not very enthusiastic about Calvinism, but I quickly got a real interest in the sovereignty of God, and I concluded that I was ready to go, but the Cabby was probably not. I also figured the cabby had a lot of incentive to avoid a crash since he would eat the steel before I would.

I also saw that he still had both rear view mirrors still on the car, which spoke well of his ability to drive, or should we say, his DIVING skills? As time went by I began to realize this cabby grew up on these streets and knew every angle, pot hole, and back ally. I was probably in good hands, between God and a very clever driver.

In the video above, Harold Lloyd shows us that nothing has really changed from taxi rides long ago in NYC.
This is a rare appearance of Babe Ruth in a comedy movie.

Well, we came to the on-ramp of the freeway to Kennedy Airport. I figured things were looking up since we had made good time. Not so. The cabby accelerated up to about 50 miles per hour, and then he began to drive with real caution which I could not understand. This soon was explained when, at about 57 MPH, the front right wheel began to bounce violently and the front fender was jumping up and down and shaking the whole car. The right front wheel was vastly out of balance. He slowed down, the violence subsided, and then he again crept up to just short of the bounce point. We did this over and over, and my nerves were getting frayed seriously.

But, the cabby was the hero of the day. He made it just before the 300 missionaries boarded. I gave him all the money the lady at the mission had given me, well over an ordinary tip, and I told him he had earned it. I told him the plane had not left, and the hospital would get their equipment. He was ecstatic. Hey, buddy, if you are still out there and happen to read this, you are a special memory to me. I just hope you survived NYC to read this.

If this account of our visits in New York City seemed disjoint and scatter brained to you, that is because you have never been to NYC. There is NO literary way to write about that stack of insanity, stink, and human kindness, of its color and blandness, and of its grace and cussedness, and still get an "A" in composition from the teacher.


We had a furlough after a short term in Ethiopia because the camp we were helping develop had run out of funds. We were picked up at Kennedy Airport and whisked over New York City, across the Hudson River, and to the new mission headquarters in New Jersey. There was something unreal about that. It just seemed like we should have to serve time in the Big Apple again. It was a relief, but I had the feeling we were wimping out on the crazies in NYC who would love to once again terrorize us and pamper us.

We left for Ethiopia from Chicago after furlough, and that just ain't right folks. Chicago is a great place to get shot, but most people never find out which part of town to go to for that blessing. We were not in Ethiopia long before the nice Marxists killed Heile Salassie in the historic manner of old Joe Stalin and Mao Tse Dung, and they promptly declared that Americans were all colonial running dogs.

We ran.

We moved to Kenya and worked with a small old mission, the Gospel Furthering Fellowship. In 1976 we flew to Amsterdam and spent a week finding my roots. We never found them, but we had a lot of fun eating banket and pelinge, which is smoked eel. Then off via KLM to Chicago and finally Michigan.

This story does not end here, but that is about all I expect my victims to tolerate in one helping. Thanks for reading, and DO feel free to send your experiences in New York City. I would love to add them. I would hope you would let me use your name so other folks who know you can enjoy your story.

SEND MAIL if you have something to share.



I am sorry that all of the large missions abandoned New York City. They scattered to Atlanta, Wheaton, New Jersey, and Los Angeles. So, I realize some of you who are younger than I were never dragged through NYC, under it, or over it. You missed a great aggravation and a priceless adventure. You who became missionaries in later years really did not get the best "jungle training" before you went to the field if you missed New York. So, I hope my narrative fills in some blanks for you.