On my way back to Singapore at the end of that June, I had a nice visit with Mary Francis and her new family. For the second time her mother instincts surfaced and she felt compelled to take charge of the three children of Paul Aguilar, just as she had the four of Bill Spears some ten years earlier. Paul was an associate of hers in the social service department of the State of Colorado in Denver, and his marriage had failed several years earlier. Paul’s father had emigrated from Mexico as a young man, and Paul was a native of the Denver area. Mary Francis seemed quite happy in her new environment and had joined Paul’s Roman Catholic church, where she had already become active. Mary Charlotte refused to accept Paul and his children into the family, for the triple reasons that he was Mexican-American, Roman Catholic, and had lived with her for two years before they married.
It was a new experience to be part of a mission
organization overseas. The OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship —
successor organization to Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission)
compound at 2 Cluny Road was well located, just off one of the main
streets (Orchard Road), and across Cluny Road from Singapore's
Botanical Gardens — a huge park attracting thousands of
visitors daily. The old manor house of the original property was
still being used for dining and living quarters, the library, and
several offices. Two new buildings had been added over the 30 years
of occupancy, and still another has been built since I left there in
1985. I had a dormitory room, the same one Mary Charlotte and I had
stayed in a few months earlier, and ate at the dining hall. My first
year there I put four inches on my waist line from the rice twice a
Jim Nesbitt was in the process of acquiring two North Star computers, one with a hard disk. I urged him to hold off until we had analyzed the true needs for the headquarters, but he went ahead and took delivery of the two machines. They turned out to be lemons, and the Fellowship spent over $10,000 needlessly. I saw this pattern repeated in the USA and UK offices as well, illustrating a principle that seems to be ingrained in human nature. When we are faced with a situation in which we feel inadequate, we try to show we know what we are doing by plunging ahead. It is even more a tendency among Christians in management positions, because they can persuade themselves that they have God’s blessing, and that He will make everything come out right. Sometimes they are correct, and He does make it come out right, but more often, in my limited experience, He had not been the directing force, but rather the ego of the person concerned, and a disaster results.
Jim wanted me to start with the personnel records, since these were maintained separately in the headquarters and in the main offices of the 18 countries of the Fellowship. This resulted in duplication of effort and conflicting entries. He had made a fairly in-depth study of the work there in the HQ personnel office, but he had not examined any of the field or home country offices (except Japan, of course). The type of program he suggested seemed hopelessly inadequate to me, but I knew too little of the details to fault him. I did study a number of records, and called attention to the large amount of missing data which he said was kept in the field and home offices. While Jim was responsible for finance and administration, another man headed the personnel department, and his needs for information were quite different from what Jim was proposing. I tried to point out to Jim that with computers you cannot take things piece-meal but have to integrate the whole area, and his office did not have the whole picture. It ended up that I was to make a round of the larger offices among the mission fields and home countries, and collect up-to-date personnel data on the members of the Fellowship. Several airlines were offering around-the-world tickets for $2000 and allowed six months for completion. I chose the Northwest and Cathay Pacific combination, as that would enable me to visit Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, Canada, the US and England — all the larger offices.
I left in early November, spending 5 to 10 days in each office,
depending on its size. While in Bangkok, I had a bad case of the flu,
and ran a fever for four days. One of the missionaries that I thought
was a medical doctor (he was a theology doctor) provided me with an
antibiotic and a thermometer, and told me to take the pills until my
temperature went down. On the fourth day I began to feel much better,
but the temperature stayed the same. On the fifth day I felt very
good, but still the temperature was 101 or so. Then I realized hat I
had to shake the thermometer before using it! Of course by now my
temperature was normal. I was there when President Reagan sent our
forces into the island of Grenada in the Caribbean, but the Thai
papers had little to say about it. My room was beside the bathroom,
which I had to use during the night. Once I locked myself out of my
room, and had to sleep on a couch in the parlor below until people
got up in the morning. I had bought one of the early laptop
computers, printing the information and recording on small
stenographic type cassettes. Even though I had the flu I kept
working, because my schedule gave no leeway. I managed to get the job
finished in Bangkok and moved on to Manila, and then to Taiwan. I was
to leave the OMF guest house in Taiwan on the US Thanksgiving Day.
When I came to breakfast I found a small US flag at my plate and a
freshly made pumpkin pie! And I was the only American there. Since
northern Japan (Sapporo, on the island of Hokkaiddo) was my
destination and it was approaching winter-time, I needed warm
pajamas, sweaters and a coat. I bought all of these items at
unbelievably low prices in a market in Taipei that specializes in
mill overruns — $2 to $5 for sweater, $25 for a heavy coat. I
really used them in Hokkaiddo, as they had snow on the ground before
I left. Once again I stayed with the Williams’ in Sapporo, and
it was good to see a familiar face again.
I went to Toronto on the way to Miami (such is the magic of the around-the-world ticket) and had the chance to attend the Living Christmas Tree presentation at the People’s Church there. The OMF personnel in Toronto included an Australian, a New Zealander, an American, an Englishman, and a South African — only one native Canadian in the whole office management staff. The treasurer/office manager was from Britain, and he had gotten himself a computer and programmed his personnel work on it. He was very proud of it, but it was horribly inefficient and required his constant attention, but it did get the job done. He gave me quite an earful of the fiasco I could expect when I got to the US office. He had been called in for advice — after they got into trouble, and they had ignored him. His picture was not too far from the truth, as I found out in January when I got to Robesonia (PA). I had planned to be home for Christmas, and it was a real joy. I had only lived in our new house for nine days in June, and it was like somebody else’s at first.
We had a real fun Christmas party at the home of Fritz and Anne Kalmey, (see left) which was to become an annual event. Up to this point in my service to OMF I had seen more of the Fellowship than most of its members, and had gotten to know people from almost all the nine home countries. They are wonderful people, really dedicated to their calling. Everyone from the General Director to the newest member receives exactly the same personal allowance. However, the allowances for food, shelter, utilities, and transportation vary widely from family to family and country to country. They are forbidden to ask for money or even to tell of needs unless asked, because of Hudson Taylor’s principle of depending wholly on the Lord for support. One of his maxims is “The Lord’s work, done in the Lord’s way, will receive the Lord’s support.” It does, too, as they have proved for 125 years.
The US main office of OMF had long been in Philadelphia, but had moved to this small town of Robesonia in eastern Pennsylvania because a supporter had donated ground. Sale of the Philadelphia property provided the funds to build the office building, but homes had to be rented within Robesonia or nearby towns. The guest house where I lived was eight miles away, and was operated by Bob and Fran Brunner, a retired couple from Clearwater (FL). The computer situation was just as had as Mike had painted it to me in his Toronto office the month before. It seems that Dan Bacon, the Home Director, had been all charged up to computerize by attending a convention of mission organizations, and had urged his Canadian-born treasurer to “get going.” This dear man, utterly ignorant of computer usage, encountered a man in his church who operated a computer service bureau, using a new IBM computer called System 34. He contracted for two of these systems, and for the service bureau to program their first operation, marketing the books sponsored by the Fellowship. The total investment was in excess of $50,000, as I remember it. They were having much difficulty getting this first program to work that they were not even trying to prepare the other applications, and their expensive equipment was largely idle. Dan told me that he "would do anything to get out it this mess."
The thought struck me that I could be of far greater benefit to the
Fellowship by working here than if I continued with the largely
undefined applications at Singapore, so I called my new boss (Jim
Nesbitt had wound up his term at the end of 1983 and Rob Davis, an
Australian, had succeeded him as Director of Finance and
Administration in Singapore) and got permission to stay three months
in Robesonia to work out a plan for that office. IBM had recently
started marketing their Personal Computer, known as the PC (for
Personal Computer), and already programs and auxiliary equipment were
available for it. One of the serious weaknesses of IBM’s System
34 was that it was completely incompatible with even the other IBM
systems, and there was no software available for it. Not so with the
PC — it was the most compatible desktop system available, then
and for many years, as it became the industry standard. I urged Dan
to sell one of his Systems 34 and use the money to buy two PCs, one
with a “hard” disk, a storage device that held hundreds
of times the amount of data the “floppy” disks could
hold. For the program language we would use COBOL, the language used
by 80% of the world's data processing installations, and which had
become available for the IBM PC. Dan approved the plan and Alan
Baxter (the office accountant) and I ordered our equipment and
started planning the applications. I had already worked out a
comprehensive plan in outline for an integrated family of programs to
handle all the data processing needs of the entire Fellowship at all
its offices, and intended to initiate that plan here with the
specific applications for the US office: mailing, donation
receipting, and magazine subscription handling, with OMF books to be
added last. Each of these jobs was presently handled by semi-manual
means by a different person on the staff, each with a separate name
and address file of mostly the same people. One of the economies of
the new system was to consolidate these files into one, which could
be maintained (updating with new people and changing addresses) with
far less human effort. Three months proved to be too little time to
get the mailing application working smoothly, but it did work and
Alan thought he could keep it going after I had to leave, which was
the end of March.
My next stop was England, where the OMF main office was in a town called Seven Oaks, about 40 miles southeast of London. They occupied a building that looked like it had been built by King Arthur, and their office procedures were only a little more modern. They had, of course, the same applications that the US office had, but there were many differences in detail. British postal regulations and set-up are quite different from those in the US, and even donation receipting had major variations from the US model. A new treasurer, Tim Bigden, had just joined the Fellowship, and he was gung-ho to computerize. His ideas were miles apart from mine, and he showed no interest in changing. I did my best to convince him of the merit of my approach, but must confess utter failure, and Tim turned out to be my Nemesis in OMF. He, too, had been taken in by a man who operated a programming service and marketed hardware, and Tim had me visit both the sales office and a “satisfied” customer of this firm. I wasn‘t at all convinced that OMF should go that way, and Tim himself changed course a few months later, but not to my proposed Fellowship-wide system.
My around-the-world trip culminated in a non-stop Cathay Pacific flight from London to Hong Kong, over old China, a 13-hour journey, followed by an 8-hour wait in Hong Kong for a "connecting" flight to Singapore. For the first time in my life, I was the first person to receive baggage, and walked through customs to find Rob Davis there to meet me. I had met him in Toronto and had dinner with him and his new wife, Colleen, with their seven children from the two families. Colleen’s former husband had been murdered in his missionary home in Thailand, and Marge, Rob’s Canadian wife, had recently died of cancer. The three months at the Singapore HQ were devoted to procuring a new computer, programming two small applications for the director of personnel and one for the mailing of directories of the Fellowship. Even before we had these programs fully checked out, Robesonia called for help with the mailing program I had left with Alan to finish up. So, on July 11th, I left Singapore for the third time, this time directly to Robesonia. After resolving the crisis there, I spent the next several months going back and forth between Homestead and Robesonia, as new problems came up that required my presence to resolve. The donation receipting program turned out to be one of the most complex programs I had undertaken since the mid-fifties, and it kept me going 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. I managed to find time in August with Mary Charlotte to join the Redlands Community Church (PCA) where many of our best friends (the Polks, the Londons, the Schmidts, the Kalmeys) had joined, leaving the Homestead FPC so we felt we belonged there. The church had been started only two years earlier as a new church of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). This denomination, founded in 1973, was composed of the more conservative and Bible-believing churches which had broken away from the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) because of its impending merger with the PCUSA.
Marion, Mary Jo, Margaret and Clyde visited us that summer, and I took this picture of them plus Mary Charlotte.
We started using the donation receipting program
on line in late October, and I went home with the promise to return
when trouble developed. That did not take long, and I was back and
forth several times in November and early December. I had to return
to Robesonia right after Christmas to complete the year-end programs,
as these had been put aside until they would be needed. We managed to
get all the necessary outputs, but the programs were far from cleaned
up. A lot of the trouble was caused by defective records in the data
bank put in by programs with bugs. Even after the bugs were cleaned
up, the records were still there, and could be identified only when
they caused trouble, as many of them did in the year-end
In April 1985 I went back to Singapore for the last time (although I did not know it then), and spent the time training the accountant and his wife in the use of the computer and existing programs. We worked on two additional ones, but only one got implemented — a program for the quarterly allocation of funds to all the budget accounts of the Fellowship world-wide. This last application, previously done manually and requiring two weeks or more, would be done in a day or so with the computer’s help. My two years were up July 1st, and Rob Davis thought my future service to the Fellowship should be concentrated on the home offices, particularly US and South Africa, which had expressed a desire to use FREDA and had purchased a good computer for the application. A call for help had come from Robesonia and although we had just finished the second application, I had to go. So I left on a China Airlines flight on the 11th of July that deposited me in New York exactly 24 hours later, having stopped in Hong Kong, Taipei (for a change of plane), and Anchorage, Alaska. Bob and Fran Brunner met me at the Kennedy Airport and took me to Robesonia. I got back to Homestead a week later.
Charlotte decided to accompany me this time, and we made our plans
for a 6-week stay, with two weeks in England with the Emery’s.
In the picture at the left are (left to Right): Pam's mother, Mary
Charlotte, me, Dot Emery, Pam and Tony Emery. It had been only a
little over two years since we had left, but it was good to get back.
John de Kock was the OMF office manager for South Africa and he was
keen to make the new system as productive as possible. He increased
the number of variables in the statistics produced on donors, and
also asked for automatic generation of individualized thank-you
letters for donors — in either of two languages, English or
Afrikaans. These changes proved more difficult than I had expected,
though we got them incorporated, but they were not fully checked out
when my time was up. John had been so busy with one crisis after
another, that he had little time to learn about the system. We
arranged a means of consultation by telephone between my home and his
office, and I maintained an up-to-date copy of his programs and data
base, so that I could check out his problems, when he sent me the
printouts by mail. He got into production soon after I left and
managed to keep going thereafter (still was, five years later!). Mary
Charlotte had a ball with her friends, but since we had no car (we
borrowed a mission car from time to time), she either had to walk or
get a ride from a friend. We lived in a flat over the OMF office,
which meant walk-up for her, in addition to the fact that the office
itself was on a gentle slope up from the main road and town of
Claremont, where she did her shopping. I mention this, because I am
sure that the unusual exertion she had to make to get around
triggered her bout with heart trouble soon after we returned to
I didn’t get home soon enough for Robesonia, which had been shut down by a problem several days before I could get there. The problem was not hard to solve, and I chided Alan Baxter for not fixing it himself. Without dwelling in the subject, I had been disappointed at the general unwillingness of the the staff (Alan excluded) to learn what they needed to know about computer data processing in general and FREDA in particular. None of them had bothered to study the manuals I had written for them, and they invariably threw up their hands whenever a computer stoppage occurred. It was painfully evident that the computerization was something only Dan Bacon really wanted, and he didn’t want it badly enough to find out how to make it work. He was the source of real difficulty, when he sided with the women who hated the computer, and refused to back up the office manager when he wanted to change procedures to make things run more smoothly. Of all the Christian managers I had encountered at St. James and in OMF, there were only two or three that had the slightest interest in learning how to cope with computers and computer programs. As long as I was the only one involved in the development of the project, they were very enthusiastic about it. But when it came time for them to participate, they invariably tried to run the other way. I suppose this is inevitable. Until the new generation that grew up with computers reaches management levels in Christian organizations, computerization will be more of a catch-word than a fact. In late October I asked for a meeting of the staff, where I told them that I had done all I could, the rest was up to them. I chided them on being so unwilling to learn, and told them that ignorance was a sin — it put Jesus Christ on the cross! I bade them farewell and promised to be available by telephone whenever they needed me, but no more visits to Robesonia.
My globe-trotting days for OMF were over, and I could settle down to a peaceful (?) life in Homestead. Phone calls from South Africa were almost weekly, and twice I had to rebuild their data base when they fouled it up. But no month went by without full performance of both the US and South African systems, even though problems were still occurring in both.
In February 1986, Mary Charlotte called me at 6am when I was in the bathroom saying she was having a heart attack! When I reached her she was unconscious, so I immediately called 911 for paramedics, and then called her doctor, Bob Hess. The paramedics had her at the hospital in 15 minutes, and I found Dr. Bob waiting for us there. She had recovered consciousness, and seemed to be no worse for the experience, but Dr. Bob had her tested nevertheless. Her most deviant sign was very low potassium, but there seemed no sign of a heart problem. After a few days of observation in the hospital he sent her home, but she continued to deteriorate, and her legs started to swell. Soon she could hardly walk, and felt weak and debilitated. Dr. Bob called in a heart specialist, who persuaded her to have a cardiac catheterization This disclosed a serious condition that had apparently existed all her life — the blood pressure in the heart-lung system was four times normal. This meant that the heart was working all the time at near capacity just for normal breathing, so when she needed more oxygen there was no way the heart could respond. Accordingly, the oxygen content of the blood would drop, and she would faint. This condition, furthermore, could not be treated — only the side effects could. One of the side effects was the swelling of the legs due to accumulated fluid in the circulatory system. The treatment was diuretic pills, which cause the need for frequent urination to prevent the build-up of such fluid. Slowly the diuretic pills got rid of the fluid, and she began to feel better.
20, 1986, was our fiftieth wedding anniversary, and heart problem or
no, Mary Charlotte wanted a proper celebration. She planned the whole
thing herself, and she did a beautiful job of it. From the mailing of
the invitations to the entertainment at the banquet, it was a
magnificent affair. She had invited over 110, including some people
who were little more than acquaintances and some of these failed to
show spoiling her enjoyment of the affair just a little. We were
given some beautiful gifts, all utilizing gold in one way or another,
and the whole thing will live in our memories for the rest of our
lives. We deliberately did not notify our children or sisters, as we
didn’t want them to feel obligated to come from such far
distances as Indiana, Michigan and Maryland. It so happened that Judy
and Emily were to be in Orlando (Disney World) with a church group,
so they rented a car and drove down from Orlando to represent the
In August, John de Kock arrived for four weeks of study in my home so that he could qualify himself in FREDA, something he was unable to do the preceding year when I was implementing it in his office in South Africa. I had asked Mary Charlotte to restrict herself to one meal a day for the three of us, and to allow me to look after John for breakfast and lunch. She allowed me to do the breakfast but insisted on an elaborate lunch and dinner every day. Early in the second week she announced that she was exhausted and couldn’t go on much longer. John and I did a hurried consultation, coming up with the plan that I would drive him to Robesonia (which he originally planned to visit after leaving me) and return, taking eight days starting Sunday. This would give Mary Charlotte a rest, and she could cope with the remaining two weeks. I had to rent a car for her, as I took our Fairmont. We stopped on the way north at Disney World and Epcot (which I had not seen), and at the Kennedy Space Center on the way back, coming through Washington so John could see our stately government buildings. John went back to South Africa a very tired man, but he was able to cope with his system until we finally got all the bugs out. It was still running in 1990.
Although my appointment as associate member (computer consultant) in OMF didn’t expire until June 30, 1987. my work was essentially done with the training of John de Kock. When Alan Baxter left Robesonia in mid-1986, the work was taken over by John Cherry. I invited John to spend a week with me in Homestead in January 1987, so that he could make changes himself in the FREDA programs, should that be necessary. In the fall of 1986 John had attended a meeting of the computer people in OMF called by Tim Bigden in London, and there the Fellowship dropped FREDA, and planned a do-it-yourself approach for each country, rather than the Fellowship-wide system I had proposed. This confirmed the growing feeling among the OMF managers that it would be better for the amateurs in each OMF country to learn what they could about computer usage and use that knowledge themselves, rather than use the professional approach that I had proposed, that would require professionally trained people to maintain it. Robesonia has since abandoned FREDA and uses a home-grown system, but I don’t know how it compares with FREDA. South Africa was still using FREDA in 1990.
These four years had their share of success and failure, hope fulfilled and disappointment. I would like to think that the net effect was beneficial for OMF and its people, but I’m afraid that judgment can only be made by our Lord Himself. I’m glad I undertook the assignment, and know that Robesonia got four years of usage of FREDA, the last two of which were error-free, to say nothing of South Africa. I’m satisfied to wait until I get to Heaven to receive any reward I may be entitled to.
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