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Chapter 21: Holy Land
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The Monday after Carla's
deliverance at the baby dedication service, Jim strode through the reception
area, smiling and whistling a happy tune which Sandy thought might be Thanks
for Sunshine by the Gaithers. Kind of hard to tell with the trills and warbling
being added by way of variations. She was happy to see him relieved of the enormous
burden he had been carrying over the months since Dave was arrested. Not that
he had been rude or offensive but just so up tight, so tense, so-- just plain
old-fashioned worried. In fact, everyone in the office area was happy, saying
to each other by way of pleasant nods, "That's the Pastor Jim we came to
know and love and it's great to have him back."
Jim was in a good
mood, no doubt about it. Dave's case had been dismissed after the star witness's
spectacular performance. The Court baby had been dedicated to the Lord. With
the "help" of Tessa, a very proud witness. And now, Carla's deliverance
from demon possession was nothing short of a miracle. Of course she was still
a baby Christian. She would need to take one small step of faith each day, just
as any baby Christian should do.
Jim leaned back
in his chair, laced his fingers behind his head, leaned as far back as gravity
would allow, and propped his feet on this desk. The phone rang. He glanced at
the flashing line-one button, toyed with the idea of picking up the call, but
decided against it. Sandy or one of the other ladies would get it. Instead,
he swiveled in his chair and looked at the illuminated "Christ Our Pilot"
Thank you, Jesus,
for being my pilot here in Mechanicsburg. I couldn't have made it this far without
you. And I'll surely need you during the coming months and years, just as much.
Sandy popped her
head in the partly-open door. "Can you take a call from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,
Pastor Jim?" she asked in a tone close to awe.
Jim swiveled to
face her so abruptly he almost lost his balance. "Did you say 'Saudi Arabia'?
As in 'middle east'?" Swiftly he ran "Saudi Arabia" through his
memory banks but came up blank. He had no idea of who could be calling him from
Saudi Arabia. Slowly, almost fearfully, he picked up the phone as Sandy closed
There was a hesitation
of two seconds or so and a faint crackling could be heard in the background.
Then a male voice spoke. The voice was distinct, but with a slight reverberation,
as though it had passed through some sort of electronic processing before arriving
at Wesley Evangelical Church.
This is the secretary
to Rahmir Moniz of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Is this the Pastor Jim Hogan of Wesley
Evangelical Church in Pennsylvania, United States of America?" The man's
voice was cultured, with a distinct accent Jim judged to be Oxford.
My name is James A. Hogan, pastor of the Wesley Evangelical Church, here in
Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, United States. How can I help you?"
Again there was
the crackling hesitation, followed by the Oxford accent. "It is perhaps
we who may help you," the secretary said dryly. "My name is Hassar
Zid. My employer has authorized me to discuss with you a matter of finance.
Are you in circumstances where we may speak privately? The content of this conversation
is to be held in strict confidence. No one but your closest and most trusted
advisors may know anything about what is discussed here. And most important
of all, no word of anything we discuss here may ever reach the news media. May
I have your assurance on the point of confidentiality, Pastor Hogan?"
hold one moment, please?" asked Jim, bursting with curiosity. What in the
world is this all about? He jumped up, opened the door, and asked Sandy to transfer
the call to his private extension which could be accessed by no one but Sandy
and himself. Each head turned in his direction and each expression asked What's
going on. He just winked and quickly resumed his seat. He took the call off
Mr. Zid," he said a little breathlessly. You may speak with complete privacy,
now." He trusted Sandy completely. She'd never pick up on his private line
unless she was asked to do so, no matter how intense her curiosity might be.
resumed the Oxford voice, "my employer has become a rather careful student
of Christianity as a result of the radio broadcasts of your Sunday morning services.
I believe Mr. Moniz hears it over an Internet radio station."
Suddenly Jim was
in focus. "Oh, you mean CROSS Radio! They have just added an Internet feed
to their master signal, so you would be able to get us if you have Internet
said Mr. Zid. His tone indicated he was glad to hear the sense of comprehension
in Jim's voice. "Mr. Moniz is by my side as we speak and he wishes to ask
some questions through me as interpreter. He understands English quite well
when it is spoken but has some degree of difficulty expressing his thoughts
in anything but our native tongue. Will you be open to such questions?"
said Jim readily, but he could feel the excitement draining out of him. Probably
wanted to engage him in a pointless and convoluted comparison of the merits
of the Bible and the Koran. "Please begin."
one more concern before we do begin. May we impose upon you to record this conversation?
Mr. Moniz would like to have a translated transcript for more careful study
after the call has been terminated.
Again Jim agreed
while still wondering what this was truly all about.
the first question, Pastor Hogan," said Zid rather formally. Jim heard
paper rustling in the background and surmised he was about to be subjected to
a list of written questions.
would like to know the monetary relationship between the talent and the U.S.
and the dollar?" Jim said, half to himself.
We are aware that the talent is an ancient medium of exchange in precious metals
but we are unable to obtain an exchange rate to U.S. funds. Have you such information?"
I don't," said Jim slowly, still not at all sure of what was going on.
There was a rather
long pause in the conversation during which Jim could hear a rapid-fire discourse
in what he assumed was Aramaic, or maybe Farsi, or whatever their native language
was. Then Zid was back on the line.
has just provided additional information," said the secretary in his precise
Oxford tones, colored with an Aramaic overlay. I now understand that you used
the term 'talent' rather extensively in a sermon you delivered two Sundays ago."
At last it was
clear. Jim had preached on the parable of the talents two weeks ago. "Yes,
Mr. Zid, that is correct. How may I help Mr. Moniz regarding that sermon?"
Now it was Zid's
turn to sound confused. "Mr. Moniz would like to respond to your warning
about burying a talent in the ground. Is this an allusion to failing to use
your resources to achieve some good end? I'm not sure we have phrased that correctly
but perhaps you will understand the intent of the question."
Now the pastor
could sense the electric presence of the Holy Spirit all around him. It was
as intense as the day in the court room when Carla was on her demonic rampage.
He had an overpowering sense that something extremely important was about to
you and Mr. Moniz are completely correct. That is the true meaning behind the
warning against burying your talent in the ground.
"I am pleased,"
responded Zid, and true pleasure warmed his voice. "Now another question
in this regard. Are you still accepting funds in the Holy Land Ministries non-profit
corporation to recreate the Holy Land in the United Sates?"
Jim dropped the
receiver. It bounced off his knee and popped under the desk. In a trance, he
reached down, snagged the coiled cord, and hauled in the receiver.
For the last fifteen
years or so, Jim had entertained a dream that some day he would be involved
in developing an inspirational and educational destination resort which would
replicate some of the artifacts and scenes from scripture-- by means of access
to unlimited funds, of course. And do it right, on a par with Disneyland, or
the Epcot Center, or The Old Country. A life-size, precise copy of Noah's ark,
complete with a petting zoo. The Tabernacle in the wilderness, with priests
and attendants reenacting the ancient rituals of salvation by sacrifice. Maybe
even Solomon's Temple . . .
Pastor Hogan! Are you there?" finally the tinny Oxford voice roused Jim
from his dream. He snatched up the receiver and pressed the mouthpiece against
his ear. Frantically he reversed the receiver, dreading the possibility of a
dial tone when he finally got the instrument in the proper position. Thank the
Lord, there was no dial tone. Only the faint crackling of the overseas line.
Zid? Pastor Hogan here. Sorry. I dropped the phone."
Mr. Zid's wry
sense of humor was again detectable in his inflection. "Pastor Hogan, I
believe we were discussing the matter of your receiving a contribution for the
Holy Land from Mr. Moniz in the amount of ten million dollars U. S. funds.
This time Jim
hung on tightly and didn't drop the receiver. But he felt a little woozy for
a couple seconds.
At the conclusion
of his message on the talents two weeks ago, Jim had made a few light comments
about his Holy Land dream, saying something like, "If you have a few talents
buried somewhere you'd like to dust off and put to good use, I have a proposal
At the time he
said this, he'd actually thought he was off the air, and speaking to his live
church congregation only. Apparently the sermon had run a little shorter than
usual and the CROSS network had kept him on the air in order to fill to the
end of time. As a result, the casual Holy Land remarks had been sent out over
the entire satellite network. He struggled to remember exactly what he'd said.
Something like: "And I'm not talking to you folks with a few dollars under
the mattress or an oatmeal box hidden behind the corn flakes. We're talking
big bucks here. Let's make it a minimum of ten million dollars to become a member
of the GroundBreakers club and receive a framed deed to one square inch of land
on which The Holy Land will be built. And please understand one thing. This
money will not go to me personally, or even to the church. This money will go
to a non-profit corporation I will set up to be known as 'Holy Land Ministries'.
This money will be held in escrow until it's time to start building. How about
it? Who will send the first ten million? for the brand-new Holy Land Ministries?"
After making the
remarks about the ten million-dollar GroundBreakers Club and Holy Land Ministries,
he'd regretted it, even when he still thought his audience was limited to the
four walls of the sanctuary plus the nursery and corridors. At the time, it
had seemed frivolous, and maybe a little crass. But yet, here was a man on an
overseas call talking about just that very thing. Contributing ten million dollars
to help The Holy Land get started.
Again the Oxford
tones were clipping in his ear. "Pastor Hogan. Are you there?"
Mr. Zid," replied Jim briskly. "I believe I heard you mention a ten
million-dollar contribution toward helping us start building The Holy Land.
But I must be honest with you, Mr. Zid. My request for people to contribute
ten million dollars was made somewhat in jest. In fact, I didn't think we were
really on the air at the moment and I . . . I guess I--"
"If I may,
Pastor Hogan," injected Zid smoothly, "we are not speaking of making
a single contribution of ten million dollars. Mr. Moniz would like to see an
executive summary of your startup proposal. Upon a favorable review of that
summary, we are prepared to fund the entire project. In the meantime, the ten
million dollars U.S. will be wired to you at once as a surety from Mr. Moniz
that his intentions are serious as well as honorable. Can you give me an estimate
of when you can e-mail me your executive summary?"
Jim's brain was
finally in high gear. "One week from today, noon U.S. Eastern Standard
Time. May I have your e-mail address please?"
responded Zid, "We use several on-line services for e-mail. Our English
service is Comcast. Do you subscribe to Comcast? Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org"
Jim jotted the
address on the margin of last night's sermon notes. Jim was glad Comcast was
involved, since that was what the church used.
Zid's Oxford voice
spoke again over the many miles between Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and Riyadh,
Saudi Arabia. "Now I will need some information in order to wire you the
funds. Are you prepared to write down several items we will need?"
ahead," said Jim with a tight feeling high in his throat. He pulled the
page of sermon notes on which he had been writing a little closer and wrote
as Zid dictated.
name of the bank where the Holy Land Ministries funds are being held. Second,
the city in which this bank is located and the branch number, if it is a branch.
Third, your bank's ABA routing and transit number. Fourth, the number of the
account for the Holy Land Ministries." Jim scribbled furiously as Zid spoke,
and then asked him to repeat the items to make sure he had everything straight.
It wasn't every day he made arrangements to receive ten million dollars by wire.
Zid repeated each item distinctly and Jim ticked off each one on his list.
Again the Oxford
voice was on the wire. "Our business manager believes you can expect the
wire to arrive in the destination account in about five business days. Will
that be satisfactory?"
Could Jim wait five days to receive ten million dollars? With a high degree
of anxiety, to be sure, but how could a five-day wait for the beginning of the
odyssey of the century be anything but satisfactory?
said Zid suddenly during the lull in the conversation. My assistant just reminded
me to ask you about the Apple Macintosh computer. Do you use one by any chance?"
at one right now," answered Jim cheerily, wondering what difference it
could make since Mr. Moniz would probably want to see the executive summary
in his own language anyway.
said Zid with equal cheer. May I be so bold as to ask if you have a cable modem
said Jim, making more scribbles on his sermon notes. "We use Comcast email
over a cable modem, also."
"We use Power
Macintosh computers in our offices here in Riyadh. And, we have a cable modem
and Apple Remote Access file-sharing software, as well. But the main reason
I am asking you about a Macintosh. We have translation software which can read
an English document which has been saved to disk as an ASCII text file and translate
it into quite passable Aramaic. In our own alphabet, also.
way, Mr. Moniz and his advisors can have anything you send us by English e-mail
in our language, just seconds after it arrives. You will need to attach a Rich
Text Format word processor file to the e-mail message. Will this method be agreeable
with you, Pastor Hogan?"
Pastor Hogan was
thinking about how the entanglement of languages which occurred at the Tower
of Babel was now being unsnarled by man's expanding computer technology. "Yes,
of course, Mr. Zid. Very agreeable. It's amazing what can be done with computers.
Makes you wonder where it will end. But I do have one concern. If we send you
something which will be translated into your language by the computer, how can
you be sure that Mr. Moniz will see exactly what we sent to you in English?
Isn't there a chance your translation software will made a mistake in the process,
maybe fail to catch some nuance of meaning which was intended at the time the
document was originally written? Is that being too fussy?"
"Not at all,
Pastor Hogan," replied Zid smoothly. I agree with you that such a possibility
does exist. But may I remind you that I am fluent in five languages, including
English and Aramaic? Several members of my staff are fluent in English and Aramaic,
as well. You may be assured that Mr. Moniz will get the true sense of what you
Jim cleared his
throat, feeling like he was out of his element. "Well, that clears up that
point, I'm sure."
have additional questions or suggestions?" asked Moniz's secretary courteously,
his tone carrying the light but distinct message that the conversation was all
to hang up, checking his notes to be sure he had all the information needed
to complete the wire transfer and to submit the executive summary of his proposal.
Two things seemed to be missing. "Two more things, if I may, Mr. Zid. I
don't seem to have your modem number in my notes.." Jim had the nagging
feeling he was missing something. He hated to break the connection and suddenly
remember what he had failed to ask about.
Zid quickly gave
his modem number. "Regarding transmitting files back and forth between
our countries, I suggest we use Apple Remote Access file-sharing software. With
ARA, we can access shared folders on each other's computers. Are you familiar
with ARA, Pastor Hogan?"
I've seen the box around here somewhere but I'm not sure we're using it yet."
He'd have to ask Sandy to bone up on ARA, as soon as they had their modem hooked
up. Although he had given his pledge of confidentiality to Zid at the beginning
of the conversation, Sandy surely fit the definition of "closest and most
of the phone call was routine, although the things talked about were anything
but routine. Jim and Zid exchanged good-byes and Jim put the handset back in
the cradle. It was over. And it was just beginning.
Debra was incredulous,
but not speechless. She still didn't believe it was really happening. She rattled
on and on about why would this happen to them. Maybe it was a money laundering
scheme for terrorists or money for some middle east drug lord. It's a scam.
They want to take away the few dollars we are saving for Jessi's wedding. Ten
million dollars for a preacher's wife who had made do on a parsonage income
for twenty-five years? Never happen! Jim hadn't even tried to convey the concept
that this first ten million was merely a token, that Moniz meant what he said
about his willingness to fund the total Holy Land project, subject to his review
of the complete proposal. Or, at least a summary of the complete proposal.
They were driving
over to the PNC Bank's main office in Harrisburg. Since moving to Pennsylvania,
the Hogans had done all their personal banking with PNC and Jim had given their
personal account number to Zid as the destination account for the wire transfer.
Jim and Debra had an appointment with Jane Carter. Jane was a faithful member
of the church and worked as branch manager at the PNC main office. She was the
epitome of banking decorum and was another person who would be added to Jim's
short list of people who would need to know what was happening with Moniz and
his seemingly endless supply of millions. Jane was in her late fifties, had
never married, and she wore round steel rims which matched her steel gray hair.
Her mind was keen, not only regarding banking matters, but life in general.
Her bright eyes snapped alertly behind her steel rims and she never missed a
Jane was training
a new teller when the Hogans arrived at the bank but she quickly handed that
chore over to the head teller and led Jim and Debra to an empty office which,
according to the sign on the door, belonged to the customer service representative.
After the door
was closed, Jim summarized the fiscal aspects of Zid's call. Jane listened intently
but said nothing until he was finished. "How do you think we should handle
this?" Jim asked in conclusion.
Even though she
had first heard about the ten million dollar wire transfer just seconds ago,
she was on top of the situation and ready with a few questions. "Is this
a personal gift or a contribution to Holy Land Ministries?" she asked with
a coy smile on her thin but still-attractive face.
Jim coughed lightly
in embarrassment. "You didn't think I was serious about the Holy Land non-profit
corporation when I mentioned it from the pulpit, did you?" he asked almost
replied Jane with a teasing grin, "but someone in Saudi Arabia apparently
this Mr. Zid our personal account number. Now what do we do?" asked Debra
tensely. "I can just see it now. Another big hee-haw in the media over
an evangelical preacher gone money mad."
we can prevent that," said Jane calmly. "Here is what I suggest. First,
we'll open a new joint account for your personal use and transfer your current
funds into this new account. Next, set up an appointment with one of our trust
officers to draw up the necessary papers for the creation of a non-profit corporation
to be known as Holy land Ministries. There will be a fee for this of course."
Debra suddenly looked alarmed, not at all sure they could afford the fees a
fancy lawyer might charge. Jane continued, unruffled. "But of course such
an expense can be legitimately charged to your HLM account.
thing we need to do right now is change the official name of your old personal
account to Holy Land Ministries and show you, and your social security number,
as Executive Director. We should designate an administrative treasurer, also.
Someone who is authorized to write checks and disburse funds."
answered Jim. "You're the treasurer."
Jane paused a
moment. "Why don't we say the bank is managing the account with me serving
as an agent of the bank. Again, there will be a fee for these services."
Debra jerked a
little each time the word "fee" was used; Jim ignored her, for the
time being. "I like that approach," said Jim sincerely. Since Zid's
call, he'd had visions of enormous amounts of mishandled money with a proportional
scandal. That was the last thing he wanted. To bring dishonor to God's name.
To make himself, his church, his profession a laughing stock and the fodder
for every writer in the late-night TV industry. Long ago he had dedicated his
life and his talents to the business of drawing men to Christ, not driving them
Jim and Debra were driving across the Harvey Taylor Bridge, on their way home
to their parsonage in Mechanicsburg. Debra was still tense. "Jim, you must
have forgotten that I'm just a country girl at heart. I can't deal with money
when so many zeros are involved."
I better tell you the rest of the story."
be more than just ten million involved in the generosity of Mr. Moniz. According
to Mr. Zid, this first payment is just to make us sit up and take notice. Then,
if they like our proposal, Mr. Moniz will be prepared to fund the entire project."
much may that be," may I ask?"
numbers, maybe $500 million."
Jim was glad Debra
wasn't driving or they'd be in the Susquehanna River.
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