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Chapter 21: Holy Land

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Parsonage
A novel about life behind the scenes for an evangelical pastor's family: in the church, the parsonage, the community.

© 2013, 1996 G. Edwin Lint
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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" transparency.

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. Maybe more.

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 the door.

"Pastor Hogan," said Jim.

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.

"That's right. 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?"

"Can you 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 hold.

"Back again, 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.

"Pastor Hogan," 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 access."

"Very good," 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?"

"Certainly," 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."

"Oh, and 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.

"Here is 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.

"Mr. Moniz would like to know the monetary relationship between the talent and the U.S. dollar.

"The talent and the dollar?" Jim said, half to himself.

"Yes, sir. 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'm afraid 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.

"Mr. Moniz 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 transpire.

"Mr. Zid, 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! 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.

"Hello! Mr. 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 for you."

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?"

"Yes, sir, 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?"

"Of course," 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 moniz@comcast.net"

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?"

"Please go 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.

"First, the 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?"

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?

"Pastor Hogan," 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?"

"Looking 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.

"Excellent!" said Zid with equal cheer. May I be so bold as to ask if you have a cable modem with Comcast?

"Yes," 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.

"In this 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 write."

Jim cleared his throat, feeling like he was out of his element. "Well, that clears up that point, I'm sure."

"Might you have additional questions or suggestions?" asked Moniz's secretary courteously, his tone carrying the light but distinct message that the conversation was all but over.

Jim hesitated 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 think 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 trusted advisor."

The conclusion 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 pitch.

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 boyishly.

"No," replied Jane with a teasing grin, "but someone in Saudi Arabia apparently did."

"Jim gave 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."

"I think 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.

"The last 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."

"That's easy," 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 away.

Minutes later, 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 guess I better tell you the rest of the story."

"Rest? What rest?"

"There may 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."

"And how much may that be," may I ask?"

"In round numbers, maybe $500 million."

Jim was glad Debra wasn't driving or they'd be in the Susquehanna River.

THE END OF THE BEGINNING

 

Parsonage Table of Contents
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