Posted by: Doug Harder | November 23, 2011

Last Reflections

Yesterday I picked up a package with pictures from the Portland Marathon.  They provide photographic proof that what happened on October 9th is not a dream.  It is over a month now since  I romped 42 km across that city, and I can hardly believe it really happened.  But there I am in an 8×10 portrait hands out-stretched crossing the finish-line.

Christmas in the Philippines 1989?

It is amazing what can be done when your mind is made-up and you let nothing get in the way.  With grit and determination, there is almost no dream that cannot be realized.  That is why running is such a good way to remember John.  It symbolizes so well his dogged determination in most everything he did.

That was especially true of his spiritual disciplines.  Living in the Philippines as we did, with very little if any tangible accountability, you would think it would be easy to take life easy; to take a lot of liberties.  But John was never like that.  And his zeal to serve people was grounded in his walk with the Lord.

In the year before John died,  we talked often about his relationship with God, and how he kept that fresh and vital.  John kept a daily journal of  what he was learning as a Christ-follower.  He wrote down some of his prayers, and he recorded the things he was discovering from the Scriptures.  And to keep himself consistent in his daily communion with the Lord,  John had developed a numbering system.  He tried never to miss a day, by numbering how many days in a row he kept his journal.  When he missed a day, he started over.  On the top right corner of his daily journal you would find out how many days he’d journaled that month, and how many days in a row.

For some people that might seem tedious, or even restrictive.  But not for John.  This daily regiment pushed him to be doing the things that mattered most.  There is no doubt in my mind that his discipline was rooted in a love for God, and that this love for God spilled over into all his work and relationships.  I have tried at times to imitate that journaling regiment, but only with limited success.

Doug, Brenda & Lynn at the finish line

As the years have gone by since John’s martyrdom, the pain of his passing has turned into sweet and rich memories.  And beyond just memories, I know my life has been enriched by his life in ways that cannot be fully expressed.  The Portland Marathon was one way to somehow give our friendship expression and focus.  Now as the marathon too fades into memory….I am ready to move on.

With the approach of Christmas,  we’ve decided as a family to give to the Quail Project that I mention in an earlier blog.  Providing quails for a poor Muslim family in the south Philippines, gives them a sustainable way of farming, and a great way for the volunteer team living in their villages to show them the love of the Saviour.  John loved these people.  So as we give, it will be a wonderful tribute to John.  If you are interested in the Quail Project, follow the link in the column of this blog for more information.

This will be my final entry in this blog.  It has been a rich time of reflection; a bridge to some of the family and friends of John Speers; and a chance to tell his story.  Now it is time to move on and run the race each of us has been called to.

Posted by: Doug Harder | October 13, 2011

The Portland Marathon

It was still dark at 5 am when we scrambled down from our hotel room into the heart of the city.  I wore a singlet of John’s from a race he ran in Manila many years ago, and a cap with his name on it.  Lynn and I  squeezed into a light rail train with hundreds of other runners heading into the downtown core.  Like cattle in a crowded corral,  I joined the athletes in my estimated time grouping and waited nervously  for the starting gun to fire.

Doug at the start of the marathon

As the grey sky began to give way to the first light of dawn, we were off.  And I was not alone.  Over 8,000 of us were crazy enough to attempt this stomp through the heart of Portland on a Sunday morning for 26 miles.  And once our wave of marathoners leaped out of the starting gate….there was no turning back.

It had been 15 years since I’d run a marathon, and I had barely trained 2 months for this one.  What was I thinking?  And yet as I began to run,  I knew deep down, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this was the right time, and the right place.  I was meant to be here today.

Running for hours gives you a lot of time to think, and I found myself reflecting on some of the running partners I’ve had over the years.  Larry, a dear friend from my home town in Canada, trained and ran with me in my first ever marathon in Vancouver.  Mel, Gilbert and Titoy are just three of many wonderful Filipino friends who ran with me in the Philippines.  My American colleague Craig was another great friend in pounding the pavement.  I thought of Paul, my colleague from Lublin, Poland, who ran the Prague Half-Marathon with me in 2003.  Paul runs like a rabbit, through cobbled streets and up mountains!  What a great camaraderie of running partners from all around the world!

But mostly I thought of John.  I thought of how John ran these same streets back in 1989.  I thought of how quickly his race on earth had come to an end.

I had only planned on running the first half of the marathon.  After that my intention was to walk.  So at the half, I slowed my pace, and

The Portland Marathon 2011

began a brisk walk.  But watching others slowly move past me just didn’t seem right.  So I threw caution to the wind, and started running again.  I wanted to press in, and see how far my legs would carry me.  It is remarkable to see how the body responds to what the mind is determined to accomplish.  Somehow, I managed to alternate evenly between a brisk walk and a steady jog right through to the finish.

Somewhere around mile 15, the cloudy mist turned into a light rain.  That was one of the moments when I wondered how I was going to make it to the end.  About the same time, an expansive steel bridge loomed ahead that would take us across the river.  And then it struck me….the name of the bridge was St. John.  I couldn’t help but grin.  Yes, JOHN!   We all knew John Speers was no saint!  But the good news that we’ve built our lives on is that through the love and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, those who believe in Him are not only forgiven, but given the gift of eternal life!  And so I kept running; across the bridge; through endless neighbourhoods, past marching bands, and dozens of well-wishers calling out my name!  I ran and I cried and I laughed and I experienced the presence of God with every step and every weary mile.  And just like that it was over.  4 hours.  54 minutes. 19 seconds.

Doug, Lynn, Brenda, Shannah & Josiah

And suddenly, before I could catch my breath, there they stood in front of me.  A small circle of beaming faces who had come to Portland to share in this tribute to John.  His wife Brenda, his daughter Shoshannah, his son Josiah, his brother Dean, his sister Debbie and other family members.  I was overwhelmed.

As we talked and reminisced and cried and laughed throughout the day and into the night…this one thought kept coming back. John is ALIVE!   John is part of a “great cloud;” most of them anonymous, whose allegiance to the Lord Jesus, abruptly ended their journey on earth and whisked them away to their true home.  The world was not worthy of them.

But our race is not over.  And since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)

John's extended family @ the finish

Posted by: Doug Harder | October 7, 2011

Is it safe to follow Jesus?

John running the Portland Marathon: September 1989     

So….is it safe to follow Jesus?  I guess we’d have to say it wasn’t for John.  Soon after his shocking death, I began to wonder if it would be correct to think of John as a martyr for his faith.  As best we know,  the young man who took his life did not do so strictly because John was a Christ-follower.  And yet there is no question that John’s devotion to Christ led him down a path of ever present danger.  He understood the dangers to both him and his family.  And he went anyways.  He was compelled to do so.

The news of John’s murder spread quickly throughout the country and had a ripple effect in places around the world.  For an American to be killed in the Philippines in such a manner made newspaper headlines in local papers, impacted the mission community, and was soon known in many circles.

But as unexpected and devastating as this was to us who knew him well,  I soon realized that John was not alone.  Some fairly reliable research estimates that approximately 170,000 Christians are martyred for their faith every year.  EVERY YEAR!  The figure is astounding.  Some reasonable estimates show 45 million died for their faith in the 20th century.

But such large numbers are overwhelming to me and most of those stories will never be told.  Most of today’s persecution takes place in remote areas in restricted countries where silence blankets the circumstances. Most martyrs suffer and die anonymously.  They are unknown.  They are forgotten.  Their deaths are recorded only in heaven by Him who bears witness to their martyrdom.  God in his wisdom, saw fit for John to be numbered among the hundreds who lose their lives each week for the sake of Christ.  John is in very good company.

So is it safe to follow Jesus?  We in the West are obsessed with safety, comfort, insurance and protection from every possible harm.  We hardly understand suffering.  Security is for us almost like a birthright.  But did Jesus promise a safe pathway?  Hardly.  Rather he challenged anyone who would follow him to deny themselves and take up a cross.  The reality of our present world is that the majority of Christians, including young people and children, live with the ever present threat of ridicule, marginalization, suffering and persecution.

It reminds me of Lucy’s question to Mr. Beaver in the C.S. Lewis book,  “The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe.”   Referring to Aslan, the great lion of Narnia,  Lucy asks the question,  “Then….he isn’t safe?”  “Safe?”  Mr. Beaver answers…”who said anything about safe?  Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He is the King, I tell you!”

I welcome your feedback.

Posted by: Doug Harder | October 2, 2011

Farewell Letter to John

John and his family- Christmas 1989?

Two months after John’s death I took my family up into the mountains north of Manila for a much needed rest.  A guesthouse in Baguio City provided us a chance to reflect and take stock of all that had transpired.  One rainy afternoon I found a quiet spot alone to write a farewell letter to John.  There was still so much pent up inside that I needed to say.  That was August 13, 1991.

After searching for the last few weeks, I thought I had lost the letter.  But this week I found it, etched and tear-stained in an old journal.  It was never my intention to publish the letter, but today, just a week from the marathon, it seems appropriate to include some excerpts in my blog…..

Dear John……

I guess I must start with June 11.  Oh John, how could you have ever known what kind of a day that would be, or where it would end.  You were having the time of your life in C**, weren’t you?  Language study was going great.  You had gained much ground….  John, what was it you were warned of the day before, while practicing down that long pathway in L*g-L*g?  Did it seem like just another caution; someone looking out for you, but with no urgent danger in mind?  And after buying bananas with Shannah, where did you go John?  Did you avoid that area or did something draw you back?  Did you hear them come up behind you?  Were you in conversation with someone else?  Oh John, how I weep for you.  With a blast to your head….so suddenly, so quickly….you were gone.  Somewhere on that bumpy tricycle ride back into town, you left us John, and discarded that earthly tent that was your body.

Brenda called me from C* and asked me to be the first back to Maharlikha Village to tell your neighbours what happened.  I drove into FTI, tears streaming down my cheeks.  The buses were whipping up the ash from Mt. Pinatubo like a blizzard at Briercrest.  I could only picture you jogging there many a morning memorizing your Mag*do verb charts.  I found Elisa at her house and felt so helpless as in her hysteria she reacted to the news.  Awhile later I sat in your study, and along with Peter we shared the news with Bapa I*.  He was truly broken…..I have been back several times to Maharlikha, more times since you died than when you were living.  I’ve walked the streets you walked and greeted many of your neigbhours….

The intimacy of our friendship John seemed to climax at our prayer retreat in Cubao.  What a wonderful time that was.  Sure I had the flu and you were weak from Ramadan, but there was a bonding in the Lord that I’ve rarely experienced.  It was so good to kneel with you and pray.  You wanted so much to be holy before your God.  From the retreat center we walked together to the road, took a jeepney to Cubao, and went to Pizza Hut.  You didn’t eat anything because of your fast.  Then we parted ways and I remember watching you disappear in the crowd.  I didn’t realize I would never see you again…

So farewell John.  I will never forget you.  I couldn’t if I tried. But you will no longer be there for me in this fair world.  Farewell John.  I must carry on without your prayers, your laughter, your listening ear.  Farewell John.  Your work on earth is over while I must press forward serving Jesus and loving my wife and children with all that I am.

Farewell John.  But we will meet again.  Someday.  Some glorious day when Jesus comes and takes us home.  Oh, I can’t picture what that will be like.  Yet without a doubt, being with Jesus will have made our feeble efforts to serve Him here all worth while.  And I do hope to embrace you once again my brother; to talk and laugh and pray and worship.  But till then…..farewell.

Posted by: Doug Harder | September 26, 2011

Carry on John’s Legacy with Quail Eggs

John's family and friends gather for his funeral in 1991

In my last blog I talked about John’s last day on earth, and the last words to his family.  He left this world with a compelling love for the Mag*do people.  But that was 20 years ago.  What has happened since then?

Actually, a lot has happened.  In the various memorial services that were held for John both in the south and the north of the Philippines, a new awakening occurred.  That is to say, many Filipinos were suddenly struck by the fact that this “foreigner” came to their country and gave his life for an ethnic group many of them were taught to despise.  In the weeks and months that followed, a good number of those who follow Jesus in the Philippines were awakened to a calling to love the Mag*do people and lay down their lives for them in the same way that John had.

It has been 20 years…..but the blood that spilled on that back alleyway has not been in vain.  Though we will never understand this side of heaven why John was taken that day, some things we do know.  Through John’s death, God stirred into life a new love for the people of the south.   Today there are volunteers from different parts of the world who serve and love the Mag*do people.

I’m running the Portland Marathon to give tribute to John and his remarkable life.  That’s it.  Yet, if there are those who read this blog who would like to give in some way to the John’s legacy…..I’m going to suggest one great option in my blog today.

Today there are volunteer teams who serve still among the Mag*do.  They work daily with young fathers mentoring them in raising quail and marketing their eggs.  Through these micro-businesses whole families are taught how to support themselves in sustainable projects.  And through these eggs bridges are built for the gospel.

If you’d like to honor John’s life and his passion for these people, you can follow the link in the side column of the blog entitled “Quail Project.”  Your gift will help provide a sustaining business to a Mag*do family, and build bridges of friendship for the gospel.  When you open up the link, click on Projects, and then Bite-Sized Projects and then select 07-M*slim Ministries- Quail.  For Canadian donors you will need to select Project Support and then write “Quail Project in Tribute to John Speers”  in the message portion.  If you have questions, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

We are just two weeks away from the Portland Marathon on October 9.  Yesterday I did a 30km training run- the longest distance I’ve covered since I was training for the Manila International Marathon 15 years ago.  It was hot and humid yesterday here on the West Coast and I sweated buckets , just like many of those muggy days when John and I ran together in the Orient.  So the countdown is on.

Posted by: Doug Harder | September 21, 2011

John’s Last Words

When John got up on June 11, 1991 who could have imagined it would be his last day on earth.  I’m not sure how he spent the morning….but in the afternoon John was out on the streets practicing the language of the Mag*do people.

John and his wife Brenda

John is one of the most disciplined guys I’ve ever met and he was determined to communicate with these wonderful people in this SE Asian city.   He was driven by a passion to share with them the Love that changed his own life.  So on that afternoon he took his 4-year old daughter by the hand and walked through the neighbourhood practicing his verb charts.  After some time, Shoshannah grew weary and wanted to go home.  And so after buying some fresh bananas, John dropped her by the house.  But he wasn’t done.  Finding his wife Brenda,  John uttered what would be the last words she would ever hear from his lips.  “I need to learn these verbs!  I’ve got to reach these people with the love of Jesus.”  And with that John was back out the door.

Some time later, a shot rang out….and John was gunned down from behind in a senseless “thrill-killing.”  As the gunman disappeared, bystanders quickly hoisted John into a tricycle (motor-cycle with a side car) and rushed him off to the hospital.  From what I was told,  he may have even been still trying his best to communicate in Mag*d0 to the man who accompanied him in the tricycle.  But by the time Brenda followed a few minutes later to the hospital,  John had already ascended into the presence of his Lord.

“I need to learn these verbs.”  How characteristic of John.  As long as I ever knew John he was driven by such a heart to do all that he could to make a difference in the world.  Whatever it took,  John was always one to push himself hard to overcome any cross-cultural barrier in order to build friendships with the Mag*do.  And not for his own sake.  John was convinced he had good news that he couldn’t keep to himself.

I remember my last conversation with John.  It was quite by chance.  I was talking to our business manager in his office in the big city of Manila.  The phone rang unexpectantly and it was John calling him on business.  When I heard it was John,  I asked for a chance to speak.  John was so excited about his language learning experience down south, that he was extending their stay to 6 weeks.  John even challenged me right there to a new adventure together with our wives in yet another city in the south.  We were dreamers!  Full of adventure!  Always looking ahead to the next frontier!

I often wonder why John was taken that day, and the rest of us were left.  His language studies ended that day; his index cards quietly put to rest.  But even after all these years, John’s last words still speak to me.  What are the verbs I still need to learn?  What verbs will open doors in my world so that Love can find a way into the hearts of those who search for it?

Posted by: Doug Harder | September 13, 2011

Keep me runnin’

Doug Harder, John Speers and Mike Hack after a long run

I hated running in high school.  It was an exercise of total futility.  I used to hide behind a thick Douglas Fir tree at the corner of the track, while the others in my PE class ran laps.

Running seemed utterly pointless and so I continued to avoid such madness through my young adult years.  Then one night I watched a movie at our church about Ann Kiemel who trained and ran a full marathon.  Something inspired me that night.  I liked Ann, and if she could ran that far then maybe I could too.

It was only a few months before I was bound to leave for the Philippines as a career missionary.  Since I reckoned that only a fool would run in the steamy tropics of the Orient,  if I was ever do this, it had to be now.  So I began to train after work, running in our neighbourhood.  But after a few weeks,  I gave up.  I had worked up to actually grunting through 5 km in one stretch, but that was it.  Life was too busy.

About six months after arriving in the Philippines, I was on my way to church on a Sunday morning.  It was town fiesta in Batangas City, and I noticed people lining the main street for what must have been a parade.  Pushing through the crowd, to my amazement I watched as runners came charging down the main drag, completing the annual fiesta run from the neigbhouring city of Lipa.  I was elated!  So they do run in the Philippines!  I knew in an instant that I would compete the following January in the annual fiesta run!

Knowing almost nothing about running,  I started training anyways….getting up early in the morning, dodging jeepneys, tricycles and dogs along narrow roads in Batangas.  Running was still pretty much an oddity to most Filipinos, so to see this tall white guy running down the road in the morning was a ghastly sight to most Filipinos.

But I would not be deterred.  A few weeks before fiesta I was ready to go.  And then the unthinkable happened.  President Marcos called a “snap election” as his iron grip on the country began to loosen.  With political tensions rising throughout the islands, the town fiesta marathon was cancelled.  I couldn’t believe it!

But I ran anyways.  By myself.  Lynn and I took a jeepney to Lipa (we didn’t have a car) and I just started running.  It dawned on me as I ran, that if the 27km fiesta run was happening, maybe they’d have water stations?  I drank no water for 27 km in the heat and I thought I was going to die the last few kms.  When I finished the race I drank 2 litres of Coke.  It was only a few months later in talking to a seasoned long-distance runner that I learned I could have died!

And so began my running days in the Philippines.  I don’t recall if John had always been a runner, but we began to run together whenever we could.  John had moved to Manila, and we moved down south to Bicol, but whenever we got together we would run.  (Note the picture of us above with a mutual friend and goof ball- Mike Hack).

Starting with 10km runs, we graduated to our first half-marathon together in Manila in 1988  (homepage picture above).  While on home service in Ontario,  we challenged each other to run a full marathon before we’d return to the Philippines.  And so John ran in Portland, while I ran in Vancouver.

Once we returned to the Orient, we were all geared up to run TOGETHER again on August 4, 1991 at the Magnolia Half-Marathon.  But it was not to be.  John finished his “race” on June 11.  At first, overwhelmed with such sorrow at my great loss, I was ready to forego the half.  But then I realized  John would want me run!  I had to run!

Running the Magnolia for John

Brenda gave me a running singlet of John’s which I wore that day.  He was my inspiration.  I felt him running there with me.  I ran my heart out cause that is the way he lived.  That is the way he died…..full out and on fire.

In those days I used to run with a cassette “walkman” tuned in to a song from Randy Stonehill’s first albums.  The song is called “Keep me Running.”  That is still my prayer.  Until I follow where you have gone, dear John…keep me runnin’

Posted by: Doug Harder | September 4, 2011

Receiving 100 Times More!

Jesus once said, “No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father……for me and the gospel will fail to receive 100 times as much (Mark 10:29,30). Jim Elliot put it this way, “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This has been my experience. Let me tell you why.

By 1983 I felt a strong conviction that the Lord was leading me to serve Him in the Philippines. This was no easy decision. It would mean saying goodbye to family and everything familiar in Canada for a career commitment on the other side of the world. I was 25 and single and knew virtually no one in the Philippines.  But I moved forward in obedience and prepared to go.  Within a year I had all the needed financial support pledged for me to go as a volunteer.  Three weeks before I was destined to leave in the spring of 1984 I was unexpectedly asked to travel to Alberta to represent the mission at a Bible conference in Three Hills.  If someone had told me what would happen during that 10 day trip I would never have believed them.  My first day in Alberta I met up with a new friend I’d first met in the fall named Lynn Waddell.  By the end of those 10 days, I was quite convinced this was the girl I was to spend the rest of my life with.  And so just before leaving for the Orient in June 1984,  I asked Lynn to marry me, and then I flew off and left her behind.

Playing Risk in Batangas City

I would return to Canada 7 months later to marry a girl I barely knew but who shared my conviction to bring the gospel to the Filipino people.

Shortly after arriving in the Philippines I moved down to a small city on the sea where I plunged into learning Tagalog, the Filipino national language.  I lived in a tiny basement suite with a Filipino family upstairs who soon became family to me.  And I soon discovered that another couple was arriving from Canada to study in the same small language school-  John and Brenda Speers.  I remembered them vaguely from Briercrest Bible College where we had overlapped in our studies.

When John and Brenda arrived, we became instant friends.  We were beginning a whole new life together, and we threw ourselves into language and cultural studies.  And the excitement mounted as I prepared to go “home” to Canada to marry Lynn, and bring my new bride back to our new home in the Philippines.  And so it was.  After 7 months of language studies in Batangas….I jetted off to Red Deer,  married Lynn and brought her back.  The friendship that the four of us developed together is something I’ve rarely experienced in my life.  But there is something unique about going through monumental life changes side by side with a few friends who are God’s gifts to you.

After morning classes,  John and I would spend most of our afternoons in the market place or among neighbours practicing new words and phrases in the Tagalog language.  We had shopkeepers laughing at our blunders, but we pressed on and soon developed a circle of vendors and merchants who loved to have us visit their shops.  Often when John and I met, we would try to stump each other with new words we had learnt.  It was a great rivalry; a competition that moved us deeper into the hearts of the Filipino people.

And so in such a short time…..after leaving behind so much in Canada, God gave me 100 times more  in the Philippines.  I had been given a life partner in Lynn, and in our new home in Batangas we were gifted with a deep friendship in John and Brenda.  After going through language school together…..none of us realized of where the road would soon take us.

Posted by: Doug Harder | August 16, 2011

What happened on June 11, 1991?

John's Graveside

In 1991 the Philippines was very much home for Lynn and I, having already lived there for 7 years.  John Speers and his wife Brenda were among our closest friends.  Together we had forged into promising careers in missions in the Pearl of the Orient. We learned the national language together (Tagalog), adapting to a new culture, and began to raise our little children in this South-east Asian paradise.

On June 11th I had been running errands in Manila, about 2 hours south of where we lived in the town of Baliwag.  After eating supper, I was giving our little girl Quinea a bath, when the phone rang.  It was a phone call I wish had never come.  Incredulously,  my best friend John had been shot to death just a few hours earlier in the south.

I felt like someone had hit me over the head with a baseball bat.  It seemed impossible.  We had always recognized the dangers of life in the Philippines in the 1980’s…..but yet it could never happen to us.  Not me.  Not John.  Not now.

There was little time to assess how great was our loss.  By morning we were off to Manila to meet Brenda and her two suddenly fatherless children, Shannah (4) and Josiah (1 and a half).  Still in disbelief, we found ourselves scrambling to plan for John’s funeral in Manila. Instead of pressing on to run the Magnolia Half-Marathon with John in a few weeks, now we were preparing to bury him.

Ah, but there is so much more to the story; much to save for further entries over the next few weeks.  Which brings me to the point of why this blog anyway?

I’m creating this blog for at a number of reasons.  First of all, I strongly feel this is the right time to give tribute to John.  20 years have passed and a whole generation around me knows little of John.  I sense it is the right time to once again tell some of his story….if nothing else for my own children, and for the people who surround me in my current place in life.

Secondly,  on October 9th,  I will be run/walking the Portland Marathon in tribute to John.  One of the many things that bonded John and I together was running.  And in the months just prior to his sudden death,we both ran our first marathon.  John ran the Portland Marathon while I ran in Vancouver.  Since John’s home going I have always wanted to run the Portland Marathon in tribute to John…..but was living in some far flung place in the world….until now.

So whether you knew John or not….I will spend time reflecting on his remarkable life, and how it has impacted my own life and faith over the years since.  And who knows…..maybe I’ll see you in Portland?

Posted by: Doug Harder | August 15, 2011

Remembering John

John was one of those friends I thought would always be part of my life.  We were in the prime of our lives, but we’d eventually grow old together.  All that changed in a moment on June 11, 1991.  It is a day I’ll never forget.  In the next few weeks I’m going to begin blogging about John, and all that has transpired in the 20 years since then.