Howard by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

Howard is a nuclear engineer. He is 86 years old and lives in the same Mexico condominium complex as Dave and I. Last year he almost died when he checked himself out of a hospital because its NFL playoff games were broadcast in Spanish and not English. He returned to his condo long enough to watch the Sunday games. When his breathing labored, his wife, Joyce, called a friend who drove Howard back to the hospital where he was put in a coma, intubated, and spent a week in that condition. That was a year ago. Howard continues to recover.

Dave and I were not here at that time, but we were in constant contact with Joyce. Things were not good. Before we came down to Mazatlán this year, I prayed that God would give me an opportunity to have a straight-forward conversation with Howard about eternity.

Dave and Howard are buddies. Never a day goes by that Howard does not come to our patio (once, twice, sometimes three times) a day to “chew the fat.” Conversation ranges from politics to the importance of ocean tides to proper maintenance of tennis courts to the peso/dollar exchange rate to sports…lots and lots of sports. Dave and I have invited him to come to church with us, but Sundays are days he and Joyce meet another couple for breakfast. Year after year after year. “Someday,” he says, he will join us.

Because Howard once headed the laboratory team that worked on the atomic bomb, he has a great interest in modern warfare. Last week he responded to an email I forwarded him about a new U.S. missile that “slices, dices, but doesn’t explode” and recently was used to kill terrorist Suleimani. This was his response: “That is the problem with war, killing innocent people, and in today’s world even identifying the innocent from the enemy is not easy.  Why does God let us have war?” Since Howard does not believe in God, this was HUGE.

I answered soon after. “I’m sure He grieves over it as much as we do.  It’s a fallen world and won’t be perfect until eternity…depending upon where you end up.  We have to remember that this world is the antithesis of what Perfection will be.  Scholars much smarter than I have written at great length on this question.  I just try to do whatever little things I can to make it a better place.  One small step at a time.” Howard responded. “Yep. We do what we can.”

Last night, Howard came by for his evening chat. Three or four topics into the conversation, Howard began sharing why as a young boy he left the Mormon religion. He spoke of its history and the vengeance the church hierarchy had exacted upon those who persecuted its people. When he finished, I responded that Jesus had taught such a different message, like “Turn the other cheek.” Our friend pointed his finger at me and said, “He’s the man.” And for the next hour, Howard spoke of how no one has impacted the world like Jesus, how His message revolutionized the way people think, and that He taught compassion and love like no other.

As our conversation continued, it was apparent that Howard knew more about the Bible than most Christians. He just couldn’t “get” the God part. Abraham agreed to kill his son? Who would do that? Noah’s ark really held what it claimed it held? Impossible. The Tower of Babel was the cause of various languages? Nope. Had Jesus known God? (When Dave and I used scripture to show Jesus was God, Howard reminded us that scripture is man-written, not Jesus-written. He couldn’t buy the “God-inspired” part.)

Mostly, Dave and I just listened. I have no doubt this conversation will continue, and I am excited for where God will direct it.

Like I said, “One small step at a time.”

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