New York City Reflection #5: The Greatest Home Run of My Life

I didn’t hit this home run. It’s a home run that happened to me. That’s sounds strange, except that we are talking metaphorically here. I am using a home run metaphor, because it happened during our recent trip to New York, where Robin and I attended a most unusual baseball tournament. If you haven’t read my other posts, you can see them in order here. I am also using the home run metaphor to emphasize the impact that one person’s relatively small action had on my life. One person’s initiative. One person’s courage. One person’s faith. The result: the complete transformation of my life from a panic-stricken, depressed and aimless youth to an overwhelming grateful husband and father who has lived a Great Adventure.

If you read my first reflection from our trip, entitled, “Crying Over Breakfast”, you know how our trip to New York was the second time in forty years of my being there. The first time was when my panic attacks began as I was eating breakfast in Manhattan. It was these panic attacks that were the impetus of my asking Yeshua into my life a few months later. I wept as I was struck by how much God has done for me through all these years. But it’s possible that I was also anticipating a very special meeting that was due to occur a few days later just before we would be heading home.

For the past forty years I have had the privilege of telling my story to people all over Canada and other parts of the world. Each time I explain how I met Jon, a friend of a friend. He was visiting Montreal from California, and gave me a remarkably clear and effective presentation of the trustworthiness of the Bible, the prophecies in the Old Testament that pointed to Yeshua (Jesus), and the process of being restored to a right relationship with God through him. Jon led me in a prayer asking God to forgive my sins and asking Yeshua to take over my life. I knew at the time something special was going on, but I didn’t know how special. I became a brand new person! I give God all the credit, but Jon was his chosen instrument that day. And did he ever hit it out of the park!

Jon remained in town for only a short time afterwards. Over the next couple of years, we talked on the phone a bit and exchanged a few letters, but never got to see each other again…until a couple of weeks ago in Brooklyn. Some time ago Jon and his family moved to the area. So knowing he was in the vicinity I contacted him and we sat down together for the first time in forty years.

It was surreal. It was so special to see him and to meet his wife after all this time as well to have my wife, Robin, finally meet this up-until-now mythic person. Over dinner we got caught up as much as we could in one meeting, Jon wanting to know as much detail of our lives as possible. And if you know some of how God’s grace has worked in and through my family, perhaps you could relate to how Jon must have felt.

Jon & Ellen

Having dinner with Jon & Ellen just before the final game at the World Baseball Qualifier, Coney Island, Brooklyn

There is an interesting true story told at the end of the baseball movie, “Moneyball,” which doesn’t exactly parallel what Jon did forty years ago, but illustrates how as we are true to what God calls us to do, we may not always be aware of its impact. Keep on swinging! You  never know when you will hit the Big One.

New York City Reflection #4: Conflicted

There we were. Team Israel had just won the final game of the Brooklyn Qualifier to advance to the March 2017 World Baseball Classic, and I am feeling somewhat numb. I was certainly happy that Israel would get to play in what amounts to the World Cup of Baseball for the very first time, but shouldn’t I be much more excited?

Team Great Britain (on left) and Team Israel prior to World Baseball Classic Qualifier, MCU Park, Coney Island, Brooklyn

Great Britain (on left) and Israel getting ready for their first matchup at the World Baseball Qualifier.

It was this unusual sporting event that brought my wife, Robin, and I to the New York area. Brazil, Great Britain, Israel, and Pakistan were competing for the final spot in the Classic. Israel just missed qualifying four years ago, when they lost to Spain in the final game of the 2012 Qualifier in extra innings.

Israel flag as end of aisle marker at World Baseball Qualifier, MCU Park, Coney Island, Brooklyn

I never thought this would be how I would find my seat at a baseball park.

We had never experienced anything like this before! Robin and I both grew up in a very Jewish part of Montreal. Our lives have taken us into many different cultural experiences beyond that of our native heritage. So it was very special for us to travel to Brooklyn, one of the most Jewish cities in the world, to root for Team Israel along with a couple of thousand other Jewish fans. It was absolutely delightful to be with religious and nonreligious members of our community. And that they won made it even better!

But why wasn’t the taste of victory sweeter?

Was it that this marked the beginning of the end of our remarkable time in the New York area, as I realized we were to head home the next day? If you have read my other reflections, you know about the incredibly moving times we had at the Holocaust Memorial near our hotel and the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan. These were but two of the many meaningful and delightful shared experiences Robin and I had together during our six-day trip. Through our over thirty-six years of marriage, we have had several getaways, but there was something so very precious about this particular time, and it was coming to a close. But I don’t think that was it.

I think I know what it was. Even though our team won, I was conflicted. You may remember how it came about that we attended this event. If not, briefly: I provide chapel services for the Ottawa Champions professional baseball team. I was having coffee with the player who acts as a liaison between myself and the team. Turned out that he was due to play for Team Great Britain in the Brooklyn Qualifier and their first game was to be against Israel. This was the first I heard about all this, and I thought it would be wonderful to attend in order to both support this player and to cheer on Team Israel. But herein lies the conflict. The way it worked out Great Britain and Brazil played in a semifinal to see who would meet Israel in the deciding game. The result was both our dream and nightmare, because while we wanted Israel to win, we didn’t want Great Britain to lose.

It was surreal both times these two team met as we stood to sing the national anthems of both countries. Being Canadian, we grew up singing “God Save the Queen” in the days before “O Canada” became our official national anthem in 1980. The former remains Canada’s royal anthem. That’s all to say that while we don’t necessarily have great feelings of connection to Great Britain per se, “God Save the Queen” is still our country’s song. But Hatikvah, the national anthem of the State of Israel, is also our song. Here is a translation of the Hebrew original:

As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart,
With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion,
Then our hope – the two-thousand-year-old hope – will not be lost:
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem

To sing this song along with our kinsman at MCU Park in Brooklyn makes the occasion much more than a sporting event. It’s a statement of enduring connection. But that takes nothing away from our love for Canada, “our home and native land.” So whether it was “God Save the Queen” or simply the participation of the Ottawa player playing for Great Britain, my heart was divided.

British & Israeli National Anthems:

Something else happened that underscores the complexity of the situation. Through my involvement with Baseball Chapel, I have had some telephone contact with Frank Reynoso, the New York City area director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). We met in person for the first time during Israel’s second game of the tournament, playing Brazil. We chatted about our respective backgrounds and current ministries. Me a Jewish guy from Montreal and follower of Yeshua (Jesus) the last forty years, ten kids, homeschoolers, itinerant Bible teacher. Frank, born in New York, parents from Dominican Republic, grew up on the street, drug lord whose life was eventually radically transformed by Jesus. Afterwards, Robin asked me a question that I too was asking myself: What did I think the Jewish fans we were among thought of our conversation, which they must have overheard? The scene of the two of us in intense conversation and our subject matter must have sounded so strange to our people’s ears. While Jewish people have become successfully integrated in Western society, centuries of persecution in Jesus’s name has instilled an indelible sense of us and them, making the brotherly intimacy experienced between me and Frank completely foreign to the point of being repugnant.

Frank Reynoso and Alan Gilman

Frank Reynoso and I in intense conversation at MCU Park, Coney Island, Brooklyn

But what I told Robin was that while I understand how our people feel, what they don’t realize (yet!) is that the brotherhood enjoyed by me and Frank at the ballpark that afternoon is actually Israel’s destiny. Our oneness in the Messiah is an essential aspect of the Abrahamic promise: “through you all the nations of the world will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). God’s heart has always been to build a family from among the nations, including (especially!) the Jewish people. Frank and I were enjoying a foretaste of what the Jewish people will one day fully embrace when “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). But until then I must continue to bear with an inner sense of conflict, knowing my people look at both my faith and my faith community with great mistrust and regard me as a traitor. I want them to know how much I am rooting for them – just like I was rooting for Team Israel – even though I am also deeply connected to the vast international community of Yeshua followers – like I was cheering on the Ottawa player with Great Britain. One need not undermine the other. It’s uncomfortable, but love is like that.

You can read Frank Reynoso’s incredible story here.

New York City Reflection #3: We ♥ New York!

As I have already shared in Reflections #1 & #2, our trip to New York City last week to attend the World Baseball Classic Qualifier was full of surprises. No greater surprise was that of New York City itself. As mentioned, this was really the first time there for both of us and we each carried with us our prejudices. Robin never wanted to visit there as her mind was filled with the stereotype of the rude New Yorker and muggings in Central Park. I knew there was much more to the U.S.’s biggest city than that, but I still was in no way prepared for the reality we would encounter.

First, we met some of the most friendly and helpful people in our entire lives there – and I am talking about strangers! In my first reflection I tell the story of the lady who came up from behind us to direct us to the better restaurant. Another time, as we got off the subway, we weren’t sure which way to go. So another lady noticing this, asked us if we needed help and pointed us in the right direction. Wherever we were, it was the same. On the street, in restaurants, in our hotel, it was all the same. I will share about the particular friendliness among the fans at the ballpark in my next (and final) reflection.

But speaking of the ballpark, I mentioned the friendliness of New Yorkers to a person I was talking to during one of the games, and he suggested that it was the effect of 9/11. The attack on the city and the great loss of life, according to him, changed the people for the better. I personally wouldn’t know, but we were certainly impressed.

[Note: I would guess that many of you reading this could share negative stories about New York. But every city has its share of good and bad. We are grateful for the privilege of seeing some of the good.]

Speaking of 9/11, our second of two excursions into Manhattan coincided with a special event called “The 2016 Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk,” in support of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Stephen Siller was a New York City fire fighter, who had just gone off duty when he heard about the attack on the first tower. Not able to drive from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel due to the road closure, he strapped his 60 lbs. of gear to his back and ran through the tunnel to the World Trade Center, where he gave his life saving others. The foundation raises money for injured rescue and military servicemen and women. At least 25,000 people took part that day.

Our first destination that morning was the 9/11 memorial, two enormous waterfall pools, where each of the two towers once stood. Etched in metal around the perimeters are all the names of the over 2600 people who died there. Here is a brief video I took of the north pool, where the first tower to be hit was. To grasp the size of the pool, look at the people on the opposite side.

Later, back in the subway, we saw a couple of young ladies who must have been part of the Run & Walk. I will let the photo speak for itself:

Two young ladies in New York

After the Tunnel to Towers Run & Walk

A version of the words on her shirt is here.

Whether it be the magnitude of the heroics of Stephen Siller and people like him, the height of the buildings, the vast beauty of the surrounding area or Central Park, the impact of seeing Times Square or the theaters on Broadway, New York is big – but it was the bigness of its heart that impressed more than its size.

More photos:

Brooklyn Street

Walking from the bus to the subway, we turned down this street, and Robin got excited, saying “This is soooo Brooklyn!”

One World Trade Center

The new One World Trade Center (aka the Freedom Tower). Opened in November 2014, it is tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and the sixth-tallest in the world.

Strand Bookstore, Manhattan

On our way to Strand Bookstore, featuring “18 Miles Of Books”.

Times Square

Times Square is…different.

Times Square with Mickey Mouse mascot

You never know who you’ll meet in Times Square!

Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway

If only we had more time! Maybe next time!!

New York City Reflection #2: A Profound Surprise

Planning for our recent trip to New York City to attend the World Baseball Classic Qualifier last week drove me crazy! Having not really been to New York before (I explain the “not really” here, I found it very difficult to figure out where to stay, how to get around, etc. You may think I am indeed crazy to learn that I booked four different hotels (is that legal?)! Part of the difficulty is that there really isn’t much choice in the Coney Island area, where the tournament was. We settled on the last of the four, the Best Western Brooklyn Bay. We found through some locals that there is no such thing as “Brooklyn Bay”, but for some reason the hotel didn’t want to use the real name: “Sheepshead Bay.”

As it turned out the location worked well for us. We took the bus to the baseball stadium each day, fully enjoying our walk to the bus stop each way. We arrived at the hotel Thursday afternoon, but didn’t have a chance to check out Sheepshead Bay until Saturday morning. It’s very touristy-looking with its many fishing piers and restaurants. But we didn’t yet know the incredibly moving experience we were soon to have.

A fishing boat at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY

A fishing boat at the pier Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY

I had told Robin about this delightful find after my morning walk. And so as I had a rest, she went off on her own to explore the area. Upon returning, she told me she went further than I did and discovered a Holocaust memorial. So we went back out together to take a closer look.

At the west edge of the bay, a small park has been transformed into “Holocaust Memorial Park” and dedicated by New York City mayor Giuliani in 1997. This spot was chosen because of the many Holocaust survivors who settled this area after the Second World War.

We were both intensely struck by the simplicity and significance of the memorial. A symbolic tower, resembling a smokestack, is surrounded by the names of the countries affected by the Holocaust and sits in the center between two grassy areas each filled with granite markers. On most of the markers are a wide variety of inscriptions, honoring individuals and communities who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. There are also relevant quotes, poems, and so on to help visitors reflect.

As I walked among the markers, I was also struck with a sense of being in the right place at the right time. After all the frustration and confusion over figuring out the details of this trip, we knew God had led us here. With the Jewish High Holidays approaching, it was fitting that we pay our respects to those among our people who fell victim to this great tragedy.

After sitting silently for a time, we recited the Mourner’s Kaddish together. The Mourner’s Kaddish is an ancient prayer recited in Aramaic, the language of Yeshua, not as a prayer for the dead, but an expression of honor to God, who in the midst of chaos and suffering remains in control and worthy of honor and worship. Here is an English translation (from

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world
which He has created according to His will.

May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,
and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;
and say, Amen.

May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored,
adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,
beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that
are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us
and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights,
may He create peace for us and for all Israel;
and say, Amen.

I hope the following photo gallery captures some of the impact of what we experienced. You should be able to read the inscriptions.

Holocaust Memorial Park Signage

Main signage. For a closer look at the text see next image.

Explanation of Holocaust Memorial Park

Closer look at the text.

Tower (smokestack) of remembrance - centerpiece of the memorial.

Tower (smokestack) of remembrance – centerpiece of the memorial.

Robin walking among the pillars to the one side of the tower.

Robin walking among the markers to the one side of the tower.

Famous saying by Rev. Martin Niemöller

Famous saying by Rev. Martin Niemöller

A sampling of granite markers

A sampling of granite markers (an enlargement of the one in the right-bottom corner follows)

A summary of the life of Anne Frank, whose diary survived the Holocaust

A summary of the life of Anne Frank, whose diary survived the Holocaust

In memory of the Jewish communities of Belarus and Moldova

One of the markers in memory of countries significantly effected by the Nazi horrors. As far as I know all our grandparents came from either Belarus or neighboring Lithuania. Robin’s father and his family left Lithuania in the nick of time in 1936. Many of their extended family were killed.

In memory of the Jehovah Witnesses

I was extremely touched that the memorial was not exclusively Jewish, but also included other communities that were targeted by Nazi terror, including the Jehovah Witnesses, the disabled, and homosexuals.

An urgent plea to not forget the Holocaust from Elie Wiesel.

An urgent plea to not forget the Holocaust from recently deceased Nobel-laureate Elie Wiesel.

"Are you my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9-10)

“Are you my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9-10)

For more information about this Holocaust memorial, visit the Holocaust Memorial Committee web site.

New York City Reflection #1: Crying over Breakfast

There’s a lot more to this picture than meets the eye. Let me explain…Alan Gilman

After staying overnight in New Jersey, my wife, Robin, and I drove into Manhattan to try to take in a few sites before heading to our hotel in Brooklyn that afternoon. We were in the area to attend the fourth and final qualifier for the World Baseball Classic. The winner between Brazil, Great Britain, Israel (thus the cap in the photo), and Pakistan would get to compete with fifteen other teams in the Classic in March 2017. But this trip was about a lot more than just baseball!

After parking, we went for looking for a restaurant to eat breakfast. It wasn’t long before we had our first of many wonderful New York City experiences. As we were reading the menu in the window of one place, a lady came up from behind us and said, “Don’t eat here!” We’re not sure exactly what she said after that, but she proceeded to lead us down the block to the Flame Restaurant and took off. The service was great; the food was good. We’ll never know if what happened there would have happened at the first place. All we know is that it happened.

All through the trip, it was difficult to explain how this was really our first time in New York City. Robin had never been there. But I had been to New York City forty years ago, though very briefly – not quite twenty-four hours, in fact. That brief stay marked the beginning of one of the most difficult stages of my life. Now I was back in New York for the first time since then. In the photo I had just finished crying, and here’s why.

In May 1976, my best friend and I took the Greyhound bus from Montreal to spend some days in the New York area. We arrived late afternoon, went to a movie that night, and then, somewhat similar to last week, headed out to breakfast. I don’t think it was the Flame Diner, but it was similar. As my plate of food was brought to me that morning, I had my first-ever panic attack. I didn’t know what to do with myself as I was becoming unglued. I told my friend I was going back to our hotel where I threw myself into the bed. My friend called my mother in Montreal who arranged to fly us home that afternoon.

I somehow made it through the summer, working as a camp counsellor. But when I returned home, the panic attacks returned with a vengeance. On September 1, I was coming to the end of myself. I was sitting on my bed, banging my mattress and pulling my hair, crying out, “What am I going to do!” Then two days later, I went to a friend’s house, where I met the person who told me about Yeshua (Jesus) and how he fulfilled the promises about the Messiah in the Jewish Bible (Old Testament). He told me that if I asked him into my life, I would be happy forever (a bit naïve I later learned, but it’s what I needed to hear). So that afternoon, I told God I was sorry for my sins and asked the Messiah to come into my heart and life. It took me about a day to realize that the panic attacks had stopped, and my life has never been the same since. While I have continued to struggle with anxiety from time to time, it’s very different. No matter what challenges I have faced in these past forty years, God has seen me through over and over again.

I wish I could say I never have anxiety any longer, but that wouldn’t be true. I especially struggle when anticipating a trip as in New York forty years ago and New York last week. Ever since I transitioned into Bible teaching over four years ago, I have travelled more than ever. People who follow my adventures know how positive these experiences have been, but I still haven’t learned to fully rest in God. I am not proud of this fact, especially given everything that he has done in and through me all these years.

For whatever reason, I was especially struggling in anticipation of this trip. Perhaps it was the memory of that infamous day when the panic attacks started in New York. That it was so long ago doesn’t make a difference. To me, it was like yesterday. Even though time and time again, God has seen me through in spite of fear and nerves, I couldn’t shake the specter of the pit I had fallen into back then.

So here I am, forty years later, sitting across from my best of best friend (my wife), eating breakfast in Manhattan for the second time. But this time I am okay – no panic – having fun actually. And instead of panic, something else hits me: the realization of God’s goodness, power, presence, direction, provision, faithfulness, and love. And so I lost it; not freaking out with overwhelming fear, but with tears of gratitude and joy!

A Baseball Odyssey

Baseball players in silhouette Growing up in Montreal, I liked baseball. Hockey was my favorite, but I watched both sports on TV, played with my friends, and collected trading cards (those were the days when they came with bubble gum, and we preserved them in binders). In my later teens and twenties, I didn’t follow sports that much. There was a moment later on that baseball caught my attention in a special way. We had returned to Montreal in the latter half of the 1980s and one of my household contributions was doing the evening dishes. So when possible, I would listen to Montreal Expos baseball games on the radio. From time to time, they would have a special commentator on by the name of Bobby Winkles. Winkles had been a major league manager and coach. Knowing the game as he did, he drew the listener into the mind of the manager. The effect was a pulling back of the veil, so to speak, and I was able to see the intricacies of the game as never before. People will often criticize baseball for being slow and boring. But once one grasps what’s really going on in preparation for each and every pitch, the anticipation becomes as interesting as the action.

It gets better. Years later, now back in Vancouver, I was due to give a sermon at the congregation we attended. I was working in web hosting and design at the time. While I was at my desk, I had some music playing. The song, Home Run by the band Geoff Moore & the Distance, began to play. I knew then what to speak on. Being aware of the statistical reality that home-run hitters tend to be strike out leaders, I was going to explain how people who are called to attempt the greatest achievements tend to experience the most embarrassing failures. And unless those folks learn to how to deal with failure, they are never going to fulfill their destiny. Too many people are sitting in the stands, watching the game (of life), because they are too afraid of failure. It turned out to be a very special morning.

This one object lesson has become a book’s worth over time. I came to realize that there is something about baseball that illustrates the dynamics of real life in a way that perhaps no other game does. Some years ago I put many of these ideas to paper, hoping to publish them one day. They continued to sit on the shelf when last year I received a surprise invitation to be the chapel leader of Ottawa’s new professional baseball team, the Champions. Through all this time, I have pondered why it is that the theme of baseball would capture my heart the way it does. My greatest passion is for the Scriptures – that I would be able to help others effectively connect with God and his Truth as revealed in his written Word. Yet at the same time I know how essential it is to let God do the leading, and that the paths he calls us to take may seem very strange to us. While seeking God about my possible baseball book, I had no idea that I would ever be asked to be involved in sports ministry.

And I never would have dreamt that this sports ministry would end up being a spring board to a most unusual baseball (and life) adventure as Robin and I get ready to head out to Brooklyn for the World Baseball Classic Qualifier, featuring the national teams of Brazil, Great Britain, Pakistan, and…wait for it…Israel!

Team Israel is favored to win as they have the most players with major league experience. The vast majority of players on Team Israel are Jewish American. Like all these teams, players don’t have to be citizens of the country, but simply eligible for citizenship. If you are interested in learning more about Team Israel and this week’s tournament, here’s a great article.

I really don’t know what to expect this week, but as appropriate and able, I hope to blog as often as I can and post pictures to Instagram and Facebook.