My story, the way I tell it, begins with the Bible. Or more accurately, a Gideon New Testament.
Long ago and far away, my father, wanting to avoid being drafted into the US Army during the height of the Korean War, took the tiny bit of self-determination allowed to conscriptable young men and instead enlisted with the US Air Force. No caissons rolling along for him; he chose for the wild blue yonder. And what a wild yonder it turned out to be: his safety was successfully secured, but only by spending his war years manning a radar post on a God-forsaken island in Alaska.
Well, no, there are at least two lies in that last sentence. The call to service did, in the end, cost him a few bruises and gave the family one memorable war story to pass on, if not a Purple Heart: in the line of duty (I’m inclined to think in terms of a beer run to Anchorage, but that was never confirmed or denied) he survived a crash in a small airplane – fortunately it fell into an Alaskan-sized snow bank.
And God too was apparently still lurking here and there on the island because that’s where my father found him.
It’s all on account of that Gideon New Testament. It was given to him as part of his kit in basic training. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago my father had only passing contact with the Church or any active expression of the Christian faith, so this little booklet was doomed to start its evangelizing career at the bottom of his trunk, ignored. However, a few years on an island in Alaska is a long time; eventually, out of sheer boredom, he took to reading it. About the same time he also started receiving letters from a young woman who was a friend of a family member (a sort of “let’s encourage our boys over there” pen pal campaign) and this young woman, who became my mother, was also a committed Christian. To make a longer story shorter, my father soon came to faith in an earnest way and upon his discharge from the Air Force, having already started training before the war as an offset printer, gave most of the rest of his life to printing Bibles. (He also became something of a poster boy for the Gideon Bible folk. Now every time you open that bedside table in your hotel you will remember him – and me… You’re welcome.)
So that’s how I ended up being born in Brazil. My father, Alfred W. Adan, Jr., had gone there in the early 60’s to open a print shop near Manaus for New Tribes Mission, an American missionary society whose goal was to translate and print the New Testament in the aboriginal languages of South America.
The Bible became – apart from my parents’ love for me as their child – the primary formative force in my life, determining where and how I lived, and the lens through which I saw and engaged the world.
And what a lens it was.