Creekbank Blog

The writing blog of Curt Iles and Creekbank Stories. Our mission: To connect hearts to God by using stories of encouragement and inspiration.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Three Babies, Two Dogs, and One Message.

“Tonight had the most distractions I’ve ever preached through.”

-Rev. Reid Terry

My nephew Reid Terry is a wonderful preacher and exhibited it throughout our Honduran trip. I agree with his statement above.

If you’ve never preached in a developing world country, you’ve never had fun. You expect the unexpected and learn to be flexible as well as resourceful.

Each time we preached, at least one dog entered during the service. I called them “deacon dogs” because of their familiarity with the church. Usually they would saunter up the aisle as if they were special invited guests.

As two of them "walked the aisle" I recalled the verse I learned as a child. “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.”

Then there are the cell phones. I read where 85% of Hondurans have a cell phone. I find that ironic since I live in a cell phone dead zone in America. Throughout the services, cell phones would ring. It was no big deal for them to answer and carry on a conversation.

It’s always good to have babies and children at church. This means the church is growing for the future. However, there is constant crying and distractions.

However, the thing that shocks the senses the most are the nursing babies. When I spoke on this night, three women were happily nursing their babies near the front. They were as focused on my story as the babies were on their supper.

The only one having trouble focusing was me. It is just a shock to see the openness and relaxed attitude on this. It sure is hard on the preacher.

I once heard a story about a visiting American pastor who complained to the host pastor about this practice. The next night, six mothers sat on the front row all happily nursing their babies as the man tried to preach.

Seriously, I learned so much from being among our Honduran Christian friends. They have much to teach us about worship, gratitude, and contentment.

Their generosity and kindness is so genuine.

Even their dogs are friendly.

It's one of the reasons I love to travel.


The Honduran flag's two blue stripe represent the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The five blue stars are for the original Central American countries: Honduras, Costa Rico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.

Back from Honduras . . . with lots of stories.

We had a great week of being in Honduras. As always, the best part was being with the wonderful people of Central America. The hospitality and kindness we received was wonderful

I'll be adding blog entries over the next several days, so check back often.

Also, we've posted pictures from the trip on our picture gallery.

If you're not currently receiving our e-letter, contact me at to request it.

Writing for a reason,

Curt Iles


The Door is Open

To be invited into an Honduran house is a great honor and is always a favorite part of any trip. The hospitality of folks in other countries is so wonderful.

It seems like the door is always open to visitors . The sweet lady, Reina, holding the picture told us, "Our home is humble, but Christ is here." I’ve noticed that the less people have in material things, the more committed they are to share what they have.

I sensed the presence of Jesus in Reina’s home. I asked about the picture that hung above her open front door. It is a familiar painting of Jesus knocking at a closed door. Through our translator we discussed Jesus’ open invitation in Revelation 3:20:

Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man opens the door, I will come in and dine with him.

The painting has a special detail that many observers miss. There is no door handle on the exterior of the door. Legend has it that the artist did this to remind viewers that the door to one’s heart can be opened only from the inside.

Jesus is a gentleman and will knock, but chooses not to kick down the door.

As we left Reina’s house, I asked how we could pray for her. Her reply was one I will always remember.

“Pray for our health. Our spirit is already rich.”

The paradox of having so little yet possessing so much.

A lesson brought home to me through the open door of a new friend named Reina.


The Humility of Travel

Santa Ana, Honduras

“I’m a thousand miles away from home,
Standing in the rain.
A thousand miles away from home,
Just waiting on a train.”
-Jimmy Rogers “Waiting on a Train.”

Travel—especially travel internationally—builds humility. In a foreign land, you’re off your own turf, you’re bad at the language, ignorant of local customs and culture.

You’re dependent on strangers and new friends to lead you around by the hand, keeping you out of trouble.

You’re eating new food and using new manners (eating left-handed in much of the world is taboo.) As you dine, you wonder what it is that you’re really eating and if it will make you sick later.

We ‘uni-lingual’ Americans view ourselves as “world levelers” and the master of all circumstances. Yet you drop one of us in the midst of a foreign country and we’re often at the mercy of a smiling eight-year old who speaks four languages and has mercifully decided to rescue ‘the gringo.’

Our command of the world’s greatest language (Ha!) is useless as we stare at a menu in a rural Chinese province, ask for directions on Honduran highway, or bargain over the price in a Sumatran market.

Our wonderful American dollar is worthless and unknown once you really get off the beaten path. There are no ATMs in the Ethiopian highlands and credit cards are often unusable deep in Africa’s Zululand.

Once we travel outside our “comfort zone,” our new surroundings quickly humble us.
However, learning humility is not a bad thing. As my mother often reminded me, a good dose of humility never hurt anyone.

Well, I’ll close these thoughts because I really have to find a bathroom—or as they say in Spanish “banos.” Residents laugh at the way I say it, (Not one sound is the same in Spanish as in English.), but that’s no big deal: they laugh at my every attempt to be conversant.

Yesterday, I finally located the banos in a restaurant. I carefully examined the ancient blinking neon light that was over the door. Only when I entered did I realize I was in the wrong place. The shoes under the stall doors all belonged to ladies. I sprinted out of there hoping no one saw me. Looking up, I realized the winking light said, “damas” not banos.

I imagined how the headline would’ve read, “Gringo arrested as ‘Peeping Tom’ (or ‘Peeping Tomas’) at local eatery.”

I then found the banos for us callaberos or hombres or whatever you call us.

Yes, humility travels with every foreign traveler. And I’m convinced it’s ‘mu bein’—a good thing.



To read my all-time favorite 'wrong bathroom' story, read below.

Mural at Tegucigalpa's El Patio cafe. Notice the neon sign for the callaberos.


Roy Greene’s Door

This is a warning: Be careful with the doors at the Lake Charles Civic Center! I was there last week and as I entered the men’s room, I recalled Roy Greene’s story.

The Lake Charles Civic Center opened thirty years ago. Amazingly, it was constructed on sand pumped out of the adjacent lake that gives the city of Lake Charles its name.

In keep with the French background of our area, it was christened “Le Civic Centre” In carrying out this Acadian motif, the restrooms were labeled as “Messieurs” and “Madames.”

The thoughtful architect also designed the “Messieurs/Madames” restrooms so there was one entrance door (with no handle on the inside) and a corresponding exit door on the other end of the restrooms. This wisely (or unwisely as our story will reveal) ensured that users all moved in one direction.

And that brings us to Roy Greene’s famous story. Mr. Roy, a Dry Creek native, loved basketball. He had played on Dry Creek High’s famous undefeated 1931 state championship team, coached high school ball, and was the long time principal at Fenton High. He produced a line of great coaches including his son, Larry, and grandsons Mike and Chris Greene.

Mr. Roy loved the Sweet 16 State Girl’s Basketball Tournament, and never missed a game. On this particular year, it was held at the Lake Charles Civic Center.

During a halftime break, Mr. Roy, who was near eighty, shuffled to the restroom, hurrying so as not to miss a minute of action on the court.

Maybe it was his eyesight, or his preoccupation with the game—
However, when he got to the door, he thought it was “Messieurs” but (I know you are ahead of me) instead, it was “Madames.” However, Mr. Roy did not realize his mistake until he was inside and saw two things: there were no urinals and the room was full of women.

Of course, he did what any man would do: he discreetly retreated to the entrance door.

However, there was no handle (there you are, ahead of me again.) He stood not quite sure what to do… and then did the only thing he knew to do—He shuffled along right through the restroom, past the throng of gasping women, and out the exit door.

His son Larry, who watched from the lobby, said, “I saw him go in the wrong door and tried to catch him, but I was too late. When he came out the other end, I told him, “You ain’t nothing but a dirty old man!”

Last week as I entered the Civic Center’s “Messieurs” restroom, I did a double take just to make sure. I laughed as I noticed there is now a corresponding “Men” sign below the “Messieurs.”

Probably put there in memory of my friend, Mr. Roy Greene.

If you’re familiar with my writing, you know how I like to find a spiritual meaning in my stories. Well, here goes: Once again, staring at a new year, I think about making good decisions. i.e. “going through the right doors.”

Life is a series of many decisions, most small, others huge, but all propelling us in a definite direction. We don’t get where we are by accident, but by decisions.

Realistically, many decisions, like Mr. Roy’s Door, offer no retreat, but a move forward. Therefore, I want to choose, and open, the correct doors to lead me into the right places.

Yesterday, I read one of my “life verses” (Proverbs 3:5-6) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

In my simple Dry Creek mind that means if I trust God, listen to him, and include him in my decisions, he will help me choose the right doors. That verse is a promise, and it is a promise for you too!

Have a great day, Messieurs and Madames!

Curt Iles


Why I write

I write for influence. The written word can travel into places-- and hearts-- far away from where we are.

This is a picture of Josh Miller, a great great great great grandson of Joe and Eliza Moore. Josh is a student at Pitkin Elementary where I visit yearly for their Family Reading Day.

Josh is looking over the manuscript of The Wayfaring Stranger, which is a fictional account of Joe Moore's journey to Louisiana from Ireland.

The followup to this novel is now finished and is entitled A Good Place. It continues the story of Joe and Eliza through the difficult years of the Civil War.

We are currently talking with publishers, so a release date for A Good Place is not set. We'll keep anxious readers informed through our website at


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Dry Creek's finest and biggest pine knot pile in the yard of my friends, Mark and Kari Miller.

The following is a short sad story on how I lost my own pile.

Earthly treasures, pine knot piles, and 401 (K) accounts

All of a sudden, the February wind picked up and turned out of the south. Instantly what had been a small controlled fire in my back field became a raging monster.

The flames spread rapidly through the dead knee high grass – as fast I as I could, I ran ahead with a wet grass sack. But no one person, nor any wet sack, was going to curtail this fire.
DeDe and the boys came running out of the house. Armed with brooms, buckets, and a shovel, they ran to join me but were also driven back by the raging racing fire. All five of us knew exactly where the fire was going – right toward my pine knot pile.

When they cleared the land I now live on in the early 1970's, the pine stumps and knots were piled in an impressive twenty-foot high pile in the corner of the field.

I inherited this lifetime supply of pine when I purchased our home and the surrounding acreage. With pride I pointed this treasure pile out to my family and friends. I could feel the envy of men as they commented on this vast and valuable pile.

However, this hot runaway fire in my back field, started by me, was approaching my pine knot pile, and was going to make more than a dent in it. As suddenly as the brush fire got to the pine pile, it was completely engulfed in flames.

If it’d been anything but my pine knot pile, it would have been enjoyable to watch … But it was my “lifetime supply” of pine literally going up in smoke as we stood and watched helplessly.

It was over in a matter of minutes. There, where fifteen minutes ago my pine knot pile had towered, was now only charred ashes and smoking chunks of wood.

I think back to my precious pine knot pile when I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 6. He reminds us that all earthly treasures someday will rust, corrode, rot, or as in my case – burn up.
Jesus told us to hoard heavenly treasures – the things that really last: eternal things. The only things I’ve seen that really last are God’s word, His love, and people’s souls. Therefore, that’s where our treasures should be.

Earthly treasures have their place, but we should never forget they are only temporary. Just like my pine knot pile, they can so quickly and unexpectedly leave us. However, the things of God are the only things that really matter – and they last forever.

Recently, I've thought about my long-lost pine knot pile a great deal-- especially when I've been brave enough to read my 401 (K) retirement statement as well as our IRA balance. Like most of you reading this, our current recession/depression has knocked a whole in our savings.

However, as I look around, I've still got the treasures that matter: my sweet wife of thirty years, good health, a home in the country, three sons with fine families. We've got our faith and enough friends to make our life blessed.

As the Robert Duvall character in the fine movie, "Broken Trails" said, "It's always wrong to measure a man's wealth for how money he has."

I can echo the words of Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium. Because of the disease that would shortly claim his life, "The Iron Horse" was forced to retire. As the huge crowd at Yankee Stadium saluted him with a long ovation, he uttered these words: "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

So pine knot piles, retirement accounts, land, and fame aren't the measure of wealth and success. It is more true that the "things that really matter aren't things."

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Jesus in Matthew 6:19-21

A longer and earlier version of this story is found in Stories from the Creekbank (second edition) by Curt Iles.

Visit to learn more.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Another Iles comes home to Sugartown

My Iles ancestors came to what is now Beauregard Parish in about 1819. Before you begin to think I’m puffed up about that, remember this: Most early settlers of this part of Louisiana called “The Outlaw Strip” were running from the law.

William Iles and his family found a home among the pine forests and creeks of this land that is still our home. Many of his descendants lived in and around the area’s first village, Sugartown.

Sugartown Cemetery is full of the graves of many of these settlers, and last week another one came home.

Elsie Young Iles was born in Sugartown to a large hard-working family. Once she grew up, she moved away to Lake Charles. However, I’m not sure she ever got Sugartown out of her heart. It’s that way with country places.

After World War II, she married her high school sweetheart, George Iles. He was also a Sugartown boy. George, a geologist, made a very good living in the oil business that flourished in Southwest Louisiana through his working years.

When her husband George died and her own health declined, Elsie moved to be near her daughter Betty in the Dallas area.

During the last years of her life, up to her death at 93, a wonderful Kenyan woman named Karen cared for Elsie Iles.

It was at last week's Sugartown Cemetery graveside service for Elsie that I met Karen. It was a rainy cold day that is often a feature of Louisiana in January. The crowd of relatives from both the Iles and Young families huddled under the tent and umbrellas trying to stay warm.

Karen, a large Kenyan with a wonderful smile, closed the service. As she stood to speak, one hand was on the podium and her other hand tenderly caressed Mrs. Elsie’s casket.

In beautiful British-accented English, Karen told of her love for Mrs. Elsie Iles. However, she
added, “I didn’t called her Mrs. Elsie. She was ‘Mother’ to me.”

Smiling she added, “I was her black daughter, and Betty was her white daughter. I loved her so, and will miss her greatly.”

Daughter Betty, who had faithfully taken care of her mother, nodded in agreement. It was evident the “two daughters” shared a great love for Mrs. Elsie.

Karen told of how Mrs. Elsie loved to hear her sing hymns, and then she launched into singing.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
then In the Sweet Bye and Bye
And many others.

And she sang in that heart-grabbing style of Africa that I love deeply.
Her singing, sometimes slightly off-key, came from deep in her heart and was simply beautiful as it echoed off the pines surrounding Sugartown Cemetery.

In my African-loving* mind, Karen’s singing transported me to her home continent. It was as if the tall pines became flat-topped Acacia trees, and we were now “in the bush” instead of Sugartown Cemetery.

Then the singing stopped. Karen patted the casket one more time before returning to her seat.
A final prayer was given and everyone hurried into the church fellowship hall for lunch and warmth.

As I drove away in the rain, I realized that another Iles had come home to Sugartown. Mrs. Elsie Iles had returned to be buried among her kin, friends, and family.

And she’d been brought home by two wonderful daughters.
A faithful daughter named Betty Iles Bulloch.
and another daughter—one who also called her ‘mother’—named Karen.

* I have a deep and growing love for the continent of Africa. After two mission trips there (Ethiopia and Zululand, South Africa) I’ve come to love the people of this wonderful, frustrating, complex continent. There are so many needs there- spiritual, physical, as well as others.

I am returning there in April to the countries of Rwanda and Congo.


"A Hand up… not a Handout"

From the book, Hearts Across The Water by Curt Iles

Background: After the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004, I traveled there with a medical group. In a small village called Garut, I listened in on the conversation told in this story.

One of the Displaced Person's Centers along Sumatra's (Indonesian) Northern Coast is named Garut. It is one of many nondescript assortments of crude buildings, tents, and amassed people you find all along the coast. Before the tsunami it was a cattle pasture. Now it houses about 300 families. The village leader explained that the residents all come from coastal villages wiped out by the wave. They have come together here on higher ground to build a new life and a new village together.

This conversation took place under a large United Nations tent that serves as the village school, hospital, and meeting area. I was simply an eavesdropper on what happened.
The village leader sat down with Jim. Jim is from an American aid group and has the wonderful but daunting task of allocating $16 million worth of tsunami aid throughout the affected areas of Southern Asia.

Beside Jim sat “C”, an American who has spent his entire life among the Indonesian people. C's job was to interpret this important conversation.

I was sitting ten feet away playing dominoes with a group of children. However, I didn’t miss one word of the conversation going on behind me.

After some visiting and pleasantries, Jim asked the village leader what they needed most. There was a long silence as if the leader was going over a mental shopping list in his mind. Then he replied in Indonesian. C seemed puzzled and asked a question. The village leader repeated his words.

C smiled as he told Jim, "He said most of all they needs goats."

"Did you say goats?" Jim asked.

"Yes, he says if every family in Garut has 5-7 goats, they could make it. This would allow them to have milk, food, and build large flocks."

Everyone sat in silence for a few seconds. I don't know what the others were thinking but here was my thought:

Here was a man and a village not looking for a handout.
They were looking for a "hand up."

But the village leader wasn't through….There was another lengthy exchange between C and the Garut leader.

C then turned to Jim, "They would also like boats if possible. The men here were mostly fishermen. They lost all of their wooden boats in the tsunami."

C pointed toward the sea which was about one kilometer away across the low land wiped out by the wave. "Right now they are still too scared of the ocean to go back out on it, but they know they must, and will, go back to fishing. You can't fish without boats. They need boats."

Once again: A hand up… not a handout.

The third conversation between the Indonesian and C was long and full of many gestures. I don't know about Jim but I was nearly leaning in awaiting the next interpretation.
C smiled as he related to Jim, "He says they would love to also have cutting tools. They do not have any tools to properly cut wood. Saws and axes would allow them to cut firewood for use and sale."

I could see in my mind these "industrious Indonesians" cutting and sawing up the fallen timber that was everywhere on the tsunami devastated areas.

That was the extent of this conversation. At this point it began to rain. I'd already noticed that the area under the tent and around it had earlier been a barnyard. I knew this because the soil was rich with dried "barnyard fertilizer." Outside the tent the ground became wet, sticky, and smelly. But that didn't take away my strong belief that this village of Garut was going to be an oasis of peace, growth, and prosperity.

It was lunchtime. A nearby tent was dispensing sealed bowls of Japanese rice. A village woman checked off the name of each family as they received their allotment. Everywhere in Garut there was a feeling of looking forward, organization, and teamwork.

Right about then is when something started burning a hole in my pocket. That burning sensation came from a large gift of over $1000 sent by the children of Fairview High School in Grant, Louisiana. They had instructed me to use it where it would help most. All of a sudden I had a pretty good idea that those Fairview students were going to be in the goat, boat, and saw business. It looked like a good investment to me.

When we returned to Jakarta I went to our Aid office and deposited this money. I told the staff accountant to use it to buy "goats, boats, and saws" for the northern coast village of Garut. It was my privilege to be the middleman in linking the two villages of Grant, Louisiana, U.S., with Garut, Sumatra, Indonesia.

People often ask me, "Will you return to Indonesia?" I don't know the answer to that question. I hope so. But I know there are so many other places to go and see also. But if I do, I know one place I'll go…

It’s called Garut.

And if you should ever go to the northernmost island of Indonesia- the large island called Sumatra, go to this village. From the capital city of Banda Aceh head north in your vehicle toward the coastal mountains. You'll cross a large river and then a canal. As you travel along the one highway leading out of the city, you'll have the beautiful Indian Ocean on your left and the foothills of the mountains on your right. About twenty kilometers or so, just right past the curve in the road where you normally have to slow down for monkeys on the road, you'll see a sign for a village called Garut.

I believe you will find a warm welcome there.
They'll remember other Americans who have come before you.
You’ll also find a hard-working village that only wanted a hand up, not a hand out.

And while you are in Garut, Sumatra Indonesia, do something just for me.
Visit their goat herds and pet one of them on the head just for me
and especially for the students at Fairview High School
Grant, Louisiana
United States of America.

Copyright 2005 Creekbank Stories
Originally titled, "Boats, Goats, and Saws" from the book, Hearts Across The Water.

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