Why Not Me?

About one week before I was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer, I came across a Matt Chandler video that he recorded for his church when he was first finding out about his Brain Cancer.

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I was inspired by Matt’s resolve to love and serve Jesus in spite of this challenge he was facing, and I was inspired by his ability to see it as just another thing in life to trust God with and use to build his faith.

He talks about Hebrews 11, and how some great men of God shut the mouths of lions and fought injustice and did phenomenal things in their lifetime…but then some great men were killed and tortured for their faith; yet both were counted as ones who had great faith in God.

Then, he said something that would completely change my perspective on trials and challenges for a follower of Jesus:  He felt honored to be considered worthy to endure this trial (brain cancer), and be given a chance not only to praise God in the good times, but to praise God in the tough times.

I remember sitting in my bed, watching that video, thinking to myself, “I hope I would have the same response if something like that happened to me.”

Fast forward to the hospital bed I was in on May 8, right before my emergency surgery.  I truly believe it was Gods grace and strength that allowed me to lift my perspective, but I turned to my family and said, “ya know? Why not me?”  It’s hard to explain, but in that moment, I felt a sense of honor that God would trust me with this trial.  I had that video in mind that I had seen just the week before.

Theologically, I believe God was aware and allowing this to happen in my life.  And since He was allowing it, I had the choice to trust and praise Him through it, just like I’ve trusted and praised Him through all of the good times in my life.

Pause & Sidenote:  I realize this could sound super prideful…it even reads that way as I write it.  But I hope my heart’s intent comes through these words – nothing I did enabled me to have this response.  I believe God allowed me to see the bigger picture.  Did I have my doubts and down-days?  Absolutely.  Not every chemo day was all smiles and Bible verses.  It sucked, and it’s ok to be human, and weak, and honest about those days. 

That Chandler video shifted my perspective on life, how I read the Bible, and how I viewed trails and challenges in this life.  Why not me?  If trials are inevitable (and they are), then may they be yet another way to lift up the name of Jesus.

Also, if trials are inevitable, then why not allow Jesus-followers to experience them?  We can be the people to walk the tough road differently.  We can be the people of peace, grace, and kindness in the midst of a storm.  The world will be able to look upon Christians walking through trials and notice how different our response is to theirs.

I’m not confident I know all the reasons I had to walk through Testicular Cancer.  When I think about my life and where I was at the time, perhaps God wanted to show a youth group of Junior High students in Michigan what it looks like to be a Christian and still walk through really tough times.

If I could be part of God’s illustration in a broader teaching to the watching world…then, why not me?

A Season’s Song

During the first few weeks of me being diagnosed with Testicular Cancer, I was able to get to church a few times. As a Pastor, I’m often “putting on” church for others, so this was a time of refreshment, refocus, and much needed stillness for my mind.

My friend, Kristi, was leading worship this one particular weekend, and I couldn’t have been happier about it.  Her voice is angelic, and her worship-leading style is one that draws lifts high the name of Jesus rather than lifting high her talent.  She was teaching our church a new song…rather, a newer rendition of an old hymn, “It is well.”

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It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love worship music – in fact, it’s mostly all I listen to.  So I already knew the song she was teaching the church.  And I was excited to declare the truth embedded in its melody.

The entire song spoke to me.  Especially in the season I found myself in.  But a few lines in particular really touched my heart.

Far be it from me to not believe
Even when my eyes can’t see
And this mountain that’s in front of me
Will be thrown into the midst of the sea

My eyes couldn’t see what my future held.  Would cancer take me out?  Sure, testicular cancer has a high cure rate…but it’s still cancer.  There was still some uncertainty in my mind, no matter the percentage of success the Doctor gave me.

Would I accept all the blessings I had received from the Lord, and not accept this trial?  Far be it from me to not believe in the Lord just because a hardship had entered my life.  The text that Christians read and believe is full of trials and hardship.  The Apostle Paul went as far as to say that it’s when he is weak, that’s when he feels God’s strength in him.

Whether this mountain that was in front of me was going to be thrown into the sea by way of miraculous healing, healing through medical treatment, or ultimate healing in heaven – I didn’t know the answer to that.  I just knew the mountain would ultimately bow to our Almighty God.

So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name

This line of the song brought to memory the Bible stories of Jesus calming the storms.  There’s the one when Jesus is asleep during the storm and gets awoken by his buddies. He speaks a command and the lake calms down.

Then the other one when he’s walking on top of the water during a storm and calls Peter out to take a walk with him.  Peter does…for a minute.  The waves scare him and so he begins to fear, which leads to sinking.  Jesus catches him, asks him why he doubted, then calms the storm.

This man, Jesus, was in complete control of physical storms on the water.  And I believe He is in complete control of storms in our lives.  The waves and wind still know their Creator.  And they still obey Him.

I had this song on repeat.  It was my mind’s mantra.  And I was encouraged every time I heard it.  This storm I was in surely was a storm – no denying that.  And there were moments I doubted.  But the God I believe in was in control of this storm.  And this song was an especially beautiful reminder during this season.

The Day Everything Changed

I’m not one to overthink things or be dramatic, so the Doctor appointment I had scheduled didn’t seem too important to me.  It was the first time I was seeing a Urologist, and it was at the recommendation of my Primary Care Physician.  Two weeks of antibiotics didn’t work to get rid of the pain I was feeling…so here I was seeing a specialist.

I got settled in and waited for my name to be called.  “Adam Mashni.”  Well, here we go.  The Doctor and I make small talk, and we figure out that some of our relatives are actually married to each other!  Did that make us family?  I wasn’t sure.  Also, I found out he knows my Uncle, who also happens to be a Urologist. It’s fun connecting with people, especially for an extrovert like me.

The small talk was quickly over when he uttered the words, “This doesn’t feel good.”  He told me that he wanted to schedule an ultrasound and get some blood work done as soon as possible.  “Stat” was the word he used, which in everyday English means, HURRY!

After the tests were complete, I decided to head back to work.  I figured it would be a couple of days before anyone got back to me.  I arrive at my car, open the door, but before I could shut the door and start my car, my phone rings.  It was the receptionist. Turns out the Doctor wanted to see me ASAP.  So I walked back inside.

The Doctor invites me into his office.  Not a patient room.  His personal office.  As soon as that happened I knew it wasn’t going to be good news.  I’ve seen movies.  Nothing good is ever discussed in the personal office.  That’s when he told me.

“You’ve got Testicular Cancer.”

He began to explain the kind of Testicular Cancer he was pretty sure I had.  I honestly don’t remember much from that conversation.  Words like “non-seminoma” and others like it.  I had no clue what all of it meant.  He then proceeded to tell me he is recommending I come back that night for emergency surgery.  The mass/tumor needed to be removed immediately.

The next clearing in my foggy thought process occurred when the Doctor offered to call my Uncle.  “Yes!” I thought.  Any sort of familiar was welcomed.  I take out my cell phone to find his number…my cell phone battery was dead.  Ugh…always the worst timing.  The Doctor began rummaging through his papers on his desk, as well as his old text messages.  He had met my Uncle at a Urology Conference just a few months prior. He ends up finding it and dials the number.

So many thoughts in my head at this point.  What if he doesn’t answer?  What would I do?  Who would I need to call next?  My phone is dead!  Where would I get a second opinion?  Do I even need a second opinion?

“Hello?”  He answered.

My Doctor allowed me to talk to him a bit.  He then explained to my Uncle the nitty-gritty medical details.  My Uncle agreed – the tumor needed to come out that night.  It was settled.  I had my second opinion – from my Uncle, who was also a Urologist.  So we scheduled the surgery for 9:00pm on May 8, 2014.

Now all I had to do was call my fiancé, my parents, and anyone else that deserved to know the life-altering news I had just received.  But who to call first?  As best as I can remember, I called my parents first and let them know.  Then I called my friend Bill.  In that conversation I asked him if I should bug Meagan at work and let her know.  Umm. Duh.

Yep, my fiancé was the third phone call.  Sorry babe.

I went back to work, let my co-workers in on what was happening, and began to pack up my stuff.  I was scheduled to speak that night in our college ministry, but that clearly wasn’t happening – so we figured out who was going to cover for me.

After all of the rescheduling and covering of my responsibilities, I finally just sat in my office chair.  I can still think back to that spot.  We had one big office for our student ministry team with a bunch of cubicle desks – so if I spun my chair around, I could see everyone.  And that’s what I did.  It was a moment of stillness amid a day full of chaos.

I told my co-workers and friends that I was doing OK and it was probably nothing. The truth was I had no idea how I was feeling.  I look back now and realize that shock and fight-or-flight instincts took over and I did what I had to do to remain strong.

Fast forward a few hours.  We’re at the Hospital and sitting in the waiting room.  True to form, I’m making light of the situation and cracking jokes.  Meagan, and my Mom, were not amused.  I get called back for surgery prep, and it begins to feel real.  Then, all of a sudden, people begin to show up.

Bill came.  Then Justin.  Then Tim.  Then Jimmy.  Then extended family.  Before and after surgery, I was completely surrounded by my best friends and close family.  It will always be a memory of relationship for me.  I had people in my life that were willing to drop everything and head to the Hospital.

I’ll also remember the “only God” moments.  Oh yes. In the midst of a cancer diagnosis, I saw God’s fingerprints.  The connection to my Urologist.  The fact that he had met my Uncle only a few months prior – and STILL had his cell number readily available.  The fact that the tumor caused pain and I went in for a check.  (I would learn later that tumors normally don’t cause pain…they just grow).

May 8 will always be “cancer diagnosis” day for me…but it will also be so much more.  Friends. Family. Only God moments.  The journey was going to be a tough one, but with those three in my life, I was going to be just fine.

What I learned: Divine Direction

I’m a sermon junkie.  Many of my friends know this.  I’ll listen to most sermons I can get my hands on.  And over the years, I’ve grown to really love listening to certain pastors.  Craig Groeschel is one of those pastors.

Aside from preaching, he’s also an author.  I haven’t read all of his books, but the ones I’ve read have been very beneficial in changing the way I think.  His latest – Divine Direction – is no different.

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The book is framed around 7 decisions that will change your life.

  • Start
  • Stop
  • Stay
  • Go
  • Serve
  • Connect
  • Trust

Craig goes through each decision, what it means, and how it has the potential to change your story if you’ll let it.  Each chapter is full of stories, quotes, life-lessons, scripture and application.  Because I highly recommend you grab this book, it’d be counter-productive for me to give a detailed explanation for every chapter.

The one chapter (or decision) I will highlight, is the one about connecting.  Craig suggests that we are potentially one connection away from changing our world – if we would only reach out and connect with the right people.

He explains there are three types of friends with whom we can connect.  Those who make us want to be better humans just by being around them; Those who help us fight temptation when we are weak; and Those who will tell us the truth no matter what.

This chapter got me thinking about all of the incredible people in my life.  I’m blessed to have people I can turn to for encouragement & inspiration, strength in the midst of temptation, and the truth no matter how it makes me feel.

However, it has also caused me to think about the next connection I need to make.

Who might God be putting in my path? Who might God want me to connect with, so that I can be an encouragement to them?  My prayer is to have open eyes to see and an open heart to connect.

Redeeming Time

Meagan and I moved just over a year ago from Michigan to Illinois.  Because both of our families are still in Michigan, we’ve made several trips over the past year to see them.  As far as time goes, going to Michigan seems like a loss – we lose an hour going from Central to Eastern Standard Time.

Coming home to Illinois, however, feels great – we gain an hour!  It feels like we’re beating the system by traveling West and gaining back some of the time we’ve lost by traveling East.

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I don’t know about you, but even when I’m not traveling, there’s things I can spend my time on that feel like a loss.  There’s also things I spend my time on that feel like a gain. And with only a certain amount of limited time each day, my desire is to use each hour to its fullest extent.

Recently, I’ve begun using some blocks of time in a different way, and it’s helped me tremendously.  Enter:  Audible.  I’m sure many of you have heard of it.

It’s a website + app that enables you to listen to audiobooks.  For me, it’s been a source of professional development in places like the gym and my car.  It’s turned a 3.5 hour drive to Grand Rapids (where my sister lives), into “the time it takes to listen to one book.”  It’s turned a 30 minute run into a time for my brain to engage with compelling stories, high-level thinking, leadership principles and much more.

Just in the month of March, I’ve listened to two books. Divine Direction, by Craig Groeschel; and The Little Things by Andy Andrews.  Both have been fantastic reads, and I’ll likely do book reviews for both on the blog.

Audible has allowed me to redeem time.  It’s taken time I’ve previously not leaned into, and allowed me to use it for growth opportunities.

In your own life, are there blocks of time that you can redeem?  Is there something you can plug in (like Audible) that would transform that time into growth opportunities?

My challenge to you:  Take the next week and identify blocks of time that are just “there.” Then…choose one way to redeem it.

 

The Self-Audit: Five Key Areas

In a lot of circles, the word “audit” brings up a lot of stress and anxiety.  In all of the churches I’ve worked for, the Accounting Department willfully hired an outside organization to audit all of their financials.  Just because you invite an audit doesn’t mean there’s less stress.  The same is true for self-auditing.

Self-Auditing is the process of looking inward and checking-in on the key areas of our lives.

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Even though it’s a self-audit, it can still be filled with anxiety.  When we examine the inner areas of our lives with the purpose of pruning & correcting, there’s always a chance we won’t like what we find.  However, the alternative of leaving areas unchecked is scary and potentially destructive.

A few years ago a good friend of mine brought a journaling tool to me that has helped me.  It wasn’t original to him, but it had been helping him process the most important areas in his life.

The tool isn’t rocket science, but it’s something I’ve used for a few years now, and every time I process through it, I arrive on the other side grateful for the clarity, direction and peace it brings.  Here’s the journaling tool:

The Five F’s.

  • Faith
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Finances
  • Field (Vocation)

The goal is to spend a certain amount of minutes thinking through every aspect of that category.  How is my faith doing? What am I holding onto that God has asked me to surrender?  How are my friendships doing? Is there anything I can do to help grow them?  And so on.

Self-Auditing requires us to be curious.

Curiosity is important.  When we approach the key areas of our lives with curiosity, God seems to show up in that space and show us what needs attention.  Curiosity, however, is not everything.  What we do next is crucial – we must take action on the things we’ve learned from the audit.

Did the audit reveal that your family is taking the hit for your greater investment at work?  Did you find an area of your life that’s not fully surrendered to God?  Were you convicted about how you handle your finances?

Taking action is the one step that makes the self-auditing process productive.  Without doing something, all we’re doing is filling up journal pages.

I usually do this exercise once a quarter.  It’s proven to keep me grounded in reality as I seek to live a full and abundant life in all five key areas of my life.

What about you?  What process do you use to self-audit?  How has it helped you?

The Work of Reconciliation

Musalaha.  It’s Arabic for Reconciliation.

It’s also the name of an organization we visited while in Israel/Palestine.  They are doing fantastic work; bringing people together from both sides of the conflict and allowing them to get away for a few days in the desert to experience adventure together.

This video is worth the 7 minutes to see what they’re up to.

Israel/Palestine: Pro/Pro/Pro

The story that Israel and Palestine have been hearing and telling has been one of conflict. It’s been that way for a long time.  It could easily be called the “status quo” of the Middle East.

An entire generation of children have grown up with it.  Some have even been taught that this is the way it’ll always be…that hate will rule the day.

To change that story, something has to shift.  Recently, I heard my friend, Todd Deatherage, say it this way:

When you break a status quo, it’s helpful to have a vision for what the other side (what you’re trying to accomplish) will look like.

That’s what the Telos group is doing.  They are Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestinian, and Pro-Peace. Their mission is to cast the vision of a third option…an option for mutual flourishing for all humans.

Below are two stories of how both Israeli’s and Palestinians have caught the grander vision of Pro/Pro/Pro and are working towards Peace.

The Parent Circle

These two wonderful people have both lost a child due to the conflict.  Robi lost her son at the hands of a Palestinian sniper.  Bassam lost his daughter to an Israeli gunman.  In their grief, they finally said, “enough!”

They started an organization called the Parent Circle.  It now consists of over 500 parents, both Israelis and Palestinians, who have lost a family member in the conflict.  They’re mission is to work together for Peace.  By doing it together, they’re living proof that the third way of Pro/Pro/Pro is indeed possible.

The Peace Project

This wall was built along the Gaza border.  The lady that showed us around was an Israeli farmer who, over the years, has had to teach her children how to run for cover when the Bomb-Alarm would go off.  Palestinians would send missiles over the wall with no regard as to where they landed.  Now, the farmer and her family are never more than 4 seconds away from a Bomb shelter.

She, along with others, created the wall mural as a sign to say they are done with war and are ready for peace.  They’re ready for a third option.

The Right Questions

If we’re asking ourselves which side deserves peace more, I think we’re asking the wrong question.  Both sides have suffered immensely at the hands of the other.

I think the right questions have Pro/Pro/Pro at the center.  How can both people-groups flourish?  What can we do so that we see the human dignity in all humans?

We serve a God who doesn’t pick sides, He loves people. This is one of the reasons I love the Telos Group. They are refusing to pick a side.  While I admit it’s tough for me not to pick a side, I am deciding to see all people as worthy of dignity, peace and love. The alternative is just not an option.

 

Israel/Palestine: What I learned from being Profiled

We had just landed in Tel Aviv after an 8-hour flight from Newark.  We had made it to Israel!  I was so excited.  We were going to be greeted by our hosts from Telos, and taken to our first location – the Dead Sea and Jericho.  What better introduction to the Holy Land?!

The instructions we were given for customs were pretty simple.  Answer the questions, smile, and move along.  Sounds easy.  Or so I thought.

“Where was your dad born?”

With that question, I knew this wasn’t going to be a smooth process. I told the lady my dad was born in Ramallah, a city in the West bank (aka – Palestine).  With that answer, she became very curious about my dad, my family, where they were all born, etc.

I was told to have a seat in a small room, and someone would come and talk to me.  Great. I’ll admit, my heart was beating pretty fast at this point.  I was trying not to let my nervousness show on my face, but I’m sure they could tell I was a bit uneasy.

After about 10 minutes of waiting (seemed MUCH longer), I was called into an office where an Israeli Officer began asking questions about my family.  What’s your dad’s name? What about your Grandpa…what’s his name?  What’s your cell number? Email address?  Where do you live now?  Where does your dad live now? Why are you visiting Israel?  How long are you staying? What hotels are you visiting?

He was writing all my answers down.  I’m not sure if he looked me up on Facebook later, or if he simply wanted me to have a keen awareness that a Palestinian coming into Israel is no small thing – especially if they have a history here.

He sent me back to the small room to wait for another 10-15 minutes. The whole time I was trying to stay calm, but on the inside I was feeling everything BUT calm.  I’m an American Citizen, why are they questioning me?  Why didn’t they question any of the other team members?  I knew the answer.  I just didn’t want to believe what was happening.

Have you ever been profiled?

If I’m honest, that was the first time for me.  And it didn’t feel good.  Going all the way back to 9/11 – when terrorists attacked the USA,  I remember being asked if I was treated poorly for being an Arab.  I would reply, “Not at all!” That was the truth.  Perhaps I don’t look Arab?  At times I have been mistaken for an Italian or Mexican. There’s nothing wrong with that – they have amazing food.

I realize this kind of stuff happens every day for certain people in America…and it breaks my heart.  The Israeli custom agents and officers assumed a lot because of my last name and my heritage.  They didn’t even know me.  They don’t know my dad.  They didn’t know my Grandpa.  What gives them the right to put me in a box?

“Welcome to Israel,” I thought…as I sat in the bus after they let me go and get my luggage. This is going to be quite a trip.

The only other time I felt profiled?  8 days later at the airport as we were getting ready to leave.  I hand over my passport.  They look at my last name.  “Arab?” the lady said.  Yep.  She turns and leaves for a few minutes.  This time, however, she let me move on without more conversation, or having to sit in a small room.

Please understand, this is not a pity party, political rant or divisive blog post.   The reality is some people live this everyday…in Israel, Palestine, and America.  As my church is in this “Love Everyone, Always” series, I find myself in a place of discontentment when I think of others who have experienced this, or are experiencing this now.

I’m not naive enough to think that I don’t, in my own way, profile others to some extent. So what can I do?  What can we do?

  • Renew My Mind.  This is key.  If I’m going to love everyone, always; I’m going to need to renew my mind with God’s truth.  Specifically, I need to see others the way God sees them.  Every person I lock eyes with is someone for whom Christ died.  My desire is to see them that way!  Brian and Jenn Johnson have an amazing song called “For the One.”  Our church has rallied around it, and it’s become the anthem to this series.  In essence, it’s a cry to love people the way God loves them…unconditionally.
  • Learn their story.  Stories change perspective.  I realize the Airport Customs line is not the time to sit down and listen to my story.  But in my everyday life, am I taking time to listen to people’s stories?  Am I asking good questions? Am I willing to learn something new, and allow that new learning to shape my view of someone?

I know there are more than two steps in this process, but for me, these have been helpful.

What are some other ways we can truly Love Everyone, Always?

 

 

Israel / Palestine: Tradition says…

So many things happened in History throughout the little stretch of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

When our team was there, tour guides would take us through streets and say “It’s believed that Jesus would have come up this way while carrying the cross.”  Or, they would say the repeated phrase that became a joke among our team, “Tradition says…”

(My absolute favorite location we went to is at the end of this post…but first, some of the more “tradition says” moments from the trip).

Tradition says this is where Mary gave birth to Jesus.

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(We had to go down some stairs, since by now it’s basically a cave with a church built on top of it – it was hot, humid and sweaty)

This is the Church of the Annunciation – or the place where, Tradition says, the angel visited Mary to tell her she was going to give birth to the Messiah.

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We also visited a church that was built upon the place Tradition says Jesus rose from the dead.  There’s another location that many people visit (the Garden Tomb), and depending on who you talk to, they’ll say it’s the “actual” location of the resurrection.

This brings up the tension I feel with “Tradition Says.”  Was it here where this church was built?  Was it at what’s now called the “Garden Tomb”?

This picture shows people praying over a piece of stone that was believed to be a part of the original tomb.

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Are these the exact locations?  Probably not.  Are they close?  Maybe.  In the 4th Century, when Constantine became a Christian, his Mom visited the Holy Land, and began building churches where these historic events were said to have taken place.  So chances are good the churches were built somewhere in the vicinity…but we’ll never know for sure. So we go with what Tradition says.

My favorite place we visited?

The Sea of Galilee. There’s no “Tradition says” with this one.  It’s a body of water. It’s been a body of water for as long as maps have been around.  You can’t build a church on top of it and make it a tourist trap (although, you can sell boat rides!).

When Jesus called Peter out of his fishing boat and into ministry, it was on these shores.  When storms swelled up and Jesus came walking on the water – it was these waters.  After the resurrection, Jesus came to Peter and restored him back into ministry…again, it was on these shores.

Maybe it was my love of water, or maybe it was just the aura that this place held…but it was different than any other location we visited. Being able to spend some quiet time on the shores reading & journaling was extra special.  Then being able to take a boat out and spend extra time ON the waters – I was elated.

 

Another one of my favorite places?  The Dead Sea.  I know, another body of water!

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I did go in, by the way.  And it’s true – you float!  It’s also true that any open wounds (even a paper cut) will hurt VERY badly when introduced to the dense salt water.

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Just over those mountains is where the Israelites were approaching the Promised Land…Moses would head up a Mountain, see the land, and then pass away leaving Joshua the task of crossing the Jordan (which is to the left of the picture).

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having traditions, and making a big deal over where certain events probably took place.  But if we lose sight of the “Who” of those traditions, and only focus on the “Where,” then we’ve lost something.

Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, God was at work amidst this piece of land.  However, I don’t think His goal was to make the land famous.  I think His goal was to make the person who walked on this land famous.