Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 24, 2012

Getting lost in Fla. can be good thing

Most readers know that Betsy and I have served for nearly two decades in the Kairos International Prison Ministry, which last year became the world’s largest prison ministry, in 33 states and a dozen foreign countries.  

There are nearly 12,000 Kairos volunteers in this country, and we go into medium and maximum security prisons with whom we contract twice a year for four days, then return monthly – some even weekly for prayer and share groups. The recidivism rate for Kairos (“God’s Special Time”) graduates is only 15 percent, as opposed to nearly 80 percent otherwise, and wardens tell us that once a Kairos community has been established for two years in a unit, they can budget as much as 40 percent less for security there!

Your Uncle Bob is the Mississippi representative to the Kairos International Council, and that council has an annual Winter Conference, the past four years at Orlando, in the land of Florida. Each year, we’ve gotten lost on Florida highways in an attempt to get to that Conference, to get aloose from it to go home, or both. We’ve been remarkably consistent, even when using modern technology, like GPS.

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The year 2012 was no different. I went with the current Mississippi Board Chairman, who allows us to address him as His Grace, in his new car, a high-grade Japanese vehicle.  

In 2011 he had a German car, also with GPS, and his angry conversation with the lady therein is what I suspect caused him to wreck that car some months later, after we had finally returned from the land of Florida.

 He proved to be milder, but no better, at negotiating with the Japanese GPS lady this year. In the first place, she spent nine hours advising us to turn off at every opportunity – perhaps she has weak kidneys. We learned to ignore her pleas and just kept an eye on the map display on the dashboard.  

Orlando is proud of its airport, and advertises it regularly for fifty miles before one gets there, so we were confident that we could quickly find the Airport Holiday Inn for the Conference, which has been held at the same hotel for the four years we’ve been attending.

Cruising down the Florida Turnpike (which we Mississippi boys and girls paid for on the past four Kairos Conference trips) we saw “Airport: 20 miles,” “Airport: 10 miles, “Airport: 5 miles,” “Airport: 2 miles,” then they abruptly quit bragging on it.  

Soon His Grace observed, “I don’t remember seeing this much swamp before,” then we saw a sign advising, “Miami: 225 miles,” then “Miami: 220 miles.”

After we came within 200 miles of Miami, we hung a right, snuck up on the Orlando Airport from the rear after a half-hour on Boggy Creek Road, did two ground orbits of that facility for old times sake, and arrived at the Conference after only an hour and 15 minutes touring central Florida’s swamps.

However, that evening we were treated to a display of a much more efficient method of lostness. Our favorite Georgia Peach, in company with a Texas lady, sought out His Grace to beg transportation to the local Family Christian bookstore, which was advertising a sale.  

Peach had an Ipad, or Ipod, slate-looking outfit with a screen which purported to show locations in Orlando of the aforesaid store. The Texan had a smaller thingamajig, like maybe a Smart Phone?

Her screen showed a different location than Peach’s. His Grace was still tuned into the Japanese lady’s advice, for some reason. An Arkansas guitar player wandered up from somewhere with an actual paper map to join the group.

After watching them compare possible locations for an hour in the lobby, I left to find a local guide, whom I dispatched to their aid. Olga returned saying that she could not find the pre-lost group. They went missing for nearly two hours, until suppertime.

Turns out that they never even left the hotel, finally admitting their incurable lostness, and going up to their respective rooms to catch naps!

Think of all the time and gas they saved, not to speak of the road rage cured!

If you have one of those GPS thingies, maybe the way to more efficiently use it would be to compare it with other expensive pathfinders ahead of time, perhaps even consulting an old-fashioned map. And if they all disagree, forget the trip, and go take a nap before suppertime, especially if you’re headed to Florida!