Something odd happened on the way to Uganda.
That’s how missionary Danny McDowell’s story of his last trip to east Africa begins.
There were two strangers, a bet, and $1,000 on the table. The unusual circumstances unfolded – not half-way around the world but in Martinez – at the former location of Chain Reaction Bicycles.
As McDowell tells it: “We dropped into the bike shop looking for stuff for my wife’s bicycling hobby. This fellow, Phil, approached me from nowhere. He asked, ‘How’d you like to lose some of that weight?’”
McDowell, who weighed 280 pounds at the time, replied, “I’d love to.” Under his breath, however, he mumbled sarcastic comments about Phil’s weight and tried to shrug him off.
The “Phil” in McDowell’s story is Phil Cohen, the owner of Chain Reaction Bicycles, who did not take the hint.
Here’s what Cohen remembers about that day in late April or early May: “I turned to Lynette (McDowell’s wife) and asked her, ‘What would motivate him? What’s his passion?’ She said, ‘Bibles.’”
For the better part of a decade, McDowell has worked in Uganda, teaching Bible classes and raising money for native-language Bibles. Now 67, the retired nurse has made five trips to Africa.
That day in Chain Reaction, after hearing the missionary’s story, Cohen made McDowell an offer.
“He said, ‘I will buy $1,000 of African Bibles if you lose 40 pounds before your next mission,” McDowell recalled.
McDowell couldn’t say no.
“You have to understand. I don’t even know this man and he’s offering me enough cash to buy 66 Ateso, Luganda and Swahili Bibles that would surely develop eternal dividends,” he said.
At Cohen’s request, McDowell watched the documentary Fat Sick & Nearly Dead and read Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live.
“I’ve lost 60 pounds following that,” Cohen said about his weight loss. “I want to share it with other people. I want people to be healthy.”
By November, McDowell had dropped to 235 pounds, just in time for his most recent trip to Uganda. Both men and their wives celebrated with a “grossly caloric dinner” at a local steak house.
Upon his return to the U.S., McDowell presented the Cohens with a few keepsakes.
“When I present a Bible in the bush country of Uganda, I tuck a photo of the donor into the Bible and ask the proud recipient to pray for their donors every time they come across the photo,” McDowell said. “Then I take a photo of the elated recipient with his/her new Bible.”
The Cohens now have an album of those photos and a native-language Bible of their own.
“This guy here, I never met him. Didn’t know him. It’s incredible,” McDowell said. “I am just so thankful.”
As for 2013? McDowell says he’s got more Bibles to give away, “and another 10 pounds to lose.”