All Over the Place

All Over the Place

Though fall arrived “late” this year, it is making a quick exit as the Christmas season makes its appearance “early.” Or so it seems! As we fly home today from a 10-day trip during which we spent 2 days each in 5 different towns, I’m musing about walking in to a home bedecked in orange, greens, and golds, all representing the season just passed of falling leaves, harvest, and shortening days. But if past performance is any indication of future expectations, Christmas will be here in short order, ready or not. And though I’m certain my lofty goals of projects completed will exceed the time needed to complete them between now and then, I’m hopeful that my desire to prepare my heart for Christmas will outpace my attempts to prepare my gifts.

Every Day . . . a Gift

Every Day . . . a Gift

With visions of Yosemite’s matchless beauty still dancing in our heads, we flew east in time to do laundry and repack suitcases with appropriate gear for speaking at Park Street Church’s family camp held at Camp Laurel in Readfield, ME (central Maine) the weekend of August 25-27. It was the perfect ending to an incredibly paradoxical summer. Though we have partnered for years with Kris Perkins (Park Street Church’s pastor to families/marriages) by speaking at various workshops and seminars at the church, this was our first experience with their annual family camp. And we loved it.

Only God

Only God

August has flown by, which is consistent with the beat of the whole summer. When the family camp program was canceled at CBS back in late December, we had no idea what the summer of 2017 would look like. We weren’t concerned that we’d be twiddling our thumbs, quite honestly, but we couldn’t have imagined then the opportunities that have unfolded for us. “Only God.” Indisputable.

It Is Well . . . With Our Souls

It Is Well . . . With Our Souls

Wow!! I always thought our summers on the island, running seven and a half weeks of discipleship training for dozens of college students as well as 6.5 weeks of family camps, flew by . . . but these past 7 weeks redefine “flying.” I am in utter disbelief that we are at the halfway mark of August . . . and still on the road and in the air, by God’s grace, going strong. What an unbelievable journey we’ve been on!

A Different Summer

A Different Summer

Returning from Ethiopia on May 22, we were very thankful to have several days at home before heading to California for a couple of weeks. It was especially good in light of the fact that Paul was “under the weather” with a gastro-intestinal bug that hopped on board his system the previous Friday while in Ethiopia. Thankfully “Cipro” knocked it out of him fairly quickly and he was none the worse for the wear a day later.

Back to Africa with Love

Back to Africa with Love

Though it seems like a lifetime ago, it’s only been seven weeks since we returned from the Thrive Conference in California and flew to Uganda. A lot has happened between then and now, which “explains” why I haven’t “found” time to update this blog, but still . . . I’m a bit shocked to again be this far behind. So as to not overwhelm you, I’ll share about this space of time in a couple of posts, starting with a recap of our time in Uganda and Ethiopia today.

In and Out of Africa

In and Out of Africa

As we make our way back to Africa today, I’m at least slightly amused by the reality of our last week: on Sunday, April 30, we returned to Boston from South Africa; on Wednesday, May 3rd, we flew to California for a conference; on Sunday, May 7th, we flew back to Boston; and on Monday, May 8th, we left Boston for Uganda. Now . . . some would rightfully ask, “Who made a schedule like that?” 

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

For the first time since launching this blog over twelve years ago, three months have elapsed since my last post. In an unprecedented quandary, I’ve had a really hard time finding the words to write, for though there have been many great moments and experiences during this time, we have concurrently experienced some of the darkest and most difficult days of our life together. And quite frankly, I haven’t known how to communicate about this, fairly and honorably, especially since it’s ongoing. This is a season during which my silence hasn’t been “golden.”

It's NOT beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

It's NOT beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

If “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .” is related to a house decked in outdoor lights, a beautifully decorated tree indoors, and stockings “hung by the chimney with care,” we’re off. Way off. Thankful to have just gotten all pumpkins processed and the orange and rust decorations put away . . .

Savoring

Though the song “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” is affirming the beauty of the Christmas season (and who would argue that?), I could easily build a case for an equally fitting song to be written about fall in New England. I quickly run out of expressive adjectives to describe the delights of this season during which beauty parades in different colors and presentations daily for about six weeks. We have been savoring each eyeful of gorgeousness in this land of deciduous trees whose greatest beauty comes through the transition from life to death. Interesting paradox.

We were treated to an early kaleidoscope of color the last weekend of September when we drove to Newport Center, Vermont, to present a marriage conference at the Newport Church of God. The home church of Paul and Lyss Gandy (our 2016 CBS musicians and high school family camp directors), they persuaded Pastor Larry Wall to invite us and we’re so glad they did. We had a great weekend with the Walls and their congregation, celebrating God’s design for marriage. We tagged a couple of days on to enjoy the beautiful area while staying in Lyss’s family’s cabin on Lake Memphremagog. It was a true gift of restoration and renewal to be there as we hiked, leaf peeped, and enjoyed some time with Lyss’s extended family. And it officially became an international trip when we had dinner in Canada.  :)

The conference was well received and we heard from many that God really met them during it.  As always, we pray for ongoing fruit.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church overlooks the lake.
Spectacular photo taken by Lyss Gandy.


Paul and Lyss emceed and led worship for the conference, and did both so well.


Here we are with the Gandys . . . always a good time.


Dinner out with Lyss’s local family, who were delightfully hospitable and welcoming.


Pastor Larry and Sally Wall: passionate for Christ and for transformation.  We enjoyed being guests in their home and sharing stories of hope.


On the drive down we found the colors to be distracting from keeping our eyes on the road.


Home October 4th, just in time for the Patriots’ women’s and couples’ studies, with some counseling packed in around them. We’re so thankful for robust groups in both of the studies, and we sense that God is doing a deeper work among us. Pray for those studies as you root for the Patriots.  :)

Columbus Day Weekend brought with it not just increased foliage color, but a sweet visit from Derek and Julie and their precious littles. Though the four-day stay included the stomach flu for Rachel, a bad head cold for Derek, and a very rainy Sunday (no complaints—just reporting), it was so good to be together. Those unplanned-for-elements insured that we had plenty of down time, which was a good thing for all involved. We did stroller walks to the park daily and played lots of indoor hide-and-seek, games, and read a plethora of books. Loved every moment.


Papa and his girl Rachel showcase their very blue eyes and beautiful smiles.


We did make it to a little farm stand, but as you can see from Rachel’s face, she was still under the stomach-flu weather.


We got the Johnsons off Tuesday afternoon (always sad) and spent Wednesday and Thursday as per usual: Patriots studies and counseling. There was a lot of laughter and many points of connection as we taught on temperaments at the couples’ study Thursday night. Great time.

Off to California first thing Friday morning for a full long weekend. Built around a wedding Paul was asked to officiate, the week had a little bit of everything. First stop:  Biola University, where we were honored to tape two podcasts for the Institute of Marriage and Relationships, which is directed by Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace. Alisa had written a blog on our book Before You Save the Date: 21 Questions to Confirm your Decision to Marry and asked us to follow up her blog with a couple of podcasts. Even though we had to slog through a delayed-from-Boston flight (after getting to the airport at the ungodly hour of 6 am . . . and then leaving 1.5 hrs late :(  ), waiting 30 minutes for our luggage at LAX, waiting another 30 minutes for the rental car van to pick us up . . . delaying our arrival to Biola by 1 hour 45 mins (and costing us lunch with the Graces), it was so worth it! We loved being with Chris and Alisa, whose hearts beat in sync with ours regarding family and marriage, and we are so excited about the Institute of Marriage and Relationships they are directing at Biola. The podcasts we recorded will be aired in the near future and we’ll keep you posted so you can tune in.

Speaking of Chris and Alisa Grace, they will be speaking at the annual H.I.M. Marriage Retreat, March 3-5, 2017, in Newport, Rhode Island. Registration has started and as has been true the past several years, it will likely sell out well in advance. Register now! This will make a great Christmas gift for your spouse, your married kids, your parents, and your friends.  

Friday evening, we spoke at The Rock Community Church in Anaheim Hills for their couples’ night. Jeff and Shauna Ochoa spearheaded this marriage shot-in-the-arm evening and provided a lovely date night for many couples. We’ve partnered with this church numerous times in the past and are so thankful for their commitment to healthy marriages.

Jeff and Shauna Ochoa planned the Couples Night Out for The Rock Community Church in Anaheim Hills, California.


The main event of this trip to California was Davey and Ruthanna’s wedding, officiated by Paul. Ruthanna grew up coming to family camp at CBS and she and Davey Ray met at CBS when they both served on staff. They attended our Engagement Matters Weekend last December and soon after they asked Paul to do their wedding. We accepted the honor with pleasure. The wedding on Sunday was a God-honoring celebration of a couple committed to living faithfully for Christ. Held in beautiful Highland Springs Resort in Cherry Valley, CA, under an 1100-year-old oak tree, the metaphors of legacy, of roots, and of strength were lost on no one. It was a thoughtful, meaningful wedding and we were so happy to be a part of it. It was also such a joy to be with Dave and Kim Noble and Isaac Rossitor again, all fellow past CBS staff, as well as with the Lee family, who have been family campers for over two decades.

We also managed to squeeze in a few hours visit with John and Grace Tebay, two of our longest and most beloved mentors. At 84 and 82, they are beyond remarkable and we hang on their every word and insight—and savor every moment. Their godly wisdom has been an invaluable resource to us since before we got married and we feel so blessed to have them in our lives. We closed out Saturday over dinner with two couples we’re mentoring, Brent and Melissa Slezak and Josh and Carley Gire, and left so inspired by their hearts and hopes.

John and Grace Tebay are in a league of their own and we’re so blessed to have them in our lives.


Davey Ray and Ruthanna’s wedding was beautiful and Christ-centered.


Such a fun reunion with Dave and Kim Noble (former CBS director) and Isaac Rossitor (former assistant head cook at CBS.)


One last thing before we returned to New England: a day at Disneyland with Brandon and Ana. Gifted by a dear friend employed by the Magic Kingdom, we made the most of this celebration in honor of Brandon’s 6th and Ana’s 3rd birthdays. 25,000 steps later (collected from 8:30 am to 8 pm), we left happily exhausted and full of memories we’ll keep savoring and replaying. Big moment of the day? Brandon’s inaugural ride on the Matterhorn. Pretty daring for a just-turned-6-year-old. Ana and Papa set a record for the most times on Ariel’s Grotto and King Arthur’s Carousel, though those numbers would’ve been shared with the Winnie-the-Pooh ride had it been open. I will never stop delighting in Disneyland, nor will I give up my dream to one day work there (though my aspiration to be Tinkerbelle and fly from the Matterhorn across the sky has been scratched off the list . . . for about 40 years now.) How grateful we are for generous friends who help make such memory-making days happen.

Disneyland was spectacularly dressed up for Halloween.


Brandon’s response just moments after his first ride on the Matterhorn. He was pretty happy that he conquered this very scary ride.


Back in New England, we’re joining the masses who are mesmerized by the glorious parade of fall colors which are truly breathtaking. No photos or words can capture the display, which unmistakably points to the glory of God. We’re savoring the days and thanking the Lord for His creative nurturing of our souls through such reflections of His majesty.


Fall is FINALLY in the Air




One last sunrise at Campus by the Sea over Labor Day Weekend,
taken as Lisa and I hiked the loop on our final day at camp.



The chill in the air this morning was a welcomed change from the unseasonably warm September we’ve experienced in New England this past month (at least the few days we’ve been here!) and all things Fall suddenly seem within grasp of cold fingers. Leaves will change and flutter to the ground, days will grow noticeably shorter, sweaters and close-toed shoes will be worn as the lingering days of summer quickly become memories of a season well spent.

I love fall. Truth be told, I must quickly admit that I also love winter, spring, and summer as each season brings its own delights and beauty.

But before I can thoroughly embrace autumn, I must wrap up summer (because that’s what the SJ personality does—in Myers-Briggs talk.)

Backing up to the end of August, we returned to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to speak at the 2/42 Community Church’s second annual “Fr-amily Camp”, held at Spring Hills Camp in Evart, MI. It’s always an honor to be invited to speak anywhere once, and it’s at least a double honor to be invited back. We were delighted to again partner with the 2/42 director of Family Ministries, Eric Rauch, who has great vision, enthusiasm, and passion for encouraging and equipping families. This year, besides having the “Birdsongs” again lead in worship and having us speak, he brought in David Laflin, an incredibly talented Christian illusionist from the Denver area. Amazingly, I had met his wife Teesha (who often performs with him) at Mission Hills Church in Littleton, CO, the previous weekend, as she stopped by to chat with me about balancing ministry and family after Paul and I had spoken. Only God . . .

David did a great job of wowing us with his illusionary trickery as well as with the gospel message. Check their ministry out at www.davidandteesha.com

The weekend went really well. Twice the size of last year’s camp, we were reminded of how desperately we need to keep building in to families the hope of the gospel. No one skipped the teaching sessions (it seemed), despite being surrounded by 900 acres of beauty, very fun activities, and plenty of options to distract. We really felt that God met us and the campers in some very powerful ways.

It was especially good for us to have several days with our dear friends, Wai and Elaine Wong and their lovely daughters while in Ann Arbor. We stayed an extra day so we could hang out with them and that made a great weekend even greater.


Hanging out with David Laflin (the illusionist) and the Wong family,
we had some very fun moments on giant swings, ropes courses, and zip lines.
How could you not love this weekend?


The “Birdsongs” did a phenomenal job leading us in worship
before each of the four teaching sessions.


The stillness of the water is found only early in the day, prior to campers discovering the four inflatable “blobs” anchored in this lake.


A special dinner out with the Wongs in honor of Paul’s birthday.


We returned to Boston for 24 hours to repack before heading west for the Labor Day Weekend family camp at CBS. But first, a joy-filled celebration of the birthday buddies, Papa and Brandon, who share an August 29 birthdate. Brandon did ask me this year, “If Papa and I have the same birthday, why aren’t we the same age??”  :)  

Happy birthday, Papa and now 6-year-old Brandon!


After too short a stay (but better than nothing), we headed to CBS for the weekend with Lisa and a terrific group of veteran staff who served the family campers all weekend. This third annual Labor Day weekend family camp was again sold out to a very enthusiastic group of families. Presumably because the time is short, these families dive right in and make every minute count. Thankfully, with the majority of staff who had served together all summer, we were also ready to dive right in with them. It was a full, breathless weekend.

Bob and Carol Kraning served as our resource couple for the weekend and were wildly popular. Bob, who had a very close brush with death a year ago, was stronger than ever and didn’t miss a beat. Our young families were so encouraged to hear from a couple who have been married over 50 years and who have followed the Lord faithfully throughout life. Such richness!

All too quickly the weekend was over and we sang our final rendition of “We love you campers, oh yes we do!” as the boat pulled away from the dock. We followed soon after and headed south for a couple of days before heading east. 

Paul, Lisa, and I arrive to serve the Labor Day Family Camp.


Our terrific program staff served so well,
diving right in to do whatever needed to be done.

Worship was led by Robert Kovacs, Claire Peister, and Seth Heinz—and was appreciated by all.

A large group of kids second grade and under gathered at the front of the Main Deck each morning for the always-favorite devotions created and led by Paul.

Lis and I did one last loop hike on the last morning of camp and encountered this bison, who seemed to own the road. He’s much bigger than he appears in this photo, and the road is much more narrow than it appears. Obviously we lived to tell about it.  :)


Bob and Carol Kraning partnered with us this weekend and God used them to bring a word of both encouragement and challenge. We’ve been together with the Kranings in ministry for most of our married life and we’re so thankful they’ve been a part of our journey.

One last chorus of “We love you campers, oh yes we do . . .” as the final family camp group departs on the Catalina Express.


Off to San Diego we went, after overnighting in Santa Ana with our dear friend Wendy Turney, to spend the next two nights at the Hotel del Coronado. This San Diego landmark hosted us the first night of our honeymoon 40 years ago and this was our first return to the inside of it since. Made possible in part by the kids, who generously gave us a gift certificate for the hotel several years ago, we decided the time was right to put the capstone on our 40th anniversary’s never-ending celebration.  

What a great idea!

We had two wonderful days there, doing little more than walking the beach, laying by the pool, exploring downtown Coronado, and enjoying the beauty of this exquisite hotel. We did sneak away to Petco Stadium with our friends the Hazlebecks to watch the Red Sox beat the Padres one night, but we squeezed everything we could out of the rare treat of staying in this fabulous hotel. We highly recommend 40th anniversaries, if God grants you that many years.

An early morning walk on the beach, before the marine layer burned off (which it later did.)

A little sand castle we built in our spare time . . . or at least, that we stopped to admire at the end of our walk.  :)

We left refreshed and renewed, celebrating life and marriage, and ready to face a little bit of craziness.

Arriving home at 1 in the morning on Saturday, Sept. 10, we were overjoyed (if even a bit bleary-eyed) to welcome Dick and Becky (Manley Pippert) Molenhouse to our home at 9:30 am.  Becky had spoken at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Pastors’ Conference the previous day.  So, seizing the opportunity to reconnect our four-decades-long friendship, we welcomed them to our home for the remaining hours prior to their late afternoon flight.

It is so good to be with treasured, lifelong friends. Paul and Becky came on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff together in 1972 and that began a deep and mutually respected friendship. Dick and Becky have spent the past 7 years doing evangelism training throughout Europe and are stateside now as their organization, Saltshaker Ministries, produces numerous curriculums and resources for equipping churches to be engaged in evangelistic outreaches. Though some of the time was spent talking about our respective ministries, much of it was focused on catching up with each other’s lives, families, and reflections. It was such a sweet time of fellowship. 

Dick and Becky Molenhouse spent a day with us and we joyfully caught up on one another’s lives.

Shortly after the Molenhouses left, another couple arrived from California for a couple of days—and when they left on Monday, yet another couple arrived from California for a couple of days. We love sharing our home and our lives, and all three of these visits were delightful.  

And just like that, we were back in the saddle of counseling and Patriots studies. Wednesday, Sept 14, the Pats Women’s Study started with a great group of gals. Many of us hadn’t seen much of each other since the season ended last January, so it was a happy reunion. Thursday we did more counseling and launched the couples’ study with a great group of couples. So we’re off and running in our fall schedule!!

“Running” is the operative word . . . as very early Friday morning, I “ran” off to the airport to fly to Pennsylvania to spend the last 4 days of Derek’s trip to Africa with Julie and the kids.  Two weeks is a long time to be apart and to temporarily be a “single mom” and I was so thankful to help fill in the gap.

Oh the fun we had! Taking walks. Visiting farm animals. Playing with play dough. Reading books. Decorating for fall. Snuggling with babies. Learning about Nathan’s new world in pre-school.

Loved. Every. Minute. Even the ones that came in the middle of the night.  :)

With the “boys of summer” on his back,
Nathan visits the pigs at the farm.

Snuggle time (briefly) with Mama.

Go Sox!!  Even Rachel is being trained right.  :)

Oh, and then there’s our most favorite team: Go Pats!!


The days passed quickly (there’s a blessing in that, I know) and Derek returned from Africa, and I returned to New England, just in time to welcome another set of guests, our dear friends Dick and Nancy Beggs. We’ve known each other for our whole marriage, as we met at the first Christian Camping International Conference we attended in 1977 and we’ve been friends of the heart ever since. The Beggs have been associated with Camp Maranatha in Idyllwild, California, for years and we’ve journeyed with them through the joys and challenges of raising families and working in camping. They only spent one night with us, but we made the most of it.

Dick and Nancy Beggs, from Idyllwild, California, joined us for a night of non-stop talking, a few tears, and a lot of laughter.


This past weekend, we did the first ever marriage conference for Oasis Christian Church in Concord, New Hampshire. Fulfilling the vision of Skip and Avonne Jarvis, who seeded the water by leading a marriage class at the church this past year using our study, In Our Image, the day went off swimmingly. The thirty couples who attended gave very positive feedback and a second annual is already in the works as we agreed to return and speak again next September. Especially sweet for us was having four couples attend who have been long time Berea Family Campers (the NH family camp we’ve directed the past 12 years). Many couples expressed that God really met them in the day. All praise is His.

Berea family campers Gary and Kim Walker, Skip and Avonne Jarvis, Dennis and Heidi Lommen, and not pictured is the Lommens’ daughter Jenny and her husband, Jed. A very special group of friends.


Sunday we taught at their two worship services, thanks to their lead pastor Jon Rose who turned the service over to us. We so enjoyed worshiping with this alive congregation and look forward to continuing our partnership with them.


The Jarvis family . . . Skip and Avonne and their four great kids. We shared a 7:30 am breakfast together and had coherent, meaningful conversation with these set-apart young people. So encouraging!!

That brings us up to today. The chill still hasn’t left and I can see leaves changing before my very eyes. It’s time to put on a jacket and take a walk in the brisk fall air, which we hope is here to stay. Finally. 


Sunset over the lake in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

Rocky Mountain High 2

“Be exalted, O Lord, above the heavens . . .”  This photo was taken out of the window of the plane flying from Denver to San Diego. The changing skyscape kept us mesmerized for almost an hour.  It was spectacular.


This August has been different than any other in our married life.  We’ve always done family camps in August, the last 18 of which have been in New England. As we passed the mantle to Camp Berea’s executive director, Nate Parks, at the end of last summer’s camping season, we didn’t know what God would have in store for us. Thankfully, and not surprisingly, He had a great plan (which is still unfolding as I write this) and we are truly grateful for how He has met us during this transitional year.

Usually, as soon as family camps wrap up at CBS, we fly directly to New England to do two more weeks of family camp. 

Not this year.

The decision to turn family camps over to Berea came after much prayer and many conversations. Topping the list of “this is right to do now”: first, we were (rightly) convinced that Nate and his crew were “ready” to assume leadership/responsibility for continuing the tradition as they fully embraced and “got” the ethos of family camp and were committed to continuing that, and second, the cost of flying the staff back to run the family camps was escalating every year, making its financial viability more challenging. We were impressed with Nate’s commitment to “getting it right”—which does not mean “doing it exactly as its always been done”—but he pressed to understand the heart, the purpose, the ethos of family camp by careful observation of every component of family camp as well as spending hours asking us the “whys” of each component. We had complete confidence that family camp under his leadership would be different and the same, and it would be good.

We were thrilled and thankful to hear from some family campers who affirmed that very sentiment. It’s very rewarding to have something you’ve poured yourself into and passed on to continue effectively. All praise is His!!

So, since we weren’t doing family camp in New England, the window we needed for our all-family celebration of our 40th anniversary presented itself. Gabe and Kari hosted a small renewal of our vows ceremony at their home in Santa Clarita the day we left CBS. Attended by a small mix of our families and a few chosen family friends, the “ceremony” was conducted by Pastor John Tebay, who was one of the officiants at our wedding, April 24, 1976. Kari, Lisa, and Julie did a beautiful job of putting together a very memorable celebration. It was very meaningful to repeat the vows we had written 40 years earlier and to realize that they really had shaped the ethos of our married life. God has been so faithful.

Here we are: our entire immediate family. Brandon walked me down the aisle after Ana lead the way as the “flower girl.”  Gabe and Derek each read scripture and everyone else did the hard work of making it all happen. It exceeded our expectations.

My dear mama, almost 87, is the only living parent we have and we are so grateful for her health and mobility which allows her to be present at moments like these.

The siblings able to make it included my sisters, (l-r) Sue Hekman, Melissa Collins, and Lucy Silveira, and Paul’s sibs Carol and Wayne Herbst, Beth Helen Smith, and Wayne and Sandra Clark. It meant so much to us to have them there, just as they were 40 years ago.

Pastor John Tebay (and his wife Grace) have been such significant mentors in our lives for well over 40 years and it was such an honor to have John renew our vows. He is a true man of God and he and Grace have been so instrumental in helping to shape our lives.

 
These five weren’t present 40 years ago!  :-)  The next generation, by God’s grace, will carry the mantle of truth in the decades to come.

After a few days with Garcias, we flew home to exchange our CBS wardrobe for speaking clothes and to get our hair cut, paper work sorted, and to check on our house before flying 24 hours later to Denver, CO, where we've spent the last three weekends doing a family and marriage series of sermons for Mission Hills Church. (To watch recordings of the sermons, go to the Mission Hills Church website and click on “Watch Now”)  

What a privilege to serve this way! We loved everything about this “gig.” Mission Hills has had a 75-year history of faithfulness to teaching God’s Word which has well-prepared them for this interim period during which time they’ve been without a pastor for almost 2 years. Danny Oertli (married to our niece, Rayna) is the worship leader at Mission Hills and has filled in a lot of gaps during the interim, one of which has been making sure the pulpit was filled. When the decision was made to do a series on family and marriage, he convinced the staff we would be the best candidates (nepotistic connections help), so the invitation was issued.

It was a huge honor and privilege to serve this congregation. All 4 services (a Saturday night and three Sunday mornings) were filled with eager, receptive, responsive people of all ages. We felt that God really met us each weekend, as well as the listeners—many of whom communicated to us just that. After the second weekend, which focused on marriage, one man told me, “This sermon just saved my marriage.”  Well . . . we know the sermon didn’t save his marriage, but we do know that the Holy Spirit did a work in his heart that morning through the sermon and gave him a vision of hope. There is nothing more exciting/gratifying/humbling than feedback like that.

Between weekends, we played. More exhausted emotionally and physically than we’ve been in a long time, it was a gift from heaven to have two 5-day periods “free.” We had some sweet time with the Oertli family celebrating Jack’s 16th birthday, before flying to San Diego between the first two weekends to hang out with my mom.

Jack’s 16th birthday celebration started with brunch at his Aunt Susie’s house. Such a great time!!

Our days in San Diego were perfect. It’s rare that we get to spend more than 2 days with my mom due to our crazy schedule, so this was gift in so many ways. My mom is easy. Never demanding, never complaining about not seeing enough of us, always thankful and appreciative. That makes our times together so precious. Adding delight, Lisa joined us for two days and Lisa makes everything better.

Goers and doers that we are, we convinced Mom to go to “Night Zoo” at the San Diego Zoo Tuesday and our two-hour stay couldn’t have been better. Perfect temp for enjoying the zoo, we (meaning Paul) wheeled her around and we took it all in. Just after sunset, we all took the Skyfari. My mom never ceases to amaze me.

On a roll, we took her to the “Greatest Generation Ever” memorial on the San Diego waterfront the next night. It was truly moving to see her response to this fitting tribute to her generation. Our days together couldn’t have been improved upon. So grateful!

Along with my sister Melissa, we had a great night at the zoo. The bronzed gorilla is no relation.


The “Greatest Generation Ever” memorial includes a bronzed collection of injured veterans being entertained by Bob Hope, with a continuous loop of one of his comedy routines being broadcast. Pretty remarkable.

The iconic farewell (or welcome home) embrace is one we were well familiar with as “Navy Brats." Right at this harbor, my father’s ships made many departures (full of tears) and returns (full of joy). So many memories are evoked by this incredible statue.

Back to Denver we flew after this lovely week with my mom, and after teaching at all four services that weekend, we spent four days at Twin Lakes in a cabin graciously made available to us by our dear friends, Dave and Kathleen. Off the grid in a big way, we anticipated getting a lot of writing done, but our bodies and souls were in greater need of rest and renewal so we gave in to the call of the mountains and lakes and hiked 6–10 miles daily. It was just what we needed. Having never hiked in the Rockies, we got a crash course in the effects of altitude when we hiked Aspen Mountain. Between thin air and a huge thunderstorm materializing out of nowhere (and breaking just as we made it to the lodge at the top), we had a very memorable hike—fortunately, with a happy ending (we are still alive). After four days of such recreating, we made our way back to Denver, refreshed and ready.

Hiking to “Interlaken” along the first lake . . . breathtaking!!

Taken from Independence Pass on our way to Aspen, this photo doesn’t really do justice to the incredible beauty—so use your imagination.

Paul, fully recovered from his brush with altitude sickness on the climb to the top of Aspen, stands on the platform upon which he married Wes and Anna Welker four years ago.

One of the most memorable encounters of our time in Colorado was meeting up with Bob and Jeannie Mannes, now 95 and 92 respectively. Campus by the Sea owes a huge debt of gratitude to Bob and Jeannie, who served as the summer directors of CBS from 1956–1970. Their tenure at CBS came to a close due to Bob’s promotion to Dean of Students at USC, which eliminated his professorial “summers free” schedule. They raised their five children at CBS, summer after summer, and Jeannie said, “All of our children believe that their summers at CBS were life-shaping for them.” We had the sweetest visit with them, comparing notes about people we know in common, and we were most impressed with their sharp-as-tacks memories. It’s so meaningful for us to connect with peers of Paul’s parents who have so much history with CBS. What a happy, blessed reunion!

Jeannie and Bob Mannes were most gracious to receive us for a “down memory lane” visit in their home in Denver.

Our last weekend in Denver was packed with great moments with great people.  Elsa Stanley, one of our all-time favorites from CBS (family-camper-turned-staff-member), recently moved to Ft Morgan, Colorado, for a teaching job and spent Saturday afternoon with us following our visit with Bob and Jeannie. Time is always too short with Elsa, but we packed it in during the window we had. After the Saturday night service, we enjoyed fellowship and food with the Oertlis. And Sunday after church, we were thrilled to be part of a CBS reunion of sorts hosted by Joel and Tiffany Ann Johns. The group was a mix of long-time CBS family campers (including Amity Close Wicks and her family and Stephen McLaughlin and his family), and newer CBS family campers (the Formes family, the Becketts, and the Johns), and the in-betweeners (Laura Long), and the never-been-to-CBS-but-new-to-Colorado (the Kyners). It was a lovely afternoon. We were well fed and hosted and they pulled off a sweet surprise “Happy 40th anniversary” CBS-style skit for us, complete with cake and well wishes. We’re still surprised and deeply touched by their kindness.

Elsa and I had a great time together catching up.

A wonderful group of CBS family campers gathered for food and fellowship in Parker on the Johns’ family ranch.


One more sweet celebration of our 40th. 


We also managed to meet up with our niece Kristi Rottschafer Daggett and her family at a local park in Castle Rock AFTER the Johns’ gathering, and then we made one final stop at Danny Oertli’s parents’ home before heading to the airport for our red-eye home. We truly couldn’t be more thankful for our three weekends in Denver, nor could we be more aware of how significantly God met us.

The Daggetts—Kristi, Tim, Isaac, Maddie, and Joel—met us at a park for a wonderful time of reconnection.


Our final social gathering prior to flying home—bbq and s’mores at Danny Oertli’s parents’ home. Delightful!


Refreshed and renewed, it was such a joy to return to Bedford and be greeted by Derek and Julie, Nathan and Rachel, who were awaiting our arrival. After a quick breakfast together, Derek and Julie took off for Maine to celebrate their 5th anniversary, leaving the littles with us for three days. They had a great getaway and we had loved every minute with the grands. Parks, stroller walks, playing games, and observing the simple delights of life through the eyes of a 3-year-old and a 9-month-old filled the days and “took us back.” Since we were playing “man to man” defense, it was very manageable and “easy.” We’re so thankful for the privilege.

We “rocked it” with Nathan and Rachel for three days while their parents got away. Loved every moment.

Derek and Julie returned Wednesday afternoon, glowing, and after a lovely celebration dinner of steak and artichokes a la Derek, Thursday rolled in and the Johnsons rolled out mid-morning for home and we flew out mid-afternoon for Michigan. Just like that.

So I write from Michigan, where the 2/42 Church second annual family camp (Fr-amily Camp) is underway. We’re honored to partner with this very alive, very vision-driven church again this year and were thankful for a strong launch last night. Next weekend we’ll be back at Campus by the Sea for the third annual Labor Day Family Camp and that will officially close our summer.

In many ways, it’s been the shortest summer . . . and the longest.

The best . . . and the hardest.

Energizing . . . and exhausting.

Hope-giving . . . and discouraging.

That’s kind of how life is, though, isn’t it?  Evil, sin, and hardship will interrupt perfection as long as we’re on the earth, but our great hope, encouragement, and perseverance is fueled by our eternal hope in Jesus. He continues to be faithful and gives us energy, hope, purpose, and vision.

And for that, we give thanks from the depths of our souls and we press on towards His heart.

Whether we’re high in the Rockies or not.

Sunrise behind us as the moon sets before us over the Rockies. Such assurance that He goes before us and behind us, always present, always with us. How comforting! All praise is His.

Summer #41 "Great is Thy Faithfulness!"

Wow!! Seven weeks. Off the grid. Immersed in community. Focused on Christlikeness. Twenty-six program staff. Over 1300 campers. At least a dozen decisions for Christ. 

It’s been quite a summer at Campus by the Sea. 

As we make our way east (very temporarily), we are overwhelmed with joy, awe, and exhaustion. The summer was beyond expectations in terms of ministry, relationships, and staff. Simultaneously there were challenges that were draining and hard. Both the joys and the challenges allowed us to be met by God in very deep and real ways. We know we were prayed for more than we’ve ever been aware of, and the outpouring of love, affirmation, and support for us personally was off the charts. “Great is Thy faithfulness!

We gathered in this sacred cove Monday, June 13, and looked like this:

Our first program staff photo, taken during orientation week.


We were pale-skinned and we had clean feet. Some of us knew each other well, but most of us had limited knowledge of one another.

Seven weeks later, we looked like this:

The night of our last family camp banquet, all dressed up and ready to go.


Darker skin and much darker feet, and deeply connected as a discipling community. So bonded that farewells on Sunday, July 31, were tearful.

It will be impossible to capture all we feel about this staff. Twenty-two of the twenty-six were “veteran” staff, and they brought with them maturity and experience. Twenty-four of the twenty-six grew up as family campers at CBS. They “get it.” They knew how important the staff were to them as they grew up and came with a vision to live up to the high view they had of staff when they were young. They were committed to growing in Christlikeness and to being servant-hearted, unselfish, submissive to authority, and to going above and beyond. They worked hard but they also knew how to have a blast. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience with a staff. What a huge blessing they were!

Our leadership team lead incredibly well and were a large part of the success of this team. Mary Ann Bastedo led the nursery/playyard team and with four years of experience, she handled one of the more challenging areas of camp with wisdom and patience. Shelby Dreves, also serving her 4th year, was the peer director for the elementary team and she knocked it out of the park. Well organized and an extroverted communicator, Shelby garnered the respect of her whole team, who worked together beautifully. Paul and Lyss Gandy provided leadership for the junior/senior high ministry team as well as leading worship and they led both areas with excellence. Worship received off-the-chart ratings all summer and the jr/sr high team received rave reviews. Dave and Vonny Bastedo served in many ways again, from being the “deans of Little Gallagher’s” (the staff cove) to leading the college group to overseeing crafts and the elementary program . . . we couldn’t have done it without them! Lisa Friesen, who joined us for the last four family camps, was an effective mentor for the staff team as well as facilitator for the “young professional” group we had in four of the camps. Everything is better with Lisa around! We are so grateful for this special group of leaders and are hoping they’ll all return in 2017. :)

I did miss the start of family camp 1 due to the arrival of our fifth grandchild, Micah James, who made his grand entrance on Sunday, June 19. What a privilege and joy to be in the OR when all 10#8oz of him was delivered via c-section. As you can see, Brandon and Ana are elated to be joined by Mighty Micah. It’s hard to believe he’s already 6 weeks old!

Brandon and Ana are in love with their new little/big brother Micah James.


Our theme this summer was “Journeying with Jesus” and our studies included four vignettes from the life of Peter: his call, his declaration that “Jesus is the Christ!”, his denial of Jesus, and his mandate to “feed my sheep.” Paul’s giftedness in curriculum development was seen again as he “visioneered” the theme and wrote the studies for the adults, which served as a springboard for our creative teaching staff to adapt the studies for every age in camp. This allows all ages to interact with these stories as our integrated, intergenerational teaching model is fleshed out. Devotionals, the memory verse, and Paul’s Monday night talk all supported the theme, creating cohesiveness throughout the program. We were delighted with how well it all worked out.


The program staff are teaching the new group of campers the memory verse song, which Paul and Lyss Gandy “wrote.” They set 1 Peter 3:15 to music and it tops the charts as one of the best memory verse songs written for CBS ever. 


All six of our speakers—Tim Theule, Brent Eldridge, Chris Grace, Howard Clark, Ray Johnston, and Gary Gaddini—were used by God to bring His word in message to each camp. We were so blessed to have these men of God (and their families), who are faithful to His Word and who walk the talk, serve as teachers and mentors. It is a lavish banquet of teaching all summer and we personally are fortified and encouraged by such quality, God-honoring teaching. Our staff discipleship program includes having each of the speakers address the staff on Thursday nights and they also appreciated their wisdom and giftedness. 

The depth of community experienced by most at family camp is the result of many factors, some tangible and some intangible. At the core is the centrality of the gospel, which is the only truth which could form cohesion among a diverse group of families. Build out from that the secluded nature of CBS (no access except by boat or foot) and being off the “grid” and you have two big contributing factors to the inimitable experience campers have at CBS. It truly is a place like none other and we consider it such a privilege to be able to live out our passion for marriage and families in this unique context.


We “do” life together as community in so many ways! From lazy afternoons on the beach to hiking into Avalon, from adult-only small groups to intergenerational almost everything else, the goodness of community is celebrated. Though Americans have recently identified “isolation and loneliness” as their biggest problem, not many (if any) would identify that as an issue at family camp. In fact introverts find it challenging to find alone time in this almost-always-visually-connected community! We eat together, worship together, learn together, play together, pray together. And if you were fortunate enough to have your birthday or anniversary during your week at camp, you might’ve been serenaded by the "Barbershop Quartet with Olé” and then heard 260 voices sing together to you! This talented group of musicians brought many smiles to our family campers with their performances to mark special occasions. This was just one of the many ways the staff served above and beyond, with cheerful hearts and excellence, and helped to build into community.

Claire Peister, Lyss and Paul Gandy, and Joe Yardley brought down the roof when they performed as a quartet.


As much as we love the family campers and do what we do to serve them, our commitment to the staff and our investment in their growth is an equally important value. We believe that the seven-week “overseas mission trip experience” should be life-changing and life-shaping for them as they serve and live in a Christ-centered discipling community. Though we are only directly responsible for the volunteer program staff (from “hiring” to supervising), the discipleship program is for the entire staff team, which includes the kitchen, grounds, and waterfront teams. We thoroughly enjoyed the entire team, which both worked and played well together. The following photos give some glimpses into summer staff life. 

Our 1st annual "4th of July Old Fashioned Picnic and Games” was held on Sat. July 2 and fun was truly had by all. Pictured here is one of the four teams that competed against one another.

Apparently this team won 1st place—at least in this popular “toss the cheese puff onto the shower-cap-smothered-in-shaving-cream” event.
The annual game show—this year named “The 2016 Gallagher’s Games”—was a huge hit and this dedicated, hard-working team made it look easy week after week. Such a great night of laughter, friendly competition, and intergenerational craziness.

The under-the-stars “square” dance (we don’t actually do any dancing in squares, but line dancing, circle dancing, and swing dancing are enjoyed by all) is always such a huge hit. Pictured here is JoJo Gaddini and Brandon Garcia doing the “Virginia Reel.”
The 4th annual “Ladies Only” tea was held one Saturday afternoon for the staff women. Especially lovely is leaving our staff shirts behind and celebrating the bond of women.


Hiking is one of the favorite activities for many of the staff, who take advantage of the “gym with no walls” which promises challenging workouts with incredibly beautiful scenery. One of the privileges of serving on staff is having the opportunity to do three special, “staff-only” hikes. The following photos reveal the secrets. 

The “shore hike” is the most popular of the staff-only hikes. 38 staff safely navigated this somewhat dangerous hike along the coast between CBS and Avalon. The early morning departure is timed to coincide during the lowest tide to make this doable. It’s a great experience in team building and bonding as staff help staff succeed in getting to Avalon in one piece.

The full moon loop hike is another staff-only hike, and though only 11 took advantage of this opportunity this summer, it was one of the best hikes ever. The clear, bright night made flashlights unnecessary . . . and a few bison made it interesting.

Off this intrepid group goes to enjoy the island in this unique way.
The third staff-only hike is an 8-mile loop from CBS to “Lone Tree.” Named for the “lone tree” which sits atop the tallest ridge seen from camp, this somewhat-challenging hike is the most arduous, but 25 stalwart staff took it on and lived to tell about it. This is taken at the first “stop”: the altar on the far side of Toyon Bay. No sacrifices were made.
Successfully to the top of Lone Tree, sweaty but smiling. The full-sun morning added challenge to the hike.

Every staff member is placed in a small group that meets weekly. The centerpiece of this year’s small groups was Paul David Tripp’s devotional New Morning Mercies. Every staff member was given a copy of this ground-breaking devotional and encouraged to use it daily. During small group, each shared a particularly meaningful devotional from the week before. This is our small group. We loved meeting with them each Monday afternoon. Even more, we all love this devotional and couldn’t more highly recommend it.

There are many more staff-shaping moments and activities, and all are framed by a universal commitment to living honorably together in community. Our “community standards” are clear and, thankfully, are “bought in to” by the staff. That’s part of what makes it work.

One more photo from staff life . . . and without minimizing any of the other herculean efforts expended by many of our staff, I am sharing this photo of Taylor Tebay (5th year staff, elementary PE teacher, all around great guy) with Ryan Beiter. Ryan has come to camp most of his life and this year Taylor served as his "special buddy.” When Taylor asked Ryan’s dad if there was any way he could serve Ryan “above and beyond,” Paul said, “He’s always wanted to go to the cross, but we’ve never figured out a way to get him up there.” Ryan’s ride is a motorized wheelchair, and there are parts of the path to the cross that would be impassable for him. 

So Taylor (with some help from equally servant-hearted Robert Kovacs), determined to get Ryan to the cross for the jr/sr high closing session that is held every Friday night at the cross.

The smile on Ryan’s face the next day told most of the story.
The tears running down his father’s cheeks told the rest of it.

Taylor literally had to carry Ryan on his back up the parts interrupted by steps. And so he did.

The degree of sensitivity and servanthood reflected in this incredible act of love and service speaks volumes about Taylor’s and Robert’s hearts . . . and the joy on Ryan’s face affirmed his delight to be included in this special, but logistically difficult part of camp. Of such is the kingdom of God.

Taylor Tebay and Ryan Beiter share a moment before Ryan boards the boat to return to the mainland.


A few more highlights of the summer before I wrap this up. Family Camp 4 clandestinely organized honoring our 40th anniversary and our 41st summer at CBS and completely surprised us with a thoughtful and beautiful tribute. Photos, notes, painted rocks, and the framed rubber food scrapers with the caption “Scraping since 1976” represented memories collected for four decades. We were so touched and felt so loved. 

This is just part of what they set up in our honor.

This is the crew that orchestrated the tribute given in our honor at the banquet for family camp 4. Such precious friends/family.


Paul was honored to do several baptisms each week. It’s amazing how many of our campers choose to be baptized at CBS, citing it as the place they experience significant spiritual growth. It’s very moving to hear each one verbalize their testimony down on the rocky shore before entering the oftentimes surging sea. The support of the community is felt by all.

Campers surround the “baptismees” to hear the proclamations of faith prior to them entering the waters.

Especially meaningful during camp 6 was the baptism of Sonora Shaffer, who made the decision to follow Christ the day before in her class. She is surrounded by 4 generations in this photo: Rosemary Dougan (great-grandma), Jerry and Eileen Shaffer (grandparents), Jon and Lisa Shaffer (parents), and her four siblings. The heritage. The legacy. The faithfulness of God through the generations. Doesn’t get any better than this!

This is another precious moment. Krista Engle Hart with Daniel, Julie Friesen Johnson with Rachel, and Robyn Chevalier Hall with Benjamin . . . all three moms grew up at camp together, served on staff together, and are continuing the tradition of family camp with the next generation. Rich!!

And these two: Rosemary Dougan and Shirley Lincoln, two women who along with their now-deceased spouses, Garth and Ken, have had a significant shaping impact on CBS history and legacy for decades. What joy to have them continuing as campers . . . each bringing four generations with them to family camp this summer.

And speaking of legacy, Sandy Friesen Clark (back row, second from right), and two of her four siblings, Paul and Beth, were at CBS in 1951 when it all started (well, Beth wouldn’t join the crew for 2 more years). Sixty-five years later, all of Mel and Helen Friesen’s children, in-laws, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are walking with Jesus. “I have no greater joy than to know that my children are walking in the faith.” (3 John 4) Blessed!

Though of the Garcia family only Brandon made it to camp this summer due to Micah’s arrival, the rest of the gang did and wonderful memories were made, life-shaping lessons were learned, and many “only God” moments were had. Paul had a vision while doing his early morning hike one day of sending a message to his father, who helped start CBS and sadly died an early death in 1983, “Jesus . . . please let Daddy know that what he started is going strong and is being used by God to change many lives.”
All praise is His!

“Great is Thy Faithfulness!!! 
Morning by morning new mercies I see. 
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. 
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”




Same Song, 41st Verse

It’s a beautiful day on Catalina Island and during this break from program planning for family camps, I’ve reached the entry on my “to do list” which says “blog.”  As I start writing, I am struck with the seeming impossibility of it being only 3 weeks since spending Memorial Day weekend in Tennessee, speaking at Cumberland Wilderness Retreat’s second annual family camp. It seems like a short lifetime ago, as these weeks have been filled with a lot of activity and emotion.

It was only hours after returning from Uganda on Monday late afternoon, May 23, that I caught an early morning flight to Washington, D.C., to surprise my baby sister Laura with a birthday visit.  It was one of the best surprises ever, aided by my brother-in-law David’s willingness to get me at the airport and take me to her office. It was a sweet, sweet day in so many ways, but perhaps the sweetest was having some time with Laura and David’s beloved 10-year-old mini-dachshund, Maggie, who lost the battle to inflammatory bowel disease just days later.  :(  I’ll always consider that day as a gift from heaven. 

Hand-carried, freshly cut lilacs from New England “fragranced” the surprise visit to honor my sister Laura for her birthday.

This little fighter, Maggie, attacked this plastic tube with a vengeance, which betrayed her very weakened, sickly condition.

Home from D.C. that night, we counseled the next day. On Friday morning, May 27 (our daughter Kari’s 36th birthday!), we flew to Atlanta, and then drove to Cumberland, Tennessee, to speak at the Cumberland Wilderness Retreat’s second annual family camp.  We launched this camp last Memorial Day and were so delighted to return.  The “baby” of Keith and Marsha Thompson and Nate and Jeannie King, it was SO gratifying to hear the second-year families say that they’ve been counting the days since last year! They “got” it! They loved the community experience of families coming alongside each other, doing life, learning about Jesus, praying, playing, and staying together.  One sweet family, whose father is an orthopedic surgeon, related that their 5-year-old has not stopped talking about family camp since last Memorial Day Weekend. The surgeon’s office partners told him before this Memorial Day, “Ok, we get it. We won’t schedule you to work Memorial Day Weekend for the next 15 years!”  There’s just something about family camp that is so unique, so shaping, so transforming.  It thrills us when families “get it.”

The Kings and the Thompsons once again did a great job of planning and preparing for family camp. Perfect weather contributed to the success of the weekend, and the addition of the ever-popular “finger rocket blasters” was loved by all. Great worship, great children’s ministry staff, great food. It was an off-the-charts weekend.

Sunrise over one of the lakes at Cumberland Wilderness Retreat.

Under the tent—the “meeting hall” at this not-yet-developed but full-of-potential camp.


Battle of the sexes . . . men against women in finger-rocket-blasters.

Fish fry—starring freshly caught fish by the campers—absolutely to die for (well, the fish did).


Cumberland Wilderness Retreat’s future—site of the first construction which will happen in the next few months. We prayed over the land together.

The family campers at Cumberland Wilderness Retreat: 75 campers, 17 families.

The family camp staff—all great folks who served endlessly through the weekend.

After a lovely day with the King family in Rome, GA, we flew home with T- 10 days til departing for our summer at Campus by the Sea.  Counseling, catching up, preparing for the summer, cleaning, sorting, packing, HIM Board Meeting…the days passed  quickly.  The highlight came in the form of Derek and Julie, Nathan and Rachel, who arrived for a short visit on Sat. the 4th.  What little joy bringers they are!  We had so much fun together doing not much more than taking walks, playing with toys, being entertained by the antics of these two adorable littles, and packing every bit of loving we could into three short days.  It was especially fun to share with Derek and Julie stories from our time in Uganda and Ethiopia.  We had so much love to give them from their many friends/colleagues/admirers.  

Papa and his well-loved grands, Nathan and Rachel.

Rachel lights up a room!

On Saturday, June 11, we flew to San Francisco and left behind all that never quite got done.  Out of sight . . . out of mind. We spent Sunday teaching at Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City. Lead pastor Gary Gaddini, one of our dearest friends and ministry partners, is on sabbatical, so we were invited to fill the pulpit. Having spoken at PCC numerous times over the years, it feels a bit like “coming home” to be there as we are always so warmly welcomed. We love the ethos of PCC—a very Christ-centered, grace-giving, outreach committed church—which God is using to make an impact.

Highlights for us included meetings up with Bob and Clara Sharpless, who were on the original Campus by the Sea (CBS) committee with Paul’s parents and others back in 1968. That committee “saved” camp literally, as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) was ready to give up the lease due to the difficulty of staffing it. The CBS committee offered to take full financial and operational responsibility of the camp if IVCF would continue to carry the lease and the deal was made. Though the committee was disbanded in 1994, they served an incredibly important role in the history of CBS.

Bob and Clara’s love for CBS has never abated and until very recently, they attended a week of family camp each summer.  Their family torch is carried by their daughter, Mary Giani, and her husband, Paul, and their three kids, who continue to make family camp their tradition. 

We also reconnected with Jim and Marge Perry, long time CBS friends, as well as several families who are current CBS family campers. It was a day filled with wonderful reunions.

Bob and Clara Sharpless are such an encouragement as they continue to be involved in Kingdom building in their golden years.

 
Jim and Marge Perry have also been a part of CBS history for decades.  When we got married, they were family campers, and eventually their sons served on staff. 

 

More friends we got to hug at PCC.

We walked on the beach at Half Moon Bay for the balance of the day, after having a lovely lunch with some dear friends, and called it a day. On to Catalina the next day . . .


On the boat heading over to CBS for the summer. This is a great group!

We’re singing the “same song” for the 41st time, in a sense. There is so much that is consistent, known, traditional about being at CBS. The deeply embedded ethos, the commitment to the Lordship of Christ and servanthood. The set-apartness, the distraction-free zone, the protection. The peace, the solitude, the love. The community, the connections, the support. The freedom from technology, from cars, from craziness.  

There’s no place like it in our world. We are so very thankful for the privilege of serving here for over 4 decades.

So, orientation week is underway and we couldn’t be more thankful for the staff that God has brought together. All but four of our program staff are veterans so we have a huge head start as most of them know the ropes already. Cream of the crop, this group of 26 college students or beyond is serious about their relationship with the Lord and is committed to serving. It’s an honor to serve with them.

We’re spending all our time this week developing the curriculum for all the age levels and solidifying the extra-curricular all family activities. It’s a week of getting to know each other, sharing creative ideas, brainstorming, building anticipation for a great summer of serving together. There’s a lot of talent, passion, and heart for Jesus in this group. God is so faithful!

Staff optional hike up “Scar” with “Lone Tree” in the background.

Dick and Nancy Beggs, retired from Christian camping (they are connected with Camp Maranatha in Idyllwild), stopped by for a visit. Our friendship spans our marriage; we met them at the CCI conference at Mt Hermon in 1977. They are treasured friends.

The program team for the 2016 family camp season. Such a great, great group!!

So, here we are. Singing the same song . . . for the 41st time. Singing with joy, with anticipation, with passion. Pray for us!!


Sunset at Cumberland Wilderness Retreat.  Unfiltered beauty.  

Our Hope Is Built on Nothing Less . . .




Two weeks ago, this was the view out of the plane window as we made our approach to Entebbe, Uganda.  If you look closely, you’ll be able to see the Nile River snaking her way across this beautiful country.  Even if you don’t look closely, you’ll see the Glory of God in this magnificent sunset captured by camera.

And thus it began. In some ways it seems as though we blinked, and now we’re returning home…and in other ways, it seemed like much longer ago than two weeks that we witnessed this spectacular scene. Six full days of travel (to and from US, and within Uganda) and nine full days of ministry. We return home changed by the things we have experienced, the people we have served, and by the God who has met us. And we are more convinced than ever that “our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness."

Our first time in Uganda in the post-Derek and Julie era, we had a certain amount of trepidation as we commenced this journey. Since they had always taken such good care of us logistically, practically, and otherwise, we truly wondered how we would manage without them.  

We found out quickly that when you’ve impacted people there as deeply and positively as have they, you will be well-taken care of on their coattails. How humbling!

And so from the moment of our arrival, when we were met at the Entebbe airport by the driver Nelson from the Boma Hotel, we were greeted and treated as though we were well-loved family returning home. The crew at the Boma couldn’t have been more effusive about their love for the Johnsons and about how deeply they miss them now that they’re in the states. They wanted to see photos of Nathan, whom they had known since his birth, and of his new baby sister, Rachel, who they are eager to meet. This record played over and over and over every day we were in Uganda.  

And as a result, we had no need that was left unmet.  

We flew to Uganda seven hours after returning from California on a red-eye, Monday, May 9, and landed late on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the 11th, we spent the whole day getting from Entebbe to Mbale (western to eastern Uganda), made quite difficult by the impending inauguration of President Museveni the following day. Road closures and increased traffic delayed our pick-up near the airport by 3 hours and increased the normally 5-hour trip to Mbale to 8 hours. It was quite harrowing at the end as we traveled in complete darkness, but our wonderful driver Mackay safely delivered us to the Mt. Elgon Hotel just after 8. The strangeness hit us strongly that we were at a hotel and not at the Johnson compound. We missed them terribly the whole time, but not because we were not well cared for.

We hit the road running. JP and Jill Robinson, dear friends who are serving with the Church of Christ, picked us up bright and early Thursday and we were off to speak at an-all day marriage training for church-planting village pastors who are being discipled by JP and his Ugandan counterpart, Dennis. It was truly an exciting day for all as it included the wives (who are not part of the discipleship program) and they seemed genuinely pleased to be included in this unusual day. It was the first such training for these local village pastors on marriage and they were fully engaged all day. The Robinsons did a great job organizing the event, which was held on the grounds of Livingstone International University (LIU) and we all deemed it successful at day’s end as we debriefed over a lovely meal at the Robinsons' home.
The church-planting village pastors and wives at the marriage training hosted by the Church of Christ
and organized by JP and Jill Robinson (far right)


JP and Jill are completing their fourth year in Mbale and will return after a 2.5 month furlough in the states this summer. They facilitated our time in Mbale and we are ever so grateful.

Sleep felt very good that night!

Up and at it early Friday, prior to starting our conference for JENGA, Robby Keen drove us over to the CURE hospital to indulge our desire to make contact with the many we love there. It was brief, but so so sweet to exchange many hugs and even to see a few babies. What a great way to start the day.

The balance of the day (9:30-5) was spent at the hotel where we  spoke for JENGA, an NGO dedicated to serving the community in many different ways. Led by one of the Johnsons’ closest friends, Robby Keen, a Brit who defies his heritage save his accent (he is a wild one), the JENGA team spent from 10-5 hearing about God’s design for marriage, why it matters, and how to live it. It was a lovely group that seemed to really feel their time was well spent.  

Robby Keen welcomes the JENGA crew to the all-day marriage event in a meeting room at the Mt. Elgon Hotel.  
At day’s end . . . 
everyone has enough energy to muster a smile for the group photo.

We were warmly hosted for dinner that evening by Joseph and Nada Eid and their children Manna and Naseem. All our evening meals were provided by those who love Derek and Julie.
For the third day running, we had an early start for yet another all-day marriage seminar, this one hosted by and held at Pearl Haven Christian Center. What a joy to return to this thriving church, pastored by Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu, and to see the progress they’ve made on completing their 10-year-in-process church building. Some of you will remember that H.I.M. raised $20K for Pearl Haven after our trip last year, which we sent to them so they could “raise the roof. Though not yet finished, much progress has been made and the roof should be on within the next two months.  

Around 250 attended the Saturday conference, including “our” driver Mackay and Doreen, whom we invited after he asked what we were doing in Mbale and expressed interest in coming. The day went very well, after we adjusted the speed of our speaking to facilitate the translator. Though most Africans know some level of English and many are fluent English speakers, most would profit much more by hearing it in Lugandan.  One of the highlights of the day for us was having a break-out session with the singles in attendance, which numbered about 70. We presented some material then opened it to written Q & A, and it was lively.  We LOVE addressing issues facing singles, especially today as the cultural rules and expectations continue to change. It’s very security-producing for this age/stage group to be reminded that the clarity of God’s heart for them hasn’t changed and won’t change and they can hold on to the eternal truth of scripture and design. Paul and I were at the Bam Supermarket early Monday morning and a young woman approached us, identifying herself as having been at the singles meeting during the marriage conference. “It helped me so much,” she said. “I’m content to trust God’s design and to wait for His best. It was so clear and so helpful. Thank you!” What a gift from God to hear of how He was working. To Him be the glory!!

After our third long teaching day in a row, we had the “night off” and bravely walked into Central Market in downtown Mbale to buy some avocados and mangos so we could have a quiet light supper in our room and retire early. Central Market is a huge, multi-level, (now) indoor “farmer’s market” consisting of locals bringing their goods to sell from their little booth. It’s a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated. Fortunately we had been there several times with Derek and Julie through the years, but I’ll admit it felt a lot different without them. Unusual (and somewhat offensive) sights, smells, and sounds combine to make it an outside-of-comfort-zone experience, but we navigated it, achieved our purpose, and made it back to the hotel before dark. Whew! And the avocado was well worth it.

The crowd is gathering at Pearl Haven for the all-day Saturday marriage/singles conference.

The singles met for a special session
in the “upper room” in the early afternoon.


Mackay and Doreen came to Pearl Haven for the first time to attend the marriage conference and the three of us were given a tour of the ongoing construction of the church.



“And they’ll look sweet, upon the seat, of a motorcycle built for six!”
Back at Pearl Haven on Sunday for the packed first service and a much smaller second service, Paul preached on “Ten Things Matthew 19 teaches us about Marriage.” He did a great job, says his adoring wife. We always love to be with the congregation at Pearl Haven, especially for their worship through song, which is always robust, heartfelt, and alive.


The congregation at Pearl Haven continues to grow—in knowledge and in size.


The congregation holds their hands towards us as Wilberforce speaks a blessings over our work and travel.

 
Hanging out with Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu, who lead the work at Pearl Haven. They are very kindred to us.
Home from church just after 2 (after leaving the hotel at 7:30 am), we were refreshed by a walk and a short time at the pool before going to the Olupot home to help celebrate Neese’s 7th birthday. Dr Olupot is a highly trained and respected MD/PhD at Mbale Regional Hospital, specializing in infectious diseases, and his wife Harriet works at CURE Hospital. They are deeply loved by Derek and Julie and the favor is returned. We were truly honored to be invited to join the festivities and loved having yet another insight into Ugandan culture. Her birthday was not only celebrated with the typical children’s games, foods, and cake, but it also had a spiritual dimension, lead by the pastor of their church. We took it all in and enjoyed every minute of it.


Neese’s 7th birthday party…
just before the cake cutting, the guests eagerly encircle her.


Monday…we met with a dating couple who wanted to talk through the challenges of a cross-cultural relationship…and then had time for a walk and a swim before the muzungu (white) missionary community came to the Mt. Elgon Hotel to spend the afternoon with us leading a discussion on balancing marriage, family, and ministry…especially in a different culture. We’ve known many of these for a number of years now, so it was really a sweet reunion. Over tea and cakes, we had a very fruitful time together and only wished it had been longer. The hearts are willing, but the challenges are real. This is a wonderful group of ex-Pats.  

Most of the “muzungu” missionary community who gathered for tea and talk Monday afternoon.
That evening we had the pleasure of dining with Mackay and Doreen’s family in their home.  We were treated like royalty as they presented a spread of local Ugandan food, made in their home, in honor of our visit. We loved being with their family,and being entertained by their adorable daughters, Maya, Martha, and Marcella. It was a night we won’t soon forget.

The Mwebingwa family plus one:  Sirene is on the far left and she has joined the family since her parents’ death.

Tuesday! Time is flying and we’re unable to slow it down. Having the morning off helped a bit. We were thankful for a few hours to have extended quiet time, a long walk, and a short time by the pool before welcoming local pastors with whom we’ve met each time we’ve been here since 2012 for ongoing marriage training. Many of these were at our very first event held at CURE Hospital in 2012 and then attended the retreat H.I.M. hosted in 2013. We love the continued connection with these dear folks. They also came to the Mt. Elgon Hotel for the afternoon, beginning with lunch and continuing with an ongoing discussion on marriage in Uganda. It was so good to be together.

About 42 familiar pastors and their wives joined us for the afternoon for ongoing training. It was another sweet reunion.
We managed a second walk that afternoon to visit the Johnsons’ former compound (now inhabited by new CURE Hospital Executive Director Tim Erickson and his wife, Kiera, and their 3 little ones.) It felt so strange to be there on one hand, as with the exception of the Johnsons not being there, not much had changed. Their guard John and his son Farouk (who were like family to the Johnsons and subsequently to us) were there, their dogs Jack and Lemon were there, etc. It was a most happy reunion with John, Farouk, and the dogs. Farouk, who had not expected our arrival, just kept saying, “It’s a miracle! It’s a miracle!” The day wrapped up with a sweet time of fellowship and food with Chad and Katie Allen and their three littles. Chad is the CFO of LIU and they are a warm, hospitable family.

John, Farouk, Jack, Lemon, and Paul . . . a very happy group.

Chad, Katie, Graham, Molly, and Finn welcomed us into their home Tuesday night for dinner.

Finally…Wednesday. CURE Hospital! We had been looking forward to this day long event since arriving, and this was the day. Tim had kindly invited us to speak at chapel from 8-9 and then added a special chapel from 12-1. In between the chapels, we met individually with those who wanted our counsel. The morning and afternoon “slots” were all booked and we had some very precious moments with some very dear folks. The chapels went well and it was just so good to be face to face with many we’ve grown to love so deeply since our first visit to the hospital in 2009. The chorus of “we miss Derek and Julie so much” was constant and not surprising; they both invested greatly in that place and those people for 5-8.5 years.  It was a day full of celebration and grace.

One of the highlights for us for having a private visit with Sister Florence, the recently retired director of nursing for the hospital. It would be hard to find a more impressive woman!  When she was a young nurse, almost twenty years ago, her sister died, leaving her three daughters orphaned. Sister Florence adopted the girls, forsaking her own desire to be married in order to focus on the needs of these precious but traumatized young girls. The youngest is now 20 and all three are following Christ and doing well. Sister Florence has done her job, both at the hospital and with her daughters, exceedingly well. It was a privilege to sit and talk with her about the past as well as her future plans.  

Salt of the earth. Life upon life. Gifts of the journey.

The day ended all too quickly. Our time in the ward wasn’t long enough, but sufficient to remind us of the incredible work being done by the folks at the hospital.  What a privilege to be connected with this ministry and with these people.

Part of the staff we successfully corralled for a photo after the second chapel … How we love these!

Sister Florence!
One of the precious little ones who has undergone the ETV treatment for her fairly advanced case of hydrocephalus.

This sweet mama has her hands full with her non-mobile son and her baby with a good view from her back.

It was very hard to pull ourselves away from the hospital but we had a dinner date at the Mbale Resort Hotel with Wilberforce and Sarah, and Mackay. This spontaneous invitation to dinner was extended by the manager of the hotel, Isaiah, who is a very close friend of Mackay. After Mackay had related to him high praise for the marriage conference at Pearl Haven, Isaiah extended the invitation for us to be his guest for dinner. Isaiah let us know how much Derek and Julie had impacted his life as well during their time in Mbale and he was very interested in partnering with us on future trips. He wondered if we would consider using his hotel for some future marriage event. Only God knows where this will lead. For now, we know we had a fabulous meal at this hotel and another strong connection was made. Praise Him!


Isaiah, Mackay, Wilberforce, Sarah, and us
just before dinner at the Mbale Resort Hotel.

What a lovely way to spend our last night in Mbale. Back to the Mt. Elgon Hotel to pack and be ready for an 8 am Thursday pick up. We managed to do an early morning walk in the drizzle, which abated before we made it back to the hotel, making way for a beautiful rainbow straight from heaven. It actually left us both speechless as we were drenched in the hope of His promise and the reality of His presence.

Our last morning in Mbale: what an incredible start to the day!

Our trip to Entebbe Thursday was full of unexpected delights!  We stopped at the new Endiro Coffee Shop on the road to Jinja and were delightfully surprised that Gloria, the very smart entrepreneur behind the now 4-stores-strong coffee shop “chain”, was there! We had such a nice visit, and of course heard, “We miss Derek and Julie so much!” She admitted that beyond just loving them, they were very faithful customers at her Mbale store and she also is missing their business. :)


Gloria, owner of the Endiro Coffee Shop chain, was so kind and generous to us. Best cappuccino I’ve had in a long time!

Next stop…to repair a flat tire.  The same one that was repaired a week earlier gave up completely.  But in no time, Mackay had replaced it with the “donut” and off we went.

Jinja was up next, and we made a very brief stop to get some coffee, etc., and then were on our way to Mackay’s parents-in-law, who live between Jinja and Kampala. Remarkable people! Now retired, they farm their large piece of land to supply their family and friends, and extend hospitality to all who come by. We thoroughly enjoyed connecting with them.

Mackay’s parents-in-law, Mr. Atim and Margaret: he had a career with UNICEF and other NGO’s and she is a retired school head-mistress. Amazing folks!

We finally arrived at the Boma around 5, we were in the pool by 5:05 to be refreshed in the last waning streams of sunlight, which lasted long enough to get in a walk to Lake Victoria, all the while viewing the setting sun. A relaxing evening, delicious dinner, and to bed, exhausted.

Next stop:  Ethiopia!!

A first for us: leaving the airport at Addis Ababa!

Invited by CURE to conduct a marriage seminar for the leadership team at their Addis Ababa Orthopedic Hospital, we were both excited and apprehensive about this event. It was an intimate gathering of eight couples, most of whom are doctors of some sort, and we wondered what their expectations would be and if they’d feel that giving up their Saturday in such a way would be “worth it.”

We were delightfully surprised and aware of God’s faithfulness as the rapport between us developed. By conference end, we felt we had eight new couples who had become friends. Because of the size of the group, there was plenty of interaction, time for questions, etc. We were so impressed with their sincere expressions of wanting to build in to their marriages and families, and of recognizing their vulnerability to imbalance given the immense need for their medical services. By the time it was over, there was talk of doing it again next year.  :)

The hospital’s medical director later wrote:
“It was a great time. Very practical and doable. They were great presenters. Never a dull moment. Sensitive to everyone's different cultures and personalities. But most of all, I found them to be very genuine. They offered help that was both important and addressable. Not pie in the sky—I could never be like that—kind of advice.  Would recommend it anywhere and if they come next year, we will encourage all the married hospital staff to attend.

One of the highlights of the day, unrelated to the conference (which was held on the SIM compound), was the “yard sale” run by the children of the compound dwellers. These enterprising young ones had it on their heart to raise funds for a pediatric rehabilitation center, so they baked cookies and gathered some candy and gum to sell at their “yard sale.”  Loved seeing their hearts of compassion!

We returned to the hotel near the airport and walked about the city before calling it a day.




 The “Yard Sale” and the young entrepreneurs running it.

The marriage conference attendees.
A stellar group of servant-hearted people.

Sunday, after attending church services at St Matthew’s Anglican Church with several of the CURE families, we toured the CURE Hospital.  What an amazing place and even more so are the incredible people who make it happen.  We were privileged to be toured by Dr. Tim Nunn and Dr. Rick Gardner, the two orthopedic surgeons who work here. Both men are highly skilled, highly trained physicians who are pouring their lives out for “the least of these.” We were so touched by their personal connection with their patients as they stopped to check in with them during the tour, which was happening on their day off. It was evident immediately that they are deeply loved by these young ones whose lives are literally being changed by them. Hope givers. Life changers. Jesus with flesh on.

This hospital is so different than the Mbale hospital in some obvious ways: neurosurgery in Mbale and orthopedic surgery in Addis Ababa; the Mbale hospital deals largely with babies, while the Addis hospital treats older children; the Mbale hospital sits on a sanctuary-esque compound with many single story buildings, and the Addis hospital is terraced on a hillside and is currently building a huge rehabilitation center on their large property. They are also so much like each other. Both are clean, peaceful places of hope and healing, physical and spiritual, staffed by caring, sacrificial, highly professional medical teams, and filled with patients and their parents who are full of smiles as the never-thought-possible becomes possible. We met a 14-year-old girl who had been born with such deformity in her legs and feet that she had never walked.  After 7 months of operations and procedures at the Addis hospital, she took her first steps on Friday, with the aid of crutches. The doctors showed us a photo of her first steps and the joy on her face was unmitigated by the fact that she still has months of therapies and treatments ahead before she’ll go home. I asked Dr. Rick (who is completing his 3rd year at this hospital) if he saw himself here for the long haul and he said, “I can’t imagine practicing anywhere else.”  A heart (and hands) fully surrendered.

What a welcome to the hospital!



Dr. Tim Nunn (left) and Dr. Rick Gardner (holding his son Ben)
flanked the 14-year-old girl who took her first steps on Friday, after 7 months of work at the hospital.

Smiles, smiles everywhere!

We left the hospital so filled with hope and joy for these patients and their families, and with such awe and appreciation for the medical and support staff who bring help and healing in the name of Jesus. We also left with both a degree of sorrow, having been told that 2,000 children are on the waiting list for this CURE hospital now, and deep gladness knowing that thousands of children have already been treated here since its beginning in 2008.  

Our hearts were once again enlarged, and we are committed to pray for this work and for these people, who have given up lives of comfort and entitlement to serve those who would otherwise go unserved.

We walked the streets of Addis after we left the hospital, taking in more sights, sounds, and smells. Our compassion for these people was temporarily suspended when Paul realized he had been pick-pocketed by the little 9-year-old beggar who bumped into him and managed to take off with his wallet, which was deep in his front pocket. It returned—our compassion—though the wallet and its non-monetary contents did not. They are now in a trash heap somewhere in Addis Ababa. Choosing to be thankful that we weren’t harmed and that everything lost is replaceable, we began to pray for the little boy who at such a young age engaged in such an evil.  

To the airport for our flight home that night, we flew Ethiopian Air to Frankfurt, Germany, and Lufthansa to Boston.  We couldn’t have asked for better or easier flights, thankfully, and gratefully were home in Bedford before dinner time.

We’ll be processing the trip long after our bodies are readjusted to Eastern Standard Time.  

God has met us. He has used us. He has allowed our hearts to be broken “by the things that break His heart.”  He has shown us His power. His mercy. His grace. His generosity. 

He has amplified our hope in nothing but Him.

All praise is His as we seek to proclaim that our hope is truly built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

"My Hope is Built on Nothing Less"
by Edward Mote, 1797-1874

1. My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

2. When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

3. His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

4. When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.







If It's Tuesday . . .

The past two weeks have been marked by very quick turn-arounds.  The kind that leave you wondering where you are and what time it is. 

Returning from Trinidad late on Tuesday, the 26th of April, we had just enough time to do a load of laundry and repack before flying to Sacramento, CA, the following day, to participate in Bayside’s annual Thrive Conference. The brainchild of Ray Johnston, lead pastor of the Bayside family of churches, this conference is packed with upbeat worship, a large variety of workshops, great plenary session speakers, and lots of fun and laughter. There’s not much that’s conventional about it, and each year we are re-energized by this hyper-inspiring event.

We taught three workshops on Friday, the 29th: one on balancing marriage and ministry, one on teaching Biblical values regarding sexuality to our youth, and the final one on temperaments. All three were well received, but the temperaments workshop was off the charts. Packed with very responsive folks, there were many moments of epiphany and enlightenment amidst the laughter and verbal “aha’s.” At the end of the workshop, one woman got to me immediately and with tears said, “This workshop might have just saved my marriage. I understand my husband in a whole new way with these insights.” There is no more encouraging response we could have received.  All praise is His.

The "temperaments in marriage" workshop garnered a huge crowd and an even bigger response.


The facilitating team for our workshops; on the far right are Dave and Diane Watts, our faithful book table handlers.


Following dinner that night at Ray and Carol Johnston’s house, we left the Thrive conference with hearts full and overflowing for how God had met us through some great speakers and worship, and for how He had used us.  

We drove from Sacramento to Santa Clarita that night (definitely not a very New England thing to do, but oh so Californian!) so we could be at Brandon’s soccer game the next morning. The flight we had originally booked Saturday morning wouldn’t get us there in time for the game, so we drove! The five-hour drive gave us time to process the conference and to look ahead at our crazy schedule. We were very thankful to safely arrive at the Garcia’s home at 2 am for a little shut-eye.

What fun to spend Saturday with Brandon and Ana (and their parents, of course.) Though it’s been years since we sat on the sidelines cheering for our favorite athletes, it all came right back to us and we joined the crowd of crazy fans seamlessly. We were really happy it worked out for us to be there. Playing games, taking a walk, sneaking a nap, and going to church balanced the day.


After Brandon’s soccer game . . .


Cleaned up and ready to attend Saturday night church.


Lisa joined us for festivities on Sunday, which revolved around having a small family celebration of our 40th. After a lovely brunch at the Egg Plantation, and delicious cold brew coffee at Honu (a coffee shop in Santa Clarita owned by friends of theirs from church), we returned to the Garcia house where we were presented with a beautiful book of tributes written by family and friends in honor of our marriage. We were totally blown away. Humbled. Touched. Deeply moved. It is a gift that will keep on giving. Sweet Kari took that project on and she did a beautiful job on it.

Coffee break!

The book of tributes for our anniversary.  What a treasure!


Back to Boston on a red-eye Sunday night, April 30, in order to offer a day of counseling. Had we not done this, we would’ve had no counseling days from April 19 until June 1, and we couldn’t do that to our clients. So, much of Monday and all of Tuesday were spent counseling, and then we re-packed and headed back to California. The bright side? Obviously connection with our counselees, but also more miles towards the 1K United mileage club.   :-)

We flew into San Diego so we could spend a day with my mom to celebrate Mother’s Day a bit early and we had such a sweet visit. My mom is incredible! At 86, she still runs her life: she drives, she manages everything, and she’s learning the in’s and out’s of her new iPhone 6.  She’s a bar-setter, that’s for sure. She even picked us up at the airport late Wednesday night. We are blessed that she is so healthy and so vital. Though very short, our time together was lovely and we hated to drive out Friday at noon.

But the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard Marriage Conference was ready to “play ball” so drive we did to Tehachapi, making a quick stop on the way in Riverside to see daughter Lisa’s “new” house!  What joy to celebrate such meaningful milestones in the lives of your children. We’re so proud of the way Lisa has managed her life, positioning her to make a move on buying her first home when her need for a place to live intersected with her “randomly” following an “Open House” sign while walking home from Cal Baptist one day about 6 weeks ago. After crunching the numbers and realizing that her mortgage payments would be only about $300 more a month than renting, she made her move and an abundant amount of God’s grace and favor were evident in the deal closing in her favor. She was thrilled to show her dad her new home (his only view of it had been virtual) and was very happy with his enthusiastic approval. So starts a new chapter in Lisa’s life as she continues as a professor at Cal Baptist for the 2016-17 school year.

On to Tehachapi, for the second year in a row, to speak at their baseball themed marriage conference entitled “Marriage Strong.” They spared no creativity in carrying out a theme and we were delighted to arrive at the “ball field” in time to get Dodger Dogs (which we quickly renamed “Fenway Franks”), nachos with queso, and lemonade. They did an awesome job of decorating the tables and the concession stand. Attendees came wearing their favorite team’s shirts, so there was plenty of friendly rivalry as Red Sox fans bantered with Dodger fans, etc.  It was one of the most creatively themed conferences we’ve done and it definitely was a “grand slam.”

 They didn’t miss a trick when it came to decorating for this conference.

 The Fenway Franks were delicious and made us feel right at home.

 Imagine finding all these Red Sox fans in the high desert east of LA??

Barry and Saundra Galloway are the campus pastors for the TMV and through many years now, we’ve become very good friends as well as ministry partners. Their grace-giving, truth-telling style endears them easily and we loved partnering with them again this year for their marriage conference.

  Barry and Saundra Galloway are salt of the earth folks and we loved being with them.

God did a great work through the conference.  One woman confessed to Paul, “I dragged my husband here, hoping he would be convicted of his need to change, and God turned the tables on me. I’m the one who needed the conference. God spoke to me of my need to change!”  We had many encouraging conversations with those who felt God really met them. Praise Him!

We were also honored to teach at both of their services on Sunday and were thankful that went well. And just like that, we were on our way to Santa Clarita for a quick Mother’s Day celebration with Garcias and Lisa, and then to LAX.  

Though the time was short with the kids, it was very sweet. Yummy food, sweet sentiments expressed, and love shared. So very thankful!

 Short but sweet time with the kids prior to jetting back to Boston on those beloved red-eye flights.


Home on a red-eye, picked up and taken home by Barbara Steele, who’s servant-heartedness knows no bounds. Six hours later, she was back to pick us up and take us back to Logan for our flight to Uganda. Convincing servant-heartedness, yes??

So here we are, ready to call it a day in Entebbe, Uganda. It’s still Tuesday here, so we know where we are.

We are beyond thankful for the opportunity to return to this land of beautiful, loving people and continue the ministry of encouraging church leaders, ex-Pat missionaries, and the congregation at Pearl Haven.
Updates will be coming, but for now, thanks for your prayers and resources that have gotten us here. We want to be used by God to make a difference . . . on Tuesday, as well as every other day of the week. 

   San Diego at its best . . . sunset over the harbor.



To Trinidad with Love

It’s hard to believe that a week ago we were flying to Trinidad….and today we are returning to the U.S.  Though it seems like we blinked and the week evaporated, it’s also quite amazing that we got so much packed in to the past six days. I’m sure that comes as a surprise to no one. :)

We arrived in Trinidad late Wednesday night, two days ahead of the marriage conference so we could get an early start to our 40th anniversary celebration. Unbeknownst to me, Paul had clandestinely planned a sweet overnight getaway to Grande Riviere Beach to see the leatherback turtles lay their eggs on the beach at night. One of the few places in the world that this phenomena occurs, nothing could’ve delighted me more. He thoughtfully booked Jen and Javed Bachew to be our escorts on this surprise tour, as he too remembered how traumatized I was two years ago when he drove a rental car on Tobago.  :)  So off we went on the grand adventure, which unfolded in spectacular fashion.  

Arriving in time for a lovely beach walk, the smooth sand betrayed nothing of what would happen at nightfall, save the remnants of turtle egg shells (which had already been found by vultures, dogs, or other turtles digging them up in preparation to lay their eggs) strewn upon the sand. After dinner, we connected with our hired guide and went off to watch one of the most remarkable natural events we’d ever seen.

Like clockwork, the massive leatherback females came lumbering out of the water just after dusk. Dozens of them, emerging from their watery home to commence the hard work of insuring the propagation of the species. Each turtle finds the “right” spot for her and begins a 45-minute process of digging a hole in the sand with her back flippers, one flipper-full at a time, over and over again until she has reached the right depth (which is determined by the length of her flipper). On cue, she begins dropping her eggs in the hole, 50-100 of white, round, rubbery, larger-than-ping-pong-ball-size eggs. When she’s delivered her load, she carefully covers the hole back over with sand and. after “limin’” a bit, makes her way back to the water. It’s clearly very hard work.

We were spellbound. These beautiful reptiles were captivating for sure, but even more amazing was watching them do what they were designed to do. No “doulas” needed for these ladies.  They just did their thing, as God has created them to do, and unless mankind causes their extinction, they’ll continue to do it for centuries to come.

We were super blessed by having a full moon under which to observe this amazing process, especially since no lights (except the infrared light held by the guide) were allowed. According to Jen and Javed, it was one of their best viewings ever. Plenty of turtles made their way right in front of our guest house, so we had easy access, and with the moon, we had plenty of light. God’s gifts are extravagant!! We loved every minute of the adventure.

At 4 am, a huge, unexpected, much-needed rainstorm arrived, wakening us from a dead sleep with thoughts that we were being bombed. Those tin roofs really amplify the noise!! We finally resigned ourselves to not getting back to sleep and walked the beach in the pouring rain. We were rewarded by getting to watch one mama leatherback who was still “limin’” on the beach make her way back into the sea. What a most remarkable experience!

Walking on Grande Riviere Beach


Our first turtle sighting, fortunately just before nightfall so we could capture her with the camera.

Here she is in the glow of the infrared light, with a huge gelatinous salt tear running from her eyes.  The guide explained that this is how they purge excess salt from their system.

After digging for about 45 minutes, she lays her eggs in this 24” deep hole.
Breakfast with Jen and Javed at the guest house prior to making the 2-hour drive back to St. Helena’s.

Wow!! What a great experience. Back to the Trinidad-Tobago Urban Ministries (TTUM) compound early afternoon, we caught a nap before the conference began with dinner at 6 pm. TTUM hosted and underwrote the conference for the almost 50 couples who attended from all over western Trinidad. In the face of crumbling marriages, their vision is to strengthen and encourage marriages in their local churches. This was the second bi-annual such conference and all are committed to keeping the tradition going.

From beginning to end, there was a spirit of openness and receptivity among the attendees. One of the things we love about international work is that the conferees come hungry. They haven’t been over-satiated, over-resourced, and over-fed as many in America are. They eagerly listen, taking it all in, and don’t expect the talks to end before at least an hour and a half has passed. We welcomed their questions and continued conversations during breaks. In between sessions, we were booked for counseling. Our days were full in the best sort of way.

Saturday culminated with a beautiful banquet served at small tables with flowers, while music softly played in the background.  Led by Cindy, the admin for TTUM, the team that put the conference on outdid themselves. Everything was thought of and carried out so well. Every couple who attended felt the “love” of being served and cared for.

At the banquet, we were surprised to be honored for our 40th anniversary. Ashoke gave us a kind tribute and all enjoyed the beautiful cupcake-cake made in honor of the occasion. It was a lovely evening.

The conference ended on Sunday after lunch, and according to Ashoke, the “vibe” was that people felt the weekend was very practical and life-changing. The consensus was to have it every year rather than every other.  :)

All praise is His! We felt very met by Him throughout the weekend.  

Ashoke and Stephanie Bachew, founders of TTUM, are some of our dearest friends and ministry partners. 


The beautiful cupcake-cake for our anniversary celebration.

We were humbled to be so lavishly feted by these dear brothers and sisters in Christ.


A not-great shot of most of those who came to the conference.
  

After the conference ended, we drove to the little village of Campoo where, with our family missions team in 2001 and 2002, we founded a church. In a primarily Hindu and Muslim village, there was no evangelical church until this one and it was so encouraging to see that the church is still going. Though small, the band of faithful members continue to hold services and outreach to the community.  

Standing with the charter members of the church in Campoo, it was great to see them pressing on with the gospel.


Paul preached Sunday night at church on the compound and then completely surprised me with a renewal of our vows at the end of the service. He had converted the audio tape recorded at our wedding to a CD and we stood face to face, hearing our very young, forty-years-ago voices reciting our original vows. I was blown away. It was a very sweet and memorable moment. He thought of everything!!

Monday, our last day in Trinidad, we drove with Stephanie and Ashoke and Diane to Maracas Bay to walk the beach and eat Bake N Shark. A tradition with the missions teams, we have nothing but great memories of each trip to Maracas Bay . . . and we now have more.  On a picture perfect day, we walked the beach, found sea glass, and then, out of the blue, Paul fell to one knee, claiming injury, but recovering quickly, still on bended knee, he asked me to marry him again. Instead of re-proposing with a metal washer (as he had done back on Dec. 15, 1975—but it was only temporary, for those of you concerned, and quickly replaced with a beautiful solitaire diamond), he presented me with a gorgeous antique diamond ring.  Happy 40th!!  I was again blown away.

Walking on the beach at Maracas Bay.

After a yummy-beyond-description lunch of Bake N Shark (a Trinidadian version of fry bread, topped with freshly caught and fried shark, and then loaded with a large variety of condiments), Stephanie served “Tea on the Beach” for the ladies before packing up and driving back to the compound. A lovelier day couldn’t be imagined!

The smile on Paul’s face tells it all.

Stephanie’s “Tea on the Beach” was a perfect ending to an unforgettable day.

The grand finale of our time in Trinidad was having dinner out with both Bachew couples. Our laughter and talking was unabated for two hours as we confirmed how “in sync” we all are. It was a fitting ending to a great week.

Stephanie and Ashoke and Jen and Javed are “salt of the earth” folks and we are so grateful to have them in our lives.


The restaurant added to the celebration with this special dessert.


We rose earlier than the sun this morning in order to get to the airport on time, but she made her appearance in the eastern sky as we awaited our flight. Though we’ve loved all of our trips to Trinidad, this one is definitely in a league of its own. We hadn’t intended to be speaking on our 40th anniversary weekend originally, but several dates had to be changed in order to accommodate a postponed wedding (due to military deployment) and this is how it ended up going down. At first it seemed like it would be sacrificial to be serving on our 40th, but the blessing was actually ours. We’ll never forget the milestone anniversary we celebrated with the Trinidadian body of Christ.  

Trinidad. The destination of many family missions trips. The place to which both Julie and Kari led college missions trip. The place where Paul found his “brother from another mother” in Ashoke Bachew. The place we had the privilege of planting a church. The place we overcame American inhibitions and boldly went door to door inviting children to Backyard Bible Club. The place we learned about “limin’” and slowing down. The place we fell in love with steel pan drums, worship that moves, doubles and roti and everything curry, and Bake N Shark.

And now the place we proclaimed the goodness of marriage to 50 couples, who celebrated our 40 years of marriage generously.

Trinidad has become a place of memorial for us and our hearts will always be deep for this beautiful Caribbean jewel.  

Our final sunrise in Trinidad on this trip.