March in New England

Amani and Aimee and Espy and Claude flank us as the hosts of "Jesus First Ministries" 1st marriage confernce.

The month of March has flown by. Do I sound like a broken record? I’m in shock that we’re about to run out of days on this page of the calendar, especially since the “in like a lion, out like a lamb” adage regarding March is fairly inaccurate this year. Temperatures in the 30’s and raw rain aren’t really very “lamb-like,” but then again, those spring flowers and future green lawns will showcase the benefits of liquid sunshine in the coming month(s).

The distance between Boston and Africa shrank when we arrived to speak to an all-day marriage seminar March 7 in Portland, Maine, hosted by Jesus First Ministries. Aimee and Amani, transplanted to Portland five years ago from their native Rwanda, had heard us speak in Sebasco Harbor, Maine, last September, and soon afterwards wrote this:
Hi dear parent Virginia and Paul,
This is Amani and Aimee, from the marriage retreat that took place in SEBASCO, Maine.
First of all we need to thank you for your obedience to God, because the message we heard that week end totally transformed our life.
God has changed our lives. God bless you for that.

Second reason why we are writing you is about the conference I told you God had put in my heart since I saw you. It has been a burden for me and I am really getting convinced that God wants me to do this. Amani and I spoke and we thought it would be very good if we host a conference and have you come share what God will put in your heart.
So please let us know if this is something we can do together so I can start my preparation.
Amani and Aimee
Our Julie had just begun making her plans to spend six months in Uganda, so we immediately saw the connection with this precious group of Rwandans as a gift from the Lord and as being divinely orchestrated. It’s hard to describe how it felt to spend the day with these Tutsis, worshiping in their native tribal tongue, using African instruments, and some wearing traditional clothing. We felt like God had closed the distance between us and Julie at least for that day. That was a gift.

Even more, we sensed His Spirit guiding us through the day and connecting us with a people for whom English was a fourth or fifth language. They chose not to use interpreters due to our style of team teaching—so we talked more slowly, and they listened more quickly, both of us aided by the spirit of God. It was a wonderfully energizing day, which we hope is just the beginning of an ongoing partnership with Jesus First Ministries.

Gordon and Liann Wong, with children Monica and Evan, at Monica's 16th blessing birthday celebration.

That conference was preceeded by a Friday night gathering at Grace Baptist Church in Hudson, and followed by a sixteenth-birthday blessing party on Sunday. Friday night’s event launched a marriage class at Grace Hudson that is using our DVD series. Ed and Kimary Pomphrett head up that important ministry and hosted a lovely dessert evening for a full house. Partner churches like these are a great encouragement to us. The Sunday night blessing party for Monica Wong was also a huge encouragement. Gordon and Liann gathered significant mentors of Monica’s to celebrate this milestone birthday in a meaningful way and we were privileged to be a part of the festivities. Liann’s inspiration for doing such a blessing party came from my book Raising a Trailblazer: Rite-of-Passage Trail Markers for Your Set-Apart Teens. (This might be a shameless plug for the book; accordingly, I’ll add that it’s available through Focus on the Family, Christian Book Distributors (CBD), Christian Book and Supply in Burlington, as well as our own website, here.) :)

Kelly Plosker was responsible for a great evening at North Shore Baptist Church.

On Friday, March 13, we were at North Shore Baptist Church, speaking for a marriage “coffee house” night out. Hosted by Ryan and Kelly Plosker, this event drew a packed house, confirming that couples are hungry to be encouraged in their marriages. Plan the night and they will come. Kelly creatively and simply transformed the youth room into a romantic, candle-lit space and served desserts and Lindt chocolates. How could it not be a success? The couples were very responsive to our talk, which indicated that God was indeed present and at work.

The H.I.M. book table at the Family Builder's Relationship conference.

We drove up to Greenland, New Hampshire, on Saturday to present a workshop at Willie Batson’s “Family Builders” Relationship Day, anchored by Dr. Gary Chapman. We considered it a great privilege to partner with Willie and Cindy, and were thankful to have about a quarter of the over 600 attendees come to our session on “Oneness in Marriage.” The conference was really well run and people seemed very pleased to be a part of it.

Lisa with Grandpa and Grandma Collins.

I spent the next several days with my parents in Alexandria, Virginia. As my father continues to decline with Alzheimer’s disease, I value moments with them even more. Lisa joined us for Sunday, which added even more value to the trip. I delighted in doing some projects around my parents’ house, playing the piano and singing through the hymnal with my folks, and just hangin’. Good times.

Back up to Bedford for our weekly day of counseling, and then off again—this time to Villanova with Barbara Steele for a belated celebration of her birthday. We “made good” on an IOU to take her to the Sight and Sound Theater in Strasburg, PA, to see their spectacular production “Behold the Lamb.” The weekend was full of happy moments, starting with spending Friday night in Newark with her daughter Julie and attending a fabulous Kodo Drum concert. An early Saturday (1 a.m.) arrival at the Nugent’s Bed and Breakfast didn’t ruffle innkeeper, Marilyn, who welcomed us warmly (and maybe a bit tiredly). Saturday got off to a great start with a long walk through some lovely Villanova neighborhoods, and then off on a day-long adventure of touring the matchless Longwood Gardens, the Amish country in Lancaster, and then seeing the show. We made it back to the Nugent’s prior to midnight (barely), happy and ready for bed.

Barbara Steele's birthday extravaganza included a wonderful morning at Church of the Savior and a mini-reunion with Ellie Greenhalgh (Kelly Plosker's mom!) (also in the photo is Marilyn Nugent)

Sunday I taught the marriage Sunday School class at Church of the Savior that the Nugents host (which now makes this a business trip :) ) and then we headed back to Boston. It was a truly great weekend, honoring a truly great friend. The frosting on the cake was sharing it with the Nugents.

Paul stayed back home as he was booked to preach at the First Armenian Church of Belmont on Sunday. Our love for this congregation began last September when we spoke for their first-ever marriage conference, so Paul was delighted to keep the connection going by saying “yes” to Badveli Greg Haroutunian’s invitation to preach. He had a wonderful time and was warmly received. It was topped off with an Armenian feast at the Haroutunian’s home and that left a great “taste” in Paul’s mouth. :)

There was great participation as the "Worth It" conference gets underway.

This past week has been dominated by the “Worth It” conference, which was held Saturday, March 28th, at Lexington Christian Academy. We were thrilled with the day! Our resource team included NFL families David and Kassidy Thomas, Kirsten (and Benjamin) Watson, and Grant and Emily Williams, along with youth pastor Brian and Heather Dietz, Pastor Jess and Elizabeth Bousa, and young missionary Gennie Falcon. All spoke passionately about God’s design for sexuality. For the past eleven years, we’ve hosted “True Love Waits—Family Edition,” and “Worth It” replaces that conference. The tagline: “Sex is worth it—God is worth it—You are worth it” conveys our “take-away” vision for this very relevant conference.

Kirsten Watson kicked-off the day with a motivating message entitled "You are worth it."

Well over 200 parents and teens gathered from 9:00 to 4:00 on Saturday and thoughtfully considered the challenges of adopting a Biblical view of sexuality. They were registered well by Barbara Steele’s team of Richard and Kit Hendricks and Carl and Kathy Blatchley; they were fed well by Jim and Sue Martis’s team including Audie and Debbie Boudreau (and the Hendricks and Blatchleys); they were taught well by the whole team; they were served well by Kimary Pomphrett who took care of the book table; and they seemed to be met well by the Spirit of God.

The "Worth It" presenters introduce themselves: Gennie Falcon, Elizabeth and Jess Bousa, Heather and Brian Dietz, Grant Williams, Kirsten Watson, and Kassidy and David Thomas.

Here’s what some of the attendees said of the day:
“I didn’t want to talk about sex in a small group with my mom. I was so happy that speakers told their stories in a non-threatening environment that was encouraging.” —Jr. High Female

“Hearing ‘You are Worth It’ was really helpful to me.” —Jr. High Female

“It was all so fantastic” —Jr. High Female

“I could hear and feel God speaking through everyone all day. Thank you so much for this ministry. You are changing the world.” —Parent

“I was glad to hear Christian athletes who could articulate their faith and commitment to sexual purity.” —Parent

“I loved how we saw real examples of people that are committed to purity, are living it, and seeing the blessings of those choices.” —Sr. High Female

“Just a humble and sincere ‘thank you’ to everyone who had a hand in the “Worth It” seminar last Saturday. Your servanthood will bear fruit and will change the lives of our youth. I know it made a very strong impression on some of our kids and gave them courage and conviction.
“The seven hours on the bus was absolutely worth it. You are the ‘voice of one crying in the wilderness.’ You just keep crying and we’ll keep shepherding—kids are hearing the call.” —Youth Pastor from Maine

Though the day officially ended at 4 p.m., our prayers are that the effects of the day will last for years to come. These kids have a tough road ahead in this sexually-saturated, anything-goes, and everyone’s-doing-it culture. Our emphasis was on how good it is to trust and obey God’s voice rather than the lies of the enemy, whose only purpose is to kill, steal, and destroy us. God’s message to each of us personally is that “I am worth it because He loves me and wants to give me the best.” May that ring true and compel each one to swim upstream.

Dr. Gordon Hugenberger welcomes Grant and Emily, Madeline, Sarah Elizabeth, and Meegan to Park Street Church.

We “shared” Grant and Emily Williams with Park Street Church on Sunday; they were given the honor of preaching at all four of their worship services. It was not lost on anyone that this 6’8” offensive tackle (retired), even after a 10-year career with the NFL, was articulate and passionate about his faith. Grant managed to shatter many stereotypes in the minds of the listeners as he spoke truth powerfully. The delight for us was having the Williams family, including daughters Meegan, Madeline, and Sarah Elizabeth, hang with us for several days. They’re making us “grandparents in training.” Great times.

This weekend we’ll have our second H.I.M. marriage conference of 2009 at the Eagle Mountain House in Jackson, New Hampshire. We are so looking forward to having Danny and Rayna with us again leading worship (and doing a concert at Countryside Bible Church in Lexington on Sunday evening) and a great team of workshop presenters. We still have some spaces available if you happen to fall into the “last-minute-decision-making” category.

On the “not-at-home” front, all three daughters are doing well. Kari and Gabe are wrapping up the four-part series “God Loves Sex” this week at BOSS and feel it’s gone very well. They are also beginning preparation for their “Remix” missions trip to New Orleans, which will happen in June. Lisa is swamped as the athletic trainer for the women’s softball team at James Madison University, along with her graduate courses, and will probably not come up for air until May. And Julie continues to do well in Mbale, Uganda. We’re thrilled that God is making a way for us to go to Uganda in May! We’ve been invited to speak in Kampala at several marriage events, so as it’s shaping up, we’ll leave May 5 and return May 22. The first week we’ll serve in Kampala, and the second week we’ll experience life in Mbale and do a safari. We are more than excited.

10 lb 5 oz Nicholas Adolphus with his parents, Idy and Evelina. He joins brothers Patrick and Michael.

It’s been a good month. In between the recorded events, we’ve done a ton of counseling, we’ve shared meals with friends, and we’ve had friends as house guests for more than half the month. We’ve celebrated the births of several babies (on one day, we welcomed the 10 lb 5 oz son of one dear family in person, while receiving news from our niece in Texas that their 5 lb 2 oz daughter had been born!), and we’ve mourned the death of a longtime family friend’s 27-year-old son. We’ve prayed with people who are physically dying, and with others who are fighting to keep their dying marriages alive. We’ve spent time with people who are really desperate economically, and finding the stress is splashing out of those around them. In each situation, we are increasingly aware that the only hope we can really offer is found in the gospel. It is this hope that is in us that compels us to continue serving and loving people in a flawed but sincere Christ-like manner.