And so it began, in February 2009, when Julie followed the call of God to Mbale, Uganda, to volunteer as a physical therapy aide at the CURE International hospital. The last thing Julie expected was to find a husband during this five month, pre-physical therapy school missions experience, but this past Sunday, August 21, Derek and Julie wed in a garden wedding in Santa Clarita, California.
There is only one plausible explanation for the unfolding of this beautiful story, and that is the hand of God. Nothing short of that could've caused the paths of these two to have intersected in this rural village in central Africa.
As we prepared for the wedding (in between running 8 weeks of family camps), I reflected on the 2.5 year journey that brought them to the place of entering a sacred marriage.
This is the first photo Julie sent us of Derek and we were touched by his tenderness with this precious child.
Then the emails came. I've included some excerpts to give insight into how things progressed.
Feb. 4, 2009: I got here and met Derek... He took about 2 hours touring me around, introducing me to people and just talking. He is a great guy and it should be a fun time working along side of him.
Feb 6, 2009: dinner with Derek was great. He took me to an indian resturaunt, we were the only two and we got to sit outside cuz the power has been out for 5 days... ouch:) We saw a beautiful lightning storm and had great food. He is a very nice man. I think he is older (late 30's) but very nice. No romantic attraction at all which is great. I think he will take care of me... he has a lot going on and is a guy so i have done alot of asking for things, but he is very gracious when he does.
March 8, 2009: I just got back from dinner with Derek and Brent and it was a blast. Derek is so funny and great to be around. I look forward to you meeting him.
April 10, 2009: Last night Derek, Silvio (plastic surgeon from NYC) and I went to dinner at this restaurant called Dwat which is a place you can eat on the roof. The moon was full and rose over Winale as we sat there... I thought, and talked, about all of our fun full moon traditions. It made me miss you guys so much and camp! It was a spell binding and breathtaking sight and time. I am pretty sure Derek is not the one for me, which is a bummer because we are having some great times together! After dinner, we came back here and Derek just stayed chatting for 2 more hours. It is so relaxed and easy and there is so much to talk about. I am so blessed to have him here. This time would be dramatically different without him.
(On Julie's 24 birthday, April 19, Derek asked Julie is he could date her. She said a conditional yes!)
April 20, 2009: Thank you for your prayers for Derek and me. I need them for sure. You know how my mind works, runs and overthinks sometimes. I am honestly humbled by this guy. I feel like he gets me well and has fallen in love with who Jesus has made me to be, the heart He has given me, the personality He has given me, etc. I still have my eyes wide open to red flags, am trying to listen and hear them as much as I can and yet trying not to let my fears of our age difference, etc. block me from receiving what God is offering for this time for me. I am taking it one day at a time, one interaction at a time, praying for wisdom and insight only Christ can truly offer.
April 21, 2009: Thanks for your prayers. Derek continues to treat me far better than I deserve. I feel blessed by God through him and his words of encouragement. I do not feel blinded, just blessed and at peace for this season. I love you! Miss you!
May 2, 2009: I feel like with ALL integrity, I can tell you that I really do like Derek, but I am not sold nor am I thinking “he is the one.”
The rest of the day was wonderful, he is just easy to be with, I did not get sick of him once and we just had fun laughing, talking and walking. I feel so safe with him in all senses of the word. I just feel like it is a gift, no matter how long or short lived it is. In many ways, I feel that God is showing me His love for me and the caliber of guy that is out there and that He desires for me.
May 28, 2009 (Derek) I truly enjoyed our time together in Uganda. Although I wish it would have not be as brief, no amount of time would have been adequate. I have the utmost respect and admiration for you and Paul... for many reasons, but mostly for bringing up wonderful daughters (I've now experienced two Friesen girls... the third is surely in the same vein). I'm also really thankful for your insight, support and prayers for myself and my relationship with Julie. More than anything, both of us simply want to be in His will and living-working for His purposes alone. In emotionally charged situations, like new relationships, wisdom from Godly, trusted people makes all the difference. So thank you for giving so much of your bandwidth to my part in this, as well as Julie's. Julie and I have the vision that this relationship is His doing, but keeping it open enough for Him to come in and work it out. Thank you for sharing in that vision. I'm hopeful we'll visit face-to-face again on your side (Boston) soon.
May 28, 2009: (Julie) He is amazing and such an incredible gift to me. I continue to like him more every day and am just humbled by the way the Lord loves me through Derek. It is so true that when I leave interacting with him I feel so much more in love with Jesus than I was even before that interaction. I know it is still so early and there are a lot of things that loom ahead on the horizon, but mom, I never thought I would really feel this way or even be treated this well. I know it is what God calls for relationships, but I am almost brought to tears so many times as I just feel cherished. Just as I am. That by no means states that he does not challenge me or spurs me on, but he does not care about who I am going to be. He cares for me, the girl God has created.
It is humbling, it is amazing. I love being with him… So pray, Mom. I want more than ever to hear words of wisdom, warning, and advice and I don’t want to walk into this blind.
The rest, as they say, is history. Julie returned to the states late July 2009 and started physical therapy school that September. She and Derek carried on a long-distance relationship for the next two years, and now, by God’s grace, they'll have a side-by-side relationship for the rest of their days.
After years of praying for God to bring into her life a “man of standing,” we were filled with awe during their ceremony at the faithfulness of God in orchestrating the circumstances of their lives to bring them to this point. And the wedding celebrated all that is good. Two, surrendered to Christ, passionate for His purposes, and passionate for one another. Surrounded by two families, committed to Christ, to marriage (Derek’s parents are celebrating their 40th anniversary on the central coast as I write, and we just passed our 35th in April), to family, to serving, to missions. Supported by a “cloud of witnesses,” including people from around the world who traveled to Santa Clarita to join the celebration, and whose influence on Julie and Derek's life is treasured by them. Set in a gorgeous garden amphitheater, made to look like a tended secret garden by the incredible floral design talents of our dear friend Wendy Turney and her sidekick Sharon, with perfect weather and a cloudless blue sky.
Their wedding was both sacred and joyous. Dr. David Hegg, long time friend and mentor to Julie and Derek (and senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church where the wedding was held), set the stage for a God-honoring ceremony with his opening comments and prayer. He handed the ceremony off to Paul after Paul handed Derek off to Julie, and there weren’t many dry eyes as Paul delivered a very inspired and personal charge to them. Danny and Rayna Oertli wrote and sang the song “Welcome Home” for them, and Uncle David and Aunt Laura read scripture. The two sets of parents served them communion. Pastor John Tebay, who co-officiated our wedding (and whose wife Grace played the piano for the service) ended the ceremony with a prayer of blessing on the couple. It was exactly what they wanted.
Paul gives them a final charge before pronouncing them husband and wife.
The reception was on site and all enjoyed some yummy food, a bit of dancing, and a few toasts with Martinellis. All too fast, 9 pm arrived, and Derek and Julie were on their way.
We are filled with gratitude and are overwhelmed by God’s goodness in all of this. We’ll continue ruminating on it in the weeks ahead, savoring God’s grace and generosity to us. And to them.
Toasting Martinellis as the sun sets on their first day as husband and wife.
The newly expanded Friesen family.
I couldn’t really leave this photo out.