Re-reading my last blog post (March 22, 2015), it does seem like a lifetime ago. The snow is now gone and signs of (a very late) spring are beginning to surface. We’ve traveled 22,628 miles and spent almost 50 hours in the air since then. We’ve been home 5 days since mid-March, and most of those have been filled with counseling or speaking locally.
No wonder our arrival in Uganda feels like a lifetime ago!
Before we hit the air again (in just over 30 hours), I’ll try to catch up with myself by reflecting on this “lifetime” in a few short paragraphs.
Perhaps what makes it seem so “epic” is that 3 of the past 4.5 weeks were spent in Africa. It’s not only geographically far away, its culture and lifestyle are even more “far away” from our middle class American life. The sights, sounds, and smells are constant reminders that we’re a long way from home… that is, until we reunited with our daughter and her family awaiting our arrival at Entebbe, and then, amazingly, we instantly felt “at home.” It’s amazing how relationships always transcend place.
And so began the fulfillment of our long-held dream to have our whole family experience Julie, Derek, and Nathan’s world together. Our arrival on March 17th was followed by Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana’s on the 18th, and finally by Lisa’s on the 19th. No small miraculous feat in itself…accomplishment by Paul who spent countless hours booking and re-booking flights for this trip. Thankful for safe air travel for all, we continued traveling as we piled in vehicles and drove 5 hours to Mbale, the town in eastern Uganda that houses the CURE Pediatric Hospital where Derek serves as the executive director.
|Our first day in Mbale, visiting the CURE Children’s Hospital.|
We had 10 days all together in Uganda and we made the most of them given the “constraints” we had given that 3 of the 10 family members were age 4 and under. Bless those little ones! We may have gotten no rest were it not for the napping and early-to-bed needs of such company.
Our days in Mbale were divided between visiting the babies and mamas at the hospital (the highlight for everyone), playing in the Johnsons’ yard, taking walks in the neighborhood, eating fabulous meals a la Derek and Julie, and grabbing an occasion cup of cappuccino at the Endiro Coffee Shop. We did venture on a “field trip” to Sipi Falls one day and enjoyed a short hike to a beautiful waterfall, but other than that, our world existed within about a 3-mile range between the hospital and their home. Paul and I did one whole day of teaching on marriage for JENGA during the time we were all together, but otherwise we majored on the delight of being together as a family and we immersed ourselves in the Johnsons’ world.
|Auntie Lisa and Brandon visit a sweet mama and her baby.|
|Gabe, Kari, and Ana went from bed to bed, talking and praying with the mamas.|
|Our day trip to Sipi Falls was wonderful and all made the hike|
except Derek, who was nursing a knee injury.
|Daily walks in the neighborhood gave us exercise and insights into the life and culture of Mbale.|
|The JENGA crew who spent the day with us being trained in Biblical marriage.|
We loved every minute of it. It was re-inspiring to view their life anew through the first-time eyes of the Garcia family. Brandon was beside himself with excitement to see Chiko II (the monkey that has been hanging out in the Johnsons’ yard for the last several months) swinging in the trees in their yard as well as the herds of Ankole cows ambling down the dirt road in front of the Johnsons’ house every morning and night. Ana loved the Johnsons’ dogs, their son Nathan (who is just 2 months older than she is, and they did have some competitive moments of non-sibling rivalry), and all the babies at the hospital. Gabe and Kari were impressed by the mission and work of the hospital as well as by the realities of living in a developing country for the Johnsons. It’s hard to grasp what that means until you experience it firsthand. Our awareness of the sacrifices and challenges of their life were heightened.
We also had an early 30th birthday celebration for Julie. We were all so happy to get to honor her in person for this milestone.
|Chiko II pays us a visit during our outdoor breakfast.|
|The “cows come home” after a day of grazing.|
|We celebrated Julie’s 30th a bit early at the Endiro Coffee Shop.|
After a week in Mbale, we headed northwest to Murchison Falls Game Park to go on a safari. In spite of lots of rain, we had a fabulous time viewing the incredible creativity of God as seen in giraffes, elephants, Cape Buffalo, a female lion and her cubs, deer, antelope, wart hogs, hippos, crocodiles, eagles, and more. We drove for about 5 hours through the savannah and then took a 3-hour “cruise” on the Nile up to Murchison Falls. It was an unforgettable day and one we hated to see end.
|After a very long and bumpy 8-hour drive, a very happy crew arrives at Bwana Tembo,|
our lodging for our safari.
|Brandon was enthralled with every sighting, and was especially captivated by this giraffe that followed us for awhile.|
|On the Nile River cruise, we enjoyed watching these elephants frolic in the water.|
|We think it’s a friendly smile...|
|With Murchison Falls in the background, we get a family shot on the Nile.|
|What all good mates do: carefully groom their spouse.|
|Continuing our family tradition, we circled up to pray before parting ways.|
We parted ways the next morning, with the Garcias and Lisa driving to Entebbe to fly home and Johnsons and us heading back to Mbale. Paul and I had many great ministry opportunities the next week: we did an all-day pastors’ conference focusing on marriage training, we spoke for a couples’ date night for Pearl Haven Christian Center, we spoke at the Easter Convention and for a pastor’s prayer breakfast, we did a bit of counseling, we hung out at the hospital, and we spent time with several missionary families. We had the joy of celebrating Easter at Pearl Haven and were so lifted by the worship of our uninhibited African brothers and sisters. Glorious!
|We spent a day training these local pastors in marriage ministry.|
|Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu, who lead the fellowship at Pearl Haven Christian Center, attended the couples’ date night dinner.|
|We spoke at the Pastor’s Prayer Breakfast during the Easter Convention.|
|We also spoke to the whole Easter Convention after the prayer breakfast.|
|Nathan and his good friend Faruke, whose father John is the groundskeeper for the Johnsons. Faruke is a wonderful, motivated young man who will be sorely missed|
when the Johnsons return to the States this summer.
April 7 we left Uganda to begin a very long trip home, which thankfully went without hitch, landing us in Boston late afternoon on the 8th. No time for jet lag recovery as we counseled all day the 9th and ran our annual “Worth It” purity family conference all day the 11th.
Yes, that was a very fast transition….and the Lord met us with amazing strength and energy. We were thrilled to have a packed house for Worth It, which featured New England Patriots Nate Solder and Matthew Slater (with his wife Shahrzad), retired Patriot Don Davis, Camp Berea Director Nate Parks, UCLA head athletic trainer for women’s basketball Lisa Friesen, Grace Chapel Wilmington youth minister Adam Rowe, and LCA Creative Arts Director Christopher Greco and his wife Dorothy. All spoke with power, clarity, and conviction regarding the goodness of God’s design for our sexuality and relationships.
|The “Worth It” speaking team — such a great group!!! So thankful for them.|
|Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield hosted our annual “Worth It” conference|
and the house was packed.
No rest yet: on Sunday Paul preached both services at Hope Community Church in Newburyport and that evening we returned to the church to speak for a Couples’ Dessert Night. This was an event which had been snowed out in February and we were so glad we had a day to reschedule it. We thoroughly enjoyed partnering with this alive church.
We rested on Monday, April 13th, as we flew to California. :) Tuesday and Wednesday we partnered with Grace Baptist Church of Santa Clarita, speaking at a mom’s event Tuesday morning and doing training for their Care Ministry teams on Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday night. It was great working with Dan Broyles, their Director of Care Ministries.
Thursday was all about the Garcia grandkids: visiting the fish and turtle pond at the mall, eating at Chick-Fil-A, playing baseball in the back yard, building Legos creations, baking Gigi cakes, having “wrestle time”, and taking walks. What’s not to love about grandparenting?!!
|A favorite destination . . .|
|. . . and this is why! Quite mesmerizing to watch these turtles and koi.|
On to Tehachapi, California, on Friday to do a marriage conference for the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard. This church plant of the Desert Vineyard in Lancaster is thriving in this small mountain town under the shepherding of Barry and Saundra Galloway. We were enveloped by their love and grace from the moment we arrived Friday evening until we left Sunday afternoon. The well-attended marriage conference Friday night and Saturday was vibrant and alive. We were very encouraged by the receptivity and teachability of the attendees. We spent Saturday evening talking with their ministry staff about balancing ministry and family, and then taught at both of their Sunday morning services on “Living to the Praise of His Glory.” It was a very well-spent weekend.
|Barry and Saundra Galloway shepherd the flock at Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard|
and are impossible not to love.
A Campus by the Sea family camp planning meeting took place in the afternoon, followed by the UCLA women’s basketball banquet, and then a red-eye home. Whaaaat??? Gluttons for punishment, perhaps, but it feels like we somehow gained a day, especially when flying west to east. Our bodies aren’t fooled by such trickery, however, so we weren’t very productive after getting home early afternoon Monday.
|Lisa, Head Coach Cori Close, and I get a photo prior to the Women’s Basketball Banquet.|
Though it’s only been a month, it still somehow seems like a lifetime ago since I last wrote. We are beyond thankful for all that’s gone down in this last month and are cherishing memories that will last a lifetime.