Today, April 20, we fly to Port Au Spain, Trinidad, to speak at a marriage conference for Trinidad and Tobago Urban Ministries. Our partnership with TTUM spans 17 years, starting when we took a group of families to serve on our second family missions trip for Grace Chapel. We “clicked” with Ashoke and Stefanie Bachew and their vision for these little islands and have been fast friends and ministry partners ever since. What a welcomed opportunity to return this week for their second bi-annual marriage conference—and how different it is to be going “alone” and not traveling with a team of 25-30, and not hauling hundreds of pounds of supplies for Backyard Bible Clubs! Paul’s sentiments: “This is a whole lot easier!!"
Backing up to Easter, we had a most delightful time hosting friends in our home for Easter week. We had a blast together and learned some new games, including “Tenzi” and "Jousting with Peeps” (use your imagination). We laughed a ton, had deep ponderous discussions, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment shared. Easter Sunday morning, we all attended church together and were most surprised when one of those being baptized related in her story that she had been a young African girl born with “knocked knees” and seemingly relegated to a life lacking mobility until she was sponsored to be surgically repaired at the CURE Hospital! I could barely contain my excitement as these worlds . . . church in Arlington and CURE in Africa . . . intersected in such a life-giving way. A bonus moment on Easter Sunday! The celebration continued in our home as eleven of us gathered around our table, connected by our love for the Risen Lord as well as our love for one another. It was a great day.
|Our houseguests from California brought a lot of life and energy to our home during Easter week, starting with Easter Sunday breakfast.|
|Joyce was born and raised in Africa, and her “knocked knees” were surgically repaired at a CURE Hospital in Africa. Years later, Easter 2016, she was baptized in Arlington, MA.|
|Our delightful gathering on Easter Sunday, with much talking, laughter, and fellowship.|
Between March 4 and April 9, we’ve hosted the H.I.M. marriage conference, Engagement Matters, and Worth It. I guess you could say we’ve been on a relationship roll.
The weekend following Easter, April 2-3, our Engagement Matters conference was held in Andover, MA, at the home of Seth and Melanie Bilazarian. As always, stimulating conversations and probing questions were exchanged in an attempt to help these couples sort through important matters which will have an impact on their married life. We always tell the couples at the beginning of the weekend, “There are at least three potential outcomes of this weekend. One possibility is confirming that you are right for each other and that your timing is good to move ahead towards marriage. A second possibility is that you’ll decide you’re headed in the right direction, but you could benefit from more time before you decide on marriage. The third possibility is that you’ll decide you are not right for each other and though that’s a painful discovery, it’s far less painful to decide that on this side of the altar than the other.” Our belief is that some marriage problems can be avoided with good pre-marriage work.
We are so thankful for our Engagement Matters teammates Ryan and Kelly Plosker, Carl and Cathy Blatchley, and Melanie Bilazarian. We are all kept very busy through the weekend, interacting with the couples formally and informally. We all have such deep hearts for each of them to make wise, God-honoring decisions.
|Most of the couples who attended EM April 2–3 . . . though some had already slipped out before this photo was snapped.|
After one of the mildest winters in a while, the last thing we expected was that a snowstorm would cause the cancellation of our speaking to the Park Street Church Union group on Monday, April 4. Very fortunately, it was able to be re-scheduled for Thursday, the 7th, and we spoke to a packed room of young marrieds on the subject of marital sexuality. We were very impressed with the thoughtful questions submitted after our presentation, which were answered in the remaining 45 minutes of the evening. We were reminded that as pervasive as “sex” is in our culture, few seem to have a place to go with their questions, especially if seeking Biblical guidance. It was a great evening . . .
. . . and, an appropriate lead-in to the following weekend, “Worth It!” Our annual purity conference (the pre-engagement, pre-marriage conference we host), geared for families, was beset with challenges this year, from speaker availability to logistics. Our “normal” line-up of NFL couples had scheduling/family conflicts of all sorts, reducing our “headliners” to Don Davis (retired) and Matthew and Shahrzad Slater. At the ninth hour, the Slaters had to cancel due to the funeral of his aunt in Mississippi (though they kindly recorded a message to the attendees which we showed during the conference), so Don carried the NFL ball alone this year. He was up to the task! He also was accompanied by a stellar line-up of Nate Parks (executive director of Camp Berea), Paul Friesen (director of H.I.M.), Kate Wylie (wife of figure skating Olympic Silver Medalist Paul Wylie), Lisa Friesen (professor of athletic training at California Baptist University), Chris and Dorothy Greco (speakers, writers), and Adam Rowe (youth pastor for Grace Chapel Wilmington). All of the speakers led both plenary sessions and workshop sessions, and they all truly knocked it out of the park.
Hosted by Trinity Baptist Church of Nashua, the packed crowd was fully engaged in the day as the “gospel” of relationships was proclaimed. The audience, made up of parents and teens, was delighted with the clarity of the messages, especially against the back drop of a culture whose confusion regarding these subjects only increases. There is such relief in hearing truth spoken.
Here are some of the comments written on evaluations at the end of the day:
"Excellent speakers. All of them. I took something from each talk. Thank you!!” (15-year-old male)
"I appreciated that nothing was sugar-coated. It helped me realign my thoughts on what really matters in life.” (15-year-old male)
"I loved attending with my teenage daughter. It opened up opportunities for us to discuss topics we had not, and gave me the way to do it. I wish I had known these things when I was a teen.” (female parent)
"I recently asked God to please show me someone that was going through the same struggle of staying pure. I am so happy this conference exists and I am thinking of so many people to bring next year. This conference helped me get closer to God.” (17-year-old female)
"Really appreciated the candor and vulnerability of the speakers.” (male parent)
"Getting to spend the day at 'Worth It' reinforced what we have been attempting to teach them about relationships.” (male and female parents)
"The things I learned today will change the things I do in the future.” (14-year-old female)
"Most of the speakers were fun so it helped teens who were not thrilled to attend.” (female parent)
"You guys fit so much into one day! Well done. Thank you so much for your ministry! God bless!” (female parent)
We all agreed that it was one of the best “Worth It” conferences ever, and for that, we say “Thank you, Jesus!” All praise is His!!
|Paul Friesen opens the day with passion and humor, instantly helping all attendees relax.|
Kate Wylie uses some volunteers to illustrate how hard it is to have a foot in both worlds.
|Adam Rowe addressed the issue of media and technology, hitting hard on the destructive nature of pornography.|
|Don Davis wrapped up the day with the good news of forgiveness and the hope of redemption.|
In the absence of the rest of the NFL crew, Paul creatively had a DVD made of interviews with the couples who would’ve been there. The DVD featured Benjamin and Kirsten Watson, Danny and Stacia Woodhead, Matthew and Shahrzad Slater, Ryan Wendell and Meridith Bartman (who are engaged to be married in July), as well as Don Davis. It was really well done (thanks to the creative work of Jake and Kaylee Gosselin) and was a great addition to the day.
It takes many helping hands to put on such a conference, and once again Jim and Sue Martis and their able team pulled it off with excellence. The day went like clockwork and we are deeply grateful for the many who helped make it so.
The aftermath . . . cleaned up and packed away . . . these folks stayed ’til the end. So grateful for them!
The dust had barely settled on “Worth It” before Lisa and I flew to California on Sunday while Paul happily stayed home to work on a myriad of house and writing projects. I had the joy of spending the week with Kari, Brandon, and Ana, while Gabe was with his pastoral staff team from Grace Baptist Church, Santa Clarita, attending the “Together for the Gospel” conference in Louisville, KY. Oh what fun it was to have five delicious days with Brandon and Ana (and their mama, of course.) Brandon and I had “sleep overs” every night, ensuring that the day would close with reading some childhood favorites. Baking, going to the park, playing “Candyland” and doing some special outings filled up the days and all too quickly I was boarding a plane for Raleigh, NC, where I joined Paul who was officiating the wedding of Parker and Katie.
The cuties I spent a week with in California. I can never get enough of the grands!
The wedding was a celebration of so many great things, and we enjoyed every minute of it. We’ve shared many important moments with this family through the years and it was such an honor to share this milestone event with them. Every time Paul does a wedding, he’s flooded with responses from those unfamiliar with a Christian perspective. He most often hears, “I’ve never heard marriage spoken about that way. You’ve given me something to really think about.” What a privilege to proclaim God’s good design for marriage to a world that desperately needs to hear it.
|Held at the beautiful Carolina Inn on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, the ceremony was a declaration of the gospel of marriage.|
Not wanting to miss an opportunity to encourage marriages, we welcomed the opportunity to do a mini-marriage conference for the Trinity Park Church. Connected by Corrado and Penny Grieci (former New Englanders and long time friends), we spent the morning with a very receptive and warm audience. It was a bonus to catch up with the Griecis as well.
After the wedding festivities ended, we spent Sunday reconnecting with James and Joe Yardley, both who attend UNC-Chapel Hill. After church, at which Joe was playing keys, we had a lively conversation over lunch. It was so encouraging to catch up with these two college students (who we’ve known since they were 1 and 3 years old) whose hearts are for the Lord. Next visit, my 88-year-old second cousin, Sis, who is a lifelong Raleigh-ite. Impressively spry and a delightful conversationalist, our time with her passed far too quickly. We rounded out the day with Roy and Jenny Kelly, beloved friends who used to live in New England. It was great to catch up with them after not having seen them face to face in such a long time. More important relationships!
Back home, briefly, for a day of counseling, and now we’re off to Trinidad for a week.
Forty years ago today we were counting the final four days until we would be united as husband and wife. We’re both finding it hard to wrap our minds around 40 years! While thousands of memories swirl in my head as we anticipate reaching this milestone on Sunday, April 24, the overwhelming sentiment centers on the faithfulness of God. We sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness” at our wedding and believed that “morning by morning new mercies we see.” We have clung to “All I have needed Thy hand has provided” and we affirm, “Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me.”
Humbling. Blessed. So loved. The most important relationship of all: He loves us and promises to be faithful. That’s the key to our 40 years together. All praise is His.
|Our wedding party . . . sooo late 70’s. Love it!|