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?” 

We did. But before you assume the worst, I’ll rescue us by stating it’s about commitment. When we agreed to keep our unbroken streak of speaking at the Thrive Conference a year ago, neither trip to Africa was on the schedule. We believe so strongly in what happens at Thrive, we felt it was worth flying home to be a part of it.

And it was.

But first . . . our two and a half week, non-work, pure vacation, “magic carpet ride" in South Africa will rank in the top five of our delightful life experiences. As guests of our chosen family friends Doug and Julie, we had no decisions to make related to the trip besides what to pack and in some cases, what to eat. We visited six countries (S. Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana), and traveled by plane, safari vehicle, houseboat, private car, train, hot air balloon, and mini-van. We saw the “Big 5” minus one (the leopard eluded us) and many more incredible animals, primates, birds, penguins, and water mammals as we safaried in some manner or form on five different days. We picked grapefruit . . . from a hot air balloon basket when the pilot set the balloon perfectly and momentarily between the rows of an orchard in Hoedspruit, Botswana. We walked with the lions (real 18-month-old cubs) and with Sylvester, the Cheetah Ambassador of Zimbabwe. We hand-fed elephants after rubbing their trunks and discovering their skin could exfoliate ours. Fortunately, when we rode on the backs of those ginormous pachyderms during our “elephant safari,” we had comfortably padded seats to protect our tender skin.

The elephant safari, with Doug and Julie astride “Jacques"

Walking with the lions

Hanging out with Sylvester, the Cheetah Ambassador

We floated on the Chobe River in a houseboat and viewed many crocodiles, hippos, water or Cape buffalo, baboons, elephants, impalas, giraffes, and some of the most extraordinary birds we’ve ever seen. The intricate detail of each bird and mammal showcases the artistry of Creator God in such a compelling way.

We walked “around" Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side as well as from the Zambian side. The volume of water flowing over the falls currently is at peak and we were soaked to the skin to prove it. Twice. Once on each side. The mist rising from the base of the falls, combined by the thunderous pounding of the flood-stage rivers (the Chobe and the Zambezi) is spectacularly unique and we were overwhelmed by this natural phenomenon.

Finding the oldest geocache in Zambia, on Knife Edge Bridge, suspended over the Zambezi River as it forms at the base of Victoria Falls. That’s not rain, folks—that’s precipitation from the falls!

We found geocaches in all six countries visited, which added an interesting and fun dimension to the journey. Doug is the consummate geocacher and generously included us in his hobby.

We ate ostrich, crocodile, warthog, caterpillars, impala, quail eggs, and many other things that have unrecognizable names. We also ate in some of the finest restaurants in the world while we were in Cape Town, each of which made dining an experience not to be forgotten.

Dinner for four on the Rovos Rail . . . very fancy

We hiked Table Mountain in Cape Town as well as Silvermine Ravine, but most of our physical exertion came as we bumped over unpaved roads in safari vehicles . . . for hours at a time. My “fitbit” was fooled into giving me “steps” for many of those bumps. :)

We stayed in “banda huts” (but don’t be fooled: they were luxurious), “tents” (same qualifier), the sleeper car of a luxury train, a houseboat, and beautiful hotels.

We spent 18 days with friends we’ve known for 17 years and our friendship grew stronger and deeper as a result. We are, fortunately, very compatible travelers and we all really enjoy each other. Besides LOTS of great conversations which spawned deeper understanding of each other, we had a blast discovering South Africa together—and in the few gaps of unstructured time, we had some light-hearted competition over the few games we brought. “Tenzi”, “Apples to Apples”, and “Nickel” provided some great entertainment on the train.

Time for “Tenzi” on the Rovos Rail

Maybe the best part of this “great adventure” was that it provided rest and renewal for our souls. The past months, as I’ve noted in previous blogs, have been the hardest of our ministry lives and it was so good to be off the grid, to have our office lights turned off, and to have no agenda other than enjoying God’s incredible creation with treasured friends. Pure and unadulterated gifts, straight from Heaven.

The past week has been a whirlwind on steroids. The two days we were home before flying to California were full of unpacking, doing laundry, sorting and responding to mail (snail and electronic), and getting organized for our trip to Uganda.  

And just like that we were on a flight to Sacramento on Wednesday, May 3. The Thrive Conference is a highlight of our annual calendar and this year was no exception.  

Hosted for the first time at the Adventure Church campus, it seemed like a “new-old” conference. After over 10 years at the Granite Bay campus, everything was “automatic pilot” in some ways, though each year had different speakers and new, creative ideas. But having it in a completely different setting infused it with freshness and new expectations, and we felt it was the “best” Thrive yet.

We spoke at all three workshop sessions on Friday, and our room for 200 was overflowing with 250-300 in each session. There is a hunger for truth, for wisdom, and for guidance in the area of marriage and family. We felt God very powerfully working in each of the sessions and the follow-up conversations confirmed that in spades. Several told us they were leaving with hope that their marriage could be saved, and many others that they were given a vision of hope and very practical tools for improving their relationships. We were thrilled to have several pre-married couples attend who took the time to express appreciation for the impact of the teaching on their understanding of marriage. So very thankful!

The day was non-stop between teaching three times, meeting up with numerous couples and friends, going to dinner at Ray and Carol Johnston’s house (with 100 of their closest friends), and hearing some great teaching. Thrive is always two-fold for us: we serve through teaching and we’re served through other’s teaching. It’s an honor to be a part of this strategic event.

In California . . . Thrive Conference . . . dinner with the Johnstons

Home . . . for a day . . . to unpack, do laundry, repack, sort more mail, catch up with life, and fly out on Monday from Boston to Newark to Brussels to Entebbe, Uganda.

We’re here!  Entebbe Airport, Uganda . . . with Nelson, our driver to the hotel. Made it!!

We’ll be in Uganda for the next 10 days, doing ministry with the CURE Hospital in Mbale, with Pearl Haven (the church we’ve partnered with since 2012), with JENGA (an NGO headed by Robby Keen), and with pastors being trained by the Church of Christ missionaries.  We are so looking forward to reconnecting with these who have become so dear to us and who are doing such Kingdom-driven work here.

We’ll continue on to Ethiopia to hold a marriage conference hosted by CURE’s spiritual director, Mesfin. This will be our second journey to Ethiopia but our first conference with this particular group. We fly back to the states on May 24th, and after a day of “chilling” at home (or more accurately: unpacking, doing laundry, repacking, sorting mail, etc.), we’ll fly to California to speak at a Joni and Friends weekend at Lake Tahoe.

That’s a wrap. Thanks for your prayers and support. We are blessed beyond to have you in our lives, making it possible for us to do what we do and undergirding all of it with prayer.  

Jambo from Uganda!

As we descended into Entebbe, the reflected sun set as the moon rose . . . spectacular!

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