The dash between Uganda and Viet Nam

What’s not to love about spring flowers? And in California, roses are super-blooming after their very wet winter.

What’s not to love about spring flowers? And in California, roses are super-blooming after their very wet winter.

If it’s Wednesday, we must be on our way to Viet Nam.

And we are!

The three weeks between the end of our Uganda trip and the beginning of our Viet Nam trip were full! Shocking, I know.

As I write, I’m thoroughly enjoying this 14-hour Toronto to Seoul leg of the trip, as it is providing a much needed “break” following a fairly intense, post-Uganda pace. Our very generous Vietnamese hosts have ensured a restful, renewing journey to their land by booking us in business class, which is a euphemism for “hotel room in the sky.” We’re loving it!

Our return from Uganda late on Thursday, April 11, was followed by a full day of counseling, which was followed by a full weekend of Engagement Matters. Before you judge the schedulers (us) harshly, remember the Uganda trip was shoe-horned in after our schedule was set—so though not ideal, the Lord met us and gave us exactly what we needed to “get the jobs done.”

We had a delightful group gather for Engagement Matters, which included several attendees we’ve known since childhood and one couple who flew in from California. Our team, which besides us included Carl and Cathy Blatchley and Helen Challener (who were invaluable for doing far more than the meals as they interacted with the couples), agreed that the spiritual depth and commitment to embracing God’s design for marriage was palpable among this group. It was a well-spent weekend.

Engagement Matters! The attendees, the team, and the couple (Paul Hazlebeck and Ashley Lekkerkerk) who flew in from CA.

Engagement Matters! The attendees, the team, and the couple (Paul Hazlebeck and Ashley Lekkerkerk) who flew in from CA.

A day of recovery (Patriots’ Day), one more day of counseling, and a day to file taxes, unpack, do laundry, and repack, were had before flying to Grand Rapids, Michigan, on April 18th where we were greeted at the airport by Nathan and Rachel, who formed a very enthusiastic welcoming committee. Such a happy reunion! We spent the next few days with them, celebrating Julie’s birthday, Easter, and being together. We thoroughly enjoyed both Good Friday and Easter services at their home church, Cornerstone, and in between, Easter egg hunts, frosting Easter cookies, shopping for “Mommie’s” birthday presents, and playing filled in the gaps. Even the rainy, raw weather didn’t detract from the warmth of being together.

Our personal greeters and valets at the airport.

Our personal greeters and valets at the airport.

What’s more exciting than celebrating Mommie’s birthday?!

What’s more exciting than celebrating Mommie’s birthday?!

Julie’s birthday dinner out prior to Good Friday service.

Julie’s birthday dinner out prior to Good Friday service.

Easter morning at church . . . such a joy-filled celebration of the resurrected Christ!

Easter morning at church . . . such a joy-filled celebration of the resurrected Christ!

We flew out of Grand Rapids to San Diego early Easter Sunday evening for an almost-week-long visit with my mom. We are so grateful for the flexibility we have to take advantage of between conference times to spend with her. She is easy and she is grateful, which cannot be said of every 89.5-year-old. She’s a delight. We go on “field trips” daily—which can be anything from a trip to Costco to a walk on Harbor Drive, or a trip to Coronado, etc. We go to doctors’ appointments, hair appointments, and out to eat fun meals. Our 43rd anniversary, April 24, fell during our week with her and we celebrated with a lovely dinner out, joined by Mom and our dear friend, Wendy. The days were full of delights.

Mama hasn’t lost her sense of humor.

Mama hasn’t lost her sense of humor.

Anniversary dinner out with Mama and Wendy.

Anniversary dinner out with Mama and Wendy.

Saying good-bye to Mama is always a bit teary, but gratitude for the shared days far outweighs the sadness of saying good-bye. So Friday morning, April 26, we said our good-byes and headed to Yorba Linda to say another good-bye: this one to Dr. George Giacumakis, whom Paul was honored to eulogize at his funeral.

George, or “Jake” as he was commonly known, was the last remaining original Campus by the Sea (CBS) committee member. The CBS committee was formed in 1968 to “save” CBS from being closed by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) who had decided it was too draining in every way to keep operating. The committee took full operational and financial responsibility for CBS in order to continue the ministry and George, a young professor at Cal State Fullerton who served as faculty advisor to the IVCF chapter at Fullerton, was on that committee. Thus began an over 50-year relationship with the Giacumakis family, our lives intersecting in many ways, but mostly at family camps. George’s exemplary life came to a surprising end when he did not survive heart surgery April 6th. He was 81 and had plans to lead yet another trip to the Holy Land in the year ahead.

Paul was so honored to be asked to be one of the eulogizers at his service, and his—along with many others, including tributes from his children and grandchildren—beautifully honored a truly great man of God. We were so thankful to be able to celebrate his life.

Paul eulogizing Dr. George Giacumakis on April 26 in Yorba Linda, CA.

Paul eulogizing Dr. George Giacumakis on April 26 in Yorba Linda, CA.

George’s widow, Joan, is lovely in every way and, though well-supported by many friends and family, will be challenged to adjust to her new normal after losing her beloved lifelong parter of 57 years.

George’s widow, Joan, is lovely in every way and, though well-supported by many friends and family, will be challenged to adjust to her new normal after losing her beloved lifelong parter of 57 years.

In what was one of the most creative milestone anniversary celebrations we’ve been a part of, we continued up the California coast to Avila Bay (near San Luis Obispo) to speak for an intimate marriage conference. John and Joy Erb, who will celebrate 20 years of marriage in June, asked us over a year ago if we would be willing to speak for such a gathering. They had considered a number of ideas for ways to mark this milestone, and finally landed on doing something that would enrich the marriages of their closest friends and family. We’ve known most of these couples for up 15–17 years as their family tradition included annually attending family camp at CBS, so we gave them a happy “yes” when invited. 

Such a great idea! We taught most of Saturday, though the schedule included time to get out and enjoy that beautiful area in the afternoon as well as a very hilarious game night Saturday evening. We resumed with teaching Sunday morning until noon, and all agreed that it was a deeply meaningful, encouraging weekend. We loved it!

The intimate marriage conference hosted by John and Joy Erb in honor of their 20th anniversary.

The intimate marriage conference hosted by John and Joy Erb in honor of their 20th anniversary.

Continuing north to Gilroy, we spent Sunday night with our dear friends Bill and Christi Bachman and their sons Andrew and Nathan. Shockingly we didn’t manage to get a photo, but our time with them was pure joy. I’m always amazed at how many world problems we solve when we’re with the Bachmans. :)

Backtracking a bit, we drove south to Monterey to spend Monday with our best friends from seminary, Johnny and Lori Potter. We spent three years together at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 1991–1994, and bonded the first week we met when we discovered that our two island families (they had moved from Oahu and we had moved from Catalina Island) had landed in New England at the same time—and the telltale sign was that our six daughters combined were wearing flip flops in November. We became best of friends over our years at the seminary and we pick up wherever we left off during our too-infrequent visits. It was so good to be with them as we caught up on one another’s lives.

Johnny and Lori Potter hosted us in Monterey where we talked non-stop for about 9 hours.

Johnny and Lori Potter hosted us in Monterey where we talked non-stop for about 9 hours.

Out early Tuesday, April 30, we drove to Redwood City where we caught up with our treasured friends and ministry partners, Gary and Anne Gaddini. After spending a week together at CBS every summer for over 20 years, we hadn’t seen them since our last family camp at CBS in 2016, so this visit was long overdue. It was rich to spend a couple of hours with them, sharing hearts and swapping stories. God is using them powerfully through their church, Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City, and we’re so heartened by their commitment to faithfully proclaiming the gospel.

Gary and Anne Gaddini met us in a coffee shop for a great time of catching up.

Gary and Anne Gaddini met us in a coffee shop for a great time of catching up.

Next stop, Santa Rosa, where we reconnected with another friendship of over 40 years, and the youngest “old” person we know. Rosemary Dougan, who will mark 95 years of life at the end of this month, welcomed us to her home and we too picked up where we left off. Still as spry and naturally brown-haired as ever, we caught up on her still independent life right there in the house she shared with her beloved husband, Garth, until he passed away four years ago, after 70 years of marriage. How we love her and what a gigantic privilege it has been to have the Dougans in our lives for almost all of our marriage.

Rosemary Dougan will turn 95 on May 24th. How crazy is that?? She’s remarkable.

Rosemary Dougan will turn 95 on May 24th. How crazy is that?? She’s remarkable.

After several hours with Rosemary, we were on our way to Sacramento for the Thrive Leadership Conference hosted by Bayside Church of Granite Bay, held May 1-3. Now in its 15th year, we have had the privilege of teaching workshops at every Thrive and it’s always one of the highlight of our year.

This year was no exception. Great speakers, tons of energy, and inspiring creativity characterize every Thrive. Ray Johnston, the founding pastor of Bayside Church and of Thrive, just gets better with age and it’s always a privilege to partner with him. Networking is a big part of Thrive; we connected with many dear friends and made some new ones. Scott and Sally Shaull hosted in us in their “B and B” and there’s no one that does it better than them. At conference end, in spite of teaching three different workshops, we were refreshed and encouraged.

Some of our dear friends were at Thrive . . . along with about 3500 others. :)

Some of our dear friends were at Thrive . . . along with about 3500 others. :)

Dave and Diana Watts faithfully “man” our book table whenever we do a conference in the Sacramento area and we are beyond grateful for them.

Dave and Diana Watts faithfully “man” our book table whenever we do a conference in the Sacramento area and we are beyond grateful for them.

Leslie and Christy Johnston . . . chosen family.

Leslie and Christy Johnston . . . chosen family.

Our final stop on this 2.5-week-west-coast junket was in Chico, where we spoke for a one-day benefit marriage conference to encourage marriages in the area as well as to raise funds to help with the ongoing rebuilding post-fire. We were all glued to our news outlets back in November when the “Camp Fire” completely devastated the little town of Paradise, California, burning all 14,000 homes and more than 100 businesses, including churches. As is always true, once the media has moved on to the next attention-getting tragedy/trauma, the previous one is easily forgotten—unless you are directly impacted by it. Additionally, if you are not in a neighboring community where the horrific realities can be seen and felt, it’s easy to be sympathetic and compassionate but not proactive. We wanted to provide a way for people far from Paradise to have a tangible way of helping, so Home Improvement Ministries provided our services pro bono, donated all the monies from book sales, and set up a donation site on our website with the promise that 100% of the contributions would be given to churches doing relief work for distribution. We’ll take donations as long as they’re coming in.

The conference was held at the YWAM base at Richardson Springs and was attended by around 100 couples, approximately a dozen of whom lost everything in the fire. We’ve seldom been part of a more moving day, honestly. It felt like the best of the Body of Christ had gathered that day to affirm that we bear one another’s burdens and we walk with one another through the thick and the thin. They were hungry for encouragement and for reinforcement, especially of the message that God would continue to be faithful as they try to put their lives back together. The few couples we talked with personally affirmed their gratitude that they had escaped with the most important and only irreplaceable “thing”—their lives. One man recounted that he was stuck in traffic trying to escape the fast-moving fire for 2.5 hours, and while idling in his truck, called his daughter to say good-bye since he didn’t think he’d get out. He had earlier gotten his parents-in-law and wife out, and then remembered their 86-year-old neighbor with dementia and returned to rescue her. Acts of heroism abounded and were very humbling to hear.

The YWAM center in Richardson Springs where we held the Paradise benefit marriage conference.

The YWAM center in Richardson Springs where we held the Paradise benefit marriage conference.

We are so very thankful we seized this opportunity, in a very small way, to express that though 3,000 miles separates us geographically, it doesn’t separate our hearts. 

On our way back to the Sacramento airport, we had the delight of sharing dinner with Frank and Shirley Stenzel and Ted and Melinda (Stenzel) Collins on their kiwi farm in Gridley, CA. Friends and ministry partners for more than 40 years, we celebrated our deep hearts for one another and made the most of a two-hour meal.

The team that did the heavy lifting behind the scenes for the conference are in the upper right corner, and the couple in the lower left corner lost everything in the fire. The final photo is of the Stenzels and us. Not a bad selfie for a completely-over-40 crowd!

The team that did the heavy lifting behind the scenes for the conference are in the upper right corner, and the couple in the lower left corner lost everything in the fire. The final photo is of the Stenzels and us. Not a bad selfie for a completely-over-40 crowd!

Back to Boston for three short days, which included counseling and a HIM Board meeting—and we’re off for our second annual ministry trip to Viet Nam. We continue to be so thankful that we get to do what we do. Our passion for marriage and family is only growing and thankfully our health and strength is as well. 

That was a long dash between Uganda and Viet Nam!!

A short hike in Richardson Springs kind of looked “super bloomy.”

A short hike in Richardson Springs kind of looked “super bloomy.”