Danny Woodhead

From Africa with Love

We’re not in Bedford anymore!  We left behind 4 feet of snow (just after the “most snowfall record” was broken and temps were still deep in the basement…) and landed in Entebbe, Uganda, with temps in the 90’s and the parched land longing for the rainy season to begin.  

What a difference 8,339 miles and 30 hours can make!

The month leading up to this African ministry/family reunion trip has been full (!): of ministry opportunities, of challenging situations, of seeing God’s power and presence in incredible ways. Shortly after my last post, we headed to California to speak in Brentwood for a couples’ dessert night at Golden Hills Community Church (GHCC). Before we got to the church, though, we spent an evening with a handful of very special Campus By the Sea (CBS) “kids”, then we had breakfast with a precious couple we married 2.5 years ago for a slightly delayed “annual marital check-up”, and then we had lunch with a dear engaged couple we’ll be marrying in September.  We work these trips!

Sweet time with Liz Aleman and Julie and Nathan Aleman
in San Francisco soon after we landed in California.

Early morning breakfast with Drew and Dana Macrae for our annual “marital check-up."

Lunch with Ross Macrae and his fiancée Caitlyn
before heading to Golden Hills Community Church for the evening.

Our evening with Johnie Moore and his congregation at GHCC was delightful.  Their “dessert bake-off” contest was very competitive (and yummy) and the packed house of couples were receptive and warm.  Phil and Heather Andrews, long time CBS’ers (Heather was “raised” coming to Campus By the Sea, and now she and Phil are raising their two at camp), spearheaded the invitation and we were overjoyed to have a reunion with about 9 CBS families that evening, some who drove in from as far as Fresno, Chico, and Redding. Such a great time! We’re amazed to hear from couples at the end of such evenings how much of a “shot in the arm” it was to have encouraging words spoken into their marriage at “just the right time.”  That is the work of God . . . and we are so humbled to be a part of it.

Johnie and Becky Moore were such gracious hosts at GHCC.

The CBS contingent at the dessert night . . . How we love these families!

We flew to San Diego first thing Sunday morning and spent a couple of days with my mom. She continues to impress us with her remarkable “can-do” spirit and her gracious heart. She’s always so grateful for all gestures of care and kindness that come her way.  While we may struggle with spending less time with her than we’d like, she’s always quick to say, “I’m so grateful for any time we get to be together.”  What a gift to all of us who love her!

Though our time in San Diego was short, we were happy to connect with all three sisters who live there before we headed to Del Mar for the annual “Increase Conference” hosted by Pro-Athletes Outreach.  This is one of our favorite conferences every year for many reasons: it’s great to have time with current and former Patriots on a more casual basis than the season allows; we hear great teaching and enjoy sincere worship through music; the accommodations are always first-rate and we thoroughly enjoy being spoiled for those few days; and we love teaching workshops on topics germane to healthy marriages and are always amazed at how appreciative the audience is.  For the second year, we were able to bring my mom up for an evening and we think it definitely ranks on the short list of highlights of her year.  We are so touched by the care some of the players (who have become close friends through the years) extend to her.  Since my mother’s love for football makes mine look anemic (and those of you who know me know it’s not at all!), few things could trump being in a room full of NFL players, including some of her very favorites.  Special time.

My mom was pretty thrilled to have Danny Woodhead and Benjamin Watson
as her dinner dates at the PAO conference.

We red-eyed back to Boston before that conference ended (sadly) to run the H.I.M. marriage retreat, which seems like very poor planning, but actually was due to having to book our dates for the H.I.M. conference a year out and making the assumption that the PAO conference would stay in February where it has usually been. Alas, some things are beyond our control, so we beat a hasty retreat to Boston, made a pit stop in Bedford to change out our wardrobe (the summery clothes we wore in California weren’t quite appropriate for the winter wonderland we returned to!), and off to Newport, Rhode Island, we went.

Our annual marriage get-away conference was highly successful.  Sold-out weeks ahead, we had a full house whose evaluations affirmed that God met us in a significant way throughout the weekend. All praise is His.

We moved the weekend to the Hyatt Hotel on Goat Island after many years at Hotel Viking.  Though we missed many things about the ambience of the Viking, the Hyatt did a great job and proved to be very suitable in terms of conference space, meals, etc.  

David and Cherylyn Hegg, from Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, California, joined us for the weekend to teach 3 of the 4 plenary sessions (Paul and I spoke opening night).  David is a theologian whose regard for the proper and accurate handling of God’s Holy Word is high, which is quite refreshing in an age when value is often higher on connection than content. Fortunately David does both well: he connects well and his content is substantial.  His teaching was appreciated.

David and Cherylyn Hegg are dear friends and ministry partners.
We loved having them with us for the marriage retreat!

A moment of all-in-good-fun rivalry happened when Doug Macrae presented David, a diehard Seahawks’ fan, with a signed Tom Brady jersey.  :)  

Doug Macrae presents David Hegg with a signed Brady jersey . . .
just what every Seahawks’ fan wants.  :)

With 30 of the 130 couples being “newlyweds” (married 6 years or under), we moved our newlywed breakfast to the dinner hour and had a stimulating time of discussion about topics relevant to their stage of marriage.  We were so encouraged by the inter-generational mix of attendees overall, from 2 months married to 46 years married, and everything in between.  

The newlywed dinner was well-attended and spawned some lively discussion.

Our many workshops also got very high marks, as did worship, led again by Danny and Rayna Oertli.
Maybe the two highest points of the weekend were when two different couples shared their stories of hope.  One of the couples had survived adultery, and testified to the redemptive power of God in their marriage and family.  Another couple shared that the threat of divorce by a very dissatisfied spouse had been replaced by a vision of hope for their now thriving marriage.  Everyone was moved by these stories: by the honesty and candor of the couples, and by the hope-giving message of the gospel.

Everything ran like clockwork, and as Paul and I drove home, we focused on how grateful we were for God’s faithfulness and to have such an incredible team around us.  As he said to the team at conference end, “There’s no way we could’ve come in on a red-eye had we not had the team we have.”  Though many contributed, a huge shout out to Kelly and Ryan Plosker (who did decorations and goodie bags), and Barbara and Guy Steele and Jim and Sue Martis (who did registration, desktop publishing, folder production, hotel liaisoning, etc., as warranted).  Without their huge effort, it wouldn’t have happened.

Part of the H.I.M. team that worked the weekend.  So grateful for each one of these servants!

Kelly Plosker invested hours in making sure everyone felt welcomed
and cared for in the ballroom by her creative decorating.

Quoting from several evaluations that affirmed the impact of the weekend:

“Our first retreat and our mutual expectation for a clearer picture of God’s design for marriage was exceedingly met!  Thank you!” 
Thanks for another Christ-centered weekend and for giving us additional tools/resources to grow our marriage and further understand God’s plan for marriage.” 
“Thank you for this experience.  It has been life-changing for us and our marriage.”

With only one week before our departure for Uganda, we squeezed as much as we possibly could in to those 7 days.  Shock!

Monday night we hosted an H.I.M. Board and volunteer staff appreciation dinner.  We are surrounded by such wonderful, godly, servant-hearted people and will never be able to fully communicate our appreciation for them, but we tried.  Fun was had by all.

Tuesday was dedicated to shopping for our trip to Uganda and packing what we could at that point. We had a full day of counseling Wednesday, and some Thursday as well. Friday morning we drove to Portland, Maine, to speak to a Mom’s group at Eastpoint Church and loved that. Friday night one of our couples for Engagement Matters (EM) who were staying at our home arrived, and all day Saturday and Sunday were spent teaching EM to a very full house. Saturday night we spoke for a New England Chapel couples’ night in Franklin, Massachusetts, and Sunday night we finished packing for Uganda.  :) Since we had to leave our house at 3 a.m. Monday for the airport, it was a good thing we didn’t have time to go to bed anyway.  :)

Engagement Matters delights us in every way. The 19 couples who attended exhibited such openness and genuine desire to hear important Biblical truth about God’s design for marriage. They asked great questions and interacted in and out of sessions.  We love wrestling with important issues before a couple is married and truly believe it pays off after marriage.  Hosted by the Bilazarians at their lovely Victorian home in Andover, we were grateful to have Carl and Cathy Blatchley on the serving team and Ryan and Kelly Plosker on the teaching team.  Our collective hearts pray that God will really use this weekend to better prepare couples to pursue God-honoring marriages.

Engagement Matters attendees March 14-15, 2015
The serving team: Melanie Bilazarian and Cathy and Carl Blatchley.
The warm home and yummy food were appreciated by all.

Several comments from attendees:

"I now have many tools to work on bettering my relationship and having a successful marriage.”
“I loved the tie back to scripture and the examples and anecdotes were good for getting a point across.  I also appreciated the resources available and recommended.”
“Everything was explained so well and in such an engaging way.  Everyone was so approachable for questions.  I loved it all.  Very well done.”
“It opened up many avenues of discussion, many topics covered that we haven’t thought through.”

Very, very thankful for the opportunity to speak into the lives of these young people and for how God met each of us during the weekend.

After such an exhausting week, we were glad to have some really long flights to Uganda to sleep and process. Off we flew in the middle of the night, just hours after Engagement Matters ended, and by Tuesday early afternoon, we were happily hugging Derek, Julie, and Nathan at the Entebbe airport. Twenty-four hours later, Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana arrived, and nineteen hours later, Lisa arrived.  Family complete for the drive to Mbale as this long dreamed of, long planned for family reunion/ministry trip launched.

We are beyond thankful and thrilled to be here together, embracing the life Derek and Julie have had together the past 3.5 years. Since they will be returning to the states in late summer to begin Derek’s new position at CURE headquarters in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, the window of opportunity to make the trip was now or never.  We are so grateful it has worked out.

My next blog will detail our time here, so for now, sending much love from Africa. 

Our first day at the CURE Hospital . . . deeply moving.

It WAS "Worth IT"

Admittedly, there are times of discouragement in ministry (and in life), and about 10 days ahead of our annual event "Worth It" was one of those times.  With a blockbuster line-up of speakers and a fabulous venue booked at Bethany Church in Greenland, NH, we fully expected an overwhelming response to this potentially life-changing—and at least reinforcing to God-honoring-relationships—values conference.  

Ten days out, we had 250 registrations and were discouraged.  Adding to our disappointment were the "excuses" for not coming, ranging from "we're too busy" to "we're having a fund-raiser for our summer missions trip" to "I don't want to make my kids go and they don't want to."

Really?  With the chaos surrounding relationships and the confusion regarding why choosing sexual and emotional purity escalating, it seems that very few things should outrank the importance of spending 1/365th of the year focused on such life-changing tipping points from God's perspective.

Fortunately, we marshaled the prayer forces and by the day of "Worth It" were thrilled to have 410 attendees.  Though still short of our hoped-for number, we were really grateful for this great group of teens and parents who placed such a high priority on this important day.

Increasingly convinced that the relationship choices we make pre-maritally have a very big impact on eventual marriage choices, we are more and more passionate about speaking into this generation of teens who have been lied to their whole lives by a virtually godless culture.  The messages come at us — fast, furiously, and authoritatively — that the only thing that matters is your personal happiness, however fleeting that may be, and whatever it takes to gain it.  The average college-aged woman in our culture (and it goes without saying that men also live this belief) no longer believe that sex and love are connected, and sadly, the Christian community statistically isn't distinctly different in terms of unmarried sexual behavior.  Most have resigned themselves to the "if you can't fight 'em, join 'em" mentally and have given up hope that sexual and emotional purity can be lived out.

That's why we do "Worth It."

Because God's Word hasn't changed. His heart for His children hasn't changed. His design hasn't changed.

So we try to build a very convincing case for purity in 2014.  We want to give hope.  We want to be prophetic. We want to challenge youth to trust the goodness of God's design and the power we have in Him to live it out.

Before the day began, the team gathered to pray for all that would happen in the day.

Barbara Steele and Kit Hendricks welcomed the over 400 attendees
of the day at the registration table.

Tim Carpenter, family pastor at Bethany Church in Greenland,
welcomes everyone to the "Worth It" conference.

That's the message that was proclaimed throughout the day on April 5.  Jess Bousa kicked off the day with a stirring and lively message on the good news of the gospel and the Word of God, saying that it is "not a prison sentence, but a permission slip."  Jess speaks with such credibility as one who was far from God during his high school years when he became very familiar with cops and jails through multiple arrests connected with drug abuse and dealing.  God got a hold of him in a big way while serving time at a court-ordered stay with Teen Challenge, and 14 years later, Jess is married, has two children, has his MDiv and then some, and has planted Restore Church in Havre de Grace, MD, which two years into existence has 650 attendees and 3 campuses.  Great start to the day!

Jess Bousa preaches it at Worth It!

Kirsten Watson followed with a passionate talk on "You are Worth It."  Starting with a very effective illustration, she offered a crisp $20 bill to anyone who wanted it.  After she had folded it, crushed it, stomped on it, and thrown it to the ground, there were still the same number of hands raised of those who wanted it.  Why?  Because it was still worth $20 — even though it had been “through a lot."  Her message was shaped by the intrinsic value of each human being, not based on what they had been through — or what they had been spared — but by the love of God Himself, who calls us by name and whose image we bear.  It was very powerful . . . and convincing.

Kirsten Watson speaks to the individual worth and value of each person.

Two workshop sessions and lunch followed the opening plenary talks, and the line-up of topics and speakers was top shelf.  Adam Rowe, youth pastor for Grace Chapel in Wilmington, MA, spoke on media and how to make God-honoring choices in this very dynamic, high-risk arena.  Christopher and Dorothy Greco (Chris is the Theater Arts Director at Lexington Christian Academy and worship leader at Grace Baptist Church, Hudson, MA) spoke on LGBTQ issues facing the community of Christ.  Their story was compelling and their teaching on how to love and give hope to those struggling with sexual identity was sensitively handled with compassion and truth.  Kirsten Watson did a workshop on making the "second most important decision of your life: marriage!", and Kate Wylie spoke on the perils of popularity.  Danny Woodhead and his mom, Annette, spoke together on how to parent in the midst of so many cultural pressures, especially those that accompany athletic prowess.  Nate Parks spoke to parents on how to be in touch with their kids who are facing incredible pressures vastly different from those faced by parents when they were youth.  And Lisa Friesen spoke on how to prepare for college in terms of values and beliefs you need to have in place before you step foot on a campus—so you can have a "blast" in college.

Danny and Annette Woodhead were a real hit as
a son/mother team speaking on parenting principles.

All of the workshops were relevant, practical, and well-received.  We were SO thankful for such a quality team.

Two more plenary sessions in the afternoon rounded out the day.  Kate Wylie spoke on why purity is worth it.  With raw honesty and vulnerability, Kate shared how she had "bought the lie" that "technical virginity" was all God was really interested in and that with all her Christian boyfriends, the only line not crossed was sexual intercourse.  She explained how betrayed she felt when each relationship ended as she struggled with feeling used and then abandoned.  She also shared how that trajectory changed when she was finally taught the heart of God's design for purity.  She and her fiancé embraced boundaries consistent with Biblical purity and it profoundly and positively impacted their relationship.  She offered hope: to those "lacking experience,” to keep on holding the lines, and to those who had already crossed lines, the hope of forgiveness and the challenge to make adjustments.  

Kate Wylie teaches on the subject of "purity is worth it" and her vulnerability was deeply moving.

Nate Parks, director of Berea, was our final plenary speaker and he offered the hope of forgiveness and the challenge that "what you plant will grow."  Rather than viewing purity as a set of rules to follow, Nate was convincing that you must choose to plant seeds of love for God, His Word, and His ways, so your heart will produce a harvest of righteousness.  Because what you plant will grow.  He was engaging and energetic and his simple message was the perfect ending for the day.

Nate Parks, the farmer, explains that "what you plant will grow."

Tucked in here and there was lunch, directed by Jim Martis and an amazing volunteer crew orchestrated by our event coordinator, Susan Martis, who helped with everything from packet preparation to lunch preparation and clean-up, as well as book sales, and all the myriad of details needed to facilitate such a day.  A panel of all the speakers fielding a few questions and recommending a few books, and many, many side-bar conversations filled in some “non-structured” time.  During the panel, the crowd was inspired by the testimony of Danny and Stacia Woodhead (former Patriot, now Charger and one of the best running backs in the NFL) who remained pure throughout their eight-year courtship.  Quite a story of hope!!  Another highlight was hearing from Lisa Friesen, the lone single voice of the day, who exudes contentment and purpose in life as she waits for the Lord to bring the "right" man into her life. She knocked it out of the park when she shared that her decisions for purity had already delivered some great dividends.  "When I eventually met my college boyfriend’s wife, I was so thankful I could look her in the eyes and know that I had honored her and her husband had honored her long before she was on the scene, by how we had honored each other."  Very, very powerful.

All of the speakers participated in a panel Q and A in the late afternoon.

Lisa Friesen enjoys a moment with Danny and Stacia Woodhead.

As the day ended, our previous discouragement which had dissipated days earlier had been replaced with overflowing gratitude.The team gathered to thank the Lord for the incredible ways He met us during the day, and we could only give Him all the praise. 

He is worth it!!

Here are a few excerpts from the evaluations handed in at day's end:

Despite the resistance from the girls leading up to the conference (“This is my 5th, time – I GET it, Mom!”, “Saturday is my only day to sleep!”, “I have voice lessons, can’t go.”, “I have my last driving lesson, if I miss it – I won’t get my driving license for MONTHS!”), making the effort was definitely worth it!  It was a wonderful day. Thank you and your dedicated team for all they do to pour into our lives the saving grace and love of God and Jesus.  (Mom of three teenage daughters) 
Down to earth, funny. (13-year-old son) 
The stories, content, and presentation styles of each workshop were beneficial. (Mom of teenage son and daughter) 
Being involved in something so deep with my daughter is opening up new doors for both of us. (Parent) 
I was basically dragged here by my dad, and I came with low expectations.  It blew me away how honest and real you guys were.  I feel like I can directly relate what I learned to my life and am inspired to live a life of purity.  (13-year-old gal) 
We have been back 3 times because my kids wanted to come back. Thank you! (Parent) 
This kind of conference that helps our families confront and talk about sexual issues is so needed. Thank you for your presentations. (Parent of 13- and 16-year-old teens) 
We were so thankful to attend with our 3 daughters and have them hear that they are Worth It. (Husband and wife) 
Great selection of books, and staff were very helpful in helping in selection of books.
It was way better than I expected and I will recommend this to my friends. (13-year-old gal) 
Bethany was a great facility and staff were very helpful and friendly.
Being there with all four of my very athletic boys and hear them hear from other athletes was huge. (Parent of 4 teenage boys) 
My biggest take-away is knowing that God needs to be the center of my life and relationships.  (18-year-old guy) 
Really liked the way lunch was so organized. 
It was so beneficial to be able to have an open conversation with my teen about God’s plan for sex and have him be receptive. (Dad of teenage son) 
Thank you so much, this was so helpful before I go off to college and begin a relationship. (Teen)
All praise is His.  

At day's end, we paused to thank the Lord for the amazing way He had met us.