New Year's . . . Really? (Part 1)

Does anyone else feel like New Year's Day should be about now—and that though the calendar already says January 16, 2013, it feels like that's impossible?

That's where I am.  We have just finished a full-to-overflowing month, filled with memorable family moments, rest, rejuvenation, and renewal.  "The End" to our family reunion was written Monday night as we bid farewell to Derek and Julie and sent them back to Uganda.  Let the New Year begin!  

So, after a month of not needing to know exactly what day it was very often, we're back at it.  An early morning trip to Logan and we're off to California and Colorado for a 12-day ministry tour.  The New Year is rolling.

But first, I need to wrap up 2012.  Picking up just after Thanksgiving,  I had an important lunch with my longtime mentor and friend, Gail MacDonald.  It's impossible to express what it means to me to have Gail continuing to invest in my life, which she's faithfully done for 28 years.  I've learned so much from her, both formally and informally, and her life lived for Christ has hugely influenced mine.  I will be forever grateful that Gail continues to carve out time in her very busy schedule for me.

Lunch with Gail MacDonald at the Bedford House in NH,
belatedly celebrating my birthday and prematurely celebrating hers!

We welcomed in December with a half-day H.I.M.-sponsored conference, "The Church Family and Your Family."  Designed to encourage churches to intentionally build into families and marriages, we were very pleased with the group of around 30 that gathered that morning, representing about 8 local churches.  We were especially impressed by Bethany Gospel Chapel of Swansea, which sent four couples from their leadership.  That's a church that is serious about this very important mission!  The morning was lively with discussion and inspiration, all while sitting in the atrium-like living room of the Macraes' home as snow fell softly outside.  It was a really wonderful way to spend the day!

The group of leaders from Bethany Gospel Chapel who attended
“The Church Family and Your Family” conference.

Monday, Dec. 3, we were honored to partner with the Faith EV Free Church of Acton by speaking to their Mom to Mom group.  Lorraine Stobbe extended the invitation and we were so pleased to be a part of that very exciting ministry.  One of the women we spoke to afterwards shared that she had just come to Christ after having been a part of Mom to Mom for several years, and that she was now praying for her husband to embrace Christ.  Very cool.  

The week was filled with counseling, Patriots studies, and getting things done for Christmas.   As I was perusing my iPhoto collection of photos for this blog, I came across this one which seemed very fitting to include.  Our ideas about love and serving can be so lofty at times and seem out of reach, but this photo captures love-in-action.  We "rescued" this destined-for-the-garbage pumpkin from the porch of some dear friends, and Paul, as a gift to me, processed it.  Our freezer now has a good amount of pureed fresh pumpkin, which will be used to make soup, pies, and breads.  It's a win-win-win.  Paul has spoken my love language loud and clear and has been duly appreciated, and many will enjoy the fruit of his labor in various treats from the kitchen.  And the pumpkin has a happier ending than in a landfill.  

The girls asked if he used a chain saw to cut this baby open.
He did not.  Just brute strength and a huge karate chop.  :)

We canceled Engagement Matters scheduled Dec. 8-9 due to low enrollment, which opened up the weekend for our annual trip to St. Louis.  We were SO happy to not break tradition with our beloved Williams family.  As usual, our weekend was filled with baking, talking, and catching up, in between and during their normally scheduled school and sports events.  Something new this year was being introduced to "The Duck Dynasty" reality t.v. show . . . and that made the girls "happy, happy, happy."  So many great moments with this precious family; so thankful for this Christ-centered home.

The tradition continues: matching jammies for
the family . . . except for Wilson, the dog.  

All too quickly the weekend was over and we flew home on Monday, Dec. 10, in time to go to Gillette Stadium with Stacia and Annette Woodhead to watch the Patriots handle the Texans (the first time.)  Annette, the mother of #39 (aka Danny, Woody, etc.), and I had a blast talking shop about marriage and family during commercial breaks.  We share many similar passions, and she and her husband are helping families in Nebraska embrace God's design for them.  The weather was great, the game was a blow-out, and still, it was the conversation with Annette that was the highlight.  It's so very encouraging to see how God is using others to impact our very confused and wounded culture with the good news of the gospel. 

We had a great night at Gillette Stadium with Stacia and Annette Woodhead.  Go Pats!!!

We wrapped up the Patriots Women’s study on Wednesday, December 12, with a cinnamon roll baking workshop.  With 18 women regularly involved in the study this year, I hadn’t really thought of what that meant in terms of dough for this popular annual event.  I now know.  It means A LOT of dough!  I started making the dough at 5 a.m. and drove down to Attleboro at 8 a.m. with 12 batches of dough rising in the trunk of our car.  :)  Thankfully, we had plenty of dough and lots of laughs working with it.

We also wrapped up a wonderful fall study of Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas and had a time of sharing about what the study had meant to each one.  It was evident that God was stirring hearts and drawing us closer to Him through our time, which—cinnamon rolls aside—really is the desire.  I’m so thankful for each of these precious women.  They are really very special. 

A few of the women proudly showcase their handiwork.  

Our final women’s study—sweet, sweet group.

It was straight from baking rolls to Logan to pick up Julie and Derek from Uganda!!!  Our dear friend Helen had joined us for a few days to be my right hand girl in all the preparation, baking, wrapping, cleaning, etc., so it was an extra mutual bonus for all parties to reconnect.  Homecomings are usually joyful and this one surely qualified.

These happy smiles are for more than the Dunkin' Donuts
coffee Helen bought to welcome these two from Africa!

Later that evening, Paul returned to Logan to pick up Danny Oertli, who had been flown in to do a mini-concert for the Patriots Couples Christmas party Thursday night.  Arriving after midnight, he thought he had landed at the North Pole upon seeing the “elves” hard at work making gingerbread houses.  :)

The after-hours crew making the annual gingerbread houses.

After a full morning of counseling, we finished baking, wrapping, and preparing for the grand finale of the Patriots Couples’ Study, and headed down to Attleboro for a really great night.  Betsy Hasselbeck and Kara Mankins had transformed the Mankins’ dining room into a beautifully decorated room, delicious food had been brought in, and the Ugly Sweater Christmas party began.  (Let me note here that when it had been suggested during the previous study that the party become an “Ugly Christmas Sweater” night, I had NO idea that they were referring to the very sweaters that I’ve worn Christmas after Christmas, never thinking them “ugly.”  I honestly thought they meant something very different, so was I surprised to show up and see what this young generation considers “ugly.”  What a rude awakening!)

Sweaters aside, the evening couldn't have been more delightful.  After laughing over the parade of "ugly sweaters" and eating a fabulous meal,  Danny Oertli did a fabulous concert, highlighted by his original tune written just for that night (in anticipation of the AFC title game between his beloved Broncos and our beloved Pats.  You can hear it here on YouTube:    As we now know, that song will have to wait for another year to go viral, as the Broncos will be watching the Pats and the Ravens in the AFC title game, but we all thoroughly enjoyed Danny's creativity and passion expressed in that song.  Matthew Slater talked about his walk with Christ and Paul wrapped it up with a charge that goes beyond the season.  It was a perfect night and we were very, very thankful for how God had met us through the study this season.

The Ugly Sweater gang

That takes us through Dec. 13 and that’s it for now.

I have to try to figure out how it’s already Jan. 16.

If Home Is Where the Heart Is . . .

It's Sept. 12 and we're somewhere between Brussels and Newark, NJ.  As the 11th anniversary of 9/11 drew to a close, we boarded our flight from Entebbe, Uganda, closing out three incredible weeks of ministry and holiday in this central African country.

A million thoughts are swirling through my head as we make this long journey back to the States, where a good portion of our hearts reside.  But surely "home" is now also in Mbale, Uganda, where we have left part of our hearts.

Our last week in that country has been more vacation than work, so we travel home considerably more rested and relaxed than we arrived 3 weeks ago.  Though I did visit the hospital daily to hang out with precious mamas and babies, much of the week was spent relaxing, swimming, napping, reading, and hanging with Derek and Julie.  Sweet, sweet times with them, making it harder and easier to leave them.  Harder because we love being with them so much; easier because they are delighting in marriage and are fulfilled in their ministry work.  They are "better together" and that is so encouraging to see firsthand.

"Papa Paul" plays with Hadasseh, a little 3-year-old Ugandan orphan adopted
by Lexi, a young woman from Florida.

Mostly relaxing: Derek manages to enjoy the pool and take a business call.  :)

One of the highlights of this week was visiting "Overcomers Rehabilitation Center," a less-than-one-year-old private school for children with spina bifida.  One of the specialties of the CURE Neurological Hospital in Mbale is treating children who are born with this condition, which is considered a congenital defect of children born in poverty.  Though the opening in the spinal column can be surgically repaired at CURE, the children are typically paralyzed from the opening down, resulting in lifelong incontinence.  As a result, these usually bright children are refused admission to school, as the schools are not able/willing/equipped to deal with incontinent children.

The Spiritual Center Director of CURE, Miriam Ongom, received a vision from God regarding starting a private school for these children, who have survived the perceived "curse" of spina bifida as infants, only to be cast away by the time they are school-aged.  Without Miriam's school, the six students currently enrolled would languish in their huts, with nothing but a dismal future unfolding before them.

We first met her school children earlier in the week when they came to the hospital for a physical therapy session with Dr. Julie (Friesen Johnson!) and her colleague, Lucy (CURE's full-time physiotherapist.)  We fell in love with this little uniformed cohort of overcomers.  They played ball.  They recited their facts.  They laughed.  They did their exercises.  And they sang.  "Somebody touched me . . . it must've been the hand of the Lord."  Lustily and with conviction.  If you didn't know that the little silk purses around their necks held their catheters, or if you didn't notice the braces on their legs or the crutches under their arms, you would've thought they were any typical group of 4-6 year olds.

These children have come from all over Uganda to attend Sister Miriam's special boarding school.  Sister Miriam, who lives in Namatala, one of the largest slums in Mbale, has converted her rented home into a boarding school.  Not because it's a lucrative private school.  These children can't pay.  Not because she has so much excess money and time.  She works full-time to support her family of six sons.  Not because she has state aid, a huge board, and a list of benefactors.  At this point, she's doing this with the aid of two teachers and a "dorm" mom.

Just because God told her to do this.  Because these children, though considered "the least of these" by a society that has no purpose for their lives, are loved by Him, and Sister Miriam knows that He has a purpose for each of their lives.

We visited the "school" and had a deeply moving "sad-glad" experience.  I'll admit that it was initially hard to overlook the obvious symbols of poverty:  the dirt, the small room holding 3 bunkbeds for sleeping, the tiny school room, the smell of beans alone boiling for dinner, the "squatty potty", etc.  But all it took to see through a totally different lens was the children, who were happily working at their desks, learning to write and read, being taught by a beautiful Ugandan school teacher (who is willing to serve at ORC for much less than she'd receive in any other Ugandan school).  They lit right up when they saw that the "M'zee" had come with his wife ("M'zee" refers to an older man, who is considered wise and worthy of respect).  "M'zee Paul" had taught them "My God is so BIG" when they had come to the hospital on Tuesday, so they were thrilled when he led them in a chorus of this simple, profound song.  Precious moments.

The children from Overcomers Rehabilitation Center arrive at the hospital for physical therapy with Dr. Julie and Ms. Lucy.
Enoch, Anthony, Adijah, and Emma are in the front row, with Ruth standing behind.
All of these children had surgery at CURE in years past.

Dr. Julie tosses the ball, much to the delight of the children.

Sister Miriam stands in the "dorm room" of her little school.

The happy children with their teacher have just finished singing, "My God is so BIG!"

Miriam's school launched in March and they are beginning their 3rd term now.  She fully believes that this is just the beginning of a large boarding school which will meet the needs of many otherwise forgotten children.  Would you pray with us for her efforts - and ask the Lord if He is calling you to be part of the fulfillment of her vision?

Another highlight of the week was spending good chunks of time with my new friend, Janet, and her son Emma.  I referred to them last week in the blog:  Emma was born with hydrocephalus and was treated at CURE during its inaugural year in Mbale (2001).  He has had many complications and as a result, is non-ambulatory and confined to a wheelchair.  He was back at the hospital for the past couple of weeks for a shunt revision due to an infection.  His mother was widowed 4 years ago, about the time she had her second child, so she lives with her mom (who is disabled) as a single mom of two.

Emma, Janet, Julie, and another little patient share
a few moments in the ICU ward after Emma's surgery.

Janet is one of the most beautiful, courageous women I have met.  I sat with her for about 30 minutes during Emma's surgery, sharing life stories and praying, and was so impressed with her heart for the Lord and her awareness of His presence.  "God is good ALL the time" she began, and I finished, "And ALL the time, God is good."  She loves her Emma, even though his needs are so great and her culture rejects him.  She inspired me greatly.

The hospital is expanding as we speak.  Construction is underway to add a ten-bed private ward, a new Physiotherapy Lab, and a third "theater" (operating room.)  Completion is expected in November.  It's very, very impressive to be on the hospital grounds - a beautifully landscaped "sanctuary," gated from the surrounding impoverished village, but providing life and health, spiritual and physical, to those living in such villages.  It's a remarkable work.

Interacting with the hospital staff was another highlight of our time in Mbale.  Led capably by our son-in-law Derek Johnson, the staff of over 100 are truly delightful.  Possessing the gracious spirit of Ugandans, they are appreciative, warm, respectful, and servant-hearted.  They so genuinely appreciated our teaching on relationships, and many expressed how much it had impacted their lives.  Many said it had really changed the way they looked at marriage and family.  We loved every minute of interaction and look forward to being with them again.

"M'zee Paul" and "M'zee Emma" share a bond as the two "M'zees" of the hospital.
Emma has been married for 30 years and has raised his three children for Christ.
He's a remarkable man of God.

Sister Harriet, Sister Esther, and Sister Miriam are three key players at the hospital.  Wonderful women of God, dedicated to serving Him and these precious Mamas and babies.

We also enjoyed connecting with the missionary community in Mbale and others who are friends with Derek and Julie.  Bob and Martha Wright (and their five children!), are missionaries in Karamoja, a remote and rough region in the northeast corner of Uganda.  They were in Mbale for much of the time we were, and we had several great times with them.  We had dinner one night with Yusef and Nada Eads, and four of their five children and enjoyed a Palestinian feast prepared by Nada.  They fled Palestine over 20 years ago and have made their home in Mbale since.  They're very involved in the Christian community in Mbale.  Another night we had dinner with JP and Jill Robinson and their two kids.  The Robinsons were married 15 or so years ago by our dear friend, Jay Abramson (of Valley Community Baptist Church of Avon, CT), and began their missionary career in Mbale in April.  We attended their ecumenical Bible Study one Sunday night and got to meet many others there.  It gave us good insight into Julie and Derek's world outside of the hospital.

Dinner with the Wright family from Karamoja.  We really enjoyed
these guys and admire the work they're doing in a very tough setting.

No safaris or sightseeing tours on this trip, but on Saturday, Derek did drive us up Wanale, a mountain just behind their town.  It was a beautiful drive through the waterfall strewn landscape.  The hillsides were terraced with small farms and we were enthusiastically greeted by small children from the small villages dotted along the road.  We were captivated by all the sights and sounds.   Derek regaled us with tales of riding his bike up their arduous dirt road, which planted a vision in my mind for our next trip.  :)  Great day.

On the Wanale Road, the friendly children paid a visit when we stopped to photograph the waterfall.

Just about the time that we were tuning out the incessant sounds of roosters crowing through the night, and dogs barking their heads off, and birds contributing their special songs to the symphony of the night; and just about the time the sometimes noxious odors of people and poverty were becoming somewhat normal; and just about the time walking into the ward at the hospital didn't cause me to automatically burst into tears; and just about the time it was second nature to not swallow any tap water . . . it was time to pack and go.  

But we weren't quite done.  We were privileged to have two more ministry opportunities before we boarded our flight home.  We drove to Kampala on Monday, the 10th, and spoke that night at the Family of Destiny Church in NTinde.  Pastored by a dear friend of Pastor Wilberforce, we were invited to speak on marriage to their young marrieds, so we did.  We were in cross-town Kampala traffic to get there for longer than we spoke, but it was a wonderful night.  We've been invited back.  Pastor Thomas said, "You have only served up an appetizer tonight.  We want you to come back and serve a full meal!"

The following morning, very early, we were invited to speak to the Christians in Parliament.  We had the privilege of addressing this group 3.5 years ago when were were here, and considered it a great honor to have another opportunity.  We mainly encouraged this group of faithful men and women in positions of influence to use their appointments to strengthen marriages and families in Uganda, using scriptural truth as their guide.  They've also invited us back.

Pastor Wilberforce, MP Charles Angine, and Patrick
helped make it possible for us to speak to Parliament.

We've said yes to all these invitations.  What makes it a bit easier to leave part of our hearts in Uganda is that God has made a way for us to return in March.  :)  We are most grateful.

So as we head home, we carry with us much less luggage, and much fuller hearts.  We'll be processing these weeks for months to come, undoubtedly, but we know we've been changed by these experiences.  We have greater confidence than ever in God's design for the family, and a deeper awareness that He will bring about His purposes in spite of cultural distortions.  

And we know that a heart can be divided . . . in a way that doesn't decrease it, but expands it.  Only God can make that happen.

Worlds Apart

The heavens declare the glory of God . . . whether we're at CBS, or Camp Berea, or Mbale, Uganda.  We send our greetings and love today from Uganda, where we have spent the past two weeks doing very much what we do in the States: speaking on marriage and counseling couples.  

We "hobbled" out of the USA on Monday, Aug. 20, after nine weeks straight of family camp, during which time we barely stopped to catch our breath.  This was a particularly full and exhausting summer—as I wrote in the last post—so by the time we boarded our flight out of Boston, we were anticipating with joy our 24 hours of travel to Entebbe!  Crazy, maybe, but two eight-hour-plus time periods in the air, with no interruptions, was just what we needed about that time.  We were most thankful for good, on-time flights, and for a safe arrival at the Entebbe airport late Tuesday night.  There's nothing quite so sweet as being greeted by eager children, full of smiles, and seemingly non-plussed by the 4-hour, rugged drive they had just made to pick us up.  It was a very happy reunion with Derek and Julie, whose faces we had only seen via Skype since early February.

We drove back to Mbale the next day, after a lovely night's rest and some errands around Kampala.  We made a quick stop in Ginja en route for a late lunch, and just around supper time, we arrived at their home.  This is our first return to Mbale since our visit in May of 2009 (when Derek and Julie were in the beginning of their courtship) and it was such a joy to settle into their home this time. 

We came fully loaded with "not available in Uganda" provisions for Julie and Derek.  What fun!

Our ministry opportunities began almost immediately, as Derek and Julie had their pastor and his wife, Wilberborce and Sarah Okumu, come for dinner Thursday night so we could discuss with them the ministry plans for their church that weekend.  Why Derek and Julie appreciate this couple so much became quickly apparent:  they are passionate people of God who serve their people with deep hearts and commitment.  Wilberforce was really excited about our proposal to teach his congregation about God's design for marriage as found in Genesis 2, the fall and curses in Genesis 3, and the "antidote" to the fall in Ephesians 5.  It was a new thought to him that God's spoken  curse to Eve, "Your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you" (Genesis 3:16) means that Eve would have a tendency to control, undermine, manipulate, and overrule her husband (her power corrupted), and that Adam's power would also be corrupted and expressed through dominance or passivity.   With this understanding of the Genesis 3:16 account of the curse, the instructions to husbands and wives found in Ephesians 5 "make sense" and far from being obsolete, irrelevant or oppressive, they address the sinful tendencies of men and women as a result of the fall and the curse.  Wilberforce was very eager for us to teach this to his people, which we did all day Saturday at a marriage seminar, and again on Sunday to a combined number of over 600 in two worship services.  What a privilege to be invited to speak into the lives of these precious people.

Here we are with Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu of Pearl Haven Christian Center, Derek and Julie's home church.

Our inadequacies have been very apparent to us, and we've been often plagued with concerns about the cultural gaps that exist between our world and theirs.  We have had many moments of self-doubt and questions about whether we really had anything to say.  After eight full days of ministry, we are sure we don't have anything to say apart from the truth of God's Word, and that we don't have anything to offer apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.

We were so aware of this as we taught at Pastor Wilberforce's church, Pearl Haven Christian Center.  The all-day Saturday conference was well attended and received, and we quickly adjusted to speaking through an interpreter.  We were struck with how very different, yet how very similar we are to these people.  In the words of Ron Hall and Denver Moore, "the same kind of different as me."  The struggles between husbands and wives are universal to a degree, with cultural adaptations.  Obviously there are many differences, but the core issues are very similar.  It's been incredibly encouraging to see the impact of truth on the universally-fallen nature of mankind.

Sunday evening we had the privilege of teaching just under 100 at their youth service on God's design for relationships.  As we've done many times in the States, we started by asking them what qualities or characteristics did they hope to find in a mate.  The list was remarkably similar to every list we've heard in the States!  As we taught on God's design for purity and for marriage, we again sensed a hunger for the truth, and yet much confusion related to the cultural mores here. Great questions followed the talk and we felt that some of the confusion was clarified. The longing for healthy, God-honoring relationships was palpable.  Some things are universal among the body of Christ.

At the end of the youth service, a few remained to stack the chairs.

Before the weekend, we spent Friday afternoon with Derek's Senior Management Team at CURE Pediatric Hospital.  This group of very talented, committed leaders of the hospital were delightful to hang out with. After a fabulous lunch of homemade pizza a la Derek and Julie,  we discussed group and team dynamics and what Christlikeness looks like in a hierarchical setting.  It was a productive afternoon.

The Senior Management Team of CURE Hospital:
Florence, (Julie), Miriam, Peter, Moses, (Paul), Moses, and Derek.

Fresh, homemade pizza, baked in Derek's outdoor pizza oven, was happily consumed by all.

Monday, Aug. 27, Paul spent the afternoon with 14 influential, evangelical pastors, hand-picked for this meeting to discuss marriage in Uganda.  Issues such as dowry, bride price, introductions (engagement), weddings, etc., were on the table with the hopes of aligning Ugandan Christian marriages with Biblical design.  The challenges are great:  dowry continues to perpetuate a "wife as property" sentiment, which sets her up to be abused and treated as inferior.  Weddings have become very costly, large events, which cause the couple to wait for years before actually marrying.  They do not, however, postpone co-habiting and having children as they wait for the wedding.  The evangelical pastors have a heart for the church to lead the way in bringing changes, consistent with God's design for marriage, and that was the subject of the afternoon meeting.  Paul took it all in until the end, when he was invited to speak, and he was so impressed with the hearts and thoughts of these men of God.  He considered it a great privilege to be a part of this pivotal meeting.

The next day, the pastors returned with their wives for an all-day seminar with us teaching on marriage.  Once again, we were honored to present Biblical design and to wrestle through difficult questions posed by the pastors.  We loved the spirit of the day.  Such sincere men and women of God who truly are troubled by the state of marriage in Uganda and are poised and ready to lead the way in making some much needed changes.  They were so excited about the day that several of them asked us to return as soon as possible so they could mobilize as many pastors as possible to be taught similarly.  

The pastors and their wives attended an all-day seminar on Christian marriage and ministry.
They were delightful!

The day closed with the singing of "I Surrender All" and it was very, very powerful.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we spent at the CURE Pediatric Hospital, of which our son-in-law Derek is the Executive Director.  Working together with his spiritual care director, Miriam Ongom,  we would be speaking three times each day, in one-hour time slots, to maximize attendance of the hospital staff.  The spiritual emphasis of the hospital this year is "Developing Healthy Relationships," and we were asked to speak on healthy marriages, families, and singles.  

Over the nine hours we had in the three days, we addressed Biblical design for all of these relationships, focusing especially on God's design for purity, for treating one another with Christlikeness, and His design for sexuality.  All the topics were revolutionary to the way life is done in Uganda, but especially radical was dealing openly with sexuality.  Ugandans do not talk about it at all.  Though sex and all things related to it are kept in complete secrecy, there is tremendous corruption, abuse, and confusion concerning all things sexual.  At Miriam's and Derek's suggestion, we waited until Friday to teach on sexuality, and by God's grace and a deep level of trust which had grown between us and the staff, there was an amazing level of openness to our teaching.  Though many submitted written questions, a handful even voiced questions aloud.  There was such an obvious hunger for truth about this "taboo" subject that is so dynamic and which impacts each person's life significantly.  

Our commitment was to teach Biblical design.  The last thing we wanted was to communicate western ideas about sexuality, marriage, etc.  Enough of those ideas have floated through cyberspace and other forms of media and have had a very corrupting and distorting affect on this culture.  For many of them, the concept of a mutually-satisfying marital sexual relationship was a brand new idea.  The truth that there was no place for beating a wife into submission went against common practice.  The belief that husband's headship meant servant leadership, not "I'm the boss so it's all about me" was hard to swallow (for the men, anyway!).  The culturally acceptable attitude towards women as inferior was turned upside down by the Biblical truth of equality.  

God met us in ways which far exceed any expectations we had.  He was so gracious to give us wisdom in the moment as we dealt with complex issues and questions, and to touch the hearts and ears of those listening.  Though exhausted by late Friday afternoon (we also counseled in between the 3 teaching sessions that day), we were thoroughly energized to have been part of something so potentially revolutionary.  

Whenever possible during the four full days we spent at the hospital for the seminars, Julie and I slipped into the ward to see the babies.  As difficult as it is to see babies struggling with such challenging medical conditions, it's so hope-giving to see how God is using this place to bring life and healing.  We're more and more impressed with what is happening here.  

Julie loves on a precious little girl who has had surgery and will soon be going home.

This precious child and his 17-year-old mama has very advanced hydrocephalus and has had a shunt surgically implanted.  The mamas who come here are the brave ones.  Many succumb to the cultural belief that a big-headed baby is cursed, and "accidentally" drop the baby in the river or get rid of them in other ways.  :(

This is Emma and his mama Janet.  We've fallen in love with this pair.  Emma is 11 and due to many complications, is non-mobile and deals with the ongoing effects of hydrocephalus.  Even so, he hardly complains and has the sweetest smile.  He also has a very devoted, sacrificial mama, who is widowed. 

This is a wonderful story of success.  This little girl has returned to the hospital for a follow-up visit and she is doing beautifully, thanks to the amazing grace of God and work of CURE.

We rested on the weekend.  :)  It's been wonderful to hang out with Derek and Julie, relaxing, enjoying playing games, eating fine meals, going to a local resort pool, and getting good sleep.  The first two days of this new week (and our last one in Uganda for awhile), Paul has been focused on writing a handbook to go along with our teaching last week, to leave these dear people with something tangible for reference as they continue to wrestle with these new ideas.  I've gone to the hospital for part of each day with Derek and Julie to check in on the babies.  

Our time is flying by, but we are grateful for every day we're here.  In one week, we'll return to a more familiar world—but one which is loved no more deeply than this one. 

Risen Indeed!

With California gas prices well over $4.00 a gallon, and a one-way rental car fee exorbitant, we enjoyed our first train ride in quite some time as we made our way down the Pacific Coast from Arroyo Grande to Orange County.  What a great way to travel!  We enjoyed the view along the coast, and when that ran out (because the train turned inland), we were productive on our computers, and when we arrived in Irvine, met by our dear friend Wendy Offield, we were rested and ready to go!  Good decision.

Julie and Derek picked us up the next morning and we drove together to Santa Clarita to meet with the wedding coordinator on site at Grace Baptist Church.  What fun to be with them!   Derek had flown in from Uganda the previous day in time to help Jules celebrate her 26th birthday, and every day of the week he was stateside was treasured.  After a great day getting wedding stuff done, we had an animated evening with Wendy over dinner and headed out early the next morning to pick up Kari and Brandon from the San Diego airport.  That was the first of many airport runs: over the next few days, Derek's sister arrived, followed by Lisa, and finally Derek's parents.  It was a “meet-the-parents” event for the parents—and we were so thankful for the time together to get to know each other a bit.  We rented a house on the beach in Encinitas for all of us and that was brilliant in terms of giving us lots of hanging out time between events.  We talked a lot, enjoyed good food, walked on the beach, watched the sunset each night, and played a few rounds of a Johnson card game called “Nickel” after night had fallen.  Great times.

Derek and Julie enjoy the view from Wendy's house in Laguna Beach.  Quite honestly, they would've enjoyed being anywhere, as long as they were together.

Three ladies and a baby . . . We're not sure what we did for entertainment before Brandon arrived.  :)  Left to right:  Lisa, Julie, Kari holding 8-month-old Brandon.

The occasion which brought us all together from the four corners was a bridal shower for Julie.  Our dear friend, Jodee Neal, hosted the gala at her home in Poway and the afternoon tea party on Easter Saturday was lovely in every way.  It was a wonderful reunion of family and friends, and amazingly, five of the six Collins “girls” (my sibs) were there, one of Paul’s sisters, as well as my mom.  Julie was honored to have lacrosse teammates from her Cal Poly years, Derek's mom and sister, and a variety of cousins and other family.  Her Grandma Collins gave a very fitting devotional from her vantage point of an almost-63-year marriage, and her words were meaningful to all.  A trivia game filled in some personal information about both Derek and Julie, and then Julie was showered with many beautiful personal gifts which won't be shown on this blog.  It really was a great time celebrating something so good and God-honoring as their upcoming nuptials.

Jodee Neal hosted the shower for Julie and did a beautiful job.

Julie listens intently as her Grandma Collins gives the devotional at the shower.

Five of the six Collins sisters were able to celebrate with Julie at the shower.  (l-r: Sue Hekman, Lucy Silveira, Melissa Collins, Francene Green)

Brittney, Chelsea, and Janelle looked different at the shower than they did on the lacrosse field!  All four are very tough (and beautiful!) competitors.

It meant so much to Julie that so many gathered to celebrate with her.

Easter Sunday was full of the inimitable joy spawned by the reality of the resurrection.  After our traditional breakfast of almond puff pastry in the shape of a cross, the Johnsons and Friesens went to services at Seacoast Community Church.  Besides a solid message by Dale Burke and inspiring worship, we connected with some of our long time friends from CBS family camp.   They're everywhere!!

Just in from church, we get a shot of both families, still dressed up.  We're so thankful that Julie's in-laws are vital Christ-followers and that they raised a son like Derek.

Easter dinner was hosted by my oldest sister, Lucy, and her husband Rick, in their lovely old Victorian home in downtown San Diego.  I think there were about 28 for the afternoon and the gathering was amazingly lacking in chaos.  Great moments of reinforcing family ties.

Rick and Lucy Silveira and Derek and Julie strike a pose before the exodus begins.

And then the airport runs began.  Kari and Brandon actually left Saturday night so they could be with Gabe for Easter and for his birthday (which along with our 35th anniversary, landed on Easter!)  By Monday morning, we were all on outbound flights to OK, VA, MA, and Uganda—thankful for the days shared and looking forward to the wedding.  Derek and Julie were especially thankful that this will be their last pre-marriage farewell.

We returned to Boston refreshed and full of gratitude for these very special days.  He is risen indeed!!

The sun sets on Derek and Julie's last farewell before they get married in August.

Our Family is Growing!

Paul and I are thrilled and thankful to announce that our youngest daughter, Julie, recently said a very big “yes” to the second most important decision she’ll make.  And as a result, our family will expand in late August 2011 through marriage.

Derek B. Johnson, executive director of the CURE Hospital in Mbale, Uganda, flew to Boston on Friday, November 12, to give Julie the biggest surprise of her life.  Even a malaria diagnosis two days earlier didn’t dissuade this suitor from traveling 22 hours to propose.  Julie suspected nothing, so when her focus caught the familiar looking man holding two roses, and standing at the base of the escalator at the Jet Blue terminal, she was more than surprised.  After an enthusiastic embrace, Derek dropped to his knee and asked Julie to be his wife.

It didn’t take her long to say YES!

Derek had generously invited us to share the moments with them at the airport as photographers, so we were honored to witness this incredibly sacred moment.

After an August wedding, they’ll live in San Diego until Julie graduates with her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in December.  They’ll then move Mbale, where they’ll continue serving with CURE.

We are amazed by God’s goodness in bringing Derek and Julie together.  Truly, the last thing Julie expected when she bravely flew to Uganda on February 1, 2009, was that God would orchestrate her meeting her future husband.  There’s really no other explanation than the hand of God and we have confidence that He will work out His purposes in their lives individually and together.

None of us have stopped smiling or giving thanks.

Thanks for smiling with us!

Derek waits (im)patiently for Julie to descend.

And on bended knee, he pops the question . . .
She said YES and is still glowing in the night as well as in the day.

After our evening with the Feldhahns ended, we joined them at home for a Martinelli’s toast.

Just over 48 hours later, Julie flies back to Washington DC.  She almost could’ve flown without a plane,  This photo was snapped at 5 a.m. — and that’s not a common 5 a.m. face.  :)