Pearl Haven Christian Center

In and Out of Africa

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?” 

Our Hope Is Built on Nothing Less . . .

Two weeks ago, this was the view out of the plane window as we made our approach to Entebbe, Uganda.  If you look closely, you’ll be able to see the Nile River snaking her way across this beautiful country.  Even if you don’t look closely, you’ll see the Glory of God in this magnificent sunset captured by camera.

And thus it began. In some ways it seems as though we blinked, and now we’re returning home…and in other ways, it seemed like much longer ago than two weeks that we witnessed this spectacular scene. Six full days of travel (to and from US, and within Uganda) and nine full days of ministry. We return home changed by the things we have experienced, the people we have served, and by the God who has met us. And we are more convinced than ever that “our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness."

Our first time in Uganda in the post-Derek and Julie era, we had a certain amount of trepidation as we commenced this journey. Since they had always taken such good care of us logistically, practically, and otherwise, we truly wondered how we would manage without them.  

We found out quickly that when you’ve impacted people there as deeply and positively as have they, you will be well-taken care of on their coattails. How humbling!

And so from the moment of our arrival, when we were met at the Entebbe airport by the driver Nelson from the Boma Hotel, we were greeted and treated as though we were well-loved family returning home. The crew at the Boma couldn’t have been more effusive about their love for the Johnsons and about how deeply they miss them now that they’re in the states. They wanted to see photos of Nathan, whom they had known since his birth, and of his new baby sister, Rachel, who they are eager to meet. This record played over and over and over every day we were in Uganda.  

And as a result, we had no need that was left unmet.  

We flew to Uganda seven hours after returning from California on a red-eye, Monday, May 9, and landed late on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the 11th, we spent the whole day getting from Entebbe to Mbale (western to eastern Uganda), made quite difficult by the impending inauguration of President Museveni the following day. Road closures and increased traffic delayed our pick-up near the airport by 3 hours and increased the normally 5-hour trip to Mbale to 8 hours. It was quite harrowing at the end as we traveled in complete darkness, but our wonderful driver Mackay safely delivered us to the Mt. Elgon Hotel just after 8. The strangeness hit us strongly that we were at a hotel and not at the Johnson compound. We missed them terribly the whole time, but not because we were not well cared for.

We hit the road running. JP and Jill Robinson, dear friends who are serving with the Church of Christ, picked us up bright and early Thursday and we were off to speak at an-all day marriage training for church-planting village pastors who are being discipled by JP and his Ugandan counterpart, Dennis. It was truly an exciting day for all as it included the wives (who are not part of the discipleship program) and they seemed genuinely pleased to be included in this unusual day. It was the first such training for these local village pastors on marriage and they were fully engaged all day. The Robinsons did a great job organizing the event, which was held on the grounds of Livingstone International University (LIU) and we all deemed it successful at day’s end as we debriefed over a lovely meal at the Robinsons' home.
The church-planting village pastors and wives at the marriage training hosted by the Church of Christ
and organized by JP and Jill Robinson (far right)

JP and Jill are completing their fourth year in Mbale and will return after a 2.5 month furlough in the states this summer. They facilitated our time in Mbale and we are ever so grateful.

Sleep felt very good that night!

Up and at it early Friday, prior to starting our conference for JENGA, Robby Keen drove us over to the CURE hospital to indulge our desire to make contact with the many we love there. It was brief, but so so sweet to exchange many hugs and even to see a few babies. What a great way to start the day.

The balance of the day (9:30-5) was spent at the hotel where we  spoke for JENGA, an NGO dedicated to serving the community in many different ways. Led by one of the Johnsons’ closest friends, Robby Keen, a Brit who defies his heritage save his accent (he is a wild one), the JENGA team spent from 10-5 hearing about God’s design for marriage, why it matters, and how to live it. It was a lovely group that seemed to really feel their time was well spent.  

Robby Keen welcomes the JENGA crew to the all-day marriage event in a meeting room at the Mt. Elgon Hotel.  
At day’s end . . . 
everyone has enough energy to muster a smile for the group photo.

We were warmly hosted for dinner that evening by Joseph and Nada Eid and their children Manna and Naseem. All our evening meals were provided by those who love Derek and Julie.
For the third day running, we had an early start for yet another all-day marriage seminar, this one hosted by and held at Pearl Haven Christian Center. What a joy to return to this thriving church, pastored by Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu, and to see the progress they’ve made on completing their 10-year-in-process church building. Some of you will remember that H.I.M. raised $20K for Pearl Haven after our trip last year, which we sent to them so they could “raise the roof. Though not yet finished, much progress has been made and the roof should be on within the next two months.  

Around 250 attended the Saturday conference, including “our” driver Mackay and Doreen, whom we invited after he asked what we were doing in Mbale and expressed interest in coming. The day went very well, after we adjusted the speed of our speaking to facilitate the translator. Though most Africans know some level of English and many are fluent English speakers, most would profit much more by hearing it in Lugandan.  One of the highlights of the day for us was having a break-out session with the singles in attendance, which numbered about 70. We presented some material then opened it to written Q & A, and it was lively.  We LOVE addressing issues facing singles, especially today as the cultural rules and expectations continue to change. It’s very security-producing for this age/stage group to be reminded that the clarity of God’s heart for them hasn’t changed and won’t change and they can hold on to the eternal truth of scripture and design. Paul and I were at the Bam Supermarket early Monday morning and a young woman approached us, identifying herself as having been at the singles meeting during the marriage conference. “It helped me so much,” she said. “I’m content to trust God’s design and to wait for His best. It was so clear and so helpful. Thank you!” What a gift from God to hear of how He was working. To Him be the glory!!

After our third long teaching day in a row, we had the “night off” and bravely walked into Central Market in downtown Mbale to buy some avocados and mangos so we could have a quiet light supper in our room and retire early. Central Market is a huge, multi-level, (now) indoor “farmer’s market” consisting of locals bringing their goods to sell from their little booth. It’s a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated. Fortunately we had been there several times with Derek and Julie through the years, but I’ll admit it felt a lot different without them. Unusual (and somewhat offensive) sights, smells, and sounds combine to make it an outside-of-comfort-zone experience, but we navigated it, achieved our purpose, and made it back to the hotel before dark. Whew! And the avocado was well worth it.

The crowd is gathering at Pearl Haven for the all-day Saturday marriage/singles conference.

The singles met for a special session
in the “upper room” in the early afternoon.

Mackay and Doreen came to Pearl Haven for the first time to attend the marriage conference and the three of us were given a tour of the ongoing construction of the church.

“And they’ll look sweet, upon the seat, of a motorcycle built for six!”
Back at Pearl Haven on Sunday for the packed first service and a much smaller second service, Paul preached on “Ten Things Matthew 19 teaches us about Marriage.” He did a great job, says his adoring wife. We always love to be with the congregation at Pearl Haven, especially for their worship through song, which is always robust, heartfelt, and alive.

The congregation at Pearl Haven continues to grow—in knowledge and in size.

The congregation holds their hands towards us as Wilberforce speaks a blessings over our work and travel.

Hanging out with Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu, who lead the work at Pearl Haven. They are very kindred to us.
Home from church just after 2 (after leaving the hotel at 7:30 am), we were refreshed by a walk and a short time at the pool before going to the Olupot home to help celebrate Neese’s 7th birthday. Dr Olupot is a highly trained and respected MD/PhD at Mbale Regional Hospital, specializing in infectious diseases, and his wife Harriet works at CURE Hospital. They are deeply loved by Derek and Julie and the favor is returned. We were truly honored to be invited to join the festivities and loved having yet another insight into Ugandan culture. Her birthday was not only celebrated with the typical children’s games, foods, and cake, but it also had a spiritual dimension, lead by the pastor of their church. We took it all in and enjoyed every minute of it.

Neese’s 7th birthday party…
just before the cake cutting, the guests eagerly encircle her.

Monday…we met with a dating couple who wanted to talk through the challenges of a cross-cultural relationship…and then had time for a walk and a swim before the muzungu (white) missionary community came to the Mt. Elgon Hotel to spend the afternoon with us leading a discussion on balancing marriage, family, and ministry…especially in a different culture. We’ve known many of these for a number of years now, so it was really a sweet reunion. Over tea and cakes, we had a very fruitful time together and only wished it had been longer. The hearts are willing, but the challenges are real. This is a wonderful group of ex-Pats.  

Most of the “muzungu” missionary community who gathered for tea and talk Monday afternoon.
That evening we had the pleasure of dining with Mackay and Doreen’s family in their home.  We were treated like royalty as they presented a spread of local Ugandan food, made in their home, in honor of our visit. We loved being with their family,and being entertained by their adorable daughters, Maya, Martha, and Marcella. It was a night we won’t soon forget.

The Mwebingwa family plus one:  Sirene is on the far left and she has joined the family since her parents’ death.

Tuesday! Time is flying and we’re unable to slow it down. Having the morning off helped a bit. We were thankful for a few hours to have extended quiet time, a long walk, and a short time by the pool before welcoming local pastors with whom we’ve met each time we’ve been here since 2012 for ongoing marriage training. Many of these were at our very first event held at CURE Hospital in 2012 and then attended the retreat H.I.M. hosted in 2013. We love the continued connection with these dear folks. They also came to the Mt. Elgon Hotel for the afternoon, beginning with lunch and continuing with an ongoing discussion on marriage in Uganda. It was so good to be together.

About 42 familiar pastors and their wives joined us for the afternoon for ongoing training. It was another sweet reunion.
We managed a second walk that afternoon to visit the Johnsons’ former compound (now inhabited by new CURE Hospital Executive Director Tim Erickson and his wife, Kiera, and their 3 little ones.) It felt so strange to be there on one hand, as with the exception of the Johnsons not being there, not much had changed. Their guard John and his son Farouk (who were like family to the Johnsons and subsequently to us) were there, their dogs Jack and Lemon were there, etc. It was a most happy reunion with John, Farouk, and the dogs. Farouk, who had not expected our arrival, just kept saying, “It’s a miracle! It’s a miracle!” The day wrapped up with a sweet time of fellowship and food with Chad and Katie Allen and their three littles. Chad is the CFO of LIU and they are a warm, hospitable family.

John, Farouk, Jack, Lemon, and Paul . . . a very happy group.

Chad, Katie, Graham, Molly, and Finn welcomed us into their home Tuesday night for dinner.

Finally…Wednesday. CURE Hospital! We had been looking forward to this day long event since arriving, and this was the day. Tim had kindly invited us to speak at chapel from 8-9 and then added a special chapel from 12-1. In between the chapels, we met individually with those who wanted our counsel. The morning and afternoon “slots” were all booked and we had some very precious moments with some very dear folks. The chapels went well and it was just so good to be face to face with many we’ve grown to love so deeply since our first visit to the hospital in 2009. The chorus of “we miss Derek and Julie so much” was constant and not surprising; they both invested greatly in that place and those people for 5-8.5 years.  It was a day full of celebration and grace.

One of the highlights for us for having a private visit with Sister Florence, the recently retired director of nursing for the hospital. It would be hard to find a more impressive woman!  When she was a young nurse, almost twenty years ago, her sister died, leaving her three daughters orphaned. Sister Florence adopted the girls, forsaking her own desire to be married in order to focus on the needs of these precious but traumatized young girls. The youngest is now 20 and all three are following Christ and doing well. Sister Florence has done her job, both at the hospital and with her daughters, exceedingly well. It was a privilege to sit and talk with her about the past as well as her future plans.  

Salt of the earth. Life upon life. Gifts of the journey.

The day ended all too quickly. Our time in the ward wasn’t long enough, but sufficient to remind us of the incredible work being done by the folks at the hospital.  What a privilege to be connected with this ministry and with these people.

Part of the staff we successfully corralled for a photo after the second chapel … How we love these!

Sister Florence!
One of the precious little ones who has undergone the ETV treatment for her fairly advanced case of hydrocephalus.

This sweet mama has her hands full with her non-mobile son and her baby with a good view from her back.

It was very hard to pull ourselves away from the hospital but we had a dinner date at the Mbale Resort Hotel with Wilberforce and Sarah, and Mackay. This spontaneous invitation to dinner was extended by the manager of the hotel, Isaiah, who is a very close friend of Mackay. After Mackay had related to him high praise for the marriage conference at Pearl Haven, Isaiah extended the invitation for us to be his guest for dinner. Isaiah let us know how much Derek and Julie had impacted his life as well during their time in Mbale and he was very interested in partnering with us on future trips. He wondered if we would consider using his hotel for some future marriage event. Only God knows where this will lead. For now, we know we had a fabulous meal at this hotel and another strong connection was made. Praise Him!

Isaiah, Mackay, Wilberforce, Sarah, and us
just before dinner at the Mbale Resort Hotel.

What a lovely way to spend our last night in Mbale. Back to the Mt. Elgon Hotel to pack and be ready for an 8 am Thursday pick up. We managed to do an early morning walk in the drizzle, which abated before we made it back to the hotel, making way for a beautiful rainbow straight from heaven. It actually left us both speechless as we were drenched in the hope of His promise and the reality of His presence.

Our last morning in Mbale: what an incredible start to the day!

Our trip to Entebbe Thursday was full of unexpected delights!  We stopped at the new Endiro Coffee Shop on the road to Jinja and were delightfully surprised that Gloria, the very smart entrepreneur behind the now 4-stores-strong coffee shop “chain”, was there! We had such a nice visit, and of course heard, “We miss Derek and Julie so much!” She admitted that beyond just loving them, they were very faithful customers at her Mbale store and she also is missing their business. :)

Gloria, owner of the Endiro Coffee Shop chain, was so kind and generous to us. Best cappuccino I’ve had in a long time!

Next stop…to repair a flat tire.  The same one that was repaired a week earlier gave up completely.  But in no time, Mackay had replaced it with the “donut” and off we went.

Jinja was up next, and we made a very brief stop to get some coffee, etc., and then were on our way to Mackay’s parents-in-law, who live between Jinja and Kampala. Remarkable people! Now retired, they farm their large piece of land to supply their family and friends, and extend hospitality to all who come by. We thoroughly enjoyed connecting with them.

Mackay’s parents-in-law, Mr. Atim and Margaret: he had a career with UNICEF and other NGO’s and she is a retired school head-mistress. Amazing folks!

We finally arrived at the Boma around 5, we were in the pool by 5:05 to be refreshed in the last waning streams of sunlight, which lasted long enough to get in a walk to Lake Victoria, all the while viewing the setting sun. A relaxing evening, delicious dinner, and to bed, exhausted.

Next stop:  Ethiopia!!

A first for us: leaving the airport at Addis Ababa!

Invited by CURE to conduct a marriage seminar for the leadership team at their Addis Ababa Orthopedic Hospital, we were both excited and apprehensive about this event. It was an intimate gathering of eight couples, most of whom are doctors of some sort, and we wondered what their expectations would be and if they’d feel that giving up their Saturday in such a way would be “worth it.”

We were delightfully surprised and aware of God’s faithfulness as the rapport between us developed. By conference end, we felt we had eight new couples who had become friends. Because of the size of the group, there was plenty of interaction, time for questions, etc. We were so impressed with their sincere expressions of wanting to build in to their marriages and families, and of recognizing their vulnerability to imbalance given the immense need for their medical services. By the time it was over, there was talk of doing it again next year.  :)

The hospital’s medical director later wrote:
“It was a great time. Very practical and doable. They were great presenters. Never a dull moment. Sensitive to everyone's different cultures and personalities. But most of all, I found them to be very genuine. They offered help that was both important and addressable. Not pie in the sky—I could never be like that—kind of advice.  Would recommend it anywhere and if they come next year, we will encourage all the married hospital staff to attend.

One of the highlights of the day, unrelated to the conference (which was held on the SIM compound), was the “yard sale” run by the children of the compound dwellers. These enterprising young ones had it on their heart to raise funds for a pediatric rehabilitation center, so they baked cookies and gathered some candy and gum to sell at their “yard sale.”  Loved seeing their hearts of compassion!

We returned to the hotel near the airport and walked about the city before calling it a day.

 The “Yard Sale” and the young entrepreneurs running it.

The marriage conference attendees.
A stellar group of servant-hearted people.

Sunday, after attending church services at St Matthew’s Anglican Church with several of the CURE families, we toured the CURE Hospital.  What an amazing place and even more so are the incredible people who make it happen.  We were privileged to be toured by Dr. Tim Nunn and Dr. Rick Gardner, the two orthopedic surgeons who work here. Both men are highly skilled, highly trained physicians who are pouring their lives out for “the least of these.” We were so touched by their personal connection with their patients as they stopped to check in with them during the tour, which was happening on their day off. It was evident immediately that they are deeply loved by these young ones whose lives are literally being changed by them. Hope givers. Life changers. Jesus with flesh on.

This hospital is so different than the Mbale hospital in some obvious ways: neurosurgery in Mbale and orthopedic surgery in Addis Ababa; the Mbale hospital deals largely with babies, while the Addis hospital treats older children; the Mbale hospital sits on a sanctuary-esque compound with many single story buildings, and the Addis hospital is terraced on a hillside and is currently building a huge rehabilitation center on their large property. They are also so much like each other. Both are clean, peaceful places of hope and healing, physical and spiritual, staffed by caring, sacrificial, highly professional medical teams, and filled with patients and their parents who are full of smiles as the never-thought-possible becomes possible. We met a 14-year-old girl who had been born with such deformity in her legs and feet that she had never walked.  After 7 months of operations and procedures at the Addis hospital, she took her first steps on Friday, with the aid of crutches. The doctors showed us a photo of her first steps and the joy on her face was unmitigated by the fact that she still has months of therapies and treatments ahead before she’ll go home. I asked Dr. Rick (who is completing his 3rd year at this hospital) if he saw himself here for the long haul and he said, “I can’t imagine practicing anywhere else.”  A heart (and hands) fully surrendered.

What a welcome to the hospital!

Dr. Tim Nunn (left) and Dr. Rick Gardner (holding his son Ben)
flanked the 14-year-old girl who took her first steps on Friday, after 7 months of work at the hospital.

Smiles, smiles everywhere!

We left the hospital so filled with hope and joy for these patients and their families, and with such awe and appreciation for the medical and support staff who bring help and healing in the name of Jesus. We also left with both a degree of sorrow, having been told that 2,000 children are on the waiting list for this CURE hospital now, and deep gladness knowing that thousands of children have already been treated here since its beginning in 2008.  

Our hearts were once again enlarged, and we are committed to pray for this work and for these people, who have given up lives of comfort and entitlement to serve those who would otherwise go unserved.

We walked the streets of Addis after we left the hospital, taking in more sights, sounds, and smells. Our compassion for these people was temporarily suspended when Paul realized he had been pick-pocketed by the little 9-year-old beggar who bumped into him and managed to take off with his wallet, which was deep in his front pocket. It returned—our compassion—though the wallet and its non-monetary contents did not. They are now in a trash heap somewhere in Addis Ababa. Choosing to be thankful that we weren’t harmed and that everything lost is replaceable, we began to pray for the little boy who at such a young age engaged in such an evil.  

To the airport for our flight home that night, we flew Ethiopian Air to Frankfurt, Germany, and Lufthansa to Boston.  We couldn’t have asked for better or easier flights, thankfully, and gratefully were home in Bedford before dinner time.

We’ll be processing the trip long after our bodies are readjusted to Eastern Standard Time.  

God has met us. He has used us. He has allowed our hearts to be broken “by the things that break His heart.”  He has shown us His power. His mercy. His grace. His generosity. 

He has amplified our hope in nothing but Him.

All praise is His as we seek to proclaim that our hope is truly built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

"My Hope is Built on Nothing Less"
by Edward Mote, 1797-1874

1. My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

2. When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

3. His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

4. When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

A Lifetime Ago

Re-reading my last blog post (March 22, 2015), it does seem like a lifetime ago.  The snow is now gone and signs of (a very late) spring are beginning to surface.  We’ve traveled 22,628 miles and spent almost 50 hours in the air since then.  We’ve been home 5 days since mid-March, and most of those have been filled with counseling or speaking locally.

No wonder our arrival in Uganda feels like a lifetime ago!

Before we hit the air again (in just over 30 hours), I’ll try to catch up with myself by reflecting on this “lifetime” in a few short paragraphs.

Perhaps what makes it seem so “epic” is that 3 of the past 4.5 weeks were spent in Africa.  It’s not only geographically far away, its culture and lifestyle are even more “far away” from our middle class American life.  The sights, sounds, and smells are constant reminders that we’re a long way from home… that is, until we reunited with our daughter and her family awaiting our arrival at Entebbe, and then, amazingly, we instantly felt “at home.” It’s amazing how relationships always transcend place.

And so began the fulfillment of our long-held dream to have our whole family experience Julie, Derek, and Nathan’s world together.  Our arrival on March 17th was followed by Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana’s on the 18th, and finally by Lisa’s on the 19th.  No small miraculous feat in itself…accomplishment by Paul who spent countless hours booking and re-booking flights for this trip.  Thankful for safe air travel for all, we continued traveling as we piled in vehicles and drove 5 hours to Mbale, the town in eastern Uganda that houses the CURE Pediatric Hospital where Derek serves as the executive director.  

Our first day in Mbale, visiting the CURE Children’s Hospital.

We had 10 days all together in Uganda and we made the most of them given the “constraints” we had given that 3 of the 10 family members were age 4 and under.  Bless those little ones!  We may have gotten no rest were it not for the napping and early-to-bed needs of such company.  

Our days in Mbale were divided between visiting the babies and mamas at the hospital (the highlight for everyone), playing in the Johnsons’ yard, taking walks in the neighborhood, eating fabulous meals a la Derek and Julie, and grabbing an occasion cup of cappuccino at the Endiro Coffee Shop.  We did venture on a “field trip” to Sipi Falls one day and enjoyed a short hike to a beautiful waterfall, but other than that, our world existed within about a 3-mile range between the hospital and their home.  Paul and I did one whole day of teaching on marriage for JENGA during the time we were all together, but otherwise we majored on the delight of being together as a family and we immersed ourselves in the Johnsons’ world.

Auntie Lisa and Brandon visit a sweet mama and her baby.

Gabe, Kari, and Ana went from bed to bed, talking and praying with the mamas.

Our day trip to Sipi Falls was wonderful and all made the hike
except Derek, who was nursing a knee injury.

Daily walks in the neighborhood gave us exercise and insights into the life and culture of Mbale.

The JENGA crew who spent the day with us being trained in Biblical marriage.

We loved every minute of it.  It was re-inspiring to view their life anew through the first-time eyes of the Garcia family. Brandon was beside himself with excitement to see Chiko II (the monkey that has been hanging out in the Johnsons’ yard for the last several months) swinging in the trees in their yard as well as the herds of Ankole cows ambling down the dirt road in front of the Johnsons’ house every morning and night.  Ana loved the Johnsons’ dogs, their son Nathan (who is just 2 months older than she is, and they did have some competitive moments of non-sibling rivalry), and all the babies at the hospital. Gabe and Kari were impressed by the mission and work of the hospital as well as by the realities of living in a developing country for the Johnsons. It’s hard to grasp what that means until you experience it firsthand.  Our awareness of the sacrifices and challenges of their life were heightened.

We also had an early 30th birthday celebration for Julie. We were all so happy to get to honor her in person for this milestone.

Chiko II pays us a visit during our outdoor breakfast.

The “cows come home” after a day of grazing.

We celebrated Julie’s 30th a bit early at the Endiro Coffee Shop.

After a week in Mbale, we headed northwest to Murchison Falls Game Park to go on a safari.  In spite of lots of rain, we had a fabulous time viewing the incredible creativity of God as seen in giraffes, elephants, Cape Buffalo, a female lion and her cubs, deer, antelope, wart hogs, hippos, crocodiles, eagles, and more.  We drove for about 5 hours through the savannah and then took a 3-hour “cruise” on the Nile up to Murchison Falls.  It was an unforgettable day and one we hated to see end.  

After a very long and bumpy 8-hour drive, a very happy crew arrives at Bwana Tembo,
our lodging for our safari.

Brandon was enthralled with every sighting, and was especially captivated by this giraffe that followed us for awhile.

On the Nile River cruise, we enjoyed watching these elephants frolic in the water.

We think it’s a friendly smile...

With Murchison Falls in the background, we get a family shot on the Nile.

What all good mates do: carefully groom their spouse.

Continuing our family tradition, we circled up to pray before parting ways.

We parted ways the next morning, with the Garcias and Lisa driving to Entebbe to fly home and Johnsons and us heading back to Mbale.  Paul and I had many great ministry opportunities the next week:  we did an all-day pastors’ conference focusing on marriage training, we spoke for a couples’ date night for Pearl Haven Christian Center, we spoke at the Easter Convention and for a pastor’s prayer breakfast, we did a bit of counseling, we hung out at the hospital, and we spent time with several missionary families.  We had the joy of celebrating Easter at Pearl Haven and were so lifted by the worship of our uninhibited African brothers and sisters.  Glorious!

We spent a day training these local pastors in marriage ministry.

Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu, who lead the fellowship at Pearl Haven Christian Center, attended the couples’ date night dinner.

We spoke at the Pastor’s Prayer Breakfast during the Easter Convention.

We also spoke to the whole Easter Convention after the prayer breakfast.

Nathan and his good friend Faruke, whose father John is the groundskeeper for the Johnsons.  Faruke is a wonderful, motivated young man who will be sorely missed
when the Johnsons return to the States this summer.

April 7 we left Uganda to begin a very long trip home, which thankfully went without hitch, landing us in Boston late afternoon on the 8th.  No time for jet lag recovery as we counseled all day the 9th and ran our annual “Worth It” purity family conference all day the 11th.  

Yes, that was a very fast transition….and the Lord met us with amazing strength and energy.  We were thrilled to have a packed house for Worth It, which featured New England Patriots Nate Solder and Matthew Slater (with his wife Shahrzad), retired Patriot Don Davis, Camp Berea Director Nate Parks, UCLA head athletic trainer for women’s basketball Lisa Friesen, Grace Chapel Wilmington youth minister Adam Rowe, and LCA Creative Arts Director Christopher Greco and his wife Dorothy.  All spoke with power, clarity, and conviction regarding the goodness of God’s design for our sexuality and relationships.  

The “Worth It” speaking team — such a great group!!!  So thankful for them.

Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield hosted our annual “Worth It” conference
and the house was packed.

No rest yet: on Sunday Paul preached both services at Hope Community Church in Newburyport and that evening we returned to the church to speak for a Couples’ Dessert Night.  This was an event which had been snowed out in February and we were so glad we had a day to reschedule it.  We thoroughly enjoyed partnering with this alive church.

We rested on Monday, April 13th, as we flew to California.  :)  Tuesday and Wednesday we partnered with Grace Baptist Church of Santa Clarita, speaking at a mom’s event Tuesday morning and doing training for their Care Ministry teams on Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday night.  It was great working with Dan Broyles, their Director of Care Ministries.

Thursday was all about the Garcia grandkids: visiting the fish and turtle pond at the mall, eating at Chick-Fil-A, playing baseball in the back yard, building Legos creations, baking Gigi cakes, having “wrestle time”, and taking walks.  What’s not to love about grandparenting?!!

A favorite destination . . .

. . . and this is why!  Quite mesmerizing to watch these turtles and koi.

On to Tehachapi, California, on Friday to do a marriage conference for the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard. This church plant of the Desert Vineyard in Lancaster is thriving in this small mountain town under the shepherding of Barry and Saundra Galloway.  We were enveloped by their love and grace from the moment we arrived Friday evening until we left Sunday afternoon. The well-attended marriage conference Friday night and Saturday was vibrant and alive. We were very encouraged by the receptivity and teachability of the attendees. We spent Saturday evening talking with their ministry staff about balancing ministry and family, and then taught at both of their Sunday morning services on “Living to the Praise of His Glory.”  It was a very well-spent weekend.

Barry and Saundra Galloway shepherd the flock at Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard
and are impossible not to love.

A Campus by the Sea family camp planning meeting took place in the afternoon, followed by the UCLA women’s basketball banquet, and then a red-eye home.  Whaaaat???  Gluttons for punishment, perhaps, but it feels like we somehow gained a day, especially when flying west to east.  Our bodies aren’t fooled by such trickery, however, so we weren’t very productive after getting home early afternoon Monday.

Lisa, Head Coach Cori Close, and I get a photo prior to the Women’s Basketball Banquet.
Though it’s only been a month, it still somehow seems like a lifetime ago since I last wrote.  We are beyond thankful for all that’s gone down in this last month and are cherishing memories that will last a lifetime.  

2014: Off and running!

The New Year snuck in when we weren't looking, it seems.  Far from Times Square, fireworks, First Night, and toasting with Mom's homemade egg nog or Martinelli's sparkling cider, we slept long before the ball dropped on Dec. 31.  That's partly due to having a 5-month-old in the house, and a much larger part having to do with being in Mbale, Uganda, as the calendar page turned for the last time in 2013 and the first time in 2014. There were no fireworks or loud parties, but many prayer meetings.  All night prayer meetings.  And every conversation with a Ugandan since has begun with, "Happy New Year."  They weren't ignoring the new year.  They just have a different view of how to usher it in. Food for thought.

With more than half the days of the first month of this new year gone already, tonight we will spend the first night in our own home in 2014.  

And in the month since we were last home, more than we could possibly process has happened.

Christmas, my dad's death and burial, and almost 3 weeks in Uganda.  Time with friends, extended family, and all our children and grandchildren.  Traveling from Boston to Santa Clarita, California, to San Diego, to Uganda, and back to Boston.  Celebrating, grieving, contemplating.  Being where we felt we should be, but wishing we could be in at least two places at once.

The new year is off and running.

We arrived in Uganda on December 28, with colliding emotions of delight in being with Derek, Julie, and Nathan, and grief in having just buried my dad.  We were wiped out emotionally and physically when we landed in Entebbe and were so thankful for the first few unscheduled days during which we had the luxury of napping when needed, going to bed early, and having our hearts brightened by Nathan’s light-up-the-world smiles.  Walks, talks, and yummy meals filled those first days and it was just what we needed.  Derek and Julie's hospitality was therapeutic.

We marked New Year's Day by meeting with a group of muzungu (white) missionaries who live in Mbale to discuss marriage and family issues. These perennially challenging relationships have taken a huge toll on missionary families, and half of those attending that day have been on the field 6 months or less, so we were making a pre-emptive strike at their invitation. It was low-key but important, and feedback confirmed that the time was well spent.  

Friday, Jan. 3, began a two-day H.I.M.-sponsored marriage training retreat in the nearby town of Tororo.  Recommended by the very pastors who attended the pastor's conference we hosted last March, this group of men and women have been doing some modicum of marriage/family ministry in their churches and were eager for more training.  Twenty-six couples took copious notes, asked questions, and joined the discussion on these important topics.  It was a very beneficial time.

The group of pastors and lay people who attended
the marriage training retreat at the Prime Hotel in Tororo.

While they all stayed at the Prime Hotel in Tororo for Friday night, we returned to Mbale (about an hour away) so Paul could speak to a 6 a.m. men's breakfast on Saturday.  The sacrificed sleep seemed "worth it" based on the positive response of the men.  Back to Tororo we drove to begin around 9 a.m. and we ended by 4 in the afternoon.  

Sunday we worshiped at Pearl Haven and Paul had the honor of joining Pastor Wilberforce in dedicating Nathan during the first service. It was really moving to hear the all-African congregation respond to their charge to stand with Derek and Julie is raising him for Christ.  At the end of the dedication, Wilberforce spontaneously led the congregation in singing "How Great Thou Art", which was my father's favorite hymn and which had been sung at his memorial service just days before.  When we told him that afterwards, he said it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit to sing it and now he knew why.  It was a very tender moment.

Wilberforce and Sarah pray over Nathan at his dedication.

Monday evening, the 6th, we had a reunion of the pastors who had attended the marriage retreat in March.  Held at the Mt. Elgon Hotel, our speaking was followed by a yummy buffet featuring local cuisine. The evening provided a wonderful forum for reconnecting and sharing ideas.  All agreed that the retreat was having continuing positive effects on them. Thank you, H.I.M. family and donors, by helping to make that happen!

Next up was a three-day marriage seminar hosted by Pearl Haven Christian Center held from 2-5 pm on  Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons.  Admittedly, we were somewhat skeptical whether anyone would come to a mid-week afternoon conference, and by 2:30 pm on Wednesday afternoon our skepticism has increased, since only a few dozen people were there.  But, amazingly, by 3 pm the place was fairly full with over 200 attending.  All three days were very well attended, great questions were asked, and the conference culminated with Friday's topic on marital sexuality.  By all accounts, it was the first time such a presentation had been given in Mbale and the questions it generated were overwhelming.  Pastor Wilberforce wrapped it up at the end by beginning with a confession.  He asked for forgiveness on behalf of the evangelic pastors of the region for failing to teach them God's design for sexuality and for abdicating this critically important matter to culture, which had only served to feed distortions, exploitations, and shame.  It was a powerful moment.  

The 3-day marriage and family seminar at Pearl Haven Christian Center drew
a crowd of about 250 interested and interactive folks.

I think what struck us most was how hungry for truth these precious people were.  Most of the Biblical churches seem to do a good job of teaching the Word in most areas, except as applied to marriage and family matters, and most notably, sexuality.  We prayed to teach in a way that was truthful and yet sensitive to the nature of the subject, especially when teaching to an audience that had no rubric for Biblical understanding.  Their response was incredible, revealing their longing to know how to square what they knew and felt with the reality of God's design.  We literally could've gone on for days. Our prayer is that God will empower the pastors and teachers to move beyond their own "stuckness" to lead their flocks.  Please join us in praying for that.

Pastor Wilberforce was so grateful for the 3-day conference and felt it was very, very impactful.  We pray that it was and is.

We also had the privilege of speaking at chapel for the CURE hospital staff on Thursday and Friday mornings.  Parenting was the focus of both mornings, with us presenting material Thursday and then responding to questions posed on Friday. Once again, we just loved our time with this incredibly faithful and sacrificial group of people and were impressed with the diversity of questions they asked.  Some were similar to questions we get from any western audience, and some reflected the vast cultural differences.  

At CURE Children's Hospital, after chapel, we visited with Sister Florence (next to Julie), the director of nursing, and with Grace, one of the wonderful nurses.

Our "rest" day Saturday started with brunch at the Johnsons’ with friends and ended with dinner with another set of friends, who had us to their place.  We love getting to know the people in Derek and Julie's world!

Paul preached powerfully at Pearl Haven on Sunday at both services.  African churches are alive. They worship with everything they've got and they treat the sermon as a conversation. It's really quite refreshing!!  Preaching out of Acts 3, Paul painted a vision of hope for the way God wants to meet us, abundantly more than we could ever think or imagine. Many could relate to the low hopes of the lame beggar by the pool Beautiful—a few coins would've satisfied him for the moment. But God had so much more for him as He brought healing to his limbs so he could walk and leap and praise God. Paul told them that God wanted to heal their paralysis, in whatever form it took, so that they too would walk and leap and praise Him.  The presence of the Lord was palpable.

After the first service at Pearl Haven, we stand with Dr. Peter Sinonga, one of the pediatric neurosurgeons at CURE and an elder at Pearl Haven.
We left immediately from church and headed to Kampala with Pastor Wilberforce to speak at a couples' event that evening at the Hotel Africana.  A buffet dinner was followed by an hour-long presentation on marriage, and when we finished, we were reminded that we weren't in America.  The attendees expressed dismay that that was all we were giving them.  I don't ever remember feeling that way when we finish a talk in the U.S.!  They clearly wanted to hear more and insisted that we commit to returning to do a full marriage conference the next time we're in country.  :)

Some of those who attended the couples "date" night at the Hotel Africana in Kampala.
On the far left is Pastor Tom and his wife Betty, who organized the event.
Back to Mbale we drove on Monday.  I say that so casually, as though it's a “walk in the park” because, after all, it's only 137 miles and according to Google maps takes “3 hrs 3 mins.”  It's clear to me that whoever posted that information has never driven it.  Good paved roads exist for a good portion of it, but serious speed bumps slow you down to a crawl as you pass through each town center, and where the paving has gone the way of all unmaintained paving, the experience switches to off-roading on the road.  Add in to that the traffic, especially in the Kampala area, and the “3 hrs 3 mins” prediction switches to 5 hrs 5 mins.

Unless you break down, and this we did.  Just outside of Iganga, still 1 hr 40 mins from Mbale, the car broke down—and for the next 2 hours we watched in utter amazement as the car was repaired, Ugandan-village style.  Wilberforce talked to someone close to where we were stranded, expressing our need for a mechanic.  Off someone ran on foot to fetch him, and he came running to the car within 10 minutes, toting a well-worn tool box.  Within 30 minutes, he had diagnosed the problem (a frozen tension pulley) and replaced the ball bearings.  Looked like we'd be on the road shortly, until he tried to put the belt back on.  He had NO idea how to do that and since no manual could be found, a growing group of at least six men (including our two pastors, Wilberforce and Paul) were stymied.  As we were beginning to lose heart over our diminishing time with the Johnsons, who were awaiting our mid-afternoon return to their home, two muzungu missionary friends (driving home from Jinja) happen to spot us on the side of the road and stopped to help.  One of them called her husband with the make and model of the car, and he accessed the Internet which gave him a diagram of the "path of the belt" and within 20 minutes we were back in business.

When are 3 heads better than the Internet?  Maybe never...

Our rescuers, Christine Weber and Diana Tuninga, missionary friends from Mbale.
Thank the Lord for technology!!
Almost.  As they drove off, Wilberforce tried to start the car, but because the belt had slipped and therefore not driven the alternator, the battery was very dead. No worries. Someone ran off to get a car to jump ours, and we watched with fascination as the men "jumped" the car without jumper cables. Who needs 'em?  Not these guys: with two metal rods, they connected the posts, and holding on to them, successfully jumped the car.

"Necessity is the mother of invention" — although I suspect the steel rods pre-dated jumper cables.  :)

50,000 shillings later (translated: $20 U.S.) for the part, the repair, and the jump, we were on our way.

That stimulated Paul's thinking about some of the advantages of living in Uganda.  :)

Our last two full days came all too quickly and we squeezed everything we could out of them.  Walks. Talks. More great meals.  (If Derek ever decides to quit his day job, he could definitely be a personal chef.)  Packing.  Sorting.  Saying good-bye.  

Thursday morning we left Mbale around 8:30 am. And then Friday evening at 10 pm Mbale time, we arrived home (that would be 2 pm EST).  It's quite a journey, as we drove to Entebbe (arriving at 3 pm, at little more than the 3 hr 3 mins prediction); flew out to Addis Ababa at 5:25 arriving at 7:30; left Addis at 10 pm, stopped for fuel in Rome some time (no de-planing) and continued on to Dulles Airport in D.C., arriving at 8 am EST (4 pm in Mbale).  After going through customs and cooling our jets in the United lounge (love the perks of flying a lot), we caught a flight at noon to Boston and landed around 2 pm.  Home by 3.  Bed by 9.  

We will be processing all of this for a time to come, but for now, we feel very blessed and thankful. What a privilege to experience Christ in a developing country, with folks whose hearts for the Lord challenge ours.  It's so easy to be distracted as an American Christian and to become dependent on a life of convenience, independence, and indulgence.  

None of those things are a part of life for most Ugandans.  Nothing is convenient.  No one is independent.  And indulgences are few.  And yet their fervor for Christ is contagious.  Their hope and their joy is in Him and in Him alone.  

Each time we come back home, we're different.  We're certainly not cured of our love for convenience, our independence, or our indulgences, but we can sense their grip is loosening on us after each visit.

Maybe even our running will slow . . . at least a bit.

Our parting shot of Derek, Julie, and Nathan . . . So thankful for them!!

Legacy of Thanksgiving

November has always been one of my favorite months and this one we've just turned the page on is no exception. Ushered in by the waning days of fall and ending by catapulting us into my favorite season of the year—Christmas—it's not a stretch to understand my affinity for this eleventh month of the calendar year.

But it's more than that.  And last week's Thanksgiving Day celebration helped to clarify why this month is so important and meaningful to me.  Well beyond the glory of fall with its captivating moments of observing castaway leaves dancing in the currents of winds, crispness due to falling air temps, and the increasingly pressing awareness of the diminishing days that stand between now and the celebrated birth of the Christ Child, November reminds us to be thankful.

Though it shouldn't be that way, it is.  It's so easy to live entitled rather than grateful in America.  The simple things—like food, shelter, and freedom to worship—are hardly occasion for thankfulness.  We “deserve” those things.  The occasions for genuine gratitude are reserved for really big things we don't deserve . . . like winning the lottery or the World Series.

This month reminds us that being thankful is really, really important to God.  "In everything give thanks . . . for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."  (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I've pondered how a thankful heart is cultivated, since this is "the will of God"—making it much more than a suggestion or a good idea when you want to feel better.  

And that's where legacy comes in.  Though not the only factor, it is a significant contributor towards our hearts being inclined towards entitlement or gratitude.

We've both reflected especially this month how profoundly we have been influenced by parents who loved the Lord above all else and who modeled thankfulness. Who taught us to appreciate the small things and to not take them for granted. Who showed us through example that giving to and serving others would produce more joy than living self-indulged lives. Who lived sacrificially and responsibly, who worked hard and made no excuses, who loved one another faithfully and prioritized their family.

A sweet but short visit with my parents reinforced the goodness of
being with ones who truly have hearts of gratitude.

On the family farm in Pixley for Thanksgiving Day, we were with four of the five original Friesen siblings and some of their progeny.
It was easy to reflect on our heritage with such gratitude for the values Paul's parents instilled in their family.

As life moves on, our awareness of the rarity of this kind of legacy grows.  And that deepens our gratitude and compels us to pass the mantle to the next generation, whose challenge to live this out is greater than ever.  Our prayer is that we would cultivate thankful hearts year round, 24-7.  That will contribute greatly to our growing Christlikeness.

We've had a great month, which has included time together in three states and four countries.  And, Paul has been in an additional 12 states on his own, and no, he's not running for office.  And we've relaxed.  And been renewed.  This is how:

We spent the first week of the month celebrating my birthday and the Patriots’ bye week on a Caribbean cruise.  There were many firsts for us on that cruise, including having our minds changed about cruises in general.  Naturally, we got a great "couldn't pass up" deal and spent 7 days resting, relaxing, enjoying the beauty of the Caribbean, reconnecting with each other, and eating delicious food. We got a lot of exercise, basked in the majesty of His creation, and were renewed.  It was a wonderful gift.  We also met a couple on the tender going to port on Grand Cayman Island, and we clicked immediately.  We ended up spending our day with them, making an unforgettable excursion to Stingray City together.  We are looking forward to continuing the relationship.  

Leaving Tampa on the first day of the cruise, we had no idea how many delights
the Lord had in store for us on this cruise!

On the ministry front, we had a great Engagement Matters weekend, Nov. 16-17, and spoke at the Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church of Boston for an evening of marriage and family encouragement during that same weekend.  It was a true delight to partner with Pastor Khaled Ghobrial and his wife and to get a glimpse into the relevant work this church is engaged in.  The New England Patriot studies have been going well and have been well attended.  We have seen God work through our counseling in moments of breakthrough and hope.  We also had the privilege of doing two chapels for the UCLA women's basketball team during a recent tournament.

Standing with Pastor Khaled Ghobrial and his wife, Manal,
after speaking on family and marriage to their congregation.

A highlight of the month was hosting Pastor Wilberforce Okumu, lead pastor of Pearl Haven Christian Center in Mbale, Uganda.  He was the featured speaker for an H.I.M. donor thank you dessert evening and knocked it out of the park. Everyone was inspired by the work he's engaged in and his vision for the Kingdom.  We loved having him in our home for a few days as well.  Partnering with him in Mbale these past couple of years has bonded us in Christ and we love his heart!

Nov. 14th was a significant day for Home Improvement Ministries as we launched our first software app:  "The Marriage App."  After months of development primarily by Doug Macrae and assisted by Guy and Barbara Steele and Richard Hendricks, the app (based on our newest book, The Marriage App) hit cyberspace with the aid of tweets by Elizabeth Hasselbeck, Richard Dahstrom, Shaunti Feldhahn, Don Davis, Gary Gaddini, Ray Johnston, and David Hegg (to name a few).  Along with lots of Facebook traffic, the app soared to the top of the list of new apps on marriage downloaded over the weekend of  Nov 15-17.  We have been humbled by emails and Facebook posts which have affirmed the value of this app and are praying that God will use it to give hope to marriages and contribute to them thriving.  If you haven't downloaded this free app yet, we'd encourage you to do so at the App Store.

Most recently, we flew back out to California for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Well, I flew out.  In order to visit those additional 12 states I mentioned, Paul decided to deliver the used van that Gabe and Kari bought from (east coast) friends of ours, making his second cross-country road trip in 2 months time. Confirming his introversion, he loved every minute of it and made this trip between Friday morning the 22nd and Sunday night the 24th. He's amazing.  

Our days in California included some time with Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana in their home in Santa Clarita; attending a UCLA vs. OK women's basketball game to watch the athletic trainer (the game was great, too: a big upset victory for UCLA!); visiting my folks and sisters in San Diego with Lisa and then Paul; sweet visits with two other special families to welcome newborns; and a short but wonderful time in Pixley for Thanksgiving Day with Paul's extended family. In between all those visits, we managed to walk to the setting and rising sun on various California beaches.  Heavenly.

UCLA Head Women's Basketball Coach, Cori Close, with me and her parents, Don and Pat Close, and her sister Amity Wicks,
in Pauley Pavillion following the UCLA win over OK.  GREAT family.

We flew to Florida on Black Friday, missing the shopping and the crowds, but making it just in time to see UCLA women play in the Gulf Coast BB Tournament.  Though disappointing results on the court (we went 1-2), Paul and I loved being with the girls and the staff and feel we have such a better understanding of Lisa's new life in California.  Many in the system are coaching or playing for more than just records, and their hearts for the Lord are obvious.  They are struggling currently with a depleted team due to injuries, but the month ahead should see their bench increasing.  We are so thankful Lisa is part of this effort.

While in Florida, we also managed to walk a few beaches and to visit our dear friends Don and Yannette Davis, who extended warm hospitality to us as we concluded this all-over-the-place trip.

One last walk on the beach (Siesta Beach near Sarasota, Florida) before returning to Boston.

Though the delights this month have been many, the sorrows have also been present.  We've walked with several dear friends through the deaths of beloved parents and with couples through marital and family crises.  Life is often hard; sometimes because of choices we've made, but other times just because we live in a broken world and sin and evil takes its toll on all of us.  And death is a reality that no one escapes.  Each time death steals away one we love or one loved by ones we love, we are reminded in grief that we weren't designed for death and therefore it will always be excruciatingly painful.  

That's why the 1 Thessalonians passage says "In everything give thanks . . ." not "for everything give thanks."  There are many things we can't give thanks FOR, but we're called to give thanks IN.  

A very dear friend who lost her father and her mother-in-law within the space of 9 days this month, both unexpectedly, wrote:

Hello Friends,
It feels like I am writing from within a nightmare. We are working through the loss of my dear mother-in-law, and figuring out how we will care for my sweet father-in-law. These have been dark days, to say the least. 
This afternoon my father died suddenly at his home in New Hampshire. I am on my way there now to be with my sisters and my mother.  I have not yet told my children, and my sisters have not yet told my mother. Please pray for each of these situations, as they will be profoundly difficult conversations.
I want each of you to know how grateful we are for your love and support this last week. You have each pressed love into us and have been a source of strength and comfort.
I have been listening to a lot of music this week.  A song that I have come to love, "You Are Good" by Nichole Nordeman has these beautiful lyrics:
  When it's dark and it's cold and I can't feel my soul, You are so good
  When the world is gone gray and the rain's here to stay You are still good
  So with every breath I take in I'll tell You I am grateful again
  And the storm may swell, even then IT IS WELL and you are good.
It is well and God is good.

This friend is living in gratitude and passing on to her children a legacy of thanksgiving.  In the midst of deep and dark unexpected valleys, her comfort and source of gratitude is found in Him.  She is teaching all of us profound lessons.

In the month ahead, we will all experience the gamut of emotions, from the pinnacle of joy found in revisiting the manger, to the depths of despair as pain past and present weaves its darkness into our awareness.  Praying that especially in the moments of sorrow, we'll find our way to the cross and "in everything, give thanks."  That's the best legacy we can pass on.

Nathan at 2 months . . .

. . . and at 4 months. 

Brandon (3 years) and Ana (4 weeks)

Uganda Update #3

Greetings at the end of this Lord's Day!

As the sun set over Mbale tonight, we were again filled an overwhelming sense of the love of God as seen in nature and as was experienced during worship this morning at Pearl Haven.  It's been a day filled with His goodness and grace.

We spent the morning with the brothers and sisters in Christ at Pearl Haven Christian Center, where Paul was invited to deliver the message.  He taught on "Finishing Well:  Three Life Lessons from the Life of Solomon" and I guess I'm allowed to say that he did a great job. It was practical and very applicable to life here.  Many seemed to appreciate the message.  Besides his teaching, the time of worship through song was lively, and any gaps that might have existed between our cultural backgrounds were closed as we sang "Days of Elijah" and other well-loved choruses.  The unity of the body of Christ is palpable in times like these.  It was refreshing and invigorating to share the morning with this congregation.

We met up with our California friends, Jan and HA Northington for lunch, and our plans to relax by the Mt. Elgon Hotel pool were dashed by a huge rainstorm that moved in right around 1 pm.  No worries.  We just lingered over lunch with our dear friends and then headed home for a nap.  Yes, you read it here.  Can't remember the last time we actually experienced rest on the Sabbath, but our whole household napped and it was lovely.

Derek and Julie stand with Jan and HA Northington, as Jan models her new Ugandan costume.

Paul and I took a nice walk after the rain had stopped and the naps had ended, and the Lord rewarded us with a gorgeous sunset.  A perfect ending to a renewing day.

First thing in the morning, we head to Jinja for the pastors’ conference.  We have a full house—22 couples—and we're hearing there is a high level of excitement about it.  We will likely not have internet access for the three days we're there, so there may be a lapse in our posting.  If there is a way, I'll continue to post—but if not, we should be back online on Wednesday.

Thanks for your continued prayers on our behalf.  We need you to continue.  As excited as we are about this retreat, we also find it somewhat daunting.  We covet your prayer covering.

Sending much love and appreciation from Uganda—
Paul and Virginia