To Trinidad with Love

It’s hard to believe that a week ago we were flying to Trinidad….and today we are returning to the U.S.  Though it seems like we blinked and the week evaporated, it’s also quite amazing that we got so much packed in to the past six days. I’m sure that comes as a surprise to no one. :)

We arrived in Trinidad late Wednesday night, two days ahead of the marriage conference so we could get an early start to our 40th anniversary celebration. Unbeknownst to me, Paul had clandestinely planned a sweet overnight getaway to Grande Riviere Beach to see the leatherback turtles lay their eggs on the beach at night. One of the few places in the world that this phenomena occurs, nothing could’ve delighted me more. He thoughtfully booked Jen and Javed Bachew to be our escorts on this surprise tour, as he too remembered how traumatized I was two years ago when he drove a rental car on Tobago.  :)  So off we went on the grand adventure, which unfolded in spectacular fashion.  

Arriving in time for a lovely beach walk, the smooth sand betrayed nothing of what would happen at nightfall, save the remnants of turtle egg shells (which had already been found by vultures, dogs, or other turtles digging them up in preparation to lay their eggs) strewn upon the sand. After dinner, we connected with our hired guide and went off to watch one of the most remarkable natural events we’d ever seen.

Like clockwork, the massive leatherback females came lumbering out of the water just after dusk. Dozens of them, emerging from their watery home to commence the hard work of insuring the propagation of the species. Each turtle finds the “right” spot for her and begins a 45-minute process of digging a hole in the sand with her back flippers, one flipper-full at a time, over and over again until she has reached the right depth (which is determined by the length of her flipper). On cue, she begins dropping her eggs in the hole, 50-100 of white, round, rubbery, larger-than-ping-pong-ball-size eggs. When she’s delivered her load, she carefully covers the hole back over with sand and. after “limin’” a bit, makes her way back to the water. It’s clearly very hard work.

We were spellbound. These beautiful reptiles were captivating for sure, but even more amazing was watching them do what they were designed to do. No “doulas” needed for these ladies.  They just did their thing, as God has created them to do, and unless mankind causes their extinction, they’ll continue to do it for centuries to come.

We were super blessed by having a full moon under which to observe this amazing process, especially since no lights (except the infrared light held by the guide) were allowed. According to Jen and Javed, it was one of their best viewings ever. Plenty of turtles made their way right in front of our guest house, so we had easy access, and with the moon, we had plenty of light. God’s gifts are extravagant!! We loved every minute of the adventure.

At 4 am, a huge, unexpected, much-needed rainstorm arrived, wakening us from a dead sleep with thoughts that we were being bombed. Those tin roofs really amplify the noise!! We finally resigned ourselves to not getting back to sleep and walked the beach in the pouring rain. We were rewarded by getting to watch one mama leatherback who was still “limin’” on the beach make her way back into the sea. What a most remarkable experience!

Walking on Grande Riviere Beach

Our first turtle sighting, fortunately just before nightfall so we could capture her with the camera.

Here she is in the glow of the infrared light, with a huge gelatinous salt tear running from her eyes.  The guide explained that this is how they purge excess salt from their system.

After digging for about 45 minutes, she lays her eggs in this 24” deep hole.
Breakfast with Jen and Javed at the guest house prior to making the 2-hour drive back to St. Helena’s.

Wow!! What a great experience. Back to the Trinidad-Tobago Urban Ministries (TTUM) compound early afternoon, we caught a nap before the conference began with dinner at 6 pm. TTUM hosted and underwrote the conference for the almost 50 couples who attended from all over western Trinidad. In the face of crumbling marriages, their vision is to strengthen and encourage marriages in their local churches. This was the second bi-annual such conference and all are committed to keeping the tradition going.

From beginning to end, there was a spirit of openness and receptivity among the attendees. One of the things we love about international work is that the conferees come hungry. They haven’t been over-satiated, over-resourced, and over-fed as many in America are. They eagerly listen, taking it all in, and don’t expect the talks to end before at least an hour and a half has passed. We welcomed their questions and continued conversations during breaks. In between sessions, we were booked for counseling. Our days were full in the best sort of way.

Saturday culminated with a beautiful banquet served at small tables with flowers, while music softly played in the background.  Led by Cindy, the admin for TTUM, the team that put the conference on outdid themselves. Everything was thought of and carried out so well. Every couple who attended felt the “love” of being served and cared for.

At the banquet, we were surprised to be honored for our 40th anniversary. Ashoke gave us a kind tribute and all enjoyed the beautiful cupcake-cake made in honor of the occasion. It was a lovely evening.

The conference ended on Sunday after lunch, and according to Ashoke, the “vibe” was that people felt the weekend was very practical and life-changing. The consensus was to have it every year rather than every other.  :)

All praise is His! We felt very met by Him throughout the weekend.  

Ashoke and Stephanie Bachew, founders of TTUM, are some of our dearest friends and ministry partners. 

The beautiful cupcake-cake for our anniversary celebration.

We were humbled to be so lavishly feted by these dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

A not-great shot of most of those who came to the conference.

After the conference ended, we drove to the little village of Campoo where, with our family missions team in 2001 and 2002, we founded a church. In a primarily Hindu and Muslim village, there was no evangelical church until this one and it was so encouraging to see that the church is still going. Though small, the band of faithful members continue to hold services and outreach to the community.  

Standing with the charter members of the church in Campoo, it was great to see them pressing on with the gospel.

Paul preached Sunday night at church on the compound and then completely surprised me with a renewal of our vows at the end of the service. He had converted the audio tape recorded at our wedding to a CD and we stood face to face, hearing our very young, forty-years-ago voices reciting our original vows. I was blown away. It was a very sweet and memorable moment. He thought of everything!!

Monday, our last day in Trinidad, we drove with Stephanie and Ashoke and Diane to Maracas Bay to walk the beach and eat Bake N Shark. A tradition with the missions teams, we have nothing but great memories of each trip to Maracas Bay . . . and we now have more.  On a picture perfect day, we walked the beach, found sea glass, and then, out of the blue, Paul fell to one knee, claiming injury, but recovering quickly, still on bended knee, he asked me to marry him again. Instead of re-proposing with a metal washer (as he had done back on Dec. 15, 1975—but it was only temporary, for those of you concerned, and quickly replaced with a beautiful solitaire diamond), he presented me with a gorgeous antique diamond ring.  Happy 40th!!  I was again blown away.

Walking on the beach at Maracas Bay.

After a yummy-beyond-description lunch of Bake N Shark (a Trinidadian version of fry bread, topped with freshly caught and fried shark, and then loaded with a large variety of condiments), Stephanie served “Tea on the Beach” for the ladies before packing up and driving back to the compound. A lovelier day couldn’t be imagined!

The smile on Paul’s face tells it all.

Stephanie’s “Tea on the Beach” was a perfect ending to an unforgettable day.

The grand finale of our time in Trinidad was having dinner out with both Bachew couples. Our laughter and talking was unabated for two hours as we confirmed how “in sync” we all are. It was a fitting ending to a great week.

Stephanie and Ashoke and Jen and Javed are “salt of the earth” folks and we are so grateful to have them in our lives.

The restaurant added to the celebration with this special dessert.

We rose earlier than the sun this morning in order to get to the airport on time, but she made her appearance in the eastern sky as we awaited our flight. Though we’ve loved all of our trips to Trinidad, this one is definitely in a league of its own. We hadn’t intended to be speaking on our 40th anniversary weekend originally, but several dates had to be changed in order to accommodate a postponed wedding (due to military deployment) and this is how it ended up going down. At first it seemed like it would be sacrificial to be serving on our 40th, but the blessing was actually ours. We’ll never forget the milestone anniversary we celebrated with the Trinidadian body of Christ.  

Trinidad. The destination of many family missions trips. The place to which both Julie and Kari led college missions trip. The place where Paul found his “brother from another mother” in Ashoke Bachew. The place we had the privilege of planting a church. The place we overcame American inhibitions and boldly went door to door inviting children to Backyard Bible Club. The place we learned about “limin’” and slowing down. The place we fell in love with steel pan drums, worship that moves, doubles and roti and everything curry, and Bake N Shark.

And now the place we proclaimed the goodness of marriage to 50 couples, who celebrated our 40 years of marriage generously.

Trinidad has become a place of memorial for us and our hearts will always be deep for this beautiful Caribbean jewel.  

Our final sunrise in Trinidad on this trip.


Today, April 20, we fly to Port Au Spain, Trinidad, to speak at a marriage conference for Trinidad and Tobago Urban Ministries. Our partnership with TTUM spans 17 years, starting when we took a group of families to serve on our second family missions trip for Grace Chapel. We “clicked” with Ashoke and Stefanie Bachew and their vision for these little islands and have been fast friends and ministry partners ever since. What a welcomed opportunity to return this week for their second bi-annual marriage conference—and how different it is to be going “alone” and not traveling with a team of 25-30, and not hauling hundreds of pounds of supplies for Backyard Bible Clubs! Paul’s sentiments: “This is a whole lot easier!!"

Backing up to Easter, we had a most delightful time hosting friends in our home for Easter week. We had a blast together and learned some new games, including “Tenzi” and "Jousting with Peeps” (use your imagination). We laughed a ton, had deep ponderous discussions, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment shared. Easter Sunday morning, we all attended church together and were most surprised when one of those being baptized related in her story that she had been a young African girl born with “knocked knees” and seemingly relegated to a life lacking mobility until she was sponsored to be surgically repaired at the CURE Hospital! I could barely contain my excitement as these worlds . . . church in Arlington and CURE in Africa . . . intersected in such a life-giving way. A bonus moment on Easter Sunday! The celebration continued in our home as eleven of us gathered around our table, connected by our love for the Risen Lord as well as our love for one another. It was a great day.

Our houseguests from California brought a lot of life and energy to our home during Easter week, starting with Easter Sunday breakfast.

Joyce was born and raised in Africa, and her “knocked knees” were surgically repaired at a CURE Hospital in Africa. Years later, Easter 2016, she was baptized in Arlington, MA.

Our delightful gathering on Easter Sunday, with much talking, laughter, and fellowship.

Between March 4 and April 9, we’ve hosted the H.I.M. marriage conference, Engagement Matters, and Worth It. I guess you could say we’ve been on a relationship roll.  

The weekend following Easter, April 2-3, our Engagement Matters conference was held in Andover, MA, at the home of Seth and Melanie Bilazarian. As always, stimulating conversations and probing questions were exchanged in an attempt to help these couples sort through important matters which will have an impact on their married life. We always tell the couples at the beginning of the weekend, “There are at least three potential outcomes of this weekend. One possibility is confirming that you are right for each other and that your timing is good to move ahead towards marriage. A second possibility is that you’ll decide you’re headed in the right direction, but you could benefit from more time before you decide on marriage. The third possibility is that you’ll decide you are not right for each other and though that’s a painful discovery, it’s far less painful to decide that on this side of the altar than the other.”  Our belief is that some marriage problems can be avoided with good pre-marriage work.

We are so thankful for our Engagement Matters teammates Ryan and Kelly Plosker, Carl and Cathy Blatchley, and Melanie Bilazarian. We are all kept very busy through the weekend, interacting with the couples formally and informally. We all have such deep hearts for each of them to make wise, God-honoring decisions.  

Most of the couples who attended EM April 2–3 . . . though some had already slipped out before this photo was snapped.

After one of the mildest winters in a while, the last thing we expected was that a snowstorm would cause the cancellation of our speaking to the Park Street Church Union group on Monday, April 4. Very fortunately, it was able to be re-scheduled for Thursday, the 7th, and we spoke to a packed room of young marrieds on the subject of marital sexuality. We were very impressed with the thoughtful questions submitted after our presentation, which were answered in the remaining 45 minutes of the evening. We were reminded that as pervasive as “sex” is in our culture, few seem to have a place to go with their questions, especially if seeking Biblical guidance. It was a great evening . . . 

. . . and, an appropriate lead-in to the following weekend, “Worth It!”  Our annual purity conference (the pre-engagement, pre-marriage conference we host), geared for families, was beset with challenges this year, from speaker availability to logistics. Our “normal” line-up of NFL couples had scheduling/family conflicts of all sorts, reducing our “headliners” to Don Davis (retired) and Matthew and Shahrzad Slater. At the ninth hour, the Slaters had to cancel due to the funeral of his aunt in Mississippi (though they kindly recorded a message to the attendees which we showed during the conference), so Don carried the NFL ball alone this year.  He was up to the task!  He also was accompanied by a stellar line-up of Nate Parks (executive director of Camp Berea), Paul Friesen (director of H.I.M.), Kate Wylie (wife of figure skating Olympic Silver Medalist Paul Wylie), Lisa Friesen (professor of athletic training at California Baptist University), Chris and Dorothy Greco (speakers, writers), and Adam Rowe (youth pastor for Grace Chapel Wilmington). All of the speakers led both plenary sessions and workshop sessions, and they all truly knocked it out of the park. 

Hosted by Trinity Baptist Church of Nashua, the packed crowd was fully engaged in the day as the “gospel” of relationships was proclaimed. The audience, made up of parents and teens, was delighted with the clarity of the messages, especially against the back drop of a culture whose confusion regarding these subjects only increases. There is such relief in hearing truth spoken.

Here are some of the comments written on evaluations at the end of the day:

"Excellent speakers.  All of them.  I took something from each talk.  Thank you!!”  (15-year-old male)
"I appreciated that nothing was sugar-coated.  It helped me realign my thoughts on what really matters in life.”  (15-year-old male)
"I loved attending with my teenage daughter.  It opened up opportunities for us to discuss topics we had not, and gave me the way to do it.  I wish I had known these things when I was a teen.”  (female parent)
"I recently asked God to please show me someone that was going through the same struggle of staying pure.  I am so happy this conference exists and I am thinking of so many people to bring next year.  This conference helped me get closer to God.”  (17-year-old female)
"Really appreciated the candor and vulnerability of the speakers.” (male parent)
"Getting to spend the day at 'Worth It' reinforced what we have been attempting to teach them about relationships.”  (male and female parents)
"The things I learned today will change the things I do in the future.”  (14-year-old female)
"Most of the speakers were fun so it helped teens who were not thrilled to attend.”  (female parent)
"You guys fit so much into one day! Well done. Thank you so much for your ministry!  God bless!”  (female parent)

We all agreed that it was one of the best “Worth It” conferences ever, and for that, we say “Thank you, Jesus!”  All praise is His!!

Paul Friesen opens the day with passion and humor, instantly helping all attendees relax.

Kate Wylie uses some volunteers to illustrate how hard it is to have a foot in both worlds.

Lisa Friesen challenges the teens with the question, “What is your BRAND?” (Belief, Reason, Accountability, No, and Dream)  As our “token” single, she was winsome in affirming her trust in a very personal God who continues to meet her as she trusts Him for her future mate.

Adam Rowe addressed the issue of media and technology, hitting hard on the destructive nature of pornography.

Don Davis wrapped up the day with the good news of forgiveness and the hope of redemption.

In the absence of the rest of the NFL crew, Paul creatively had a DVD made of interviews with the couples who would’ve been there. The DVD featured Benjamin and Kirsten Watson, Danny and Stacia Woodhead, Matthew and Shahrzad Slater, Ryan Wendell and Meridith Bartman (who are engaged to be married in July), as well as Don Davis.  It was really well done (thanks to the creative work of Jake and Kaylee Gosselin) and was a great addition to the day.

It takes many helping hands to put on such a conference, and once again Jim and Sue Martis and their able team pulled it off with excellence.  The day went like clockwork and we are deeply grateful for the many who helped make it so.

The aftermath . . . cleaned up and packed away . . . these folks stayed ’til the end. So grateful for them!

The dust had barely settled on “Worth It” before Lisa and I flew to California on Sunday while Paul happily stayed home to work on a myriad of house and writing projects. I had the joy of spending the week with Kari, Brandon, and Ana, while Gabe was with his pastoral staff team from Grace Baptist Church, Santa Clarita, attending the “Together for the Gospel” conference in Louisville, KY.  Oh what fun it was to have five delicious days with Brandon and Ana (and their mama, of course.)  Brandon and I had “sleep overs” every night, ensuring that the day would close with reading some childhood favorites. Baking, going to the park, playing “Candyland” and doing some special outings filled up the days and all too quickly I was boarding a plane for Raleigh, NC, where I joined Paul who was officiating the wedding of Parker and Katie.  

The cuties I spent a week with in California. I can never get enough of the grands!

The wedding was a celebration of so many great things, and we enjoyed every minute of it. We’ve shared many important moments with this family through the years and it was such an honor to share this milestone event with them. Every time Paul does a wedding, he’s flooded with responses from those unfamiliar with a Christian perspective. He most often hears, “I’ve never heard marriage spoken about that way. You’ve given me something to really think about.”  What a privilege to proclaim God’s good design for marriage to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

Held at the beautiful Carolina Inn on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, the ceremony was a declaration of the gospel of marriage.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to encourage marriages, we welcomed the opportunity to do a mini-marriage conference for the Trinity Park Church.  Connected by Corrado and Penny Grieci (former New Englanders and long time friends), we spent the morning with a very receptive and warm audience.  It was a bonus to catch up with the Griecis as well.

Friends from Trinity Park Church attended the marriage seminar on Saturday, April 16.
After the wedding festivities ended, we spent Sunday reconnecting with James and Joe Yardley, both who attend UNC-Chapel Hill. After church, at which Joe was playing keys, we had a lively conversation over lunch. It was so encouraging to catch up with these two college students (who we’ve known since they were 1 and 3 years old) whose hearts are for the Lord. Next visit, my 88-year-old second cousin, Sis, who is a lifelong Raleigh-ite. Impressively spry and a delightful conversationalist, our time with her passed far too quickly. We rounded out the day with Roy and Jenny Kelly, beloved friends who used to live in New England. It was great to catch up with them after not having seen them face to face in such a long time. More important relationships!

Back home, briefly, for a day of counseling, and now we’re off to Trinidad for a week.

Forty years ago today we were counting the final four days until we would be united as husband and wife. We’re both finding it hard to wrap our minds around 40 years! While thousands of memories swirl in my head as we anticipate reaching this milestone on Sunday, April 24, the overwhelming sentiment centers on the faithfulness of God. We sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness” at our wedding and believed that “morning by morning new mercies we see.” We have clung to “All I have needed Thy hand has provided” and we affirm, “Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

Humbling. Blessed. So loved. The most important relationship of all: He loves us and promises to be faithful. That’s the key to our 40 years together. All praise is His.
Our wedding party . . . sooo late 70’s. Love it!

To Trinidad with Love

Ashoke and Stefanie Bachew are dear friends and ministry partners.

In 2000, we made our first trip to Trinidad.  We had launched "Family Missions Trips" at Grace Chapel the previous year, taking a multi-generational group of 23 to Haiti to work with "Hope for the Children of Haiti" (a wonderful ministry founded by Marion Austin), and decided to team up with Trinidad and Tobago Urban Ministries (TTUM) the following year.  Since then, we have lead numerous family missions trips to Trinidad and have loved partnering with them.

Ashoke Bachew and his wife Stefanie started TTUM over thirty years ago with a vision to evangelize their beloved homeland.  We fell in love with them that first missions trip! Their story is remarkable: Hindu-born and raised, Ashoke became a Christian when he was 14 years old, responding to the gospel message given by a group of short term missionaries who held a Backyard Bible Club in Ashoke's village.  He was kicked out of his home by his dad at that point, who was none too pleased with Ashoke's decision to follow Christ. That was 46 years ago and a lot has gone down since then. They have had a fruitful ministry which has produced many church plants, revival crusades, outreach concerts, and the development of a camp (“Victory Heights”) as well as a retreat center which houses their current church.  They have also sponsored a steel pan band that has presented the gospel through music.

In the midst of all that, they have raised 4 children, all of whom are following Christ and are raising up the next generation for Him.

Javed and Jen Bachew worked closely with the marriage conference.  Javed is Ashoke's oldest son.

So, when we received an invitation to return to Trinidad to do a marriage conference, we were thrilled.

Somewhat uncharacteristically, we decided to "play before work" and flew into Trinidad several days ahead of the conference for some R&R.  Having never been to Tobago, a little island not far from Trinidad, we headed there, and spent three days exploring that beautiful place.

That part of the trip was a bit of a mixed bag, to be honest.  We rented a car, having no idea that driving would test our marriage and threaten our lives.  The roads: narrow, winding, and terrifying. The drivers: fast, crazy, and terrifying! I can honestly say that we saw very little of the beauty as we drove, so fearful for our lives were we.  I'm not exaggerating.

We finally arrived in Castara, a little fishing village in Tobago, and we spent two nights there.  Our first night was a bit consistent with our drive that day. The hotel would have been fine had the manager remembered to equip the room with a much-needed fan and mosquito net, but lacking both of those essentials, we had a pretty miserable night.  We walked across the street to another hotel for our second night and fared much better.

We did have a great time swimming, snorkeling, walking the beach, and finding the mother lode of sea glass.  We met some fun people, ate some great food, and loved discovering a new place. And we did relax.  Overall, good days.

Eating lunch in Castara on the island of Tobago.  It was much prettier than this photo captures.

We flew back to Trinidad on Thursday night in time for the marriage conference Friday through Sunday.  We were so impressed that TTUM completely underwrote the expense of the conference, making it free for all to attend. It was held at their retreat center (which our teams help build through the years!) which made a perfect setting for the couples.

Ashoke kicks off the conference Friday evening as 40 couples eagerly gathered
for TTUM's first marriage conference.

Our time was packed once we got started.  We were either teaching or counseling on Saturday from 8 am to 10 pm and then again on Sunday from 8 am to 3 pm.  We loved every minute of it.  Many of the couples were first generation Christians who didn't have great models of marriage in their lives and many were in the throes of raising children while struggling to make their marriages vital.  Sounds familiar, yes?

The retreat planners did a great job of putting the weekend together.  We were especially impressed with their Saturday evening "date night."  The beautifully-set room with tables for two made for a very romantic setting and the perfect set up for our talk on sexuality. This taboo subject was very well received and broad smiles were on many faces Sunday morning.  :)

A special dinner was prepared for Saturday night's banquet and was enjoyed by all.

The conference ended on Sunday with our final talk, followed by a time of sharing.  It was encouraging to hear many share about how God had met them that weekend. At least two couples said that God had saved their marriage at the conference.  How exciting is that??

Most of the couples were present for this photo taken at the end of the conference.

The final highlight before we flew home on Monday came Sunday night.  In honor of Ashoke's 60th birthday, the church had planned a big surprise party for him at the church.  So though Ashoke had invited Paul to preach that night, he was pre-empted by this wonderful celebration of Ashoke's life. The service was very thoughtfully organized and featured music, musicians, and messages that honored both Ashoke and the Lord. A birthday feast followed, and tribute after tribute was given to Ashoke, affirming the many ways God has used this man's life of faithfulness for kingdom purposes.  What a privilege to be part of this milestone event honoring a man we esteem so highly.

"Brothers from another mother" is the description of these two. Ashoke and Paul have very similar temperaments and really understand/appreciate/love each other.

We flew home just 24 hours ahead of Derek, Julie, and Nathan, who were arriving for a five-week stint in the states.  We counseled 10 of those hours, and also spoke in Springfield, MA, to a moms’ group for "Couples Night Out."  That was a great evening, hosted by our friends Mark and Caroline Funchion.  Only the sand in our suitcase reminded us that we had been in Trinidad less than 48 hours earlier.

Mark and Caroline Funchion hosted the couples' night  connected with the moms group Caroline leads.  She did a beautiful job on the dessert night.

And so the sun set on our mission to minister to marriages in Trinidad.  Talks are already underway regarding next year's conference.  We can't wait!

We have agreed that if we return to Tobago, we'll take public transportation.

Sunset viewing from the beach in Castara, Tobago.

HIM Team Trinidad 2008 Returns!

We’re safely home from our Family Missions Trip to Trinidad and so full of blessing and thanksgiving. Words will fail me, surely, as I try to express how God met us and used us these past eight days, so read between the lines if you can.

This trip had more “this is the first time . . .” moments in it than any other in our ten-year history of doing family missions trips (except the first)! Our day of departure heads the list—and apparently it was a harbinger of things to come.

We gathered at Logan last Saturday, March 8, on a rainy, cold morning . . . giving thanks that it wasn’t snowing (yes, even me—I knew that snow would have an unwanted affect our departure, so I gave thanks for rain). Nine hours later, after incremental delays attributable to “low visibility” in Boston and NY-JFK, where we were to connect with a direct flight to Port of Spain (POS), and, after boarding once, only to deplane 45 minutes later, we were re-booked for the next day. A big first. Back home we all went, to clean houses and empty refrigerators, to water turned off and water heaters turned down, with no suitcases (since all had been checked in already, Delta chose to keep them for the night), we spent the night in our own beds. Our greatest disappointment was knowing we would miss our only real chance to attend a Sunday worship service with our Trinidadian brothers and sisters, especially those in Campoo who are continuing the church we helped plant years ago. That really was our sadness.

Take two: Sunday, we regroup, dressed as we were the day before (mostly), and thankful for a successful “launch” at 11 a.m. In a race against the clock in Atlanta, we thankfully made it to our connecting flight just in the nick of time, and happily landed in POS around 7:30 p.m. The next “first” then emerged . . . and was not entirely surprising, admittedly: we arrived, but most of our luggage did not. :(

The next two hours were spent locating the 13 (out of 31) pieces of luggage that did arrive, and filing claims for the pieces that didn’t. It was a rather wild time which delayed our arrival at the TTUM compound to around 10. Once there, we were warmly embraced by those who have become so dear to us through the 9 years we’ve partnered with them. Ashoke and Stephanie, Javed and Jenn, John and Donna, Tony and Annette, Maltee, Kelvin, Joshua . . . such precious folks!

We also were thrilled to connect with Sarah Hathaway, one of our team members who joined us from Calvin College. We had spent hours on the previous Friday trying to re-route Sarah so she wouldn’t be hampered in getting to Trinidad due to the winter storm which hit the midwest on Saturday (the one that eventually caused our delay!). Ironically, she arrived in Trinidad on time on Saturday—while we all were stranded! Interesting twist.

Monday we wakened and knew we weren’t in Boston anymore. Warm temps, clear skies, sights, sounds, and smells so different from our normal existence. We were housed for the first time in the “hotel-like” rooms we had helped build on the second floor of the sanctuary . . . and had air conditioning for the first time! Rather plush missionary quarters. :)

After a wonderful Trinidadian breakfast of “bakes” and cheese, we assessed our limited supplies to see what we had to work with for the launch of Backyard Bible Club (BBC) that afternoon in the little village of Bellamy. By God's grace, we had all the props for the “Sower and the Seeds” skit and part of the corresponding craft, so we went with it. We rehearsed the skit, worked out team dynamics, and prayed.

At 4, we arrived to “canvass” the neighborhood, which is only one of the very un-American things we do while in Trini. Imagine wandering through a rural street, hollering “Good afternoon!” and having a resident emerge to listen to your invitation to BBC which “will be held on the savannah (read: open field) by the tent at 4:30.” Amazingly, at 4:30, the savannah is teaming with children who are energetic and excited about being there. Wild. We had about 36 kids come the first day and felt really good about our interaction with them. We returned to the compound in time for dinner (it was about 25 minutes by “maxi”—a mid-sized bus) and debriefing. We found that not having suitcases simplified life; there was no time needed for swimming (skinny dipping was forbotten) or even changing clothes. And if you couldn’t change clothes, showering was not that appealing—which worked well, since the compound was experiencing a water crisis, so the water was shut off all but several hours a day (early in the a.m. and late at night) which was, by the way, another first. :)

Each night our team met for debriefing and praying together. We experienced deep bonding quickly, in part because “crisis” aids such solidarity and in part because of the previously existing relationships we had all forged through the years. Each person was so important to the team and stepped up in making their own unique contribution to our collective effort. We felt like one big family and Paul and I truly loved “leading” them.

Our prayers were answered Monday night when Paul and Javed returned from the airport with all 18 pieces of missing luggage in tow. PTL!! After having spent three days in the same clothes, we were really happy and grateful for things easily taken for granted.

Tuesday a.m., freshly showered and in clean clothes, we spent the morning visiting two Hindu temples on a fascinating tour led by Jenn Bachew. The importance of this piece can’t be underestimated as it sets up the obvious contrast between a life dedicated to worshiping an idol and a life dedicated to worshiping our living Lord. We watched a pundit sincerely offering alms and chanting prayers to the “monkey god” at one temple and we observed thousands of fragments of broken “deias” offered at the “water temple.” We saw four funeral pyres set and waiting dead corpses, which would be burned to ashes, which would be scattered in the river, which according to Hindu belief would eventually make it back to the Ganges River for reincarnation. It was very impacting.

While at the water temple, Melanie accepted the invitation offered by a Rastifarian-looking fisherman named Balam, to tour his home and business. What a unique opportunity to have an insider’s view into the life of a very entrepreneurial local! We saw his catch of the day: beautiful looking, plump shrimp and small fish, but we also unfortunately saw the murky, muddy waters from which they came, which dimmed their appeal. He took us inside his “home”—a squatter’s dwelling made of corrugated metal roofing and other discarded components fashioned into a suitable-for-him abode. He proudly showed us his “tauer” (incorrect spelling - it’s the flat skillet used to bake roti), his bbq, and his kitchen.” His home was nestled right on the shore line of the viscous water and couldn't have been more hospitable, extending an invitation to all of us to return for a fishing excursion with him. “Just bring your hammocks,” he suggested. Jenn said that kind of an experience was a first for her—and obviously for us, as well.

That day was so clear we could easily see Venezuela, which sits just 7 miles from that part of Trini’s coastline. What a gift to have such a lovely day! On the way back to the compound, we bought fresh fruits and veggies from a small farm stand to supplement the very high-carb, low-fresh fare at TTUM.

Back to the compound for lunch and preparation for BBC. Fortunately, now flush with supplies from the suitcase reunion, we had everything needed for the remaining three days of club. At 4 p.m., the savannah in Bellamy was flooded with kids within moments of the maxi’s arrival and we increased to 50 kids. Pastor Paul’s promise of an extra treat for any who brought someone new to club created quite a stir, and a good bit of lying and conniving by children who all wanted an extra lollipop. :) The afternoon went very well and culminated with the kids enthusiastically decorating Prayer Journals with really cool foam stickers. We returned to the compound very encouraged, satisfied, and thankful. That night, after our team meeting, we celebrated Melanie’s birthday with cake and ice cream, which was a treat for all.

Wednesday we were up and out early to do a program at a local high school. We had very little information regarding what to expect prior to going. Typically at the high schools, we present for one classroom during their period of “Religious Instruction” (RI). We were all delighted and somewhat relieved when Javed climbed on the maxi to accompany us to Cunupia HS that morning. Upon arrival at the security shack for the high school, Javed was told by the security guards that the school was in upheaval due to a student stabbing a teacher the day before, which had caused the teachers to strike. Their grievance was against the government’s changed policy regarding student discipline (that a teacher couldn't really discipline a student, taking their cues from America . . .) which they felt left them unprotected as teachers. In the absence of teachers, the principal requested that our team present to the entire student body.

Yikes! Not only were we going into a school which had experienced some form of violence the day before, but we would have the whole school! (The newspaper account of the incident was different from the verbal accounts, so we really don’t know what happened—it was enough to know that something bad happened to cause the teachers to refuse to teach.) Feeling thoroughly unprepared and some degree of terror, we filed into the open-air auditorium and experienced God’s grace and provision in some remarkable ways. We were all very aware that God had gone before us by having Javed with us that day; he was the right person for addressing that audience and did a great job, connecting with the students as only another Trinidadian could. Paul did the “iodine and the cross” illustration, and brave Talene spoke forthrightly about her faith and how it makes a difference in her daily life as a high school sophomore. Their chaplain opened in closed the time by leading several Christian choruses with his booming, rich voice, relieving us of the need to inadequately and anemically lead them musically. And then it was over. We were all relieved and thankful to return to the bus safely. The Cunupia experience was full of firsts. We all left with a much deeper awareness of God’s presence and protection.

On to an elementary school for our second school that morning, and that was also full of firsts. Usually we have the whole school at the primary schools and were joyfully welcomed. At Madras Road Government Primary School, we had one classroom of students, and were not even introduced by the somewhat dour teacher in charge. We usually get to interact with the kids after a presentation, but they were sent straight back to their classes and we left. We prayed that God will water the seeds sown.

Day three of BBC happened that afternoon. About 60 kids arrived for a somewhat raucous time of singing, performing, crafting, and playing. The best part for us is loving on these kids and letting them know how loved they are by Jesus. We knew many of their names by this point and each had bonded with different ones. It’s amazing how deep our hearts were for these children in such a short time.

That night was Prayer Meeting at the compound and Ashoke asked Paul to teach on relationships. We were sharing the compound with a great group of high school students who attend Whitfield Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, and since they would be attending Prayer Meeting also, Paul worked to cover the varied generational needs of this important topic. He did a great job and received a ton of affirmation especially from the Whitfield kids. We were so thankful.

The cap of a very long but good day was a definite highlight of the week: John and his steel pan band performed an hour-long concert for the American contingent. It was phenomenal. We worshiped, rejoiced, and praised through music, singing, and dancing. Yes, even Paul. The Whitfield kids pulled him on to the floor to “boogie” with them, I guess figuring that if he was hip enough to speak the way he spoke, he must be hip enough to dance. I wish you could’ve seen his face as they forced him to join them. :) We went to bed that night exhausted, but so, so aware of the goodness, presence, and power of God. We would clearly need it for the next day.

Thursday a.m. was challenging in many ways. We descended on Auntie Pearl’s orphanage to clean, since most of the children were in school. Our main project was to clean the laundry/freezer room, which we discovered had a population of roaches that would qualify it as a small city. I can still feel roaches crawling on me today. To say it was a stretch would be a gross understatement, but since the adults were committed to modeling servanthood with a smile to our progeny watching us, we attacked the disgusting, dirty, and “living” area with smiles on the outside and revulsion on the inside. Seth and Richard led the charge nobly and fearlessly; I did the best job of appearance management I could possibly muster, only once shrieking in terror as a roach ran up my leg. We developed the “roach rumba”—a dance that evolved as we stomped the scattering roaches that emerged as objects were moved or clothes shaken out.

Meanwhile, most of the team was caring for the dozen or so younger children not of school age, changing diapers, bathing, holding, and loving—while others were reducing the trash strewn about the back yard. Each team member stepped up incredibly, jumping in with hands and feet and mostly heart. It was a morning none of us will forget.

We left there with aching hearts, honestly, so aware that our efforts would make very little difference, really. We prayed that God would somehow multiply what we had done, like loaves and fishes, and that He'd show us how to respond to what we’d experienced even as we return to the U.S.

Day 4 and grand finale at BBC that afternoon brought all 60 children out even before our maxi arrived. We had a great afternoon, presenting the gospel, finishing projects, and wrapping up with the iodine and cross illustration. Sarah did a great presentation on the “wordless necklace” and Paul explained how to ask Jesus into your heart. Most of the children prayed the prayer with him, and only heaven will sort out who did so sincerely. We parted after many hugs and promises of prayers and left the little village of Bellamy in the hands of God.

After our team meeting that night, we broke out “Catch Phrase,” one of our favorite games, and had a rousing match which pitted the men against the women. The women ultimately prevailed, but only by the skin of our teeth. It was a highly competitive, sometimes ruthless match which provided lots of laughs.

Friday was full of more firsts. We started the day visiting New Haven Elderly Home and with no knowledge of what to expect, entered with a degree of trepidation. We found about twenty elderly folks in various stages of mobility and mental acuity who were delighted to feel not forgotten for an hour that day. We sang hymns with them, some of whom didn’t miss a word. We did a drama, made them cross necklaces, and spent time talking with them individually and touching them, physically and emotionally. It was sacred time.

On to a primary school in the early afternoon, we had a wonderful time presenting to a very appreciative audience and then “limin’” with them after we were done. From there, we were thrilled to go to Campoo to reconnect with some of our longtime friends there as well as to see the progress on the church building. TTUM has decided to build an orphan home in conjunction with the church, which is a very exciting development. It was such a joy to be there and to see the work of God being faithfully carried on.

The highlight for several of us was to reunite with Preema, our Hindu friend from our very first BBC in Campoo. Preema had the keys to the community center we used for our first BBC, so we got to know her and her four boys well. At week’s end, she responded to Ashoke’s invitation to receive Christ and wept for thirty minutes after. We had made contact with her each time we’ve been there since, and though it doesn’t appear that the seed fell on fertile soil, she always seems to glad to see us. It was a joyful reunion with her, which prompted many tears from her again. We prayed for her and were so thankful to have had those moments.

We rounded out that afternoon by spending some time at “Angel Michael’s Orphan Home,” another first. An unknown entity to TTUM, Jenn had set it up hoping it would be a good place for ministry. It turned out to be a very sketchy place, with lots of evidence of being Obea Baptist (a curious mixture of witchcraft, voodoo, and Christianity). There were only school-aged children there and only one expressed an affect. The rest were relatively void of expression and very unresponsive. It was sad.

Our final ministry event was that night at the compound. Paul and I taught on relationships for their youth group meeting and again, were besieged with positive responses. The local youth were especially appreciative; we were grateful to have significant conversations with many of them. PTL. The evening was rich with worship, led by Javed, fellowship and fun, led by Whitfield Academy, and teaching. Between that and the Wednesday night Prayer Meeting, we felt less “gypped” by missing out on Sunday. :) We concluded the evening with a Catch Phrase rematch—and the women again prevailed. :)

Saturday was our last full day there and we had an unrestful but fun day of rest. The day started with yet another first: turns out that a drunk young man had trespassed on the compound in the middle of the night and found a place to sleep in one of our rooms, which was occupied by three young ladies. The youngest wakened and, unable to waken her two sleeping sisters, took it on herself to command him to leave their room. After some resistance, he did, only to wander down the hall to another room with an unlocked door. The two guys in this room thought his snoring was from someone on the team, so there he slept there ’til morning. The first we all knew about it was when armed officers (uzzi-armed) arrived at the compound to arrest this guy. No small amount of drama ensued, and our departure for Maracas Bay was delayed slightly.

Off we eventually went, stopping first in Port of Spain for one hour of mostly fabric shopping, and then on to Maracas Bay. We indulged in the inimitable “Bake ’n Shark” lunch delicacy before enjoying the “just right” ocean (in terms of temp and wave action). We couldn’t have had a nicer time. From there we made a quick stop at a market for edible souvenirs, and then spent a couple of hours on the river cruise to watch the nightly migration of the Red Ibises, Snowy Egrets, and Blue Herons to their wildlife preserve. It’s a rather magical show they perform and such a confirmation of Creator God, who sets such things in motion. Everything was perfect about the experience, so we felt very blessed.

Our evening was spent wrapping up and we shared a very sweet time of sharing and prayer together as a team. Packing, “liming,” and sharing filled the evening, and then we went to bed for our final time at TTUM. Sad farewells were exchanged early the next a.m.—we left with hearts so full of love and gratitude.

The above photo was taken at Logan Airport, Boston, just after our arrival back home. Our team was delighted and honored to be met by a precious group of family and friends who gathered to welcome us home. Not on the trip, but included in this photo, are Robie and Donna Gould with daughter Anna; Dan, Liz, and Timmy Yardley; Guy and Barbara Steele; and Rick Welles. We felt so loved!