Life-Changing Moments, from St. Louis to Uganda

Life-Changing Moments, from St. Louis to Uganda

Once home from my mom’s in San Diego on Wednesday, June 26, we had 36 hours before flying to St Louis to perform Meegan Williams and Ezra Talbert’s wedding.  Unfortunately, this brief two-day trip was marked by “if it could go wrong, it did” in terms of air travel, and what should’ve been a easy 5-hour trip (Boston–Newark–St Louis) turned out to be a nightmare of delayed flights, a closed airport due to an emergency landing, canceled flights, and eventually, long after we had missed the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, we caught a flight into Chicago and ended up driving to St Louis at midnight, arriving at 4 am Sunday to make SURE we would be at the 11 am wedding.

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?” 

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

For the first time since launching this blog over twelve years ago, three months have elapsed since my last post. In an unprecedented quandary, I’ve had a really hard time finding the words to write, for though there have been many great moments and experiences during this time, we have concurrently experienced some of the darkest and most difficult days of our life together. And quite frankly, I haven’t known how to communicate about this, fairly and honorably, especially since it’s ongoing. This is a season during which my silence hasn’t been “golden.”

Same Song, 41st Verse

It’s a beautiful day on Catalina Island and during this break from program planning for family camps, I’ve reached the entry on my “to do list” which says “blog.”  As I start writing, I am struck with the seeming impossibility of it being only 3 weeks since spending Memorial Day weekend in Tennessee, speaking at Cumberland Wilderness Retreat’s second annual family camp. It seems like a short lifetime ago, as these weeks have been filled with a lot of activity and emotion.

It was only hours after returning from Uganda on Monday late afternoon, May 23, that I caught an early morning flight to Washington, D.C., to surprise my baby sister Laura with a birthday visit.  It was one of the best surprises ever, aided by my brother-in-law David’s willingness to get me at the airport and take me to her office. It was a sweet, sweet day in so many ways, but perhaps the sweetest was having some time with Laura and David’s beloved 10-year-old mini-dachshund, Maggie, who lost the battle to inflammatory bowel disease just days later.  :(  I’ll always consider that day as a gift from heaven. 

Hand-carried, freshly cut lilacs from New England “fragranced” the surprise visit to honor my sister Laura for her birthday.

This little fighter, Maggie, attacked this plastic tube with a vengeance, which betrayed her very weakened, sickly condition.

Home from D.C. that night, we counseled the next day. On Friday morning, May 27 (our daughter Kari’s 36th birthday!), we flew to Atlanta, and then drove to Cumberland, Tennessee, to speak at the Cumberland Wilderness Retreat’s second annual family camp.  We launched this camp last Memorial Day and were so delighted to return.  The “baby” of Keith and Marsha Thompson and Nate and Jeannie King, it was SO gratifying to hear the second-year families say that they’ve been counting the days since last year! They “got” it! They loved the community experience of families coming alongside each other, doing life, learning about Jesus, praying, playing, and staying together.  One sweet family, whose father is an orthopedic surgeon, related that their 5-year-old has not stopped talking about family camp since last Memorial Day Weekend. The surgeon’s office partners told him before this Memorial Day, “Ok, we get it. We won’t schedule you to work Memorial Day Weekend for the next 15 years!”  There’s just something about family camp that is so unique, so shaping, so transforming.  It thrills us when families “get it.”

The Kings and the Thompsons once again did a great job of planning and preparing for family camp. Perfect weather contributed to the success of the weekend, and the addition of the ever-popular “finger rocket blasters” was loved by all. Great worship, great children’s ministry staff, great food. It was an off-the-charts weekend.

Sunrise over one of the lakes at Cumberland Wilderness Retreat.

Under the tent—the “meeting hall” at this not-yet-developed but full-of-potential camp.

Battle of the sexes . . . men against women in finger-rocket-blasters.

Fish fry—starring freshly caught fish by the campers—absolutely to die for (well, the fish did).

Cumberland Wilderness Retreat’s future—site of the first construction which will happen in the next few months. We prayed over the land together.

The family campers at Cumberland Wilderness Retreat: 75 campers, 17 families.

The family camp staff—all great folks who served endlessly through the weekend.

After a lovely day with the King family in Rome, GA, we flew home with T- 10 days til departing for our summer at Campus by the Sea.  Counseling, catching up, preparing for the summer, cleaning, sorting, packing, HIM Board Meeting…the days passed  quickly.  The highlight came in the form of Derek and Julie, Nathan and Rachel, who arrived for a short visit on Sat. the 4th.  What little joy bringers they are!  We had so much fun together doing not much more than taking walks, playing with toys, being entertained by the antics of these two adorable littles, and packing every bit of loving we could into three short days.  It was especially fun to share with Derek and Julie stories from our time in Uganda and Ethiopia.  We had so much love to give them from their many friends/colleagues/admirers.  

Papa and his well-loved grands, Nathan and Rachel.

Rachel lights up a room!

On Saturday, June 11, we flew to San Francisco and left behind all that never quite got done.  Out of sight . . . out of mind. We spent Sunday teaching at Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City. Lead pastor Gary Gaddini, one of our dearest friends and ministry partners, is on sabbatical, so we were invited to fill the pulpit. Having spoken at PCC numerous times over the years, it feels a bit like “coming home” to be there as we are always so warmly welcomed. We love the ethos of PCC—a very Christ-centered, grace-giving, outreach committed church—which God is using to make an impact.

Highlights for us included meetings up with Bob and Clara Sharpless, who were on the original Campus by the Sea (CBS) committee with Paul’s parents and others back in 1968. That committee “saved” camp literally, as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) was ready to give up the lease due to the difficulty of staffing it. The CBS committee offered to take full financial and operational responsibility of the camp if IVCF would continue to carry the lease and the deal was made. Though the committee was disbanded in 1994, they served an incredibly important role in the history of CBS.

Bob and Clara’s love for CBS has never abated and until very recently, they attended a week of family camp each summer.  Their family torch is carried by their daughter, Mary Giani, and her husband, Paul, and their three kids, who continue to make family camp their tradition. 

We also reconnected with Jim and Marge Perry, long time CBS friends, as well as several families who are current CBS family campers. It was a day filled with wonderful reunions.

Bob and Clara Sharpless are such an encouragement as they continue to be involved in Kingdom building in their golden years.

Jim and Marge Perry have also been a part of CBS history for decades.  When we got married, they were family campers, and eventually their sons served on staff. 


More friends we got to hug at PCC.

We walked on the beach at Half Moon Bay for the balance of the day, after having a lovely lunch with some dear friends, and called it a day. On to Catalina the next day . . .

On the boat heading over to CBS for the summer. This is a great group!

We’re singing the “same song” for the 41st time, in a sense. There is so much that is consistent, known, traditional about being at CBS. The deeply embedded ethos, the commitment to the Lordship of Christ and servanthood. The set-apartness, the distraction-free zone, the protection. The peace, the solitude, the love. The community, the connections, the support. The freedom from technology, from cars, from craziness.  

There’s no place like it in our world. We are so very thankful for the privilege of serving here for over 4 decades.

So, orientation week is underway and we couldn’t be more thankful for the staff that God has brought together. All but four of our program staff are veterans so we have a huge head start as most of them know the ropes already. Cream of the crop, this group of 26 college students or beyond is serious about their relationship with the Lord and is committed to serving. It’s an honor to serve with them.

We’re spending all our time this week developing the curriculum for all the age levels and solidifying the extra-curricular all family activities. It’s a week of getting to know each other, sharing creative ideas, brainstorming, building anticipation for a great summer of serving together. There’s a lot of talent, passion, and heart for Jesus in this group. God is so faithful!

Staff optional hike up “Scar” with “Lone Tree” in the background.

Dick and Nancy Beggs, retired from Christian camping (they are connected with Camp Maranatha in Idyllwild), stopped by for a visit. Our friendship spans our marriage; we met them at the CCI conference at Mt Hermon in 1977. They are treasured friends.

The program team for the 2016 family camp season. Such a great, great group!!

So, here we are. Singing the same song . . . for the 41st time. Singing with joy, with anticipation, with passion. Pray for us!!

Sunset at Cumberland Wilderness Retreat.  Unfiltered beauty.  

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.

If It's Tuesday . . .

The past two weeks have been marked by very quick turn-arounds.  The kind that leave you wondering where you are and what time it is. 

Returning from Trinidad late on Tuesday, the 26th of April, we had just enough time to do a load of laundry and repack before flying to Sacramento, CA, the following day, to participate in Bayside’s annual Thrive Conference. The brainchild of Ray Johnston, lead pastor of the Bayside family of churches, this conference is packed with upbeat worship, a large variety of workshops, great plenary session speakers, and lots of fun and laughter. There’s not much that’s conventional about it, and each year we are re-energized by this hyper-inspiring event.

We taught three workshops on Friday, the 29th: one on balancing marriage and ministry, one on teaching Biblical values regarding sexuality to our youth, and the final one on temperaments. All three were well received, but the temperaments workshop was off the charts. Packed with very responsive folks, there were many moments of epiphany and enlightenment amidst the laughter and verbal “aha’s.” At the end of the workshop, one woman got to me immediately and with tears said, “This workshop might have just saved my marriage. I understand my husband in a whole new way with these insights.” There is no more encouraging response we could have received.  All praise is His.

The "temperaments in marriage" workshop garnered a huge crowd and an even bigger response.

The facilitating team for our workshops; on the far right are Dave and Diane Watts, our faithful book table handlers.

Following dinner that night at Ray and Carol Johnston’s house, we left the Thrive conference with hearts full and overflowing for how God had met us through some great speakers and worship, and for how He had used us.  

We drove from Sacramento to Santa Clarita that night (definitely not a very New England thing to do, but oh so Californian!) so we could be at Brandon’s soccer game the next morning. The flight we had originally booked Saturday morning wouldn’t get us there in time for the game, so we drove! The five-hour drive gave us time to process the conference and to look ahead at our crazy schedule. We were very thankful to safely arrive at the Garcia’s home at 2 am for a little shut-eye.

What fun to spend Saturday with Brandon and Ana (and their parents, of course.) Though it’s been years since we sat on the sidelines cheering for our favorite athletes, it all came right back to us and we joined the crowd of crazy fans seamlessly. We were really happy it worked out for us to be there. Playing games, taking a walk, sneaking a nap, and going to church balanced the day.

After Brandon’s soccer game . . .

Cleaned up and ready to attend Saturday night church.

Lisa joined us for festivities on Sunday, which revolved around having a small family celebration of our 40th. After a lovely brunch at the Egg Plantation, and delicious cold brew coffee at Honu (a coffee shop in Santa Clarita owned by friends of theirs from church), we returned to the Garcia house where we were presented with a beautiful book of tributes written by family and friends in honor of our marriage. We were totally blown away. Humbled. Touched. Deeply moved. It is a gift that will keep on giving. Sweet Kari took that project on and she did a beautiful job on it.

Coffee break!

The book of tributes for our anniversary.  What a treasure!

Back to Boston on a red-eye Sunday night, April 30, in order to offer a day of counseling. Had we not done this, we would’ve had no counseling days from April 19 until June 1, and we couldn’t do that to our clients. So, much of Monday and all of Tuesday were spent counseling, and then we re-packed and headed back to California. The bright side? Obviously connection with our counselees, but also more miles towards the 1K United mileage club.   :-)

We flew into San Diego so we could spend a day with my mom to celebrate Mother’s Day a bit early and we had such a sweet visit. My mom is incredible! At 86, she still runs her life: she drives, she manages everything, and she’s learning the in’s and out’s of her new iPhone 6.  She’s a bar-setter, that’s for sure. She even picked us up at the airport late Wednesday night. We are blessed that she is so healthy and so vital. Though very short, our time together was lovely and we hated to drive out Friday at noon.

But the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard Marriage Conference was ready to “play ball” so drive we did to Tehachapi, making a quick stop on the way in Riverside to see daughter Lisa’s “new” house!  What joy to celebrate such meaningful milestones in the lives of your children. We’re so proud of the way Lisa has managed her life, positioning her to make a move on buying her first home when her need for a place to live intersected with her “randomly” following an “Open House” sign while walking home from Cal Baptist one day about 6 weeks ago. After crunching the numbers and realizing that her mortgage payments would be only about $300 more a month than renting, she made her move and an abundant amount of God’s grace and favor were evident in the deal closing in her favor. She was thrilled to show her dad her new home (his only view of it had been virtual) and was very happy with his enthusiastic approval. So starts a new chapter in Lisa’s life as she continues as a professor at Cal Baptist for the 2016-17 school year.

On to Tehachapi, for the second year in a row, to speak at their baseball themed marriage conference entitled “Marriage Strong.” They spared no creativity in carrying out a theme and we were delighted to arrive at the “ball field” in time to get Dodger Dogs (which we quickly renamed “Fenway Franks”), nachos with queso, and lemonade. They did an awesome job of decorating the tables and the concession stand. Attendees came wearing their favorite team’s shirts, so there was plenty of friendly rivalry as Red Sox fans bantered with Dodger fans, etc.  It was one of the most creatively themed conferences we’ve done and it definitely was a “grand slam.”

 They didn’t miss a trick when it came to decorating for this conference.

 The Fenway Franks were delicious and made us feel right at home.

 Imagine finding all these Red Sox fans in the high desert east of LA??

Barry and Saundra Galloway are the campus pastors for the TMV and through many years now, we’ve become very good friends as well as ministry partners. Their grace-giving, truth-telling style endears them easily and we loved partnering with them again this year for their marriage conference.

  Barry and Saundra Galloway are salt of the earth folks and we loved being with them.

God did a great work through the conference.  One woman confessed to Paul, “I dragged my husband here, hoping he would be convicted of his need to change, and God turned the tables on me. I’m the one who needed the conference. God spoke to me of my need to change!”  We had many encouraging conversations with those who felt God really met them. Praise Him!

We were also honored to teach at both of their services on Sunday and were thankful that went well. And just like that, we were on our way to Santa Clarita for a quick Mother’s Day celebration with Garcias and Lisa, and then to LAX.  

Though the time was short with the kids, it was very sweet. Yummy food, sweet sentiments expressed, and love shared. So very thankful!

 Short but sweet time with the kids prior to jetting back to Boston on those beloved red-eye flights.

Home on a red-eye, picked up and taken home by Barbara Steele, who’s servant-heartedness knows no bounds. Six hours later, she was back to pick us up and take us back to Logan for our flight to Uganda. Convincing servant-heartedness, yes??

So here we are, ready to call it a day in Entebbe, Uganda. It’s still Tuesday here, so we know where we are.

We are beyond thankful for the opportunity to return to this land of beautiful, loving people and continue the ministry of encouraging church leaders, ex-Pat missionaries, and the congregation at Pearl Haven.
Updates will be coming, but for now, thanks for your prayers and resources that have gotten us here. We want to be used by God to make a difference . . . on Tuesday, as well as every other day of the week. 

   San Diego at its best . . . sunset over the harbor.

One of the Best

The sun sets on another summer at Campus by the Sea.

The rhythmic sound of the tide coming and going over the rolling rocks has been replaced by early morning loons calling from the placid waters of Newfound Lake, and we know we’re not at Campus by the Sea this week. Just like that, seven weeks of living at “a little piece of heaven by the sea” is history and we’re off and running at Berea for two weeks of Family Camp.  

We begin these weeks at Berea with hearts overflowing with gratitude for the incredible ways God met us and showed His faithfulness at CBS. The summer theme of “Living to the praise of His glory” taken from Ephesians 1 set the bar. That theme was woven through the curriculum, the worship, and the devotions. We challenged our staff (and ourselves) to process all decisions, thoughts, and actions through the rubric of “Will this help me live to the praise of His glory?” It showed. Consistently the staff chose to serve whole-heartedly, to embrace the opportunities unique to an “off the grid” discipleship community, and to live honorably in the community by submitting to the community standards. It was a delightfully productive, drama-free summer, marked by deep solidarity and growth. Nothing but gratitude.

We served together, learned together, grew together, played together, hiked together, laughed together, cried together. We chose to honor one another by loving well, encouraging each other, and helping each other grow.  As masks came off during our 49-day community experience, we chose to accept idiosyncrasies and challenge ungodliness. We learned to love those we found hard to love. We rediscovered how good it was to have real time conversations face-to-face, and we regained oodles of hours normally eaten up by Facebook, video games, texting, etc.  We helped each other “live to the praise of His glory.”  It was a rich, growth-producing summer.

Since a “picture paints a thousand words,” I’m posting numerous photos representing staff life, Summer 2015.

The entire staff team: facilities, program, and year-round staff.
The program staff.

The “staff only” annual shore hike . . . pausing at Frog Rock.

For the first time in a long while, the 4th of July fell on Saturday,
so we rented the "Blanche W” and took the staff in to watch the fireworks in Avalon Harbor, followed by a flying fish tour.  Such a fun night!

Every Saturday night the staff enjoyed Paul’s freshly baked
chocolate chip cookies—much to their delight.
The annual tea party for staff women was delightful.

In a most unusual twist, Family Camp 5 arrived in RAIN, and in order to keep our campers as dry as possible, the our staff cheerfully got drenched.

The annual staff-only hike to Lone Tree took place during Family Camp 5,
and though it didn’t draw a large crowd, those who went had a great time.
The “Staff Coffeehouse” was resurrected this summer, featuring some great acts as well as some great desserts.  “Pavlova” a la Vonny was the biggest hit.

Into town for our “staff appreciation dinner” to celebrate our seven weeks of serving together.

Dave and Vonny were our “right hand people” serving as the “deans” of the staff cove,
Little Gallagher’s, as well as leading the college group.
Vonny also directed the elementary program.  So thankful for them!

All six weeks of family camp were full of great teaching, incredible fellowship, and numerous moments of being showered by God’s grace. Decisions were made for Christ. Hope was given to struggling marriages. Baptisms were celebrated. Parents and children were encouraged to work together as a team. Milk jug boats were entered in the “Annual Boat Race.” Square dancing on the basketball court was repeated six times, but was never tired of. The game show, “Go for the glory,” was wildly popular. Worship under the stars, around the campfire ring, followed by s’mores . . . unbeatable.  

The host and hostess of “Go For the Glory” . . . stylin’!!

We were also beyond thankful to have our whole immediate family at camp, as well as many of our extended family.  What a joy to have our grandchildren loving the program, singing the “Butterfly Song”, and hanging out with Papa and Gigi.  This feels like it’s coming full circle.

The “fam” minus Gabe, who had returned to the mainland to lead 
the college missions trip from his church.

Nathan helps Papa ring the bell for announcements.

A bunch of Friesens, Herbsts, Rottschafers, Clarks, Oertlis, Millers, and Stucks.
So fun to have them all at camp!

The original 3: Kari, Julie, and Lisa.

Some big changes within our family happened during these seven weeks. Julie, Derek, and Nathan have moved stateside from Uganda, settling near Lemoyne, PA (outside of Harrisburg), to spend the foreseeable future working at the CURE headquarters. Derek’s new role will be in development and long-term sustainability. Though it was very hard to leave all they love in Uganda, they are looking forward to their new life in Pennsylvania, especially as they await the birth of their second child in early November.

Lisa has resigned her position as head athletic trainer for UCLA women’s basketball and on Aug. 17 will assume the position of Associate Professor at California Baptist University (CBU) located in Riverside, CA.  She’ll teach two undergrad and two master’s level athletic training courses and is looking forward to a more normal schedule, with improved work/life balance.  She’ll leave a large portion of her heart at UCLA with the student athletes she has served and loved so well, as well with her athletic training colleagues. We’ll continue to follow the Lady Bruins with support and love.

We’re still finding it hard to believe that our summer at CBS is over . . . but it will surely go down in history as one of the best.

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.  

From Africa with Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnie and Becky Moore were such gracious hosts at GHCC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several comments from attendees:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warm Hearts, Cold Everything Else

I’m not off to a very good start in 2015 blog-wise. I’ve fallen way short of my newly set goal of posting weekly or at least bi-weekly. I guess I could blame it on the weather—that seems to be the catch-all for all that’s gone wrong so far this year. Alas, I’ll chalk my failure up to lack of priority and plan to improve in the weeks ahead.

Backing up to January, our Hawaiian refueling stop the first half of January well prepared us to embrace the frigid temps and warm hearts that greeted us at West Point January 16-17.  Tom and Cheri Austin, directors of Officers Christian Fellowship, rolled out the red carpet for us at the OCF bed and breakfast, and facilitated our speaking to faculty and staff on Christian parenting and marriage Friday night and Saturday.  I’ll never get used to seeing “Go Army - Beat Navy” signs everywhere, but that aside, our time was rich and rewarding.  A return trip is in the offing.

Tom and Cheri Austin, directors of OCF at West Point,
extended warm hospitality to us when we spoke at West Point.

Home for only 4 days, we managed to do a full day of counseling, consult with a group of leaders from Cambridge Christian Fellowship Church on family and marriage ministry, unpack and repack, and then we flew to California on January 22 to begin a two-week junket.  The first major blizzard to hit New England arrived two days after we left, and, though most people thought we’d be thrilled to have dodged that bullet, we sorta hated to miss the historic event.

But we didn’t hate walking on beautiful California beaches, and being committed to making the most of wherever we are, we took full advantage.

How we love walking on the beach … and Pismo is one of the best.

The weekend was spent in Arroyo Grande, where Grace Bible Church hosted a marriage conference Friday night and Saturday.  This was our third conference in four years with this great group of people and we enjoyed reconnecting with “old” faces as well as meeting many new faces.  It was a great time of ministry, evidenced by encouraging feedback.  Paul preached on Sunday to wrap up our time there and then off we sped to Santa Clarita to “do ministry” with our grandchildren, Brandon and Ana, while their parents went on a pastors’ retreat with their church staff.

Some wonderful friends who helped make the marriage conference happen
for Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande, California.

What fun filled the next couple of days!  Grandparenting is much more FUN than parenting, honestly, because the only thing on our agenda was keeping everyone safe and satisfied.  That’s it!  So we played from morning ’til night.  Walks to the park.  Baseball in the backyard.  Visiting the fish pond at the outdoor mall, and getting mini-donuts at The Coffee Bean since we were there.  Riding the merry-go-round.  Eating at Chick-Fil-A.  Picking and eating grapefruit from the tree in the backyard.  Building things with Legos.  Cooking in the play kitchen.  Wrestling with Papa.  Reading books. Baking scones and cookies.  Building memories.  Gabe and Kari had a fantastic getaway and we had a 48 hours of joyful bonding.  Everyone wins.

Papa, Brandon, and Ana having fun at the park.

Brandon and Ana helping Gigi bake scones.

Sibling love.

Nathan, who clearly isn’t in New England, says “I really like chocolate syrup!”
As we’ve hit records with cold and snow, our children in Africa
have been sweltering during dry season with high temps and no rain.  

Back up to the Gold Coast of California Wednesday to speak at Grace Church of San Luis Obispo that evening.  Tim Thuele (lead pastor) and Ken Peet (family pastor) put together a teens and parents evening, focusing on relationships.  It was a first for them, and they hoped to have 75-100 out for the event. Everyone—including the dinner prep team—was shocked when over 200 showed up!  We spoke to the parents for the first hour, who were most receptive to some tips on navigating the tricky waters of preparing their teens to make God-honoring choices regarding relationships—and then the teens returned and the conversation continued.  Great energy, great attentiveness, great night.  Great thanks.

Ken Peet welcomes the crowd at Grace Church who
came out for the parents/teens talk on relationships.

Next stop, Sacramento!  We welcome any opportunity to return to Sacramento and were honored to accept Bayside Midtown’s invitation to spend the weekend with them.  But first, we had lunch with some of our dearest friends and partners in ministry, Ray and Carol Johnston.  Not only did we have a great catch-up time over lunch, but Paul came away transformed fashionably through the efforts of Ray, Carol, Christy, and Leslie.  Since Paul has lost 35 lbs. in an attempt to get healthy, the Johnstons took one look at his over-sized jeans and deemed them “unfit.”  Thus began a crash course in “jean”-ology.  An hour spent in Nordstroms did the trick and Paul is now stylin’ in a way he’s never styled before.  Let’s just say that the cost of the jeans will definitely motivate him to keep the weight off.  :)

Ray, Carol, Christy, and Leslie Johnston give Paul a lesson about buying jeans.

The male models . . .

The Bayside Midtown conference Saturday was energizing.  We love to speak to audiences that speak back.  Interaction is good.  A great crowd showed up, representing ages and stages across the board. A mid-afternoon lunch with lead pastor Bob and Letty Balian and others was full of reflection of how God met us at the conference.  We taught at the church services on Sunday morning—Super Bowl Sunday, that is.  

Bob and Letty Balian lead the ministry at Bayside Midtown and are dear friends.

We managed to stay very focused at church, but as soon as we hit the road in Sacramento our focus switched to making it (faster than humanly possible) to San Francisco to watch the Super Bowl.  Unfortunately, it seemed that the Super Bowl wasn’t a priority for far too many California drivers who were clogging  the freeway between Sacramento and SF, so we laboriously and frustratedly navigated the traffic and arrived to our chosen destination as the first quarter was ending.  If you’re gonna miss a quarter, best it be the first and not the last (especially of this game, as it turned out). We thoroughly enjoyed watching the game with fellow Pats’ fans and dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent, especially after Malcolm Butler made his game-saving interception in the end zone.  Unforgettable in such a happy way, driving out the unforgettable memories of the last two Super Bowl heartbreaks.  

Red-eying it to Charlotte, North Carolina, after the game, we were behind mics just after noon on Monday, Feb. 2,  at Covenant Day School, speaking to the whole senior class on making God-honoring choices in relationships and sexuality.  We were pleasantly surprised by their attentiveness, interaction, and thoughtful responses expressed directly to us.  That was the first of four days of us addressing each high school class and right down to the freshman class the final day, all were delightful.  It was a bonus to have some time with the Head of School Mark Davis, who formerly served as headmaster of Lexington Christian Academy. 

Hosted by Dan and Susan Yardley, we also spoke to a Couples’ Date Night while in Charlotte.  In a beautiful ballroom setting, the Yardleys served a wide spread of homemade desserts and we presented on marriage.  It was a lovely evening with a delightful group of couples.

Dan and Susan Yardley hosted the lovely couples’ dessert night in Charlotte.

In between the five speaking engagements, we hung out with the Yardleys, had lunch with Paul and Kate Wylie, and ate dinner with Thomas and Margaret Austin.  Great times.  Canceled and delayed flights cost us some sleep on our return to Boston late Thursday night, the 5th, but we made it in the wee hours of the 6th, little worse for the wear.

That weekend was dominated by performing the wedding of Matthew and Shahrzad Slater.  Such a privilege to celebrate the sacrament of marriage for these two who are sold out to Christ and whose walk matches their talk. Their desire for a God-honoring, gospel-centered ceremony was fulfilled at the church and a joyous celebration followed at a downtown Boston hotel.  

With this crazy record-setting winter that Boston is experiencing, it’s surprising that our first event cancellation happened Feb. 8, as the third storm in as many weekends invaded the area, dumping 16” of snow over a period of 36 hours.  We were really happy to not miss this great storm that left everything blanketed with beautiful, crystalline snow.  We were sorry that the couples’ date night in Newburyport had to be postponed to April, but that’s how the snow falls.

Valentines Day was celebrated at the Black Rock Retreat Center in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, speaking for Summit View Church’s first marriage conference.  We were most impressed with this group who pulled off the retreat after their former pastor, who had booked us, resigned in the fall.  Rather than cancel, they carried on and we were all glad they did.  It was a very successful weekend.  On the way out of town, we “broke bread” with Bill and JoAnn Shore, one of our treasured mentoring couples who set the bar high for being “salt of the earth.”

Part of the Summit View Church retreat attendees at Black Rock Retreat Center.

While in Pennsylvania, another storm brought yet another foot of snow to our area, and we were anticipating arriving home to a driveway full of snow—not a great thought, since our arrival was to be around 9 pm.  Imagine how loved and relieved we felt when we drove home to a driveway that had been completely and meticulously cleared.  An angel in the form of Tommy Devlin had spent hours insuring that we’d be able to park in our driveway painlessly.  What a sacrificial gift of love! Blessed beyond.

This past weekend we drove south again, this time to Havre De Grace, Maryland, where we spoke for the second annual Restore Church marriage conference. That three-year-old church plant is exploding with growth! They hold services at 4 campuses and have just purchased 26 acres of property to build a central campus.  Jess and Elizabeth Bousa are providing great leadership and vision for this church which offers the hope of Jesus to the broken and hurting. We love partnering with these guys. A major snowstorm (there is a theme!) arrived midway through the Saturday conference, but we pressed on to finish and then struggled to make it back to the hotel. Two of the four church services were canceled due to the 8” of white stuff, but by the time we drove out Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining and the snow was melting.  There was no appreciable snow in Boston this weekend, but frigid temps did welcome us home late that night. It was -13 degrees on Monday morning.  Our 4’ stand of snow is going nowhere at this point.

Jess and Elizabeth Bousa work tirelessly to serve the growing needs of their church plant, Restore.

Paul preaching at Restore Church … in his new, cool jeans.

In between the many schedules to keep, important life happens.  We bring meals to our neighbor whose husband is dying. We grieve with the Hayner family when Steve breathes his last on earth Jan. 30.  We eagerly await the next post of Kara Tippett’s blog Mundane Faithfulness and continue to pray for God to miraculously spare her life.  We pray for health to return to grandbabies fighting viruses.  We listen to UCLA women’s basketball games long past our bedtime.  We visit friends in hospitals.  We sled down snow-packed hills.  We get our 10,000 steps in the mall because of dangerous cold outside.  We prepare for upcoming events, including our family trip to Uganda mid-March.  We enjoy being snowbound and make a bit more progress purging our excess.  

So we’re off and running in this new year and if the start is any indication, we’ll be running (sledding?) to keep up.

Hope in Life and Death

As the “Crown Jewel” month of the year for New England draws to a close, I continue to be consumed by the beauty this season offers. It’s been an especially vibrant, glorious fall, mesmerizing in a “don’t miss this” sort of way. The last vestiges of trees disrobing will fortunately play out for weeks still as we slowly transition into the bleak midwinter, which will eventually boast a beauty of its own. Death precedes life.

God’s creativity is endless!  Imagine—this is a small sampling of the pumpkin family!

I last wrote from Ann Arbor, where we spoke on marriage and family to a healthy group from Ann Arbor Christian School (AACS). We’ve so enjoyed partnering with these folks for the past several years. Dr. Wayne Sit, headmaster of AACS, is a Boston transplant and has brought to this school a great vision not only for academic excellence, but also for family success. Envisioned and produced by Dr. Wai and Elaine Wong (also Boston transplants), the third annual Family Seminar was very successful. 

Dr. Sit welcomes eager parents who gave up Friday night and Saturday
to be encouraged in their parenting and marriage efforts.

A highlight for us was connecting with our niece and her family, Dave and Heidi (Rottschafer) Lemmerhirt. After attending the conference Saturday, we were able to spend several hours over lunch catching up with them. A truly delightful time! 

Extended family Dave and Heidi Lemmerhirt and their kids
Daniel, Anna, and Josiah met up with us at AACS.

The balance of the time in Ann Arbor we were loved and cared for in many tangible ways by our chosen family friends Wai and Elaine Wong and their daughters Jessica, Leilani, and Jasmine. Great meals, great walks, great moments. We loved every minute of our time with them. We always leave their home refreshed and renewed, with our cup overflowing. Pure gift!

Our “last supper” with the Wongs before returning to Boston. 

We flew back to Boston on Sept. 30, our granddaughter Ana’s first birthday. How can that be? It doesn’t seem that long ago that we welcomed this little brown-eyed beauty into our arms and our hearts. She is now walking, saying a few words, climbing on everything that’s climbable (or not), eating an amazing variety of food (considering she only has 4 teeth!), and making friends with everyone. She hasn’t met a stranger. What a gift she is to all!!

Ana Marie turns 1.

We were home long enough to do 12 hours of counseling and lead two Patriot studies (women on Wednesday morning and couples Thursday night) before we got back on a plane to Denver. Wes and Anna Welker invited us to join them for the weekend, which included seeing Wes break an NFL record for the most catches by an undrafted receiver in the history of the NFL during the Broncos win over the Cardinals. Very cool!!  We also spent lots of time talking about marriage in their “annual marital check-up.” We had a great weekend and are so thankful for the hearts of these two.

During the Broncos-Cardinals game, we had plenty to cheer for with Anna.

We landed at Logan on Oct. 7, just a bit after our houseguests-for-the-next-week Jay and Yukiko Dreves arrived. They hung around downtown to fetch us and we welcomed them to our home just after midnight. That began a very fun week with the Dreves, as daughters Sydney and Shelby arrived days later. Amazingly, we were home through Saturday, so we had a really good visit with them. The Dreves are longtime friends from CBS, and the girls both served on staff at CBS this past summer. Loved having them!!

Jay and Yukiko Dreves, with daughters Sydney and Shelby,
had a great introduction to New England during their visit.

We did about 10 hours of counseling, spoke at Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom group, and led our two Patriots studies before heading out. And before the Dreves left, we left. :)  Off to California I flew to spend a week with Kari and the children while Gabe took a graduate course in Portland, Oregon, and off to Florida Paul flew to spend a week writing his latest book. 

To say we had entirely different weeks would be an understatement. Staying in the empty home of dear friends in Ft. Lauderdale, he took two 5-mile walks a day, ate two simple meals a day, and wrote like the fury in between. He set no alarm clock and went to bed early. He was supported in prayer by many and received great input from his “readers,” chapter by chapter. He succeeded in writing 7 chapters and returned home refreshed, renewed, and very thankful.

Out in California, I set no alarm clock either . . . but a little humanoid found his way to my bedroom every morning around 6:15 to start the day. :)  We had 3-5 meals a day, and they looked nothing like the kale salad mixes Paul was consuming. We did get out in the stroller for a few walks, but most days my 10K step goal was met inside the house . . . playing tag with Brandon or chasing Ana who has a knack for being where she shouldn’t be. The only books I read were made of cardboard and had very few words on the pages, and you can be sure I didn’t write any. My baking partner, Brandon, and I made “Gigi Cakes” (cinnamon chip scones) and  “Gigi Cookies” (pumpkin shaped frosted sugar cookies), and Mickey Mouse waffles. And we played, put together puzzles, raced cars, went to Brandon’s pre-school, watched shark movies, went yard sale-ing, and tried to keep everyone happy, healthy, and safe.

We also spent a day at Disneyland, thanks to the Dreves, and Brandon had his first experience seeing his Gigi in Magic Kingdom mode. We got it done. Zooming here and there, with both kids in the double stroller and Kari and Lisa running to keep up, by day’s end I had 20K steps on my Fitbit (that translates to 10 miles.)  We had the best time. There is nothing like being at “Mickey’s House” with a 4-year-old, whose exclamations of delight and belief in the “realness” of fantasy give temporary reprieve to the reality of our broken world. We closed the day at 10 pm, beyond exhausted but in a most delicious sort of way.

After all was said and done, at week’s end, Paul returned to Boston with a good portion of his book written to show for his time.

I returned to Boston with nothing “tangible”—but the intangibles are off the charts. Each day we loved big, life on life, learning, growing, savoring. Pure gift. 

Brandon and Ana: brother-sister love . . . and “Giants” love to boot.

“Gigi cookies” all done: teamwork.
Brandon was in charge of the sprinkles—and they were sprinkled!!

Pure delight with his first yard sale purchase. 

Watch out, here we come!!  Perfect weather, lighter crowds, and happy kids.
What more could we want?
Those rockets seemed as real to Brandon as they did to me when I was a little girl!

Paul and I met up in Boston for three full days before boarding the flight that today takes us to California to speak for the Salvation Army marriage retreat (with a couple of days in San Diego visiting my mom before the conference.)  Not surprisingly, we packed a lot into those three days . . .

We spoke Tuesday morning in Newburyport for their Mom to Mom group and Tuesday night at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for their couples’ night. I lead the Patriots women’s study Wednesday morning and went straight in to 5 counseling appointments for the balance of the day. Thursday morning we spoke at North Shore Community Baptist Church’s MOPS group and that night led the Patriots couples’ study. Whew!!

We left each of these events with hearts touched by their commitment to honoring Christ by investing in families and marriages. Each setting was different and yet alike. We are grateful and honored to partner with these vital ministries.

Susie Miele Millian and her kids, Grace and JD, were at the Mom to Mom at Hope Community Church in Newburyport, MA. We’ve known Susie since she was young and have many memories of family missions trips, family camps, and family events with her and her parents. It’s so encouraging to see her and her husband, Tim, passing the legacy on to the next generation.

Dan and Lita Schlueter hosted our evening at the seminary
and we enjoyed our time with them as much as speaking. Salt of the earth folks.

This month has been marked by a fair bit of reflection in the midst of the many comings and goings. Part of the introspection has been prompted by reading the blog of Kara Tippetts, a young mom of 4 young kids and pastor’s wife, who is fighting with all she has to beat her now stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Unless God chooses to miraculously heal her, her days on earth will fall far short of the “average” (by about 40 years). In the midst of immense pain and suffering, she manages to squeeze every thing she can out of each day she has. I have been so challenged, so inspired, so saddened, so convicted by her story. She is so real. So positive. So kind. So gutsy. So generous. So indomitable. So full of “big love.”

So gospel centered.

That’s the only explanation for why she is the way she is. Though I would love for those words to describe me if I were in her shoes, I’m not sure they would. So she is teaching me how to be “all in” when life isn’t fair, when the script isn’t followed, when things are well beyond my ability to control. Tough lessons, but I’m listening and observing and taking lots of notes.

I’ve also been reading several books which have encouraged personal inventory. Mended by Angie Smith is the book we’re reading for the Patriots women’s study and God is using Angie’s words to challenge me to trust that God will use the broken pieces of my life for His glory.  To love Him more fully and more personally. I’m also reading Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung and I’m finding it painfully applicable to my life. Hopefully it will have more of a lasting impact than Swensen’s Margin did. That’s one of the best books I’ve read regarding balance in life, but apparently just reading a book doesn’t change one’s life. :)

One other contributor to my reflections is related to Derek, Julie, and Nathan traveling to Cape Town for two weeks this month. Unexpected by all, it turns out that they were out of Internet range the entire time they traveled, and I had to wrestle with trusting God’s protection of them when I couldn’t check in regularly via text, email, or FaceTime. I am well aware that it wasn’t too long ago that this was the face of missions: virtually no contact for months and sometimes years at a time . . . and I realize how “spoiled” we are to be so connected with them though miles apart. It was hard to not know how they were doing and I was convicted by my little faith.

Seeds of growth are germinating . . . which reminds me that fall represents the Biblical truth that death precedes life. That is truly hope-giving.

Happiness is . . . a face plant in soft garden dirt!  Nathan’s joy is contagious.

A beautiful morning sunrise in San Diego. 

Fall . . . beautiful fall!!!  We love everything about it!!

We've been home now for the longest string of days we've put together in 2014.  And it's been nice.  It's provided us with some great recovery moments, as well as time to work inside our home (the sorting, purging, organizing will never have an end, but some progress has been made...) and to relaunch counseling and our two Patriot studies.  

Recovery moments, needed as a result of my hernia surgery (now five weeks back, I have been cleared to run as well as do whatever else I wish) as well as from a long, exhausting, and amazing summer.  Paul and I have taken many long walks, watched a few movies, gone to bed early, and kept it pretty simple.  It's been good.

In between, we've sorted out life at home, tackling stacks of papers, piles in rooms, etc.  I should say we've “begun sorting . . .”  as this will be a never-ending task, I fear.  Especially since only one of us has a vision for making it happen.  :)  But there are fewer stacks today and order is emerging in several rooms of the house.

The slower pace has allowed us to do things normal people can do when they're not jet-setting about the country.  Like, visit friends who "cut the ribbon" (umbilical cord?) opening the doors of their brand-spanking-new school building for New England Academy (NEA) —their fifth child?  We were more than impressed when we recently toured the new home of NEA, founded and directed by Dr. Ryan Plosker and his wife Kelly (who are not only some of our dearest friends, but who also serve on the H.I.M. Board.) It was remarkable to see the the fruition of their dreams and visions for a well-designed school building that would meet the needs of the special community their school serves.  Incredible!

Ryan and Kelly Plosker's "fifth child"—a brand new home for New England Academy!

We were home to enjoy a meal in our home with long time friends Doug and Kelly Hart, who were visiting the area from Indiana.  We experienced "Bedford Days" and were reminded of some of the delights of living in a small New England town during the fall.  We attended church 3 weeks in a row.  That is a record.  :)

Doug and Kelly Hart have been in our lives for over 30 years.  Loved having them in our home!

We watched the Patriots play their home opener at Gillette Stadium for the first time ever.  All previous visits to Gillette have been in December (except one in late October, but it might as well have been December, as we had torrential rain which became snow during the game!), and therefore freezing.  With unseasonably warm weather last Sunday (the 21st), we left our jackets and boots at home and thoroughly enjoyed the game very comfortably! 

Check out those short sleeves!  Such a fun game!

We were home to welcome daughter Lisa "home" for five days of vacation, which included the Pats game, apple picking, eating fried "fish cheeks" at Charlie's Place in Gloucester, walking barefooted on Good Harbor Beach for a couple of hours, and shopping at the Farmer's Market in Boston. Great weather, great fellowship, great fun.

Yes, he can still lift his daughter to the top of the apple trees!

Lisa and Paul taste the spoil . . . Yum!

Good Harbor Beach on a lazy late September "dog day."

We were home to intersect with a precious family from California who came to Boston Children's Hospital so their 7-week-old son could have a needed surgery.  Only God could've orchestrated this. Starting back in 2009, when Julie went to work at the CURE Hospital in Mbale, Uganda, follow the thread:  she volunteered at the premier children's hospital in the world for treating children with hydrocephalus, where a treatment procedure (ETV) was developed by Dr. Ben Warf and Dr. John Mugamba, wherein the child with hydrocephalus undergoes a small surgery that leaves the child non-shunt-dependent (hydrocephalus is traditionally treated by inserting a shunt.) Obviously, this is a much better treatment plan for these children who live in mud huts and have little access to medical care required by on-going shunt revision, infections, etc.  It's also better for children who live in suburban neighborhoods with access to great medical care.  Though not successful in all cases, it has been successfully used to treat thousands of hydrocephalus cases, and the CURE Children's Hospital in Mbale has become a teaching hospital for the ETV procedure for pediatric neurosurgeons from around the world 

Fast forward to 2014: our son-in-law Gabe's best friend and his wife have twin boys in California in early August, one of whom has hydrocephalus. Dr. Warf is now working at Boston Children's Hospital . . . and several phone calls later between Uganda (Derek and Julie), Boston (Dr. Warf), and California, the plan is hatched to fly the baby to Boston for surgery.  Not only that, but the timing is such that other dear friends make available their apartment in downtown Boston for the exact two weeks the little family from California needs housing close to the hospital.  So exact, that the friends who opened their home flew out of Logan one hour after the California family flew in.

Who but God??  It has been so deeply touching to see how He has orchestrated all of this, down to every last detail.  The couple of times we've shared with this precious family have been so sweet as all of us grope for words to express what words can never express.  "Over and above all we could ask or think . . .”  That's what this is.

Besides long walks, simple meals, and sorting, we've also resumed our counseling schedule and launched our two Patriots’ Bible studies. We've been happily surprised by the high interest in both of these studies this year. There were 19 women out for the women's study this week and 24 at the couples study last night.  Most are seekers, which is very exciting and daunting all at the same time, and we are very aware that we're dependent on the Lord to reveal Himself.  Pray for these groups!  

This past Friday we left home to spend the weekend in Ann Arbor speaking at the Ann Arbor Christian School. Our chosen family friends Wai and Elaine Wong are hosting the weekend and if you can't be home, this is a pretty sweet place to be. Thankfully, we've found fall here, too.  

The view from Wai and Elaine's backyard.  :)
As Paul said, "Suffering for Jesus in Ann Arbor . . . someone’s got to do it!"

Fall!!  Arguably the crown jewel season of New England, during which the sights, the smells, the colors, the games, the bonfires, the foods, the clothes, and the events all invigorate and enliven. Though saying good-bye to summer is never easy, the sorrow is quickly driven out as fall bursts on the scene in all her glory.  Drink in the beauty wherever you are.  Delighting in being home for a few weeks during this spectacular season, we are doing just that.  

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!!

2013: Now History

We're sitting in the United Lounge at Dulles Airport, 4 hours shy of 35 hours in transit from Uganda to Boston on this 17th day of January.  We've been on the road since Dec. 17, on a journey which has taken us through Christmas, my father's death and funeral, and 19 days ministering in Uganda.  It seems like a lifetime has happened since this trip commenced!

I had intended to blog about the first couple of weeks of December prior to my dad's unexpected-but-not-surprising death, but didn't get to it before he passed.  It feels incomplete to not mention our wonderful annual visit to St. Louis the first weekend in December to hang out with the precious Williams family.  Oh my!!  It's hard to believe that these little girls, who were 2 and under (and Baby was non-existent) when we met in 1998, are all hovering around 6' tall and are beautiful young teen-age women.  We baked, ate, toured a local village to see gingerbread creations, and caught up with one another in our brief 3-day visit.  Though time is never enough, we are so thankful for this continuing tradition and more thankful to see this family growing in Christlikeness and making a difference all around them for Him.

Celebrating with Grant and Emily Williams, and daughters Meegan, Madeline, and Sarah Elizabeth.

The following week we wrapped up our Patriot studies.  We had a truly sweet time of closure with the women on Wednesday morning and we all agreed that doing What's It Like Being Married to Me by Linda Dillow had been very impacting.  I love these women.  It was such a delight to meet with them all season.  On Thursday night we wrapped up the couples' study and celebrating seeing growth in a number of couples' this fall.  Nothing about the evening went exactly as planned: terrible traffic delayed our arrival (and with us, several side dishes for dinner) by almost an hour, and we realized only as we assembled the gift bags for each couple once down there that we had forgotten the jars of homemade raspberry jam at our house—but the party went on.  We got out of the "jam" the next day when Paul drove south to visit Thora Eames and I suppose "all's well that ends well" applies here.

The Patriots women's study on a baking workshop day.

Our final night of the couples' study, missing a few of the "regulars."  Great group!!

We were gifted with a huge snow storm that weekend, which made staying home PERFECT as I sewed, baked, wrapped, and mailed in preparation for Christmas.  It stopped early enough on Sunday so we could join the Armenian community at the Belmont church honor and send off Greg and Sossi Haroutunian to their new church assignment in Fresno.  We adore this family and will miss them in New England, but bless their westward migration as they return to Greg's roots and family.

True conversation:  Virginia:  "What's not to love about snow?"  Paul:  "Shoveling, maybe?"  :)

It was a mad scramble to the last minute to get off on the 17th as we were preparing for Christmas in California followed by 2.5 weeks in Uganda.  What we didn't know then was that we would also be preparing for my father's death and funeral in that time period.  It's always good to be reminded that God wasn't taken by surprise, and we were so very aware that His grace was very apparent in how everything unfolded.

Our days in California up until the 23rd were delightful in every way as we hung with Gabe, Kari, Brandon, Ana, and Lisa.  No big "to do" lists which had driven the days at home.  No overly ambitious plans.  Just a lot of enjoying being together, playing, baking, a bit of shopping, and lots of being. Having children both slows things down and speeds things up in a funny mix.  And our two-day celebration of Christmas at Garcias' house on the 24th and 25th were full of joy.  Nothing like Christmas with a 3-year-old.  I'll treasure the look on Brandon's face when he discovered Baby Jesus in the manger Christmas morn.  It was also priceless to hear him exclaim, "This is just what I wanted!" upon opening most every one of his gifts.  :)  Very sweet.

Brandon finding Baby Jesus in the manger Christmas morning.
So fun being together in our matching jammies.
This puts a wrap on 2013.  It was a year in which a lot of family and ministry history was made. Garcias relocated to Santa Clarita.  Lisa moved to California.  Derek and Julie had their first child. Gabe and Kari had their second. My father passed away.  The Marriage App was birthed.  Several of our books became ebooks.  We were on the road four times as much as we were home.

As we look ahead, we wonder what God has in store.  Much of what happened last year was unknown when 2013 turned its first page.  The "what" will happen is still hidden, but thankfully, the "Who's got it under control" isn't.  We enter 2014 with confidence that He goes before us and that His mercies will be new every morning.

How good to rest in His faithfulness.

Uganda Update #9 (Wrap-up)

Dear Ones,

We're writing now from rainy Sacramento, California, and it seems almost impossible that just days ago we were in the equatorial heat of Uganda.  Bumpy roads have been replaced by fast moving freeways, littered slums have been replaced by beautiful clean tract neighborhoods, and mosquito nets have not been replaced.

As different as symbols of life are between these two worlds, the challenges when it comes to marriage and family are strikingly similar.  Tonight we spoke on the curse's impact on love and respect in marriage at Bayside's monthly couples' date night, and we were reminded of the centrality of this issue which supersedes culture and generation.  Just last week, we spoke with many Ugandan couples who affirmed that wives who feel unloved and husbands who feel disrespected are common in Ugandan marriages.  

As the dust settles on our days in Uganda, we continue to be so deeply grateful for this opportunity to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe.  We truly felt the days were anointed and fruitful, which is the work of God, not of ourselves.  

Our final day, driving from Mbale to Kampala, was full of the delights of being with Derek and Julie.  We had a couple of great meals and visited with some of their dearest friends in Kampala before flying out just before midnight on Saturday, March 16th.  Nine hours later we landed in Brussels, and had a five-hour layover, which is just about what was needed for me to get my Kindle retrieved from the seat pocket of the plane . . . where I had left it.  Those of you who have heard us teach on temperaments know that I don't typically leave things behind, so you'll also understand why Paul thoroughly (quietly) enjoyed  the shoe being on the other foot for a bit.  He was most gracious and refrained from making any comments, but I knew what he was thinking.  :) 

While in Kampala, we had tea with Derek and Julie's good friends, Drs. Andrew and Sarah Hodges.  Andrew is a plastic surgeon, operating on children with cleft palates and other deformities, and Sarah is an anesthesiologist.  Both are devoted to Christ.

Bob and Martha Wright and 3 of their 5 children were also at the Hodges.
The Wrights are missionaries in Karamoja and are also dear friends of Derek and Julie's.
What a treat to see them as well!

On to Washington, D.C. we flew, and nine hours later, we landed there to go through customs.  Our much shorter layover was just enough to get to our next flight, and six hours later we landed in Sacramento.  So 48 hours after leaving Mbale, we checked into a hotel and it took the next 24 hours to feel somewhat human again.  We have been very thankful for the 48 hours we have had in Sacramento to catch up on sleep and readjust to time zones before our five-day speaking tour began.

This wraps up Uganda 2013.  Thanks again for your prayers and support and please continue praying especially for the pastors in Mbale who are faithfully teaching the Word of God to their congregations.  Pray for their marriages and their families.  Pray for their protection, both physically and spiritually.  

Pastor Nelson and Agnes provide leadership for multiple pastors in their denomination and are committed to scriptural integrity and gospel-centered living.

Pastor David and Christine came to the pastors’ retreat with a 5-day-old baby girl—their 5th child.  Christine was thankful for the meals and the rest afforded her by the retreat.  What a trooper!

Pastor Charles and Sarah wrote that the conference had
changed them significantly.  Dear, precious people.

Sending our love from California—
Virginia (and Paul)

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

Uganda Update #1

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Greetings to all from Entebbe!

We left Boston's Logan Airport Monday, March 4, at 2 pm, not quite 24 hours after wrapping up our wonderful marriage conference in Newport, Rhode Island.  Fueled by prayers and many words of encouragement, we had great travel from Boston to Newark to Brussels, to Entebbe—and 30 hours after we left our home in Bedford, we landed in Entebbe, Uganda at 11 pm local time.  What a delight to be welcomed by Derek, Julie, and Lisa.

After doing some errands Wednesday morning, we drove north about 2 hours to Luwera, where New Hope Ministries is located. This incredible ministry was founded in 1986 by Jay and Vicky Dangers, who had a vision for providing a family experience to orphans.  For over 25 years now, they have faithfully served as their vision has evolved and expanded, all the while raising their own six children.  We have known the Dangers our whole adult life and had long heard of their ministry, so it was thrilling to get to see it first hand.  

The Dangers:  son Jeremiah, daughter Julia, Vicky, and Jay holding
granddaughter Elizabeth, and Jenny, Elizabeth's adopted mom.

We spent all of today touring their grounds and seeing the fruit of their labors.  It was very, very inspiring.  We're hoping there will be opportunities to partner with them in the future.

Derek and Julie were also delighted to connect with New Hope and see many possibilities of collaborating with them in Uganda.  Especially meaningful to them was visiting the classroom of special needs children they're caring for at New Hope, and then getting to follow-up on a little boy who lives at New Hope and was operated on at their hospital last September. How gratifying to see this little guy doing so well after having a brain tumor removed by the CURE surgeons.  

The Special Needs class at New Hope praying together.

Derek and Julie were thrilled to see Israel who was operated on by their CURE staff
in September to remove a brain tumor.  He is doing well, praise the Lord!

We drove back to Entebbe late afternoon and are now preparing to speak to a group of pastors from Kampala tomorrow morning.  We'll then drive to Mbale (about a 4 hour drive) and speak all day Saturday for a marriage conference hosted by Pearl Haven Church.  

Please pray for both of these events.  As always, we are so aware of the obstacles before us culturally, linguistically, and spiritually.  We are grateful to know we have partners around the world praying for us.

Pray also for Lisa who flies home tomorrow.  It will not be a happy farewell.  :(

Sending our love—


Friday, March 8, 2013

Dear All,

Today has been very, very full . . . and very, very good.  

Our day started very early as we were speaking on the other side of Kampala, and meeting Pastor Wilberforce at 8:45 am.  So after a great breakfast, complete with African tea, we tearfully said good-bye to Lisa, who flew out later in the day, and off we went to minister to a group of local pastors.

Very early Friday morning, we said good-bye to Lisa
prior to leaving for our ministry event that morning.

We were so warmly welcomed and well received.  Many of them came up afterwards, asking us to return to teach their extended network of pastors on Biblical design for marriage and family.  They are dealing with the fallout of western culture's influence on their culture.  "Divorce is becoming more common in Uganda because our people see it happening in western culture."  A very sad commentary, for sure.

We loved our time with this band of faithful warriors and will gladly partner with them in the future as the Lord wills.

Paul and Pastor Wilberforce standing on the church grounds prior to our teaching session.

Richard and Rianna lead a marriage ministry at their church
and were thrilled at the prospect of partnering.

Derek and Julie picked us up mid-afternoon, and after getting some provisions at the market, we made the 4-hour trip back to Mbale in 5 hours due to a horrific rain and lightening storm which struck not long after we left Jinja.  We were so thankful for Derek's expert skills in navigation on a very dark, stormy night, and were all so thankful to get to their home around 8 pm, safe and exhausted.

We stopped for a quick lunch at "Ozzies" in Jinja
and had a few moments with Jude, the owner and operator of the cafe. 

Please pray for us tomorrow as we'll speak at an all-day marriage conference for Pearl Haven Christian Center.  We are so honored to continue partnering with Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah, and covet your prayers that God will speak through us. We'll repeat some of what we did in September, but most of our presentation will be different material.

Paul will be preaching on Sunday at Pearl Haven, and then Monday thru Wednesday we'll be speaking for their first Pastors’ Marriage Retreat, sponsored by Home Improvement Ministries.  We are very grateful for the response from so many at the H.I.M. Marriage Conference at the Viking in Newport, Rhode Island, last weekend.  Many of you both assured us of your prayers and financially contributed.  More than enough was given to underwrite the retreat, and the extra funds will be used for contributing materials and other expenses associated with our ministry here.  Thank you!!!

We're so thankful for your interest in what we're doing and for your prayers that God will move in the hearts of those who attend, as we deal with the complex issues facing believers in Uganda.

Sending love from Mbale—


It's Time to Change

Sunrise over Avalon Harbor . . . His mercies are new every morning. . . 

Three weeks ago we were flying home from Uganda.  Today we're flying home from California.  Maybe when we get home tonight, I'll change my watch from Ugandan time to Eastern Standard Time.

It's a quirky thing with me, admittedly, but it's something I've done for a really long time.  It's not because I don't know how to change my watch, obviously.  It's because I don't want to quite yet.  For many reasons, my "heart" hasn't been ready to embrace that our days in Mbale, for now, are history.  Mainly it serves as a reminder to pray specifically for what might be going on in Derek and Julie's lives at a given time.  They've had a lot going on since we've left, and we've wanted to stay as connected as we can from seven time zones away.

Other than being completely confused when I glance at my watch in the middle of the night, it serves good "heart" purposes.  Just don't ask me what time it is.  :)

It took a week to adjust to being back in the states, sleep-wise and body-wise, but we didn't have that long before we jumped back in to ministry.  In fact, within 24 hours of returning, we met with the core team of leaders for the Patriots Couples’ study over dinner to map out the plan for the fall, and we managed to stay awake through the whole thing!  It was actually very inspiring to be with three of the player couples, as well as with Don and Betsy Hasselbeck, and to develop a new strategy with hopes of injecting some new life into the study.  We've now had our first two evenings, and we had 18 at the first...and 32 at the second!  We are more than excited at the potential of our gatherings.  

Within 48 hours of landing back in Boston, we were driving to Falmouth to speak at an all-day Saturday marriage seminar for Falmouth Baptist Church.  We had a really sweet time with Tim Rogers, who booked us to speak after coming to several "Worth It" conferences.  It was an adjustment initially to speak at normal speed with less concern about idiomatic expressions, or cultural context, but the "saddle" felt comfortable rather quickly.  It was a very positive time with very sincere folks.

Most of the attendees of the Falmouth Baptist Church conference . . . a great group of folks!

As though we had never been gone, the following week fell in to a predictable pattern.  Wednesday morning was the Patriots Women's study, and we were thrilled to have 17 ladies show up.  :)  After a quick scone-making lesson by moi, we launched our study using Gary Thomas' new book, Every Body Matters.    I really appreciated the message of this book when I read it this past spring and have been promoting it all summer at Family Camps.  As Gary deals with the challenge of "stewarding" our bodies rather than worshiping or abusing them, he treds where few have dared to tred in the Christian community.  His indictment that we've been content to be "chin-up" Christians, focusing on correct theology and doctrine, while ignoring the implications of application of those very truths on our physical bodies and health, is spot on.  We've gotten off to a good start in the study, with good discussion of a topic extremely relevant to the fulfillment of God's purposes for our lives.  Eighteen ladies showed up for week 2 of the study!

Counseling fills the balance of our Wednesdays, and continues on Thursday mornings until mid-afternoon, and then we drive back down to Attleboro for the Pats Couples’ study.  The first week, Big Jim Martis catered a great bbq dinner of steak and chicken and the fixin’s, and then the second week Paul and I prepared a Mexican feast.  The spirit and interaction has been great for these first two meetings.  Pray for both of these weekly studies, that God would draw these dear couples to Himself in a deeper way.

Big Jim is in the middle of a few of our players at our Patriots couples' study.

Last Friday, Sept. 21, I flew to California alone while Paul fulfilled the commitment we had made to Camp Berea to do a seminar at their women's conference.  Paul was one of two male presenters, and his seminar was presented three times on Saturday to full crowds.  The ladies always love him.  

Meanwhile my first stop in California was in San Diego to visit my folks.  I hadn't seen them since Father's Day weekend and it was a joy to hang with them for a couple of days.  My mom's health is good and my dad is declining, but not too rapidly.  We had many sweet moments together. I was also happy to meet my newest great nephew, Josiah David Rivera, when Corey and Claire brought their crew over for a visit.  I spent Sunday on Catalina Island, attending the wedding of Sarah Armstrong and Doug Hippe, long-time friends from family camp.  It was a wonderful, God-honoring celebration and a great time for me to reconnect with many dear island friends.  It was also a joy to spend the night with Wayne and Carol Herbst, Paul's youngest sister and husband.

The mother of the bride, Jenny, is one of my dearest friends.

On Monday I spoke to a group of young moms in Ladera Ranch.  Two of Lisa's dear friends, Heather Vataha and Amber Offield, collaborated to make that happen, and it was such an encouraging time to talk about "The Things I Wish I Had Known..." with this group of thirsty young moms.  I LOVE this age/stage and delighted in encouraging them in the hope of the gospel, which is sometimes elusive when life is full of the craziness young children often bring.  Financial pressures, marital challenges, exhaustion, confusion, wanting to do the best but experiencing unwanted feelings of failure to an overwhelming degree at times.  We talked about lots of things and all seemed to really appreciate that I had felt all of those very things—and had survived them.  By God's grace.  It was a very special time.

Amber and Christian Offield and Heather and Laila Vataha pulled together the moms gathering I spoke for in Rancho Ladera.

And here are the moms—outnumbered for sure by the kids!

It was a treat to spend the balance of the time with my dear friend, Wendy Offield, before flying back to Boston on Tuesday.  I returned feeling very blessed: for all of the moments in California, and also for the husband I have.  Traveling alone, I was reminded of how much he takes care of when we travel—from hauling all the heavy suitcases, boxes, etc., to getting rental cars, driving to unknown places, etc.  And never getting flustered or acting like it "can't be done."  He gets it done and I am so spoiled.  And more thankful.

Back in Bedford for a mere 48 hours for the two Pats studies, for counseling, and then back to California.  This time to the Bay Area, to spend the weekend at Bethel Christian Church in downtown San Francisco.  Our dear friends, John and Marilyn Nugent (who are also H.I.M. Board members), arranged the weekend.  It was varied and well put together as a "Relationships Weekend,"  featuring us as speakers and Danny and Rayna Oertli as musicians.  We love any opportunity to partner with the Oertlis!!

We launched the weekend on Friday night with a talk on purity, given to teens and their parents.  We were thrilled with the response of a very engaged group; both teens and their parents were interactive and responsive.  During the first half of the evening we spoke to the group together, and during the second half we fielded questions from the parents, while the teens met with their youth leaders.  The questions were thoughtful and heartfelt.  We were reminded of how many more challenges face these parents today and how much more difficult on so many levels it is to protect and prepare teens according to God's design.  Thankfully our hope continues to be in the gospel, and that hasn't changed through the generations.

All day Saturday we did the "Irony of Intimacy" marriage conference.  We were thrilled to have Kari and Gabe, along with three couples they're mentoring, drive out from Sacramento for the conference.  :)  It was also heartening to have Bill and Kristen Smith, friends from CBS, fly in from Reno, and James and Charlotte, a sweet couple who attended Engagement Matters, as well as Drew and Dana Macrae, show up.  Charlotte told me, "As we celebrated our first anniversary in July, we were thinking about the assignment from Engagement Matters to have an annual marital check-up . . . and then the email came announcing this conference!  We were so happy!"

Gabriel and Jessika, Jerron and Danielle, Gabe and Kari, and Lamar and Kalyce drove from Sacramento to our marriage conference at Bethel Christian Church.

We were happy, too.  It was a wonderful day of celebrating God's design for marriage in some very practical ways.  God seemed to meet many there, as evidenced by their comments.

Sunday morning we taught a joint Sunday School class on "Forgiveness" and God met us in a powerful way.  I prayed with a forty-something-year-old man who said he carried deep anger towards his father who was severely abusive to him, his siblings, and his mother.  He said he wanted to walk in freedom, and through tears we prayed that he would release his anger and allow God to handle his father with justice.  

Paul preached the morning worship service and was anointed.  He preached with passion a stirring sermon on God's desire to take us from paralysis to praise—and young and old alike seemed very moved by it.  We wrapped up the weekend by enjoying Danny Oertli in concert and he did not disappoint.  It was a rockin' evening.

What fun to rock out to Danny's concert with Nathan and Julie Aleman and Liz.

Under a full moon and traffic-free highways, we drove to Sacramento after the concert, so we could be wakened by our grandson, Brandon, early the next morning.  And that's exactly what happened.  :)  Our 24 hours with Kari, Gabe, and Brandon flew by, but was a delightful ending to a wonderfully full weekend.

Brandon, 25 months, still loves being on Papa's shoulders.

As October opens its pages, we are glad for a few days to enjoy the best New England has to offer: fall.  Brilliant salmon, orange, crimson leaves pop out against the not yet turned leaves as harbingers of the steady parade of colors that will be ours to behold this month.  The delights of New England fall are unmatched and we're very thankful we'll be around to drink it in.

I guess it is time to change my watch. 

If Home Is Where the Heart Is . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worlds Apart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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