Rocky Mountain High 2

“Be exalted, O Lord, above the heavens . . .”  This photo was taken out of the window of the plane flying from Denver to San Diego. The changing skyscape kept us mesmerized for almost an hour.  It was spectacular.

This August has been different than any other in our married life.  We’ve always done family camps in August, the last 18 of which have been in New England. As we passed the mantle to Camp Berea’s executive director, Nate Parks, at the end of last summer’s camping season, we didn’t know what God would have in store for us. Thankfully, and not surprisingly, He had a great plan (which is still unfolding as I write this) and we are truly grateful for how He has met us during this transitional year.

Usually, as soon as family camps wrap up at CBS, we fly directly to New England to do two more weeks of family camp. 

Not this year.

The decision to turn family camps over to Berea came after much prayer and many conversations. Topping the list of “this is right to do now”: first, we were (rightly) convinced that Nate and his crew were “ready” to assume leadership/responsibility for continuing the tradition as they fully embraced and “got” the ethos of family camp and were committed to continuing that, and second, the cost of flying the staff back to run the family camps was escalating every year, making its financial viability more challenging. We were impressed with Nate’s commitment to “getting it right”—which does not mean “doing it exactly as its always been done”—but he pressed to understand the heart, the purpose, the ethos of family camp by careful observation of every component of family camp as well as spending hours asking us the “whys” of each component. We had complete confidence that family camp under his leadership would be different and the same, and it would be good.

We were thrilled and thankful to hear from some family campers who affirmed that very sentiment. It’s very rewarding to have something you’ve poured yourself into and passed on to continue effectively. All praise is His!!

So, since we weren’t doing family camp in New England, the window we needed for our all-family celebration of our 40th anniversary presented itself. Gabe and Kari hosted a small renewal of our vows ceremony at their home in Santa Clarita the day we left CBS. Attended by a small mix of our families and a few chosen family friends, the “ceremony” was conducted by Pastor John Tebay, who was one of the officiants at our wedding, April 24, 1976. Kari, Lisa, and Julie did a beautiful job of putting together a very memorable celebration. It was very meaningful to repeat the vows we had written 40 years earlier and to realize that they really had shaped the ethos of our married life. God has been so faithful.

Here we are: our entire immediate family. Brandon walked me down the aisle after Ana lead the way as the “flower girl.”  Gabe and Derek each read scripture and everyone else did the hard work of making it all happen. It exceeded our expectations.

My dear mama, almost 87, is the only living parent we have and we are so grateful for her health and mobility which allows her to be present at moments like these.

The siblings able to make it included my sisters, (l-r) Sue Hekman, Melissa Collins, and Lucy Silveira, and Paul’s sibs Carol and Wayne Herbst, Beth Helen Smith, and Wayne and Sandra Clark. It meant so much to us to have them there, just as they were 40 years ago.

Pastor John Tebay (and his wife Grace) have been such significant mentors in our lives for well over 40 years and it was such an honor to have John renew our vows. He is a true man of God and he and Grace have been so instrumental in helping to shape our lives.

These five weren’t present 40 years ago!  :-)  The next generation, by God’s grace, will carry the mantle of truth in the decades to come.

After a few days with Garcias, we flew home to exchange our CBS wardrobe for speaking clothes and to get our hair cut, paper work sorted, and to check on our house before flying 24 hours later to Denver, CO, where we've spent the last three weekends doing a family and marriage series of sermons for Mission Hills Church. (To watch recordings of the sermons, go to the Mission Hills Church website and click on “Watch Now”)  

What a privilege to serve this way! We loved everything about this “gig.” Mission Hills has had a 75-year history of faithfulness to teaching God’s Word which has well-prepared them for this interim period during which time they’ve been without a pastor for almost 2 years. Danny Oertli (married to our niece, Rayna) is the worship leader at Mission Hills and has filled in a lot of gaps during the interim, one of which has been making sure the pulpit was filled. When the decision was made to do a series on family and marriage, he convinced the staff we would be the best candidates (nepotistic connections help), so the invitation was issued.

It was a huge honor and privilege to serve this congregation. All 4 services (a Saturday night and three Sunday mornings) were filled with eager, receptive, responsive people of all ages. We felt that God really met us each weekend, as well as the listeners—many of whom communicated to us just that. After the second weekend, which focused on marriage, one man told me, “This sermon just saved my marriage.”  Well . . . we know the sermon didn’t save his marriage, but we do know that the Holy Spirit did a work in his heart that morning through the sermon and gave him a vision of hope. There is nothing more exciting/gratifying/humbling than feedback like that.

Between weekends, we played. More exhausted emotionally and physically than we’ve been in a long time, it was a gift from heaven to have two 5-day periods “free.” We had some sweet time with the Oertli family celebrating Jack’s 16th birthday, before flying to San Diego between the first two weekends to hang out with my mom.

Jack’s 16th birthday celebration started with brunch at his Aunt Susie’s house. Such a great time!!

Our days in San Diego were perfect. It’s rare that we get to spend more than 2 days with my mom due to our crazy schedule, so this was gift in so many ways. My mom is easy. Never demanding, never complaining about not seeing enough of us, always thankful and appreciative. That makes our times together so precious. Adding delight, Lisa joined us for two days and Lisa makes everything better.

Goers and doers that we are, we convinced Mom to go to “Night Zoo” at the San Diego Zoo Tuesday and our two-hour stay couldn’t have been better. Perfect temp for enjoying the zoo, we (meaning Paul) wheeled her around and we took it all in. Just after sunset, we all took the Skyfari. My mom never ceases to amaze me.

On a roll, we took her to the “Greatest Generation Ever” memorial on the San Diego waterfront the next night. It was truly moving to see her response to this fitting tribute to her generation. Our days together couldn’t have been improved upon. So grateful!

Along with my sister Melissa, we had a great night at the zoo. The bronzed gorilla is no relation.

The “Greatest Generation Ever” memorial includes a bronzed collection of injured veterans being entertained by Bob Hope, with a continuous loop of one of his comedy routines being broadcast. Pretty remarkable.

The iconic farewell (or welcome home) embrace is one we were well familiar with as “Navy Brats." Right at this harbor, my father’s ships made many departures (full of tears) and returns (full of joy). So many memories are evoked by this incredible statue.

Back to Denver we flew after this lovely week with my mom, and after teaching at all four services that weekend, we spent four days at Twin Lakes in a cabin graciously made available to us by our dear friends, Dave and Kathleen. Off the grid in a big way, we anticipated getting a lot of writing done, but our bodies and souls were in greater need of rest and renewal so we gave in to the call of the mountains and lakes and hiked 6–10 miles daily. It was just what we needed. Having never hiked in the Rockies, we got a crash course in the effects of altitude when we hiked Aspen Mountain. Between thin air and a huge thunderstorm materializing out of nowhere (and breaking just as we made it to the lodge at the top), we had a very memorable hike—fortunately, with a happy ending (we are still alive). After four days of such recreating, we made our way back to Denver, refreshed and ready.

Hiking to “Interlaken” along the first lake . . . breathtaking!!

Taken from Independence Pass on our way to Aspen, this photo doesn’t really do justice to the incredible beauty—so use your imagination.

Paul, fully recovered from his brush with altitude sickness on the climb to the top of Aspen, stands on the platform upon which he married Wes and Anna Welker four years ago.

One of the most memorable encounters of our time in Colorado was meeting up with Bob and Jeannie Mannes, now 95 and 92 respectively. Campus by the Sea owes a huge debt of gratitude to Bob and Jeannie, who served as the summer directors of CBS from 1956–1970. Their tenure at CBS came to a close due to Bob’s promotion to Dean of Students at USC, which eliminated his professorial “summers free” schedule. They raised their five children at CBS, summer after summer, and Jeannie said, “All of our children believe that their summers at CBS were life-shaping for them.” We had the sweetest visit with them, comparing notes about people we know in common, and we were most impressed with their sharp-as-tacks memories. It’s so meaningful for us to connect with peers of Paul’s parents who have so much history with CBS. What a happy, blessed reunion!

Jeannie and Bob Mannes were most gracious to receive us for a “down memory lane” visit in their home in Denver.

Our last weekend in Denver was packed with great moments with great people.  Elsa Stanley, one of our all-time favorites from CBS (family-camper-turned-staff-member), recently moved to Ft Morgan, Colorado, for a teaching job and spent Saturday afternoon with us following our visit with Bob and Jeannie. Time is always too short with Elsa, but we packed it in during the window we had. After the Saturday night service, we enjoyed fellowship and food with the Oertlis. And Sunday after church, we were thrilled to be part of a CBS reunion of sorts hosted by Joel and Tiffany Ann Johns. The group was a mix of long-time CBS family campers (including Amity Close Wicks and her family and Stephen McLaughlin and his family), and newer CBS family campers (the Formes family, the Becketts, and the Johns), and the in-betweeners (Laura Long), and the never-been-to-CBS-but-new-to-Colorado (the Kyners). It was a lovely afternoon. We were well fed and hosted and they pulled off a sweet surprise “Happy 40th anniversary” CBS-style skit for us, complete with cake and well wishes. We’re still surprised and deeply touched by their kindness.

Elsa and I had a great time together catching up.

A wonderful group of CBS family campers gathered for food and fellowship in Parker on the Johns’ family ranch.

One more sweet celebration of our 40th. 

We also managed to meet up with our niece Kristi Rottschafer Daggett and her family at a local park in Castle Rock AFTER the Johns’ gathering, and then we made one final stop at Danny Oertli’s parents’ home before heading to the airport for our red-eye home. We truly couldn’t be more thankful for our three weekends in Denver, nor could we be more aware of how significantly God met us.

The Daggetts—Kristi, Tim, Isaac, Maddie, and Joel—met us at a park for a wonderful time of reconnection.

Our final social gathering prior to flying home—bbq and s’mores at Danny Oertli’s parents’ home. Delightful!

Refreshed and renewed, it was such a joy to return to Bedford and be greeted by Derek and Julie, Nathan and Rachel, who were awaiting our arrival. After a quick breakfast together, Derek and Julie took off for Maine to celebrate their 5th anniversary, leaving the littles with us for three days. They had a great getaway and we had loved every minute with the grands. Parks, stroller walks, playing games, and observing the simple delights of life through the eyes of a 3-year-old and a 9-month-old filled the days and “took us back.” Since we were playing “man to man” defense, it was very manageable and “easy.” We’re so thankful for the privilege.

We “rocked it” with Nathan and Rachel for three days while their parents got away. Loved every moment.

Derek and Julie returned Wednesday afternoon, glowing, and after a lovely celebration dinner of steak and artichokes a la Derek, Thursday rolled in and the Johnsons rolled out mid-morning for home and we flew out mid-afternoon for Michigan. Just like that.

So I write from Michigan, where the 2/42 Church second annual family camp (Fr-amily Camp) is underway. We’re honored to partner with this very alive, very vision-driven church again this year and were thankful for a strong launch last night. Next weekend we’ll be back at Campus by the Sea for the third annual Labor Day Family Camp and that will officially close our summer.

In many ways, it’s been the shortest summer . . . and the longest.

The best . . . and the hardest.

Energizing . . . and exhausting.

Hope-giving . . . and discouraging.

That’s kind of how life is, though, isn’t it?  Evil, sin, and hardship will interrupt perfection as long as we’re on the earth, but our great hope, encouragement, and perseverance is fueled by our eternal hope in Jesus. He continues to be faithful and gives us energy, hope, purpose, and vision.

And for that, we give thanks from the depths of our souls and we press on towards His heart.

Whether we’re high in the Rockies or not.

Sunrise behind us as the moon sets before us over the Rockies. Such assurance that He goes before us and behind us, always present, always with us. How comforting! All praise is His.

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.

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. 

Endless Fall

Brandon welcomes you to his “GiGi”’s blog.  How could I not start this post with this photo??

I have to look at the calendar to know that today is Nov. 10—or look at the address to know we're not in California.  After several days of temperatures which have warranted wearing capris and short-sleeves, the fall leaves and harvest decorations seem to be out of place in this very late Indian summer period.  And this, following an unprecedented N'oreaster 11 days ago that terrorized this region with snow and high winds, devastating trees everywhere.  Crazy!

Most of October was spent in California, where weather is generally more predictable and even.

After being home for only 48 hours earlier in the month, we flew back to the west coast on Oct. 14 for a 12-day ministry tour which began in Lancaster/Palmdale, California.  We first ministered with this church last February when we spoke for their marriage conference, and our hearts connected immediately with David and Nancy Parker who provide leadership for the Desert Vineyard.  We were honored when they invited us to partner with them at their church for this October weekend and eagerly accepted.  We love to hang out with folks like the Parkers, who have faithfully served the underserved and underprivileged in this high desert community east of Los Angeles for 18 years. Their congregation of 5,000 includes many who are struggling with addictions, poverty, broken homes, gangs, unemployment, etc., and the Parkers have poured their heart and soul into this community.  They are humble, authentic, very gifted people of God and it was truly a privilege to serve with them.

We spent Friday evening with their staff, talking about ministry and marriage.  Hosted by the Parkers in their home, we all enjoyed a Mexican feast before our time of teaching.  It was a good evening.  Saturday morning we did a half-day parenting seminar and were warmly received by the relatively small group that gathered.  Before doing the evening service, we spent the afternoon hanging out with Tom and April Garcia and their beautiful family, who are long-time Campus by the Sea family campers.  We were truly inspired to be with three of their teenagers, who are all in love with Jesus and are standing for Him in their secular schools and workplaces.  The evening service went well, and we were exhausted but thankful by day’s end. We taught at both of the services on Sunday and were energized by the congregation's interaction.  What an amazing way God is working in that place!

At Desert Vineyard, we grabbed a photo with Tom and April, Brean, Marina, and Tommy Garcia.

Julie and Derek drove up to hear us teach and to drive us down to San Diego after church on Sunday.  What a treat!  We feel so blessed to have these moments with them, knowing they'll be fewer and farther between once they're settled in Uganda early in 2012.  En route to San Diego, we met the newest member of the Friesen family,  Colson Rottschafter, and had a brief but wonderful visit with extended family gathered at their home.

Ron and Joyce (Friesen) Rottschafer holding Wylan and Brenton, and baby brother Colson (in my arms) next to their mother Donna (married to our nephew Brian Rottschafer who was serving at church and therefore not in the photo), and Derek and Julie.

Spending three days in San Diego with my parents was a highlight of this trip.  My mother is remarkable as she continues to care for my father, whose dementia increases while his abilities decrease.  What a very, very tough journey.  Sixty-three years together in marriage, their love for one another and their commitment to one another is more evident than ever.  This passage of their life together is definitely a test of “in sickness and in health . . .  ’til death do us part.”  We're always grateful for time spent with them.

My parents and Paul always enjoy having time together.

The second part of the trip took us north, about 500 miles, to Sacramento.  Sacrificially, we saved Bayside Church (which hosted our coming) money on hotel and restaurant costs and stayed with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon.  :)  Oh my!  What a difference two months makes in the life of a one-year-old! Since Julie’s wedding on  August 21 (the last time we saw Brandon), he has sprouted 4 teeth and become a walker.  We had an absolute ball discovering him anew.  We were thankful to have prepared well for our weekend teaching sessions before we arrived because it would've been quite impossible to have done so after arriving.  Derek and Julie flew up to join the party, which made it an almost family reunion.  We all lamented that Lisa’s work prevented her from joining us.  :(

Friday night, a packed-out crowd came out to Bayside for Couples’ Dessert/Date Night.  What a fun night!  Lincoln Brewster did a few special songs, Curt Harlowe did a comedy routine, and then we spoke to an eager crowd.  We love teaching at Bayside.  The congregation is always so responsive and receptive.  It was a great evening.

The sold-out date night crowd waits for the doors to open for the evening’s festivities.

The “booksellers” man the table after the couples’ dessert/date night.  :)

We taught at all five weekend services held that Saturday and Sunday, and have had some very profound interactions with some since.  We really sensed God’s spirit working among us throughout the weekend and were so thankful.   We were moved to receive this email shortly after the weekend:

“For those of you who might have missed it, our friends, Paul & Virginia Friesen spoke at Bayside this past weekend. The message on Sat/Sunday about marriage, ‘When It’s Good, It’s Really Good,’ is the best marriage message Rose and I have ever heard and it’s directly from Ephesians 5.”

We were also challenged by an email from a dear man who has struggled with the difficulties mental illness has visited upon his marriage and who needed a word of hope.  We enlisted the help of several ministry colleagues who have walked that path very personally and God did an amazing work through the networking which ensued.  We are still in awe of His faithfulness and grace in using the “this isn't what I signed up for” journey of two truly Godly men to come alongside this man with wisdom and truth which God used to knead hope into the heart of this hurting man.  To be “spectators” of this was faith-confirming and expanding for us.

Each service at Bayside was full of energy and responsiveness.  What a joy to minister there!

In between serving at Bayside, we had some great moments with Alton and Danielle Green and Alton’s girlfriend, Jeronica, over a meal at the Garcia home, and with a number of others who are being mentored by Gabe and Kari.  We also had time for walks, swinging at the park, shopping (Kari and Julie helped spruce up my predictable wardrobe!), playing “Nickel,” and hanging out.  But truth be told, most of the time we just enjoyed Brandon.  He is incredibly entertaining and the question did surface of what we did for entertainment before he was born.  I must also mention that Brandon had his first chocolate chip cookie baking lesson from the master, his very own “Papa.”

 Brandon enjoys a moment with his big brother, Alton, and Alton’s girlfriend, Jeronica.

“Papa” took advantage of time alone with Brandon to give him his first chocolate chip cookie baking lesson.  

Uncle Derek and Aunt Julie took advantage of time with Brandon (and his parents) throughout the weekend.

Tuesday, October 25, we pulled ourselves away from the Garcias’ cozy home and made our way to the newly-remodeled Sacramento Airport to return to Boston.  We were so very thankful for every part of the trip and spent much of the flight home reflecting on how God had met us and the glimpses we had into how He had met those we had been privileged to teach.  We were struck with both the vast differences between the congregations at Desert Vineyard and Bayside Church—socioeconomically, professionally, lifestyle, etc.—and yet the profound similarities between what challenges their marriages and families.  Good communication, genuine intimacy, commitment to the covenant, family solidarity, priorities, spiritual growth . . . all seem elusive, whether you have a lot or a little.  At the end of it all, the hope for all of us is bound up in Him—not in things, status, or perceived success.

So we returned to New England energized and exhausted.  Fortunately we didn't have anything until . . . the next morning!  More on that later.

The calendar said Oct. 23 when we resumed residence at our official address, and by that late date, usually 90% of the glorious fall color has “fallen.”  So we were surprised and ecstatic to see that the trees were still almost fully “clothed” and the brilliance of fall was just peaking.  That was an unexpected gift which brought great visual delight over the days to come.

I love this seemingly endless fall.

But I love this precious little face even more.  :)

From Tenting to Tea Partying

Cruising at an altitude of 35,000' en route from London to California, this 11-hour flight affords me opportunities to catch up on some neglected quiet activities . . . like my through-the-Bible-in-a-year-with-D.A.-Carson readings, journaling, and now blogging. No complaints from me regarding this long flight. I love enforced quiet and stillness, since I seem to have a hard time making it happen on my own.

It’s been quite a month since my last post. Our days in Vero Beach came to an end and we returned to the saddle refreshed and ready to go. Which was a good thing, because we arrived late Thursday night, May 20, and Paul spoke at a men’s event Friday night. This is the second year in a row he has spoken for this group, which is lead by Alan Siegel, and he loves the spirit of the group. He was very well-received.

Saturday we spoke for a marriage conference in Easton, also run by Alan Siegel, and had a wonderful day with many eager couples, from young marrieds to older marrieds. We were very heartened to receive this message from one of the couples who attended:
You and Paul were probably the best speakers I’ve ever heard. I looked at my husband’s outline and was surprised at his honesty and felt he tried to treat me nicely yesterday. He, too, thought you both were very good speakers. Thank you.

We’ve had an ongoing dialogue with this couple and God is at work in a big way in their marriage. Praise Him!

We drove from Easton to Hingham and were privileged to speak for a Couple’s Coffee House hosted by South Shore Baptist Church. Bill and Rebecca Haeck spear-headed the evening and did a masterful job transforming their social hall into a welcoming, candle-lit, cozy coffee house. We always love partnering with SSBC and this was no exception.

Bill and Rebecca Haeck hosted the Couples Coffee Shop at South Shore Baptist Church on Saturday, May 22.

In the meantime, house guests arrived! Our very dear friends, John, April, and Lizzie Aleman, came to town for a graduation and we were thrilled to have them crash at our house. We spent all of Sunday together, first worshiping at our home church, Highrock Church in Arlington, and then relaxing over Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and home-grilled bbq. We thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with them and building on our almost three decades of friendship through Campus by the Sea. Their kids, Nathan and Lizzie, have both served on staff at CBS in the past, as well as on family camp staff in New England. Their family is a great encouragement to us personally.

The Aleman family (far right) joined us for worship at High Rock Church in Arlington, and reconnected with family campers Tim and Linda Brown and family and Heather and Lydia Dietz.

Monday and Tuesday we both had a variety of appointments and “stuff” to do before counseling all day Wednesday. And then off again, this time me alone, to surprise our daughter Kari on her 30th birthday, May 27. What a fun surprise! By Friday night, all three girls were together celebrating her and we snuck off to a hotel in downtown Sacramento to further the celebration as a last getaway before baby arrives. Though everything didn’t exactly go as planned, it was a memorable and honoring time. Hardly 48 hours passed before I was flying back to join the H.I.M. Memorial Day Family Tenting Weekend!

In honor Kari’s 30th, Baby Garcia received some Red Sox garb from us . . . and some Giants garb from his dad!

The end of our hotel getaway was spent soaking in some Vitamin D poolside. (l-r: Lisa, Julie, Kari)

Of course the tenting weekend had started without me, and Paul was there with Jim and Sue Martis to make sure it happened. Twenty-five families (numbering 130 people) pitched their tents or drove their rigs to Myles Standish State Park for this annual event, and except for a brief (easy for me to say since I wasn’t there yet) two-hour shower at dinnertime on Saturday, the weekend was graced with fabulous weather (which means a whole lot when you’re camping in a tent!)

I joined the party on Sunday and everything was going swimmingly. In fact, many were swimming . . . or fishing, or biking. Regardless of the activity, everyone was clearly having a grand time.

As it goes, each evening the community gathers around a common meal (planned and prepared by Big Jim Martis of MJM Catering) which is followed by a time of worship, devotions, and s’mores. Mike and Seth Allen sacrificially drove to the campsite every night to lead worship and did a wonderful job again this year, and Paul lead the devotions in the inimitable Paul Friesen fashion.

The highlight of the weekend came Sunday night when Paul brought Thora Eames to camp for the evening. Thora, at 92, is still as spry and full of life as ever and young and old alike delighted in having her join the fun. As part of devotions that night, Paul interviewed Thora in front of the whole group. Everyone listened with rapt attention when Paul, acknowledging that Thora had experienced much loss these past years, asked her how she had managed with so much grief to keep going with a smile on her face. “Oh Paul,” Thora responded, “God has been so faithful to me!! I don’t have anything to complain about. Every day I wake up and thank Him for being so good to me.”

It was a recordable moment. Thora is the poster child for the truism: “Life is 10% circumstance, 90% attitude.” Thank you, Thora. We were all so blessed by her presence!

Paul interviews Thora, while Faith Metaxotos secures her bond with “Granny Thora.”

The weekend wrapped up on Memorial Day with our second annual Memorial Day parade, organized by the Barkers and the Cranes. Glenn Franks was selected to be the Grand Marshall in recognition of his service to our country. With most of the children mounted on their bikes and sporting patriotic colors (including glittery tattoos), and accompanied by the voices of an approximate 20-voice choir singing patriotic melodies, two laps were made around the camping circle to commemorate those who have protected our many freedoms, including the freedom to worship.

Glenn Franks served as the Grand Marshall of the second annual Memorial Day parade.

On your marks, get set, ride - carefully and slowly. :)

And the 2010 Memorial Day Family Tenting Weekend came to a close, with some families adding extra-curricular activities afterward, like picnicking at another lake and then making an ice cream stop as the exclamation point to an already great time.

The carefree escape from the worries of life came to a screeching halt Tuesday morning as we spent the day in our office counseling. We’re never far from the painful realities of life, which show up in so much brokenness relationally. By God’s grace, however, we’re privileged to seen much growth and healing in many marriages.

Early Wednesday morning, June 2, we drove to Cornwall, CT, to join the pastoral staff from Valley Community Baptist Church (VCBC) for the fourth year in a row. We’re so honored to be re-invited to speak into the lives of this amazing group of fellow ministers, lead by Jay Abramson and Tim Ponzani. We feel very personally connected to each of them by now and love just being with them. We led four sessions, dealing with ministry and personal issues connected to family and marriage, but mostly we just hung out, played games, took walks, and ate fabulous meals. It was as refreshing as it was productive, and we were most touched by them sending us off by praying specifically for us as we prepare for a very full summer. We’re so pleased to be looking forward to spending another week with Jay and Liz Abramson as they’ll be speaking at one of our H.I.M. Family Camps at Camp Berea in August. They are salt of the earth people.

The pastoral staff of Valley Community Baptist Church gathers for a photo op at retreat’s end.

Someone recently asked if I’ve really ever read the book Margin by Richard Swensen (since I often recommend it) and my emphatic “yes” confirms that just because you’ve read something doesn’t mean you’ve been changed by it.

The question was prompted by the description of what followed our conference for VCBC. We got home Friday early afternoon, and spent the balance of the day packing and preparing for the weeks ahead. Saturday was the annual H.I.M. Pool Party, hosted by servant-hearted and unflappable Doug and Julie Macrae. I (along with daughter Lisa, and friends Pam Barker and Kelly Plosker) left the party early to drive to Woodstock, Vermont, to run the Covered Bridges Half-Marathon Sunday morning, June 6.

Richard, Kit, and Beth Hendricks, and Lisa Friesen were some of the pool party attendees.

Which we did. In pouring rain (I had prayed specifically for it not to be a hot race, and it wasn’t!), we ran the 13.1 absolutely gorgeous course, and then made the 3-hour drive home to shower, finish packing, and fly out of Logan at 10 p.m. for London.

It does seem kind of crazy now, but losing a whole day of the London trip for rest and sanity seemed like a terrible trade-off when we made the plans. And besides, when we made the plane reservations, we thought the race started at 7 am. When we found out it didn’t start til 10:15 am, we felt a little bit of pressure to set a new course record. Even though we didn’t, we made it with plenty of time to spare.

Thankfully, it all went like clock-work. Lisa and I cut 7 full minutes off our last half-marathon and definitely didn’t overheat. And I even talked during this race. Back in November when we did our first half-marathon together, I stunned Lisa by not uttering a single word during the entire 13.1 miles. I couldn’t afford to give up any breath for non-essentials.

Pre-race photo: Lisa, me, Pam Barker, and Kelly Plosker.

This was a wonderful experience all around. Beautiful course, great friends, and a wonderful husband who drove up Sunday to ferry us to the start and from the finish, as well as to cheer us on and get finish line photos. We’re already eager to do it again.

Post-race photo: 13.1 soggy miles later. :)

The past week, we’ve had the great delight of experiencing London for the first time. This trip was a graduation gift to Lisa, in honor of her successfully completing her master’s degree, and London was the destination because her best childhood friend, Kelsey Offield, is studying there. Kelsey’s mom, Wendy, is one of my dearest friends, so the four of us spend the week together, dredging up unforgettable moments from our life’s journey together over the past 27 years, as well as making many new memories together.

Add to that the “only God could’ve made this happen” moment when we found out that our chosen family friends John and Marilyn Nugent would be in London at the same time, and you have two women who feel very, very personally loved by our gracious heavenly Father.

So we’ve spent the last six days exploring a new land and seeing come alive the photos and stories related to the UK we’ve seen and heard all our lives. We experienced most of the sights and sounds by foot (and my pedometer kept track, informing us that we averaged 10 miles a day) and loved most every minute of it. We ate great food, saw great theater, saw historical sites, and fell in love with the quaint charm of this country which served as a prototype for New England over 300 years ago. We visited Stonehenge and Bath. We had afternoon tea. We were privileged to be in the country for the “Trooping of the Colors” in honor of the Queen’s birthday, and we stood on the parade route, 20 yards from the Royal Family as they rode by on horseback or in carriages. We were quiet about our heritage Saturday night when the USA tied the UK in the first round of World Cup Soccer but secretly thrilled and so proud of our team. :) Along with the Nugents, we worshiped at the Holy Trinity Church of Brompton, the home of the ALPHA course developed by their senior pastor, Nicky Gumbel.

Lisa and Kelsey in front of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. They never did find Mr. Darcy, though you can be sure they looked!

With Wendy, Marilyn, and John, ready to see “Les Miserables”

At the “Trooping of the Colors” - Queen Elizabeth parades by in her carriage.

Kelsey and Wendy were wonderful hostesses, and John and Marilyn were great traveling companions. It would be hard to improve on the trip, unless it would be reclaiming the day Lisa was side-lined with the stomach flu. Even there, God was so gracious to protect the rest of us.

Though there were many highlights, the highest light of all was seeing “Les Miserables.” We’ve seen it multiple times by now, but never have we been more moved by the clarity of the message of grace. Maybe its because I’ve lived so much more of life now than I had 20 years ago when I saw it for the first time - and am so much more aware of how completely dependent I am on His grace - or maybe its because I’ve seen His grace be so transformative in my own life as well as in the lives of so many we come alongside. Whatever, I was profoundly touched by the play and challenged anew to walk in grace in a deeper way.

So now, the UK is in our rear view mirror, and when we land in several hours, we’ll head directly to Campus by the Sea for our 35th summer. That’s beginning to sound like a long time. We believe we have a wonderful summer staff assembled and can’t wait to see what God will do in our midst in the next seven weeks.

The family that camps together . . .

Jim, Sue, and Matthew Martis make sure the Memorial Day Weekend Family Tenting Camp happens each year. They cover all the bases, including feeding Paul and Virginia. :)

Well, we’re not in Uganda anymore. :) Not long after our noon return from Uganda at Logan on Friday, May 22, we packed up our gear and headed to Myles Standish State Park in Plymouth for our annual Memorial Day Weekend Family Tenting Camp. Stating the obvious, the weekend wouldn’t have been were it not for Jim and Sue Martis, who in spite of many challenges leading up to the weekend, once again pulled it off beautifully. We are so thankful for their partnership!

Pastor Paul leads the family devotions in his inimitable style. :)

Twenty-eight families pitched their tents and disconnected from the busyness and distractions of life for three wonderful days of true “communal” living. Throughout the days, families connected with each other at the lake’s edge, over fishing poles, on the “speedway” supervising dozens of children-driven bikes, or around an unlit campfire ring. Everyone watched out for each other’s kids with a kind of “this is the way it used to be” nostalgia . . . and children played with reckless abandon and without the fears which seem to inhibit such freedom in our neighborhoods. It’s amazing how few “props” (electronic or material) kids need when the great outdoors becomes their playground. Sticks, dirt, rocks, and water, when added to imagination, are all it takes to “while away the hours.” We loved watching the children play together.

Mike and Ann-Marie Allen and family served as worship leaders for the weekend and did a fabulous job.

Wai-Chin and Fannie Ng, with children Gracie and Evan, enjoy the evening worship.

Each evening, we all gathered at the common site for dinner together, followed by worship and devotions. Mike and Ann-Marie Allen and family led the worship and did a great job. Paul led interactive family devotions, with eager participation from all ages. S’mores closed out each evening’s activities.

Each night, devotions were followed by smores at the community fire.

Nathaniel thoroughly enjoys a s'more.

Though the weather wasn’t ideal, it was certainly manageable. Some rain visited both Saturday and Sunday, but the Lord protected us from the powerful thunderstorms and hailstorms which hit the town of Plymouth, just miles away.

John Barker once again thrills the children with a catch and release fish. It looks so much like previous catches, we’re wondering if its a plant...

Families pitch in with dinner preparation and many hands make light work.

Monday was beautiful and warm, so lake-front activities were enjoyed by all - but not until after the first annual Memorial Day Weekend Family Tenting Camp Parade made its way through the campground. Led by the Barker family, dozens of bicycle “floats” accompanied by a medley of patriotic songs commemorated this national holiday. Plans are already underway for next year’s parade.

Monday morning, Ted and Lauren Hall hosted a community breakfast at their campsite.

The Barkers spear-headed the first annual Memorial Day Family Tenting Camp Parade. The bike “floats” were accompanied by a medley of patriotic tunes and the holiday was duly celebrated.

Faith Metaxotos sums up the weekend with her cherubic smile.

All too quickly, the weekend came to an close. To soften the disappointment, all remaining campers caravanned to Ericson’s Ice Cream stand in nearby Carver. That was a sweet way to end a great weekend.

Our final stop: Duxbury, for dinner with our dear friend, Thora Eames. It was too cold and wet to bring her to the campsite this year, sadly, so we brought a little of camp to her.

Paul and I traveled home via Duxbury to have dinner with our dear 91-year-old friend, Thora. We had wanted to bring her to dinner at camp one night, but the weather didn’t cooperate. It was such a joy to see her! We always leave encouraged and inspired by her life.

Finally, our own bed . . . for the second time in five weeks. It’s good to be home for a bit before leaving for Campus by the Sea on June 13.

We are so thankful for the incredible experiences we’ve had between Louisiana, California, and Uganda over these past weeks. Through it all, we’ve seen the hand of God directing His work in each context. What a privilege to be on His team.

HIM Team Trinidad 2008 Returns!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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