Sunday, January 24, 2016
Our family was in South Fork, CO for the Gray family Christmas, and made the three hour drive over to Colorado City on Saturday afternoon so that we would close by for Sunday morning in Rye. We first became acquainted with the church there during our second year of preaching school, when we would travel there once a month to preach. They have therefore been with us since “before the beginning” and we always enjoy the warmth and encouragement we experience with these good brethren.
Following a presentation on the work in Vanuatu during the Bible class hour, I borrowed some thoughts from Paul’s letter to the Philippians for my sermon. I have always been drawn to the epistle, primarily because I appreciate the relationship between Paul and that local church. In many ways, it mirrors our relationship with the church in Rye. The day was capped off with a fellowship meal and singing together. Lovely weather, lovely surroundings, and lovely folks… A great way to finish off our church visits for this furlough!
Friday, January 15, 2016
Our former teammate and good friend, Mike, has been living in Montana since he returned to the Staes in mid-2014. Through his influence, the church in Kalispell has agreed to being supporting us financially beginning in this new year. They invited me up for the weekend in order to get to know some of the brethren there.
I enjoyed getting caught up with Mike, and also getting to eat and visit with a good number from the congregation, including being in the homes of five different families. I got share some thoughts on how we’ve seen God working in Vanuatu over the past 10+ years, and our thoughts and plans for the future during the morning worship hour. I then answered questions for 30 minutes on Sunday evening. Once again, we were greatly encouraged by their interest in and enthusiasm for the work.
Visiting good friends, the Bruners, in Searcy has become a priority for our furlough trips. And our friends list there has grown over the past few years as we've hosted campaign groups from Harding University in the summers. It was neat to see Bryan and Darla (Harding campaign sponsors) in the United States for the first time, after having them in our Vanuatu home the past two summers.
Our Arkansas visits have also allowed us to renew friendships in nearby Little Rock. Greg has been a mentor to me since we first met back in 2001, and is largely responsible for our decision to become missionaries. He introduced me to one of his elders a couple of years ago when I was in need of wise counsel, and Jim has been a tremendous source ever since. In addition to his monthly financial support, he encourages us through his “gift of emailing.” We look forward to his responses every single month. The Sylvan Hills church also gave me the chance to speak during the assembly, and wow are they an encouraging group.
We thoroughly enjoyed being able to spend Christmas in Houston with some of the Brandell family (our second of three Christmas celebrations during the season!). Being down south also afforded us the opportunity to visit one of the many Stateside churches that sent money for cyclone relief earlier in the year. I was given the opportunity to publicly thank the congregation for their generous contribution, and to give a quick update on how things are progressing.
We were greatly encouraged by the reception we received by the congregation after services, with several showing a great interest in learning more about the work. The visit was yet another reminder of how wonderful Christian fellowship is, in spite of the fact that we had never met most of these Christians. Phil and Marge are originally from our hometown of Duncan that has been supporting us financially for 10+ years, and we cherished the opportunity to have lunch with them (our first time to see them in as many years). We are thankful that they had brought the Vanuatu need before the congregation.
The congregation in Perkins has been supporting us financially for many years, and officially became our “sending church” in 2014. It’s a responsibility they've taken very seriously, and as a result they've been a great source of encouragement. This was our first opportunity to be with the congregation since they took over sponsorship, and it was a pleasure to get to share our gratitude in person for their support over the past two years, especially all that they did following destruction from Cyclone Pam last March.
It was our pleasure to be in the home of James and Kay (he is one of the elders), spend time with good friends, and be a part of a small group meeting on Sunday afternoon. Good things are on the horizon, and we are grateful for their support and leadership as we move forward.
Shawnda and I both grew up in Duncan, Alexis was born there, and my parents still call it home. The Chisholm Trail congregation has been with us since the beginning (2005), and always facilitate an encouraging visit. I once again had the opportunity to present on the Vanuatu work during the Bible class hour, and to preach during the morning assembly. They livestream their Sunday services and archive the sermons, so you can take a peek if you'd like at www.ctcoc.org.
This was our first opportunity to be in their new facilities, and Shawnda and I both noticed a considerable difference in the way the new space facilitated warmth and fellowship. It was also a pleasure to get to spend a few minutes with a some folks who have been a tremendous source of wisdom and encouragement (“support” in the truest sense) during some difficult times over the past few years.
During our stint as Visiting Missionaries at Oklahoma Christian University during the Fall 2013 semester, we became associated with the Edmond Church of Christ. Little did we know back then what a blessing our Bible class there would become. Class members have prayed for and encouraged us from afar, made visits to Vanuatu, donated shirts to our youth camp, and provided monthly financial support.
We were in the OKC area several times in December, and cherished being a part of the Wednesday night class. We were also blessed by the opportunity to twice have dinner with class members. Last but not least, my brother and his family are a part of the church there, and it was a pleasure to get to spend a little extra time with them while we were there.
We’ve been good friends with Caleb and his family since our Bear Valley days (he’s been preaching for the church in Ripon for 10 years), and we learned a few years ago what a wonderful “buffer” they provide for our journey to and through the United States. Our families mesh well, and it’s great opportunity for fellowship, relaxation and readjustment.
There are a couple of families who have been supporting us financially for several years, and it is important for us to be able to thank them and share about the future in person. It’s also always a pleasure to get to talk about the work before the assembled congregation. We were especially excited to learn from the elders during this long-weekend visit that the congregation has included our work in their 2016 budget. What a blessed and encouraging time!