Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 in review- Part I . .January- April

It has been a crazy event-filled year. . . .I thought the high school years with the children were busy. . .and they were. .but the past 12-18 months have been so filled with significant events in our family, that I wanted to recap them so I will remember the time line when I am in the nursing home. . .you know how we get our years mixed up and we argue about who is right and when things happened?  Well, I'm going to chronologically go through the year, so that when the arguments occur years from now.. .I will be right!  :)
Brittany moves back to Killeen after spending 8 months living with us while Austin was deployed in Iraq.  We had 4 college-age girls living with us during most of 2009, so our house seemed like a college dorm. . .It was communal living at it's finest. .someone was always coming and going, but for the most part. . .it was great fun. . .We all learned to be flexible and considerate of each other and to operate out of our comfort zones. . . you have to do that to get along . .Georgia, Brittany, Lindsay and Myranda used all the extra bedrooms and poor August was a little homeless when he would come home from college and from traveling. . .but that wasn't often and we all managed.

August leaves for a semester of travel with Teen Pact as a student intern. August had been offered a internship with this ministry ( ) but had already paid an apartment lease and a meal plan for the Spring '10 semester at Texas A&M. . .He tried all fall semester to sub-lease his apartment with no success, so he thought he would have to decline the internship. . However, on Dec 1st, some of his friends from Teen Pact offered to raise the money for him to replace the funds in his college savings that had already been spent on housing and meals.  If they could raise $3,000 to cover what had already been spent, then we told him he could take the internship. . .His friends did all this fundraising strictly through email and Facebook.  . It looked like it was not going to happen, but on Christmas Day 2009, he got a phone call that all the funds had been raised. . .so God definitely opened the door for this opportunity and when January 2010 began, he was off to travel through 10-15 different states to lead Teen Pact conferences till May. . . .Only God could orchestrate that series of events. . .

I took a 2-week trip to Ghana with Cindi Dauphin to visit Joel and Hollie Dickens, medical missionaries and long-time friends. . .Joel had asked Cindi to stay with Hollie while he attended a medical conference in Kenya, and Cindi asked me to join her since I had traveled there with Brittany and Georgia in 2009. . .There is nothing like traveling to the other side of the world to a 3rd-world country with only one other person. . it really cements the friendship!  We definitely shared an adventure of a lifetime, spending time with Joel and Hollie and the children, visiting with the other missionary doctors who were filling in for Joel, seeing the clinic, the Ghanaian culture, and the incredible need of the people. . while also doing a lot of spiritual evaluation on ourselves. . .lots of memories. . .

My dad, Bill Helwig (age 80)  passes away on March 3th, 2010.  Dad had fallen while trying to pen some cattle in Nov. 2009, broke his hip and spend 40 days in the hospital. He lost over 40 lbs and his health did take a definite turn for the worse. .He was strong enough, however, to come home for Christmas and Mom did her best to care for him at home as he struggled to recover. . . His circulation in his legs was very bad and he had congestive heart failure, and when he woke on March 2th with a huge blood clog on his foot, Mom immediately took him to the hospital for treatment. . .The doctors seemed to think it could be dissolved with drugs easily, but early on March 5th, his health started failing fast, his organs began to shut down and he went into cardiac arrest. . .he was revived, but Mom made the decision not to do any other lifesaving measures with him, which was his wish. . .and he slipped into a coma and died that evening. With the serious heart condition that my dad had since he was 52, he lived alot longer than anyone ever expected. But life does change when you lose a parent. . . . The rest of the month is pretty much a blur. . . cleaning out and giving away Dad's things, making repairs on the house and helping Mom get adjusted to being alone.

Austin returns home from Iraq about April 10th after a year-long deployment. It was a much-anticipated return and one of my very favorite memories from 2010. . .It was joyous and patriotic and you could feel the sense of relief from everyone- the families and the soldiers. . .My heart went out to the soldiers who had no one there to greet them when they returned, as their families were too far away and it was too expensive to make the trip to Ft. Hood. . .I learned that if  I ever attend one of these homecomings again, I will be giving away lots of the hugs and trinkets to the guys standing alone. I think everyone, especially government officials need to attend at least one send-off and a return of a brigade of troops from these long deployments to see for themselves the emotional and physical sacrifices of these troops and family members. . There is a cost. . .freedom does not come for free.

On April 15th, Georgia and I traveled to California to make final wedding plans and attend a bridal shower given by Jordan's family. . .We also spent an evening with Aunt Kay and Mal Bruce, my mom's youngest sister who coincidentally lives 25 or so miles from Jordan's family. Thanks to Jordan's mom, Cyndi Monroe, the wedding plans were finalized with wonderful friends who helped out and great vendors. . .and it could not have gone more smoothly. The bridal shower was my first chance to meet Jordan's extended family and friends and also see the location where the wedding was going to be held.  It was an afternoon of great fun and wonderful memories.  The Monroe family showed us off-the-charts hospitality and I loved getting to know them all.

The last weekend of April found us at HEB camp in Leakey, TX for House of Faith Family Camp. . .The location was outstanding, and it was total fun to watch over 300+ folks- parents, grandparents and children enjoying the Texas Hill Country and the Frio River- - canoeing, hiking, fishing, swimming and doing crafts. . .and the Video and Bible teaching , skits and worship were great! Todd and Scott Cotton helped at the canoeing station and were pros at it. . .It was a great chance for us to get to know the House of Faith staff and meet more of the families.  We loved it!  Can't wait till next year. . .

to be continued. . . .

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010 recap - House of Faith- "GO and make disciples. . ."

Todd helping with crafts during House of Faith Family Camp this past spring.
 I guess the biggest spiritual philosophy change that Todd and I have had during the past 12-18 months has to do with Matthew 28:19, where Jesus issues that command "GO and make disciples. . .", which is a change for us. . .For all the years prior, we felt called to minister to folks that God brought through our church, PaulAnn Baptist, where we have been members for 22 years. . .I remember specifically praying for God to bring people to our church property so that we could minister to them. . We had been active in almost every facet of that church's ministries. . .youth, children's ministry, college, Bible studies, small groups, . . .you name it. . .and this has been a good thing. . absolutely no regrets. . .we are thankful for our church family. . .

But after our last child left for college and our day-to-day parenting was over. . .we began to pray that God would show us what was next for us. . .and we could sense a change or restlessness in our spirits. . .Our friends could tell we were restless. . . Now, we believe he has showed us through His Word, and through Bible teachers such as David Platt, Francis Chan and others to journey down a different path. . . .

 In the next phase of our lives. . .we believe we are to  "GO". . .go to the streets, go to the unchurched, get out of our comfortable surroundings, . . go and help the poor, the needy, the widowed and the orphans. . .and we began to do that through a local ministry already in place here in San Angelo called "House of Faith". . HOF ministers to approximately 950 at-risk children by taking Backyard Bible Clubs to neighborhoods and elementary school campuses, as well as 200+ high school and middle students. . .( )We had taught weekly at a Backyard Bible Club that was actually held on the PaulAnn property for 3 years.  .we would show up each week, teach a lesson, take kids home. . .responsibilities done. . . no regrets. . . glad we did that. .

This year has been different. . . sensing that God wanted more from us and desired for us to dive in with House of Faith, we approached the staff at HOF and asked to be put to work . . . .and that has happened.  We assist with the Goliad Elementary club on Wednesdays, which is the largest club in the ministry, averaging around 130+ students per week. . .and we lead the Fannin/Blackshear club on Thursdays, which averages around 60 students. . .The Fannin/Blackshear students are now like our family. . .we get to be surrogate parents, teachers, mentors and friends to children who absolutely love having another adult in their life who cares about them. . . and we are getting to know their families and become involved in their lives, praying that all we say and do points them toward  Jesus. . . We see these new friends more often than our own family. . .We now do something involving HOF families almost every day.

It has been a convicting year. . .this fall, I have been on many streets in San Angelo that I have never been on before. . .and I have lived here all my life. . . it's like a scene out of the movie "Blind Side" and I am ashamed of that. . .and I have asked God to take away my fear and hesitation and to get me out of my comfort zone. . .He has done that. . .and I have learned that love, a smile, sincerity, and respect goes a long way in building trust with new families. . .and God is also shaping and molding us more into his image each day on this journey. . .

It has not been easy. . .I would be lying if I told that it has been all fun, cheerful and uplifting. . .No, it's very tiring and the Enemy will battle you for every relationship you make with a lost person- adult or child. . so there are days of tears, frustration, and physical and mental exhaustion. . . . but really. . .what are we entitled to? The Bible says Death. (Romans 3:23). .so anything else we get to experience through knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior is a gift. . .even the hard stuff. . .

God may want you to "GO" and minister in a different context this year. . .in your own city and neighborhood  . . .or on the other side of the world to a people group who have never heard of Jesus as Savior. We are thankfully not all called to do the same thing. . .but we ARE called to do something!
This is where we are in 2010. . .doing ministry in a different way than we have ever done it before. . .and loving it. . . can't wait to see what God is going to do in 2011. . .

Some of our House of Faith students after a hike in the state park and making feather headbands. .
Fransico and Dominic ready to go hunting. . .

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010 recap - Georgia & Jordan's Wedding- -A look back. . . .

Aside from Austin's return home from Iraq in April, the biggest family event of 2010 was Jordan and Georgia's wedding in Corona, CA on June 26th 2010.  We are blessed to have a ton of excellent pictures, thanks to Colin and Andrea' Feldhaus, who traveled with us from San Angelo to Corona to be the "official" photographers (  The beautiful wedding video was another unexpected blessing, and will be a great reminder of all the family memories. As we recap 2010, I want to remember some of the special people and events surrounding the wedding.

 Lemonia Grove - - the location of the wedding was an old lemon grove that had been established over 110 years ago, and some of the trees had been planted in 1893, and stood about 3-4 stories high. . .One tree alone provided enough shade for 150 people around tables at the reception.  The Jim Anderson family bought the estate in foreclosure over 10 years ago, and have gently restored and added to the beautiful landscape.  When I saw the location in mid-April, I was impressed with the layout, but when we returned in June for the wedding. . .it was breathtaking. . .The grass had manicured, the roses were in full bloom and it truly looked like something out of a landscaping magazine. . .We really don't have anything in West Texas that compared to it. . . I will always appreciate Jim and Patti Anderson, and all they did for us that weekend. . .they literally gave up their home to us, and worked like the ultimate team players in taking care of every detail. . including loaning an iron to me,  gathering up trash, washing windows, and moving tables and chairs around in a well- orchestrated chain of events on wedding weekend. . .Seriously, I really can't say thank you enough to them. . .The kindness and hospitality they showed to our family will never be forgotten and will serve as an example to us as we love on people who God puts in our path. . .

This was the gigantic tree that provided the shade for the wedding.

The John Pervorse family and the Brett Ladd family -  These two families are good friends of the Monroe's and Karen Pervorse made the wedding cake and headed up the catering duties for the reception.  I guess of all the people at the wedding, these folks worked the hardest. . .The food was great, the presentation was beautiful, every detail was covered. . . .and I know they were exhausted. . . I have been in those shoes, and they too will never really know how much we appreciated all they did for us that weekend, and all the time before in preparation and planning. I know how hard it is to prepare everything, transport all the food and the serving pieces, keep the trays replenished and. . . in the end. . .clean everything up. . . I just hope that I can keep a smile on my face and show the same type of unselfish servant's hearts as they did to us.  Thank you to both families. . .again.

Georgia's bachelorette dinner- - -Cyndi Monroe, Jordan's mom took us to a wonderful restaurant overlooking the ocean for a great meal, and following dinner, we took a stroll on the beach and on a fishing pier as the sun was going down. . . .it was beautiful. . . .I loved watching the surfers line up (I counted 20+) and wait for the waves to roll in . . .most of the surfers were high school age, and the waves were not huge. . but enough that it was a challenge for them and it looked like great fun.  It was the first time in my life I had seen real live surfers up close.  . . There is a reason why all those folks live in Southern California. . . The climate is perfect most of the time, and the ocean is, well . .gorgeous. It really is supernaturally beautiful. . .the vastness of the sea, the power of the waves, the tiniest perfect seashells on the beach. . .You cannot deny God's creative powers and the truth of Romans 1:20 when you take it all in. . yes, it's true. ."no man is without excuse."

Special friends and family time. . . .As our children enter adulthood and have lives of their own, the amount of time we spend all together becomes less and less . . .and is indeed more precious. Because Austin had been in Iraq, and August had been traveling with internships for most of 2010, it was the first time we had all been together in over 7 months. . .I truly relished the time we shared.  For us to have 3 1/2 days together with all our children, the grandparents, and special friends like the Dauphins, Kali Daniel,  the extended Monroe family and all the bridal party was historic and definitely a timeless memory. . . I know it was stressful that weekend, but somehow. .  now. . .I don't remember any stress. . .I just remember the smiles, the laughter, the beautiful location and the great relationships we shared in. . .and watching Georgia and Jordan be united as a couple with special friends and family as witnesses.

Yes, to the CAT students who were servers, the musicians, the sound guys, Erin Monroe and her friend who acted as the wedding coordinators, keeping us on task and to everyone who had a part in this event . . . especially to the entire Monroe family. . .a most sincere thanks for making a wonderful memory for all of us . . . .it was perfect. :)

 Nothing like a wet willy from the big brother . .

Thursday, December 9, 2010

2010 recap -August- the Travelin' Man

For our youngest child,  August, 2010 was a truly unique year. . Most 20 year olds don't get the opportunity to travel literally 7 months straight, living out of a suitcase and sharing the Gospel to hundreds of high school students across the United States. August had internships with two different ministries this year, Teenpact Leadership Schools (  and Worldview Academy ( ) He took a semester off from college and traveled with Teenpact from January till May, and then traveled with Worldview May-July. In the past couple of years, he has been in at least 22 states, and has traveled 12,000+ miles in a van. I really can't imagine what God is going to do with this type of experience, but I know one thing, all things happen for a reason and God will use it somehow (Romans 8:28).

With Teenpact, August would lead or assist with conferences for high school students that focused on the Christian perspective on state governments, discussing the mechanics of passing bills through state legislatures, as well as discussion the role of Christian citizenship. This ministry is geared to mainly home schooled students, who could attend this camp as a part of their government requirements for their high school transcripts.  August made friends from literally all over the United States.  His friends were not only the students, but also their families, as many of the home school families take a very active part in the Teenpact ministry. We are thankful to this group of people for hosting him and loving him as he traveled, and especially to those who financially made it happen. . .and that is another whole story in itself.

On the Worldview Academy staff, August traveled to a different college campus each week of the summer, hosting conferences for high school students on Christian Apologetics.  These conferences centered on discussions about different worldviews in our culture, as found in literature, entertainment and all types of media.  August led small group discussion with high school-aged boys and really enjoyed getting to invest in them, even if it was for just one week. He traveled all summer in a van, seeing more country than you and I will probably ever see, and made deep friendships with the other college students serving on staff as well.  We are very thankful for this opportunity for him, as he has been exposed to very sound Christian theology, great speakers/presenters and quality Christian people who are mentors to him. He plans to travel again with Worldview for the summer of 2011.

August returned back to Texas A & M in September for his sophomore year, and the adjustment back to college was good with minor difficulties, mainly in the form of Calculus! He has enjoyed getting back in to the Aggie Spirit, and having a winning football season this fall helped tremendously! The Aggies  have never beat Oklahoma and Nebraska in the same season in recent history. . .and he got to witness them both! 

I write all this down to remember what all God has done in his life, in such a short period of time. He has been on an unusual journey, and I know we will look back years from now and see how God orchestrated his path.  It's an amazing thing to watch as a parent.

Whewwww. . .what a year!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

2010 recap -Georgia's college graduation

Another highlight of 2010 was Georgia's graduation from Angelo State University as a nurse.  To see her walk across the stage to receive her degree as well as attending her pinning ceremony was the perfect ending to four long hard years of studying and worrying. . . .I don't know that I have ever watched someone work as hard as she did to reach her educational goal.  As she poured herself in to classes like anatomy, physiology, and all her nursing classes, we all held our breath and prayed as she took each test and final exam. . .her hard work paid off, and she graduated in May and passed her state board exams in June a week before her wedding this summer . . Talk about a tight schedule!

Georgia has always been the nurse in our family.  From elementary school on, anytime anyone got hurt or scratched up, she was the cleaner-uper and band-aide queen. . .she thought she wanted to be a veterinarian  for a while, but after attending a vet school camp for high school students, her focus quickly changed from animals to humans. . .nursing has been the perfect fit.

Nursing is hard work, dealing with bodily functions that are not pleasant, and requires a huge amount of patience and compassion as nurses interact with sick people. . .I can't tell you how much I admire what she is doing. . .Both of her great-grandmothers were nurses, as well as her great aunt. . .so she is keeping the family tradition going. 

We are so proud of her and of what she has become. . . .and God is continuing to shape and mold her as she enters the adult world.  We are also thankful that she lived with us most of her college career, as it added a wonderful dimension of having college students around the house all the time and made for some great memories for all of us.

Georiga, we love you and you will always be our favorite nurse and daughter! and we pray Jeremiah 29:11 over you. "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. . Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. . plans to give you a future and a hope."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2010 recap- Austin's Homecoming from Iraq-

When I look back over 2010, probably one of the favorite and most emotional events of the year was Austin's return from Iraq in April 2010.  His year-long deployment with the Army was something our family had never experienced, as we don't have any former military men in our immediate family.  

His departure had been delayed for 4 months, and the anxiety of him leaving and being  away from his new bride for a year was mounting.  The day we told him goodbye was one of the hardest things I have ever experienced, because not only was our family being emotionally and physically separated, but we watched as 300 more families were experiencing the same thing that day. 

Austin's new wife, Brittany moved in with us for eight months (which was a wonderful blessing for all of us), and we were able to talked to him fairly often on the phone.  We sent care packages each week.  The year moved quickly for us here at home, but I think it was probably the longest year Austin has ever experienced. Some days we could really hear the homesickness in his voice.  Austin flew home for his two-week break on Dec 5th, eight months into his deployment, so we were thrilled for him to be home during the Christmas season.  He returned back to Iraq a few days before Christmas, and his spirits remained good as he began the countdown to his return home date.

As April approached, we kept our schedules as free as possible as the Army does not give out definite dates when troops will be arriving home.  When we finally got a fairly firm date, we headed towards Killeen to wait. . We began our vigil at 9 pm and the buses with the troops aboard finally arrived about midnight on April 10th..

It was a sight to see.

Surrounding that lit-up parade ground were hundreds of family members holding welcome home signs, flags and flashlights.  It was a carnival atmosphere. . .The anticipation was growing as the announcer declared that the soldiers were almost there.  My favorite memory was of a pair of 18-month old twin girls in a double stroller near us who were fussy and tired as midnight approached. When the buses arrived carrying the soldiers, their mom leaned over to them and whispered to them "Daddy is here now". . .They straightened up in that stroller, stopped crying and they reminded me of hunting dogs "on point", leaning forward in their seats as they strained to see him in the sea of soldiers marching towards us. It was amazing to me to see that even at 18 months old, those little girls understood the meaning of the phrase "Daddy's home."

We saw young soldier dads being handed their own new babies that they had never seen before.  We saw teenage children almost tackle their dads and moms as they ran full force across the parade ground to hug them.  We saw young girlfriends and wives dressed up in glittery dresses and heels who were passionately kissing their soldier boyfriends and husbands. They didn't care who was watching.  We watched as parents greeted their sons and daughters with both patriotic pride and thankfulness that the deployment was over. And we also saw soldiers standing there alone, with no one to welcome them home, as their families were too far away to come for the ceremony. My heart ached for them.

I still can't think about that night without getting a bit teary. . .Never before have I realized the huge sacrifices that our military troops undertake by leaving their families numerous times during their careers to defend our country and to carry out orders given by our government leaders.Since that night, I have often said that every elected government official need to attend one of those gut-wrenching send-offs and joyful homecomings to fully understand  the effects those deployments have on military families. And I also have become fully aware of the need for those of us here at home in the US to support and care for the military families who are left behind. Life is more difficult for them than most of us can imagine.

Below is my favorite picture from that night.  It was the moment that Austin and Brittany were reunited.  That picture symbolized that the long year was over,  that they could move forward as a young married couple again, and that Austin was home safe and sound. Again, let us never forget the emotional and physical "cost" of our freedoms.

Monday, July 26, 2010

My Dad- Bill Helwig (1927-2010)

We knew the day was coming. . . 

Todd and I were returning home from an out-of-town trip when my mom called on March 2, 2010 to say that she was taking my dad to the emergency room for a possible blood clot in his leg. Dad's health had been rapidly deteriorating since last fall, after he fell and broke his hip and had a hospital stay of 38 days. However, he had rallied enough to go home by Christmas Eve, and was making a little progress in his walking and overall recovery day by day.

Dad, 81, was admitted to the hospital that day, and seemed to be doing fine until I got a phone call the next morning from my mom saying that Dad's health was failing fast and that I needed to come to the hospital immediately.  When I arrived, he has been revived by a "code" team and was very unstable, yet he was alert enough to say "Hey Bonnie, How was your trip?". Mom had to make some big decisions that day about his future health care, and because she and Dad had already discussed not doing any life extending measures, the medical staff let him slip into a coma and die peacefully that evening.

You get pretty reflective about life when you watch someone die, and lots of memories also come flooding back about your relationship with that person. Here are a few of my favorite childhood memories with Dad:

-Playing "Edelweiss" on the piano over and over for Dad.  I took years of piano lessons, and my dad enjoyed hearing me play probably more than anyone in our family.  He was extremely proud of his German heritage and this song was his favorite. . It's from the movie "Sound of Music".

-Going to the big livestock shows in Texas. . Dad was very competitive.  During our 4-H years, we showed Hereford heifers and steers, and he took great pride in us (my brother and I) showing prize winning animals.  He loved going to the livestock shows- -Abilene, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Houston and San Angelo to compete and also visit with rural families from all over the state.  These families were some of our closest family friends while growing up. Doing 4-H and going to livestock shows are probably my best memories involving our family being together.

- Going to the Mereta Co-op Gin office. Dad worked at this same cotton gin and grain elevator for about 40 years.  During cotton harvest, I would often go to the gin office to see my dad, as he would often have very late nights and I would not see for several days in a row. The gin office was often full of coffee-drinking farmers who gathered once and sometimes twice a day for a break and to catch up on the community news.  These guys were solid rock kind of men- usually weathered, tough looking guys who often had good sense of humors and were great story tellers.  These were some of my dad's closest friends.

-Studying maps at the dining room table. Dad loved to travel, both outside and inside the state of Texas. Sometimes at night, he would drag out a Texas or United States map and name a city for me to look up, and then have me plot the best route to get there.  It was a great exercise in geography and it caused us to dream about places where we wanted to visit someday.

- Long wild car rides to Montana for vacations.  During my years at home, I think we made 3 trips to Whitefish, Montana to visit my mom's aunts, uncles, and cousins who lived there.  Dad would sometimes drive 800+ miles in a day to get there and he NEVER drove slow.  I remember driving up to Aunt Annie's house in July and she was standing at the door, waving at us to hurry and come watch the TV. . .she said "They are landing on the moon right now. " Going to Montana gave me my first taste of what it's like to experience a cool summer.  I didn't know cool weather in the summer time existed till we visited there. And I fell in love with the Rocky Mountains on those trips.

-Working on the farm together.  When my brother left for college, I became Dad's farm hand, and in the summer, almost every evening when I was home, we would go and move 40 ft. irrigation joints by hand down on the river bottom where cotton and milo were growing. It was often at least 95 degrees in the evenings while we were doing this.  . .no wonder he had a heart attack when he was 52.  I was teased at school often in the fall about having the strongest biceps in the school, but working on the farm really shaped my work ethic for the rest of my life. Doing farm work taught me that there is great value in manual labor, and you will always survive if you are willing to work. . .work hard. . .and do a job right.

As with most children, there are many things I wish I could have changed about our relationship through the years. It was not perfect, and all of us have faults. . . .but he did all that he knew how to do to raise my brother and I to be high achievers and good citizens in our communities.  I am thankful that Dad's mind was sharp until the day he died, and that he was always reading and studying.

The Bible says in James 4:14 "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."  Watching my dad pass from this life into another really made me think about the purpose and value of each day of our lives. I have learned that one's health is really a gift, that we have one shot to use our time for something of worth and purpose , and that life is not about us, it's about Jesus. . .if we really are sincere about calling ourselves Christians. Treasure this day . . .there is no promise of another one.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tommy. . .

Someday I went to grow up and be like Tommy.

When I met Tommy during our first trip to Ghana, I felt like I was talking to an old family friend. He was just like the men I had grown up with . . Tommy is from a rural community in Alabama, was a part-time farmer and had owned a auto mechanic shop . He is a salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar kind of guy. Kind of weathered and tough looking, he loves Jesus as much as anyone I know, . . .and it shows. . .

Now in his mid-seventies, he has lived full-time in Ghana for around 10 years as a missionary in the village of Nalerigu and the surrounding communities. He had done short-term missions with his wife to Ghana, and following her death from cancer, he moved to Ghana to live with and love the people there. He is amazing. He is completely fluent in the native local language, and as I watched him interact with the local folks, he is truly loved and respected by the people. And he has a toughness and sparkle in his eye that keeps him young way beyond his years. . .I loved watching him zip around the compound on his little motorcycle. He has the same grin while he is riding it as my 20-year old son.

Tommy has built a home in the village and has a farm outside of town. He has a preaching and teaching ministry to the nearby communities, and he works with the farmers on improving their farming techniques. Tommy had a small tractor shipped to Ghana, so he could help the local farmers plow their fields, which are typically worked by hand. Our culture so exalts book knowledge and brains, but Tommy’s giftedness with his hands was beyond compare. He can fix anything.

As Todd and I enter the “empty nest” and approach the retirement stage of life, the discussion of what to do with the rest of our lives comes up often. . .I am asking the Lord that I just want to be like Tommy, living and loving people with a Gospel kind of love for the rest of my life. And if the Lord sends us to another part of the world to serve, so be it. . .but there are also tons of folks right here in our community who are crying out for someone to love them in Jesus’ name.

In our culture, retirement has been so exalted and lifted up as one of the ultimate goals as we grow older, that we often think we are “entitled” to years of hobbies, trips and social outings. . .but retirement is mentioned nowhere in the Bible. We may “retire” from our daily jobs, but where do we get the idea that we can rotate hunting, fishing, golfing, crafting and other time-consuming hobbies for the rest of our days here on earth? A majority of Moses’ ministry didn’t get started till he was 40 years old. . .and he led the people daily till he simply went up on a mountain and “was gathered to his fathers”. . .

When we chose to serve Jesus all of our days as Tommy has done, there is often a cost. . . he has given up years of living near his grown children and their families, and he struggles with not being near his grandchildren and being part of their daily lives. . ..Tommy goes home about once a year, but his love for the people of Ghana keeps drawing him back. He knows there will be a day when he will need to go home for good, and that day may be sooner than later. . .but in the mean time, he is serving  and showing Jesus to folks who need all the hope they can get.

I wanted to write about Tommy because I don't ever want to forget him and the impression he made on me during my two visits to Ghana this past year. . He reminded me so much of Dorothy Mazuk (for those of you who knew her) . .. They both have taught me that life is all about serving Jesus by loving people . . .and there's really nothing else that compares.

Yup, I want to grow up and be like Tommy. . . .

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Second Trip to Ghana- Feb. 2010

Shortly before Christmas 2009, Cindi Dauphin, our pastor’s wife and good friend for over 10 years now, asked if I wanted to go to Ghana in February to help Hollie Dickens with the children while her husband Joel (physician/ medical missionary) attended a physician’s conference in Kenya for two weeks. Never in a million years could I have imagined returning to Ghana for another visit in the same year. Only God could orchestrate that. So I returned to Ghana with Cindi and while the location was familiar, the experiences were different.

Favorite memories:

-Long walks in the cool of the mornings with Abigail (2yrs) and AnnaLeigh (6 mo.) in their stroller. Each morning, we would go and feed the pet monkey on the Compound, say hello to the head cook in the guest lodge, and greet all the workers, visiting doctors and missionaries who were finishing breakfast and beginning to start their day. It was a wonderful social time for all three of us. The Ghana natives even have greeting they use each day, loosely translated “Cool of the morning to you.” The mornings were my favorite time of day there.

-Helping Colt (age8) with his homeschooling each morning. As much as I would love to be a nurse, or artist, I know that God has given me a gift and love to teach, no matter what age the person is. Helping Colt was a blessing and fun for me, and he and I formed a special friendship from spending that much time together.

- Interacting with the visiting physicians. Because both of the resident doctors were gone to the conference in Kenya, a group of physicians came to fill in, mainly retired guys and a few still practicing. . .It was the retired guys that so impressed me. . One of the 80-year old surgeons would perform 8-9 surgeries a day, and by end of the day, he could hardly stand up from being on his feet all day. . .but he didn’t complain and had a wonderful countenance about him. . Another doctor had Cindi and I help him take notes while he examined patients. . .He was constantly teaching us about the diseases and ailments he was seeing. He prayed with each patient, no matter if the patient was a believer or not, and led a couple of people to the Lord in his examining room. . .he too understood that he was being Jesus’ hands and feet to a group of people who so desperately needed his skill and expertise.

-The fragility of Life. Since I spent more time at the clinic this visit, I was more aware of the devastating effects of preventable disease on families, especially the children. . One of the retired visiting pediatricians said during a devotion time one night,” I have signed more death certificates this week than I have my entire career.” Death is such a part of daily life there, that it made me realize that each day is truly a gift from the Lord.

-Visits with Hollie, of course. I came to realize the importance of face-to-face visits with foreign missionaries. It’s important to pray for them and support them financially, but to go and spend time with them is incredibly valuable. The foreign mission field can be lonely and isolating, and a familiar face from home can be spiritually and mentally rejuvenating. I have learned to never underestimate that.

-Sharing an adventure with my friend Cindi. . .There is nothing quite like traveling to the other side of the world with someone to deepen a friendship.  The long plane rides, the hours of waiting at airports, traveling to and from the remote village of Nalerigu, shopping in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and discussions about books, our children, life and the Lord are very special memories to me.  All I can do is thank Jesus for the opportunity to share this journey with her.

I never want to forget what I  learned in Ghana, the 9th poorest country in the world. I still struggle with what I saw, and I pray that the Lord will continue to convict my soul with caring for the hungry and needy in our world, as described in Isaiah 58.

2010 has flown by. . . .

I can’t believe that nearly 6 months have flown by since I have sat down to write a few words on the blog. I can safely say that this has been one of the busiest years of our lives. . .with lots of big memorable events that have shaped our winter, spring and now summer . I am going to go back in time and write about some of these events not only to share with you, but to help me remember what God has let me experience and taught me through these events. If I believe Romans 8:28, then all things that have happened this year “will work together for good for those who are called in Christ Jesus.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hospitality from Poverty- Part 1

Here is an excerpt from a book I recently read concerning hospitality- -

"After returning to Zambia from a visit in the United States, we were delighted by the visits of Zambian friends who came to welcome us back and welcome our new baby.

As we played with each other's babies, I noticed with pain how tiny their little Linda was. At a year, she was only a little heavier than our three-month old Frieda. I thought of their other children. They once had four, but two had died from diarrhea.
After a while our friend Lenty signaled to his wife and with a smile she handed us a basket. Looking in, I saw a heap of small Irish potatoes and what looked some plastic trash. I exclaimed with real gratitude about the potatoes, knowing the sacrifice they must have made to find this special treat for their potato-loving white friends.

Lenty leaned forward and picked up the plastic. Holding it out to me with pleasure and dignity, he said, "This is for your baby." My eyes refocused and I saw with a jolt what he was giving her: two little clear plastic glasses and two lovely flat plastic dishes. I thanked him with all the grace I could muster, hoping he had not noticed my lack of composure.

Later, I fought tears as I sat holding those little disposable dishes with "Zambia Airways" inscribed on the bottoms. Why is our world so ordered that people with several sets of dishes constantly discard mountains of containers after a single use? And those who would be pleased to carefully wash and reuse the disposables come upon them so rarely that they treat them as treasures?

- Lynda Meiser, former missionary to Zambia

From the book "Extending the Table"

"Lord, to those who hunger, give bread.

And to those who have bread, give the hunger for justice."- Central American Prayer