Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Assignment - at home in Nebraska and Iowa

One of the biggest joys on our trip around the US is seeing family again and meeting new people. We usually have a mix of both at each stop on our way, seeing church family we have stayed with before and meeting new members while there. But in general our family is in different States than the congregations we visit.

Leaving our Minnesota church family we rented a car and began the 'road trip' section of our Home Assignment. From Minneapolis we would drive the rest of the trip - to Omaha, Nebraska, over to  Muscatine, Iowa, on to Curtice, Ohio, back to Indianapolis, Indiana, and finally to Chicago, illinois where we would fly out. We left Minnesota with a light powdering of snow on the ground and fog in the air wondering what Omaha would be like when we arrived about 5 hours later. We heard that Minnesota received a foot of snow after we left, but we arrived in Omaha with no snow.

Once arrived in Omaha we found a hotel, checked in and headed over to Shirley's sister's, pretty much just around the corner. From there we were able to go to her son's house where we were all together for dinner. What a great evening - finally being able to see each other again!
The next day we planned to attend Southwest church of Christ, where we had visited back in 2007. Walking in the door we were enthousiastically welcomed by Joan Hazelwood who knew we were to be in Omaha and hoped that we would be coming by. How fun and encouraging to be so welcomed! Joan and LaVerne had been in the congregation when Shirley was growing up and Joan had allowed us to translate her curriculum for Belgium and the Netherlands. We also ran into Lane Hinton, who had been one of our 'students' for a summer back in the 90's.
We only had a coupe of days in Omaha, but we were able to spend as much time as possible with family, doing a bit of shopping, Scott got his hair cut and we did a lot of catching up. We even drove over to see a neighborhood with an amazing light display. We are so thankful for these opportunities and how this is made possible by the generosity of so many. We couldn't have been in the States if others hadn't brought us over.

After a much too short visit in Omaha, we jumped in the car and headed over to Muscatine, Iowa. It was Shirley's birthday, so we had some heartfelt goodbyes with her sister, stopped to get a Nebraska sweatshirt (some things are just important!) and went out to eat when we finally drove in to Muscatine about 5 hours later.

in Musactine we were staying at our 'regular' place. This place is far from regular, but the Huddleston's see us as family (since we have stayed with them several times) and we feel very much at home. So we simply let ourselves in. Muscatine is a congregation where we have many familiar faces and church family (including the Schellekens, with whom we have worked since 1982!), but it was here that we were thrilled to meet a whole group of new people.

In the 5 days we were in Muscatine we had several chances to meet the congregation and get to know them better. On Wednesday evening Shirley went to the ladies group while Scott went to a different class. Afterwards we had a meet and greet around dessert foods.
We found out that the church family in Muscatine often meets around food. The following three evenings we had dinner and then dessert with various groups - elders, deacons, wives included, long-time friends and then the youth as well. The exciting thing was being able to meet so many new families as well as reconnect with old friends. On Sunday we talked about our work during the class, Scott preached and then went to sing with a group at a rest home. In the evening we visited with the youth again and two different classes before praying with the elders. We always want to be of use when we visit and we were glad to be able to do so many things here.
In the meantime we also enjoyed a quiet home and even went out to The Hobbit - it's a three-parter, so be warned (tongue firmly in cheek). On a rainy morning we drove off on our way to Ohio where we will finally meet our soon-to-be daughter-in-law and see our son.

You can see more pictures over here. We were busy meeting people in Iowa, so we don't have much of any pictures. Did you take some? We would love to see them!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On Assignment - at home in Minnesota

As we arrived in Minnesota, expecting cold, winter weather, we were greeted by the providence of God and the grace shown through his children. Our family at Woodbury blanketed us in warm fellowship and sharing. It was a very busy visit, but full of a restful busyness. And to start it all out we were welcomed with a car on loan, a gps to get us around, and a hotel room for the first night – time to be together after a lot of traveling.
Our time in Minnesota was mostly filled with visits with the various ‘Life groups’ which meet throughout the week – church in practice outside of the Sunday morning. Each evening we met a different group and on Sunday we met three! Sometimes we talked about what we were doing, but most of the time we simply took part in the study and discussion (this time about ‘downward mobility’ – very interesting thought!) and did some singing. So we not only met the members, but heard their hearts for Christ as well.
In the meantime we spent time in the hospitality of two homes as different and similar as can be from each other. We started in the home of the Chenoweths, whose children are married or off to college – much like ourselves. Their home is in the country, out by a lake, and provided wonderful daily walks for us. There was a quiet, a peace – except when we watched Nebraska lose to Wisconsin on the big screen one night. Otherwise, our time was filled with gracious and challenging conversation, gathered in the living room together.
About half-way through we moved over to the Davidson house – a family we have known for some time, but which has changed in the years. This is a growing family, with four young boys (the oldest being just 10) and the last of the four girls (we still remember Malia, now 16, when she was just 5). Plenty of activity, questions, fun and evident loving hearts. Scott played lego all day with the boys, we went for walks in the park and continued to enjoy the life groups in the evenings. Both homes – for they are truly homes and we felt very much at home – were places of rest. One was a place of calm rest and discussion, the other an energetic vibrancy that hugged us deeply.
We met many new people on this stop and look forward to getting to know them more in the future. We saw a vibrant, caring, living church caring for each other. What a great encouragement for us! As we moved on from Minnesota, now driving to Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio, we were greeted with a light snow – just so that we knew that it does snow in Minnesota. It was a day later – after we had safely arrived in Nebraska – that we heard that about a foot more had fallen. Some more busy rest?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

On Assignment - at home in Texas

Our relationship with the congregation at S. 11th and Willis in Abilene, Texas molded much of our mission-mindedness. We were married on December 21, 1984  - the day Shirley graduated from Harding University - and drove from Searcy, Arkansas to Abilene, Texas where Scott would finish at Abilene Christian University. We arrived on a Saturday late and Sunday morning went to services with the couple we were staying with. It was S. 11th & Willis that welcomed us and we have remained with this congregation in our hearts all the years since. They took us out to lunch that Sunday (everyone drinks sweet ice tea), showed us around town and made sure that we had everything we needed (including, in the coming weeks, a place to stay and a car to use). 
When we attended ‘Willis’, it was a congregation with a strong emphasis on missions and reaching out no matter where you are. They are still a missions congregation all these years later. It was exciting to see the work being done with some of the refugees from Burundi, the long emphasis and dedicated love for the church in Kenya, both deaf and hearing, the deaf congregation at Willis and all the local efforts to be the body of Christ in the community. We usually end our home assignements here – that is how the loop of travel works out, and it means that we have a safe, restful place before we head back to Belgium. This time Texas is in the middle of our travel loop, but it was just as encouraging.
We were treated to a surprise when the congregation held a reception and money tree for Stephan and Natalie on the first Sunday we were present. They had mentioned to us that they wanted to bless the couple, and Stephan was ‘theirs’! Stephan was born in Abilene and his first Bible came in cradle roll from this wonderful family. To make it complete, we mentioned that we could skype with Stephan and Natalie during the reception – what a great thing technology can be! So, although it was quite difficult to hear one another, many in the congregation were able to meet Natalie and say hello to Stephan.
E.B., Jean and Max
Throughout the week we took the opportunities offered to meet with members – often for lunch or dinner (everyone still drinks sweet tea). Sitting down together always brings with it a level of fellowship and unity. We stayed with E.B. and Jean Dotson who originally arrived in Abilene about the time we did all those years ago. E.B. takes so many missionaries' tax worries on his shoulders and  Jean's heart goes out to everyone seeking peace who doesn't know that peace is truly to be found in Christ. We are so thankful that we are able to spend time with them (and with Max, the parrot this time). We also visited Amanda Martin who is now studying at ACU – amazing to see how ‘our’ young people (Amanda is from the congregation in Long Beach) are all grown up! Scott was also able to connect with a friend from his high school days for a good talk.
Thanksgiviing beckoned and Black Friday loomed this week as well. We were blessed to be ale to share Thanksgiving with the Bundy’s in Graham, Texas (about 90 minutes away). Good food and fellowship there as well. This was all possible because of the giving hearts of members back at Willis lending us their car. As someone mentioned recently: perhaps it was fitting that we were leant a convertible in California and a pick-up truck in Texas. We were very thankful for both!
At home with the McNeill's
Scott brought the sermon the second Sunday morning in Texas and we headed out to Haslet, Texas to meet up with the McNeill’s, our long-time friends and supporters. It was good to drive up, unload and be completely at home. There are some families that can do that for you and such are the McNeill’s. It was a very short visit, but we were thankful to be able to see them and check up again before they drove us very early in the morning to our flight to Minnesota.

These people were some of the first to teach us about giving and sharing. It was good to see them, hard to miss some who have passed away, but encouraging to know that we will all meet again. That has always been enphasized. And their example of giving and sharing is something we try to continue in our lives. Now we are the ones who welcome young couples, young people, young Christians and show them the beauty of living daily with Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

On Assignment - at home in Colorado

Visiting with Yumiko
Our next stop was Colorado where most of Scott’s family lives. We only had 5 days to cover Colorado Springs and Denver, so we tried to get in as much as possible within everyone’s schedule. We usually come in the summer when at least the kids are out of school. People cannot simply drop their jobs and spend time with us, but it was great to be able to plan an evening when Scott’s family was able to get together for pizza. A chance to meet the new husband of a niece, talk about plans and school and jobs, and see how everyone has grown. We want to be an encouragement wherever we are and hope the time we spend together is just that.
For the few days in Colorado Springs, we were able to visit with our sister-in-law, do a bit more shopping (shoes!), enjoy a good Bible study evening at the Pikes Peak Avenue congregation and drive around the city visiting old haunts before we headed up to Denver. In the meantime, Scott was also checking his email every morning to make sure that things were going okay back in Maastricht and with son Sean. Technology is great when it keeps us in touch with one another! We were even able to call Willemien (our sister in Christ in Maastricht) one morning. We usually see her every Tuesday afternoon. This time we were only able to give her a call while others are caring so well for her, but it was so good to hear her voice.
We headed back up to Denver to spend time with Scott’s older brother and sister and their spouses. Gathered around the table with good food and lively conversation, memories and stories flowed freely. We all change over time and it is good to see what that change looks like. Imagine if we only allowed everyone to remain as they were when they were our ‘little brother’ or ‘older sister’. We change and we want to allow others to change as well.
We also had a good visit with the Rog family, re-connecting and seeing how they have been blessed. The connection that is shared in Christ is special and exciting. Our visits in Denver hold many of these blessings. Scott’s best friend, Bret Carter, met us for lunch and a good heart-to-heart. The next night we finally got to see one of his musicals performed as well. That evening and the next day at the airport (you try to fill every possible minute) we made the most of the conversations with Ron and Jean Carter and Hans and Julie Oehlert as well (AND we got to see Rachel and Caleb!).

Colorado was a whirlwind family visit full of emotion, nostalgia, beauty and family of all kinds. This leg seemed to fly by and left us slightly gasping for air for various reasons. We were able to get an early birthday/Christmas present for Shirley (an iPad) with the financial help of Scott’s brother, Chris, and generous gifts from church family along the way. But the visit seemed too short. And this will not be the first time we experience this elation and evisceration.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

On Assignment - at home in California

I recently read a very good article stating some things that for us were very obvious, but for many are obviously not very clear. You can read the article here. What Dale mentioned spurred me on to take a moment to let you see what it is that we are doing on this trip. I know that when we explain to our neighbors and some others that we are going to be gone for two months they are astonished that we would take such a long vacation. 
Home Assignment (I used to call it 'furlough') is a blessed mixture of encouragement and encouraging – or at least that is how we see it and what we desire it to be. We want desperately, not only to have time to get to know new people in the congregations supporting us, but to re-establish ties with those we already know and have been missing, to use any time we have at a congregation to encourage and help, and to learn new things while we are in the US. Along the way we also get to see our family. And there are so many people who so much want to be a blessing to us, to give us a time of refreshing and rest.

As you have read, our Home assignment every three years covers quite a bit of territory – usually at least 6 states and 9 cities, visiting at least 8 different congregations. We basically have 4 supporting congregations: Long Beach, 11th & Willis in Abilene, Texas, Woodbury in Minnesota, and Muscatine in Iowa. Our family, however is in neither of the four states those congregations are in. So we are blessed (and it truly is also a blessing) with the possibility for lots of travel – usually a combination of air travel and road travel.

We are now about halfway through our travels. We started this time in Long Beach, California where we were blessed by being able to take part almost right away in ‘First Fridays’. The local businesses spend the evening showing themselves along the boulevard, getting people to come inside, doing something special to let the community know who they are. The congregation in Long Beach understood that they, too, could let people know that they are a presence in the neighborhood. So they pass out water along with information about the church. They are the face of the congregation on that evening and we were able to share this with them.
Our visits are often a micture of food and conversation. This way we get to meet members and catch up on what is happening in our lives or get to know each other. Thankfully, members often invite others along so that we all share this time. In Long Beach Scott preached and answered questions at a meeting of the elders and deacons (reporting on how things are going in Maastricht) and Scott and Shirley were able to sit in the Sunday morning Bible study as well as a mid-week study. We were able to take part in a prayer evening that is regularly organized by the church. This group regularly prays for us and keeps abreast of our needs - what a blessing! And Shirley headed off for a weekend to a Ladies Retreat in the mountains.
Along with these moments of sharing we also were simply part of our host family in Long Beach, the Jablonski’s. Scott went with the family to daughter Zoey’s volleyball game (they were in the play-offs vying for State).  Shirley knew that she needed to find her dress for the wedding at the end of our travels, so Wanda Martin took her shopping – and they found a dress! More shopping time would follow, since shoes are also needed. Walks in the park, making lunch together or taking an afternoon to see local sights were also among the encouraging moments before we moved on.

These are times of blessing and giving that always astonish us - even though they should not. We have learned about giving and how much God blesses, from people like these. The congregation got together to bless us in a special way financially before we left, but they had already lent us their cars, hosted us in their homes and fed us bodily and spiritually.