My, my, my how the weeks fly by! That’s a good thing because even as much fun as we’re having, January 7th can’t get here soon enough!
We had a great few days in Dickinson, Texas with Pastor’s Carter and Laura Ware. What an honor it was to be there for the church’s 1st anniversary. They have been supporting the work in Niger since they opened. And we love their church name and vision: “Faith For All Nations: Our mission is the Great Commission!” What a vision! Had a great time with their family and loved spending time with several church members. Wonderful people! Pastor Carter ‘forced’ us to go to their kick-boxing class. Now I have been doing pretty good keeping up with my workouts while we’re traveling (it’s the eating part I’ve NOT been doing well with) but that workout was downright mean!! I’m pretty sure people would have paid dearly to watch Neal and I attempt to become black-belts in 1 hour. 2 days later we were both so sore that bringing food to our mouths was painful. Tragic! Thanks Master Garza! “I buffet my body….make it my slave…. Yeah, right.
From Dickinson, we moved on to Conroe, Texas, to another new church pastored by some old friends. They’re not old, mind you, just been friends for awhile. It has been amazing to us how God has really connected us with new churches or new beginnings on this trip. We had a fantastic time with Pastors Alan & Donna Anglin, pastors of Conroe Christian Center, a church that is going to multiply. What an honor to be a part of that! Donna not only supplied ‘our’ room with all kinds of goodies that we loved (but certainly did not need), we enjoyed lots of home-cooked meals. We attended the Conroe Cajun Catfish Festival and met ourselves some real live rednecks. (Is it okay to say that?) It was just nice to reconnect with friends and make new ones. God is doing big things there.
Next, we flew from Houston to Minneapolis to see our kids! We were excited! This was on October 12th and our flight from Houston was delayed because of the snow in Mpls! In October! Despite the cold, we had a great time with Tanika and Tobi. They have fit into their new but temporary world quite well. My mom and dad picked us up at the airport and after a nice breakfast/lunch (yep, more food) with them, we went straight to the church, where we were going to meet Tobi at his choir practice. Tanika met us there as well. It was so great to see them and I had to make myself not think about the fact that we would be leaving again only 4 days later. Tanika is quite busy with the online classes she is taking, and her 2 day a week babysitting job. Great experience as she is taking care of a 1 and 3 year old. Keeps her hoppin’! But she’s great at it! Tobi was ‘Star of the Week’ at school and we were his show and tell. After he introduced us as his parents and missionaries, we all sang a song in Hausa while Tobi played the drum. It was obvious how loved he is by his classmates, and by his teacher. The feeling is mutual. Then we answered questions from the kids like ‘Has Tobi ever been lost in Africa?’, and ‘Does Tobi ever get in trouble at church?’ It was very comical. Tanika has helped in the classroom and it was very evident that the kids LOVE her as well. One of them even told me she was his best friend. Very sweet. Though I’m more than thankful to be raising our kids in Niger, I’m also thankful for the experience in American culture that they are getting – just for a few months. And they are making great memories with family that are priceless. While I was wrapped in blankets (yes, plural), Tobi seemed to embrace the cold. He would run around the house in his boxers. It made me cold to look at him. He was so sweet all week – wanting to make sure we were happy with him. But the week did come to an end. It was hard to leave again. But as hard as it was, it was one of those things that we knew was for the best. Tobi did much better this time around, crying only once. Tanika and I were fighting tears as well. The tears won.
Back we went for 1 more night in Conroe with the Anglins (and more goodies). From there we traveled to Little Rock and though we weren’t able to stay with our good friends the McGowan’s, we were able to stay with our good friends the Dorsch’s. My we are blessed with good friends! We LOVED being back at Agape church – enjoying our first Sunday morning service there in over 11 years. We ministered on Sunday night and loved it. Neal said it was one of the easiest places he’s preached. Monday night we had a get-together with Arkansas friends and really enjoyed meeting some of our partners for the first time. Tuesday, after lunch with Pastor Pat and Kathy Dezort, we made our way to Tulsa – an unexpected trip. Having a condo (Neal’s mom and dad’s) and a son there is a big draw. We used the few days to get a lot of stuff done, the biggest being the mailing of gifts to the partners we weren’t going to see. Trae is doing great and was quite busy with all the things a motivated college freshman has going on, complete with a significant other. We were happy to be able to spend time with both Trae and Christi and look forward to being back in Tulsa next week. Trae turned into an official adult on Oct 11th- He was in Michigan on his fall break at the time. That’s the first birthday we’ve not been together…
We returned to Little Rock for one more night, and were met with an incredible steak dinner prepared by John and Cathie Dorsch. Our meal even included rasberry sorbet to cleanse our pallet. What a treat!!! Then on to Bay Saint Louis, MS. Though new to us, this church has supported Neal’s parents for 31 years. In fact the first check the church wrote was to their ministry. Pastor Tyrone and Carol were wonderful and soon after we arrived they whisked us away to a local seafood restaurant, where the food was prepared the only way they know how to do it in the South – stunningly. (For lack of a more dramatic word). We discovered incredible people and amazing testimonies/miracles as we were given first hand tours of the effects of Katrina in this area. This church- Word of Faith, was a center for 3 years for teams that came from all over the US to help rebuild. Amazing stories. It was an honor to be among them.
Moving right along to Covington/Slidell/Mandeville, LA we moved in for a few days with our good friends John & Deb Mauterer. John is planning his 3rd trip to Niger in February – a medical team from Church of the King. It was so much fun to meet with the team while we were there. Because of John’s PR skills and our friendship, we believe divine connections were made in this area that will produce great fruit in Niger – and North Africa. In addition to all the connecting, many memories were made. First, they fed us what we have now dubbed ‘missionary crackers’. Crackers that expired in 2007. Rancid! That’s all I can say. In their defense, they did claim to have purchased them only 2 weeks earlier… Then there was the Dakota’s fiasco. They showed us the gift certificates they had for this high end restaurant and we were pretty sure that as good as we were at eating that we would not be able to consume that much food. Oh, how wrong we were. The atmosphere was wonderful, and it seemed as if we each had our own server. More seafood. Oh, incredible seafood. And to think I used to dislike the stuff. That must have been in a past life. The entree’s were pricey, but sounded so wonderful. So when they asked if we would like a salad we were shocked to find that the salad was not included with the entree. But alas, no worries. We had gift certificates. So salads we ordered. As well as beverages, appetizers and desserts. They even brought us a complimentary appetizer – which is worthy of it’s own post! Yep, we did it all. Then comes the bill. Neal, in his indirect/direct way asked if the certificates covered it. You see, we’ve never eaten food that expensive. Ever. John says ‘It’s cool. All we’ll have to pay is what we would have paid if we had gone to a ‘normal’ restaurant.” Hmmm. Okay. Out come the certificates. One of the servers brings them back a couple of minutes later and says “Excuse me sir, do you happen to have the plastic cards that came with these certificates?” John pauses a bit and says, “hmmmmmm. let me think. Ohhhhhh. Oops. I just remembered, we’ve already used those.” Ooops? That’s all you can say????? You mean you now have to pay for this entire meal? Can we give back the salads? Or, could we wash some dishes? John covered it very well, acting like it was no big deal. And in the whole scheme of life, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But right then and there, Neal and I felt his pain. Thanks John. As time passes, the memories that were made that night will be well worth what they cost! Despite the blunder, we had a great week and as I said, many connections were made. And I was peopled out!
From there, we headed up to Shreveport, LA, another new church for us (we have really been believing God for open doors to new churches/support/partners this trip). Eugene and Christy McBride are new pastors of Life Tabernacle, a church started in 1940. A church that has a very rich history. It was an honor to be in their pulpit. After the service? Well, we’re still in Louisiana so we ate. This time it was smoked chicken and brisket, baked beans, potato salad and rolls. It was Pastor Eugene’s daughter’s bridal shower. So in addition to all of that there were loads of sweet things, complete with a chocolate fountain. Homemade candy – all in the chocolate family. It was heavenly. Just what we needed for our road trip back for the last time to Little Rock. Which is where we are right now. It is our 37th stop. Which is why January 7th can’t come soon enough!