The Incomprehensible Mystery of Evil

There has been a lot written and said on this 20th anniversary of 9/11. I would like to share a blog written by our Executive Pastor, an immigrant from Cuba. His words, and those of Billy Graham below speak God’s truth better than I ever could. I hope you enjoy the read. The words below belong to Reinaldo, not to me.

Dan

“They say you don’t forget the days when fateful events takes place. Works for me. I distinctly remember being in the 8th grade when shortly after lunch on Friday, November 22, 1963, our teacher, a nun, was called out of the classroom and then returned with a grim look on her face. It was then that she informed us in her heavily Italian accent that “President-e Kennedy has-a been-a shot!” I suppose that the fact that John Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic U.S. President was of particular significance to her and her fellow sisters. She had us all stand and recite the rosary. I was only 13 then, but I knew enough to comprehend that this was an act of evil the likes of which seldom occur. But that’s not the only fateful day which stuck with me; there were others, such as the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle on January 28, 1986. But there’s one more which has impacted me the most over the years …

9-11-nasa-image-picture-for-2nd-paragraphI’ll never forget driving to JB’s for a breakfast meeting with Hope and some others twenty years ago on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when I heard on the radio that a plane had hit one of the twin towers in Manhattan. At first, I assumed it was a tragic accident. But as I continued driving, I heard on the radio some 15 minutes later that the other tower was also hit, and I knew then that this was no accident but an act of horrendous evil. And about an hour after I arrived at our meeting—we were too sad and dumbfounded to discuss what we had planned—we learned that the Pentagon was hit as well. And later we learned that a fourth hijacked plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania with no survivors.

Evil days have a way of taking up residence in our heads—and never checking out.

The numbers alone are staggering: 2,997 people were killed, mostly civilians in Manhattan, including 344 firefighters, 71 police officers, and 55 military personnel. And then there were the injured, 6,000+, many of whom experience health problems to this day from the dust and fumes they inhaled that day.

I do not personally know any one of the nearly 3,000 souls who died that day. And I’m sure that I would be writing a much better, heartfelt blog if I did. And so, rather than expressing my own feelings about the events of that day I will quote from someone who lost a loved one on 9-11. I recently read on The Dispatch about Kimberly Rex whose dad, Vincent Litto, perished on 9-11 in one of the Twin Towers (Ms. Rex is a freelance writer for CNN, The Washington Post, and other publications). She wrote,

vincent-litto--kimberly-rexLosing someone on 9/11 was like watching them disappear. They were there, and then they weren’t. On Sept. 10, 2001, I ate dinner beside my father in our Staten Island home. I was 19 and sat at his left, as usual. I watched him shake spoonfuls of grated cheese onto his soup. He was right next to me: flesh and bones, salt-and-pepper hair and a sharp nose. The next day, the plane hit. Fire raged and smoke billowed. Then the floor where he stood, the walls, the ceilings and the windows crumbled away into dust. And the people inside disappeared.As if I could forget how small my mother looked in their bed that night, drugged into sleep after hours of agony, curled up like a tiny fetus, lost in the vast bed he’d slept in just the night before. As if I don’t remember the moment I finally knew that my father was never coming home. Or I don’t remember the sound of my sister’s cries down the hall when that moment came for her. Or the day we told my grandparents that there was no one left to be rescued, that their son was somewhere in that pile of rubble and yet he wasn’t there at all. The terrible sound of my grandfather’s voice as he sobbed, ‘My baby. My baby’ about his 52-year-old son. The wordless wails my grandmother made as she lay on my sister’s shoulder.” The Washington Post and CNN, September 5, 2021

They were there, and then they weren’t.” It’s even harder to forget when evil pays a visit to a close family member. Even after 20 years, the memories of the lost loved ones persist.

I drove to work later that morning, but within a few hours UNM closed all its campuses for the remainder of the day. And so, I drove home to be with Hope and the kids. My family needed me, and I needed them. Classes resumed the next day, but I took the day off on Friday of that week. I wanted to watch the memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. scheduled for that day. And I wanted my family to watch it with me. And so, we did.

Several prominent politicians and clergy spoke on Friday September 14, 2001, but no one expressed our collective sentiments of loss with truth and persuasive eloquence as did the Rev. Billy Graham. Here’s a link to a video of his 11½-minute message: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VptxoWl0pxI&t=6s

You can read the entire text of his message here: https://billygraham.org/story/a-day-to-remember-a-day-of-victory/

He began his message with these words,

We come together today to affirm our conviction that God cares for us, whatever our ethnic, religious or political background may be. The Bible says that He is ‘the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.’ …God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.’

He then turned his thoughts to the lessons that we can learn from the tragedy that just happened,

billy-graham-9-11First, we are reminded of the mystery and reality of evil. I have been asked hundreds of times in my life why God allows tragedy and suffering. I have to confess that I really do not know the answer, even to my own satisfaction. I have to accept, by faith, that God is sovereign, and that He is a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering. The Bible says God is not the Author of evil; it speaks of evil as a mystery. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7 it talks about the mystery of iniquity. The Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah said, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure; who can understand it?’

The first passage he made mention of is actually from 2 Thessalonians 2.7. The context is that of a future “man of lawlessness,” aka, “son of destruction” (v. 3). And then in the first part of v. 7 we read, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” Regardless of whether you believe that the worst is yet to come or that the best is yet to come, what we can all agree on is that a spirit of lawlessness has been operating on humanity since the Fall in the Garden. And we can also all agree that, as Jeremiah said, evil is endemic in our hearts even as it remains a mystery to us. For why would something which is so destructive, which causes so much pain and suffering, and which is contrary all that is good and that we long for in life be so prevalent? Jeremiah didn’t understand it. Who am I to think I get it?

But even though we can’t fully comprehend the mystery of evil we can know that in the midst of much evil there is even greater love, goodness, and hope from God. Billy Graham went on to say,

national-cathedral-crossHere in this majestic National Cathedral we see all around us the symbol of the cross. For the Christian, the cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, for He took them upon Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. But I love you. The story does not end with the cross, for Easter points us beyond the tragedy of the cross to the empty tomb. It tells us that there is hope for eternal life, for Christ has conquered evil and death and hell. Yes, there is hope. I’ve become an old man now, and I’ve preached all over the world. And the older I get, the more I cling to that hope that I started with many years ago.

His closing words that day continue to be a great source of comfort and encouragement to me.

My prayer today is that we will feel the loving arms of God wrapped around us and that as we trust in Him we will know in our hearts that He will never forsake us. We know also that God will give wisdom and courage and strength to the President and those around him. And this will be a day that we will remember as a Day of Victory.

Wow! How I wish I could preach like that! Such wisdom! Such love! It’s as close to hearing God Himself speak as we can get!

I have one closing thought for us. As we remember the horrendous and evil events of that day and especially how 3,000 innocent men, women, and children died senselessly, it is easy for us to hate the 19 hijackers and those who masterminded and abetted the attack. Their religion allows for hatred of their enemies—real and imagined—and vengeance. But ours does not. Jesus taught us to love and pray for our enemies and persecutors. Paul summarized this principle with these words,

19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 8.19-21

He says, “never avenge yourselves,” and “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” And then he concludes, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Failure to obey Christ when it comes to forgiving others—absolutely, unilaterally, and unconditionally—is tantamount to watering and fertilizing the evil which resides in our hearts. But to forgive our enemies and to pray and do good to those who persecute us is to yank out the evil in our hearts by the roots. There is no other way to overcome evil than by doing good—to everyone!

This coming Sunday we will hear again from my good friend Pastor Tom Lambelet who will be concluding his message on Jude. The title of his message for this Sunday is, “When Someone Doubts”; he describes his message as follows:

The Christian journey includes times of wrestling with questions, uncertainties and disappointments that can push our faith to the edge. From the book of Jude we will explore how we can process our doubt and how to help one another grow a deeper and more authentic faith.

Sounds to me like a great message! I hope you will join us, live or livestream.

Grace to you!

Pastor Reinaldo

To be a Minister of Reconciliation

A great article from an old Youth Pastor and friend.

Lead Freely

“Forgiveness is not a decision, it is a process”
(DR. CHARLOTTE VANOYEN-WITVLIET)

The summer of 2021 has been interesting for all of us. Not quite like 2020 when we were trying to get used to living in a global pandemic, we are now trying to accept when and how it should end. We are all in a different place as we grapple, and the wrestling match could go on for some time, as our humanity shows more and more. There is a pandemic which brings out the best and worst of everyone, but then there are so many other things that impact our outlook going forward…

…As I write this, the Taliban is once again setting up rule in Afghanistan, almost the minute after Western military forces leave the country.

…Haiti just experienced another devastating earthquake.

…Throughout this summer the outcry of the First Nations people is heard. It took…

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The Value of Consistency

Our Dark Horses series at church this summer has covered a lot of exciting people. Early on we talked about Gideon the wimp who won a war outnumbered 400-to-one. Last week we heard about a little one-handed assassin who escaped through a latrine and brought about 80-years of peace. With stories like these, it’s easy to think we aren’t accomplishing much.

But there are other stories. There are stories of those who had even greater success through consistency. In some ways these are boring heroes. In many ways they are encouraging.

Culture can make us feel like we are inadequate. If culture can make us feel unsuccessful, then they can produce a video and a book about how to become more successful, more happy, more epic—whatever that means.

Then the author becomes epically happy.

Some time ago I read a blog with the title “The Value of Sameness.” It featured Mister Rogers. I couldn’t find the old blog, but it came back to my mind because it fit our Dark Horse Hero so well this week. This week we have a boring hero—not the sermon, the guy! Anyway this same guy, when he died, left the entire country in mourning.

Like Mister Rogers, he did nothing epic. But, he was consistent and his impact was so immense the whole country mourned his passing.

I don’t know if any rumors went around after our Dark Horse Hero died, but plenty went around after Mister Rogers died. One was that he had been a navy seal who covered his twenty-five confirmed kills with commemorative arm tattoos. That’s why he wore long sleeve sweaters, you know. He wanted to cover his tattoos from the kids.

Why did these rumors circulate? I think on e reason is because we want to be exciting, and we want our heroes to be exciting too. We want to find out our parents are undercover Israeli agents with superpowers. We want Mister Rogers to be epic!

The truth is Fred Rogers never went into the military and never had a tattoo. His mother Nancy knitted his famous cardigans for him. He wore them in memory of her.

He wasn’t exciting. He was consistent.

What Fred Rogers did do was to graduate from Rollins College in Florida with a degree in music. Later he created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and hosted all 895 episodes. He composed over 200 songs for the show and imagined all of it’s fourteen characters into being.

He personally responded to every piece of man mail he received.

He weighed 143 pounds when he was 20, and 40, and 60 and forever and ever amen. A truly boring hero, he said he did this for his wife, as “I” has one letter, “love” has four letters, and “you” has three letters.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood started the same way from beginning to end.

He was a vegetarian who didn’t smoke or drink. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister.

He was married to Sara Joann from 1952 until his death in 2003. They had two sons James and John.

He got up each morning to swim laps, pray, and to “read the Bible and prepare himself for the day.”

He did do one exciting thing. He moved to Canada in the 60s. It was the CBC that talked him into putting his puppets down for a time and talking directly to viewers as Mister Rogers. Good things come from Canada.

During his mostly (Canada aside) non-epic life, he received 40 honorary degrees, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.

Fred Rogers often spoke at commencement ceremonies where he would ask for a time of silence to remember the people who invested in our lives. When he received his  Lifetime Achievement Emmy, he did it again. If you watch the above link, you will see what is truly epic about the man. He really seems to put into practice, “they will know you are Christians by your love.”

He wasn’t exciting. He was consistent. And for me, that is encouraging.

Our dark horse hero this week?

From age 30 to age 90 1Samuel 7:15 (NIV2011)  Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life. 16  From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. 17  But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also held court for Israel. And he built an altar there to the LORD.

At 90…

1Samuel 28:3 (NIV2011)  Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah.

Dan

We’re Dust

vvwa4Do you remember How the Grinch Stole Christmas? In the original book and movie, one thing he hates is the NOISE! I can so relate.

Then he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming,
“I must find some way to keep Christmas from coming!

For, tomorrow, I know all the Who girls and boys
Will wake bright and early. They’ll rush for their toys!

And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
There’s one thing I hate! All the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!

That is what my mid-week devotional for our church was about. It’s kinda like a VLOG. I’m tired of the media noise, the mask/no mask noise, the riot noise, the new restrictions/restrictions lifted noise. God knows we don’t need more noise. He knows we are but dust. If it doesn’t show up in your browser below, you can check it out here.

 

Unexpected Jesus

snotWe have had an infant, almost a toddler, living at our house for the last few weeks. They are wonderful, cute, (smelly), cuddly and all that stuff. But what’s the worst thing about an infant in your house?

It’s not the diapers.

It’s not the sickness.

It’s the snot-sucker.

I didn’t like them when we had infants of our own, and I don’t like them now.

Today they try to make them better by lying. They now call them “Baby Nasal Aspirators,” made with “ergonomic design.” I even saw a $200 electric “Medical Heavy Duty” model. That’s flat scary, some things don’t need more horsepower. Besides, a rose is still a rose, clean one out and you’ll agree.

It’s a snot-sucker.

The Magi went to Jerusalem, looking for, “The King of the Jews.” They expected to find the King in the capital. They went to the palace.

But He wasn’t in Jerusalem, He was five miles away in Bethlehem.

Jesus wasn’t in the Palace or the Temple.

He was in a feeding-trough.

His earthly dad wasn’t a king or a priest, and His mom wasn’t a queen. They were teenagers stuck a long way from home.

Jesus wasn’t wearing a crown. He was wearing a diaper. And, if there was an equivalent to Baby Nasal Aspirators at the time, I’d bet mother Mary had one.

The Magi didn’t get the King they expected. This had to be a massive shocker.

Yet they worshipped.

We all have expectations of Jesus. We want a Jesus of our making. We’re interested in Jesus because we think He might give us that spouse, or ideal job, or even just decent health. But that isn’t worshipping Jesus, that’s worshipping a Jesus-as-you-wish. That’s an idol.

Jesus IS, and that’s enough reason to worship.

This Christmas, let’s sacrifice our expectations.

Let’s worship Jesus.

Period.

Dan

Humor, The Babylon Bee, and Snopes

mockup-08ba252e_1200x1200Why I love humor, the Babylon Bee, and Snopes

In our crazy world of extreme echo-chamber paranoia, the Babylon Bee is my online source of satire sanity. Check out these article titles (better if you go to their site to see the pictures).

  •  Nation Torn Between Watching Democratic Debates, Sticking Face In Blender.
  • Promising New Prospect Lebronna James Expected To Dominate WNBA
  • Trump Proves He’s Not A Racist By Showing His Rejection Letter From The KKK
  • Gideons Announce Daring Plan To Sneak Bibles Into Progressive Churches
  • Polar Bear Apologizes For Being White
  • Ginsburg: “I Am Mentally Fit Enough To Serve Through The End Of President Eisenhower’s Term.”

And it only gets better thanks to Snopes, the “definitive fact-checking site and reference source…”

I like Snopes, have used it a lot, and I don’t think they are part of some left-wing conspiracy to remove all source of humor and sanity from the interweb, but what do I know? This time they took themselves, and the Babylon Bee, too seriously. Snopes was a Facebook partner last year when they had Facebook slap Babylon Bee with a warning for posting this fake news article. See if you think this is fake news or satire. Ready?

Really? In addition, the warning threatened the Babylon Bee with limitations and demonetization. Later Facebook acknowledged the mistake saying the piece “should not have been rated false in our system.” Calling that article fake news rather than satire is itself fake news. This year they have been going after even more Babylon Bee articles. Things got ugly. How do you out-Snopes Snopes?

The Babylon Bee had an idea. The top of their home page now says,

Better yet, BuzzFeed just reported the top-performing article on Facebook related to the topic, “democratic debate” just before the last debate was an article by The The Babylon Bee.

The title?

And the article is even better:

Snopes Issues Pre-Approval Of All Statements Made During Tonight’s Democratic DebateU.S.—With the Democratic primary debates in full swing, many fact-checking websites are preparing to review candidates’ statements for accuracy. Thankfully, Snopes, the most unbiased fact-checking website ever, has found a way to expedite their evaluation process.

 Since their original founding in 1957 by the KGB, Snopes has gained a reputation for objectively reporting what someone’s secret motivations probably were, and what they probably really meant when they said something. More recently, they have perfected the art of determining whether a satirical article is hilarious, left-leaning comedy or divisive, conservative-leaning fake news.

 As part of their ongoing goal of being able to rush to judgment as quickly as possible, Snopes published a pre-approval of all future statements made by candidates during the Democratic debates. 

 “While we understand there may be some disagreements among progressive candidates on certain issues, we know that nobody who shares our worldview would ever say anything factually untrue,” Snopes explains in their article.

 Snopes also clarified that in the event a candidate does say anything that sounds untrue/conservative, they will automatically conclude that the individual had pure intentions and meant something completely different. As a very last resort, they may change a particular rating to “mixed,” assuming some context was missing.

 At publishing, Snopes had also released a fact-check for all future statements by President Trump, rating them all as “False.”

 Don’t mess with the Bee.

 

 

Almost Home

Haiti, Thursday Night June 28, 2019

It feels weird to be packing up to go home already. Here is a short list of what I can remember that we did or took part in during English Camp Leadership Training. But first…

There are two big needs here.

  1. Sue’s 2003 Rav4 is done for. The head gasket has started to leak, the rats have made a mess of the wiring, and the suspension is metal on metal painful to hear. She REALLY needs a new vehical, and probably one with a truck chassy for these roads.
  2. Both ovens are toast. One doesn’t work at all, the other messed up an otherwise perfect batch of Cooley Chocolate Chip Cookies. They could use a commercial oven, especially when English Camp is in full swing.

If you want to help contact Maranatha Ministries. Now for our week…

  • Sue wrote the Science curriculum for the next 6 weeks. Then Sue got to teach adults for the first time in Haiti. This week she taught four 1-hour classes in Science each day to the leaders who hope to be junior counselors or translators for the Science class for the next 5 weeks.
  • Jenn wrote the Bible curriculum for the next 6 weeks. Then Jenn spent Monday following a group through all four classes. On Tuesday Jenn started teaching four 1-hour classes in Bible each day to the leaders who hope to be junior counselors or translators for the Science class for the next 5 weeks. She got a LOT of really difficult questions, everything from election to details about Isaac’s birth through his elderly parents. They are terrific students.
  • Dan (I) did some evening devotions the first week, and the Opening Assembly Bible story each day on the second week. Each story was accompanied by a skit, and introduced the Bible lesson coming later in the day. I was also the handy-man removing and repairing toilets, attempting the RAV4 resurrection which is still on-going as I write, fan repairs, hanging shade cloth, building a little table, fixing screens, some errands, that kind of thing. I may have also talked to a few folks along the way. OH—and I made Cooley Cookies last night. But the oven here lies. My “10-minutes at 350 degrees” took about 25 minutes set at 400 degrees. It made some excellent biscotti.
  • Connections: We were able to go to church on Sunday, which was a nice break. I met a guy and his daughter who had just moved here from the States. He is a pilot with Missionary Aviation Fellowship, retired from the Air Force. We also met Jabez from India and his family, who plan to start a Children’s Home in Haiti. We met Britney who recently moved here from the States, and I think is working fill-time now with Maranatha. She was here a few years ago—when Micah stayed here for a couple months. Of course, reconnecting with Byron, Shelley and family is always a joy.

So much for 2019 at Maranatha Children’s Home.

Back to the Cooley Home,

IMG_7654Dan

10 Things that Only Happen in Haiti

IMG_20190626_091637-001(mostly) Only in Haiti…

  1. Do people dance in the heat. I get dancing in the rain, but around here, when anyone is singing dancing is the norm. Maybe it isn’t the heat that stops me joining in, maybe I was Baptist too long.
  2. Are car horns more necessary than mirrors.

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3. Do the dogs love to play on the trampoline.

4. Does the “bad part of town” change daily.

5. Is it impossible to completely put on a pair of latex gloves. Buy them 3 sizes too big and blow them up a thousand times, they still won’t go over your sweat-sticky palms. If you get your fingers half way in, call it victory.

cw1074h

6. Do you have to look up while working on a car. I was working on the Rav4 when I realized I had parked it under a 40ft coconut tree heavy with ripe fruit. Hail damage has nothing on coconuts and how do you explain a concussion while changing oil?

7. Do people look so mean, and then with a wave or a smile look back so friendly.

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8. Do the best artists use taxis for their canvas (tap-taps).

tap tap

9. Do you have the best mangos, avocados, bananas, and pineapple on the planet.

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10. Can you so quickly realize what is important in life—and what isn’t.

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Sunday in Haiti

IMG_7551Haiti June 23, 2019

Today is Sunday. I suppose you knew that. It’s about 8am here–something you didn’t know. We don’t know yet if we will be going to church. The roads may be safe, or not, in that part of town today. We’ll wait for reports to come in before traveling.

Yesterday was a good day of final repairs around here. We got two toilets removed and re-installed, another one repaired, and a dozen or so fans working so that there will be enough for the team coming after we leave. If someone thinks what we are doing here is unimportant, have them turn off their AC and hold things in for a day. It helps me feel essential.

Jenn and Sue have pretty much finished up the curriculum, mostly just a lot of printing left to do. The pool is refilled, more shade cloth installed, and Clorox tabs put in the water tanks for good luck.

Tomorrow begins training so things will get lively. Living here is a lot like camping. Water is limited, electricity is on-and-off, and your fan is your AC. In the same way, food tastes better, you spend more time together than in front of a screen, and time moves more slowly.

Monday I hope to put the brain (ECU Computer], side mirrors, filters, and an alarm in Sue Spinney’s RAV4. Sue was at AnchorPoint a year ago, lives about a mile from here with five kids in her house as a small Cresh. All the houses in this area have tall walls around them, most with razor wire. Hers has no wire, and someone has been jumping the wall at night to help themselves to her car’s parts like it is their private junk yard. Both front running light assemblies are also gone. We brought one of those a few years ago—it didn’t last 24 hours after we put it on her car before someone took it off as their own. But the brain, that costs around $300 used, and leaves you stranded. Hopefully the alarm will help. I suggested she keep a python in the car. Or a ferel cat.

WENT TO CHURCH, BACK, PICTURES ARE…

Top pic is Ben, one of Byron and Shelley’s kids, in a shirt some AnchorPointers may remember.

Bottom is me and the pastor I met from India, and the family and staff here at supper time. Then Byron and Shelley who direct this place, then Sue whose RAV4 I get to work on tomorrow. Chef Jeff, a young man who came to live here due to circumstances after the earthquake is at the bottom. He is a good kid, much fun, often asking me how Micah Cooley is doing. That makes me like him more.

Thanks for your prayers. It was good to be able to go to church today. No issues and a nice break. I met a guy and his daughter who just moved here from the states. He is working with Missionary Aviation Fellowship, and is a retired US Air force pilot. His wife is in the states for a bit longer, selling the house or something, I can’t remember.

OK, enough rambling.

Dan

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sue

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