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AS many of you know, we moved to Cayman Island some 18 months ago after eight years in Southeast Asia when Stephen landed a job with Cayman International School teaching English in the International Baccalaureate program here. He has just signed on for another year with the school, so we will be here for at least another 18 months if you are planning a trip. These first 18 months have been hard on Stephen as has had to organize and then teach an entirely new set of books with an entirely different approach and assessment methodology. It has been a stiff uphill climb to master this new program, with a lot on the line for the students that he teaches in terms of getting into university when they leave. His determination to offer nothing but the best has meant long hours of preparation, planning, and marking.

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WE have also been deeply engaged in finishing up our Master’s degrees for the last year and a half, which has occupied practically all of our leisure hours, not to mention our discretionary spending! The upshot of all of this attention on preparation for ministry has meant that we have had very little time to do what we would like to do. Those of you who have followed our adventures over the last nearly ten years know that this weblog has likewise suffered from this neglect. We apologize for that and intend to do better in the future.

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ONE of the things that we always like to do as a couple is take in local activities, especially those related to music, art, food, and culture. Those looking for information on extreme sports or the bar scene are going to be disappointed with this blog. We were therefore delighted when one of the members of the ladies prayer group that Pam attends had a pair of tickets to see Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert at the Ritz Carlton, Cayman’s priciest resort. We hadn’t so much as walked through the place before, so it was a very nice treat. The walkover to the beach from the resort was particularly enjoyable, as the colonnade is lined with work from local artists.

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ON the beach there was a tent set up for the event. Having never watched Parts Unknown, Bourdain’s TV show on CNN, we were not sure what to expect. We love exotic food, but are not what you would call food fanatics, and I think the last cooking show we saw was the Galloping Gourmet! We were unexpectedly delighted. The two were quite clearly in their element together, as Anthony whipped up a fettucine carbonara while they bantered back and forth about technique. A sample: Eric, “Take it easy with that. You should make love to the food, not beat it like that.” Anthony, “I don’t like the sound of that. You keep your hips away from this counter, if you don’t mind.”

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THEY also told some fascinating and very funny tales of their travels and travails with food. One about eating pig rectums in Namibia was particularly horrific and hilarious. We were then invited to taste the pasta, followed by a tequila cocktail and some Peruvian chocolate which was amazingly good. Clearly we have been missing out on a very entertaining and fascinating character in Anthony Bourdain. We have also been missing out on far too much in the place where we now live. It is an amazing privilege to live in this beautiful island. We are hoping that now that the Master’s is over, we will have some time to truly enjoy it.

It was the winter of 2006 when we were last together as a family. Together? Only in thought . Our son was in Albany, his wife Nicole any day expecting their first child. Pam’s dear mother, recently passed, was not yet interred. We had already signed on with Taylor’s College in Malaysia, and although we had sold our renovated hovel on Upper Ave, we had not yet moved into the condo we had bought on Wharncliffe as a hedge against what we were sure would be an escalation of real estate during our sojourn in Southeast Asia. The family gathered for a funeral, which was the closest to a family Christmas we had that year. It was to be the last gathering for us for many years, and our last Christmas in Canada until this year.

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Much has happened in the intervening ten years. We are much older, more educated, much more travelled, and perhaps wiser, though time will be the best judge of such an assessment. However, for all our adventures – and there have been many as any random sample of this weblog will attest – there has been a sadly missing dimension of this last decade: we have been miserable grandparents, at least in our own estimation. Following that sad interment of Pam’s Mom those many years ago, we returned to our home on Upper Ave to a voice mail from our son that said their first child had been born. With scarcely a pause to pack, we set out for Albany to welcome baby Benjamin into the world; a blessing of joy hard upon a season of sorrow.

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From that time until this season we have not been home for Christmas. Though Taylor’s College was good enough to send us home at company expense, it was only once a year. A meager salary – by North American standards, at least – meant that this was all we could afford while we were there. Though Malaysia was clearly the Lord’s will for us, and was productive in ministry for eight years, it warred against our hearts to be so far away from our children’s five children as they were born and began to grow.  It was for this reason that we began to pray as long as four years ago, that the Lord would see fit to relocate us to the Western hemisphere so we could be closer to our family.

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This year was the culmination of that prayer as we were able to travel not only to Toronto and London to see our siblings and their families, but also to Cleveland, Ohio to see Benjamin, now 10, and his two younger sisters in their new home. Words are insufficient – to see our son and his wife, and our grandchildren in their own home at Christmas; to play Santa in the distribution of presents; to sit around the table at a meal; to build Star Wars Lego with Ben; to dance with Abi and Eli to Wii, to watch The Wizard of Oz with our three grandchildren while their parents celebrated New Year’s in downtown Cleveland – these are gifts beyond measure, beyond price. These are treasures to hold in our memories for all time.

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Words fail. You read this and look at the prose and the content. These mean so little. How can words express the holes in our hearts over these long years without our family at this most holy time? For this Christ came. For this He died. To show to us the importance of a love that is willing to endure whatever it costs to show that love to others. How so very grateful we are to the love that has been shown to us by all our family; to my dear sister-in-law and her two lovely daughters who put up with us/put us up in Toronto; to Pam’s most gracious brother and sister-in-law in London who did the same in London; and to our son and loving daughter-in-law, who shared their home and children with us in Ohio.

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We are closer now than we were in Malaysia. It is but a four hour direct from Toronto on either Air Canada or Westjet. And we promise, as long as the Lord allows us to remain in Cayman, that we will never again go through a Christmas without our family, either in Cayman or in Canada. We cannot replace those ten years, but neither will we ever add to them again.

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Elizabeth Epp, Director of Health and Wellness

For thirty-three years we have been over-joyed as we watched our daughter Elizabeth grow into such a competent and caring woman. Despite a string of not so bright (or kind!) English teachers in her high school years, she still chose to get her degree in English and Communications, slogging long hours at Tim Horton’s to make ends meet. Her career path since then has been somewhat eclectic, from cleaning horse stalls to grooming dogs, from retail management to executive assistant in oil companies.

For the past three years we have been in awe of her strength, grace and compassion as she became a Mom to Russ, dealt with the unthinkable loss of their darling baby Raylan and their twins they never got to meet. We are so grateful for Greg, the young man that has been her supportive husband for the past six years. Their beautiful little Layla brought great joy and a measure of healing to their little family. Her first year of life was overshadowed by the illness and passing of Greg’s Dad, two days before her first birthday.

One of the most amazing things of it all was that all this time, behind the scenes, Liz was studying part-time to follow a dream to become a Recreational Therapist and work with Senior citizens. At one point, in the midst of loss, she was out of school too long and was forced to repeat a number of courses. She was able to use the last two months of her maternity leave to finish her final internship and before that internship was even finished she landed a dream job at a brand new luxury retirement community just a few minutes away from their home. Her new title is Director of Health and Wellness.

This is not a role that we saw in her future of our daughter when we were raising her, although we certainly saw her helping and compassionate spirit. We are both so delighted to see our darling daughter take this next step in her life, and of course we wish her all the best. But more than that. Our prayer is that she will grow to become the person in her career that she is in her dear heart.

 

We are very proud of our son Jonathan but readily admit that we can’t even begin to understand what it is he does. Best just to let him tell it.

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The last big company I worked for afforded me a number of different roles. At the start of my career, I worked for about 10 years as a software developer — a job I was passionate about and reasonably proficient at. After about a decade of that, though, I got a little tired of constantly learning how to solve the same problems again but with yet another new technology, but also afraid of turning into the guy in the cubicle next to me who was still doing the same job on 20 year old technology.

Fortunately, God moved my career toward more commercial roles, and I realized that my sweet spot would be somewhere between technology and business. It turns out there are a lot of different options for careers for people like me. I tried my hand at evangelism, business development, and finally product management. And that last stop, at Amazon, felt like home. As a product owner, you get to create the theories of market impact, define the vision, and once in execution mode, you can go as deep as you want with the engineering team on how to solve the problems that get you there. There aren’t many jobs where you can be in an executive board room one minute, and checking in code for the nightly build the next.

About 15 months ago, when I started my current job, our leadership had put out a dual challenge: do something in a space called “analytics”, and go fast. Analytics is just information software, which I wrote for years. And going fast is something we did really well at Amazon. It was a good fit. My new boss and I spent many hours reviewing analyst and market data, talking to customers and potential partners, and (for me) learning about what technology we had available to us in-house. Old friends and colleagues provided input and guidance, and a plan formed. We went back to the leadership and proposed assembling a small, cross-functional team with engineering, design, quality, business and product skills all reporting to the same leader (an “A-Team” if you like…) My boss would be that leader, and I would lead the product and technical effort. We set a goal of building a product in one calendar year, from sketch on a whiteboard to box on shelves — an unheard of target at this company, but one we thought we could pull off by combining new code with some existing bits pulled together to express something new.

In January of this year, after a few false starts and final approvals, we had the core of the team: 3 software developers, 1 part time designer, me as a product owner, and my boss as manager and business owner. Within a couple weeks we had added a test automation developer, a part time researcher and a front-end contract developer, and we were off to the races. Although we had those pre-existing bits, our computers, and a few cardboard boxes of tech that one of the developers brought with them, we were otherwise starting from scratch. The team built our test environment, simulating an industrial operation, our build system, pulling together and compiling the code from each participant, and our process, a combination of Scrum and Kanban with a lean Agile philosophy.

We work in 2 week sprints, automate our testing to ensure quality within a small team, and demo our work regularly to the leadership and potential customers. By August we had prepared a “preview release” that we invited 5 customers to run in their labs to validate our approach and ideas. And in less than 2 weeks, we’ll officially announce our product to the world at our annual conference. We lost a developer to retirement this summer, which impacted our velocity, but our contract developer moved to full time, as a great hire for the company, and we’ll soon have the empty seat filled for the final stretch of this race.

My job is a lot of things I love — and just a few I don’t. I do get into the code, a little more than I expected, but it helps take some of the pressure of the team’s deliverables. I present a lot, and throughout the year, as our product has evolved, those get more fun. Customers have never seen anything quite this cool coming from this space. We’re leveraging some consumer technology and ideas to make our product more approachable and interactive, with a focus on making sure customers can start using what we’re building within minutes (as opposed to weeks or months for most information software in industrial automation.) Because we’re in a big company, I also have to do a lot of paperwork — a necessary step for audit-ability and customer confidence — but thanks to some of the pre-work by other smart people in the company, we’re able to do a “light version” of the process, on the understanding that our product will be able to be updated and improved continuously after launch.

The codename for the product is Shelby — and as it started fetching information for us, Shelby took on a dog personality. Its software and hardware, married together as a single-purpose, near zero-configuration appliance. On start-up, it needs to know what language you speak, what time it is, and how it will get an IP address — and that’s about it. Shelby configures itself from there by exploring the operation its been connected to, identifying the parts, and building an information model about what it sees. Once that’s done, it starts analyzing the data and looking for problems in the operation, and producing information about what’s going wrong (or potentially, about to go wrong.) In the customer sites and labs we’ve been in, Shelby’s record so far is 121 devices and 23 problems — all discovered in less than 3 minutes. To be clear, this could be done before Shelby — but it would take weeks of custom system and tool configuration. Shelby makes turning data into information an instant and repeatable solution, that customers can buy as a (relatively) inexpensive product and service.

We’ve had highs and lows, support from outside has come and gone and come back again, but my little team has never failed to wow people with what we’ve accomplished in the short amount of time we’ve been working together. I couldn’t be more proud of my crew, and of our little product. Its industrial analytics for everyone; its a little bit of magic in a box, and its almost here.

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Coming to Cayman the first time was like entering a theme park. It is a jewel set in the glittering seas of the Caribbean, seemingly serenely unaware and unaffected by the tumultuous political and economic seas on which Pam and I had been sailing the previous eight years (that is the past perfect progressive, for those who believe that verb tense never gets used in ordinary conversation). Every once in a while I wake up in a nervous sweat thinking that we are still trapped in Malaysia, a fate that very well might have been ours, had the Lord not protected us. I want you to keep that fear in mind as I describe what it is like to come back here. Whatever my present lot – the work, the trial, the unremitting pressure of performance – there is no fear in it. Therefore it is a good that I am about to describe, whatever your impression of it may be.

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This morning we went to the beach for a swim. It is October 22, and I have been back ‘on island’ for ten weeks. This is my first swim at the beach. Ten weeks, seventy days, first swim. On the first day at school, which was the second day back, I was given a computer that would not keep a charge. It went downhill from there. Three weeks later I had a functioning computer. That put me three weeks down at the beginning of the year. I have just this week been healthy again after being the sickest I have been in a decade. I lost three weeks over that one. Although only two days out of class, I had zero voice for another three and two weeks around that sickness where I could barely function. That is six weeks out of the ten that I was damaged goods. The fact that I got to the break with most things done is testimony to the Lord’s good grace, not my competence.

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In Grade 11 I got the novel for the quarter and three weeks’ worth of background to dramatic form covered (Life of Pi, Poetics, Oedipus Rex). In Grade 12 I got the novel and the drama study done for the quarter (A Tale of Two Cities, Hamlet). In addition I got the Community Service elective launched, taught two workshops and retooled my class websites. Report cards were submitted yesterday. At home I wrote a ten page, a twenty page, and a thirty page essay for the two Master’s courses that will finish off this degree, and launched a cell group in our home on Thursday nights. We researched and bought a newer vehicle – a Hyundai Tucson – and I started the IB Examiner course that I hope will teach me how to better prepare my students for the IB essays that they have to write.

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I continue to get up at five every morning, and get an exercise routine finished before breakfast. Pam and I take the time to read a portion of the Bible and pray at the start of each day. In the evening we like to sit out on the porch for our supper and reflect on how God has been to us. It is a full and productive life, but there has been zero time for relaxation. I spend my weekends and evenings either marking student work or writing essays for my Masters. I haven’t been snorkeling, which I love, and aside from this morning, haven’t even swum.

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I know there will come a time when all this transitional stuff will be over. I will have mastered the IB English curriculum, my class websites will be built, the Master’s course will be done, and so will the IB Examiner’s course as well. I will be able to get to the beach and swim every evening, and read a book just for the joy of doing so. But frankly, that day is likely at least six months to a year away. In the meantime, I continue to work away at what the Lord has placed in front of me, knowing that He knows my frame, and my inmost need. He must know that right now I need to work. I hope that, for this week at least, He knows that I need to relax.

A rainbow baby is the understanding that the beauty of the rainbow does not negate the ravage of the storm. When a rainbow appears it doesn’t mean that the storm never happened or that the family is not still dealing with it’s aftermath.  What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds.

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Vern Epp, beloved husband, father, and papa, passed away on Wednesday, October 19, 2016 at the age of 60 years, surrounded by his family at home. He displayed incredible strength with his battle against cancer.

Vern was born in Swift Current, SK to Paul & Lillian Epp. He grew up in Saskatoon as the baby of the family with 3 older brothers; Larry, Gerald & Tim. He later moved to Calgary where he met Holly, his soul mate, best friend and business partner. They married in August of 1980 and later welcomed their two children, Stacey & Gregory to the family. Vern was devoted to his family, dedicating time, love and support to everything they did. He was a mentor, coach, and friend to everyone around him.

Vern was incredibly social and loved to be with people. He had many passions including traveling, cooking, wine, coffee, sports, driving, reading and time with his family – especially Sunday night dinners.

Besides his loving wife Holly, Vern is survived by his daughter Stacey (Michael) Reinhart; his son Gregory (Elizabeth) Epp; grandchildren, Russell, Gavin, Layla, and Georgia; his brothers, Larry (Denise), Gerald (Donna), and Tim (Linda) and their families.