February 2015


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Still reeling from an exhilarating and exhausting weekend in San Francisco, we packed our increasingly dilapidated suitcases once again and headed off to catch our flight to San Diego. Again the timing was perfect, with Jon, Nic and the kids’ flight getting in just five minutes before ours so we easily met up at the baggage claim. Jon has perfected the art of car rental at airports through various Apps, so we were quickly underway for the half hour drive to our seaside resort in Carlsbad.

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The suites were fully furnished and amazingly well equipped with a great kitchen, BBQs in the courtyard, jacuzzi tub, gas fireplace and fantastic views of the ocean. There were lots of activities for the kids to do and plenty of family restaurants just a short drive away. The weather was beautiful although the wind could be quite cool. It is February after all! The pool was in a very sunny but protected area so the kids swam quite happily and we joined them in the hot tub when they were ready to warm up.

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However, the real reason for our stay in Carlsbad was the long awaited trip to LEGOLAND. We were there when the park opened and pretty much stayed to close it down. It was all actually pretty lame by Disney standards, but the kids really enjoyed it and we were just delighted to be with them so it was great fun. They all love roller coasters, Pam not so much, but we did do the dragon roller coaster three times. Fortunately Eli is too short for the big coaster so we did a more sedate ride with her while the others tackled the big coaster. It was a great day and we finished up with dinner a nice seaside restaurant.

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Jon and Nic took a bit of time the next day to explore some of the town and market by themselves while we hung out with Ben, Abi and Eli. Since the resort provided free all-terrain wagons, beach chairs and toys and boogie boards, we packed up and took the kids down to the beach for the afternoon. The waves were great and Ben and Abi turned out to be naturals when it came to boogie boarding, catching quite a few really fine rides. By the time Jon and Nic came home with chicken to BBQ, the kids had warmed up nicely in the Jacuzzi and put on their warm pajamas.

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It was a great visit all around and really difficult to see them off once again as they boarded their flight home. Honestly, the kindness and consideration of our children brings us to the edge of tears. We so appreciate the chance to see two of them and their own kids, and only regret that on this trip we couldn’t see David. Since we still had a few more days until our return flight to KL, we spent the remaining few days in Oldtown, San Diego which is near the airport. After a cab ride from the airport, we made our way there to settle in for the weekend.

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I am 65. I make no bones about it and no apologies for my age. I have earned every one of those years through the toil and dedication of my commitment to educational excellence. It is just that we all live in such a superficial culture anymore where the emphasis is all on what happened 15 minutes ago. Does anyone care that Ebola is still killing people in West Africa? See my point?

My students are always stunned when I say that I have absolutely no desire to be young again. Been there; done that. It was every bit as painful and embarrassing as what you are going through if you are young and you could not pay me enough to go through that again. I like the age that I am. I like what I have learned and done and who I have become. I know what the advertisements say and they all lie. Old is good; old is very satisfying. But it does limit your career options. Many countries will not hire above 65. Some set the limit at 60 and some post it as low as 55. It is their country; they get to do what they like. I may not agree with it, but I have to find a job in an increasingly smaller world.

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With that in mind Pam and I went to the ISS Job Fair in San Francisco. We had registered for this job fair back in October, and had built a good part of this present trip around that weekend. As I noted in an earlier post, for us the Lord is always in the details of these things, and it is marvelous how He works out those details for our good. Pam had us booked in at the Holiday Inn at Fisherman’s Wharf, and the location turned out to be ideal, as the job fair was only a short trolley ride away and the area was jammed with restaurants and night life. We went down to the venue and registered as soon as we arrived and steeled ourselves for what I was sure was going to be a chaotic and demoralizing zoo in trying to land a job in a limited market.

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Through months of careful planning and screening we had selected several target schools and countries as the focus of our search. One by one the Lord eliminated them until only two remained, both in our target destination of the Caribbean. Amazingly, neither school was at all concerned about my age; amazingly, both of them competed for my services. After a whirlwind two days, I accepted what seemed to be the best offer of the two, a school that offered me a chance to teach English in their International Baccalaureate program at the high school level. I start in August.

To say that I am surprised by this development is understatement. One does not expect to be landing a plum job in an area of interest and expertise at my age as easily as this. I know colleagues half my age who are struggling to find a position nearly as advantageous. Not only did I have two schools competing for my services, but I was treated by the hiring agency, ISS, with the utmost courtesy and consideration. If you are a teacher and you are looking to teach internationally, may I highly recommended this organization. They are true professionals

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The long and short of it is that there is going to be another chapter in our lives before retirement. How long this chapter lasts is not ours to know at the moment. We went to Malaysia on the strength of a one year contract. By the time we leave it will be eight years. I will sign on for this position for two years. Perhaps that is all we will get. If so, we will be grateful. Perhaps we will get more. If so, we will be truly old before we retire! All we know for now is that I have a job and we are moving to the Caribbean this summer. You are welcome to come and visit us. If you don’t mind staying with old people.

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As wonderful as Colorado Springs was, we could not wait to get to Phoenix to see Greg, Liz and Russell. Both the airport in Colorado Springs and the one in Denver were super clean and convenient and our timing was super as well as Liz pulled up to meet us about thirty seconds after we collected our baggage. It was so sweet to see our darling daughter again and what a joy to be greeted at Holly and Vern’s gorgeous home by happy hugs from Russ. He has grown up so much since we last saw him, has boundless energy and moves too quickly to even begin to keep up with him. We don’t think we have ever heard such an infectious little giggle, but we could be biased.

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In spite of the fact that Arizona is largely desert, the house where we stayed is built on a series of waterways so that although from the street it looks like a pretty regular subdivision, all the homes open out back onto a waterway that creates the community. Each home has a boat so that the neighbours are able to meander on the waterways and visit around. Although the back yard is small, there is a lovely sitting area, BBQ, pool and a grapefruit tree that was heavy with ripe fruit. The combination created a great diversion for Russ who spent hours throwing grapefruit into the pool and delighting in the splashing that eventually ended up in a short swim in the very cold water.

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It was the perfect environment to relax and get caught up with the kids over BBQs, boatrides and quiet evenings together. After years of smog-filled skies, we actually got to see some stars overhead. We even got to babysit Russ overnight while Liz and Greg had an evening to themselves at a nearby hotel. Russ loves to walk so we had plenty of opportunity to get to know the neighbourhood. Pam even managed a little shopping time with Liz and a last minute visit to Goodwill which became necessary when Steve discovered he was heading off to a job fair without a tie. It is amazing what two bucks can do.

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Our heart aches with the length of time we have to endure between visits with our kids and grandkids. It is by far the hardest part of ministry abroad. For the last couple of years and especially in the last year we have been praying practically everyday that the Lord would allow us to minister for Him closer to North America. It is not just the distance, although that is tough enough, but the time zone disparity means that Steve is either at work on in bed when the kids call, and cost of flights and the amount of time to takes to get home makes it prohibitive to visit for a week even if we didn’t have work and ministry schedules to juggle. This visit just made the whole idea of relocation that much more pressing.

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Pam and I were well into our Master’s at Fuller when we saw an opening for the MAGL (Master of Arts in Global Leadership) program that was a little more geared to our area of ministry. We switched over last September and completed the initial course in December that basically just set out our academic direction for the next two years. This winter semester things got a little more serious as we had to complete residence requirements in Colorado Springs for the degree. Each of the two courses that we are presently taking required a week of on-site instruction from Fuller staff. Dutifully we committed our way to completing this, not really knowing how we were going to fit it in to our already overloaded lives. Fortunately for us, God had a plan.

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God always has a plan, we know that well enough by now. What we didn’t know was both how complex that plan was going to be (anyone who thinks the Lord’s work is simple is just not paying attention), and what an unbelievable blessing it was going to be. The three days we had spent in Los Angeles was enough for us to get over the worst of our jetlag, so we arrived in Colorado well rested and in good spirits. We were met by one of our classmates who lives in the area, and her bubbly 11-year-old daughter. Our $40 a night stay was in a recycled Hyatt hotel that has been taken over by Youth With A Mission and used for training missionary recruits. We had a spacious room and easy access to local restaurants, and the place soon filled up with other classmates coming from all over the United States and the world. It made for very pleasant evenings chatting with others about their ministries.

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Classes started at 8, and worship was special, as several of our colleagues were gifted in music. The classes ran until 4:30 when we would usually all go out for a meal together. Our instructors were first rate and discussions were very interesting with a wide range of views and experiences being expressed. Everyone had a chance to share their own faith journey with the class, which helped with developing deeper relationships with those with whom we are going to share the next two years as we make our way through this degree. On one fine Sunday afternoon we all went over to the home of one of our classmates to watch the Super Bowl and eat nachos.

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We even had an opportunity to meet up with Ken Anderson, with whom we had shared a year in ministry in Germany. He was in town with his mission organization in preparation for going to Nepal to conduct training workshops for Nepalese pastors. During the week we were also treated to a tour and a talk at a local Greek Orthodox Church, which was notable for the beauty of its sanctuary, and a quick drive through some of the regions more interesting rock formations. The take away for us in all this is what an inspiring and selfless group of individuals we have the good fortune of learning with. The courses may be demanding and time-consuming, and certainly they are not cheap. But the journey has been richly rewarding in friendships with the people of God and understanding about the work of God. And at the end of it all, Lord willing, we will both have Masters’ degrees that will be useful in ministry for the next chapter in our lives.

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The older we get and the more often we make the trip across the Pacific, the more difficult the transition from East to West seems to get. Since this visit we needed to go directly into two weeks of classes for our Master’s, it seemed prudent to build in a bit of a buffer to try to acclimatize to the time difference and change in weather. That is what age and wisdom is supposed to teach us. You might have cause to wonder why it took us all this time to build in such a buffer, but we never claimed to fast learners, did we! This year the long flights were in and out of Los Angeles, and never having seen the place, we decided to cocoon for a few days there.

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Pam scoured the internet and found a lovely little guesthouse in Venice Beach. We had some initial moments of panic when arriving well after dark we needed to make our way down a “walk street” that even the local cabby had trouble finding. Our fears were instantly allayed when our very gracious hosts showed us to the renovated garage of their lovely home that had been converted to a cozy and fully equipped studio apartment. A welcome bottle of wine and cheese platter and a comfy couch in front of the gas fireplace was all it took to make us feel completely at home.

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We slept remarkably well for our first night (nearly 5 am!) and headed out in the morning to make the fifteen minute walk down to the beach. The weather was beautiful and we spent the entire morning watching the waves, the surfers and the seabirds. With two days to explore, we were able to wander through the Venice Canals, explore much of the town and try out some lovely little restaurants. We confess to needing a wee nap in the afternoon to get us through the day, but again slept really well at night in our cosy and private little space.

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Saturday we walked several miles down the beach to see the sights of Santa Monica and watch the sunset over dinner on the Santa Monica Pier at the end of Route 66. Why Steve feels compelled to sing lines from every tune that relates to wherever we are visiting escapes me, but that is just one of his quirks, and I suppose there are worse things he could do to get his “kicks.” He insisted on his picture beside the sign as well. Whatever makes the old guy happy! This little hiatus turned out to be a great plan and we felt completely ready to take on the next stage of the journey with a flight to Colorado Springs via Denver.

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One of the perks of my new job with Taylor’s is that I am no longer bound by the school holidays. This can have a downside, obviously, as I worked through much of Christmas and New Year’s in order to follow through on the launch of the website. We made the best of our time in Malaysia, and attended at very nice Christmas party hosted by the Canadian-Malaysian Businessmen’s organization, and another nice do at our friends Easton and Yuri’s new apartment. But basically it was just a lot of work.

The upside is that we could delay our Christmas holidays so that we could visit with our children and grandchildren shortly after Christmas. We could also combine that visit with the residence requirements of our Masters’ degrees in Colorado and even get in a weekend at the ISS Job Fair in San Francisco, which might open the door to a job in the Caribbean or Latin America. It took several months of planning and booking, but what you are about to read over the next few days or so is how we managed to squeeze in all of that into a whirlwind four week visit to North America. We began with the nightmare of the 15 ½ hour flight across the Pacific. On such a flight you want to hope that the babies all sleep well!

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As part of our MAGL course in Colorado Springs, we were ask to prepare a summary of our “journey” with the Lord. This is Steve’s:

I was born in England, shortly after the war, the third of three children. That’s me on the far left in my new Christopher Robin coat. My father and mother both served in that war and expected that at its conclusion life would return to normal. It did not. Life remained difficult for ten years, and jobs offered meager wages and few chances for advancement. Post-war rationing that was short of vegetables and fresh fruit meant that the children were often sick. My father was an illegitimate orphan, my mother had lost her fiancé when he was shot down in the war. They met and married in two weeks, which was not uncommon in those troubled times. After they were married, they were separated by the war for five years. Hardship was nothing new to them. But they longed for a better life for their children, and immigrated to Canada in 1955.

My parents did well in Canada. My father was intelligent and industrious and was soon Managing Director of a medium-sized engineering firm. My mother was artistic and creative and found outlet for her talents in drama. Our middle class neighbourhood offered me opportunities for intellectual and musical growth. I joined a band as its lead singer, I wrote articles, songs and poetry and excelled in literature. My older brother graduated with two Master’s Degrees in Art and Film and became the leading expert on Canadian film.

My parents were moral and faithful people. While professing no personal faith, my mother was a lifelong Anglican and ensured that all her children attended church. My father remains in my mind the most morally upright man I have ever met. He also professed no personal faith in Christ until confronted with his own imminent death, but he was ethical and decent and schooled his children in the notion that “the truth will set you free.” I could have had no finer ethical guide to my life.

Following graduation from Teacher’s College at the University of Toronto, I took a job and settled in London where I met Pam. I had finally comes to terms with my own relationship with God, and accepted Christ by faith in 1976. Two months after my salvation I met Pam in a nightclub in London, Ontario. Before the evening was through I knew I had met my soulmate. Although it took Pam a little longer to come to the same conclusion, after a courtship that lasted fifteen months, were we married on March 11, 1978. With two well-paying jobs, good friends and good health we embarked on having a family with the highest expectations.

Despite some financial setbacks, such as losing our first house when the mortgage rate hit 19 percent in 1981, we were the objects of much blessing with three beautiful children, a good church home and a stable income. We began considering how we might give back to the Lord, and inspired by reading Daktar, by Vic Olsen, offered to go to Bangladesh for a year to teach and work at the mission hospital there. We dutifully went on deputation, and setting aside a good portion of our own money arrived in Bangladesh in July 1986. It was to be a disastrous year.

Pam contracted a local variant of hepatitis and rapidly lost both health and weight, finally stabilizing at around 78 pounds. The mission board saw no value in the teaching ministry I wished to have among the local children. They confiscated the salary I had set aside for that year, doling it back out to us in dimes, and removed a huge percentage for administrative fees. They refused to process our entry visas so that we were held as virtual prisoners in the country where we went to serve and couldn’t leave if we wanted to. We returned home broken and hurt, and determined to have a ministry among young people that would prepared them for the difficulties they would face on the mission field. Of the twelve young people in this group, ten entered missionary or pastoral service and all are still there.

We also undertook to renovate an older home that allowed us to live close to our church so our children could attend a Christian school. Our church ministries, jobs, renovations of the home we were living in and care for aging parents took its toll on our own marriage as we had precious little time that wasn’t serving someone else’s needs. We remained faithful to our church, which in return became increasingly spiritually abusive to us. We eventually left, but we were determined to continue serving the Lord in missions. We knew that we would never again put ourselves or our finances in the hands of a missions board, and began looking for an overseas ministry that would allow us some autonomy over our own finances.

A year serving at the Black Forest Academy in southern Germany was the payoff for all this hard work. We eschewed deputation and worked out an arrangement with Gospel Missionary Union to manage our own finances. The year was an expensive one, but filled with godly service, adventure and travel as our children were by now old enough to go for weeks on end in our camper and tent. Assuming leadership of the Junior High School at BFA seemed a natural progression for me and the year was productive and encouraging for our own ministries and our family life.

On our return to Canada we hunkered down for the final few years of our children’s adolescence. We gave up house renovation for these years, moved into a newer home that allowed our teenaged children a measure of privacy, and concentrated on raising our teenagers and developing our careers. During this time we saw our oldest son married shortly after the turn of the millennium. We also saw our two younger children enter university, graduate, and move west to Calgary to find work.

But we never lost sight of our own missionary vision, and shortly after our son’s wedding I got a chance to go to Malawi to teach teachers. Although organized by the Canadian Teacher’s Federation, a secular organization, the trip afforded me plenty of opportunity for personal witness and the development of my teaching and leadership skills. I took another missions trip to Serbia in 2005, and Pam also went overseas to serve as well on a couple of occasions. Every fall we planned a retreat on the shores of Lake Huron to talk and pray over the Lord’s will for our full time service.

Following one of these retreats where we were both convicted by the Holy Spirit that the time had come, I resigned from my teaching position in Ontario after 32 years and got ready to go overseas. We sold our house, and maximized our final house renovation that allowed us to buy a small apartment condo to retain a Canadian address and identity, sold off the majority of our belongings and flew off to Malaysia to undertake a new position at Taylor’s College in Kuala Lumpur teaching English literature.

Despite my misgivings at such a dramatic change in venue and teaching responsibilities, I found that my age and experience were not only welcomed in this new environment, but were seen as huge assets. My students enjoyed my avuncular ramblings and fatherly advice almost as much as they enjoyed the eclectic illustrations of my lessons. I became mentor to junior staff and my reputation for serving others lead to new and unexpected opportunities outside of teaching.

For the past 18 months I have forged a new position within the larger Taylor’s Group as Project Coordinator for Corporate Social Responsibility. The role has afforded me wide latitude to encourage Christian social enterprise and develop partnerships that further Christian efforts to care for their communities. I have catalogued and captured all of this activity on a website that continues to grow and connect all those who want to help with community service projects. This position in turn has led to the opportunity to take my Master’s in Global Leadership

My wife and I embarked upon our Master’s degrees in order to be more effective for God. Although I have taken two deferred salary leaves in my career, I did not use these opportunities for personal advancement, but rather sought to serve the Lord. With our children’s education, weddings and mortgage down payments behind us, we are finally in a position to afford our own education. Although initially enrolled in a degree in Intercultural Studies, we both jumped at the opportunity to segué into a degree in leadership as being more in keeping with our experience, talents, and opportunities for service. We find that taking these courses together gives us ample fodder for fruitful discussions, and helps to focus our ministries more intentionally on root causes and solutions, and the ability to see the larger spiritual issues as play in the problems we encounter. It has been a time of tremendous spiritual and personal growth and we have grown both closer to God, and closer to each other as well.

As our time in the East has grown, so has our family. We now are the proud grandparents of four growing grandchildren. Although our passion for serving God has not dimmed, recent events in our daughter’s life, and recent sickness in our own, has brought us to the place where we recognize that our ministry will have to be relocated closer to North America. We are now actively looking for ministry in the Caribbean, Central or South America. I will attend a job fair in San Francisco later this month, and Pam has several applications out to regional NGOs in need of her experience and training in health care. Although the easiest point of entry for me during this transition is through teaching, I am trusting that this degree and the concurrent courses I am taking for my principal’s qualifications through OISE in Toronto will allow me to have a ministry of leadership in an international or missionary school in the future.

I am sixty-five, and have been a Christian educator for almost forty years. This is a good stretch by any human reckoning. However, the Lord does not reckon as man does. In Ruth Tucker’s wonderful chronicle of missionary activity, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, we find the inspiring story of Eliza Davis George, the first Black missionary to Africa. When her mission board called her home at 65, Eliza refused to retire, started her own mission board, and continued her work in Liberia, planting one church a year for the next 27 years. When she finally retired in her nineties, the nationals she had trained carried on the work. She died at 100 years of age. I dare to believe at 65 that the Lord is not done with me yet either. I do not wish to outlive my love for God, nor do I wish to live longer than my useful service for Him. I am grateful for all that He has done through me in the lives of others, and ask only that I be allowed to continue to use the talents He has gifted to me to further His kingdom for as long as He allows. This is my prayer.