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The marks are in and the transcripts are out. The news is not hard to take. After four years and 18 courses, both Pam and I have our Master of Arts degrees in Global Leadership from the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. We will not get the degree itself until convocation in June, but the transcripts came out over the weekend and we now know where we stand in regards to our results.

Yes we passed, in case you were in doubt. In my case, of the 18 courses we took I had two B pluses and one A minus. The rest were either As or A pluses. Both of those count as a 4.0 at Fuller. In sum I had a GPA of 3.87. If you were to average in the four external credit courses that we took in Malaysia It would come out to a 3.9. In percentage terms that is a 97%. I might suggest, if asked, that the B pluses had more to do with my attitude than my academics. I might have let slip on occasion that I thought the comments of teaching assistants had more to do with their obsession with border margins and pagination than intellectual content. Was their irritation evident in their assessments of my work? Possibly.

Some of you might be thinking, “What is that man on about? I would delighted with a 3.9 GPA.” However, I am a little disappointed in myself. I expected better. I would offer in defense of my grades that during these four years I held down a full time job, moving into two different and demanding full time positions over the last four years, once as head of CSR, and once into IB English, neither of which I had undertaken before. I also took and completed the Junior Admin qualifications at OISE. We also packed up and moved quite literally to the other side of the planet during this time. Then there was the small matter of supporting my wife who was gallivanting all over Southeast Asia at the time. I could go on.

But enough with the excuses. I have the degree, and some pretty decent marks in a very demanding program. There aren’t too many Master’s degrees that require 72 credit hours. We could have opted for an easier program. But easy has never really been our goal as a couple, and I am pleased with what we have accomplished in obtaining this degree. Oh yes, Pam’s grade? I should have mentioned it earlier. She had a GPA of 3.98. One A minus in 18 courses. All the rest As and A pluses. See what I am up against!

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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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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.

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This has been a long summer of travel but it is always so good to be back in Ontario and have the chance to hang out with family and friends. Steve’s time was pretty limited as he needed to get back to school but I stayed on for an extra couple of weeks to look after business. We are so grateful for Randy and Sylvia  who always make us feel so welcome and at home in their granny suite; a place where family can always drop by for a visit. Time was tight but we did get in some nice meals and even a few games of Rook before Randy and Sylvia headed out west, leaving Max and I to house sit.

Not all of your “family” are necessarily blood relatives. Some are friends who we  are proud to know, people we admire, love and respect; people who make our lives better simply by being in it. Al and Shelley hosted a completely lovely BBQ Sunday afternoon and we thoroughly enjoyed catching up with them as well as Kevin and Colleen and Dave and Catherine and their families. It even morphed into a little bit of Canadiana because we were invited to join coach Dave and the entire Marchand family to watch Lana compete at the Rio Olympics.

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By heading out early in the morning, we managed to have a wonderful breakfast with other very special friends in “The Glen”.

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We got all the stuff done that needs to be looked at each year in terms of finances, back to school shopping and the condo and even applied for my OAS. I had a day to talk projects with the TWR team and some opportunities for good conversations with WLA friends and long time friends. Great summer all around but seven weeks is a long time to live out of suitcases and I was happy to be heading back to our little island.

 “The P.A.C.K.” Purposed Around a Common Klesis (calling)35 Cohort map

Two years ago we began our journey with a cohort of fellow MAGLers with whom we would struggle through nine courses in leadership. We spent two weeks together last February in Colorado Springs and now we are together once again for our Capstone Seminar to mark the beginning of our two final courses. We have lost a few members along the way due to the demands of finances or their full time ministry. Others are still on the journey but have needed to temporarily slow the pace or could simply not join us these two weeks because of family needs or work assignments. We dearly missed Timothy, Nikole, Kris, Allison, Jonathan and Kurt.

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We finally were able to visit what will be our “alma mater” as the seminar was held at the main campus of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. The campus is beautiful and it was great to catch up with the lives of our cohort members. We did the intensive, in-class portion of two courses which we will complete over the next five months. Outside of class we had opportunities to visit over meals and walks through the charming, old city of Pasadena. It was a tiring intrusion into our summer but we are simply rejoicing that we “can smell the barn”.

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