Reflections on Our Summer, Part 1

     The end of November may seem an odd time for our “What we did during our summer ‘vacation’” essay, but we’re finally back home (although not in the water quite yet). Looking back at our summer, it’s amazing to see God’s plans and how they overrode our plans. We thought we were going to spend the summer getting caught up on homeschool, admin, financial reports, and blog posts 😉 Dennis was going to work on research for his doctoral project. I was going to finish my certifications in counseling. We would never have bounced over the Atlantic without the promise of a few months to be still (and access to the internet). God knew that and I feel now (it’s taken some time to get here) that He used that plan to get us to Europe. After the disastrous month in France (if you missed that blog post, you can read about it here), we were searching for what God had in mind. He seemed to insist that we keep doing what He called us to do – spend our time helping and encouraging missionaries. In fact, even while we were in France, we had a missionary family spend a few days there before they headed to language school. It was a great opportunity to share our stories and encourage each other (we sure needed it at that point!).

     We left France in search of peace for ourselves and the least expensive way back to the US. We knew our chances of getting a military space available flight during the summer were pretty slim, so we were looking for places to stay cheaply in Europe. Driving to and flying out of Paris was the cheapest option out of France. We searched for places to stay with many different ministries in Europe. We talked to quite a number of missionaries and ministry leaders in Europe during our search for places to stay. We didn’t get to meet most of them, but we’ve certainly made new friends through email. A 3 hour detour to Switzerland became the new plan when a family offered us room and board for almost a week (although I have to admit, I was hoping to get to go to Switzerland).

     On our way to Switzerland, we made our first stop at Pont Julien, a 2000 year old bridge that was only about 5 miles from where we had been working (we just never had an opportunity to leave). We spent our “first night of freedom” near the Pont du Gard. (On a side night, if you ever think staying in a safari tent sounds like fun, maybe think again. The sheer number and size of the spiders was slightly terrifying. Caleb made the mistake of teasing Hope after she screamed when a large spider came inches from her face, and he ended up having to trade beds with her. You could tell he was freaking out a bit too, but he held it together and survived the night without any screams or bites.) The Pont du Gard is the highest and one of the best preserved ancient Roman aqueduct bridges that provided water to the city of Nîmes. It was part of the 31 mile aqueduct system that was built in the first century. First century! We’re talking about when Jesus walked the earth! It stands 160 feet high and only descends 1 inch across the almost 1/3 of a mile length. The system carried 8,800,000 gallons of water a day! Mind blowing and beautiful.

Pont Julien
Climbing is almost as important as breathing in our family.
Pont du Gard
Quite a view from the top
Pont du Gard – 2000 years old!
     We were invited to stay at the Hotel Kurhaus in Grimmialp, a Christian hotel/retreat center tucked in the Alps about an hour south of the city of Bern, Switzerland. A wonderful family with 4 children run it. As it turned out, the husband had served as a missionary for many years in Guatemala. His first language is Swiss German (which I didn’t even know was a language before arriving in Switzerland), but his Spanish is perfect. His wife spoke some Spanish but was more comfortable with English. Our conversations together were probably pretty comical to any outsiders as we had four languages going at once, if you include the accidental French instead of Spanish! He said God has quite a sense of humor. They didn’t get to visit Mexico/Central America this year; instead God brought part of Mexico to them. 
Hotel Kurhaus Grimmialp
The surrounding view was stunning!
Such a bright green!
And daisies, my favorite!

     We also met other families that were there for a retreat. True to our children’s nature, they jumped right into soccer games and the playground (which absolutely would be outlawed in the US because it was too much fun, ie. dangerous) with the other kids and had a blast, even though they didn’t speak the same language. Language only creates a barrier if you let it – challenging still, yes, but it doesn’t have to separate us (and we are very blessed that most of the world speaks English). Dennis helped build a VERY large teepee for their summer programs (but sadly, no pictures) and the kids also enjoyed playing the family’s chickens.
Soccer game with a beautiful view
A little bit of foosball. Micah used the log to give him a little height.
I would “watch” the kids play soccer all day with a view like that.
We took a few days to relax and explore some of Switzerland, including caves, castles, lakes, and an Alpine slide (check out the full video here)! Oddly enough, I wanted so badly to be on one of the sailboats out on the ice blue lakes surrounded by the high snow capped mountains. It was just incredible. My favorite thing was the quiet evenings, listening to the cows’ bells as they wandered the hillside in the dimming pink sunlight, as the sky slowly turned to an inky shade of blue. 
     
     Words and pictures just can’t touch the beauty of Switzerland and the people there (even though I tried). Hope has decided she wants to live there and I would happily visit her often. Switzerland provided the peace we desperately needed. 
Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them. Psalm 111:2
All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name. Psalm 66:4
Oeschinensee near Kandersteg, Switzerland
Micah and Seth climbing rocks
I finally got in a picture 🙂
Just breathtaking
They spent at least an hour skipping rocks. Somehow, Dennis tossed a rock and it hit Sarah in the headed and then bounced off sideways and hit Caleb in the head! Thankfully it was pretty small and they were both alright.
Castle ruins near Interlaken
More climbing! Sarah’s getting a little hand from Daddy
View from the castle
Some of the climbing was easier
Hidden in the trees
We stopped by the Victorinox flag store in Geneva. We all had our knives engraved. Micah, Seth and Sarah all got their first Swiss Army knife. Dennis and I got the latitude and longitude of the Swiss store.

Urgent Need!

We need your help!

Ok, so this is a very hard thing to ask. In the past four years, we have poured our lives and resources into the boat and the ministry to which God has called us. We have just received
the response from the state of California regarding our appeal.

Bottom line up front: we owe California $15,945.15 for something they call “use tax.”

When we started this journey four years ago, we had more than $50,000 in the bank (and a full-time, good-paying job). We had paid off all our debt including cars and turned around our financial world thanks in large part to Financial Peace University and Dave Ramsey. Today, not including our shipyard bill of about $3000, we have a balance in the bank of -$200. We have $4667.45 of ministry expenses on a credit card (Sorry, Dave Ramsey, life happens). The yard bill will go on the card as well.

We are extremely thankful for those of you who have supported us financially. At this point, our financial partners provide $1500 a month ($1100 after this month). This is roughly 25% of our monthly ministry expenses. To this point, the balance has come from our savings and retirement pay. The rule of thumb on boat maintenance expenses is 10% of the boat’s value per year. For us that is about $20,000. That doesn’t include other expenses such as marina fees, fuel, immigration, etc. Our boat payment alone is $1300 a month. These expenses are inherent in getting to missionaries. Once we arrive, there are the expenses of actually coming alongside the missionaries – such as transportation to them from wherever the boat is moored. Having done this for two years, our savings is depleted to $2083.38. (The kids each have about $15,000 in 529 plans thanks to an inheritance from Brandy’s grandfather.) We have nothing additional going into college or retirement savings. My monthly retirement pay is $3665.50. That goes toward food, clothing, shelter and education. We are not getting rich off of this ministry, at least financially. We are living frugally and modestly, seeking to be faithful with that which God has entrusted to us.

. It is basically sales tax for the purchase of our boat. We did due diligence for about a year to find out if we were exempt as non-resident military and had no luck. At the time of purchase, we had set aside the approximate amount, but as we never received a bill or response from the state, we spent that money on maintenance and repairs to the boat.

Additionally, last month we got to the bottom of an indebtedness to the US Department of the Treasury regarding an overpayment by the Navy. When I returned from Iraq, they failed to stop my special pays for Imminent Danger, Family Separation and Hazardous Duty. I knew I was overpaid on these and had put aside the overpayment. Before I retired, we had about $3500 deducted from my paycheck the payday before my retirement ceremony. (Ouch!) Since I no longer had access to my LES (pay stubs), I was unable to verify exactly what it was, but, since it was the same amount as my overpayment, logic said that it was my repayment. What we were finally able to discover was that was the federal tax on my untaxed combat zone pay. We hadn’t considered the federal tax. So, we still had additional indebtedness to the government of about $2000.

We know that God could make this disappear with a mere thought, but it appears that he has other plans. Part of that plan is to invite you to participate in serving missionaries in Mexico and Central America.

Here is what we need:

First, prayer for us. This is frightening, discouraging and challenging
to our faith and sense of calling. I’m sure you all know the weight that a financial burden can have. We do not think this is God’s way of telling us to sell the boat to pay off the debt and quit, but it is a storm and Jesus appears to be sleeping in the stern of the boat.

Second, prayer for our finances. Obviously, we cannot pay these debts in our financial situation. I know everyone has challenges, but we know that our God will meet our needs. We also know that he uses his children as stewards of his wealth. Please pray that those on whom God lays a burden to assist would trust and obey. We are first and foremost asking for a one-time, special gift for this specific time. Of course, we are also looking for regular giving parters. If God puts it on your heart to help, you can donate online at: SUPPORT

Finally, prayer for our ministry. We are planning to visit our missionary contacts in Loreto and La Paz as well as assist a new boating missionary family in La Cruz. Around the first of the year we will partner with missionaries in Guatemala, missionaries in Honduras in the spring and missionaries in Panama in the summer. There are many miles of open water between here and there, so we need your prayers.