God and Christianity: My Thoughts

theology questionsThis question came from my daughter.  And yes, these are the topics and types of questions that my five children and their children discuss among themselves and with my wife and me.

Do beliefs like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, that of Native Americans, ancient Greeks, and others (excluding religions that worship the devil or a person who has died) believe in the same God? I’m not talking about the religious books, just God. Could it be that each belief has a different interpretation of God? With the Native Americans and Greeks, I’m aware that they were polytheistic, but did they worship the different parts of God unaware that all their gods are one? I wonder if they all worship the same God, my God, but that they don’t have their stories straight when it comes to their religious books and religious practices.

My response…

…Wow.  Excellent questions.  So, I will attempt to explain some of my ideas and thoughts. And before we get started, you know that I am a believer.  I have faith, what I believe is a saving faith, in God.  I am very comfortable in my salvation, though I am constantly seeking greater understanding and knowledge of my God.  I seek this understanding and knowledge so that my faith may grow.  So, if my thoughts or answers are different than what you might have been expecting, please forgive me.  I guess that I have enough faith that if I am too far out of bounds, then I pray most diligently that God will let me know and he will do so.

I must state that I am talking theology and not religion.  Religion, in my humble opinion, is less of a good thing than it is a good thing.  Religion attempts to bring God to man’s level of life and living and understanding.  Religion attempts to justify man’s ungodliness.  Religions are many and varied.  There is only one theo (God) though that God is called many different names and manifests and reveals Himself in many different ways.  God must bring us up to His level; we can never get there on our own.  Theology helps us to learn the how and why God does what he does.  Theology involves learning why we act ungodly so that we do not continue to act in ungodly ways.

The Creator-God is one entity.  For the sake of brevity and simplicity, let’s call this Creator-God by the name God.  We realize that a name is what a person calls a thing or a being or a place or an idea within this universe.  I see a bright light in the night sky and call it a star.  Someone else sees the same bright light and calls it a watermelon.  This difference in naming means rather than relying upon what we call this light to know if my neighbor and I are talking about the same thing, we need to rely upon the traits and characteristics of the object to determine if we are talking about the same thing we are seeing when the sun goes down.

So, if the Native American, Muhammad, the Amazon shaman, the Hindu and Buddhist monks, the Gentile priest, the Jewish rabbi and the Evangelical pastor are all referring to the entity that created this world and everything on it, in it, and around it, then all of them are talking about the same god, the god that you and I call God.

Notice that God is an entity.  An entity is singular.  However an entity can be composed of more than one thing.  If we stop to notice this universe, we see that there is nothing in this universe that is not composed of other things.  The atom is composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons.  The protons, neutrons, and electrons are composed of quarks.  Physics is finding that quarks are composed of other particles.  So even the most fundamental, basic entities of mass, the stuff we can touch, is made up of something else.  That being said, there is one particle that physics has shown to exist in every single infinitesimal space and existence in the universe, even in the space between moving electrons, between electrons and the atomic nucleus, between the protons and the neutrons, and even between the quarks that make up the protons and neutrons.  This particle is called the Higgs Boson particle or “God particle”.  Check out this link for more information about that. https://simplethingssimplethoughts.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/science-supporting-god/

The existence of this particle is not God, but it does prove that the universe and everything in it can exist inside of God and God inside every created thing in the universe.

Anyway, this composition thing that abounds in the universe abounds in God.  God, the singular entity, is composed of other single entities.  These other single entities have their own different characteristics and tasks to do as their being part of the entity called God.  Think of it as a restaurant management team.  One team member is responsible for all future plans. Making all those plans for everything in the working of the business keeps that member too busy to do anything else.  Another member does all of the operations.  This member takes the plans and makes them happen.  This member is too busy to do the planning.  Doing the operations is a full time job for this member.  A third member of the board does all of the logistics and support.  This member finds the employees, does the purchasing, handles the personnel issues, etc.  Since the restaurant is such a big enterprise, it is impossible for the restaurant to exist and operate without all three members of the management team working together, with each doing that member’s assigned tasks.  So, the management team entity cannot exist without all three composing entities.  Therefore, without just one of the three composing entities, the restaurant cannot exist or operate.

There are two traits that are common to all three of the composing entities.  Each of the management team members is convinced and knows that the other two management team entities are absolutely necessary for the existence of the management team and for the restaurant.  Not one of the three management team members can even contemplate the management team existing without all three members being present and working.  Not one of the three management team members can contemplate the existence of the restaurant without all three team members because they know that such an existence is impossible in this universe.

The second trait is that all three management team members have the exact same primary idea and most important thought and wish in their existence.  That thought and wish is for the success of the restaurant and the restaurant completing its reason for existence.  All three management team members are in complete agreement and know without a doubt that the restaurant must and will succeed no matter what.

These were a few theological things that we have to start with:

  • The name God is a name for the Creator-God. The Creator-God can be called another name and still be the Creator-God.
  • The single entity, God, can be composed of more than one individual entity.
  • The universe can and does exist inside of God, thus God permeates every infinitesimal created space and created object in this universe.
  • Due to God’s absolute presence surrounding this universe, it is impossible for God not to have control of this universe. Thus, it is impossible for God’s absolute will not to be completed.

We believe that the Bible is the Word of God given to mankind.  We believe that the men whom God inspired and spoke to wrote the words of God in a way that we humans would be able to correctly interpret the meaning of.  Us, and let’s call ourselves Believers for simplicity’s sake, read the words of the Bible and interpret the words to say that there is no other God except for the God who spoke these words as recorded in this Bible.  Believers, due to the words of the Bible believe that only through faith in God, and the individual entities that compose God (i.e. Father, Son, Holy Spirit) can eternal life be found.  Excellent.  However, the problem that religion faces is that if a human being never read nor was told what the Bible says, then for that human being the “person” Jesus never existed even though that human being had knowledge of the Creator-God.  Thus, that human being cannot follow exactly what the Bible requires for eternal life.

But we know that God desires for each of his creations to have eternal life with Him.  But since eternal life is defined in the Bible and the requirements for living an eternal life are only given in the Bible, we must have knowledge of the Bible know what eternal lie is and to gain it.

And for those who know of the existence of the Bible and have an understanding of what the Bible says, there is no other way to have eternal life except the way as proscribed within the Bible.

We know that not every person that has or is currently walking on the face of this world has had the opportunity to read or to even know of the existence of the Bible.  Countless individuals have lived and died and are living and dying without a biblical salvation because the Bible was not and is not known to them.  This fact requires for God to have a working plan for those who have never understood the teachings of the Bible.  Otherwise the Bible would not be correct in saying that God desires for all human beings to have eternal life.  If God intentionally did not provide someone with an opportunity to have the “thing” that the Bible calls eternal life, then He did not desire for that someone to have it.  Even if we attempt to argue that God did not provide such an opportunity to someone because God knew that someone would reject the opportunity, logical reasoning still brings us back to the point that God must have an extra-biblical plan for those who never had opportunity to understand the Bible.  God is good.  What makes Him good is His love for us.  That love gives Him the desire for us to have eternal life with Him.  If we do not know that God offered us eternal life, then we cannot know that He loved us.  If we do not know of His love, we cannot know of His goodness.  Hence, God must show (reveal) His love and His goodness to each human being in some way.

I used the word reveal in the previous sentence.  That is what God does to humanity.  He reveals Himself to us in different ways.  First, we know of Him because of our spiritual nature and our a priori knowledge that establishes our ethical and moral values.  I believe that the basis of our spirituality and knowledge of right and wrong is written in our hearts and minds before our birth.  Much of our gender differences and characteristics are genetic, not learned.  Our self-awareness is natural, not learned.  In God’s writing this knowledge upon our instinctive psych and spirit, He reveals Himself to every human.

We also see God in nature.  He is constantly revealing Himself and the miraculous way that He has created this universe and the life within it to us through our ever increasing knowledge and understanding of His universe.

God’s revelations in the physical world and within our human nature are general revelations; every human being has the ability to see God in these two different and distinct manners.  Not realizing that a Creator-God exists requires us to lie to ourselves of what we know is a truth.

A third way God reveals Himself to humanity is through special revelation.  God can, and I believe does, communicate directly to people.  God can give visions.  He can reveal Himself though answered prayers and personal tests and trials.  Even the incarnation of God the Son, as Jesus Christ, was a special revelation of God.  The Bible is a special revelation of God to those who know of it and understand what it tells each of us.  Special revelations are not the same for every person, for every people, nor for every situation.  They are especially suited for the person, people, and the situation.  It is the special revelations that add and provide the definitiveness to our experiencing God.  It is the special revelations that give us the exactness of God’s opportunity to know Him and to obtain eternal life.

Again, what I have been offering thus far are theological principles that we need to grasp in order to explore your question.

Allow me to restate your questions and add a few notes:

Do beliefs like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, that of Native Americans, ancient Greeks, and others (excluding religions that worship the devil or a person who has died) believe in the same God? I’m not talking about the religious books, just God. Could it be that each belief has a different interpretation of God? With the Native Americans and Greeks, I’m aware that they were polytheistic, but did they worship the different parts of God unaware that all their gods are one? I wonder if they all worship the same God, my God, but that they don’t have their stories straight when it comes to their religious books and religious practices.

  • We have concluded that God loves each of us and desires for us to have an eternal life with Him.
  • We have concluded that God must reveal Himself to every human being in some way so that every human being can know of that love and to have an opportunity to experience eternal life.
  • We have concluded that God reveals Himself in general ways to all of us and in special ways at particular times and in particular situations.
  • We also know that not every human being has experienced the special revelation of the Bible.

God designed the universe in such a manner that He revealed Himself to the Native American, the ancient Greek, and the Gentile in ways in which they could and should have recognized His greatness and godliness. He had to have done so or He is not the Creator-God described in the Bible or the one that hung the stars.  And since He wanted each of them to have eternal life, He must have revealed a particular plan and opportunity to them in a special way – a way especially suited for them in their time and place.

So, yes, human beings, since the days of Adam and Eve, have known of and hopefully have been worshiping the same Creator-God that you and I worship today.  Our God may have been called other names, but He has always been the same Creator-God.  Think about it.  There was no Bible in the days before Noah or in the days before Moses.  Yet, godly men lived and worshiped God.  How?  God revealed Himself to them and told them to have faith and to exhibit that faith in a special way.  We only know of the people’s faith that was written of in the Scripture.  We do not know of the faith of the Gentile that lived in northern Europe during the time of Christ.  We do not know what God’s plan was for the Australian Aborigines.  We do not know what the “faith” requirement was of other individuals in the history of the world outside of those mentioned in the Bible and for those who had the special revelation of the Bible.  I personally believe that there were some godly men and women living in the world outside of the land where the Bible was authored and outside of the people to whom it was revealed to.  Why do I believe that?  I believe that because humanity survived in in those parts of the world.  Evil is self-destructing.  If every human in a culture was evil – evil being defined as not doing God’s will – then humanity would have died out in every culture where God’s will was not happening at some level and in some way.  God had to have revealed Himself to the rest of the world in some way other than only through the words of the Bible otherwise the rest of the world would have become as the days of Noah.

Your question mentioned Islam, Hindu, and other contemporary religions.  Those who read the Quran have heard and have knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Most Hindus in the world have knowledge of the Jesus Christ.  The problem is that these practitioners of other religions have not yet had opportunity to learn more of Jesus Christ either by their own volition or for lack of opportunity.  Or worse, they have heard the teachings of Jesus Christ and rejected them.  The simple truth is that any teaching that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ is wrong.  When we look at the words that came from the mouth of Christ, there is not a single principle or teaching that is detrimental to the human race in any way.  Therefore, any religion, be it a “Christian religion” or a non-Christian religion, if that religion places the words of any man or woman in a place of higher credence or attempt to change the meaning of Christ’s words, then that religion is wrong and is not godly.  Any religious, political, cultural or individual principle that is contrary to the principles that Christ spoke, taught, and exhibited are less than optimum for humanity.  And so, by definition, they are not godly principles.

And yes, some religions misstate or misinterpret the revelations of God.  Sometimes this is due to lack of knowledge or thought.   Other times it is due to our selfishness.  In either case, the mistakes can be corrected if there is a desire to correct the errors.

The question is often asked, why should we have missionaries telling people of Jesus if once someone hears the Gospel they are then doomed to hell if they do not grow a saving faith?

First, the Gospel does not condemn.  It provides the opportunity and the knowledge necessary to receive eternal life.  The Gospel does not require any change in an individual.  It simply states tells who God is, what God did, why we should have faith in God, and how to have that faith in God.  However, as with any knowledge, it is our acting upon the knowledge that will result in some sort of change in our lives.

Second, we are talking about faith.  I cannot, nor will I ever be able to prove that the man known as Jesus Christ was God, in the flesh, walking upon this earth.  I cannot absolutely prove that a man actually existed on the earth and walked around saying the things that are attributed to him doing the things that he is said to have done.  I believe what I believe out of faith and for lack of a better explanation of this universe.  I have not found a better hope than the hope found in eternal life.  I have not found a better plan and opportunity for receiving eternal life or a plan that fits better with the general revelations of God than the plan that is attributed to Jesus Christ.

So, if my experiences in my life are better than what my neighbor is experiencing in his life, if my hope for an eternal life is more pleasant than what he is hoping for, and if my lifestyle contributes to humanity in a better way than his lifestyle, then it would seem that my neighbor would want to hear about my God.  He can always reject it if he does not like it.  He can continue to rely upon his current faith to obtain what he seeks in this life and future life.  At the very least he has been given an opportunity and privilege to increase his knowledge and experience of life in this world and possibly the next.

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Doing well.

Dear Friends and Loved Ones,

Yes, Valerie and I are still doing well and enjoying life on our key and island.  We are so blessed to be able to serve our God here.  It appears as if our presence and roles as pastor and pastor’s wife is known and accepted throughout our half of the island.  Everyone we meet for the first time already knows who we are.  I am not sure if that is a good thing or not a good thing.

So, what is going on around here?  The Oak Ridge Baptist Church is showing some signs of physical and spiritual growth.  We have begun Children’s Worship in conjunction with our regular Sunday morning worship services.  Valerie is leading that ministry.  We began with about six kids but are now up to about fourteen.  We are very pleased to see that ministry growing.  Our adult Sunday School is also seeing increases in attendance as well as the regular worship service.

I had the opportunity to perform my first baptism here on the island last week.  Irvine, a young man of 29 years old, recommitted his life to God.  Irvine is excited and energetic in his serving God and is already establishing himself as a witness of his faith to his friends, family, and neighbors.  My prayer is that I can be the good mentor to him that I should be.

The Baptist School, the school that I have the privilege of administrating and leading, is also doing quite well.  We began classes the first of February and have 109 students in K-12.  This is a 34% increase over any previous enrollment.  I have been extremely busy in dealing with the paperwork and budgeting matters as well as tending to the physical plant.  I have been finding myself on the school grounds from 6:30 in the morning until 5:30 in the evening most days with additional work and meetings in the evening.  I am anticipating that this workload will drop off a bit in the next few weeks.  But I am having fun.  I not only get to interact with the kids and attempt to be an example to them, but I also have opportunity to be an example to our teachers.  And yes, I have already been doing some personal counseling to kids, parents, and teachers.

While I have spoken of many good things that are happening with the ministry that God shares with Valerie and me, things are not perfect.  We do have some battles that we deal with.  The biggest battle that we have found ourselves amid is the battle against religion.  And I am convinced that this is a battle directly involving Satan.  While the word religion is often used to describe a belief system about humanity’s existence in this universe, it is a man’s or men’s attempting to place themselves as an intermediary between God and humanity that is filed with problems and interferes with humanity’s relationship with God. Neither you nor I need another human being to convict us or to convince us in how we should live or think in our serving God.  God is sufficiently big enough to that without a human intermediary.  While God certainly uses His people to deliver a message and to be an example to others, those same people must be careful not to act as an agent of God that passes judgement or delivers ultimatums or to declare oneself as the unerring voice and mind of God.  It is that intervention of humans acting and speaking for God with a self-appointed god-like authority that I refer to as religion.  And that is exactly what Satan desires: something – anything – coming between man and God.  Legalistic religion has been a sore spot in Honduras for centuries.  It still is.  While it may have lessened in some ways and in some Christian groups and churches, it has increased in other ways and in other groups and churches.  Valerie and I find ourselves often explaining how God’s grace, power and a maturing relationship with God is far more desirable and helpful than a religious law and man’s rules and a rigid application of those laws and rules.  When one person or a small group of persons declares to have, or assumes to have, the authority and the understanding of God above others in spiritual and godly affairs, this is religion at its worse.  Valerie and I need your prayers to fight this battle.

Thank you for your prayers, your love and your support.  It remains our honor to serve you and God and as missionaries to Honduras.

Tom & Valerie

P.S. Below are a few photos from the baptism.  The site is a couple of hundred feet up the beach from the church and our home.  In the background of the photo of Irvine and me walking out is a boat full of divers enjoying the reef.

Merry Christmas from Roatan

Hello Friends and Loved Ones,

I do hope that you are enjoying the Holiday Season.

For Valerie and me, it has been a very interesting year; a year that has brought some changes to our lives and changes to how and what we are doing in the ministry.

The beginning of this year saw us both teaching at a new bilingual, Christian school here on the island of Roatan.  We had been “recruited” by the missionary who started the school to help get the high school up and functioning.  The school completed its first year in June.  It was a good school year for Valerie and me working with the school.

But though we were content and felt good with the school, we still were unsettled as to a church home.  We were not having much success in finding a church home in the area of the island where we were living.  However, one of my students invited Valerie and me to go to church with her in the village of Oak Ridge.  Her church, the Oak Ridge Baptist Church, was one of the older churches on the island.  She described it as small but with good people.  Oak Ridge was about a 45 to 50-minute scooter ride from our home in French Harbour.  Valerie and I decided to visit the church on a Sunday morning in late May.  That first Sunday morning was a great visit for us.  We very much felt at home.  The services were in English, though everyone is bilingual.  It had the feel of the kind of churches that Valerie and I grew up in.  The church building sits on a coral key that is only accessible by boat or a foot bridge and path from the island proper.  We found out on our second visit that the church was seeking a pastor.  I have no doubt that God had his hand in this.  Valerie and I both had a great desire and calling to become active in a local church; yes, to pastor.  We just knew that was what we were supposed to do and be doing; and we really wanted to be part of an English speaking congregation and church.  Yes, we have been serving God in Spanish-speaking churches and missions for nearly 20 years, but we just felt that we could better serve in an English-speaking setting at this point in our lives.  In late June, the church called that I serve as their pastor.  Valerie and I both knew that this was the place that God wanted us to be.  We accepted the call and we moved into the parsonage that the church was just completing.

The church congregation is small.  It had been without a pastor for two years and attendance had dropped considerably in this time; so there have been some challenges.  The ministry seems much more like a “mission” ministry than “church” ministry.  We are seeing lives changed and people coming to know God.  We have begun a Spanish-speaking small group.  We have started a men’s ministry.  The children’s Sunday School has new life.  We are still working on the youth and music ministries.

For me, I am having fun.  Oak Ridge is a small fishing village of about two thousand people in the village and nearby area.  Every family owns and works on lobster or shrimp boats or are working overseas as captains and engineers of cargo ships and other vessels.  The men that are here year round are merchants and business owners or teachers or work for the government.  The village is built on the edge of the harbor.  Our main street is a foot path.  Feet and small boats are our primary transportation around the area.  Most of the church congregation lives on the island shoreline or one of the numerous nearby keys.  Everyone not only knows everyone in the village and area, but everyone is related by marriage or blood.  I had never heard the term “double first cousin” until moving here.  We have many such cousins in the village.  Oak Ridge is very similar to a small, rural town in the states of fifty years past.  And I am not only the pastor of the church, I am the village pastor.  I guess that comes with being the only pastor in the village.  When I walk through the village, everyone calls me pastor.  And it is not only the church members who ask for my time to visit about life’s difficulties and blessings.  Even those who have not seen the inside of church building in years, if ever, ask me to sit on a boat dock with them and talk.  Yes, I am so blessed to be serving.

What does the immediate future look like for Valerie and me and the ministry God shares with us?  Valerie is still teaching in French Harbour.  We purchased the perfect used diesel, double cabin, Toyota pick-up for us.  She drives the thirty-five minute trip each morning and afternoon.  I have been working from home as an online teacher/tutor.  The role of village missionary pastor was needing me to be more available.  And beginning in January, I will be assuming the role of administrative director of the Baptist School.  The eight Baptist churches on the island have an association and the school is one of their ministries.  The school also happens to be in Oak Ridge.  This position very much dovetails with my serving as a missionary pastor.  The school is small with around one hundred students in the first through ninth grades.  But it is going to grow.  The association would like to see some positive changes in the school and is giving me a lot of latitude to make those changes.  Yes, another challenge and I do enjoy challenges.

I was asked what are the current and future needs that we may have.  Currently, we are still saving for a small boat and outboard motor.  Many of our people can only be accessed by boat and just getting from our home/church on the key to the village proper and surrounding area is quicker and easier by boat.  We may also be needing some assistance with the school.  The school buildings are old and in need of repair.  We will also be needing more classroom space.  While the association is involved and supporting the school, we will probably be requiring some additional help and expertise.  I am anticipating that we will need some construction teams and some mission teams to do some Bible teaching and perhaps even other things.

But above all, we need your prayers.  And that is not a trite request.  We know that we have served God, and can only continue to serve Him, with and because of your prayers.  We covet those prayers.

It is our honor to serve as your missionaries to Honduras.  We cannot think or imagine of our doing anything else.  It feels so good when you know that you doing what you were placed on this world to do.  And we feel so blessed and good.

Thank you again for your prayers and your support.

In His Love and Service,

Tom & Valerie

 

Walk Like Paul Ministries

Tom & Valerie

The photos below are taken from the church’s boat dock on the harbor side and in front of the church looking to sea.

more-of-the-harbor-and-the-foot-bridge-between-the-key-and-the-island directly-across-the-harbor-from-the-church neighbors harbor-view-from-the-island-side

 

looking-up-island-from-in-front-of-the-church-and-parsonage looking-down-island-from-the-bridge-to-our-key

School and Church and Family

Dear Friends and Family,

Greetings from the Caribbean.  Valerie and I and are doing quite well though extremely busy with completing the first full month of the school year and with the many activities in the church.

Valerie is heading-up the English Department at Kingdom Bilingual Education Center.  This means that she is responsible for making sure all the students will be completely fluent in speaking, reading, and writing English when they graduate from high school.  She also assists the other teachers in lesson preparation, curriculum development, and evaluating students in their teaching.  She also teaches fourth, fifth, and sixth grade language arts. I am teaching Math, Science, Chemistry at Nuna Academy.  (Both schools are located in the French Harbor/French Key community here on the island.)  And with September being Civics Month in Honduras – Children’s Day, The Official Independence Day, The Unofficial Independence Day, Bible Day) along with the early school year activities, we are looking forward to a few days of catching our breath during next week’s national holidays.

And yes, we have a national day of celebrating the Bible in Honduras.  In fact, one of my fellow pastors and dear friends here on the island, served as the island’s governor some twenty years ago and declared a day of celebrating the Bible and its benefits to the island’s culture.  A year or two later, the Honduran Congress and President became aware of the celebrations and declared a national day of the Bible.  img_20160925_184850The day is marked throughout the country with churches of all faiths celebrating joint worship services in public parks, parades in the streets, concerts, and other such events.  It is literally a time in which differences in beliefs are placed aside while the doctrine of Christ and his teachings, as found in the Bible, are commemorated and honored.  Here in Oak Ridge, I had the privilege of leading a rather large group of believers in a candlelight march through our village to our church building where we enjoyed a time of worship and praise.

As for the church, I’m not sure about the congregation, but I am still having fun as pastor.  The youth group is showing signs of life and vitality once again.  Sunday School attendance is also increasing.  Our ladies are very active in the community.  And we are doing some different things in our worship and praise time on Sunday mornings.  I am also excited to go along with my having fun!

As for prayer requests and personal notes, please remember our son, Joshua.  He is almost half-way through this current deployment in Afghanistan.  Dalaina and her family arrived in California last week for a short furlough.  Their work in Bali, Indonesia is going well and God appears to be blessing that work.  Joel is currently in the States for training before receiving his next assignment.  Melanie and her girls are doing well.  Melanie is also a full-time mother, full-time university student, and working.  Danielle’s is in the last month of her first pregnancy and is enjoying swollen feet and all those wonderful facets of being pregnant.  I’m sure that husband Jordan is also enjoying those facets also.  Valerie will be arriving in Kentucky the end of the month to help Danielle get through the first month or so of becoming a mother.  She will spend Christmas in Arkansas with her mom and family before returning to Roatan on New Year’s.

Thank you all so much for your prayers, your love and your support.  Valerie and I are so honored and blessed to serve you and our God as your missionaries in Honduras.

 

In His Love,

Tom & Valerie

img_20160904_122107

Our sister church at West End. I have had opportunity to do some teaching and preaching in many of the island’s churches.  Yes, it is also right on the beach.  In fact, you are never more than a half-mile from the water anywhere on the island.

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Sunday lunch, fresh fish and shrimp served right on the bay. That is the above church across the the bay.

First Steps

Hello everyone!
I so much enjoy writing the notes to you, all of our friends and loved ones.  My telling you of the blessings and experiences is such a wonderful reminder to me of just how holy, loving, big, incredible, neat and cool my God is! And He is all of these things even in those times and moments when I am not happy.  It is these times of remembrance and reflection that I best see His awesomeness in all of the times of my life and in all of my experiences/

I am so much enjoying being a pastor again.  The experiences with the people are simply remarkable.  I am writing this a couple of hours after returning home from a youth camp.  I was asked to serve as the camp pastor this year.  We had teenagers from all seven Baptist churches and the orphanage.  I must say that the past midnight bedtimes and the 5am wake-ups were probably the most challenging part of the camp for me. And it was also my first church camp beneath coconut trees on a beach. A bit different than all my previous camps under pine and oak trees on the side of a hill or mountain.  But the songs, the enthusiasm, the fun, and the true worship was the same as my first camp in 1976.  Wow, that was a long time ago.  No wonder my knees and back were hurting after running in the sand trying to fill a water bottle with water with a wet sponge.

Other things happening in the church: We are being blessed with new faces in our worship services.  We had another baby dedication last week and last night the church celebrated the 99th birthday of our oldest member.  A very sweet, adorable Ms. Avis.  I really enjoy my visits with her and our sharing some watermelon during those visits.  She never fails to encourage me with admonitions to preach the Word and to take care of the people.

Last week we did have a bit of an interesting time as a hurricane came very close to the island.  It was the first major storm to hit the western Caribbean in several years so there was a bit of anxiety.  We made the preparations to the island’s buildings and such and the fishing boats came into harbor.  Late the night before the storm’s arrival, I met the same boat that I helped to send off when it returned to harbor. Seeing their faces, shaking their hands, and hugging their shoulders was such a blessing.  The experience of watching the sky and sea as the storm was coming near was unforgettable.  It was beautiful to see and to witness the power of nature.  However, we did not get the full brunt of the storm as predicted.  Just as the storm was nearing the eastern end of the island, it took a sharp northerly turn.  They eye tracked about thirty or so miles north of the island.  We received a lot of rain and winds up to 50mph, but we missed the hurricane’s strongest potential. Interestingly, the storm took a southerly turn after passing the island and before making landfall in Belize.  Valerie took a look at the storm’s track on the map the morning after the storm and commented, “It looks like someone was praying for the people on the island doesn’t it.”  She was right.

Another of my pastor opportunities is to council the students of the island’s Baptist School.  This school is located here in Oak Ridge. With about 130 students from kindergarten through high school, this is a fun project for me.  Not only do I have a chance to teach Bible stuff and talk about God, but I have a chance to visit with kids that are going through the common anxieties and difficulties that many youth face.  To be very honest, the school is in disrepair and has a few major issues and needs.  However, the school is a wonderful alternative to the public school system.  It really provides a great service to the community.  I am hoping that in a few months I might be able to devote more attention and time to school and its operation and facilities. …So much to do and can be done and not enough hours in a day or days in a week to do it all.

This Wednesday evening we hope to have our first small group meeting of our Spanish language people.  (This was planned for last week, but the storm caused a postponement until this week.) A few of our church members are doing most of the footwork and visiting for this project, for which I am extremely grateful and pleased.  It is such a blessing to have motivated church members who want to see the the lives of their neighbors changed and Christ’s church to grow.

I will begin teaching a men’s Sunday School class next week.  This will be a new experience for the church.  Having visited with our men, the older ones and the younger ones, the need for us men to have an opportunity to get together and learn to be better husbands, fathers, leaders, and servants from each other is so apparent.  And, again, I am excited about this opportunity to teach and to share and to learn.

And we are still in the process of learning and visiting people and getting to know everyone we should know.  But there are a lot of people in the area that have had past connections to the church.  And some of them are out on the keys and remote parts of the island.  The needed boat is still on the prayer list.

Well, as you can see, there is a lot going on.  Valerie and I do not have the problem of being bored.  But these are good things. And, we, Valerie and I and the church, do have some things that are going to take a lot of prayer and a lot of Godly patience, grace, mercy, and wisdom to work through.  Growth often creates a little pain and as the bodies muscles adjust to new tensions, new needs, and new movements.  The same thing happens with church growth.  And just like with our physical bodies, the best remedy for church growing pains is exercise – such as running the good race.  Pray that we will continue to run the good race.

In His Love and Service,
Tom and Valerie

P.S.  Please note that our new email addresses are
walklikepaul@yahoo.com
thomasjopling.phd@yahoo.com

Settled onto the Key and into the Church at Oak Ridge

Hello Friends and Family!

Yes, it has been a while since our last letter.  Please forgive the tardiness.  It has been a very busy several weeks and we have been without Internet access for the past three weeks due to our moving.  Remember how slow everything moves in Latin America?  Well, when you live on a small key offshore of a small Caribbean island some 40 miles off the coast of Latin America, things really do go slow.

Yes, Valerie and I have moved to the even smaller fishing village of Oak Ridge where I am the new pastor of the Oak Ridge Baptist Church.  We are very much enjoying the people of the church and the village.  The village and the church is bilingual, English and Spanish, and with a very mixed ethnicity.  Nearly every family in the village has a husband or son working on fishing boats or ships while those that are not at sea work in the seafood processing plant or run the small family businesses in the village or do things in the tourist industry.  The village was settled in the 1600s as an enclave and hideout for pirates and buccaneers.  And yes, many of our church members are descendants of those hearty and adventurous souls.

And our serving as pastor and pastor’s wife to the congregation appears to be a very excellent fit – we are still doing mission work.  The church has been a few years without a pastor and things have fallen off a bit.  We will be looking to rebuild the youth group as a primary priority.  We will also be looking to add Spanish worship to the existing English services.  We have a great core group of about a dozen mature believers to be the backbone of the church.  We also have several new believers and have already begun discipleship and new believers’ classes.  The church has several needs and we will be making some changes in many areas.  However, we are already seeing God at work.  Visiting the people in the village in so much fun!  And we are already seeing those who need to God to come and visit us.  The people of the village are so warm and generous to us.  Being the village pastor is something that I am really enjoying.  We just need a boat very badly so that we can increase our reach to the people around us and to visit our all of our church members.  We are praying hard for that one.

Our primary prayer request is for wisdom, grace, and mercy as we begin this new chapter in our service to God.  Please remember us in that respect.

Thank you all so much for your prayers, your love, and your support.  Valerie and I have been so honored and humbled by all of your prayers and sacrifices that you have made on our behalf.  It is such a blessing to us to count you as friends and to serve you as your missionaries.

In His Service and Love,

Tom & Valerie

P.S. I am attaching several photos.

DSC00401The view of the ocean is from our front deck to the east and  south.  Yes, we spend a lot of time as well as taking our meals out there. DSC00402 “Our” beach is about 30 yards up the footpath.

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Fifty yards in the other direction takes you to the bridge which crosses to the island proper and the main path through the village.DSC00353

 

 

 

The views of the harbor are from the back deck.DSC00406  The harbor is empty of fishing boats DSC00404right now as the lobster and shrimp seasons started last week.  The church has its own boat dock.  The box-looking things on the docks are for our trash.  The trash-collection boat comes by twice a week.  And Internet is via radio to an antenna on the hill.

The parsonage is on the second floor of the education building.  DSC00409It is very nice and spacious for Valerie and me with an office and a guest bedroom.  We have a continual breeze through the house; however, sweating is still a major activity for all island residents.  A/Cs are reserved for nighttime sleeping use only due to the high cost of electricity.  The church bell is rung before services as well as for other occasions.  Its sound carries throughout the village and far across the water I am told.

DSC00366I was asked by one of the shrimp boat captains to pray over him, his crew, and their families before they went out.

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They will be out until late February fishing except for 10 days at Christmas.

 

 

 

DSC00393We also had one of the first baby dedications in several years this past Sunday in the church.

 

Ministry Changes

Well, I need to let you know of some things going on around here.  Good things.

Remember that I asked God for the opportunity to work in a church, an English-speaking church to be exact, when we moved to the island.  He is answering that prayer and honoring that request; only it was not the church that I had been thinking of.

The Baptist Church of Oak Ridge called us to be their pastor this morning.

I’ll fill you in on the happenings.  One of my senior high students invited me to visit her church, the Oak Ridge church.  Valerie and I went up there on a Sunday morning about six weeks ago.  There was a guest preacher filling the pulpit.  The church had been without a pastor for nearly a year as the previous one resigned due to ill health and his wife’s death.  (He is an older gentleman in his late 70s.)  Valerie and I did not know that the church was without a pastor.  The membership was extremely friendly and joyful people.  Valerie and I felt very welcome and at home.  Actually, we both felt more at home in that worship service that day than in any church since we had come to the island.  A few of the members had heard of Valerie and me through the island grapevine and so I was asked to assist a bit.  That assistance involved teaching adult Sunday School, teaching a youth class, and starting a men’s discipleship group and filling the pulpit on four Sunday mornings.  Valerie has started a ladies’ discipleship group.  Yesterday morning, the church invited the local association’s president to come to the church and to lead a business meeting.  The church voted to call me and the local association gave their tentative approval.  The church and the association’s president had already been talking about this before this morning without us knowing it.  I also know the president as his daughter is one of my 9th graders and he and I had become friends early in the school year.  I humbly accepted the call yesterday morning.  It was a bit of a surprise, but I can’t say that it was unexpected.  God had been talking to me about serving in this church since that first worship service six weeks ago.  I have already fallen in love with the people.

About the church, the church has been established for twenty years or so.  It is in one of the oldest communities on the island, dating from the 1600s, it was one of the pirate and buccaneer enclaves.  It is the home harbor to a large fishing fleet.  The church current attendance is about fifty.  Attendance had fallen off as the previous pastor got older and then really fell off after his resignation.  It is bilingual and multi/mixed-ethnic with English as the primary language.  (However, one of our first projects will be to reengage the Spanish-speaking community and to start a Spanish service as soon as we can.  We will also need to do some work to get the youth program up and going strong again and to expand the discipleship and mentoring.)   And remember how Valerie said that we wanted to retire to a beach and God moving us to the island was so neat?  Well, the church sits on a coral key that is only accessible by boat or by a foot/scooter bridge.  We will be living in the parsonage that is located on the second story of the Sunday School/Fellowship Hall building.  The open sea and coral reef is about thirty feet from our front door and the harbor and our boat dock is fifty feet out the back door.  There is a small beach about two minutes’ walk up the key from the church.  One of my first chores is to purchase a boat.  Some of our church members live on keys and parts of the island that you can only get to by boat.  And I will be a bi-vocational pastor.  Valerie and I both will still be working as lead teachers and counselors at the private school in French Harbour.  (Oak Ridge is about a 40 minute scooter ride from French Harbour.)

The special prayer requests:

  • A smooth transition into the role as pastor.
  • An easy move into the parsonage and transition to a real island beach life (there are some things that take getting used to; e.g. bugs, transportation, bugs, fresh water conversation, bugs, no nearby store for chocolate attacks, bugs.
  • Finding an affordable boat and motor.

So, once again, seeking to worship God above all things and being willing to serve how, where, and when He chooses appears to be what God seeks above all things from His believers.

Thank you for your prayers, support, and love.

In His Service,

Tom & Valerie

Serving the Local Church

Dear Friends, Family, and Loved Ones,

Thought I should drop you a quick note to let you know what we have been up to recently.

Our youngest daughter, Danielle, and her husband, Jordan, spent the first ten days of the month with us here on the island.  It was a great time.  They enjoyed lots of beach time and we all had a wonderful visit.  Danielle is also pregnant with her first baby.  Valerie and my twelfth grand baby is due in early November.

The school year is winding down.  We have about four more weeks of classes and then a couple of weeks of teachers only.  While the year has been an excellent experience, we are all ready for a break from the academics.

Valerie and I are also finding ourselves busy in a local church.  Several weeks ago one of my students invited us to visit her church; so we did.  We very much enjoyed ourselves worshiping with the congregation and we returned the next week to worship.  Well, it turns out that the church does not currently have a regular pastor but relies upon rotating preachers  and pastors to fill the pulpit a couple of times a month.  The senior area pastor found out that we were attending and he and the congregation has asked us to fill in teaching and preaching for a bit.  I have to admit that it was a nice feeling and experience to teach an adult Sunday School class and to preach from the pulpit the last two weeks; so natural and fun.  I had forgotten how much I enjoying sharing God in those settings.  We have been asked to start a discipleship program for new believers.  I am working with one young man in his twenties and a gentleman about my age, both have recently made professions of faith.  I think Valerie will be working with my student, who is an eleventh grader and recently baptized.  Discipleship is a totally new thing for the Baptist churches here on the island.  This will be an introduction of it to the churches and pastors.  It is our hope and prayer that this can be integrated into the local churches and be used to strengthen God’s church and people.

The church congregation is bilingual and multi-ethnic.  We use English most of the time but Spanish and Spanglish do find their way into things quite regularly.   The church is in the village of Oakridge, another fishing village toward the northeast end of the island.  I have attached a couple of photos of the church building and our shaded parking area.  The building is located just off shore on a small coral key accessible only by boat or a small foot/scooter bridge.

Thank you all so much for your love, your prayers, and your support.

In His Love and Service,

Tom and Valerie

DSC00353DSC00355

Do you believe in miracles?

Image result for miracles imageI do not forward things very often.  However, this one, I feel, is very worthy of your time and attention.

This is from the May family.  The Mays are working and doing very neat things on an island in the Pacific.  Dalaina is my and Valerie’s daughter.

Since 1993, the year that God sent me to serve someplace outside where His followers are firmly established, I too have witnessed and experienced things that can only be described as Biblical miracles – miracles, signs, events, happening that seemed to come right out of the New Testament.  A few of our closest friends and family have heard Valerie and me speak of these things.  However, we have chosen not to speak too much of these things for two reasons.  First, unbelievers would only scoff and not believe us.  The second, most typical believers would also scoff and not believe us.  We know these two reasons to be valid through experience.

Perhaps it is because such miracles as what are described below are no longer needed where God’s believers are firmly established.  Or, perhaps, God’s believers, as a whole, no longer have the faith for such miracles to happen once religious churches are established.  I do not know.  But the point is, the majority of Christian religious church members will not ever witness such miracles and that many, possible most, religious church members do not believe that such miracles are possible.

So, I leave you with these two questions:

Do you believe such miracles are possible?

Would you like to witness such things?

Tom

P.S.  I know that it is hard for us believers in Christ to have much patience and desire to reach out to the Islamic community.  To deny the terror, murder, and godlessness what some followers of that faith and in the name of their god are doing around the world is ridiculous.  To deny that others in the Islamic community silently do nothing to stop what their fellow Muslims are doing is also ridiculous.

However, is that not the same argument that Jonah used when he ran away from what God was calling him to do.  And what was the last thing we heard from Jonah?  Oh yeah, he was so miserable that he was begging for death in the hot sun with nothing around except a dead plant and a worm…

…and God asking him about his compassion.

Paul Meets Jesus

I’d like to introduce you to a friend we will call Paul. Paul was born in Indonesia, the son of very religious Cousin parents. He was enrolled in I$lamic school from a very young age and went on to the equivalent of I$lamic seminary. He said his daily prayers, fasted, made the journey to Mecca more than once, and was everything his parents wanted him to be. The last communication Paul had with his parents was a note that read We would rather raise dogs and pigs than call you our son. I’d say it was because Paul found Je$u$, but really it’s because Je$u$ found Paul. This is his story…

When Paul was still in university, he applied for his driver’s license. When he picked up the license, he thought it was rather funny that instead of listing his occupation as “student,” the office that issued the license had mistakenly described him as “Protestant preacher.” His father was livid, but the mistake could not be fixed.

Soon after this, Paul began having strange experiences during his daily prayers. The numbers 14 6 kept reverberating through his head. They became so distracting that he ceased to pray and just wondered what they were all about. He even went so far as to buy a lottery ticket with the numbers -and won $2000!, but still the numbers haunted him. Only now they were accompanied by the phrase “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He had no idea what this meant.

At the same time he was experiencing these odd voices during his prayers, Paul began to bleed. He bled, as he describes it, “out of every hole in his body.” The worst was his ears. He even began wearing a towel over his shoulders to keep the blood from staining his shirts. His parents were frantic. They took him to doctors all around Indonesia and even in Singapore, but no one had any answers. The scans all appeared normal, and other than the bleeding, Paul was not sick.

One day, Paul passed a church and noticed that the meeting was about to start. With uncharacteristic curiosity, he entered the building and sat to listen. That morning the pastor preached on John 14:6 in which Jesus proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Paul was flabbergasted, and as soon as the service ended, he approached the pastor and told him that he wanted to be baptized that very hour. The pastor tried to talk him out of it, to delay until he could take their membership class, but Paul would have none of it. So he was baptized that day. He went into the water with blood dripping from his ears, but upon coming back up his bleeding completely stopped and has never returned.

It was only a week later that Paul received the note from his parents. He found it when he woke up in a hospital room. He had been in a terrible car accident, and the Bible that had been in his car was delivered to the hospital along with his unconscious body. His parents left the note tucked inside his new Bible. He was young, still supported by his parents, and he had no idea how he would pay for this hospital bill without his parents’ help. With dread he asked for the bill for what he owed. To his surprise, he was told that it had been paid in full. He never did find out who paid his bill.

He went home, but all of his belongings had been thrown into the front yard and burned. There was nothing left for him there, so he decided to move to an island with a bigger Christian population hoping that he would be able to make a new life for himself. However, when he tried to book a ticket on a ship, he found that he could not even afford the ticket with the little bit of money that he still had. Noticing that the booking agent had a Christian name, Paul showed him his driver’s license and said, “I am a servant of God. Is there anything you can do for me?” The ticket agent smiled and within minutes handed him a ticket for a VIP room on the ship.

The next night there was an unexpected announcement on the ship… Pastor Paul was to preach the next morning. After a sleepless night, Paul decided to come clean to the small group gathered to hear his sermon. They were kind. One woman from the city he was headed to was particularly compassionate and offered to let him stay the in the apartments that she owned until he could get on his feet.

He stayed in this town for a couple of years, learning what he could of Scripture and this whole new way of life. Soon his pastor realized Paul’s aptitude for learning and encouraged him to attend seminary on yet another island. Paul did not want to go, and thinking he would evade the issue told his pastor that God would have to make it clear by providing a first class plane ticket to that city. The pastor agreed and asked Paul if he would pray with him about it. Before they even concluded their prayer there was a knock on the church door. A wealthy member of the church had a change of plans that left him with a first class ticket to the city that the seminary was in. He wanted to know if the pastor had any use for it. Paul got on the plane the next morning.

That was a few years ago. Now Paul is a friend and colleague here in Bali. He speaks Arabic, Greek, and Hebrew, and he has a deep understanding of both the Qur’an and the Bible. In the last few months he has been realizing that perhaps his journey has not meant to send him into the bowels of Christian culture, but to launch him back to the community from which he came. He’s overwhelmed, and probably a little scared. We think he is amazing, and we cannot wait to see what God is going to do with him. In many ways, his story personifies exactly what we have experienced in the last few years: God is the author of the story of his kingdom come and coming. He does not need our help, but he is amazing to let us participate and watch him work powerfully around us.

Please pray for Paul. He, Dan, and several others have begun meeting regularly. About half of the group come from Cousin background, some of them retain their identities as Cousins while others, like Paul have left it behind, but all are followers of Je$u$ who want to see other Cousins meet him too.

Our team, in faith, is trusting that this is the very group that God is going to use to begin a movement of redemption among the Cousin community in our city. Please pray for these men. Pray for their families (one in particular has a wife that does not believe). Pray for God’s favor and wisdom and protection over them. Pray for integrity and courage as they move forward. Pray for Dan and Matt as they learn and figure out what their role is in encouraging and assisting these men in their callings. Pray for a chu*ch planting movement to begin in our city and spread throughout our island. We are specifically asking God for 4 new groups to spring up in the next three months as a result.

We are so excited to see what God will do.

April Ministry Letter

Good morning friends and loved ones.

Life here in the village and on the island is, well, its island life.  The sun is almost shining, the temperature is hot, and the sea breezes are continuous.

Holy Week, the week before Easter, is Spring Break for all Honduran schools.  Valerie and I enjoyed the vacation time.  We even had a day visiting with some family friends from Arkansas that had come to the island on a cruise.  Though the beach was very crowded, we had a wonderful time to visit and to catch up on family and life events.

Yesterday, Valerie and I led a school-wide Spelling Bee.  It was fun.  The kids from all of the grades were excited.  They had been studying hard for the past couple of weeks.  I got a kick out of watching the kids as they dealt with their anxiety when spelling the words.  A few kids would kind of freeze when confronted with a difficult word.  Others would laugh and giggle.  One younger, but very intense student would actually do push-ups after correctly spelling a word.  He ended up doing very well and was one of the winners.  The actual competition went well with certificates and prizes being earned by the winners.

Of course school is not only about academics.  School is a place where kids learn life lessons.  This is simply a fact whether we parents like it or not; whether the lessons learned are good lessons or not-so-good lessons.  And school is often a place where children’s faith in God is tested and developed more or grown or tested broken. The students also, if they are fortunate, will find wise counsel to help them learn to cope with and to deal with life’s problems and to assist them in helping them through those faith-trials.  It was also yesterday that I was approached by an older student, an eighteen-year-old, which was seeking advice of dealing with physical abuse in her home.  We also recently completed a sex-education curriculum with the 7th grade and older students.  During the sessions and in the time afterward, Valerie and I have found ourselves answering so many questions and having discussions about relationships, sex, family life, marriage, divorce, and other such topics.  Parents, do not think that your teenagers, even you younger teens, are not ready for discussing these topics with you.  They are.  When your child begins puberty, those raging hormones are creating feelings and changes inside of them that they have never experienced before.  And please, do not think for a second that your children are not observing and thinking about every word spoken, every touch given, and every emotion shown between you and your spouse.  Those words, touches, and emotions between you and your spouse will have a very major influence upon your child’s relationships in their lives.

And to update you on what the family is currently up to as I am not sure if I have done this in a while.  Oldest son, J1, will be deploying to Afghanistan for a year very soon.  He is a major and his unit will be conducting security and combat operations.  J1 also recently received special recognition for outstanding performance as a cavalry officer.  His wife, K, and the three children will remain in the Fort Hood area during the deployment.

Oldest daughter, Dalaina, and her family are doing very well in Bali, Indonesia.  Husband Danny and Dalaina are also on the front lines as they model their faith to their neighbors and in working to rescue sex slaves from humanity’s dark side.  Their work is carrying them to a many countries and places in that area of the world.  And the four boys are never without being into some sort of mischief.

Melanie and her husband Freddie are in Bowling Green and are doing well.  Their daughter, Lily, recently underwent surgery to repair a couple of holes in her heart.  Lily has made a complete recovery and was declared “normal” by her physicians last week.  Her big sister is now having a harder time staying ahead of her in their sister rivalry.

Our second son and his family will be moving to the East Coast in the next month or so.  J2 was recently selected to begin training to command an Army Special Forces detachment after a very intense and arduous selection and assessment process.  J2 has been selected to promote to captain.  Wife H is also finding out that adrenaline addiction must be heredity as their two sons are forever doing things that “normal” little boys would not do.

Danielle is also doing very well in Bowling Green.  However, husband Jordan is seeing a side of Danielle that none of us has seen before.  She recently informed Valerie and me that our number of grandchildren will soon increase to an even dozen.  She is expecting her and Jordon’s first child in December.  Nana and Papi are extremely excited at this development.  We are so hoping that things will work out so that we can be there to welcome this new member to the clan.

There you have it; a few happenings from the local life and a review of the family.  The truth is that Valerie and I are so blessed.  God has been so good to us in allowing us to live peaceful, simple lives as we attempt to serve Him.  He has given us incredible children whom have married spouses that we know have been prepared just for them, and they as parents, are becoming wonderful parents to our blessed grandchildren.  Yes, we are grateful to God and humbled by His love.

Thank you for your love, support, and your prayers.

In His Service,

Tom & Valerie