From the mountain to the valleys to the oceans…of southern Europe…

We’re feeling a bit dizzy from swishing through forests on ziplines, floating in rolling waves in the Adriatic Sea and sprinting to the finish line in a series of races. It seems that family time for us is rarely playing board games, much as we’ve enjoyed our Catan battles this year. More often it’s biking the long, winding trails that flow from Italy to Austria, hiking rolling mountain peaks while admiring jagged alps just across the valley or climbing and zipping for hours on a massive ropes course.

While we thoroughly enjoy all that, stand amazed at the beauty of God’s creation, and thank Him each evening for the bodies and the opportunity to enjoy all this, we also ask Him daily to guide us into where He’s have us serve, either here in Italy or elsewhere.

Sandi continues to greet folks at church as he operates the great sliding glass door to the sanctuary, and to serve coffee after the service, both of which require significant training, believe it or not. As a family each Monday we help serve our Ukrainian “guests” who remain at the church. Thank God for those who have been able to learn enough Italian to find jobs and housing of their own, and for the movement of their hearts toward Him while they were our guests. Pray that their journey toward Him would continue!

While we enjoy this service in the church, and all the ways we serve the swim team, and having front-row seats to God work among the displaced people, we do long to understand what God seems to be trying to teaching us. As we move into the final week of camp, the final weeks of summer and the beginning of the autumn season, would you join us in asking God to help us understand and learn, so that we might exit the cycle of moving, and enter into deeper relationship with Him and more consistent service in His Kingdom? And since we serve shoulder to shoulder in this, our Lord’s army, let us know how we can come alongside you in prayer as well.

Mt Elmo on the border between Austria and Italy.

“Change my life and make it new…” ring out the lyrics to the SuperBook theme song. I’ve always liked the song and the tune sticks in the mind. But I couldn’t stop the tears when I played it, by special request, for a handful of “2nd grade” students at Joy Town boarding school for kids with disabilities in Thika, Kenya, not far from Nairobi. Suddenly, “change my life” took on a whole new meaning and depth – these kids may be viewed as cursed because of their differences, but at least they are alive, unlike some whose parents didn’t have the courage to face the social pressures of their situation.

That week in Kenya took us to Rift Valley Academy (a K-12 boarding school in Kijabi run on the AP system), to AIM AIR’s hangars at Wilson Field (Nairobi), to Moffat Bible College (a seminary in Kijabi where Africans train to reach their own countries with the Gospel) and to the hospital in Kijabi where many foreign and missions organizations collaborate. One of those is Bethany Kids whose travel team we joined for a day in Narok, caring for kids with significant medical challenges and their brave families, and whose chaplain Carol we joined for a couple days of rounds through the rooms in Kijabi where kids and babies recuperated or awaited further care.

What a month of contrast, with Kenya sandwiched between Zoe’s Messina Strait crossing – which raised over $700 for Compassion International – many thanks to YOU all! – and a weekend in the Dolomites on the Austria-Italy border. And in between all that, summer swim started with our entire family involved.

Even while we praise God for the opportunities and experiences He’s laid before us, would you join us in continued requests that God would lead us clearly to any specific purpose He has for us, as well as opportunity to share Jesus with fellow swim families? And let us know how we can sharpen the aim of our prayer arrows regarding the cares on your heart as well.

“Head and shoulders, knees and toes…” One of the girls’ dorms. On the right is Daisy, a sweet, shy girl, and behind her is Mercy, 17. Mercy struggles to speak and has manual dexterity only with her left toes, but she has tremendous perseverance and such a sunny character. She’s the one to requested the SuperBook theme song.

On the other side of Kenya, Zoe feeds a giraffe.

You can find many more pictures of our travels in Africa, of Zoe’s Messian crossing and of our time in the mountains on our Flickr site: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donnadouglass/albums (Give me a few days to update it!)

I woke up to cowbells outside the window. Not long afterward, Gwen exploded, “Mom, you have to come see this!” With as much enthusiasm as 6am allowed, I joined her in the room with the best view of the local mountains: the upstairs bathroom. “There’s horses!” Sure enough, three horses (Gwen said it was five, but she’s seven, loves horses and dreams a little) grazed peacefully in the fenceless field across the street, the white one nearest us sporting a cowbell around her neck. After encountering on multiple occasions a flock of sheep that moved from field to field all over this area last fall, why am I not surprised?

I think God smiled at Gwen’s excitement that morning, just as I think He smiles when our hearts thrill with thanks to Him at the adventure and vistas as we hike along local trails in the Alps’ foothills, or when our hands find ways to help our church as it houses some Ukrainians temporarily relocated from their homes. We go each Monday and are now greeted by friendly smiles and greetings, though language remains a barrier. One gal is a hairstylist and gave each of our girls their first ever “real” haircut by someone besides Mom.

Our involvement with the Ukrainians is small, but God is doing big things among them. Would you join us in praying that someday they will look back and realize that God brought them out of their own country so they could find Him and return with Him inside them? One of them, Victor speaks excellent English and is a strong believer, acting as a pastor among them, even as their heartaches and hard news continue and grow.

Considering their situation, we feel frivolous as Zoe and I fly to Sicily next week to swim back to the boot of Italy across the Strait of Messina. I’m thankful she has chosen to do this as a fund raiser for Compassion International so that it has purpose beyond simple appreciation for God’s creation and its interplay with us adventurous humans.

We do ask that you’d continue to ask God for clarity as we seek to understand what place and purpose He desires for us and our little lives. And please let us know how we might accompany you in prayer as well.

Progression of teeth. Gwen went from three front teeth to only one. This was her one-day pause at two…

On a local hill top.

439 verses! When our AWANA club introduced a Verse-a-thon to raise money for Ukrainian AWANA clubs and their families being impacted by the war, we set a goal of 210 verses (70 per child in our family). And the girls blew that away! And thanks to God’s moving some of YOU to support the effort, they were able to raise over $500.

God’s been answering our prayers, too, for Zoe’s swimming of the Messina Strait in June to raise support and awareness for Compassion International – again, thanks to many of YOU, she’s more than halfway to her $500 goal. Where’s Messina? And why is she doing this? Find out HERE.

Back in our house, we have often prayed that God would protect us from Covid, and as He does sometimes, He gave us something better. Rather than a weekend of swim team meetings in Germany, away from our girls, He gave us a week of good solid rest and family time when Rich/Slick tested positive just before we left. Thankfully he experienced only minor symptoms and the rest of us had none while we slept in, played music and games…and recorded lots of verses (see above!).

Swimming seems to be our theme this month, and as we lead the local youth swim team, we need more than ever your partnership in this venture. We desire to represent Jesus well, but how that flows out in daily interactions – that’s where we need your support before the throne! Would you ask, too, that God would do His part to stir swimmers’, parents’ and coaches’ hearts toward Himself?

Stepping back to view the bigger picture, you may have noticed that we tend to move around a bit. Would you join us in asking for clarity in just what it is we’re supposed to be doing and where?

Thank you for being part of this team and let us know how we might stand beside you in prayer as well.

Morning flight up over the Alps.

YMCA of the Rockies, Columbine Point outdoor chapel

About 20 Ukrainians who’d escaped to Romania have chosen now to come to Italy and live temporarily in our church, hosted by the church members. Pray with us that their paperwork would come through quickly and we’d be able to connect them with jobs and more permanent homes, as well as to the Gospel and to Jesus. On a humorous note, the worship team taught a song in Ukrainian, written phonetically – in Italian. Imagine trying to pronounce new words by reading familiar letters that signify unfamiliar sounds – and doing it in time to music! It can only improve from here!

Thank you for sharing this meandering journey with us. Let us know how we can accompany you on your journey by coming together with you before the throne of the One who unites us into His family.

Also, if you are so inclined, the girls are raising money for the Ukraine via a vers-a-thon through AWANA in mid-April – asking for sponsors who will give either a set amount or an amount based on how many verses they will recite. They expect to recite upwards of 200 verses between them… If you are interested in supporting their effort, THANK YOU! and please email Donna, reply to this, or “comment” – all just come to us as emails. More info: https://www.awana.org/2022/03/03/our-response-to-the-ukraine-crisis/

Keystone Resort’s Outback (Breckenridge is visible behind us)

Many thanks to His help in response to your prayers, we have a functioning home. That is, there are no more big boxes in the kitchen to walk into nor piles on the floor awaiting transport to a final storage place. At least not most of the time! But Donna would still appreciate continued clarity as the move-in process remains far from complete in the low-traffic areas. But that is caused by…

An abundance of good things (and all good things come from above!)! Our church, Serenissima Ministries, welcomed us as members and has drawn us into a small group where Rich has begun discipling some of the folks. There is such tremendous need among the military community here; we need wisdom to discern where best to invest.

And we’ve been reminded again of the talents God’s built into us as Zoe achieved a yellow belt just days after beginning Karate. She and Matti both came home heavily laden with medals from the European Forces Swim Championships in the Netherlands. While we praise God for the credibility that results from this, we covet your prayers for us as we step into the leadership of the local swim team this month, both on the board and among the coaches. It is a great ministry opportunity, but easy to get swept into the performance and perfectionist modes that we are prone to.

Thank you for joining us in prayer as we wade through this time. Let us know how we can share the rescue buoy with you!

Skiing up the local ski resort on my birthday morning.

Matti ready to go!

Gwen’s dive. You can imagine how this turned out!

Six months, three birthdays and one holiday season after arriving just north of Venice, Italy, we are finally moving into a “permanent” home this week. While saying good-bye to the town, tiny streets and trail network we’ve grown to love about our temporary housing, we’re looking forward to reuniting with our beds, books, toys and trampoline. We’d much appreciate your prayers for grace with each other, for physical strength and safety, and for healthy emotional progress – not to mention clarity to sort through house set-up – as we walk this road of “getting settled” yet one more time in the coming months!

Even as we waited for housing, the girls dove right into the local swim team. Zoe and Matti have qualified for the European US Forces Swim Championships at the end of February in every event they are eligible for. Even Gwen will get to swim there. While we encourage them to develop this God-given talent, we also seek to balance that with work in His Kingdom. Suggestions – and prayers to this end – are welcome!

Thank you for walking this journey with us and please let us know how we can join you on yours.

The lower of the two Fusine Lakes tucked into the corner of Italy just a short hike from the Austrian and Slovenian borders.

In January in Lander, WY, Zoe zipped around the cross country ski trails on the middle school team while the rest of us had far more fun selling gallons of hot cocoa and ramen to shivering spectators.

In February, as we memorized verses in the NIV and ESV Bible versions, Gwen paused her school studies to ask if the version we were reading from was the SUV…

In March, as Zoe’s swim times approached and her foot size surpassed those of Mommy, Matti made hard tack with a Revolutionary War recipe, complete with “idolized salt.”

In April, Gwen finished a squiggle drawing (drawing that begins with a random “squiggle” or shape printed on blank paper) into a man swinging from a “trapezoid,” aka, a trapeze… And Matti stated with utmost commitment, “I’m going to practice swooning daintily tomorrow!”

In May, as we hiked Matti commented, “There’s not a sign of civilization out here except for us and the path. Which means I’m hungry!” Back home, Rich and Donna finished leading a 9-month discipleship program called Radical Mentorship.

In June, while flying somewhere Zoe asked, “How long is our hangover going to be?” (I’m sorry, what were you drinking on the plane??) And Gwen informed me that if I sang her a lullaby, her feet would fall asleep. In stark contrast, she and the rest of the Douglass girls raced the Lander Upsidedown Triathlon, created by Mommy, directed by Daddy, sponsored by Hammer Nutrition and hosted by the entire church.

In July, Zoe watched transfixed as the rodeo cowboys rode and fell, over and over. “Why do they do such dangerous things?” she asked, baffled. Why, indeed!

In August in Aviano, Italy’s temporary lodging, we averaged Zoe’s burnt birthday cake and her gooey one for the perfect 12th birthday celebration, complete with two trips on scooters to the commissary in pouring rain – one to buy the cake mix and one to replace it.

In September as Rich settled in to teaching F16 pilots again and Donna returned to Wyoming to ship household goods, Gwen slept in Donna’s shirt “just to be nearer to Mommy,” and said in her sleep, “I love you, Mommy.”

In October, Matti complained that her watch was out of tune while Zoe qualified for the European Forces Swim Championship in Brussels (Matti qualified in November).

In November, Gwen revealed why so many golfers like Florida: Florida is bordered by the Golf of Mexico!

In December, still searching for more permanent housing (please join us in praying for this!!), we reunited with our ski gear and drove up the mountains to meet the snow.

All that to say, we’ve moved again. As have Donna’s sister Ginni and Mom Kohout, all in the same week in August! See our address below. And book your visit to northern Italy anytime!

Favorite jokes of the year, wheedled down from hours of joke books while traveling:

Zoe: What do you call a cow with no legs? Ground beef!

Matti: Why don’t seagulls fly over the bay? Because then they’d be bay-gulls! (bagels…ha ha!)

Gwen: What’s the difference between 4 and 25? 25’s bigger… (yup, the 6-year-old came up with that all by herself!)

Happy New Year to you and yours.

Please let us know how we may be welcoming the New Year beside you in prayer, and if you want our latest contact information.

Things seen while driving down just any old road: a field blanketed by several hundred sheep and lambs, a few goats, three donkeys, one horse and one cow, all corralled by a dog and led by a man. We stopped for pictures. The next morning, the same conglomeration appeared on another field a mile away. Several days later, traffic slowed our progress through one of the normally high-speed traffic circles. We thought it was rush hour, but no, it was rubbernecking – the same herd, now five miles away on yet another field. God’s natural mowing and fertilizing crew?

Having wrapped up three soccer season and begun horseback riding to supplement swimming, we continue to appreciate our little mountain retreat. We’ll miss waking to rooster, dog and cow sounds! But we’d also repeat our request that God would provide more permanent housing and a solid (non-rental) car alongside some clarity on purpose.

We’ve met some wonderful families and are encouraged to see God working in them as they meet together throughout the weeks. Please let us know how we can come alongside you in prayer as well, wherever you may be.

In stark contrast to the brilliant rainbow behind it, this Roman stadium in Syracusa, Sicily seemed specifically designed for brutal combat, including wall dividing the floor from the seats and sort of sewer drain surrounding the floor. Worn diagonally down through the stone stands were ruts from a road that once drove across these ruins. What tales could they tell, if these stones could speak…

Twenty-five-ish years ago, a couple finished their first year on the mission field in Singapore and moved to Fontannafreda, Italy. Now there is a thriving little church of Italians and Americans who bear witness to their faithfulness, as do their adult children. How God uses the faithful to touch so many lives – including ours!

Perhaps stories like this stand out to me because of their stark contrast to our own trail, where we’d ask you to join us in beseeching God for sufficient housing and cars. It seems it will truly take His hand at work as both are in short supply and high demand in the wake of Covid. Yet His abundance has spoiled us so many times… We do thank Him daily for a loaner car and a wonderful little two bedroom apartment on the mountainside as we wait and search.

As summer fades into autumn, we’d continue to ask also for clarity on purpose here and for what we can be praying for you. Just so you know, you can comment on any of our posts and it’s like replying to an email – it comes only to us.

Our neighbors just down the hill.

Fresh cheese and milk from the machines. Our milk is in the bottle in the center of the picture. Not pictured are the cows just to the right, hooked up to their milking machines.