Spitballs again. Often, even predictably when we get into ministry, spitballs1 start to pelt us and threaten to get in the way. This time the air conditioning on both cars failed just as warmer weather hit, Slick’s car incurred some other damage…then Slick broke 5 ribs in a bike accident and Matti broke her arm rollerblading. As I drove home from the hospital yet again last night, the need for your prayers of protection swept over me.

So what ministry is inviting this spitball barrage? We’re not entirely sure, but Slick is on the brink of being called to pastor a church. God’s been paving the way to connect with people and groups in the church, to begin building relationships and encouraging them. Is this why God preserved him through a night at home with a partially collapsed lung before he shocked the folks at the ER with how well he was doing despite the internal damage?

Elsewhere in our world, Donna’s been appreciating the positive side of COVID-19: gals’ schedules have been clear enough for a group of them to go through the Bible with her. While it is hard to assess from afar the impact on their lives, we know they are in the Word and there is one who doesn’t like that. So would you join us in asking for God’s protection from further hail damage and continued opportunity to serve through this time?

Please let us know how we may have the honor of standing with you, too, before the throne of grace.

1Spitballs are annoying little things that steal our margins of time and energy.

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, we were able to host a virtual triathlon as a fundraiser for the Misawa Sharks Youth Swim Team that Zoe and Matti swam on this past year. Gwen and Matti did the kids’ race and Zoe finished second in the shortest adult race! Great fun was had by all!

Once upon a time seven cousins, five parents and two grandparents and an assortment of other relatives gathered on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas in Thornewood, NY at Dad’s childhood home. Thirty years later, a new generation of grandparents gathered their progeny for holidays and the rest of us transitioned to occasional family reunions. But in recent years, time and space joined forces to prevent extended family from visiting at all. Then we were told to stay apart – and incredibly, that brought us together! Across six states and four countries we gathered Zoom style to celebrate Easter and family together. What a blessing!

That theme continued with Matti’s virtual 8th birthday party with "cousins" across the US. They played Scattergories and 20 questions, sang, blew out candles and ate a big bite of cake – all at 8am for us! Abundant, undeserved blessing.

Yet a third blessing was Slick being able to defend his dissertation from the comfort of his office – and receiving a passing grade for his two years’ work!

And a fourth blessing has been a Bible study group Donna e-meets with weekly – a wonderful group of gals in five states and two countries digging deep into WHY we believe the Bible anyway. A 12-week overview of the Bible is next. Any takers?

We recognize, however, that for many this time is still fraught with loneliness and uncertainty. Will you continue to pray with us for the isolated and those in danger during this situation, as well as many doors for the Gospel to open in new and fruitful ways? Will you join us in thanking our faithful Father for the ways He is working on many fronts, including making many aware of their own mortality and need for Him? Thank you for standing with us from afar, and please let us know how we might meet with you before the throne – even without the use of technology!

Sand Dollar Beach on the Pacific Ocean’s west end

Some of the sand dollars we took home, which we dyed with our Easter eggs

Ironic…or divinely appointed? In January we discussed doing online schooling with the girls. We decided against it, but only barely. Now we are getting a free trial…and quite enjoying it! When we consider Romans 8:28 and just how God works all things together, we stand amazed at just how many things He is able to weave together for good – all at the same time!

In New Jersey, Donna’s mom noted how many families have suddenly appeared in the neighborhood, laughing, working and playing outside together. We’ve heard many comments about the great family time and even more about numbers of people seeking God and turning to Jesus. We’ve even sensed a hint of God’s judgment against some of the evil we’d been seeing recently. In the context of a dark tragedy, there are points of light like stars to praise God for.

We also praise Him for restoration of some relationships, one simply stretched by distance for a time and the others far more complicated. We also thank Him for what seems to be a dawning of gifts and passions being used again: Slick’s to pastor and Donna’s to write. But even as the horizon is getting lighter on one hand, on the other we look forward with grave concern toward the unfolding pandemic around us all. While the closest cases to us are ten miles away, what disquiets us is the collateral damage that we may not hear about for years to come, if ever: abuse of children kept in unsafe homes; emotional harm to the lonely elderly in the name of physical protection; the hard-working poor living pay check to pay check now cast out of jobs; youth just beginning to find their way now barred from healthy outlets like gyms, playgrounds and basketball courts…

Would you also join us in doing all you can to stop the spread by willingly keeping your distance and urging others to do the same? More importantly, will you stand with us before the throne for these folks and these issues, as well as asking God to turn people to Him in this time? Thank you and please let us know how we might represent you before the throne as well!

One last day of skiing – at Hachimantai Resort with our kids and some of their friends. A very fast group!

Each month we seek to encourage you with a glimpse of God’s working in our corner of the world, wherever that may be. But secretly a part of us feels like we spotlight mere shades of blue and green when elsewhere God covers the landscape with rainbows of living color. So this month, be encouraged by the tale of another ex-missionary pilot and his wife, a nurse, in Kenya who are dear friends of ours.

Even as they sneak up through their 70’s, V and G battle on the frontlines daily. With no natural children, they embody fulfillment of God’s command to a culture where a barren woman was a disgrace: "’Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud…For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,’ says the LORD."* V and G have over 100 twenty-somethings who call them “Mom” and “Dad” – children of faith whom they have introduced to Jesus despite real persecution, both from people hostile to the Gospel and from the church itself.

Here are some snippets from the last few months: Shortly after lunch I heard the call, “Dad! Dad! Come!” Two of our daughters (both from AMWR**) were sharing the Gospel through Facebook to an individual in one of the most closed countries on earth. It’s a country mentioned in the Bible, and a lady was ready to accept Christ! These two daughters invited me to be part of it….Wow! Every time I get to that point and their answer is YES, I rejoice! I feel goose-pimples, and tears usually come to my eyes! In fact, tears are coming to my eyes now as I write about it…

Yesterday, two times, a lady stayed after one of the Bible studies and accepted Christ. After the last Bible study, a man out of AMWR** closed in prayer like this: “Lord, I never thought I would see so many from my country come out of that other religion to know Jesus Christ and receive His salvation and joy!”

The day before this we suspect both G’s and my computers were hacked… Attacks from this source have happened at least twice before… Recently, two of our kids on two different occasions were attacked and needed to see a doctor to dress the wounds. Another has been threatened with a gun to stop helping us. Another was abducted and beaten and questioned about why they brought the missionary into their area. We had to pay ransom money for their release. Another has been harassed by phone calls and had to ask the police for protection.

Despite all this, V and G hold 5+ Bible studies per week with 200+ in attendance, many from countries, religions and families openly hostile to Jesus. For many of them, to follow Jesus means paying a real and high cost. Yet they do, with gusto. So be encouraged – God is on the move, even today!

Please help us refine the aim of our prayer arrows for you. Also, please let us know if you want to come alongside the work God is doing through V and G and become part of their stories by supporting them financially and/or in prayer??

* Isaiah 54:1

**AMWR – Another Major World Religion, about which it is dangerous to email/post online

A snow squall over the Pacific Ocean, take from cross country skis as we slid along the beach. Can’t do that just anywhere in the world!

As if after a long summer hike through a dusty desert, a young gal sat at the library table with me, tangibly thirsty for God’s Word. Not for a book that talked about the Bible, but for Scripture itself. It made my spine tingle! Please pray for K as we meet weekly now. We are beginning a 6-week journey through the entire Bible – and she has some great insights and questions. So encouraging to witness God’s work in a heart!

We’d love to report that all of life is so inspiring, but as is usually the case, while a "high" unfolds, a "low" parallels it on the railroad tracks of life. Sadly the women’s ministry here has all but ceased due to a complicated situation. Please pray with us for clear guidance for the chaplains as well as the balance God desires for us between truth and grace.

Back on the other rail, Slick’s instruction and professionalism has received high praise from all levels of the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) with whom he works. While he’s deeply grateful to be enabled to do all as unto Christ, we continue to pray for opportunities to shine the light of the Gospel into this very polite but dark country.

It almost seems a reward for excelling at work, but God has afforded Slick some unexpected free time to finish his dissertation, pending final reviews. Now we simply ask that he’d be able to defend it later this year and officially become a Dr.

On the lighter side, we thank God for our family reaching a long-time goal. With Gwen able to get on and off ski lifts with either parent and roughly keeping up with everyone else, it is a frivolous but welcome blessing to be able to enjoy skiing together at last. We are also thankful for a bit more clarity on direction for us, though continued prayer on that front is always appreciated!

Please let us know how we can be lifting you up before Him who sits on the Throne.

Taking advantage of roads closed due to snow. Believe it or not, there is very little snow this year compared to normal! And yes, Zoe is pulling the stroller and all three munkins are cross country skiing!

Happy New Year!

One night as the girls and I thanked God for things that happened that day, Gwen’s rambled, "And please help me to be a good mom when I grow up." So precious! And Gwen certainly is growing up. Not so much we have to pay for her skiing yet. No, she is skiing free, both monetarily and from Mom’s help, very carefully back and forth like a pro. She’ll even sneak into the forest sometimes and glide back out onto the run giggling with glee.

She’s not the only natural, either. We put Zoe on skate skis and away she went, happily chattering away as she (mostly) gracefully slid along. Matti was not to be outdone either, eagerly joining a spontaneous mom-daughter outing on her little cross country skis. We glided up the same beautiful, snowy trails where Grandma and Aunt Ginni (Donna’s family) had snowshoed just a few days before. Truly a blessing to enjoy holidays with family that we get to see so rarely and to do so in so amazingly peaceful and picturesque a place as Whitefish, MT where we have been cozily ensconced for the last two weeks.

Truly a blessing also to look back on God’s clear work in us and through us this month, with the successful end of the fall semester for the women’s group and many positive comments from folks who attended a marriage retreat we got to lead. As a result of Slick’s excellent work and favor with the Japanese, they are looking to hire more instructors like him. We simply hope and ask that his professional competence opens a door for the Gospel.

Looking forward to the coming days, weeks and months, we do covet your prayers for clear guidance on several fronts – camp for the Donna and the girls and work for Slick, as well as many more minor decisions that hinge on those two. Please also help us cover with prayer some tough conversations that are likely to occur soon after our return to Japan. If only we could skip out on the hard parts of the Bible!

Please let us know how we can be in prayer beside you. And a very Happy New Year and New Decade!

Our first day out, at the top of the Whitefish Ski Resort – the only day of sun so far! But the snow is good 🙂 Glacier NP and Canada are in the background.

Almost daily I’m reminded of Dad’s humor and quips, like "aging right on schedule – whatever that is!", "two days: this day and that day," and "another an opportunity for spiritual formation."

Running seems to grow daily more painful, but it’s hard to know how much is age and how much is tripping on the dog when she’s excited by the crowds competing in the Turkey Trot. Zoe ran the 6K and Matti biked with an occasional push as I (Donna) attempted to keep us three together and our crazy puppy out of everyone’s way. Or how much is running the stairs through the Tori gates in Kyoto featured in Memoires of a Geisha? Three miles straight of them! Thankfully we only walked through the temple, imperial palace, bamboo grove and monkey refuge later that day. Sightseeing Douglass style, like aging, is not for the faint of heart!

With an eye toward "that day," we’ve been blessed by many dinner guests offering mutual encouragement around the table. Likewise, Thanksgiving with five other families, formed a household of faith as snow drifted in the air to the music of children’s laughter (lots of children and laughter!).

Between highlights such as these, there remain "opportunities for spiritual formation" at every turn. Slick is thrilled to have finished not only his current class at seminary, but also the first draft of his dissertation. Preparations for a marriage enrichment retreat which we get to lead in two weeks are also near completion. Meanwhile, Donna has been given the challenge to serve faithfully in the midst of adversity while waiting on God’s timing with the women’s ministry. Please join us in asking God for clear guidance and for truth to prevail such that wounds may be healed, marriages strengthened and ministry move forward.

Through it all, we are deeply grateful that we can rest in the confidence that the One who desires the best for us also knows the best for us AND is able to accomplish it. Truly, perfect love drives out fear and leaves us free to serve with joy. Please let us know how we can come alongside you in your walk with Him who is faithful and true.

Rock climbing at Kuji. The cliff is right behind Hachi, who has replaced all fear of heights with a dread of being left at the bottom when Mommy climbs the heights.

If "every good and perfect gift is from above,"* then laughter is from God, too. Some events, like girls’ comments and Matti literally bouncing with energy, cause immediate [and often stifled!] laughter. Other events take some time to age into laughables. Someday, The Battle of The Bedbugs will age into humorous, though at that moment it is cause for much fervent petition and tentative praise: after a week of heavy fighting, we haven’t detected any further infiltration. We never did see a single one, nor any evidence besides the intensely itchy bites. Crazy!

A second good gift from above came, like many, only after what seemed like humiliating defeat. Gwen is now happily ensconced in a Japanese youchien (preschool) near our house with only one other American. She’s learning rapidly and loving it, as are we. It’s a much better situation that we’d been working toward for over a year. "God blessed the broken road…"

Though not without its accompanying difficulties, God has also blessed Sandi’s hard work with favor among the Japanese he serves. He has been able to make significant inroads in serving them and building relationships and credibility with them, personally and professionally. Would you continue to pray with us for "an open door" for the Gospel** among these Japanese who are also precious to God?

On the ministry front, we continue to move toward leading a marriage retreat in December for a local church and toward becoming certified marriage counselors with Love and Respect/Dare to be Different. Having two targets painted clearly on our marriage, please join us in extra prayer cover for intentionality, diligence, connection and protection.

Finally, as we’ve moved forward in careful confidence following your prayers for wisdom and guidance, God responded by moving hearts at the women’s Spiritual Health Seminar. Long and deep conversations, soaked by tears, bore witness to God’s work at the event. We continue to ask for God’s wisdom and unity for Donna and her fellow board members, as well as His ongoing work in individual ladies’ lives.

Thank you for walking this path with us. Please let us share your burdens as well.

*James 1:17

**1 Corinthians 16:9

Gwen’s first day of youchien.

A morning run through 3 miles of tori gates and stairs – three miles!! Matti stopped counting them at 2000, about half way through our hike the next day.

After several hundred people shuffled through the lunch line, Slick served the last bit of pulled pork onto the plate of the last person in the line at the chapel’s block party last Sunday. Clearly that was a God-thing! The whole pig had been eaten but brisket, burgers and dogs held out as did all the sides and fixings. But the more important part was that many folks heard about chapel programs and local churches, and a few even showed up at the women’s studies this week as a result.

Not all was roses, however, as deep brokenness and hurt was evident at even so shallow an event. Nor have the studies and meetings we are both involved with been without challenges. We’d much appreciate your prayers for these situations, not that God would give us clear sailing, but that we’d be able to discern where God would build our character through perseverance and where He is shutting doors in His own sovereignty.

On the encouraging side of the railroad tracks, Slick’s been invited to help lead a men-and-boys’ retreat for the chapel and we’ve both been asked to run a marriage seminar through a local church. These elicit both thanksgiving and many prayers for wisdom. Would you join us in those?

And finally, during his week in NY at school, Slick was able to catch up with many folks. For one of them Slick has been praying for years that God would give this young man a disciple to pour into. Slick repeated this request in the man’s hearing as they prayed before hanging up and within moments the man received an email from a friend who was seeking a mentor. From Joe’s perspective, a demonstrative and immediate answer to prayer. From Slick’s, God finally responding to years of praying. Either way, may God be praised. J

How might we celebrate and supplicate with you?

Playing with the next door neighbor Molina who is between Gwen and Matti’s ages. One of the best parts of this picture is a complete lack of boxes (except for the one beside Zoe’s left ear if you look carefully). Proof that pictures can be deceptive!

I thought I sent this last week! Alas, I didn’t!!

School and activities have started for the girls, Slick is busy with a new class of Japanese F35 pilots and we are not insane yet, despite being still surrounded by boxes – so God must be responding to your prayers 😁. It helped to have four days of reprieve to show some Colorado friends all around our area. God gifted us with rare and perfect weather for hikes on Mt Iwate and in Oirase Gorge as well as an afternoon at a local beach interspersed with other sightseeing. We are prepped and ready for our next visitors. Any takers?

With local folks, Slick has seen some "lightbulbs going on" as well as having great discussions with the Gap Year Bible Study group and some of the men with whom he meets weekly. We very much covet your prayers that those morning meetings be effective in an eternal sense and that the women’s group Donna is starting to work with might draw women toward Jesus and His Word. There are certainly some very deep needs among the young couples and families here in this remote place.

How might we walk beside you in prayer during this season?

Showing the McClarrinons Oirase Gorge.

We don’t get to walk across an F2 every day!! But we did at the local airshow.

Sunrise over a run through farm fields near the house.