What a ride we have had in the 40+ years since the Gray Eagle conferred his blessing on us and sent us out into the unsuspecting world - and, yes, the unsuspecting church as well!

In 1967 we headed back to New Zealand. I'd been there for three years before coming to what was then Sunset School of Preaching. I came to SSOP intending to return to New Zealand. Rex & Eleanor Merrick, KIWIs (i.e., New Zealanders) were also in our class. Working together, we had recruited nine other families to come with us to New Zealand - all from our July class of 1967. They were Larry & Helen Deason, Jack & Rita Harriman, Roy & Joyce Dunavin, David & Molly Dennis,  John & Wanda Bizzell, Glen & Anne Gray, Joe & Sally Jones, and Kerry & Tommi Cain in the first contingent. Dave & Barbara Chamberlain followed two years later after fulfilling a commitment to the church that supported them through school.

We stayed a little over four years, but some of the others stayed longer. Rex & Eleanor Merrick are still there. We visited with them in October, 2007. The others are all back in the States, but Larry Deason returns to New Zealand once or twice each year to teach in the South Pacific Bible College.

After returning to the States, I preached at Holly Hill, Florida, which is not far from where I grew up, for two years. Then, we moved North - to Cincinnati, OH where I was at the Withamsville congregation (currently served by another SIBI grad, Mike Grosse). After almost six years there, I moved to Lancaster, OH for about four years, and then on to Utica, Michigan at the beginning of 1984. I stayed in the Detroit area untill I "retired" (i.e., started drawing social security) at the end of 2005. During those twenty-two years we lived in Macomb County just north of Detroit. I preached for two different churches during that time, worked in secular work for a time, and served as chaplain at the Church of Christ Care Center. This is a church-sponsored elder care facility with Independent Low-income housing for Seniors, Assisted Living, and Nursing Care. I was there for ten and a half years. While in Detroit, I also served as an elder at two different congregations and as a deacon at one of those.

At the end of 2005, I left my children and grandchildren in Michigan to return to Florida to help care for my aging parents. My children, Mark (with his family, Jamie and Megan) and Lynda (with her daughter, Melissa) attend the Rochester, MI church. Melissa is entering Rochester College this Fall (2008), while Megan is going into the sixth grade in a charter school where her mother teaches. We just recently got news that Mark and Jamie are expecting another grandchild for us, God willing! This one will be born in March 2009 if all goes well. We left our other daughter (adopted in New Zealand between our two birth children) also in Michigan - but she had died in November 2000 just before her 33rd birthday.

Back in Florida, my home church where I had grown up wanted to appoint me as an elder almost immediately. I said let's wait at least a year - but we compromised on six months. It turned out that Mom & Dad (now 89 & 87 respectively) didn't really need us to live with them to look after them as we had planned. We had even built a room onto their house to live in. After several months we decided that if we wanted to stay friends we would need to find our own place - which we did. We live about two and a half miles from Mom & Dad, help them with their weekly cleaning, and keep a small vegetable garden there.

Since we are only in our late sixties, we needed somethng else to do to keep busy. A little over a year ago, I was approached by Eastern European Mission to be their Regional Representative in Florida. Beginning in June 2007, I began working part-time with them, and this has been a real joy. I visit churches to keep them informed about what EEM is doing. It's great to be involved in this way with what I consider to be one of the most effective mission programs in our brotherhood today. (Of course SIBI is another highly effective work with an even larger impact around the entire world.)

At EEM we are currently raising money to put Bible into the regular curriculum of the public schools in and around Donetsk, Ukraine. In the previous ten years, we have done this is four large regions of Russia - equivalent in size to Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas & Tennessee. Now the 1,188 schools with 366,000 students in this region of Ukraine will join the 6,950 schools and 1.4 million students in Russia who are already studying the Bible regularly in their K - high school class work. This is only one of the things we do. On a regular basis we provide Bibles and other materials for brethren and churches throughout the entire former Soviet bloc of nations - now twenty-seven nations speaking twenty languages.

In a later post, I will share some of what is happening in Ukraine that is more like the book of Acts for church growth than anything I've seen.

 

Comments

So good to read this update about you and your good family. We remember you so well from 1967 at Sunset. We came to know most of the families you mention who followed you to New Zealand all those years ago, and often see them at Sunset gatherings. The church is stronger in NZ because of what all of you did during your years there. The daughter (Lynda Horne Staiger) grew up with our kids in Benoni, South Africa. Lynda & John Staiger are both graduates of the Southern Africa Bible College where I have taught since 1969, and where we have worked with her parents, Al & Donna Horne. I marvel at what the years have brought, both in NZ and in South Africa. At the Morningside congregation in Auckland where John preaches, they tell us that almost half that congregation is from Benoni or other nearby congregations in SA. That is amazing at how much the two countries are connected. Also, there are other churches in NZ where South Africans have immigrated to. I am finishing up a 6-week tour of 5 countries in Southern Africa this coming Sunday. After preaching at Benoni in the morning, I will return home to Knoxville, TN, my hometown. During this visit to Africa, I have contacted Sunset-related schools to learn their plans and needs for this year, or to make contact for SIBI schools yet to begin, as in Malawi and Zimbabwe. At the beginning of this year, I was persuaded to join Sunset's International division for this purpose. So far, it has been one exciting venture and I want to continue promoting and establishing training programs in many parts of Africa. Good to read of your preaching history and to know that you are well and able to continue serving our God. Your prayers for our travels and success in the work will be greatly appreciated. In Him, Jerry & Ann Hogg, Knoxville, TN

Jerry, Good to hear from you! Sound like you've have an interesting and fruitful life. We have met John & Linda Steiger. In fact, the church where he is preaching was started when Joe Jones, Kerry Cain, and I were working together in Auckland. We saw them two years ago this month, the last time we were in New Zealand. Since June 2006 I have been working with Eastern European Mission as a Regional Representative (aka, fund-raiser) in Florida. This is the most exciting work I've ever done, although I, too, have had an interesting (and sometimes) fruitful life. Marion and I traveled to Ukraine a year ago and witnessed some of the most amazing things I've ever seen while in the Lord's service. We had breakfast with Anne and Glen Gray in Chattanooga last month. You're probably aware he is there at the Brainard Road Church and also working with SIBI in an international leadership development effort. We drive through Knoxville sometimes on our way to Detroit where our daughter lives. Our son was also there until late last year when he moved to Murfreesboro, TN. Maybe we can get together some time when we are passing through. You can contact me at jerry.starling1 at gmail dot com. (Someone told me this is a good way to put your email on the web, to avoid spamming generated by spy-bots that crawl the web looking for email addresses.) Marion and Jerry Starling Apopka, FL 32712 (450 Spreading Oak CIR) I remain between better and best and trust you are the same! Jerry Starling, July '67

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