Blog Archives

Discovering Christmas


Enjoying Downtown Orlando with our son Nathan who just moved to Florida

It’s been a busy past couple of months for Barb and me. November was filled with team meetings in Jakarta and a regional meeting of Christian media ministries in Penang, Malaysia. Then we departed Jakarta to return to the USA for a December holiday to celebrate Christmas and visit our family. This particular adventure includes the sunshine of central Florida, the snow and cold of the upper Midwest, and the crisp morning air of Southern California. For the next three weeks or so, we’ll be traveling across Minnesota and North Dakota, where the temperatures are chilly and the snow is already piling up.

The change in routine and shift in focus has offered some time to reflect on Christmas and the story of Jesus that is at the heart of the celebration. As I’ve remembered again the various characters in the story, whether it’s Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, or the wise men from Persia, their routines of life were interrupted by the significant. There were changes in expectations, surprise developments and life changing decisions.

In each case, their contribution to the story started with a discovery. First, Mary became pregnant in a most unusual way. The shepherds were surprised by blinding light one night. The astronomers saw something in the heavens that had never been there before. Each discovery led them into wondering what all this could mean. Why were these circumstances suddenly demanding their full attention and changing their lives? Their individual discoveries drew them into the mystery as these events intertwined with one another, impacting them in ways they never could have imagined. They were captivated, even compelled, to participate in something that not only changed them but ultimately impacted the entire world.

I wonder if we have, over the years, missed some of that mystery and meaning that comes with Christmas. Maybe this year we’ll come back to discovering, exploring, contemplating and appreciating what the birth of Christ really meant, not only for the characters in the stories but also for us. As we marvel at the mystery, let God’s Spirit draw us even deeper into the treasure we call the good news of Jesus’ coming to this earth.

As we approach this season, I’m offering a few songs that try to capture some of the intrigue and mystery that surrounded that first Christmas and what the characters in the stories might have discovered. You will find the Discovering Christmas trilogy available online at SoundCloud. It’s my prayer that these songs will highlight the greatest gift of Christmas in a meaningful way.

From Barb and me, we wish you each a very merry, meaningful and joy-filled Christmas.


A Family Visit

The year 2013 brought many changes to our ministry as well our family. It started with us together in the US before Barb and I returned to South Africa to begin a new chapter of ministry. We rejoiced when Nathan had a job before we departed in Feburary. Somehow, we have the idea that once we’ve gone through an intense period of change, our circumstances will settle into a more normal pattern. It doesn’t always happen that way. As we finished up our first year with TWR-Africa, we realized we needed a bit of a break. So, as is often the custom here in South Africa, Barb and I took an extended holiday from our ministry efforts with TWR. We had enough holiday time alloted to us that we took off the entire month of December, something we had never done while overseas. It gave us ample time to prepare for Nathan and Emily’s visit with us for Christmas. The break of 4+ weeks gave us time to turn our attention to other activities that included time together and with the family. Consequently, my email load dropped off dramatically.

The family’s encounter with a cheetah. So glad to enjoy our day with Emily and Nathan

Nathan and Emily arrived together in Johannesburg on Barb’s birthday, December 15. It was a wonderful present for her to have everyone back together after 10 months. Unfortunately, we had a bit of a delay with Emily’s luggage, so it took some work to track down her bags prior to our holiday on the south coast at a town called Plettenberg Bay. We spent the balance of that week enjoying the beach, hiking in the mountains, a few trips down a zipline, and generally spending time together. We were back to our home in time for Christmas. We also took in a number sights around Gauteng (the province that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria), including a visit to a cheetah reserve and several places around Johannesburg. Basically our goal was to spend time together as a family. That we were able to accomplish.

We haven’t been without change in our family. At the end of November, Nathan learned that his job at a TV station in Minot, ND, was coming to an end. It was disappointing for him, but now he is busy looking for another position in the broadcast media environment. He’s had several interviews, but nothing has materialized so far. We’d appreciate your prayers for him as he diligently seeks out his next assignment.

Emily and her boyfriend, Alex, are pursuing their masters’ degrees in North Dakota and will be completing those studies in May. They both wish to continue on to get their PhDs (English for Emily and Electrical Engineering for Alex). They are currently in the process of investigating alternatives. We are praying that God will guide them together in their choice of schools.

Barb and I are now back on our own again as January, 2014 starts up. As I’m attempting to assist TWR national partners in crisis in southern Africa, there will  undoubtedly be more change for many of my colleagues through the process. I’m praying for God’s wisdom and discernment as we attempt to balance effective ministry with financial constraints. Barb’s Precepts Bible Studies will begin shortly. Her group is eager to get started again as they finish up Genesis- looking at the life of Joseph.

We do appreciate your interest in our ministry. Please continue to pray for us as we approach this new year with attentive hearts to hear how God would lead us in our service for His kingdom.

Now, let’s see if I can remember my passwords…… 😉

The Family Christmas Update

Once more, the season is upon us. Christmas surrounds us, whether it be the brilliance of the lights from a Christmas scene, the clamoring chaos of the shopping mall, or the sound of the ever familiar Christmas carol filling the air. There are so many sights and sounds that bring our thoughts back to Christmas, a time of celebration, of family, of anchoring our lives on what really matters.

The Bartz family together again for Barb’s birthday

Being back in the US for Christmas always makes it special. As we’ve done in previous years, we will be visiting my mother in Bismarck with our entire family together (at least on my side) for the holiday. We’re looking forward to spending some time with both Nathan and Emily since they are living on the opposite ends of North Dakota. We were all able to be together to celebrate Barb’s birthday in Fargo earlier in the month. We’re making the most of our opportunities.

Bob with Nathan at the Dome, sports central at Minot State University

We are also celebrating with Nathan. He has now officially completed his university studies at Minot State University, receiving his degree in mass communications. I had the opportunity to travel to Minot earlier this month and witness Nathan’s presentation to his classmates on a series of podcasts he produced for the Beavers athletic department. If you would like to hear some of Nathan’s work, you can find them on the MSU Beavers web site. Nathan is now actively searching for his next assignment so please remember him in prayer. We’re trusting the Lord to lead him to the next opportunity where God can use him through his passion for sports broadcasting.

Emily is continuing her studies at North Dakota State University where she is pursuing her master’s degree in English. She will undoubtedly go on to get her doctorate. She is greatly enjoying her teaching opportunities as she challenges incoming freshmen, not only in their writing skills but also in their thinking about important issues of the day.

A renewed emphasis this Christmas season has been on the story of the shepherds. This often ostracized group within the Jewish nation were the ones to whom the angels entrusted the news about the birth of the Messiah. They went to the stable and, upon confirming the story, couldn’t stop from telling others about what they had discovered. They were really the first ambassadors of the good news of Christ’s coming. This is a great time of the year to examine our own hearts. We share about our families at Christmas. Have we also been touched deeply enough by the Messiah of Christmas to be as enthusiastic about what God has done as we are about the accomplishments of our own families? May your Christmas (and ours) be a renewal of the reality of the coming of the Prince of Peace.

From our family to yours, we wish you the joy and amazement of celebrating our Saviour’s birth. Have a blessed Christmas!

Children's Christmas Visit

Nathan and Emily enjoyed their visit to South Africa

During the month of December into the first week or so of January, the pace of life dramatically slows down here in South Africa. It’s a time for families to take time away from their normal responsibilities and disappear to a variety of havens for some rest and recovery time. Since life slows down, we decided it would be a good time to have our children, Nathan and Emily, join us in Pretoria for some family time.

Air travel during the Christmas holiday time can be stressful. This was particularly the case with both Emily and Nathan. They each arrived at the Johannesburg airport without their luggage. This meant spending the first couple days after each arrival following up on their bags. Fortunately I was able to track down Emily’s two cases before they made an unexpected journey to Capetown.

Our schedule was packed full of activities. In addition to catching up on their lives, we visited a number of sites around Pretoria up until Christmas. We visited the zoo and the National Botanical Gardens on separate days. Emily Caldwell, a classmate from Faith Academy in the Philippines also stopped to see us for a day. Following Christmas, we took a trip along the southern coast of South Africa. We stopped first at Jeffry’s Bay, spending a day at the beach. After that we took a leisurely drive to Capetown where we visited all the usual tourist sites. We enjoyed showing them the sights of the Western Cape, including Table Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, Boulders National Park (where the penguins live), and the Castle of Good Hope. What a blessing to have them with us for those weeks around Christmas and New Year’s!

Our time together was a great opportunity to get caught up on the lives of our children. Nathan is now studying at Minot State University in Minot, ND where he is pursuing a degree in mass communications. He is really wanting to get into radio broadcasting, particularly in the area of sports. He’s really excited about starting his first show on the local campus station. That will be part of his training in the current semester.

Emily expects to graduate from Minnesota State University – Mankato in May. She will be launching off in a new direction with a major in English and minors in both music and geography. She’s not quite sure what she’s going to be doing after school, but is starting to submit a bundle of applications for jobs in the US. Her initial hopes of considering graduate school in the UK haven’t panned out, so she is looking to see what else is out there.

Nathan, Emily and I all left South Africa on the same evening, January 6. They were headed to Paris for connections into the US while I was headed up to the UK for meetings with Feba. It didn’t take me long to dive back into ministry as they both got involved in their studies upon their return.

We are grateful for your continued interest in our ministry in Southern Africa.