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.
Over the past several months, in addition to the challenges of ministry in Africa, we’ve also been offering support to our children. Since November last year, our son, Nathan, has been struggling to find work in his field of communications. After losing his job at a local TV station, Nathan began the difficult journey of finding alternative employment in an increasingly tight job market. He was diligent in all the steps necessary to apply for new positions that became available. However, after a couple of months of searching, it looked like this would be an extended process. So in the meantime, he was able to secure a part-time position at a local supermarket where he lived in northwestern North Dakota.
One morning earlier this month, I received a call from Nathan. This wasn’t uncommon but I could hear something was up. He was calling to inform us that he had applied for and was accepted in a full-time job as a copy editor for a regional newspaper in that part of North Dakota. He had gone in for the interview and evaluated the job and its requirements. The employer was enthusiastic about his interest in the job and eventually offered it to him. We are so grateful for this answer to prayer in his life as he now has a new job in the communications field without having to change locations.
Please join us in celebrating this new opportunity for Nathan. Pray for him as he makes the adjustment to this new role. The work hours will be in the evening which will require some change to his schedule. Pray that he will pick up the process of the job and will get the training he needs on the paper’s software to fulfill his role.
In another family development, Emily and her fiancee, Alex, are in the process of relocating to Texas where they will be pursuing their doctorates in their respective fields of study, English and Electrical Engineering. Both of them have received approval of their master’s thesis and have been granted their degrees at NDSU in Fargo, ND. They are now in the process of moving to Texas to resume their studies in early August. We’re praying for them as they get settled in their new surroundings and develop new relationships in College Station, the home of Texas A&M.
We are grateful that, in the midst of transition for both of our children, God has provided them with clarity and direction. We’re praying this new chapter for each of them will be rewarding and fulfilling.
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.
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…… 😉
February is always a busy month in the Bartz family. There are three birthdays to celebrate plus Valentine’s day which sometimes gets overlooked in the middle of the rush. This particular February is even more hectic as we prepare to return to South Africa on Valentine’s day. Barb and I will get to celebrate together as we travel.
We do have some other good things to celebrate. While we’ve been back in the US, we focused on supporting Nathan in his job search after he graduated from Minot State University. When we were together at Christmas, we developed a plan to focus his job search and some sample productions for his portfolio. After New Year’s Day, Nathan returned to Minot, ND to begin his job-hunting in earnest. and sharpen his production skills. While there may have been some moments waiting and wondering along the way, we are celebrating the news that Nathan has found a full time job! He has been hired by KMOT-TV, a local TV station in Minot, to do video production and collect video content for news and sports in the region. This is a great opportunity for him to gain some much needed experience in his chosen field while being able to stay in Minot. We thank God for answering our prayers that Nathan would find a permanent job before we departed for South Africa.
We’ve now come to the end of our home assignment here in the US. We’ve visited with many friends, old and new, as well as several churches. With all the travel, we were only adversely affected this past weekend (Feb 10) with a blizzard in North Dakota that kept us grounded in Bismarck rather than traveling to Wishek, ND. We’ll miss seeing our friends there, but rejoice in the many opportunities we’ve had to connect with those in other locations. We also rejoice in the new friends and a new church that welcomed us along the way.
Now we are in the process of returning to South Africa. We’re expecting to arrive in Johannesburg to take on our new assignment with TWR-Africa. We expect it will be a few weeks before we are able to fully focus on the new role since we are still looking for a place to live. Our first assignment upon arrival will be to find a secure home we can rent. We’ll then walk through the process of getting ourselves settled and adjusting to our new surroundings. As we return, please remember the following in prayer:
- Pray for wisdom and discernment as we sort through the housing options before us. One of our main requirements is security, which can be difficult to evaluate. It is important to establish this before getting involved in the ministry responsibilities before us.
- Pray for me as I adapt and deepen relationships with my new colleagues at TWR-Africa, not only in the regional office in South Africa but also with the broader family in eastern Africa. Pray that I will be able to listen to their concerns and respond in ways that will help us all be more effective in ministry.
- Barb will also be seeking a new opportunity to minister through TWR-Africa. While she has experience in administration and listener follow-up, pray that Barb will find a role in the organization where she can put her skills and heart for ministry into practice in an effective manner.
- As with any relocation, we will be adapting and developing new day-to-day relationships. Not only will we be meeting new friends, but will experience changes in relationships with those we have grown to appreciate. Pray that God will lead us to a local church where our passions and gifts can be used for effective ministry.
We are so grateful for the support and encouragement we have received from so many during our time here in the US. We feel refreshed and empowered to step out into a new ministry that God has prepared for us at TWR-Africa. We treasure these friendships and support they bring our way, even as we return to Africa. I look forward to sharing more as the new adventure unfolds.
Christmas has been celebrated and the new year welcomed. We’ve enjoyed our family time with my mom and brother in Bismarck. Both Nathan and Emily were with us, giving us the chance to spend some time together as a family.
Now that the celebrations are over, it’s time to focus on the tasks at hand. Nathan has a challenge ahead of him following graduation. He is still living in Minot but needs to find more regular and permanent employment. He’s been scouring job sites and following up on potential opportunities while continuing to hone his skills. However, responses to his efforts so far have been minimal. While we were together in Fergus Falls, Nathan and I worked on some short audio samples (called air checks in the industry) that he could share with recruiters and prospective employers. Please pray for Nathan that this job search will lead him to the place and job that God has for him at this stage in his career. He also needs to look for housing, which is dependent on where he finds employment.
Our focus has shifted to sharing our ministry with supporters and churches in the coming weeks. Our schedule has filled up nicely with a number of churches, small group meetings, and individual appointments finding their way onto our calendar. Here’s a summary of where we will be over the next several weeks until we return to South Africa on February 14:
If you wish to connect with us when we are in your area, please feel free to contact me via a comment on this blog or responding to me via e-mail. We’d be happy to find a way to work you into our schedule.
As we prepare for our return to South Africa, we noticed how our home assignment activities, particularly our travel expenses from Africa, as well as getting around the US have depleted our support reserves. We’ve also incurred additional expenses in South Africa due to the change in our ministry assignment. Our support could use a boost of $5,000 in one time gifts to help us cover these ministry costs. If you are interested in contributing to these transition expenses, you can send your contribution to the following address:
Account No. 10400
Far East Broadcasting Company
PO Box 1
LaMirada, CA 90637-0001
Alternatively, you can also visit FEBC’s website. You will be directed to our personal ministry page with a brief summary of what we do as well as an opportunity to make a contribution online securely with your credit card.
Thank you so much for your ongoing encouragement and support. We look forward to returning to Africa in February to resume reaching African listeners with the gospel through TWR-Africa.
After a two week visit to the US, Barb and I have both returned to South Africa. Our time in the US was primarily to help Barb and her family deal with the death of her father back in April. It was a special visit as all of Barb’s siblings made it back for the memorial service. All four grandchildren were present, as well, giving us an opportunity for a small family reunion. The eight of us all stayed together during the first week of June, sharing together in a time of reflection and encouragement.
Even though there was a small gathering of family at the memorial service, it was a special time for everyone. Emily and I were privileged to sing while I also shared the message during the service. Since Francis was a World War II veteran, there was a military ceremony at the North Dakota Veterans’ Cemetery south of Mandan, ND. I could not help but be overwhelmed by a deep sense of gratitude shown to those who have served in keeping the US safe all these years.
One of the challenges of coming back in this situation is sorting through all that Gib and Corral left behind. There was a great deal of time spent sorting what would be kept, sold, donated or thrown away. The level of cooperation among the family members made the process much easier. Everyone pitched in, whether it was moving furniture, going through drawers and closets, or making yet another trip to the outdoor trash bin. There were many special moments of laughter, reminiscing, and sharing together around photos, mementos, and collections from the years gone by.
There was great comfort in knowing that both Gib and Corral are now enjoying their new home at the feet of Jesus. The fact that Jesus had prepared a place for them was great comfort to the family. It gives us reason to rejoice in the faith they shared in their Savior. It reminded me of what it felt like to be going home. It must be a wonderful feeling to be welcomed in the presence of God to our true and final home in heaven.
We know that many people were praying for us during this time of sadness and joy. We so appreciate those who upheld us. It has reaffirmed for us that our Lord truly is the God of all comfort. We are indeed grateful for the memories and encouraged to continue on in the spirit of of the faith of our parents.
In Loving Memory of
Francis Ray Gibson
Barb received a phone call early Wednesday morning from her sister. They had been concerned over the past three weeks since their father was admitted to a California hospital with a stroke. Despite the initial setback, Francis had been making progress, but on Tuesday afternoon, he took a turn for the worse and passed away quietly with Barb’s sister at his side. He now joins his wife, Corral, in heaven, which is a great comfort to the family.
Gib (as he was known to his family and close friends) always seemed to have a spring in his step and a song in his heart. Over the years, as he taught high school in Twin Valley, MN, he influenced a large number of men and women with his enthusiasm and dedication. Gib enjoyed music in all its various forms, whether it was a popular song from the mid 20th century, a great hymn of the faith, or one of the classics. One could frequently find him carrying a song with him wherever he went. He was passionate about many things, including the strategy of a good game of whist. He loved the outdoors and enjoyed traveling in his retirement years. Barb’s sister commented how he so enjoyed his road trip to California last February.
The last several months had been difficult ones for Gib as he moved away from home to Bismarck, ND, watched Corral struggle with cancer before she died in November 2008, and lived with the affects of Alzheimer’s. We are so thankful that the struggle is over so that he now can truly enjoy the eternal life that he treasured.
Arrangements for a memorial service and internment in the veterans’ cemetery in North Dakota are still pending. Barb will be returning to the US to be with the family when that day nears. Please pray for Barb and the rest of her siblings as they adjust to this loss. We are grateful for the encouragement and support of so many during the past few months as we’ve wrestled with these family issues.
May the Lord welcome his servant home and be glorified in the memory of his life.