Monthly Archives: August 2009

catherinepalaceThe last few days have been incredible. Saturday and Sunday we visited St. Petersburg, the former capitol of Russia. It’s a fascinating city with a lot of history which I discovered I don’t really know much about. The city is beautiful with canals all through the city, much like Amsterdam and Venice. We took a little canal cruise on a longboat to see some of the sights and take a lot of pictures.

The highlight of this trip happened yesterday (Sunday) with our visit to the Hermitage Museum, which is located in one of the many palaces built here by the Russian czars. Like the Louvre in Paris, it is home to some of the world’s greatest art treasures. Ever since Henri Nouwen told us about his pilgrimage to the Hermitage to study and meditate upon Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son,” I’ve always wanted to see it myself but never dreamed I ever would. But there it was, just hanging on the wall of the gallery. It was stunning in its beauty and because it has been somewhat iconic for me over the years, it was a spiritually moving experience to see it so close, so big. I wondered what it must have been like for Henri to sit there in that room and gaze upon it for several days in a row and let it speak to him.

rembrandtWe only had a short time in the museum and we had to return to the ship on time so we had to scurry through several other galleries (the Hermitage is HUGE) which had Picassos, Monets, Renoirs, Cezannes, even works by Leonardo da Vinci hanging on the wall and we had to just zip past them without even taking a look. Somehow this experience reminded me of much of my life. Just too busy to stop and enjoy all the beauty all around me. Still, I’m grateful I got to enjoy what I did.

We left St. Petersburg last evening and arrived in Tallin, Estonia this morning (Monday). I don’t think we had even heard of this place until we were invited to come on this cruise but we walked all over its cobblestone streets today. There are probably lots of beautiful places like this we haven’t heard of.

While we did get some rain in St. Petersburg, the weather has been good and the seas have been flat and calm so far although I think that’s changing right now as I write. We’re now on our way to Copenhagen, Denmark and I can feel the ship moving a little more than usual. I may need to take a little Dramamine tonight just in case.

Along with the incredible sights, we’ve been doing some world-class eating and drinking on this trip. We had an amazing meal last night with the group we are traveling with (my sister Mary, her husband Gary and some of their friends) at the best restaurant on the ship. Gary and his friend Robert are wine experts and brought some nice bottles to share. We are definitely going to come back from this trip a few pounds heavier.

Overlooking Tallin, Estonia

I haven’t posted more because the internet access is expensive on board the ship, but hopefully this will keep you updated on where we are and how we’re doing. We’ve been concerned about the hot weather and the fires back home, especially since they are so close to Mary and Gary’s home in La Canada. But we pray every day for our family and friends and hope all of you are doing well.


Category: Personal
In Helsinki, Finland

In Helsinki, Finland

Just got back from a fascinating tour of Helsinki, Finland and some of the surrounding countryside. I’ve learned quite a bit about these Nordic countries that I didn’t know before. I’ve always heard of Finland (like during the Winter Olympics) but otherwise, haven’t paid much attention to it. Despite their long and cold winters, the people here seem to be very proud of their country and wouldn’t live anywhere else.

We also visited Sweden a couple days ago (Stockholm) and enjoyed our short stay there. We had some vodka in an ice bar (everything inside is made of ice, including the glasses you drink from) which was very cool (pun intended). Stockholm is a very picturesque city, especially the old part of town with its cobblestone streets and such.

These have been whirlwind tours so far, only a day in each city. We’ve been typical tourists on this trip, riding on tour buses and walking around town clicking away on our cameras and following guides with their number signs held up so we won’t get lost. We probably look pretty silly (like tourists back home) but I’m sure we are important to their economy so they seem to treat us nice.

Speaking of economy, everything is very expensive. The dollar is not strong compared to the euro and other foreign currency, so we’re unable to contribute much to the local economies over here. Just taking pictures and enjoying the sights.

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Marci and I having a cold one!

The weather has been nice so far-no rain and temperatures in the 60′s and low 70′s. From what we heard, the last cruise had awful weather (very rainy) so we’ve been lucky.

We’re continuing to enjoy this trip very much which has been a gift to us in more ways than one. There are times when I don’t feel that we belong here (most of the people who “cruise” are people with a lot of money and expensive tastes) but we’re making the most of it-pretending that we fit right in.

Tonight we travel to St. Petersburg, Russia. I’m looking forward to our visit to the Hermitage Museum where Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal” is on display. I have a print hanging in my office at home so it will be amazing to see the real thing.


Category: Personal
My sis Mary and me in Amsterdam

My sis Mary and me in Amsterdam

Marci and I left Harwich, England on Saturday on the cruise ship Constellation and woke up Sunday in Amsterdam, Holland. We did a walking tour of the city under clear blue skies and also a boat right through the many canals which run throughout the city (much like Venice in Italy). City highlights included the Anne Frank house, Rembrandt’s home, the Heineken brewery and the famous red light district. The “coffee shops” in Amsterdam are actually marijuana dealers (legal here).

Yesterday was a day at sea (very relaxing) and this morning we arrived in Warnemunde, Germany, a popular resort town in the north of Germany on the Baltic Sea. We did a some sightseeing and learned a lot about this part of the world which was once part of the old East Germany (GDR) before the Berlin Wall came down. Warnemunde has a nice beach and the weather was warm so there were a lot of people sunbathing-in the nude. They let it all hang out here (literally.).

Church window in Rostock

Church window in Rostock

We also visited Rostock, a historic German village on the Warnow River. The beautiful cathedral in the center of town is-like many in Europe-nothing more than a tourist attraction now. It seems sad to me that the churches who once occupied these buildings somehow lost their vitality and failed to pass their faith on to future generations. Churches in the U.S. are not immune to this.

We’re been having a lot of laughs with Gary and Mary and their friends who also came on this trip. We are relaxing, eating too much and generally being overindulged. Next stop, Stockholm, Sweden.


Category: Personal

celebrity_constellationTomorrow Marci and I fly to London for a cruise to northern Europe with my sister Mary and her husband Gary.  We’ll be visiting places like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, St. Petersburg.  Just unbelievable. We never thought we’d ever get to do something like this but we have been blessed by a loving family.  I’ll try to post some pictures and fun stuff if I have access to the internet while we’re on the trip.


Category: Personal
Me (in the plaid shirt). Don Goehner on the right, Sam McCreery in front (blue shirt).

My friend Paul Sailhamer unearthed an old photograph that he took at a YFC gathering at Hume Lake in 1962 and sent me a copy last week. I was 17 years old in this photo, a senior in high school (in the plaid shirt with the cool flat top). To my left (or right in the photo, with the glasses) is the YFC director from Ventura Don Goehner who gave me my first youth ministry job. In front of me (in the blue shirt) is Sam McCreery, who was my YFC club director at Camarillo High School and a hero of mine (notice that he had a flat top too.)

Don and Sam both left youth ministry (Don became a fund raiser and consultant for colleges and churches and Sam went into the concrete pumping business) but I somehow managed to find a career in youth ministry that has lasted five decades.

Just today I turned in to the publisher a book manuscript which tells the story of my YFC days and the founding of Youth Specialties, along with thoughts on how youth ministry has changed and where it needs to go in the future. I’ve written a bunch of books over the years, but this one was definitely the most challenging. I’m not sure when it will be published, but hopefully sometime next year.

This has been a nostalgic year for me. Besides writing a book full of memories, I’ve also attended several reunions of various kinds which have brought old friends and colleagues together and they have been great reminders of what God has done in my life through people like Don and Sam. I’ll always be grateful.


Category: Ministry