Christmas Letter 2016

2016         Merry Christmas         Joe & Elaine Vandegriff

Because we anticipate hearing from you, we’d like to share some of our joys. Most of all, we are so grateful for God’s faithfulness, His love, His mercy and forgiveness. He is indeed the Reason for the Season. He is our Hope, in spite of all that goes awry. All of us – our country, and the whole world – need God’s Good News, His guidance, His strength. Christmas reminds us of God’s gift – Hurrah!

As you know, we love and enjoy our families. Our grandkids all amaze us. Ellie had a summer internship in computer science at the University of New Hampshire; now she is a junior at Taylor U. majoring in physics. Johan is a high school senior, also a new Eagle Scout. He’s been building robots for competitions for 8 years. This year his team performed well, advanced from state to regional and world contests. Exciting to watch! And now Lincoln has joined their team. Linc also enjoys photography and Boy Scouts. Celeste’s recent achievement was the 4-H Diamond Clover Level 6 Award (a service project that’s comparable to Eagle Scout).

The Tien’s vacationed in France in June making use of Dessie’s fluent French. Dessie plays tennis, Cora plays volleyball and made varsity as a freshman. Dessie has learned to drive in Austin traffic and does a great job.

We traveled many miles again this year, visited Big Bend, Grand Canyon & Yellowstone Nat’l Parks, Hoover Dam, and the 50th reunion of Wandering Wheels – a coast-to-coast bike trip in 1966. Some of our visits to friends & family were farewells; a Taylor classmate, Sid Forsyth, died shortly after our visit. We celebrated the 80th birthday of brother Dave the month before he died. Aunt Carol died in August, leaving Elaine’s Dad the only sibling (of 8) to survive. Three in-laws also survive, including Elaine’s Mother. Her parents are 96!

As you see & hear, taste & feel this Christmas, we pray the Babe of Christmas will be your Guiding Star, your Comforter, your Lord and Savior.  Have a joyous Christmas and a blessed New Year!

Joe’s 2016 Christmas Meditation

Joe & Elaine
Joan, Dessie, Jennifer Tien (Hubert’s Mother),  Cora, Hubert
Celeste       Lincoln       Dessie       Cora
Budd                Dave        Janice “Sis”          Joe
Johan, new Eagle Scout,  Jon
Sharon                  Celeste    Jill (Vandegriff) Clayton
 BJ            Edie   Ron        Elaine Twila
Miriam  (Elaine’s Mother)
Maurice Shugart
Ellie     Miriam Shugart    Jon     Elaine
4 Generations!

2016  Photo  Review

Dessie on her LASA High School tennis team
electron Volts Robot Team wins Maryland State and goes to world competition in St. Louis
Lincoln, age 12 (blue shirt), at a STEM event held by the National 4-H Council at the Press Club in Washington, DC demonstrating a robot to Kari Byron, formerly from the Mythbusters
Cora loves volleyball and we love to watch her
Lincoln & Celeste holding on for dear life
Sharon making her famous buckwheat pancakes – Yum!
Ellie driving off to Univ. of New Hampshire for her summer job writing software for a scientific satellite. Yes, her hair is pink! (or is it red?)
Lincoln and grandparents visit the museum at Dayton, Ohio
Elaine at the famous “Bean” in Chicago – officially called Cloud Gate in Millennium Park
Yellowstone Nat’l Park, at Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces
LONG hike to the famous Window in Big Bend Nat’l Park
← Mexico               Rio Grande River at Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend NP                        USA →
Artists Paint Pots in Yellowstone NP
That’s All Folks!

A Christmas Meditation for 2016

   It is common at Christmas to reference the many Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah that point to Jesus. Indeed, these are used to validate the credibility of the Bible. Like this one from the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son…” (Isaiah 7:14).  The prophecies were well known even in biblical times as we see in the nativity story where Bethlehem is foretold to be the birthplace of the Messiah (Matthew 2:6).  These prophetic verses are sung every year in Handel’s Messiah oratorio.  It is right and fitting to do so.

    But in all this there is something equally important about the prophecies of the Messiah that are commonly overlooked.  The prophets spoke not only about the One to come and the circumstances. They also gave a vision of what the Messiah would do and the new way of life that would result. This is the “why” he was coming. The vision is described in terms of righteousness and justice where the poor and outcasts are cared for by the people of power and influence, and mankind will no longer need weapons of war. Today we describe this in terms of social justice.  

    Jesus uses one of Isaiah’s prophetic passages as his mission statement when he explained his actions to his hometown synagogue:  “The spirit of the Lord is upon me to deliver good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoner, recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed…” (in Luke 4:18 Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1,2).  In the activities of Jesus we see the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophetic visions of righteousness and justice.  Jesus called it the kingdom of God on earth and taught his followers to pray for it and live in it.

    Maybe it’s because the old prophets used poetry to describe their vision of the Messiah’s new world order that makes it easy to miss. Lions lying down with lambs was never meant to apply only to the animal kingdom, but refers to powerless people no longer needing to fear the powerful.  Maybe this is overlooked because the powerful people who claim the right to interpret the “proper” meaning of the Bible do not like the implications that might impinge against their way of doing business.

    To miss this prophetic vision of the new way of life after the Messiah has led to disastrous consequences throughout Christian history where Christians promoted “holy” wars against heretics and other enemies, conducted human trafficking and enslavement of kidnapped people, slaughtered and took advantage of peoples around the world, and other atrocities… all while singing of Jesus. Even today in many Christian circles, Jesus has no connection to social justice. I can speak of this first hand how my little northern church where I grew up was against civil rights for blacks and saw no problem with our racial prejudice against blacks while we praised Jesus every Sunday.  We were blind!  Even today I hear some Christians criticize the poor for being poor, readily calling undocumented residents “illegals” and demanding to build walls against the poor, trashing other religions, denying rights and persecuting a class of “sinners” they do not like – all the while claiming the high road of righteousness and love for Jesus.

    The Christmas story is a powerful story that captures our imaginations with wonder and mystery.  Yet parts are a little hard to believe, like a virgin birth.  And concerning the mission of the Messiah, it seems beyond belief that the world will ever be like the vision of those old poet prophets.  Doesn’t it seem just as hard to believe men will one day learn war no more and needless suffering will be no more?  If we can believe a virgin could conceive, then why not believe that some day peace will replace strife and war, and righteousness and justice will flourish among all people.  This was the angel’s song to the lowly shepherds on a hillside one starry night long ago.  It was about peace on earth and good will among men.  This is the mission of the infant Messiah.  Can we believe it?

    There are many prominent leaders of Americanized Christianity who criticize the notion of a social gospel in derogatory terms and claim salvation of souls as the mission of Jesus.  In this view, dealing with messy social issues of injustice gets in the way of the spiritual Jesus who wants to save us from hell in the afterlife.  Social justice issues, being complicated, controversial, and not very spiritual, are placed at the bottom of concern compared to eternal life in heaven.  And the idea of humanity finding a way to true peace is not seen as achievable anyway.  Can it be that those who readily accept a virgin birth cannot believe that the vision of the prophets will ever come to pass in human history?  The vision of the a new way of living, the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed, is viewed as not possible until Jesus returns in power to make things right by force.  Really? by Force!?

    What might happen if all who call themselves Christian would seriously lift up the poor and stand up for the outcasts of society against injustice? What if the Christians would actually love their enemies, pray for those who persecute them, and not return evil for evil done against them? What if the Christians were made to suffer for such things, just as Jesus said they would, and still continued in them? If such things had been common practice among Christians on a massive scale throughout history, what would the world be like today?  Could it be more like the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed?  Could the angel’s song really come to pass?   Could a virgin really conceive?

    This is what I ponder at Christmas. I dream of righteousness and justice and world peace. I long and ache for the Way of Jesus to be way of the world, starting with me.

back to Joe’s writings Back to 2016 Christmas Letter and Photos

Christmas Letter 2015

Once again we want to send you Christmas greetings of love and joy. We recall many happy encounters/experiences this year:

✦ Wedding of Elaine’s nephew Jonathan in Illinois (like a Shugart family reunion),

✦ Grandparents’ Day with Ellie at Taylor University (now a sophomore)

✦ Joe’s 50 year college class reunion at Taylor U.  (now officially an Old Fart)

✦ We traveled in several states to visit family & friends: Colorado in May & August, Wyoming in July, Wisconsin in October, Florida in November, Indiana and Maryland several times.

Some of these trips included experiences not always fun and easy. Elaine’s parents are 95; both now require nursing home care. We’ve been with family & friends during or after surgeries and chemotherapy, shared the grief of loss of relatives & friends.

We are grateful and thank God for His faithfulness  – for our good health and the energy to work and travel. When home, Joe often joins the electrical crew of Habitat for Humanity wiring houses; helps collect and deliver clothing to the street people in Austin; runs around taking photos of almost everything.

Elaine volunteers as a nurse for a health clinic for people without insurance; participates in a Knit-A-Square group that makes blankets for aids orphans in Africa; is a Stephen Minister in our church.

For us the Christmas message is that God flips the table on life-as-normal by “scattering the proud… bringing down rulers… lifting up the humble… filling the hungry with good things but sending the rich away empty.” (Mary’s song in Luke 1:51-53)  Christmas is so much more than decorations, parties, and such trivia.  Jesus came to bring righteousness and justice (Isaiah 9:7) that restore the goodness of life to all people as God intended at creation.  To follow Jesus means not only to receive salvation but to sign up to live for the common good that extends to all people. This is the hope offered to us from God every Christmas – that as we live less selfishly and more for the common good, peace on earth will flourish.

Joe & Elaine, the Old Folks
Ellie – 19      Celeste – 14     Johan – 17   Lincoln – 11, The Maryland Gang
Sharon had a ¾” cartilage chip removed from her ankle
the day before Thanksgiving. Yikes!
Jon & Johan with their Robot Team (before the robot was built)
Hubert & Joan    Cora – 13  &  Dessie – 15  The Texas Crew
at Jonathan’s wedding in July
This photo was released by NASA when the New Horizons spacecraft reached Pluto on July 14, 2015
and it appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal papers
 Note our son, Dr. Jon Vandegriff, in the back row!
Dessie   Lincoln    Cora           Celeste        on Lake Travis
Lincoln – Tenderfoot Scout
Ellie (with the pink hair),  Elaine’s Mother, Miriam, in Indiana,  Johan
One Proud Grandpa with Dessie & Cora  (aren’t they PRETTY!)
Cora, 8th grade, tubing with one of her Many Friends
Dessie, 10th grade, in San Francisco with a Friend
Joan with Quinn at Jonathan’s wedding
Hubert piloting our new boat (at least new to us)
Johan raising funds for his Eagle Scout project
Elaine with her sister, Edie, and their father, Maurice Shugart
3 old  Brothers –   Budd,  Dave,  Joe

Return to Joe’s Not-So-Famous Web Site

Christmas Letter 2014

Merry Christmas                 2014                   from Joe & Elaine Vandegriff  

Oh how we want to brag on our 6 wonderful grandkids. 2 in Texas. 4 in Maryland.

But first, it’s Christmas. And that’s what matters the most. Christmas is when we focus on others instead of ourselves; when we long for peace on earth with the goodness of God blanketing the earth and covering all people; when we sing about love and joy; when we think of Jesus and the hope that comes from living the Way he shows us, the Way of grace and love even for enemies, the Way of humble and courageous leadership that doesn’t follow the crowd, the Way of goodness and justice to all people including the poor, the forgotten, the outcasts and even sinners and enemies.

Merry Christmas. And may God bless us, every one.

OK. Now, the grandkids.

Ellie: 18, 3rd generation freshman at Taylor University studying film and media. Wants to make movies and be The Director.

Johan: 16, home school sophomore, excellent computer and robot geek, working on Eagle Scout and driving license.

Dessie: 14, 9th grader in the 8th best high school in the USA, tennis team, learning guitar and piano, very artistic.

Celeste: 13, home school 7th grade, reads everything, creative in sewing and cooking, big heart, wants to be a nurse.

Cora: 12 (almost 13), 7th grade, national junior honor society officer, volleyball A team, Miss Popularity at her school.

Lincoln: 10, 5th grade home school, geek in the making, new boy scout, swim team, learning piano, very happy guy.

And, oh  yes, they have parents.

Jon & Sharon in Maryland –  both heavily involved in doing a fine job of home schooling their kids. Jon works on software that handles scientific satellite data at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and coaches a robot competition team including Johan. Sharon is a very busy stay-at-home mom running the schooling.

Hubert & Joan in Austin – two working parents who also provide Dad & Mom’s Taxi Service for their daughters and friends. Hubert works on network equipment planning and deployment for Verizon and is our patient smart-phone consultant. Joan works in corporate communication for GM in Austin and gets to drive a new car every 6 months.

As for us Old Folks, road trip warriors we are. Went on 6 extended road trips for over 25,000 miles, mostly visiting family around the country: California, Wyoming, Colorado, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Maryland, vacation in Maine and in Arizona (4 corners area).

If we haven’t see you this year, please fill out the Old Folks Visit Request Form to be put in our 2015 itinerary, but beware–we just might come by. Joe always travels with his electrical tool box. So have your chore list ready.

Besides seeing Cora’s volleyball games (district champs!) and Dessie’s tennis matches in Texas, we attended performances of the Home School Theater in Maryland which involved all of Jon & Sharon’s family and watched Johan’s winning robotic team compete.  Obviously, we are proud of our family and enjoy sharing in all these activities.

We have been SO BLESSED by God that now our daily prayer is to BE A BLESSING to others.        Merry Christmas


Vandegriff and Tien Family Photos

Christmas Letter 2013

from Joe & Elaine Vandegriff

We look forward to hearing from family and friends and catching up with you. And, of course, we like to share our news as well. So here it is.

Road Trips: we took even more trips this year and they just keep getting better. We did the longest trip yet to escape the Texas summer heat. We called ourselves “heat refugees”. For 2 months we visited many sights and family; it was fantastic! Then again in November Elaine’s niece was married in Jacksonville, Florida and it was like a mini reunion for her family. What fun!

Elaine’s parents have survived another year. Her dad is now in a different facility, on Memory Lane, a unit for people with dementia. Mother is able to live by herself in their assisted-living apartment. Both are 93 years old. Almost every road trip takes us to Indiana to see them.

Jon & Sharon, our Maryland family, continue with home-schooling. Other activities include theatre, photography, robot design, basketball, 4-H club, swimming and horse-back riding. We are glad Ellie has been accepted at Taylor University where her dad and grandparents went.

Joan & Hubert have both girls in middle school this year; Dessie studies French, Cora is learning Spanish. They keep busy with gymnastics, tennis and piano lessons, hiking, and cooking, besides fun with friends and cousins. They live in Austin, only about 25 miles from us. Yeah!

Joe & Elaine at Niagara Falls
Jon & Sharon
Joan, Dessie, Cora & Hubert
— Lincoln, 9 — Johan, 15 — Celeste, 12 — Dessie, 13 — Ellie, 17 — Cora, 11 —
(It was a very HOT day in Colonial Williamsburg this day and we were all Hot, especially Dessie!)

A Christmas Message

from Joe Vandegriff: official Grandpa, arm-chair theologian, feeble follower of Jesus.

How Best to Observe Christmas

At the heart of the biblical Christmas story is God coming to earth. Incarnation is the theological word for this. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” There is deep meaning and mystery in this far beyond what I understand or could write about here, but I will offer a couple of thoughts.

1. The Christmas message is that the great God of creation desires connection with us, his children, made in his image. When I look at a clear dark night sky or peer at majestic mountains or the distant horizon from the seashore, it is easy for me to think of God as creator. But the idea that this Creator of galaxies is interested in me and you, knows us and cares deeply, is not so obvious. Yet this is the Christmas story – God reaching out to his world, to his children, because God desires to be in relationship with us.

2. Divinity becoming flesh has huge implications for the human condition. Jesus, being fully human, has demonstrated the full human potential. What would a life look like that was fully yielded to God and full of God’s spirit? Look to Jesus and we will see that life. This is what God is calling to his children, to live in full connection with God. This life is full of power, humility, and love. It is our personal mini-incarnation of God in the world.

The deep meaning and mystery of the incarnation are easily lost in our Christmas commotion. Our frienzed focus on giving gifts is superficial at best and a gross diversion at worse. The Christmas God who reaches out to his children longs for our response – a response more than just a nod before we go about the rest of our life. Jesus not only shows us the extent of God’s love for his children but also how to live out our response to God’s love.

I believe this love of God extends to all people including those of other beliefs and even no beliefs. “For God so loved the world…”. I believe the Creator is seeking relationship with all his children to draw all people into his life and love. For those of us who celebrate Christmas, the best way to observe it would be to become ourselves an incarnation of God’s spirit of love and become a part of God’s reaching out to all people. Then maybe the world will see and know the full extent of God’s wonderful love that comes to all people at Christmas.

Christmas Letter 2012

2012 Joe & Elaine Vandegriff

    Assessing our life now leaves us questioning – what did we do to deserve this? But don’t worry! Nothing bad happened and nothing is wrong. Just the opposite. We find ourselves so blessed beyond even our highest dreams. No, we didn’t win the lottery. We don’t need to, either. Because we feel blessed by the love of family and friends. We are so thankful for the ability to take our road trips and for health to enjoy life. The only way we can account for all this is that it is from God’s hand. Now we are praying for and finding opportunities where we can BE a blessing to God and others. This is how we can thank God, by sharing our blessings with others. 
     Jesus said, “Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands—all that you can hold. The measure you use for others is the one that God will use for you.” Luke 6:38 (Good News Bible)

Here’s some of what we’ve been up to in 2012:
     We celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary with a 13 day Alaska trip, from Fairbanks to Vancouver by train, bus and ship. We went with Elaine’s sister and her husband, Betty Jane and Mike Fratzke, after years of anticipation. Two of our favorite experiences: seeing majestic Mt. McKinley (Denali) without cloud cover and the bubble feeding of humpback whales. Alaska is God’s awesome display of beauty!
     We spent more time with Joe’s family this year. In June we enjoyed celebrating with Dave and Sue’s family at their 50th wedding anniversary in Colorado Springs. In October we gathered in Indiana for the funeral of Joe’s sister-in-law Charlotte and visited with many of Budd’s family.
     May was really cool! We went to Legoland in California to see Jon and his team of kids (3 of them his) compete in an international Lego Robot contest. They were invited since they took second place in the whole state of Maryland! We’re so proud of them.
     Living close to Joan’s family is such a joy! Besides just hanging out, there were days at the beach near Corpus Christi, a boat party on Lake Travis, and proudly watching Dessie and Cora in events at school and such. 
     To their great surprise, Elaine’s parents have lived to be 92, still living in their assisted-living apartment. They are almost always one of our stops on our road trips.
     We look forward to hearing from you – our family and friends. And we wish you a joyous time with your loved ones. When you least expect it, we just might call and come knocking at your door on one of our road trips.

Back Row: Johan, Jon, Ellie 
Front Row: Lincoln, Sharon, Celeste
Johan enters Boy Scout’s Order of the Arrow
Dessie, Joan, Cora, Hubert
Mt. McKinley – we got to see it! Majestic! Awesome!

Christmas Letter 2011

In this Advent and Christmas season, we are so grateful for God’s blessings, his faithfulness, and his promises. We are enjoying your cards and notes which remind us of your love and friendships. Sure, we also see heartaches, pain, confusion, and loss of loved ones, but through it all we know God cares for every one of us and knows our needs. Our goal is to become more like Jesus, to understand and obey His teachings.
As for family news, Elaine’s parents are now 91, live in assisted living in Marion, IN. We managed to get our 2 children Jon and Joan and their families together with us for a week at a Texas beach this summer. You can see from the photo how our beautiful grandchildren are growing up! Such energetic and smart kids – yes, we love ’em all!

As friends and family visit us, we explore Texas. To get away from the Texas heat and drought, we’ve visited southern California, Grand Canyon, Kansas, and Wisconsin. Florida attraction was Space Shuttle Endeavor’s last launch. We trek to Indiana and Maryland every few months to keep in touch with parents and Jon’s family. We’ve joined celebrations for birthdays, anniversaries, funerals, and a wedding (Elaine’s nephew Jeremiah).
Despite the turmoils of storms, fires, wars, economic and political disarray, we look forward to God’s presence in our lives and yours in 2012.

May peace be your treasure to open and share
this season and all year through.
Best wishes to each of you, and a Happy New Year!
Elaine & Joe Vandegriff

How does the old message of Christmas about “Peace on earth” even apply to our troubled world anymore? It all seems to be such a mess! One terrorist bomb can generate enough suffering and hate to last for generations.  But the followers of Jesus must stay focused on God’s mission of mercy and love for His world.  The table seems totally tilted against Jesus and His non-violent ways, but this is where Jesus calls us to believe His message and follow Him and His example of self-giving love that will change the world, one loving act at a time.  If you want to read more on this, take this link to an experience I had in May 2011.

Christmas Letter 2010

A couple years ago we were in what the weatherman called an “Exceptional” drought in central Texas, and our Lake Travis was 50 feet below normal.  Then it rained – off and on for a month. And the 52 mile long lake was full again! Amazing! But it all happened just one rain drop at a time; there were a LOT of drops!  (Yes, this is a Christmas letter. Keep going – you’ll see.)

When we pray “Thy Kingdom come… on earth … “, if we really mean it, how is that to happen?

It started in such an ordinary way – a baby born to a poor couple so long ago yet celebrated still today.  The baby became a carpenter walking around doing good, teaching and living a new kind of Life. He said that all the hopes and dreams of a just society for all people, true peace and the blessed Life for everyone (what God has had in mind since creation) has arrived!  Quite a claim, indeed. If we will believe, it has arrived, yet still is coming; begun and in progress.

How does God’s Kingdom come?  With great fanfare or inescapable power?  No.

God’s way takes over the world, one human will at a time, one act of love and kindness at a time, through giving and forgiving, one “drop” at a time.  Like it starts, it continues in ordinary ways. Maybe at Christmas time we can see it the best, when people think of others. And the dark world begins to light up with God’s love.  Just like filling Lake Travis, God’s blessed Life spreads throughout the earth one drop of love at a time. And when we add the drops, it becomes a flood that can fill the world, a flood that can sweep away hates and fears, wars and poverty, terrorism and illiteracy, and bring the blessed Life for all people.  It began that first Christmas. It continues today by you and me and all who will believe and pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.”

As for us, we’re about the same as last year, just a little slower and older.  We continue to take a lot of road trips, mostly to family. There were two 90th birthday parties for Elaine’s parents in Indiana.  In March we helped them move into assisted living. Joe went to his 50th Selma High School class reunion in Indiana this summer; hard to realize how 50 years have passed!  Elaine volunteers one afternoon a week at a local health clinic for the uninsured (when we’re home).  Joe led a Bible study on Mark and helps collect clothing for the homeless in Austin and takes it to them.  Our greatest joy continues to be our family and especially our 6 grandkids. God has blessed us so much we are trying our best to share and be a blessing to others, one drop at a time.  And we wish the same to all.

We look forward to hearing from our family and friends.  And we say,
Merry Christmas, Ya’ll  Joe & Elaine Vandegriff

Christmas Letter 2009

2009           Merry Christmas          from Joe & Elaine Vandegriff

Another year!  Come & gone.  Already!  Amazing how fast.  And here we are still alive to live it and celebrate the life God is giving us moment by moment.  Elaine & I have been feeling so blessed this year;  it has occurred to us that it’s probably time for us to BE a blessing.  That has been our prayer this year, for God to show us how we can be a blessing to others.  One of the biggest things for us now is Elaine’s parents who are nearing 90 years old and still living at home.  Elaine calls almost every other day and goes to Indiana to visit as often as she can.  Like my mom said in her old age, “This getting old is tough.”  And we try to be attentive to the needs of others around us and hope that we can offer a smile or word of encouragement.  More than ever this year, we have become more aware of a billion or so people on our planet who are in crushing poverty on the edge of death.  Are these not God’s children, too?  We are reminded at Christmas time of Jesus coming to earth to bring peace and hope to the world.  We who call ourselves God’s people are the ones God is looking to and expecting to carry that peace and hope to the earth.  And we are asking ourselves, “What are we going to do about it?”  To do nothing is not acceptable.  We are looking for our part and hoping that others will join us somehow, someway to make a difference.  I know, this is a rather different kind of Christmas letter.  But how can we continue to participate in our country’s annual spending binge any longer while a billion people suffer?  We ask you to join us this Christmas in remembering the billion poor people who are desperately in need of help and find a way to make a difference.  (See below for how to help).  We hope you enjoy your family this Christmas as we will ours. 

Sharon        Jon              Ellie 13
Celeste 7             Lincoln 5        Johan 11
Joe & Elaine
Joan & Hubert, Cora 6 ¾, Dessie 9

Books on the global crises:

“The Hole in Our Gospel” by Richard Sterns, president of World Vision.  Better than almost anyone else, he knows the critical needs of the poor around the world.  This book is his assessment of how the church of the USA is responding; it is an indictment of missing the message of the Old Testament prophets and Jesus and neglecting God’s mission to rescue His world.

“Everything Must Change” by Brian McLaren.  Subtitled, “Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope”.  The author says, “This book explores two of the shaping questions of my life.”  #1: What are the biggest problems in the world?     #2: What does Jesus have to say about these global problems?  He looks systemically (economically, politically, environmentally, spiritually) at the big problems and finds reason for hope in the message of Jesus.

Places to give:

  1.  Drop some cash in the Salvation Army bucket.  Bills, not just coins!
  2. Check out the gift catalog at
    I told my grandkids that I will be giving them chickens and ducks for Christmas this year.  And they won’t actually get them; they will go to some other kids whose family needs them to help them survive.  (We’ll see how well this goes over!)
  3. Food for the Hungry
  4. United Methodist Committee on Relief, UMCOR.   Responds to natural disasters around the earth and helps alleviate hunger.
  5. There are plenty of worthy charities.  Find one and help them!
  6. Find out about the United Nations Millennium Project:
    At the Millennium Summit in September 2000 the largest gathering of world leaders in history adopted the UN Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015, that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals.

Recently, we had a nice rain here after months of exceptional drought.  My rain gauge collected two inches of rain.  Everyone was pleased and were all talking about the wonderful rain.  It occurred to me that those two inches in the rain gauge came one drop at a time.  And when the level of Lake Travis rises a few feet, that, too is the result of one drop at a time hitting the earth.  This helped me realize that my one little action may not appear to be much compared to the overwhelming needs of the desperately poor, but if it gets added to a billion other actions then there will be a flood of help to the poor that will lift them up to a life closer to what God has in mind for all his children on his earth.

There is part of the Christmas story that hardly ever gets read at Christmas.  It’s the part where King Herod kills the children in Bethlehem.  (Matthew 2:16-18)  It’s too gruesome to hear.  But did you know that the equivalent of 45 jumbo jets full of poor children crash and all are killed – EVERY DAY!  They die of starvation and easily treated diseases.  It’s too gruesome to hear even when it’s not Christmas.  But we must.