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English class was great tonight. Mary Lee wasn’t able to come because she had lost her voice, so I met with Jolet. I didn’t have Mary Lee’s notes, so I was completely unprepared to pick up here they left off last week. I went to my car and searched furiously through the pile of sundry debris in my back-seat for something we could read together. I emerged with a road atlas, a commentary on the book of John, and a New Testament.

The commentary was no good, so we went through the atlas for a few minutes. Jolet showed me all the places she recognized and I told her about all the places I had lived. It was actually pretty good for her to practice pronouncing words like “Mississippi” and “Colorado”.

That got old quick though, and we moved on to the New Testament. We read the first chapter of Mark together, and I asked her if she understood what “baptism” meant. She said, “Of course, in the water. This story is in the Bible. We go to church all the time.” As it turns out, Jolet and her husband are both professing believers who were regular church attenders when they lived in Sudan. She told her that her husband hasn’t been interested in going to church since they got to America, but she was hoping to start again soon.

We talked, as much as was possible, about her faith and her testimony, and she said that she was interested in coming to our Church. How’s that for an unexpected answer to prayer? I was taking my sweet time, waiting for her language skills to improve before I brought up the subject of church, and all along she was actually looking for a church in the area!

Thank you for your prayers, and please continue to lift up Jolet and her husband.

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I just posted our April newsletter, the .pdf file is linked to the right of this page under “Newsletters”. Here’s the text for those of you who would prefer to read it here:

The trees are changing, the sun is shining, and our gas bill has finally returned to normal. I’ve even started mowing the grass again, although not as often as my neighbors might prefer. It feels good to walk through our neighborhood and see the new life sprouting up as winter finally ends. It reminds me of the first stanza of George Herbert’s poem The Flower:

How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
Like snows in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.

His touch is sweet and clean isn’t it? Especially after a time of distance and coldness of heart. In those seasons I sometimes forget that winter is only temporary, and spring is already on it’s way. But when hardness of heart does fade and His presence is felt again, it seems as if winter had never come at all.

Well, before I get too emotional I should move on to some news. There is quite a bit of newness in our lives this spring. Gretchen is still very much pregnant, and she recently passed 23 weeks, which is the time that our baby died last year. Crossing that mark and entering into uncharted territory was a relief for both of us. Gretchen is really starting to show now and we’re spending a lot of time discussing possibilities for names. I actually felt the baby move myself just last night, which was a surreal experience for me. It’s starting to feel very real that we’ll be parents in a few months.

My responsibilities at Grace Church have recently changed a bit also. Our volunteer youth worker has moved away, and my role with the youth program has escalated a little. I’ll be teaching Bible study on Wednesday night and Sunday morning in his absence, and trying to facilitate any special events or trips that we take. Many of you are aware that I have some experience with youth ministry, primarily in an inner city context. This is a totally different animal, and I would appreciate your prayers very much as I get acclimated to the job.

I’ve also taken on the Grace Church website, which was designed and updated by another member of our church until recently when he had a baby and needed a break. I’ve been trying to slowly add some content like photos and sermon audio to the site, so take a look at it when you get the chance. The address is www.gracechurchroanokeva.org. You can also get to it by clicking the “Grace Church” link on our site, www.theevanses.com.

Our English Class and After School Bible Club are both going well. Attendance continues to fluctuate in both groups, but relationships continue to be built. We are having a chili cook-off at the apartments the first weekend in May, so hopefully the Lord will give us the opportunity to meet a lot more of our neighbors, including the friends and families of those already involved in our meetings. If I can get a few people interested I hope to start a Bible study as well.

Thank you again for all the love and support!

Someone showed me this interesting site today, http://www.familywatchdog.us/. It asks for your address, then shows you a map of your area with a little square representing each registered sex offender that lives in your area. Here’s what our map looks like (we are the tiny house in the middle):

Pretty interesting huh? The squares are color coded according to the nature of the crime. If you do the search yourself you can click on each square to see a photo and more information about that individual.

I’m a big fan of redemption and forgiveness, but I want my wife and our soon-to-be daughter to be aware of certain people in our neighborhood that might be particularly dangerous. We seem to have quite a few. Hopefully you wont have quite as many “friendly” neighbors living near you…

I had lunch with Keith Farmer, the director of Straight Street last week, and I must say that I was very impressed with what they’re doing. I’ve known Keith for five or six years but I haven’t been keeping up with him very well recently, so sitting down and hearing about all that God has been allowing them to do lately was very encouraging.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Straight Street is a ministry to at-risk youth in the Roanoke area. They define “at-risk youth” as a young person who is behaving in such a way that if a caring adult or peer does not step into their life with help, they stand a good chance of hurting themselves or others.

I think that might be a fair description of just about every teenager I’ve ever met, but Straight Street focuses directly on those kids with what might be perceived as the most needs. Teenagers who are being abused, who are struggling with drugs or alcohol, or who may have run away from home can find refuge at Straight Street. Keith has created a place that is accessible and non-threatening to kids who are in need.

He took me on a tour of the new facility they are building, and I can’t even express to you how great this place is going to be when they get it finished. They’ll have a huge living room area, a 50’s style diner, and enormous worship area with a really cool stage, a computer lab area (filtered and monitored), and even a shower and a place to crash for the teenager who isn’t safe at home.

All of that being said, I was most impressed by Keith himself. His attitude was a great encouragement to me. I’ve worked with people in the past who consider ministry to be a burden, people who talk about what other high paying jobs they could have had but instead lowered themselves to work with the poor and ignorant. Keith’s attitude was the opposite, and he talked about ministry as a privilege. He described the suffering teenagers he works with in a way that communicated respect for them despite their circumstances, and he seemed genuinely happy to be serving them.

If you have a minute, check out the Straight Street website, and if you are looking for a place to get involved with ministry in the Roanoke area I highly recommend giving Keith a call.

English class tonight was great. Jolet and Hue came right at seven so Judy and Mary-Lee paired up with them. I wasn’t sure if anyone else was going to show up so Gayle and I were sitting on the front porch talking when Mari finally arrived. She and I went inside and studied foods together. She is a very funny lady from Mexico that’s been coming to class for several months. We had a great time together and I think I probably learned as much Spanish as she did English.

Please be in prayer for us over the next few weeks. We are having a big BBQ at the El Ray apartments the first Sunday in May. Hopefully that will really reinvigorate our attendance at English Class and give us the opportunity to make enough contacts to start a Bible Study. I’ll post more details later.

Monday was the first day of Gretchen’s spring break, so rather than go straight to work I stayed home for an extra hour and we walked the dogs together this morning. It had been raining all night and the ground was wet so we went up to a tennis court near our house and let Ben and Weez run around a little. Ben sprinted around haphazardly and jumped in puddles while Weezy checked the fence for possible escape routes.

It’s funny how something small like that can make such a difference in your work day. Just an hour out of your regular schedule can have a significant effect on your attitude and your effectiveness for the rest of the day. When I did sit down at my desk I felt rested and relaxed, unlike my usual Monday-morning-blahs. And not only are little detours like that good for me, they also have a refreshing effect on my relationship with Gretchen. The spontaneity makes the time together feel special, and I get to remind Gretchen that she’s more important than my schedule.

If you’re feeling stale in the office or your relationship with your spouse could use a pick-me-up, I highly recommend spending a spontaneous hour of quality time together. Take a walk, go for a drive, or read a book together. A little sacrifice in your schedule can go a long way.

We had english class last night, but I actually wasn’t there. I had a meeting at church so Gretchen graciously volunteered to stand in for me. By the time I got home from the meeting she was already asleep, so I didn’t get much info about how it went. Therefore, in lieu of a description I’ll just post some pictures:

Here I am with my lovely and thoughtful wife.

And here is our dog Weezy.

Once again I’ve changed the format of our site. I recently started managing the Grace Church website and I’ve moved our resources and photo sections over there. I’ll still have some select photos and movies over here, but most of the full albums will be on the Grace Church server. Also, I’ve moved our newsletters and contact info to the sidebar for the sake of simplicity. Let me know if you love it or hate it, and if there is anything you would like to see done differently.

Here are those sonogram pictures I promised a few weeks ago, click for larger images.

Well, I hope those were worth the wait! I’ll try to be more prompt with the next set.

Last night was an excellent night for our English class. The attendance was a little light, I assume because we had to cancel last weeks meeting when we couldnt find the key. We had as many students as teachers this week so we were able to do one-on-one tutoring.

Mary Lee sat down with Jolet and talked about stores, banking, commerce and that sort of thing. I am always surprised by the things that I take for granted, like understanding the difference between a credit card and a debit card. Even understanding advertisements is really difficult for a person who is unfamiliar with the language and culture.

Judy and Hu talked about clocks and telling time, and also started discussing food. That’s another area that I hadn’t appreciated the difficulty people must have understanding. We package our foods very differently than a lot of cultures do. A banana is always a banana, but when you go over to the dairy section, the yogurt has a pictures of strawberries on it and the cottage cheese has a picture of a cow. Cereal has athletes and cartoon characters on it’s boxes, and the salt has a picture of a little girl holding an umbrella, how much more confusing could we be?

Subhia and Doris met together and spent most of the hour just talking. Doris is a lady from our church who spent 12 years as a missionary in Jordon, where Subhoa is from. When Subhia came in and Doris greeted her in Arabic, a big smile came across her face. She was clearly excited to be able to communicate in her native language again.

So, thank you again for your prayers. The next big step for us is a community BBQ the first weekend in May. I’ll post some more details about that in a few weeks.

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