Designer Vacation


It’s not lost on me that halfway through the height of the vacation season, I’m finally writing on vacations. Posts of this nature should certainly appear when the summer begins. Nevertheless (to use a good King James Bible word)… how can we think biblically about this subject?

In the church world at large, you hear about the supposed “summertime slump” during which outreach and ministry are pretty much put on hold while giving plummets and pastors just hang on and wish for the fall because they can’t really do anything for God during the summer months. I’ve never subscribed to that thinking.  We just finished a revival meeting right smack in the middle the record breaking heat of a Tucson summer. 

And, you know what? As a church we don’t believe that Christians need time off from serving God’s purpose at any time of year. Seasons come and seasons go, but God is always first and God is always worth it. 

Seasons come and seasons go, but God is always first and God is always worth it.

This is not to say that vacations are not of God; it was God’s idea that man should have regular times of rest. This point is missed by those who accrue days and weeks of vacation that sit and languish, unused. “I haven’t taken a vacation in nearly six years,” they state with a detectable aroma of pride, as if such meritorious conduct deserves a medal.

Consider the fact that a Chicago resident may need to go bask in the Florida warmth to escape the bone-chilling cold. Families may realize they have just a few short years to create bonding memories together. Couples may need a bit of time to themselves, away from the kids and other responsibilities. How often do we say Man, I need a vacation! But we may also come home from a vacation more worn out than before we left, saying Man, I need a vacation from my vacation!

I’m certainly not a Conde Nast-type traveler, but I’m fairly certain that the anticipation and planning that goes into a vacation is something that most of us enjoy. So here is my suggestion: Vacations can be a genuine and needed time of refreshment. But beyond that, real spiritual goals can and should be part of a family’s vacation plans. To achieve both will require planning and forethought. It won’t happen by accident, but by design.

So, how should we bring our faith to bear upon what is for so many of us a yearly pilgrimage? How can we craft our designer vacation?



On my first trip to Australia, I discovered a place whose countryside and people I thoroughly enjoy. But I remember my genuine surprise when I heard that most Australian workers get at least four paid weeks of vacation time each year plus ten days of public holiday. Along with this, they also receive personal days, family days, mental health days, maternity and paternity leave, and moving days. To an American, this seems like a staggering amount of time off. 

By way of comparison, let’s consider that after ten years of service on the job, the average German gets 35 days of paid vacation. The English get 28 days and the Finns get 30. A worker in France averages 37 days, and in Brazil the average is 34. In Japan, 25 days are set aside. If you happen to live and work in Italy, you can rack up 42 days. Among the developed countries, America comes in last, with the average worker accruing 13 vacation days per year.

The vigor of these economies may be another matter, but let’s drill down in this one area. It may be that many Americans suffer deprivation that they don’t even know about. The upside to all this work is a healthy growth in U.S. productivity, which potentially helps business increase profit and raise wages. But the downsides can’t be ignored, either.

Some vacationers flap off to pursue the fantasy of the ultimate getaway, but you won’t discover the “ultimate” this side of heaven, deep pockets notwithstanding.

What triggered my thoughts on this topic was Ruth Bell Graham’s philosophy regarding vacations. She noted that some people who race off to escape the pressure usually fly back exhausted. This kind of vacation is similar to the sentiment in Psalm 55:6-7: "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest — I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm." The strength of a dove’s wings doesn’t supply you with the rest you need or desire. Some vacationers flap off to pursue the fantasy of the ultimate getaway, but you won’t discover the “ultimate” this side of heaven, deep pockets notwithstanding. Now contrast that to the kind of break that includes rest and waiting on the Lord, as in Isaiah 40:31: “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Which is more refreshing, dove’s wings or eagle’s wings? You decide.


Others equate time off with carnality. Vacation? Rest? What a selfish proposition! How could Christians (and most especially, pastors) think of taking a break when so many people are still lost without the Gospel? Not to mention the pressing needs inside the church! What kind of person would put their own relaxation before the need to labor for the salvation and sanctification of eternal souls? I’d rather burn out for Jesus than rust out.

But have you considered that there may be another alternative? How about being able to give out?

Of course, I’m not talking about running off and shirking your God-given responsibilities, but rather about a break that provides renewed energy for the task at hand. In some churches I’ve heard of, you must get the pastor’s permission before you can consider taking any time off. But if someone tells me they’re going on vacation, I tell them, “Have an excellent time; I’ll see you when you get back, refreshed and ready.” 

The ministry seems to attract two polar opposites: the lazy and the workaholic. One suffers from a lack of diligence; the other from a warped perspective. Workaholics can be found in the ministry because overwork is interpreted as a holy dedication. But burnout is real. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that in 16 of 22 studies, working overtime was associated with poorer perceived general health, increased injury rates, more illnesses, and increased mortality. The June 2008 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine cited a recent study which sampled 10,000 people and found higher levels of anxiety and depression in those who put in the most overtime. As for the effects on those close to us, 52% of employees reported that their job demands interfered with their family or home responsibilities, according to a 2007 study by the American Psychological Association.

There must be another option that offers a little bit more wisdom about vacations than the various pop music songs. 

I remember the old tune, V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N, in the summertime... I won’t belabor you with other lyrics, but they generally advocate indulgence and vacations as partners. Then you have Thomas Rhett’s lyrics, Singing hey, let’s party like we on vacation. Hey, let’s party like we on vacation. I got my toes up in the sand, Cold one in my hand, Toes up in the sand, Cold one in my hand. Singing hey, let’s party like we on vacation… so I guess vacations are all about consuming copious amounts of alcohol. Hmm… There must be another option that offers a little bit more wisdom about vacations than the various pop music songs. 

One of the great blessings in my life is to see folks who use their vacation time to come to Bible conference. They enjoy a time of spiritual renewal, and many of them couple this with the opportunity to serve our guests who travel to Tucson from around the world. Either way, they’re making an important investment. One of my Australian friends wrote to me: “Just as an aside, and as an enormous endorsement to American Fellowship Christians, even with six weeks of paid vacation time per year, some Australians - even Potter’s House Christians - still find it hard to devote one week per year to Conference. That’s a huge accolade to you guys.”


Ruth Bell Graham said that she tried to design vacations for herself and her husband that resulted in their returning spiritually and physically refreshed, ready for the next assignment.

The God who created the world in six days rested on the seventh. Thus, He established a rhythm from the beginning, modeled by God Himself: work followed by rest, production followed by restoration.

Whether you are caring for a compound bow or a violin bow, the string(s) need to be loosened regularly in order to preserve the instrument and have it function at optimal levels. How do we go about achieving this in our Christian lives? The best vacations are those where we plan for complete renewal: body, soul, mind, and spirit. Essential to this would be maintaining a rationale for rest; or, better: a theology for rest; one that includes God.  The God who created the world in six days rested on the seventh. Thus, He established a rhythm from the beginning, modeled by God Himself: work followed by rest, production followed by restoration. God blessed the Sabbath and called it holy. Jesus reminded us that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.”  It’s that principle of rhythm that should heavily influence our planned vacation times.  

Even Jesus said to His disciples, "Let's go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile because there were so many people coming and going that they didn't even have time to eat. So, Mark 6:31 tells us that they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. On this particular occasion, their vacation plans were interrupted by the people who got wind of where they were headed and showed up there for more ministry.

It amazes me how often God speaks to me during those times that I manage to break away, showing me ruts in my life that need repair. The Holy Spirit inspires me about the church, giving me new strategies and directions – especially when I have time away from the normal routines. My mind and spirit seem more open to receive and to be revived.

Along with visiting places, sight-seeing, family visits, good restaurants… I would encourage you to take time for your soul renewal.

This is why you should carefully plan, pray, and anticipate these special times. Along with visiting places, sight-seeing, family visits, good restaurants… I would encourage you to take time for your soul renewal. Read a book.  Begin a devotional. Take time to meditate or start a journal about what God is saying to you or about improvements that can be made. Take walks with your wife or with each of your kids. Design it. I’ve always found that planning to come home two or three days early in order to debrief and then get ready to put your hand firmly back on the plow is always a good idea.


The difference in a family vacation lies in the father’s attitude and leadership. C.J. Mahaney said: “Family vacations provide a unique opportunity each year for fathers to create memories their children will never forget. Memories that will last a lifetime. Memories that will be created by your children with your grandchildren. Memories that will outlive a father. But in order to create these memories, a father must be diligent to serve and lead during a vacation. How a father views his role on a vacation will make all the difference in that special time.” I fully believe that our Heavenly Father wants to pour out on us the riches on His grace as we’ll love and serve Him with all of our hearts, souls, mind, and strength. 

Everyone is different, I know. Everyone will make different plans. But the secret to an unforgettable vacation is not the location or the amusements or the attractions. It is in recognizing this privilege: I get to serve God’s purpose through my vacation time.


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Brussels, Belgium (Tucson, Sierra Leone): Peter & Jennifer Dore
Taipei, Taiwan (Colton, CA): Duane & Barb Thompson
Mwanza, Tanzania (Tucson, Sierra Leone): Hindo & Kadi Wright
Joinville, Brazil (Athens, GA): Manuel & Elaine Delgado
Taipei, Taiwan (Tucson): George & Maria Meng
Pointe Noir, Congo (Tucson, Benin): Vincent & Raymonde Deo 


Riverside, CA (Colton, CA): Tony & Katrina Rodriguez
Bend-Redmond, OR (Tucson): Desi & Ranae Wheeler
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada (North York): Gelson & Shara-Dee Da Cunha
Saginaw, MI (Albuquerque, NM, Perez): Tim & Sonia MacMurray
Zona Cota Huma, La Paz, Bolivia (La Paz): Moises & Jenny Poma
Peka 10, Libreville Gabon (Libreville): Jude & Kadi Uzochukwu
North Tucson [Ina-Thornydale] (Tucson): John & Vera Scheidt
St. Paul, Minnesota (Tucson): Prince & Victoria Alie
Huntington, WV (W. Jordan, UT): Markell & Brandie Taylor 


Returning to Tucson (from Vallejo, CA): Stuart & Teresa Reblin
Returning to Tucson (from Modesto, CA): Alex & Iris Flores
Returning to San Antonio (from Joinville, Brazil): Richard & Linda Lantz
Returning to Tucson (from Bamenda, Cameroon): Philip & Kristin Kuti-George
Returning to Freetown, SL (from Lome, Togo): Victor & Isatu Nicholas
Returning to San Marcos, TX (from Seguin, TX): Steve & Tiffany Estrada
Returning to Las Vegas, NM (Pueblo,CO): Jonah & Gwen Cruz 


Bamenda, Cameroon (Indigenous): Eric & Olivia Douané 
Monrovia, Liberia (Indigenous): John and Olive Jurgar
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (Indigenous): Affi & Rose Mambe
Modesto, CA (Tucson): Frank & Roxie Romero
Lome, Togo (Indigenous): Mathieu & Deborah Adoussi
Seguin, TX (San Marcos, TX): Jason & Angie Garcia
Magna, UT (W. Jordan, UT): Steve & Justine Anderson
Uniting together to form North Bay, CA Church: Vallejo & Fairfield




KNOWN IN HEAVEN | A Tribute to Aiah Abu


Jesus gave us much needed perspective to live by when he said:

Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
— Luke 10:20

In the end, it doesn’t matter how known or accomplished we may be on earth, but whether or not we are “known in heaven.”

Aiah Abu Portrait.png

The name Aiah Abu is completely unknown to most of you, but he was someone worth knowing.  I first met him on one of my early missionary trips to Freetown, Sierra Leone where Pastor Alvin Smith and his wife Rene were pioneering a church in that country.  My fondest memories surround that group of early disciples who had been saved and coming to The Door in Sierra Leone.  They were so eager to serve God.  There was a hunger to know Him and to do his will, helping to build the church in that nation.

I can remember the early but distinct personalities of each of them.  Edward Saffa, Peter Dore, Desmond Bell and others.  Each stood out to me in their particular ways.  One of the young men that made an impression on me was Aiah Abu.  Although he had not served in the military (his brothers and tribe were soldiers) he had the demeanor of a soldier.  I’ve remarked of this fact to Pastor Smith for years.  Aiah possessed a spirit of steadfastness, a delight in duty, a servant heart for the weak.  I never remember him being too high, or too low. He was just...steady.

I never remember him being too high, or too low. He was just...steady.

On my numerous trips to Sierra Leone I was always especially glad to see him.  With that sober attitude he possessed he would kindly respond to me, “Yes, Sir.”  Aiah and his wife Mariama have served for the past 15 years pastoring in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa.  They weren’t easy years.  They faced and persevered through much hardship.  Life and ministry was not a piece of cake, but there was never a word of complaint from Aiah.  He truly put Christ and his kingdom first as he served his church and the baby churches sent out from there.  I always got the sense that he was at his post, not matter what.

Every June we try to bring many of our foreign missionaries to our annual Bible Conference.  If they are Africans the challenge for them is receiving a visa to travel to the U.S.  You never know how it will turn out at the embassy, whether they will be allowed to travel or not.  It was Aiah Abu who kept being denied year after a travel visa.  I’ve got to be honest, this bothered me.  We sent accompanying letters vouching for his character and our desire to simply minister to these couples so they could return to their countries better equipped.  Denied. Denied!  OK, I’ve had enough, I thought, and told Pastor Smith the same.  I investigated ways (not very successful) to leverage things in Aiah’s favor.  Then I hit on my grand scheme.  I was goiing to get a bunch of our people and we’re going to go to the Federal building in downtown Tucson, and we’re going to picket the State Department!  Yeah, the unrighteous government who is trying to block and hinder the kingdom of God!  Well, of course, I cooled down, but at least I was motivated by a sincere desire for Aiah to see the church and people that had invested in him and his pastor and his nation.

In June of last year, 2017, Aiah Abu finally got his visa to travel to the U.S. and our conference!

In June of last year, 2017, Aiah Abu finally got his visa to travel to the U.S. and our conference!  We spend tens of thousands of dollars in missionary air fares every year, and, trust me, it is a heavy burden.  But last year it was with great delight that we paid for Aiah and Mariama’s air fare.  He had finally obtained a visa and they were going to be able to be with us and experience “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.”  It made the whole conference week for me.

All of this rushed home to me when I received the news that Pastor Aiah Abu had passed away in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa on May 18, 2018, after spending two days in the hospital and then being released.  Some of the ailments he was battling overcame him.  A true soldier had gone home to be with the “captain of our salvation.”  Tempering my sadness was the fact that he had made it to Conference last year.  I couldn’t help but imagine, “Now we is enjoying the ultimate and soul-fulfilling ‘conference’ (gathering) for “to be absent from the body is to be present (at home) with the Lord.”  

The Bible says in (1Cor.8:3) “But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”  Eternal life is to know the Lord (Jn.17:3) but eternal significance is to be known by Him.  Aiah Abu may have been largely unknown on this earth, but he was most certainly known in heaven!  This is why Jesus said our source for continual rejoicing is the fact our name is registered in heaven.  This is why we have confidence in this comforting thought “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”  I couldn’t let Aiah’s passing go without saying “I see you, brother!”

*My thoughts don’t count nearly as much as Pastor Alvin Smith’s firsthand recognition.  This is why I’ve asked him to partner with me in this blog posting.


Ps. Alvin Smith

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You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; Therefore God, your God has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.
— Hebrews 1:9

The year would be 1989 and the month December, in the nation of Sierra Leone, West Africa, that I would meet a young man who would literally embody the word disciple. His name is Aiah Aaron Abu.

My fondest memories of Aiah are of his ability to encourage people from all walks of life to serve God amid the most difficult circumstances. Aiah’s unique anointing and gifting for ministry was to those who had not only given up on life, but it seemed that life had given up on them. 


With the skill of a surgeon, Aiah would move to bring hope and direction to those who were lost and broken. Like the captain of a battleship under attack, Aiah’s demeanor was always calm, composed, and hopeful! He instilled this same spirit in those around him, giving them a sense that everything would be alright. 

Aiah was one of the elders among the disciples in the earlier days of the Church in Sierra Leone. His leadership among those younger disciples has continued to influence many now-seasoned pastors.

The joy of any leader is the ability to call one of his pastors for advice, suggestions, and insight when dealing with various issues. The Apostle Paul had a young disciple by the name of Timothy, and here’s the statement that he made about him: 

For I have no one else like-minded, who will truly care about you
— Philippians 2:20

Paul refers to Timothy, whose service to the kingdom is seen in his love for others, and that speaks to the life of Aiah Aaron Abu. Much like Timothy, Abu’s willingness to go the extra mile, his resolve to not give up, his mature behavior to serve others without murmuring or complaining, even at great personal sacrifice and cost, speaks to the heart of a servant.

One of my fondest memories of Aiah is that he would come by my house early, before the evening services, to help me load the generator in my Jeep. Aiah would help me and then, on many occasions, walk to the church that was 8 miles away!  He could have easily come back to my house before I left for prayer in order to ride with me, but he wanted to get there early enough to prepare – and he also wanted to minister to people along the way, telling them about the power and love of Jesus!

The following quote captures what I believe God performed in and through the life of Aiah Aaron Abu:

I think He intends to try you like gold in the crucible, so as to number you amongst His most faithful servants. Therefore, you must lovingly embrace all occasions of suffering, considering them as precious tokens of His love. To suffer in silence and without complaint is what He asks of you.
— Unknown