After work on Thursday, I rode a public van to a city several hours away. Stephanie’s sister-in-law met me at the station there and took me to her home by motorcycle taxi. I conversed with her and her family, met her plump baby girl, bathed by starlight, and slept soundly in the simple but comfy bedroom the couple graciously gave up for me.

After breakfast on Friday, Stélio took me to a restaurant where we conversed for several hours about Christian ministry. Stélio is a faithful servant of God with whom I enjoy rich fellowship when our paths cross. Simon, who has soaked in months of discipleship from Stélio, eventually joined us, beaming with an ear-splitting grin; and at noon he led us both on a long walk to his home, where he served us fish and boiled greens over thick corn porridge.

That afternoon, Simon took me to the after-school tutoring center where he and a colleague teach scores of youngsters in various clusters in the open air. After they all welcomed me in song, I taught English for an hour and a half to a lively crew of about twenty older elementary students. Then Simon brought me to the home of his friend Angelo, who had just picked up my son Afonso from the bus station where he’d arrived from the nearby island where his university is located. I was excited to finally personally meet Angelo’s wife Elena, whom I’ve been discipling via video calls, and their two sons, as well as Elena’s visiting brother and sister. After dinner, I retired in the bedroom the family graciously allotted to me, while Angelo and Simon walked Afonso to the home of our friend Elísio where he’d be staying.

On Saturday morning, I accompanied Elena and her son to his school to receive his year-end grades, then to the market to buy fish and greens for lunch. Back at home, I watched a sermon video with Angelo and continued with him and Elena the stimulating spiritual conversation we’d started the night before. Simon arrived and I spent the afternoon with him: configuring his new computer (an answer to prayer), teaching him typing and English, and sharing testimonies of what God has done in my life. At dusk he took me to his home to participate in the simple nightly worship he holds with his two younger brothers who live with him since I suggested this to him several months ago. As he returned me to Angelo and Elena’s home for the night, I joyfully thanked God for Simon’s faithful evangelism of those under his care.

On Sunday morning, I walked with Angelo to the church that he and Simon have recently started visiting, where I was impressed with the believers’ commitment to God and His word. Afterwards Simon took me to greet the family I’d stayed with on Thursday night, since I hadn’t actually seen the husband, Stephanie’s brother, while I was in his home, due to his work schedule. Then, as Simon returned to his home, I accompanied Angelo to pick up the cake for a surprise party I’d planned for that evening.

On Sunday afternoon, we were finally all together at Angelo’s house: Elísio and Afonso arrived first, then Stélio, then Simon with his brothers and a neighbor. They joined Angelo’s household and me for their weekly worship service led by Stélio in the courtyard. What a joy it was to participate as Christ was exalted and His word proclaimed (Acts 14 was the sermon text) by this group of earnest Christians! Pictured from left to right are Angelo, Stélio, Afonso, Simon, and Elísio.

As daylight faded, we savored the feast Elena and her siblings had spent the day preparing: chicken, beef, lobster, rice, fried potatoes, potato salad, and lettuce/cucumber salad. Then Stélio took Afonso and Simon aside for a contrived conversation while we brought out their cake – because Afonso’s birthday was that day and Simon’s was the next day. When Stélio led them back towards us and they saw it, they were both stunned to realize that the event was actually a party for them! As we lustily sang “happy birthday”, they blew out their candle and cut the cake, and then, according to tradition and with much joking, they ceremonially fed the first few bites to those they selected as being most special to them — including me. Afonso gave an amazing and totally impromptu speech on how much I mean to him as his mom, and I delivered thoughtfully prepared comments on my appreciation for him and then for Simon, presenting as a gift to each a journal which I’d covered with the same fabric as the dress I was wearing. Stélio, Angelo, Elísio, and Simon’s brothers all spoke as well.

We then lingered in sweet conversation, liberally punctuated with laughter, as we ate the cake. Finally around 8pm, we took a group photo, sang a parting hymn, bowed for a closing prayer, and said goodbye. Although I had an early morning bus to catch in order to be back at work on Monday, sleep didn’t come easily, because my heart was so full of grateful joy. How I thank my Lord for this rich weekend of fellowship with friends!

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