Dear friends of Vital Signs Ministries,                                      April 2024

            * Early in March, I was talking to a fellow at the coffee shop and I mentioned that Claire and I were heading down to Wichita later in the morning to visit my little sister Sherry for a couple of days. You’ll remember that my little sister is dealing with an early and very severe dementia. I explained Sherry’s plight to him and he asked, “Why do you go down to spend time with her if you realize she might not even recognize you?”

            I smiled and kindly, but carefully, replied, “Because I recognize her!”

            The point being that the key to experiencing the blessings of God in one’s relationships is to love, honor, and serve others unconditionally — not because of what someone can do for you or what arbitrary and utilitarian tests they can pass to “deserve” being treated with honor and kindness. Christians are commanded to love as Jesus loves us and that means with grace, humility, courage, a willingness to sacrifice, and a persevering spirit. Yes, I love my little sister because of who she has been. But I also love her for who she is right now, physical and mental illness notwithstanding, because she is worth every bit of tenderness and respect and service I can render her. And, thank the Lord, because Sherry has trusted in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to pay for her sins, I also love her for who she will one day be! Maranatha — come, Lord Jesus.

            Along with ministering to my sister (embraces, music, conversation, helping her with meals and desserts, time enjoying the scenery outside, including the fox who lives in the woods behind the facility), the Lord gave us opportunities there in Wichita to touch other lives as well. Millie and Bertie to whom we brought sweet treats, swapped stories, read poetry, and talked of the splendors of heaven. The nursing home staff to whom we brought our thanks, compliments (and donuts). The overworked “care pastor” from a nearby church who we were able to encourage. Two local musicians. A bookstore manager. People at the hotel. The girls working at the non-profit coffee shop. As Francis Schaeffer would say, “No little people, no little places.” Everything God gives us to do is big and beautiful and of eternal significance. So let’s not miss out on the chances God gives us every single day to make a difference to someone.

            Okay, on to a few other ministry highlights from this past month…

            * Our “When Swing Was King” shows at Newport House are always among our very favorites, in part because of the work performed by the staff to make it a wonderful party for everyone who can attend. Whether the residents are using walkers, someone’s assistance, wheelchairs, or are even laying back in gurneys, the staff does a terrific job of getting them out of their rooms for a nice hour of socialization, entertainment, memories, and personal attention. Mary K. and Lorie are the activity directors there and they are well experienced and dedicated in their work. In fact, we have known them both for many, many years. You see, long before we started “When Swing Was King” at Newport, we had worked with these women back when Vital Signs Ministries took visitation and entertainment teams into Mercy Care Center and Immanuel Fontanelle Home. These ladies are fantastic servants — caring, skilled, cheerful, and very active. And when Claire and I arrive, the whole Newport staff enthusiastically joins them in transporting residents to and from the show. It’s no wonder then that a frequent prayer of ours has become, “Lord, please make all the other senior facilities that we visit more like Newport!”

            Well, our March program there was even more special than usual because Lorie, Mary K., and other staff members went over-the-top in thanking us for letters we had recently written to them (and to their bosses) complimenting and thanking them for the superb job they provide residents and especially how they make “When Swing Was King” available to so many. As you know, we believe in the power of personal letters. But we are still surprised sometimes by just how potent they can be and the way the Newport staff responded to our simply taking the time to say such things about them (and saying those things to the executives, no less) deeply moved us. Ah, the power of simple, do-able kindnesses. No little people, no little places, no little tasks.

            * Our dear brother and long-time ministry colleague Quint Coppi has now lived in Florida over 2 years, just before the death of his sweet wife, Carol. Claire and I still miss them terribly. Quint was on the Vital Signs Ministries Board, a regular part of our public witness and sidewalk counseling fellowship, a member of our longstanding book club, and in many other ways, a most valued friend. You can imagine then how precious it has been to still have Quint’s presence with us — via phone — when we’re on the street outside the dark and deadly Planned Parenthood business. Quint was in the hospital recently and was, for a couple of nights, in pretty tough shape. Nevertheless, even in the hospital and later in a rehab facility, he would call us when we were on the street with encouragement, prayers, a Scripture, sometimes even a song. It is another example of the striking effects of quality friendship, of how just one person’s simple acts of love can have a formidable impact. (John Malek and I are given a “bonus blessing” by also having Quint’s company when he calls during our early Thursday morning coffee.)

            * One of our neighbors (the young friend who has joined me in two of my Colorado 14er adventures) came over a few days ago with the great news that there had finally been movement in his long and expensive campaign to secure a green card. We had talked about this several times over the years; he knew we had been praying for a breakthrough; and we (and another fellow 14er climber, Ryan Garvey) made calls and written letters last summer to government officials to enlist their help. Our friend believes those letters and calls finally got somebody moving! Anyhow, he will be going to Juarez in a couple of weeks for the formal interview process (for which he has been waiting 11 years!). He wanted us to hear the news, but he was also overwhelmed with anxiety and asked if I would pray for him right then. I was delighted to do so. Will you also lift a quick prayer for our friend and his family right now? Thank you.

            * Do you remember how in 2020 the covid protocols shut down our “When Swing Was King” ministry for over a year? That, of course, was just part of the madness. For all over America, not only was “outside entertainment” banned from senior facilities, but the elderly residents within were shut up in their rooms, even prohibited from seeing their families. We were not willing to give up on serving these seniors — isolated, frightened, and soul weary — so we came up with a brand new outreach in those days that we called “anti-boredom packets.” They were personal stories, Bible verses, and inspiring quotations which accompanied a whole lot of entertaining quizzes covering popular culture, general knowledge, and life skills. Every week we would send these packets (each containing dozens of trivia questions and answers) not only to all of the senior facilities on our “When Swing Was King” schedule, but a few others besides. We did that for over a year. Those “anti-boredom packets” proved to be a fantastic hit with residents and activity directors alike. For in those sad, lonely, and scary times, even though we were denied the chance to present “When Swing Was King” shows, we were still able to lift spirits, alleviate boredom, stimulate minds and memories, fight low self-esteem, and remind the seniors that their Vital Signs friends still cared about them and wanted to do something to help.

            Well, we have finally made moves on a publishing project which will collect many of the quotations, some of the stories, and the whole treasure trove of quizzes to make them broadly available to seniors and activity directors all over the country, not to mention people who serve the elderly, clergy and laymen who serve seniors, church groups, baby boomers, and so on. The working title of this collection is Untrivial Trivia: A Fun Way to Sharpen Mind, Memory, and Social Interaction. Queries have been sent to a few publishers, but an alternative is to simply publish it ourselves through Amazon (like we did my novel The Christmas Room.) We will keep you informed.

            * The latest Saturday morning Book Brunch saw 7 of us (Mark, John, Barb, Ruth, Karla, and us) sharing our responses to the collection of 16 Francis Schaeffer sermons published in 1974, No Little People, No Little Places. Now I have read these sermons several times over the last 5 decades; you may remember that I made reference to them in a LifeSharer letter just last fall. But truly good books always have fresh value and the ideas they spark in conversations among truly good friends is priceless. We would certainly love to have more of you get involved in these Book Brunch discussions for they are enlightening, encouraging, and an excellent sanity check amid the madness of modern culture.

            * Another marvelous moment from our March ministry? Last week we came to one of the senior facilities for our regularly scheduled “When Swing Was King” show, but absolutely no one was there! We were not even mentioned in the events calendar for the day. It turned out that the activity director at this place (who had never been very conscientious anyway) had quit and left no instructions for her replacement. The new “life enrichment” director was terribly embarrassed and sincerely apologetic, and she even started scrambling to get a few people to make up an audience. But we explained to her that there simply wasn’t time because we had a second show slated immediately after this one. Claire was very calm and gracious, suggesting our openness to rescheduling the show whenever was convenient for the facility.  And we did manage to set it up a few days later. Well…to make up for their mistake and to show appreciation for our willingness to return, the new director (and another lovely and kind staff member) went “all out” to promote the show, encourage participation, and provide help for the residents to get to and fro. The result? An audience of 45 people, the largest we have ever had at this facility! Everybody had a superb time. In fact, we don’t know who was pleased more — Claire and me, the new director, the people brand new to “When Swing Was King” who discovered that they fell in love with the show, or all of our regular fans who had long desired for “When Swing Was King” to become a real happening at their facility!

            * Regarding the ongoing battle against the pro-abortion amendment that would enshrine unlimited abortion in the Nebraska Constitution — Some of the statewide pro-life organizations have decided to try and get their own amendment onto the ballot this fall. Because of the compromises within that amendment, however, we are going to stick with our previous strategy; namely, simply going all-out to oppose the extremism of the pro-abortion amendment. In this regard, I suggest you read my “open letter” to pastors that you’ll find on Vital Signs Blog and the Vital Signs Ministries website. There are other resources there directly relevant to that fight too, including a section entitled “Life Quotes” where you will find a large collection of striking quotations about abortion and the life issues from some most interesting people — quotations that will well season your own conversations, letters, and social media posts as you join us in the campaign against the over-the-top wickedness of the “Protect Our Rights” amendment.

            * Claire and I very much enjoyed a dinner and Maundy Thursday service at Larry & Deb Harrold’s home last week. As you know, Larry has been fighting a cancer for over a year now and he and Deb are among the many of our friends who have been dealing with serious health trials and, by their courage and faith, have been amazing inspirations to us. Lord Jesus, bless and keep in the center of Your loving will each one of these dear saints. Anyhow, our Maundy Thursday service was one of the most moving and memorable moments of last month, especially when Larry led us in communion and then a song of worship and rededication.

            * Our March letter-writing meetings were postponed. The new date is Monday, April 22 with sessions both at 10 that morning and 7 that night. RSVPs are very helpful.

            * In addition to Francis Schaeffer’s No Little People, No Little Places, my March reading included a couple more that I highly recommend. They are Redeemed: My Journey After Abortion by Toni McFadden and Decades of Decadence: How Our Spoiled Elites Blew America’s Inheritance of Liberty, Security, and Prosperity by Marco Rubio. Also, please know that Claire and I are beginning again revisiting Randy Alcorn’s Heaven (we do so every other year) and we would love to have you join us in that remarkable study.

            Blessings, dear friends, and thank you so much for your ongoing support.

But be doers of the word,
and not hearers only.