Thursday, January 21, 2016

Will Rufus Come with you to Prague?

The sturdy Petmate "Skykennel" 
As we prepare for our mission work the question people ask most frequently is "will Rufus be able to come with you to Prague?" Rufus is our beloved corgi/rottweiler. My husband calls him an original purebred 'corgiweiler'.

The answer is "YES"! Rufus can and will come with us. Our regional director jokingly said that it might be easier to get Rufus to Europe than to get us there (with all of the visa paperwork we will have to do). Prague is a very dog-friendly city, and the Czech Republic has liberal "dog immigration" policies (the Czech Republic does not quarantine, he will need proof of shots and an okay from the vet).
Almost there!

The most challenging part will be the plane ride over. He is not kennel trained, so I recently purchased a Petmate Sky Kennel, which is the approved kennel for overseas travel. It arrived a few days ago, so we have plenty of time to get him comfortable with it.

As you can see by the pictures, he went in about three-quarters of the way yesterday and this morning he 'made himself comfortable' by lying down (prompted by plenty of treats).

I worry about him being in the cargo or luggage section of the plane on such a long journey(he is too big to fly with the passengers) and can imagine hearing him barking up a storm disturbing all of the passengers above. We will probably have to engage a pet transport company to take care of the dog move because many airlines are now requiring it. I am comforted by the fact that many pets have been relocated overseas by other missionaries and even more frequently by the military.
Getting very comfortable (and eating a lot of popcorn treats)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

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The Glorious Downward Spiral of Grace

We usually associate downward spiral with something negative, a downward spiral into addiction, illness, death.  Yet this is the trajectory of grace, a downward trajectory. Why downward? Because Christ descended into our fallen mortal existence.  Through the fall of mankind (and yes, we participated and participate in it daily), we lost that fellowship that we had in the perfect love and companionship with God.  We no longer walk with Him in the garden, but we have been cast out, cast down into a world of pain, suffering and death. Yet in the aftermath of the fall, God made a promise that from Eve would come one who would crush the head of the serpent.  Not just the head of satan, but He also would destroy sin and the consequences of sin, our last enemy, death.  So at the right time, in the fullness of time, Jesus, the Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity took on the flesh of man as the Son of Adam (and Eve) through the Virgin Mary and descended into our existence.  Into our sinful, fallen lives. There, limiting His own Divinity, God in Christ Jesus, lived perfection in our presence and in our stead.  Here, He descended into our world and our lives.  Through the crucifixion, our Hero, our God allowed Himself to be lowered into our graves, into the death of our sins.  Yet even as He was lowered for us, He also ascended for us as He conquered death, and not for Himself, but for you and for me. 
We are not lifted up, but Christ comes down to man.  This is the direction of Grace and this is the direction of God's gifts, downward.  Downward to The Cross, downward to the grave, downward into our sin. So also we recognize that in true Christian Worship, we are not directed to lift ourselves up to heaven, but instead, through the work of the Holy Spirit, God comes down to man. 
God reaches down to man in His Word, in His words of forgiveness and mercy, through absolution, in His Holy Supper, in the Waters of Holy Baptism, down to sinful man as man could never in a billion lifetimes even begin to ascend to the perfection of God. Martin Luther says in his Heidelberg Disputation, "It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ."  He lifts us up, our works, efforts and merits are nothing more than us holding our own filth in His face. When we think that we have something to offer God, we are saying that we can help Him to save us.
The Direction of your worship reflects the direction of your salvation.  Always God reaching down to sinners, who on bent knees acknowledge their wretchedness. In those low places, where there are the lowly, the fallen, the wretched, there Christ enters our existence and extends His mercy through His Word, His Sacraments and His Bride, the church. Our sacrifices avail us nothing, but Christ's atonement has won us everything.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Taking Down Christmas

I ‘took down’ Christmas on Thursday. It is always bittersweet to remove my little Christmas city, the many decorations and finally the tree. Even though the season is typically so busy for us as a pastor and a musician we still ‘do it up big’ at home as well. We start adding classic Christmas stations to Pandora on Thanksgiving and (thanks to the thumbs up and thumbs down function) by Epiphany it has been fine tuned into the most swanky Christmas music ever. Sinatra, Torme, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Mr. Como, Bing and Deano croon the classic Christmas songs in our kitchen and car throughout most of our waking hours as my husband and I soak in all of the wonderment of the season.

Very few of the decorations were purchased; most were gifts. There is a little city that I bought piece by piece with the gift cards given to me by the choir from the church where I played. Many were presents from students, principals, and friends and now that my parents have gone to be with the Lord I now possess a popsicle stick stable and ornaments beautifully crafted by the five to seven-year-old me as well as decorations with which I grew up. My favorites are a plastic clump of bananas from the crazy tree we had growing up which consisted of gold tinsel and a bunch of plastic fruit (with a few things we made in school), some little carolers with their mouths wide open ( I swore I could see them singing when I was little) and some goofy blocks with little heads sticking out of them that spell ‘noel’. When I would visit mom and dad sometimes, they would spell out ‘leon’ or ‘lone’. You never knew. It is a conglomeration of decorations, not particularly ‘tasteful’ but fun and meaningful.

When I took down Christmas on Thursday, I packed things up with a realization that almost everything is going to be stored away for five years or longer.  I evaluated everything’s value from its sentimental or monetary worth weighing it against its size. Things that were large, cheap and not sentimental were out. Some decisions weren’t so clear as others.  My thoughts evolved from ‘do I really want this in five years?’ to ‘oh, I really don’t wish to be without this for five whole years’ to ‘what will my life look like in five years’ to ‘what will I be like in five years’ and then ‘I wonder how long it will really be before I see these things again if ever’.  It is all about the future: the unknown, the unpredictable, and yes, the frightening. Moving to a foreign land with different customs, manners and a challenging language is about as unpredictable as it gets.

When I begin to look at my future as a merely as series of dramatic catastrophes I remember Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul doesn’t write ‘in some situations’ or ‘in situations where you have done your best but can’t handle the rest.' He means ‘every situation.' God has taken care of me so far, and he holds my future as well. Nothing in my life has turned out the way I have dramatized it to be and only now can I see God’s hand in my experience which includes several moves, loss of parents, job loss and things that just didn’t turn out as expected.

So ‘Christmas’ is now sorted. Some things are in very sturdy bins, others are in my trunk ready to be delivered to Bethesda Thrift Shop (including the TREE!), and others have been given to special people as gifts. Next year we will celebrate in a small and dedicated close-knit group of Christians in a former communist country. God will be with us.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Post #1 Getting Started

This is the first post on our blog.
Rev. Craig and Paula Donofrio
Paula, Rufus and I are really excited about what the future holds for us.  We're going to serve as missionaries in Eurasia!   I (Craig) will continue to serve as a Pastor with preaching, teaching and administering the sacraments.  I will also serve as the Communications Director for the region.  That means that I get to help our missionaries in the field and our partner church bodies develop podcasts, internet video, radio programs, television programs, and blogs.  I love being a theologian AND a technonerd.  How sweet is that?

We will be based out of Prague in the Czech Republic, but in the meantime, we will be traveling the United States and speaking at churches to try to raise awareness and support for the work that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is doing around the world.

Paula will be taking classes to get certified to teach English and hopefully will be working with Church Music.

Rufus will be doing what Rufus does best, guarding Paula and barking at nothing.  Aside from that, he's just my pal and he makes us laugh - a lot!

Anyway, check back with us, we'll be posting updates and you can see what we're up to and what God is doing.

Czech us out at