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Year End Letter

Dear Vital Signs friends,                                                                              November 2010

            Thanksgiving should be a continual occupation for the Christian, a reflection of our identity as people saved by the grace and power of God.  Thanksgiving was part of the Old Testament requirements in keeping God’s covenant and it is repeatedly emphasized in the New Testament as well.  It should be a part of our prayers, a part of our worship, a part of our service in Christ’s Name, and a part of our joy.  It is something that we will be expressing when we are in Christ’s physical presence in heaven – we should, therefore, become well acquainted with thanksgiving right now.

            In that spirit then, I decided that instead of writing my year-end LifeSharer letter in December or January, I would do it for November.  In fact, it’s a perfect time for such a letter since you will probably have more time to read it AND because it will be chock full of wonderful blessings from 2010 for which Claire and I and the Vital Signs team are profoundly thankful.  So let’s get right to it.

          There’s no doubt that 2010 was quite a year for almost every aspect of Vital Signs Ministries.  But I’ll start off this year-end review with the thing that takes most of my time --Vital Signs Blog. By the time 2010 is done, I will have created somewhere around 1,300 posts for the blog.  Most of those are also then cross-posted on my Facebook page with another 6 or 8 every week cross-posted on a large site hosted by Lucianne Goldberg out of New York City called Blogs Lucianne Loves.  These posts all concern various elements of the “culture wars” as we try to give important, relevant and action-oriented information to Christians who want to make a difference in our world.  2010 was our fifth full year in this pro-life, pro-family, pro-Faith outreach. And we’re very pleased to see that this internet ministry is substantially more effective than our years on radio.

            We were always told, for instance, that the listening audience for the “Vital Signs” program on KGBI was two, maybe three thousand.  But this only means that number of homes or cars had the radio on.  But, for a lot of those people, “listening” to the radio is often a kind of background, half-attentive experience.  However, with Vital Signs Blog we are providing information (and an awful lot more than I could fit into a single radio program) to internet users who are deliberately seeking us out for that information. They are wanting to learn, wanting to pray, wanting to do something. That’s why I’ve encouraged fellow bloggers who may only have a few dozen people logging in to their blog that they’re still making a significant difference.  

           But with Vital Signs Blog, we’re so thankful to say we’ve got more than a few dozen.  In fact, we are averaging 400-550 visitors every day with specific “page loads” substantially higher still. And whereas radio required production costs and, after KGBI was sold to a commercial company, very high costs for airtime, maintaining Vital Signs Blog is virtually free.  So you get the idea. The success of Vital Signs Blog is something that we are deeply grateful for in this Thanksgiving season…and all year round.

            We are also appreciative of other public outreaches that we were involved in this past year.  This would include such varied things as talking to groups of AWANA kids in churches; presenting my “Christian History of Omaha” to three different groups; and having two pro-life op/ed essays published this year in the Omaha World-Herald. As many of you remember, there was a time when they wouldn’t even consider publishing anything I wrote. There’s also been an interview over at KCRO; a presentation to a group of pro-lifers in Columbus; and an extended interview to a Norway TV crew whose network (the second largest in the country) was investigating why the pro-life movement in America was still kicking. We participated in Omaha’s Life Chain and the Nebraska Walk for Life. We helped judge regional home school speech contests held down in Lincoln. I taught a couple of classes over at Grace University. Oh yes; I also preach the Sunday morning sermon over at Faith Bible Church every week.

            Of course, one of the most challenging elements of Vital Signs Ministries is our sidewalk counseling at the abortion mill. Nothing new about that. We have taken on such duty ever since we started in pro-life work. In 2010 we were at the Bellevue abortuary every Monday morning.  This next year may be a lot more challenging with a Planned Parenthood facility opening in northwest Omaha and talk of a new Carhart late-term abortuary in Council Bluffs. Lord, have mercy.  As it has always been, sidewalk counseling is a service filled with tragedy and frustration and heartbreak – but we lean into our Lord for strength, perseverance and, yes, joy. And, as you’ve read in other LifeSharer letters this year, the Lord has blessed us immeasurably by allowing us to participate in several turn-aways from the abortion clinic.  In addition, with our winsome signs and banners, we have communicated the pro-life message and the message of Christ’s gospel to untold thousands driving along Mission Boulevard this year. For both effects of our sidewalk counseling ministry, we’re very grateful to God.

            2010 has seen a whole lot of letters, phone calls, e-mails, and articles forwarded to the powers that be.  We have had significant conversations with our federal political representatives, our City Councilman, the Attorney General and a whole lot of aides and secretaries!  And we’ve conducted at our dining room table several very productive P.A.L. Nights, one which produced over a hundred letters in one night. Very cool.

            I made no overseas trips in 2010 but we did take a very significant step forward in our international ministry by “signing on” a friend to do the translation for our Russian-language page. And since he lives in Eastern Europe where the dollar goes a lot farther, we were able to employ him at a much less expensive rate than what we had faced in the past. This was a tremendous blessing and we are very thankful for that. 

          Networking has always been a hallmark for Vital Signs. We have helped many pro-life groups get started over the years and, when we can, we still provide occasional help to organizations and individuals who are serving the Lord in ways we cannot. So, again in 2010, we gave a donation to IMAGE, a great Christian pro-life ministry in Great Britain who has been a partner with us since their beginnings in the early 1990’s.  And though we have been kinda’ hard pressed financially these last several years, the Vital Signs Board agreed to make donations this year to two excellent pro-life ministries: Nebraskans Concerned for Ethical Research (effectively fighting the fight against embryonic stem cell experimentation and cloning) and, to help defray the costs of bringing in Lila Rose to speak in Lincoln, the Nebraska Family Council.

            2010 saw a whole new look for both Vital Signs Blog and the official Vital Signs Ministries web site.  Indeed, for the VSM site, Steve Young did a complete makeover that was a lot more than cosmetic. He did serious surgery! He streamlined the site, fixed the bugs and extended the scope of the site, allowing us to host a lot more there than we did. Now we can “park” video clips there, the audio files of my sermons, and so on.  This eliminates needing several web sites like we were trying to do. Super!

            While we’re talking about new things in our cyberspace outreach, let me say that in 2010 we launched our first video presentations.  Now available on You Tube and other sites are VSM’s first two productions, “Church History and Abortion” and “Heroes.” Both include music, visuals and a powerfully persuasive text.  In the coming year, we will be doing improved versions of these two with vocal narration plus creating several brand new projects as well.

            What else? Well, I must write each month’s LifeSharer Letter and a monthly article for Faith Bible Church. And, as already discussed, there were all those blog posts, personal letters and articles.  I shouldn’t forget our Book It! discussions either. Several of us have gathered here in our living room to discuss The Forgotten Man by Amity Shales, Money, Possessions and Eternity by Randy Alcorn, The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek and, next week, Sentenced to Life by Malcolm Muggeridge. And we have hosted 4 VSM Governing Board meetings here too.

             Now, in a review of the blessings of 2010, I surely can’t leave out the development of “When Swing Was King,” Vital Signs Ministries’ unique combination of big band music, an informative and entertaining commentary, a photo display showing life and popular culture of the era…and the chance to make solid new friendships with the residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other retirement centers. We only came up with the idea in late summer but, boy, how it has taken off. Indeed, before Christmas Day dawns, we will have presented “When Swing Was King” 27 times! And in 11 different facilities! And with 7 of them putting us on their monthly schedule! (I know, I'm asking what's wrong with those other four activity directors too!)

           The residents have absolutely loved it. Hearing their gratitude and seeing their enjoyment has been incredibly invigorating to Claire and me. They love the music. They are thrilled with the memories. The show creates delightful conversations with each other. They appreciate the trivia and the comedy I share, often having their own stories which they want to share afterward. We have frequently heard the word “professional” used of the programs by activity directors and visitors. That’s splendid. But even more welcome are the smiling faces, the tender hands applauding each number and the warm invitations to “please, come back soon!”

            In order to keep the experience fresh for our audiences, we have already created 5 different volumes of “When Swing Was King.” That's 13 big band songs and a couple of hundred photos each. We’re already working hard on our Christmas volume and will then work on producing another 6 for the regular series. Little wonder then that our Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons will feature the strains of Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo and Duke Ellington in the background! What a joy this ministry has been for us.

            Finally, I couldn’t conclude this 2010 blessing review without mentioning some of the more personal things. Preeminent in this category is my Mom.  She has had a tough year with more than a few crises in which she has had to go to the hospital.  Her dementia is getting worse all the time and she is physically weaker, more forgetful, more confused, and more fragile in every way.  But she’s here.  She’s safe.  She knows us and loves us and loves God.  And for these things we are most grateful. It does take some time but ministering to her is a priority we both take seriously and willingly.

            Also in 2010, we entertained visits from every one of my siblings and their spouses: Ric and Ellen, James and Tenna, Linda and John, and several from my youngest sister, Sherry.  I was also able to travel to Missouri to represent the family at the funeral of Mom’s sister, our beloved Aunt Kate.  And then last week, Claire and I were able to spend a week in a condo south of Branson with Sherry and her husband, John.  And our friends? My, how our lives are enriched by them. 2010 saw our literary society move through our 18th year, an abundance of parties and shared meals, and a bunch of double-dates.

            This was a year in which we had new windows (and a few new doors) put in our home; we re-financed our home loan on a much better rate, did a lot of lawn work, and had the tree in our backyard come crashing down on the power lines. We had fun attending a few Lincoln Pius football games, a couple of Omaha Nighthawk games, a few symphony concerts, Claire’s 40th high school reunion, a lot of dinners out with Mom, and a couple of Christmas shows in Branson featuring Andy Williams, the Gatlin Brothers and Debby Boone.

            I hope you get the big picture here; namely, that we think 2010 has been a very special year in Vital Signs history. And for a ministry that has been on the scene since 1982 (one that operates on a shoestring budget and with a paltry staff of two) to still be fresh, relevant and effective is wonderfully encouraging for us. So we are feeling particularly grateful this Thanksgiving season. And though our gratitude flows primarily in the direction of our Savior’s throne, we certainly want to bless all of you who have helped make this ministry possible. Thank you.  

            For those of you who do not regularly give a donation to Vital Signs Ministries, we’d like to be so bold as to ask that you consider the ongoing legacy of our work and perhaps help us close out the year in the black.  If you cannot or if your gifts go to other churches and ministries, that’s great.  Say a few prayers for us instead.  We will be sincerely grateful for either gift.  And those of you who do help us out financially, may God grant you bountiful blessings for doing so. We could not be doing these things without your generous support.

            Happy Thanksgiving to all.