Death and Birth

My 88 year old mother-in-law passed away on Sunday, March 6th after a long decline. Although her passing was expected it is still hard for Ellen, her sisters and especially my father-in-law Bob Wheeler. They had been married for 65 years, raising the three girls and enjoying their six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Speaking of great-grandchildren, another was born prematurely the next day (March 7th, 2016). Our grandson Isaiah Owen Slezak appeared weighing 2 pounds, 4 ounces and mostly breathing on his own. His remarkable story can be found on Craig and Laura’s blog “A Way in the Wild”.

And then that evening my dear Aunt Liz (Mom’s sister) went to her eternal reward after emergency surgery for extensive cancer that had remained undiagnosed. She was 85 years old. I was unable to be with the family for her memorial service because I was, of course, in Ohio with Ellen and her family.

What a start to an eventful week! Ellen and I drove up to Columbus, Ohio and along with grieving for her mother we enjoyed really good times with the family. Our other three kids and two of our grandchildren were able to join us there.

As the years roll on we will continue to experience and embrace more of these life events.

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2016 starts with surgery

On January 27th I had surgery to repair an abdominal hernia. Pretty straight forward, not serious. It was supposed to be outpatient but ended up being a little more involved and so I spent the night at Cape Coral Hospital. The staff took great care of me there and then it was Ellen’s turn when we got home Thursday. I am blessed to have her by my side through these adventures that come with aging (I’m 65, Ellen is younger :-).

I was able to work from home most of the next week and return to a normal routine at ECHO that Friday (Feb. 5th). I’m still limited in what I can (should!) pick up but otherwise back to great health.


  • grateful for excellent medical care and adequate health insurance
  • grateful for general good health
  • Ellen’s bout with cancer and this remind us we are mortal and aging
  • We are happy to be able to continue in full-time ministry at ECHO and with AIM
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The 2015 ECHO Annual Conference

Full title “ECHO International Agriculture Conference 2015”. Last week (Nov. 17th to 19th) was the 22nd annual conference. Over 200 delegates listened to plenary speakers, attended workshops and got to know each other. Many have been to a number of conferences and so it feels a bit like a family reunion!

It is the only time during the year that we here in Florida are able to be in the same room with so many people in our global network. I’d like to tell you about one of those people.

Roy and his family have served in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and the Central African Republic for almost 40 years. In their mission work they assist local partners in meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of rural communities He has planted thousands of trees and has been through several coups and evacuations.

He found out about ECHO in the early years of the organization, back in the 80’s. He has read most of our development notes and technical notes, he has received seeds, and we have even sent live trees to him in Africa. He always attends this annual conference when he is in the US on home assignment.

In turn Roy has shared his knowledge and experience with ECHO. Three of our interns have served with he and his family after their internships here in Florida. And Roy has spent time at ECHO as a missionary in residence.

He shared at our closing banquet that part of the purpose of home assignment or furlough is to spend time with people that support their ministry and to spend time with family. And Roy feels that ECHO is family and so he must come see us whenever possible.

Even though Ellen and I would rather be in Africa we count it a wonderful privilege to be able to provide information and give advice to people like Roy and his family who are living and serving in communities around the world.

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Camp Hargrave

My sisters and I try to get to “the farm” every summer to help Mom with maintenance and repairs and just hang out together.

Three of us along with Ellen spent a week there in July this year. Our week also coincided with a visit from my nephew Mark (sister Beth’s son) who has been teaching high school in Turkey for 2 years. It also marked the first year that Beth has been in the newly restored “Hargrave House”, our grandfather’s house that had fallen into disrepair. You can see the work Beth did to resurrect it on her blog “Blood, sweat and love, a journey of the restoration of my grandfathers house.

children on swingAmong other accomplishments was the installation of a swing in the big tree by her house. That project had been saved for Mark and involved getting ropes over a big limb about 25 feet up! The swing has already been enjoyed by numerous people.

Other scenes from the farm:

Old machinery

Horse drawn mower

shack in the woods

Old shack in the woods

old farm machinery

Tractor driven corn grinder

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February in Africa

I spent the month of February in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa attending two conferences, traveling, birding, and helping out at the ECHO farm in South Africa.

I left on the 30th of January from Ft. Myers. David Erickson, from ECHO, and I were on the same flights to Detroit and Amsterdam. But then he went straight to Tanzania and I went to Nairobi. Ellen and I were supposed to be on the same flights to and from Nairobi but she had been called to Cincinnati in the middle of January because of her Mother’s health and needed to stay behind to help her parents move from Cincinnati to Columbus.

I arrived in Nairobi and spent the night at Mayfield Guest House and then took the Impala Shuttle (small bus) down to Arusha and checked into the Naura Springs Hotel for the ECHO Symposium.

Arusha ECHO Symposium

Conference Sign

Ready to begin!

Tea time at the symposium

John de Wolff is a consultant who helped us get the goat project going at Cheptebo.

The three days of the symposium were fun. I reconnected with old friends and got to better know the ECHO East Africa staff.

Back to Nairobi

I left Arusha on Friday and took the shuttle back to Nairobi. Brian and Patty Arensen had invited me to stay with them. Brian has developed a small fountain, pool and garden at the back of their house. And with a couple of feeders that really attracts the birds!

Red-billed Firefinch

Red-billed Firefinch

Dusky  Turtle Dove

Dusky Turtle Dove

 Wycliffe’s housewarming

On Saturday we went out to Ngong for a housewarming for Wycliffe who has worked for the AIM office there for many years. He does a lot of the immigration paperwork for the missionaries. It was great to meet his family and celebrate with them.

On Sunday I went to Church at Ngong Road AIC with the Arensens and ran into some other old friends.

Brian and Patty took me to lunch at an Indian restaurant at a mosque and community center in Lavington. After lunch we did a couple of laps on the track around the cricket pitch!


Then Sunday afternoon Brian and I went out to the Giraffe Center near Karen but we did not feed giraffes. Instead we hiked the nature trail across the road and saw a number of really cool birds – highlight was the Hartlaub’s Turacos that followed us around for a bit.

On to Naivasha

On Monday I took a taxi out to Naivasha and had lunch at the Indian restaurant at Delamere’s with Shel and Kym Arensen. Their house is nearby in the same area east of the main road where several other expats have built houses.

Birding was great there, especially down along the Malewa River that their house borders.

Hadada Ibis

Hadada Ibis

White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher

White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher

Visit to Eburru Forest

On Tuesday Shel took me with him to visit some of the Ndorobo he has been working with in the hills above Naivasha. They are also helping guard the Eburru Forest there and have permission to keep their beehives in the forest and harvest honey. We drove through a good bit of the forest and then stopped to hike a bit, again seeing some cool birds.

Visit to Street Kids School

Kym Arensen has had contact with a street kids school – Naivasha Children’s Shelter. They are looking into building a biogas generator and asked me for input. They have installed a unit at Cheptebo so I put them in touch with each other.

First session of Eden Club

The other ministry Kym is involved in there is an after school program in primary schools called “Eden Clubs”. This is a program to teach environmental awareness and care of God’s creation. I went with her and her Kenyan co-worker to the introductory session at a school on the south side of Naivasha.

To Eldoret

On Thursday I took another taxi to Eldoret. The taxis weren’t cheap but saved time and wear and tear on me! I met our great friends Joseph and Sally, Hellen, and Collins, for lunch at an Indian (!) restaurant across the street from Sizzler’s.

Then on the way down to Cheptebo late that afternoon we stopped on the outskirts of Eldoret to greet our former house worker, Mary and former volunteer, Kathryn.

Things were really busy at the project. They were having a joint meeting on Sunday and then Monday there was a meeting of county officials from three or four counties. So I spent Saturday relaxing and walking around the farm.

The Sunday joint meeting was typical but it was good to see many of my friends that are the pastors and leaders in the valley.

Jackson's Hornbill

Jackson’s Hornbill


Pretty sure this is a White-faced Scops Owl

Monday I got a ride up to Eldoret with the farm manager for a very early flight to Nairobi.

Another Conference


Alison and Cody had been interns at ECHO.

In the meantime Ellen’s Mom had rallied and stabilized and so she came on out and had arrived in Nairobi by then. We took a bus out to Brackenhurst for a conference where she helped with the children’s program. It was terrific to meet up with even more old friends there. Two of our former interns were there as well.

South Africa

I left Brackenhurst on Thursday and spent the night at Mayfield before leaving for South Africa on Friday. Tim Motis had come from the US and we met up and stayed overnight at a hotel at the airport. Saturday we rented a car and drove the 3 hours to the ECHO research location north of Johannesburg.

We helped harvesting maize, did some birding, and reconnected with folks I met during my 2 month’s stay in 2013.


Nice maize from the research plot


Always pests!


Nice to have flowers in the garden also.

moringa plot

Checking out the Moringa plot

Last Day in Nairobi


Meeting up with another friend and her daughter in Nairobi.

Saturday we did some shopping and visited with two young women who were children in the remote community in northern Kenya when we first arrived in the ’80s.Then after supper at Mayfield went to the airport and headed back to the US.

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An encounter with cancer

Here is our latest newsletter.

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