Saturday, January 14, 2017

So far, by God's grace, so good.

Kathy and I have been in Guam at Pacific Islands University for a bit over a week now. We have been busier than we have been for a long time. I am serving in a somewhat undefined role as substitute administrator/part time teacher/pastor-encourager/general utility person (I've even done some maintenance tasks). Kathy is involved in many of those activities. As she has all of her life, she is plugging into relationships around her. She has done, and is doing a marvelous job of getting us set up and keeping us comfortable in the guest apartment here on the PIU campus, and, extremely important for me, she is an encouragement and stabilizing influence for me. Big smile, I'm not kidding, as I was typing those words, she came over and poured me some more coffee. We are currently sharing the apartment with Dr. Jim Sawyer, who is here for five weeks teaching Theology in our Seminary program.
Part of what we have had to deal with is an emotional roller-coaster ride. We are here because my good friend, Dave Owen, President of PIU, is sick. He discovered his ailment, yet undiagnosed, when he landed in the mainland USA for Christmas break. He and his wife, Joyce, were not able to return to Guam. You can read Dave's report on his health here, and a previous report from me on how I got here, here. Our presence at PIU-Guam is because of bad news. What we are doing is trying to insure that the Good News goes forth more effectively in a needy part of the world. I know it sounds Seseme Street-ish, but since we are here, we are not there. In our case there at least two "there"s. We miss oour home in VA, though at for the past week, our hearts have more often turned to Palau, where we were scheduled to be until a couple of weeks ago.
In the kind of situation in which we find ourselves, survival is the first measure of success.
We have made it through the first week. I was able to get a syllabus adapted to the class I am teaching and actually teach two sessions. I have participated in many meetings, some ad hoc--grab a couple of key people, and take 5-10 minutes to make up our mind--and others planned. I spoke in chapel, and led a prayer meeting. Like a guy trying to swim in rough surf, I have read a lot in preparation for the class, Critical Thinking, that I'm teaching. For a time the more I read, the higher the water of what I need to rose. I have managed to keep my nose above the surface. It remains a challenge, but I see glimpses of daylight. We have attended one worship service and a small group meeting of our church, here on Guam.
Perhaps we are like the guy who jumped from the twenty story building and made an announcement as he passed the tenth floor, but we are doing OK. We went on a date last night. Dinner and a movie. It was nice.


  • We have been received here with great kindness.
  • All of the staff have been great to us, but in particular I praise the Lord for the great relationship I'm building with VP for Business Affairs, Nino Pate', and Administrative Assistant Scott Refilong, a 2016 graduate of PIU, and a former intern at our mission, Liebenzell USA.
  • We praise the Lord for good health. We have done a pretty good job of walking for exercise.
  • This is by far the best experience we have ever had in getting over jet lag. We attribute it to the prayers of many being answered.
  • The survival story, from above.
  • (Above the din of roosters from the "farm" next door--they raise roosters for the ring, not the the table--I hear the cooing of a dove. Nothing extraordinary back home in VA. Here in Guam, though, the accidental introduction of the brown tree snake during the World War 2 era all but eradicated the bird population. Hearing the dove just seems like an indicator of God's grace.
  • It seems almost profane to ask you to pray for our health, when our friend is so sick, but we do ask that. I'm not foolish enough to think that I'm essential. I'm not, but a lot of folk are depending on us right now. Pray for Dave first, then for us.
  • Pray that we'll continue to figure this out.
  • Pray for meaningful, life-changing connections with students and staff.
  • Pray for the staff of PIU.  We are not the only ones who are very busy. Everyone, here, is carrying an extra load.
  • Beyond the survival mode, which requires a lot of our attention right now, there are bigger, longer-term matters, some of my colleagues are working on things that could change PIU for the better for decades to come.
  • One of Jim's students was visiting him, here in the living room of our apartment. This guy is already a leader not only of a church, but of a network of ministries. What we are doing has potential downstream that is beyuond what we can imagine.  Pray for our students.
Kathy and I are very thankful for those of you who partner with us in this venture. As we start each class session we remind the students that there is a group of people who make it possible for us to be here. We pray for you.

By His Grace,
H. (for K. too)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Prayer Update, A Change of Assignment

Dear, Friend,

As I have aged, my body has become less flexible.  Kathy and I are trying to remain spiritually supple. My Pastor, who spent most of his
adult life in missionary service, has often said that one of the greatest
abilities missionaries need is flexibility. Kathy and I feel like we have been doing spiritual yoga.
I need to give you some background so you can understand what is going on in our lives.  As you know, our involvement in Palau is working in the Pacific Islands University extension there.  We were planning to return to this lovely nation next week.  Several events have alligned themselves to bring us to a change of plan.  Last semester PIU's main campus on Guam was full of challenge for students, faculty, and staff. The difficulties to overcome included the absence of a couple of instructors.  It is good that Michael and Samantha Owen are in the US mainland while Mike does his PhD work. Good, but it causes an extra load for others.  Toward the end of the semester a key administrator and teacher decided to resign.  He leaves as a friend, but his absence will be keenly felt as we begin the spring semester.  Then, just a short time ago, we received word that our good friend, Dave Owen, President of PIU has a potentially serious blood disorder.  He had come to the mainland after the semester was finished to visit family and attend a wedding.  His legs were swollen so he visited a physician.  He is being referred to a specialist, will undergo a battery of tests, and has been told that his return to Guam is delayed.
With all of this, several people asked  me to consider a change of plan, to go to Guam instead of Palau for this semester. After prayer and counsel we have decided to accept this emergency assignment.  With the low number of students in Palau, we have known that such a change was a possibility.  We certainly didn't expect it to come this way.
We have spent a lot of time on the phone, reading and sending emails, and getting things figured out for this change.  After I finish writing this email I'll be calling United. I need to make some changes in insurance. A friend from Guam is visiting Palau. She is willing to pick  up some stuff that is stored there and bring it to Guam. Some of our associates on Guam are working out housing and transportation.  Our focus of training leaders for the church in Micronesia remains unchanged.  We'll be doing it in a different place.
Just to clarify, I will not be President, or even Acting President.  As far as title, I'll probably be referred to as Chairman of the Board, a position I have held for the last couple of years.  My goal will be to work with. I'll pick up some tasks that would otherwise not get done.  Kathy and I hope to have a pastoral role on campus. I'll be teaching a class.

You can decipher some prayer requests from the above narrative.  Here are some in bullet-point form:

  • Pray for Dave Owen.  We are praying that he will be able to see a specialist soon. We praise the Lord that he and Joyce are at his parents' home.  Joyce has decisions to make about when to return to Guam, etc.  Wisdom and healing are high on the list of what they need.
  • The staff at PIU functions under a cloud--I didn't mention that school finances have been extremely tight (Thanks to partners like you, our personal needs are being well-cared for. Thank you.)--so pray for unity and a good spirit among those who work at PIU.  Pray that Kathy and I can be a good influence.
  • Pray that we will be able to get everything done to make this change as smooth as possible.  Pray that we will be able to quickly settle in, get over jetlag, and get to work.
  • I'll be teaching a class--one I have never taught before--and Kathy will be seeking opportunity to have input into the lives of the students, especially the women. I'll be working closely with Nino Pate', the only administrator still on site.  I'll be involved in various meetings and conversations to see how to help, assist, and encourage. I'm asking for wisdom.
  • Pray for the situation in Palau. We regret that we won't be with our friends and colleagues there.  We were looking forward to teaching both in a couple of formal classes and with some church workers in a nonacademic setting.  Both are sorely needed. Our program in Palau was already struggling. Pray that we can find a way to get traction there.
Guam is the largest island in Micronesia.  It is a US territory, with a
large military presence, Airforce and Navy.  The native people of
Guam are Chomorros, but it is currently home to people from all
over Micronesia, including Palau, many Asian countries, and "Haoles,"
White people like us.  PIU's campus is roughly in the middle of the Island.
As always we are thankful and humbled to be able to partner with you in these endeavors. We pray that you have a blessed New Year.

Howard for both K & H

We will continue to post information about our mission venture at  

Our Prayer card is copied at the top of this email.  If you don't have one, and would like to have one, let us know.
We'll likely have a Guam cellphone number.  We'll let you know, when we know.  We'll be able to receive postal mail at the University address.

Howard and Kathy Merrell
c/o PIU
172 Kinney’s Road
Mangilao, GU 96913

Our email and Skype remain the same.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Doing Missions on a cold winter's day

On the other end of my living room two TV-trays are set up as a temporary work area.  We are send me a note.
sending out Christmas letters, prayer letters, and thank you notes to those who partner with us in our ministry.  It's quite a pile of paper, envelopes and labels, with a couple computers thrown in for good measure.  I'm going to take a batch of letters to the post office this morning.  We also sent an email version of our Christmas letter and missionary update.  If you didn't get one and would like one,

I'm very much aware of what a team effort missions is.

For most of my life I was involved on the other end of the process.  From the end I'm on now, I'm gaining a new perspective.  It is good.


I'm about to break a cardinal rule of blogging.  A blog post should only have one topic.
I just read an interesting article about reaching out with the Gospel.  The article describes the kind of work one of my sons is in.  Some colleagues of mine are doing the same thing on a smaller scale.  I'd like to think that Kathy and I are part of the same process.  Training leaders who can carry the process forward.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

All The Nations

Dear, Howard

I'm always humbled and thankful when I look through the report of those who partner with us in this venture.  I'm close to half way through a short stint in Palau, teaching the classroom part of a Marriage and Family class.  Last week I was in Germany.  I think it was while I was there that we received our latest "donor report."  I bought some post cards in Germany, and I just wrote messages on, and addressed them this morning.  So if you are one of those on the latest report, you should receive a truly international piece of mail.  Germany/Palau/USA.  Fortunately, postage from Palau to the US is quite reasonable.  The international flavor of the mail is appropriate.  Monday, in Palau, the nation celebrates United Nations Day.  The Kindergarten that the church, here, runs held an International programthis morning.  Their student body has representatives from Canada, China, Korea, Philippine Islands, Japan, and Palau.  The pictures don't do the event justice, but you can tell it was cute.  The event included a variety of foods from the nations represented.  It was good.

When Kathy does the Thank You correspondence it is always neat and legible.  Mine, not so much.  I do try to be personal, though, as I jot a quick note. For that reason the messages vary from card to card.  I thought I'd list the themes that were represented in this morning's batch of Thank Yous.  
  • On several cards I asked about matters in your life.  Kathy and I pray for you.  If I forgot, or if there is something going on in your life that we don't know about, please let us know.
  • On a couple of the cards I hinted at difficulty.  If this were easy the task of reaching the world and discipling saints would have been done long ago.  Missions is a bunch of imperfect servants, using flawed systems, to reach out to sinful people who are stuck in their non-Biblical way of life, and all of that is going on in the world where Satan holds power.  It is a wonder anything gets done.  I am very aware of my deficiencies.  Yet I am convinced that we need to keep going another round.  I told several of you that "If something is worth doing it is worth doing badly."  What I mean by that--and neither the saying nor the thought are original with me--is that some things must be done.  Do the best you can, but even if your efforts fall far short, don't quit.  Keep on going, try to do better.
  • That explains--somewhat--the horrendous itinerary I have had lately--that and United Airlines's pricing structure..   Last week I was in Germany.  Dave Owen, President of PIU and fellow LMUSA missionary were sent there by LMUSA to talk strategy for work in Micronesia.  It is an ongoing conversation, but the early, and clear consensus is that in some way--or ways--our focus needs to be on leadership development.  That's what I'm doing in Palau these two weeks.  I flew from Frankfurt to Dulles on Friday, then left early Saturday for Palau, by way of Hawaii and Guam. With all the time zones I crossed--something like 19, plus the International Date Line, I wasn't even sure what day it was, much less what time when I got here.  I'm teaching the classroom part of a marriage and Family class, and having various impromptu conversations with Palauan church leaders about leadership development.  It's frustratingly slow, but it is absolutely needed.  BTW, though my class is small, it is going well.
One more thing about this internationally flavored communique.  While I'm in Palau, I'm the guest of Anne and Steve Stinnette, who are preparing the first missionaries from Palau Evangelical Church to go the nations.  Nando and Magrena are headed to Indonesia early in 2017.  Pray for them.

Again, Kathy and I offer our sincere thanks for your partnership with us in prayer and giving.  Jesus sent us to all the nations of the world.  whether it is next door, or around the world, go do something for the cause, 'cause it's a good cause the only one that one that matters.

Howard for both K & H


Friday, October 7, 2016

Prayer Update, 10/7/16

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I'm writing this from the United Lounge in Dulles.  Burned my free pass so I could take advantage of the free food.  The skies may not be as friendly as they used to be, but the soup isn't bad.
I'm on my way to Bad (Bath) Liebenzell in Germany.  I'll land in Frankfurt.  My friend Dave Owen, President of Pacific Islands University will be meeting with some leaders at Liebenzell Mission Germany.  We'll be talking about how we can do the most good in Micronesia.  Thanks to the not too friendly pricing policies of United.  I fly back to Dulles, next weekend, and leave for Palau the next morning.  If you want to check out the online portion of the class, clickhere.  I'll be leading 10 sessions of the Marriage and Family class,October 17-28.  Kathy isn't with me on this whirlwind trip.  Speaking of which, I am praying for those impacted, and some mourning, because of the hurricane.
Kathy and I will be returning to Palau January - April, 2017.  I'll be teaching and we'll be promoting PIU, and serving the Lord as opportunities arise.

A couple of Prayer Requests:
  • Whether I am safe or not is of little consequence.  If I crash in the Atlantic, however, it will mess up a bunch of plans.
  • Pray that Dave, the brothers and sisters in Germany, and I will "click."  Good conversations, iron sharpening iron, the courage to say and do the right thing, the wisdom to say it with grace.
  • Continue to pray for growth in the student body at PIU on our main campus and at our extensions, including PIU-Palau.  Pray that I might make some good contacts during this two weeks.
  • Pray for Kathy while she is holding down the homestead.
Kathy and I are thankful and humbled that you choose to partner with us in prayer and support.
Please let us know how we can be praying for you.

We will continue to post information about our mission venture at 

H&K's Micronesian (and other) Adventures

Our Prayer card is copied at the top of this email.  If you don't have one, and would like to have one, let us know. 

The picture of my granddaughter, Ava, has nothing to do with this letter,  I just figured you'd enjoy it.

Howard for both K & H


Our mailing address is:
Howard & Kathy Merrell
2106 S. Carpenter Drive
Covington VA 24426

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Semester Begins, Prayer Update:

Dear, Howard

It's been said that you "can't teach new tricks to an old dog."  I'll not argue about the training of geriatric canines.  I will say that both in our lives and as we work with others who have been around for a while we find that growing and learning has no expiration date.
Today is the official start of a class that I'm teaching through the Distance Education division of Pacific Islands University.  The first week of the semester is an add-drop period, so the number could change, but right now four students are takingMarriage and Family, CFOR 303.  Three of them are in Palau, and the other one is a Filipina living in Italy.   The first seven weeks of the semester are being taught "online."  I'll be in Palau for two weeks of lectures (my student in Italy will connect with us via Skype--if we can pull it off--or by recording) October 17-28, and then we'll finish the semester by electronic connection.
I have never taught a class in this remotely controlled manner and because of the needs of the students I'm working with, we aren't teaching this class in the way such classes are usually taught.  The short of it is:  We have reduced the need for students to be online to a minimum.  Interaction between me and the students will be mainly via email.  All of the class materials are not only posted on a blog (see the PS), but are also being recorded on disks and sent the old-fashioned way to Palau.  This comment from one of my students explains the need for the duplication, and reversion to some old ways:  "I prefer cd, though,  because many times the internet connection is not so good.  Thank you."  You are welcome.  One of PIU's values is to make education accessible.  We are trying to do our part.
I had asked you to pray about my getting ahead enough to get several weeks of work recorded on disks.  I'm glad to report that the recordings of the first four weeks of material arrived in Palau in time for the semester's start.  Please pray as we move ahead.

We appreciate your prayer on our behalf.  Here are some updates concerning some prayer requests we have shared.

  • Preparation for Marriage and Family class has gone well.
  • We are thankful for the four students that the Lord has sent us.
  • Our travels have been safe and pleasant.
  • Plans are firming up for Howard's trips to Germany and Palau in October.  In Germany He'll be involved in some strategy meetings and He'll be teaching in Palau.
  • Our missionary colleagues, Steve and Anne, are travelling to other parts of Micronesia.  This is part of their efforts to mobilize Micronesians for missions.
  • I heard good reports about the camp that the Palauan missionary trainees ran.
  • The request that the "Lord  would send forth laborers," is two millennia old.  We are encouraged with our efforts at recruiting worker for the harvest and encouraging those already in the work.  The need goes on.
  • Our plan is to return to Palau for the Spring semester of PIU-Palau.  A lot needs to take place between now and then.
  • We mentioned in a couple of contexts the financial stress at PIU. By God's grace the University met the August payroll.  Finances are very much tied to student numbers. My account of teaching this fall's class is representative of the kinds of obstacles we deal with all the time.  Our student body is made up of people who come from far-flung, isolated communities.  Our means of communication are often limited, awkward and subject to break down--human as well as technological. All that to say that a group of students we had hoped to work with this fall, may not be enrolled in classes.  The financial impact that has on PIU is immediate.  The eternal consequences are far greater.
    Continue to pray for the PIU staff, administration, and that God will move in key hearts.
  • On the US side we are thankful for opportunities to minister.  Kathy is very busy getting a new season of Coffee Break, ladies ministry, going.  Their kick-off event is tomorrow.
    LMUSA has been involved in some important conversations in regard to Retreat Ministries.  In particular we are seeking to sharpen our focus of ministry to the "world at our doorstep" in greater New York.  The right people are key.
I'll close with a major word of praise.  Many of you have joined us in praying for the Tavarez family.  Alex and Danielle are missionary candidates with LMUSA.  We saw them on our recent trip south.  They plan to work in teaching and student services at PIU.  We had great concern for the youngest Tavarez.  In the womb scans indicated a lung condition that can be very serious.

Here is the report from Mom & Dad:
"Welcome to the world Meleah Faith Tavarez.  She was born August 24 at 12:34 am. She weighed 5lbs 2oz and is 17 inches long . . .  She is breathing beautifully on her own, no NICU."
Meleah is now home with the family.  Doctors will check on her in a couple of months.
"Thank you all for your prayers."

We will continue to post information about our mission venture, and occasional baby pictures,  at  

Our Prayer card is copied at the top of this email.  If you don't have one, and would like to have one, let us know.


The need for stronger families is not something that is limited to one part of the world.  The material that I'm putting online for my class is hanging right out there where anyone can see it.  Especially since you are supporting us in this venture it is perfectly acceptable for you to use this material to enrich your family, or to help a family that could use some encouragement.  One of the text books we are using can be obtained for free, the others are quite reasonable.  Links as to where you can find them are on the syllabus.  You can access this materialat
In addition to my stuff, you will find material from guest lecturers like Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, and Daffy Duck.
While Kathy and I keep busy, as it is, we do want to be used as God gives us opportunity.  As you read through and listen to this material, if you think of ways that we might be able to share in your church or group, don't hesitate to get in touch with us.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Video of Palau

Here is the video we weren't able to play tonight at our Missions Night.
It gives some lovely views of our other home.  President Remengesau, who does the narration, stopped in a youth meeting Kathy and I were attending, when we were in Palau last winter.