Requiem for a ten-day Eurotrip

The impressive Brandenburg Gate in Berlin looks even more imposing at night.

The trip to Europe is over, and it was one of the best things I’ve done in my life.

I’m typing this out rather hurriedly at Iceland’s Keflavik International Airport, so my thoughts will be as brief yet as detailed as they can while still allowing anyone who reads this a chance to do so while I’m in the air. Grab a donut and a cup of coffee because here we go.

The trip took me over three countries in 10 days. I flew from Seattle to Reykjavik Nov. 1, switched planes to London Gatwick hours later, spent three full days in London, flew to Berlin Schonefeld Nov. 5, spent three full days in Berlin, flew back to London Nov. 8, spent a night in London again, flew back to Reykjavik, spent two nights there, and then boarded a flight to Seattle.

Whew. That’s a lot of ground to cover. And cover ground I did, walking an average of 21 kilometers (13 miles) per day save for yesterday, in which I was on a tour bus for most of the day. I relied heavily on public transport, including a mixture of buses, trains, trams and so forth to get me around. I used Google Maps’ transit feature as well as Google Translate to intepret text to both German and Icelandic (and vice versa), and everything happened as well as it could during the trip.

I lugged around a backpack with 25 pounds of material that later grew to 28 pounds, and while it made airport check-in, departure and arrival a breeze, laundry service for three changes of clothes got expensive quickly. Of course I dropped the backpack off at hotels on my check-in, so the majority of ground I covered was with just me, my wallet, passport, camera and a good amount of whatever the local currency was in cash form.

With my mind primarily on photographing landmarks and other things that caught my eye, I eschewed guided tours, tour buses, etc. save for yesterday in Iceland because I was spent and didn’t want to rent a car.

Now, a description of each place I visited:


Elizabeth Tower, as seen from the Jubilee Bridge in London.

Elizabeth Tower, as seen from the Jubilee Bridge in London.

London and its surrounding areas were intriguing, and I was probably less impressed with what the city turned out to be in real life as opposed to what I thought it would be. Still it was a great city.

I visited Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the Stratford area, Elizabeth Tower and much more. My base was Croydon, which meant each day I would wake up and walk to the East Croydon railway station and take either the Thameslink train to London Bridge or the Southern to London Victoria and travel by foot or Underground from there.

Getting around London was easy with Google Maps, but the weather only cooperated for a couple days. Much of the time I was in London, it either rained or was overly cloudy. That said, the weather couldn’t stop me from going where I wanted to go.

London is the European equivalent of New York City. There are a ton of people that live there and a ton more that commute from out of town. There are also a ton of tourists at any given spot, regardless how trivial the tourist destination may be. I had to seek a lot of alternate photography angles to get away from a lot of annoying people. Many people stopped in the middle of the sidewalk or a road to get a photo or the perfect selfie, and you could tell a lot of people driving through London had zero patience for it.

As for the Londoners I met, most were cordial and would help with any questions I had. One gentleman in particular told me an easy way to take the Tube to where I needed to go, which was still quite complex, but helped me understand the system a little bit better.

The highlight of my visit to London, I’d have to say, was St. Paul’s Cathedral. No photography was allowed inside the cathedral directly, which I understand, but it was an impressive structure and the amount of detail was amazing. I spent three hours in there and could have spent much longer. The Whispering Gallery, up about 280 steps from the floor, was something else, and another gallery a couple hundred more up offered fantastic views of London on a good day.

Overall rating: 7/10, would visit again if I had to.


The impressive Brandenburg Gate in Berlin looks even more imposing at night.

The impressive Brandenburg Gate in Berlin looks even more imposing at night.

I didn’t want to stay in London all 8 available days of my trip, and since I was already in Europe I wanted to visit another city on the European mainland. Since much of my family is from Germany, Berlin sounded nice. And it was the cheapest option of all German cities.

The flight from London to Berlin and back was $90. You’ll not often find a deal like that in the States, but deals like that are all over Europe.

I was more impressed with Berlin than I thought I’d be. As a pretty cerebral person, I was impressed with the layout of the city, the complexity of its transportation network and the dichotomy of a rapidly expanding city with a very rich history. I really enjoyed seeing the architecture of Olympiastadion (where the 1936 Olympics were held, a very intriguing piece of history in and of itself), the Brandenburg Gate, and much more.

I spent Sunday in Wittenberg to visit a friend from Missouri who had moved over for a year to volunteer with the organization hosting the celebration for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We visited All Saints’ Church, where Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses to the door; and also the church in which he preached much of his life. The city was very beautiful and it was definitely a highlight of the trip.

I mentioned that Berlin’s public transport is highly complex. There are three train systems that take you into and throughout Berlin: the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, and Deutsche Bahn trains. Deutsche Bahn red trains and their ICE counterparts are for more long-distance intercity travel, S-Bahn is a more regional network that connected major commuter points in the city, and the U-Bahn is a largely underground network servicing many specific neighborhoods. Many times, these three would intersect at a train station and I needed the help of Google Maps’ real-time transit tool to help me figure where I needed to go.

Although I speak very limited German if any at all, Berlin was easy to get around because they had a lot of stuff in English. Many in the service industry also spoke English and that was a help.

It only rained once when I was in Berlin but was very cold. The last day I was there, it was 1 degree Celsius and everyone was bundled up. But the city was very beautiful and I was impressed by it.

Overall rating: 9/10, would definitely visit again maybe in warmer weather.


Iceland is full of natural beauty in many places.

Iceland is full of natural beauty in many places.

I was here by courtesy of my two-day layover on the flight from London back to Seattle. Since I wasn’t here long and didn’t see too terribly much, I can’t write a ton about it. But I’ll try anyway.

This was the most difficult place to navigate even though it was small, and I did not do myself any favors by getting a hotel room five miles south of the city itself. Unlike Berlin, it doesn’t have much in the way of signage and directions translated into English, which meant I had to heavily rely on Google once again for help. Sensing a theme here?

The first day I arrived, weather was alright but very cold. I took a bus from my hotel in a town whose name I can’t pronounce so I won’t even try to downtown Reykjavik, where I bought dinner and withdrew way too many krona from an ATM. Navigated a bit of downtown and shot photos of the big church that dominates the shopping district, then headed back to the hotel.

I have to admit I was pretty well spent upon arrival in Reykjavik and I went to bed before 9:30 p.m. the first night.

But the second day was awesome. Woke up at 7:30 a.m. and booked a Grey Line tour throughout Iceland’s Golden Circle, where a bunch of us saw a few places of interest, Gullfoss the big waterfall and the Geysir geothermal area. It was a fantastic eight-hour round trip, but is probably better experienced with a companion.

Back to Reykjavik and back to the hotel I went, and I was tired yet again. I fell asleep before 10 p.m. and would have earlier if not for noisy neighbors, which is really the only complaint I have about most of the hotels I stayed in (see my previous post detailing my experience at Russ Hill near Gatwick for hell on earth).

Today there wasn’t too much I could do as I met up with parents of a friend who were also vacationing in Iceland (sweet coincidence) and had to make my way to the airport soon, which is where I am now.

It’s cold, windy and rainy out there now and I saw no Northern Lights.

Overall rating: 6/10, cloudy all the time and I was too tired to enjoy much of anything.

In the coming days and weeks I’ll post a bit more about each place and what it was like to navigate, what to see, what to do, etc. I made this entire trip happen for less than $1,500 — and that includes the airfare, hotel stays, food, transportation and small unexpected expenses.

Overall the trip was very fun and a tremendous experience. More to come on the finer points of it, but for now I hope this helps everyone understand a bit of what it was like.

Eurotrip Day 2 recap: London Calling

Days 2 and 3 of my trip to London were action-packed from the get go. With only 48 hours to hurry through the city and see as much as I could, I woke up early on Thursday morning and got things underway at about 6 a.m.

My last post described in short detail how bad the hotel I stayed at on the first night was. If the Russ Hill Hotel pops up on any of your recommendations, disregard it and move along. That place is awful. The building was in serious need of upgrades, plane noise was constant (I’m a light sleeper) Wi-Fi was spotty and the worst part of all was that it was about 8 kilometres from Gatwick — if you didn’t have a car you had to rely on an Uber. It was only 9 pounds one way instead of 16, but still for the information on their website to say they had a 5-pound shuttle and then to be told it was discontinued…maddening.

But things got better in a hurry as soon as I left.

I had to go BACK to Gatwick and board the train to East Croydon, the closest stop to my next hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Croydon. At major rail terminals such as Gatwick, they have information boards above the turnstiles that display what platform you need to be on, all stops that train will serve, and what time the next train is due. It’s a bit of sensory overload, but I was able to buy a visitor Oyster card that is good for various forms of transport in and around London. It came with 33 pounds pre-applied and cost around $50 or so. Once I bought my card, off I was — touch the card to the RFID reader on the turnstile, it displays how much you have left and lets you through.

The train was nifty and got me to East Croydon in about 25 minutes. Croydon itself is about 15 miles south of the London city center, so the location was ideal. It was a 1 km walk from the train station to the hotel, and I got there about 4 hours prior to check-in, so I grabbed my camera and checked my backpack in with reception. Off to London I went via the Southern train to London Victoria station, one of the bigger terminals in the city.

From London Victoria I decided to walk to Hyde Park, where there were some beautiful autumn colors on display. I really wanted to see nature first before walking around to try to find the awesome architecture of town, so Hyde Park was the best place to find it. It reminded me of a giant Lake Sacajawea but a bit more regal for obvious reasons.

Once I was done at Hyde Park, I went on to Buckingham Palace.

Way too crowded so I stayed only a second, put my hand over my heart while reciting a famous line from Cool Runnings, grabbed a photo and aimlessly wandered on to St James Park and all the way over to Westminster Abbey.

Now the Abbey was pretty cool, but like a cheap chump I decided not to pay 20 GBP to go inside. (That’s the only stupid thing I did during my visit, but I think I made up for it the next day. More on that soon.) The place is absolutely stunning, and to think it’s been around for years and years and years is mind-blowing.

I went around the Westminster area a bit more and snapped some photos of Elizabeth Tower (wrongly known by many as Big Ben) and many other sites before I became fatigued at 4 p.m. as serious jet lag hit me. But I had to get a photo!

I made my way back to Victoria Station and rode the train back to Croydon before slipping in and out of consciousness and various states of sleep all evening and night. Day 2 was a bit more adventurous, but you’ll have to wait to hear about it.

Full-quality photos from Day 1 are here on my Smugmug site. Please buy a couple and support the Brewer Mission Trip Fund, you know, the trip I’m currently on.

Eurotrip Day 1 recap: Nothing too eventful yet


Earlier this year, I scored a plane ticket from Seattle to London and back via Reykjavik, Iceland for less than $500. It meant traveling in November, but I was game for anything, and quite honestly it would be great to get out of America during one of the craziest political seasons I’ve seen in my lifetime.

So here I sit in a hotel that really isn’t all that great typing this out on a Surface Pro 3 and a hiking backpack full of my stuff sitting behind me while I charge my phone. Here’s a quick synopsis of how everything has gone so far.

Took off from Seattle at 4:30 p.m. Read an entire book, watched six episodes of The Office, landed at Keflavik International in Iceland, ate, sat around for an hour, got back on the plane, plane had mechanical trouble, switched to a different plane, flew out, I fell asleep, we landed at London Gatwick and there’s where things got really fun.

I had been more or less awake for about 21 hours, but I was fairly confident I’d be able to get to the hotel I had booked using their shuttle. Come to find out, I called the hotel to find out they don’t do a shuttle but rather a taxi service, which works I guess, only thing was I’d be out an extra 10 pounds (about 16 bucks or so). Oh well.

Then I actually got to the hotel. The building looked cool from the outside but the room was total crap. Small, stuffy, constant airplane noise despite being five miles away from the airport. In fact I’m prolonging my stay here by continuing to type this, so since I hate this place I’m off to Croydon to check into a different hotel before I go sightseeing.

TL;DR version, I’m doing great and I’m ready to go explore London. See you all soon.

Dear Jesus, please delay your return so we can enjoy Sonic for awhile

I have not typed words on this blog in many months, but I am back today and there is no better occasion than a Sonic Drive-In opening in my local community for me to return.

I jokingly told a friend a few years ago that the Second Coming of Christ would take place before the Twin Cities of Lewis County gained a Sonic Drive-In. I now look like a fool, but that’s okay.

Sonic, an institution in places further east, only started making their presence known in the Pacific Northwest about a decade ago. On Monday, a brand-new one on a brand-new road in Chehalis opened to much fanfare and shouts of praise to God above (and a request for Jesus to delay said return so we can enjoy it for awhile).

Why is Sonic so popular? Make sure you nearly drown in a 44-ounce cherry limeade that you bought for half price between the hours of 2 and 4 p.m. and take multiple trips to the nearest restroom to rid yourself of all the liquid you imbibed in, then you will understand.

Sonic is an institution in places like Springfield, Missouri, where I called home off and on for four years. Where there were four in about a 5-mile radius of Springfield, there are four in a 100-mile radius here (Vancouver, Chehalis, Lacey, Tacoma). Now that Sonic has arrived in Chehalis, people have arrived in droves to see what it’s all about.

When I went there yesterday for the first time, there was a really tired guy directing traffic into two lanes. Pick the left to go to any one of about 20 stalls, or pick the right to go to the drive-thru. For some inane reason, most people opted to go to the right and wait for a long period of time — one friend told me he waited for 40 minutes — but I chose the left and promptly found a stall. I ordered a chili cheese coney dog and my food was delivered in five minutes. The Lincoln Navigator that entered the drive-thru behind me was about ten cars deep in line still in the drive-thru.

I cannot stress enough to USE THE STALLS. Sonic hired 120 people (more on this in a second) and most of them will not have anything to do if you opt for the drive-thru. USE THE STALLS.

The food tastes just like the Sonic Drive-Ins I remember in the Midwest. This is a good thing. The hot dogs are smaller than I remember them. This is not a good thing.

If you USE THE STALLS, people deliver your food to you on roller skates. People 75 and over will be transported to the days of yore when people respected each other, and we had presidential candidates that acted in the best interests of the people. For those my age, it’s all about efficiency — rolling takes less energy than walking.

Visit Sonic enough times and you’ll experiment with some gnarly drink combos. Want a Coca-Cola with a bit of vanilla, chocolate and cherry? They can do it. Want a Powerade slush? They can do it. Want a ton of ice in your cup? That comes by default.

The food is good, the drinks flow like water from the rock, and the ice cream products will fatten us all up sufficiently.

I see it as a coming of age for our community. The fact that a company that still only has a few locations in Washington compared to its reach elsewhere, and a franchisee chose Chehalis, says something about the way people see our region as econommically viable.

I have heard from people who frown on Sonic’s arrival, as we have had many local establishments offering similar fare for years. Yes, we have places like Harold’s and Dairy Dan and Dairy Bar and they will still have a good customer base. Locals love ’em and I count myself there. Sonic is just a good addition to it. Plus they hired ONE HUNDRED TWENTY PEOPLE and are another conduit through which cash can flow into our community. I support local establishments, and I also support local people who work at regionally and nationally-known chain establishments that make a presence locally.

Sonic is here, folks. Partake.

And remember, USE THE STALLS.

Rethinking Lewis County, Vol. 2: A low-cost proposal for bicycle infrastructure in Centralia

Last night I briefly spoke at a Centralia City Council meeting, asking councilors and city staff to support the creation of low-cost bicycle infrastructure in our city.

For those unfamiliar with Centralia, we’re a city of about 16,000 people give or take a few halfway between Portland and Seattle on Interstate 5. Our downtown core lies about a mile east of the freeway, and our retail core lies along a stretch known as Harrison Avenue. We have a community college that serves a large number of students, several schools and a nice little system of parks and recreational sites.

The city recently passed a sales tax proposal to help fund a Transportation Benefit District that is designed to fund repairs along streets and roads that desperately need to be fixed. Last night, city councilors unanimously adopted city Public Works staff’s proposal on which streets needed to be fixed first. I don’t have the list in front of me, but I tended to agree in person upon hearing and seeing the list.

However, I believe the city can act now and use very little money to make improvements to alternative transportation such as cycling. As a recreational cyclist who plans to commute to work once the weather starts to improve, I see a need for the city to adopt a bicycle transportation corridor but do so at low cost to be good stewards of public funds.

The opportunity to appeal to cyclists from beyond Lewis County. The Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic brings 10,000+ riders through town each year, many who stay in town and utilize restaurants, hotels, motels and more. The Willapa Hills Trail, five miles south of town, is awaiting the completion of a bridge in Adna before 23 miles between Chehalis and Pe Ell are fully connected. If cyclists from outside our region see that we’re putting effort into creating a sustainable bicycle infrastructure, they will be more likely to come back and explore our area on two wheels.

Safe, designated routes to schools and work. Centralia College is a hub for education in our community (and I even tend to call the Aadland Esplanade Centralia’s living room), and several schools are located adjacent to low-traffic streets. By giving students who wish to ride to school and professionals who wish to commute to work on two wheels a supported system of transport, people would be more apt to use their bikes for more practical purposes. We also have many people in our community who rely on bicycles as their only mode of transport, and creating a safer system for them will put their minds at ease.

An economic driver for our downtown core. Centralia’s downtown core is beautiful, and just recently the city and Centralia Downtown Association teamed up to put bike racks downtown. That was a good initial investment, and it needs to go further to promote transportation through our city to the downtown area so more people can explore shops, eat at restaurants, etc.

My proposal to City Council called for the creation of shared bike lanes — lanes of travel occupied equally between cars and bicycles and advertised as such through signage and paint — on low-traffic roads in Centralia.

Many of our streets cannot be widened without incurring a significant cost, but several low-traffic streets would function well to get cyclists from point A to point B while passing near or by important points in our city.

The implementation of shared bike lanes is cost-effective, creates awareness of cyclists on the road and educates both cyclists and vehicle drivers on how to properly share the road and be safe.

For a good primer on the benefits of shared lane markings, and photos of some of them in action, click here.

This is revised from even what I had shared with the council last night, but I think it’s a good idea on further review. Please hit the play button on the map below to get a good idea of the flow of this route.

View route map for Bike Route Proposal For Centralia on

My route proposal above is based on extensive cycling through Centralia, and observations of the road from behind the handlebars.

From the south, the route starts where the Airport Road Trail that connects Centralia and Chehalis ends and proceeds eastward on Mellen Street, where a right-of-way for a bike lane exists in both lanes. Cyclists would then have to signal left and utilize the traffic signal to turn left onto Yew Street, which is a major north-south route in the city.

However, cyclists would not utilize Yew for long. A Bike Route sign would point cyclists eastbound onto Chestnut Street, then immediately north onto Cedar Street. These streets are significantly less traveled and are primarily used by residents of the immediate area.

The route continues on Cedar for a few blocks until reaching Pear Street. Here, cyclists would have an option to continue northward on Cedar and connect with Centralia College Boulevard, then continue east toward the college and downtown. For purposes of this proposal, however, we’ll proceed eastward on Pear — much less traffic than Centralia College Boulevard, and a vital connector to the southern part of the Centralia College campus.

Cyclists would then turn northward onto Iron Street, which forms the eastern boundary of the Centralia College campus. From here, they would then connect with Centralia College Boulevard and turn westbound, riding along the northern side of the campus. Cyclists would have an option to continue the route onto Washington Avenue or ride westward back toward Cedar Street.

Turning northward onto Washington Avenue, cyclists would have to stop at a traffic light that signalizes an intersection with Main Street. From there, cyclists continue on Washington until reaching a stop sign at First Street. There, cyclists would turn left and proceed west on First and onto Harrison Avenue, where bicycle lanes have already been implemented on the shoulders of each direction.

This route creates a direct connection from the far south side of Centralia to Fords Prairie and beyond, and importantly connects a major trail, the community college, downtown core and retail areas on Harrison all while providing a safe route for cyclists with as minimal interaction with vehicles as possible.

This route isn’t without its obstacles, however.

The first glaring issue is that many streets on this route aren’t the smoothest, and some may even have potholes or cracks. However, they are certainly rideable. I have done so, but I have had to do so while paying greater attention to the road and decreasing my speed.

The second issue is that signalized intersections in Centralia for the most part to not recognize bicycles in an intersection unless they are placed just perfectly. Many times I grow frustrated and bypass this by smashing the crosswalk button. A solution would need to be implemented where cyclists are instructed or shown by placement of a painted sign on the ground where they should place their wheels to trigger the light.

And finally, the third issue will be careful placement of the shared lane markings in order to keep cyclists away from door zones. Door zones are spots in which cyclists are in dangers of being hit by opening car doors. To remedy this, I would advise placement of the shared lane markings as close to the middle of the lane of travel or even slightly further left as possible.

The cost of implementation is striking in its frugality, and the time it would take to implement is very little. Your main costs would lie in paint, signage and manpower to get the job done.

Here are the two signs you would need:

MUTCD_D11-1.svg 768px-MUTCD_R4-11.svg

So let’s estimate the cost of 30 18″x24″ Bike Route signs at about $25 each. That comes to about $750.

For the Bicycle May Use Full Lane signs, you’d only need about 20 of those. A 30″x30″ sign is about $65 each on a website I looked at, so for 20 the cost would amount to $1,300.

Total cost of signage would amount to about $2,050, not including mounting poles. But it’s at least a good start.

I don’t know what kind of paint or how much would need to be used, so I’d be bad at estimating cost. However I have seen a roundabout price of $250 for 5 gallons of white reflective paint.

Personally I would anticipate the entire route could be created for $7,000 or less, depending on the cost of paint. In the general scheme of things, that’s peanuts.

I hope I wasn’t rambling here, but I really do think it’s time for Centralia to make a massive upgrade to its cycling infrastructure. Two City Councilors informed me after last night’s meeting that meeting needs for alternative transportation is a priority for the city, and I am glad to see and hear that.

Hopefully this post can serve to further clarify what I spoke to the council about last night and serve as a starting point for further research and hopefully implementation. I’d love to hear some thoughts on this.

Travelogue: North Oregon Coast, 160220

Took a trip to the coast yesterday. Second time I’ve been there this month.

This time, had to check out Hug Point south of Cannon Beach. It didn’t disappoint.

Now for the visual evidence.

I haven't climbed the Astoria Column since I was a child and had my fingers smashed in the door at the top. But it is cool to get a shot looking up at a place that folks normally look down.

I haven’t climbed the Astoria Column since I was a child and had my fingers smashed in the door at the top. But it is cool to get a shot looking up at a place that folks normally look down.

Youngs River Falls, about 8 miles west of Astoria, Oregon, is seen in this long exposure.

Youngs River Falls, about 8 miles west of Astoria, Oregon, is seen in this long exposure.

Hug Point just south of Cannon Beach was apparently named because pioneers had to pretty much hug the rocks to avoid the waves that would come in. This area is only accessible in low tide.

Hug Point just south of Cannon Beach was apparently named because pioneers had to pretty much hug the rocks to avoid the waves that would come in. This area is only accessible in low tide.

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Godspeed to a friend and mentor

My friend Rich, standing in the back center in the blue shirt, passed away last night. He was a friend to many and a mentor to me during my time in Missouri.

A friend and mentor from my time in Missouri passed away last night, and the news hit me hard this morning.

Tonight I was searching for some photos of my friend Rich and found this gem from 2008 when I just started getting into flag football back in Missouri. Rich, in the back middle wearing the blue shirt, joined us one Sunday after church just because he wanted to have some fun.

His straight-arm technique would put someone flat on their back. I would know. And I also know he didn’t mean it intentionally.

Those were some fun days, and I’m grateful to have this reminder of what a good guy Rich Schultz was. A great spiritual mentor during my first stint in Missouri and a tremendous blessing to my family.

I remember one time that I was even more critical of faith-related matters than I am now. I was at a true spiritual crossroads, and shared this with Rich over coffee as we waited for our church service to start. He simply told me, “Follow the Lord and everything else will fall into place.”

When my friends Brandon and Robin were married in Florida in August 2014, it happened to be in the same town in which Rich and Anita were living. I had the chance to meet up with them for lunch, and it was a tremendous blessing. They both told me they were proud of the person I was becoming and that they loved and treasured my parents’ friendship. That last part was special to me, and now especially so because it was the last words I ever heard Rich say in person.

When I received word this morning that Rich passed away, I couldn’t help but remember his words: “Follow the Lord and everything else will fall into place.” I wish he could see that they are starting to, even if it is seven years after he said it. The Lord spoke a word through him that now resonates even stronger today.

I miss you, my friend, and I am thankful for the chance to have crossed paths and shared in life for a time. The promise of meeting back up with you in heaven someday is further incentive to continue serving Jesus Christ and sharing His Gospel with others.