Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, January 29, 2017

And so it begins again....

As we head into 2017, we are amazed at how quickly time is moving for us on the mission. Today we begin the official countdown from one year, which means our mission is already one third of the way over. We had a few down weeks during the holiday season. And it’s truly a “season” in Bosnia with Catholic Christmas on Dec. 25 followed by a highly celebrated four-day New Year’s weekend which was then followed by Serbian Christmas on Jan. 7th. Almost the entire country takes the full two weeks to celebrate, regardless of their religious association. It was very strange to see St. Nick out and about the first week of January. People have finally gone back to work and things are settling back to normal.

We are now finally moving forward with several of our current projects. After weather delays, we were finally able to arrange for the delivery of supplies for water projects. In one of the towns, the delivery truck was too large to bring the supplies directly to the school so the school had to arrange to meet the truck outside of town and transfer supplies to a smaller truck that could navigate the narrow streets to the school. We were very impressed with the community effort that was made. The school has a large network of parents that offered time and services to make the delivery possible. One parent owns the smaller truck that was used to deliver supplies to the school, another the front loader that moved supplies from one truck to the other. Yet another parent owned the property where the transfer of supplies took place. They also had several parents lined up at the school to help move supplies from the truck into the school. Many of these same parents and several others with professional plumbing, tile work and electrical skills will be assisting with the project. Students from the school's vocational training classes will also be working along side the professionals to help with tile removal and preparing for the renovations. We look forward to visiting again once the work is underway and seeing everyone in action.
This truck was too big to traverse the streets of town

All of these "helpers" are parents of students at the school

Toilets and sinks and tile, oh my!



The school director was there to supervise
The little front loader kept getting stuck in the ice
Parents helping unload at the school

More parents helping



We then headed to the second town to delivery their supplies. It was dark by the time we arrived and began to unload. This project is the construction of a new septic tank system and repairs/remodeling to a couple of bathrooms on the main floor that have been damaged due to back flow from the non-functional septic system.  Again, they were very appreciative and are anxious to get started once the weather warms up.
The second delivery in the dark

Assembly line for unloading















We were unable to be there when the third delivery was made because we were hosting 8 young missionaries for dinner and the Worldwide Missionary Broadcast. During the broadcast the missionaries were taught many wonderful things. My favorite was shared by Elder Bednard, an apostle in our church. He talked about check lists and how people like to check things off and that makes them feel as though they are making progress. His emphasis was on the fact that everything we do should lead to Christ. "All things gather together in Christ." Life is not about lists, it's about living life in a way that helps us know Christ and follow Him. He also counseled them to "talk less and listen more". What great advice! How often do we just want to share our point of view, to tell others what we think without taking the time to truly listen to what they have to say, how they feel and what they might need. The broadcast also addressed some changes to the missionaries' schedules, which offers them more choice in how they carry out their daily activities as well as giving them more time to sleep if needed and a longer time period for their preparation day. It was an enjoyable broadcast, and while it was mainly directed towards the younger missionaries, I found great counsel for my life as well.

Elder Leach with his four way of Skyline Chili

Elder Echols and Elder Hardy opted for cheese coneys

We had a great conversation with the missionaries after the broadcast.

President Grant held a Skype conference with all the missionaries
immediately following the broadcast. They were waving at friends
in other areas of the mission. 

Our little missionary family. From left to right, Elder Hole, Elder Perry,
Elder Echols, Elder Leach, Elder Deleeuw, Sister Locey and Sister Rougeau


We received an email from the third school after they received their delivery and they informed us that they received the wrong faucets. So we contacted our supplier, picked up the correct faucets and headed to Sapna, two and half hours away. We enjoyed a beautiful sunny drive through the snow covered mountains. Upon arrival we were looking over the items that were delivered and noticed that they had received wood laminate doors, instead of the plastic doors we had ordered. Wood doors do not do well in bathrooms...so....we called our supplier, discussed what needed to be done to correct the issue and then proceeded on our way back to Sarajevo. After we had been driving for about an hour and half we noticed that we were driving parallel to a large river. I noted to Denny that I didn't remember the river on our way up, and by the way, shouldn't we have driven through the pine forest by now? Next thing we know we see a sign for Sapna...apparently we missed a turn somewhere and we had made a huge loop and ended up pretty much were we had started. We use our iPad for navigation here but the battery was low and we forgot to grab the charger so we had turned if off because Denny was sure he know how to get home. Let's just say, the nice sunny drive up during the day was much better than the dark drive through dense fog on the way home. We did finally make it, but now have another item to log in our "driving adventures in Bosnia" journal.
















In addition to our water projects, we were also able to deliver a computer and printer to one school for children with disabilities. The tablets and specialized keyboard for this project have also been ordered and we hope to make delivery of these items in the next couple of weeks.



Our other current area initiative is for a school and vocational training center for individuals with disabilities. Our project with them is to provide them with the commercial appliances for their new Culinary Vocational Workshop, which will also serve as the cafeteria for the 175+ students who receive two free meals each day. Our budget would not allow us to fully fund this project so we weren’t sure when it would be completed. However, an unexpected year-end donation from a local bank made up the difference! We know Heavenly Father had a hand in this unexpected gift and it further confirmed to us that this was indeed a project that we were led to. Some of the tile work has begun and we anxiously await the delivery of the appliances and cabinetry to complete this project in the next couple of weeks. We have been promised a free meal when it’s all finished.


We are now beginning our search for 2017 area projects and have several meetings scheduled in the near future with some of our NGO partners. A Maternal and Newborn Care major initiative will begin in 2017 as well as the continuation of multiple Vision Care projects, Benson Food projects and, if we can work out VAT issues, possibly Wheelchairs. We look forward to a busy and rewarding year! 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Bosnian Faith

One Benefit of Go Karting with a Crazy Driver

As a belated Christmas present, and possibly because he felt guilty for endangering my life on Thursday with his wild go kart driving, Emir Kaknjasevic gave Dionne and I a wall map detailing the history of the Bosnian Kingdom. 

Within the past month, two indoor go kart places have opened up in Sarajevo! 
The oldest known written mention of Bosnia is in the work De administrando imperio from around 950 c.e. The Byzantine emperor lists the country Bosnia (“Horion Bosnona”) and mentions two towns. In 1463 the Ottoman Empire invaded and the medieval state of Bosnia failed to exist. In between these two time periods was the “Bosnian Kingdom.”

The informational map that Emir gave us for Christmas.


The Bosnian Kingdom


The history of this kingdom is fascinating. But the one thing that caught my eye was the Bosnian faith. At the crossroad between East and West and their two Christian powers (Catholic and Orthodox), for centuries these two faiths tried to impose their will upon Bosnia. But the people resisted and a unique brand of Christianity, labelled the “Bosnian Faith,” developed and flourished. This faith was deemed heretical by the Catholic Church and they organized crusades to defeat it. The will and faith of the Bosnian church was strong and they were able to defend against these attacks. This served to further strengthen their faith. And it was the practitioners of this faith that ultimately converted to Islam following the Ottoman invasion. Their heirs form the backbone of the Muslim faith in Bosnia.

Dionne and I at the Jajce castle which dates to the 14th century.
So what was this Bosnian faith? Where did it come from? What were its features? Why did the existing religious authorities feel so threatened by this faith? Emir’s gift led me on a journey to try and discover some of these answers. Here is the summary from the wall map he gave us of the Bosnian Faith.



The Bosnian Faith 

So what was so unique and threatening about the Bosnian faith? At first glance, nothing that obvious. The Bosnian faith was never imposed on people by force. Those who didn’t accept it were never persecuted. It did not request or collect any taxes from either the common people or the rulers. They did not build churches or buildings, preferring to meet outdoors or in homes. The Bosnians simply called it “our faith” or “our laws.” While under attack, both the people and the ruler would stand together by their faith and defended it together. Bogomils were very educated people; at one time, there was a university in Moštre near Visoko. There was also a scriptorium in which religious and common books were copied by hand.

The so-called Bosnian Charter (trade agreement with Dubrovnik and Kulin). While highly educated, many of the Bosnian documents were lost or destroyed because they were considered heretics.
But there were also features that would have been considered both threatening and heretical to the two established churches.
  • ·        They rejected the trinity
  • ·        They rejected the holiness of Mary
  • ·        They believed that God the Father would be the ultimate judge
  • ·        They did not accept the cross
  • ·        They rejected Christian ordinances such as baptism and the sacrament
  • ·        They rejected the saints
  • ·        They strongly preferred the New Testament over the Old
  • ·        The church did not hold private property
  • ·        The most pious would fast 3 days each week
  • ·        The most pious not eat animal products except fish
  • ·        The most pious would not marry
  • ·        But they rejected monasticism
  • ·        The main leaders were called elders (djed) and had a council of 12 (strojnici)
  • ·        They taught honest, charity, and equality of material possessions

Description of the "Bosnian Faith"
With regards to the cross, this was their philosophy. “If someone killed the king’s son with a piece of wood, do you think the king would regard the weapon as holy?”


Four Weddings and a Funeral

Bosnian marriage was a non-frills affair now called “marriage in the Bosnian style.” The marriage ceremony in Bosnia needed no church or priest, and was very simple: the bridegroom would loudly ask the bride in front of all the village folk “Will you be good and loyal to me?” and if the answer was “yes,” marriage would be declared. This was the practice of both common folk and nobility.

When someone died, they would be buried under a stećak, a tall-standing tombstone. Nearly 60,000 of these headstones remain standing in Bosnia; some weighing as much as 10 tons. A finished stećak would be transported by horse or oxen teams; people would use logs or special sleighs to carry it to the burial place. If you see a raised hand on a stećak, it is a greeting that shows friendship and good will and the message “the Sun is shining from my palm.”

Examples of Stećak.

Strength From Opposition

Both the Catholic and Orthodox authorities were concerned about reports of this new faith. In 1200 c.e. Pope Innocent III instructed the Hungarian King Emmerich to “go and ascertain the truth of these reports and if Kulin (Bosnia King) is unwilling to recant, drive him from your lands and confiscate his property.” Kulin hid the truth from the Hungarians and continued to practice the Bosnian faith. The first Bosnian Crusade began in 1225 c.e. That and several other missions failed as the Bosnians were able to defend their land and beliefs. This success merely strengthened the state and the faith.

At its height, the Bosnian Kingdom included parts of Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro.
After several hundred years defending their homeland, the nation had weakened. The remaining adherents to the faith voluntarily converted en masse to Islam in the 15th century. There were two main reasons for this. First, there were many similarities between their faith and Islam including regular fasting, love of charity, and truthfulness. Second, the existing Bosnian King had begun to persecute his followers who were Bogomils. Many of them sought protection from the Ottoman empire which was well-known at the time for its tolerance.

The knights in the Bosnian kingdom were highly regarded


Rodney Starks and The Rise of Christianity

I am personally intrigued by the history of the Bosnian faith because I have studied and generally agree with the scholarship of Rodney Starks; a sociology professor at Baylor University who has published over 30 books and 140 articles on the sociology of religion. Some of his most provocative and interesting work relates to early Christianity. His studies have led him to conclude that early Christianity spread dramatically through both ancient Rome and among Hellenized Jews through the first few centuries. As shown by the numbers below, Christianity had already conquered the Roman world statistically by the time of Constantine. By 350 c.e., 57% of Romans were Christians.

Starks' growth model was partially based on his study of Mormon growth rates and patterns. He sees a lot of similarities between early Christian growth and early Mormon growth (Mormons are still in the "early" phase).
There were a number of factors that made early Christianity attractive. The existing Jewish network (diaspora) provided ample opportunity to preach to a familiar audience. According to Starks, “Jews continued as a significant source of Christian converts until at least as late as the 4th century.” 
Christianity was also a populist movement and was particularly appealing to women. “Christianity appears to have been especially successful among women. It was often through the wives that it penetrated the upper class of society in the first instance” (British historian Henry Chadwick). The following graph shows some of the factors which explain the remarkable early Christian growth.

I put this slide together a few years ago to explain the growth of early Christianity. Another major factor that I highlighted separately is the attractiveness of the church to women. Without going into too many details, women were not valued in Roman society. Christianity recognized their spiritual worth.
Most people view Constantine’s conversion as the beginning of Christendom. Starks, on the other hand, views Constantine’s conversion as the beginning of the end of Christendom. Before Constantine Christianity was growing person-to-person. After Constantine, Christianity grew because it was the “state” religion. But true individual conversion faltered under the weight of becoming the state church. “High levels of religious participation were never achieve because real, person-to-person Christian missions faltered in the 4th century and never reached these areas” (Rodney Starks). Accordingly, Starks tells us that “mediaeval Christendom is a fiction” and that “at most Europe was superficially Christianized.” “Southern Europe was the only part of Europe ever to be Christianized.” 

Stark's claim is that Constantine stopped the inertia of true Christianity. He argues that true conversion does not occur by the sword. Post Constantine Christianity spread converted leaders but not the masses.
So, it is through the lens of Rodney Stark’s scholarship with which I am particularly interested in the Bosnian faith. I am intrigued by the story of the a faith that was spread among the people and dependent on "mass volunteerism." A faith that did not require or expect conversion. A faith that treated the king, land owner, and peasant as equally important. A faith whose practitioners were willing to suffer martyrdom rather than appease the dictates of the Pope. And thousands were killed because of the faith. A faith that called itself "true Christianity." I am excited to find a pocket of sincere Christians in the middle of the quagmire of ugliness which was mediaeval Christianity.


Scholarly Confusion About the Bosnian Faith


Scholars are not sure what to make of the Bosnian faith. Since few documents have survived from the period, scholars are reliant on the historical account of the "victors" to try and piece together the particulars. The kingdom also suffered political ups and downs. Towards the end, there are reports of political confusion within Bosnia. 

One account of Bosnia written by the French pilgrim Gilles Le Bouvier, paints a miserable picture of the place: 'They live purely on wild beasts, fish from the rivers, figs and honey, of which they have sufficient supply, and they go in gangs from forest to forest to rob people who are traveling from one country to another.

But nearly all scholars agree that the Bosnian faith was something quite different than the Catholic or Orthodox faiths. Why? Because of the steady stream of missives sent by Rome to Hungary extolling them to get the heretics under control. While many scholars describe the faith in different ways, there is only one scholar, the University of Michigan's John Fine, who argues that their was no distinctive Bosnian faith; instead he feels that they were misunderstood Catholics. Personally, as I have reviewed Fine's evidences, I find them not compelling. 


Gnostics, Arians, Bogomils, Dualists, Modalists, Manichaeans, Cathars, Protestant Precursors or Something Else?

I am sorry that this article has taken a an academic turn. Let me throw you a winter picture from Riders of Hope to give you a quick break.

On Mondays Dionne and I have been helping out with the horses. 
Whenever the try to describe a unique belief set, scholars are wont to assign classifications using labels that they have seen in the past. We saw this immediately with the advent of Mormonism. Labels such as Armianism, Campbellism, Masonism, Anti-Masonism, Modalism, and Arianism have been applied to Latter-Day Saints. Scholars try to understand new things based on their own area of expertise. And by labeling something, it is easier to dismiss it based on straw argument that occurred when an idea first appeared in history. 

With the passage of time, as we know, Mormonism has been shown quite resilient to these types of simplistic labels. It only took 200 years before a scholar really figured out what was going on. Jan Shipps famously identified Mormonism as a "new world faith," the first since Mohammed received his revelations. 

Seminal work by Jan Shipps which helped redefine the Mormon Studies movement.
Scholars attempt to classify the Bosnian faith in many ways. I have listed some of the labels above. I am particularly interested in the label "gnostic" because I have spent some time with the Nag Hammadi texts and am considering writing a paper about one of the non-gnostic texts found in that library. 

Silvanus is a unique text discovered in the Nag Hammadi library. Demonstrably not Gnostic, scholars feel that half the text was written near the 1st Century and the other half near the 3rd-4th Century. For me it serves as a wonderful case study in early and late Christian beliefs. I have identified 8-9 doctrines discussed in both sections and have compared and contrasted. Very surprising. The chart above discusses just one of these doctrines, Wisdom. 
A reason scholars are prone to label is because they have a need to explain every belief based on its predecessors. True innovation is consider rare. And the very nature of scholarship disallows any form of spiritual inspiration. The one certainty, for scholars, is that the practitioners of the Bosnian faith could not have been inspired. I am not personally bound by these rules. I am willing to consider that members of the Bosnian faith may have been inspired and that they were following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Fortunately I have another 12 months in country to study this fascinating faith. 




Sunday, January 15, 2017

Speaking their Language

The holidays are finally over and it's time to get back to work this week. After a whirlwind couple of months, it was a nice break to have a little free time over the holidays. We went to several movies at the local theater, which we referred to as "language study." Most movies are shown in English with Croatian subtitles so it is actually a practical way for us to see the language in real life use (kind of). Studying from books and apps on our phones is not quite the same as actually listening to or being part of conversations. Hearing how they express common phrases and how sentences are structured in conversation is very helpful. I have been able to pick up some useful words and phrases as well as some I will definitely not be using. (even from PG13 movies!) LOL! Plus, it's only about $3 for a movie ticket so not only is it useful, it's cheap entertainment as well.

Many people here speak at least a little English so we are usually able to communicate and when we try to speak Bosnian, emphasis on try, they just want to practice their English. Most are very proud of their ability to speak English, however it doesn't help us with our Bosnian conversation skills. We are working on vocabulary and grammar (Denny is studying a bit more intensely that I am) but it is a very complex language. I figure if I have the root of a word or two in a sentence, most locals will get the gist of what I am saying and have a good chuckle at my bad grammar! Google Translate is also my go to these days although some of the translations are very inaccurate in reality! We do feel that knowing the language is important to be able to communicate on a personal level with people. Store clerks and government workers aren't individuals we are trying hard to build personal relationships with, but there a people at church and that we have met volunteering at Riders of Hope that we would like to be able to converse with so we will continue our journey through the maze of Bosanski!

A recent example of applied communication happened this past week. Our combo washing machine decided to quit working. It was working fine, then when I went to put in a new load it wouldn't turn on at all. I assumed it was a fuse or breaker but have no idea where the breaker box is for our apartment. Our neighbor downstairs is the acting landlord so I tried to ask him if he could check the breaker box. Well, of course there isn't a comparable word for "breaker box" in Google Translate. It literally translates as "break the box" which makes no sense and I'm terrible at charades so what should have been a two minute conversation turned into about a 15 minute guessing game. I eventually got him to understand that my washing machine was not working, he came up and I showed him that it would not turn on and that I suspected it was the electric outlet. I plugged the iPad in to show him it didn't work. Then he said someone will come and look at it.... sometime. That's where we ended the conversation. We went and bought an extension cord and plugged the washer into a different outlet and will patiently await the arrival of someone to fix the outlet.... sometime! I'm not positive if a better command of the local language would have netted different results, but I doubt it. But it would have been nice to have a genuine conversation with him, to get to know him a little better and start building a relationship that doesn't revolve around something in the apartment being broken!

Another example happened today. There is an older man who recently joined the church. He is a war veteran who suffers with an old injury to his leg as well as chronic back problems. He lives in a small home near the top of one of the mountains surrounding Sarajevo. As the temperatures plummeted well below freezing here we were worried about him so we tried to go check on him last Sunday. He was not home, but a neighbor was able to tell us he went to a senior center so he would be warm and have food. However, we had no idea where the center was or if he was doing okay. Because the previous week he was suffering from debilitating back pain and was unable to get out of bed and he was not answering his phone, we were extremely concerned for his welfare. Ultimately, I reached out to a Red Cross staff member who has become a good friend and asked if he knew of any places that someone in his situation might have gone. He was able to give us the name of a center to check and miraculously he was there. After church the young missionaries came with us to check on him. As we walked into his room he was overcome with emotion that we actually cared enough about him to seek him out. He conversed back and forth with the missionaries and explained his situation and expressed his gratitude. I was able to understand some of what was said, but it was frustrating not to be able to be part of the conversation, to express my personal concern for him myself instead of having to speak through the missionaries. Thankfully, he is warm, has food and has people to help him meet his basic needs. The missionaries went to his home and got his phone charger while Denny and I came home and I made cookies. We then took these things to him and once again I was unable to truly speak to him personally. It made me want to work a little harder on learning the language, not so I can order food at a restaurant or ask where the passport office is. But so I am able to understand people's needs and express my love and concern for them.

Elder Isom and our lost and found friend

We had a zone conference here in Sarajevo this week. It had been postponed from the previous week due to the snow. There is one other senior couple in our zone and we always enjoy spending time with them when the opportunity arises. This time we were happy to have an additional senior couple from the Croatia zone join us. They were sick and unable to attend their zone conference so they came to ours instead. The six of us went out for dinner two nights in a row and enjoyed a little shopping in old town, talking and eating. We all feel a little isolated at times in our individual cities and it's nice to get together once in a while.

We also took the missionaries out to dinner this week and had a few good laughs. Elder Isom was brave and tried the salmon sushi. This was not a nice, yummy sushi roll, just raw salmon on a bed of sticky rice. Here's his attempt at choking it down...


video


Not to be left out of the sushi eating group, Sister Locey also attempted to eat a piece of spicy salmon roll. Keep in mind, she does not like fish or vegetables much so this was quite out of her comfort zone. She didn't gag, but she also did not take a second piece. We sure love these young missionaries and always feel blessed to spend time with them.


video




On Friday night the younger missionaries and Denny and I were invited to be the guests of a local Muslim center. When the missionaries in our area want a copy of the Quran they contact one of the members of this group to buy them so that is how the connection was made. We weren't sure what we had been invited to attend other than to have "cavapi." As it turned out, it was just the six of us and they shared a 45 minute video presentation with our little group of missionaries that explained the basic tenants of their beliefs and explained that they are focused on bringing peace to the world. Everything was in English so the spoken language was not an issue. They served us chicken fillets, french fries (they eat more fries here than we do in the US!) vegetables, bread and a nice dessert. As we ate we exchanged our thoughts on several religious doctrines and asked questions of each other. They are not mainstream Muslim so it was interesting to learn of their beliefs. It was not at all what I was expecting, but overall it was a very friendly introduction to their beliefs and an extension of their friendship here in Sarajevo. This was a language I understood.



Preparing the video presentation.
They are working hard to
spread their message of peace. 


Focused or trying to stay awake?? 
Their leader explaining their ideas of heaven and hell
They wanted a group picture, but only one of
their group joined for the photo. 

This coming week we will be on the road again monitoring the delivery of water project supplies to three schools throughout Bosnia as well as a baptism on Friday in Tuzla. It's all conditional on the weather of course so you'll have to wait until next week to see what really happens! We will continue to work on our six approved projects and soon will start seeking opportunities for additional projects with our 2017 budget. There are so many needs here it is difficult to narrow down the number of projects to submit to stay within our budget. We wish we had an unlimited budget and could help everyone in need.

We love you all and know that the Lord is blessing us with small miracles everyday, both here and with our friends and family at home.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Our Top 10 Moments in 2016

Memorable day at the Duncan's property.

The Worst of 2016: Paying Tribute to the Calderwood Family

This past week our close friends from Virginia, the Calderwoods, lost their youngest son, Connor. He was 25. Words cannot express our grief. It was a long and helpless week as we watched the drama unfold via Facebook and text messaging with mutual friends. We wish we could give Kerry and Pixie a big hug and somehow tell them that we have known and felt their pain. Fortunately we know that they are loved by so many and that there are many arms which are currently enveloping their family.

We love you.

The last time we saw Connor was at Kirby's wedding.


2016: A Year Like No Other

Give me a second to wipe the tears out of my eyes. Okay. Even here in Sarajevo it is impossible to avoid how catastrophic most people think 2016 was. As the year ended, I saw hyperbole such as "worst year ever" and "I hate 2016." 

For Dionne and I, 2016 was one of the most important and eventful years of our lives. And nearly all of the events were good. It was also a year when we decided to fully trust our Heavenly Father, to fully reconcile our wills with His. And to follow a path which we might not have chosen for ourselves. 

Top 10 Most Memorable Events in 2016 (Honorable Mentions)

As Dionne and I sat down and tried to compile our top 10 life events from 2016, we soon realized that many important things were going to have to be left off the list. So here are some of our honorable mentions.

- Briel and Mitch Visit the Philippines and Thailand


Call it a belated honeymoon. Briel and Mitch returned to the homeland.

- Jace's Baptism


It was a wonderful day. Jack and June as well as Debbie all traveled far for this day. More on this time period later.

- Erica and Brayden's Adventures in Cozumel

Visiting a Mexican hospital is on my list of "worst nightmare" scenarios. Erica had a major scooter accident in Cozumel and had to live through this nightmare. The only good thing is that it was at the end of the cruise rather than the beginning.

- Denny's 50th State and 30th Half Marathon


Just before departing on the mission, Denny ran a half marathon in Fargo. It was the only state he had never visited. And his 30th half marathon. He has now given the girls 1 1/2 years to catch-up! Better get running ladies.

- Britni and Richie Move to Texas


After nearly 10 years in Northern Virginia, it was time for Britni and Richie to try something different. 

 - Visit Fieracavalli, One of Europe's Largest Horse Shows in Verona


Neither Dionne and I were expecting the size or scale of this show. There were half a million people in attendance on Saturday.

- Jace's Trip to Disneyworld

We take each of the grandchildren to Orlando when they turn 8. What a great week with Jace! Can't believe this didn't make the top 10.

- Finding Our First Humanitarian Project with Mala Sirena

Little Mermaid is this wonderful organization devoted to serving children with disabilities. 

- Visiting Lake Bled

Senior Conference this year was in Slovenia. We fell in love with the country, the Julian alps, and specifically Lake Bled.

- Erica Becomes an Aunt...Twice

Both Autum and Charlotte had babies this year. 

- Dionne Witnesses a Horse Giving Birth


Thanks to her friends at Midnight Farms, Dionne was able to check this one off her bucket list.

- Play.Party.Plan Reaches Almost Two Million Views in a Single Month

Britni's blog reached some impressive heights with a little assist from her sister. Britni spent most of the year accepting free trips from Disney. 

- All-Inclusives in Mexico

Bryan and Jami went to an all-inclusive in Mexico and enjoyed it so much that they went again with half the Newton family.

-   Getting a Rental Van Stuck in the Streets of Sarajevo 


Living my driving nightmare in this rental van.

- New Ninja Cowboy Movie


How did the world premiere of the Ninja Cowboy movie go?

All of those honorable mention events would have made a great year! But they don't even break our top 10. As I mentioned, it was an extraordinary year for our family. Here are the Top 10 Most Memorable Events for our Family in 2016.


Most Memorable Events in 2016 - #10 Graduations

We had two college graduations in 2016: Amy and Briel.

Dr. Amy Newton graduated from Drake  with a doctorate in Pharmacy. She was able to get through the program in 6 years despite being a 4-year starter on the Drake Women's Softball team. Amy was a little disappointed at graduation because they were not able to say where she would be employed upon graduation. That disappointment, however, became excitement a month later when she found the ideal job in Kansas City.

Amy and her parents in Des Moines.
Briel graduated from BYU-Idaho with a degree in sociology. After 5-years in Rexburg (minus the 18 months of her mission in the Philippines), she was so excited to be moving away permanently! Little did she know. She has been talking about finishing a master's degree (somewhat required in the field of social work). Over the summer she did an internship for Anasazi as a "walker" which means she was a outdoor counselor for troubled youth.

"I am so glad to be out of Rexburg"
Because Rexburg is a longer trip than Des Moines we decided to visit family in addition to attending Briel's graduation. Britni and Kellan tagged along and it became a family trip to the hot spots...Rock Springs, Jackson Hole, Rexburg, and, of course, Boise.

Kellan meets his great grandparents for the first time!
Erica and Brayden were on their way to Maryland. So we met up and spent the day in Jackson Hole. 


Most Memorable Events in 2016 - #9 Selling Our House

In the Spring of 2015, when we first considered going on a mission, we decided to put our house up for sale. We had been in the house for over 10 years. We absolutely loved it. But it was too big. And it would be too expensive to pay the mortgage, taxes, and insurance while we were gone.

A year later the house was still on the market. We had come down on price. We had cleaned furiously every time that we had a showing. But we had not had a single second showing. Lots of compliments on the house but no serious interest for over a year. We were getting tired of all of our friends asking "how is the house sale going?"

The kitchen and eating area in our old house.
In the meantime, we had received our mission call. We knew we had to be out of the house by the end of July. We did not know what was to become of the house (sell or rent). But we knew we had to be out. So we began to sell and give-away a lifetime of accumulation.

At one point Dionne and I took 24 bags of clothes to Goodwill. This is a picture of clothes that we brought to give away at the Kaw River ward one Sunday. There was just so much stuff!
Craigslist became our best friend that last month. We sold the furniture. Sold the table saw. Sold the refrigerator and the freezer. The Pierces bought our dining room set. We sold the pool table (finally). We sold the digital piano to a nice young man who is from Bosnia! For a couple of weeks Dionne's phone did not stop ringing from Craigslist buyers. The only thing that did not sell was our old kitchen table from Ashburn. Brennen and Amy finally sold that off about a month ago.

We were quite happy when the pool table sold. I was not excited about the prospect of moving it to a new home.
Our mission report date kept looming but we did not have the house sold. Not even a serious buyer. So we resigned ourselves to renting the house while we were gone. But we still needed to move out and vacate the house for the new renters.

Prepping the house to be vacated.
Joanne came out for the last week to help us finish up. We did have a little more going on at the time, but more about that later. Brennen and Amy had found a house and they were going to close on it the week that we were to leave. So the plan was to move everything from our house and storage and into their basement. To not completely overwhelm their basement, we had to get rid of many of our things. For the kids it was a firesale. Bryan got the video game console. Brennen got the pinball machine (and a few million other things). Erica got my old car. Briel got her old car. Britni got the shaft. But she doesn't really need anything!

As our deadline loomed, Joanne and Dionne worked day and night. I slept on the floor the last two nights. Dionne did not sleep at all the night before we headed for the MTC.
We did not know what was going to happen to our house next. We felt confident that things would work out. But we had not been able to find a buyer for over a year and a half. We decided to pull it off the sale market and rent it instead. Our rental agency expressed confidence that the house would be rented. So we reported to the MTC on "a wing and a prayer."

I am sure the garbage man was not too happy with us on our final day.
Shortly after we left for the mission the house was still not rented so a friend who also happened to be a neighbor, James Malicoat, convinced a co-worker to come and look at the house. Jami played real estate agent and walked them around. They were interested and eventually they made an offer and we were able to check that off the list of "things to worry about." Perfect timing!

The house when we first bought it back in 2005. The kids were drawn to it because they thought it looked like a "castle."


Most Memorable Events in 2016 - #8 Riders of Hope

Dionne and I only felt like strangers here in Sarajevo for about two weeks. The moment we walked onto the Riders of Hope facility we felt like we were part of a family. Senada, Emin, Tanya, John, and Nejra all welcomed us warmly. Fortunately, they all spoke English because we still cannot speak much Bosnian (malo govorimo Bosonski).

Our first day at Riders of Hope. We were welcomed like family for which we will be forever grateful. I really enjoyed the fresh figs they offered us. Senada had bought some special chocolate flavored "lattes" because she knew we did not drink coffee. Fortunately she enjoyed drinking them.
During our second visit Dionne and Senada discovered that they were answers to each other's prayers. Senada knew she needed help. And Dionne knew that she needed to keep serving in her chosen field. A match made in Heaven.

In the office discussing Riders of Hope.
Riders of Hope brings Dionne some sanity here in Sarajevo. It keeps her grounded. If you had to live with Denny 24x7, you would understand. Riders of Hope is Dionne's outlet.

Working the horses is just one of many things Dionne gets to do while on the mission. It is more fun that setting up Salesforce, I am certain.


Most Memorable Events in 2016 - #7 Opening the Mission Call

The week of Jace's baptism was quite memorable. Jack and June were in town and we decided to go to movie. Although I, Bryan, and Brennen had already seen it during the traditional midnight showing, we took Jack, June, and all the kids to Captain America: Civil War.

You have not lived until you attend a superhero movie with the Newton family in costume! However, one of the characters does not belong. Which one?
As we were leaving the movie, Jack turned to me and asked if we could take him to the hospital. It turns out that he was having heart palpitations during the last 30 minutes of the movie. He did not want to tell anyone because he did not want to ruin our movie! But it was serious enough that he asked to be taken immediately to the hospital.

Jack holding Brazen's Iron Man heart. He had to spend the night in the hospital. But it turned out to be just a minor issue.
So what does all of this have to do with our mission papers. We left Jack and June at the hospital and returned home. Dionne checked the mail and our papers were in! With Jack in the hospital and some of the kids not easily accessible, I figured we would wait until the next evening to open the papers. But Dionne is the type of person who cannot wait until Christmas morning to open her presents. With our papers in, she needed to open them NOW. So we got every cellphone we could find, tracked down all of the kids and our parents, left Jack in the hospital, and opened the papers. I had been pretty certain that we would be going somewhere like Europe. But I did not expect to read "Croatia." And I did not expect to read "Humanitarian."

Neither of us could have pinpointed Croatia on a map prior to opening the call. And who knew how to pronounce Zagreb?


Most Memorable Events in 2016 - #6 Making a Big Circle

Before we left for Bosnia, we decided that we should visit some friends who we had not seen for many years. It seemed simple enough to drive from KC to DC and stop off at St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Alabama along the way, right? Just make a big circle? Dionne talked me out of that plan. So we flew into Maryland and then made our circle from there.

We started with Erica and Brayden. They were in Maryland doing a second summer stint of pest control sales. It is really tough work for a student. It is hard on a marriage. But it also pays unbelievably well. So we were impressed that they had signed up for another year of the pest control torture.

At King's Dominion for the day. I am not sure if Tanner or Kellan is more excited.
Next we drove to Indianapolis to visit Tiffany Ham. She was considering opening a clothing boutique with a friend and considering how long she would stay in her teaching position (as it turns out, not that long!). It was so neat to catch up with her and her kids.(We forgot to get a picture!) And then down to Cincinnati to reconnect with the Adkins clan. Anita had just learned of cancer and kidney problems while we were there; so it was good to be there and offer moral support. She seems to be have beaten both of them. So we are hopefully optimistic. We also got to eat at Chip's new place. His veggie burgers were the best I have ever had. (But I will admit that I enjoyed Montgomery Inn and Skyline a little bit more...mainly for the nostalgia).

Dionne and Anita
Next down to Pigeon Forge and a few days with Emily and Franklin Jones. I think I gave Grace and Caleb permanent roller coaster scars. They had not been to many theme parks, so they were a little nervous about the coasters at Dollywood. But after a while they warmed up to them. I had two new riding buddies. Until we decided to go on Dollywood's latest, Lightning Rod. Inoperable most of the day, we happened upon it during a rare time of operation. During the one-hour wait we were all excited; Grace the most. And she rode with me, holding my hand. But I noticed that during the ride, my smiles of thrill were matched by her gasps of true horror. This one was a little too much for both of them. Never again I think they said.

Grace's confident smile is before Lightning Rod.
We finished the trip where we had started. Britni had a contract with Hershey Park for a blog post. So we headed to Hershey for one last amusement park before coming home.

Don't leave grandma!


Most Memorable Events in 2016 - #5 REACH at Wood's Edge

Dionne helped her friend, Katy Harcsar, start a therapeutic riding program at Katy's barn, Rider's Edge Ability Centered Horsemanship (REACH). They became a PATH member center as well as obtained  501(c)3 status so the program could be a non-profit organization. They had a great first session and a horsemanship camp before we left on the mission.

Dionne and Katy designed the Wood's Edge and REACH logos.

Zoie came out for a week in the summer and participated in the horse camp. It was hard to say goodbye knowing that we would not see Zoie for a few years.

Our niece, Zoie, at REACH horse camp.

Most Memorable Events in 2016 - #4 Reporting to the MTC

We reported to the Missionary Training Center in Provo on August 8th. Prior to reporting, we did a short 3-day language immersion in Provo. Depending on their assignment, seniors generally spend 1 to 2 weeks at the MTC. We were in Provo for the full two weeks. And we entertained many visitors while we were in Provo. How many seniors missionaries are blessed to be visited by their grandparents in the MTC? We were. How many missionaries get to attend a Coaster Preservation Event at Lagoon? We did. How many get to ride the bobsled at Olympic Park? Yep. And how many missionaries get to watch coverage of the Summer Olympics in their room at night? Us, of course. And every Wednesday we were served BYU Creamery ice cream just like the regular missionaries.

ACE Preservation Conference at Lagoon. Cannibal is a great coaster.
Briel, Mitch, and I prep for a bobsled run.
During our first week, Tammy called and said that Briston had a soccer game in Provo. Most of her family was going to be in town so she asked if we could sneak out for lunch. Of course we could (it was not a Wednesday so we weren't missing the ice cream). It was great to see everyone including Mom.

We ate at Jetsen's favorite little Korean in a Cup place. Somehow he snuck out before it was picture time.
During the last week all three sets of our parents came to visit. Bob and Rosalie took us out to dinner. My dad and I snuck out to the golf course. John and Joanne stayed at local campground and let Dionne have one last "dog" fix.

Playing in the Senior Missionary Open.
We also got to see so many friends who have migrated to Happy Valley. We ate Indian food with Hannah Hiatt, Mexican with the Mercer family, and snacks with Jeremy Assmus.

Dionne and Hannah
Despite the never ending social agenda, we also learned how to be missionaries at the MTC. The first week was centered on Preach My Gospel. After 34 years of marriage, you would think that Dionne and I would know that we have different teaching styles. Well, we found this out quite abruptly during our first "live" teaching exercise. It took us 30 minutes to speak to each other afterwards.

In the MTC with Nefi.
There is a special spirit in the MTC. Dionne and I had a number of spiritual experiences with the other seniors, our instructors, and the younger missionaries. During most days we were actually in the MTC and in the evenings we were with friends and family. Fortunately they do not have a senior curfew because there were times when we came home past midnight.

Our class of ANM missionaries at the MTC. We have now served with three of these missionaries; Crapo, Isom, and Leach. We met Hatch and his family at a Bosnian restaurant a few days before they were due to report.
The humanitarian training was quite different. Less spiritual but also more practical. The church's humanitarian efforts are more far-reaching than most of us know. We feel privileged to be trusted to help distribute the funds that members (like my mother) donate for humanitarian causes. We toured Welfare Square and were surprised at just how inclusive the program is. For example, the majority of the workers in the bread baking facility have some form of cognitive disability. But they are able to serve a mission by serving in this capacity. What a wonderful way to make sure that every one of God's children feels (and is) needed.

Volunteers who work at the bread making facility at Welfare Square.
We spent one weekend with Briel and Mitch at Park City. The final weekend was split between Pat and Dennis and John and Joanne. To surprise Pat, we bought tickets to a concert by the Nashville Tribute Band for the four of us. My mother is notoriously fickle about country music, so I tried to not tell her who we were going to see. But she pried it out of me. When she found out we were going to the Nashville Tribute Band, she said that she had just gone to see them in Boise. She also said that she did not really like them and their type of music. And then she added that Brandon had gone and that he had walked out! But she said that she would give them another try. So, expecting the worst, we got the best. I don't know when I have enjoyed and been more uplifted by a concert in my life. All of us felt a strong spirit as the Nashville Tribute Band played. Afterwards my parents said how much they had enjoyed the concert. It turns out that in Boise the band played at a non-denominational church and had just played their new "Gospel" style cross-over music during that concert.

Waiting to be seated for the Nashville Tribute Band.
We spent our last Sunday in Provo with John and Joanne. John is Croatian and still speaks a little bit of the language. We practiced a little with him. But he had not been feeling well all week. Joanne was really worried about him. So we decided to take him to the VA hospital in SLC to get him checked out. He was able to come home from the hospital that night but had to go back the next day. Despite Joanne's worries about worst case scenarios, it turns out he has some gall bladder problems and is being treated for them.

Dionne takes a selfie with Carney.
Next thing we knew we were on an airplane. Whew. It went so fast.

Most Memorable Events in 2016 - #3 Nephi's Change of Heart

During September 2015, Denny walked and ran the 237-mile KATY trail across the state of Missouri. Why? This was his personal incentive to force him to finalize a paper that he intended to submit to a Mormon journal, The Interpreter. He told himself that he could not go on this run until he finished the paper. He finished the paper about midnight the night before the 7-day run.

It is all downhill from here!
I submitted a paper about the first few chapters of the Book of Mormon. I had noticed that the character of the author, Nephi, evolved and matured as the record progressed. Through a detailed reading of the text combined with text analytics, I made some conclusions regarding Nephi that I had never seen in the literature before. So turned my analysis into a 40-page research paper and submitted it to Interpreter.

Fortunately they did not disregard the ideas out of hand. Since I had already produced a paper, they agreed to peruse it. If it had value, they would send it through the review process. But I was not left with much hope. Maybe I should have pursued that PhD if really wanted to get into academia!

This is how I initially displayed all of Nephi's words in 1 & 2 Nephi. This was before I hypothesized the timeline which I proposed in my first paper. I shared this analysis with my good friends at Advanced Studies and they urged me to work towards publishing.
A month later Interpreter told me that they thought there was some value in my paper and so they had sent the paper out for peer review. Another month and the reviews were in. Although there were reviewers agreed that there were many problems with the paper, they did not think they were fatal problems. The biggest problem was that I tried to do too much within the confines of a single paper. They recommended turning this single paper into two or three papers. You can imagine my relief as I read these words from one of the anonymous reviewers.

I have had a look. I made 'stream of consciousness' notes as I went. I think there is some great material here, but it needs to be separated out and made into a number of separate articles. I suggest some titles at the end of my attached note, but the author will be able to identify the separate threads better than I can.

I really liked the author's idea that the text of 1 & 2 Nephi reveal Nephi's character development (softening?) over time. That resonates with my own perception after many readings. But I don't think you need all the science to do that. The 'science', if that is what it is, is distracting to that purpose. I think a simpler article using the analogy of his daughter's journal, can do that now if the author is patient enough to leave out all the science.
Bottom line? Split this up into a number of shorter more focused single theme articles. The author is trying to tell us everything he knows in one meal. We can afford to dine with him a few times.....his individual thought and effort his writing this all up separately and succinctly will bless us all.
 Taking their suggestions, it took about a month to produce my first paper. As the reviewer had suggested, I took much of the "science" out of my first paper. I simply presented the idea. This revised paper was accepted for publication by Interpreter. It seemed to take forever for it to be published (I later realized I should have asked about the publication date). We were in Northern Virginia at the Redd's house the day it was published. Earlier, I had asked almost everyone I knew if they would read my paper and give me feedback (including several friends who are qualified to give me some feedback on the "science" portion of the paper. While many asked me to send them the paper, almost everyone I asked did not actually give me feedback. Outside of the Advanced Studies group who provided me with direction and encouragement (and my sister, Downi), I had not actually gotten any knowledge feedback about my paper.  I had the feedback from the anonymous reviewers and nothing else. So I was quite nervous about the reception to my paper, basically I was flying blind; publishing a unique opinion about the Book of Mormon to the world that differs from traditional scholarship. I had no idea how the world would respond.

So I was quite thrilled as I excitedly read, out loud for the Redds and Dionne, this first comment on my paper from Louis Midgley.

I was, I admit, a bit annoyed by this essay was launched. But as I got into it, I was charmed. Dennis Newton’s essay is learned, subtle, aware of the relevant literature and insightful in his approach to the text he is reading. I must now put aside for a while my own endeavors and spend some real effort with what Dennis has written.

I put the science back into the second paper. I thought it might take a week to finish. Instead it took two months. If you read it, the basic idea is quite simple. But the technical details are very imposing. For example, I was forced to run a number of large Monte Carlo simulations by hand to get the proper statistics. And my reviewers were more critical of my second paper than my first. All of this drastically improved the second paper and made it more defensible. But it was a painful process to go through.

Dionne with Hugh and Cindy Redd
The second paper was published while I was on the mission. In the MTC Dionne and I spent one evening at BYU's library copying references so that my editor could verify our footnotes. I recorded the audio here in Sarajevo. This paper was mentioned more than the first in the Mormon academic world. Jeff Lindsay did a write-up on it for his blog. And Daniel Petersen mentioned it on Patheos. Here's one of my favorite comments on the second paper.

I like two things about the article. One is that scholars are developing rules and some type of statistical methodology in an attempt to determine whether the inverted parallelism in a passage was intentional and it is being applied to the Book of Mormon.

The second is how the passages highlight Nephi's own spiritual growth. Now, he has always been one of my spiritual heroes and his declaration that "I will go and do the things that the Lord has commanded...." has been an inspiration to me over the years. But Nephi is shown as going from a person who (almost) unquestionably is obedient to the Lord's commands and advocates such obedience, to one of understanding the relationship between obedience, the Law, and the Atonement.

So what is the gist of the two papers? Jeff Lindsay hit the nail on the head when he said that my paper "greatly weakens the theory that Joseph was the author of 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi." After years of bearing my testimony of the Book of Mormon to my family, to my friends, and to ward members, I have now published a strong testimony of the Book of Mormon to the world. That is the gist of the two papers. I am telling the world Joseph Smith was not the author of 1 and 2 Nephi. Period. Millenials like to Google their name to find out what comes up. Whenever you Google my name, if you are able to find me, I will be forever linked to my studies confirming the words of Nephi.

A screenshot of the second paper. 


Most Memorable Events in 2016 - #2 Deciding to Go

In mid-January, Bishop Scott Miller asked Dionne and I if we were ready to turn in our papers. We had been publicly talking about serving a mission and so this was a logical question. But Dionne answered with an emphatic "not right now." So he moved on.

Dionne and I are in our early 50s. Very early 50s. These are our peak earning years. But for some reason I had had this feeling for several years that we should drop everything and go serve a mission in a foreign land. Dionne did not have this same nagging feeling, however.

This is understandable. She was excelling in a career that she loved. Unlike my job at the time where I struggled to embrace the ethics of our core product, Dionne was working daily miracles through therapeutic riding. She also had her children and grandchildren. She had her dog. She had her horses. Going on a mission would require that she leave all of that.

Dionne and Brumby have a special relationship.
Bishop Miller's question forced us to confront the question of a mission directly. We could no longer put the question on a proverbial back burner. I already had my answer. But Dionne did not. And you should never go on a mission without guidance from God that this is the thing that you should be doing. So the answer that I had received would not be good enough for the two of us. She needed to have a spiritual witness as well. We would have to be united if we were to truly serve God.

Dionne at Heartland.
After a long discussion about these topics, Dionne and I parted ways for an evening. I went for a long walk and gave some thought as to what was next in life if we decided not to go on a mission. I was sincere about this. But there were no alternatives coming to mind. You might call it a stupor of thought. I did not come home with any different options other than serving a mission. Dionne spent the evening praying and reading scripture. Ultimately she went to our son's house and asked for a blessing. Somewhere that evening she received her answer; her spiritual witness.

When we got together again, Dionne had taken the lead and had already begun to fill out our paperwork. Individually and in our own ways, we had both learned from our Heavenly Father that we needed to make the sacrifice and serve now. All of our concerns, all our loose ends, they would all be taken care of. And rather than suffer, our children and grandchildren would be better because of our service.

I was hard not being there to make ginger bread houses this Christmas. But we know they are safe.

And so Dionne pulled Bishop Miller aside the next week. And said that we were ready to put our papers in. Just in time because the humanitarian couple assigned to Bosnia were soon to have health issues and our photo would appear just when the church started looking for a replacement couple.

Ready to serve...only God knows where.


Most Memorable Events in 2016 - #1 Meet Mr. & Mrs. Usevitch

To go on our mission, we had to wrap up a few aforementioned loose ends. One was the house. A second was finances (we had enough money to go but most of the money was not "liquid"). And then there was the small matter of our youngest daughter, Briel Arlene.


Briel Arlene Newton...from one of Britni's photoshoots.
Entering 2016, Briel was single and she had just been prompted to break up with her boyfriend, a pleasant young man who our family adored. She began to talk about the Mormon version of entering a nunnery; graduation from BYU-I and moving away from the West! While Dionne and I were talking about going on a mission, we also knew that we would not go if our daughter was likely to be married while we were away. This was not an event that we would miss. Period.

Briel and Mitch
Four months later Mitchell Usevitch called and asked for Briel's hand in marriage. The story of their courtship and engagement is best saved for another day. But they set their wedding date for July 23, two weeks before we were due to report to the MTC. Add a reception in Kansas City on July 30th, just days before we were to go, and you get the idea.

Will you marry me?
The wedding was in Gilbert, Arizona. The Usevitch family were gracious hosts for the madness that is a Newton gathering. Jim took our entire family to the lake a the few days before the wedding. With all of the stress of prepping for a wedding, this day helped make everything easier.

Jace and Brazen had so much fun falling off the paddle board and getting back on again.
Like most young ladies, Briel has dreamed a little about her wedding day. She wanted it to be "earthy," even a little Bohemian. This was Mitch and Briel's day. And they beamed with an infectious light as they went through the ceremonies of becoming husband and wife.

Mr. and Mrs. Usevitch

They have known each other most of the time they have been in Rexburg. They are both part of a group that has been playing serious volleyball in Rexburg. Briel is a few months older than Mitch, so she returned from her mission (Iloilo) nearly a year before he returned from his mission (Canada). In retrospect, they realize that their individual paths had led them to this point of merger where they become one road.

Hip Hip Hooray!

In Gilbert, our family was together for the first time since Amy and Brennen's wedding. It was wonderful to have everyone staying in the same rental home. And it was wonderful to welcome the final piece of our Newton family puzzle...the Usevitch piece. Our complete family is now comprised of Newtons, Newtons, Vigils, Newtons, Clarks, and Usevitchs.

Meet the Newtons, Vigils, Clarks, and Usevitchs.
So it is Briel who had the most momentous year in 2016 (with Mitch being a close second). Look at where she ended up compared to where she started. Back in Rexburg, of course!

It was a very good year.