Saturday, October 15, 2016

Saturday Post -- 15/10/16

18 months and already 'going to the toilet'. With assorted
The first happy babbles and head-bumps shatter the silence like a Marrakesh tannoy. It's 6am, Sam is up, and for one lucky parent, all that awaits is a barely decipherable, "Isn't it your turn?" from a couple of feet away.

This morning was more challenging than most, having crashed around midnight (the equivalent of my 21-year-old-self's 3am) after a busy day organising and executing the Marriage Course reunion meeting (the word 'meeting' in Spanish is translated, reunión, just to avoid confusion). Nobody's fault but mine, as Robert Plant once screeched, not least as I had a similarly wild night on Thursday, sitting on the sofa and watching NFL till eleven p.m.! I tell you, Keith Moon had nothing on me.

Still, consolation comes in taking a glance at my watch to see that we're already about halfway through this freakishly busy month of October. Oh, so that's how time disappears.

Amanda can at least look back on the last week with a great deal of satisfaction, as, after many hours waiting around in dusty offices over the past month or so, she finally took receipt of Melissa's one-year residency visa (Melissa being our current short-term worker from the USA). She really deserves a pat on the back, of which Sam, no doubt, will be more than happy to deliver several in some shape or form.

Sam, meanwhile, has discovered the joys of furniture removal. It started with moving his cuddly toys from one end of the stairs to the other, making transporting nappies between their boxes a mere inevitability. By the end of the week, he'd decided to up the ante, ensuring that dining room chairs became toilet seats.

So concentrating on the main task in hand for the week proved something of a challenge, but we just about got there in the end. When we finished the course last year, Andrew & Ruth had mooted the notion of a reunion meeting somewhere down the line, something I had mentally put to one side back then, but had begun thinking more about over the last few months. 

You know how these things end, right. Think back, even, to your camp days. After seven days of intensive physical abuse involving dead legs, mackerel, toothpaste and underpants (often at once), it was only natural that you came out of it pledging to never let a week go by without, say, 'writing a letter' (ask your parents, kids). And with the adrenaline still flowing around this time last year, Amanda and I were keen to keep up the contact with the course participants, particularly those who were not part of the church family. Alas, just like those camp pledges, that one got sidelined, not least as a certain small person was looming on the horizon.

So a couple of months ago, realising to my astonishment that the anniversary was looming large, I put it to Amanda, and then my fellow elders, that perhaps a reunion reunión was worth a stab. Happily, they agreed, and last night was the result.

Just like the course itself, the evening was set up like a date night, with couples sat at individual tables. We kicked off with a 'Mr & Mrs' game, a novel concept to most attendees, which probably explained why they enjoyed it so much (Stuff You Can't Get Away With Any More In The West #37: "What is your wife's favourite hobby?" "Cleaning the house."). This was followed by a delicious meal and then, most excitingly of all, an appearance by 'Andrés y Rut' themselves, albeit via a recorded video. Sort of like one of those "Sorry I couldn't be with you tonight" awards acceptance speeches (usually delivered by a Los Angeles swimming pool; happily, the sense of sorrow at not getting to sit through yet another performance by last year's X Factor winner is duly mitigated), except with a Bible in hand rather than a stupid-looking trophy. Anyway, the group was encouraged.

Andrew & Ruth: in spirit, if not in body.
There was then a little follow-up from the course, with three small discussion tasks for each couple. Firstly, how do they see progress in their marriage from the course. Secondly, in assessing their marriages right now, what areas of the course booklet would be worth revisiting. Thirdly -- and probably most importantly -- each couple had to schedule their next date night, inform Amanda and I of the date and time, and expect a visit from one of us to check they were fulfilling their duty. I may have made most of that last part up (can you tell I'm tired?).

To finish, I gave a short reflection on -- apologies to Whitney Houston -- the greatest love of all, talking about how Jesus' sacrifice challenges us to love in all circumstances, no matter how unworthy the recipient may seem. A quick group photo, and then a casa

Anyway, it was a thrill to see most of the group make the effort, and testament to the dedication efforts these people are putting in to their relationships as a result of the course. Our next date night? A week on Wednesday. Fix me another Red Bull please, waiter.

  • Camp, of course, hangs heaviest over this month of October, and the preparations step up a little this weekend, with Craig overseeing the first of three out-of-hours band practices over the next two weeks. We have potentially eight musicians playing, and a few new songs to get through. Pray for patience and focus.
  • Next weekend, we have not one, but two visitors arriving. Edwin from Langham Preaching will be in town from Friday till Monday to touch base with the group here, and then Latin Link's team leader Louis Woodley arrives, God-willing, on Sunday, for an overnight stay, presumably looking to get to know us better. Poor guy.
  • For a great turnout and much fun last night at the Marriage Course reunion.
  • For Melissa's visa being processed.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Saturday Post -- 08/10/16

These days, at times it feels like our ministry life in Trinidad takes place between weekend visits to Santa Cruz. Three weeks ago, I (Craig) was there for a weekend course, and last week we were back for a few days at a hotel resort courtesy of Amanda's mother, before all returning to our respective homes by plane.

While Sam splashed, I surfed (the internet, in a desperate quest for any site that was streaming the Ryder Cup) and Amanda went blonde (sort of). An inaugural visit to the zoo was squeezed in too, a cheeky monkey accompanying us all the way round (bah-doom, and if you will, ching), and one or two favourite eateries were further enriched. Without a doubt, we made the most of our short time in metropolis, ensuring no opportunity for refuelling was wasted.

And with good reason. Because that will almost certainly be our last family break before the year's end. More to the point, October -- always our busiest month -- is looking more jam-packed than ever.

For, in addition to multiple sermons to prepare, 2017 spending-plans to draw up, staff interviews to conduct, a Langham weekend follow-up visit, a Latin Link team leader visit, Fundación Totaí's anniversary celebrations and more...the month ends, as usual, with camp. And this year, camp is bigger than ever, with the whole church invited, as well as interested youth from other churches. Exhaustive and exhausting preparations are required from all concerned and, of course, being camp, the reward is two nights' 'sleep' in the company of hordes of sugar-fuelled teenagers and the best Trinidad has to offer in insectary. 

More immediately, we are preparing for a special, one-off event this coming Friday, a 'Happy Anniversary' reunion evening to mark a year since the Marriage Course. The evening will have a more informal feel than the course itself, with a meal, a little 'Mr & Mrs' action, and even a contribution from Andrew & Ruth, who have kindly recorded a video message. We also reckon the evening is a good opportunity for the couples involved to reflect on progress they've made since, and think about areas in their marriages in the present day where they could benefit from going back to the Marriage Course booklet for counsel. That time will be built in to the evening as well.

God-willing, in about three weeks' time, we too will be afforded a period of reflection on the intensive month gone by -- roughly thirty seconds, before our eyelids finally give up the fight.

  • We are both doing a little Bible teaching this weekend, Amanda with the youth tonight, and Craig is preaching tomorrow morning at church.
  • We've been really challenged recently (Craig in particular) about the need to focus on the task in hand here and not let thoughts about the future distract us. Pray that we would continue to trust God for tomorrow, and have allow ourselves the freedom to serve him as best we can today. And that, especially in this busy spell, that we would take each day as it comes.
  • Pray for an encouraging evening for the Marriage Course participants on Friday.
  • Pray for the English course participants. The core reading text for the year becomes increasingly gospel-focused as it reaches its conclusion. Pray for receptive hearts.
  • While in Santa Cruz, we also spent a day with our friends Graham & Debbie Frith, who have been paired with us for fellowship and mentoring as part of the Latin Link Bolivia team. We were greatly refreshed by our time with the Friths; a timely visit.
  • For safe travels over the last week, both for ourselves and Amanda's mother, who returned to Toronto in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
  • We were a little nervous about readjusting to life post-Grandma, both practically and, for Sam, emotionally. However, Sam's doing OK, and the house hasn't collapsed. Just yet.
  • Craig started a new mentoring relationship this week with a young leader in the church called Diego. Give thanks for this new opportunity.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Post -- 24/09/16

The humble Lada: big in Bolivia.
Six years after we got the keys, and 21 years since it trundled off some Japanese production line, our car is still going. Just. In reality, years of bouncing along the ‘roads’ here and spluttering on the ever-present, engine-devouring dust, have slowly but surely taken their toll. The motor repair bills are, like so much else here, eminently affordable, but the frequency with which our 1995 Rav4 is paying visits to the mechanic means we’re probably spending as much on maintenance – if not more – as our contemporaries in the UK or Canada.

So, while we’re not really in a position to buy a replacement right now – what with home assignment just round the corner – we’re certainly considering our options. Which is why, a couple of weeks back, I got an email from our Latin Link stable-mates Graham & Debbie Frith, who run a student ministry called ‘El Alfarero’. “What do you reckon to coming through and checking out the deals at Fexpocruz [the big annual Santa Cruz trades fair]? Oh, and while you’re at it, we’re running a course at the same time that you might be interested in.”

It was all rather out of the blue, and my mother-in-law had only just arrived in the country for a month-long visit. What kind of signal would my departure for three days send? And what if she cooked that Pad Thai dish I really like while I was gone? Regardless, I showed Amanda the email, and she didn’t need much persuading. “A course on cross-cultural communication? Yeah, I think we both know you could do with some help with that, Craig!”

She was not wrong. She’s been the one rolling her eyes every time I joyfully report that the electrician said he’d come ‘right away’. She’s been the one sitting in on youth leadership meetings when, in a bid to add a dose of levity to proceedings, I have proposed non-serious solutions to genuine problems, only to be met with looks of utter perplexity. “Wait, was that another example of humor escocés, Craig?”

She was more than happy, then, to grant my release, though guarantees over the cooking or otherwise of Pad Thai in my absence were not forthcoming.

The course took place on Thursday evening, Friday evening, and all day on Saturday, and was led by Steve Hawthorne, a medical missionary from the US, currently working in Potosí. With more than two decades’ experience of living and working in Bolivia, Steve was able to draw on a wealth of practical examples to bring the theory of the course to life.

The course drew heavily from an excellent little book called ‘Foreign to Familiar’, by Sarah Lanier, an author who has lived in a wealth of international contexts. The book was required pre-reading for the course and, within a few pages, I was wishing I had been given it many years earlier. Lanier’s basic premise is that the prime cultural dividing line runs between ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ climates (there are exceptions to this, of course: parts of the USA and Latin America are climatically hot, but follow ‘cold’ practices; and most of Russia, sub-zero for a great deal of the year, generally has a ‘hot’ climate mentality). Being born and raised in a ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ climate determines greatly one’s outlook on life.

So, for example, people from hot climates tend to be more relationship-oriented than task-oriented, a largely cold-climate mentality (you even see this played out in the American South relative to the rest of the country). Those from cold climates place great stock in verbal communication, whereas those from hot climates communicate much more indirectly. If you’re from a hot climate, you’re less likely to have much of a voice in, say, a work meeting chaired by the boss (indeed, a hot-climate boss probably won’t want to hear what his subordinates have to say anyway), while cold-climate inhabitants benefit from shorter ‘power-distances’ in the workplace and elsewhere. And, of course, people from hot and cold climates have vastly different conceptions of time (to be fair, I’d grasped that point some time ago!).

These differences and others were drawn out by Steve over the three days. Above all, what he wanted the group (which mostly comprised Americans and Bolivians) to leave with, was not so much a rejection of cold-climate mentality or an unquestioning adoption of hot-climate practices, but an understanding of both and, above all, an acceptance that “I am ethnocentric.”

Many was the moment over the three days when I laid my pen down, leaned back in my chair and thought to myself: “So that’s why that happened!” So much of our experience over the last seven years began to make a lot more sense than before. Indeed, it shed great light on our current circumstances.

Amanda, for example, was dealing with a very difficult situation at work last week, in which Christian principles seemed to have gone out of the window from the person concerned; all of a sudden, grasping the greater ‘power-distances’ in the Latin American mentality, while not solving the problem, at least helped her to understand a little better where the person was coming from.

Less seriously, we have recently made the most of Amanda’s mother being here by occasionally inviting church groups or other friends over for Chinese food. Indeed, by the time I went to Santa Cruz, we had already invited a couple we know to come this past Wednesday evening. They are good friends of ours, but, without seeking to be presumptuous, I’ve often wondered why they never invite us to their place. Well, as I learned from the book and the course, an invitation to one’s home in a developing world context is taken more as a summons than a friendly gesture (indeed, on reflection, something we learned quickly here was that if you got an invitation to a birthday party that very day – as is usually the case here – you had better have a decent reason not to show up in the evening). In fact, the friendliest thing you can do in a hot-climate culture is not to invite, nor to respond to an invitation, but to show up unannounced. On one hand, dropping in on people without warning is something we have barely even considered as a couple (though in fairness, it was still fairly common in Scotland when I was a child); on the other…we have had the, “Really?! They choose this moment of all moments?!” exchange too many times to recall! (Thus informed, we informed our friends that our next encounter would be a) anything but pre-planned, and b) at their place!)

The course ended, all that remained was to head to Fexpocruz on Saturday evening in the company of the Friths and Steve. There were bargains to be had (that’s a relative term; the car market here is expensive), but we’re keeping our bank details to ourselves for now. Still, I feel I have a much better grasp of things for when we come to finally replace our current vehicle, probably next year. I will, however, surely disappoint Graham by not buying a Lada – yes, they are making a big comeback down here. Sorry: I just can’t take back all those playground jokes (Example: “Why do Ladas have heated rear-windscreens? To keep your hands warm when you have to push them.). For North American readers out there, the Lada reference is unique to late-20th century British culture. Turns out that owning Ladas was not conducive to our cold-climate predisposition to arrive at appointments on time.

  • We have booked our tickets for home assignment. Roughly, we will be in the UK in January and February, Canada in March, April and May, and back to the UK just for a couple of weeks in late May/early June. However, our travel to the UK and Canada (and possibly the USA) is visa-dependent, so pray for a positive outcome to our first visa application for Sam, which we hope to submit in November (we’ll probably just do the Canadian and American visas from the UK).
  • Our travels confirmed, the need to delegate responsibilities is brought into sharper focus. Pray for a smooth transition over the next few months.
  • Pray for wisdom for us both in our leadership duties at Fundación Totaí and our church.
  • We’re travelling to Santa Cruz as a family later this week, where we’ll have a few days’ break before saying farewell to Selene. Pray for safety in our travels and pray for our readjustment to post-Grandma life! The Chinese food has just been the start; she has been a huge help with Sam and around the house in the last few weeks. We will be coming back down to earth with a bang. Pray for ample cushioning!
  • For a beneficial few days of education and fellowship for Craig in Santa Cruz last weekend.
  • We had an encouraging prayer meeting during the week, at which one of our members (Mariana) gave a presentation on the work of Open Doors; there was a really positive response to this. She is hoping to give monthly updates at our prayer meetings.
  • We had the opportunity to go out last night as a couple, reflect on things a little and begin to think about what life out here might look like for us in the coming months and years. We found it so helpful. Pray for more such opportunities in the midst of our busyness.
  • For Selene’s visit and the encouragement this has brought us.   

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday Post - 17/09/2016

Craig is trying to get back at me for being away two weekends in a row. I mean, who really needs to go to conference on "Communications in Cross Cultural Ministry"? How could that be relevant to us at all? I know it's really about getting to eat a big, juicy Santa Cruz hamburger and getting a frappuccino at Star Bucks. Oh wait, I might be referring to myself. Oops.

So, Craig is in Santa Cruz since Thursday attending a conference on the above mentioned that he learnt about from fellow Latin Link members who are running it. I think he's really enjoying it, and I'm hoping to get all the details when he gets back. Meanwhile, I've been shamelessly abusing my Mom to pretty much do everything regarding Sam, while I try to work a bit more. I get comments from people at work like, "Does your child even recognise you anymore?", or "Child? Amanda has a child?" Ya...thanks for the guilt guys. Didn't you know that it's important to respect a woman's choice to either stay at home or go to work? Everyone at FT are completely joking of course, but the issue does come up in my mind a lot these days. Especially because I think I am the least loved on the totem pole right now. Craig always wins as he can toss Sam the highest in the air, which is the key quality in any popularity contest, but then my Mom comes in second because she's just around a lot more. I was getting so desperate for attention from my own child, that when he fell and bonked his head and hugged me aggressively for comfort, I internally though, "Score!!!" Outside I was calm and repeated, "It's okay, You're okay." Inside I was doing a happy dance. And yet, I know I need to take advantage of my Mom being here to get a lot of pending work done.

Actually, it sounds like my Mom is getting a lot more hands on work with Sam than she does with my nephew back in Canada, who is 7 months younger than Sam. Considering that Pip is now 10 months old and Mom's first attempt at changing Sam's diaper was surprisingly poor, I got the impression that she doesn't do a lot of Pip's diaper changing. All I have to say to my sister is this, "What are you thinking? What is the purpose of grandparents, if not to pass your children off to them while you go and take a nap? Get your act together and take advantage of the gift of a grandparent's presence. I have already trained Mom to put a diaper on correctly, so I'm sure she won't put one on backwards on your child!" For example, my Mom says to me yesterday, "Why don't you give me the baby monitor overnight and you can sleep in tomorrow?" To this I said, "Let's do it!", without a twinge of guilt. You come to Bolivia to visit, we put you to work. See, Jessica? See how it's done? It's easy, I promise. It only means my child has to smack his head off of things for me to get any love; it's not really too big of a price to pay. Right?

Actually, God's timing, as ever, is perfect, because the majority of my work recently has been helping our new volunteer Melissa get her application for a one-year visa together. She plans to be with us for eight months and needs a one-year visa to stay in the country. When we first arrived in Bolivia six and a half years ago we had to do the same thing, but apparently the process was so traumatising that my brain had repressed the experience completely from my subconscious and I am now experiencing like it is the first time all over again. The process involves first going to Immigration where they give you an overly complicated list of requirements to submit the visa. Then you go and try to meet these requirements by going to various other offices for the documentation. Then these offices give you a list of the paperwork you need to get for them, and the process goes on and on until you feel like you have to sign over your firstborn child to get a visa. It took us a week to get all the required documentation together for Melissa's Interpol background check, which we thankfully submitted on Tuesday, and while we're waiting over the next two weeks for that to come back, we can slowly work on the other items on the Immigration checklist. It is frustrating, expensive and time consuming, but it is the right way to go about staying in the country. All I can think about is how blessed I am to have my Mom here to watch Sam while I drive around the city from office to office like a headless chicken. Doing all this with a 17 month-old would not be fun. But then, this isn't fun anyways. I can't wait for her to get her visa so we can start the process all over again with her Identity Card.

We also had a very productive meeting this past week with all the youth leaders as we planned for our yearly camp. I love camp. I love organising it, running it and experiencing it. So as we sat down to plan the meeting that I was chairing (because camp is my thing), my first thought was that I should make sure that no one else wants to direct this year, as a courtesy, because I am nice like that. No one ever offers, which is how I got landed with it three years ago in the first place, a job which I love. However, this year someone says, "I'd like to do it," and internally I shouted, "Nooooooooo!", and continued to throw a two year-old hissy fit in my mind. I was a rock on the outside though. And as the meeting progressed I grudgingly admitted that it was a good thing, as I have no clue how I would direct a camp and Craig would lead music, etc, while someone had to watch Sam. This is just another way in which our lives have changed and we have to embrace that. We both still very much want to be involved in camp, so please pray as we figure out how to do this while being aware of Sam's needs at the same time.

Last night Melissa came over to play a board game with my Mom and I, so we had nice social evening. We decided to play Settlers, and therefore I had to teach both my Mom and Melissa how to play. I had every expectation that I would win, because I was playing against newbies, but I underestimated my Mom again. I did win, but it was close and I was panicking a bit near the end that she would actually beat me. I warned Melissa during our visa-requirement-hunting travels yesterday that my Mom will play the 'I'm just an old, Asian housewife, who doesn't know what she's doing' card, but DO NOT FALL FOR IT. I can't believe I underestimated my Mom for even 10 minutes. At the beginning of the game I explained everything to everyone and Mom listened with laser sharp focus (should have been my first clue), and then as we start she says, "You're going to have to help me as this is my first time." (Okay, that one was blatant manipulation and wasn't subtle're losing your edge, Mom, you're losing your edge). But as the game went on I forgot that it was all an act and let my guard down...until she stole my Longest Road card from me and shouted, "I beat you!" with that glint in her eye. Ya, there's the Mom we all know and love. Well, Mom that's not the end of the game; and so I actually had to pull up my socks and put in some effort, but victory was oh so sweet when I won by stealing the Longest Road card back from her. Now, who beat who? Okay, so Melissa might have been caught up in some Kearon baggage, but she was gracious about it.


  • Craig's travels as he returns to Trinidad tomorrow.
  • For Melissa's visa application.
  • For camp preparations.
  • For some difficult staff issues in the Foundation, again. 
  • For a balance between working and spending time with Sam, even though my Mom is here.

  • Sam's passport arrived and I picked it up yesterday!
  • A good camp preparation session on Tuesday night.
  • For the rest that I am getting while having my Mom here.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda and Sam

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday Post -- 10/09/16

Grandma = Noodles.
Well, last Saturday was a rare, full-on blog write-off (pun fully intended) due to us being a parent down while Amanda picked up her mother from Santa Cruz, and today's not going to be much better. This morning, I (Craig) had the monthly Langham preaching class, only to return and swap the car with Amanda, who is doing the weekly grocery shop. Normally, I can rely on Selene for backup when Amanda is out. But, then again, Amanda is not normally shopping!

Selene has, of course, been a huge help since arriving last weekend; being away from her grandchild for such extended periods means that no childcare stretch is too long, and that has released us to get on with a little more work this week. That said, we are beginning to miss Sam just a little! The ample Asian cuisine is going some way to make up for that longing, mind you.

So I'd best make the most of the time I have with him right now. Here are our prayer points, and we greatly appreciate your petitions on our behalf.


  • Later this week, it's Craig's turn to hit the big smoke, as he is attending a conference on cross-cultural communication in Santa Cruz. Pray for safe travels and an encouraging few days there (this is through one of our Latin Link contacts, so we're excited that this partnership is already paying dividends).
  • Keep praying for Sam's passport application, which really should be with us by now (it is not!).
  • Pray for guidance in our various discipleship relationships, and for 'feeding' for ourselves.
  • For wisdom in decision-making in our respective leadership positions at the Foundation and the church.
  • Give thanks for Selene's safe arrival in Bolivia, and for the massive support she has already provided us; three more weeks await!
  • For our latest volunteer, Melissa Olmstead, who is settling in well having arrived here nearly two weeks ago. 
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday Post -- 27/08/16

It's Saturday morning and Amanda has a flight to catch. In a few hours, she sets off for Cochabamba, where she is due to attend the wedding of a fellow Latin Linker this afternoon. Meanwhile, back home, cue mis-matched clothes, dirty-bottle-backlogs and bathtime shortcuts -- or, as it's otherwise known, 'father-son bonding time'.

Amanda returns tomorrow afternoon. But Sam and I aren't going to get too comfortable. Because before we know it, it will be Friday morning...and Amanda will have a flight to catch! This time, her mother's jetting in for an extended visit, and requires picking-up in Santa Cruz. Meanwhile, back home...oh, you get the drift. Please pray!

Still, at least we're in something of an adversity-overcoming frame of mind these days, not least having finally submitted Sam's Bolivian passport application this week. Here are the highlights, otherwise known as How Bolivian Officialdom Works.

A week past on Monday, we processed Sam's Bolivian I.D. card, a pre-requisite for a passport application here and so, thus armed, we swung by the immigration office. We did this, not to submit the application there and then, but to be given what I've come to call our Scavenger Hunt List. In the west these days, you tend to go online, print the forms, fill them in, send them in with a photo and your bank details, and a few weeks down the line a passport is delivered to your door. 

Not so here. Not for passports, not for I.D. card applications, and definitely not for visa applications (Amanda and I spent around 43% of our first three years here in the immigration office). Here you are given a slip of paper with several items you'd better present before you even think about getting a passport. Sunshine. As well as photocopies of various documents of our own as parents, they included:
  • A bank slip, proving that you have deposited the money into the required account. This was introduced some years ago here, as a way of clamping down on government workers requesting, say, 'something for the wife's Christmas' in order to hasten applications.
  • An original birth certificate, which you don't get back. Here, photocopied birth certificates are about as useful as a freezer in the North Pole. On the flipside, they will print a new 'original' for you there and then, for the required fee.
  • Most curiously, a 'permission to travel' document (isn't that what a passport is?). Now that we live with a Bolivian, we've discovered that it's necessary to submit a separate document for the trip in question. Which, of course, is somewhat perplexing for us, as the only reason we needed the document was to get the passport, not to travel any time soon.
The problem is that there is always at least one document that, itself, generates its own Scavenger Hunt List. This time, that proved to be the permission to travel document. In the past, we had actually filled in a couple of domestic permission to travel documents in order that Sam could travel within Bolivia (a requirement here for travelling with children: they are valid for 30 days). Assuming that this was what they required -- as we could not currently leave the country without a passport -- we swung by the bus station (they are available there and at the airport) and picked one up. No, silly, we were told on our third visit to the immigration office, it's a permission to travel internationally

Off we went, then, to that office, and sure enough, another bundle of paperwork was required. It would take a full week for us to assemble this and then get the document.

So, on Monday past, with a spring in our step, off we went to immigration, brandishing said document, slamming it on the guy's desk and singing in unison, 'Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now' to the requisite dance-steps (I may have exaggerated parts of the last sentence). Billy Bureaucrat simply had to admit defeat. He couldn't send us away for the umpteenth time for a document he'd forgotten to mention (that did happen). We had met all the requirements and there was nothing he could do about it but process that application. 

Nothing he could do, that is, until, a couple of minutes into his entering our details into the system...there was a power-cut. "There's been a power-cut," he informed us, barely able to contain a grin (the nefarious so-and-so) and completely powerless, in a quite literal sense, to do much about it. 

As lacking in aesthetic qualities as it was, I can assure you that a pan-pipe-wielding llama chewing coca leaves with an Andean backdrop could not have made for a more Bolivian scene.

Untypically, however, the power surged back into life about fifteen minutes later, and our decision to hang around instead of coming back in the afternoon was vindicated. However, the immigration office in Trinidad is just the start. The application should now be in La Paz, and it won't be another couple of weeks, probably, until we see the passport.

While we wait for that, there's a fair amount of homework for us to do as we try to work out what is required for visas for the UK and Canada (and, further down the line, the USA) for next year. Only one problem with that strategy: my wife never seems to be here.

  • For no more bumps in the road for Sam's passport application (another quirk of the system here is that, because things get sent to La Paz, if the people there find any seeming inconsistencies, the documents get sent back, and we have to make the changes, re-submit, and wait another two weeks; hoping we can avoid that).
  • Every two or three years, we spend a little time with the youth in the church addressing the topic of sex and relationships. Craig is speaking tonight on what the Bible has to say on the subject. Pray for Craig, for the other leaders as they discuss these issues with the young people in small groups afterwards, and for the young people themselves. A huge, highly sensitive topic.
  • A new volunteer, Melissa Olmstead, arrives on Monday from Oregon, for an eight-month stint in Trinidad. Pray for her and for Amanda as she supervises her time here.
  • For safe travels for Amanda both today and Friday, and an encouraging time in Cochabamba in the next 24 hours.
  • For Craig and Sam as they hold the fort back in Trinidad. Pray that this would be a special time for them both.
  • Amanda had an unexpected (and unexpectedly deep) chat with a member of staff at FT yesterday. Give thanks for the opportunity to minister to that staff member.
  • For all the frustration, we are making good progress on Sam's documentation. Give thanks for that.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday Post -- 20/08/16

Have you ever stopped to wondering how much you've changed over time? Do you think your former self would recognise who you are now? I (Amanda) had a week which really highlighted to me how much I've changed, not in good or bad ways, but I saw how I was now different.

Instance 1

On this week fell Day of the OANSA Leader -- OANSA is the Bolivian version of the AWANA children's and youth programmes, which originated some years ago in the USA. I'm not sure about which day specifically because I don't actually care about these things, but being the OANSA youth ministry coordinator in our church, I was supposed to be celebrated at some point this past week. The OANSA ministerial team for Trinidad organised a dinner for all OANSA leaders on Wednesday night at 8pm. Craig and I looked at each other, and I decided to bite the bullet and go on our behalf, thus allowing him to stay in, because he might die a slow death if forced to actually celebrate a Hallmark holiday (he made an exception for Mother's day this year, me being a new Mom and all, but we've become quite unromantic with Valentine's Day, it being overly corporate). 

So a whole pile of leaders from our church went to this organised dinner, where we arrived on time, and proceeded to wait for almost another hour before anybody else showed up from any other church. Even, our own church members were getting antsy about this time. And then there was still a whole programme to get through before we could eat. The food came out about 10:40. I don't think we left until 11:30, and we still had to drive some of the youth home to the village of Maná, about 20 minutes away. 

The most revelatory aspect of this evening to me, however, was the fact that I had fun. I suddenly remembered that when I was younger I liked going out and being in large groups, laughing and joking, but that due to business, tiredness, and a lack of a social group in our stage of life [you can start playing your violins around now, folks -- Craig] we just don't do that any more. And I had fun! It was fun! And I got dropped off at my door in a large carpool, just like when I was at Uni coming back from a youth event. I felt young again... until I realised it was past midnight and I was about to turn into a pumpkin. Seriously, I remembered why I had changed: my body is falling apart and I am old. Okay, I'm only 30, but it is true -- my body is falling apart and I am old. So, great to be reminded of who I was in my glory days, but I think I get more excited now about early bedtimes than a long night out on a the town. But thank you, Trinidad OANSA Ministerial Team: the chicken was lovely!

Instance 2

This week we finally organised another FT staff training morning. The Board had been meaning to organise one since June, but people kept scheduling surgery over the mornings I had fenced off, apparently thinking that emergency surgery was more important. As if. Okay, maybe it is. But finally on Thursday morning we got all the staff together in one place and made them say nice things to each other. In all seriousness, that was the first activity Mariana pulled out of her bag of tricks. Everyone had to say something positive or something they were thankful for about the person sitting on their right. The activity was supposed to highlight how much easier it is for us to think of negative things to say about each other, and to really force us to try and be positive. It was generally a success, with a few minor hiccups. One person ended her positive comment by saying, "But I would also advise her to try harder with her personality." Someone else started by saying, "Well, he's a lot better now than he was at the beginning." And finally, someone said, "I like how she wants to do everything right. People may think she has an ugly and hard personality, but it's because she wants to do everything right." My jaw hit the floor when that was said. Obviously the PC brigade never got this far into the Amazon jungle.

But being the HR Director, these staff mornings are generally my show, so I chaired the morning and led people through the activities. Our morning GP, Dr. Vargas, organised a seminar on the purpose of and how to properly put together a Procedures Manual, because FT doesn't have an updated one. We need to get it organised by the end of the year and most staff looked at me funny when I asked people to write in point form how they go about their jobs. So, we had a training morning. And Dr. Vargas did a really good job. Even I feel more confident about sitting down and writing out the details of my job (which I haven't started to do yet).

But as I was sitting through the seminar and my mind started to wander to other things (hey, I said Dr. Vargas did a good job, I didn't say the material was gripping), I kind of thought about how I would never have dreamed of being able to do my job when I was in University. My insecurity always killed my confidence, and while I never shied away from standing up in front of people, I always had intense nerves. Now, I just do it and move on to the next thing, and sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and say, "Who are you? And where were you in grade 7 when I was supposed to be Patty in Charlie Brown's Christmas play?"

Instance 3

Our new volunteer arrived this week, Roseanne Sanders from England. And she's really nice. We're going to be friends. And right there is another change. I have never made friends really easily. I have always been too insecure and worried about what people thought to really give myself to friendships easily. It has always taken time with me to really becomes friends with someone. But it has become easier and easier to just give myself to people and make friends in recent years.

So, Rosie and I are going to be buddies for the next three weeks. I mean, she brought shortbread for everyone to share at FT. Who doesn't want to be friends with someone like that? And she is up for anything. I'm sure there are some things that she didn't come out her to do, like intense manual labor, but she hasn't said no to me yet...I wonder what else I could get her to do. I wonder how she feels about babysitting. Can you say 'Date Night'?

And I have never seen anyone less stressed and polite after losing their suitcase, which did not leave Brazil when she did. Thankfully, she has her suitcase again. I'm pretty sure I would have lost my cool at some point, but she was really relaxed about the whole experience.

We're all looking forward to spending more time with her over the next three weeks and I know that Odalys and Maye, in our Speech Therapy and Audiology Department, are especially excited to have the extra help.


Craig mentioned that we had attended a one day conference on mentoring while in Sucre by Rick Lewis. Rick highlighted that the purpose of mentoring is identifying and promoting the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And he asked us all to think of the ways that we knew that the Lord was currently working in our lives, possibly convicting us of specific sin or challenging us in certain circumstances. Yet he said that mentoring had to do with all the ways in which God was working in us, but that we couldn't specifically identify. That's why we need the help of mentors. Because the reality is that God is doing so much more than we are actually conscious of at any given moment. God is changing us, moulding as, and growing us and the truth is that when I look back on my life, I can see some evidence of specific change, but the rest has just kind of happened slowly over time. And for this I am grateful: that God knows and me and loves me enough to want to change me where I need to most, without me even noticing sometimes. I like being more confident. I like being able to come alongside people without a lot of insecurities getting in the way. I like making friends. And, while getting excited about early bedtimes might not be an overly spiritual change, I know that I know myself more now than I did before, and I know how I need to take care of myself...and sometimes it is an early bedtime. And I am sure that in another 15 years I am going to be a completely different person again, and that's kind of exciting.

  • For Rosie and her three weeks with us at FT.
  • Craig is preaching on Sunday from 2 Kings 2; please pray for him as he shares God's word.
  • We tried to apply for Sam's passport this week, after successfully applying for his Bolivian ID Card, and we hit some obstacles. So, please pray that we get his application submitted on Monday.
  • For some delicate pastoral care situations that Craig and the other church leaders are involved in right now.
  • For Sam's ID card and updated birth certificate being processed
  • For Rosie's safe arrival and the arrival of her bag two days later.
  • For a really beneficial staff training morning
  • For a good time out with the other OANSA leaders on Wednesday night
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda & Sam

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saturday Post -- 13/08/16

Plenty of horses in Trinidad; it's just that they're usually eating our garbage
at the end of the street.
Back in the summer of 2003, I was wandering through the local park with a friend. Tall trees shaded us from a strong sun as we watched children float across the pond on pedalos, parents sharing quiet jokes as they pushed their various baby transportation devices and cyclists gently meander by around the vicinity. So far, so ordinary. Well, if you're from the west, that is. For this was in the heart of Bolivia. And I'd never seen anything quite so, er, civilised in this extraordinary country. I resolved to return to Sucre...and preferably with a family.

Well, after several years of talking about it, a few months ago we were presented with compelling professional reasons to make the trip to the white city, and so we decided to make a holiday of it.

If, like me, you're one of those endless founts of utterly useless information, you will surely not have tired of those dinner-party opportunities to remind people that Australia's capital is not Sydney but Canberra, Brazil's is not Sao Paulo but Brasilia, and, of course, Bolivia's is not La Paz but Sucre (I'm looking at you, Andrew Craig). La Paz, with a population of 2.3 million, has the parliament and the governmental offices, but Sucre retains the high court. Yet in effect, Sucre is, to all intents and purposes, not a city, but a town. And all the better for it.

Sucre is the cradle of Bolivian history. It was founded in 1538 by the Spanish, and was to become a major city of their Latin American empire. In the early 19th century, Bolivia's independence was declared here. In the town centre, Sucre's colonial roots are in evidence on every block, with gargantuan churches gracing most street corners, and classical architecture as far as the eye can see. Moreover, buildings are required by law to be whitewashed once every year. Combined with the perennial sun, it makes for quite a sight. I say 'perennial', not punishing; the high altitude means temperatures rarely push past 25 Celsius, and the night-times are fresh to say the least. Put it this way: Amanda hasn't had so little laundry to do for a long time!

It gets better. Bolivia's oldest (and best) seat of learning is located in Sucre, and so a sophisticated vibe prevails. The many fine and varied restaurants flog their own craft beers. Music festivals come and go (a Beatles-fest was due to take place this week). A French institute shows nightly films en français in a small screening room. It all sounds very pretentious, doesn't it? You can see why I love it!

Our home-from home for the week.
As a family, then, we spent much time simply climbing up church bell towers, sampling great food, and wandering around aforementioned park. When not out and about, we made the most of our hotel, which was also in the colonial fashion, and which boasted a stunning roof terrace. Sam was never happier than when he was playing his game of throw-the-Duplo-piece-and-then-bum-shuffle-in-hot-pursuit.

We were in Sucre primarily for two reasons. Firstly, we were invited by some friends of ours in Santa Cruz to a mentoring day-conference they had organised, with a guest speaker (Rick Lewis) having come all the way over from Sydney (not the capital of Australia, apparently). The conference itself was highly practical, and really got us thinking about how we approach mentoring relationships here in Trinidad, and how we can manage these more efficiently. We've been talking a lot since coming back about how to implement these strategies.

Secondly, and most importantly, we had been invited by Latin Link Bolivia's board to an interview, with a view to us joining Latin Link on the field. If you support us financially from the UK, you will be aware that our UK support comes through Latin Link's office in Reading. However, we are not commended by Latin Link, but by Latin America Mission Canada. Latin Link have simply very kindly offered this service on our behalf, with LAM Canada in overall charge. 

But over the last few years, as close missionary friends have gradually left Trinidad, we have become increasingly aware of our need for greater on-field fellowship and accountability. We are pretty isolated in Bolivia -- where there are no LAM Canada missionaries -- and in Trinidad, there are no real opportunities for us to be 'fed' and encouraged by others. So over the last 18 months, with LAM Canada's support, we have been exploring the possibility of Latin Link on-field membership. In the weeks prior to our time in Sucre, LAM Canada and Latin Link had drawn up an agreement regarding the nature of our relationship. The proposal was essentially that Latin Link would provide us with these on-field services, while we remained LAM Canada workers.

Casa de la Libertad, where Bolivia went all indie.
Essentially then, the heavy lifting had been done prior to Sucre, and our interview proved to be more a chance to get to know the board members themselves, the nature of the Latin Link Bolivia operation, and what we could expect to receive and contribute as members. We will be expected to attend two annual meetings (a conference and a retreat), and have been paired with a couple in Santa Cruz, with whom we will be required to meet twice a year. We can also expect to receive visits from Latin Link Bolivia's team leader, and Latin Link will begin exploring the possibility of sending short-term volunteers to Trinidad to work under us. Officially, we join on the 1st of September, and we're excited to see what comes of this new partnership.

All in all, then, a capital trip! 

  • Pray for wisdom as we seek to implement these mentoring strategies in our work here and pray for discernment as we work out whom else God might want us to be meeting with.
  • Pray for Roseanne Mackay, a volunteer from the UK who arrives this week for three weeks supporting the speech therapy work at Fundación Totaí. Pray also for Amanda who will be overseeing Roseanne's time here, and that of another volunteer who arrives for a longer spell at the end of August.
  • Elías, our church pastor, has announced he will be standing down at the end of this year. Pray for wisdom for Craig and his fellow elders as they seek to know the way ahead for the church.
  • For a truly refreshing break in Sucre, and some much-needed concentrated family time to boot.
  • For our acceptance on to the Latin Link Bolivia team.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday Post -- 23/07/16

Told you.
The momentousness of the decision made in our favour yesterday was somewhat belied by the circumstances. They could hardly have been less dramatic!

In principle, the adoption was confirmed on Monday morning, when we had our final hearing at the judge's office, in the company of the usual representatives from the appropriate agencies around town. As has been the case since we began fostering Sam, there were no objections whatsoever. All that was left was for the judge to prepare the 'sentencing' document, which she said would be ready by Friday. As well as confirming the adoption, this document would officially request the name-change (though known as Sam by all and sundry, he still officially went by his old name).

Yesterday morning, then, Amanda and Sam swung by my office -- where I was in the midst of writing a sermon -- and we drove into town one more time. And things could hardly have been less formal. We sat on the couch in the judge's office and had a natter with her (as well as a fine decision maker, she's a lovely woman!), while she waited for her staff to have the sentencing document printed. Half an hour later, one of her administrators summoned us to his cluttered desk, asked us to put our John Hancocks in the relevant slots, and that was it.

After that, there was really only one thing for it: off to Sam's favourite restaurant Pizza Hut, where we celebrated by playing in the ball-pool and having extra servings of chocolate sauce at the ice cream factory.

I jest. The closest thing Trinidad has to a Pizza Hut is, er, a literal pizza hut! 

We did at least pick up a tub of our favourite ice cream on the way home from the supermarket. But after that, it was back into our routine: me finishing my sermon, Amanda attending an afternoon meeting, and then spending the entire evening with volunteers from Fundación Totaí, preparing for a major-league food sale this lunchtime.

Hollywood it was not. But, then again, our main concern over the past months has not so much been over the probability of an approval , but the pace of the process in general (the extinction of parental rights -- granted to us at the end of March -- is supposed to trigger a final consultation process for the adoption of 30 days; hah!). We're just glad the whole thing is at an end so we can start thinking about things like passports and visas. Things started feeling pretty 'real' some time ago anyway.

As for a celebration, we're off to Bolivia's capital city, Sucre, next Saturday morning, ostensibly for a conference and a meeting with Latin Link (see prayer points for more), but we're spending a week there to get some much-needed family time. Sucre -- really a colonial town, if anything, and a beautiful one at that -- is as child-friendly as Trinidad is not, so we're excited about that.

So we hope the adoption news is enough for regular readers to go on; the blog will likely take a break for a couple of weekends, but we'll surely get things going again with plenty of pictures from Sucre. Maybe we'll go skydiving or something too. At least then we'll have something dramatic to blog about.

  • In Sucre, we are hoping to join Latin Link on the field in Bolivia. If you are a UK financial supporter of our ministry, you know that gifts are given through Latin Link. But our commending organisation is, in fact, LAM Canada, with whom Latin Link have an informal relationship, one which has enabled us to raise support both in the UK and Canada. We have never been formally affiliated with Latin Link. However, as the missionary team here has slowly dwindled (we are now the last ones standing), we have increasingly felt our need for fellowship. While recognising our commendation from LAM Canada, who have no missionaries in Bolivia, Latin Link are offering to welcome us to their team of missionaries in Bolivia, something which will give us greater accountability on the field, and increased fellowship opportunities, with built-in events each year on both those fronts. To that end, we have an interview in Sucre a week on Wednesday. Pray for a positive outcome.
  • Craig is preaching on Titus 3 at church tomorrow morning.
  • Pray for wisdom for Craig and the other elders in dealing with a difficult issue at church.
  • Amanda is doing a lot better; thanks for your prayers.
  • For Sam's adoption. Been looking forward to saying that for a while.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday Post -- 16/07/16

Just a very brief update today. We are just getting ourselves organised, having arrived from Santa Cruz last night after a nine-hour journey. Alas, Amanda is not well this morning, so we have an impromptu doctor's appointment lined up amongst the obligatory post-vacation grocery shopping.

Of course, we enjoyed a special final few days with Mum in the big smoke, taking in some of the local sights, including our first visit with Sam to a favourite wildlife park of ours. Above all, during quieter spells, Mum and Sam squeezed every last ounce of fun out of their remaining days together. And so, his seeming indifference when last they parted (he smiled and chuckled as if she was just going to get something) was all the more trying on the old tear-ducts. Who knew a cheerful fifteen-month-old could inflict such devastating cruelty?

It was as tough a separation as we have experienced, and as ever, there are mixed feelings of frustration (that we have to do this so much), guilt (that we keep doing this to our parents!) and above all, a sense of something not being quite right. And rightly so. We were created for fellowship with God our Father and with each other. The hardest of Goodbyes is still to come, but the sweetest of homecomings awaits.

  • The final adoption hearing is on Monday morning. Pray for a positive outcome.
  • That we can find answers to Amanda's health issue.
  • We have a meeting to attend in two weeks' time Bolivia's beautiful capital city of Sucre, where we are hoping to also get some time for ourselves as a family (more on that in the next couple of weeks). Until then, we have a long list of tasks to attend to. Pray for perseverance and focus.
  • For a tremendous last couple of weeks with Craig's Mum, and for her safe arrival in Scotland earlier today after some industrial-scale flight re-scheduling.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda