Saturday, December 3, 2016

Saturday Post -- 03/12/2016

Well, we're in our final month in Trinidad before we leave for the Latin Link conference in Santa Cruz. It is unbelievable how fast time has flown by and it is also a bit scary to think of all that's going to have to come together before we leave. The good thing is that we are accomplishing things bit by bit and I (Amanda) have full confidence that before we leave Trinidad our heads should still be attached to our shoulders and not lost somewhere. Hopefully, as we drive away from our house on the 29th of December, we will have remember to bring all the important things, like Sam. 

Sam's visa for the UK is still pending, so we continue to appreciate prayers for it. This coming Tuesday will be 14 days on from the initial interview, and they said the wait time is 15 days. I actually got a scary call from the embassy in Bogota this week. I answered the call and, after taking a couple of minutes to confirm that we could hear each other and that we could have this conversation in English, the woman asked me to confirm that Craig was a UK citizen, which I did. And then she asked me to confirm that Sam was Craig's son, which I did. And then she said, "Well then, we are unable to issue a visa!" To which my heart tried to jump out of my chest and the inner, angry Amanda tried to break forth. I explained that we had looked into all of this when we were last in the UK and we were assured that Sam does indeed need a visa and she said, "That information is incorrect." She said our two options were to apply for a UK passport or to apply for a certificate of something. I don't know what certificate, because I cut her off (inner, angry Amanda was starting to win, sadly) and started to explain how that can't possibly be correct, because the adoption is a national adoption, not international, and therefore not recognised by the UK. Sam only qualifies for citizenship if we decide to return to the UK to live. 

The lady was quiet for a while and then said, "He's adopted?" Inner, angry Amanda was really pushing hard now and commented, "Of course he is adopted, which is why you have all the adoption documents in front of you, in both Spanish and English, having been legally translated (which was not cheap) as requested."  Well, inner, angry Amanda calmed downed when she went looking for those documents and said that she couldn't see them, and it seems that the visa agency in La Paz had not sent them on. She apologised, said she would go chase those documents down and that we are indeed correct in Sam needing a visa as an adopted child. Inner, angry Amanda didn't bother getting frustrated at the agency in La Paz; 1) it's Bolivia, so no one is really surprised, and 2) the nice lady there gave Sam a lollipop, so how can you get mad at someone nice like that? We totally threw the lollipop out as we left as Sam is way too young for sweets like that, but it's the thought that counts. 

So, crisis averted and we're just waiting for them to hopefully go through the whole package once it's scanned in properly and sent to Bogotá. Craig commented that he was very glad that they randomly picked my phone number instead of his as he probably wouldn't have argued with the lady, accepted what she said, hung up the phone and then had a complete meltdown. I totally learnt how to be forceful but still polite as I watched my Mom insist that all her coupons were still valid when used all at once because the terms didn't specifically state that it was one per customer. I'm pretty sure all coupons say that now because of my Mom and Aunts. 

The Foundation has finally found Mariana 2.0. Well, actually it's not Mariana 2.0, but Mariana 2.0 version 1 and version 2. Yes, we have had to hire two people to do what Mariana, our Director of Finances, has done for the last six years. This is going to cause a financial burden on the Foundation that we were not necessarily expecting, but the Board essentially decided that there was no way that FT could function with only one person to replace Mariana, especially with Craig and I about to go on furlough. Both people seem very capable and the Board was quite impressed with them during their interviews, especially their desire to work with an organisation based in service. The man we're hiring as Administrator was actually the only person who looked the Foundation up before his interview and was able to tell us everything that we were involved in, which was impressive. And the accountant we hired wrote a very convincing covering letter, one of two covering letters we received across all the applicants. As I mentioned before, I found the process of accepting and rejecting applicants very stressful, and I took the coward's way out and asked our Secretary to call everyone who was not successful and inform them as such. Although I knew I was doing it from a distaste of that particular job, I also justified it by stating that our Secretary is just so good at jobs like that; it was probably better for everyone. Both new employees are going to be trained through the month of December and be put on payroll in January. Please pray that they adjust to the Foundation and that all employees adjust to them as well. 

Monday is the start of this year's Major Ear Surgical Campaign. I try to stay as far away from this campaign administratively as possible. I find too many fingers in the pie is quite destructive in an endeavour like the surgical campaign, but I obviously stay as informed as possible. We have fewer patients than we would like for the campaign, but I kind of think that's because we've operated on everyone in Trinidad with major ear conditions. We need to go further afield for more patients for next year, but for this year I think we'll end up with 15 overall. Dr. Wagner from the States arrives tomorrow and leaves on Friday and the Foundation will be absorbed by this for the next week. It's always fun to have so many surgeons arrive at the Foundation. My sister is going to be is studying to become a surgeon, so I know what I'm talking about..we never fought ever, she's the most placid person I know (major eye roll). In all seriousness, we're very grateful for the services that these surgeons bring and we pray that the campaign will be a physical and spiritual blessing to many people. 

We're at the end of the school year here and all the major services and ministries are having their year-end closing ceremonies. Sports had their clausura last weekend, the community class's was this past Wednesday and Juguemos Juntos (the Mom and Tots group) had theirs yesterday. Sam and I attend this group, so the Moms played competitive games like dodge ball and steal the bacon, where I might have accidentally slapped a fellow Mom in my enthusiasm. I totally won the egg-and-spoon-race-while-balancing-a-child-on-your-hip; Sam ate most of my prize. And today is OANSA's (children's programme) end of the year fair. Although, we're not specifically involved in OANSA, we're going to go along and watch all the kids play at the fairground stations; it's something that Sam will love. Every time he gets excited about being around other kids I look around to see if children really do grow in the garden, because this child desperately needs a sibling. Sadly, it's not as easy as that. 

Prayer

  • For the new employees, Hernán and Vladimir (my first thought still strays to vampires when I read his name on paper), as they start in FT this month.
  • For all the end-of-year closing ceremonies.
  • For the surgical campaign this coming week.
  • For Sam's visa.
  • For preparations before we leave Trinidad.
  • Craig's is speaking both at the youth group tonight and at the OANSA prize-giving tomorrow morning.
Praise

  • For God's protection over FT .
  • For a sense of progress and productivity as time moves along.
  • For Craig's English classes finishing well this past week.
  • For our visit from Brigitte from Latin Link this past week. She's the short-term coordinator, based in Cochabamba, and came out to see the volunteer opportunities that FT and El Jireh church have to offer possible short-termers who come out with the Stride programme that Latin Link offer. We had a really good time with her.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda & Sam

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saturday Post -- 26/11/16

Flying to La Paz from Trinidad...
It's probably been mentioned here before, but the wealth of nature and scenery that Bolivia has to offer at times beggars belief. It really has everything but the sea. A case in point is the 50 minute flight we took on Monday from tropical Trinidad to the world's highest international airport in La Paz. 

But such stark contrasts go beyond landscapes. Bolivia, in broad terms, is populated by two main people groups: the highlanders in western regions like La Paz, Cochabamba and Sucre, and the hot-blooded orientistas in our side of the country. And but for finding themselves inside the same borderlines, they have little else in common; unfortunately this can make for no shortage of racism and mutual suspicion.

They don't particularly enjoy encroaching into enemy territory either. Most folk in Trinidad who have ventured beyond the city limits will have made their way to the camba capital of Santa Cruz, a city where the driving is appalling, the siestas are aggressively protected, and the music is always cranked up to 11; in other words, a really, really, really, really, really big version of Trinidad.

...means going from this...
But mention La Paz to most people here, and those have made the journey will screw up their noses, and those who haven't will ask you what the point of that would be.

Well, earlier this week, our overnight visit to La Paz did indeed have a point -- a very important one, indeed -- and we were thrilled for the excuse to spend some time in a city we've always enjoyed in the past, not least for its spectacular mountain setting. Only we left realising we have now probably become more orientista than we had realised.

The altitude, of course, is a big factor here. And that would be manageable if things were relatively horizontal. But when the nearest grocery store from your hotel is three steep uphill blocks away, that's challenging. And when said hotel inevitably has a staircase or two, well that's just taking things too far. 

...to this.
With so much energy expended during the day, you'd think sleep would come easily. But that is affected, too. The first night or two at altitude is always challenging due to the vast change in temperature, and the shortness of breath, which you didn't notice during the day when you had other things to do (I often lie still wondering if I will wake up the next day or be suffocated to death in my sleep). To his credit, Sam adjusted marvellously to this, while his parents got about three hours' each.

So it's fair to say we were not exactly in sparkling form come Tuesday morning, with the appointment due to take place at 9am. Not being the best sleeper myself at the best of times -- this almost certainly being my 'thorn in the flesh' -- I just knew that this was the moment to trust fully in him whose power is manifested in our weakness. And that just about got us through the day.

As for the appointment, it could not have gone better. As mentioned last week, it was simply a handover of the compulsory documentation for the UK visa, plus anything else that might aid our cause (such as a letter from my parents). The only complicating factor was getting Sam's photograph taken; Sam, the most wanton of flirts, had eyes only for the woman and not the guy taking the picture. No documents appeared to be amiss, and yesterday we received email confirmation from Colombia that the application had arrived and was being processed. We should have an answer within the next ten days.


The appointment over and done with, we took advantage of La Paz's impressive new cable car system and hitched a ride back up (where else?) to our hotel, where we checked out and Sam rubbed further salt into the sleep wound by dosing off for a couple of hours in the hotel reception. A quick lunch followed in a café we know and trust, before heading to the airport and our flight back to Trinidad, where mosquitos, humidity and oxygen awaited us. It was good to be back.

Only La Paz hadn't left us. That trusted café, we were to find out in the next 24 hours, had given us both a nasty bout of food poisoning. That trusted café where, to our general annoyance, Sam had staunchly refused to eat anything, returning to Trinidad both fully rested and lacking in any queasiness whatsoever. You'll soon learn, m'boy. You'll soon learn.


Prayer
  • Pray for the visa application, now making its way through the British consulate in Bogotá.
  • Pray for energy to finish well here. Knowing ourselves and what we can handle, we generally have a three-month rule, whereby we are never in Trinidad for more than a three-month period without some kind of break. We are now entering month three since our last proper break and are flagging somewhat, with so much left to do before leaving Trinidad at the end of December.
  • Pray particularly for the church and Fundación Totaí, where we have a lot of groundwork to put in place before leaving. Normally, this is a sign that overseas workers haven't been doing their jobs properly (i.e., they haven't been training up others during their time on the field). In our case, it owes more to a couple of key people leaving both organisations at year's end.
  • Pray for the visit this week of Brigitte Borner from Latin Link, who is coming to assess the short-term volunteering options we have available here.
  • Finally, joking aside, pray for the city of La Paz, which is experiencing severe water shortages right now (we were largely spared any problems in the neighbourhood in which we stayed).
Praise
  • For safe travels to and from La Paz, and a straightforward appointment on Tuesday morning.
  • For the three months spent here by Melissa Olmstead (USA), who volunteered in the church and foundation and was supervised by Amanda. She moves on to Cochabamba for further language training on Sunday.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday Post -- 19/11/16

Pull a face like that on Tuesday, and we're toast.
A great deal of our time this week has been devoted to a ten-minute appointment in La Paz on Tuesday morning of the next. It's time to apply for Sam's UK visa -- and we will have two more such applications in the coming months for Canada and the USA.

We have enjoyed our visits to La Paz in the past (a city that truly has to be seen to be believed), but this time it's strictly business, with our work here in Trinidad limiting us to an overnight stay; that said, we hope to see some friends while we're in town.

The nearest UK consulate is actually in Colombia, so our appointment is simply a case of submitting the various forms and evidential documents, and doing Sam's biometrics. There will then be a wait of two-to-three weeks while we wait for an answer, which we hope will be in the affirmative.

Technically, we are very much doing this the wrong way round. Consulates generally warn you not to buy flights before getting a visa, in case anything falls through. However, there was no way we were going to wait till just a month before our planned travel date to the UK. Flights for mid-January (deliberately avoiding the Christmas period) were already eye-wateringly expensive back when we booked them in September; goodness knows what we'd be paying with just weeks to spare. Additionally, we happen to know from personal experience (namely, Brazilgate) that our travel agency are a dab hand when it comes to refunds. 

So, to La Paz we go, on two wings and no shortage of prayers. Appreciate your own prayers for Tuesday and the following weeks as we await an answer.

Blazing a trail on Thursday was Sue Barham, who had an overnight in La Paz herself after her four-day visit to Trinidad. We first met Sue and husband Ken in Costa Rica in 2012, at a LAM Canada conference, when they were serving in Honduras (after a stint in Costa Rica itself). They are now back in Canada, but Sue is currently working for LAM Canada as the Short-Term Recruitment Coordinator. She came to Trinidad this week to explore opportunities for short-term volunteers, and really appreciated the opportunity to see our work up close; we enjoyed having her here too. Sue was really excited for the possibilities that exist for short-termers in Canada, who increasingly are looking to come and fill a role on the mission field, rather than just make the trip and see what comes up. In ten days' time, Latin Link's Brigitte Borner will be here to investigate short-term opportunities herself. The way things are going, Amanda and I are excited for the future: it seems there will be little chance of our non-Bolivian-chocolate stash dwindling any time soon!

Prayer
  • For safety in our travel to and from La Paz (a thrilling flight, by the way!), for a smooth adjustment to the high altitude -- not least for Sam -- and a straightforward appointment on Tuesday morning.
  • For continued reserves of energy and patience as we chip away at the list-as-long-as-your-arm of things to deal with before leaving at the end of December.
Praise
  • For a great time with Sue this week, and plenty of scope for future partnership with LAM Canada in the area of short-term workers.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday Post -- 19/11/16

A great deal of our time this week has been devoted to a ten-minute appointment in La Paz on Tuesday morning of the next. It's time to apply for Sam's UK visa -- and we will have two more such applications in the coming months for Canada and the USA.

We have enjoyed our visits to La Paz in the past (a city that truly has to be seen to be believed), but this time it's strictly business, with our work here in Trinidad limiting us to an overnight stay; that said, we hope to see some friends while we're in town.

The nearest UK consulate is actually in Colombia, so our appointment is simply a case of submitting the various forms and evidential documents, and doing Sam's biometrics. There will then be a wait of two-to-three weeks while we wait for an answer, which we hope will be in the affirmative.

Technically, we are very much doing this the wrong way round. Consulates generally warn you not to buy flights before getting a visa, in case anything falls through. However, there was no way we were going to wait till just a month before our planned travel date to the UK. Flights for mid-January (deliberately avoiding the Christmas period) were already eye-wateringly expensive back when we booked them in September; goodness knows what we'd be paying with just weeks to spare. Additionally, we happen to know from personal experience (namely, Brazilgate) that our travel agency are a dab hand when it comes to refunds. 

So, to La Paz we go, on two wings and no shortage of prayers. Appreciate your own prayers for Tuesday and the following weeks as we await an answer.

Blazing a trail on Thursday was Sue Barham, who had an overnight in La Paz herself after her four-day visit to Trinidad. We first met Sue and husband Ken in Costa Rica in 2012, at a LAM Canada conference, when they were serving in Honduras (after a stint in Costa Rica itself). They are now back in Canada, but Sue is currently working for LAM Canada as the Short-Term Recruitment Coordinator. She came to Trinidad this week to explore opportunities for short-term volunteers, and really appreciated the opportunity to see our work up close; we enjoyed having her here too. Sue was really excited for the possibilities that exist for short-termers in Canada, who increasingly are looking to come and fill a role on the mission field, rather than just make the trip and see what comes up. In ten days' time, Latin Link's Brigitte Borner will be here to investigate short-term opportunities herself. The way things are going, Amanda and I are excited for the future: it seems there will be little chance of our non-Bolivian-chocolate stash dwindling any time soon!

Prayer
  • For safety in our travel to and from La Paz (a thrilling flight, by the way!), for a smooth adjustment to the high altitude -- not least for Sam -- and a straightforward appointment on Tuesday morning.
  • For continued reserves of energy and patience as we chip away at the list-as-long-as-your-arm of things to deal with before leaving at the end of December.
Praise
  • For a great time with Sue this week, and plenty of scope for future partnership with LAM Canada in the area of short-term workers.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Saturday Post -- 12/11/16

Expository preachers on tour. Batten down the hatches.
First up, Mrs. C had last week promised some photographs from camp in today's blog post. However, I've taken the executive decision (see also: Ephesians 5:22) to postpone publication. The reason is that most of my evenings this week have been spent editing the now-customary camp video, a compilation to music of the best images from the weekend -- and quite frankly, if I have to upload one more picture of someone bathing in mud, I might go doolally. However, the video is being premiered at the youth group tonight, and several members or leaders in the group have access to our blog. So, in order to preserve some element of surprise, we'll share the video in a separate post over the weekend.

Post-camp, I had just a few days to recover before setting off to Cochabamba for another adventure, albeit one that was conspicuously lacking in team-chants or blocked toilets. This time around, the environs were considerably more civilised (a monastery, no less), as I joined with a group of Bible teachers from around Bolivia for a Langham training weekend.

Regular readers know that Langham Preaching has been a major element of my ministry over these last two years. We meet once a year for an intensive residential training retreat headed up by Langham workers, and then in between, we meet once a month for our escuelita, in which a Bible text is prayed through, a sermon preached on said text, and then the sermon itself is deconstructed by the group (indeed, we had November's escuelita this very morning). 


God is blessing the ministry of Langham Preaching in Bolivia to such an extent that the national workers are finding it increasingly challenging to meet the needs of all the groups in the country. Moreover, the vision has always been to equip local workers with the tools to take on much of the work themselves. For that reason, there is a renewed drive to train key Langham contacts throughout the country such as myself in running the annual workshops, and that was the purpose of the get-together.

The main seminars looked in detail at Langham Preaching's methodology, which would be based on a student-centric teaching model, one which is fairly familiar to people in Europe or North America, but not here; 'learning' in Bolivia at all levels is very much still saddled with the chalk-and-talk approach. Naturally, then, the theory behind such practice was relatively new to most participants, but even white guys like myself and England's Jonny Anderson (based in Sucre) learned much from these sessions.

Cochabamba's Cristo looms large over lunch.
Additionally, I learned that the Trinidad model (annual meeting, monthly escuelitas, annual meeting etc.) is not the only approach taken to the local groups. Indeed, some meet on a weekly basis, and instead of teaching the main material in big, intensive annual chunks, it is spread out over the year in a way that perhaps guards against forgetfulness, as well as the big-event mentality (something that can prove a bit of an obstacle in this region of Bolivia). It's something to chew on for when we return from home assignment, with one or two others having recently asked me about the possibility of starting a new group.


Above all, though, the group was nourished by some tremendous preaching, with three sermons focusing on 'The Spirituality of Jesus'. After a couple of years of email contact, this was my first experience of meeting and sitting under the tremendous preaching ministry of Igor Amestegui, a Bolivian who is based in Cochabamba, but who is Langham's facilitator for the entire region of Latin America. Over the course of the weekend, it was a thrill to get to know people like Igor and other workers throughout Bolivia (including those working in Quechua and Aymara communities); again, I was thankful for the great opportunities for fellowship that have very quickly opened up to Amanda and I within the country over recent months.


Indeed, we're looking forward to receiving more visitors from around Bolivia before we leave Trinidad at the end of December: Edwin from Langham is due back in mid-December, and Brigitte from Latin Link will be here, God-willing, at the end of this month for an overnight visit. Before them, however, we are looking forward to welcoming LAM Canada's Sue Barham, who is due in the big T on Monday for a three-night stay. World: Trinidad welcomes you!

Prayer
  • For our time with Sue this week.
  • We're due to leave Trinidad for home assignment at the end of December, and the limited time available to tie up loose ends here is being more keenly felt with each week that goes by. Pray for calmness, and the sense to take each day as it comes.
Praise
  • For an encouraging visit to Cochabamba last weekend for Craig.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Saturday Post - 05/11/2016

Sorry for the two week gap in blog posts, my (Sam's) parents have been so busy recently that they haven't even had time to look after me properly. They keep passing me off to other people who are way more fun than they are. For instance, last weekend they dragged me off to camp for three days where they proceeded to leave me with Auntie Melissa, while they ran around like crazy people, shouting really loudly, and the only time I saw them was at meal times when they kept forcing vegetables on me. That's not very nice. And then on Tuesday they BOTH go to work for a bit and leave me with Uncle Andy and Auntie Moira. AND THEN yesterday Daddy just ups and leaves for Cochabamba and Mommy decides to work a full day and leaves me with Auntie Carla and Kenny in the morning and Auntie Lilian in the afternoon. The truth is I'm not complaining very much, because all these people are more fun than my parents and let me get away with so much more. They think I'm cute or something...*sound of people wrestling over the computer*... okay, Amanda is here now. Way to lay on the guilt, Sam. It's true though, we wouldn't have been able to get through the last two weeks without the great help of so many people. Even now, Melissa is over watching Sam while I write this blog and while I to go grocery shopping. They say it takes a village, and that is most certainly true. My village is awesome!

I can't even remember why we couldn't write a blog post two weeks ago. I think Edwin, from Langham, had arrived on the Friday night and the entire Langham group had come over to meet with him that evening, and then Craig, Edwin and everyone else had their normal Langham meeting at 6 am the next morning. Oh yes...then Edwin, Craig, Sam and I drove all the way out to the camp site to see how the buildings were holding up. After that visit Craig and I decided that we wouldn't be staying at the camp site every night, but driving back and forth. Essentially, the buildings weren't holding up that well. Sunday morning, Louis from LatinLink arrived for an overnight with us as new LatinLink members and we had a nice day out with him on Monday as we shared fish at the river. Unfortunately, Sam came down with a virus, so I took my mobile pharmacy and digital thermometer with me to the river and kept checking his temperature as it steadily went up and up and up. I managed to keep my panic internal as I didn't want to come across as a slightly unhinged person in front of the head of LatinLink Bolivia, but it was a struggle and I'm sure I was not very participative in the lunch conversation. We did see the Doctor after lunch, which helped my mental state, but were essentially told to keep doing what we were doing. I don't even know what I did during that work week, except that I worked and then there was camp prep. Thursday afternoon, Melissa again had to watch Sam, so that Craig could teach his English class and so I could do all the camp shopping with Mariana. Mariana and I then proceeded to blow our 'camp materials' budget and spend double than what we had thought things would cost. Next year, instead of picking a random number for that part of the budget, we should actually cost things out. Might be a good idea.

The night before camp started was the Foundation Anniversary Dinner, which was my job to organise. The food was awesome, the cake was even better, Craig lost at 20 questions, but Elias won in 12, we heard testimonies of how God is using people in their jobs at FT and where the gospel was clearly shared to all the staff. It was a lot better than last year, but I'm still thinking about how to make it even better next year. Our big problem is that the FT anniversary dinner is always going to be right before camp, which makes life a bit difficult. But regardless, HAPPY 12TH ANNIVERSARY FT! My office is the hottest room in the building, but I still love you.


Craig won't like these photos because they are not centred and cropped properly. Shame he's in Cochabamba, isn't it?
And then there was camp.  Living under the Power of Grace! Like our shirts?

The blue runs like crazy - hand wash only!
Also, Craig ordered his shirt a size smaller than normal because he wanted to look studdly. 

Last year there were 20 campers and about 10 leaders. This year we decided to go nuts and open the camp up to all ages and other churches, because we like to inflict pain on ourselves like that. We had 100 people in total. I kept looking at Mariana in the office every morning and saying, "We're crazy." And when I was hauling 300 Pilfruits (the equivalent of a juice box, but in a small bag) to my car I definitely thought I was crazy. But despite feeling like we'd bitten off more than we could chew, camp went really well. Everything went smoothly, no major injuries or illnesses, everyone participated and had a great time. We were excited to see some families come that are connected to our church, but not regular attenders, some of whom we knew weren't believers. We were so excited by the opportunity to come alongside them and share Christ and show them what Christian fellowship can be like.

Our speaker was Jurgen Schulz from La Paz, but actually from Victoria, British Columbia, but originally from Germany. He and his wife have been missionaries with MSC Canada in Bolivia for 39 years, and he flew out from La Paz to spend the weekend teaching us about grace. He spoke from various parables in the New Testament, but returned to the Prodigal Son over and over again. He was so clear that everyone was able to understand what he was saying; it was so exciting to have a speaker that everyone was enjoying. The campsite turned out to be a bit rustic for him as well, so he drove back and forth with us and stayed in our guest room every night. I fell asleep during all of the return trips, but I know Craig enjoyed discussing a wide range of topics with Jurgen. It was a huge blessing to have him with us.

The only downside about camp was that my team came in last and Craig's team came in second last, so neither of us got the large chocolate bar to take home at the end. *Sigh* Well, there's always next year.

On behalf of all the leaders of the JV group, we would like to thank everyone who supported camp this year. We were overwhelmed by the response and at one point I actually thought we wouldn't be able to spend it all. Do not worry, having to double our materials budget went a long way to using up money that I thought was going to be excess. Mariana and I spent the three weeks before camp looking at each other and saying, "We're not going to have a enough", "We're going to have so much extra", "We're definitely not going to have enough", etc. We learnt that organising a camp for 100 people is expensive, but we also saw God's provision through you because he sent us EXACTLY what we needed.

I have no idea where Craig has kept the pictures from camp, so I'll ask him to post some next week when it is most definitely his turn to write the blog.

The very next day we had guests arrive from Cochabamba, Andy and Moira Irvine, who are there with SIM for two years. We have shamelessly used them for a place to stay when we've been in Cochabamba recently, having only met them for the first time in July, having bumped into Andy at the Santa Cruz airport where he declared, "Hey, I've seen you guys on a fridge before." Because they're from Edinburgh and know the same peeps we know. So, it was their turn to come see us and experience Trinidad. We tried to make it as interesting as possible for them in the 2 days they were here, so we spent an afternoon at the laguna and then went to the river for fish the next day and did some pink dolphin spotting on a riverboat. And as all good times should, we ended with two rounds of Bonanza and a group screening (minus Craig, but plus Melissa) of Dirty Dancing...because nobody  puts Baby in the corner. Moira is pretty talented with a camera; please enjoy her handiwork below.


Ya, my Mom spent the whole boat ride making sure I didn't fling myself off the side, but I had fun. 
Craig is in Cochabamba just now at the annual Langham conference, and I spent all day yesterday in interviews as we're looking for Mariana's replacement in FT. It was sad to meet these people and know that we couldn't hire them all. They are all in need of work as so many business and government positions are making cuts. We haven't made a final decision yet...guess what I'll be doing next week?!?! Stay tuned for updates in the hunt for 'the Mariana 2.0'.

Prayer:

  • For Craig during this conference and for his safe return Monday morning.
  • We sent off the initial application for Sam's UK visa and we have an interview date for the 21st of November, please pray that the visa is granted without any problems. 
  • For the FT Board as they decide who to hire.
  • For Melissa as she is travelling in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay this week.
  • For Sam as he bounces back from a cold.


Praise:

  • For a wonderful camp full of God's provision and blessing.
  • For getting to meet and know Jurgen.
  • For a great two days with Andy and Moira (we probably won't see them again for awhile).
  • For all the people who've helped look after Sam when we've needed the support. 


¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda & Sam

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Saturday Post -- 15/10/16

18 months and already 'going to the toilet'. With assorted
furnishings.
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.

Prayer
  • 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.
Praise
  • 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.

Prayer
  • 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.
Praise
  • 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.

Prayer
  • 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!
Praise
  • 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 enough...you'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.

Prayer:

  • 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.
Praise:

  • 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