Saturday, January 7, 2017

Saturday Post - 07/01/2017

As many of you might know from following us on Facebook, and from some personal messages, we now have Sam's UK visa. We are exceedingly grateful to be able to go home and are maybe not taking the trip as much for granted as we may have been doing before. Hopefully, this will allow us to enjoy time with friends and family even more once we arrive. Thank you so much to everyone for their prayers and support to us during the last three weeks. We very much felt uplifted.

If at first you don't succeed, stick him in a giraffe jumper.
I (Amanda) have to admit that I did not cope overly well during the last three weeks. My inner angry Amanda was not so easily contained and I spent a lot of time with the strong desire to shake my finger in someone's face. I was not a person filled with grace, and if the embassy had not been in Bogotá, the people there might have found that out for themselves. Obviously, now that we have Sam's passport back with a UK visa stuck inside I feel ashamed at how graceless I've been recently, not just to the imagined meanies in the UK embassy, but to the people around me as well. 

I've been so on edge for a while now with trying to jam so many different things into our lives before we left, that upon receiving a parking ticket (not there was an official ticket issued) on Christmas Eve and having my car clamped (I didn't even know they did that in Trinidad), I had a complete sobbing cry in the police station in front of the police officer. He, however, did not take pity on me and my life circumstances, and refused to reconsider extorting money out of me for his holiday party. The cry just kind of crept up on me until I was suddenly making quite the scene in the police station. As he refused to meet my eyes during the entire exchange, I can only imagine he was as embarrassed as I was. 

I think our biggest problem with the first visa application was that we were extremely naïve and really had no idea what we were doing. We wrongly assumed that because Craig is British they couldn't really deny us the right to travel home. Looking back at the difference in our first and second submission, I realise that our first attempt was really weak and I can kind of understand why they denied it, knowing now what they are actually looking for. While it was a very difficult, expensive and stressful mistake to learn from, we also recognise that it is an important one to have learnt, as we can only imagine how visa applications are going to be a large part of our futures. We definitely feel a bit more confident now, and hopefully will be able to make strong Canadian and US submissions in the coming months, and receive the visas first time around. 

One of my biggest struggles during this time was trying to figure out what God wanted from us. I believe, though sometimes don't always feel, that God's way is the best way. I believe, though don't always feel, that trusting God's plan is the right thing to do. But when the plan is not clear and we have to take one step at a time and wait to see what the next step is, I have felt very confused. I believe that we can't presume to know what God's plan is in any specific situation until he reveals it, and I can't presume that what I want is necessarily what God wants. When Sam's visa didn't come through the first time, we had to consider that God might not want us to go home just now. After prayer and consulting with a friend with embassy experience, we decided to make the second submission and wait and see, but we had to acknowledge that it might be denied again and that God might be closing the door on our plans. It hurt and I was angry, but we tried to work through things as a couple to accept this possibility. However, almost all our Bolivian friends and church family assured us that we would get the visa. And hence, my struggle developed. Were their assurances trite comments that people give to each other, or did they truly have faith that this was what God wanted? The answer to that question probably depends on the specific individual, but I know that for some they genuinely believed that the visa would arrive and that we shouldn't worry. 

Is it theologically sound to assume a specific outcome and presume to know the mind of God? Or should we pray more generally so that we are always praying for the will of God? I have to admit that I have always in the past leant, and probably still lean, towards the second option, because I know from experience that we don't always get what we want and God is still good. However, lately I wonder if I find the second option a safer one. Because to have unshakeable faith in one position over another in any situation sets one up for failure and disappointment. If I had held to the position that God was absolutely going to supply Sam's visa and He would do absolutely everything possible to get us home, I would have been even more devastated with a second rejection. So I wonder if I cling to one theological position over another out of fear, which doesn't sound like a good thing either. Maybe I am cheating myself out of seeing God do big things because it hurts too much when He doesn't always do big things. There has to be a balance, right? Thoughts welcome.

Despite my inner theological turmoil, we decided to pack up the house assuming that we would be away for 6 months, mainly because it made the most sense logistically. However, I like to think we were acting in faith as well. We left Trinidad on the 29th and arrived one day before the annual Latin Link Bolivia conference was due to start. As many people will know, we officially became Latin Link Bolivia members in September (though our sending mission remains LAM Canada) and have been encouraged by visits from our team leader Louis Woodley and Short-term Coordinator Brigitte Borner de Fernández. However, now we had the opportunity to meet the entire team. And the five days we had with everyone was such an encouragement. 

Sam's looking over at his new favourite friend Lisa (green t-shirt). They went
everywhere together and he stared at the gate longingly when her
family left. He couldn't understand why she would leave him.
The annual conference is an opportunity to catch up with one another (and meet people for the first time in our case), learn about everyone's individual ministries, be refreshed and spiritually encouraged and deal with business matters that affect how Latin Link Bolivia operates as a team. Everyone was so welcoming and it all felt very inclusive, and by the end of the five days we honestly didn't feel like the newbies. It feels really good to part of a group again, as we have definitely felt more isolated being the only missionaries at FT these days. LAM Canada has been such a supportive missions agency as well, but we're the only missionaries with them in Bolivia, so we have been missing fellowship. And now we're part of a group that just gets what we go through; they face the same challenges, deal with the same culture differences, and have the same goal. It's wonderfully encouraging. 

During the conference we studied the book of Ruth. Four different people each took a chapter and led us through it, Craig having been asked to lead Ruth 3. Then we went away in small groups and worked on discussion questions that allowed us to be open and honest with each other. We had two sessions in particular as well, one being self-care and the other being mentoring. I have to say that the session on self-care hit me very hard. Essentially, I haven't been doing it and have allowed guilt and insecurities from letting me take care of myself. But the best part of the session was realising that I wasn't alone. Things I had been feeling were laid out in black-and-white as being very typical for missionaries. Craig and I definitely have been challenged about being more intentional in taking care of ourselves. 

Being new members, we were not allowed to vote in the business sessions, but were allowed to contribute. It was interesting to learn more about the structure of the group and how things worked, and we were really encouraged when the annual retreat (this year in La Paz) was scheduled for September, as we will be back in Bolivia by then and able to attend. 

Since the end of the conference, we have been hanging out in Santa Cruz, Craig travelled to La Paz on Thursday to pick up Sam's passport and documents, and now we're slowly starting to get organised for travelling. We leave Santa Cruz on Monday morning for Sao Paolo, where we're spend two nights. We didn't want to make the trip too heavy on Sam, so we decided to break it up a bit, but I know that Craig and I are wanting to just get there now. On Wednesday we take an overnight flight from Sao Paulo to London and arrive on Thursday morning, where we have a two hour layover, and then we head up to Glasgow. So, we're five days away from being home. We are very much looking forward to seeing some of you soon!

Prayer
  • Journeying mercies at all stages of the travels, especially for Sam during the eleven-hour trans-Atlantic flight. He is quite an active child who doesn't always like to sit still. 
  • For our transition back into life in the UK.
  • For our visa applications to Canada and the US.
Praise
  • For such a good time at the Latin Link Bolivia Conference.
  • For a restful time as a family after such a hectic last few months in Trinidad.
  • For how well Sam has handled so many changes already.
  • FOR THE UK VISA!
Craig speaking. Home assignment is as much a part of missionary life as the field work, and will doubtless make for some great blog material some day. However, as in 2014, we've opted to lay the Saturday posts to rest until we return to Bolivia in June. We may post occasional updates, but no promises.

Thanks again to everyone out there who reads these missives, from London, to Larkhall, to Lusaka. Most of all, thanks for sharing our burdens of prayer with us. Hope to see you in the coming months.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Saturday Post -- 24/12/16


(with apologies to Nat King Cole)

White folks roasting 'neath a blazing sun,
Insects nipping at your feet.
Kids rejoicing that the school year is done,
By setting off fireworks in the street.

Craig is prepping music for the band. 
'Manda's shopping in the town.
Sam's saying "bib" as he seeks to expand
His repertoire of English nouns.

We hope his visa's on its way.
We handed in the application on Monday.
Those folks in Bogotá ain't gonna smile
When they see the size of Samuel Archie's file.

And so, we leave it in the Master's hands.
His plan's perfect; we'll pull through.
Till then, hear our wish from this green, pleasant land:
Merry Christmas to you.

Prayer
  • This afternoon we have the now-traditional Christmas Eve service at church (it takes place in the afternoon because most families are busy in the evening preparing their midnight Christmas dinner). It's always a great opportunity for evangelism, with many family members of the young participants in attendance. 
  • We are due to head to Santa Cruz on Thursday morning. Pray that we will be able to get everything sorted here before we go. As touched on last week, though we don't have an answer to the visa question, we have to pack away the house as if we will indeed be away for six months. We have a few administrative matters to deal with in town, too. 
  • Our first Latin Link conference begins on Friday, a five-day affair with our stablemates here in Bolivia. Pray for an encouraging few days.
  • Of course, pray for Sam's visa. We essentially need an answer by the 6th of January, which would be a little quicker than it took first time around (though naturally, we hope the weight of evidence we have submitted will make the decision fairly simple). We will hopefully post here on the 7th with any updates.
Praise
  • We had a great afternoon on Thursday at the end-of-year lunch for Fundación Totaí. Give thanks for God's goodness to FT and the church this year.
  • Give thanks for the many blessings we have known this year: Sam's growth, increased friendships, special times with visiting family and friends. These have all kept us going, and some!
¡Feliz Navidad!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday Post -- 17/12/16

Amanda and I are still in something of a state of shock after getting word on Thursday afternoon, four weeks before we were due to touch down in Heathrow, that our UK visitor visa submission for Sam was unsuccessful. 

The official dealing with the case wrote extensive feedback as to the basis of the refusal. This was most helpful in essentially understanding what our submission had lacked in terms of evidence, but pretty galling too, as the information we had referred to in our initial submission on the UK's website had been vague to say the least. We believe we have more than enough evidence to back up our case, and we would have sent it in the first place if it had been asked of us.

In all of this, God has given us a real provision: namely, Danny, a former employee of the Spanish consulate in La Paz, who moved to Trinidad with his wife -- an employee at Fundación Totaí -- and baby son earlier this year. We were able to meet with Danny on Thursday evening to assess the situation. He was a little taken aback by the refusal, but suggested we re-submit, and gave us a little more insight into what consular staff are looking for. Thanks to Danny, we have a new strategy, which will hopefully make the application a lot more watertight; I guess you could call him our Esther (Esther 4:14), though he's a big lad, so probably not to his face.

We immediately set about looking for a new appointment in La Paz, hoping to get one for Monday morning, which would allow us time to get our evidence together, while being early enough to hopefully have the visa arrive before our departure date from Bolivia (if not, we could at least make a date-change to the outbound flight at no cost). We were indeed able to source this, and so, we'll be making another 24 hour visit to that great city

And as you can imagine, the last 36 hours, but for about four hours' sleep on Thursday evening, have been taken up almost exclusively with assembling this new case; we're now armed to the teeth with letters that seem to touch all the bases. 

And yet, in those rare moments when our minds are otherwise unoccupied, we do wonder to ourselves why this is happened, and what on earth is going to happen next. Particularly if, as we can no longer rule out, this re-submission is similarly unsuccessful.

Maybe we were too presumptuous, but in our minds, this was all pretty straightforward: Scotland in January and February, Canada till mid-May (with our flights already booked for that), with a visit to friends and relatives in the US while in North America. About 20 speaking engagements with churches were already in place. In other words, we were mentally and emotionally prepared for this home assignment period. 

But above all, we were mentally and emotionally prepared -- nay, ecstatic! -- regarding the prospect of time away from our life and ministry in Trinidad. As has probably been evident reading between the lines here these past few weeks, we are close to burn-out, if not there already. We have had several searching conversations as a couple in recent weeks, about the general direction of our work here, and particularly a need for establishing more robust boundaries between our professional and personal lives. Just last week, we resolved to re-prioritise prayer while away from here, in order to better seek and understand God's will for our lives and ministry -- we would be particularly helped in this regard by the low-cost childcare services on offer from Grandparents Inc. So, if the resubmission doesn't cut the mustard, where do we go from here? 

This, and many more questions, are now at the forefront of our thinking. But, in reality, we are powerless, and paralysed by the fact that this is not in our hands, and all in God's. Correction: for 'paralysed', read 'liberated'.

Like so many others, we have known setbacks over the years. Or, as we increasingly prefer to call them, 'setbacks'. Chief among these, undoubtedly, was our infertility diagnosis a few years back. Yet if not for that, we almost certainly would never have met our intrepid, cheeky, and beautiful son, who has been a source of joy beyond comprehension. 

I am reminded, at this point, of a nugget of a sermon illustration (as it would happen, one that also touches on visa problems) of Romans 8:28 from Tim Keller:

I remember one day getting up, trying to explain this passage, and saying to them, “Listen, friends, do you know why I’m here? I’m glad I’m here. You’re glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m here. It has worked out beautifully. It’s because at the very end of my seminary career I decided to become a Presbyterian. That’s why I could go to a Presbyterian church. Do you know why I decided to be Presbyterian?

Because I fell under the influence of a particular teacher my last semester at seminary. Do you know why I fell under that man’s influence? He came from England after having tremendous visa problems (and probably wasn’t going to get there until the following year). At the last minute somebody cut through the red tape. He came, and I fell under his influence. Do you know why the red tape was cut? The dean of my seminary was on his knees praying about how we were going to get this guy over here when Mike Ford, Gerald Ford’s son, walked in and asked him what he was praying for. Mike Ford was a student at the seminary at that time.

Do you know why Mike Ford was able to cut the red tape? Because his father was the president. Do you know why his father was the president? Because Nixon had resigned. Do you know why Nixon resigned? Because of the Watergate scandal. Do you know why there was a Watergate scandal? Because one day a guard noticed in the Watergate building a particular door ajar that should have been closed.

We have no idea what is happening right now. I have reluctantly just had to wake up my wife, in order to lend a hand with said offspring so I can finish this; like me, she is struggling with sleep right now, perplexed as to exactly what is going on. What more can we do? What about Canada? Will Sam ever meet his relatives? How do we avoid burn-out now? 

Yet, with apologies to Donald Rumsfeld, this is a known unknown. We have been here before, and we now have the perspective to see the purpose of past 'setbacks'. There is a purpose in this, for God's glory, and for our good. We are nowhere near understanding, but we strive with every fibre of our being to trust. It is the safest place; it is the scariest place; it is exactly where God wants us, and all who have been called according to his purpose.

Prayer
  • I think I've already made myself perfectly clear as to the main issue!
  • For a straightforward visit to La Paz, a city that isn't nearly as much fun as it used to be.
  • We must continue to work on the assumption that we are leaving Trinidad for five months at the end of December, so we appreciate your continued prayers for God's help in tackling the mountain of tasks before us.
Praise
  • We prayed for an answer, and now we have it. We give thanks for it, and for future answers to this question, which, in ways we cannot now understand, are the best ones.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday Post -- 10/12/16

Well, we had hoped to have news of Sam's UK visa by now, but no concrete answers have been forthcoming. We wrote to the embassy in midweek, and we were informed that further enquiries are being conducted. Yesterday, we received an automated email informing us that the application had now been passed on to an entry clearance officer. We had been told that we would receive this email as part of the process, so hopefully that means things are progressing again. We have had no indication of timing yet; hopefully we will have an answer this coming week.

We can 'only' pray, and this morning we were reminded of the need for persistent prayer in all circumstances in our final Langham escuelita of the year, where I preached on Luke 18:1-8, and Edwin was once again in attendance from Cochabamba. Edwin took the opportunity to encourage the group to continue to meet in my absence. My right-hand-man Cristian will take charge while we are abroad, and dates have already been put in place for Edwin's next visit (in March) and our next conference (in September). When we look back on this second stint we have spent out here, Langham is an undoubted highlight. What a provision it has been to the churches involved, and what encouragement we all gain as Bible teachers by meeting together in this way.

Dr. Richard Wagner boarded Edwin's plane back to Cochabamba, having spearheaded another ENT surgical campaign at Fundación Totaí this week. We're happy to report that this year's campaign went by without a hitch. All the while, Amanda was working closely with two new staff members at FT, who will be replacing our outgoing Director of Finances, Mariana. As if to underscore Mariana's importance to the work, it has been necessary to hire both an accountant (Vladimir) and an administrator (Hernán). Mariana is staying on until the end of December so as to ensure a smooth transition, before she heads to seminary in the new year. 

Amanda and I continue to chip away at the long list of tasks that remain, though the closer we get to leaving, the more things we remember we have to do. People here, so thoughtful in this regard, are also keen to ensure we get a proper send-off (we're only away for six months, guys!). Among other things, an FT staff member is trying to organise a farewell event for Mariana and Amanda, and I may be required to speak at a wedding on the 27th of December -- a mere two days before we are due to set off for Santa Cruz. We are truly honoured -- while secretly wondering how on earth we will squeeze such things into our to-do list. We'll cope, I'm sure; somehow, by God's grace, we always do.

Prayer
  • For a prompt -- and affirmative -- answer to the visa question.
  • For cool heads and the courage to take things one day at a time as our exit nears and the workload doesn't feel much lighter.
  • This Christmas, our theme at church is 'The Light of the World'. Craig kicks things of tomorrow with a sermon on Isaiah 9:1-7.
Praise
  • Craig and fellow elder Miguel Ángel had a really encouraging chat via FaceTime this week with Miguel Ángel's son and a missionary friend of his, who are based in Cochabamba. They are hoping to come through to Trinidad once a month to help support the preaching and music ministry next year. This will be a great help to Miguel Ángel and the church while I am away, especially as our pastor, Elías, is stepping down on the 31st of December.
  • For a successful ENT surgical campaign.
  • For the blessing of Edwin's final visit to Trinidad of the year, and the blessing of the Langham programme in general to our church and several others.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

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