Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday post -- 24/06/17

After a full week back in Trinidad, we’re enjoying being home and having a more settled family life again (how many people have to come all the way to Bolivia to do that?!). The house increasingly resembles our home (i.e., the mess is ours and not someone else’s) and we’ve been able to catch up with a good number of friends and colleagues, with some very initial conversations about ministry thrown in. Furthermore, Craig was able to tie up the paperwork on the car’s registration yesterday, after a week spent mostly driving from one office to the next; we sure haven’t missed Bolivian bureaucracy.

More on the present-day in the prayer points, below. For now, time to pick up where I left off last week, with a little more detail as to our prospects this time around.

Craig: Building a Church

As 2016 drew to a close, we were making our preparations to leave Trinidad and begin our journey back to Scotland for home assignment. Meanwhile, our former pastor, Elías, was preparing to step down from his position, according to a timetable agreed some months earlier. So I have known for some time now that this new term in Bolivia is likely to see my church commitments increase and intensify.

Elías was preaching about twice a month and teaching Bible studies every other Thursday. He was also at the forefront of visitation and represented the church at a local level. My workload in all of these areas was somewhat lighter, and is now likely to pick up considerably. This will be particularly pronounced in the first few months, as the other elder, Miguel Ángel, has asked to step back himself from the pulpit until the end of the year.

Though I will be taking on a lot more of the pastoral load, I will not be assuming the title of ‘pastor’ any time soon. Our vision, as ever, is for the Bolivians to gradually assume the work that the missionaries began – not just ourselves, but those other couples who have gone before us. Having a foreigner take on the role of pastor would surely hinder such progress, especially in a culture which is at times has no qualms about putting its feet up while other people get their hands dirty.

Moreover, our church has always been a very collaborative enterprise, and we have been delighted in the past week or so to hear about the great strides that have been made in gospel ministry, driven primarily by the laity. We may come to a point where we wish to appoint a pastor again, but for now (not least in a church with strong Brethren roots), we are happy to see how things progress, and I will be delighted to play my own part in this.

However, along with the additions will have to come subtractions, particularly if we are to live by the principles mentioned here last weekend. I have prayerfully decided to step back from youth ministry for the time being (though I will continue to disciple individuals in the group), and I will be winding down my responsibilities in the music ministry, with the aim of stepping down in January. Against my better instincts, I resurrected the English classes last year as a way of raising funds for Fundación Totaí. Well, by and large, it turned out my instincts were on to something; they, too, will be shelved.

Other jobs will continue for now, including my supporter communications work for FT and overseeing Langham Trinidad, which has also made great strides in my absence – a recurring, and humbling, theme developing there.

Amanda: Becoming more of a people person

As long-time readers will be aware, Amanda’s main role for her first few years here was as an audiologist at FT. She loved the work, but felt the door was closing on it by the time we had our first home assignment in 2014. During that year, God directed her towards the work of human resources in the Foundation, to which she dedicated a great deal of time and energy.

Above all, though, Amanda had planned on using the HR position as a way of getting alongside staff members on a pastoral level, and deepening relationships with them; several of our health staff are not yet believers, and most face challenging circumstances at home. While there were occasional opportunities in this area, Amanda largely found that it was hard to make great headway due to the copious paperwork that her role also entailed; naturally, Sam’s arrival complicated things here too.

Well our last home assignment saw FT’s new Director of Administration, Hernán, take on the HR role as part of his own work, and we prayed that there might be scope upon our return for Amanda to leave that with him permanently with a view to a greater pastoral care focus. Hernán and FT’s board members feel the need for this too, and they have been delighted to let Amanda go ahead with this.

She will essentially be making up her role as she goes along, but her goal is to be a presence in the Foundation as much as possible and to spend meaningful time with staff and patients; a ‘prayer room’ for patients has been a dream of ours for some time, and Amanda will finally be free to get this up and running at the Foundation with those patients who wish to be prayed for.

Like me, Amanda hopes to do some more discipleship work with youngsters in the church, and she will continue to support the work of the youth ministry – though this is, again, an area where she has been able to relinquish the role of leader since we have been away.

Sam: “Ring ring” goes the bell

“Hang about!,” I hear you cry, “I thought you guys had no time these days because of that Energizer Bunny also known as your son.” And in this you would be right: indeed we did not.

However, the decibel levels round here are about to take something of a downturn, as Sam sets off on his latest adventure: Day Care.

If you’ve met Sam, you will know just what a sociable little boy he is, and we’ve long felt his need of companionship, particularly of children his own age. Not least as Mummy & Daddy are running out of ideas fast: there are really only so many times you can play chucking-toys-up-the-stairs-then-back-down-again before even Sam starts looking at his watch.

The day care Sam will be attending feeds into a local school, and takes place on weekday mornings. In other words, by sheer coincidence, Sam will be otherwise occupied at the time of the week when we are generally at our busiest (this also paves the way for the aforementioned Monday morning ‘date nights’).

In all seriousness, while we are a touch nervous about dropping His Lordship back into the Spanish-language deep end, we are delighted to afford him the opportunity to spend more time with other little people, and get to grips with the accompanying social skills. We’re sure he’ll have a great time.

Meanwhile, of course, we hope to see him cement already-existing relationships with our friends and our church community here. Last Sunday morning, in church, he danced incessantly while the band played, and we pray that his joy in the Lord would only grow in the coming years.

Prayer
  • For patience, wisdom and self-discipline as we seek to put these plans into action.
  • Next weekend sees the wedding of a young woman who has grown up in the church and is well known and loved by many who are associated with this place. Consequently, a veritable horde is making its way here over the coming week, including several ex-missionaries. Pray for safe travels for all.
  • Said horde will also include a seven-strong team from Strathaven Evangelical Church (including Craig’s Mum), who are due to arrive here next Saturday morning for two weeks. Pray for preparations for this visit, for the team and for ourselves.
Praise
  • For progress this week on little jobs like the car documentation and the house.
  • For great encouragement in catching up with old friends and learning of so many positive developments over the last six months, both at institutional and individual levels.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Saturday Post -- 17/06/17


These days, as sure as the day ends with a ‘y’, a tradition you can set your watch by in the British sports media is the annual league table predictions, particularly in the top flights. Most outlets wheel out their big-name pundits around early August, with the remit of looking in to their proverbial crystal balls and foretelling the order of the Premier League nine months later. A fool’s errand, if ever there were one, and thus one that, come May, tends to yield no shortage of fuel for wanton mockery; and that, of course, is a British tradition that predates football by centuries. The folly of such predictions was exposed most ferociously by the events of the 2015/16 season, as those who remember Gary Linker’s appearance on Match of the Day that balmy August evening will remember with no shortage of fondness/queasiness.

All of this comes to mind most forcefully as I look back on a blog entry from January 2015. Like this, it was the first for many months; also like this, we used it to outline our plans for our new term in Bolivia. To save you a long read, the main gist was that we were going to avoid getting sucked back into old habits of trying to spin too many plates at once; this we hoped to do by thinking more clearly about where our gifts and passions were better used, rather than where there was a need to be met at all.

Well, it was a good idea while it lasted. One of my own plans, for example, was to lay aside the music ministry, where I was certainly gifted, but where my enthusiasm was running low, and also where – to the best of my knowledge – there were plenty of others who had done a decent enough job without me during my year away from the field. This masterplan went out the window within, er, just a couple of days of setting foot in Bolivia. Indeed, we were not even back in Trinidad yet! We had been met by one of the church’s musicians shortly after getting off the plane at Santa Cruz, en route home. He wasted no time in telling me how greatly the ministry had deteriorated without me, and so I capitulated.

(As it happens, I’ve had a similar experience this time, though I hope I’ve demonstrated greater resistance. Within 24 hours of arriving in Santa Cruz, someone from Trinidad texted me to ask if the English classes – which God firmly closed the door on last year –  were beginning again. When I replied, saying, “Sorry, but I won’t be teaching English any more,” my contact said, “And why not?” I opted to leave that question unanswered.)

So I am mightily aware of the pitfalls of this endeavour. But I hope that, this time around, with lessons learned, this will not be so much an exercise in predictions, as plans (though I use that term with caution: there is, of course, much about the next few years that our gracious Heavenly Father, in his wisdom, has chosen not to reveal to us yet). A big reason for this is that, after a period of prayer and reflection during our time away, we informed the relevant locals of the main changes to our ministry some months ago, giving them time to digest these developments and plan for the future.

This is a little counterintuitive for our friends in Bolivia, as the response from one or two individuals to this news demonstrated. Regular readers will be aware that, as a culture, the Bolivians have much to teach us westerners about responding to the needs of others: in a crisis, no matter the seeming scarcity of resources, needs are met and no questions are asked. This is fundamentally a good thing. But in ministry, this becomes more problematic where there is no gifting; just because a new ministry that requires a dozen helpers is being set up doesn’t necessarily make you the right fit for it. Despite everyone’s best efforts, it eventually becomes exhausting for the one who makes the gesture, and discouraging for the intended recipient.

In our desire to bring only glory to God, then, and to be best equipped for his purposes, here are some fundamentals we wish to keep at the forefront of our thinking over the next two or three years. I was going to share all of this in a single blog post, but it got so out of control that we have decided to split this into two parts. Next weekend, we will outline what our individual roles are set to look like this time round; here, we will share a couple of fundamental goals we have this time around in our approach to ministry and family.

Working from a place of rest

Despite this culture’s laid-back attitude to principles such as commitment and organisation – or, perhaps, as a response to such attitudes – the evangelical church here takes commitment pretty seriously. Most churches have not one, but two midweek meetings for Bible study and prayer. Youth work tends to take place on Saturdays, and some churches will have special events on Friday evenings. Throw in planning meetings and other meetings for specific groups such as men and women, and it is easy to see how church and its activities can take up pretty much every day of the week. In many cases it does, and we know people who, if they could, would happily attend church, or help at a church event, every day of the week.

This is exacerbated somewhat in our own church, which is small, and therefore has fewer people to help run things. Nonetheless, recognising needs (see above), they often do just that, meaning that spare time for, say, family, is severely limited.

Now as outsiders to the culture, Amanda and I have been aware of these issues from the beginning of our ministry. And yet, also as outsiders to the culture, we have at times felt nervous about addressing such issues, not wishing to come across as superior or dismissive of the people here.

Yet, if we are honest, there have been times in the last few years when our involvement in Christian ministry has left us exhausted, barely functioning as we sleep-walk from one activity to the other, and harbouring a little resentment at the impact church work is having on our lives as individuals and as a family. And the reason for this is quite simple: for all our seemingly good intentions, we have neglected the model of rest that has been set for God’s people from Trinidad to Timbuctoo.

So it is our intention to sensitively, but firmly, establish boundaries in our lives that can better enable us not only to survive, but to thrive. This will include, for example, ring-fencing our devotional time each day, physically leaving the house and going somewhere we can’t be found on Mondays (our rest day), and leaving the goldfish bowl that is Trinidad on a regular basis for some proper R&R. Above all, it will mean that we politely say ‘no’ to certain things, something we have already begun doing in withdrawing from certain areas of ministry.

In doing so, our prayer is that others will not simply regard us as awkward, or work-shy, but as setting an example that is worth emulating, and all the more so because it is Biblical.

Putting family first

Overlapping with the goal of having proper rest is our desire to nurture a more healthy family life.

We will long look back at last year with a mixture of delight and regret. Sam came home with us at the tail-end of 2015, and we took the decision to look after him ourselves rather than sub-contracting this to a nanny; after all, we had a lot of catching up to do.

In practice, this meant that one of us would ‘have’ him in the morning while the other person worked, and then in the afternoon we would swap. And while we relished this focused time with our new addition, Amanda and I essentially became like two ships passing in the night. We would see each other briefly at lunch, and then by the time Sam had gone to bed in the early evening, we were both so exhausted that we would retreat into our own worlds just to get a semblance of ‘me time’. But the consequences of this were a little painful: inevitably, as we saw less and less of one other, we increasingly forgot how to communicate with each other, and how best to meet the needs of the other person.

We are determined not to make this mistake again. For this reason, over the last few months, we have drawn up a new schedule that will enable us to overcome these difficulties. In particular, we have ring-fenced a weekly ‘marriage time’ (I would call it a date-night if it wasn’t a Monday morning!) and committed to pursuing more common interests together in our spare time. Furthermore, we have ensured that there will be regular time during the week when the three of us can be together as a family, without the shadow of work hanging over us.

Conclusion: Adapt first

We never quite get ‘there’ in this life, which is for the most part a constant experience of making mistakes and making ham-fisted attempts to learn from them. This is no exception for overseas workers such as ourselves, and we know that, even if we successfully address the issues outlined above, others will surely arise. But we know from time spent with other, more experienced missionaries, that a better balance is possible.

We could have used this opening post to outline the various ministries and activities we feel God is leading us towards this time around. To a certain extent, that will come next weekend. But all this will be for naught if we seek power for these endeavours from within ourselves or fail to ‘manage [our] own family well’ (1 Tim 3:4). Putting it more bluntly: if we continue down such paths, we may as well not be here.

You have stood with us in the past in prayer, and we need this now more than ever. And while you’re at it, please also consider the following.

Praise
  • Well, we made it. And we are so thankful for journeying mercies, especially for Sam. On the eleven-hour flight across the Atlantic on Monday/Tuesday, he slept for nine solid hours (count ‘em!). He held up well the rest of that day, despite the time-zone shift and not landing in Santa Cruz till late that evening. The boy positively scoffs in the face of jetlag. Equally, he held up well on the long car journey back to Trinidad yesterday. Not a case was lost, not a sleep was missed. Give thanks.
  • Habemus auto. Back in January, we sold our fast-diminishing 1995 RAV4 with the help of a friend in Santa Cruz, and the same guy was able to source us a replacement, which we paid for a couple of weeks ago, and picked up on Wednesday from a reassuringly careful owner. It has a lot more space than our last one, which was a great help in the journey yesterday.
  • Speaking of thriving, give thanks, too, for Mariana, our former colleague at FT, who is now studying at a seminary in Santa Cruz with a view to working in tribal missions in the longer term. We had a chance to catch up with her this week and she is doing great. She is a young woman with a heart that breaks for the lost of Bolivia. We are delighted for her.
Prayer
  • This being Bolivia, there is still a little registration paperwork remaining on the car, some of which will require Craig to head back to Santa Cruz in the next week or two. Pray for a swift conclusion to all of this.
  • Pray for our preparations for the team from Strathaven Evangelical Church, who follow us across the Atlantic in just two weeks’ time. Pray that we might be able to get our house in order (I mean that literally!) and attend to this and other matters fairly soon.
  • Pray for a stress-free readjustment to this unique place. I might add that we have already noticed a big difference between returning after six months away, and doing so after a year’s absence; feels a lot more natural.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

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