Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday Post -- 20/08/16

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

Instance 1

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

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

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

Instance 2

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

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

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

Instance 3

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

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

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

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


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

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

Craig, Amanda & Sam

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saturday Post -- 13/08/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in all, then, a capital trip! 

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

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday Post -- 23/07/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday Post -- 16/07/16

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

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

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

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

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Saturday Post -- 09/07/16

From the get-go, Mum's chief aim in coming here has been to support us in looking after Sam. In spite of the higher costs of flying in mid-summer, she resolved to make the journey now to help us in the event of a visiting team being present, as is often the case at this time of year. As it happens, there has been no such team in 2016. Nevertheless, Mum has been nothing short of rock-like, and it's freed us up to attend to various long-festering matters at work (all too boring to mention here!).

Unfortunately, our neighbourhood is not the greatest for simply getting out the house and going for a walk, something that Mum loves to do (the climate is somewhat non-conducive as well). I (Craig) have been particularly conscious of this over the past week, my enjoyment of her visit a little tempered at times by my anxiety that she's not getting enough fresh air. Mum's view? No qualms. She's just happy to be here and to help. And Sam has more than appreciated it. 

Still, she's not been under total house arrest. On Monday (our day off) we drove out to the local lake and got some lunch while giving Sam some splash-time. Tuesday evening saw us hire a babysitter (one of our youth group stalwarts) so that we could go out for some prime Beni steak with Mum and Taylor, whose volunteer stint here ended on Thursday. On most days we have taken advantage of that window between 16:30 (when Fundación Totaí closes) and 18:00 (when Sam begins to wind down himself) for a gander into town. And, of course, on Sunday, she came to church with us, where she was pleasantly surprised by the number of translated English language hymns in the programme, and where the Bolivians were pleasantly surprised that she had remembered their names -- how typical of her.

We also had the pleasure of hosting the church on Thursday evening for the prayer meeting, which these days rotates around members' homes. We are in the midst of the mid-year school holidays, and rather than rush away at the end, everyone stayed, doubtless buoyed by the cake we bought to celebrate our wedding anniversary that day. Mum is in her element in such company, and is getting plenty of opportunities to practise her increasingly-fluent Spanish. 

Best of all, around the time Sam goes down for his morning nap, play is beginning on Centre Court at 'la catedral de tenis', as the commentators here describe it. We shall probably record tomorrow's men's final and switch off all celular communications during church. Not that we'll be able to hear much of it over Mum's customary nervous director's commentary from her default position of behind-the-couch.

She needn't worry. Murray in three. Easy.

  • We're off to Santa Cruz on Monday morning for a few days there before Mum's flight on Thursday morning. Pray for safety on the roads, productivity (we have a few small jobs to do there for FT), and a special final few days together.
  • We are so thankful for nine years of marriage, and increasingly aware of our inability to have managed it without Jesus at the centre. 
  • Give thanks for Taylor's time here, and the great encouragement and help she was to so many.
  • The adoption hearing date was confirmed this week for the 18th of July, a week on Monday. So we have something to very much look forward to upon our return to Trinidad next week, and we hope that while bringing down the curtain on Sam's adoption, it will also get the ball rolling for our travel plans for next year.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Saturday Post - 02/07/16

Grandma, Sam, Centre Court. That'll do.
A belated Happy Canada Day to everyone. Nobody remembered here, except me, and I sat as the lone Canadian amongst a sea of others (there being two types of people in this world, Canadians and non-Canadians). I sent Craig off to Santa Cruz with Sam on Tuesday with his "It's Cool to be Canadian" t-shirt and it came back with permanent stains. I'm trying hard to not read into this in any way, but it is really hard. I mean, do they not value me for my Canadian awesomeness (mainly I'm frustrated because I can't figure out how to get banana out of clothes once it has set. Does anybody know?)? Actually, the truth is I'm probably a poor excuse of a Canadian these days. I watched a video on YouTube about being Canadian and I kept thinking, "Canadians aren't really like that, are they?" I was so unnerved by how much I didn't recognise that I wanted to run off to Glasgow and be comforted by familiar surroundings. I think I'm Scottish now. I'll have to remember to wish you all a Happy St. Andrew's Day later this year. 

I think a lot of people know that if Craig was writing this blog entry today, there might be at least a passing comment or a joking reference to the political state of the UK right now. I'm not going to do that; instead I am going to focus on the important things, like Wimbledon! We keep saying to Sam, "Sam, yay, it's your first Wimbledon with us!", "No Sam, we can't play with you...we're watching Wimbledon", and "Sam, you might have to find your own lunch, Murray's playing right now." Sadly, with ESPN based in Argentina and with Del Potro putting Wawrinka out, we're probably not going to see another tennis player who's not Del Potro until he goes out. We thought that with my mother-in-law being here to help, Sam might get fed once in a while despite Wimbledon being on (I mean, she said she was here to help), but she's even more Wimbledon mad than the rest of us. So, Sam is on his own. Poor kid. 

Sam's excitement at being on a plane knew no
And yes, Ethel has arrived in Trinidad!!! And she is helping and giving me the free time to do things like write this blog post, go to work more often, and watch Wimbledon; just the important things that you need to get a babysitter for. Ethel arrived in Bolivia on Wednesday, but because of how the internal flights were scheduled, she would have to spend an overnight in Santa Cruz before flying to Trinidad. Craig thought it would be good for someone to go and meet her in Santa Cruz, so he booked a flight for the Tuesday before and decided that Sam was going to go meet his Grandma as well. He came home from the airline's office with the declaration that Sam was going to go to Santa Cruz with him, and I put on the appropriate concerned face and said, "Are you sure you're comfortable flying with Sam, and being with him alone in Santa Cruz until your Mom arrives?". 

Meanwhile, inside my head I thought, "Yassss!!!! Two days alone!!!! Bring it on!!!!" 

In Cochabamba, awaiting their next flight.
I started making plans right away. There was going to be a girl's night and there was going to be a night for pure 'me' time, preferably in bed with a book and a glass of wine. The excitement was building on both sides...apparently Craig found the thought of sharing the joys of air travel with his son just as thrilling as I found the thought of crushing my friends in a game of Ticket To Ride. However, not everyone was as excited as us. A lot of people here thought Craig would be unable to pull it off and Sam would somehow expire on this trip due to Craig's ineptitude. We heard so many comments like this that upon Craig's successful return and his first morning back at work, he walked into the Foundation and declared, "Sam lives!" Apparently, men don't know how to look after their children here and it was a cause for great concern. I wasn't worried. Craig is an awesome Dad, who from the first day of visitation with Sam in the hospital has been completely hands-on. That first day he said, "OK, show me how to change a diaper" (surely 'nappy'? Craig) and has never looked back from that. I don't know how he thought I knew how to change a diaper; I'm not entirely sure if I had changed a diaper before. I knew conceptually, but its not like it's a job you generally volunteer for with your friend's children. 

Girls' Night - sadly, I was unable to crush my friends in a decisive victory 
because there was one too many people, so I graciously sat out and watched. 
Mariana won on her first time playing, narrowly beating Taylor by three points. 
But it's not a real win until Mariana faces me - next time.
So, on Tuesday I drove Craig and Sam to the airport and said goodbye, excited for my free time. Craig immediately started sending photos back of Sam on the plane, Sam in the airport terminal, Sam at the guesthouse and my excitement duly withered. I wanted to be there. I wanted to see Sam on the plane for the first time. From about two hours after they left I just missed them and got really moody about it. It totally put a crimp in my plans. 
Craig: "Getting to board first means more
time for moments like this. I really must
travel more with children/the elderly."

When I went back to the airport on Thursday morning to pick them up, I don't think I have ever been so excited to see a plane land. And I have seen many planes land in my time and met many people getting off of those planes, but this was different. I saw Craig and Ethel walking across the tarmac, but I couldn't see Sam. So I thought that maybe the people who I thought were Craig and Ethel weren't really them, so I kept looking. But Craig and Ethel kept waving at me and finally I had to accept that it was them and they didn't have my child. Craig just shrugged his shoulders at me, and I thought, "Well, he wouldn't be so calm if he had really lost Sam." Someone, somewhere had to have Sam...and sure enough, four or five people behind Craig and Ethel was FT president Miguel Angel, who unbeknown to myself had been on the same flight on his way back from Cochabamba, and Sam was riding high up on his shoulders. And they (you mean, 'I'? Craig)  had done that on purpose to scare the daylights out of me. Classy. 

The two days without Craig and Sam did provide me with an opportunity to get a lot of work done, and I decided to work a full day on Wednesday. I am so caught up on paperwork that I had to ask my fellow FT board member Mariana if there were things I could do to help her yesterday afternoon. I don't know if I recognise this feeling. Is this what work feels like when one is not stressed? Wow. I still have about a third of the staff to get through in regards to the one-on-one interviews, but I figure that they are once a year, so if they are bit more spread out, it's not too much of a problem. 

I am also teaching at Youth Group tonight. Last week was our most recent social event where we had a selfie scavenger hunt. It seemed to go down really well, although we had tech trouble and couldn't see all the photos that were taken. We had given out food to the youth at this point, so I don't think they cared; they were too busy eating. The winning team got 25 mandarins to share amongst themselves. It's mandarin season, so the gran prize was cheap and cheerful and I figure that everyone can do with more vitamin C in their life. Tonight's theme is 'The Sin of Partiality' - James 2:1-9. Craig said last night that he was partial to me (Awww!!!), and therefore obviously failed in this regard and thought he should just stay in tonight so as not to seem like a hypocrite (!). This particular issue is something we see a lot amongst teens in general, but especially here where there can be so much bias between ethnic groups and genders. Please pray that the youth will be challenged to open their eyes to how their partiality and prejudice can hurt others.

New city, new book.
Please stay tuned for Craig's cheeky political comments next week! And we'll let you know how we're loving having an in-house nanny in next week's post. 

  • Apparently the judge overseeing Sam's prospective adoption is on holiday the week we thought we would get a hearing date, so it has been pushed back again. Hopefully, we'll get a date for the week beginning July 18th.
  • Craig and I have started meeting with another young couple in the hopes of providing them with some relationship counselling. So far it seems to have gone well, but please continue to pray for wisdom in this sensitive situation. 
  • For our time with Ethel, and especially for the time that Sam and Ethel have together. 
  • Taylor Burt, our most recent volunteer, leaves us this Thursday; please pray for safe travels for her.
  • For Amanda's youth talk on partiality tonight.
  • For Ethel's safe arrival, and Craig and Sam's time in Santa Cruz. 
  • For Amanda's time with friends while Craig and Sam were gone. She was kept very busy, which helped the time go by quickly.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda & Sam

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday Post -- 25/06/16

"We've got this."
"We're going it alone. We don't need your help. We spend too much money on you anyway. We want our independence back."

Such will, possibly, be my parting words on Tuesday morning to Amanda (you didn't think I was talking about something else, did you?) as Sam and I set off on something of an adventure.

Back in April, you may remember, Mother was very much left holding the baby as Father set off for a Stateside family wedding (though reinforcements were on their way). This time, the shoe is on the other foot, with the key difference that his lordship will also be travelling.

Those who have visited us here before will be aware that the timing of internal flights is not always ideal; overnight stays in one of the hub cities here are often called for. Such was the case for my Mum, who despite being due to arrive in Santa Cruz at around 8am this coming Wednesday, would be running it far too close for the day's only Trinidad flight (you don't exactly sail through customs and immigration here). And so it was incumbent upon one of us to go and meet her there, with a view to taking the Thursday morning flight back to Trinidad.

But a day in Santa Cruz, we realised, meant 24 hours less with her new grandson. "But it doesn't have to!," I reasoned. A few taps of the keyboard and clicks of the mouse later, I'd bought two airline seats to Santa Cruz, Sam's costing a mere £4 (considerably more now, of course!). What could possibly go wrong?

We have, of course, driven to Santa Cruz with Sam in the past, but any travel that involves a departure terminal is potentially problematic, as child services have offices there to ensure that no young person is being transported against their will. With that in mind, we got in touch with our lawyer over the past week to check that our documentation was in place; we are fine, though the court issued us with an updated version of the foster care ruling issued in December.

Back when I booked the flights, it all seemed considerably simpler. "He's such an easy baby," I reasoned to myself, "so wedded to his routines, and anyway, I'll have an extra pair of hands once Mum arrives." All true then; not so much now. Sam's last minor bout with illness appears increasingly to have been something of a Rubicon. Now that the snot has dried, a toddler has emerged from the pile of used tissues. This is evidenced by a propensity to unleash his lion impersonation at any given moment, to view being laid down in his crib as an invitation to use its bars to immediately propel himself to his feet again, and (making its debut this week) to give vent to righteous indignation upon his servants taking leave of him.

Also known as 'bedtime'.
Whatever happens, it promises to be an adventure and a half (oh, and we don't even know yet if he likes flying). But whether playing hide-and-seek, performing amateur acrobatics, or sitting together in the driver's seat (take that, Brussels!), Sam and I enjoy few things more than the pleasure of each other's company, so the boys will make it work, Mum. And, above all, it will surely be worth it for Grandma.

  • Pray for Craig and Sam as they travel this week.
  • Keep praying for the adoption, and a prompt resolution.
  • Pray for the implications of the referendum. In the long-run, this heterogenous family unit may now be facing even more complications when it comes to travelling back to the UK (Amanda previously lived and worked there sans-visa, on her Irish passport). More immediately, a big chunk of Fundación Totaí's support comes to us in sterling, and we all know what's happened there. By the way, if you live in the UK and are interested in supporting the work of FT, you'll find more information here
  • Amanda has had a minor dose of sickness -- possibly food-poisoning -- over the last couple of days, but is gradually getting her strength back.
  • The missions conference last week was very well executed, and well attended by our own church. It was fascinating, from an outsider's perspective, to understand the role of animistic thought in forming the worldview and behaviour of so many supposedly urbane Trinitarios (a few weeks ago, Amanda went out to get salt at night, for example, and was refused at several different shops; we learned that it is considered bad luck here!). The big take-away was how important one's worldview is in shaping one's whole identity; pray that these lessons would be helpful to us as a church.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Saturday Post -- 18/06/16

That's more like it.
We mentioned this weekend's missions conference (kicking off at 8:30am) in last week's entry, and so this will be pretty brief. 

The week's most encouraging moment came in the form of a simple WhatsApp message from our lawyer. It looks like the various agencies in town have finally submitted their reports, and a hearing on the adoption proper is due to take place the week beginning 4th of July...during which time we will have among us none other than one Ethel G. Cunningham! Two weeks out, it wouldn't entirely be a surprise if the hearing was delayed (say, because one of the agencies' representatives had a birthday party to attend), but we are just delighted that there has finally been some movement on this.

Staying with his lordship, Sam's condition has improved considerably following a check-up with the paediatrician on Monday. He is back to his usual, noisy self, and evidence mounts by the day that a Rubicon -- dividing the territories of 'baby' and 'toddler' -- has been crossed.

Caught in the act of raiding the DVD/games cupboard
(one of his favourite haunts; those Wii nunchucks
aren't half chewy)
More encouragement came in the shape of the English class, where the Intermediate level began. We are primarily running the classes this year to raise funds for the general work of Fundación Totaí, and there was plenty of space for more students by the time the Basic class had ended, so I (Craig) had tried to get the word out to anyone with a decent base of English who was interested in progressing further. It seems to have paid off, with six new students in attendance this week. If you've been with us a while, you'll know that the Intermediate level sees the introduction of a weekly reading class, in which we use an evangelistic text written in easy-to-understand English. The class responded really positively to the first reading lesson on Thursday.

Finally, another newcomer this week was, of course, Taylor, who has settled in well in her first week here, and we have enjoyed getting to know her, not least last night when we had her over to the house with another couple with whom we are friendly. During a vastly enjoyable game of Ticket to Ride, she was to bear witness to a rare board-game feat in Casa Cunningham: my consummate thrashing of Amanda. 

The perfect end to a great week.

  • Keep the prayers coming on the adoption. It would be a particular thrill to have confirmation in the same week as a family visit; pray that any delays would be minimal in any case.
  • For the English students over the next few months as they study the reading text (called 'What Christians Believe'), that they would be able to take a few steps back from the 'trees' of all the new words and phrases, and be equipped to see the gospel 'forest'.
  • Pray for the missions conference taking place today and tomorrow. It appears there will be a big focus on animism, the religious framework adopted by many tribes, of which we have hundreds in the Beni region alone. So it promises to be nothing if not practical and relevant. Pray for the participants from our own church in particular, that they would see that missions is not just the field of boring white people.
  • For the adoption news, naturally.
  • For Sam's recovery.
  • For Taylor's safe arrival and positive first week.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Saturday Post - 11/06/16

I (Amanda) have never really fasted before. I think I tried it once when I was younger and I got to lunch time and decided that the hunger headache I had constituted a medical emergency.  I thought that I must be one of those people who just couldn't fast; it was just too dangerous. My parents never did it, my church tradition generally didn't do it, and it wasn't until I became exposed to other denominations and met various other Christian at University that I realised that fasting is something people really still did. I never really understood it though; I guess I understood that it was supposed to be a spiritual experience because one became more dependent on God in their hunger, but it was all conceptual to me. 

However, about two weeks ago I started a daily devotional on YouVersion about Easter and Lent (I know, I'm late) and the first day dealt with the concept of fasting. It highlighted that fasting is not about reaching a target, it's not about saying, "I did it" or "Done!" at the end of it, and it also doesn't work like a magic wand to become more spiritual; you don't get to reach a new step in your relationship with God just by completing the fast. The word that they used and which touched my heart is 'sojourn'. A fast is a sojourn with God. It's not about the destination, it's not about doing it perfectly, it's about an opportunity to journey with God. And when I read that I thought, "That sounds wonderful. I would really love to journey with God. I feel like I haven't gone anywhere with God in a while." And it has been wonderful. I believe there is a Kearon gene that turns us into bears when we don't eat, plus I was adamant that I physically couldn't get up with Sam so early if I couldn't eat, so I decided to give something else up and it really has been wonderful. Think about the word 'sojourn' and then think about how much you would love to journey with God for a while. Don't worry about doing it right, or getting it perfect. It doesn't matter if you mess up or skip some days, just get excited about going on the sojourn with God.

The timing of this has been interesting in our lives. Sam is sick again. Children here get sick all the time. However, I am told that children everywhere get sick all the time, so maybe Sam doesn't get sick more than other children. or maybe he does. I honestly have nothing to compare him to. The weather has been low the last three weeks or so. By low, I mean 16-22 degrees Celsius. For most people back home that means shorts and T-shirt weather, but for people here who are used to 30 degrees, well essentially the world is ending just now.  It affects everything; our patient numbers at the Foundation are down, no one can get laundry done so people run out of clothes, even my very Canadian self is sleeping under a mountain of blankets at night. And, of course, all the children get sick. The cold here is a damp cold, more like Scotland than Canada. And the cold damp gets into the children's lungs and does evil things. Sam, on top of just experiencing this evil, also has weaker lungs from having been born premature, so one day he could be fine and the next day his lungs are closing up and he is struggling to breathe. It happens so fast it is unbelievable and watching it happen just breaks my heart. So here we are again with his inhaler and steroids, fighting to get his lungs to open up. The paediatrician said it wasn't an overly serious case and we didn't have to worry about admitting him to hospital, which was an encouragement. Our GP in the mornings at the Foundation had his six-month-old baby admitted for the same thing last week because he became cyanotic really fast despite his medication. So, I'm sojourning with God while dealing with one of my biggest struggles.

Some might remember that Sam came to us sick. He had some type of intestinal infection and was struggling with this lungs at the same time, and he was kind of dropped in our laps like; I was a wreck that first week or so. The experience was so traumatic that it triggered my own anxiety disorder and now my anxiety spikes as a conditioned response to coughing. It's so extreme that it doesn't even have to be Sam coughing, it can be anyone. I can be at work and not even in the same building as Sam and my anxiety will spike. Sometimes I'll be two rooms over and I can still hear it, "Someone, somewhere is coughing." Except for Craig whose coughing seems to still elicit a different response from me, "Just rub some dirt in it. You'll be fine." 

My friend told me about her experience with phantom crying with her firstborn; well, I have phantom coughing. I am permanently angry at all the dogs, including ours, in the neighbourhood who make me unnecessarily anxious when I confuse their barks with coughing. We had a youth group planning meeting at our house this past Tuesday night and one of the couples brought their three year old son, and he spent the whole night coughing. Sam was in bed and he hadn't fallen sick yet so I wasn't overwrought, but I spent the night amazed at how calm his parents were. They had given him his medicine and realised there was nothing else they could do about it just now, so they didn't worry. 

I have an anxiety problem when it comes to Sam being sick. Some days my anxiety is so bad that I'm not sure how I'm going to cope with one more episode like this, and think I might not be able to go on. I pray for Sam's recovery not for his sake, but for mine. And sometimes I fear him; I fear walking into his room at night because I don't want to have to deal with and process a new wave of fear upon seeing him possibly worse.

I've not had my normal coping mechanism with me this time either, because I gave it up a couple of weeks ago. I thought saying to God, "Sorry, we have to interrupt our sojourn because my son is sick and I need my coping mechanism back to get through it", would defeat the whole point of the exercise, although there was temptation there. However, through my sojourn and struggles with heightened, and what sometimes feels like debilitating anxiety, God has taught me about grace. Sunday school definition of grace = God giving us what we don't deserve; I had that down pat. I could also identify grace in my life. I could look at a situation and say that I survived it only through God's grace. But I was struggling with knowing what grace was. I knew I received it undeservedly, but what was "it"? I would have defined grace in my life as the ability to reach the end of the day, but that didn't sound quite theological enough. So, as everyone does in my generation, I googled it - "Biblical definition of grace". Craig has spent a pretty penny over the years on Bible study resources for teaching and prepping sermons, which I have full access to, but I chose to google it. And right at the top of Google in a highlighted box it said, "God's unmerited favour". Oh...the word I've been looking for is favour. And it all made sense. And God shows me his unmerited favour because God is innately good.

I've been trying to figure out how to get better; how to deal with a sick Sam better than I am coping right now. And through a conversation with my sister, I realised I don't have to get better. I need to accept who I am. She was telling me that in her Mommy Group all the moms commented on how they were unprepared for the levels of anxiety they experienced as first time moms. So, she said anxiety is normal with a firstborn and then this normal anxiety is triggering my anxiety disorder and amplifying it, which also makes sense in my case. So, I don't have to do better, or get better, I need to accept the situation for what it is and learn how to cope, to live through the anxiety. My anxiety is something that I had learned to accept as my thorn in the flesh a long time ago, but I hadn't connected it with dealing with Sam's struggles until now. So my epiphany went something like this: 1) I have an anxiety disorder and have had it for the last 15 years; it is not going away. 2) I love my son and he has weak lungs; these attacks are not going away any time soon. 3) I therefore have to endure the two of them together, because I neither want to run away from or ignore the situation. 4) And I do this through God's grace: His unmerited favour upon me which gives me all I need to get to the end of another day, another episode, and which will carry me through the storm when it all starts all over again.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

  • As mentioned last weekend, a new medical volunteer, Taylor, arrived today. Pray for God's blessing over her six weeks in Trinidad.
  • Keep Sam in your prayers as he deals with his illness.
  • We're due to attend a missions conference organised by a seminary in Santa Cruz next weekend (and may not be blogging as a result!). The event (which is free) is being widely promoted in our own church, and we're hoping that many of our own members would turn up and have the opportunity to think about what God is doing beyond the confines of Trinidad.
  • We had some mildly encouraging news with regard to the adoption situation this week, learning that one of the three required reports had been submitted to the judge. Pray that the other two reports would be submitted as quickly as possible; our lawyer has indicated that we might have to wait until July for the adoption to be finalised.
  • The men's and women's ministries continue every second Sunday, and last weekend saw the women begin a new study on the life of David, with our house packed out for it. The men's numbers aren't quite as high, but there is a committed group coming along every couple of weekends.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Saturday Post -- 04/05/16

Me right now, without the glassesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss
You can pretty much count on our posts being somewhat curtailed on the first Saturday of each month, as this is the day on which the Langham Trinidad group meets…at 6am! So difficult was it to find a time during sensible hours that suited everyone that the group elected to stage meetings at a time when everyone would definitely be available (if not entirely awake). Thus far, the early start has not been too much of a hindrance, and this morning we enjoyed our first such preaching class since theLevel 2 conference last month.

Regular readers will be aware that one of the strengths of the Langham Preaching programme is the frequency of visits from their national overseers (based in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba), and, not even three weeks since the retreat, we also received confirmation this week of the first such follow-up visit in October from our good friend Edwin.

My week has mostly been taken up with more administrative tasks for church, and preparation of the morning meditations at Fundación Totaí. Taking place before FT opens for ‘business’, these are an integral part of the day, an opportunity to hear from God’s word and prayerfully reflect upon it. Three of us are involved in this, taking a month each on a three month rotation. I have been slowly but steadily working through Mark’s gospel with the staff, the shortest of the four gospel accounts, yet five ‘months’ later (in reality, since May 2015), we’re only at Wednesday of Holy Week!

I’m passionate about the morning meditations, from a discipleship and evangelism standpoint, and so I’m happy to set aside the time to prepare each of them from scratch, though usually they take me around 90 minutes’ of work. With my other commitments, that requires time management; I usually do one a week, but in leaner preaching spells (such as right now) I try to get a few out of the way at once. It’s paying off, with the Christians in the group coming to a deeper appreciation of Mark’s purposes and themes, and the non-Christians reading through an entire gospel account, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Amanda, meanwhile, has had various monthly departmental meetings (another trait of the start of the month), but is also turning her attention to the summer’s volunteers. This year we do not have a team, but three individuals spread across the next few months (the third is hoping to stay on for the best part of a year). Next weekend, God-willing, the first of these three will have arrived on a medical placement from the USA, and Amanda will be charged with overseeing her time in Trinidad.

We say 'summer' volunteers, of course, when in actual fact, it's winter here, and feels like it. Hooray!
  • The adoption. You know the score. We remain answerless.
  • For Amanda as she prepares for the arrival of this summer’s volunteers.
  • For the morning meditations delivered by Craig, San and Elías (this month); that the saints would be built up, unbelievers’ hearts would be softened, and that Christ would be established at the centre of the day ahead.

  • For a great start this morning to the new year of monthly Langham meetings.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda