Friday, March 26, 2010

Saturday Post -- 26/03/10

Anyone who thinks that optimism no longer has a place in our world could do a lot worse than visit Trinidad on March 23rd. For it is on this date that Bolivia ‘celebrates’ the Day of the Sea.

On March 23rd 1879, a small force of Bolivian troops died while defending the port of Calama from Chilean forces. Chile subsequently settled the area and Bolivia lost its coastline. Thus, every year, the people of Bolivia take to the streets to mark this sad anniversary. Yet the overwhelming mood of the day is always one of defiance rather than defeat, with poems being recited and songs being sung of that glorious day when the country will once more have a beach of its own – intriguingly, Bolivia still maintains its own Navy.

Methinks positive thinking is only to be commended in these cynical days, and yet it rather causes that age-old dictum to spring to mind…

Aye, right then!

For all that Bolivia may lack its own coastline however, it has not wanted for water this week in the shape of rain. And with these storms came the year’s first sur (south wind). Coming from the antarctic circle, these cause temperatures to plummet – lows of 10 degrees Celsius have been recorded in recent years! That said, this week’s wasn’t too harsh and its effects had worn off within a day.

Much like snow in the British winter, surs are a great source of amusement, not least for us chocos. Indeed, nothing brings out the big girl in me like a cold front. “Hello, hoodies!” I squealed as I dived to the nether regions of our wardrobe. The downside of this is that, having hibernated all summer long, your ‘big clothes’ aren’t exactly lacking for must and mould, only adding to one’s social awkwardness. This, however, is quickly tempered by a fleeting glance at the multi-layered locals, festooned like Ernest Shackleton himself.

It is not, however, as if we are lacking for ‘rainy day activities’ and one of these is working through the Emmaus Bible Course. The Fundación has recently become an official Emmaus marking/distribution centre in Bolivia, so we have ready access to our examiners. Furthermore, we are working through the Spanish language version, which can only benefit our linguistic fluency.

On which note, as you’ll remember from last week that I’m giving a sermon on Sunday, my first in Spanish. It’s essentially taken double the time to write due to the language factor. In addition I’ll have to deal with added pressure in the shape of our language teacher, Farid, who decided to come along when I told him I was delivering a full sermon in Spanish. I’ll be looking closely at the Easter story, so our prayer is that he’ll leave with a little bit more than an assessment of my past-tense usage.

• For Easter week in Trinidad, particularly with the elections looming, that the locals would not be distracted from the core message.
• For Craig as he gives a gospel message on Sunday.

• For Amanda’s deepening relationships with the nurses.
• For opportunities to share the gospel message, e.g., with Farid.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, March 19, 2010

Saturday Post -- 20/03/10

The only way was down after last week’s heatwave and, mercifully, things took a turn for the better weather-wise this week. Most days have brought heavy showers, though thankfully nowhere near long enough to threaten people’s homes. As I write, it’s around the low 30s outside with a breeze to keep things balanced. But it will take more than that to stave off the power cuts and, sure enough, we’ve been hit another couple of times this week.

Thankfully, though there were cuts on Wednesday, they didn’t interfere with our evening frontón match, or at least, not to the extent of our generally atrocious play. At one point, trying to recall the word for ‘blind’, I asked Diego for the translation. “Ciego,” he replied, “like Diego, but with a C”. Given my team-mate’s less than exceptional vision in night games, that’s an easy word to remember.

This week I started drawing up a beginner’s English curriculum and devised some lesson plans. I’m determined to have a bank of materials on hand by the time I begin teaching. Interactive Smartboards haven’t quite reached Trinidad yet, but I’ll be looking to invest in a fair-sized whiteboard in the next few weeks. When I begin teaching in the Foundation, my classes will be in the upstairs auditorium which is also used by the church for its meetings. Conveniently, it’s right next door to the new Education office.

Within church, Amanda continues to make use of her Spanish in the Sunday school classes and I’m continuing in my efforts to expand the horizons of the music ministry. A week on Sunday, I’ll be giving my first full-length Spanish sermon, so I’ve started the preparation a week early in order to give myself enough translation time. I’ll be looking at 1 John 2:7-14 and what the ‘new commandment’ means in the light of Palm Sunday and the events which followed later that week.

That may, indeed, be the only opportunity to consider the events of Holy Week as a church as there are some local elections looming on Easter Sunday. For fully paid-up residents/citizens (of which we are neither) the vote is compulsory. And in order to ensure that impediments to the ballot box are kept to a minimum, the country is essentially shut down. For a few days on either side of an election it is impossible to travel between cities and public meetings of any kind are prohibited. However, given the importance of the date in the Christian calendar, the government has kindly agreed to allow churches to meet on Easter Sunday itself.

We’ll be mightily relieved when it’s all over. I’m not too down on ‘big government’ but I don’t appreciate being told what to do! Equally, I’m fed up of the propagandists around our neighbourhood with their helpful cut-out-and-keep guides as to how to vote for their candidate. And, frankly, the Fundación’s ENT work is sure to be in much demand in the coming weeks given the preponderance of motorcades blaring out ear-splittingly awful Latin pop tunes! Sadly the age-old link between politics and bad music is not restricted to Gordon Brown’s X Factor endorsements.

We endeavour, therefore, to keep our heads amidst the chaos around us and no better place to turn than the Bible. I’ve been reading ‘Pure Joy’ by the genius that is R.T. Kendall and thinking particularly this week about John 5:44: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”. Hardly classic memory verse material, yet it has exposed so many basic areas of weakness in my life. As John suggests in 1 John, when you let the light of the Word of God loose in your life, be prepared to face up to the niggly stuff hiding away in the corners.

• Craig's preparation for speaking a week on Sunday (28th)
• Our language learning. The basics have largely been dealt with -- it's getting all reflexive verbs now!

• The cooling-off in the climate this week.
• The government’s recent decision to grant exceptions to churches meeting on Easter Sunday.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, March 12, 2010

Saturday Post -- 13/03/10

These days, energy saving's all the rage, with people increasingly looking for ways to cut their costs and do their bit for the environment. In Trinidad, it's a local hobby, though, like many things here, the people don't have much say in the matter.

Some years ago the head honchos in the local energy company decided they weren't being paid enough and proceeded to swindle the users of millions of dollars. Most of the offenders are now behind bars but the money was never fully recovered. So the energy company came up with a convenient method to recoup their finances: power cuts. Barely a week goes by without at least one four-hour power cut here in Trinidad. Indeed, it's to such an extent now that the weekly newspapers will notify citizens of upcoming cuts! The pattern is depressingly familiar here in Bolivia; corporate criminals gorging themselves at the country's top tables, but when the party's over, the average joes are left to pick up the bill.

I'm posting from an internet café in the centre of town as we have just been hit with our third power cut of the week (though conveniently I'll be able to finally catch the goals from Wednesday night)! The reasoning behind this recent spate is simple: it's absolutely roasting! During periods of extreme heat, people increasingly resort to their ceiling fans and air conditioning outlets, which devour more electricity than the Texan criminal justice system. Thus, vast fortunes are saved. And this has been a particularly hot week, with temperatures reaching the high-30s.

Mercifully, the skies had clouded over on Sunday afternoon, when I attended the football match with Farid, otherwise I'd have emerged looking like a lorne sausage. The match itself was a typically early-season affair, neither team looking particularly sharp but unfortunately the visitors were the least worst of the two, cruising to victory despite being a man down in the final 30 minutes. Still, it was good to be on the terraces once again, I had a good conversation with Farid (pictured), and there were a few surprises in store (see earlier post).

While Mamoré look to be regressing, Amanda's Spanish only gets better by the day. This week's milestones included helping to take a Sunday school class last weekend and sharing a request at Thursday's prayer meeting. (the request was for the mission evening that the young people back at our church in Glasgow, Shettleston New, are having this Sunday evening. They emailed some questions and we replied with answers and photos -- hope it goes well, guys!) Re. the English language, I have now come to the end of my online TEFL course and will look to use the next few weeks to plan classes. I won't be doing any teaching until at least May, as FT have dedicated the first three months of our time here to getting our Spanish sorted.

Finally, we took receipt of our newly-stamped passports this week. Hurrah! We can now stay in the country until the 3rd of March 2011, although we will of course be looking to extend our stay by then with a two-year visa. But we're not out of the bureacratic woods quite yet. This week we'll begin the process of applying for our carnets (identity cards). Despite the extreme temperatures, I'm considering investing in a pair of gloves. For the paper cuts.

• Productivity/focus for Craig as he begins preparing materials.
• The carnet application.

• Friendships that continue to develop, both in and outside the Foundation.
• Amanda’s Spanish.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hail, hail, the Celts are...HERE?!

Look what I bumped into at the game yesterday. Guess it explains all the 'fans dressed as seats' at Parkhead these days. I know things aren't exactly rosy under Mowbray, but seriously...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Saturday Post -- 06/03/10

A couple of encouraging updates from last week to kick off. First of all, though we have not officially obtained our one-year visas, they have been paid for in full, i.e., they can’t fling any more surprise charges at us unawares. We should have our newly-stamped passports by next week, when we can then begin the process of obtaining our ‘carnets’. The I.D. card debate has been raging in the UK for some time now, but there’s no getting out of it down here.

Thank you all for your prayers for this and my sermon last Sunday. In a nutshell, as part of the church’s series on 1 John, I used 1 John 1:8-9 to explore confession and its vital – indeed, expected – role in the lives of Christians. Despite having to account for translation time (in the shape of Diego), which effectively reduced the standard sermon length by half, I feel I was able to communicate what the Lord had placed on my heart in its fullness. Next time (if there is a next time!) I’ll be doing my own translating!

Our church horizons broaden a little further this weekend with Amanda taking a Sunday school class of 12-15 year-olds, alongside Jo. Where we come from, churches recognise the blessing of children and usually pray that more would come through their doors. As you can see from the picture, that's not a significant problem for 'El Jireh' (if anything, the challenge is convincing their parents to pop in!). Clearly, then, this is a vital ministry. She attended a leaders’ meeting last Sunday and will begin work this Sunday. Whilst giving her an active role in church life, it will also provide an excellent opportunity to develop her Spanish. 12-15 year-olds.

In the Fundación, Amanda returned to surgery this week, though a larger case-load didn’t see her getting home till 8pm – that’s fairly normal on surgery afternoons (see last week’s post which goes into the rigours in more detail). Aside from this, she was helping to conduct hearing tests on newborn infants at the local maternity hospital. She also had the opportunity to triage new patients by herself for the first time and, excitingly (for Amanda, at least) help out with administrative tasks!

Meanwhile, I’ve been tasked with translating into Spanish the six-monthly sponsors’ report, which those of you who support the Fundación’s work will have received recently. I’m excited to be learning all sorts of unfamiliar medical words (FYI: an operating theatre is a quirófano) though all too aware of my linguistic limitations. You know when you get Google to electronically translate a foreign website only to upload an all-too-literalistic rendering, metaphors and all? If not, try it out. It's pretty hilarious. And you're right, I do need to get out more. Anyway, that’s precisely what I’m trying to avoid. We’ll see how that one turns out.

Additionally, in the absence of Claudia, who heads up education here, I’ve been tasked with some education-related business, such as drawing up monthly reports and convening the monthly education meeting. Currently, these tasks are relatively light compared to other divisions of the Fundación (such as health) but I hope to play a part in expanding this in the near future when I begin teaching English. If our meetings are a reflection of our activity as a division, then for once in my life, I’m happily embracing the prospect of long meetings!

A few weeks ago I wrote about our Spanish teacher, the Chelsea-supporting Farid. Well, you’ll be pleased to hear I haven’t lost my perspective on grace. We’re putting our differences aside and, on Sunday, are going to the opening match of the season for the local side Real Mamoré (still not too sure what’s so Real about them, but not to worry…), who play in the national premier league. Farid is about my age and despite being under his tutelage, we’ve actually managed to develop something resembling a friendship during our classes. This is something Amanda and I have been praying for a lot recently: the development of relationships with locals unconnected with the Fundación. Why? Well, much as we love our friends and colleagues working alongside us, you’ll know all too well you can only have so much time with your workmates! It’s healthy for us to have a wider spectrum of relationships. Additionally, we’re missionaries, and developing relationships is a great way to lay the foundations for the gospel, should the Lord will it.

Finally, I should point out that a Sunday School teacher friend of ours recently got in touch with a great suggestion to post now and again about aspects of life here with particular appeal to youngsters, so that we could get children praying for our ministry. Amanda’s decided to have a go at such posts now and again and the first, concerning our furrier neighbours, is underneath.

• Amanda’s Sunday school classes, beginning this Sunday.
• For Craig as he oversees the education division.
• For discipline in managing our work- and free-time.

• For significant progress in the visa applications this week.
• For Craig’s sermon last Sunday.
• For growing relationships with locals.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda