Friday, July 30, 2010

Saturday Post -- 31/07/10

Amanda, as legions worldwide are already aware, is a woman of many talents. Thorough yet thoughtful, kind yet crafty (in a good way), she brightens the lives of all she encounters. I am indeed privileged to call her my wife – and she the very picture of grace to call me her husband.

Anyway, given that Amanda is to administration what Tony Hayward is to career self-destruction, her abilities were always going to be a perfect fit for Fundación Totaí, as transparent and thorough an organisation as any we have come across. In Bolivia, however, such scrupulousness leads to inevitable skyscrapers of paperwork, making it exceptionally difficult for FT’s admin staff to keep up (though deadlines are seldom missed).

Back in her previous work in a Glasgow health centre, it is said that computer keyboards shuddered in fear at the very mention of Amanda’s name, knowing a severe bashing was on the cards. Therefore, we knew that when her Spanish reached a certain plane, her administrative portfolio would soon grow to the same extent as her nursing work. And in the last couple of weeks, we’ve both been really encouraged to see some tasks that required a particular administrative flair being passed on to Amanda. We hope she will be of particular assistance to Jo Santana, wife to Dr. Diego, whose clerical burden at times beggars belief.

Elsewhere, I’ve been up to my usual tricks in education, though towards the end of the month the work always increases a couple of notches with reports and sponsor updates to be delivered. I’m particularly enjoying my temporary charge of the Emmaus distance learning Bible course – such an encouragement to guide so many people in Biblical truth. And I’ve been digesting a bit of that myself, in preparation for my next sermon, which is on Sunday. I’ll be speaking on 2 John 7-11, which warns against false prophets, but amidst everything is buried the telling phrase ‘watch yourselves’. As I type the words I will speak, I can assure you that I write to Craig Cunningham as much as anyone else.

• For the administrative burden upon both of us which we usually face around this time of the month.
• For Craig as he preaches on Sunday.
• For continued guidance as to the direction of our work. A few interesting developments this week.

• For Amanda’s talents and their being used to great effect.
• For the Lord’s continued assurance of our place here in Trinidad.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, July 23, 2010

Saturday Post -- 24/07/10

Will have to be a brief one today as we have a birthday party to be at in a few minutes. Needless to say, following last week's exploits, the pace of things took on a far more Bolivian feel, a fact for which all three of us (that's Amanda, me and the car) are all truly thankful.

Morning meditations has been my main task of the week. When the baton was handed over to me on Monday, there were just a couple of verses left to cover in 2 Corinthians 3 (we work through the Bible book-by-book at a non-specified pace). And yet I barely scratched the surface of the monster verse that is verse 18. Were it a politician it would be Kenneth 'Big Beast' Clarke. Were it a car it would be a Hummer. Were it an ego it would belong to Gary Barlow. So much glorious truth and so little time -- sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am to be doing this work.

On Saturday, we both passed our sign language test with flying colours. It turned out to be not quite as formal as we'd been expecting -- this is Bolivia, after all -- but glad for the opportunity to take on yet another language. My poor little head can't take much more.

As for my English classes, the recent decision to open them up to younger learners is really paying dividends, with increasing numbers of local teenagers coming along and enjoying the opportunity to learn English from an English speaker rather than an unqualified teacher working from a barely decipherable textbook (as is often the case in the schools here).

Also increasing are the temperatures, once again acting my age and not my shoe size, following last week's perilous south winds. We'll enjoy the relative cool while it lasts.

• For a continuing deepening of relationships with workmates/locals.
• For wisdom for the way forward with the English classes – we’re considering launching a new beginners’ course to meet demand.

• For the enthusiastic group coming along to the English classes and the relationships we’re developing with them.
• For the help Craig received taking this week’s Meditaciones.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, July 16, 2010

Saturday Post -- 17/07/10

It’s always nice to get away now and again and this week we certainly managed to do that, as we took the five-day club on the road. Every morning, a team of about 25 volunteers set off from FT at around 8.15am and headed 60km north to the remote village of San Pedro, originally a Jesuit mission station founded in 1697. We had a great time and we thought we’d share some of our pictures with you.

This is the tollbooth which sits just outside Trinidad on the road north. About half of the journey to San Pedro was on roads such as this, and the latter half on dirt roads – hence the brown with a hint of burgundy look to my car. Having only picked it up a couple of weeks ago, it certainly earned its stripes this week – a baptism of dust, if you will!

And this was the scene which met us in San Pedro. This photo is taken in the main ‘plaza’ (essentially a field with some pigs and chickens running around), with the church, as usual in Latin America, taking pride of place. Our excitement was dampened a little upon discovering that this church is, in fact, a reconstruction of the church the Jesuits built, going up a mere five years ago. Nevertheless, a great example of the Jesuit architectural style. Churches like these can be seen all around the Beni region.

A health team from FT, which included Amanda, went on ahead of the main five-day club team every morning, to carry out routine examinations on the locals. Over the five days some 170 patients were assessed. The club took place in a school building, enabling the medical staff to make use of the classrooms.

After an opening game with the children, we would sing songs together, with me on the guitar. The songs, which are generally old staples in Trinidad, were largely unknown to those in San Pedro – a great opportunity, then, to share, and an important reminder of how blessed we are here in Trinidad with such resources.

Then, it was the turn of one of the other leaders to share a Bible story – again, most of the children would be hearing these for the first time this week. San, one of the workers in FT’s sports ministry, is telling the story of the prodigal son in this photo. Over the week, around 50 children came to the club at various points.

One of the children enjoying a good run-around during the games time.

The team this week included a number of short-term volunteers. A group from Carrubbers Christian Centre in Edinburgh have been here for a fortnight and their veritable myriad of talents – including health – were put to great use. Pictured with Amanda is Esther Wilson, a medical student at Dundee whose home is Peebles. She’s here for the whole month of July and celebrated her 22nd birthday with us last Sunday (graciously sharing the spotlight with a certain sporting occasion).

All in all, we felt really blessed to be part of such an opportunity. With so little previous exposure to the gospel in the village, our approach had to be a lot simpler than last week in Trinidad, but we hope that, at the very least, the ground is being prepared.

So, with such a busy week behind us (with our usual work continuing apace in the afternoons) we’ll be glad of the rest this weekend – though not before a visit to a local car wash!

PS -- The year's biggest sur to date has hit Trinidad this week and temperatures have fallen to a calamitous 11C. Given the usual climate, it might as well be -11C. I'm wearing the five layers to prove it.

• For the people of San Pedro, that they would consider the things they have seen and heard this week.
• For Fundación Totaí, that we can find ways to build on the witness of this week in the future.

• For a great opportunity to share the good news with a hitherto unexposed audience.
• For safety on the roads to and from San Pedro.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, July 9, 2010

Saturday Post -- 10/07/10

The last couple of weeks have been something of a rollercoaster. More Space Mountain at Disneyland than Nemesis at Alton Towers in terms of ferocity, but stirring nonetheless. It all began what seems like light years ago, a week past Sunday.

We were enjoying lunch in Trinidad's main plaza, while watching Argentina demolish Mexico (an Argentina victory? Told you it felt like light-years ago!). We were about to pay the bill when we realised we didn't have enough change, so I popped across the road with Amanda's card to perform my famous Latin American disappearing card trick. To the uninitiated, this involves me withdrawing money from an ATM and immediately walking away, overlooking the fact that down in this neck of the woods, the card is given back after the withdrawal, and not before like everywhere else. It was first performed in Cusco, Peru back in the summer of 2003 and was granted a repeat performance, alas, two Sundays past.

Of course, you never realise these things until some time after the event and, sure enough, The Boomtown Rats' classic 'I Don't Like Mondays' was fighting for headspace the next morning. Unfortunately the card was never retrieved and a potential shadow of sorts was cast over the week. It will likely be about a month before we can order a replacement, though I at least still have my card.

A couple of hours later, however, things took an unexpected turn for the better when we received notice from the Immigration office that our carnets had finally arrived from La Paz. Indeed, of the 300 or so cards that they had been waiting to be delivered, ours were in an initial batch of eight, with no telling how long the others were going to take. For this, we were indeed thankful and we immediately made arrangements to pick up the carnets and, on the Wednesday, sort out what we'd really been waiting for: our driving licences.

After about 101 moto rides to several different agencies, by Thursday afternoon, we were finally in proud possession of our Bolivian licences, meaning that last weekend, we could finally take hold of our car, which we had paid for over a month ago. As you can imagine, we're delighted to have this mobility. Indeed, as Amanda pointed out the other day, it's the first time since we got married that both of us have been legally certified to drive in the same country. So Amanda can do the shopping without me now. Well, not quite...

The car came in handy on Wednesday as we somewhat disbelievingly marked our third anniversary in a local restaurant. As always, it presented us with a great opportunity to reflect on the past three years and how far we've come -- and how much further we still have to go! This week, we've both been assisting at FT's five-day club for the local school holidays with one of our duties being to go over the memory verse of the day with the 80-strong group of kids. On Wednesday, Amanda presided over the memorising of the oft-quoted Jeremiah 33:3: "Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known." As I considered the verse on our anniversary, I was struck by just how true this has been of our lives so far, pre- and post-wedding. We have by no means been faithful to the Lord's calling at every moment throughout our lives, but when we have cried out to him, the answers have not always been what we sought, yet not one of them can now be questioned -- not least, our presence and work here in Trinidad, Bolivia, something we were certainly not planning for in the first year or so of our marriage, but which has so far proved a significant blessing in our lives.

As far as work has been concerned over the last fortnight, preparation for, and execution of, the five-day club have been foremost in our thoughts. And, in a sense, we've only really just begun. This week was something of a dry run for next week, when we will, God-willing, set off for the remote village of San Pedro to take the club on the road! The trip, mainly on dirt roads, will be embarked upon not only by the five-day club team but FT's health staff (with Amanda switching roles for the week) as an opportunity to carry out health checks and health education sessions among a remote people group. We're travelling there and back, so it'll be a great opportunity to take our new set of wheels into their natural habitat. You won't find me driving a Chelsea Tractor!

Finally, predictions for the weekend? My heart says Holland (the Orange Scotland, let's be honest), but my head Spain, which will be music to the ears of my boss, Dr. Diego. Perfect timing after Andy Murray's gift-wrapped surrender to Rafa Nadal. At this rate, who's to say even perennial loser Sergio Garcia can't go on and win the Open Championship? Come to think of it, I may get lucky on that front -- there's more chance of me never losing another bank card.

• For focus, energy and a faithful witness as we embark on next week’s treks.
• For Craig as he assists in writing FT’s six-monthly report.

• For a great first five-day club this week.
• For the provision, at long last, of our carnets.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda