Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saturday Post -- 30/10/10

We were engaged in much merriment yesterday (Friday) as, together with the rest of the Fundación Totaí staff, we marked FT's sixth anniversary. The above picture shows FT staff and various family members at the official climax of the day's festivities. It was a good opportunity to consider how far FT has come and the Lord's provision over the years.

I say official climax as my favourite bit of the afternoon came later on, when about a dozen of the workers got changed and had a game of football out on the field outside our house. Believe it or not, this was my first proper kickabout since we came to Trinidad nine months ago and therefore embraced by yours truly with no little fervour, though admittedly no large flair. Indeed, if you're a secondary English teacher and you're in need of a simple, easy-to-understand definition of irony for your pupils, a simple photograph of me in my Barcelona 'Messi' shirt would be of immense benefit. Forgive me, Lionel, for I have sinned.

Nevertheless, a great time was had by all, not least the opposition goalie. This week also marked the climax of our Spanish classes with Farid, with Amanda concluding her lessons on Wednesday -- though, of course, the learning has only just begun! Cheesy, that, but true. We're glad that, with a freer morning schedule, Amanda will have more opportunities to learn in practical, everyday situations in the workplace. And we're particularly glad for the relationship we've been able to build with our young teacher over these past months, and will certainly be looking to maintain that friendship in the years to come.

On that subject, I was able to take advantage of our newly-turbo-charged internet speed earlier this week to meet, via Skype, my uni flatmate of two years, Dave Vinton, who like ourselves has recently left familiar shores to serve in a new environment -- though in many ways, it couldn't be any more different than Trinidad. Dave, originally from Bath, is working as assistant pastor at Grace Church in Greenwich, Connecticut or, in his own words 'the Tunbridge Wells of the USA'. Just 30 minutes' drive from New York City, Greenwich is America's unofficial hedge fund capital and home to some of the world's big economic players. Like ourselves, adjustment to the new culture has its ups and downs, but he is relishing this new opportunity. For all that our respective 'fields' are in such contrast with one another, I was intrigued to realise, as I chatted to Dave that, in many ways, we face similar hurdles to the gospel, particularly with regard to the whole concept of salvation by grace and not works (admittedly, something that none of us will ever truly grasp this side of Glory). Here the root of that confusion is centuries of Roman Catholic influence; up there, men and women who have gotten where they are in life by being very, very good at what they do.

I really appreciated getting back in touch with an old friend -- you have no idea of the encouragement that that sort of contact can be to us down here. I heartily commend his ministry to you and direct you to his own website, which details his work.

• For both of us, that with our formal language training now at an end, we would not slacken off in our Spanish studies.
• For Amanda, who has taken on further administrative tasks this week as part of her work, that she would keep afloat among the paperwork.

• For big progress this week on the new FT website, which Craig is developing.
• For some great opportunities to spend time with friends this week, be they work colleagues or old pals from home.

¡Qué Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, October 22, 2010

Saturday Post -- 23/10/10

As you can see from the pictures, above, we've been out and about with a local family this week, spending time on Sunday afternoon with Sammy & Nayara Gutierrez and their family. Way back in the dim and distant past -- or, to be more precise, the '90s -- my parents elected to sponsor a child at La Palmera school in Trinidad, where I was to later on spend my gap year in 2000/1. That child turned out to be Sammy Gutierrez Jr. and he is pictured, from 2003, in the first photograph. Through this sponsorship, our two families became very close, with my parents visiting them on a couple of occasions over the years, and Amanda and I had long been planning to meet with them again.

So we were naturally delighted to accept their invitation for lunch on Sunday past. Only I wasn't mentally prepared to meet the man standing next to me in the second photograph. Sammy is now studying civil engineering at university and is a martial arts specialist. I don't know about Amanda, but with those kind of credentials I'm not planning on calling him 'Junior' any time soon.

It was a real thrill to us to hear of his and the family's progress, with one development towering, Sammy Jr-like, above all else: Sammy and Nayara's coming to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nayara was first, accepting her need of a saviour four years ago at a church meeting she'd been invited to. But, typical bloke, Sammy dug his heels in, all the time going further down the road of alcohol abuse, until, about a year ago, he finally gave in. And not a drop has passed his lips in the time since. As turnarounds go, it's positively Rooney-like. Not only that, but he's since joined FT and is working as a teacher as part of the Community ministry here. This helps him in two ways: firstly, he gets the encouragement of working alongside other Christians; and secondly, he's not under the same pressure to do so many gigs with his band on the Trinidad party circuit, where liquid temptations abound.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Amanda's been out and about in the community with the nurses again while I've been back working on the website after meeting Diego to discuss some further updates this week. We were also able to get back out to San Pedro for another follow-up visit, this time with Amanda coming along as part of the health team.

I have to dash now as the Friday English class is starting soon, but I'll close in the usual fashion...

• For the construction work required to complete the next phase of FT HQ, required in time for the next surgical campaña in two weeks’ time, in which Amanda will be heavily involved.
• For Craig as he seeks to get the new website live as soon as possible.

• For the arrival of our newly-fixed computer, which we’d left in La Paz last month for repairs.
• For a great afternoon of catching up and fellowship with the Gutierrez family on Sunday.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday Post -- 16/10/10

When I set out to blog our goings-on on a weekly basis, I opted for the monicker of 'The Saturday Post', despite aiming to write it on a Friday afternoon of every week. Two reasons led me to this point: firstly, the British readers probably wouldn't get the chance to see it till Saturday anyway; and secondly, it gave me breathing-space so that if I forgot about it on the Friday, I could still get it posted on time.

Well, I think I've done rather well in the sense that it's taken me about nine months to completely forget to post our update on the Friday afternoon. However, being a little pressed for time, I'll need to make it a brief one. Work-wise, I managed to prepare materials for the remaining English classes of the year, while Amanda spent a couple of days at the school where health checks have been carried out. They're doubling their efforts now because they want to get the whole school seen to by the end of the year.

Outside of work, things have been fairly quiet, though we've been able to harness the power of the internet to our advantage in our recreational time. Since we came down here, one of the biggest adjustments has been the lack of books we have at our disposal. Even in subsequent deliveries from Scotland, it's been a struggle to get a lot of texts down here as they take up so much space and weight. However, if you have a Mac (as we do) I discovered this week that it's possible to download a 'Kindle for Mac' device from Amazon, meaning you can read on your computer -- no substitute for the real thing, of course, but as good as we'll get here. Not only that, but they have a million or so classics available to download to your device without having to pay a penny. I'm hoping to read Middlemarch in the next few weeks. We'd also been lamenting our lack of board games. Again, we had to resort to the computer, but we've managed to find a couple of pretty decent versions of probably my two all-time favourites, Risk and Monopoly.

I'd mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we were due to host the Gutierrez family, whom my family have known for some years. Unfortunately they weren't able to come but they insisted that we join them for Sunday lunch this weekend. So we're really looking forward to spending some time with Sammy & Nayara, who only a few years ago came to a saving faith, and their children.

I'm without any preaching or meditations commitments for the next couple of weeks, so I'm hoping to use the slight slackness in the schedule just to get my thinking cap on and pray for wisdom as to the direction of the area of Education at FT. Prayer appreciated.

• For Amanda and the team working in the local school, that they may be able to check all children by the year’s end.
• For another visit to San Pedro, site of the five-day club in July, on Tuesday afternoon, for a couple of hours of games and teaching.

• For a productive week at work for both of us.
• For finding practical solutions to our leisure needs. May seem trivial, but it makes a huge difference in a town that lacks even a library.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, October 8, 2010

Saturday Post -- 09/10/10

Many thanks for your prayers this week for my time leading the meditations in the mornings at FT. Our focus for the week was the final few verses of chapter 7 or 2 Corinthians, a somewhat complex passage exploring the ins-and-outs of the various politics between Paul and the church in Corinth. However, with the Lord's help I was able to draw out some basic points, such as today when we focused on Paul's joy in being proven correct to Titus with regard to the church, not a joy that came from some sense of personal vindication so much as the joy of being seen to be a man of integrity and the glory that it consequently brought to God. Being someone of integrity is something I've been thinking a lot about recently. Never in my life have I been placed on such a pedestal as I am here, delivering sermons and meditations on a pretty regular basis. With broken homes everywhere we turn, men of integrity are lacking and, therefore, when someone can teach from the Bible, people take notice. But I'm so aware of my shortcomings too -- if the folk who come to our church every week, mostly young people, had a sneak peek into my thought life, for example, I'd be run out of town!

I would hate to stand before the Lord on that Day, telling him about all the ways I pointed my brothers and sisters in the direction of holiness, only to be interrupted as he queries, "Holiness, eh? That's all well and good. But what about that rubbish you allowed yourself to binge on every night on the telly?" or something to that effect. At times this world turns my head in all directions but, if I'm honest with myself, the last thing I wish is to join the Pharisees in the Society of Hypocrites.

One thing integrity means is consistency of character in our relationships, be they with believers or not, and Amanda and I have certainly been encouraged in this regard with a couple called Omar & Lucy, who live just around the corner from us. We got to know Omar & Lucy -- who have two daughters -- through Diego & Jo, with Omar a regular now at fronton every Saturday morning. When we got a call last month out of the blue on Amanda's birthday, asking us if we'd come round for lunch at their place to celebrate, we knew the Lord was establishing a close bond between us. We've been able to use the relationship to witness to them as a couple and, at the same time, they've started coming as a family to the church's Bible studies on a Thursday night. KC came to me today to let me know that she was looking to start a one-on-one Bible study in the book of John with Lucy and she was wondering if I'd be interested in doing something with Omar, given our friendship. So we're hoping to have something up and running, possibly as early as next week. Please be praying for this great opportunity.

As mentioned last week, administration has dominated recent days, however, the English classes have not gone by the wayside and they reached a landmark this week with the first exam for the Wednesday group (the Friday group are a week behind due to local holidays). It appears that all students passed, so some encouragement there to keep pressing on. At the same time, as we're currently planning for 2011, I'm looking to make a few changes to the classes, specifically shorter, more bite-sized modules throughout the year that will, Lord-willing, encourage a higher uptake. Believe it or not, certificates still have great power here -- people love nothing more than to display a fancy bit of paper on their wall. The classes continue until the end of this year, but our cross-cultural lessons show no sign of abating.

• For our time with Farid, our language teacher, as he comes to visit us this evening. The other week he was asking Amanda about the Reformation and it’s led to some encouraging conversations.
• For the study with Omar, that the Lord will use it to deepen our friendship and, ultimately, bring Omar to a saving faith.

• For a real sense this week of friendships being strengthened – it’s been a great encouragement.
• For the Lord’s guidance this past week as I preached on Sunday and shared in the mornings.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, October 1, 2010

Saturday Post -- 02/10/10

"Administration. Administration. Administration." With apologies to Tony Blair, that has been the theme of the working week. In October of each year, the initial budgets for the forthcoming calendar year are prepared, so I've spent a good chunk of the week trying to plan for the Education division of FT next year. While hours spent in front of Microsoft Excel ain't exactly my cup of tea, it's provided a good opportunity to think about what direction the Lord is leading us in as a division. Excel is par for the course for Amanda, of course, and she's been supporting the nursing staff with that side of things this week.

Still, it's not all been spreadsheets. On Tuesday, a group of FT workers, including myself, headed back to San Pedro, where July's five-day club had been held, to spend another afternoon with the local children. We had no idea what to expect (despite our advanced warnings they had no idea we were coming) and we were met by only a handful at first, but as the afternoon wore on, a steady trickle of local kids got wind of the activity and, in the end, some 60 young people turned up -- as many as, if not more than, the group that came regularly in July. I led some singing, the Sports division led some games and Kenny gave 'em the gospel!

It was no easy afternoon, mind you, given the weather of the past week or so. Unfortunately, the smoke has reared its ugly head yet again and Trinidad remains smothered in the stuff. This, added to some unseasonably warm weather (spring only began about 10 days ago) combined to send temperatures into the high-30s for a good week or so. At times it was just about unbearable, creating that vicious cycle whereby the heat drains any energy you have, yet the nights are so stuffy that sleep is a major challenge. However, we have to remind ourselves that we, at least, have the benefit of fans in our home, something which most families around here simply cannot afford.

And speaking of family, I had the chance to speak to mine yesterday, 'face-to-face', via Skype. Hardly newsworthy in the developed world, but a recent hike in internet speeds has made a big difference of late and it was a thrill to be able to add vision to the sound. So, if there are any Skype users out there who fancy a chin-wag some time, our screenname is slybacon75. Look forward to it!

A fair few prayer points this week...

• For lunchtime on Sunday afternoon, when we’re inviting over Samy & Nayara Gutierrez and their family, old friends of ours and recently-born again Christians.
• For Paris, not the city (though I’m not stopping you) but a physio at FT (pictured, top) with whom Craig has been sharing his faith recently.
• For Craig and his fairly hefty teaching load – preaching on Sunday and leading the morning meditations this week.
• For the morning meditations, not just this week but all weeks. A good number of FT workers aren’t believers and this is, for most, the only regular Christian input they receive. Pray that they would come to understand the reason for our work here and come to know Jesus as their personal saviour.
• For both of us as we trawl through the end-of-year administration.

• For the recent opening with Paris (see above).
• For a south wind which has decreased temperatures significantly from the furnace-like heights of earlier in the week.
• For being able to chat with the family this week.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda