Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Post -- 26/02/11

Increasingly appreciating the opportunity the blog presents us to stop and take stock every Saturday. The weekdays here are hectic. But, more than anything, this being Trinidad, they are entirely unpredictable.

Take yesterday morning, for instance. Rainy season has naturally caused a build-up of excessive mud in grassy areas, making it pretty precarious at times for driving. A few of us guys were attending to official business when we got a call from one of the nurses, who couldn't get the ambulance (a 4x4, no less) out of one of these ditches. 6 chaps, 2 spades and 90 minutes later, we eventually rescued the trapped vehicle from this particular slough of despond. Job done. Morning gone.

Flexibility is key here. Expect the unexpected. Anticipate disaster. A hard lesson for one so set in their ways as myself -- my diary, unfortunately, can, at times, become my gospel, making Trinidad a most unlikely venue for my missionary skills. The Lord sure ain't finished with me.

Indeed, the week was constantly moved and shifted by the unpredictable. Yet amongst this, we made progress on a few things. Amanda has been hard at work in Audiology testing some new equipment which they have there and her meticulous approach to her work is being very much appreciated by both patients and staff. The English classes continued this week with a few new faces and enthusiasm undimmed, even when faced with the challenge of the first verb.

I've also been afforded the opportunity by the board to look at my weekly schedule and consider what changes could be made to give me more educational opportunities. When we got here over a year ago, we were advised to take things slowly for the first few months and we largely observed this, while picking up small, generic tasks in the meantime. For myself, however, since I took on the role of Director of Education, these activities have not always been conducive to making progress on educational tasks. In many ways, they have kept me humble -- abandoning my office to drive the ambulance a couple of times a week to pick up physio patients, for example, has taught me a lot about what it means to serve -- but the time has come to start prioritising.

To this end, I'll be using my gifts in teaching a little more. From this week, I'll be running a drop-in guitar workshop for an hour on Thursday afternoons. And I'm hoping to meet the head-teacher of the local high school on Monday to offer support in English teaching. The standards of teaching and discipline at state-run schools here are pretty abysmal, so a challenge certainly awaits, but it will be a good reminder of how life is for the majority of children here, how blessed I've been to have had the education I had, and another little awareness-raiser of FT in the community.

Amidst the busyness of the week, we got a little complacent with the visa application, giving it no attention whatsoever, and we now have just four working days next week to get it together before the deadline. Technically, we have just about everything we were asked for ready to submit, however, I refer you to the first three paragraphs; it would not surprise us in the slightest if the government had completely changed the rules within the last month. God-willing, by this time next week our applications will be winging their way to La Paz -- passports included. Yikes!

• For our visa applications, that we would achieve what we need to this week and that the Immigration office would look kindly upon them.
• For Craig as he takes on the new educational tasks in the coming weeks.

• For the positive impact Amanda is making in Audiology.
• For the Lord’s help in preparing meditations this week (on Galatians and The Jerusalem Council).

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Post -- 19/02/11

Last year, one of the first significant moves we made in our ministry was to launch free English classes for beginners at FT. The classes began in June with big numbers in attendance and, over the proceeding months, we helped an ever-diminishing, though committed, bunch of people pick up the basics.

As the months progressed, lessons were learned along the way, mostly by the teachers. For one thing, organising free classes was a pleasant enough idea in theory, but in practice it engendered a lack of commitment from those who were scared off by the first few lessons (which, admittedly, were a little too hasty for this culture -- that's been rectified this year). For another, splitting the course into two modules didn't go far enough. Don't ask me why, but Bolivians love their certificates of achievement, so the more smaller modules into which we could divide the year, the better.

Adding to the frustration of last year was that by the time we took on board such key cultural pointers, it was usually far too late. Therefore, with an earlier, February start date this year, we spent December and January making big revisions to the course structure and working out a fair, affordable price for the classes -- in the end, it simply covered the cost of students' writing materials.

So a lot was riding on Wednesday and Thursday, when, respectively, the Elementary and Basic classes kicked off (these are the 2nd and 1st levels of proficiency recognised by TEFL). All the work of the past few weeks wouldn't count for much if we didn't have greater demand. We spent a good part of the last week praying hard. This time last week I had absolutely no idea how things would turn out.

Well, to paraphrase Harold Wilson, a week is a long time in education, and I can happily report that we had a terrific week with the classes. 8 people, most complete strangers to us, turned up for the Elementary class, with a few more expected next week. But the Basic class was particularly incredible, with a steady stream of students taking us well past my planned limit of 20, to the extent that we had to lock the door at one point to stop the numbers increasing any further.

We're thrilled to see the way God has graciously blessed this ministry, in which we hope that, ultimately, the educational side of things will eventually provide avenues to share the gospel message.

Further encouragement came this week in the form of our visa application. We'd managed to land our Interpol certificates last month, one of several items required to be submitted to La Paz. The cost of this single bit of paper proved to be a stack of photocopies, lawyers' letters etc. and this week, we managed to secure two more certificates which, in themselves, demanded so much paper that Bolivia should be grateful it's a landlocked country -- otherwise the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior would be on to us in no time. It was a bumpy road, not made any easier by unbridled hostility towards white people from certain quarters, but we got there in the end and by next weekend we should have our complete visa application submitted, about a week before the deadline.

Amongst all this, Amanda has managed to juggle her Audiology commitments and is quickly getting to grips with new equipment which has recently arrived at FT. I had the Community classes again this week, where again we saw a big hike in the numbers in attendance.

• For Craig as he leads next week’s morning meditations on Galatians.
• For the welcome challenge of the increased administrative burden placed upon us by the increase in numbers. Pray also for our relationships with students and opportunities to share the gospel.

• For the enthusiastic response to the classes.
• For significant visa progress this week – God-willing, this will be the last of it for two years.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, February 11, 2011

Saturday Post -- 12/02/11

A mere eight days ago, we were lounging in a café bar just off the central plaza in Santa Cruz, revelling in the high internet speeds and counting down the hours till the bus would arrive to take us on the long, bumpy road back to Trinidad.

And, boy, does Santa Cruz feel half a world away today! As I was anticipating in last week's post, the year really got going this week. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon, the classes for children in the community resumed for the year. It's been great this week to see all the planning that Samy (my co-worker in the classes) and I have done over the last couple of months paying off. The kids are really embracing the sense of structure in the classes and enjoying no-end the antics of the complete prat leading them in the English songs. That would be me.

However, three afternoons are now wiped off the weekly calendar, making it a little trickier to squeeze in other things. Such as my sermon for this Sunday. I've mentioned in the past that it takes me a good few days to put one of these together in English, let alone Spanish and this week, it's been difficult to find that momentum. As the week progressed, one urgent task after another was foisted upon me, all of which I completed, but not always, I must admit, with the most positive attitude.

My mind went back to something I'd noticed in my Bible reading a few weeks ago, a small detail which we read about between the beheading of John the Baptist and the feeding of the 5,000. Matthew chapter 13 and verses 14 and 15 read:

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

We have no more than the implication, but we can surely assume that Jesus' reaction to Herod's barbarity was to pray, seeking out that 'solitary place' as a means to achieving this. And yet, it wasn't long before the crowds turned up once again. I was struck by the manner in which he didn't use prayer -- and there can be no higher pursuit -- as an excuse to avoid serving others. Jesus knew that serving others was part and parcel of what it meant to be a prayerful follower of God -- not an optional extra.

In the West, we are actually very well-mannered in certain respects which we are not aware of. We maintain certain inhibitions when it comes to making requests of others, out of respect for each other's 'space'. Here, if the people need you to do something, they will simply ask you and most of the time expect only 'yes' as an answer -- much like those who followed Jesus from town to town. It's quite a transition for one such as I, who prize my personal time and solitude in the workplace to achieve my goals. But it's the way we must operate wherever we are in the world if we are to be true servants.

My sermon, if you're interested, is on 2 Samuel 19, in which David returns to Jerusalem. Quite a bitty chapter with a fair bit of baggage from the past thrown in. Please pray for clarity in my message on Sunday.

Amanda, meanwhile, completed her work on the survey this week and yesterday began working full-time in Audiology. She was encouraged this week by developments in church. Amanda and Jo had been running the teenagers' Sunday School class together. Jo opted to step down when the school holidays arrived and Amanda thought there was an opportunity here for her to work alongside one of the more responsible older teenage girls in the church, whose name is Elizabeth. Elizabeth could fill in for Amanda when her Spanish failed her, while Amanda could use the planning time to develop a closer relationship with Elizabeth and mentor her in her spiritual growth. In advance of this Sunday's meeting on the forthcoming Sunday School year, the church consented to Amanda's proposal, so we're delighted that Amanda now has an important new ministry opportunity here.

The week has been long and I fear I might fall asleep on the keyboard if I keep typoiuuuuuuuuoiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.

Just kidding.

• For a restful weekend and focus for Craig as he preaches on Sunday morning.
• For a Christ-like attitude, in all we do.
• For the English classes, due to begin on Wednesday of next week -- for good numbers and good potential for developing relationships with a view to sharing the gospel.

• For the church's green-lighting of Amanda's Sunday School proposal.
• For an encouraging first week for Craig and all concerned in the Community classes.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, February 4, 2011

Saturday Post -- 05/02/11

I write, safe and sound in the comforts of our Trinidad home at the end of a fantastic week’s holiday. We really are so very blessed.

A couple of months ago, when Jessica first notified us of her dates, we reckoned it might be a good idea to go without a break over the Christmas period (which is fairly muted here anyway) and take some time off to travel with her to Santa Cruz, see her off, and enjoy some quality time together in the process.

Thanks to the kindness of both sets of parents at Christmas, we were able to live it up a little for five nights at Hotel Buganvillas, a fairly swanky establishment, replete with swimming pools, health spa and the kind of breakfast buffet that causes cardiologists to lie awake at night. I have to say, I’m more used to roughing it for holidays, but then again, living in Trinidad effectively means roughing it all year round, so the opportunity to do as little as necessary was warmly welcomed. Even better, FT gets good discounts as they’ve sent them a fair bit of business over the years, so we got a great deal in the process.

Unlike our visit to La Paz last year, I didn’t really feel the need to resort to a travel log. La Paz is the picture-postcard ideal of Bolivia; colourful ladies in bowler-hats hobbling up and down the streets, llama-strewn landscapes just a short drive out of town. But Santa Cruz is very much the gritty industrial centre. Not much to look at and hardly brimming with cultural reference points. But certainly brimming with the sort of amenities we used to take for granted at home and which are sorely lacking in Trinidad. I certainly can’t remember being so excited about a visit to the supermarket. In Trinidad, customers are generally treated as if they should be grateful just to be getting any kind of service at all. In Santa Cruz, I had to pinch myself on more than one occasion as I was asked how I could be assisted.

We were also able to spend some time out of town. On the Sunday, we visited a huge tropical wildlife park owned by a local German family. Though, fascinating though the bird and butterfly sanctuaries were, we inevitably ended up crashing by the big swimming pool there. And we got used to such lounging as the week progressed, making the most of the hotel pool.

But, most importantly, we just savoured the time together outside of the usual work context. We had a great few days with Jessica, Amanda getting the chance to catch up with her sister, I getting the chance to deepen our friendship. After Jessica left on Tuesday morning, sad though we were to see her go, we got the chance to spend time together as a couple for the first time in a few weeks.

We got back this (Friday) morning and will hit the ground running again tomorrow, with the youth group back up and running again in the evening, and an exam at our sign language class in the afternoon. On Monday, my responsibilities with the Community classes resume for the year. And over the coming weeks, we’ll be re-launching the English classes and attempting to make further inroads on our two-year visas. The break was great, but it certainly feels like 2011’s about to begin in earnest.

• For the church’s youth group as it kicks off again and our roles there as assistants and (we hope) as an example of a young, faithful, Christian couple – surprisingly lacking here and therefore an important witness in itself.
• For focus as we resume our tasks at work this week.

• For a terrific few days away from the hustle and bustle of Trinidad.
• For Jessica’s safe arrival back in Canada on Tuesday evening.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda