Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday Post -- 26/03/11

Much like Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins (though without the dodgy cockney accent), regular readers will know that I've been our church's one-man-band for most of the time we've been here. Unlike old Dick, I keep it simple with just a guitar, which I endeavour to strum in as rhythmic a fashion as possible, so as to create some semblance of percussiveness. It's not great for the strings, but there you go. Anyway, a couple of months ago, one of my friends and co-workers from FT, Wilson, started learning the guitar pretty seriously and approached me about playing along with me on Sundays. A few weeks later, a new family arrived at the church, whose eldest son, Diego, is a keen keyboard player and is interested to learn more worship songs. So I asked him if he'd be interested in joining a worship band while he was at it. He said yes and so Wilson, Diego and I are having our first church band practice this Monday at 5pm. I'm not expecting instant results by any means, but the prospect of a little responsibility being lifted from my shoulders on a Sunday is an exciting one -- and after all, mission work is all about training the natives and, in the process, 'working yourself out of a job'. We'll be away for two months later this year, so I would at least like to have a small bank of songs that the guys can draw from whenever I'm out of Trinidad.

On the subject of travels, with the drier winter months approaching, thoughts are turning to work-based excursions at Fundación Totaí. A team of ear & hearing workers from FT are hoping to travel to the remote village of Santa Ana in May or June and Amanda may get the chance to be part of that, on what would be her first such excursion. Beans on toast for me that week then!

Meanwhile, back in Trinidad, we've been overseeing the exams this week for the first module of classes. Most students turned up for it (a far from insignificant occurrence here in Bolivia) and most got themselves a pass. There were a few who didn't quite manage and we'd appreciate your prayers for them, that they would continue to come to the class so that we can keep up the contact with them. We want students to appreciate the value of learning new skills above the value of an exam pass. This coming week we're having snacks and the presentation of certificates to all students, with those who didn't pass receiving a certificate of attendance. And the following week, we'll begin the second of the year's four modules.

I also feel I'm settling in well to the classroom English I'm teaching at the school up the road from FT. I'm gradually getting used to the sloth-like pace; of the hour or so available, I'm finding that I need the first 30 minutes just to remind students of what we've learned so far. But I'm developing a good rapport with the students and I feel that's starting to pay dividends when it comes to motivation and behaviour. Probably the most important lesson I learned while teaching in the UK was that you can vanquish a whole range of potential behaviour issues in one fell swoop by simply developing a positive relationship with students.

We've just sent out our latest three-monthly newsletter. If you haven't been sent a copy, be sure to let us know and we'll add you to our mailing list.

• For our English students, that all would be encouraged by their progress in the first module and that we would be able to maintain a contact with them all.
• For the new worship band, that we would be able to play in church some time within the next few months and that we would grow together as brothers in Christ in the process.

• For new opportunities opening up for Amanda outside Trinidad.
• For Craig's progress in his English classes in the local school.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday Post -- 19/03/11

Last week, not long after I polished off the weekly entry, a bunch of us headed for the stadium to see the latest Mamoré game (as appalling as a 2-0 win is likely to get), including our friend, Farid, and Steve Connor of Sports Outreach, who has been with us over the last ten days to disciple the Sports team at FT. An ex-NFL player, Steve is not one to shirk a challenge, and so, right away, he invited Farid to come and hear him speak the next day at church.

So on Sunday, Farid turned up at the service for the first time since we met him and was challenged by what Steve had to say about having our priorities in the right place. Steve spoke to him at the end of the service and gave him some books to take away, including a New Testament with various sporting vignettes thrown in here and there. He came to lunch with ourselves and the other missionaries at Kenny's house and, when he finally left at 4 o'clock or so, he thanked us for our input in his life, knowing full well the importance of these matters. He's not quite there yet, but he took a couple of important steps at the weekend (such as discovering that Christians aren't nut-jobs) and we're greatly encouraged. Thank you for your prayers.

For me, the weekend feels like yesterday as it's just been one of those pretty intense five days of work since then. In fact, so tired was I when I got home last night that I opted not even to play my beloved fronton this morning. As missionaries, we expect to have to give much of ourselves and not receive anything in return, especially in developing contexts, where natives do not hesitate to ask for assistance. We feel privileged to serve in such a way, indeed we believe that we are all called to such a mindset, but now and again, you just need a good break. So pray that the old batteries will get the re-charge they pretty desperately need this weekend.

Here's Amanda to tell you about an exciting first week of the Sunday School...

Well, Sunday School started last week... myself and a 19-year-old Bolivian girl, Elizabeth, are leading the teenage girls' class and Miguel Angel, one of the church elders, has the teenage boys' class. Last week we decided to put the two classes together for the opening session for the year and we took the opportunity to let the kids get to know us better by sharing our testimonies with them. I spent most of the week before trying to encourage Elizabeth, who was really nervous, and really didn't think about my own nerves or such. I was trying to explain to Elizabeth during the week that God can use the re-telling of all parts of our lives for his glory and through the leading of the Holy Spirit we will be lead to share certain aspects depending on who is there to hear it. For my part, I felt that encouraging the teenagers with the thought that God has a huge, special plan for everyone would be appropriate. Miguel Angel went first, then Elizabeth, and then I finished. I didn't have anything written out, which was probably a mistake, but I didn't want to be reading off of anything... The thing I realised as soon as I started was that one's testimony is generally in the past tense... which in Spanish is complicated because there are two past tenses. So, on my feet I was trying to conjugate verbs in the appropriate past tense and keep my testimony somewhat coherent. It was challenging... and then near the end I wanted to say things like "I would have...", "It would be..." and, while if I thought about it long enough, I could do it... on the spot, I started to break into a cold sweat. But I finished, and although it will not win any awards for eloquence, I asked at the end whether people understood me... and they answered in the affirmative. Miguel Angel was so good as to tie everything together... and that was such an encouragement. At least he understood what I was trying to say...

Today, as well, is Father's Day in Bolivia... so I organised a card-making night for the girl's Sunday School class... nine girls came last night... and while they turned our dining room into a war zone of paper cuttings and my dining room table was lost in the chaos of it all, I think they had a good time. It was nice to organise something for them on my own and allow them to get to know me more, establishing comfort in visiting us in our home, just chatting with them a bit... they all quite fancied Steve Connor's son... but I told them it was just because he was something new to them... it's a good thing that he leaves today, because I couldn't promise his safety tonight at youth group if he was to attend.

This week in Sunday School we're looking at points from the life of Abigail...please pray for the ability to communicate and that the girls would engage as well with the lesson.

• For Craig as he prepares and delivers next week's morning meditations on Galatians.
• For a reinvigorating weekend for both of us.

• For everything that happened with Farid last weekend -- keep praying for him, mind.
• For much encouragement for Amanda in the Sunday School ministry.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Post -- 12/03/11

This time last week I had to make like a tree and leave, with the Carnaval event for the young people at the church about to start. I'm pleased to report the day was a great success, enjoyed as much by leaders as the younger participants.

The day started with a bumper-sized worship time, which I really enjoyed leading and planning and the young people really responded to it. Kenny then gave a talk on Hebrews 12:1-2, on running the race and throwing off everything that hinders. An important message last weekend -- most young people would return to households where Carnaval chaos and its associated temptations would be in full swing until Tuesday.

We then had lunch, followed by a huge game in which the teenagers had to complete 64 mini-challenges in their teams. But what they were really waiting for were the traditional Carnaval water-balloons and water-fights which they heartily indulged in at the end of the day. Kids like nothing better during this time of year than hurling water balloons at unsuspecting strangers in the street -- white people are a favourite target. But, in a way, by providing our own, clean water, we were still providing them with an important service; many 'water' bombs in town contain either the assailant's urine, or the contents of the nearest cuneta (open sewer). Isn't Carnaval wonderful?!

It does have its benefits for non-participants, however, namely that we get the Monday and Tuesday off work. We would usually take advantage of such a break to get out of town for a bit, but this time we were quite content to bum around the house.

On Sunday afternoon, we touched base with Farid for lunch. You may remember he was our language teacher last year and someone with whom we have maintained a close contact. When Jessica came, she brought with her a Spanish-English Bible which we had bought for him as a thank-you gift for his work with us and it seems he is already reading it with interest. Encouragingly, without prompting, he told us he was really interested in reading John's gospel, which, unbeknownst to him, we are about to begin a series on in the church in a couple of weeks' time. He seems excited about learning more and we're praying that this might be a way to further minister to him and encourage him to make a decision for Christ.

That said, he's facing certain discouragements at home. Being the eldest brother in a home where the father left long ago, he is very much the man of the house and feeling the burden that comes with that in regard to his younger brothers, who are having, let's say, responsibility issues. Please pray for Farid.

We're also excited to have a couple more visitors here this week. Greg Jaffe, a medical student from the US, arrived on Monday for around six weeks. Besides his medical interests, he's a guitarist, photographer and has brought with him an external hard-drive laden with great music. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Additionally, here for a shorter time is Steve Connor of Sports Outreach, with his son Harrison. Steve, also American, is director of Sports Outreach International. He's now based out of the US but British readers might remember him from his time in Scotland a few years ago when, as well as his Sports Outreach role, he served as chaplain to the now-defunct Scottish Claymores. He's certainly hard to forget: a giant of a man who also had a brief NFL career with the Chicago Bears and the L.A. (now St. Louis) Rams. Naturally, his primary goal in his ten days here is to encourage the team responsible for the Sports ministry at FT, but we're certainly looking forward to his input at church over the coming week. He speaks not a word of Spanish, meaning we get the added bonus of a sermon in English (translated, of course).

• For our friend Farid, as he explores God's Word and deals with domestic issues (he's going to a Mamoré game with, among others, Steve Connor and me this afternoon so pray for our witness there).
• For the development of the FT website, which has been largely on hold for the past few months, but which Craig is keen to get up-and-running again.
• For Amanda's mum, who is currently serving with a missions team in Uruguay.

• For the short break we enjoyed at the start of this week.
• For a great time with the young folk last weekend.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saturday Post -- 05/03/11

Last week, loyal readers were left on something of a cliffhanger as I alluded to my forthcoming meeting with the local school head-teacher, with a view to providing English classes there. Well, we met and I was thrown straight into things, given 8th-grade and 7th-grade classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, respectively, and starting the next day.

As I walked into the classroom, I realised that, while I had been participating in various educational ventures over the past year as part of my work here, it had been some 14 months since I had stood in front of a group consisting solely of pre-teens/teens. I acknowledge that the thought of working with teenagers will cause most people to reach for the anti-shuddering pills. Yet as I delivered the lesson, entirely free of nerves, communicating with clarity to the students, I felt such a powerful sense of re-affirmation that the Lord has graciously gifted me in this field. It was a real encouragement.

And now that my working week is far more centred around education, I do feel a greater sense of purpose to what I've been placed here in Trinidad to do. It's not that all the little, non-educational jobs I was doing before were not important; they're just better suited to those whose talents lie in those areas.

Amanda, too, is experiencing similar feelings. The directors here saw our first year as being very much a trial period -- not for us personally, so much as our 'getting to grips' with the language and various aspects of the work. Now those 12 months are complete, we've been encouraged to hone our focus. In Amanda's case, this has been in Audiology. The other day we were talking together about how much more busy we have been since we got back from Santa Cruz, yet how much more fulfilled we feel in our work and in our personal lives. We still miss home very much but feel more convinced than at any point in the past that this is where we are meant to be.

An extra-curricular avenue opened up this week as Amanda and I realised another life-long ambition: we were invited on to the board of a football club, I as vice-president and Amanda as a sitting member. Our friend Maicol's team, Libertad, are getting ready for the domestic league season which kicks off at the end of March. This being Bolivia, part of that preparation involves mounds of paperwork and part of that paperwork is the formation of a board. Now, at the very thought of my new role, I had been planning on dropping in on training sessions in my club helicopter from time to time and reading the riot act to disenchanted players after a poor performance at the weekend (those who have seen me play will no doubt be contacting Chambers to assist them in changing their definition of 'naked hypocrisy'), however, it appears that the role simply entails signing a few forms from time to time. The chopper, too, will have to wait, but there are other perks: Amanda and I both get a free pass to all league games, saving us a tidy 30 Bolivianos per match in the process.

All that talk of paperwork reminded me that I almost forgot to mention our visa application, which was finally 'completed' this week. We can't be 100% sure as the people in La Paz may well get in touch within the next couple of months to request more items from us. However, it's on its way now and we just have to pray those passports will be well looked-after.

Lent starts on Wednesday, meaning this is Carnaval weekend. Given that Lent is a period of abstinence and reflection, the preceding three or four days must automatically be a period of debauchery and recklessness. Right? Sadly, that's very much the prevailing mentality down here and we can only pray that the people will at least be safe. For many of the younger people who come to church, such festivities aren't much fun; one girl we know was dumped with her baby sister at Christmas while her parents and other family members partied for some 36 hours, leaving no food in the house.

So, to keep their focus on what matters (and to keep many from going crazy) the youth group are staging a day of games, worship and teaching here at the church. In fact, we're expected there any time now, so that'll be it for now. Thanks for your continued interest.

• For safe travels for our passports and visa application.
• For the event at the church today and, indeed, all the Carnaval festivities, which continue until Tuesday. Pray that, in the quiet moments of reflexion, more and more people would appreciate the meaninglessness of such events and their need of a saviour.

• For an encouraging season of re-affirmation and purpose in our work here.
• For the opportunity we have to work with, and minister to, so many young people, in the church and FT.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda