Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday Post -- 30/07/11

This week's post comes to you from Santa Cruz, where we managed to arrive in one piece on Wednesday. We got a flight booked for Wednesday lunchtime, well ahead of the trial (on the Thursday) and a major protest march (on the Wednesday afternoon). But as it turns out, the trial itself didn't even end up taking place, with the Beni governor managing to force a postponement. All said and done, it gave us a full week here in the big smoke before our flight to Canada this coming Wednesday, the 3rd of July.

And we're making the most of it. As mentioned last week, we managed to get accommodation with the family of a missionary nurse (not doctor, as I mistakenly said last week) who Amanda had met on the boat trip. Their names are Bill and Bev Smith and they have three children: Nicholas, Jessica and Benjamin. Bev works in a missionary clinic here in Santa Cruz while Bill is a teacher at a school here for the children of missionaries. They themselves are on the point of heading to the US for a furlough year, but before that they're squeezing in another field trip, meaning that, since Friday morning, we've had the house to ourselves. We've already spent many a happy hour reading in their garden (the grass really is greener -- or, more to the point, existent -- in Santa Cruz) and Amanda's enjoyed the company of the dogs, though I'm in the bad books (doghouse?) as I won't let them lie on our bed.

Santa Cruz itself is a pretty good holding-cell for our transition to Western ways. While marked by the typical sprawl and chaos of a third world city, it's got a sizeable upper class and, in certain districts, provides the services they demand. Last night, for example, we went to see a film at a multiplex cinema, surrounded by designer clothes shops and a food court. We're just back in from having a snack at a coffee house in the main plaza that would not be out of place on Byres Road. The internet speeds are way faster than anything we've come across in Bolivia.

In so many ways, it's a cut above Trinidad, and yet, our heart is very much in our home city. Tears weren't quite shed, but as we said our farewells to friends over the last few days there, we realised just how blessed we have been, and in some respects came to see that many considered us greater friends to them than we had even realised. Ministries are important, but at the end of the day, it's the people that matter, and God has put so many of real value in our lives.

It's fair to say that, from January onwards, we've been more-or-less counting down the months, weeks, then days till Wednesday, but much as we enjoy living in Trinidad, we hadn't expected to be so sad. Yet more affirmation, I suppose, from the Lord of our ministry and our place in that particular corner of the globe right now.

We've taken the decision not to commit ourselves to weekly updates while in Canada -- our main news items could involve such hijinks as, say, finding a tiara that's shiny enough for Jessica's wedding. However, I get bored easily and could do with the company, so look out for sporadic updates over the next couple of months. And, of course, there's plenty you can be praying for, so see below for relevant points.

Finally, if you're in Canada, remember that we'll be visiting various churches, so have a look at the list below if you're interested in coming to hear us give a report. And if you can't make it to any of those, or if you just fancy a general natter, drop us a line and we'll look into touching base.

Wednesday, 10th of August
West Fifth Bible Chapel, Hamilton, 7pm

Wednesday, 14th of September
Markham Bible Chapel, 7.30pm

Thursday, 15th of September
Mount Albert Bible Fellowship, 8pm

Sunday, 25th of September
Rosslyn Ridge Bible Chapel, Ajax, 6pm

• For Amanda as she oversees various aspects of the preparation for Jessica’s wedding on the 27th of August.
• For our church meetings, that we’d give a faithful and clear account of the Lord’s work in Trinidad.
• For our time with our respective families.
• For safety on the road and in the air.
• For time and space to reflect critically upon our first 18 months and plan for the future.
• For a good rest!

• For the Lord’s faithfulness to us since January 2010 (and, let’s be honest, way before then too).
• For getting out of Trinidad safely.
• For the opportunity to re-charge the batteries a little here in Santa Cruz.
• For the many friends out there, like yourself, who take time out to read our blog and pray for our ministry – your support is so crucial to what we do out here. Thank you once again.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday Post -- 23/07/11

Well, something of a spanner has been hurled into the works of our departure plans, though having lived here for 18 months now, we really should have known better than to have made plans.

This coming Thursday, the governor of the Beni region is to stand trial, accused of bribery. So far, so Bolivia. Except that yesterday, we were informed that the last time a regional governor stood trial (in Pando, which neighbours Beni to the south), civil unrest gripped Trinidad and all major roads were blocked. Now our plan had been to leave here by overnight bus for Santa Cruz (where we will, Lord-willing, board our flight to Canada on the 3rd of August) next Sunday evening (the 31st). However, an indefinite blockade has already been announced from Thursday, the 28th. So we have opted, instead, to eliminate any risk, and aim to book a flight for Wednesday, the day before the trial. From what we know, airport workers can go on strike, but when this happens the airports tend to be militarised and flights go ahead.

This means that we'll be in Santa Cruz a full week before our flight to Toronto. However, we've managed to source accommodation with one of the missionary doctors Amanda worked with on the boat. We called her yesterday and she has very kindly agreed to put us up for the week. She and her husband are very busy with more trips, but they're happy to have us stay. So there's a big answer to prayer.

Anyway, Amanda is about to go into town as I type so please pray that she'd be able to secure us a couple of seats on a plane and that we'd be able to get to Santa Cruz safely and in plenty of time for our international flight.

All of this has, additionally, put the squeeze on our work schedule for this week. Leaving a few days earlier means, for example, that the church worship band will only get one more Sunday playing together under my leadership before they're on their own. There will be a dinner this coming Friday for all the 5-Day Club leaders -- obviously, I won't be attending that any more. I am on morning meditations this week, but, if we leave on schedule, the spot will have to be filled on Thursday and Friday. Amanda has had to bring forward an evening with some of her Sunday School girls. But this is obviously God's plan and we just continue to leave it with him and trust in his timing.

We both have a lot to do over the next few days to get everything ready for departure, so I'm going to leave it there for now this week, but thank you again for your interest and prayers and, God-willing, the next post will be from Santa Cruz itself.

• For patience and productivity as we wade through a mammoth to-do list before leaving Trinidad
• For securing a means of travel to Santa Cruz, in good time to make our international flight.

• For the Lord’s gracious provision of accommodation for us in Santa Cruz.
• For finally obtaining our carnets (Bolivian I.D. cards) last week. Meant to mention this in the last post, but it slipped my mind. Anyway, having these makes life for foreigners here a lot easier, so definitely worth shouting about.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Post -- 17/07/11

Posting a little later than usual this week due to a packed Saturday, crowned by an early morning fishing trip. Having spent the week getting up at the crack of dawn to set off for the 5-Day Club in San Pedro (more on which later) the thought of another early start at the weekend did not exactly set the pulse racing. Furthermore, though enjoyable enough activities in themselves, I have tended to have as much success at these things as Rupert Murdoch has in crisis management. We've been fishing a couple of times since we arrived in Bolivia. The first time, the fish appeared to have taken a holiday, and the second time, well...this happened.

Nonetheless, the size of the catch was not of paramount importance as this was the first 'men-only' outing in the history of El Jireh church and, along with ten guys from the youth group, there were five old(er) codgers, yours truly included. In other words, an exciting opportunity to forge closer ties.

And even more excitingly for me, my early rise was thoroughly vindicated, as not only did I manage to bag myself the first fish (a piranha) of the day -- and, therefore, of my lifetime -- but I ended up catching 40% of the entire haul. Impressive, eh? Until you clock that the entire haul between 15 of us was a mere ten fish. Anyway, if you don't believe me, the photographic evidence, thanks to that man Kenny Holt, is on Facebook.

A couple of the younger guys on the trip had also been on the leadership team over the course of the 5-Day Clubs, and this last week saw the second, and final, club take place in San Pedro, an altogether different context than Trinidad. In terms of accessibility, it's a good hour's drive out of town, half of which covers a dirt road. Indeed, so keen was I on Monday to cut the journey time, that the left-hand shock on the car buckled under the pressure. FT kindly provided me with a hire car for the remainder of the week.

Though we've been there a number of times now (including a week last year) this week we learned a little more about just how closed the village is, in terms of gospel ministry. After the Trinidad club, we had been used to a steady rise in the attendance as the week progressed. In San Pedro, the numbers plummeted dramatically on the Tuesday. On Friday, we met the pastor of the sole non-Catholic church in town (average Sunday turn-out: 4 teenagers) who told us that, from experience, he would not be surprised at all if many of the kids who turned up on Monday were beaten by their parents for doing so.

Education is a further obstacle. Naturally, teachers are reluctant to settle out in the middle of nowhere, so the government sends newly-qualified teachers to such locales for the first two years after their training. Their relative inexperience, and the shockingly low quality of their training, make for very poorly educated children.

In spite of all these factors, and in spite of the increasing lethargy of the leadership team as a whole, the Lord worked and we reckon that about five children made a commitment, and that in the face of probable opposition at home. And, among the rest of the 40 or so children who came every day, an important seed was planted which we'll seek to nurture in coming months.

Before I sign off, readers in the vicinity of Markham might be interested to know that we confirmed a date to give a report at Markham Bible Chapel (Amanda's old church in Canada) on Wednesday the 14th of September at 7.30pm. That's in addition to the dates we already have confirmed, which were referred to in the last quarterly newsletter.

• For the seeds sown among the children of San Pedro.
• For Craig as he preaches, in a few hours’ time, on John 6 (‘the bread of life’).

• For safety on the road this week.
• For the strengthened ties in the church between the grown-ups and the teenagers over the last fortnight, due to the 5-Day Clubs.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturday Post -- 09/07/11

First up, we hope everyone was finally able to get the newsletter this week. Apologies for the repeated attempts and inbox clutter -- hopefully, third time was a charm.

If you've had the chance to look at it yet, you'll have read, and seen, plenty related to Amanda's trip, which she has been hesitant to call 'fun', but it was certainly an eye-opener for her in terms of the potential of medical ministry.

Anyway, by Saturday evening, when she finally arrived, I was probably only in more need of a razor (her first words: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!?!) and, pleasingly, while she found the trip beneficial, she confessed that a week was a bit of a stretch for her too. Perhaps if there's another trip I'll have the chance to tag along and join the ministry team. At least then she can keep me on beard-watch.

There was an extra special reason to look forward to our reunion in the shape of our anniversary on Thursday, which certainly had something of a developing-world-missionary spin to it. We wrapped up English class at 6pm, had a quick change and then drove across town to leave our laundry with a family we support. Off to the restaurant, where we enjoyed a great feed; a quick stop at our favourite ice cream shop (one of the few that use bottled water to make it); and back at the church by 8.30pm to drive home the kids whom we usually transport at the end of the Bible Study. If not quite a relaxing evening, we certainly did our bit for Bolivia's fuel industry.

The first week of the half-year school holidays is now at an end and, with it, the first week of the 5-Day Clubs. This week's club, which is a joint effort between FT and our church, El Jireh, took place at a school up the road from FT headquarters, and well over 100 kids came every day to sing, play games and hear the gospel explained clearly. It was a thrilling week on a couple of levels.

That's me leading the singing with some youth volunteers chipping in with the actions

First of all, the 5-Day Clubs in the past had generally been organised and run by a handful of willing adult missionaries and FT workers. But over the last year, regular visitors to the blog will probably have picked up on the real need for the discipleship in the community, particularly for the younger people. So the decision was taken three months ago to have a weekly training session for a group of 10 teenage believers, in order to leave far more responsibility in their hands, helping us older fuddy-duddies, but more importantly, training them up so that some day they'll be able to take charge of the club and other such ministries. It was terrific to witness at first-hand the growth of these teenagers as the week went on. People in this culture at all levels, sadly, simply flee from responsibility, making for a steep learning curve for the young people. Western expectations such as the importance of punctuality, for example, simply aren't a consideration for Benians. But after a shaky first day, they responded so well and we were greatly encouraged.

The facilities we had access to were packed out every day

And secondly, many of us had the privilege of praying with children as they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Right from the get-go, the prevailing mantra within the leadership team was that this week was completely God's work in which we had the privilege of serving, and we were greatly humbled to see him at work in spite of our weaknesses.

The whole thing, largely, went very smoothly, and the coming week offers an opportunity for lessons to be applied as we move on to the village of San Pedro, where the format of the club will remain the same, if not the demographics. A good education is hard enough to come by in cities like Trinidad -- in the country, forget it. So we'll be tweaking the teaching materials to suit. And as for punctuality, well, leaving Trinidad at 7.30am every morning will prove the defining test for any teenager!

• For the coming week in San Pedro – particularly that we’d be guarded against complacency.
• For the children who accepted Christ as their saviour this week, particularly that they would be quick to tell others of their decision, that they would receive the support of their families and that we’d be able to maintain a contact with them.

• For the Lord’s work at this week’s 5-Day Club.
• For rest for Amanda this week following her river adventures.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Saturday Post -- 02/07/11

Well, that wasn't too bad, now, was it? Received word late last night that Amanda and the remainder of the boat team are due in to town this afternoon, one day earlier than billed, and my seven days of solitude are set to come to an end.

As expected, the week took care of itself with plenty of activity. I spent large chunks of the last few days preparing for my talk at this evening's youth group meeting and for the 5-day clubs (which start on Monday) as well as the usual lesson planning etc. More time was also available in the evenings to pursue pastimes. I caught up on reading, I continued with my rigorous piano practice regime, and I somehow managed to find a way to play N64 classic Zelda: Ocarina of Time on our Mac, a game that is just as rewarding (and time-consuming) now as it was when I was 16, acne-ridden and in study denial.

Oh, and I grew a big beard! Amanda hates 'em, so it'll be gone before sunset, but I felt I owed it to myself to take advantage of this week of solitude to see how I'm progressing in the man-stakes. Truth is, it's beyond shaggy now and the itch-factor has only increased over time, rendering sleep next to impossible. But I have achieved my goal, I now know the hitherto unknown, and perhaps one day, as I lie on my deathbed, I will be able to cast a dewy eye back, safe in the knowledge that after a week without a razor, I look a right numpty.

This is me pre-bedtime last night. A mere six hours' sleep ensued.

I bet I'm not the only person at this point thinking that I could really do with having Amanda back.

Meanwhile, Bolivia is still reeling from the shock of flirting with victory over Argentina in the Copa América's curtain-raiser, in what would have been a second consecutive win over its not-so-beloved, yet infinitely superior, neighbour down south. Messi, Tevez and co. had no answer for a delicious back-heeler that was guided into the net by one of the Argentinians. See video below. It was equalised on 77 minutes by Sergio Agüero. A much better start for the national team than anyone had expected. Anyway, I used the excuse of the game to catch up with a couple of guys from the youth group, one of whom, Alan, is leaving home this weekend to study in Cochabamba. He's a good friend of mine and I actually taught him when I was first in Trinidad back in 2000/2001. He's definitely a bit of a home-boy, but he's very able and could do with spreading his wings and seeing a world outside of Trinidad. Please pray for him as he settles there.

• For safe travels for Amanda as she makes her way back to Trinidad today.
• For the fortnight of 5-day clubs, which begins this Monday. The first week is in Trinidad, the second week in the remote village of San Pedro. I’ll be in charge of music and will lead a small group. Obviously, it’s a very evangelism-focused programme, so would really appreciate all your prayers.

• For the Lord’s guidance as I preached last Sunday.
• For the Lord’s help to the boat team this week. There will be a lot more on that in our next newsletter, which is due out this week.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda