Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday Post -- 29/10/11

Energy and patience were the two buzzwords I left with blog visitors last week as I prepared to head for Santa Cruz. Well, I received just about enough of the former to get by, while the latter, I'm afraid, was forcibly drained by the recipient of my visit.

That would be the (now former) landowner of our plots, where we had been hoping to start building our home in the next few weeks. That is now not looking likely, due to a combination of the rapid disappearance of 'dry time' to get the foundations laid down before rainy season and, alas, the devil-may-care attitude of the landowner.

When I called her a week past on Friday, to propose meeting her in Santa Cruz, and thereby hastening the building process, her effusive reaction was akin to that of someone being told 'You've just won a million dollars. Would you mind if I pop round with it to your house?' "Oh, but of course! Come! Come!"

And go I did. On Monday morning, I arrive at her palace home at the appointed time. All the signs of unfettered opulence. And, without wishing to dust down me old red flag, that's a warning sign in itself. There is no middle class in Bolivia, and so people of her income bracket more or less run the show, are unacquainted with the word 'no' and often tend to have a stupendously obnoxious attitude to those further down the societal rungs. For more on this, see Psalm 10.

Strangely, she isn't there. 45 minutes later, her gleaming SUV appears. She'd been at the gym when she noticed some random person kept calling her. I wonder who that could have been?

Nevertheless, we quickly get down to numbers and she sees that we've covered our end of the bargain fairly and squarely, meaning that we can meet later at her lawyer's to process the necessary documentation. An upturn in fortunes, it seems. Only I take my leave of her with an ominous warning ringing in my ears: most of her relevant paperwork is in Trinidad!!!

And sure enough, that afternoon, I secure from her just one of four documents I'd required from her and which she knew I had come to draw up with her. Without these documents, Amanda and I cannot legally proceed with construction. I didn't hear a word of apology from her the whole afternoon -- not a hint of it -- but, then again, perhaps I should have shown more contrition. After all, wasn't I the one inconveniencing her?

And as I trudged back to the bus terminal that evening, unrested, unwashed and unhappy, it was hard not to come to the conclusion that the whole trip had been the biggest waste of time since Neville Chamberlain took a trip to Munich and decided that chap with the ridiculous moustache wasn't so nasty after all. I had well and truly been taken for a ride.

We met with our architect the following day and he confirmed that we were out of options until we could secure the rest of the paperwork from the heroine of the piece. She will, in fact, be in Trinidad for the whole of November -- unfortunately, too late to break ground before rainy season. However, we will certainly keep pestering her until she decides she can't take any more of us plebs and hands over the documents.

Furthermore, when all is said and done, we can be thankful that we have a guaranteed roof over our heads for the time being -- indeed, the terms of our stay in our current apartment are entirely up to us. So we're obviously disappointed and frustrated over the week's events, but so thankful that our need to build is not urgent.

Today is the seventh anniversary of Fundación Totaí, one of the two ministries we work for here in Trinidad (the other being our church 'El Jireh'). To mark the occasion, the whole staff is leaving in about an hour's time for a family day by the river. Which doesn't leave me with a lot of time, but I'll briefly mention the other event we left with you last week, the planning meeting which took place on Wednesday and Thursday. There, as a staff, and as individual areas (i.e. Amanda with health and I with education), we assessed where we are now and the kinds of long-term goals we can be committing to in the coming years. And from that, we then began to plan in earnest our day-to-day work in 2012.

It's always good to pause and take stock, and as a staff we all feel the benefit of having done so, with an eye on what awaits us. I'm particularly excited about the potential of the educational work; more than anything, I'm hoping to expand and diversify the range of evangelistic activities in the community, be they religious education classes, support activities for local churches, or English classes which use the Bible as the basis for learning (or, indeed, vice-versa!). Over the coming weeks and months, I'll hopefully be able to share in a lot more detail. Until then, we love you and leave you.

  • For continued patience and grace as we seek to conclude our land dealings in the coming weeks.
  • For wisdom and discernment as we seek to implement the changes discussed over the past few days as a foundation.
  • For God's provision for us. We wish we could build soon, but the need is not a pressing one.
  • For safety during Craig's travels, and a little rest too (four hours' sleep on the overnight trip home is a new record!).
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday Post -- 22/10/11

One obvious way in which we've seen God's hand at work over the last couple of years is our never wanting for shelter. Our missionary colleagues have graciously opened their doors to us from the start, with Kenny & Claudia affording us an en-suite bedroom at the beginning of 2010; a few months later, Diego & Jo vacated their whole upstairs area, allowing us to move into an 'apartment' of our own. We have been here ever since.

All the while, however, we've been keenly aware of our need to get a first footing on the property ladder. Last year, when some neighbouring plots went up for sale, we decided to put a deposit down for some land, though we had no immediate plans to build (which is the significantly cheaper option here). But earlier this year, our hand was somewhat forced, as Diego & Jo made the decision that they and their three children would leave Bolivia by December. Reassuringly, the home's future owners have said we can stay here as long as we like. Nonetheless, we reckoned it might be time to speak to an architect.

Edwin, highly recommended by all and sundry, came on board in July, and has been sketching away ever since to design a simple three-bedroom home, which we hope to populate with local visitors, foreign visitors and, if God wills it, our own family. If you've read the blog much, you'll have noted the recurring theme of our knocking doors and the Lord flinging them open, and naturally, we see this house as something of a leap of faith, taking our long-term commitment here to a new level. Well if the speed of this process is anything to go by, we are clearly meant to be here -- three months after contacting Edwin, we're all set to break ground.

The only significant hurdle which remains is the transfer of documents of land ownership. Now that the land belongs to us, we need to meet with the former landowner to transfer the paperwork to our name. Though resident in Santa Cruz, she is planning on coming to Trinidad in November. However, with rainy season looming large, Edwin is keen to get the foundations down ASAP. So we've taken the decision that I will travel to Santa Cruz via overnight bus on Sunday night, meet with the former landowner on Monday morning, and head back to Trinidad that night. While the thought of getting this process out of the way is appealing, I am a light sleeper at the best of times, and am anticipating a rough couple of days as a result. Please pray for energy and patience.

And pray that we'll both be rested up for the remainder of the week, as the Foundation is closing for a couple of days so that we can sit down and plan our future strategy as an organisation. We need a sense of the Lord's guidance in a big way throughout this process.

I've been challenged this week about what it means for the Christian to listen to the Lord and discern his will. Tomorrow I'll have the opportunity to give my first sermon since our break on John 12:1-19. The first chunk of this passage is taken from Jesus' visit to Lazarus, Mary and Martha's home in Bethany the day before Palm Sunday, and Mary's anointing of his feet. I was struck by the contrast between Mary and the disciples in this scene (albeit the only disciple in John's account to kick up a fuss is Judas). They consider Mary's use of this expensive ointment as wasteful. Jesus, of course, defends Mary, explaining that she's simply preparing his body for burial.

I thought about how it could be that such a gulf of foresight existed between the disciples and Mary. How many times had Jesus forewarned the disciples as to the events of that coming week? Yet on as many, if not more occasions, we know the disciples ignored these forewarnings, sometimes even attempting to convince him not to pursue such a path. What privileged access they had for three full years, and yet what glaring lack of belief.

What did Mary have that even the disciples didn't? As I meditated, I remembered that Mary had a previous connection with the Lord's feet. In Luke 10:39 we read '[Mary] sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.' No protestations. No niggling doubts. Just a willingness to humble oneself and hear what the Lord had to say.

Secondly, and briefly, I read Daniel 6 as part of my readings yesterday, which recounts the great Sunday School tale of Daniel's 'disobedience' and relatively uneventful night in the lion's den. I had read the passage so often in the past, but the Lord drew my attention in a new way to a simple narrative aspect of the narrative in verse 10: 'he had windows open toward Jerusalem'. God had granted Daniel with such wisdom that fame and fortune had followed him wherever he so much as breathed in the great ancient city of Babylon. He had been taken as a captive from a spiritually-destitute Judah and within years had had bestowed on him the highest titles outside monarchy itself. He doubtless had full access to the greatest pleasures of the world at that time. Yet, above all, he had windows open toward Jerusalem. Daniel knew that the real glory was on the horizon, and he was in no mood to miss out on it.

And so we pray for ourselves and for others that we too would learn to humble ourselves in a status-driven world, to keep our own eyes on the Lord when there is so much to distract us, and to listen to him when our every fibre of our frail beings says 'no'.

  • For safety and energy for Craig as he travels to Santa Cruz, and success in the transferral of documentation.
  • For the Lord's wisdom during the planning days for the Foundation later this week.
  • For the Lord's blessing of our home plans thus far, and therein, his clear instruction to us to remain in Trinidad.
  • For all that God continues to teach us through his Word.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday Post -- 15/10/11

We all know the feeling. You’ve quietly gone about and provided assistance in some important, sacrificial way. You set out not to draw too much attention to yourself. You hear others commenting positively on your efforts and battle with yourself not to say anything. But most of the time, you end up ‘confessing’ to your kindness – quietly, subtly, but leaving no doubt in the listeners’ minds. Being thanked en masse isn’t exactly the least awkward of outcomes, but it doesn’t stop you from doing it over and over again.

If you, like most of us, are the kind of person who thrives on a little dose of recognition for your hard work now and again, then for goodness’ sake, stay out of Bolivia!

Last week I alluded a little to certain facets of our culture-shock. This week, the big challenge has been switching back into full service mode. I used to think I was fairly resilient in this sense. I’d thrown myself into a number of such endeavours back in the UK and had been quite sure that I wasn’t looking for any praise. But the thing is, in Western culture, it seems there’s always someone out there who appreciates what you’re doing, be it your church pastor/elder or the recipient of the action itself.

Now you may be aware that I’m not someone who takes compliments very well. Verbally, at least, I’ll sooner deflect the attention from myself than lap up the attention. But I hadn’t realised just how attention-seeking I was till I came here. Some of the locals, upon getting the gist of what Amanda and I do down here, quickly assume that we will drop everything at any moment to provide assistance. This includes the evenings, which we tend to guard as family time. There was one situation in particular this week when this happened and we quite happily met one need after another. And you should have seen me. I was mentally hanging on this person’s every word for that ‘thank-you’ that seemed like it was never coming.

I assume such situations will become easier as the weeks and months go by. But it’s definitely another way in which spending time back in a Western context hasn’t necessarily helped me. ‘You deserve…’ is a common refrain in advertising. Church bulletins aren’t exactly awash with opportunities to sacrifice one’s time on behalf of others. Shopkeepers virtually fall over themselves to help you (consumer rights haven’t quite taken root down here).

It’s a tough adjustment. But we press on, sounding no trumpet and forbidding our left hand from knowing the right’s whereabouts. Because the one who so commanded us didn’t anticipate a single utterance of gratitude for the greatest sacrifice of all.

In our 9-to-5, we’ve been hard at it. We’ve arrived back in Bolivia just in time for another surgical campaign at the foundation, and so Amanda has been (wo)manfully covering the day-to-day nursing work single-handedly while the other nurses support the surgeons. As for me, most of my educational activities are back in full swing now, with the first English classes taking place, both at the foundation and in the local secondary school.

Additionally, the Community classes have resumed, though with a subtle twist. Although there is no shortage of kids in our immediate neighbourhood, the majority of children who come to the classes come from far enough afield that the foundation has paid for a minibus to pick them up, with most of those coming from a small village called Maná, which sits about four miles outside Trinidad. For a while, we had been discussing the possibility of taking the class ‘on the road’ as a possible template for the future. Well, an opportunity has presented itself this month. With four weeks of surgical campaigns taking place at the foundation, the Community classes were faced with a potential month-long shutdown.

So, instead, we decided to give the experiment a try. On Wednesday and Friday, in Maná’s main school building, we taught the same familiar faces while making some new acquaintances at the same time. The usual format of the class when at the foundation is a short English lesson followed by a short Bible story. This month, aware that not all of the kids might ‘come back’ with us to the foundation when the programme of classes is over, we’ve opted to simply give ’em the gospel! This week the children responded positively to what we had to say about heaven and eternity – pray that they’ll grasp the significance in the coming weeks of what it cost Jesus to open heaven’s door to them.

  • For our attitudes as we continue to deal with change in ways we hadn’t always expected.
  • For a positive response to the message we’re sharing at the Community classes.
  • For a successful resumption of the educational work.
  • For the privilege of serving others here in Trinidad and having very opportunities to put God’s Word into practice.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Saturday Post -- 08/10/11

Well, here we are again, back in Bolivia, and a warm welcome back to our blog readers. I must apologise for falling short of our promise to post sporadically during our time away, however, hopefully our recent newsletter gives a decent overview of our time in North America.

Last Friday we touched down in Santa Cruz following our overnight flight from Miami. You can probably imagine our feelings upon returning to Bolivia. Joyfully skipping through the arrivals area. Heading straight to a restaurant for some much-missed Bolivian cuisine. Rejoicing in a dose of overpowering heat after a few weeks of the Canadian autumn.

All of the above are things which certainly did not take place last weekend. Much as I'd love to tell you we came back here with a spring in our step, it was in fact one of the most difficult few days we've had to endure here. In our taxi from the airport, as we whittled past one scene of chaos after another, I silently, and repeatedly, posed a fundamental question to the Lord: what on earth are we doing here?

The following day we awaited our departing bus for Trinidad, leaving that evening -- again, an overnight trip. The reality that we would at least soon be 'home' certainly gave us cheer. And yet, if anything, coming back to Trinidad -- a strange place even by Bolivian standards -- was even more of an emotional juggernaut. Within hours, we were catching up on the local news, with much to be encouraged by, but also a fair few stories of fellow believers in the church who simply weren't getting their act together spiritually. The questions that surfaced in Santa Cruz only intensified as I had what can only be described as a 'Jonah moment': What was the point in leaving behind our comfortable, Western lifestyles just to come back here and put in all the effort of ministering to people who routinely ignore what the Bible has to say to them anyway?

Neither of us could take much more and, following a couple of Skype calls to the parents we'd so recently bid farewell, we both broke down.

Well, it's amazing what a combination of a good night's sleep and the word of God can do. As I came to the next morning, I reached for my Bible. My daily readings follow Robert Murray M'Cheyne's calendar, allowing me to read, in an annual cycle, the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice. My Psalm for that morning, as it happened, was Psalm 23, a lyric well known to believers and non-believers alike. This Psalm, which begins 'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want' speaks plainly of the Lord's protection of, and provision for, those who trust in him. It is a Psalm which is read and sung at many occasions of importance for Christians as a reminder of the Lord's faithfulness. It is an overwhelmingly positive Psalm, and is often sung or read with appropriate joy.

Yet as I considered the Psalm again that morning for the umpteenth time in my life, one phrase, from the third verse, wedged itself into my consciousness: 'He guides me in paths of righteousness For His name's sake'. It is possible to read this verse, as I have done many times in the past, and amidst the Psalm's generally upbeat tone, ignore the gravity of what is said here. The Lord does not promise to lead his faithful servants down paths of prosperity, nor paths of popularity, nor paths of peace. Rather he will lead us down paths of righteousness. And, all clichés aside, we know how difficult it can be to do the right thing. Slowly but surely, a blessed reassurance came over me that, though our path had taken us out of a 'civilised' context and into the utter confusion of Bolivia, we could at the very least be sure that, by leaving those comforts behind, we had followed what is perhaps the Lord's 'path of righteousness' for our lives right now.

Not that we are so naive as to believe that we've left a 'better' existence behind. We'd danced the culture-shift tango enough times in the past to consider ourselves well prepared for what would await us in Canada. Nevertheless, we frequently found ourselves caught out over those two months, particularly when it came to discerning the difference between necessities and luxuries, something we suspect is a growing problem for those in developed societies. There are few clothes shops of any real quality here (those that are charge eye-watering prices) and so there was a practical need, on our part, to stock up. But we soon found ourselves browsing other 'essentials'. Early on in the trip, we noticed the rubber skins which people had attached to their laptops, in order to give them an extra layer of protection. We quickly resolved that we, too, needed these accessories, at a price tag of around $60 each. It was only when we had a sit-down in the shopping mall and reflected that we had not at any point in our time in Bolivia thought to ourselves 'What my computer really could so with is a new skin!' that we realised our misguidedness.

It's the oldest trick in the advertising book: to convince someone they have a need of something. But the convenience culture appears to be taking ever-deeper roots and we had to be careful not to fall victim to it. I sometimes wonder if people look at Amanda and I and think to themselves 'boy, they must be great people to be able to live and work in such a poor place as Bolivia'. If anything, I wonder at times if God put us here precisely to save us from ourselves!

I have rambled long enough. Back at the ranch, we're now settled and have been working a few days. Amanda has pretty much gone straight back into her old healthcare tasks, while I decided to start my teaching duties next week in order to give myself a week to get my educational materials and lesson plans in order. More on our work next week.

For now, our main item of prayer that we would wish to share with you is for a nurse at the foundation called Asalia, with whom Amanda is particularly close. A couple of weeks ago, with just weeks remaining in her first pregnancy, she went to hospital with high blood pressure. One thing led to another and, in the end, she tragically lost her baby, a girl. Unfortunately, while Asalia and her husband were in the hospital, someone stole their motorcycle, their only means of transport.

Amanda has been meeting with Asalia over the past week to provide comfort and a listening ear, and will continue to do so. Please pray especially for Asalia and her husband, who are not believers, as they come to terms with their loss, and for Amanda, that she'll be given the right words when the time is right to speak, and self-discipline when it isn't.

• For our friend and colleague, Asalia, and for her family.
• For patience and grace as we settle back into a very different culture.

• For a restful couple of months in North America, and particularly the chance to be reunited with loved ones again.
• For safe travels back to Bolivia.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda