Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday Post -- 26/11/11

For as long as we are based out here in Bolivia, the miles that separate us from friends and family will always irk, but this week the strain of distance has been most acutely felt. For the past four days, my family have maintained a vigil around my Grandpa Cunningham's care home bedside, lending some company as the final release from his toils awaits. His once full frame is a distant memory; a skeletal face buried in a pillow occasionally, briefly, probably with an effort beyond our comprehension, acknowledges the presence of visitors. Alzheimer's' grip will soon, mercifully, be loosened.

It is natural to wish to be near loved ones at such a time. But I draw comfort from the fact that the old friend I effectively lost many years ago would understand -- indeed, probably approve of -- our absence.

Like his equivalent on my mother's side, my Grandpa Cunningham made the most of his time in this life, but by no means in promotion of it. They both knew where the action was really at. And I never knew how good I had it.

If there was one secular maxim he lived by, it was a categorical 'No nonsense'. Suffering fools gladly never quite caught on with him. A sign on the door of his study read 'Lack of preparation on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine'. When married with his mischievous sense of humour, the results of this intolerance of the idle often became part of Cunningham lore. Pity those poor souls sat beside him on the train to work who would attempt to steal a glimpse of his beloved Glasgow Herald -- and duly prompt him to start reading it upside-down.

But the occasional 'life-lessons' he imparted should not be confused with a coldness of heart. If anything, they reflected a sense of urgency, that life was too precious an opportunity to do things by half, that there was too great a story to share with his fellow man. A very generous early retirement offer from British Rail was accepted in the mid-80s, but in reality, retiring was the last thing on his mind. Immediately he invested in a personal computer (in days when they cost a small fortune) and set about re-training himself. We can learn much from older generations, though with technology it usually works the other way round. Not so with the Cunninghams.

Indeed, one of my earliest memories is of a rainy school holiday when I was around five or six years-old, sat in Grandpa's office chair and, key by hidden key, typing out the words for a church hymn book he was compiling. I can well reflect now on this voracious reader's passion in that moment both for my own personal literacy and for the building of the Kingdom.

And if that meant family sacrifices, then so be it. He was delighted about my gap-year opportunity in 2000 when I first came to Bolivia and proud that a family member was taking such a step; befitting of a man who used his retirement to twice visit missionaries in Brazil and sat on the board of Scottish missionary agency Interlink for the best part of a decade, effectively becoming the resident IT guy in the process. Here, as everywhere else, the 'personal' pursuits really had a higher purpose in mind.

Indeed, so healthy was his perspective that I would go so far as to vouch that, were he today in full charge of his capacities, he would wish his current state to serve as a reminder to those who do not yet know the Lord as their saviour, both of our utter helplessness as fallen creatures, and of the urgency of the day.

For me, the most agonising of all farewells as we left Scotland back in January 2010 took place at my grandparents' home in Hamilton, when Grandpa Cunningham was just about recognising us and no more. Kirsty had joined us and the five of us spent perhaps the best part of an hour shooting the breeze together, doing our best to ignore the elephant in the room: that whether by death or by Alzheimers' continued draining of the memory, he would never again know Amanda and me by name in this life. I did my best to hold it together for Grandma's sake, but as I lay down that night, I cried like never before in my adult life and for the first time, wished that awful wish, that it could somehow, soon, all be over. The thought of returning home to an old friend who didn't know me was terrifying.

And now the moment of release is at hand, and all, but Grandpa's very breath, is past tense. Right now, I long to be there, as family beckon him home with his favourite hymns and Psalms. But I know too that some day soon I will be reunited in heaven with my resurrected Grandpa Cunningham, free of Alzheimer's, indeed, free of any blemish, and reunited with the Lord and saviour he so loved. Somewhere deep within him, inaccessible to all but himself, I am sure the spirit of Paul's words to the Philippians is very much alive. In truth, it always was.

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

  • For my Grandpa Cunningham as he takes his leave of this world and for my family as they seek to support him and each other. Pray particularly for my Grandma Cunningham.
  • For the life well lived, and the sobering example it is to Amanda and I as we too seek to make Christ's name known.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

P.S. Barely an hour after having written this entry, my Grandpa died, at 12.55pm UK time. The pain is over and as I cannot best sum up what this moment means for us, I will leave it to Professor Lewis. 'Now at last [he is] beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.'

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Post -- 19/11/11

Yet another holiday weekend is being enjoyed in the Cunningham household, particularly after a busy few days. Visits to, among other destinations, the river, Wimbledon, Augusta National and a Soviet military silo (not all of them via the Wii!) made for some good times. Amanda especially was run off her feet at times this week in her audiology work and enjoyed the hectic nature of her working week. In the photograph, above, are two of Amanda's nursing colleagues, América (left) and Kleider (right), with caretaker Maribel in the centre. The three were among the latest recipients of Bibles from our recent supply. Every morning at the Foundation we have a time of meditation upon a particular passage of Scripture, but not all staff members even own a Bible. So our prayer is that they'll get good use out of them and that they'll be read as much in leisure time as in work time.

As for me, I've been gamefully engaged in church duties. This weekend, the youth group are away on their annual camp, which is run by another church, which on one hand deprives me of two key band members, but on the other hand means no rehearsals and allows me a chance to get things together for the next few weeks and, most of all, Christmas. December at church last year was particularly hard-going for this fuzzy traditionalist. The only tangible nod to the season was an afternoon Christmas Eve service. As the church's sole band member, I had no idea if Spanish Christmas carols even existed and, even then, they are not sung widely here at all. If it weren't for my 'Carols at King's' album, I'm not quite sure how I would have survived.

I was determined not to let that happen this year, so I took to iTunes and found some good traditional and contemporary tracks, one of which has a heavily evangelistic edge, which could serve us well on Christmas Eve, when usually a lot of family members come out. Hopefully we can start singing these over the next few weeks, so that something of a crescendo is reached on Christmas Eve, as opposed to Bolivians looking around at each other in search of a melody.

My other church work this week has been preparing a sermon for tomorrow's service, and it has been a passage of solace to us as yet more hurdles have arisen concerning our land transfer. I won't go into details but we are beginning to wonder if this whole exhausting process will ever end!

My allotted section was the second half of John chapter 13, a passage in which, at first glance, the odds appear to be heavily weighted against Jesus. As Good Friday approaches, one of his disciples is on the verge of effectively handing him over to the authorities, while the rest of them aren't much use themselves, with self-appointed hard-man Peter making big promises that won't be kept. Things appear to be very much beyond Christ's control. And yet taking a closer look this week brought home to me a new truth: that the disciples' misdemeanours are not only prophesied by Jesus, but they are in many cases commanded. Indeed, Judas himself is commanded by Jesus to 'do what he must' both at the Passover feast and at the moment of betrayal.

It has all brought home a renewed sense of God's sovereignty. If the son of God was imbued with such authority on what was clearly the most difficult 24 hours of his time on earth, how much more is he able to do 'more than we ask or imagine' from his seat at the right hand of the Father! God has a soul-stirring purpose for every believer, and nothing can stop its accomplishment.


  • For Craig as he preaches tomorrow at church.
  • For those at work and in the church who have recently received Bibles, that those who know God would grow closer to him, and that those who don't would find him.
  • For a productive week at work.
  • For a renewed sense of the Lord's hand at work in the difficult times, and for his speaking to me before I have the opportunity to share with the congregation.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday Post -- 12/11/11

The above pictured are four girls from the Wednesday Community class at FT, which Craig runs along with a fellow Bolivian worker (from left to right, Tirza, Ailin, Litzi and Joselin). Shortly before we left here for Canada, we received word that our missionary organisation, LAM Canada, had received a substantial donation specifically earmarked for the purchase of Bibles. We were able to tap into the funds ourselves and bought 50 of them in Santa Cruz upon our return to Bolivia. These four children are the first recipients of them. Two of them, Ailin and Joselin, are also regular church attenders at El Jireh, so having Bibles to hand should be of use to them at church services. But more than anything, please pray with us that they would grow to study and know God's Word, that they would be changed by it, and that they would hold fast to it. They come from a very poor village just outside of Trinidad, where some pretty desperate domestic situations are played out on a daily basis. They are in particular need of the unshakeable foundations of Scripture.

On the same note, last week I blogged on my impending session with the youth group on the necessity of regular Bible reading. They seemed to appreciate what I had to say, particularly when I used the anecdote of finding Irn-Bru in La Paz to illustrate the precious nature of Scripture. Furthermore, they all made a firm commitment to read their Bibles every day. Pray for them as they undertake this endeavour, which certainly requires discipline in the early days.

Our FT work this week continued to be dominated by planning for 2012, with various departmental meetings taking place to discern God's will and hammer out solid targets for the next 12 months. I'm particularly excited about a potential new endeavour as part of the Education programme. Amanda and I certainly enjoy teaching English classes here. It's been a great way of establishing relationships with people in the community. However, of late we had been questioning the long-term value of the classes when it came to reaching people with the Gospel -- it had not immediately appeared to be the most natural avenue.

However, while we were in Canada, Amanda's aunt Dorothy (who herself is an ESL teacher) encouraged us to get online and seek out materials which use English to teach Scripture (and vice-versa). I had not quite realised the sheer abundance of useful materials out there, and the extent of their use throughout churches, particularly in North America. A visitor from Scotland is due to land in Trinidad today, and she should have with her a couple of textbooks I ordered on the subject. Our hope is that, by next year, through the use of such materials the English classes will have a significantly greater evangelism and discipleship focus.

Finally, an update on our building plans. The landowner was in town this week and we managed to conclude the lion's share of the land transfer documentation which pertains to her. Indeed, in order to start building, we just need to take care of a few small details ourselves. So having been so galled by events a fortnight ago, this really was a huge encouragement for us. Thank you for your prayers.


  • For a series of seminars which are taking place at El Jireh this weekend, chaired by Pastor Juan Antonio Maldonado, on Christian family life. Juan Antonio, from La Paz, is an old friend of the church's (he helped me immensely in acquiring the band equipment earlier this year) and gave his first talk last night, where a number of new faces appeared. Pray for more of them!
  • For all the young people we work with, that the Bible would become a key tool in their daily struggles.
  • For progress in planning for 2012 this week.
  • For significant advances in the last few days as we have sought to finalise the land transfer.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday Post -- 05/11/11

These are some pictures from last weekend's 7th anniversary barbecue. Here I am swimming in a giant vat of hot chocolate...I wish! Still, the copious mud at the lake's surface made for a very pleasant water temperature.

Amanda, like many, wisely stayed in or around the shade of the car most of the time. It was a hot one!
A decidedly quieter week, this one, after the endless travel and meetings of the one before. Another holiday, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) allowed us a day's excursion to a remote lake a good 45 minutes' drive out of town. I took my zoom lens in the hope of snapping some monkeys, which friends of ours have witnessed out there in the past. Alas, even they appeared to have recoiled from the sheer heat of what was a suffocating day, temperature-wise. 

We also enjoyed a relaxing day at the FT staff barbecue, marking the 7th anniversary since its founding. An ENT surgery patient had very kindly offered his sizeable chunk of land to us for the day, which included two huge mud-lakes. Wherever there's a body of water to be found, I'm often first in, and this was no exception. It makes me wonder if I've got something of my late grandmother in me, who was said to be a born swimmer. Until I start swimming...

But the undoubted highlight of the week for us came on Tuesday evening when, for the first time in nearly two years, we conversed with our old friends Bryan & Amanda Dove, via Skype. Amanda and I met the Doves (from Ohio) at a newbies lunch at St George's Tron when we were engaged in our post-marriage, Glasgow-wide church-hunt. They had just arrived in town for Bryan's post-graduate studies at Glasgow University and, like ourselves, were certainly on the lookout for some Christian companionship. Well, from the moment Bryan revealed his fellow United sympathies (and a happy 25th anniversary to you, Sir Alex) our friendship was simply an inevitability and over our two-and-a-half-years in the city, we shared many a Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner, hill-walk, chick-flick night, Old Trafford visit and so many more special times. When we left for Bolivia, Amanda was due any day now with their first child, Saoirse.

Well, we finally got our first live glimpse of the 22-month-old Saoirse and the more recent addition, Reuben, on Tuesday evening. Moreover, we had a great conversation. Bryan & Amanda are now based out in San Diego, where Bryan is serving as a Navy Chaplain. It was exciting to hear what God is doing in their lives and really beneficial to be better informed as to how we can pray for them. Like us, they keep up a fairly active web presence, but there is just no substitute for a good, face-to-face conversation. We really enjoyed it, and there are so many others out there we'd love to speak with in person once again. So if you have Skype and you're up for a chat, please get in touch!

There have been some interesting developments in my own ministry this week. While in Canada, we were really convicted of the need for us to be focused on personally discipling younger believers and we prayed that God would reveal 'disciples' to us. On Thursday, I had the privilege of meeting a 16-year-old church and youth group regular called Nino. We're going to be working through a discipleship book together for an indefinite period and I used Thursday to introduce the material and establish some ground rules in terms of accountability. Today I'm due to meet with Paulo, another teenage boy who is our next-door neighbour, with loads of leadership potential, but somewhat lacking at the moment in terms of Christian friendships.

Tonight at the youth group, as part of our year-long study of 'The Purpose Driven Life' we're due to look at the Word of God, and I'm down to give the talk. However, it has become clear to us as leaders that the vast majority of the youth group aren't picking up their Bibles at all between Monday and Friday. So, with much prayer, I've decided it's time for a challenge. I'm going to outline the benefits of regular Bible reading -- indeed, the necessity of it -- and show them how they can practically go about establishing a regular reading time. Not only that, but I'm going to issue each of the young people with a contract, signed by themselves and their small-group leader, which commits them to a daily time of Bible reading.

In all honesty, we have no idea how 'successful' the enterprise will be, as commitment is a major weakness in this culture. However, we're keen not to just let the teenagers leave with vague hopes of getting into daily Bible reading, only to forget about it the next day. We want them to think seriously upon how to go about this truly fundamental practice in the Christian life.

One last thing before we sign off: now that 2011 is slowly but surely drawing to close, our thoughts are turning to designing our brand, spanking new prayer-cards for 2012. If you received one in the mail this year, then you can expect one in the coming months. If you didn't and you would like us to post you one for 2012, please get in touch at our email address, Ta!


  • For Craig's discipleship work with Nino and Paulo. Amanda is also looking to establish a regular discipleship slot with a girl called Adriana in the coming weeks.
  • For Craig's talk with the young people tonight, and for a group-wide commitment to a daily devotional time.
  • For some relaxing excursions over the past week, particularly the chance last Saturday to spend time socially with our fellow workers at FT.
  • For our Skype chat with our friends Bryan & Amanda. 
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda