Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday Post -- 28//1/12

I shan’t lie to you: this blog post will be briefer than a Marks & Sparks management briefing on the briefs department. With a sermon to finish, a discipleship slot this afternoon, band practice and the first youth meeting of 2012 tonight, time is in short supply. Oh, and a football match of some import is due to kick off any time now!

Amanda’s lunch with the nurses last weekend was a great success, and a mutually beneficial enterprise all round. Since moving here, we’ve become keen fish eaters, the fish here being chunkier than a ‘Celebrity Fat Club’ contestant. However, we had not yet mastered the art of buying and cooking fish. Indeed, the best fish is only available at a certain place in town very early on a Saturday morning – that is, 8am (well, Amanda describes it as very early).

So, killing two birds with one stone, Amanda reckoned if some of her nursing colleagues could instruct her in how best to source and prepare the fish, she would host a veritable fish-feast for them. And so it proved, with the nurses still commenting today on how much of a good time they had. And the flat doesn’t even smell of fish any more.

I thought it best to steer clear of the sisterhood, and so I met up with my old language teacher friend, Farid, who I know some of you have been praying for. He is still ploughing away at university here, though picking up interesting language opportunities here and there; he spent a week on a luxury tourist boat translating for Americans earlier this month. He still comes along to church now and again and is well aware of what is preached on a Sunday, but hasn’t quite made that all-important step of faith yet. Fertile soil there, though – please keep praying.

At work, we have been up to our usual, with preparations continuing for the English classes (with an agreed-upon start-date decided this week of Tuesday 28th of February) and a raft of audiology patients. Amanda has also been helping in an Excel course for the nurses at FT. Each month, the nurses have to submit a series of reports, recording in statistics the work done in each area of health over those four weeks or so. However, very few of the nursing team have ever received any training in Excel, and so, a good friend of ours from church, Jerry, who is also a tech-whizz, has kindly volunteered his services over the past couple of weeks. Amanda, the one who usually has to tidy up the reports for everyone at the end of the month, is assisting. Hopefully the new insights gained will ease the burden on her shoulders – though I must say, I personally wasn’t expecting the ‘where is the start button in Windows’ conversation to go on as long as it did!

Oh, and I got out last night for my first proper kickabout for a year or so. I can barely feel my legs.

  • Craig is preaching on the second-half of John 16 tomorrow morning. Pray for guidance as he continues his preparation.
  •  For the new session of the church youth group, which gets underway tonight. Pray for wisdom for us as leaders as we seek to minister to them as a group and as individuals with a whole range of needs.

  • On that note, give thanks for safe travels and an encouraging week for Ivonne, Mariana, and Wendy, who are three of the, let’s say, ‘young adults’ on the youth committee. They spent last week at a camp for youth leaders and have come back with new ideas aplenty.
  • Give thanks also for continued opportunities over the past week to nurture our friendships here.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Post -- 21/01/12

"This is a promo shot for my REALITY SHOW..."

After a hard day’s work, Amanda likes nothing better than to come home and plonk herself down in front of a reality show called ‘Property Virgins’. In said televisual production, property guru Sandra guides prospective first-time buyers through the choppy waters of the housing market. Amanda gets a particular kick out of the fact that it’s based primarily in the Ontario region, so she gets to see a lot of her old haunts. As for me, while I find the programme insightful as to the Canadian market, I can do without Sandra’s California-schoolgirl tone, particularly her frequent use of the ever-grating ‘interrogative answer,’ i.e., “I know the asking price is a LITTLE HIGH but that’s just the direction the MARKET’S GOING IN THESE DAYS so I don’t know what you guys wanna DO.”

Nevertheless, for all that, I’d pay good money to subject myself to her infuriating sing-song-speech right now, as we set out to get settled in a house of our own (albeit, we’re building it, not buying, and I doubt even she is suitably equipped to take on the horrors of Bolivieaucracy – though if she opened her mouth…). Yes, you guessed, it, it’s been another challenging week on the land front, though the signposts for ‘light’ along the tunnel walls display ever-decreasing distances.

For those thus far unacquainted with our situation, we paid for a couple of lots of land over a period of a year during 2010 and 2011, expecting the landowner to do her duty and process the required documentation as quickly as possible. This process has been protracted by her general failure to take responsibility for her side of the bargain, her living in Santa Cruz (which has a separate land-registry process) and the incompetence of the authorities here in Trinidad.

The week did not start well. Having received texts from her the week before assuring us she’d be coming to Trinidad on Monday morning – well, she didn’t! We tried to contact her all day Monday, but to no avail. It wasn’t till later that evening that we got a text telling us she’d be in town by Tuesday morning (Santa Cruz is an overnight bus trip away).

We met at the offices of the local land registry, whose task in her absence had been to process documentation related to our priority. Alas, the documents had seemingly been left on a shelf to gather dust. Nonetheless, her anger was quickly directed not at the land registry workers, but at ourselves, for supposedly nagging her throughout the process. We were on edge after her dishonesty about coming on the Monday and it would be fair to say that we responded in kind.

We all agreed to meet again that afternoon, by which time the authorities assured us the paperwork would be dealt with. However, Amanda and I left with a heaviness of heart, sensing that taking things to DEFCON 1 perhaps wasn’t the way forward, after all. We could sense that what we called pursuing our consumer rights, she calls pushing one’s luck – such is the consumer’s experience in Bolivia, where the customer isn’t right so much as thankful they’re getting the vendor’s attention in the first place.

In any case, we just had a real sense from God in that moment that there was really no need to push this, that we were in danger of being given our money back, that we still have two years to build a home before our furlough year, and so perhaps this time it was best to keep stumm and let him work.

Sure enough, as we left it in his hands, the landowner made significant progress, without our sticking our noses in it. By Thursday, when she left town, the matter had been left in her lawyer’s hands to deal with and, hopefully, all that should remain from her is to sign the documents of transfer when she returns in February.

In this situation, of all situations, we have been very much within our rights to apply pressure and demand progress – after all, we have paid in full for the land. But we are re-learning the lesson that the likes of Peter had to learn over and over again: that God’s will is not ours to force or to tinker with. At so many points in our lives, not least in the months leading up to our departure for Bolivia, we have seen God work best when we deliberately take a backward step. Maybe after this experience, we’ll finally get it.

  • Amanda, in an effort to strengthen ties with her nursing colleagues, is having them round for lunch today (one or two have just arrived). Please pray for her continued witness to them.
  • Craig is currently putting together a revised English class programme, combining grammar lessons with Bible readings in simple English, with the hope of launching by the end of February. Pray for guidance for Craig.

  • For substantial progress on the land front this week, and for lessons learnt in the process!
  • For the church band over the last few weeks, where Craig has been able to step back and pass responsibility on to the three regulars as well as a couple of guys who are here for the holidays. Give thanks for real progress in this area, and for the decreasing missionary dependence!

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Saturday Post - 14/01/12

The view from our apartment on Friday morning.

Our resident model poses on an abandoned scooter.

Roads become rivers very quickly at this time of year.
Well, so much for annual blog posts... as I (Amanda) have had the more exciting week, I once again am writing the weekly update. I have to admit that my week was not so much exciting, as encouraging. I thoroughly enjoyed all that God was teaching me and where He was leading me, and I hope I am able to communicate just a bit of that enthusiasm to everyone reading.

This week saw us begin our new 2012 schedule. The first Monday of the year was a national holiday so we were unable to exercise our new free, personal day of the week. But this Monday was a work day, and it seemed a lot of people at work had forgotten that we would not be working, as I got a lot of concerned people worried that I was sick when I didn't show up. I don't know how many people were so bothered that Craig didn't show up. Just joking!!! 

Anyway, we really enjoyed our day off and it was rather productive. As it is now quite damp because of rainy season, our poor dog Arturo had developed a fungal infection which resulted in a bald spot on his hip... so we were able to take him to the vet and leave him there for a full disinfecting bath. We got to treat ourselves to salteñas for breakfast without a care in the world. However, the cares returned as got back to the house... because in a lot of ways free Mondays are really cleaning Mondays... and we got busy all afternoon cleaning the apartment. In the evening we enjoyed the company of our friends as we attended a surprise birthday party for one of our neighbour's mothers. They actually had it set up as a children's party and she thought she was attending a party for one of the neighbourhood kids... to the point where she didn't want to go and she had to get coaxed out the door. 

My interesting week, however, really started on Tuesday. I have no idea if Craig has mentioned before on the blog about my schedule change during the working week, but that change came into effect on Tuesday. I am now working half-time in Audiology and my goal with the other half of my time is to dedicate it to ministry work, whether that is one-on-one discipleship, youth group prep and planning, Sunday School (now "Saturday School)" prep, or visitations. But I had not really organised anything specific for this week... I wanted to use this week to do the organising, so I entered Tuesday afternoon with a bit of trepidation. I didn't want the nurses to think I was abandoning them. I wanted them to understand that I was doing this for them... because I think their spiritual wellbeing is more important then anything else. And so far, so good. They seem to accept and understand why I am doing it, and are very good natured about it. I did spend that Tuesday afternoon writing lists... ministries I felt passionate about, ways to tackle them, and I even wrote a list of things that I am good at and enjoy doing in order to think of ways of incorporating them in to service here. I wrote our questions and suggestions to discuss with other people about possible ways of altering things or about how we're going to work as a group. In all I was encouraged by the progress... 

Wednesday afternoon was the health area's monthly meeting, so I joined them for that... and that was encouraging in its own way. I participated!!! Usually during these meetings I sit there and listen and don't share that much. At the beginning this was because of my Spanish... later on it was because I didn't really have that much to say. But I felt that we were at the beginning of a new year and we had the opportunity to address a few things in health and I was going to speak up... and I did! Firstly, I got to share about the trip that Odalys and I took to Cochabamba and then I wanted to encourage people to strive to do their monthly health reports well. I am even organising a little workshop for this Wednesday afternoon to help everyone get their reports off on the right foot this year. We are also hoping to organise an Excel training course for the nurses especially. Every month they have to do these monthly reports on Excel and, well,  in one of the nurse's own words, "I only know how to turn the computer on and off...". Most of them want to learn these practical skills as well... so it would be an encouragement to them to be able to help them in this way. 

Thursday was a really encouraging day... firstly, Odalys asked me when we're going to arrange a time to meet every week. I have been saying this over and over to the nurses that I want to meet with them one-on-one... and it was so encouraging that Odalys wanted to arrange something and that she was taking it seriously. We've decided on Saturdays, so hopefully in the next couple of weeks we'll get that going. I was so excited. 

Thursday afternoon I went to visit one of the nurses in hospital. Kleider is about one month pregnant, but was admitted to hospital on Wednesday with some bleeding. Thankfully, they stopped the bleeding and she didn't miscarry and is on order bed rest just now (though she has every intention of coming back to work on Monday... sigh...). I went to visit her, as coming along side people is something I really want to do as well... I want to be able to help and support people through whatever they are going through, not just stuff at work. I was very nervous though because I don't have much experience with hospital visitation... I brought a deck of UNO cards to play if she was bored... because I can imagine bed rest can be boring. Her parents were there and after chatting for a bit, I said I had brought these cards if she wanted to play... I think everyone was really uncomfortable until they realised that they weren't a normal deck of cards and it was another special game. Good thing to remember culturally, that one... cards don't go down too well here. But Kleider really got into it and started winning some hands quite quickly. She got discharged later that night and is now resting at her sister's house. I am praying really hard for the health of her and her baby... as her and her partner have being trying for 5 years for this baby. 

Thursday was also interesting because it rained ALL day... driving to and from the hospital was actually quite dangerous. Trinidad was essentially flooding... please see posted pictures. It was quite dramatic... an annoyance for us, but a crisis for some people who do not live in elevated housing. One of the nurses said the water was about as high as her bed in her room. Roads became rivers... just going from the house to the church, the water rose to the top of my calves. I was worried that my wellies were not high enough, but I just got away with them. This did mean that none of the kids from the neighbourhood or Maná were able to come to prayer meeting... there were still seven of us in total though, and it was nice to have a meeting with adults where we had a really good sharing time and were able to encourage one another in a way that is difficult when there are lots of younger ones; not that we would ever want the younger ones to stop coming. Craig also joked that maybe God sent the rain so he didn't have to spell out the more physical aspects of the story of Judah and Tamar, in which he was leading a Bible study, to the younger kids. 

I also enjoyed Friday because KC and I finally were able to get together again. I think it had been over a year since we had schedules that allowed us to do so... and I really felt the benefit of just opening up to someone else and sharing items for prayer and praise. We shared plans and ideas we had for youth group, Saturday School, and one-on-ones with the Foundation staff. We shared how we were managing emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, and were able to encourage each other. It was a huge blessing!

And now, here we are again... Saturday, and with no youth group till the end of the month, Craig and I are going out for a nice dinner... might even get a little dressed up too! Though with the water levels still high in some places, and nothing but mud in other places, heels will not be making an appearance tonight. 

  • For all the families which have been affected by the flooding.
  • For FT nurse Kleider's health during her pregnancy.
  • For Amanda as God opens more doors for ministry here.
  • For patience for Craig, who is due to meet once again with the owner of our plots of land this week as we hope to finalise the ownership documents.
  • The encouragement that Amanda has felt from her new schedule and the response to it.
  • Getting to spend time with each other on our Mondays off.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Saturday Post -- 07/01/12

Pleased to report that since the last entry my hip-hop career has begun and ended in some style. Some weird, highly disturbing style.

Last weekend’s church Hogmanay shindig was based primarily around a games night, in which we were divided into three teams and asked to nominate participants for a series of mini-games. The final, deciding round was based on one’s ability to verbalise in a rhythmic fashion and, seeing as no-one else was forthcoming, I took up the bait as the self-styled Choco Loco (Crazy White Guy). It seemed to do the trick and, happily, Facebook is currently devoid of the incriminating evidence. Currently.

The whole night, organised by a group of young people here, was a great success, 2012 being seen in with much gusto.

Though in reality, nothing much else has changed. The working week has been typical of school holiday period, with much preparation and limited interaction. However, I’m preaching on Sunday on John 15:9-17, and so I’ve had something a little more immediate to focus on too. So much of what I’ve been taking in over the last few months seems to centre around obedience and the blessings to be gained from it, and this passage is certainly no exception to that. Perhaps somebody’s trying to tell me something.

We would appreciate your prayers not just for my sermon, but for all of the church activities this weekend, as a fairly major scheduling overhaul is about to take place. Until now, the church has had its Sunday School at 9am, followed by the family service at 10.30am and, immediately following that, the Communion service at 11.45am. This schedule served the church fairly well initially, but it hasn’t been without problems, particularly in the final slot, the Communion service. There has been a big increase in visitors coming to the church in the last few months, many of whom are not yet believers. Such people joyfully come to the family service but have to leave immediately after, so that the Christians in the congregation can participate in the Communion service. There is an inherent problem here, in that we want to be impacting our community for Christ, yet there is no opportunity on Sunday morning to have meaningful conversation with visitors.

Additionally – and this is more of a cultural consideration – the big meal of the day here is lunch. Most people prefer to avoid cooking on a Sunday and buy from various vendors in town, but Sunday lunches are so in demand that they are often sold out by the time church is finished. Lunch has therefore become something of an impediment to worship, with many Communion regulars either having to send a family member out to pick it up, or spending the service worrying about it. It also means that most folk do a runner for the door as soon as the service is over.

The last thing we want to be doing as a church is putting barriers between people and Christ. And so, from tomorrow, the church will meet at new times. The Communion service will take place at 9am and the family service at 10am, allowing us some important fellowship time together afterwards as a church community, and giving people plenty of time to get lunch. Additionally, ‘Sunday School’, from the beginning of the school year in February, will take place on Saturday afternoons.

It’ll take the church a while to get used to, particularly as Bolivians are not punctual people, but we’re really looking forward to the new opportunities this will give us to impact our community. We’ll let you know next week how Week 1 went.

  • For a smooth adjustment to the new church schedule.
  • For Craig as he preaches this Sunday on John 15:9-17.

  • For the opportunity to bring in 2012 together as a church.
  • For the Lord’s provision to us in various small ways this week.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda