Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Post -- 25/02/12

With two days off for Carnaval on Monday and Tuesday, the past week has been a combination of R&R and last-minute scrambling to get everything in place for March, which as each year goes by, feels increasingly to me like the official month of Bolivian New Year. As mentioned a few weeks back, there’s a bit of a malaise in Trinidad between Christmas and Carnaval, particularly in the educational sector, and so it is in this coming week that things really get going on several levels.

Indeed, the coming week will see the launch or re-launch of four different ministries in which we’re involved. On Tuesday morning I take the first of three weekly new R.E. classes in a local secondary school (where I’ve essentially been given free rein to openly share the gospel). A few hours later, I’ll be presiding over the new session of English classes, which this year feature both grammar teaching and a ‘Biblical Application’ lesson. Then next Saturday afternoon, the church’s children’s ministry resumes, with Amanda and fellow missionary KC presiding over the teenage girls’ group. And on Sunday evening, Amanda will begin her study in Esther for the older teenagers and younger women of the church. Add to the mix the youth group’s resumption of its study on The Purpose Driven Life this weekend after the usual pre-Carnaval ceremonials, in which we’re both at the forefront, and it’s fair to say that nary a thumb shall be twiddled for the remainder of 2012.

As for last Saturday’s Carnaval event, I would have loved to have featured some photographic retrospective here, but alas, the prospect of losing our camera in the three hours of mudfights which ensued in the afternoon was not an appealing one. But the whole day went really well, the young people seeming to understand the message of Psalm 1 and its relevance at Carnaval time. Most excitingly of all, a lifetime ambition of mine was fulfilled as I was granted the opportunity to dress up as a cannibal for one of the games. I managed to stay in character pretty much the whole time, causing no shortage of utter perplexity among local onlookers. I even promised to dine out on them if they didn’t come to church. As pew-fillers go, I can think of worse.

  • For the range of new ministries which begin/resume this week in which we’re involved. Pray that Christ would be seen in us, that the Holy Spirit would be at work through us, and that God would be glorified by us.
  • For Elisabet (new FT educational worker and Amanda’s old Sunday school assistant) who takes her first ever school lessons this week. She’s also teaching R.E., but in a local primary school.

  • For a tremendous day last Saturday; a great relationship-builder for the youth and ourselves as leaders, and an important message at the heart of it.
  • For an enjoyable evening last night with friends Jerry & Georgina, a young couple in the church.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Post -- 18/02/12

I bet this guy's looking forward to Carnaval!

I suppose when most people from our necks of the woods think of Carnaval, images from Rio de Janeiro’s festivities would come to mind, glamorous ladies in ostentatious swimwear (though I doubt it’s all that practical for the doggy paddle) strutting their stuff on monumental floats. It certainly puts international arch-rival Strathaven Gala Day in its place.

Lowly Trinidad has its own, altogether smaller parade, as well as its own Carnaval traditions, one of them being to lamp the nearest white person with a ‘water’ balloon (though with open sewers on every street, alternatives are widely available).

Alas, here, as in Rio de Janeiro, that’s pretty much as far as the ‘fun’ goes. Carnaval as its name suggests, is all about indulging the desires of the flesh and as a result, the coming few days will see an alcohol-drenched populace brawling, passing out in the street and engaging in wanton bed-hopping (the last of which is implicitly endorsed by the state in Brazil).

It is not a pleasant state of affairs and as missionaries, we’ll be steering well clear of the centre of town over the next few days. But at least we’ll go home tonight to families who fully support our desire not to get involved. Unfortunately, the majority of teenagers in the church youth group will come under huge pressure from both friends and family over the next few days to do real damage to their testimony.

And that’s why, as a church, the annual Carnaval all-day youth meeting has taken place over the last few years. We want to give the teenagers a day away from such pressures and welcome them into an environment where they are surrounded by people who love them in Christ and who want to see them grow in his will, and where they can be armed with Biblical truth to face the days ahead. This year there’ll be the usual diet of food, games, music and water-fights. And the main thrust of the teaching comes from myself. I’ve opted to go with Psalm 1, which sets out in a clear and direct fashion the dividing lines between those who follow Christ and the rest. I’ve called it ‘Two Ways to Live’ and I’m really praying that it will help the youth to grasp the truth of it all on a weekend when they’ll be bombarded with lies.

Must dash, as the band are due to rehearse in a few minutes, but here are the usual prayer points to close.

  • For Craig as he speaks on the theme of Psalm 1 to the church youth group today.
  • For divine strength for all the youth group members as they seek not to fall into temptation this week.
  • For Amanda as she prepares her Bible study on Esther for young adult women in the church. It begins on Sunday the 4th of March and we’re really excited about it.

  • For Nicole’s speedy recovery. She is now back home, though the school are threatening to put her back a year. Please pray for that.
  • For Elisabet, Amanda’s former Sunday school assistant, who has started working in Education this week at the Foundation and is brim-full of ideas and energy. Just what we’ve been looking for. 

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday Post -- 11/02/12

The missionary life, at times, is one of great challenges. Living by faith, so far from loved ones, certainly has its ups-and-downs. And these are exacerbated by our decision to live in such foreign contexts.

Cultural barriers to the gospel’s spread arise at every turn in our world. From the language of ‘tolerance’ and atheism’s resurgence in the West, to Sharia law and unrelenting persecution in the so-called 10/40 window, one does not have to look very far before coming up against opposition. Here in Bolivia, our efforts can be frustrated by people’s clinging to weird mystic traditions (which are heavily promoted throughout society by the government) and the Catholic church’s strong (if diminished) cultural influence and works-based theology. Our problem here is not so much that people reject salvation – it’s their mistaken belief that they have already ‘attained’ it.

However, when I compare our lot with the constant opposition missionaries face all over the world (an area in which our home countries are, regrettably, increasingly non-exempt), I am reminded of just how privileged we are, and what a marvellous opportunity the Lord has so graciously provided us here to proclaim his name (I say ‘privileged’ and not ‘blessed’ as there is, self-evidently, extraordinary blessing in persecution).

This week we’ve seen just such an example of that. On Monday, the first day of the new school year, the Foundation received a letter from the local secondary school (where I taught English to a couple of classes last year) requesting more English input this year. The head teacher, to be fair, should really have borne in mind our conversation at the end of last year, when I expressed my desire to take R.E. classes this year rather than English. Nonetheless, an opening.

So I popped my head round the door on Wednesday morning to see if we could reach agreement. The head teacher had no problem with me switching subjects (it had been difficult for me to develop any kind of progressive learning process last year in English due to continual interruptions). I then went on to explain what I planned to use as my primary resource: a no-holds-barred evangelistic textbook based on the gospel of John (which we will read in its fullness alongside the textbook). I even went so far as to say “I’m a missionary, and my goal here is not merely to educate, but to lead people to Christ.” Can you imagine that conversation in your local head teacher’s office?

Pleasingly, the head teacher gave my plans the school’s full endorsement, and, from Tuesday the 28th of February, I can look forward to essentially preaching the gospel to over 100 teenagers every week – at the state’s invitation! There is, indeed, plenty of confusion and resistance in this cultural context, but we have opportunities many missionaries can only dream of, and for this we give thanks to our merciful God.

One other important development this week was a meeting with our fellow missionaries, Kenny and KC, to establish a network of personal spiritual counselling in the Foundation. In the coming weeks, we are each hoping to start meeting with individual staff members on a regular basis, to pray and offer spiritual support where needed. With significantly more women than men working in the Foundation, it has to be said that Amanda and KC’s burden is significantly heavier than that of Kenny and myself. The women will, then, probably aim to meet every few weeks, while Kenny and I can probably meet once a week with our respective colleagues. We look forward to forming deeper relationships with staff members and ministering to their needs – and we pray that several may make some important life decisions in the process.

  • On Thursday, a 6-year-old regular at church and the community classes, Nicole, was trampled on by some horses that were running loose (yes, you read that correctly, Trinidad really is that provincial). Mercifully, her injuries were minimal (even the initial diagnosis of a broken clavicle proved not to be the case) and we were able to visit her and her family in hospital yesterday, and pray with them. We later found out that the horses’ owners has paid Nicole’s medical fees by way of an apology, which is great news. Pray for a full recovery for Nicole.
  • For the youth committee as we plan next Saturday’s annual Carnaval weekend event, which will be like a regular meeting, but with food, water-fights and an 8-hour running time! I’m going to be taking charge of the main teaching slot, and I’ve opted to go with Psalm 1, a pretty appropriate passage for Carnaval time, when many of the youth will be wondering why we don’t go for it as believers. Please pray for my preparation this week.

  • For the most encouraging developments on the R.E. classes front.
  • For a good first week at the Foundation for Mayerlin (volunteer nurse) and Elisabet (part-time worker in education/sports). Readers may remember their names from previous posts as being young believers in the church. It’s great to strengthen the Christian witness at the Foundation and to be able to encourage these young women as they set out on their career paths.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Saturday Post -- 04/02/12

These are indeed dark days for Trinidad’s schoolchildren, and I’m not just referring to the John Major-grey skies overhead in this, the sodden summit of rainy season. Monday sees Bolivia’s school gates fling wide once again and tens of thousands of young people are mentally preparing themselves for the academic year ahead.

At least they can expect a fairly easy ride for the first few weeks. Because here in Bolivia, little, if anything, is in place by the time the new session begins. Monday is also the first day for staff, who will have no timetable to work with, given that nobody thinks to put together the new timetable before the summer holidays. What inevitably ensues are a week or two of constant schedule revisions, while educational opportunities for students are limited to the playground.

A further impediment to meaningful progress is the long weekend bingefest holiday of Carnavál, usually just around the corner at this time of year (it falls on the weekend of Saturday 18th in 2012). For some reason, the festival’s ever-growing presence on the horizon serves to create a psychological barrier in the minds of educators and students alike, and nothing of any real significance is accomplished until well after the holiday.

After weeks of lesson preparation, I’m raring to get out there and work with students again (the very thought!) but I shall have to bide my time. There is no point in going to the local school, where I’m hoping to take some R.E. classes, for a couple of weeks yet, as it will take time for the dust to settle on the new timetable.

However, preparations for the new session of English classes, starting the 28th, have been well underway for some time now, and this week I’ve taken things up a gear by getting into town with posters advertising the course, something we haven’t done in the past. The very act of sticking these posters to the walls of Trinidad’s retail hotspots in itself has drawn quite a crowd, and I’m hopeful we’ll have a bigger uptake than ever this year – particularly exciting given that there’ll be a new ‘Biblical Application’ strand this time around.

Another new project for 2012 is our intra-staff discipleship and evangelism service. As a Christian foundation, our number-one concern for the staff is their spiritual welfare, yet at the moment, little is in place to encourage our staff in this way. Therefore, as missionaries, we’re looking to make regular personal contact with staff outside of work hours, in order to support one another better. A formalised programme is still in the works, but this afternoon Amanda will be meeting, for the first time, with her fellow audiologist Odalys, who is fair champing at the bit for some spiritual input in her life.

And later today, we’ll have the second meeting of 2012 with the youth group, whose programme for the year kicked off last Saturday. After the customary month or so off post-Christmas, it usually takes the young people a few weeks to get back into the rhythm of Saturday evenings, but there were around 40 in attendance last weekend. Several of these youth are now into a pattern of meeting individually with us as missionaries for weekly discipleship sessions and we’re excited to see what God has in store for the youth ministry this year as they grow in maturity.

  • Please pray for the new academic year and for the involvement of FT’s educational workers in teaching R.E. classes, particularly that the local schools will be receptive to our involvement.
  •  For this year’s English classes, that God would bring to the foundation those people whose hearts are fertile soil for the gospel message.
  • For Amanda as she begins meeting with Odalys (not a believer) this afternoon.

  • For an initially positive response to the English classes.
  • For a good crowd at the first youth meeting of 2012.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda