Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday Post -- 23/06/12

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!    
Romans 11:33

Thursday being Aymara New Year and all (the winter solstice is a holiday which nobody in this part of Bolivia could care less for -- but, hey, 'tis a holiday), I headed out with some friends for a spot of fishing. A meagre three bite-sized piranhas constituted my catch, but I had slightly better luck with the camera.

This discerning capyvara only frequents the drinking
establishments where there are birds to be found.

For this part of Bolivia, that's a very green tree.

Ranchers at work. 

A tiddler and a small fish.
As the Incas celebrate their New Year, I've had occasion of late to chew over 2012's half-term report. As regular readers will know, the year thus far has had its fair share of challenges. The seemingly interminable issues regarding our house and sundry land complications, and the emotional stress of family planning, have re-surfaced time and again. Rare has been the week in which we did not have some kind of psychological break from either of these matters.

Thankfully, in the face of such challenges, our marriage has held up remarkably and is stronger for the experiences. And our resolve to not get bitter about all of it has largely stood fast. We count our blessings and rejoice.

Some days, however, are easier than others, and we are oftentimes led to wonder where this is all going, what's the bigger picture. Does it even exist? Mercifully, God has used a ministry opportunity to address some of these issues in a mighty way.

Over the past few weeks, with the usual participants otherwise occupied, I've stepped in to chair the Bible studies on Thursday evenings at church. After two years (!) we have finally reached the end of our study in Genesis and I was instructed to simply move on into Exodus, where, in the early chapters at least, the Genesis narrative simply continues.

And as I've re-considered these passages, I have been reminded that God is indeed at work -- and emphatically so. These verses can be simply yet conclusively summed up in three words: God is faithful. Consider the following:
  • On the face of it, Joseph's brothers sold him to Egypt. In fact, God sent him there to save Egypt and, as it turned out, Israel too.
  • The language used in Exodus 1 to describe the affliction of the Israelites is precisely that used by God when revealing his plan for Israel to Abraham centuries earlier, in Genesis 15:13. Thus, the eagle-eyed Hebrew reader immediately recognises that in the midst of man's sordid schemes, God remains very much in the driving seat.
  • While the Pharaoh 'who knew not Joseph' of the early chapters of Exodus obsessed over wiping out Israel's male population, God in fact used 'the weaker sex' to completely undermine a king. (am I alone in detecting a prominent strain of gallows humour in Exodus 1?)
  • And while we're on the subject, Pharaoh couldn't even keep his own daughter under control, adopting Hebrew boys and what-not. 
  • Finally, Moses' complaints at the burning bush that he is not cut out for leadership are seriously undermined not only by his lack of faith but in his life experiences. As Stephen reminds the Council in Acts 7:22, Moses, in his youth, was primed for officialdom. And where did this take place? At the very heart of Egyptian power. Egypt was unwittingly footing the bill for surely the most humiliating moment in its history.
A common thread uniting all of these processes is that the initial, faltering steps were taken many, many years before the true extent of the situation was made visible. And from this I draw great strength. We don't know what will take place tomorrow, let alone next week, and infinitely moreso in this culture than in our Western upbringings. But more than we can ask or imagine is currently being, and has already been, accomplished.

  • Our fifth anniversary is the 7th of July and, to celebrate, we've decided to treat ourselves to a long weekend at a favourite hotel in Santa Cruz. However, we're going a week in advance so that we can cross paths with Malcolm & Liz McGregor. Old friends of the Murdoch half of my family, Malcolm is SIM's International Director and we're excited about meeting them next weekend. We are planning to leave on Thursday evening and return to Trinidad on Wednesday morning, however, there have been a slew of road blockades over the past week. Please pray that we will be able to travel.
  • While in Santa Cruz, we'll also be paying a visit to the clinic and meeting Emilixy (the girl from our church who was recently, and very suddenly, forced to move to Santa Cruz due to her father's incarceration). Pray for these weightier matters.
  • Last Sunday's afternoon of service with the youth group was a great success, with the church gutted out and, God-willing, the youth leaving the big clean-up with a better idea of what it means to serve the church. Please pray that a seed might have been planted in their hearts.
  • For the Lord's reminders this week, through his Word, that he has an unfathomably great plan for us.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda
P.S. No post next weekend but our newsletter should be on its way soon. Let us know your email address if you'd like a copy.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday Post -- 16/06/12

Surrounded by people of stature. Story of my life...

Life here rarely runs according to the script but things certainly went significantly pear-shaped during my cousin's visit here last week, to extents even I've never seen.

Monday was Douglas’ last full day here and, being our weekly rest day, we planned a final, relaxing visit to the local lake for the afternoon. Based on form, we really should have known better. What happened was the perfect encapsulation of the frequently, unfailingly manic culture we live in.

Accepting that the problem with the water supply wasn’t going to be fixed any time soon (by Monday it had been five days since the repairman said he’d come) we did what we had to do and called one of several companies here who can fill your well from their massive transportable tanks for a small fee. I got them around 9.30pm and they said they’d be here soon.

It wasn’t till 12.15pm (and some way into England vs France) that the water boys (“I pictured a rainbow…”) finally showed up. However, despite ordering four tanks’ worth to fill our well adequately, they had just the one. And given that things shut down for two hours over lunchtime, that meant the lake visit would now be at the mercy of their prompt arrival.

They were back at 3pm, now well into the afternoon, and by this point we are accepting that the lake visit will be brief. However, the tank is filled and we’re all set to go. But as we’re getting our things together in the house, a ferocious revving sound can be heard outside. We pop our heads out and…the water boys’ truck is stuck in the field outside our house, the situation exacerbated by the moisture still lying from the previous week’s inclement weather.

"We're gonna need a bigger crane..."
Two hours and three vehicles later, the truck is finally out and we can all go to the lake. Except it’s now 5pm and the sun will have set within an hour. ¡Adios laguna!

I joked with Douglas that in some ways I was glad he was going home the following day as he seemed to have bestowed a curse upon us. Nonsense though I spoke, we’ve had a rather bittersweet experience in the ensuing days of seeing everything fall back into place since he left – the water supply is now switched on and the sky-rocketing mercury is threatening to smash the thermometer.

Furthermore, things have been much more normal ministry-wise, including lots of great opportunities in the classrooms and in the Foundation to share Christ. In the schools, we were able this week to distribute booklets telling the story of Jesus in manga form (that’s a Japanese style of comic-book for those of you who aren’t down with the kids). And in the English class, we had a great discussion about justice, what we deserve from God, and how we can’t rely on our own resources to avoid his punishment.

Additionally, our building project made headway again this week, with the inspectors from the cooncil out to verify our plot’s dimensions and grant permission to build (which we will formally receive this coming week).

All joking aside, however, it was a pleasure to have Douglas here and to share Trinidad with him. We introduced him to all the people that matter in our lives and, while he couldn’t see the full extent of our work, he at least got a very clear sense of the near-constant logistical barriers we face in ministering effectively here. Most importantly, he got a well-earned break from the rigours of medicine and we were all too happy to facilitate that.

  • Please remember Douglas who, having arrived home safely in Virginia on Wednesday night, went straight into his anaesthesiology residency on Thursday morning. Rather him than me, I tell you. Pray that the rest will have been of benefit to him as he gets to grips with things.
  • Please pray for the youth group who, spurred into action by reflecting on service over the past couple of months, have opted to serve the church tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon by organising a big clean-up. Pray that the activity will cause them to think more on this theme, and how they can, as young people, continue to serve the church.

  • For the practical stuff all getting sorted out over the last few days – when the background detail goes haywire, it can be an exhausting drain on our ministry, so give thanks that we’re (relatively speaking) back to normal now.
  • For Douglas’ time here and the invaluable opportunity to enjoy some family time (and, if we’re honest, some of Trinidad’s finest cuisine – fried alligator tail, anyone?) over the past couple of weeks.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Saturday Post -- 09/06/12

A carving of the Apostle Paul on a pillar of the Jesuit church in San Pedro,
where we visited with Douglas this week.
"You gotta roll with it" snarled Liam Gallagher back in the heady days of Britpop. I've yet to work out the equivalent Spanish phrase, but it sure would come in handy. It's a lesson you need to learn here quickly.

And one which my cousin, Douglas, has grasped with flying colours since his arrival here last Sunday. Because he has had to live in a house where the Problem of the Week was our water supply cutting out. Since Tuesday, the pump which supplies water to ourselves and two nearby houses has broken (we are all still waiting on a repair guy to come and look at it!). In the process, we discovered that our house's well has a leak in it. So we're now into our fifth day of resorting to alternative solutions, including washing dishes with bottled water, showering at a neighbour's home, and manually pumping from the ground for all the other stuff. Things will not return to normal until early next week at the earliest.

Having come so far to see us, Douglas is probably well within his rights to be a bit cheesed off. But he's adapted brilliantly and, if anything, I'm the frustrated one, given that such a major problem has surfaced just when we were looking forward to playing host to my 'wee' cousin. Despite it all, we've thoroughly enjoyed the past week with him. He's between two high-pressure jobs, in need of as refreshing a break as possible, and therefore, we've pulled out all the stops, taking in the big local tourist attractions (both of them!), sampling local cuisine, introducing him to our friends around town and, on Thursday, driving out into the wilder regions of the Beni to snap wildlife (Douglas being a keen photographer), including herons, capybaras and (a first for us) pink flamingoes.

As you may have worked out by this point, we've certainly had enough time on our hands. Monday was our usual day off, while Thursday was a national holiday for Corpus Christi. It's afforded us much meaningful time together. However, with Wednesday also being international Day of the Teacher (Bolivian definition: a day off for educators!), I ended up teaching a grand total of one class out of the usual five this week, so I don't really feel I've been able to share as much of my own ministry as I would have hoped. But he did get an insight into the health work of the Foundation and, being a medic himself, certainly appreciated that.

The bottom line is that it's just been a rare privilege to have someone who is as much friend as family member come to visit us and he will return to the US with our sincere appreciation for his kindness -- he is more than welcome to come back whenever he likes (though our next meeting may well be in North America during 2014, our scheduled furlough year).


  • For safe travels for Douglas, who begins his four-flight trek back to Virginia on Tuesday morning, and is due to start in his new work on Thursday.
  • Likewise for Amanda, who has a check-up with the surgeon on Wednesday in Santa Cruz. 
  • For a solution to our water problems.
  • For sufficient grace to cope with our water shortages -- we're surviving!
  • For a great week with Douglas.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Saturday Post -- 02/06/12

The past seven days have been a strange mixture of joy, frustration and sadness. Our life here is often a case of ‘two steps forwards, one back’ (or, at times, vice-versa!), with ‘events, dear boy, events’ never failing to bring one crashing back to earth with a jolting thud. If I may be so bold as to paraphrase another premier called Harold, a week is a long time in Bolivia.

Our main fillip this week has been to see major leaps forward in our land dealings. The plot we bought some weeks ago is now fully registered in our name at municipal level and it is now just a case of preparing for construction – this weekend, a friend of a friend is busy hacking away at the 8-odd-foot worth of growth on our plot with a machete in order to clear the ground. And, with the help of a lawyer, we finally had the two plots we bought in 2010 transferred – we had done this last year, but it counted for nothing due to several errors in the paperwork, which have now been rectified by the seller. We effectively need to sell these plots to help towards the construction costs of our planned home, so to now be in a position where we can take care of this is a huge boost.

But the ink had barely dried on our last blog post when we heard some really terrible news: Rut, the three-month-old sister of our dear sister Elizabeth, died due to heart complications late on Saturday night. And so, on Sunday afternoon, we attended our first funeral, along with family and friends of the bereaved family. Elizabeth’s parents are not believers, however, they allowed the church to pay for the casket and the pastor, Elías, to pray at a couple of junctures during the afternoon.

It was our first experience of a Bolivian funeral and something of a cultural eye-opener. Throughout our time here, I’ve always had the feeling that the locals here are a lot more in touch with their mortality – death is not the taboo subject it is at home. This was evidenced by the frantic activity outside the cemetery, where, if you were feeling peckish, you could treat yourself to candyfloss, a bottle of Coke, or an ice-cream. ‘VELAS! VELAS!’ shouted the several candle-sellers dotting around the massed throngs at the entrance. Where there’s a crowd, such people gather in Trinidad (school gates are a big target) and it would appear that cemeteries are no exception – after all, they wouldn’t bother if no-one bought their product.

The refusal to bow to let grief get in life’s way even extended to the internment, where the casket was literally placed in one of the pre-excavated holes in the wall, which was then slowly but surely covered with bricks and cement by a worker. The silence was broken only by the wails of various family members…and the ringing of mobile phones, which, rather than being promptly switched off, were answered without hesitation!

But for all the cultural insights, it was just a great shame that we had to go at all and our thoughts are very much with the family right now, who live in real poverty. Elizabeth, 20, has four other siblings and, thankfully, two of those are strong Christians themselves, so she doesn’t have to face this alone. However, she will be in great need of your prayers as she seeks to witness to her family in such hard times.

Elizabeth’s family come from the small village of Maná, on the outskirts of Trinidad, as do many of the young people who have been helped by FT and El Jireh church over the years. These are families that we have put a lot of effort into and, sad to say, this was one of those weeks when you sometimes find yourself wondering why you bother, with two sets of parents leaving their kids very much high and dry. One girl we know, for example, has been in need of major optical care for a year now. It turns out the parents haven’t lifted a finger in all that time and we discovered this week that she is certain to lose sight in one eye.

You may also remember Emilixy and her siblings, who we wrote about in the bog some months ago. Last Christmas, they discovered they wouldn’t be seeing their mum again for years to come due to some wholly preventable goings-on on her part. We found out last week that they will now be without their father for some time for similar reasons; he is stuck in Santa Cruz, and the children’s aunt has decided to take some of them to stay with the father, while the two remaining children will move into the local men’s prison, where their uncle lives. Desperate ain’t the word.

However, encouragement is on the way in a most surprising package. A couple of weeks ago we received an unexpected email from my cousin Douglas, now living in Thomas Jefferson country in Virginia (we visited this charming corner of the world last summer). Well, it turns out he’s at a loose end for a couple of weeks and has decided to come to Bolivia! He’s flying in and out of La Paz, where he plans to explore the Altiplano, but before then, he is paying us a visit for the week, arriving in Trinidad tomorrow afternoon. Weeks like this one are an important reminder to us of a blessing in such short supply here, yet one God has graciously allowed us to partake of: a supportive family.

  • That sense would prevail in those families mentioned, and that we would be able to support them responsibly (a further problem in this culture is that white people are seen as walking-ATMs, an outlook which helps no-one). Please pray too for encouragement for us.
  • Pray for Douglas’ travels over the weekend and for a special time together this week. He’s on holiday, so pray that he’ll get a break (to the extent that that’s possible in Trinidad).
  • For Craig, preaching tomorrow morning on Psalm 19. 

  •  For major breakthroughs this week in our pursuit of a living space we can call our own.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda