Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday Post -- 28/07/12

You’ll excuse a shorter post this week – as you might have guessed from recent posts, an international gathering in London is limiting still further my ability to multi-task.

In the kennel, mother and babes are well. Indeed, we’ve had to start factoring milk money into our weekly budget, as Poppy, like her pups, is certainly developing a taste for the white stuff. Some images:

And in the classroom, things have been shaping up nicely too. Students returned to school this week after the traditional two-week winter break and we resumed our studies in the gospel of John with the teenagers. Meanwhile, at FT, the Wednesday Community class also reconvened after the holiday, with the number of attendees doubling.

Particularly exciting for me were the English classes, in which we have been getting progressively deeper into our English-language book entitled ‘What Christians Believe’. Over the last few weeks, we have moved into the big territory of Jesus’ death and resurrection and their practical implications. As has been highlighted previously here, the notion of salvation by grace is an inherently challenging one in this culture, and it’s been a real thrill to have the class over-run week after week, as we’ve dealt with a whole slew of questions from the students by diving into scripture. I had stepped outside the classroom for a few moments on Thursday when I overheard one of the students saying, “This class is wonderful. At first, all we were doing was reading simple English sentences. But now, we’re not only learning English, but having such thought-provoking discussions.” When we launch next year’s classes, I’ll need to stick that quote on the poster.

  • For the youth group where, to tie in with the big event, we’re having an Olympic-themed focus in the next few weeks, beginning with tonight’s ‘Opening Ceremony’.

  •  For the powerful impact the Bible-based English classes are having on our students.

¡Que Dios les benidga!

Craig & Amanda

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ringing in the Olympics: Beijing

A photo to match the occasion.
This blog has already reflected on some poor hosting decisions by the IOC, but 2008 was the all-time nadir. It was, of course, only a matter of time before the world's most populous nation got their crack of the whip (no pun intended), but IOC pledges to hold China accountable for human rights violations in the run-up proved, to nobody's great surprise, utterly vacuous.

The Games themselves will be remembered for the multiple medal heroics of three men: Michael Phelps (8) and Chris Hoy (3) swept aside all before them in the pool and the cycling track, respectively. But, for me, the 2008 Olympics will always be synonymous with surely the most aptly named athlete ever to compete in their sport: Bolt. Though, at times, he could just as easily been monickered Saunter or Amble, not least as he nonchalantly strolled over the 100m finish line, giving himself breathing space to break some more world records. Not so in the 200m, where he went full-pelt for the line and became the first athlete to break the 100m and 200m records in the same Games.

Charismatic, engaging, self-deprecating, Bolt had the winning personality to go with his medals. It's both a sad indictment of the state of modern athletics and a reflection of Bolt's greatness that, some months later, a friend of mine said to me, "Boy, I sure hope he's not on drugs." Rarely have I been more in agreement.

Here's Bolt on tape, with the even greater 2009 performances in Berlin thrown in as a bonus.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ringing in the Olympics: Athens

Now that's just terrifying.

Athens. Meh. My apathy for the 2004 Games can probably be explained, in large part, by my having just returned from a month-long (and, in time, not matrimonially insignificant) trip around the US and Canada with nary a penny to my name. Consequently, I took a waiting job at a local hotel for the remaining two months of the summer break, but, as the new kid on the block, seemed to end up getting dumped with all the split shifts. With the big outdoor events (including the swimming that year) understandably taking place in the morning and evening, there wasn’t much left for me to nibble on.

That said, while I largely missed out on Michael Phelps’ arrival on Mount Olympus among other historic moments, I suspect I’m not alone in thinking that Athens didn’t quite deliver. The build-up was marred firstly by construction delays and then, just when everything seemed to be finally in place, the news came through that two of Greece’s brightest gold medal prospects had tested positive for banned steroids – the night before the Games! As the sport got going, the fans didn’t get behind proceedings to anything like the extent of their Sydney equivalents four years earlier, and, with the benefit of hindsight, the whole affair probably contributed significantly to Greece’s current economic travails. In short, a golden opportunity to prove to the IOC that they’d got the Atlanta decision woefully wrong was, in my opinion, well and truly blown.

Some silver linings, though, came in the shape of some GB success. Chris Hoy would win the first of four gold medals (and counting) in the 1km time-trial. And I well remember the night I got back late from work to read that Kelly Holmes, a true veteran of the track, had finally struck gold in the 800m, at an age when she was considered past it. A few days later, as she lined up for the 1500m, most commentators reckoned the double was a foregone conclusion – the future Dame Kelly would cruise to victory and for once in the history of the British sports media, the result justified the hype.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ringing in the Olympics: Steve Redgrave

Much as I enjoyed the Sydney Olympics, they were something of a bittersweet experience for me as, during the second week, I was due to take my first significant steps out of the family nest for my gap-year in Bolivia. To give me a decent send-off, our parents booked a few nights in one of our favourite cottages up in Dornoch.

I well remember that Friday night when my brother and I stayed up long after the rest had turned in, to watch this man make Olympic history. And yet, he so very nearly didn’t. As a seasoned Manchester United supporter, I’d been used to last-minute drama, but hadn’t seen anything quite like this.

Naturally, there was a clamour in the aftermath to unofficially crown Redgrave the Greatest Olympian in History. Well, three others have actually managed the same feat of striking gold at five consecutive Games. And, of course, Chris Hoy, in the coming days, could overtake Redgrave’s haul. But to do it consistently over two decades in a sport that inherently prohibits multiple medal attempts in one staging, (not to mention while battling severe illness) is, for me, the greater achievement. He is, for my money, Britain’s greatest Olympian.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ringing in the Olympics: Eric the Eel

“It’s not the winning, but the taking part, that counts.” We get this well-intentioned advice drummed into us from an early age, but as life kicks into gear, with its school prizegivings endured from the back row and the press regaling us with ‘news’ of the world’s big players, it soon becomes evident that such guidance merits one response and one response only: “Aye, right then!”

The Olympics, for all their noble corinthian intentions, deliver much the same message every four years. Who, for example, could even hope to name even three of Michael Phelps’ fellow finalists in the 2008 100m butterfly? And why would you?

Step forward, then, Eric Moussambani. Gaining his ticket to Sydney via a wildcard system, which allowed developing countries without training facilities to send athletes who had fallen short of the times to compete in the Games, he found himself on the blocks alongside two other swimmers in his 100m freestyle heat. Both of them false-started (four years’ preparation for that!), leaving Moussambani as the sole competitor in his heat. And despite a bright start, the burden of an entire arena’s expectations soon took their toll on the Equatorial Guinean, who had never even seen a 50m pool before arriving in Australia. His time of 1:52.72 would fall outside the world record for even the 200m and he would later admit to reporters that his final 15 metres were a struggle just to stay afloat. Never knowingly deficient on the irony-quotient, the Aussies nonetheless cheered him to the rafters and the swimmer who would henceforth be nicknamed 'Eric the Eel' got more than his fair share of the Warholian fame allocation.

Have the Olympics, before or since, ever witnessed a display of such abject hopelessness? Probably not. But nor have the egalitarian principles that the Games strive for been so magnificently displayed.

Haven't been able to put the video here, but here's a link to it, with some comedy Aussie commentary.

Ringing in the Olympics: Thorpe and Freeman

A few summers back, Amanda and I took a trip down to south-west London and joined the legendary Wimbledon Queue. We knew we were riding our luck somewhat as our targeted day was the second Wednesday of the fortnight, men’s quarter-finals day, and the final opportunity of the Championships to get your hands on those prized show-court permits. We were rewarded with ringside seats on Centre for Federer and Murray’s victories, though we made it by the skin of our teeth.

This being Wimbledon, the Queue (it does indeed merit capitalisation) was organised with levels of efficiency that would embarrass a German. Upon arrival (a full 24 hours before our scheduled matches), we were issued with tickets 530 and 531. With 500 tickets set aside for each court, there was no guarantee we’d get to see oor Andy. But as the day went on, it became clear we might just about make it. Because when the following day’s schedule was released in the early evening, Lleyton Hewitt’s tie with Roddick was to be played on Court One. And some way ahead of us in the queue was a sea of green-and-gold and the customary Bundy Rum-fuelled rounds of “Let’s go, Lleyton, let’s go!”

In Britain we pride ourselves on being sports-mad, but I don’t reckon anywhere in the world comes close to Australia. Sure, the most die-hard football fan in the UK could match the frenzied passion of your typical Aussie Rules supporter. But the difference, as far as I can tell, is that Australians will get hammer and tongs into any sport where one of their brethren is competing. If Bruce from Tasmania were competing in the Greenland Tiddlywinks invitational, you’d be bound to find at least one compatriot there, cheering him on, tinnies to hand.

And that more than anything else, is what, for me, places the Sydney Games at the top of the pile. Australia, as they were bound to, embraced the Games like no nation before or since and the reverberations could be felt worldwide.

Of course, the sheer pride of hosting the games ensured the support went way beyond the mere partisan. But national pride was not completely out of the equation, and the hopes of a nation rested predominantly, if not quite completely, on the shoulders of Ian Thorpe and Cathy Freeman.

While I’ve greatly enjoyed watching the all-conquering Michael Phelps over the past couple of Games, the Thorpedo will always be no.1 for me. Until 2000, I hadn’t really gotten into Olympic swimming. Thorpe changed that, cruising his way to three gold medals and, unlike Phelps, never really looking like he was trying (a bit like Federer and Nadal in tennis) and posting super-human times in the process.

The race that really did it for me was the 4x100m freestyle, a true AUS v USA smackdown, (the US never having previously lost it) in which Thorpe had the anchor leg and looked like he had it all to do with 50 metres remaining. And all he did. I’ve met Australians who were there that night and will tell you that the earth literally shook in that arena. Video below.

The opening ceremonies of the Games these days tend to feature much well-intentioned waffle about nations and people groups coming together as a force for good. On the evening of Monday the 25th of September, that, for once, really did happen, as Cathy Freeman, of native Australian descent, took gold in the women’s 400m and a nation with its fair share of racial baggage in its past celebrated as one. With Jonathan Edwards and Denise Lewis doing it for GB in the triple-jump and heptathlon, it was one of those special nights in an athletics arena when TV directors know not where to turn next, greatness seemingly taking place all at once.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ringing in the Olympics: Michael Johnson

History, it must be said, has been far from kind to the Atlanta Games. I’ve met a fair few Americans who, understandably, consider it the best ever. Given that I barely saw any of it, I’m not particularly qualified to judge. But, for me, the chief finger of blame has to be squarely pointed not at the games organisers themselves, but the suits at the IOC. Why, for the 1996 edition, was a bidding process even permitted, let alone Athens denied the centennial homecoming its Olympic history so richly deserved?

As for me, I spent pretty much the whole two weeks on holiday with the family on the banks of Lake Geneva. Not that it was an Olympic-free zone, mind you (far from it – the IOC’s HQ, and scene of much corruption in Lausanne, was just down the road). The spanner in the works came in our renting out a spacious apartment in a Bible School. There goes the telly then!

As it turned out, my Dad and I took to rather more traditional measures to keep up with proceedings in those dark, pre-smartphone days, buying two-day-old British papers from a local train station. And well do I remember the day when the front pages told of a sporting achievement beyond comparison. That’s right: Alan Shearer’s record-breaking £15million move to Newcastle had just gone through.

It would take something truly special to share column inches with the Geordie hysteria (I exaggerate not) and Michael Johnson, at his home Games, provided it. The numbers themselves (43.49 in the 400m, 19.32 in the 200m) painted a picture of unparalleled greatness that the accompanying prose could hardly hope to embellish.

Johnson would only grow in my estimations in subsequent years, joining the BBC athletics commentary team and somehow lending expertise and gravitas to a studio with Sue Barker in it.

As for Atlanta, I had the opportunity to visit the historic city in 2004 and, while the stadium had long since been handed over to the local baseball team, the Olympic legacy is alive and well in Centennial Park, built for the Olympics and a great place, right smack-bang in the middle of town, to laze away a sunny afternoon (Coca-Cola, thankfully, optional).

Ringing in the Olympics: Linford Christie

2nd of August 1992, the middle Saturday of the Barcelona Games and a veritable GB gold-rush for those days (we won two!).

First up, Steve Redgrave makes it three in a row and a lunchtime to remember with new partner, posh-boy Pinsent (writing the first chapter of his own Olympic legend).

And then, accompanying the evening meal – pizza and chips was the Saturday plat du jour round at chez Cunningham – the small matter of the men’s 100m final and lycra-loving Linford Christie, perhaps the most terrifying man ever to grace the track, the subsequent slow-motion clips playing like horror shorts. After 20 metres, the rest was a formality.

Never the most popular among his fellow athletes (the above-mentioned Derek Redmond described him as a well-balanced man, having “a chip on both shoulders”), fuel was generously doused on the fire in later years with that drug ban. That said, many an elite sportsman has done the business well into his 30s – for proof, one need only look so far as Ryan Giggs, Roger Federer and Jocky Wilson.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ringing in the Olympics: Derek Redmond

Many of the best memories are for me, inevitably, dominated by GB glory. However, I’d like to think this would have made the list no matter my nationality. And anyway, this isn’t exactly a glorious moment. And yet, it kind of is.

Now this is one I have to admit to having not watched live, though you’d have had to be living on Mars to have not picked up on it during the Games. Redmond was fairly well known to the British public as a member of the 4x400m gold medal-winning team at the 1991 world championships. However, his career had been mostly blighted by injury and withdrawals, including one on the morning of his first heat in Seoul.

Nonetheless, things seemed to be turning the corner as he took to the blocks in his 400m semi-final, with a dreamed-of place in the final very much on the cards. The starting gun fired, Redmond careered round the first curve…and the rest is now enshrined in Olympic legend (and recounted by Redmond and others in the video, below).

This embodiment of the Olympic spirit was to serve as an inspiration to millions in years to come, including legions of men looking themselves in the mirror on a Saturday night and wondering if they’re really up to the task ahead. For what Redmond and dad could not have known that fateful August afternoon was that this act of a fatherly intervention in order to rescue a fallen son was to become the go-to illustrations for many a sermon around the world, including one of my own.

Cheers, Del boy, I owe you one!

Saturday Post -- 21/07/12

Back in December of last year, as our co-workers Diego & Jo Santana were preparing to leave Trinidad, we were asked by Jo if we would be happy to look after their young, not-quite-100%-German Shepherd. With Amanda in the equation, ‘no’ simply wasn’t an option, and so look after her we did (Poppy that is, not Amanda).

Not long after this, our own dog, Arturo – who, after one scrap too many has to be attached to a dog cable – wore down that very cable to the point that it was simply useless. Thus, he joined Poppy round the back of the house we stay in in a large, enclosed area just for the dogs.

Our priority was simply keeping Arturo in a safe place where he couldn’t rub yet another person up the wrong way. Nevertheless, nature took its course and sure enough, as the early morning light of Thursday rose on Trinidad, the first of five new lives emerged from their mother’s womb. It was the start of a truly epic ‘labour day’ with the final pup arriving at some time between 7pm and 9pm (can’t say exactly when as I was at the Bible study, good missionary that I am).

Here are a couple of pictures. More can be found at my Facebook page.

The first picture of Poppy and 'No.1'

Camera loves you, baby

 All five are doing remarkably well and furiously feeding. Best of all is the change in Poppy herself, a lovely dog, but rather too excitable and jumpy at times, and at times a little bit too trusting with strangers. It was strangely moving to watch this canine version of a little girl take so easily to motherhood, feeding them, cleaning them, simply refusing to let any of them out of her sight. The only times she moved all day were when we had to change the ‘nest’ and, intriguingly, when one of her old canine pals squeezed through the gate to see what was going on. Let’s just say that he didn’t stay for very long. There go the trust issues.

The second week of the school holidays has been somewhat quieter, with no 5-Day Club to attend to. However, this being the ‘summer’, we’ve had a few visitors in the last week, and I’ve enjoyed sharing various aspects of the work with them. Mark Morris, mentioned last week, has not let his injury get in the way of re-acquainting himself with FT’s work, and he was in attendance at my English class on Tuesday (indeed, many of the participants were upset to find themselves stuck just with boring old me again on Thursday – that said, they couldn’t make out a word of our English when we conversed). Mark also came along to band practice and, this coming weekend being his last, he’s decided to cap it off by taking lead vocals at the youth group. He’s a braver man than I am.

Last week also saw the visit to Trinidad of a health volunteer we missed by just a few months when we first arrived here, Mark Connor. Mark’s younger brother, Paul, a student at Georgetown University has just come to the end of a semester in Buenos Aires and the two of them did some travelling, with a return visit to Trinidad pencilled in for a couple of days. They’re Californian and, well, let’s just say, you can take the boy out of California etc. etc. Paul, with longish hair and a backward-turned baseball cap had a look that screamed “Bill & Ted”. Mark, with volume turned down to 10, was the wiser, restraining influence. Nevertheless, it was as great a pleasure for us to get to know them as it was for our fellow missionaries to re-acquaint themselves – mind you, for a couple of West Coast Americans, boy, they weren’t half ginger!

One final item of big news is that the building work on the house is now well and truly underway and I’m hoping to document proceedings photographically as the weeks and months go by. At the back there, you can see the temporary housing which has been built for a builder to stay in and essentially make sure nothing is stolen during the night.

  • For the education workers as the school year resumes this week and we get back into Trinidad’s classrooms.
  • For the remainder of Mark’s trip here (he leaves on Thursday, returning to East Kilbride via Canada, where he will be performing best man duties at the wedding of David McColl, another ex-volunteer).

  • For the blessing of visitors in the past week.
  • For visible signs of progress on our house – we’ve waited some time for those. 

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ringing in the Olympics: Hoop Dreams

My affection for the Barcelona Games has already been stated, and the passing of time has done little to diminish its status in my affections. For me, of the five stagings I have to choose from, it ranks a very close second to Sydney.

I think it was a summer Sunday evening (when church always seemed to take something of a backseat for a couple of months) that we were sat as a family in front of the day’s highlights show and I first came across these boys: The Dream Team. A remarkable basketball team in themselves, except that I had never seen professional basketball played in my life, let alone with such gusto. Over the course of the two weeks, Jordan, Johnson, Pippen et al were to slam-dunk and alley-oop their way into my affections like few other sporting outfits since.

I’m well aware that a fair few Americans still consider 1992, and its opening of the floodgates for subsequent NBA-festooned US teams, to have been something of an insult to amateur hoops and the Olympic ethos in general. An important debate, for sure, but one I couldn’t possibly have grasped as a goggle-eyed 9-year-old. The biggest disappointment as far as I was concerned was to come in later years, as I learned that the standard they set was, indeed, unreachable. Basketball was rarely, if ever, to re-surface on my radar as a serious interest, but for my contemporaries and I, the NBA boom that Barcelona undoubtedly spearheaded did leave one important legacy: NBA Jam on the Super Nintendo, an imperious sports simulation! BOOM shack-a-lack!

Ringing in the Olympics: Ben Johnson

Of course, the big headlines in 1988 were generated by this guy, who I first encountered on the news, not on the track but wandering around bemusedly in a tracksuit while surrounded by a veritable platoon of photographers. I promptly asked my Mum what drugs were. And a little bit of my innocence, as Don McLean might have put it, took the last train for the coast.

Ringing in the Olympics: Greg Louganis

While I wasn’t quite attuned to what was going on around me in 1988, a couple of Seoul moments did provoke twitches in the old antennae, largely due to their making the headlines on the Six O’Clock News (Mum’s perennial revenge for having to sit through the tea-time purgatory of Neighbours the half-hour before).

The first is captured in this stunning photograph, which somehow lends a touch of grace to what can only be described as a bloke tonking his head off a diving board. Forget world records etc.: for a six-year-old raised on a diet of slapstick cartoons, this oft-repeated clip was a source of endless fascination, Looney Tunes incarnate.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ringing in the Olympics


The moment that you stepped into the room you took my breath away.

You never forget your first time. Linford Christie surging for the line, arms outstretched, eyeballs blazing. The Dream Team making basketball disciples of all nations. Steve Redgrave heaving himself to within two gold medals of a knighthood. And who can forget that quintessentially Catalan opening ceremony, crowned in a blaze of glory as an archer lit the Olympic cauldron with a flaming arrow (or did he?).

I was 9 years old and had never seen anything quite like it. I now need only hear the opening bars of the above-quoted Freddie Mercury/Montserrat Caballé standard (which inevitably yet masterfully accompanied the BBC’s opening titles) and the goosebumps make their customary appearance.

The 1998 Seoul Games registered somewhere at the back my subconscious (I vaguely remember coverage on in the background as I toddled home from school for lunch). Two years later, the sight of a grown man in a white shirt crying his eyes out on a football pitch, and bringing no end of amusement to the other grown-ups watching the telly, gave me momentary pause as I ran around a Scripture Union family camp up in Plockton. But 1992 was the first time I properly engaged with a major sporting event and so the Olympics (strictly the summer version) have commanded my attention to varying degrees of enthusiasm ever since.

The relationship has not always run smoothly, with the frustrations, if anything, increasing as the years have passed. Am I alone in considering a medal table to be the very antithesis of the Olympic ideal? In addition, an Olympic medal is a mere curio in the cabinet of any successful tennis player, footballer or (from 2016) golfer – both these great sports and the Games themselves are the worse for their inclusion in the programme.

My biggest gripe, however, rests not with the IOC but with certain elements of the British media (The Daily Telegraph is a chief culprit), who seize their four-yearly opportunity to not-so-subtly knock football and its fans with untold relish. A Brit picks up some serious metal in the likes of equestrianism, archery or sailing (among many other sports whose sole reason for inclusion is that the original founders probably indulged in them at weekends on their estates) and all of a sudden we get the customary “what a damning indictment of our nation that this sport doesn’t get the exposure it deserves!” sermon from some corner of middle-England. Well there’s a reason it doesn’t, matey: it’s rubbish.

However, so many have been the moments of sheer, jaw-wiping-off-the-floor, sporting magnificence that these irritations have not quite yet extinguished my continued enthusiasm as London 2012 approaches. Though I understand – nay, anticipate – the customary pessimism from my Caledonian brethren (the Games organisers’ solitary sob to Scots being a quite pathetic football schedule at Hampden Park – Egypt v Belarus, anyone?), it is a source of some regret to me that I won’t be in the UK for surely the only ‘home’ Olympics of my lifetime.

So, inspired by the recent columns on the BBC Sport website by legendary commentator Barry “Just look at his face” Davies, I’ve elected to keep my spirits up by posting a few of my own personal Olympic highlights (illustrated on Facebook of late) right here on this very blog in the build-up to the Games. It’s just that when I say “I was there”, I more often than not refer to a well-worn sofa. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Saturday Post -- 14/07/12

When I think of summers in Canada (yes, this is Amanda typing) I think of summer camp. I think of two to three weeks at overnight Bible camp in July going straight into day camps at our church in August. I remember being a camper for years and then as I got older receiving more and more responsibility and becoming a counsellor. I love camp. I always thought it was weird how much I loved  camp, considering I was quite an insecure person and meeting new people all the time was difficult and nerve-wracking. But somehow, every summer, I made new friends and loved summer camp. I was never a big fan of the sports time and I hated the all-camp game of capture the flag. I used to loiter behind some building pretending to be guarding it. It got worse when I was a counsellor and had to actually make an effort to do something during the game. I used to secretly hope some kid would receive a minor injury and I would have to sit out with them. Never really happened though. But, despite this, I loved camp. 

My first experience with camp in Bolivia was quite a wake-up call, mainly because it was in Spanish and I had only been here five months. It was awkward to not be so involved and just watch from the sidelines and I clearly remember being challenged to teach one of the verses and the kids looking a bit confused due to my rough Spanish. That was in 2010. I have not participated in a day camp since then due to my work in health until this past week and you'll be glad to hear that my experience was completely different. If anything, my enjoyment of it and involvement in it reminded me a lot more of years at camp in Canada. 

So, this past week was the 5-Day Club that the Sports department at the Foundation runs during the 2-week winter school break. Various other members of staff were asked to be support staff and lead small groups, including Craig and I. However, the 5-Day Club sadly became the 4-Day Club when a civil protest was announced for Tuesday the 10th and no-one was allowed to work that day. Every day of the week we looked at a Bible story that taught us how we can react to Jesus -- we can celebrate, love, follow, believe and talk about Jesus. There were also accompanying memory verses and crafts as well as sports and games. One of the crafts which I thought was great was a card with John 3:16 written inside. The theme for the day was following Jesus and they heard the story of the last supper and betrayal of Jesus. The kids were challenged to take these cards that they'd made and show them to as many people as possible. Every person who read the verse in the card was to put their signature on the card and the next day they were to show their small group leader how many people they had shared the verse with. The kids got right into it and we hope that some of the families from which these kids come got the chance to hear a bit about what their children were learning at the 5-Day Club. 

Craig led the music every day and developed an alter ego named Choco Loco (Crazy White Guy), a rock star who talked in such a gruff voice I was worried he might be a chain-smoker. But the younger kids especially loved it and shouted "Choco Loco" all over the place. He also supported the games session for the younger kids and led the small group for the boys of 12 years and older. I, along with Elizabeth, led the small group for the girls of 12 years and older and was really encouraged with such a large group. By the end of the week there were at least 4 girls who came regularly who previously did not have any contact with our church and we're praying that they decide to come out to the girls' Bible study and youth group. I also helped support the older kids' games time... I realised how much more I enjoyed games time when I could lead and support and no one was forcing me to play. 

I also really enjoyed the fellowship among all the leaders. It felt good to be surrounded by a group of people who love God and are devoted to sharing Jesus and His sacrifice to others. As you'll know from previous blogs, working in health at the Foundation does not necessarily mean working with other Christians and I found it so refreshing to work closely alongside believers with a united goal. We're praying as leaders that these kids (there were 82 on the last day), choose to come to the Saturday Bible Club and church as well. We pray that we will continue to develop friendships with them and get a chance to see where a lot of them are in their personal walk with God. 

From helping at the Club, I have realised the importance of long-term involvement with people here. If a child were to attend a day camp in Canada coming from a non-Christian family there is a good chance that this child will not know who Jesus is or the major events of his life, death and resurrection. They will probably not have read the Bible and will not understand the concept of salvation. However, working in a Catholic culture is a very different thing. I would say that the majority of the kids know who Jesus is, recognise him as the Son of God, recognise the Bible as the Word of God and know that Jesus died and rose again. Sounds great, but the majority of these kids will have been taught salvation by works over and over and over again, and in 5 (really 4) days you cannot sort through who knows and believes what, and undo the teaching of salvation by works. 

In my small group I asked the girls to put up their hands if they attended a church; all of them did. About half of them attend the church that we attend and work in, and so I asked the other girls where they attend and the answer was the Catholic church down the road. These girls knew all the answers to the questions from the Bible stories that they heard, they probably didn't learn anything overtly new during the 5 Day Club and they probably think that we're on the same page as us leaders. In 4 days, with little one-on-one contact I had little opportunity to learn if we are actually on the same page. I would love to think that we are, but experience would teach me that we're probably not... that salvation by faith, not by works and works as an evidence of one's faith are probably still an obstacle in their minds, and that they think they are saved through their first communion and infant baptism. All I can do is pray that they are interested enough to keep coming out, so I get the chance to know them better and talk about these things with them. 

  • For the 100 or so children who came at least once during the week and who heard the Good News at the 5-Day Club.
  • For Craig as he preaches on Psalm 32 tomorrow at church.
  • For the opportunity to reach so many children in the last week.
  • For  the safe arrival of Mark Morris, whom west-of-Scotlanders may know as the assistant pastor at Calderwood Baptist Church in East Kilbride. Mark, who was here as a volunteer way back in 2004-5, arrived here on Monday for a three-week stay, only to break his toe on the football pitch on the same day! He is recovering well but obviously can't get around much, so pray that he will nonetheless feel the benefit of the trip -- at the very least, he's been a great encouragement.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Saturday Post -- 07/07/12

A missionary get-together with Malcolm & Liz McGregor
Five rapid-fire years ago today, Amanda and I invited a group of family and friends to Markham Bible Chapel to sit quietly and listen to us say "I do". Quite where those years have gone is beyond me, but I do know that I, for one, have been richly blessed to have been a part of this partnership. Amanda has patiently put up with my many weaknesses, encouraged me when I've doubted myself and taught me a lot about sacrifice. I am a very lucky man.

So excited were we to mark our anniversary, however, that we took a long-weekend trip to Santa Cruz a whole week early! Well, not quite. Our hand was forced by another factor, namely the visit of old family friends Malcolm & Liz McGregor to the city last weekend. Malcolm is International Director of SIM (Serving in Mission), a vast, international Christian missions organisation. However, the McGregors served at the missions coalface for many years before stepping into the boardroom and it was a pleasure to tap into their wealth of experience over dinner on Sunday evening. Many years ago, at a critical juncture in their ministry, Malcolm benefitted immensely from meeting regularly to pray with, and receive spiritual counsel from, my Grandpa Murdoch back in Milngavie. This time a Murdoch offspring and his wife were on the receiving end of the McGregors' own wisdom -- I'm sure Grandpa Murdoch would have been delighted.

Our base for the weekend was Hotel Buganvillas, where we had previously holidayed back in January 2011 with Amanda's sister Jessica. Unashamedly swanky, the hotel offers Fundación Totaí workers a corporate rate, so we always get a great deal. Though it was only our second visit, our routine there is now well established. I'll get up for a jog around 7am (an hour beyond which I'm usually physically incapable of sleeping these days), grab a quick shower, and then, at around 9am, it's downstairs to The Breakfast Buffet. For a Scot on holiday, 'tis very heaven: a cornucopia of just about every kind of breakfast dish under the sun (black pudding aside) and multiple visits are permitted, nay, encouraged. So not only do you get a top breakfast, you can eat enough to do you for the day, thus rendering lunchtime expenditure unnecessary. Told you it was a Scotsman's holiday paradise. 

With Wimbledon on this time (oh, and isn't it just this year!) we would retire to our room and enjoyed a spot of televised tennis while in recovery mode. Around noon, we'd head for the health spa or the pool, with somewhat chillier winter weather requiring a hearty swim just to stay warm in the water. Much reading is caught up on in between and, around 4pm, we're working out what film we want to see at the multiplex that evening.

We were able to attend to a couple of more pressing matters, however. We had an appointment at the clinic on Friday morning, where Amanda had a check-up -- all is well. And on Friday evening, we were able to track down Emilixy and her two younger sisters, Tirza and Wendoly, who are now living with their relatives. For those who've been praying for these children, you'll be pleased to know that they're settled in homes (they're spread across two of them which are in the same neighbourhood) with responsible aunts and uncles -- in fact, probably a lot more responsible than their currently incarcerated parents -- and they're settled in good schools. To give them a bit of a break, we took Tirza and Wendoly out for burgers and a flick (Brave) at the multiplex, the undoubted highlight being 6-year-old Wendoly's panic, followed by intense joy, as she boarded, and rode on, her first escalator. 

We arrived back in Trinidad on Wednesday morning and were straight back to work, with the usual bout of classes to teach and Education administration for me, and Amanda facing a busy time of it in Audiology, while also finding time to prepare for Sunday's young women's Bible study and make a home visit. With the mid-year school holidays beginning on Monday, attention is now turning to next week's 5-Day Club, organised by the Sports workers and based at the local school in the mornings. 

Last night we had the pleasure of a meal with Rogers & Donna Churipuy and their two children, who are in Trinidad for a couple of weeks visiting Rogers' family. Rogers and Donna met here many years ago when Donna, a Canadian, worked in Trinidad as a volunteer nurse, though our paths had never previously crossed. Last summer, while we were in Canada, they got in touch with us asking if we'd like to get together -- it turned out they were dedicated blog followers, coming across our website during Rogers' frequent googling for all things Trinidad. A year on, it was a pleasure to catch up with them.

Before signing off, while we've been away our final 'permission to build' paperwork has been advancing and should be in our hands by Monday, meaning that we are, finally, free to begin work on the house. Our architect popped by yesterday for a chat and he and his workers are happy to get started as early as this coming week. All going to plan, we should be in our very own home come Christmas. Pool and breakfast buffet optional.

  • For the 5-Day Club this week. Amanda and I will both be leading small-groups, while I have responsibility for music, as usual. Pray that God prepares the hearts of those children who are coming to receive the Good News.
  • For the English classes as we begin the final module with the Intermediate class next week. Pray particularly for the impact of the Thursday class, where we have a simple Bible study.
  • For a very relaxing -- and somewhat productive -- few days in Santa Cruz.
  • For the insights gained from our evening with the McGregors.
  • For our housing project now being at a state of near-readiness.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda