Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday Post -- 29/09/12

Football school coach Luis Savaraín "San" Oniava at work this week. 

Another week of civil action by educational workers (a three-day walkout to show solidarity with the country’s striking miners – how very noble) put paid to much of the schools work this week. Plenty of time freed up, then, to attend to other matters, such as the latest update for FT’s supporters, which I wrote and sent out this week – on which note, if you’d like a copy of the newsletter, or to add your name to the e-mailing list, get in touch.

As missionaries we also took advantage of the quieter working week by meeting together as a team, something which, regrettably, had fallen by the wayside over recent months. Indeed, we had made a commitment in the new year to meet every couple of weeks to pray together, so it really was high time we convened. Over the past few years, as its separate volumes have been published, I’ve been delving into Alastair Campbell’s intriguing diaries of his time working under Tony Blair, and something that frequently comes to the surface is a sense of cabinet ministers – who, through the media lens, appear largely united behind the Prime Minister and his agenda – in practice becoming increasingly lost in the business and bureaucracy of their individual departments and attendant Sir-Humphreys. Funnily enough, our experience here as missionaries is not without parallels (minus the Sir-Humphreys, thanks goodness). Though we are, in theory, united by a sense of purpose which many of our fellow workers at FT lack – particularly our non-Christian colleagues – we are, at the same time, deeply embedded in FT’s four main areas of service. In that respect, one can very quickly lose sight of that united purpose if one is not careful – and it is therefore of vital importance that we meet as regularly as possible to bear one another’s burdens.

So it was great this week to dedicate a morning to just that purpose, giving equal weight in our discussions to our roles in the church. Indeed, speaking of church, Amanda came away from the meeting with a whole new job! KC and she had been discussing the need for greater co-ordination of the youth programme. The church’s youth meetings largely go off without a hitch. However, with all of us on the youth committee deeply committed elsewhere (not unlike the missionary team situation, truth be told) there is a sense in which we fly by the seat of our pants, getting from one Saturday to the next.

For a long time, we’ve sensed a need for enhanced strategic planning, particularly when it comes to special events and fundraisers for the end-of-year camp (run jointly with other youth groups in town). One idea knocked around earlier this year, to give an illustrative example, was to make and sell a meal (a very common way of raising money here) every two to three months, with the proceeds going towards helping the young people, many from poor families, pay for camp. We managed one such fundraiser early this year but quickly lost sight of the long-term goal.

What KC and Amanda will do in the next few months, then, is look at next year’s calendar and plan the group’s activities accordingly, not only around fundraising events, but also special, one-off meetings and trips. The Olympics-themed activity, which came to a close last week, highlighted the boost that an incentive-based scheme can bring to proceedings (the young people were divided into three teams and competed for the gold, silver and bronze ‘medals’ – in reality, three exceedingly good cakes baked by Amanda and co-leader Mariana) and they’ll be looking into taking a similar tack, but over a full year rather than a few weeks.

Returning to the present, we start a new, four-week series with the youth tonight in Daniel, a book whose relevance to youth ministry is, to me, blindingly obvious, as we read of these exiles in a foreign land, the at times suffocating pressures they came under to conform, and, through it all, the awesome robustness of their faith – the three rebels’ cry of defiance in verses 17 and 18 of chapter three a sobering inspiration to all of us who count the cost. The lessons of Daniel have especial relevance in this culture, where, alas, peer and familial pressure to follow the crowd are largely indistinguishable. It will be a particular privilege to introduce this book to the several teenagers in attendance who have never had meaningful Sunday School contact. In any case, I’ll be kicking things off tonight with a focus on chapter one and the episode not otherwise known as Diet-gate.

Here's our house as it stood on Thursday, with work beginning on the,
sadly necessary, surrounding wall. Work on the roof should hopefully
begin soon -- recent blockades have frustrated progress on that front.

  • For improved time-management and self-discipline from ourselves as missionaries as we seek to meet more regularly to support one another.
  • For Amanda and KC, that God would infuse them with a vision for 2013’s youth programme.
  • For the young people as they begin to reflect upon the challenges of Daniel tonight. 

  • For our meeting this week as missionaries.
  • For the Lord’s faithfulness in protecting the youth group – indeed, our numbers have grown considerably in recent weeks – when we’ve been distracted.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Post -- 22/09/12

Amanda with one of the puppies, now two months old. This week
we bid farewell to two of the litter and the remainder will be heading
for kennels new in the next few days.
I may have mentioned in the past that birthdays play a lot bigger here than they do in Western cultures. In Bolivia, they have the big milestones like everywhere else – 15, for example, is a huge deal for girls. But it’s not unusual to receive an invitation to a fairly lavish bash for, say, someone’s 37th birthday.

We have tended to steer clear of big celebrations ourselves, preferring to keep things quiet (and, as the years pile up, we have good reason to do so!). Nevertheless, it’s been nearly three years since we arrived in Trinidad and this year, realising it had been some time since we’d marked either of our birthdays with friends, both of us had an inkling to stage festivities of some sort. Alas, the more obvious occasion, my 30th birthday, coincided with Amanda’s time in Santa Cruz – maybe next year – but Amanda turned 27 on the 4th of September, by which time we had been back for some time, and set about testing the water for an event among friends and colleagues (as if we expected them to say no).

Well, it turns out Fundación Totaí has something of a September issue. For Amanda was quickly to discover that she is one of four female workers here whose birthday falls on the ninth month. Consequently, she felt it incumbent upon herself to organise an evening of revelry not only for herself but for those three colleagues (and the wife of another FT worker), which took place last night. The list of invitees consisted solely of those of the fairer sex. Luckily for me, however, Maicol needed a hand on the barbecue and let’s say that, having enjoyed more than my fair share of steak, I more than took advantage of my, ahem, ‘prime’ position. More to the point, though, after a week of rigorous preparation, Amanda was able to sit back and enjoy the company of her friends here.

It was a busy week, too, at work, where Amanda took sole charge of Audiology in the absence of co-worker Odalys, who spent the week in the outer reaches of the Beni region providing ear & hearing care to remote communities. It was, of course, a privilege for Amanda to provide cover so that Odalys could go about such valuable work.

Meanwhile, I’m growing increasingly appreciative of my week out west as I’ve had hardly a moment to myself since returning. Firstly, I’ve had a sermon to write for this weekend on Psalm 112. Our recent schedules have prevented me from doing much preaching lately and, having had a couple of months away from the pulpit, it’s taken me a while this week to get back into a rhythm. Secondly, the community classes continue to grow, with around 30 kids in attendance on both Wednesdays and Fridays. Elizabeth and I are embracing the new challenges which such high numbers present us with. And thirdly, the new Basic English class kicked off this week, where we have a keen, but small, group of students, with just five in attendance at Thursday’s class. Please pray for more attendees there.

Finally, I should make mention of something which took place a few weeks ago but which I’ve not been able to share due to my time away: I received a letter inviting me on to the eldership of our church, ‘El Jireh’, and I’ve prayerfully accepted that invitation. Amanda and I feel there is still so much the church could be doing to impact our local community for Christ and ‘make disciples’ of those already in our congregation. So perhaps there is an opportunity here to help influence the church in these directions. But before I can even begin to think on such things, I am all too aware of the immense responsibility which now falls on my shoulders and the higher standard to which I will, one day, be held accountable. More than anything else, I would ask you as friends to pray that I would live up to the benchmarks set by the Lord through Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

  • For Craig as he begins his service as an elder at ‘El Jireh’ church and as he preaches on Sunday.
  •  For growth in the new English class.
  • For my travelling companion, Dan, who should be on the final leg of his journey back home to Scotland later today.

  • For the special time Amanda was able to share with her female friends and colleagues last night.
  • For the many new faces who have come to the Community classes in recent weeks.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday Post Travel Special -- 15/09/12

Writing this post late on Friday afternoon having received an abrupt about-turn from the airport. Due back in Trinidad by mid-afternoon, I received a call one hour and 45 minutes pre-departure telling me that the flight had been cancelled. So I must bide my time until Saturday morning's flight. 

Anyone remember The Little & Large Show?
So, not the ideal end to the week, but nowhere near annoying enough to take away from the thrill the last few days have brought, going on new adventures in Bolivia with an old friend.

Eee-by-gum, lad! This abandoned locomotive in the middle of
wannabe-Western location Uyuni was built in Leeds.
Dan arrived in La Paz the wee hours of Saturday morning, exhausted but ready for the forthcoming rigours when we rendez-voused for the first time in three years around 10am.. Not that he had much of a choice. By 6pm that evening we'd be heading for the bus station and our overnight trip to Uyuni, where we'd set off for our three-day tour of the famous Salar de Uyuni and various other sights on Sunday morning.

Uyuni's disused train yard: like one giant scene from Mad Max.
Uyuni itself certainly has the feel of a town whose best days are well behind it and whose sole raison d'être is us backpackers. We had a few hours to kill that morning and, with the streets not yet filled with our tourist counterparts, one might easily have imagined oneself in the Old American West. Bone-dry, with a piercing wind howling through the streets, you wouldn't want to hang around here too long.

An as-salt on the senses.
Uyuni was once Bolivia's main rail hub. Passenger trains still trundle through here every couple of days, but generally, that show left town long ago. And nowhere was that more evident than the first stop of our tour, a quite extraordinary abandoned railway yard, with one carriage after another seemingly stretching out for miles. Judging by the graffiti, its sole practical purpose these days is housing young couples in the midst of their courtship. That said, it was the first of many sights we saw that would have formed the perfect backdrop for a pop video. Simon Cowell, you know my web address.

The Isla del Pescado, an extraordinary fusion of arid browns and
blinding white.
A half-hour's journey onward and we reached the edge of one of the world's truly awesome sights and the bright, shining crown jewel of the trip: the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat, weighing in at a jaw-dropping 4,086 square-miles. This is one of those places where the pictures really do speak for themselves. What more can I report but a white salty floor and a pale blue sky as far as the eye could see?

"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads!"
Such a backdrop inevitably led to several sessions of silly photography. Amanda and I visited Pisa years ago and were struck by the hordes of Tai Chi merchants in front of the famous leaning tower. But Pisa ain't got nothing on this place when you see the lengths people will go to to take an amusing photo. You realise that people really will do anything for a cheap laugh. Myself included.

"Fee, fi, fo, fum...!"
The monotony of white was punctuated by the Isla del Pescado, a seeing-is-believing island consisting of little more than rock, cacti and a gift shop. We lunched around mid-afternoon, before setting off for our resting place for that evening: a hotel made almost entirely of salt.

The main corridor in the salt hotel. I resisted the temptation to lick the walls.
Walls, floor, beds, tables, you name was saltier than a sailor's sausage supper. Stunning.

First stop on Day 2 was the village of San Juan, where a local woman
is pictured here, working the ground.
Our second day began in typically chaotic, Bolivian fashion, with our group being asked to help ferry some Russians to their next stop; our comrades had been unceremoniously abandoned by their driver, who had simply disappeared during the night. Sadly, such stories are common on these tours, with the drivers infamous for their alcoholic indulgences. We struck it lucky with our man, José, and he was happy to help give the Russians a lift that morning.

You might just be able to make out the chimney of smoke on the left-hand
side of the mountain in the distance.
Our group then proceeded on to miles of desert plain before beginning an ascent which would take us to heights of over 4,000 metres and sights such as the above-photographed volcano and the long-ago solidified lava which surrounded it. 

"The camera loves ya, baby!"
Lunchtime that day was spent by the first of two lakes we visited dominated by the Phoenicopterus Roseus or, as they're more commonly known, flamingos. Camera batteries duly succumbed to their grace.

This otherworldly lake is typical of the region.
More lakes, desert landscapes and photo ops that afternoon...

Dan on camera duty for two of our cohorts, Julien (France) and his
Argentinian wife, Luciana.
This unusual rock is called the 'Tree of Stone'. Hmmm...decide for yourself.
Oh, how happy we were. And, oh, how quickly things took a turn. That night as we settled in to our more rough-and-ready accommodation, there were rumblings afoot. Specifically, in our bowels. Of our group of six people, four made frequent visits to the bathroom that evening -- mercifully, next-door to our shared room. But given that we were indeed all 'in one place', there was little rest either for ourselves or for the remaining two members of our group, who worked wonders nursing us back to something resembling full health.

La Laguna Colorada
As a result, we awoke on the final morning bleary-eyed and longing only to get back to Uyuni. Thus, we took a short-cut home, missing out on sights such as geysers and hot springs, where the lucky, healthy backpackers would take a dip that morning. However, eye-catching landscapes were never too far away, including the weirdly-coloured lakes which bookend this paragraph and 'The Valley of the Rocks'.

A greeny-blue shaded lake, not the one featured in many tourist brochures
for this trip, but pretty striking nonetheless.
The pictures here highlight the striking beauty of the area. Yet, hand in hand with that, there is a climatic oppressiveness which is all-pervasive. Three days really were quite enough.

Rocky pictures to rival Stallone's.
Dan and I were back in La Paz by Wednesday morning and had two days to kill or, more to the point, to recover our energies. Anyone who has visited La Paz will be familiar with the Plaza San Francisco, where the famous church towers over all-comers, leading into the tourist district of the city. Despite my numerous visits here, I'd never actually gone inside this remarkable building. We were given a brief, but insightful tour of the old monastery and the church itself.

No shots allowed in the cathedral itself, but here's one from up on the roof.
Finally, yesterday (on what was supposed to be my last day in the La Paz area), we ticked off another sight I hadn't previously visited, the Inca ruins of Tiwanaku, a truly remarkable site which, in places, dates back as far as over 2,000 years. Excavation is ongoing. As I wandered around, marvelling at the engineering acumen of these ancient people, I was reminded of passages in the Bible such as Genesis 4, where we read of the likes of Jubal who invented music -- invented music! Who are we, indeed, to consider ourselves 'advanced'? Here are some pictorial highlights.

By the time this is posted, Dan, currently up at Lake Titicaca, will be getting packed to cross over the border into Peru, where he will spend his second and final week on this jaw-dropping continent. For all the wonders of God's creation I've had the privilege to set eyes on this week, it is the genuinely quality time spent with a special friend that will endure in the years to come. Weird as it was to see each other again for the first time in three years, we essentially picked up where we left off. I look forward to our furlough year in 2014 and further opportunities to renew, extend and deepen our acquaintance.

A 'regular' post again next week. Blessings to you wherever you are.


PS If this isn't enough for you, there are many, many more pictures like this on my Facebook page. Will be seeing you at

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Saturday Post -- 01/09/12

The Intermediate English class: certifiably talented.

No doubt about it, missionary work is far from straightforward. Actually, I’d go as far as to argue that if all is running smoothly at one’s mission station, then there’s probably something wrong. Because, ultimately, ours is a field which deals in that most inconsistent of commodities: human lives. We minister to a vast patchwork of needs, failures and hurts. It sure can be a messy business.

Throw a place like Trinidad into the mix, where in any given day technology will break down, institutions will shut down and people will let you down, and you can see why, for us, such a concept as a ‘typical day’ doesn’t really exist. I have surely at least once referred on this webpage to George Verwer’s warning not to become involved in missions work if one is not prepared to have one’s heart broken – this is a regular, sometimes daily, occurrence for us. We bear our fair share of burdens – and are honoured to minister to broken souls.

Nonetheless, one of the great pleasures of the English class this year has undoubtedly been the opportunity to work alongside a mature, responsible and largely independent group of people, with ages ranging from 12 to 52. While Amanda and I strive to create a warm, fun learning environment, there’s no question that the homework demands in the first few lessons have a way of separating the wheat from the chaff. What remained was a core group of a dozen or so students who came regularly to class (consistency of commitment is, in itself, a rare quality in Bolivia), learned to speak a language, heard the truth about the Christian faith, and, in the process, developed into not only fine students, but great friends.

On Wednesday evening, then, we rounded off the year with a dinner in one of Trinidad’s fabled steak restaurants, where everyone received their final certificates. However, the prevailing mood was not so much ‘adios’ as ‘chau’, as we investigated how to keep up English practice together – my hope is that we’ll be able to meet as a group once a week to converse in the language, using news articles, songs and other stimuli.

Meanwhile, the more chaotic side of our ministry was very much in evidence yesterday in the outlying village of Maná, where we staged the first ‘off-campus’ community class this year. Eagle-eyed readers may remember that last year we decamped to this village for a few weeks, however, we’re hoping to run the class every Friday until Christmas. A similar curriculum – of Bible teaching and literacy development – to the one at the Wednesday class will be taught, though part-time education worker Elizabeth, volunteer teacher Porfidia, and I will have to revise our execution a little over the coming week. In the end, 30 kids turned up, but the first of these arrived some 30 minutes after the scheduled start-time and we were well into the second-half of the afternoon’s teaching when the final kids made their appearance. Compared to sleepy Maná, the Trinidad mentality is positively New York-esque, and we will have to adjust accordingly.

Porfidia teaches the kids with Elizabeth (in black) looking on.
However, we all had a lot of fun reaching out to a whole new set of children. Which brings us neatly to Amanda’s major activity of the week: preparing name-tags for the children who’ll be coming to a new kids’ club the Sports department of FT are launching next week. But how, pray tell, do we even know the names of the kids? Because, wonderfully, a local school has allowed us to take two whole year-groups out of class for two hours each Tuesday for their ‘R.E.’ time. But there won’t be much time for ‘chalk-and-talk’ as the programme includes singing, team games and interactive Bible lessons. Our friend and fellow missionary KC Rivero is spearheading the operation and Amanda was only too happy to get involved this week as she eased her way back into work.

Must dash, for reasons outlined in the prayer points, below. Token house construction-progress picture to finish.

  • For the kids’ club, starting next Tuesday. Pray for all the FT workers who will be involved and for preparation of the children’s hearts to hear the Good News.
  • For wisdom and discernment as we seek to refine our approach to working with the Maná kids.

  • Give thanks for a great year with the Intermediate English group, and pray for the Basic class, starting on the 18th of September.
  • We’ve been thrilled upon returning from our stint in Santa Cruz to have seen the youth group so rejuvenated by a programme of activities inspired by the recent Olympic Games. A fair few new faces were in evidence last weekend. Give thanks for that and pray for our watersports activity this morning out at the local lake resort.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

P.S. Next weekend I’m rendezvousing in La Paz with my good friend Dan Wynne, who arrives next Saturday for a fortnight’s trekking in Bolivia and Peru. Indeed, I’ll be accompanying him for a few days to the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt-lake and just about the last major tourist attraction in this country I haven’t yet experienced. I hope to share some striking photography in a couple of weeks’ time (I'm not showing off -- it's not hard to take great pictures when this is your canvas) – in the meantime, hopefully I can convince Amanda to put in a shift next Saturday. TTFN.