Sunday, October 28, 2012

Saturday Post -- 27/10/12

It recently dawned on me that it had been some time since we’d shared with regard to the church music ministry. It’s definitely one of my core ministries here in the church and demands significant time and effort during the week and particularly at the weekend. At times, it’s all too easy to allow the forest to become obscured by the trees. But when I stop and reflect on what God has done over the past three years, as I’ve done this week, I am encouraged no end.

When we arrived in Trinidad and first attended El Jireh church, the music ministry consisted of two guys and a guitar. One sang, one strummed. Furthermore, the range of songs was extremely limited, with the same two or three tunes being sung every week. Recognising their need for support in an area where I had experience, I got involved right away, playing my guitar and writing out new music. And it was here that I was to learn some important early lessons in missionary work in laid-back Bolivian culture. Where I had initially offered support, within a few months, I had become the de facto leader of the ministry, as I discovered that the ‘band’ were all too happy to devolve the key responsibilities to me. Subtly, and without seeking it, I had become the music guy. There’s no doubt I added polish and a more professional attitude to proceedings but whether it did anything for church growth is another matter; indeed, as my two co-workers slipped out of the church fold for personal reasons, the music ministry for the remainder of 2010 consisted of a missionary and his guitar. In terms of encouraging growth in the local body, this represented a definite backward step.

In early 2011, a new family began attending the church (in itself cause for celebration in a church which has, at times, lacked a familial backbone) and, out of the blue, their two early-teenage sons approached me at the end of a service, expressing their desire to learn guitar and keyboards and play in the church band. Around the same time, one of FT’s administrative workers, Wilson Menacho, also shared his interest in learning the guitar. We began rehearsing together once a week, while I met individually with the three to teach them their instruments. By the time Amanda I left for my sister-in-law’s wedding in Canada in August, we had been playing together in church for several months and I was able to leave Wilson in charge of the music ministry in my absence.

I was to return, in October, with, to paraphrase Paul Simon, my suitcase and bass guitar in hand (a victim of American Airlines’ draconian luggage policy back in January 2010). Some, rhythm, then, was added to the mix, as well as a growing range of new songs – some translated from English, some contemporary Spanish-language, some old Spanish-language favourites. At Christmas we shared carols for the first time ever with the congregation.

In 2012 we’ve seen continued growth, in musical ability, in the range of songs at our fingertips, and in number, in what has been an amazing example of the grace of God. While we were leading the church in singing Christmas carols, a talented musician of years gone by was simply moving on to his next bottle. Carlos had been a band-member of the church I attended during my first stint here as a volunteer, back in 2000-2001. He was a vivacious, charismatic young man, with a powerful voice and bags of confidence. He was set to become a mainstay of the church music scene for years to come. So it was a shock to us all, and an early insight for me into the fragility of Bolivian society, when it was discovered he had fathered a child out of wedlock. Several more children with various mothers were to follow and Carlos wouldn’t darken a church door for over a decade.

So I was as flabbergasted as anyone when Carlos, stone-cold sober, turned up at El Jireh earlier this year and repented before the church for his past misdemeanours. With his haggard features and swollen stomach, he had aged in appearance well beyond his years. But the old fire had been re-kindled. As far as I’m concerned, ‘miraculous’ is the only appropriate adjective.

And now he is back in the church music fold. With several years of experience in local radio behind him, he has the gift of the gab in spades, and leads the times of musical worship with aplomb. That means there are now three of us capable of chairing the music slots in church, two of them Bolivian, which takes a big burden off my shoulders, and, more importantly, has allowed the church to see ‘one of their own’ up at the front on two out of every three Sundays.  

Please continue to pray for the music ministry, especially for maturity and unity for Carlos, Wilson, Diego and Daniel. Though it’s some time away, our upcoming furlough year in 2014 presents a golden opportunity for the band to break free of missionary dependence. Please pray that the guys would rise to the occasion over the coming months and that, control-freak that I am, I would be given the discernment to know when to take a backward-step.

Here are a few more prayer items for this week:

  • For the youth group’s social evening, taking place tonight, particularly for Amanda, who has been working around the clock all week to organise everything.
  • Craig is responsible for overseeing the church’s Christmas service, which is by far the biggest opportunity we have to reach our community every year and requires detailed advance planning. Tomorrow, the main parties involved will be meeting together for the first time to decide on the direction it should take. Please pray for wisdom. 

  • Huge progress has been made over the last couple of weeks in registering the land we bought over a year ago in our name. Fully acquiring these, and selling them, will be a great help to us as we build our house. Give thanks.
  • More students at the local secondary school where Craig has been teaching the gospel of John have come to faith over the last week. PTL and all that.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday Post -- 20/10/12

Before sharing ministry developments, here are some pictures taken last weekend of the new house. The roof (which I reckoned was looking pretty snazzy -- shame it can't be glass) is by now almost completely tiled.
This is the large upstairs window which will let a
lot of light in.
A view from the front which, in the coming weeks, will be obscured by the
perimeter wall (now completed round the sides and back).
A view of the back garden area from the rear living-room window. A
supervisor stays in that shed at night to make sure no-one runs off with
the building equipment! You can also see from this picture just how low
everything is -- the whole plot needs to be filled in with earth up to
the height of the small bricks in the perimeter wall.
Our upstairs bedroom.

Amanda pokes around.
The living-room, looking out the front door. The perimeter wall doesn't
allow for a lot of light to come in, but it should make things a lot cooler.

KC and I are now into the 'interview' stage with all three of the classes with whom I've been working through the book on John's gospel. Yet more students have come to a saving faith this week, either while completing the questionnaire for homework, or by asking to be prayed with (and, of course, we do stress that the students have to ask for it -- in this culture, saying 'yes' to things without considering the consequences is all too prevalent). So we continue to give thanks that a harvest is being reaped for the kingdom.

In my other main teaching involvement, FT's Community Classes, it's been encouraging to watch my assistant Elizabeth's development in the last few weeks. Elizabeth, as regular readers will know, came on board at the start of this year, having been identified in the church's ministries as a young woman with potential. There is, however, a danger -- particularly here in Bolivia where genuine talent can be so thin on the ground -- that we throw too much at such people and they become overwhelmed. Furthermore, it can be easy for us to forget that, coming from a secular background, she doesn't have the support at home that we at times take for granted. 

This is a trap I have fallen into at times this year. At the start of the session, for example, to encourage Elizabeth in her development, I essentially gave her free reign over the teaching schedule, taking something of a hands-off approach. We were soon working methodically through the battles of the book of Judges -- and when we got to 1 Samuel, an extended lesson on Samuel's anointing of Saul was on the cards. Fascinating stories in their own right, but challenging material for children of 5-10 years-old, who comprise the majority of participants. But then again, with zero experience of growing up in Sunday School, it's little wonder Elizabeth wasn't hitting the notes that kids respond to -- something I overlooked at my peril.

In any case, we're essentially on to David's Greatest Hits now and the kids are relishing stories with action, suspense and themes which most certainly relate to their own lives. And yesterday Elizabeth herself commented on how she feels the teaching sessions have become a lot easier recently. Encouraged, then, to see the direction this is taking -- and reminded of just how privileged an upbringing I enjoyed.

Keeping things in the family, Amanda mentioned last week that she was about to begin a formal discipleship programme with Grecia. That started yesterday, using a book called 'Vida Discipular' (rough translation: the life of a disciple), published by Lifeway, who specialise in discipleship materials. Please be prayerful for the two of them as they begin this process, again bearing in mind that Grecia does not enjoy Christian support at home.

Elsewhere, Amanda's been ploughing ahead with preparation for next Saturday's social night at the youth group. Social nights are a departure from the traditional format and tend to take place every couple of months. However, given everyone's busyness, the preparation can be a little haphazard and last-minute. So, as part of their new roles as youth group coordinators, KC and Amanda are forensically planning social nights many weeks in advance. This time, a Just Dance evening is on the cards, with the group divided into four teams for a Nintendo Wii dance-off. However, that's not what I'm most excited about. Oh, no. Because it's not only sweet moves which will be recognised, but punctuality. As Amanda knows all too well, I'm something of a stickler for doing things on time, meaning that Latin culture, to me, represents not only an affront to my way of life, but also a grave health risk. This applies no less to church activities.

So I'm pretty pumped about next Saturday, because the first 25 youth to turn up will be given crowns/tiaras to wear, while the stragglers will be invited to don a pair of donkey ears, thus exposing their tardiness in all its folly. 

Anyway, I'd best be off or I'll be late for a trip into town (bit ironic, that, eh!).

  • For Amanda and KC as they continue their preparations for next Saturday.
  • For continued progress on our house -- we're hoping to start meeting with the builder this week to look at the interior design.
  • For Grecia, as she would grow as a disciple as Amanda works alongside her.
  • For encouragement in the Community classes in recent weeks.
  • For the several young people who have trusted the Lord over the past seven days. Prayer is appreciated that they would get themselves plugged into a local church where the Bible is taken seriously.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday Post - 13/10/2012

Craig is too busy to write the blog this week (someone still hasn’t finished their sermon for tomorrow)… so it is my turn to share what I’ve (Amanda) been doing, and maybe a little of what Craig has done as well (obviously not enough of his sermon).

I have had quite a bitty week, though quite busy as well. Last Sunday night was the biweekly Bible study in Esther with the girls aged 18-23. For those of you who don’t remember I’m going through Beth Moore’s group study in Esther and then adjusting it to make it a biweekly study that’s more culturally relevant. For example, in her first chapter she talks about her visit to a famous person’s massive house and she talks about how this person is using their large sum of worldly possessions for God’s glory, which is a great, but for people who don’t have so much, I felt some tweaking was in order. This week we covered a lot of chapter 4 (yes, we’re only in chapter 4), but the girls were very participatory and I think we all enjoyed it. We looked at the most famous “for such a time as this” statement (Esther 4:14) and even discussed predestination and free will.

Craig and I spent our day off actually taking a day off. We had no housing issues or land issues to deal with, so my dutiful husband swept, mopped and cleaned the bathroom in the morning while I did the grocery shopping. I feel like I have the better end of the deal in this bargain, but amazingly enough he thinks he has the better end of it too, so all’s well that ends well.

But in the afternoon/evening we played Zelda!!! For anyone that knows me well, they will know that I never had a video game console growing up and still cannot use any video game remote control. But I love puzzles and figuring stuff out (not so much the fighting bad guys part), so the concept of a game like Zelda fascinates me. So the way we (yes, as a couple) play is that Craig uses the remote control and I sit cross-legged on the couch and become my mother; anyone who knows my mother will understand this as well. I sit on the couch and essentially direct: “No, the other door on the left”, “Look under that thing there.” etc. Our fellow missionary KC has pointed out that we must have a relatively healthy marriage to be able to play together like this. It could be said that if we wanted to maintain our relatively healthy marriage, we shouldn’t play together like this. Admittedly there are moments when tempers boil, evil eyes are pointedly given and the thoughts “you’re doing it wrong” or “just be quiet” pass through certain people’s minds, but generally it’s been an enjoyable experience. It’s really nice to have something we do together for fun, which isn’t just watching television.

But for anyone who is getting worried, we did not only play Zelda this week (we did complete one dungeon though). This week there was an ear-focused surgical campaign with surgeons coming in from the States, Paraguay and/or (not quite sure) Peru. The reason I don’t know is that I had exactly zero interaction with the campaign and it felt great. As you know I have helped with the surgical campaigns before and seen how exciting they are, but they are also extremely stressful and as I have not officially been trained as a hospital nurse, I also felt a little on edge working slightly out of my comfort zone. This week I stayed in Audiology, but as there were not many patients due to the fact that there were no doctors attending, I spent a lot of my time helping out in Admin. And I loved it. I even started writing receipts for payment by the end of it, with carbon copies. But in all seriousness, it was nice to help out where help was needed and to do it well to the best of my abilities.

I got to meet up with a friend, Liria, this week. Liria used to work at the Foundation and I used to try and meet up with her weekly while she worked here. However, I have not seen her since coming back from Santa Cruz, mainly because her phone was stolen and I couldn’t get in touch with her. Finally, we bumped into each other and this week we hung out for a couple of hours. Liria needs a lot of prayer. She is a 23 year-old who is not very confident and also very distrusting of other people in a lot of ways. She is very sceptical of people who call themselves Christians as she thinks they don’t, a lot of times, practice what they preach. She is also somewhat self-absorbed, not that her life does not have its share of problems and trials, but she likes to dwell on them. Sometimes I do not know if when I talk about serious things she tunes me out. But I really believe under a lot of that, she has a good heart and I pray that God breaks through all the exterior self-imposed protection to reveal Himself to her.

And a praise item I have is that the young girl Grecia that I have been meeting up with on Friday mornings asked me yesterday to start doing some type of discipleship or Bible study with her. I was hesitant to start a study with her right away, though mentioned it as a possibility, because I didn’t want her to feel like she was being forced into doing something she didn’t want to do herself. So for the last month, we’ve run errands together, made pizza and cupcakes and yesterday we painted our nails (thanks Jay and Jo for the Sally Hansen nail stickers). I am going to get the materials together this week to start a discipleship programme using the “Vida Discipular” books and hopefully going to start next Friday. I explained to her that this would require commitment and she understands. Please pray that God causes her desire to grow in her faith to really take hold and that she gets excited about this study and the new things she’s learning. I have a feeling her sister might have pushed her towards this, but regardless, she did approach me, so please pray the desire is real and deep-rooted.

As for what Craig has done… well, sermon preparation. He is taking the second sermon on the new series that has been started on the purpose of the church. Please pray for him as he speaks tomorrow. He and KC were also back in the school on Wednesday morning talking to kids one on one about their thoughts and questions on their completed Emmaus books. More children received Christ!!! Efforts are now being put into encouraging them to find local Bible preaching churches and sharing with family and friends the new decision they’ve made. 

  • Craig speaking tomorrow – pray that the congregation would really understand and get passionate about this evaluation process the church is going through.
  • Grecia - as she and I begin this discipleship time together - that her desire to grow in her faith is real and deep-rooted.
  • Liria - that she would come to a saving faith in Christ.
  • For the new kids that accepted Christ in the local school.
  • For the successful surgical campaign that finished yesterday.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saturday Post -- 06/10/12

With classes finishing at the end of November, we are now very much into the tail-end of the school year here in Trinidad and, as anywhere, there are crucial moments ahead for these students. Exams will be sat, classes passed or failed. But I can say without any bias that the closing weeks of the R.E. curriculum will see many pupils approach the most critical juncture of their whole lives.

As you may already be aware, I teach gospel-themed R.E. lessons to three secondary-level classes, using books from the Emmaus Bible course, in this case, a book based on the gospel of John. At the end of this book is a short questionnaire asking questions such as, “Do you believe Jesus is the son of God?” “Do you believe that you are a sinner?” and offering students the chance to respond by putting their faith in Christ. Having completed the main section of the course, students were required to complete the questionnaire as homework.

This week, KC and I met with the first group of students who had completed the book and the questionnaire, discussing with them, as individuals, their answers to the questions – and, let’s just say, it was the most productive lesson I’ve ever been involved in. One of the girls KC interviewed, Francis, trusted in the Lord while completing the homework assignment. Meanwhile, I spoke with four boys. Marco Antonio had been a believer for a few years. José told me he’d become a Christian as a result of his first communion. When I explained the Bible’s teaching on this, he asked for a week to think about making, let’s say, a faith-based decision. However, it was my privilege to pray the sinner’s prayer with two boys, Joselito and José Alfredo. Joselito had thought he was already a Christian by believing in Jesus’ existence; I explained the wider significance of becoming a Christian and he decided to do the necessary. José Alfredo was another who had placed his faith in his first communion, but he too was determined to rectify this.

By reading this you’ll hopefully get a greater sense of the real confusion there is here. In a culture like the UK or Canada the main challenge we face is that of simple unbelief – but then, at least most people are certain as to whether or not they are saved. I am convinced that, if anything, the excessive religiosity of this culture, presents us with far more significant barriers, as millions firmly, and wrongly, believe they are on the right path with God, and simply won’t hear otherwise.

Nevertheless, much moreso, I hope you’ll be encouraged to read of what God is doing through the work in schools here. We spoke to a mere seven pupils of a class of 35 this week, so there may be many more such opportunities in this class alone (the other two classes haven’t quite reached the end of the book yet).

KC and I really emphasised the proximity of our church (just half a mile down the road from the school) to those who came to faith – after all, ultimately, we’re all about making disciples. On that note, Amanda has, in recent weeks, taken a teenage girl from church under her wing. Grecia, 15, is the younger sister of FT worker Elizabeth. She is undoubtedly a young woman of potential and she is meeting with Amanda on Friday mornings to simply spend a little time with an older Christian (activities thus far seem to have centred around cooking and baking, both of which are just fine with me). Further down the road, depending on Grecia’s receptiveness they may start to delve into their Bibles together, but it’s very much still feeling-her-way territory for Amanda right now.

Much to be thankful for, then, and much to be prayerful for.

  • For Francis, Joselito and José Alfredo as they take their first steps in this new life. Pray particularly that they would be able to be plugged into Bible-teaching churches/youth ministries in Trinidad.
  • For José and others in the class who are thinking about their responses.

  • For the Lord’s faithfulness in bringing these young people to a saving faith in him.
  • For the positive Christian role model that Grecia has in Amanda and the potential for discipleship there.

Our latest newsletter went out yesterday – get in touch if you’d like a copy.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda