Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Post -- 23/02/13

This week’s post represents something of a departure from previous weeks’ entries (including last week’s chuckle-inducing contribution from guest-star Amanda – alas she reliably informs me that her contract stipulates she only has to blog when I’m on sermon duty) in that we have nothing lost or, indeed, found to report. Really sorry about that, peeps. I did leave my car key in the ignition overnight with the door locked, but if that were deemed newsworthy, there’d have probably been around 57 posts on that theme by now.

No, the only keys we’re concerned about these days are those for our new house, which grinds ever closer to completion. With Amanda’s uni room-mate Shona Blatch coming to see us in a couple of weekends’ time, we had a tentative aim of moving next weekend. Not entirely sure if that will be possible any more, with the house still lacking an entry gate, ceiling fans and a few other small, but essential, features. That said, we’re hopeful we can be in before Shona gets here, even if that means moving during the working week – the house is just three blocks from where we live just now, meaning a big weekend effort is not essential.

With that date in mind, we made a few trips into town this week to make some key purchases, with a guest-bed occupying top spot on the wish-list. No Ikea here, folks – wood here is of high quality but pricey, so it’ll probably take us a few years to properly kit out the whole house.

While in town, we also submitted our permanent residency visa application, an essential item because: a) it allows us to leave the country at any time for up to two years per exit (as opposed to the total of three months over two years we have currently), crucial with our furlough year in 2014 on the horizon; and b) it significantly reduces the pace of male hair-greying, as long hours which could be spent doing important things like watching ESPN will no longer be wasted sitting in immigration offices where there is every chance the staff could be botching up the paperwork anyway and as a result will require you to return a few weeks later and endure the same process all over again.

That said, the lady who dealt with our application on Monday seemed very nice. Her name was Veronica.

The school year properly kicked off this week and I spent an encouraging few hours teaching at the local secondary school, where I also taught R.E. last year. In 2012, with the three oldest classes, we worked through a textbook on the gospel of John and many children from all three classes came to faith in Christ during the year. Now, over the summer holidays, schools here have a pretty high turnover rate as parents are keen to move their kids to institutes they might have heard are a little better than where they currently attend, meaning the make-up of the year-groups can be vastly different from year to year. That doesn’t seem to have happened to anything like the same extent this time. And so, in the upper two year-groups I’m teaching probably around 80% of the students I had last year – and many of those, of course, became Christians in 2012. I now have a chance to move into discipleship territory and that’s exciting, particularly as the vast majority of the students haven’t yet been able to start attending our church.

Work is picking up again, the sun is shining, all keys/wallets are present and correct. Cannae complain.

  • Please remember the aforementioned visa submission in your prayers. It’s theoretically about a three-week turnaround, a lot quicker than before, however, as ever, all of the key documents are sent by post to La Paz in the process – including our passports. Yikes!
  • During the week we put an ad in the local paper for our two, still unsold, plots of land. Pray that God would direct the eyes we need to that little square of information.
  • Craig is teaching on The Prodigal Son tonight at the youth group, always a text so rich in truth, yet potentially challenging as many of our youth struggle to even comprehend the concept of a loving father. Pray for wisdom. 

  • For the encouragement of this week’s R.E. classes.
  • For the semi-confirmation of another visitor in the next few months, Carluci Dos Santos, LAM Canada executive director who, God-willing, will arrive in Trinidad for a short visit on the 2nd of May, just a few days after Craig’s parents’ departure. With Amanda’s mum scheduled to come down in September, we’ll probably have at least four visits from friends/family members this year. Visits are always an immense source of encouragement.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Post -- 17/02/13

Last week everyone got to read about how God graciously returned my wallet to me (Amanda writing this week) after three days of intense prayers by a lot of people. This week will be the story of how I lost my keys!

As Craig mentioned last week, this past Monday was the Youth Group’s annual Carnaval celebration. We wanted to do something a bit different because we had a bit more time to plan this year. Normally we play games, water-based and otherwise, around the Foundation, but this year we decided to take the show on the road. We arranged with a restaurant that has land at the lake to host us for the whole day as long as we bought lunch and beverages from them. So at 9:00 am we all met outside the Foundation to head to the water. I am not even going to go into the fun it was to try and get trip fees and permission forms from the youth in on time. We had kids showing up on the day without money or permission forms trying to go and it’s really hard to say no.

Anyways, once we all arrived at the lake we had group worship led by Craig and then went into a massive game of capture the flag. As someone who dislikes the game as I am neither fast enough to evade capture or capture someone who is invading my side, I did not participate and instead filled water balloons in the girls bathroom. A very important job as well, I think. But the youth seemed to really enjoy it… completely disregarding the boundary lines we had set for the game of course. 

And then the rain started…

There was an enclosed auditorium where Kenny then shared his message on holiness to all of us and we after broke into small groups to talk through Ephesians 4:17-25. I was really trying to emphasize with my group that though Carnaval is filled with drunkenness and casual sex, the passage applies all year round… sins of obsession with material possession or even another person apply as well. Those who do not know Jesus are “darkened in their understanding” not only by alcohol and sex, but with whatever they have placed as their idol in their life… their personal goal, whether that is building a business empire or living on the approval of another person, is in the place where God should be.

After small groups we shared lunch together in the small auditorium… it was still raining… even harder…

So, of course we had water games planned in the afternoon… but it was raining… so what did we do? Played the water games in the rain… granted it did get quite cold… so then what did we do? Got into the warm lake and played in the rain there. And as I heard distant thunder and saw distant lightning… I kept thinking, “This would be so illegal in Canada”. But, no one was struck by lightning, so all’s well that ends well.

After an hour and a bit of planned games, we gave everyone free time in the water… there was a big volleyball net set up in the water, so we rented a volleyball and loads had fun doing that while others just swam and chatted in the water in small groups. I had actually every intention of playing volleyball… I don’t know why I wanted to, and I even went to get the ball… and as I got closer and closer to the net and passed the ball off to other people, I remembered how much I dislike participating in group sports and drifted off to chat with some girls a little ways a way. It was a close call there… ewww… group sports.

A group of us were planning to leave about 4:30 to head back to the Foundation to make dinner… we were going to make pancakes as they had learnt about other cultures’ Carnval traditions, ie. Shrove Tuesday, the week before and we thought we would give them a taste of American flapjacks. So, as I went to the changing rooms to get ready to leave in the car… I noticed my keys were missing. Earlier in the day I had my keys in one pocket and my cell phone in the other. Sometime during the water balloon filling I decided it was silly to get my phone wet and put it away in my bag… though why I left my keys in my pocket, I don’t know… and as soon as I knew they were missing, I knew exactly where they were. Of course, I pretended they could be somewhere else and searched high and low for them in my bag, in Craig’s bag and many other places… but in my heart of heart’s I knew where they were… in the lake.

So… I did what any good youth leader would do in a situation like this… I sent 8 young people back into the lake to look for them for. I couldn’t myself, I mean really… I was dry and changed already. I kept trying to tell them where I was mainly hanging out from the dock… and after only 15 minutes of searching, God showed to me again that He can still love people who make stupid decisions… and somebody found my keys. I should probably let you know the lake is not deep and has a mud bottom, not a plant filled bottom… if it had been a lake in Canada, I wouldn’t even had bothered, but I knew there was slim chance in this lake. And God was good to me again… for the second time in 1 week.

Everyone eventually made it back to the Foundation where we enjoyed pancakes and syrup (one lady kept trying to change my recipe to make crepes… I had to tell her quite distinctly that they are two different things… one is French and one is American). And everyone went home very tired…

Thankfully, Tuesday was another civic holiday where I made pizza and stayed indoors reading novels… loved it!!!!!

Nothing overly excited happened during the week except my friend from University, Shona Blatch, confirmed that she is going to come out and visit in 3 weeks time… she’s a speech therapist and she’s going to come out and give some training to myself and Odalys, the other Audiological Technician, in speech therapy. Yay!!!!

And Craig gave a wonderful sermon today on what it means to be an ambassador for Christ… for us as individuals, but also for the church. I enjoyed it…

The house is coming along… for some reason they told us that we could be in by this Wednesday, but that is not true… as there is still quite a lot of work. We pray will be in the new house for when Shona comes, but we’re not actually sure. And they need to fix the colour of my kitchen… I asked for bright pink, and they put in some soft lavender colour. No, no, no, no… maybe the guy can’t tell the difference; he was quite shocked when I asked for pink and kept saying over and over again, “I can’t see it, I can’t see it…”

If anyone else can’t imagine my pink kitchen, you’ll just have to come down here and visit me to see the great creative vision I have. I don’t think Craig could imagine it either before, but he thought… “Hey, she’s the one who cooks.” But he says now that there is some paint on the wall, albeit the wrong shade, he can imagine it and likes it. Justified!

  • For preparation for Shona’s visit. We want to get a load of patients lined up for her to see to give us hands-on training, so pray for the organisation of that.
  • For the house, as we would really like to have it ready for Shona’s visit… its just too touch and go right now to be sure.

  • For a great Carnaval event where lots of youth people came (though most of them registered late…).
  • For Craig’s sermon on being ambassadors for Christ.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Saturday Post -- 09/02/13

Just been round at the site this morning to meet the guy who'll be fitting our kitchen. While there, we took some more pictures of what is now an Off-White House or, in Spanish, La Casa Casi Blanca.

The windows were installed this week.
Most rooms now have their first coat of paint. Here's an upstairs bedroom.
The titular couple.
A view of the back garden from an upstairs balcony. The temporary
foreman's shed is now gone -- it used to sit where the new earth has been laid. 
Three key players talk shop in the master bedroom. From left-to-right:
site manager "Chichi", kitchen designer César and project coordinator
The living/dining area, with 'accent wall'.
Things are really motoring now, with the security fence being put in place and the kitchen due to be fitted out in the next couple of weeks. It's not unforeseeable that we could be moved in by the end of the month, well ahead of the state visit of Mr. & Mrs. A Cunningham in mid-April.

Those readers who don't frequent planet Facebook may be unaware of a major answer to prayer during the week. As mentioned in our prayer points, Amanda had lost her wallet while out shopping, containing a little cash but, much more crucially, all of her major ID and bank cards from the UK, Canada and Bolivia. So on Monday morning (our day off), as we both slowly regained consciousness after the customary lie-in, we prepared ourselves mentally for a day which would be spent visiting Trinidad's police station, immigration offices and various lawyers' offices -- and this to simply get the ball rolling on the long process of replacing Amanda's driver's licence and Bolivian I.D. card. Particularly grating was the loss of the I.D. card, given it just had a few weeks of validity left -- knowing the authorities here as we do, it would not have been a surprise to be told to acquire a replacement and then apply for a renewal.

But, gloriously, we can only hypothesise. Because out of the blue Amanda received a phonecall from Anna, the secretary at FT. Someone had turned up with Amanda's I.D. card, no doubt assisted by the address supplied on the I.D. card. Amanda promptly made her way over to find that the family she met had not only that card, but her wallet too, lacking money, but complete with all the cards necessary to get by here and abroad (though the bank-cards had obviously been cancelled). Wisely, Amanda opted not to ask the family how they came about the wallet, and gave them a small reward as a token of our gratitude.

As it happened, answered prayer was to become something of a running theme this week, with a few other really hairy situations arising in which the Lord graciously proved once again (need we have doubted) that he is overwhelmingly 'for us' and our fellow believers.

Unsurprisingly, the schools were nowhere near ready to start classes proper this week -- perhaps I'll have something more to report next weekend, by which time Carnavál will be out of the way. In February of last year I gave a rough guide to what happens here in Trinidad for this, the biggest of all Latin American festivals. In terms of the church, we've made a couple of important tweaks to the customary all-day event we put on for the youth group: firstly, it will take place on Monday (the traditionally alcohol-soaked peak of the festivities) and secondly, appropriately for an event which involves copious water-fighting, we're staging the event at the laguna, Trinidad's man-made lake resort. It promises to be wetter than a girls'-night-out at Les Miserables.

  • For safety and a good time for all at the youth event on Monday. Pray especially for our friend Kenny who's speaking on Holiness, a theme with particular relevance this weekend. And pray for all of Trinidad these next few days, for safety and, somehow, that God's voice would speak through the chaos.
  • Keep praying for Porfidia, who we are really keen to employ this year as a teacher in the community classes. She is getting closer to a possible job-swap which would allow her to teach school in the morning and work at FT in the afternoons.
  • For the returning of Amanda's wallet.
  • For another successful surgical campaign at FT this past week.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Saturday Post -- 02/02/13

First up today, some pictures taken yesterday of the house, which, like their subject, have been a while in coming. 

The new entrance-way being added to the front of the house.

The kitchen, post-tiling, pre-fitting. No idea what our friend in the baseball
cap is up to.

A view from upstairs, outside the large window.

Unfortunately, the project has been beset for some time by a chronic lack of workers. People in the Beni region have something of a national reputation for sloth, and the traditional Christmas/January twilight zone has seen our contractor struggle to assemble enough guys to make headway.

Amanda and I hadn’t initially been too concerned about deadlines, but with our first visitors for the year – my parents – arriving in mid-April, we began to get a little anxious. So I spoke with the project manager a few weeks ago and, voila, the last couple of weeks have seen a major increase in workers and a hastening in progress. Indeed, it was nigh-on impossible to take pictures yesterday without workers in them.

More recently, we’ve put pen to ink on a couple of important contracts for the installation of the kitchen and security fencing – a necessary evil in this culture. Hopefully we’ll be able to report a moving-in date sooner rather than later.

One date we can point to with certainty is the official start of the school year this Monday coming. Well, theoretically at least. Because of course, here in Bolivia, and indeed throughout Latin America, there’s an unwritten rule that nothing really gets going till that granddaddy of all festivals, Carnavál, is out the way. This year’s celebration takes place relatively early – the 11th and 12th of February – and so it is fair to say that this week will be something of a write-off. Besides, many schools don’t even have their timetables in place by the time they return from the holidays. However, at least it’ll be out of the way fairly soon and my FT Education colleagues and I can begin the year’s R.E. teaching by mid-February (Carnavál can fall as late as early March, virtually wiping out a month of classes).

At the Foundation this week the main focus has been preparing for the latest surgical campaign, taking place next week in our operating theatres. Once again, we’ll be assisted by visiting ENT surgeons from Paraguay, who have brought a really positive attitude to the place in their recent visits. Like the Germans, Amanda doesn’t tend to get involved in campaigns these days, but she will again make an indirect contribution by taking sole charge of the audiology wheel in the absence of her colleague, Odalys. Indeed, Odalys has agreed to take on the role of nurse-in-charge at FT, meaning Amanda will be increasingly on her own.

Not so in the youth work, where we have both been involved with the youth committee in getting ready for the new year, which kicks off this evening, with just one ‘normal’ Saturday before next week’s traditional Carnavál extravaganza, which promises to be bigger, better and significantly wetter than anything we’ve done yet. More on that next week.

  • Since writing this entry yesterday afternoon, something of an emergency has arisen. On a shopping excursion, Amanda misplaced her wallet and turned around a few seconds later only to discover that said wallet had disappeared. Thankfully, I had her main bank card but all the rest of her major Canadian, British and Bolivian cards were all in there. So we need prayer, firstly, that a kind soul out there would return the wallet to us. And secondly, if that doesn't happen, that the road to replacing these cards is a smooth one, particularly here in Bolivia. As mentioned in the last couple of posts, we're in the process of renewing our visas. Once you have your visa, you are then expected to apply for a new I.D. card, which reflects your new visa dates. In other words, we are now so close to applying for our new I.D. cards that for Amanda to be asked to apply for a replacement for her current card would be pretty preposterous -- but stranger things have happened to us here. So please pray for understanding from the authorities. 
  • For safety for patients and energy for staff during next week’s surgical campaign.
  • For FT staff as the school year begins and for preparation of the hearts of those children and young people who will hear the Good News in their classrooms this year.
  • For the new year at youth group, that the Lord would equip us to raise up a generation of disciples. 

  • For an increased pace, after a long period of relative inactivity, in our building project.
  • For the relative freedom we enjoy here in Bolivia to teach the Word of God in schools. 

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda