Saturday, May 25, 2013

Saturday Post -- 25/05/13

Must say, I fancy me one of these.

Now don’t get me wrong, actually owning a house for the first time in our lives has been terrific so far. Having the freedom to install our own appliances, decide on which shade of garish pink works best for the kitchen, and leave crayon-marks on the wall without worrying if we’ll get our deposit back – yes, it’s been wonderful.

But my goodness, is it not just a wee bit terrifying – and I'm not just talking about the wall colours. For the first time in our lives we find ourselves in the position where any problem we come across, no matter how great or small, is very much ours to deal with, and cannot simply be fobbed off to the landlord.

Like any new house, we’ve had a few bedding-in issues here and there, but none more headache-inducing than the garden. It’s not the biggest you’ll come across down here, but it does nonetheless constitute the majority of our plot of land. And so far, our efforts to grow it, and then get on top of it, have exposed us for the total horticultural philistines that we are.

Initially, our plot was simply mud, but not mud of any real quality – the kind of industrial stuff which is simply used to fill in empty spaces. Indeed, having been required to raise the height of our land quite considerably before building on it, we had needed a lot of it. Realising that this wouldn’t yield any growth, and frustrated with the chronic mess it made when combined with the rain here, we opted to buy some proper soil or ‘black earth’ as they call it down here.

Well, back in early April, with the help over a couple of weeks of a couple of strapping young ’uns from the church youth group, we were able to cover the entire plot in black earth, allowing greater potential for growth. Except that rainy season was having itself one last almighty burst before exiting the stage for 2013, meaning that when everything finally dried out, we had ourselves a collection of compacted mud-rocks, rather than proper soil. The only growth to speak of was an ever-increasing array of weeds springing up through the cracks. And so, the garden quickly became a problem which, if it weren’t put in its place once and for all, was only going to become an even greater irritation and threat to our sanity and peace of mind. Sort of like Nigel Farage.

Now, if I’m honest, the thought of getting to grips with my own garden was something that rather excited me as we had prepared to move home. What greater satisfaction, after all, than the sweet sting of sweat in one’s eyes after a hard day of working the land. This was no mere chore – this was my calling as a man! Grrrr!

The novelty soon wore off, though, as, a couple of weeks ago, one Monday – effectively our one-day weekend – I spent the day weeding only one part of the land, picking up severe thigh strain in the process, and realising that managing to get any real growth out of this thing at all would probably require me to put in a shift every Monday for the next year. And that I just wasn’t prepared for.

So we did what any sane person of my generation would do – we got someone else to do it. Well, we at least looked into it. Last weekend we were visited by a professional gardener who has grown, and maintains, gardens in some of Trinidad’s swankier homes. He gave me a little tour of his greatest hits as a sweetener before hitting me with a quote which was several furlongs beyond what we could afford (an unfortunate upshot of being lighter of skin here is the assumption that we are walking ATMs; actually, it’s a stereotype with more than a little truth in it in this society, but one that doesn’t really apply to missionaries living by faith). We didn't get back in touch with him.

It was at this point that I remembered that the husband of a woman who does a little cleaning for us now and again is himself a gardener. He was otherwise occupied, but put us in touch with a friend of his (whose daughter, it turned out, is heavily involved in FT’s basketball programme), who promptly came round to the house to offer his own services. Perhaps with a greater understanding of our financial realities as missionaries, he gave us a far more manageable quote.

And I can say with thankfulness that I am looking out on a garden which is in a far healthier state than it was a few days ago and is ready for grass to be sown and grown. My head feels a lot better. As do my thighs.

  • The garden is not the only issue relating to ‘land’ we’ve been dealing with over the past week. Out of the blue, the possibility has arisen of selling the two extra plots we own. Please pray that we might be able to be finally be rid of these soon.
  • Pray for Craig this weekend as he prepares to preach on Nehemiah 5 tomorrow morning at church. 

  • We still haven’t made a final decision with regard to what we’ll be up to during our furlough year but, as Craig mentioned on Facebook yesterday, we have booked our tickets for our return to the UK in mid-December. We’re excited to be able to come ‘home’ in time for Christmas. Give thanks for a date to look forward to and an extremely good deal on the tickets.
  • Give thanks, too, for the Lord’s help to Amanda last weekend, who was feeling increasingly under-the-weather as Saturday wore on, but was able to fulfil all her teaching duties nonetheless, her input much appreciated by all concerned.
  • Give thanks for Craig's English class, with more newcomers arriving this week to learn English and read the Bible in the process.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Saturday Post -- 18/05/13

Another week, another bout of civil action in Bolivia, this time over pensions. Actually, we’re now well into the second week, but the stakes have been raised over the past seven days as the largest union in Bolivia resorts to ever more desperate means to force a hike in public sector pensions to 100% (!). An utterly ludicrous bargaining position, yet they aren’t backing down (the government have offered 81%). The usual road blockades are in place, but this time the airports, usually the last transport hubs to fall, have been sucked into things, making international travel pretty hazardous. You can read more about the situation here.

Many, though not all, of the schools here have opted to close their doors, and ten days have now passed since the majority of Trinidad’s schoolchildren attended class. That, in turn, has taken something of a wrecking-ball to FT’s work in the local community – not simply our R.E. teaching, but also the free health checks we carry out in local schools every week.

So my workload this week has been reduced a fair bit by the lack of R.E. classes and the attendant marking (put it this way – I’ve never been more prepared for a sermon as the one I’m due to deliver next weekend) but at least I was able to teach the English classes, which are based at FT’s headquarters. This week saw the launch of the Intermediate course. So popular was the Basic course this year that there was no need to advertise the next level of classes, which will take us up to the end of the year. The vast majority of alumni from the Basic class have returned and are already getting to grips with the new format, which includes a weekly class devoted exclusively to reading a book in simple English about the Christian faith.

Amanda, meanwhile, has been (wo)manfully juggling her audiology responsibilities with pastoral work. Today alone she is teaching her Bible Explorers’ Club class before, in the evening, leading the next session on our study in Joseph with the youth group. Then tomorrow evening, with the young women’s Bible study group, she’s once again heading up the study on the Fruit of the Spirit. Looking at our weekends these days, I find it increasingly incomprehensible that, not so long ago, we didn’t take Mondays off.

A not insignificant stress-reliever has arrived in town over the last couple of days, however: the year’s first full-blown (see what I did there?) southerly wind. Temperatures have plummeted all the way down to, er, the mid-teens. We are very happy. God is good.

  • Pray for Amanda in her various teaching endeavours this weekend, that God would speak through her.
  • Pray for Craig, who is visiting a large evangelical church in the centre of town on Sunday morning to promote FT's Emmaus Bible School programme.
  • Remember the civil unrest in Bolivia in your prayers. Pray that common sense would prevail.
  • Continued prayer would be welcome for our furlough year, that the correct path would be confirmed to us.

  • For a great start to the new Intermediate English class -- a great opportunity to share Christ with others in a simple way.
  • For the cool weather this week and the relief it brings us from the heat.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Saturday Post -- 11/05/13

The couples in happier times.

Mighty difficult to condense the last four weeks into just a few paragraphs, but I'll give it my best shot.
Chillin' on the balcony.
Mum and Dad landed in Trinidad on the afternoon of the 14th of April, at the conclusion of 36 hours of departure lounges and restricted legroom. Actually, the morning before their short flight from La Paz to Trinidad had been spent paying a brief visit to La Paz itself. But this isn’t quite the equivalent of catching the Heathrow express train into the centre of London. La Paz’s main airport, in fact, sits at an altitude of 4,000-plus metres, while a steep descent by road is required from there to visit the city centre, which itself sits at a not inconsiderable 3,200 metres. The hijinks at high-altitude eventually took their toll.

Amanda took Mum along to a local school where FT is providing free
health checks for all the pupils.
So it was straight to bed that Sunday afternoon for a recuperative snooze, though within an hour or two they were up and about, and familiarising themselves with the house, of which they managed to get a photo or two during their time here.

Dad shows 'em how winnin' gets done.
As you’ll imagine, that first 24 hours or so was largely spent catching up on lost time, and we particularly enjoyed taking them out to the lake that first Monday afternoon, where we were able to rendezvous with our architect and his brother (the project manager), passing on thank-you gifts for their efforts that we had purchased in Scotland via the internet. Springwatch aficionados that they are, they appreciated the bird-life on show.

Mum gives her Spanish a test-drive at a local daycare
centre, where FT provides health checks.
The remainder of the week we spent together in Trinidad was largely taken up with showing them various aspects of our ministries and giving them time to relax when they required it. There was hardly an area of FT’s work that wasn’t visited during that week, not least our own lines of work. Amanda took Mum with her on her regular weekly visits to a local school and a day-care centre for underprivileged children, where FT provides health checks. They had a good time at my English classes, being particularly tickled to hear my rounded vowels (an occupational hazard), and were swamped with requests for photographs from my less than camera-shy R.E. students at the local secondary school.

Mum and Dad's visit to the English classes coincided with the end of the
first module.
Leisure time in the evenings and at the weekend was devoted to sampling the Beni’s vast array of wildlife – both on and off the plate (case in point: one of our favourite eateries, an alligator restaurant, sits on the edge of a huge river where pink dolphins, who love nothing better than a captive homo sapien audience, make frequent attention-seeking appearances). They also used this time to touch base with the other two missionary families who work alongside us.

The ladies in my life enjoy a moment.
Their time in Trinidad also happened to coincide with a special weekend at the church, which was celebrating its eighth anniversary (birthdays here don’t usually require a round number at the end to be celebrated with gusto) and, for one Sunday only, we held an extra-special service out by the lake. While in Bolivia, Dad was technically in the middle of a well-earned break from his myriad church duties, but he was only too happy to help the church mark the occasion by tinkling the ivories with the band and preaching on Nehemiah 2. The combination of a radiant sun, a warm, inviting lake, and 100 church folk meant the remaining activities that day weren’t quite so civilised.

They even had time to accompany us to a 15th birthday celebration for a
girl in the youth group. Looking good for half past midnight!
By this point, thoughts were now turning to our travel plans for remainder of the visit. On Monday night, we took the overnight bus to Santa Cruz, where we dropped cases off at our hotel that morning before a quick breakfast and then a trip out to the remote village of Samaipata by shared taxi. This traditionally two-and-a-half-hour journey was extended by an hour due to a blockade by lorry drivers on the way out of the city. Indeed, Dad and I would earn our breakfast that morning by helping our intrepid cab driver get his low-suspension Toyota Corolla (the taxis are always Toyota Corollas) over the barrier in the middle of the dual carriageway, allowing us to drive temporarily on the other side and pass the protesters.

Sunday, ergo, Dad on the piano. Accompanying bandmate Romina for
a solo. Amanda works the projector in the foreground.
Trinidad sits at only 200 metres above sea-level; Santa Cruz isn’t much higher. So Amanda and I were particularly chuffed to be driving on a steep uphill incline as we neared Samaipata (altitude: 1,600 metres). Here, the town was sleepy, the pace snail-like, the air fresh as a daisy. A greater contrast with the sprawling metropolis of Santa Cruz (or, indeed, the mini-Santa Cruz of Trinidad) you could hardly imagine. We spent our afternoon exploring this charming hamlet.

Dad with Carlos, singer in the worship band,
at the church's anniversary event.
And, in fact, an afternoon is really all you need, so small is the town. In fact, tourist-wise, Samaipata tends to be more a base for visiting the surrounding countryside (another few hours down the road takes you to the site of Che Guevara’s last stand). So the following day, we made a staggered trip back to Santa Cruz, visiting a major Inca ruin called ‘El Fuerte’ and some waterfalls (where we got the briefest of glimpses of some uncharacteristically shy, yet aesthetically striking, parrots).

Samaipata: sleepy.
That evening we checked into our hotel, where we were largely content just to while away the hours on the tennis court or by the swimming pool, save some trips into the city centre, the market, and Santa Cruz’s one and only golf course. Yes, I played my first eighteen holes in almost two years with Dad and our host for the afternoon, Steve Paterson (the previously-mentioned expat from Ayrshire, who lives in Santa Cruz with his wife, Dilys). The only thing is, we hadn’t left the alligators behind us in Trinidad. We spotted about half a dozen around the golf course’s water hazards – at one point, we had to cross what was effectively a two-metre wide bridge, upon which our ugly friend was happily lying in wait.

El Fuerte.
But the majority of our two weeks together, we were but four, and all too happy to get the full benefit of these precious moments, which naturally disappeared in the blink of an eye. Two Sundays after their arrival, we left Mum and Dad to venture beyond the security gates, feeling so blessed and abundantly refreshed for the time we had spent together, and earnestly looking forward to seeing them again in the new year.
Yep, still got it. Our golfing host, Steve Paterson, looks on.
But as I’d mentioned last week, we’d barely unpacked our cases by the time our next visitor, LAM Canada Executive Director Carluci Dos Santos, was in town. Understandably, Carluci couldn’t stay in Bolivia for quite as long, but his long-weekend visit also proved to be of real encouragement to us. Like Mum and Dad, Carluci had not yet visited our work at FT and El Jireh church, so we were delighted to receive him and show him a thing or twa.

Y'know. Birdies, albatrosses, eagles. Alligators.
And he made sure the favour in hosting him here did not go unrewarded. He very kindly spoke at both the youth group last Saturday and the family service the following morning, giving us church leaders a bit of a breather from our tight preaching schedule in the process. And best of all, he put his admirable culinary skills to good use by cooking up some melt-in-the-mouth steak dishes (those Brazilians certainly know their beef) and showing us a thing or two in the kitchen (not that Amanda needs no educatin’, of course! – bonus points for me this week???).

Cunninghams on court. There's a story behind this picture to rival
Federer v Nadal 2008. 
So we’re finding our feet again and getting used to just being by ourselves – which, let’s be honest, we all need now and again. And the work waits for no-one, so in the past couple of weeks we’ve been catching up on our FT and church endeavours.

With top chef and erstwhile LAM Canada boss, Carluci Dos Santos.
Anyway, more on that next week. For now, the usual closing comments…

  • We’ve been looking in a bit more detail into possible study options for our furlough next year and, so far, it’s raised more questions than answers for us. Pray for guidance as we make a decision on this – this may have to be fairly soon.
  • For the new Intermediate English course which starts this week. Pray that the students from the Basic course would keep coming and not be too put off by the continued upward incline in the skills and abilities taught (to be expected, of course, but such things have a way of discouraging many people in this culture). 

  • For a really encouraging time with Carluci and a safe trip home for him back to Toronto earlier this week.
  • For a great start for Amanda’s young women’s Bible study group this past week in their new topic of the fruits of the Spirit.
Who knows? Perhaps this chap'll be our next visitor.
That man Fabio Capello says he's planning a world
trip with Cathy, after all.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Saturday Post -- 04/05/13

"If you go down to the pitch today...". Mum and
Dad with local true-blue Maicol at FT football
school training.

Back when the idea of this blog first came to us in early 2010, our intention was to create a regularly-updated webpage, the idea being that whenever people felt moved to pray for us, they could visit the site and have a fairly current idea of our needs and encouragements; there was no intention to develop a mass international following, hanging on our every click.

Somehow, however, that indeed appears to have happened over the years, and we are aware that many of those who will read this post have made a gander to this page a part of their weekend ritual. And we are, naturally, very touched by this.

So I hope I’m not disappointing you all too much by asking you to permit us a one-week extension to our sabbatical. We have much to share with regard to the past few weeks, most of all my parents’ visit – the happiest of fortnights – but since returning from Santa Cruz on Tuesday morning (Mum and Dad left on Sunday), we have dived headlong straight into another visit, this time receiving Carluci Dos Santos, the executive director of LAM Canada, our sending organisation. Carluci’s visit is briefer – till Monday afternoon – so time is very much of the essence and we hope that, bearing this in mind, you can cope without an essay this week. No booing at the back, now.

While you count down the minutes till next Saturday, why not visit my Facebook page ( where I’ve posted a great many pictures from our time in Trinidad and beyond over the past few weeks?

For those you in the great hordes who usually access the website via Facebook, I guess we’ll have to monicker this one a Boomerang Blogpost.

Still, our prayers need never cease (1 Thessalonians 5:17), so without further ado, here are our latest points for petition and praise…

  • Pray for our time with Carluci. This is his first visit to the work here in Bolivia. Pray that there would be mutual encouragement, and that LAM Canada and we would be better equipped to support each other in the days to come.
  • Several of our friends and colleagues will be seeing plenty of departure lounges over the next few days. Carluci begins his two-day journey back to Canada on Monday. Rachel Peebles, at the end of another three-week visit, leaves Santa Cruz for Glasgow tomorrow morning; and Deborah Holmes, who has provided invaluable support as a visiting volunteer since January, heads home to London via La Paz from Tuesday till Thursday.
  • Pray for energy for both of us as we are feeling a little done-in after a break which was both refreshing and exhausting, if you get the picture.

  • Give thanks for Craig’s parents’ safe arrival in Glasgow on Monday lunchtime (and, indeed, the safe arrival of their luggage that evening, having been – shock, horror – delayed in getting to Glasgow due to the having to re-check their bags at Miami airport; congratulations as ever to the Federal Aviation Authority)
  •  Give thanks for a tremendously encouraging couple of weeks with Craig’s parents.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda