Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saturday Post -- 29/06/13

Before the year's end, all being well, all three missionary couples working here will be taking to the skies for furlough periods, with the Holt family leaving Trinidad for Edinburgh a week on Thursday, Maicol & KC looking to be in Seattle by Christmas, and Amanda and I having already booked our flights home for December. There was no strategy behind our simultaneous departures, just the way things worked out. It won't exactly be a complete wipeout either, a six-week period over December and January being the only time that all three families will likely be out of the country.

However, it's fair to say that our impending exits have concentrated our minds somewhat on the job of handing over the work, a task which we hope will yield benefits not only in the immediate future. For in delegating the work we do to the locals for short-term periods, our prayer is that they will gain the experience necessary to carry on that work, or to at least expand into similar territory over the coming years, decreasing missionary dependence in the process.

And nowhere is that handover more vital than in the church, where our prayer is to see the community of believers here be in a position to stand on their own two feet. We want to see a church where the thinking and drive behind what we're doing comes from Biblically-rooted Bolivians.

So we were pretty excited last Sunday evening when we, our fellow missionaries, and the rest of the church received in impromptu invitation to a San Juan celebration, the 23rd of June being Bolivia's equivalent of Guy Fawkes' night. The event was hosted by one of the families here and organised by some of the young adults in the church. It was a 'school night', but this is Bolivia, so the whole thing didn't really get going till around 10pm (an increasing problem for old fogeys like us). But, far more importantly, the church had a couple of hours to enjoy a time of genuine fellowship, during which we spent an hour or so choosing songs to sing together to the accompaniment of a lone guitar, provided that the requesters shared a favourite Bible verse. 

As church events go, this was hardly on the scale of, say, our big annual Christmas extravaganza. But how exciting, nonetheless, to see the locals get a vision for church unity, taking the initiative and delivering with such aplomb.

The working week has been fairly routine, but in amongst things, we've been getting to know our visitor, Joe Sturman, a little better. Joe has brought a thoroughly professional attitude to his work here, taking advantage of every opportunity given him to increase his medical awareness. Furthermore, we have seen a real prayer warrior at work, taking the time to commit the particular situations and needs he sees each day to the Lord. Now and again, when you're bogged down in the day-to-day grind, God gives you an outsider to remind you of what's important in missions, and Joe has certainly been a gift in that respect.

The Tabernacle replica set: batteries/pillar of fire not included.
I also began a series of Bible studies on the Tabernacle this week, as part of our bigger study of Exodus. In contrast with my dear wife's rigorous ecclesiacademic training in her formative years, I didn't get the chance as a boy in Sunday school to learn about, say, the meaning of the shewbread or who gets to sit on a mercy seat. So I've relished digging deeper into these passages over the last couple of weeks and enjoyed sharing these fruits with the church on Thursday evening. And the Holt family have the pleasure of bookending this week's post; 'twas Kenny who very kindly lent me the family's toy Tabernacle -- for illustrative purposes only, I stress.

  • Craig is leading Bible studies and preaching pretty much throughout this coming month. Please pray for wisdom and openness to the Lord's leading as he prepares for these various duties.
  • Pray also for Craig tomorrow morning, when he will once again be promoting the Emmaus course at a new church in Trinidad.
  • Pray for rest over this weekend -- the dogs gave us a few headaches last week, pretty much eliminating any chance of rest. On which note, old Poppy is heavily pregnant and due any day now -- pray for a safe delivery of her puppies!
  • Give thanks for the encouraging signs of initiative and independence from our brothers and sisters in the church this week.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Saturday Post -- 22/06/13

This week, a saga twistier than a Swiss mountain road finally came to an end. Coronation Street itself can hardly have seen many more catastrophes, confrontations and cliffhangers (and they've had a 50-year head-start on us -- our soap opera lasted a mere three).

But, sure enough, on Thursday morning, we shook hands on the sale of the two plots of land we had bought back in June of 2010, upon which we never ended up building due to the previous owner's inability to supply us with the correct documentation (that particular episode taking up twelve months in itself). Just click on the 'housing' tab at the foot of this post if you have a spare weekend to read the full story.

Pretty much by necessity, there were some last-minute hurdles to clear. We had reached a verbal agreement with the prospective buyers over a month ago on the sale price. However, in the past couple of weeks, we had been contacted on a number of occasions to see if we would be willing to lower the stated sale-price on the documents transferring the ownership. The reason for this is that when you buy land in Bolivia you are legally required to pay a tax of 3% of the sale price to the council. Indeed, so terrified are people of this charge that telling fibs on the documents is pretty much par for the course. For us, however, as believers -- and, moreover, as missionaries with a testimony to protect -- we couldn't budge on this. Nonetheless, to help the buyers, we reduced the sale price slightly, effectively saving them the money they would need for the taxes.

I was called, then, at the crack of dawn on Thursday morning (the buyers having arrived on the overnight bus from Santa Cruz) and summoned to their bank in the centre of Trinidad, where I, er, collected my winnings (a hefty charge is applied to transfers here, so the best option is to carry your cash between banks!). But in the process, and despite our gesture of good faith, I was asked, yet again, to consider lowering the stated sale price. At this point I took out my mobile phone calculator and showed them what 3% came to, in US dollars. They seemed OK after that, and I was free to go to our own bank and deposit the proceeds, stuffed brown envelope under my jacket -- never before have I felt more like a Russian gangster. During this time, they headed to their lawyer's office to begin the paperwork.

There we met half an hour later, where the welcoming party was not in the best of moods. Our buyers had had a discourse with the lawyer's secretary, who explained to them in some detail the various fees which would be required in offices around Trinidad in order to complete the transfer (figures which we, like any other buyer, had been required to stump up ourselves, not to mention the lawyer's charges which mounted up for us as a result of the shoddy paperwork). But the real salt in the wound was my apparent coldness of heart over the stated price. Mental arithmetic not being a strong point in this society, it turned out that they hadn't fully grasped that the likely tax bill I'd showed them earlier was in US dollars and not Bolivianos (right now, you'll get nearly 7 Bolivianos for your dollar). 

For the next hour, then, I came under pressure from both the couple -- with whom we had had close ties when they lived in Trinidad -- and the lawyer himself to tell porkies on the transfer document. It was a bona fide 1 Samuel 2:30 situation. At one point they even tried to appeal to my faith, arguing that the Christian thing to do would be to help my neighbour by lying! What I was doing, in Bolivian terms, was positively barmy, but wholly necessary to protect our testimony -- and our buyers could hardly argue they hadn't been warned.

I held the line sufficiently to convince my interrogators that we were not for turning and, in spite of it all, our buyers agreed to go ahead with the documentation, warts and all. By noon, we had ourselves a land transfer. And happily, for all the morning's histrionics, we were able to invite the couple over for lunch, where the matter was quickly forgotten about. 

This was not the only encouraging development these past seven days. I'm pleased to be able to share that I have been accepted on to the Cornhill Scotland course next year. The Cornhill course, whose prime focus is on sound Bible teaching, was founded by the venerable Dick Lucas in London in 1991. Its Scottish sister course began a few years ago out of its base at The Tron church in Glasgow and has since become something of a production line for faithful ministers of the word. 

The full-time course is one year in duration and the administrators there have been kind enough to allow me to study from January till December, rather than follow the usual September till June timetable. This allows us to proceed with our furlough year plans, while meeting LAM Canada's requirement for us to enrol in formal theological training. It should also give me some invaluable input as I become increasingly involved with the church side of things here in Bolivia. Amanda is still looking into a few possibilities herself, and we'll let you know when a decision has been made on that front.

  • For Amanda as we continue to seek God's will for her next year.
  • For Craig as he begins a new Bible study series this week on the Tabernacle.
  • For Amanda as she is involved in complicated audiology testing this week.
  • For the land sale, which will go a long way to helping us pay off our building costs, and for the strength to keep honouring God to the bitter end.
  • For the good news re. Craig's studies next year.
  • For the arrival of Joe (see last week's post), who has been a great guest so far and is already putting his skills to good use as a health volunteer. He's a really mature young lad and we're enjoying getting to know him.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Saturday Post -- 15/06/13

Involved as we are in a great variety of programmes, activities and services (ecclesiastical and otherwise), it can be easy to lose sight of the key commodity in missionary outreach: people.

Fortunately, one of the areas I’m involved in here in Bolivia gives us a great chance to touch base with individuals and develop Christ-centred relationships in the process.

FT, as I’ve probably mentioned before, is the official centre in the Beni region for the Emmaus correspondence course, in which students study the Bible, with the aid of course texts, and submit exams at their own pace. The whole course consists of around 40 texts, which go progressively deeper into Scripture. For example, the first two or three texts are steadfastly gospel-centred, communicating the Good News in simple language. But later texts focus on particular themes such as Baptism and Communion, particular books of the Bible, such as Galatians or John’s epistles. The texts are of particular use here, where daily Bible reading aids are sorely lacking; many students find themselves doing ‘a bit a day’ of their books.

Once completed, and the accompanying exams are submitted, it is over to KC (who oversees the programme), Elías and me to correct these – a fairly simple task, as they tend to be predominantly made up of true/false questions. However, most of the exams close with a series of open-ended questions, which usually apply the theory of the text to the individual. These questions, naturally, can throw up a whole variety of answers (some of which, occasionally, suggest a lack of real understanding of the text as a whole), and so our policy is to meet with each individual student when we return their exam.

On this basis, I’ve been meeting with a young man called Alfredo over the past few weeks. Well, not exactly. Alfredo, a cobbler in one of the markets here, is unable to walk without support and, naturally, struggles to get around. So instead of coming to us, we have been going to him – KC was visiting him until motherhood kicked in and asked me if I could take over this duty. It was hard to find a time that suited both of us, but recently we’ve been able to find a time every week that we can meet. This doesn’t give him nearly enough time to finish a text. However, it gives him regular contact with another Christian male and the chance to discuss what he’s been studying with someone who knows their Bible.

I’ve been greatly encouraged to meet with Alfredo and get to know him better. Despite having no support from family or friends, he has a real passion for his Bible and has spent a lot of time thinking about his faith – a rare commodity in this culture. His condition makes it hard for him to get to church. In our own church, which meets in an upper room (purely coincidentally, I might add) we are about to install a bannister (like so much in this culture, this depends on the guy who said he’d do it turning up when he says he will!) and I’m really hoping that once we have this in place, that we can bring Alfredo along to our congregation on Sundays where, God-willing, he can benefit from more support than he currently receives.

As Amanda mentioned last week, I made my own visit to a church on the other side of town to promote the Emmaus materials. Many of those who attend our church are ‘doing’ the course (though submission of texts tends to be somewhat infrequent) and so we’re keen to push the course, which is a terrific resource in evangelism and discipleship, into other faith communities in Trinidad.

This weekend is a relatively quiet one – for me, at least. Amanda is knee-deep in a weekend-long training course for the Kids’ Games programme at FT (which we ran last year between September and November – see posts from that time for more details), which is being supported by some visitors who have come all the way from Cochabamba to facilitate the training. So once this is posted, I must do for others as I so often have them do for me, and embark on the mother of all shopping trips. Nothing quite like Trinidad on a Saturday morning.

Which is itself complicated by the fact that we will soon have an extra mouth to feed. On Wednesday afternoon, our latest volunteer, Joe Sturman, arrives from the UK. Joe has just finished his second year of medical training at Birmingham and will be staying in our home during his month of volunteer work at FT. We’re looking forward to getting to know Joe over the next few weeks and, in particular, receiving his tribute of Dairy Milk bars. Godspeed, my friend!

  • For all those who have recently enrolled in the Emmaus course, that they would complete their texts promptly and would grow in Christ in the process.
  • For Amanda and her fellow participants in the training course this weekend.
  • For safety for Joe as he travels here on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • For Alfredo as he seeks to grow in his faith in challenging circumstances.

  • For so many opportunities to get alongside people and share Christ with them, which the Emmaus course affords us.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Saturday Post -- 08/06/2013

For a good number of reasons, I, Amanda, am typing the blog this morning. And I don’t know what to say…I think I shall start with bagels. I made bagels…finally. I said I would months and months ago and I don’t think too many people had faith in me…but I did, I believed. It was about a week and a half ago, and although Craig seemed to enjoy the end product he obviously didn’t think it special enough to include in last week’s blog. He asked me what he should include in the blog last weekend and I said, “My bagels” and then he didn’t. It was sad.

If anyone were to ask me what my favourite breakfast is, my answer would be Tim Horton’s sesame seed bagels with herb and garlic cream cheese (especially from the drive-thru) with a large green tea. The green tea offsets the quantity of calories in the amazing amount of cream cheese that Tim Horton’s applies to its bagels (in my mind it does anyway). I also grew up eating bagels for lunch…I disliked home made sandwiches for lunch because by the time lunchtime at school arrived the tomatoes and mayonnaise had soaked into the bread and made it soggy…and I couldn’t eat soggy sandwiches. I still can’t eat soggy sandwiches. So, my mom switched to bagels and cream cheese for lunch…and later we learned that sandwiches on bagels didn’t get soggy like normal bread, because of their chewiness. So, yummm…bagel sandwiches.

When I moved to Scotland we didn’t buy bagels as often because Craig told me they were more fattening than normal bread (not true -- well, kind of true -- the bagel itself is not more fattening, it’s the shocking amount of cream cheese that goes with it). But in Scotland, when I felt like it, I had the ability to buy bagels. There are no bagels in Trinidad. Three-and-a-half years I have lived here and I have not seen bagels. They might be available in Santa Cruz, but I have not seen or bought any. I have gone three-and-a-half years without bagels. Sometimes I look at the Philadelphia cream cheese in the speciality store sadly and think, “You’re just not worth it without bagels”. And then the Great British Bake Off taught me that bagel-making is not that hard. So last week, when there was time and I could be bothered, I made bagels.

I looked up two separate recipes online and made them both to compare and contrast, trying to find the recipe I liked the best -- and I think I have a pretty good idea of how I would go about making the bagels next time. I made a batch of cinnamon raisin and a batch of plain (although I egg-washed half the plain and added chopped garlic) and they were good. The cinnamon raisin ones were boiled for too long, but the taste was still good. And we had bagels and cream cheese and the next day we had bagel sandwiches. At one point I was so nostalgic for home I almost cried. And that’s my bagel-making story.

Okay, so after four paragraphs of bagels I’ll talk about some ministry related events -- I don’t know, maybe people find that more interesting.  Last Saturday was the Wii Night with the Youth Group. They had earned enough points to have a night playing Wii, so we set up two Wiis and a ping-pong table: one Wii had Mari Kart and Just Dance on it, which the kids lined up for, while the other one had a tournament with Wii Play mini-games which all the kids entered into.  They all seemed to have a good time. The next thing they can earn with another 5000 points is a “food party”. At the beginning we wanted to call it a pizza party, but then someone told us that the youth here don’t like pizza. Okay?!?! So, we said “food” and told them they could tell us what they wanted when they earned it. That’s going to be months away though -- it took them four months to earn their first 5,000 and we calculated they could do it in two. But we are having to deal with that lack of motivation that is inherent in adolescence. At 20,000 points, Craig and Elias (the church pastor) were going to get their heads shaved...never going to happen.

Tonight at Youth Group we’re starting a new series on worship, which Craig has organised. He’s also taking the first session on it -- the history of worship through the Bible -- and next week will be about worship nowadays and why we do what we do. That will be followed by small groups looking at 1 Samuel 15 and a worship night in early July full of various ways and activities in which we can worship God. Please be praying that the youth really understand that how we worship God is not culturally dependent, but it’s in our actions and in our obedience that transcends culture.

Today is really busy -- Saturdays always are. It is not helped by the fact that we have to water our garden every morning, which takes about 35-40 minutes, and no we don’t have a sprinkler. But there does seem to be growth, although I can’t tell if it is grass or weeds (this is why I shouldn’t be involved in things like this). And we have a mango tree now (and what I think might be two crab apple trees), however, we will have wait at least two years before there will be fruit... minimum. So I will still have to go to the fruit stall and buy mangos (when they are in season), but I shall refrain from buying crab apples as I do not know what to do with them (sigh). But before that, I have grocery shopping, kitchen organising, lunch, discipleship, Bible Explorers' Club and then Youth Group to deal with, so better get moving.

  • Craig as he speaks tonight at Youth Group on worship.
  • Craig tomorrow morning as he visits another church to speak about and distribute more Emmaus distance-learning books.
  • The kids in the youth group with whom we’re working, that they would take their faith seriously and grow to be strong men and women for Christ.
  • For the family of our friends, Jerry and Georgina, who are mourning the recent loss of Jerry’s grandmother.
  • For bagels!
  • For how well Elizabeth and Grecia’s Mom (see last week's post) seems to be doing post-caesarean.
  • For a successful Wii Night.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Saturday Post -- 01/06/13

It's been one of those classic Trinidad stop-start holiday weeks. Monday was Dia de la Santísima Trinidad, the city's annual holiday (i.e., the annual holiday in honour of the city, not the only holiday of the year -- let's not get ahead of ourselves here!) while Corpus Christi fell on Thursday. A rather truncated working week, then, and not too much to share on that front as a result. So instead, I thought that today, our regular readers might be interested to know about how certain members of the recurring cast are getting on.

First up, the missionaries. A couple of weeks back, Maicol and KC received notification that their adoption of Caleb was, at last, fully approved and legally watertight. Over four months of uncertainty, then, came to a happy end, and they now have the legal and psychological freedom to raise their son without fear of the authorities stepping in. Furthermore, like us, they are hoping to be able to take a furlough soon (in this case, to KC's native Seattle) and will be free to do this by mid-November, at which point Caleb will have been in the country for the required six months post-approval. 

Kenny and Claudia, meanwhile, have flights booked for their own furlough, leaving Bolivia for six months in mid-July with Emma, Sara and Joshua, with Kenny's church visiting schedule pretty much fully occupied already. Kenny is in the process of crossing 't's and dotting 'i's both at FT and the church as they prepare to head to Scotland.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Vaca, our co-worker both at FT and in the church, has a new baby sister. KC (named after the aforementioned, though the family may have changed the spelling for ease of Spanish pronunciation) arrived safely on Wednesday. We're praying with particular urgency for her, as you may remember that the family last year lost their youngest daughter (and sixth child overall), who died, tragically, at just three months old, due to heart complications. This pregnancy then, naturally, has been greeted with a mix of hope and trepidation by the community and we'd really appreciate your own prayers for Elizabeth and her family, who live on relatively meagre means.

This morning we are tidying up a little, having last night played host to a new family who have turned up at the church over the last few months: Javier and Sandra, and their four children: Josué, Valeria, Javier Jr. and Efraín. The family are proud Paceños (i.e., La Paz natives) but have lived here for around five years now. Samaritan's Purse, Franklin Graham's humanitarian organisation, has a big presence in Bolivia and Javier oversees the Trinidad office. Javier and Sandra 'joined' the church a few weeks ago (inverted commas required here as we technically don't have a membership structure -- something we're working on as part of the internal review process at the moment) and have come in with a real servant attitude, and lots of insights as to how we can better serve one another and our community. 

In a church dominated by children and young people who attend unaccompanied by their parents, it's been an encouragement to welcome another family to the congregation. From my own experience, committed couples tend to form the practical backbone of a church (at the moment, we have just over half-a-dozen in the entire congregation), and so we're looking forward to working alongside this new family and pray that God would be glorified in their presence among us.

A lot to be encouraged by, then, and a lot to be praying for. On that note...

  • For Elizabeth's new sister and for the family as they welcome the new arrival into their home.
  • For our fellow missionaries and their various travel plans. Pray that Maicol and KC might be able to get a visa for Caleb without too many hitches. Pray also that we would all be more pro-active in delegating over the next few weeks and months, so that the Bolivians can manage without us (which is, in the end, the long-term goal) in our various absences.
  • It's Wii night at youth group, having earned enough points (through such endeavours as memorising Bible verses and brining their Bibles to church) to win themselves an evening of videogamery. Pray for safety and a good time together tonight.
  • For the arrival of a new family in the church and the various gifts they bring to the table. 
  • For Caleb's adoption and the resulting peace of mind for Maicol and KC.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda