Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturday Post -- 25/04/15

We may not have a connection to the local water supply, we may not be blessed with the most conducive climate for home maintenance, and we may have to ask foreign visitors to risk excess-baggage charges in order to get our eager hands on some decent chocolate. But something we certainly do not lack is encouragement from those who pray for, and give to, our ministry here. Hardly a week goes by without a Facebook message or email containing something along the lines of, ‘I think what you do is just wonderful, and you’re a great couple’.

Such missives, naturally, are greatly appreciated. But when we’re repeatedly complimented on how ‘lovely’ or ‘special’ a couple we are, I’m conscious of having perhaps created a false impression by not touching so much on our failings on forums such as this. We are, of course, as fallen as anyone else. And that, more often than not, plays itself out in our marriage.

We try not to give our marriage too much online visibility, primarily from a sense of duty to friends who are single. But today I’ll be making an exception at the end of a challenging week for us as a couple.

The simple fact is that, if you are a couple in ministry, then your marriage is a core aspect – perhaps the core aspect – of your ministry. That, of course, is not just the case on far-flung mission stations; and it doesn’t just apply to ministry either.

Here, a monogamous, faithful marriage partnership is a powerful witness in itself. The culture here, as many of you are aware, is simply drenched in promiscuity. It is far from unusual for men to have two or even three families on the go at once. Many of the youth and children who come to church have more half-siblings than the genuine article. And – with grim inevitability – all too often those same young people fall into the same traps as their parents by playing with fire when they should be preparing for their finals.

And so, when we turned up here in January 2010 and declared that we weren’t going to be involved in youth ministry because our Spanish wasn’t good enough, we were strongly encouraged to reconsider our position. The silent witness of marital exclusivity was crucial.

Scripture also implies that marriages and the family unit are to be protected and prioritised; and that is as true for those involved in the Lord’s work as anyone else. Indeed, were it not for such teaching, I suspect that the divorce rates of couples in full-time ministry would be fairly consistent with the societal average.

Because Christian ministry, to a large extent, demands that we give so much of ourselves; and – wouldn’t you know it – that’s just what is required of us in marriage, too (Ephesians 5:22-30). We have found this to be particularly true in a culture like this. We westerners are oftentimes too proud to seek the help of others; it usually takes a genuine crisis for us to allow ourselves to come to a position of dependence upon others. Not so here. Asking for help is simply an accepted part of life. And so, when seemingly successful people who look like they’ve got it all together come on the scene (i.e., white missionaries!), then it is people like us who will be sought after.

Yet it is not a culture in which you get much back either, in the sense of affirmation and encouragement. I don’t fish for compliments, of course, but having preached five sermons here so far, I can count the number of times I received any kind of feedback on the fingers of one hand. So it can become easy to get into a cycle of giving the vast majority of your energies to those outside your marriage, even though the returns are minimal at best.

And it took our coming to Bolivia for us to realise just how easily one’s marriage can slip down the list of priorities – almost by default. When Amanda ‘submits to’ the needs of colleagues, when Craig ‘gives himself up for’ church members in dire straits, by the time we get home, we all too often fall into the trap of thinking we have nothing left to give. Or, we realise we gave too much to others in the first place.

And so, sins of omission rather than commission tend to rear their head. It becomes easier to talk about a tough situation with a person from our work than to talk about each other and our own needs. It becomes easier to stick a disc in the Blu-Ray player and laze on the couch than spend genuine quality time with each other. It becomes easier to arrive at a dangerous place of acceptance that, with so many needs to attend to, one’s marriage will simply have to wait.

We are thankful that, as far as we can tell, this is something we still refuse to accept. But suffice it to say that the past seven days have revealed to us how neglectful we so often are of each other, how frequently we take each other for granted, and how regularly the best of us is reserved for the desk rather than the dinner table.

I can understand why the thought of ‘doing full-time ministry together’ might appeal to couples, as much on a marital as a professional level. If you feel you’re being called to it, embrace it. But be warned: in such territory, you will most likely find a pinpoint-accurate diagnosis of – rather than a cure for – your marriage.

Flawed though I am, my best friend is still here in the trenches with me. I couldn’t do it without her. In the Lord’s strength, I hope to better demonstrate my appreciation for her steadfastness.

  • For our marriage, particularly that it would be protected from any false notions of martyrdom on our part.
  • Keep praying for Hernán, whose health has deteriorated a little over the last few days.
  • For Craig as he preaches on 2 Peter 1:15-2:3 tomorrow morning.
  • Pray for wisdom for Amanda and her fellow board members at Fundación Totaí, as they face difficult decisions.

  • We now have the first batch (of many!) of our documents submitted in order to be registered to adopt. Give thanks for this, and pray for a positive outcome.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday Post -- 18/04/15

Not infrequently, as I read over my sermon notes early on a Sunday morning, I think to myself, “This of all weeks”. That was certainly my experience last weekend.

As mentioned last Saturday, we have just begun a new sermon series in 2 Peter, in which the apostle expresses his desire that his readers ‘be on your guard, so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ We do not know too much about the recipients, but it is clear that Peter is concerned for his readers’ continued growth, and especially in the light of repeated assaults by false teachers. Indeed, the theme of false teachers is woven right through the letter, implicitly and explicitly.

So where does this all fit in to April 2015 in northern Bolivia? Well, back in February, I was kindly given the opportunity to speak at a dinner for Trinidad’s pastors and church leaders, in order to promote the Langham Preaching course. The event was really my first foray into the wider church scene here, and an instructive one. The singing was fervent, the music vibrant, the prayers ardent, and chiefly focused on the need for unity among the city’s pastors. The sermon was merely passable – more a meditation on a theme, really – but encouraged by the generally positive tone of the evening, I was happy to see past that.

This group, I was to learn, met once a month on Saturday mornings; I resolved immediately to make the effort to pop along. Well, maybe it was the early start (6am!) and the lack of a free meal, but I began to get a fuller appreciation of things that morning, and I was concerned about what I was seeing and hearing, not least the sermon, which was totally unrepresentative of the text, heavy on prosperity-gospel theology, and despite this, was answered by a chorus of ‘Améns’ at every juncture (is it naïve of me to expect sermons given to fellow pastors to be of an especially high quality, given the preaching abilities of the listeners?). An invitation was then given at the end for those who wanted more of this in their ministry to come forward and be anointed with oil. All but three of us did so. In a town where education levels are so poor that people tend to simply do what someone in authority tells them without so much as a moment’s thought, perhaps I had been overly-optimistic in expecting pastors and church leaders to take the lead in the discernment stakes.

In all honesty, the only thing stopping me from not turning up last weekend was a promise to our fellow missionary KC that I would promote the Emmaus correspondence courses (which FT administers in Trinidad) at one of the meetings. This time, the meeting was largely dominated by administrative concerns, but something that got my nerves twitching was a casual reference to ‘apostles’, e.g., ‘we need to be praying for the situation in such-and-such-a-village, where Apostle Bill has fallen out with Apostle Ben’. Later, an upcoming evangelistic event was being promoted, for which it was incumbent that everyone bring as many people along from their church as possible, in order to hear what ‘Apostle Moses’ had to say.

The apostolic movement is a big deal in Latin America, with many pastors assuming for themselves the title of ‘apostle’ in order to claim for themselves an authority equal to that of the Twelve. And what need, indeed, would one have of Peter and his cohorts, when the Bible is rarely read, when it is mis-preached anyway, and when the word of a pastor in the 21st century is supposedly more relevant than the ‘living and active’ word of God? Naturally, people tend to get seriously exploited. Up until now, these were things I had only heard about; last weekend was my first exposure to its out-workings right here in Trinidad.

Indeed, going back to 2 Peter, he introduces himself straight out of the blocks as ‘an apostle of Jesus Christ’, stating right from the off that his word carries divine authority; an early salvo against the false teachers of the readers’ time. Here there is only assumed authority in the title, and its occupants are largely preaching heresies.

The prayers for unity, this time, were harder to go along with, all of a sudden sounding more shallow. Unity in the body of Christ is, of course, a noble aspiration, but I’m increasingly realising that its implied meaning in these meetings is more like, ‘willingness to leave one’s brain at the door and submit to some seriously ropey doctrine’.

At the end of the meeting, I got my five minutes to plug the Emmaus courses, with their particular emphasis on personal growth through – wait for it – reading the Bible. For the first time that morning, there was barely an ‘Amén’ to be heard among the assembled pastors and church leaders. A silence that, to me, appeared to speak volumes.

Over the last week, I’ve been chewing over the whole ‘joint-church’ scene, and whether my continued participation can be of any benefit, to myself or others. I’d appreciate your prayers as I think on these questions.

There can be a tendency for us reserved westerners to watch the vibrant Latin American church scene from afar and get a bit sniffy about the emotive nature of it all. But to do so is to question the God-given nature of these peoples. Indeed, such passion is a tremendous asset. Oh for a taste of it in the church in Scotland! As this video reminded me, it’s a question of directing these energies down the correct channels.

Which brings me, finally, to this weekend – specifically last night – when we had our first Bible study as part of the men’s ministry. As we delved deeper into questions of Biblical manhood, I found my interjections as the study’s chairman increasingly infrequent, my Bolivian cohorts taking it upon themselves to minister to one another, be open and honest about personal challenges, and speak truth into the individual needs of the group (“But you must remember, Diego, what the Bible says in…”). So deep did we go that I effectively had to ask my friends to leave, otherwise we could have kept going till well past midnight. No loud music. No emotive gestures from the pulpit. To all intents and purposes, all we were doing was sitting around an open book. But the Latin fire was no less in evidence.

That’s more like it.

  • Amanda has just got back from the youth leadership meeting (they also take place first thing on a Saturday!) and was telling me there are a lot of interpersonal tensions between some of the young people. Mostly silly stuff, but pray that it wouldn’t become a stumbling block to their participation in the group.
  • For Craig as he preaches on 2 Peter 1:5-15 tomorrow. 
  • Craig was able to visit Hernán this week to begin a Bible study, which went really well. He and Elías will each be visiting him once a week in order to keep the momentum going, and give him something important to be thinking about during those long hours in that hospital bed.
  • Amanda had an encouraging time this week as she began discipleship with a couple more women.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Saturday Post -- 11/04/15

Alan, Jim and John.
There are few things we enjoy more down here than hosting visitors. If you've ever had the slightest notion of setting off into the wilds of darkest Bolivia (and let's face it, who hasn't?), then we recommend you get on the case sharpish: the warmest of welcomes awaits you.

This week saw the year's first foreign lodgers at Casa Cunningham in the shape of three representatives from British missionary agencies Interlink and Echoes of Service. John Aitken is Echoes' Operations Director, and was joined by Interlink board members Alan Smith and Jim Armstrong. Jim was also killing two birds with one stone, in that he was accompanied by volunteer Ruth Young, who is a member at his church and is back in Trinidad for her third short-term stint. The visitors were armed with copious supplies of ministry items and British confectionery -- sort of a pre-requisite for staying with us, I might add.

The bad news from the airport was good news for Trinidad's ice cream merchants.
Interlink and Echoes have historical links with the work of Fundación Totaí and El Jireh Church. Our old friends and former colleagues Kenny & Claudia Holt were Interlink missionaries, and the two bodies are also partners in 'First Serve', a year-long missions taster programme, through which a number of volunteers (including Ruth) have come to FT and the church in the past.

Trinidad was simply the first of a three-leg tour of Bolivia and Argentina, and the trio were barely off the plane on Tuesday morning when some unfortunate news landed in their inbox: Thursday's flight to Cochabamba had been cancelled. Amanda and I simply presumed that the flight was insufficiently booked and had therefore been cancelled, a fairly regular occurrence here, and so my first task with the Scots was to pay a visit to the Trinidad offices of an alternative airline -- only to be told that they too had cancelled their flights, due to the airport deciding that the next couple of days would be a nice time to catch up on some maintenance work. "Welcome to Bolivia," quipped our pastor Elías, in perfect English that evening in the church.

(if you took our pleas of the opening paragraph to heart, you might want to go ahead now and take out a hefty travel insurance policy)

Mercifully, the airline was on top of the situation, and simply moved them to the earliest flight out, on Friday afternoon. The visit, then, was extended by another day, but we made sure they had plenty to do in that time.

John was quick to get in on the act at the
football pitches...
Wednesday was the main day for visiting FT and its various ministries, with Amanda giving a tour of the health work in the morning. Providentially, there were a couple of surgical cases that day, and the visitors got the chance to have a look in at a core component of the ENT work from the viewing area. The afternoon saw them take in the Education and Sports work. Around 30 children from the area were learning the story of Esther at the afternoon homework class under the watchful eyes of Elizabeth and Elías; it was my first visit since stepping down from that side of things a couple of years ago, and a real encouragement to see how things had developed. Then, it was off to the various football pitches and basketball courts, to see the FT Sports department at work in training and Bible study. Thursday morning also saw the team sit down with the FT board, so as to get a better idea of the challenges of the work here.

...before apologising for another defensive slip-up.
Such visitors are not only a great encouragement to us as a couple, but also the church, and we made sure that the congregation here benefitted from John, Jim and Alan's missions insights. The excitement over visitors is always visible in the increased numbers in attendance -- we had about three times our usual crowd for the prayer meeting on Tuesday! And there, the visitors (from Scotland, not from Trinidad!) shared a little about what their respective organisations do, and touched on specific needs around the world for Christians. This can be a pretty insular corner of the world -- most people here couldn't even give two hoots about what is going on other Bolivian cities like La Paz -- and so Amanda and I have always been really keen to keep awareness of the global work at the forefront of people's minds in the church. Tuesday evening, then, was really helpful.

And when it dawned on John that an extra 24 hours in Trinidad was on the cards, he kindly agreed to give a short talk at the Thursday evening Bible study, from Titus 2, an appropriate passage for a young church such as ours. 

Amanda in bossy-boots mode. That's right: she's made a full recovery.
Besides seeing and participating in the work, of course, some time was carved out to visit the various sights in and around Trinidad; a fine opportunity for getting to know one another a little better and for hearing about another holiday nightmare from well-travelled anecdote machine Alan Smith.

All in all, it was a pleasure to play host to people who have such a keen interest in the work here and in ourselves as missionaries. A fond farewell was bid yesterday afternoon at the (newly-operational!) airport and as we wondered off into the sunset, we wondered who the next purveyor of guitar strings and Kit Kat Chunkys might be.

Our idea of a steak-out: anticipating the usual feast at Trinidad's carnivore paradise, Estancia. You booked those flights yet?
  • Pray for John, Jim and Alan as they spend time encouraging Interlink missionaries in Cochabamba, before heading to a conference in Buenos Aires on Tuesday.
  • Please don't let Hernán slip off your prayer radars. He has twice been scheduled to have his skin graft surgery in the past couple of weeks, and that has now been twice-postponed, due to his failure to bulk up. We learned this week that he's not been eating well, and based on one or two things we've heard, we're worried there might be some issues here in terms of his will to carry on. Craig and Elías are hoping to start working through an evangelistic book with him, beginning this week.
  • Pray for Craig as he begins a new series in 2 Peter tomorrow at church. He'll be taking the first three sermons of a seven-sermon series over the next couple of months.
  • Pray for FT's sports coaches and for other Christian sports coaches in the area, who are attending a training event this weekend, the purpose of which is to equip sports coaches to communicate the gospel effectively through their coaching. Sounds interesting.
  • For an encouraging few days -- both for us and the wider community -- with our guests from the UK.
  • Amanda came back to work on Tuesday and has had a week without any more health issues; give thanks for complete restoration following that nasty bout of dengue.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amadna

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Saturday Post - 04/04/2015

Craig has had a really busy week and couldn’t think of anything to say. I have had a most boring week and have tons of things to say. Also, Man U are playing in 15 minutes and Craig wants to watch it. Due to all of the above, I (Amanda) am writing the blog this week. As my week was slightly on the monotonous side, my entry is probably going to be more a collection of musings than an accounting of time as my week consisted of lying in bed, drinking lots of water and trying to take extensive naps. Yes, that is right… I have been sick… again.

Dengue is the horror flu that never ends. At the end of rainy season, before the water levels have a chance to go down, there is a lot of still water, which is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. An increased mosquito presence generally causes an increase in dengue fever, which is a virus transmitted by mosquitos. There is no vaccine; you just have to treat the symptoms. We have previously wondered if maybe we had contracted dengue when we’ve felt poorly before, but I am now convinced that this was my first time with it.

I know I had a very minor case of it. I experienced the traditional flu symptoms with a fever that persistently came and went, but a lot of the secondary symptoms, thankfully, bypassed me. One of the worst aspects of it, for me personally, was the weakness. There were times I would feel fine, but still couldn’t get out of bed and do anything because I just had no energy. At its worst I had to take breaks between taking a sip of water and lifting my fork to my mouth and other times I could do one task, like wash the dishes, and then go back to bed. I frequently thought I was getting better, just to have the fever come back… I was more frustrated and bored by the end of it.

I am also really grateful because I know dengue can be extremely dangerous and life threatening. Some years dengue can get so bad that they declare an epidemic; the government goes around town fumigating all public buildings and they give time off work so people can deal with the pools of still water around their homes. In the really bad years a number of people die from dengue that has developed into haemorrhagic dengue. Like I said, my case was relatively minor and I was able to stay at home in my own bed instead of getting admitted into hospital.

I am still recovering my strength and decided to skip the 6 am youth leader’s prayer meeting this morning, but I’m planning on actually attending the youth meeting tonight… my first public appearance in over a week. Which is probably why I have so much more to say than Craig this week. I’ve only really spoken to Craig and Arturo (the dog) for the past 7 days and I think Craig has gotten tired of listening to my thoughts on the origin of the word mosquito. Mosca in Spanish means fly, and ‘ito’ at the end of the word makes something small, so mosquito means ‘little fly’… but then Craig had to ruin my startling conclusion by wondering why ‘mosca’ was a feminine word and ‘mosquito’ a masculine one. Shouldn’t it be mosquita? Way to ruin my mental epiphany of the week, Craig.

I would like to continue by stating how absolutely terrific my husband was this past week. He had to get all his own work done, plus all my household chores, and take care of me… and let me tell you that I once I taught him how to use the washing machine, he became a laundry expert. I am scared I might not be able to reclaim my previously beloved task of washing the laundry; he is that enthusiastic about it now.  In all seriousness, Craig was a real blessing as he selflessly took care of me. I think by the end we were both ready for me to get better, but he was a treasure and I am extremely grateful for everything he did for me. I am sure he is very tired of me saying, “Feel my forehead, do I have a fever?” and him replying “I have no idea.” I think we need to buy a thermometer.

On to musings that actually matter: the young women’s Bible Study has started a Beth Moore study on the book of Isaiah called “Sea Libre”; that literally means “be free”, but I am not entirely sure what her English title for the book is.  She introduces the study by saying that no other book in the Bible deals with the theme of captivity and release from captivity like the book of Isaiah. She defines captivity as anything that is an obstacle to living the abundant and effective life, full of the Holy Spirit, which God has planed for them. We’re still only in week 2 of the study, but it has been enjoyable. Although, this is my first Beth Moore study since Craig’s year at Cornhill and there is now this voice at the back of my head whispering, “This isn’t very expositional” and “That verse isn’t being used in its context”. The voice just won’t go away.

However, despite its more thematic approach to the book of Isaiah I have found what we’ve done so far to be very challenging. Week 1 was looking at the lives of the kings that ruled during Isaiah’s time, and God kept bringing the issue of pride back to me over and over again. I really struggle with pride… on various levels. I struggle with knowing where the line between taking healthy pride in our accomplishments and sinful pride is. I know I do struggle with sinful pride. I struggle with sincere humility as my attempts at humility usually come out looking something like, “Wow, like at my awesome display of humility” = pride. Beth Moore explains how she has asked the Holy Spirit to reveal to her any time she falls into the trap of pride without even realising it. She mentions a time when she has finally replaced her old Bible with a new one and then had to do a speaking engagement. She dug up her old Bible as she didn’t want to use her new one. We all know how it takes time to break in a new Bible and I completely sympathized with her desire to use something she was familiar with, but she said that Holy Spirit prompted her to recognise the pride in the action. She deep down didn’t want people think she couldn’t handle her Bible expertly or find passages quickly. She was worried about what people thought about her.

I live that situation out every Saturday night, albeit internally, but it still happens. I got a new Spanish/English Bible this past year, as I don’t do my personal study with my dual language Bible, and only use it while in a Spanish setting, it is very far from being broken in.  At the youth meeting whenever the youth are asked to look up passages and stand up and read it when they find it, I mentally freak out if I can’t find the passage first. I’m not worried that I myself am losing my sword drill edge, but I am worried about what people around me are thinking, “The missionary can’t find the book of Zechariah.” Come on people, the minor prophets are short and my pages are sticking together! That’s pride.

I’m also struggling with pride at work as well. I have written about how sometimes I feel very inadequate because I do not really know what I am doing. But my pride/work issues go deeper than that… I need to reassess my motivations behind wanting to do well at work a lot. Sometimes I want to do well, not because I want to help people or do what the Lord has planned for me, fulfil a purpose, sometimes I want to do well so that people can say, “She’s really good at that”, “We couldn’t do this without Amanda” and  “She’s really making things better”.

The truth of the matter is that deep down I know that my role here is supposed to be a background, helping role. I am supposed to quietly pick up the excess work from other people, quietly get to know people and build relationships, but sometimes my work is so background and so quiet that I worry about what people think… “She’s not doing all that much”, “Haven’t really seen much of a difference since she came back”, etc. And that’s pride. And I am struggling with this in a way that I’ve never really had to before. So maybe I don’t really have inadequacy issues from some childhood trauma, but I really just have sinful pride uses. How does one even go about addressing that?

On a very exciting, less dour, note Asalia just came by to visit. For people who have read the blog going years back they will remember that Asalia was a nurse who started working at the Foundation at about the same time as our initial arrival in Trinidad. Her and I worked alongside each other a lot as I was first learning Spanish. We spent a lot of time in silence folding gauze or filling in reports. Then she asked me to be the witness at her wedding and I realised that maybe our friendship was even deeper than I thought, the language barrier being surmounted by time and physical presence. Some might remember that Asalia lost a baby and developed severe health issues due to eclampsia in 2011 and the doctors told her that her and her husband had to wait three years before trying again. While we were in Scotland last year they moved through to Santa Cruz, but they have come to Trinidad for Easter weekend and she came looking for me. And she’s pregnant again! They lost little Emily, but Asalia is 8 months along with Ana Cristina and she is being monitored carefully for pre-eclampsia this time. I am so happy for her and praise God for this wonderful gift to them. We spent an hour and half just there catching up and it was refreshing.

I am going to go eat a hamburger now. Bye for now!

  • Amanda as she gets slowly back into work this coming week.
  • Three people from Interlink are arriving in Trinidad on Tuesday for two and a half days to visit the Foundation and see the ministries here. Please pray for their travel and for their visit.
  • Ruth Young, a volunteer who has been with us in the past, is returning this week as well for two months. Please pray for her as she settles in, gets used to being back and as she seeks the Lord's leading in her life.

  • Amanda's recovery - God's hand of healing on her and His sustaining energy to Craig as he did absolutely everything.
  • A good time at the men's meeting last night. They finished watching "Courageous" and will be moving on to look at how to be godly men in their homes, with their families and in their jobs.
  • Asalia's pregnancy! 
¡Que Dios les bendiga! And have a Happy Easter!