Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saturday Post -- 26/09/15

With our old Spanish teacher (and still friend) Farid, who defended his
tourism thesis with aplomb this week. The more observant among you
may note that the room was not air-conditioned.
As we continue to wait for movement in the adoption process, we’re often reminded of the need to trust God that the tough stuff we’re going through will all make sense in the end.

And for a good example of that, we need look no further than March of this year, when we were in the midst of another pretty trying time. One morning, a woman came to Amanda looking for help for her sister and brother-in-law, whose marriage was seemingly in crisis. Amanda was keen to help, but aware of her limitations in this area, having had no training whatsoever in marriage counselling, and particularly uncertain as to how to approach this with non-Christians. The woman was unperturbed: “No problem, just pretend you’re qualified,” she responded! In the end the couple decided to go elsewhere, yet the episode served to drive home our inability – as a couple, as a foundation, and as a church – to meet such needs.

Later that same week, Amanda had a conversation with a friend whose niece was looking to get married, and yet had received no help from her pastor at this time, despite actively seeking out opportunities for marriage preparation. It was clear that Christians here were indeed hungry for such input, yet hadn’t the faintest idea where to find it.

All the while, Amanda and I were some weeks into housing a friend of ours whose marriage was in a dire state, having crossed the line one time too many. And so, time and again, we were reminded that week of the great needs in the marriages in our community, yet a lack of resources, training and time to be able to address these.

The following Sunday, in keeping with tradition, we touched base with the folks back home, who were completely unaware of the week's goings-on. As it happened, Dad had just got off the phone with a couple from Hertfordshire, Andrew & Ruth Richards (Ruth is a cousin of my Mum). Dad explained that as their careers were beginning to wind down, Andrew & Ruth were looking to increasingly devote their time to missions and to supporting missionary work worldwide. To that end, they had made some enquiries, and the work at Fundación Totaí had surfaced. Hence the contact with my parents. 

But Andrew and Ruth, an engineer and schools inspector respectively, were particularly keen not to simply observe, but to go where they felt they could play an active role, albeit for a limited period. "Well, what do they feel they have to offer?" we asked, and Dad proceeded to share the Richards' own ideas. Many and varied though their talents were, we were struggling to see where we could use them in this particular ministry in such a way that they wouldn't go home feeling they'd simply had a relaxing break in a hot climate.  

At which point, Dad mentioned one final possibility, almost as an aside: "They've also run a marriage course in the past." 

Why, of all the gin joints! 

In due course, we made contact with Andrew & Ruth and began to discuss how such a course might work here. From an early stage, we were impressed by their attention to detail, their desire to serve and, particularly, their awareness of the need for flexibility in a very different relationship culture to the UK. So we were delighted when, a couple of months down the road, having considered a range of other 'offers', they went with Trinidad, Bolivia.  

And so to the somewhat less tropical Stonehouse, Scotland, where at a nearby hotel in July, the four of us sat down one afternoon to plan the course in greater detail. The Alpha marriage course is a great tool (we are graduates of their marriage preparation course), though a little Bible-lite. We were encouraged to hear of Andrew & Ruth’s plans to establish greater Scriptural foundations. This naturally led us to discuss the makeup of the group, with several non-Christian couples likely to be in attendance; again, the course would be tweaked where appropriate to ensure the gospel is preached. A particular cultural quirk here is that most co-habiting non-Christian couples are not, in fact, married, and so the importance of the marriage commitment would also be highlighted; there would almost certainly be couples in attendance who had not yet, in fact, made this commitment.

A big chunk, then, of our time since returning in late July has been spent in preparing for the course. Amanda has been particularly busy along with several other women from the church in preparing the décor. This is important as the course (which will take place on weeknights over one week) is set up like a ‘date night’. Though we expect a large group to attend, the interactive part of the course is not done by the group as a whole, but by the couples themselves, each of whom will discuss these important topics at their very own, candle-lit table, complete with a take-home centrepiece. So the aesthetics play a big part. 

As I made clear earlier, this is a relatively new venture for this part of the world. And yet, despite that (or, more probably, because of it), the response has been tremendous, with us having to up the numbers slightly to accommodate a few extra couples. We are very excited to have Andrew & Ruth come and lead this, and we’re particularly conscious of the need for this to be a platform to build on, rather than a one-off event; we have a couple in mind in the church to be the people to take this forward, and we’re hoping that Andrew & Ruth will be able to get alongside them at various points during their two-week stay here.

While I was writing this very entry, I’m sad to say that we learned of a morally compromised situation between two Christians we work alongside. These things just do not go away in this culture. We pray that the marriage course will play a small part in establishing God’s declared will for loving relationships here in this small corner of Bolivia.

"Chau"/"Bye"/"Sniffle"/"So long" (L-R). A quick snap before Maicol & KC
boarded the first of many, many vehicles.
  • For safe travels for Andrew & Ruth, who set off from Heathrow on Tuesday and eventually get to Trinidad on Thursday (the course begins next Monday, the 5th of October).
  • People who came to hear our report in churches last year may remember Yoselín, a girl Amanda has worked with extensively over the years. She comes from a very challenging family background and now, in her early teenage years, her behaviour is being affected by such factors. Please pray for patience for Amanda as she continues to mentor Yoselín in the ways of God.
  • Last night, our dear friends Maicol, KC and Caleb left Trinidad to begin their journey to the USA, where they will now be settling as a family. We give thanks for the way that God has so clearly paved the way for them to be able to return to Seattle over the past months, and for their great friendship to us and many others here. We will miss them greatly. Pray for the LORD’s continued guidance to them.
  • Oh, and that means we are now the last missionaries standing here at Fundación Totaí/El Jireh Church (just to contextualise that, there were five full-time missionary couples when we arrived here in January 2010). That is both encouraging (the work does not depend on foreigners to move forward) and somewhat daunting! Please pray for wisdom as we seek to give a godly example in all that we do, and for others to come alongside us and encourage us, so that we can better serve others.
  • There's been a last-minute cancellation for the youth service tomorrow night, and as a result, Craig somehow has to come up with a talk, er, today! Prayer appreciated.
  • Craig had a really encouraging visit with Carlos & Carla earlier this week, who are holding up remarkably well despite the loss of their motorcycle, and who, in true Macedonian style, have even found opportunities to bless others this week. We’re delighted to see this.
  • For a much-needed rest for adoption-related issues this week (our lawyer has been out of town). We know we need to push on with this again when she gets back, but we have really benefitted, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically, from this break in play.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday Post - 19/09/2015

I (Amanda) would like to thank so many people for all the prayers, messages and support we've received over the last three weeks. Every single one has been an encouragement and has given me just one more wonderful thing to thank God for. Because that is what has continually come back to me over and over again through out the last three weeks...praise in all things. And I will be honest, I have not been very good at it. So, thank you everyone for everything that you've given us during this really difficult time; you make it just that much easier to see past the difficulties and praise God. 

Elías, the Pastor of our church here, started his sermon last Sunday with, "When was the last time you thanked God for what you have...and for what you don't have?". Probably never. I have sat down and written lists of all the things I have in my life to be thankful for, but I have never thanked God for things I don't have... the things I want, but that He hasn't given me yet, or maybe won't ever give me. I have never thanked Him for not giving us a child in the last five years. Part of me knows I should, because God is good and He has the best for me; God knows what is best for me. The other part of me is tied up in so much frustration and impatience that I can't help screwing up my face like a child and internally screaming, "It's not fair!" Of course it's not fair... when has it ever been fair? And that is, and has always been, my biggest struggle in my Christian faith. I don't struggle with the existence of God, I don't struggle with the concept of sin or my need of a Saviour, I don't struggle with sovereignty of God; I struggle with His goodness. This is probably tied into the inability I have sometimes to truly dwell in God's love me for, as I shared about a month ago (That was a month ago?!?!). I accept God's goodness, because the Bible tells me that He is good. I believe in the Bible as ultimate truth. Therefore, God is good... but most of the time instead of being calm and thinking, "It's okay that everything is ridiculously difficult right now... because God is good and He is in control," I think, "This doesn't feel overly good to me right now, God...". But despite my stubbornness and childlike tendencies, God has continued to be faithful and has been reminding me over and over again of the importance of thanksgiving. 

1 Thessalonians 5:18
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I don't know why this surprises me... but this does actually work. The more I actively try to thank God, the easier it is to trust in His goodness. It works because thanking God reminds me of all the ways in which He has been good. The pain and the difficulties we are going through, though valid in and of themselves, hide the ways God is trying to help us through these difficulties. So, I need to make a conscious effort to look for those ways, because I can trust that they are there... because God is good. I have not become proficient at this over the last three weeks, I am actually quite poor at it, but I am trying and it is helping. 

I am so thankful for God's divine providence in having my Mom here with us while we've been going through this adoption rollercoaster. When life got crazy and absolutely everything had to be put second to this process, my Mom was here to make lunches, clean up after lunches, make baby bottles,  accompany us on visits and cry with us. She booked her flights all the way back in April... so yay, God is good.

I thank God for every moment we spent with the wee one, because he was worth it. He gave us a glimpse as to what Craig and I would be like as parents, and it was so much fun. I absolutely loved doing it with Craig, who is going to be an awesome father, if God blesses us with parenthood. It was a privilege to spend every second with him. 

I thank God for my friends here in Bolivia who remind me that my life is so full. Yes, there is sadness and pain in one aspect of my life, but my life is bigger than that. My Mom made a lovely Chinese meal for the women's Bible study group last Sunday night, which they loved...and we played games afterward and I was reminded that my life is full. And last night I had some friends over and we played Settler's of Catan and Bohnanza. It wasn't because I felt I had to minister to them, but it was because I needed to gain strength from their friendship. And it was a lot of fun...and I didn't even win either game. 

And I am so thankful that God has shown me that I am a lot stronger than I thought I was...remember my post from last month? I commented on how I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and self worth. Well, throughout all of this God revealed to me that I was more capable than I thought I was...that I could keep taking one foot and putting in front of the other when I desperately wanted to run away; that I could do the right thing when it was the hard thing. And I am so thankful that I can look in the mirror these days and be proud of myself. That has been a gift.

Please keep praying for us. We are now continuing on with our routine as before, but are trying to balance the expectations that come with the unending waiting set before us with all our responsibilities. Please keep praying that we would actively seek to be thankful when we feel overwhelmed. And thank you for the encouragement. We are truly grateful for it. 

  • For God's sustaining grace to us at this time.
  • For all the preparations for the coming Marriage Course.
  • For all the preparations for our upcoming Youth Camp.

  • For time with friends last night...I had a fun girls' night and Craig had a guys' night. 
  • For Mom's safe arrival back in Canada and for all the time she had with us here. 
  • For the two days of rest and distance that we had in Santa Cruz as we saw Mom off on her way home.
¡Que Dios les Bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Saturday Post -- 12/09/15

Early yesterday evening, we received word that the adoption we have been pursuing was now all but dead in the water. Due to the circumstances of the birth-family, a small chance remains of this working out in our favour, but this would not be for another few months.

Twelve hours later, we are naturally still pretty raw. In theory, either outcome would have represented something of a miracle, especially given the circumstances around the initial abandonment, and yet two weeks ago, in so many respects, the thumbprints of providence had seemed so evident to us. Time will doubtless reveal the true significance of what has just happened, but right now, we are struggling to make sense of it all.

Above all, the process has been a salient lesson to us on the land-mines that are laced along the road to adoption in this cultural context. Back in the UK and Canada last year, we were reminded of the treacle-like pace of such processes in the west, and were comforted that at least we wouldn't face such long waits once we got the ball rolling here. But, of course, there are good reasons for such safeguards, one of which is that they serve to protect prospective adopters and adoptees from the emotional strife we have recently undergone in having such great exposure to the case in question. Bloodied but unbowed, we now have to either proceed with greater caution in future, or develop a thicker skin; this may simply have been the opening salvo. Those are questions we hope to resolve over the next few days and weeks.

*        *        *

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own,  they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.

Those words of Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians have rung so true in our community this week. On Tuesday, our friends Carlos & Carla, with their young son Kenny, took a trip to the zoo in the afternoon to mark Carlos's birthday (you get half-days off work here for your birthday, believe it or not). After an enjoyable hour or two, they returned to the entrance to discover their motorcycle had been stolen. Motorcycles are the traditional family vehicle here, but the loss was doubly traumatic as Carlos works as a taxi driver to supplement his main income (Carla stays at home to raise Kenny). They ended up taking the long walk home knowing that their very wellbeing was now on the line. 

(To their credit, they kept a commitment with us that evening to come round for Chinese food -- prepared by Selene -- to mark Carlos's birthday. Given that things had taken a significant turn for the worse with the adoption, we all had ourselves something of a pity-party!)

But their loss only served to galvanise our church community here. Within 24 hours, Carlos & Carla had received several generous gifts from individuals and from the church's own funds. They kept another commitment on Thursday evening -- to host the church's prayer meeting -- and it was there that the men of the church came together to discuss a plan to get enough money together to carry out the expensive repairs required on a motorcycle belonging to one of our cohort, and then give said vehicle to Carlos & Carla.

Over the last six years, Amanda and I have regularly documented our work in seeking to bring the church here to greater 'maturity'. This essentially has become shorthand for, say, increased Bible knowledge or deeper devotional lives, and these things are just fine. But when it comes to generosity -- and particularly coming together to support needy brothers and sisters -- I would suggest that their maturity levels far exceed ours in the west. Their means are meagre, their margins are tight, yet their response in times of crisis is one of 'rich generosity'; some in our own cultures might even call it 'recklessness'. 

It's probably been my biggest lesson as a leader, too. It is all too easy to begin to regard oneself as the sensible westerner (dare I say, Scot?) whose good sense is a necessary balancing weight against occasional Latin American impulsiveness. And such an attitude, in the past, has brought me grief in leaders' meetings, where my colleagues have sought to meet great congregational needs when the church itself is barely making ends meet. "Well, Craig, so what," has essentially been the LORD's response as I have seen us reach deep into our pockets for one cause after another, yet somehow always have more than enough to keep going.

In a sermon I heard on the above text some years ago (and stop me if you've heard this one before), the preacher referred to statistical evidence showing that, in the USA, Mississippi was at one and the same time the poorest state per capita, and the biggest giver to charity per capita. That's very Bolivian. Indeed, that's very Macedonian.

We have learnt so much from, and grown so close to, this little church community (NB: they run rings round us westerners in that respect too), that it was nothing short of a privilege to host them and other friends last Sunday to mark Amanda's birthday. The steak was devoured, the trampoline was well-worn, and most people stayed long after the food (which isn't always the case here!). We must do it again some time. To close, here are some pictures.

  • Pray for us as we seek to get over the disappointment of the last day or so, and for the courage to forge ahead with an adoption in the future. If nothing else, these last weeks have confirmed that we have bountiful supplies of love to share with a wee one.
  • Pray for Craig as he touches on issues of faith and unbelief with the youth group tonight, who are reading their way through The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe.
  • Pray for safe travels for Amanda's mother, Selene, who leaves Bolivia on Thursday afternoon.
  • Looking further ahead, we have a busy couple of months looming, with two big events looming large: a marriage course in early October (more details soon) and the annual youth camp in early November. Amanda in particular has a lot of preparation to put in for both of these; pray for a healthy work-life balance, and for peace when it's simply not possible to spin all the plates at once.
  • For the LORD's grace to our church in allowing us to consistently and joyfully meet each other's needs.
  • For a happy day last Sunday.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Saturday Post -- 05/09/15

In Bolivia, vegetarianism is a mere rumour.
First of all, we had been hoping that by this point we might have something more substantial to say with regard to the adoption process. Things, however, haven’t moved quite as quickly as we had hoped, and so, for now, we’ll ask that you continue to uphold that whole situation in your prayers.

One upshot of what happened last week is that the judge deciding the case in question has recommended that we visit the prospective adoptee as often possible, in order to demonstrate our suitability and our caring intent. This we have done over this past week, though inevitably, we have only grown closer, which would make any decision that goes against us even tougher to stomach.

In addition, then, to the points outlined last week, please pray for emotional protection for us both right now. This is really as much as we can say right now on such a public forum, but we are happy to respond in more detail to any emails or private messages.

Many happy returns to this purdy lady.
While dealing with all of the above, we’ve had plenty of other things to distract us, not least the arrival of Amanda’s mother, Selene, at Thursday lunchtime. Her flight was booked some time ago, but we are naturally delighted to benefit from her practical and emotional support at a time when we really need it. And not just because of adoption issues! Amanda bid farewell to her twenties on Friday, and to celebrate, we’re hosting the mother of all parties at the house on Sunday afternoon, replete with a rented trampoline, 25kg of prime steak (note to supporters: it’s really cheap here!) and about 60 friends from work, church and elsewhere. We’ve never hosted an event on such a scale, but we’re delighted to be able to open the house up to so many dear friends.

Meanwhile, last Sunday, we hosted a more intimate social gathering, inviting our good friends Maicol & KC round for the evening. 15 years since KC first arrived in Trinidad on a missions team, they and their son Caleb are due to leave Bolivia for the USA at the end of this month, and we are going to miss them all greatly. What with Selene’s visit over the next two weeks, and the inevitable chaos involved in packing-up-one’s-life-for-good, we knew that we had to act sooner rather than later to get any face time with them pre-departure. Three hours disappeared as we looked back on our time together here over the last six years, and how God has been so faithful to us all. We certainly hope to see more of them before they go, but if last Sunday were to prove our last meaningful time with them in Bolivia, we wouldn’t have much to complain about.

Nor do we at church, where we continue to be encouraged by what we are seeing. The Dig Deeper Bible study seems to be only growing in popularity, with most of the books we ordered for the church now having disappeared. Thursday evening saw us consider the importance of parallelisms; if it all sounds a bit technical, I can assure you that our study of the parallelism in Hebrews 1:1-2 was immensely emboldening and affirming to us as a church in this ‘Jesus-plus’ evangelical culture.

It was also of great encouragement to us to see FT president and church elder Miguel-Ángel take to the platform on Sunday to deliver his first ever sermon (you may remember that Miguel-Ángel had been among the main beneficiaries of the Langham conference back in June). This will prove a huge help to me and our pastor, Elías, and we pray that the church would be challenged to see another of its members expound God’s word.

So much to be praying and giving thanks for this week, and again, we ask you to uphold the adoption situation before the Lord in particular (see last week’s post for more specific prayer points). In addition…

  • For Maicol & KC as they prepare to leave Trinidad in just over three weeks’ time.
  • For the various individuals with whom we usually meet for discipleship each week. Our current challenging circumstances have caused this to largely be put on the back-burner at the moment. Please pray that this would be a time in which those individuals can experience growth in their faith, and that we, in particular, would depend on God for this rather than developing a messiah complex!
  • Craig and the elders again had to address a challenging pastoral situation involving church members this week. Pray for continued wisdom here and for a softening of hard hearts.
  • For a great time tomorrow afternoon with friends and family.

  • Speaking of Langham, Craig’s small-group met last Sunday afternoon, and the momentum from June’s conference has largely been maintained, with both small-groups continuing to meet once every month. Give thanks for this.
  • Give thanks, too, for the young women’s Bible study, who met once again in our home last Sunday, and who continue to experience a deepening of fellowship.
  • Finally, give thanks for the Lord’s great faithfulness in Amanda’s life over her three decades to date.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda