Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Post -- 28/11/15

You know things are bad here when even the locals are complaining about it. Over the last week we've been in the grip of a ferocious heatwave, taking temperatures to a supposed 36 degrees, but with searing humidity thrown in, it has felt like a lot, lot more. Sleep has at times been hard to come by, with even our co-workers (Benians could sleep through an Iron Maiden concert) turning up bleary-eyed and groggy most mornings. Our air conditioning units in the house, meanwhile, have been working overtime, with every pressing of the 'on' button evoking ever greater dread over next month's electricity bills. 

Mercifully, we woke up yesterday morning to the slightest of south winds, yet it has been enough to make living conditions significantly more comfortable. More wind and showers are expected over the weekend as we anticipate the first throes of rainy season.

The week's lowpoint came on Tuesday lunchtime. I'll be careful how I put this (this is a family blog, after all), but in times of such humidity, when clothes practically have to be removed with a wallpaper stripping tool, the privacy of lunchtime in one's own home often affords one the opportunity to shed any (though not all!) unnecessary, er...ballast. Gallingly, our cleaner, Julia -- who gives the house a go-over on Saturday mornings and Tuesday afternoons, though usually from about 3pm onwards -- had turned up a whole three hours early so as to get away for an appointment. Never have I been less delighted to see such punctuality in a Bolivian!

Julia, truth be told, is the most reliable cleaner we've had so far, and proved her mettle last weekend by summoning me from this here computer keyboard and pointing out several evidences around the house of a rodent problem, which we First Worlders would have completely missed otherwise. Thus warned, we armed ourselves to the teeth with cheese and the most humane execution devices conceivable (humane as in you'd be gone before you could even say 'Red Leicester') -- I almost lost a hand just arming the things. Sure enough, Mickey bought it late on Wednesday night. In fairness, he had as much chance of survival as AFC Bournemouth.

If you're a seasoned reader of the blog by this point, you'll probably aware that the hearty servings of extraneous waffle mean only one thing: it's been a slow week. Indeed, for Amanda and most others at the Foundation, the real focus has been the coming week, when Fundación Totaí hosts another ENT surgical campaign, once again aided by Dr. Richard Wagner from the USA, and other visiting specialists (though on Wednesday of this week, weekly surgery resumed, with our new ENT doctor  -- trained in Argentina -- overseeing his first case since his approval to operate here in Bolivia was confirmed). With the year's end looming ever larger, Amanda and her fellow board members have also been going over 2016's budgets with a fine toothcomb. 

As for me, my time's mostly been taken up with one-on-one discipleship sessions, church administration, and preparation for sermons. It's looking like we're going to be in La Paz for ten days or so in late December (a Bolivian white Christmas???) for a wedding and a conference, so that's pushed several things forward as well. 

Without further ado, then, this week's prayer points.


  • For the surgical campaign. Pray for the various health professionals involved and for those going under the knife. Craig and Elías (the church pastor) will also be giving evangelistic talks to the many family members who will be gathered in the waiting area. 
  • For the adoption process, of course. We are currently awaiting a key decision.
  • For the family of Miguel Ángel (FT president, church elder) and Ruth; Miguel Ángel's mother died earlier this week.
  • For our friends Carlos & Carla. You may remember Carlos had his motorcycle stolen back in September. We meet with them regularly and continue to be bowled over by their maturity in some challenging economic circumstances -- if anything, their involvement in ministry has only increased in recent weeks. Please pray for continued sustaining.
  • November sees the end of both the school year and several activities at FT. This last week has seen end-of-year celebrations for the afternoon community classes, the football and basketball teams, and the mother-and-toddler group. Give thanks for the many young people who have come to a saving faith through these activities, and pray for continued encouragement during the long (and often boring!) summer holidays.
  • OANSA (the church's children's ministry) also wraps up today. As above.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Post -- 21/11/15

With Asalia (a former nurse at FT) and her baby daughter. Her husband, Yasir,
took the picture. Santa Cruz now has a Papa John's!
Our aims and objectives for our sojourns to the city are pretty straightforward: eat nice food, catch a flick or two, stock up on the harder-to-find groceries, rest well and, most importantly coming from the goldfish bowl that is anonymous.

Last weekend in Santa Cruz, we succeeded in all but the last criterion, making contact with no fewer than three groups of people over our four day stay. Yet by the end of the trip, we were delighted to have broken our rules a little; and in the process, we found true satisfaction.

The main driver of our visit, indeed, was the opportunity to get together with newborn Amanda's parents, who named her after the great woman herself and asked that we be godparents (if you missed out on that saga, here's all you need to know). On Sunday afternoon, we met with the couple -- Christian and Analía -- Amanda and their other children at a kid-friendly restaurant in town; it was my (Craig) first time meeting Christian, having only met Analía at the conclusion of proceedings back in October.

Analía (left) gatecrashes the Amanda convention.
Accepting the role of a godparent in this culture can be a little tricky, as some tend to see it in purely economic terms. Foreigners like ourselves, in particular, can be asked to be godparents, only to find that the only meaningful contact with the family is a phone call from the parents in the run-up to the child's birthday, asking to fund this year's party. Aside from the very brief contact we had with them last month, we really did not know this couple very well, and so, in a way, we were taking a risk by accepting their request. Yet, for all of the hijinks of our initial meeting, we had been really impressed by their maturity, and prayerfully accepted.

Sunday afternoon confirmed that we had made the right decision. Three hours flew by as we got to know each other better while the children happily submerged themselves in the neighbouring ball pool. I had an interesting conversation with Christian, who told me he'd been involved in an evangelical church some years ago during a crisis, but working on Sundays had gotten in the way of going back (as it happens, he started a new job this week that gives him Sundays off, and told me he is hoping to return to church with the family). 

At one point in our discussion, I felt particularly enabled to say something of use. Christian shared that a struggle he has is with unanswered prayer, particularly why there are seasons when prayers are answered, and others when it seems like it is not. And in the moment, I thought of what had led us to this point. We were having this conversation because Christian and Analía had asked us to be godparents; they had asked us to be godparents as a result of that traumatic situation that had brought us together last month; that situation last month had taken place because we want to adopt a child; we want to adopt a child because we are unable to have children naturally (see also: Tim Keller's indebtedness to Watergate). In other words, a whole lot of prayer had gone 'unanswered' to bring us to this moment where we were having such a good time getting to know each other better. Genesis 50:20 indeed. He seemed helped by that.

A few hours after our arrival on Saturday morning, we made the trip to one of the city's outlying suburbs to spend some time with Graham & Debbie Frith, a couple we had heard so much about, and had been meaning to get together with for some time (a mutual friend had pointed us in their direction). The Friths have been in Bolivia for a couple of decades now, firstly in Sucre, and now in Santa Cruz, having overseen the development of a tremendous ministry called 'El Alfarero' ('The Potter'), which is doing a great work among students and young people in both of these cities (we had the privilege of visiting their headquarters on Tuesday). Here is a link to the website. 

The visit proved to be of real help to us. Amanda and I had been feeling a slight sense of aimlessness and perhaps a lack of drive in our ministry of late. Despite only having just met us, the Friths -- as a couple with significantly more experience of living and serving here -- had no qualms about asking some searching questions about the way things were going for us. We left feeling challenged, but also with a greater sense of clarity as to the way ahead. In particular, we sensed that we had subtly fallen into a trap which we spend much of our own ministry warning others about: that of seeking to minister to others without first of all being 'fed' ourselves.

And in this respect, God also proved faithful. If I may go all Genesis 50:20 on you again, our usual lodgings in Santa Cruz -- a guesthouse on the campus of a seminary -- were, for the first time in memory, fully booked. We got in touch with a friend, who pointed us in the direction of another guesthouse, this time operated by a ministry called World Gospel Mission. And this guesthouse, unlike our usual haunt, had acres of garden space: ideal, then, for finding a quiet corner and allowing God to minister to us. And on a couple of mornings, we set aside a few hours to do precisely that.

All too often, we have arrived back in Trinidad after such excursions in survival mode, counting down the months till the next break. This time was different. We feel refreshed, re-focused and, most importantly, re-fastened to the Rock which cannot move.

And Spectre? Hmmm. A 006 out of ten at best.
  • Potentially a very big week, this, for the prospective adoption. On Monday, we're hoping to get a formal request in for fostering (as a precursor to adoption) and from our experience in September, an formal hearing could take place by the end of the week. Prayer much appreciated.
  • The new men's and women's groups in the church got off to a solid start two weeks ago. Pray for the second pair of meetings tomorrow afternoon.
  • Craig is preaching tomorrow on Philemon 1:8-16.
Remembering the persecuted on Thursday evening.
  • Thursday night saw us mark Persecuted Church Month in the church with a prayer meeting held in the usual venue, but without chairs and in complete darkness, but for candles that people were told to bring. It proved to be a small but really powerful way of identifying with those around the word who have to be so clandestine when they meet together, and it helped us greatly in praying for them too.
  • For a great break in Santa Cruz and for the various relationships forged and consolidated there. 
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Saturday Post - 07/11/2015

Last year Craig and I spent a week at Guelph Bible Youth Camp in Canada where we had air conditioning, a heated pool and powered water slide, and hot showers. This year we went to El Jireh's 3rd Youth Camp... where there was definitely no air conditioning, a muddy pond for swimming and cold showers, but to top it off the girls keep finding a goat in their dorm room. We had a great time!!!!

I am honestly surprised at how I've been able to adapt to some 'rough' conditions, but I really did enjoy camp. My only rule about attending camp in Bolivia is NO TENTS... you never know what kind of creepy crawlies could easily get into a tent. But dorm rooms with bunk beds... I can do that just fine. I also had the added advantage of being half blind without my glasses, so at night when I was lying in my top bunk with my glasses off I couldn't see the bats swooping within inches of my face. I mean, that's what Mariana said happened to her... I couldn't tell you if it happened to me, because I couldn't see. Thank God for small mercies, eh?

In the run-up to camp this year, I found myself quite stressed. Preparation for the marriage course had taken over a lot of free time that we would normally have to organize camp, and as is quite often the case in our church, the same people were in charge of both activities. We were able to organise the reservation of the camp site earlier in the year, and during the craziness of the marriage course prep we were able to make sure permission forms were sent home to parents, but in all honesty, not much else was done until the marriage course finished. Then of course, Craig and I had that week in Santa Cruz with that adoption possibility so we lost another week of camp prep there. We were not as organised as I would have liked to be before a full youth camp. Thankfully, we had much earlier in the year decided to ask an outside speaker to come and teach, so we just had to organise his travel and nothing else. So, with a week to go we were all desperately trying to organise camp fees, camp food, materials, transport to the site, last minute cancellation and confirmations, and get enough leaders together to actually run a camp. It was definitely busy.

The Tuesday before camp we got all the leaders together and had a meeting. It had been decided earlier that I would direct (which suits me fine as I get to boss everyone around and not have to actually participate in any activities that I don't want to, like the tough mudder-esque assault course). So, I talked the leaders through our crazy three day/three night schedule and what would be expected of them. We talked through ideas and generally got a feel for what working with each would be like that coming weekend... one of our leaders was a newer Christian in his early 20s, who kept saying "But I've never been to camp." Poor guy, he didn't want to be a leader, but a camper, but we were completely willing to utilise peer pressure to get what we wanted. Everyone keep saying, "You'll be fine... it's easy... we promise." I.e. "You're doing this and you don't have much say in the matter." :) I was so grateful after that meeting, because I finally felt that we had gotten a handle on the details and that everything would be really great.

And they were! We had 21 campers overall. I think I was a bit discouraged during the run-up, because it would have been nice to have a bigger turn out, but God brought those to camp who He wanted to be there and the dynamics between all the campers were awesome. There was only one fight, and that was between brothers, so that doesn't really count, right? Everyone got on really well and there weren't really any cliques. The majority of campers were between 12 -14, but we had some older ones, 17 +, to balance things out. We had 8 leaders, plus one games coordinator, one speaker and one director (me!)... plus one three year-old running around being absolutely delightful.

Our theme this year was 1 Timothy 4:12 (yes, we totally stole that from Guelph's Youth Camp last year... no shame). "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." So every teaching session, Roger (from Cochabamba) explained the importance of being an example and how to be an example in each of these areas of our lives. Roger has 20 years of working in youth and camp ministries and you could tell. He made the teaching sessions interactive with mini games to highlight the points he was trying to make. It was definitely the best teaching we've had at our three church camps so far and the youth themselves were very effusive about how much they appreciated his style and content. After every teaching session we had a time of small groups where one leader and a small group (3-5 youth) talked through the teaching using questions that Roger had prepared before hand. Craig lead us all in worship at the beginning of all of these sessions and he taught four new songs that the youth seemed to really enjoy. It was definitely a huge blessing to all.

And how can we have camp without games!!!!! San, the director of football at FT, ran all the games and they were definitely intense. They ranged from indoor relay course activities, to outdoor field games, to jumping in the muddy pond, to the absolutely massive muddy assault course. And the kids loved every minute of it. We had two teams (green and blue) and they were competitive in all things. It is true that blue won in the end with a small margin, but the participation and energy level was high all the time. One of our campers had recently had his appendix removed and so he was kind of benched for a lot of games... but he kept following his team around encouraging them in everything, to the point where he jumped in the queue during the assault course and insisted on showing some of the girls how to properly pass the obstacle before we could stop him. I said to one of the other leaders, "He is desperate to get muddy too, isn't he?".

Our first night we watched "The Power of the Cross" with popcorn, and we all really enjoyed it. I was crying like a baby by the end and a lot of others were too. Yoselin, with whom I do discipleship, looked at me after it and with tears streaming down her face and shouted, "Where did you find that film?" She's off to find her own copy now. The second night we played group games of "Mafia" and "4-on-the-Couch"; they enjoyed both, but I'm not sure I'm teaching Mafia quite right. I don't know, they didn't seem to care... but I know that after playing it so much at camp I never want to play Mafia again. Ever. 4-on-the-couch, however, I could play everyday... LOVE. And the final night we had a camp talent show that went really well; we even had one girl come up and do a Christian rap. Impressive! One guy told a joke and it was really funny, but more than that I was one of the only people that understood it (despite it being in Spanish) and I was so chuffed with myself. Of course, no one wanted to sleep the last night and I finally gave them a curfew of 12:30 and roped in two younger leaders to stay up and supervise because I had to get to sleep (all the older leaders and some younger than me had already packed it in for the night). And in true camp style... all the camp newbies woke up with toothpaste all over their faces the next morning. Awesome.

God was gracious to each and every one of us in giving us the energy that we needed to make it through on little sleep and demanding activities. It was a lot of fun and everything happened without much of a hitch. I have always felt really passionate about camp ministry, having been involved in it since I was a little girl; but even more so in Bolivia, camp gives us, as a church, an opportunity to get these kids out of their homes and give them some undivided attention for three days. They receive solid Bible teaching, the opportunity to make friendships based on their shared faith with other young people, and they can take any leader aside and talk about bigger things if need be. They get to know that they are loved, cared for and are worth all this effort in organising an activity like this. Camp can be such a formative experience and we are so excited to be able to provide this time to the young people in our church.

Thank you to everyone who supported our Youth Camp this year, prayerfully and financially. We are so grateful for providing this support to us as a church and to the individual campers that benefited from this. We were back at work this week, but this week was also a bit of a catch-up in sleep... but in the not too distant future we will have to start thinking about next year's camp. Can it get even better?

Teaching Time

Apparently Craig says I flap my hands like a bird when I am directing.

Post-Assault Course

Group Pic


  • For some massive financial decisions before the FT Board and the Church Leadership due to changes in Bolivian law. 
  • The formation of the official FT Budget for 2016 (this is quite a tedious task - I had the nursing department asking for 12 calculators for next year... ya, that's not happening). 
  • Craig and I are traveling next weekend for just a three day break, as we're knackered. Wee baby Amanda's baptism is next weekend, which was kindly organised around our desire to see the new Bond film (though her parents, Christian and Analia, don't know that specific detail); so we're off to Santa Cruz for the weekend. We will not be posting a blog next weekend, but please remember us in prayer as we travel. 
  • After a month and a half break for the women, and a longer break for the men, the Men's and Women's Ministries are starting again tomorrow. Women are meeting here in our house and the men in the FT Auditorium, with child care being organised for any relevant children. The idea is that having the men's and women's groups meeting at the same time opens up more time in the week for needed family and marriage time. 

  • A great youth camp!!!!! For safety, provision, energy and great teaching especially; praise that God provided the way to bring all the kids to the camp that He wanted to attend. 
  • A great prayer meeting on Thursday where Carlos shared his testimony and was open and honest with his struggles with alcohol. 
  • The upcoming chance to rest a bit next weekend!
¡Que Dios les Bendiga!

Craig and Amanda Cunningham