Saturday, May 28, 2016

Saturday Post -- 28/5/16

"Goanae no dae that?"

This is likely to be fairly short, as a busy Saturday awaits, due not so much to ministry as a certain football match. Every year, the guys from church and their families used to get together to watch the Champions League final, always a big deal down here no matter who is playing. And when the final was moved to Saturday evenings in Europe a few years back – mid-afternoon here – that very conveniently paved the way for the Champions League barbecue. 

Today, we resurrect that tradition at Casa Cunningham, not that I personally am too excited about the game. Real Madrid’s Francoist past, imperialist bluster and inability to operate fax machines means I’m dead-set against Los Merengues, but Atlético aren’t exactly easy on the eye. Still, given that I might have to get very used to such football fairly soon, I’ll reluctantly back the bus-parkers, not least as most of the guys in attendance are hardline Blancos, and I'd love them to stick it to Ronaldo after that simply appalling 'It's all about me' moment following his only meaningful contribution in 2014.

This week has been one of those extremely bitty weeks in which two public holidays magically collide (the profusion of such holidays here always reminds me of the debate over giving St Andrews day such status back home, and the agonising over the damage a single day away from the desk could do to the economy). Furthermore, yesterday was Mother’s Day (a very big deal), and, of course, mothers were free to take a half-day off work in order to see their kids perform a ditty or two at school. Something of a write-off, then.

In between all that, we have done what we can. If you get our email updates, you’ll have read/skimmed about Amanda’s appraisal interviews with staff. When she started out in HR here, her goal was to disciple/evangelise to personnel. That has somewhat been marginalised due to the administration, the disciplinary meetings, and, oh yeah, a one-year-old boy to look after. So a formal opportunity to speak one-on-one with staff and talk more about their personal situations has been a blessing.

Sermon-free this week, I’ve largely been taking care of church administrative matters. Not much to report there.

We also bid farewell to the Brass Tacks guys on Tuesday morning following their Herculean efforts here over the past couple of months. More on that, hopefully, in the Fundación Totaí email update, due next month (let me know if you would like to receive a copy of that).

There’s a steak with my name on it, so…

  • Remember Amanda’s staff interviews. Not all of those we work alongside are Christians (especially in the health work); pray for further opportunities to evangelise and show Jesus’ love.
  • Keep praying for the adoption. I referred last week to some major issues at local level; these are holding up progress on this front as well (legally, it should have been completed within 30 days of the termination of parental rights, not that we’re expecting that to be enforced in a city where most motorists have no driver’s licence).

  • Give thanks for the work that is going on in the youth group. As mentioned in our email update, we’re getting a lot more time with the young people in small groups this year, and several have made a confession of faith.
  • For increased (and most welcome) time together as a family as a result of the holidays this week.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Saturday Post -- 21/05/16

Last weekend, a group of pastors and church leaders (including myself, Craig) in the company of the eminent Eduardo Rojas, decamped to a remote location for a second spin of the Langham Preaching wheel.

If, like me, you know your films, you’ll be aware that sequels very rarely tend to live up to their progenitors (with the notable exceptions of Toy Story 2, The Godfather Part Two, and, of course, The Empire Strikes Back). That was decidedly not the case with Langham: Level 2 (Revenge of the Bedbugs?), which both built, and improved, upon 2015’s gains. Not only that, but after a year of quite literally preaching at each other, by now the whole group was well used to the Langham modus operandi, and so, like any good follow-up, we were free to ditch any introductions and hit the ground running.

Nowhere was this more evident than in our final task: the inevitable preparation and preaching of a sermon. Last year, we were given a full two days’ notice; this time round, a mere two hours.

Eduardo in action.
After Level 1’s introduction to expository preaching in general, Level 2 centres on the New Testament, and Eduardo opted to look at the parables of Luke with us, with a particular focus on the Pharisee and the Publican, the Good Samaritan, and the Two Builders (on which we preached). If you know the gospels well, you’ll know that Luke is rich in parables, many of which are unique to the evangelist. We spent a good deal of time over the first couple of days thinking about what a parable is, seeing that there is so much more to them than simply being ‘illustrative’.

The focus on the parables also subtly reinforced some of the preaching principles introduced in Level 1. Langham Preaching programmes place great emphasis on both identifying cultural nuances in world of the passage, and communicating the force of these in terminology that people in the contemporary setting would appreciate. Most of the parables are set in and around Palestine of Jesus’ day – i.e., they’re chock-full of such cultural quirks – and demonstrate the power of communicating theological truths in a way that a contemporary audience would understand.

The study of the parables also gave Eduardo a platform from which to introduce a slightly different form of preaching. A narrative text lends itself to a narrative sermon style, and he preached twice in this way; for example, while teaching the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, he assumed the role of a listening Pharisee, i.e., one of those ‘who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else’ (Luke 18:9). The other sermon was delivered in the third-person, while maintaining the narrative tone. While this was something of a departure for most (including myself), there was at no point a sense that the truth of the passage was being somehow diluted. The group itself was not asked to deliver a narrative sermon over the weekend (I guess I’ll have to save my first-person Esther sermon series for another time), but we gave the notion plenty of thought in workshops, including a five-minute exercise in which we told each other the parable of the Good Samaritan from a first- and third-person perspective.

Occasional visitors were welcome.
The big constant from last year (aside from the bedbugs) was the preaching task at the end of the weekend, in which each of the three groups was required to prepare a sermon, to be delivered by one of its members. My group included a Langham rookie, 25-year-old seminary student Ignacio; generally, Langham HQ prefer the groups to not take on new members after the initial conference, but an exception was made for Ignacio given his experience to date. He preached his very first sermon (on the Two Builders), and literally knocked it out the park, as Jamie Redknapp might have put it. If you’ll excuse the pun, it’s fair to say he left the experience with solid foundations upon which to build.
Personally, Level 2 proved to be a timely encouragement. Around this time last year, it’s fair to say I was still riding the Cornhill wave when it came to my preaching, and my chief Langham joy was in seeing others get the expository preaching bug. Of late, however, I’ve felt a slight staleness, and particularly when it comes to getting the message across in terms that people can truly appreciate and apply in their day-to-day lives. I’ve often thought that, for all that we live in a very close-knit – and very Bolivian – community, Amanda and I are often at something of a disadvantage when it comes to truly understanding the lives of Bolivian families, due simply to our ethnicity and, if we’re honest, relative wealth.

For me, then, the most stimulating – and challenging – exercise, was one in which, as a group, we spent 30 minutes listing the various issues that individuals face in Trinidad, Bolivia, on personal, familial, church and societal scales. It was instructive to note how many of these were touched on by the parables (though that was sheer coincidence). I have taken a note of these lists, and hope to refer to them frequently in my future sermon preparation.

My good buddy (and fellow Trinidad coordinator), Cristian
As ever, Eduardo was keen to stress the dangers of becoming mere eventistas, and the hard work now begins as we resume our monthly meetings (in which one person preaches and the others give constructive feedback), starting in early June. We hope this is one follow-up that will not disappoint.

Langham Trinidad. Booyah.
  • Another great encouragement of Level 2 was simply spending time with each other. The majority of those in the group are the sort of people I’d only see at our meetings, yet they are great, godly people. We sometimes feel our lack of deep friendships here in Trinidad. Perhaps there is scope here; prayer appreciated.
  • Wouldn’t you know it? Craig is due to give a sermon tomorrow on Psalm 62. Barely a week gone, and an opportunity to preach what he’s practised.
  • Pray for Trinidad as a city. There is a pretty deplorable situation going on right now, with the government withholding salaries for municipal workers for several months (it has been speculated that this is due to Trinidad’s delivering a ‘no’ vote in February’s referendum; we can’t know for sure, but it would not be surprising). This is causing a great squeeze in all kinds of sectors; crime is on the increase; and it has touched one individual in our church, a sewage worker, directly. Pray that common sense would prevail. 

  • For a great Langham weekend, and a great platform established for the year ahead.
  • Give thanks for the work of Paul and Aaron, our Brass Tacks volunteers, who this weekend conclude their six-week building and maintenance work at Fundación Totaí. They have been a great help, not just with tools in hand, but also the Bible (Paul stepped in and preached last weekend while all the regular candidates were away at Langham). Their journey home to the UK begins on Tuesday, if you could remember that in your prayers. 

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Saturday Post -- 07/05/16

Not the best of pictures, this, but you may be able to pick out a certain
No two weeks are the same in this corner of the world, but the past week has more unusual than most.

For a start, the good people of Trinidad are only just getting over a bracing south wind, which arrived in late April (normally the tail-end of the summer here), and whose effects were being felt well into this week; it was only last night that we ditched our rarely-used winter blanket. No complaints from our end, of course; tea is all the more pleasant when not diluted by one's own sweat.

Stranger still was a rare sighting of Amanda on a sports field, nay, a football pitch! Last weekend we had a one-off seven-a-side tournament for the youth group, and my dear wife (under no shortage of coercion, it must be said) made an appearance. Fleeing from the ball like Donald Trump from a Mexican, she made precisely zero touches, yet was to leave the pitch with the glory of a 100% strike:goal ratio, having done her bit for the team in the ensuing penalty shootout (not that it probably matters, but the goalie was a nine-year-old boy).

A little more frustrating was Sam taking a bad turn a few days later, with a high fever properly flooring him for 24 hours. Since then, he's generally been his usual chirpy self, but he can't quite shake it off. We're reliably informed that a seven-to-ten-day recovery is not unusual at his stage; patience is the order of the day. 

Of course, Sam is nothing but a heavy sleeper, so it's been something of an adjustment for us to be up at all hours ensuring he's getting his dosages and enough fluids. And how has His Lordship seen fit to compensate us for our efforts? Oh, only by inflicting us with the same illness! Mercifully, our recovery time has been a lot shorter.

Somehow, amidst all of this, we've managed to put in a fair shift. I've been teaching my English classes, preparing a pretty heavy sermon (see below) and getting ready for next weekend (see below too!), while Amanda has had her usual diet of administrative duties and meetings, including one with the local government yesterday to look into ways that FT and the municipality can better work together.

As for you, dear reader, you can work better together (always liked that phrase) with us by praying. So, without further ado...

  • The church is in the middle of a mini-series on the 'I am' sayings in John, and tomorrow morning, for the first time, it's Craig's turn. The passage is John 8:31-58 ('Before Abraham was, I am') and it is nothing if not hyper-evangelistic. Please pray for Craig and for those in attendance who are not yet believers.
  • Amanda and her fellow directors at FT continue to work under great financial constraints, and require so much wisdom. We ask that you would pray for them.
  • Next weekend is Langham Level 2! We've somehow managed to complete a full year of this preaching course here in Trinidad, and, God-willing, we'll be joined by Eduardo & Edwin for four days of intensive training (in other words if there's a blog post next weekend, it'll be Amanda's). Please pray for an encouraging time together.
  • Keep praying for Paul and Aaron from Brass Tacks, who are doing an excellent job with the construction work at FT. They're only here for just over two weeks more and are beginning to feel the pressures of time. Prayer appreciated.
  • Pray that we might all make a full recovery sooner rather than later!
  • We were greatly encouraged this week by the arrival of several packages from our dear friends at Shettleston New. Give thanks for their safe arrival (no joke!).
  • And speaking of safe arrivals, our old friend and house-sitter Rachel Peebles should be flying back to Scotland right about now following her latest visit to Trinidad. Give thanks for the encouragement of our time with her the last couple of weeks.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda