Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday Post -- 27/08/16

It's Saturday morning and Amanda has a flight to catch. In a few hours, she sets off for Cochabamba, where she is due to attend the wedding of a fellow Latin Linker this afternoon. Meanwhile, back home, cue mis-matched clothes, dirty-bottle-backlogs and bathtime shortcuts -- or, as it's otherwise known, 'father-son bonding time'.

Amanda returns tomorrow afternoon. But Sam and I aren't going to get too comfortable. Because before we know it, it will be Friday morning...and Amanda will have a flight to catch! This time, her mother's jetting in for an extended visit, and requires picking-up in Santa Cruz. Meanwhile, back home...oh, you get the drift. Please pray!

Still, at least we're in something of an adversity-overcoming frame of mind these days, not least having finally submitted Sam's Bolivian passport application this week. Here are the highlights, otherwise known as How Bolivian Officialdom Works.

A week past on Monday, we processed Sam's Bolivian I.D. card, a pre-requisite for a passport application here and so, thus armed, we swung by the immigration office. We did this, not to submit the application there and then, but to be given what I've come to call our Scavenger Hunt List. In the west these days, you tend to go online, print the forms, fill them in, send them in with a photo and your bank details, and a few weeks down the line a passport is delivered to your door. 

Not so here. Not for passports, not for I.D. card applications, and definitely not for visa applications (Amanda and I spent around 43% of our first three years here in the immigration office). Here you are given a slip of paper with several items you'd better present before you even think about getting a passport. Sunshine. As well as photocopies of various documents of our own as parents, they included:
  • A bank slip, proving that you have deposited the money into the required account. This was introduced some years ago here, as a way of clamping down on government workers requesting, say, 'something for the wife's Christmas' in order to hasten applications.
  • An original birth certificate, which you don't get back. Here, photocopied birth certificates are about as useful as a freezer in the North Pole. On the flipside, they will print a new 'original' for you there and then, for the required fee.
  • Most curiously, a 'permission to travel' document (isn't that what a passport is?). Now that we live with a Bolivian, we've discovered that it's necessary to submit a separate document for the trip in question. Which, of course, is somewhat perplexing for us, as the only reason we needed the document was to get the passport, not to travel any time soon.
The problem is that there is always at least one document that, itself, generates its own Scavenger Hunt List. This time, that proved to be the permission to travel document. In the past, we had actually filled in a couple of domestic permission to travel documents in order that Sam could travel within Bolivia (a requirement here for travelling with children: they are valid for 30 days). Assuming that this was what they required -- as we could not currently leave the country without a passport -- we swung by the bus station (they are available there and at the airport) and picked one up. No, silly, we were told on our third visit to the immigration office, it's a permission to travel internationally

Off we went, then, to that office, and sure enough, another bundle of paperwork was required. It would take a full week for us to assemble this and then get the document.

So, on Monday past, with a spring in our step, off we went to immigration, brandishing said document, slamming it on the guy's desk and singing in unison, 'Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now' to the requisite dance-steps (I may have exaggerated parts of the last sentence). Billy Bureaucrat simply had to admit defeat. He couldn't send us away for the umpteenth time for a document he'd forgotten to mention (that did happen). We had met all the requirements and there was nothing he could do about it but process that application. 

Nothing he could do, that is, until, a couple of minutes into his entering our details into the system...there was a power-cut. "There's been a power-cut," he informed us, barely able to contain a grin (the nefarious so-and-so) and completely powerless, in a quite literal sense, to do much about it. 

As lacking in aesthetic qualities as it was, I can assure you that a pan-pipe-wielding llama chewing coca leaves with an Andean backdrop could not have made for a more Bolivian scene.

Untypically, however, the power surged back into life about fifteen minutes later, and our decision to hang around instead of coming back in the afternoon was vindicated. However, the immigration office in Trinidad is just the start. The application should now be in La Paz, and it won't be another couple of weeks, probably, until we see the passport.

While we wait for that, there's a fair amount of homework for us to do as we try to work out what is required for visas for the UK and Canada (and, further down the line, the USA) for next year. Only one problem with that strategy: my wife never seems to be here.

  • For no more bumps in the road for Sam's passport application (another quirk of the system here is that, because things get sent to La Paz, if the people there find any seeming inconsistencies, the documents get sent back, and we have to make the changes, re-submit, and wait another two weeks; hoping we can avoid that).
  • Every two or three years, we spend a little time with the youth in the church addressing the topic of sex and relationships. Craig is speaking tonight on what the Bible has to say on the subject. Pray for Craig, for the other leaders as they discuss these issues with the young people in small groups afterwards, and for the young people themselves. A huge, highly sensitive topic.
  • A new volunteer, Melissa Olmstead, arrives on Monday from Oregon, for an eight-month stint in Trinidad. Pray for her and for Amanda as she supervises her time here.
  • For safe travels for Amanda both today and Friday, and an encouraging time in Cochabamba in the next 24 hours.
  • For Craig and Sam as they hold the fort back in Trinidad. Pray that this would be a special time for them both.
  • Amanda had an unexpected (and unexpectedly deep) chat with a member of staff at FT yesterday. Give thanks for the opportunity to minister to that staff member.
  • For all the frustration, we are making good progress on Sam's documentation. Give thanks for that.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday Post -- 20/08/16

Have you ever stopped to wondering how much you've changed over time? Do you think your former self would recognise who you are now? I (Amanda) had a week which really highlighted to me how much I've changed, not in good or bad ways, but I saw how I was now different.

Instance 1

On this week fell Day of the OANSA Leader -- OANSA is the Bolivian version of the AWANA children's and youth programmes, which originated some years ago in the USA. I'm not sure about which day specifically because I don't actually care about these things, but being the OANSA youth ministry coordinator in our church, I was supposed to be celebrated at some point this past week. The OANSA ministerial team for Trinidad organised a dinner for all OANSA leaders on Wednesday night at 8pm. Craig and I looked at each other, and I decided to bite the bullet and go on our behalf, thus allowing him to stay in, because he might die a slow death if forced to actually celebrate a Hallmark holiday (he made an exception for Mother's day this year, me being a new Mom and all, but we've become quite unromantic with Valentine's Day, it being overly corporate). 

So a whole pile of leaders from our church went to this organised dinner, where we arrived on time, and proceeded to wait for almost another hour before anybody else showed up from any other church. Even, our own church members were getting antsy about this time. And then there was still a whole programme to get through before we could eat. The food came out about 10:40. I don't think we left until 11:30, and we still had to drive some of the youth home to the village of Maná, about 20 minutes away. 

The most revelatory aspect of this evening to me, however, was the fact that I had fun. I suddenly remembered that when I was younger I liked going out and being in large groups, laughing and joking, but that due to business, tiredness, and a lack of a social group in our stage of life [you can start playing your violins around now, folks -- Craig] we just don't do that any more. And I had fun! It was fun! And I got dropped off at my door in a large carpool, just like when I was at Uni coming back from a youth event. I felt young again... until I realised it was past midnight and I was about to turn into a pumpkin. Seriously, I remembered why I had changed: my body is falling apart and I am old. Okay, I'm only 30, but it is true -- my body is falling apart and I am old. So, great to be reminded of who I was in my glory days, but I think I get more excited now about early bedtimes than a long night out on a the town. But thank you, Trinidad OANSA Ministerial Team: the chicken was lovely!

Instance 2

This week we finally organised another FT staff training morning. The Board had been meaning to organise one since June, but people kept scheduling surgery over the mornings I had fenced off, apparently thinking that emergency surgery was more important. As if. Okay, maybe it is. But finally on Thursday morning we got all the staff together in one place and made them say nice things to each other. In all seriousness, that was the first activity Mariana pulled out of her bag of tricks. Everyone had to say something positive or something they were thankful for about the person sitting on their right. The activity was supposed to highlight how much easier it is for us to think of negative things to say about each other, and to really force us to try and be positive. It was generally a success, with a few minor hiccups. One person ended her positive comment by saying, "But I would also advise her to try harder with her personality." Someone else started by saying, "Well, he's a lot better now than he was at the beginning." And finally, someone said, "I like how she wants to do everything right. People may think she has an ugly and hard personality, but it's because she wants to do everything right." My jaw hit the floor when that was said. Obviously the PC brigade never got this far into the Amazon jungle.

But being the HR Director, these staff mornings are generally my show, so I chaired the morning and led people through the activities. Our morning GP, Dr. Vargas, organised a seminar on the purpose of and how to properly put together a Procedures Manual, because FT doesn't have an updated one. We need to get it organised by the end of the year and most staff looked at me funny when I asked people to write in point form how they go about their jobs. So, we had a training morning. And Dr. Vargas did a really good job. Even I feel more confident about sitting down and writing out the details of my job (which I haven't started to do yet).

But as I was sitting through the seminar and my mind started to wander to other things (hey, I said Dr. Vargas did a good job, I didn't say the material was gripping), I kind of thought about how I would never have dreamed of being able to do my job when I was in University. My insecurity always killed my confidence, and while I never shied away from standing up in front of people, I always had intense nerves. Now, I just do it and move on to the next thing, and sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and say, "Who are you? And where were you in grade 7 when I was supposed to be Patty in Charlie Brown's Christmas play?"

Instance 3

Our new volunteer arrived this week, Roseanne Sanders from England. And she's really nice. We're going to be friends. And right there is another change. I have never made friends really easily. I have always been too insecure and worried about what people thought to really give myself to friendships easily. It has always taken time with me to really becomes friends with someone. But it has become easier and easier to just give myself to people and make friends in recent years.

So, Rosie and I are going to be buddies for the next three weeks. I mean, she brought shortbread for everyone to share at FT. Who doesn't want to be friends with someone like that? And she is up for anything. I'm sure there are some things that she didn't come out her to do, like intense manual labor, but she hasn't said no to me yet...I wonder what else I could get her to do. I wonder how she feels about babysitting. Can you say 'Date Night'?

And I have never seen anyone less stressed and polite after losing their suitcase, which did not leave Brazil when she did. Thankfully, she has her suitcase again. I'm pretty sure I would have lost my cool at some point, but she was really relaxed about the whole experience.

We're all looking forward to spending more time with her over the next three weeks and I know that Odalys and Maye, in our Speech Therapy and Audiology Department, are especially excited to have the extra help.


Craig mentioned that we had attended a one day conference on mentoring while in Sucre by Rick Lewis. Rick highlighted that the purpose of mentoring is identifying and promoting the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And he asked us all to think of the ways that we knew that the Lord was currently working in our lives, possibly convicting us of specific sin or challenging us in certain circumstances. Yet he said that mentoring had to do with all the ways in which God was working in us, but that we couldn't specifically identify. That's why we need the help of mentors. Because the reality is that God is doing so much more than we are actually conscious of at any given moment. God is changing us, moulding as, and growing us and the truth is that when I look back on my life, I can see some evidence of specific change, but the rest has just kind of happened slowly over time. And for this I am grateful: that God knows and me and loves me enough to want to change me where I need to most, without me even noticing sometimes. I like being more confident. I like being able to come alongside people without a lot of insecurities getting in the way. I like making friends. And, while getting excited about early bedtimes might not be an overly spiritual change, I know that I know myself more now than I did before, and I know how I need to take care of myself...and sometimes it is an early bedtime. And I am sure that in another 15 years I am going to be a completely different person again, and that's kind of exciting.

  • For Rosie and her three weeks with us at FT.
  • Craig is preaching on Sunday from 2 Kings 2; please pray for him as he shares God's word.
  • We tried to apply for Sam's passport this week, after successfully applying for his Bolivian ID Card, and we hit some obstacles. So, please pray that we get his application submitted on Monday.
  • For some delicate pastoral care situations that Craig and the other church leaders are involved in right now.
  • For Sam's ID card and updated birth certificate being processed
  • For Rosie's safe arrival and the arrival of her bag two days later.
  • For a really beneficial staff training morning
  • For a good time out with the other OANSA leaders on Wednesday night
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda & Sam

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saturday Post -- 13/08/16

Plenty of horses in Trinidad; it's just that they're usually eating our garbage
at the end of the street.
Back in the summer of 2003, I was wandering through the local park with a friend. Tall trees shaded us from a strong sun as we watched children float across the pond on pedalos, parents sharing quiet jokes as they pushed their various baby transportation devices and cyclists gently meander by around the vicinity. So far, so ordinary. Well, if you're from the west, that is. For this was in the heart of Bolivia. And I'd never seen anything quite so, er, civilised in this extraordinary country. I resolved to return to Sucre...and preferably with a family.

Well, after several years of talking about it, a few months ago we were presented with compelling professional reasons to make the trip to the white city, and so we decided to make a holiday of it.

If, like me, you're one of those endless founts of utterly useless information, you will surely not have tired of those dinner-party opportunities to remind people that Australia's capital is not Sydney but Canberra, Brazil's is not Sao Paulo but Brasilia, and, of course, Bolivia's is not La Paz but Sucre (I'm looking at you, Andrew Craig). La Paz, with a population of 2.3 million, has the parliament and the governmental offices, but Sucre retains the high court. Yet in effect, Sucre is, to all intents and purposes, not a city, but a town. And all the better for it.

Sucre is the cradle of Bolivian history. It was founded in 1538 by the Spanish, and was to become a major city of their Latin American empire. In the early 19th century, Bolivia's independence was declared here. In the town centre, Sucre's colonial roots are in evidence on every block, with gargantuan churches gracing most street corners, and classical architecture as far as the eye can see. Moreover, buildings are required by law to be whitewashed once every year. Combined with the perennial sun, it makes for quite a sight. I say 'perennial', not punishing; the high altitude means temperatures rarely push past 25 Celsius, and the night-times are fresh to say the least. Put it this way: Amanda hasn't had so little laundry to do for a long time!

It gets better. Bolivia's oldest (and best) seat of learning is located in Sucre, and so a sophisticated vibe prevails. The many fine and varied restaurants flog their own craft beers. Music festivals come and go (a Beatles-fest was due to take place this week). A French institute shows nightly films en français in a small screening room. It all sounds very pretentious, doesn't it? You can see why I love it!

Our home-from home for the week.
As a family, then, we spent much time simply climbing up church bell towers, sampling great food, and wandering around aforementioned park. When not out and about, we made the most of our hotel, which was also in the colonial fashion, and which boasted a stunning roof terrace. Sam was never happier than when he was playing his game of throw-the-Duplo-piece-and-then-bum-shuffle-in-hot-pursuit.

We were in Sucre primarily for two reasons. Firstly, we were invited by some friends of ours in Santa Cruz to a mentoring day-conference they had organised, with a guest speaker (Rick Lewis) having come all the way over from Sydney (not the capital of Australia, apparently). The conference itself was highly practical, and really got us thinking about how we approach mentoring relationships here in Trinidad, and how we can manage these more efficiently. We've been talking a lot since coming back about how to implement these strategies.

Secondly, and most importantly, we had been invited by Latin Link Bolivia's board to an interview, with a view to us joining Latin Link on the field. If you support us financially from the UK, you will be aware that our UK support comes through Latin Link's office in Reading. However, we are not commended by Latin Link, but by Latin America Mission Canada. Latin Link have simply very kindly offered this service on our behalf, with LAM Canada in overall charge. 

But over the last few years, as close missionary friends have gradually left Trinidad, we have become increasingly aware of our need for greater on-field fellowship and accountability. We are pretty isolated in Bolivia -- where there are no LAM Canada missionaries -- and in Trinidad, there are no real opportunities for us to be 'fed' and encouraged by others. So over the last 18 months, with LAM Canada's support, we have been exploring the possibility of Latin Link on-field membership. In the weeks prior to our time in Sucre, LAM Canada and Latin Link had drawn up an agreement regarding the nature of our relationship. The proposal was essentially that Latin Link would provide us with these on-field services, while we remained LAM Canada workers.

Casa de la Libertad, where Bolivia went all indie.
Essentially then, the heavy lifting had been done prior to Sucre, and our interview proved to be more a chance to get to know the board members themselves, the nature of the Latin Link Bolivia operation, and what we could expect to receive and contribute as members. We will be expected to attend two annual meetings (a conference and a retreat), and have been paired with a couple in Santa Cruz, with whom we will be required to meet twice a year. We can also expect to receive visits from Latin Link Bolivia's team leader, and Latin Link will begin exploring the possibility of sending short-term volunteers to Trinidad to work under us. Officially, we join on the 1st of September, and we're excited to see what comes of this new partnership.

All in all, then, a capital trip! 

  • Pray for wisdom as we seek to implement these mentoring strategies in our work here and pray for discernment as we work out whom else God might want us to be meeting with.
  • Pray for Roseanne Mackay, a volunteer from the UK who arrives this week for three weeks supporting the speech therapy work at Fundación Totaí. Pray also for Amanda who will be overseeing Roseanne's time here, and that of another volunteer who arrives for a longer spell at the end of August.
  • Elías, our church pastor, has announced he will be standing down at the end of this year. Pray for wisdom for Craig and his fellow elders as they seek to know the way ahead for the church.
  • For a truly refreshing break in Sucre, and some much-needed concentrated family time to boot.
  • For our acceptance on to the Latin Link Bolivia team.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda