Saturday, December 24, 2016

Saturday Post -- 24/12/16

(with apologies to Nat King Cole)

White folks roasting 'neath a blazing sun,
Insects nipping at your feet.
Kids rejoicing that the school year is done,
By setting off fireworks in the street.

Craig is prepping music for the band. 
'Manda's shopping in the town.
Sam's saying "bib" as he seeks to expand
His repertoire of English nouns.

We hope his visa's on its way.
We handed in the application on Monday.
Those folks in Bogotá ain't gonna smile
When they see the size of Samuel Archie's file.

And so, we leave it in the Master's hands.
His plan's perfect; we'll pull through.
Till then, hear our wish from this green, pleasant land:
Merry Christmas to you.

  • This afternoon we have the now-traditional Christmas Eve service at church (it takes place in the afternoon because most families are busy in the evening preparing their midnight Christmas dinner). It's always a great opportunity for evangelism, with many family members of the young participants in attendance. 
  • We are due to head to Santa Cruz on Thursday morning. Pray that we will be able to get everything sorted here before we go. As touched on last week, though we don't have an answer to the visa question, we have to pack away the house as if we will indeed be away for six months. We have a few administrative matters to deal with in town, too. 
  • Our first Latin Link conference begins on Friday, a five-day affair with our stablemates here in Bolivia. Pray for an encouraging few days.
  • Of course, pray for Sam's visa. We essentially need an answer by the 6th of January, which would be a little quicker than it took first time around (though naturally, we hope the weight of evidence we have submitted will make the decision fairly simple). We will hopefully post here on the 7th with any updates.
  • We had a great afternoon on Thursday at the end-of-year lunch for Fundación Totaí. Give thanks for God's goodness to FT and the church this year.
  • Give thanks for the many blessings we have known this year: Sam's growth, increased friendships, special times with visiting family and friends. These have all kept us going, and some!
¡Feliz Navidad!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday Post -- 17/12/16

Amanda and I are still in something of a state of shock after getting word on Thursday afternoon, four weeks before we were due to touch down in Heathrow, that our UK visitor visa submission for Sam was unsuccessful. 

The official dealing with the case wrote extensive feedback as to the basis of the refusal. This was most helpful in essentially understanding what our submission had lacked in terms of evidence, but pretty galling too, as the information we had referred to in our initial submission on the UK's website had been vague to say the least. We believe we have more than enough evidence to back up our case, and we would have sent it in the first place if it had been asked of us.

In all of this, God has given us a real provision: namely, Danny, a former employee of the Spanish consulate in La Paz, who moved to Trinidad with his wife -- an employee at Fundación Totaí -- and baby son earlier this year. We were able to meet with Danny on Thursday evening to assess the situation. He was a little taken aback by the refusal, but suggested we re-submit, and gave us a little more insight into what consular staff are looking for. Thanks to Danny, we have a new strategy, which will hopefully make the application a lot more watertight; I guess you could call him our Esther (Esther 4:14), though he's a big lad, so probably not to his face.

We immediately set about looking for a new appointment in La Paz, hoping to get one for Monday morning, which would allow us time to get our evidence together, while being early enough to hopefully have the visa arrive before our departure date from Bolivia (if not, we could at least make a date-change to the outbound flight at no cost). We were indeed able to source this, and so, we'll be making another 24 hour visit to that great city

And as you can imagine, the last 36 hours, but for about four hours' sleep on Thursday evening, have been taken up almost exclusively with assembling this new case; we're now armed to the teeth with letters that seem to touch all the bases. 

And yet, in those rare moments when our minds are otherwise unoccupied, we do wonder to ourselves why this is happened, and what on earth is going to happen next. Particularly if, as we can no longer rule out, this re-submission is similarly unsuccessful.

Maybe we were too presumptuous, but in our minds, this was all pretty straightforward: Scotland in January and February, Canada till mid-May (with our flights already booked for that), with a visit to friends and relatives in the US while in North America. About 20 speaking engagements with churches were already in place. In other words, we were mentally and emotionally prepared for this home assignment period. 

But above all, we were mentally and emotionally prepared -- nay, ecstatic! -- regarding the prospect of time away from our life and ministry in Trinidad. As has probably been evident reading between the lines here these past few weeks, we are close to burn-out, if not there already. We have had several searching conversations as a couple in recent weeks, about the general direction of our work here, and particularly a need for establishing more robust boundaries between our professional and personal lives. Just last week, we resolved to re-prioritise prayer while away from here, in order to better seek and understand God's will for our lives and ministry -- we would be particularly helped in this regard by the low-cost childcare services on offer from Grandparents Inc. So, if the resubmission doesn't cut the mustard, where do we go from here? 

This, and many more questions, are now at the forefront of our thinking. But, in reality, we are powerless, and paralysed by the fact that this is not in our hands, and all in God's. Correction: for 'paralysed', read 'liberated'.

Like so many others, we have known setbacks over the years. Or, as we increasingly prefer to call them, 'setbacks'. Chief among these, undoubtedly, was our infertility diagnosis a few years back. Yet if not for that, we almost certainly would never have met our intrepid, cheeky, and beautiful son, who has been a source of joy beyond comprehension. 

I am reminded, at this point, of a nugget of a sermon illustration (as it would happen, one that also touches on visa problems) of Romans 8:28 from Tim Keller:

I remember one day getting up, trying to explain this passage, and saying to them, “Listen, friends, do you know why I’m here? I’m glad I’m here. You’re glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m here. It has worked out beautifully. It’s because at the very end of my seminary career I decided to become a Presbyterian. That’s why I could go to a Presbyterian church. Do you know why I decided to be Presbyterian?

Because I fell under the influence of a particular teacher my last semester at seminary. Do you know why I fell under that man’s influence? He came from England after having tremendous visa problems (and probably wasn’t going to get there until the following year). At the last minute somebody cut through the red tape. He came, and I fell under his influence. Do you know why the red tape was cut? The dean of my seminary was on his knees praying about how we were going to get this guy over here when Mike Ford, Gerald Ford’s son, walked in and asked him what he was praying for. Mike Ford was a student at the seminary at that time.

Do you know why Mike Ford was able to cut the red tape? Because his father was the president. Do you know why his father was the president? Because Nixon had resigned. Do you know why Nixon resigned? Because of the Watergate scandal. Do you know why there was a Watergate scandal? Because one day a guard noticed in the Watergate building a particular door ajar that should have been closed.

We have no idea what is happening right now. I have reluctantly just had to wake up my wife, in order to lend a hand with said offspring so I can finish this; like me, she is struggling with sleep right now, perplexed as to exactly what is going on. What more can we do? What about Canada? Will Sam ever meet his relatives? How do we avoid burn-out now? 

Yet, with apologies to Donald Rumsfeld, this is a known unknown. We have been here before, and we now have the perspective to see the purpose of past 'setbacks'. There is a purpose in this, for God's glory, and for our good. We are nowhere near understanding, but we strive with every fibre of our being to trust. It is the safest place; it is the scariest place; it is exactly where God wants us, and all who have been called according to his purpose.

  • I think I've already made myself perfectly clear as to the main issue!
  • For a straightforward visit to La Paz, a city that isn't nearly as much fun as it used to be.
  • We must continue to work on the assumption that we are leaving Trinidad for five months at the end of December, so we appreciate your continued prayers for God's help in tackling the mountain of tasks before us.
  • We prayed for an answer, and now we have it. We give thanks for it, and for future answers to this question, which, in ways we cannot now understand, are the best ones.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday Post -- 10/12/16

Well, we had hoped to have news of Sam's UK visa by now, but no concrete answers have been forthcoming. We wrote to the embassy in midweek, and we were informed that further enquiries are being conducted. Yesterday, we received an automated email informing us that the application had now been passed on to an entry clearance officer. We had been told that we would receive this email as part of the process, so hopefully that means things are progressing again. We have had no indication of timing yet; hopefully we will have an answer this coming week.

We can 'only' pray, and this morning we were reminded of the need for persistent prayer in all circumstances in our final Langham escuelita of the year, where I preached on Luke 18:1-8, and Edwin was once again in attendance from Cochabamba. Edwin took the opportunity to encourage the group to continue to meet in my absence. My right-hand-man Cristian will take charge while we are abroad, and dates have already been put in place for Edwin's next visit (in March) and our next conference (in September). When we look back on this second stint we have spent out here, Langham is an undoubted highlight. What a provision it has been to the churches involved, and what encouragement we all gain as Bible teachers by meeting together in this way.

Dr. Richard Wagner boarded Edwin's plane back to Cochabamba, having spearheaded another ENT surgical campaign at Fundación Totaí this week. We're happy to report that this year's campaign went by without a hitch. All the while, Amanda was working closely with two new staff members at FT, who will be replacing our outgoing Director of Finances, Mariana. As if to underscore Mariana's importance to the work, it has been necessary to hire both an accountant (Vladimir) and an administrator (Hernán). Mariana is staying on until the end of December so as to ensure a smooth transition, before she heads to seminary in the new year. 

Amanda and I continue to chip away at the long list of tasks that remain, though the closer we get to leaving, the more things we remember we have to do. People here, so thoughtful in this regard, are also keen to ensure we get a proper send-off (we're only away for six months, guys!). Among other things, an FT staff member is trying to organise a farewell event for Mariana and Amanda, and I may be required to speak at a wedding on the 27th of December -- a mere two days before we are due to set off for Santa Cruz. We are truly honoured -- while secretly wondering how on earth we will squeeze such things into our to-do list. We'll cope, I'm sure; somehow, by God's grace, we always do.

  • For a prompt -- and affirmative -- answer to the visa question.
  • For cool heads and the courage to take things one day at a time as our exit nears and the workload doesn't feel much lighter.
  • This Christmas, our theme at church is 'The Light of the World'. Craig kicks things of tomorrow with a sermon on Isaiah 9:1-7.
  • Craig and fellow elder Miguel Ángel had a really encouraging chat via FaceTime this week with Miguel Ángel's son and a missionary friend of his, who are based in Cochabamba. They are hoping to come through to Trinidad once a month to help support the preaching and music ministry next year. This will be a great help to Miguel Ángel and the church while I am away, especially as our pastor, Elías, is stepping down on the 31st of December.
  • For a successful ENT surgical campaign.
  • For the blessing of Edwin's final visit to Trinidad of the year, and the blessing of the Langham programme in general to our church and several others.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Saturday Post -- 03/12/2016

Well, we're in our final month in Trinidad before we leave for the Latin Link conference in Santa Cruz. It is unbelievable how fast time has flown by and it is also a bit scary to think of all that's going to have to come together before we leave. The good thing is that we are accomplishing things bit by bit and I (Amanda) have full confidence that before we leave Trinidad our heads should still be attached to our shoulders and not lost somewhere. Hopefully, as we drive away from our house on the 29th of December, we will have remember to bring all the important things, like Sam. 

Sam's visa for the UK is still pending, so we continue to appreciate prayers for it. This coming Tuesday will be 14 days on from the initial interview, and they said the wait time is 15 days. I actually got a scary call from the embassy in Bogota this week. I answered the call and, after taking a couple of minutes to confirm that we could hear each other and that we could have this conversation in English, the woman asked me to confirm that Craig was a UK citizen, which I did. And then she asked me to confirm that Sam was Craig's son, which I did. And then she said, "Well then, we are unable to issue a visa!" To which my heart tried to jump out of my chest and the inner, angry Amanda tried to break forth. I explained that we had looked into all of this when we were last in the UK and we were assured that Sam does indeed need a visa and she said, "That information is incorrect." She said our two options were to apply for a UK passport or to apply for a certificate of something. I don't know what certificate, because I cut her off (inner, angry Amanda was starting to win, sadly) and started to explain how that can't possibly be correct, because the adoption is a national adoption, not international, and therefore not recognised by the UK. Sam only qualifies for citizenship if we decide to return to the UK to live. 

The lady was quiet for a while and then said, "He's adopted?" Inner, angry Amanda was really pushing hard now and commented, "Of course he is adopted, which is why you have all the adoption documents in front of you, in both Spanish and English, having been legally translated (which was not cheap) as requested."  Well, inner, angry Amanda calmed downed when she went looking for those documents and said that she couldn't see them, and it seems that the visa agency in La Paz had not sent them on. She apologised, said she would go chase those documents down and that we are indeed correct in Sam needing a visa as an adopted child. Inner, angry Amanda didn't bother getting frustrated at the agency in La Paz; 1) it's Bolivia, so no one is really surprised, and 2) the nice lady there gave Sam a lollipop, so how can you get mad at someone nice like that? We totally threw the lollipop out as we left as Sam is way too young for sweets like that, but it's the thought that counts. 

So, crisis averted and we're just waiting for them to hopefully go through the whole package once it's scanned in properly and sent to Bogotá. Craig commented that he was very glad that they randomly picked my phone number instead of his as he probably wouldn't have argued with the lady, accepted what she said, hung up the phone and then had a complete meltdown. I totally learnt how to be forceful but still polite as I watched my Mom insist that all her coupons were still valid when used all at once because the terms didn't specifically state that it was one per customer. I'm pretty sure all coupons say that now because of my Mom and Aunts. 

The Foundation has finally found Mariana 2.0. Well, actually it's not Mariana 2.0, but Mariana 2.0 version 1 and version 2. Yes, we have had to hire two people to do what Mariana, our Director of Finances, has done for the last six years. This is going to cause a financial burden on the Foundation that we were not necessarily expecting, but the Board essentially decided that there was no way that FT could function with only one person to replace Mariana, especially with Craig and I about to go on furlough. Both people seem very capable and the Board was quite impressed with them during their interviews, especially their desire to work with an organisation based in service. The man we're hiring as Administrator was actually the only person who looked the Foundation up before his interview and was able to tell us everything that we were involved in, which was impressive. And the accountant we hired wrote a very convincing covering letter, one of two covering letters we received across all the applicants. As I mentioned before, I found the process of accepting and rejecting applicants very stressful, and I took the coward's way out and asked our Secretary to call everyone who was not successful and inform them as such. Although I knew I was doing it from a distaste of that particular job, I also justified it by stating that our Secretary is just so good at jobs like that; it was probably better for everyone. Both new employees are going to be trained through the month of December and be put on payroll in January. Please pray that they adjust to the Foundation and that all employees adjust to them as well. 

Monday is the start of this year's Major Ear Surgical Campaign. I try to stay as far away from this campaign administratively as possible. I find too many fingers in the pie is quite destructive in an endeavour like the surgical campaign, but I obviously stay as informed as possible. We have fewer patients than we would like for the campaign, but I kind of think that's because we've operated on everyone in Trinidad with major ear conditions. We need to go further afield for more patients for next year, but for this year I think we'll end up with 15 overall. Dr. Wagner from the States arrives tomorrow and leaves on Friday and the Foundation will be absorbed by this for the next week. It's always fun to have so many surgeons arrive at the Foundation. My sister is going to be is studying to become a surgeon, so I know what I'm talking about..we never fought ever, she's the most placid person I know (major eye roll). In all seriousness, we're very grateful for the services that these surgeons bring and we pray that the campaign will be a physical and spiritual blessing to many people. 

We're at the end of the school year here and all the major services and ministries are having their year-end closing ceremonies. Sports had their clausura last weekend, the community class's was this past Wednesday and Juguemos Juntos (the Mom and Tots group) had theirs yesterday. Sam and I attend this group, so the Moms played competitive games like dodge ball and steal the bacon, where I might have accidentally slapped a fellow Mom in my enthusiasm. I totally won the egg-and-spoon-race-while-balancing-a-child-on-your-hip; Sam ate most of my prize. And today is OANSA's (children's programme) end of the year fair. Although, we're not specifically involved in OANSA, we're going to go along and watch all the kids play at the fairground stations; it's something that Sam will love. Every time he gets excited about being around other kids I look around to see if children really do grow in the garden, because this child desperately needs a sibling. Sadly, it's not as easy as that. 


  • For the new employees, Hernán and Vladimir (my first thought still strays to vampires when I read his name on paper), as they start in FT this month.
  • For all the end-of-year closing ceremonies.
  • For the surgical campaign this coming week.
  • For Sam's visa.
  • For preparations before we leave Trinidad.
  • Craig's is speaking both at the youth group tonight and at the OANSA prize-giving tomorrow morning.

  • For God's protection over FT .
  • For a sense of progress and productivity as time moves along.
  • For Craig's English classes finishing well this past week.
  • For our visit from Brigitte from Latin Link this past week. She's the short-term coordinator, based in Cochabamba, and came out to see the volunteer opportunities that FT and El Jireh church have to offer possible short-termers who come out with the Stride programme that Latin Link offer. We had a really good time with her.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda & Sam