Saturday, September 16, 2017

Saturday Post -- 16/09/17

Group Photo no. 1: Langham Preaching, Trinidad. Edwin is on the right,
Igor in the sky-blue polo-shirt.
A little like West Ham United of late, recently I (Craig) haven't been home all that much at weekends. Though, admittedly, for higher motives than the removal of an athletics track.

Two weeks ago, I was with my Langham Preaching cohorts for our final annual workshop, led by our old friend Edwin Fernández, and, for the first time, Langham Preaching's Latin American Director, Igor Améstegui. 

For newcomers to the blog, Langham seeks to improve the quality of expository preaching in the church through cell groups. These cell groups meet once a month, with one of the group 'preaching' to the others, and the others responding with feedback. But before the annual cycle of meetings begins, there is an annual residential workshop, taking a slightly different angle. 

This year the focus was preaching from the Psalms, and it drew heavily on Christopher Wright's recent book, How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth, which Langham have recently translated to Spanish (Wright even visited Bolivia for a special Langham conference earlier this year) and each attendee was given a free copy. 

While there was plenty of material on the different kinds of Psalms and their emphases (lament psalms, psalms of Zion, psalms of thanksgiving etc), Edwin and Igor shaped the weekend by taking a leaf from Walter Brueggemann's book (quite literally!) which groups the Psalms into three general categories: Psalms of orientation, of disorientation, and reorientation. So, for example, Igor and Edwin preached from a different Psalm each day based on these categories. And on the second night, there was a (much welcome!) time of pastoral care, in which we were asked to consider if our life and ministry were on a plane of orientation, disorientation or reorientation, and explain why.

What I particularly love about Langham is that, for all the focus on sound preaching, there is a great emphasis on aspects like this kind of personal care, and also the church as a receptor to preaching. On the second day, there was an exercise in which we had to write extensively about the needs of our churches, and then consider the main themes of the texts we had been preaching recently, and how closely those two aspects aligned. It was illuminating, to say the least, and had me thinking -- not for the first time -- that the Langham participants in our church ought to be getting together on a weekly basis to provide more direction for the preachers (mostly myself right now!). Admittedly, I've been considering this for a couple of years, but it has been difficult to find a time when everyone is free. Maybe it's time to simply go for a time when most people can make it. 

Anyway, as ever, a really stimulating and refreshing few days. Aptly, I think the group in general felt very much 'reorientated' by the Sunday afternoon. That evening, Igor preached at a special joint service of the churches involved, which we held at Fundación Totaí, and the encouragement of his visit with Edwin was shared by our congregants.

Group Photo no. 2: Latin Link Bolivia.
Meanwhile, last weekend, we found ourselves in the country's de facto capital, La Paz, for Latin Link Bolivia's annual retreat. You may remember that we were invited to join the Latin Link Bolivia team just over a year ago, and each year, among other things, we are required to participate in two events: one is the conference (which we attended over New Year) and the other is the retreat. The conference has a teaching programme and seminars, with plenty of time for group fellowship and some necessary group business meetings. The retreat, meanwhile, is really focused on pastoral care, so much so that those who lead the retreat come from outside the group.

La Paz from the air. As I explained to a friend, it's like Cloud City from
Star Wars -- only with even more treachery!
The retreat's focus this year was the Sermon on the Mount, and there were five main sessions. But instead of an aural teaching focus, each session required us to go away for an hour or so, read the required passage, and respond using prompts prepared by our retreat leader, Carlos. Two factors in particular made this possible. Firstly, Sam had his very own paceña babysitter for the weekend. Phew! Secondly, the venue was a place of great natural beauty, with plenty of space to be still and undistracted. Amanda and I both came away feeling -- yep, you guessed it -- reorientated!

Quiet times don't get much more 'quiet' than this!

As did the rest of the group, with whom we had plenty of time to further consolidate the connections we had only begun to establish in December/January. Before we went our separate ways, there was also a quick meeting to discuss the team's plans for Latin Link's upcoming international assembly, a four-yearly event which takes place in Guatemala in February. We have decided to kill two birds with one stone and have a slightly stripped-down version of our own team conference just after the assembly.

The only hitch came on Monday afternoon as the pilot on our homeward flight approached Trinidad, considered the tropical rainstorm that was taking place and thought to himself, "No thanks!" We were re-routed to Cochabamba, where the pilots waited for the situation in Trinidad to calm down. It did not, and we were flown back to La Paz on a No-Expenses-Paid basis (except for the next day's re-scheduled flight). This was particularly infuriating as a member of the crew had assured us all verbally that the airline would put us up in a hotel; we lodged a complaint upon our re-arrival in La Paz. 

As awkward as all this was, I was quietly delighted (don't tell Amanda!). Because our Cochabamba-La Paz flight took place around 5pm, which, for the photographers out there, is generally Bolivia's 'golden hour'. And there are few flights more scenic than Cochabamba-La Paz! Every cloud, then, does indeed have a silver (or, in this case, burnished-gold) lining. 

Illimani, Bolivia's second-highest peak.
The view over El Alto as we approached. El Alto is where
the airport is based and is a city in its own right:
it sits on the edge of the crater, rather than inside the
crater (like La Paz).

One happy customer.
And so, we checked into a La Paz bed-and-breakfast we know well, had a good sleep, got up and went back to the airport. And, appropriately enough, we reorientated ourselves back to Trinidad.

  • Pray for boldness and resolve for ourselves and our colleagues in putting into practice the principles learned over the past couple of weekends.
  • Pray for our Guatemala trip next year. It's obligatory (and exciting!), but obviously expensive. Pray that the funds might come together for this.
  • Give thanks for the great encouragement of the last couple of weekends.
    • For the boost to the various churches in having Igor and Edwin visit us again.
    • For the pastoral care and preaching help so abundantly afforded to the Langham group.
    • For deepening relationships with our Latin Link colleagues.
    • For plenty of time and space to meditate on God's word in La Paz.
    • For the opportunity to simply get out of our ministry HQ for a few days and have time together as a family.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Saturday Post -- 26/08/17

The base of the old tower (left), the old tank itself (right)
and the beginnings of the new tower (centre). Hard hats optional.

A very tangible display of God's goodness to us is slowly but surely taking shape round the back of Fundación Totaí's headquarters. Late last year we were advised that FT's water tower, the delivery system for water to the building, was in bad shape, and dangerously so. The harsh climate here had caused parts of the structure to erode, causing parts of the piping to rust and a potential disaster to ensue, given the decreasing strength of the high tower and its proximity to the building itself. 

But finances were already tight as a drum, rendering any future attempt at a repair a, er, pipe-dream. So, as a Foundation, we took a step of faith and did something we'd never done before: appeal for funding for a repair -- or, if possible, a replacement tank -- from FT's friends and supporters around the world.  

Over the past nine months, that funding has come together, with various churches and individuals from both North America and Europe giving generously -- so much so, indeed, that we have been able to knock down the old tower and start from scratch. The construction team are currently two weeks into an eight-week schedule and things are already coming together nicely. We are encouraged and humbled.

We're also excited about the recent resumption of the men's and women's Bible study groups in the church. That old adage that Christians enjoy judging may be unsubstantiated at best, but the evidence that Bolivian Christians enjoy Judges is all around, with the girls doing a study of Gideon, and the boys a study of the book of Judges as a whole. Us guys had our second study last night and some great, gospel-driven conversations to boot (I was especially challenged by author Tim Keller's point on sin and our excuses for it, when, "I can't" in actual fact usually means, "I won't"). It's particularly thrilling to have one or two young-adult youth group members in attendance at the study, which is being led by our "brother, co-worker and fellow soldier", Carlos. Amanda came back with similarly glowing reports from the women's first meeting last Sunday evening.

I'm thankful for a few weeks out of the preaching game after a busier spell of late, taking charge of four of the past five Sunday sermons. Indeed, this proved to be providential this week under some challenging circumstances, namely some car issues and Sam catching a fever and being off nursery for most of the week. Yet God's hand was so visible even here. A healthy Sam would have gone bananas without some means of transportation to get him out of the house; as it was, he was quite content with cuddles and Dora the Explorer.

Next weekend sees our third annual Langham preaching conference take place, a little later in the year than the first two conferences due to my time out of Trinidad. The group is a little reduced at this point, but the longer wait means that those of us who have stuck with it are particularly excited for this year's edition. This year one of our speakers is Igor Améstegui, who is based here in Bolivia and oversees Langham's preaching programmes throughout all of Latin America. As you can imagine, he is a gifted preacher himself, and we will be having a special service at our church next Sunday evening so that the members of the various churches involved can hear him speak too.

So in the unlikely event of another maratón de Dora next weekend, I'd imagine Amanda will be unable to provide a further update. Furthermore, we are travelling to La Paz the following weekend for a retreat with our Latin Link cohorts. What's the name of that Depeche Mode song again? Oh yeah: enjoy the silence. 

  • Pray for a stimulating weekend of teaching and equipping next weekend and that, above all, our churches would reap the benefits.
  • La Paz is not always the most relaxing of destinations. But we're looking forward to meeting with the Latin Link team again for a weekend of refreshing and encouragement. Pray for safety in our travels there and renewed vigour for the task ahead.
  • Give thanks for the funding for the water tower, and the progress being made on its construction.
  • Give thanks for the positive start to the new session of men's and women's Bible studies.
  • Give thanks for the Lord's providential ordering of circumstances this week, and his abundant grace to endure. 
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Saturday Post -- 12/08/17

Lunch-avoidance for beginners.

This coming Monday marks four weeks since the Strathaven team set off for home at the end of their stint here. Their legacy continues to be felt, not least in the shape of the expertly-crafted mural and banner that festoon the church walls, though it pains me to say that the last embers of their Obligatory British Chocolate Package ran out during the week.

This also means, though, that we've now had roughly one month, since returning, of living a 'normal' existence here (teams, while always welcome, present their own unique challenges every day, and even the two weeks we had here before their arrival was largely taken up with team preparation or sorting out the house). In other words, it's as good an opportunity as any to reflect, and give an update, on the targets we set ourselves for life and ministry earlier this year. I'm delighted to say that, by and large, we see progress here, and are feeling the benefits immensely.

Working from a place of rest

Following a year of essentially juggling two full-time jobs and parenthood (and paying a heavy price for this!), we knew as we left Bolivia in early January that something had to give. This year, as happened during our 2014 furlough, we sought the Lord's guidance as to which ministries it would be best to leave in the Bolivians' hands. But unlike 2014, this time we made the Bolivians aware of these changes some time before we even arrived back in the country, meaning they were both well prepared and less likely to cajole us to change our minds (which, by and large, in January 2015, we did!). 

For Amanda, this has meant scaling back her HR responsibilities at work a little in order to better attend to the practical needs of her 'boys'. The Lord really provided in this respect, as the administrator who started with FT in December was quite happy to take on much of this work, and has continued to do so with aplomb. For a couple of mornings a week, then, Amanda has not only been able to get through mountains of ironing, but also have uninterrupted time with the Lord in prayer and Bible reading. As an onlooker, I'm encouraged.

One of the tasks I stepped down from myself was youth ministry, which takes place on Saturday evenings. This was certainly a case of mind over matter, as the youth group has grown considerably since we left, and more male leaders would be welcome, making it all the more tempting for me to backtrack and play the knight in shining armour (after all, the Lord's work depends solely on us anyway, right?). But I've kept to the original plan, and this has given me the time and space on Saturday evenings to continue in an online theological training course I began on furlough. I've found this not only to be great nourishment for myself, but also of great benefit, already, in church leadership. All in all: good move.

Putting family first

With a slightly reduced workload, we now have increased flexibility to adapt to situations as they arise. During the week, for example, Amanda might ask me to take Sam out for a couple of hours just to get a break, or I might ask her to give me the chance to go out and get some exercise. We are now much better equipped to help each other in this respect.

However, the three of us do still hang out together (occasionally!) and these times have been all the more special for the lack of exhaustion. Additionally, I have begun leading family devotions every day just before Sam's bedtime, and we're delighted by how much he's already embracing this. For Amanda and I, date nights (or 'mornings', in the case of Mondays), have been re-prioritised, and we feel we are working so much better together during the week as a result, both as parents and as spouses. 

Craig's pastoral work

By and large, I'm enjoying my increased role now in the church leadership. I've set aside one evening a week for visits -- an area that had been neglected for many years -- and I've had some great conversations, not only with members, but also with parents of some of the children and young people who attend at weekends. Part of my aim is to make them feel comfortable in the church on those rare occasions when they accompany their children -- and, indeed, encourage them to come more.

My Bible teaching workload has increased significantly. I'm preaching at least three times a month, I take turns with another guy to lead the bi-monthly Bible study, and I'm also making the usual contributions to Communion services and prayer meetings. However, this area is a strength, and so I know my energies are not being wasted in any way. 

Staying with preaching, the Langham group are looking forward to the Level 3 workshop at the end of this month, and I'm praying about starting a new group. There is a lot of interest among people from the churches currently involved, including our own. I'll be looking to get a little more guidance on this when the Langham workers arrive here in late August.

Finally, I'm getting back into some one-on-one discipleship and just this week I had a great time with one of our young people in the church, Diego, who supports the children's ministry. I'm hoping to start this soon with a young man who became a Christian just a couple of weeks ago.

Amanda's work

Though she's cut back on her hours a little, with the delegation of her HR duties, Amanda has had a lot more time to sit down with staff and find out how they are getting on; this pastoral side to her work was something she was looking to improve on, so this is a great start for her. She's also enjoyed being back on the board of directors at the Foundation and has driven a couple of key initiatives just in the last month. The prayer room is still a work in progress; please pray! 

Sam's schooling

Sam continues to thrive in his new environment in the mornings. The only issue we're having is that he arrives home so exhausted that lunch -- the main meal of the day here -- is, well, challenging! It's essentially a race to see how much food we can get in him before he raises his white flag with 'BED! NOW!' written on it. His Spanish is really starting to come along now too; he even addressed me with an 'Hola' at the school gates yesterday. 

  • Pray for the preparations for Langham Level 3, taking place from the 31st of August till the 3rd of September. 
  • We're beginning a new series in Galatians this week in the church to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (it was Mr. Luther's favourite book). Pray for Craig tomorrow and next Sunday as he preaches, and on Thursday as he takes a session of the Revelation Bible study.
  • Amanda and the youth committee were finally able to meet this week to start planning for this year's camp. 
  • Give thanks for the great time of discipleship this week with Diego.
  • Give thanks for the many ways we are seeing God bless us in life and ministry when we simply follow his guidance.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Saturday Post - 05/08/17

We have spent the last six months living with other people all around the globe and, as of yesterday, we are once again on our own for the foreseeable future. And I (Amanda) am kind of sad about it. Maicol, KC and Caleb Rivero had been staying with us for the last six weeks as they came back to Trinidad for their niece Milly's wedding to Mauro, and to visit family. For those of you who don't know, Maicol and KC were missionaries here for about 15 years, but moved back to KC's home town near Seattle two years ago (Maicol is Bolivian and his family is here, hence the family visit). They left yesterday on their return trip and the house is now strangely quiet. Sam absolutely loved having Caleb around, who is two years older, and I think he misses his friend already.

We've thought a lot about hospitality and sharing living space with people over the last six months. We've been really challenged about sharing what we have with others and not hoarding what we think we have a right to, whether that be space, time or material possessions. It's not really ours. I think everyone has one thing that they really struggle sharing. I think Craig's is popcorn. You see, he would get really upset that I ate popcorn faster than him, and he felt that I was getting more than 50% of the bowl, so a long time ago we had to start eating our popcorn out of separate bowls. True story. However, more seriously, Craig and I both have had trouble sharing our space. Material possessions (well, you can't take it with you) and time (sharing our time is kind of in the job description) have never given us too many problems, but our space is precious (my home is my oasis). So, I think God kind of decided to really challenge us about this over the past six months.

We moved around a lot while on home assignment, and we stayed with a lot of different people, all with their unique way of doing things and their own reactions to having us there. Sometimes we stayed in one place a month or more at a time, and sometimes it was one night, but I think we calculated that Sam slept in 18 different places overall. Generally, I never felt bad about it. I kind of have an attitude that goes like this: "I live in Bolivia; if you want me to come visit you, you need to provide a bed. Thank you." I can be more subtle than that, but I never felt guilty about putting people out. It kind of comes with the lifestyle. But I don't think I ever made the connection between how I expect people to put me up, and how we can be precious about our space.

Maybe the term "being precious about our space" is a bit vague. It is not like we've ever decided not to accept friends and family from visiting us in Bolivia. We love having visitors. Come one, come all!...but only if you plan on going home at some point before we feel you've worn out your welcome. And that is what I mean by being precious. Everyone is on the clock because eventually you're going to inconvenience me and that's not OK. And that is the attitude that I feel God is challenging right now in our lives. What happens if someone needs to stay indefinitely? Can I handle that? How do we treat that person? When I say, "You can stay as long as you need!", do I really mean that?

I used to think that if someone is hospitable, they are good at having people over for dinner or that they are good at having people stay for the weekend. But I think hospitality has more to do with how they make their guests feel, regardless of if they are there for the weekend or for six months. Do their guests feel welcomed? Do their guests feel like they are being asked to join the family? Well, I have been that guest and I know what it feels like to be made to feel completely at home and to be made to feel...not completely at home. And this is where attitude is so important, because no one ever went out of their way to make me feel unwelcome or less than included, but the attitude that people have about their space permeates the home. It is something that hangs in the air and says to a guest, "Make this your home too", or it says "This is not your home, so be careful what you do in it". I don't want to subtly give out that second vibe because I don't like how someone stacked the toilet paper rolls. Craig and I came back to Bolivia determined to address this in our lives. We have no idea if we've gotten it right, or if we still have some work to do, but it is something we're really conscious of. You'll have to ask Maicol and KC if they felt welcomed or if they felt we couldn't get them out the door fast enough. :)

Now, if you're reading this and you hosted us while we were on furlough, please don't start analysing everything you said and did while we were there. This post isn't about our experiences, because we are truly grateful for every single person and place that accommodated us. This post is more about what has come back to mind over and over again as we've moved from place to place. The truth is that being a guest can be hard, especially for people who have been away from home for a while, and that being a host can be hard, because our private spaces are being exposed, therefore the attitude that we have going into the experience can dramatically affect the outcome.

So, we've gone from being the guests for six months to being the hosts once again. And as mentioned above, we love having people visit. So, please feel free to get in touch if you want to experience life in Bolivia.

I wanted to share this because it has been on my heart and mind a lot recently, but aside from thinking on this subject, Craig and I did have a normal work week. I am loving my job just now, as I feel I am being productive in helping people to do their jobs better, without any of the nasty, complicated paperwork I was doing before. Win/win. It really has been a pleasure to go into work and feel good about what I am doing. Craig had a Langham meeting this morning, where he was preaching. He then had to chair and facilitate the critique of his own sermon because the other group coordinator had to leave early. No one critiqued him at all, but I guess we'll never truly know if it was an amazing sermon or if they were all too intimidated to share. Sam loves daycare and grabs his teacher's hand once he arrives and waltzes off without saying goodbye now; that's a knife to my heart. But it was quite clear to us that we had gotten quite used to daycare as well when we learned that there were no classes yesterday and that there will be no classes on Monday either due to a national holiday. What? Four days straight where I have to look after my child myself? Are you joking? How will we cope?

Classes start again on Tuesday! Yes!!!

  • Maicol, KC and Caleb Rivero as they travel back to the States
  • Our work in the Foundation and in the church - that we'll be able to pick up momentum now that we're without a visiting team or house guests.
  • We're planning to start construction on FT's water tower this month - please pray we can get the contract signed
  • For Sam, as he gets used to being the only child again in the house
  • We're trying to get Sam's second next follow-up visit organised, but the social workers don't seem to have it on their list of priorities right now - pray that it gets done soon
  • For a really great time with Maicol, KC and Caleb - a friendship forged on the battlefield, so to speak, that'll last a lifetime. It doesn't matter that we're not even that similar - 
KC: "Amanda, what are you reading?" 
Amanda: "A novel. It has dragons in it." 
KC: "Why are we friends again?"
True story! 
¡Que Dios les Bendiga!

Craig, Amanda and Sam

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saturday Post -- 22/07/17

This time last week...a flat tyre, and an ominous start to the fishing trip (we
didn't cash too many fish either!)
Last weekend, just as they were growing in independence, and through no fault of their own, our workload with the team from Strathaven Evangelical Church grew considerably, due to a combination of a) one of their members falling ill and being admitted to a local private clinic; and b) a hastily-arranged fishing trip last Saturday morning! So, with all respect, a weekend blog entry was some way down our list of priorities.

However, the team excelled in its second week here, as it had in its first, and we bid them farewell on Monday morning, mightily impressed by their all-round attitude and maturity.

We have already waxed lyrical about this in more detail in an email sent out to members and attendees of said church. So with the church's kind permission, I'll reproduce, here, our 'closing thoughts'.

Aidan (16) takes charge of the Bible lesson at the five-day club. If you're
good enough, you're old enough!

We are writing this on Tuesday afternoon here, having bid our farewells to the team on Monday morning, and we know that the Kelly family, Mum and Sarah are only now boarding the final flight from London to Edinburgh. What extraordinary lengths they have gone to in order to come out here and build up the body of Christ!

And that is, indeed, the team’s legacy, one that is of great blessing, but also one which we by no means took for granted. During our seven years in Bolivia, we have hosted a whole range of volunteers – including a few non-Christian medical students who have come to add some overseas polish to their CVs. Yet even among the believing volunteers, there is no guarantee of the motivation or spiritual maturity required to bless others; we have often been taken aback at the amount of hand-holding and prodding required on our part.

Not so with this group. From day one, we were seriously impressed by their willingness to help wherever required, their genuine interest in the vast range of individuals with whom they came into contact, and, particularly, their love of our God and his great gospel which shone through every time they taught a Bible lesson, acted out a sketch – or, indeed, unfurled a banner!

The team's lucky providential mascot.

On both occasions that we sat down with the team earlier this year, we reiterated the ‘expect the unexpected’ mantra of developing world life! Having only arrived back in Bolivia ourselves five weeks ago, we, too, were re-learning this lesson. The team coped admirably with any such ‘setbacks’, demonstrating the required flexibility in the second week when illness sidelined Laurence for a few days.

This required a little more input from ourselves just at the point where the ‘SEC Seven’ were developing a little more independence, but of course, the team was never going to be left completely to its own devices, and we were happy to provide this support wherever possible. This is the first such group we have taken charge of, and we, too, will be looking to learn lessons and apply them accordingly, knowing that there is interest from some other churches for team visits in the future.

For now, though, we thank you, as a church, for taking this bold step of faith, and we give thanks to God for the team’s willingness to come down here and give such a godly example to all with whom they came into contact. Such walking, talking patterns of Christian maturity are sorely lacking in this culture, and besides anything else they accomplished – and did so with aplomb! – their mere presence here has had a tremendous impact for the gospel. At the same time, we dearly hope and pray that the fruits of this venture will be evidenced as much in Strathaven as in South America. What a stimulus to further such work it will be for the people of SEC to have these tangible reminders of the Great Commission in action, worshiping and serving among them! May the God of Peter and John, of Priscilla and Aquila, of Paul and Barnabas, spur you on to ever loftier heights of gospel-proclamation to the lost of this world. 

Last team picture, with apologies to Penny. A sur blew in on Monday
morning, bringing the temperatures down to Strathaven level: just in time!

Incredibly, the team's departure on Monday coincided with Sam's first day at nursery, with Grandma on hand to provide an extra pair of tear-ducts! Sam's class takes place from 8am till noon, but as it happens, new children are encouraged to start at an hour or so per day before gradually increasing till they reach the four-hour standard. So we were able to pick him up on the way to the airport with the rest of the team.

Brownie-points to the Cunningham-Kearons for their all-round stiffness of upper-lip at the school 'dropoff'; Amanda's ice-cold demeanour will surely generate a profit warning from Kleenex. As for the airport...well, we tried.

"I've got this."

But, as we anticipated, Sam has gone from strength to strength since Monday. He was asked to stay for two hours on Tuesday, and put in the same shift for the rest of the week, with seemingly no issues. Each day, one of his two teachers has brought him to us at the school entrance and his face has positively beamed! While he's happy to see us in those moments, he's also clearly thriving on the company (he's also been noticeably less demanding with us, too; seems like going and playing with someone your own age really makes a difference after all).

At the same time, it's afforded Mum and Dad the opportunity to get back to the day-job, with Amanda returning to various administrative duties at the Foundation, while I've been hammering out my first sermon proper (after stepping in for poor Laurence with a microwaved effort on Sunday), teaching the Bible Study on Sunday, and seeing to various other church affairs.

You like that?

Finally, amongst all the hubbub of the team's visit, we had the great privilege of hosting a barbecue to mark our tenth anniversary in the late afternoon of Sunday the 9th; with a mere 60 people in attendance, and the mosquitos kicking in at full force around 6pm, we somehow managed to squeeze them all in to our living room as darkness descended! Note to self: make it a lunch next time!

A few words from Craig pre-dinner.
And speaking of la vida carnívora, some friends of ours are hosting a pig-roast for lunch today (as in, a full pig is currently in the process of getting roasted; Paul McCartney, look away now). Best get moving.

  • There were a few issues for the team on their return journey, with connections being missed, and bags not turning up, including Craig's Mum's, which seems to be lost for the moment. Prayer appreciated.
  • Pray for wisdom for both of us in tackling one or two difficult issues in the church and at FT.
  • Pray for Sam this week as he begins the full shift at nursery.
  • Give thanks for the visit of the SEC team, and pray for the lasting impact of their time in Bolivia, both here and back in Scotland.
  • We're so thankful for how well Sam's first week at school has gone.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Saturday Post -- 08/07/17

I have a little time to share a quick update; we are busy, but we know people are always keen to get our news, and that will especially be the case this weekend for those from a certain corner of the west of Scotland.

The team from Strathaven Evangelical Church have been here now for a week, and their contribution has been immensely positive. After the usual long journey here, they arrived last Saturday morning, used the weekend to re-charge the batteries, and from Monday onwards got stuck right in.

(Special mention to team members Sarah and, er, ‘Mum’, who, under no obligation whatsoever, came along with us to a wedding on Saturday evening. It began around 10pm, and we didn’t leave till 1am. Bear in mind that British Summer Time is five hours ahead and you can perhaps grasp the scale of that achievement!)

Sunday was a real bonus, in that our church friends had organised two separate events outside of the regular morning service. Kenny & Claudia Holt (back from the old country for a two-week visit) hosted a barbecue at lunchtime, while another couple put on a baby shower in the afternoon, with the invitations extended to that most un-baby shower of species: men. There were ample opportunities, then, for the team to meet – or, in Mum’s case, catch up with – many of our friends and fellow workers here, and it was obviously a great little introduction to the culture here.

Bunch of drama queens (and kings).
The first couple of weeks of July are the mid-year school holidays here, and the team’s main remit this first week has been to participate in the five-day club, organised annually by FT’s sports area. The five-day club meets in a local school, and is a combination of games, praise times, evangelistic Bible lessons and group work. Every day this week, the team performed a five-minute sketch (mimed, of course!) to illustrate the main point of the day’s lesson. The team have come up with these themselves, and they have been really powerful enactments of the gospel message, yet simple enough for young children to grasp.

As is usually the case at these clubs, the group times have included the completion of a worksheet. But this time, the team members also prepared five craft activities, meaning the children could go home every day with a tangible reminder of the day’s theme.

The headline reads: 'Holidays are more fun with Fundación
. The caption reads, 'Guitarist Craig Cunningham
demonstrated why so many have dubbed him this
century's Jimmy Page' (that's a fib).
Their contribution, in short, was immense, and was even recognised in the local press! A father of some children in attendance happened to be a scribbler with the Trinidad daily newspaper, and spent some time talking to some of the Bolivian team members on Thursday. Yesterday, just before we left, he turned up with a copy of yesterday’s edition, with a page dedicated to the five-day club and a particular emphasis on the Scottish angle.

The five-day clubs have taken place in the mornings, and the team have used the rest of the days here to read the Bible together, prepare for the next day’s activities, or just hang out with the locals (Mum, it emerges, plays basketball). They will be teaching the main lesson at the church’s children’s ministry this afternoon, and next week will see them branch out into other areas of Foundation and church’s ministry.

We are passionate about welcoming volunteers here, though it can be a lot of work. It is particularly encouraging, then, when a group arrives with their sleeves already rolled up, and a willingness to serve wherever needed. It has been a pleasure to serve with them this week, and our prayer is that the impact of their time here would be felt for many years both here in Bolivia and, we pray, back in sunny Strathaven.

Sam warms up for next week (!) as he explores the surroundings at the
five-day club with friend, Kenny.
  • As ever, Sam has coped admirably with the unique demands of this week, but has come down with a fever in the last day or two. Pray for a swift recovery.
  • Pray for the children in attendance at the five-day club, that the gospel message they heard this week would be received with gladness.
  • Pray for the team in their second (and final) week here.
  • Yesterday, incredibly, was our tenth anniversary! God has been faithful.
  • And when our twentieth rolls around, God-willing, Mauro and Mily, a young couple from our church, will be celebrating the same milestone. Theirs was the aforementioned wedding last Saturday evening, at which Craig officiated. Very few people actually get married in this culture, so give thanks for the powerful witness of this to their friends and family, and the great encouragement we feel as a church.
  • We have also been really blessed by our time with various ex-missionary friends who have been in town for that self-same wedding. Our old friends Maicol & KC, with their son Caleb, are staying with us until mid-August.
  • Give thanks for the team, their impact, and their own spiritual growth this week.

The day ends over Laguna Suárez, Tuesday.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday post -- 24/06/17

After a full week back in Trinidad, we’re enjoying being home and having a more settled family life again (how many people have to come all the way to Bolivia to do that?!). The house increasingly resembles our home (i.e., the mess is ours and not someone else’s) and we’ve been able to catch up with a good number of friends and colleagues, with some very initial conversations about ministry thrown in. Furthermore, Craig was able to tie up the paperwork on the car’s registration yesterday, after a week spent mostly driving from one office to the next; we sure haven’t missed Bolivian bureaucracy.

More on the present-day in the prayer points, below. For now, time to pick up where I left off last week, with a little more detail as to our prospects this time around.

Craig: Building a Church

As 2016 drew to a close, we were making our preparations to leave Trinidad and begin our journey back to Scotland for home assignment. Meanwhile, our former pastor, Elías, was preparing to step down from his position, according to a timetable agreed some months earlier. So I have known for some time now that this new term in Bolivia is likely to see my church commitments increase and intensify.

Elías was preaching about twice a month and teaching Bible studies every other Thursday. He was also at the forefront of visitation and represented the church at a local level. My workload in all of these areas was somewhat lighter, and is now likely to pick up considerably. This will be particularly pronounced in the first few months, as the other elder, Miguel Ángel, has asked to step back himself from the pulpit until the end of the year.

Though I will be taking on a lot more of the pastoral load, I will not be assuming the title of ‘pastor’ any time soon. Our vision, as ever, is for the Bolivians to gradually assume the work that the missionaries began – not just ourselves, but those other couples who have gone before us. Having a foreigner take on the role of pastor would surely hinder such progress, especially in a culture which is at times has no qualms about putting its feet up while other people get their hands dirty.

Moreover, our church has always been a very collaborative enterprise, and we have been delighted in the past week or so to hear about the great strides that have been made in gospel ministry, driven primarily by the laity. We may come to a point where we wish to appoint a pastor again, but for now (not least in a church with strong Brethren roots), we are happy to see how things progress, and I will be delighted to play my own part in this.

However, along with the additions will have to come subtractions, particularly if we are to live by the principles mentioned here last weekend. I have prayerfully decided to step back from youth ministry for the time being (though I will continue to disciple individuals in the group), and I will be winding down my responsibilities in the music ministry, with the aim of stepping down in January. Against my better instincts, I resurrected the English classes last year as a way of raising funds for Fundación Totaí. Well, by and large, it turned out my instincts were on to something; they, too, will be shelved.

Other jobs will continue for now, including my supporter communications work for FT and overseeing Langham Trinidad, which has also made great strides in my absence – a recurring, and humbling, theme developing there.

Amanda: Becoming more of a people person

As long-time readers will be aware, Amanda’s main role for her first few years here was as an audiologist at FT. She loved the work, but felt the door was closing on it by the time we had our first home assignment in 2014. During that year, God directed her towards the work of human resources in the Foundation, to which she dedicated a great deal of time and energy.

Above all, though, Amanda had planned on using the HR position as a way of getting alongside staff members on a pastoral level, and deepening relationships with them; several of our health staff are not yet believers, and most face challenging circumstances at home. While there were occasional opportunities in this area, Amanda largely found that it was hard to make great headway due to the copious paperwork that her role also entailed; naturally, Sam’s arrival complicated things here too.

Well our last home assignment saw FT’s new Director of Administration, Hernán, take on the HR role as part of his own work, and we prayed that there might be scope upon our return for Amanda to leave that with him permanently with a view to a greater pastoral care focus. Hernán and FT’s board members feel the need for this too, and they have been delighted to let Amanda go ahead with this.

She will essentially be making up her role as she goes along, but her goal is to be a presence in the Foundation as much as possible and to spend meaningful time with staff and patients; a ‘prayer room’ for patients has been a dream of ours for some time, and Amanda will finally be free to get this up and running at the Foundation with those patients who wish to be prayed for.

Like me, Amanda hopes to do some more discipleship work with youngsters in the church, and she will continue to support the work of the youth ministry – though this is, again, an area where she has been able to relinquish the role of leader since we have been away.

Sam: “Ring ring” goes the bell

“Hang about!,” I hear you cry, “I thought you guys had no time these days because of that Energizer Bunny also known as your son.” And in this you would be right: indeed we did not.

However, the decibel levels round here are about to take something of a downturn, as Sam sets off on his latest adventure: Day Care.

If you’ve met Sam, you will know just what a sociable little boy he is, and we’ve long felt his need of companionship, particularly of children his own age. Not least as Mummy & Daddy are running out of ideas fast: there are really only so many times you can play chucking-toys-up-the-stairs-then-back-down-again before even Sam starts looking at his watch.

The day care Sam will be attending feeds into a local school, and takes place on weekday mornings. In other words, by sheer coincidence, Sam will be otherwise occupied at the time of the week when we are generally at our busiest (this also paves the way for the aforementioned Monday morning ‘date nights’).

In all seriousness, while we are a touch nervous about dropping His Lordship back into the Spanish-language deep end, we are delighted to afford him the opportunity to spend more time with other little people, and get to grips with the accompanying social skills. We’re sure he’ll have a great time.

Meanwhile, of course, we hope to see him cement already-existing relationships with our friends and our church community here. Last Sunday morning, in church, he danced incessantly while the band played, and we pray that his joy in the Lord would only grow in the coming years.

  • For patience, wisdom and self-discipline as we seek to put these plans into action.
  • Next weekend sees the wedding of a young woman who has grown up in the church and is well known and loved by many who are associated with this place. Consequently, a veritable horde is making its way here over the coming week, including several ex-missionaries. Pray for safe travels for all.
  • Said horde will also include a seven-strong team from Strathaven Evangelical Church (including Craig’s Mum), who are due to arrive here next Saturday morning for two weeks. Pray for preparations for this visit, for the team and for ourselves.
  • For progress this week on little jobs like the car documentation and the house.
  • For great encouragement in catching up with old friends and learning of so many positive developments over the last six months, both at institutional and individual levels.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Saturday Post -- 17/06/17

These days, as sure as the day ends with a ‘y’, a tradition you can set your watch by in the British sports media is the annual league table predictions, particularly in the top flights. Most outlets wheel out their big-name pundits around early August, with the remit of looking in to their proverbial crystal balls and foretelling the order of the Premier League nine months later. A fool’s errand, if ever there were one, and thus one that, come May, tends to yield no shortage of fuel for wanton mockery; and that, of course, is a British tradition that predates football by centuries. The folly of such predictions was exposed most ferociously by the events of the 2015/16 season, as those who remember Gary Linker’s appearance on Match of the Day that balmy August evening will remember with no shortage of fondness/queasiness.

All of this comes to mind most forcefully as I look back on a blog entry from January 2015. Like this, it was the first for many months; also like this, we used it to outline our plans for our new term in Bolivia. To save you a long read, the main gist was that we were going to avoid getting sucked back into old habits of trying to spin too many plates at once; this we hoped to do by thinking more clearly about where our gifts and passions were better used, rather than where there was a need to be met at all.

Well, it was a good idea while it lasted. One of my own plans, for example, was to lay aside the music ministry, where I was certainly gifted, but where my enthusiasm was running low, and also where – to the best of my knowledge – there were plenty of others who had done a decent enough job without me during my year away from the field. This masterplan went out the window within, er, just a couple of days of setting foot in Bolivia. Indeed, we were not even back in Trinidad yet! We had been met by one of the church’s musicians shortly after getting off the plane at Santa Cruz, en route home. He wasted no time in telling me how greatly the ministry had deteriorated without me, and so I capitulated.

(As it happens, I’ve had a similar experience this time, though I hope I’ve demonstrated greater resistance. Within 24 hours of arriving in Santa Cruz, someone from Trinidad texted me to ask if the English classes – which God firmly closed the door on last year –  were beginning again. When I replied, saying, “Sorry, but I won’t be teaching English any more,” my contact said, “And why not?” I opted to leave that question unanswered.)

So I am mightily aware of the pitfalls of this endeavour. But I hope that, this time around, with lessons learned, this will not be so much an exercise in predictions, as plans (though I use that term with caution: there is, of course, much about the next few years that our gracious Heavenly Father, in his wisdom, has chosen not to reveal to us yet). A big reason for this is that, after a period of prayer and reflection during our time away, we informed the relevant locals of the main changes to our ministry some months ago, giving them time to digest these developments and plan for the future.

This is a little counterintuitive for our friends in Bolivia, as the response from one or two individuals to this news demonstrated. Regular readers will be aware that, as a culture, the Bolivians have much to teach us westerners about responding to the needs of others: in a crisis, no matter the seeming scarcity of resources, needs are met and no questions are asked. This is fundamentally a good thing. But in ministry, this becomes more problematic where there is no gifting; just because a new ministry that requires a dozen helpers is being set up doesn’t necessarily make you the right fit for it. Despite everyone’s best efforts, it eventually becomes exhausting for the one who makes the gesture, and discouraging for the intended recipient.

In our desire to bring only glory to God, then, and to be best equipped for his purposes, here are some fundamentals we wish to keep at the forefront of our thinking over the next two or three years. I was going to share all of this in a single blog post, but it got so out of control that we have decided to split this into two parts. Next weekend, we will outline what our individual roles are set to look like this time round; here, we will share a couple of fundamental goals we have this time around in our approach to ministry and family.

Working from a place of rest

Despite this culture’s laid-back attitude to principles such as commitment and organisation – or, perhaps, as a response to such attitudes – the evangelical church here takes commitment pretty seriously. Most churches have not one, but two midweek meetings for Bible study and prayer. Youth work tends to take place on Saturdays, and some churches will have special events on Friday evenings. Throw in planning meetings and other meetings for specific groups such as men and women, and it is easy to see how church and its activities can take up pretty much every day of the week. In many cases it does, and we know people who, if they could, would happily attend church, or help at a church event, every day of the week.

This is exacerbated somewhat in our own church, which is small, and therefore has fewer people to help run things. Nonetheless, recognising needs (see above), they often do just that, meaning that spare time for, say, family, is severely limited.

Now as outsiders to the culture, Amanda and I have been aware of these issues from the beginning of our ministry. And yet, also as outsiders to the culture, we have at times felt nervous about addressing such issues, not wishing to come across as superior or dismissive of the people here.

Yet, if we are honest, there have been times in the last few years when our involvement in Christian ministry has left us exhausted, barely functioning as we sleep-walk from one activity to the other, and harbouring a little resentment at the impact church work is having on our lives as individuals and as a family. And the reason for this is quite simple: for all our seemingly good intentions, we have neglected the model of rest that has been set for God’s people from Trinidad to Timbuctoo.

So it is our intention to sensitively, but firmly, establish boundaries in our lives that can better enable us not only to survive, but to thrive. This will include, for example, ring-fencing our devotional time each day, physically leaving the house and going somewhere we can’t be found on Mondays (our rest day), and leaving the goldfish bowl that is Trinidad on a regular basis for some proper R&R. Above all, it will mean that we politely say ‘no’ to certain things, something we have already begun doing in withdrawing from certain areas of ministry.

In doing so, our prayer is that others will not simply regard us as awkward, or work-shy, but as setting an example that is worth emulating, and all the more so because it is Biblical.

Putting family first

Overlapping with the goal of having proper rest is our desire to nurture a more healthy family life.

We will long look back at last year with a mixture of delight and regret. Sam came home with us at the tail-end of 2015, and we took the decision to look after him ourselves rather than sub-contracting this to a nanny; after all, we had a lot of catching up to do.

In practice, this meant that one of us would ‘have’ him in the morning while the other person worked, and then in the afternoon we would swap. And while we relished this focused time with our new addition, Amanda and I essentially became like two ships passing in the night. We would see each other briefly at lunch, and then by the time Sam had gone to bed in the early evening, we were both so exhausted that we would retreat into our own worlds just to get a semblance of ‘me time’. But the consequences of this were a little painful: inevitably, as we saw less and less of one other, we increasingly forgot how to communicate with each other, and how best to meet the needs of the other person.

We are determined not to make this mistake again. For this reason, over the last few months, we have drawn up a new schedule that will enable us to overcome these difficulties. In particular, we have ring-fenced a weekly ‘marriage time’ (I would call it a date-night if it wasn’t a Monday morning!) and committed to pursuing more common interests together in our spare time. Furthermore, we have ensured that there will be regular time during the week when the three of us can be together as a family, without the shadow of work hanging over us.

Conclusion: Adapt first

We never quite get ‘there’ in this life, which is for the most part a constant experience of making mistakes and making ham-fisted attempts to learn from them. This is no exception for overseas workers such as ourselves, and we know that, even if we successfully address the issues outlined above, others will surely arise. But we know from time spent with other, more experienced missionaries, that a better balance is possible.

We could have used this opening post to outline the various ministries and activities we feel God is leading us towards this time around. To a certain extent, that will come next weekend. But all this will be for naught if we seek power for these endeavours from within ourselves or fail to ‘manage [our] own family well’ (1 Tim 3:4). Putting it more bluntly: if we continue down such paths, we may as well not be here.

You have stood with us in the past in prayer, and we need this now more than ever. And while you’re at it, please also consider the following.

  • Well, we made it. And we are so thankful for journeying mercies, especially for Sam. On the eleven-hour flight across the Atlantic on Monday/Tuesday, he slept for nine solid hours (count ‘em!). He held up well the rest of that day, despite the time-zone shift and not landing in Santa Cruz till late that evening. The boy positively scoffs in the face of jetlag. Equally, he held up well on the long car journey back to Trinidad yesterday. Not a case was lost, not a sleep was missed. Give thanks.
  • Habemus auto. Back in January, we sold our fast-diminishing 1995 RAV4 with the help of a friend in Santa Cruz, and the same guy was able to source us a replacement, which we paid for a couple of weeks ago, and picked up on Wednesday from a reassuringly careful owner. It has a lot more space than our last one, which was a great help in the journey yesterday.
  • Speaking of thriving, give thanks, too, for Mariana, our former colleague at FT, who is now studying at a seminary in Santa Cruz with a view to working in tribal missions in the longer term. We had a chance to catch up with her this week and she is doing great. She is a young woman with a heart that breaks for the lost of Bolivia. We are delighted for her.
  • This being Bolivia, there is still a little registration paperwork remaining on the car, some of which will require Craig to head back to Santa Cruz in the next week or two. Pray for a swift conclusion to all of this.
  • Pray for our preparations for the team from Strathaven Evangelical Church, who follow us across the Atlantic in just two weeks’ time. Pray that we might be able to get our house in order (I mean that literally!) and attend to this and other matters fairly soon.
  • Pray for a stress-free readjustment to this unique place. I might add that we have already noticed a big difference between returning after six months away, and doing so after a year’s absence; feels a lot more natural.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda