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