Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
The purpose of this blog post is to elaborate a little bit on what we've already mentioned in our recent supporters' update, for those of you who are interested; a director's cut, if you like.
Some time ago, we wrote in detail about our time in Guatemala at the Latin Link International Assembly in February, and the many encouragements we took away from it. This really came at a critical juncture in our lives.
By the time the IA came around, Amanda had already been diagnosed with compassion fatigue, and we were already planning on getting back to Scotland for a spell away from here as soon as a visa could be procured for Sam. We were so dumbstruck by what was happening to us that we weren't ruling out any possibilities for the future, including leaving the field altogether. And we weren't too excited about having to attend a big conference while we were wrestling with all of this.
|Bolivians and expats mix well at Trinity.|
But that week in many ways reignited our passion for missions in Latin America, drawing us close to lots of likeminded people, many of whom empathised greatly with our situation and encouraged us not to lose heart.
A typical conversation that week went like this:
Inquisitor: "So, tell me about your ministry."
Us: "Well, we work with a Christian NGO and a church."
I: "And where in Bolivia is this? La Paz? Cochabamba? Santa Cruz?"
U: "No, a town called Trinidad. It's kind of in the middle of nowhere!"
I: "And how long have you been serving there?"
U: "Just over eight years. We've not been there that lo--"
I: "Eight years! No wonder you're burnt out!"
We were still thinking of ourselves as relative novices. And compared to many others at the IA, we were. But it was clear in such exchanges that in order to continue in Latin American missions -- in which we and others felt we still had a great future -- we seriously needed to consider moving somewhere with a little more infrastructure and support.
This in many ways confirmed our increasing suspicions. As much as we love our community here, Trinidad can be a preternaturally exhausting place in which to live and serve. I'll give you an example:
|Now you can't do this in Trinidad, can you.|
Three weekends ago, we had severe flooding, so severe that the bridge that links our street with the main road (essentially, a row of loosely-connected planks) came apart, floating up our street in the process! That Saturday evening (with no small effort!) I got knee-deep in the river now running where our street once was and salvaged as many planks as I could. But until the water receded enough, there was no possibility of repairing the bridge and thus using our car.
On the Sunday morning, somewhat ironically, our own water supply then ran out! (Our street is not connected to a water supply and so, like many in our town, we rely on water companies who transport their water to us in trucks; we have to fill our tank every ten days or so.) This complicated things further. Not only this, but we had just received word that the two lost suitcases belonging to Amanda's mother (who is currently visiting us) had finally arrived at Trinidad airport after a three-day delay. So with the help of a friend, I had to get to and from the airport in the Foundation's truck, then park at the end of our street where the bridge is normally in place, and finally carry both cases at shoulder height (so as not to get them wet) about 70 yards to our house.
And the flooding was so severe that it was not until Monday morning that, aided by our neighbours, I was able to fix the makeshift bridge again, effectively enabling us to once again use our car. This pretty much wiped out a whole morning of work.
|This is an English class run by a Trinity member for parents of children in the|
local English-language school; a great ministry.
Such experiences are typical of Trinidad. "Expect the unexpected" ought to be the town's motto. And perhaps we just assumed we had become accustomed to this. But after a while, such living rather takes its toll. And the chaos can be not just infrastructural but personal. People's lives here can be particularly messy, and we had counselled many teenagers and adults over the years who had come to us for advice in a particular situation, only to effectively reject it with their subsequent damaging choices. The cumulative effect of this was a huge factor in Amanda's struggles last year in particular.
We were also increasingly finding Trinidad a rather lonely place to live in the light of our struggles at that time as a family. Though Amanda was visibly declining before the eyes of our church community, people simply didn't know how to respond. Of course, this is understandable in a place that has yet to properly grapple with the concept of mental health (much like our own countries not too long ago, of course).
More positively, however, it was also becoming clear that our goal of 'working ourselves out of a job' had largely come to fruition. Much of the work we had been involved in beginning or developing was now being overseen by capable Bolivians. There was arguably a moral duty here to step aside for the sake of local growth.
For these reasons and others, we came to an acceptance in Guatemala that we were in the closing straight in Trinidad. But where next?
In the subsequent months, I (Craig) was warming to the idea of, say, Colombia or Mexico, countries with pleasant climates and a slightly more western culture, where we knew we could serve among other friends and perhaps feel not quite so far from home; as we passed through Bogotá airport recently, I couldn't help but notice there were direct flights to Heathrow.
But the more we thought about this, we came to an acceptance that, in the light of our own recent struggles, a sudden change to a very different cultural context -- no matter how western -- may not be the best thing for us at the moment. And so, during our time in Scotland, we began to think more locally as we looked to our future. In particular, we wanted to live in a more urban environment, somewhere we could hopefully draw on more resources for mental health, somewhere Sam might have more opportunities for development, somewhere I could reacquaint myself with the arts, somewhere Amanda could just drop everything and go and get a grande Frappuccino when the need arose!
And it became increasingly clear to us, as we prayed, that the answer was a city that over the years had become something of a home from home as we sought to 'switch off' from a more provincial pace of living: Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
|A special event was organised to enable us to meet some of the church's|
growing Bolivian community.
And Santa Cruz had particular potential as we were already aware of ministry opportunities. Indeed, it was back in January of this year that I first became aware of the vacancy at Trinity International Church, a vacancy we were clearly not in a position to even consider at that time, but which became harder to ignore the more we weighed it up during our time in Scotland.
So, a couple of weeks before we returned here in September, I made initial contact with some members of the search committee at Trinity, and I was encouraged by what they had to say. The position was very much centred on preaching and spiritual leadership, with administrative tasks (not my strong suit!) already being attended to by others on the church's board of directors. Amanda would clearly be given the time and space she needed to recover, as from the church's perspective there were zero expectations of her as a pastor's wife. And with such a large expat community in the congregation, there were obvious opportunities for greater on-field support for us as a family.
I submitted my application in late September and, following a Skype interview with the search committee, we were invited to come through to Santa Cruz for a week in December, the idea being that I would preach on two Sunday mornings, and we would get to know the church community a little better during the week. Following my second sermon, there would be a vote as to whether to go ahead with the appointment.
|David and Jenny, the long-serving hospitality coordinator. Every|
church needs its Jenny!
We are just back from Santa Cruz and I think we can safely consider the week a success. At the various social gatherings organised for various groups (men, women, Bolivians, leadership+spouses), we both had some very positive interactions with a congregation which is clearly excited about having a pastor in place at long last. In particular, we are sensing that a real advantage we bring with us is that, unlike previous pastors here, we are coming to the job with plenty of experience of working with Bolivians -- indeed, the big change for us will not be worshipping with Bolivians, but with our fellow expats! With Bolivians now in the majority on a Sunday morning (many of them having come to the church through its excellent English-teaching ministry), this seems a useful feather to have in our caps.
At the same time, we are obviously excited about having more fellowship opportunities with those who share cultural common ground in the North American and European contingent. In truth, for many years we had perhaps been a little sniffy about even the concept of English-language churches in foreign climates. But given our recent struggles, we have come to appreciate how wrong that attitude was. We have benefitted hugely this year from Latin Link's policy of 'member care', ensuring their people are being well looked-after in their on-field labours. It is hard to see how English-language ministry to people involved in similar work does not fall into the same category. As good as our Spanish is now, we have always looked for our own 'feeding' in English. We trust that a different social context will broaden our horizons in this area.
|A men's breakfast at Starbucks (never knowingly underpriced).|
Having preached on Psalm 112 (on the 9th of December) and Matthew 1:1-17 (16th), and with nary a rotten tomato being hurled in my direction, all that remained was that aforementioned vote. I'm as humbled as I am delighted to report that I was approved.
And so now, all of a sudden, we now have just five weeks in which to pack up our house and tie up several loose ends in Trinidad. 'Daunting' ain't the word. And so Gabriel's words to Mary are especially timely in this of all Decembers: "For nothing will be impossible with God." If the past twelve months are anything to go by, we have nothing to fear.
- Give thanks for the Lord's clear direction over the course of this year, particularly in the last few months.
- Give thanks for a great week among the good people of Trinity International Church. We feel blessed, nourished and greatly optimistic.
- Give thanks for the timely visit of Amanda's mother, Selene. She was a huge support to us last week in particular as we attended various events to help us get to know the church. Pray for her as she travels back to Canada on the 28th.
- Pray for us as we prepare to leave Trinidad. As well as packing up our lives, we need to have everything in order for selling our house, and we want to make sure we 'finish well' at the church and the Foundation.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!
Craig, Amanda & Sam