Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Absence of Something Beautiful


On the third Sunday of every month, my (Amanda's) youth group at my home church in Canada, would visit two seniors' homes between the morning and evening services and sing hymns for the residents. When I was eleven years-old I remember being so excited about turning twelve because it meant that I would be in youth group and get to go to the seniors' homes too. My excitement was not borne out of a calling to the geriatric community, nor do I feel I have a musical gifting. The excitement was that the youth got to stay in the church building between services, as there was not a lot of time to go home after singing and then come back for evening service. In reality the singing at the seniors' homes was just something you had to do to be able to hang out with your friends afterwards. I am sure some of the youth might have had stronger feelings towards the singing than I did, but the truth was that I was there for the social aspect, not the ministry one. 

Despite my shallower motivations, I have fond memories of those Sunday visits. I can still see some of the residents' faces and how much the visit meant to some of them. And the truth is that I learned some very important life lessons over the years visiting the same two seniors' homes. One important lesson was about pushing myself outside my comfort zone; you see, after the singing we were encouraged to walk around and shake hands with the seniors and try and chat. When I started I was twelve and none of the residents were my own grandparents. I definitely felt awkward trying to talk to strangers; I mean, what does one say to old people? But over time I was able to see what the effort meant to some of the residents, and I learned that, while my comfort zone might be comfortable, it wasn't helping anyone but me. I learned that we are supposed to live outside our comfort zones, which is a lesson that has stood me in good stead on the mission field. 

However, I would like to focus on the second lesson I took away from these monthly field trips: true beauty. We visited two seniors' homes; one was a private Christian seniors' home and one was a state-run seniors' home. Firstly, I am not saying the Christian nursing home was full of Christians and the secular one full of atheists, because that's not statistically probable. But I will say that the Christian home had a higher percentage of people who held to the Christian faith as residents.  When I started as a twelve-year-old, I probably wasn't able to put my finger on why one home was easier to visit than the other, or why one home had a brighter atmosphere. The two homes were probably filled with residents fighting the same chronic conditions, who grew up in the same city, if not the same neighbourhoods, with very similar cultural experiences, and while a little bit of the difference could be attributed to private vs. public healthcare, the difference wasn't really on the walls or in the medical equipment: it was in the people. I spent years observing the difference and not being able to put my finger on it, until one day I had a conversation with my one of my youth leaders afterwards. I can't repeat the enlightening conversation verbatim, because I don't remember it. I only remember the lesson, but maybe it went something like this: 

Youth Leader: Did you have a nice conversation with 'little old lady x'?

Me: Yeah, I did. She's really nice and I like talking to her.

Youth Leader: She's not nice, she's beautiful. 

Me (really looking at the elderly lady): Yeah, you're right. She is beautiful. 

Youth Leader: It's because you can see Jesus in her. When I'm her age, I want to be beautiful like her too. 

Me: [mind blown!]

What teenage girl doesn't struggle with their own appearance and the concept of beauty? What teenage girl is not exposed to society telling them to be thinner, have a smaller nose, larger breasts, wear make-up, etc? Until that moment, beauty was physical for me, and then suddenly it wasn't. Or, better said, until that moment physical beauty was dependent on something we did to our physical bodies, but then I realised that true beauty (all of it... physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) was dependent on how much of Christ people could see shining out. It was like an equation in my mind; as Christ grew and I diminished, I would be more beautiful. And, as we know, this is the act of sanctification in our lives. That is why a seniors' home is a great place to go to see true beauty; there are people there who have spent more years than I can even fathom letting Christ grow and becoming more and more beautiful! 

The reason I have written all of this is because of Edwin. If you are supporters of ours, or on our email list, you will have received an email from Craig this week about the passing of Edwin Fernandez, and this post is about him, because he was truly beautiful. I can't think about him without thinking about those seniors' homes and learning the meaning of beauty. And I can't stop crying every time I think about him, because someone who was truly beautiful is just not here any more, and it feels like something is missing.

The truth is, I kind of feel like I don't have the right to have such strong feelings about Edwin because I didn't even know him that well. Edwin was the Bolivian national coordinator for the Langham Preaching programme. He traveled all over Bolivia running the training sessions for the 'escuelitas' and I first met him in 2015 when Craig helped organise the 'escuelita' in Trinidad. I wasn't involved in Langham, I never went to one of the weekend training sessions and I never worked with him. But most times he passed through Trinidad he stayed in our house for a night and I had the privilege of hosting him. He first came before we adopted Sam, and every time he came back after Sam's adoption  he got to see how big he had grown.

He was also the first person to challenge me about my struggles. He saw the problem before I recognised there was one. Near the beginning he would ask Craig if I was OK and if everything was alright. He would comment to Craig that I didn't seem like myself and ask if anything was wrong, and once I admitted I had a problem, Craig would share with him what we were struggling with. And one month ago, I was sitting next to him in a restaurant in Santa Cruz and he told me that I seemed so much better, with more life in me and more joy. He was so happy for me and in a way, even before he passed on, I felt he had walked with us through our burnout experience. He was a truly beautiful person. With very limited contact, he impacted my life in an indescribable way, so much so that I am really struggling to process his death. 

I bet we could all close our eyes right now and picture that person or those people who are truly beautiful in our lives, because we see Christ shining out of them so clearly that the beauty is blinding. Praise God for these people in our lives, and thank God that we get to witness real beauty. 



Prayer Points
  • We are expecting a visit next week from Joel Likins from Lexington Church of Christ in Ohio. We are looking forward to spending time with him and showing him around Santa Cruz. Please pray that God would bless our time together.
  • Last week we were in La Paz for our Latin Link Bolivia Conference for five days. We had a great time, but please pray that we settle back into our life and routine quickly, especially for Sam. 
  • We lost Small Tiggy. This was Sam's special stuffed animal since he came to live with us. We think Tiggy got left on the plane on the way to La Paz. While Sam is consciously dealing with his loss well, we think he has lost an avenue of comfort and this is affecting his behaviour. Please pray for him in this.
  • For our time in the Latin Link Bolivia Conference. We feel blessed to have such great support in-country and enjoyed this time with our 'family' (pictured, above).
  • Sam had his English assessment for the English Christian school that we would like him to attend; he cooperated and there was no behavioural meltdown. Praise God. 
  • For the friendships we are developing and enjoying in Santa Cruz. 
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda & Sam

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Where did I go?

Craig has promised something of a series on life in Santa Cruz and all the differences we are encountering. However, he then asked me to write the blog this week and I (Amanda) thought, "Ya, I don't really want to do that...", so let's do something else. Actually, I have been meaning to sit down and write this blog post for some time; I've been actively thinking about it for about two months now, so it is high time I put on my big girl pants and try and explain where I've been. And I mean that in every way possible: physically, mentally and emotionally.

The keen observers among you will have noticed that I have not written a blog in a very, very, very long time, like maybe 18 months, and that is because I have been 'burnt out' or 'compassion fatigued', or as my therapist in Scotland liked to call it 'whatever you want to call it'. For those of you who are supporters of ours, you will know that in January, 2018 I was diagnosed with burnout and we went home as a family to Scotland for six months on medical leave. I am sure Craig wrote some blogs about it or at least he explained the practicalities of why were going home and how we wouldn't be posting for six months, but I didn't feel I was in a place where I could sit down and explain to you what I was feeling or experiencing. And the truth is I am still not entirely sure what I am going to say. We will have to see how this post unfolds as it goes, because the last 18 months have been too intense and immense to communicate accurately.

Firstly, I really struggled with accepting that I had a problem. I like to think of myself as a very open person. I will share pretty much anything about my life with others. You want to hear about our infertility experience, adoption experience, my depression-and-anxiety-during-university experience, growing up in suburban Ontario experience? Sure, no problem. But for some reason, despite knowing and believing what I do about mental health, I couldn't bring myself to ask for help. I couldn't bring myself to admit to myself that there was a problem. I believed that I could just push through the increased fatigue, lack of patience with others, irritation with everything, poor work quality, etc. And then one day I just couldn't any more, and I got into bed and I barely left it for six weeks. I stuck the label 'depression' on the situation because it was the only thing it could be, and I just hid. And I didn't want anybody to know. Craig pushed hard to get professional help and after a while I gave in and we had a interview over Skype with psychologists with the Missionary Health Institute in Toronto and at the end I was diagnosed with burnout/compassion fatigue, which caused me to go into a spiral of denial. This can't be! Not me! Because in my mind burnout was the thing that failed missionaries got. I was not, and never was going to be, a failure! They advised us to leave the field for a minimum of six months; Craig's reaction was, "OK, let's get flights booked," and my reaction was, "No way. You can't make me go." Inside I was thinking, "There is no way I am letting the entire world know I've failed like this." Obviously, I lost and we went home, and thus started the process of 'getting better'.

I don't even know what to say now, as a play-by-play of our six months in Scotland would be thoroughly boring and depressing. 'I stayed in bed all day and I cried a lot' would sum those six months up well. I understand that burnout is probably experienced differently by different people and the symptoms people have vary in both type and severity. I think the best way to describe burnout for me is a complete loss of self. I went from being a very 'A' type person to being someone else entirely; someone who has trouble getting out of bed, or looking after their own child. And, for me, this came with a lot of self-recrimination. I actually shouted at Craig lots of times, "I hate myself!" And 18 months later, sometimes I still do.

My main problem was that I was trained to see value only in tangible achievement, so when I was achieving nothing, I saw myself as having no value. I also realised that this mentality had infiltrated my spiritual life, which caused me to be unable to understand and accept God's unconditional love. I was working for everything: God's love, people's love, self respect, unrealistic, imagined expectations, and I worked myself so hard, I broke myself... permanently.

You might think that saying 'permanent' is being drastic, but it's true. Something I had to learn very quickly, with the help of my wonderful therapist, is that there is no going back. I was not on a six month journey of 'getting better', where I would reach this imagined milestone where I could suddenly do everything I could do before. There was no 'getting better'; there was learning to accept me the way I was. Craig and I started calling it our 'new normal'; learning to live in the 'new normal'. And it was hard, because I did not like the new normal at all. I didn't like my new limitations that caused me to be resting in bed a lot. I could make dinner, but only if I spent the afternoon in bed resting in anticipation of the future travails of cooking in the kitchen. I could go to church on Sunday, but I would be bed bound on Monday. And under no circumstances was I in a position to watch my own child by myself for extended periods of time. You can only guess how that made me feel as a mother.

I now know that I am never going to see the old me again. That might sound like an exaggeration, but it's not. My energy levels are continuing to increase, slowly but surely, and I am doing way more now then I was doing 18 months ago, or six months ago, and being in Santa Cruz, where I have access to things that help me recharge, has been such a blessing, but I am never going to be Amanda pre-burnout again. Why? 1) I don't think my energy levels will ever get back there; they are getting better, but I don't think they will peak that high again. 2) The experience was so traumatising that I think I have an innate fear-response to pushing myself that hard again, which some might called learned wisdom. I can't even call myself 'Amanda post-burnout' as I am still navigating those waters. Sometimes I have glimpses of the Amanda I used to be, but those glimpses cost me in recovery time in bed and my life is this constant balance of being able to do and not being able to do.

And I am working on the self-loathing. My new internal mantra is 'Be kind to myself." And I have people in my life who are trying to keep me accountable with that. I would say the self loathing is down to periodic episodes of self dislike, because I know now my value does not come from what I do, but who I am in Christ. However, sometimes there is a voice in my ear whispering about how pathetic it is that I can't do something and I have to remember, "Be kind to myself, be kind to myself, be kind to myself," over and over.  Most of the time I am happy to just be able to be doing what I am doing now, remembering last year when I couldn't even do that, and praising God that He has brought us so far in the last year. But the struggle is real.

And the truth is, I know that Amanda post-burnout, whenever she arrives, is going to be a better version of me. And while, sometimes, I find this hard to believe, I know the truth is that I am and will be a wiser person because of this experience. I have learnt about the wisdom and importance of self-care. I have learnt that real love is sacrifice, but we cannot sacrifice for others if we cannot get out of bed. Investing in myself is not selfish, it is a way that I can invest in others for the long term. And so many missionaries need to hear this message, because the weight of the expectations we are putting on ourselves is intense. Being told by others and being encouraged to self-care has to be a fundamental component of any type of ministry/service; this includes missionaries, but any type of service requires self-care, such as pastoring a church, volunteering, teaching, parenthood, etc. The truth is I am quite passionate about the subject now, I always talk about it to people. I want to know if others are taking care of themselves, practicing self-care, because I want to prevent everyone and their brother from experiencing what I went through/am going through. Any health care provider will tell you that good health care focuses on prevention, not just curing illnesses and healing injuries. That is way vaccines and yearly check ups are so important. The same principle applies in ministry; let us know and practice member-care to those who serve in ministry in a preventative way, not just managing one crisis after the other.

And for those of you who are panicking now about how bad of a state I am in, and what are we doing on the field... you can relax. I could go on about all the things that I am doing once again, but I feel that would go against my trying not to derive value from my achievements. You just have to believe that when I say I am fine, I really am... not like 18 months ago, when I said I was fine and I was lying through my teeth. ūüėä

Here's some pictures of Sam to make everyone feel better after the drama:





Prayer:

  • Craig is preparing for his first Easter Service with Trinity International Church. Please pray for him as he prepares for both the Good Friday service and the Easter Sunday service. 
  • We have an interview in two days (this Monday) with Santa Cruz Christian Learning Centre for  Sam's hopeful admission in September. Pray that he feels open enough to communicate during this interview as they need to know he can speak English, but sometimes he has performance anxiety. 
  • Amanda has to travel to Trinidad for Foundation Totai's General Assembly this week and then come straight back for Sam's birthday party. Pray for safety in travel and for energy for all these things happening so close together. 


Praise:

  • Sam had academic testing this week in his Bolivian pre-K class and we think he did well. At least he got a good report for the language portion as he definitely knows his Spanish vowels. As to what they tested for during the social sciences section I have no idea, but he got through the whole week. 
  • We have our car back after three weeks in the garage. Praise God for the provision of a loaner vehicle during this time. 
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Circular Motions


New blog-post, same old excuses. In the busyness of this initial spell here in Santa Cruz, we aren't quite managing to reach that one-post-a-week target. More broken promises. We really should go into politics.

Be assured it's not the worst busyness. If we don't have as much time for writing, we're at least lining our stomachs, as the oh-so-generous hospitality afforded us by church members and others here shows no sign of abating. We really could not have felt more welcomed. Just wait till they find out what we're really like!

But we wouldn't want you to go thinking that we're too good for you, our old friends. And so, without any further ado, here is the first of what we hope will be a fairly frequent series of blog posts about adjusting to Santa Cruz life, with some prayer points to close. We will begin in an area where the differences between the two cities could not be starker: driving.

Driving was just no fun in Trinidad. The roads were abysmal, so every journey took our poor car one step closer to the next inconvenient visit to our mechanic - at least once every couple of months. Both access to easy credit and the city's population had grown so quickly in the last decade or so, but the infrastructure had not come close to catching up. So the town's already narrow and liberally-potholed arteries were becoming increasingly clogged up with motocicletas

All of which meant we rather looked forward to our occasional journeys both to and in Santa Cruz over the years. For a decent part of the road between the two cities, you could really gie it laldy (Scots, verb: give a hunner percent effort), not passing another vehicle for miles. You could finally enjoy music on the road the way its makers intended (the epic Hamilton became something of a favourite). And when you got to Santa Cruz itself, you could drive on relatively developed road networks, several lanes wide in places. The longer cross-town journeys were fun because they were so novel.

Well, I (Craig) can report that the day-to-day reality is a little more gruelling! In Trinidad, we lived on the outskirts of the city, and yet it never took us much more than 15 minutes to get anywhere else in the city. Here, true to our personalities, we also live on the edge, on the southwest of the city, where both Sam's school and my workplace are located, and these alone from our house are a 15-minute journey. Getting into the centre, meanwhile - or, say, the north or east of the city - will take at least 30 minutes. 

Being a more urban environment, things are of course more spread out in their own districts. But even, say, our 'local' supermarket is still a 20-minute drive. The reality of this hit home in our first week or two, when we had impromptu visitors from the church for lunch, and I decided to pop out and get a tub of ice-cream, a ten-to-fifteen-minute inconvenience in Trinidad. It took the best part of an hour to pick up that single solitary tub. Not worth it!

The 'bicycle wheel' from above. We live to the south-west of the city.
Now, Santa Cruz is a city of around 2 million people; quite a step up from Trinidad's 130,000. And the size of the city obviously reflects this. Yet, it's surprisingly straightforward to make your way around…quite literally, in fact! Because the city is built around a ring system, with up to eight ring-roads depending on where you are. If you think of a bicycle wheel, the main thoroughfares are like spokes. I like that, if you are in the centre, you can get to the 'spoke' you want quickly and make your way out from there easily, if not always speedily.

Long-time readers may remember that Amanda spent an extended period here in Santa Cruz in 2012 when we had infertility treatment. During that time I remained in Trinidad for work purposes, but came through to the city at various points to visit. Amanda was on strict bed-rest, of course, but I needed my exercise. So I spent many hours simply walking. And that helped me get to grips with the city's layout, which has been most helpful as we have settled in.

So while navigation here is something of an art, with a little bit of practice it can be learned fairly quickly. Driving norms also require a little getting used to. The junctions for the spokes and thoroughfares mostly take the form of roundabouts. So far, so British. However, there the similarities end - and not just because they drive on the wrong side of the road. Insofar as the rules are observed, it is those in the roundabout who are expected to give way to those approaching it. But as you probably had already worked out, this being Bolivia, the application is somewhat elastic, and essentially the same 'road safety' rule applies here as anywhere else: drive to the same maniacal extent as everyone else, and you'll probably be OK.

We recently enjoyed an overnight stay at the spectacular Refugio Los Volcanes, 
just 90 minutes' drive from our home.

Prayer Points
  • Amanda and I are both still having some niggling health issues, particularly of the gastric variety! Probably a byproduct of moving to another city, but a real pain (quite literally) nonetheless when they arise. We are hoping to see a doctor soon. Pray for some answers.
  • Continue to pray for the sale of our house in Trinidad. We are thankful that with the help of the tenant, we have been able to address some of the security issues there (see our last prayer points).
  • In addition to my pastoral work, I am hoping to do a little work with Langham Preaching again here in Santa Cruz, which remains a real untapped market for what has been a very successful ministry in most of Bolivia. There will be an information meeting this morning to gauge interest, chaired by Langham staff from Cochabamba. Please pray for this.
  • Amanda has been keeping busy with her new short-term coordinator role with the Latin Link Bolivia team. We had a new volunteer -- Regina, from Germany -- at the house to stay with us in the last week as Amanda oversaw here orientation. Give thanks for the opportunity for Amanda to serve again, and pray for wisdom.
  • Sam continues to excel at school, but we are in the process of applying for a place for him at an English-language Christian school with which our church has an affiliation. He will likely be called for an aural exam at some point next month. Pray that God would be in this. 
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda & Sam

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Moving Story (Part II)

Welcome to Santa Cruz. We also do sunsets.
Now where was I?

We woke up bright and early the next morning in a dormitory in the Foundation. In the nine years that we had spent in Trinidad, in various accommodations, incredibly this was the first night we had spent on the FT premises. For me, sleep never really being my strong suit, and with a long day's journey ahead, it was a typically fitful night. Not that I had much to be worried about in terms of the logistics of the move.

Right?

Not wishing to waste time, we and the minimal possessions we had on our person were packed up and ready to go by 7am, saying cheerio to the few people who could be bothered to get up at that time. And then off we went.

Now, before bidding the removal guys farewell the night before, the boss had double-checked the plan for the next day. We had originally arranged to meet them around the time we hoped to arrive in Santa Cruz, in the late afternoon or early evening. "Oh no!" he told me, as if he'd heard this plan for the first time, "I have to be in Sucre by tomorrow night! Noon at the latest." There was no chance of us getting to Santa Cruz by then. "Very well," I said, "There are plenty of people in the church willing to help us out, and so we'll ask one of them to meet you there, and leave their number with you." And helpfully enough, our new friend Jackie was happy to do just that.

"Oh, and by the way," he had said to me, "You know we weren't anticipating your house having stairs, or that wardrobe being so big." (The words of a man who couldn't be bothered getting the ropes out of the truck for said item.) "I'll be expecting you to pay me a bit more than what we agreed on when we get to Santa Cruz." I kept my mouth shut.

Everything, then, was in place for a smooth move. And the drive was going well. The road was as atrocious as ever, but the car was behaving itself, and our early departure meant we hit our usual lunch stop in good time. It was around now that I thought it would be best to give the removal company a quick call to check that they too were on schedule. True to form, there was no answer, but I reckoned a couple of hours' leeway could reasonably be expected.

Lunch. Not the best road, but some nice scenery along the way.
But as we set off for the second leg, Jackie got in touch to say that she too had heard nothing from the movers. And she would repeat this message every 30 minutes or so. As the bright lights of Santa Cruz loomed closer, we increasingly resigned ourselves to a very late night in our new home. But at least we'd have our stuff. That was the main thing.

However, soon even that was looking like a vain hope. By the time we reached the city limits, it was the same old story. All the company's advertised numbers were again going straight to voicemail. And because it was a local holiday, the office was closed too. Come 5pm, Jackie -- who, to be fair to her, has a life -- rightly abandoned ship. Our last hope was that they'd made it to our house just before our own arrival, just after 6pm. But when we pulled into our new driveway, there was nobody awaiting us. And so, after a quick peek around the new place, we called a nearby friend, who very kindly put up with us put us all up for the night.

Given the fact that for all we knew, our entire earthly possessions could have been halfway to Montevideo, a surprisingly good night's sleep ensued. But as morning broke, it was time to hit the phones again. Straight to voicemail every time. Nothing had changed.

Then out of nowhere, at 9am, a text message appeared on my phone, telling me that the number of the boss was now available to call (i.e., he'd finally decided to turn it on after two days). This I duly did. "Ah, tranquilo!" ("Chill out") he said -- empathy was a real selling-point here -- "We'll be at your house in half an hour. We just had a breakdown leaving Trinidad and couldn't find anyone to fix it because of the holiday. So that's what the delay was. Don't worry about it." And this from a man who had been so agitated to get to Santa Cruz pretty much a full 24 hours earlier.

It is fair to say that by the time we met the Jenga Truck at our new place, with not an item out of place, we were too relieved to be angry. And so, knowing well how prickly Bolivian 'service providers' can become at the merest hint of impropriety, no matter how well-founded (there was genuinely potential in this moment for them to dump our stuff on the pavement without getting it in place in the house) I opted to keep my powder dry until the move was complete a few hours later.

With everything in place, all that remained was to settle the remaining balance, agreed some weeks earlier. But of course, someone was in the mood for dessert.

"Thanks for this," he said, "Now, about the extr--"

I was always raised not to interrupt people, but I could no longer contain myself. I proceeded to spend the best part of three minutes introducing my hitherto unenlightened friend to the basics of customer service. That it entails keeping the lines of communication open at all times. That it entails keeping the client appraised as to developments -- for I could have waited forever and a day for our stuff, so long as I had an inkling as to when it was going to arrive. That it entails arriving for a job when you said you would, or as near as possible. That it entails empathy with clients who may have a justifiable grievance. That it entails honesty with the client from the outset as to the quality of the materials involved. That -- and this is game-changing stuff -- doing all of the above will probably make your business significantly more successful than it is right now. And that, above all, YOU DON'T WIN MANY FRIENDS BY DEMANDING BONUSES FOR TRANSPORTING AN ITEM OF FURNITURE I TOLD YOU ABOUT WEEKS AGO, AND WHICH YOU COULDN'T BE BOTHERED TO MOVE PROPERLY AND THUS ENDED UP SCRATCHING UP TILL IT RESEMBLED ONE OF THOSE TREES IN THE PARK NEXT TO MY OLD HIGH SCHOOL, WHICH USED TO HAVE ENGRAVINGS LIKE 'BIG DAVEY + CHANTAL 4EVA', IN THE PROCESS!!!

OK, I may not have referenced said amoureux, but you get the point.

And, mercifully, so did he.

*            *            *

Well, thank goodness we don't have to do that for a while. Nearly five weeks on, we are settling in nicely to Santa Cruz, and I will share more on that next week.

Prayer Points

  • Give thanks that our stuff did manage to get here in the end.
  • Pray for Amanda, who has come down with a bad stomach upset in the last day or so. We seem to be getting a lot of these just now, so pray that we might receive sound medical help on this.
  • I am afraid to report that our house in Trinidad (which is on the market) was robbed last week. Mercifully, our tenant, a woman called Romina, was not harmed. However, she has lost some important items, and we have had to take care of some overdue repairs there as a result in the past week. Pray for protection over that house, and over Romina in particular.
  • Staying with that house, please pray that we might be able to sell it soon, and thus be able to release some capital for perhaps buying or building here in Santa Cruz in the coming years.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda & Sam

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Moving Story (Part I)

The wardrobe of doom.
Two months have passed since we last updated our blog. That's probably the longest we've gone between posts while being based on the field. However, it's also a reflection of the busyness of our lives since we last posted. Between confirmation of my new role and our moving date, we had five weeks to prepare to leave our home base for a near-decade.

To make up for lost time, we will endeavour to write a short(ish) post once a week for the next few weeks, with the aim of gradually painting a picture of our move to Santa Cruz and the settling-in process. Here, I will touch specifically on leaving Trinidad.

Now given our nine years there as a couple (and almost 19 years since I first set foot in the Beni region), you may at this juncture be expecting something along the lines of a dewy-eyed BBC Sport montage. But the reality will be rather different, for two reasons. Firstly, we had so little time to get everything in place for the move that there was simply no real opportunity to properly digest leaving Trinidad and the many friends we left behind there. Secondly, if you've read our previous post, and if you've had any contact with us of late, you will be aware that we've not really felt 'at home' in Trinidad for some time; if anything, the process of saying goodbye has been an extended one, over the last year or two.

All that said, we have one last item of official business to fulfil in Trinidad: a longstanding commitment to oversee a team arriving from Canada in July. We will be back there with the team for around ten days, and our hope is that conditions then will be much more relaxed, and therefore much more conducive, to bid the place a proper farewell.

The focus for the remainder of this post, then, will be on the practicalities of the move itself -- a far from uneventful procedure!

The road between Trinidad and Santa Cruz is only about 350km in length, but the quality of its surface varies considerably; we used to be able to drive it in eight or nine hours in our car including breaks, but worsening conditions have lengthened the journey to around eleven hours. Bearing in mind this, as well as the much longer time a haulage vehicle was going to need, we knew there was no chance of completing the move in a single day. So, we arranged for the movers to come to Trinidad on the morning of the 22nd of January (a Monday). We would then stay in accommodation at Foundation Totaí that night, setting off early the next day, with the goal of rendezvousing with the movers here in Santa Cruz that evening.

What, indeed, could possibly go wrong?

Having made contact with the Santa Cruz-based removal company some weeks before, I wired a deposit to their account a few days before the move. Confirming receipt of said monies, the head of the company (also the main driver) told me we could expect them in Trinidad early on Monday morning.

9am on Monday and still no sign of them. No big deal. This is Bolivia, after all. But still nothing at 9:30. Nor 10. So I began to make some calls. Except that all of the company's advertised numbers went straight to voicemail (ie, their phones weren't even switched on). At this point, we were beginning to worry. Had we been victims of an elaborate scam? So we made contact with some friends in Santa Cruz, who helpfully paid a visit to the company's headquarters ('office' would seemingly be too generous a term). The woman there assured them that the moving team had left Santa Cruz on Saturday, and we should expect to hear from them soon. And sure enough, at around 11am, I finally heard from the boss, telling me they had arrived in Trinidad, and we could expect to see them soon. Quite frankly, I was too relieved to complain.

But this, too, proved something of a fib. The hours passed again with no sign of the movers. I called at half-hour intervals to be informed that "Estamos llegando" ("We are arriving"), a more cryptic statement than meets the eye: we learned long ago that in this culture, it can equally be rendered, "Stop bothering me! You'll see me when you see me!"

Still, we reckoned it would be worth the wait. If the company's professional-looking website was anything to go by, we could expect a modern, gleaming-white lorry, with more than enough space for our earthly possessions.

Compare...
And so, imagine our surprise when, finally, at 3pm, this contraption shambled up our street:

...and contrast.
As a motorised vehicle, it looked about as reliable as a Venezuelan election result. But that didn't phase us too much; there's practically no mechanical fault your average Bolivian road-user can't fix. What did concern us more was the size, and I made my concerns known to the boss upon arrival. To which he responded with a considered analysis of all the factors involved: "Nah, it'll be fine, don't worry about it." And to be fair, we weren't exactly in the mood to wait another few days for a bigger vehicle.

Before we knew it, the seven-strong team were making up for lost time, working furiously to get everything packed up. Having no experience of moving within Bolivia, the whole experience was an eye-opener. The first thing they did was come in with a great quantity of woolen blankets. Having arrived this late, were they now planning on staying the night?! Actually, no. They proceeded to wrap every single large item of furniture (including our eight-seater dining room table), and all of our large domestic appliances, in said blankets, before generously applying several layers of industrial-strength cling-film. This process in itself took around 90 minutes.

It was then time to start loading the truck, the goal being to pack the large furnishings as tightly as possible, while packing smaller items -- such as our many boxes -- around them. The biggest challenge here was a large and very heavy wardrobe which we had bought second-hand from a friend a few years ago, an item so cumbersome that back then, we hired a small team with ropes to haul it upstairs via one of the balconies (it was too wide to go up the stairs). Well, our friends in January came to the studied conclusion of: "Ropes? Nah!") and thus, they endeavoured to lower it from one of the balconies on to the bed of the truck among themselves. This was the result.


Apologies for turning away at the crucial moment. This is why I never went into war photography. Anyway, this being Bolivia, they all just chuckled about it and got on with the job. Remarkable.

Remarkably, by around 7pm, most items were now loaded, but a good hour or so more of rearrangement was in store, as they tried their best to fit some final things. By this point, the truck resembled a Jenga tower on wheels. They admitted defeat on a few things, which we decided to either leave behind or squeeze into our car for the next day's journey. 

And so, for all the frustration of the perennial delays, and our concerns over size, you had to hand it over them: in five hours or so, they more or less had our entire earthly possessions squeezed into a vehicle surely designed for far smaller loads. We were impressed, and make no mistake. 

Which made what happened next all the more galling.

[Note to self: Insert "dum-dum-DUMMM!" audio-clip here.]

To be continued...


A typically Trinidad sunset ends a typically Trinidad day!
At this point, we usually share some items for prayer. Please excuse any vagueness at this juncture, so as to spoiler-proof future posts about the move!

Prayer Points
  • Give thanks that pretty much all our goods made the cut for the move to Santa Cruz.
  • We have settled into our new rhythms and roles here fairly well. Sam is greatly enjoying his new school, while Craig has made a solid start as pastor. Meanwhile, Amanda has taken on a new, small role with Latin Link, as the interim coordinator for short-term volunteers in Bolivia.
  • The latter point is especially apt, as a new volunteer -- Simon Howling -- has just arrived from England. He will be staying with us for a few days, before heading to...Trinidad! That's right. He will be working there alongside some of our old cohorts for the next couple of years. Give thanks for his safe arrival, and give thanks for Laura Szejnmann, also from England, who is here in Santa Cruz for a few months as part of Latin Link. We enjoyed meeting her a couple of weeks ago.
  • And staying with Latin Link, Craig attended his first executive board meeting since being elected to serve on the board last September. Give thanks for a productive meeting for Craig and his fellow board members Graham Frith and Julie Noble.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda & Sam

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Steppin' Out

It begins.
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.

Psalm 126:5-6

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 Bogot√° 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).
We are especially encouraged by the church board's sensitivity to our own situation -- burnout recovery can take up to three years -- and their willingness to take a lead from me in areas like work hours and support structures. 

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.


Prayer Points
  • 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

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Oases of Grace

A main teaching session in Cochabamba this past weekend, led by Jorge Atiencia,
founder of Langham's escuelitas (preaching schools) in Colombia.

A few weeks ago, I read that the UK-based 'Club 18-30' travel company had downed its last Bacardi Breezer. I would have thought this unthinkable the summer I left high school, when hordes of my contemporaries were positively champing at the bit to swap their humdrum west of Scotland existence of sleeping all day and carousing all night, for...er...a Mediterranean existence of sleeping all day and carousing all night. 

Turns out that Generation Sensible is instead on the lookout these days for the perfect Instagram shot, with the majority of 18-24-year-olds citing social media and its accompanying ego-massaging as a key factor in choosing a holiday destination. And so, it's out with Magaluf, and in with Marrakesh. 

I like to think of myself as something of a trendsetter (no sniggering!), and perhaps back at the turn of the turn of the century, I was something of a harbinger of things to come. Not for me the self-indulgence of Spain. Oh no; that would never do. Much better the self-indulgence of a white knight galloping into The Third World to solve all the problems of the little people who hadn't even heard of Britney Spears (poor dears!).

Mercifully, much of my narcissism was confronted from an early stage (though I'd like to think that some far more positive motives were involved too). But even ten months wasn't quite enough to completely do away with the na√Įvet√© of youth. This was particularly so in the case of the evangelical church in which I served, where  -- well, would you believe it? -- foreign visitors who had come for a long stay at no small expense for zero expenses were warmly welcomed and lavishly looked after by the locals (there's an ego-massage for you!). From this perspective, all seemed sweetness and light, and my willingness to go along with this we-have-so-much-to-learn-from-them narrative was doubtless compounded both by my lack of Spanish, and in coming from a young independent church in the full throes its first serious split.

In the near-two decades since, and especially in our stint here since 2010, while I still see much practice that the western church could do with applying, I've come to understand that the reality, of course, is somewhat more complicated. Lower income levels have been no guarantee of humility in the body of Christ; quite the opposite, in fact.

When I studied International Relations, I remember reading a lot about what Sigmund Freud labelled 'the narcissism of small differences'. This was particularly relevant at the close of a century when the longed-for fall of the Berlin wall -- 'the end of history', as some even deigned to call it -- had unleashed unprecedented levels of civil bloodshed in Europe and Africa. 

Well, I can report that in the post-9/11 world order, the narcissism of small differences remains very much alive and well in the wider Bolivian church. You could chuck a tennis ball anywhere and there's a good chance it would land within 50 yards of an evangelical church; but this is not so much testament to the Great Commission's fulfillment in Bolivia, as to an evangelical culture where splits have become the first resort, rather than the last. Devoted Christian visitors sans lettre are routinely refused communion in certain congregations. On the other end of the spectrum, charismatic believers openly shake their heads at the lack of unity -- and resolve to tell us all to buck up our act in the guise of so-called 'apostles' and 'prophets'. As in Sarajevo, so in Santa Cruz; that which unites must submit to that which divides.

Evangelicalism only really took off here in the mid-20th century thanks to the efforts of pioneer missionaries from North America and Europe; alas some of the legalistic tendencies of the northern hemisphere were not long in following. It is quite normal for men and women to sit on separate sides of the aisle from one another in many such churches. With our youth group, I have attended joint youth events that have consisted in one skit after another about all the bad stuff you shouldn't be doing; Christ's atoning work barely gets a look-in. Dress-codes are certainly applied with greater firmness than in the UK. And no opportunity to get one over your brothers and sisters is ever knowingly spurned; I spoke a few days ago to a childless misisonary couple who were told in no uncertain terms by a church member that this was God's judgement for unrepented sin in their lives. And all this finger-pointing while the family lives of many pastors are a shambles, and quite openly so.

It is for these reasons, in particular, that the Langham Preaching programme here in Bolivia has proven to be something of a haven. Three years back, my goal in establishing a preaching cell in Trinidad was to give locals here similar resources to those I was able to draw on during my year at Cornhill Scotland, and the fruit of this has been tremendous. Pastors and leaders with next to no theological training, and whose sermon preparation was barely worthy of the name, are now applying a new sense of diligence and responsibility to this God-given role. Eyes have been opened anew to the sufficiency of God's word. It's especially exciting to think about what will happen in the coming years as our own group goes on to plant new cells.

The small-group I chaired over the weekend.
But the benefits have gone farther than this -- for me and, I'm sure, for others. I don't think it's an accident that each member of Langham's core team in Bolivia has a deep love for others and an evangelistic zeal for the gospel of grace. In our group in Trinidad, we have talked for many hours over the years about how the Bible speaks to the prevailing church culture. They are also people who revel in God's good gifts; we have spent many a meal discussing the writings and music of the 'secular' world. 'Langham people' were the first in Bolivia I felt welcome to do so with.

On Sunday past, at the close of the Langham national conference, a long-time Langham student shared a modern parable of a three-year-old street child who was hit by a car and hospitalised. The boy desperately needed blood in order to survive. As is common in Bolivia, a picture of him with accompanying words was sent as an appeal around various WhatsApp groups, including those of churches and even Langham cells. Only one person came forward, and this person was to our evangelical ears as shocking a rescuer as the Samaritan found in the gospels: a transgender woman. She not only gave blood, but adopted the boy as her son.

I can appreciate that some might consider this somthing of a stunt. But Langham's people in Bolivia are deadly serious about Scripture's power, and thus see it as our duty to build the 'bridge between two worlds' espoused by founder John Stott. How were we, indeed, to feel the full force of this parable -- originally told to a Pharisee -- if not for the presence of our own current personae non gratae? This seriousness is also seen in the meditative 'praying the word' exercise we partake in before every sermon. Long-time Langham participants have learned to park their dogmata at the door and come to God's word with a willingness to be changed.

And so, I give thanks: for Eduardo, for Edwin, for Igor and for their fruitful labours over the years; and for the thrill of hearing so many preach the word with such joy and proficiency at the weekend, including the small-group I chaired in which a teenaged boy and girl more or less stole the show. If we can convince them to ditch their Instagram accounts, I reckon we could be on to a winner!


Prayer Points
  • Give thanks for safe travel for me (Craig) to and from the Langham national conference this past weekend in Cochabamba.
  • If you are reading this on the day of writing, we are about to set off tonight for Santa Cruz, so that Sam can undergo a surgical procedure. Please pray for safety in our travels and for Sam on the operating table tomorrow (Wednesday).
  • We have been praying recently about our future direction in Bolivia, and a couple of opportunities have presented themselves to us. We will hopefully write more about these at a later date. In the meantime, pray for confirmation of God's will.
  • Please also pray for Melinda Gore. She and her husband Romon have been working with us in the church for over a year now; they have two young daughters. Tragically, Melinda's father was murdered last week in Philadelphia. She has travelled home to attend the funeral and support her family. Pray for strength for Melinda in these harrowing days.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda & Sam

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Are You Washed?


"Well, I bet they don't mention that in their prayer letters!"

Such was my internal reaction a few years ago upon first visiting the home of a missionary family here in Bolivia. Over the years, we'd learned of overseas Christian workers occasionally abusing the long leash they have been granted -- in some cases we'd experienced this at first hand. For many it was a case of destructive behaviour towards colleagues and even family members; for others, the relative cheapness of the developing world had afforded a lifestyle of opulence well beyond their reach in the west -- and one that, alas, doubled as a fortress to put them well beyond the reach of the locals they were supposed to be helping.

So when I walked through the door that day and the first thing that jumped out to me was the swimming pool, an eyebrow involuntarily raised itself. (As it happened, this family had very wisely -- and cost-effectively -- simply dug a big hole in the garden while building their house, tiled it, and filled it with water.)

My inverse-pool-snobbery, however, has long since died a death. For it was in the September heat of last year that I practically crawled into a local toy shop, pointed gaspingly to the biggest inflatable paddling pool they had, handed over the dosh, motored home with a newly-acquired pump, let the hose run for about an hour, and without further ado, gleefully fully-immersed myself ("once a baptist...") in an extra-large DIY bath. I did it for Sam, of course.

It's spring here again and the Trinidad mercury is rising; 35 Celsius with humidity. The rainy-season levees are yet to break. And all the while, Sam's paddling-pool is fast becoming a permanent fixture of our front garden; in many ways, simply a damper, cooler extension of our front living room. Wonderfully, it's a place where the three of us can be in close proximity and not in any way irritate each another. And it's a place that's hosted a fair few children and their parents just in the last two or three weeks. While Sam and friends have beavered away to recover the Lego city of Atlantis (that's when he's not chucking the pieces), we've had several great conversations with friends and neighbours. 

Look! People coming to our house again! Our very willingness to open our doors as before is another sure sign of God's healing work in our hearts of late. What joy to break bread with friends, waist-deep in mud-tinged water in the company of inflatable superheroes. Now just watch for those Lego pieces where you sit, mind.


Prayer Points

  • Last week, I (Craig) neglected to mention that at the Latin Link retreat, I was elected to serve on Latin Link Bolivia's executive committee. In a nutshell, this will require me to meet with my fellow committee members four times a year in order to oversee the general direction of the Latin Link Bolivia team: planning events, making sure everyone is being well looked after, and ensuring Bolivia is playing its part in meeting Latin Link's strategic objectives. I appreciate your prayers for myself, Julie Noble (left) and Graham Frith (far right). Louis Woodley, second-from-right, is the outgoing (in more than one sense!) team leader. We give thanks for his wise and humble leadership of the team in our first two years.


  • Here are some other recent 'poolside' guests: Jos√© and Katyana, a young couple who have recently started coming along to the church and helping in various areas. Give thanks for a nice afternoon with them last Sunday.
  • Sam's behaviour has largely improved this week; he has been a lot more cooperative as he has become more settled here. Give thanks.
  • Please also pray for a couple in our church who are having some marriage difficulties just now. Amanda was able to spend time with the wife in the last week, and it was a great example of God using our somewhat traumatic recent experiences to indirectly help others. Still, please keep that couple -- who we will not name here -- in your prayers.
  • Though we have only been back for a month now, we feel we have a much more sustainable pattern of life and ministry in place. Give thanks.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda & Sam

Friday, October 5, 2018

MAINT REQD


Pedro wasn't exactly a rock. In the quest to get from Point A to Point B, he certainly didn't lack for willingness or ingenuity; you could certainly say he was driven. But last year, after several years of radiators leaking, windows jamming, and exhaust pipes clunking to the ground in the middle of town, we regretfully agreed to go our separate ways. Like Pedro, our current car is a Toyota RAV4. Unlike Pedro, said replacement remains nameless; perhaps experience has taught us to be doubly wary about getting too personal.

We like our car. It is bigger, it has a decent sound-system, and when encouraged, it will go some. Moreover, if you want a little fresh air in the searing Trinidad heat, you don't always have to attempt to open the door mid-drive (seriously, Pedro!). 

But something I noted early on, and of which I've been reminded upon our return, is a display on the dashboard that, given its content, can only be described as disconcertingly perennial: 'MAINT REQD'.

In a cultural context where people can be somewhat lax about keeping appointments, MAINT REQD will never let you down. It is the light that never fades; the HAL 9000 on our Discovery One; the meat in the Point-A-to-Point-B sandwich. It is never knowingly underilluminated. 

It soon became clear to me that we had something of a thorn in the flesh. Why this was, I couldn't quite decipher. At first, I surmised that, given that our new car was of a younger generation, perhaps it was of a more sensitive disposition. More likely, it's a light that alerts us not so much to issues with the car as its context: many a reliable vehicle has met its fate in the dusty, pot-hole-ridden streets of Trinidad. You could practically assign a mechanic to a single car in Trinidad and he would have a job for life; but of course, our financial support only gets us so far.

Rather than let the omnipresent MAINT REQD get me down, in recent weeks I've come to see it as something of a grace; indeed, a reminder of lessons lately learned: that at every point in our lives, no matter how well-oiled the machine would appear to be, MAINT is always REQD.

And because of this, we are thankful to be part of the Latin Link Bolivia team, which has made care for its members a high priority. In addition to the annual team conference, each member of the team is assigned a pastoral care partner, with both parties required to check in with each other regularly. Furthermore, an annual retreat is organised. Last week, we attended the 2018 edition, in Santa Cruz.

A few months ago, when we realised the retreat would take place so soon after our return to Bolivia, it seemed something of an inconvenience. As usual, we entered the country in Santa Cruz, and so unless we stayed in the city for two weeks (at no small expense), our best course of action was to get up to Trinidad for a mere ten days to get Sam into school and the house in order...all before coming back to Santa Cruz again. Furthermore, what with all the counselling and enforced rest in Scotland, weren't we, of all team members, in least need of yet more introspective R&R? 

However, if I may paraphrase Simon Peter, it was good for us to be there. Indeed, the timing couldn't have been better. We had used our first week in Trinidad to attend largely to practical matters; by the time we arrived back in Santa Cruz, I hadn't yet got back to my 'desk'. For all the progress made in Scotland, some false expectations as to our abilities and limitations still lingered. This was a timely intervention and my first 'proper' week back in Trinidad has been all the better for it.

"If your output exceeds your input, your shortfall will be your downfall." These wise words enabled me to see more clearly the danger of ignoring the daily MAINT REQD light. 

And so, I resolved to get up at 5:30 each day to enshrine my daily time with God, well before Sam and Amanda surface. This is no burden: I am a morning person by nature, and I find in creation's sunrise doxologies no end of inspiration.

I resolved to contact my mentors and accountability partners around the world and get our next dates for chatting in place.

I resolved to forget about any significant new ministries, such as that temptation I'd felt to get involved again in our struggling youth group after hearing about its recent struggles -- as if anyone would really be helped by the missionary with the messiah complex riding in to save the day.

Perhaps most crucially of all, I accepted that the time I spent looking after an all-action three-year-old son -- and the great physical exertions this demanded of me -- was part of my calling in this moment in time, and so I needed to keep most evenings clear in order to build up my reserves again, and get to bed at a decent time. Where evening ministry commitments could not be cancelled, I resolved to balance those with a rest period of the same duration on that day.

The MAINT REQD light takes many forms, but take it from an expert: when it appears on your own dashboard, don't ignore it, even if it never goes away. Especially if it never goes away! Do not despise the Lord's MAINT in your life. He knows what he's doing.

Token Group Photo Alert!

Prayer Points
  • Give thanks for another special few days with the Latin Link Bolivia team (pictured, above), and for the great help we all received from our time at the retreat.
  • Give thanks for a lot of new faces around the church; we've been enjoying getting to meet some of them in recent weeks. We will be having a young, gifted couple called Jos√© and Katyana round for lunch this Sunday.
  • Keep Sam in your prayers; we're still experiencing some difficult behaviour as he continues to adjust to Trinidad (we are thankful that the Santa Cruz visit will be our last time out of Trinidad as a family for some time).
  • Pray for preparation for the Langham Level 4 training weekend, which takes place at the end of this month. It will be the last such training opportunity for our group here in Trinidad, well over three years since the group was established. The goal after Level 4 is that the members of the group will then go on and establish new preaching groups throughout the city. 
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda