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 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).
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 naïveté 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: José 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


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 José 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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Tenemos Esperanza

The view from our bedroom of a typically beniano sunset last night. Welcome home.
Last Tuesday morning, it came to me again. It came to me, as it so often does, in a moment of tedium, as I was hoovering a patch of the carpet in Sam's bedroom, in preparation for leaving our rented flat just a few hours later. It came to me without warning, and without my realising it. And only a few minutes later did I realise I was once again whistling the melody of 'Tenemos Esperanza'. 

Since I learned this amazing modern hymn back in February in Guatemala, I very much doubt a day has gone by that this veritable earworm, with its incessant tango rhythm, hasn't passed my lips, so to speak (you can read more about the hymn's story and composition here). It is a hymn that reminds us of Christ's incarnation and all that entailed, and therefore as Christians, 'hoy tenemos esperanza' ('we have hope today'), even in the midst of dire circumstances such as those witnessed by its author, and many others in Latin America in recent decades. 

And as I turned off the hoover for a moment and thought for the first time in a months about what I was whistling, mere hours before we were to begin that long journey back to Bolivia and the place where all hope had previously seemed lost, the song took on greater significance. Yes, indeed: we all, as believers, have hope, a hope that can enable us to press on in all circumstances. And that truth is as valid for Amanda, Sam and me as a family, in the particular circumstances we face, as it is for the entire family of God worldwide. Nosotros tenemos esperanza!

It was at this point that I then remembered another hymn we had learned that wonderful week in Guatemala, a hymn that back then had found me in something of a 'valley' and had moved me to tears. Indeed, only the hardest of hearts could have remained unmoved as the song built to a momentous climax and a united people from many tribes and nations in that hall proclaimed,

You will restore the earth, and forever you will reign
and from the face of your people, you will wipe every tear.

To you be all glory, all honour and majesty,
Hope of the nations, our Prince of Peace.

Our hope is, indeed, in the Esperanza de los Pueblos, and all the greater for it. 

In all of this, our gracious God was simply trying to drive home a point previously made. In the previous few weeks, two separate parties, unknown to one another, had commended to us Romans 15:13, which says

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

"You are finally getting this, aren't you?" I could almost hear him whisper in my ear in that empty flat.

The six months in Scotland were merely the start of a long journey. A highly positive start, indeed, but burnout can take up to two years to recover from, and we are seeing that in action. In fact, in many ways -- many positive ways -- we will never quite shake the impact of this past year for the rest of our lives. Back in Bolivia, as we unpack our cases, re-establish old connections, and take steps back in to ministry, we find ourselves in a new crucible in which the Master Smelter can continue his refining work; all of it necessary, much of it very painful. 

But for the first time in a long, long time, we can declare these two precious words with confidence: Tenemos esperanza. And for that, we are excited and grateful.

Prayer Points
  • Give thanks for a safe arrival in Trinidad on Saturday, at the end of a pretty exhausting few days! Our route was Edinburgh-Frankfurt-Sao Paulo with Lufthansa (with a separate onward flight to Santa Cruz), and our connection time in Frankfurt was already fairly tight. This was only exacerbated by our delay in leaving Edinburgh last Tuesday evening. We pretty much ran the length of the terminal at Frankfurt...only to arrive literally a couple of minutes after the doors had been closed! And mindful of the airport's late-night curfew, the airline were not for letting us on. This meant we couldn't fly till the same time (10pm) the next day, and we knew the airline would look after us during that time. However, a complication for us was that Sam, as a Bolivian, is only permitted up to twelve hours of transit time, and he is also required to stay in the airport. Mercifully, the transport police were sympathetic to us, and allowed us to stay overnight in the hotel Lufthansa had arranged for us. Having already booked a night in a hotel in Sao Paulo, we simply cancelled that reservation and were able to make the Thursday morning flight to Santa Cruz a few hours after arriving in Brazil. We stayed in Santa Cruz with friends while attending to one or two administrative matters, and set off on Saturday morning for the day-long drive back to Trinidad (our car had been in Santa Cruz since March).
  • Give thanks for a really lovely day on Sunday, when we were able to spend a lot of time catching up with people here, thanks to a church lunch and a little birthday celebration for a friend in the evening.
  • If we're honest, we're still a little exhausted after last week's exertions. Pray for energy as we re-establish ourselves here this week.
  • Please pray particularly for Sam. As far as we can tell, the language adjustment hasn't been an issue, and he's enjoying his daycare. However, there has been a little naughtiness as he's clearly still working things out here again. Pray for patience for us both in dealing with this.
  • Finally for now, pray for preparations for the Latin Link Bolivia retreat, which will be taking place next week back in Santa Cruz (mercifully we're flying!).
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda & Sam

Friday, March 16, 2018

Saturday Post -- 17/03/18

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
Well, we made it out of Trinidad. All our paperwork is in order and a visa-stamped passport is in our hands. To be frank, the decision to take a time-out in the early days of January had since been backed up by so many little confirmations in the succeeding months that any other result would have seemed inconceivable.

But, my goodness, we're not half made to sweat these things out!

The UK's consulate in Bogotá (where South American applications are sent) have a three-week target time in which to process all applications. And this target is generally met -- we have enough experience to know! So it was pretty unnerving that on the morning of the 7th, exactly three weeks later, we'd heard barely a word. However, that afternoon, we finally received an email confirming that the application was now in the hands of an entry clearance officer. The following day, we were advised that the decision had been made and that the documents would be back with us in four working days.

And so it was that this past Tuesday -- one day short of four weeks since we'd submitted the papers, and one day before we were due to leave Trinidad for Santa Cruz -- we received word from our friend in La Paz that, yes, the visa had been granted. By this point we had very much 'packed in faith', with half of our luggage already on its way to Santa Cruz with one of the local bus companies (the best way to deliver large items in Bolivia is to use road or air travel operations). So, yes, exhalations all round.

That's better.
And, yes, more to the point, that Canadian passport could not come sooner!

The visa's granting was the final piece in our paperwork jigsaw, with both our national ID cards and driving licences pending the last time we filed. Amanda's were due to expire on Sunday -- a day before we leave the country -- while I spent over a week, er, driving without a valid licence (in fairness, in doing so, I was perfectly in step with the vast majority of Trinidad's motorists; curiously enough, the local fuzz only tend to check for licences when big national and local boozefests -- sorry, holidays -- are approaching).

Anyway, when the woman at the office confessed to us that she was still awaiting the outcome of applications submitted last year, our stress levels again took an upward trajectory. However, in this case, too, we made it by the skin of our teeth; on Monday, two days before we left Trinidad, we were handed our new five-year ID cards and driving licences. In truth, we could probably have just about managed without them before leaving the country; it was our re-entry later this year which would have become much more complicated.

Sam, Amanda and Jessica, who has the good fortune of sharing her name with
the classic Top Gear theme tune.
In hindsight, then, the calming influence in our midst over the past week or so was surely providence writ large. Amanda's old friend Jessica Morris arrived a week past on Thursday and proved an immense help, whether in the tedious practical chores required before such a big departure, or keeping an eye on His Lordship while we dashed from one government office to the next, or in simply helping us stay positive and distracted from these big concerns through stimulating conversation. Amanda had been commenting that, perhaps one reason we have come to this crossroads in our lives and ministry, is that there has always existed a temptation to prove to others -- and, by extension, to ourselves -- that we are 'doing stuff'. Certain platforms, if we're not careful, can encourage this mentality: this very blog, of course, is one; and visits from the outside world are often another. 

With Jessica, mercifully, that was never going to be the case: firstly, because, of course, our tanks were pretty much empty anyway; and secondly, because, like any friend or family member who has taken the effort to come out and visit us, our value to Jessica was in no way based upon what we do.

What's more, Jessica also falls within that very small bracket of friends whom Amanda would describe as, "Those people you can hang out with for the first time in years and just pick up from where you left off." No targets to meet, no big shows to put on, no judgement, no big deal. But yes, lots of exquisite beniano steak and fish to sample with abandon, per our guest's explicit instructions.

*                 *                 *

That, friends, is probably it in terms of our weekly/fortnightly updates for the time being. We are under orders to ensure these coming months will be a time not only of restoration, but of rest, and removing the regular pressure of coming up with something to riff on every weekend is certainly part of that (I know what you're thinking: we make it look so easy, don't we!). 

However, this impending season is likely to be crucial for us in terms of our future direction, and so we're hoping to keep regular readers appraised as to our progress, say, once a month or so. We'll see how that transpires.

We also intend to keep producing our usual quarterly email updates, so if you'd like to receive these regularly, please do send us an email at cramandaham@gmail.com. 

Until next time, then, here are our prayer points:

  • For our time in the UK, specifically...
    • For Craig: That he would learn to rest properly and be enabled to make healthy decisions as to his ministry life.
    • For Amanda: That she would be restored to a place where she is better able to serve others while taking better care of herself.
    • For Sam: That he would have regular opportunities for play, learning and interaction with his contemporaries.
    • For us all: That we would be built up and encouraged by our time with friends and family; that our treatment would enable us to be better equipped to return to Bolivia later this year; and that God would guide us as to the next steps we should be taking in our lives as a family.
  • For smooth and safe travels over the coming week. Pray particularly for abundant reserves of patience and endurance, with a toddler in tow, an overnight transatlantic flight, and a seven-hour layover the next day in Frankfurt. A heady brew!
  • Pray for the work in Trinidad, both of Fundación Totaí and the church (see our last entry) from which we are recusing ourselves in order to get a proper break, but which, of course, will continue in earnest in our absence. 
  • Perhaps the strongest confirmation of God's will for our return to the UK has been the way he has so emphatically met our needs. We will have a car and we are a pen to about to put pen to paper on a flat for the next few months. Give thanks.
  • For the great encouragement and refreshment of Jessica's visit (you can find Jessica's own reflections here). 
  • For the various documents coming together in time for us to be able to travel with a great weight off our minds. We got there in the end.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Saturday Post -- 3/3/18

Church planning. Calm yourselves.
"It's getting tickly now – squeaky-bum time, I call it."

Wise words, indeed, from the greatest football manager of all time, Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson, on the occasion of the closing weeks of the 2003 Premier League title race. And it's fair to say that, with all that's going on just now -- or, indeed, not going on, as the case may be -- the bums are a-squeaking.

We knew after our last experience that the visa wait would not be without its complications, though we are a little surprised not to have heard anything by this point. We are due to leave Sao Paulo for Scotland on the 20th of March -- and Trinidad a good few days before that -- so an answer of some kind this week would be most welcome.

However, things are a little stickier -- or squeakier -- this time, owing to other "events, dear boy". For our (Craig & Amanda's) government-issued ID cards are due to expire just before we're hoping to leave the country. These are required to perform most transactions here. Now our paperwork has all been submitted, though there have been some major delays due to IT problems in the relevant offices in La Paz and Trinidad. Now, if we had to travel before they were issued, it would simply be a case of a friend picking them up and somehow getting them to Scotland from Bolivia over the coming months, so we could have them when we return later in the year. No big deal then. Except that tied to our ID cards' expiry dates are our driving licence expiry dates. And our driving licences are a separate submission which can only be accepted once our ID cards are issued (and may itself take any number of weeks to process). So we can get the car to Santa Cruz, where we are hoping to leave it with a friend while we're in the UK, but there is no guarantee that we'll have even submitted the driving licence paperwork before we leave Bolivia, meaning we'd not be able to drive a car for a good few weeks upon our return!

It's all very complicated, isn't it. If you don't need a lie-down after reading all that, simply pray for "all that paperwork stuff" -- the Holy Spirit will doubtless fill in the blanks (Romans 8:26).

Amidst all the bureaucratic busyness, there's a lot to be excited about. 

Firstly, my Excuse Of The Week for last Saturday's non-post was a long-awaited church planning day, the first time we had embarked upon such a venture. It's par for the course for many churches at the beginning of the year, and we had been talking about it for a while. However, the need became more urgent when it became apparent that Amanda and I would be gone a good few months, leaving Miguel Ángel as the sole elder. 

So a couple of months ago, Miguel Ángel and I took the decision to appoint a group of capable young guys to come alongside us and, while not take on the role of elder as yet, at least provide a team that can give support to Miguel Ángel, whose plate is already very full in his role as a father and as president of the foundation. And we thought that we may as well dust down the planning day idea as a way of marking the occasion.

Trinidad is not the biggest of cities, and it can be difficult to be truly free of distractions within its boundaries. So we opted to head for the lake which, though just three miles outside of town, feels like another world. A friend of ours graciously offered us some space on the grounds of his hotel and we simply sat at a big table in a quieter spot, spending the day prayerfully mapping out the coming months. We were able to thrash out a new mission and vision statement (something we hadn't revised for six years as a church) and put together a strategic plan with three main targets: firstly, getting the message of the new mission and vision into the lifeblood of the everyday life of the church; secondly, giving clearer definition to the roles of people in various positions of responsibility; and thirdly, establishing better contacts with the families of the many under-18s in attendance every week (most of whose parents are not yet believers). 

Of course, I say 'we', but we all agree that it's pretty crucial for me not to get involved in the next few months. It's not great for the church to have someone helping to pull the strings from so far away, especially when there are other capable people here. And, more importantly, it's not helpful for us as a family at a time when we need the time and space to rest and re-assess things.

The other exciting development is that, at a time when understanding friends have been hard to come by, one of Amanda's very best friends, Jessica Morris, is due here on Thursday morning, for a week's stay (the idea is to drive her back to Santa Cruz the following week, before we fly out ourselves; but 'one day at a time' and all that). Visits are always good and friends are always doubly welcome. It's just a shame so many of them end up leaving these tropical climes with squeaky bums.

  • For "all that paperwork stuff" (see above).
  • For a sense of peace as we prepare to leave while not being 100% sure when that will be.
  • For the new leadership team at the church.
  • For safe travels for -- and good times with -- Jessica.
  • For God's guiding hand on a great day last Saturday.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Saturday Post -- 17/02/18

Missionaries, eh?
We are now back, safely ensconced in Trinidad, but when we last wrote, our Guatemalan experience was only just beginning. So allow me to fill you in.

We made the most of our remaining time by Lake Atitlán, mostly slumming it by the pool, but also taking a boat ride one day for a little tour of the surrounding villages and towns, where Mayan culture continues to live large. 

Antigua, Guatemala's former capital city (helpfully,
'Antigua' means former).
However, our main reason for being in the Central American republic was, of course, Latin Link's International Assembly, back in Guatemala City, a four-hour drive from the lake on the morning of the 1st. The IA is a gathering of most of Latin Link's missionaries and support workers and takes place every four years. We have only been members of Latin Link for around 18 months and have just about got the hang of the Bolivia team, so while we knew it was probably the right thing to attend, we weren't exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of seeing old friends. So it was perhaps inevitable that the whole shebang surpassed our expectations, but it did so to an extent we had not anticipated; indeed, if you'll permit me a hackneyed cliché, I'd go so far as to call it a 'game-changer' (that hurt!).

La-la-la-la-la-la banda.
If you know my family, you may not be entirely surprised to know that the music at the IA was particularly special for me, though again, this in fact all rather snuck up on me. A few months ago, when the appeal went out for Latin Linkers to sign up to play in the band, I threw my hat in the ring with all the inevitability of an Olympic doping controversy. Because Cunninghams 'n' that. But as the IA approached, and with our family circumstances becoming increasingly challenging, I wondered if it might be best for me to sit this one out. As ever, Amanda knew best, encouraging me to go for it, knowing what a lift it would give me.

The joys were threefold. Firstly, I got to connect with a bunch of similarly somewhat-limited-but-willing people who loved the Lord and wanted to use such gifts to honour him; as a group, we gelled remarkably quickly. Secondly, we were led by the one person who was anything but limited: Santiago Benavides; missionary, musician, poet, artist to his fingernails. And, above all, a great disciple of the Lord, whose every utterance seemed bathed in thankfulness, and who, unlike the vast majority of Latin American Christian recording artists (whose output is largely driven by the immigrant market in the USA) espouses a most grounded, Latin American theology. 'Santi', from Colombia, was as patient and humble as he was professional. It was a privilege for all of us to serve with him (more here). 

A kids' programme was laid on for the likes of Sam.
Thirdly, and probably most crucially, for the first time in years I went back to my bass-twangin' roots, without the bothersome distraction of a microphone in my face. 'Twas very heaven.

With over 150 present from all over the western hemisphere in the morning sessions, the music inevitably had to cater to a range of cultures, and while Spanish was the main sung language, French, Portuguese, German and English songs also made occasional appearances. In the end, not a voice was muted and what could have been awkward became, under Santi's able direction, a spine-tingling foretaste of the new creation.

Mike Fernández, Cornhill cohort.
While I made lots of new friends in the music group, there were a few more of our old acquaintances in attendance outside of our Bolivia team. Peruvian Mike Fernández is now Latin Link's Scottish coordinator, a fair compensation having had the 'pleasure' of my company at Cornhill Scotland four years ago. A fair few missionaries from LAM Canada (which remains our main sending agency) were also present; with the Colombians LAM-ers, we staged a Super Bowl Sunday mid-conference caper (alas, Amanda and I had a long-standing engagement to attend to during the second-half). 

Our fellow Canadians.
Aside from the social stuff, the IA provided a daily diet of plenary sessions covering big, important themes for the world of missions (such as mobilisation, the changing nature of missions), and workshops dealing with more day-to-day practical issues (such as self-care, leadership and working with Millennials). We both gleaned great practical insight from these sessions.

An afternoon workshop.
The main order of business at the IA was welcoming Latin Link's new International Team Leader, Paul Turner, who assumes the role from Alan Tower (a great, warm guy, who served for many years in Bolivia, and who is moving on to Friends International). Amanda and I are really excited to be working under Paul, who, along with his wife, Ruth, we got to know well last year when they attended our Bolivia team meeting. They are a couple with a great interest in people and were a great encouragement to us. We are looking forward to seeing them again later this year, God-willing, at the Scottish conference.

Latin Link's World Cup winners, needless to say. A celtic conglomerate.

All said and done, the International Assembly proved well worth the airfare. What an encouragement to see what God is doing in Latin America; in particular, the increasing numbers of Latin Americans who are themselves bringing the good news to neighbouring countries, to Spain, or, indeed, to the Middle East (where they are, inevitably, much more welcome than the pastier-faced of this world). We are thrilled that Latin Link is actively facilitating such developments. And what a privilege to spend a week in the company of so many others with a love for God and for this corner of the globe. We're not alone, after all!

I'll close with a confession. As effusive as we try to be on this here blog, for the past few years we have often wondered if the time has come to pack up and head back to some kind of ministry back in Scotland; if anything, this has probably been driven by a combination of the relative isolation of Trinidad and the desire simply to be back among friends and family, more so than any real 'calling'. The International Assembly, for us, was confirmation that the Latin missions world is where we still belong. Whether that still means Trinidad, Bolivia, is a question for another day. For the moment, we're just thankful for the opportunity that Guatemala provided -- both for rest and for support -- and excited to see what our great God has in store. All glory, praise and thanks be to the 'Esperanza de las naciones'.

  • We arrived back in La Paz last Saturday, which was convenient, as our first big job after the IA was getting Sam's UK visa paperwork submitted (if you aren't aware, we're hoping to travel in late March for a six-month stay). However, being Carnaval weekend, we weren't able to hand over the documents till Wednesday morning, which required us to stay in La Paz a few more days; we were well looked after by a friend who lives in a quiet spot outside the city. Anyway, we appreciate your prayers that this application will be granted (what could possibly go wrong?).
  • Sam starts his day-care again next week. You can pray for that.
  • Assuming the visa gets the green light, we have just three-and-a-half weeks to finalise things here in Trinidad. Pray for focus, energy and patience.
  • Our stay in Guatemala was also prolonged as the Latin Link Bolivia team opted to have our own two-day annual business meeting straight after the IA. Anyway, it was a good meeting and we had a particularly encouraging afternoon praying for one another.
  • Guatemala also saw Amanda's mother, Selene, head back to Canada at the end of two months with us. She was a huge help during a challenging time for us, particularly in taking care of Sam. Give thanks for family.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Saturday Post -- 27/01/18

How was the view from your treadmill this morning?
Writing from Guatemala, where we landed on Thursday afternoon after a day of frantic flying. The easy route from Bolivia is via Miami, but Sam's lack of US visa (and, still, a Canadian passport) ruled that one out. So our route was through Lima and El Salvador, with only about an hour's layover at each stop. A broken down aeroplane on the Lima runway caused a big delay in finally leaving South America, but the last flight from El Salvador to Guatemala (think Glasgow-Belfast) awaited our arrival. As we jogged down the terminal, for the first time in my life, I heard my name announced with regard to a departing flight: a seismic moment, I'm sure you'll agree.

We are primarily here for the Latin Link International Assembly, a four-yearly gathering of Latin Link workers from all over the world, including the UK (indeed, a former Cornhill colleague of mine from 2014 will be in attendance). That starts this coming Thursday in Guatemala City. Till then, we are based four hours' drive south-west, in the little town of Panajachel, by Lake Atitlán, one of the country's most famous spots and a general hit with tourists. Three volcanoes loom large on the southern flank and the various towns dotted around the shoreline have heavy Mayan influences. 

The weather is sunny but fresh -- never higher than around 25-Celsius -- and our hotel is beautifully situated on the northern side, right by the shore and with a direct view to the volcanoes; all of which, of course, are positively screaming to this exiled Scot, "Climb me." (NB: They are inactive and eminently scalable; I'll hopefully have some pictorial evidence some time soon.)

Amanda samples the local cuisine.
Of course, we're glad simply to have arrived in one piece and without complications, given that this time next week, things in Bolivia were looking very, very different. Along with evangelical churches across the country, we had an extended prayer time last Sunday for the situation in the country, particularly with regard to the new penal code on the table, which would potentially have taken a wrecking-ball to evangelism in the longer-term. More immediately -- and, admittedly, far less importantly -- the various strikes and road-blocks were genuinely threatening our capacity (and that of other Latin Link Bolivia team members) to get to Guatemala.

Well, we had barely arrived back home after church when a fellow Latin Linker texted, suggesting we check out the latest news. The president had just announced the repealing of the new penal code, in a live interview which had taken place at the very same time we, and so many other churches, had been praying. And we know that these prayers were not confined to Bolivia, based on the many emails of support we received from individuals and churches in the days preceding. A great encouragement indeed.

We are in Guatemala for a couple of weeks. After the conference, the Bolivia team is meeting at the same venue for a couple of days for our own annual business meeting, and then we will be back in La Paz, God-willing, on the 10th of February. There we will stay for a further few days, in order to submit Sam's visa papers (we have to stay till the Wednesday owing to Carnaval). And then, it will be back to Trinidad, where we will have just four weeks to get everything in place for returning to Scotland. In other words: enjoy the volcano vistas while they last, Craig.

One happy customer.
  • For a relaxing few days here by Lake Atitlán.
  • For a safe trip back to Guatemala City for the International Assembly, starting Thursday, then back to Bolivia on the 9th-10th of February.
  • For encouragement and good fellowship at the International Assembly.
  • For getting here safely.
  • For the amazing developments last weekend back in Bolivia.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saturday Post -- 12/01/18

"Classic Queen!"
For British men of a certain age (i.e., mine), a comedy character called Alan Partridge holds cult hero status. Played by Steve Coogan, he has, in his various broadcasting incarnations, presented the sports news, hosted a chat show and tried his hand at graveyard-shift radio. It was that last stage of his 'career progression' that was covered in the mock-documentary 'I'm Alan Partridge', in which our hero, in something of a transitional state in his life, found himself living in a naff roadside hotel, the 'Linton Travel Tavern' for six months, while betting the house on an unlikely return to the BBC. 

These temporary (sort of) accommodations shine a light to the best and worst sides of his personality. He collects his mini-soaps and -shampoos in a box. Using a briefcase, he smuggles an extra-large plate into the breakfast buffet each morning. He dismantles a Corby Trouser Press. He develops a well-meaning, though increasingly uncomfortable, familiarity with the hotel staff, including hapless handyman Michael, formerly of the military. A typical exchange:

Michael: Oh aye, I've seen some terrible things, mind.
Alan: What, like three men burning in a tank going, "aaarrgh!"?
Michael: Ye wouldn't want to know, Mr Partridge.
Alan: I'll be honest, I'm pretty curious. I'd basically like to understand man's inhumanity to man. Then make a programme about it.

Well, these past couple of weeks I had a minor case of the Alans myself, having stayed in a Santa Cruz hotel for a total of eight nights, double what we'd bargained for. 

A little high-tech for Trinidad, this.
The plan had been to take a four-night city break after the busyness of Christmas and New Year, with the express aim of seeing the new Star Wars film and, for the ladies, allocating some Christmas capital in the general direction of clothing. We arrived on the afternoon of the 2nd, expecting to leave on the morning of the 6th. While in Santa Cruz, we also caught up with some friends and enjoyed the hotel facilities; Sam went wild in the outdoor pool, desperate to swim no matter the water temperature.

Saturday morning was going well. Despite the accumulations, I'd managed to get the car packed in no time at all and we were all ready to hit the road back to Trinidad at about 8:30. And that was when the problems began.

I've never felt so simultaneously devastated and thankful
that I don't live in Santa Cruz as when I frequent the
various quality pizza outlets
One of the first priorities was to fill the tank, which was nearly empty. However, this was proving more complicated than expected due to an oversight on my part. In Bolivia, you need to have a licence, renewable annually, to be able to buy fuel. We had not been made aware by the previous owner of our car when this would be 'up', and it turned out ours had expired while we were in Santa Cruz. At a succession of stations on the way out of the city, I implored the workers to consider our situation. No joy.

We came to the last station before the turn-off to Trinidad, indeed, the last station for a good 50 miles or so. The lines were long, so I parked the car to the side and walked to the head of the queue to ask what my chances were of getting a hand. Happily, the staff agreed to overlook my oversight and told me to get in line. 

Which I would have done if the car had then started. Well, we did get it started, but only after about a dozen attempts, by which point it was crystal-clear that to depend on this vehicle to get us home would be the definition of folly. Lumbering and chuntering back through the city streets, we somehow managed to transport it to the home of a mechanic friend. And there it stayed...until Tuesday afternoon!

While I was doing my best to disguise my frustrations, my mother-in-law, Selene, was doing her best to disguise her joy, being something of a lady of leisure, quite at peace with hotel life. We just had to get on with it, though for me, cabin fever was taking hold. A few days earlier, the fact that the staff would trace your every step at the breakfast buffet seemed attentive; now it was becoming an irritation. And why-oh-why were we being subjected to that Ed Sheeran album again

Spot the boy.
Still, in the end, the extra days gave us a little more time with friends and a lot more time with each other. I enjoyed having a little more free time to spend with the family after a busy Christmas and New Year period at church.

On Wednesday evening we finally made it back to Trinidad, glad to be back home in our own beds. We'd best enjoy them while we can; it's Guatemala in two weeks' time.

  • Pray for the country of Bolivia. We can't go into details here, but Google searches such as 'Bolivia doctors', 'Bolivia press freedom' or 'Bolivia evangelism' will yield some eyebrow-raising news stories.
  • We have a lot to do at work and at home in these next couple of weeks before leaving for the Latin Link International Assembly. Pray for energy and patience.
  • Give thanks that our car wouldn't start where it wouldn't start, if you catch my drift. The Santa Cruz-Trinidad road is not somewhere you want to get stuck with a breakdown.
  • For a pleasant time of it in the big city, even if for a little longer than expected.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda