Friday, December 30, 2011

Saturday Post -- 31/12/11

Even at Christmas, there's always space for dessert.
Clockwise from left: KC, Amanda, Claudia, Emma, Sara, Kenny, Maicol
Like the Eurovision Song Contest, Christmas is usually marked by a massive build-up, monstrous over-indulgence, and, by the end, universal consensus that that was quite enough for one year. An obvious parallel, I'm sure you'll agree. Indeed, as I sit down to write this entry, I can scarcely believe it took place within the last week, so long ago does it feel. Nevertheless, while the current state of business can largely be described as 'usual', now's a good time to look back on a corking weekend.

As I was posting last week, there were but a few hours remaining until the church's Christmas celebration, into which a whole month of thorough planning and preparation had gone. As a band, we'd been on Christmas carol overdrive since mid-November, and children and young people from various church ministries had spent weeks rehearsing their own individual slots in the programme. But as far as we were concerned, the big fear wasn't a mis-step in a group dance number or a bum note on the guitar. It was the thought of opening our doors to the community in such a big way and seeing nary a new face in the congregation. 

However, things were looking good early on with several relatives of the participants seated some 30 minutes before the service began. Indeed, by the end of the service, we reckon there were as many as 25 first-timers sat among the jam-packed congregation on Saturday afternoon. Through the congregational singing, the various rehearsed items, and Kenny's message, sprinkled in small doses throughout, the glory of 'Immanuel' was proclaimed loud and clear. It was a wonderful way to bring the year to a close.

We are now used to expecting a bit of an emotional rollercoaster here at Christmas time, but weren't really prepared for what lay in store on Sunday. Our guard dog, Arturo, ran away during the night and was nowhere to be seen anywhere in the neighbourhood on Christmas morning. For me it was a mild frustration; for Amanda, who is pretty attached to the dogs, the worst possible start to Christmas Day. The mood was lifted a little by a Christmas morning brunch and some Skype sessions with friends and family, and we did our best to rise above it as we headed over to the home of our next-door neighbours and fellow missionaries, Kenny & Claudia.

The mood was certainly lifting as Amanda, Claudia and KC prepared dinner while Kenny, Maicol and I snacked in front of the Queen's Christmas message. And dinner itself could hardly have been bettered, as we tucked into a glorious turkey (courtesy of KC's parents -- hats off) and correspondent trimmings (including my own effort at chipolatas). We could hardly have been happier -- that is, until Kenny leapt off his chair, pointed at the window and exclaimed "Arturo's back!" An avowed dog-hater, Kenny's excitement did little for his street-cred, but Amanda's Christmas wish had come true.

A sumptuous dessert selection amid an evening of party games, old (Risk) and new (a 'Just Dance 3' session with eyewatering blackmail potential), rounded off a great day with our missionary family -- easily my favourite Christmas Day of the three I've so far spent here.

We went back to our work at the Foundation on Tuesday, though with so many taking their holidays just now, things are eerily quiet. A good opportunity to plan for the year ahead, then, and an even better opportunity to spend time with our fellow staff members, while we are so low in number.

Midnight is no hour for old fogeys like ourselves, so the young people are taking the reins for the annual new year's celebration which will take place tonight at the church, with the proverbial bells due to peal at 11pm in Toronto and 4am in the UK, apparently a whole 365 days since last time. I don't believe it for one second. Perhaps I'll get my money's worth in 2012. It is a leap year after all.

  • For all those newcomers at the church last weekend, that the message of Immanuel would linger long in their memories and that we would see them again soon at the church.
  • For a deepening in our relationships with fellow staff at the Foundation as we work together in this quieter period.
  • For a great Christmas weekend, in so many respects.
  • The dates have changed, but God's faithfulness hasn't. Give thanks for His goodness to us over these past exciting twelve months.
¡Feliz año nuevo!

Craig & Amanda

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Boat Trip


Boat Trip, a set on Flickr.

I accompanied Kenny & Claudia and their children on a trip down one of the main local rivers with a group of amateur photographers. It was a privilege just to be there, and here are some particularly amateur efforts.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saturday Post -- 24/12/11

Most Sunday afternoons, we have the pleasure of conversing with our parents via Skype, as we hope to do at some point on Christmas Day. Every now and then, Mum says she’s been speaking to someone who knows us, and they will often ask her “Is it really as easy as they make it look on the blog?” Making it look easy hasn’t exactly been our intention, but to a certain extent, we certainly use the blog as an opportunity to look back on the week past and count our blessings.

However, I am not about to dress up this time of year as “easy”. Christmas is a very different holiday here, in many senses, just one of several big festival dates throughout the year. The biggest frustration, though, is, of course, being so far from family and friends at this most sociable time of the year. And that frustration is exacerbated when those people whom we have travelled so far to try to help seem to go to extraordinary lengths to mess up. Of course, their slip-ups are nothing personal against ourselves, but when set against our distance from home, it rubs salt into the wound somewhat.

A pretty horrendous situation has arisen this week for a parent of a group of children who come to FT’s Community Class ministries and to the church. It would be remiss of me to go into details here, but let’s just say this particular person, through their children and through occasional visits to FT and the church, had plenty of exposure to the truth of the gospel, and the predicament this person now finds him/herself in is a completely avoidable one. And the result is potential disaster, on many levels, for the family.

It makes for a sobering reminder this Christmas of the challenges we are faced with as missionaries. Nevertheless, as I mentioned in the newsletter, when we realise that Christ chose to step into such a messed-up world, it gives us an even greater appreciation of his love for us, and what he gave up that very first Christmas.

We will be celebrating that very sacrifice this afternoon at 4pm, when as a church we will gather for our Christmas Eve celebration. Over the past month, the youth group and the kids’ Christmas holiday club have been working on various songs and dances to present, in between the newly-learnt Christmas carols, readings, and reflections on ‘Immanuel’ by fellow missionary Kenny Holt. There are probably around 100 young people involved in total, which makes for great outreach potential, especially if they are accompanied by their families and friends. This year, we’re laying on extra transport so that more such guests, many of whom live outside of town, may be able to join them and hear the Christmas message. Please pray that many would take advantage of the improved access!

We are both heavily involved in the running of that service and will be on our feet most of the day, so the relaxation of Christmas Day will be particularly welcome. This year’s festivities will be a little smaller than last year’s block party, with just the three missionary families sharing the meal, which will include a monster-turkey which is of such high quality that Amanda had to go all the way to Cochabamba to get it (well, alright, she was there anyway), and is so substantial that it was part of her checked baggage on the way home!

I shan’t witter on, as our readers doubtless have a long list of last-minute touches they need to make to their own meal. Needless to say, have a wonderful, Christ-centred Christmas, and enjoy the time off work – you (probably) earned it!

  • For that family who are now in dire straits. Pray particularly that as a church we can provide adequate support to them. They are a well-known family and this avoidable predicament is one that many around them run the risk of walking themselves into all the time. Pray that lessons would be learned.
  • For today’s outreach event at the church, that those who come would be left in no doubt as to what Christmas is really all about.

  • For a great time yesterday afternoon with our FT colleagues as we celebrated Christmas and reflected on the past year, with the aid of some prime (though tough – my jaws are still aching!) Bolivian steak.
  • For the gift of God’s son at Christmas and, in spite of everything, the great pleasure it is to share him with others all year round.

¡Feliz Navidad!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Post -- 17/12/11

It seems that my week was so exciting and Craig's week was so mundane, that it made no sense for Craig to write the blog and therefore, for the first time this year... it is my turn! As in, Amanda is writing and not Craig. I think it was about this time last year I wrote my last post... so I'm well on track for once-a-year entries.

The reason that my week was a lot more exciting than Craig's is because I travelled to Cochabamba for a three day course on solar hearing aids... and Craig did not. His week was even duller than average because he had to deal with more paperwork for our land and housing project. I'm really glad I wasn't here for that. I had been in Cochabamba for a layover before in 2003 when my Canadian team was leaving Bolivia and we had enough time to go to their big market and see Cristo de la Concordia (this massive statue of Christ on top of a hill - akin to the Christ statue that makes Rio de Janeiro notable), but in reality I didn't know the city at all. This time I feel like I got to see a lot more of the city... the less touristy things, and I didn't go see the statue... I couldn't even see the famous statue through all the clouds from anywhere in the city. But I got a good sampling of the city's food and a good idea of city life.

Cristo de la Concordia, the highest statue in South America
(yup, that includes the one in Rio de Janeiro).
I think we've said before that La Paz is probably the most "Western" of the cities we've been to, and that Santa Cruz is really developed and has a lot of amenities that are a nice break every once in a while, though it is really just a big Trinidad. Well, Cochabamba is somewhere between the two. It has a nice, cool climate, at least while I was there it was nice and cool... and rainy, but that doesn't bother me after Trinidad's sweltering heat. I don't know if I can describe it really well... but I got this vibe that put it somewhere between La Paz and Santa Cruz. We had a nice hotel to stay in with hot showers... and a girl can't really ask for more than that.

I went with Odalys, one of the nurses at the Foundation, who is trained in Audiology and runs the Audiology Department. CBM organised the course and people from all over Bolivia came to be properly trained in Solar Ears' product line (Solar Ears are an NGO from Brazil that makes low cost hearing aids, with rechargeable batteries and solar powered battery chargers). Solar power just makes so much sense here because a lot of people don't have the finances to keep buying new batteries, which can only last a week, and because a lot of people work in the country and are there for months at a time and have no way to buy new batteries when they need them. If they can just recharge the batteries they have with solar power it is a lot more practical. However, people are not used to such technology and they have to be properly taught, which means we have to be properly taught as well. Apparently, a common problem with their whole system is that people don't understand that only the charger is solar powered... you have to charge the charger in the sun about once a week... and then the charger will pass its power on the rechargeable hearing aid batteries... BUT NOT IN THE SUN. People think the whole process should be in the sun and they put their hearing aid batteries in the chargers and leave them together out in the baking sun and then their batteries explode. That had to get repeated several times over the three days to make sure we completely understood.

I don't know how much people would like to know about the details of the actual course... I'm sure if you have no experience with hearing aids you would find a run down of my course quite boring. So, if anyone actually wants to hear more... please e-mail me or Facebook me and I shall regale all. As to the other things I did while I was there... please keep reading.

I find travelling without Craig really hard... I know some people might find that mushy or gross or go, "Awwww", but it's true. I feel off somehow, kind of unbalanced... and the longer the trip, the harder it gets... but thankfully, this trip was only three nights and I survived without any permanent damage. After the first day, Odalys, Maricarmen (an Audiologist who used to work at the Foundation, but who moved to La Paz) and I went out shopping and walking around... and afterwards we went out for a really nice dinner at this restaurant called Paprika. It was really trendy and yummy even by North American/European standards... I really enjoyed this as I don't get to hang out with girls and do girly things all that often... there is not that much to do in Trinidad and when I am outside of Trinidad I am usually with Craig... and shopping is not something he enjoys all that much. It felt good to be out and have a girl night... it was very refreshing.

The second night the course finished earlier than expected and we went back to the hotel and rested... until dinner and then the three of us went out again. This time we went to a restaurant which people who've been to South American will understand... it's one of those restaurants staffed by young adult travellers from North America/Europe who are trying to pay their way through their travels... as in, a lot of them had dreads in their hair. :)

A view over the city. Cristo de la Concordia  is on the hill in the centre of shot.
The third night, CBM organised a culturally traditional dinner at this nice restaurant for everyone in the course... I ate half a duck. I love duck! It is so rich and always a treat, because you can't eat it every day as you would get sick... unless you were my sister who just gets sick anytime she eats it (she has a sensitive stomach). Anyways, it was definitely enjoyed... and I am anticipating my next mouth-watering duck experience with much eagerness.

I had been praying about this trip for a while before it... praying for a way to witness to Odalys... and, to be honest, we didn't have any earth shattering conversations... but I pray that we, as people and friends, are closer because of it. Odalys would say she is a believer, but it's hard to know if she understands what that means or if she thinks she is because she is Catholic. I'm not sure... she was one of the nurses who recently received a Bible from us, and she brought it with her on the trip... and I saw her reading it. She also recently received a devotional program for children to read with her 11 year old daughter. Please keep praying for her. I find it hard sometimes to know what to say to the nurses here, because I am very often unsure as to the depth of our friendship and how interested they are. I measure depth in a friendship by how much you share of yourselves together... how open you are and how serious you can be... and sometimes I think I am not very close with these nurses. And then sometimes they do or say something to make me think that they think we are very close... so maybe they measure friendship in a completely different way. Please keep praying that I can manoeuvre these cultural differences to be share to more with them and support them as well.

I also enjoyed getting to know Maricarmen a lot better as well. Maricarmen taught the very first ear course I took at the Foundation in April, 2010 and she came back from La Paz to lead the Audiology course I did  in January of this year... so I knew her a little, but I definitely enjoyed getting to know her better. She moved to La Paz about a year and a half ago... but not long after she moved, one of the young people from the church, Maye, moved to La Paz to study Audiology... and Maye is now living with Maricarmen and her family. Through Maye, Maricarmen became a Christian and is now attending the local church and brings her son as well. I can see a big difference in Maricarmen... she talks about trusting God and seeking His plan for her life. Please pray for her as well as she has big decisions coming up in her life; that God would lead and guide her through them all.

I have been instructed to tell you that we now have a Facebook ministry page... and if you are interested in knowing of prayer and praise items in the moment, please 'like' our page on Facebook. If you don't have Facebook, do not feel like you need to go out right away and get it... we will still be posting on our blog once a week, but if you like the shorter, more frequent updates, we now have that facility. There is a link at the top right-hand side of the blog... or if you want to go to the effort of typing (perish the thought!), the web address is

Well, see you next year then... or maybe sooner.


  • Maricarmen and Odalys and their personal walks with God.
  • Craig as he focuses on Christmas during the staff meditations this coming week and his Christmas epilogue at the Foundation's Christmas Celebration. 


  • Amanda's nice time with friends in Cochabamba - and the informative solar hearing aid course.
  • A really great time with friends and colleagues at last night's informal staff-organised Christmas dinner. The food was so good and we really enjoyed the laughs and fun.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Post -- 10/12/11

"Oh, the weather outside is frightful..."
The 'street' outside Fundación Totaí yesterday afternoon
There had been a few opening skirmishes in October and November, but rainy season left no-one in doubt as to its arrival yesterday, with a full-blown tropical rainstorm battering Trinidad for about 8 hours. Given that there have been some premature storms this year, the foundations are ripe for an especially brutal season over the next few months for the many thousands whose homes simply aren’t built to cope with it. Watch this space.

But this weekend our attentions are turning to a deluge of a far happier kind. On Sunday, our church will be having its first baptism service for a few years and we’re excited to see a small group of young people in the church take a very public stand for their faith, particularly as a few are not from believing households. Paulo, with whom I meet as part of the discipleship programme, is one, while Amanda’s Sunday School assistant, Elisabet, will also be baptised.

Amanda and Elisabet had the teenage girls from the Sunday School class at the house for lunch last Sunday. I was out for a big chunk of it, as I had to pick up various culinary items (for which my eardrums are eternally grateful – that Uno championship they played was getting nasty) but they all had a great time.

This week we also went on the record with a couple of work decisions we’d been considering and praying about for some time. When we arrived here nearly two years ago, the Foundation took up the lion’s share of our focus, while the church work was very much a side dish. But our work in the church has increased significantly over the past couple of years (and naturally enough – we are missionaries, after all) and now dominates our weekends to the extent that we do not have a free day to ourselves as a family. So from January 2012, we’ll be taking Mondays off, to help us re-charge the batteries a little better. We also hope it will make us more available to people during the week as we shouldn’t be so desperately pursuing a few hours of peace and quiet.

Additionally, Amanda informed her health colleagues that she will be scaling back her audiology work in 2012 to half-days, in order that she can start a programme of one-on-one ministry with the Foundation’s nurses. Currently, only one of the Foundation’s six Bolivian nurses is a believer. However, from regular conversations with them, it is clear there is a genuine thirst for truth there; many of the Bibles we have given away in the last few weeks have gone to the nurses. Amanda is aiming to find a weekly time with each nurse to meet, study the Bible and pray together.

With a growing church and increasing opportunities for ministry, we’re really excited about what God has in store for us in 2012. We just pray we’ll be good stewards of his blessings.

  • On Tuesday, Craig met with Jorge, a teenager in the church, for the first time. Like Paulo (see above) he will be meeting with Craig for a weekly one-on-one discipleship session. Pray for Jorge as he seeks to grow in faith while living in a secular household.
  • Pray for the changes we’ve made to our work schedule, that God would be glorified in all of them.

  • For the joy of seeing young people in the church declare their faith publicly as they are baptised this weekend.
  • For Amanda’s year with the Sunday School class, for the relationships developed and for the personal spiritual growth of those girls. 

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Diego & Jo: An Appreciation

Trinidad has lost a couple of great servants this week in the shape of Diego and Jo Santana, who on Friday set off with their three daughters for Santa Cruz, a few days ahead of their departure for Diego’s native Tenerife on Monday, bringing to an end a combined 28 years of missionary service in this corner of the globe. In their most recent guises, they served as president and administrative director of Fundación Totaí and it has been our pleasure to work alongside them over the past couple of years. Trinidad will be without a couple of rare vision, who have, with the Lord’s help, established an Ear and Hearing Care service which is unrivalled throughout Bolivia; we, meanwhile, say goodbye to a family who have made a great impact upon us as individuals and as a couple.

I first got to know Diego & Jo during my gap-year at a project called La Palmera in 2000/1. The Santanas arrived in October 2000 for the first time as a married couple and got down to business in typically speedy fashion. Diego took charge of the fledgling health centre, while Jo resumed her duties as the school’s headteacher.

Professionally, I learned much from Jo, who imbued me with the confidence I needed to stand in front of thirty unintelligible teenagers and teach English. It proved to be the first step along my education-centric career path, even if I wasn’t to know it at the time. Though I had no medical interest, Diego was a particularly powerful example to me as a young Christian. He’d come to Bolivia as a highly-skilled ENT surgeon but his work that year – and for a few more later on – would be limited to general practitioner shifts with the schoolchildren and their families, as he endured a seemingly endless wait for his papers to come through from the government. Years later, his wait would, in the end, be rewarded, as thousands of ENT patients can now testify. But his patience and grace as he went about his day-to-day work impacted me greatly.

Diego and Jo’s influence was, if anything, even more keenly felt outside of work hours. Though conversation in the home often took in our shared sporting and cultural interests, it was never too long before spiritual concerns came to the fore. With their vast array of apologetics texts, Diego and Jo were the first Christians I’d met who challenged me to be a critical thinker when it came to my faith, and brought to my attention aspects of my faith I hadn’t even yet considered. Furthermore, I saw at first-hand a fine personification of Biblical teaching on the roles of husband and wife. To be in their home in the build-up to one of Diego’s sermons or Bible studies was to witness not simply a marriage, but a partnership, with Diego busily scribbling notes to the sound of pages being sifted, as Jo plucked out one supporting verse after another.

In summer 2008, a year into our own marriage, Amanda and I were feeling a lack of satisfaction about our professional and personal lives, and sensed that God might be calling us to full-time service – though exactly how, we were not then aware. That same summer, the Santanas (now with three bonny daughters in tow) arrived in Scotland for their latest furlough and when we got round to meeting them, we were left in no doubt as to the need for people with our skills at Fundación Totaí (which they had since set up in 2004). Though keen on a change of direction, we were somewhat unprepared for such a big one. Jo, in typically brusque fashion, encouraged us to take the decision in prayer and the doors would open. And as many of you know, they did and some!

Since January of last year, we’ve been glad of the opportunity to renew our acquaintance with the Santanas. I’m not really sure that white guys like us can truly adapt to life here, but to the extent to which it’s possible, Jo has been of seismic importance, whether pointing us in the direction of the best TV repair guy, waiting for hours with us in queues (or melees as they so often become), recommending the best place for ice cream, or providing us with transportation in those first six months when we were sans voiture. And this time around, they have opened their home to us in the most literal sense, effectively converting their upstairs into a separate apartment and thus giving us a place to call ‘home’.

But this is no eulogy. The family is moving on to pastures new but their passions will not go unpursued. Indeed, Diego is taking on a high-profile Senior Global Advisor role with CBM (Christian Blind Mission) and will, in fact, be able to return to Trinidad a couple of times a year to carry out ENT surgery, as part of his remit. And with the girls continually growing stature and independence, Jo will be freer to pursue her own career, whether that be in health or education (she’s supremely gifted in both). So we look forward to seeing them all some day in the future – Diego, God-willing, in 2012. But until then, we will, as the writer to the Hebrews urges, ‘remember…those who spoke to [us] the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.’

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saturday Post -- 03/12/11

Partying it up with the Friday Community class kids!
First up, a big thank-you to all who got in touch, from Scotland and farther afield, with their expressions of sympathy and memories of Grandpa C. For me, the initial sadness soon gave way last weekend to joy as the great tapestry of those whose lives had been touched by him became ever clearer in my mind. Such reflections only confirmed my suspicions, that his was a life well lived.

Not being home for the burial and thanksgiving service wasn't ideal (our Virginia-based relatives, a single Newark layover away from Glasgow, may as well live in Edinburgh compared with us!) but we got a pretty decent substitute, my cousin uploading the audio from the service online, and we were able to listen to it last night.

Most of all, though, given his passion for world missions, we knew that pressing on with our work here would be something of a tribute in itself, and this week has once again provided opportunities to serve others.

The Bolivian school year came to an end this week and with it have ended several church- and Foundation-based activities. One of these is the classes for needy children in the community which Craig teaches (for newer readers, kids from poorer backgrounds -- some from local prisons -- come to the Foundation to receive a weekly diet of English and Bible teaching). Thanks to a generous donation from one of Amanda's relatives, we were able to mark the week with a party for each class. Cake was devoured, games were played, party bags distributed. These bags contained, among other things, a New Testament. A lot of the children already have Bibles, so we encouraged them to use their NT to share the Word with friends and family.

Thrillingly, one of the kids received the best present of all. Yoselin, (pictured here) approached Amanda last Sunday morning at the Sunday school's very own end-of-year celebration, telling her that she hadn't yet accepted Christ as her saviour and wanted to talk to her about it. Amanda eventually guided her through the sinner's prayer and we gained a new (much younger) sister in Christ. Yoselin comes from a very needy and extremely fragile family situation. Both of her parents are drug dealers and she and her sisters come under a lot of pressure to take part in the 'family business'. She needs a lot of prayer.

Personal relationships are key in this work and Amanda has been nurturing another friendship with Mary, a mother of two in her early-30s, who first made contact with us through the English classes. Mary came to the church a few weeks ago and announced at the communion service that she too had given her life to Christ. She is another with very little domestic support, and Amanda has been in touch with her this week with some discipleship materials, in the hope of meeting regularly. It was especially encouraging for us to know that people were getting more than present-tense-conjugations from the English classes.

Amanda managed to fit all of this into a week in which she also received minor surgery for some moles that we have felt for some time should be removed, just to be on the safe side. Diego wielded the knife in what proved to be his last surgical procedure here at the Foundation, and judging by how the scars are healing, did a typically excellent job.

A busy week, then, and more to come, now that we're three days into December. Last weekend, we were able to get the show on the road in terms of carols, as the band had its first Christmas rehearsal and we began to sing some of the music in church -- perhaps a little early compared to other churches, but, as alluded to a couple of weeks back, last year we sang a single carol on Christmas Eve. A little musical acclimatisation, therefore, is required. The church's theme for the month is 'Immanuel' and we pray that the music and various other elements will help the locals to see past the cutesy stable pictures and appreciate (to the extent that it's humanly possible) the meaning of Christ's incarnation.

  • For new believers such as Yoselin and Mary, that we would be well-equipped to support them as they set off on this journey of faith.
  • For safety over the holidays for kids who attend the Community classes, Sunday school and various other activities.
  • For the message of 'Immanuel' to take root in the hearts of all those -- believers and otherwise -- who darken the church door this month.
  • For a real sense of comfort this week despite Grandpa being buried many miles away.
  • For the visible growth of Christ's church in Trinidad, as seen in cases such as Mary and Yoselin.
  • For safety for Amanda as she underwent surgery.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda