It has been some months since we have posted anything on our Prayer blog, and over a year since I (David) wrote an update myself. The fact is that Mary Beth has been giving such an powerful account and summary of our life and ministry here, and so many of you have told us you are enjoying her take on things. Honestly, in the end, I haven’t wanted to get in the way! The title of this post is A Trying Time, and I mean that in two senses: we are trying a lot of new things in ministry, and life and ministry feels a little trying at this moment. So, though things are super busy right now (as you can imagine) I’m going to try and find a way to break them down and give you a picture of what’s been happening with us, our churches and our schools!
1. How It’s Been Going For Us
Mary Beth and I have had a good year so far, by the grace of God, but it’s been far from easy. If you’re looking for ways to pray for us, let me share some of what has been going on.
Between the two of us, I have been the one with the majority of health issues popping up. Apart from my ordinary struggles with gluten, I began seeing the doctor for an injury that I had sustained in January 2017 when I slipped and fell hard on my right elbow. Even after a year, the pain had not gone away … to the point that I was unable to use long-sleeved shirts or jackets! In February, after another fall, I ended up consulting with a great orthopedic surgeon, it became clear that I had damaged my bursa and the tendons connected to my tricep. In addition to oral and topical treatments using steroids and NSAIDs, the surgeon gave me three cortisone injections in my elbow over the course of a couple of months. I am happy to report that the vast majority of the pain in my elbow is gone, and I believe that my elbow is on the road to recovery! Praise the Lord!
Nevertheless, other health problems have emerged along the way. Not only did these medications provoke a hard response from my body in general, but over the last few months I’ve begun to experience other frustrating symptoms that last week drove me to consult a specialist in internal medicine. We may not have figured out what has been the cause of all my symptoms, but when they took my blood pressure it was sky-high: the first time in my life I have had problems with hypertension. I am currently under observation, taking my blood pressure twice a day over the course of two weeks, with the hope that my average blood pressure will stay down and I won’t have to go on medication. However, the long-term solution (according to the doctor) is that I need to lose 20–30 lbs. Fair enough. So, Mary Beth and I have been getting up early to walk hard and fast in the morning, and I hope by the end of the year to have gotten my weight down to the point that my blood pressure won’t be in jeopardy.
I also have to work on how I am handling the stresses of ministry, especially when they are compounded with happenstances of life and living. For example, earlier this year the hard drive of my computer crashed, around the same time that the screen of Mary Beth’s computer went caput. So I was able to cobble together the two computers and make one functioning computer. I ended up losing a lot of personal data from the 10 months prior (previous files had all been backed up), including some fundraising and supporter information (so, if I come calling asking for info that I should already have, that’s why!). But fortunately, our churches’ information had been backed up on the “cloud” and the local impacts of the hard drive crash were minimal. But I guess why I am sharing this is that things like this, and many others related to life and ministry begin to add up for me, and according to the doctors I’ve been consulting they can take their toll. I am trying to learn better how to give these things over to God in prayer, and trust him to handle them … and not pretend to take over God’s job by worrying about them.
On the other hand, Mary Beth is adapting incredibly well to life in Belize. Her piano studio is full (with around ten students), and they’ll be enjoying their end-of-semester recital next weekend. She has also been making friends, and even adapting to the heat (trust me, she is as surprised by that as you are!). Belize for her is starting to feel normal, feel like home, and this is a real gift from the Lord. Granted, she still doesn’t like bugs (stay tuned for another scary bug story!) but I can tell you I’ve never seen anyone that has a knack for killing mosquitoes like she does right now! And her Spanish is getting quite good these days too: she has even been reading the Bible publicly in Spanish when we have visited some of the Hispanic missions we work with, and folks are quite impressed!
And we have both been encouraged by you, by your prayers and your emails and your gifts … and in some cases, by your visits! When we hear from you, God himself is encouraging us through you, and it makes a tremendous difference. So thank you, and please (please!) continue to keep us in your prayers … even when it takes a few months for us to write an update.
2. How It’s Been Going for Our Ministry
Things are going very well for our churches right now, and it’s a pleasure to be able to share with a bit about it with you.
Our focus at St. Andrew’s has been to capitalize on the momentum we’ve had as our attendance has been on the rise by training new leadership. Our Church Committee for the parish is made up mostly of younger, newer leaders; what is more, at our leadership retreat last month, we concluded by our adopting a new apostolic mission statement for the parish:
“To be a People connected to Jesus, connecting others to Him.”
ASA: Weeks 1–23
I love it! And people do seem to be finding that connection, about which we are pretty excited. Our church attendance at St. Andrew’s has grown significantly over the past two years (overall 14% last year, 12% so far this year), and most of this growth has been new families attending or even joining the church. We have to acknowledge that much of this growth has come about because of the support that we enjoy from our three schools: without the good relationship between them and our churches, we would not be enjoying this kind of increase in attendance whatsoever.
In fact, this growth is rapidly forcing us to confront an emerging (good) problem: space and seating at St. Andrew’s. As we quickly approach an uncomfortable number of people on a regular basis, often bumping up against the capacity of the sanctuary (especially during the Fall Semester), we have to consider ways of expanding. One way that seems like a possibility (and, please, pray about this!) is for us to add a youth-oriented, youth-run evening service on Sundays. We have some structural hurdles to overcome with regard to neighbors and noise, but we believe that this will be a better option at this moment than a church-planting effort: we tried to get an evening-service church-plant going for over a year, and the door seems closed at this time. So please, pray that a way is opened for us to hold Sunday evening services at St. Andrew’s and, if it pans out, that they bring glory to the Lord and bring more people to know his saving love and power!
St. Hilda’s is also growing in some pretty cool ways too. Last year the mission’s attendance grew by almost 50%, a massive increase after a few years of stagnation. Although our attendance has stabilized and not quite enjoyed the growth spurt of the previous year, what we are seeing at St. Hilda’s is an emerging leadership team that has the capacity of carrying the church forward. For the first time in years, St. Hilda’s has a Church Committee, a visible outreach, and the prospect of new ministries for the coming year. I’m enjoying seeing how God is bringing new life after a season of dryness, and I cannot wait to see what he will be doing in the months to come!
There are of course frustrations along the way. Two of our lay ministers at St. Andrew’s (a husband and wife) have resigned over the past year, and some of our new possible lay ministers at St. Hilda’s have not gone through with training. I am also even more aware of the necessity of a church having a dedicated treasurer, and we’ve had a turnover in that department at St. Andrew’s over the last month. Still, we see God doing incredible things, and we cannot wait to see what will happen by this time next year.
And of the many things that we do, our youth work has been one of our greatest joys. The St. Andrew’s youth group had its Spring Term outing back in April as a dozen kids joined up with youth groups from around Belize to paint the building of one of our Hispanic missions. Afterwards, Mary Beth and most of the kids went cave tubing (I stayed behind with the rest because of my elbow), which was an incredible experience! Mary Beth’s Bible study with the girls has also continued strong, and her connection with these young women is strong and bearing fruit for the Lord. It’s really wonderful to see. The children’s choir has had a rough Spring, with kids’ changing behaviors and attitudes, and there will be some changes in the Fall when it starts up again. And yet, it was still an overwhelmingly positive experience for the children and Mary Beth is looking forward to what this next school year will bring!
And of course, graduation season is upon us, and with it commencement exercises and a wistful look at what has come. It’s also at this time that St. Andrew’s chooses scholarship recipients, and in addition to the High Scholarship Scholarship Recipient that was chosen last year, the Committee chose one of the students from St. Barnabas’ to receive this same financial aid for the next four years. (N.B. High School tuition is not completely subsidized by the government … it can still cost USD $500 to send a young person to high school.) Our experience over the past year has demonstrated that such scholarship are not simply about money and tuition, but about supporting these teenagers in every aspect of life. And it may sound like a cliché, but it’s true: God has blessed us as a church by being involved in their lives just as much as we have been able to be a blessing to them. We are so excited to be able to dive into this next school year, ministering to and alongside of them!
There’s much more that we can say or share about all these things (and it may take one of Mary Beth’s updates to do them justice), but I want to move on to what is coming up over the next few months, and how you can be praying for much of it.
3. Things to Come Shortly
There are a lot of things on the horizon that we would like to share with you. We can begin with this weekend! Our predecessors, Fr. Juan and María are here in Belize with us right now, and it’s amazing. They have come to celebrate the Quince Años (turning-15-years-old birthday) of one of our parishioners, and we are overjoyed to host them. The Quince Años falls on Saturday, and the next day Fr. Juan will be the guest preacher at our Baccalaureate service for the graduating classes of our three schools. In July we are looking forward to our “Family Fun Day” in the park, as we hold services in public and then spend the rest of the day playing games and sharing in potluck food. It’s going to be quite the day! The following week, St. Peter’s (Tallahassee) will be sending a team to help us hold our Vacation Bible School for the kids that week, and it’s going to kick off an active but promising summer. Mary Beth and I are planning on going on vacation in August, and we’ll be back to kick off the new school year by September … hopefully inaugurating the new evening service at St. Andrew’s that I mentioned above. And then our year begins all over again!
Let me add a couple of other things. Last month the Anglican Diocese of Belize held its 50th Diocesan Synod, with a focus on intentional discipleship and greater accountability for the leaders, churches, and other structures within our Diocese. It was a surprising weekend, from Mary Beth playing the organ at the Cathedral to what Bishop Wright shared at the concluding Solemn Eucharist. It appears that in the interests of structuring our Diocese a little better, the Bishop will soon be appointing a team of people with certain diocesan responsibilities and roles, with the goal of making things here run smoother and better, as well as passing on the torch of leadership (as it were) to some of the younger clergy. My name was among those mentioned, although without yet any definitive description of what will be entailed. I do think this is a very positive development for our Diocese, and probably for me as well, but I would ask that you pray for me and Mary Beth as we try to serve the Lord here in whatever way he calls us.
And as we approach to the second anniversary of our return to Belize (we came back in August 2016), we are also trying to figure out how and when we will be returning in mid-2019 to visit with our churches and supporters and raise the funds necessary to come back. Please pray that God will show us how best to do this within as reasonable an amount of time as possible, and please also pray that the Lord will fully bring us up-to-budget before then. We are so grateful that new individuals and churches have stepped forward to pledge their support, and we it’s true that we’re not in the red as we were last fall. But we are still looking for people to step forward and give to this ministry. Would you consider becoming one of them?
Again, thank you all so much for your prayers, for your gifts, and for your support. We are deeply grateful, even if it sometimes takes us a while for us to get out an update and express it! May the Lord richly bless you for all that you do for us and for the spread of his Kingdom in Belize!