Our Mid-Harvest Update

Now that we’ve shared our exciting news, it’s time for us to give you an update on ministry life here in Belize.

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Back in August David and I were blessed to be able to take our annual vacation for a few weeks. We ended up going to back to Peru because I had loved visiting there last year. As a whole it was a wonderful time to get away and relax. The first half of our trip was perfect (I do enjoy escaping to cold weather!), and the second half was nice, but a little harder as we dealt with health issues. Many of you have been praying for David’s health (damaged elbow, high blood pressure, etc.) and unfortunately the high altitude on our trip really did a number on his health. Thankfully God protected him from the worst of it and we were able to adjust our travel plans to get him feeling better faster. Please continue to pray for complete healing. Once he started feeling better I came down with the flu and a bad sinus infection. Bummer. But, while it’s kind of sad to end a vacation sick, it does make you really appreciate going home. There’s nothing like your own bed!

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Once we got back to Belize things quickly went into full swing with the start of the Fall semester. At this point we also knew I was pregnant and got to go to the first doctor’s appointments and see the first ultrasound. Very exciting!

So September ended up being very full, as well as going by very quickly. For me, besides being Super Sleepy, this meant restarting choir and piano lessons. Choir last semester ended on a rather low note (no pun intended!), so I was weary about starting up again. The good thing about Fall though is that you get to prep for Christmas! With Christmas in mind, and the fun we’ve had in the past with choir I decided to give it another shot. This year I’ve been blessed to have a parent volunteer who has agreed to attend the rehearsals with me. Having another person there is wonderful help! One of the other big changes, and helps, this year is that about half the choir is from previous years (so I have a base of kids who know how choir works) and the other half is entirely new kids for this semester (adding a fresh start to this year). We are having lots of fun singing together as we prepare for Christmas. Piano lessons are also continuing to go really well as I get to know the kids and their families better. It still amazes me that God gave me such a love for music and a way to share that love in our work here in San Ignacio.

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We continue to work very closely with the three Anglican schools here in our area. I think the chapel services are my favorite part about working with the schools. Kids have the best questions! In the rural schools I still work with the younger kids, and David with the older grades. While I’m primarily doing Bible stories for the lessons, David is taking the older kids through the Bible with hand motions. I had never seen this before, but it is an amazing way to keep the kids engaged, and help them really learn the Bible! David also has a lot of extra work with the schools since he is both the chaplain and the local manager. That means he has both pastoral responsibilities (like teacher devotions and counseling) as well as more administrative work (like responding to staffing issues). It’s a lot for one person, but he does it really well and has gotten to know the families much better through his involvement. Please continue to pray for him as he works on time management and dealing with stress.

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One of our big focuses this year have been on leadership development. We have so many youth that we work with who have hearts for God and a real ability to lead. There have been a few different ways we are working to build up these emerging leaders. To start, we have two young women who would like to be lay ministers in the church. Anytime people want to take on a leadership role in the church it is incredibly encouraging. David teaches classes each week to show the girls everything they could be doing both to assist in the church as well as to train new disciples themselves (this involves everything from going on pastoral visits to helping teach catechism classes).

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This Fall we have also started our evening service at St. Andrew’s Church. The whole purpose for starting this service was to both create more space in the mornings (as the morning service is getting rather full) as well as to have a youth lead/youth oriented service. We have two young lay ministers who lead the service, another girl who comes and helps lead music on her ukulele, and a few other girls who help lead the singing. While we are starting off on the smaller side, it is easily becoming one of the favorite services. Again, having a group of youth who want to step up and lead in the church is wonderful! We have also seen the growth in leadership with the two boys who help lead the evening service. They have taken on a more active role in the youth group (which has more than doubled in size this semester) by both planning the games and leading worship. I’m also continuing with a high school girls Bible study to both learn more about God through his Word, but to also build the relationships with these girls that hopefully will build them up into disciples who make more disciples. Please pray for our emerging leaders. There is so much going on! It is always hard to write these updates as I’m never sure what to say and what to leave out. Just know God is continuing to do big things here in Belize.

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Our most recent big event in the church over the past couple weeks has been the annual Harvest festivals. Each school and church has their own celebrations. Harvest is basically like Thanksgiving, but with a stronger focus on God’s blessings and provisions. The schools participate in the service by having the different grades prepare baskets of fruits/vegetables/cakes to process up with to the altar. Once they get to the front they give a presentation of thanks (usually a poem or song) and then present their gifts to God. After the service the pastries are sold and then the produce is given to needy families, with leftovers being sold. Each service, while similar, is very unique and easily our biggest services for the entire year. At St. Andrew’s alone we end up having close to 700 people attend the harvest!

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Here we are already at the end of October and wondering where the time went, but with so much going on it is no surprise that it is flying by!

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So now to look more towards the future. One of the big things we want you to pray for is the Hansens. As you may recall from a previous update, there is a family coming down to serve with us here in Belize for an entire year. We are very excited to meet and serve with each of them (Evan, Missy, and Annabelle)! Next week Evan is coming down for a week to go house-hunting and then he will return with his wife and daughter in December to officially start ministry here. Please be praying for their family as they continue to prepare for this huge transition. Please also pray that we are able to find the perfect house for them in the time that Evan will be with us. Moving is always stressful, and moving to another country is worse. So lots of prayers are appreciated for the Hansens.

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David and I are also looking towards next year for more personal reasons. Our baby is due at the end of April (right after Easter, because that’s not a busy time of year … hehe). We are very excited, and a little nervous. While April seems far away now we know the time is going to fly. So there are a few things we ask you to keep in your prayers. Please continue to pray for a healthy pregnancy, baby, and birth. We are planning on staying here in Belize for the birth of our Little Bean. This is not only a better option financially, but our child will have dual citizenship from birth. As someone who is still working on getting permanent residency (and living on a yearly visa), I’m very excited that our child will not have to deal with all of the immigration paperwork. What this does mean though is that almost immediately after birth we will be working with the US and Belizean consulates to get all the passports and documents in order quickly for our child. Please pray that everything comes together quickly with no complications. As you may already know, next year is our three year mark here in Belize since we moved back together. That means we are due to return to the States for a few months for our “home assignment”. This is where we travel around the country visiting our supporters and churches. We are very excited to come and see you! We are even more excited that we will get to introduce you to our new addition so soon after birth. Right now our plan is to come back to the States sometime in June and to stay through September (finishing off our trip with New Wineskins 2019 in North Carolina). While June is far away, a trip of this size, with a new baby, is going to take lots of planning. Especially since adding an addition to our family means an increase in our budget. Please pray for us as we already begin planning/organizing for next year. We want to see as many of you as possible, which takes a lot of organizing.

Please also pray for us as we will need to raise more financial support for the Little Bean. And finally, please pray that we will be able to fit everything into those four months next year. We are trying to miss as little of Fall 2019 here in Belize as possible. While we are super excited to come back to see you, we also love our ministry here (and the busiest/best time is the Fall).

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Lots going on, lots to plan. Thankfully God is always in control. And with all the planning we may try to do, His plans are always better! We will continue to update you on all things Belize as well as our plans for next year as they become more solid. We may even be contacting some of you directly as we work out schedules to visit next summer. Please continue to keep us in your prayers. And as always, if you would like to join our team (both in prayer and/or financially) please click on our support link. We know we are only able to stay here and serve because God has given us partners like you. Thank you!

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1 banana, 2 banana … 3 bananas!

It’s been a few months since our last update, but I think this one will make it worth the wait.

David and I are excited to announce that we are expecting our first child in April of next year! We are amazed at God’s blessing and we can’t wait to meet the “Little Bean”. So far pregnancy has treated me pretty nicely, with few serious symptoms. This has meant I’ve been able to continue with ministry work here during the busy Fall semester. But we are anticipating and planning for many changes next year, including coming back to the States for a few months to visit many of you for our next several-month “home assignment”. Please continue to pray for us and our growing family! We’ll post another update soon to share what God has been doing here in Belize as well as to give you a few more details about upcoming plans. Until then, here’s a picture of our “Little Bean” =]

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Summer Months

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It’s time for another update! Not only do I find it incredible that we are already at the end of July (where did the year go?!), but we are also just over a week away from having been serving here in Belize together for two years. We moved here August 2nd 2016, the day before hurricane Earl, and already two years have gone by. Part of me feels like we were living in our little apartment in Orange County just yesterday, and the other part feels like I’ve lived here forever. God has a way of making every place feel like home. While I can’t say that today’s temperature of 93 degrees (feels like 104) and rising is particularly pleasant, I can say that only one fan is turned on, so I think I’m continuing to make progress! David has meetings in Belize City today, which tend to be exhausting as it’s a two hour drive each way, but I am a little jealous of the few hours he gets in AC during the drive. We can debate when he gets home if AC is worth meetings and 4+ hours of driving, we’ll probably have different answers!

Well, as David said in his last update July had some pretty big events to get excited about. But before I get to July I just want to add that at the end of June my kids had their Spring piano recital right at the end of the semester. They did such a fantastic job and we all had fun! David and I even played a duet to finish off the evening! After the recital we only had a couple more graduation ceremonies for the schools before our exciting week of VBS and the highly anticipated Family Fun Day! Before I tell you how awesome that week went, let me quickly tell you about the graduations.

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As you know, we work with three schools here in the Cayo District: St. Andrew’s, St. Hilda’s, and St. Barnabas’. While going to multiple graduation ceremonies might not seem that exciting, I’ve got to say it’s wonderful seeing kids we’ve gotten to know get to complete such a big milestone in their lives and be recognized for their hard work. Here in Belize children are only required to attend school through Standard VI (8th grade in the states), so going to graduations where almost every single kid had applied and been accepted to high school was a very proud moment for us. We see so much potential in each one of the kids God has placed in our lives, and we are very excited to continue working with them this upcoming year!

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Ok, so now for the big week in July! Everything started off with Family Fun Day. This day had been planned for months as an exciting start to summer and VBS. One of the very talented members of the St. Andrew’s church committee organized games, food, competitions, and a whole array of activities to make for a full day of fun. Two days before the big Sunday a team from St. Peter’s Cathedral (Tallahassee) came down to help both with the Family Fun Day and VBS. We had so many people working to make sure the day/week was a great success! And praise be to God, it was! Sunday started us loading tons of chairs into the back of our truck and heading out to the park to start worship. I’ve got to say worshiping in a park is a wonderful experience. We had stray dogs walking through and people wandering over just to see what was going on. Following the service David, a couple members of the Tallahassee team, and I headed over to St. Hilda’s for their service before returning to town to join in with the festivities. Besides great food (which makes people come all by itself!), we played lots of old fashioned picnic games like sack races, tug-of-war, watermelon eating contests, and water balloon tosses. We had so many people (adults and kids!) staying for the entire day! Not only was the day tons of fun, filled with laughing, but people were already asking at the end of the day when the church will be having it’s next Family Fun Day. I think the church might have a new tradition!

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The following day we started VBS! Our theme for this year was Moses and the Israelites as they wandered through the desert. The kids were broken into three groups; Dan, Simeon, and Judah. Each morning we would all start together in the church for worship. I’ve always thought the songs at VBS are incredibly catchy! They’re usually the songs that you can never get out of your head, and then they top them off with hand motions. Kids love hand motions! After worship we would all separate for Bible stories, sports, and crafts, all related to our theme for the week. The kids always have fun at VBS (it’s a great way to start off their summer vacation), but what David and I enjoy the most is working with the volunteers. Not only did we have the team from Tallahassee here helping, but we had an abundance of Belizean volunteers! One of St. Andrew’s parishioners took on the task of organizing and leading the whole VBS, and then we had another 14 people (mostly youth) come out to help. I was primarily working in the Bible story section, and I got to see two of the youth leaders step up and teach the little kids for the first time. VBS is such a great time to connect with the youth and help raise up new leaders in the church. David and I can’t say thank you enough to the St. Peter’s team for coming all the way to Belize to keep building relationships and provide so much help, as well as a huge thank you to all our volunteers (especially our fearless leader, Ms. Jody Jones!) here in San Ignacio who came together to pull off an amazing week for the kids!

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The past couple weeks have mostly consisted of finishing projects, prepping/organizing for our absence (so that everything runs smoothly while we are on vacation), and preparing for our new evening service, which will be starting a couple days after we return from vacation. In our slower summer months, God still has so much going on! Even in all the running around though, we were able to take a day to celebrate David’s birthday with a nice dinner and some Boston Cream Pie cupcakes! Doesn’t he look happy?

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And now to update you on what you can be praying for over the next couple months. As many of you know, David has been suffering from a variety of different health issues, from his injured elbow to stress related high blood pressure. Thanks be to God his health is beginning to improve! Please continue to pray for his pressure to consistently stay down and for his elbow to continue healing. Out of the whole year August is our slowest month here in the church. So David and I will be taking our vacation during that month and traveling to a cooler climate. Please pray for safe travels and a relaxing time to re-fresh and de-stress as we prepare for all God has planned for the Fall.

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As David mentioned in the last update, the church is growing. Praise God! Thanks to the growth that we are seeing, it is time to start an evening service at St. Andrew’s. This service will be new for the church, but the plan is to have it youth focused and youth run (a way to continue raising up new leaders). Please pray that God will bless this service and fill it with peopled and that he will bring in the youth leaders. Please also pray that we will be able to work out a deal with the football stadium (that is directly behind the church) to ensure that it is not too loud during the service.

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One of the things that we are really looking forward to here at the end of the year is to be joined by a “Bridger” family, the Hansens, coming with SAMS, who will be working with us for a year. Evan will be coming in November for a week to look for a house and then in December they will return (Evan, his wife Missy, and their daughter Annabel) to live here for the year of 2019. Please pray for the Hansens as they wrap things up in the states, prepare to move, and continue raising support. We are very excited to get to work with them!

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David also mentioned in his last update that we are planning on returning to the states for a few months next year to visit our supporters and continue raising support. Please pray and consider joining our team of supporters (both for prayer and financial support). Please also pray for us as we look at how to prepare for next year. We know that we are only able to serve here in Belize because God has given us amazing partners like you! Thank you for continuing to support and pray for us!

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Now before I wrap it up here, I realize that David promised in his last update that I would give you another bug story. Well unfortunately … I never run out of those! Hehe! So here we go. Last week David and I went to a friend’s guest house for a couple days to work in a quieter environment. It was incredibly refreshing! Well when we returned home and started unloading the car I saw a rather large translucent yellow spider in our entryway (think smaller than a tarantula, but larger than a wolf spider). Ok, here’s the thing … I’ve decided to let a few more spiders live in my house since they eat the other bugs. I have an understanding with a spider in my bathroom where he knows he can come out when I’m not there and he has to leave when I come in. It works for us. Well the spider by my front door was considerably larger than my bathroom spider, but he also looked like he might be dead. I decided to ignore him until I finished unloading the car. By that point I also decided that he was a little to big to be a house spider, so I poked him with the umbrella to see if he was even alive. Turns out he was alive, and much bigger once I woke him up. Since I was still in the generous mood of letting him live (bug eater that he was), I decided to get a broom and sweep him outside. I have to add here, that this is the same type of spider that was in my house when we moved in two years ago and David had to dig out under the stairs just to kill him before I would come down. So, progress. Well, once I had the broom I started to slowly push him towards the door. Here’s the thing … he didn’t want to go. In fact, he didn’t like this plan at all. I’m not saying he tried to run away. No. That freaky, huge spider, decided to fight the broom! Once I started pushing he turned back and ran at the broom, with his freaky little pincers going crazy! I’ve always been told, “They’re more scared of you than you are of them …” I call shenanigans! This spider was not scared. This spider thought he could beat a broom! The faster I would sweep, the faster he ran at me. As I progressed in my freaking out, David came over, grabbed the broom, shot the spider outside with enough force that he was incapable of returning. I’m not saying he “killed it”, but it died. While I’m still going to let some spiders live in my house, assuming they can follow the rules, that spider has settled the fate for all his particular kind. A spider who is willing to fight a broom has to die! But don’t worry, my bathroom spider is alive and well!

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A Trying Time

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!

Heating Up

So here we are already in the second week of March and I realized I’m way over due on updating you all about ministry life here in Belize! It doesn’t really feel like March yet. Normally we are solidly in the hot season by now (where you can barely remember what it feels like not to be sweaty and are trying to decide if taking a third shower that day would be reasonable … the answer is yes, by the way), but not this year. While we can feel the hot season coming, we actually had an uncommonly high amount of rain in January and February. Besides the fact that I love rain in general, it kept the weather here much cooler for much longer. So now, with the dry season officially setting in, the temperatures are rising, but it’s not quite hot yet (I’m still wearing sweaters in the morning!).

While it may still be coolish here (no complaints on my end!), we got a big reminder that we are in fact already in March with the start of the Ruta Maya this morning here in San Ignacio. The Ruta Maya is an annual canoe race that teams train for all year long. The race starts bright and early here in San Ignacio (this year with 53 teams) and over the course of three days the teams make their way down the Belize river until they reach Belize City. It’s a huge race that the country as a whole looks forward to every year. Last year we even had a team of students from one of our schools! Pray for safety for all those competing this year!

So all that being said, we are definitely in March! And there has been a lot going on these past couple months.

One of the big changes this year has been St. Hilda’s Church getting it’s own Church Committee, what some in the United States would call a Vestry. While that might not seem like a big deal (St. Hilda’s has been sending representatives to St. Andrew’s Church Committee meetings), with the growth of both churches over the past year it had become clear that St. Hilda’s needed it’s own committee to help implement the church’s vision. So with the election of leaders from Georgeville village, the committee has had it’s first meeting and they’re excited to see what God is planning for His church this year. St. Andrew’s (while it’s always had it’s own Committee) has also just elected new members to serve this term. It’s always exciting in a church to see emerging leaders step up with a desire to help serve with the gifts God has given them. David and I are looking forward to seeing where God is calling His churches this year, and how He would have us serve them, and the community as a whole, better.

Speaking of emerging leaders, we had the pleasure of hosting a team from St. Peter’s Cathedral (Tallahassee) for a week last month. We had been talking with this church since last August and were very excited to finally meet them in person. Wow! God really sent a wonderful group of people with hearts fixed on Him! While they were only here for a short time, they covered so much ground. They decided to separate their time here into three sections: service project (painting the inside of St. Andrew’s Church), VBS (after school at St. Hilda’s), and a leadership conference (for all emerging leaders that we are serving with here in our area of Belize). For seven days, this team really balanced their time well. It’s always nice to have some kind of project on a short trip, so both the team and the people here can physically see what was accomplished. And with that in mind, the church comity asked if they could paint the inside of the church (it hadn’t been painted in at least 20 years). The sanctuary, sacristy, and Sunday school room are now bright and beautiful with their fresh coats of paint! While projects are good and necessary for teams that come to serve, they can never be the primary goal. The overall goal for teams that come is to build lasting relationship (both the teams with the Belizeans, and the Belizeans with the teams). So this team made sure they planned plenty of time to spend  with people while they were here. Besides making sure they all spread out and talked to different people during the many Sunday services, they also ran a VBS, and even got to the village early to spend time with the kids before it started. And if that wasn’t enough, they took two nights and focused on the diocesan theme for the year (intentional discipleship). They were able to work specifically with leaders and emerging leaders, from both churches and our schools to focus specifically on how to have small groups of fellowship, Bible study, and prayer, (and here’s the kicker) without having the priest leading each group. This was a great time for the team to get to know/build up leaders here, as well as for our Belizean leaders to get to know the team, and get excited about leading ministry groups themselves! The trip was short, but I think the relationships will be long and we are definitely looking forward to hosting this team again in the near future. Before I wrap up about the team, I want to give a special shout out to Isabella. Isabella is the daughter of one of the team members that came. She is seven years old and one of the most outgoing, excited to serve girls I’ve ever met. She was truly inspiring to watch. At each church service, school event, and meeting where Belizean's kids were present, she didn’t hesitate to go over and make new friends. When there weren’t kids present she was working right alongside her dad to paint or prepare for the next event. Isabella was a joy to have present and we not only hope to see her again, but we hope that other teams that come will want to send kids as well to serve and connect with kids here in Belize!

As for our regular ministry things here, they are all going strong, thanks be to God. In the school chapel services David is taking the kids through the various sacraments of the church. While Bible stories are always important, a lot of these kids either don’t know what sacraments are or why they are important. So this series has proved interesting for both the students and the teachers (who also tend to have many questions). With the little kids, I’m primarily using Bible stories from a picture story book Bible and working to show how every story (from creation to Moses, that’s where we’re at this week) points forward to Jesus. When I first started teaching chapel I was so nervous, but now it’s one of my favorite things we do here! I love getting to spend time with the kids and worship together.

Piano lessons are continuing to go well (I’ve picked up two new students so far this year!). One of my new students is from Georgeville, so I’m getting to try teaching lessons on an organ for the first time. I told her it will be an adventure for both of us! We are also starting to use the money from the lessons to invest more into the youth group. As I think most of you know, I do charge for piano lessons (it tends to inspire more commitment), but all of the proceeds go straight into a dedicated church youth fund (used for choir, Sunday school, youth group, etc.). So tomorrow youth group will be having a bonfire (we’re burning our own Christmas tree, which has been out in the garage drying out). We’re hoping to keep using the funds to really invest in our youth in whatever areas we can.

Choir is also going really well! While the kids can be a lot to handle, they are sounding really good and even sang in church last week. Since most of my choir kids don’t attend St. Andrew’s, I have been hesitant to require them to sing in church too often (not wanting to take them from their own churches), but I think we’re going to shoot for at least once a month and maybe even try having them give special numbers at their churches. We’ve also added a new choir adventure this year. We have started a youth choir at St. Hilda’s! This choir is completely different from the one at St. Andrew’s. We have a much larger age difference, and a larger number of students at rehearsals, and in general it’s just a different dynamic. They are very rambunctious, but lots of fun. This choir is also led almost entirely by David. As we don’t actually have a piano at St. Hilda’s (and organ choir music wouldn’t really fit with this group of kids), we are focusing on upbeat “contemporary” pieces (like “Jesus Freak”) which David can lead on guitar. As a whole, the kids are loving choir! And since they all live right there in the village, we are focusing on having them sing in church more often.

Let’s see, we are solidly in Lent, so we have stations of the cross on Fridays (the first time in a few years), Bible studies, and Baptism classes. But we long for Easter. Have you ever noticed how things seem to be much harder in Lent? With eyes fixed on Christ, we keep going! 

David and I have dealt with many health challenges the past few months that are only just starting to sort out. Back in December I hurt my back, it didn’t seem too bad at the time, but it got progressively worse until I couldn’t get out of bed (that basically took out January). Then as my back started to improve we got hit with the flu, one week on, one week off, one week on... Then to add to that (yes there’s more), David had hurt his elbow really badly about a year ago and has had virtually no relief. So we have been seeing doctors almost every weekend to work on treating the injury. Thanks be to God the doctor is confident he will make a complete recovery, though it is taking some anti-inflammatory pills, creams, and (steroidal) injections! We would appreciate your continued prayers for healing and good health!

I think that’s about everything new that’s happened in the last couple of months. We are very excited to have David’s parents come visit us next week! It’s been over a year since we saw them and we’re really looking forward to spending some time together for a week. I’ll be sure to post some pictures!

And what do you think? Before I wrap up should I give a short bug story? I can’t actually wait for your answer, so I’m going to go with yes! Would it really be an update if I didn’t’ tell you a bug story? So as I’ve said before, I’m getting really good at killing bugs in my house. Sometimes I don’t even call David to smash them, and some I even (briefly) consider saving before I stomp on them. Progress is being made! But a couple weeks ago I got up really early and, half asleep, wandered into the bathroom to shower. I’ve made it a habit to always check behind the curtain before I get in, but I had never actually seen anything in the corner. Until now. I casually checked, not expecting anything, and found a rather large tarantula! I might be getting better with bugs, but this was too much. David was called and asked to dispose of the spider. In hindsight, I do wish I would have saved it. But at the time it just had to go. Now normally when I kill spiders, there’s a splat and then they’re just a curled up ball under my shoe, but this spider was so big that when David smooshed it, it’s guts actually shot across the shower floor. Gross. I am now back to religiously checking all corners of the shower before stepping foot in there each morning! So there’s your bug story for the month! 

We want to say thank you again for all your prayers and support! Sometimes we get too busy here to write you all super often, but we always lift you up in our prayers. If you ever want to talk to us more about our ministry or just life here in Belize, or would like to know how you can partner with us, please feel free to email, check out our website, or call us!

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

You might be saying, “Why is she still saying Merry Christmas in January?”, but today is the 12th Day of Christmas (12 Drummers Drumming!), so I've got this one more day left to wish you the merriest of Christmases!

It’s 2018! It sort of feels like we sprinted into the New Year, but that just means I have lots to update you on! Our busiest time of year is always the Fall Semester, but Advent (plus Christmas) is the busiest of the busiest (in the best way!).

Before I get into the many different ministry things that have happened, let me tell you a couple of the personal highlights from the past month. One of the biggest highlights for me was having my parents visit at the end of November. This was the first time my parents came to Belize, and it was a wonderful trip! Not only could we show them some of our favorite places, but we were also able to show them a little bit of what we do here in Belize. We always love when people come visit us, and it was extra special to get to host my parents for the first time. Come back soon!

Then the week before Christmas we had another visitor! One of my long time best friends came down from California to spend a week with David and me. We were able to take some of the days to show her this beautiful country, and then we packed the evenings and nights with lots of Christmas ministry activities! We had so much fun (and loved the extra help!).

Overall, the addition of family and friends to the holiday season was such a treat, and one we will always welcome back.

Now to move on to the many different ministry things that happened. I’ll try to cover most of the highlights without making this a super long update!

First Week of Advent

Every year the first Sunday of Advent also falls on St. Andrew’s Day, which means Confirmations, the Bishop visits, lots of good food, and extra presentations. David and one of the main Catechists spent weeks teaching Confirmation classes to kids and adults alike at both St. Andrew’s Church and St. Hilda’s Church. After studying and examinations, each of the confirmands passed and were presented to the Bishop for Confirmation. It was quite a celebration! To add to the celebration of the day, the youth choir that I’ve been working with was asked to sing one of the songs they had been preparing for their upcoming Christmas concert. That was the first time my choir sang during the principal service at St. Andrew’s, and it is definitely something we will do again. The majority of the kids in choir either don’t attend our church, or don’t attend church at all, so it was wonderful to have them participate in such an important service. Then, what’s a celebration without food? So to top off everything the service was followed by pibil tacos. Pibil is pig that has been cooked underground all day and then shredded for the tacos. If you have never had it, make it: find someone who makes it, do whatever you can to eat it. Seriously, eat it. So good!

After the St. Andrew’s Day celebrations we jumped in the truck and dashed over to St. Hilda’s Church for their confirmation service. Six girls, all dressed in beautiful white gowns, very excitedly Confirmed. I think the cutest thing at their Confirmation was when it was time for the girls to take their first Communion. Now normally at St. Hilda’s everyone who is taking Communion goes up first, and then all the kids that are just getting a blessing go up after. Well these girls were so used to only getting a blessing that after they took Communion for the first time they jumped back to the front of the line for the children’s blessing with the rest of the kids. It was adorable.

Second Week of Advent

School was still in session, so we had our usual week’s work, but the highlights for me had to do with the choir. Every year St. Andrew’s School finishes off the semester with a Christmas variety show where each class gives some kind of presentation (a song, poem, skit, etc.). Since all of the kids from the choir attend the school they were asked to sing one of their pieces as part of the show. I was so excited for this opportunity for the kids! They had been working so hard for weeks to prepare their music, and I loved that they were getting multiple opportunities to not only show their hard work, but to sing all these songs about Jesus’ coming. They did really well!

Then the following day they were able to sing even more of their songs in the middle of town for the San Ignacio annual tree lighting ceremony! The kids were cute and did such a good job. These outreach opportunities were the biggest additions to the choir this year, and the kids had a lot of fun getting to sing for so many different events.

Third Week of Advent

This week was the absolute busiest! Since school had officially let out for Christmas break, we filled almost every night with some kind of activity or outreach project for the kids. 

Monday night:

Monday night was the first ever piano recital for the kids in my studio. They were so nervous, but they did a FANTASTIC job! Pretty much all of my students started taking lessons at the same time, so it was a fun challenge to find music they would each like, that would also be different from each other. They each approach playing the piano differently and there different styles came through when they performed. I was so proud of their hard work! And what would a recital be without dessert? So after all of their hard work we finished off the evening with Christmas cookies and fudge. Yum!

I’m going to skip Tuesday just for a second and come back to it with Thursday (two very good days!).

 

 

Wednesday night:

After weeks of practice and multiple mini performances throughout the month, the youth choir gave their end of the year final concert at St. Andrew’s Church. The kids performed a program called “Light of the World” by Mark Patterson, which tells the story of Jesus being the Light of the world through songs and short scriptural readings of the nativity. This was such a fun program! It had traditional carols from different countries (like France and Puerto Rico) that kept the kids having fun in every song. We were missing quite a few kids, but they did a great job telling the story of Christ through song, for friends, family, and fellow church members! And again, what is a good performance without food? So we finished the evening with a dessert reception to wrap up the year with a time of fellowship … and sugar.

Tuesday and Thursday nights:

Alright, these were probably our best two night that week (and that is counting some already pretty great days!). For the past three years St. Andrew’s Church has gone caroling around the community and while brining baskets of food to people in need. This year the plan was to invite the youth choir to join the youth group, and any other members of the church that would like to come. Well Chaa Creek Lodge and Resort found out about our plans to carol and wanted to help in anyway they could. They love getting involved in community outreach and were excited to join alongside us for these two nights. What we weren’t expecting was how generous they would be in their help! We had a meeting to discuss logistics and they offered to not only treat the kids to dinner at their nice restaurant in town, but to provide resort vans (and drivers!) to drive us all around town to carol! For both nights! So on Tuesday and Thursday we had about 25 kids overrun their restaurant to eat before being carted around to carol. The kids had such a wonderful time! But I don’t think the kids joy even came close to that of the people for whom we caroled. The first night we caroled for people in our community who were in need, but the second night we primarily caroled in the community of the people who were affected by the explosion earlier in December. For those of you who did not hear about that incident, a rock quarry illegally setoff dynamite in a residential area, killing one man, and destroying many, many homes. It was truly a tragic event for so many families. These families had been through so much and we loved brining them a little hope and joy! Overall, it was a really good two nights of caroling, both for those who we could carol for, and also for the kids that got to participate in community outreach.

Fourth Week of Advent

Pretty short since it was only really Sunday morning … =] The fourth Sunday of Advent falling on Christmas Eve definitely made for a short fourth week!

So let's move on to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day =]

These four days were ones of pure celebration! The “Eve” services were celebrated at St. Andrew’s Church and the “Day” services were celebrated at St. Hilda’s Church. Each service is special in its own way as the churches fill with people coming to celebrate the birth of Christ. While we have a Christmas Eve service and a New Year’s Eve service that we call Watchnight Mass, it is actually finished no later than 11:30, any later and we wouldn’t be able to hear each other. Now when I say people do fireworks here I mean, people REALLY do fireworks here. When the clock strikes 12 it sounds like a war zone, complete with so much smoke you can’t see across the street, and sirens going off all over town. It doesn’t matter if it’s from the backyard or the middle of the street, fireworks are setoff by almost everyone. It is quite the way to welcome in the birth of Christ and then the New Year!

It’s hard to believe that so much happened in just a month (and so many other things that won’t fit in this update)! God is doing so many amazing things here in Belize and we are really excited to see what He has planned for the New Year. School starts up again next week, so we are busy getting ready for the new semester and the restarting of all the things that were on break during the holidays (chapel services, choir, piano lessons, Bible study, youth group, etc.). So I’d ask your prayers for us as we start this new year; for the old things starting up again, and the new areas of ministry God is calling us to this year. Thank you again for all of your continued prayers and financial support. We are truly grateful for all of our partners in ministry!

Many blessings for the New Year!

 

The Middle of the Marathon

In my last update I wrote about our coming back from Peru hitting the ground running, since Fall ends up being our busiest time of year. At the time of writing that update I don’t think I realized how true it really would be until sitting here now to write a new one … it’s already been a month and a half since I last wrote! Here we are in the second half of November and I didn’t even notice how fast time has been flying.

With so many things are going on right now, I’m going to try and highlight a few of them since there is just too much to get across in one update!

First a quick look at the youth choir. Now that we’ve had a few rehearsals, I can pretty much tell who my regulars are for this year, and while they are incredibly “energetic,” this group of kids is a lot of fun. It is truly a learning experience for me as I’m figuring out how to work with a mix of boys and girls. In the past semesters I’ve primarily had a girl choir, and it turns out girls and boys are very different! Who knew?! I would also add that God is teaching me patience =] These kids are working very hard to prepare for the different performance opportunities coming up next month and I think they're going to do a great job. Besides their Christmas concert, they are getting excited to sing on December 3rd when the Bishop comes for St. Andrew’s Day for the Confirmation service! This will be the first time this group sings for people and they were very excited to have been asked to give a special presentation.

Speaking of confirmations, we have kids  both at St. Andrew’s Church and St. Hilda’s Church preparing to take their confirmation exams. For the past month and a half kids at both churches have been attending classes that teach them about Confirmation, The Lord’s Prayer, The Apostles' Creed, The Ten Commandments, The Beatitudes, and the different kinds of Sacraments. While the kids have to be able to recite these different things in the exams, the most important part that they learn is what each piece means. David himself is catechizing at St. Hilda’s Church and even though it’s important that the kids practice The Ten Commandments, for example, in order to recite them (we even bribe them with brand-name, full-size candy if they can recite them correctly!), the actual class is focused on explaining what they mean and why they are important. So in the exam David will ask the kids to recite The Lord’s Prayer and then he will ask them what it means when we say, for instance, “give us this day our daily bread.” When I was younger I remember saying The Lord’s Prayer so many times, but not really understanding what I was saying. I would have loved a class like this! David is really great at breaking down these different aspects of our faith so the kids can really understand why they are important. We are really excited to see each kid confirm and renew their baptismal vows!

Last week we actually had five baptisms at St. Andrew’s Church, and St. Hilda’s has baptisms this week! It’s always exciting to see brand new christians welcomed into the church! At St. Andrew’s the service ended up being one of the largest for the year. So many people came to celebrate with these kids! And this Sunday when we have baptisms at St. Hilda’s we will also be celebrating St. Hilda’s Day, so it will be huge celebration for many different reasons! 

St. Hilda’s Day is officially on November 18th, so David and I went to the school and he led a service celebrating their paternal feast. The 17th also happened to be Children’s Day so the kids at St. Hilda’s were all dressed in bright orange getting ready for a day of games and sports. At St. Andrew’s School, Children’s Day also meant Culture Day. For Culture Day each class is assigned a culture group that is represented in Belize (Garifuna, East Indian, Mennonite, Kriol, Mestizo, etc.) to represent. The kids dress in the traditional clothing, make traditional foods, and setup stations to teach about the cultures they are representing. It is a really engaging way to learn about the different people living in Belize, and the kids are super cute! Last year David and I weren’t able to attend the school for the presentations, but this year we ran over right after the St. Hilda’s Day service. While we didn’t make it in time to see the kids dance, we were able to go into each classroom and see the different presentations. It was fun seeing these dressed up, nervous/exited little kids explain, from the perspective of what ever group they were representing, the different cultures they had studied.

There really are so many different things happening right now, it’s hard to pick things apart to tell all of you. Let's see. Youth group, chapel services, piano lessons, and the girls Bible study are continuing to go really well, with the kids participating more and more with each event. We are excited to see what God has in store for all of these kids! While we work with many different people here in Belize, the majority of what God has us doing is directly ministering to and discipling kids. We are really loving watching these kids grow and seeing God’s hand in their lives.

Now that you’re fully updated on the ministry side of our lives here (although now that I think about it, I’ve probably forgotten plenty … God is doing so much!), I’m going to let you know a little more about our personal lives (even though everything ends up mixing together anyway). =]

As many of you know, David and I were able to fly back to California for one week to celebrate my sister’s wedding. It was absolutely beautiful! I had the privilege of being her Matron of Honor and I loved getting to spend that time with my sister and entire family celebrating her special day. It was a jammed packed week getting the final pieces ready for the big day, spending time with family, meeting our new niece for the first time, and running errands that could only be done in the States. This was actually the first time David and I had been in the states in almost a year and half. I think we got spared the worst of the reverse culture shock since the trip was so fast and busy for the wedding, but it was still very strange being back in the United States. While many things stick out as feeling strange, since we’ve been away so long, I think the biggest shocker for me was flushing toilet paper again. Ha! When I first moved here to Belize I thought throwing away toilet paper was something I would never get used to, and then going back to the States I freaked out every time I flushed the paper thinking I had messed up. It’s funny how you get used to things without even realizing it!

While it was hard saying goodbye again to everyone (especially since for the wedding we saw so many people in a short amount of time), it was made easier by the fact that my parents are coming to visit us in just one week! This will be their first time visiting Belize and we are very excited to show them around this beautiful country as well as getting to show them our lives and ministry here in San Ignacio. Not only are they going to be here for two weeks, but that also means they will be here for St. Andrew’s Day. What a fun celebration! I can’t wait util they get here!

As I’m beginning to wrap up my update here (these updates tend to get long if I’m left to ramble, and I should probably start thinking about dinner), I do feel like it has been way too long since I’ve given you a proper bug story! While I say it’s been too long, I really won’t mind if I never have to give you another bug story again … Well, last night I came home from teaching piano, David had left for a meeting, and the house was dark. In our house the main living space is upstairs and our room and office space is downstairs. I decided to drop off some things in our room before going up stairs to start dinner, leaving the lights off and only using my phone flashlight. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something large shoot under the laundry basket. I figured it was either a wolf spider or a gecko (since we get both in our house). Now this shows you I’ve been living here for awhile because without freaking out, I moved the basket just to check. I’m guessing it was a gecko since it was long gone once the basket had been moved, but either way, I could see what the gecko had been after. Turning on the light in the bedroom revealed a huge line of very big, mean, red ants. The trail went from the door in the office, into the bedroom, under the bed, around the wall, and into the bathroom. I’m talking THOUSANDS of red ants. The kind that leave big blood marks when you squish them.. I’ve gotten used to spiders, lizards, most other ants (we’ve had plenty come into the house during rainy season), but I could not handle these red ones. It took hours spraying with 409, flooding the nest by the door, mixing smelly concoctions, lots of bug bites, straight up squishing, and lots of praying until the invasion was stopped. I might have lots of animal friends here in Belize, but red ants aren’t one of them!

So there’s your bug story for this week. Hopefully I won’t be giving you another one anytime soon!

Ok, my growling belly is telling me it’s time to finish this update. David and I want to thank you all again for your continued prayers and support for our ministry. God is working here in Belize and we love getting to be apart of what He’s doing. And we love getting to share it with you!  If you want to partner with us and our ministry here in Belize either through prayer, financial support, or coming down to work with us, please click the link below to get more information! 

And really fast, we want to give a shout-out to the ABC kids in Richmond, Indiana! Thank you guys for always praying for us and reading our stories. We love getting to tell you about everything God is doing down here in Belize!

Happy Thanksgiving!

It all begins again!

Can you believe it’s already almost the middle of October? For some of you that might mean that the nice cool fall weather is starting with crisp mornings, or maybe some changing leaves, but here in Belize fall means (admittedly pretty hot yet) beautiful days, new flowers, and even some crazy awesome afternoon thunderstorms storms. It’s interesting looking back at the past 14 or so months that we’ve been here and realizing that not only am I so used to the weather here that it really is starting to feel like Fall (two to three showers a day and all!), but I’m also already looking forward to the holiday season and the new traditions we have here in Belize.

For those of you who don’t know, David and I were blessed to be able to spend our first vacation together since we got married in Peru last month. We had an absolutely amazing time exploring the Andes and just spending time together! We came away with lots of stories and fun memories. But while we loved every part of our vacation, we were very happy to return home to Belize two weeks ago and get back into ministry. Basically, coming back at the end of September meant we hit the ground running! 

The first thing we had to get done was immigration stuff for me. Before we left for our vacation I was able to apply for my permanent residency here in Belize (it was fantastic that we made the application before we left!), but since it is a processes that takes years to complete I still apply for a temporary work permit every year to keep me in the country legally. We got back home just before my work permit expired and are now in the process of obtaining the new visa. Praise be to God it’s approved and all we have to do is go to immigration to get the new stamp! For everyone who has been praying for my immigration process, thank you!

Now that we’re back home we’ve gotten to restart the different ministries that had sort of been on break for a few months, whether due to Summer break or our vacation. Our first week here had us right back at the schools restarting chapel services. I hadn’t realized how much I missed all these kids until we were back teaching them again! The newest thing that we started this semester with the children’s chapel is that we’re separating the ages more at our rural schools, St. Barnabas’ and St. Hilda’s. That means David is able to take the older kids and have a more focused service for them, while I now teach the younger ages. Now, this is not something I thought I would ever be interested in, but I love it! Basically I get the kids from about kindergarten to second grade. I’m taking the them through Bible stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible, as well as praying together, and singing lots of songs! We’ve only had one service so far, but I think I’m going to like teaching these kids! 

The next thing that is starting up again is youth choir! This is my third semester leading this choir and every time I start it up it seems to go a little bit better. Since we launched youth choir at the beginning of October (which is later than normal) I felt it was perfectly acceptable to start working on our Christmas program. Besides the fact that I love Christmas music, the kids are super excited to get to sing Christmas music this early! One of the great opportunities with a children’s choir (particularly as we get ready for Christmas) is that I’m able to teach them songs about Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas. All of us like “Jingle Bells”, but now I get to teach the kids songs that are just as much fun with maracas, drums, and tambourines, that focus entirely on our Lord and Savior. Last year I had the kids participate in a traditional Lessons and Carols service with them singing a few traditional carols, but this year I decided to use a Christmas program that I was in years ago when I was in a youth choir (shout out to Robin Segarra). I’m really excited to teach them this program because I can involve lots of kids in all these songs that tell the story of Jesus as the Light of the World through the story of the Nativity. The kids are super excited to be singing this music and even getting to sing in French, German, and Spanish! At our first rehearsal seventeen kids showed up to try it out and see what they thought about choir. It was so much fun! And this week we had two more kids show up! We'll see how many kids come next week, but I think they’re going to do really well with this program (and have lots of fun singing!). They’re already excited to get to sing for their parents in December!

Piano lessons are also off to a good start as the kids are getting back into practicing and we are starting to talk about the Christmas recital. I haven’t held a recital yet with the kids here, but I think Christmas music will be a good place to start, and I have yet to have one of these kids tell me they don’t like Christmas music! 

Speaking of things starting up again, this past Saturday was the start of the High School girls' Bible study. Over the summer I had started the Bible study as a sort of “test run” to see if the girls would be interested, and to see if it was something I could actually teach. We went through the book of James and it went so well that we’re going again, but this time through the book of Romans. I love getting to spend time studying God’s Word with these girls! It’s amazing both to get to talk through different questions they might have about the Bible and then to spend time just getting to know them better while we eat desserts (food is always a necessity!). As a whole I think the Bible study is going really well and I’m excited to see what God has in store for us to learn.

Let’s see … as far as big events happening in the church, it is officially time for Harvest! The next two weeks consist of lots of Harvest Festivals happening between the three schools where we serve. At St. Andrew’s, this service is easily our largest attendance for the whole year. I always thought it would be Christmas or Holy Week and Easter, but Harvest definitely tops all of those combined! Last year St. Andrew’s had over 700 people attend the church for these special services. For those of you who don’t know what this kind of service is, think of it like a GIANT Thanksgiving for the gifts God has given us. Each class processes up the aisle with decorated baskets of fruits, vegetables, pastries, etc. and then presents them to be blessed at the altar. Afterwards they give a group presentation expressing thanks, and then the next class will come up with their gifts and do the same thing. Church always packs out, with people standing in the back, crowding up at the front, and even standing outside the church because it’s not physically possible to get anyone else inside! Once the service is finished the items are then sold as a type of fundraiser for the school and church. At our rural schools, St. Barnabas’ and St. Hilda’s the church (or school) is packed and many of the gifts are collected and given to families in need. Yesterday was actually our first Harvest Festival service at St. Hilda's. All the kids did so well with their presentations and their baskets were beautiful! As a whole, these services are incredibly important and widely attended by all the families of the school kids. Please be praying for David and all those serving! It’s going to get pretty busy!

While there aren’t really a bunch of new activities going on right now (except for boring-sounding administrative stuff, like how David’s on the Diocesan Education Board now), there are lots of good things starting up again! And since it’s been awhile since I’ve written an update I thought it would be a good idea to let you know what’s going on down here in Belize! As the holiday season starts it also becomes pretty clear that it can be one of the busiest times in the church year, but it is also my absolute favorite time to be in church! There is always so much going on, and so many extra things that come up. This is the beginning of a great season for ministry!

As I’m coming here to the end of this update, looking back over all these different ministries going on with us here in Belize, I get so excited! I’m so excited for the things that David and I are already working on, and the things that God has planned for us here that we don’t even know about yet! But while on one hand I want to just tell you all the good things that happen here, I also have to talk about the slightly uncomfortable stuff.

Mainly, I have to talk about money stuff. It almost seems like taboo to bring it up, but a big part of our work as missionaries is just raising the support to keep us here on the mission field. When we came back to Belize fourteen months ago (I still can’t believe it’s already been that long!!) we had NOT actually made it to our full monthly support. We were getting close, but after talking to our missionary society we all decided it would be better for us to get back to Belize to start our ministry here (and see what my ministry would be!), while working on raising the rest of the support. Before I go any further though I have to thank all those who have both been supporting us from the beginning, and those who have joined our ministry team since we’ve been back in Belize. We are incredibly grateful for all of your prayer and financial support!

But as we’ve passed the year mark here in our ministry in Belize we have had to assess our current level of financial support for the next year here on the mission field, and the following years that God calls us here to serve. While we have been living here for over a year, we have been, and very much still are living in a growing deficit between gifts to our ministry and the minimum budget needed to keep us on the field. By the grace of God we have had generous donors support us both monthly and in one time gifts (thanks be to God!), but if our current deficit in giving continues, we will have to return from the mission field much sooner than planned to re-raise support again in the United States.

So here’s what David and I are asking. If you believe in the ministry that God has called us to here in Belize, we would like you to prayerfully consider joining our team as financial partners. God calls each one of us to be a part of His Great Commission; if not to go personally, than to send others. We cannot serve with the people of Belize without people like you partnering in our ministry by sending us. Every person or family that supports us financially and through prayer is completely a part of our ministry here in Belize. So please consider supporting the work we’re doing here by linking up with us financially whether through monthly giving or one time gifts. Everything helps! I’m attaching the link at the bottom here that will take you straight to the page where you can make an ongoing monthly pledge or a one-time gift. And if you ever want to find out more about our ministry here, how you can be even more involved, or even come and visit us, please email or call us! We would love to talk to you! And as always, please continue to keep us in your prayers. There is always a lot going on here and we know that without God we could do nothing. Thank you!

Summertime in San Ignacio

As we get closer to the end of July, we are also coming to our one year mark here in Belize! I realize that most of my updates tell you how long we’ve been in the country, but I feel like this is the big one. One year is the one we’ve been waiting for! The reason one year is so important for the two of us is because when we officially hit that mark (August 2) I will be allowed to apply for my permanent residency! What this means (even though I probably won’t be approved for a few years) is that I, like David, will have more stability in the country to stay indefinitely as an actual resident. But it also means that we will be able to travel more freely in and out of the country. For those of you who don’t know, just to apply for residency you are not allowed to have left the country for more than a specific number of days in the span of a year. Once I’ve applied and sat through my interviews I’ll be allowed to travel more (which is good for reasons I’ll get to in a little bit). So anyway, what this means (our coming to this one year mark), is that we are starting to prepare tons of paperwork, get medical exams, and background checks. It’s sort of a stressful hassle, but it will be well worth it when we’ve finished the process in just a few weeks. Please be praying for us as we prepare all of the different requirements! Please also pray that we don’t miss/mess-up any of the steps as Immigration can be incredibly picky!

While that tells you a little bit about our immediate future, let me tell you about what has been going on this summer! David and I were blessed to be able to attend St. Barnabas, St. Hilda’s, and St. Andrew’s school graduations. It was great to see kids that I’ve really gotten to know in the past year, and David has watched grow up, graduate and get ready to start high school. Here in Belize it is not a requirement that kids attend high school, so it was a lot of fun seeing the look of accomplishment and excitement in these kids eyes as they finished this huge milestone and prepared to start the next one.

With school out for the next couple of months we are on a break from chapel services and strict school schedules. Youth choir takes a break for the summer, but piano lessons continue (I’m even continuing to get new students!). Yet, with school being out it also means that it is a little harder to recognize which children I know from the three schools we work with (as they are no longer wearing uniforms). Thankfully, kids here are much better at recognizing me, and a “Hi Miss Mary Beth” lets me know that I really do know the kid and I’m not just creepily staring at children as I try and figure out where I know them from! David is much better with names and faces!

The first week of summer vacation here St. Andrew’s held our Vacation Bible School (VBS). Our director of children's ministries Ms. Perla Gonzalez, with Jordan Paris, worked together to throw an (almost) entirely Belizean lead VBS, with the theme of The Great Commission! Now, I say “entirely Belizean” because this was actually completely done with volunteers from and for St. Andrew’s Church. In the past for many years teams came from the States to throw VBS weeks for kids here, but just a couple years ago a team came from Christ Church (Savannah) and taught leaders and volunteers from church how to run our own VBS. And I have to say, it was a great success! Each day, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 to 11:30 AM we had between 36 and 46 kids show up to learn about Jesus’ call on each of our lives to “GO!” and make disciples. The kids were separated into three groups (Messengers, Fishermen, and Sheep) and rotated between the different workshops (Praise and Worship, Bible stories, Crafts, and Sports) throughout the day. While the plan had been to separate everyone by age, we had so many itty-bitties that the Messengers and Fishermen had some little ones, and the Sheep were entirely 5-7 year olds. Some many cute kids!

This really was a time for outreach for our church. Not only did the many of the kids come from different schools and churches, but we also had a variety of volunteers that really worked together to pull off a fantastic week of worship and workshops! While each day had the same basic format (with the kids rotating through the workshops), our final day consisted mainly of Praise and Worship and then a couple hours of Sports. One of my favorite moments with the kids was in that last day. We took the Sheep (the itty-bitties) and set them up to play water balloon games. One little boy, maybe 5 years old, let us know that his mom said he wasn’t allowed to get wet. We said that was fine and he could just sit off to the side and watch. Well, the little boy thought for a second, and then very sincerely looked up and said, “well it’ll probably be ok because my mom isn’t here ...” Ms. Perla and I about died laughing! Needless to say we still had him sit out that game! At the end of that last day, after we sent the kids home, all of us volunteers were able to sit and eat lunch together, play football, and then have a very fast water balloon fight. While I did not join the water balloon fight, I did get soaked when some of the girls poured a bucket of water over my head! Overall, I think this year’s VBS here at St. Andrew’s went very well!

The same week that we had VBS, I started a Young Ladies' Bible Study here in our house for high school girls. We decided to make it nice and official/fancy with invitations made out to each girl, and at the same time keep it comfy by having it on our amazingly fluffy couches with some kind of nice snack at the end (so far we have had chocolate cookies and frozen bananas with peanut butter and chocolate). For the summer we are meeting once a week for an hour in the middle of the day and studying through the book of James. I am loving teaching this Bible study! Pretty much none of these girls have attended a Bible study before and it is a lot of fun helping teach these girls how to really study the Bible. It is also fun (and challenging) to then answer the many questions that have started coming up in our studies. But I love that there are questions! Last week we went twenty minutes over just with questions! It has also been a good learning opportunity for me as I have never run a Bible study myself and have had to spend many hours studying the chapters, praying, reading Bible commentaries and study guides, as well as pestering David. I’m really looking forward to seeing what God has in store for this group as we go through His Word together. Before we break for a snack each week we go around and share prayer requests to then pray for each other before we leave. I think this group has the potential of really growing together in Christ and becoming a more tightly knit group. Please be praying for me and these girls as we study together, and work to better understand God and His call on our life as He reveals Himself in Scripture.

Last week, this week, and the following week we have seminarians from Codrington College in Barbados here with us in Belize. The three students are rotating between Belize City, Dangriga, and here in San Ignacio to shadow the priests in those respective areas and learn about the different ministries. We’ve had one seminarian finish his time with us, and we are spending this week with another one, before meeting the last one next week. I am loving this time getting to know these different students, and hearing their stories of how God called them into ministry.

This is also our last week with our SAMS intern Jordan before she heads back to the States. Today she arranged to take about eight kids from St. Hilda’s as well as some adults to the Belize Zoo as a fun summer activity. The kids had so much fun looking at all the animals! I think the cutest moment was when I said “the babies (referring to the littlest kids) are tired” and the little four year old girl looked at me very seriously and said, “no, the babies are hungry!”. It ended up being a very successful trip! We’ve really enjoyed having Jordan here working with us this summer! Please pray for her as she prepares to return home next week and as she transitions back to life in the States.

Let’s see, as I prepare to wrap up this update I did say I would mention why it will be nice to be able to travel more freely. My sister, who came down and visited us last Christmas, got engaged on the 4th of July! She and her fiancé will be getting married in November! I’m very excited to meet her fiancé and to be a part of this new step in their lives! (I know, lots of exclamation points). To add at least one more, in just a couple weeks (more or less) my brother and his lovely wife will be having their first kid! So many wonderful things happening right now! Please be praying for both my sister and brother, and their growing families! 

All right, I should probably finish this update before it gets too long. I would also like to ask that you continue to pray for our ministry here in Belize. With many important things coming up, and going on, we could always use more prayer. Also, as we do come up on the one year mark here in San Ignacio we have to continue looking and planning for our financial support (so that we can continue to serve here long term). As many of you know, we came to Belize without being fully funded (with the plan of continuing to raise support long distance). While we have gotten new pledges of financial giving since we moved here, and we are very grateful for all of them, we are still not at the support level we need to keep things in the black. I would ask that you pray and consider financially supporting David’s and my ministry here in Belize. I personally feel most connected in ministry with the kids (youth choir, youth group, Bible study, piano lessons, chapel services), and we are really seeing God work in so many ways! David’s ministry with the kids, as well as the many church services, counseling, preaching/teaching, visiting parishioners, and the many other ministry opportunities that come just from being the priest of so many churches is really reaching people with God’s word and love. If you want to be part of this ministry (even from far away!) please not only join us in prayer (we can never have enough!), but please also consider supporting us financially. Thank you to everyone who prays for us, supports us, and sends us encouraging notes! We love and appreciate all of you! And thank you for making it to the end of a rather long and rambling update! =]

Ministry in the Rain

The rain is finally starting!

March, April, and May are said to be the hottest months here in Belize and that has definitely proven to be true. But it’s interesting because, while there are moments almost everyday where I feel like I’m melting, at the same time I really do think I’ve adjusted to the heat. While I wouldn’t call the low 90s a cool day, it would go on my list as a not so hot day either. The past three days we’ve consistently had afternoon thunderstorms and I think (at least for now) I can safely say I won’t get tired of rain. Gusts of cool air, house shaking thunder, and dark skies are making for some pretty pleasant days.

As a side-note, while the rain makes for pleasant days, it also makes for more bugs. I must say that my spider killing skills are growing (I don’t have to call for David as often), and I’m becoming quite the ninja killing mosquitos, but my cockroach killing skills are abysmal. We have now had three GIGANTIC cockroaches in our bedroom/bathroom, and each one has left me cowering in a corner calling David to come smash it to oblivion. Hopefully this is not a case of “practice makes perfect.” As far as finding these things in the house, I’d rather it be so rare that I continue being awful.

Well we have now been here for 10 months! Sometimes it feels like time has flown by and other times it feels like we have been in Belize for years. I think I’m really starting to get used to life here. We have settled into our ministry routines at this point and I’ve even started to make time to experiment in the kitchen. Turns out I love to cook! As some of you may know, David loves to eat beans. For the past year and a half of our marriage we have had some version of beans almost everyday, but the past couple of months I’ve started branching out a bit with baking and a little more variety in dinners (don’t worry, he still gets beans!). But by experimenting more with food I have also gotten a better idea of what it’s like to go shopping here in San Ignacio. Back in the States we would make a list of ingredients and then just run to Albertsons or something to get everything (for the most part). Here, while it takes much longer to buy everything, it’s also much more fun! My typical shopping will include, going to the market for all the produce, cross the river to get any chicken from the chicken store, pick up any canned goods from the Chinese-run dry-goods store, come back across the river to by any other meat or cheese from the meat market in the center of town, and then head up the hill to the masa shack to pick up queso blanco and masa, before heading home. It’s a rather exhausting process, but it’s fun knowing where to shop and feeling comfortable getting around town!

As far as ministry, our biggest new news this week is the arrival of a SAMS missionary bridger who will be working with us for the next two months! Jordan Paris is an education major from Texas and will primarily be working with kids in the schools and at church. One of the main areas she is focusing on is St. Hilda’s school in Georgeville. She’ll be volunteering at the school this last month of the semester as she builds relationships with the kids and teachers, then she will be helping develop and lead the VBS in the village in July! We’re hoping that as she gets to know the kids during the semester they will become excited/encouraged to come back in the summer for VBS. Once school lets out it’s harder to keep the momentum up through the summer, so Jordan’s ministry in the village is especially beneficial! She will also be working here in San Ignacio on St. Andrew’s upcoming VBS this summer, as well as helping develop a more extensive Confirmation class program. Besides being a very useful/helpful part of our ministry team here in Cayo, she is also extremely friendly and fun to have around! We are very excited to be working with her this Summer!

I should also update you on my youth choir! This semester has seen the youth choir grow to a solid 13 kids who have consistently come to rehearsals. Besides becoming more confident singers in a group, they have also been able to learn songs quicker, and even picked up some more complicated pieces. As a way of showcasing all of their hard work, last Saturday we had an almost traditional Lessons and Carols service at St. Andrew’s Church. Where that type of service is normally held in the Advent season with scripture readings and songs telling the story of the coming of Jesus, we decided to use the same structure but change the readings to focus on Jesus’ life from Easter to Pentecost. We had 9 readings that the youth choir lead, followed by special pieces from the choir, and songs that we sing at school chapel for the congregation. The kids did such a good job! We finished off the evening with a youth group lead bake-sale (which basically means really good cupcakes, cheese dip, and flan! …you all know I love food!). It’s hard to believe we’re already wrapping up another semester of choir. We just had our last official choir “rehearsal” for the semester, which was really just a time of games and food. I spent the day making cookies (because it always makes sense to run your oven when through the hottest parts of the day), cheese dip, and punch, before braving the coming rain storm to head over to the party. It was a fun way to wrap up the choir season, talk over a couple performance opportunities for the summer, and get people excited for Christmas music next semester. As whole I’m very excited about the potential this choir is continuing to show and I’m already looking forward to the next semester!

Pentecost was another big day here! Besides having lots of people come for worship at both St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s, we introduced the newest Christian into St. Andrew’s through the Sacrament of Baptism. This very cute little boy also managed to sleep through almost the whole baptism, before waking up by the “and the Holy Ghost” part (he was no longer impressed with having water poured over his head). After that service we headed over to St. Hilda’s. While there were no baptisms at that church the Standard I class did have a couple song presentations to commemorate our celebration of Pentecost! We finished off the day by heading to Belize City where David was invited to be the guest preacher at All Saint’s Church for their Confirmation service. They had 17 kids getting confirmed! It was amazing seeing so many young people pursuing a closer relationship with God!

The St. Andrew’s Youth Group is continuing to meet every Saturday evening, and while it’s a little smaller this close to the end of the semester, we’re looking forward to getting some activities going throughout the summer to keep the kids involved. Four of our youth will be attending a leadership focused youth retreat at the end of this month. A group from the States is bringing 25 of their youth and then 25 youth from the Anglican church here in Belize will be joining them for a week of worship and leadership training. We are looking forward to seeing both what they take away from this retreat and what they are able to contribute to the group!

Let’s see, one of the other new things that has started up in the last couple weeks is a different approach to pastoral visits. Normally, David and I will spend about three nights a week visiting people throughout the parish. In an effort to reach more people and increase church fellowship/outreach we have started making visits while taking other people from the church with us. The first visits started with the churchs Fellowship Chairperson (a good friend of ours) coming with us as we visited families. Then at each house the families were asked when they would have an evening free to join us as we visited more families. This is not only strengthening the sense of community in the church, but it is also helping get multiple people to reach out in fellowship and ministry throughout the church. 

Before I wrap it up here I want to give you a quick update on Hemry (the young boy with leukemia). He has been continuing to spend most of his time in Merida receiving chemo therapy and the doctors are very pleased with his progress. Honestly, it is clear this little boy is covered in prayers! Out of all the children in his ward, he is responding the best, his platelets are high, he has lots of energy, and the side effects to the medication have decreased. While he still has a ways to go, and it continues to be rough for him and his family, God is absolutely watching over this little boy. Thank you so much for your prayers! We have been able to visit him on few days that he has been back in Belize and he continues to be his cute/fun-loving little self! In fact one of the times we went to visit him we brought a foam-noodle squirt gun, and let me tell you, you would have no idea he was sick with the way he was running around squirting all the chickens, goats, and cats (even when sick, boys will be boys!). So again, thank you for your continued prayers for Hemry. We really love that little boy!

And thank you for your continued prayers and financial support for David and me! Some days are rough, but we are continuing to see God work here in Belize and praying for Him to use us to further His kingdom.