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.

Ministry Blooms

At the moment, it is quiet. Finally. December felt like a sprint to Christmas. After Christmas it seemed like a mere hop-skip-and-a-jump until the whirlwind of Ash Wednesday. The marathon of Lent eventually gave way to the wrestling mat of Holy Week, and now, after a joyous Easter Sunday, I am collapsed here in our living room. Mary Beth is in the next room, sick at the momentwith a stomach bug we’ve both picked up, she worse than I. At nights the darkness is saturated with noise from the yearly fair taking place a few blocks from the Rectory: incessant bass and random airhorns announcing far and wide that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, and in the quiet of the noonday sun, I am able to take a step back and reflect, and wish you all a Happy Easter from me and mine!

So, to answer the question that’s probably on your mind, how have things been going for us? There is much to tell, and much to ask you to pray about. I may not be able to relay the juice of our doings and happenings like Mary Beth is able (and as she has this past NovemberDecember, February, and March), but even if my update's all pulp I hope to leave with you a definite impression of where we’ve been and where we hope to go in the coming weeks and months.

Mary Beth and the other Lay Ministers at St. John's Cathedral in Belize City.

On many fronts in ministry, things have really been moving along quickly. Last December we applied for licenses for ten new lay ministers for our two churches in addition to the four already serving: licenses for five new catechists to help with children’s ministry and preparation for baptism and confirmation, and licenses for five new lay readers to assist in worship in various capacities. This past Thursday those licenses were granted by Bishop Wright (N.B. the new website is still in development) and the Diocesan Commission on Ministry, and we’re excited to begin a new phase of ministry at St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s as we deploy them into action in the coming weeks and months. I am thrilled, in part because eight of these ten new lay ministers are under the age of 35, and in part because of my hope that they will help usher in a new emphasis on radical discipleship, outreach, and evangelism. Please pray that God will equip, empower, and inspire these new leaders of our little churches!

Mary Beth reads the First Lesson at the Maundy Thursday service for St. John's Cathedral in Belize City.

Also, as a side note: Mary Beth is one of those new lay ministers who just got licensed by the Bishop to serve! She was licensed for three areas: 1) to work in the schools as a lay youth chaplain, 2) to lead Morning and Evening Prayer as a lay reader, and 3) to administer the chalice at Holy Communion as situations may require it. She is insistent that her primary contribution in the life of the church is related to music, but music is taking her in all kinds of directions, and I am excited to see how God will continue to use her wherever, whenever, and however he wills!

One of our churchwardens (senior lay leaders in the church): Ms. Joy. She's an amazing pillar of our church!

As we license new lay ministers for worship, however, we are also in sore need of other kinds of leaders for our churches as well. At the beginning of this year we were unable to fill the Church Committee (i.e. Vestry) position of Outreach for St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s, despite some pleading from their concerned priest-in-charge at the Annual General Meeting. A congregation member has been serving informally as our head of Outreach since then, but she informed yesterday that her health is not allowing her to continue on in that capacity. Similarly, at the beginning of the year we had brought on a new Treasurer for St. Andrew’s, but due to changes in his employment he had to resign a few weeks ago. We are trying desperately to find new people to step up and take responsibility in these vital areas of the church. As is often the case on the ground here, only a few want to help out, and absolutely no one wants to be the individual responsible. Please pray that God would raise up new leadership to guide all of God’s people here to take on the full scope of ministry entrusted to us together as the church.

Another of our churchwardens: Ms. Perla. She also serves as chief catechist and director of children's education at St. Andrew's!

On a positive note, our two churches seem to be bouncing back from the relative instability of these past few years, punctuated by my prolonged absences. St. Hilda’s especially has been growing considerably, and God has not only brought two new families into membership and consistent attendance, but he has also been bringing people back to church who had left a while back! Please pray that the momentum that has been happening at St. Hilda's will not only continue there, but also spread to our larger parish congregation of St. Andrew's where growth has been happening, but remains a bit sluggish.

Q1 Median Attendance

Still, taking St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s together, not only has our attendance been on the increase at our Christmas, New Years’, Ash Wednesday, and Holy Week services, but First Quarter attendance figures have recovered from the low point that they hit last year when I was gone. We thank God for everyone whom he has been bringing to our churches: each person who comes is a gift that we treasure, and we can’t wait to see what he will be doing in their lives! Please pray that God would continue to build up our churches and increase commitment: that those who are frequent attenders would become volunteers, that those who are infrequent attenders would become frequent, and that on top of everything else that he would give us encounters with total strangers that would bring them into the fellowship of Christ’s Body.

Here I am with our two lay ministers in charge of Evensong (far left and right) at a baptism Easter Sunday in Georgeville.

It was to this end that last February we helped begin a new English-language service at one of the Hispanic missions in our twin towns. One of our senior lay ministers has been leading a service of Evensong and preaching through the epistle to the Galatians, while Mary Beth and I have been helping to lead the music. Our hope is to recruit new people to help lead music over the next few months, and then do the same thing somewhere else, either in English or in Spanish, in another location. The service is slowly catching on, although for the last few weeks those attending have been mature believers from St. Andrew’s who desire more opportunity to worship the Lord. This is not a bad thing, though our overall goals for Evensong are wider and more evangelistic. Please pray that God would continue to grow, reproduce, and direct this new service, and continue to equip and empower the lay ministry team that is overseeing it!

February's youth retreat in Selena Village

Something similar could be said about our ventures in youth ministry at St. Andrew’s. Our youth group is going well, although since we started doing more worship at our weekly gatherings, we have seen some drop-off in young people casually showing up. Nevertheless, we are excited about the regulars that we have coming (around a dozen), and we cannot wait to see what God continues to do in their lives! Back in February we held a youth retreat jointly between four churches: St. Andrew’s, St. Hilda’s, La Anunciación and Santa Cruz, and it went really well! We are so grateful for all the young people that God has put into our lives and churches, and we ask you to pray that God would firmly root and establish them in the Gospel and in his Church, equipping and empowering them not only for ministry in the future but for service in the present.

Mary Beth has also been working hard with her youth choir, which has moved from having rehearsals every other week to rehearsing every week. The kids are enthusiastic (almost, at times overwhelmingly exuberant) and they are starting to sound really good! While she is inviting them to perform the occasional anthem at church, she is looking for a really nice opportunity have them sing an entire cantata or concert of some kind in the spring. When we have a date, we will let you know so you can be praying and, perhaps, even tune in!

I'm talking shop with the Diocese's General Manager of schools just before breaking for the Easter holiday.

The amount of proverbial food on my plate has also expanded a little since we first came back to Belize now almost nine months ago. Back in October at our Diocesan Synod I was elected to serve on the Diocesan Commission on Ministry, the executive arm of the Diocese that discerns and advises the Bishop on issues related to ministry, clergy, ordination, and lay leadership throughout our churches here. This has until now involved a meeting or two each month, sometimes a Sunday away from St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s as we travel around the country and visit with churches that need the Commission’s attention. However a few weeks ago, I was asked by the Bishop and the Commission to serve as one of two "examining chaplains" in the Diocese; that is, I am to help test candidates for ministry and discern their level of (mostly theological) preparedness for ordination. It is a large responsibility, and we already have two postulants before us to examine and guide through additional theological preparation. I ask that you please keep us in your prayers as we put together our rubrics, ask these tough questions, and make our recommendations with regard to these postulants and to others who may come in the future.

There is so much more to say about ministry at our churches, but I had better get down to telling you about how Mary Beth and I are doing personally. We have been sick a lot recently … a lot. If it’s not a cold, it’s the flu, and if it’s not the flu, it’s a fall or a sprain. These ailments are made more uncomfortable as the seasonal hot-and-dry season has finally moved into our neighborhood, and smoke and dust are everywhere these days. We have had incessant electrical difficulties with our truck (new battery, new alternator, two new regulators, etc.) and plumbing problems with our bathroom. But in the middle of it all, these have been months of drawing close to God and to one another, especially this past Lent. We are doing well, and we really are enjoying life and ministry.

All smiles on Easter Sunday!

And for me personally, it is especially exciting to watch Mary Beth growing into her substantial and weighty ways of serving in a place where I had been for years without her. I love watching her connect, sometimes slowly but always deeply, with the people we serve and serve with, and especially with the children and youth who look up to her and admire her. I love the transparent humanity and fresh perspective that she brings to our pastoral visits and casual encounters with folks here. I love that her music showers its beauty about our home, our church, our youth, our community. I love that she is here, and I am so grateful that we are here together in ministry.

And soon Mary Beth will be mentoring someone else: Bridger (medium-term missionary) Jordan Paris! Jordan is set to be an intern serving with our churches and schools throughout June and July. We are so excited that she will be coming to work with us during those months, and I am excited to see God use my wife in new and powerful ways as well. We can’t wait for her to come and serve with us! Please keep Jordan in your prayers as she gets ready for the transition to Belize!

At this point I’ve probably written more than I need to. Mary Beth will giving her own update soon enough, but until then I would ask that you keep us in your fervent prayers. Thank you for your prayers, for your gifts, for your encouragement, and for your faithfulness. May God richly bless you!

The newly baptized and their extended family in front of St. Hilda's on Easter Sunday!

Two Very Special Visits

So instead of writing a regular update today I decided to go a different route and tell you what it’s like visiting different people’s houses every week … Which means a few less pictures, sorry! I was talking to a friend just last week about how different it is going to someone’s house here verses in the States. For instance, when I was living in California and wanted to go over and see a friend I would call and we would setup a day and time to see each other. Here in Belize we visit people three days a week in the afternoon and evenings. All it takes to go see someone is to show up at their house, shout, “Good evening,” and then we are typically invited in to visit with the family. Sometimes we do call ahead and make sure the family will be home in the evening, but most of the time it’s more spur of the moment. I think that is one of the qualities of Belize that I’ve come to really appreciate. People here are readily welcoming and happy to have us come visit.

I’m going to tell you about two different visits we have done recently that have stuck out to me.

A few weeks ago we went to Georgeville just to walk around and see who we ran into for visits. As we were talking to one gentleman these two boys from St. Hilda’s school ran up, all excited, and asked us to come to their house to visit their mother. We were happy to go and so they led us back along the path to their house, running ahead to hide behind bushes, shouting for us to keep up, and finally dashing up the steps to their home shouting to their mother that, “Father David is here!!” We knew the boys already, just from school, but we had never gone to visit their home. Their mom was happy to have us come in and visit with her, but her excitement was nothing compared to the boys. In pretty much every home we visit I enjoy talking with the family and getting to know people better, but what made this home stand out to me were these two boys. Right when we came into their home they played hosts. We were talking to their mother and one boy ran up and asked if we liked coffee (he’s maybe 9 years old), and then he ran back into the kitchen to try and make some. He would then run back out with a can of food that he was trying to open so we could eat. As he was out talking to us we watched as his little brother snuck back into the kitchen, grabbed a large spoonful of sugar and stuffed it into his mouth before running back out to keep asking us questions. These kids were excellent hosts, and extremely adorable … as well as having excess amounts of energy! Their mother, a very friendly woman, told us how much her sons loved the chapel services at school and how they actually remembered the different subjects and would come home talking about them with her. Her son then ran out with his Bible and wanted to read one of the passages David had covered weeks before in chapel. The boys wanted us to pray with them, read more Bible stories, and sing songs from church. They did not want us to leave! After we had prayed and said goodnight to everyone one of the boys came up to me asked me, “Can you sing me that one song from church that goes something something something something something something and sounds really pretty?” I laughed and said, “I’m sorry, I’m not sure which one that is.” To which he replied, “Just sing every beautiful song you know from church really fast.” It was so cute!  Sadly I did not have time to sing him every pretty song I knew as it was now well past sunset and time to go. It was fun to unexpectedly visit a family’s home we had never been to that not only had really cute kids, but a family where the kids primarily wanted to talk about things they learned in chapel. This visit was one of those encouraging ones where I really felt like we were getting to know these people and making a difference in the little boys’ lives.

Now every week we go on lots of visits, with some being good and some being really hard. The visit I just told you about was fun and easy. We got to know the family better and spend time with these kids outside of the school setting. But this past week has been one with very hard visits. We have visited a few people this week with very sick children. I didn’t know you could love kids you just met so quickly, but this week proved that you could! I’m just going to tell you about one of the boys today, but please pray for both.

Last week we were asked to go to Cristo Rey Village and visit a sick little boy from St. Andrew’s school. We hadn’t met the family before, but we went to their house right away to pray for him. When we got there the little boy was curled up on the couch and clearly very sick. As David talked with the parents I started to make silly faces at the boy. His fever would come and go in the evenings and as it started to fade he began making faces back at me. Eventually he got up and came over to me and we played for the rest of the evening. This kid is a pro at making silly faces. He would make one and then instruct me to copy him exactly, to which I apparently did not do correctly because he would repeat it over and over saying I still didn’t have it quite right! He then went back to his room and grabbed his book of truck stickers and then proceeded to plaster my body with lots of stickers. He told us all about how he missed school and so he decided to throw a party the next day (to the “oh reallys” of his parents) so we and all his school friends could come and eat lots of food and then spend the night in the living room. He then informed us that we would of course all have to sweep the house after as it wouldn’t be fair for his mother to clean at his party! He was full of ideas and plans to see all his friends again soon. He didn’t want us to leave ever and kept making sure we knew not to leave when he would leave the room for a minute. At the end of the evening when we were going to pray for him David anointed his head and when his mom went to brush his hair back after the boy panicked and said, “Don’t touch! That is where the special stuff is!” It was very important to him! This little boy won my heart so quickly!

After a couple days we went back to visit the boy and his family again. Right when we walked in the door, after giving us big hugs, he looked at me and said, “I know what you want!” He then ran out of the room to get his stickers and cover me again! After talking and playing for awhile the boy then informed everyone that he was going to marry me. David turned to him and said, “I’m sorry but she’s already married to me!” This did not convince the kid. He said he was going to build me a house and plant lots of flowers around it so we could get married. David informed him that those were fighting words, to which he laughed and then replied very seriously to me, “If you don’t marry me I’m going to take back all the stickers!” A very serious threat! Well, he finally settled with marrying our daughter if he couldn’t have me. Ha! He was so funny!

The next time we visited he immediately gave me a sticker (I think that’s a thing now), and we continued playing a talking for the hour or so that we were at their house. He even called us yesterday to say goodbye before going off to the doctors. While we could barely understand him on the phone, (he’s a rapid speaker!) it was a very cute gesture!

It’s hard telling you about that last little boy. While I’ve only known him for a week and half so far, he’s already, as David calls him my “little buddy.” It’s hard telling you about him because while I had so much fun visiting with him I know he is very sick: acute leukemia at eight years old. While I would play with stickers, make silly faces, and run around the house, David would sit with his parents and discuss his sickness, treatment, side effects, doctors, and every hard and horrible detail of what’s going on with this little boy. I got to grow attached to a very lively little boy full of stories and games, who, other than a few moments of clear sickness or pain during our visits, was otherwise ignorant of what lies ahead of him. David got to sit and comfort grieving scared parents and look over test results.

It’s hard to tell you about this. It’s hard because if I just left out the leukemia part it would look like another story of a cute little boy and an otherwise good visit with a very friendly family. But sometimes the visits we make here are hard. It’s never, ever easy to see sick children. I’ve been so angry this week at the sickness all around us. How incredibly unfair it seems to see children suffer. I already said I’m only telling you about one sick boy, but this has been a week of life threatening sickness with lots of people here in town. I don’t know why these things happen, but I do know God is still in control. We’ve already seen answers to prayers just this week with my "little buddy" getting admitted to chemotherapy faster than expected! While it has been really hard to love these families so quickly and then see them hurting, I’m happy God put us in a place where we can get to know them, pray for them, and minister to them in these difficult times.

So that’s just quick look at what our visits are like here in Belize. Sometimes our visits are just happy and encouraging, like the first one, and sometimes we visit families that we instantly love and still grieve with during incredibly hard times.

Please be praying for the sick here in San Ignacio. There are three families that we visited this week who are scared and need prayers for healing and peace.

Thank you for continuing to pray for David and me too!

Here's What We're Doing in Belize!

One of the wonderful things about living in Belize is the weather during this time of year. December, January, and February here have cool pleasant days and even mildly “cold” nights. We’ve been here for six months now and one of the main ways I can tell it’s been that long is my adjustment to the weather. Want to know how? When we moved here it was in the 90s and very humid. I didn’t know I could sweat so much! But now if the temperature gets down to 75 (that’s right, I said down like that’s low … ), I’ll be freezing! It’s very strange to get to this point where I’m cold in hot weather, but fun to see how I’m adjusting. Anyway, with the weather being cooler, and wetter, David and I have been sick for a month and a half. It’s hard to want to write an update when I feel like I’ve been in bed for weeks. But here we are! The first week where, other than a cough, I’m healthy!

 So, now that we’ve established relatively good health, and very nice weather, I can tell you what’s going on here with our ministry!

Right after the New Year David and I had a wonderful visit from his parents. They had not been to Belize in almost three years! I loved getting to spend time with both Brian and Roberta here in our first home. I also want to point out that it’s funny how our choices for food become more varied when we have guests. For instance, I got sick the last couple days that his parents visited and David and his mom made waffles. Waffles! We bought a waffle maker during our first month here and this was the first time it was used. Needless to say, Saturday is now waffle day! Whether we were taking them to one of the many beautiful places in Belize, or just spending time together at home, it was nice to get time with family. We don’t always know how often family will be able to visit, so it’s always a treat!

Since I already told you I was sick for the past month I’m going to skip the days/weeks where I was in bed and focus on the ministry.

By mid January things started picking up again. We were back in chapel with the school kids, making our regular pastoral visits, and starting back up with music ministry.

As you know I started a youth choir last year and after a break for a couple weeks we started back up again. I can’t tell you how much fun I’m having with this group of kids. Last year we had about eight kids coming, and it was great because they were all regulars, but this year we have all of those kids coming back plus more! I have to attribute my love for these kids, and youth choir in general, from my experience in choir as a kid. I had the most amazing choir director from my home church. Mrs. Segarra taught me to sing, to praise God through music, and to love singing! Well I’m working on the same thing with these kids. Last year we focused on Christmas songs for our Lessons and Carols service and now this year I’m teaching some of my favorite choir pieces from when I was a kid. I told them that the songs were going to start getting a little harder, but they were definitely up for the challenge. We’ve started having choir every week and have even had new kids coming to check it out! Youth choir has become one the highlights of my week. And this Sunday St. Andrew's Youth Choir is joining another choir from Spanish Lookout to help lead worship for the morning service! The kids are very excited!

One of the new ministries I’ve started this year is teaching piano. It’s been just over a year since I’ve had students and I didn’t know how much I missed it! So far I have five students that I’m teaching each week and at least that many more looking into getting keyboards so they can take lessons too. This is really exciting! Not only is all the money from the lessons designated straight for the church's youth fund (something we’re setting up for youth group, Sunday school, and choir), but I’m also getting to know a lot of the kids and their families from school.

What else can I tell you? This Sunday we are starting an English-language service of Evensong at our sister Spanish-language church in Santa Elena. Right now all the services we do are in English, with a lot of the pastoral visits in Spanish. We are excited to start this new service not only for a new outreach opportunity, but the plan is to have one of the Lay Ministers lead the service and preach while David and I lead music. Then in a few months we’re planning on replicating the Evensong service at St. Andrew’s Church, only that time in Spanish. As we look towards planting churches in different areas of Cayo this is our first step in that direction. I’ll be sure to let you know how this new service goes!

This Saturday we are holding our first youth retreat in Selena Village. The plan was to hold it right after Christmas, but David came down with a pretty awful stomach flu and we had to postpone. Well everyone is healthy and the plans are back on!

I’m going to take a side note here and say that boys are funny. This retreat for the youth group is going to have food, games, team building, music, and worship. So out of the blue a couple days ago David came up to me with this little boy grin and said he found something he really wanted, something that we could use for the youth retreat. Slingshots. He looked so excited just to tell me about these slingshots. Don’t get me wrong, I think slingshots are fun, but I didn’t know it could get anyone this animated. Here’s how I know it’s a boy thing though; I told one of the boys from youth group that David had us pick up a couple slingshots for the retreat (sort of as an offhand statement) and without even saying anything he walked over to David and just to give him a high five. Ha! So excited to shoot stuff! This should be a fun retreat.

 So I think I’m about coming to the end here, but I’ll finish it off with a visit we just had by a team from Texas. While David and I were raising support last summer we had the privilege of visiting Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. Not only was this church absolutely gorgeous, but also the people were incredibly friendly. This church has been sending a team here to Belize twice a year for many years. When we visited their church they told us about the mission trip planned for February and asked if there was anything they could do specifically for David and me. They wanted one of the many projects they planned (they send a large team) to be helping us, particularly our house and yard. Well they offered to help cut down dead trees and paint our house. As many of you know our house used to be baby pink … definitely not one of my favorite colors. A team came on a Saturday, and even though it rained off and on all day (and multiple times that week) these people helped us paint our house a nice bright blue, as well as cutting trees that had been burned. The rain ended up being more of an issue than planned, so it took us longer than we had hoped, but with the help of people from church later in the week (when we finally got sun!) our house is almost finished! David and I are so thankful for all the help we had this week! There are so many people that helped and our house is almost done! Thank you!

I think that’s probably everything for now. Please continue to keep us in your prayers! There are many new things starting up here that will require lots of prayers, and as you now know, we’ve been sick. A lot. I’ve been told that after a year you stop getting sick so much. Half way there! Please pray for good health, all of our new ministries starting up, and continuing new financial support.

Thank you for all your prayers!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

I can't believe we're at the end of the year already! Sitting here this New Year's Eve I can't help thinking back over the past year and the many things that have happened in our lives. I won't force you to reminisce the whole year with me, but let me point out a couple of the big things. In just two days David and I will celebrate our first marriage anniversary! Without getting too cheesy on you I'll at least tell you that I love being married to my wonderful husband. He is loving, supportive, and an incredibly Godly leader. We've had some pretty big adventures already in this first year (some good, some bad ... I seriously. hate. bats.) and we are very excited for the many years to come!! We are also two days away from having spent our first five months here in Belize! Time sure is flying!

So let me update you on the past month ... it's definitely been a busy one!

I don't want to spend lots of time telling you about Thanksgiving, but I have to at least tell you how it came together (since it was our first one together and everything). So at first everything seemed to be timed perfectly ... and then we noticed our meat thermometer was saying the turkey was done three hours early. In other words, our thermometer was broken. This meant that we had to keep taking the turkey out of the oven (which was really awkward) and then stabbing it all over trying to get the proper temp. As a side note, the skin was perfectly brown! Well when we did finally pull the turkey out for good (after many phone calls with my dad) we decided to take it out of the pan so we could see if it was actually done. Turns out it's really hard to pick up a 21 pound (yeah it was big) very hot turkey! With four different spoons stuffed all through that bird, one wing flying off, and a fair amount of turkey grease and stuffing all over the floor, we sat down to a lovely dinner. Good food and many memories!

Once we got to December things really started to speed up!

Not only did we have a team coming down to work with us, but we were also preparing for a wedding, confirmations, Lessons and Carols, my sister coming, and Christmas!

I'll start with the team coming from All Saints' (Bakersfield) and the Diocese of San Joaquin. This was my first experience having a team come down to work with us and it was a very interesting and encouraging experience. For this team's first trip they wanted to build relationships with the people in our churches. In the five days we had with the team we spent most of them visiting people in their homes and talking about their lives and the needs of the church. They also got the fun experience of push-starting our car after dinner one night! There is always an adventure in Belize! One team member even said "I got to eat a rat and I saw an iguana. This is great!".

For me, having this team come was very encouraging. Having a group come and work alongside us, see just a few of the things we do everyday, and get to know the people we have a chance to serve with was truly an uplifting experience. I loved both getting to know this group, who is planning on coming back, and also watching them get to know the people here in Belize! David and I love having teams come down to work with us and the churches here! If you want to come, please do!

The weekend after the team came David and I, a long with another SAMS missionary who had been staying with us for a few days, were able to participate in the Sunday church service at the Anglican Cathedral for the dedication of the new Spanish translation of the Book of Common Prayer (CPWI). This was a very important service and big step for ministry here in Belize. The demographic of people keeps changing here and there is definitely a need for more Anglican Spanish churches. With so many people coming in who speak Spanish there is a huge mission field right here with a need for more Spanish churches. We are blessed to have one Spanish church and two missions in our area that are run by wonderful priests! And now they have this new Spanish Prayer book to use in their services. One of the things we will be working to do here in the new year is to start an english evening prayer service in one of the Spanish Anglican churches across the river and then have a Spanish evening prayer service here at St. Andrew's. As the country progresses there is an increasing need to integrate Spanish into our services to reach all of God's people. And now with these prayer books, and the Bishop's encouragement, we can start connecting more with the community around us.

I don't want to go completely off track, but I did want to tell you that at the cathedral service for the prayer book I actually played the organ! Now that might not sound like a big deal (and that's fair), but for me, someone who hasn't touched an organ in years, this was huge!! Plus, the organ itself was huge. All in all, an exciting and nerve racking experience.

The following week we had a wedding. This was my first wedding here in Belize and it was truly a beautiful service. This was a couple we had been doing pre-marital counseling with for the seven or so weeks prior and then on December 17th they had a nice, intimate ceremony at sunset in the church. Now weddings can be very stressful (what with all the preparations, family coming into town, and getting yourself ready), but there is something truly special about the actual ceremony in church, something that makes all that other stuff fade. While you’re standing there making vows before God, vows to love one another, you get a glimpse of the relationship Jesus has with His church. After having gone through Ephesians with this couple, discussing God and His church, discussing all the expectations and promises that come with marriage, the marriage ceremony itself was extra special. It was like a refresher (a year later) for my marriage too.

I’m sorry if I got a little too mushy there, but like I said, I am reminiscing on this past year so you’ll have to bear with me!

Now if December didn’t seem busy yet, the following day was easily the busiest we’ve had all month!

In the morning the Bishop came for the Confirmation service at St. Andrew’s Church.  We had five nervous and excited confirmands that morning all ready to reaffirm their baptismal vows. As you can see in the picture, these kids were ready! It was another really good service with lots of friends and family for the kids and in the end we had five new communicants in the church! Please be in prayer for these kids as they learn to live out the vows they have now taken for themselves.

Right after our second church service we headed straight to the airport to pickup my sister! As you’ve probably seen from the pictures she has taken and put on Facebook, it was such a fun trip! I absolutely loved having her here! While it was a rather stressful day getting her, since we had to rush back home for the Lessons and Carols service that night, there were still many answers to prayer. For one, Caitlyn was bringing down my keyboard that I had left in the states. Well it turned out, in the chaos that is air travel, the keyboard had not made it onto the plane and the airline was responsible. At the time this was very stressful (as I said we were on a tight schedule trying to get back for church), but not only did we make it back in record time (right on time I might add), but the airport delivered the keyboard to our house the next day and we didn’t have to pay duty since it wasn't our fault! God seriously took care of us!

That night we had our Lessons and Carols service and the kids choir that I started a couple months ago got to sing for the first time for church. They did such a good job! They not only sang songs on their own, but they were also the majority of readers for the service, as well as helping lead the regular service. It was so much fun getting to see them sing and work together. I’m very excited to start the choir up again in a couple weeks!

The following days were filled with preparing for Christmas and showing my sister around Belize. We had many adventures! She got to experience some crazy rain, we cut down our first Christmas tree, went to Guatemala, went Christmas caroling with the youth group, she got to ride in the back of our pickup truck (to her delight!), and saw many different creepy-crawlies! While there was some stomach flu in there for David and Caitlyn, it turned out to be a lovely Christmas celebrating the birth of our Lord. I can’t put all the pictures on here, but if you get a chance to look on Facebook you see more of our adventures. We had so much fun with Caitlyn and I can't wait till she can visit again!

As I wrap this up I just want to thank you for all your continued prayers and support for David and me! It has been a crazy December, with little room to stop and breath, but we are loving the work we’re doing here in Belize and this first Christmas is one I’ll never forget. Please continue to pray for us this coming year. There are many new projects that will be started (e.g. I’m starting piano lessons in two weeks) and we can always use your prayers. We definitely and desperately need increased financial support. As you’re making plans for this next year please do consider financially supporting David and me here in Belize. Every little bit helps!

               

May God richly bless you in this year to come!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Busy but still good

It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote an update, so a new one is definitely overdue. Since it has been so long I can’t update you on everything that has happened here, but I can give you some highlights and some things we’re looking forward to coming up.

About two weeks ago we finished up baptism classes with a young boy who lives in the village and he was baptized into the family of God. You know, no matter how many baptisms I witness it never ceases to excite me to see another person accepted into the faith of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Sunday morning that David baptized this boy we had tons of children at church. One of the things we do here that keeps the Anglican schools and churches connected is that we have "Family Sundays". Each week one class grade is assigned a Sunday where they are expected to show up for church with their family. Usually it means that we have lots of kids who get to participate in the service while also representing the school. Well the Sunday when the boy was baptized was a Family Sunday for one of the younger classes (lots of little kids!). It turned out that there would also be no Sunday school that morning, which gave David the opportunity to call all the kids up to the front of the church for a children’s sermon where he could explain to them meaning of baptism. Now, at the two churches here where we serve the baptism font is at the entrance of the church (representing how when someone is baptized they are entering into the body of Christ). Well as I said we had a lot of little kids at this service and after a sermon about baptism they wanted to see the thing take place. At the end of his sermon David invited all the children to the baptism font (along with the family of the boy getting baptized) so they could see the whole. So many excited little faces! I love baptism probably as much as those kids, so I made sure I ran to the back of the church too so I could see (and get a picture!).

We also have about six kids undergoing classes to get confirmed in the next few weeks and they are just as excited! I remember when I got confirmed I was looking forward to it, but having grown up in a different denomination I had already been taking Holy Communion, so it felt more like I was getting received into the church. Well for these kids it will be the first time they get to take Communion and it is understandably a big deal! While the confirmations have not happened yet, I’m told that many of the girls will even be wearing white dresses and veils! While the clothes don’t matter for confirmations, I think the white dresses are a cool representation of the marriage of Christ and His church.

Since I’m on the theme of classes right now, I’ll keep going! We are also in the process of giving pre-marriage counseling to a couple getting married next month! This is my first time being involved in marriage counseling since going through it with David. While David is doing the teaching, I’m enjoying being part of the discussions. He says I’m there to keep him honest. Ha! That basically means I call him out when he exaggerates … hehe. This couple has been together for thirteen years, so while David and I can share some things about how marriage is going for us, we are also getting to learn from this couple and their family.

We continue to have chapel for the three schools every other week and the university every week. St. Hilda’s and St. Barnabas’ schools actually just had their Harvest Festival services a couple weeks ago, so I have now seen how each school celebrates Harvest. Not having celebrated Harvest in the California I would probably compare it to a much larger celebration of a Thanksgiving Day church service. Big service! All focused on giving thanks for the many blessings God has given us (specifically in the harvest).

Let’s see, how can I update you on the music front? Choir continues to go well. The children’s choir that I have started, while small right now, has gotten a little bigger and is beginning to have regulars. Right now we are working on Christmas music because we are planning on having a Service of Christmas Lessons and Carols next month with the youth choir helping to lead the singing. The kids are very excited! But honestly, who doesn’t love Christmas music? As far as piano lessons, I have not started giving lessons yet, but I’m in the process of figuring how to get teaching materials down here and I’ve started taking names of potential students so I can setup my schedule. I can’t remember if I told you last time, but all the money that comes in for giving lessons will be designated exclusively for the church’s youth fund to help offset expenses for youth activities like youth group, Sunday school, and choir. David and I are very excited to see the excitement of kids and parents alike over the extracurricular music activities we are working to put together.

Now for the more personal things that have been happening. I think the news that has made me the most excited is that my sister is going to come for almost two weeks over Christmas!! I’m so excited! I can’t wait to show her our life here in Belize! And just to see her!! AAHHH I’M EXCITED!! I’m sorry for the all caps … But while in our ministry things have been going so well, and we are very happy, I’ve been dealing sickness and culture shock for weeks now. Since my last update I think I’ve only had one week where I wasn’t sick. In case you were wondering, when you move to a new country you catch every single cold. As in, if one person in the country is sick I’m going to catch it too! Honestly, it became almost comical. It’s like clockwork. I finish one cold and the next week I have a new one. Well, maybe this means when we do have kids I’ll never get sick!

On the culture shock side of things it’s still pretty hard. While there are some days where I have my “I hate spoons!” response where I’m crying (and laughing at the ridiculousness of my reaction), there are other days where I’m depressed for seemingly no reason. It’s really hard to explain. I’ll have a wonderful day one day and then out of nowhere I’m depressed the next day. While I couldn’t tell you what was wrong, I’ll just be down for the day … and then fine again. Emotionally it’s quite the rollercoaster! Thankfully I have an amazing husband! I think I brag about him in every update, but I don’t feel bad about it because he is honestly amazing! He can tell when I’m having a bad day and immediately lets me know it’s ok to be down. Culture shock is awful!! But we have also had some really good days too. Besides the wonderful things happening with our ministry here in Belize we have been able to have some really good days off where (surprisingly) no bad things have happened! Last week we got away for two days to South Belize and the most amazing (bat-free) time! It was a great time to reconnect and get away!

I feel I have to tell you now, since I specifically said last week was bat free on our getaway, that our day of yesterday was not … When I was downstairs exercising last night, David calls down for me to close the door to our bedroom and stay down there. There was a BAT IN OUR HOUSE!!! You probably remember from our last bat story that I apparently have a very big fear of bats … Welp, it’s still there! Thankfully I still have a husband who just had lots of rabies shots! He was able to trap the bat in a room then open up all the doors upstairs so it could escape (all while I coward in our room … bawling …). After assuring me the bat was gone, and plugging up any holes where it might have come in, he then walked me around the house to show me that there was no place it could be hiding. Once again, Best. Husband. Ever. So, we will now be patching screens and having our attic inspected for more of the creepy little critters! Hopefully I’ll be able to get over this fear, but I’m more hopeful that the bats will go away so I don’t have to!

Thank you all for your prayers and your support for David and me here in Belize! We are so grateful for each of you! And as you know, we are still very much in the process of raising support (even though we are already in the country) to ensure that we can stay and continue serving. So if you would like to support us financially, or know someone who would, or would like to increase your gift, please click on the Connect button at the top of our page. Everything helps! And thank you for all your prayers! More than anything, your prayers are needed. I should also add, we would love to pray for you too! If you have any prayer requests let us know and we’ll be happy to lift them up in our prayers!

Happy Early Thanksgiving!!

P.S.  This will be my first Thanksgiving doing the majority of the cooking. Wish us luck!

A Normal-ish Week

So I'm going to see if I can write an update here without a completely crazy story. What?! Yep, we actually have had a pretty normal week!  

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Two Sundays ago was Harvest for Saint Andrew's church and school. I have never experienced a Harvest festival before, but let me tell you, it was awesome! Over the course of three services throughout the day all the kids from Saint Andrew's school put together baskets of fruits, vegetables, and pastries, and then come to church with their families. Even though we had three services (two more than normal!) the church was overflowing! There were kids sitting on laps, kids sitting up in the choir area, and in each service there were TONS of people outside just because we had no more seats! While it was hot and crowded, what better problem to have in a church than more people than seats?? About halfway through the service the kids processed up the aisle by grade with their decorated baskets (parents standing up to take pictures) and then gave a short presentation about thanksgiving and harvest as they presented their offerings to God. After the service all the baskets got sold as a fundraiser for the church and school. Out of all the big church services throughout the year (Christmas, Easter, etc.), Harvest is probably the biggest here for St. Andrew's as well as St. Hilda's and St. Barnabas' (whose Harvests will be next week). While it was absolutely exhausting (there were almost 700 people!), each service a wonderful experience and I can't wait for the next set of Harvest services next week!

For those of you who don’t know what an average (not crazy) week for us would look like, let me give you a quick taste. Monday is our day to do house work, catch up on emails, Spanish class for me (I just started this week! Mondays and Thursdays), and run errands all before the evening when we visit people from the parish. Tuesday through Thursday consists of chapel at the schools every other week, teacher devotions, visiting people in the evenings, either adult or youth choir practice, helping with confirmation classes, and preparing for Sunday (sermon prep and baptism classes for David, and getting the music together for me).

Let me take a quick sidebar here to tell you about our new youth choir. 

I know David already told you how great it was, but I want to say I wholeheartedly agree! When we first started putting together our idea for the youth choir we didn’t know what direction it would take. Would we have young kids or old? Would it be a traditional choir or a praise team? Would anyone come? Basically the first night was an experiment even just seeing who would show up! Well that Wednesday we had thirteen kids come! Since it was an experiment (and the majority of the kids were pretty young) we had a mixture of things that were too hard and too easy, but overall they seemed to have fun. We have our second rehearsal this Wednesday and (now that we have a better idea of what we’re doing) I’m excited to teach these kids how to lead worship and praise God through music!

Another side note real quick!

Since getting here (and particularly since starting up the youth choir) I’ve had a LOT of inquiries as to when I will be starting piano lessons. So very soon here you’re going to here about that next step in our adventure here in Belize!

Back to our typical week. 

Fridays are our day off. Now if you’ve been reading my updates you’ll have noticed that our Fridays haven’t exactly been nice relaxing getaways (flat tires, bats, rabies shots, the flu lasting for weeks, etc.). A couple months ago on our day off we drove up to the mountains to try and go to a resort that lets you hike down to a series of waterfall on their property. Now you may also remember from that trip that we didn’t’ make all the way there since we slid off the road, got a flat tire, and then got stuck in a lightning storm. Last Friday we decided to brave the long and bumpy road and to try again, and in comparison to our other “adventures”, it wasn’t so bad. We made it to the resort (even with looming rain clouds), hiked down the crazy steep mountain (all carved out stone steps) and got down to the beautiful waterfalls. Like I said, it was almost a completely uneventful trip … Well we got down to the bottom of the mountain and a man with a young boy called out to (we were the only other people there) asking if we had a radio he could use to call back up to the resort. I had my phone, but no coverage. As we got over to him we saw that his foot was pouring out blood and the boy was sobbing. The man showed us is foot and there was this huge gash all the way down to the bone! He had been playing on the waterfall with his boy and slipped, slicing his foot open. You know when people talk about God’s perfect timing? Well this was one of them. There was no way the guy could get back up the mountain by himself with that injury (and it had happened right as we were getting down to the waterfall too). David was able to run back up the trail to the resort so they could send down the tram with medical help. While the nearest hospital was almost two hours away, they staff was able to get him back up the mountain and to some medical help. David and I then spent the rest of the day relaxing and looking at the waterfalls (we weren’t really in the mood to swim anymore).

Now Saturdays are a little different. Typically it is a full workday with meetings, more Sunday prep, and then youth group in the evening. This past Saturday was a little slower since I had a migraine all day, but youth group turned out to be even more exciting than normal. Back when I was in youth group in the states, many years ago, my youth pastor Paul Gibbons had us play this game that involved making ice cream sundaes … in someone’s mouth … while standing on a chair way above them … I had told that story to David and he was all for us trying it with our youth group here! So, while David played dodge ball with the kids I secretly got all the ingredients ready ('cause it’s way funnier if they don’t know what’s coming!). And then David asked for some volunteers who were willing to get a little messy. After we had made some fashionable clothing for them out of garbage bags we revealed the game. I’ve got to say, besides being absolutely hilarious, it was a HUGE success! Many laughs, a funny video, some pretty embarrassing pictures, and a winner later (the messiest person), made for a memorable night at youth group! And don’t worry, we were nice and made regular ice cream sundaes for everyone after the game.

So that brings us back to Sunday. After at least two church services and then baptism classes we head back home and start preparing for the next week! While what we do during the week can vary, that’s what a typical week looks like in our house (now that we’ve made it through a week that didn’t have anything too crazy!).

Before I wrap up this post I want to talk a little bit about culture shock (mostly because it’s been getting to me this week). Now since we got here two months ago I’ve had moments of culture shock off and on (mostly big, easily identifiable moments). Well this week I got to experience the little ways culture shock can affect a person. As I talked about above, the past week has been pretty uneventful. As a whole I’ve started to really adjust to Belize as home, and yet out of nowhere in the middle of last week I broke down sobbing. Why, you may ask? Because we eat with spoons! Sound ridiculous? I was fully aware of how ridiculous this was (I was even laughing and sobbing at the same time!), but just the same, I hated that pretty much all the food we eat required us to use spoons! I didn’t want any of it anymore! I knew it was crazy and yet I couldn’t get my lower lip to stop popping out and quivering over and over again … Culture shock isn’t always big things that set you off. It’s not always the obvious things that are different from one culture to another. For me this week it was spoons. Next week I could love spoons! But for now spoons are awful! 

Now you know what a typical week for us looks like! But I have one last thing to update you on. When we came back to Belize in August we were not quite at full financial support. We were around 80% when we got here with the intention of continuing to raise support (just from a greater distance). For David and me to be as effective as possible in our ministries here in Belize, as well as being able to stay in the country as long as God has called us here, we are going to need to reach full financial support soon. If you feel God is calling you to partner with us financially for our ministry here in Belize please click on the Partner with Us link below.  Any amount helps!

Thank you for your continued support both financial and in prayers! We love being able to share what God is doing here in Belize with you, as well as give you a taste of our many crazy adventures!

Building Momentum in the Small Moments

Can you believe it? Practically two months have passed since Mary Beth and I returned to missionary service, and during that time my lovely wife has been fantastic at giving you the color commentary that you deserve (and I tend to forget to write about). Nevertheless, though she is showing herself to be a fantastic writer, I should also add my own thoughts and give you a rundown on how things have been going on our end over the course of this jam-packed period!

Our short-term goals have been modest during our entry back to serving at our churches and schools: to strengthen the relationships in Belize we already had before I left, to begin new relationships here as God disposes, and to work as a married couple to create our new home and life together in Belize. So far, so good ... very good, in fact. With regards to our new home and life here, I have to say that Mary Beth has been incredibly brave and strong as she adjusts to a far different way of life, far from family and friends; honestly, I could not be more proud of her, or grateful to her for her own ministry to me and alongside of me. Right from the get-go, Mary Beth has had to grapple with heat and illness (both mine and hers), travel complications, insects, flat tires and hurricanes, bats and rabies vaccinations (more on that later), and so much more. But through it all, she has been patient and courageous, and I am so awed at how God is caring for her even as he is using her as a missionary. With regards to all this, however we do ask for your regular prayers for each of us as we undergo that process of transition and suffer the very real "culture shock" that inevitably emerges in these situations. It will take many months before we are both fully acculturated in Belize.

For our re-start of ministry here in San Ignacio, we have been allocating our time first and foremost towards simply being with people ... a Ministry of Presence, of Showing Up. We have aimed to visit with families in their homes two or three days a week, and now that primary schools are back in session, we have begun again our biweekly cycle of chapel services for the students and devotions for the teachers. Next week we begin again our weekly services for students and staff at the University of Belize's College of Agriculture, and despite obstacles like a nation-wide teachers' strike, in many things are returning to "normal" for me in my pastoral ministry here.

Sometimes "normal" can be heartbreaking: last month I was asked to lead a funeral for a young man who was tragically beaten and killed when he was mistaken for someone else. Sometimes "normal" can be great but overwhelming, for instance, as we hold our Harvest celebrations at St. Andrew's this coming Sunday. But most days "normal" consists of small moments that, taken together, build missional momentum and herald Christ's Kingdom: praying with a family in their home, teaching God's word to school children, encouraging a local shop owner, or giving the invocation at an Independence Day gathering. Please pray that God would continue to open these doors for the Gospel, for building relationships, for moments large and small which will have an impact on the expansion of his Kingdom.

At the same time, these last two months have also brought more surprises and changes than we were first expecting. For instance, upon my return I learned that though our ministry team on the ground had served boldly and beautifully in my absence, many of our leaders had become exhausted during my almost eight months away, and many have had for various reasons to give up their positions of responsibility. While we may have found a fantastic person to be the Local Manager of schools (think of superintendent or liaison overseeing the three schools), and also have probably found an Outreach coordinator for the parish, we are still looking for a church Treasurer and a Secretary for the Church Committee. On top of this, we have identified an immediate need to raise up new Lay Ministers, train new Sunday school teachers, recruit new volunteers, and build the team that leads God's people at our churches and schools ... and to do all of this soon!

And this need to find and train new leaders goes beyond our English-language churches and schools: this past month the priest of one of the three Hispanic missions with which we work has resigned his ministry due to health, and the other Hispanic priests and I will be working together to insure that the mission (Holy Trinity in Frank's Eddy, a village approximately an hour away from us) continues to worship and to grow. Please pray that God calls laborers into his vineyard, that the Holy Spirit moves in the hearts of our people to give of themselves and serve in greater and greater capacities.

Mary Beth too has been experiencing faster change and development in ministry than she had initially expected. In addition to accompanying music at church and accompanying me on home visits and school services, Mary Beth has already begun developing her own ministries with children and youth. Last Saturday St. Andrew's youth group began meeting weekly once again, and Mary Beth has already started working closely with the other two leaders to make youth group not only fun but a critical space for discipling young people in our community. The opening bash that night went really well, and we're excited to see how God will continue working in their lives.

And in what was even more of a surprise to her, Mary Beth was encouraged to begin a children and youth choir sooner than she expected. This past Wednesday she jumpstarted a group of thirteen children and teenagers into what we are praying transforms into a regular and experienced choir. Without knowing who was going to show up, without knowing what musical experience they would bring, without knowing the size or age of the participants, she crafted an amazing hour of music with the kids and we are so excited to see how God will mold this group in the weeks and months to come.

As Mary Beth has mentioned previously, we have also been experiencing some unexpected obstacles since we arrived in Belize. We have both been sick for the last couple of weeks with a terrible flu (or something with terrible flu-like symptoms), and for the two weeks before that I was required to receive a series of five rabies vaccinations after a nocturnal encounter with a wounded bat. We have had to repair our refrigerator, perform extensive repairs on our pickup truck's engine, breaks, and tires, and purchase a new clothes washer and dryer. On top of everything, our digital piano seems to have become damaged, and no one we have consulted here is both able and willing to repair it. Truthfully, none of these problems has been cheap to address, and almost each of them has come at the wrong time (usually our day off together to refresh) or have affected us for far too long. But God has been accompanying us through it all, and often there are great victories along the way; for example, Mary Beth received her missionary work visa this past week, and she will be able to stay in the country legally for the next year! We ask your prayers for our ministry, that we would be patient in (what is admittedly mild) affliction, protected from the enemy, and useful for the Kingdom.

We also ask that you please pray that God would meet our financial needs. The unexpected expenses that I described above will put a higher load on our support, support which would need to increase by about 25% anyway. Please keep our finances and support in your prayers, and get in touch with us if there is any way you yourself might be able to help.

As I wrap up this update, let me also let you know that you can get these updates in Apple News!, Check out our channel and subscribe.

Thank you all for your prayers and other support: it means the world to us. May God richly bless you!

Routines and Scary Things

Can you believe it's already September?! We have now been serving here in Belize for just over a month and we're starting to get into a pretty steady routine. The past couple of weeks have been rather crazy, but things are starting to settle back down (while at the same time getting much busier ... don't worry, I'll explain!).

So I might as well start with the craziness that has occupied a lot of our thought and time the past couple of weeks. As many of you know from my last update David and I have been trying to get away to spend some time just the two of us on our day off. Each week we had a setback that kept us from really having that time (our fridge breaking, termite issues, and then our lovely adventure in the lightning storm when our tire blew-out). Well, two weeks ago Friday David and I decided to try again and actually spend the night somewhere nice and quiet away from home. We had actually been saving up for an "away" date since the middle of June ... needless to say, we were very excited. A nearby resort was having a summer discount package for locals, so David booked us for that Friday night. We got to the resort Friday afternoon (it was so beautiful and quiet), got to our room and then spent the rest of the afternoon in a hammock as we (finally) read the final book in the Narnia series. It was such a nice afternoon!  We finished the evening with one of the best dinners we've had since we got married, went for a late night swim to watch the stars, and then headed to bed. It was the perfect day. Easily one of my favorite dates with my husband.  But you're probably thinking now that none of that sounds crazy ... I wish I could say it wasn't 'til a couple days later that the craziness hit, but no.

It's funny, you don't always know what you're terrified of until after you have to face it. For instance, if you had asked me before our date if I was afraid of, oh I don't know ... let's say bats, I would have said, "no, I think they're actually kinda cute". Ha. You probably can see where this is heading ... 11:30pm. So it was a peaceful Friday night and the happy couple easily fell asleep after having spent such a lovely day together. 1:00am. David gasps and I wake up with a start. My first thought was that David must have had a nightmare (apparently we are both known to gasp in our sleep and wake the other person up). While I was very startled from being woken so suddenly I wasn't expecting much when I asked what was wrong.  Maybe some mumbling and then more sleep? But instead, in complete coherency, David told me to get out of bed slowly. Alright, now I'm officially freaking out. So as I get out of bed I repeatedly ask, "What's wrong? What's wrong??". The light flips on and there right in-between where we had just been laying was a bat.

A BAT!  THERE WAS A BAT IN OUR BED!!!

I wish I could say that was it ... While that would have been enough excitement for the night (I was completely freaking out at this point), we look up and three more bats are swooping around our heads.

THREE MORE BATS!!!

Yeah, that was enough for me. I'm half screaming, half crying, "No, no, no!" as I throw my hands over my head and run to the bathroom. David held it together really well. He even worked on comforting me while he tried to deal with our bat problem. While I hid in the bathroom, David scooped the injured bat our of our bed in a blanket and tossed it outside. He then found a video on YouTube that made sounds that are supposed to scare bats off. Then David went looking for help. Here's the problem, we were staying in a resort that didn't exactly have people around at night. David went and found the CB radio, but it had strict instructions to only be used for medical or security emergencies. Neither David nor I felt that our bat problem counted for either ... So David came back to the room. 2:30am. By now David had been going from the regular (a.k.a. bat infested) part of the room back and forth to the bathroom to check on me. Finally, he hadn't seen any bats for a long time (this was after I had come out a couple times and one bat would come back). Well, he called me back out to bed and held me (I'm absolutely cowering under the covers at this point ... pretty much positive sleep is not going to happen). David said he would hold me and watch for the bat until I fell asleep. We did everything we could. Bat scaring noises on. Ceiling fan on high making loud noises. Lights on. About 3:30am. We're about to turn the lights off and call it a night. Starting to finally relax.

NOPE!

Bats (plural) are back! Flying super low, landing all over the floor, almost hitting David as he got out of bed to try and get them out. Well I had had enough. Shaking and crying I said, "I'm sleeping in the bathroom!" We grabbed the blankets and pillows, ran to the bathroom and spent the rest of our night on the floor. It turns out snuggling with a toilet is not that comfy ... needless to say, I did not sleep that night.

7:00am. We got up and peeked out of the room (well, David peeked and I cowered in the bathroom waiting for the news). There was another dead bat on the floor by the bed, but other than that they seemed to have gone back to their nest for the day. As can probably be imagined, neither David nor I really wanted to spend anymore time there that day (seeing as how we hadn't slept and even hearing birds chirp behind me was enough to get me shaking and crying again).  We had breakfast, packed up, and headed home early. 

So here is what we think happened. We had gone to this resort during the low season (so not many people). We had also gone pretty soon after the hurricane. Well we think the bats must have gotten into our room (it had a thatched roof) since no one had really used the room in a while. And then that night when they came out to hunt the ceiling fan was on and must have thrown off their radar ... seeing as how they kept flying into the fan ... and then falling on our bed. Having bats in your room apparently NEVER happens ... we just happened to get lucky ... Ha!

I wish I could say that is where the craziness and excitement ended, but of course that's not true! If you didn't know, bats have very small teeth (scrapes and bites are sometimes not even detectable). On top of that, bats have an anesthetic in their teeth so you don't feel the bite. Well Sunday afternoon David started to be concerned about having touched the bat. You see, the reason David had gasped and told me to get out of bed was because when the bat fell into our bed that had woken him up. Then in the dark David had reached over and felt that it was a bat (which is when he gasped and I woke up). Well, there was a raised bump on David's hand the night that we spent in the bathroom. While we didn't think he got bit, rabies is nothing to mess around with ... so we decided the safest bet (since you don't know if you have rabies until it's too late) was to get David the rabies vaccine. Better safe than sorry! It turns out though that this vaccine is very hard to get a hold of here in Belize. We went to two hospitals that said they didn't have it and then drove to Belize City the next day to see if they would be able to give him the vaccine. Thankfully the doctor at the third hospital was very nice and said they could prescribe him the five shots. Thank the Lord! So we go to the pharmacy and they give him the first one. We ask if they can give us the other four to take back to San Ignacio to give David the within the following weeks so we don't have to drive the two our twice a week back to the city ... well, they informed us that they only had the one shot ... sorry. We drove to another hospital and, for twice the price, were able to pick up two more doses. David has now received three shots, and other than a sore arm, is feeling great. We are still in search of the last two (we'll try the city again tomorrow ... David has already checked in Guatemala). So, I would ask that you pray that we can get a hold of the next two shots here very soon. David needs his next one this Thursday! God is good and we know it will work out, but please pray we can find them soon, relatively close by.

That's a long story of the crazy that's been going on these past couple of weeks, but I had to share about our bats! What would an update from me be without a creepy bug and/or animal story be? But in other news I have lots of stray dog friends! And apparently I'm terrified of bats ... just thought I'd say it again ... since they're terrifying ... you're welcome.

So bear with me because I now want to tell you about the ministry stuff we have been settling into these past few weeks. David has gotten right back into serving at the two churches each week and I'm settling into playing the piano for each service (I actually play a for-real organ at St. Hilda's!). Three nights a week David and I go out around the parish and visit people in their homes. We get not only to build relationships, but we also pray with the sick, and take Communion to those who aren't able to come to church. Every other week the adult choir meets to go over the music for the next two Sundays (tonight is my first time leading the adult choir!). And in a couple weeks I will be starting a youth choir on the weeks that the adult choir doesn't meet. This week school started for the three schools that David is the priest over. So we go to the schools and lead a church services for the kids in the mornings about every other week. Yesterday was our first day back with the kids. The kids are so cute! It's such an amazing blessing getting to work with so many kids as they learn more about the Good News! Plus, David has such a way with kids. I'm posting a video (below) of one of the songs he led during chapel. It was so much fun!  Working with the kids also gets us more connected with the community. As we walk along the street it seems like every kid looks up and says "Hi, Fadda David!" I'm so excited that I get the chance to get to know these kids too! With school starting up, new choirs about to start, youth group getting started in a couple weeks, visits, church, chapel services, teacher devotions, and finding rabies shots, plus it being Belize's independence month, we are starting to get very busy! But we are very happy to be here (especially with the weather cooling off just a little) working with the people in Belize sharing the Gospel.

I would ask your continued prayers for our ministry here as things quickly pickup pace:

  • Please pray that we find time to do all that we need to do in our respective ministries as well as finding time to spend just the two of us.
     
  • Please pray that we can find the rest of the rabies shots very soon!
     
  • Please pray the continued adjustment of living in a new country.  While I love being here, this will be my first time away from family for the holiday season.
     
  • And please also pray that we will continue to get new financial supporters so we can continue serving here in Belize.
     
  • Thank you everyone for your prayers and support!

Until next time!

Mary Beth