My dear friends, it has been far too long since I wrote anything. I am so grateful for your support, and you deserve more communication from me, but ministry and life have been coming at me at too rapid a pace for me to process and then transmit much of anything to you. But I'm going to try and do just that right now. As a result, this update may be a little long, but it's an important one, and I would ask you to take time to digest what the Lord has been doing in my neck of the woods.
Since September, ministry at our churches and schools has continued, and although there have been ups and downs, God has really been blessing us in big ways. I came back from my two weeks of September vacation in Peru refreshed and ready to knuckle down and serve the Lord. Shortly after my return, I was officially installed as Priest-in-Charge of our churches and schools, and the rest of 2014 was a rush of activities. And to tell you the truth, 2015 has only seen things rev up even more.
St. Andrew's Church (San Ignacio) is still growing bit-by-bit. I am excited to let you know that we have new leaders emerging in our midst, and I believe that God is setting things up for some major growth in the future. Not only could we see this at our patronal feast (November 30th) when Bishop Wright confirmed 17 young people, but I've been training three new lay ministers for service in the church, one of whom is interested in preparing for the priesthood. We have been assigned a recently ordained deacon who, though she lives in the States, comes every month to help out in our worship service, and there is the possibility she might relocate to Belize fulltime. And our youth are growing in maturity and service in the church. The new Church Committee for 2015 is made up almost entirely of younger Belizeans, and I am excited to see how the Lord will use them in the months and years ahead. In the meantime, the regular rhythms of Morning and (now) Evening Prayer, pastoral visits, youth group, choir practice and Bible studies continue, and God is continuing to show his faithfulness.
Unfortunately, St. Hilda's Church (Georgeville) has not been experiencing the same kind of growth. Our leadership at the mission continues to feel tapped out and attendence is erratic. I am visiting with members of the community, and trying to reach out to families in the community, but it is difficult to maintain the level of mission activity that we had when I was dedicated exclusively to that community. I keep looking for new lay people to step up in the community and take leadership for the church, but so far no one has been able to do so.
Our new outreach however has continued at the University of Belize (Central Farm). Every Wednesday, I and a few others head over to campus to lead worship at 7am, and we continue to have good turnout from the faculty and students. Other doors may open for us to have a presence there during the student activity hour, and I am truly amazed at how God is moving to touch the lives of those at the School of Agriculture.
Things continue to hop at the our three schools: St. Andrew's (San Ignacio), St. Barnabas' (Central Farm), and St. Hilda's (Georgeville). They are each incredibly different, and in addition to our regular cycle of semi-weekly student chapel services and teacher devotions, I have been taking up different distinct roles as a chaplain and as a manager depending on the situation. My hope is that over the next year or so, we can appoint, train and deploy around 7 Lay youth Chaplains to assist with the 700 students, so that we can better reach out to these students and families despite the large numbers.
My Diocesan responsibilities have also been increasing over the past six months. At the Diocesan Synod in October, I was not only placed on the Standing Committee of the Anglican Diocese of Belize, but I was also placed as one of the co-chairs of the Youth Commission. This is a huge task, and so far I have been focused on meeting youth leaders (principals, Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders) across the Dicoese. The hub of much of the youth work in the country is in Belize City, and there is a desire to find a Youth Coordinator who can work with the gang violence which has been leading to the deaths of so many young men. Also, it has been my pleasure to interface as much as possible with other churches in the Diocese in general. Not only am I still heavily involved in the Hispanic missions of La Anunciación (Santa Elena), Santa Cruz (Selena), and Santa Trinidad (Frank's Eddy), but I have able to visit other congregations like St. Paul's (Corozal) and St. Jerome's (Hopkins). It's beautiful to work together as clergy and congregations, and I enjoy the good relationship that I have with many of these priests around Belize.
And there is still even more going on. In September, Deacon Thomas Guerra came down to Belize to serve at St. Ann's Church (Belmopan), but in January he was transferred to work with our congregations here in Western Cayo until Easter (April 5). Although his time with us is too short to offload much responsibility exclusively onto his shoulders, partnering in ministry can ease the burden of loneliness and I hope his time with our churches has been and will continue to be inspirational as he returns to the States to pursue ordination as a priest. We are very much looking forward to Holy Week and Easter, but we will miss him and others who will be departing around that time.
In the meantime, there are so many things to attend to. I am preparing candidates for baptism right now, preparing a Healing Prayer Service for March 28 in conjunction with the Belize Cancer Society, and trying to re-imagine what ministry could look like if I were not so busy and not getting so burnt out. And that leads me to the next part of this update.
In so many, the ministry is going well for me here in Belize. But personally, I confess that I am at a crisis point, where I know that something needs to change. I am burning out emotionally, and if a change doesn't happen soon I know that the progress which our churches and schools have been making will be frustrated, and I will become even more wounded in the process. Osward Chambers writes of spiritual exhaustion,
Exhaustion means that our vital energies are completely worn out and spent. Spiritual exhaustion is never the result of sin, but of service. Whether or not you experience exhaustion will depend on where you get your supplies. Jesus said to Peter, "Feed My sheep," but He gave him nothing with which to feed them (John 21:17). The process of being made broken bread and poured-out wine means that you have to be the nourishment for other people's souls until they learn to feed on God. They must drain you completely— to the very last drop. But be careful to replenish your supply, or you will quickly be utterly exhausted. Until others learn to draw on the life of the Lord Jesus directly, they will have to draw on His life through you. You must literally be their source of supply, until they learn to take their nourishment from God. We owe it to God to be our best for His lambs and sheep, as well as for Him.
To be honest, for the last few months, I have had to learn more intensive ways to replenish my spiritual supply in Christ: they had gotten very low. In the midst of the busyness of my ministry and life (I will have more to say about that below), structured daily prayer has been my lifeline, and today I feel that I am stronger in my faith and closer to God than I have been for a long time. Nevertheless, being spiritually nourished is not the same as being emotionally filled-up, and the rigors of my pace of life and the stresses of my current circumstances have caught up with me.
To start with, I am working far too much. This is a constant struggle for many servants of Christ, as the church is in many ways a bottomless pool of need, expectations, and demands. But as I look at the number of congregations, schools, and ministries that I oversee, and the corresponding number of activites that I almost have to be involved in, it is almost impossible to work fewer than 60 hours per week, and very frequently it soars up to 70 or 80 hours. There are some who can endure (and even enjoy) this degree of busyness, even in a crosscultural context. But after almost a year of working at this pace, and still not meeting my own expectations upon myself, let alone other people's expectations of me as their pastor, I find myself emotionally exhausted, empty, and even withdrawn. Working so hard, and feeling like my efforts are still insufficient, is a tough pill to swallow.
Keeping these hours not only adds to the stress that I feel at the end (or, honestly, in the middle) of the day, but it takes away from the time I have available to process that stress. I have less time for reflection and meditation, less time for hobbies, less time for cooking, less time for personal study, less time for exercise, less time for friendships and communication. And unfortunately, I have to admit that I am living less and less like a human being, and more and more like an object or a tool.
And while all this would be enough to deplete anyone's emotional resources, there is so much more. In my first two years here in Belize I took pains to develop strong relationships with people who could support me in my life and ministry, not the least of whom were my mentors Juan and Maria Marentes. However, over this past year, not only have Juan and Maria moved back to Colombia, but most of my other close friends have also moved away in the same time frame. Though there are local people that I can and do depend upon in my ministry, it has been hard to recreate an equivalent social support system for myself after the departure of so many friends, due in large part to the fact that I have so little personal time for myself.
I share all of this here in my update, not to burden you or over-share my pain, but so that you as my supporters can be aware of what I am going through in ministry and life, and so that you can pray that the Lord would heal me from this burnout. And there are positive notes on the horizon: for those of you who have been praying for my feet, orthopedic shoes have helped a lot, and in January I purchased a Yamaha keyboard and have enjoyed expressing myself musically again. But I also realize that I cannot continue on in ministry, here or elsewhere, without making some significant changes, I need you to pray that God would guide me as I seek to find, follow, and perform his will for my life.
3. What's next
As you pray for me and this ministry, you should be aware of a few things that will play an important role in the weeks and months ahead.
First, I need to take a break or two. My mission society SAMS-USA has offered to help me go to Colombia to see my old mentors, Juan and Maria Marentes, for a few days in April. Please pray that this works out, and that I am able to relax and refocus with them away from the busyness of the parish. And please pray that a few other avenues for refreshment that we've been looking into work out as well. I need not only a vacation, but a time to connect again with God's vision for me and this ministry.
Second, my relationship with my girlfriend is becoming more and more important in my life, and I am increasingly thinking about the future that God may have for us. Just to allay too much excitement too soon, we are not yet engaged to be married. But though she is in California and I am in Belize, and though we are both going through very stressful and hectic situations in our lives, nevertheless God has been bringing us together in powerful ways, and I love her truly and deeply. So, please pray that God will continue to shepherd and protect us as a couple, and show us which steps we should be taking as we become increasingly important to one another. I believe that he has amazing things for us, and I can't wait to find out what they are!
Third, there are many other possibilities on the horizon. The Bishop is continuing to restructure the diocese, and seems to have an interest in my being involved with the formation of a deanery (regional collection of churches) in our area, as well as pushing forward with heightening my diocesan roles regarding youth and also recruitment of new missionaries. However, increasing these regional and national responsibilities would only heighten the obvious need for me to back off on necessary congregational duties and push me to look for other clergy who would be able to come serve with our churches and schools. I have spoken with the Bishop about looking for a curate, or even establishing a curacy program in our area, both to lighten the load here in Cayo, and also to attract more missionaries to come to Belize longterm. It is an exciting possibility. Then again, God may have something else in mind.
So please, pray for me, for our churches and schools, for our diocese and country, and most importantly that his will and not ours would be done. Thank you all for your support and your help for me in this ministry: I could never have gotten even close to where I am at here without your constant partnership. May God richly bless you!