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