Austin David Alenskis is ten-weeks-old! It’s high time that we write you an update, and tell you all about how he arrived, how he’s being doing, and what the plans for Team Alenskis are for the next few months as we seek to serve the Lord faithfully here in Belize!
1. Austin Arrives
As you may remember from Mary Beth’s last post, she began having far too many contractions, and was already starting to dilate when the doctor placed her on bedrest on March 18. By that point, she was only at 34 weeks, and we were praying that she could hold off going into labor until April 1, when the baby would be at 36 weeks. During that first week we made due, my taking care of cooking and running errands, and Mary Beth trying desperately not to go crazy from sheer boredom. My mother came for a week during that time, and her presence was a help and comfort to both of us.
April 1 arrived and the doctor was encouraged that the bedrest had done its work: Mary Beth and the baby were doing fine, and the baby’s lungs were sufficiently developed that a delivery at that point would not put the baby at overwhelming risk in our part of the country where there is no NICU. Nevertheless, the ongoing contractions, and corresponding distress to the baby and risk of meconium inhalation, made an early delivery imperative. The decision was made to take Mary Beth off of bedrest to try and induce labor naturally, and if the baby did not come in the week, Mary Beth would be induced at her appointment the following week.
It did not take long. After only a few days of being off bedrest, the day in fact after my mother went back to Indiana, Mary Beth’s water broke. Some bookshelves were being delivered, so we waited for the carpenter, and then headed to the clinic. Although labor had started, Mary Beth was not having regular contractions, so the doctor made the decision to chemically induce Mary Beth. And so began the toughest 3 hours of Mary Beth’s life up until that point.
With only a couple dozen microdrops of oxytocin, Mary Beth dilated rapidly from 3 cm to 9 cm in less than two hours. The poor OBGYN had to be pulled out of another C-section to deliver the baby: the doctor without her white coat, and Mary Beth without any painkillers. They could not have waited any longer. The delivery took only minutes, and Austin arrived in this world a little bit blue (the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck), but with a powerful set of lungs and an overwhelming desire to sleep (a desire that has lessened in the passing weeks since). We give thanks to God for a safe delivery, a healthy baby, and a happy mama and papa.
2. Austin Begins Life
Austin only wanted to sleep at the beginning, and that includes not quite figuring out the whole eating thing. Born at 36 weeks, he struggled to coordinate the suck-swallow-breathe pattern, and to associate breastfeeding with food. Waiting for Mary Beth’s milk to come in, and our concern for Austin’s hydration in the middle of Belize’s hot season, produced some incredibly stressful moments for Austin’s parents. Mary Beth’s mother arrived the week after he was born, and with her calming support and prayers we finally reached a point with Austin right around Easter Sunday when he was able to breastfeed without supplementing. With that, Mary Beth and I began to relax a little more into parenthood.
Since then, Austin has grown from a birthweight of 6 lbs 0 oz all the way up to 10 lbs 1 oz at the two-month mark. Mary Beth and I are learning new things about our son all the time, and just about the time we’ve figured out what he likes or does not like, he’s grown and changed and we’re back to “square one” again. But in general, I can tell you that Austin loves eating (he loves it so much!), music and dancing, the outdoors (even if he can only see it through the window), and recently he has started enjoying playing games. He’s a real joy! Some of our big struggles with him have been related to his issues with colic, waking him up or keeping him fussy as he tries to eat. But when his GI track is working right, he’s a handsome happy young man and we could not be prouder of the person he is becoming.
In addition to keeping alive this Bundle of Need, one of our big concerns has been to get his paperwork squared away for his dual-nationality, particularly because our time of deputation (raising support) in the United States has been looming on the horizon. We were anticipating difficulties in this arena even before Austin was born: our experience with the various government bureaucracies here in Belize had not encouraged optimism, and the documentary requirements for establishing U.S. citizenship abroad were steeper than we were expecting. Nevertheless, we dove into the Sea of Paperwork and emerged with wonderful results. Within a month, we had received Austin’s official birth certificate from Vital Statistics in Belize City, and a couple of weeks later we had his official Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) and his U.S. passport. After another couple of weeks, Austin received his Belizean passport and is set to be welcomed back into either country.
The greatest joy for us has been to believe God’s promises on behalf of Austin, plead his grace and presence, and finally last Sunday (on the Great Day of Pentecost) to present him for baptism at St. Andrew’s. Ordinarily I would have requested another priest to perform the baptism, but given the shortage of clergy in the area, I hesitantly – and yet joyfully – assumed the responsibility. It was a powerful moment, and we were so grateful to have the presence of my father and many other friends there to pray for Austin and put him in the hands of his heavenly Father, wash him in the blood of his Savior, and seal him by the power of the indwelling Spirit. He is now a full member of this missionary crew, and although he demands that we make many adjustments, Team Alenskis is richer, stronger, and (we believe) more effective because of his presence here with his.
3. Austin Is Coming to Visit
Austin (and his parents) are coming to the United States this month for our regular (every three years) period of deputation and support-raising. All three of us need this time to regroup, recuperate our energy and focus, and to seek the funds that will allow us to continue to serve in Belize. We will be visiting supporters and churches first in the Midwest, Southeast, and Central areas of the country before attending the New Wineskins missions conference in September, and afterwards we will be crossing the country to visit with our sending-diocese and supporting churches on the West Coast. Our goal is to return to Belize to continue ministry on the ground by the end of November.
In our absence, our churches will be stretched. I have reached out to a number of American priests to see if they might be able to come and cover our Sunday services for a few weeks. I have heard back from a few, and I’ll continue looking for others to cover as much of the time we’re away as we can. In the meantime, are team of lay ministers will be covering services and attending to pastoral needs, and in this they will be assisted behind the scenes by Evan and Missy Hansen (and their daughter Annabelle) who will continue their medium-term ministry while we are away. In addition to encouraging and coaching, Evan will still be helping with music as well as leading chapel services for the three schools. Missy’s counseling ministry continues, and not only has she made a considerable impact on many lives, but as she and I have reflected on her experience I have received a lot of perspective and wisdom that will be useful for my pastoral ministry. We look forward to seeing them when we return, even if it only shortly before they themselves return to life in Virginia.
With respect to our financial needs, we are facing significant budget increases as we envision ministry in Belize from November onward. Some are basic and essential in the short-term, and others are more critical for the long-term ministry that God may have for us on the mission field. As we begin to ask for more pledges and donations, allow me to explain by placing these budget needs into three thresholds:
Threshold #1: Funding for Austin
As we continue to serve, there are basic adjustments to our missionary budget that come with time and wisdom: gradual salary raises, additional ministry expenses that emerge, etc. More importantly, adding Austin as a member of the team mean modest but significant increases in health insurance and the base missionary salary. In order to return, at a bare minimum, we would need to raise a sufficient amount of pledged support to cover these combined changes in our family’s salary and health insurance.
Threshold #2: Housing Allowance
One of the top stressors for Mary Beth and me this past year has been dramatic increases in the noise pollution created by the neighborhood around the Rectory. While our house has always been in a noisy area of town, we have had to grapple with the reality that our street is less and less a residential area, and more and more a retail and “party” zone … up to and including a hostel/outdoor bar across the street. Although we love this house, we are finding it harder and harder to relax and spend time together with a family, and the stress we have experienced has not only led to anxiety and a difficulty focusing, but even diminished our effectiveness in ministry.
We have spoken to the Bishop and the parish’s Church Committee, and there is a consensus to allow us to move out of the Rectory upon our return, with the hope of using the downstairs as a parish office while renting out the upstairs as its own apartment. While this would allow the parish to chip in for a rental home for us, it is unlikely that the income from the Rectory would be able to subsidize entirely the rent of a new home. SAMS allows us to include a housing allowance in our budget, a housing allowance that we have not asked for since moving into the Rectory five years ago.
But now we are asking for our supporters’ assistance in covering a housing allowance to supplement St. Andrew’s contribution to the rental of a quieter, more adequately located house in the San Ignacio area. Based on this past year, we believe that this move is important for our long-term mental and physical health, as well as for our long-term effectiveness in ministry.
Threshold #3: Continuing Education
As Mary Beth and I have considered how the Lord might continue to use us on the mission field, based on the ways in which he has gifted and prepared us, for the last few years I have been feeling a call and push to seek further education, probably by pursuing a part-time PhD in Theology online (that is, while still serving as a missionary in Belize). My reason for undertaking a doctoral program would not only be personal (that is, there are indeed areas of research interest that I would like to explore), but also to better and more fully equip the saints for lay and ordained ministry and leadership in the church.
Reflecting on my experience in Belize, one which parallels my broader experience in South America and other areas of the Majority World, I have been overwhelmed by the scarcity of opportunities for thorough theological formation and ministry development in these regions of the world. Looking to the years and decades ahead for us in ministry and on the mission field, my heart has been moving in the direction of involving myself more directly and more deeply in that formation and development, and for this reason, I need to educate myself more fully.
To this end, I have been communicating with potential PhD advisors and conducting academic research on my own in order to put together a convincing Research Proposal, all with an eye towards applying for such a program before the end of this year. My hope would be to start the program in Fall 2020, well after returning to Belize and re-establishing ourselves in a new routine of missionary life and pastoral ministry.
Both Bishop Wright in Belize and SAMS have been very supportive of these plans, and almost all of those who have counseled and prayed with us can envision the use to which God would be able to put further academic study and professional credentialing. However, while the funds required to fund a part-time PhD online are fewer than I had long imagined, they are still substantial. I will definitely be applying for financial aid in any form that I can, but such financial aid depends on many factors, and we cannot be sure that I will receive much if any in the way of grants or scholarship.
However, continuing education is one of the areas for which SAMS encourages missionaries to use their funds, and we are asking that our supporters prayerfully consider giving to our ministry to a sufficient degree that we will not have to dig too much into our family’s savings to cover these educational expenses.
4. Prayers for Austin and His Family
So, to sum up, we have so much to be thankful for with Austin in our life, and we are so thankful for your continued support and constant prayers. Our path these last few months has been wonderful, difficult, stressful, exhilarating, lonely, and fulfilling, and your little notes and prayers and gifts have kept us going many, many times. So thank you, and please know that we are praying for you too.
As we transition to our timeline in the States raising support, please keep the following needs in your prayers as you are able:
Refreshment. Please pray that the Lord would give us spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical refreshment as we spend time with family and friends in places that are familiar. We are counting on this as we debrief and process our time in Belize and future vision for ministry in Belize.
Raising Support. Please pray for us as we reconnect with our existing supporters, whether churches or individuals, and please pray that we are able to build on and expand our existing support network to include others that might be willing to partner with us in ministry.
Research. Please pray that my ongoing theological research can be bolstered by access to libraries and other academic resources, to the point that I can make successful application both for admission to a doctoral program and for financial aid.
Health, Safety, and Lodging. Please pray that the Lord would keep us healthy in the United States, and safe on road as we move from place to place, and that he would give us receptive families who would give us temporary lodging as we travel around the country.
Again, thank you so much, may the Lord bless each of you, and probably see you very soon!