As of today - December 17th

We are rapidly approaching our celebration of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. And my departure from Belize. They happen to be on the same day, and it's all coming very quickly!

Last week went well. Our elementary schools held their last week of classes, and they are now out on break: the teachers appear to be just as elated as the students. There is a great sense of expectancy around here in San Ignacio and Santa Elena. Two of Juan and Maria's sons have arrived here in Belize to be with their parents, we have been busy holding charity dinners and community outreaches to the poor, and radios around here are constantly playing songs about snow and sleighs. Advent in Central America is a little strange.

A few weeks ago, we began an Advent discipline of holding Morning Prayer at the church every day at 7:00 AM. The attendance has been a wonderful as the worship together, and I've been alone at the church only one day morning. We have begun discussing offering Morning Prayer during Lent as well, and I have a secret desire (though not so secret since I'm putting it on my blog) to find a way to continue offering daily prayer when I return to Belize next year.

Preaching went well this past Sunday, and I also had the curious opportunity to drive a truck all the way to Belize City this past week for a diocesan lunch: my first time doing extensive driving in this traffic-pattern-lite country. The Lord kept us all nice and safe.

My focus this week is on pre-Christmas pastoral ministry and pre-flight packing. In addition, this week marks the much-anticipated end of the ancient Mayan calendar, whether for weal or for woe, and pagan religious leaders from across the country and other Central American nations will be gathering in our district for commemorative rituals.

This Saturday we will be having our youth Christmas party, Sunday evening will feature a Lessons & Carols Service, Monday evening we will hold a Christmas Eve and Pageant service at which I am preaching, and Tuesday morning I fly home to begin re-raising support. Thank you for keeping me and us and all of these events in your prayers!

As of today - December 10th

Wow, what a week! Life and ministry have been full, and this week looks as though it will be about the same!

This past week I received word that Bishop Wright has officially requested that I continue to serve in the Diocese of Belize on a long-term basis. All systems read "go" at this point for further work with Juan and Maria here in Cayo, so now all that is lacking is the promise of additional financial support to sustain the ministry in the year to come.

Our retreat with the Bishop and other clergy here went very well also. We touched on many areas of life and ministry, the struggles that we share as pastors and leaders of churches and ministries, and what lies ahead of us as we consider the goals and priorities of October's general synod. While we left the retreat more tired than we arrived, it was a great time of fellowship and encouragement as we approach the Christmas season.

I was also asked to preach Sunday at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Belize City. I was thrilled to be able to serve in this way, and I had a wonderful time with the congregation there sharing God's word at both services. God was very good, and I look forward to being back at the Cathedral sometime soon.

Unfortunately, the planned and expected performance of Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb did not happen: the lack of electricity in the performance building kept us from being able to manage it. I was pretty bummed about it, but I trust that God had a purpose and a plan, and I look forward to the possibility of singing some of the same songs on Saturday at a benefit for the elderly.

This week looks busy. I've already been to Belmopan to renew my visa, and I will be preaching this weekend on Philippians 4:4-9. And it is with that perspective, that of "Rejoice in the Lord, always!" that I consider well the activities of the week and ask God to give me grace to serve him well in all of them. Thank you for joining with me in this prayer, and for supporting me in so many other ways!

As of today - December 3rd

We survived the weekend. I survived the weekend. And we had a good time.

The preparations last week for the bishop's visit and consequent confirmations were more than a little taxing. The confirmation candidates at St. Andrew's (San Ignacio) were in order, but for a variety of reasons we had to take special care to examine the candidates at St. Hilda's (Georgeville). The churches were decked out in all kinds of splendorous decoration, and on Sunday the bishop's visit was met with tremendous attendance in both places.

It was terrific having Bishop Wright and his lovely wife spend Saturday evening and Sunday morning with us. Sunday afternoon after they left, Fr. Juan and Maria and I spent the afternoon hopping from one party to another, enjoying the company and enjoying the food. But I arrived home last night completely and utterly exhausted.

Preparation for the Behold the Lamb concert in Georgeville continues this week: we are on for 7 pm this Friday (we need your prayers!). Thursday and Friday will see Fr. Juan and me traveling to Burrell Boom (in the Belize district) for a diocesan clergy retreat, so this week is proving to be quite busy.

We also began offering Morning Prayer today as an Advent discipline at St. Andrew's, leading up to Christmas. Three congregants joined me at 7 am (despite the rain!) for a solid time with the Lord.

That's the gist, folks ... I'm going to get back to it here. Thank you so much for your prayers!

As of today - November 26th

Thank you all for your prayers. Things are cooling off here weather-wise and heating up otherwise, as we prepare to head into the season of Advent this coming Sunday. As I mentioned last week, this Sunday the Bishop Wright will be coming for his episcopal visit. We are decorating the church, bringing up Garifuna singers and drummers from Dangriga, examining the confirmands, and otherwise making ourselves quite busy. Thank goodness the work with the schools is lighter this week.

Apart from that, I am very excited to be moving ahead with a small project of performing a Christmas concert with some friends of mine as a benefit for the poor and elderly of Georgeville. On December 7th, we will be putting on our (probably very modified) version of Behold the Lamb of God. Please keep us in your prayers as we prepare for this concert. Pray that it will be a blessing not just for the poor and elderly of Georgeville, but also for those who come to listen to the Biblical narrative retold before Christmas.

Preaching on Revelation 1 (Christ the King) went well this past Sunday, and I am looking forward to spending Saturday not only at a Cursillo Ultreya, but also with our youth group that continues to go strong. I am rather encouraged by how God is bringing our young people together.

Other projects and visitations and ministry continue unabated. Hopefully a haircut will happen again sometime soon as well. I am still beginning to ratchet up the preparation for Deputation 2.0, and covet not only your prayers but your involvement in that process. If you are interested in giving to this ministry, or have ideas about where and to whom I might discuss this mission, please let me know!

Again, thank you for all your prayers and support!

As of today - November 20th

Today would have been my last day in Belize, but prospects change and I continue adjusting. Rather than flying out today, I am set to return to the States on December 25th, with the hopes of possibly returning to Belize soon. Still, this is a big day. I have now been in the country for more than six months!

Life here is going well: the routine of ministry (worship, home visitations, study, school visits) continues. We're quickly approaching the feast of St. Andrew and the visit of the Bishop, and then a lot of activity that will come throughout the month of December, in all our congregations and schools. I'm looking forward to it, but it's going to get crazy for a while!

Yesterday (Monday) was Garifuna Settlement Day, a big holiday celebrating the arrival of the Garinagu people to the shores of this country. There were impressive public festivities that occurred so early in the morning that, despite my best efforts to set my alarm, did not involve my attendance. Still, I enjoyed celebrating the day, and it's a great example of one of the many incredible cultures present here in Belize.

I am beginning to really get in the swing of finding more financial support for my ministry here in Belize. It's been terrific to hear from current and former "senders" about their plans to give in the year to come. I'm so grateful for those who are helping to further the work here in these churches and schools by supporting me.

Apart from this, it's "business as usual" (which hardly means "usual" in the usual sense of the word). I intend to preach from Revelation 1 this Sunday, focusing on the theme of Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords. It is an epic (literally) theme of which I'll only be scratching the surface. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

May God richly bless you all, and thank you so much for your prayers!

As of today - November 12th

Greetings from the Belizean highlands! Things have been going well over the last few weeks: a lot of basic pastoral work, and not much else. The days are full as the nights get longer, and we're rapidly approaching the beginning of the traditional December business and even craziness, kicked off by our official visit from Bishop Wright on December 2nd to celebrate the feast of St. Andrew, Apostle and Martyr.

As I look towards the strong possibility of staying longer here in Belize (pending a few conversations), I have moved the date of my traveling back to the States from just before Thanksgiving to Christmas Day itself. I am excited to be celebrating Christmas Eve with the brother and sisters here in Belize, and I'll be excited to see my family in Indiana before heading to the Urbana Conference a few days later.

Also, in view of this strong possibility of my staying longer, I am getting in touch with current supporters, former supporters, and potential supporters (that means you!), asking people to find concrete ways to be a part of my ministry and mission here in Belize. These are tough times, and giving for my ministry has dropped to nearly 50% of budget. If I'm to stay here much longer, by the beginning of 2013 I will need to build up again not only the amount of money that is being pledged, but also the amount that is actually being given. If you are currently giving to my mission, thank you so much! If the Holy Spirit is nudging you to begin giving, please listen and answer his call to help meet the needs of this ministry!

Besides that, there is little to tell besides the fact that I am having some technology issues and problems about which I share more at a later date. Until then, please keep me and my computer in your prayers, and I'll try to post updates here and be in touch as often as possible.

Take care, and thanks for all the prayers!

As of today - November 1st

It's been too long, way too long, since I posted an update here! And a lot has happened ... let me see if I can give you a highlight of the last month!

First of all things have really been moving along since Juan and Maria Marentes came back from vacation! We have settled back into our routines of ministry, and we've been moving ahead with further developing our homeless ministry, catechism classes, Juan's doctoral thesis, youth group, and much much more. In that sense, there has been very little "new" that has been going on, but the regular course of ministry is grueling but exciting from week-to-week!

A few weeks ago we experienced grueling at its highest point: Diocesan Synod. The Synod rolls around only every two years, and we spent two whole days assembled in deliberation and discussion. As an observer, I was privileged not only to attend but to participate in discussions surrounding the issue of ministry and an encouraging young people to hear and pursue calls to ministry. Many issues were touched at Synod (land rights, the death penalty, schools, pornography, violence, and wome's ordination, etc. etc.), and there's too to say here. But it was wonderful to be there, and it was great to spend time with people from all over the diocese, building friendships and eating tacos (ah, that's a long story!).

I was also privileged to head out with the Bishop last weekend as we hit up some of the "river missions": St. Philip's (Willows Bank) and St. Thomas (Double Head Cabbage). I was able to bring the Word from Mark 10 about blind Bartimaeus, and I really enjoyed meeting the people in those places and spending time with the Bishop and some of the other ministers working in these villages. I was also able to sit down with the Bishop and discuss my future prospects for ministry here in the diocese, a conversation which seemed to hold out some fairly good possibilities for my staying. While I don't want to be overly forward at this moment, I think it is safe to say that all major interested parties, including myself, have a desire for me to continue serving in Cayo with Juan and Maria. We'll see where the Lord takes me in the next few months!

Thank you all for your prayers, and I look forward to giving a regular update in the next week or two! A blessed All Saints' Day to you all!

As of today - October 1st

Last week went well, Fr. Juan and Maria got back safe and sound from the United States, and we had some great services at our churches in Cayo this past weekend. Unfortunately, I was unable to accompany the bishop up north to see some parishes there and talk about my experience so far: the bishop came down with vertigo, and he was strictly instructed by his doctor and his Boss to take a break. We'll try to make it work next time.
Instead of travelling north, I'm taking a few days (now that los Marentes are back) to preemptively regroup my thoughts and my spirit: a kind of time to rest/refresh/renew/revision. So, today I hopped on a bus and have come down to the far south of Belize, the sleepy seaside town of Punta Gorda in the Toledo District. I love it here: I have inexpensive lodgings, a peaceful atmosphere, a church right next door, and if I look across the Caribbean from my inn I can see Honduras. It doesn't get much better than this for a break.
I'll be back in San Ignacio for the craziness of ministry again on Thursday, but please pray especially for my time in Punta Gorda (or "Pee Gee" as the Belizeans say). Pray that God would let me clear my mind, rest my soul, get in a lot of prayer (and maybe reading), and come back with batteries recharged in ways that I need but that I don't even realize right now.

As of today - September 24th

Patriotic celebrations are winding down here in San Ignacio. The pavilion put up for the month is being taken down, the banners and flags are slowly disappearing, and life is returning to normal. It's sad to see some of the pomp go away, but life must go on again as it had before.

The festivities last week were indeed truly exciting: I marched in two parades. Thursday I marched again with our St. Andrew's school students through most of San Ignacio. Then on Friday, I was privileged to give the prayer of invocation at the opening ceremonies of the parade on Independence Day. It was an honor to share the podium with public officials, community organizers, and the winners of the beauty pageants from around the district. We then marched through the two towns, waving at friends and supporters and trying not to dance too wildly to the Caribbean rhythms being pumped out noisily from the floats behind and before. While it was a little strange to march alongside of political figureheads up soon for re-election, it was great to be out to see everyone and be seen. A ministry of presence and visibility in a way.

Apart from that, the week was full of interaction with the schools and pastoral visits to youth and their families: all in all, the days that were not spent in patriotic festivities were busy but routine, and I was able to prepare some for my Sunday sermon and to get ready for the start of Confirmation classes as well.

This week looks to be interesting: on Wednesday, there is a celebratory gala for the Peace Corps at the U.S. embassy in Belmopan that I am looking forward to attending, and Sunday I am hoping to accompany Bishop Wright on some pastoral visits that he will be making to other congregations and missions in parts of Belize that I have not yet seen. I'm very excited.

Well, that's it all for now. I hope you all have a blessed Michaelmas (autumn's smaller yet still cheerful counterpart to Christmas), and keep those prayers coming for me!

A Bidding Prayer for Belize

Today as we began the Independence Day parade in San Ignacio, I was asked to give an opening prayer. What follows is about what I used for an invocation:

Good afternoon to all of you. It is my deepest pleasure, on behalf of myself and of the Anglican churches in Cayo, to wish you a very Happy Independence Day as we celebrate this great nation of Belize together.

On this day of joy and happiness, I call for your sincere prayers in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I bid your prayers for our nation: for our elected officials and civil servants, for our police and military, for our farms, industries, businesses and markets. I bid your prayers for our families and homes: for parents and grandparents, for children and grandchildren, for brothers and sisters and those who are adopted. I bid your prayers for our schools: for teachers and students, for preschools and primary schools, for colleges, technical schools, and universities. I bid your prayers for our churches: for congregations and missions, for the poor, the victimized, and the homeless, for nonprofit organizations and charities, and for a love among us that reflects the love of him who first loved us.

I bid your prayers for the continuance of peace and prosperity in our beautiful land of Belize, for the abounding of true liberty and just order among all Belizean people, and for the flourishing of true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness over the face of the earth.

And finally I bid your humble and heartfelt praise and thanksgiving to the only true, living and almighty God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, for all those blessings that he has already granted us and that he continues to pour out upon each of us every day and upon this fair nation whose independence we are celebrating.

I therefore invite you to join with me in bowing our heads and our hearts before his heavenly throne of grace as we seek his face of mercy and his hand of grace.

Let us pray.

ALMIGHTY and eternal God, you are the Father of all life, the Defender of all freedom and liberty, and the Source of all goodness and blessing. In your hand rest all nations upon earth, in your counsel reside all wisdom and virtue, and in the fullness of time you will establish your everlasting kingdom upon this earth and make all things new. Grant to us now, therefore, to our nation, to our town, to our villages, and to our families, the blessing of your gracious care and providence. As we celebrate Belize this Independence Day, give us a heart to love and fear you, to delight in your law and to walk in your ways. Increase in our nation true knowledge, true righteousness, and true holiness. Guide our leaders by your Holy Spirit in the paths of transparent justice and faithful wisdom, following after the courageous example set by your incarnate, crucified, and glorified Son Jesus Christ. And grant us grace now, merciful Father, to pursue justice, peace, humility and love, that in the present age we may through faith be conformed to your image in the sure and steadfast hope that, in the age to come, we might behold your unreflected glory in the face of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who is even now King of kings and Lord of lords, and who ever lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Blessings to you this day and always!