Summer Months

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It’s time for another update! Not only do I find it incredible that we are already at the end of July (where did the year go?!), but we are also just over a week away from having been serving here in Belize together for two years. We moved here August 2nd 2016, the day before hurricane Earl, and already two years have gone by. Part of me feels like we were living in our little apartment in Orange County just yesterday, and the other part feels like I’ve lived here forever. God has a way of making every place feel like home. While I can’t say that today’s temperature of 93 degrees (feels like 104) and rising is particularly pleasant, I can say that only one fan is turned on, so I think I’m continuing to make progress! David has meetings in Belize City today, which tend to be exhausting as it’s a two hour drive each way, but I am a little jealous of the few hours he gets in AC during the drive. We can debate when he gets home if AC is worth meetings and 4+ hours of driving, we’ll probably have different answers!

Well, as David said in his last update July had some pretty big events to get excited about. But before I get to July I just want to add that at the end of June my kids had their Spring piano recital right at the end of the semester. They did such a fantastic job and we all had fun! David and I even played a duet to finish off the evening! After the recital we only had a couple more graduation ceremonies for the schools before our exciting week of VBS and the highly anticipated Family Fun Day! Before I tell you how awesome that week went, let me quickly tell you about the graduations.

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As you know, we work with three schools here in the Cayo District: St. Andrew’s, St. Hilda’s, and St. Barnabas’. While going to multiple graduation ceremonies might not seem that exciting, I’ve got to say it’s wonderful seeing kids we’ve gotten to know get to complete such a big milestone in their lives and be recognized for their hard work. Here in Belize children are only required to attend school through Standard VI (8th grade in the states), so going to graduations where almost every single kid had applied and been accepted to high school was a very proud moment for us. We see so much potential in each one of the kids God has placed in our lives, and we are very excited to continue working with them this upcoming year!

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Ok, so now for the big week in July! Everything started off with Family Fun Day. This day had been planned for months as an exciting start to summer and VBS. One of the very talented members of the St. Andrew’s church committee organized games, food, competitions, and a whole array of activities to make for a full day of fun. Two days before the big Sunday a team from St. Peter’s Cathedral (Tallahassee) came down to help both with the Family Fun Day and VBS. We had so many people working to make sure the day/week was a great success! And praise be to God, it was! Sunday started us loading tons of chairs into the back of our truck and heading out to the park to start worship. I’ve got to say worshiping in a park is a wonderful experience. We had stray dogs walking through and people wandering over just to see what was going on. Following the service David, a couple members of the Tallahassee team, and I headed over to St. Hilda’s for their service before returning to town to join in with the festivities. Besides great food (which makes people come all by itself!), we played lots of old fashioned picnic games like sack races, tug-of-war, watermelon eating contests, and water balloon tosses. We had so many people (adults and kids!) staying for the entire day! Not only was the day tons of fun, filled with laughing, but people were already asking at the end of the day when the church will be having it’s next Family Fun Day. I think the church might have a new tradition!

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The following day we started VBS! Our theme for this year was Moses and the Israelites as they wandered through the desert. The kids were broken into three groups; Dan, Simeon, and Judah. Each morning we would all start together in the church for worship. I’ve always thought the songs at VBS are incredibly catchy! They’re usually the songs that you can never get out of your head, and then they top them off with hand motions. Kids love hand motions! After worship we would all separate for Bible stories, sports, and crafts, all related to our theme for the week. The kids always have fun at VBS (it’s a great way to start off their summer vacation), but what David and I enjoy the most is working with the volunteers. Not only did we have the team from Tallahassee here helping, but we had an abundance of Belizean volunteers! One of St. Andrew’s parishioners took on the task of organizing and leading the whole VBS, and then we had another 14 people (mostly youth) come out to help. I was primarily working in the Bible story section, and I got to see two of the youth leaders step up and teach the little kids for the first time. VBS is such a great time to connect with the youth and help raise up new leaders in the church. David and I can’t say thank you enough to the St. Peter’s team for coming all the way to Belize to keep building relationships and provide so much help, as well as a huge thank you to all our volunteers (especially our fearless leader, Ms. Jody Jones!) here in San Ignacio who came together to pull off an amazing week for the kids!

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The past couple weeks have mostly consisted of finishing projects, prepping/organizing for our absence (so that everything runs smoothly while we are on vacation), and preparing for our new evening service, which will be starting a couple days after we return from vacation. In our slower summer months, God still has so much going on! Even in all the running around though, we were able to take a day to celebrate David’s birthday with a nice dinner and some Boston Cream Pie cupcakes! Doesn’t he look happy?

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And now to update you on what you can be praying for over the next couple months. As many of you know, David has been suffering from a variety of different health issues, from his injured elbow to stress related high blood pressure. Thanks be to God his health is beginning to improve! Please continue to pray for his pressure to consistently stay down and for his elbow to continue healing. Out of the whole year August is our slowest month here in the church. So David and I will be taking our vacation during that month and traveling to a cooler climate. Please pray for safe travels and a relaxing time to re-fresh and de-stress as we prepare for all God has planned for the Fall.

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As David mentioned in the last update, the church is growing. Praise God! Thanks to the growth that we are seeing, it is time to start an evening service at St. Andrew’s. This service will be new for the church, but the plan is to have it youth focused and youth run (a way to continue raising up new leaders). Please pray that God will bless this service and fill it with peopled and that he will bring in the youth leaders. Please also pray that we will be able to work out a deal with the football stadium (that is directly behind the church) to ensure that it is not too loud during the service.

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One of the things that we are really looking forward to here at the end of the year is to be joined by a “Bridger” family, the Hansens, coming with SAMS, who will be working with us for a year. Evan will be coming in November for a week to look for a house and then in December they will return (Evan, his wife Missy, and their daughter Annabel) to live here for the year of 2019. Please pray for the Hansens as they wrap things up in the states, prepare to move, and continue raising support. We are very excited to get to work with them!

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David also mentioned in his last update that we are planning on returning to the states for a few months next year to visit our supporters and continue raising support. Please pray and consider joining our team of supporters (both for prayer and financial support). Please also pray for us as we look at how to prepare for next year. We know that we are only able to serve here in Belize because God has given us amazing partners like you! Thank you for continuing to support and pray for us!

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Now before I wrap it up here, I realize that David promised in his last update that I would give you another bug story. Well unfortunately … I never run out of those! Hehe! So here we go. Last week David and I went to a friend’s guest house for a couple days to work in a quieter environment. It was incredibly refreshing! Well when we returned home and started unloading the car I saw a rather large translucent yellow spider in our entryway (think smaller than a tarantula, but larger than a wolf spider). Ok, here’s the thing … I’ve decided to let a few more spiders live in my house since they eat the other bugs. I have an understanding with a spider in my bathroom where he knows he can come out when I’m not there and he has to leave when I come in. It works for us. Well the spider by my front door was considerably larger than my bathroom spider, but he also looked like he might be dead. I decided to ignore him until I finished unloading the car. By that point I also decided that he was a little to big to be a house spider, so I poked him with the umbrella to see if he was even alive. Turns out he was alive, and much bigger once I woke him up. Since I was still in the generous mood of letting him live (bug eater that he was), I decided to get a broom and sweep him outside. I have to add here, that this is the same type of spider that was in my house when we moved in two years ago and David had to dig out under the stairs just to kill him before I would come down. So, progress. Well, once I had the broom I started to slowly push him towards the door. Here’s the thing … he didn’t want to go. In fact, he didn’t like this plan at all. I’m not saying he tried to run away. No. That freaky, huge spider, decided to fight the broom! Once I started pushing he turned back and ran at the broom, with his freaky little pincers going crazy! I’ve always been told, “They’re more scared of you than you are of them …” I call shenanigans! This spider was not scared. This spider thought he could beat a broom! The faster I would sweep, the faster he ran at me. As I progressed in my freaking out, David came over, grabbed the broom, shot the spider outside with enough force that he was incapable of returning. I’m not saying he “killed it”, but it died. While I’m still going to let some spiders live in my house, assuming they can follow the rules, that spider has settled the fate for all his particular kind. A spider who is willing to fight a broom has to die! But don’t worry, my bathroom spider is alive and well!

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A Trying Time

It has been some months since we have posted anything on our Prayer blog, and over a year since I (David) wrote an update myself. The fact is that Mary Beth has been giving such an powerful account and summary of our life and ministry here, and so many of you have told us you are enjoying her take on things. Honestly, in the end, I haven’t wanted to get in the way! The title of this post is A Trying Time, and I mean that in two senses: we are trying a lot of new things in ministry, and life and ministry feels a little trying at this moment. So, though things are super busy right now (as you can imagine) I’m going to try and find a way to break them down and give you a picture of what’s been happening with us, our churches and our schools!

1. How It’s Been Going For Us

Mary Beth and I have had a good year so far, by the grace of God, but it’s been far from easy. If you’re looking for ways to pray for us, let me share some of what has been going on.

Between the two of us, I have been the one with the majority of health issues popping up. Apart from my ordinary struggles with gluten, I began seeing the doctor for an injury that I had sustained in January 2017 when I slipped and fell hard on my right elbow. Even after a year, the pain had not gone away … to the point that I was unable to use long-sleeved shirts or jackets! In February, after another fall, I ended up consulting with a great orthopedic surgeon, it became clear that I had damaged my bursa and the tendons connected to my tricep.  In addition to oral and topical treatments using steroids and NSAIDs, the surgeon gave me three cortisone injections in my elbow over the course of a couple of months. I am happy to report that the vast majority of the pain in my elbow is gone, and I believe that my elbow is on the road to recovery! Praise the Lord!

Nevertheless, other health problems have emerged along the way. Not only did these medications provoke a hard response from my body in general, but over the last few months I’ve begun to experience other frustrating symptoms that last week drove me to consult a specialist in internal medicine. We may not have figured out what has been the cause of all my symptoms, but when they took my blood pressure it was sky-high: the first time in my life I have had problems with hypertension. I am currently under observation, taking my blood pressure twice a day over the course of two weeks, with the hope that my average blood pressure will stay down and I won’t have to go on medication. However, the long-term solution (according to the doctor) is that I need to lose 20–30 lbs. Fair enough. So, Mary Beth and I have been getting up early to walk hard and fast in the morning, and I hope by the end of the year to have gotten my weight down to the point that my blood pressure won’t be in jeopardy.

I also have to work on how I am handling the stresses of ministry, especially when they are compounded with happenstances of life and living. For example, earlier this year the hard drive of my computer crashed, around the same time that the screen of Mary Beth’s computer went caput. So I was able to cobble together the two computers and make one functioning computer. I ended up losing a lot of personal data from the 10 months prior (previous files had all been backed up), including some fundraising and supporter information (so, if I come calling asking for info that I should already have, that’s why!). But fortunately, our churches’ information had been backed up on the “cloud” and the local impacts of the hard drive crash were minimal. But I guess why I am sharing this is that things like this, and many others related to life and ministry begin to add up for me, and according to the doctors I’ve been consulting they can take their toll. I am trying to learn better how to give these things over to God in prayer, and trust him to handle them … and not pretend to take over God’s job by worrying about them.

On the other hand, Mary Beth is adapting incredibly well to life in Belize. Her piano studio is full (with around ten students), and they’ll be enjoying their end-of-semester recital next weekend. She has also been making friends, and even adapting to the heat (trust me, she is as surprised by that as you are!). Belize for her is starting to feel normal, feel like home, and this is a real gift from the Lord. Granted, she still doesn’t like bugs (stay tuned for another scary bug story!) but I can tell you I’ve never seen anyone that has a knack for killing mosquitoes like she does right now! And her Spanish is getting quite good these days too: she has even been reading the Bible publicly in Spanish when we have visited some of the Hispanic missions we work with, and folks are quite impressed!

And we have both been encouraged by you, by your prayers and your emails and your gifts … and in some cases, by your visits! When we hear from you, God himself is encouraging us through you, and it makes a tremendous difference. So thank you, and please (please!) continue to keep us in your prayers … even when it takes a few months for us to write an update.

2. How It’s Been Going for Our Ministry

Things are going very well for our churches right now, and it’s a pleasure to be able to share with a bit about it with you.

Our focus at St. Andrew’s has been to capitalize on the momentum we’ve had as our attendance has been on the rise by training new leadership. Our Church Committee for the parish is made up mostly of younger, newer leaders; what is more,  at our leadership retreat last month, we concluded by our adopting a new apostolic mission statement for the parish:

“To be a People connected to Jesus, connecting others to Him.”

ASA: Weeks 1–23

I love it! And people do seem to be finding that connection, about which we are pretty excited. Our church attendance at St. Andrew’s has grown significantly over the past two years (overall 14% last year, 12% so far this year), and most of this growth has been new families attending or even joining the church. We have to acknowledge that much of this growth has come about because of the support that we enjoy from our three schools: without the good relationship between them and our churches, we would not be enjoying this kind of increase in attendance whatsoever.

In fact, this growth is rapidly forcing us to confront an emerging (good) problem: space and seating at St. Andrew’s. As we quickly approach an uncomfortable number of people on a regular basis, often bumping up against the capacity of the sanctuary (especially during the Fall Semester), we have to consider ways of expanding. One way that seems like a possibility (and, please, pray about this!) is for us to add a youth-oriented, youth-run evening service on Sundays. We have some structural hurdles to overcome with regard to neighbors and noise, but we believe that this will be a better option at this moment than a church-planting effort: we tried to get an evening-service church-plant going for over a year, and the door seems closed at this time. So please, pray that a way is opened for us to hold Sunday evening services at St. Andrew’s and, if it pans out, that they bring glory to the Lord and bring more people to know his saving love and power!

St. Hilda’s is also growing in some pretty cool ways too. Last year the mission’s attendance grew by almost 50%, a massive increase after a few years of stagnation. Although our attendance has stabilized and not quite enjoyed the growth spurt of the previous year, what we are seeing at St. Hilda’s is an emerging leadership team that has the capacity of carrying the church forward. For the first time in years, St. Hilda’s has a Church Committee, a visible outreach, and the prospect of new ministries for the coming year. I’m enjoying seeing how God is bringing new life after a season of dryness, and I cannot wait to see what he will be doing in the months to come!

There are of course frustrations along the way. Two of our lay ministers at St. Andrew’s (a husband and wife) have resigned over the past year, and some of our new possible lay ministers at St. Hilda’s have not gone through with training. I am also even more aware of the necessity of a church having a dedicated treasurer, and we’ve had a turnover in that department at St. Andrew’s over the last month. Still, we see God doing incredible things, and we cannot wait to see what will happen by this time next year.

And of the many things that we do, our youth work has been one of our greatest joys. The St. Andrew’s youth group had its Spring Term outing back in April as a dozen kids joined up with youth groups from around Belize to paint the building of one of our Hispanic missions. Afterwards, Mary Beth and most of the kids went cave tubing (I stayed behind with the rest because of my elbow), which was an incredible experience! Mary Beth’s Bible study with the girls has also continued strong, and her connection with these young women is strong and bearing fruit for the Lord. It’s really wonderful to see. The children’s choir has had a rough Spring, with kids’ changing behaviors and attitudes, and there will be some changes in the Fall when it starts up again. And yet, it was still an overwhelmingly positive experience for the children and Mary Beth is looking forward to what this next school year will bring!

And of course, graduation season is upon us, and with it commencement exercises and a wistful look at what has come. It’s also at this time that St. Andrew’s chooses scholarship recipients, and in addition to the High Scholarship Scholarship Recipient that was chosen last year, the Committee chose one of the students from St. Barnabas’ to receive this same financial aid for the next four years. (N.B. High School tuition is not completely subsidized by the government … it can still cost USD $500 to send a young person to high school.) Our experience over the past year has demonstrated that such scholarship are not simply about money and tuition, but about supporting these teenagers in every aspect of life. And it may sound like a cliché, but it’s true: God has blessed us as a church by being involved in their lives just as much as we have been able to be a blessing to them. We are so excited to be able to dive into this next school year, ministering to and alongside of them!

There’s much more that we can say or share about all these things (and it may take one of Mary Beth’s updates to do them justice), but I want to move on to what is coming up over the next few months, and how you can be praying for much of it.

3. Things to Come Shortly

There are a lot of things on the horizon that we would like to share with you. We can begin with this weekend! Our predecessors, Fr. Juan and María are here in Belize with us right now, and it’s amazing. They have come to celebrate the Quince Años (turning-15-years-old birthday) of one of our parishioners, and we are overjoyed to host them. The Quince Años falls on Saturday, and the next day Fr. Juan will be the guest preacher at our Baccalaureate service for the graduating classes of our three schools. In July we are looking forward to our “Family Fun Day” in the park, as we hold services in public and then spend the rest of the day playing games and sharing in potluck food. It’s going to be quite the day! The following week, St. Peter’s (Tallahassee) will be sending a team to help us hold our Vacation Bible School for the kids that week, and it’s going to kick off an active but promising summer. Mary Beth and I are planning on going on vacation in August, and we’ll be back to kick off the new school year by September … hopefully inaugurating the new evening service at St. Andrew’s that I mentioned above. And then our year begins all over again! 

Let me add a couple of other things. Last month the Anglican Diocese of Belize held its 50th Diocesan Synod, with a focus on intentional discipleship and greater accountability for the leaders, churches, and other structures within our Diocese. It was a surprising weekend, from Mary Beth playing the organ at the Cathedral to what Bishop Wright shared at the concluding Solemn Eucharist. It appears that in the interests of structuring our Diocese a little better, the Bishop will soon be appointing a team of people with certain diocesan responsibilities and roles, with the goal of making things here run smoother and better, as well as passing on the torch of leadership (as it were) to some of the younger clergy. My name was among those mentioned, although without yet any definitive description of what will be entailed. I do think this is a very positive development for our Diocese, and probably for me as well, but I would ask that you pray for me and Mary Beth as we try to serve the Lord here in whatever way he calls us.

And as we approach to the second anniversary of our return to Belize (we came back in August 2016), we are also trying to figure out how and when we will be returning in mid-2019 to visit with our churches and supporters and raise the funds necessary to come back. Please pray that God will show us how best to do this within as reasonable an amount of time as possible, and please also pray that the Lord will fully bring us up-to-budget before then. We are so grateful that new individuals and churches have stepped forward to pledge their support, and we it’s true that we’re not in the red as we were last fall. But we are still looking for people to step forward and give to this ministry. Would you consider becoming one of them?

Again, thank you all so much for your prayers, for your gifts, and for your support. We are deeply grateful, even if it sometimes takes us a while for us to get out an update and express it! May the Lord richly bless you for all that you do for us and for the spread of his Kingdom in Belize!

Heating Up

So here we are already in the second week of March and I realized I’m way over due on updating you all about ministry life here in Belize! It doesn’t really feel like March yet. Normally we are solidly in the hot season by now (where you can barely remember what it feels like not to be sweaty and are trying to decide if taking a third shower that day would be reasonable … the answer is yes, by the way), but not this year. While we can feel the hot season coming, we actually had an uncommonly high amount of rain in January and February. Besides the fact that I love rain in general, it kept the weather here much cooler for much longer. So now, with the dry season officially setting in, the temperatures are rising, but it’s not quite hot yet (I’m still wearing sweaters in the morning!).

While it may still be coolish here (no complaints on my end!), we got a big reminder that we are in fact already in March with the start of the Ruta Maya this morning here in San Ignacio. The Ruta Maya is an annual canoe race that teams train for all year long. The race starts bright and early here in San Ignacio (this year with 53 teams) and over the course of three days the teams make their way down the Belize river until they reach Belize City. It’s a huge race that the country as a whole looks forward to every year. Last year we even had a team of students from one of our schools! Pray for safety for all those competing this year!

So all that being said, we are definitely in March! And there has been a lot going on these past couple months.

One of the big changes this year has been St. Hilda’s Church getting it’s own Church Committee, what some in the United States would call a Vestry. While that might not seem like a big deal (St. Hilda’s has been sending representatives to St. Andrew’s Church Committee meetings), with the growth of both churches over the past year it had become clear that St. Hilda’s needed it’s own committee to help implement the church’s vision. So with the election of leaders from Georgeville village, the committee has had it’s first meeting and they’re excited to see what God is planning for His church this year. St. Andrew’s (while it’s always had it’s own Committee) has also just elected new members to serve this term. It’s always exciting in a church to see emerging leaders step up with a desire to help serve with the gifts God has given them. David and I are looking forward to seeing where God is calling His churches this year, and how He would have us serve them, and the community as a whole, better.

Speaking of emerging leaders, we had the pleasure of hosting a team from St. Peter’s Cathedral (Tallahassee) for a week last month. We had been talking with this church since last August and were very excited to finally meet them in person. Wow! God really sent a wonderful group of people with hearts fixed on Him! While they were only here for a short time, they covered so much ground. They decided to separate their time here into three sections: service project (painting the inside of St. Andrew’s Church), VBS (after school at St. Hilda’s), and a leadership conference (for all emerging leaders that we are serving with here in our area of Belize). For seven days, this team really balanced their time well. It’s always nice to have some kind of project on a short trip, so both the team and the people here can physically see what was accomplished. And with that in mind, the church comity asked if they could paint the inside of the church (it hadn’t been painted in at least 20 years). The sanctuary, sacristy, and Sunday school room are now bright and beautiful with their fresh coats of paint! While projects are good and necessary for teams that come to serve, they can never be the primary goal. The overall goal for teams that come is to build lasting relationship (both the teams with the Belizeans, and the Belizeans with the teams). So this team made sure they planned plenty of time to spend  with people while they were here. Besides making sure they all spread out and talked to different people during the many Sunday services, they also ran a VBS, and even got to the village early to spend time with the kids before it started. And if that wasn’t enough, they took two nights and focused on the diocesan theme for the year (intentional discipleship). They were able to work specifically with leaders and emerging leaders, from both churches and our schools to focus specifically on how to have small groups of fellowship, Bible study, and prayer, (and here’s the kicker) without having the priest leading each group. This was a great time for the team to get to know/build up leaders here, as well as for our Belizean leaders to get to know the team, and get excited about leading ministry groups themselves! The trip was short, but I think the relationships will be long and we are definitely looking forward to hosting this team again in the near future. Before I wrap up about the team, I want to give a special shout out to Isabella. Isabella is the daughter of one of the team members that came. She is seven years old and one of the most outgoing, excited to serve girls I’ve ever met. She was truly inspiring to watch. At each church service, school event, and meeting where Belizean's kids were present, she didn’t hesitate to go over and make new friends. When there weren’t kids present she was working right alongside her dad to paint or prepare for the next event. Isabella was a joy to have present and we not only hope to see her again, but we hope that other teams that come will want to send kids as well to serve and connect with kids here in Belize!

As for our regular ministry things here, they are all going strong, thanks be to God. In the school chapel services David is taking the kids through the various sacraments of the church. While Bible stories are always important, a lot of these kids either don’t know what sacraments are or why they are important. So this series has proved interesting for both the students and the teachers (who also tend to have many questions). With the little kids, I’m primarily using Bible stories from a picture story book Bible and working to show how every story (from creation to Moses, that’s where we’re at this week) points forward to Jesus. When I first started teaching chapel I was so nervous, but now it’s one of my favorite things we do here! I love getting to spend time with the kids and worship together.

Piano lessons are continuing to go well (I’ve picked up two new students so far this year!). One of my new students is from Georgeville, so I’m getting to try teaching lessons on an organ for the first time. I told her it will be an adventure for both of us! We are also starting to use the money from the lessons to invest more into the youth group. As I think most of you know, I do charge for piano lessons (it tends to inspire more commitment), but all of the proceeds go straight into a dedicated church youth fund (used for choir, Sunday school, youth group, etc.). So tomorrow youth group will be having a bonfire (we’re burning our own Christmas tree, which has been out in the garage drying out). We’re hoping to keep using the funds to really invest in our youth in whatever areas we can.

Choir is also going really well! While the kids can be a lot to handle, they are sounding really good and even sang in church last week. Since most of my choir kids don’t attend St. Andrew’s, I have been hesitant to require them to sing in church too often (not wanting to take them from their own churches), but I think we’re going to shoot for at least once a month and maybe even try having them give special numbers at their churches. We’ve also added a new choir adventure this year. We have started a youth choir at St. Hilda’s! This choir is completely different from the one at St. Andrew’s. We have a much larger age difference, and a larger number of students at rehearsals, and in general it’s just a different dynamic. They are very rambunctious, but lots of fun. This choir is also led almost entirely by David. As we don’t actually have a piano at St. Hilda’s (and organ choir music wouldn’t really fit with this group of kids), we are focusing on upbeat “contemporary” pieces (like “Jesus Freak”) which David can lead on guitar. As a whole, the kids are loving choir! And since they all live right there in the village, we are focusing on having them sing in church more often.

Let’s see, we are solidly in Lent, so we have stations of the cross on Fridays (the first time in a few years), Bible studies, and Baptism classes. But we long for Easter. Have you ever noticed how things seem to be much harder in Lent? With eyes fixed on Christ, we keep going! 

David and I have dealt with many health challenges the past few months that are only just starting to sort out. Back in December I hurt my back, it didn’t seem too bad at the time, but it got progressively worse until I couldn’t get out of bed (that basically took out January). Then as my back started to improve we got hit with the flu, one week on, one week off, one week on... Then to add to that (yes there’s more), David had hurt his elbow really badly about a year ago and has had virtually no relief. So we have been seeing doctors almost every weekend to work on treating the injury. Thanks be to God the doctor is confident he will make a complete recovery, though it is taking some anti-inflammatory pills, creams, and (steroidal) injections! We would appreciate your continued prayers for healing and good health!

I think that’s about everything new that’s happened in the last couple of months. We are very excited to have David’s parents come visit us next week! It’s been over a year since we saw them and we’re really looking forward to spending some time together for a week. I’ll be sure to post some pictures!

And what do you think? Before I wrap up should I give a short bug story? I can’t actually wait for your answer, so I’m going to go with yes! Would it really be an update if I didn’t’ tell you a bug story? So as I’ve said before, I’m getting really good at killing bugs in my house. Sometimes I don’t even call David to smash them, and some I even (briefly) consider saving before I stomp on them. Progress is being made! But a couple weeks ago I got up really early and, half asleep, wandered into the bathroom to shower. I’ve made it a habit to always check behind the curtain before I get in, but I had never actually seen anything in the corner. Until now. I casually checked, not expecting anything, and found a rather large tarantula! I might be getting better with bugs, but this was too much. David was called and asked to dispose of the spider. In hindsight, I do wish I would have saved it. But at the time it just had to go. Now normally when I kill spiders, there’s a splat and then they’re just a curled up ball under my shoe, but this spider was so big that when David smooshed it, it’s guts actually shot across the shower floor. Gross. I am now back to religiously checking all corners of the shower before stepping foot in there each morning! So there’s your bug story for the month! 

We want to say thank you again for all your prayers and support! Sometimes we get too busy here to write you all super often, but we always lift you up in our prayers. If you ever want to talk to us more about our ministry or just life here in Belize, or would like to know how you can partner with us, please feel free to email, check out our website, or call us!

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

You might be saying, “Why is she still saying Merry Christmas in January?”, but today is the 12th Day of Christmas (12 Drummers Drumming!), so I've got this one more day left to wish you the merriest of Christmases!

It’s 2018! It sort of feels like we sprinted into the New Year, but that just means I have lots to update you on! Our busiest time of year is always the Fall Semester, but Advent (plus Christmas) is the busiest of the busiest (in the best way!).

Before I get into the many different ministry things that have happened, let me tell you a couple of the personal highlights from the past month. One of the biggest highlights for me was having my parents visit at the end of November. This was the first time my parents came to Belize, and it was a wonderful trip! Not only could we show them some of our favorite places, but we were also able to show them a little bit of what we do here in Belize. We always love when people come visit us, and it was extra special to get to host my parents for the first time. Come back soon!

Then the week before Christmas we had another visitor! One of my long time best friends came down from California to spend a week with David and me. We were able to take some of the days to show her this beautiful country, and then we packed the evenings and nights with lots of Christmas ministry activities! We had so much fun (and loved the extra help!).

Overall, the addition of family and friends to the holiday season was such a treat, and one we will always welcome back.

Now to move on to the many different ministry things that happened. I’ll try to cover most of the highlights without making this a super long update!

First Week of Advent

Every year the first Sunday of Advent also falls on St. Andrew’s Day, which means Confirmations, the Bishop visits, lots of good food, and extra presentations. David and one of the main Catechists spent weeks teaching Confirmation classes to kids and adults alike at both St. Andrew’s Church and St. Hilda’s Church. After studying and examinations, each of the confirmands passed and were presented to the Bishop for Confirmation. It was quite a celebration! To add to the celebration of the day, the youth choir that I’ve been working with was asked to sing one of the songs they had been preparing for their upcoming Christmas concert. That was the first time my choir sang during the principal service at St. Andrew’s, and it is definitely something we will do again. The majority of the kids in choir either don’t attend our church, or don’t attend church at all, so it was wonderful to have them participate in such an important service. Then, what’s a celebration without food? So to top off everything the service was followed by pibil tacos. Pibil is pig that has been cooked underground all day and then shredded for the tacos. If you have never had it, make it: find someone who makes it, do whatever you can to eat it. Seriously, eat it. So good!

After the St. Andrew’s Day celebrations we jumped in the truck and dashed over to St. Hilda’s Church for their confirmation service. Six girls, all dressed in beautiful white gowns, very excitedly Confirmed. I think the cutest thing at their Confirmation was when it was time for the girls to take their first Communion. Now normally at St. Hilda’s everyone who is taking Communion goes up first, and then all the kids that are just getting a blessing go up after. Well these girls were so used to only getting a blessing that after they took Communion for the first time they jumped back to the front of the line for the children’s blessing with the rest of the kids. It was adorable.

Second Week of Advent

School was still in session, so we had our usual week’s work, but the highlights for me had to do with the choir. Every year St. Andrew’s School finishes off the semester with a Christmas variety show where each class gives some kind of presentation (a song, poem, skit, etc.). Since all of the kids from the choir attend the school they were asked to sing one of their pieces as part of the show. I was so excited for this opportunity for the kids! They had been working so hard for weeks to prepare their music, and I loved that they were getting multiple opportunities to not only show their hard work, but to sing all these songs about Jesus’ coming. They did really well!

Then the following day they were able to sing even more of their songs in the middle of town for the San Ignacio annual tree lighting ceremony! The kids were cute and did such a good job. These outreach opportunities were the biggest additions to the choir this year, and the kids had a lot of fun getting to sing for so many different events.

Third Week of Advent

This week was the absolute busiest! Since school had officially let out for Christmas break, we filled almost every night with some kind of activity or outreach project for the kids. 

Monday night:

Monday night was the first ever piano recital for the kids in my studio. They were so nervous, but they did a FANTASTIC job! Pretty much all of my students started taking lessons at the same time, so it was a fun challenge to find music they would each like, that would also be different from each other. They each approach playing the piano differently and there different styles came through when they performed. I was so proud of their hard work! And what would a recital be without dessert? So after all of their hard work we finished off the evening with Christmas cookies and fudge. Yum!

I’m going to skip Tuesday just for a second and come back to it with Thursday (two very good days!).

 

 

Wednesday night:

After weeks of practice and multiple mini performances throughout the month, the youth choir gave their end of the year final concert at St. Andrew’s Church. The kids performed a program called “Light of the World” by Mark Patterson, which tells the story of Jesus being the Light of the world through songs and short scriptural readings of the nativity. This was such a fun program! It had traditional carols from different countries (like France and Puerto Rico) that kept the kids having fun in every song. We were missing quite a few kids, but they did a great job telling the story of Christ through song, for friends, family, and fellow church members! And again, what is a good performance without food? So we finished the evening with a dessert reception to wrap up the year with a time of fellowship … and sugar.

Tuesday and Thursday nights:

Alright, these were probably our best two night that week (and that is counting some already pretty great days!). For the past three years St. Andrew’s Church has gone caroling around the community and while brining baskets of food to people in need. This year the plan was to invite the youth choir to join the youth group, and any other members of the church that would like to come. Well Chaa Creek Lodge and Resort found out about our plans to carol and wanted to help in anyway they could. They love getting involved in community outreach and were excited to join alongside us for these two nights. What we weren’t expecting was how generous they would be in their help! We had a meeting to discuss logistics and they offered to not only treat the kids to dinner at their nice restaurant in town, but to provide resort vans (and drivers!) to drive us all around town to carol! For both nights! So on Tuesday and Thursday we had about 25 kids overrun their restaurant to eat before being carted around to carol. The kids had such a wonderful time! But I don’t think the kids joy even came close to that of the people for whom we caroled. The first night we caroled for people in our community who were in need, but the second night we primarily caroled in the community of the people who were affected by the explosion earlier in December. For those of you who did not hear about that incident, a rock quarry illegally setoff dynamite in a residential area, killing one man, and destroying many, many homes. It was truly a tragic event for so many families. These families had been through so much and we loved brining them a little hope and joy! Overall, it was a really good two nights of caroling, both for those who we could carol for, and also for the kids that got to participate in community outreach.

Fourth Week of Advent

Pretty short since it was only really Sunday morning … =] The fourth Sunday of Advent falling on Christmas Eve definitely made for a short fourth week!

So let's move on to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day =]

These four days were ones of pure celebration! The “Eve” services were celebrated at St. Andrew’s Church and the “Day” services were celebrated at St. Hilda’s Church. Each service is special in its own way as the churches fill with people coming to celebrate the birth of Christ. While we have a Christmas Eve service and a New Year’s Eve service that we call Watchnight Mass, it is actually finished no later than 11:30, any later and we wouldn’t be able to hear each other. Now when I say people do fireworks here I mean, people REALLY do fireworks here. When the clock strikes 12 it sounds like a war zone, complete with so much smoke you can’t see across the street, and sirens going off all over town. It doesn’t matter if it’s from the backyard or the middle of the street, fireworks are setoff by almost everyone. It is quite the way to welcome in the birth of Christ and then the New Year!

It’s hard to believe that so much happened in just a month (and so many other things that won’t fit in this update)! God is doing so many amazing things here in Belize and we are really excited to see what He has planned for the New Year. School starts up again next week, so we are busy getting ready for the new semester and the restarting of all the things that were on break during the holidays (chapel services, choir, piano lessons, Bible study, youth group, etc.). So I’d ask your prayers for us as we start this new year; for the old things starting up again, and the new areas of ministry God is calling us to this year. Thank you again for all of your continued prayers and financial support. We are truly grateful for all of our partners in ministry!

Many blessings for the New Year!