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!