All About Austin

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

He’s Almost Here!

Hi there from Belize!

It’s been awhile since my last update, but we’ve also been a bit distracted as we get ready for this baby. So I’m going to do my best to let you know what’s been going on with us over the past couple months, and what are plans for the near future.

I’ll start off with this pregnancy since it’s the main thing on my mind lately. God has blessed me with a very smooth pregnancy, especially for my first one! I was a little nervous about going through this for the first time so far away from family, but not only has it been relatively easy, but God has also given me plenty of people here in Belize who are happy to help (and are also very excited for the coming of our little Belizean baby). We’ve been able to see a wonderful doctor for this whole pregnancy, and she has guaranteed us that she will be the one delivering the baby as well. It’s coming up fast now!

Last week the ladies at St. Andrew’s church threw me a surprise baby shower. I had been having a rather bad day, I’ll blame it on hormones, and David said we could go on a walk in the evening, but to wear something nice. I assumed he was taking me out to dinner since the day had been so crummy. When we got near the community center and saw that the door was cracked we went over there to check it out. Now on one hand that sounds suspicious by itself (the ladies were concerned that gave it away), but we always check when the door is left open in case someone forgot to lock up. We were greeted with loud shouts of “Surprise!” and a fully decorated room, lots of food (pibil, yum!), and fun games. It was a wonderful time with the ladies! So much laughter, baby stories, and good advice. Our son is going to be surrounded by his very large Belizean family.

David and I then took a couple days for a “baby moon” as a sort of last chance to get away just the two of us. It was so relaxing and nice to spend time together. It also came at just the right time! During that trip I started to have some complications that made us decide to go in and see the doctor early when we got back. Normally I don’t like going in before my appointments because it usually turns out to be nothing, but not this time. After checking on me and the baby (he is perfectly healthy, praise God), she found out that my body was in fact trying to have this baby a bit early. Right now I’m at 34 weeks, and while he could be born now, she said for his safety and the due to the facility they have available it would be much better if he holds off  for at least two more weeks, or longer if possible. So after some steroid shots for his lungs, anti-contraction medication, and house arrest/bed rest for the remainder of this pregnancy, we are now just praying and waiting for our son. Please continue to pray that he holds off for a couple more weeks. God has also blessed me with an amazing husband who has been not only doing all of his work, but also covering mine. Last night he even made brisket for dinner! Please pray for David as he serves here in his regular ministries, and helps me now that I’m stuck in bed. It’s a lot of extra time!

Unfortunately with this change in my pregnancy it has also meant discontinuing of a lot of my work here for the time being. Piano lessons are on hold, choir is on hold, David is now covering all the chapel services again, and since I’m not allowed out of the house, my church music ministry is also being covered. Thankfully God had already blessed us with the Hansens coming to live here! Not only are they thriving in their individual ministries, but they are also a huge blessing to us personally (willing to help whenever needed), and Evan has already been joining me on Sunday mornings for music, so God is making sure everything is covered. We were already anticipating this change in my ministry with the baby coming, it’s just a little sooner than we expected. Please pray that we can make all the transitions necessary with the coming of our son, as well as the transitions that will be necessary as we prepare for our “home ministry assignment” this summer. More on that in a little bit.

As far as other ministry things going on here, there’s a lot! We continue to have youth group every week, and while it can be a bit tiring, there are still lots of kids coming and we are planning our next service project, pre-summer fun activity, and youth retreat here in the next couple months. Working with youth has its ups and downs, but we can already see quite a few potential leaders growing in this group.

Earlier this month St. John’s Cathedral held a service for the licensing of lay minsters. While we had renewals of old licenses, we were also able to officially welcome two new young lay minsters for our churches. Both are doing extremely well in their work and are not only able to lead the service with confidence, but are also really leaning into ministry with extra services and pastoral visits in the community. Please pray for the whole ministry team in each church, but especially for these two girls. Pray that we can continue to build them up in their ministry, and that God will raise up even more laborers for the harvest.

As we’re coming to the end of March that has meant not only are we fully in the Season of Lent, but that we are already looking ahead to Holy Week and Easter. My favorite time of year in the church (it goes back and forth between Easter and Christmas). David has been working very hard to prep everything for Holy Week. Not only is it the busiest week in church, but with my due date being the following week, he has had to make sure that everything is ready in case he has to miss one or more of the services. We’re praying for that not to be the case, as it is also his favorite time in the church as we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.

While there are many more things in ministry going on here, it’s also hard to cover everything in one update. So I’m going to jump ahead to our Summer and Fall plans as they more directly involve you. David and I are planning our “home ministry assignment”, or our time in the States raising support and recharging as it were, to begin in mid-June and go until the end of November. On the one hand that sounds pretty long, but on the other, we have a lot of churches and people to visit across the entire country, all while traveling with a newborn. We will be contacting churches and people directly to setup times when we can visit you and your churches in person. We are very excited to share more about our ministry here, and what we believe God has planned for us here in the future. Please pray for us as we organize a very complicated, but exciting trip for the upcoming months. While we are definitely looking forward to seeing all of you, one of our main priorities is going to be raising money for the extra addition in our family. I would ask that you prayerfully consider supporting our family monthly, even before we come to visit you. We have had to get more ministry reimbursements lately, and while we are 100% trusting in God’s provisions, we are also asking you to consider partnering with us. If you know anyone who would like to support a missionary family, please feel free to share our information with them. We love adding people to our team! We might be the ones serving here in Belize, but you are just as much a part of our ministry as Senders and Prayer Warriors. I would also ask, for those of you who are already supporting us financially, that you prayerfully consider increasing your monthly gift to help support our son joining us in ministry here in Belize. Again, we are very much looking forward to sharing so much more with you in person, but we also know our time in the States will be limited.

We will see you all very soon! And while things are going to get busy quickly when we have this baby, I’ll make sure to keep you updated on his arrival! Thank you for your prayers and support!

Love,
Team Alenskis