The Middle of the Marathon

In my last update I wrote about our coming back from Peru hitting the ground running, since Fall ends up being our busiest time of year. At the time of writing that update I don’t think I realized how true it really would be until sitting here now to write a new one … it’s already been a month and a half since I last wrote! Here we are in the second half of November and I didn’t even notice how fast time has been flying.

With so many things are going on right now, I’m going to try and highlight a few of them since there is just too much to get across in one update!

First a quick look at the youth choir. Now that we’ve had a few rehearsals, I can pretty much tell who my regulars are for this year, and while they are incredibly “energetic,” this group of kids is a lot of fun. It is truly a learning experience for me as I’m figuring out how to work with a mix of boys and girls. In the past semesters I’ve primarily had a girl choir, and it turns out girls and boys are very different! Who knew?! I would also add that God is teaching me patience =] These kids are working very hard to prepare for the different performance opportunities coming up next month and I think they’re going to do a great job. Besides their Christmas concert, they are getting excited to sing on December 3rd when the Bishop comes for St. Andrew’s Day for the Confirmation service! This will be the first time this group sings for people and they were very excited to have been asked to give a special presentation.

Speaking of confirmations, we have kids  both at St. Andrew’s Church and St. Hilda’s Church preparing to take their confirmation exams. For the past month and a half kids at both churches have been attending classes that teach them about Confirmation, The Lord’s Prayer, The Apostles’ Creed, The Ten Commandments, The Beatitudes, and the different kinds of Sacraments. While the kids have to be able to recite these different things in the exams, the most important part that they learn is what each piece means. David himself is catechizing at St. Hilda’s Church and even though it’s important that the kids practice The Ten Commandments, for example, in order to recite them (we even bribe them with brand-name, full-size candy if they can recite them correctly!), the actual class is focused on explaining what they mean and why they are important. So in the exam David will ask the kids to recite The Lord’s Prayer and then he will ask them what it means when we say, for instance, “give us this day our daily bread.” When I was younger I remember saying The Lord’s Prayer so many times, but not really understanding what I was saying. I would have loved a class like this! David is really great at breaking down these different aspects of our faith so the kids can really understand why they are important. We are really excited to see each kid confirm and renew their baptismal vows!

Last week we actually had five baptisms at St. Andrew’s Church, and St. Hilda’s has baptisms this week! It’s always exciting to see brand new christians welcomed into the church! At St. Andrew’s the service ended up being one of the largest for the year. So many people came to celebrate with these kids! And this Sunday when we have baptisms at St. Hilda’s we will also be celebrating St. Hilda’s Day, so it will be huge celebration for many different reasons! 

St. Hilda’s Day is officially on November 18th, so David and I went to the school and he led a service celebrating their paternal feast. The 17th also happened to be Children’s Day so the kids at St. Hilda’s were all dressed in bright orange getting ready for a day of games and sports. At St. Andrew’s School, Children’s Day also meant Culture Day. For Culture Day each class is assigned a culture group that is represented in Belize (Garifuna, East Indian, Mennonite, Kriol, Mestizo, etc.) to represent. The kids dress in the traditional clothing, make traditional foods, and setup stations to teach about the cultures they are representing. It is a really engaging way to learn about the different people living in Belize, and the kids are super cute! Last year David and I weren’t able to attend the school for the presentations, but this year we ran over right after the St. Hilda’s Day service. While we didn’t make it in time to see the kids dance, we were able to go into each classroom and see the different presentations. It was fun seeing these dressed up, nervous/exited little kids explain, from the perspective of what ever group they were representing, the different cultures they had studied.

There really are so many different things happening right now, it’s hard to pick things apart to tell all of you. Let’s see. Youth group, chapel services, piano lessons, and the girls Bible study are continuing to go really well, with the kids participating more and more with each event. We are excited to see what God has in store for all of these kids! While we work with many different people here in Belize, the majority of what God has us doing is directly ministering to and discipling kids. We are really loving watching these kids grow and seeing God’s hand in their lives.

Now that you’re fully updated on the ministry side of our lives here (although now that I think about it, I’ve probably forgotten plenty … God is doing so much!), I’m going to let you know a little more about our personal lives (even though everything ends up mixing together anyway). =]

As many of you know, David and I were able to fly back to California for one week to celebrate my sister’s wedding. It was absolutely beautiful! I had the privilege of being her Matron of Honor and I loved getting to spend that time with my sister and entire family celebrating her special day. It was a jammed packed week getting the final pieces ready for the big day, spending time with family, meeting our new niece for the first time, and running errands that could only be done in the States. This was actually the first time David and I had been in the states in almost a year and half. I think we got spared the worst of the reverse culture shock since the trip was so fast and busy for the wedding, but it was still very strange being back in the United States. While many things stick out as feeling strange, since we’ve been away so long, I think the biggest shocker for me was flushing toilet paper again. Ha! When I first moved here to Belize I thought throwing away toilet paper was something I would never get used to, and then going back to the States I freaked out every time I flushed the paper thinking I had messed up. It’s funny how you get used to things without even realizing it!

While it was hard saying goodbye again to everyone (especially since for the wedding we saw so many people in a short amount of time), it was made easier by the fact that my parents are coming to visit us in just one week! This will be their first time visiting Belize and we are very excited to show them around this beautiful country as well as getting to show them our lives and ministry here in San Ignacio. Not only are they going to be here for two weeks, but that also means they will be here for St. Andrew’s Day. What a fun celebration! I can’t wait util they get here!

As I’m beginning to wrap up my update here (these updates tend to get long if I’m left to ramble, and I should probably start thinking about dinner), I do feel like it has been way too long since I’ve given you a proper bug story! While I say it’s been too long, I really won’t mind if I never have to give you another bug story again … Well, last night I came home from teaching piano, David had left for a meeting, and the house was dark. In our house the main living space is upstairs and our room and office space is downstairs. I decided to drop off some things in our room before going up stairs to start dinner, leaving the lights off and only using my phone flashlight. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something large shoot under the laundry basket. I figured it was either a wolf spider or a gecko (since we get both in our house). Now this shows you I’ve been living here for awhile because without freaking out, I moved the basket just to check. I’m guessing it was a gecko since it was long gone once the basket had been moved, but either way, I could see what the gecko had been after. Turning on the light in the bedroom revealed a huge line of very big, mean, red ants. The trail went from the door in the office, into the bedroom, under the bed, around the wall, and into the bathroom. I’m talking THOUSANDS of red ants. The kind that leave big blood marks when you squish them.. I’ve gotten used to spiders, lizards, most other ants (we’ve had plenty come into the house during rainy season), but I could not handle these red ones. It took hours spraying with 409, flooding the nest by the door, mixing smelly concoctions, lots of bug bites, straight up squishing, and lots of praying until the invasion was stopped. I might have lots of animal friends here in Belize, but red ants aren’t one of them!

So there’s your bug story for this week. Hopefully I won’t be giving you another one anytime soon!

Ok, my growling belly is telling me it’s time to finish this update. David and I want to thank you all again for your continued prayers and support for our ministry. God is working here in Belize and we love getting to be apart of what He’s doing. And we love getting to share it with you!  If you want to partner with us and our ministry here in Belize either through prayer, financial support, or coming down to work with us, please click the link below to get more information! 

And really fast, we want to give a shout-out to the ABC kids in Richmond, Indiana! Thank you guys for always praying for us and reading our stories. We love getting to tell you about everything God is doing down here in Belize!

Happy Thanksgiving!

It all begins again!

It all begins again!

Can you believe it’s already almost the middle of October? For some of you that might mean that the nice cool fall weather is starting with crisp mornings, or maybe some changing leaves, but here in Belize fall means (admittedly pretty hot yet) beautiful days, new flowers, and even some crazy awesome afternoon thunderstorms storms. It’s interesting looking back at the past 14 or so months that we’ve been here and realizing that not only am I so used to the weather here that it really is starting to feel like Fall (two to three showers a day and all!), but I’m also already looking forward to the holiday season and the new traditions we have here in Belize.

For those of you who don’t know, David and I were blessed to be able to spend our first vacation together since we got married in Peru last month. We had an absolutely amazing time exploring the Andes and just spending time together! We came away with lots of stories and fun memories. But while we loved every part of our vacation, we were very happy to return home to Belize two weeks ago and get back into ministry. Basically, coming back at the end of September meant we hit the ground running!

The first thing we had to get done was immigration stuff for me. Before we left for our vacation I was able to apply for my permanent residency here in Belize (it was fantastic that we made the application before we left!), but since it is a processes that takes years to complete I still apply for a temporary work permit every year to keep me in the country legally. We got back home just before my work permit expired and are now in the process of obtaining the new visa. Praise be to God it’s approved and all we have to do is go to immigration to get the new stamp! For everyone who has been praying for my immigration process, thank you!

Now that we’re back home we’ve gotten to restart the different ministries that had sort of been on break for a few months, whether due to Summer break or our vacation. Our first week here had us right back at the schools restarting chapel services. I hadn’t realized how much I missed all these kids until we were back teaching them again! The newest thing that we started this semester with the children’s chapel is that we’re separating the ages more at our rural schools, St. Barnabas’ and St. Hilda’s. That means David is able to take the older kids and have a more focused service for them, while I now teach the younger ages. Now, this is not something I thought I would ever be interested in, but I love it! Basically I get the kids from about kindergarten to second grade. I’m taking the them through Bible stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible, as well as praying together, and singing lots of songs! We’ve only had one service so far, but I think I’m going to like teaching these kids!

The next thing that is starting up again is youth choir! This is my third semester leading this choir and every time I start it up it seems to go a little bit better. Since we launched youth choir at the beginning of October (which is later than normal) I felt it was perfectly acceptable to start working on our Christmas program. Besides the fact that I love Christmas music, the kids are super excited to get to sing Christmas music this early! One of the great opportunities with a children’s choir (particularly as we get ready for Christmas) is that I’m able to teach them songs about Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas. All of us like “Jingle Bells”, but now I get to teach the kids songs that are just as much fun with maracas, drums, and tambourines, that focus entirely on our Lord and Savior. Last year I had the kids participate in a traditional Lessons and Carols service with them singing a few traditional carols, but this year I decided to use a Christmas program that I was in years ago when I was in a youth choir (shout out to Robin Segarra). I’m really excited to teach them this program because I can involve lots of kids in all these songs that tell the story of Jesus as the Light of the World through the story of the Nativity. The kids are super excited to be singing this music and even getting to sing in French, German, and Spanish! At our first rehearsal seventeen kids showed up to try it out and see what they thought about choir. It was so much fun! And this week we had two more kids show up! We’ll see how many kids come next week, but I think they’re going to do really well with this program (and have lots of fun singing!). They’re already excited to get to sing for their parents in December!

Piano lessons are also off to a good start as the kids are getting back into practicing and we are starting to talk about the Christmas recital. I haven’t held a recital yet with the kids here, but I think Christmas music will be a good place to start, and I have yet to have one of these kids tell me they don’t like Christmas music!

Speaking of things starting up again, this past Saturday was the start of the High School girls’ Bible study. Over the summer I had started the Bible study as a sort of “test run” to see if the girls would be interested, and to see if it was something I could actually teach. We went through the book of James and it went so well that we’re going again, but this time through the book of Romans. I love getting to spend time studying God’s Word with these girls! It’s amazing both to get to talk through different questions they might have about the Bible and then to spend time just getting to know them better while we eat desserts (food is always a necessity!). As a whole I think the Bible study is going really well and I’m excited to see what God has in store for us to learn.

Let’s see … as far as big events happening in the church, it is officially time for Harvest! The next two weeks consist of lots of Harvest Festivals happening between the three schools where we serve. At St. Andrew’s, this service is easily our largest attendance for the whole year. I always thought it would be Christmas or Holy Week and Easter, but Harvest definitely tops all of those combined! Last year St. Andrew’s had over 700 people attend the church for these special services. For those of you who don’t know what this kind of service is, think of it like a GIANT Thanksgiving for the gifts God has given us. Each class processes up the aisle with decorated baskets of fruits, vegetables, pastries, etc. and then presents them to be blessed at the altar. Afterwards they give a group presentation expressing thanks, and then the next class will come up with their gifts and do the same thing. Church always packs out, with people standing in the back, crowding up at the front, and even standing outside the church because it’s not physically possible to get anyone else inside! Once the service is finished the items are then sold as a type of fundraiser for the school and church. At our rural schools, St. Barnabas’ and St. Hilda’s the church (or school) is packed and many of the gifts are collected and given to families in need. Yesterday was actually our first Harvest Festival service at St. Hilda’s. All the kids did so well with their presentations and their baskets were beautiful! As a whole, these services are incredibly important and widely attended by all the families of the school kids. Please be praying for David and all those serving! It’s going to get pretty busy!

While there aren’t really a bunch of new activities going on right now (except for boring-sounding administrative stuff, like how David’s on the Diocesan Education Board now), there are lots of good things starting up again! And since it’s been awhile since I’ve written an update I thought it would be a good idea to let you know what’s going on down here in Belize! As the holiday season starts it also becomes pretty clear that it can be one of the busiest times in the church year, but it is also my absolute favorite time to be in church! There is always so much going on, and so many extra things that come up. This is the beginning of a great season for ministry!

As I’m coming here to the end of this update, looking back over all these different ministries going on with us here in Belize, I get so excited! I’m so excited for the things that David and I are already working on, and the things that God has planned for us here that we don’t even know about yet! But while on one hand I want to just tell you all the good things that happen here, I also have to talk about the slightly uncomfortable stuff.

Mainly, I have to talk about money stuff. It almost seems like taboo to bring it up, but a big part of our work as missionaries is just raising the support to keep us here on the mission field. When we came back to Belize fourteen months ago (I still can’t believe it’s already been that long!!) we had NOT actually made it to our full monthly support. We were getting close, but after talking to our missionary society we all decided it would be better for us to get back to Belize to start our ministry here (and see what my ministry would be!), while working on raising the rest of the support. Before I go any further though I have to thank all those who have both been supporting us from the beginning, and those who have joined our ministry team since we’ve been back in Belize. We are incredibly grateful for all of your prayer and financial support!

But as we’ve passed the year mark here in our ministry in Belize we have had to assess our current level of financial support for the next year here on the mission field, and the following years that God calls us here to serve. While we have been living here for over a year, we have been, and very much still are living in a growing deficit between gifts to our ministry and the minimum budget needed to keep us on the field. By the grace of God we have had generous donors support us both monthly and in one time gifts (thanks be to God!), but if our current deficit in giving continues, we will have to return from the mission field much sooner than planned to re-raise support again in the United States.

So here’s what David and I are asking. If you believe in the ministry that God has called us to here in Belize, we would like you to prayerfully consider joining our team as financial partners. God calls each one of us to be a part of His Great Commission; if not to go personally, than to send others. We cannot serve with the people of Belize without people like you partnering in our ministry by sending us. Every person or family that supports us financially and through prayer is completely a part of our ministry here in Belize. So please consider supporting the work we’re doing here by linking up with us financially whether through monthly giving or one time gifts. Everything helps! I’m attaching the link at the bottom here that will take you straight to the page where you can make an ongoing monthly pledge or a one-time gift. And if you ever want to find out more about our ministry here, how you can be even more involved, or even come and visit us, please email or call us! We would love to talk to you! And as always, please continue to keep us in your prayers. There is always a lot going on here and we know that without God we could do nothing. Thank you!

Summertime in San Ignacio

Summertime in San Ignacio

As we get closer to the end of July, we are also coming to our one year mark here in Belize! I realize that most of my updates tell you how long we’ve been in the country, but I feel like this is the big one. One year is the one we’ve been waiting for! The reason one year is so important for the two of us is because when we officially hit that mark (August 2) I will be allowed to apply for my permanent residency! What this means (even though I probably won’t be approved for a few years) is that I, like David, will have more stability in the country to stay indefinitely as an actual resident. But it also means that we will be able to travel more freely in and out of the country. For those of you who don’t know, just to apply for residency you are not allowed to have left the country for more than a specific number of days in the span of a year. Once I’ve applied and sat through my interviews I’ll be allowed to travel more (which is good for reasons I’ll get to in a little bit). So anyway, what this means (our coming to this one year mark), is that we are starting to prepare tons of paperwork, get medical exams, and background checks. It’s sort of a stressful hassle, but it will be well worth it when we’ve finished the process in just a few weeks. Please be praying for us as we prepare all of the different requirements! Please also pray that we don’t miss/mess-up any of the steps as Immigration can be incredibly picky!

While that tells you a little bit about our immediate future, let me tell you about what has been going on this summer! David and I were blessed to be able to attend St. Barnabas, St. Hilda’s, and St. Andrew’s school graduations. It was great to see kids that I’ve really gotten to know in the past year, and David has watched grow up, graduate and get ready to start high school. Here in Belize it is not a requirement that kids attend high school, so it was a lot of fun seeing the look of accomplishment and excitement in these kids eyes as they finished this huge milestone and prepared to start the next one.

With school out for the next couple of months we are on a break from chapel services and strict school schedules. Youth choir takes a break for the summer, but piano lessons continue (I’m even continuing to get new students!). Yet, with school being out it also means that it is a little harder to recognize which children I know from the three schools we work with (as they are no longer wearing uniforms). Thankfully, kids here are much better at recognizing me, and a “Hi Miss Mary Beth” lets me know that I really do know the kid and I’m not just creepily staring at children as I try and figure out where I know them from! David is much better with names and faces!

The first week of summer vacation here St. Andrew’s held our Vacation Bible School (VBS). Our director of children’s ministries Ms. Perla Gonzalez, with Jordan Paris, worked together to throw an (almost) entirely Belizean lead VBS, with the theme of The Great Commission! Now, I say “entirely Belizean” because this was actually completely done with volunteers from and for St. Andrew’s Church. In the past for many years teams came from the States to throw VBS weeks for kids here, but just a couple years ago a team came from Christ Church (Savannah) and taught leaders and volunteers from church how to run our own VBS. And I have to say, it was a great success! Each day, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 to 11:30 AM we had between 36 and 46 kids show up to learn about Jesus’ call on each of our lives to “GO!” and make disciples. The kids were separated into three groups (Messengers, Fishermen, and Sheep) and rotated between the different workshops (Praise and Worship, Bible stories, Crafts, and Sports) throughout the day. While the plan had been to separate everyone by age, we had so many itty-bitties that the Messengers and Fishermen had some little ones, and the Sheep were entirely 5-7 year olds. Some many cute kids!

This really was a time for outreach for our church. Not only did the many of the kids come from different schools and churches, but we also had a variety of volunteers that really worked together to pull off a fantastic week of worship and workshops! While each day had the same basic format (with the kids rotating through the workshops), our final day consisted mainly of Praise and Worship and then a couple hours of Sports. One of my favorite moments with the kids was in that last day. We took the Sheep (the itty-bitties) and set them up to play water balloon games. One little boy, maybe 5 years old, let us know that his mom said he wasn’t allowed to get wet. We said that was fine and he could just sit off to the side and watch. Well, the little boy thought for a second, and then very sincerely looked up and said, “well it’ll probably be ok because my mom isn’t here …” Ms. Perla and I about died laughing! Needless to say we still had him sit out that game! At the end of that last day, after we sent the kids home, all of us volunteers were able to sit and eat lunch together, play football, and then have a very fast water balloon fight. While I did not join the water balloon fight, I did get soaked when some of the girls poured a bucket of water over my head! Overall, I think this year’s VBS here at St. Andrew’s went very well!

The same week that we had VBS, I started a Young Ladies’ Bible Study here in our house for high school girls. We decided to make it nice and official/fancy with invitations made out to each girl, and at the same time keep it comfy by having it on our amazingly fluffy couches with some kind of nice snack at the end (so far we have had chocolate cookies and frozen bananas with peanut butter and chocolate). For the summer we are meeting once a week for an hour in the middle of the day and studying through the book of James. I am loving teaching this Bible study! Pretty much none of these girls have attended a Bible study before and it is a lot of fun helping teach these girls how to really study the Bible. It is also fun (and challenging) to then answer the many questions that have started coming up in our studies. But I love that there are questions! Last week we went twenty minutes over just with questions! It has also been a good learning opportunity for me as I have never run a Bible study myself and have had to spend many hours studying the chapters, praying, reading Bible commentaries and study guides, as well as pestering David. I’m really looking forward to seeing what God has in store for this group as we go through His Word together. Before we break for a snack each week we go around and share prayer requests to then pray for each other before we leave. I think this group has the potential of really growing together in Christ and becoming a more tightly knit group. Please be praying for me and these girls as we study together, and work to better understand God and His call on our life as He reveals Himself in Scripture.

Last week, this week, and the following week we have seminarians from Codrington College in Barbados here with us in Belize. The three students are rotating between Belize City, Dangriga, and here in San Ignacio to shadow the priests in those respective areas and learn about the different ministries. We’ve had one seminarian finish his time with us, and we are spending this week with another one, before meeting the last one next week. I am loving this time getting to know these different students, and hearing their stories of how God called them into ministry.

This is also our last week with our SAMS intern Jordan before she heads back to the States. Today she arranged to take about eight kids from St. Hilda’s as well as some adults to the Belize Zoo as a fun summer activity. The kids had so much fun looking at all the animals! I think the cutest moment was when I said “the babies (referring to the littlest kids) are tired” and the little four year old girl looked at me very seriously and said, “no, the babies are hungry!”. It ended up being a very successful trip! We’ve really enjoyed having Jordan here working with us this summer! Please pray for her as she prepares to return home next week and as she transitions back to life in the States.

Let’s see, as I prepare to wrap up this update I did say I would mention why it will be nice to be able to travel more freely. My sister, who came down and visited us last Christmas, got engaged on the 4th of July! She and her fiancé will be getting married in November! I’m very excited to meet her fiancé and to be a part of this new step in their lives! (I know, lots of exclamation points). To add at least one more, in just a couple weeks (more or less) my brother and his lovely wife will be having their first kid! So many wonderful things happening right now! Please be praying for both my sister and brother, and their growing families!

All right, I should probably finish this update before it gets too long. I would also like to ask that you continue to pray for our ministry here in Belize. With many important things coming up, and going on, we could always use more prayer. Also, as we do come up on the one year mark here in San Ignacio we have to continue looking and planning for our financial support (so that we can continue to serve here long term). As many of you know, we came to Belize without being fully funded (with the plan of continuing to raise support long distance). While we have gotten new pledges of financial giving since we moved here, and we are very grateful for all of them, we are still not at the support level we need to keep things in the black. I would ask that you pray and consider financially supporting David’s and my ministry here in Belize. I personally feel most connected in ministry with the kids (youth choir, youth group, Bible study, piano lessons, chapel services), and we are really seeing God work in so many ways! David’s ministry with the kids, as well as the many church services, counseling, preaching/teaching, visiting parishioners, and the many other ministry opportunities that come just from being the priest of so many churches is really reaching people with God’s word and love. If you want to be part of this ministry (even from far away!) please not only join us in prayer (we can never have enough!), but please also consider supporting us financially. Thank you to everyone who prays for us, supports us, and sends us encouraging notes! We love and appreciate all of you! And thank you for making it to the end of a rather long and rambling update! =]

Ministry in the Rain

The rain is finally starting!

March, April, and May are said to be the hottest months here in Belize and that has definitely proven to be true. But it’s interesting because, while there are moments almost everyday where I feel like I’m melting, at the same time I really do think I’ve adjusted to the heat. While I wouldn’t call the low 90s a cool day, it would go on my list as a not so hot day either. The past three days we’ve consistently had afternoon thunderstorms and I think (at least for now) I can safely say I won’t get tired of rain. Gusts of cool air, house shaking thunder, and dark skies are making for some pretty pleasant days.

As a side-note, while the rain makes for pleasant days, it also makes for more bugs. I must say that my spider killing skills are growing (I don’t have to call for David as often), and I’m becoming quite the ninja killing mosquitos, but my cockroach killing skills are abysmal. We have now had three GIGANTIC cockroaches in our bedroom/bathroom, and each one has left me cowering in a corner calling David to come smash it to oblivion. Hopefully this is not a case of “practice makes perfect.” As far as finding these things in the house, I’d rather it be so rare that I continue being awful.

Well we have now been here for 10 months! Sometimes it feels like time has flown by and other times it feels like we have been in Belize for years. I think I’m really starting to get used to life here. We have settled into our ministry routines at this point and I’ve even started to make time to experiment in the kitchen. Turns out I love to cook! As some of you may know, David loves to eat beans. For the past year and a half of our marriage we have had some version of beans almost everyday, but the past couple of months I’ve started branching out a bit with baking and a little more variety in dinners (don’t worry, he still gets beans!). But by experimenting more with food I have also gotten a better idea of what it’s like to go shopping here in San Ignacio. Back in the States we would make a list of ingredients and then just run to Albertsons or something to get everything (for the most part). Here, while it takes much longer to buy everything, it’s also much more fun! My typical shopping will include, going to the market for all the produce, cross the river to get any chicken from the chicken store, pick up any canned goods from the Chinese-run dry-goods store, come back across the river to by any other meat or cheese from the meat market in the center of town, and then head up the hill to the masa shack to pick up queso blanco and masa, before heading home. It’s a rather exhausting process, but it’s fun knowing where to shop and feeling comfortable getting around town!

As far as ministry, our biggest new news this week is the arrival of a SAMS missionary bridger who will be working with us for the next two months! Jordan Paris is an education major from Texas and will primarily be working with kids in the schools and at church. One of the main areas she is focusing on is St. Hilda’s school in Georgeville. She’ll be volunteering at the school this last month of the semester as she builds relationships with the kids and teachers, then she will be helping develop and lead the VBS in the village in July! We’re hoping that as she gets to know the kids during the semester they will become excited/encouraged to come back in the summer for VBS. Once school lets out it’s harder to keep the momentum up through the summer, so Jordan’s ministry in the village is especially beneficial! She will also be working here in San Ignacio on St. Andrew’s upcoming VBS this summer, as well as helping develop a more extensive Confirmation class program. Besides being a very useful/helpful part of our ministry team here in Cayo, she is also extremely friendly and fun to have around! We are very excited to be working with her this Summer!

I should also update you on my youth choir! This semester has seen the youth choir grow to a solid 13 kids who have consistently come to rehearsals. Besides becoming more confident singers in a group, they have also been able to learn songs quicker, and even picked up some more complicated pieces. As a way of showcasing all of their hard work, last Saturday we had an almost traditional Lessons and Carols service at St. Andrew’s Church. Where that type of service is normally held in the Advent season with scripture readings and songs telling the story of the coming of Jesus, we decided to use the same structure but change the readings to focus on Jesus’ life from Easter to Pentecost. We had 9 readings that the youth choir lead, followed by special pieces from the choir, and songs that we sing at school chapel for the congregation. The kids did such a good job! We finished off the evening with a youth group lead bake-sale (which basically means really good cupcakes, cheese dip, and flan! …you all know I love food!). It’s hard to believe we’re already wrapping up another semester of choir. We just had our last official choir “rehearsal” for the semester, which was really just a time of games and food. I spent the day making cookies (because it always makes sense to run your oven when through the hottest parts of the day), cheese dip, and punch, before braving the coming rain storm to head over to the party. It was a fun way to wrap up the choir season, talk over a couple performance opportunities for the summer, and get people excited for Christmas music next semester. As whole I’m very excited about the potential this choir is continuing to show and I’m already looking forward to the next semester!

Pentecost was another big day here! Besides having lots of people come for worship at both St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s, we introduced the newest Christian into St. Andrew’s through the Sacrament of Baptism. This very cute little boy also managed to sleep through almost the whole baptism, before waking up by the “and the Holy Ghost” part (he was no longer impressed with having water poured over his head). After that service we headed over to St. Hilda’s. While there were no baptisms at that church the Standard I class did have a couple song presentations to commemorate our celebration of Pentecost! We finished off the day by heading to Belize City where David was invited to be the guest preacher at All Saint’s Church for their Confirmation service. They had 17 kids getting confirmed! It was amazing seeing so many young people pursuing a closer relationship with God!

The St. Andrew’s Youth Group is continuing to meet every Saturday evening, and while it’s a little smaller this close to the end of the semester, we’re looking forward to getting some activities going throughout the summer to keep the kids involved. Four of our youth will be attending a leadership focused youth retreat at the end of this month. A group from the States is bringing 25 of their youth and then 25 youth from the Anglican church here in Belize will be joining them for a week of worship and leadership training. We are looking forward to seeing both what they take away from this retreat and what they are able to contribute to the group!

Let’s see, one of the other new things that has started up in the last couple weeks is a different approach to pastoral visits. Normally, David and I will spend about three nights a week visiting people throughout the parish. In an effort to reach more people and increase church fellowship/outreach we have started making visits while taking other people from the church with us. The first visits started with the churchs Fellowship Chairperson (a good friend of ours) coming with us as we visited families. Then at each house the families were asked when they would have an evening free to join us as we visited more families. This is not only strengthening the sense of community in the church, but it is also helping get multiple people to reach out in fellowship and ministry throughout the church. 

Before I wrap it up here I want to give you a quick update on Hemry (the young boy with leukemia). He has been continuing to spend most of his time in Merida receiving chemo therapy and the doctors are very pleased with his progress. Honestly, it is clear this little boy is covered in prayers! Out of all the children in his ward, he is responding the best, his platelets are high, he has lots of energy, and the side effects to the medication have decreased. While he still has a ways to go, and it continues to be rough for him and his family, God is absolutely watching over this little boy. Thank you so much for your prayers! We have been able to visit him on few days that he has been back in Belize and he continues to be his cute/fun-loving little self! In fact one of the times we went to visit him we brought a foam-noodle squirt gun, and let me tell you, you would have no idea he was sick with the way he was running around squirting all the chickens, goats, and cats (even when sick, boys will be boys!). So again, thank you for your continued prayers for Hemry. We really love that little boy!

And thank you for your continued prayers and financial support for David and me! Some days are rough, but we are continuing to see God work here in Belize and praying for Him to use us to further His kingdom.

Ministry Blooms

At the moment, it is quiet. Finally. December felt like a sprint to Christmas. After Christmas it seemed like a mere hop-skip-and-a-jump until the whirlwind of Ash Wednesday. The marathon of Lent eventually gave way to the wrestling mat of Holy Week, and now, after a joyous Easter Sunday, I am collapsed here in our living room. Mary Beth is in the next room, sick at the moment with a stomach bug we’ve both picked up, she worse than I. At nights the darkness is saturated with noise from the yearly fair taking place a few blocks from the Rectory: incessant bass and random air horns announcing far and wide that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, and in the quiet of the noonday sun, I am able to take a step back and reflect, and wish you all a Happy Easter from me and mine!

So, to answer the question that’s probably on your mind, how have things been going for us? There is much to tell, and much to ask you to pray about. I may not be able to relay the juice of our doings and happenings like Mary Beth is able (and as she has this past NovemberDecember, February, and March), but even if my update’s all pulp I hope to leave with you a definite impression of where we’ve been and where we hope to go in the coming weeks and months.

 

On many fronts in ministry, things have really been moving along quickly. Last December we applied for licenses for ten new lay ministers for our two churches in addition to the four already serving: licenses for five new catechists to help with children’s ministry and preparation for baptism and confirmation, and licenses for five new lay readers to assist in worship in various capacities. This past Thursday those licenses were granted by Bishop Wright (N.B. the new website is still in development) and the Diocesan Commission on Ministry, and we’re excited to begin a new phase of ministry at St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s as we deploy them into action in the coming weeks and months. I am thrilled, in part because eight of these ten new lay ministers are under the age of 35, and in part because of my hope that they will help usher in a new emphasis on radical discipleship, outreach, and evangelism. Please pray that God will equip, empower, and inspire these new leaders of our little churches!

 

Also, as a side note: Mary Beth is one of those new lay ministers who just got licensed by the Bishop to serve! She was licensed for three areas: 1) to work in the schools as a lay youth chaplain, 2) to lead Morning and Evening Prayer as a lay reader, and 3) to administer the chalice at Holy Communion as situations may require it. She is insistent that her primary contribution in the life of the church is related to music, but music is taking her in all kinds of directions, and I am excited to see how God will continue to use her wherever, whenever, and however he wills!

 

As we license new lay ministers for worship, however, we are also in sore need of other kinds of leaders for our churches as well. At the beginning of this year we were unable to fill the Church Committee (i.e. Vestry) position of Outreach for St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s, despite some pleading from their concerned priest-in-charge at the Annual General Meeting. A congregation member has been serving informally as our head of Outreach since then, but she informed yesterday that her health is not allowing her to continue on in that capacity. Similarly, at the beginning of the year we had brought on a new Treasurer for St. Andrew’s, but due to changes in his employment he had to resign a few weeks ago. We are trying desperately to find new people to step up and take responsibility in these vital areas of the church. As is often the case on the ground here, only a few want to help out, and absolutely no one wants to be the individual responsible. Please pray that God would raise up new leadership to guide all of God’s people here to take on the full scope of ministry entrusted to us together as the church.

 

On a positive note, our two churches seem to be bouncing back from the relative instability of these past few years, punctuated by my prolonged absences. St. Hilda’s especially has been growing considerably, and God has not only brought two new families into membership and consistent attendance, but he has also been bringing people back to church who had left a while back! Please pray that the momentum that has been happening at St. Hilda’s will not only continue there, but also spread to our larger parish congregation of St. Andrew’s where growth has been happening, but remains a bit sluggish.

 

Still, taking St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s together, not only has our attendance been on the increase at our Christmas, New Years’, Ash Wednesday, and Holy Week services, but First Quarter attendance figures have recovered from the low point that they hit last year when I was gone. We thank God for everyone whom he has been bringing to our churches: each person who comes is a gift that we treasure, and we can’t wait to see what he will be doing in their lives! Please pray that God would continue to build up our churches and increase commitment: that those who are frequent attenders would become volunteers, that those who are infrequent attenders would become frequent, and that on top of everything else that he would give us encounters with total strangers that would bring them into the fellowship of Christ’s Body.

 

It was to this end that last February we helped begin a new English-language service at one of the Hispanic missions in our twin towns. One of our senior lay ministers has been leading a service of Evensong and preaching through the epistle to the Galatians, while Mary Beth and I have been helping to lead the music. Our hope is to recruit new people to help lead music over the next few months, and then do the same thing somewhere else, either in English or in Spanish, in another location. The service is slowly catching on, although for the last few weeks those attending have been mature believers from St. Andrew’s who desire more opportunity to worship the Lord. This is not a bad thing, though our overall goals for Evensong are wider and more evangelistic. Please pray that God would continue to grow, reproduce, and direct this new service, and continue to equip and empower the lay ministry team that is overseeing it!

 

Something similar could be said about our ventures in youth ministry at St. Andrew’s. Our youth group is going well, although since we started doing more worship at our weekly gatherings, we have seen some drop-off in young people casually showing up. Nevertheless, we are excited about the regulars that we have coming (around a dozen), and we cannot wait to see what God continues to do in their lives! Back in February we held a youth retreat jointly between four churches: St. Andrew’s, St. Hilda’s, La Anunciación and Santa Cruz, and it went really well! We are so grateful for all the young people that God has put into our lives and churches, and we ask you to pray that God would firmly root and establish them in the Gospel and in his Church, equipping and empowering them not only for ministry in the future but for service in the present.

Mary Beth has also been working hard with her youth choir, which has moved from having rehearsals every other week to rehearsing every week. The kids are enthusiastic (almost, at times overwhelmingly exuberant) and they are starting to sound really good! While she is inviting them to perform the occasional anthem at church, she is looking for a really nice opportunity have them sing an entire cantata or concert of some kind in the spring. When we have a date, we will let you know so you can be praying and, perhaps, even tune in!

 

The amount of proverbial food on my plate has also expanded a little since we first came back to Belize now almost nine months ago. Back in October at our Diocesan Synod I was elected to serve on the Diocesan Commission on Ministry, the executive arm of the Diocese that discerns and advises the Bishop on issues related to ministry, clergy, ordination, and lay leadership throughout our churches here. This has until now involved a meeting or two each month, sometimes a Sunday away from St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s as we travel around the country and visit with churches that need the Commission’s attention. However a few weeks ago, I was asked by the Bishop and the Commission to serve as one of two “examining chaplains” in the Diocese; that is, I am to help test candidates for ministry and discern their level of (mostly theological) preparedness for ordination. It is a large responsibility, and we already have two postulants before us to examine and guide through additional theological preparation. I ask that you please keep us in your prayers as we put together our rubrics, ask these tough questions, and make our recommendations with regard to these postulants and to others who may come in the future.

There is so much more to say about ministry at our churches, but I had better get down to telling you about how Mary Beth and I are doing personally. We have been sick a lot recently … a lot. If it’s not a cold, it’s the flu, and if it’s not the flu, it’s a fall or a sprain. These ailments are made more uncomfortable as the seasonal hot-and-dry season has finally moved into our neighborhood, and smoke and dust are everywhere these days. We have had incessant electrical difficulties with our truck (new battery, new alternator, two new regulators, etc.) and plumbing problems with our bathroom. But in the middle of it all, these have been months of drawing close to God and to one another, especially this past Lent. We are doing well, and we really are enjoying life and ministry.

 

And for me personally, it is especially exciting to watch Mary Beth growing into her substantial and weighty ways of serving in a place where I had been for years without her. I love watching her connect, sometimes slowly but always deeply, with the people we serve and serve with, and especially with the children and youth who look up to her and admire her. I love the transparent humanity and fresh perspective that she brings to our pastoral visits and casual encounters with folks here. I love that her music showers its beauty about our home, our church, our youth, our community. I love that she is here, and I am so grateful that we are here together in ministry.

And soon Mary Beth will be mentoring someone else: Bridger (medium-term missionary) Jordan Paris! Jordan is set to be an intern serving with our churches and schools throughout June and July. We are so excited that she will be coming to work with us during those months, and I am excited to see God use my wife in new and powerful ways as well. We can’t wait for her to come and serve with us! Please keep Jordan in your prayers as she gets ready for the transition to Belize!

At this point I’ve probably written more than I need to. Mary Beth will giving her own update soon enough, but until then I would ask that you keep us in your fervent prayers. Thank you for your prayers, for your gifts, for your encouragement, and for your faithfulness. May God richly bless you!