Back in the States

Back in the States

I have officially been back in the States for a week. My time in Belize flew by and I can’t believe that two months passed by so quickly. Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. I feel like God was able to use me in many ways while I was there. One of my favorite parts of the trip was getting to help at the school in the village of Georgeville. I spent a lot of time assisting in the classroom of the teaching principal and worked with the students that have special needs. The school lacked the resources to have a special needs program so it was a blessing that I was able to assist with tutoring those children outside of the classroom.

I also really enjoyed getting to know the families from St. Andrews church in San Ignacio. I was able to spend a lot of time with some of those families and even share details about my faith. Some people I met were surprised that I would go to church every Sunday, especially since I live on my own and have no one to make me go. I explained to them that I go for the community/fellowship and that I really enjoy going to church. While I worked mostly with people that were involved with the church there, it was still an opportunity to minister to them because not everyone goes to church for the right reasons. This is also a problem in the States that I have seen in the churches.

During some of my difficult times there as I was struggling with culture shock or missing friends and family, I really learned how to rely more on prayer and my time with God. I became a much more avid prayer during my time there and really experienced the joys that come from spending time daily with God. I was very blessed to have a host family that truly made me feel like a part of their family and that helped in many ways.

One of the biggest lessons I learned in Belize was about my future. My time in the schools has especially helped me to discern that God is calling me to be a teacher. I think that God is calling me to be a teacher somewhere abroad. I am not sure where he is calling me but I will continue to pray for God to reveal what his plans are for me following graduation in 2 years. I deeply appreciate all the support I had from my senders during my time in Belize and I ask that you also pray for me and for God to show me the ways he wants to use me in the future.

Leaving Belize

Leaving Belize

As I begin wrapping up my time here I cannot believe that 2 months has flown by so fast. The last few weeks have been incredibly busy. One of my goals in coming here was to use my time to build relationships with the people and children here to bring them closer to God.  One of my biggest events while I have been here was the Vacation Bible School at St. Andrew’s Church here in San Ignacio. The VBS went very well.  It was Monday through Friday for 3 hours in the morning. We had about 36 to 46 children come each day. The VBS was run by an almost entirely Belizean team made up from members of the church and some other locals that were able to help out. I really enjoyed working with the director of Children’s Ministry at St. Andrews, Ms. Perla, to help plan and complete the VBS. I helped run the Bible story station during the week. I enjoyed getting to teach the children all about the Great Commission and ways they could go out and make disciples. VBS was a great opportunity to serve the children and the families of this community and to show them God’s love, as well as teach them about God. One of the my favorite parts was the last day of VBS where everyone played sports and had a water balloon fight. After VBS was over Friday all of the volunteers had a lunch and another water balloon fight which ended in all of us throwing buckets of water on each other. It was so much fun.  

Soaked from water balloons!

Water balloon fight! We are soaked!I was also put in charge of doing something fun for the children that attend church regularly at St. Hilda’s in Georgeville. I planned a day at the zoo for about 10 children. It was the first time many of the children had been to the Belize Zoo. We had a lot of fun getting to see the animals. The Belize Zoo exists of animals local to Belize and were rescue animals. We got to see really cool animals but my favorites were the jaguar, the tapir, and the toucan.

 

I got to plan a fun day at the zoo for the VBS children.

 

The weekend before VBS I was blessed with getting to show my parents around Belize. David, Mary Beth, and I met my parents for a couple of days off in Caye Caulker. I got to go snorkeling with my parents and we swam with manatees, stingrays, and nurse sharks. After an incredible couple of days in Caye Caulker, we all drove back to San Ignacio. I was able to take my parents to my favorite restaurants in town and introduce them to my host family and some of my new friends here.

Blessed to meet new sisters in Christ.

This past week has been a bittersweet one. I have started to say goodbye to some of my friends here. I went to the fair last weekend with one of my friends, her boyfriend, and her younger sisters. I rode a kiddie roller coaster with one of the sisters and even won one of the carnival games. I think my favorite part was driving back with the windows down and singing along to Despacito. I went to a pool and spend an afternoon with a few of the girls in youth group that I worked with in VBS. I will be very sad to leave these people in a few days. I have also been getting excited to come back to the States. I am looking forward to getting to see my friends and family. Overall I have loved my time here and hope I am able to come back to visit all the people I have met here.

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! =]

Rain in Belize

I am loving rainy season here! The weather has cooled off a lot compared to when I got here. I am adjusting more to the different culture. I spent one afternoon with my host family dancing to YouTube videos. It was hilarious for my host brother to try and teach his mom how to do the whip(the dance move). These past couple of weeks have been very busy here. I assisted a mission team from Florida that held a Vacation Bible School  at the school I am helping out with in Georgeville. I was put in charge of one of the younger classrooms.  Once the kids finally started listening to me it was a lot of fun. I led the classroom with an older lady from Florida. The theme of the VBS was the Armor of God. We did a bible story time, crafts time, and sports time, with all the activities centered on different pieces of the armor of God. We went on house visits that week and one of the younger lay ministers joined me, Father David, and Mary Beth. The home visits have been a lot of fun. I am starting to be able to understand Spanish more, thanks to my Spanish lessons and visiting houses that only speak Spanish. We go on house visits in San Ignacio about twice a week and in Georgeville about once a week. Going on the home visits has allowed me to experience a lot of different aspects of Belizean culture.

 

It has been a great experience getting to spend time in the classrooms here. I have spent most of my time in the Infant 2 classroom at St. Hilda’s. This is similar to our 1st grade. The way they teach is pretty different. The students don’t respond to just talking to them so I have had to yell a lot because that’s what they are used to. But I am loving my students in that class and they listen to me much better than they did when I first started out in their classroom. I have also been working on the VBS for St. Andrew’s Church with a lady from the church. It has been coming together well. The VBS will be in a week and the theme is the Great Commission. I will be helping to lead the Bible Story station and I am looking forward to it. It is hard to believe that the time is flying by and I will leave in a few weeks.

 

A couple of weeks ago Mary Beth and David took me to Flores, Guatemala. It looked so different than it does here. I saw some chain restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King and I can’t believe how excited I got about seeing these restaurants considering I don’t even eat there when I am in the States. Now I can’t imagine how weird it is going to be when I get back to the States. I also was super excited to go to the mall! When I got on the escalator at the mall, I tripped getting on so David said I should write about how I have been here so long I forgot how to ride an escalator. We also went to see a movie, they don’t have movie theaters here in Belize. The movie we saw was Everything, Everything in Spanish so I didn’t always know what was happening but it was worth it just to sit in the air conditioning. My time in Flores was a lot of fun but I realized I actually missed being in Belize and was excited to get back even though we were only gone one night.

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Flores

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Mary Beth and I in Flores

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Xunantunich Mayan Ruins

Life in Belize

I can’t believe I have already been in Belize for two weeks. I have loved living here! My first two weeks have been very busy. The first few days here consisted of David and Mary Beth showing me around San Ignacio. We also did chapel services for the three different schools that David is chaplain for. I loved seeing the young children at St. Hilda’s so involved in the worship music. On Thursday of my first week here I began to join David and Mary Beth for home visits. We typically go to visit members of the two churches around two or three times a week. We have visited about 15 homes total since I have been here. On Saturday night St. Andrews held a choral festival service where Mary Beth’s youth choir performed, the congregation listened to readings from the Bible, and sang songs to prepare for Pentecost. On Pentecost Sunday, I joined David and Mary Beth for the two church services they put on. The first service was at St. Andrews Anglican Church, here in San Ignacio, and the second one at St. Hilda’s in Georgeville.

I was able to start working at St. Hilda’s Anglican School during my second week. I spent my first morning helping teach a young girl with special needs. The other day I was there I was able to observe and read stories the children in a Standard 1 classroom, which is equivalent to second grade in the U.S. One of my favorite parts of my second week was attending the youth choir party. Mary Beth’s youth choir that she leads at St. Andrew’s had a party for their last rehearsal before their summer break. We played youth group games and ate snacks. It was so much fun to see how competitive some of the girls were during the games we played. I had my first meeting with the lady I am working on Vacation Bible School with. We are currently working on creating the curriculum for the VBS at St. Andrews in July. I plan on using this curriculum to have VBS at St. Hilda’s the week after the VBS at St. Andrews. We went on more home visits and have started taking a couple of other members of the church with us each time. One of my favorite home visits was to a family in Georgeville. Their children go to St. Hilda’s school and church. The daughters were so cute and one of them picked up Mary Beth’s phone and tried to take a selfie with me. It was so adorable!

Since I have arrived in Belize I have tried many new types of food. The local fruit here is so amazing! It is currently mango season and there are mangos everywhere. I have discovered that Belizean’s are in love with mangos. When I arrived in Belize I was very surprised to see that their oranges here are green on the outside. One the the most interesting fruits I have tried here is mamey. It was good but very strange. It had an avocado like texture but was a bright reddish-orange color and tasted like a cooked sweet potato. One of my favorite things I have tried has been soursop juice. I get it at every restaurant that has it available. Another one of my favorite new things is fresh coconut water. I have tried coconut water in the States and I was not a fan but my host family insisted I try it here. I am so glad I did. It is so so delicious!

This week a mission team is coming from Florida to hold a free medical clinic in Georgeville and I will be helping them with their VBS they are holding in the mornings at St. Hilda’s school. I am excited to continue helping out at St. Hilda’s and building relationships with the children and families in the area and hopefully this will help encourage more involvement in the church. Belize is a beautiful country and I am looking forward to see how God will use me during the rest of my time here.

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.