So I’m going to see if I can write an update here without a completely crazy story. What?! Yep, we actually have had a pretty normal week!
Two Sundays ago was Harvest for Saint Andrew’s church and school. I have never experienced a Harvest festival before, but let me tell you, it was awesome! Over the course of three services throughout the day all the kids from Saint Andrew’s school put together baskets of fruits, vegetables, and pastries, and then come to church with their families. Even though we had three services (two more than normal!) the church was overflowing! There were kids sitting on laps, kids sitting up in the choir area, and in each service there were TONS of people outside just because we had no more seats! While it was hot and crowded, what better problem to have in a church than more people than seats?? About halfway through the service the kids processed up the aisle by grade with their decorated baskets (parents standing up to take pictures) and then gave a short presentation about thanksgiving and harvest as they presented their offerings to God. After the service all the baskets got sold as a fundraiser for the church and school. Out of all the big church services throughout the year (Christmas, Easter, etc.), Harvest is probably the biggest here for St. Andrew’s as well as St. Hilda’s and St. Barnabas’ (whose Harvests will be next week). While it was absolutely exhausting (there were almost 700 people!), each service a wonderful experience and I can’t wait for the next set of Harvest services next week!
For those of you who don’t know what an average (not crazy) week for us would look like, let me give you a quick taste. Monday is our day to do house work, catch up on emails, Spanish class for me (I just started this week! Mondays and Thursdays), and run errands all before the evening when we visit people from the parish. Tuesday through Thursday consists of chapel at the schools every other week, teacher devotions, visiting people in the evenings, either adult or youth choir practice, helping with confirmation classes, and preparing for Sunday (sermon prep and baptism classes for David, and getting the music together for me).
Let me take a quick sidebar here to tell you about our new youth choir.
I know David already told you how great it was, but I want to say I wholeheartedly agree! When we first started putting together our idea for the youth choir we didn’t know what direction it would take. Would we have young kids or old? Would it be a traditional choir or a praise team? Would anyone come? Basically the first night was an experiment even just seeing who would show up! Well that Wednesday we had thirteen kids come! Since it was an experiment (and the majority of the kids were pretty young) we had a mixture of things that were too hard and too easy, but overall they seemed to have fun. We have our second rehearsal this Wednesday and (now that we have a better idea of what we’re doing) I’m excited to teach these kids how to lead worship and praise God through music!
Another side note real quick!
Since getting here (and particularly since starting up the youth choir) I’ve had a LOT of inquiries as to when I will be starting piano lessons. So very soon here you’re going to here about that next step in our adventure here in Belize!
Back to our typical week.
Fridays are our day off. Now if you’ve been reading my updates you’ll have noticed that our Fridays haven’t exactly been nice relaxing getaways (flat tires, bats, rabies shots, the flu lasting for weeks, etc.). A couple months ago on our day off we drove up to the mountains to try and go to a resort that lets you hike down to a series of waterfall on their property. Now you may also remember from that trip that we didn’t’ make all the way there since we slid off the road, got a flat tire, and then got stuck in a lightning storm. Last Friday we decided to brave the long and bumpy road and to try again, and in comparison to our other “adventures”, it wasn’t so bad. We made it to the resort (even with looming rain clouds), hiked down the crazy steep mountain (all carved out stone steps) and got down to the beautiful waterfalls. Like I said, it was almost a completely uneventful trip … Well we got down to the bottom of the mountain and a man with a young boy called out to (we were the only other people there) asking if we had a radio he could use to call back up to the resort. I had my phone, but no coverage. As we got over to him we saw that his foot was pouring out blood and the boy was sobbing. The man showed us is foot and there was this huge gash all the way down to the bone! He had been playing on the waterfall with his boy and slipped, slicing his foot open. You know when people talk about God’s perfect timing? Well this was one of them. There was no way the guy could get back up the mountain by himself with that injury (and it had happened right as we were getting down to the waterfall too). David was able to run back up the trail to the resort so they could send down the tram with medical help. While the nearest hospital was almost two hours away, they staff was able to get him back up the mountain and to some medical help. David and I then spent the rest of the day relaxing and looking at the waterfalls (we weren’t really in the mood to swim anymore).
Now Saturdays are a little different. Typically it is a full workday with meetings, more Sunday prep, and then youth group in the evening. This past Saturday was a little slower since I had a migraine all day, but youth group turned out to be even more exciting than normal. Back when I was in youth group in the states, many years ago, my youth pastor Paul Gibbons had us play this game that involved making ice cream sundaes … in someone’s mouth … while standing on a chair way above them … I had told that story to David and he was all for us trying it with our youth group here! So, while David played dodge ball with the kids I secretly got all the ingredients ready (’cause it’s way funnier if they don’t know what’s coming!). And then David asked for some volunteers who were willing to get a little messy. After we had made some fashionable clothing for them out of garbage bags we revealed the game. I’ve got to say, besides being absolutely hilarious, it was a HUGE success! Many laughs, a funny video, some pretty embarrassing pictures, and a winner later (the messiest person), made for a memorable night at youth group! And don’t worry, we were nice and made regular ice cream sundaes for everyone after the game.
So that brings us back to Sunday. After at least two church services and then baptism classes we head back home and start preparing for the next week! While what we do during the week can vary, that’s what a typical week looks like in our house (now that we’ve made it through a week that didn’t have anything too crazy!).
Before I wrap up this post I want to talk a little bit about culture shock (mostly because it’s been getting to me this week). Now since we got here two months ago I’ve had moments of culture shock off and on (mostly big, easily identifiable moments). Well this week I got to experience the little ways culture shock can affect a person. As I talked about above, the past week has been pretty uneventful. As a whole I’ve started to really adjust to Belize as home, and yet out of nowhere in the middle of last week I broke down sobbing. Why, you may ask? Because we eat with spoons! Sound ridiculous? I was fully aware of how ridiculous this was (I was even laughing and sobbing at the same time!), but just the same, I hated that pretty much all the food we eat required us to use spoons! I didn’t want any of it anymore! I knew it was crazy and yet I couldn’t get my lower lip to stop popping out and quivering over and over again … Culture shock isn’t always big things that set you off. It’s not always the obvious things that are different from one culture to another. For me this week it was spoons. Next week I could love spoons! But for now spoons are awful!
Now you know what a typical week for us looks like! But I have one last thing to update you on. When we came back to Belize in August we were not quite at full financial support. We were around 80% when we got here with the intention of continuing to raise support (just from a greater distance). For David and me to be as effective as possible in our ministries here in Belize, as well as being able to stay in the country as long as God has called us here, we are going to need to reach full financial support soon. If you feel God is calling you to partner with us financially for our ministry here in Belize please click on the Partner with Us link below. Any amount helps!
SAMS supports over 90 missionaries. Get to know them through this blog series called Meet SAMS-USA, and discover their calling to mission, where they serve, and how you can get involved through support and prayer.
David and Mary Beth met at the Anglican Church of the Resurrection (San Marcos), their home church. They both were in a time of growth and transition. David transitioned from being a seminarian to being a priest, to being a missionary, while Mary Beth graduated from high school, started university, and then became the church accompanist. Over the years they pastor-and-parishioner to long-distance-friends, to not-so-much-friends, to more then friends. Now they are married!
David and Mary Beth Alenskis are sent from Anglican Church of the Resurrection in California and serve together in Belize. The church in Belize needs more thoroughly-trained leaders who are willing to serve inside and outside of the church in pioneering ways, to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to embody his excessive and supernatural love for sinners. David has been called to serve as the Priest-in-Charge (Senior Pastor) of St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s churches and as chaplain for St. Andrew’s, St. Barnabas’, and St. Hilda’s schools. Mary Beth is using her passion and gift for music as well as her heart for serving others to reach those in the church and schools. As SAMS missionaries, David and Mary Beth are dedicated both to serving as leaders for Anglican churches and schools in Belize, and also to training up new leaders who will continue to grow and deepen the Body of Christ.
The Alenskis’ continued mission service is made possible with the help of your support and prayers. They ask you to please share in their passion for the people of Belize by partnering with them in the work of the Gospel! Consider giving to the Alenskis today.
We seek to obey Christ’s great commission by joining with Belizeans to follow him together. Pray that Christ uses us to build up his Body in the following ways:
Can you believe it? Practically two months have passed since Mary Beth and I returned to missionary service, and during that time my lovely wife has been fantastic at giving you the color commentary that you deserve (and I tend to forget to write about). Nevertheless, though she is showing herself to be a fantastic writer, I should also add my own thoughts and give you a rundown on how things have been going on our end over the course of this jam-packed period!
Our short-term goals have been modest during our entry back to serving at our churches and schools: to strengthen the relationships in Belize we already had before I left, to begin new relationships here as God disposes, and to work as a married couple to create our new home and life together in Belize. So far, so good … very good, in fact. With regards to our new home and life here, I have to say that Mary Beth has been incredibly brave and strong as she adjusts to a far different way of life, far from family and friends; honestly, I could not be more proud of her, or grateful to her for her own ministry to me and alongside of me. Right from the get-go, Mary Beth has had to grapple with heat and illness (both mine and hers), travel complications, insects, flat tires and hurricanes, bats and rabies vaccinations (more on that later), and so much more. But through it all, she has been patient and courageous, and I am so awed at how God is caring for her even as he is using her as a missionary. With regards to all this, however we do ask for your regular prayers for each of us as we undergo that process of transition and suffer the very real “culture shock” that inevitably emerges in these situations. It will take many months before we are both fully acculturated in Belize.
For our re-start of ministry here in San Ignacio, we have been allocating our time first and foremost towards simply being with people … a Ministry of Presence, of Showing Up. We have aimed to visit with families in their homes two or three days a week, and now that primary schools are back in session, we have begun again our biweekly cycle of chapel services for the students and devotions for the teachers. Next week we begin again our weekly services for students and staff at the University of Belize’s College of Agriculture, and despite obstacles like a nation-wide teachers’ strike, in many things are returning to “normal” for me in my pastoral ministry here.
Sometimes “normal” can be heartbreaking: last month I was asked to lead a funeral for a young man who was tragically beaten and killed when he was mistaken for someone else. Sometimes “normal” can be great but overwhelming, for instance, as we hold our Harvest celebrations at St. Andrew’s this coming Sunday. But most days “normal” consists of small moments that, taken together, build missional momentum and herald Christ’s Kingdom: praying with a family in their home, teaching God’s word to school children, encouraging a local shop owner, or giving the invocation at an Independence Day gathering. Please pray that God would continue to open these doors for the Gospel, for building relationships, for moments large and small which will have an impact on the expansion of his Kingdom.
At the same time, these last two months have also brought more surprises and changes than we were first expecting. For instance, upon my return I learned that though our ministry team on the ground had served boldly and beautifully in my absence, many of our leaders had become exhausted during my almost eight months away, and many have had for various reasons to give up their positions of responsibility. While we may have found a fantastic person to be the Local Manager of schools (think of superintendent or liaison overseeing the three schools), and also have probably found an Outreach coordinator for the parish, we are still looking for a church Treasurer and a Secretary for the Church Committee. On top of this, we have identified an immediate need to raise up new Lay Ministers, train new Sunday school teachers, recruit new volunteers, and build the team that leads God’s people at our churches and schools … and to do all of this soon!
And this need to find and train new leaders goes beyond our English-language churches and schools: this past month the priest of one of the three Hispanic missions with which we work has resigned his ministry due to health, and the other Hispanic priests and I will be working together to insure that the mission (Holy Trinity in Frank’s Eddy, a village approximately an hour away from us) continues to worship and to grow. Please pray that God calls laborers into his vineyard, that the Holy Spirit moves in the hearts of our people to give of themselves and serve in greater and greater capacities.
Mary Beth too has been experiencing faster change and development in ministry than she had initially expected. In addition to accompanying music at church and accompanying me on home visits and school services, Mary Beth has already begun developing her own ministries with children and youth. Last Saturday St. Andrew’s youth group began meeting weekly once again, and Mary Beth has already started working closely with the other two leaders to make youth group not only fun but a critical space for discipling young people in our community. The opening bash that night went really well, and we’re excited to see how God will continue working in their lives.
And in what was even more of a surprise to her, Mary Beth was encouraged to begin a children and youth choir sooner than she expected. This past Wednesday she jumpstarted a group of thirteen children and teenagers into what we are praying transforms into a regular and experienced choir. Without knowing who was going to show up, without knowing what musical experience they would bring, without knowing the size or age of the participants, she crafted an amazing hour of music with the kids and we are so excited to see how God will mold this group in the weeks and months to come.
As Mary Beth has mentioned previously, we have also been experiencing some unexpected obstacles since we arrived in Belize. We have both been sick for the last couple of weeks with a terrible flu (or something with terrible flu-like symptoms), and for the two weeks before that I was required to receive a series of five rabies vaccinations after a nocturnal encounter with a wounded bat. We have had to repair our refrigerator, perform extensive repairs on our pickup truck’s engine, breaks, and tires, and purchase a new clothes washer and dryer. On top of everything, our digital piano seems to have become damaged, and no one we have consulted here is both able and willing to repair it. Truthfully, none of these problems has been cheap to address, and almost each of them has come at the wrong time (usually our day off together to refresh) or have affected us for far too long. But God has been accompanying us through it all, and often there are great victories along the way; for example, Mary Beth received her missionary work visa this past week, and she will be able to stay in the country legally for the next year! We ask your prayers for our ministry, that we would be patient in (what is admittedly mild) affliction, protected from the enemy, and useful for the Kingdom.
We also ask that you please pray that God would meet our financial needs. The unexpected expenses that I described above will put a higher load on our support, support which would need to increase by about 25% anyway. Please keep our finances and support in your prayers, and get in touch with us if there is any way you yourself might be able to help.
This coming week, a chapter is closing on our lives at this end, and I plan on this being the final prayer mail related to our mission work. Of course, we could always use your prayers in the times ahead as you happen to think of us.
The following is based on my final note to people involved in the distance learning program, sent Saturday:
Distance learning update for Saturday, 24 September 2016:
1) This is planned as my last weekly distance learning update before my attention will be focused in other ministry directions, with a few exceptions. Aside from individualized emails, for any future distance learning updates please look to the announcement section of the distance learning Web site.
1a) As one of my remaining connections, I am currently revising the Christian Doctrine/Christian Theology course to be a Christian Doctrine/Christian Theology course with an Anglican perspective, instead of an additional course focusing specifically on Anglican Doctrine/Anglican Theology. It may be finished in a few weeks.
1b) When I have finished that project, another of my remaining connections that I am planning will be to work with the Main Administrator to turn the current notes and slides from the individual courses into Kindle-based documents that can be downloaded from the Internet.
2) One of our students is nearing the very end of the final course in the program.
3) These courses will be open for the rest of 2016. Beginning in 2017, I plan to be the Benefactor of the course Web site, to keep it open for all of 2017 and for as much as I can beyond, but I won’t know for sure how this will work until January 2017.
4) Three people have stepped up as my replacements in the following capacities:
Curriculum Design Director.
Dean of the Faculty.
This has been a full week in other aspects of ministry and in family life as well.
1) For guidance on the path ahead are appreciated, including a smooth transition, and also for people in Belize in the wake of my departure.
2) For the transition of the Diocese of Belize Web site to the creation of a new one in due course.
3) For the publication of the Spanish Prayer Book, scheduled for this month, but I have not heard anything about it.
4) For the parishes and other matters that we are involved with. Julie continues as a hospital chaplain. I continue as an Interim Rector. Lydia continues as a student.
And mission work? As you can see from the above, there is a small bit to do yet. In the near term, Julie and I both continue as Associate Missionaries with SAMS, probably for as long as we have a missionary connection of some sort with Belize, unless something changes.
My prayer for you, this week, is that you would be open to what the Holy Spirit is guiding you to do and say.
This is our prayer mail for Monday, 19 September 2016.
This is our penultimate prayermail/update. Next week will be our final week.
This week has been another full week.
On the missions front:
Regarding the distance learning program with Belize, I have arranged for the program to continue via a Main Administrator for technical matters, a Course Design Director, and a Dean of the Faculty (coordinator of the faculty). I plan to continue in the roll of Benefactor for the time being, and continue as Director of the diocesan seminary until my replacement is named. One of the upcoming projects to be undertaken by the Course Design Director is a confirmation curriculum for the diocese, all things being the same.
The future Course Design Director completed a course this week, would complete the entire curriculum at the end of the current and final course that the person is taking. I plan my handoff of the remaining parts of the program to take place when this person has finished the final course, and soon. That means: some information will be passed along, some training to go, my being available for questions, and so forth.
I also made a recommendation for someone interested in Holy Orders (diaconate).
This week in hindsight: phenomenal, and answered prayers for actually potentially expanding the program. To paraphrase what someone has said: I enabled the program to take off, and now it has wings. The timing was good for doing this.
It was a full week in other aspects of ministry and in family life as well.
1) Prayers for guidance on the path ahead are still appreciated, including a smooth transition, and also for people in Belize in the wake of my departure.
2) For the transition of the Diocese of Belize Web site to the creation of a new one.
3) For the publication of the Spanish Prayer Book, most likely this month.
Mudge Making a Difference Newsletter. September 2016.
On October 1st, both Julie and I will have become Associate Missionaries with SAMS. This is to say that after 7 years of mission work, neither of us will be employee missionaries of SAMS.
We will continue to turn our attention to other ministry, with two possible exceptions, below:
1) From the U.S., I may still be involved with Belizean long distance learning ministry in some way.
2) The diocesan office in Belize may need my as- sistance briefly from the U.S., to move items from the current diocesan Web site that I designed, to a new one.
Our mission work has been built upon an extensive foundation of our previous work and experiences. Looking ahead, our mission work provides a founda- tion upon which our future endeavors will be based.
Because of your continued prayers and financial support, you have made it possible for us to do what we have done.
So, thank you for having enabled us to do what Jesus has called us to do, by supporting us through SAMS.
We and SAMS could not have done what we have accomplished without you.