Ministry Blooms

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!

 
Two Very Special Visits

Two Very Special Visits

So instead of writing a regular update today I decided to go a different route and tell you what it’s like visiting different people’s houses every week … Which means a few less pictures, sorry! I was talking to a friend just last week about how different it is going to someone’s house here verses in the States. For instance, when I was living in California and wanted to go over and see a friend I would call and we would setup a day and time to see each other. Here in Belize we visit people three days a week in the afternoon and evenings. All it takes to go see someone is to show up at their house, shout, “Good evening,” and then we are typically invited in to visit with the family. Sometimes we do call ahead and make sure the family will be home in the evening, but most of the time it’s more spur of the moment. I think that is one of the qualities of Belize that I’ve come to really appreciate. People here are readily welcoming and happy to have us come visit.

I’m going to tell you about two different visits we have done recently that have stuck out to me.

A few weeks ago we went to Georgeville just to walk around and see who we ran into for visits. As we were talking to one gentleman these two boys from St. Hilda’s school ran up, all excited, and asked us to come to their house to visit their mother. We were happy to go and so they led us back along the path to their house, running ahead to hide behind bushes, shouting for us to keep up, and finally dashing up the steps to their home shouting to their mother that, “Father David is here!!” We knew the boys already, just from school, but we had never gone to visit their home. Their mom was happy to have us come in and visit with her, but her excitement was nothing compared to the boys. In pretty much every home we visit I enjoy talking with the family and getting to know people better, but what made this home stand out to me were these two boys. Right when we came into their home they played hosts. We were talking to their mother and one boy ran up and asked if we liked coffee (he’s maybe 9 years old), and then he ran back into the kitchen to try and make some. He would then run back out with a can of food that he was trying to open so we could eat. As he was out talking to us we watched as his little brother snuck back into the kitchen, grabbed a large spoonful of sugar and stuffed it into his mouth before running back out to keep asking us questions. These kids were excellent hosts, and extremely adorable … as well as having excess amounts of energy! Their mother, a very friendly woman, told us how much her sons loved the chapel services at school and how they actually remembered the different subjects and would come home talking about them with her. Her son then ran out with his Bible and wanted to read one of the passages David had covered weeks before in chapel. The boys wanted us to pray with them, read more Bible stories, and sing songs from church. They did not want us to leave! After we had prayed and said goodnight to everyone one of the boys came up to me asked me, “Can you sing me that one song from church that goes something something something something something something and sounds really pretty?” I laughed and said, “I’m sorry, I’m not sure which one that is.” To which he replied, “Just sing every beautiful song you know from church really fast.” It was so cute!  Sadly I did not have time to sing him every pretty song I knew as it was now well past sunset and time to go. It was fun to unexpectedly visit a family’s home we had never been to that not only had really cute kids, but a family where the kids primarily wanted to talk about things they learned in chapel. This visit was one of those encouraging ones where I really felt like we were getting to know these people and making a difference in the little boys’ lives.

Now every week we go on lots of visits, with some being good and some being really hard. The visit I just told you about was fun and easy. We got to know the family better and spend time with these kids outside of the school setting. But this past week has been one with very hard visits. We have visited a few people this week with very sick children. I didn’t know you could love kids you just met so quickly, but this week proved that you could! I’m just going to tell you about one of the boys today, but please pray for both.

Last week we were asked to go to Cristo Rey Village and visit a sick little boy from St. Andrew’s school. We hadn’t met the family before, but we went to their house right away to pray for him. When we got there the little boy was curled up on the couch and clearly very sick. As David talked with the parents I started to make silly faces at the boy. His fever would come and go in the evenings and as it started to fade he began making faces back at me. Eventually he got up and came over to me and we played for the rest of the evening. This kid is a pro at making silly faces. He would make one and then instruct me to copy him exactly, to which I apparently did not do correctly because he would repeat it over and over saying I still didn’t have it quite right! He then went back to his room and grabbed his book of truck stickers and then proceeded to plaster my body with lots of stickers. He told us all about how he missed school and so he decided to throw a party the next day (to the “oh reallys” of his parents) so we and all his school friends could come and eat lots of food and then spend the night in the living room. He then informed us that we would of course all have to sweep the house after as it wouldn’t be fair for his mother to clean at his party! He was full of ideas and plans to see all his friends again soon. He didn’t want us to leave ever and kept making sure we knew not to leave when he would leave the room for a minute. At the end of the evening when we were going to pray for him David anointed his head and when his mom went to brush his hair back after the boy panicked and said, “Don’t touch! That is where the special stuff is!” It was very important to him! This little boy won my heart so quickly!

After a couple days we went back to visit the boy and his family again. Right when we walked in the door, after giving us big hugs, he looked at me and said, “I know what you want!” He then ran out of the room to get his stickers and cover me again! After talking and playing for awhile the boy then informed everyone that he was going to marry me. David turned to him and said, “I’m sorry but she’s already married to me!” This did not convince the kid. He said he was going to build me a house and plant lots of flowers around it so we could get married. David informed him that those were fighting words, to which he laughed and then replied very seriously to me, “If you don’t marry me I’m going to take back all the stickers!” A very serious threat! Well, he finally settled with marrying our daughter if he couldn’t have me. Ha! He was so funny!

The next time we visited he immediately gave me a sticker (I think that’s a thing now), and we continued playing a talking for the hour or so that we were at their house. He even called us yesterday to say goodbye before going off to the doctors. While we could barely understand him on the phone, (he’s a rapid speaker!) it was a very cute gesture!

It’s hard telling you about that last little boy. While I’ve only known him for a week and half so far, he’s already, as David calls him my “little buddy.” It’s hard telling you about him because while I had so much fun visiting with him I know he is very sick: acute leukemia at eight years old. While I would play with stickers, make silly faces, and run around the house, David would sit with his parents and discuss his sickness, treatment, side effects, doctors, and every hard and horrible detail of what’s going on with this little boy. I got to grow attached to a very lively little boy full of stories and games, who, other than a few moments of clear sickness or pain during our visits, was otherwise ignorant of what lies ahead of him. David got to sit and comfort grieving scared parents and look over test results.

It’s hard to tell you about this. It’s hard because if I just left out the leukemia part it would look like another story of a cute little boy and an otherwise good visit with a very friendly family. But sometimes the visits we make here are hard. It’s never, ever easy to see sick children. I’ve been so angry this week at the sickness all around us. How incredibly unfair it seems to see children suffer. I already said I’m only telling you about one sick boy, but this has been a week of life threatening sickness with lots of people here in town. I don’t know why these things happen, but I do know God is still in control. We’ve already seen answers to prayers just this week with my “little buddy” getting admitted to chemotherapy faster than expected! While it has been really hard to love these families so quickly and then see them hurting, I’m happy God put us in a place where we can get to know them, pray for them, and minister to them in these difficult times.

So that’s just quick look at what our visits are like here in Belize. Sometimes our visits are just happy and encouraging, like the first one, and sometimes we visit families that we instantly love and still grieve with during incredibly hard times.

Please be praying for the sick here in San Ignacio. There are three families that we visited this week who are scared and need prayers for healing and peace.

Thank you for continuing to pray for David and me too!

Here’s What We’re Doing in Belize!

Here’s What We’re Doing in Belize!

One of the wonderful things about living in Belize is the weather during this time of year. December, January, and February here have cool pleasant days and even mildly “cold” nights. We’ve been here for six months now and one of the main ways I can tell it’s been that long is my adjustment to the weather. Want to know how? When we moved here it was in the 90s and very humid. I didn’t know I could sweat so much! But now if the temperature gets down to 75 (that’s right, I said down like that’s low … ), I’ll be freezing! It’s very strange to get to this point where I’m cold in hot weather, but fun to see how I’m adjusting. Anyway, with the weather being cooler, and wetter, David and I have been sick for a month and a half. It’s hard to want to write an update when I feel like I’ve been in bed for weeks. But here we are! The first week where, other than a cough, I’m healthy!

So, now that we’ve established relatively good health, and very nice weather, I can tell you what’s going on here with our ministry!

Right after the New Year David and I had a wonderful visit from his parents. They had not been to Belize in almost three years! I loved getting to spend time with both Brian and Roberta here in our first home. I also want to point out that it’s funny how our choices for food become more varied when we have guests. For instance, I got sick the last couple days that his parents visited and David and his mom made waffles. Waffles! We bought a waffle maker during our first month here and this was the first time it was used. Needless to say, Saturday is now waffle day! Whether we were taking them to one of the many beautiful places in Belize, or just spending time together at home, it was nice to get time with family. We don’t always know how often family will be able to visit, so it’s always a treat!

Since I already told you I was sick for the past month I’m going to skip the days/weeks where I was in bed and focus on the ministry.

By mid January things started picking up again. We were back in chapel with the school kids, making our regular pastoral visits, and starting back up with music ministry.

As you know I started a youth choir last year and after a break for a couple weeks we started back up again. I can’t tell you how much fun I’m having with this group of kids. Last year we had about eight kids coming, and it was great because they were all regulars, but this year we have all of those kids coming back plus more! I have to attribute my love for these kids, and youth choir in general, from my experience in choir as a kid. I had the most amazing choir director from my home church. Mrs. Segarra taught me to sing, to praise God through music, and to love singing! Well I’m working on the same thing with these kids. Last year we focused on Christmas songs for our Lessons and Carols service and now this year I’m teaching some of my favorite choir pieces from when I was a kid. I told them that the songs were going to start getting a little harder, but they were definitely up for the challenge. We’ve started having choir every week and have even had new kids coming to check it out! Youth choir has become one the highlights of my week. And this Sunday St. Andrew’s Youth Choir is joining another choir from Spanish Lookout to help lead worship for the morning service! The kids are very excited!

One of the new ministries I’ve started this year is teaching piano. It’s been just over a year since I’ve had students and I didn’t know how much I missed it! So far I have five students that I’m teaching each week and at least that many more looking into getting keyboards so they can take lessons too. This is really exciting! Not only is all the money from the lessons designated straight for the church’s youth fund (something we’re setting up for youth group, Sunday school, and choir), but I’m also getting to know a lot of the kids and their families from school.

What else can I tell you? This Sunday we are starting an English-language service of Evensong at our sister Spanish-language church in Santa Elena. Right now all the services we do are in English, with a lot of the pastoral visits in Spanish. We are excited to start this new service not only for a new outreach opportunity, but the plan is to have one of the Lay Ministers lead the service and preach while David and I lead music. Then in a few months we’re planning on replicating the Evensong service at St. Andrew’s Church, only that time in Spanish. As we look towards planting churches in different areas of Cayo this is our first step in that direction. I’ll be sure to let you know how this new service goes!

This Saturday we are holding our first youth retreat in Selena Village. The plan was to hold it right after Christmas, but David came down with a pretty awful stomach flu and we had to postpone. Well everyone is healthy and the plans are back on!

I’m going to take a side note here and say that boys are funny. This retreat for the youth group is going to have food, games, team building, music, and worship. So out of the blue a couple days ago David came up to me with this little boy grin and said he found something he really wanted, something that we could use for the youth retreat. Slingshots. He looked so excited just to tell me about these slingshots. Don’t get me wrong, I think slingshots are fun, but I didn’t know it could get anyone this animated. Here’s how I know it’s a boy thing though; I told one of the boys from youth group that David had us pick up a couple slingshots for the retreat (sort of as an offhand statement) and without even saying anything he walked over to David and just to give him a high five. Ha! So excited to shoot stuff! This should be a fun retreat.

 So I think I’m about coming to the end here, but I’ll finish it off with a visit we just had by a team from Texas. While David and I were raising support last summer we had the privilege of visiting Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. Not only was this church absolutely gorgeous, but also the people were incredibly friendly. This church has been sending a team here to Belize twice a year for many years. When we visited their church they told us about the mission trip planned for February and asked if there was anything they could do specifically for David and me. They wanted one of the many projects they planned (they send a large team) to be helping us, particularly our house and yard. Well they offered to help cut down dead trees and paint our house. As many of you know our house used to be baby pink … definitely not one of my favorite colors. A team came on a Saturday, and even though it rained off and on all day (and multiple times that week) these people helped us paint our house a nice bright blue, as well as cutting trees that had been burned. The rain ended up being more of an issue than planned, so it took us longer than we had hoped, but with the help of people from church later in the week (when we finally got sun!) our house is almost finished! David and I are so thankful for all the help we had this week! There are so many people that helped and our house is almost done! Thank you!

I think that’s probably everything for now. Please continue to keep us in your prayers! There are many new things starting up here that will require lots of prayers, and as you now know, we’ve been sick. A lot. I’ve been told that after a year you stop getting sick so much. Half way there! Please pray for good health, all of our new ministries starting up, and continuing new financial support.

Thank you for all your prayers!