Mornings here during the week usually begin with greeting Paul who takes care of the garden outside our house. He is a joyful person who is always wearing a big smile. We prepare our coffee and sit down for a small breakfast of jam and toast (though Paul highly prefers his bread untoasted) and morning bible study (currently the book of Galatians). During our discussions, Paul often shares cultural insights that give me a better understanding of the Ugandan culture but also often sheds new light on part of scripture. For example, as we studied Galatians 5:1, Paul was able to share with us his experiences of training oxen with a yoke in his village.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
He shared that early in the training, the ox goes this way and that and has to be trained to go straight in order to plow the fields. At times, the yoke is left on its neck overnight so that the ox can get used to it. When they finally submit to the yoke and the training, plowing with these 2 giant animals can be done with just one person quietly instructing, back and forth down the rows of the field. As he shared, Matthew 11:28-30 came to my mind.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Let us not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery, but by the grace of God through the cross, let us submit each day to His leadership in our lives, knowing it is an easy yoke and much lighter burden than we carry when we choose to go it alone!
P.s. The picture above is from a Friday morning when we treat ourselves to mandazi (a Ugandan doughnut).
(Photo of oxen borrowed from http://blog.peaceharvest.org/2009/10/third-post.html)
While I haven’t been able to meet with students yet to review business plans, our gardener, Paul, is a jack of many trades and took me up enthusiastically on my offer to put his business plans into spreadsheet form to help him make decisions about how best to grow them, etc. He is currently selling beans and also has plans to open a piggery. We spent a few days the other week discussing the inputs to the model for these businesses, building the models and reviewing them together. It was a fun experience to learn about new industries I had NO previous exposure to and to see Paul giggle at what seemed like silly questions I was asking – like “does 1 pig eat a kilo of feed each week or each day? – A week? No, a day!” “How much does a piglet cost?”
Seeing the excitement on his face as he took printouts of the different financial models we built with him to discuss with his brother and father in his village the next weekend made my week. It reminded me that God’s economy doesn’t work like our human economy. Blessing one person is just as important and valuable as blessing a multitude because our God is a personal God who loves each of us individually out of his glorious riches. I’m excited and hopeful to see where Paul’s business plans take him!
It has been some months since we have posted anything on our Prayer blog, and over a year since I (David) wrote an update myself. The fact is that Mary Beth has been giving such an powerful account and summary of our life and ministry here, and so many of you have told us you are enjoying her take on things. Honestly, in the end, I haven’t wanted to get in the way! The title of this post is A Trying Time, and I mean that in two senses: we are trying a lot of new things in ministry, and life and ministry feels a little trying at this moment. So, though things are super busy right now (as you can imagine) I’m going to try and find a way to break them down and give you a picture of what’s been happening with us, our churches and our schools!
1. How It’s Been Going For Us
Mary Beth and I have had a good year so far, by the grace of God, but it’s been far from easy. If you’re looking for ways to pray for us, let me share some of what has been going on.
Between the two of us, I have been the one with the majority of health issues popping up. Apart from my ordinary struggles with gluten, I began seeing the doctor for an injury that I had sustained in January 2017 when I slipped and fell hard on my right elbow. Even after a year, the pain had not gone away … to the point that I was unable to use long-sleeved shirts or jackets! In February, after another fall, I ended up consulting with a great orthopedic surgeon, it became clear that I had damaged my bursa and the tendons connected to my tricep. In addition to oral and topical treatments using steroids and NSAIDs, the surgeon gave me three cortisone injections in my elbow over the course of a couple of months. I am happy to report that the vast majority of the pain in my elbow is gone, and I believe that my elbow is on the road to recovery! Praise the Lord!
Nevertheless, other health problems have emerged along the way. Not only did these medications provoke a hard response from my body in general, but over the last few months I’ve begun to experience other frustrating symptoms that last week drove me to consult a specialist in internal medicine. We may not have figured out what has been the cause of all my symptoms, but when they took my blood pressure it was sky-high: the first time in my life I have had problems with hypertension. I am currently under observation, taking my blood pressure twice a day over the course of two weeks, with the hope that my average blood pressure will stay down and I won’t have to go on medication. However, the long-term solution (according to the doctor) is that I need to lose 20–30 lbs. Fair enough. So, Mary Beth and I have been getting up early to walk hard and fast in the morning, and I hope by the end of the year to have gotten my weight down to the point that my blood pressure won’t be in jeopardy.
I also have to work on how I am handling the stresses of ministry, especially when they are compounded with happenstances of life and living. For example, earlier this year the hard drive of my computer crashed, around the same time that the screen of Mary Beth’s computer went caput. So I was able to cobble together the two computers and make one functioning computer. I ended up losing a lot of personal data from the 10 months prior (previous files had all been backed up), including some fundraising and supporter information (so, if I come calling asking for info that I should already have, that’s why!). But fortunately, our churches’ information had been backed up on the “cloud” and the local impacts of the hard drive crash were minimal. But I guess why I am sharing this is that things like this, and many others related to life and ministry begin to add up for me, and according to the doctors I’ve been consulting they can take their toll. I am trying to learn better how to give these things over to God in prayer, and trust him to handle them … and not pretend to take over God’s job by worrying about them.
On the other hand, Mary Beth is adapting incredibly well to life in Belize. Her piano studio is full (with around ten students), and they’ll be enjoying their end-of-semester recital next weekend. She has also been making friends, and even adapting to the heat (trust me, she is as surprised by that as you are!). Belize for her is starting to feel normal, feel like home, and this is a real gift from the Lord. Granted, she still doesn’t like bugs (stay tuned for another scary bug story!) but I can tell you I’ve never seen anyone that has a knack for killing mosquitoes like she does right now! And her Spanish is getting quite good these days too: she has even been reading the Bible publicly in Spanish when we have visited some of the Hispanic missions we work with, and folks are quite impressed!
And we have both been encouraged by you, by your prayers and your emails and your gifts … and in some cases, by your visits! When we hear from you, God himself is encouraging us through you, and it makes a tremendous difference. So thank you, and please (please!) continue to keep us in your prayers … even when it takes a few months for us to write an update.
2. How It’s Been Going for Our Ministry
Things are going very well for our churches right now, and it’s a pleasure to be able to share with a bit about it with you.
Our focus at St. Andrew’s has been to capitalize on the momentum we’ve had as our attendance has been on the rise by training new leadership. Our Church Committee for the parish is made up mostly of younger, newer leaders; what is more, at our leadership retreat last month, we concluded by our adopting a new apostolic mission statement for the parish:
“To be a People connected to Jesus, connecting others to Him.”
ASA: Weeks 1–23
I love it! And people do seem to be finding that connection, about which we are pretty excited. Our church attendance at St. Andrew’s has grown significantly over the past two years (overall 14% last year, 12% so far this year), and most of this growth has been new families attending or even joining the church. We have to acknowledge that much of this growth has come about because of the support that we enjoy from our three schools: without the good relationship between them and our churches, we would not be enjoying this kind of increase in attendance whatsoever.
In fact, this growth is rapidly forcing us to confront an emerging (good) problem: space and seating at St. Andrew’s. As we quickly approach an uncomfortable number of people on a regular basis, often bumping up against the capacity of the sanctuary (especially during the Fall Semester), we have to consider ways of expanding. One way that seems like a possibility (and, please, pray about this!) is for us to add a youth-oriented, youth-run evening service on Sundays. We have some structural hurdles to overcome with regard to neighbors and noise, but we believe that this will be a better option at this moment than a church-planting effort: we tried to get an evening-service church-plant going for over a year, and the door seems closed at this time. So please, pray that a way is opened for us to hold Sunday evening services at St. Andrew’s and, if it pans out, that they bring glory to the Lord and bring more people to know his saving love and power!
St. Hilda’s is also growing in some pretty cool ways too. Last year the mission’s attendance grew by almost 50%, a massive increase after a few years of stagnation. Although our attendance has stabilized and not quite enjoyed the growth spurt of the previous year, what we are seeing at St. Hilda’s is an emerging leadership team that has the capacity of carrying the church forward. For the first time in years, St. Hilda’s has a Church Committee, a visible outreach, and the prospect of new ministries for the coming year. I’m enjoying seeing how God is bringing new life after a season of dryness, and I cannot wait to see what he will be doing in the months to come!
There are of course frustrations along the way. Two of our lay ministers at St. Andrew’s (a husband and wife) have resigned over the past year, and some of our new possible lay ministers at St. Hilda’s have not gone through with training. I am also even more aware of the necessity of a church having a dedicated treasurer, and we’ve had a turnover in that department at St. Andrew’s over the last month. Still, we see God doing incredible things, and we cannot wait to see what will happen by this time next year.
And of the many things that we do, our youth work has been one of our greatest joys. The St. Andrew’s youth group had its Spring Term outing back in April as a dozen kids joined up with youth groups from around Belize to paint the building of one of our Hispanic missions. Afterwards, Mary Beth and most of the kids went cave tubing (I stayed behind with the rest because of my elbow), which was an incredible experience! Mary Beth’s Bible study with the girls has also continued strong, and her connection with these young women is strong and bearing fruit for the Lord. It’s really wonderful to see. The children’s choir has had a rough Spring, with kids’ changing behaviors and attitudes, and there will be some changes in the Fall when it starts up again. And yet, it was still an overwhelmingly positive experience for the children and Mary Beth is looking forward to what this next school year will bring!
And of course, graduation season is upon us, and with it commencement exercises and a wistful look at what has come. It’s also at this time that St. Andrew’s chooses scholarship recipients, and in addition to the High Scholarship Scholarship Recipient that was chosen last year, the Committee chose one of the students from St. Barnabas’ to receive this same financial aid for the next four years. (N.B. High School tuition is not completely subsidized by the government … it can still cost USD $500 to send a young person to high school.) Our experience over the past year has demonstrated that such scholarship are not simply about money and tuition, but about supporting these teenagers in every aspect of life. And it may sound like a cliché, but it’s true: God has blessed us as a church by being involved in their lives just as much as we have been able to be a blessing to them. We are so excited to be able to dive into this next school year, ministering to and alongside of them!
There’s much more that we can say or share about all these things (and it may take one of Mary Beth’s updates to do them justice), but I want to move on to what is coming up over the next few months, and how you can be praying for much of it.
3. Things to Come Shortly
There are a lot of things on the horizon that we would like to share with you. We can begin with this weekend! Our predecessors, Fr. Juan and María are here in Belize with us right now, and it’s amazing. They have come to celebrate the Quince Años (turning-15-years-old birthday) of one of our parishioners, and we are overjoyed to host them. The Quince Años falls on Saturday, and the next day Fr. Juan will be the guest preacher at our Baccalaureate service for the graduating classes of our three schools. In July we are looking forward to our “Family Fun Day” in the park, as we hold services in public and then spend the rest of the day playing games and sharing in potluck food. It’s going to be quite the day! The following week, St. Peter’s (Tallahassee) will be sending a team to help us hold our Vacation Bible School for the kids that week, and it’s going to kick off an active but promising summer. Mary Beth and I are planning on going on vacation in August, and we’ll be back to kick off the new school year by September … hopefully inaugurating the new evening service at St. Andrew’s that I mentioned above. And then our year begins all over again!
Let me add a couple of other things. Last month the Anglican Diocese of Belize held its 50th Diocesan Synod, with a focus on intentional discipleship and greater accountability for the leaders, churches, and other structures within our Diocese. It was a surprising weekend, from Mary Beth playing the organ at the Cathedral to what Bishop Wright shared at the concluding Solemn Eucharist. It appears that in the interests of structuring our Diocese a little better, the Bishop will soon be appointing a team of people with certain diocesan responsibilities and roles, with the goal of making things here run smoother and better, as well as passing on the torch of leadership (as it were) to some of the younger clergy. My name was among those mentioned, although without yet any definitive description of what will be entailed. I do think this is a very positive development for our Diocese, and probably for me as well, but I would ask that you pray for me and Mary Beth as we try to serve the Lord here in whatever way he calls us.
And as we approach to the second anniversary of our return to Belize (we came back in August 2016), we are also trying to figure out how and when we will be returning in mid-2019 to visit with our churches and supporters and raise the funds necessary to come back. Please pray that God will show us how best to do this within as reasonable an amount of time as possible, and please also pray that the Lord will fully bring us up-to-budget before then. We are so grateful that new individuals and churches have stepped forward to pledge their support, and we it’s true that we’re not in the red as we were last fall. But we are still looking for people to step forward and give to this ministry. Would you consider becoming one of them?
Again, thank you all so much for your prayers, for your gifts, and for your support. We are deeply grateful, even if it sometimes takes us a while for us to get out an update and express it! May the Lord richly bless you for all that you do for us and for the spread of his Kingdom in Belize!
Phil. 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Friday June 8, I made demonstrated oatmeal raisin cookies to the women, with an emphasis on hygiene and hand washing. Zaphy was my interpreter and the women asked lots of questions. There is a lot of sickness here and handwashing is important. I gave out small bars of soap to the women to use at home. Soap is a luxury for them. The oven in the kitchen has no temperature control, so Josianne & I practiced the cookies before the demonstration & discovered that the oven was very hot and we burnt the cookies but the people who live in the compound still enjoyed them. So on Friday I put the oven on low and watched cookies bake so as not to burn them and praise the Lord it worked.
I asked Nolavy to speak to the women while the cookies were baking. Nolavy is the wife of Rev. Victor and they live in Morandavo. They are both here in Toliara to teach the student Evangelists. Nolavy was mentored by Rev. Patsy as a teenager and has studied Theology in Kenya. March 2018 she attended the United Nations conference in New York and talked about the difficulties of women here in Madagascar. The women were very attentive of the information she gave them, she is an inspiration to all the women in Madagascar. giftShe is to be ordained a Deacon in September here at the Cathedral.
There is an active Mothers Union here and the women made jewelry for Mother’s Day and sold tickets for 5000 Ariary each and those who bought the tickets received a gift for Mother’s Day. The money raised is to purchase T-shirts for each women for the annual Mothers Union Conference here in September. The women had a lot of fun making the gifts for the small bags you see them holding in the photo.
On Pentecost Sunday we had three baptisms at the Cathedral. Bishop Samitiana was the officiant and the service was wonderful, many people were wearing red outfits, and you could feel the Holy Spirit in the church. The three boys who were baptized were very cute and they stood by the font for their baptism and Bishop spoke to each one of them.
People are very creative with transportation here, nothing is impossible. I have seen a teenager riding a bicycle with 3 small passengers, 1 on the back, 1 on the front and 1 on the cross bar. I saw a Father riding a motorbike with his 3 sons and the most creative was the whole family on a motorbike, Mum, Dad and 3 children the young girl at the back was holding her Mother very tightly. I bought a chair for my room and last Tuesday went to collect it, in a pousse. I checked the chair and then Bruno the pousse driver brought the chair home for me. Bruno is Mesa husband she attends the women’s center. Josianne & I then went to the market to do the weekly shopping.
It has been a busy month and life has a Malagasy routine, July will be busy as Sue & Simon Babbs will be visiting from Chicago. They have visited Toliara several times Simon helps with Quickbooks and Sue with crafts & Days for girls. Days for Girls teaches health & hygiene and they make sanitary napkins from fabric for the women and girls.
Please pray for Venerable Hery and his family and all the people in Sakaraha, also Rev. Victor and his family in Morondavo there are people there who are terrorizing the local people to steal money, and people are being killed.
Psalm 56:3 whenever I am afraid I will trust you.
This verse has been my mantra this past month and it works.
In the last year, students have offered to get me a cat to try to fill Meri’s void. I have always declined, as I was either mourning or enjoying the concept of not being held down by a pet.
Apparently, the Lord thought it was time to fill the void.
In between rains on Monday, a canine peeped into my home office window and said hello. I thought he might be a friend’s dog, so I went out to see whether he was hurt. It wasn’t her dog, but this dog joyously jumped on me to say hello. And then he tried to come inside.
Local dogs generally are not terribly friendly, and tend to shy away from people. But not this boy. He made himself home on the verandah. Since he was so comfortable with me, I thought he had a family. I posted about him on Facebook, on Tuesday, hoping to find his family, but my friends told me that it seemed that I was chosen.
Sweet puppy kept coming around, and seemed to enjoy escorting me to chapel. So I caved, and admitted that I was adopted. Meet Tucker.
A SAMS Bridger here, also named Jessica, named him. Tucker is appropriate, as I lecture in the Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology. And he wears it well. I heard that he joined the Sunday School children on stage in church on Sunday, so it’s appropriate that he’s named after Bishop Tucker.
My students are amused with my morning escort, though they’re less amused that he parked himself in the doorway this morning, as dogs are usually security, and they are leery of maneuvering around him, despite my assurance of their safety.
I’m amazed at how quickly I’ve taken to Tucker. It’s quite a comfort to see him sitting on the verandah. I’m not about to confess how many times I’ve asked him “who’s a good boy?!” I’m a cat person. I told him this. He wasn’t impressed.
I have no idea why God brought Tucker into my life. I’m sure this sweet puppy with the crazy ears has a lot to teach me.