Graduation Week in Belize- Photos and Video

This message has a bit from both Evan and Missy. Missy’s update is first and Evan’s short update is at the bottom along with a video of kids singing that you don’t want to miss.

Hello, Missy here again.
I spent Friday, June 7th and Thursday, June 13th conducting retreats for the soon-to-be high school students of St. Andrews, St. Barnabus, and St. Hilda’s Anglican schools. Thank you to everyone who prayed for these times, for me, and for the students. I felt it was a privilege to be able to lead the retreats. They were long days but fruitful in a variety of ways. And I am prayerful and hopeful that some of the things we discussed will continue to bear fruit in the coming years.

St. Andrews is certainly the largest school (around 400 students) and there are about 40 students in the graduating class. The other two schools did a combined retreat and there were about 20 students all together. We did everything together including taking breaks and eating lunch. There is no air conditioning at the St. Andrews Community Center so the first day (which was over 100 degrees) was particularly sweltering. The few fans that were there couldn’t keep up with the weather or that many bodies. The second retreat was significantly cooler (still in the 90’s) but there was a rain storm that beat down on the roof which meant we had to take some breaks, because no one could hear above the din. Needless to say, my voice was worn out after both retreats.

We primarily focused on deepening their understanding of the things they will experience as they attend high school. While primary school is highly subsidized by the government (although it isn’t free), high schools are all private and expensive. One student even asked what to do if their family was telling them not to go to high school. The struggles many of the students have faced – from not having enough food to eat, not having shoes that fit, not having much support at home for school work, etcetera – are significant and discouraging.

So many of them have faced real and significant social issues like bullying, being encouraged to skip school and steal, lying, cheating, doing drugs and so forth, that the conversations we had during the retreats seem long overdue and yet still essential for their futures. High school means even more autonomy and the peer pressure seems to increase. Of course, the high schools also tend to be much larger than the primary schools, because there are fewer of them which means that even if they did well in primary school they are now a little fish in a big pond and many students get lost.

After the first retreat, I changed some things for the second which proved to be helpful. At both retreats they conducted skits about how to respond in a variety of situations including everything from discrimination to bullying to being offered drugs. This seemed to be a highlight for most of the students. There was a lot of laughter which bothered the teachers, because the subjects were so serious. However, I think they still got a lot of value from the skits they prepared and presented, and often the laughter was just a way to try and cope with the magnitude of what they face every day and the enormous transition they will be facing soon. Most of them don’t feel they can talk to a parent about almost anything and certainly not the things we were discussing. Most of them have social media accounts and access to the Internet but their parents voluntarily don’t monitor them or the students hide what they do from their parents. There is a significant disconnect. It’s the opposite of helicopter parenting, for sure.
During the second retreat I had the students write down any questions about high school or about mental health issues and tried to answer as many as I could throughout the day. This was an insightful practice for me and also seemed to be quite beneficial for the students. Some of their questions were quite sad, honestly. Hopefully, prayerfully, seeds were planted which will lead to growth and some more ideas of how to respond in difficult situations.

Anyway, I’ve droned on enough.

Please pray for Father David, Mary Beth, and Austin as they have returned to the States for support-raising. They will be away for several months.
Please continue to pray for us here as we transition to summer and to the Alenskis’ departure. We aren’t really sure what things are going to be like but there’s a lot going on. Evan’s workload has increased, although not as much as if he were an ordained Anglican minister.
Thank you for your support! We are grateful for you!

 

 

 

OK, now from Evan:

Hello all! This graduation season has been plenty full for me, but I’ll focus on the work I did with the same students Missy was working with. I was asked by two of the schools to teach the students a song and help them perform it at graduation. One of the assistant principals chose the song: “Great Things” by Phil Wickham. I hadn’t heard it, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a fun song to play. Below is a video of the performance from the St. Andrews kids. There were around 200 people in the audience. I think they did wonderfully! They do something like this every year, and one of the parents said she thought this was one of the best performances ever.

Part of the culture here is that the teachers are often very hard on the students. When I first began working with the kids, teachers were yelling at them even while practicing. The kids expect this sort of thing, but I could feel their enthusiasm draining and ended up requesting that the teachers allow me to handle things my way. It was clear the kids liked the song and I did my best to make it fun for them, encouraging them in the things they were doing well.  I think they responded to that approach very well. I know I had a blast. 🙂

Marentes Prayer Letter June 2019

Marentes Prayer Letter June 2019

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.”

(Psalm 37: 5).

June 2019

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This is a follow-up to the SAMS / Denise Cox’s letter of May 16, 2019 sent to our supporters.

Just by God’s grace and your sacrificial support we have served as full-time SAMS missionaries in Central, South and North America over the past 29 years. During these past years we saw our chil-dren grow and get mature, and we could experience Jesus’ won-derful grace touching us and many other people’s lives. Join us, please, in giving thanks to God for the accomplished ministry through SAMS. Now it is the season to retire from full-time formal commitment, but not from ongoing normal Christian ministry. To ‘re-tire’ seems to us like being given a new set of ‘tires’ to con-tinue serving the Lord in a creative way wherever we are and go.

We just moved to Jacksonville, FL., where we have many friends, our home church (The Redeemer Anglican), and from where we would be able to keep in touch with our children and grandchil-dren. By the way, Bernardo lives in Charlotte, NC. He and Katie have given us the first two grand-kids -fraternal twins- Abel and Leo. Praise God for these beautiful 3-year-old precious boys! Sebas-tian moved to Chicago, and he is engaged with Shaina; God willing they will be married at the be-ginning of 2020. Tomas, just moved recently to Argentina to work. Please join us in prayer for all of them. Also pray for wise and prayerful discernment about Maria and I eventually moving back to our home country, Colombia, after two years.

Now, Maria Isabel and I are navigating through a major life change. Her health has been long threatened by fibromyalgia, which causes her a lot of pain, mainly in her feet and knees. On the other hand, I have graciously survived two big illnesses, prostate cancer and Guillain Barré Syn-drome (progressive ascending paralysis). Praise God! The challenge for Maria is to find the right treatment that would allow her to find a suitable work to help make ends meet and glorify God through that. My challenge is to continue serving the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in what-ever possible capacity. Please pray for Maria’s health and suitable work that would come with health benefits. Please pray for me, the gray-haired retired priest, so I can get a good Medi-Share plan (because I do not qualify for medicare* yet), and abundant opportunities to be a pastor and friend, both in person and in virtual space (Skype, Messenger, WhatsApp, Zoom, etc.).

As you heard from Denise, we will still be under SAMS’ wings during this transition period until December 31st, 2019. Your prayers, as always before, would be quite important for us now and be-yond December 31st. Your generous financial support will also be crucial for the remaining of the year to make a smooth transition into this new season of life.

We are looking forward to seeing you, if possible, and also to interacting with you by any virtual means.

May God keep blessing all of you in your family life and in your never-ending commitment as dis-ciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, while we get ready for His return,

Blessings and hugs,

*Technically I have more than enough age for Medicare, but I will only qualify for part B af-ter two more years in this country. I do not qualify for part A.

 Juan B & Maria Isabel Marentes
 Juan (805) 427 6165;Maria (323) 617 8125
 8550 Touchton Rd, Apt. 1131
 Jacksonville, FL 32216

 https://give.sams-usa.org/missionary/juan-and-maria-marentes

 

 

Versión en Español

Maria Isabel y yo estamos en transición hacia ‘jubilación.’ Seguiremos vinculados por el resto del año a SAMS, la agencia misionera que nos ha acompañado durante los últimos 29 años en diversos paises. La idea es quedarnos un par de años más en los EE.UU., y luego regresar a nuestra querida Colombia. Las ideas sin buscar la voluntad de Dios no progresan, por eso pedimos oración para hacer decisiones correctas y para agradecer a Dios por todo lo que ha sucedido en estas casi tres décadas de ministerio.

Por ahora nos hemos mudado de California a Florida. Hay muchos retos en este cambio. María Isa-bel lucha con problemas serios de fibromialgia (dolor en todo el cuerpo, pero más concentrado en pies y rodillas). Ahora no tenemos seguro médico. Ella aspira a encontrar un trabajo que le permita obtener beneficios de salud y también ayudarnos a redondear nuestros ingresos. En cuanto a mi (Juan), debo buscar un plan de Medi-Share (una especie de cooperativa de mutua ayuda), que esté más a nuestro alcance, pero que tendrá muchas limitaciones. Por favor únanse a nuestra oración por la salud plena de María Isabel y por fortaleza para mí, a fin de que pueda ser útil en la exten-sión del Evangelio de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Nos estamos jubilando de una posición formal de tiempo completo, pero nadie debe ni puede jubilarse de su ministerio diario y normal de un Cris-tiano a pie.

La foto nuestra la tomamos hace un mes antes de salir de California. La foto familiar fue tomada en Charlotte, NC., el primero de enero de este año. Las damas que algunos de ustedes no conocen son Katie, la esposa de Bernardo (pareja de la izquierda), y Shaina, la prometida de Sebastián (pareja de la derecha). Los mellizos son Leo y Abel, los nietos que nos ‘enloquecen.’ Tomás (a mi lado) recientemente emigró a Argentina para seguir trabajando con la empresa que lo contrató hace un año.

Bernardo y Katie, padres de los nietos, viven Charlotte, NC. Sebastián vive en Chicago, IL y se va a casar con Shaina al principio del 2020. Tomás vive en Buenos Aires. Estamos dispersos, pero nos queremos mucho. Por favor oren por nosotros. Nosotros también los tenemos cada día en nuestras oraciones a ustedes, queridos amigos y familia.

También le hemos dado gracias a todos quienes nos ayudan, y les hemos pedido seguir apoyándonos en finanzas hasta diciembre, y en oración hasta que ‘San Juan agache el dedo.’

Abrazos y bendiciones sin medida. Que el amor de Dios y su gracia penetren sus vidas mientras aguardamos la gloriosa venida de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo.

Juan B & María Isabel

All About Austin

Austin David Alenskis is ten-weeks-old! It’s high time that we write you an update, and tell you all about how he arrived, how he’s being doing, and what the plans for Team Alenskis are for the next few months as we seek to serve the Lord faithfully here in Belize!

1. Austin Arrives

As you may remember from Mary Beth’s last post, she began having far too many contractions, and was already starting to dilate when the doctor placed her on bedrest on March 18. By that point, she was only at 34 weeks, and we were praying that she could hold off going into labor until April 1, when the baby would be at 36 weeks. During that first week we made due, my taking care of cooking and running errands, and Mary Beth trying desperately not to go crazy from sheer boredom. My mother came for a week during that time, and her presence was a help and comfort to both of us.

April 1 arrived and the doctor was encouraged that the bedrest had done its work: Mary Beth and the baby were doing fine, and the baby’s lungs were sufficiently developed that a delivery at that point would not put the baby at overwhelming risk in our part of the country where there is no NICU. Nevertheless, the ongoing contractions, and corresponding distress to the baby and risk of meconium inhalation, made an early delivery imperative. The decision was made to take Mary Beth off of bedrest to try and induce labor naturally, and if the baby did not come in the week, Mary Beth would be induced at her appointment the following week.

It did not take long. After only a few days of being off bedrest, the day in fact after my mother went back to Indiana, Mary Beth’s water broke. Some bookshelves were being delivered, so we waited for the carpenter, and then headed to the clinic. Although labor had started, Mary Beth was not having regular contractions, so the doctor made the decision to chemically induce Mary Beth. And so began the toughest 3 hours of Mary Beth’s life up until that point.

With only a couple dozen microdrops of oxytocin, Mary Beth dilated rapidly from 3 cm to 9 cm in less than two hours. The poor OBGYN had to be pulled out of another C-section to deliver the baby: the doctor without her white coat, and Mary Beth without any painkillers. They could not have waited any longer. The delivery took only minutes, and Austin arrived in this world a little bit blue (the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck), but with a powerful set of lungs and an overwhelming desire to sleep (a desire that has lessened in the passing weeks since). We give thanks to God for a safe delivery, a healthy baby, and a happy mama and papa.

2. Austin Begins Life

Austin only wanted to sleep at the beginning, and that includes not quite figuring out the whole eating thing. Born at 36 weeks, he struggled to coordinate the suck-swallow-breathe pattern, and to associate breastfeeding with food. Waiting for Mary Beth’s milk to come in, and our concern for Austin’s hydration in the middle of Belize’s hot season, produced some incredibly stressful moments for Austin’s parents. Mary Beth’s mother arrived the week after he was born, and with her calming support and prayers we finally reached a point with Austin right around Easter Sunday when he was able to breastfeed without supplementing. With that, Mary Beth and I began to relax a little more into parenthood.

Since then, Austin has grown from a birthweight of 6 lbs 0 oz all the way up to 10 lbs 1 oz at the two-month mark. Mary Beth and I are learning new things about our son all the time, and just about the time we’ve figured out what he likes or does not like, he’s grown and changed and we’re back to “square one” again. But in general, I can tell you that Austin loves eating (he loves it so much!), music and dancing, the outdoors (even if he can only see it through the window), and recently he has started enjoying playing games. He’s a real joy! Some of our big struggles with him have been related to his issues with colic, waking him up or keeping him fussy as he tries to eat. But when his GI track is working right, he’s a handsome happy young man and we could not be prouder of the person he is becoming.

In addition to keeping alive this Bundle of Need, one of our big concerns has been to get his paperwork squared away for his dual-nationality, particularly because our time of deputation (raising support) in the United States has been looming on the horizon. We were anticipating difficulties in this arena even before Austin was born: our experience with the various government bureaucracies here in Belize had not encouraged optimism, and the documentary requirements for establishing U.S. citizenship abroad were steeper than we were expecting. Nevertheless, we dove into the Sea of Paperwork and emerged with wonderful results. Within a month, we had received Austin’s official birth certificate from Vital Statistics in Belize City, and a couple of weeks later we had his official Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) and his U.S. passport. After another couple of weeks, Austin received his Belizean passport and is set to be welcomed back into either country.

The greatest joy for us has been to believe God’s promises on behalf of Austin, plead his grace and presence, and finally last Sunday (on the Great Day of Pentecost) to present him for baptism at St. Andrew’s. Ordinarily I would have requested another priest to perform the baptism, but given the shortage of clergy in the area, I hesitantly – and yet joyfully – assumed the responsibility. It was a powerful moment, and we were so grateful to have the presence of my father and many other friends there to pray for Austin and put him in the hands of his heavenly Father, wash him in the blood of his Savior, and seal him by the power of the indwelling Spirit. He is now a full member of this missionary crew, and although he demands that we make many adjustments, Team Alenskis is richer, stronger, and (we believe) more effective because of his presence here with his.

3. Austin Is Coming to Visit

Austin (and his parents) are coming to the United States this month for our regular (every three years) period of deputation and support-raising. All three of us need this time to regroup, recuperate our energy and focus, and to seek the funds that will allow us to continue to serve in Belize. We will be visiting supporters and churches first in the Midwest, Southeast, and Central areas of the country before attending the New Wineskins missions conference in September, and afterwards we will be crossing the country to visit with our sending-diocese and supporting churches on the West Coast. Our goal is to return to Belize to continue ministry on the ground by the end of November.

In our absence, our churches will be stretched. I have reached out to a number of American priests to see if they might be able to come and cover our Sunday services for a few weeks. I have heard back from a few, and I’ll continue looking for others to cover as much of the time we’re away as we can. In the meantime, are team of lay ministers will be covering services and attending to pastoral needs, and in this they will be assisted behind the scenes by Evan and Missy Hansen (and their daughter Annabelle) who will continue their medium-term ministry while we are away. In addition to encouraging and coaching, Evan will still be helping with music as well as leading chapel services for the three schools. Missy’s counseling ministry continues, and not only has she made a considerable impact on many lives, but as she and I have reflected on her experience I have received a lot of perspective and wisdom that will be useful for my pastoral ministry. We look forward to seeing them when we return, even if it only shortly before they themselves return to life in Virginia.

With respect to our financial needs, we are facing significant budget increases as we envision ministry in Belize from November onward. Some are basic and essential in the short-term, and others are more critical for the long-term ministry that God may have for us on the mission field. As we begin to ask for more pledges and donations, allow me to explain by placing these budget needs into three thresholds:

Threshold #1: Funding for Austin

As we continue to serve, there are basic adjustments to our missionary budget that come with time and wisdom: gradual salary raises, additional ministry expenses that emerge, etc. More importantly, adding Austin as a member of the team mean modest but significant increases in health insurance and the base missionary salary. In order to return, at a bare minimum, we would need to raise a sufficient amount of pledged support to cover these combined changes in our family’s salary and health insurance.

Threshold #2: Housing Allowance

One of the top stressors for Mary Beth and me this past year has been dramatic increases in the noise pollution created by the neighborhood around the Rectory. While our house has always been in a noisy area of town, we have had to grapple with the reality that our street is less and less a residential area, and more and more a retail and “party” zone … up to and including a hostel/outdoor bar across the street. Although we love this house, we are finding it harder and harder to relax and spend time together with a family, and the stress we have experienced has not only led to anxiety and a difficulty focusing, but even diminished our effectiveness in ministry.

We have spoken to the Bishop and the parish’s Church Committee, and there is a consensus to allow us to move out of the Rectory upon our return, with the hope of using the downstairs as a parish office while renting out the upstairs as its own apartment. While this would allow the parish to chip in for a rental home for us, it is unlikely that the income from the Rectory would be able to subsidize entirely the rent of a new home. SAMS allows us to include a housing allowance in our budget, a housing allowance that we have not asked for since moving into the Rectory five years ago.

But now we are asking for our supporters’ assistance in covering a housing allowance to supplement St. Andrew’s contribution to the rental of a quieter, more adequately located house in the San Ignacio area. Based on this past year, we believe that this move is important for our long-term mental and physical health, as well as for our long-term effectiveness in ministry.

Threshold #3: Continuing Education

As Mary Beth and I have considered how the Lord might continue to use us on the mission field, based on the ways in which he has gifted and prepared us, for the last few years I have been feeling a call and push to seek further education, probably by pursuing a part-time PhD in Theology online (that is, while still serving as a missionary in Belize). My reason for undertaking a doctoral program would not only be personal (that is, there are indeed areas of research interest that I would like to explore), but also to better and more fully equip the saints for lay and ordained ministry and leadership in the church.

Reflecting on my experience in Belize, one which parallels my broader experience in South America and other areas of the Majority World, I have been overwhelmed by the scarcity of opportunities for thorough theological formation and ministry development in these regions of the world. Looking to the years and decades ahead for us in ministry and on the mission field, my heart has been moving in the direction of involving myself more directly and more deeply in that formation and development, and for this reason, I need to educate myself more fully.

To this end, I have been communicating with potential PhD advisors and conducting academic research on my own in order to put together a convincing Research Proposal, all with an eye towards applying for such a program before the end of this year. My hope would be to start the program in Fall 2020, well after returning to Belize and re-establishing ourselves in a new routine of missionary life and pastoral ministry.

Both Bishop Wright in Belize and SAMS have been very supportive of these plans, and almost all of those who have counseled and prayed with us can envision the use to which God would be able to put further academic study and professional credentialing. However, while the funds required to fund a part-time PhD online are fewer than I had long imagined, they are still substantial. I will definitely be applying for financial aid in any form that I can, but such financial aid depends on many factors, and we cannot be sure that I will receive much if any in the way of grants or scholarship.

However, continuing education is one of the areas for which SAMS encourages missionaries to use their funds, and we are asking that our supporters prayerfully consider giving to our ministry to a sufficient degree that we will not have to dig too much into our family’s savings to cover these educational expenses.

4. Prayers for Austin and His Family

So, to sum up, we have so much to be thankful for with Austin in our life, and we are so thankful for your continued support and constant prayers. Our path these last few months has been wonderful, difficult, stressful, exhilarating, lonely, and fulfilling, and your little notes and prayers and gifts have kept us going many, many times. So thank you, and please know that we are praying for you too.

As we transition to our timeline in the States raising support, please keep the following needs in your prayers as you are able:

  1. Refreshment. Please pray that the Lord would give us spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical refreshment as we spend time with family and friends in places that are familiar. We are counting on this as we debrief and process our time in Belize and future vision for ministry in Belize.

  2. Raising Support. Please pray for us as we reconnect with our existing supporters, whether churches or individuals, and please pray that we are able to build on and expand our existing support network to include others that might be willing to partner with us in ministry.

  3. Research. Please pray that my ongoing theological research can be bolstered by access to libraries and other academic resources, to the point that I can make successful application both for admission to a doctoral program and for financial aid.

  4. Health, Safety, and Lodging. Please pray that the Lord would keep us healthy in the United States, and safe on road as we move from place to place, and that he would give us receptive families who would give us temporary lodging as we travel around the country.

Again, thank you so much, may the Lord bless each of you, and probably see you very soon!