There is so much to share with you – and I’ve waited so long to write it all down – that I’m not entirely sure where to start. These last few months have been incredibly intense, full of so many things related to life and school and ministry, so let me start with the news that you have most wanted to hear about: our new daughter Lily Grace.
Our Easter Lily
Mary Beth’s third trimester was blessedly uneventful: unlike her pregnancies with Austin and with James, the doctors never even asked her to go on bed rest. In fact, we had a difficult time preparing mentally for the fact that a fifth member of our family was rapidly on her way! Of course, living in a new country in a small space with two very busy toddlers, we were looking ahead to how delivery was all going to go. We were very thankful to work out an arrangement with the College by which my parents could come and spend around two weeks with us in the Residences, beginning just before Mary Beth’s due date. This proved to be critical for what followed next: at around 6am on the morning following their arrival – on Austin’s third birthday, no less – we sent my parents a blunt message letting them know that Mary Beth’s water had broken and that she was going into labor. So they stayed with the still-sleeping boys while we checked her into the hospital.
Labor and delivery this time proved to be even faster than the previous two births. Mary Beth was almost entirely dilated when she first arrived at triage, and we had a close call getting her epidural in time. If I remember correctly, she ended up pushing for less than two minutes before we were graced with our daughter Lily: a healthy, beautiful baby with a decent set of lungs and a mind of her own. The two ladies were fortunate to get their own private room immediately following delivery, and this also proved important in what came next.
Shortly after delivering Lily, the anesthesiologist approached us and let us know that when receiving the epidural she had suffered a “dural puncture,” and that she might soon begin experiencing a splitting headache. This was an understatement. Within a few hours Mary Beth was in terrible pain any time she would sit up, let alone try to stand, and as the first night wore on she found the pain increasingly debilitating. The following day the anesthesiology team performed a “blood patch” to fix the puncture, and she spent another night in the hospital recovering. During all this time I was able to go home and see the boys, but they were missing her tremendously. Finally, the doctors allowed Mary Beth and Lily to go home, and we held the birthday party that we had been planning for Austin before his sister’s surprise arrival: Peruvian lomo saltado, (we even tracked down real ají amarillo!) a chocolate cake, presents and, of course, balloons (!!!).
Unfortunately, the blood patch did not hold much longer. After experiencing a coughing fit later that day, Mary Beth’s headaches returned, and she found it necessary to stay in bed for the rest of the week. Throughout this entire time it was critical that my parents were here with us: their help managing the house and taking care of the boys allowed me to give her the care that she needed, and she was able to take care of Lily. Although our digital forays “doom scrolling” about post-dural puncture headaches warned us that the condition could potentially last up to a few months, we were thankful that God answered our prayers, and Mary Beth’s began to go away after about one week following Lily’s birth.
Since then, Lily has been progressing really well! Now over two months old, she is smiling and cooing, and doing all the things that babies need to do to grow up big and strong. Her brothers are obsessed with her, especially Austin, and they love to spend their downtime with their faces close to hers (whether she likes it or not!). James especially, I think, has been missing the degree of attention he used to receive as the youngest (and most snuggliest) of our children, but we’re grateful that he has not associated these changes with Lily herself.
Although some bureaucratic hoops remain for us to jump through on Lily’s behalf – right now she has her American passport, but not yet her Canadian – we are expecting that she will be all set to travel to the United States in September when we are scheduled to be at the New Wineskins Conference on global mission. Not only will she get to meet her other grandparents, but we hope she might meet some of you as well! All this is to say, thank you for your prayers for Mary Beth, for Lily, and for our family in this exciting new stage of life!
Progress in Doctoral Studies
Mary Beth mentioned in her last update that the Winter and Summer terms at Wycliffe College was going to be an intense one … and things absolutely lived up to these expectations. I spent the vast majority of my time over the last few months – whether snowed in at the College or looking longingly at the late-spring lilacs outside our apartment – preparing for the “comprehensive examinations” that were to determine whether I could proceed in the PhD program here or not.
According to the Toronto School of Theology’s handbook, these two written exams – together with an oral defense of the written exams – must be completed within a single 30-day period, and can only be undertaken after all other coursework, languages, and a thesis prospectus have been completed. Their purpose is not only to put to the test my mastery of the fields related to my research topic, but also to evaluate the student’s ability to design and teach courses in these fields. As a result, I was asked to come up with reading lists for two hypothetical graduate seminars of between 2,000 and 3,000 pages each, then to suggest examination questions that I might assign to a hypothetical class, and finally to answer those questions myself during the actual written exam. The oral exam follows the written exams, and is designed to show how I might field questions from future students in an actual class setting.
As of this past week, I am now finished with all of this! My “specialist” reading list was geared toward an (expansive) imaginary course, English Theology from 1500–1600. The exam, which was open-book and take-home, began the morning of May 17 and ended twenty-four exhausted hours later. My “cognate” reading list focused on Sacramental Theology from 1350–1600, and I took this exam two weeks after the first. Having successfully passed both written exams, I gave my oral defense this past Tuesday, which means I can move on to writing my dissertation!
I know this is a lot of detail, but I hope it explains why we have been slow to post updates on our family’s life and ministry right now. Because Lily’s due date was in mid-April, mere weeks before my first exam was scheduled to start, and because both Austin and James were born early, I knew I had to knuckle down and do the reading for my “comps” before her arrival. This necessitated a demanding schedule to finish going through the readings before April, as well as a dedicated time of collating and organizing my notes and thoughts in the weeks following Lily’s birth. I haven’t had time to think about much outside of family and exams since the beginning of the year.
That said, I also share all this because the purpose of these exams – to think through how to work out the details of a college course – is genuinely important for my future ministry. Wherever the Lord places us after we have concluded this season of education and preparation, I suspect I will be designing courses, choosing content, weighing progress, and evaluating performance. Even though these exams aren’t exactly a replacement for actual teaching experience, they are an important way to certify to the university that I can put together the academic heft of the kind of high-level course in theology I hope to be teaching soon.
The only remaining requirement for my PhD program will be to write an 80,000-word dissertation on the theology of Richard Hooker … not exactly a small task! The first step is to put together a formal “thesis proposal” that will outline the dissertation’s context, methodology, structure, and relevance. My intention is to have this proposal defended and accepted, and to move on to actual thesis-writing by this upcoming September. My soon-to-be-fully-retired doctoral supervisor’s goal is for me to submit the thesis for examination just one year later – by September 2023 (!!!) – which means that this will be another intense year of study, writing, and editing. Please be praying regularly for me in the months ahead as I knuckle down and (basically) write my first scholarly book.
All this is to say, thank you so much for your prayers for me, and for your support for our family. I would not be moving along if not for your partnership in our ministry – past, present, and future.
Ministry: Present and Future
Speaking of ministry, let me share a little about how God has enabled us to be serving over the last few months, and what we are looking forward to in the months ahead.
As Mary Beth mentioned in our last mission update, I was licensed to serve at our local Anglican parish, and since February I have been attending weekly pastoral meetings, as well as preaching and leading services when invited. It has been wonderful to have the opportunity again to open God’s word for his people – it sometimes feels like “old times” in Belize! – and to administer his sacraments.
For me, the high point of ministry this year so far took place in March: it was my privilege to baptize five adult Iranians who had converted to Christ before emigrating in order to find refuge abroad – first in Europe and now in Canada. For security concerns, I can’t post any pictures of that day, but the testimonies they shared before going into the (frigid) water blew me away: I found it incredibly humbling to baptize those who had already suffered reproach and loss for the name of Jesus. What I can share with you is the picture (above) of Lily’s baptism this past Pentecost Sunday: it was held in the beautiful chapel at Wycliffe College, and we were so blessed by all the people who came to welcome her into the people of God and support her in her new life in Christ.
We are also looking forward to an intriguing ministry opportunity next month. I have volunteered to take a week and help the deacon of our church to lead a “family camp” some two hours north of Toronto. Our whole family is planning on coming: while the boys will be with the other children doing fun outdoorsy things, Mary Beth and I will be with the adults, where in addition to celebrating a communion service I’ll be serving as a kind of “M.C.” for the week, and where together we’ll be assisting with music. We’re really looking forward to making an impact on these families’ lives, as well as to getting out of the city for a few days.
Our church is between rectors (senior pastors) at the moment, and although things have been going well during the interim, we invite you to pray with us that God will send us just the right person to lead this urban church plant focused on ministry to international students.
Further out on the horizon, our family is at that point in our present “Educational Ministry Assignment” when we probably need to be discerning actively where the Lord is calling our family next. We are only just beginning this process, but we are hoping to make significant progress in the next couple of months leading up to the New Wineskins Conference in September. Because dozens of Anglican leaders involved in theological education and ministry development around the world will be there, we are hoping to schedule as many fruitful meetings with them in advance of New Wineskins as possible. Please be praying for the Lord’s perfect leading in his perfect timing.
Before I close out this update I should also give you an update about our application to join the ranks of Into All the World (IATW) a Canadian missionary society that has partnered with SAMS-USA to receive and process tax-deductible Canadian donations to our ministry. We’re pleased to report that our application was accepted, and IATW has already begun receiving Canadian gifts on our behalf. If you are Canadian (or living in Canada) and are interested in partnering with us in ministry through giving, please make sure to check out IATW’s giving page (in “Step 1” make sure to look for and select “David and Mary Beth Alenskis – SAMS”) and make a gift today!
And, I should add, we are certainly in serious need of financial support for our present and future ministry – including the rising cost of life and tuition – and we would be deeply grateful for any one-time, ongoing, or increased gifts to our missionary accounts. As prices go up around us, we would ask you to prayerfully consider partnering financially with our family in ministry. Please let us know if you have any questions about how to make that happen!
There is probably more to tell, but that’s going to have to be it for this month’s update. Thank you again for your ongoing support for our little family, and please keep us in your prayers in the months ahead as we continue on the missionary path that God has set before us!