We’re on the cusp of spring here in Toronto, and before the snow disappears and the buds turn into flowers, I want to take a moment and update all of you on how our family is doing, what we’re doing, and what our hopes are for this year that is already passing us by so quickly!
So, as to how we are doing, things are going well, despite the frigid weather, flu and colds, and everything that the winter winds have brought. I say “frigid weather,” but it’s actually been uncharacteristically warm, a fact which by itself has made a big difference for us compared to last year. Not only this, but whereas the “Omicron” wave that hit last winter led to the closure of nearly every child-friendly establishment – restaurants, museums, community centres … even our church, for a bit – this time around, we have been able to take fuller advantage of the opportunities to get the kids out of the confines of the college and explore. We are especially frequent visitors to the Royal Ontario Museum and to an EarlyON programme, as well local libraries and malls, a taste of which the kids’ grandparents ended up getting when they visited us during the Christmas and New Year holidays. We are of course still feeling a little cooped up and squirrelly, the boys more than any of us, although they have become quite mobile as they zip around the city on their red and blue scooters, and that can sometimes get the wiggles out of them. But spring will be a very welcome arrival for our family, and we look forward to getting out and about much more.
The winter has not affected our daughter Lily that much, as she’s still been somewhat confined to laps, floors, and the occasional stroller. But these constraints won’t hold her back much longer: as she nears her first birthday she has been bracing herself on objects (and people) to stand up, cruise around furniture, and ascend a staircase step or two, and it won’t be long before she is walking around like a big girl. Even before having mastered bipedal motion, her strong personality is coming out: she will not be bullied by her brothers or neglected by her parents – she is here and she will be attended! I say this somewhat in gest, since at the same time her strong will is also balanced out by the fact that she is still the chillest baby that I’ve ever run across: she is ordinarily quite happy to play by herself, to be passed back and forth between adults, or simply to sit calmly with us as we go about our business. She’s a happy, squeaky, hilarious joy, and we are so blessed to have her in the mix. Please pray for Lily and her brothers as they continue to grow up into the mature persons that God intends them to be.
Mary Beth is doing well and starting to keep very busy. She is now not only playing the organ for the Sunday morning service at a church on the other side of Toronto, but she has accepted a position on the Church Council for the small Anglican mission we have been attending as a family (and where she also accompanies worship about once a month). In addition to attending a small Bible study on Friday for spouses of Wycliffe students, she was also invited to participate in another, much larger Bible study at a nearby church. What’s more, Mary Beth is looking into taking organ lessons for the remainder of our time here in Toronto – after all, we’re living at a college that has its own organ available for practicing: now would be the time to take advantage of it! Please pray for Mary Beth as she continues to nurture her passions and talents and service in tangible ministries here in Toronto.
Alongside all of this, as Austin approaches preschool age Mary Beth and I have begun thinking through how we’re going to handle schooling for the boys. While we have nothing at all against traditional schools, we also recognize that, as missionaries with feet in multiple cultures, there is a high likelihood that we will be homeschooling our children when we return to the mission field. Mary Beth is excited to lead the charge here – she and her siblings were homeschooled through high school – and together we are trying first to work out our family’s philosophy of education and then to adopt and adapt a curriculum that will work for our needs. Please pray for Mary Beth and me as we make these momentous decisions regarding our children’s education. (Suggestions in this regard are welcome, although we’re also aware that opinions – and judgments – tend to be strong, so please be kind!) Even so, both Austin and James are counting, identifying letters, making up songs, and learning the days of the week, the colors of the rainbow, and more things than I can keep track of. All three are such very intelligent people, and I am already so proud of them.
For me on the academic side, I have been plugging away constantly at my dissertation (what they here call a thesis): working hard, but not as quickly as I might have hoped. I am still following the research plan that I proposed to my committee back in October, but as usual new things come to light and I have to see where they lead! For example, in the chapter I am currently working on, my study of Richard Hooker’s understanding of human participation in the life of God has led me not only to compare his work with that of the Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz (something I was expecting) but also with the writings of the Strasburg reformer Martin Bucer (definitely a big surprise to me!). I am happy with where the Lord is leading my research, although I wish it were leading me to write more quickly. I am still hoping (perhaps “wishing” would be a better word) to submit my dissertation by the end of the year, but I’m content with whatever plan God has in store for this project. Please pray for God’s grace for me as I write my dissertation.
In the meantime, the Lord in his good providence has given me other small projects to clear my head when I need a break. I was able to write a review of Brian Douglas’s new book, Sacramental Poetics in Richard Hooker and George Herbert, a review that I hope to be published sometime this year. I continue accompanying Wycliffe weekday Morning Prayer services on piano and weekly Eucharist services on guitar, as well as leading Evensong here about once a month. I’ve also continued assisting the Anglican mission our family is attending by attending weekly pastoral meetings and occasionally leading services, teaching, and preaching (most recently on Ash Wednesday). I’ve even become the resident church baker of (gluten-free) communion bread, a kind of regular pattern of preparation that is (in its own way) a kind of askēsis. Please pray for my ongoing priestly ministry, even though it is part-time and unpaid.
These rhythms of life, mine and those of my family’s, are set to continue here for the foreseeable future, and we are content with them, even as we look beyond the foreseeable to the future that God has for us after this time of school and preparation. Speaking for myself, I have been more focused on researching and writing my dissertation at this point than exploring missionary opportunities for the years to come; indeed, this has come from the global leaders with whom I have spoken that have counseled me: “First, make sure to get your thesis written!” I have to remind myself that, in a strange way, the primary ministry that God has given me right now is to complete this stage of my academic work, and while there are other prongs of ministry available to me now – and there will be more to come – bending my attention to the project at hand is an act of spiritual obedience, worship, and service. Please pray for my present ministry of academic scholarship, and for good discernment regarding our future ministry as part of God’s global mission.
With that said, our family is looking forward to some breaks in the summer. Not only are we planning on returning to camp in August, during which I will serve as camp speaker for the week, but it also appears that I have the opportunity to participate in an all-expenses-paid, two-week course learning how to read handwritten documents from the sixteenth century in Latin, German, and English. The program is run through the Wittenberg Center for Reformation Studies in Germany, and I am looking forward not only to mastering more of the craft of parsing old manuscripts, but also to rubbing shoulders with some of the great scholars of the period I myself am studying. While Mary Beth and the children will not be able to join me, they are planning on taking the time to visit with family in the United States – and really looking forward to it!
Finally, I also want to mention how grateful we are for those of you who continue to support us financially in our ministry, and to emphasize again how much we are in need of further support. We are being hit right now with a kind of double-whammy: at the same time that inflation has been driving up the prices around us here in downtown Toronto, our monthly pledged support has continued to drop precipitously. I am concerned that if trends continue our family may soon need to take another substantial pay cut (we took a $2,000/month pay cut in March 2021) at precisely the time when our growing family is desperately in need of a pay increase! Please, prayerfully consider making a pledge, or increasing your gift, at this critical moment in our Home Educational Assignment with SAMS (USA) or IATW (Canada)!
But as the snow begins to fall again here at Wycliffe College, I do want to end with thanks: thank you for praying, thank you for giving, thank you for supporting our family as we seek to follow the path that God has put in front of us. It is a privilege to have you on as partners in this ministry … to be riding (as it were) with Team Alenskis. May God richly bless you. We’ll be in touch again soon!