Lament and Thanksgiving

I feel like most of my updates start with some reference to time: “It’s been so long since my last update,” “Time sure is flying by,” “Can you believe that it’s [—] time all ready?” … or something along those lines. And as I sat down to write this update I was thinking the same sort of thing about time, especially since we’re here at the end of the year already. I typically like my updates to be about positives – how things are going with our ministry and all the ways we see God working (or maybe fun stories about bugs, or kids, or relating to different cultures). But for this one, while I still hope I can show you how we see God working, and maybe even brag about my kids a little (they are so stinkin’ cute!), I also know that not every update can be peppy and fun. When we share these updates with you it’s because we truly value each of you as partners in this ministry in which we are called, and as partners you need to know about the downs as well as the ups. So today, I think I’m going to try and share exactly where I’m at (whatever that means).

A Lament

First off, I know this has been a Hard Year for everyone. This is not the year anyone anticipated, so part of me feels like any complaining I might have for the year would be trivial when so many others have had it so much worse. We have been blessed with good health, places to stay, time with family, and thankfully no loss of loved ones. It has been a year when, despite everything getting incredibly unpredictable, David has been able to start his first semester of doctoral study through Wycliffe College, we were able to welcome James into the world, and we have been able to see Austin grow into a truly fun and loving person. But despite all of that, I still struggle many days to see any good. I still find myself asking, “Why like this, God?”

When we were making the decision to change the direction of our ministry from pastoral ministry in Belize towards theological development (requiring David to get a PhD), and then seeing where in the world God will place us next, it took a lot of prayer. We wanted to make sure this was how God was calling us; and we truly believe we made the right decision. But I remember a year and a half ago, when this long process was starting, I had the whole thing planned out in my head. It was stressful thinking about the transition, saying goodbye to people, and changing our whole lives, but I knew God was going to take care of us.

Then we got to the beginning of this year, and while we didn’t know yet which university David would end up at, we still had our plan for the year. We were still loving our ministry in Belize and already anticipating how much we would miss everyone when we moved. I then found out I was pregnant with James: we thought God had a funny sense of humor (since my due date was going to be the start of David’s first term of coursework), but we were excited for our growing family.

And then COVID-19 started to get bad and we made the very fast, and heartbreaking, decision to evacuate from Belize. I remember thinking it was weird because every other time I had visited the States I was excited to be with family and see old friends, but this time I was just sad to go (even though we knew it was the right decision due to my pregnancy). At the time we thought – at the absolute latest – we would be back in Belize by summer.

But we have been in the States now for nine months. Nine months and counting. Belize didn’t open its borders in time for us to make it back before David started school. Canada didn’t open its borders in time for us to make it up there before the start of the semester. And the combination of winter break being too short for us to make it back to Belize to pack and say our goodbyes in January, and the fact that Belize still seems to be at the peak of its fight against the coronavirus means we are still here.

That also means for the past nine months (and counting) we have been in limbo. We’ve bought plane tickets, and had them get cancelled. We’ve made plans to try and move into places without any furniture (since we still haven’t officially moved out of Belize). We’ve had plans A, B, C, D, … and each time I think I have a little bit of control, something changes, and all our plans are upended.

When people ask what I’m learning in all of this, it seems like the obvious answer is to lean on God, and His plans are always better than mine. But in the moment, while I know that to be true, I struggle. We have been away from home for a very long time. We love that our kids have gotten so much time with their grandparents; at the same time, we really miss home. I’m excited for this next phase of our lives that God has planned for us. I’m excited for this next phase of ministry. But for now, I’m tired. It feels a little trivial to say, but it’s kind of exhausting to not be home, to not even have properly left home. In the midst of being in limbo, with our feet both in the new and old, it’s very easy for me to focus on my frustrations. While there are good days and bad days, I’m the kind of pessimistic person that can wallow in the bad if I’m not careful. One of the things I’m really struggling with is not physically being present in church every week. We attend church on Zoom, but not being physically surrounded by the body of Christ every week, not sharing in Holy Communion, not having the accountability of other believers each week is physically weighing me down.

But David and I were talking about some of our struggles and what we are thankful for in all of this, he reminded me that being thankful is an actual discipline. I’m not always going to feel thankful, but I have to actively give thanks. So here it goes.

A Thanksgiving

As we come to the end of this year I truly do have so many things for which I need to give thanks.

We are so thankful for the birth of our son. James is an absolute delight. He loves to smile and coo. He loves his brother and spending time with family. He’s quite the snuggler and is even starting to enjoy books almost as much as his brother did at that age.

We are so thankful for Austin. He is so much fun! He loves books, sticks, and cars. He’s constantly talking and clearly has an enormous imagination. While we haven’t been going out much (which can get depressing) it has meant we’ve spent a lot of quality time together as a family. We are also still incredibly thankful for the time we were able to spend with my parents and the time we have been able to spend with David’s. These are all blessings that we were not expecting.

We are thankful to have had a place to stay for the past nine months. Whether it was with my family or David’s, it has been incredible to have had places to live (especially since we only brought a handful of suitcases with us). We know it’s not easy to have a bunch of people suddenly move in to your house. Our parents have been wonderful. We are also thankful that God is providing a modest little place for us to rent (fully furnished) here in Richmond for a few months this coming spring before we are able to return to Belize, and then move on to Canada. We are very excited to have our own space as a family.

We are thankful that David had a great first semester in his PhD program. The program is hard, and doing classes online is not ideal, but at least he was able to start the program full-time despite this Hard Year. One of the things we have learned about Wycliffe (even from a distance) is that they are very big on community and upholding one another in the faith. We are so excited that David was accepted into this program and we can’t wait until we are able to immerse ourselves fully in the theological college’s community.

We are thankful that our Belizean partners in ministry have continued ministry in our absence, with all the uncertainty and with the doors of both churches still closed because of the pandemic. And while we very much miss our churches in Belize, we are also thankful that we have been able to find and participate with an Anglican congregation in Toronto (via Zoom) that we are hoping to join once we finalize this move.

We are thankful to have gotten to spend Christmas with family. One of the things that we never really expected to be able to do – what with David’s being a priest and our being missionaries – was to spend Christmas or Easter with family. This year we have actually gotten to do both. While there are hard things about not being home for Christmas, it is nice to finally get this opportunity. We don’t know how often we will be able to do this as we continue to follow God’s call to serve as missionaries in the years to come.

Finally, we are thankful for all of you, our supporters. This has been a Hard Year for everyone, in so many ways. And we are incredibly thankful that you have stuck with us. Whether through your prayers or your financial support, having you alongside us as we become better equipped for service on the mission field continues to be an incredible blessing. We could not do this with out you. Seriously.

Pray for Our Family

So to recap my rather long and rambling update: this has been so hard, but we are so thankful. There are days that I just cry for what seems like nothing; but even so, I will continue working on the discipline of thankfulness. Please continue praying for our little family. Please especially pray for David as he adjusts back to academia. Please pray for our boys: there are a lot of big transitions coming their way.

And definitely please pray for our continued missionary financial support. This has been a Hard Year on everyone, and combined with this new mission field trajectory, it appears that our missionary account has taken a real hit financially, a hit that has happened during a year when we are trying to move from one country to another, and one where I even ended up giving birth in the States. But let me again say thank you for continuing to support us as we move forward! And as always, please reach out to us through phone calls or email if you want more details about our ministry, or if you just want to say “Hi!” 

We want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas (it’s still Christmas!), and a happy New Year!

Love always,
The Alenskis Family

New Horizons

New Horizons

Dear friends, family and supporters,

Greetings from the Midwest of the United States! Our second son, James, was born this week, and as parents of two wonderful boys we could not be happier! Mary Beth’s pregnancy made it to a whopping 39 weeks, at which point her doctor recommended an induction, and for good reason: he was so big! Both mother and child are doing well, trying to rest, and get this new phase of life off to a great start.

While James’s arrival is bringing about so much change in our own family’s life at the moment, we should also add that he was born at the precise moment that our ministry as missionaries is undergoing an enormous shift. I’ll explain below, but first I encourage you to watch this little video that we put together (with the help of SAMS-USA President and Mission Director Stewart Wicker) that will explain what the next few months and years will likely hold for us in ministry:

In brief, Mary Beth and I have been sensing for some time that the Lord may be calling us to a ministry that is more focused on theological education and leadership development in the context of the Majority World, and not only on pastoral ministry in a parish setting. There is a tremendous need around the world for this targeted kind of ministry, one we often experienced in Belize (a country that currently has no formal seminary for training clergy for any denomination), and one that is often repeated when we speak with other missionaries and leaders in the Majority World. Having consulted with theological educators from around the Anglican Communion—from Myanmar to Chile, from Kenya to Mexico, from Indonesia to Egypt—the answer to the question, “What should our next steps be?” was clear: if I wish to train others to become leaders in the church, I should pursue a higher level of expertise in the things of God, a path that would take me to a research doctoral degree in theology, i.e. a PhD.

So, with the support of SAMS and the bishops to whom we are accountable, we began a process of formal enquiries and grueling applications (GRE included!) that have led us to Wycliffe College, an orthodox, evangelical Anglican theological college affiliated with the University of Toronto, currently ranked in the top twenty universities globally for the study of theology and religion. In the end, I accepted Wycliffe’s offer to join their PhD program as a full-time student with an emphasis in Historical Theology, a discipline that straddles both Church History and Systematic Theology. My courses and research over the next 4–6 years will supervised by the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, himself a former missionary, and one of the world’s leading Anglican experts on the Reformation, pneumatology, ecclesiology, and the history of biblical interpretation. I am very blessed and excited to be working with him, and with many of the other members of faculty at Wycliffe College and more broadly with the Toronto School of Theology.

Just to be clear: Mary Beth, our sons and I are still missionaries with SAMS, and we plan to be for many years! We are not leaving ministry at all, but we are beginning a season of what SAMS calls an “Educational Ministry Assignment,” a time of preparation for another kind of future ministry wherever in the world the Lord may call us. This means that we will soon be leaving our pastoral ministry in Belize to others, clearing the way for God to do new and amazing things through the people with whom we have been laboring, into whose lives we have been pouring ourselves. We are very torn up about leaving … it has been driving us crazy to think that we will be leaving a people and a place that mean so much to us, but we believe that this is where the Lord is leading, and where he leads we will follow.

At this time, there is much that we need from you as supporters of our ministry. First, please pray for us during this time of transition. There are so many things going on right now: because of COVID-19 we have not been able to cross the border into Canada, nor have we been able to return to Belize to pack up and say goodbye. We will need to be able to do both things as soon as possible, so please pray that the Lord makes a way for that to happen. I have begun the fall term online, which is not an ideal way to pursue graduate studies, but even the possibility of this approach would have been inconceivable just a few years ago. Please pray that my studies go well, that we can say goodbye to our home in Belize, and that we find a new home in Toronto very, very soon. And please pray for our churches and schools, lay leaders and Bishop in Belize as together they all grapple with this transition as well.

Second, since we are continuing as full-time SAMS missionaries and plan on going back on the mission field as soon as I finish this program, we are urging you to continue giving to our ministry, or to begin giving as the Lord would lead you. With these new horizons in view, our budget is only increasing. In addition to the tremendous deductible we will likely have to cover because of Mary Beth’s labor and delivery, we are also looking at moving to downtown Toronto as a family of four, and we project that expenses will be far above what they were for us in Belize. And although both Wycliffe and SAMS have both been very generous in their willingness to offer me some scholarship funds towards Wycliffe’s annual school tuition and fees, our family will still be covering well over half of these educational expenses out of our own pocket. Even if our missionary account won’t cover the international tuition rates for Wycliffe (and we don’t expect it to), your one-time and regular gifts will help us retain our salaries and make it possible for us to rent a modest apartment, feed our family, and raise our children without compromising either our dedication to this season of preparation or our determination to return to the mission field once we are prepared. To sum up: we desperately need your financial support, and we ask that you begin, continue, or increase your giving to our ministry as the Lord leads you.

And because we believe that the Lord has led us to this point in ministry by using precisely your gestures of support as his sacred instruments for sustaining our efforts and holding us accountable to his purpose, we want to thank you again for everything that you have already done. We would like to be able to thank you more personally, and to share our plans with you in greater depth than this post (or video) could possibly manage. Please contact us, and let us know if we can chat on the phone (or Zoom, or any number of other platforms). If you’re lucky, James might even be awake and showing his cuteness for the camera! And stay tuned for changes on this website: we will be updating our context very soon, although with everything going on (I know, I know, COVID-19 can become such an excuse!) it may be a few days or weeks before it’s all sorted out. But be ready for these new horizons to begin to appear in your view as well as ours.

May the Lord richly bless you all. We will be in touch again soon!

The last time we were in Toronto was four years ago for missionary training. Who could have guessed we would be back for so much longer?

Watching and Waiting

It’s hard to believe it has been over three months since our last blog update. Keeping track of the days of the week (let alone the months), when everyday kind of looks the same is becoming increasingly more difficult. There is just a lot of time spent indoors, or working on online. I can’t wait until we somehow return to face-to-face ministry!

In our last update we were writing you from my parent’s house in Georgia. While it was very strange to evacuate to the States, it was also incredibly nice to get to spend that time with my family (especially Austin getting to see his Grammie and Grandpopi!). We are now in Indiana with David’s parents, and we are loving getting to now see Austin’s Grandma and Grandpa! While this time in the States was not planned, it has been a true blessing to get to spend time with family. One of the hardest things for me about being a missionary is not getting to see family very often. And now that we have Austin, and another one on the way, it is even more special when we get these rare moments to see grandparents in person. 

As far as our ministry in Belize goes, we are continuing to connect with people remotely. It is definitely much harder to minister to people when you are not there in person, but we also know that much of our ministry would look the same if we were back in Belize right now since the churches and schools are still closed. For most of our time here in the States, Belize has done very well at containing, and almost completely stopping the spread of COVID-19 in the country. The few cases that would come up were typically found with people who were already being quarantined (and therefor more easily contained). However, in the last few weeks cases have been spiking across the country. It was only about 4 weeks ago that cases were under 100, but, almost out of nowhere, cases are now quickly approaching 1,000. Please pray for Belize as they work to trace and treat those who are infected. Please especially pray for hospitals that are already overwhelmed with the sudden influx of sick people. And please pray for quick healing for those who are sick. Belize had been planning on opening the international airport on August 15, but with the sudden increase in COVID-19 cases they have decided to keep the airport closed until further notice. So at this point David, Austin, and I are planning on staying here in the States for the birth of our next child.

I am now nearing week 37 of pregnancy (it’s crazy how fast this one seems to be going!). It is also strange spending the majority of this pregnancy in the States. Since I had Austin in Belize, everything about my prenatal appointments here seems foreign. Things are just done differently here and it almost makes this feel like a first pregnancy all over again, since so much of it is new (especially in the time of COVID-19). I’m very curious which way I will have preferred when this is all said and done. The biggest blessing at this point is that this next baby is still healthy and not here yet! As you might remember from my pregnancy with Austin, I was already on bead rest at 34 weeks and we were just praying for him to make it to 36. Well in this pregnancy I made it to 36 weeks and then the doctors decided to put me on bed rest. Both the baby and I are healthy, he just seems also to want to make an early appearance. Please pray for continued good health for me and the baby. Please also pray that we make it to at least 37 weeks (preferably longer) before I go into labor. And please also pray for a safe delivery: we’re getting close!

One other thing I would ask for you to prayerfully consider at the end here would be to begin, renew or increase your financial support for our family’s ministry. Over the past few months we have seen a decrease in our financial support (something we anticipated for this difficult time during a world pandemic), but as we approach the birth of our next child – and the considerable financial burden of unexpectedly having our son be born in the United States – we are asking for your help. Whether you might be willing and able to to increase your giving (by even a small amount), or whether you might like to start giving, or whether you would might even be willing to give a one time gift to help cover our insurance deductible for the upcoming birth, we would very much appreciate your partnership!

I think that’s all I have for an update right now. Thank you again for praying, and financially supporting our family. We are missing our home and in-person ministry in Belize, but we know God has a plan for all of this! We continue to pray for you. We would also love to get in touch with you all on a more personal level: if you would be open to a video call so that you can hear more about what’s going on with our family, and so that we can know better how to pray for yours, please send us a private message or email and we’ll set something up!

Unexpected Ministry

Unexpected Ministry

It’s high time you got another life-and-ministry update from our family: so much has been happening in these days of πανδημία and panic. We have been healthy and working hard to minister the Gospel despite some real obstacles in the short term, and we believe that we have many good things to share with you—apart from the fact that the baby we are expecting in September is a boy!

You may recall from my last update in March that Mary Beth and I had made the heart-wrenching decision to evacuate from Belize when we received word that all borders and airports would be closing. The material reason for our departure was that Mary Beth is pregnant with our second child, and we wanted to ensure that given the very real possibility of an overwhelmed health care system that she could still receive the prenatal care in case of an emergency. Our departure was sudden in the extreme: we made the decision late in the night on Friday, March 20 and began travel early the next day. Those days and decisions felt traumatic to us at the time, although nothing compared to what COVID-19 patients, health professionals and other front-line workers have been going through over these past weeks.

In retrospect, we still believe that evacuation was the best decision. Soon after we left Belize, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed and the country leaped to contain the outbreak, rapidly progressing to a full country-wide lockdown that began Easter weekend. We were right to be concerned about access to routine and emergency medical care for this new pregnancy: the clinic where Austin was born ended up closing, and Mary Beth’s OBGYN is not seeing patients with the exception of deliveries. Indeed, early on travel was prohibited within and between the Cayo District (where we live) and other regions, because one of the initial cluster of COVID-19 cases emerged in our town of San Ignacio. This meant that we may not have had access to the private clinics in Belize City either, but would have to pass through a public health system that—if those in Belize who have had COVID-19 are to be believed—has often been more like a labyrinth than a haven.

These measures have taken an incredible toll on the families in our town and the surrounding villages, and parishioners at both of our churches have been heavily affected. In addition, with the authorities’ attention focused elsewhere the burning of fields for farming—traditional this time of year—got out of hand throughout Belize, and especially in our agriculturally-oriented community. For weeks the air was hazy with extremely high levels of smoke; in fact, this posed a much greater respiratory danger to our fellow Belizeans than the novel coronavirus ever did.

But the news from Belize has been getting better and better. The Ministry of Health launched a herculean effort to get contact tracing and mapping off the ground, and although not everyone who wanted to was tested, thousands of tests were administered, the vast majority of which were negative. In the end, only eighteen people were confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19, and for the last three weeks no one new has tested positive. Of those eighteen confirmed positive for COVID-19, two died and the other sixteen have fully recovered. It will take some more weeks to declare Belize free of this new coronavirus, but even so the Ministry of Health and the healthcare workers throughout the country deserve credit for a job (so far) well done. And what is more, rain has begun to fall during this hot and dry period and the air has begun to clear in post parts of the country as fires have been put out. God has been very good.

Because of these positive steps, the country has begun to open up elements of its economy once again: certain kinds of businesses that were closed can now open, and many government ministries and agencies are operational again. However, a mandatory curfew is still in effect, face masks are obligatory in public (at the pain of a $5,000 fine), and churches and schools are still closed. Local airports are opening up again, but the international airport is still closed, as are the borders with Mexico and Guatemala. But … things are getting better, and people are rejoicing that Belize may have been spared the worst.

In the meantime, we have been doing our best to reach out and conduct the same kind of ministry from the U.S. that we would have been doing if we were locked down in the Rectory in San Ignacio. We have been in regular communication with folks in our parish and missions, and with the diocesan bodies of which we are a part. Google Meet has allowed me to hold meetings with the staff at each of the schools, with the Church Committees of St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s, and to hold a Wednesday Bible study on St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans (it’s going really well!). Coordinating with our leadership on the ground, we have also been able to put together lists of families who have been adversely affected economically by the lockdown, and over forty families received aid last week due to the church’s coordination efforts.

If you are connected with our Facebook pages, you are probably aware that Mary Beth and I (and often Austin) have been broadcasting a livestream Morning and Evening Prayer service, not only to our churches and schools but often for the entire Anglican Diocese of Belize. Because of this, I have been forming part of a diocesan team that is crafting and planning for future “online” ministry that will continue long after the lockdown has come to an end. I’ve had Zoom meetings with the Bishop and the other clergy, and tomorrow I will be participating in a meeting of the Diocesan Education Board. All of this is being accomplished through the incredible medium of technology, which both allows us to do the otherwise inconceivable and also shows us how much distance ministry can fall short of actually being present.

But we know that being physically present in Belize right now would still mostly require us to minister remotely from the Rectory, and that until the international airport and borders open up, being here will be safer for Mary Beth in what could be (based on her experience with Austin) a high-risk pregnancy; in fact, here in the U.S. she has not only seen an OBGYN but has already been referred to a doctor specializing in high-risk pregnancies. We are not sure when the airport will reopen and we can find a return flight to Belize: much (it appears) depends on the case trajectory in neighboring Mexico and Guatemala. For the moment, the State of Emergency will remain in effect through the end of June, although it could end sooner or later than that, depending on what the Government of Belize decides. Until then, we are waiting, watching, praying and ministering alongside of our beloved parishioners back in Belize.

If I can, I would like to share one more concern for us. Like many in ministry, we are particularly vulnerable to the winds of economic downturns, not to mention century-defining crashes and depressions. Long before we expected, giving to our missionary account in March dropped to half its February level, and given the state of the U.S. (and global) economy we are concerned that giving may drop off even further. In this we need your help: if you are one of our regular donors, please do not stop giving at this time … and if possible, we encourage you to set up an automatically recurring donation, so that the occasional check won’t slip through the cracks. In fact, if you feel led to give towards our ministry—even as a one-time gift—we would be incredibly grateful for your contribution to our work as missionaries. We need your support (giving, prayers, and encouragement) now more than ever before as we look to receive a new family member in September, and as we discern how God may be leading us in the months and years ahead.

A New Baby Update

A New Baby Update

This is an update with some really good news about our family, and some complicated news for our ministry due to COVID-19 in Belize (but let’s be clear at the outset, there’s no reason to panic!).

Mary Beth and I found out a short while ago that we are expecting our second child in late September! We are thrilled to be able to announce God’s latest gift to our growing family, with the good news that Mary Beth and the baby are doing wonderfully here at the beginning of her second trimester. We couldn’t be happier.

However, the emergence of a global coronavirus pandemic has thrown the long-term planning we had been starting into serious disarray. You may have heard of this thing, and it may have thrown your life similarly into pandemonium. It certainly has ours, and an uncertainty regarding health, finances and safety has been hanging over us and many other missionaries in our situation.

Until recently, no confirmed cases of COVID-19 had popped up in Belize, and for this we can praise the providential hand of God. As we have witnessed from afar the overwhelmed health systems of Wuhan, Lombardy, and now New York and Los Angeles, we have been made painfully aware that much more advanced infrastructures than ours have been crushed by an onslaught of critical cases needing oxygen, ventilation and constant care. But if and when this novel coronavirus spreads through Belize, the healthcare system has the potential to be disastrously inadequate, whether this is measured by beds, ventilators, medical staff or supplies.

Nevertheless, Mary Beth and I were determined to stick it out in the country, hopeful that our youth and relatively healthy bodies would keep us from needing the most severe forms of hospitalization. Two weeks ago, we began taking the strongest social-distancing measures that we could: we only left the house to shop for essentials, cancelled other meetings and plans, kept distance with people that we encountered in the way, and washed our hands regularly and thoroughly. As the Bishop began suspending services—first on Sundays and then on weekdays as well—and as the Ministry of Education cancelled school for the two weeks leading up to Easter break, we felt confident that we would be able to protect our own health as well as keep others safe in the process. Our ministry turned to remote methods, and the Rectory became our base of operations. We even began to broadcast daily Morning and Evening Prayer on Facebook Live, and it seems to be reaching people that would not normally come to church or seek out a priest for help.

However, cautious family members and other supporters began to voice another concern to us: if the health system in Belize were to become overrun and overwhelmed by respiratory patients at every hospital and clinic, would Mary Beth and our unborn child be able to get the help they would need in the event that this pregnancy were to develop complications? You may remember that serious issues popped up with Mary Beth’s first pregnancy with Austin, and if similar (or other) problems were to come about, would an overtaxed and flooded emergency health system be able to give her the care and attention that she and this growing baby would need?

Much of our comfort with medical care in Belize up until now has depended upon contingency plans: both Guatemala and Mexico have excellent health care systems, and both are a short drive away. In an extreme emergency (like what happened to Fr. Juan Marentes back in 2013), we could probably even leave for treatment to the United States. However last week, one-by-one international borders began to close in our area; most notably, the Guatemalan border twelve miles to the west became closed to North Americans, and then to everyone else. Still the Northern Border remained open, as did the international airport in Belize City. And then, last Friday (March 20) we received word that the northern border with Mexico would be closed within 24 hours, and that the international airport in Belize City would shut down (except for transporting cargo) within 72 hours. The closure would last for a minimum of 30 days.

We realized we had to make a decision immediately: should we stay, or should we go? We didn’t want to leave. We had already received word from our missionary society SAMS-USA that they would support our staying or leaving: both were justifiable and the decision was ours. However, we were also told that our concern for Mary Beth’s ongoing care during pregnancy should probably be the deciding factor. But again, although our ministry had by then gone 95% online/remote, we did not want to leave our people, our home, and our community. Finally, we spoke with friends of ours who serve as missionaries in Italy, and hearing our situation and our concerns, they told us unequivocally: we needed to leave until we were sure it was safe to come back.

After receiving the Bishop’s encouragement and blessing, we made our final decision late Friday night: we would come back to the U.S. for the next 30 days, or until it was possible to return to Belize, in order to give Mary Beth a better chance at accessing emergency healthcare during her pregnancy. In haste we packed that night and the following morning, and by Saturday evening we were holed up with Mary Beth’s parents at their home in north Georgia. After the mounting stresses of the last couple of weeks, we feel blessed to destress a little bit with family as we continue almost all the same remote ministry we were carrying on from the Rectory in Belize.

We realize that this temporary relocation carried with it many risks. We left Belize when there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 to come to a place with tens of thousands of cases. We also were painfully aware of the risks in traveling through airports and airplanes without masks or much other protection apart from soap, water, hand sanitizer, and dirty looks at people who tried to get too close. But in the end, we believe that the higher possibility for Mary Beth to receive better care in her pregnancy should she experience any emergencies outweighs the risks we have taken in relocating while we wait for Belize to reopen to international travel.

Please pray for us, and pray for Belize. Yesterday Belize confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Ambergris Caye, and fear exploded across the country. Before the government could shut things down, residents of San Pedro Town tried to flee on boats to the mainland. Entire villages have threatened to prevent any visitors from entering, and across social media platforms people have attempted to doxx the Belizean who had traveled back from Los Angeles before testing positive for the virus. So many Belizeans we know (and many we don’t) are terrified, panicking, and desperate for safety against an unseen assailant. Medical institutions are taking all kinds of precautions—suspending services like routine vaccinations or in-person maternity check-ups—and yet we have seen pictures of hospitals full of worried individuals and parents seeking help before it becomes impossible. All of this has come on top of the disappearance of basic food staples like flour, sugar, or baby formula.

So as you pray for our safety, and the safety of this new baby on the way, please pray also for our effectiveness in ministry. We aim to use all technological means at our disposal to reach out to our parishioners and other members of our community over these next few weeks, and we are praying that the Lord will use this global threat, unparalleled in our lifetime, to bring people to know him through his Son Jesus Christ. Pray that the Lord would pour out his Spirit upon the means of grace, that sinners would turn to him and find healing and forgiveness. Pray that the Lord would spare Belize and Belizeans, not just from COVID-19, but from death itself forever. And please pray that our financial support holds firm as the world goes through a global economic contraction!

We will try and keep you posted about Mary Beth and the baby, and about any new plans or developments that arise in the next few weeks and months. We love you all, and we are so grateful for your support. May the Lord richly bless you!