Looking Forward

Well, I’m way overdue for giving you all an update on our family here in Toronto and for that I apologize. I knew having three kids three and under would be challenging, but I don’t think I fully anticipated how much time it would take every day just to care for little humans. Some days feel packed from beginning to end (and I feel like I accomplished a lot when I go to bed exhausted), and others days feel incredibly slow (but I still go to bed exhausted wondering where the time went!). Being a mom is both rewarding and incredibly fun, and also frustrating and at times a little boring. It is a weird mix of emotions. Thankfully though on good days and bad, God has given us a love for our kids that is stronger than I ever really understood as possible before having my own. My gosh, do I love my kiddos! All that’s to say, a lot has happened since we last “talked”, so let’s jump in!

Over the summer David wrote his thesis proposal and in October it was approved. Thanks be to God, he got it done, defended, and is officially in the “candidacy” stage of his PhD. That means he is now writing his thesis! So a long with many other things, he is spending the majority of his days researching and writing. While he still has a ways to go, at this point he is basically on track with his prospective timeline. His advisor has pointed out that the goal of getting his thesis submitted by the start of next Fall would be very fast, but he still thinks it is doable (even with a house full of kids!). Over the summer David purchased a laptop and is now able to work in the study rooms or library. It has actually taken a lot of stress off to know that David can have a quiet space to work without so many distractions. Please pray that we are able to find a sustainable schedule for our family so that David can have plenty of time to write. On top of working on his thesis, David is also co-teaching a Wycliffe course on “Anglican Theology” this semester and leading music for the daily morning prayer services. Please also pray that stress levels stay down as he really has a lot on his plate! 

For me and the kids, the highlight for the end of Summer was getting to visit family for just over a week. We are fortunate to have both sets of parents almost directly south of us, so before the New Wineskins conference the kids and I were able to see David’s parents for a couple days in Indiana and then spend some time with mine in Georgia. This was my parent’s first time to meet Lily (extra special visit), and my sister even drove all the way from California just to see us (we hadn’t seen each other in three years!). It was an absolutely lovely visit. We feel very blessed that we are within driving distance of family durning this time of Educational Home Assignment. We figure our next placement will probably require plane tickets for five people if we want to visit, so we’re enjoying these chances while we can.

After our time in Georgia we headed up to North Carolina for the New Wineskins Conference. David was not able to join us in Georgia as he had to stay in Toronto to teach, but he met us in Asheville for the conference. New Wineskins happens every three years and is a chance for missionaries from all over the world to come together to worship, network, and learn. One of our main goals in attending this year was so that we could get a better idea of where we feel God may be calling us to go at the end of David’s studies. While we have to remember that David is not planning on graduating until Spring 2024 at the earliest (meaning we can’t actually have a placement yet), we were able to connect with people in almost every continent. Now I realize that that doesn’t seem like we narrowed it down much, but we now have specific countries and people we’re talking with to see if we might be a good fit in the future. At this point we’re mostly looking at places that have seminaries for David to teach in where he can train up more leaders in the Faith, but also places where our whole family can thrive and minister to those we are called to serve along side. It is strange, on one hand, to imagine going back on the mission field. When we left Belize we had one kid who was less than year old, and now we have three kids (the youngest of whom will be at least two years old when we move again). I’m both nervous and excited to see how our kids will learn to both know and serve God, but also share Him with others. SAMS is unique in that both spouses our called, vetted, and commissioned as missionaries. And while our kids won’t be “interviewed” as missionaries, they will, in their own way, be serving on the mission field. God is going to have to give us wisdom and courage as we get closer to returning. One of the talks I went to at New Wineskins was all about TCKs (Third Culture Kids) and the issues they can face. I knew life would be a little more complicated, but I didn’t know how hard it could be if we’re not paying attention. And I think our kids get the triple whammy by being TCKs, PKs, and MKs. Whew. Besides the fact that I’m going to have to really read up on this to make sure we’re adequately prepared, I have also come to truly appreciate the value of community. Here at Wycliffe we are surrounded by people who love and support us and our kids. When we go back on the mission field, community is going to be something that we actively search out to help support our family in our own faith. Even with all my nerves about the future, I’m getting excited that we are closer to knowing where we’re headed next! We truly believe there is a need for more Christian leaders who are able to train up others in the Faith and we are looking forward to seeing how God uses us to meet that need.

As far as other things going on here in Toronto, I’ve taken job as an organist at another church! This is pretty exciting for me as I’ve not regularly played the piano (and definitely not the organ!) since having Lily. Now I only ever took one semester of organ in university, so I’m kind of learning as I go, but it is pretty cool to go to a 200 year old church every week and play their pipe organ. The church our family regularly attends here at the college still meets in the evenings; making my morning job a perfect fit. In general I have been surprised at how much we have been able to continue leading music to some degree since moving to Canada. David leads music every morning in our chapel services (and on some evening services as well), and I’ve been asked to put together the Advent Lessons and Carols service again this year. It amazes me even now that God always finds a way to use the gifts He’s given us wherever we are called to be.

So here we are, at the start of Advent, anticipating Christmas. Our kids are at the wonderful age where everything is exciting. And a birthday party for Jesus is absolutely necessary! Even with so many things filling up this season, you are still always very much on our minds and in our prayers. Thank you so much for supporting our family! We have grown since the last time we saw many of you in person (the fact that we’re a family of 5 still amazes me!), but we are so very grateful. Please do continue to keep us in your prayers. And thank you, as always, for your continued financial support! Our time here in Toronto looks very different from our time in Belize, but we are confident that God is not only preparing us to return to the mission field with the necessary tools to further His kingdom, but He is also showing us that even now we are on a mission field. We are in a huge city, surrounded by people who don’t know our Lord. Whether reaching out to those visiting our church here at Wycliffe, meeting new people in “mommy groups”, or even interacting with those on public transit (we take it everywhere!), God is showing us His harvest. If you know anyone who would like to partner with us in our ministry, both while we’re here in Toronto, and as we prepare for our next placement, please share our info. We would love to talk more directly (on the phone or email), to connect with you!

Happy Advent from the Alenskis Family! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

All about Lily and Life

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!

Sharing Vision, Finding Purpose

Happy New Year from the Alenskis Family!

Wow, can you believe we’re already in 2022?! We certainly had a lot of changes last year, but we’re even more excited to see what this new year has in store.

First off, David has officially finished his required coursework for his PhD program – with highest marks! – and his “thesis prospectus” has been formally accepted by the committee supervising his research and approved by the Graduate Centre for Theological Studies at the University of Toronto. Does that mean he’s done? Not by a long shot, but it does mean he’s staying on track to graduate on our preferred timeline. As you may know our current goal is for David to get his degree within just four years (which is about as fast as you can get it done) … receiving his diploma by May 2024. He just finished his third semester, so we’re almost halfway there! Don’t get me wrong, we are actually really enjoying our time here in Toronto. The community life here at Wycliffe has been so healthy for our family, especially because of times like daily chapel services, and weekly dinners with other residents. Yet we do have practical and hopeful reasons for David to finish up within four years:

  1. Practically speaking, David’s advisor is retiring and can only guarantee being able to oversee his work through Spring 2024 (when David is hoping to defend his dissertation and graduate).

  2. The simple fact that this program will be considerably less expensive if he can finish in four years is also a pretty good incentive for moving along quickly.

  3. But the reason closest to our heart – and that we are most focused on – is that we want to be back on the mission field. Our whole purpose for being here in Toronto is so that our family can be properly equipped for supporting Anglican churches around the world through theological education and ministry development.

This third reason is driven by a need that we were already experiencing acutely in Belize, the need for locally available, high quality ways to train new lay and ordained leaders. What’s more, in speaking to other Anglican leaders from around the world we have also discovered that this need exists in so many other places. While David has been involved directly in pastoral ministry for well over a decade, we believe that we are now called to expand our family’s ministry in this new direction. Whether that means he will take a position as a full-time missionary-pastor and teach theology part time (say in a seminary or other form of theological development), or whether it will be the other way around, we feel confident that when our time in Canada has come to an end God will send us somewhere he can put to use the new skills he is giving us: to build his kingdom and bring him glory.

So what does that mean for our life right now? It means that, as SAMS missionaries on “Educational Ministry Assignment,” we are currently focused on David’s school work, all in the context of raising our growing family. For me in particular, this means that while I loved the work I was doing in Belize (music and youth ministry) – something that I’m hoping to continue in our next placement – I’m now also a mommy of two (soon to be three!) little children. As a result, as we envision that future ministry, I am mindful at the same time of my calling to raise and educate them. (So many changes are coming our way!)

Although it’s a little too early in David’s doctoral program to have a clear idea of where we will be going next, we are hoping to have a better understanding by the end of this year. We are looking forward to the New Wineskins 2022 conference this Fall in North Carolina, where we plan on making fresh connections with leaders from around the world involved in theological education. At the last conference we met incredible people from Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America who all shared the same need!

It’s a little strange knowing that we will be returning to the mission field at the end of our time here in Canada, while also not knowing where that will be. My controlling side wants God to just spit it out so I can start planning for our future! But this is one of those many moments in my life where I have to let go and trust that God has a plan, even if I can’t quite see what it is yet. 

(On a side note, our children are going to be quite the world travelers in their lifetime! Austin was born in Belize, James was born in the U.S., and our daughter will be born in Canada! I pray that we can raise our kids to know what it means to follow Jesus wherever we are living.)

At this point the boys are doing very well here in Toronto. They love the snow, the community of theological students (they know most of the Wycliffe residents by name), and they consider the college campus to belong to them (they love running up and down the halls!). Christmas was delightful. The college itself was all decked out with Christmas trees, lights, and nativity sets. And, as a highlight for my family, we got to decorate our apartment with our personal Christmas ornaments that were brought back from Belize. We hadn’t opened that box in over two years! We experienced two different services of Lessons and Carols, one from the school and one from our church. While I’ve participated in many Lessons and Carols services growing up, these services were unique for me in that every lesson was read in the native language of a student or congregant and then again in English. There was something special about hearing God’s word from languages all over the world. We then spent Christmas Day at home celebrating with the boys before having some other residents over for dinner (we made SO MUCH FOOD!). As a whole, it was a wonderful first Christmas here in Canada. 

As for me, I’m doing pretty well: officially in my third trimester (and definitely looking pregnant these days!). I can’t believe we’re getting so close to meeting our daughter (yes, we’re having a girl!). Each of my pregnancies have been so different, and this one feels like it’s progressing the fastest. We’re trying to start prepping the boys about their coming sister. I think Austin is excited; James is probably going to take it pretty hard (he’s our possessive “snugglebug”). Soon I’ll start unpacking the baby gear again and begin actually prepping our house. Until then, we’re enjoying spending quality time with just the boys … before our numbers go up!

In other exciting missions news, on SAMS’s recommendation our family applied to join and has been accepted by a second, Canadian missionary society, Into All the World (IATW). This organization has a formal relationship with SAMS that allows them to assist American missionaries who are raising financial support in Canada, and our being accepted as part of their society means that there is a way for us to receive gifts more easily from Canadian donors.  Does this mean we are no longer SAMS missionaries? Not at all! We’re now both! By being accepted into ITAW we are hoping to connect more with Canadians who would like to support our mission work – both while we are here in Canada and then when we transition back to the mission field.

IATW’s own particular focus is on enabling missionaries to serve wherever and however they are called, and for decades they have helped make connections and find resources to help missionaries around the world serve those in need. For instance, if there is a missionary that wants to put wells in a village, ITAW is able to help connect them with the resources to make that specific project happen. Above all, for us this also means we will have more prayer support (and you can never have too much prayer!).

So now for prayer requests!

These next six months are going to fly by and be rather stressful. David is planning on undergoing his qualifying examinations in May and June. Over the period of a month he will take both written and oral exams in two different subjects covering a ton of information (he has nearly 5,000 pages to read by then!). Once he has (Lord willing) passed his exams and then defended his thesis proposal (still to be written), he will then officially be a PhD “candidate” and can start his dissertation. He’s hoping that he achieves candidacy by the end of the summer, or early fall at the latest.

1. Please pray for David as he preps and studies for his general exams.  

To add to the stress, our baby is due about a month before David’s exams start. While he can push the exam dates if needed, our goal is to keep them where they’re at so as to stay on track.

2. Please pray for the baby and me in these last 3 months.

  • Good health

  • No complications

  • And no bedrest (I’ve been put on bedrest for my last two pregnancies and would love to skip that step for this one!)  

While we still have about 2½ years left of David’s program, we are praying and discerning where God is calling us next even now. We know the places we would love to serve, but we also know God already has a plan for our lives and we are willing to go wherever that may be.

3. Please pray that God would make it very clear where He is calling our family next.

And finally,

4. Please pray for continued prayer and financial support.

Toronto is incredibly expensive. While we are very blessed to get to live on campus (it’s about half the price of any apartment we could otherwise get here in the city), we are still on a very tight budget (we’re eating so much rice and beans!). And on top of all that, the car that we took with us to Toronto has given up the ghost … we’re walking and taking public transportation everywhere we go now until we find a new set of wheels. So there are some real needs. But at the same time, we are beyond appreciative of the continued prayers and financial support from all of you! We truly feel that God has called us on this path of training for bigger things on the mission field than we even know right now, and it’s your commitment to our family and to this vision for ministry that is helping us continue toward that calling. Thank you! If you want more detailed/personal prayer requests, or if you would like to start financially supporting us please send us a message so we can give you more information!

We’re here!

Well, we made it! It’s been just a month and a half in our new home of Toronto, Ontario, and I think we are really starting to settle in and get our bearings. 

We headed out from Richmond, Indiana bright and early on August 8th with the biggest U-Haul they offer, a loaded car, four tired adults, and two sleepy kids. Our main reason for leaving on the 8th (instead of on the 1st as we had originally planned) was because Canada was lifting some of their quarantine requirements (which would make for an easier transition with kids). But another big advantage to our leaving a few days later was that David’s parents were able to drive up with us. It’s so much easier moving with kids when you have extra hands! We decided to take the trip in two days to ensure that we had plenty of time to cross the border. It was an incredible answer of prayer to be able to start driving already holding our negative COVID tests. We had heard horror stories of people not getting their tests in time, or getting a positive result when they’re already at the border. Thank you all for your prayers! After a long day of driving (I was very happy I didn’t have to drive the truck!) we made it to Niagara Falls, New York. In what was definitely a God thing, we actually got a hotel right across the street from the state park and were able to walk over to see the Falls that evening. When you’ve spent the day cooped up in the car, being able to walk around incredible waterfalls for a couple hours was absolutely amazing! The boys were thrilled (which of course makes everything more fun). 

The next morning was the dreaded border crossing. We made sure to get on the road well before the sun came up to head to the bridge. While we anticipated being at the border itself for a few hours, I don’t think we had considered it taking so long to get to the border. We spent almost 2½ hours just crossing the bridge spanning the river. Yikes! But apparently the border agents were expecting the wait to increase to over 4 hours by the afternoon, so we lucked out. I must say, the Canadian border agents we met were incredibly friendly and helpful. While we were tired and nervous (I always get nervous crossing borders), everything went incredibly smoothly. Another answer to prayer! 

The answers to prayer continued for the rest of the day. We arrived at Wycliffe, and a bunch of people from our new church were waiting for us to help unload the truck in record time. Our church family here has already made us feel quite welcome and loved. That feeling continued as we met more people living here at Wycliffe. Everyone is so helpful and desirous to foster community. That has been especially nice as we’ve had a ton of questions! It’s amazing how many details you have to work out when you move – from where to get cell phone chips or mattresses, to figuring out how to do laundry, to locating the variety of grocery stores we will need. The plus side about living in the middle of the city is that we can walk to almost anything we need (or, to Austin’s delight, take the subway!). 

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Wycliffe itself is an interesting place to live. Our apartment primarily has stone and brick walls, with filled-in brick arches along the back wall. Apparently it used to be the entrance to the stables way back in the day, so all the arches in the walls are where people would ride their horses into the courtyard. Pretty cool! To add to the character of the school, the hallways and halls in the college itself definitely have a Hogwarts feel. Add to that that we are smack in the middle of the University of Toronto, and this means that we are surrounded by beautiful old buildings nestled next to towering skyscrapers. Never having lived in a large city like this before, it brings its own kind of culture shock that is different from just moving to another country. So far, I’m still in the, “Wow, this is such a new and exciting place to live!” Having lived in a different country before, I’ll update you again in about eight months (about the time culture shock typically hits pretty hard).

Let’s see, other interesting things about living here. Pretty much every day we get to hear church bells. And on certain days they actually go for almost an hour playing different pieces. It’s beautiful! The week after we got here, a camera crew put up scaffolding all over the campus (including right outside our window) and shot scenes for about for four days. Apparently movies and shows are often shot here at Wycliffe … past flicks filmed here include Goodwill Hunting and It, among others. I think they said that this last one will be a Netflix series, but we’re not sure which one. Apparently, this is a pretty regular thing, since another (different) film crew came the following week!

Overall we’re enjoying getting settled in. It is very nice (and convenient) that our church meets right up stairs in one of the college’s oldest halls. And it also great to get to come together every morning in the chapel for morning prayer. One of the reasons we picked Wycliffe for David’s studies is that we knew we would be surrounded by a community of believers. We may have only been here for a few weeks, but it is already very clear that this will be a group of people that will worship and pray together even amid their strenuous studies.

As far as studies go, along with having a pretty heavy reading list to get through, David finished with his summer German course, and in addition to his Fall courses he has picked up a part-time TA position with his advisor helping with an “Intro to Anglican Theology” class. We definitely appreciated having a few weeks to explore the city a little bit before his courses started up for the Fall term. The boys are fascinated by all the cars, buildings, and construction. Hehe. They are also loving that the college has a playground setup right outside our back door (so helpful!). We have so appreciated your prays during this transition! The next couple years are definitely going to be a little different from what we’re used to, but we’re excited to see how God is going to use us here, and where He will take us next!

Prayer Requests

  • Please pray that the Lord will provide for our needs. Regular support continues to dip, and we are in need of new financial partners for our ministry.

  • Please pray that the boys continue to adjust to new home. They’re doing pretty well with everything, but Austin has started to get scared being left alone in his room for naps/bedtime.

  • Please pray for David during his Fall semester.

  • Please pray that we are able to minister well to those around us during this time of transition.

  • Please continue to pray that we are able to discern where God is calling us next.

Thank you all for your prayers, and for your support for our ministry: it means the world to us. We’ll give you another update soon … until then, God bless you all very much!

From the Heart

Heartfelt greetings to you all from the heartland of the United States! Our family is doing well, and we pray yours is as well. It’s time for an update on our stay in Indiana as it comes to a close, and a preview of what our ministry, study and life will be like in Canada in a very short time.

Time has flown since the end of the semester. The University of Toronto’s “Winter Term” wrapped up for me in mid-April, and I am pleased to report that I did very well in my coursework. That said, it has taken me almost all of the last two months to feel like life has returned to normal after the stress of final papers and exams. And it has been time well spent: I have been able to help Mary Beth a lot more with the boys, with yard and house work, and with the beginning stages of unpacking and then repacking those of our belongings from Belize that arrived here in March. Although I have also begun work on a thesis prospectus – something I will need to submit to my committee around year’s end – and although I will be working on reading academic German theology, these things have not been the focus of our lives right now. Instead, many of our family’s conversations have revolved around how God will be leading us in ministry moving forward, and what shapes that ministry might eventually take: whether in Toronto, or whether on the mission field once again.

With respect to our move to Toronto, we have good news to report. As of this week, we have signed an agreement with student housing at Wycliffe College and come August our family will be living in a two-bedroom apartment on campus. This is a tremendous answer to prayer: not only is it the least expensive of the housing options we have explored in downtown Toronto, but it will put us solidly in the heart of community life at Wycliffe, something that we have been looking forward to since accepting the College’s offer in April of last year. After such a long period of isolation and distancing and uncertainty, knowing that we will be surrounded by a worshiping and studying community of believers is truly energizing. Given how scarce student family housing is at the University of Toronto, and at Wycliffe especially, we give thanks to God for this opportunity, and to you for praying so faithfully for our family’s wellbeing. The Lord is good!

This all means that we are also having to figure out how to make our move to Toronto happen by August. The largest pieces of that puzzle involve what COVID-19 travel restrictions will be in force on the border at that time. As a number of journalists have recently noted (for example, here and here), following their country’s huge spring surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Canada’s border with the United States (the longest in the world) is still closed to most travelers, and those who are allowed across are required to quarantine for fourteen days. Although I now have my Canadian Study Permit – and therefore we qualify to cross the border – unless Canada relaxes some of its requirements we will have to quarantine for those two weeks. This introduces a whole host of hurdles to settling in our new digs: not only will it be rough quarantining for fourteen days with a two-year-old who practically lives outdoors, but the restrictions suggest we may not be able to return a rental truck, forcing us to ship our belongings (again) rather than bring them up with us ourselves. For these reasons, please pray that the border opens to families like ours such that we won’t have to quarantine long upon arrival, or at least that we can figure out the how of quarantine with little extra cost to our bank account or to our collective sanity.

The boys are doing really well. James is scooting, sitting, climbing, standing, balancing, and trying his absolute best to get everyone’s attention all the time. He’s begun competing with his brother for toys and things to munch on, but in general he adores Austin and loves (most) of every minute of attention that he gets from him. And we should mention that on the Great Day of Pentecost James was baptized into Christ, surrounded by family and friends at the church we have been attending in person since last month. We are still so blessed with this newest addition to our family!

Austin is still an avid reader, and he’s been signed up at the local public library to receive a prize every time he reads a hundred books … a feat that takes him only a handful of days before he’s on to the next set. After months of relative isolation Austin has also really been enjoying being back in contact with other children. Some of this contact is at playgrounds and public parks, but a large dose of it is with the other children at church. We are so grateful for his steady transformation from infant to child, and a day without hearing his (surprisingly intelligible) babble is unimaginable.

We are still connecting with our new church in Toronto as much as we can before arriving. Although since May we have not been able to join their Zoom worship like we had been doing, we are now privileged to form part of one of their online small groups, and we are enjoying the new connections and partners in prayer. Mary Beth has agreed to be one of the many musicians accompanying worship when we arrive in Toronto, and I have been asked to collaborate on refining the church’s website. We are very curious to see what doors for service the Lord will open through this vibrant community of believers, especially since their weekly worship will be taking place on Sunday afternoons at the Wycliffe College chapel … just a stone’s throw from our new apartment.

Finances at this time are rather tight, as our regular readers can imagine. Just as I predicted in my February update, in March we had to accept a 40% reduction in our salaries, and while we have been able to make this new budget work in rural Indiana, it will be much harder in Toronto, since our monthly rent will have gone up by about 50%. Still, we are deeply grateful for all of your financial contributions to our family’s ministry through SAMS: despite the deficits, your gifts are making this transition to a new kind of mission possible, and we thank all who have made ongoing or one-time donations to our missionary account.

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As we look to the future, beyond the next three or four years of ongoing education and preparation, we ask you again to join with us in praying for God’s leading even now. We are seeking to make connections with dioceses, seminaries and churches with whom together we could serve our Lord Jesus Christ in raising up new disciples and new leaders. And if he thus leads you, we ask you prayerfully to answer his call and commit to partnering with us financially even now in preparation for what he has envisioned for us next.

So, from all us at Team Alenskis, we pray that the Lord will bless, keep and preserve you … and we thank you for doing the same on our behalf. Have a wonderful rest of your summer!