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!

By the Numbers

By the Numbers

A big, giant hello from Belize! It’s now the middle of February, and we have celebrated Christmas and the New Year, contracted the flu and probably passed it around, and have been taking time to go over 2019 and plan for 2020. I know Mary Beth’s updates are a lot more colorful and fun than mine, but I wanted to have a chance to get into the quantitative details of how things are going—where we’re at in our Central American ministry and North American financial support—and give some steps for how you can be a part of supporting our service here before we get too far into this new year.

The State of Your Missionaries

In general, we have been taking a more gradual approach to reentry this time around than we did in 2016. Much of this comes from five months of reflection while we were in the United States: we were anxious, stressed and burned-out by June of last year, and we want to approach our re-entry cautiously to make sure that we are investing for long-term fruit rather than short-term results. Even more of our caution probably comes from having a handsome, intelligent, growing 10-month-old that has shifted schedules from those of adventurous newlyweds to go-to-bed-by-nine parents. We want to make sure that we set up functional routines, healthy expectations, and an adequate balance between attention to our parishioners and attention to our family. All that’s to say, we’re not yet doing everything that we had been this same time last year, and for now we think that’s probably okay. And as we create space and take time to wait on God to show us how best to serve, we are seeing new ways that God shows up and does astonishing things we were not expecting.

What we have been doing is sticking to the basics: preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, meeting with the sick (when we don’t have the flu), serving at the schools and mentoring our up-and-coming youth leaders. As Mary Beth has seen her schedule revolve more around Austin, much of our labor in these theaters of ministry has been taken up by her lesser half, but she has restarted planning and accompanying music at St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s, and her Bible study for high school girls is in full swing.

And now, let me get down to brass tacks. January is almost always a time for reflection, evaluation and planning as we prepare for our Annual General Meetings and other year-end (or year-beginning) obligations, and this past year has been no exception. Building on last Sunday’s AGMs, I want to share some insights that I presented regarding the state of our churches, and then I want to give you an update on where things stand financially for our family’s mission and what our current needs are at this time.

The State of Our Churches

Sunday Attendance: Combined Quarterly Medians by Month

It is always difficult for a pastor to be away from his church(es) for an extended period of time, and although St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s are used to it, it does not make it any easier. Although 2019 opened with lower attendance at both St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s, our averages were still on the high side. That changed with our departure to the United States for our triennial Home Ministry Assignment. Although we were blessed with the presence of Evan and Missy Hansen as medium-term “Bridger” missionaries in our absence, they were limited in the roles that they could take on, and although our churches were not without an instrumentalist on Sunday or a licensed counselor throughout the week, much of our momentum was lost.

Sunday Attendance: Average over Weeks 25–47

In fact, at St. Andrew’s the average Sunday attendance for Weeks 25–47 (covering the Sundays we were away last year) dropped by one third compared to the previous year. I am convinced that we would have lost even more momentum had the Hansens not been here in our absence to shore up our churches, and we are so grateful to them for keeping many aspects of ministry going while we were gone. They are truly missed. But two things make this dip in attendance worrisome.

For starters, during my previous Home Ministry Assignment in 2016, St. Andrew’s average attendance did not dip at all; in fact, it increased slightly. Part of that may be that a lay minister and deacon took the lead while I was undergoing deputation, but part of that may also be changes in the composition of our churches. I would add to this an observation that our Third Quarter’s median attendance at St. Andrew’s has decreased for the last six years, from 56 in 2014 to 29 by 2019. This value reflects a decrease in the commitment of our membership to attend frequently, seen especially in the summer months when our students’ attendance is not encouraged to the same degree. St. Hilda’s attendance figures have more nuance to them, and have bounced back faster than St. Andrew’s, but we still see a decline in regular attendance from a peak in 2017.

My address to St. Andrew’s last Sunday reflected the obstacles to growth that I see related to these and other numbers. Here’s how I put it to our largest congregation:

  1. We need to stop seeing a single person, or small group of persons being the center of our church and its life. Jesus Christ is the only head, the great High Priest, the only Good Shepherd of his people, and having poured out his Holy Spirit on all flesh we are all called to participate and act in his service rather than become spectators and watch someone else serve in Christ’s name alone. This is always a temptation, but our failure to place Christ as the head of our community is most obviously seen when the priest is gone.

  2. We need to reinvigorate our sense of community. Our congregation is not presently a body that tends to seek out ways to meet much outside of Sunday worship, whether in a kind of discipleship group or just to hang out and enjoy one another’s company. Not only do we need to become more hospitable to visitors, we need to build stronger relationships with each other if we are going to allow our congregation to become a real community.

  3. We need to transform our church from a low-commitment model of membership to a high-commitment model of membership. Noting our low attendance and low giving for 2019 and citing the Catechism of the Church in the Province of the West Indies, I pointed out that the duty of every Christian is to fellowship weekly with other believers while worshipping the Lord, and to work, give and pray for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom. This high level of commitment is inescapable if we are to be the church that our Lord is calling us and making us to be.

In the end, I see the ebb in attendance and the barriers to growth that we are experiencing as an opportunity for us to trust the Lord for the maturity we long to see, and for us to get back to the basics of what it means to be the church. As Mary Beth, Austin and I gradually reenter ministry, we are trying to take time to pray and discern how God will use us and our other leaders this next year in ministry, and imagine creatively how we can join with him our Vine in pursuing the fruit he is requiring of us as his branches.

Money Matters

It’s high time that we also gave you an update on how things are going for us financially since our time on Home Ministry Assignment. Our time in the United States was amazing, exhausting, beautiful, stressful, and everything in between! But one question that remained to see after we returned was: did we meet our financial goals during our travels?

The quick answer is … not entirely. Our support is as consistently high as it has every been, and giving did not really decrease while we were in the United States. This was a huge answer to our prayers. And in fact, a few churches and individuals have increased their annual pledge to our ministry. But we are still significantly short of the amount we would need to increase our salary following the addition of Austin to our team, as well as to cover his medical insurance. Without belaboring the point, if you have been considering partnering with us through a monthly or quarterly gift, now would be an excellent time to set it up. Even small gifts add up quickly, and we are deeply grateful for (and very dependent upon) every single one of our supporters.

Let me add (since quite a few people have asked), it goes without saying that we have not met our goal of adding a housing allowance to rent somewhere else, as this was a lower priority to that of covering Austin’s place on our missionary team. On the other hand, God is so good: our neighborhood is still much louder than we would prefer, but things have ended up quieting down a bit while we were away—an incredible answer to prayer, and a reason to stay in the Rectory … at least for the time being.

Percentages: Expense Report and Reimbursements

A very pressing financial matter for us however is that we just applied to SAMS to be reimbursed for our operational and discretionary expenses, covering a period from just before Austin was born through early this week. We had not wanted our missionary account to drop too low, especially while we were on the road traveling across the United States, and so we just saved our receipts and hung onto them. But it was almost past time, and we needed to file our expense report and request our reimbursement.

Although there are sufficient funds in our account to cover the reimbursement, it brings our account balance much lower than it should go … not a good sign as we embark on new things. We are asking that you consider giving a one-time donation to our ministry so that we can get our missionary account back to a better position. Your gift will be going to help cover everything from Austin’s delivery in Belize and doctors’ visits in the United States, to plane tickets and hotels on the road and fuel for the 14,000 miles we drove, to research materials for my ongoing preparation for further graduate training. If you are able, we would be very grateful for anything you could contribute as we stabilize our missionary account balance moving forward.

Much Love from Team Alenskis!

Let me wrap things up here by just reiterating how grateful we are for your prayers, for your gifts, for your reception for us while we were traveling across the United States and for your remembering of us since we came back two months ago. It means the world to us that you would partner with us in this ever-evolving, truly progressing global ministry of the Gospel. Shoot us a message whenever you get a chance: we would love to hear from you, and we will keep you updated again very soon!

Finally Back!

Well we have officially finished our time of deputation in the States and are now back home in Belize. It has been both wonderful and exhausting. We had the chance to visit so many different family members, see old friends, and visit churches across the country as we crisscrossed the States. I think I was very ready to come to the U.S. when we arrived in June. After Austin was born I became very aware of how far away family live and I was really looking forward to spending some quality time together while we were on deputation. It really was amazing to get to stay with so many different family members and friends. I think Austin did a fantastic job meeting new people! Thank you to all of you who prayed for us in our travels. I think Austin could either have ended up extra clingy and fussy with so much time in the car (and getting passed to countless new people), or he could have ended up being a very relaxed and happy baby—he’s the latter. God has blessed us with a happy, chill, and social baby. While he still is not a fan of his car seat, he did an amazing job with a constantly changing routine. We will truly miss everyone we got to see in the States and we can’t wait until the next time we meet again!

On the flip side though, we were very ready to go home to Belize. Although we posted so many fun pictures of places we’d gotten to visit, family days, or time with friends, what we couldn’t share were the thousands of miles on the road driving (over 17,000 miles), the hotel rooms, living out of suitcases, lugging around a computer to work from each place we stopped at … it was exhausting. We made sure to make time for family outings and fun breaks (the majority of our pictures), but we were also working a lot (the majority of our time). I think deputation (our “Home Ministry Assignment” stateside) was a good chance to take a step back from ministry on the ground (in our case Belize), to spend time in our home culture, and get a better perspective on our ministry. When we left Belize in June, I think both David and I were pretty burned out and our time in the States was a good refreshment and encouragement that prepared us ready and excited to return to ministry in Belize. 

So now we’re back and there is this sort of a “Now What?” feeling. Our time in the States was the longest I’ve ever been away from home traveling. And then you add an infant to the equation to get 5 ½ months of ever changing routines and locations. To finally be in one place—our place—for a large chunk of time is a strange adjustment. Not only am I readjusting to my house, but I’m figuring out what our life will look like here with Austin. We left Belize when he was 2 ½ months old, so we still hadn’t completely figured out a routine with him. Now we’re back and he has a nap schedule, he’s sleeping in his nursery for the first time upstairs (while we sleep downstairs), I’ve made him lots of baby food (that he currently hates) that I’m storing in the freezer, and I’m figuring out what my own schedule looks like (in regards to music ministry) with Austin. As a whole there is just a lot to adjust to. It’s exciting to finally be able to really see what our lives will look like here as a family!

But there is also a lot to adjust to just by being back in Belize. I don’t think I had really anticipated culture shock coming back; after all, this is where I live. I figured we would step back in our house and it would finally feel like I had returned home after months of travel. It really surprised me that this was not the case. Belize (and even my house) feel both very familiar and incredibly foreign. I think people often forget that for missionaries, sometimes nowhere really feels like home … at least at times. My “home” is here in Belize (my house, life, family, work) and my “home” is also in the States (my culture, extended family, close friends). This means that both—and neither—are “home.” When you’re in one, part of you always misses the other. And while I wouldn’t trade it for the world (I love being a missionary!), I’m acutely aware of that particular feeling, both in the States and now that we’re back in Belize. I think it’s always there in the background, but it always surprises me when it suddenly becomes obvious again. It’ll become an afterthought again here in a few weeks, but until then I get to ponder some of the strange things that come with being a missionary.

I’ve finished unpacking (which is pretty good for me since I normally just continue living out of the suitcases until they naturally empty … oops), and now we start preparing for Christmas. And what better way to prepare for Christmas than to really lean into Advent? We decided to make the Daily Office the center of our Advent as a family. While David and I have done the Daily Office together often since getting married, we’ve also found that our schedules differ enough that lots of times we just do it alone. But we’ve decided that we want that specific time of devotion to be a daily family routine. David is even teaching me how to chant the service! (I’ll get back to you on how that goes … hehe). 

David has jumped right back into ministry here as well: St. Andrew’s Day and the First Sunday in Advent fell the next day after we got back. It was pretty special to be home for that Sunday, and David loved getting to celebrate the Eucharist again after months of being away! So, while on one hand we have hit the ground running, on the other we are just now getting to discover our life here as a family.

I’m sure there will be plenty more to tell you all here pretty soon, after all this is one of the busiest times in any church (and there are sure to be interesting shenanigans to come with Austin), and we have some serious financial needs looming now that we have returned from deputation. But for now I’ll leave you with this “short” update. I just wanted to let you guys know, “We’re back!” and to thank you again for all of your support, especially since we were away for so long. Please continue to keep us in your prayers and we’ll keep you in ours! Happy Advent!

Halfway Through

It’s hard to believe we’ve already been in the States for three months. I don’t know if time is flying because of all the traveling, or if it’s flying because my son is now five-and-a-half months old (how did that happen?). I’m sorry for not updating you all sooner on our Home Ministry Assignment. Right now our little family is on its last days of a two-week vacation in Lake Lure, NC. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been looking forward to this vacation for over a year. Three-and-a-half years ago David took me here for our honeymoon, so it’s especially fun to be back now as we reflect on how much has changed in just a few short years (it still amazes me that we’re parents!). This vacation has also been a nice time for us to just take a break—just us—before hitting the road again. We have been incredibly blessed in our travels to have so much family living that we’ve been able to stay with while visiting churches all across the United States. We were kind of dreading all of this cross-country travel with an infant, but the generosity of family and new friends to host us has been truly incredible. Thank you to all those who have opened up your homes to us so far on our journey!

At this point we are just over halfway through our time here in the States. We started off this adventure with about six weeks staying with David’s parents in Indiana as we visited churches in the Midwest (Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky). Not only did we love getting to spend time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, but it was wonderful getting to see so many of our supporters as we shared about what God has been doing in Belize. We want to say thank you again to Alliance Bible Church (Richmond), Christ the King (Dayton), St. Barnabas’ (Covington), and St. Peter’s (Frankfort) for hosting us.

After our time in the Midwest we packed up the car (I don’t know how we got everything to fit!) and headed down to Texas. Texas actually reminded us of Belize with the very hot weather! Once again we had amazing hosts who were perfectly happy to take our family in as we visited churches in the area. Thank you again to our host family and to Church of the Incarnation (Dallas) and Christ the Redeemer (Rowlett). We loved getting to spend time with all of you!

Next we took Austin for his four month vaccines before heading out the same day to drive to Florida. Surprisingly that was actually Austin’s best day in the car, praise be to God! In Florida we were able to stay with David’s aunt (whom we hadn’t seen since our wedding), and then an amazing family from church took us in while we visited St. Peter’s (Tallahassee). Thank you again for your wonderful hospitality!

After our time in Florida we headed up to Georgia for the next few weeks. Thankfully I have tons of family in Georgia who were only too happy to host us. I had an especially good time as my sister, brother and their families, and even my dad, came down to see us while we were in town. As a whole, it was a wonderful stay. We enjoyed getting to visit new churches, see family, and have a nice place to stay while getting a lot of work done. Thank you to everyone: we loved getting to see you!

So now here we are in North Carolina for our two weeks of “down time” before attending the SAMS’s All Society Retreat followed by the New Wineskins Missions Conference next week. We are very excited to be back for these events (they only happen every three years), so that we can reconnect with missionaries from all over the world as we come together to worship and learn. After that we will start the long trek West to visit more people and churches (Colorado, Washington, new Mexico, California, and Arizona). I ask your continued prayers for our little family as we travel, share about Belize, and raise support for the future. Austin is not a huge fan of his car seat, and the longest part of our journey is yet to come. If we’re coming to your area and you want to get together please feel free to get in touch with us! There are more churches to visit than we have Sundays for in the last couple of months here in the States, but we would still love to see you and share about everything God is doing. Let’s get coffee! Thank you again to everyone, and if we haven’t seen you, hopefully we’ll see you soon. 

All About Austin

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

1. Austin Arrives

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

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

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

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

2. Austin Begins Life

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

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

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

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

3. Austin Is Coming to Visit

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

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

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

Threshold #1: Funding for Austin

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

Threshold #2: Housing Allowance

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

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

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

Threshold #3: Continuing Education

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

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

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

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

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

4. Prayers for Austin and His Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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