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!). 

IMG_4869.jpeg

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.

Alenskis-66.jpeg

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!

Here Am I, Send Me

Happy Easter!

One of my favorite parts about the Church Calendar is that we are not limited to one day of celebration. We didn’t celebrate Christmas for one day, we got twelve! And now we get fifty whole days to celebrate our Lord rising from the dead in this season of Easter! This is now our second Easter in the States (weird, right?), since we arrived right before Easter last year. That’s right folks, it’s now been over a year since we evacuated from Belize. It’s still hard to have left so quickly and to not have said a proper goodbye to those whom we love and have served with for many years, but we’re confident we will see all our Belizean friends and family again someday (and then they can finally meet James!).

One of the things that had been very consistent about our time in Belize was that Easter was always the hottest time of year. I remember thinking, right before I gave birth to Austin, that we could have timed that better since it was SO hot. But while there were more beautiful flowers and lush green trees around Easter, that was also something that was reliable all year (beautiful and green). Even when I lived in San Diego I could appreciate the beautiful flowers of Spring, but it also never really got the look of Winter. I have now come through my first winter in the Midwest. We had the lush green summer. We had the colorful fall where it looked like each tree was hand painted. We had the cold winter where everything was suddenly stark and bare. And now we’re in spring with new life just starting to sprout up. I remember David telling me that he always loved Easter in the Midwest because it fit so perfectly with the season (he probably phrased it way better than that). But there’s something about going through Lent (which seems longer every year) and being surrounded by death, where even nature looks kind of hopeless, and then right about the time of Easter: life! So, while the weather is still leaning chilly (although we’re starting to have more warm days), the end is in sight. The flowers are blooming. The trees are budding. He is risen!

So now for the family update. When last we wrote we mentioned how our plans to return to Belize to pack out our stuff and say goodbye had changed as the church was in need of the rectory sooner than our travel would allow. We also mentioned that my mom was able to go down to Belize to help organize our stuff a little to be shipped. Well, we are happy to say it arrived here to Indiana (way faster than we anticipated!). While we still have a few things left in Belize to sell, it is very nice to have most of our possessions back with us after a year. I also have to add, it is truly amazing to have a God that answers prayers you didn’t even know you had to pray. When we planned to return to Belize, it was going to be in the summer so that we could ship our stuff straight up to Toronto and our new home. So finding out the majority of our house was going to be arriving early could have been very stressful. We are currently renting a very small furnished home in Indiana (no space for our belongings). Except that in this cozy home there just happens to a completely empty basement that was able to accommodate all the boxes! We didn’t know when we were looking for a place to rent that we would need to find somewhere with a lot of storage space, and yet here we are in the perfect house that God provided for our temporary stay in the States. It also has the added benefit of treating homesickness (in that the basement now smells like home since it’s full of our stuff).

Speaking of this house, I’m doing much better since we moved. In the last update that I wrote I was having a really hard time with being away from home and stuck in a sort of limbo, but getting our own place has really helped me start adjusting to our new life. We will always cherish the time we spent living with family, but there is something nice about being just us. Even so, we are less than ten minutes from grandparents and taking full advantage of the closeness while we have it! It is strange to think that we are coming up on moving again already. While we don’t have dates yet, we are planning on heading up to Toronto by the beginning of August. This may sound weird, but I’m excited to being moving out of the States. Don’t get me wrong, I love the U.S., and I’ve enjoyed being back for a time, but I found from my four years in Belize that I love serving in another culture. I miss being on the mission field. Even though I agree that your own backyard can be your mission field, I don’t think that’s what God has planned for us right now. We may not have an address yet for where God is calling us after David finishes school, but we still feel called to go. It’s strange for me, never having felt called to the missionary life growing up, to not have a solid plan yet, but I keeping thinking of Isaiah saying, “Here am I. Send me!” Maybe for right now it’s enough just to be willing to go.

I say that, but trust me, we are actively discerning where God is calling us next. David just finished up his first year courses at Wycliffe College (I can’t believe he has one year down already!), and while the classes have been challenging, he is doing a fine job. I’ll take a second to brag here that not only is he working hard to do well in his classes, but he is also making sure to take time for his family (even if that means late nights and early mornings). While it can be distracting for him to have us around while he’s working (we live in pretty tight quarters), I love that the boys get to see their daddy throughout the day. David works in the foyer and Austin has taken to running to the door, knocking, and calling “Daddy” when he needs his Daddy fix. It’s adorable! The fact that David has already finished one year of his program is proving to us that the time is already flying by and we will soon be returning to the mission field. Until that point we’re excited to see how God will use Toronto as our new mission field for the short time that we are in residence. We are happily getting involved with our new church, even if it’s currently over Zoom, and looking forward to plugging in even more in person (they’ve even asked me to join the music team when we arrive!).

Concerning our churches in Belize, we are happy to report that they are finally open again to in-person services. It took a long time, but the parishioners are now able to come together and worship. Yay! I was excited to see both churches all decorated for Easter (and talk to some parishioners about how things are moving forward). Please continue to pray for our churches in Belize as they continue to transition. They have a great team of people working hard to get things moving, but it is still going to take a lot of work. As for our boys, they are both doing very well. Austin just turned two-years-old and got to celebrate with cake (that he refused to eat – minus the M&Ms) and fun times with family. James is getting so big and positively adores rolling around after his brother. Those two are going to be thick as thieves. And we, of course, are loving getting to raise these two goofy, frustrating, loving boys!

I should probably call it quits or I’ll keep rambling for another few hundred words (I’m pretty good at rambling on – especially when I’m up late). But we want to thank you all again for your continued prayers and support. This time of transition is still new for our family. And while we might not always know exactly what the mission field is going to look like, we do know that God will use us wherever we are (transition and after).

Prayer Requests!

Student Housing

Please pray that we are offered student housing before we move to Toronto. Student family housing is considerably cheaper and would be very helpful for our family.

David’s Doctoral Studies

Please pray for David and the work he has to do for his degree program.

Sleep for Our Kids

Please pray that our boys consistently sleep through the night. They had been doing really well at sleeping, but it is kind of all over the place now and both stresses me out as well as keeps me from sleeping.

Selling our Truck

Please pray that we can quickly sell our truck in Belize for a good price – this is made much harder since we are not there in person.

Churches/Ministry Team in Belize

Please pray for the churches we left in Belize. They are just starting up services again – which is it’s own challenge as they navigate COVID-19 restrictions – as well as transitioning to new leadership since we left.

Missionary Support

Please pray for our continued missionary financial support. We are still missionaries through our mission’s society – SAMS – but this is a time of training and transition, which can always be a little tough. Please pray that we maintain support throughout our time in Toronto so that we can immediately return to the mission field once David receives his degree.

Our Mission Partners

Please pray for our mission partners. They are truly an incredibly important part of our mission team and amazing people.

Discernment for the Future

Please pray for our discernment of where God is calling us to go next. We are in the process of talking with different people around the world to see where we are needed, but we want to make sure we go where God is calling us.

Ten Years a Missionary

Ten Years a Missionary

 

Writing to you from the frozen north of the United States is such a remarkably different experience compared to where we were posting from this same time last year. I was up early this morning shoveling our walkway of the six-to-eight inches of snow that had accumulated overnight, and pondering what I had heard of the weather in Belize last week—which I have on good authority was in the low 90s. But here we are in Indiana, surrounded by the white fluffy stuff and the withering winds because we believe that the Lord is calling us onward to new ministry endeavors and a new missionary vocation, and as I sit down in this week to start squeezing out some papers on Denys the Areopagite, John of Damascus and Hans Urs von Balthasar, it is that thought that is keeping me going. That, and another cup of coffee to spark some nimble inspiration into these fingers.

In this update I want to focus on three things: 1) how my studies are going, 2) how our family is doing, and 3) how our financial situation is evolving. We feel that you, our supporters deserve a thorough briefing on all these things, to assist you in your prayers, to help you feel connected to our little family, and to guide you as you prayerfully join us in this ministry and vocation to which the Lord is even now still calling us.

1. Doctoral Studies

I am very pleased to report that I survived the first semester of my doctoral coursework in theology at the University of Toronto! (I say University of Toronto because although I am a student at Wycliffe College, the academic side of things is managed through the broader University, and consequently I have been taking classes at a number of other colleges within the Toronto School of Theology.) The classes have been harder than I was hoping, though not more difficult than I could have reasonably expected, and I am grateful for the opportunity to reintroduce myself to academia before having to write a dissertation, which is what would have been expected of me if I had accepted an offer from a university in the United Kingdom.

I’ll admit: it has been difficult getting back in the swing of academic work, particularly when it came to picking up again the habit of focused writing. Since graduating in 2009 with my MDiv, I would sometimes write out sermons (although with less and less frequency), and I wrote small pieces that ended up online in blog posts or church newsletters. I had kept up on my theological reading, and even bettered my skill in the biblical languages, but this past spring was the first time in over a decade that I have had to write essays of the caliber and length that would satisfy the expectations of a graduate program in theology. Moreover, when lack of practice was not holding me back, anxiety would step in and keep me from getting very far. But with the help of God’s grace, I was able to get my essays finished and polished before the close of the Fall term, and I was very pleased with the grades that I received in all my classes. To God alone be the glory!

Some of you might be interested in what courses I have been taking (if not, skip ahead to the next paragraph!). Last term, in addition to a standard class on research and scholarship that all incoming doctoral students had to take, I was privileged to take a seminar with W. David Neelands on the English reformer Richard Hooker, whose writings will most likely figure very prominently in my dissertation. The class I enjoyed the most however was a seminar on “theodicy” in early modern theology, led by my adviser Ephraim Radner. It may have been a little off-topic with respect to my long-term research interests (Christology, anthropology and cosmology during the “Long Reformation”), but I found it not only intellectually stimulating but personally challenging as we thought through the history of Christian responses to evil and suffering. During the Winter term I am currently juggling three rather demanding courses, all of which are led by experts in their fields: a class on Hans Urs von Balthasar led by Sr. Gill Goulding, a seminar on the sacraments taught by Joseph Mangina, and another taught by Robert Sweetman entitled “Rhetoric as ‘Philosophy’ from Isocrates to the Age of Abelard and Heloise” (the name’s a mouthful, and the workload is certainly a handful).

This should leave me with just two more courses to take in the summer and/or fall terms of this year. Since (as of last month) I have completed my language requirements (French and Latin), the projected schedule of my doctoral work should be:

  • Complete the rest of my coursework by December 2021;

  • Have my prospectus accepted by the end of February 2022;

  • Complete my comprehensive examinations by August 2022;

  • Have my dissertation proposal accepted sometime during the Fall of 2022.

This would keep me on track to defend and complete my dissertation (Lord willing) by Spring of 2024. During this dissertation phase of my doctoral program, I will also be expected to serve as a Teaching or Research Assistant for the experience it will afford.

So this is where I am at with my studies. Although I am just beginning a very long process, it is going well, and I would ask you to keep me in your prayers. Please pray that I am able to focus and perform well in the classes I am taking now, and that the Lord would prepare the way for the new academic challenges that will begin by the end of this calendar year!

2. Our Family

Mary Beth and the boys (or, as she likes to spell it, the “boyz”) are doing well! After eight months of living with family—first her parents, and then mine—we were able to find a small, furnished two-bedroom place in my Indiana hometown to rent until we are able to relocate to Toronto … Lord willing this coming summer. (My Study Permit was approved, but it was approved too late for us to move up there right now.) We love our little house, and although our living expenses are going up, we are so grateful to be able to have a place of our own to be together as a family.

James is getting so big! At five months already, he is incredibly smiley (if also a bit clingy), strong and active, and he is much more of a lover of music than Austin every was. The doctors are very happy with his progress, and we could not be happier having him now as part of the family … indeed, life without James seems unimaginable. He absolutely loves Austin, and he’s desperate for any amount of playtime that Austin can give him. Austin is happy to return the favor, and loves making James smile, although we are still working a bit on the whole “sharing” thing, of course.

Austin is now a full-blown toddler: he often talks in whole phrases, and he’s curious about everything, wants to help with everything, and wants to push the boundaries on everything. We love it … and we love him so much! His favorite things in the world right now are trucks, airplanes, balls, but far and away above everything else: sticks. He’s intrigued by snow, but he doesn’t love to be out in it, which is okay with us since we don’t love to be out in it as well. He’s learning to pray, which is hard because even adults find it difficult to focus during prayer, but he is starting to love the songs we do during prayer time, and he’ll cut his prayers short to try and go straight to the songs. And he adores any time that he can see his grandparents, whom we still get to see a couple of times a week now. In short, this kid is great, and we are so blessed that God has entrusted him to our care.

One of the big things that has happened for our family since we last wrote an update is that our plan to return to Belize in the summer to pack out has had to change (again!). St. Andrew’s let us know in January that certain financial pressures due to the pandemic were requiring them to rent out the Rectory, and the decision was made to have them ship our belongings to us—without our going back for them. Initially we were hoping to sell many of our possessions, but it appears that most of them will actually be put in a container and shipped across the Caribbean to Miami, where they will be delivered to our house in Indiana.

Because my going would have been impossible due to the demands of my studies, and traveling with children during a pandemic has been unadvisable for Mary Beth, her mother went down to San Ignacio in our place for a couple of days last week to help organize things and carry our most delicate possessions back with her, and it appears that this week the container with our things will be packed up and sent on its way. In all honesty I can say that we have seen God’s hand move in amazing ways not only to allow her to go down on our behalf, but also to see how God used her during that time in Belize to touch people’s lives, even if briefly. Indeed, this whole season has been a testament to our family that God is able to arrange the details better than we ever could, and to take care of things that we could not even have anticipated. We are getting a whole new lesson in how to trust God regardless of what circumstances might suggest, a painful lesson to relearn again and again but one that forms the backbone of the missionary vocation to which he has called us.

Still, this has been unbelievably difficult for us: we have been desperate to be back in Belize to close out our time with our people there on a better note, to say goodbye in the best way possible, as we we gradually packed up the Rectory and made our way to this next location. We first thought it would be last summer that we would have packed up, and then we were looking toward this coming summer. Now however it is unlikely that we will be back in Belize for a long time, perhaps not until after my doctoral studies have come to an end. This fact has been heartbreaking for me and Mary Beth, and we ask you to join us in praying for our friends and parishioners, our churches and schools back in Belize, as they move on as well without us, with new initiatives, new vision and new leadership. We genuinely believe that God has got them in his hands, and we are trusting that he has our little family in those same hands as well.

3. Our Financial Situation

Predictably this move is not going to be inexpensive: we are forecasting that all told the moving expenses will be around $7,000 (USD) after everything is said and done, and it looks like we will be selling fewer and fewer items in Belize to cover those expenses. If it can be sold at full value the Nissan pickup truck that I purchased in 2014 should cover these costs, but we are not sure how long it will take it to sell at that price. Please pray that we are able to sell the truck for its full value—and that very soon—along with the other belongings that are being left behind for sale.

 

I write this at the same time that our missionary support has reached new lows. I’ll get right to the point: there is now a $3,300 gap each month between pledged/regular gifts to our ministry and the ministry’s bare-minimum expenses (salary, health insurance, taxes, and pension). The issue is not whether Mary Beth and I will need to take a pay cut, but how much of a pay cut we will each need to take, and we will be having precisely that conversation with our leadership at SAMS over the next couple of weeks. We still need to work the numbers, but we anticipate the need for a decrease of 30–40% in our salaries.

This is not entirely unexpected—we always knew that there would be some drop in our support as we prioritized this new stage of training for future missionary service over how we had until recently been serving in Belize—and of course the effects of COVID-19 have amplified the likelihood that we would see a drop. But now that we have come into 2021, it is time to take stock realistically of the resources that the Lord is entrusting to us and work out how best to use them for his glory and for his kingdom.

As we enter this new season of diminished resources and heightened demands, we are so grateful for each one of you who has been dedicated to supporting us in our ministry. Whether you have been “on the team” since I first went out as a full-time SAMS missionary ten years ago next month (!!!), or whether you have only recently signed up to be a part of how God is calling us in this next stage of international service, you are a tremendous instrument of his blessing to me and to Mary Beth, and to our “boyz.”

I should also add that if the Lord is leading you to make a gift to our ongoing ministry as missionaries-in-transition, I cannot think of a better time to do so. Not only are we looking for new partners who would be willing to make a regular gift to our ministry, we would be so grateful for any one-time gifts. Even a single gift can help provide our missionary account with a little financial margin so that, as we move ahead with adjusted salaries, we will not need to readjust them a second time in the near future.

So from all of us here at Team Alenskis, whether you are trapped in the snow or sweating in the tropics, we love you and we wish you all the best. Please keep us in your prayers! (And a blessed Lent to you as well!)

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