Unexpected Ministry

Unexpected Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Baby Update

A New Baby Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.