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).
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.
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!
The Alenskis Family