All Good Things

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Can you believe it’s the end of December already? This year has really flown by (especially the past few months). I think the holiday season always tends to go by quickly, since there is so much going on here in the church, but I think it has also gone extra fast because I feel like being pregnant is a very fast nine month countdown (only four more to go!). Crazy, I know!

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Since this baby is the biggest thing on my mind these days, I’ll give you a quick update there and then fill you in on the many things we’ve been up to these past two months.

For those of you who may have missed my announcement on facebook; we’re having boy! David and I couldn’t be more excited to meet our son in just a few months. I can’t believe we can almost say our baby is arriving this year. So far at five months pregnant everything is still going smoothly. Other than being hungry and sleepy all the time, I’m feeling pretty well. We were a little concerned for about a month about some complications, but with extra progesterone pills and lots of prayers everything is now looking completely normal. One of the things I’m loving the most are my doctor’s appointments every month. My OBGYN always checks on the baby with the ultrasound machine just for my regular checkups. There is something amazing about seeing the baby move more and more with each appointment (and seeing so many extra details each time). The last appointment we actually got to see him sucking his thumb. So cute! If any of you are interested, I’ve put together a baby registry on Amazon of a few things we’re looking to have shipped to my parent’s house (all things that could pretty easily fit in a suitcase). While we’re still planning on having the baby here in Belize, some things are either difficult to find or just more expensive here in country.

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Ok, now for the many Christmas activities that have happened over the past few weeks. First, December started with St. Andrew’s Day and Confirmations. This is one of our bigger services for the year as we celebrate St. Andrew’s Day, the start of Advent, and Confirmations. It also adds to the day that we get to end the services, both at St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s, with a wonderful fellowship meal; pibil tacos and “Black Dinner” (yum!).

Now to share a little bit about the kids we work with here in San Ignacio. First, the youth choir. December is always the busiest time for any choir, but I was especially impressed with these kids as most of them were new this semester. The choir consists of about 14 kids and I was really happy that the majority of them participated in all the events. At the beginning of the month the kids were invited to sing at the town’s Christmas Variety show. While it took a lot of planning and organizing to get so many kids together for an outside evening performance, it was absolutely wonderful. I didn’t know it until the night of, but they were singing at the main show for the month (with the Christmas tree lighting, and surprise fireworks). There were lots of people in the audience and the entire show was even broadcasted live on the local network. It was very exciting for the kids to hear from family and friends who had seen them on TV!

The next big event for the choir and the youth group was going Christmas caroling during the last week of school. This is one of the highlights for the whole year for both the kids and us. Last year we had the opportunity to partner with Chaa Creek Lodge and their restaurant Guava Limb Café in our community outreach, and this year we joined in the same partnership. Basically between the two nights we had between 25 and 40 kids come together for a snack, provided by Guava Limb, and then to join on the Chaa Creek bus to drive all over town singing carols to people and dropping off food hampers to those in need. It is quite the event! I think caroling is always fun, but there is something about taking so many kids, singing on the bus as we travel through town, and bringing gifts to people in need that makes for a wonderful Christmas tradition. We can’t say thank you enough to Chaa Creek Lodge and Guava Limb Café for helping us again this year. It was wonderful!

Right as school finished we had our end of the year Christmas party with the youth group. The youth group has grown considerably this semester and we wanted to make sure we ended the year with something fun. While games and food are always a hit, the biggest highlight of the night was the white elephant exchange. It turns out these kids had never tried this gift exchange before and it was hilarious! We had to convince the boys not to bring bags of trash, but other than that, the gifts were awesome. I think the top gifts ended up being a fancy ledger and candy, while the funniest were a large Halloween leg, a troll head painted green, and my favorite, an empty glass jar labeled “a jar of nothing”. Granted, some kids were not thrilled with their gifts (a lot of side trading), but there was tons of laughter all around! I still remember white elephant exchanges I did with my youth group growing up and I think this will easily become a youth group tradition here in Belize.

To wrap up the special activities for the month the youth choir led the church in a service of Lessons & Carols. This is one of my favorite services during the Advent season as we get ready for Christmas, and I was so happy the kids could lead this service for the church. They were able to share 8 anthems that they had worked on this year, read all the lessons leading to the birth of Jesus, and lead the congregation in some of our favorite Advent and Christmas carols. It was a truly beautiful service! I’ve got to say I found this semester with choir to be so encouraging. I had a great time with the kids and I’m really excited start up the choir again at the end of January.

We finished the month up with a beautiful Candlelit “Midnight Mass” on Christmas Eve at St. Andrew’s Church, our Christmas Day service at St. Hilda’s Church, and river baptisms on Boxing Day. This is always my favorite time of year in the church and even though it’s busy, I wouldn’t skip a single thing. We’ll end the year with our “Watchnight Mass” on New’s Year’s Eve and start the new year with our New Year’s Day Mass.

Let’s see in other big news in our ministry life here in Belize, the Hansen family has officially moved down here to serve with us for the next year. We are so excited to be able to spend this time with them. Evan will be helping with leadership development, men’s fellowship, and even teaching guitar lessons (the kids are very excited!), Missy will be working as a counselor in the community and schools, and Annabel will be attending St. Andrew’s school. We know in the next year God will do so much here with this family; He’s already brought us some good friends! Thank you to everyone for praying for their safe arrival and all the details of moving to a new country.

As we wrap up this year and look to 2019 there are lots of things you can be praying for us:

First, our baby is due the end of April next year.

Please pray for a safe and healthy delivery and the rest of this pregnancy.

As you know we are planning on coming back to the States for a few months next year for our “home” assignment. We will be visiting lots of people and churches, as well as raising support for our next three years on the mission field, and adding a little person to our family.

Please pray that we will be able to get everything organized in the next few months as we plan to return.

Please pray that we will be able to raise the support we need for our baby and to return to the mission field.

Coming to the end of the year David and I are reflecting on our ministry here and how we can live healthier lives. This will take us being better at time management, dealing with stress in a more effective manner, and setting manageable goals.

Please pray for us as we figure out how to do all these things and get healthier.

And for a big praise report: I’ve finally received my permanent residency status here in Belize! This is great news, especially as we will be traveling a lot next year. Thank you for your prayers!

We want to say thank you again to all our supporters. We are incredibly grateful for your prayers and financial support. As we come into the New Year with so many changes on the horizon we are very aware that we are only able to serve here because God has given us partners like you. We hope you have had a wonderful Christmas with family and friends and may you have a blessed New Year. As always feel free to get in touch with us here on the blog, through email, or even a phone call. We are looking forward to seeing many of you in person again soon. And if you aren’t supporting us financially and would like to, or know someone who would be interested in partnering with us, please click on the link below. Thank you and be sure to keep checking back here to see more pictures and updates!

Our Mid-Harvest Update

Our Mid-Harvest Update

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Back in August David and I were blessed to be able to take our annual vacation for a few weeks. We ended up going to back to Peru because I had loved visiting there last year. As a whole it was a wonderful time to get away and relax. The first half of our trip was perfect (I do enjoy escaping to cold weather!), and the second half was nice, but a little harder as we dealt with health issues. Many of you have been praying for David’s health (damaged elbow, high blood pressure, etc.) and unfortunately the high altitude on our trip really did a number on his health. Thankfully God protected him from the worst of it and we were able to adjust our travel plans to get him feeling better faster. Please continue to pray for complete healing. Once he started feeling better I came down with the flu and a bad sinus infection. Bummer. But, while it’s kind of sad to end a vacation sick, it does make you really appreciate going home. There’s nothing like your own bed!

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Once we got back to Belize things quickly went into full swing with the start of the Fall semester. At this point we also knew I was pregnant and got to go to the first doctor’s appointments and see the first ultrasound. Very exciting!

So September ended up being very full, as well as going by very quickly. For me, besides being Super Sleepy, this meant restarting choir and piano lessons. Choir last semester ended on a rather low note (no pun intended!), so I was weary about starting up again. The good thing about Fall though is that you get to prep for Christmas! With Christmas in mind, and the fun we’ve had in the past with choir I decided to give it another shot. This year I’ve been blessed to have a parent volunteer who has agreed to attend the rehearsals with me. Having another person there is wonderful help! One of the other big changes, and helps, this year is that about half the choir is from previous years (so I have a base of kids who know how choir works) and the other half is entirely new kids for this semester (adding a fresh start to this year). We are having lots of fun singing together as we prepare for Christmas. Piano lessons are also continuing to go really well as I get to know the kids and their families better. It still amazes me that God gave me such a love for music and a way to share that love in our work here in San Ignacio.

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We continue to work very closely with the three Anglican schools here in our area. I think the chapel services are my favorite part about working with the schools. Kids have the best questions! In the rural schools I still work with the younger kids, and David with the older grades. While I’m primarily doing Bible stories for the lessons, David is taking the older kids through the Bible with hand motions. I had never seen this before, but it is an amazing way to keep the kids engaged, and help them really learn the Bible! David also has a lot of extra work with the schools since he is both the chaplain and the local manager. That means he has both pastoral responsibilities (like teacher devotions and counseling) as well as more administrative work (like responding to staffing issues). It’s a lot for one person, but he does it really well and has gotten to know the families much better through his involvement. Please continue to pray for him as he works on time management and dealing with stress.

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One of our big focuses this year have been on leadership development. We have so many youth that we work with who have hearts for God and a real ability to lead. There have been a few different ways we are working to build up these emerging leaders. To start, we have two young women who would like to be lay ministers in the church. Anytime people want to take on a leadership role in the church it is incredibly encouraging. David teaches classes each week to show the girls everything they could be doing both to assist in the church as well as to train new disciples themselves (this involves everything from going on pastoral visits to helping teach catechism classes).

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This Fall we have also started our evening service at St. Andrew’s Church. The whole purpose for starting this service was to both create more space in the mornings (as the morning service is getting rather full) as well as to have a youth lead/youth oriented service. We have two young lay ministers who lead the service, another girl who comes and helps lead music on her ukulele, and a few other girls who help lead the singing. While we are starting off on the smaller side, it is easily becoming one of the favorite services. Again, having a group of youth who want to step up and lead in the church is wonderful! We have also seen the growth in leadership with the two boys who help lead the evening service. They have taken on a more active role in the youth group (which has more than doubled in size this semester) by both planning the games and leading worship. I’m also continuing with a high school girls Bible study to both learn more about God through his Word, but to also build the relationships with these girls that hopefully will build them up into disciples who make more disciples. Please pray for our emerging leaders. There is so much going on! It is always hard to write these updates as I’m never sure what to say and what to leave out. Just know God is continuing to do big things here in Belize.

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Our most recent big event in the church over the past couple weeks has been the annual Harvest festivals. Each school and church has their own celebrations. Harvest is basically like Thanksgiving, but with a stronger focus on God’s blessings and provisions. The schools participate in the service by having the different grades prepare baskets of fruits/vegetables/cakes to process up with to the altar. Once they get to the front they give a presentation of thanks (usually a poem or song) and then present their gifts to God. After the service the pastries are sold and then the produce is given to needy families, with leftovers being sold. Each service, while similar, is very unique and easily our biggest services for the entire year. At St. Andrew’s alone we end up having close to 700 people attend the harvest!

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Here we are already at the end of October and wondering where the time went, but with so much going on it is no surprise that it is flying by!

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So now to look more towards the future. One of the big things we want you to pray for is the Hansens. As you may recall from a previous update, there is a family coming down to serve with us here in Belize for an entire year. We are very excited to meet and serve with each of them (Evan, Missy, and Annabelle)! Next week Evan is coming down for a week to go house-hunting and then he will return with his wife and daughter in December to officially start ministry here. Please be praying for their family as they continue to prepare for this huge transition. Please also pray that we are able to find the perfect house for them in the time that Evan will be with us. Moving is always stressful, and moving to another country is worse. So lots of prayers are appreciated for the Hansens.

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David and I are also looking towards next year for more personal reasons. Our baby is due at the end of April (right after Easter, because that’s not a busy time of year … hehe). We are very excited, and a little nervous. While April seems far away now we know the time is going to fly. So there are a few things we ask you to keep in your prayers. Please continue to pray for a healthy pregnancy, baby, and birth. We are planning on staying here in Belize for the birth of our Little Bean. This is not only a better option financially, but our child will have dual citizenship from birth. As someone who is still working on getting permanent residency (and living on a yearly visa), I’m very excited that our child will not have to deal with all of the immigration paperwork. What this does mean though is that almost immediately after birth we will be working with the US and Belizean consulates to get all the passports and documents in order quickly for our child. Please pray that everything comes together quickly with no complications. As you may already know, next year is our three year mark here in Belize since we moved back together. That means we are due to return to the States for a few months for our “home assignment”. This is where we travel around the country visiting our supporters and churches. We are very excited to come and see you! We are even more excited that we will get to introduce you to our new addition so soon after birth. Right now our plan is to come back to the States sometime in June and to stay through September (finishing off our trip with New Wineskins 2019 in North Carolina). While June is far away, a trip of this size, with a new baby, is going to take lots of planning. Especially since adding an addition to our family means an increase in our budget. Please pray for us as we already begin planning/organizing for next year. We want to see as many of you as possible, which takes a lot of organizing.

Please also pray for us as we will need to raise more financial support for the Little Bean. And finally, please pray that we will be able to fit everything into those four months next year. We are trying to miss as little of Fall 2019 here in Belize as possible. While we are super excited to come back to see you, we also love our ministry here (and the busiest/best time is the Fall).

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Lots going on, lots to plan. Thankfully God is always in control. And with all the planning we may try to do, His plans are always better! We will continue to update you on all things Belize as well as our plans for next year as they become more solid. We may even be contacting some of you directly as we work out schedules to visit next summer. Please continue to keep us in your prayers. And as always, if you would like to join our team (both in prayer and/or financially) please click on our support link. We know we are only able to stay here and serve because God has given us partners like you. Thank you!

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Summer Months

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It’s time for another update! Not only do I find it incredible that we are already at the end of July (where did the year go?!), but we are also just over a week away from having been serving here in Belize together for two years. We moved here August 2nd 2016, the day before hurricane Earl, and already two years have gone by. Part of me feels like we were living in our little apartment in Orange County just yesterday, and the other part feels like I’ve lived here forever. God has a way of making every place feel like home. While I can’t say that today’s temperature of 93 degrees (feels like 104) and rising is particularly pleasant, I can say that only one fan is turned on, so I think I’m continuing to make progress! David has meetings in Belize City today, which tend to be exhausting as it’s a two hour drive each way, but I am a little jealous of the few hours he gets in AC during the drive. We can debate when he gets home if AC is worth meetings and 4+ hours of driving, we’ll probably have different answers!

Well, as David said in his last update July had some pretty big events to get excited about. But before I get to July I just want to add that at the end of June my kids had their Spring piano recital right at the end of the semester. They did such a fantastic job and we all had fun! David and I even played a duet to finish off the evening! After the recital we only had a couple more graduation ceremonies for the schools before our exciting week of VBS and the highly anticipated Family Fun Day! Before I tell you how awesome that week went, let me quickly tell you about the graduations.

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As you know, we work with three schools here in the Cayo District: St. Andrew’s, St. Hilda’s, and St. Barnabas’. While going to multiple graduation ceremonies might not seem that exciting, I’ve got to say it’s wonderful seeing kids we’ve gotten to know get to complete such a big milestone in their lives and be recognized for their hard work. Here in Belize children are only required to attend school through Standard VI (8th grade in the states), so going to graduations where almost every single kid had applied and been accepted to high school was a very proud moment for us. We see so much potential in each one of the kids God has placed in our lives, and we are very excited to continue working with them this upcoming year!

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Ok, so now for the big week in July! Everything started off with Family Fun Day. This day had been planned for months as an exciting start to summer and VBS. One of the very talented members of the St. Andrew’s church committee organized games, food, competitions, and a whole array of activities to make for a full day of fun. Two days before the big Sunday a team from St. Peter’s Cathedral (Tallahassee) came down to help both with the Family Fun Day and VBS. We had so many people working to make sure the day/week was a great success! And praise be to God, it was! Sunday started us loading tons of chairs into the back of our truck and heading out to the park to start worship. I’ve got to say worshiping in a park is a wonderful experience. We had stray dogs walking through and people wandering over just to see what was going on. Following the service David, a couple members of the Tallahassee team, and I headed over to St. Hilda’s for their service before returning to town to join in with the festivities. Besides great food (which makes people come all by itself!), we played lots of old fashioned picnic games like sack races, tug-of-war, watermelon eating contests, and water balloon tosses. We had so many people (adults and kids!) staying for the entire day! Not only was the day tons of fun, filled with laughing, but people were already asking at the end of the day when the church will be having it’s next Family Fun Day. I think the church might have a new tradition!

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The following day we started VBS! Our theme for this year was Moses and the Israelites as they wandered through the desert. The kids were broken into three groups; Dan, Simeon, and Judah. Each morning we would all start together in the church for worship. I’ve always thought the songs at VBS are incredibly catchy! They’re usually the songs that you can never get out of your head, and then they top them off with hand motions. Kids love hand motions! After worship we would all separate for Bible stories, sports, and crafts, all related to our theme for the week. The kids always have fun at VBS (it’s a great way to start off their summer vacation), but what David and I enjoy the most is working with the volunteers. Not only did we have the team from Tallahassee here helping, but we had an abundance of Belizean volunteers! One of St. Andrew’s parishioners took on the task of organizing and leading the whole VBS, and then we had another 14 people (mostly youth) come out to help. I was primarily working in the Bible story section, and I got to see two of the youth leaders step up and teach the little kids for the first time. VBS is such a great time to connect with the youth and help raise up new leaders in the church. David and I can’t say thank you enough to the St. Peter’s team for coming all the way to Belize to keep building relationships and provide so much help, as well as a huge thank you to all our volunteers (especially our fearless leader, Ms. Jody Jones!) here in San Ignacio who came together to pull off an amazing week for the kids!

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The past couple weeks have mostly consisted of finishing projects, prepping/organizing for our absence (so that everything runs smoothly while we are on vacation), and preparing for our new evening service, which will be starting a couple days after we return from vacation. In our slower summer months, God still has so much going on! Even in all the running around though, we were able to take a day to celebrate David’s birthday with a nice dinner and some Boston Cream Pie cupcakes! Doesn’t he look happy?

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And now to update you on what you can be praying for over the next couple months. As many of you know, David has been suffering from a variety of different health issues, from his injured elbow to stress related high blood pressure. Thanks be to God his health is beginning to improve! Please continue to pray for his pressure to consistently stay down and for his elbow to continue healing. Out of the whole year August is our slowest month here in the church. So David and I will be taking our vacation during that month and traveling to a cooler climate. Please pray for safe travels and a relaxing time to re-fresh and de-stress as we prepare for all God has planned for the Fall.

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As David mentioned in the last update, the church is growing. Praise God! Thanks to the growth that we are seeing, it is time to start an evening service at St. Andrew’s. This service will be new for the church, but the plan is to have it youth focused and youth run (a way to continue raising up new leaders). Please pray that God will bless this service and fill it with peopled and that he will bring in the youth leaders. Please also pray that we will be able to work out a deal with the football stadium (that is directly behind the church) to ensure that it is not too loud during the service.

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One of the things that we are really looking forward to here at the end of the year is to be joined by a “Bridger” family, the Hansens, coming with SAMS, who will be working with us for a year. Evan will be coming in November for a week to look for a house and then in December they will return (Evan, his wife Missy, and their daughter Annabel) to live here for the year of 2019. Please pray for the Hansens as they wrap things up in the states, prepare to move, and continue raising support. We are very excited to get to work with them!

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David also mentioned in his last update that we are planning on returning to the states for a few months next year to visit our supporters and continue raising support. Please pray and consider joining our team of supporters (both for prayer and financial support). Please also pray for us as we look at how to prepare for next year. We know that we are only able to serve here in Belize because God has given us amazing partners like you! Thank you for continuing to support and pray for us!

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Now before I wrap it up here, I realize that David promised in his last update that I would give you another bug story. Well unfortunately … I never run out of those! Hehe! So here we go. Last week David and I went to a friend’s guest house for a couple days to work in a quieter environment. It was incredibly refreshing! Well when we returned home and started unloading the car I saw a rather large translucent yellow spider in our entryway (think smaller than a tarantula, but larger than a wolf spider). Ok, here’s the thing … I’ve decided to let a few more spiders live in my house since they eat the other bugs. I have an understanding with a spider in my bathroom where he knows he can come out when I’m not there and he has to leave when I come in. It works for us. Well the spider by my front door was considerably larger than my bathroom spider, but he also looked like he might be dead. I decided to ignore him until I finished unloading the car. By that point I also decided that he was a little to big to be a house spider, so I poked him with the umbrella to see if he was even alive. Turns out he was alive, and much bigger once I woke him up. Since I was still in the generous mood of letting him live (bug eater that he was), I decided to get a broom and sweep him outside. I have to add here, that this is the same type of spider that was in my house when we moved in two years ago and David had to dig out under the stairs just to kill him before I would come down. So, progress. Well, once I had the broom I started to slowly push him towards the door. Here’s the thing … he didn’t want to go. In fact, he didn’t like this plan at all. I’m not saying he tried to run away. No. That freaky, huge spider, decided to fight the broom! Once I started pushing he turned back and ran at the broom, with his freaky little pincers going crazy! I’ve always been told, “They’re more scared of you than you are of them …” I call shenanigans! This spider was not scared. This spider thought he could beat a broom! The faster I would sweep, the faster he ran at me. As I progressed in my freaking out, David came over, grabbed the broom, shot the spider outside with enough force that he was incapable of returning. I’m not saying he “killed it”, but it died. While I’m still going to let some spiders live in my house, assuming they can follow the rules, that spider has settled the fate for all his particular kind. A spider who is willing to fight a broom has to die! But don’t worry, my bathroom spider is alive and well!

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A Trying Time

It has been some months since we have posted anything on our Prayer blog, and over a year since I (David) wrote an update myself. The fact is that Mary Beth has been giving such an powerful account and summary of our life and ministry here, and so many of you have told us you are enjoying her take on things. Honestly, in the end, I haven’t wanted to get in the way! The title of this post is A Trying Time, and I mean that in two senses: we are trying a lot of new things in ministry, and life and ministry feels a little trying at this moment. So, though things are super busy right now (as you can imagine) I’m going to try and find a way to break them down and give you a picture of what’s been happening with us, our churches and our schools!

1. How It’s Been Going For Us

Mary Beth and I have had a good year so far, by the grace of God, but it’s been far from easy. If you’re looking for ways to pray for us, let me share some of what has been going on.

Between the two of us, I have been the one with the majority of health issues popping up. Apart from my ordinary struggles with gluten, I began seeing the doctor for an injury that I had sustained in January 2017 when I slipped and fell hard on my right elbow. Even after a year, the pain had not gone away … to the point that I was unable to use long-sleeved shirts or jackets! In February, after another fall, I ended up consulting with a great orthopedic surgeon, it became clear that I had damaged my bursa and the tendons connected to my tricep.  In addition to oral and topical treatments using steroids and NSAIDs, the surgeon gave me three cortisone injections in my elbow over the course of a couple of months. I am happy to report that the vast majority of the pain in my elbow is gone, and I believe that my elbow is on the road to recovery! Praise the Lord!

Nevertheless, other health problems have emerged along the way. Not only did these medications provoke a hard response from my body in general, but over the last few months I’ve begun to experience other frustrating symptoms that last week drove me to consult a specialist in internal medicine. We may not have figured out what has been the cause of all my symptoms, but when they took my blood pressure it was sky-high: the first time in my life I have had problems with hypertension. I am currently under observation, taking my blood pressure twice a day over the course of two weeks, with the hope that my average blood pressure will stay down and I won’t have to go on medication. However, the long-term solution (according to the doctor) is that I need to lose 20–30 lbs. Fair enough. So, Mary Beth and I have been getting up early to walk hard and fast in the morning, and I hope by the end of the year to have gotten my weight down to the point that my blood pressure won’t be in jeopardy.

I also have to work on how I am handling the stresses of ministry, especially when they are compounded with happenstances of life and living. For example, earlier this year the hard drive of my computer crashed, around the same time that the screen of Mary Beth’s computer went caput. So I was able to cobble together the two computers and make one functioning computer. I ended up losing a lot of personal data from the 10 months prior (previous files had all been backed up), including some fundraising and supporter information (so, if I come calling asking for info that I should already have, that’s why!). But fortunately, our churches’ information had been backed up on the “cloud” and the local impacts of the hard drive crash were minimal. But I guess why I am sharing this is that things like this, and many others related to life and ministry begin to add up for me, and according to the doctors I’ve been consulting they can take their toll. I am trying to learn better how to give these things over to God in prayer, and trust him to handle them … and not pretend to take over God’s job by worrying about them.

On the other hand, Mary Beth is adapting incredibly well to life in Belize. Her piano studio is full (with around ten students), and they’ll be enjoying their end-of-semester recital next weekend. She has also been making friends, and even adapting to the heat (trust me, she is as surprised by that as you are!). Belize for her is starting to feel normal, feel like home, and this is a real gift from the Lord. Granted, she still doesn’t like bugs (stay tuned for another scary bug story!) but I can tell you I’ve never seen anyone that has a knack for killing mosquitoes like she does right now! And her Spanish is getting quite good these days too: she has even been reading the Bible publicly in Spanish when we have visited some of the Hispanic missions we work with, and folks are quite impressed!

And we have both been encouraged by you, by your prayers and your emails and your gifts … and in some cases, by your visits! When we hear from you, God himself is encouraging us through you, and it makes a tremendous difference. So thank you, and please (please!) continue to keep us in your prayers … even when it takes a few months for us to write an update.

2. How It’s Been Going for Our Ministry

Things are going very well for our churches right now, and it’s a pleasure to be able to share with a bit about it with you.

Our focus at St. Andrew’s has been to capitalize on the momentum we’ve had as our attendance has been on the rise by training new leadership. Our Church Committee for the parish is made up mostly of younger, newer leaders; what is more,  at our leadership retreat last month, we concluded by our adopting a new apostolic mission statement for the parish:

“To be a People connected to Jesus, connecting others to Him.”

ASA: Weeks 1–23

I love it! And people do seem to be finding that connection, about which we are pretty excited. Our church attendance at St. Andrew’s has grown significantly over the past two years (overall 14% last year, 12% so far this year), and most of this growth has been new families attending or even joining the church. We have to acknowledge that much of this growth has come about because of the support that we enjoy from our three schools: without the good relationship between them and our churches, we would not be enjoying this kind of increase in attendance whatsoever.

In fact, this growth is rapidly forcing us to confront an emerging (good) problem: space and seating at St. Andrew’s. As we quickly approach an uncomfortable number of people on a regular basis, often bumping up against the capacity of the sanctuary (especially during the Fall Semester), we have to consider ways of expanding. One way that seems like a possibility (and, please, pray about this!) is for us to add a youth-oriented, youth-run evening service on Sundays. We have some structural hurdles to overcome with regard to neighbors and noise, but we believe that this will be a better option at this moment than a church-planting effort: we tried to get an evening-service church-plant going for over a year, and the door seems closed at this time. So please, pray that a way is opened for us to hold Sunday evening services at St. Andrew’s and, if it pans out, that they bring glory to the Lord and bring more people to know his saving love and power!

St. Hilda’s is also growing in some pretty cool ways too. Last year the mission’s attendance grew by almost 50%, a massive increase after a few years of stagnation. Although our attendance has stabilized and not quite enjoyed the growth spurt of the previous year, what we are seeing at St. Hilda’s is an emerging leadership team that has the capacity of carrying the church forward. For the first time in years, St. Hilda’s has a Church Committee, a visible outreach, and the prospect of new ministries for the coming year. I’m enjoying seeing how God is bringing new life after a season of dryness, and I cannot wait to see what he will be doing in the months to come!

There are of course frustrations along the way. Two of our lay ministers at St. Andrew’s (a husband and wife) have resigned over the past year, and some of our new possible lay ministers at St. Hilda’s have not gone through with training. I am also even more aware of the necessity of a church having a dedicated treasurer, and we’ve had a turnover in that department at St. Andrew’s over the last month. Still, we see God doing incredible things, and we cannot wait to see what will happen by this time next year.

And of the many things that we do, our youth work has been one of our greatest joys. The St. Andrew’s youth group had its Spring Term outing back in April as a dozen kids joined up with youth groups from around Belize to paint the building of one of our Hispanic missions. Afterwards, Mary Beth and most of the kids went cave tubing (I stayed behind with the rest because of my elbow), which was an incredible experience! Mary Beth’s Bible study with the girls has also continued strong, and her connection with these young women is strong and bearing fruit for the Lord. It’s really wonderful to see. The children’s choir has had a rough Spring, with kids’ changing behaviors and attitudes, and there will be some changes in the Fall when it starts up again. And yet, it was still an overwhelmingly positive experience for the children and Mary Beth is looking forward to what this next school year will bring!

And of course, graduation season is upon us, and with it commencement exercises and a wistful look at what has come. It’s also at this time that St. Andrew’s chooses scholarship recipients, and in addition to the High Scholarship Scholarship Recipient that was chosen last year, the Committee chose one of the students from St. Barnabas’ to receive this same financial aid for the next four years. (N.B. High School tuition is not completely subsidized by the government … it can still cost USD $500 to send a young person to high school.) Our experience over the past year has demonstrated that such scholarship are not simply about money and tuition, but about supporting these teenagers in every aspect of life. And it may sound like a cliché, but it’s true: God has blessed us as a church by being involved in their lives just as much as we have been able to be a blessing to them. We are so excited to be able to dive into this next school year, ministering to and alongside of them!

There’s much more that we can say or share about all these things (and it may take one of Mary Beth’s updates to do them justice), but I want to move on to what is coming up over the next few months, and how you can be praying for much of it.

3. Things to Come Shortly

There are a lot of things on the horizon that we would like to share with you. We can begin with this weekend! Our predecessors, Fr. Juan and María are here in Belize with us right now, and it’s amazing. They have come to celebrate the Quince Años (turning-15-years-old birthday) of one of our parishioners, and we are overjoyed to host them. The Quince Años falls on Saturday, and the next day Fr. Juan will be the guest preacher at our Baccalaureate service for the graduating classes of our three schools. In July we are looking forward to our “Family Fun Day” in the park, as we hold services in public and then spend the rest of the day playing games and sharing in potluck food. It’s going to be quite the day! The following week, St. Peter’s (Tallahassee) will be sending a team to help us hold our Vacation Bible School for the kids that week, and it’s going to kick off an active but promising summer. Mary Beth and I are planning on going on vacation in August, and we’ll be back to kick off the new school year by September … hopefully inaugurating the new evening service at St. Andrew’s that I mentioned above. And then our year begins all over again! 

Let me add a couple of other things. Last month the Anglican Diocese of Belize held its 50th Diocesan Synod, with a focus on intentional discipleship and greater accountability for the leaders, churches, and other structures within our Diocese. It was a surprising weekend, from Mary Beth playing the organ at the Cathedral to what Bishop Wright shared at the concluding Solemn Eucharist. It appears that in the interests of structuring our Diocese a little better, the Bishop will soon be appointing a team of people with certain diocesan responsibilities and roles, with the goal of making things here run smoother and better, as well as passing on the torch of leadership (as it were) to some of the younger clergy. My name was among those mentioned, although without yet any definitive description of what will be entailed. I do think this is a very positive development for our Diocese, and probably for me as well, but I would ask that you pray for me and Mary Beth as we try to serve the Lord here in whatever way he calls us.

And as we approach to the second anniversary of our return to Belize (we came back in August 2016), we are also trying to figure out how and when we will be returning in mid-2019 to visit with our churches and supporters and raise the funds necessary to come back. Please pray that God will show us how best to do this within as reasonable an amount of time as possible, and please also pray that the Lord will fully bring us up-to-budget before then. We are so grateful that new individuals and churches have stepped forward to pledge their support, and we it’s true that we’re not in the red as we were last fall. But we are still looking for people to step forward and give to this ministry. Would you consider becoming one of them?

Again, thank you all so much for your prayers, for your gifts, and for your support. We are deeply grateful, even if it sometimes takes us a while for us to get out an update and express it! May the Lord richly bless you for all that you do for us and for the spread of his Kingdom in Belize!

Heating Up

Heating Up

So here we are already in the second week of March and I realized I’m way over due on updating you all about ministry life here in Belize! It doesn’t really feel like March yet. Normally we are solidly in the hot season by now (where you can barely remember what it feels like not to be sweaty and are trying to decide if taking a third shower that day would be reasonable … the answer is yes, by the way), but not this year. While we can feel the hot season coming, we actually had an uncommonly high amount of rain in January and February. Besides the fact that I love rain in general, it kept the weather here much cooler for much longer. So now, with the dry season officially setting in, the temperatures are rising, but it’s not quite hot yet (I’m still wearing sweaters in the morning!).

While it may still be coolish here (no complaints on my end!), we got a big reminder that we are in fact already in March with the start of the Ruta Maya this morning here in San Ignacio. The Ruta Maya is an annual canoe race that teams train for all year long. The race starts bright and early here in San Ignacio (this year with 53 teams) and over the course of three days the teams make their way down the Belize river until they reach Belize City. It’s a huge race that the country as a whole looks forward to every year. Last year we even had a team of students from one of our schools! Pray for safety for all those competing this year!

So all that being said, we are definitely in March! And there has been a lot going on these past couple months.

One of the big changes this year has been St. Hilda’s Church getting it’s own Church Committee, what some in the United States would call a Vestry. While that might not seem like a big deal (St. Hilda’s has been sending representatives to St. Andrew’s Church Committee meetings), with the growth of both churches over the past year it had become clear that St. Hilda’s needed it’s own comity to help implement the church’s vision. So with the election of leaders from Georgeville village, the comity has had it’s first meeting and they’re excited to see what God is planning for His church this year. St. Andrew’s (while it’s always had it’s own Committee) has also just elected new members to serve this term. It’s always exciting in a church to see emerging leaders step up with a desire to help serve with the gifts God has given them. David and I are looking forward to seeing where God is calling His churches this year, and how He would have us serve them, and the community as a whole, better.

Speaking of emerging leaders, we had the pleasure of hosting a team from St. Peter’s Cathedral (Tallahassee) for a week last month. We had been talking with this church since last August and were very excited to finally meet them in person. Wow! God really sent a wonderful group of people with hearts fixed on Him! While they were only here for a short time, they covered so much ground. They decided to separate their time here into three sections: service project (painting the inside of St. Andrew’s Church), VBS (after school at St. Hilda’s), and a leadership conference (for all emerging leaders that we are serving with here in our area of Belize). For seven days, this team really balanced their time well. It’s always nice to have some kind of project on a short trip, so both the team and the people here can physically see what was accomplished. And with that in mind, the church comity asked if they could paint the inside of the church (it hadn’t been painted in at least 20 years). The the sanctuary, sacristy, and Sunday school room are now bright and beautiful with their fresh coats of paint! While projects are good and necessary for teams that come to serve, they can never be the primary goal. The overall goal for teams that come is to build lasting relationship (both the teams with the Belizeans, and the Belizeans with the teams). So this team made sure they planned plenty of time to spend  with people while they were here. Besides making sure they all spread out and talked to different people during the many Sunday services, they also ran a VBS, and even got to the village early to spend time with the kids before it started. And if that wasn’t enough, they took two nights and focused on the diocesan theme for the year (intentional discipleship). They were able to work specifically with leaders and emerging leaders, from both churches and our schools to focus specifically on how to have small groups of fellowship, Bible study, and prayer, (and here’s the kicker) without having the priest leading each group. This was a great time for the team to get to know/build up leaders here, as well as for our Belizean leaders to get to know the team, and get excited about leading ministry groups themselves! The trip was short, but I think the relationships will be long and we are definitely looking forward to hosting this team again in the near future. Before I wrap up about the team, I want to give a special shout out to Isabella. Isabella is the daughter of one of the team members that came. She is seven years old and one of the most outgoing, excited to serve girls I’ve ever met. She was truly inspiring to watch. At each church service, school event, and meeting where Belizean’s kids were present, she didn’t hesitate to go over and make new friends. When there weren’t kids present she was working right alongside her dad to paint or prepare for the next event. Isabella was a joy to have present and we not only hope to see her again, but we hope that other teams that come will want to send kids as well to serve and connect with kids here in Belize!

As for our regular ministry things here, they are all going strong, thanks be to God. In the school chapel services David is taking the kids through the various sacraments of the church. While Bible stories are always important, a lot of these kids either don’t know what sacraments are or why they are important. So this series has proved interesting for both the students and the teachers (who also tend to have many questions). With the little kids, I’m primarily using Bible stories from a picture story book Bible and working to show how every story (from creation to Moses, that’s where we’re at this week) points forward to Jesus. When I first started teaching chapel I was so nervous, but now it’s one of my favorite things we do here! I love getting to spend time with the kids and worship together.

Piano lessons are continuing to go well (I’ve picked up two new students so far this year!). One of my new students is from Georgeville, so I’m getting to try teaching lessons on an organ for the first time. I told her it will be an adventure for both of us! We are also starting to use the money from the lessons to invest more into the youth group. As I think most of you know, I do charge for piano lessons (it tends to inspire more commitment), but all of the proceeds go straight into a dedicated church youth fund (used for choir, Sunday school, youth group, etc.). So tomorrow youth group will be having a bonfire (we’re burning our own Christmas tree, which has been out in the garage drying out). We’re hoping to keep using the funds to really invest in our youth in whatever areas we can.

Choir is also going really well! While the kids can be a lot to handle, they are sounding really good and even sang in church last week. Since most of my choir kids don’t attend St. Andrew’s, I have been hesitant to require them to sing in church too often (not wanting to take them from their own churches), but I think we’re going to shoot for at least once a month and maybe even try having them give special numbers at their churches. We’ve also added a new choir adventure this year. We have started a youth choir at St. Hilda’s! This choir is completely different from the one at St. Andrew’s. We have a much larger age difference, and a larger number of students at rehearsals, and in general it’s just a different dynamic. They are very rambunctious, but lots of fun. This choir is also led almost entirely by David. As we don’t actually have a piano at St. Hilda’s (and organ choir music wouldn’t really fit with this group of kids), we are focusing on upbeat “contemporary” pieces (like “Jesus Freak”) which David can lead on guitar. As a whole, the kids are loving choir! And since they all live right there in the village, we are focusing on having them sing in church more often.

Let’s see, we are solidly in Lent, so we have stations of the cross on Fridays (the first time in a few years), Bible studies, and Baptism classes. But we long for Easter. Have you ever noticed how things seem to be much harder in Lent? With eyes fixed on Christ, we keep going!

David and I have dealt with many health challenges the past few months that are only just starting to sort out. Back in December I hurt my back, it didn’t seem too bad at the time, but it got progressively worse until I couldn’t get out of bed (that basically took out January). Then as my back started to improve we got hit with the flu, one week on, one week off, one week on… Then to add to that (yes there’s more), David had hurt his elbow really badly about a year ago and has had virtually no relief. So we have been seeing doctors almost every weekend to work on treating the injury. Thanks be to God the doctor is confident he will make a complete recovery, though it is taking some anti-inflammatory pills, creams, and (steroidal) injections! We would appreciate your continued prayers for healing and good health!

I think that’s about everything new that’s happened in the last couple of months. We are very excited to have David’s parents come visit us next week! It’s been over a year since we saw them and we’re really looking forward to spending some time together for a week. I’ll be sure to post some pictures!

And what do you think? Before I wrap up should I give a short bug story? I can’t actually wait for your answer, so I’m going to go with yes! Would it really be an update if I didn’t’ tell you a bug story? So as I’ve said before, I’m getting really good at killing bugs in my house. Sometimes I don’t even call David to smash them, and some I even (briefly) consider saving before I stomp on them. Progress is being made! But a couple weeks ago I got up really early and, half asleep, wandered into the bathroom to shower. I’ve made it a habit to always check behind the curtain before I get in, but I had never actually seen anything in the corner. Until now. I casually checked, not expecting anything, and found a rather large tarantula! I might be getting better with bugs, but this was too much. David was called and asked to dispose of the spider. In hindsight, I do wish I would have saved it. But at the time it just had to go. Now normally when I kill spiders, there’s a splat and then they’re just a curled up ball under my shoe, but this spider was so big that when David smooshed it, it’s guts actually shot across the shower floor. Gross. I am now back to religiously checking all corners of the shower before stepping foot in there each morning! So there’s your bug story for the month!

We want to say thank you again for all your prayers and support! Sometimes we get too busy here to write you all super often, but we always lift you up in our prayers. If you ever want to talk to us more about our ministry or just life here in Belize, or would like to know how you can partner with us, please feel free to email, check out our website, or call us!