Finally Back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halfway Through

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

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

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

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

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

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

All About Austin

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

1. Austin Arrives

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

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

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

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

2. Austin Begins Life

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

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

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

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

3. Austin Is Coming to Visit

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

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

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

Threshold #1: Funding for Austin

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

Threshold #2: Housing Allowance

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

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

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

Threshold #3: Continuing Education

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

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

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

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

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

4. Prayers for Austin and His Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s Almost Here!

Hi there from Belize!

It’s been awhile since my last update, but we’ve also been a bit distracted as we get ready for this baby. So I’m going to do my best to let you know what’s been going on with us over the past couple months, and what are plans for the near future.

I’ll start off with this pregnancy since it’s the main thing on my mind lately. God has blessed me with a very smooth pregnancy, especially for my first one! I was a little nervous about going through this for the first time so far away from family, but not only has it been relatively easy, but God has also given me plenty of people here in Belize who are happy to help (and are also very excited for the coming of our little Belizean baby). We’ve been able to see a wonderful doctor for this whole pregnancy, and she has guaranteed us that she will be the one delivering the baby as well. It’s coming up fast now!

Last week the ladies at St. Andrew’s church threw me a surprise baby shower. I had been having a rather bad day, I’ll blame it on hormones, and David said we could go on a walk in the evening, but to wear something nice. I assumed he was taking me out to dinner since the day had been so crummy. When we got near the community center and saw that the door was cracked we went over there to check it out. Now on one hand that sounds suspicious by itself (the ladies were concerned that gave it away), but we always check when the door is left open in case someone forgot to lock up. We were greeted with loud shouts of “Surprise!” and a fully decorated room, lots of food (pibil, yum!), and fun games. It was a wonderful time with the ladies! So much laughter, baby stories, and good advice. Our son is going to be surrounded by his very large Belizean family.

David and I then took a couple days for a “baby moon” as a sort of last chance to get away just the two of us. It was so relaxing and nice to spend time together. It also came at just the right time! During that trip I started to have some complications that made us decide to go in and see the doctor early when we got back. Normally I don’t like going in before my appointments because it usually turns out to be nothing, but not this time. After checking on me and the baby (he is perfectly healthy, praise God), she found out that my body was in fact trying to have this baby a bit early. Right now I’m at 34 weeks, and while he could be born now, she said for his safety and the due to the facility they have available it would be much better if he holds off  for at least two more weeks, or longer if possible. So after some steroid shots for his lungs, anti-contraction medication, and house arrest/bed rest for the remainder of this pregnancy, we are now just praying and waiting for our son. Please continue to pray that he holds off for a couple more weeks. God has also blessed me with an amazing husband who has been not only doing all of his work, but also covering mine. Last night he even made brisket for dinner! Please pray for David as he serves here in his regular ministries, and helps me now that I’m stuck in bed. It’s a lot of extra time!

Unfortunately with this change in my pregnancy it has also meant discontinuing of a lot of my work here for the time being. Piano lessons are on hold, choir is on hold, David is now covering all the chapel services again, and since I’m not allowed out of the house, my church music ministry is also being covered. Thankfully God had already blessed us with the Hansens coming to live here! Not only are they thriving in their individual ministries, but they are also a huge blessing to us personally (willing to help whenever needed), and Evan has already been joining me on Sunday mornings for music, so God is making sure everything is covered. We were already anticipating this change in my ministry with the baby coming, it’s just a little sooner than we expected. Please pray that we can make all the transitions necessary with the coming of our son, as well as the transitions that will be necessary as we prepare for our “home ministry assignment” this summer. More on that in a little bit.

As far as other ministry things going on here, there’s a lot! We continue to have youth group every week, and while it can be a bit tiring, there are still lots of kids coming and we are planning our next service project, pre-summer fun activity, and youth retreat here in the next couple months. Working with youth has its ups and downs, but we can already see quite a few potential leaders growing in this group.

Earlier this month St. John’s Cathedral held a service for the licensing of lay minsters. While we had renewals of old licenses, we were also able to officially welcome two new young lay minsters for our churches. Both are doing extremely well in their work and are not only able to lead the service with confidence, but are also really leaning into ministry with extra services and pastoral visits in the community. Please pray for the whole ministry team in each church, but especially for these two girls. Pray that we can continue to build them up in their ministry, and that God will raise up even more laborers for the harvest.

As we’re coming to the end of March that has meant not only are we fully in the Season of Lent, but that we are already looking ahead to Holy Week and Easter. My favorite time of year in the church (it goes back and forth between Easter and Christmas). David has been working very hard to prep everything for Holy Week. Not only is it the busiest week in church, but with my due date being the following week, he has had to make sure that everything is ready in case he has to miss one or more of the services. We’re praying for that not to be the case, as it is also his favorite time in the church as we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.

While there are many more things in ministry going on here, it’s also hard to cover everything in one update. So I’m going to jump ahead to our Summer and Fall plans as they more directly involve you. David and I are planning our “home ministry assignment”, or our time in the States raising support and recharging as it were, to begin in mid-June and go until the end of November. On the one hand that sounds pretty long, but on the other, we have a lot of churches and people to visit across the entire country, all while traveling with a newborn. We will be contacting churches and people directly to setup times when we can visit you and your churches in person. We are very excited to share more about our ministry here, and what we believe God has planned for us here in the future. Please pray for us as we organize a very complicated, but exciting trip for the upcoming months. While we are definitely looking forward to seeing all of you, one of our main priorities is going to be raising money for the extra addition in our family. I would ask that you prayerfully consider supporting our family monthly, even before we come to visit you. We have had to get more ministry reimbursements lately, and while we are 100% trusting in God’s provisions, we are also asking you to consider partnering with us. If you know anyone who would like to support a missionary family, please feel free to share our information with them. We love adding people to our team! We might be the ones serving here in Belize, but you are just as much a part of our ministry as Senders and Prayer Warriors. I would also ask, for those of you who are already supporting us financially, that you prayerfully consider increasing your monthly gift to help support our son joining us in ministry here in Belize. Again, we are very much looking forward to sharing so much more with you in person, but we also know our time in the States will be limited.

We will see you all very soon! And while things are going to get busy quickly when we have this baby, I’ll make sure to keep you updated on his arrival! Thank you for your prayers and support!

Love,
Team Alenskis

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!