Ten Years a Missionary

Ten Years a Missionary

 

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

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

1. Doctoral Studies

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

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

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

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

  • Complete the rest of my coursework by December 2021;

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

  • Complete my comprehensive examinations by August 2022;

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

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

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

2. Our Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Our Financial Situation

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lament and Thanksgiving

I feel like most of my updates start with some reference to time: “It’s been so long since my last update,” “Time sure is flying by,” “Can you believe that it’s [—] time all ready?” … or something along those lines. And as I sat down to write this update I was thinking the same sort of thing about time, especially since we’re here at the end of the year already. I typically like my updates to be about positives – how things are going with our ministry and all the ways we see God working (or maybe fun stories about bugs, or kids, or relating to different cultures). But for this one, while I still hope I can show you how we see God working, and maybe even brag about my kids a little (they are so stinkin’ cute!), I also know that not every update can be peppy and fun. When we share these updates with you it’s because we truly value each of you as partners in this ministry in which we are called, and as partners you need to know about the downs as well as the ups. So today, I think I’m going to try and share exactly where I’m at (whatever that means).

A Lament

First off, I know this has been a Hard Year for everyone. This is not the year anyone anticipated, so part of me feels like any complaining I might have for the year would be trivial when so many others have had it so much worse. We have been blessed with good health, places to stay, time with family, and thankfully no loss of loved ones. It has been a year when, despite everything getting incredibly unpredictable, David has been able to start his first semester of doctoral study through Wycliffe College, we were able to welcome James into the world, and we have been able to see Austin grow into a truly fun and loving person. But despite all of that, I still struggle many days to see any good. I still find myself asking, “Why like this, God?”

When we were making the decision to change the direction of our ministry from pastoral ministry in Belize towards theological development (requiring David to get a PhD), and then seeing where in the world God will place us next, it took a lot of prayer. We wanted to make sure this was how God was calling us; and we truly believe we made the right decision. But I remember a year and a half ago, when this long process was starting, I had the whole thing planned out in my head. It was stressful thinking about the transition, saying goodbye to people, and changing our whole lives, but I knew God was going to take care of us.

Then we got to the beginning of this year, and while we didn’t know yet which university David would end up at, we still had our plan for the year. We were still loving our ministry in Belize and already anticipating how much we would miss everyone when we moved. I then found out I was pregnant with James: we thought God had a funny sense of humor (since my due date was going to be the start of David’s first term of coursework), but we were excited for our growing family.

And then COVID-19 started to get bad and we made the very fast, and heartbreaking, decision to evacuate from Belize. I remember thinking it was weird because every other time I had visited the States I was excited to be with family and see old friends, but this time I was just sad to go (even though we knew it was the right decision due to my pregnancy). At the time we thought – at the absolute latest – we would be back in Belize by summer.

But we have been in the States now for nine months. Nine months and counting. Belize didn’t open its borders in time for us to make it back before David started school. Canada didn’t open its borders in time for us to make it up there before the start of the semester. And the combination of winter break being too short for us to make it back to Belize to pack and say our goodbyes in January, and the fact that Belize still seems to be at the peak of its fight against the coronavirus means we are still here.

That also means for the past nine months (and counting) we have been in limbo. We’ve bought plane tickets, and had them get cancelled. We’ve made plans to try and move into places without any furniture (since we still haven’t officially moved out of Belize). We’ve had plans A, B, C, D, … and each time I think I have a little bit of control, something changes, and all our plans are upended.

When people ask what I’m learning in all of this, it seems like the obvious answer is to lean on God, and His plans are always better than mine. But in the moment, while I know that to be true, I struggle. We have been away from home for a very long time. We love that our kids have gotten so much time with their grandparents; at the same time, we really miss home. I’m excited for this next phase of our lives that God has planned for us. I’m excited for this next phase of ministry. But for now, I’m tired. It feels a little trivial to say, but it’s kind of exhausting to not be home, to not even have properly left home. In the midst of being in limbo, with our feet both in the new and old, it’s very easy for me to focus on my frustrations. While there are good days and bad days, I’m the kind of pessimistic person that can wallow in the bad if I’m not careful. One of the things I’m really struggling with is not physically being present in church every week. We attend church on Zoom, but not being physically surrounded by the body of Christ every week, not sharing in Holy Communion, not having the accountability of other believers each week is physically weighing me down.

But David and I were talking about some of our struggles and what we are thankful for in all of this, he reminded me that being thankful is an actual discipline. I’m not always going to feel thankful, but I have to actively give thanks. So here it goes.

A Thanksgiving

As we come to the end of this year I truly do have so many things for which I need to give thanks.

We are so thankful for the birth of our son. James is an absolute delight. He loves to smile and coo. He loves his brother and spending time with family. He’s quite the snuggler and is even starting to enjoy books almost as much as his brother did at that age.

We are so thankful for Austin. He is so much fun! He loves books, sticks, and cars. He’s constantly talking and clearly has an enormous imagination. While we haven’t been going out much (which can get depressing) it has meant we’ve spent a lot of quality time together as a family. We are also still incredibly thankful for the time we were able to spend with my parents and the time we have been able to spend with David’s. These are all blessings that we were not expecting.

We are thankful to have had a place to stay for the past nine months. Whether it was with my family or David’s, it has been incredible to have had places to live (especially since we only brought a handful of suitcases with us). We know it’s not easy to have a bunch of people suddenly move in to your house. Our parents have been wonderful. We are also thankful that God is providing a modest little place for us to rent (fully furnished) here in Richmond for a few months this coming spring before we are able to return to Belize, and then move on to Canada. We are very excited to have our own space as a family.

We are thankful that David had a great first semester in his PhD program. The program is hard, and doing classes online is not ideal, but at least he was able to start the program full-time despite this Hard Year. One of the things we have learned about Wycliffe (even from a distance) is that they are very big on community and upholding one another in the faith. We are so excited that David was accepted into this program and we can’t wait until we are able to immerse ourselves fully in the theological college’s community.

We are thankful that our Belizean partners in ministry have continued ministry in our absence, with all the uncertainty and with the doors of both churches still closed because of the pandemic. And while we very much miss our churches in Belize, we are also thankful that we have been able to find and participate with an Anglican congregation in Toronto (via Zoom) that we are hoping to join once we finalize this move.

We are thankful to have gotten to spend Christmas with family. One of the things that we never really expected to be able to do – what with David’s being a priest and our being missionaries – was to spend Christmas or Easter with family. This year we have actually gotten to do both. While there are hard things about not being home for Christmas, it is nice to finally get this opportunity. We don’t know how often we will be able to do this as we continue to follow God’s call to serve as missionaries in the years to come.

Finally, we are thankful for all of you, our supporters. This has been a Hard Year for everyone, in so many ways. And we are incredibly thankful that you have stuck with us. Whether through your prayers or your financial support, having you alongside us as we become better equipped for service on the mission field continues to be an incredible blessing. We could not do this with out you. Seriously.

Pray for Our Family

So to recap my rather long and rambling update: this has been so hard, but we are so thankful. There are days that I just cry for what seems like nothing; but even so, I will continue working on the discipline of thankfulness. Please continue praying for our little family. Please especially pray for David as he adjusts back to academia. Please pray for our boys: there are a lot of big transitions coming their way.

And definitely please pray for our continued missionary financial support. This has been a Hard Year on everyone, and combined with this new mission field trajectory, it appears that our missionary account has taken a real hit financially, a hit that has happened during a year when we are trying to move from one country to another, and one where I even ended up giving birth in the States. But let me again say thank you for continuing to support us as we move forward! And as always, please reach out to us through phone calls or email if you want more details about our ministry, or if you just want to say “Hi!”

We want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas (it’s still Christmas!), and a happy New Year!

Love always,
The Alenskis Family

New Horizons

New Horizons

Dear friends, family and supporters,

Greetings from the Midwest of the United States! Our second son, James, was born this week, and as parents of two wonderful boys we could not be happier! Mary Beth’s pregnancy made it to a whopping 39 weeks, at which point her doctor recommended an induction, and for good reason: he was so big! Both mother and child are doing well, trying to rest, and get this new phase of life off to a great start.

While James’s arrival is bringing about so much change in our own family’s life at the moment, we should also add that he was born at the precise moment that our ministry as missionaries is undergoing an enormous shift. I’ll explain below, but first I encourage you to watch this little video that we put together (with the help of SAMS-USA President and Mission Director Stewart Wicker) that will explain what the next few months and years will likely hold for us in ministry:

In brief, Mary Beth and I have been sensing for some time that the Lord may be calling us to a ministry that is more focused on theological education and leadership development in the context of the Majority World, and not only on pastoral ministry in a parish setting. There is a tremendous need around the world for this targeted kind of ministry, one we often experienced in Belize (a country that currently has no formal seminary for training clergy for any denomination), and one that is often repeated when we speak with other missionaries and leaders in the Majority World. Having consulted with theological educators from around the Anglican Communion—from Myanmar to Chile, from Kenya to Mexico, from Indonesia to Egypt—the answer to the question, “What should our next steps be?” was clear: if I wish to train others to become leaders in the church, I should pursue a higher level of expertise in the things of God, a path that would take me to a research doctoral degree in theology, i.e. a PhD.

So, with the support of SAMS and the bishops to whom we are accountable, we began a process of formal enquiries and grueling applications (GRE included!) that have led us to Wycliffe College, an orthodox, evangelical Anglican theological college affiliated with the University of Toronto, currently ranked in the top twenty universities globally for the study of theology and religion. In the end, I accepted Wycliffe’s offer to join their PhD program as a full-time student with an emphasis in Historical Theology, a discipline that straddles both Church History and Systematic Theology. My courses and research over the next 4–6 years will supervised by the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, himself a former missionary, and one of the world’s leading Anglican experts on the Reformation, pneumatology, ecclesiology, and the history of biblical interpretation. I am very blessed and excited to be working with him, and with many of the other members of faculty at Wycliffe College and more broadly with the Toronto School of Theology.

Just to be clear: Mary Beth, our sons and I are still missionaries with SAMS, and we plan to be for many years! We are not leaving ministry at all, but we are beginning a season of what SAMS calls an “Educational Ministry Assignment,” a time of preparation for another kind of future ministry wherever in the world the Lord may call us. This means that we will soon be leaving our pastoral ministry in Belize to others, clearing the way for God to do new and amazing things through the people with whom we have been laboring, into whose lives we have been pouring ourselves. We are very torn up about leaving … it has been driving us crazy to think that we will be leaving a people and a place that mean so much to us, but we believe that this is where the Lord is leading, and where he leads we will follow.

At this time, there is much that we need from you as supporters of our ministry. First, please pray for us during this time of transition. There are so many things going on right now: because of COVID-19 we have not been able to cross the border into Canada, nor have we been able to return to Belize to pack up and say goodbye. We will need to be able to do both things as soon as possible, so please pray that the Lord makes a way for that to happen. I have begun the fall term online, which is not an ideal way to pursue graduate studies, but even the possibility of this approach would have been inconceivable just a few years ago. Please pray that my studies go well, that we can say goodbye to our home in Belize, and that we find a new home in Toronto very, very soon. And please pray for our churches and schools, lay leaders and Bishop in Belize as together they all grapple with this transition as well.

Second, since we are continuing as full-time SAMS missionaries and plan on going back on the mission field as soon as I finish this program, we are urging you to continue giving to our ministry, or to begin giving as the Lord would lead you. With these new horizons in view, our budget is only increasing. In addition to the tremendous deductible we will likely have to cover because of Mary Beth’s labor and delivery, we are also looking at moving to downtown Toronto as a family of four, and we project that expenses will be far above what they were for us in Belize. And although both Wycliffe and SAMS have both been very generous in their willingness to offer me some scholarship funds towards Wycliffe’s annual school tuition and fees, our family will still be covering well over half of these educational expenses out of our own pocket. Even if our missionary account won’t cover the international tuition rates for Wycliffe (and we don’t expect it to), your one-time and regular gifts will help us retain our salaries and make it possible for us to rent a modest apartment, feed our family, and raise our children without compromising either our dedication to this season of preparation or our determination to return to the mission field once we are prepared. To sum up: we desperately need your financial support, and we ask that you begin, continue, or increase your giving to our ministry as the Lord leads you.

And because we believe that the Lord has led us to this point in ministry by using precisely your gestures of support as his sacred instruments for sustaining our efforts and holding us accountable to his purpose, we want to thank you again for everything that you have already done. We would like to be able to thank you more personally, and to share our plans with you in greater depth than this post (or video) could possibly manage. Please contact us, and let us know if we can chat on the phone (or Zoom, or any number of other platforms). If you’re lucky, James might even be awake and showing his cuteness for the camera! And stay tuned for changes on this website: we will be updating our context very soon, although with everything going on (I know, I know, COVID-19 can become such an excuse!) it may be a few days or weeks before it’s all sorted out. But be ready for these new horizons to begin to appear in your view as well as ours.

May the Lord richly bless you all. We will be in touch again soon!

Watching and Waiting

It’s hard to believe it has been over three months since our last blog update. Keeping track of the days of the week (let alone the months), when everyday kind of looks the same is becoming increasingly more difficult. There is just a lot of time spent indoors, or working on online. I can’t wait until we somehow return to face-to-face ministry!

In our last update we were writing you from my parent’s house in Georgia. While it was very strange to evacuate to the States, it was also incredibly nice to get to spend that time with my family (especially Austin getting to see his Grammie and Grandpopi!). We are now in Indiana with David’s parents, and we are loving getting to now see Austin’s Grandma and Grandpa! While this time in the States was not planned, it has been a true blessing to get to spend time with family. One of the hardest things for me about being a missionary is not getting to see family very often. And now that we have Austin, and another one on the way, it is even more special when we get these rare moments to see grandparents in person. 

As far as our ministry in Belize goes, we are continuing to connect with people remotely. It is definitely much harder to minister to people when you are not there in person, but we also know that much of our ministry would look the same if we were back in Belize right now since the churches and schools are still closed. For most of our time here in the States, Belize has done very well at containing, and almost completely stopping the spread of COVID-19 in the country. The few cases that would come up were typically found with people who were already being quarantined (and therefor more easily contained). However, in the last few weeks cases have been spiking across the country. It was only about 4 weeks ago that cases were under 100, but, almost out of nowhere, cases are now quickly approaching 1,000. Please pray for Belize as they work to trace and treat those who are infected. Please especially pray for hospitals that are already overwhelmed with the sudden influx of sick people. And please pray for quick healing for those who are sick. Belize had been planning on opening the international airport on August 15, but with the sudden increase in COVID-19 cases they have decided to keep the airport closed until further notice. So at this point David, Austin, and I are planning on staying here in the States for the birth of our next child.

I am now nearing week 37 of pregnancy (it’s crazy how fast this one seems to be going!). It is also strange spending the majority of this pregnancy in the States. Since I had Austin in Belize, everything about my prenatal appointments here seems foreign. Things are just done differently here and it almost makes this feel like a first pregnancy all over again, since so much of it is new (especially in the time of COVID-19). I’m very curious which way I will have preferred when this is all said and done. The biggest blessing at this point is that this next baby is still healthy and not here yet! As you might remember from my pregnancy with Austin, I was already on bead rest at 34 weeks and we were just praying for him to make it to 36. Well in this pregnancy I made it to 36 weeks and then the doctors decided to put me on bed rest. Both the baby and I are healthy, he just seems also to want to make an early appearance. Please pray for continued good health for me and the baby. Please also pray that we make it to at least 37 weeks (preferably longer) before I go into labor. And please also pray for a safe delivery: we’re getting close!

One other thing I would ask for you to prayerfully consider at the end here would be to begin, renew or increase your financial support for our family’s ministry. Over the past few months we have seen a decrease in our financial support (something we anticipated for this difficult time during a world pandemic), but as we approach the birth of our next child – and the considerable financial burden of unexpectedly having our son be born in the United States – we are asking for your help. Whether you might be willing and able to to increase your giving (by even a small amount), or whether you might like to start giving, or whether you would might even be willing to give a one time gift to help cover our insurance deductible for the upcoming birth, we would very much appreciate your partnership!

I think that’s all I have for an update right now. Thank you again for praying, and financially supporting our family. We are missing our home and in-person ministry in Belize, but we know God has a plan for all of this! We continue to pray for you. We would also love to get in touch with you all on a more personal level: if you would be open to a video call so that you can hear more about what’s going on with our family, and so that we can know better how to pray for yours, please send us a private message or email and we’ll set something up!

Unexpected Ministry

Unexpected Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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