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!

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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