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.

A New Baby Update

A New Baby Update

This is an update with some really good news about our family, and some complicated news for our ministry due to COVID-19 in Belize (but let’s be clear at the outset, there’s no reason to panic!).

Mary Beth and I found out a short while ago that we are expecting our second child in late September! We are thrilled to be able to announce God’s latest gift to our growing family, with the good news that Mary Beth and the baby are doing wonderfully here at the beginning of her second trimester. We couldn’t be happier.

However, the emergence of a global coronavirus pandemic has thrown the long-term planning we had been starting into serious disarray. You may have heard of this thing, and it may have thrown your life similarly into pandemonium. It certainly has ours, and an uncertainty regarding health, finances and safety has been hanging over us and many other missionaries in our situation.

Until recently, no confirmed cases of COVID-19 had popped up in Belize, and for this we can praise the providential hand of God. As we have witnessed from afar the overwhelmed health systems of Wuhan, Lombardy, and now New York and Los Angeles, we have been made painfully aware that much more advanced infrastructures than ours have been crushed by an onslaught of critical cases needing oxygen, ventilation and constant care. But if and when this novel coronavirus spreads through Belize, the healthcare system has the potential to be disastrously inadequate, whether this is measured by beds, ventilators, medical staff or supplies.

Nevertheless, Mary Beth and I were determined to stick it out in the country, hopeful that our youth and relatively healthy bodies would keep us from needing the most severe forms of hospitalization. Two weeks ago, we began taking the strongest social-distancing measures that we could: we only left the house to shop for essentials, cancelled other meetings and plans, kept distance with people that we encountered in the way, and washed our hands regularly and thoroughly. As the Bishop began suspending services—first on Sundays and then on weekdays as well—and as the Ministry of Education cancelled school for the two weeks leading up to Easter break, we felt confident that we would be able to protect our own health as well as keep others safe in the process. Our ministry turned to remote methods, and the Rectory became our base of operations. We even began to broadcast daily Morning and Evening Prayer on Facebook Live, and it seems to be reaching people that would not normally come to church or seek out a priest for help.

However, cautious family members and other supporters began to voice another concern to us: if the health system in Belize were to become overrun and overwhelmed by respiratory patients at every hospital and clinic, would Mary Beth and our unborn child be able to get the help they would need in the event that this pregnancy were to develop complications? You may remember that serious issues popped up with Mary Beth’s first pregnancy with Austin, and if similar (or other) problems were to come about, would an overtaxed and flooded emergency health system be able to give her the care and attention that she and this growing baby would need?

Much of our comfort with medical care in Belize up until now has depended upon contingency plans: both Guatemala and Mexico have excellent health care systems, and both are a short drive away. In an extreme emergency (like what happened to Fr. Juan Marentes back in 2013), we could probably even leave for treatment to the United States. However last week, one-by-one international borders began to close in our area; most notably, the Guatemalan border twelve miles to the west became closed to North Americans, and then to everyone else. Still the Northern Border remained open, as did the international airport in Belize City. And then, last Friday (March 20) we received word that the northern border with Mexico would be closed within 24 hours, and that the international airport in Belize City would shut down (except for transporting cargo) within 72 hours. The closure would last for a minimum of 30 days.

After receiving the Bishop’s encouragement and blessing, we made our final decision late Friday night: we would come back to the U.S. for the next 30 days, or until it was possible to return to Belize, in order to give Mary Beth a better chance at accessing emergency healthcare during her pregnancy. In haste we packed that night and the following morning, and by Saturday evening we were holed up with Mary Beth’s parents at their home in north Georgia. After the mounting stresses of the last couple of weeks, we feel blessed to destress a little bit with family as we continue almost all the same remote ministry we were carrying on from the Rectory in Belize.

We realize that this temporary relocation carried with it many risks. We left Belize when there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 to come to a place with tens of thousands of cases. We also were painfully aware of the risks in traveling through airports and airplanes without masks or much other protection apart from soap, water, hand sanitizer, and dirty looks at people who tried to get too close. But in the end, we believe that the higher possibility for Mary Beth to receive better care in her pregnancy should she experience any emergencies outweighs the risks we have taken in relocating while we wait for Belize to reopen to international travel.

Please pray for us, and pray for Belize. Yesterday Belize confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Ambergris Caye, and fear exploded across the country. Before the government could shut things down, residents of San Pedro Town tried to flee on boats to the mainland. Entire villages have threatened to prevent any visitors from entering, and across social media platforms people have attempted to doxx the Belizean who had traveled back from Los Angeles before testing positive for the virus. So many Belizeans we know (and many we don’t) are terrified, panicking, and desperate for safety against an unseen assailant. Medical institutions are taking all kinds of precautions—suspending services like routine vaccinations or in-person maternity check-ups—and yet we have seen pictures of hospitals full of worried individuals and parents seeking help before it becomes impossible. All of this has come on top of the disappearance of basic food staples like flour, sugar, or baby formula.

So as you pray for our safety, and the safety of this new baby on the way, please pray also for our effectiveness in ministry. We aim to use all technological means at our disposal to reach out to our parishioners and other members of our community over these next few weeks, and we are praying that the Lord will use this global threat, unparalleled in our lifetime, to bring people to know him through his Son Jesus Christ. Pray that the Lord would pour out his Spirit upon the means of grace, that sinners would turn to him and find healing and forgiveness. Pray that the Lord would spare Belize and Belizeans, not just from COVID-19, but from death itself forever. And please pray that our financial support holds firm as the world goes through a global economic contraction!

We will try and keep you posted about Mary Beth and the baby, and about any new plans or developments that arise in the next few weeks and months. We love you all, and we are so grateful for your support. May the Lord richly bless you!

By the Numbers

By the Numbers

A big, giant hello from Belize! It’s now the middle of February, and we have celebrated Christmas and the New Year, contracted the flu and probably passed it around, and have been taking time to go over 2019 and plan for 2020. I know Mary Beth’s updates are a lot more colorful and fun than mine, but I wanted to have a chance to get into the quantitative details of how things are going—where we’re at in our Central American ministry and North American financial support—and give some steps for how you can be a part of supporting our service here before we get too far into this new year.

The State of Your Missionaries

In general, we have been taking a more gradual approach to reentry this time around than we did in 2016. Much of this comes from five months of reflection while we were in the United States: we were anxious, stressed and burned-out by June of last year, and we want to approach our re-entry cautiously to make sure that we are investing for long-term fruit rather than short-term results. Even more of our caution probably comes from having a handsome, intelligent, growing 10-month-old that has shifted schedules from those of adventurous newlyweds to go-to-bed-by-nine parents. We want to make sure that we set up functional routines, healthy expectations, and an adequate balance between attention to our parishioners and attention to our family. All that’s to say, we’re not yet doing everything that we had been this same time last year, and for now we think that’s probably okay. And as we create space and take time to wait on God to show us how best to serve, we are seeing new ways that God shows up and does astonishing things we were not expecting.

What we have been doing is sticking to the basics: preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, meeting with the sick (when we don’t have the flu), serving at the schools and mentoring our up-and-coming youth leaders. As Mary Beth has seen her schedule revolve more around Austin, much of our labor in these theaters of ministry has been taken up by her lesser half, but she has restarted planning and accompanying music at St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s, and her Bible study for high school girls is in full swing.

And now, let me get down to brass tacks. January is almost always a time for reflection, evaluation and planning as we prepare for our Annual General Meetings and other year-end (or year-beginning) obligations, and this past year has been no exception. Building on last Sunday’s AGMs, I want to share some insights that I presented regarding the state of our churches, and then I want to give you an update on where things stand financially for our family’s mission and what our current needs are at this time.

The State of Our Churches

Sunday Attendance: Combined Quarterly Medians by Month

It is always difficult for a pastor to be away from his church(es) for an extended period of time, and although St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s are used to it, it does not make it any easier. Although 2019 opened with lower attendance at both St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s, our averages were still on the high side. That changed with our departure to the United States for our triennial Home Ministry Assignment. Although we were blessed with the presence of Evan and Missy Hansen as medium-term “Bridger” missionaries in our absence, they were limited in the roles that they could take on, and although our churches were not without an instrumentalist on Sunday or a licensed counselor throughout the week, much of our momentum was lost.

Sunday Attendance: Average over Weeks 25–47

In fact, at St. Andrew’s the average Sunday attendance for Weeks 25–47 (covering the Sundays we were away last year) dropped by one third compared to the previous year. I am convinced that we would have lost even more momentum had the Hansens not been here in our absence to shore up our churches, and we are so grateful to them for keeping many aspects of ministry going while we were gone. They are truly missed. But two things make this dip in attendance worrisome.

For starters, during my previous Home Ministry Assignment in 2016, St. Andrew’s average attendance did not dip at all; in fact, it increased slightly. Part of that may be that a lay minister and deacon took the lead while I was undergoing deputation, but part of that may also be changes in the composition of our churches. I would add to this an observation that our Third Quarter’s median attendance at St. Andrew’s has decreased for the last six years, from 56 in 2014 to 29 by 2019. This value reflects a decrease in the commitment of our membership to attend frequently, seen especially in the summer months when our students’ attendance is not encouraged to the same degree. St. Hilda’s attendance figures have more nuance to them, and have bounced back faster than St. Andrew’s, but we still see a decline in regular attendance from a peak in 2017.

My address to St. Andrew’s last Sunday reflected the obstacles to growth that I see related to these and other numbers. Here’s how I put it to our largest congregation:

  1. We need to stop seeing a single person, or small group of persons being the center of our church and its life. Jesus Christ is the only head, the great High Priest, the only Good Shepherd of his people, and having poured out his Holy Spirit on all flesh we are all called to participate and act in his service rather than become spectators and watch someone else serve in Christ’s name alone. This is always a temptation, but our failure to place Christ as the head of our community is most obviously seen when the priest is gone.

  2. We need to reinvigorate our sense of community. Our congregation is not presently a body that tends to seek out ways to meet much outside of Sunday worship, whether in a kind of discipleship group or just to hang out and enjoy one another’s company. Not only do we need to become more hospitable to visitors, we need to build stronger relationships with each other if we are going to allow our congregation to become a real community.

  3. We need to transform our church from a low-commitment model of membership to a high-commitment model of membership. Noting our low attendance and low giving for 2019 and citing the Catechism of the Church in the Province of the West Indies, I pointed out that the duty of every Christian is to fellowship weekly with other believers while worshipping the Lord, and to work, give and pray for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom. This high level of commitment is inescapable if we are to be the church that our Lord is calling us and making us to be.

In the end, I see the ebb in attendance and the barriers to growth that we are experiencing as an opportunity for us to trust the Lord for the maturity we long to see, and for us to get back to the basics of what it means to be the church. As Mary Beth, Austin and I gradually reenter ministry, we are trying to take time to pray and discern how God will use us and our other leaders this next year in ministry, and imagine creatively how we can join with him our Vine in pursuing the fruit he is requiring of us as his branches.

Money Matters

It’s high time that we also gave you an update on how things are going for us financially since our time on Home Ministry Assignment. Our time in the United States was amazing, exhausting, beautiful, stressful, and everything in between! But one question that remained to see after we returned was: did we meet our financial goals during our travels?

The quick answer is … not entirely. Our support is as consistently high as it has every been, and giving did not really decrease while we were in the United States. This was a huge answer to our prayers. And in fact, a few churches and individuals have increased their annual pledge to our ministry. But we are still significantly short of the amount we would need to increase our salary following the addition of Austin to our team, as well as to cover his medical insurance. Without belaboring the point, if you have been considering partnering with us through a monthly or quarterly gift, now would be an excellent time to set it up. Even small gifts add up quickly, and we are deeply grateful for (and very dependent upon) every single one of our supporters.

Let me add (since quite a few people have asked), it goes without saying that we have not met our goal of adding a housing allowance to rent somewhere else, as this was a lower priority to that of covering Austin’s place on our missionary team. On the other hand, God is so good: our neighborhood is still much louder than we would prefer, but things have ended up quieting down a bit while we were away—an incredible answer to prayer, and a reason to stay in the Rectory … at least for the time being.

Percentages: Expense Report and Reimbursements

A very pressing financial matter for us however is that we just applied to SAMS to be reimbursed for our operational and discretionary expenses, covering a period from just before Austin was born through early this week. We had not wanted our missionary account to drop too low, especially while we were on the road traveling across the United States, and so we just saved our receipts and hung onto them. But it was almost past time, and we needed to file our expense report and request our reimbursement.

Although there are sufficient funds in our account to cover the reimbursement, it brings our account balance much lower than it should go … not a good sign as we embark on new things. We are asking that you consider giving a one-time donation to our ministry so that we can get our missionary account back to a better position. Your gift will be going to help cover everything from Austin’s delivery in Belize and doctors’ visits in the United States, to plane tickets and hotels on the road and fuel for the 14,000 miles we drove, to research materials for my ongoing preparation for further graduate training. If you are able, we would be very grateful for anything you could contribute as we stabilize our missionary account balance moving forward.

Much Love from Team Alenskis!

Let me wrap things up here by just reiterating how grateful we are for your prayers, for your gifts, for your reception for us while we were traveling across the United States and for your remembering of us since we came back two months ago. It means the world to us that you would partner with us in this ever-evolving, truly progressing global ministry of the Gospel. Shoot us a message whenever you get a chance: we would love to hear from you, and we will keep you updated again very soon!