October Update and Funny Things

First, if you haven’t checked out Evan’s last blogpost which features Annabelle as a “Pom Pom Girl” in her school parade – go check it out! Being here in September, a month filled with national pride and festivities, was fun and interesting. I have never lived anywhere that has so many parades. In our town alone there must have been at least six separate parades. We caught bits of at least three and heard many of them. We got to see a wonderful array of cultural traditions and it was grand.

We are currently in the season of Harvest. It is a beautiful time of thanksgiving and is celebrated in the churches and schools. In the services, the children present poems, songs, dances, and process up to the altar with gifts of fruits, vegetables, and sweet baked goods. Even the children who do not normally care for church or chapel services seem to love Harvest time. There are quite a number of children who have to literally fight to have food in their homes and who are hungry frequently – many of whom are developmentally behind and physically stunted due to lack of nutrition. It is a joyful remembrance and a reminder for all of us that God is the One who provides from His bounty and that we must be grateful for what we have. Even with the drought this year the altars were overflowing.

Annabelle and I got to travel on a bus to Diocesan Day (a day for the entire Anglican Church of Belize) in Dangriga. It was a very long day and by the end we were both unbelievably dirty. But it was so much fun too! We got to participate in a huge church service in an outdoor basketball court. We also got to meet the Bishop of Belize, the second topmost politician, and Annabelle got to play some games and we spent a lot of time with our dear friends who go to the village church and have two children about Annabelle’s age. I’m so glad we got to be here for that event.

There are truly countless stories of tragedy, and hope, and beauty, and laughter, from my counseling, from conversations with people in the street, from all around. There are many reasons we came here but the rhythm of life we have here is slower and simpler and we are still relishing being able to be present here. We are going to soak up what we can over the next two months before we head back.

Another Installment of Funny Things

If you say, “Hey Babe” or “Good afternoon Beautiful” to me when I pass you on the street, I have resolved to be rude (which goes against every grain of manners I possess). I do not look. I do not respond. I pretend as though you have said nothing. If you call to me a couple of times and when I ignore you, you say, “My friend likes you and wants your number,” I will respond, “Oh, ok, my husband will be interested to hear that.” And I continue on my merry way with a smile on my face. When I arrive home, I will inform said ‘husband’ that such an interaction just occurred. Honestly though, I don’t relish these moments, but they are far better than the 4.5 months I spent in Sierra Leone back in my early twenties. I had wondered how it would be here in Belize and it is much better. Back then I easily got dozens of marriage proposals every day from strangers on the streets of Freetown and I found it exhausting and frustrating by the end of the day.

We have all been dewormed. In the Fall and the Spring at St. Andrews School they deworm all the children. Evan and I have been meaning to get dewormed for months now… and we finally did it this week. They are some intense pills for adults – six different doses. Anyway, it was overdue! I feel a bit like a dog or a cat but that’s just life here. We’ve been told this particular medication is not available in the U.S. so we’ll be buying some to bring back with us for a session after we return. More deworming to look forward to.

Speaking of worms… one of the things I miss a lot from the U.S. is our compost pit. Ever since we moved to Charlottesville we have had compost piles. The one when we had pet bunnies was a particularly good one, but I liked not having all that vegetable and fruit and eggshell waste going to waste. 😊 It’s been difficult for me in a place with significantly depleted soil to be throwing all our good vegetation scraps into the rubbish. So, several months ago I started a compost bucket. However, since where we are renting, I didn’t have a good spot to dump the compost and eventually it got maggots (an unbelievable amount of creepy, crawly, slimy pale buddies) and it started to smell awful. After Evan disposed of it and we still smelled it for days he put his foot down. Alas, that was the end of composting here. If we lived on our own land or even just had more space around our house, I’d be a crazy compost lady. Maybe one day my dream will come true…

Last, but certainly not least for funny things, Evan had to go back to the States for a funeral last week. He did a video chat with us from the Atlanta airport. He flipped the camera around and said to Annabelle, “Look where I am!” (meaning the airport). Annabelle immediately said, “Woah, look at all those white people!”

And so dear ones, it is going to be an interesting few months. With each passing day our minds turn more and more to the winding down of things here, making an international move, and readjusting to life back in the U.S.A. For Annabelle, of course, a year is a seventh of her life and this has been no small adventure. While she is anxious to get back to the U.S. and especially anxious to see all those she loves, we know she will miss things about life and people here. We had another rough patch with school a couple of weeks ago. However, after processing what happened and working through it, I think she seems to be better and happier at school than she was previously, and I think there are little friends she will miss quite a lot. Please continue to pray on the school-front for her.

Please also continue to pray for us as there are so many things that will be happening here. Starting tomorrow, over the next five weeks there will be two different priests visiting from the States and the Bishop of Belize will also be joining us one Sunday. We are so glad they are coming and it will certainly be a change of pace!

We continue to be so grateful for each of you. I’ve heard from so many who continue to read these writings and who continue to pray for us. Thank you!

Photos and Video from the Hansen’s Fall Term

Hi everyone! I have some photos and video for you.

First a quick update:

I have been leading chapels at three different schools this term. It has been fantastic. We sing and pray and I teach through the Fruit of the Spirit. Basically we’re talking about character formation. God gives us the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us to live well. And God wants us to live well so 1) Our lives will be good and joyful, 2) Our lives will be evidence of God’s character and power, and 3) so we will live as natives and not foreigners in the world to come.

I’m teaching 6 chapels every other week. I have a time lapse of the St. Andrews students. Each school is a different experience. I’ll try to grab some video of the different schools and elements of the service. Below is also one of the songs I’ve taught them.

 

Independence Day (Month!)

September is full of celebrations and parades for Independence Day. There were so many holiday days, half school days, and parades that it was amazing we were able to get anything else done. Every school has a parade. There are town parades, church parades, etc… I have some video of Annabelle’s parade and a late night church parade. The church parade was super fun and the video is of a new friend of mine singing on the back of a flatbed semi trailer with a full band and sound system. It was crazy!

Caye Caulker

Missy mentioned our trip to Caye Caulker for Annabelle’s 7th Birthday. Here are some photos from that trip!

Annabelles First Day of School

 

Bullying, Kindness, and Other Sundries – Missy’s Aug/Sept Update.

We have been praying for rain. The rainy season has not been panning out as in past years. It has been quite dry and hot. The next few days thunder storms are called for and we have had a couple of doozies, but they have been relatively short-lived. Sadly for us, it has meant many less mangoes than everyone had talked about. But the more important reality is that many people here rely on rainwater for everything in their home and that fruits and vegetables which are normally quite reasonable are increasing in price. Still, we are so grateful that we have water that comes through our taps (most days) and is relatively clean (with the exclusion of days where it has been muddy/green). We are also grateful for the trucks that drive around tooting their horns so we can buy 5 gallon jugs of purified water (at least most of them are mostly purified). And we are so glad that we can afford to buy them. They only cost $1.50US/jug but many locals cannot afford it and have to drink whatever they can get from rain or the tap or the rivers. The need for rain is a constant reminder of our reliance on He who commands the winds and the rain.
Since the initial slowing of summer, we have had increasingly busy weeks with the exception of 6 glorious days we spent on Caye Caulker. My younger brother, Nathan, traveled again from the U.S. to join us and we spent our days relaxing, swimming, eating, walking around, and one day snorkeling (at the reef, shark ray alley, coral gardens, and in Hol Chan Marine Reserve). It was glorious and so important for us to have that time away. In many ways it felt like being in a different country. San Ignacio where we live does not exactly feel like a tropical tourist island although it is both tropical and touristy in parts.

Some highlights and prayer requests:
Unfortunately, we were not able to obtain Annabelle’s student visa because we went “too early” to immigration to apply for it. It’s a bit of a long story, but it means she is currently living on a tourist visa which is quite expensive at this point, has to be renewed every month, and is a hassle. They had told us when to schedule an appointment and then changed their mind and said it had to be right before school started. We were not able to go when they said we needed to, so I have another appointment to try and get it sorted. I dread going to immigration and it is usually a grueling process. Please pray that getting Annabelle’s student visa is a smooth and quick process next Tuesday, September 17th.

After being asked by one of the principals, I did a bullying training for the teachers of the three Anglican schools (Saint Andrew’s, Saint Barnabus’, and Saint Hilda’s) of which Fr. David Alenskis is the manager, 3 weeks ago when the teachers were getting ready for this year. It was a full time we had together and we were not able to even get to everything. One challenge is that bullying and physical discipline (at home and sometimes in the schools) is something that they all grew up with and is relatively normalized here. As I have expressed before what is considered abusive here is extreme, so trying to work with the cultural understanding of things was challenging. No one wants to be bullied, but many find it difficult to recognize when they are bullying others. Of course, this is no different than realities of bullying all over the world. I think there was some headway and I certainly hope it was beneficial. We are really trying at St. Andrews (where Annabelle attends) to address the bullying problem. Social, emotional, verbal, and physical bullying are all issues and often teachers and family members do not address it or address it too late and sometimes in unhelpful ways.

I am starting St. Andrews Committee for Kindness and Safety, or StACKS, and I’m hoping the leadership will be taken over by some teachers, parents, and maybe even some students once we leave in December. We are trying to address the issue in a variety of ways and personally, I’m trying to emphasize not just stopping bullying but being kind. Please pray for me as I try to work on getting this anti-bullying and kindness campaign off the ground and handing it off in the midst of counseling students, taking care of Annabelle, etc.
I have jumped back into counseling students more quickly than I anticipated. I have been calling parents and guardians and so far the vast majority still want me to work with their students unless they moved away. I was able to meet with 7 students last week at least briefly to get back into the routine. This is a different kind of work than I’m used to as my time will be so limited. Please pray for every student and every session that I have.

While I know you all care about Evan and me, I know what you really want to hear is how Annabelle is doing. As you can imagine, she had a wonderful time on the island especially with all the swimming and was a champ at snorkeling even though the water was deep and a bit rough in some spots. She is with the same classmates as last year. She still hasn’t really connected with anyone which she finds very hard. She is homesick and talks about how much she misses her friends. We have had quite a few video chats with her friends over the summer, but she says it is not the same because you can’t “feel” them. We continue to remind ourselves that making her life “easy” is not all it is cracked up to be and that learning resilience and coping and how to be loving and kind in the midst of challenges are more important than everything going her way all the time.

There are innumerable other things I could share: How there is a student going for his Master’s in Counseling who wants to work with me and take over some aspects once I leave (although we’re still waiting to find out the protocol and legalities on all this); how I’m attending beginning of the year PTA meetings about bullying and counseling; how the churches are faring while the Alenskis’ are away and given that neither Evan nor I are ordained in the Anglican church, about how we have now received one more piece of mail… By the way, don’t mail anything else unless you really don’t mind that we most likely won’t ever receive it. We have now received 7 pieces of mail. And I’ve been told of dozens of pieces that have never made it. Remember my post last time that included the stealing issue? I don’t know what people think is in the letters or what they are doing with them, but someone has all those letters.

We are so grateful for each and every one of you. Those who read these long communications and for each and every one of your prayers and kind emails. I truly sense that we are living here by prayer alone. So much of what we do feels like an exercise in futility (and there were times I had this sense in the States too) and it is futile without God’s work. Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. To those of you who have financially supported us – we are deeply grateful. I have tried to write thank you notes and I know many of them have made it out. Hopefully all of them have found their way to you. At least some things in the postal service seem to be working. 😊
Hopefully Evan will send out an email with lots of photos soon.
May the love and peace and joy and hope of the Lord surround and fill you today and every day.

July update from Belize.

Evan here: I’m linking FOUR! videos at the bottom of this post. One is a longer video I shared on Facebook about our favorite jungle swimming hole. It features a lot of Annabelle. : )

Just before our last email, Fr. David and Mary Beth had left for home for the remainder of the year. The same week of the school graduations, our community experienced a great tragedy. A dear member of our church was stabbed and killed. A priest from Belmopan was able to come perform the the funeral and I arranged the music and slide preparations for the service. It was a sad but beautiful time. Please pray for our church as her close friends continue to mourn.

One day,  Missy and I were working at the rectory and a man walked up from the parking lot next to the church. I was on the phone, but when I got off Missy said he was talking about a fire at the church. She thought it was something that was already done, but as it turns out, a bag of burning clothing had been tossed over the wall and up against the back wall of the church. I was able to beat it down with a green branch until the neighboring business tossed a hose over the wall. No photos. 🙁

There is a Maya site near our house on the border of Guatemala called El Pilar. I have wanted to go there in part because you have get to drive 7 miles of really bad dirt road to get there. I haven’t gone because I was told it was too dangerous and that people get robbed at gunpoint there. I was telling that to a tourist one morning when Anabel Ford,  the archeologist who discovered the site 30 years ago, walked by. She started yelling at me. I calmed her down and she said the events were much more rare than people say and that she’s up there nearly every day. She was upset because no one comes to visit. So I went! It was amazing. I’ll add a video featuring the monkeys and anteaters I saw there.

I went to help some friends who are members of one of our churches lay out a deck and pour footers. When doing that, it rained and I caught it on video. Link at the bottom. Please pray for more rain here. This is the rainy season and we’re not getting as much as we need. (IT STARTED RAINING WHEN I TYPED THAT SENTENCE) Climate change is a VERY common topic of conversation here. Belize is feeling the effects.

Annabelle is in a summer program at the local library. She’s learning about plants and having a great time. We’ll get you photos later. In the meantime, watch a video of our family at our favorite swimming hole, Monkey Falls.

That’s most of what’s happened recently. The fall will be much busier for me and I’m preparing sermons ahead of time for the school chapels. I’ll be doing a series on the fruit of the Spirit. If you have any good and accessible resources for me as I prepare, please let me know.

 

Graduation Week in Belize- Photos and Video

This message has a bit from both Evan and Missy. Missy’s update is first and Evan’s short update is at the bottom along with a video of kids singing that you don’t want to miss.

Hello, Missy here again.
I spent Friday, June 7th and Thursday, June 13th conducting retreats for the soon-to-be high school students of St. Andrews, St. Barnabus, and St. Hilda’s Anglican schools. Thank you to everyone who prayed for these times, for me, and for the students. I felt it was a privilege to be able to lead the retreats. They were long days but fruitful in a variety of ways. And I am prayerful and hopeful that some of the things we discussed will continue to bear fruit in the coming years.

St. Andrews is certainly the largest school (around 400 students) and there are about 40 students in the graduating class. The other two schools did a combined retreat and there were about 20 students all together. We did everything together including taking breaks and eating lunch. There is no air conditioning at the St. Andrews Community Center so the first day (which was over 100 degrees) was particularly sweltering. The few fans that were there couldn’t keep up with the weather or that many bodies. The second retreat was significantly cooler (still in the 90’s) but there was a rain storm that beat down on the roof which meant we had to take some breaks, because no one could hear above the din. Needless to say, my voice was worn out after both retreats.

We primarily focused on deepening their understanding of the things they will experience as they attend high school. While primary school is highly subsidized by the government (although it isn’t free), high schools are all private and expensive. One student even asked what to do if their family was telling them not to go to high school. The struggles many of the students have faced – from not having enough food to eat, not having shoes that fit, not having much support at home for school work, etcetera – are significant and discouraging.

So many of them have faced real and significant social issues like bullying, being encouraged to skip school and steal, lying, cheating, doing drugs and so forth, that the conversations we had during the retreats seem long overdue and yet still essential for their futures. High school means even more autonomy and the peer pressure seems to increase. Of course, the high schools also tend to be much larger than the primary schools, because there are fewer of them which means that even if they did well in primary school they are now a little fish in a big pond and many students get lost.

After the first retreat, I changed some things for the second which proved to be helpful. At both retreats they conducted skits about how to respond in a variety of situations including everything from discrimination to bullying to being offered drugs. This seemed to be a highlight for most of the students. There was a lot of laughter which bothered the teachers, because the subjects were so serious. However, I think they still got a lot of value from the skits they prepared and presented, and often the laughter was just a way to try and cope with the magnitude of what they face every day and the enormous transition they will be facing soon. Most of them don’t feel they can talk to a parent about almost anything and certainly not the things we were discussing. Most of them have social media accounts and access to the Internet but their parents voluntarily don’t monitor them or the students hide what they do from their parents. There is a significant disconnect. It’s the opposite of helicopter parenting, for sure.
During the second retreat I had the students write down any questions about high school or about mental health issues and tried to answer as many as I could throughout the day. This was an insightful practice for me and also seemed to be quite beneficial for the students. Some of their questions were quite sad, honestly. Hopefully, prayerfully, seeds were planted which will lead to growth and some more ideas of how to respond in difficult situations.

Anyway, I’ve droned on enough.

Please pray for Father David, Mary Beth, and Austin as they have returned to the States for support-raising. They will be away for several months.
Please continue to pray for us here as we transition to summer and to the Alenskis’ departure. We aren’t really sure what things are going to be like but there’s a lot going on. Evan’s workload has increased, although not as much as if he were an ordained Anglican minister.
Thank you for your support! We are grateful for you!

 

 

 

OK, now from Evan:

Hello all! This graduation season has been plenty full for me, but I’ll focus on the work I did with the same students Missy was working with. I was asked by two of the schools to teach the students a song and help them perform it at graduation. One of the assistant principals chose the song: “Great Things” by Phil Wickham. I hadn’t heard it, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a fun song to play. Below is a video of the performance from the St. Andrews kids. There were around 200 people in the audience. I think they did wonderfully! They do something like this every year, and one of the parents said she thought this was one of the best performances ever.

Part of the culture here is that the teachers are often very hard on the students. When I first began working with the kids, teachers were yelling at them even while practicing. The kids expect this sort of thing, but I could feel their enthusiasm draining and ended up requesting that the teachers allow me to handle things my way. It was clear the kids liked the song and I did my best to make it fun for them, encouraging them in the things they were doing well.  I think they responded to that approach very well. I know I had a blast. 🙂