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.
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.
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. 🙂
WOW. Holy Week ended up being very full for me. Between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, I played music at 7 services. I had to know 37 songs. I was already familiar with half of them; the others were brand new.
I thought some of you might be interested in seeing what songs I’m playing down here. Since I had the list of songs for Easter Services handy, I’ll paste it below, along with links to sites where you can hear (and buy) them. I really like a lot of these songs. In a great twist, two songs I’ve been asked to learn and play down here were done by friends of mine who live in Charlottesville! I had not heard them yet and when Fr. David asked me to learn them I was very excited. One of the songs (not played during Holy Week) is a song featuring work by 3 fantastic Virginia folks I know. A video of me playing it is below. Produced by mastermind Isaac Wardell, Sung by the amazing Paul Zach, and featuring the insanely tasteful Orlando “IAMSON” Joel, the song is “We Abide, We abide in you. Check out their version here.
You can see my added notes down below – showing the songs I didn’t play or only sang and didn’t play. For two services, a wonderful local ex-pat musician joined me. On Good Friday Fr. David played 4 tunes. The songs by Judy Bailey are all songs we use in every service. She is amazing and has put together a Carribbean musical liturgy.
One note: I have never learned this many songs in such a short time. It was a bit stressful, but I’m glad to have been stretched in this way.
Palm Sunday – Catharine On Piano
Processional – All Glory, Laud and Honor – Not Playing
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross – Rockingham Tune
Communion Instrumental Music – Arranged a medley of the more commonly known tune (in the states) to When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, with Oh Come Let Us Adore Him as a chorus. Played it in DADGAD and loved it.
It’s Missy here again. It seems like such a long time ago that I wrote the last post and it was back in February. If you want to jump down to the prayer items feel free. Also, if you have emailed me a personal reply and I have not gotten back to you, my sincere apologies. Our life here is much busier than it was at the beginning and I am woefully behind on replies.
Here is my list of funny and surprising things that have happened over the last couple of months:
1. My feet are tan. In fact, they even have tan lines. Never in my life has any of me gotten tan. Burned? Yes. Freckled? Yes. Pale, like alabaster? Yes. Tan? No. Until now. It’s kind of weird. I’ll have to see if I can get Evan to send a picture.
2. Evan bought a whole bag of “limes” from a lady walking around our street with a little boy (they looked like they might have come from Guatemala). They looked hungry and she said she was selling them to buy food. Only the “limes” were sickly little things and when I cut them open they were bright orange inside. I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen an orange lime. Turns out they were just very small oranges that weren’t full-grown, ripe, or healthy but Annabelle and I still slaved to make some juice and it was quite delicious.
3. One has to be careful what colors one wears. The two political parties are represented by red and blue. If you wear red or blue people automatically assume you are affiliated with a political party. If you paint your house or bike or anything else red or blue, it is assumed you are making a political statement. In fact, I wore a red shirt one day and a bus didn’t stop to pick me up. I’m still convinced it was because I was wearing a red shirt. It doesn’t matter that I am not a resident, that I cannot vote, that I really do not know anything about either party, or that I have both red and blue shirts. Alas, I have (mostly) retired that red shirt. I decided it is notworth missing a bus over.
4. As you know, Annabelle is a bright little light everywhere she goes and she was given a second-hand bike by our wonderful neighbors (we couldn’t ask for better neighbors). She’s now riding like a champ and wants to go up to the park every day. It’s a little big for her but she is able to start and stop on her own. Everyone knows her by the unicorn helmet with it is neon blue mohawk. No one here wears helmets when they ride bicycles except our little unicorn.
5. We have received one piece of mail. That’s right – ONE! It was truly an exciting day in our household. The mail was actually a beautiful and sweet birthday card a dear friend sent me. But that’s it, a single solitary piece. Feel free to try though, if you are up for an experiment. Our address is #3 Third St. San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize, C.A. In fact, if everyone who got this email sent Annabelle a letter, it would be wonderful. Just don’t forget international postage!
6. Almost last and certainly not least, Annabelle keeps wondering how they get the mashed potatoes into French fries. Truly it is a question for the ages.
7. And topping the list of funny and surprising things… I got pooped on by an iguana. That’s right. Poop on my hat. And my hand. And showered around the towel on which I was sitting. Liquid iguana poo. Eww. We were sitting at the river enjoying the beautiful clear water. Annabelle was playing and I was relaxing under a large tree. We had heard howler monkeys, countless tropical birds, and seen basilisks, and large green iguanas. Suddenly, it sounded like rain drops falling all around only there weren’t any rain clouds. And then I saw what fell on me and around me and we saw the gloating and relieved iguana. Eww. Eww. Eww. Of course, we all laughed. I imagine in some country somewhere being pooped on by a reptile must be some sort of blessing.
Thank you for humoring me by reading this little list. It’s certainly different living here. And fun and sad and maddening and everything in between. We are loving it, even the hard stuff. Thank you for joining us on this crazy adventure.
My Work Update
I am now up to what I consider full capacity for counseling. I am primarily working with the students at the three Anglican primary schools (primary schools go from k-8th grade) in the area. I see about 20 children per week. I have a number of family members with whom I’m regularly in communication and then teachers, principals, and community members. I have some appointments outside of school hours. I have now met with people in at least 8 locations and the mobile office thing (without a car) is not easy for me. And then there are the countless conversations that happen in doorways, on street corners, and outside. Clearly, being flexible is important in this work. Of course, people here are often not as concerned with confidentiality in the same way I am, but I have been practicing long enough that it is ingrained in me to be very careful and I have always been pretty conscientious (go ahead and laugh, since we all know it’s true).
An extra tidbit for anyone who cares:
I mentioned previously that I would be working on my continuing education. Here are the continuing education trainings I have completed – Human Trafficking and Exploitation, Clinical Supervision, and I am currently working on a long training on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am quite interested in learning about complex trauma and intergenerational trauma as I am working with a lot of children and families who could be case studies in that subject matter. I have several other trainings lined up most of which are particularly relevant to my work here.
We have some lovely friends here. Not only are we friends with the Alenskis’ but we are friends with our neighbors (see about the bike earlier) and they even invited us out to their family farm in the village. It was amazing and refreshing. They have innumerable fruit trees and flowers, various livestock, and even a little fish pond they keep stocked. We also have some friends (thanks Kimberly for the introduction) who have two kids and we try to see them when we can on weekends. They are lots of joy and good conversation.
There are many good things happening here – to us and through us. I think we are all being challenged and we are all growing immensely spiritually here. It was and is good for us to be away and to have this special time.
We continue to be incredibly grateful for God’s provision for us. As we mentioned previously, we have had some unexpected expenses back home. God continues to be gracious and generous with us. Thank you to everyone who has or is supporting us in our work here. We continue to be floored by your generosity (you know who you are). Believe it or not, our monthly expenses are less than $1,600 for all three of us. Of course, there are things that come up over and above that amount – as I’m sure you can imagine.
Please pray for Mary Beth, David, and their little man. The baby is due any day now (even though he’s only 36 weeks old). Please pray for a safe delivery and the health and wellness of mother and son. Please pray for Mary Beth and David as they adjust to having a child.
Please continue to pray for Annabelle and friends. I think she is continuing to experience some cultural dissonance and seems to daily have difficulties with some of the children in her class – particularly the girls. Overall, school is going well for her and we have good family time, but I know she really misses some of her friends in the States and just hasn’t connected with anyone at school in the way I would have hoped for her.
Please pray for Evan’s knee. We do a lot of walking and he has had some knee troubles for several weeks. Please pray for healing.
I have also started to experience some cultural dissonance – primarily with work. Cultures have different values and some things I value highly – like honesty – are not valued as highly by many of the families I am working with. It is also difficult to feel like one is making a difference or connecting with people when one has no idea of the truthfulness of what they are saying. That is just one example of the cultural dissonance but there are quite a few in my therapy work. Cultural dissonance makes self-care especially important so I am trying to be cognizant that I am not working too much and I am doing other good things.
Until next time… Don’t forget to get your kids or grandkids or nieces and nephews to paint a picture or write a note and mail it to Annabelle.