Update for February

Hi! This is Evan. The longer you live in a new place, the more you become accustomed to the small things which were initially surprising. Fewer interactions and sights seem noteworthy. For the most part, I think I’m still in the phase where I’m regularly taken aback by the unique beauty of this place. 

Things in this post: Chewie Update, Evan’s Work Permit Update, and Evan’s Work..  There are plenty of photos in this post, as per the usual! 

 

Chewie: The Final Chapter

Chewie made the journey! Below is a map of just how far Chewie traveled. Many thanks to Missy’s mom for making it, to Curt’s parents for holding on to it, and to Curt for traveling all over the world just to bring it here.  

We had a fantastic time with Curt. He rented a motorcycle and we showed him some of the great local places. He really wanted to visit a Mayan ruin, so we took him to Xunantunich. He totally fell in love. 

I have my Work Permit!

I applied for my work permit in November. I was finally approved. This is great, as it means I don’t have to spend money and time every month renewing my visa. I had to make several trips to Belmopan, and had to jump through all sorts of hoops, but it was finally approved after I wrote an appeal letter. To finalize things I had to drive to the capital, pick it up, go to another gov’t office, and then to immigration. I arrived at immigration before 8am and was told that the docket was already full for the day. I told the guard that I really needed to have this done by the next day or I was going to have to renew my other visa again. When he heard how long I’ve been working to get my work permit, he gave me his cell phone number, told me to text him at 6 the next day and confirm that I was coming. He got me in the next day. 

The photo above is of my jacket the first morning I rode. It was so foggy I couldn’t see, and was like driving in rain. I was soaked, but the ground was still dry, so my whole body ended up covered in mud. Maybe this is why the guard took pity on me. 🙂 

What I’ve Been Doing

I have continued to play a lot of music. I’m playing on both Sunday evenings and Sunday mornings. On Sunday evenings, I am selecting the music and handling the slides as well. I spend a ton of time practicing. Between the morning and evening services, I play anywhere from 12-14 songs on Sunday. 

 

Recently I worked with a missionary group from Texas (wonderful folks!) to paint the inside of St. Hilda’s. I’ll put before and after photos below. It was a not-great yellow, and now it’s a crisp white. Talk about rewarding work! 

We’re also making progress on one of the big projects I’ve been tasked with – Building a rectory for St. Hildas. We have had the land cleared of the brush that had grown up and are working with the government to purchase it. It has been leased for over 20 years by the church. The purchase price is only $800bzd ($400usd). Once that is settled, I will begin to meet with builders to get a sense of the cost of such a project. Then it is time to fundraise. 

I’ve also been asked to begin working with two young lay-ministers who are being asked to take more ownership of the evening service. Our plan is to meet weekly to work through planning and to use that time to help mentor them. 

Sometime this Lenten season, I’ll be leading a day-long retreat for the young lay ministers in our two churches. I’m really looking forward to this. 

Speaking of Lent, I have some great photos from our Ash Wednesday services. In the morning, I attended the service for the young children from the school. Fr. David wanted me to photo the service. Annabelle’s class was there. More about this later, but Annabelle has been asking about baptism and has been reading her Bible a lot lately. We’ve been having some wonderful conversations.

I added some photos of Annabelle helping me make her a swing under our house. It’s great!  

That’s it for now!

Thank you all so much for your prayers and support. It means the world. I’ll be sending another update soon with more about Missy’s work.  

 

Surprising Things Vol. 1

 Missy here. I’m going with themes for my blog posts as there is so much to share and I’m trying to keep it focused. Still, this email has a lot of words… 

Before I get to some things which have surprised me about living here… prayer requests.

1.       Pray for the work we are doing. I’m beginning to get into counseling in the schools and in the community. The need is overwhelming. As I’ve spoken now with the local psychiatrist at the hospital and school administrators, I’ve learned that although there have been counselors in the district in the past, there is currently no one offering counseling services other than for those in significant crisis – and then they go to the hospital to see the psychiatrist. This week I met with 5 students in two different schools and many others are getting parental permission to speak with me. I’ve already been hearing firsthand of horrific domestic violence, child abuse, significant trauma and disrupted attachments. Many of these problems are generational and cultural as the systems in place to address them from law enforcement to social services are only able to deal with things if they are severe – like life or death. I need discernment and wisdom. Please pray also that those who will most benefit from working with me would come.

2.       Annabelle has been having ups and downs with adjusting to school. She has been showing some anxiety symptoms that are not usual for her. Please pray for her little spirit to be full of joy and life and freedom and for us to help her through this transition. She is the 25th student in her class and the school work is rigorous.

Now for SURPRISING THINGS:

I had wondered many times how closely the Krio I learned in Sierra Leone would be to the Kriol spoken here. Despite the fact that I learned Krio 15 years ago and for only 4.5 months, much of it has come flooding back as I hear people speak the Belizean Kriol. There are many similarities in words, expressions, and grammar. Honestly, the Kriol here is far easier to understand and pick up as it seems more closely related to English and people often speak half a sentence in Kriol and the other half in English. But surprise, surprise, even as I study the Kriol-English dictionary I’m just amazed by this similar language half a world away and I’m surprised by my own memory 15 years on.

I have been amazed by how much Annabelle loves bucket showers. For the uninitiated – bucket showers are literally when you take a shower out of a “bucket.” For one reason or another, we have had only cold water coming out of our faucets quite a number of times since we arrived. Annabelle, who usually insists she doesn’t want a shower or bath (only to spend many long minutes playing and singing to herself once she’s in) loves bucket showers. We heat a pot of water on the stove. Then we pour pitchers of half heated, half cold water over her until she’s soaked, then shampoo and soap up, and then use the rest of the pot of water to rinse. Ironically, it’s usually warmer than even when our water heater is working. 😊 And also it conserves water.

Which leads to my next surprise – water disposal. I’ve been surprised that other than toilet water, all water from our house goes out into the street. Every dish we wash, clothing we launder, shower we take, time we brush our teeth, etc. Every last drop goes out into the ditch in front of our house. I will say that it makes me much more conscious of how much water we’re using and is good for conservation mindedness. Thankfully the toilet water goes into a septic system.

Annabelle has been surprised by some differences at school – not only are there 25 kids in Annabelle’s class but food can be shared and in fact, it seems encouraged. Annabelle was not allowed to share food at her schools in the U.S. We have also all observed that keeping one’s hands to oneself is not a thing here. All of the children at the school are quite physical with one another.

We’ve been surprised by the fact that we haven’t received any mail here yet. Not even one little piece. And I know some folks mailed us Christmas letters even before we left the U.S. I keep wondering where those pieces of mail are… perhaps they made it to the North Pole and Santa will bring them later – like next Christmas.

There have been many lovely random surprises – like how beautiful it is here. Every time I ride on the motorcycle, I kind of fall in love with this land. And we’ve had some really sweet conversations with random strangers on the bus that must be divinely appointed. On one of my trips to the capital, Belmopan, I sat next to a lovely British woman who lives in DC and was with a tour group. Our conversation was so nice in fact that she gave me a hug and a kiss when I left. I would venture to say most of our days are filled with random surprises.

Last, but certainly not least, I’ve been surprised by how much we all love the food. We don’t all love all the food but there are so many things that are delicious and fresh. If you come visit, we’ll definitely be bringing you around to try yummy things! The one that blew me away this week was coconut pie for which they use coconut flour and is full of sweet, spiced coconut. It was amazing!

*Please note there is no judgment in these “surprises.” Things here are a mix of better and worse than in the States or anywhere else.

Starting the Year Right

Life Update – Christmas Break – First Day of School

Hello Friends! 

 We are now in the second full week of January and we’re getting a better sense of life rhythms. There are a few things I really wish I had taken photos of, but alas I did not. In this update I’ll share photos from our trip to Dangriga, Annabelle’s school experience, updates about our work permits/visas, and how our work is shaping up. 

 1) Chewie Update: Chewie is lost forever. Annabelle is sad, but handling it well. Fortunately her chewie wasn’t a stuffed animal out of production, but a blanket made by Missy’s amazing mom, Naomi. This was actually Chewie#Twoie. I’m sure Chewie#Three is nearly born and will be on it’s way to a loving, chewing home here in Belize soon. 

2) No work permits yet. I applied for mine on November 8th! Once I get my work permit, we can apply for Annabelle’s Dependency Visa. The good news is we were granted Visa extensions, and were able to do that  at the border in Benque Viejo. It’s much easier and faster there than the capital, Belmopan. MAJOR UPDATE!!! THIS JUST IN!!! As I was writing this, Missy received her approval to practice from the Ministry of Health. We still need work permits, but this is a huge hurdle and a major praise. 

3) If you would like to support our work here in Belize, we would be most grateful. You can make a tax deductible donation through SAMS in order to do this. Here is a link to our giving page. 

 

Annabelle

 Annabelle started school this week. So far it’s going very well. There are the usual issues that accompany assimilating into a new group of kids, but she doing a great job of navigating them. At her school, students have an hour for lunch and for the younger kids, parents come to have lunch with them, or take them home. We have really enjoyed this rhythm! While we’re there we spend time with kids from the church as well. 

There is an amazing city park a couple of blocks from our house. We’ve gone quite a bit, but only just noticed the little library! It is like a taste of home, as these are all over Charlottesville. It even had a book from the Magic Treehouse Series. It really felt like a gift from God. 

 

Community Life/Work

 

David and Mary Beth came to our place for a New Years day dinner at our place. It has been so much fun getting to know them and working on our friendship. We’re so grateful for them! 

I started playing music at church last week. I have had to learn a lot of new music and I think it went pretty well. I’m excited to do more of that. David hurt his elbow this past year and playing guitar aggravates his injury, so he was ready for me to start playing. 

I was asked to start teaching beginner guitar lessons. I taught my first class this past week and it was SO MUCH FUN! All of the kids are at St. Andrews school and some are a part of the church as well. I taught them the phrase, “I tune because I care” and we learned to tune our instruments. 

We have transportation! This makes so many things easier. FYI, no supporter funds went to the purchase of the motorcycle. I sold my bike in the states to fund our transportation here. It is an inexpensive 250cc Chinese made enduro bike. 

Dangriga

 

 No matter how many times we told Annabelle we were moving to the jungle, she thought we were going to live at the beach. To help with this, we promised Annabelle a trip to the beach before school started. The travel to and from Dangriga was absolutely perfect with no delays at all! When we were changing buses, a tour guide asked us where we were going. I told him and he said, “Why?! Dangriga is horrible.” On that happy note, we kept on. Our plan was to stay at a cheap little beach front place and eat some meals at a local resort so we could use their facilities. 

 

  • Dangriga is the center of Garufina culture in Belize, a culture of freed Caribbean slaves. Missy said it felt more like Africa than Belize.
  • The food was SO GOOD.
  • A lot of wind meant no crystal clear water, and it pushed seaweed up on the shore.
  • We had breakfast with some missionaries there who are friends of friends (Thanks for the introduction, Jonathan Ruel!). After breakfast they asked us to help unload a truck. It was a truck of Operation Christmas Child boxes. Talk about a workout! 
  • There was a lot of trash around the shore, and Missy cut her foot on glass.
  • The resort was AWESOME. Annabelle swam a lot.
  • Belizian Beignet are Fry Jacks (flour dough pockets) covered in powdered sugar. Incredible!
  • Annabelle apparently loves Cooking Competition Shows. We don’t have a television and this was all she wanted to watch. She would plan out her strategy to the challenges. She would always ” top it off with Chocolate Ganache.”
  • We were so grateful for this time to settle before Annabelle jumped into school.   

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!

Getting to San Ignacio – The good, the bad, and the ugly.

 

Dear Friends and Family,

Annabelle was such a great traveller!

This is Missy writing. What a time we’ve had! And I mean that in every way.

We are thrilled to be here in San Ignacio with David and Mary Beth and many lovely Belizeans. Annabelle wrote in her journal that her “first day in Belize was fun, fun, fun!”

Annabelle Journaling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And before we left we cannot measure or count how many cards, gifts, emails, hugs, and prayers were given to us. We felt, and continue to feel, truly loved by so many. There are many stories to be told of generosity, unexpected goodness and kindness in those final days. And honestly, the months prior to leaving are a series of miracles small and large – like getting renters for our house without having to advertise and who were understanding of what we were facing with leaving the country for a year.

At the same time, the two weeks prior to leaving, and our trip down here, were fraught (and I do not use that word lightly) with challenges. They have and are costing us a lot of money, countless hours, and immense amounts of energy. I thought about listing them all out for you but I’ve decided to shorten this by combining them into categories:

The House Fiascos: Numbering 7 of significance and including everything from possibly losing homeowners insurance on the cottage, to dead HVAC, and bacteria in the well at the cottage.

Bye bye BMW!

The Motorcycle Fiascos: I won’t go into much detail on this as I don’t fully understand all that was wrong with it (except that it was a number of things and all quite stressful). In this case the end result is that it was sold to a good home, though for $2000 less than we hoped. We are extremely grateful that it sold!

 

 

We get by with a little help from our friends.

The Weather Fiasco: A foot of snow was unexpectedly dumped on Charlottesville the day before we were to leave. The prediction was 3-5 inches. This affected our leaving in a variety of ways – but we left!

The Travel Fiascos: Numbering 3+ of significance and including having our train to Baltimore be canceled, our rental car pick up office being closed due to snow, and almost not being allowed on the plane to Atlanta.

I kept saying all along that whatever happened it was going to be alright because we were getting on the plane on December 11th. However, that was truly challenged when we almost weren’t allowed on the plane and ended up being let on at the very last minute. Once we were on the plane in our seats, my eyes just kept overflowing. I have shed more tears in the last couple of weeks (for the good, beautiful, and true things and for the heart breaking, stressful, and difficult) than many other years of my life. I think it is fair to say our bodies are still weary but our souls are full. And we are so grateful to be here. 

We're here!

Prayer Requests:

– Please pray for our work permits, Annabelle’s dependent/student permit, my ministry of health application, and our immigration status. There are a lot of particular requirements, some of which are unexpected, and we need divine intervention to move things along.

– Unfortunately, we left Annabelle’s “chewie” (blanket) on the last plane. Please, please pray that Delta is able to track it down and return it to us. There have been many tears over the loss of chewie. 🙁

– Please pray for us earnestly. It truly feels as though there are forces at work that do not want us here and need all the divine help we can get, as we believe God does want us here.

We absolutely could not be here without you all. We are sending hugs and blowing kisses.

Thank you for reading. We love you!

Note from the editor (Evan) – I’m working on another post to give you an idea of what we’ve been doing since we landed.

House Hunting in Belize

Belize: First Visit

Mission: Find a House

Meeting Friends, Home Searching, and Dreaming

– “What is your favorite part about Belize?”

– “We don’t know. We’ve never been there.”

– “You’re moving there for a year and you’ve never been there?!”

– “Yep!”

We have had the above conversation more than once. More often than not, it would continue with comments about our bravery. I think bravery and faith look similar, but are overlapping ideas. Bravery chooses not to fear; faith chooses to trust. I’m not sure Missy and I are being brave. Rather, I think we are having faith, trusting that our Father has good things in store for our family in Belize. We belive he has good work for us to put our hands to, and rather than experiencing fear, we are full of anticipation.

Fortunately, at least now I have seen Belize! I spent all last week there. The mission on this trip was to find a home in San Ignacio and to get to know the missionaries we will be assisting, David and Mary Beth Alenskis.

San Ignacio, Belize

San Ignacio is around 2 hours west of Belize City. David graciosuly agreed to pick me up from the airport and let me stay at their home all week. It was an adventure from the start with delayed flights, packed customs qeues, and overheating trucks. But though it was dark by the time we arrived home, we made it safe and sound. The first night ‘s meal consisted of Salbute’s from Lupe’s. We’ll talk food on another post, but let me say I will be eating a lot of these.

David and Mary Beth were wonderful hosts. We had many fantastic conversations over shared meals. I am genuinely excited for them to meet Missy and I believe the four of us can be great friends.

They both tapped into their network of friends to try and find us a place to live. We looked at so many places, but by the end of the week, we had a winner!

“Friendship has always belonged to the core of my spiritual journey.” – Henri Nouwen
This little beauty is a 325sf tiny home built with a shipping container as it’s foundation. It has one bedroom, a kitchen and a bath. Missy, Annabelle, and I will live here, sharing the bedroom. The open portion you see is a deck with a fantastic view of the city.  We are so grateful to have found it! It is only a 5 minute walk for Annabelle to get to school. We found much larger (and in some ways nicer) homes outside of town, but our hope is that this is a simple time for us. Missy doesn’t want to drive and we don’t want to have to take a bus to get everywhere.

The owners are going out of their way to be accomodating. I’ve already been receiving updates with photos. They’re even letting Missy and I choose paint colors for the interior and exterior. We feel so blessed to have found this tiny little place. If you know us, you know it is perfect.

I was also able to visit Annabelle’s school. I think she is going to love it!

I’ll leave you with two photos. One of the school and the other a photo I took inside of St. Andrews Anglican Church. We hope to bring ourselves fully to this community, serving, learning and experiencing God in new ways and with new eyes.