Have you ever heard your grandparents tell you, “Back in my day, we used to walk to school five miles each way in the dead of winter with no shoes?” Of course, the exaggerated story was to inspire you to count your blessings. Allow us to inspire you with a non-embellished tale of our refugees from Afghanistan. Desperate to find a church where they can freely worship, this ever resilient group, travels by car from the mountains outside of Jakarta to Providence Anglican Church every Sunday. The trip takes almost three hours each way! Can you imagine how hungry for the Word and Christian fellowship they must be to go that distance? Can you imagine how physically hungry they must get during the long day away from home? We strive each week to make sure that we fill them with good food to eat and a meal to take for the road, but more importantly, God is sustaining them with his Word and satisfying them spiritually around the table of Holy Communion. God’s family from many countries at the banqueting table. His banner over us is love!
Providence Anglican Church is a multi-national fellowship in Jakarta. God has seen fit to add to our small group people from America, Australia, China, Korea, Indonesia, Iran, and the Philippines. How beautiful that on any given Sunday, the sermon or scripture reading might be translated into one of the languages spoken by our members. One particular Sunday, something really special happened. Our American-Malaysian co-worker, Sandy, helped our Iranian believers lead the congregational singing in Farsi. All of the songs were familiar, but with lyrics in the Farsi language. Sandy must have practiced night and day to master this in a tongue so foreign. Our hearts and voices lifted as one as we cried out “How Great is Our God!” Pedar rahim bar ma, Masih monjiye ma, Setaim namatra, Setaim namatra. The Godhead Three in One, Father, Spirit, Son, The Lion and the Lamb, The Lion and the Lamb.
I can’t say we expected to worship in Farsi when we first journeyed to the far seas to minister in Indonesia. How thankful we are that God always exceeds our expectations. Truly, how great is our God!
People might wonder what the life of a missionary is like and assume there must be to it an air of the romantic or exotic. Well, we have had our share of “exotic” scents (usually sewage) and tropical breezes (laden by smog.) But, really our life would be best described as an adventure (meaning not planned and totally out of my sphere of control) with our heavenly Father as the most amazing tour guide!
Consider our recent trip to Singapore to secure an Indonesian visa (permission to live and work in the country.) Our three days turned into five, as the visa process can be painfully slow. I was anxious at this change of plans because this would mean the kids would miss more school, Jim would be absent from church, and more money would be spent on meals abroad. It was a cry or laugh moment, and so I decided to trust that our Tour Guide must have a lot to show us in Singapore!
Being blessed with superior accommodations at the Anglican Prayer Lodge, we set out to see what the city had to offer. We dined with old friends, took in a light-water-music show at the harbor, worshiped at St. George’s, and strolled around The Botanical Gardens. We had a great tour of Singapore and left with a reminder to “sit back and enjoy the ride!”
The kids and I are back in Jakarta and finally starting to feel the effects of jet lag wearing off! What a blessing to be once again in the midst of our PAC family (Providence Anglican Church.) Jim was busy setting up the Lord’s Table with an array of beautiful furnishings provided by St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Phoenix, AZ and the International Anglican Fellowship. What a remarkable visual picture it created in our humble rental space! Upon unwrapping the wooden stand for the display of the Bible, Jim discovered a sticker on the bottom that read, “Made in Indonesia.” Can you imagine this stand, made by native hands here, exported across the vast ocean with years of service in America, then carried all the way back to our little church in Jakarta? We all had a good chuckle and yet this served as a reminder that God is truly at work, connecting believers around the globe. What an encouragement to us. “He’s got the whole world in His hands!”
At the moment, it is quiet. Finally. December felt like a sprint to Christmas. After Christmas it seemed like a mere hop-skip-and-a-jump until the whirlwind of Ash Wednesday. The marathon of Lent eventually gave way to the wrestling mat of Holy Week, and now, after a joyous Easter Sunday, I am collapsed here in our living room. Mary Beth is in the next room, sick at the moment with a stomach bug we’ve both picked up, she worse than I. At nights the darkness is saturated with noise from the yearly fair taking place a few blocks from the Rectory: incessant bass and random air horns announcing far and wide that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, and in the quiet of the noonday sun, I am able to take a step back and reflect, and wish you all a Happy Easter from me and mine!
So, to answer the question that’s probably on your mind, how have things been going for us? There is much to tell, and much to ask you to pray about. I may not be able to relay the juice of our doings and happenings like Mary Beth is able (and as she has this past November, December, February, and March), but even if my update’s all pulp I hope to leave with you a definite impression of where we’ve been and where we hope to go in the coming weeks and months.
On many fronts in ministry, things have really been moving along quickly. Last December we applied for licenses for ten new lay ministers for our two churches in addition to the four already serving: licenses for five new catechists to help with children’s ministry and preparation for baptism and confirmation, and licenses for five new lay readers to assist in worship in various capacities. This past Thursday those licenses were granted by Bishop Wright (N.B. the new website is still in development) and the Diocesan Commission on Ministry, and we’re excited to begin a new phase of ministry at St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s as we deploy them into action in the coming weeks and months. I am thrilled, in part because eight of these ten new lay ministers are under the age of 35, and in part because of my hope that they will help usher in a new emphasis on radical discipleship, outreach, and evangelism. Please pray that God will equip, empower, and inspire these new leaders of our little churches!
Also, as a side note: Mary Beth is one of those new lay ministers who just got licensed by the Bishop to serve! She was licensed for three areas: 1) to work in the schools as a lay youth chaplain, 2) to lead Morning and Evening Prayer as a lay reader, and 3) to administer the chalice at Holy Communion as situations may require it. She is insistent that her primary contribution in the life of the church is related to music, but music is taking her in all kinds of directions, and I am excited to see how God will continue to use her wherever, whenever, and however he wills!
As we license new lay ministers for worship, however, we are also in sore need of other kinds of leaders for our churches as well. At the beginning of this year we were unable to fill the Church Committee (i.e. Vestry) position of Outreach for St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s, despite some pleading from their concerned priest-in-charge at the Annual General Meeting. A congregation member has been serving informally as our head of Outreach since then, but she informed yesterday that her health is not allowing her to continue on in that capacity. Similarly, at the beginning of the year we had brought on a new Treasurer for St. Andrew’s, but due to changes in his employment he had to resign a few weeks ago. We are trying desperately to find new people to step up and take responsibility in these vital areas of the church. As is often the case on the ground here, only a few want to help out, and absolutely no one wants to be the individual responsible. Please pray that God would raise up new leadership to guide all of God’s people here to take on the full scope of ministry entrusted to us together as the church.
On a positive note, our two churches seem to be bouncing back from the relative instability of these past few years, punctuated by my prolonged absences. St. Hilda’s especially has been growing considerably, and God has not only brought two new families into membership and consistent attendance, but he has also been bringing people back to church who had left a while back! Please pray that the momentum that has been happening at St. Hilda’s will not only continue there, but also spread to our larger parish congregation of St. Andrew’s where growth has been happening, but remains a bit sluggish.
Still, taking St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s together, not only has our attendance been on the increase at our Christmas, New Years’, Ash Wednesday, and Holy Week services, but First Quarter attendance figures have recovered from the low point that they hit last year when I was gone. We thank God for everyone whom he has been bringing to our churches: each person who comes is a gift that we treasure, and we can’t wait to see what he will be doing in their lives! Please pray that God would continue to build up our churches and increase commitment: that those who are frequent attenders would become volunteers, that those who are infrequent attenders would become frequent, and that on top of everything else that he would give us encounters with total strangers that would bring them into the fellowship of Christ’s Body.
It was to this end that last February we helped begin a new English-language service at one of the Hispanic missions in our twin towns. One of our senior lay ministers has been leading a service of Evensong and preaching through the epistle to the Galatians, while Mary Beth and I have been helping to lead the music. Our hope is to recruit new people to help lead music over the next few months, and then do the same thing somewhere else, either in English or in Spanish, in another location. The service is slowly catching on, although for the last few weeks those attending have been mature believers from St. Andrew’s who desire more opportunity to worship the Lord. This is not a bad thing, though our overall goals for Evensong are wider and more evangelistic. Please pray that God would continue to grow, reproduce, and direct this new service, and continue to equip and empower the lay ministry team that is overseeing it!
Something similar could be said about our ventures in youth ministry at St. Andrew’s. Our youth group is going well, although since we started doing more worship at our weekly gatherings, we have seen some drop-off in young people casually showing up. Nevertheless, we are excited about the regulars that we have coming (around a dozen), and we cannot wait to see what God continues to do in their lives! Back in February we held a youth retreat jointly between four churches: St. Andrew’s, St. Hilda’s, La Anunciación and Santa Cruz, and it went really well! We are so grateful for all the young people that God has put into our lives and churches, and we ask you to pray that God would firmly root and establish them in the Gospel and in his Church, equipping and empowering them not only for ministry in the future but for service in the present.
Mary Beth has also been working hard with her youth choir, which has moved from having rehearsals every other week to rehearsing every week. The kids are enthusiastic (almost, at times overwhelmingly exuberant) and they are starting to sound really good! While she is inviting them to perform the occasional anthem at church, she is looking for a really nice opportunity have them sing an entire cantata or concert of some kind in the spring. When we have a date, we will let you know so you can be praying and, perhaps, even tune in!
The amount of proverbial food on my plate has also expanded a little since we first came back to Belize now almost nine months ago. Back in October at our Diocesan Synod I was elected to serve on the Diocesan Commission on Ministry, the executive arm of the Diocese that discerns and advises the Bishop on issues related to ministry, clergy, ordination, and lay leadership throughout our churches here. This has until now involved a meeting or two each month, sometimes a Sunday away from St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s as we travel around the country and visit with churches that need the Commission’s attention. However a few weeks ago, I was asked by the Bishop and the Commission to serve as one of two “examining chaplains” in the Diocese; that is, I am to help test candidates for ministry and discern their level of (mostly theological) preparedness for ordination. It is a large responsibility, and we already have two postulants before us to examine and guide through additional theological preparation. I ask that you please keep us in your prayers as we put together our rubrics, ask these tough questions, and make our recommendations with regard to these postulants and to others who may come in the future.
There is so much more to say about ministry at our churches, but I had better get down to telling you about how Mary Beth and I are doing personally. We have been sick a lot recently … a lot. If it’s not a cold, it’s the flu, and if it’s not the flu, it’s a fall or a sprain. These ailments are made more uncomfortable as the seasonal hot-and-dry season has finally moved into our neighborhood, and smoke and dust are everywhere these days. We have had incessant electrical difficulties with our truck (new battery, new alternator, two new regulators, etc.) and plumbing problems with our bathroom. But in the middle of it all, these have been months of drawing close to God and to one another, especially this past Lent. We are doing well, and we really are enjoying life and ministry.
And for me personally, it is especially exciting to watch Mary Beth growing into her substantial and weighty ways of serving in a place where I had been for years without her. I love watching her connect, sometimes slowly but always deeply, with the people we serve and serve with, and especially with the children and youth who look up to her and admire her. I love the transparent humanity and fresh perspective that she brings to our pastoral visits and casual encounters with folks here. I love that her music showers its beauty about our home, our church, our youth, our community. I love that she is here, and I am so grateful that we are here together in ministry.
And soon Mary Beth will be mentoring someone else: Bridger (medium-term missionary) Jordan Paris! Jordan is set to be an intern serving with our churches and schools throughout June and July. We are so excited that she will be coming to work with us during those months, and I am excited to see God use my wife in new and powerful ways as well. We can’t wait for her to come and serve with us! Please keep Jordan in your prayers as she gets ready for the transition to Belize!
At this point I’ve probably written more than I need to. Mary Beth will giving her own update soon enough, but until then I would ask that you keep us in your fervent prayers. Thank you for your prayers, for your gifts, for your encouragement, and for your faithfulness. May God richly bless you!