Goodbye, August. You were a month to remember. Beginning with a full-blown return to school and the arrival of our first-ever visitor from our home church in Lapeer, you brought happy hellos and significant goodbyes. You set a rapid pace and we did our best to keep up! Now we are sliding into September where the sun shines, flags unfurl and kites bring color to our Iquique skies. But before you go, I will attempt to hail a few of your highlights:
1. New School
I have three separate tabs on my computer for the boys' school; girls' school; and one extraneous class the girls are taking outside of their online school. Yet they are all the same curriculum. Confusing? Yes, not a little bit for this non-multi-tasker mother. But we are sort of getting the hang of it. It is hardest for the older ones who have to do so much self-learning and miss the interaction of the traditional classroom setting they enjoyed last year. I am thankful for what is available but share their sadness for what is not. We are working towards a balance, setting goals, flexing when necessary while trying to push towards potential and seeking support to fill in the gaps. Outside school Eva has returned to riding horses twice weekly; Isabel has joined a junior paramedic class on Saturdays; while Owen, Ian and Alec train and compete in basketball three days a week. Silas has happily devoted himself to play dates with his little friend Emilia during three of our school mornings, two of which are currently my days at FLORECE and thus Pedro's days as "educational administrator!"
2. Lucy's Visit
Having only met once, and that in passing in the church hallway for just a few brief minutes, we were both excited yet uncertain about what Lucy's visit would bring. Would we click and enjoy one another's company? Would she find her time and money well invested in coming all this way? Or would we overwhelm/underwhelm her (disappointing perhaps a missionary ideal with our all-too-human struggles?) To our delight, Lucy simply brought sunshine and humor, help and perspective into the early weeks of school with our children. She was the perfect dose of encouragement for them, having been homeschooled herself and even completing the bulk of her college studies online. I think she inspired our kids to think outside of the box and imagine new possibilities for their future, while also normalizing their current school experience. Most importantly, her love for Christ and people was very evident and important for our children to observe in a "normal" (ie., non-missionary!) person that they quickly grew to admire. For our girls especially, Lucy filled a "big sister" and "older friend" role that they both needed due to voids created by changes in our ministry context after furlough. Two weeks flew by, and it was truly sad for all of us to see her go! But we hope she will come back again.
3. FLORECE Ministry
By God's grace we continue to have a steady stream of clients, both old and new, coming regularly to FLORECE for maternity classes, Bible studies and counseling. We rejoice in the births of healthy new babies and the opportunities to share Christ and the hope of the gospel to the women we serve. Many times it is bittersweet as we see more clearly the hurts they carry from past wounds and the precariousness of their current circumstances. Our physical and practical help is limited, so we pray and point them to the One Who is unlimited. In a human sense, it can sometimes feel like putting a bandaid on a gaping wound and yet we are privileged to hear testimonies and witness the gradual, faithful transformation taking place in the lives of those who choose to trust Him. In August, we had several additional ministry opportunities outside of our regularly scheduled hours. One which was highly anticipated and somewhat feared was setting up an informational table at the local public university. However, a group of Christian students covered our time there in prayer and God allowed a number of positive interactions with students and visitors during our hours on campus. It was only after our departure that a counter group appeared, spreading fliers opposing life and promoting abortion among the students. The Christian students were so encouraged by our presence that they hope to have us back on a regular basis, and we have since been invited to another secular university campus as well.
4. New Church Plant
Since returning to Chile three months ago, we have plugged into the new church plant beginning with Pedro engaged in teaching and preaching. We were encouraged when our son Owen chose to pick up the guitar he set aside before furlough and try to learn the worship choruses to help in this area. Our friend Felipe has been a patient teacher. With the departure of colleagues the Spink family (one of the "significant goodbyes" this month) we find ourselves with a greater load of responsibility as Pedro also leads worship and engages in leadership development and prayer with several men on a weekly basis. Overseeing the children's ministry falls to me but I am grateful for several women who have stepped up to share the teaching responsibilities for the two age groups we currently manage. Our "classroom" is the covered patio just outside the doors of the community room where the adults meet, so space and volume control are an issue while the playground just across the street is a life saver! Kari Spink left a hole in the music department with her help on the piano, so Isabel has been doing a crash course on playing chords and hopes to help in this way. Alec is replacing Kristi Spink on the computer to coordinate slides during songs, and Pedro is encouraging Ian to heartily sing and bolster the congregation in this way. Eva is our faithful Silas wrangler, which is much needed on a Sunday morning! There are many details to remember, from bathroom supplies (clean hand towel, hand soap, cleaning items) to craft materials to snacks and extra Bibles, since we cannot leave items at the rented space from week to week. We sense the need to creatively plan outreach opportunities to this community in order to make others feel welcome to join on Sunday mornings and find ways of expanding the ministry throughout the week. There are many ideas but limited hands and time, so we pray for wisdom and strength!
5. Family from Afar
My dad had knee replacement surgery at the beginning of August. It was a hard time to be far away, knowing there was uncertainty about timing and insurance coverage beforehand, and hearing the struggles with pain management and recovery afterwards. My oldest sister's presence was a blessing and yet we wished there was a way to share the responsibility she carried for our parents alone. A tender outcome of this was our children's increased sensitivity to pray for their Pop-Pop, yet the distance between us felt daunting during this difficult time.
6. Fond Farewells
In Chilean culture, it is important to say goodbye well and certainly the many expressions of farewell to the Spink family reflected the love of those to whom they have ministered in Iquique. At FLORECE the volunteers hosted a supper after Kim's final shift on a Tuesday evening. Stories were shared of humorous moments with Kim, as well as thankfulness for her testimony and how it had encouraged each of the ladies. The church plant farewelled the Spinks with cake and pizza after their final Sunday service, and we enjoyed having them for a cookout, game and movie night later that same day. After countless times in which they have blessed us with caring for our children, we were happy to have their remaining five at home with us their last night before departure so that Jon and Kim could complete the inevitable last-minute details. Pedro was one of several men who helped with the airport run and at the time of this writing, the Spink family should be winging their way through the sky toward a year of stateside ministry. They will be missed, but in exchange we look forward to welcoming Jon and Pam Sharp at the end of September!
7. Miscellaneous Moments
Mixed in with scheduled life and ministry are many miscellaneous moments. This month, some of those moments looked like meals with dear friends who are going through difficult times as families. In one case we met halfway between their house and ours at FLORECE one morning for a simple spread of sandwiches, juice, coffee and prayer. Another time we were humbled with a generous meal prepared for us by the very ones experiencing a job need. There is so much more we wish we could do to make things better for those around us who are struggling, specifically with a challenging economy. Another miscellaneous moment meant sitting with a widowed friend who faces serious physical limitations yet is the sole provider of full-time care for her elderly mother with increasing dementia. Again, we talked and prayed and asked how we could do more to help in a difficult and discouraging time. In our miscellaneous moments, we are reminded that "as long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me" [Jesus.] May we be sensitive and faithful to carry out this calling!