A very good friend of ours said recently: “You’ve had the advantage of learning patience this year before you go out to Guatemala.” She and her husband had just returned from serving the Lord in Uganda and she was reflecting on what they had had to learn when living in a culture different to their own. Well, we are certain that we have much more to learn about patience – and a whole lot else besides – but this year has definitely been all about waiting.
On 11 January, 2016, the day after our farewell service at St Peter’s in Maidenhead, we headed to Oxford to start mission partner training and moved into the CMS community house. For the next three months we combined training in Oxford with returning to Maidenhead to clear the vicarage and dispose of most of our belongings, Sunday visits to link churches, and frequent trips to Churchdown in Gloucestershire to spend time with Rosalie’s mum, Phyllis, who had terminal cancer. As things took a turn for the worse, she was moved to a hospice and then to a nursing home.
It’s fair to say that during this period, tired as we were from finishing at Maidenhead and the situation with Rosalie’s mum, we were rather all over the place – not only geographically, but also mentally and emotionally. What we did experience, however, was an enormous amount of love, friendship and support from those around us and those we met – which underlines another of the year’s big themes: it’s all about people because it’s all about relationships.
One of the best things about training in Oxford was getting to know the fantastic team of people who work at “CMS HQ”, those with whom we shared our training and the house, and the many guests who came and went during that time.
Our understanding of what it means to be part of the CMS community was strengthened by meeting other people in mission and, in a way that was particularly inspiring for us both, spending time with longstanding members of CMS at the Southern Conference at High Leigh. With our church visits, time and again we were encouraged and moved by conversations we had and the hospitality we received. So often this past year we have had “chance encounters” that we know were anything but chance, as Jesus brought us into contact with people who had words of encouragement, prophecy and promise – a consistent reminder that Jesus is in control, not us, and it is he who lovingly directs our paths.
We knew that it was right to remain in the UK until Rosalie’s mum had gone to be with the Lord. As anyone knows who has been through something like this, there is no such thing as an exact timetable. Based on her prognosis, we thought it was likely we would be heading out in the autumn – but the Lord had other ideas. One of our unexpected encounters was on Easter Day when we met some Kenyan friends who gave us a word that it would be “more like January” before we went out, which seemed a long way off to us at the time but in the end has proved to be right.
We had our commissioning service at St Peter’s in May and then left Oxford to move into Rosalie’s mum’s bungalow in Churchdown. We were now much nearer to visit and spend time with her in the last period of her life. It also gave us an opportunity for rest, which at that point we badly needed. The months that followed had a very different pace which presented its own challenges, not least in the contrast with the busy life of church leadership that we had known. Again, those months were all about people – the staff at the nursing home who gave such great care for Rosalie’s mum and for us; more of those “unexpected encounters”, and the people of St Andrew’s where Mark had been curate.
We are so grateful to God for placing us in Churchdown, almost exactly 10 years after we left. It has been his provision for us in this season as we have reconnected with old friends in the church and made new ones too. This year too we have met up with many friends we have not seen for a long time and had more time to spend with our family than we could have expected.
Rosalie’s mum died at the end of October. It was hard for us and for her to understand why it took the time it did for her to die when she had wanted to “go home” for so long but through it all, we – and she – had to hold onto trusting in Jesus and learn that it’s all about his timing, not ours.
Now we are getting ready to leave for Guatemala. At the time of writing we are hoping to go in mid-late February. As we wrote in our last letter, our main work will be in Guatemala City with Mi Arca who serve street children and young people at risk, offering them the opportunity to receive mentoring and be equipped with other life skills and helping them to make positive life choices. They have a centre in an area of the city called La Terminal, which is the main place to which we believe we have been called. In 2016 they had an average of 25 children coming to the centre and 25 in the mentoring programme. They have also started a group specifically for boys aged 13 and up, where the boys study the Bible, pray, worship and generally hang out together.
Alongside the centre, Mi Arca have plans to open a protection house which will provide a short-term refuge for children at risk and further opportunities for mentoring and development.
It has become clearer over this past year that, although we will be working with children and their communities, there is a growing need for pastoral care for Mi Arca’s staff and volunteers and we will have a role in providing that. All this would seem to be connected to our call to help plant a new church community in La Terminal. Our formal secondment will be to the UK charity Street Kids Direct which supports Mi Arca, along with other projects in Honduras.
Some of you will know that our friend Duncan Dyason, the founder of Street Kids Direct who will be our line manager, walked from Costa Rica to Guatemala this year to raise money for the charity. It was something that generated huge amounts of interest and support from within Central America as well as around the world. We are delighted to say that he was awarded an MBE in 2017 New Year’s honour list for his work with street children in Guatemala.
When we arrive we will be living in the town of Antigua, staying in accommodation owned by a couple from the US who have 60 years’ experience of living in Guatemala. There we will enrol in a language school, which we know from having spent a short time there on our sabbatical in 2013, and get down to some intensive language learning. We will probably be based there for six months, while taking breaks to join in with the work in Guatemala City and visiting Honduras as well. We will be linking up with fellow CMS mission partner, Steve Poulson, who will be based mainly in Honduras (the Central American contingent is growing!). After that time in Antigua, we will then move into the capital.
We are excited – and a little daunted – by this imminent move. We have known the Lord’s love and faithfulness through this time of preparation and we know that he has not done yet with teaching us to rely on him. In the end, whatever we think our plans, our mission and our timings might be, it’s not about us. We know that it’s all about Jesus – and that our closeness to him is far more important than anything we think we can do for him.
With love in Jesus,
Mark and Rosalie