January - March Update


Dear Friends and Family,

What a busy two months these have been! When we wrote last, it was to ask for your prayers because of the upheaval in the school. We want to thank each of you who have been praying for us and the school through this difficult time.

Just to review what happened, on February 2 the administrative family of our school was asked to leave because of misconduct. Our first difficult task was to fill the place of the missing teachers, in order that school could continue. We had to find a way to cover a total of 12 class periods. Steven was already teaching a full load (he had a class to fill every class period) and could not take on anything additional without combining classes. We were able to rearrange staff to cover most of the classes: the lower forms’ classes were given to our less-experienced teachers so the experienced teachers could cover the more difficult or advanced subjects. Steven merged two upper form English classes. Alice took on a reading class for forms two and three. We gained an additional local teacher for Agriculture and Science classes, and about a week later another local teacher to cover Bible classes. James Ash (our pilot) was able to bring in a young man, Clement, from Georgetown to fill in the rest. Our most difficult subject to cover has, unfortunately, also been the most important to cover well–Human and Social Biology (a basic biology, health, and anatomy class). It is most important because all the form 5 students are registered to take the national examination in this subject in just a few months. No one wanted to take on this crucial class, probably because no one wanted to be responsible if the students did not do well, and frankly no one had the training necessary to be comfortable teaching the material except Alice, and she was not able to give the additional time to cover this class well. This issue is still not resolved to our satisfaction.

Working out administration of the school has been a big struggle for us to face. The Ash family has moved out here to provide some stability, and James assumed the position of principal. But while James is officially principal, he is also kept very busy flying and maintaining the plane. He often receives medical evacuation calls and is out for days at a time. And so Steven has become the leader on the ground. He leads out in PTA meetings, organizes staff meetings, and deals with discipline issues. This has been a very big learning experience for both of us!

It is very difficult to describe the past months to you. We have been working in a blur of activity, home schedules have gone awry, and we have, quite honestly, been living for Sabbath afternoons, when we could sit in the hammock as a family and just rest without other responsibilities vying for our attention. But nonetheless, good things are happening for the school.

We are looking to the future of this school and are forging ahead with plans to make it successful and ultimately self-sustaining. We do not want Paruima Mission Academy to be perpetually dependent on foreign missionaries and money, but to eventually be run by the village and the local conference. One of our goals is to move past the present village mindset that missionaries are like the villagers’ parents. And so we are working on ways to integrate the parents into the school.

One of the ways this is happening is through a new school food program. You may remember that last year we were distressed to see that many students in the lower forms (those not living in the dormitories) did not eat lunch. Either their parents were at their farms, or their homes were too far away, or some other reason prevented them from getting that nutrition at noon. A few of you gave ideas or funds to attempt to solve this problem, but sadly it was not solved last year. But now we are finally realizing our desire to see the students fed. In the last two months, we have implemented a plan to have the parents help work to feed their children.

This plan has several parts. We must build up our school farm to be producing quantities of vegetables and fruits sufficient to feed approximately 70 people 1 meal 4 days a week. This will, of course, take time, but we believe that with well-placed effort we can have the farm producing enough eddoes, yams (not the American kind–these taste more like an Irish potato), sweet potatoes, bora (long beans), cabbage, pak choi, cucumbers, pumpkins, papaya, bananas, peanuts, beans, and other crops, that we will be able to serve a well-balanced lunch to the students without having to carry in large quantities of food from Georgetown. In order to manage something of this magnitude, we are doing our best to involve the parents. At a PTA meeting in February, Steven presented a plan to the parents for feeding the students, asking them to contribute to the project either with their resources or with their time.

The discussion was quite animated, with plenty of ideas, suggestions, and counter-suggestions. In the end, the parents agreed to support the program in any way they could, and we handed out interest forms to collect data on what ways people felt they could contribute. The majority of parents were willing to help by working in the school’s farm for half a day each month (in rotation, so every week we have a group of parents working for several hours). Many also volunteered to help in the kitchen, and a few offered to contribute financially. We were pleased and touched by the eagerness of the parents to see this program succeed. Since we first presented the school feeding program to the parents, we have divided the parents into groups which each work once a month. Working out cooks has been more difficult, but we hope to address that in the coming days.

​ The village is again in difficult straits as the wild hogs continue to ravage their farms, and this year we also have had a severe drought which has further reduced their food production. The dry season last fall was drier and longer than usual, then the wet season was short and mild. As a result, most people have little or nothing to share or sell from their farms. Cassava, the local staple, is in exceedingly short supply and we hear that many people are going hungry. Not quite starving, but certainly not getting enough to eat. We are hoping to plant a portion of the school’s land in cassava to help those that are most affected by the hogs in the future. The school’s farm is near the school and on the side of the river where the hogs are not doing much damage, so we hope that we could succeed in growing this crop to help with the village’s food problem. We walk a fine line here–just as with the school, we do not want the village to be dependent on us, but rather we want them to learn other ways to feed themselves for times when it is difficult to grow things and be more self-sufficient as a community rather than expecting outside aid (from missionaries or the government). “Teach a man to fish…”

Two weeks ago, we took a trip into Georgetown to take care of some government paperwork and purchase supplies for the school. It wasn’t a restful trip, but we were successful in getting this month’s food for the cafeteria. God blessed us in providing the money for all the rice, flour, potatoes, pasta, oil, yeast, and other things we needed. Natalia, a young mission pilot who came from California to get some mission aviation experience, left a donation of just enough money to pay for most of the food for the month (we had no more than a couple dollars left over!). And three weeks ago, we were able to sell about $150 worth of produce from our farm in a neighboring village, which paid for flying the food out to the school. (It costs about $0.50 per pound to fly things from Georgetown to Paruima.) We have seen so many ways that Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33 are true for us, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” This lunch program has been on our hearts for a long time, and as we move forward, we see evidence that God wants this to happen, too.

The school’s third quarter began this last week, and it was also our first week of providing lunch. We started a new attendance program, moved classes around to accommodate a new teacher, and provided food for 45-65 people (it is taking some time for the students to settle into the new program, and some days several students went home over lunchtime). This coming week, the program will be in full swing. We look forward to seeing what God will open up for us next as we seek to honor and serve Him.

​ Finally, you may remember that we were struggling with a decision about whether to stay or leave. We want to thank each of you who prayed that we would have wisdom to decide and a clear path before our feet. We have decided to stay here for another year, if the Lord allows. We plan on flying to the States in early July for a few months to visit with family and friends and refresh our spirits with cooler weather before school starts again in September. Maybe we will get to see you!

Yours in Christ,

Steven, Alice, and Grant

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