Sunday, October 25, 2009

I'll miss you, Caranavi

It is almost time for me to go home. Though the idea of leaving Bolivia is scary, it is also exciting. Everything will be different. Different family, different alone space, different chores, different day to day life, different food, different transportation, different money, different smells, different sounds. There are so many things I will miss, probably more than I realize. Night sounds through open windows (including my dog's weird relaxed grunting), birds in the mornings (especially my black and yellow favorite birds), Bolivian foods (especially aji de postre and fruit juices), walking to work (straight up a hill, my legs are getting nice and toned), mountian views (is there any better place to spend time with God?), afternoon breezes, watching sunsets from the hammock, washing floors with soap and a bucket of water, doing laundry by hand listening to Greg Boyd podcasts, having school with the Krafts, playing with the Casa kids, hearing, speaking, and learning Spanish. Vero. Charo. Chachi. CEC. So much.
As I write, at least three almost invisible bugs fly with their high-pitched buzzing around my head, a nightly occurrence. That will change soon. I suppose I will miss you, too, little buzzers, but only theoretically.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Treasures of CdE

One of the most affectionate, she's an obvious favorite of visitors because she is drawn to the arms of foreigners. She hardly talks, but is learning more and more. I'd say she is doing quite well considering the setbacks dealt her by her mother. They call her restless, which is a good description of her constant motion. She's always on the move, always getting into things, usually happy, always curious. JA is one of a kind, and she surprised me today. Developmentally way behind, she did a puzzle with me today. She didn't get many of the pieces by herself the first time, but when we did it again, she remembered where every piece went. Wow. A hidden gift found in a foam cut-out puzzle of Bolivia. She has a tenderness and motherliness with dolls beyond what I have seen before with little kids. We read books together, which was a treat for both of us, and we colored. She doesn't know the names of the colors, but she can group them by color really well. Oh, what a treasure those scribbled sheets were to her. Oh, what a treat some one-on-one time was for me.

I was warned about her. N is one to watch. I went in prepared, always trying to know every detail of her homework so that I wouldn't fall for any tricks. I saw her eyes flash the first week as she recognized the competition. I's a tricky house, a tricky situation, but the hard shell is softening. N isn't so tough with me anymore. In fact, she almost seems to enjoy our time together. She's smiling more. She's doing her assignments. She is better at division that I am. I see that her behavior problems come out her need to look out for herself and her attempts to look out for others. She is one of the ones that tugs at my heart, that I want to look after. I have been really blessed. I look forward to our time together. I get a kick out of her smile and the way she scratches her head. I'm really glad I know her.

She's a pincher. I've gotten two notes from her kindergarten teacher this week about pinching, but she's a cute kid. It's what she knows; it's what she's learned. Inside frustration comes out in pinching fingers. I get that. She doesn't have a bad heart; she's just in a tough situation. Her upper lip is almost always beaded in sweat, but almost always accompanied by a smile. C just wants to read with me, hang out with someone who will play with her, be silly with someone.

Their dad came today. I found out on Wednesday they're brother and sister, and I found out today that they were abandoned. Their mom and dad visit sometimes. I don't know the situation, but what in the world must be going on in 4-yr-old JG's head? He's a little boy with a man's world of understanding. He takes care of 3-yr-old L. She has a crazy mop of hair, he's always shaved. Her teeth are broken or missing, his teeth are perfect. I never saw the similarity until recently. It's in their smiles, their bright eyes, their round cheeks, the way they mischievously tilt their heads, their off-kilter little-kid-run. What will their futures be like?

Many tears. Tears of fear. They have done something wrong and will likely get a spanking. Tears of frustration. Homework stands in the way of playtime. Tears of pain. Another kid slammed them into the wall, hit their face, or hurt their eye with a coat zipper. Tears in every house. Babies are hungry or just like to yell. Kids are overlooked, overworked, overtired. Tears express the heart better than any words can.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Road to Bolinda

I live at Kilometer 3 on the road to Bolinda. For almost an entire year I have known of this place and wanted to go. I tried running that way nce, but was warned the same day about the dangers of running alone on this road.

Tonight I can finally say that I have been to Bolinda. I was nothing like what I pictured. A different world with an occasional view of the same “Caranavi” mountains. Much like Naranjos outside of Entre Rios, it is a cluster of homes that dot the landscape next to the road, a school, a church, a manmade laguna, a park, a store situated in a house, a dirt soccer field. I was enchanted. What would it be like to live in a place like this? I would love certain things, but not all things. A man let us go to his laguna, which he made with tractors and shovels, showing us his giant fish, offspring of the ones he had brought in from Tarija, on the other side of the country. The flowers there are different, more exotic, but a flower from home on the Hickey’s porch also made an appearance. An unexpected hike took us up to a coffee drying rack, and down a path that led to…? We never found out after 15 minutes hiking down. We did find more coffee trees amidst larger trees where two people hid above us. We shared a “Soda Real” in plastic cups in the back of the truck, parked on the road between the soccer field and the tire swings. As we drove back, the mountains loomed majestically over my “high” peaks that are visible from CEC. It makes me feel like the CEC is low, though normally I enjoy the height we have over the pueblo. I am reminded of my size. I am so small, a single person living on one hill of thousands, with a view that doesn’t do justice to the immensity of this place called “Las Yungas”.

Gente de Toda Lengua y Nación de Generación a Generación

Señor eres fiel y tu misericordia eterna,
(Lord you are faithful and your mercy is eternal)
Señor eres fiel y tu misericordia eternal
(Lord you are faithful and your mercy is eternal)
Gente de toda lengua y nación
(People from every tongue and nation)
de generación a generación
(From generation to generation)

Te adoramos hoy
(We adore you today)
Aleluya, aleluya
Te adoramos hoy
(We adore you today)
Eres Señor
(You are Lord)
Eres fiel!!!
(You are faithful)
(Eres Fiel, song by Coalo Zamorano)

Toda lengua confesará declarará tu gloria,
(Every tongue will confess, will declare your glory)
las rodillas se doblarán adorando,
(knees will bow adoring)
tu nombre exaltado será,
(your name will be exalted)
y tu reino Anciano de Días nunca pasará...
(and your kingdom, Ancient of Days, will never pass away)
(Anciano de Días/Ancient of Days)

The tears flow as I sing those songs, flowing mostly for Kodjo and my grandmother, but also for all my friends or even just the beautiful people I have seen along the way. I remember people who speak such beautiful languages in some of the places I have been: Ewe, Gourmanchéma, Fon, Aymara, Biali, Spanish, English, Guaraní, Quechua, Chinese, French…I picture my English-speaking Grandmother with Ewe/French/English-speaking Kodjo, and they are singing together in all languages, glorifying the God who understands all languages, who sees all hearts. People of all generations, from Adam and Eve to my friends who have passed away recently, all are joined together singing to a God I cannot fathom, but I long to worship nonetheless. I take such advantage of this all-powerful God, forgetting his faithfulness as I see only earthly uncertainty, forgetting his goodness as I see only earthly struggle, forgetting his mercy as I see only earthly condemnation. Señor, te adoramos hoy, te exaltamos hoy, tu misericordia es eterna.


2.5 hours of laundry at the outside sink bring sunburned calves and shoulders, as well as a refreshed spirit after Greg Boyd’s Animate series sermons. Making agua soldis (our all natural water filtration system) provides a chance to be with friends outside. Cleaning the floor brings a cool feel to a normally dusty red concrete. A bucket bath is always refreshing, as it either brings cooling water to calm my hot skin or warm water to soothe a cold body. The life here is simple, without a lot of chemicals or machines, and I like it so much. Purpose is more obvious, though I have been so overwhelmed lately that I have lost sight of myself and my purpose. I don’t want to go back home yet, though the time is drawing near. I am afraid of my old self, afraid of getting lost in the materialism, expectations, and loneliness, of being in a world of options without a string tying me to anything in particular. This life at CEC no longer holds purpose for me in that I am not teaching my students or the CEC students, but it’s purpose remains in drawing me closer to God. I know I can have that anywhere, and that is such a treasure I cling to as I consider going back to the U.S. Admittedly, it is a treasure I fear losing in the chaos of the U.S. I am riding a fine line, going back and forth between trusting God with me and my future and worrying that the struggles ahead will overshadow all the good, who I have become, and who I want to be in the future.

An unrehearsed symphony

The setting of the sun cues the rising of the evening sounds. The evening sounds are swamplike, buzzing, whirring, chirping, blurping, whooping…how does one describe this symphony, familiar and at the same time altogether different from a United States summer evening? It is my favorite time of day in Caranavi, as the sunset shoots magnificence into the clouds, and purple, pink, orange, red, and blue blanket the green hills and blue skies. The hills’ song comes to life, surrounding me with summer sounds, night time comforts, and physical rest. An evening shower washes away the dust, an evening breeze blows away the heat, an evening chat soothes away the exhaustion. The evenings here are splendid.

20 Things I Learned in Bolivia

Some of the Many Things I’ve Learned in Bolivia

1. Always check your toothbrush for ants.
2. You can clean everything with ACE (pronounced ah’-say).
3. French fries go with everything, even and especially soup.
4. “Catholic” means different things in different countries.
5. A dog can teach you a lot about your relationship with God.
6. Toothbrushes are better bought in the U.S. Gel, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, soap, fruits, vegetables, and so much more are better bought in Bolivia.
7. It’s best not to have internet at your house. You get sucked in.
8. Orange juice squeezed in front of you tastes amazing.
9. When bananas are ready to be cut off the tree, you have to cut almost the whole tree down or no more will grow.
10. Banana tree juice stains and tastes terrible.
11. Idolatry exists in many forms, and it exists in every country.
12. Outer appearance is less important than what is going on in your heart.
13. Circumstances don’t determine happiness, you do.
14. I can worship washing dishes (by hand or machine), hear a sermon while washing clothes (by hand or machine), and pray while commuting to work (on foot or in car), but I still need to set aside time to just be with God (daily).
15. Climate, altitude, landscape, temperature, culture, transportation methods, and price ranges can drastically change during a four-hour drive.
16. Walking is much better than driving.
17. I don’t need 95% or more of the stuff I thought I needed.
18. Not everyone thinks like I do.
19. We will never be able to receive true acceptance if what we give is condemnation.
20. Deciding to live as a missionary subconsciously includes a decision to nevermore belong to any one culture.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Her Loyalty is Evident

I’ve noticed a change in her recently. Our relationship is much more intimate now. She used to acknowledge my presence, occasionally followed me out of curiosity more than love, occasionally sought my presence. Now she eagerly looks to me to see not where I am going, but where we are going. She patiently awaits my timing, eagerly follows my lead. When people see her, they notice her loyalty and they ask about our relationship. They comment about how much she loves me and ask what I do for her. To her, it isn’t about what I do for her, but who I am to her. She used to be lost, wandering from one person to the next, seeking love and satisfaction, but always drifting. Now her loyalty is evident. She’s willing to go to great lengths to follow me, even breaking boundaries she’s never broken before. Where I go, she goes, and though she often leaves to run ahead, she won’t go very far without checking in with me. She was recently wounded in her pursuit of me, but her loyalty hasn’t wavered. She makes sure she stays by my side, limping along, pained but glad to be by her master. Her faithfulness is noteworthy; her love is rewarded with much affirmation. She is mine.

She has stopped caring so much about me as the task. I can see that she is deeply involved with her tasks, so much so that she has lost sight of me. She has started going on without me, not really interested in following me, but comfortable in the work I have given her. Though she is still present physically, the difference is obvious; her faithfulness to me is waning. She is caught up in the tasks, and she no longer looks to me. She runs ahead without looking back, she stays behind without looking to see where I am. The sacrifice of the relationship saddens me. The work being done doesn’t even matter; it was the relationship I wanted.

My dog Chachi’s faithfulness to me mirrors my relationship with God. Sometimes I am so involved with the relationship that the tasks don’t seem to matter. Other times I am simply lost in the task without giving thought to the reason or relationship behind it.

We have a lot to learn from dogs.

All over the place

Day 8 at the Casa
I feel like I was MADE FOR THIS. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that way before. Teaching. Orphans Both... I’m not ready to leave. This feels like it FITS. I love that feeling. I don’t want to lose this life. It feels right.

Day 11 at the Casa
I’m dry. The days are long and filled with things I need to do, not with things I want to do. Life at the Casa is hard, heavy, dry. Trying to handle almost all of the kids is too much…I’m tired of thinking. I’m tired. It’s only Monday. Shoot.

Day 15 at the Casa
Though I lack gut, Spanish, and law enforcement, I feel like my presence is a fairly good fit.

Day 17 at the Casa
I’m so tired of this life. I don’t like it. I am ready for a change. Tonight I am glad I don’t have kids. I don’t even want a pet tonight. Ugh. I hate this attitude, this frustration.

Day 19 at the Casa
Today was calm, fun. I had a chance to help. I’m getting more used to things.

Life at the Casa for me has been all over the place. I have said from the beginning that it is a blessing to be there, and I stick by that. I have been immensely blessed there, able to deepen my relationship with many kids and adults, able to explain certain school things to kids, able to fill a staff need they have. I have learned much more about the Bolivian schools and much more Spanish. I look at the time there, and I see a tired Bethany, but a much bigger purpose. It has been an incredible blessing to be there.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A New Job

I can tell I am tired by my apathy over God’s beautiful creation here, lack of patience for things I used to enjoy, and rude answers to people I love. (Don’t worry, writing this has helped me feel better.) So why am I so tired? After all, I just finished the school year in late August. Shouldn’t I be well rested? A week after finishing, not knowing what I would do with myself exactly, but needing to do some things yet before I go home, I was offered a new job. It is a temporary one, and one I couldn’t turn down.

So I now work for the Casa de Esperanza! I am there from 8:30 to 5:30 every day Monday through Friday. The need came about in a roundabout way. There was an accident on Death Road (no one died). The person in charge of the town’s daycare was injured and needs time to recover. The Casa de Esperanza is in charge of the town’s daycare (I had no idea about that), and they couldn’t close it while they waited for the teacher to return. So the person in charge of most the schooling aspect for the kids (controlling homework, dealing with notebooks, computer research, and the library), had to go to work at the daycare, leaving the Casa without help with schooling. So, since I was available and already work under the same organization (the CEC and the Casa are under the same board of directors and have the same founders), it fell into my lap.

I spent this week figuring out who is who, which house each child lives in, what grade the kids are in, who are the others in the same grade, who the tias are in each house, what the schedule is each day, how to deal with and help in the library, how to do research on their computers, in what order to visit the houses. In addition, I am refiguring out how to have a normal day-job outside of the home. Teaching home school all year gave me a lot of freedom to do laundry in the daylight (I do it outside) before grading and planning, take my coffee to work with me, do the day’s dishes after each meal and not all in one shot at the end of the day, etc.

So far, it has been a blessing, but one of those blessings that comes in a character-building way. It was a lifelong dream of mine to work in such a capacity, and I am really grateful the opportunity fell into my lap at a time when I had no reason I couldn’t do it. I am getting to know the kids and tias better, enjoying Bolivian food at lunch, and starting to understand the Bolivian school system a little better. It isn’t easy work, but it is rewarding.

Six weeks. Well, just over five weeks now. That’s all I have left here. Then I go on a little trip and then my visa will be up. The time is ticking…not flying, but ticking away nonetheless.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cultural Musings

The culture here is something I have always thought was beautiful. I think that was more because of the differences between these Bolivian cultures and my own than for the cultures themselves. The truth is that I don’t know much about the actual cultures. There were many things I didn’t know about Bolivia before I first came here in 2007. In fact, the only things I remember knowing were the geographical location of Bolivia and that they speak Spanish. I didn’t know about the incredible diversity in land and climate here. I didn’t know that there are nine departimentos, which are similar to, but larger than, most states in the United States. I didn’t know that the city of La Paz is also within a region called La Paz, and within that region there are the Andes mountains, the high plains called the Altiplano, a tropical region called Las Yungas, and more. I didn’t know about the Aymara people or the Quechua people, the two largest people groups found in Bolivia, nor where they could be found. When I left in May of 2007, I still wasn’t aware of the other people groups in Bolivia. Now, I must say I still don’t know much, but often learning something clues you in to the fact that there is still so much more to learn. I met and loved one family from the Guaraní culture near Argentina. I am familiar with a couple other names of cultures and languages spoken here. I have heard there are over thirty people groups here, and I believe they each speak a unique language. No, Spanish is not the only language spoken here. Most people here seem to understand if not also speak at least two languages. I didn’t know who the president was when I came in 2007, and I still must say I don’t understand all of the things happening in, around, and because of the government. However, I know where my friends stand, I know most of what President Evo Morales stands for, and I know now where I stand in relation to his politics.

I am getting a better idea of many general things about Bolivia. However, the culture itself here in Caranavi still baffles me. It is so easy to look at my friends here and say that I love them, but at the same time, I must admit that I don’t know much yet about where they come from, why they do what they do, how they might think, and what kind of things go on in their homes and towns that are different from the experiences I had growing up.

This week I was witness to more culture here in Bolivia as we celebrated Bolivia’s Independence Day, celebrating the time when Bolivia won its independence from Spain. August 6 is the actual holiday, though the celebrations lasted a week or more. We live 3 km (by switchback roads, not as the crow flies) above the town, and most of the noise of the town doesn’t get to our house, though it definitely rises up to the house at CEC that faces the town directly. These last two weeks were full of marching bands practicing and the unmistakable pounding bass of party after party. I grew up in a town where parades were organized so that the streets only closed down once, the people only came out to watch once, and the marchers only dressed up once. However, here the parades seem a bit different. One group at a time might go out into the streets, or it could be more. People can all see because almost everyone seems to live in the midst of things. Cars don’t get mad at the hold up. They either wait, creep around the marchers, or find an alternate route. Another thing that I didn’t know was that many parades are held for a cause. Some parades are held simply to celebrate a holiday, a life, etc. However, many parades are held in honor of a virgin of the Catholic church or the Pacha Mama, which is the Aymara (I think) word for Mother Earth. The people of Bolivia have many folkloric dances. It seems most come with their own story, their purpose, their costumes, their music, and their rhythm. I have so much to learn. It makes me hesitate writing on the subject. What does it all mean? Why are they dancing? What do the costumes mean? Do the dances and costumes still mean these things, or are they just celebrating things of the past? I don’t have any answers, but I can say that I saw a dancing competition in a full soccer stadium this week. Thousands of folkloric dancers, traditional costumes, talented musicians, and interested spectators. The large groups entered one at a time, the band did a number, the dancers came across the field and went around the track until they danced in front of the judges and continued off the field. Then a new type of music began with a new band, new dancers, different costumes, and a completely different style of dance. It was very interesting and very beautiful.

I am reading Jeremiah right now, which is a book in the Bible that never made much sense to me until now. As I read in the mornings on a bench that allows me to see the gorgeous mountains, feel the morning clouds, and hear the rush of the river below, the boom of the parties continuing into the morning, the trumpets of the Bolivian National Anthem, and the beat of the bands tirelessly practicing, I just stop and pray for these people. Is this place like the places in the Old Testament? In many ways, yes. The idolatry here is obvious. It is less conspicuous in the United States, until I consider that wealth, possessions, and status are also idols. I am learning that the Bible truly is timeless. I don’t know what to make of any of it. I know that I love many things about my life here. I thank God every day for the amazing view and a safe, gorgeous place to live. The cultures here, like the dances, are many, and they are each unique. I have a glimpse into the Aymara culture in Caranavi, which is probably very different than the Aymara cultures in other parts of the La Paz region and Bolivia. I can’t say much about it because I still don’t know much about it. I can only look at my friends here and acknowledge that they are dearly loved by God. I can commit to asking more questions and spending as much time as possible with the people here. I can also decide not to judge and condemn them in my ignorance, pray for their salvation through my Savior Jesus Christ, and look at my own idolatry, sin, and meaningless tradition.

As someone said, we are celebrating independence in a place that isn’t truly free. In order to gain freedom, we must recognize that true freedom doesn’t come from politics. Freedom comes from making ourselves slaves for Christ and receiving a mysterious and all-encompassing forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

4 days in Rurrenabaque

After an eternal night on a swaying bus, constantly waking up aware that I could easily fall out of my chair without armrest down the stairs leading to the door just to my right, I finally woke up to see the beginnings of a sunrise. Glorious. Oh, the wonders of a sunrise! I haven’t seen a true sunrise in ages. The sun rises behind our home, behind the hills, and behind the clouds that accompany every morning in Caranavi. However, today the sun rose across a flat horizon marked only by palm trees. The sun rose orange and fiery declaring war on the darkness. My first experience in the tropical flatlands of Bolivia. Finally I have arrived in the infamous Beni about which I have heard so much. Today is a grand adventure. Today I arrive in Rurrenabaque with a group of people from Holland and a few others from Bolivia. Today we will rest and vacation, and I love every minute of it.

Another sunrise, another beautiful morning in the Beni. I woke up early to take part in this sunrise from our terrace on the roof. Orange and angry, the sun rose despite the ominous clouds. Bread and coffee for breakfast and then we loaded into four large jeeps. A 2.5 hour ride over one of the four flat, straight roads I have seen in Bolivia. We arrived at a river that looked like most other rivers I know. Calm, green water lined by tired green trees. We loaded boats made from trees whose sap is so poisonous is burns you instantly. Antonio guided us down the river, our eyes peeled to see which animals would share the river with us today. I have seen many animals from behind a fence, cage, railing, or glass. This time, there are no barriers. Me. A boat. Alligators. Piranhas. I love it.

The first animal we see apart from birds is a dead alligator floating upside down. We take pictures and move on. Soon we see live alligators, lots of exotic birds, and the largest rodent in the world, the capybara. Pink dolphins (the adults are a light pink, the young are gray) swim and play with us in the river. Piranhas lurk, but we don’t see them face to face. Turtles seem to sun on all the banks. Birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors rest in trees, soar through the air, and fish for lunch. A vulture pecks timidly at the water. A blue-winged bird dries its wings after a successful hunt. The largest bird in the Amazon was spotted a few times, probably as large as a seven year old child. My favorite animals were monkeys by the treefull. Little squirrel monkeys who knew they were cute came as close to us as they could get in hopes of finding some food.

We search for animals in the water, on the banks, in the trees, in the air. Everything we see is a habitat. Enjoying the boat ride would be wonderful enough. The cool breeze and warm sun are perfect. Everything is perfect. It was drizzling in the beginning, but not for long. No, this day couldn’t be better.

After three hours on the water, we arrive at the camp where we will sleep. Everything is on stilts because during the rainy season the entire region in flooded. The buildings are half wood, half screen, allowing for the sights, sounds, smells, and temperatures to surround you even while you sleep. We eat wonderful food while the rain pours down, and wait in the hammocks to see if it will stop raining enough to go alligator “hunting” at night. It does. We take our flashlights and shine them on the banks. Soon enough we see reddish orange eyes glowing back at us. We get close to a couple alligators and I start thinking about the absurdity of this. It’s pitch black, the night has just begun, and we are aggressively intruding on alligators who aren’t in cages. They seemed to be peace-loving tonight, and we just looked at each other.

The rain brought with it a cold front that left the rest of our trip in very cold, rainy weather. However, we were still able to do almost everything we had planned to do. We had to skip the sunrise boat trip due to rain, and piranha fishing was canceled because piranhas go to deep waters when it is cold. We did have a monkey jump onto our porch during breakfast, though! Back out on the boats in the morning, all wrapped in our blankets, we were still able to find yet another species of monkey who raises its eyebrows in hopes of finding a mate. More dolphins swam with us, and we reached a wider part of the river where the dolphins like to play. All of a sudden there are dolphins everywhere around us and we pull to one side just to watch. Finally one of the oldest women in our group gets up enough nerve to go swimming with the dolphins. (Remember, it is freezing outside.) Soon after, I jump in as well. About six of us swim with the dolphins, who seem to enjoy playing with us. One circles me and nudges me three times. Loving the thrill, shaking from the cold (though the water was much warmer than the air, which added a jungle-like mist), I enjoyed every minute and then got back into the boat. I was shivering so much I could hardly get my warmer clothes back on. On the ride back to the camp we saw many more capybaras and flocks and flocks of birds, but most of the animals seemed to be hiding from the cold.

The adventure continues during the jeep ride back to Rurrenabaque as the now very muddy roads cause our jeep to slide all over the road. We get a flat tire, but get to stop next to two more of the largest birds in the Amazon just hanging out by the road. When we make it back to our hotel, a warm shower awaits, as well as beds with blankets! It is usually very hot here, but not for us. It’s probably only in the fifties, but absolutely everything is outside, with large windows, or without any true protection from the weather.

An early departure awaits us on Saturday. We couldn’t go home Friday night as planned because the roads were impassable due to rain. About an hour into the trip on Saturday, we find a place where the road is still impassable. One by one the cars pass, or try to pass. Some get stuck and must somehow find their way out. Then the next car tries its luck. We have a heavy, large bus, which, after waiting two hours, is able to make it through without getting stuck. We only fishtailed a little. The drive home was amazingly beautiful. Farms, flatlands, flocks followed by hills, valleys, and dense fog. Bolivia’s landscape is much like the scenery in L o r d o f t h e R I n g s. Breathtakingly beautiful, but not without its risks and challenges.

30 days and they are gone

30 days and then they’re gone. The students came and went in this CEC course. Juniors in high school from La Paz, all from the same school. They cook, they clean, they do manual labor, but most importantly they learn about God, spend time with God, learn about serving and serve each other. The month flew by for me, and just as I was getting to know them, they left.

Some friends from the January course came to talk with them, enjoy the CEC, and see old friends last weekend. As the CEC students left on the morning after the graduation, we cleaned, cooked, and made the beds ready for the next group, coming in one hour. It was a whirlwind, and then there were 23 people from Holland and Germany here. They have done amazing things for the Casa de Esperanza. They came ready to play and ready to serve. In less than a week there have been dancing classes, painting classes, construction in three places, water tanks fixed, parties to pamper and express appreciation for the those who work to keep the Casa running. I have gotten to know some great Dutch and German people, and I have also enjoyed spending more time with the kids at Casa. Translating is interesting. They are translating Dutch and German to English (almost all of them know English), sometimes directly to Spanish, or we are there to translate the English to Spanish. I need a bigger vocabulary to successfully translate.

The group of 23 comes with 23 sets of gifts to share. Some work in construction. Some come ready to work, some ready to play, but all come with a unique gift to share. This has been a theme that God is showing me lately. We all have different gifts, and God has brought so many people together here with unique gifts to share, perfect timing in which to share them, and the ability to fit a need or the courage to grow to fit a need. Sometimes it is frustrating when the gifts…and lack of gifts…clash. However, I am finally starting to realize that God knows what he is doing.

Selfishness Explored

Few recognize their own selfishness.

Parents recognize it. Families recognize it. Friends recognize it. Teachers recognize it. Even strangers can recognize it. However, it is rare that we recognize our own selfishness. Of course, one might be eager to recognize it in others and perhaps willing to acknowledge a singular act or thought of his own as selfish, but to truly identify, declare, and own one’s state of selfishness is altogether different. It is a humbling process. I have prayed about being more humble. This is likely a necessary part of the process, as I find my pride and selfishness to be raging right now. Yes, I have often prayed about being humble and tried to root it out-theoretically. In the process for striving for a genuine humility, pride and egocentric behaviors become a loud annoyance… but the annoyance is easily forgotten as I go back to the comfortable and self-satisfying ways that selfish philosophies allow.

No, I do not readily admit my selfishness. After all, having people serve me my whole life must be merited, right? Huh. A defect of the culture that demands perfection, cleanliness, beauty, and rapid service. Maids change the beds, machines wash the clothes, waiters serve the food, factories process and can the food. What have we done to ourselves? In making everything easier and faster, we have lost the community it takes to cook and clean up a meal, the perseverance it takes to keep laundry clean, the foresight it takes to plan for meals without a refrigerator to keep the leftovers.

For me, the pride may be centered a bit differently, but its root is just as strong or stronger than that of most. My pride isn’t obvious to some, perhaps, but those who know me best will note it nonetheless. This is the first time I am seeing it in its depth. This selfishness, this concept that the world revolves around me and others should serve me simply because I deserve it, is overwhelmingly obvious in a time of service here at the CEC. I’m tired of serving; I want to be served. I’m tired of working; I want to relax. I’m tired of cleaning; I want someone to do it for me.

People have served me my entire life. Machines have also served me my entire life. Not being able to find the right kind of jelly on a shelf full of 100 flavors and brands something to complain about to everyone that will listen. The miracle of the post office system, which allows me to send anything I want to any place in the entire world, is clouded by the nuisance of 15 minutes waiting in line. Dealing with someone who demands their way angers me, so in my anger I demand my own way from the next person I meet.

Things could have been much different. Who would I be if I had not been born in the same place and time? I could have been born on the floor of a mud-brick home. I could have lost most of my brothers and sisters, or perhaps a parent from preventable diseases or lack of food when instead I am surrounded by more food than I could ever eat. Maybe I never would have learned to read, never getting the chance to go to school due to lack of a teacher in my town or maybe lack of money. Maybe I would know nothing of the world except my own town. Perhaps I never would have even seen an airplane nor ridden in a car. I’d walk everywhere and work all day just to be able to eat a bit, but there is never enough to fill my stomach. I will never save what little money I make in a day as long as this hunger keeps biting. I eat what is in season, what is available at this week’s market. The cold creeps in at night, so I cuddle closer to my brothers and sisters who share a bed mat made of palms with me. There is no steady job to be had, not for someone without an education, and no education to be had for the kids of someone who can’t get a job. No, to be educated means there must be enough money to send the child to school, to buy the books, to pay the teacher, and to lose the child’s help in the fields. For me, this freedom will likely never come. Oh, how I long to go to school. Maybe someone in my family will be lucky enough to have someone somewhere pay for their education, and then that person can teach me. I have no choices because of something I didn’t choose-where and when I was born.

That could have been me. I was one of the lucky ones born into a wealthy family…one of the lucky ones who went to school my whole life, got chubby on ice cream and cookies, flew across the country by airplane to visit loved ones. One of the lucky ones who eats more than once a day, who eats until I am satisfied. However, I don’t deserve anything. The fact that I was paid with a little piece of green paper that is worth more than most money in the world wasn’t under my control. The fact that I paid for something with the same little green paper that is given some arbitrary value doesn’t make me more deserving than the beggar I didn’t even notice on the corner.

Few recognize their own selfishness.

Maybe it’s time we start.


Entitlement. Think about it. You and I don’t have the right to anything. The attitude of entitlement does nothing good for this world. So what do you think you’re entitled to?

To be fair, I thought I should answer the question.
Time. Personal space. Sleep. Water that’s available. Water that’s clean.
Food I like. Media that works.
Easy access to comforts or even necessities (nope, not my right).
Communication with loved ones when and where I want.
The list continues…

And you?
Machines to do our laundry? Someone else to clean our house, clean our dishes, make our food? Fast internet? Your own car? Cheap prices? A home? A warm home in the winter and a cool home in the summer?

These are all things I have thought about this year in Bolivia. I continue to feel entitled. I hate that I feel entitlement. I hate entitlement.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Death Road

To some it’s a true racetrack.
To some it’s only a racetrack in their minds.
To some it’s a livelihood.
To some it’s a cemetery.
To some it’s a workplace.
To some it signifies vacation.
To some it’s three hours of terror in a taxi.
To some it’s seven hours or more of swaying in an old bus.
To some it’s a place to sell goods.
To some it’s a place to buy favorite treats.
To some it’s an engineering nightmare.
To some it’s an ecological dream.
It’s one of few places where clouds rise from below and rocks fall from above.
It’s one of Bolivia’s only roads on which you drive on the right side on pavement and on the left side on gravel.
It’s one of few roads where the driver on the cliff “dropoff” side backs up to allow oncoming cars to pass.
It’s one of many roads where the maximum speed is an average of what a car goes when backing up to allow cars to pass and what a car goes when flying forward to pass the dustmaker driving ahead.
It’s one of many roads on which it is normal to fly past a heavy truck carrying explosive gas with only inches to spare between the truck and car and inches to spare between the car and a plunge to death off the cliff.
It’s a climb or descent of about 10,000 feet, a climate change between desert altitude and sea level jungle, and the difference between the largest city in Bolivia and small pueblos of only a few families.
To some, it’s a road.
To me, it’s a nightmare.
To some, it’s a way to visit loved ones in other places.
To me, it’s the reason I don’t want my parents to visit.
To most, it is known as “el camino de la muerte” (translation: The Road of Death, or Death Road).
So far I’ve survived the trip fourteen times. I must survive two more trips at the very least.
People make T-shirts about things like this. I just want tranquilizers.

Monday, June 8, 2009


It is a sad day here. Tragic, in fact. We walk around in a quiet daze. There is a feeling in the air, the feeling that comes when someone near dies. A long-awaited, much loved, painstakingly chosen and carefully guarded friend was taken out of commission today. She was always so good to us. The adults walk around subdued, taking care of business but not offering conversation. The children, having moved on to other thoughts hours later, fight and play by themselves. This is a day I won’t soon forget, though I walked through it almost as if in a dream due to a combination of the sadness and the cold medicine I took this morning.

Today our car fell down the mountain. In reality, we were very blessed through the tragedy. No one was in the car. Hours upon hours were spent in that car during the last weeks, but in this moment, no one was inside. No one was behind the car. There were no children playing in the path of destruction as the car fell. There were no people or cars passing on the road below as the car landed wheels up on the gravel road. It plunged alone to its “death”; it lay silent and upside-down on a silent road.

Yes, the car lay silent, but it was the noise of the fall that brought us running. It was the screams of Nick that relieved us. He’s alive. His appearance on the hill told us he hadn’t been in the car. The car lay silent far below, upside down, but our hearts were far from silent. Trembling, tears, prayers as the shock rolls over us. Should we be thankful or angry? Frustrated or relieved? The funnel of shock allowed me to experience many emotions all seemingly at once, but left me uncertain what to do with any of it.

So I stood. I stood on the edge of our property which is cut into the side of a mountain. Technically, it is a tall, steep hill, not a mountain, but that fact didn’t save our car. I stood in a hole from which a tree was just ripped. It was this tree I looked up to see flying from its spot at the first noise of the fall. The car’s path is obvious by the path of trees seized from their home. I stare at the half of the car I can see, two wheels high in the air. I hear our friends arrive from Casa de Esperanza, alerted by José. The leaders of the Casa provide practical and emotional help, and eventually the car is flipped on its side. Later, it is turned upright and pulled home.

As I finally walk down to see our friends and survey the damage, I am surprised. This car was more sturdy than I thought. Seriously damaged, yes. Off kilter, yes. But it might survive. It isn’t as smashed as it should be. Nick says it might be able to be fixed. Oh, Nick. I haven’t seen someone so sad in a long time. We still aren’t exactly sure what happened. The brake should have been on. Was it? I am so thankful he wasn’t in the car.

We arrived home only a day and a half ago. The car had been emptied, allowed to rest after safely taking us completely across Bolivia and back. My “healthy” fear of these roads and mountains is now raging.

“Need a ride?” No thanks, I’d rather walk.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hermano Ignacio

Hermano Ignacio comes in smiling every Friday.

He shakes my hand, sets down his backpack, and excuses himself to move on to his next tasks. Three more smiling faces then either join me for the afternoon, lie down to rest after their long trip, or go out again with their father. Giselle, eleven, is all smiles. Her beautiful smile all but covers her thin face. Belen, almost nine, is a box of giggles. Jacob, the seven-year-old, doesn’t speak much to me, but always smiles a shy smile.

They come every weekend. The children quietly play at the mission house while Hermano Ignacio studies and attends classes.

We all have something in common: Spanish is not our first language. On any given weekend you can hear three languages being spoken in our main room: Spanish, English, and their language, Guaraní.

Hermano Ignacio is an incredible example of Biblical willingness. Who will go? Who will serve? Here I am. Send me. He comes to town for classes on the weekends. He goes back to his village to teach during the week. He lives alone with his three oldest kids for now, but “my wife is coming home soon with the younger three,” he tells me as his face lights up.

Called to pastor a church supported by a group of other churches, he fed his family off their support. When the support grew scant and often didn’t come at all, he needed to find other ways to feed his family. He and his wife ground up crops for three years to pay the bills. Someone looking for a bilingual teacher appeared, so he began a new work. Teaching during the week, learning on the weekends; no, this life is not easy.

The trip to Entre Rios is long. A minivan takes them from their village Tentawazu to Timboy, where they can catch a bus for a two-hour ride to Entre Rios. However, the minivan doesn’t always come when you need it. Today the kids walked from their home to Timboy, a five hour walk in the heat of the day, before catching the bus to Entre Rios. Every hour they stopped to rest and talk about Jesus. They came in tired, but still smiling. Raquel, the woman in charge of many affairs here, had a surprise waiting for the kids when they came today. Three boxes from Samaritan’s Purse brought more joy than I have yet seen on their faces. They happily show off their new treasures and then carefully pack them away again so as to guard them on the trip home. There may not be money for the trip home. There may not be money for their trip next weekend. They eat, but they don’t eat much. There is probably never enough money to properly treat Giselle’s epilepsy. Yet today an unexpected box of gifts awaits each one. Oh, if I could only share this moment with the people who sent these boxes.

A week passes, and Hermano Ignacio once again greets me with a Friday smile. This weekend he is weary but eager to talk. We sit down to have some Guaraní lessons, which I treasure. He tells me of his wife and three younger children, whom he expects to arrive on Sunday.

Sunday comes and the hours pass. His wife and children do not come. 8:00. 9:00. 10:00. I take the kids to Sunday School and we sing, dance, and share banana cake. 11:00. 12:00. They still don’t come. Hermano Ignacio gets ahold of the bus company, and finds out they are stuck three hours away. Relief that they are all right. Disappointment that the wait continues.

2:30 arrives and so do they. Hermano Ignacio eagerly introduces me to his wife, and the six kids joyfully run around laughing and screaming in delight. The late arrival means they missed the bus home, and they won’t be walking this time. They wait until tomorrow’s bus, which gives me more time to experience the family’s joy and have a photo shoot. I want to learn from them. They have so much joy, passion, potential, eagerness, and love. I want to share with them. They lack even the basics at times, and I have so much. I am humbled to share my weekends with them.

Ignacio, Mamí, Giselle, Belen, Jacob, Ariel, Joas, y Amos, les voy a extrañar mucho. Gracias por todo. Surupai. Dios les bendiga.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Entre Rios
My bed is a sleeping bag on a cot. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
My pillow is a folded sweatshirt. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
The things I have here fit in two bags. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
I wash my clothes by hand and hang them out to dry while listening to music on my ipod. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
I wash dishes by hand. I have my own bowl here. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
I drink lemonade squeezed from lemons, not made from powder. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
I often eat fruit for dinner here. It is fresh, and imported from only a short walk away. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
I am getting used to not having a bathroom sink. A bucket on a faucet works just fine. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
The kitchen, living room, bathrooms, backyard, and furniture are shared by more than fourteen people. Twenty-two while we have been here. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
This time has been a lesson in what is needed and what is luxury. We are so very blessed. Look around. See blessings. Share with others. Stop comparing yourself to those who have more, and start thanking God for the things and people around you.

The Rock

Life has been so incredible here in Entre Rios. I have felt a peace that has been lacking in recent months. There is a calm in my heart and a renewed joy on my face. The joy increases with each new friend, the calm increases with each morning coffee or evening sunset. Here I have been at peace with God, learning and growing in ways unforeseen. It has been beautiful. I am blessed on all fronts.

However, today was an explosion of fatigue, sin, and overexposure. The conversations all leaned to one end and I run to the other, bursting with angry screams waiting to be released. I am frustrated with all, myself worst of all.

We went up to Entre Rios’ Christ statue today. It is a place of beauty, filled with roses still in bloom with the approaching winter months. The statue rises above the trees, stands over the town, can be seen from all sides. I look up at it today. It is a rock backdropped by angry clouds. Fitting. Yet it stands firm, no matter the storm.

This storm shall pass. The rock remains.


There is a place where the river chooses its own course. There is a place where the water roars and another nearby where it only gurgles. There is a place where only the trees hear the waters’ call. There is a place where birds soar free and dance in rhythm with the waters’ laughter. Here horses graze in shadows, unseen by the rare passerby. Here the sun flutters through the shadows daring new colors to be formed. Giant rocks sunbathe in the rushing river and reveal holes and channels deposited only by the force of an angry current. Cranes fly overhead and land unharmed by man’s intrusion. Little bugs prance on the water’s surface. The magic of this place is felt, but the majesty cannot be grasped. This place, known as Naranjos, is unknown by most and cherished by a handful. But it is cherished nonetheless.

We sit and talk with Walter and Celinda as the sun sets. We drink maté, a drinking art that exceeds that of coffee in both depth and etiquette. We shell peanuts for hours as we talk and drink. Beautiful flowers surround us, planted in recycled “vases” of Coca-Cola bottles and old oil jugs. The vines grow up the house walls as if to shield the house from a white nakedness. I feel incredibly at home here next to the church, shelling peanuts and surrounded by life. This night answers the yearning of my heart. A home full of conversation and life, a home displaying beauty brought to life by those who dwell there, a home full of fruits and vegetables planted and picked by hand: my heart swells.

On the other side of the church is a field ready for planting in some parts, ready for reaping in others. Such is my heart tonight. Ready to learn. Ready to teach. Ready to give. Ready to receive.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What would you do?

I go on a walk to explore more of my neighborhood.
I am greeted by the largest pig I have seen here, wallowing in a tire behind our house.
As if knowing this was show-off-the-large-animals day, a flock of huge turkey-like birds fill the street. As I walk by, they fluff up their feathers and try to follow me.
Two dogs try to attack me, but they are all bark.
I stumble on a cow’s jawbone in the street. Teeth included, it is as big as my foot. It would not be the last one I see here.
I discover the perfect view of the sunset over the majestic green hills.
As I walk, I find myself walking along the longest wall I have seen in this area. I turn with it, and discover it is a cemetery. A man sits outside the gate.
“Como estas?”
“Buenas tardes.”
“Quiero charlar contigo.” (I want to chat with you.) I keep walking.
“Porque no quieres charlar conmigo?” (Why don’t you want to chat with me?) I keep walking. This question stabs my heart.
Why don’t I want to talk with him? Because his voice sounds slurred? Because I have trouble understanding his simple greeting? Because I always heard you shouldn’t talk to strangers, especially those that might be drunk sitting at cemeteries (ok, that last part wasn’t in the warning).
What should I do? Turn around, make up some excuse, and talk to him? Better yet, turn back, tell him the truth, and actually talk to him?
I keep walking, like a dog with its head down after breaking something.

I go to church tonight. The sermon is about treating all people like God’s loved children, even the ones (no joke) that are drunk or a little off. We all deserve to be condemned, but God chose to love us anyway, and we are called to love others the same way. No matter what.

I expect better things of myself next time.


Three horses stand at the ready along the side of the road. One saddled, one in the process, and one waiting. Working with smiles on their faces are Berto and Daniel, two leaders in the church here. 24 and 25, they have lived much longer than I in many senses. As we ride, I hear their stories.

Berto almost died when bitten by a snake at the age of ten. Various things that shouldn’t have happened all came together at once to save his life. Yes, Berto lives with purpose, knowing he is alive for a reason.

Daniel grew up here, but his parents are separated and live in two different areas. Daniel went to work in Argentina for a time, but came back alone to work his farm.

We ride and chat amongst the hills of Naranjos, a small community outside of Entre Rios which I have grown to love. The river roars nearby, but I can’t hear it today. Children watch from across the road, and I can’t resist the opportunity to chat. We shell more peanuts at the pastor’s house, sitting on his porch as the sun sets.

A glimpse of heaven to my soul.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Así es la vida.

Así es la vida.

There is a meat shop in town boasting this name.

Así es la vida.

Large slabs of meat, retaining the shape of a dissected cow hang from ceiling to floor, the red remains boasting a life’s worth of muscle and fat.

Así es la vida.

A translation might be “such is life.” This store has provoked much thought on my walks through town. Sometimes I live as though it is true. I live. I die.

Así es la vida.

As I walk home, a sudden impulse causes me to turn and go instead to a nearby park. Children play in this rare but beautiful park. A man sits and waits on a nearby bench. What is he thinking about?

Así es la vida.

A party advertises itself with blaring dance music.
The crickets, not to be outdone, chirp on.
A dog lifts his leg to the rock wall.
A little girl climbs up behind my bench and watches over my shoulder as I write.

Así es la vida.

There are givers and takers.
Some want to play, some are driven to work constantly.
Some walk for hours to school or to sell wares in the local market. For some, the idea of this is absurd. For most, this is not unjust. Simply,

“Así es la vida.”

What are my assumptions about life? About what do I shrug my shoulders and say,

“Así es la vida?”

This question sometimes defines my thoughts as I struggle with or embrace cultural differences, my societal contribution, the influence of my thoughts on my actions, the influence of my thoughts and actions on this world…

Así es la vida.

The little girl behind me starts to speak. She and her brothers and sister are just here playing. They live across the street. As the two of us talk, the others quickly surround us, the two little ones eager to join in. Two, three, seven, and nine. The two-year-old boy is soon climbing onto the bench with me. His snotty nose and drooling mouth are all smiles. The kids run off to play and come back again, unaware of any bad in the world, only eager to play and release the laugh inside. I soon get off the bench and initiate a game of “Tag, I’m going to tickle you.” Why not? Those interactions are the stuff of life.
I hear a thud.
I look over, and the three-year-old is laying in a fetal position on the ground by the stairs he just jumped down. He roars with laughter. Baby brother comes to hug him by laying on top of him, giving way to even more giggles.

Así es la vida.

We sit down to play a game. Entre Rios-style Duck Duck Goose, it is called Mira Los Cielos, Que Cae Un Panuelo. Look to the sky, a handkerchief might fall. The kids sing this over and over again, drop a rock behind one person in the circle, and both run opposite ways around to be the first to make it back to the original spot.

Así es la vida.

Just as we start to play, the little one falls flat on his face, slapping his hands and nose onto the concrete. His screams instantly pierce the air.

Así es la vida,

I think to myself. Just when you’re enjoying yourself, WHAM!

Así es—

No, I keep watching.
He brushes off his hands, the game continues.
He’s quickly laughing his contagious toddler giggle once again. Words can’t describe this giggle.

Así. Así es la vida.

I choose this life. I choose this attitude. I choose to leave the confines of my work space and venture forth, though the venture be yet uncharted.

Así quiero vivir.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Samaritan's Purse

Merry Christmas!

It is the hottest day since we arrived in Entre Rios a few weeks ago. 73 degrees in the coolness of my room, at least 95 degrees in the sun. The date is May 10, 2009. There is no snow. There are shepherds in the fields nearby, but they are not looking for the Christ child, nor receiving any angelic messages in the sky. We are not singing Christmas carols, and we have not decorated a tree.

However, today I experienced the joy of Christmas in all its truth. Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king. O come let us adore him! In the background jingles our jingle bell (announcing someone is at the door). The gifts arrived this morning, and they do not bear the name of Santa Claus. No, it is Samaritan’s Purse that brought these presents through their project Operation Christmas Child. They have come across the world from north to south, from French-speaking Canada to Spanish-speaking Bolivia. They have been sent a great distance to share God’s love with unknown children. No, these kids may be unknown by the sender, but they are known and loved here in this community, in this church, in this mission house where the children have gathered. Some children came not knowing what to expect. Some children came wearing their best.

As the children first see the boxes entering, the excitement in the room can be felt. But first, the message of God’s love must be shared again, for it is not a message to be forgotten, especially not on a day so special. The story of Jesus is shared, but instead of focusing on his birth, we focus on his resurrection, a rebirth for Christ and for us.
Merry Christmas!
Open the boxes on the count of three!

Time slips by as children explore the contents of boxes and excitedly show others what they have received.

Later, a child in the street asks me if her cousin can also have a box.

Two of our little friends haven’t gone home yet, and cling to their boxes as they go to church and come back to our house. Their mother and another woman have a box between them, looking slyly at it through church. Crayons are strewn across our floor surrounded by artists hard at work. Canadian suckers fill the mouths of numerous children. One walks around with his new bear in his arms.

Some of the children receiving these boxes are quite familiar with gifts. They give and receive gifts somewhat regularly. Others are living meal to meal and are not able to give and receive such gifts. The surprise of the gift is half of its pleasure. The meaning of the gift is another huge part. The contents of the gift are treasured.

What I love is that it is more than Christmas soured. Christmas for me has often been soured by the expectation of the most, the best, the costliest gifts. Christmas is not a day to celebrate Christ in my culture as much as it is a day to focus on stuff. Honestly, the focus on gifts is the reason I even connect this day with Christmas in my mind. Christmas is a day for presents, and today there were presents. Today, however, the celebration is about rejoicing over what Christ has done for us, how much he loves us, and sharing that love with others. There is an essence to this day that is much more than I have known in many Christmases.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Entre Rios: May's Location

Things I love about Entre Rios:
Our lawn mower and fertilizer is a horse.
Our rat chaser is a cat.
A hot shower in the boys bathroom…which I use.
FOUR sinks in which to do laundry!
We take turns cooking…and so far I have not been in the rotation!
A pretty park near our house with roses and benches
Adventure possibilities twice a week with the missionaries that live here (some Bolivian, some not) that go out to surrounding areas twice a week.
PAVED ROADS!! Though some think this is terrible, I just love it.
We are in town, so I can walk to the internet, stores, plaza, etc, whenever I want!
8 HUGE palm trees in the plaza

Things that could make a great Entre Rios even better:
After months in the rainy season in Caranavi, we arrived in Entre Rios just in time to begin THEIR rainy season with them…shoot!
Rooster wake-up calls begin at 3 am.
There is no sink in the bathroom.

Las Abras

Though I have been on many adventures of many types, this weekend was my first of this nature. Traveling Buddy: Angela, an American girl my age who has been here for nine years. Plan of action: take a bus toward Tarija to an intersection about an hour away. Wait there for a bus coming from Tarija to take us down a different road. Enjoy the thousands of stars you usually can’t see. The next ride would be about two hours, depending on how many people the bus stops to pick up or drop off along the way. From there, visit the pastor’s wife, who provides an 11:00 pm dinner and the latest news on the town and church. Get the key to the church, sleep there. 2:30 am- a group from the church arrives, needing to get their instruments to take to the anniversary celebration of a different church in the circuit. 3:30 am-they are finally on their way. 6:30 am- lots of rain. 7:30 am –we walk. We encounter a truck that would take us as far as the river, which saves us an hour of walking. At the river we cross a suspended rope bridge, like those of the movies, complete with missing planks of wood. The only difference between us and the cartoons or Indiana Jones movies is that this time the bridge didn’t break. Walk another two hours up and around the wet, muddy hills. Cross about four creeks…or is it the same creek we are crossing four times? On the way there, we are able to step on rocks to cross the creeks. On the way back, more rain has caused the water to rise, and we wade across. No cars come where we are, as there is no bridge nor any real navigable road for cars. I love how that changes the atmosphere.

We make it to a house near Las Abras, our destination, where we stop to say hello, invite these friends to the church services of the weekend, and drink coffee. The coffee is the typical Bolivian style that I am used to receiving- black with lots of sugar. I will always remember my dear South American friends when I drink my coffee like this. We move on to the next house on the route, where we are greeted by Rosy, an eight year old girl, and her brother and sisters. Her grandmother is a dear friend of Angela’s and we stay there about two hours, eating an appetizer of freshly picked and boiled peanuts. Shortly after, we eat a giant lunch of noodle soup and a type of corn called moté. We finally move on after enjoying watching the one year old crawl all around enjoying the mud from the rains. We continue walking and inviting people to the children’s activities and church services. They are used to this schedule. They know Angela well after her monthly visits and enjoy seeing her. Many children and adults alike are shy around us…or is it just my new presence? Some won’t speak to me, others hide altogether. Nonetheless, they know puppets are coming, the highlight of their time with Angela. Adults ask for it, talking about how applicable the last puppet show was to their lives, and the kids run in so as not to miss their beloved friends. Angela is incredibly talented with the puppets, and each has their own voice and personality. She can do an entire improvised twenty minute puppet show with four or more puppets all on her own. I stand impressed.

Arriving at the church we drop off our bags and visit the lady next door. Like my grandmother, there are four or five things getting done at once. Laundry is being washed and hung by one, the peanut crop is drying, and mother and daughter are preparing the yarn for a new weaving project.

The children’s program is fun. My first time improving puppets in Spanish. I must admit I am completely dependent on Angela this weekend, as I don’t understand the Spanish of this region very well and my improv puppet skills in broken Spanish are not quite up to par. It’s ok. I like Angela, and I see that she is incredible at what she does. The people don’t seem to mind my part in the puppet show. The children are incredibly shy around me, won’t talk to me or sit by me, but I am patient. I have seen what a little time does to timidity.

We watch darkness fall as we wait for the adult service in the evening. There is a small oil lamp type thing we have borrowed, but otherwise there is little light. Everyone has their flashlight. Tonight the stars are not shining down on us, as the clouds and rain have taken over the sky and also kept some from coming to the church. I give a message in Spanish. It is my first message without index cards telling me what to say. I am not impressed with my Spanish nor the message, but pray that God uses it for good. As the small light shines in the window, we do puppets for the adults in the near dark. In this area where electricity has not intruded, a small candle in the window further announces our presence.

After the service, Angela calls us chickens and we go to bed. Here, being a chicken means that you go to bed early, like the chickens do. As we cuddle into Angela’s one man tent and settle down to bed, we hear an animal in the church. I wouldn’t say I am afraid of little animals, but I am uneasy when their presence invades my nighttime space. Here, I feel as though I am the invader, but nonetheless, don’t care for the animal’s presence. It moves throughout the night, and we are both awakened off and on by its movement. What is it?

Angela wakes up before me in the morning, and we are immediately invited to breakfast at the neighbors. She tells me on the way that the animal was merely a chicken sitting on its eggs on top of some bags that rustle noisily. All that discomfort for nothing! We enjoy bread and coffee, sweetened to perfection, and watch the next step in the weaving process. It has rained all night again, which will not be good for our walk back to the river this afternoon. After breakfast and a little waiting for a break in the rain, we walk back, sidestepping the animal poop along the path. Animals roam free here grazing on the grasses. Pigs, donkeys, chickens, dogs, a cow or two, sheep, and probably more. The sheep herd in the church’s lawn has one sheep wearing a bell, so I always know when they are moving. There are even many parrots here, who bother the crops, so children are set to the task of keeping them off the crops (mostly corn here).

Church this morning has more kids than adults, which is normal for this church. Some of our friends could not make it due to the mud and rain, which saddens me, as I know little Rosy adores Angela’s presence and couldn’t come. We wait for people to arrive and a child accidentally shoots his slingshot into a tree. A number of children throw rocks and sticks until it finally falls.

We sing songs, do another puppet show, tell a story about Paul and how his nephew had the courage to speak up about a plot to kill Paul (Acts 23). Many children there have parents who do not believe in Jesus, and the message was about having the courage to share your faith with those that are closest to us. That is so hard to do. As the children did a craft and worked on a memory verse, I pulled out my camera. And you know what? The children weren’t shy anymore! We took individual pictures, pictures with friends, pictures with all of the boys, most of the girls, and even pictures that almost look like some of the girls are holding some boys in the palms of their hands. As we played, we lost track of time. All of a sudden, we were running late and still had to go to a friend’s house for lunch before we left. I enjoyed the kittens and pet parrots as I scarfed down my soup, and then we ran off, walking as quickly as we could. We took the straighter path, a short cut back down to the river. It took us about two hours of steep climbing and steep descending, enjoying certain almost-flat parts, wading across the creek, and sweating a lot.

We got to the river at 3, the time when the bus was supposed to leave. The only thing is that with this bus you never know. It might leave at 3:00, or it might leave at 2:30. Or 3:30. Or whenever it feels like leaving. We crossed the hanging rope and plank bridge again, this time not stopping to take pictures, and started running as we heard the bus’ horn. If we missed this bus, we couldn’t leave until tomorrow, and would need to stay in the same town we stayed in on the first night, another hour’s walk away.

Luckily, the bus was coming toward us, not announcing its departure. We just barely made it to the bus! After the two hour go-as-fast-as-you-can hike, I was so glad to sit down. Two and a half hours in this bus, then another two hours waiting in the dark at the crossroads. Finally a bus came to take us back to Entre Rios. It was another hour and a half on this bus, with poor Angela sitting on the armrest of my seat. We got home and were locked out, but that was quickly resolved.

I was glad to be home in Entre Rios, but sad that the adventure was over. Will I get another chance to go out to the pueblos with these missionaries? That is yet to be known. Angela does this once or twice a week, along with the other missionaries that are here. There is a man from Germany, a man from Cochabamba Bolivia, a family from Caranavi, and a family from La Paz and Caranavi, along with Angela, who do this full time. Two years ago I could have done it too, but for now, I am happy with the kind of life we have with “Go Missions”.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mission Trip Day 14, Mar 11

After a huge breakfast at Blanca’s house, we all loaded into our two trucks and made our way back to Caranavi. This time I don’t think anyone got sick, on the road, but we were entirely covered in dust! It is amazing to see the landscape of Bolivia, especially as it quickly changes from the Arizona-esque landscape of La Paz to the drastic and cloudy cliffs of the Cumbre, to the green, exotic hills of the Yungas (outskirts of the Bolivian jungle). When we got home, I took a long, cold shower trying to get all of the dust out of my ears and stuff. Though some people were ready to get back to Caranavi, I must admit I was sad to be back. I loved the trip and wish it never needed to end. Silver lining: it was SO good to put on clean clothes and not wear two or three pairs of pants, as many shirts as I had, and my jacket anymore!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mission Trip Day 13, Mar 10

It is always difficult to say goodbye to new friends, especially friends that have shared in ministry. We drove out of the church yard in Avaroa amidst about 100 students waving and asking for email addresses. I received an incredible letter from a friend as a goodbye gift. It is hard to leave these people.

We drove from the skirts of the altiplano into the heart of the canyon of La Paz. We first went to visit the family that I often stay with in La Paz. We rested there for a few minutes, dropped off the boys’ stuff (they would be sleeping there for one night) and then went to the house of a pastor and CEC teacher for lunch. It was a beautiful time of rest and games and eating lots and lots of food. We had the afternoon free before our evening program, and I went to the Post Office with Blanca, the mother of Andrea, whose house we visited first today. We walked all over downtown La Paz. Cars were not allowed on the main street due to a parade/march by those wanting something from the government. I don’t really understand the political things here, but this street, El Prado, is always full of action and entertainment. We picked up some mail (woohoo!) and then enjoyed the downtown together. When we got back to her house, it was just about time to leave for the evening program near the top of the canyon (for lack of better description).

The weather looked incredibly daunting as we arrived for an outdoor program. The wind was blowing dust everywhere, and the evening sky was red and purple with storm clouds. We prayed for clear weather, knowing that this program could potentially change lives. During the program, there was a little mist, but otherwise no problems. A clear sky overhead surrounded by storms over the rest of La Paz.

This program was in a location where there were a lot of young people outside. Many of them were drinking, and many of them heard the messages of the evening. A number of them accepted Christ that night as we talked to them individually, and we have heard reports of new members in the church. It is neat to hear the updates.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Mission Trip Day 12, Mar 9

This morning we were supposed to rest, but my brain wouldn’t let me. I searched for internet, but for five different reasons, I couldn’t use the five cafes nearby. I walked through the plaza with my friend Yesmi, and we ran into some kids we knew from the Compassion program. They are so cute. My friend Nancy, who used to be sponsored and also worked in the letter-writing program with Compassion, helped me find out about my friend Amber’s sponsored child, also located in El Alto. As a surprise for both of us, we were able to get together in the afternoon! I went to the main Compassion office in El Alto and there met Jhonatan and his mother Virginia. It was an incredible experience for me, standing in as a sponsor’s friend. Beforehand I knew nothing about this boy, but now I feel like I am a family member. We talked for about two or three hours, and then I needed to leave with the woman who had brought me there. The entire experience was simply incredible for me, and hopefully for Jhonatan as well.

I have only good things to say about the Compassion program that we visited. Although I know there can be problems on many levels with any type of organization, I saw many, many good things. The kids are in a Christian environment three times a week (in this case, it may be more in other projects), they are well fed at the program, they receive medical attention when needed, they have wonderful Christian mentors/tutors, they receive help with their homework, they all get a toothbrush and learn good hygiene habits. I was also very impressed with the staff at both of the sites we visited.

I encourage all of you to sponsor a child, and if you are already sponsors to really prioritize letter-writing. The kids and their families can be profoundly impacted by a relationship with a sponsor, but there are many kids who never hear from their sponsors. The program is incredibly affordable and changes lives. Please visit Don't hesitate!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mission Trip Day 11, Mar 8

We spent six hours in church before lunch. That is about five hours more than I normally spend in church in the United States. After church, we had another Sunday pot luck. We all sat out in the courtyard and watched as platter after platter of traditional Altiplano food was presented. Chunyo, potatoes, noodles, fried bananas, meat, meat, meat, corn, etc. We ate until the food was gone, and then were surprised by a heaping bowl of soup as well. Another blessing was about 20 2-liter bottles of soda! Wow. We are so blessed. The blessing felt even sweeter after hearing a sermon on faith by a man that joins the ranks of those mentioned previously, those that one day found themselves without enough money to eat nor get home, and God provided their daily bread.

After another children’s program in the afternoon, we went to a nearby plaza on a busy street and set up our program, which would be held on the bed of a large 18wheeler type truck. So cool. The church was in charge of this program more than we were, so we just supplemented with mimes and dances. There were two Bolivian folk music groups, including my favorite local group, Suma Qhana (which means Good Light in Aymara).

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Mission Trip Day 10, Mar 7, Viacha

In the distance I hear the roar of trucks and machines at the quarry. Closer I hear the wind blowing past my ears and feel its chill on my cheeks. My lungs race to keep up with my need for air as I climb this hill on the altiplano. Surrounded by snow covered mountinas off in the distance, the land just beyond this hill on which I stand spreads out green and mostly flat. The desert climate affects the landscape: rocks and desert weeds cover the hill. The mountain altitude affects the air, which is chilly and windy, though my face is being burned by the sun. Clouds cover the base of the mountain called Illimani and serve as a backdrop for the Potosi mountain. The Cordilleras, a mountain range with many distant peaks, stretch beyond the horizon to the north, and straight east lies El Alto, the newest city of Bolivia. Beyond El Alto is Bolivia’s Grand Canyon, the city of La Paz, which lies in an unseen bowl between El Alto and the snow-peaked mountains. The pueblo of Viacha stretches out in front of me on the altiplano.

I climb up the hill hearing the gravel crunch beneath my feet. As I near the top I feel the anticipation of a great view welling up within me. What I find in addition to the view is a small fire and an elderly man, who sits off in the distance, away from the fire. On the fire is a charred, black object. It could have been a log except for the blood boiling out of it. It is a llama fetus being sacrificed to Pacha Mama, or Mother Earth. The smoke blows. The man sits with his back to the sacrifice about 15 yards away.

From a distance the land only looks green and brown, squared by crops and dotted by houses. My eyes follow the paths of the small dirt roads and I realize that the houses have neither driveways nor roads connecting them. A small path connects two houses in my sight. Tin and palm branches cover the houses and adobe brick walls surround them.

Yellow, purple, abd blue flowers dot the nearby landscape. Bugs circle close to the ground. I am on a hill used for fasting and praying. Rocks are painted with messages about God. This hill is also used for sacrifices to other gods and perhaps parties as well. The ground is spotted by black charcoal fire remnants, and littered with trash and bottle caps. I look around and see a land spotted with the shadows of clouds. It is so beautiful, but I cannot worship this land. I see the Creator reflected in his glorious creation. As the clouds make their mark on the land, so does the Creator Father God.

I feel a need to go and talk to the old man who arrived before us on this hill. I know he may only speak Aymara, but I feel a need at least to go and sit next to him. I hear him singing songs in worship. Is he singing to the land? I stand apart from him, listening. I shy back in discomfort. I go back to our worship circle. Later, the need to go over to him returns, and I know I must do it. Even so, I wait. Finally, the movement of a friend calls me over to the old man’s side, and I ask the man if I can sit down beside him.

Beside him is a Bible, a songbook, and a devotional book. He tells me about the three men who came up the hill this morning to sacrifice the llama fetus. I had assumed he was the one that made the sacrifice. Didn’t you? Lord, forgive me for judging this man. The men who sacrificed to Mother Earth are long gone. The old man is praying for them. He is also on the hill to fast and pray, with the specific purpose of praying for his granddaughter who is sick.

He is 89 years old, and has never attended school, "not a day in my life". He learned how to read in his fifties so that he could read the Bible. He doesn’t know how to write anything except his name, which is written on every page of his devotional book. Pedro Florz. Pedro Florz. Pedro Florz. I write the alphabet, Jesus loves you, and God bless you for him. He copies the word Jesus. Beautiful. He speaks more Spanish than I do, but his first language is Aymara. At his request, we read together 1 John 4 from his Spanish Bible. We spend about thirty minutes talking, praying, and reading his Bible together.

There are a lot of people I can learn from. Some are educated and understand the workings of the world. Some are uneducated but understand things of faith much better than I do. I have a lot to learn from the Pedros of this world.

Side note: Pedro, or Peter, in the Bible, was also fairly uneducated, but went on to lead the disciples and the incredible church growth in the time directly after Christ's ascension. Let's not overlook these people who seem at first glance to have little to offer.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Mission Trip Day 9, Mar 6

I am learning about poverty and hope here this week. I am surrounded by friends, church members, pastors, neighbors, and more that have very little materialistically speaking. They tell me stories about not being able to eat some days, about not having the money to get back home after church (a minibus ticket across town costs about 20 to 40 cents). This is a poverty I have not experienced. I have always had enough money to last me at least a few weeks. I have always had the assurance that when I need something, I can get it. I live by sight. These people live by faith. They come to church, though they may only have enough money for one trip. They treat their guests well, though they may not know where tomorrow’s food is coming from. I am amazed by this, and reminded of the faith of the widow at Zarephath, from 1 Kings 17. She had enough for one meal, but she had enough faith to feed Elijah before she fed her own son. Their story of faith and corresonding actions are an amazing testimony to me.

After lunch, we again went to a different region of El Alto. Nancy and I again went out to invite people to the program. This time, when we returned to the plaza in Tilata, the music was blaring, the plaza stage area was filled with people, and they were dancing a silly dance. What a fun sight to come upon! Again, cars stopped in the street to watch, people came across the street after school, and we enjoyed meeting new people. There were three kids there, about preschool age, who just danced and danced. So cute.

After the program we went to a church, even smaller than the one from yesterday, and set up for another program. Many of the people there were not from the church, were not Christians at all. We pulled a number of people off the streets as they walked by. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen much in the States. I love the concept.

Today was also the 24th anniversary of the city of El Alto. I saw a few parades pass by on the big street nearby, but mostly watched the parades from the television in our lunch room. I have been able to see many parades since arriving in Bolivia. I like to hear the traditional Bolivian folk music and see the bright colored outfits.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mission Trip Day 8 - Mar 5

We spent the morning cleaning the church as a gift for letting us stay there. Five of us had the task of cleaning 8 windows. It was a big job, including leaning outside way up high to clean certain areas. Meanwhile, I also learned new ways to clean wood floors. I am glad that wasn’t my job! At lunch I ate in the same classroom but with a new group of kids. The Thursday through Saturday afternoon group is younger, and they were quite eager to take a lot of pictures. We drove 10 or 15 minutes to a different part of El Alto. This part reminded me of Cotonou, Benin. It was very flat, although you could see the snow covered mountains in the distance (which we DEFINITELY did not see in Cotonou). The people seemed more poor and more spread out in this section of town, as if it was a village inside of a large city.

I really enjoyed our time in this area called Villa Natividad. We walked around inviting people to our program. Nancy and I went to the school to see if we could do a mini-program as school let out. She said getting permission was much easier with a gringo by her side. We went back to the plaza, a large empty area in the middle of some houses, and were treated to the best peach juice I have ever tasted. Soon we were ready to go, blaring our clown music through the plaza. Little kids came running over from the indoor gym nearby, people stopped in the streets in their cars to watch, mothers and fathers brought their kids over. It was a lot of fun to be a part of this type of outdoor rural(ish) program.

Then we went back to the school to do a program. The kids really seemed to enjoy the dances. I didn’t dance on one of them, as I don’t really know it. I wanted to take some pictures, which was a huge mistake. I was instantly surrounded by the students who were asking for autographs. I knew if I said yes to one, I would be obligated to give a lot of autographs, and so would the other CEC students. So, what could I do but say yes! I had to laugh as I watched everyone get surrounded. I think that was supposed to be the end of our program anyway.

As soon as we could pull ourselves away, we rushed to the church where we were late for our night program. They fed us soup right there in the church, and then we started another program. The church was small, and it was packed.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mission Trip Day 7, Mar 4, Avaroa, El Alto

Before 3:00 pm I heard three different people tell about their faith. They are in three very different places with their faith, and it was such a drastic comparison.

We began the day with a devotion from Ronald, a CEC student. He has a special relationship with God. I have been learning about joy from him throughout CEC. He spoke to us about the faith of Bartimaeus in Mark 10: 46-52. After getting Jesus’ attention by shouting at him, Bartimaeus threw away his cloak, jumped up, and went to Jesus. Jesus asked what Bartimaeus wanted him to do for him. I want to see, he says, and Jesus declares that his faith has healed him. So what is it that we want Jesus to do for us? This man shouted to Jesus when the rest of the world told him to be quiet. This man threw aside what could have been his only possession in order to go to Jesus. This man wanted to see, but it wasn’t simply his desire that healed him, it was his faith. What do you want from Jesus? Are you willing to ask him? What do I want? I want to see as well. I feel blind to so many things here. I feel like I have eyes but I can’t really see what is happening. I have ears but I don’t understand what is really going on. Please, God, open my eyes as well.

Our morning activity was visiting some of the families of the kids in the Compassion program. I went with some of the girls across the street. Two of the kids are sponsored. They live in a home with mother, father, aunt, and cousins. The father drives flotas (like charter buses) and is likely gone quite a bit. The family said they were semi-practicing Catholics and seemed like they had been judged and hurt by the Protestant church. They wanted little to do with the church, although they were very kind to us. We prayed for the family, enjoyed Tampico (juice), and then left them to the tasks of the day. It was sad to hear about their sorrows, hardships, and relationship with the church, but the silver lining was in joining them in prayer and hearing the girls I was with speaking about God.

Every day we have been eating lunch with the Compassion students. I have been getting to know the kids in my classroom, and they invited me to their homework time to help them with their English homework. When I got there, however, they didn’t seem to want have homework. Instead, we took a field trip to play indoor volleyball, which I believe is called Wally here. To incorporate a bit of learning, I kept score in English and between games we talked about certain English concepts. It was definitely a fun chance to bond.

After lunch we went to visit a woman from the church. Her son has been in the Compassion program for quite awhile. Because of his involvement with the program, she became involved with the church. She had a strong faith, praying for perseverance and healing. We prayed for her and enjoyed Coke and crackers.

When we got back to the church, some ladies were preparing vegetables for tomorrow’s lunch. I sat with them, spoke all the Aymara I know, and then laughed with them in more understandable Spanish as we pealed peas and habas (which look like giant lima beans but taste much better!).

In the evening we had a church service in the church. To my delight, three of my little friends from the plaza last night came! They don’t go to church, and they didn’t know about Jesus, but they sang as we sang, clapped as we clapped, and danced as we danced. They kept their eyes on the people in front or on me to see what I was doing. I watched these kids that were made to praise but just didn’t know it. Nancy, my other buddy from the plaza, came at the end as well. I hope they keep coming.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mission Trip Day 6 (Mar 3) Avaroa, El Alto

I wake up miserable after a poor night’s sleep. I am exhausted all morning and have no desire to do anything. There is such great opportunity in this day, in this place, and all I want to do is sleep! I can’t shake the fog. After lunch I lay down for about 10 minutes, and then jump out of bed eager to go. Go figure. The rest of the day is spent enjoying every minute. It’s about time! Another program with kids, a fun photo session with the kids from Compassion, internet time, plaza program. I love this life.

...Her name is Nancy. She is 8 years old with dark red/brown cheeks and a curious look in her eyes. At first she just listens as I try to engage a group of students before our evening plaza program. The students enjoy (i.e. laugh at) my broken Spanish and ask questions about English, and as they leave one by one and two by two to change their clothes after school, Nancy becomes a charming, fast friend. Her ready smile and eager personality win my heart. She leaves after awhile, but about 45 minutes later comes running back to the plaza, runs straight to me, and gives me a huge hug. She is now wearing a large coat and a cute Bolivian Andean style hat. We sit up close to the stage and enjoy chatting and watching the drama that the CEC students are doing. She says she is in the Compassion program, but says she doesn’t know who Jesus is. I tell the story. Then I must go and do a dance with the students on the stage, and as I finish, Nancy is there waiting for me. We go to play on the slides and then go back to dance some more. She wants me to come home with her, but I must decline. I wish I could stay and teach her more about Jesus.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Mission Trip Day 5 (Mar 2)- Avaroa, El Alto

Another opportunity to evangelize door to door has me dreading the morning. Though every time we have gone out to evangelize, in whatever manner, on this mission trip has been incredible, I still doubt that God will do the talking, I still doubt that any difference will be made, and I still trust that I will look like a fool. I am sent out with Ronald and Ruben, and we immediately start knocking on doors. There is more hesitancy here in the city as there is more crime in El Alto. People seem more willing to talk to us on the streets than in their homes, but when they hear who we are and that we are inviting them to the program in the plaza tonight, they seem more friendly.

As we near a corner under construction, I notice many women chatting, so I start an open invitation to all of them. We pass out the papers the church gave us, and talk to the women. A woman comes out of her store on the corner, and I quickly go over to her to hand her a flyer. After my invitation, she tells me that she is in pain from a long-lasting sickness, and she asks us to pray for her. Gladly, we pray for her, but that isn’t all she wants. She tells us of her mother and father, who are old, sick, and stuck in bed upstairs. Can we come pray for them as well? Sure! We go in to find a man in one bed and a woman in another, neither one speaks much if any Spanish. Ruben knows a little bit of Aymara, so he speaks a bit. I hold the woman’s hand as we begin praying for them. I notice my hand is freezing, so I pray that God will warm my hand as a physical sign of his presence and warmth. Shortly, my left hand is still freezing, but my right hand in hers is practically on fire! Cool, God…cool! As we leave, knowing they could use daily encouragement and we won’t be available to give it to them, the woman asks us to pray for her daughter as well, and hands us a soda from her store. Thank you God, for proving my doubts are worthless once again.

We have a program for the Compassion students at this school in the afternoon, and then I spend some time with the girl working in the library. What I anticipated to be a simple greeting as I passed by became an opportunity to make a new friend and encourage a new Christian. I must admit, I think she encouraged me more than I encouraged her. Another surprise encounter reminds me about God’s goodness.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mission Trip Day 4 (Mar 1)-Pucarani and El Alto

Satan had some very interesting lies for me this morning. He first presented them through three drunken men still in the streets at 6:30 in the morning. Another marriage insinuation (not an outright proposal) made me feel more like a piece of meat than a human being (although I suppose as a human being, I am actually physically a piece of meat!). I arrived back at the church and received a nice comment from a friend, but this morning I received it like an animal in a cage. A question from another friend sent me reeling again, and a laugh from a different friend sent me to tears. All this before 9 am! In Sunday School two kids didn’t stop staring at me for 30 minutes. I know they don’t see many white people, I know kids have a tendency to stare anyway, and I know I can use my rare looks as a huge ministry tool, but come on, on a day like today? I went into church asking God for some kind of encouragement. What I received was the repetition of an incredible song about receiving God’s healing. Thank you God, I needed that.

After church we were presented with plates of food. It wasn’t too much food, and I was surprised and pleased by that, as I wasn’t very hungry, but in this setting it is important to finish all the food you are given. As we were about halfway into our meal, some people from the town brought out huge amounts of food to set on the table. Chunyo (freeze-dried potatoes), corn, cheese, meat, and more. Incredible amounts of food. I did my best, and then ran through the freezing rain and hail upstairs to pack my things.

We left Pucarani soon after lunch and went to our second church, where we would spend the next 9 days. Church of the Nazarene in Avaroa, a region of El Alto. This church is home of the largest Compassion project in all of Bolivia, they tell me. They have four groups of kids throughout the week, each group comes three times a week either in the morning or afternoon. It was good to arrive in a new place with another warm greeting. Our lodging was similar. A fence enclosed a church and large building. The four story building housed many classrooms and a large office. Underneath the church are more classrooms and a large kitchen. We all stayed in the little kids’ classroom. The space was even tighter than in Pucarani, and I must admit I loved watching the arrangements being made. We laid out the hay mattresses once again, completely covering the floor, surrounded by our bags and friends. This first night I slept cuddling between a friend and a toy shelf. (The next night I slept between the feet of some friends and the elbows of another, and was completely comfortable!)

As I walked through town, I saw a boy carrying a sheep in a blanket on his back! So cool! Yes, the sheep was still alive. We went out to buy a cake to surprise Marcia on her birthday. I quickly ruined the surprise when we got back. Shoot.

They congregation welcomed us with a huge worship service and the announcements of how we would be eating the whole week. People from the congregation would be providing everything. We are so blessed.