Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mission Trip Day 3, Feb 28- Pucarani

I haven’t seen my feet in two days. It’s too cold to take off my socks. In fact, I am wearing two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, two T-shirts, two long-sleeved shirts, and a jacket.

I haven’t changed my clothes in three days. I don’t notice a smell yet. I haven’t showered or washed my hair in three days, nor do I have any desire to. It’s freezing here, and the water feels like ice.

When I step out of our room, I see a green plain dotted with houses of adobe, mostly only one or two room houses. Beyond the plain that is green because of the potato plants, there are rolling hills. Beyond the rolling hills are sharp, jagged mountains with large areas of snow even though we are in the summer months. The Cordilleras are on the left side of the view, a tall, white mountain pyramids off the plains toward the center of my view, and to my right I see Illimani looming over the city of El Alto, which I can just barely see on the horizon.

I see sheep and cows grazing as the shepherds push them onward. Little plants cover the plains, mostly potatoes, but also alfalfa, little brown plants that turn circles when you pick them, and well-chewed grass.

I feel like I have finally arrived in Bolivia. These people, this culture, this lifestyle, this landscape, these people’s clothing, these red cheeks, these happy, shy smiles… I love it here. I am finally on an adventure again. I feel alive living, sleeping, and evangelizing surrounded by friends. Kindred, Cross Fire, I miss you! There is a slightly different feel to this mission trip than there is on team. This time we are only working in this capacity for 13 days or so. I give it everything, holding nothing back, knowing that our time here is short and I will soon sleep again, shower again, work my normal job again.

Today my quiet time with God was filled with kids. My lunch was spent enjoying three year old Ani, the daughter of our main contact here. I learned a lot about Compassion, International today. We had a program for the parents of the sponsored kids this morning and then gave out the school supplies provided by Compassion sponsors. I learned that some of my friends from CEC were sponsored as kids! I also learned that one of my CEC friends works for Samaritan’s Purse in the Bolivian jungle. It is so cool to see the continuation of these two projects here in Bolivia, as I have seen much work for both in the United States.

We had a youth group time in the afternoon and watched a Christian movie in the evening. I made some more friends and enjoyed sitting by some of the kids.
A man came up to me after the morning program with a voice recorder to interview me for the radio. Apart from being white, I am not sure why he chose me. I had to laugh, as I wasn’t even sure I would understand his questions, much less be able to answer them in understandable Spanish. But I did my best and hopefully the people of Pucarani enjoyed a good laugh over my Spanish and received the message of Christ even without correct words, pronunciation, or grammar.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Mission Trip Day 2-Feb 27

To begin our first full day of work in Pucarani, we had a typical breakfast of bread and something hot to drink, then devotions together and time by ourselves to read the Bible and pray. Then we went out in groups to pray for the people in the town. After all this, I went through part of the town with my friend Yesmi to evangelize and invite people to our program in the plaza. I find it much easier to talk to people here than in the United States, even though I have a language barrier. I find many people are willing to talk and not driven by schedules. We told the gospel message to a number of people, talked with one woman in Aymara (of which I know about 8 words), and talked with another woman for a long time about her family. Aymara is probably used more than Spanish in Pucarani. Aymara is spoken throughout Bolivia, I believe, but it is slowly being lost as people are only learning Spanish in their homes. It was neat to see two of our students able to speak fluently in Aymara. Also many of the CEC students understand Aymara and were able to translate for us.

At lunch we had fish and rice. This was one of the first times I have eaten whole fish since Africa. These guys were small, so I could eat the side bones without hurting my gums. I think some of my friends tried to take these bones out, but it was way too much work for something I couldn’t taste or feel. At one point I sat with a fish head in my hand and was about to eat that too. I didn’t realize what it was. (You can eat that part, people do it all the time, but I am not ready to do that at this point in my life). When I realized what it was, I gasped out loud and threw the head onto my plate. Oops. I hope no one saw or heard that! I began the meal with four fish on my plate. I ended the meal with only 2.5 fish spines. Oops again! I ate more bones than I had thought!

In the afternoon we had two school programs, one short program at the high school across the street and a longer program in the Compassion-assisted program at the church we are staying at in Pucarani. What a joy to work with the Compassion program and many sponsored children! The CEC students are trained in many things throughout their 10 week course, so were prepared for all kinds of programs with the people of these regions. See more details in “CEC-what is it?” blog.

While the CEC students were preparing for their program with the kids, I entertained myself and the CDI (Compassion program) kids by asking questions about Aymara and answering questions about English. It was a blast. The kids get such a kick out of just hearing their names in English.

After the program that included clowns, songs, inside games, outside games, skits, dances, and puppets, a group of us went out of the pueblo into the countryside to visit a woman who was sick and bedridden. She didn’t speak Spanish, so we listened to her through a translator. It is hard to hear about someone’s struggles and know that you can pray for them in the moment and in the future, but after you leave the area, you can’t do much more. This woman’s name is Florenzia, and she could use your prayers as well. She is bedridden and in constant pain, lonely and stuck in a very small house with only her radio to keep her company.

In the night we had a program in the plaza. Many people came from the pueblo. It was fun to see the variety of talent the students have broadcast very loudly across the large plaza. I had learned the dances, and was asked to dance at the last minute to have more people. It was fun to dance, a growing experience for me as this is not my forte. Little did I know I would dance many more times during the trip! Two of the best things about the plaza program for me were 1) seeing my friends evangelize, talk with, and pray with the people that were there, and 2) seeing the woman that Yesmi and I had talked with for a long time that morning in the plaza.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Crusada (mission trip) Day 1 Feb 26:

We left early with the students on our two week mission trip, in the back of the truck by the time the sun came up. By the time we stopped at a small town for a picnic lunch, half the girls in our all-girl truck had thrown up, the other half were getting altitude and diesel fume headaches (though I don’t think anyone was afflicted by both head and stomach), my friend Yesmi had three new hair wraps in her hair as I tried to figure out how to do them, and we had climbed up a huge and treacherous mountain in the hands of angels with a broken truck axle (I think that’s what it was) tied by a piece of rubber tire.

We stopped in a place called Pongo for lunch and took pictures at the nearby waterfall. There are often many waterfalls visible on the journey between Caranavi and La Paz. Once I counted 85 before night fell! Some of the waterfalls are incredible, some are much smaller, but to make a side note, I don’t count trickles. As we entered the La Paz area, we fixed the truck. I needed to go to the bathroom, and a woman on the street directed me to the cemetery behind us (which I used; sorry dead people).

We kept going, stopping on the other side of La Paz for some things. While stopped, Shannon’s bag was stolen from the front seat of the car. Luckily, Tucker had come back to the back of the truck with the girls, so he was not harmed. The Paceñas (people from La Paz) say that in this region, people aren’t afraid to take children. This kind of thing really makes you appreciate a child.

We arrived in our first pueblo of the crusada, Pucarani, very late, but warmly welcomed. The church complex included the church building and a building with classrooms and a kitchen. We girls filled a classroom, the floor covered by the hay-stuffed mattresses that are common here. I shared my bed with two friends and we put to use at least five or six heavy blankets in the cold climate of the altiplano.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

So what IS CEC anyway?

CEC-What is it?

The CEC, Centro de Entrenamiento Cristiano, or in English, Christian Training Center, is a place founded by missionaries from Holland set apart to train Christian leaders. Throughout the course of a year, there are two CEC courses, one from January to March, and another from June to July. In between those times, from what I have seen, the CEC is used as a retreat center of sorts for groups from La Paz, Caranavi, etc, or groups passing through on mission trips. It is located on a hill about 3 km above Caranavi by way of windy, bumpy, switchback, dirt roads. Caranavi is a town of about 10-20,000 people located in the Yungas, which are the beautiful entrance to the jungle, though they tell me Caranavi is not quite jungle.

During the CEC course, there are between 10 and 30 students studying many things. In the mornings we have breakfast of something hot to drink and bread, and then the students have a devotion. After that, they spend an hour with God by themselves, which we call hora quieta, or, Quiet Hour. In English I have heard this referred to as Hour of Power. This is probably the most important time of the day, as it is time to read the Bible, pray, and write about what they are learning, thinking, questioning, etc. After hora quieta, the students have classes from 9-12. These classes are theology classes led by pastors from the La Paz area, the directors of CEC, etc. They learn all kinds of things relating to God, church, Christian worldview, etc.

Lunch is fixed each day by an incredible cook, my friend Keilan, and other helpers. We sometimes eat soup followed by “Segundo”, or some kind of main dish with noodles or rice and a meat and/or vegetable mixture. My two favorite dishes are plato cubano, which has rice, fried egg, and fried plaintains, and aji de postre, which is some kind of banana and meat mixture over rice.

After lunch the students have a bit of free time followed by trabajo practico on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday(including cleaning, cooking, and working with machetes in the “yard”) or practice for the mission trip on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The students truly came to view the work as a blessing from God. It was neat to watch that transformation, and also a testimony to me as my life now also includes less machines and more work by hand. During the workshops on the other days, the students learn how to do puppets, skits, mimes, dances, and clowning. Then they split into groups and prepare at least five dances, five puppet shows, etc for the mission trip. Thus, they enter the mission trip during the last two weeks of the course quite prepared for programs and evangelism.

The students take turns cooking dinner, which was often soup or a rice dish. After dinner they have more classes, time for worship, time in small groups, and on Fridays, a test over the week’s material.

The CEC is founded by members of the family that founded the Casa de Esperanza, a thriving orphanage located just above CEC on the same hill. On Saturdays, the CEC students spend time in a family setting with the kids at Casa. It was an incredible time for me, as I got to know 12 kids in their home setting much better.

How was I involved in CEC?

I live with Nick and Shannon and the kids in a separate house that is connected to the kitchen and dining hall. I ate all my meals with the students, had my hora quieta, and then began my classes with the Kraft kids. We had classes in the dining hall until lunch time, and then moved our school stuff into the house. I put two desks in my room to accommodate the kids better. After classes, grading, and planning, it was usually just about time for dinner. After dinner I was involved in a small group on Mondays with a group of girls. I also joined the students for some night classes and most of the praise and worship times. I enjoyed joining the students in the weekend activities as well.

The CEC course ended on March 14 with a small graduation that was broadcast on the local television station because one of the students’ fathers works in the television station. I got to know some of the students and leaders pretty well, especially during the mission trip, and I have really missed them, as most of them returned to their lives in La Paz. (Other students were from Potosí, the Beni, and Coroico).

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Return of the Mouse

The Return of the Mouse

I had just returned to my room and entered the bathroom. I saw a fleeting shadow, and wrote it off as a moth. Seconds later, the shadow is circling my bathroom, very obviously not a moth but a mouse, frantically trying to get out, and I am screaming my mostly silent hoarse scream as I try to figure out what to do. Do I let it out of the bathroom into my room? Will it stop circling the tiny space? The mouse scrambles to get under the door, but it doesn’t fit. Finally, as I am ready to open the door and give it access to my room for lack of other options, it pops down the shower drain. I need to get a better cover for that drain. Now the question is, if I shower, will it pop up in my face? Or perhaps I will drown it and then my shower will reek like decomposing mouse and won’t drain. Or does little mousey have another way out?

(Answer: It had another way out.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Whose Words are You Speaking?

“Any ‘word’ or suggestion that brings discouragement, condemnation, accusation – that is not from God. Neither is confusion, nor any counsel that would lead you to disobey what you do know. Reject it all, and carry on in your journey. Yes, of course, God needs to convict us of sin, warn us of wrong movements in the soul, discipline us for our own good – but the voice of God is never condemning (Rom. 8:1), never harsh or accusing. His conviction brings a desire for repentence; Satan’s accusation kills our hearts (2 Cor 7:10).” John Eldridge, Waking the Dead, p. 106.

I read this passage a few days ago, and the concept magnified itself in the days that followed. Today I have been inundated with words and attitudes that are not from Christ on all fronts. There have been attacks from all sides, including in my own head. I feel bombarded. How can I get my head above water and breathe in once again the thoughts of God?

As I continued on in my activities today, God sent some blessed reprieve. Thank you, God, for Yesmi, who has a similar heart and spoke words of patience, encouragement, and sisterhood. Thank you God, for Nancy, who hugged me and told me she was glad I was here. Thank you God, for Mikaela, who shared a cold Coke with me. Thank you God, for Luis, who always makes sure I am doing well, and wanted to share in the activities for Valentine’s Day even though Bolivians don’t celebrate that holiday until September. Thank you God, for Marco, who brought me tea and bread before he served himself so I wouldn’t have to get up.

Little gestures received as cold water to one who thirsts. Christ is here working. We sing a song in Spanish that says even though we can’t see God, even though we can’t touch his face, we know he is here with us. The Spirit of God is here in this place, and he wants to encourage our weary hearts. Sometimes my vision is clouded by tricks, lies of this world and lies in my own mind. It is easy to jump on the train and speak words of accusation and condemnation. It is easy to overlook the gestures of love and care that God gives us.

Now to go another step deeper, I must question my own actions and words. Am I speaking the words of Christ, words of encouragement, love, and truth? Or am I speaking judgment and condemnation, allowing my voice to be a voice for Satan and further his lies? Am I ensnaring others in the web of lies that Satan has woven? Or am I using my entire existence to free others from this web?

Lord, please use my mouth and my actions to share your love. May every action, no matter how small, be of you.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

M a t e o