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.