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.