Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Election Day!

The last few months have been full of political marches, signage, and propaganda. On October 12, presidential elections were held here in Bolivia. While the current president, Evo Morales, has technically already completed his maximum of two presidential terms, by a loophole, he was able to run for a third term. The loophole, if you're interested, is that during his time in power, the name of the country was changed - from the Republic of Bolivia to the Plurinational State of Bolivia, meaning that he has only completed one presidential term under the current Bolivia. ;)

Evo Morales has been in power since 2005. He is the first indigenous president of Bolivia. In past decades, the indigenous peoples of Bolivia have experienced a great amount of racism and discrimination. In many ways, Evo's presidency has led to much more pride among the indigenous and more awareness around this history of discrimination. Evo is very adamant about preserving the many distinct cultures of Bolivia. High school teachers are now required to study an indigenous language and students are now required to learn an indigenous language. Under Evo, there have also been some huge and success public works projects - residential gas service, new highways, and the world's largest public transit cable car system. I admittedly don't know much about the intricacies of his policies and politics. But Evo has accomplished was cool things over the years. Best of all, he has given the diverse peoples of Bolivia a renewed and deeper sense of pride in their unique cultural identities.

Election Day here in Bolivia is quite different than what I am used to experiencing in the USA. First of all, voting is absolutely required of all of the eligible population. If you do not show up to the polls, your bank accounts are frozen and you are not allowed to travel or do any kind of government paperwork. There's probably a fine involved as well. From what I hear, you are allowed to turn in a blank ballot, but you have to turn in something. On Election Day, the entire country shuts down in a sense. There is no public transportation and you are not allowed to use any personal vehicles without special permission. All voters must walk to their polling location. Also, the sale and consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited. Upon voting, each voter receives a voter ID card that they must carry around with them and present with their ID for the following three months. Without this proof of voting, life becomes quite difficult.

Going into the elections, almost everyone was certain that Evo would come out victorious. His victory was so widely expected that very few competitors even bothered to run against him. On Election Day, I wondered if our certainty here in La Paz was a little naive. While he is widely supported here in the department of La Paz, Evo has historically been very unpopular in other parts of the country. By the afternoon of voting day, it was clear that he was way ahead and had easily clenched the victory. Evo won 8 of the 9 departments and came out with over 60% of the total votes.

Whether you love him or not, the reality is that Evo will be the president of Bolivia for another 5 years. Some sections of the evangelical church are fed up with how he has treated the church and faith-based organizations. His strong support of traditional cultures and religious practices has often come off as opposition toward the evangelical church. One of Evo's greatest aspirations is to preserve the many diverse cultures of Bolivia. Preserving culture is a beautiful aspiration and one that the evangelical church should really get behind. Culture is a gift of God's grace and it is his heart and desire that people from EVERY people and nation would know and worship the one true God. The church should not see traditional cultures and religions has a threat, but rather as a blessing and an opportunity to enter into the worldview of another and offer the transformative power of Christ to dwell among the people and within their cultural context. The gospel affirms most aspects of each culture, confronts certain aspects of each culture, and transforms every culture. May the church realize the beauty and blessing of the diverse cultures of Bolivia and have the passion needed to bring the light of Christ into each of and every one.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Lord, hear our cry!

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O LORD, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the LORD more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” Psalm 130

Since returning to Bolivia one week ago, I have felt very hopeful. New and good things are happening with the ministry here. We have new staff members, new volunteers, new funds, and many new plans for the future. There are women responding to the gospel in new and exciting ways and there are plans to bring more women into the business. We have a great ministry team, full of talent and faith. And I truly believe that the Lord has great things to come for Word Made Flesh Bolivia in this year.

Today, we had our weekly staff devotional time, which we dedicated to praying for one another and for the ministry. Three different staff members shared about how they had been having very frightening dreams about the fate of the ministry. Three different people… and dreams that seemed so intense that none even wanted to share details. It was immediately clear that we were under a spiritual attack. As I mentioned above, great things are happening in the ministry. I believe that the enemy is noticing and doing his best to put up a fight. Please pray with us that his schemes to tear us down would not be successful. Please pray with us for protection for the staff and all the women and children among whom we minister.

After our prayer time, two big and unusual events occurred. First, a couple of our staff went to visit a friend from the ministry to study the bible together. I guess during their first bible study visit, this friend was very closed to the bible and to hearing anything about God. My co-workers left feeling sad and defeated. But today, the Lord did something new. He was definitely at work in our friend and was revealing the truth of the Word. She saw the gospel with new eyes and was amazed by the love and sacrifice of Jesus. Finding new life through the Scriptures, she is now excited to continue to learn and seek. Praise the Lord!

The other event was much more dramatic. One of the ladies that works in our mirco-business cares for her grandchildren. One of them had been left home alone because he was sick and couldn’t go to school. During the morning he went for a walk around the neighborhood by himself. A passing vehicle grabbed him and drove off. At a police checkpoint, one of the officers noticed him crying in the backseat and pursued the vehicle. Under pursuit, the kidnapper got nervous and dropped the kid off by himself in the middle of nowhere. A passing woman noticed him crying and took him to the police. The officers were able to take him back to his neighborhood and contact his grandmother, our friend.

When her grandson didn’t answer the phone at home around lunchtime, our friend immediately felt that something was wrong. She left work and rushed home. We began to pray. We prayed for the Lord to watch over this boy and to bring him home to his family. It was hard to know what could have happened to him, and when we heard the story, it was nearly unbelievable. I never imagined that he would have been abducted. I cannot imagine the feelings of fear and powerlessness that his family must have felt and must continue to feel. I truly believe that the Lord heard our prayers today. That this boy was safely returned to his family truly is a miracle. We cried out, and the Lord answered. We are so grateful.

I pray that today you also would put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bolivia Bdays!

Last week I celebrated my first birthday in Bolivia as a part of Word Made Flesh! Big days like these can tend to be pretty sad, being so far from loved ones back home, but I am thankful to have celebrated well here in Bolivia!

First I have to say, I am so thankful for the friends that sent special bday wishes, through video messages, email, and fb posts. Technology rocks!

On my birthday, I planned to wake up extra early so that I could get ready and Skype with my parents before work! Totally by surprise, my thoughtful Bolivian roommate and another friend from my neighborhood burst into my room just as I was waking up (6am) with a homemade cake and singing and presents! I was so very blessed and blown away by their generosity! They sang, I blew out the candle, and then they smashed my face into the cake. (Required by Bolivian tradition!) We boiled some water, served up some tea, ate cake, and enjoyed the sunrise over the Andes! Then I Skyped with my amazing parents! We laughed and giggled and I told them all about my thoughtful friends! What a blessing to see their faces on my birthday!

I spent the rest of the day at work. I enjoyed extra long hugs and verbal blessings from all of my co-workers. I think this is my favorite part of birthdays in Bolivia! I'm such a "physical touch" person, so getting tons of extra long hugs all day is AMAZING! ;)

After work I met up with my roommate and we made our way to the Teleférico - the new public transit cable car! It just happened to be the day of its inauguration and its first day of normal service! I love the Teleférico, so I decided that I would love to celebrate and share my birthday with it! Haha... Once we arrived in the city, we ran into a good friend! We convinced him to ditch his plans and join us for wally (volleyball in a racquetball court). On our way to wally we stopped by a shoeshiner friend to get my boots shined up for the evening. After telling him that it was my birthday, he refused to accept payment for the shoeshine and suddenly ran off, promising us that he would be right back. He returned about 10 minutes later with a tiny vase of fresh flowers! How sweet is that??

We had an amazing and hilarious time playing wally with our friends! And then we went out and shared a soda together, laughing the whole time.

After wally, I caught a bus down to my friend and co-worker's house. A few of us had planned to meet up at her house to change and get ready before heading out for some salsa dancing! A few other friends from work joined us for dancing, including one of my bosses who shares my same birthday!

The next day I got to have lunch with a few friends at a new little Mexican restaurant, which is obviously modeled after Chipotle! It was super yummy and a great time with friends! And then in the evening a few friends came over to make pizza and play games!

I was completely exhausted by the end of the two days, but my heart is bursting! Praying that this last year of my 20's is the best year yet! Thanks to all of you that made by birthday super special! :)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Life in Pasankeri

I live in a small neighborhood called Pasankeri. Pasankeri lies right on the border between La Paz and El Alto. It's right at the top of the wall that stretches up from the downtown area of La Paz, right before the land flattens out into the mass that is El Alto. While the streets are steep and it can be a chore to get to, either by bus or on foot, I am convinced that I have the most amazing view in the entire city! I can see almost the entire city of La Paz as well as the amazing mountains that surround the city - from Huayna Potosi on the far northwest end to majestic Mt. Illimani on the far southeast end. Clouds often blanket the city in the morning, leaving Pasankeri deep within the thickness or sometimes above the clouds, which creates the most amazing sensation of living amongst the snow-covered peaks. Pictures do little justice to the views that I see everyday. You'll just have to come see with your own eyes someday!

My apartment is a small, basic 3 bedroom place. The bathroom is huge. The kitchen and my bedroom have amazing views. None of the bedrooms have flooring, just concrete. The rest of the place is tiled. It's one floor below the street level, but because of the steep slopes, I still have awesome views. But there are no windows on the uphill side of the apartment. Most of my furniture and house stuff was left to me by a previous missionary that left shortly before I arrived. Huge blessing! I have a gas oven and stove. Gas is super cheap, but I have to buy it by the tank, which can be a bit of a hassle. I don't have a microwave, but I'm pretty ok with that. I have a little mini-fridge for perishables, but my kitchen is almost at fridge temperature! I don't have hot water. I boil water for drinking. My shower is heated by a small electric heater inside of the shower head. It works pretty well, but fluctuating water pressure means that I constantly need to adjust the flow to keep the temperature right. I wash my clothes by hand. I really hated it at first, but I've gotten into a rhythm now and don't mind too much. I wash once a week and it takes me about 1.5-2 hours. I bought a metal rack to hang my clothes on inside, since I don't like to risk hanging my clothes outside during rainy season while I'm at work or out of the house all day. I buy food at three different places. There are several small corner stores in my neighborhood where I buy bread and eggs and other small things. I buy my produce at a large market in El Alto where women set up their own stands with the produce that they have to sell. I also buy some dry goods at this market. I buy dairy and other random household items at the new super market in El Alto - Hipermaxi. I don't have internet in my apartment. But I do get good cell service, so one of my bosses sold me his USB modem. It works off of cell antenna signal and you buy credit via text messages in different packages of MBs. It works surprisingly well! Also - I have one roommate. She is Bolivian, grew up in the northern department of Beni. She just turned 20 and is studying gastronomy. It's always a challenge and an adventure to live with someone new. The fun thing as that we are both super goofy, love Jesus, and tend to play hard, especially on the soccer field.

I get to my house either by bus (called a micro) or by trufi (a collective taxi with a set route). I often opt for the micro because it's cheaper and it makes me feel closer to the people. But the trufi is definitely faster and more comfortable. One of the most frustrating parts of living in my neighborhood is the transportation. There is not nearly enough public transportation, especially during rush hour and late at night. A few days ago I walked up the main drag of downtown looking for my bus, but it never came. So I walked all the way back to the other side of downtown to find a trufi. The trufi line was huge and the sidewalk was all torn up. I ended up waiting in that line for almost an hour until I realized that the "real" trufi line had been moved a block over. I was so upset that I started to cry and I even verbally expressed by frustration to one of the trufi drivers and other people in the trufi line. My biggest pet peeve here is when taxis or minibuses pull up to offer rides to the people waiting in the trufi line. But for some reason they always pull up in the middle or end of the line. People sprint, push, and shove to get in the vehicle and cheat all the people ahead of them in line. I try to avoid using these cheater vehicles, by principle, because I think it's so unfair! I eventually made it home that night, after 2.5 hours battling with the ridiculous public transportation system. The next day someone reminded me that it was Father's day the previous day, so most of the drivers were probably out celebrating... i.e. drinking. :-/

I also wanted to share about a few of the interesting and unique aspects of living in Pasankeri. The main road through the neighborhood is paved, but most of the other roads, including mine, are cobblestone. I would call Pasankeri a lower middle class area, but it's definitely growing and changing rapidly. Many families are expanding their homes (upward) and the city has invested good money in the neighborhood to improve streets, utilities, etc., making it a "barrio de verdad" or a "real neighborhood". There is quite a bit of traditional culture in the neighborhood. Many of my older neighbors speak Aymara. Neighborhood associations are very involved in the welfare of the people and property of Pasankeri. From one of the community center buildings, neighborhood leaders often make announcements over a loud speaker about community meetings and things to be looking out for. Lately, the neighborhood has been buzzing about a suspicious white vehicle that has been connected to a recent robbery. I loved what one of the leaders said over the loud speaker last week, "we need to be good neighbors to one another and knowing your neighbors and communicating with each other is the best way to control crime in Pasankeri." Oh, and one thing that is interesting about my neighborhood is the hanging dummies that you will find about every block. The used to creep me out a little bit, but now they actually bring me a sense of security. The dummies are supposed to represent people that have been hanged for stealing. And yes, communities on the outskirts of La Paz as well as all through El Alto often take the discipline of criminals into their own hands, hanging or burning criminals caught in the act. It shows that communities are aware and involved in issues that affect them, but also shows how little faith is put into the criminal justice system here in Bolivia... and sadly, it's probably justified. Finally, one of the things that I love about Pasankeri and La Paz in general are the amazing murals! The one pictured below is my favorite one in Pasankeri! One last thing... the exciting news around La Paz is that there is a huge gondola system under construction to connect the cities of El Alto and La Paz. The first of the three lines is set to open to the public next month! The second line to open will start pretty close to Pasankeri. I walked over to check out the construction process a couple of weeks ago. Can't wait to try it out! That's all for now. I hope this post helps you understand more about my day-to-day life here in Bolivia!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cultivating Joy!

I gave my first staff devotional yesterday on the theme of JOY. The ironic thing about it was that I had not been feeling very joyful over the last week or so, but I think this fact made the message even more powerful. And God loves to demonstrate his strength in the midst of our weakness.

The Lord began to bring up the theme of joy for me a few weeks ago, focusing especially on the verse from Nehemiah - "...for the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Neh 8:10b). But then I started to wonder how I could become a more joyful person. How can I tangibly make an effort to cultivate a spirit of joy in my life? Don't get me wrong... most people in my life would say that I am very outgoing and joyful, but that doesn't always translate to my relationship with God, which can tend to be very serious and somber.

After some good reflection time, I came up with 3 things that I would like to practice regularly in order to cultivate more joy in my life. 1 - Express gratitude. 2 - Remember God's faithfulness. 3 - Recognize God's character. In response to these three things, I have decided to retake my practice of the Daily Examen at the end of every day. And be sure to remember the Lord's unchanging character and his faithful presence throughout my life.

For those of you that speak Spanish, here's my devotional written out. ;)

Devocional - Gozo

Debido a la realidad de nuestro trabajo, puede ser fácil enfocar mucho en la opresión y el sufrimiento con que enfrentamos cada día.

Durante el retiro regional, practicamos la disciplina de lamento. Era muy impactante porque era una oportunidad para descargar el peso del ministerio. Podíamos ser honestos con Dios sobre nuestro quebrantamiento. Y eso sí es importante y ayuda en sanar nuestras heridas.

Hoy quiero hablar de otra disciplina que también es muy importante en nuestro caminar con Dios. Y esa disciplina es GOZO. Es muy fácil para mi enfocarme mucho en mi trabajo y en mis propias luchas con el pecado. Dentro de este ritmo, puedo llegar a ser una persona muy seria y olvido de la esperanza que tenemos en Dios.

En Nehemías, dice: “No se entristezcan, porque la alegría del Señor es la fortaleza de Uds.”

Isaías 61:1-3

Cuando Dios empezó a hablarme de gozo hace unas semanas, estaba un poco confundida. No entendí como cultivar un espíritu de gozo en mi vida. Aunque parece ser una cosa sencilla, no es tan fácil como presionar un botón y decidir ser una persona llena de gozo.

Como soy ingeniera y INTJ, soy una persona muy lógica y siempre me gusta seguir un proceso para llegar a un fin. Obviamente, la vida espiritual no existe solamente en formularios y procesos, pero creo que podemos usar algunos ritmos y procesos para acercarnos mas a Dios. Entonces, reflejando mas en el tema de gozo y como cultivarlo en mi vida diaria, he llegado a 3 cosas. 1 – Expresar gratitud. 2 – Recordar la fidelidad de Dios. 3 – Reconocer el carácter de Dios. Hoy vamos a reflejar en estas 3 cosas para cultivar gozo y recordar la esperanza que tenemos en Dios.

Primero, quiero que todos pensemos en las bendiciones de Dios en nuestras vidas actuales – desde las cosas mas básicas hasta las mas grandes. Y aparte, quiero que pensemos en la obra de Dios en lo largo de nuestras vidas. ¿Donde has visto la mano de Dios en tu vida y la vida de tu familia? ¿Cuáles eventos o milagros prueban el poder y la fidelidad de Dios para ti? Vamos a tomar 5 minutos para reflejar y escribir.

Ahora, quiero que practiquemos la tercera cosa juntos. Vamos a tomar unos minutos para adorar al Señor por quien es. Yo puedo iniciar la oración y después quiero que todos nombremos las características de nuestro Dios.

Antes de empezar, quería leer el Salmo 30 para darles un poco de inspiración.

Quería terminar la devocional con una fiesta de baile… pero para que nadie se sienta incómodo, tal vez podemos cantar. ¿Alguien tiene una canción en su mente que quiere cantar para terminar?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Regional Retreat

At the end of January we had our Word Made Flesh regional retreat here in Bolivia. It was a really beautiful time of community and rest and play.

The teaching during the retreat came out of the book of Revelations. I was a little nervous when I heard what book we would be studying, but I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching. We focused on three different themes - Lament, Confession, and Prayer. All three of the themes were amazing and I got so much out of each - especially since we promptly put each of them into practice. Our practice of Lament was especially amazing. Some of the staff that have been on the field for many years had some heavy emotions and experiences, which several shared through a personal Psalm recited before the group. I didn't have anything incredibly heavy, but I definitely felt the need to lament being far from my family. This year missing Christmas and birthdays has been really rough and it's even harder to think that this is the new normal. But I am so thankful to have a loving God that listens to my lament and cries along with me. And I am thankful to have a clear call to ministry and fulfilling work to do here in Bolivia.

It was so good to be with "fleshies" from all over South America. Our new Global Director also joined us from the States. He encouraged us to become a family rather than a community. Authentic love and support is what will allow us to succeed and continue in the difficult work we do all around the globe. While it was easy to feel an instant connection with my WMF family, it was so hard to say goodbye and know that it will probably be another 3 years until we meet again.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Playtime in Peru

After Christmas, Steph and I took a thrilling bike ride down the "Death Road" near La Paz. It was super fun, and more exhilarating than I expected. The ride started at a pass called the Cumbre, at over 15,000 feet, and descended over about 30 miles toward the town of Coroico, which sits at less than 4,000 feet. In addition to being a fun bike ride, the road is incredibly beautiful, winding through distinct and drastic ecosystems. Amazing!

A couple days later Steph and I traveled together to Peru to celebrate the new year and hopefully find a nice beach. We stopped at Steph's house in Puno, then continued onto Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru. We really enjoyed our days in this city. It is appropriately nicknamed "the white city" due to it's beautiful colonial architecture. But my favorite part of the city were the mountains and volcanoes that surrounded it! 

Determined to get to a beach and enjoy some warmer weather, we made a quick trip out to a beach called Camaná. It was definitely nice to sit and chill and soak up some sunshine and warmth. But the beach was a little weird - in the middle of a huge desert, full of crabs and jellyfish, and an apparently strong tide that caused several people to be rescued by lifeguards! We also learned that everyone heads to the beach for New Year's. The hostel prices were going to double or triple for New Year's Eve. So, feeling like we got our fill of the beach, and looking to save some money and avoid the craziness of the beach, we decided to head back to Arequipa to celebrate the new year. 

We had a very chill New Year's celebration. We considered going out to one of the popular salsa clubs in search of some good dancers. But the distance and less-than-safe neighborhood deterred us. Instead, we walked around the downtown area a bit and than enjoyed a few beers at our hostel. We ended up meeting some guys from our hostel that were in town performing with their folkloric band. They were really nice and played a few songs for us! At the turn of midnight we got onto the roof of the hostel and we were wowed by the amazing amount of fireworks being shot off all over the city! 

The next day we got to meet up with a good friend of mine from Denver! It was so fun and refreshing to see her! She and a few other cool Denver peeps happened to be traveling around the area at the time, so we decided to tag along for a bit! Together we decided to do a trek through Colca Canyon... supposedly more than twice as deep as the grand canyon! We decided not to take the typical guided trek, but instead attempt to do the hike on our own. It turned out to be very straight forward thankfully. And it was super amazing and beautiful! We hiked down and through the first day and then slept at the "Oasis" - a group of hostels without electricity, but with pools and good food and drinks. Then the next day we hiked out of the canyon. It was a very strenuous hike, straight up the wall of the canyon. We started around 530am to beat the heat and it only took us about 2 hours, but by the end we were beat! 

We were eager to get back home to rest a bit before heading back to work, so we ended up leaving the rest of our group in the dust as we bussed back into Arequipa and then back through Puno. I left Steph behind and finished the journey back across the border and into La Paz. What a joy to return to my beloved Bolivia! And it was super fun to show the authorities my official Bolivian ID card, feeling like I really belong here. ;)