Bolivia Mission Update #3




Trip Report #3 from the June 2010 VIM Team

Saturday June 26 means that a week from today we will be landing back at New York´s JFK airport and going home from there, and our adventure in face-to-face mission with the people of the Central District of Evangelical Methodist Church in Bolivia will be over—but certainly not forgotten.  You may guess from the heading to this report that, in the manner of the crew of the Starship Enterprise going where no starship crew has gone before, we are traveling into new experiences and new examples of the Holy Spirit moving in our lives each day.  The five days since our previous report have been extremely busy—so much so that the writing of this report has been in process for three days because finding time to complete it was impossible.  In that time we have continued with our dual offerings of vacation bible schools at four churches and construction work alongside members of the new congregation of Luz de Vida.  In addition, our evenings have been filled with activities with members of various churches, hearing moving stories of ways in which the Holy Spirit has acted in people´s lives, visiting other areas of the city and similar adventures.

Looking at the start of each day can best be described by the following description of some routine daily events from the perspective of the construction people:

After arising and gathering in the dining hall at 7 am, “…we were subsequently fortified for our day´s travails with a ´traditional´ Bolivian breakfast; ´traditional´ meaning large and delicious.  Rachel (Bird) led us through a meaningful devotion and then the team broke into its work groups for the morning.  My team–the bakery construction group–boarded our transport, a 30+ year old Dodge short bus painted in a style a` la Partridge Family…traveling to the jobsite with much machismo, daring vehicles of lesser mass to prevent our incursions into their lanes and intersections.”  

At Luz de Vida, we have spent most of our efforts preparing an area behind the existing “garage chapel” for installation of equipment that will enable several women of the congregation to operate a bakery business.  We have dug out dirt to create a shallow hole measuring about 10 x 50 foot, carefully placed rocks into the hole and then spread concrete on the rocks to create the bakery floor.  Framework for the roof was erected by Luz de Vida members and on Friday the ovens, dough mixer and related equipment were transported on the Central District pickup truck from Emmanuel church to the new location.  (The guys who lifted and carried the equipment—Dan Abbot, Ed Dayton and Carl Franson along with several Bolivian Brothers–earned special admiration because of the weight and awkwardness of the load.)  By today (Saturday) an oven was made operational.  Two of our team, Rachel Bird and Holly Johnston, have had experience as bakers, so the process of baking the first batch of bread proceeded briskly.  Holly found an appropriate bread recipe on the Internet, after which they managed to adjust measurements for the elevation of Cochabamba, purchase ingredients and mix the dough while others cleaned the oven.  By the end of the afternoon work shift, with a great deal of celebration and a lot of pictures, we had several loaves of bread from the Luz de Vida bakery that will be used for communion tomorrow.  Considering that we approached our construction work a week ago thinking that we would be working solely on construction of the new church facility, and that we were not even aware of the possibility of creating a bakery, it was really a remarkable accomplishment that we completed this job (while also making considerable progress at the new church site).  As Rod Wendt observed, many VIM teams leave construction sites having accomplished much but knowing there is still much to be done by one or more subsequent VIM Team, and it is especially satisfying to have both started and finished a task like this that holds so much promise for the future of the congregation and the members who will find employment as bakers.

The vacation bible schools have had varying numbers of children but all have had joyful days and meaningful lesson, with many hugs.  There were many craft projects tied to the bible lessons of each day.  For example, each VBS class crated “quilts” made from drawings by the children tied together by bits of ribbon which were left for display at the churches.  The VBS children at Luz de Vida provided a serenade for the construction workers each day.  Special meaning was added to the VBS at Piedra Viva (Living Stones in English) by the presence on the VIM Team of Holly Johnston and Kathy Silva, members of Mt. Rock UMC in the Susquehanna Conference, a church that has provided financial support for the children´s program at Piedra Viva since 2007.  (This support was inspired by a presentation by a VIM returning from Cochabamba and the similarities of church names—Mt. Rock and Living Stones).  Friday was a time of celebration and sad farewells as the VBS classes ended with presentation of ribbon stoles to all the children and a special snack for all.

Our evening activities have included:

  • A visit with the women of the sewing cooperative at Emanuel church, who make beautiful sewn goods distributed in both conferences and in New Hampshire.

o       Earlier, at the end of a workday, we had visited the similar cooperative newly established at Luz de Vida, where they create different kinds of sewn goods and also jewelry made from seeds native to Bolivia.

  • A meeting with the program coordinator of Emanuel Church for an update on other outreach program (daycare, medical/dental clinic, youth programs, programs for the elderly and several others) 

o       This was followed by a celebration of the feast of San Juan (St. John) which was established as a national holy day by the Roman Catholic Church after the Spanish conquest of much of Latin America. It coincides with the much older celebration by the indigenous people of the return of the sun as it falls two days after the Winter Solstice (the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere), which is when the Incas and other ancient societies were able to establish that the days were, in fact, getting longer.

o       This feast traditionally has been celebrated by the lighting of thousands of bonfires throughout the country and many fireworks displays, resulting in so much smoke hanging around the following day that airports had to be closed.  The government unsuccessfully has attempted to cut down the fires, although those who have been here for the celebrations in prior years noted a slight decrease in residual smoke the next day.

o       Our own modest celebration of the feast consisted of a small pile of hot coals, over which we cook cocktail wieners and roasted marshmallows with some of our Bolivian sisters and brothers.

  • We also spent an evening sharing God moments in our lives, lead off by a stirring description of his call to the ministry and Latin American mission service by Wilson Boots (He and his wife Nora, despite being “retired”, are our principal mission contacts in Cochabamba, where they live for three months each year.)

All in all, it´s has been a wonderful week.  It´s hard to believe that in just a few more days we will be leaving this place, but the wonderful memories will remain with us.  We will try to get off one more report before we leave to make a brief tour of parts this beautiful country to learn more about it and its people and then move on the Santa Cruz to catch our flights home next Saturday.  As always, thanks for your prayers and other support.

Your Bolivia VIM Team

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