Bolivia Update #4 Final

 VIM BOLIVIA TRIP REPORT #4      COCHABAMBA                28 junio 2010

 In less than an hour the annual despedida for our team will begin here at the Instituto Americano. Unbelievably, it is time to say farewell to all the members of the different congregations where we have been working, worshiping, playing and sharing these past eleven days. Our days have been full indeed, and these final two have been joyous, llenos de gozo. We will leave at 7 a.m. on Tuesday for four days of travel through the Chapare tropical region of Bolivia, first going up to over 10,000 feet and then dropping back down to sea level amidst the rainforest area.

 On Sunday we worshipped first at Luz de Vida, in the backyard of the Luz de Vida garage church, alongside the gleaming ovens and baking area that produced the first eight loaves of bread from the new panadería. The women of Luz de Vida were so anxious to try out the bakery that after we left on Saturday afternoon with six toasty brown loaves, they made another two. We all have such a sense of connection with this project that we were able to be a part of, from cleaning out the yard on our first work day here to spreading butter on delicious slices of bread at our evening meal  just seven days later.  The blessing of the bakery by the church leaders during the service was a moment of grace for everyone present. It reminds me of an actual grace we learned at snack time from the children this week at vacation bible school:

 Damos gracias al Señor del cielo, por el pan, por el pan.

Damos gracias al Señor del cielo, por el pan, por el pan.

We thank the Lord above for our bread, for our bread.

We thank the Lord above for our bread, for our bread.  

 We do thank the Lord above, and ask your prayers for this exciting new ministry that will provide an income for many women of the Luz de Vida church.

 Another movement of the Holy Spirit occurred when an entire family was baptized during the service, including the president of the new congregation. Rudy, his wife Norma, and their children Rudy Jr, Anié, and Azul were baptized together in another moment of grace. Our hearts were overflowing when at the last little Azul knelt in the dusty grass and bowed her head to receive the living water of Christ.

 On to Iglesia Emmanuel, the church which is sponsoring the exciting outreach church at which we had just worshiped. Another theme that has recurred this week, along with the movement of the Holy Spirit, is the planting and nurturing of seeds.  This theme was in the message given by Emilio Altazurra, the former District Coordinator, as the church celebrated with his wife, Luz, and the rest of their family the fifteenth birthday of their daughter Emiluz. In much of Latin America a girl´s 15th birthday is one of the most important in her lifetime, and the family wanted to foremost thank God for the life and potential of Emiluz. The entire congregation later circled the sanctuary for holy communion featuring not only the grace of God, but also the fresh bread from the bakery. It was another special service of praise and thanksgiving, filling our hearts with gladness and our souls with true communion and fellowship.

 The annual barbeque that the VIMmers host for the churches took place right after our busy morning at two  services, this time filling our bodies. The rest of the afternoon was spent playing soccer with the churches´ leagues, catching a World Cup game, collecting goods to bring back for sale from two women´s sewing groups,  going for ice cream and delighting in a Bolivian sabbath.

 Our Monday morning work team was a bit reduced. Supplies were taken by some to a local hospital and Emmanuel´s daycare clinic, while  injuries and illnesses kept others close to the Institute. But by the afternoon everyone rallied to start packing, finish last minute shopping, and go yet again for ice cream.

 It´s now 10 p.m. and the despedida has ended. Our friends, some new to us, others already dear, donned regional dress and danced for us, and got us up to dance with them. We prayed and sang and shared again together one last time. Creative Daniel Flores–the current District Coordinator as well as architect and general contractor for the building projects– fashioned rebar wire we had worked with into crosses, and even formed the dusty earth we had breathed in all week into a solid small brick for each of us. On their surface is etched a cross as a visible reminder of the ways we have encountered Christ during our trip; of the Holy Spirit that blew like the wind in our faces these past days. We will carry the bricks home in our suitcases; the Spirit, the memories, the people of Cochabamba and the seeds of new life we will carry home in our hearts, to share with all of you. While we are, as always, sorry to be saying goodbye so soon, we are excited to see a new part of this wonderful country, and look forward to being in fellowship with all of you again soon.

 Hasta entonces, until then, we pray you can feel the Spirit´s movement all the way from Bolivia.

VIM  Bolivia Team 2010

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

Bolivia Updates

VIM BOLIVIA TRIP REPORT #2                 Cochabamba                              22 junio 2010

 Our first workday of a new week is winding down at the Instituto Americano and our days begin to take on a rhythm of construction, vacation bible school, and special excursions and talks — interspersed with delicious meals featuring potatoes, quinoa, and tropical fruits. Although it is winter in Bolivia, all we´ve experienced are sunny blue skies, temperatures in the 70´s, and cool nights for sleeping. All in all, perfect for falling into bed exhausted after another day of being in community with our Methodist brothers and sisters in this lovely city surrounded by the mountains of the Cordillera Central.

 Leaving a day early this year allowed us a bonus day on Saturday to don our work gloves and head over to the construction site of the future Luz de Vida church building, where a truckload of eucalyptus logs kept some of us busy. Others headed to the home that still houses Luz de Vida´s overflowing congregation, and put their backs into hauling a small mountain of rocks from the street through the garage into the backyard. One side of the property is being prepared for the installation of bakery equipment which will provide members of the congregation with a means of income. If we meet our goal, we will be taking bread from its ovens with us on our trip to the Chapare rainforest region next week!

 Already the surrounding neighbors are intrigued by the energy and life emanating from this house church. As rocks were being hauled into the backyard on Saturday, a man no one knew stopped, considered, and began loading himself up with stones to take out back. Today when team members returned to resume working, he did as well. They learned that Diego has lived there awhile, yet has felt no connection to his neighborhood. He was willing to lend a hand to find out what was happening, to feel connected to something. I don´t think he was hauling mere rocks, but actual living stones from which he may be able to build a community, and find the light of life, la luz de vida.

 While Sunday morning saw a few of the group back at the same house for worship, most  headed over to Iglesia Piedra Viva, a church several of us also had a hand in helping its congregation build from the ground up. Six years on, to see Jaime and Hilda, the lay leaders who brought about the founding of this vibrant church, well past retirement but never resting in their commitment to their neighborhood´s children, to worship in a simple yet moving sanctuary with the congregation, to explore the additional work they have done to the church building, and to hear of the outreach programs that involve children, young adults, and women,– to see all of this is to see what Luz de Vida will become in a few years: not the dusty worksite of today but another vibrant house of a living, creative, loving God.

 Sunday afternoon included a bus tour of the city: the ¨must-see¨ stop being the towering Cristo de la Concordia, which a handful of enthusiastic VIMmers with good lungs climbed;  a drive through the bustling main market, La Cancha; and stops at the Plaza Principal, the Prado area, and the perennial favorite, Globos, for ice cream.

 By 8 a.m. this morning the construction crew headed off to continue work on the bakery and the church building, and 4 teams of vacation bible school teachers went to Luz de Vida, Piedra Viva, Emmanuel and Nazareno Churches, delighted with the hugs and exuberance from the children who participated. While numbers were lower than expected due to a new national holiday (the Aymaran New Year began today) we will have four more days to share smiles, bible stories and crafts together. We ended our day in discussion with Pastor Gustavo from Piedra Vida, and Daniel Flores, the District Coordinator. How can our conferences best continue to participate in programs that promote health and education for Bolivia´s rural women and children, in the changing political and social climate of the new government?  There are no ready answers, just a   determination to forge a “complementary” relationship where the gifts and graces of one community are exchanged with the gifts and graces of the other, to truly experience and bring into being the kingdom of God, here, and the light of Christ, now.

 We welcome your continued prayers, and anticipate sharing our experiences with you in person, so that you will come to know the Bolivia and the Bolivians we cherish.

Hasta entonces, until then.                                                               VIM Bolivia 2010

Bolivia Reports:

Bolivia Trip Report #1

The Bolivia VIM’s Have Landed!

Trip Report #1 from the June 2010 VIM Team

The 14-member June 2010 Encounter with Christ team of Volunteers in Mission to the Central District of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Bolivia has landed. We arrived in Cochabamba a little after one o’clock in the afternoon on Friday, June 18-some members of the group having traveled for more than 30 hours since leaving home. Organized by the New York Conference in partnership with the Susquehanna Conference in Pennsylvania, the team consists of eight members from the New York Conference, four members from the Susquehanna Conference and two veterans of previous trips who reside in new Hampshire and the area of the new Upper New York Conference. Our geographic diversity is matched by our diversity of talents we bring to here to work, worship and fellowship with the family of God’s children here in Bolivia.

Despite some minor problems with late flights early in our trip, our arrival in Cochabamba was on time and we were met by adults and children from the congregation of Luz de Vida Methodist church, with whom we will be working on construction of a new church facility. This facility will house this rapidly expanding congregation founded just a few years ago as an outreach of Emmanuel Methodist and currently overflowing its worship services held in a chapel made by converting a one-car garage at a house of one of the leaders of Emmanuel. The greeting at the airport and the bus ride to our quarters at the guesthouse of the Instituto Americana (a Methodist school) were enthusiastic and filled with singing and clapping of hands.

We begin work tomorrow (Saturday) at Luz de Vida, both on the new church and on installation of an oven behind the current garage-chapel that will enable the establishment of a bakery business, providing employment for some members of the congregation. We will continue to work with the Luz de Vida people on construction of the new church for a total of seven days, while also working our Bolivian friends in conducting half-day vacation bible schools at Luz de Vida and three other congregations. We are all excited about what is to come, and after so much travel we hope to get a lot of rest tonight. We’ll get another report off in a few days. Peace to all, and thank you for your prayers.

Your Bolivia VIM Team

Members of the Bolivia VIM Team are:  (*indicates first time as Bolivia VIM): New York Conference: Dan Abbott*, Rachel Bird, Susan Biggert*, Ed Dayton, Rev. Carl Franson, Chris Freeman, Donna Holt, Linda Mellor*                     Susquehanna Conference: Holly Johnston*, Kathy Silva*, Bob Stevenson, Ginny Stevenson.                                                                                                                Upper New York area: Dawn Mauro    New Hampshire: Rod Wendt