"Heavenly Father, you always amaze me. Let your kingdom come in my world and in my life." ~Your Love is Strong, Jon Foreman

Saturday, June 11, 2011

"Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me”

I had never been able to experience the joy of “true religion” as James says of caring for orphans in their distress as I have here in Bolivia. Many times we had the blessing of visiting and helping out at a few orphanages around the city. One organization is called Casa de Amor and was started about 6 years ago by a 22-year-old MK, and it has grown to 4 different houses with about a dozen children in each. At the first house (0-4 yr-olds), we held, played, fed, and just loved on those precious babies and toddlers. It was shocking how much horror some of those tiny kids have already been through. One little baby was wearing a stretchy ski-mask type thing over his head to cover burns he received when a gas stove exploded and killed his mom. Another baby girl was beaten so badly by her father that she would have deformed legs and likely brain damage as well. A humbling and priceless experience was to play with and tenderly guide a 4-year-old girl blind from birth and most likely autistic. It broke my heart to think of how her parents must have abandoned her. The woman who started the orphanage visits the hospitals in the city every week to rescue babies abandoned at the hospital. The kids at Casa de Amor may not have parents, but they are loved dearly by the staff (which consists of both American volunteers and Bolivian women). Praise God that those children are there and not living on the streets or already dead.

Another orphanage (probably my favorite) that we were able to visit twice in my time here was called Casa de Alegría (joy) and was home to 11 girls over the age 13. The first time we made butterfly crafts with tissue paper and decorated fabric butterflies lovingly put together and left by a volunteer – Thank you so much Misty! I shared a brief message about how our faith as Christians is like the life of a mariposa (butterfly), especially referring to our rebirth. Despite varying levels of Spanish ability among our group, we all got to know more about the girls and just show them how loved they are by the greatest, most faithful Father ever. This past Wednesday, I kind of impromptu shared a message from a devotional that Misty (again) graciously left for those girls about the alegría that God promises us as His children, which is independent of our circumstances or feelings—different from felicidad (happiness). God definitely empowered me to do that and then pray in Spanish, as He has blessed my Spanish ability throughout this entire trip. We played all sorts of games, even “2 Truths and a Lie” in Spanish, that helped us to get to know each other and break down their timidity. Again, I was struck by how similar we all were, yet burdened to realize that they probably would never know the love and protection of an earthly parent. I am so thankful, though, that these girls are getting an education at high school and are safe in that home, with each other for family, and not pregnant like so many other 14- and 15-year-olds in Bolivia. I will dearly miss them. Please pray for their faiths to be bolstered, and for them to know that they have a Father whose love never fails.

Another beautiful opportunity I’ve had here in Cochabamba was to wash street kids for an hour on Saturdays. A group of missionaries came together to start doing this a while ago on their own, and it just keeps growing. We set up a couple tents and fill tubs with water to bathe little children and wash the older kids’ hair. Anna, a volunteer with me at HOH, brought lots of clothes and beautiful dresses made out of pillow cases that were donated to her to give to the kids after the bath. It’s amazing how the people who regularly do the kid washing rely on God to provide everything: the kids, the water, the clothes… and He always comes through! It was such a blessing to be a part of that.

When Two Worlds Meet

It’s not every day that the rich meet the poor, that two people – one from the world’s richest country and the other from one of the most depraved nations of the world – get to spend a day together and realize how similar we really are. But it is a beautiful blessing when two worlds meet. On May 30th, I had the amazing opportunity to actually meet, face-to-face, the 14-year-old boy I have been getting to know through snail mail since Christmas. It will be difficult to put the experience into words, but I’ll do my best.

His name is Saulo Apaza, and he lives with his mom, dad, and two brothers in a tiny town without running water on the south side (the poor part) of Cochabamba. I left early Monday morning from the guest house and managed to find my way to the Compassion office in the middle of the city – about an hour-long journey by the public transit vans called trufis. From the start I knew it was going to be a day of tangibly seeing God’s hand at work. For instance, a stranger who had heard where I was going kindly let me know when to get off and where to go. (That was right after I prayed God would let me know somehow when to get off in this vast, unfamiliar city… talk about answered prayer!) All day I fervently prayed for God’s help understanding and speaking Spanish, and He granted me that as well.

Anyways, the blessed visit began in the Compassion office right after I was filled in that the other kids at the project might ask me if I was their sponsor or to please tell their sponsor to write them letters. Only 5% of all sponsored children ever get to meet their sponsor, and I was told that very few come to Bolivia. Then I was greeted by Saulo with a big bear hug from this cool, athletic-looking 14-year-old boy – that would never happen in the States! His dad and the sponsorship director, Jimena, accompanied us all day, and I enjoyed getting to know them. In the taxi to Villa Israel (his town), I excitedly gave him his gift: a drawstring backpack that read Houghton College, art supplies (because he loves to draw), and my old iPod nano with lots of Christian and Spanish music on it. In return, he presented me with a flawless, soft, white t-shirt he had sewn by hand. That was such a fun, touching moment.

I don’t want this to be too long, so I’ll try to sum up the day quickly. First I got a tour of the student center where Saulo spends his afternoons (along with 400 other students) and attends church. Then we went to his house, where I met his Quechuan mom (in traditional indigenous garb), who had prepared a delicious lunch for us. (I ate everything I was given—even some new and interesting things—praying all the while that God would keep it down.) Then Adolfo, Saulo’s dad, took us for a drive to see a large lake and show me around other parts of the outskirts of Cochabamba. Finally we played Wallyball (my new favorite sport—volleyball in a racquetball court—which is very popular here) with the other 14- and 15-year-olds in Saulo’s classroom at the student center.

It was such a neat reminder while just enjoying myself with Saulo and his friends and family that we were brothers and sisters in God’s big family, and neither cultural nor economical differences affect that. It was also a painful call to keep Saulo, his family, and the other kids in my prayers and to write him more often. When they first told Saulo I was coming to visit, he thought they must mean someone else because I hadn’t written very often. I felt so bad hearing that, realizing that I had let my busy life at college hinder our relationship. But his dad and Jimena kept saying that Saulo was so excited and happy that his “cabeza está en las nubes” (head is in the clouds). One of my favorite moments of the day was when his tutor asked him how he felt and he replied with a grin, “feliz.” I have a lot to learn from their abundant joy despite having so little, and I am looking forward to continuing to grow our relationship through our letters. I cannot thank God enough for the blessing of that visit.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Un Dia Normal

A typical morning here consists of: waking up at 7 AM, getting breakfast on our own, observing rounds at 8 AM at the hospital, listening to a devotional from a doctor, shadowing a doctor with a certain specialty (on a rotating basis) until 12 PM, and then lunch. The afternoons vary in what we do. Some days we go to one of many orphanages in the city, learn a certain skill (like drawing blood or bandaging), explore interesting sites in the area, or go into the city to shop. The other night we helped with a conversation circle for Bolivians learning English by Cristo para la Ciudad (the missions organization we went with to the jungle). Also, some days part of the group will go to Clinica Boliviana-Americana (a hospital in the city started by an American) to shadow doctors there. I've been able to watch 3 surgeries since I've been here, which are SO cool!! The first was a young woman getting a long screw removed that traversed both tibia and fibula. Then there was a young woman who had been in a car accident and had severe bruising and swelling in her leg and knee. The surgeons removed a solid mass of fatty tissue the size of my palm from her knee. Then I got to see a C-section two days ago -- soo awesome! It was just unreal to see the surgeon grab the baby's head, then the whole baby girl out of the incision in the mother's womb. A beautiful sight. 

In our "recreation" times, we've climbed a mountain to see Incan ruins at the top, saw the Cristo de la Concordia statue (the tallest Christ statue in the world), walked on the edge of mountains to see a waterfall in a park 10 min away, and visited the mansion of the richest man in Bolivia (a robberbaron, but with tin) in the early-mid-1900s. You will see all of those activities in my pictures, so now you'll know what you're seeing. :)

Jehovah Jireh

YHWH-jireh is what Abraham named the place where he nearly sacrificed his own son, but God supplied a ram for the offering in Isaac's place. It means, "the Lord will provide." This is a lesson that I learned myself in coming on this mission trip. God had set my passions on this trip since Urbana 2009, when I found out about Hospitals of Hope. My very hectic, busy schedule and my procrastination resulted in the submisison of my application for this mission trip at the end of March, and my acceptance on April 1. That left just about a month to raise all the support I needed for the trip: about $2500. I would like to say that I had no doubts that my God was faithful and would provide a way for me to do His work in Bolivia, but honestly I was too busy to even give it much thought, aside from writing and sending out the support letters. When praying and asking for prayer for the money to come in, I strangely had a confidence that it all would. Deep down I was hoping that I wouldn't be let down or proved wrong. God DID provide, above and beyond what was required! Over $3,000 was raised, which was able to provide for domestic flights, the jungle trip, my vaccinations, as well as contribute to Hospitals of Hope's ministry. Among my friends at Houghton, I raised $130 from college kids with hardly any spare change, to buy medicine for the clinics we did in the jungle. Praise God! He never ceases to amaze me!
I want to thank everyone who contributed in any way to making this trip possible. I am so humbled by your generosity and support, and I cannot tell you enough how much it has blessed me. Thank you so much!

Philippians 4:19 "And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Back from the jungle

Last week was an amazing adventure! Early Tuesday morning our group of 10 people met up with Miguel and Franklin (missionaries with Cristo para la Ciudad) and Anghelo (a doctor with Hospitals of Hope) and began our journey into the Bolivian Amazon jungle. The travel consisted of 4 segments: (1) a harrowing 5-hour drive through beautiful mountains that initially were covered by farms and then gradually began to look like the mountains in the show Lost. (2) then an hour drive on a bumpy road through banana tree groves (3) then a 40-min ride on a carved wooden canoe. We all sat on the sides and had to bail water out the whole time. (4) and finally a short hike through huge jungle plants to the town. It was sooo awesome! We were there from Tuesday early evening through Friday morning. We stayed in an old missionary house built in the early 80s by New Tribes Mission, which was in poor condition. It had a cool rigging to collect rain water to supply the house with running water, but unfortunately it didn't rain while we were there.
The whole thing reminded me so much of Jim Elliot and those crazy missionary stories. We learned this morning at the international church we went to, in talking to a pilot with New Tribes, that a similar event happened with this tribe. In the 70s, when New Tribes missionaries were still establishing contact with the nomadic tribe, one man was shot with a bow and arrow by the Yuquis hunters due to some superstitious beliefs they have about death. He was rescued after lying on the jungle floor for 48 hours and later returned to the tribe. Amazing! In 1999 New Tribes had to pull out of the area because of the area becoming a Red Zone for cocaine production, diseases, and other reasons. So about 6 years ago, Miguel and his wife through Cristo para la Ciudad went into the town, though not living there full time, and have ministered to the Yuquis until now. It was obvious how much the Yuquis respected and cared for Miguel by how they were always crowding around the house asking for help or with gifts and how the kids were always so excited to sing the worship songs Miguel played on his guitar.
During our few days there, we did a breast cancer presentation (which we think was the first time any of them were even informed about the disease), including breast examinations - THAT was interesting for me to say the least. Haha. We also made lunch for 70 school kids both Wed and Thurs, and thankfully God made the food stretch to feed everyone. In the afternoons we did a Bible lesson, which I did one day, singing songs with Miguel, and then playing games and coloring. We did dental presentations for both the kids and the adults, distributing toothbrushes and toothpaste, and putting fluoride on whatever remaining teeth they had. Their teeth were a pitiful sight; even many of the young children's teeth were rotting away and few of the adults had any. They were also the dirtiest people I think I have ever seen. Most of the kids go around wearing a big t-shirt with no underwear, sitting in the dirt, and then they "bathe" without soap of course in the brown, albeit refreshing river. There was constantly an odor strongly reminiscent of elephant houses at zoos, if you know what I mean. Oh, and we saw a girl gnawing on a monkey head... One day we combed and braided the girls' hair (wearing gloves for fear of lice, which we often saw being plucked out of their hair and promptly eaten by friends and family like monkeys do).
Nevertheless, they were a beautiful and precious people who I now miss, after the short time we spent there. The kids were so affectionate, constantly clinging to us and saying they wanted to go with us when we leave, and were very sweet and happy. Even the adolescent boys (who are too cool to cooperate with anything in the States) were kind and respectful, attending the Bible classes and joyfully worshiping along with everyone else. That was such a beautiful sight. I spent as much time as I could talking, playing, and kicking the soccer ball around with the kids. One of my favorite things was how all of the kids would call me "hermana" (sister).
Being there helped me to see that I would love to work with a remote tribe like that in the future. Although the tribe has become more Christianized, many of the adults still maintain there animistic beliefs and need prayer.
 the canoes
 serving almuerzo
 the kitchen of the missionary house

 The hectic "market" our last morning
 some kids in front of the house
 the Bible house
 the back of the missionary house
Our team!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

La Cochabambita

So it’s been about 4 days since I’ve been in Cochabamba, Bolivia, SOUTH AMERICA!! I left Cleveland Hopkins airport at 6:30 pm Tuesday May 10, and arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia at 7:30 am Wed, when my adventure really began! I had to buy my own ticket to Cochabamba, get bolivianos out of the ATM, run to pay the airport tax and then back thru security to catch my flight that was leaving in 5 minutes. It was exciting! :) So since I've been here, I've climbed an Andean mountain with Incan ruins at the top, shadowed a pediatrician, been in a small taxi/bus crammed full of over 20 people, watched a surgery removing a screw from a girls ankle, seen the tallest Christ statue in the world, presented to kids how to brush your teeth, and so many other things! 
God is so good and has already answered so many prayers: friendly support here, good comprehension and communication in Spanish for me, making all my flights without problems, luggage arriving in Bolivia with me, safety, no sickness or pains due to altitude, and keeping us all in joyful, servant-hearted spirits. 
Next week, from Tuesday to Friday, 10 of us are travelling by buses and canoes to a small village of the Yuquis tribe in the jungle to do a clinic there. We're told they are a stubborn and lazy people who does not want to change their ways or do the work to take care of themselves and ward off diseases. So they have a lot of problems with TB, parasites, and diseases due to the inbreeding. Their tribe is rapidly diminishing because of these problems. So please pray for us on this mission, that the Yuquis will be receptive to our presentations on how to maintain their health, for travelling mercies and health - safety from malaria especially, and for us to be sensitive and welcomed to their culture. 
God bless!
Hasta pronto!