Monday, December 31, 2007

Yester- year

It was quite overwhelming for me to look back on this year and see all the different things that I´ve done. How often does one´s beginning of the year look so drastically different then one´s end of the year anyway?

Lets call the first quarter of the year ¨College of Dupage¨ (COD). Looking back I am thinking that the spanish class I took was a big waste of time. But as it is, it occupied nearly 4 months of my year. I really enjoyed that class because it gave me a lot of time to talk and hang out with one of my high school friends whom I normally wouldn´t have been able to see much of. But that class itself was difficult for a lot of reasons. One, we were a class of about 24 students all at varying levels of spanish experience. Two, the class went according to a book. We had to complete a certian amount of chapters before the end of the semester whether we were really learning it or not. Some people blazed through the elementary stuff and some people, like me, really struggled to keep up with the pace. It ended up being a really stressful time and I really didn´t retain a lot of what I learned. Upon arrival in Bolivia I had to all but start from scratch.

The next quarter of the year I´ll call ¨insane¨ for that was exactly what my spring and summer months were in my life. Beginning in about May or so, my spanish class was ending (thank God)and I started to re-focus my time and energies on fundraising for Bolivia. It was also at this time that I recieved instructions from my missions agency about the pre-training for the field training that would begin on-campus in the fall. It ended up being a good 3 solid months of reading, test taking, and paper writing. Also, keep in mind at this point that I was still working at my job 40 hours a week. If you´ve never done fundraising for a long term trip you´ll never understand how much time it requires. So with those ´big 3´ my summer was nothing less then completly insane. It was filled with work, training, and fundraising and not nearly enough FUN. Fundraising included: 2 car washes, a week of VBS, several presentations at other churches, writing updates, printing ministry reports, sending support letters, doing follow-up on those letters, researching Bolivia, putting together powerpoints, and checking daily to see if anything I was doing was having an impact on my support levels. I was absolutly exhausted! In the midst of all of that I managed to spend a week volunteering at a camp in Illinois (which I really enjoyed) and a quick weekend get away to go camping with my family. By the end of the summer, it was amazing to me to see that all my hard work and prayers had payed off. Just before I left for fall training, I had 100% of my funding. Anytime I get discouraged all I need to do is think back to this summer and remember that I saw the power of God at work in me and in other people. They told me that fundraising would stretch my faith and indeed it did. There is nothing like asking God for something and then truly believing by faith that He would answer/provide and then rejoicing when He did. If you want your faith to grow you have to depend on God for your everything, I knew that on my own I could do nothing but fail. That is why, despite all the work I listed above, I give all the glory and honor to God who has called me to this work. Gloria a Dios.

The next quarter of my year would hold the most drastic changes of the year. At the end of Aug I quit my job and quickly found myself amoungst other people just like me as we gather together for 5 weeks of pre-field training. That is also the time that I began this blog site. I made many friends and was encouraged by them. Some where leaving for their mission field ASAP like I was, others had barely begun their fundrasing. I had learned some things the hard way and I was glad to be able to share with them my experiences. I also met some of my future teammates, 2 interns who are here with me now, and also a married couple that should be coming down in the early part of 2008. The last two weeks of my north american life were filled with meetings, goodbye parties, and last min details. There was so much encouragement and prayers that I was completley overwhelmed with the love my family and friends have for me.

The final quarter of my year found me on a plane headed for a new life in Bolivia. I´ve been here for about 2 months and indeed everything in my life has changed! But the daily details are pretty much recorded in this blog. In summary, I have been adopted by my Bolivian family, I have had more hours then I care to count of language tutoring, I´ve made new friends outside of my team, I´ve laughed, I´ve cried, I´ve gotten sick, I´ve been tired, I´ve been lost, I´ve been surprised, I´ve been loved, I´ve been stolen from, I´ve been well fed, I´ve gained weight, I´ve learned, I´ve missed my home, I´ve gone through culture shock and lived to tell about it, and I´ve never been more positive that this is where God wants me to be. Its not always easy, there is nothing glamorous about life in a third world country. Its hard for me to not be able to say all that I wish I could say in Spanish but its getting better everyday. Its hard for me cause I don´t always feel like I´m being a missionary here, but thats ok, you can´t be a good missionary if you can´t speak to the people in their own language. I do as much ministry as my language will permit and spend the rest of my time studying spanish, learning the city and culture, and de-stressing with friends.

Looking forward will be a whole other entry. But I was sitting and talking with one of my sisters the other night and we both were thinking the same thing. We feel very positive about the next years of our lives. More then likely its for different reasons but I myself can not wait to see what all is going to happen! Because I know that God is good, all the time. Even when times are hard, I have a Saviour who loves me and is never going to leave me. THAT is the hope that I have and that is the hope I wish to share with every man, woman, and child in Bolivia!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Part 2

OK! Finally I will finish this Christmas story! I don´t know how these last couple of days have gotten away from me. So... on with Christmas!

After having stayed up late with my family I took part of the morning to sleep in. My teams interns (3 of them), another longer-term missionary, and I had planned to have a Christmas brunch together. For all of us this was our first Christmas away from our families in the States. So they all went grocery shopping and bought all the items needed for a very north american breakfast. We all gathered in my friends tiny apartment and attempted to cook this meal together. As you can see in the picture below it was a tight fit when all 5 of us were trying to work in the kitchen! I was standing in the doorway when I took this picture!

When all was said and done, we had a great brunch together of French Toast, Fruit Salad, and fresh squeezed OJ. There were hash browns on the menu but they didn´t quite make it out of the frying pan! Then we all just rested for a while and enjoyed each others company while listening to Christmas music.

Christmas Day ended with a traditional US dinner at the home of my team leaders. there were 16 of us gathered together there for dinner and a gift exchange. There was sooooo much food! We all had a good time just talking with each other. We then had the traditional gift exchange game where you draw numbers and pick a gift or you can ´steal´ a gift that has already been opened. Always good for a laugh! By the time that party came to an end I was really tired and ready to head back to my own home. All in all, it was a wonderful first Christmas in Bolivia, the first of many to come.

In addition to these things, I also attended a Ladies Christmas Tea put on by the International church, I saw a play called ¨Haven of Hope Hotel¨ (the inn that had the manger, ect), and also 2 different Childrens programs. I sang Christmas songs in both English and Spanish and discovered that even Bolivia´s Concha (market) gets insanely busy the week before Christmas. It got to the point that I was having to take taxi´s around simply because I could NOT find a trufi with room for me on it (I generally try not to hang out the doorways!). There is still a ton of fruit cake hanging around (sounds pretty north american huh?) but everything else seems to have returned to normal. This is a picture of the play.

Bolivia does celebrate the New Year in the traditional way, with parties! I´m not sure at this point where I will be partying or with whom but I will be with friends or family. Next week begining Jan 2nd, I will be taking a short trip to La Paz, Bolivia with a friend of mine. La Paz is the biggest city in Bolivia and is at an altitude of nearly 14,000 ft. My friend and I will travel there by bus (about 8 hours) and stay 3 days and return on the 5th. Please pray for safety during this time.

Tune in soon for a year in review entry as well as thoughts, dreams, and wishes for the coming year. Happy New Years!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Part 1

Merry Christmas Everyone! My Christmas was so full its going to take a couple of blog entries to tell it all. I have some wonderful pictures to share with you all as well.

To start with this is a picture of my Bolivian family, ALL of them. And believe me, it was no easy task to get everyone in the house at the same time looking decent enough for a picture! But finally on Christmas Eve I managed to get everyone to co-operate. The last family photo I posted was missing Jaime and his son Marcello. Marcello is the middle child and is a doctor. He is currently in medical school in Argentina getting a speciality degree (for the back I believe). He just arrived back in Cochabamba the Sunday before Christmas. The family is very happy to have him home for a couple of weeks and I was glad to be able to get a complete family photo. He also came to my rescue with some antibiotics as I have been struggling for a while with a chest cold. He, like the rest of his family, have accepted me as one of their own. I thank God for them daily!

The traditions of Christmas in Bolivia vary by family, the same as in the states. My family orders all their food from a resturant. When I went with my family to pick it up my sister told me we were picking up DUCK! I told her, ´maybe you should have just told me it was chicken!´ This is a picture of my plate. It was actually very good! Dark meat. And no it did not taste like chicken! Well, maybe dark meat chicken, either way, it was moist and flavorful. Add this one to the list of Bolivian experiences :)

This is the family all sitting together enjoying our plate fulls of duck :)Oh, and this meal takes place at about 11pm. Most families however would have their meal at midnight.

This is also a tradition. Estella, Tina, and Natalia all worked together to make empenadas. I wanted to help but was afraid to as I was still sick at the time. These were made in preparation for the rest of the family gathering on Christmas day.

This is our tree, very similar to those found in the states. Side note, all the Christmas lights here ´sing´ but there are settings and you can turn the sound off. When I was helping to pick up the food for dinner I was singing in English along with the wordsless tune of the Christmas lights. My sister Natalia said to me that she´s never heard to words to the songs! That was a fun moment for me.

This is the manger scene in our home. At exactly midnight some candles are lit and baby Jesus is placed in the manger. That is followed by a time of silent prayer. Then came the opening of the presents. Very chaotic! Everyone was standing and handing out presents to everyone and then opening everything at once! I recieved s burned CD of a popular Bolivian band (excellent!), shower flipflops, a crystal angel pendent for a necklace and a bunch of candy. I enjoyed giving my small gifts to the family even more. Esp Marcello as I had only met him two days before. I gave both him and his parents framed copies of the family picture I had been in such a hurry to take. For my sister Patty I gave a framed picture of her two daughters. My sister Natalia recieved from me a rose candle holder. Estella and Jaime recieved a ¨Jesus bless this house´ plaque (in Español) and the family picture in a frame. Tina recieved from me a 2008 calander and some of her favorite chocolate. The little girls (technically my nieces) recieved candy and toy daiseys.

It was a night that I will never forget. I swear I fell asleep with a smile on my face. Its hard not to be happy when you realize you really do have TWO families! Its really hard to explain but its the most amazing feeling in the world.

Tomorrow look for part 2 as I tell the story of the rest of Christmas Day with friends. Stories and pictures galore :)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

My mis-adventure

To make a long story short, I took a trufi going the wrong way. But the long story is so much more intresting! So here it is, in full:

Tuesday of this week I was in a semi-unfamiliar area of the north end of town because I was making a phone call home and the one store was said to have cheaper rates. What can I say? I´m cheap! Anyway, after making the call home I needed to get to one of the plazas to meet a friend for coffee (and girl talk!). If I had been going there from my house I would not have had a problem at all. But I was not close to home. So I had to try to take a trufi to the plaza that I was not familiar with. Luckily, most trufi´s have signs on their windows stating which locations they drive past like plaza colon, post office, ect (in spanish of course). Well, I was running late and I saw a trufi that said plaza colon so I flagged it down and was on my way. Well... I knew almost immeditaley that I was not going in the right direction. I have a good enough map in my head to know that I needed to go west and south, not east to get there. But a bus route is a bus route so I knew I would end up there eventually so a waited for a while. By the time I decided that this bus was never going to take me to the plaza I was way out in the middle of some highway that I had never seen. I was on my way out of the city! So I had to take my chances and I got off of the trufi. A white girl, out on the middle of a highway, at nearly 6 at night was not really a good thing. So I was praying hard and waiting for a taxi, any taxi, to stop and take me to the plaza. I felt like I was standing there forever. Every trufi was going to other places and some taxi´s were not pulling over. Finally one stopped! Praise the Lord! All I said was ¨Plaza Colon¨and we were off. This cabbie had his wife with him too so that made me feel safer too. I finally got to the plaza and it only cost me 10 Bolivianos (less then $2) for the cab. I met my friend (she hadn´t given up on me thankfully) and we were on our way.

Unfortunetly, that is not the end of the story! Since I arrived late at the plaza we ended up talking past the time it had gotten dark. It had also started raining. So we headed out together to get a taxi to our homes. Well... easier said then done! As soon as it starts raining everyone in Cochabamba tries to get into a taxi, trufi, car, ect. Anything with wheels! So we waited in the rain, checking every bus, every taxi for free space. Nada. Nothing at all. (I told my friend that I would take whatever came first, a taxi or trufi just to get out of the rain. The next trufi that came by literally had people hanging out the door it was so jam packed full of people). We finally went to the other side of the road, grabbed a taxi headed the other direction, made him make a U turn and we finally got home. Wet, cold, and tired but we made it home!

The next day I decided that maybe it would be better if I just stayed home! Which I did :) Today all of life has been back to normal, thats a relief! But looking at it in retrospect, the ordeal with the trufi going to wrong way was really a worse case scenario. And I lived to tell about it. Thats a really really nice thing about Coch, you can grab a cab, anytime, anywhere (except when its raining!) and tell them exactly where you need to go and it actually costs very little. But praise God, He was with me on that highway!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A giftcardless Christmas

I finally put my finger on it. That´s what is so different about Christmas in Cochabamba! These people wouldn´t know what a gift card was if it came up and hit them in the face. If anything they might try to use it to get money out of an ATM :) So that got me thinking that when the people who can actually afford to buy gifts for their friends and family actually buy them real gifts! A well thought out, meaningful gift. I always kind of thought that gift cards were the easy way out of gift giving. Not to stir up a great big debate about them or anything, I´m just saying that I like having to think about what I´m giving. Thinking about the persons likes and dislikes and not thinking ¨I have to spend at least $20 or I´ll look cheap¨. Around here, $20 could probably feed a family of 6 for a month. I spent about $1 on my nieces here and they are going to love their gifts.

Since I´m talking money... after the first of the year I will begin attending another church. I´ve been going to the International Church since I didn´t (and still don´t) know enough Spanish to understand a sermon. Plus I didn´t know where else to go. Churches down here are not on every corner and are not well advertised. But almost from the beginning I didn´t feel right at the English church. I´m in the middle of Bolivia and I´m sitting in a very western church service. That just seems wrong to me. I enjoy latino services, esp their worship time. The English church is a haven for North American missionaries to worship in their native tounge but also a ministry to the upper class of Bolivia. The upper working class either knows English or is trying to learn it. There are also headsets that translate for them. I didn´t come to Bolivia to hang out with the rich, more and more lately I have felt that it was not where God wanted me to be.

So I kept my eyes open and I stubbled upon a church sign after Babywashing a few saturdays back. All I could read of the sign was ¨Evangelical¨ and I always meant to go back and try to find out more about it. Today at a church event I was talking to another missionary and she mentioned a Bolivian church she used to go to. When I asked where it was she started drawing me a map. And guess what!? Its the same church I had seen a few weeks ago! And she offered to go with me when I wanted to go. I knew I had seen that sign for a reason and I can´t wait to go and see it soon. I will stay at the International church until Christmas but them I´m going over to the other one.

It seems to be hitting me a lot lately (due to a really good book I´m reading called The Irresistible Revolution) just how much the Bible talks about the poor. We all know that Jesus was born into poverty (in a manager for crying out loud). But I realized today while I was watching a skit that God chose to announce the birth of Jesus to the shepards (poor people) FIRST, not last. Jesus didn´t grow up the son of a King living in splendor, he grew up a son of a carpenter. And then he was a refugee and then homeless. He always went to the poor people, talked to them, listened to them, hugged their children, healed their sick. And the poor people listened to him and most of the rich people didn´t (but not all). I won´t quote the chapters and verses right now but just read the gospels and you will see too. If you can, give that book I mentioned a good reading. I don´t agree wholeheartedly with everything in it but I believe the Bible says what it says for a reason. Compared to 70% of Bolivians I am fithy rich. Compared to the middle class of North America my total monthly income (donations) wouldn´t pay thier mortgage and car payment much less anything else. Don´t let yourself not see the poor, I think thats all Jesus ever saw. Think about it. The love of Christ will change you!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Politics and junk

Some of you are going to see the title of this blog and decide to skip it. Thats ok. I´m actually kind of proud of myself that I can follow some of the political happenings and what they mean, what the people do in reaction, and the over-arching political mess that exists in this country. Its important that I understand it because I live it. There are strikes nearly every other week that make getting around town to run errands nearly impossible, there are rallies (like today) in the main plaza that although it was a peaceful gathering Americans (esp with white skin) were told to go nowhere near the plaza. So here is the breakdown as far as I can figure:

There are 12 departments in Bolivia. Each department has a govenor. 6 are for the President, 6 are against the President. This week the 6 that are against tried to get to the US UN meeting before the other six. Those who are for the president got there first. But they basically went to tell on each other! Anyway, the result was that the strike that was planned for today was cancelled and a simple rally that was held in the main plaza instead. This was a rally FOR the president. It was being said that 80,000 people where being bused in from the mountians and rainforest and I believe it. Folks that traveled more today then I did said the city was packed, every bus was full, ect. I watched the news tonight hoping to catch a shot of the crowd but no such luck. I did hear a report that said 3 people died in transit when the driver of their car fell asleep at the wheel. That made me very sad.

My upcoming trip to Chapare (rainforest) has also been cancelled do to unstable political conditions. The constitution is being voted on actually in the Chapare region. Blockades are almost a given. The church leaders do not want to get stuck out there with a busfull of teenagers. I don´t blame them. I went to a house sale today (we don´t have garages!) of some missionaries that are moving back to the states soon. Missionaries help each other out like that, sell stuff a decent price so they have more money to move home with and we get furniture and what not for less then we´d pay in The Concha. Anyway... they are moving home because their ministry is to literally bus people all over Bolivia, Bolivian believers, short-term teams, church groups, ect. All they charge is the cost of the deisel for the bus. Side note, Bolivia has had a huge shortage of deisel for a long time now. At times they are even short on gasoline. I´m not sure why. So not only do they have a diesel problem but they are running into blockade problems nearly every week. Sometimes strikes/blockades are country wide, others are for specific departments. Given these missionaries drive all over Bolivia they have decided to pack up and move home until the political situation calms down, or when Evo is no longer president.

Also a problematic thing has been that the dollar as been dropping. In other words, the exchange rate is not what it used to be. This is not just for Bolivia but for the whole world. European missionaries have had major problems with the exchange rate there for years. These last couple of weeks the rate has been 7.60 B´s to $1. This is down from what used to be about 8.2. My tutor has had to increase the cost of my classes to cover the difference. There is goodnews however, my team leader told me today that he saw on CNN that ´the dollar was strong´. There is a good posibility that our exchange rate will increase in the next couple of days. This is yet another thing that is outside of my understanding. What exactly makes the dollar strong or weak???

In other news, I have come down with a headcold of sorts. All this delisious food and it hurts to swallow it. Although tonights warm bananna bread tasted wonderful! I bought a ´chair hammock´ today as a real hammock is not possible for me in this house (long story). This is the next best thing and I got it at probably half the price of a new one at the house sale. I had a two hour ´review´ for Spanish class today and she tested me on chapters 1-5. All verbal. And I did good! Its a relief to know that I do remember this stuff and understand it! Thats it for now, hope I didn´t bore anyone.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Un día de descansar

A day of rest. And boy did I ever need it! This is probably the first Sunday since I´ve been here that all I´ve left the house to do is walk to church and back. I should probably back up... by like a week! The overview style seems to work pretty good for me.

Like walking through water. I´ve definetly have hit a new level in my spanish learning. And it feels a lot like trying to walk quickly through water. As hard as you try... you just end up moving in slow motion! The good news is that I am understanding the concepts behind some rather complicated things like direct and indirect objects. The bad news is that it take me for what feels like forever to come up with the correct response. It is literally exhausting. I thank God every day for having such a patient tutor. As of December 1st my host family has been instructed to speak to me only in Spanish unless we really can´t understand each other. This will force me to use the Spanish I do know and will be an added reason to learn this language quickly. I´ll admit that I´ve been lazy and enjoying talking with my sisters in English. Now is time for the hard stuff!

Mid-week update. Most of you should have recieved my mid-week update via email. I´ve not had internet in the house for a week and have been using internet cafés. My camera was stolen on Tuesday while I was riding a Trufi back from one of the orphanage homes. I have received word from my supporters and I will be able to buy a new one sometime this week. The protests did not last more than a day, thank God. They rarely do. The city has gone back to normal though there are always political tentions. More so in cities like La Paz, Santa Cruz, and Sucre though. Cochabamba is semi-neutral ground. Our President Evo Morales is much like the Venesuala president Chavez. He makes the news a lot more then Evo, but they are of the same mind. Please, if you remember to, pray for this country!

´Tis the season to go shopping. Fa la la la la, la la la la. This morning in church I sang my first Christmas songs of the season. I have also offically started my Christmas shopping for my host family and teammates. I have to limit my gifts to about $3 or so (less if I can get away with it) since I need to be careful with my money. I just located this week one of the very few Christian (non- Catholic) bookstores in the city. Everything in that store screams JESUS! Its awesome :) I bought my house parents a nice (but cheap) plaque there. I am on the hunt for something for my tutor/friend, one sister, and her two daughters. I am very much looking forward to experiencing the Christmas traditions in this house as well as having a traditional dinner with my team leaders and spending time with my friends from from the States. From what I´m told the Bolivian celebration begins on Christmas Eve. Everyone stays up till Midnight and has a HUGE meal. They then open presents and sleep in the next morning. We don´t have any decor up yet but I have been told a little bit about this homes traditions. But I will wait until they happen to tell them in full.

Nightmares. This is going to be a little hard to say. This week, for the second time since I´ve been in Bolivia, I have had a nightmare. This is not the kind that you wake up and then its gone and you can go back to sleep. This are the kind of nightmares that I believe fall under the catagory of spiritual attacks. Both times I had the same continuing dream all night, despite waking up repeatedly. I woke up not feeling rested at all. And worse the dreams stayed with me ALL DAY. The story line was different but the feeling was the same. My friends and I were being attacked by ´monsters´ of some kind that we could not fight. The latest dream from this week I can still remember vivid details and its been 48 hours. In that dream I did rebuke someone in the name of Jesus and he backed off. The monsters I never see, only what they do. Now that I´ve given you all the chills... I read my bible and prayed a lot before I went to sleep last night. I fell asleep with a song of praise in my head and slept soundly the entire night. I have continued to sing praises to God all day today. God is protecting me, even as I sleep.

Chapare. December 17th I am joining a short-term mission trip from the International Church here in Coch to the Chapare region (the rainforest). We will be gone for only 5 days to help with construction on our orphanage homes there. It is mostly a youth trip but I will be going as am extra leader and worker. I have not visited the area yet so I am looking forward to it and meeting the people in this place. We have 2 homes being build there right now so you know the need is great. They tell me that bananas are free because they grow wild there. They also tell me there are rather large bugs, mesquitos, and humidity and rain like you wouldn´t believe. Sound like fun to anyone else???

Tomorrow is the monthly meeting for my team and the Bolivian social workers. The rest of the week I´m not sure yet. But always, always tutoring and homework. That is basically my life for the next 6-12 months!