Two highlights from the Bolivia trip…and one of these experiences was without a doubt the most “out of my comfort zone” that I have ever been.
Throughout our time in Cochabamba, several folks from Niños con Valor, a foundation we were visiting, took us around to various ministries around town to “give us a real sense of what life is like for kids living on the streets there.”
There are several experiences that I just have to share. And these are the kind of experiences that make me wish that the countdown on my website was counting down a little bit faster.
The first was a visit that we made to a home called Solomon Klein. We were told that this was a transitional home and the first home that many kids come to directly from the streets. We were also told that many people just walk up to door and leave their babies/kids because they either don’t want them or they just can’t take care of them.
We visited three different areas in this home and I think each area broke my heart in a different way. The first area was the toddler room and there were like twenty toddlers crawling around on the floor like ants and of course all of us immediately sat on the floor to play with them. What was so crazy was how starved they were for positive touch. I held this little girl’s hand for thirty seconds and when I let go she began to cry. Broke my heart. I wish I could describe the look in their eyes. It was a moment that really tugged on my heartstrings. They started crawling after us when we left.
The next area was the newborn area where there were three workers feeding thirty newborn babies. They had the babies’ bottles propped up so that the babies did not get used to being held while they were being fed. There are just not enough workers to go around.
And finally we visited the older boys and girls who were playing outside and they just mobbed us. They all wanted to play and they all wanted us to pick them up. I got to brush up on my Spanish playground lingo that’s for sure. It’s funny how kids are just kids whether they are in Georgia or in Bolivia. They all just want unconditional love and they all just want you to push them in a swing.
And as if that whole experience wasn’t enough we decided to spend about two hours one evening down at the Cochabamba bus terminal. Not one of the main tourist attractions of the city I might add. This is the “out of my comfort zone” moment. Doug, a guy from Holy Cross who joined us on the trip, myself and two folks from Niños con Valor hopped a cab one night and headed down to the bus terminal. The hope was that I could get a chance to get a real picture of life for kids on the streets there. Boy did I. This was ministry on an up close and personal level.
The people from NcV have been going down to the bus terminal for some time now to try and build some relationships with some of the girls who live on the street there. One of the ministries that they are trying to start is an outreach ministry to these girls. They have a vision to open a home for these girls that will be a safe alternative to the streets. We found about 7-8 girls that night outside the terminal and we spent time with them for a few hours. It was unbelievable. One of the big addictions for street kids in Bolivia is an addition to sniffing glue. Very strong glue...not like your normal Elmer's kind of glue. It not only helps to keep them warm but it also numbs their hunger pains.
I have never been that up close and personal to something like this. I would be having conversations with these girls while they were holding their bottles of glue to their noses. I could just see in their eyes that they were in some other world, “Volando” (Flying) as they would call it. I saw young boys on the streets messed up on glue as well. I was even getting a little messed up from the glue myself after about two hours. I was getting some strong second hand whiffs.
I share these experiences to basically say two things – if you have never been out of your comfort zone like this I wish wish wish every single one of you could have the opportunity to do so. And if you get the chance...just go. Your view of the world will be expanded like you can’t even believe.
I also share it because I came to the realization while we were down at the terminal that “If Jesus were walking the streets of Cochabamba right now, I think He would be at the Cochabamba bus terminal.” It was about sitting with these kids for two hours and just showing them unconditional love. It was about loving them and not expecting anything in return. I am told that street ministry is a tough ministry though. And just when you think you are building some good relationships and making progress it all falls a part.
But I honestly believe that you just start by showing up. By just consistently being on the scene. How can we expect any relationship to be built and grow without this? I challenge you to look at your own city, your own neighborhood and ask yourself, “If Jesus were walking these streets right now, where would He be?”
And then just go there.