Saturday, January 26, 2008

Rain Rain…

…go away. Come again another day.

I mean it. It is the rainy season here in La Paz and it will continue to be the rainy season until March I think. We have had some fierce rain. No water shortage here. (By the way…is there still a water shortage in Georgia?)

Anyway, the situation here is actually very dangerous. And by dangerous I mean that this past week a mini-bus overturned on a bridge when the river overtook the bus and two people died.

There are two big rivers that flow nearby in my hood and earlier this week there was so much rain that one of the rivers flooded the street. There were huge rocks and debris in the street but cars kept driving around them. It was obvious that the people here definitely have experience driving around lots of rocks in the road. My street was safe but right down the hill from me the street was basically a river.

About eight to ten blocks away two people lost their lives.

It is fierce. When it rains here mudslides and avalanches are problems in some areas.

Yesterday, I rode with a friend in his truck outside of La Paz about an hour to visit a retreat for the youth of the Anglican church. This retreat was for all of the Anglican churches in Bolivia and there were about seventy youth there. The camp was in a rural area called Achocalla. It was a cool place. We played volleyball in the afternoon and then the mud fight started. It has rained a lot so there were mud puddles everywhere.

And no one was immune. And by no one I mean me. I tried to run but five guys picked me up and dragged me through the mud. My clothes were filthy. But I kind of see it as a way of bonding with the youth and their way of showing that they think I’m alright…there was no way this gringo was escaping the mud.

When we drove back at night we had to get out of the truck several times to examine the road before proceeding. Call it a plan of attack. The roads were flooded and we had to be careful about which route we took. And at one point there was basically a wall of mud in the road but thank God for double traction in the truck and we made it through no problem.

I promise pictures of some of this stuff that I am talking about when I get the internet at my house. It is top of my list right now. Thank you for your patience. Photos should start coming in February.

And one more thing about the water. Pastor Willy called me while I was at the youth retreat to tell me that because of all the rain some water distribution something or another was broken and that my area of La Paz will be without water for two days.

Yes you guessed it...the one day that I go and get thrown in the mud is the same day that I find out that I cannot take a shower for two days.

Life IS like a box of chocolates sometimes just like Forest Gump said. Enjoy those showers today and tomorrow folks.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

He be the vine, we be the branches

Some of you might know about the International House of Prayer. It is a ministry that started in Kansas City and has exploded in the USA and in many cities around the world. Basically, it is a place where you can go pretty much any time, any day and pray, listen to music and worship God. It is great for those times when you just sense in your gut that you need to spend some unrushed, undistracted time with God.

Well praise God there is a Casa Internacional de OraciĆ³n here in La Paz…about 12 blocks from my house…a little under a $1 taxi ride.

This past Tuesday I was done with my few meetings in the morning and I decided to pay the Casa a visit. I called my friend Grover (who is a Bolivian missionary to the USA by the way) and he was on his way to the house as well so we met up.

It was great. All in all, I spent about 3-4 hours at the house just reading the Word and listening to what God had to say to me. It was some much needed soul care time. And of course one verse just threw me for a complete loop. How does God know exactly what I need to hear at any given time? Oh, He’s God.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

This is exactly what I needed to hear.

I want to bear much fruit for Christ here in La Paz but I cannot do it without Him. I really feel like God is pruning me right now so that I will ready and able to bear fruit for Him. He has stopped me in my tracks a little over three weeks into this whole missionary thing to remind me that I can’t do this without Him. An extremely well-timed reminder I might add. Why do I keep thinking that all I need is my own strength? I try sometimes to do all this without Him but it never works. I can’t quite seem to learn this lesson so God keeps refining me.

And what does it mean to “remain in Him”? Whatever it is, I want it. I know that God will keep his end of the bargain and “remain in me.”

Thanks Papito for this reminder. You always know the right thing to say whenever I actually stop to listen. Thank you for the blessing of this House of Prayer in La Paz. Please reveal more of yourself to me in this house.


Pretty Please?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Patience (Take Two)

Here’s a simple equation for you:

The more time I live here in La Paz = the more I miss my family, friends and Chick-fil-A back home…

I have almost been here in Bolivia a month and the newness of the whole experience is starting to wear off. God is really teaching me about patience again. He taught me about patience just about a year ago when I had to wait to see if this missionary thing was even going to be possible. And now I am here. I AM a missionary. And the lessons on patience continue.

Nothing happens real fast here. Certainly not change. And it is hard to NOT come here expecting to change the world in a month. But I am reminded that God makes all things beautiful in time.

I am getting more and more settled and there are still some things that I need for the house (including the internet…which is a little frustrating) but I am getting to a place where I am ready to work. Maybe it is my personality and I can’t sit still for very long when there are so many needs right in front of me. Maybe it is the spiritual gifts test that I took a while back that told me that I would be most fulfilled when I was serving and helping others.

I am just ready to get my serve and my help on…

But I definitely see it on the horizon. I am starting to get more and more opportunities to help and I am excited about that. Also, I am ready to hit the streets and hang with some kids. And I see that on the horizon as well praise God.

I met a couple from the USA who works with a ministry called Word Made Flesh. They live and work in El Alto, which is a huge suburb of La Paz near the airport and probably the poorest area of La Paz. Anyway, this ministry works with street prostitutes and their kids. They have a drop-in center in El Alto that I am hoping to visit in the next week or so. Just so you know, prostitution is unionized here in Bolivia. There is a movement right now to close all of the brothels but that will only cause the prostitutes to go underground and it will probably guarantee that their regular health check ups will not happen. It will also make it more difficult for this ministry to find the girls.

I am sponge right now. My goal is to meet as many people and learn about as many ministries as possible and prayerfully consider how I might be able to help or serve them.

For different ministries my role will probably be different. I might be a marketing/communication consultant for one ministry and for ministries like World Made Flesh my role might be to just play with the kids of the street prostitutes.

God only knows.

Friday, January 18, 2008

There’s a first time for everything

I am so excited because I just had my first moment of “usefulness”. I have only been here for about three weeks and so far I have pretty much been meeting people, speaking Spanish and working on things that I need in order to get settled and get my official residence here in La Paz.

But I just have to praise God because He has given me my first opportunity to really feel useful. In the “I am missionary here and I am here to help people” sense.

One of the Anglican churches that I am helping has a dental office in the church. Ok. It is more like a dental room. They employ a doctor who provides dental services to people who need it and who can pay but the really cool thing is that this is the church that has the Saturday morning outreach program to the kids and they provide the dental service free to the kids. These are kids who cannot afford dental service otherwise. Pretty cool, huh?

Well, the problem is that the equipment is very very very old. I mean OLD. Did I say old? And it is broken most of the time and that it is hindering our ability to provide the dental services like we need to. The church has received funding from the Bishop to replace the X-Ray machine but they are still in need of replacing the dental chair and a lot of the materials. (Somewhere in the $3,000-$4,000 range)

There is a foundation in the US who is interested in funding the purchase of a new dental chair and the purchase of new materials and they have requested that the church submit a grant application for the funding.

Here’s where I come in. They are asking us to submit the grant in ENGLISH so I get to work on the grant with pastor Willy in Spanish and then translate it to English and then submit it to the foundation in the US. I will communicate with the foundation in the US on behalf of the church.

I know it sounds simple but you don’t know how much I needed to feel useful. Until know I feel like I have been worrying about myself (ie my health, my living situation, etc…) and I know that all of those things are important but it feels great to actually be able to help the church meet a need.

I am excited that I get to play a role in hopefully securing this new dental equipment for the church. Please pray that our grant gets accepted and please pray that we are able to, in the name of Jesus, continue to offer free dental care to kids who can’t afford it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Some things...

...that I have seen or experienced here in La Paz so far:

• People selling Florida and New York lottery tickets on the street (are you serious?)
• A movie theater that might get cleaned once at the end of each day (can you say sticky floor?)
• Bottled Starbucks drinks in the grocery store (So Starbucks IS here after all…)
• Police walking around with rifles in hand
• Lots of $2 meals
• Rain pretty much everyday (it usually only rains for a short amount of time though, but it rains most afternoons)
• Guys delivering pizzas on motorcycles
• Taxis running red lights (Because it just doesn’t matter and there are really no police stopping people and giving them tickets…and there are certainly none of those clever photo enforcement intersections like we have in the good old US of A)
• Not one single person wearing a seatbelt (I am serious…not one)
• Someone putting ketchup on their pizza (What??!???)
• More coffee and tea in the last two weeks than all of last year combined
• 12 – 3 each day is lunch. It is a time when you do not expect to do much. Most stores close and people either go home and eat with their families or eat out.
• No air conditioning or heat in homes.
• You don’t put toilet paper in the toilet here, you put it in the waste basket (I think you understand)
• Brushing my teeth with bottled water everyday
• Shaving with cold water
• I have not met anyone from the US yet (I am hiding well but I know that they are going to find me)
• Laughing more than I can remember laughing in some time
• Many people looking at me like I am from another planet
• Many people loving me like I am part of their own family

And that’s just in the first two weeks…

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mi casa es su casa

Well, Praise God that I found a place to live.

I just signed a contract to rent a small house near one of the Anglican churches here. It is in a very tranquil neighborhood called CalaCoto and I will be renting the house for one year. It is a two bedroom house but it has a smaller third room that I am hoping to use as an office and it will great to able to host guests that need a place to stay. Once I have the internet setup in the house I will post a photo album of the place…I promise.

It is a pretty old house and there are some things that I need to have the landlady fix but I am happy to have it. I looked at various apartments but this place just seemed to be the place the God was leading me to. I am glad that I can walk to one of the churches and there are tons of stores and restaurants that I can walk to as well…including Burger King…which is a place that I have vowed not to eat at as long as I live in La Paz! Anyway, I pray that God uses this house for His glory. If He wants me to have bible studies, prayer meetings or have the youth of the church over to play video games and talk about Jesus, I say let His will be done.

I am right down the street from the UNICEF offices and a FEDEX building. (Yes – I am trying to figure out the best way to receive packages…and as soon as I find out how, you will be the first to know)

I have spent the past few days going around to different markets around the city with one of the pastors here looking for items for the house. So far the big items that I have purchased are a bed, a washing machine and a stove/oven. (By the way, have you ever seen a guy carry a washing machine on his back by himself?) There are also some items here at the church that I am going to use – living room furniture, table and chairs for kitchen, refrigerator, etc…

But here is my problem.

I can already feel myself starting to worry about getting everything situated in the place. Once I had the keys to the place my tendency towards perfectionism kicked in. In fact, I am having trouble sleeping right now so I decided to type this post. The bible talks about “not being anxious for nothing” and “do not worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will bring enough trouble of its own” yet I still find myself falling into the same trap. Take my word for it. Some of the same traps that exist in Atlanta, Georgia exist here in La Paz, Bolivia. Just because I am here as a missionary hoping to share the love of Christ with others does not mean that I am immune to certain temptations, even the temptations that involve “stuff” and our home.

I think what I am feeling with regards to the house is that I am taking my western way of thinking (ie I need to fill up this house with stuff and everything has to be perfect and in its proper place so I can impress people) and I am trying to apply it to my new Bolivian living situation. Why can’t I just be happy that I have a place to live? Why is a roof, a bed and a bathroom not enough? I want it to be enough but there is something inside me that is telling me that it is not enough.

I am in a city of extremes and they are very visible. There is extreme wealth here and extreme poverty. At the market today I was in a visibly poor neighborhood in La Paz and it was uncomfortable. It was the most uncomfortable that I have been so far. But it is interesting to realize that even in a third world country you can easily stay in your comfort zone if you want too. Even in a third world country I am going to have to manufacture the “uncomfortable” moments. I could live my life in a bubble here just as easily as I could life my life in a bubble in Georgia.

Believe me…I want to settle into my new home here and I want to be safe but the moment I feel completely “comfortable” is the moment when I am seeking my own will and not the will of God. I could easily live my life here and never visit those uncomfortable places and neighborhoods. But I truly believe that the people in the “uncomfortable” neighborhoods might need the love of Christ the most. I know that there are ministries in these tough places and I guess what I am trying to say is that I am anxious to join them.

I thank God for the blessing of the home that He has provided for me here but please PLEASE pray that the “accumulation of stuff” for my new home will not be a distraction for me. And please pray that I will be able to celebrate what God HAS blessed me with and not focus on what God has NOT blessed me with.

It’s a constant struggle. God has blessed me with something (this home) and He is curiously waiting to see what I do with it. I am kinda curious to see what I do with it also.

But please consider this my official invitation for you to visit me in La Paz. I have a room for you and everything.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Kids Who Don’t Exist

So I was talking to a girl this past weekend (let’s call her Susan) and she asked me what year I was born in. Fine. No problem. “1977” I replied confidently. Then I asked her what year she was born in and she told me that she is not exactly sure. What?!? Not exactly sure. She considers herself eighteen years old but she is not totally sure.

Sadly this is the state with many kids here in Bolivia. Orphans who have gone from place to place for all of their life. They don’t have any official documents. They don’t have a birth certificate like we do.

Basically, as far as the government is concerned they don’t even exist.

Wow. I was just completely taken back by this. But then I realized that she DOES exist. And she exists because there have been people who have loved her and cared for her enough to acknowledge her existence. Is having a piece of paper the measure of our existence or is the fact that we are loved the measure of our existence?

That’s what I want to do. Love and care for kids so much they that have absolutely no doubt that they exist and that they matter to God.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Happy New Year

Hello people that live in the United States of America.

I have to apologize in advance that this post is a little scattered. My head is spinning right now and there are so many new experiences that I am having that it is very hard for me to organize my thoughts well right now.

First of all, I just want to say that I miss you. I love La Paz but man it is so weird not being around my friends and family. I have never felt so disconnected from home. I am running around the city so much meeting people and spending time with people that I have not been able to spend a lot of time sending emails and such. I know that things will settle down (after all…I have only been here for like six days or something like that) but it is difficult.

And I must say that I have not taken that many photos since I have been here. I need to be more intentional about taking photos. But I guess in my mind I feel like this is my new home so I haven’t really been in tourist mode. It also takes alot of time to upload photos on the computer that I am using but I will work on uploading a photo album I promise. And also, I haven’t really been involved with any ministries yet. January is vacation month here in Bolivia so alot of people are out of town on vacation. There is a Saturday morning outreach program to kids through one of the Anglican churches here and they are taking a break for January also. We will start this outreach back up in February so I promise many pictures of those kids then.

But to be honest the wise move for me right now is to just learn the culture, practice my Spanish and not rush into any ministry commitments. There are so many needs and so many different directions that I can go in ministry-wise that I need to be patient and prayerfully seek God’s direction. My problem is that every American bone in my body wants me to be Santa Claus and meet every single need that I find out about but it is just not possible to meet every need.

My cell phone number in Bolivia is: 70697090
(If you feel like buying a prepaid card in the US that lets you call Bolivia or if you have some international credit on your Skype account give me a shout. I will have my Vonage number up and running once I settle into an apartment and that will be a local Atlanta number so it will be totally free for you to call me in my apartment. Praise God for technology)

My next big task is to find an apartment. I also have to begin the process of securing my official residence here in La Paz but, unfortunately, I cannot begin the process until I have a place to live. So for the next few days I will be checking out various apartment options and hopefully next week sometime I will be able to decide on one.

I am starting to navigate the city by myself which was a little scary at first but I am getting used to it. I am taking taxis pretty much everywhere but I have also already been in some CROWDED buses. (And by crowded I mean that the driver cannot close the door) Just a quick side note: I am way too tall to be living here I think. When I walk down the street I am constantly ducking below trees and signs in front of stores. It’s pretty funny.

Anyway, I wish I could give you a complete play by play of my first week here but I will write more later and tell you about some of the crazy mistakes that I have made already and some crazy things that I have said in Spanish.

Stay tuned…