A Close Encounter

What began last Saturday morning as a well-meaning bike ride down El Choro Trail, a famous 25 mile Incan path that connects the outskirts of La Paz to the jungle city of Coroico, ended as a slightly scary experience for the wives waiting on the other end. When Julie and Maya (the spouse and 5 month old baby of New Zealand biker James) and I dropped off the group of 5 at the Cumbre, or start of the trail, at 11:30 am, we had little doubt that we would be picking up the adventurers no later than 8 pm in Coroico at the end of la caminata. However, as late evening rolled around and we had yet to hear anything from the group, we began to grow a little concerned. We had already unpacked all our things at a lovely animal reserve called La Senda Verde outside of town (below is a pic of me with one of the friendly monkeys on the premises); however, we had to stay in the car in town to wait for the call because there was no reception at our hostal. Thankfully, Maya is an exceptionally chill baby and put up less of a fuss about having to sleep in the back of the Bellingham's '73 LandCruiser than Jules and I did.

At around 2 am, as we were restlessly in and out of sleep, parked off the plaza in Coroico on this unfortunate rain-chilled night, our worries peaked and we began to fear the worst. Had our husbands slipped of the trail on the their bikes and slid down a cliff to their death? Had one of the group had a nasty injury and, being miles from any kind of care, the rest of the group had to carry them the remaining miles of the trail? Really, we had NO idea where they were and allowed our minds to go to the worst places- praying that they were just dealing with a bit of bike trouble and there was really nothing wrong at all.

Well, at around 10 am the next morning, almost 23 hours after their departure, feeling groggy and trying to be optimistic despite a low morale, we got the long-awaited call from our men! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU GUYS? As hoped for, the boys (and one brave chica) had in fact experienced a great deal of bike trouble (over 20 flat tires were patched throughout the day-long trek!). Thankfully, they were safe, had hitched a ride from the end of the trail to the town we were currently in and would be there shortly. Needless to say, Julie and I rejoiced together and Maya continued on as her chilled self, having had no idea anything was ever wrong.

All in all, there were no great injuries. However, Tim did incur a centimeter deep, 2 inch wide gash on his leg during a "fight" with a jagged rock on the trail. We got a few stitches at the shady hospital in town and racked up a whopping 76 B tab! For those not so familiar with the Boliviano-Dollar exchange rate, that's right around $9. Yep, that's right- NINE DOLLARS! We may just have to dip into our emergency savings fund for that one.

Now that it's all said and done, it was an incredible experience for the bikers, and while they hated leaving us wondering if they were alive on the other side, we saw the Lord's providence through the generosity of people. Before Julie and I went to town to wait for the group's arrival, we encountered some car trouble. The Lord immediately brought along a group of Paraguayans who were in no rush but were insistent on fixing the truck before they moved on. They got dirty under the hood of the car while we entertained Maya and followed their Spanish orders for about 45 minutes.

The next day, after Tim's return, some Cuban doctors took us under their wings. They cleaned Tim's wound (pictured above, forgive the gory nature of this picture!) and gave us loads of medicine to ward off infection. While they were unable to perform stitches due to a lack of equipment, they warned us if we went to the hospital, they would have to cut the already infected cauli-flowered muscle around the gash and then sew it up. With a big gulp and "pull up your bootstraps" attitude (on my part- Tim was quite unphased), we made our way to the hospital where they welcomed us warmly and administered the sutures.

While it is now a somewhat comical story to share and refer back to, I legitimately was scared for the first time in our 10 months of marriage that perhaps the Lord had other plans for me than growing old with my husband. I will say this, that I profoundly learned the importance of memorizing scripture, of engraving the Lord's promises on my heart, because as John Piper has taught fervently on, I should not have to have my Bible in moments of crisis to speak truth and to ground my worried, wandering spirit on the solid rock.


Bolivia Makes Headlines

The view from our window as pro-Evo supporters marched down the hill in droves...at least 3,000 men and women from El Alto to protest autonomy and stand strong for Chavez's buddy, President Morales.

Showing our support in our chicken pot pie, praying that all these political shenanigans don't get us sent home...


controversy and deficit

Thanks so much to all of you who have taken the time to look at our before and after house photos and encourage us from a distance! It's fun to have a super helpful (while still lame) venue to share them on such as Facebook. Otherwise, many of you would never get a glimpse of our world below the Equator!

As far as politics goes down here, we are taking a day off from school tomorrow to lay low due to some warnings from the US Embassy of some rioting that is expected to take place. As some of you may have read in the recent news, the US Ambassador to Bolivia was declared "Persona Non Grata", or was kicked out of the country, and the US immediately responded by kicking out the Bolivian Ambassador to the US. Not only that, but the same measures were taken in Venezuela after the transactions between the US and Bolivia (you're more like to have heard of this as opposed to news of our neck of the woods). Please pray for the safety of foreigners here, as well as the Lord's providence and being able to continue our ministry at school.

This past week I shared a good word through a devotional time with our staff. I have really been wrestling with the idea lately of living out of the overwhelming abundance available to me as opposed to what I often seem to operate out of- an exhausting deficit. Do you ever feel like you go through life waiting for others to affirm your worth, expecting to get something for your work, thinking that others somehow owe you something? In Spanish I love the phrase "falta nada"- which literally means lacking nothing. This is you and I in Christ- not only lacking nothing, but having everything. I want to share a picture with you I found this past week through looking deeper into the original Hebrew of the text:

"HO! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters and you who have no money, come, buy, and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance." -Isaiah 55:1-2

Of course Tim turned this into a hilarious rap due to the first odd word, but what we saw was an ironic statement embedded here: those without a penny to their name are invited to come and somehow purchase the richest foods, and yet those with pockets full of cash are choosing to waste it on junk food and empty pleasures. So what is this vague abundance we are offered really mean?

The word abundance comes from the Hebrew word deshen, which translates to fat ashes. Oh you mean this still doesn't offer clarity? Well in this context, the fatty ashes were the burnt offering of the best calf brought to the altar, the unblemished lamb sacrificed under the old law. So, in a sense, the Lord is laying out His best and fattest calf, His deshen, for us to enjoy free of charge.

I remember a specific night in high school youth group, when the pastor set out an incredible communion table and encouraged us to "feast on Jesus." While some of us were initially turned off by the sadistic image this phrase conjured up, once it sunk in and I understood his meaning, it was really a beautiful picture that has stuck with me for many years. Christ's life, given in exchange for mine, not in the form of a flaky pathetic styrofoam cracker but a heaping loaf of pan..."I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly." -John 10:10

I pray that you live in light of the fullness that has been set out before you.


Antes y Despues

“Thus it is sad to see men and women, who for years have been professed Christians, to whom the deeper spiritual realities have no meaning, no power, no appeal.” -Charles R. Erdman

“Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity…” Hebrews 6:1.

We just wrapped up the 3rd week back at school! Isn’t it amazing how life suddenly picks back up after a short respite and you find yourself right in the thick of it again? This year Highlands is pioneering a middle school and I have the privilege of teaching escritura and lectura, writing and reading, for 5th, 6th, and 7th grades. It’s been a blast for me to work with many of the same kids I have taught over the past two years. I have seen them grow from lanky elementary students to awkward junior highers, passionate about life and eager to learn.

The hot question out of most Bolivian friends’ mouths since our return has been, “When are you going to have a little huawita??” (Huawita is an affectionate Aymaran term for newborn baby). HA! Apparently it is culturally expected to jump directly into parenthood after making the huge life change into marriage. The thought that we want to wait several years to procreate is odd, even depressing to some. And yet, this is an indicator of their deep value of family- why would you wait if you can start now?

We just celebrated Tim’s 27th birthday this past week! At Highlands, the students honored him by singing “Happy Birthday” in 5 different languages- a powerful reminder that we teach kids who will disperse and influence countries all over the world. We partied with a camping style cookout, complete with choripan (a delicious sausage and bread combo…WAY better than hotdogs!), a blazing bonfire, and s’mores.

Many of you know that we undertook a huge endeavor at the start of our marriage- to overhaul a 50+-year-old house that had been sitting empty for 2 years. Perhaps the best aspect of remodeling our house in Bolivia has been the overwhelming shock and encouragement from those who have seen it from the very beginning. When we recently reached a stopping point, or felt that we had made most of the changes we were able and willing to pay for, we stood back in awe. We posted an album on Facebook to show friends the drastic change (link below). It was remarkable even to us! Somewhere along the slow and tedious process of change we had forgotten just how bad it was when we first began. The day we first showed up, fresh off a luxurious honeymoon, I thought, “There is really no way we’re going to stay here for more than a few weeks…” But thankfully, my husband is a visionary and a capable developer, 2 components that proved crucial in this 7-month-long revamp of our Bolivian hogar.

I’ve realized lately how much we crave to see evidence of change, to see figurative before and after snapshots of our lives. In a spiritual sense, I believe that when we have known the pain of being separated from God, living as his enemy, we will forever have a “before” picture engraved in our minds. In seasons of our walk when we fall away and taste of that “before” stage once again, the response of the Spirit in our mortal bodies is to strive to be nearer to Him. How many times do we hear or share the words, “I’m feeling distant from God right now…”? Essentially we have known the intimate relationship with our God and instead of living and walking forward in the “after” stage, have regressed to the “before.” But the more we are reminded of where we came from, the tragedy of eternal separation, and the ugly pictures of our “house” from the very beginning, we run the other direction, into deeper knowledge and closer embrace of the Lord, that we might be different, changed, better, living proof of redemption to a fallen world. As Paul says many times, we were formerly…, but now we are…. We were once dead, but now are alive!

On a related note, it is always disturbing to walk by a haggard woman breastfeeding her 4-year-old child in the marketplace. Instinctively we know in our gut this is not how it was meant to be! I believe this is what the author of Hebrews was speaking of when he pleaded with the not-so-recent-converts to move on to solid food, to entirely leave behind their infant tendencies. While we will always be in the “after” stage once we come to know Christ, sometimes we simply remain, stagnant in our place and comfortable in diapers, drinking milk as our sustenance.

Check out our tangible reminder of before and after!


going home...back and forth

Just two weeks ago, my heart was weary of living here. Tim and I had recently returned from a mission trip with our students. While the time spent trekking throughout the jungle was eye opening and profoundly moving to watch the Lord use our high schoolers, we couldn’t seem to regain our footing in La Paz afterward. We were dealing with messy visa complications and Tim had to cross the border into Peru in order to stay here. Our house was still mid-way remodeled, we seemed to be missing each other at every turn, and we had experienced several days of being taken advantage of, whether by police or a random minibus driver. I found comfort in David’s desperate and raw cry in Psalm 55: “My heart is in anguish within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me. I said, ‘Oh that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’” In fact I did fly away, for a brief weekend in the States for my dearest friend’s wedding. These were my words on the plane flight home…

“Just an hour ago I was immersed in middle to upper class white suburbia- a world of acrylic nails, open bars, extravagant country clubs, gas at $4 a gallon, meat carving stations, leather interiors, circulating presidents, unused 4 wheel drives, 31 flavors, 10 lane highways…tomorrow morning I will land back in the middle of El Alto, one of the poorest barrios in South America, where megastores, obesity, luxuries, and city traffic are mythical, and only those who have previously known of such “novelties” can complain in their absence. The neighborhood tienda has and always will suffice. Monotony. Redundancy. Simplicity. It makes sense why going back and forth between these two worlds in brief snippets of time can be quite a shock to the system.”

The wedding itself was emotionally and spiritually rejuvenating, such a time of deep celebration and soaking up God’s goodness amongst dearest friends and prayer warriors for our ministry. The newly married Daniels will soon set off on an adventure to Costa Rica, and my heart rejoices for them in their willingness to go and the “life to the fullest” that awaits them there. While we left exhausted and spent we returned with a replenished eagerness to do life here.

Marriage is teaching me much about life, especially life in La Paz. It seems to spill over into every other area. In fact, I don’t know how I ever did this without a teammate. The mantra that Tim and I repeat to ourselves in times of divisive conflict is, “We are on the same team!” And as I walk the streets and pensar en Bolivia, I realize what can sometimes seem like the enemy (crooked policia, inefficient sistemas, and untrustworthy migracion), are not nor will they ever be the enemy. The people we are here to minister to should never be the ones we are against, yet I’m sure Christ felt like this to a much greater extent throughout his entire life. I believe the true enemy uses these tactics to beat us down and discourage us to the point of wanting to give up and go home, or rather return from whence we came.

So as I was starting to pity myself for a lack of a stable sense of “home,” I stumbled upon Numbers 33. Talk about a nomadic lifestyle. The Israelites entire life after the exodus was one big backpacking trip, constantly living out of a suitcase, no real place to call home on earth. But God gave them a promise in Deuteronomy 1:30-31a that still rings true to me in Bolivia thousands of years later, “The Lord your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before you eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as a man carries his son.”

There are so many parts of the Scriptures that reveal what I believe to be God’s witty, somewhat sarcastic sense of humor. At one point, when the Israelites had reached the border of the promised land after 40 years of this backpacking madness, there was no water for the people to drink. They begin fighting with Moses and demanding that he provide necessary refreshment. In Exodus 17:3 they even go so far as to grumble, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” Of course the Lord leads Moses and provides water shortly thereafter. Moses names the place Massah and Meribah, because they tested Jehovah, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” Now, you don’t explicitly hear God’s sarcastic response in this passage, but I can only imagine at their complaining, especially at their ridiculous conclusion that “God must be trying to kill us all,” God wanted to shout, “You have got to be kidding me! Yes, that’s right, that’s why I have been faithfully leading you here day by day as your compass and providing each meal to sustain you. Yes, that’s why I have done all of the above and initially led you out of slavery.”

As much as this made me laugh this morning, I am thinking about naming this place Massah and Meribah, in mockery of my own shallow faith, that often asks, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” and in solid profession that He has, is, and will indeed remain here among us.


pictures to come soon!!!

Hard to believe Tim and I have been back in La Paz for 3 weeks now as a married couple! To those of you who shared in the celebration with us on the 29th of December, we are beyond grateful for your sacrifice to be there. We have heard many times since then, “You never forget who shows up at your wedding!” and how encouraging it has been, to flip through the rolodex of faces and allow those to be fuel and support in being back in South America, very far removed from most of our dearest friends and family. It was indeed a glorious time when we sensed the Lord’s hands so fully around every moment of the weekend—His presence was there! We tasted of His goodness through each and every one of you.

Since returning, we have undergone a huge reworking of a rather old and worn down house we have been entrusted with: priming, painting, tearing down, rebuilding, destroying, remodeling, rearranging…it has definitely kept us busy! Last weekend we had many of our friends, both ex-pats and Bolivians, over to help in our endeavor to make this two-story, 3 bedroom house become our home! We were blessed as they tore down wallpaper, took sledgehammers to walls, ripped up old carpet, and gave of their time to let us know we have a group of “2 am friends” here, the kind who would be over in the middle of the night if needed.

What is different about life here in La Paz than back in the States? Many things, to be honest. When 20 Americans watch the Super Bowl huddled around the novelty of a cable TV featuring Spanish commentary, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. When you have to travel across the city to a minimum of 3 supermercados in order to find the ingredients to make one meal, you realize you’re far away from the mega-grocery stores of suburban America. When you spend an entire Saturday going from one tienda to the next just to find silverware, trashcans, Tupperware, and basic household appliances, it dons on you that Super Target would be a true convenience never to be taken for granted. When school is cancelled due to excessive rain and flooding, you realize that “snow day” may very well be a relative term. Yet when you hike up abandoned trails in your own city and find yourself on a mountaintop overlooking La Paz in breathtaking, ant-like fashion below, you’re thankful you’re in a different world altogether. When you can truly off-road and chart your own territory into rugged terrain only to discover snow-covered mountains and ice caves, you realize this is an adventure set apart indeed, the kind that Tim and I will be reliving for years into our marriage. When you cross paths with foreigners who bless you with genuine eagerness to share their culture and unique love stories of meeting the Lord, you know you have entered a different realm, an eternal sphere where time and place have no real relevance.

Despite both daily frustrations and once in a lifetime opportunities, we are deeply thrilled with the privilege of forming the foundation of our marriage in La Paz, where the reality of what it looks like to “leave and cleave” sets in a little bit more each day. After all, the “where” really doesn’t matter so much in the grand scheme of things as does the “why.” As one of my dear students prayed sincerely in cramped English, “God, thank you for another day of life!”