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.