Over the course of eight days our team experienced something truly miraculous. Twenty-six of us boarded a bus in the wee hours in Newtown, PA to travel to one of the poorest communities in Cochabamba, Bolivia. We left with a singular purpose – to bless the children and families of two Child Development Centers (Unidos en Cristo and Iglesia Cristiana Evangelica Marquina).
Little did we know that it would be us who would be blessed beyond measure. Words cannot describe the feelings and love that we have for the Bolivian people. They possess a joy and a contentment that is not based on material possessions, luxuries, Starbucks, or everyday stuff. The joy these people have is based in the Lord and His divine provision for their needs.
Over the course of the week we saw God “show up” more times than we could count. From little unplanned encounters to a few encouraging words that were perfectly timed by God, our team has been forever changed by this trip.
My heart is forever changed
Each evening we would have a “debrief meeting” at which time I would ask each of our team members to reflect on something that God taught them that day or something they experienced. But, they had to do it in 3-5 words. Some words that were shared included, “My heart is forever changed”, “God bless the translators”, “You guys get it”, “Miraculous divine appointments.”
Early Tuesday morning we caught a fight from our beloved city of Cochabamba to the busy city life of Santa Cruz. The two cities are like night and day, but both still lovely. Once we arrived to our hotel, we enjoyed lunch with some special guests. One of our teammates, Stacey, had an opportunity to meet her 4 year-old sponsor child in addition to his 17 year-old mother. They joined us for lunch and a sight-seeing tour in Santa Cruz. Having had a full schedule all week of work at the Centers, church, VBS, home visits, and all the emotions with it, it was nice to have a bit of a “slow day” – even if it would end up being the longest day with travel.
It was clear that despite having a good night’s rest into Tuesday, our team was tired. Tired from ministry. Tired from the emotional rollercoasters of meeting new beloved friends and then saying goodbye. Tired from the wear and tear of a full schedule. But, it was good tired. The opportunity to see firsthand the impact that our love and sponsorship has for these children was incredible.
The journey home was to be a long one. Our 2:30 AM flight from Santa Cruz to Panama City was smooth, or at least it seemed that way – most of us were able to get some sleep, even if it wasn’t restful. With a three-hour layover in Panama, we were reminded of God’s work in our lives and our team. Many of us, again, shared stories and pictures from our phones about our experiences and the various “God sightings.”
What seemed like the longest day ever, Tuesday/Wednesday (whatever day it was) was a day of reflection and contemplation. What will we do differently once we return home?
Will we continue with life “as is?” Or will we see our worlds differently? Some have already said that we “live with too much in Pennsylvania.” Some have shared that they will get more involved in missions or global endeavors, whether at church or elsewhere. Some have shared that they will start now to train and educate their own children about life in another culture, how blessed we are, and how much we take for granted.
What will we do differently once we return home?
Some have already made an impact as a result of our trip. At least four additional children have been sponsored by our team alone. I can tell you that this team is passionate about what they experienced. Informal recruitment for future trips has already begun. Regardless of whether or not you sponsor a child through Compassion, this trip and trips like this one are life-changing and God can/will use these trips to open your eyes to what life outside of our bubbles is really like.
We’ve all seen that sponsoring a child is one simple step, though an important one. It is the building and nurturing of a relationship with your child and their family that can last a lifetime.
My experience this week, and I’ve been to Bolivia before, was such that I came away with a bigger heart for God’s work and what He’s doing. Bolivia has become like my home away from home.
One of our fantastic translators, Jacob, made an endearing observation on Saturday when spending time with me and my sponsored kiddos. He said, “You have two boys in America, and you now have two daughters in Bolivia.” While I hadn’t made that realization myself, I knew instantly that it was true. Our Dayana is so special to us, she has become like a daughter to me and our family. Visiting her home, having fun together on Saturday, seeing her at church on Sunday, then VBS on Sunday, this guy’s heart is full.
Then to meet Deysi, a young teenager who is sponsored by the Grace Point staff. Joan, Chuck and I got to meet Deysi at her home, spend fun day with her on Saturday, worship with her on Sunday, and then party at VBS. I quickly learned that there was more genuine love to go around. Being the Missions Pastor, and most likely the guy who will write most of the letters to her, I found that Deysi, just as Jacob observed, quickly became like a daughter to me. I don’t know that I’ll be able to easily share the letter writing responsibility with the other staff. Deysi is a dear young lady who I’m certain will grow to be a strong woman of God.
At that evening’s debrief meeting, my 3-5 words were simply, “two sons and two daughters” – a phrase that even now causes my eyes to tear up.
Is there more to share? Absolutely. Is there more work to be done in Cochabamba? Absolutely. Do we have an opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child, in a church, in the surrounding community, and in the country of Bolivia? Absolutely. And it is humbling.
It is our turn to step forward and answer the call of Jesus. To minister and love the poor, to step out of our comfort zones and make an impact in the life of a child. How will you respond and what will be your 3-5 words?