I know you have all been waiting anxiously to hear about my trip! I apologize for the delay in getting it to you. The trip was such a whirlwind that it has taken me a few days to debrief and figure out exactly what happened. I hope this summary brings the trip to life for all of you. I will be posting pictures as well to help you visualize what I say. First and foremost, I want to thank you all so much for your prayers and support because I know this trip would not have been possible without them! I feel truly blessed by what you sacrificed for me!
Here we go!! Let’s start from the beginning; Sunday, December 30th, I flew out of Atlanta by myself and arrived safely in Cochabamba the morning of the 31st, greeted by friends with smiling faces and cheers. Everything went smoothly after a slight scheduling mix up that God kindly brought to light just in time! Wasting no time, I went to the market that day to buy some supplies for the trip, took a much-needed nap, and then enjoyed a lovely New Year’s Eve party with both Vargas families, Kristina, and the Seles, visiting from Ohio. The following morning, after a few hours of sleep, we were up early and off to the airport to pick up the rest of the team.
Let me take a moment to briefly introduce our team. Kristen was our brave team leader from Texas, who has organized this trip for the past 5 years. She once lived in Bolivia for a year and has a huge heart for the Bolivian people. She brought along her twin sister, Katie for her first trip to Bolivia. Kristen’s old roommate Cristi, who is from Idaho, also came along for her first trip out of the United States. Another Katie, also friends with Kristen, lives in Cochabamba and joined us as well. Laura, who lives in Cochabamba and has been my friend since pre-kindergarten, also joined the trip for her third year in a row. Laura did some recruiting for this trip, convincing not only me to come along, but also a friend from La Paz, Bolivia, named Mariel, and her friend, Kristina from Denmark to join as well. Our Bolivian team leader was Dr. Jorge, a doctor who travels around to villages providing healthcare year-round. He also brought his patients (Eliana and Jesus), who were living at his home while the baby recovered from malnourishment, as well as his niece (Maritza) to help with the cooking and translating. Carlos, a professional clown, also joined to complete the crew. So there you have it, Texas, Idaho, South Carolina, Bolivia, and Denmark all mixed into one motley crew that soon formed a close-knit family!
The next couple days were filled with planning, organizing donations, re-packing, and a few tourist stops at the market and the Cristo. We were supposed to leave late Wednesday night, but our first change of plans gave us a delayed start, leaving at 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning in our own private bus, rented for the trip. Now let me pause to give a one word summary of the entire trip: faith! This is where the adventure began and from this point forward we were fully relying on God for every step of the way. God certainly taught us to trust Him and step by faith in everything! Basically nothing in the plan I gave before we left happened on the trip, but God’s plans are perfect! Our first stop was supposed to be at 2:30 that afternoon in a town that we never made it to. We started off the trip stopping to fix a tire on the bus, always reassuring. We soon found out our bus driver was not in any rush, as our trip turned into an all day experience. The country was beautiful, so it was a nice ride admiring God’s creation! We finally stopped in a town called Macha when it became dark outside and found a hostel to spend the night in. The next morning Dr. Jorge kindly fired our bus driver because he kept complaining about the muddy roads. Dr. Jorge went with him to find another vehicle and left us to find the local Evangelical church in the town. We found the church had no pastor, but a very nice woman invited us to stay in a little house owned by the church. This was great news but meant we had to move all our luggage and donations 6 blocks uphill! We put on a very fascinating gringo parade for all the people of the town, fighting the high altitude as we carried all our stuff up the hill. The lady then brought us potatoes, and our cooks made us a delicious meal of rice and potatoes with a little meat on top. After a little relaxation, it was time to prepare to do a program for the kids of Macha. Carlos painted all our faces, and Kristina dressed up in a huge dog costume. The kids began showing up long before we were even ready and with very little preparation, we put on a program filled with clowns, songs, verses, games, puppets, magic tricks, and a Gospel presentation. Carlos led the show! We then sent the kids home with cookies and had a church service with a few of the adults. After church, we had a great devotional time back in the house where we all got to know each other a little bit better by sharing what God was doing in our lives. Then not long afterwards, we passed out on our straw mattresses for some much needed rest.
The next morning, a minivan showed up to take us to the next town. Now 13 of us and all our stuff were not all going to fit, so we left some donations there, hoping someone would be willing to bring them to us later. Then we all piled in on top of each other. The nice drivers dropped us off in the next village, named Tomaycuri, where we unloaded all our stuff in front of the church. We found someone to let us in after a little searching and set up camp in the church, just a small one room sanctuary. We had the privilege of meeting a Bolivian missionary named Felix, who had lived there for years and was now bed-ridden due to his extremely severe arthritis. This man who had stepped out in complete faith to reach people with God’s love was now abandoned in a town he had gone to minister to just waiting to die. However, he did not let that rob his joy or prevent him from doing whatever he could to continue spreading the Gospel! We washed and cared for his well-worn hands and feet as a small token of our appreciation for his awesome example. He also wanted to sing with us and then spent the rest of the day with us, attending the kids program and church in spite of his feeble condition. He was such a great example of how God wants us to surrender our lives completely to him, so he can use us in mighty ways. Our kids program there was very similar to the first one, except I took the part of the dog this time. We were also able to take the kids and even some of the adults to the local school to play games!
The next morning God provided another ride, and we did it all over again in Titiri!! Some nice women fed us lunch there as one of our cooks had left to accompany Katie back to the city because Katie was very sick. After our kids program there, we had to step out on another limb of faith as only some of the team could fit in the jeep, so the rest of us waited in the church hoping the van that brought us there would come back. In God’s providence, it did, and we arrived safely back in Tomaycuri to spend the night! Dr. Jorge was gone all night trying to get another vehicle, and God provided once again with a jeep. At this point we had lost 4 people, Katie, Maritza, Eliana, and Jesus, so we were down to 9, a little snug but perfect for the jeep. We traveled to Collpa to do our last program and hand out toys, toothbrushes, medicine, and clothes. Then we headed out to find the hot springs! None of us had showered in 5 days at this point, so we were very eager to get there! However, when we finally arrived, God gave us a real life example of the skit we had been doing with the children. The skit was about Mary and Joseph looking for room in the inns of Bethlehem and challenged the kids to open their hearts because Jesus was knocking. Every door Dr. Jorge knocked on was answered by silence. We all jokingly repeated the main line from our skit with the kids, “No hay campo!” (There is no room!) God did eventually provide a church in the city of Potosi, just like He provided a place for Jesus’ birth. It was a great blessing, and we did eventually get our much needed showers in the hot springs the following day!
That night, we had a few more faith-testing experiences on our bus ride back to Cochabamba as Dr. Jorge almost missed the bus, Kristina was sick most of the ride, and a few of us banged our heads on a very hard TV. Yet God was still good, and we all made it safely back to Cochabamba! God did test my trust one more time on my return trip to the States when a flight was cancelled, and I was stuck alone in Santa Cruz for a couple days. Just as in every other situation, He cared for and protected me once again. He is so faithful!