Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A marvelous green dress and a trip to Peru

(Yes, that´s me...on the far left. )
(Krystal and I...)

I found this gem of a dress at a huge outdoor flea market in El Alto for a mere 80 cents. Needless to say, I won the prize for ¨Most Stunning,¨ though I was also up for ¨Most Ridiculous,¨ and ¨Most Out-of Character.¨ This was our ¨last supper¨ with Erica, since she flew home to Washington today.
The events of the past few days have been quite enjoyable. Saturday, we hiked around ¨Valley of the Moon¨ and spent the afternoon playing cards and eating ice cream.
Yesterday at Missionaries of Charity, I had an encouraging conversation with on of the Nuns and played a riveting game of Uno with a few of the residents there, and then took a beautiful group picture with the laundry drying in the background. Sylvina had a black eye, and when I asked her what happened, she said ¨that Lucy, she´s crazy!¨ I was saddened, but not at all surprised. I´ve even had to break up a few fist fights, myself. I folded lots of laundry, shook bread crumbs out of sheets, swept and mopped. I told the women I wouldn´t be back for a week and half, so I said my goodbyes and left them with kisses on their cheek. I left feeling known... these women and the sisters are remembering me, calling me by name. It´s such a beautiful thing to be known.
I´m leaving Bolivia today... but only for a week! It´s off to PERU for a retreat with our team. We´re hopping on a 24-hour bus and will hopefully end up in Lima just in time for dinner with the WMF Peru staff Wednesday evening. 24 hours on a bus... I may have to dedicate an entire entry to that experience upon my return. We´re all excited for the chance to go deep, play together, and rest together. This will probably be my last blog until the beginning of May... so if you find yourself checking for an update and there isn´t one, you can pray for my team instead. :)
Chao for now!

Friday, April 20, 2007

The blues and boys

The blues have nothing to do with boys... just thought I´d clear that up.

The ¨end-of-the-month¨ blues hit me unexpectedly - I found myself being especially introspective and quiet. I´ve been here for 2 months. When my mom asked me how it felt, I said ¨It feels long.¨ 8 weeks left...an eternity!

Those were my thoughts last week. I think they surfaced due to various uncertainties about the role of the Servant Team here in the midst of so many unknowns about WMF Bolivia itself. The loss of La Casa de Esperanza has been difficult to process. We´re losing a stable place for the women to come to as well as employment for a few women who have escaped prostitution. The future of our ministry with the women is up in the air. We are short-staffed, confused, sad... and expectant.

The ¨blues¨ have passed, and now I´m feeling especially anticipatory. Encouraging emails and various verses have given me a boost for what I have yet to offer and receive from El Alto. Jesus is telling me to STAY. He´s not done with me yet, and I feel butterflies for the time I have left (which doesn´t discount my recurring homesick-pangs). It´s an honor to be here and discover Christ among the people. I´m excited for what is ahead - both here, and at home. Although I don´t have a job lined up yet, I´ve felt a surge of purpose for returning back to the USA, and the intrigue and suspense keep me on my toes.

The two boys are back, and I have yet to purchase them shoes. I´m wondering if shoes are what they really need. I´m kicking myself for leaving the stickers in my other bag - I never want to leave home without them again. They´ve been twirling in the computer chairs next to me for the past 20 minutes, so I struck up a conversation with them. The youngest one with dirt all over his green corduroy pants, dust spots on his face, and expressive brown eyes, keeps saying ¨let´s go buy something.¨ He´s expressed a craving for cereal, yet again. I think I understood that his dad died a few years ago and his mom is out of town for the day. I feel tension...not knowing exactly how to help, and reminded of Jesus´ words...¨when I was hungry...¨

The view from the bathroom window

I wished my eyes had failed me, that what I was seeing really was too ugly to be true.
Why couldn´t it have been a mirage?
A bad dream?
A misinterpretation of events?

I much prefer my 11am view of the brilliant mountain, Ilimani, which provides a picturesque backdrop for the construction projects underway. The street below is quiet, offering an eery calm which contrasts the night activities.

It was the 8pm view that brought a pit to my stomach. With the light off, 4 of us crowded in the tiny shower of the upstairs bathroom at La Casa de Esperanza, peering out the window which offers a glimpse of Calle Curazco, the Red Light District in El Alto. Streams of men walked by, just two blocks from where I was watching. I recognized a brothel with its windows covered with thick matierial. I couldn´t see the red doors from where I was standing, but I knew what was happening inside.

My servant team and I opted to spend our Thursday evening at La Casa while Cara and Humberto hit the streets to talk to women in the brothels. We prayed for for them while they entered the cold, the dark, the rank, the ugly.

We prayed for a woman to experience freedom from her bondage in the brothel.

We prayed that porn videos would miraculously stop working and that graphic posters would be torn off the walls.

We prayed that women and transvestites would be protected from disatisfied patrons...beatings, STDs, etc.

We prayed that men would not feel empowered by their experience with the women, but rather sickened and convicted.

We prayed that the market for prostitution would diminish, that sex addicts would seek help, that our friend H* would continue on his road to recovery from alcoholism and sexual identity issues.

We prayed that Humberto and Cara would radiate Jesus´ light as they entered the darkness, that God´s presence would be unmistakeable.

We prayed that women would receive hope and reject lies about their worth, and that they would view us, at La Casa de Esperanza, trustworthy.

I read Isaiah 61, my favorite chapter, finding comfort in the words.

Cara came back with one extra cup of hot chocolate, and a few stories about her time on the streets. She met a woman who had only been working in El Alto for 2 days... another woman was fearful because her nephew had recognized her in the brothel, and she´s afraid he will tell his dad/her brother. Of course, he wouldn´t get admonished for visiting these places, but she might be shunned from her family because of her current job. Both women said they´d visit us for lunch today, yet neither of them showed up. In fact, the numbers for lunch this week were especially slim. The woman I´ve had my eye on to strike up a conversation with didn´t even show up, and she´s been a regular. I did, however, get the job of ¨compartiendo¨ - sharing lunch with the women by sitting down with them instead of bringing their food to them...conversing with them in Espanol. Cara told me she was proud of me, which of course made me glow.

I´m learning that a simple offered presence precedes relationship, especially here. The more these women get used to my presence, hopefully the more comfortable they´ll feel around me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

ZOO Delight!

Giant Bird
Originally uploaded by Elizabeth in Bolivia.
My Bfamily has been talking about taking me to the zoo for a month. I was a little nervous because I´ve heard it´s a little depressing and stark. Plus, I´ve been to the San Diego Zoo...

I got out my bolivianos to pay for my bus fare, and my B-mom said ¨no, no, no!¨ I responded ¨yes, yes, yes!¨ She said she was going to pay for me all day. When I told her that was absolutely unnecessary, she responded that it absolutely was necessary. I reluctantly returned my 15 cents to my pocket and she grabbed my hand, becoming my tour guide for the remaining time on the bus.

I saw donkeys, llamas, horses, goats, and rabbits... one of the rabbits was sickly and on its death bed. The Condors are giant, endagered birds that live in the mountains of Bolivia. They were feeding on donkey parts - donkey legs, donkey heads - eyeballs and fur. It was nasty.

Monkeys, snakes (ick!), turtles, a sad lion, and even a veterinary clinic for sick animals. Maybe they should take care of sick little Thumper?!

We ate lunch...twice...and my B-fam was so impressed that I chose to eat only with my hands the second time around - cooked veggies and chicken. I´m one step closer to becoming Bolivian, except that I still don´t like chunos.

When we finally got home at 7:30, I made pancakes with homemade syrup for dinner, and then sat through our weekly Bible Study with the pastor from my church. Usually, I walk away from this time feeling discouraged because the kids make up excuses as to why they can´t ¨stay¨ and even start doing the dishes which I know is an out, because Silvia hates doing the dishes. This time, however, I experienced fellowship. A large part of the family attended, and they were attentive and full of questions (except for my B-mom who was exhausted after our long day together and fell asleep next to me).

I know my Spanish is improving, and yet there is still so much more I wish I knew how to say. I want to go deeper. I want to ask my sisters tough questions about their faith. I want to know their stories, and who Jesus is to them. I want to share about who Jesus is to me...

She calls me her daughter

My B-mom calls me ¨Hijita¨ - Spanish for ¨little daughter.¨
I call her ¨Mama 2¨.

Only once in a while do I hear her pray, and I love it. I don´t understand all she says, yet her words are gentle and sincere, her tone invoking reverance and awe. ¨Don´t forget our needs,¨ she prays...

I know God won´t forget them, and neither will I.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dog Documentary

The dogs here are so interesting.

Some walk on roofs. All rummage through trash piles. A few follow me home. Others walk on 3 legs. Most are mangy. Some are actually cute. Dog fights are not a rare occurrence. They chase bicyclists.

I´m starting to take pictures of the various breeds I see. I want to dedicate a 2-page spread in my scrapbook to the various dogs I encounter.

Dental Assistant for a Day

Deep in Conversation
Originally uploaded by Elizabeth in Bolivia.
As though celebrating Day of the Ocean, Anniversary of the Zone, Day of the Woman, or El Alto´s Birthday were not enough, I got to experience Children´s Day. From my seat on the mini-bus, I watched clowns stroll down the sidewalks and the kid on her dad´s lap in front of me point and shriek at the funny looking people outside.

At La Casa de Esperanza, we served lunch to about 60 women, which is twice the number of lunches since I first arrived 2 months ago. I am feeling more and more comfortable with the flow of things and feel energized by the buzz at La Casa with so many women and their kids.

After lunch, we offered free medical services to kids in honor of their special day. A volunteer Christian organization in Bolivia came to offer their services. I got to be a Dental Assistant - entertaining kids in the waiting room, holding a light for the doctors, passing out fish stickers (that mom sent in my last package.. thanks!), and sitting with the moms who waited nervously while their child was being cared for. I was so encouraged by one of the missionaries who came with ¨Mission Lucas¨ - he easily put the kids at ease by making them laugh and he boldly proclaimed the Good News to those waiting for their turn. He encouraged moms and their children to read the Bible and without hesitation, shared about how GREAT God is. We were sitting next to a few women, and we carried on a lengthy conversation (in Spanish... how awesome is that?!) about being missionaries. I hope the interactions with the women Friday will pave the way for friendships as I see them at the Center. My schedule is changing so I´ll get to see them twice a week instead of just once and I am so excited!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Further thoughts on irrelevance

What first made me anxious is now bringing me peace - the concept of irrelevance.

¨If you don´t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don´t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you´ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you´ll find both yourself and me. We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting someone´s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I´ve called you into, but don´t be overwhelmed by it. It´s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won´t lose out on a thing.¨ (The Message version of Matthew 10:38-42)

I have things to give because of who Christ is in me. When I focus myself on Jesus, my gifts change shape and take on different forms, appearing in ways I never would have expected.

It´s not that my gifts are all-together irrelevant.

I´m not missing out by not offering what I thought I came here to offer, and neither are the people here. My creativity is showing its face in different ways. I didn´t think I´d be giving haircuts, and I am. I thought my singing would be used to lead worship, but instead it´s on Saturday nights, learning Spanish praise songs with my B-family who like to hear me sing and ask me to sing the ABCs and Britney Spears.

More importantly than wondering if my presence here is relevant to anyone except myself, is surrendering myself to the hands of my Creator, who is more creative than I. How He uses me IS relevant.

This song by Mike Hohnholtz played while I was reading Matthew. His words are my prayer. You´ll recognize my additions in parenthesis. :)
Lord, I surrender my hopes and my dreams (and my gifts) to a calling thats greater than all of these things - to live my life for the glory of God and the purpose You`ve placed in the depths of my heart
Here am I (in El Alto) oh, Lord. I am completely yours. Mold me and make me - Jesus come shape me. I lay my life down to follow you.
My heart was formed by the maker of all - the object of love by the hands of my God - fashioned before the foundations of earth - in His care before the time of my birth.

Nothing compares to You, my King - so my life I bring...

Our Maestro on Lake Titicaca

our boat driver
Originally uploaded by Elizabeth in Bolivia.

old man eating jello and a bicycle


Originally uploaded by Elizabeth in Bolivia.
finally...some water!

Lots of brick. Lots of dirt.

This is what El Alto looks like

Monday, April 9, 2007

Cereal and Shoes?

They found me.
I am sitting in the very back of the internet cafe, not visible from the entrance.
And they found me.
The same two little boys (ages 6 & 7) who have approached me two other times.
I froze.
I remembered what Jesus said about taking care of His children. I had Krystal watch my computer and I got up.
The two boys followed me outside and into the market next door.
They motioned toward the cereal and when I offered to buy milk, they wanted the chocolate kind.
I paid for the things and followed them outside. One of them was re-stringing his shoes because he had lost a shoelace. The littler one lacked shoelaces all together.
I crouched down next to them and asked them if they had other shoes. They looked at me blankly. I couldn´t find words to ask what size they wore, so I tried motioning with my hands.

A woman with brilliant blue eyeshadow exited the store right behind me. I didn´t notice her until she said in English ¨You are trying to ask them what size they wear?¨ I was baffled... no one in El Alto speaks English except we Gringitas.. I told her my struggle, she so asked them for me.

Jesus met me in the Internet Cafe, followed me to the store, and spoke words to me on the sidewalk.

I´m going shoe-shopping.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

3rd Grade and Fish

I remember 3rd grade as the year I learned how to spell ¨elephant.¨ I was reminded of 3rd grade when I received a package of 24 handmade cards and letters from Kayla´s classroom.
¨You make the stars shine at night.¨
¨You make the plants grow.¨
¨When I grow up, I want do be like you.¨
¨Miss Morgan is proud of you, and so am I.¨
¨You make the world a better place.¨
I am in awe of the time and thoughtfulness that went into each one.
More letters with news from home and pictures of my church group. Another package with homemade cookies from my mom and sister, and Easter-colored Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.
My friends here say ¨wow, people really love you at home.¨ I smile and think about how blessed I am, and thank God for providing me with such incredible people in my life.

It´s Easter and it doesn´t feel like it. My church service was cancelled this morning due to so many people who would be traveling. It just doesn´t seem right to celebrate Easter without a glorious Resurrection service to attend. I think my B-family missed the point of this weekend, too. They´ve been talking about chocolate eggs, but nothing more... I´m disappointed and also reminded to pray for the faith of my B-family. I get the impression they don´t understand much and maybe don´t have the desire to. Last night, pastor Joaquin came to my house to lead a Bible study for my family, as he does every Saturday evening. My Bmom and I sat with him while the others made up excuses not to attend. Gradually Shirley and Judi filtered in. We discussed John 10:27-28 about the sheep knowing their shepherd´s voice. Joaquin asked me if I could explain this passage in Spanish... somehow, I found words to communicate that we are like sheep and Jesus is our shepherd. If we know His voice, we can follow Him, entrusting our security and safety to His hands.
Later, we briefly discussed forgiveness for our sins, to which there was much confusion. I ache for my Bfamily to find a more personal relationship with Christ, in which they desire to learn more about Him.

I spent Good Friday with Humberto and his family. He took us to Lake Titicaca which was a nice change of scenery from La Paz and El Alto. I managed to fold myself up to fit into a tiny corner seat on the minibus... emphasis on mini. For an hour, I watched the scenery fly by, careful to protect my head from hitting the ceiling as we bounced along dirt roads. Pigs, donkeys, cows, ducks, dogs. I wish my camera could capture all that I´m seeing here, but the speed of our bus and the bumps in the road forced me take only mental images. The poverty here still strikes me. I saw women in their colorful dress plowing fields, hacking away at the earth. A little boy (3 years old?) pulled down his pants and used the bathroom in a trash mound. Mud homes. Weathered faces. It was all so beautifully simple.

The lake came into view and the breeze off the water freshened my senses even more. We walked for a while and then rested among a large group of soccer spectators with the lake in the background.
We hopped on a boat and ¨fished¨ with a long pink string tied to a fishing hook crafted out of a paperclip. (My first fishing experience... ever!) We lacked bait, so we tried raisens... the fish didn´t like idea...so, we ate at a restaurant where someone else caught the fish. My trout was delicious, a slight improvement from the fish I ate the day before with my B-family. Patricia left the house early in the morning to shop for fish - apparantly she went on quite a journey to buy it for us. When she returned, she stuck her finger in the fish´s neck and then smelled her finger, impressed with how fresh it was. She slit the fish down the middle, gutted it, and then fried it - head and all. I made sure my plate was turned so I couldn´t see the fish. At one point, I saw a black thing on my fork and as I put it in my mouth, I couldn´t shake the idea that it might be an eyeball. (I discreetly spit it out.)
Judi tapped me on the shoulder, and when I turned to face her, she had the fish head in her hands, moving the mouth up and down - just inches from my face. I let out a little shriek which quickly turned into uncontrollable laughter around the table.

Judi painted my nails yesterday, and then mentioned the possibilty of dying the tips of my hair a purple-ish color. I drew the line. :)

Tonight is Gringo potluck at Cara´s. I´m excited for the opportunity to celebrate Jesus´resurrection with people who appreciate it like I do.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Cactus Fruit

Cactus Fruit
Originally uploaded by Elizabeth in Bolivia.
To view more pictures, click on a picture and enter my ¨flickr¨ website.


It was suggested that maybe I´m here just for ME - God may be transforming me for the sole purpose of transforming me.
I don´t like this thought. It sounds selfish, self-absorbed, and even a bit lazy.

Maybe what I thought I came to do in Bolivia is irrelevant.

I´m really wrestling with this concept. Yesterday I spent 2 hours of solitude in my room, wrestling with this concept. I read ¨In The Name of Jesus,¨ where Henri Nouwen identifies with my ponderings.
In his transition from sophisticated scholar and priest to his time in the L´Arche Community with the disabled, Henri writes about the temptation to be relevant. ¨Not being able to use any of the skills that had proved so practical in the past was a real source of anxiety. I was suddenly faced with my naked self, open for affirmations and rejections, hugs and punches, smiles and tears, all dependent on how I was perceived at the moment.¨
As I walked up the steps at Missionaries of Charity today, I resonated with Henri´s thoughts... these people don´t care that I have a college degree, that I took an Abnormal Psychology class and learned about many of their disabilities, that I´m from the USA... They just need me to sweep up the bread crumbs under their bed and change their wet sheets. They just want to motion that I´m tall. They just want to dance. They just want me to sit in the sun with them. They just want to kiss my hand. They just want me to kiss their cheek. ¨These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self--the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things --and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I m completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.¨

Henri is convinced the Christian leader of the future ¨is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.¨ It´s a temptation to be relevant, just like Jesus was tempted to be relevant by turning stones into bread at Satan´s request.
¨The leader of the future will be the one who dares to claim his irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows her to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success and to bring the light of Jesus there.¨

I recently expressed my desire to exercise more creativity in the work I´m doing here...to take on more ownership with this ministry. I feel keenly aware with what I´ve been gifted with, and I`m willing to be used. But, in the confines of my strict schedule at Missionaries of Charity and serving lunch at the Casa, I feel like it´s limited. That´s when the subject of irrelevance emerged. Does it matter that I have skills as a facilitator? That I have a degree? That I´ve been affirmed in my public-speaking ability? That I´m creative? Maybe not.

It seems like a paradox to allow myself irrelevance and self-confidence.

I don´t feel like I`m searching for life-changing results or a revival among the women at La Casa, yet I do feel like I´m searching where I fit. I want to be sure of my time here, sure of what I have to offer, and then sure of how I´m offering it.

In the same section as irrelevance, Henri writes: ¨The Christian leader of the future is the one who truly knows the heart of God as it has become flesh. Knowing God´s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begin to invade the human soul this is not something that comes from God.¨

My thought processes regarding irrevelance point me even more to seeking Truth. When we are seeking Christ wholeheartedly, the Spirit will lead us. I need to trust that as I question my role here (beyond being a smiling face to the people I meet), the Spirit will guide me in how I spend my time and will inevitably lead me where I need to be.

How do I embrace the concept of irrelevance?
What if my presence here really is for something more than my life transformation?
How will I know?
Your thoughts matter to me....

A typical day in the ¨backyard¨

There is always laundry to be done... and someone´s underwear is always hanging outside.

Making pancakes

Making pancakes
Originally uploaded by Elizabeth in Bolivia.
Fun times in our kitchen...

Spa Day

Spa Day
Originally uploaded by Elizabeth in Bolivia.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Cold Pancakes & Popcorn

I slept in and was awakened by a knock on my door... ¨Eli! Aren´t you going to make pancakes this morning?¨ I thought I was going to cook them for lunch... just another one of the few (or many!) miscommunications I´ve had with my Spanish. :) I was groggy and my stomach was upset, but I agreed. Shirley was so excited about pancakes that she I rolled out of bed and zipped up my fleece.

I`d received many requests for pancakes (pronounced ¨pancake-ies¨ in Spanish), especially from Felix who claimed he could eat a ¨mountain of pancakes.¨

Shirley helped me in the kitchen and we made pancakes from scratch (no Bisquick, here) with some makeshift chocolate chips. By the time we gathered all 7 girls in my family to sit down for breakfast, the pancakes were cold. Nobody cared, though... we rolled them up with our hands and ate them with ¨dulce de leche¨ (sort of like caramel) and blackberry jam. It was delightful!(Felix was in La Paz for the day so I made sure to set aside a mountain of pancakes for him to enjoy later.) We dined in our pajamas and laughed around the table, passing my camera around to document the ¨special¨ meal.

Unfortunately, Judi found out I´m ticklish. Of course I flailed, though I managed not to kick anyone.

Today at Missionaries of Charity, Erica and I helped change the sheets on the beds. Even though some of the beds were made, we were instructed to shake out the sheets. We soon discovered why...some of the women hide bread in their sheets. Or, they´ve wet their bed. Today, we even found popcorn in some sheets...a lot of popcorn. I´ve also found combs, dentures, and various food wrappers.
The room reeked of urine...

I spent some time sitting outside with some of the women to get some fresh air. Teresa kept stroking my hand and pinching me every now and then. She likes to be pushed around the groudns in her wheelchair, even though she´s fully capable of moving herself around. This morning, she came scooting up to us on her knees.
Another woman wrapped her arms around my waist and wanted to dance.

It´s hard work... 4 hours can drag on....
These women are teaching me humility and love.