The last post

This post can now be viewed on our main website where we’re adding more photos to many of the posts.

The original version of this post was written in some haste and there wasn’t time to give much detail or include photos. There’s now an update at the end, added after our return home.

Our time in Bolivia is nearly at an end! It’s now 5.10 pm on Monday and we don’t have much time before our evening session, and then we fly home tomorrow morning. So this will be brief…

This morning we went out on a city tour. We spent some time in the central plaza of Santa Cruz and then looked around some of the artisan shops.

Later on we headed north out of the city to a huge area where an urban development is planned. In the middle of what is currently countryside is a large plot of land which has been donated to Cristo Luz del Mundo out of gratitude for the help the donor was given by the men’s group. The road to the site is still being built and for much of the long journey the bus was bouncing up and down on hard-packed sand.

We had lunch at a nearby house, then together with Bishop Raphael and other Christians from Santa Cruz we prayed over the land for guidance about how to use it. It felt as though we were standing on the future and once again we were encouraged by the way the church is looking forward and being prepared to take the gospel to people in new areas.

Tonight we are meeting with Bishop Raphael before he takes us out to a meal in what we are told is a very good restaurant. Then it’s early to bed, and very early to rise!

It will take us some time to reflect on our time here and think about some of the lessons we have learned. We all feel greatly privileged to have been here and to have seen God working in such a powerful way. None of us will ever forget those few minutes last Friday afternoon when we felt the healing and renewing power of God sweep through the Anglican church in Bolivia.

Nor will we forget the overwhelming hospitality of those who have accommodated us, fed us and provided so much practical support and encouragement. We owe thanks to so many people, but none more so than to Walter Barrientos, who worked so hard to set up the itinerary for our visit and has accompanied us through much of it.

One thing worth mentioning is that there has been total unity among the team from beginning to end of this project. We’ve put up with showers that run hot for about one minute in five, the effects of altitude and other forms of sickness, a very demanding schedule, unreliable Internet connections and many other inconveniences, and borne them with good humour, but we have never complained about each other. Perhaps we take this sort of thing for granted in Christ Church, but it’s good to be able to report that our unity has been maintained even under pressure.

Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us throughout this venture. It has meant so much to us to know that you are interested in what we are doing and are standing with us in this way.

For those of you in Birmingham, we’ll see you soon!

Update: We were all back in Birmingham by Wednesday evening, despite one team member suffering a health scare. Now here’s some more detail about our last full day in Bolivia…

First, a photo of the whole team, taken outside the Cathedral in the centre of Santa Cruz:

2013_bolivia_santa_cruz_team_cathedral_600

Yes, there are 13 in the picture! The additional member – in the centre, wearing the red top – is Claire, who acted as our guide around the city and did so much to help us during our week in Santa Cruz. She has a remarkable story of her own: she originally came to Bolivia for a short term visit of just a week, with no idea that she would one day live there permanently and marry Pastor Bely.

Our lunch venue was a quinta – a country guest house with some handy sports facilities:
2013_bolivia_santa_cruz_volleyball_600

And here are Bishops Maurice and Raphael on the nearby land that has been donated to the church:

2013_bolivia_santa_cruz_bishops_maurice_raphael_new_land_400

It looks very rural now, but one of our hosts indicated the track that the road to the site will one day follow.

In the evening we spent some time with Bishop Raphael, first recording a message which will be taken to the Bishops here in Birmingham, then reviewing the outcome of the trip with Raphael and Walter Barrientos. The Bolivian view is well expressed by the message on this paper “scroll” which was given to each team member:

2013_bolivia_santa_cruz_principe_de_paz_thanks_scroll_400

“Thank you for your love… God bless you… we love you”. If you have prayed, donated or supported us in any way, that’s for you too.

Then we went out for a farewell dinner in an excellent restaurant with Raphael, Walter, Santa Cruz church leaders and spouses. This was quite near where we were staying and some of us walked, others went by car and… well, OK, some of us climbed in the back of a truck:

2013_bolivia_santa_cruz_people_in_truck_600

Two of the men in the team got in too and then… we all got out again. If anyone happened to see five people shouting and waving from the back of a truck on the inner ring road in Santa Cruz that night, it must have been some other crazy English visitors.

And that’s where our story ends… but the story of what God is doing in Bolivia and in Birmingham will go on and on! Thank you for being with us in prayer, and we look forward to whatever comes next!

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Sunday in Santa Cruz: a tale of three churches

Sunday was a very exciting day but also long and tiring, so please forgive us if this post does not do justice to the events of the day.

In the morning we divided our forces between the two Anglican churches in the city of Santa Cruz. At Cristo Pan de Vida, where we all spent the day on Saturday, Chris officiated at Communion, demonstrating his skill at reading Spanish.

Image

Matt preached the sermon, and managed to sneak in some British humour – which was much appreciated by Bishop Raphael, who was visiting to add encouragement to this congregation. There was a lovely feeling of God’s presence as the team prayed for the church, and they for us. We really have been warmly welcomed wherever we have gone.

Meanwhile, at Cristo Luz del Mundo, Maurice officiated at Communion. Geoff preached the sermon, and referred to one of the songs we sang during the extended time of worship with which the service began:

Vine a adorarte,
Vine a postrarme,
Vine a decir que tú eres mi Dios.

You may know the song better as “Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down…” Geoff recalled that he had known the writer, Tim Hughes, when he was still a boy in Birmingham. Someone in the church where Tim grew up prophesied over him that he would one day be a worship leader, and now here we were, in a faraway continent, singing a song that Tim had written. Only while he was speaking did Geoff realise that the title of the song – “Light of the world” – was also the name of the church in which he was preaching.

That opening time of worship was memorable for another reason: the flag team had recruited an extra temporary member, who performed all the choreographed moves in perfect timing with everyone else:

Image

After a break for lunch, we were in action again as we headed out of the city to the new town of Satélite Norte, where two years ago Beccy and Dan had visited a new outreach project to children run by young members of Cristo Luz del Mundo. The motivation for the project was the high level of social deprivation and the relative lack of Christian witness in the area.

It had always been the aim to plant a new church here and our visit was in effect the launch event for Cristo Príncipe de Paz (Christ the Prince of Peace) – the name having been chosen to reflect the needs of the area. When we arrived the sign was still being hand painted but was soon on display outside the rented building where the activities now take place (a couple of blocks away from the site that Beccy and Dan visited).

The afternoon started with some lively singing which the children joined in with great enthusiasm.

Image

The children were then divided into groups – each accompanied by one team member – and were given T-shirts which they started to colour with acrylic paints. With only pencil marks to guide them, the children set about colouring in a map of Bolivia – they needed no prompting to use the bright colours of the Bolivian flag – and then painted the name of the new church on the front of the T-shirt, and a Bible verse on the back. Many groups chose to add extra flags, smiley faces and other adornments. This was a great opportunity for us to talk to the children and marvel at their friendliness and good behaviour. At the end of the session, to our delight, each team member was given one of the T-shirts.

Image

To launch the church the parents were invited to join us for tea at which some of us told our stories of faith. The first weekly Bible study will be held next Friday evening – there’s something to pray for!

What impressed us most was that this whole enterprise was initiated and developed by young members – with the full backing of the whole of Cristo Luz del Mundo. Their faith and commitment were truly inspiring and we felt privileged to be present at the birth of a new church. We also really enjoyed spending this time with such a lively group of children.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Children of light

“Hijos de luz” is the name of an outreach to children run by Pan de Vida church in Santa Cruz on Saturday mornings. We spent the morning visiting this church and taking lots of photos of their activities…

We had an early start to arrive in time for our own breakfast, then the children started to arrive. The session started with songs led by Pastor Belisario (Bely) – left in photo – who related so well to the children and took the time to explain the points of teaching in each song.

Image

After that the children did a simple craft activity. This involved putting a thumbprint on a piece of card to signify that each of us is different but we all belong to God. We did not realise until we left that there were some extra cards there which were given to us in the team as a gift.

Image

Over breakfast there was an opportunity for team members to talk to the children and find out about them and their interests. Many of the children live nearby, but some come from further away. Some of us showed photos we had brought from home, and some of the boys were especially interested in Phil’s camera. It was a lovely relaxed time.

Image

The next part of the day was to support the church in an outreach programme in the market which is almost opposite the church. This is not a market for tourists: it exists to serve the needs of local people who are anything but wealthy. We gathered outside the market office and held a short open air service which, to our amazement, we were able to broadcast over the tannoy. There was some singing, then Maurice preached a short sermon and led a prayer.

Image

We then went around the market stalls offering to pray with each of the traders. Many happily accepted the offer, sharing concerns about their health, families and businesses. It was good to be demonstrate God’s love and care for all aspects of our lives.

Next on the agenda was a football tournament, to be held on a nearby field. It took some effort to get this organised because of some confusion over who was supposed to organise it – the church or the market. Eventually some five a side teams were organised and Matt, looking very sporting in the Bolivia Marathon jacket he had been given in Tarija, blew the referee’s whistle and the first matches got under way.

Image

There was only time for a couple of games and the tournament will continue over the coming weeks. The hope is to make this an annual event.

Meanwhile the younger children were entertained by our team. The weather was a bit too windy for the parachute games to run properly but a game of “Duck duck goose” – translated into Spanish as “Perro perro gato” (Dog dog cat) – was much more successful.

Image

When the football had finished everyone headed back to the church. The players and children sat on the front lawn and listened as Chris gave a talk about the difference being a Christian had made to his life. Being Chris, he had to get a mention of playing rugby into the talk… but Geoff went on to speak about the recovery from death by Christian footballer Fabrice Muamba to illustrate the power of God.

Image

Once again we were amazed as the boys and young men listened quietly to these talks, and bowed their heads in a prayer led by Pastor Bely. The culture here is so different to that in Britain: Bolivia is a Catholic country where everyone grows up knowing something about the Christian faith and respecting it.

When the footballers and children had left, we were treated to lunch and then Pastor Bely and his English wife Claire told us something about the history of the church. The “Hijos de luz” ministry had started in Cristo Luz del Mundo and many of the mothers of the children came along too. The church wanted to do something to help them but because of their backgrounds the mothers did not feel comfortable as part of that church. It was decided to start a separate congregation, initially meeting in homes and then moving into rented accommodation. The present site is well placed near the market but is currently under threat because the owner wants to sell it. There is an urgent need for a huge amount of money to buy the property, a new site to rent, or a change of heart by the owner!

We really enjoyed our day at Cristo Pan de Vida and were impressed, as we have been in all the churches we have visited, by the faith, hard work and commitment of its leaders.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

El Alfarero

On Thursday Matt, Beccy and Emily went on a visit to El Alfarero (“The Potter”), a centre for students in the heart of student land in Santa Cruz. There are over 100,000 students studying at the State and Private universities in the city and it was so exciting to see this incredible newly opened centre that seeks to cater for the specific needs of students.

We´re learning that student life is quite different here compared to the UK. Students are often very poor and live alone in very small rooms. The aim of El Alfarero is to provide practical help but also to be a welcoming community in which students can come, have space, relax and make friends, as well as have opportunity to explore faith.

We were shown around the building by some of the Bolivian staff working at the centre. It was inspiring to hear their vision and passion for the project. There is a day care centre for small children. We were shocked to hear that 60% of female university students get pregnant during university and as a result many have to drop out. There is a counselling service for students, offering counselling from a Christian perspective. There are various meeting rooms for small group discipleship, two kitchens and also a library that stocks Christian books for students to borrow on relevant topics. I was also really excited to see a great looking coffee shop under construction in the centre. The centre is trying to raise the final finances to get the coffee shop completed and open. The idea is that it will be open every night as a place where students can have space and hang out. It will also provide a setting for evangelistic talks and discussions to take place. The coffee shop will be run by a team of volunteers from local churches, as well as students.

The vision is that El Alferero will be a context in which life-on-life discipleship takes place and a place that acts as a bridge between the student community and the local churches. As someone who is involved in student ministry in the UK, I found visiting this centre incredibly thrilling! Part of me wishes I could stick around and get involved in what God is doing amongst the student community here in Bolivia! This is cutting edge stuff!

2013_bolivia_santa_cruz_el_alfarero_600

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Flying the flag

With the Bolivian pastors spending time together as part of their conference, it was up to our team – with a lot of local help – to lead the second of the services of prayer for healing in Cristo Luz del Mundo. Maurice led the service, with Alfredo Cooper – still with us from Chile – preaching. Some team members managed to get involved in other ways too…

Image

Image

We learned that some evangelical churches in Bolivia use flags as part of their worship, but Cristo Luz del Mundo is the only Anglican church to do it. Michelle Samuel, wife of Bishop Raphael, made the first flags. The height of the Christ Church ceiling has suddenly become of interest to some of us.

Emily spoke in the service about the healing we witnessed in La Paz two weeks ago, and Geoff told the story of a Christ Church member whose shoulder was healed after prayer. Lots of people were prayed for, and once again we don’t know the outcome or what effect these prayers will have. But we have seen enough of God at work in our time here to be confident that prayer makes a difference.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Healing and hope for Bolivia’s church leaders

This post can now be viewed on the Christ Church website, with an added photo.

If you think that a conference of Anglican church leaders sounds a bit boring, you probably need to get out more. May we suggest Bolivia?

We continued where we had left off the evening before, as Alfredo gave more examples of church growth in Chile. The Bolivian leaders were urged to set up websites for their churches (guess who led that bit) and a representative from the student El Alfarero project immediately offered advice and help to anyone who needed it.

Geoff showed some photos of Christ Church and explained about some of our outreach activities, and then Chris was back at the front going through more aspects of the Transforming Church programme. It was when he got to the last topic and started talking about the relationships between local churches and pastors that things took an unexpected turn.

Chris felt moved to talk about a time in his ministry that had been personally very painful but led to the start of growth in his church. For some time the awareness had been growing of the burden that many Bolivian pastors have been bearing and they were all brought to the centre of the room. We started to sing:

Te anhelo, te necesito, te amo, más que mi ser.
(I long for you, I need you, I love you, more than my own being.)

During a time of prayer there was a strong sense of healing and restoration of relationships. Bishop Raphael was given a message in prophecy which he confirmed was identical to one given at his consecration three months ago.

It felt as though God had stepped into the meeting. For those of us visiting from Birmingham, perhaps this is why we really came.

The last item on the agenda was Bishop Raphael’s presentation on his vision for the church in Bolivia. This is very much rooted in his own personal experience and calling.

Today we were powerfully reminded that the church is about God and his relationship with people, not structures and traditions.

Sorry, there are no photos in this post. Sometimes you just have to be there.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Bolivia church leaders together in Santa Cruz

The idea of holding a conference for Anglican church leaders was put forward early in the planning stage for our trip, and now it is happening. Pastors and lay representatives from each church are here, as well as Bishop Raphael, Alfredo Cooper and, of course, our team.

It’s hard to compare the situation of the church in Bolivia with the Church of England. Pastors here are widely separated and lack support networks. This is a great opportunity to meet, pray and learn together and seek the way forward for the church in Bolivia.

On the first morning Geoff explained what we have learned about taking the gospel message to others in today’s culture in Britain. Anyone who has been in Christ Church for a while will know the story: it’s not enough to just tell the good news, we have to be good news as well. As an example, Geoff was able to use the inspirational project to restore a playground that he and other team members were involved in in Cochabamba last week.
This had a huge impact in the area, and who knows what the long-term effects might be on individuals and the local community?

Image

Chris then spoke about the Transforming Church programme which is being used in the Diocese of Birmingham. Each church is encouraged and helped to assess how it is doing in several key areas and look for ways in which it might grow and better meet the needs of its local area. Geoff has experience of building a new, non-traditional congregation and there was a lot of interest and debate about this. There’s more to cover on this in day 2.

Most of the morning session was conducted in English with Spanish translation provided by Pastor Tammy (in photo below) and others.

Image

In the afternoon session Alfredo Cooper described some of the lessons the Anglican church in Chile had learned as it grew to become large and vibrant. This led to a time of small group discussion for the Bolivian leaders to consider how all that had been explained during the day might be applied in their churches. Our team took a back seat at this stage, as many of us felt that we could most usefully offer prayer rather than advice.

There was more prayer in the evening as we headed over to Cristo Luz del Mundo for a Communion service. There was a strong emphasis on healing and restoration and the extended time of ministry at the end was enhanced by the worshipful waving of giant flags over us all and the playing and singing of the musicians.

2013_bolivia_santa_cruz_cristo_luz_del_mundo_musicians_600

The conference is scheduled to run over two days, so the programme continues tomorrow.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment