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It is hard to believe that today is our final day here in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. When we look back over the last eight days, we are all amazed at what God has accomplished and what we have been able to accomplish with God’s strength and His grace. Today has been a day of fun and tourist activities as a refreshing day before we head back to the United States. It is good and necessary to have a day to prepare ourselves and to begin the transition back to our normal lives and today is that day. 

I believe sometimes there is a mindset about mission trips that makes people think that if the people on the trip are not suffering enough or sacrificing enough that it is not worth the money spent to send them out. We don’t buy into that train of thought. The people on this trip have sacrificed. They have sacrificed financially. They have given up vacation days. They have worked on a worksite for six solid days of strenuous work all the while still attending Sunday morning services, a Saturday night service and a Thursday night service. They have missed their families. They have mourned the loss of loved ones thousands of miles away. They have dealt with heartache while here. They have dealt with sickness and discouragement and sore muscles. They have embraced a new culture and loved the people of Bolivia well. They have made Lakeshore proud. We knew going into this that the trip was going to be hard so as we planned, we carefully added in items of comfort. We stayed in a nice hotel. It cost each person $20 per night and it was beautiful and included a lovely breakfast each morning. Each person was able to sleep in a comfortable bed and take hot showers each day and wake up to breakfast prepared for them each morning. We know that wisdom says that a lack of sleep and hungry people can make for a disastrous combination and we were careful to guard against that. We built in some good meals and some rest time as well…and we built in today. We asked our team to be a blessing and so we took time to bless our team. We blessed them so they were better able to bless others. Every aspect of this trip was planned intentionally for the good of the team knowing that the good of the team translates into them being able, with God’s help, to give their absolute best to the Bolivian people and to return home with hearts anticipating the joy of returning to do it all again.

So, today we head off on a three hour drive to the town of Samaipata. We stopped at our first stop…the bathrooms, halfway there. We had to pay one Boliviano to use a toilet and they gave each person a rationed amount of toilet paper before we headed in. We brought our own toilet paper so we were safe. I’m actually really excited about writing out that receipt for the church. We then headed up the mountain to hike up to three different waterfalls. It was absolutely beautiful and God gave us an absolutely gorgeous day to experience His majesty through His creation. The waterfalls were beautiful and the cool water felt so good on our feet. Amy and Jon wasted no time jumping right into the falls…clothes and all. We took some great photos of each other and laughed and played our way through the falls.

We then headed the rest of the way up to the town of Samaipata for a quick bite of lunch and then another thirty minutes up the mountain to the Incan ruins called El Fuerte. These ruins are fascinating and the view from the top of the mountain is “espectacular” (spectacular if you couldn’t figure it out.) It was a great day and such a therapeutic way to decompress after a week of work and enjoy one last day of being together as a team. This group is full of so many wonderful people and I can’t express what a joy it is to spend a day with each and every one of them.

All of that being said, let me just take a moment to brag on the amazing people on this trip.

Pastor Gil: First of all, Pastor Gil is a worker. Pastors are given a huge place of honor in Bolivia and do not take part in the day to day work related tasks of the church. The fact that our pastor was out working each and every day alongside the blue collar workers was incredibly honoring to those men. Not only did he work and work hard, but he also prepared two different sermons for while he was here. He preached twice on Sunday morning and once on Thursday night and did it with such sensitivity to the culture and the people that it brought a huge harvest for the Lord on each occasion. We truly cannot imagine this trip without him being here.

Amy: I knew she made an impact on the Bolivians when, as Pastor Ruben called her name to thank her for her time here, all of the workers from Edwin on down cheered and clapped for her. She is a force to be reckoned with. Growing up with three brothers, this woman is strong and an exceptionally hard worker. She lifted 120 pound bags of cement and shoveled holes with the best of them. She worked tirelessly and took time to build relationships with the Bolivian people. She also brought us into the presence of the Lord with worship each day at devotions and did it with such a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. She can also eat any man, woman or child under the table and currently holds the record for most salteñas eaten at one sitting. That sounds funny but it honestly brought her a huge amount of respect from the working men of the church. Sometimes it’s the small, seemingly insignificant things that make connections. Even Amy’s eating did that with the people of the church.

Jon: It’s hard to miss Jon in South America. In a nation where the average hight is much less than it is in the United States, Jon’s six foot five stature made him stand out wherever we went…which was awesome. I knew we would never lose the group so long as I could spot Jon’s head somewhere above the crowd. God also knew what He was doing when he paired him up with Amy. He can almost eat as much as she can. This may sound silly but showing a love for the cooking of the Bolivian ladies who made our lunches, or of the salteñas or any of their traditional treats, that’s honoring to the Bolivian people. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked if I liked the food they served. They wanted to bless us with food and they wanted us to like it. When we ate and ate well, we were a blessing to them and honored their culture. Small bits of honor make big impacts. I also love Jon for his work ethic. There were a few times we were partnered together for brick laying and his steady and determined work kept me going when I felt I had reached my limit. He also does everything with humor and his quick wit had us all laughing together on multiple occasions. He, quite simply, just does mission trips well and we were so glad to have him.

Rita: Rita has never met a stranger. They are all just friends she hasn’t met yet. There were a few occasions when I would look around and say, “Where is Rita?” only to find that she had gone upstairs at the church to chat with the musicians or was still caught up taking selfies with all the friends she had made. She would talk to people fearlessly in spite of the language barrier and made many friends in the process. She also works without stopping and you could always find her brightly covered hair bandana and bottle of water somewhere on the work site, getting the job done. She smiled and hugged everyone and, with those two things, there is no language barrier. She also engaged in the worship sets at the church, sometimes lasting an hour long, like it was her own personal celebration time. She may not have known what she was singing but she knew whom she was worshipping and she did it with gusto. She is a contagious worshipper wherever she goes and she encourages others to worship as well. She is a gift.

Jerry: Jerry is quite honestly just one of the nicest people you will ever know. He greets everyone and everyday with a smile and he would share how happy he is to be in Bolivia with such sincerity every day that I knew it was true. He worked and then he worked and then he worked some more. Even when his body was tired, I would ask him how he was doing and he would say, ‘Oh, I’m a little tired but I’m good. Happy to be here,” and then he would get right back to work. He smiles easy, laughs easy, cared for Rita and worked hard, all the while keeping an attitude full of grace and thanksgiving. He is a testament to the verse that says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” That verse is made evident in Jerry every single day.

Lauren: Oh Lauren, our precious extrovert. Every mission team needs a Lauren. She is an expert at building relationships, even with those who don’t speak the same language. It didn’t matter if she didn’t know what to say, she would jump into any conversation and work to get her point across. Armed with a little bit of Spanish vocabulary and, at times, a translation app, she managed to secure friendships with many, many precious Bolivian people. She also is a relationship expert for our group and loves people well. She is an extremely hard worker and the rebar supports and the walls of the church have her handprints all over them. Her infectious smile and quick laughter bring joy wherever she goes and she did so much to connect our church with the church in Santa Cruz.

Derek: Derek worked hard. He is the only man I have ever known who sweats in the shape of a heart. Every day. That is very symbolic of Derek. First of all, he loved Ann well this week. This trip is different from other mission trips I have been on in that there were five married couples on this trip. It’s sometimes hard to remember that even while on a mission trip, the important things are still the important things. The priorities on a mission trip should be the same as they are at home…God first, marriage second, other things including the mission falling later on in that line. Derek kept important things in their place and he did an excellent job caring for his grieving wife this week. There were several times when I would look over and see him checking on her, and giving her a little kiss or a hug, and just making sure she was ok. He cared for his wife well but never lost sight of the work that needed to be done and was tireless. He is admirable to the core.

Ann: Ann has been so strong on this trip. I can’t imagine going through the loss she has gone through on this trip. I look back at the timing of it all and think about her father passing away on our second day of this trip. I can’t even think about what I would have done in her place. I think I would have wanted to hop on a plane and head back to my family. Not Ann…even on the morning after he died, she was up and ready for the bus to take her to the church. At the church services that day, she came up front and prayed for person after person. Even in the midst of her pain, she ministered to others. One of the breakfast servers at the hotel named Pilar noticed Ann had been crying on that Sunday morning and then next day, she asked Ann how she was doing. Ann was so blessed by her asking that every day thereafter, Ann checked on Pilar and hugged her and blessed her. She worked hard at the church and kept busy every single day. You would never have known the pain she was feeling. There were brief moments when she shared her grief but it would always end in a hug from Ann for anyone who had listened and loved her through this time. She is a treasure.

Breanna: Before we left for this trip, I thought Breanna would be everyone’s little sister on this group. She was that but she also became everyone’s friend. I count getting to know her better as one of the great joys of this trip. Not only did she work without stopping on the rebar and the brick laying, but she is also the most amazing bookkeeper ever and may have the best handwriting I have ever seen. Every time I needed help with some of the details of the finances, Breanna was the first to jump in and help. I don’t know what I would have done without her. She even gave up a chance to rest one afternoon and instead accompanied me to the open air market and wrote down every single purchase we made of food for the group to make sure the bookkeeping of our expenses was in order. Even when she was having a rough day, she kept working, kept smiling and kept blessing others. She is also an introvert like a couple of others on this trip and mission trips for introverts can be especially difficult as there is absolutely no break from people. You would not have known any of the trip was hard on her, though, as she kept right on loving and serving well. I so admire her. She is the youngest of our group but her maturity goes well beyond her years and she greets everyday with a servant’s heart, an easy smile and quick laugh. She also brought Joseph Prince along for pleasure reading. She’s a rock star.

Brandy: Sweet Brandy did not feel well some of this trip…but that didn’t stop her. She helped me daily with runs to the market, organizing the finances, and laying bricks on the walls. Even when she was feeling bad, we would ask her how she was doing and she would shrug off the pain and keep right on moving. She was also our team nurse and so, in the midst of feeling poorly, she took care of the needs of others. She made sure people stayed hydrated and that aches and pains were iced. She nursed those with stomach bugs and helped them to improve. She brought laughter and joy to the group, even when that was not how she was feeling. She was a picture of grace in the middle of difficult circumstances and we are so thankful for her.

Robert: Nearly all the beautiful pictures of this trip were taken by Robert. Each morning Brandy would come downstairs and say, “Robert was up until 1:00 editing pictures” or “Robert got up at 3:00 to work on the photos of the day.” He sacrificed sleep nearly every night in order to bring pictures and videos to our church, family and friends back home. He was also fighting sickness on this trip but you wouldn’t have known it. It didn’t stop him from working, either with photos or at the worksite and it didn’t stop him from making us all laugh. Whether it was watching his version of salsa dancing or hearing how, as a prank, he and Brian put “IcyHot” onto Rich’s deodorant one night so he would have a special surprise in the morning, he made us laugh. His own laugh was contagious as well and I cannot tell you how many times we all were rolling with laughter as we watched his laugh progress. He helped turn this group of individuals into “familia.”

Tony: Tony worked and worked hard. I can honestly say that I don’t recall looking over and ever seeing Tony taking breaks. He was always in the middle of one of the holes, digging away or carrying wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of concrete from place to place…and everywhere he went, he worked to talk with the Bolivian workers. When we all took a snack break, or took a break for lunch, the Bolivian workers would all sit at a table together…and right there in the middle of them all would be Tony. Every. Single. Time. He found out each man’s story. He knew all of their names. He made it his mission to know them all and he treated each one with respect and honor….and they loved him. One day our devotion was to not get so busy with the mission that we miss the one person. Tony never missed the one.

Rich: Rich, quite simply, has an amazing sense of humor. I can’t tell you the number of times we would be laughing about something and a one liner from Rich would throw us all over the edge. He is also a servant. There were several times that, even after working all morning, I would be washing the lunch dishes and Rich would be the one bringing in every plate, cleaning them all off and passing them over to be washed. The Bolivian cooks were amazed by him. Dishes are not something men do in Bolivia but Rich did it without complaint and without being asked. He also is the reason behind the laughter of one of my most favorite nights here in Bolivia…the ice cream for dinner night. His love of coffee was taken to a new level down here as he poured the thickest, blackest concentrated espresso into his mouth. In his own words, it was like drinking liquid coffee grounds. He may not have slept that night for all the caffeine coursing through his veins but the laughter he brought that night was worth every bit of it…at least for the rest of us.

Brian: I honestly believe that without Brian, we would not have been able to complete the projects that were set before us to do. When I think of workers on this trip, his face always jumps to mind. As we look back over videos of the work site, it always appears that we have pushed the fast forward button when we are watching him. He is truly amazing and for half of this week, he worked with a stomach virus that kept him up many nights. Still, every day, he gave 110%. He also got asked for his autograph many times as the workers at the church thought he looked like Ben Stiller. They not only respected him and his hard work, they liked him because of his character. He also made us laugh. The one liners coming from him and Rich kept us going some days and that laughter was good for us all.

Jim: I don’t think I can accurately put into words the work that Jim has done on this trip. As one of only two Spanish speakers on this trip, he translated conversations all day, every day. Unless you have done it, it’s hard to describe how mentally taxing that process is. It is, quite frankly, exhausting. On top of that, he prepared and translated Pastor Gil’s two sermons on Sunday and his sermon on Thursday night…and he did it all with excellence. He also spent hours and hours in study and preparation for those sermons to make sure he knew the exact words Pastor Gil wanted to use to communicate with the Bolivian congregation. He worked each and every day on the worksite, not just translated instructions, but getting the jobs done. He also is an expert at making the Bolivian people laugh. His sense of humor translates perfectly and he puts everyone at ease in an instant by making them laugh. From our first trip here, he had Pastor Ruben and Isabel rolling and that laughter broke down walls from the very beginning and helped solidify our friendships with the Bolivian people. They love to laugh and he excels at making them.

There they all are. Our God chosen team. God is a master planner so I’m not at all surprised at what he orchestrated when bringing this group together but I am forever grateful. We planned to come down to be a blessing to others but God chose to bless us with a family that we get to keep when we go home. We are so honored to be chosen and so thankful for what He has done. To Him be the glory.

***And we can’t leave out Genelle! She took the time each night, after very long days, to write our blogs and update everyone back home. She would never take the time to write anything about herself, so we had to step in. Genelle fearlessly lead us, alongside of Jim on this trip.  Genelle would consistently make sure all the teams needs were met, translate for us with the locals, and order our food for us at every meal (which was quite the task). She did all these things while keeping that beautiful smile on her face, even when her body was weary. We know that taking 15 “gringos”, into a foreign country [knowing that none of us speak the language] is not for the faint at heart, but she did, and did it filled with joy, grace and humility.  Our missions department is lucky to have her onboard!  None of this would have been possible without all of her behind the scenes work.  We thank you and Love you.  ***