We are here! It is such a pleasure and a joy to be in this country with these wonderful people. Words are not adequate to convey the connection we have with these people. The Holy Spirit connected our hearts together from day one and each time we arrive in Bolivia, we know we are among family. It always feels like a reunion of sorts as we know we are brothers and sisters separated only by a long plane ride.
The Bolivia 2019 team met at the airport on Friday morning at 6:30 AM and began our journey here to Santa Cruz. After a long layover in Miami, we boarded our second flight and flew for many hours more to arrive at the Santa Cruz airport at 12:30 AM Saturday morning. We then had to deplane, clear immigration and customs. We were, in a very real way, praying over each team bag we had packed to make it through customs. We were traveling with a huge amount of medical supplies, hygiene bags for 220 people, sound equipment, construction tools, Bolivia shirts and many, many other items to use this week. We knew we would need favor with the Customs officials to get through customs without having items taken or charged for. Our prayers were answered. We had to answer A LOT of questions about our items but, after an hour or so with customs searching various bags, we made it through without having to spend one penny to get our items released. God is good!!!
We made it to the hotel, got checked in and were in our rooms getting ready for bed by 3:00 AM. Sleep felt amazing and we were able to sleep in a little bit on Saturday morning to help make up for the sleep we had lost the night before.
Once the team had breakfast at the hotel, we headed out to Peji to see the property there. Pastor Ruben and his wife Isabel joined us and we got to hear Pastor Ruben speak about his vision for the property and the lessons God had spoken to him along the way. He has the sweetest spirit and, when he speaks, God moves in the hearts of people. It was the same for us. We have eight people here for the first time this year and there were several of them in tears listening to what Pastor Ruben had to say. Madeline Tillery, our children’s pastor, said, “Wow. Everything he said had me leaning in.” All of what he spoke was Holy Spirit lead. Even when the team would ask him questions, God used his answers to minister to team members right where they were. It was a precious time of talking and sharing as we stepped foot on the ground full of the promise of what God has called this church to in the future.
After our time in Peji, we returned to the hotel to spend some time organizing all of the team materials we had brought so we are ready to go for Monday morning. This sounds like a small task but it was a big one. We had to divide up all of the materials among 45 pieces of luggage in order to get it here. Anticipating our time in customs, we had each suitcase filled with a portion of the medicine, a portion of the hygiene items, construction items, etc. Our thought was that if we had one full piece of luggage full of construction items, it would look more likely that we were bringing in items to sell for profit. If we divided up the items, it looked less suspicious. It worked in our customs adventure but then provided a new task as we had to gather all of the items from the suitcases and sort them all.
Once this was finished, each person got to get ready for dinner and the Saturday night youth service. We arrived at the church about 15 minutes before 7:00 PM and got to see even more of our beloved church members. With a small amount of time before the service, Pastor Ruben took us through the new sanctuary to show us all of the progress. WOW!! That was all we could say. The new sanctuary is amazing. It is difficult to put into words what it looks like but it is beautiful and the transformation from year one is remarkable. We were awe struck by the goodness of God as we walked through that building and saw all that God had done to provide for each piece of that church. It is so close to being completed! What a joy it was to walk through that place and remember what it looked like year one and what it looks like today.
Our precious time continued through the youth service. Pastor Matt Thompson is on our team this year. He is Andrew and Lauren Paden’s brother-in-law from California and, in years past, he had heard Andrew and Lauren talk about their trips to Bolivia. This year he asked to join us and we were thrilled to have him. He spoke to the young adult group about signs and wonders and brought an encouraging word from the Lord for this time and place. Our time after the service was spent visiting with all of our friends here. They are precious people and they show their love for us in a thousand different ways. We are always surprised to see several who have been practicing their English anticipating our return or who are ready with google translate in anticipation of our arrival. We love them so.
This place feels like an extension of our home church and we are so overjoyed to be chosen to be here as representatives of you. Make no mistake, you are here with us as well. We share in each service that we are only a small part of the whole and that our church, our family, and our friends are all praying for them and are here in Spirit. I wish you could each be here to receive the love back from these people. They are absolute joys and they love each one of you. We cannot wait to see what God will continue to do this week. He is so good!