Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Joy of the Lord

 During devotions on the 26th, Suzanne shared a quote from C.S. Lewis.  Lewis said “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”  C.S. Lewis was right.  It was and is marvelous to participate in joy of heaven while on earth.  When we participate in Acts 1:8, we receive joy that only comes from the Father. Psalms 95 and 96 say much about singing praise to the Lord from joyous hearts. 

Dana and Greg washing dishes
Heather and her new best friend :D
The entire time I was in Bolivia, the songs from my heart were praise to the Father.  The first Sunday we attended Dana’s church in Santa Cruz.  On the rear wall behind the podium Psalm 96:3 was posted.  Since it was written in Spanish, I looked it up. Psalm 96:3 says “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (ESV).  This was the goal of our entire trip and it happened!!!  The Psalm before, Psalm 95, says to sing joyful noises to the Lord. I will go out with singing.  I will make a joyful noise because I have been in Bolivia. I have met beautiful people there and seen the Lord’s hand at work.  I will make a joyful noise for the fact that villagers left idolatrous ceremonies early to come to our meeting where we were presenting the Good News.  Praise the Lord that they set aside their idols early for the one true God.  I will praise the Lord for the one villager who came to see our work on the camping area and got interested in David (Da-vee-d) and Anna’s (Ana) project.

I will praise the Lord for his provisions during the trip: 

Sharing tricks with Kililo
Now it is Pastor Alcidez turn
I will praise him that no one got sick and no one got hurt.  I will praise him for the times we relied on his strength and not ours.  I will praise him for the work that he did in the hearts of Americans and Bolivians in Bolivia.  I will praise the Lord for friends who translate prayers so that all of the saints can participate in conversations with the Father.  I will praise the Lord for 11 hour bus rides overnight on dirt roads that provide time for good conversations and sleep.  I will praise the Lord for cramped truck rides that end up being 2x as long as planned making beautiful Bolivian children sit on and fall asleep in our laps, allowing us time to pray over them and time to build intentional community with the friends sitting next to us.  I will praise the Lord for friends who keep up morale by singing to pass them time, whether it is worship songs under the Bolivian night sky or children’s songs in the morning, both made a joyful noise to the Lord. I will praise the Lord for Mariachi bands across the street that play music all night and into the morning giving us a true taste of Santa Cruz culture.  I will praise the Lord for friends who know and can sing bilingual praise songs.  I will praise the Lord for hands that washed dishes tirelessly.  I will praise the Lord for a pastor who reminded us that we are not the star of the story but Jesus is.  I will praise the Lord for a clean and comfortable bed to come back and sleep-in in San Ignacio.  I will praise the Lord for friends who reminded us to stay humble and to keep Christ at the center of our focus.  I will praise the Lord for strength and energy that only came from him.  I will praise the Lord for a team that was not distracted with things that Satan could have pushed in such as drama or distracting relationships.  I will praise the Lord for all of the words of encouragement I heard.  I will praise the Lord for all of the laughter that happened with ease between two different languages. For jokes, faces and looks that are universal.  I will praise the Lord for the salvation of his children.  I will praise the Lord for David and Anna opening their home to complete strangers. I will praise the Lord for friends who pray over the day with us.  I will praise the Lord for all of the answered prayers.  I will praise the Lord for his children who said “Yes, I will go” and answered the call to missions this week.

This could go on and on and on….. I was completely shocked and surprised at how much I was able to experience the joy of the Lord on this trip.  The Joy of the Lord is one thing I hope never to forget.  I am building a stone of remembrance, so that I may never forget.

New friends: Stephanie, Anna, Melodia, Carolyn and Suzanne

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Looking Heavenward

I’d like to introduce you to an incredible friend of mine named Pastor Alcidez. When we first met him in San Ignacio—as we filed through the church gate for breakfast—I could not have guessed the imprint he would leave on my life. Yet through serving alongside this man, witnessing his love for others, and seeing the impact of Christ in Him I have been both challenged and blessed through his life.

I think the most vivid memory I have is his compassionate, tender heart. He was so focused on others!—I remember him weeping over lost souls, devoting hours and hours to go and encourage others, and comforting hurting children and adults alike. One time I remember that a child fell onto the ground and he spent the next five minutes embracing, comforting, and uplifting that child—with such genuine care and love that it was a real challenge to me.

He also arises as a strong, determined leader: he knew his goal—to be a faithful servant of Christ—and his life reflected perseverance in pursuing that goal. When he spoke he used godly wisdom and encouragement, when he made plans he was clear, God-focused, and others-centered, and working alongside of him I learned that he was lighthearted, joy-filled, and a pleasure to be around as we served.

The last memory I have of this pastor—an image which is locked into my mind—was from our return trip to Santa Cruz. As we boarded the bus I looked out the window to see Pastor Alcidez circling the bus and waving to our group. Then he grinned with an ear-to-ear beaming smile, pointed upward, and circled back to the other side of the bus. It's not about me, he had told us, but about His glory and His work which we are privileged to do.

There are many men God has brought into my life that are wonderful and challenging examples of the Christ-filled life. I am grateful for all of them. Thank you, Pastor Alcidez!!!

Lollipops, Bracelets, and Opportunities

Bolivia 2012

“Is there any particular thing you would still like to do or experience on this trip?” Grady asked me as we put our spoons down and finished up fresh bread in the little village of Consuelo.

I thought back to my prayers from days prior. I had one particular desire: to share the Gospel with someone. God had been challenging me to speak, but I didn’t know Spanish well enough to get beyond things like favorite colors, the weather, and school. However, I knew how true it is that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He gives us the desires of our hearts! He first plants those desires—such as to share Him with others—in our hearts, and then fulfills them.


The following day, Pastor Alcidez asked for two girls from our team to go with David and Anna’s daughters to take clothes to the villagers. Heather and I volunteered ourselves (and Cassie, who speaks Spanish… what a blessing!), picked up the rusty wheelbarrows filled with gifts, and started down the dirt path toward the villagers huts. “Perhaps today I can share?” I thought and fingered the salvation bracelet in my pocket, checking to make sure I had the yellow paper with the explanation in Spanish. Perhaps to a woman, a child? I didn’t know.

Hut after hut we handed out clothes and lollipops, chatted a little, and moved on. I started to wonder if an opportunity would come at all. We came to one little hut and a precious wizened woman came out to greet us with a smile. “Grandma,” they call her. She was one of the founders of the village and was considered the moral leader. We handed her the clothes, she thanked us, and then grabbed my wrist, saying in Spanish that I could stay with her while the others went on.

“No hablo mucho espanol,” I said, making sure she knew I wouldn’t be much for conversation. I laughed as the others wheeled the rest to the next hut. “Grandma” led me to her orange tree, handed me a long pole with a hook and we started pulling the oranges off. We couldn’t talk much with words, but how my heart went out to her! A few minutes later when it was time for me to go I thought of the bracelet in my pocket. Cassie explained how to say I had a gift for her. “Tengo un regalo para ti,” I said. She smiled and reached out her arm as I tied the bracelet—the Gospel, the good news of Christ in us—around her thin brown wrist. Out came the yellow paper, and I read what each bead signified, after which she said she would have her grandson read it to her again sometime. I hugged her, this woman who had so much sway in the village, and prayed that she would one day be my sister. What a privilege and answer to my heart’s desire to share, even when I could not speak Spanish! When we walked away, she stood there alone next to her hut… but I know she is not alone. The Lover of our Souls is pursuing her heart.

Early on in the trip, a team member shared with me how Jesus is blessed whenever we speak about Him, regardless of the results. What a privilege we have to bless our God by speaking about Him to those we meet, whether that’s in the heart of the Amazon in Bolivia or at the grocery store in Charlotte. I praise the Lord for the opportunity to share His love and truth with others!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Grady's summary of the trip to Bolivia!

I don't usually do multi-part blog posts. My motto is just pound it all out into one big post!! :)  So before you read this, you may want to grab a bag of popcorn, use the restroom, turn off your cell phone, write your will and get ready to dig in!

There have been lots of mini-posts about our trip. But my goal here is to provide a complete chronological summary. I admit I don't have all the pictures or even the best pictures, but I'll count on my team to put up more posts with pictures that go into more detail in various aspects of the trip. This is designed to give you a complete, but high-level, picture of what we did!

Saturday Night, May 19
We boarded a flight from Charlotte to Miami, then overnight to La Paz, Bolivia for a short stop. The flight then continued to Santa Cruz and we arrived at around 8am on Sunday morning. Being 6'5", this overnight 9-hour flight was a challenge. Some slept a lot... others a little... and a few (me!) none. A few even got very queasy at the high-altitude of La Paz as we sat in the airplane while they cleaned it for the last leg. But all-in-all, it was on-time, efficient, and got us to our destination. Praise God for that!

Sunday, May 20
Our hosts picked us up at the Santa Cruz airport and drove us to the South American Mission (SAM) base. On the way we had our first flat tire. The jack was not the most appropriate, so it took some creative methods to get the old tire off and new tire on. In the end, we flagged down some help and got a bigger jack. Nick and David led the effort and did a great job!

The Base is a comfortable and safe place. We each had a bed, enough banos to make everyone comfortable, and a wonderful kitchen/dining area. We showered, took naps, ate, then had a team meeting to meet our team leader, Dana Wilson, a 15-year missions veteran to Bolivia with SAM. She briefed us on the various planned tasks for the coming week.

In the afternoon, we visited downtown Santa Cruz, went to the market, haggled over the prices of trinkets, and just had a relaxing time getting to know the various missionaries with SAM. They were wonderful! They treated so well and we genuinely felt they appreciated us being there. I certainly enjoyed getting to know them.

After sight-seeing and dinner with many of the SAM missionaries in the area, we attended evening church at Dana's local church. It was fun to listen to a message in Spanish. And even though we were tired, we all did a pretty good job of attentively trying to understand what the Spanish-speaking pastor was saying! 

Personally, the verse on the back wall of that church, Salmos 96:3, became my personal theme verse of the week. I spent all week repeating it, memorizing it (in both English and Spanish), then proclaiming it when I had a chance to preach later in the trip.

After a short debrief that night, we crashed in our beds hard. There is a bar right outside the Base that played loud music literally until 6am. I woke up each hour, thought to myself, "wow, they are still at it," then fell right back asleep. When I can sleep through loud music, you know I am tired!! :)

Monday, May 21
We woke up, had breakfast, and had devotions as a team. Just as we were finishing our devotions, the final member of our team, Sean, arrived. It was a celebration that we could finally all be together! This picture is outside the front of the Base.

That day our focus was to minister to local state university students. We had a morning session and evening session, each lasting about 2 hours each. The entire thing was set up by the local Campus Crusade director. The draw was that Americans came in and helped the students practice their English. But there were no limits on questions or topics, and all of us made an effort to share the gospel. The students were quite receptive and we enjoyed proclaiming the good news of Christ! It is also a huge boost of credibility to the local Campus Crusade group, and we were happy to help!

That night we had a dinner with the SAM team in Santa Cruz with some traditional Bolivian food. What a privilege to meet so many missionaries serving the Lord in the field.

We then loaded a bus for an overnight 12-hour bus ride to San Ignacio. The bus station below was not what they typically look like in the states. And we had more than one warning to watch/guard our stuff very carefully!

Personally, I enjoyed meeting and talking with Jeff, a long-time missionary and Director of the SAM Bible School in Santa Cruz. He and his wife, Beth, were a wonderful couple and huge encouragement.

Tuesday, May 22
We arrived in San Ignacio on the bus at about 7am. Welcome to small-city life in Bolivia! Our hotel and the local church were about 4 blocks from the bus station, so we grabbed our stuff and started walking. Some of us attempted to avoid dragging our suitcases through the red mud, so we loaded them on our heads!

We then met up with the pastor of the local church in San Ignacio, Pastor Alcidez. He is married with 4 kids. His little daughter is sitting to his right. He used to be a Petroleum Engineer in the city before being saved and called to be a Pastor. His heart now burns for the city and surrounding villages of Sag Ignacio.

This is the central evangelical church in San Ignacio. There are 2 other evangelical churches in San Ignacio and they attempt to work together for Christ in this city of around 20,000 people.

Here is the plan for the week: In a town of Consuelo, about 32 km outside San Ignacio, there is a village of about 200 people. There are 2 believers, David & Anna. They have a long and beautiful story that proclaims God's grace and redemption, but I'll save that for another post. They were saved about 5 months ago. Their hearts are passionate for their local village.

So our job for the week was to help them further the influence of Christ for their local community. David and Anna have a lot of land, and they want to use it create a forest preserve, complete with camping area, botanical gardens, and more. Don't think USA standards here. It will be nice, but we are still in rural Bolivia. The important aspect of this is that the people of this community rarely get behind something with ambition. People have given them things in the past, but they just let it go to waste. In this case, David and Anna want the people to help them build it, take ownership of its upkeep, and through the project/process, build further relationships to influence their friends and neighbors for Christ.

Let that sink in. It's a different culture here. But how often do we plan a project designed to get non-believers involved so that there is a common bond that can be parlayed into influencing someone for the gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit. I think they've hit a very Biblical, simple and powerful concept! This from people who have been believers for 5 months.

Our job as the team was to help get it started. So.... On Tuesday, we loaded up in a truck and road off to Consuelo to meet the townspeople.

Of course, the trip is never complete without a flat tire to keep things interesting. So we got that fixed up and kept going!

We met David and Anna (pictures to come later). We toured the village, yes, all 20-something of us, visiting all the homes.

The community is mostly Catholic. This is their Catholic church with the shrine in the back of the building (if I can call a roof with pillars a building).

Right across from the Catholic church is the Community Center, which is where Pastor Alcidez and others from the congregation come to hold services each week. The influence of Alcidez is growing, and we praise God for that!

Sean busted out bubbles in the middle of our walk, and his fan club, already well established, hit epic proportions!

I even had a little fun as I helped harvest a Yuca tree! :)

Alcidez, David and Anna then held a town meeting at their home to explain to the village what they wanted to do, and how the village people could help. At first, it seemed their was mild acceptance, but not much of an embrace. But over the next couple days, almost all the villagers visited David and Anna and said they were supportive of the project and wanted to be involved and help! That is a huge answer to prayer!! Alcidez made a point of saying to our team that he felt our presence there was instrumental in convincing the townspeople to get involved!

As part of the meeting, Alcidez did a great job of sharing the gospel to these non-believers every single time. Each time we met with the community or in a church or student setting, we led Christian praise & worship songs, gave about 3 testimonies by people from our team, and offered a gospel message.

This is David & Anna's home, and the townspeople are filling it up to hear about the project.


We drove back in the truck about 11pm that night. It took an hour each way. What a great night under the stars!

Wednesday, May 23
The word of the week for us was "flexibility." We had a plan, but we knew it would change quite often. That came in full force on Wednesday. We were up and ready at the agreed 8am time to head back to the village. Two hours later, we were still sitting there waiting. The truck had to go to the shop. But praise God we eventually got back on the road!

During that time we were able to sit, pray and reflect. Our hostel was very nice and comfortable. It was brand new, so that helped!

We finally hit the road and had a little friend. This was a deer that was caught and who would be let go once we got out to the rural area.

This is the road we traveled each day. One hour there. One hour back.

Here is a short video that shows what our road trip was like:

We got to David and Anna's house and enjoyed breakfast...

A little bit of fun time before the work...

This is one of David & Anna's little girls (1 of 6 little girls!) wearing my hat. Cutie!

More pics around David & Anna's house.

Our job for that day was to clear a big area that would be used as a camping ground. Nothing too glamorous, just hard work. We used machetes, pick-axes, rakes and shovels. We all headed out, and within 15 minutes the skies opened up and it poured. So we came scampering back, drenched, but determined to head back out!

The rains cleared after only about 30 minutes, so we headed back out. A force of 20 people trying to clear out a 40 foot by 40 foot area with basically our hands and some small tools. We all had blisters, and this area had thorns everyone... and I mean everywhere! Almost any stick you touched had a thorn. The curse of Adam!

This was also a cow grazing area, so we were pretty much slopping around in cow dung the entire time too!!

That night Alcidez brought the townspeople together and we showed an evangelistic movie with a project they had brought from the city. This town does not have electricity, so they brought a power generator to power the lights and movie equipment. Again, the American's shared testimonies, sang praise songs, Alcidez gave a message, and we loved on the people and the kids! Lots of little problems happened throughout the night, and it really felt like there was a power working against us. But all of us were praying throughout the entire night, and the Lord allowed to fix the problems or not let the problems matter. Praise God!

No strollers around here folks! This is how the sleeping kids are returned to their homes! :)

Thursday, May 24
Thursday morning, it was flexibility time! Another 2 hour unexpected delay. But we were able to use Dana's cell phone and she created a hot spot for us. So... it was technology check-in time. We called family, loaded some short blog updates, and checked the NBA playoff situation (ok, that was me...).

Then we hit the road for another day of working in Consuelo.

We sang praise songs, sang kids Christian songs, played balance games on the truck, and had a blast each time we road the truck!

We arrived in time for breakfast (at about 11:30am)! Sarah and I walked by the clay stove, and noticed a lot of feathers on the ground. The remains of the chicken for our breakfast!

Yes, feathers even in the bowl that was used to cook our soup. Oh well, the FDA is nowhere in sight...

We then got back to work clearing brush, twigs and trees.

Here is a short video that highlights some things we were doing in the woods:

Meanwhile, Anna was making our dinner. Right here she is making french fries! They were wonderful!

We had a heartfelt goodbye to these folks and this town. We got back on the truck at about 6pm, but instead of one hour, it took 2 hours because the axle on the truck was bent. We had to go super-slow down the road. But we finally made it back.

We then took 15 minutes to clean up and around 8:30pm that night, we had a special church service with the local church in San Ignacio. Again, we gave testimonies, led worship, and this time I got to preach a message to the church using a translator. Very fun!

Friday, May 25
This was our final day in Sag Ignacio. We started with a big breakfast in the courtyard of the church, then played with the kids and some of the people from the church. It was such a privilege to just fellowship with the believers.

The primary ministry we did that day was visit the local prison and speak to the prisoners. You can check out a previous post from Caitlyn for more detail on that. We were not allowed to take pictures, so I can't show you much. What a privilege to see God work and use us to encourage the prisoners.

I promise... we did not let her enter the prison in this manner.........

The rest of the day we took a tour of San Ignacio and had a picnic with some of the local church folks. We got to play some real futbol with the locals, and Kelly showed 'em how to do it American style as she frequently shut down the show-boating Bolivians! :)

It came to an end because we needed to catch the overnight bus back to Santa Cruz that evening. We prayed together as a group and blessed and encouraged Pastor Alcidez.

Then we headed back to the hostel, packed our stuff, and loaded up the bus for an 11-hour overnight drive.

Saturday, May 26
Our bus ride was uneventful. Praise God for that! We arrived back in Santa Cruz at about 6am. We then went back to the Base, got cleaned up, took naps, and had a wonderful breakfast. We then loaded up a couple taxis (yes, 8 people in this one!) and headed to the market for our last visit to Santa Cruz culture.

That night, the local Campus Crusade had their first meeting of the year. The American's were the draw!! :)  We spent a lot of time helping them practice English, once again spreading the gospel as we did it. We then held a service where we sang praise songs, gave testimonies, and I gave a short message. The director of Campus Crusade then gave an opportunity for kids to accept Christ. After that we ended with a time of fellowship with the students!

Here is a short video of our praise and worship time:

To close out our trip on Saturday night, we had a 2+ hour team debrief, where we shared all the wonderful and marvelous works we had seen God do. All of my prayer requests had been answered (refer to one of the original posts on this blog for a list of my prayer requests) and we gave God glory for that! We spent some time praying over our Bolivian team leader, Dana Wilson. Many of our team had clearly been impacted by her and by the trip itself, and they shared those things. We praise God for the success of our mission trip. To God be the glory!!

Sunday, May 27
We rose around 5:30am and headed off to the airport. After a tearful farewell to our team leader, Dana, and some of our beloved new missionary friends, we boarded the plane and spent the entire day traveling.

We arrived at the Charlotte airport at 1am on Monday morning. 

What an amazing trip! I give God the glory for all He has done. We pray that the work we got to be a part of continues. We pray that the encouragement we were able to give remains strong. And we pray that we keep praying. For this group of missionaries, and for believers all around the world, including the USA, that are serving Christ with all their hearts, minds and souls!

Let's keep furthering the gospel, wherever we are, together as the body of Christ!