World Vision in North Potosi

On Tuesday April 30th, the team visited the World Vision Llallagua location accompanied by Daniel Flores, who is on staff with World Vision in Uncia. Their office was about a 4 to 5 block walk down the hill from Hotel Llallagua. We were met by Alejandro Mellcu, the WV Director for N Potosi and Ana Ordóñez who works in their Child Protection project in the Llallagua office. Alejandro gave a Powerpoint presentation which started with their organization’s guiding principle from Luke 2:52 “ and Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”

The 3 major segments of World Vision are community development, humanitarian initiatives and issues around justice – all within a framework around children and youth. World Vision partners with municipal authorities, Protestant, evangelical and Catholic churches and community organizations. Projects are targeted in health, education, child protection, community co-operation, urban/ rural agriculture, environment, investigation, and socio-economic development.

There is a strong over-arching focus on having all involved in the their projects experience the love of God. When we give someone a glass of clean cold water, we do so in the name of Christ. The welfare of children is critical to their projects. World Vision wishes to build in each child a strong identity, develop solid habits for health and for ways of dealing with the social issues confronting them in their communities. There is a deliberate focus on creating gender equality, which is a real challenge throughout Bolivia where women are treated quite poorly in many aspects of life. World Vision strives to assist children in developing sufficient life skills so that each one could be capable of running a small business – again, this is the primary socio-economic system in Bolivia.

The N Potosi area sponsors over 17,000 children, all through the support of sponsors from Korea, Taiwan and Switzerland. Child sponsorship is the primary source of funding, however, there are specific projects that a sponsor or organization could choose to support. All of their projects have a finite lifespan that might range for 3 – 5 years or perhaps as long as 15 years.

Like the UBB and CBM, the focus of World Vision’s work in Bolivia continues to evolve. 10 – 15 years ago, nutrition was a major concern; today there is more attention to the impact of alcoholism in the community in N Potosi. Culture is a major factor as well. Ana shared that within the last 10 years, when a mother bore twins, one would be killed due to the cultural belief that looking after two new babies in addition to the other children in the family was a task too great. Today, she has seen twins in the some the WV communities, due in part to the intervention and programs that they have initiated.

Daniel closed the session by stating that it his and World Visions’ goal that all children and young people would get to know Jesus. The projects that they administer are a medium to which change can take place in these children’s lives. It is encouraging to see that many of the key WV staff members are active in the UBB churches in N Potosi. We learned that Daniel Flores four years ago had helped lead Alejandro to Christ and that Alejandro is now a deacon for missions at his church in Oruru.

It is early days to see if there can be more specific co-operation on certain projects between the UBB and WV, but we are moved by the passion of Daniel, Ana and Alejandro. Perhaps this is just another small example of God moving in Bolivia and what it means to be people of God in our everyday lives.

Tuesday

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Workday 1

We were a bit lazy on our first day and didn’t have breakfast until 9AM. Most of us could feel the elevation (12,200 ft above sea level) slightly but not enough to slow us down. We went over to the Llallagua Baptist Church at 10AM and were met by Pastor Severo, 1st Deacon Santiago, Alberto, and Dionicio. Pastor Severo came to the church from Oruro in February, so he is very new here. All four are working on the construction of a new building next to the church. There was an old adobe brick building on the same site when the FBC team visited in 2008. They held a children’s program there one Sunday morning during the church service. The building was in poor shape and was demolished a few years later. In 2011, the FBC team visited Llallagua again and saw the early stages of the new building.

The construction is farther along now and the church hopes to have it complete by October. It will provide Sunday School rooms and places to hold the leadership training sessions that are in the planning stages. Santiago is a mason, so he has been doing the brick laying with the help of other church members.

Our task today was to move bricks from the bottom floor up to the top floor, where they are finishing the outside walls. We moved about 1000 bricks up two at a time using a pail to hold the bricks and a rope and pulley to lift them up. Up top we stacked and sorted the cracked bricks from the good ones. It was an unusually warm day (low 20°s C) for this time of year in North Potosi, but quite pleasant for working.

 

Dionicio (l) and Santiago

Dionicio (l) and Santiago

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The Pastor’s wife and some women from the church made us a delicious soup for lunch, which we ate in a small room adjoining the Pastor’s apartment next to the new building. The church plans to demolish that area after the larger building is finished. They will build new accommodations for the Pastor (much needed) and possible a dormitory so that people traveling from outlying communities for training sessions will have a place to stay. It’s quite ambitious, but there seems to be a new desire to improve the church facilities. When the team came in 2011, we heard how the Llallagua church is looked to for leadership by other Protestant churches in North Potosi. It was the first Protestant church in the area and the first Baptist church in Bolivia to be organized and run by Bolivians rather than foreign missionaries. As such, the church members are becoming aware of the need to take a lead in providing much needed leadership training in the area. With that comes the need to provide a facility that will support those programs.

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We finished hauling and organizing the bricks about 3PM, feeling more like we had put in a full day than 4 hours. The altitude saps our energy a bit, but everyone was feeling good at the end of the day. The Pastor’s wife brought out a jug of barley water, made by boiling barley in water. It was a bit sweet with a mild flavour and quite refreshing. After that we headed back to the hotel to clean up and get prepared for next event.

After supper, we went to a bible study at Uncia church, about a 15-minute drive from Llallagua. About 20 to 30 people were present, mostly young adults. Pastor Elsa led the group in singing some choruses in Spanish and Quechua. She is relatively new at Uncia and seems perfectly suited to the church. Uncia has been without a pastor for many years, so her arrival is very encouraging for the church. We were introduced and a long line of people came up to welcome us with the traditional hugs and kisses. Ryan spoke again, with Ivan translating, on the John 7 passage that he used in Cochabamba. We put on our game faces and read the chapter in different voices, but in Spanish this time. There was some good interaction between Ryan and the study participants. At the end of the service, everyone came up for a group picture with us and we had a good time getting to know each other as best we could. We felt very welcomed, as always.

Tuesday-6

Uncia Church

Uncia Church

If you want to check out Llallagua on Google Earth or Google Maps, you can enter these coordinates for our hotel (-18.42383, -66.58619) and these for the Baptist church (-18.42326, -66.58724).

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Off to Llallagua

We’ve arrived in Llallagua safe and sound. It feels good to be back in a familiar place (for some of us) and ready to start our week of working, meeting old and new friends, getting caught up on the news, and finding ways to be “fruity”, as Pastor Ryan says.

Ivan picked us up at the UBB centre just after 10AM. Duane Guthrie and the Soucy’s dropped by to wish us well. We will see the Soucy’s here in Lllallagua later this week. Pastor Andreas also came and joined us for the trip to North Potosi. Members of the first team, who came in 2007, will remember him as one of the Pastors in North Potosi.

Pre-trip yoga

Pre-trip yoga

We jammed our luggage and ourselves into two vans and headed out. Once we cleared Cochabamba city and its traffic we drove through the Cochabamba Valley and began to climb up into the dry hills surrounding the valley. We stopped for lunch at a little roadside strip of tiny cafes and then headed further into the hills. The contrast between the verdant valley and the dry, sparsely vegetated hills was striking from the air when we flew in and even more so from the ground. We climbed steadily around many switchbacks and eventually got to the summit at over 14,000 ft.

Cochabamba Valley

Cochabamba Valley

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Summit

Summit

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We dropped down to Oruro, then headed southeast to reach Llallagua. It looks much the same as our last visit in 2011. The Square by our hotel is hopping with activity and people are streaming up and down the streets where the market sets up during the day. We checked into Hotel Llallagua and were met by our old friend Willie. After getting our rooms sorted out, we went for supper with Daniel Flores, local lay leader who works for World Vision. He talked a lot over supper about his vision of cooperation between World Vision and the UBB and ultimately other denominations in North Potosi. We look forward to hearing more about this over the course of our week here. But right now we are all off to bed. Buena Noches.

Monday-8

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Cochabamba Weekend

Saturday started with a trip to Premier de Mayo, where the first team from First Baptist spent a few days plastering two houses in 2007. Melba was hoping to have a quick visit with Francesca, one of the beneficiaries of the team’s efforts. Unfortunately, Francesca was away so we didn’t meet her, but we did get a chance to look at the house and see how much the area has changed. Jon recognized the World Vision offices that he and Melba visited on Friday, which were very close to Francesca’s place. The entire area has grown a lot. Houses go much farther up the hill than they used to and much of the land between Cochabamba and Premier de Mayo is now built up. Cochabamba has seen quite a bit of construction as well. The city has grown out as much as it can and is now starting to grow up. The government has ordered banks to be more accommodating in lending mortgages, so more of the middle class is now able to finance a home and as a result demand is growing.

When we returned to Cochabamba, we took a break to play the tourist. Ivan dropped us off in the central market where we shopped and people watched. The market is always a fun place to visit, but on a Saturday it is especially busy. That means keeping a close eye on your valuables, but it also means there is lots of action to take in. The roads around the market are ringed with shoppers, street vendors, buses, and cars all vying for space on the narrow road. Inside the market the stalls are narrow and dark, but semi-organized, with clothing and other textiles in one aisle, shoes in another, meat (no refrigeration), then vegetables, then musical instruments, and on it goes. Bolivian textiles are beautiful, so we usually gravitate to the clothing aisle. Somehow we managed to find each other at the appointed hour to meet Ivan and head back to the UBB compound.

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After supper, we went to a young adult meeting at Villa Galindo Baptist Church. Pastor Ryan presented a great overview of what we are learning about reaching out to our neighbors in Canada. He talked about recognizing that small efforts build relationships and personal connections better than big projects. He encouraged everyone to be “fruity”; that is, to cultivate a life that is fertile ground for the fruit of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit grows his fruit in our lives, we can share that fruit with the people around us. He encouraged us all to watch for the people and places where God is working, and to be “fruity” in those places. The fruit of the Spirit are not just for our benefit, but they are sustenance and refreshment that we can offer to the world around us.

He then opened the floor up for questions. It was interesting to see how the issues for young Bolivians are much the same issues that Canadians deal with. They asked questions like:

“I have some gay friends and I’m not sure how I should relate to them.”

“What if I’m having a beer at a pub and I meet someone who is interested in Christ. How should I respond?”

“What can I do about friends who come to church sometimes but don’t really seem interested or engaged?”

Pastor Ryan responded with wisdom and grace and the young adults seemed to be very engaged.

Saturday-3

This morning Ryan M., Kurt, and Gordon started the day off with a trip to the shoeshine man. There’s nothing like sitting in a comfy chair, reading a newspaper, or at least pretending to, and having someone buff your shoes to a beautiful shine. It’s a spa experience.

Shoeshine

After rejoining the rest of the team, we took our shiny shoes off to Deus es Amor Baptist Church. This is Emigdio’s home church and he was doing some teaching when we arrived. Members of the previous teams will remember Emigdio as a very gracious host and a fount of knowledge about all things Bolivian. It was good to see him again, looking fit and healthy. We were introduced and received a warm welcome, as we do everywhere.

Deus de Amor Baptist Church

Deus de Amor Baptist Church

After church we managed a quick picture with Emigdio and his wife before dashing off to Ivan’s for a barbeque and our skype call. It was great to make contact with you all, even though the video didn’t work out as hoped.

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We had a great time at the barbeque. Ivan’s parents, his brother Yayo and wife Veronica, his other brother Danny, and his sister and her son were all there. The Guthries and the Soucys came too. It was great to catch up with people we have met on previous trips and see the changes in their lives. Yayo and Veronica married in November. Ivan’s mother is looking great after a bout with cancer. Everyone else seems to be in good health and good spirits. It was a beautiful sunny warm day (sorry about that) and a perfect way spend a Sunday afternoon.

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This evening we ramped it up a notch by attending the Brazilian church that Ivan and his wife Christina pastor. A lot of Brazilian students come to Bolivia for university because the cost of an education and the cost of living are much lower than in Brazil. Christina is Brazilian and Ivan speaks Portuguese, so they are a good fit and it is easy to see that both have a heart for this church. The church is largely made up of young adults, so the service had a high level of energy, complemented by a group of excellent musicians, vocalists and one dancer who led worship. Have a look at the videoclip at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKRPKDdTDc0 to get a taste of the service. We were introduced by Ivan and greeted warmly. Kurt shared his experiences as a Christian engaged in the medical field (dentistry). Most of the students in the church are studying in the medical field, so Kurt’s presentation was timely and challenging. Then Pastor Ryan gave message based on John 7:1-52. The whole team read the passage in different voices while the church followed a Portuguese translation on the screen. Ryan spoke about being open or closed to Jesus’ message, as illustrated in the passage, noting that it was the most despised, the soldiers, who seemed to get it. He encouraged everyone to let the living water fill us and overflow us, splashing over to drench everyone around us.

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At the end of the service everyone who had a birthday in April was invited to front and it turns out Kurt is a recent birthday boy. They sang Happy Birthday Portuguese and English, and Kurt received a lot of birthday hugs.

Birthday hugs for Kurt

Birthday hugs for Kurt

We are off to North Potosi tomorrow, so our surroundings will change remarkably. Pray for continued good health, quick adjustment to the altitude (close to 13,000 ft), discernment for ways we can be an encouragement to the churches in North Potosi and openness to receive a blessing from them in return.

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Jon and Melba visit Yovana

Three years ago our family decided to sponsor a child in Bolivia.  At the time, Yovana was 6.  We had some contact through their annual update and a letter she had her brother, Alberto, prepare for me.  We had sent her some school supplies last year and some photos.  When I knew I would be coming back to Bolivia in 2014, I knew it would be a great opportunity to visit her and the family.  Melba offered to join me to provide translation services and I knew Yovana would be very warm to Melba.  After a lot of correspondence and documentation with WV Canada, our date was set for Friday April 25th.

On Friday, Melba and I were met at the Baptist Centre by Zaida Navaez and another World Vision (WV) staff member, who was our driver. Zaida works in the WV office in Cochabamba handling a multitude of tasks associated with the over 2,000 children who are sponsored in the Cochabamba area. She said that there are only 3 to 4 sponsors who visit her area in the last year. Zaida and the WV staff were extremely well prepared for our visit. Our first stop was at a grocery store on the way to Primero de Mayo, the town outside of Cochabamba where the WV Nueva Esperanza project was based. She said that the family was very poor and that any food we could bring them would be greatly appreciated. We loaded up the cart with large bags of sugar, pasta, and rice, a large container of powdered milk, sunflower oil for cooking with, 2 dozen eggs, a half dozen 1.5 l bottles of apple juice and some laundry and dish soap.

We drove about 20 minutes to the Nueva Esperanza centre, which turns outs is only a block from Francisca’s house, which was the first house project completed for the chagas program by our first STEP Team in 2007. The NE centre was only completed about a year ago and is quite an impressive four storey building with a curved plaster wall. The centre houses offices and many classrooms which are used for many extra-curricular programs for young people in the area.

The WV director, Dr. Alfredo Montoya gave a short presentation about their strategies for intervening in the circle of poverty which affects so many of the poor in Bolivia. There are strategies for very young children (Integral Centres), school age and youth up to age 20. The NE project has a finite lifespan of 15 years, and they have 5 years remaining. The are working diligently at finding ways to transition the programs to the local municipal authorities, churches and community organizations. They plan to give up the centre which was just completed a year ago.

Two groups of young people performed at the NE centre – a group of young musicians on guitar, keyboards, pan flutes and recorder. Their teacher sang in Quechua, one of the indigenous languages of Bolivia. Primero de Mayo is a community of immigrants from other parts of the country, but primarily Quechua speaking people from La Paz, Oruru and Potosi departments. The second group was mostly young girls who did a series of dances including Spanish and hip hop.

Our next stop was to an Integral Centre for children under the age of four. There was about 30 children there. They are there from 8 AM through 4 PM while their parents are working. They are given basic instruction in letters, numbers, geography and get to do crafts and play. The receive four nutritious meals a day which is critical for their development. Two of the children had dressed in Bolivian attire and performed a traditional dance while the other children sat in a circle.

Yovana

We then drove about 10 minutes to a school where we picked up Yovana, my sponsored child, her sister Carmen and her mother Rosalia. There was probably another 25 kids waiting for us as well, as I am sure Yovana had told all her friends about our upcoming visit. On our way to their house, we stopped at a another WV Integral Centre where we ate lunch. Fortunately, Dr. Montoya warned me not to eat the hot chillis ! On our way there, we discovered that Rosalia made a Bolivian pastry and sold them on the street by her home. We made a quick stop at a very small store and purchased a large sack of flour to add to our groceries.

We arrived at their home and were greeted by Juan Carlos, who is about 4 and their two dogs. Eventually all six children appeared along with Rosalia’s mother. In order of age there are: Alberto (16), Grover (14), Carmen (11), Yovana (9), Juan Carlos (4) and Jessica (2). Their father Severino was at work as he is sporadically employed as a mason. Their house reminded me of the home we worked on in 2011 in Mizque, a simple two room home, one for sleeping in and the other for cooking. This room had
window frames but no glass. Each room was about 100 square feet. Severino has started an expansion onto the house, but only the concrete pillars are standing at the moment. There is no running water and we didn’t think they have a formal bathroom. They have been in the house for about a year now.

I handed them some gifts I had brought, a soccer ball and football, back packs, socks, craft supplies, Canada pens, white socks,hair elastics and ribbons, a Canadian flag, toothbrushes and paste, oven mits and wash clothes – all things Melba had suggested. I made the mistake of giving Juan Carlos a 12 pack of Excel gum as he promptly emptied the entire pack into his mouth, chewed it for a few minutes and then swallowed it. I left Yovana photos of our family members. She said that Debbie (my wife) was very beautiful! Rosalia was overwhelmed with the provisions we brought for her family. Yovana showed me their picture album and described who was in the photos. Graciously, she gave me 3 photos to take with me, one of her graduation from kindergarten, one of her in a traditional costume dancing during a celebration and one with the five children (before Jessica was born).

We took many pictures outside the house and then said our goodbyes. Rosalia was very emotional and thanked me for coming. Yovana said that she was praying every day that I would actually come once WV had told her of our planned visit. Zaida asked her what she would like to do when she was older. Yovana quickly answered that she wished to be a lawyer. Alberto said he wanted to be a doctor. She promised to make me a bracelet with the craft supplies and write me a letter.

The degree of planning for this day by the WV staff was amazing, it was indeed a humbling experience for Melba and I. To think that for the $1 a day it costs to support a child, the impact it can have on a family and a community. To see the benefits to the young children in the Integral Centres, the youth developing their skills in the arts, having positive role models as staff and teachers – it is such a blessing for such a small sum. Melba is from Cuba and she knows the impact it makes for her family that is still in Cuba when she visits them. It is so true that a picture says a thousand words – they express our experience of our few hours with Yovana and her family.

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Day 2

 

Be warned: This is a long post! While Jon and Melba went visit the Mitchell’s World Vision Child, the rest of us spent the morning learning more about what OBADES is up to in Bolivia. We also spent some time in the afternoon visiting the Casa de Amistad. More on that later, but first the information piece.

We met with Rodrigo Perez right after breakfast and he filled us in on the OBADES programs that he administers. OBADES (Organizacion de Bautista de Desorrollo Sociale) is the social action arm of the UBB. Their vision is to be a nationally recognized leader in promoting development that is Christ-centred, environmentally, economically and socially sustainable, and supportive of gender equality. They see their mission as promoting societal development without discrimination in both urban and rural areas. As an organization, OBADES is able to provide both hands-on support for their programs and the legal and administrative support to maintain compliance with government regulations. The latter role involves both satisfying the requirements of the Bolivian government and foreign governments who supply funds through their foreign development programs. OBADES works with CBM through the Sharing Way, the Mennonite Central Committee, Program International Canada (a Canadian NGO), SEDEGES (Bolivian government program), local Bolivian supporting churches and individuals, and ecumenical supporters. CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) has been a supporter in the past, but after changes in Canadian foreign aid objectives implemented by the current Federal government, OBADES has been dropped from the list of agencies receiving CIDA funds.

Casa de Amistad
The Casa is a program for prison children and their families. In Bolivia, when a parent is given a prison sentence and no one is available to look after their children, the children go live in the prison with their parent. The Casa was set up, with the help of CBM’s Dennis Shierman, to provide a safe and nurturing place for these children. While the children continue to live in the prison with their parent, they are brought out of the prison during the day to stay at the CASA. Older children (up to teenagers) are sent to school, while young children are provided daycare at the centre. At night they return to be with their parent. Currently, 120 children are in the program. The Bolivian government supports the program by providing food for the children and one of the local Baptist churches sends volunteers to help with the meals. The program also works with the parents in prison, providing training in health and conducting Bible studies where the inmates are introduced to the good news of God’s grace. Rodrigo was involved with the Casa before becoming OBADES administrator and during his time 25 people were baptized into faith in Christ. In operation for 17 years, the Casa has seen some of their children return to help with the program after experiencing its love and support for themselves. One of our sister churches in Edmonton, Laurier Heights, has a STEP partnership with the Casa de Amistad and frequently sends teams to help.

Jireh
Canadian James Seaborn began this program to meet the needs of teenagers working on the streets. The goal of the program is to provide support, an education and share the Christian values. The families of the street children are included, with the provision of food, and health and dental services, in cooperation of the Salvation Army Hospital. Low nutritional levels are a constant in the lives of these street children, so the provision of food is one of the important ways for the church to meet the needs of these children. Jireh is the first OBADES program operated out of a local church, Sinai Baptist. Pastor Brigida provides the Christian education component of the program.

Compassion Centres
These centres operate in Cochabamba, Oruro, Potosi, Sucre, La Paz and Santa Cruz. Compassion (a Christian development agency) runs the day-to-day operations of the centres and the programs offered there. OBADES, with its experience in dealing with all levels of government as well as foreign aid programs, provides administrative support for the programs. Many of the centres operate out of local Baptist churches.

Quechua Literacy Project
Two indigenous groups live in Bolivia, the Quechua and Ayamara. Ayamara live in the northern part of Bolivia, while the Quechua are predominant in the southern part, including North Potosi, where First Baptist’s STEP partnership is located. Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, is promoting indigenous rights, including indigenous religious rights. This is something new for Bolivia. For example, until recently, all indigenous people were required to have their babies baptized in the Catholic church. Morales stopped this practice and is actively promoting the practice of indigenous religions. Within this context, the Quechua Literacy Project provides literacy training, using a Quecha-language bible, and an agricultural education to the Quechua. Like all OBADES programs, it endeavors to always combine spiritual education with projects that meet the physical needs of the people.

PAS
PAS is an agricultural program operated by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in the Cochabamba area. PAS helps local farmers indentify which types of crops are suited to the particular environmental conditions of their farm. This helps them to diversify their production beyond the potato crops they traditionally grow. The program also provides training in marketing their crops and helps the farmers find potential buyers. PAS puts an emphasis on helping farmers understand that God has given them a special plot of land that has its own special advantages. They need to care for this land and work with it to grow the crops that it is best suited to produce. This focus on creation care has brought positive results. PAS has achieved more positive results than past programs that simply provided money without the creation-based training. Like the Compassion Centres, OBADES role in PAS is to provide program administration. PAS has an office in the UBB compound where we are staying and we were able to meet Jaimie and Edgar, two Bolivian agronomists, and Jacob, a young MCC volunteer from Kansas. Jacob has recently arrived in Cochabamba and is working on his Spanish before he begins his work building relationships with PAS and the local farmers to help the program stay on track. Here, as elsewhere, program failures are often rooted in communication challenges and Jacob will be working to make sure PAS and the farmers in the program are keeping in touch while the farmers make the transition to new crops and methods of farming.

Economic Initiatives
This is a small business training and loan program that operates in El Alto, near La Paz. It operates like many micro-credit programs, offering small loans to individuals that want to improve their income by starting a small business. It operates on the premise that what poor people need the most is opportunity. When a person enters the program the first time they receive a loan of about $200 for a specific item, such as a sewing machine, that they can use to generate an income. They must repay the loan and when they have done so, they are eligible for additional larger loans of up to $1000, each of which must be paid back. Along with the loans they receive training in business practices.

Chagas
Chagas is a disease spread by the Venchuca bug. The Venchuca lives in the walls of adobe brick homes and feeds on the blood of people while they sleep. It can transmit Chagas disease in the process. Chagas remains dormant for several years, then emerges to cause life threatening damage to the victim’s internal organs. The disease is endemic in mid-elevation parts of Bolivia around Potosi (the city, not North Potosi), Sucre, Mizque, and Cochabamba. Chagas disease can be cured if caught early, but because of its dormant period it is often too late by the time the victim becomes aware of symptoms. At that point, the disease can be controlled by medications but not eliminated. Prevention is worth a pound of cure and the spread of Chagas can be stopped by preventing the Venchuga but from taking up residence in a house. This is done by plastering the inside of adobe buildings and laying a cement floor. A properly plastered house with a good floor has no place for the Venchuca bug to live, so risk of contracting Chagas is all but eliminated. The Chagas program helps people who otherwise couldn’t afford it to plaster their house. It also provides health education related to Chagas and helps people obtain tests for the disease and treatment at government clinics.

When we met Alex, who runs the Chagas program for OBADES, and Omar, a technician, Ivan reminded us of First Baptist’s role in the Chagas program. Back in 2007, OBADES was thinking about starting the Chagas program but wasn’t sure whether it was feasible. When the first team from FBC (Melba, Bill, Dave, Greg, and Sam) went to Bolivia they provided a test case. The team plastered two houses in Premier de Mayo, near Cochabamba and proved the program would work and teams from Canada could make a contribution. Since then, the program has completed 2000 homes. The program has expanded from the Cochabamba area to Mizque and now Sucre. The homeowners help to pay for the costs of the plastering so that they have an investment in improving their lives. Teams from Canada help with the homes of those who are too poor even to pay the small partial amount requested by OBADES. FBC participated in the program again in 2011 when Leslie, Melba, Gordon, Jon, and Sam helped plaster a house in Mizque.

We also met with Suzanna Nacho, Bruno and Kathleen Soucy, and Duane Guthrie during morning. Suzanna and David Nacho are CBM missionaries working with UBB in La Paz. Suzanna has been instrumental in helping First Baptist strengthen our connections with the churches in North Potosi. The Soucys have recently arrived in Latin America from Rawanda to lead CBM operations throughout Latin America. They are in Bolivia for two weeks while taking a break from their Spanish lessons. We had a wonderful chance to learn more about what’s happening with the UBB and we fit in. We’ll cover some of that material, including Duane Guthrie’s role, in future posts.

After that rather intense but very enjoyable morning, we had great lunch with the Soucys and Suzannah. Later in the afternoon, Melba and Jon rejoined us and Ivan took us over to Casa de Amistad for a first hand look at the program. We arrived after the children were back from school, so the place was buzzing with activity. One of the staff gave us a quick tour. We visited a music room and a dance class, where kids are encouraged to explore some of their creative interests. Then we dropped into a class where school age children are given extra tutoring in reading and writing, followed by a room full of pre-schoolers who mobbed us with enthusiastic hugs. We were introduced to the principal and a couple of grad students, one from Bolivia and the other from England, who are working with the centre as part of their studies. After a quick tour of their infirmary, we watched the kids chow down on a very simple meal of tomato salad, boiled potatos, and boiled eggs. The staff were wonderful with the kids and it was obvious that they cared deeply for them.

It was a great day of learning and experiencing the work of OBADES. A portion of our STEP contribution helps with the funding of OBADES projects. We’ll explore how our STEP partnership works with the UBB and OBADES in future posts. And stay tuned for our food adventures. Guinea pig, anyone?

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Ryan gets a lesson in Spanish numbers

Ryan gets a lesson in Spanish numbers

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We Made It!

After 24 hours, 4 planes, a tight connection in Lima, and a 5-hour layover (3AM to 8AM) in La Paz, we finally made it to Cochabamba.  And God be praised, our luggage too!

22 hours in

22 hours in

Catching a few winks between planes

Catching a few winks between planes

Ivan Gutierrez and his brother Danny met our bedraggled crew with a warm welcome at the airport and drove us to the Bolivian Baptist Union (UBB) compound.  We will stay here until Monday, getting used to the altitude.    We all felt the high altitude during our layover in La Paz (11,900 feet above sea level), so we are thankful for a few days in Cochabamba (8,400 feet) to let our bodies gradually acclimate.

After a light snack, we all went to bed for a few hours and felt like new people when we got up.

Bolivia team after a long nap

Bolivia team after a long nap

Ivan gave us a little tour of the nearby square (check out You Tube at http://youtu.be/FMMwqomfTHw) , then supper and back to bed.

Everyone is doing well and feeling excited about finally being here as our trip begins to unfold.  Many thanks for your prayers on our long day of travel.

If you want to take a look at our home away from home from the air, enter these coordinates (-17.39651 -66.16111)  into Google Earth or Google Maps (click on “Satellite” first if you are using Google Maps).   Zoom in to see the UBB compound.

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FBC Bolivia team 2014

Bolivia-team-50

FBC Edmonton Schedule Bolivia  April 23rd to May 10th

April 23
Departure from Edmonton, stops in Houston, Lima and La Paz

April 24
Arrival in Cochabamba settle into accommodation

April 25
Orientation and visit UBB  ministries

April 26
Attend conference for Youth on urban ministries

April 27
Team visits  two churches

April 28
Travel to North Potosi and accommodation, meet with leaders

April 29 – May 4

  • Construction work in either Llallagua or Merk Aymaya
  • Meeting with youth, church leaders, visit area churches
  • Seminary course with David Nacho, CBM Staff

May 5
Travel to the City of Potosi to visit and meet with churches, leadership / stay overnight

May 6
Travel to Mizque passing through City of Sucre

May 7
Visit Chagas beneficiaries in Mizque to see the impact among the project

May 8
Travel  back to Cochabamba and prepare for trip back to Canada

May 9
Leave for Canada, stops in Santa Cruz, Lima and Houston

May 10
Arrive back in Edmonton

Team Members:

Gordon Dinwoodie

Leslie Henderson

Lisa Johns

Jon Mitchell

Melba Montgomery

Ryan Murray

Ryan Sato

Kurt Young

Prayer for:  Safe travels and flight connections, our host staff and drivers, health and relationships among the team, for the churches and congregations we will meet with, our ability communicate clearly, that we can listen and hear the Bolivian’s concerns and dreams.  That we would sense God’s movement in Bolivia.

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Hasta Luego, Bolivia

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Our Final Day

It’s our last day in Bolivia. It has gone faster than we could have imagined. We are on the hunt for souvenirs now. Shopping anxiety has replaced bowel movements as our favorite conversation topic.

Yesterday at breakfast, Ivan shared a bit more about the work in North Potosi and his vision for future endeavors. The Bolivian Baptist Union is being careful not to create a culture of dependency among the churches there. This has been a problem in the past and if the churches are to grow and mature, they need to work towards a greater degree of self sustainability. Changing mindsets takes a long time, so encouragement must be tempered with patience. Consistent local leadership, in the manner of Pastor Juan, will be an important driver for change. Ivan is beginning to see possible synergies with his congregation of Brazilian students. They have grown from 18 to 60 over the last year or so, and are reaching the point where Ivan is encouraging them to think about integral mission. In other words, what they receive from God needs to flow outward to support God’s work in others. Ivan is thinking about forming teams of medical students supported by doctors and nurses who can visit the Chagas areas and provide diagnostic services and health care. He also sees a role for the students to visit North Potosi to support and encourage the youth and young adults who make up such a large proportion of the churches there.

This morning we had a meeting with Richard Arroyo Mendizabal, the new director of OBADES. OBADES is the social arm of the Bolivian Baptist Union. It has a strong relationship to Sharing Way and provides annual financial and operational reports to Sharing Way. It began in 2002 with the vision of promoting an integral and sustainable society, centered on Christ. It works to achieve transformation in families, children and communities, promote gender equality, develop sustainable urban and rural communities without discrimination, and support both physical and spiritual needs.

It has 7 projects underway at the moment:

Padefar supports rural families by providing training in agricultural production techniques. It provides micro-credit loans to families to buy chickens, pigs and other livestock. When OBADES workers speak to families about the transforming love of God, the transformation brought to lives by these physical supports give their message integrity. Padefar is funded by Sharing Way and CIDA. It works mainly in Cochabamba, Oruro, La Paz and North Potosi.

We became much more familiar with the Chagas Program during our week in Mizque. Plastering the interior walls of adobe buildings is a simple way to protect families from the debilitating effects of Chagas disease. There is a very large need for this work in the Chagas prone areas of Bolivia and very few organizations are doing this kind of work. The program operates in Mizque and the nearby areas of Tucma and Buena Vista, and in Premier de Mayo, near Cochabamba. In addition to plastering, the program educates people in caring for their health and homes.

The Micro-Credit Program provides small loans to individuals that allow them to develop small business opportunities. The loans are provided an interest rate of 1% compared to 3 or 4% from those few commercial lenders who will advance small loans. It will also provides loans to people who would not be accepted by commercial lenders. The program has a capital of about 1 million Bolivianos (~$150,000) financed by Sharing Way. It provides 50 to 60 loans per year. 99% of the loans are repaid on schedule and the other 1% are repaying but are delayed. The program aims to develop financially self sustaining families.

Casa de la Amistad provides day care and education for prison children. In Bolivia children live in the prison with their parent(s) unless the parents can arrange for some other family member or friend to care for them. Obviously this is not the best environment to raise a child. The prison in Cochabamba is about 1 block from the Casa and the children are picked up each day. Younger children are cared for at the Casa and older children are bused to school. The program accepts children 5 to 17 or 18, but can handle children as young as 3. OBADES would like to expand the program to include assist to the parents as they reintegrate into society. The Sharing Way pays for salaries and some expenses while the Bolivian government, pays for the children’s food. The Roman Catholic church has some similar programs, but this is the largest of its kind in Bolivia. The program is a great success. Some of the children have graduated from high school and are now attending university. We witnessed the program first hand on our last trip and were impressed and perhaps a bit surprised at how happy and well adjusted the children at the Casa were. Laurier Heights Baptist Church in Edmonton has a strong commitment to the Casa through the STEP program and sends a group of volunteers every year.

Canadian James Seaborn started Jireh to provide opportunities for children who work on the streets. The program is now run by OBADES. It is common to see children shining shoes or selling things on the streets of Bolivian cities. Jireh provides food 2 times per week, as well as education and tuition support. OBADES has a grant to fund a tailoring workshop that will train the kids in a trade and provide some income for the program. Unfortunately, the grant is running out and OBADES lacks the resources to continue Jireh. It will end this year unless other resources are found.

The Centre for Integral Development is a program run by Compassion that provides training to churches. OBADES provides administrative support. Seventeen Bolivian Baptist churches are in the program.

The Quechua Literacy Program teaches literacy skills to the Quechua people in their own language. It also provides some training in agriculture and health. Quechua is an indigenous language that is one of Bolivia’s four official languages. The others are Spanish, Aymara, and Guarani. The program is funded by Partners International Canada.

OBADES is also planning to develop a child sponsorship program. Like similar programs run by other agencies, the sponsorship money will benefit the entire village rather than just one child. The sponsorship will support the education and spiritual formation of children and will work to improve relationships between children and their fathers. The goal of the program is to assist children to grow in wisdom inspired by God as modeled in Luke 2:52. Similar programs exist but there is almost unlimited need here. OBADES will provide the local administration and knowledge, while CBM will provide administration of the Canadian donations. The program is still under development and when it is complete OBADES will work with CBM to gain approval and work out the Canadian administrative requirements.

Richard’s presentation was thorough and very informative. We all came away with a much better understanding of OBADES contributions to integral (physical and spiritual) mission in Bolivia.

Ivan’s parents invited us over for a final lunch. They have been very gracious to us during our stay here, despite his mother’s health problems. We are very grateful for the way in which they have opened their home to us.

Later in the afternoon we went to Premier de Mayo to visit Francesca’s house, which the first step team from First Baptist renovated and plastered. Premier de Mayo is a small community of immigrants that have come from other areas of Bolivia. It is a poor community but we saw more businesses in town and there are signs that life is improving for the residents. Francesca was away for the afternoon visiting the hospital but two of her granddaughters were there. They have grown a lot since we last saw them, but they remembered Sam and Melba, who were part of the first team. Francesca’s house looks great, with a coat of stucco on the outside giving it a finished appearance. If you want to find Francesca’s house on Google Earth, use these coordinates: 17.46905S, 66.20702W.

On the way back into town, Ivan described some of the work that Habitat for Humanity is doing in Premier de Mayo. Most people don’t have title to their land, but there is a process by which they can get title. Habitat is planning a program to help people work through the process of registering title with the government. This is especially important for women. Women head bout 46% of Bolivian households because the men are away working, or have problems with alcohol, etc. Having title to their own property gives them security.

Back in town we finished packing and checked our bags at the airport, then went for a light supper with Ivan, Alex and Yayo, who is back in town. Now we are regrouping before our departure at 9:45. Over the last two weeks we have had a wonderful, enriching experience that has deepened our knowledge of the issues, both material and spiritual, faced by our Bolivian brothers and sisters. We feel a bit sad to be leaving, but are looking forward to getting home and seeing all of you again.

Thank you for being part of this adventure through your prayers and encouragement.

Hasta mañana.

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