Friday, August 24, 2012
The Holy Spirit definitely drew my attention towards these things. Something felt dark about Copacabana. Similar to the way the brothel in San Jose felt dark. I felt called to explore this further, so Aryk, Lennart, Chris and I went around town investigating. Chris and Aryk prayed protection over Lennart and I from a distance as we asked the various merchants what was the purpose behind these peculiar relics.
Interestingly enough, we discovered, our group arrived here just in time for an Incan holiday. The name escapes me right now, but it's a pilgrimage to this certain hillside overlooking the Lake where one makes a sacrifice to the mother-earth goddess Pachamama (who lived in this region, apparently) for good fortune or to curse those who've wronged them. This information was gathered after half a day of observation and inquiring of the locals; we had no idea when we had first arrived.
The sacrifice was purchased in a strange, up-hill sequence. First, the pilgrim would buy a special paper, flowers and candy for their altar. Then, a llama fetus (Pachamama's favorite animal, according to some local woman) and some other animal part was purchased. A statue of a catholic saint, or the Virgin Mary would stand in the center with the llama. As they ascended the hill, they would purchase toy replicas of houses, people, animals or cars, depending on what they wanted from Pachamama. At the top of the hill, they required the blessing of both an Incan Shaman and a Catholic Priest, before dowsing the altar wine and setting it ablaze. Marijuana may or may not be a requirement, but it was definitely pungent in the air. It was a very detailed and precise ritual, which had to be done correctly, otherwise Pachamama wouldn't help them.
Something we unanimously felt in our spirits was this sense of oppression. These people had to come to this specific town, on a specific hill to make a very specific sacrifice to a specific goddess who wouldn't surely deliver them what they were looking for. It seemed like such bondage. Jesus was with us everywhere. We could come to Jesus in any situation or condition. We didn't need to bring anything special. These people were slaves to a ritual and tradition.
We decided to go to the top of the hill and pray for the city's spiritual freedom. As we ascended, the road became narrower and packed with people. The air became thick with marijuana and the smoke of the offerings. We could hear singing in Quechua, and saw families huddled around their altars. I started to get a panic attack, for a few minutes, but my friends prayed it away. When we reached the top, we sat and overlooked the glittering lake and prayed for the freedom of Jesus.
All of the sudden, an angel bearing good news rounded the corner. A local man named Geronimo appeared to us on the street, greeted us in English and invited us to his restaurant for breakfast. Apparently, he was the only business owner who opened early. He enticed us with pancakes and hot chocolate, and won us over with his alleged heating system. So we all followed him around the corner to his restaurant La Vicuña where we had an awesome, warm breakfast. The restaurant was actually a part of Geronimo's house, so it had this really cozy atmosphere
I was still feeling sick. The cold weather discouraged me to drink, so I hadn't been. I was dehydrated. Walking around was so surreal; I felt like nothing was real and like I didn't have a body. So weird. I went back to the hostel to sleep it off, but not before my German friend Robin prayed over me.
I woke up later that day to find God's plan for us hear had already began to unfold. I went back to Geronimo's restaurant where everyone was still hanging out and learned that Geronimo was a Christian. After I left La Vicuña, he asked my friends what a motley crew of Europeans, North Americans, a Latino and an Aussie were doing together in Uyuni. They told him how we were on mission and specifically wanted to love on the backpackers, and he delightfully shared that he had the same desire. For many years, he felt a strong calling on his life to love the travelers who came through his town. He offered up his restaurant for whatever we needed, so it became our "headquarters" for the week.
I don't remember who came up with it, but the next day we decided to host these hang outs for the wandering travelers to escape the cold and enjoy a thrifty hot drink and snack. Geronimo provided tea, coffee, bread and fruit for us to give out for free to anyone who wanted it. We did some awkward and bashful promoting first, passing out flyers for the restaurant, and waited for people to show up. Pretty soon, we had people from all over the world coming in and out of La Vicuña at the curious prospect of hospitality. Some of us served drinks, some of us just hung with the backpackers. They all would ask us why this was going on, and we told them it was because Jesus loved them and wanted them to be warm and fed and safe. That was good enough for them!
We had so many good conversations, heard so many exciting stories and made a few friends, too. Chris and I met this Irish couple who had been traveling around the world for the last year. The four of us spent like 3 hours hanging out, and eventually went out to dinner with them. Chris and I tried to pay for their dinner, but they wouldn't let us. Instead, we just prayed for their journey and said good bye.
Another ministry option we had planned before we met Geronimo was to minister to backpackers on the Salar tours. This is why people come to this random little town; there is a gigantic salt flat outside the town that stretches as far as the eye can see. It's so alien and bizarre compared to anything I've seen, so I'm not surprised by its popularity. Tourists go in jeeps and drive through the expansive salt flat, making stops at an old train yard, an island covered in cactus, a hostel made purely out of salt, an ancient Incan cemetery, animal-looking rock formations, a frozen lagoon and herds of llamas. It's pretty incredible.
Dave and Scott went in one jeep, while Robin, Chris and I went in another. Dave and Scott had some troubles with their driver, who was drinking rum and coke while driving. Thankfully nothing bad happened; they actually got to minister to a French-Canadian couple through the situation. We, however, enjoyed a smooth ride with the company of an elderly french couple and a prospective medical school student from the states. It was wonderful to meet them, and to swap stories of our travels. The French couple was just on vacation; the American girl had been studying Spanish in Argentina, and was finishing her time abroad with a bang by sightseeing up the west coast of South America. Her next stop after this was Machu Picchu.
I had the honor of sharing my story with her, and hers with me. It was sweet. I don't ever realize how much I love Jesus until I verbalize the journey He's taken me on. When I told her my testimony in the jeep, I was getting so excited to walk with the Lord. Hopefully my story could encourage her.
When we came back from the two-day tour, we had a goodbye dinner with Geronimo and his family. He also invited the pastor of his church, as well as a Brazilian tour guide to join us. The three men all shared the same vision; to make the Salt Flat the "salt of the Earth." Our presence in Uyuni inspired them to be intentional with the visitors to their town. For Geronimo, he decided to continue to welcome the tourists the way he'd done this week with his business. The pastor wanted to encourage his congregation to do the same. The Brazilian wanted to be a light in the tourism field, after hearing about our drunk driver story.
Monday, August 29, 2011
It was another 18 hour bus ride from Cuzco to La Paz, and I unfortunately didn’t sleep at all. The ride was freezing and bumpy. The Americans had an annoying, but finally successful time trying to obtain visas. We had ascended significantly higher, too, so it was so much colder here than Cuzco, and no one was feeling any better from the altitude change. As soon as we arrived, our host, Pastor Tito, put us to work. This week we helped him with his children ministry and homeless ministry.
He would take us to various neighborhoods on the edge of La Paz to play with the kids. Playing soccer at 4000 meters is no easy task, let me tell you, especially if you’re not athletic. We put a couple shows on for them, acting out Bible stories to illustrate Jesus’ love for them.
At night, Pastor Tito would take us out to feed and clothe the homeless. The homeless here would pitch make-shift tents out of tarp and all huddle together in huge groups to keep warm. Tito would invite them to come out of their tents to receive a hot drink and some bread. We got to pray for them and hug them and tell them that they were loved. They told us how unusual it was for them to receive such simple care, as most people either ignore or abuse them because they are poor.
On the first night of homeless ministry, God really revealed to me His heart for people. I was feeling really sick from all of our traveling. My body was so fatigued from the altitude, and I was still extremely nauseas. It was freezing outside, and even windy. I did not want to be out there feeding the homeless. I was sick. I was tired. I had to go to the bathroom every five minutes. I just wanted to go to bed! Try as I might, I could not seem to really focus on what we were doing. I wasn’t really present, and therefore not fazed by what I saw. I was pouring the drinks, I was laying hands to pray, I was embracing my fellow man in my arms. Unfortunately, I think my willingness was subconsciously a device to distract myself and make the time go faster.
When we finally did get ready to go back to the house, we stumbled across a man standing up against a wall and sleeping. To my slight disappointment, we stopped and offered him food and drink. Two of my friends gave him some of their clothes to keep him warm, as he didn’t have any layers on besides his shirt. We didn’t quite catch his name; he was drunk and babbling all kinds of nonsense as he accepted our gifts. The other four Spanish speakers and I were the only ones who understood him, and it wasn’t worth translating for the other five who didn’t. He kept going on and on, and it seemed we would be standing out in the cold forever.
We stood there listening to him for so long. I kept looking at my watch, and hopped up and down a few times to keep warm. Out of nowhere, my friend Scott turned to me and told me to pray, so I did. Before I could even convey anything to the Lord, He told me something that silenced my private complaints.
God told me this:
Charlie, I see you. I know you’re sick. I know you’re tired. I know that because of this you don’t want to hear what his man has to say. Luckily, you’ll be going back to your bed very soon to rest and you won’t have to listen to him anymore. But I want you to know that I will still be here, listening to him. To every drunken word that comes out of his mouth, every beat of his heart, and every thought in his mind. I will be here listening to him until his last breath, because he is precious to me. He's precious to me just like you are precious to me.
And so there I saw the heart of God standing before me, leaning against a wall in the Bolivian winter. This is what God values. This is what He cherishes. People.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
How refreshing to step off the plane into such chilly weather! I was reminded of our winter back home in the Bay Area; thick clouds over heard, a little breezy and around 60 degrees. We got to Lima expecting to leave the next day for Cuzco, but we found out our bus got canceled. So we ended up staying an extra day.
This unexpected change of plans gave us some time to walk the streets and pray for God’s leading again. This time around, my friends and I were able to feed and pray for the homeless. Our “layover” also gave us time to hang out with a British girl named Beth, who was heading to up to Ecuador, a Dutch girl named Maaike who had just arrived to Peru to travel for the summer. It was cool, because they both were alone in Lima, so we were able to show love to them by inviting them to be apart of what we were doing.
So we took the 22 hour bus ride from Lima to Cuzco. It was an overnight bus, and when we woke up the next day, we were all feeling horribly sick from the altitude change. We had ascended almost 4000 meters in less than a day. When we got to Cuzco, we found out that our contacts there weren’t prepared for us, so we prayed and decided to go to Bolivia first, and come back to Cuzco later.
While our leaders were buying our bus tickets, they called us from the station to inform us that all the Americans had to purchase a $140 visa to enter the country, which was an unexpected expense of $420 our team had to raise in 15 minutes. None of the Americans had the money themselves, but we felt like God wanted us to go anyway so we prayed about giving to one another.
Everyone who felt lead to give submitted an anonymous amount of money, and it turned out to be exactly the amount we needed.
Our group had finally split up. Half of us drove north to Honduras, and I went with my team south to Panama. This was our last stop in a hot climate until we returned to Costa Rica. We took an 18 hour bus ride to the capital, where we stayed with the YWAM base. This week was a laborious one where we worked to help support a school that YWAM started. It was a bilingual elementary school that sought to love the kids of a poor neighborhood. We spent two or three days cleaning up the school yard while the kids were in class. We moved out a massive pile of scrap metal and broken wood from the yard and took it to the dump (a pile of garbage on the side of the road). Some of us pulled weeds, and some worked on making an overhang to protect a walkway against the heavy rainfall of panama. We also moved this mound of dirt to the other side of the yard to fill some spots that had flooded.
When we were finished with that, we did some yard work for the base for a day, due to their shortness of staff.
One day we went to a neighborhood basketball-slash-soccer court and fixed it up. We repaired the fence around it, repainted the backboards and cleared out the weeds. No one from the neighborhood was there, though, so we didn’t get a chance to use the court.
The last night before we left, we went downtown to try and evangelize. There was no plan, we were just supposed to ask God what to do. I tried buying food for a homeless man, but when I returned with the food he had disappeared. Some friends and I even went looking for him, but couldn’t. We ended our time worshipping together at this sea-front park before leaving for Lima the next day.
My favorite part of the whole week was during lunchtime at the school one day when we were working. We put down our shovels and played tag with the kids for a half an hour. It was so awesome to take a break from physical labor just to relate and socialize with the people we were serving. Most of our time this week was just spent working, so it was really refreshing to finally interact with someone. And who better to hang out with that these energetic, smiling children?
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Before splitting up into our Central and South American Outreach teams, the whole group headed to the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica to a happening little town called Puerto Viejo, to do ministry for two weeks. This time together was so rich; it was one of my favorite trips during my time in Latin America. We stayed at a Baptist church and worked alongside one of the elders, a local restaurant owner named Orlando, and his Greek wife Ismini.
We spent the first week with little direction, trying to figure out what to do, since Orlando didn’t have very much planned out for us. Throughout the week, we went on several prayer walks, asking God to reveal to us what we should do. It was frustrating because He didn’t seem to have anything to say. A side from some sanding and painting at the church, we did some trash clean up on the streets of the little town, and tried to bless the people by offering free iced tea while we washed their bikes. We also spent a day helping Orlando clean out his restaurant so he could re-open it. Some of us went with Ismini overnight to hang out with a group of kids from the next town.
As time went on, though, the Lord crossed our paths more and more with different people who were able to serve. A few of us got connected with a Skate Ministry, and spent a lot of time connecting with the kids there. We had a huge dinner for the homeless one night, which was delicious.
One night after dinner, we went out for ice cream at this cafe and made friend with the Dutch shop-owner. God put it on someone’s heart to ask him how we could bless him. We came back the next day, explained who we were and asked him if there was anything he needed. After looking at us, dumbfounded and speechless, he told us he was a “very-well-thought-out atheist.” We told him that wasn’t a problem, so he began preparing a list for us.
A couple days later we returned to his shop to get to work. Kees had much he wanted to get done; he had bought the shop a few months ago, and the previous owner left a bit of mess for him to clean up. The shop had no sign anymore, and the fold-out sign he had was too heavy to bring in and out every day. The outside seating area was eroding into the sea. All of his tables and chairs were wobbly and all of the paint was chipping off. His bathroom needed cleaning. This bench at his bar was dangerously close to collapsing. Kees had quite a bit on his plate, so all eighteen of us got to work. Some guys built a dam with logs at the edge of the seating area to keep it from eroding. Many worked on repairing, sanding and painting the tables and chairs. Some of our girls spent a few days designing and painting a logo for what is now known as “Dam Good Coffee Co.” (dam, as in Amsterdam, where Kees is from.)
Kees was so grateful for the help that he cooked us a free lunch in return for our services. He thanked us ceaselessly, and always greeted us so warmly whenever he ran into us around town. He became a really good friend of ours throughout our stay. Whenever we had any downtime, we would hang out with him at his shop and got to know him really well. It was actually really hard to finally leave after two weeks; Kees came running out to meet us at the bus stop to give us all hugs good bye.
I was amazed at the timing of this interaction. Kees had shared with us that he was very busy, and had neither the time nor the money to accomplish anything on his list. Business was slow this time of year, so he didn’t have the funds for anything extra besides the rent. He only had one employee, and he worked the shop from morning until night seven days a week. On top of all this, Kees’ Australian girlfriend, who he “loved to bits”, was moving out of Costa Rica to study, most likely never to return. He was undeniably in a hard spot. God knew this, and because He loves Kees, He sent us to help him get some things done and out of the way so he could rest a little easier. We didn’t know all this when we asked him, but we knew God wanted to bless him. It was such a pleasure to see it unfold.
So, if you’re ever in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, I would highly recommend visiting Dam Good Coffee Co. which is right along the beach as you enter town. You’ll be met by a very friendly Dutch man who sells amazing fair trade coffee and organic ice cream.
This was a five-day excursion in Talamanca before the beginning of outreach. I’m not supposed to talk about any specifics because it’s a tradition for all DTS students at the San Jose base, and the secrecy is a part of the experience. So in case anyone who is reading this is planning on, or even has the possibility of doing a Niko Camp, I am going to write very briefly and discretely about my experience.
Niko was insanely difficult. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually difficult. It’s like a boot camp of sorts, characterized by a million rules, consequences, surprises and pushups. There were many challenges presented to us, and I didn’t know how to do anything. Nothing at all. All I could do is walk. So I did. A lot. Up mountains. Through the jungle. Across rivers.
It was very hot and humid, even at night. I was wet the entire time, either by sweat or by river water. We smelled horrible, because we didn’t shower and we weren’t allowed to bring deodorant. We didn’t eat or sleep very much. Our bodies were so sore from all the activities, and we literally passed out every night when it was finally time to sleep.
I saw a lot of beautiful things in the jungle, and learned a lot of really hard lessons. Specifically, I learned that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that I am in fact capable of anything with God’s help.
I know this is so vague. Please ask me more about it in person.