All blog posts before 10th April 2013….. (Transferring from old blogsite)

Bolivia!

Making every day count – 10th April

It’s been a continual shock to realise again and again how fast time is passing and how little time I have left here in Bolivia. This makes me all the more keen to make every day count – to make the most of every shift and to not simply let time pass me by.

Having been praying about projects that we in the home can do together, to unite the girls and animate them all towards a cause that excites each of them individually, which they can work together on and grow through, I had a fun conversation earlier today with one of them. One of the girls this morning asked me where the dog sleeps, and so I told her that she sleeps wherever she likes on the floor or the grass outdoors. So, she raised the suggestion that maybe one day we can make the dog a little house. Since I love creativity and have a passion for making things (and studied product design so things like power tools excite me a lot), this passing comment/suggestion ran far ahead of itself in my head. Having calmed down and thought seriously about it, I remembered that two of the other girls have expressed an interest in architecture and house design and construction, and others love larger-scale painting – and it occurred to me that this would be an ideal project to unite and animate the girls to work together on something fun and productive.

Will you pray that if this idea is going to happen, that God provides for it and makes it possible with time, resources/finance, wisdom and everything else we’d need? And that if God has other plans, that He’d make it clear what He DOES want us to work on, if anything? :)

Another exciting thing is that I’m soon going to be making a website for my church. Having previously been wonderfully given full access to editing and adding to my blogsite I’ve learnt how to do such strange technical things, and I’m very excited. My church is awesome and I’m so blessed to be a part of it and to be getting more involved in different ways – and it’d be so great to be able to bless them in this way: having the notices, news/upcoming stuff, photos, sermon recordings, music and whatever else all available and accessible from the same place. It’d make life simpler and easier for so many people I think, and it’d just be a lovely thing to do. However, to do what I’d like to do with this idea it’d require about £80 to get it fully set up, with a very much trustworthy organisation who I’ve also been using for my own site.

Will you pray that if this is God’s plan that He’d provide the money? Or if this isn’t His plan, that He’d make it clear?

Also, if you have any ideas as to projects that would be fun to do with the girls at the home, let me know!!! Teehee =] And as always, thanks for the prayers and support!

 

Bolivia!

Night of Culture at El Alfarero – 3rd April

Last night at the girls’ home we did a Night of Culture based on East Africa – focusing on Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. I hadn’t anticipated quite how long it would take to prepare (mainly the food), but it was worth it! Buying the food from the Hipermaxi only cost 68 Bolivianos (£6.80), to feed 9 for a whole 3-course meal, which amazed me!! All day yesterday until leaving for work at 3.30pm I was preparing the food, and it wasn’t going so well. For the Uganda part of the evening I was trying to make “Posho and Beans” (food we had every day in Uganda – maize mash cooked in a banana leaf, and beans that taste sort of like salty refried beans but aren’t mushy…); for Rwanda matoke mash with peanut sauce and chips; for Burundi pineapple, peas and roasted plantane. All day I tried to find a banana leaf near Casa Alfa (where I live) but failed, so I was stressing about having to wait until I got to work to cook the posho and matoke mash – I live in the city where banana trees aren’t so common, and I work an hour away in the countryside where they’re everywhere. It hadn’t occurred to me that one would have to soak the beans overnight before trying to boil them, so of course that went totally wrong. Trying to make the matoke mush from plantane instead of from matoke was interesting and I didn’t really know where to start as the green plantane stayed extremely hard while I was trying to mash it. The peanuts also remained hard while I tried to boil them to turn them into a sauce, which got me even more stressed. I didn’t have time to make chips and so thought we’d have to leave those out. I realised too late that a large portion of the pineapple was bad, so we only had a little. And when I tried to turn on the oven to roast the plantane, and the hob to boil the peas, I found out that we were suddenly out of gas so nothing would light any more. Aaaargh, stress! I felt so weak and tired and bitter by the time I left for work, and I really hoped it didn’t show.

I’d planned to arrive at work early so I could walk down the road and pick banana leaves in which to cook the posho and the matoke mash, but I left late and so arrived at 4.25 with a 15 minute walk ahead of me – and if I was to go collect banana leaves from further down the road I’d be even later to work. My shift was due to start at 4.30. However, as I got out of the trufi (a bus in the shape and size of a taxi) at 4.25 I discovered that a moto (motorbike taxi) was there waiting – so for only 2 Bolivianos (20p) extra I got to work at exactly 4.30. Still worried about time in getting banana leaves, I set off to try to find some. The ladies working in the little shop opposite El Alfarero shouted greetings at me as always, and I usually go in to chat with them if I’m early for work or leaving work on my own – they’re so sweet. As I greeted them in a rushed shout of “hello, I hope you’re all well”, I noticed that their next-door neighbours have banana trees leaning over their fence. So I asked if I could maybe take two leaves, and they were surprised/confused but said of course I could. I told them what it was for and they seemed thoroughly amused… So I got to work only like two minutes late, which is absolutely nothing as usually the Bolivian staff are about half an hour late and it’s considered on time J And I’d arrived before the other two girls who I was due to work with!

On arriving I yet again surrendered to God the stress I was feeling, and gave the evening and my mindsets and everything into His hands. Then for the first time in the whole day I felt His peace with me. One of the girls approached me and offered to carry my bags up the hill and inside for me, which seriously surprised me – so sweet! I was very thankful because I was feeling tired and weak and the bags were heavy. I told the girl on the cooking rota that she didn’t need to cook that night because I’d do it, and she really lit up when I told her we’d be doing a night of culture based on East Africa. After praying with the other staff as normal I got started with the food, and from then on it went SO WELL! The posho and matoke mash in the banana leaves cooked wonderfully; the peanut sauce turned out really great in the end; the beans still didn’t work out of course but I used the sauce from them as like a gravy instead (tastes the same) and that worked; the plantane roasted beautifully; the peas boiled in no time; and I even had spare time with which to make chips so it was ok that we didn’t have enough pineapple for everyone to have a large portion! I wasn’t sure whether the girls would like the food at all, because usually they don’t like anything they’re not used to – so only very traditional Bolivian meals and very simple fried things are acceptable. But they went crazy about the food and loved it!!!

Other than the food, the evening went incredibly well, which again surprised me. I was nervous beforehand because I was working with two other white girls, neither of whom speak great Spanish yet (though improving awesomely – I love this!), and so I was expecting the girls to play up the whole time and show very little respect all evening. They respect the authority of Bolivians, but usually not missionaries so much. And if someone doesn’t speak fluent Spanish, they reject their authority even more. And if someone’s only a few years older than they are and looks young, of course they don’t show respect or obedience! So I was nervous as to how the evening would go. But they got excited when I asked them to sit down by the TV so I could show photos and tell stories, and all but two sat down very politely in quiet anticipation and with big grins on their faces. I still felt that sense of God’s peace, and His presence was all around me – it was really awesome. I felt His strength in a way that I’ve not known to the same extent before: previously at times I’ve really known that I’ve been living in His strength, but the strength that I felt last night was so incredibly different to my own, and I’d never before noticed the difference to the same extent. I knew for certain that I was depending on God, which was amazing.

As I showed the photos and told the girls different things I noticed about each culture, and stories from my experiences in each country, they paid attention and listened so well, which again surprised me a lot – no messing about or anything the whole time! They all showed a real interest, and each of them asked great questions throughout. They were so respectful, and when serving the 3 courses of food at different points in the evening they got excited but didn’t even argue about portions or take food without asking from the other countries. Awesome! At one point during the evening I was telling the girls about Maggie, my inspirational Ugandan friend who is raising 8 ex-street girls in her house (without much money or space at all), and one of the El Alfarero girls said, “I want to write to her!!” – which got me excited because the finishing activity was to write letters to some of the people who I talked about, if any of the girls wanted to. The fact that she came up with it as her own idea really blessed me – and encouraged the other girls to get involved too, which of course works far better than if I suggest it as a pre-organised activity. So two of the other girls became very interested in writing letters too, to other people who I talked about and showed pictures of. We finished at 8.15, and I told them they had 15 minutes before bedtime (they go to bed at 8.30). One of the girls started writing a letter, and while two went off to play, one started washing up!!!!!! Two of the El Alfarero girls hadn’t joined in at all throughout the evening but had spent the evening up the climbing-frame, chatting – which was fine because nothing was compulsory, and they took food with them. At 8.25 I asked the 3 girls who were playing to put away their games and get ready for bed, and without hesitation or question they put their games away and left to get ready for bed!!!!! This is the first time I’ve ever told them to put games away to go to bed and been obeyed immediately. Especially the youngest who ALWAYS argues and wants more time to play, and comes up with some excuse – and one of the others who ALWAYS seems to rebel against what I say and simply ignores my instructions, and argues horribly when I address her directly about it. But all went without question and smiling brightly! The one who was writing the letter read it to me with such a sweet smile, and I was so moved by what she’d said – her love and care for my friend really showed through, and she had a real passion to support her through this encouraging letter. She then also went to get ready for bed without hesitation or question. The two who hadn’t participated at all appeared at about 8.28 and as I asked them to go get ready for bed they both also went without question, which again seriously surprised me.

While putting the girls to bed and shutting their rooms, I had such a beautiful time. The youngest was in with one of the new girls, and she said she wanted to stay while I prayed with her, so I let her stay, without really knowing what to expect. The two of them prayed for each other for a fairly long time, and I was so amazingly moved by their words, it was awesome what God was doing and saying through each of them! I was very close to tears by the time I said goodnight. The other new girl was in a bit of a mood and didn’t want to tell me why; she seemed very bitter, both towards the other girls and towards me. Although she’d gone to get ready for bed without question (!), she hadn’t been at the evening of culture and I didn’t know what was going on in her mind or anything all evening. She certainly didn’t seem happy when I went in to pray with her. I asked her if she wanted me to come in to pray, and to my surprise she smiled and said “yes please – shut the door”. We had a really lovely time praying, and she seemed to feel much better by the end. By this time the other four were happily in their room and quiet, not arguing with each other but all smiling and friendly, which yet again gave me a lovely surprise!! Afterwards I had a really lovely spontaneous prayer time with one of the girls I was working with, which was such a great and refreshing 20 minutes – such peace and joy in Him, and such a sense of His presence. So all in all it was a really awesome night. Thanks so much if you prayed for it to go well!!!

This morning despite the rain the girls all seemed really happy and all came to breakfast on time (!) – and those whose turn it was to prepare breakfast hadn’t just got out bread and jam and tea to be lazy and normal but instead had cooked a meal of rice and potatoes and salad, for a special breakfast!! Awesome, a real blessing and surprise. I was translating for the breakfast devotion, which went much better than I’d anticipated – I’m still always a little nervous about officially translating for people even if it’s only for 10/15 minutes! At breakfast though there was an argument between two of the girls about something really trivial, but they both got very into it, with awful expressions on their faces. One of the new girls said to the youngest, “remember to stay calm” (!), and suddenly her face, voice and attitude completely changed and she looked and sounded very peaceful – and her words were much more friendly. The other girl arguing did not change, but it was made much more difficult for her to stay so apparently angry when she wasn’t any longer being countered in an equally angry way. This amused me! After breakfast the girl who’d said “remember to stay calm” talked to the one who had remained angry, and they were talking calmly together for about 15 minutes – which totally changed the atmosphere because the anger and bad attitudes seemed to disappear. She completely refused to do her cleaning jobs when I asked her though, and they had to be done before the teacher arrived, but I knew her attitude would get worse if I stayed there continuing to ask. But then when I returned a few minutes later to ask her again, she said yes and went to do it as if it was the first time I’d asked! All the chores were done long before the teacher arrived, and then I even had time to start making Payuje (an extremely tasty boiled-plantane-and-cinnamon based pudding/snack), and though it was my first time making it alone it went amazingly well! I felt God’s peace and strength the whole time, which was amazing. I was at work for an extra hour and a half because the rain had stopped public transport from running, so those who were doing the next shift had come late, but I loved it and had such a peaceful time.

I’m learning yet again to depend on God’s strength and live in His peace rather than trying to work things out myself – I need to trust that He always provides for His will, and that He can bring peace to any situation. He is bigger than any mindset or attitude, and He is amazing! His strength goes far beyond our own, and His understanding is so much higher than ours. Yay for God, He’s so good!

 

Bolivia!

EASTER! APRIL 2ND

Again, thank you for your prayers!!!!

In El Alfarero (the girls’ home), this past week or so has been so much more peaceful than the rest of the past month. It’s great how God often shows little glimpses of His glory and beauty in the lives and mindsets and attitudes of the girls, showing us tiny pieces of what He’s doing in their lives and bringing us great encouragement from that when we need it most. The new girls seem to now be settling in fairly well, though there’s always ups and downs of course! One in particular, Karina (who I talked to a lot on street work before she moved in, and who’s a 17 year old mother of two but such a vulnerable child herself) amazes me at how she develops and changes in such a short time. At first she was so timid and wouldn’t really speak to anyone, and it seemed like she could just be crushed so easily. Then she became almost the opposite, pretty aggressive all the time. Now she seems very much more chilled and mellow, though still with a spark in her that we see every day. Also in her appearance – when she moved in she looked horrendous, having lived on the streets pretty much all her life and having been so high all the time on glue and potentially other drugs too – she was covered in deep cuts and bruises and with very sunken eyes, and just not looking nice. Now, I notice this more and more every day, she’s such a beautiful young lady, with a gorgeous smile and gloriously clean! And having never been able to read or write she’s now very excited to be learning – awesome! It’s amazing to be a small part of her life and of what God’s doing in her.

It’s painful to sometimes see the opposite happen too. While I’ve been doing street work (pretty much weekly in recent months), every time I go we come across a gorgeous boy called Luis Angel, who claims to be 15 but I’m sure he’s about 12. When I first saw him he didn’t live on the streets but slept at home with his family – he just loved to hang out on the streets with the guys there and sniff glue with them. In comparison to the guys he hung out with he appeared incredibly clean and innocent and pure, with almost dirt-free and un-ripped clothes and with an amazing liveliness. However every time I see him he seems to have more of the streets in him – he now lives on the streets, and it’s been really sad to see him change and become less “with it”, more drugged-up, more dirty and with more cuts and scars and the like. I’ve been praying for him quite a lot, and every time I see him he remembers me despite the drugs 🙂 I have faith that one day he’ll leave the streets….

We had such a great day on the streets today despite this. This morning I found in the bottom of my drawer a pot of nail varnish that I bought in my first month here because I’d been told it was necessary due to all the dirt. I’d not once opened it, and wondered if I’d ever use it. I put it in my pocket and thought, “maybe I’ll find a use for it while doing street work…”. I also brought a little notebook that we were going to give as a birthday present to one of the street girls. While we were out on the streets we ended up spending time with a group of teenagers who we’d spent time with before – but before they were all guys, and today a girl was with them – Marianela. I painted her nails (which got her excited! Such a beautiful smile she has), and she told me that her dream was to be a writer. I ended up giving her the little notebook so she can begin to write a bit, and planning to give the nail varnish instead as a present to the birthday girl if we were to find her, even though I’d now opened it. After going to some other places we returned to that same place in the evening, so I could give Marinela a pen with which to write in her new notebook – and Dona (my lovely Bolivian friend who was leading the street team today) had brought a load more nail varnish in different colours. I felt like a trend setter, ha 😉 Before we knew it, we were surrounded by 10 – 15 girls all wanting their nails painted! It was such fun.

It’s indescribable and impossible to compare to anything else, the feeling you have when doing street work – surrounded by teenagers living on the streets who want to share their lives with you and want to talk, and you have the ability and opportunity to serve them and share with them, and pray with them. So good! It’s not always full of awesomeness, and it’s very dirty, uncomfortable, disease-filled, smelly and grim, BUT God shines through all of that. Every time we go, street guys high on glue or other drugs try things with me that make me uncomfortable, like today two guys sang love songs to me, another guy tried to kiss me and another guy tried to grab me several times extremely inappropriately. Ha, the guys who work on the streets don’t often get the same treatment but last time Ben did street work a girl tried to kiss him and kept telling him that he’s the most beautiful guy in all of Bolivia, and wouldn’t leave him alone…! Perhaps I have some competition 😉 Ha, even in all of this, God’s light shines there so brightly. Awesome!

One thing that surprised me recently was the realisation that “only the Catholics celebrate Easter” – so nobody who isn’t “Catholic” really does anything. And even that label continues to bug me – here those who call themselves “Catholic” are immensely different from our usual definition. Here the “Catholics” are known to worship idols and pray to several different famous virgins from all over Latin America, and a relationship with Jesus is very rarely mentioned. It’s so strange, and it gives Catholicism an awful name. Anyway, those who are “Christians” seem to distance themselves from the “Catholics” in every way they can – so the fact that “Catholics” here eat sweets at Easter means that the “Christians” should ignore Easter completely. We assumed however that the girls in the home knew when Easter was, and what it was… We made a point of doing things with them to celebrate Easter, such as watching the Passion of the Christ and talking about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and then at the weekend I did a treasure hunt with them and made pancakes and went to the river and did other fun things to celebrate, and our devotions were about Jesus’ death and resurrection and what it all means. Even so, yesterday (Easter Sunday), one of the girls said, “But, does that mean today is Easter? Surely not…” – and she was serious, genuinely surprised despite everything! I guess we did the significant things and talked it all through, but didn’t explicitly specify that EASTER IS NOW, so they may have thought we were celebrating sort of randomly. Anyway, we had a really great weekend!!

Tomorrow at El Alfarero I’m doing a Night of Culture based on East Africa (focusing on Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi), because the girls keep asking me questions about my time there and they often seem so keen to learn about other cultures. I’m very excited – though nowhere near prepared yet! Please pray that God leads and that it goes well…? Teehee and the following night, Wednesday, I’m finally able to go to my church Bible Study – I’m so looking forward to it!! I love my church here so much; the people are incredibly friendly, the sermons are awesome (and I’ll soon be able to catch up from a memory stick the talks that I miss due to work! EEEK :D), there’s such a great focus on God, and the music has such deep and powerful lyrics. I really hope to get more involved somehow in serving the church, though I’m not sure how -I’ll be praying about it before committing to anything of course. The pastors are amazing and it’s been so great getting to know some church people outside of Sunday services. Such a blessing and encouragement!

Also although I really love my housemates and those I work with (such amazing people and I totally love spending time with them – inspirational and wonderful people who truly seek God), it’s been very refreshing to spend time with others who aren’t related to the ministry. God’s also now been providing wonderful places where I can go spend time talking with Him away from the house/work – having realised that even in the day-time it’s not safe to sit alone in open spaces. Such a different culture here – I didn’t expect that…! Anyway it’s been so great to go have longer times of quiet time with God away from the house on my free days. I’ve been learning again and again to depend only on His strength and not my own, and realising over and over again the absolute necessity of prioritising God and spending time talking with Him on a daily basis – otherwise work and life here can become overwhelming, frustrating, stressful and just plain difficult. It’s like life in any job I guess – if we don’t give it all to God and keep ourselves in His hands then we become overwhelmed by life. I really love Bolivia, I love being here and I love the ministry we serve here – but it does seem more intense in a way than life in the UK, probably because I’m just not fully used to it quite yet. Even so I’m seriously struggling with the concept of having to leave here in four months’ time!

In my spare time I’ve had a few little projects on the go, all of which are great and wonderful things that are from God and all for Him – but which can become idols if they consume life’s focus. Since my first month here I’ve been trying to memorise some Scripture on a daily basis, and this went so awesomely well at first (which surprised me, knowing my memory), but then it became almost an obsession, to reach set goals with it. Though I enjoyed it and it was helpful in life and in relationship with God, my priority of it because unhelpful as I was choosing to spend time memorising over spending time in prayer or simply reading the Bible for pleasure and letting God freely speak to me. Over this past few days God’s given me peace about scrapping my “agenda” with memorising, and setting my priorities straight again. I’ll still work at memorising Scripture on a regular basis, but not to reach any goal or anything – just to come closer to God and to adore Him. One or two other things have been similar, and this past week God’s been challenging me a lot to simply come back to the heart of worship – leave it all in His hands and place relationship with Him as the number one in my life once again. It’s funny, I didn’t see myself as “turned away from God” or anything like that at all – there was no noticeably big sin in my life that I was choosing above God etc; but still we can fall away from Him by setting other things (even great things, even things like serving Him or working for Him) as the priority in our lives, over our relationship with Him.

I’m coming back to the heart of worship

And it’s all about You

All about You, Jesus!

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it

When it’s all about You

All about You, Jesus!

Amen. 😀

Bolivia, finally!

UPDATE MARCH 23RD

Things at El Alfarero (the girls’ home) seem to have mellowed a fair bit this week, especially regarding their friendships and ways of responding to one another, and it’s been pretty peaceful. However, there seems to have been a prominent lack of energy among the personnel – almost everyone has been ill lately, we all seem tired all the time, issues of people’s personal lives have been affecting the way we work and our excitement about work; it’s just been a different atmosphere, and several of us have noticed it and commented. We’re really crying out to God for a new energy from Him, and a refreshing of His strength as we totally can’t live and work from our own.

Father’s Day on Tuesday was so great – I wondered how the girls would feel about us hermanas being their “dads” at school – but they responded so well and it was a great day. In the morning I went to school with two of the girls, along with hermana Louise – and it was such fun, a really special time full of performances and food and chat. As we arrived, one of the girls approached us and said, “I thought you weren’t going to come”, as if pleased to see us. This really surprised me coming from this particular girl, and it was lovely! We also felt proud of the El Camino boys as we saw two of them doing the technical stuff for the performances and moving things around on stage, and three of them performing (one on guitar, one on drums and one singing/rapping – a great Christian rap/song by Alex Zurdo) – it was such a great performance. I went back to El Alfarero for lunch between my trips to the school, and at lunchtime three of the girls were dancing in the sala (living room area), practising a dance that one of them would be performing in the evening at her school. It was so good, great fun to watch and I was so excited to know that she has the confidence to perform on her own in front of the school. I didn’t go in the evening but I heard it went really well! In the afternoon I went to the school again to be a dad for another of the El Alfarero girls, along with hermana Sarah, and it was again good – beautiful decorations, sweet performances and good food just like the morning – but this time I was a little sad because in the morning the two El Alfarero girls had been hanging out with their friends the whole time, sitting with them and laughing etc, but the one we went with in the afternoon didn’t seem to want to sit with any of her classmates, and though she said hi to a few of the other kids and the teachers too, she stayed with us the whole time. She didn’t look like she really wanted to be there, and she didn’t look like she had many friends there, and that upset me a little. I know she likes to show off to her classmates about all the things that “her house” has etc (it’s totally like a mansion in comparison to the vast majority of Bolivian family houses), and I know that when I ask her about her friends she corrects me and says “classmates”, and that she never says she enjoys school but that she just likes the homework – but I didn’t realise she may not actually have friends. It could just have been a bad day, or that she preferred to sit with us that day, but I’m concerned. Pray for her?

This past week I also had a really wonderful conversation with one of the girls as I put her to bed – it was so encouraging, the best chat I’ve had with her so far. I’ve never seen her say she enjoys life before, or that she wants to thank God for things, but she told me that she’d enjoyed absolutely everything in the day and that she didn’t struggle with anything, and event hat she wants to thank God for the life of her daughter. That surprised me, because usually when she thinks about her daughter she feels upset, because she can’t see her any more. It was a really uplifting conversation, and some other hermanas (personnel) have had similarly uplifting chats with other girls too, surprisingly so. Perhaps when we notice our lack of strength and energy God shows us the beautiful fruit that He’s been storing up in His people, at just the right time that it’s the perfect encouragement.

Also last week I did some street work (again…! I love how much street work I’ve been able to do – but wondering why I’ve been factored into the street work timetable so much and the others so little. Ah well, I’m not complaining!), and – as always – it was different to all previous days on street work. In the morning we ended up taking two street guys (aged 13 and 16) out to a restaurant for empanadas and soda, then taking them to a market which had showers inside (?!), and buying them a new t-shirt each. It was so lovely and their faces were so bright when they came out of the shower – both because of the newfound lack of dirt all over them and because of their huge smiles. One of them, the sixteen year old, is hopefully going to go visit his brother in one of the local homes on Monday, with the hope of moving in too. Awesome!

Another thing we found at about midday was a little “village” area behind a main road and behind/within a load of trees – people who were fed up of living at the edge of streets seemed to have formed a community and made themselves little houses in a small forest-like area. We didn’t go in, out of respect for them (and because they told us there were some drunk old men back there who wouldn’t want us to come in), but some of them came out to speak to us and told us about their lives there. It was so interesting, and I’d love to go in one day to see them and talk with them. They invited us to come back on Thursday morning and do a Bible study with them there…! I’m not sure whether or not I’m working at El Alfarero on Thursday morning, but it’d be awesome if I could go.

In the evening we spent some time in the “casita” of this rather interesting man… Usually under the bridges in the canals there is quite a lot of space, but under this particular bridge there was about two feet (height), if that. There were dirty blankets as doors/walls, and a newspaper “carpet” – and a large candle for a light as it was so dark in there. It smelt TERRIBLE. The man who “owned” the place, Chino, kept telling us how this place was very special to him and so letting us come in to talk with him was a big thing – most people he doesn’t let in. He told us that we’re the first people who’ve come to try to help him – every other Christian is too afraid to come in, and he began ranting about how the Bible tells people to serve the poor and yet people don’t come to serve him though he’s poor. He told us that two babies have been born on the floor of his place (children of different female friends), and that one girl died there – though he said it wasn’t his fault and he didn’t know how it happened. In there with him was a  young pregnant girl, who was crying almost the whole time that we were there, because she was fed up of smelling so bad but that washing didn’t make any difference. Chino said the same – that he washes every day and that it doesn’t seem to make any difference, though I wouldn’t believe his words in a million years, seeing the state of him. The girl said at one point, “I want to keep my baby!” – then Chino said, “No – I’m going to sell it; I can get $20 for the child.” She cried again. He said several other strange things… The doctor who was with us looked at his skin and saw that he had scabies – so the clothes I wore that day went through the wash twice immediately after I got back, and my shoes from that day are still even now soaking in water and disinfectant outside the house….

Another interesting place we went that night was the witch market. While we were there I didn’t know that it was the witch market, but I wondered why the atmosphere felt so creepy even though it looked almost like a normal market. It was so spiritually dark there that I felt physically sick the whole time that we were there – and that wasn’t just because of the strange dead animals and skeletons that were hanging on the stalls. We didn’t stay there too long – we saw nobody living on the streets in the area so we left pretty quickly. As we left I was told what it was, and that you can buy hexes and everything there. Eugh.

When I’m not officially doing street work, I often struggle with not knowing what to do when I see people begging on the streets. Of course I won’t give them money as it’s pretty likely that it would just go towards drugs, and I don’t always have time to sit down with them and talk – but there must be SOMETHING I can do. In the UK we’re so used to often just walking past homeless people and ignoring them, because there are organisations that can help them if they choose, and it’d be relatively easy for them to come off the streets with that kind of help which is usually readily available, but still in the UK I always felt bad walking past a homeless person and ignoring them. Here it’s worse – possibly because small children are begging etc too and sleeping at the sides of streets, and that if we give them money they usually just go back to give to their parents who spend it on drink or drugs. Still, they aren’t always given opportunity to come out of that lifestyle – and sure if they tried hard they could clean themselves up and look for a job and somewhere to live, but so often they just die out there without anyone caring. I like to buy them food and sit and talk with them if possible, but that’s not always possible and also there must be something more I can do.

So the other day when I was returning from a morning of street work, Ben and I passed a man sleeping at the side of the road who looked very close to death. We bought him some food and left them by him, and though his eyes were open he didn’t move at all, ignoring us and the food etc. I don’t even know if he was breathing; we didn’t stick around long. Ben and I prayed for him after we’d left, and one thing Ben said really struck me – he asked God to not let us become blind to poverty, since when we help one of these street people we are serving Christ Himself. Like the parable of the sheep and the goats, and also the Good Samaritan…. We CAN’T just keep walking past such people and ignoring them when we see such an obvious need! People have told me in the past to give up thinking that way because “You can’t save them all”. But does that fact mean we should dismiss them all?! Of course not! They’re human beings, God’s Creations, who He has plans for and who He created for a purpose! He looks on them with love – how can we ignore them like they’re rubbish? They need His help, and we’re here as His hands and feet, so why do we ignore the need we see?! Even though it’s not usually great to give money, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. We can give what we DO have, and what is good for them. We can talk with them, give them opportunity to change their lives or get to know God or something; we can pray; we can give them food… We canNOT just look away. LET’S DO SOMETHING!!!! God has purpose for them. Hebrews 11 talks of great heroes of faith, and having talked about Abraham and how he lived by faith verse 12 says, “And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” – Hebrews 11:12 NIV, emphasis added. God has plans and purposes for everyone – even the homeless people we pass on the streets. Some will never come to know Him or His plans for them, or what He has to offer them. But isn’t our mission to do something about that, so that maybe, just maybe, they will? We can clothe and feed them, talk with them about life, offer them a relationship with Christ, maybe do something about giving them opportunity to change their lives and come off the streets…. “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago” – Ephesians 2:20 NLT. This also applies for every other person we pass – including the homeless. Let’s not see them as a burden to society, as so many people see them (including the police here in Bolivia who go to the extent of sometimes even shooting them), but let’s see them how God sees them – a masterpiece, with purpose.

Anyway….

You know how much I’ve been praying for God to shape and change the mindsets of the girls and guys in the homes here? Recently the El Camino guys (all the guys from the boys’ home) got the opportunity to go to a concert of this Christian rapper that they love – Alex Zurdo – who came to Santa Cruz for the event last night. I was so excited, because the guys need to see strong inspirational men who live a Kingdom lifestyle and who they respect and look up to. The lyrics to his raps and songs can influence lives in big ways, and I’m so pleased that the guys got to go! They were pretty excited too, from what I hear…! Ben went with them even though he wasn’t officially working, and I got this message from him this morning: “It was awesome thanks!! I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. They had FOUR opening acts though, which were good, but dragged on for so long. I was struggling to stay awake in the 4th one and so wasn’t expecting to enjoy Alex Zurdo much. But then I totally woke up when he came on and got really into it! I actually don’t normally like gigs that much, but this was really fun and you could really sense God’s presence. Probs enjoyed it more than Switchfoot! He’s a good preacher too, so looking forward to the conference :)”

…Today Alex Zurdo is preaching at a conference, which the El Camino boys are also going to – and very excited because they might actually get to meet him there too. I’m excited for them, because they’ll see that a Kingdom lifestyle isn’t just just catchy lyrics but so much more… Praying for them – they’re there right now! It was very exciting for me because when I heard about the concert and conference and heard how much of a difference it could make in the mindsets and lifestyles of these guys to give them a treat like this, I also heard that they couldn’t afford to go. Shortly beforehand a donation had come into my bank account of more than enough to cover what they still lacked, and I’d been praying about specifically how to use it as my month’s rent etc had been covered and so I didn’t have an immediate need. God’s timing is so great! And I’m excited to hear how today goes, and if it makes any noticeable difference in the lifestyles of the guys in the coming weeks.

In the homes we have to be extra careful at the moment, because over the past two weeks FOUR of the childrens’ homes in Santa Cruz have been closed down by the government due to perceived abuse – and to the government we’re all the same, so we’re expecting them to be looking for reasons to shut down Operation Restoration too. So the social worker, psychologist and admin staff have been pretty busy lately trying to get all the paperwork up to date and without any mistakes, and we’ve been trying to review over and over again the rules within the homes so as to get everything right and become problem-free. Perhaps this is why everyone seems so tired at the moment! But God’s timing is beautiful – for example I was due to do a day shift yesterday with two other hermanas, but they were BOTH very ill and unable to find people to cover for them. For a night shift this would usually be relatively easy to deal with because the nights are normally pretty relaxed, but I was a little nervous because the day shifts can be intense at times. In God’s perfect timing though, both the social worker and psychologist turned up shortly after the shift began – and both stayed all morning (the morning was the most intense because the teacher didn’t turn up either), and the psychologist stayed the afternoon too. They made my job so much easier in that I could tidy and cook and clean and deal with one or two girls at a time, while they chatted with one or two of the other girls and painted nails etc – as well as doing office work for a while – and they went to collect the girls from school at the right time so that I could stay and finish cooking etc; it was great! What’s more, it seemed a problem-free day regarding the girls and their behaviour, and they even did their cleaning tasks without needing to be asked more than once!!! All day…!!!!! Thank you Lord for Your provision and Your peace, in Your perfect timing :’)

Thanks again everyone for your prayers – and it’s lovely to keep receiving emails and facebook messages from England people and others. Please keep praying for the work of the ministry here: for the guys and girls in El Camino and El Alfarero; for Roger and Isha our leaders who are currently travelling, speaking and fundraising; for the personnel in El Camino and El Alfarero as we learn more and more every day to depend on God and let Him guide us in every situation; for the office staff and the social worker and psychologist as they need God’s peace throughout the workload and everything else; for God to bring transformation here as we live for Him with Kingdom culture lifestyles.

God is good!

Bolivia, finally!

UPDATE MARCH 18TH

Work is so different now since the two new girls came, now that there’s six instead of four in the home! I love it as there’s not really any such thing as a “normal shift” – you never know quite what could happen, and can’t really PLAN anything and expect to stick to it. I just got back from a weekend shift, my first problem-free weekend I think! Well, we say problem free – by that I mean it was fairly peaceful the whole time. We had to give he girls a little serious talking-to on Saturday afternoon, but it was nothing too major and I’m glad we did.

It’s a great blessing that two new girls have come into the home – an opportunity for their lives to be changed; they now have a better future in store and we can see God at work in them – but also it can be difficult for the girls who have lived in the home for a while. At first when the new girls came there were huge fallouts between some of the girls, which actually worried me quite a bit because it seemed to be getting extreme, but by this past weekend it seemed to have mellowed. Thanks God! Sometimes having new people around can be difficult to deal with for those who’ve been here a while, especially when the new girls still have their street habits to get through and keep talking about the streets; it can bring back memories and cravings for the other girls, as well as tempting them towards rebellious behaviour.

We had an instance of that last week, where the new girls suggested something and the other girls became curious and decided to rebel with them – which could have potentially had very serious consequences had they not stopped and talked to the personnel. And nothing too drastic came of the attempted rebellion, because thankfully God stepped in and stopped it. Seems like a true miracle there – God gave dreams and more in order to stop people from carrying out their intentions, and brought the girls to talk with the hermanas – yay! Pray for discernment for us, and God’s guidance so that we’ll know how to deal with situations and what to do or say?

Since then, for some reason the girls’ school decided to show them a video TEACHING THEM HOW TO MAKE COCAINE. I’m praying that God will stop them from ever being curious enough to try making it themselves. I had a dream where one of them was making drugged scones for them all to try, because she was curious – that scared me a bit! I’ve been worrying about them even drinking coca tea, let alone being able to make their own drugs. But I have faith in these girls; God’s doing a great work in their lives, He’s protected them many times in the past and will keep on guiding and guarding them, leading them in His ways. Amen!

People keep telling me I speak good Spanish – I’m glad! I feel like it’s improved a lot, and is continuing to, especially as I’ve found myself thinking in Spanish all the time and talking in Spanish loads when I don’t mean to or expect to. I’m becoming far more comfortable with it now, having led countless breakfast devotions at the home and led activities lots and done the talk-bit at the Smallgroup – and having long chats with the other staff. At times though it becomes difficult, for example on Saturday one of the girls in the home said something too quietly so I asked her to repeat, and she loudly sighed and said in an annoyed voice, “You never understand me, why do I always have to repeat myself to you white people?!” …It was the first time in a while that I’d asked her to repeat anything or failed to understand what she’d been saying, so I was sure it couldn’t have been anything personal, but still I felt a little blurgled. Also another time I asked someone to explain something to me, and she looked annoyed and repeated herself in an obviously-slow way – then seemed to ignore me for the rest of the evening and asking other people for things instead when I was very capable of helping. After that I felt slightly awkward talking to her in Spanish and found it more difficult to find the words – not so great! It seems ok now, both in my own mind and with my friendship with the person, but I struggled with feelings of inadequacy at the time. Anyway, God is good, and I’m still finding myself more and more in love with Bolivia every day. Though I miss people in England (Penguiiiin!!! And others :D) and I miss certain places (Scargill, of course!), I’m still struggling with the concept of having to leave in less than five months’ time. Ah well, I’ll have my memories and experiences and photos, and it won’t be goodbye after all! I’ll return one day. But for now, I won’t think about leaving too much….

Tomorrow (never thought I’d be saying this), I’m going to be a dad for the day! Yes, a DAD…! It’s Father’s Day here tomorrow, and in Bolivia that’s a HUGE thing. So the girls and guys in the home will potentially be sort of upset and frustrated and generally blurgled. Throughout the day the school will be putting on things to show the dads – performances and displays and special things, for the whole day and for all the kids’ dads to see. So Louise and I are going to the girls’ school with them to be their dads for the day 😀 Doubtless we’ll be surrounded by Bolivian men the whole time, but ah well…! The girls might be embarrassed and pretend they don’t know us, but who knows. They might even be proud to show us off 😉 I’ll wait and see!

Please pray:

– Thank God for all He’s been doing in the lives of the girls in the home and the staff too – for His constant protection and presence with us, and for changing us as we grow each day!

– Pray for God to protect and guard each of the girls in the home as they grow through difficult situations and walk in His ways – may they know His presence with them and seek Him in each situation they face.

– For guidance for me and the other hermanas as to how to deal with situations arising from fallouts or rebellion regarding the girls’ friendships and regarding the new girls….

– For God’s peace for each of the personnel!

– For the embassy to work out what they’ve got wrong about my details/passport/documents on their system and not to charge me too much more either in the cost of documents or in daily fines, regarding both my visa and my residents’ card… =/

– For Roger and Isha (ministry leaders), that God would guide and protect them and give them a fun and restful time as they tour the USA and the UK to speak and raise funds for the ministry – they left today, gone now for ten weeks – we’ll miss them so much! Wonderful wise and godly leaders, we love them.

Bolivia, finally!

UPDATE MARCH 12TH

Thanks for your prayers!!

Recently, I may have mentioned, three boys from El Camino (the guys’ home) moved into Torre Fuerte (the reintegration home) to start university. This is always a risky move as it’s an intense transition, bringing the boys much more freedom and letting them know that they’re now accountable to each other and to God as individuals rather than to the ministry staff. Sometimes boys moving into the reintegration home cope well and respect all that they’ve been taught etc and it’s an awesome time – but for some people the change is too intense for them and they go back to old habits or old ways when given such an opportunity. One of the three that moved there recently has unfortunately now left, having slept with his girlfriend and got her pregnant – so has now sacrificed his education and all of that to instead go live with his girlfriend and potentially start a family. Please pray that God guides his decisions from now on, and that he doesn’t forfeit other things that he’s been taught or everything he’s believed in. It was a surprise for the ministry since he was always very respectful and not a problem at all when at El Camino. What, as a ministry, should we have done in order to prevent this? Obviously everyone in the homes have free will and make their own choices – but could we have done something differently to prevent this…? Anyway, please pray for him, and for the other guys in Torre Fuerte – that they know God’s presence with them and that He shapes their mindsets and understandings as they learn and grow in new ways.

Another thing that’s been worrying me is the awareness that within the ministry they aren’t able to pay the staff enough – there just isn’t enough money, and the priority for the money that comes in is of course the kids in the homes rather than the staff. The way they deal with finance within the ministry is incredibly honourable, but at the same time there is nowhere near enough of it to go round. The staff aren’t paid enough to live on, and struggle financially – but they stay because they love the ministry and the kids and want to trust God and serve. It’s painful to see, and to work with people who are struggling so much, not knowing what I can do about it. It’s possible to sponsor a worker through the ministry, but of course everyone chooses sponsoring a child over that – which is of course necessary and great, but we do need workers in order for the ministry to operate, and if we can’t pay them enough then it’s not going to work, and it’s not honourable to them either…. This is something I find very difficult, as it seems there’s really nothing I can do. So, a shameless plug here – please pray about sponsoring a worker!! I’ll update again soon with details as to how one can do this 🙂

Also regarding the staff within the ministry, please will you pray that God will provide more staff for the homes? When we Westerners leave in August I really don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s possible that the boys’ home will have to close unless more workers start. When we do street work we come across guys who seriously want to move into the home, but we can’t legally take them in because we don’t have enough staff to accept any more in the home – it’s so sad, knowing that we have a ministry that can change their lives completely and offer them opportunity of a future but that we can’t offer this to them because we don’t have enough staff. The girls’ home in similar but seemngly to a lesser extent. Please pray that God provides staff? Also if you know anyone who might be interested in taking a year out to work with this ministry, starting this August, please do pursue that – it could be the salvation of the ministry 🙂

HOW YOU CAN HELP….

– SPONSOR a worker!

– GIVE money (in general) to the ministry

– COME (and/or suggest to other people to come…!)

– PRAY for more workers to come and for the financial and other needs to be covered, and for every part of the ministry to stay open

– PRAY for God’s guidance and revelation of if we can do more for the kids regarding discipleship and the like to stop them from being so tempted to rebel as soon as they leave the home…..

Again, thanks for your prayers and support!!

Bolivia, finally!

NEW GIRL MARCH 2ND (KARINA)

So I know I only posted less than two days ago, but this is exciting. Last night was my first shift at Toborochi (the part of the ministry between coming off the streets and living in the home – the short-term reception home thing), and it was great. It was strange having worked with this tiny girl Karina (age 17 but looks about 12) on the streets as a homeless, self-harming, pregnant drug-addict and now seeing her living in a house and about to move into the home. On the streets she had her drugs and her friends and her boyfriends and so she came across confident and even bubbly at times – though appearing to be feeling pretty sad most of the time. In Toborochi she was outside of everything she was used to, and looked so small and weak, very timid – just like a vulnerable young child. She’s now a mother of two – Victoria and Paulo-Cesar – but both live elsewhere, and she hopes to one day be with them both again (the youngest hopefully in four months’ time).

We had fun in Toborochi, making cakes and hot-dogs and lasagne, and watching films and talking etc – but my favourite part was seeing how much she loved to clean. It suddenly dawned on me that living on the streets everything is so dirty and you have no opportunity or reason to clean anything – which must be the reason why she seemed so excited to clean things when we were there in Toborochi. And, of course, excitement is contageous – it made ME feel excited about cleaning too 😀

It was interesting for me to be there with Karina as she experienced different emotions on realising that PEOPLE CARE ABOUT HER, and that she will actually have a new and different life. She looked pretty happy seeing “BIENVENIDA KARINA” in large sparkly letters and colourful balloons, and having a bedroom and bathroom to herself, and being able to cook and clean with us. At times though I noticed an expression that I guess must’ve been moments of missing the streets and her friends there, and craving drugs. I didn’t know what to say to her when I saw that expression on her face, but she seemed to appreciate the hugs… She said that she was concerned about her new baby, and that she’s worried because he can’t drink her milk. I really felt for her, and didn’t know what to say – I don’t know the people looking after the child but from what I’ve heard there aren’t any very NICE baby-homes in the area… But this morning she prayed for her baby and seemed to feel better from that.

This morning was pretty cool – Karina invited Jesus into her life just before breakfast 🙂 Dona did a full-on evangelistic thing for her (which was really good, very interactive and fun, and thought-provoking), and then together the three of us said a prayer, involving turning from sin and choosing Christ, inviting Him to be our Saviour and Lord, and asking Him to teach us how to live His way – then we prayed for Karina’s two children and one or two other things. For most of the evangelistic bit Karina looked sort of uncomfortable, and then by the end she was smiling lots 🙂

At times I didn’t know what to say to Karina – despite all her experiences of street life she seemed like a little delicate flower, which made me nervous for her going into the home with the four pretty vibrant other girls. But on the way between Toborochi and El Alfarero she was talking lots, about her memories and other things – and her excitement showed through, which gave me confidence that she’d be fine and that the transition would go fairly smoothly for her. She already knows three of the girls because she’s been in El Alfarero before, about a year and a half ago – then returned to the streets. But now, praise God, she’s back and ready to change her life!

Please pray for Karina, that God will give her strength to continually fight the urges to return to the street life and the drugs and the boys, and that God shows her more of Himself and teaches her every day so she falls in love with Him and gets to know Him in a more intimate way every day…. Pray for guidance for the staff as to how to deal with situations, and pray for the other girls to respond well to the changes in the home and respond well to Karina. Thank you so much, those of you who will commit to pray for her and for the home!

Bolivia, finally!

UPDATE MARCH 1ST

Hi guys!

Thanks again for your prayers – seriously, I appreciate it so much! This month (as with pretty much every month so far during this gap year), I feel like so much has happened and I’ve learnt a lot! I’m well into week 12 of being here in Santa Cruz, and though there are some difficulties at times, I love it so much. Over the past month I’ve been marvelling at how quickly time is passing – and willing it to stop going so fast, because I only have just over 5 more months here now. Like, I’ve had this dream of going to Bolivia to do this work for five or six years now and now that I’m here it’s passing so rapidly that I wish time would just stop so that I can enjoy being here for a while, and get used to the fact that I’M HERE, IN BOLIVIA, FINALLY – then time can continue…! Tomorrow is March already and though so much has happened this year already it still doesn’t feel like two weeks ago when we were celebrating Christmas. Argh! Over the past month I’ve had SUCH a strong desire to stay here one more year, deferring my College placement to continue work here. I really miss certain people from England, and certain places too – and I’m very excited to see people again and to start College, but I love being here in Bolivia and working for this ministry, and I’d totally love to stay just one more year. I spent a lot of time praying about it because I know that if it’s God’s will He can very easily provide for it to be possible, but for it does feel like it’s His will for me to come back in August and go on to College this September as planned. Sort of gutted – but may His will be done 🙂 I’ll be incredibly sad to leave the people here and the girls in the home and the ministry folk (along with the culture, the scenery, even the insects and the dirt… ha!), but hey – I’ve still got another five months so I’m not going to think about saying goodbye for a while! It’s funny; this was yet another situation through which God was teaching me more about surrender to Him. I found myself praying, “Whatever Your will is God, I just need to know – then I’ll follow it wherever You lead and whatever the cost. Just tell me? …. Wow Lord, teach me to hold that attitude of surrender and obedience in all situations!”

The other day a friend of mine asked me if my outlooks have changed this year. It was interesting to think about and write down, how my outlooks this year have changed – and, unsurprisingly to most people, my response was pretty long. This is just a part of what I said in response:

“WOW, has anything changed in my outlook – absolutely yes. My outlook on Scripture has changed as I’ve been trying to commit to memorising parts on a regular basis, through which I’ve been realising more and more the power in Scripture and its daily application, as well as the necessity of knowing the context to scripture in order to apply it well while still not dismissing or disregarding any parts as unimportant or irrelevant, and it’s also taught me to view scripture with much more excitement about its radical truth and application. My outlook on poverty has changed just as dramatically if not more so as I’ve spent time working in communities so death-filled that at times I found it almost too much to bear even having studied poverty for so long, and then I’ve been working with different kinds of poverty (for example in parts of East Africa where they have NOTHING, other parts where they have a small amount and use it very resourcefully, and other parts that we’d consider extreme poverty but they see as extreme wealth; and also now here in Bolivia where people have the option to change but often choose not to because drugs and prostitution and gangs and street life are the “easier option”, so poverty by choice….) – working in these different areas has opened my eyes to poverty in a big way and changed my view of it and my opinions on what can and should be done about it. My outlook on cross-cultural mission has changed so much both through seeing different kinds of poverty and through experiencing life in longer-term cross-cultural mission where one can be tempted to become comfortable seeing it as a fairly normal job and lifestyle as opposed to something radically exciting and new – even when we see such immense transformation in situations by the power of God. My outlook on Christianity as a whole has changed in that I’ve become (I hope) less judgemental of differences in denomination and I’ve begun to focus on where people’s hearts are rather than theological differences (to a certain extent) – if people truly have a relationship with God, choose to honour Him and accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord, they are God’s children and have eternal life. …. My outlook on time and priorities has changed since being here in Bolivia because in Western culture everything’s so task-focused, but here everything is relationship-focused – for example here you can’t buy something from a shop or market without having a conversation about life first, and everyone talks to each other on the street and in public transport etc – it really enriches life and puts things into perspective! My outlook on physical healing has changed since I’ve been realising how God has a time for everything – a time to heal and a time to teach and show His love in other ways. …. My outlook on Bolivian culture has changed as my understanding has been enriched with seeing more of the beauty of certain aspects of the culture and falling in love with the place so much more than before, and also I’ve seen aspects of the culture that I really can’t understand – which makes me more determined to somehow make some kind of small difference here. My outlook on raising teenagers in a home has changed because previously I saw it as basically a 24/7 intense discipleship opportunity but I’ve been realising that God gave us each free will and the girls often don’t WANT to grow in relationship with God, so I have to start with where they’re at and not with where I’d like them to be – meet them with things THEY can relate to rather than things I want them to do or be. That one’s challenged me a lot! ….”

Thank you God for changing my outlooks and mindsets! May it continue, for Your glory!

I think that now I’ve stopped noticing the big and obvious differences between here and Western life, I’ve started seeing more of the little things. Like how it’s very much normal to say, “I’m off to brush my teeth and wash my feet” – and like how almost 100% of the music here has the very same salsa beat; and like how we can get extremely excited at finding some actual DISINFECTANT in the deposito at El Alfarero (and go crazy with it)! I like noticing such things – it makes life especially interesting. And despite the number of times I must have walked the sand/dirt-path between the main road and the girls’ home, STILL every single time I walk it I find myself marvelling at the beauty of Bolivia and God’s creation, even when I feel like I’m almost dying of heat and being eaten alive by sects. Ha, how God captures our attention when we need it most! Also this means I go into work with the mindset of “wow God, You’re awesome!” before every shift – thank you Lord for showing Your greatness through Creation on that particular road!! He’s so good.

One thing I’ve missed throughout this gap year is the accessibility of guitars – back in England I used to play every day, and it was both a lot of fun and a great help in my relationship with God too. I wasn’t able to bring one with me travelling, though I managed to get a ukulele to Guatemala…. Anyway, since arriving in Bolivia I’d been borrowing Roger’s guitar (Roger who heads up Operation Restoration), which was so great! Now however, I have my own here!!! Ben had hoped to give me a guitar for Christmas, but had wanted me to choose one for myself – so a couple of weeks ago we managed to go to an area with several music shops, helped immensely by our friend Dario who also is very knowledgeable about music shops as well as driving taxis (he’s awesome!), and lovely Jenny who was at the base doing a school of Biblical studies when the team were there and is now doing youthwork with an organisation on the other side of Santa Cruz. We had so much fun – and now I have this beeeeautiful guitar (ha, the inside make-label makes me laugh – “POWER – a word famous musical instruments”), who is so lovely to play and who I’ve been playing in almost all my spare time in Casa Alfa. It seems that thus far the team haven’t been too fed up with it either – on the contrary, people have requested that we continue having times of musical worship more regularly in Casa Alfa for all to join in – awesome!

In the time off work I’ve been trying to commit to not simply sitting around in Casa Alfa doing very little – as one may be tempted to do when work gets intense – but to go out and do things and explore the city and appreciate Bolivia etc, which is so much more like me than sitting around at home anyway, as anyone reading this will probably know…! Up until now I’ve spent more time at the home than out of it, but from this weekend we’re all now only working one in three 48hr weekend shifts rather than every other weekend – which gives me more free time as well as lots of time still to be with the girls in the home. So in my time off I’ve had chance to do things aside from spending all my time planning activities to do with the girls – other things like going to the Garden of Delights (INCREDIBLY beautiful place where there are huge waterfalls which one can swim under as well as stand at the top of, and beautiful forest area and more!); to the Santa Cruz zoo (sad seeing things like jaguars and massive birds trapped in cages so small that they can’t possibly run or fly, but overall a great experience); to a lovely little plaza on the main road between Casa Alfa and El Alfarero (where one can go to pray or read etc, so peaceful and seems pretty safe being on the main road right beside the city), and other nice places. This Sunday a group of us plan to go visit the sand dunes which is apparently stunning and a lot of fun – and at some point I hope to visit the Santa Cruz butterfly house which has swimming pools and other things for horrifically cheap prices too. Who says Santa Cruz has nothing interesting to do?! Also despite the Year4God team not being in the YWAM base any more, I’ve found myself visiting the base several times because of the other lovely people I’ve got to know there. Last time I visited I planned to only pop in for ten minutes to  drop off a couple of things, but ended up staying there for THREE HOURS talking to various people and praying with people – I love Bolivia! I love how friendly people are here. Like this morning I came out of work for a few minutes to buy eggs for lunch at work, and I came across two little mini-shops (windows of people’s houses with small signs above them and soda bottles outside), and ended up having really lovely conversations about life with both shop assistants before the second finally sold me some eggs and gave me a big hug. Isn’t Bolivia beautiful? :’)

I’ve also been realising that the reason why I always believed I couldn’t cook was because I can’t follow a RECIPE. Even when I’m convinced I’ve got everything on the recipe instructions right, I still fail pretty epicly. BUT, I’ve been learning that I have a skill for experimenting with food and it coming out right! Even to the extent of cooking (yes, in an oven) banoffee pie and people loving it. Cooking is so much FUN!! It can get a little repetitive sometimes in the girls home when every meal is fried rice, fried salty meat and oily tomato-onion mix (or occasionally salty soup with a couple of chicken feet floating on the top), but back at Casa Alfa I’ve been able to experiment somewhat more adventurously…. FUN TIMES – and nobody’s died from it yet!!! Also it’s been such fun and very freeing to be able to do arty things again, after 6 months of doing very little painting and the like. God’s been using that too, more than I expected! Thank you, God!!

Having been here almost three months now I feel like I’m getting more and more used to life here and becoming more and more “fluent” in living and working in Santa Cruz. I’m getting to know where in the city to get into strangers’ cars and vans and where not to; which greetings to use to which people at what times of day; where one needs to be extra cautious with one’s possessions – and I’m even (unfortunately?) picking up the Santa Cruz accent and vocab/expressions. I’m becoming more aware of the systems in place at El Alfarero so I can become more responsible and in control rather than always having to ask the Bolivian staff, so now I can take some of the pressure off them (for example I’m getting to know the rotas for cooking and cleaning, and the days for washing clothes and cleaning the rabbits and making the bread – and even getting to know how to make the complicated shopping list each week), and I’m now confident of the route and the costs and times of taking each of the girls to and from school. Still I can’t claim to be anywhere near expert standard at raising teenagers – but I think I can be forgiven of that one so long as I keep learning! Every day is different and there are always new things to learn and new surprises, but I love that. The girls are still often very difficult to deal with and to know how to respond to – but now that the staff are more united (or so I feel), it’s easier to figure out as a team how to respond to situations, and then apply that as individuals in each situation. The girls can be so lovely and such a blessing, and I really love working there!

It’s been so great getting to know the staff on a deeper level too, especially now that I’ve become more confident praying in Spanish. The speaking I could get the hang of – I could speak and respond fairly quickly and fluidly in conversation and explain things in detail (with pretty bad grammar and some hesitancy in vocab a lot of the time), but still until this past week the limit of my Spanish praying was at meal times; I’d still pray in English at meetings so that I’d be more able to focus on God rather than on “saying things correctly”. But now I’ve finally begun to step out and pray in Spanish in the prayer meetings and it’s been so great – I’ve been able to focus on God and let the words come naturally (if a little hesitantly at times), and since then I’ve had much more in-depth conversations with some Bolivian staff members, which have caused really cool profound moments for me too. I’ve also been gradually learning (or trying to learn) the godly balance between honouring the rules and authorities of the ministry, and Bolivian culture and the friendship of both the girls and the staff. This occasionally has proven a little difficult in some situations, but I’m learning to be more flexible than we would in Western culture while still not commending full disobedience and dishonour. It’s a tough balance to grasp here sometimes, but it’s been a learning curve…!

Update on street work – I went out on the streets again last week, and this time a group of Chilean missionaries came to help out. Half of the group focused on medical things while myself and some others focused on the relational side of things again – primarily talking with teenage girls on the streets. This was harder in the evening as the majority of teenage street girls “work” in the evenings – but we valued the time we had with those we did spend time with. While I’ve been doing street work (not only this month but I think every time I’ve been out on the streets), one of the girls that we’ve been spending some of that time getting to know is a beautiful 17 year old who was heavily pregnant with her second child – and she had the baby last week, a gorgeous little boy. After the birth she didn’t want to leave the hospital and return to the streets, and as of yesterday she decided she’d like to come into the home. Unfortunately due to the system this means that the baby has to go to a seperate home for four months – after which he might be able to join her in El Alfarero if she’s remained there for the four months and if she wants to keep him as her own. This girl has been in El Alfarero before, but ran away to go back to the life and perceived freedom of the streets and the drug lifestyle; but by the grace of God she’s now returning. So tomorrow she will start at Toboroci, which is like the intense middle-ground between living on the streets and living in the home – usually 5 days of medical and psychological assessment as well as lots of Bible teaching and other such things. Since we’re expecting another new girl to start at Toboroci on Saturday, and since this girl in particular has been in the home before, she’s only going to be there for two days and is going to move into El Alfarero on Saturday afternoon if all goes according to plan! I’m so excited, because tomorrow will be the first time that Toboroci’s been in operation since I started here, AND I’ve been given the privilege of being on shift there when this girl comes in and starts there. I’m nervous but excited!

One seemingly random thing that occurred to me was that in the body of Christ we’re all facilitators. As children of God we’re facilitators of the Kingdom of God, in whatever shape or form that may take. And as facilitators of the Kingdom of God, a part of that is world mission… A “cross-cultural missionary” is simply a facilitator: in this ministry here we’re facilitating the life, safety, education, health and spiritual growth of teenagers who used to live on the streets; in other types of organisations missionaries facilitate getting the written word of God out to people, facilitate meetings for believers and for not-yet-believers, facilitate the construction and use of buildings for different beneficial purposes, etc. Charities and other mission organisations facilitate the sending of such facilitators. Churches and individuals facilitate the operation of such facilitating charities or organisations. I just thought it was cool that wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, we’re all facilitators of some sort, working towards the same eternal goal…. 🙂

Please pray for:

– Ben and Josef as they head off for five days to visit Julio in his little village far far away (they leave on Saturday 2nd March; in two days’ time)

– Continued unity among the personnel at both homes, and a united vision and focus on God for the ministry and for personal lives too

– Continued strength, guidance and inspiration for every staff member at both homes

– The two upcoming Toboroci programmes to be totally led by God and without problems

– The two girls about to come into El Alfarero, and for the girls already there to receive them well and exceed our expectations

– Roger and Isha as they head off to do some fundraising in the States and the UK in 2 weeks’ time, that it’s a fruitful time both with funds and spiritually as they travel and get to know people and share about their lives and about the ministry

– For God to continue to teach me to dance to the beat of His heart – to know His will and follow it in each situation each day 🙂

Bolivia, finally!

LIVING IN GOD’S PURPOSES FEB 1St

Thanks for your prayers! I know I only posted a few days ago, but still…..

Update from the street work – I found out some bad news last night: Brayan who has TB and was about to go into hospital and then into the boys’ home, after having said many things about wanting to change his life and get to know God and give up drugs and hating the street life etc, is back on the streets, in the same place as he was before. 😥 Please pray for him, for God to be at work in his life even as he’s there; that God clearly calls him to Himself and speaks to him powerfully there, so that He can use this boy as salt and light in the space under the bridge in the canal where they’re living. May God also give him the strength and desire to give up marijuana, glue and everything else he’s on, and sort his life out somewhat even if he does continually choose to live there in the place of temptation. May God use him as a strong holy man and somehow use him to change the world. And may we have the faith to believe in him and pray these things!

Update from work at the girls’ home – wow, over the past few days (or week or so) I’ve begun to really enjoy work. Now that I’m much more confident in the language I can converse with them much more easily and laugh and joke with them all the time, understanding the things they say to me and being able to respond with more than just one-word answers. And now that I understand the ways things are at the home they’re able to ask me things and I’m able to be the leader that I should be, rather than just being the presence of another authority figure. I’ve been able to get to know the girls better, and as a result I feel like I’m finally beginning to live in the purpose for which God’s called me here. I totally didn’t feel that way before – I spent quite a bit of time wondering what I’m doing there, and feeling frustrated at how God didn’t seem to be using me, etc. The girls are still often rude and they do misbehave of course – but I’m learning how to deal with it in discipline and love, in the confidence that God’s been giving day by day. I’ve been able to have FUN with the girls and have more confident in introducing them to fun activities, such as games and crafts that everyone can do together if they like, and I’ve been getting to know who likes to do what and what will get people excited. For a whole week now they’ve not once asked me if they can watch a film, which has absolutely astounded me – instead they’ve asked me if I’ll teach them craft things or find a new game to play with them. And I’ve not played monopoly with them for a whole week, which was their favourite game and they’d ask to play it pretty much every time they weren’t allowed to watch a film. Last week we went crazy with paper mache and balloons, and made globes and things like that – talking with them about how God designed and created the world and gave it to us to look after as a special gift to bless us and give us some responsibility. He created each of us carefully and is pleased with what He’s created.

It’s been fun introducing origami to them – earlier this week I taught them how to make origami boxes and got them writing encouraging messages and Scripture passages to put in each other’s boxes, and they loved making and decorating them. I was amazed at how excited they all were by this and how they all got totally into it – I hadn’t expected that at all. So I introduced them to some other origami things, like water lilies and the like (ha, Scargill memories….), and every shift since that day they’ve come up to me and asked if I’ve brought more origami ideas. So I’ve found myself spending so much of my free time looking up origami ideas and whatnot! One of the others we did was crowns which I taught them yesterday, and we had fun talking about how exciting it is to be a princess, a daughter of the King of kings, and what that really means for us living in this world. It’s amazing, while we’re doing things like origami and crafts like that we can have those kinds of conversations in a non-threatening and not-intense way, so it’s not like a Bible study but a casual conversation, and because they’re having fun and being excited about the craft they get totally into it and love to talk about God things etc! I’ve been amazed by that, and they love it. As do I!

Yesterday morning I spent almost all morning cleaning their “art room” – which before this last week hasn’t been used much at all for like years apparently. It was SUCH A MESS, seriously terrible! But as I was tidying and cleaning it I kept getting more and more excited about the materials they had and the potential that can come from the things in that room. I wrote down two A4 sheets full of ideas as to crafts I’d love to do with them! So today (free day!) I plan to go buy some more materials in order to carry out my ideas. The ideas I had mainly involve the things that they already have, but I’d love to go buy them more things anyway, and better things – it’d be more special and they’d be able to be more varied in their ideas and expression. I’m so excited! It’s funny – I’d been looking forward to the holidays being over so they’ll be busy with schoolwork and not be constantly wanting to watch films or play monopoly (or sit around being bored), but now I really want the holidays to continue for longer! They go back to school on the 6th or 7th. There’ll still be weekends and some evenings I’m sure…. But wow, as I said I feel like I’m finally tapping into the purposes for which God’s called me here.

Update on the insect front – having started wearing shorts (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) the insects have been going wild about my legs, which look absolutely disgusting at the moment as a result of the hundreds of bites there (literally hundreds, it’s awful and I didn’t even think that would be possible), and as a result of my skin’s reactions to those bites…. My arms are improving loads though – and when I wear jeans or long trousers I don’t get bitten so much. Ha, it got to the extent that one afternoon/evening last week at the girls’ home there were so many insects constantly feeding off my legs which wouldn’t stay away when I got them off me, that I spent the afternoon and evening in my pyjama trousers with elastic bands round my ankles…. Looked very odd, and the girls laughed at me – but it was SO much better than wearing shorts that night. Also I’ve never seen ants like those in Santa Cruz, and we had a not-so-nice ant experience last night. These reeeeally big ants with HUGE pincers decided to swarm on us yesterday evening, and I haven’t seen so many of anything in one place since the crowds of people for Republic Day in Istanbul. There were many thousands of them right outside the kitchen door, and they suddenly all decided to come under the door to say hello, all at the same time. When we opened the door to sweep them out we noticed how many there were, and it was terrifying. I was very much afraid, because about five minutes before they all swarmed at us like that there was a lone ranger ant in the kitchen that bit my foot and it was SO PAINFUL – much more so than any of my travelling jabs, and remained painful for over half an hour afterwards (it still stings today). It bled all evening, and I now see that I have two little slits where the pincers were – each about 5 or 6mm long. And these ants WON’T DIE – you stamp on them very hard six times and they’re STILL determined to try to walk and bite you. Ant-killer and insect repellent does absolutely nothing. Anyway so I saw how many more there were and I got very afraid. We managed to sweep them out of the kitchen and under the door but if we stopped sweeping for two seconds, ten more would run in again. Ben had the idea of boiling lots of water and trying to kill them that way – and we thought it was worth a try, so we did. IT WORKED!!!!! Several thousand killer-ants died within three pans of boiling water. Still there were hundred or so that wouldn’t die, but it was much better. We sellotaped the gap under the kitchen door for the night, and today the kitchen is still ant-free, WOOP! But wow, I was so scared! Ben was the knight in shining armour who went out in big protective shoes to save the day with pans of water…. Teehee!

People are so lovely, food is usually good (though I’ve learnt not to ask what part of what animal I’m eating until AFTER I’ve eaten it) and God is great! It’s sometimes difficult with the amount of sleep one can get if one wants to spend time just talking with God each day, because sometimes the only time there’s a room free or the outside is free is at night or early morning, but if I have a DAY-time free I can wander to a lovely little plaza to pray, when it’s light. God’s been teaching me lots, but mainly He’s just been holding me up in His hands and giving me strength and peace, and I’ve been realising more and more how if I were living here in my own strength I’m not sure I’d deal with things the same ways or feel anywhere near this peaceful. Thanks, God! And thanks to all who’ve been praying for me too. Yay!

Bolivia, finally!

FIRST TIME DOING STREET WORK 28TH JAN

So this morning I had opportunity to do street work for the first time, with Roberto (who works at the guys’ home El Camino) and Josef (from the Year4God team), and I realised how right people were when they’d told me that doing street work encourages you in that you see the difference between those on the street and those in the homes – how much the girls and boys have changed and how much God’s done in their lives in their time in the home. I also found it sort of intense and very emotional, and scary in part. Roberto had given us a mini-briefing before we got there, saying things like don’t get too close to the street people because of so many illnesses etc and the dirt all around, and to not let them do the traditional kiss-greeting when they try. And of course not wear any jewellery or bring anything, and wear long trousers etc…. I appreciated his little briefing chat, but still found it a tiny bit overwhelming emotionally when I was out there on the streets.

First we saw this guy presumably in his late teens, maybe early 20s, lying across the pavement with a mangled leg and SO many huge cuts all over his body, face and arms. He was very high and at times started shouting and spitting and trying to hit people with a big stick/pole thing. I didn’t get too close. He smelt awful and was obviously very dirty, and he kept talking about wanting to kill someone – I think to do with the police because two officers with guns came and took away a friend of his for some reason. They kill people who live on the streets =/ Anyway, we talked with him about life and medical stuff and Jesus and other things, and then Roberto talked to him about El Camino. I’m not sure what will come from that, but he seemed to be thinking about it fairly deeply (if one can think deeply when drugged up that much) – he wouldn’t speak but kept nodding, and had tears coming down his face. I left thinking, “Wow, God created this guy, for a purpose, and has plans for him that are more wonderful than anyone can imagine; what’s he doing in this state?!” – I found myself praying for him a fair bit, that God would reveal Himself to him and show that life can be different and can be great.

From there we went down a side road and saw three teenage girls, two of them very heavily pregnant (one 8 months, one 8 and a half months!) – and the other looked pretty dead (but still speaking and sniffing her little pot =/), really awful to look at. I found out that she used to be at El Alfarero where I work, but she ran away for the drugs and “freedom” of street life etc – and I was very close to tears considering whether or not her time in El Alfarero made any positive difference in her life or her mind, and considering where Raquel is right now (the girl who left the home a couple of weeks ago) – such a sweet girl and I can’t bear to think of her looking like the girl I saw today, or back in prostitution and the like. It was nice talking to the girls, but I did feel pretty upset at seeing what their lifestyle was turning them into.

We took a taxi to a different part and climbed down into a dry canal full of rubbish etc, and found a whole load of teenage guys and one teenage girl living under the bridge. The girl wouldn’t talk to us, but the guys were good to talk to. They laughed at me for my odd socks, ha xD One guy said to me, “Why won’t you kiss me?”, looking annoyed, then without waiting for a response he immediately said to Roberto, “Why won’t she kiss me?!” – thankfully he just laughed and said “she doesn’t like it”, and the guys were ok with that, but still it was a bit odd. A few of them were pretty ill, and today when we went we hadn’t brought medical things – sometimes when people go out on the streets they do, but today we were focusing just on the relational side. Anyway so Roberto returned in the afternoon (he’s probably there as I write this) to take one guy with Tuberculosis to a hospital and debate/plead with the doctors about giving him a bed. We told them we hope to return another day with medical things to clean up the others if possible. It was so dirty in their little space, and they’d continually spit on the floor, and one guy threw up a bit against the wall, and I’m sure a fair bit of awful sexual behaviour (potentially gang rape etc, it’s pretty likely) occurs on that floor – but I made myself sit down on it anyway to talk with them rather than distancing myself in remaining on my feet. As soon as I got back to the workers’ accommodation I put all my clothes in the wash and had a long shower – even though I’m going out to the streets again tonight to do the same kind of work. The washing machine seems to be acting up a bit today and hasn’t been so friendly towards my clothes (had to wash them twice) – but it’s SO GOOD to have a washing machine 😀 It only uses cold water, and takes a long time – but in the home the girls wash everything by hand and that’s what I’d expected for here too. Teehee 🙂

One thing that’s really stood out to me about working here and especially about working with the girls in the home is clothing. Girls – why dress provocatively or dress like a prostitute unless you have the same motivation as a prostitute – to attract the sexual attention of guys? And why try to attract the sexual attention of guys unless you want to go sleep with them?! The girls in the home, as with the culture in general for teenage girls here, have the mindset ingrained within them that if they sleep with lots of guys, one might one day stay with them and then they’ll be secure. I noticed when we take the girls out somewhere or just when they go to the river or when I take them to briefly pick up school results etc, they often wear such provocative and revealing clothing (one or two girls in particular), and it worries me. When outside the home we have to keep a really close eye on them in case they wander off with someone, even/especially when at the guys’ home for celebrations. They’ve been addicted to sex before living in the home (except the youngest), and it’s what they want. And they dress provocatively when going anywhere outside the home….. It made me remember being in England and how many girls would wear such low-cut tops or short skirts or other provocative clothing, and it made me wonder what people’s motives are. Perhaps to be attractive to impress people, almost certainly not all to try to attract the sexual attention of guys – but do people know the effect the way they dress has on people even in England? Why wear revealing clothing or dress like a prostitute unless you have the same motive as a prostitute? Ok granted I’ve spent my life so far being pretty much the opposite extreme and refused to wear anything vaguely short or low, but I think a balance is needed – like with everything…. I believe God’s interested in what girls wear too xD

In other news, I seem to have forgotten how to eat with a knife and fork. Argh!  What’s Bolivia doing to me?!?! And I’ve found myself picking up the Santa Cruz accent a little too – I hope that’s easy to reverse if ever I need to…. =/ And I LOVE FRUIT – everything here is so cheap and so fresh and so lovely, and I’ve tried so many fruits that I’ve never seen before or heard of, including Guavas and Achachairu (the latter I’m told only exists in Santa Cruz and nowhere else in the world, it’s TASTY!) – om nom nom….

Also I’ve found this amazing church where I feel so at home – the preaching is so great and the music is awesome, and the people are so lovely! Amazing place, I’m so glad to be a part of it and amazed at God’s provision. Along the lines of God’s provision too things have been so much fun lately with more workers in the home – for example last week (did I mention this in my last post? Maybe) we made globes out of balloons and homemade wallpaper paste (flour and water), which made me giggle remembering that in East Africa a major part of the diet was this stuff made from just flour and water…. Anyway, fun times!

At the weekend Roger and Isha (ministry leaders, they’re fab) invited Ben and I into the air-conditioned part of the house (wooooop!) to talk about things – cultural things and thoughts etc, because they’ve never before allowed two missionaries to be together while working for Operation Restoration, which has been running for over two decades. When they accepted us both on team they knew it was a bit of an experiment…! But the meeting was so encouraging and a lot of fun, and gave us lots to think/talk about. God is so good!

Bolivia, finally!

UPDATE 22ND JAN

Wow, so much has happened since I last posted, only like 27 days ago. I don’t remember everything I’d like to blog about, but I’ll write down some of the most prominent things!

It’s been very intense time-wise over this past month for me, because at the home we’ve been incredibly short-staffed and also I’ve ended up covering for people who are ill or doing other things – and when I’ve been off work I’ve spent almost all my spare time in immigration trying desperately to sort out my visa. So not much sleep, not much time to talk with people or read or go places or do anything else really…. And every time I went to immigration it seemed like something big went wrong (ha, this is Bolivia!) – so I had to return many times, queueing for a few hours each time. In part that was fun though, because the lovely Erika who works in the office here took me and she’s great, and I met some interesting people in the queues too! Anyway, now the visa process is pretty much sorted; I just need to pick up my passport next month and then start the application for my carnet (residents’ card thing) – which I probably won’t actually receive before leaving Bolivia in August. Useful! I’ve had SOME time off this month too – Ben and the Year4God team got back to Bolivia on the 5th January and after a few days I was allowed to visit them in the base sometimes, so I got to know some really lovely and amazing people there, and of course was very happy to see Ben and the team. They started work today (after graduation week and holiday week – ha!), so I’m excited for them and nervous for them too! Now that they’ve started work my shifts are much less intense, and I’m starting street work next week too which should be exciting.

Work itself at the home has been… varying! The New Year party at El Camino (the boys’ home) with the girls was so much fun. Just like at Christmas there was lots of dancing, lots of food, and lots of fairly awkward conversations with some of the boys who seem to think about nothing but sex when there are females around… The girls were very well-behaved when we were there, and I felt so proud of them for the ways they interacted and responded to the guys at times. I’ll give one example – we had to keep an eye on the girls at all times and at one point one of the girls who I was watching from a short distance was surrounded by three guys who were all expressing an interest in a relationship with her, at the same time. She addressed each of them individually – “YOU are too young, just a child! YOU wouldn’t stay with me. And I don’t even know YOU!” – made me giggle! Then she began preaching at them… “There are three main things to look for in a partner, and you guys don’t seem to possess those. You need a relationship with God as the most important thing….” etc. I really wanted to go give her a hug! I don’t think she knew I was listening though, ha!

It’s funny, the girls can be so fickle. Another of the girls told me in my second week that she wanted to be a missionary to China in the future – and then told me last week that she’d changed her mind and wants to go to China for four years and hopefully meet a Chinese man, and then come back. Ha, teenagers 😉 It makes one wonder what they’re seriously thinking about and what they’re just saying to try to impress you, or what is just a passing thought. So another of the girls told me on Friday that she wants to be a missionary to Kenya after studying both Theology and Biology at uni (!) – and at first I was thinking WOW THAT’S AWESOME, but then I remembered how quickly the other girl changed her mind about such things and wondered if it’ll stick. Who knows… It’s the same with relationship with God – one second they can be totally into the Bible studies each morning and wanting to pray and talk about things, and then the next second they decide they want nothing to do with it. One little example is that another of the girls last week decided she no longer wanted anything to do with relationship with God – for a week she kept it up – then on Sunday night we were watching the Narnia film “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (brought back awesome memories for me, I love that film! I love the book too – though the film and the book are so immensely different…! Fun times at the cinema with my Amazing Alien Shrub Carrie, and Nick, and equally entertaining times with the Scargillian crew for that second Narnia week – except for when I ended up with a marker-pen beard which wouldn’t come off for longer than I wanted…. Anyway xD), and when it got to that part at the end when Aslan sends them back to their world and says “You will learn to know me by a different name”, that same girl squealed and shouted out excitedly “HE MEANS GOD!!!!!” – ha! Made me giggle. Ooh, and one of the girls has been leading the morning Bible studies sometimes and they’re always so god when she does them!! Awesome.

In Bolivian culture for a lot of people the way one lives doesn’t match up with one’s words, which is worrying and I see that in the girls sometimes, like how they can talk about God’s goodness and then act in a way that’s totally against His Word. Hmm. May God teach these girls Himself how to live, how to speak, how to think – how to be citizens of Heaven! He’s so good.

Twice now I’ve been put on shift with Charlotte who’s so lovely and has been immensely helpful to me since I started here, giving advice and telling me how things work here in the culture and in the home etc – but when two Westerners are on shift together the girls go a little wild. They have very little respect for Westerners it seems, and they really made our shifts difficult those two times. Now they seem to respect me a lot more than they did at first (I think because I’ve told them off fairly sternly a few times now when they’ve been really bad…), which makes things easier – but still it can be difficult sometimes! I’m so thankful to God for providing opportunity to learn Spanish before coming!!!! And thanks Katrina for your help in beginning so that I could join the Spanish class all those years ago, and thanks Mum for sorting that stuff out for me, and thanks Mr Mac for being such a great teacher, and thanks Alex for being my Spanish-buddy the first week of A levels…..! Anyway so yeah it’s good to be able to communicate – I found it really difficult at first with the Santa Cruz accent and lazy ways of speaking, and the Santa Cruz vocab too (almost like another language!) – but with God’s help and the help of the Bolivian staff I’ve been learning lots and can now communicate far more easily. Hoping not to pick up too many of the Santa Cruz ways of speaking though, especially the pronounciation (or lack of), and grammar! Much fun to learn though.

So yeah, the girls aren’t always sweet and lovely, they can be a right pain at times – but God’s been teaching me to see them through His eyes, as His beloved creations who are so special to Him and who He has plans for, but who have been so broken in the past. God’s been slooowly teaching me patience – especially with one of the girls who is very affectionate but really does like to push it! At times I’ve found myself feeling so frustrated and desperate for God’s presence and His help, and at those times He’s given wonderful flickers of encouragement, which has been so helpful! For example seeing two or three of the girls praying together of their own accord, or realising that one of them reads the Bible to the other girls before bed without any prompting etc from the staff, or a really lovely conversation with one of them about dreams for the future and God’s plans for life, or even something as simple as a hug from one of the girls. God’s been so gracious in providing little things like this to encourage me when I need it, and He’s been continually teaching me over and over again that I need to prioritise spending time talking with Him so as to live in His strength and fuelled by His love, rather than seeing it as a “job” or trying to live and work in my own strength. I’ve been realising more and more how much I need Him, every day – and He’s been so patient with me as I learn the same old lessons over and over again 😀

One thing I’ve really struggled with was one of the girls leaving the home. She’d only been in the home a few weeks, age 18 and pregnant with her second child, and it seemed that not many of the staff believed she’d stay very long because in the past pregnant girls have come in and been looked after in the home for the pregnancy and then as soon as the baby’s born gone back to the “freedom” of being self-sufficient on the streets, feeling economically stable with prostitution and not having to be accountable to anyone, leaving the baby and just walking out. The homes of the ministry aren’t like prisons – there are rules and chores and expectations of the girls, but it’s possible for them to leave if they’re determined to, and they do have a certain amount of freedom. I truly believed that this particular girl was an exception, the one to break the trend – I was convinced she’d stay. She’d been showing such an interest in everything to do with God, talking to me about prayer and saying that her dream was to come closer to God and get to know Him better, and really getting into the Bible studies etc – and it was lovely getting to know her, such a sweet girl. But problems arose between the girls, and on the streets when problems arise they could just take drugs and feel better about it, but of course in the home that’s not possible – so she left. Few people were surprised, but I really was – and I struggled a lot with that. I spent a little time wondering what would have happened if I myself had done things differently – but God refused to let me hold any guilt or feel the burden of responsibility for this girl’s choices. I spent a lot of time just feeling sort of hurt and upset – she has such potential and God has plans for her life, and now she’ll almost certainly go back to prostitution once the baby’s born, and she won’t be able to get any education without the ministry’s support, so she’ll basically be stuck in a lifetime of prostitution or something. Argh. I really struggled with that – and struggled with how to relate to and talk to the other girls after that too, for my first few days of work after she left. Will you pray for her? For God’s protection and guidance in how to think and how to live – and that He’d provide her with the motivation and determination to sort her life out again either by coming back to the home or finding another way somehow…

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to DO with the girls – it’s holiday time at the moment and so without the school routine there doesn’t seem to be all that much to do other than the cooking and cleaning etc. The girls want to watch films constantly, which of course isn’t good for them physically or mentally – so finding other things for them to do has been interesting! I’ve been getting them into craft stuff lately which they seem to enjoy, and Charlotte’s been doing beauty salons with them – and these things seem to go ok. There are guitars at the home but the girls don’t want to learn to play; I brought some simple Chinese words when they said they wanted to learn some Chinese but they gave up within like a minute; they have footballs but don’t like to play much and if they do it only lasts five minutes at most unless there’s motivation such as competing against the staff for soda (which was fun!). Amanda from the base introduced me to this supermarket with a whole craft aisle, so I plan to start some more fun crafty things with them – excited about that! And now that the Year4God people have started work I’m sure they’ll have some ideas too.

The Bolivian staff both at the home and in the office are so lovely, and it’s been wonderful getting to know them better. At times I’ve struggled to understand some people’s reasoning or ways of doing things but God’s teaching me and He’s been so patient with me as I’ve been learning! I really want to somehow help some of the Bolivian staff achieve their dreams if I can help in any way – as well as working with the girls. If God provides opportunity etc I’ll see what I can do. Like, one of the lovely ladies in the office has never had a computer in her family (or, her family has never owned a computer), which has caused some difficulty and I want to do something about it some day. And one of the amazing workers in the home dreams of doing a DTS in Haiti some day and has had this dream for years – I really want to help her get there! We have things so EASY in the UK. It was my dream of going to Bolivia, and I was able to work and fundraise and save money and get both financial and prayerful support from people and churches etc and now I’m here in the country of my dreams as a result of God’s provision through these things – but such things aren’t possible here. People aren’t paid enough to be able to save much money at all here, and fundraisers and voluntary financial support (even from churches) just don’t exist. And computers here are so expensive compared to in the UK! Weird! Hmm, if God provides opportunity and provisions, and shows me the right timing and what to do, I totally want to do what I can to serve these people’s dreams – not just the girls in the home but the wonderful staff too. At the moment I’m not sure how, but I’ll pray about it 🙂

Also, much as I love Bolivia and it’s so amazing to be here, I’ve been missing people, and even missing England itself a bit. There are so many things I dislike about England and Western culture in general, and I’d been so looking forward to leaving the UK – but now I miss it! Ha! I’ve seen photos of snow all over England and in Harrogate etc (this made me laugh – none of the girls in the home OR the staff here have ever seen snow in reality!! Crazy!!!! Some of them have said they want to visit England to see snow one day, but I don’t think they’d be able to deal with the cold. Like the other day I was sitting sweating from the intense heat and humidity, and the girls were shivering and complaining that it was cold! Weird….), and I could really do with some snow right now – it’s still SO HOT! However I’ve recently found out that this past couple of months has been summer, so the worst of the heat should be over soon I hope. Still though, it’s boiling all year round in Santa Cruz! Anyway and I miss people. I don’t recall ever feeling homesick before here, but at Christmas I was really missing family, and now I’m really missing some of my English friends more than before, and I miss how EASY things are in England – we never really appreciate things until they’re taken from us! Ha, simple things like cutlery, using knives and forks when eating – I miss that! Things like eating meat from the bone using hands and a spoon are messy and difficult. And like having a whole seat to yourself in public transport…

I love being here in the country of my dreams and I won’t start ranting – but I’ve been noticing the differences so much; like a totally different world! There are so many things I love about the culture here, such as how cheap and easy public transport is most of the time (if you know what to do); how everyone talks to everyone like when you pass people in the street – how relationship is so much more important than work here (in England the focus is so much on getting the job done, whereas here it’s all about the people, even simple things like going to the shops – you find yourself in a long conversation before you can buy anything! I like that), and how as a culture it’s so relaxed, etc – though this can become negative when it turns to laziness. There are other things that I’m not keen on, like how some people seem to see you as “higher” than them because of being white, and they treat you accordingly – and how here there’s no concept of friendship between guys and girls, nor is there any understanding of non-sexual relationship. So I can’t be seen with Ben outside of group context other than in the workers’ accommodation, because people will immediately assume things, and thus make assumptions of the ministry. And the girls can’t understand or believe that we’re not sleeping together. One or two of the staff understand and seem to find it refreshing and nice – but so many people just don’t get it. ANYWAY. I love Bolivia, I love being here, and God’s put me here for a purpose.

During my first month at the home so often I found myself wondering what on earth God’s put me here for – it didn’t seem like I was making a difference in the lives of the girls at all, and I was feeling a little discouraged not knowing what to DO with them and realising again and again that people aren’t always completely fixed and inwardly healed from great brokenness overnight. I spent time here feeling unprepared for this kind of ministry, and feeling bad for not knowing how to deal with situations and how to talk to the girls etc (I can’t raise teenagers!!!! Especially teenagers who have been so abused in the past and are so broken and react to things differently to other people…), but God encouraged me again and again with the reminder that He’s brought me here to serve Him and serve the girls, and that He IS working here even through me. Also that I can pray, of course – and even if I could be of no other use here or achieve anything at all, being here and praying daily for the girls and for the ministry would still make a big difference. God is so good! It’s been hard at times finding the balance in relationship with the girls – firstly how to not get TOO emotionally involved with the work that they can break you so easily and hurt you badly, while not being distant and still being distant and still loving the girls with God’s love. It’s hard! And secondly how to relate to them – if you relate to them as just a friend or an “equal” they abuse that and really push you to use your authority to give them what they want all the time which isn’t good for them – but if you distance yourself  and don’t be friendly with them but become just an authority figure, how will this help them? Finding the balance has been difficult, especially as I’m still a teenager myself, only a couple of years older than the two oldest girls in the home. But God’s been helping and I’ve been learning, gradually!

The Year4God team moved into the workers’ accommodation at the weekend so now there are 11 of us living downstairs (plus Roger and Isha upstairs) in this little house – it’s seeming less crazy/noisy/squished than I expected (so far) – but certainly different to before! The team are so lovely, really great people with real passion for God and His work, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better. And of course it’s been amazing to be able to spend time with Ben too – teehee, Isha even made sure we’re both free this coming weekend!! We finally had “Christmas” yesterday evening – the Christmas tree is still up in the living room – and it was such fun, as he hadn’t yet opened the gifts from his family that I’d been able to bring (or from me!) – and it made me laugh opening what he gave me too because it shows how well he knows me (things including Bolivian VeggieTales DVDs and a pot of cinnamon!) Ha…. This afternoon I plan to spend my free afternoon in the park talking with God; I need a good few hours to not have to do anything or be anywhere but just to talk with God without distractions. I’ve been able to have some time talking with God each day but I really need a Sabbath! I’m so glad that I can just go off to the field alone and that that isn’t dangerous while it’s still light. Very cool. I hope to make it a regular thing each week on my day off, if possible.

Thanks so much for your prayers and support – hugely appreciated! At times I’ve felt so much like God’s been raising me up in His hands, which has been so awesome and I really appreciate your prayers. Thanks!! And of course, keep in touch xD

Bolivia, finally!

CHRISTMAS – DEC 26TH

Despite the fun decorations and parties and celebrations etc it doesn’t feel quite like Christmas here because it’s so hot!! Yesterday was Christmas day and I found myself missing family quite a lot, but it was a fun day. Here in Bolivia we celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve – so we took the girls from El Alfarero (the girls’ home) to El Camino (the guys’ home) for a Christmas party with a hog roast, which was 8.30pm – 2am – much fun and lots of salsa dancing!! We had to keep an eye on the girls at all times because of all the guys around, but it was great and we all had a good time. So yesterday on Christmas Day we all slept in until midday (!) and then had a relaxed afternoon with yet more monopoly and films. Josh, one of the Western volunteers working in the guys’ home and staying in Girasoles where I’m staying, came round to the girls’ home last night for a bit and (being the only guy there) was harrassed by the girls a LOT – which was made especially fun because he didn’t understand much of what they were saying xD Ha! Tonight we Westerners are having our own little Christmas thing tonight at Girasoles, in the AIR CONDITIONED part of the house upstairs where Roger and Isha live. They’re making us Christmas dinner – and then we plan to watch the Muppets Christmas Carol (of course)! Teehee, much fun. I’m far too excited about the air conditioning…. Boxing day doesn’t exist here, so nobody else is celebrating – but we’re having fun! I’m very glad of a day off, much as working at the home is fun. And I now reeeally like cold showers =] Even in East Africa I didn’t enjoy cold showers very much (apart from how refreshing it was to be CLEAN among so much dust and dirt etc!), but now I’m used to them it’s really lovely xD

I love working at El Alfarero, everyone’s so nice and the girls are great – but I’ve also been struggling a little with what to DO with them. A lot of the time they’re left to watch films all day long because it’s their holiday time – and films are great in moderation but when it’s ALL DAY, every day, it’s really not good for them!!! Both health-wise and mentally it changes them as they take on mindsets and attitudes portrayed in the Americanised films. I have ideas for activities etc, but when we turn off the TV they become so moody that they’re totally not in the right place to really do anything else, which has made things hard. Also my lack of fluency in Spanish has been annoying me a lot – I thought I’d be able to speak it a lot better than this!! I’ll pick it up, I’m sure – and God’s been helping me a lot with that as now when I concentrate I can understand pretty much everything people say, whereas before due to the strong Santa Cruz accent and also the street way of speaking where the girls slur their words and use lots of slang, I struggled to understand. Thanks God for helping there! Yesterday though I backed out of leading the Bible study because I didn’t feel confident in my speaking – but I’ve been able to pray with them etc in Spanish which is good. ANYWAY so it’s been difficult to know what we’re supposed to do with these girls in holiday time – watching films all the time isn’t good for them but we’re not sure how to get them interested in doing anything else. We can go to the river – but not all the time – and do art stuff (which they seem now pretty bored of), and play board games – but a lot of the time we’re all just sitting around doing very little, and I feel like there’s so much more that can be done but I don’t know what to do or how, and the rest of the staff are the same it seems. So I’ve been struggling a little with not knowing what God wants me to do here. BEING here is great – and I know it’s not about what we DO but about how we live etc, but doing nothing makes it seem almost pointless. I do love working here, but I’m struggling with that. Been trying to think back over all the things I used to do in holidays; I was always very busy – but none of those things really seem applicable here, travelling and fundraising and working and seeing people. But God will provide and will show the way I’m sure. I can’t work here for 8 months without knowing what I’m supposed to DO with these girls – I know other staff work here without really doing anything but I feel like there’s so much more to unlock here. It’s not just a job, it’s an amazing ministry – but how? God will lead, I’m sure – and things will improve. Will you pray for this? 🙂

Also one of the female staff members has just left, leaving only five female staff in total. There needs to be two working at all times, so the number of shifts we do has become even more intense now. I’m always glad of a rest back at Girasoles when I have time off! Will you pray for God to provide the right people to step in and start working here? On the 21st the Year4God team start working here so we’ll have more female workers then, but we need Bolivians too really – good honest Bolivian staff who love God and are committed to this ministry.

I’m so excited about the Year4God team getting here – I’ve been missing Ben a lot and it’ll be amazing to see him and also to meet the rest of the team in person!! At the moment though we’re loving the space and quietness of Girasoles – it’ll be a squash when they get here, but much fun I’m sure! Oooh and last night I got a call from Elisa (Ben’s mum) which really made my day! The connection was bad so I couldn’t hear very much, but still it was so good. I also feel very blessed to have received such lovely Christmas messages from people, I know such wonderful people – thanks guys!!

Again, Merry Christmas to all, and thanks for your prayers and support!! 😀

 

Bolivia, finally!

START – DEC 16TH

Hi all – thanks so much for your prayers and support; I’M IN BOLIVIA!!!!!!! After so much time preparing for this I’m finally here. Still seems surreal, even though I’ve been here six days now.

The people are awesome! Roger and Isha who run the ministry are so lovely and they’ve shown me around and told me about the cultural things etc, and really blessed me. They’re so supportive and helpful, and generous – and on top of all this they let me borrow their guitar, teehee! I’m staying in the Operation Restoration workers’ house which is about an hour’s bus/trufi journey from the home where I’m working. Currently 3 others – plus Roger and Isha upstairs – are staying in this house to; they’re great and so much fun to talk to, and have got me pretty much addicted to Prison Break – argh!. At the moment we’re loving the SPACE here (only two people sleeping in each room, along with a living room and small kitchen and prayer room which are all pretty much empty when people are out working!), because in 20 days’ time the YWAM Year4God team will be joining us here, so there’ll be 6 more people sharing the space. I’m reeeeeally excited for the team to come – totally looking forward to meeting them all and very excited about finally seeing Ben again – but I’m trying to also make the most of the amount of space we have to relax in etc when not working xD It’s a lovely place, with a hot shower available, a working fridge and a washing machine (!).

Work is so good, I’m working in El Alfarero (The Potter) girls’ home and I love it. Five girls between the ages of 11 and 18 live there, and two staff/helpers are there with them at all times, so more than half of my nights are spent there in the girls’ home. The girls are so lovely, even with their teenage attitudes and mood swings and the like, and it’s been lots of fun spending time with them. I have many day shifts (8.30am – 4.30pm) but more night shifts (4.30pm – 8.30am), and every other weekend I’m there 8.30am on Friday – 8.30am on Monday. It’s been very moving at times getting to know them and hearing their stories, and living in the knowledge that God has plans for them, plans which these girls may get to know and live in as a result of the home. It’s a very relaxed and free atmosphere, and though the girls have daily chores and there are expectations of them, it’s still very chilled. Despite the project providing them with a comfortable home, consistent good food, opportunity for education and healthcare and help with whatever they may need – and a loving environment to live in etc, many find themselves tempted by the street life because of the freedom, and also because on the streets they feel economically secure independently because prostitution provides a “good income”. The home isn’t like a prison or anything like that – the girls choose to stay or to leave – and some choose to leave, which is tragic but it’s their choice. My prayer for the five who live there at the moment is that they will get to know for themselves that God has greater plans for them, and that they will begin to hope for a great future with Him. They are so broken, because of the past and rejection and the like, especially from family who’ve abandoned them – and because of what life on the streets can do to people, but we can continue to pray for God’s healing to happen in their hearts day by day. They’re amazing girls and I really long for them to know real love, the love of God – and to stop seeing love as the same thing as sex. The general attitude of girls in this culture is that if they sleep with a guy, he’ll love her and protect her and provide for her and look after her forever. It’s so far from the reality – that they sleep with guys, fall pregnant and then are left alone with the unborn child and no support. But no matter how much they see that happen to other people including their friends, so many girls continue to assume that for them it’ll be different; for them guys will value them and stay with them if they show their “love” by having sex. Eugh. I pray that the girls in the home will learn different attitudes to such things, and continually choose to live the way God wants for them as they discover more of His plans for their life.

Anyway. Each of my three shifts so far (Wednesday and Thursday daytime, Friday night – I arrived on Monday and got Tuesday off to be shown around and to unpack and rest and meet people etc) have overran by one to two hours due to people being late for the next shifts, so I’ve not had quite as much rest as I’d have liked, but it’s been great fun and didn’t bother me much. Ha, Bolivian culture is very chilled (some may even say lazy) and so people turn up an hour or two late and think nothing of it xD Hopefully this won’t continue for long. Weather-wise, it’s SO HOT here; I feel like I’m melting like ALL THE TIME – and it’s very surreal singing Christmas songs and putting up Christmas decorations etc with this intense heat and humidity! I’ve hated shorts for as long as I can remember, but I’m planning to buy some shorts tomorrow morning before my shift tomorrow night…. Also the food here in Santa Cruz is SO unhealthy, all fried in so much oil etc – it’s very tasty but after almost every meal I feel really unhealthy! I’ve even found myself thinking “I need to exercise!” – which is a thought that’s new to me, having always hated the thought of exercise for the sake of exercise or for health. I like doing sports for fun, and walking/cycling places for practicality of transport (and I’ve gone our running a couple of times in the past just for fun, not for any purpose but because I enjoy it) – but in the past I’ve had NIGHTMARES of going to the gym and the like. However, due to the food here, I’m actually tempted to join in with the house workout sessions when the others do those…… Weird – this is so alien to me!

One thing that’s annoyed me a lot in my time of being here so far is the chigger bites. Mosquitos annoyed me a lot in Guatemala and East Africa but they no longer bother me at all – mosquito bites are nothing compared with chigger bites. I often have weird reactions to bites (my mosquito bites from Guatemala and East Africa are still very clearly visible – from months ago – and those from Burundi in October look like they happened yesterday!!!), but these bites here have been by far the worst, continually bleeding and oozing horribleness, all over me…. Really not nice – my legs are disgusting and COVERED in these huge bites! I got some repellent stuff but it really doesn’t work. So on Friday I got some 50% Deet spray (the best you can get here, pretty expensive but still) and that seems to have worked in part. Eugh, still not nice though. It should die down within a couple of weeks – everyone else has said that their first week or two here were horrible with bites but after that time they’ve been pretty much left alone. Yay!

This morning I went to an English-speaking church with Roger and Isha which was so lovely – and I’ve been invited to go to several different Bolivian churches with different O.R. staff, which I’m very excited about! I’ve been warned though that since I’ve come here as a white missionary the Bolivian churches will ask me to serve in many ways, when during my time off work what I’ll really want to do is rest and receive through the ministry of the church, rather than serve too much. I’m excited to visit though…! And maybe I’ll attend one as my own church and just learn to keep saying no when people ask me to do things. Hmm, I’ll see.

Excited to finally be here! And excited to see Ben and the team in 20 days!! Not that I’m counting…. xD

Blog8 Estonia

Wow, I’m finally getting round to posting about Estonia! And at long last my photos are up to date (thus far)!! Awesome.

The day I arrived in Estonia I went to a youth house group – with 4 girls, aged 16 (including the leader whose house we met at). I was amazed at their openness, their attitudes to life and to God, and their humility. Changing the culture in Tallinn by living Kingdom lifestyles in the midst of opposition – and even when God feels distant still trusting in Him!! Awesome. I totally plan to keep in touch with these great girls, they will challenge and inspire the Church of all ages to return to the basics of following Christ and living like Him rather than chasing after the busy things of this world and institutionalising His Body.

Over my time in Estonia one of the greatest blessings was being able to spend time with the lovely Merle, whose house I was staying in while I was in Estonia this year with her and her 3 sons. Absolutely amazing lady, with such a beautiful heart – and I’m very blessed to know her and have many conversations with her about God and life and the Bible and other things. I believe the world has a lot to learn from people like her who seek God with childlike trust and love Him regardless of situations, and keep looking for truth even when surrounded by confusion, as many of us are at times. And Merle’s three sons are great too – much fun!

Also lately I started learning Finnish (or trying to…!), and when in Estonia I found this difficult at times because it’s so similar to Estonian but very different at the same time. For example, when introducing myself I kept almost saying “minu nimeni on Kathryn” – Finnish – instead of “minu nimi on Kathryn” – Estonian (my name is Kathryn), and other things like that. It was fun to pick up the language a little more though! Another amazing person I got to know in Estonia this year who I also met last year but didn’t know so well was Raoul – such an amazing, prayerful man of God! He taught me many Estonian phrases when driving me between meetings and events etc, and despite the major language barrier I was very much inspired by spending time with him. I noticed that he radiates the love of God – and it amazed me. And he really prioritises prayer – which I found very refreshing! Wow, I can’t talk this much about every amazing person who I spent time with – there were so many – but I can mention a few.

On my second day in Estonia, before I’d done any main talks, I began to worry when looking through my talk notes because I felt like I’d prepared them in my own strength, from my own understanding. This understanding may have been given by God and developed through situations in which He’d taught me great things – but still, I remembered something Dave said to me in Turkey about how if I lose dependence on God when preparing talks I should run from preaching as fast as I can. So noticing this concern in me when reading through my notes made me think about giving up preaching (after the Estonia trip though, as the purpose of being there was to preach!) until God specifically says otherwise in a very direct and clear way. I asked God to bring me back to that place of dependence on Him when speaking – because in my own strength my talks are worthless and can’t speak to anyone; I need His words within me and His Spirit guiding me in order to be used by Him as a preacher. Dangerous thing to pray – to ask God to teach you to depend on Him. But I was desperate.

Funnily enough, the following day (my first proper talk – I had a day off to rest and explore etc before this; I’ll come back to that!) God challenged me to preach without notes. Argh!!!! Somehow I felt like it was much easier in Uganda than in Western culture, possibly because Westerners expect you to have prepared and revised something very thoroughly and not just speak whatever comes to mind – whereas in Uganda the way I saw most people preach was without any notes and just speaking whatever came to mind, intending to follow the Spirit’s leading. When I did this talk, without notes etc, I felt almost the entire time that it was going so wrong. I didn’t enjoy it much at all, for the most part. And at the end I found myself silently telling God that after Estonia I’d CERTAINLY stop preaching until He specifically says otherwise. But I was very encouraged in people’s responses afterwards, and people told me that God had challenged them through the talk etc, and asked me to pray with them – I hadn’t done any kind of ministry time or whatever. Awesome! God’s strength in my weakness – and He can work even when we feel nothing and see nothing. Must trust Him and live where He’s placed us, doing what He’s said to do – regardless of seeing the fruit. Sometimes we will never see fruit of certain things we’ve poured ourselves into, but I guess it’s all about keeping our focus on God’s character and not taking our affirmation or our security from anything else. This dependence thing – I’ll come back to that.

On my day off prior to that talk, I had some time to explore Tallinn – and had an amazing time finding the places that were meaningful to us in some way last year, and reminiscing. Such as the Holy Spirit Church, and the Mission House attached to that where we stayed last year (on Holy Spirit Street) – and Freedom Square, and the Old Town Square, and several shops that I remembered – and more. It felt weird noticing how moving I found it; I’ve only been there once before, and only a year ago – and only for a short time! Possibly I felt sentimental because last time I was there it was my first time officially doing cross-cultural mission outside of England, or because I’ve missed it so much ever since. Who knows.

As I was exploring again and reminiscing, I marveled at how it seemed that nothing at all had changed. Everything was in exactly the same places, looking exactly the same as it did last year. I hadn’t expected it to be otherwise; it’s just something I noticed that interested me. As I pondered this I asked God to show me if anything had changed SPIRITUALLY in Tallinn, because DL and I have both (separately) prayed for the place a lot, for God to act in people’s lives there etc. When I asked God to show me what had changed spiritually, I didn’t expect Him to answer so clearly within such a short space of time – but very shortly after I’d asked God to show me, I got a phone call from Merle inviting me to join her for lunch at this new student music cafe place run by Christians. I went to this cafe, the Living Room, and I was amazed. It’s owned by missionaries who used to head up a Bible College in Russia for 15 years before following God’s sudden call to move to Estonia and start this cafe – and it’s run by them and student volunteers from the churches! While talking to them there I was told several stories of great things that God’s done in that cafe in people’s lives etc – and it’s only been open since September!!! Its positioning made me giggle too – right beside Freedom Square, where we had powerful prayer time last year. I felt very much attracted to return to the place because of the chilled atmosphere, and the guitars on the walls accessible for all to use on request! Also they played GREAT music, and at every song I’d find myself thinking “wow, I love this song!”. On the bookshelf I noticed two of my favourite books about mission, which have inspired me and shaped my mindsets regarding world mission. Awesome!

It was so great meeting people there and hearing people’s stories – and hearing from the amazing couple who own the place their story of the Bible College in Russia. It started as a cafe like this one! People were coming to know God through the ministry of the cafe, and people were so hungry for deeper discipleship that a Bible College developed from there, teaching people how to pray, the character of God, the practical outworking of the Gospels, an understanding of the Bible as a whole as well as each book, and intense practical training on worship, evangelism, intercession and prophetic. Awesome! Who knows where God will take THIS cafe… Anyway I had some wonderfully encouraging and challenging conversations with the people who were working there, and it all gave me a lot to think and pray about.

Later the same day Malle came to Merle’s house where we were – and I felt so emotional seeing her; I’ve missed her a lot since last year, she’s amazing and really seeking God! After she left, I asked God which of my prepared talks I should use the following day, or if He had other ideas as to what I should speak on. I felt Him say very clearly, “Go back to basics. Leave your agenda behind and seek ME.” I was amazed and wrote this down – but then I realised that He was saying this to ME to listen to, not like a topic for me to speak on. It’s been humbling how He’s been teaching me a lot lately to come back to the basics of seeking Him. He’s so patient with me as I re-learn the same old things over and over again!

I began praying that God would teach me to dance to the beat of His heart in every situation every day, every moment – and I felt like that desire was consuming me. I want to follow His breath and live in step with His Spirit, to be guided by Him and fuelled by His love within me. Back to basics :’) “I don’t want to talk about You like You’re not in the room; I want to look right at You – I want to sing right to You!” Amen!! Also, when I can live in step with His Spirit and in sensitivity to His leading each day, then I’ll understand His will for each situation and I’ll begin to understand a little more about His ways. Like with healing and things for example – Jesus said “these signs will accompany all who believe” – this doesn’t sound like an optional extra for just some special people…! I wondered HOW it all works – how to know His will and how to do and say what He wants me to do and say. I just need to let go and let Him lead. Surrender! Ha…!! Somehow God always seems to bring it back around to that.

The day after that first talk, I was due to attend a prayer meeting, which I thought I wouldn’t be doing anything at. As we were entering the building, I was “reminded” that I was the speaker for the evening, and the service would start in a few minutes…! I found myself praising God for the intensity of the Uganda trip – without that experience I’d have felt so much more stressed about the concept of speaking at the very last minute. And as I walked through the door I suddenly knew what I was to speak on and how I was to start. Yay! It went so well I felt; I could really feel God’s presence with me and His leading. While I was speaking I’d have ideas of what to say next, but I’d be surprised at how God would take it in a totally different direction and it all made sense and came together to emphasise the central point etc! God is cool…! I really can’t make a talk do that on my own, even with time to plan! It wasn’t like He took over completely and the words were straight from His mouth, but I felt that He was giving me ideas the whole time etc.

After this meeting I went to the cafe to catch the end of a prayer meeting that they hold there weekly, and it was so good. God challenged me a lot during this meeting – especially towards the end, and especially on the topic of spiritual gifts. Recently I’d found myself becoming more of a skeptic (!) because of spending so much of my attention on seeking after character development than spiritual gifts, as I believe that God’s work in one’s character is much more important and more sturdy and trustworthy than any spiritual gifts, and so I’d sort of neglected/forgotten about the importance of them completely. But that evening at the cafe people prophesied that God would give me certain spiritual gifts, which I used to have but maybe have lost or whatever, and after being skeptical for a while as I didn’t want to get my hopes up, I began to believe and pray for God’s will to be done there. Still I choose to focus on God’s work in my character above those other things, but I’m no longer rejecting the concept of any spiritual gifts that God may want to develop in me. Bring it on, Lord – Your will be done and not mine!

The next day I was due to speak three times mainly at larger church meetings, and I was feeling pleased with myself for having prepared these three talks thoroughly and well, and I felt ready. Again, not such a great place to start…! We were to travel for about two hours to get to the first venue, and the others were fairly near there. About an hour or so into the journey I thought, “I’ll just look through my notes…” – and on checking my bag I realised I’d left them back at Merle’s house. This time though I wasn’t nervous at all – it just made me laugh! If I do ask God to teach me to depend on Him for sermons/talks, what more can I expect than for Him to put me in situations where I’ll have to practise this dependence?! I began to get excited about what He’d do in the meetings. They all seemed to go pretty well and I met some great people and God seemed to speak a lot – though I was very tired by the end!

The following day I again had some free time in Tallinn, and I asked God what to do with it. I immediately felt Him clearly say to go to the church I’ve been praying for a fair bit this year. It’s the big yellow Lutheran church on Freedom Square. So I went there, and prayed on its front steps, and eventually went to try to look for an unlocked door, in the hope that there could be a chance of it possibly being open. At the fourth door I found (having thought there were no more after the third), it was locked but I felt prompted to stay standing at that doorway for some reason. Within a couple of minutes the door was unlocked and I was let in, by a man in a dog collar who spoke good English! I wanted to talk to him but felt God prompting me to go through to the main part of the church (where I’d entered was some kind of office), and pray. I had an AMAZING half hour of intercession for the church and for the people of Estonia – those who know God and those who don’t, etc. God got me so excited! Then, I felt God prompting me to go talk to the man with the dog collar, who was the vicar of that church. He told me with great excitement about some of the things God had done in the church and the people there etc over 2012 – awesome!!!!!! He also said that it was a mini miracle that I’d got to speak with him – the church is always closed on Mondays, but he had a 45 minute gap between two meetings and felt prompted to go to the church. It was the same 45 minutes that I was there!!! I only got to speak to him for 15 minutes or so, but it was awesome. I later found out that he’s fairly famous in Estonia and speaks God’s word over national radio every morning…! Cool!!!

That evening we went to the house of another AMAZING lady who I met last year, Talvi – she’s so in love with God and such an inspiration, really seeking her affirmation from Him and not from the world. Awesome! We went to her house for house group, and I was excited to see her. In the lift on the way up to her flat Raoul started praying for me, which confused me a little, and then I wondered aloud, “I’m not speaking, am I?” YES. Ha!!! This time God graciously gave me a topic which I’d prepared for – and I had the notes with me!! I didn’t end up following the notes very much at all, as He was leading again (so much fun, and feels amazing!) – but still I was glad that He graciously gave me a little “rest” from feeling totally out of my depth in dependence on Him. Ha, there were 20 of us there squashed into Talvi’s little front room, and when everyone wanted prayer at the end it was difficult to not fall over anyone trying to get to people…! So much fun – and God began to teach me again how to pray with people, as I’d been asking Him to teach me to depend on Him in that too, rather than just saying the “right words”. As much as I mean it when I say the “right words” in prayer for people, and it’s GOOD, it’s often not as AMAZING praying with people as it maybe could be, because God isn’t in control or leading. Again, back to basics – and surrender!

Many more fun things happened with similar meetings etc, including chocolate-evangelism which I’ve never tried anywhere with a language barrier before – it was entertaining! And I was blessed to spend a few hours with Linda too before leaving – I’d been so looking forward to seeing her, and it was a very encouraging time. I wish we’d had longer to chat and pray though! Ah well… She’s another of those amazing inspirational people who I spent time with in Estonia. There were more and I wish I could write about them all – but no. And God gave me other very cool experiences of things He was teaching me, but I don’t have time to write them all down here. It was very sad to leave Estonia, as with other countries this year I guess – but it felt like a different kind of sadness in leaving, because I also felt so happy with the things that God’s done there over the past year and knowing that our prayers have not been in vain (not that they ever are!), and because I felt sure I’d return soon, whenever “soon” may be.

After Estonia I returned to England for about two weeks or so in order to sort out Bolivia visas (not possible to do online), and I had the privilege of staying with Ben’s parents for most of that time – they’re amazing and I learnt so much while staying there! Maybe at some point I’ll blog about some of the things God taught me there, I don’t know. God is so great! And staying with Ben’s parents was really lovely :’) I also had chance (yay for megabuses!) to very briefly visit my parents and see some family and friends and church people etc – which was so good!!!!! And God did cool things to help the Bolivia visa process along, even though there were problems at every stage of the way which made me nervous several times – but God kept me secure in His promise to get me to Bolivia, and so I needn’t have worried. He’s so faithful – even in our times of doubt!

Blog7 Turkey

LEAVING

Turkey was awesome and as with elsewhere I was so gutted to leave. I’d been blessed with the privilege of getting to know some amazingly inspirational people and learnt a lot! It’s strange no longer hearing the call to prayer every couple of hours too… I learnt after a while of being there to stop seeing the call to prayer as an irritating noise and start using it as a call to prayer, a reminder to focus on God and invite Him into every situation throughout the day. I think that’s one thing Islam has got so RIGHT and that we should totally learn from – the focus on God and priority of prayer throughout everything; it’s amazing. He showed me some cool things through that 🙂 I also had chance to spend time with some wonderful kids, including SUCH an adorable just-turned-two year old who liked running round in circles, and a three year old who talked about having no need to be afraid because Jesus is with us. Awesome! The amazing couple I stayed with for the second half of my time in Turkey are very well-travelled, having lived for four years in Rwanda (and several other countries at different times in life too) – so I felt so at home in a room with Rwandan things on the walls, and it was fun to talk with them lots about East Africa! I was also asked to co-lead music worship stuff at a house group one time, in Turkish of course, which didn’t go so well from a human perspective but God did things in the group that evening regardless 🙂 He’s fun! Anyway I spent time with some other amazing people, including a lovely couple who went to a church that I’m kinda associated with in Cambridge before moving to Turkey (small world!) and a girl who was in a band that I was absolutely obsessed with for a very long time when I was younger!!!! Many other really great people too. The Christian world is indeed quite tiny 🙂

I felt so privileged to spend time serving the church plant there in Istanbul – the vision of the leadership is incredible and their passion for God is inspirational. It’s such an active church too, making a great impact on the community with all the things they do to serve in different ways, and God is adding to their number regularly those who are being saved – in my first week there 90 people came to church, it was a bit of a squash but great fun!

Glad of a short break in the UK (came back for the LatinLink Guatemala debrief weekend with the Guate team; I got to see some other such great people in the area too which has been so lovely – and given me chance to rest, prepare, and skype/phone one or two amazing people…. No time or money to come all the way to North Yorkshire or elsewhere, sorry!) and flying out to Estonia the morning after the LL debrief which starts tonight and ends Sunday. Fun times! I miss people lots, but hugely appreciate people’s prayers for me – and very excited about heading off to Bolivia ONE MONTH TODAY, eeeeek!!!!! Ben and the team there are leaving for Brazil today for 8 weeks of exciting outreach stuff (prayers appreciated for them too!), but I’ll see them when they get back to Bolivia on 3rd Jan. Exciting!! And I’m totally looking forward to seeing lovely Estonia people SOON, such a beautiful country! Ha, slightly cold though – especially after having been in immensely hot climates all of this gap year so far. I’m now glad I trekked my big Estonian coat and other big coats and jumpers all around the world in areas where I had no need of them…! Teehee 🙂

Blog7 Turkey

AT FIRST

Hello English-speaking world!!! 😀 Teehee, I’m safely in Istanbul after an eventful 48-hour journey from Rwanda (via Uganda, Kenya, Brussels and NOT London after all xD) during which I met some interesting people and had many fun conversations… A huge “thank you” to all who knew of the flights situation and prayed for me!

Turkey is awesome, I’ve met some amazing people and been inspired by some great conversations! We’re currently in the middle of a four-day holiday, the “sacrifice festival” – so the rivers are literally crimson with the blood of sacrificed animals; not so nice. Holidays are great though and there isn’t much work to be done at all in these four days – so I’ve had a lovely chilled time with the amazing family I’m staying with, and been visiting other really great church people. The festival/holiday started on Thursday, and the day before it began (Weds) I had chance to go be a tourist in the Europe part of Istanbul for the day, which was great fun! I saw the sights (AWESOME) including the Egyptian Spice Market (a network of MANY streets of outdoor market stalls arranged in areas of similar products… I got slightly stuck when I first got there and found myself in the wedding dress area and couldn’t find my way out of it – I found the way out eventually but got a little frustrated as it took a while! There were some reeeeally strange/cool wedding dresses though!), the Hagia Sophia (which was a very prominent church within Christendom for over 1000 years, which was since turned into a mosque for a while – and is now a museum. I found it funny seeing all the mosque-stuff there and also loads of old Christian stuff peeking through from the past!), and the famous Sultanahmet Blue Mosque (really awesome, such fine detail within each small part, and it’s HUGE so must have taken SO long to build/decorate…!) – which were so great! Throughout the day I met various fun people who spoke English and had some interesting conversations, and DIDN’T GET HOPELESSLY LOST!!!!! Awesomeness.

Since then I’ve met some amazing church people and experienced a very cool Turkish prayer/worship meeting among other things, and had some inspiring conversations! I’m learning so much here, and nothing is quite as I expected xD Love it!! Slight culture shock after Africa (especially seeing white people everywhere!) but it’s amazing here. And God’s teaching me a lot!! The wonderful family I’m staying with are such inspirational people (haha including the three year old girl who regularly talks about how people need Jesus, and how Jesus helps people to not be afraid, etc! She rocks! As does Jesus….). Oh and I’m learning so many of my favourite worship songs, in Turkish; exciting!

Thanks for your prayers guys, muchly appreciated!! And keep in touch 🙂

Blog6 Burundi

I only spent a few days in Burundi, visiting friends and seeing different ministries there, and my time there was amazing! So great to see my friends there, and awesome to meet some other fun people too and hear their stories. I saw the conference centre/restaurant place which raises money for Scripture Union work; I saw the YFC Burundi base in Bujumbura and met the great people there; I saw an orphanage/school in Gitega (one of the villages up-country); had fun market experiences with Lizzie – and lots more! Maybe one day I’ll live in Burundi, amazing country…. I totally plan to return some time!! It was so inspiring meeting God’s people there and seeing the different ministries in the different areas, and I’d love to work alongside them longer-term some time. I guess I’ll wait and see what God says after College 🙂

Blog5 Rwanda

UPDATE

I totally don’t want to leave Rwanda! Maybe I’ll live here one day, teehee!! There are such amazing people here, the ministry does such awesome work, and it’s just generally so great! Pretty moving doing home visits and seeing the families and lifestyles of the kids soon to be involved in the projects – and awesome talking with them about their dreams and ambitions, knowing that we play a part in making those possible…! Haha and hiking to their houses was interesting – many of them live a looong way from any kind of “road” (even though the roads are just lumpy mud paths etc), and so we had to trek a fair way to get to where they live – and hiking in the mountains at altitude is SO different from UK walking, even UK walking up steep hills etc! Not enough oxygen, so I felt totally unfit panting after only a short way, teehee!

Anyway, it was my second “Centre Day” today, less crazy than last weekend as this weekend there were only maybe 70 kids there and they all seemed pretty well behaved! I had to answer many questions (including things like “What is technology?” and “what is germination?” – it was fun…!), and then the kids sang “Our God is an awesome God” in Kinyarwanda, which got me very excited and a lovely lady on staff wrote down all the words for me 🙂

I’m sure there’s loads more I need to write, but can’t think of right now! I’m off to Burundi for four days pretty early tomorrow morning, exciting times! And the day after I get back I get to spend the morning with my sponsored child and her family – eeeeek!!! 😀 😀

Thanks SO much to all who’ve been praying for me; it’s much appreciated!!!! And I asked for prayer for Bolivia stuff to get sorted out smoothly and according to God’s will – this seems to be being answered (as far as I know); thanks God!!!!

Blog5 Rwanda

FIRST DAY

Rwanda (where I arrived last night) is SO different to Uganda….! So clean, so immensely rich in comparison (though the lifestyles and “houses” etc of the poorer people here is also shocking), so SAFE in comparison – and such variety in food! Tonight I had Hawaian pizza and it was so lovely :’) Anyway, I’m staying with such a lovely couple in very Western-style accommodation (HOT SHOWERS!!!!!!! And a Western kitchen, and a bedroom to myself!! And an amazing balcony with the most beautiful view over Kigali…..) – and they work for an amazing organisation which does child sponsorship, school stuff, family support stuff, gifts of hope, Bible college stuff and more – it’s awesome. So today I was shown around a few places and introduces to many people, and then a small team of us went out to buy and deliver gifts of hope to families in extreme need. Hearing about each of their situations was again shocking, and meeting them was very moving – especially as they didn’t know we were coming, and seeing their faces when they received things like soap, oil, flour, a mattress etc was incredible! And the people – people from the organisation and people in the families we gave gifts to – are so lovely :’) Ha, I could totally live here one day….. xD

Blog4 Uganda

I left Uganda yesterday morning and really miss it already.

Uganda was one of the most challenging and amazing times of my life so far. Every day I felt more out of my comfort zone – and again it blew away my expectations. I was staying in a beautiful brick house in Kampala which is also a school (high-quality paid day-school for kids of richer families), and a place where some ex-street-kids live, as well as 3 wonderful English people and various others 😀 It had running water, and drinking water was available from the kitchen fridge; it had a kitchen which was like a Western kitchen (!!!!!!!); the people were SO lovely and it was a great place to stay! So some mornings I’d help out in the school as “Teacher Kathryn”, which I found entertaining – and then I’d spend the afternoons/evenings in the slum villages preaching at outreach crusades, conferences and churches. On the Sunday I did 4 main preaches and one short “hello” thing in different churches around the villages – intense but great fun, especially as the last two were unexpected and very last-second for me!

The villages were such extreme poverty, the likes of which I’d never imagined before – and I spent most of my first afternoon/evening there fighting back tears and wondering what on earth I was doing there and how I could preach there. With God’s help I’d prepared loads of talks and I’d brought notes with me, but in the end I didn’t use them at all. Preaching without notes scared me a lot the first couple of times but it was such great fun and felt really awesome! Depending on God and being led by Him each moment was intense and again out of comfort zone but so great. I learnt a lot!! Oh and the majority of people in those villages had never seen a Mzungu before (white person) and so kids would either run away from me or edge closer and closer to me until they could stroke my hands in an intrigued way – and people would approach me and ask to touch my skin because they’d never touched a real Mzungu before, etc. And when I passed people would come out onto the streets to stare at me and often shout “Mzungu!” or “How are you Mzungu” or other comments….. It was interesting, and took a bit of getting used to!

Things are done very differently there, big cultural differences. E.g. children seemed to be not respected at all (made me think of that passage where we’re told not to offer a rich person a great seat and tell a poor person “stand over there or sit on the floor” – this was exactly what happened. I’m Mzungu so I was always given the best places to sit etc, and all the kids would be scowled at and told to stand at the back or sit on the floor……); preaching is 100% shouting from the local pastors – took some getting used to but eventually I realized why I think, when there wasn’t working microphones but there were many people wanting to hear; nobody prays for healing but commands it all the time; crusades/services etc last 5 or 6 hours each time (AWESOME – such a long time of music/prayer worship stuff before the preaching!); deliverance is very aggressive shouting (“because we’re so ANGRY at the devil”); evangelism was veeery different and involving nothing of the cost of following Christ but all that God would bless you and heal you and improve your finance and your situations if you respond to the altar call; ministry time seemed to be all aggressively shouting at the crowds from the stage…. and many other differences. It was so interesting to see it and be a part of this culture even though I didn’t follow all these customs and mindsets etc. By doing things differently I may have caused some offense at times, like using children as a ministry team one day, and getting people to pray with people one-on-one without microphones or machines, and like preaching on the cost of following Christ – and other things. But God did great things and it was awesome! I totally love the people there, the pastors have such enthusiasm and also seeing the lifestyle of the villagers and then seeing the way they worship God was so moving and made me wonder what on earth I could possibly teach them. People long for God with everything and always believe for miracles which is so cool – and probably a large part of the reason why so many miracles happen there 😀 Getting to know the people was awesome.

Each night coming back to a house with brick walls, running water and electricity made me feel like such a hypocrite after working in the slums each afternoon/evening. People kept pointing out though that as a Mzungu I really couldn’t stay in the villages, totally not safe and my immune system wouldn’t be up for it. Hmm, I reeeeally want to one day though…. Just to be WITH them, sharing their lifestyle for a time rather than remaining safe and comfortable as a Mzungu in a Mzungu bubble. I guess there’s a difference between faith and foolishness though – if God says to go stay in one of the villages then to do so is acting in faith; if not then it’s almost definitely just foolishness as I know the immensity of the risks.

Again, getting to know the people there was just incredible. I spent some time with a really lovely girl who’s 25, single and raising 8 ex-street-kids on her own, as she couldn’t bear to see them dying on the streets. She has nothing to give them but can afford to live off one meal a day, and can share her “house” with them. They have one small bed and one small mattress for the nine of them, in two tiny rooms – which is better than most of the houses I saw in the villages where we did crusades but still reeeally extreme. She teaches and cares for these kids all she can, and takes them to the beach “so they can forget”, and teaches them to worship God and to pray – and teaches them right from wrong. She gives them hope even when it seems there really isn’t any. She can’t afford to send any of them to school but is praying that one day they will receive education and the chance to live and make a living, one day. She’s going to send me photos and details for each of them – if you’re interested in child sponsorship please do let me know; there isn’t an official system but I will be able to provide information about each child, what things like education and much needed medicine etc would cost, and other stuff – and I fully trust that any money we send to her account for a specific purpose will be used for that purpose.

Blog3 Czech Republic

SECOND UPDATE

Wow I can’t believe I have to leave here in a few days. I’m very much looking forward to Uganda, but also really don’t like goodbyes and will miss this place a lot! (And will miss the amazing food and incredible cakes too…… Mainly the people, the centre, the atmosphere, the practises etc though. And the freedom, in so many ways =D) It’s been so awesome here, and totally refreshing to be free to spend a decent amount of time talking with God each day (during which he’s taught me SO MUCH – also during work and conversations and meals etc…. He’s so good!) – and refreshing to be living in an atmosphere where everyone is family, all God’s children and all treat each other accordingly :’)

I have a very hectic few days coming up – the centre is preparing for a big celebration this Sunday with 200 people as three Community members (including Jana, WOOP WOOP! Amazing lady!) are making promises to renew/extend their commitment to the Community and to all that entails (e.g. poverty, celibacy and the other thing that I’ve forgotten =/) – and I think they’re making life commitments…. VERY exciting!! And then Sunday night (or rather, horrible o’clock Monday morning) I leave. So we’ve been cleaning everything very thoroughly, changing everything, etc etc – much fun! Found some very cool (and very big!) spiders when cleaning the church today =D

The teaching/sermons here are short and sweet and often very good (sometimes translated for me – thanks lovely Martina!), and as I’ve probably mentioned a few hundred times, the people are amazing :’D Haha and when I mentioned my love of cinnamon at dinner today, Dominika went and got me a huge pot of it!! Heheheee, she rocks…

Anyway, in case I haven’t said already, the people here are absolutely awesome, and the vision behind the Chemin-Neuf movement is amazing!!!! Check out http://www.chemin-neuf.org.uk, and get involved with this incredible ministry!!! I’m totally staying involved after I leave here =)

I’m missing some UK people loads, very grateful for the internet for communication!! 🙂

Thanks y’all for praying, it’s HUGELY appreciated! Will you pray that in Uganda (from next week) I’ll know God’s will the whole time; that His guidance and His voice will be very clear to me in all situations in whatever ways He chooses; and that He continues to teach me and shape me and challenge me in any and every way He sees fit….? =D Also that He provides time to spend just talking with Him, amidst the extreme busy-ness of the time there? xD And pray for God’s blessing and His hand on the Chemin-Neuf movement, especially this little Community retreat centre in Tuckoměřice? Thanks!!!

Blog3 Czech Republic

START

The Czech Republic is amazing!!!! I had a touristy first day in Prague after sleeping in until midday, and I saw the sights which was great fun – then started working in a small Catholic retreat centre called Nazaret. Plans had been changing lots due to things not running as normal because it’s September. Working in Nazaret was great fun – communication was sometimes problematic (I couldn’t speak any Czech, except for the phrase “God is good” xD Thankfully I’m learning a little more, slowly!!) but the people were lovely and we got some work done cleaning and cooking. They didn’t have that much work for us to do though and communication could become an issue, so we moved to a different centre.

So again plans changed and after a touristy weekend in Prague (in which I saw all the exciting things I hadn’t seen the first time, with a wonderful English-speaking tour-guide) I ended up working in an Ecumenical retreat centre run by the Chemin-Neuf Community. Seriously incredible movement – it started in France and they now have centres in many different countries around the world!! Yesterday I was reading their leaflet/booklet thing (in English, WOOP!) and was totally amazed. I believe it’s a world-changnig vision, and the practical outworking of it is amazing especially the real love for God and for others that’s displayed through the people and the work! All you UK people, I strongly recommend you visit the Chemin-Neuf communities in London or Somerset when possible!! (www.chemin-neuf.org.)

So anyway, work is great – I’ve been mainly doing kitchen work and cleaning work, and everything’s much cleaner and more spacious than Guatemala xD Teehee! We have Community Prayers 3 times each day which are amazing (though I don’t understand a word of them – except for the sermons which Martina translated for me last week), as well as lots of time for personal prayer which has been AWESOME. God’s been showing and teaching me loads and it’s so good to have this time to spend with Him!! And since I don’t speak much Czech yet and thus can’t understand most of the conversations that take place at work or over meals etc I have loads more time to just talk with God and listen to Him. Awesome! And communication hasn’t been much of a problem at all since somehow I understand some French (…!!) and all the community members can speak French!! Because I can’t speak very much I’ve been learning how I don’t NEED to be constantly communicating with everyone – as much as being talkative may be a good thing at times, not talking is a beautiful thing and can free a person to just talk with God lots, teehee! However, there are some really lovely English-speaking people here too, and I’ve had some fun conversations in Franglish (French/English) – as well as being able to communicate through translators. Much fun!

The people are so lovely and I’m totally glad I have another week here! It’ll be so hard to leave next weekend, but I won’t think about that just yet. Some of the community members keep saying how much they appreciate us being here and what a blessing and honour it is etc – which amazed me!!! I’ve been so blessed here and learnt a lot – and may well move here one day….. 😀

Thanks so much for your prayers!! God is so good!!!!

Blog2 Guatemala

GOODBYE

So I’ve left Guatemala now, emotional times! It was so hard leaving, especially saying goodbye to the kids and staff at the home knowing that we may not see them again like ever, or at least for a long time, and our host family…. Speaking of which, they’re seriously incredible and you should support them! If you go to http://www.latinlink.org/International/How-can-I-give/Donate and type into the “start typing to find person or project” “Benjamin & Charmari Downing – Stride individual placement” – they’re awesome, supporting and equipping pastors in Guatemala…. They’re totally lovely people 🙂 Anyway, so yeah saying goodbye to everyone was really hard and the staff did little speeches to tell us how we’d impacted their lives, and the kids all sang to us and made us cards…. It was really emotional 😥

The day after our last day at work was the day we flew, and we got to ride in a chicken-bus, which are SO COOL! The way I describe it is like this – if you were to give ME a bus and tell me I could decorate it however I like, the outcome would be just like a chicken-bus xD totally multi-coloured (and yeah, clashing a bit) with multi-coloured flashy lights and big Bible passages and God-messages all over it (inside and out), and loud upbeat Christian music on inside 😀 SO MUCH FUN!! Emotional ride though; it was the ride to the airport……

For part of the trip I was struggling a little to make/find time to just go talk with God, because of being with the team 24/7 – but then I began to learn to sit in a corner and let myself zone out, without needing to join in with every conversation and just able to chill with God; it was great! Totally helped me appreciate time alone when we left though, much as I missed my team etc when we left……

ARGH I miss Guatemala!! Totally could move there one day :’) Czech Republic tomorrow – EEK! 😀

THAAANKS!! 😀

Blog2 – Guatemala

HALFWAY THROUGH

I can’t believe it’s halfway through my time with the project here already….. I’m learning so much and I know I’ll really struggle returning to the UK next year, but I guess God has lots of time to prepare me yet! I love the culture here, and the people totally inspire me. My team are amazing – and I got the chance to literally soar with eagles (on a huge zip-wire, but still) and it was AWESOME!!! The views are breath-taking too. I can’t bear to think about leaving here yet, even though it’s less than two weeks to go. The kids here are gorgeous and the way they care about each other brings tears to my eyes. I reckon everyone should visit a project like this at some point – it’s nothing like in the UK at all, mainly because of everyones’ attitudes to life etc! Very humbling, and beautiful.

This afternoon we sang with the kids in English and Spanish, some great Christian songs that both groups knew and we taught each other in our different languages, and played games etc – made a change from peeling carrots which I was doing for several hours this morning… That was fun too though.

I’m praising God for His provision and how almost everything has gone totally smoothly thus far – and for His protection over our health and our security etc! Thanks for praying, all who have!!!! Please continue to pray for our health and protection – we keep seeing people with guns staring at us etc, which is good in a way because they’re mainly there for our protection, but still it’s a very dangerous country. Please also pray that Bolivia details etc sort out smoothly and swiftly, and that God provides specifically for where He wants me in December….. Thaaaanks!!!

 

Blog2 – Guatemala

FIRST DAY

Hi all – your prayers are immensely appreciated!! Not the smoothest of beginnings to say the least, but had an incredible first day in Guatemala! After one or two weird experiences traveling, through which God had chance to show me loads and teach me a lot, I’m finally here with the team, safe and loving the work. The project Amor Del Nino which we worked with for the first time today is SO beautiful – the setting (mountains and forests etc) is breath-taking, the children are adorable and very affectionate, the vision behind the project is immensely moving and powerful, and the way everyone works together is amazing! I met some kids who are the happiest and most beautiful kids imaginable… I wish this stuff could be captured in photos or words – but I just can’t describe it! I didn’t think I’d bond with the children this way in such a short space of time; it was amazing. We played with them for a few hours, with the different age groups (the project is 0 – 9s) and did some laundry stuff and took them for a walk, and feeding them all was hilarious! Total respect for those who run this project – the commitment they put into it is really inspirational. The people here are awesome! Anyway so thank you for praying for me and the team – please also pray God’s blessing on the ministry of Amor Del Nino the incredible children’s home, and Steve who runs the place who is so dependent on God and a very inspirational man…. Thanks again for your prayers – hugely appreciated! Feel free to email 🙂

Blog1 – Not left UK yet!

Ok, this is my first blog post! I haven’t yet left the UK, but am still preparing (including sorting out finance, being vaccinated, learning Spanish worship songs, and lots of prayer!). Excited to be heading off next month, but lots to do before leaving, including a fair bit of preaching around this country, youth work at a few different events, saying goodbye to everyone – etc. I’ll stop rambling randomly now, and will write about something slightly deeper.

I’ve been writing talks for an upcoming event and two days ago God revealed that for the first of this batch of talks He wants me to speak on the topic of His will – knowing it, and following it. When He showed me this I began to stress because this was a topic I’d been struggling with all week. Earlier in the week several things had happened which had thrown me into a state of confusion about different areas of my life and what God’s will is for them, and I’d found myself frustrated with God in that He wasn’t responding clearly when I asked Him to show me His will. So now to preach on knowing and acting on His will?!?! How on earth could I do that?? But a friend reminded me that experiencing the topic of the talk shortly before speaking it always makes the best talks – AND I remembered how often He asks me to speak on a topic I know nothing about, so that I don’t do it in my own strength but let Him teach me and show me what to say so that it’s fresh and not just from my own understanding.

So I postponed my relatively unimportant appointment for the day and committed to spending the rest of the day seeking His will – both for my life and for the talk. I didn’t want to be either still confused about those situations or a hypocrite when speaking! Thankfully He showed me (finally) what I was to do – and then what I was to say. His grace is incredible! I was left in awe of Him again, at how often I disobey and let Him down and yet how fast He is to accept me, forgive me and show me the right way.

My thought process went something along these lines:

I can speak fine on following God’s will – but how do we find out His will for our lives when it’s not obvious? Sometimes by looking at the dreams, talents and desires He gives us… But not always – for example sin is often desirable but certainly isn’t God’s will for us. We can work out His will through getting to know His character, as revealed in the Bible… But this is often unspecific in practical application, such as seeking God’s will for our time or our finance or our career. The simple answer would be to just ASK HIM His will – but then sometimes we can struggle to know whether or not we’re hearing His voice right, if what we hear is unclear. How do we know we’re hearing God right? Practice, through conversation with Him and asking Him questions? Test what He says to see if it’s fully true? Ask for confirmation of what He’s said? See if what He’s said lines up with the Bible and with what we know of His character? All of these are good things – but it can still be difficult to discern His will if His voice is unclear at times. I found myself thinking about this and not reaching any set conclusions, so I began to stress about it, wondering what on earth I’m to do in my own life AND what I’m to say in the talk.

Whenever I begin to stress in such a way, God leads me to worship Him. Sometimes this involves music, sometimes reading Psalms or other parts of the Bible, sometimes just telling Him how great He is and thanking Him for things – but it always calms me down, re-focuses me on Him and enables me to return to sitting at His feet in peace. Often there He can speak to me in the clearest ways and show me His will. The answer of “let go and worship” was staring me in the face all along; He’d been saying it to me all week (throughout various stressful situations and the like) and yet I’d still taken this long to realize that it was the answer to one of my struggles and stresses – the question of knowing His will ultimately boils down to this surrender and worship. Of course to find out His will we should look to what He’s already said, through the Bible and to us directly – and look at what He’s given us in talents and other provision; and of course ASK Him – but His basic will for our lives, His priority, is depth of personal relationship with each one of us, and worship points us in that direction. We may begin to stress or worry about what His will for our lives is, but stress won’t usually do us any good. When we let go and worship, and choose to look to Him and love Him for who He is regardless of our dilemma or any situations we may be facing, this is His will – we’re putting ourselves in His hands and  making ourselves open to Him, allowing ourselves to lean on Him – so the rest falls into place in His own time.

I was so glad of this realization – and I had the talk notes finished in no time, after some time worshiping Him! God is so good. (Awesome!)

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