Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Bolivian Hope Center Story

“Before it becomes a faint, but delicate memory, I decided to pen (then type) some notes of the Missions Trip to Bolivia.  Most are excerpts from my evening devotion and many times while reading or just contemplating how to put thoughts into words for this or any other journal; a song  will come to mind.  Since I am very diverse in the music I listen to, sometimes it’s ‘religious’ and sometimes it’s not.  Nevertheless, I have to jot it down as it rings throughout my thought."

I WENT  (“I Will Go” : Starfield)
        It was immediate, there was no hesitation:  “I knew I had to go!”

        The moment I heard about the trip to Cochabamba, I was going.  As I handed Pastor Randy the check that Sunday morning, March 7, 2010, my eyes quelled with tears, as I could only say, “I have to go!”  I had abandoned an earlier trip to Ecuador, and ever since I had been haunted as I sought for the true reason why I “couldn't go”?

        Could I have gone to Ecuador?  Yes.  Did I have to go to Bolivia?  No.   However, in the past month, I now realize why I couldn’t… and why I did.

Why I couldn’t:  It wasn’t my turn!  

        Whenever I, through much deliberation, thought and prayer, decided the Ecuador trip was not ‘the correct timing’, it became one of the most difficult decisions I had ever made.  I had some personal issues facing me, but that wasn’t the reason.  The trip was paid for, so that wasn’t the reason.  I had already purchased clothing and other items for the trip, so that wasn’t the reason, either.  I knew my calling is to preach, teach and lead.  Was I again, “Running from this call?”  I didn’t feel that I was, but I just “Couldn’t go!”

        As I mentioned before; this had literally haunted me for many months.  Why didn’t I go?  Well, about 10 days before leaving for Bolivia, the answer was so plain, so obvious, and ever so gratifying.
        It was, in my mind, almost at the last moment that I had given in and approached Pastor Randy about my not ‘being able’ to go.  I informed him that I wasn’t concerned with any return of funds, but that “I couldn't go”.  He understood and informed me that another had not been able to come up with all their funds.  I thought as I left that discussion, “My timing doesn’t matter…but God’s timing is always perfect”.

       Now I know the ‘Rest of the story’!  Why couldn’t I go?  The one that went instead; As I have come to understand; it was their maiden mission trip and as with almost all ‘maiden’ mission trips, one not only attains the desire to return again and again but also reaps the gratification of doing something for the Kingdom.  Many times God returns the blessing right back to the giver, the volunteer, and/or the worker several times over.  I now know that in the midst of that trip that I ‘couldn’t go on’; this person received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  It was their turn and my turn to weep profusely whenever I found out a couple of Sunday’s before we were to leave on the trip “I had to go on!”  I now know, “Why I couldn’t:  It wasn't my turn!”

Why I did:  To know that I know!  

       Prior to our trip, we all met to go over last minute details.  During this meeting Pastor Randy shared with us that there would be a blog that people could ‘keep up with us’ on.  He also shared the passage that we would daily devote time to; the passage was John 4.  Many of us have heard and read this passage, a passage about the ‘Woman at the well’.  But, had we really, I mean really understood the intricacies within these 42 verses?  On this day, we were asked to specifically take a look at verse 4; “He had to go through Samaria on the way”.  To me and most others this verse was no more than taking a breather along a long journey, however, a closer look would say that Jesus did not have to go to or even through Sychar.  As a matter of fact, it was definitely off the path for a Jewish person.

        WOW!  I’m on my way to somewhere I didn’t have to go, but I did and now I’m studying about Jesus going somewhere He didn’t have to go?!  I would find that this is no coincidence.

        For our first evening in Bolivia our time was to be devoted to John 4:1-8.  Not only do we find that Jesus has showed up in a place that He didn’t have to go to, but we find that He was tired and weary after a long walk.  I noticed also that He was alone as he sat next to a well at noontime.

        In parallel, I thought; Jesus didn’t have to go, but yet He had to go.  I hope it makes sense to know that I didn't have to come to Bolivia, but yet I had to come here.  Why?  I was not sure but Jesus was absolutely sure about His reason for being there in Sychar and I am sure He knows why I am in Cochabamba.  As I continued, I thought, “He was tired from his trip and I too was tired from mine.”  (Little Rock to Dallas, Dallas to Miami, Miami to Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz to Cochabamba, then we loaded our luggage and ourselves into the back of pick-ups to get to the Missionary’s home.  Makes one tired, just thinking about it.)  Although, there were 23 others on this trip, I couldn’t help but feel alone.  Kathy had not come on this trip and I missed her as well as my children and grandchild back in Arkansas.  Jesus was alone because He was away from His family and His disciples were absent to obtain food.  For reasons other than the trip itself, I believe He may have also been weary of the ministry He was charged with.  The great responsibility of preaching, baptizing and performing miracles would seem to allow one’s body, even our Lord’s,  to momentarily succumb to daily pressures including the realization of all the souls one needed to seek and reach.

        Now Jesus finds himself at a well, a well that could only take care of humanly needs.  This well was not just any well, but it was Jacob’s well.  Yes, the very Jacob that wrestled with God.  I have often wondered how it is possible that our Lord, or an Angel, could not overpower Jacob.  It is an important question because I noticed that the angel had the power to disable Jacob at any time.  When it began to get light and the angel wished to leave, all he had to do was touch Jacob’s hip socket and it wrenched it out of place.  If the angel could win whenever he so desired, why didn't he?  I believe a struggle was necessary for Jacob’s growth.

        This angel battled and endured with Jacob for the entire night until Jacob was exhausted.  I suppose the angel would gain a little advantage and then allow Jacob to feel that he was gaining. This went on all night and must have been exhausting, making Jacob very weary.  Jacob had to reach the point where he had no more strength.  Then the angel touched Jacob's hip sending a message that was unmistakable… although Jacob had struggled and fought with all his might, the Lord could have, with one touch, defeated him.  Jacob needed to see the superiority of his challenger.

        Jacob knew all the right words and could perform the right actions . . . but his heart still was not completely the Lord's.  It's easy to have superficial faith.  However, a crisis forces us to grapple with our real feelings and our true faith.  God provokes this crisis to bring Jacob to a point of genuine faith.  When Jacob called out for a blessing from God, the wall had been broken through.

        God did not just want Jacob's worship. He wanted his heart. And He wants the same from me.

        I feel my life is at ‘noontime’ or half way through.  At the age of 52 almost 53, half of my adult life has now gone by.  Although at this time of life, (mine has included in chronological order; Bible College, Youth Pastor, Traveling Choir, Youth Sponsor, Class Pastor, and Youth Pastor once again), I get a heavy burden whenever I feel as though I have missed (more appropriately ‘run’ from ) my calling.  I too, like Jesus am weary, but not because of the responsibility or pressures of ministry but like Jacob, it’s from wrestling with God.  I now know; from the weariness that I felt in travel, the aches of my muscles and soreness of my legs from working, and mostly from the heavy burden in my heart; that I know God is still wrestling with me and at this time in my life… That’s a good thing!  (It’s good to know that God still cares enough to ‘wrestle’ with me.)  I now know, “Why I did: To know that I know!”

I WORKED (“Our God is an Awesome God”:  Rich Mullins) 

        I am so glad that Rich and Sandee Farthing invited us to help at the “Bolivian Hope Center”, a place where children can take refuge.  This mission continues to provide meals, tutoring, and training for nearly 500 needy children in the neighborhood.  It is a home where up to 36 children from the prison will have their own beds, a godly environment, medical and a whole lot of love and support while their parent is in prison.  It includes a ministry that cares for the younger children; ages 0-5 inside the prison: providing them with meals, clothing and Biblical training.  There is a feeding program five days a week for all the remaining children inside the prison.  In the future there will be a home for abandon mothers and training facilities, as well.

        I have heard so many times during my Christian walk people quote, “You have not, because you ask not!”  Early in my walk, I took this very literally and many times since I have wandered why I every cease from doing so.  Our God is able and so many times I cut Him short and even leave Him out.  Rich and Sandee have a vision and do not cut God out of the equation, and were more than willing to allow us, through God’s blessing to be a part of their vision.

        I find that many times my thoughts must be like the words the woman at the well spoke in verse 11.  I have a great need and do not allow or ask God to be part of it, it is as though I am saying, “God, you don’t have a long enough rope or a big enough bucket.”  “God, the well (my problem) is too deep.”  “God, you are not great enough, what makes you think you are better than my family or friends at helping me with my situation.”  “How can your water (solution) be any better than theirs?”  I cut Him short and many times out.

        We worked all day Saturday.  I was part of the tiling team.  Early in the day we were treated to a performance by the children.  They dressed in ‘culture costumes’ from the different states or regions of Bolivia.  Bolivia has 36 native cultures and over 20 official languages.  I, along with most of the others, was blessed by their resolve to perform the very best they could.  Although there was a language barrier, that wouldn't stifle the many hugs and pictures afterwards and then it was back to work.

        The work wasn’t difficult, but it was hard, if you can understand where I am coming from.  Most of us were on our knees, spreading quick set mortar, or placing tile with the most precision we possibly could, while others would mix the mortar and carry it to its appropriate place or they would carry or cut the tile.  There was another team in charge of painting gates, fences, columns, walls and more walls.  There were others that helped with the food preparation and tidying up before and after our meals.  There was a ‘whole lot of workin’ going on!’

        Sunday morning we were right back at it.  It was different, not because we were working on a Sunday, but because the evening before we had been challenged to interact with the children and those that were there to support and work at the center.  We were on an assignment and the assignment wasn’t to find our differences, but rather our commonalities.  During this time, my thought went to the children that had performed for us Saturday morning.  Their big bright brown eyes were not only beautiful, but piercing as well.  And not just visually piercing but heart piercing.  I wandered, “What would the world be like if every prisoner’s child was taken care of by God’s people.  I also couldn't help but think what or how a parent must feel.  The parent left at home while the spouse is incarcerated or the parent that is in prison; for only a short time; or maybe for several years; or possibly for life? The thought was unfathomable!

        We stopped our work to attend Sunday morning worship services.  Yes, we were worshipping with those that were different in looks, culture and language, BUT… we were all worshiping the same God.  The song leader was so passionate, but so deliberate and was definitely unmatched by our ‘choir’ as we all sang out to a very understanding and loving God.

        Pastor King’s message was “Redemption is available to all.”  I thought about verses 13 and 14 that simply tell us ‘the water is available to all.’  “It’s not the effort, it’s our faith.” Pastor King exhorted.  Again I thought, “We will never thirst again if we dip from God’s well instead of continuing to dip from our earthly ‘wells’.

        The altar call was a special blessing.  As with all altar calls, it was a time of change, but this change was to be very different.  Some feel inadequate when praying with or for others at the altar.  They are afraid of what they might or might not say.  There is fear that “I must use my prayer language and if I don’t, my prayer is not sufficient for this time.” Yet others resist asking what to pray specifically for.  Well, with our language barrier, we were all praying in ‘unknown’ tongues, chances are those we prayed for didn’t understand a word we said, therefore; “How could it be inadequate, the wrong thing or the wrong timing?”  And with this barrier we were unable to ask what to specifically pray for…. So, we just prayed, and prayed, and prayed some more.  What an awesome God we have.  He doesn’t care if it’s fluent Spanish, English, French, Chinese or an unknown tongue… He just wants us to ask!
Note:  Another, maybe not so common ‘blessing’, was our men being hugged and kissed on the neck by a toothless man as we exited the sanctuary that day.  You have to know, that was definitely a topic during that evening’s gathering.

        Monday was another full day of WORK.  Each of us was beginning to feel the effects of our efforts.  We were moving a bit slower, hobbling and even grunting a bit whenever getting up from our knees; but never complaining.  We could definitely see the results of those efforts and what we were seeing was good.  As challenged the night before, we were sharing what God has blessed each of us with and sharing it with the children and the workers at the center in so many different ways.  For some it was interacting with the children, for some it was allowing the children to help us, yet others it was diligently sharing gifts of charity in the form of guidance, words of encouragement, work habits, and even financial resources.  We have because we ask!  Hard work… Yes!  Aches and pains… Absolutely!  Would I do it again…? When?  Why? Because… “Our God is an Awesome God!!!”  Can’t you just hear Rich Mullins along with the young children singing?

I WEPT (“And the Beat Goes On”: Sonny and Cher)

        Monday night devotions were a personal challenge:  Is sin in control of my life?  What are the effects?  Am I willing to confront it?  As I thought on these questions, my heart beat went faster and I cried knowing that sin is an issue for everyone of us.

        Sin meddles with family and loved ones (I thought of family members).  It hinders friendships and acquaintances (I thought of friends).  Sin hampers our work and our professions (I thought of my business).  Let us just say: Sin interferes with Relationships.  But most of all it interferes with my relationship with God.  The same God who holds my destiny and continues to offer that refreshing, cleansing and eternal water to me and everyone else, too.  Why did I weep?  I could only wonder… “What could have been?”  What could have been if sin was never allowed to interfere?  That’s a question that can and will never be answered.  However, it can become a godly stimulus to live by from now until eternity.

        Tuesday was a most needed rest day.  We visited the Cristo, more specifically the El Cristo de la Concordia statue in Cochabamba. It is the world's tallest statue of Christ.  It surpasses the more famous statue in Rio de Janeiro by a few meters.  The statue towers over Cochabamba, with its outstretched arms in a welcoming embrace and is located atop the huge San Pedro hilltop, that overlooks Cochabamba about 265 meters (875 ft) above the city.  Cristo de la Concordia stands 33m (109 ft) high, one meter for every year of Christ's life and when you add its base it reaches a final height of 42 meters (140 ft).

        The story of El Cristo de la Concordia began with requests by residents of Cochabamba to have a large statue of Christ made and placed on the top of the San Pedro hilltop. The statue was sculpted by a local artist in the late 1980's.  Located at the far eastern end of Ave. Las HeroĆ­nas, to reach it you can either take a 5 minute cable-car ride or climb about 1,500 steps leading from the base to the summit.  (We rode almost to the top)  Either method rewards visitors with amazing views over the valley of Cochabamba.  I am not aware if it still goes on, but in the past, on Sunday the inside of the statue is open, where you can climb to the top of the statue itself for even better views.  There is also an outdoor Sunday morning mass located there.

        We then went shopping down town… Look out!  It’s bumper to bumper and pedestrians do not, I repeat, Do Not have the right of way!  We were guided to a jewelry store with a great selection of bolivianita.  Bolivianita, found only in Bolivia, is a precious stone or gem that is partially yellow and partially purple.  (It is said that hundreds of years ago a beautiful Ayoreo princess named Anahi fell in love with a Spanish conqueror.  This angered the members of her tribe so they plotted to kill the Spaniard.  Anahi found out and warned him to leave for his safety.  The members of her tribe, in an attempt to kill the Spaniard, accidentally killed Anahi instead.  The two fused colors represent Anahi’s broken heart, divided between her love for her people and her love for the Spaniard, to whom she gave the gem as she lay dying.)   The jewelry store was full of activity and the Baptist ladies running the store seemed to really enjoy all these “Rich Americans” (No Pastor Rod; I have not forgotten! Ha! Ha!)

        This ‘day of rest’ could not have come at a better time.  I was beginning to stress out at the task at hand.  I was seeking perfection from an imperfect being… myself!  As I previously stated the work was hard, now physical and mental wear and tear began to take its toll.  I was beginning to ask myself; why do we need to tile these floors?  Then, in a time of quietness and resting, I began to weep.  How could I be so callused? How could I not understand “Who would be walking on these very floors”!

        Walking on these floors would be kids of all ages.  There will be kids that are hurting; kids that may not have parents; kids that are hungry; kids that might be physically or mentally abused.  Most of all, kids that each have a soul will be walking on these floors.  Souls that need Jesus; souls that need nurturing; souls that need all that they can possibly get relating to “The Kingdom”.  Why?  In the future, these souls may be instrumental in bringing the Word to the next generation of believers.  They may very well be influential in changing their neighborhoods, their cities, their country, a country called Bolivia.

        Wednesday, we were back at it again and at the end of day we were informed that we had finished what had been expected of our team and that all work done Thursday would far exceed the hopes of Rich and Sandee.  Our verses and thoughts for the day were:  vs. 19 through vs. 26… Watch for Jesus – He shows up when we need Him and vs. 31 through vs. 34… When I’m following God’s plan, He sustains me.   With these in mind, we would endeavor to do as much as possible on Thursday.

        As I heard the word ‘finished’ from Pastor Randy, I thought of the song, “It is Finished” by Bill and Gloria Gaither and I thought of the final words spoken on the cross by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Both express triumph instead of defeat.  I wept as I prayed that ‘finishing’ the tasks here in Cochabamba would not be the laying of the last tile or painting the last column but that our efforts for that past week would be a catalyst in someone finding God and accepting His salvation and to live a God-fearing holy life.  And that each of these would in turn lead another and another to the Kingdom as… "The 'WORD' goes on."

        Sonny and Cher’s lyrics list actions in and around this world that seeming continue, some changing - some not.  The Word of God never changes; sort of like ‘the men marching off to war’, ‘boys chasing girls’ and ‘grandmas reminiscing’, each continues to ‘go on’.  However, just as quoted in the song; ‘Charleston was once the rage’, ‘History has turned the page’, the way we carry the message changes as our culture or society continues to change, but nevertheless… "The WORD goes on."

        “And the Beat Goes On”  A heartbeat?  More like a heart pounding whenever I think of the hundreds of pounds of mortar and the hundreds, even thousands, of pieces of tile that we have laid in this place.  A place called the “Bolivian Hope Center”.

        Mortar and tile that will be walked on by hundreds of little feet each week.
- Little feet with hands that are reaching for something or someone.
- Little feet with eyes that are watching something or someone.
- Little feet with ears that are listening to something or someone.
- Little feet with hearts that yearn to be something or someone.
- Little feet that carry a soul, a soul that someday will end up in eternity.

        On that same mortar and tile will walk upright men and women (like Rich and Sandee) who will reach their hands down and out to these little ones.
        On that mortar and tile will walk attentive men and women (like Rich and Sandee) that will watch over those little ones with their own eyes.
        On that mortar and tile will walk caring men and women (like Rich and Sandee) who will listen with their ears to the comments and questions, allowing their hearts to guide them in their responses to the little ones.
        On that mortar and tile will walk men and women (like Rich and Sandee) with hearts of gold shared with all, especially the little ones that come to this place.
        On that mortar and tile will kneel down Godly men and women (like Rich and Sandee) in prayer for and with the little souls ready to accept Jesus as their Savior.

        A Savior that is more than ready to help these willing men and women nurture these young souls into Christian men and women who will someday become leaders in their neighborhoods (like those around the well), their cities (like Sychar), their country (like Samaria), even the world!  Neighborhoods (like those around the Hope Center), cities (like Cochabamba), a country (like Bolivia) and a world where all people need the refreshing water that only Jesus can give!

        Was the mortar and tile needed?  Yes.  But the Feet, Hands, Eyes, Ears and Hearts of spirit filled men and women are needed much, much more!  That’s why I had to go… That’s why I have to give… so people like Rich and Sandee can continue to be where they are needed!

“And the ‘WORD’ Goes On!”

C.T. Phillips             9/2/2010 – 9/11/2010