La Esperanza es Jesus [The Hope is Jesus] in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
The wheels of the plane bumped along the airstrip, announcing our arrival to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Our long journey had finally ended, but in a sense it was just beginning as we stepped into the humidity, anticipating the journey that God would lead us on during the next two weeks.
Feelings of nervousness, exhaustion and excitement mingled in the air while we juggled our luggage through customs and were granted entrance into an unfamiliar land. But any uncertainty was cast aside as we walked through the airport doors and were greeted with a royal welcome. A band was heartily playing and people greeted us with hugs and small gifts. Pathfinder troops were quick to whisk away our luggage while rapidly firing questions at us in Spanish. It was overwhelming, yet humbling to realize how thrilled they were for us to be involved in their lives and ministry.
Receiving such a heartfelt welcome made the 24 hours of traveling worth it, and suddenly the feelings of grogginess and our achy backs didn’t seem to matter anymore. We knew that God was going to do something mighty, and He did, for the Bolivian people and for us individually.
Our group had 25 students and faculty from Mt. Ellis Academy and the Montana Conference. The purpose of this mission trip was twofold: to participate in building a church and to be involved with the widespread evangelism endeavor reaching throughout Bolivia and parts of South America.
Every night for two weeks there was an evangelistic meeting. It was during this first week that the students, along with some adults, had the opportunity to help with the evangelistic presentations. Some of the students team-preached while others participated in the children's program, telling stories and teaching songs. The children couldn’t get enough of the action songs, and they loved to be as near to us as possible. Miriam Davis, MEA senior, said, "The kids were so much fun."
From our group there were eight speakers presenting at five sites, in addition to the sites led out by other mission groups or the local people. The sites were all different sizes and met in churches, tents, courtyards or the open air, spanning across the bustling city of 1.2 million people. It was very rewarding interacting with the local people, even if, at times, there were frustrations with a lack of translators, miscommunications, or rain that made it difficult to preach. Plus, there was always the harrowing drive to get from our hotel to the site (those oncoming headlights seemed to come awfully close to our taxi!) Through it all we learned flexibility and patience.
Kelly Ree, MEA junior, recounts a little of her experience on the first night at their evangelistic site. “We were a bit nervous when our ride pulled up, but we all piled in, hoping for the best. When we started down the street, I anxiously asked in my broken Spanish if we had a translator. Our driver turned around, smiled and said ‘you.' Trying to remain calm, we looked at each other and said, ‘we need to pray,’ and so we did the whole way there. Five minutes before it was time to start, a fluent translator walked in the door in answer to our prayers. It was an amazing night, and everything worked out for the best.”
During the second week, our small sites joined up with the large evangelistic crusade led by Jere Patzer, North Pacific Union Conference president. It was encouraging to see the large auditorium fill up throughout the night and see hundreds of people making decisions to follow Christ. Including the satellite sites, more than 5,000 people were baptized by the end, and it was projected that another 5,000 people would later be baptized with the follow-up work!
The decisions made for Christ were memorable, but so was sitting in the newly constructed church that we had seen go from just a skeleton to a functional house of God. At the building site, we were kept busy doing various tasks from laying brick, mixing concrete, to painting the walls with funny brushes that looked like brooms. Working all day at the church, then hurrying back to the hotel to get cleaned up before heading for the evangelistic meetings made it a long day, but every achy muscle was worth it.
As always, a mission trip has to come to an end. There were many tearful goodbyes and hugs, but even though we had to leave Bolivia, the experiences we gained will never really leave our lives. The knowledge we acquired will help shape our future and will hopefully touch people that we come into contact with throughout life’s journey.
EDITOR'S NOTE: According to Dan Serns, NPUC Global Mission director, during the first harvest cycle of 2006, the Bolivian Union surpassed its goal of 10,000 newly baptized members by April 30!