The Land of My Affliction

“And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.”-Genesis 41:52

There’s a pretty decent chance none of us will lose a mother to the childbirth of our younger brother, be sold into slavery by our other brothers, and be thrown into prison based on false accusations (only to have our one hope to get out completely forget we exist).

But we all will, I believe, at times find ourselves in a “land of affliction” just as Joseph did. A place we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves, yet one that we can’t seem to escape.

Perhaps tonight you, too, are going through a dark period in your life. Let this verse encourage you and show you that God can make you fruitful regardless of where you are and what you are going through. Joseph maintained his testimony and his faith in God throughout, and in the end he was able to name his second child in such a way as to reflect the goodness of God in his life.

If you are passing through a time such as this, remember Joseph’s story, and remember that God may just use your “land of affliction” to do mighty things through you as well.

Happenings in Chile: Part Three

It’s hard to believe it’s been about a month since I last wrote about what’s going on in Chile. But wow, what a month it’s been!

“Happenings in Chile: Part Two” was written on December 21, which means Christmas was right after that. It was definitely different trying to get in the Christmas spirit, considering that I’m used to the Christmas season being cold in the States. Here in Chile, it’s summertime, so there wasn’t any chance of getting a “White Christmas” (and I’m pretty sure I didn’t even bother listening to that song, at least not intentionally, because it was completely out of the realm of possibility!). I did, however, put on some Christmas music and try my best, and even though it didn’t feel like the Christmases I’ve been used to, it was still an incredible experience spending it in Chile and I would rank it up there as one of the best. Also, in Chile, they celebrate more on the evening of the 24th than the 25th, which was a neat change.

On Christmas Eve, we had a morning service at Omega Baptist Church, with food and fellowship afterward. If you remember, in the last blog post, I mentioned how we went to the outdoor flea market and witnessed. One of the men we contacted came and visited as well for our Christmas Eve service!

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That evening, we didn’t have a service, so about 6 PM I went over to Francisco Nuñez’s house for the evening. We had a wonderful time of fellowship and great food. I also got to try ceviche, which is basically a raw fish with a heavy lemon taste, for the first time. It was pretty good! Sometime after midnight, we went outside and opened up gifts together under the stars. I have to say that was really neat.

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Ceviche

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We stayed up till about 2 in the morning or so. Then, the next day, I went over to the Holts’ house for a Christmas celebration with the Sparks and a few Chilean families. We had a blast! First we ate, then we spent the rest of the afternoon playing games together outside. It felt a little less like Christmas and a little more like 4th of July, but never in a million years would I have traded it for the cold! We had such a good time together.

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The missionaries usually have a Christmas get-together and White Elephant gift exchange, which we did on the 26th. That was a lot of fun. The next day, the 27th, it was back to normal.

That is, until New Year’s! I spent that evening as well with another Chilean family that I’m very close to here. We ate a meal together, then went outside to see the fireworks as we rang in the new year. By about 2 AM, I was pretty tired and went on home. But from what I understand, a lot of people stay up till 5 and 6 AM since the next day is a holiday. On the 1st, I did go over to another missionary’s house and we talked about a lot of things dealing with a missionary’s deputation, which was helpful.

Below are a couple of pictures from different church members on New Year’s.

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My favorite day so far in Chile might very well be January 13th, and it’s hard to imagine I’ll have another one like it before I leave. It was a Saturday, and Omega Baptist Church rented a parcela, which is a large area that somebody owns, and made a day of it. We had food and played games. But the most special part of the day, by far, was when five members followed our Savior Jesus Christ’s command of identifying with Him in baptism. It was a very special time in which a majority of the church was able to be there fellowshipping as brothers and sisters in Christ

A couple of times the past month, Jason Holt has taken a group of young men preparing for the ministry, Daniel Sparks and me around different Chilean cities, such as Santiago, Valparaiso, and Viña Del Mar. The purpose of these trips have been to show us where churches need to be planted and how we could go about doing that. It’s somewhat like a survey trip. The sheer amount of people who have never heard the pure gospel as told in the Bible is staggering and yet, I believe these cities can be reached. And not only these cities, but all of Chile and the world. Christ wouldn’t have given us a command to do something that couldn’t be done. And so, in His power, I believe we can!

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Speaking of reaching Santiago and the world, we’ve seen God doing some amazing things through 250Project! We were up against a major deadline to make a payment on the property and just weren’t seeing where the money was going to come from. God miraculously intervened through our Christian brethren and we not only made the 2nd payment, but were propelled way into the 3rd!

Of course, as always, I still get together with Jason and discuss a lot of different things related to ministry. I feel like I’ve learned so much just by being here and want to say thank you again to all of you who have helped me in that, whether prayerfully, financially, or both.

It’s hard to believe, but I have less than two months left before I head back to the States. I hope to make the most of those two months before I go!

Until next time!

Making the Most of 2018

“Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”-Ephesians 5:14-16

2018 is finally here! Wait, what am I saying? It seems we barely blinked and 2017 disappeared! But, even still, it’s 2018. A new year with new opportunities, and there is certainly hope in the air, isn’t there?

If you’re like me, every new year you get excited about all the things you want to do to improve your spiritual and personal life. January 1st has this magical appeal that can’t really be explained.

So let’s talk about that.

For 2018 to be your best year yet, I believe you shouldn’t make “New Year’s Resolutions” as much as you should set goals that can be broken down into small achievable steps. For example, “Lose weight” is not a good goal because it’s not specific and really has no start or end. “Lose twenty pounds” is more specific, but even that is a large statement that should be broken down into smaller steps like, “Lose ‘X’ amount of pounds per week”. And even then, that should be broken down into achievable ways to make that happen.

As a Christian, I hope your goals are something that will enhance your Christian life and advance the kingdom of God. After all, that’s the whole reason we’re here, really (For what it’s worth, losing weight really can be glorifying to God if it’s enabling you to serve Him physically and increasing your longevity on this earth)!

So set your goals, make them achievable and specific, and then plan out how they’re going to happen. I strongly encourage you to watch this video below (Watching at 1.5 speed works well here) and do what she says about the performance review and holiday letter. I did the holiday letter for this year and it really helped me define clearly who I wanted to be by the end of 2018. It also helps to state things as if they’ve already happened and see just how much really can be accomplished in a year.

When she breaks down the amount of hours we have in a week, it becomes pretty clear that we do have time for what we want to do, don’t we?

So what are your goals for this year? Here are just a few of mine:

I want to read through my Spanish Bible this year, which at this point, I should’ve already done. But this year, I plan to do it.

I also want to read an average of one book a week. One thing I started doing at the end of 2017 was setting a timer and reading an hour a day. I didn’t always do this, but I want to make it more of a habit this year. I actually love to read, so the timer isn’t so much about forcing myself to read as it is to keep me from distractions as I set aside a specific time to read. I know that if I read at least an hour a day, I can generally finish a book within four or five days, depending on the size of the book.

This next thing falls under my “stop doing” list and isn’t really as much of a goal as it is a matter of discipline, but I want to stop looking at social media until I’ve completed everything I really want to do for the day (unless social media has something to do with a task, of course). For me, going through social media always starts with an innocent intention of five minutes that soon turns into a thirty minute scroll through everybody else’s mind dump. And half of those minds belong in a dump, really.

And even then, I really want to plan the time I get on social media (“From 7-7:30 tonight I can get on social media”, for example. And, actually, if you add that up, thirty minutes a day would be 3.5 hours a week, or 182 hours a year, or about 7.5 days a year!! And that’s just with a measly thirty minutes a day, when I know we spend far more than that on average!). If you’ve ever looked at people when they’re eating, a vast majority of them are on their phones. This year, I want to eat without looking at my phone and just observe and enjoy what’s going on around me. The other day I went to McDonald’s overlooking Plaza Maipú and decided I wasn’t going to look at my phone the whole time I was eating. Instead, I just sat there, ate, and watched people. It was actually relaxing, believe it or not!

I also want to stand in lines without browsing my phone and just observe, which is actually an exercise that trains your mind against instant gratification and increases concentration, by the way.

I think what bothers me about social media, aside from the wasted time and scientifically proven shortened attention spans it brings, is that I used to be an avid reader. You couldn’t get me away from a good book. Social media took that away from me to an extent when I exchanged well-thought-out books for brief snippets of people’s minds or lives. This year, I’m taking back what was stolen from me.

Anyway, these are just three of my goals and plans. I have others as well, but I imagine that if I put these into practice, by the end of this year, I’ll be very happy with the result.

So what are your plans for the New Year? What do you hope to have accomplished by 2019? I’d love to hear it!

 

Goodbye 2017. Welcome, 2018!

I just read a great quote on a friend’s Facebook wall. It said:

“As we go forth into the coming year, let it be. . . with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return but God can transform destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ.” Oswald Chambers (There’s slightly more to the quote, but this suffices)

We’ll never get it back.

In a few hours, 2017 will be in the books forever. And let’s face it: Every one of us look back at certain moments this year and wish we’d have used them better for the Lord.

Does any of the following sound familiar?

I didn’t stop to talk to that person when the Holy Spirit prompted me to. 

I spoke too hastily and regretted the words I used.

I wasted time on social media or in front of the television when I could’ve been doing better things. 

If none of this described you at some point in 2017, then I really admire your spirituality. But for most of us, these statements hit way too close to home.

If we look back at 2017 as a list of our failures, it’d look like a pretty bleak year. But certainly, Christian, there are good moments spiritually we can look back on. Surely there are times where we resisted temptation, listened to the Holy Spirit, guarded our tongues, etc. Surely those of us whose hope is in the God of second chances realize just how many of those second chances He gave us this year and how we did indeed take advantage of them.

Judging 2017 should be done in this light: What did God do in your life this year? Are you closer to Him now than you were when this year started? Or is there really no discernable difference? Are you heading into 2018 with any new souls won for Christ? Have you watched God noticeably work in your life? This should be the measure of your year. And I hope that, even with its failures and struggles, you can look back on 2017 as a success.

If you honestly can’t see it that way, read that quote again and realize where our hope truly lies and Who is stepping with us into the future. And resolve that, this time next year, you’ll be able to answer yes to those questions.

We can’t change anything about this past year, but we have a clean slate next year (Which, by the way, I plan to publish a post about tomorrow!). Change won’t come just because a date on the calendar switches, but there is something fresh and exciting about a new year, isn’t there? New beginnings and fresh starts. A chance to have the best year of your life to-date.

Let’s make the most of it for the Lord.

Goodbye, 2017. Welcome, 2018!

 

Happenings in Chile: Part Two

Santiago, Chile, still continues to enthrall me. While I’ve gotten fairly accustomed to living here and can now do pretty much everything I need to do without any problems, the freshness of living in a city where everything seems new is so exciting! In a city of seven million people, there’s no limit to the people you can meet and the things you can watch them doing. There’s no end of “Hola!” and “Buenos días” and, of course, that question so many want to ask the resident gringo: “¿De dónde eres?” (Where are you from?)

Just yesterday I walked down to Plaza Maipú, worked my way through all the construction, and ascended the stairs at a local McDonald’s to eat. This is actually only the second or third time I’ve gone to McDonald’s since I got here. My point isn’t McDonalds, though (although those McNuggets were delicious!), but rather the view that I had looking out at Plaza Maipú. The sheer number of people walking around below is staggering, and I can’t help but wonder where each of them is going. Not within Chile, but in eternity. Sometimes looking at that can make me feel extremely small, like I really can’t even put a dent in this city for Christ. That part can be discouraging, but thinking about the fact that I have a great and living God with Whom nothing is impossible and that He does want to see this city reached for Him gives me hope.

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So, what’s going on in Chile?

First, I doubted this would happen, but it finally has: I’m talking like a Chilean, both in some of the things I say and in the tone I use as I say it. They have a very interesting way of speaking that I love and have just naturally started using. Only a couple of weeks ago, I said something to John Moncada and he stopped and told me, “You’re starting to speak like us.” I took that as a compliment. When I get back to the States, I’ll probably sound a little different than I did!

A few days after I wrote my last blog post, Jason and Lori Holt, Daniel and Anna Sparks and I all headed to Lima, Peru, for a Vision Baptist Mission conference of South American missionaries, as well a couple from South Africa who made it in. It was an awesome opportunity for me to meet many missionaries and talk about my future with the Vision Baptist Mission Director, Jeff Bush (A future that is shaping up and beginning to make sense, by the way!). It was a spiritually-enriching time and I plan to write about it specifically soon.

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Not long after returning to Chile, we had a special night at Omega Baptist Church in which people renewed their membership and signed their name to the rolls. This was done in part to give us a fresh start on some things and bring us up-to-date here. It was a blessing to see the people that God has brought to Omega even since I arrived in September and to watch the church continuing forward for the glory of the Lord.

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Since Thanksgiving in November isn’t a holiday here, it was just another day for most Chileans. However, the missionaries got together for a delicious meal and some wonderful fellowship (I truly feel like I have a second family here now). It was my first time not working at Cracker Barrel on Thanksgiving Day in a few years, so it was nice to finally have the day to enjoy!

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Work goes on at the training center. Once in a while I’ll head over and help Yajairo do some things. I’m not the construction type AT ALL, but I have learned some things and don’t mind helping as long as I’m told what to do! They’re hoping by March to have the place pretty much completely ready to go. One part of me thinks that’s awesome and the other part is like, “So you mean I’m going to work on this and help over here just long enough to get it done, but not to actually enjoy it in all of its glory before I head back to the States?”

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A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday morning, a group of pastors and leaders in the churches went to Hope Baptist Church for some teaching, fellowship and, of course, food. This is something we’ve done a couple of times now since we’ve been here and it’s a great time to come together and enjoy one another’s company.

Graduations are in December here, so last week we had the graduation ceremony from the training center for those who had completed some level of their biblical studies degree. They’re now on their summer break and will start back on March 5, so it looks like I’ll get one or two more times to sit in class with them before I must head back to the States.

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We followed up graduation by heading to the Holts’ house for some food and fellowship. On the way there, Lori Holt was going to stop by the store and grab some things to make a little meal, but the store wasn’t open. So she called Jason and said to go home and get the oven fired up and she’d find something to fix.

“For like thirty people?” he asked.

As you can see below, she did an awesome job finding something!

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It was the first time many of our Chilean brethren had tasted the gringo version of pancakes, and they loved them! They’d never had syrup before and were raving about how good it was and a couple of them asked me what it was made from. After having spent a couple of months learning about their culture and food, it was kind of neat to impart a small piece of mine to them.

One of the most important things that I’ve started doing weekly is a discipleship course with a young man in the church named Rick. He was recently saved out of Mormonism and has an inquisitive mind and a heart that desires to learn. I’ve actually enjoyed our times together discussing various topics.

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Recently, as part of a project for an evangelism class, the students had to come up with an outreach project and perform it. I’m not technically in the class as a student, but I did want to participate with them. We all went to a local outdoor flea market that occurs every Thursday and Sunday and invited people to church as well as prayed with them. We got several contacts and hope to follow up on them and be able to witness more thoroughly to them. I really enjoy our times out witnessing and it is in those moments that I’m truly alive. The only bad thing is that people sometimes think I’m a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness and I have to explain that I’m not.

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Also, 250Project started something called “31 Days of Giving”, and I hope you’ll go check it out on 250project.com or on Facebook! It’s posted all over various parts of my page if you don’t know where to look.

And, last but not least (for now), yesterday I got together with Jason and Daniel to discuss many different things. One of those main things was about where I should ultimately go as a missionary. We talked about the advantages and disadvantages of certain countries and in that list was, of course, Chile. I love Chile so much, but then again, I love every country I’ve visited. I’m praying that God will show me truly what He wants me to do and I feel like He’ll give me a peace about which one is right for me. As it stands, I’ve got it narrowed down to about three and, yes, Chile is on that list.

But when I do make my decision, I’ll be sure to let you know!

Happenings in Chile

While I’ve written fairly extensively about my trips to Peru and Bolivia, I haven’t written as much about Chile. To be truthful, the trips to Peru and Bolivia were easy to write about inasmuch as they were a timeline of events that naturally followed one another.

Chile is different because there are some days filled with the mundane, or the day-to-day life. While I’m loving it here, not everything I do is exciting to write about. However, I do want to keep everybody up-to-date on what I’m doing.

Every week I’m given the opportunity to teach Sunday School, which is a great thrill for me. I’m currently working through I John exegetically and my study has proven greatly beneficial and enlightening, although I still have much to work on in this area. It was to my dismay that I found out a few weeks ago that I was speaking too quickly and the congregation was not understanding me. Since then, I have tried to slow my pace, which is a hard thing for me because I naturally speak quickly, even in English. However, the reward came a couple of weeks ago when somebody told me, “Today I understood the whole message!” And they were excited about it. Once a month or so I’m preaching in the evenings as well.

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We’ve been working on construction in the church and I love the way Iglesia Bautista Omega looks now. It’s like it’s brand new! We laid ceramic in both the auditorium and in the nursery, and now we have to paint soon.

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One of my greatest thrills was going out visiting with a church member who recently finished a discipleship course with the pastor. It was his first time going visiting and I was so impressed with how well he handled everything and connected with the people. Door-to-door evangelism is a little different here because every house has a gate in front of it for protection from thieves. So instead of knocking, a person calls out, “Hallo!” (Almost like “hello” but with an “a” and without the puff at the beginning of the word) and then the resident comes to the gate. We conducted a survey that led to the presentation of the gospel if the person would allow, and I was surprised by how well it was received and how friendly most of the people were about it.

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One week we went down to the middle of the plaza in Maipú, the section of Santiago where I live. While there, we handed out a bunch of different John and Romans with an invitation to church. I was able to connect with a couple of men, one Peruvian and one Venezuelan, and have great conversations with them. I’m hoping for even more gospel conversations in the future.

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A Quick Photo Before Heading to Plaza Maipú

On Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings I try to go to seminary classes with those training for the ministry. While this isn’t a requirement for me, it is a good thing to be involved in and I try to do it unless I have something else going on. Along those lines, our midweek service is on Wednesday nights but another church’s is on Thursday nights, so I’m trying to go to both.

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Another major project I work on is the media for 250Project. You can find more information about it here, but a great door has opened in Chile to train men and women for the advancement of the gospel and I’ve been given the privilege of working to promote it.

Along with all of this, I get together with Jason Holt and another missionary, Daniel Sparks, once in a while to discuss different questions I have about the ministry, among other things. I’ve actually learned a lot just in these talks as well as in talks with other missionaries both here and while I was in Peru.

Jason gives me books to read, which I work on reading and then derive questions from them to ask him. These books have actually been a great help to me and opened my understanding about how Jesus conducted His ministry.

This is just a basic overview of what’s going on here and what I’m involved in. I love Chile so much and am already dreading my departure in a few months. However, I must make the best of the opportunity God has given me here and then follow His leading from there.

Thank you all for your prayers and support! If you’d like to give toward this internship, you can do so here. God bless you!

Peru: Part 2 – A Week in Arequipa

The sun had already risen and was shining brightly when I awoke the first day in Arequipa. Oh, no, I’ve overslept! It’s got to be at least 8:30 or something. I looked at my phone to see the time. 5:45 AM. What in the world?

That was my first experience with an Arequipa sunrise! It comes up very early in comparison to Chile and I was surprised to see a few people already up and getting ready. Breakfast wasn’t until 8 and the first session of the conference started at 9, but I went ahead and got up too.

Not only did the sun rise early, but it set early as well. Around 6 o’clock it’d start getting dark and before long night would set in. I also later found that some of my roommates would go to bed fairly early. One time I went back to the room about 9:45 to grab something before going to play games with the group from Chile, and I noticed somebody was already in bed. Oh, wow, you’re tired? I have to say that overall I do prefer the “early to bed, early to rise” mentality, but the culture in Chile is a late-night culture, which makes that impossible to live by sometimes.

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Above: Sunset in Arequipa

Below: Late-night gaming!

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I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching at the conference. We would have three sessions from 9 to 12 in the morning, about forty-five minutes long each with a fifteen-minute break before the next one. A different missionary or pastor would speak first, and then Pastor Austin Gardner, who is the leader of Vision Baptist Missions, the mission board that Jason Holt is with (and the one that is kind enough to let me go through them for my internship here), would teach the next two. His teaching was excellent.

My favorite sessions of his were actually not the ministry ones as we think of ministry, such as pastoring or leading a church, but rather the ones about marriage and family. He would tell stories in strikingly honest detail and give applications that I found interesting and helpful. In a day where marriages fall apart all the time and people joke about being tied down to another person, he made marriage sound like it should be: A wonderful lifetime shared between two people serving the Lord together and finding joy in it all, even through the struggles.

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Pastor Austin Gardner

We would then have a service at noon, free time in the afternoon, and then a service in the evening as well. That may sound like a lot but I loved it. The conference itself lasted from Tuesday evening to Friday morning.

It was a blessing to meet all the pastors from so many different countries, especially Peru, and for how kind they all were. It really was one giant meeting of brothers and sisters from many parts of South America coming together to worship the Lord, learn more, and go back to our respective countries spiritually refreshed and invigorated.

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Another really neat thing about this conference was all the missionaries that were there. One afternoon Jason asked if I could go out to eat with them so I could meet Brother Gardner, so I did and met several of them. The next day I was going to hang out with my friends from Bolivia when he stopped me again and asked if I’d go help them plan and talk about things, so I went ahead and said yes. I’m extremely glad that I did as it turned out to be a great evening full of laughter and fun but, more importantly, great help spiritually and practically for me.

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I found out about Aaron Vance’s ministry in Colombia a couple of years ago, was impressed with what I saw, and thought it’d be neat to meet him someday. He was there and was very encouraging to me!

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Well hello, there!

One of my favorite aspects of Arequipa was the taxi rides. The rides themselves were fun enough, but they were also a great opportunity to witness if the trip was long enough. One advantage to being a gringo is that they’ll naturally ask what you’re doing there and it opens a door to explain what we’re doing and segue right into the gospel. The bad thing is they almost all think we’re Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses at first (This happens to me in Chile too and they’re generally surprised to find out I’m neither).

Two taxi drivers specifically stand out to me but unfortunately I can’t remember either of their names, so I’ll call them Mario and Denis (I feel like Denis is actually close to one of their names). I met Mario on Saturday. After venturing through the city for a while with some different people, one of the missionaries, Kyle Shreve, hailed a taxi to take me back to the seminary. Alongside me was Andrew Wilder, a missionary intern in Bolivia. Before we knew what was happening, Kyle stuck us in a taxi, said something to the driver, and off we went without really knowing where we were going! We did have a general idea and I felt like I would recognize the road when we got near it, but it was still another one of those fun experiences where you just hope everything turns out okay.

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Look who I met while out in Arequipa!

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We were out about in the city and saw these familiar faces!

Andrew has a very outgoing personality and it wasn’t long before we were talking to Mario and explaining to him that we were with a group of Baptist churches for a conference. Soon he dropped Andrew off where he was staying and then continued down the road to take me to the seminary. Somehow the door opened up for us to continue talking about spiritual things.

“I’m Catholic,” he said, and then he said something that I’ve heard plenty of times. “I mean, it’s really all the same thing, isn’t it? Evangelicals and Catholics.”

“No, not at all,” I said, before proceeding to explain all the differences between the two, including salvation. He listened intently and by the time he dropped me off seemed to understand that there was a difference between what I believed and what he believed.

The next day, Sunday, I jumped in a taxi with Katie Holt, Josh Holt and Grace White (A daughter of missionary Kevin White from Bolivia). We started talking to Denis right away.

He asked if we were Mormon, and I told him no and was getting ready to try to get into the gospel, when all of a sudden Katie Holt jumped in and took off with it. Having grown up in Chile, she speaks Spanish fluently as a first language and was easily able to begin explaining the gospel to him way better than I could’ve. I was happy to see Denis was actually very engaged with her, talking and answering her questions (I wasn’t so excited that he kept looking in the rearview mirror at her instead of the road in front of us, though!).

We pulled up to the seminary and she invited him to church. He was so kind to us the whole way through and I remember thinking, Every one of these drivers is somebody God is divinely putting in our paths for just a brief period of time, and we have that moment and that moment only to make the best of it. And isn’t that how life is? Sometimes we see people over and over again and have multiple opportunities to witness, but there are others that step into our lives for just a few minutes, and we have that short time to plant a seed of the gospel in their hearts and trust God will continue working with it.

We all went to different churches on Sunday morning and evening. After the service on Sunday morning, I spoke to the pastor for just a moment. “If you come back tonight, I’ll let you preach for five minutes,” he said. I was thankful and excited for the opportunity, so that night I brought something to preach.

But I made a mistake I never want to make again. I tried to fit a whole three-point sermon into five minutes, and the passage was like seven or eight verses long! I’ve been told before that when a pastor gives you five minutes to preach, you take your five minutes and then sit down and shut up. I really wanted to honor that and tried my best, but the result was that I blazed through the passage in Spanish that was probably barely inteligible. The next time I think I’m going to read a verse or two, give a main thought, and be done.

Francisco Nuñez was there that night and was very encouraging to me after I finished. He did laugh about how much of the Bible I read, though, and said something like, “I thought you were going to read the whole book!” I laughed too because it was a bit ridiculous in hindsight.

Just a few days ago he was talking to Mauricio about it and jokingly said, “Yeah, he was supposed to preach for five minutes and he read through the whole book of Corinthians.”

“Philippians!” I shot back, laughing along with them.

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It was good to see Pablo from Bolivia again! He got ten minutes to preach before the main speaker.

The next morning, Monday, I got up early to say goodbye to my friends from Bolivia before they left. Then I went and packed up the rest of my stuff for our return trip home. By about 8:00, we were on our way to the bus station. It had been a great week and I was expecting a relatively straightforward ride home.

And then a crazy turn of events occurred…

But that’ll have to wait for Part 3: “Mad Dash for the Border!”

 

Peru: Part 1 – The Road To Arequipa

It seems no South American travel story of mine would be complete without some misunderstanding at the airport.

We left for Peru on Tuesday morning, October 3, for a churches/leaders conference. I had to be up at 3 in the morning to catch an Uber to the airport, so I got very little sleep. However, I made it there without incident before anybody else did, so I decided to go ahead and check in. I wasn’t the one who purchased the tickets but I knew we were going to some place that started with an A and ended with something like a Pa. So I walked through the international travel line and presented my passport to the lady at the desk.

“I don’t have you in the system,” she said. My first thought was that Jason had somehow accidentally messed up my ticket and I was going to be fighting to get on this flight just like the one out of the US. So I discussed and questioned and wandered around trying to figure out what was going on. As it turned out, we were flying domestically to a city in Chile called Arica and then crossing over into Peru from there. Our final destination in Peru was Arequipa, so naturally I confused the two. I finally found my way into the domestic flight line and made it through. In the future, I really should know a little more about what exactly we’re doing. Two days before I had been asking, “Do we leave tomorrow or Tuesday?” Everything’s a surprise these days.

As you can see, the day before I thought we were flying internationally.

Our group consisted of Jason Holt and his family (His daughter Katie was coming with a group from Bolivia, so she wasn’t with us on the way there), Francisco Barra and his wife Connie, John Moncada and his wife Cote, Francisco Nuñez, his wife Paula and their little girl Francisca, Mauricio Peréz and me. There were other people from Chile who went as well, but they left at different times.

On the flight, I sat next to an older lady from Peru who lives near me. She said when she returns to Chile in January, I’m invited over to eat and meet her family!

We landed safely in Arica and then hopped into three different cars to go through the border into Peru, where we crossed without incident and continued toward the bus station.

After purchasing our bus tickets, we bought a cellphone chip for our phones and headed out to Arequipa in a bus. It was a double-decker and we somehow got to all sit together in the bottom part with the room to ourselves, which was nice. The seats were also much nicer and more spacious than I expected.

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Now, I get sick on buses sometimes, so I wanted to get the air flowing as soon as possible. I reached up to twist the nozzle and nothing came out. Oh no. Twist, twist, twist. Nothing. And then the door to our little space shut with a thud. It’s over. I’m doomed. Seven long hours in this hotbox. I just resigned myself to my awful fate.

As the bus headed off down the road I was pleasantly surprised to find I was feeling okay. After a while I realized there were vents elsewhere blowing out air, and the trip, while forever-long, was at least nausea-free. I sat across from Francisco Nuñez and Paula and was able to talk to them for a little bit, which was nice since of all the people on the trip, I knew them the least. This is them below:

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Arriving in Arequipa, I was glad to get a chance to stretch my legs and find that we were in a city that reminded me of something you’d see out West in the United States (kind of like Cochabamba in Bolivia). Our first stop was the local mall food court to grab a bite to eat since we were all starving and hadn’t had a solid meal all day. As the twelve of us hauled our luggage through the mall, people didn’t even pretend not to stare. After eating, we hailed a taxi and headed toward the seminary, where the first service of the conference would be starting soon.

Getting in a taxi, especially with luggage, was always fun. If the taxi was pulled over on the side of the road, you’d jam everything in there as quickly as possible, pile in, and take off in about twenty seconds flat.

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It’s blurry, but here we are in a taxi

Traffic in Arequipa can be handled in two ways. You can either panic and fear for your life the whole time, or you can sit back and enjoy the ride like a roller coaster. I opted for the roller coaster and wow, was that fun! We blazed through traffic with horns blaring and buses driving close enough for me to practically reach out and touch them. At one point we stopped at a red light and I hollered, “Hola!” at a man in the next car. He looked at me really fast and gave this panicked half-wave before taking off again. Our taxi driver was actually getting a kick out of the whole thing! To be truthful, traffic was always pretty busy, but I think that first night was the craziest because it was around rush hour.

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We arrived at the seminary, where I was excited to be greeted by my friends from Bolivia! More than anything, I had actually been the most excited about going to Peru just to see them again. The married couples that came were shown where they were staying, then Mauricio (whose wife couldn’t come) and I were taken to our room, which was a large area with several bunk beds like you would see at camp or a dorm. We got ready quickly and headed down to the auditorium, where we were treated to an excellent service. We ate and fellowshipped afterward, went to our room, and fell asleep almost as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

All-in-all, it was about a twenty-two hour day with the time change factored in.

That was just the first day of a spiritually refreshing and fun week that would all culminate in one wild run back to the airport. But more on that later.

Lasernita – A Dramatic Retelling

Apparently her name is Lasernita, which was news to me. It’s a play off of the last name of one of my friends from Bolivia, and I’m not sure why she was given that name inasmuch as he didn’t seem to have any special attachment to her. Since I never named her, I’ll go with it.

I’ll preface this by saying that stray dogs are actually a fairly common thing in South America, but they’re basically all friendly and seem to receive enough food to survive without much problem. There were probably about five or six strays roaming around the seminary where we were staying in Peru, including Lasernita.

One afternoon/evening, Mauricio and I had to run back to our room to grab something. It was setup like this: A giant door outside led into a room full of bunk beds, almost like you would see at camp or something. The door often would be somewhat open unless it was time for us to go to bed, in which case we would shut it (and if somebody opened it after that, the sound would wake the dead). As we were running back out, Maury pointed out that there was a dog sleeping in our room. She never woke up as I took a picture of her and we left.

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The next night I came in late to find one of my roommates that I had gotten to know as a friend, Jorge, sitting on the bunk beds talking to a friend. I said hello and then climbed up onto my bunk, proceeding to do something, I can’t remember what.

All of a sudden, I thought I heard a bark. “Is there a dog in here?”

The two of them laughed. “Yeah, she’s under the bed.” I went over and looked, and sure enough, there she was! The same dog as the night before.

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I started to take a picture and then she came out to look at me. I don’t really like to pet stray dogs but I just couldn’t help it. She proceeded to climb up onto a mattress that was on the floor and go to sleep.

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I decided it wouldn’t hurt anything to let her stay the night. Then Jorge said she had to go outside, and the fireworks began. Okay, it was more like a mock argument in which we were having fun with one another, but both of us really did kind of want our way. At least, I know I did. This conversation is far from word-for-word, but it’s a general idea.

“She can stay. The Bible says that as we’ve done to the least of these we’ve done unto Jesus.” A little out of context, perhaps, but it sounded good.

“The Bible says you’re supposed to care for your own dog, not every stray.”

“She’s fine, she can stay!”

“You don’t know what kinds of diseases and things she’s carrying.”

“Oh, big deal, she’s fine.”

“Okay, well then I’m like the department of health,” he said. “Where’s proof of her vaccines, her rabies shot, etc?” Well, I guess he had a point. “And imagine this: What if somebody travels many kilometers to get here, only to lie on a bed that’s full of diseases and who knows what?”

“Well, can he not suffer a little for the Lord?” I asked, wondering what the Christian world was coming to when we couldn’t be expected to bear any type of cross. He laughed, then proceeded to say something about Revelation and dogs not entering the kingdom, which I told him didn’t mean literal dogs. “You’re going to feel terrible when you stand before the Lord and she comes walking up and Jesus asks what you did with her.” He thought that was hilarious and proceeded to further “discuss the matter” with me for a while.

Finally I channeled John chapter 8. “You Pharisee! Maybe you’re right and maybe she isn’t perfect and maybe she has diseases, but I just say let he who is without sin cast the first stone at her.”

And then, one by one, starting from the eldest unto the…Oh, different story, never mind.

Actually, he thought it was hilarious that I called him a Pharisee and while I think deep down he didn’t want her to stay, he was okay with it and so was Mauricio and everybody else sleeping in there.

We shut the door and as I got into bed the thought crossed my mind: What if she has to go to the bathroom? I figured we’d deal with that in the morning.

As I was drifting off to sleep, somebody entered the room and started to take her out. I sat up in bed. “What are you doing?”

“She can’t stay here.” And, unlike Jorge, he actually was serious. I fussed with him for just a minute but then decided it was best since it really would be a problem if she had to go to the bathroom and, honestly, who knows what she was carrying.

For some reason, when I woke up the next morning, she was on those mattresses again! I’m guessing somebody left the door cracked enough for her to get in. I gathered my things to get ready for the day, stepped out for about twenty minutes, and when I returned, she was no longer on the mattresses. I wonder where she went.

As I rounded my bed to put something in my suitcase, I got the answer to my question. Not content to simply lie on the mattresses, she had wandered over to my suitcase and was lying inside on top of my clothes!

Even I have my limits. The poor girl had to get out of the suitcase.

I’ve not started itching or anything yet, so I think I’m okay. I’m not sure I can say the same for those mattresses.

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Bolivia: Part 2 – We’re Going to the Jungle, You Say?

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I couldn’t breathe.

At least, not very well. And then I was staggering everywhere as I walked. What was happening?

We were in La Paz, and as I came to find out, it’s anywhere from 10,650 to 13,250 feet above sea level, the world’s highest capital city. It was a little difficult to get oxygen, to say the least. I was happy to board the next plane to Cuchabamba, our final destination in Bolivia. While the altitude was still high there, it wasn’t quite as bad.

As we flew in, I had the feeling we were in a desert. It had a dry look to it, but I kind of liked it because it reminded me of my trips to the Western United States. Missionary Kevin White met us at the airport, threw all our luggage inside and on top of his vehicle, and we were off! This was the first of various fun adventures jammed in there together, and we got many good laughs out of those times.

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Just one of many hilarious and slightly painful times with ten people jammed into a seven-passenger vehicle.

That night Chile was playing against Bolivia in a World Cup qualifier, so some of the pastors from the churches and other friends came over and we all watched the game together. Soccer is my favorite sport and it was nice to finally watch a game with people who care.

Wednesday Kevin took us around the city and showed us different things, including a statue of Jesus. While this one didn’t seem as idolatrous as the Virgin Mary statue in Santiago (there weren’t relics and trinkets everywhere), it still struck me as being indicative of a false worldview, one that feels it must add to the blood of Jesus for salvation.

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“El Cristo” Statue

That night we went to one of the churches and had a great service where I met some new brothers and sisters in Christ. One thing I love is the witness of the Spirit within us, regardless of where we’re from. John said if we are born again, we will love the brethren, and it really is an exciting thing to meet brethren in other parts of the world.

Thursday was the big day, the day we left for the retreat. It was a pastor’s retreat, but there were seminary students and others there as well who at least had an interest in ministry or were learning more. The whole time leading up to this retreat I’d been hearing about how we were going to “The Jungle” and we were going to go down a mountain and it was going to be blazing hot, etc. Now, in my mind, “The Jungle” was a place out in the middle of nowhere with insects man had yet to discover and wild beasts just waiting to maul us if we stepped outside our tents. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I really did think we were going to be staying in tents miles away from civilization.

I came downstairs that morning with a giant bottle of water. “I’ve got my freshwater for when I have to put in my contacts,” I announced. They looked at me like I was crazy.

“There’ll be water in the hotel,” I was told. Wait, what? A hotel? I thought we were staying in the jungle. It turns out they meant it was a jungle climate, but we were staying in a hotel in a small city. I’d been mentally preparing myself for some Man vs. Wild experience this whole time. However, it was very humid there and mosquitos were abundant, so perhaps that yellow fever shot came in handy after all!

We took off over the mountain, which was where the real thrill came in. It was a two-lane road but giant truckers were carrying cargo the whole way, so when a small opening presented itself, we would dart around the truck into oncoming traffic and swerve back over before getting hit. At first it was mildly terrifying, but then I finally decided to just enjoy the thrill of it all. And we didn’t really almost get hit except like once or twice. Not bad for a three-hour or so drive like this.

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Defying Death

We arrived at the hotel and I got to meet several different Bolivian pastors and brothers in Christ. There were fourteen of us total and over the next couple of days I got to talk to them and get to know them a little better. God gave me the opportunity to speak to a couple of them a little more in-depth, and I hope that in some way I was able to encourage them. They certainly encouraged me by their faithfulness to our Lord. To go into full-time ministry in Bolivia and in many other countries is somewhat disappointing to the family since it’s seen as choosing a life of poverty and economic instability, and parents feel like they won’t be taken care of in old age.

Jason Holt taught many sessions about different things, and to those with doubts about what their family would think if they gave their lives full-time to the ministry, he quoted the verse where Jesus said those who loved father or mother more than Him were not worthy of Him.

During our free time, we did some fun things together, such as hiking, swimming, and, of course, eating. On our hike we went into a bat cave with hundreds of bats that would suddenly start flying around at a moment’s notice. Needless to say, we were in there way longer than I wanted to be! Another time as I was walking to my hotel room, I heard a loud buzzing noise behind me and turned around. On the ceiling was a gecko, and while I’d never heard of a gecko buzzing before, I figured that must have been the noise I heard. So I stopped to take a picture, and as I was trying to get the perfect angle, this…thing, and I can only describe it as a Frankenstein bee…flew out at me from a nearby door.

Let me tell you, I didn’t finish trying to get that picture of the gecko. I’ve never run so fast in all my life!

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With Ismael Jaita, one of the men seeking God’s will for His life

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This was a special treat on Saturday before we left

Saturday we came back and went to a youth meeting at one of the churches, which was fun. Then Sunday we visited all the different churches. Jason preached and Daniel Sparks and I gave testimonies. I met so many wonderful families, including this one below:

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Sunday night after church a group of us got together to play soccer, another fun time that unfortunately I didn’t get to enjoy as much as I should’ve since I’m in such bad shape. That, and the altitude is very high. But mostly because I’m out of shape.

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Afterward, we said our goodbyes and then the next day, very early in the morning, we were off, headed back to Chile.

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There were many things that stuck with me about this trip: The joy of being with other brothers in Christ who desire to serve the Lord, learning from Kevin White and his wife Beth, and experiencing different aspects of Bolivia.

But I think one thing that impacted me the most was the young couple who kept up the hotel where we were staying Thursday through Saturday. You would often see them running around cleaning. One night we came in from eating late at night and the man was in the pool scrubbing the tile. I honestly don’t know when they slept. I’ll recount here exactly what is in my journal:

“Saturday morning we ate and had our sessions. There was a young couple cleaning and keeping up the hotel, and they always seemed to be working. We took up a collection for them and wrote a card for them, which I think touched their hearts. The night before I had asked the man when he took a break. He said he didn’t. He worked every day. Imagine living like that. That’s not a life-it’s an existence. And then to live like that, die in your sins, and go to hell. How sad and terrible!”

I still think of that sweet couple and where their souls will be in eternity . I hope we at least shined a light into the darkness and that one day we’ll see them again in heaven.

It was a struggle to get there, but I would say Bolivia was well worth it. As Proverbs says, “The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul…”

Yes, it really is.