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.
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.
“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 where 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.
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. One 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!
With Ismael Jaita, one of the men seeking God’s will for His life
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:
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.
Afterward, we said our goodbyes and then the next day, very early in the morning, we were off, headed back to Chile.
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.