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?

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 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.

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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.

Bolivia: Part 1 – “I Can’t Let You on the Plane…”

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. -Ephesians 6:12

As I think back on my recent trip to Bolivia, I truly believe I was in a spiritual battle against one who tried to keep me from going. I don’t say this mystically or frivolously; there were too many obstacles for what should’ve been a simple task that I can only wonder, Why was he trying to stop me?

First, I had to get a visa in a very limited time, and as I was sure I had to get a yellow fever shot (At least, I think the US government said so), I couldn’t send in a visa application until I got it. The health department couldn’t fit me in until August 10 and I was told the visa process itself takes about a week. I was supposed to leave for Chile on August 31, so it should have been simple to send for a visa and get it back in time, I thought. It was a little frustrating spending forever on the phone trying to make sure I had everything right and that they really did need my original passport (they did), but I knew it’d be worth it in the end. The process is simple, actually, but it just wasn’t working out that way for me.

And it turned out the yellow fever shot wasn’t necessary, so while I’m glad I got it, I could’ve had the application sent long before.

And then, after having waited forever to get a yellow fever shot, I organized my packet…and sent it to the wrong address. My passport and all my personal information was floating around in the mail somewhere, and I was wondering if I’d get it back in time to even go to Chile, much less Bolivia. Thankfully, it did come back, but by that time it was too late to get a visa, so I would have to get one when I got into the country.

August 31 arrived, my day to go to Chile! I was so excited as I stepped up to the desk and handed the lady my passport and information. She took them and started typing things into the computer.

“It says here there’s a visa requirement.” Her words shocked me. What? A visa to go to Chile? Since when? All I had was a passport.

“Did they just recently change that?” I asked.

“Sometimes they do. Let me check.” So she called her supervisor, hung up, and said, “Yeah, I’m sorry. I can’t let you get on the plane without a visa.” This sick feeling of more than $2,000 being flushed down a drain came over me. I felt horrible for all those churches and individuals who had given me their hard-earned money so I could spend it on plane tickets I’d never use. Too late to get a refund for the flight I was supposed to be on and my now-worthless tickets to Bolivia already purchased, I walked outside and sat down, stunned, with about forty minutes left before the plane started boarding. I had gone through all this trouble only to be turned away at the last moment. I couldn’t believe it.

How could this happen? Two thousand dollars wasted! I’m not going to Chile anytime soon and probably never to Bolivia. And how long would it take to get a visa and reschedule a flight? Two weeks, three weeks, a month? I looked up the requirements and, sure enough, there it was: A visa required for anybody staying in Chile over 90 days. My return trip wasn’t scheduled for another six months, long beyond that time frame.

I suddenly remembered why I hadn’t gotten the visa. I knew I wouldn’t be in the country for more than 90 days, at least at first, and I could always step outside the border and re-enter if I had to. I had seen the visa requirement while preparing and put it completely out of my mind, and now it had come back to haunt me.

Ms. Julia Garst had come to see me off, but she had to leave early and as she stepped outside, she said, “Stephen, it’s all going to work out.” And she said it like she really believed it. And in my own heart, I knew it had to. There had to be a way.

I’m going back in there to tell them the reason I didn’t get a visa is because I’m traveling within South America, and if that doesn’t work I don’t know what I’ll do. I think my next option was to argue and refuse to leave until they let me on the plane. I was really hoping it wouldn’t come to that.

I stepped up to the counter and this time was able to speak with a man who looked like he was in charge. I told him the situation and he called somebody else, and before he hung up he said, “Okay, wonderful.” I was approved to go! It wasn’t long before I was on a plane to Atlanta, and from there to Chile.

My pastor had recently said that when you surrender to serve the Lord, Satan will attack you and try to throw you off course. I knew it was coming.

I thought I’d at least get out of the Tri-Cities first, though.

 

All Things Are Possible to Him that Believeth

“Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”-Mark 9:23

Believe.

It’s such a simple word, but how often do we Christians find ourselves unable to truly trust in God?  I’ve been reading lately in the Gospels, and it strikes me how often Jesus talked about faith.  It was a constant theme throughout His teachings and His ministry.  Often when He healed people, it was because of their faith or the faith of somebody near them.

How many times do we read the promises of Jesus and then add a “but” to them?  “All things are possible but…”  I believe Jesus wants us to truly trust Him when He says the word “all”, and yet how little we do.

Is there something you are praying for that you know is God’s will?  Then cry out with the father in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

And then watch Jesus fulfill His promises.

Learning Spanish in America: A Biblical Perspective and Some Helpful Thoughts

Below is the outline of some thoughts I shared with a Spanish class I taught.  It was taught in the United States, so some of this has to do with the situation in America.  Also, not all of these thoughts are completely original with me.  Tim Carte taught me some of these things and I then passed them on to the class.

Biblical View for Learning Languages

  1. As Christians, we must view everything through the lens of Scripture.  Before we are anything else (moms, dads, brothers, sisters, Americans, musicians, athletes, etc.), we are Christians.
  2. We know that God confused the languages at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11).
  3. We also know that God is behind the migrations of people (Amos 9:7).  Israel’s whole existence is basically the story of God’s moving them from one place to another.
  4. When we begin to look at things through a biblical perspective, we see that God is allowing the migration of Spanish-speaking people to America in large numbers.  What we know about God should guide us in how we view this situation.  We know that God has a heart for the whole world.  He died for each of them and wants them to be with Him forever.
  5. In a time where many Spanish speakers may feel unwanted, it really means something to them when an American goes out of his or her way to talk to them and to befriend them.

The Difficulties and Realities of Language Learning

  1. Language learning is difficult and can be frustrating and discouraging at times.
  2. You get out of language learning what you put into it.
  3. There will come times of disappointment and times that you feel you aren’t advancing at all.  You must press through these.
  4. Language learning requires hours of practice and dedication, as well as consistent study.
  5. Putting fifteen to thirty minutes a day into language learning is better than a lengthy amount of time once a week.
  6. Not everything can be literally translated and make sense.
  7. Language learning requires getting out of your bubble and deliberately putting yourself into uncomfortable situations.

The Rewards of Learning a New Language

  1. It enables you to reach somebody with the gospel you might not otherwise have reached.
  2. It completely opens up a new world to you.  Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”  He was right.
  3. It gives you new friends you might never have had.  Some of my best friends are those whose first language isn’t English.
  4. It can open up new job opportunities to you.

I hope to share more in the days to come about learning another language, my own experience with it, and some things that have helped me along the way.

Watch God Work

It’s always amazing to see God directly at work, moving in a situation before the need arises.

In the Spanish Ministry at our church, we’ve been working on getting a five-day Bible club together for some children in a few different neighborhoods.  I say “we”, but the main one has been Ms. Julia Garst.  This is a way to reach children and parents with the gospel and even to find new bus riders.

We were thinking about doing it in somebody’s apartment in one area, but we needed their permission.  So we headed out there Tuesday evening.  While I think they would’ve given us permission, and the husband basically did, we were unable to talk to the wife and so were still unsure if it would happen.

The church couple that’s going to help us in this neighborhood have a large trailer and a tent we could set up outside, and he pointed out a large grassy area to park the trailer and do it if we could get permission from the landlord.  That’s never a certain thing, but we decided to go ahead and try.  I asked a *man which apartment belonged to the landlord, and he pointed out an apartment and said something like, “I don’t know where he lives.  He’s Cuban and his sister lives over there.”

Now, here’s the kicker.  A Cuban lady had just visited our church this past Sunday with a friend and told us she lived in those apartments.  We knew, we just knew that it had to be her!

And it was!  What’s more, her brother was visiting her for a little bit and we were able to speak directly to him and ask his permission, which of course he gave.

So it looks like next week we’re going through with it there!  We’re praying God will do some amazing things in that particular club and believe He will.  We already know we have His blessing on the matter.  Praise the Lord for going before us!

*This man is actually the husband referenced earlier.  I had never met him and the Lord opened the door for me to witness to him and his brother.  They weren’t saved and knew it, and while they didn’t become Christians that evening, I believe God was truly working in their hearts and am hoping I can see them some more next week.  Please pray for Francisco and Wilber to be saved!

Making a Mission Video – Part 2: Filming and Editing

The script having been written, it was time to film.  I’m blessed that my church has a room that has been designated for filming videos and I actually enjoyed filming.  It also wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, though it did take a little work.

A few days later, my youth director and I got together and went over some things, and then he did most of the editing.  He sent the video to me and I sent it back about four times.  I kept making these nitpicky corrections and the poor guy probably thought I’d never stop.  But he was a good sport about the whole thing and so I greatly appreciate that.  I actually love how supportive my whole church family has always been of me.

The final video can be seen here and here.

Please go check it out and pray about what God would have you to do!

Thank you!