I am no expert on Bolivian mission work, but I have now been there twice and my love for the work there continues to grow. The first time I was there in 2020 I was mostly an eager tourist, soaking in the sights and sounds and stories. On my second trip this past spring I was there to collect some of those stories via pictures and videos, but I was also there as a minister to pray and encourage and provide what I hope was wise counsel.
We have a lot to be proud of as a conference when we look at the work in Bolivia, when we observe the many seeds that have been planted and the ongoing harvest. I am proud to lead a local church that has sent many people over the years to push the mission in Bolivia forward.
While I was in Bolivia this time I began to feel very strongly about sending more workers there. There is so much work left to do and I believe that there are many people in our congregations who are already equipped and would be capable of doing this work.
Below are several journal reflections from my trip and some concluding thoughts.
Journal - Friday, April 29, 2022
My time in Bolivia has been joyful and tiring, but overall SO good. Every day is so busy that I only really get time to unload media from my phone and camera and not much time to edit or assemble - or reflect. That will have to happen later.
Although I am very tired, my heart is very full. I am surrounded by the four inspiring people on my team: Darrell & Elaine Kehler (who lived and served in Santa Cruz with EMMC Missions for over a decade), Lyn Dyck (EMMC Executive Director), and Kelly Lesser (EMMC Pastor of Care and Mission). I’ve also had the privilege of catching up with and encouraging our many missionaries - and future missionaries. I’ve been brought to tears a few times listening to people tell their stories of great sacrifice and sorrow paired with unspeakable joy.
So many people in our churches have exactly the character and gifts needed to make an eternal difference in the lives of - quite literally - thousands of people here in Bolivia.
Journal - Saturday, April 30, 2022
Today's highlights ... full hearts (and stomachs - we are fed much at every stop!) and several instances of not-dry eyes.
Darrell & Elaine Kehler are so deeply appreciated here for their 10+ years of work helping the people in Santa Cruz follow Jesus, plant churches, and share the gospel with others. Many gifts and hugs are given, songs are sung, and words are spoken. Their impact here is great and it is not forgotten.
Tomorrow is Sunday and we will finish our work here by serving in the various LIEAB churches. Tuesday we head back to Canada and already we look forward to the day when we can again be reunited with our Bolivian friends - in their country or ours - it doesn't matter. What unites us is not a common country, but a common creed and a shared mission.
I am so grateful for this journey and this opportunity.
Journal - Sunday, May 1, 2022
When I began my pastoring journey in 2009 I came onto a church staff primarily as the music guy. I really had no idea what was in store. If I had known, I would have thought twice about buying my ticket for the ride!
Here I am 13+ years later and I can hardly believe the great privileges of my position. I get to preach and teach and give counsel, and I get to pray for people who are struggling through various trials. As a bonus, I get to do all of this with a confidence that has been gained by endurance, steadfastness, and perseverance, all of which have been imperfectly applied.
To be clear, what has been gained in the course of my ministry has not been gained because I am a naturally strong or steadfast person. In my own strength, I am embarrassingly weak, but I am sustained by a strength that never fails, even when I do.
As I look back on my years of full-time ministry I see that I have failed often but that God never has. I see him working subtly through the years - subtly but miraculously. It takes a long look from the peaks of joy to see the one consistent thread that is woven throughout. During the many times when it seemed it was all a pointless and directionless uphill struggle, I look back now and see the path was set. It led me through danger at times, while at other times it led me around great and deadly hazards.
That’s a long intro to say this: Today was a great peak of joy! I was called upon to preach to the people of Iglesia Luz y Esperanza. With the help of a capable interpreter (Ruben Mercado’s daughter Heidy), I was able to communicate a timely message. I was called upon to serve communion as well, which was a great honour. After the service, I prayed for someone with deep hurts who was looking for help. I also made another young friend. (Kids seem to be liking me more and more these days - it must be because I’m getting close to grandpa age.)
I shared lunch and much deep conversation (via translation) with my friend Pastor Franz Gutierrez Sempertegui. We live 7000km apart but we hold so much in common. After lunch, I shared the story of my call with a young man and his wife who are feeling that same call. I spoke of the costs and privileges, making sure to emphasize that while the cost is great the privileges are even greater. Ministry is hard - but it’s worth it.
In each case, I later learned that I shared words that reached farther than I could anticipate because there was a power at work that knows more than I know, who arranges timely words via obedient servants. I am happy to be one of those servants.
At the end of the day, the obedient servants I had prayed for gathered around and prayed for me. What a privilege. My heart is full - again.
Journal - Wednesday, May 5, 2022 (Back in Canada)
It was an amazing experience to be among both the Low German and Spanish people in Bolivia. The pictures and video I shot will, hopefully, go a long way to telling the stories of numerous missionaries, pastors, and other workers in the field. I pray that this will raise awareness and funding for the work as well.
I was able to encourage many people and I was greatly encouraged myself. Because I had been there two years ago, this time there were some expectations and a greater weight of ministry given to me, especially on this past Sunday. I really enjoyed this.
We were on the go for pretty much 12 hours a day and then on most evenings, I had video and photo work to do yet as well. It was all good and worth it, but I've been paying the price the last few days. Tuesday was a very long day of travel and my stomach was unsettled. My flight arrived at 1:30 am but my Robert Q bus didn't come until 8:00 am so I got about two hours of sleep on airport seats. Yesterday I slept quite a bit and thought I had caught up, but the night was a total disaster. My stomach is a mess…
I include those last thoughts to let you in on the not-so-secret fact there is a cost to doing this work. Although it is enjoyable, it is not a holiday or vacation. It is tiring and it takes a toll on the mind and body. But there is a point.
The wisest words I have ever heard in a mission report were spoken a few weeks ago by my friend Lena Wiebe while she was telling our church about her own recent work in Bolivia. She spoke about the financial cost of going to Bolivia and how much easier it would have been for her and her husband Andrew to just write a cheque for the same amount they spent to get to Bolivia and serve there.
To write a cheque would have meant no irritating COVID test, no exhausting travel, no unrelenting Bolivian heat, and no bone-tiredness from long days of caring for children and repairing the compound. But that’s not what they chose, and these were Lena’s wise closing words for those in attendance at the report:
“Instead of sending money, send yourself.”
That is a profound insight and a powerful challenge. Now, please, continue to send money! It is needed and appreciated and accomplishes much. But I would ask you to consider as you write that cheque whether you could send yourself instead of sending that cheque. (Of course, you could do both!)
Workers are needed for the harvest and we’ve been praying for a harvest of workers. Perhaps this is your time to go. I challenge you to at least go and see the work that’s being done and then to open your heart to the possibility that you might be called not just to visit, but to stay and help. Surely God is calling more people to these places of great poverty and even greater spiritual darkness.
Are we listening?
This article was originally published in The EMMC Recorder Vol 59, No. 4