When normal is not normal

This month has seen elections here in Bolivia. We were slightly nervous to see what would happen after all the violence last year and the resignation of the President due to electoral fraud. But thankfully the election last weekend was peaceful and calm. Ironically, after all the protests and unrest the same government that committed the fraud has been re-elected by the people. As visitors to the country we need to remain as neutral as possible. I guess when you have been used to a socialist government for so long it must be so hard to accept change. We are praying against the corruption that so often claims the integrity of Bolivian leaders.

Despite difficult circumstances we were able to see one girl named Belen who we knew four years ago, who is expecting a baby in February. She lives in a neighbourhood 8km on the outskirts of town, but have linked her with a church/community centre in her local area through various contacts that we have. This was always our vision for the young people to have a support network when they left Cometa. We have also learned that many of the young people really cannot return to their communities due to fear of retribution. They want a fresh start and need help setting up a new life, getting a job and making new friends. Our attempts of getting ex-offenders together has fallen short because they do not want to keep in touch with each other. They much prefer to see us individually. Our hope is that the churches who showed an interest in the ‘Transformation’ process will carry that vision in the future to welcome these young people into their communities and show them the unconditional love that we have received through the sacrifice of Jesus.

We are both well and keeping busy. The number of Covid cases here is decreasing, although testing is limited so we are not sure if the information is accurate. We managed to find some bikes this month so we have enjoyed cycling on a bike track behind our house and venturing a little further a field. It’s good to remember there is a whole world outside of the 10 block radius which we have been confined to the past few months.

Thankfully the elections passed peacefully this time
Belen was grateful for her food package
Lots of basic supplies and a few goodies too!

And where do you live?

Slowly… Very slowly … Things are starting to open up here in Cochabamba. Looking out of the window you can see more buses bustling about, cars honking their horns and people out shopping and working as normal. The difference, probably like all over the world, is that everyone is wearing a mask and you cannot go very far without being squirted with alcohol gel or asked to wash your hands. We have enjoyed meeting with two people face to face for a walk outside this month.

Another remote activity we can do is keep in touch with ex-Cometa kids. We partnered with Juana and Caleb, who are both part of our volunteer team at Cometa, to deliver food baskets to those in need.

Challenge 1: finding out where they live. Many live on un-named roads and they send you directions along the lines of “Down the hill, past the open drain pipe, turn right and go two and a half blocks and it’s next to a house with a pink roof without a garage.”
Challenge 2: decide a time. Some are working a haphazard timetable when and where they can. Bolivian timekeeping is always a bit ‘mas o menos’. You get used to it and learn to love it.
Challenge 3: explain to them they need to wear a mask and they are not allowed to hug people after not seeing each other for months!

Now that some shops are open we decided to make a goodie bag/box for each of the centres we usually work with containing craft and art materials. We designed 5 activities for each centre with photo instructions or video clips to explain what to do. Some are simply creative and others illustrate a Bible message. We pray that the staff are willing to spend time with, and encourage the young people to complete these fun activities. Hopefully they will be able to take some photos and send them to us next month.

Although we are very thankful for each and every opportunity we have to do our ministry, we have made a decision to shorten our time here. We have been praying about this and seeking God’s wisdom and feel that we are only able to do a fraction of what we were able to do before the Covid-19 outbreak. The restrictions here have been incredibly strict and the likelihood is that the youth rehabilitation centre will be closed to us for the foreseeable future. We understand why this is, to protect the boys who are living in less than ideal conditions. We know that God is in control of everything and we believe that we have been obedient in following our calling. This is not the way we would wish to finish our ministry time, but doing street evangelism, visiting churches, teaching drama workshops and face to face discipleship all require very close contact. We hope to continue with as much remote teaching as possible in the coming months as we make arrangements. This has been a tremendously difficult decision for us. We are thankful for our friends and prayer partners for all their support and guidance to this point.

The girls at Mosojyan enjoying some activities we sent them
The girls enjoying a celebration meal at Mosojyan
Care packages for ex-Cometa kids and their families being delivered by our Bolivian volunteers
Children receiving their care packages and hand knitted hats all the way from England
Finally being allowed to see one of our friends for a “socially distanced” walk!

Zooming into the future

This month we have seen some relaxing of lockdown restrictions in Bolivia. Thankfully we are able to go outdoors every day for a walk!! Shops are open during the week. Some private transport is allowed and limited public transport. But the numbers of cases of Covid-19 and fatalities are hugely under represented. There is no testing and families are no longer taking sick people to hospital as the system is full and overflowing. There was a news article this month in English which we are including via the following link. But please be prepared, it is very hard hitting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azUTPWXUgA0

We have re-established contact with the girls refuge for victims of sexual abused girls called Mosoj yan. They have recently had internet installed and are able to receive Zoom calls. We chatted to the director who was very keen for us to do something with the girls. She explained that they’d had none of their normal classes and were desperate for any kind of input. Drama workshops over a crackly low speed Zoom connection in a room with 14 teenagers was not without its challenges. But we could see and hear that they were enjoying it. We did a sketch about faith with two little birds who didn’t want to take the leap out of the nest. 

This month Dean preached at our Cochabamba church (Kairos) in a mixture of Spanish and English with a translator. He used 1 Corinthians 13 and spoke about how now is the time we really need to show love to one another. The members of the church are not used to being asked to reflect and contribute to the teaching and we think they really appreciated this different style of preaching. Usually preaching here is quite spontaneous and is often based on opinions rather than Biblical knowledge.

We have been waiting to hear from the authorities at Cometa rehabilitation centre. They initially hinted that they would be able to invite visitors back in September, but have not made any decisions yet. This is, as you can imagine, the most frustrating situation, as we have no idea how or when the system will change. 

Delivering some art and craft supplies to the girls at Mosojyan
Chaotic and slightly crazy drama Zoom sessions with Mosojyan – but lots of laughter and smiles
Road blocks just outside Cochabamba. They had used dynamite to blow up the road.

Sad loss for our team

Rigid, strict, moderate, flexible, total… Whatever name they give quarantine, it basically means the same. We are not able to go into the prison and see the boys we’ve been working with and so are having to find more and more creative ways to work. Due to the nature of the economy here, people have had to start moving and going to work, but this has had the effect of increasing the number of cases of Covid-19 in the community. 

We received some tragic news earlier this month, our friend and fellow volunteer, Arturo passed away from Covid 19. He was one of the team that ran the Saturday afternoon church with us. He often spoke at the front and attended all of our training sessions. We were both shocked and upset to hear that he had been turned away from a number of hospitals here in Cochabamba because they were either full or refusing to treat Covid patients. Sadly the situation is getting worse here in regard to the number of cases and the hospitals ability to treat people. As a result more people are self medicating and false/fake drugs are being sold as people get sick.

Thankfully we are both fine, although Ruth has been diagnosed with Shingles this week…. Just what we needed! But seems to be coping ok with the spots and aches. 

This month we have continued to prepare materials remotely for Bible sessions. Trying to make them as clear and easy to follow for the boys at the rehabilitation centre. It’s tricky as we don’t know how much input or interaction the kids are getting from the staff or if they are just left to do things on their own. We can just keep praying that they do get to the right hands at the right time. We are still in touch with a number of kids who are now out of Cometa and trying to adjust to being back with their families after a long time away. This is something we are trying to help them with. 

Sacks for food supplies ready to be delivered to families of ex-Cometa kids. Each contains rice, pasta, oil, flour, lentils and other dry goods
Arturo (pictured third from left) was a valuable member our team who volunteered at Cometa
A little bit of feedback from one of the boys who left Cometa a while ago. See translation from Dean above

A little bit of freedom

After enjoying a less rigid quarantine since 25th May, where we’ve been allowed out for daily exercise the Bolivian government have announced that we go BACK into strict lockdown from this Monday. So we have been making the most of being able to walk around the neighbourhood in the sunshine and have the odd ice cream whilst we can.

We finished preparing the devotional materials for the boys and have passed them on to our director to co-ordinate with the staff at the rehabilitation centre. We decided to use the Fruits of the Spirit as themes for these Bible studies. We have heard that a number of the boys on ‘preventiva’ have been released early. They are boys who were waiting for a judge to hear their case or on a type of probationary sentence. A few of the older lads who we have got to know well and were close to the end of their sentence have also been released. We are praying for them especially, as normally we would try to keep in touch with them and link them up with a church in their local area. 

One young guy, Victor, has been in touch with one of our volunteer team and actually joined our church zoom meeting last week. A girl, Delia, who we’ve known for a long time has finished her sentence and has been in touch via Whatsapp. She is now living with her family and asked us to pray for the relationship with her mum after being away for so long. Delia became a Christian whilst serving her sentence 🙂

A bike on a bike … only in Bolivia!
Celebrating our 18th Wedding Anniversary this month
Cochabamba view from the roof of our building
Miles from anywhere … I wonder what they think of Coronavirus?

Newsletters 15 and 16

Newsletter 16 – Latin Lockdown

Since our last newsletter we have remained in a strict lockdown here in Bolivia. Our weekly trip to the market has become a highlight. We have to wear a face mask, walk about 3 km (no public transport) and get sprayed by a disinfectant tunnel before having our temperature taken, a foot wash and smothered in hand gel.

Being in lockdown does have its challenges but there are a number of things that do make us smile and help us to get through these uncertain times. There’s the Corona virus song which is played at full blast at least once a week. Four huge speakers are strapped to the back of a truck and driven through the streets of Cochabamba. We have no choice but to listen as all the windows start to shake as it passes by.

The latest trip to the post office also kept us amused. It’s a 7km walk and we had no idea if in-fact it would be open. To our surprise it was and we were told to join the social distanced queue. Picture in your mind total chaos inside a crumbling building stuck in the 1950’s with post bags, parcels and letters piled up to the ceiling. After being told that there was no post for us today we then had to play the waiting game. It also helps if you look really sad and lean your head to one side. ‘Por favor, we are sure there must be something for us, something was sent four months ago!’ One kind gentleman started to open one of ten dirty, old post bags. Behold, the first parcel belonged to Dino y Ruth and after more sorting and fumbling two more showed up ten minutes later. A successful trip and another story to tell. Thanks to everyone who has sent parcels to us. They do arrive eventually and English chocolate and decaf tea bags always lift our spirits.

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Always thankful for our post office packages
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Squashed Maltesers are just as good as normal maltesers
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We celebrated Dean’s Birthday
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One of the largest Catholic churches in Cochabamba happens to be our neighbour which is lead by a very charismatic priest called Ronaldo. His latest activities included flying over the city in a helicopter and sprinkling Holy water over his flock. He also now has a huge TikTok following. His latest rap song went viral on social media, basically telling everyone to stay safe and stay inside. He has also fashioned a kind of Pope-mobil and can often be seen rolling though the streets of Cochabamba singing and blessing the people. You just can’t write this stuff and it’s all happening here folks!

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The Catholic Priest on his Fly by blessing

Mission
We have not been able to see the boys in the rehabilitation centre but have sent messages and a video via the social workers and hope and pray that they are well. The Army have been collecting food for the most needy and regularly patrol the streets in a truck asking for basic supplies. We have also been able to help our friend Wilfredo who was in the youth centre a few years ago with a financial gift. Our mission organisation has also been partnering with churches to supply food baskets, especially for children who’s parents are in prison. The government here are desperately trying to slow the spread of Coronavirus by asking people to stay home, but many people live in desperate poverty and cannot survive for long if they do not work. The government have given each family a payment to support them at this time, but we are seeing more and more people venturing out and coming into the city. The next decision will be on the 31st May and possibly some businesses can reopen in some areas depending on the numbers. The hospitals are very under funded; for example the news reported that in one department of Bolivia they had 15 ventilators and at the moment only 2 actually were in working order. Another photo emerged of a Covid -19 waiting area in a hospital of people in wheelchairs in a big hall with their oxygen tanks. In a system where there is no free National Health Care, where some doctors are refusing to treat patients and many people are staying away from hospital, the total of 14,000 cases in Bolivia is unlikely to be accurate.

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An example of the food parcels our mission was able to send to local families
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Hospital waiting area
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Army officers are always polite and helpful in our local plaza
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Mmmm…. what would you like for dinner?
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Meeting by Zoom …. with our Kairos Family
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We are not sure what’s next. We are praying that we can get back to some kind of normality soon. Our Bolivian church meet a couple of times a week via Zoom with worship and a short chat. People are finding it really hard to be apart and we have some days when we struggle too.

Newsletter 15 – Virus Update
Since the first case of Coronavirus arrived in Bolivia on 12th March we have been in a strict lockdown. The government took action to close schools, shops, restaurants and stop transport very quickly.

Here in Bolivia you are only allowed out to go to the market and buy food once a week from 07.00 – 12.00 depending on the number on your national ID card. Our cards end in the same number so we can only venture out on a Wednesday. Thankfully the shops have been fairly well stocked, as Bolivia produces a lot of its own food. Recently as a way to help social distancing and keeping people away from crowded places there have been mobile markets allowed to circulate the neighbourhood in the mornings. A truck with fresh veggies and fruit in sacks along with basics such as pasta, rice and eggs. (It reminds me of the lady who used to come to our village when we were kids, who knew everyone’s name, selling us ‘raspberry pop’.)When we do get to a shop we get our temperature taken, sprayed with alcohol gel, shoes cleaned, handed a jet washed trolley and, as of today, blasted in a tunnel of disinfectant. One of the strangest things is that there are no children allowed outside at all. It is so weird not to hear or see kids playing or bustling around the street.

Understandably everyone is extremely worried as the health system here is severely underfunded and poorly resourced. The government are trying to keep the numbers of infections down. The official figures are low, but this does not take into account the people who are not able to go to hospital because they cannot afford it, or treat themselves with some herbal or traditional remedy. People are not getting tested so it is unknown how many people have the Coronavirus. The government here have extended the quarantine until end of April. They have provided funds for 500bs per family (ÂŁ50)  to buy food whilst in quarantine. Utility bills and debts have been frozen and if a household keeps their water, gas and electricity under a certain amount then the government will pay those too. This has helped in part to allow people to stay at home. Many, many Bolivians live in poverty and earn money one day to pay for food the next.

As you can imagine we are very worried for the boys we work with. The hygiene facilities are basic and often limited sanitation products. We have not heard any news from the centre for about a month. Many of the families live a long way from the town and we’re sure the boys are concerned for their loved ones. All the other projects we work with are similarly closed to volunteers for now.

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Fresh, organic, local fruit and vegetables
el-pais
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A day in the Life….

Before the lockdown started here in Cochabamba we wrote this description of a typical day. We really miss our daily routine so we hope this gives you a flavour of life here.

 

All packed and ready for the next session
A thick layer of sunscreen…check! Hats and sunglasses…check! Old AppleMac and sound equipment…check! Lines learnt and drama practiced in Spanish…check! Parachute and games equipment…check! The ‘Niffler’ (Ruth) to make sure we have at least 4Bs (40p) for the return bus ride…check! Prayer for protection…double check!

After being warmly greeted by the heat of the day, we make our way to Avenida America, the main street that cuts through the busy city of Cochabamba. A long line of tall palm trees lead the way to a crossroads, where the race for the 260 ‘micro’ begins. I guess it’s called a micro because it’s like a small minibus but we never underestimate its ‘Tardis -like’ qualities, as there is always room for one, two or three more people and their children!

The bus will stop anywhere along the busy street, so you have to position yourself to be the first person the bus driver sees by forcefully sticking two fingers in the air (which indicates the number of people travelling by the way) and dodging traffic, motorbikes and street sellers to achieve your goal. Once you have won your seat you are now bent double with your knees firmly pressed against your chest. It’s now time to say goodbye to any form of personal space. In the past some Bolivians have been very keen to sit on your lap or stroke your arm and comment on how hairy it is whilst playing music at full blast on their cell phones! One of the great things about living in a collectivist society is that without fail everyone will say good morning to you as they launch themselves into the ‘micro collective’ …this makes us smile every time.

Once you have overcome the very satisfying feeling that ‘you’, a foreigner, have navigated the complexities of riding a Bolivian bus across town, the realisation that you might have to get off at some point suddenly dawns on you. There are various ways to do this. The first and most effective is to shout ‘esquina’ (corner) as loud as you can. This exercise is not for the timid or faint hearted as many times we have not shouted loud enough and had to walk for 2 or 3 blocks because we missed our stop. The next and probably the most Bolivian way to stop a bus is to shout ‘bajamos’ which simply means ‘we are getting off now!’. This can only be used if you are feeling very confident with your Spanish and does seem rather rude when you are from the United Kingdom.

We scramble off the bus at kilometer six and a half on the ‘Blanco Galindo’ (White Rooster) a very dangerous and dusty six lane high way. Probably the best way of knowing you have arrived is to look out for the two sign posts, ‘Tantra’ and ‘Eros’… a not so subtle reminder that we are now in the heart of the red light district. We take our equipment and our life in our hands as we navigate our way across and make the 10 minute hike along a road that we now fondly call Bleak Street.

It’s now time to prepare for the ‘Mosquito Run’. The valley of the shadow of death comes to mind, as we arm ourselves with Bolivian fizzy pop from the corner shop and make our way down this muddy track. The occasional beaten up street dog observes us invading its territory as we pass by. Show no fear becomes our brave mantra, but this only lasts for a few seconds. A frenzy of leg and arm slapping ensues as we try to swat away the onslaught of mosquitoes. Finally we look up through the dust at the large metal doors and the high barbed wire of the Youth Rehabilitation Centre.

We lift a small metal flap in the door and call for assistance. Hola..! There is always a warm greeting from Reynaldo who likes to practice his English with us… “Dino – my friend – how dar you? Please don’t speak in de Spanish – Only English por favor”.

Whilst the police officers check our bags, there are always a few boys sitting in a shady corner. They are kept there for a couple of days before they are integrated in to the main community. This time however they all seem to be huddled in a circle, reading something together. We wander over to give them our usual greeting and realise that they all have Bibles. Bibles that we bought for the centre three years ago. Wow! There are five teenage boys having a Bible study together. You just can’t write this stuff!

From a distance we hear some boys calling our names. Hey Dino y Roooof. Twelve lads appear one by one. They have rushed their lunch so that they can be ready for Youth Alpha. It doesn’t matter so much that our Spanish isn’t perfect, the boys know that we care for them and know each of them by name. We are greeted with wet hand shakes and back slapping hugs. They all have self made tattoos, battle scars and they smell a bit strange sometimes. They have come from a world that many of us will never know or experience, but God is changing their lives and that is good enough for us. Each one of these young people have a story to tell and have been in trouble with the law, but we have never experienced such a willingness to change, they have been given a second chance and they are open to God’s power and love in their lives. We sit in a dark hall, surrounded by a patchwork of curtains, the odd stray dog and we talk about eternal things.

We meet with these boys, and others like them, five times a week. We have come to the realisation that we love this work. It’s what God has called us here to do and the rewards far outweigh the cost. We now have a ‘captive audience’ for the next two years. These young lives which are hidden from sight are so precious to God and most of them are hearing the gospel message for the first time. So, we are all packed and ready for the next session … bring it on!

It’s hard to find words to explain how we are feeling right now as we wait for the doors to open again but we are praying that God will make us stronger through this time of lockdown. Our thoughts and prayers are with you wherever in the world you might be. We are feeling very far from home at the moment, but are sure this is where God has called us to be.

Newsletter 14

Can you believe we’ve been here for almost a year?… except our brief trip home for Ruth’s herniated disc. We want to thank you for all your interest and support in this time. We really appreciate all our friends and family near and far.

The Virus
So Bolivia was doing very well to avoid all Coronavirus news, but sadly the past few days there have been a number of cases here. The president took immediate action and closed the schools, universities, interdepartmental transport and international flights to and from Europe/UK. They said that there would be no visitors or volunteers at the youth rehabilitation centre until the end of the month. So we have an unexpected chance to catch our breath and have a bit of a break. Today we heard a new update enforcing a curfew from 19.00-05.00 every day and the ban on all sporting, cultural and social events. We are praying that everything is ok and all our friends around the world are able to stay healthy, especially the people in vulnerable groups. Bolivian health services are not great (as we found out last year) and facilities for isolation and quarantine are unknown. We had a couple of strange reactions from local people, who see us as foreigners and have stepped away from us or refused to serve us without washing their hands. But… loo roll is in plentiful supply. Happy days!

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The Work
But on to the news… we have continued with all our classes and groups (up until Thursday). We love going to San Benito to see the girls who are so enthusiastic about doing drama. The Mosoj Yan group have had a couple of new additions, two new girls and one girl has had a baby this month. His name is Daniel and both are doing really well. The group of boys at Camino are enjoying the Alpha course – although three of the original group now go to school in the afternoon. The new kids are straight off the street so have a lot of ‘character’! The girls at Cometa have almost finished the Alpha course; we’ve been talking about the Holy Spirit and how best to read your Bible on your own. We have a core group of 12 boys at Cometa that tend to come to both the drama and the Alpha course. All are really responding well to the questions and are all more confident in sharing their ideas. We did a drama called ‘Light of the World’ and made friendship bracelets based on the ‘colour book with no words’ idea. The black represents sin, the white is cleansing, the red is the blood of Jesus, the yellow signifies heaven etc.

Wrist band

We are leading more Saturday sessions along with the team of volunteers. Charlie, who is the pastor of Kairos church, has come along to help with worship and group discussions. This month the themes have been prayer and faith. We were amazed that more than 30 of the boys expressed their faith after we led them in a prayer. The well-known picture of Jesus knocking on the door by Holeman Hunt gave a number of them a ‘WOW’ moment when they saw that they had to invite Jesus into their lives as there was no door handle on the outside. Those kind of moments make everything seem worthwhile.

The Family
The Familia Kairos church has been a welcoming place to invite young people to. As a way of getting to know more people better, we were asked to share on the family day out – which was a BBQ at a local cabin. Together we did an activity which involved teams building paper towers and showed how we each have a role to play in the team and this is an illustration of how we can each use our unique skills to serve the church. The interactive, reflective style went down really well and was quite new to many of the group.

Thank you for all your support and continued interest in what we are doing. We love hearing from friends and sharing news, so please drop us a message. Also if you want to send us a parcel that would be amazing.  Our postal address is Casilla 15, Cochabamba, Bolivia. South America. Label anything as ‘household items’. We finished our supply of Cadbury’s this week! (serves us right for SHARING WITH OTHERS!)

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When it rains at church.

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The church day out

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A couple of the final paper towers which was a team building illustration.

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The tallest tower

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With David

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No shortage here…

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Baby Daniel

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Newsletter 13

February seems to have whizzed by in a bit of a blur… We’ve been really busy. It’s been ‘rainy season’ here, which means a couple of days of heavy rain and a few spectacular thunder and lightning storms. It’s all supposed to go back to normal at the end of this month, after Carnival and the crazy water fighting with balloons and spraying foam! But so far we’ve managed to dodge being a target (Dean insists it’s one of the advantages of having grey hair – they aim at everyone else!)

Our ministry work has been going really well. We are doing six regular presentations per week now, which keeps us rushing around from one place to another. The boys and girls at the rehabilitation centre are enjoying the Alpha course in Spanish. It’s incredible to see how they are now talking and sharing their thoughts more freely. They have got used to the structure and now volunteer answers and ideas. The topics we’ve been doing this month are about Jesus, the cross, faith and prayer. They particularly liked doing the ‘skittles prayer’ when they could pick a different type of prayer depending on what colour skittle came out of the packet.

A new group of boys have signed up for the drama course. They have been so enthusiastic and a few of the group who finished last year have been keen to come along to help. It’s funny to hear the boys explaining the meaning of the dramas to each other and hearing your own words being echoed back at you.

As planned, we have started going to another youth rehabilitation centre for girls in a district of Cochabamba called San Benito. This is for girls who have either lived on the street, and have been given the option to live in the centre or girls who have been using drugs, sniffing glue or addicted to alcohol. It is about an hour outside of the city. There are currently about 8 girls there, but it can house up to 20 and they are between 14-18 years old. After negotiating the journey, the gates and the four rather large growling dogs, we had a fabulous time with the girls, staff and even the cook joined in the games. They don’t get many visitors so they were so appreciative of our time. We are doing the 12 week drama course, where each week covers a different theme and bible verse. Some of the girls obviously have grown up going to church and one girl gave an amazing explanation of why she prays and about God’s grace. In those moments we just look at each other and cannot believe our ears. She was so excited to be able to participate in the drama and talk to her friends about what she believes.

A number of the boys and girls have left the rehabilitation centre over the past month. It is quite hard keeping in touch with them as their lives are chaotic and very transient. We’ve helped some with school supplies and materials they need to start college and one girl is interested in joining ‘Transformations’. One boy proudly told us he has a job in the big cinema and is a motorbike mechanic in the day (as well as studying at uni!?). Our friend Wilfredo came to our flat for dinner with his girlfriend and loved his Watford football shirt. He starts his third year of vet school this Spring.EBAE291A-27C4-4FE1-A26C-696CEE7AC1AE-1059-00000086C7077B8C

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Catching up with Belen.

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Putting out the recycling … Bolivian style

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Church day out to a local cabin

We were delighted when our friend California asked if her could come to church with us. We have been visiting a number of churches to find one which is open and welcoming to the population we are working with. A church named Kairos from Santa Cruz has opened a small church plant in Cochabamba. They meet in a park, under a tree, sitting on the ground on blankets or on fishing stools. It’s very informal. There is usually a drum and either a guitar or ukulele. We are going to talk at their next family day out event on the 1st March.

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Church under the tree. Family Kairos

 

 

Newsletter 12

Alpha
One of the great things about Alpha is that the whole course can be downloaded in Spanish! We started our very first Youth Alpha course in Cometa last week for the boys and for the girls. They loved it! Most young people in Bolivian culture don’t get a chance to voice their opinions at school; the teacher knows all the answers, and to question the system is not advisable. Youth Alpha gives our young people the chance to tell us what they think and feel about God, faith and the meaning of life in a safe and fun environment. Many of the young people are starting to enjoy group discussion for the very first time. Our Church here in Cochabamba have been so impressed with the material that they have also started Alpha for adults and young people at a mid week group.

Through the week
Our Saturday afternoon sessions are gaining momentum and we have a new worship leader from a well known church called Kairos (it’s like the South American equivalent of Soul Survivor). Caleb brings another dimension to our meetings, with his very laid back attitude and reggae style worship. When his work is done he swings his guitar over his shoulder, jumps on his chopper motorbike and rides off into the sunset. Only in Bolivia folks!

Many of the leadership team at Cometa and Camino have changed as they are only contracted for one year at a time. This can be quite problematic as we need to start building relationships again from scratch. However, some of the staff have been there since we started our ministry in 2014 and this helps with the transition. Last week we were given permission to keep the work going so we started a fresh drama/discipleship group for ‘sentencia’ (those with longer sentences). It was so encouraging that some of last year’s group wanted to come along to help. They remembered the material and began to encourage the less able boys. What a treat!

We try to meet up with as many ex-offenders as possible and it was such a privilege to meet with Lucy again this month. This time she brought her mum and two children and with her. Before we met Lucy 5 years ago she had been living on the streets and sleeping in a disused railway station. All family relationships had been broken. She is now living back with her family and seems genuinely happy. We also had a meeting with ‘California’ who left Cometa in November, whilst we were in UK. He now has a job and is studying in the evenings to finish his last year of high school. He was very impressed with the Watford football shirt we brought from England. Mainly because it has a South American player’s name on the back! (Thanks Charlie!).

Rumble in the jungle
We had some spare time after New Year so we took the opportunity to visit Hali in Santa Cruz. Hali runs a programme for children and families in some of the poorest communities in Bolivia. We have been Hali’s mentors for a few years now and it was good to have some quality time together. It’s always an adventure when we visit the low-lands of Bolivia and this trip was no exception. The plan was to take a 4×4 trek in search of waterfalls. Crossing 25 rivers and navigating jungle tracks that just didn’t exist on the map was great fun, though slightly worrying at times. But the pay-off was breathtaking. A double waterfall cascading over a 70ft over-hang and our own private inland beach complete with a natural pool. We had found paradise! But paradise only lasted 10 minutes before Miguel spotted one of the deadliest scorpions known to man (Two Tailed Arizona Bark Scorpion). We kept our shoes firmly attached to our feet for the rest of the day, and we were surprisingly very grateful that we had only been bitten by mosquitos.

Thank you for your continued support and prayers in 2020.
We can’t do this work without you…

 

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On our adventure in the jungle, when the road got so bad the 4×4 couldn’t go on, we decided to walk the last few kilometres to the waterfalls.

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Just don’t think what could be lurking in the water….

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After seeing this little fella, we decided to put our shoes back on!

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DayOut
A lunch stop at a Jesuit church outside of Santa Cruz

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Wow……

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Lunch with friends, Rafa and Gabi

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‘Christmas dinner’ with stuffing from home.

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Glad to see Lucy doing so well.

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Our friend ‘California’ who we met up with for lunch. Thanks Charlie for the shirt!

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Hali and Dean, BBQ, s’mores and the best ever Guacamole

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