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.


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?