Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ready to say good bye

A few weeks left.  Patujusal and Yapacani, Bolivia will no longer be our home.  We will be moving.

Our land – The community has not given us permission to sell.  The intention remains that they will take ownership when we leave.  However, we have a legal transfer agreement between ourselves and Dionicio.  Jake will request permission one more time at the next community meeting and if they still refuse, he will give legal Power of Attorney to Dionicio.  We prefer not to take this step but we feel that it is the quickest and the least painful way to transfer ownership.  The quicker ‘the gringo’ is gone, the perceived source of money is gone, the quicker things will return to normal.  We pray that everything will go smoothly.

 Our stuff – We are very thankful that the majority of our belongings were sold to people in Yapacani.  We did not have to bring any of the larger items to sell in Santa Cruz.  It gives a good feeling to know that most of it will also be used by friends. 

 Our plans – We will spend about six weeks in Alberta, visiting family and preparing for the next adventure. At the end of September we hope to be in Nicaragua.  We want to be ‘freelance volunteers’, helping where we are needed but not planning to have our own projects.  Jake will continue to work in agriculture and Marg plans to work with a number of organizations in communications.

Leaving is bitter sweet.  We know that it is time to move on.  We are thankful for the experiences and the growth that we have had in Bolivia. Our thanks and love go out to great people like Dionicio and Viviana, Luciano and Margarita, RenĂ© and Rosemarie, Carlos and Roberta, Adolfo and Rosa, Freddy and Jhannyra, Juan and Rosie, Alberto and Cinthia, Adan and his parents, Carlos and Claudia, Pulomia and Francisco, the Diaz family and many, many more – all part of our Bolivian family.  We will miss you.  A dios.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery

In a country where brothels line the roads, where prostitutes receive free weekly medical checkups, where it is not unusual for a man to have a wife and a mistress, one rule remains – do not mess around with your neighbour’s wife.

In our community there are two couples.  Norberto and Felecia have been together for over 10 years.  They have two sons and they live the majority of the time in Yapacani.  Their chaco borders ours but we have never connected well with Norberto.  We question his honesty and his integrity.  He is one who will cheat the custom operators, saying that he has less land under cultivation that he actually has.  Last year he lit a fire to burn the dry grass on his land.  He returned to Yapacani and the fire crossed our land, another chaco and entered his brother-in-law’s chaco.  Carlos had planted about 5 acres of mango and the fire killed all of them.  Norberto told Carlos that it was not his fault that the fire escaped and so Carlos lost all of his investment.
German and Carmen are members of the Diaz family who have been very active in the church.  Carmen would like to be baptised and would like to be married but German does not show much interest in the church and does not want to be married.  They have lived together for eight years and have a seven year old daughter.  Carmen was just seventeen when Wilma was born.  German is a quiet man, following the lead of his brothers.  He has always been very supportive of us and what we have done for the community.  They have also moved to Yapacani but Carmen does come out to do her turn cooking for the men who are working in the chaco.

We are not sure about the details since the Bolivians don’t tell the details.  It seems like one time Carmen rode with Norberto to Patujusal, rather than taking the micro.  This would not be unusual.  During this time together, she was ‘molested’, although she admits that it was mutual.  During the following weeks, German, decided that he could ‘have’ another woman.  In both situations, we are not sure what happened.  At this point, Carmen moved to Santa Cruz while German and Wilma remained in Yapacani with the extended Diaz family—grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, and cousins. After some time, Carmen moved back since she preferred the rural life and became very lonely in the city.  German was very angry – at Norberto, at Carmen, at the situation.  Rumor has it that was not the first time that Norberto had been involved with another woman.  Norberto continued to contact Carmen by telephone, calling her his love.

In Bolivia, there is a system called community justice in which the community delivers the punishment or sanction as it sees fit.  If the constitution of the community calls for them to make such decisions, they will do it.  Because both couples are members of Patujusal 2, our community had thi responsibility.  This item was on the agenda of a monthly meeting --- the sanctioning of Norberto for taking advantage of Carmen.  It was decided that Norberto be banned from entering the community.  In order to decide the time for which he would be banned, each community member gave his opinion and the numbers were averaged.  He may not enter Patujusal 2 for five years.  His wife may come and go, so she can manage the farm and attend the meetings, but he may not enter.  If he does, he is subject to a 3000 boliviano ($430) fine.  If he contacts either Carmen or German in Yapacani, the fine doubles.  Such is justice in Bolivia.

When the decision was made, the two couples had to sign the document outlining the sanction.  Felecia, Carmen and Norberto were willing to sign but German had difficulty.  He finally signed but he did not think that the sanction was sufficient.  Was it because Norberto had violated Carmen as a women or whether he felt that his property was violated, we do not know.

We hope and pray that both of these relationships will be healed, that there will be healing in the community, that there will be forgiveness. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Transition is Never Easy

Transition is never easy.  When you are working within a different culture, one that you do not always understand, it becomes even more difficult.

We made the decision to transition.  The next step is how – how do we tell the churches, how to we tell our friends, how do we tell our neighbours.  We did all that and everyone is now aware that ‘someday we plan to leave’.  We have no definite date, which is a good thing.

 Jake informed the community that we would like to sell the land and was told that the land could not be sold.  It can only be given back to the community.  That is one of these great half-truths.  The land cannot be sold but the investments or improvements of the land can be recuperated.  You may change the name but you cannot sell.  It is all semantics.  So the process of ‘recuperating our investment’ or ‘changing the name’ begins.
Our friend and co-worker would like to use our property for a church camp. Although it would not meet North American standards, it could easily be used for smaller groups.  His vision is to hold youth retreats, couple retreats, men’s’ retreats, women’s’ retreats etc.  He does not have the finances to bankroll a project of this size so he has collaborated with another friend, Luciano. Luciano, a man with a heart for the Lord, is a well established farmer in this area who has the finances and the desire to help Dionicio.  This proposal is our first desire but we realize that it will take time for them to gather the support of the local churches, to negotiate a reasonable ‘fee’ with the community to change the name, to write the necessary papers needed for the transfer and the operation of the camp facility.

This proposal is our first choice but we have had others show interest as well.  The problem is that they have to get the money together for the payment and most need one to two years to save that amount.

So we live in limbo – each day as it comes.  We know that this is all in God’s hands and that is the only comfort that we have.  Each day we pray for patience, for wisdom, for courage.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

La cominidad abandonada

An abandoned school. An abandoned church. An abandoned community. In only seven or eight years.

September 2005. A Canadian group came to a small community called Patujusal 2 in the jungles of Bolivia. The logging company had built a road a couple of months before by taking n earth mover and ploweing the trees out. No one lived in the community since there was no water. Instead, they ived with family or on a small lot in the nearest community, Patujual 1.

It was jungle. The men had cleared small plots of land for corn and rice. Everything was done manually. There were no vehicles other than bicycles. A micro bus came in to Patjusal 1 but it did not have a consistent schedule due road conditions. They had great plans for their community – a school, a church, a well developed community.

February 2012. The school in Patujusal is closed since they are not enough students. The few
families who were supporting the school have moved to either La Pista or Yapacani. There is only one couple and one family left in church community. The rest have moved to town for an easier life and for a better education for their children. They are closer to hospitals. They have electricity and water. There are less insects and less disease problems. They can watch television.

An abandoned community.

With a bit of assistance through micro credit and couple of good seasons with their crops, many earned enough enable an easier life. The first purchase was a motorbike, which enabled the men to make the trip in a day instead of walking to the bus stop to leave at 5 in the morning, enduring a 4 hour bus ride, and then returning at 7 in the evening and walking home. The second purchase was a lot in town on which they could build a brick house. Since the farm was not considered a permanent residence, improvements were not made on the house there.

Farming also changed. Large tracts of land have been cleared with earth movers and the farmers hire contract operators that own a line of farming equipment to do all the work. The farmers come to the community about once a week, monitor the crop, arrange for the work to be done, nd return to town. Rarely does the family return to the farm, even during school vacations.

The people are able to live relatively comfortably in town with the money made on the farm. Some of the men will operate a moto taxi; some women will run a produce stand or start a small business selling bread, juices, or treats. As the family becomes more economically secure, this also is abandoned. They become ‘sunshine inspectors’.

How does one ‘develop’ a community without people? In the Patujusal 2 community there are two permanent residents – and both of them are gringos. There are no more neighbours. It makes us wonder about the impact that we have had on the community and about our future.

One is never sure exactly how one impacts a community. Was our time here a benefit or a detriment – or maybe a bit of both? Did we really make any difference? Maybe we will never know. We do know that our being here changed the community. There are those that want us
to stay; there are those that want us to leave. Some think we have not given enough to the community; others think that we helped them. Much depends on expectations. We believe that the community and the church must be self-sustainable. Therefore, we have not given out ‘hands outs’ and we have not become part of the decision makers. This has been difficult in a culture where hand outs are expected and where it is also expected that we would make the
decisions in the church. If only we had known then what we know now!

So what are we going to do? This past year has been a time of change, of indecision. Should be go back home? Should we move to another country? Should we stay in Bolivia? Throughout this year it is clear that our work is finished where we are. Although I hate to admit it, the churches are probably weaker than when we came. Before they were doing things on their own, but now they want me to do lead and do the preaching. The school is gone, the people are gone –
there is not much left for us. We could be like the others and move to Yapacani but that does not fit in with our vision of taking care of the land as a gift from God. We either stay or farm or we move. That is the decision we are making. Please remember us in your prayers as we ponder this transition.

The Journey of the Chocolate Cake

Mom loved to bake. She loved cookbooks. About forty five years ago, she purchased a
dozen cookbooks, Family Favorites, to support the Hills Christian School in Hills, Minnesota from a friend, Mrs. Mina Sjaarda. Mom and I spent hours poring over the cookbook, experimenting and choosing favourites including Mrs. Sjaarda’s Chocolate Cake, found on page 91. This cake became a family favourite, gracing our table for all occasions.

A few years ago, my niece was married in Vancouver and the reception was held in the very
prestigious Waterfront Hotel. The Siebenga family was seated at one table and enjoyed a very up-scale meal. The dessert was served – not a creamy, over decorated confection, but instead, a
chocolate delicacy on a pristine white plate. We all looked at it, looked at each other, but said nothing. The master of ceremonies announces, “The dessert has been especially made by the chefs of the Waterfront from a recipe submitted by the bride. This delicious cake is a tradition of her family and was served by her grandmother every time they visited the farm. Enjoy.” Yes, it was Mrs. Sjaarda’s Chocolate Cake.

I now live in Bolivia, South America and live in a small Quechua community on the edge of the Amazon Rain Forest. We have propane stove so we have an oven in which I can bake so I introduced the North American type of cake to the community. They love cake, especially chocolate cake or banana cake. I need something that works well; that I know will work is there is a problem with the oven temperature. The dirtiest page of my cookbook is page 91, although I know the recipe by heart.

One day the ladies of the community asked me to teach them to bake cake. That sounds like an easy task except that they have no measuring spoons, no measuring cups, and no ‘normal’ oven. We use a traditional mud oven. First, we fill the oven with wood and heat it up until the inside of the oven turns red. Then we remove all the wood and let the oven cool off until the correct
temperature is reached. This is all done without an oven thermometer. You put your hand in the oven and guess! Counting to 7 works just about right.

Thankfully, the recipe doesn’t have to be exact so using their spoons works. There would be a little more of some ingredients and a little less of others, but I thought it would
all work out in the end. The local women were amazed at the ingredients needed for a cake. They thought they would use flour, sugar, eggs, and chocolate but did not understand using baking soda and baking powder. We worked together to bake the cake. It didn’t take as long to bake since the oven acted like a convection oven but it did not rise as well as one baked in a
‘normal’ oven. The taste – delicious! All the school children were thrilled to be our tasters.

I shared the recipe, along with Banana Cake and Lazy Daisy Cake, with ladies in the community but it was difficult for them to make them. Wedding presents and birthday gifts consisted of measuring cups, measuring spoons, baking pans and recipes.

The other day we attended a church anniversary in the city of Santa Cruz. Church anniversaries are large events and cake is very important. Tradition says that you purchase ones resembling wedding cakes; these can be very expensive. But an anniversary does not happen without cake. Often we discuss the amount of money spent by churches on something that doesn’t seem like a
necessity to us.

Pastor Juan and his wife, Rosie, are good friends and they invited us to the anniversary. We attended the service and enjoyed the delicious traditional chicken dinner consisting of lots of rice, a little salad, and a piece of chicken. We wondered if Juan and Rosie would purchase cakes. We didn’t think so. When the meal was over, they entered with the cakes. They looked very good but then you cannot tell since often the icing has melted in the heat. The announcement was made. These cakes were proudly made by Rosie and two other ladies of the church using the recipe of ‘Hermana Margarita’. They did an excellent job!

Chocolate cake – fromthe chefs of the Waterfront Hotel to the churches in the jungle of Bolivia. To some it may be Wacky Cake, Never Fail Chocolate Cake, Eggless Chocolate Cake – but to the Siebenga family it will always be Mrs. Sjaarda’s Chocolate Cake.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cell Phone Woes

A couple of weeks ago I was in Santa Cruz attending two ladies in the hospital. Jake and I communicate by cell phone at night. One night I dial and receive the message that the number is incorrect. What? I have dialled that number all the time and it works. But no more. We have had trouble with the phone in the country but this was something different. For awhile I could phone Jake but he could not place calls to anyone. Then, finally, I could not call him.

This week the same thing happened to his cell phone that he uses in town. I could call him but he couldn’t call me – and there was credit on the phone. So what is wrong? Today Jake goes to the main office in Santa Cruz. They tell us that our ‘country’ phone was not used and did not have credit so was cut off. And, they no longer provide ‘new’ service to phones that do not have chips. However, ‘chip’ phones do not have good enough reception to be used in the country. Therefore, no more phone in the country!

And what about the other one. Oh, it is not a ‘standard’ phone so it cannot be registered – although it was already registered once before. So, now we are without phones. If we buy a new one, will it be ‘standard’?

So, off to the other office of the same company. “Oh, sure, we can register that! You moved your chip from one phone to the other and the phone and the chip must match. No, it’s not a standard phone but it is a very good one.” And off Jakes goes with a cell phone that actually works!

Still no luck on the other ‘country’ phone but we will keep working on it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Day of Faith Part 1

The weather was hot, sunny and dry and all the plans were coming together. The meat, the rings, the dress, the suit were ordered. It just needed to be picked up. There was no hurry. It was Thursday and the wedding was on Saturday. It would be a momentous weekend in the lives of Carlos and Roberta. They would both be baptised in the morning and they would be married in the afternoon. Thursday afternoon Roberta headed into town with Marg to do the final preparations and pick everything up, except the meat. Rice was loaded into the truck, along with a cooler for ice and a container for diesel. Plans were to drop the rice so that it could be processed. It would be ready the next morning. For Marg, picking up and paying for the wedding rings was the main purpose for the trip. Being ‘padrinos’ of the rings meant that she and Jake paid for the wedding rings of their friends. The two hour trip went as smoothly as possible of the rough road to Yapacani. About fourteen kilometres from the town the truck started to lose power. Shifting into a lower gear seemed to help but the truck continued to lose power. The engine stopped but started easily again. Another half and kilometre and it lost power again. And again. And again. Soon the distance travelled was narrowly down to a few hundred feet. But each time the truck started again. Fourteen kilometres. Start, stop, start, stop, start, stop. Finally Yapacani was in site and the first stop was the garage. The young man took the truck for a drive and diagnosed an electrical problem. The wires were burnt, he said, but the electrician was not available. He would be back later. Would we damage the truck by driving it? No. So, by chugging across town the rice was brought to the plant. With that done, Marg thought she would go to her house and rest for an hour until the electrician came back. “But what about the rings? “ asked Roberta. With all the anxiety about the truck, Marg had forgotten the rings! Thankfully, they were at the jewellery store. They waited until the inscriptions were written and Roberta entrusted the most important rings to Marg to guard until Saturday. Things were still going smoothly and although Marg was anxious about the truck, she was already planning ways to get back to Patujusal if the truck was not working. Arrangements were made to meet the electrician at the shop but upon arrival it was evident that he was not there. His wife informed Marg that her husband was drunk and that there was no way that he would be back that day. Now what! Another phone call and off to another garage that would be able to diagnose the problem, but not at six o’clock in the evening. Come back at nine in the morning and if the problem was electrical, it would be finished. The problem was not electrical. A new diagnosis was the diesel pump. This diagnosis made more sense so off to another garage that did fuel pumps. Yes, it was a fuel pump problem. It wasn’t serious. But after replacing the fuel pump there still was no diesel coming to the engine. The time was passing and Marg was getting more anxious. She was supposed to take the wedding dress and the suit back and the truck was going to be used as the wedding vehicle. Pastor Juan was coming from Santa Cruz and he had room for one more person in his car. Marg could go with him and take along the dress and the suit. Then Pastor Freddy could pick up the truck in the afternoon and drive to Patujusal in the morning. It sounded like a good plan but she hoped it would not need to be implemented. If was becoming more and more obvious that the truck had more problems than the fuel pump. The two mechanics crawled under and hit the gas tank. They determined that there was no diesel. Impossible. It was full. They added five liters. Nothing. Ten liters. Nothing. Another couple of liters and the diesel spilled out on the ground. It was full. But there was no diesel going to the motor. Taking an air hose, they blew air from the tank to the engine but nothing happened. When they blew it the opposite way the diesel spewed out of the tank. There was no diagnosis but they determined that the tank would need to be removed, the diesel drained out, and hopefully they would find the problem. Come back at three in the afternoon. The backup plan needed to be implemented. Pastor Juan came into town with his car loaded with his family’s supplies for the weekend in the country. There was barely room for one more. The dress and the suit would be left behind to come the next day. Conversation was flowing and Marg was telling them about one of the men who had been baptised the previous weekend. “Oh, no,” wailed Rosie. “I forgot the tunics for the baptisms.” No problem. Freddy lived just around the corner and we would borrow some from him. They stopped in front of Freddy’s house but when they started the car again, there was a strong odor. And this time it was the odor of something burning. Pastor Juan, who is also a mechanic, soon realized that the fan was broken. There was no way that we would be taking his car to Patujusal. Plans were quickly disintegrating. It was no longer a problem of Marg getting to Patujusal on time. There was now five more people stranded and they had to be in Patujusal for the church anniversary that evening. The bus had already left. It was 3 o’clock. Maybe the truck was ready. The car was dropped off at the electrical garage. Marg and Juan, neither small people, hopped on a moto taxi and went to check out the truck. Juan was sure that he could work something out to get the truck to work using a bucket and a hose. Instead of the diesel being pumped into the engine it would gravity flow. It sounded Bolivian but it just might work. However, when they arrived at the garage the mechanics had just finished with the truck and it was ready to go. The copper tube that goes into the gas tank and through which the gas is siphoned had rattled apart on the rough road. Instead of looking like a tube, it resembled threads. If everything worked well now, they should still make it to Patujusal by 5:30. Everything was loaded into the truck and arrangements were made to pick up the dress and the suit. It was 3:30. Finally, at 4:10 the dress and the suit arrived. Now it would be after 6 before they arrived and the service was to start at 7. It would be close. Down the road Marg drove, probably faster than was good for the little truck. Within a few miles, Rosie was saying that God knew that their car would have never, never made it down the rough road. It would have fallen apart. She was right! That statement was made by all the members of the family numerous times during the drive. Ironically, the local bus was sitting on the side of the road also. It would not make it to Patujusal on time either. Everything went swimmingly until 15 de Agosto and the construction zone. Thankfully it was dry and there were no problems. The anniversary service took place in the evening and everything seemed to be back on schedule. Although the truck with all the supplies had not arrived, no one was worried. It would get there. Another family from Cochabamba, friends of Pastor Juan and Rosie. Because there was not enough room in the inn, they pitched their tents on the lawn.

Everyone made it to the church -- a bit late but then we go by Bolivian time. It was a great time of celebration and thanksgiving.

A Day of Faith Part 2 The Baptism

Saturday morning dawned. Carlos and Roberta’s farm was a hive of activity with the decorators putting up tables, chairs and decorating everything. Carlos’ sister and brother-in-law, along with some neighbours were cutting the meat. Roberta was helping them. Carlos was in the jungle cutting down motacu leaves to make a barrier around the ‘room’ that would be used for the reception. Only one problem. They were supposed to be at church for their baptism. It took some urging and some organization to get them to the church. Roberta, being shy, was also uncomfortable with all the attention of the day. The pressure was building and she needed help and encouragement. Although there was some help, more was needed to help with the cooking and the preparations. While Marg persuaded Carlos and Roberta that they had to come to the church, Jake and Dionicio went the school to get water. Pastor Juan was giving a message on baptism but the two who were to be baptised were not there! They finally arrived and it seemed like things were proceeding once again. Until the thunder started. Until it started to rain. There had been very little rain for the past four months and although everyone wanted rain, no one really wanted it on this day. But rain it did. Rain pelted down. Everything was soaked. The plan was to drive 11 kilometers to the river in La Pista for the baptism but it was raining. Instead the congregation settled for a visit in the church to wait it out. Ten minutes, and 10 centimeters of rain, later the sun was shining and everyone piled into the two remaining trucks and headed out. The school was less than ten minutes away but there was no rain there. Thankfully, Patricio and Marioly were there with their truck and the grossly overloaded trucks were relieved of some of their cargo. The drivers were assured that they could drive right down to the river but that was a Bolivian truth. Instead everyone parked about 100 meters away and the people walked down, only to quickly return to the vehicles as the rain poured from the skies. Only the very faithful stayed for the baptism ceremony. Roberta and Carlos were properly baptised – immersed and sprinkled at the same time.

A Day of Faith part 3 The Wedding

The baptism was over. The rain had come and gone. Only the wedding remained. But what to do. Everything was now and muddy. It would be possible to hold the reception at the Carlos and Roberta’s farm but it would be a messy business. The land around the church was equally wet and muddy. The alternative was to transfer everything to the large building on Jake and Marg Hoogland’s place. There was only an hour before the wedding to move all the tables and chairs, and re-decorate everything at a different location.

The bride and groom were busy scurrying around getting everything done but finally were persuaded to get ready for the ceremony. The dress and the suit were hanging in Marg’s house but the bride and groom headed off to the church – without their attire. More than half an hour passed before people realized that the bride and groom were in one location and the clothes were in another.

Hair-does, make-up, the works for the bride and her three little attendants. In Bolivia, as in most other countries, a wedding is a huge event. The two local teachers took on the task of applying the make-up and doing the hair. Each little girl looked like a little princess in her long white dress with its ruffles and beads. Roberta also had a white dress, veil and white flowers. Roberta’s handmade dress with all the beads and ruffles cost about $35.00. Carlos is very short, barely a meter and a half tall if stretched. He had a terrible time finding a suit because everything was too big. If he wanted a suit made it would have cost over $200 so he settled for a jacket ‘off the rack’. It had two things against it – it was way too big and it was black. But he was not willing to spend that much money on something he would never wear again. Estevan, Carlos and Roberta’s oldest son, wore black pants and a white shirt. Everything was finally ready.

There was even a Bible. Estevan would enter the church carrying an open Bible but, due to lack of communication and planning, the church had not bought them a Bible. Again, Jake and Marg to the rescue. They had purchased a Bible as a wedding present so it was unwrapped and used for the wedding ceremony. The people were gathered and it was time for the processional.

Another problem. How would Roberta make it to the church without getting her dress wet and dirty. Jake and James made a chair with their arms, Roberta hopped on, and off they went to the ceremony. No one mentioned that this was the very first wedding at which Pastor Juan would officiate. The first part moved along smoothly and a very nervous pastor made it through the service. In spite of the little problems, the stutters and the pauses, Carlos and Roberta were married. Photos were taken and Carlos and Roberta joined Jake and Marg for a short trip around the country while everyone else made their way to the reception.


The reception was reminiscent of the wedding parties of the ‘olden days’. First, there was a meal of lots of rice, potatoes, yuca, a lots of meat. It was delicious! Following the meal there were skits and singing. But there still was one snag. Bolivians also have ‘padrinos’ of the wedding cake. These would be the second most important people, after the ‘padrino’ of the rings. But the wedding cake didn’t arrive. Some friends told us about a car that was stuck in the construction zone. The bus had finally made it at 10 p.m., three hours after its usual time. Scramble for cake. Now, Marg always has cake in the freezer but not enough for a whole wedding reception. She had about 70 pieces and they would need double that. What to do? Finally, at about 10:30 a car rolls in – with the wedding cake. So let them eat cake.


When weddings take place in town, you can go down town and buy a present. But what do you do when the wedding occurs in the country? The store comes to you. Some enterprising person loads his truck up with gifts and parks outside the church. The guests can purchase their gift, have it gift wrapped, and bring it in the the couple. Often the couple ends up with mounds of the same thing –plates, cups, and glasses. But at this wedding there was no store. So then what would you do? You give money. In a manner similar to the receiving line at North American weddings, the couple accepts the congratulations of all that attend. The guests either give a present or pin money on to the clothing. The women give a gift or pin the money on the bride, the men give a gift or pin money on the groom. It is not unusual to give two gifts, one for the bride and one for the groom. For Carlos and Roberta, the money seemed to be a much better ‘deal’ that all the cups, plates and glasses. They could purchase something that they really needed or wanted. They had lived together for eight years so they really didn’t need all the table ware. They were thankful for the two double beds. Now they had a bed, and the boys had a bed. It was near midnight when the festivities were over – very early for a Bolivian wedding. Because there was no dance and no liquor, the party was shorter. It was a good day! In spite of all the mishaps, everything turned out well. Did Carlos and Roberta have any doubt about that? No, they were in God’s hands and he would work it all out. The faith of a child.

Wonder of Wonders! Miracles of Miracles!

Pictures are a huge part of a wedding, even in Bolivia. There are not many good cameras; most are camera phones. And I really blew it that day. My ‘good’ camera takes a long time to adjust in dark situations and it sucks up the battery. By the time the wedding was to start, the batteries were shot. I also have a point-and-shoot but it also takes a long time to focus. I felt terrible since Carlos and Roberta are good friends and I wanted good pictures for them. Thankfully, my friend, Marioly, had a camera that worked better in these conditions. I arranged all the people and she took the pictures. I had had many more creative shots in mind but with the rain and all the other little glitches, none of those happened. But we were happy with what we had. Marioly has a developing machine so she developed pictures that evening and sold them at the reception. Each picture was 10 bs. – I pay 1.5 bs. in Santa Cruz. People bought them and she made a good profit which she donated to the church in Yapacani. I arranged to come on Monday morning and transfer all the photos from her chip to my camera. But when I opened her camera there was no chip! She had no idea what had happened to it. It was not in the machine or she could not have closed it. They had developed a couple of pictures in the truck when they left our place. They stopped at the corner at the church and dropped off the photos. Then they proceeded back to Yapacani, stopping at all the places they had soy on the way back. There had been five or six stops in total. The chip could have fallen out of the truck anywhere!! I was sick! I had no photos of the Carlos and Roberta’s wedding. Yes, I had some but they were not the best quality. What would I do? Go back and tell them that there were no photos? How I dreaded that! We had things to do in Yapacani so we did not make it back to Patujusal until Thursday. All week I was fretting – and I was praying. “Please, Lord, let that chip be in Patujusal – and may it be usuable.” This was soy harvest season and the church corner is a busy place with all the tractors, wagons, trucks, and the bus coming and going every day. What chance would there be that a small camera chip would be on the road and still be usable. This chip was in a small case so that would offer some protection – but protection from a truck full of soy? We arrived at the corner in Patujusal at about noon on Thursday. Jake stepped out of the truck, took a couple of steps, bent over and picked up – the chip. A truck, maybe more than one, had driven over it and the case was well scratched so now the prayer only spoke about usability. I plugged the chip into the computer. YES! All the pictures were there. A miracle – and a prayer of thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A must read -- When Helping Hurts

There are times when the impact of a book is life changing. “When Helping Hurts ... Who to Alleviate poverty Without Hurting the Poor .... and Yourself “ is that kind of book. Anyone involved in short term – or long term --mission projects should read this book for reading and discussion.

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert are involved with The Chalmers Center, a part of Covenant College, in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. An excerpt from their website states that

‘The Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College helps churches to help the poor to help themselves. The methods we use center on the person of Jesus Christ. We believe that He is the only One who can give poor people the dignity, hope, and power they need to restore them to being what God created them to be: workers who can sustain themselves and bring glory to God in the process.’

Another quote (they say it better than I can.)

“When Helping Hurts" combines sound theology, solid research, foundational principles, and proven strategies that prepare you for Christian transformational ministry among the poor, whether in the local community or abroad.

Good Intentions Are Not Enough. Churches and individual Christians often have faulty assumptions about the causes of poverty — assumptions that many times lead to ministry strategies that do considerable harm to poor people as well as to themselves. "When Helping Hurts" addresses these assumptions and offers several principles and strategies for poverty alleviation, including:
the distinction between relief, rehabilitation, and development
the difference between asset-based and needs-based strategies
the advantages of participatory over blueprint approaches

This book is available from Amazon both as a soft cover book and as a downloadable ebook.

The website includes information about the book, video interviews, audio interviews and webinars.

Drainage at San Carlos

There is a small church in the neighbouring town of San Carlos,only 25 members, that operates a Compassion project in which they provide after-school care and instruction to 135 children each week. Members of our local church in Alberta, sponsor a girl who attends this program and I visited the San Carlos project with them last year. Since that time we have developed a good relationship with Carlos and Claudia. We bring bananas and rice.

A few months ago they requested some help. There building is built on a slope and during the wet season there is water in three of the rooms – two classrooms and the office. Compassion suggested that they find a solution to the problem. The Bolivian solution would be to build different buildings but that would cost much more than the church could afford. Compassion suggested that they look for help internationally but their church is a national church without international connections. The only ‘extrangeros’ (foreigners) that they know are ourselves, so they asked us for suggestions and assistance.

Ideas ranged from moving the church and the project to another location to building a second floor on the existing building. The first did not meet with much enthusiasm from the church and we were not enthused about building a second floor since it did not solve the drainage problem. It would only give them a new church and a larger recreation field.

Instead we put heads together and worked on the drainage problem. There were two factors that were clearly part of the problem -- no drainage tile and no eaves troughs. Eaves troughs are not a new concept so they could be easily installed but drainage tile was not to be found. So we built our own using the basic principles that we had used for the filters in the water wells. All we needed to purchase were four inch tubes and clean gravel.

The day was organized. Some volunteers would dig the trench; others would cut slits into the tubes. We arrived to find the trench already started and the volunteers were all female, except one. Our helpers were the director, the teachers, and the minister’s wife. The male volunteer was the minister. All went to work and later in the morning two more men arrived. The men did the digging; the women cut the tubes and carried the gravel.

The system worked smoothly. After the trench was dug, gravel was laid to make it level. The tube was placed in the trench and more gravel was added. Then rice bags, similar to feed sacks, were placed over the gravel so that sand would not clog the tube. Finally, the soil which was mostly sand, was replaced.

At five o’clock everything was completed. We were a tired but happy bunch. We hope and pray that this system, and the eaves troughs, will solve the water problems in the classrooms.

Thank you to Woody Nook Christian Reformed Church for providing the funding for this project.