Thursday, April 15, 2021

ITM Conference, Part 2—The Culture-Transforming Gospel

In the last post, I wrote briefly about the ITM conference that was held last month. One afternoon during the conference I sat and talked with one of our missionaries who lives in San Lorenzo. I had never talked to him before and it was really interesting to get a small glimpse into his life.

Julio is from a Chimane family in the region of the Beni where ITM works. He had a difficult upbringing, moving frequently and often being left on his own. As we talked, one of the things he shared with me was how the Lord has begun to soften his heart since he came to know Christ. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that in his culture no one sheds a tear when a child dies. The way he described it, the death of a child is not very different from the death of an animal, and in some ways children are, in fact, treated much like animals. 

This got me thinking about the power of God, not only to change individual lives but to change a culture as well. There are many in our society who imagine remote, isolated tribes as living in a tropical paradise. They get angry at the idea that Christians would bring their "Western" religion into these "unspoiled" communities. Setting aside the idea that true Christianity is not Western or American, what they don't realize is that many people who have been isolated from the modern world do not live in paradise. They die of preventable illness, have high rates of infant mortality, and often live with superstitions and beliefs that keep them in bondage to fear—and can lead to tribal warfare and murder. Often, women and children are given little value. Most importantly, they live and die without ever having experienced the light of Jesus and the true life that's experienced in Him.

So, yes, we need to be careful to distinguish between the Gospel and the aspects of our own culture that can easily become intertwined with our faith. But we certainly should not feel sorry or regretful when we bring the Gospel into a culture that has remained in darkness without the light of Christ! 

Books have been written about this concept, and many missionary biographies testify to the power of God to transform lives and cultures. There's no way I can cover the topic in a blog post (and I'm not very long-winded). But even as a Christian, sometimes I can let my culture influence my thinking. My brief conversation with Julio was a reminder of the many people growing up like him in the remote regions of Bolivia—people who are not living in a blissful jungle paradise, but who need to hear about Jesus and are just waiting for someone to tell them!

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

ITM Conference, Part 1—Looking Outward

This past weekend we had the pleasure of participating in a weekend conference with the rest of the ITM family. It was an encouraging time to refocus, worship together, and hear what's going on in the various areas of ministry. This is the first time we've been able to spend time with many of our teammates since arriving in Bolivia in 2019, due to political unrest followed by COVID-19.

Our first year in Bolivia was a difficult one due to the isolation we were forced to experience. Protests, civic strikes, and COVID-related restrictions have kept us at home and out of fellowship for much of the year. It has been easy for us to be self-focused, thinking about our own situation while assuming that everyone else on our team is doing fine. After all, many of them have known each other for years, and those living away from the city are not subjected to the same restrictions that we are. Surely we are the lonely outsiders and everyone else is doing just fine, right?

We realized this past weekend that we are not the only ones struggling and feeling isolated (shocking, I know!). We came here knowing that a big part of our ministry would be supporting the Bolivian (and American) missionaries who are working out on the front lines in the remote communities of Bolivia. But we didn't feel that we were yet in a position to do that well—not knowing the team, still feeling like outsiders, and being limited in our Spanish ability. But this weekend we discovered that those barriers are not as real as we have made them out to be. We had been waiting for people to reach out to us, but maybe we should have been the ones taking the initiative all along.

In just a few days we have begun feeling much more connected to our brothers and sisters who serve alongside us with ITM. We have gained confidence in our communication and realized that the language barrier doesn't have to prevent us from encouraging and spending time with our Bolivian teammates. Our perspective has shifted, as we have begun to look outward, asking how we can help encourage others. And in the process of doing so, we have found that our own needs are being met as well.

Please pray for us as we continue to look for opportunities to encourage our team, and others in our community. We trust the Lord that as we take our eyes off ourselves and serve others, that He will also care for the needs of our family.

There were several other things that stood out to me during the conference, and I hope to share them with you in the coming days and weeks. I hope it will be an encouragement to you, and give you further insight into our life and ministry here in Bolivia!

Sunday, February 14, 2021

So Much to Say

It's Valentine’s Day, and I should be out having a romantic dinner with my wife. Unfortunately, we are quarantined at home on Sundays and I'm suffering some ill effects from something I ate yesterday. So, as I was sitting here on the couch, I realized I hadn’t written a blog post for a while. And wow!, it has been a while. There is so much to report that it would be impossible to catch up on everything in one post. Let’s start with an update on the last one.

After what seems like an eternity, I finally have my license to fly in Bolivia! It required a written test, a flight test, handing over a bunch of cash, and then waiting for several weeks—but I finally have a piece of plastic that authorizes me to fly in this country! I've been able to make several ministry flights, mostly to Oromomo and San Lorenzo, where several of our missionaries work. But I also made one flight to a town called Baures to help deliver some medical supplies and biosecurity supplies to the medical workers there. It has been great to feel like I am actually making a contribution to the mission as a pilot, rather than just being extra weight in the airplane!

Happy to be cruising over the Beni with a good cup of coffee,
transporting building supplies for the Bible school in San Lorenzo.

Of course I had been doing other valuable things: studying Spanish, doing aircraft maintenance, and helping with administrative tasks that are a necessary part of operating the ministry here in Bolivia. If I never would have been able to fly, there would still be ways I could support the ministry, but I am grateful that I am finally flying on the field—something that I have been looking forward to for many years!

Delivering medical supplies to Baures with Pastor Elias.

Now, the bad news. Saying that I have my license to fly in Bolivia in a bit of an oversimplification. What I have is a convalidation of my FAA pilot certificate, which will be valid for up to one year. That means I still need to get a permanent Bolivian pilot certificate, which will take more time and money. Please pray for us as we figure out the best (and most cost-effective) way to do that.

There’s more to share, some of which we talked about in our January newsletter. Please check it out if you haven’t had a chance to do so. That’s all for now!

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Making progress!

After several years of working toward the goal, I came to Bolivia in 2019 with my commercial pilot certificate, instrument rating, and airframe and power plant mechanic certificates. The unfortunate part is that none of these are recognized in Bolivia. So I've spent the better part of a year learning Spanish and flying with other pilots who can legally act as "pilot in command" in the right seat while I fly in the left seat.

A view from the left seat of the Cessna 206.

This week I took the first of many tests that will be required for me to serve as a pilot-mechanic in Bolivia. I successfully passed the theory test (in Spanish—an extra challenge) for the convalidation of my pilot certificate! Convalidation is not a word we really use in English, but it means that Bolivia will recognize my pilot certificate from the United States. But there's a catch. We had hoped that the convalidation would be for at least two years, and praying that by some miracle I might even get a permanent Bolivian license. But as of now, the law states that the convalidation will be for six months, with the possibility of a single six-month renewal. This news was a big disappointment. So what does that mean for me?

I have already begun the convalidation process, and after that I'll have one year to get a Bolivian pilot certificate before the convalidation expires. That means I get to start over as a private pilot student, and eventually I will go from being recognized as a commercial/instrument pilot to being recognized as a private pilot only in Bolivia (my FAA certificates will still be valid in the States). Of course, it will be much easier this time around, since I still have all the knowledge and skills that I've developed over the past several years. But I still need a piece of paper (or plastic) that says I can legally fly in Bolivia. That piece of paper will require 40 hours of flying, more tests, and several thousand dollars.

Please pray with us as we continue to work through this. I still have two flight tests ahead of me in order to get the convalidation, and then we need to start thinking through options for flight schools. Of course, it would be great if by some miracle I could get my FAA licenses permanently converted, but unless we get Bolivian citizenship this does not appear to be a possibility. It is possible to get Bolivian citizenship while retaining our U.S. citizenship, but that requires being in Bolivia continuously for three years.

So we're not exactly sure how things will proceed, but thanks for praying with us and following along with us on this journey! Your support and encouragement means a lot!

Monday, October 19, 2020

October News

If you're not on our newsletter list, please check out our latest prayer letter. And if you'd like to receive our quarterly newsletter, please sign up here!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Longing for a Better Country

It's been nearly four months since we were first quarantined, as the Bolivian government has sought to contain the spread of COVID-19. In these four months Tara and I have been able to go out on a limited basis—mainly to buy food and supplies—but we can count on one hand the number of times the kids have left the house since mid-March. In the meantime, stay-at-home orders in the States have been relaxed and my social media feeds have been filled with vacation photos of my friends enjoying hikes in the mountains, relaxing at the beach, walking through wooded parks, boating, and swimming.

So I sit in my tiny walled-in yard, trying to appreciate the blue sky and potted plants. I do my best to enjoy the beauty of the mountains through the razor wire and utility lines. But lately, as someone who loves nature, I have found myself dreaming about how great it would be to be back in the States right now, where I could take my kayaks out on the river, hike through the woods, go camping, and enjoy walks by the lakeshore. Sometimes I wonder why God brought us here at this time, and why we couldn't be back in the States enjoying summer activities rather than being confined to our house in Bolivia.

The Bible speaks of men and women of faith who longed for another country—but they were not longing for the United States of America!
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth... If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13–16)

Lately I've found myself thinking more of the country I left than looking ahead to the better, heavenly country. I think of this photo as a metaphor for my life as a Christian. Like the distant mountains, there is a beautiful land that awaits: a heavenly Kingdom ruled by a good King. As I run this race, I ought to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and on the prize that lies ahead. But there are so many distractions that divert my attention away and dim my view—just as the power lines, haze, and shadows distract me from appreciating that distant mountain range.

We left our home in the United States and moved to Bolivia, believing that this is the path He has called us to for this season (a season that may last the rest of our lives; we don't know). Our desire is to faithfully run this race with our eyes fixed on Him, but I am easily distracted. It's so easy to love the world and the things of the world—to enjoy the creation rather than the Creator. I can get fixated the blessings that God allows me to enjoy, rather than growing deeper in my love for the One who bestows those blessings on me. There is a constant temptation to take my spiritual eyes off of that which is eternal and to become consumed with those things that are temporary.

We know that this season of quarantine will not last forever, and trust that the Lord has fruitful ministry for our family in Bolivia. I also can't wait until the day I can get out with my family and enjoy the country He has brought us to, rather than being confined to our home. But in the meantime my prayer is that I will keep my eyes focused on Jesus, and that I won't be so shortsighted that I simply long for the country I left when I came to Bolivia. I pray that, instead, I will look forward to being with Him in the eternal home that He is preparing for those who love Him. May I be able to say with the apostle Paul:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12–14).

Friday, June 5, 2020

First Flight in Bolivia!

It's been more than six years since I left my engineering job to begin training as a missionary pilot-mechanic. Today, after many years of preparation, I finally was able to participate in my first flight with ITM in Bolivia! We partnered with Mano a Mano to deliver medical supplies and personal protective equipment to the town of San Borja.

ITM's Cessna 206 and Mano a Mano's Navajo, along with the supplies that were donated for San Borja.

It's been over 11 months since I've flown an airplane, and I haven't flown a Cessna 206 since I left Mexico in November of 2018. It was great to be back in a 206 again! Today I did some right-seat flying, but our first flights will be more focused on learning the "lay of the land" and getting my brain back into aviation mode. Before too long I'll move over to the left seat and start getting back up to speed, and then get checked out for solo flights into some the airstrips we use most often. Please pray that my piloting skills will come back and improve quickly, for my continued language learning (the goal is to be able to do all my radio work in Spanish), and for the process of obtaining my Bolivian pilot certificate.

While I am definitely excited to be flying again and to have my toolbox stocked up and ready to go, that excitement is not just for the joy of flying and fixing airplanes. We have tried to emphasize over the years that the airplane is just a tool. With this tool we can reach remote places with physical help and with the hope of the gospel. I'm grateful that I get to be a pilot, but even if I never flew again I would still want to devote my life to making Jesus known among those who don't know Him!

We are grateful to be serving with ITM, and for how the Lord is using this ministry. The aviation program definitely looks a bit different amidst the coronavirus pandemic, but it's exciting that we have started flying again. And apart from the aviation ministry, God has continued to work in the communities where other ITM missionaries are living and working. Hopefully we will be able to start supporting them with the airplane again soon!

In the meantime, here are a few photos from today's flight.

Flying past the town of Ushbe on the Securé River.

Flying looks a little different during a pandemic. Masks, gloves, suits, and being sprayed down with disinfectant are usually not a part of the process.

We brought back two women from San Borja. They had not tested positive for COVID-19, but we still took all of the precautions including a plexiglass barrier between pilots and passengers.

"Capitán Tony", suited up and at the controls.
The two airplanes on the ramp in Cochabamba prior to departure. In the background you can just make out a little bit of snow on the mountain peaks.