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.


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

It's Easter morning, the day we remember our risen Savior, Jesus! For as long as I can remember I have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus with my family and my extended church family. Usually, in the English-speaking church, you'll hear this exchange: He is Risen—He is Risen Indeed! But this year, a different phrase stands out to me. It's a phrase spoken by the angels at the empty tomb as recorded in the book of Luke:
Why do you seek the living among the dead?

What a question! From the angels' point of view, did it seem ridiculous that his disciples would come looking for the living Jesus in a tomb? Why would they show up to mourn at his burial place when they could be experiencing life with a living, breathing person? After all, didn't Jesus tell them that he would be raised on the third day?

Of course, we have to give the disciples some credit. Jesus' teachings were sometimes hard to understand. At times He spoke plainly, and at other times He used figurative language. Not to mention, they had watched Jesus die and people don't walk out of the grave every day! I can understand how the disciples could have expected to find Jesus' body in the tomb that morning.

But it struck me this morning that people still look for Jesus among the dead. Non-believers view him as just another Jewish teacher, known only by words recorded in ancient books. But even in the church, we don't always act like Jesus is alive. We read about Him in the Bible and in countless books that men have written about Him. We discuss and argue about theology and Christology, in the same way that would debate politics or economic policy. We study his life, and sometimes ask, "What would Jesus do?" In many ways, we treat Jesus as any other person who is dead and buried. But somewhere—and I don't fully understand it—Jesus really and truly exists in resurrected bodily form! Why do we look for Him among the dead when He is found among the living?!

I don't mean to say that the Bible is unimportant; it is the primary way that we learn about Jesus. And I'm not advocating or elevating mystical experiences above the written Word of God. Not at all! But we have to remember this: Jesus not only was alive; He is alive! That is to say, He didn't go back to being dead, or become a "spirit being" after His ascension. As I understand the Bible, Jesus continues to exist in a glorified bodily form. Do I fully grasp that? No; I don't know how to fully explain it. But if I truly believe that Jesus is alive, continuing to work behind the scenes until the day that He returns, it completely changes the way I relate to Him.

Would I close myself off from my wife and kids, reminiscing about days gone by and looking at old photos, when I could continue to live life with them right now? So why would I do that with Jesus? This Easter I'm praying that the Lord would breath new life into my relationship with Him, and that I would really live in light of the fact that He is alive!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Coronavirus Hits Bolivia

In light of all that is happening in the world right now, I thought it would be good to write an update. I had no idea that it had been more than two months since our last post, or that I hadn't updated the blog since we returned to Bolivia. So here's our life in a nutshell, from early January to the first week of March: we returned to Cochabamba; we resumed language school; Ian and Ella began attending Carachipampa Christian School; we started attending a Spanish-speaking church; the Lord provided a car (SUV) for our family; and we continue to work on obtaining visas, licenses, etc.

You may have also heard about the flooding in our town of Tiquipaya on the outskirts of Cochabamba. It did not directly affect us except for the closure of some roads near our house. But many people lost everything in the flooding and mudslides that occurred as a result of the heavy rain we experienced in February. Thankfully the rain subsided and people began to recover and rebuild their lives.

Then the coronavirus struck Bolivia.

I learned from watching my Facebook feed and seeing the various shortages in the United States, and preemptively stocked up on a few things. I didn't go crazy, and thankfully most of the people here didn't either. The stores did run low on some items, but I didn't encounter empty shelves like in the US. So we are doing alright, just trying to stay stocked up on a couple week's worth of groceries and household items.

Last Thursday the government announced that schools would be closed at least through March 31, but Ian and Ella are staying quite busy at home with the work that has been assigned via the internet. Like many of you, we are finding it a bit challenging to get organized and stay on top of all their schoolwork. I feel like I've got a new part-time job, and I think we actually have less family time because of this extra burden.

For the time being, I (Aaron) continue to attend my language classes. I am staying away from public transportation, opting to take the car or motorcycle to the school, and given the one-on-one nature of the classes I feel that the risk is low for the benefit of continuing to progress in my Spanish studies.

The president of Bolivia recently announced measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, including a curfew, limiting public transportation, limiting the workday, and restricting the operating hours of markets and supermarkets. Hopefully these measures will be effective, but I am a bit concerned that they will not be. Yesterday I had to go sign some papers to complete the transfer of our vehicle, and the streets were packed with vehicles and a good number of pedestrians—probably trying to take care of their business before everything closed for the day. Lots of people were wearing masks, but I'm afraid that these are giving people a false sense of security.

As of today, all international flights are suspended, and ground travel across the border and between departments is prohibited. If we had any thoughts of leaving Bolivia (which we didn't), we can forget about that now! For better or worse, we are here until this passes!

Thanks for praying for us and the ministry in Bolivia. We were just starting to get into a routine when, like most of you, that routine was severely disrupted. It's a bit of a challenge at the moment, but we continue to trust the Lord and his purposes for all of this. If there is anything specific we can be praying for, drop us a line!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

New Year Reflections

Today we welcome a new year and say goodbye to what was a year full of changes and transitions—both expected and unexpected. We started 2019 in North Carolina, then spent the summer traveling around the country, and finally moved to Bolivia. Little did we know that we would be back in the USA again for Thanksgiving and Christmas, or that we would celebrate the new year in Ohio! After a crazy year of transition and instability, we are hoping that life will settle down in 2020!

Lord-willing we will be back in Bolivia January 8, and the kids will begin school in February. As our Spanish improves we should feel more settled in Cochabamba and be able to be more connected with the ministry of ITM. My tool box has arrived in Bolivia, so I also hope to get plugged into ITM's aviation ministry as a pilot/mechanic!

This morning, as I recorded the last of our giving records for 2019, I was reminded of the Lord's provision over the past year. He has certainly been faithful in all areas—not only in our finances—but for some reason I have a tendency to worry about money. We had lots of unforeseen expenses last year: higher-than-expected settling-in and visa costs, airfare back to the States, and a second set of tickets to Bolivia to name a few. We had to dip into the cash reserve that we had set aside for a vehicle in Bolivia, and I was starting to feel concerned that we wouldn't be able to afford a car when we returned. But as the year drew to a close, the Lord humbled me yet again by sending all the funds that we needed through various churches and individuals. How many times will He have to "come through" before I quit doubting forever? I'd like to say this was the last time, but regardless of how things go I am glad that God doesn't get tired of faithfully providing for His children!

I've also been thinking about how I well I have been leading my family, and if I'm honest 2019 was a challenge. It has been difficult to establish consistent routines as our family has moved from place to place throughout the year, sometimes living in the homes of other people. Not to make excuses, but there is something to be said for stability and putting down some roots in a place. I'd appreciate your prayers for our family as we desire to be a bit more settled and establish some habits that will help us to grow spiritually as a family. It would be a lot easier just to settle for the status quo, but I want to make the most of the years I have left with my kids living at home!

2020 will be a big year for us: we will to move back to Bolivia; Ian and Ella will start studying at a new school; Ian begins high school; Aaron will begin flying with ITM and maintaining their aircraft; and we will start settling in to our new life in Cochabamba. At least that's what we have planned! It won't be an easy year, but we are trusting that we will begin to thrive in the new place that the Lord has called us to. To those who partner with us through prayer, encouragement, and financial support: THANK YOU! We couldn't do what we do without you, and we look forward to sharing more with you throughout the upcoming year!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

An Unexpected Getaway

As we shared in our last email, the country of Bolivia has been in turmoil since the presidential election that was held October 20. At first the demonstrations across Bolivia were peaceful, and blockades were set up throughout Bolivian cities as a form of protest. These were inconvenient for sure, but presented no danger. Over the course of time, other groups were sent in to forcefully remove the blockades and disperse the protesters, leading to violent confrontations. This only strengthened the calls for the current president to step down, as there was evidence that some of these violent groups were supported by the MAS party that is currently in power. Huge numbers of people began meeting in public spaces in the cities across Bolivia to stand for democracy in Bolivia, and are calling for new elections. The current president has already held on to power far beyond constitutional term limits allow, and there are many allegations that fraud has taken place to keep him in power.

It's hard to explain in one post all that's been happening, but it's clear that the situation has been escalating and there is no end in sight. On Saturday evening, the opposition called for the resignation of President Evo Morales, giving him 48 hours to comply. That same evening we received a call from our leadership asking us to consider whether it would be best for our family to return to the States until the situation in Bolivia was resolved. On Sunday morning we got another phone call strongly encouraging us to leave, and that same afternoon we were taken by motorcycle to the airport in Cochabamba—the only means of transportation that could get past the many roadblocks in Cochabamba. We had about six hours to get our things in order, and to pack bags that we could carry on a motorcycle. By Monday morning we were arriving in Miami—where we found what may have been the last rental car available—and drove to stay with Tara's family near Tampa.

So here we are in the States, not sure what we are doing or how long we will stay. We are thankful to be here for the safety and security of our family, but our hearts still ache for the people we left behind in Bolivia. I have already been experiencing a mix of emotions, and I'm sure more will come. We believe that coming back to the U.S. for a time was the right decision for our family. But it's hard to escape the feelings of guilt and the thought that we have abandoned our Bolivian brothers and sisters who have no choice but to endure this time of hardship. But the reality is that—as expatriates who had only been in country two months—we could do very little to help. If anything, we felt that we were becoming a liability, consuming local resources and needing help from our Bolivian co-workers that could otherwise be directed to help people who really needed it.

The reality is that most Bolivians I know wouldn't leave right now if given the chance. They love their country and see this as a pivotal time in the history of their nation. They are proud to be a part of it! Another ray of hope is that the church has united and mobilized to pray for Bolivia. It is a difficult but exciting time! Surprisingly, I feel sad that I cannot be there to go through this with my Bolivian brothers and sisters. When we return to join them, hopefully in a few weeks, they will share the bond of having endured this trial together and emerged on the other side, while we were away in the relative safety of our home country. I know that if I was there I would not be able to be out on the streets with them anyway, and that there was wisdom in the decision that was made. But there is a part of me that wishes I was still there, if for no other reason than a demonstration of solidarity.

Please pray for us, but more importantly for Bolivia. We are praying for a peaceful resolution, that the church would be united, that God's will would be done, and that He would be glorified through what's happening there.

We just obtained our long-term visas and have every intention of returning. We will be in the States at least through Thanksgiving, but we really don't know how long we will be here or what our time in the U.S. will look like. For now we are just recovering and resting for a bit. We will share more in the near future, but in the meantime please feel free to reach out if you'd like to connect personally. Thanks so much for your prayers and support!

At first the blockades were peaceful, and there were even families out on the streets with their children. They were often taken down for short periods to allow people to get out and buy food.

Over time the blocks became more intense and more difficult to pass. The demonstrators also were refusing to temporarily remove them to allow people to buy food and supplies. Violent confrontations were also on the increase.






Monday, October 28, 2019

Two Months in Bolivia

Has it been two months already? I wish I was sitting down to write a happy post about the fun experiences we've had during our first two months in Bolivia. Maybe I'll get around to writing that post, but this one is a bit more somber.

On October 20 (last Sunday), a presidential election was held in Bolivia. It was a peaceful day and we were hoping that the following weeks and months would continue to be peaceful. But that has not been the case. Over the last week there have been protests in the major cities, including ours. The demonstrators are protesting due to accusations of election fraud—among broader issues. The president (who has claimed victory for a fourth term) is accusing the protesters of racism against the indigenous people who live in the rural parts of Bolivia. All of the major roads in our city have been blocked, and violence has begun to break out amidst increasing tension between the two sides. Most recently, the president and his supporters have threatened to cut off the food supplies of cities that continue to dispute his victory in the election. Rather than making concessions, it seems that both sides are digging in their heels and preparing for a prolonged fight.

As I wrote in my last post, we knew that we would face some difficult times, but we didn't anticipate them coming so soon. At this point we feel that we are safe, and we have enough provisions to last for a while—hopefully until things settle down. But, then again, there is no guarantee that the situation will get better before it gets worse.

This morning I read the following passage from 1 Timothy: "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." We know that God is sovereign, and no one comes to possess power and authority on earth apart from His will. Please join us as we pray for the leadership of Bolivia, that the Lord's will would be done, and that people would ultimately come to know Jesus through the turmoil in our city and in this country.

We also appreciate your prayers for our family. We have been mostly confined to our house for the past week, and it looks like this week will be more of the same. We have been unable to attend language classes, and with limited language it's difficult to have significant interactions with our neighbors (not to mention they are usually behind locked gates). Please pray for wisdom during this time, and that we would find peace and rest in the Lord. Pray that He would use this time to mold and shape us, and to increase our dependence on Him as our provider and protector.

Finally, please pray with us for peace in Bolivia. In times like this I'm reminded to look forward to the day when the Prince of Peace returns to establish his reign. Until then we pray that His peace would reign in the hearts of those who call him Lord, and that this peace would extend to the world around us.