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!