Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Christmas. In Bolivia? Without snow, and cold weather, and songs about snow?

I do have to say, even though it doesn't completely feel like Christmas is coming here as the temperature rises each day, having Christmas music constantly play in the staff lounge as well as while I am resting in my room in the evenings makes it a bit easier to cope with missing seventeen of the twenty-five days of Christmas. Yet, without a doubt, as we ride the minibus through the city, bright tacky Christmas decorations and singing lights fill the tiendas and demand that Christmas comes soon anyway.

We have our Christmas program this evening (in honor of the last week of the semester starting Monday) and it is a joy to teach the kids our North American Christmas carols even while I am harshly reminded as the ESL teacher that a ton of the lyrics do not make any sense in modern English. Explaining why "the Lord is come" instead of "the Lord has come" is just a battle I have chosen to lose.

This past month (I realized it has been over a month since I last wrote) has provided a number of realizations and has stretched me in many ways.

I remember coming to school one day with a horrible attitude and a negativity towards my morning chapel song duty. Feeling completely disheveled, I was humbled as the songs we sang completely repeated the frustrations of my heart that I needed to place at the Lord's feet. I didn't feel put together. I didn't feel like I had much influence. Yet, as a Senior high school student stood up and shared for over an hour concerning his life of drugs and how God has rescued him from that through being at our school, I was seriously humbled. Even in one semester, I have seen student after student change...seeking a life that is so much greater than what they had already known. It is neat to share Christ with them as we just love of them and live life with them. As has been my prayer in so many ways, I don't want to wish away days, or months, or years.

We did enjoy a Thanksgiving break which included a 12 hour bus ride to Arequipa, Peru. It was a lot of traveling and slightly tiring, but sometimes a change of scenery is exactly what I need. In fact, I recall the ride back. After long hours in bus stations, on a bus, and at the Bolivian-Peruvian border, I felt such relief at the sight of the La Paz mountains. I can't even begin to fully describe what it is like to look over the city pasted over the mountains, almost looking like a fierce battle between nature and civilization. Whatever it looked like, it looked and felt like home. What a great feeling to know that the place where God has called me feels somewhat like home. I was relieved to breathe, to find familiarity in where I was coming and going, and to be in my own apartment again.

I am fully thrilled for the coming week where I will step foot on North American soil.....hopefully eating some Cold Stone and Panera. But I'm excited to also know where I will return, and that I have a place here. A place that one day I realize I might be celebrating Christmas in the heat of the summer weather. But I can worry about that when the time comes. For now....It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On your behalf

Last week, I had the great opportunity of leading elementary chapel. We meet up once a week to sing, share a Bible story, and enjoy staring at the excited Friday faces of all the little children.

In seeking to connect the prior week's lesson to what we would be talking about, I quickly asked the kids..."Okay guys. Can anyone tell me what big word we learned last week?" Anticipating the answer easily being "Intercession", I was completely thrown off when the kid I called on answered with an intensely confused face while saying "Conception?" Hmm. A topic I probably won't bring up in chapel anytime soon.

I love God's precious timing with the connections of the very things we have to convey to children becoming the very things we have to truly learn in our own lives. Intercession, or the importance of praying for others, isn't necessarily a new lesson, but it is a good one.

For example, you learn more about a community when you are with them at least 8 hours a day and sometimes more than 5 days a week. There have honestly been moments in the past few weeks when I have felt the "smallness" of the community, or the "fishbowl" so we call it, cave in around me. I have asked myself the question between what is gossip and what is simply finding the right person to share things with. Even more, Satan can more easily divide a community that is already so small and connected anyway.

Yet, even in the pressure of tension constantly caving in around me, I have seen the beautiful way God not only changes our hearts through interceding for the Body around us, but also allows us to see Him move when we are praying for others. In light of this, thank you for praying for me! It is through your prayers that I believe God is transforming my life and the lives around me. Keep praying...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Un gusto, Bolivia."

In my job, it's always easy to get tickled and find myself laughing with the students. Their quirky English accents can make any word amusing. Of course, my job is to help them out with this pronunciation. But until then...smiles are constantly brought to my face.

I am consistently called "La Misses Esteele." They know I'm not married, but it is much too natural for them to throw "e" sounds in front of the "s" and apply the Bolivian way of defining that I for sure a woman by using the article "la". Often, the tides are turned from my correcting them to their laughing at my own pronunciation of words like "bocadillo"....a pronunciation they claim is too much from the European continent and should be readjusted in order to be truly "boliviana." 

Sometimes, things don't have to do with only pronunciation. In fact, I might change a letter or an entire word to misplace what I am trying to express. The other day, my roommates and I were in the bakery. I wanted to order two small jelly cookies names "ojitos"-meaning little eyes. Yet, in wanting to speed up my order, I ignored the normal wisdom of actually thinking about what I was saying and spoke the word I read on the notecard in front of them, "Quisiera dos ositos"-or better said, "I would like two little bears." The lady at the bakery had a priceless face while trying to make out in her mind how exactly she could complete this order. I still was processing that which I had said.

I'm enjoying these little things of acclimation that happen each day. Of course, I can throw the "cultural quirks" in this category too. For example, a recent addition to our teaching staff did not know that  taxi etiquette requires entering and sliding all the way over as quickly as possibly to encourage safe and rapid travel. Therefore, in trying to be a gentleman, he let me in and shut the door to go around. The taxi driver couldn't figure out what was going on as our new staff member chases behind it yelling and smacking the trunk.

At futbol games, such as the one I went to the other day, being "viva" is a needed trait. No one cares about you or your ticket, so you yourself have to care and be aggressive to get your place. More so, the streets are lined with food stand after food stand...a very Bolivian thing. I became acquainted with my first "anticucho" (cow heart) and currently am continuing in that knowledge with my stomach on a few hour cycle. It's safe to say that cow and I are not friends anymore. 

And today, my friends, is election day. This means everything is once again shut down and transportation is all done on foot. We walked from the 5th street of my city to the 60th street to get our full taste of another pedestrian day. I did not know that seeking out a patch of green grass in one of the richest neighborhoods (nestled by the poverty of the campo) and then proceeding to lay down in it would make my heart so happy.

All this to say, acclimating hasn't been so fact, it has been quite amusing. These little moments keep life here fresh and exciting....bring it on.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Letting off the brakes slowly

After the planned trip to climb a nearby mountain fell through, the second best option proved to be biking down the "World's Most Dangerous Road" this past weekend. (Okay, okay. So maybe I live for adventures?) Don't my dad quickly responded with the question, "And why was this called the most dangerous road?" I am happy to share with you the reasoning behind this. Apparently, years ago, a vast number of car accidents occurred on this road, as the road is no bigger than one lane and was open for cars going each way with a cliff on one side and a mountain on the other.

However, despite the odds, going down on a bicycle made specifically for downhill and also so early in the morning that no other bike tour groups were in the way (it's illegal for cars to pass through now), made this a basically safe endeavor. My friend Tom Bjorlie and I were thrilled at the constant warming of the weather  as we made our way down. Even more, my spirit came alive as the mountain passes (which started out to be snowy and foggy) became greener and filled with a sweeter air. I felt myself letting off the brakes a little more with each kilometer. This was the life.

After the ride (which I feel I could do multiple times in a row and never get bored), we met up with a group of Highlands' teachers in Coroico, a little town nestled near the Yungas. Yes, it was a bit of a tourist trap (not my cup of tea usually), but I am confident that we all needed the refreshment of an increased amount of oxygen, a great time to hang out and get to know each other, and hours upon hours of not being told we had to be somewhere or do something.

Of course, stepping back into life in La Paz was a quick shock. Again though, I am reminded that I love being here. I love the life of which God has asked me to be a part. I love sweet times on Tuesday evenings sharing with the hearts of high school girls. I love walking places. And can I say I even love consistency at times?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Which Pair Today?

I was warned before I arrived here of the utter destruction which the streets of La Paz would bring upon every pair of shoes I own. As a result of my training for a possible mountain climb, walking ridiculous sized hills (or they should very well be called mountains) seems to be the most logical form of training. Thus, each day, I find a way to lead yet another pair of boots or sandals to its end as I journey upon the many uneven and broken sidewalks while exploring the in's and out's of just what this city is all about. Maybe upon returning to the states, I will be required to invest in a few more pairs of shoes (Chacos please!)....but haven't they served their purpose well? And during my explorations, my thoughts begin to take flight...

La Paz. Known as the city of "peace". Tranquil. Calm. Harmony. Agreement. Neutrality. An easily accessible thesaurus tells me my community should be this way by label, but my surroundings tell me otherwise.

Satan is clever. With more ways to attack than one, it was recently brought to my attention when I was asked begin to notice the very tactic which he tends to use most amongst the people of La Paz. Peace? Once a city maybe characterized by peace, La Paz very well may change its name. Not to alarm you. I promise I do not walk around in fear as I traverse the city on a daily basis. But I can agree with the statements that the natural tendencies toward "conflict" seem to be a theme here. Whether it be minor, affecting a brief interaction on the street, or grand enough to rattle the core of a city's political and social foundation, conflict is definitely here and thriving.

While many were enjoying a United States Labor Day holiday, we ourselves were enjoying a day off as well. Only, ours was unexpected and a result of blockades near the school during which debated, to my understanding, owners of various parts of the land. There is a long history of debates and prejudice (which is preeminent in many Latin American countries) which have yet to be filtered out, and, I presume, will continue to infiltrate our community. There is even talk of another strike next week which could limit bus routes, and thus..offer the possibility of once again canceling school.

In our Highlands women's Bible Study, we are beginning the study of First John. As we were reading over the introduction, I was attracted to the very passion John conveys as he invites his readers into such a beautiful challenge of love. As the opposite of conflict could very well be peace, I think it is also love. I believe conflict cannot last where true love reigns. In love, one must lay down his right, his entitlement, his own motive. More so, John witnessed the love of Jesus Christ throughout his time with Him, and it made it that much easier to proclaim his invitation of eternal life, "so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ."

So, the question that resonated with me last night was the following: "What am I inviting my friends, my family, and my students into?" In a world where conflict is all many of my students know when they go home, is the invitation to come and enter into the peace of the gospel so attractive to them that it meets them and transforms what they "know" of the world? As believers, we live "to preach good news of peace" (Acts 10:36). The peace we speak of "surpasses all understanding" (Phil. 4:7), because our "God is not a God of confusion (or conflict), but of peace" (1 Cor. 14:33).

So, I am challenged. And I challenge you, fellow believer, to put your shoes on today. Your good pair, please. May they be fitted, sturdy, strong, and doing nothing but carrying the gospel of peace where you go. Then, from your feet....or where you your heart...or what you dwell upon in the depths of who you are..."Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which you were called in one body" (Col. 3:15). Keep walking, and invite people to come with you. It's a great journey.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

And He smiled....

First of all, thank you to all the many inquiries concerning the dog bite. I would love to inform you that I am officially done with my six vaccinations (after which I think the doctor was sick of seeing me). Also, I feel fine and look forward to my next defense against any dog who thinks he can take me down. 

During the unexpected adventure, I was able to experience a lady falling asleep on my shoulder in a minibus, to learn my way to the bus station and back, and to learn that using the bathroom at a public clinic should very well be avoided. In fact, bathrooms at doctor's offices should be clean right?

In all honesty, as crazy of a week that it was, I feel as if I was able to truly feel and see God's presence amidst it all. The times on the buses gave me moments to think, reflect, and pray. Maybe this was necessary as the heaviness of getting to know the students and many of their difficult lives began to weigh upon me. 

I specifically recall elementary chapel this week as all the students shifted from station to station while focusing on different aspects of prayer. I could feel God's pleasure in that room as the children wrote prayers to God and expressed themselves concerning His desire to listen to them. As I really am challenged by the idea that God changes the hardest of hearts, I also am able to watch these hearts give way to the flood of love God has for them. Their stories, their conversations, and their relationships with each other can be so easily tainted by the world around them. Even as children, their natural tendencies are to lie, to hate, to do things for selfish ambition. Yet, I am watching little ones fight this on a daily basis. I am watching many of them respond to truth. By this, I am challenged and convicted. And my prayer becomes this: "God, protect their innocence. Draw them unto yourself while they are surrounded by truth and people who love them so much. Guard them against any disgusting and disturbing schemes of Satan to destroy them and their future Christian influence in this world...because one day, you will change this world through them."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Run, Forest, Run

"Sure, let's go down to the closest pueblo. It's not a long run," Amanda and Becky said as we started our thirty minutes of jogging after school on Wednesday. I threw in my headphones and was ready to let off a bit of steam from a crazy day with students.

Maybe my focus was off, or maybe my focus was too much on the music. Either way, I ignored the two stray dogs with their owner ahead. I must note: I have been thoroughly warned concerning stray dogs in Bolivia. Some come with rabies vaccinations, many live their whole life without them. They are territorial and scare easily. These truths became far more of a reality to me as I nonchalantly ran past the large black and small white dog. I barely even remember the three seconds which passed between my first step near the dogs and the moment when they had surrounded me barking. Quickly, I was made aware of the black dog's aggression as he came up behind me and bit me....yes... on the butt.

I'm sure my intense scream did not help the tension of the moment, but remaining calm in this situation was next to impossible. Of course, bending down...thus decreasing the space between my face and the dog's...was absolutely not an option. Finally, after some wiggling and uncontrollable waving of my arms, the dogs' owner called them away.

After the initial pain of the bite deadened a bit, the jokes and anticipation for my foaming at the mouth began. It turns out, doctors don't easily give out rabies shots, or at least not for a cheap price. On top of this, the vaccination requires a marvelous series of 10 shots. We found the nearest (40 minutes away) free health clinic and I decided that salvation from possible rabies surpassed any fear of the horror movie-like clinic we entered after school yesterday.

So now, the dilemma of finding the dog, its owner, and any possible paperwork faces me. If I can't seem to run into the dog (one of the thousands in Bolivia), I will be looking forward to a week and a half of minibus trips to the city. But life without ravenous mouth foaming is worth-it, right? I would say so.

I dedicate this blog to Scott Frost who has found great pleasure in reminding me of and sharing this story as much as possible.

Also, the new motto of the year: When life gets ahold of you, turn the other cheek.