Sunday, February 23, 2014

January 26 - Feb. 20 GOD IS AWESOME!!

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.   Isa. 55:8-9

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.   Rom. 8:28

Boy, what an eventful and busy few weeks!!  I almost don’t know where to begin…there’s so much I want to share with you.  Almost immediately after Amber and I arrived from Peru to Familia Feliz, it started to rain.  At first, it rained off and on.  But the frequency and intensity progressed and soon it was raining very hard all day and all night everyday.   Then, around Thursday, Jan. 24th, the heavens truly opened up and rain poured out!  We were somewhat confined to the campus due the rain.  It rained so much that the ground couldn’t absorb all of the water and we had several “swamps of water all over the campus.  My house flooded, as water came in under the doors, through the screen windows and through the thatch roof.  I had to move into one of the rooms in the big house, where I am still staying as it is still raining.  But things took a turn for the worse on that Sabbath (Jan. 26th).  Due to the heavy rains, there were several landslides in town.  One was very bad, in which part of the mountain fell on several houses below in town.  Families were trapped inside, under the debris.  The army and navy sent soldiers to help try and rescue those trapped.  They were able to get some out.  However, while they were helping, there was another landslide that took the lives of four of the navy soldiers helping.  Seven other people died in the landslide.  It was a very big blow for our small town.  It was especially sad in that three of those four soldiers were supposed to have been back home with their families a few days before, as their time in the service had ended…but due to the heavy rains and flooding, they were required to stay.  Soon another terrible tragedy emerged.  One lady was trapped in the landslide when her roof collapsed on her.  Mud and water were raging through the house and she was soon to be buried alive, as her leg was pinned under concrete.  Her son did everything he could to get her out, but he could not.  As the lady saw the situation worsen and the probability of her death if she wasn’t quickly rescued, she made a crucial, yet pain-staking decision.  In utter desperation, she yelled for her son to cut off her leg and, thus, free her from her trap and save her life.  This was, she said, the only way she would make it out alive.  The son, therefore, found a machete and proceeded to cut off his mother’s leg in one last effort to save the woman that gave him life.  His efforts and her sacrifice were not in vain.  She was freed from the debris and immediately flown to La Paz, where she has had 4 surgeries and will be in rehab for at least two months.  

Tragedy.  It strikes when we least expect it and, in a split seconds, lives are changed forever.  The rain hasn’t stopped in almost three weeks.  There has been massive flooding in town.  Home have been destroyed, property lost, cattle killed.  Over 3800 people were displaced and staying at 12 shelters in town.  Entire indigenous villages upriver have been completely washed away with individuals not knowing whether their family members are safe or not.  The water system in town and in the outlying communities (including Familia Feliz)was completely destroyed, as thousands of meters of piping from the mountain spring sources above the town were washed away in the flooding.  So, on top of all of the desperation caused by being displaced and losing most (if not all) of their belongings, the people in the area struggled to obtain that which is most essential to sustain life.  Houses, businesses, parks and streets were underwater.  It was a very sad and bitter situation.  Yet, even in times like these, God’s Word shines through the darkness and we see His Goodness and Mercy in ways we never expected.  And our lives are never the same because of it.  

We serve an Awesome God, did you know that??  About two months ago, we had a donation come in to drill a well  so that we could have a constant water supply here at the orphanage and school.  We just had the pump installed in the well about two weeks before the flooding happened.  So, now, while everyone else is without fresh water, here at Familia Feliz, we had a newly drilled well that allowed us to not only have water to drink, cook, bathe and wash clothes, but God blessed us an amazing opportunity to serve others.  As soon as we were able to (Sabbath, February 1st), we went into town to see how we could help.  We were told the Civil Defense agency, along with the Navy, were heading up the rescue and relief efforts, so we headed to Navy base to find out who was in charge and to offer whatever help we could give.  As soon as we pulled up and got out of the truck, a man was walking towards us. We presented ourselves and said that we would like to help with the relief efforts and asked if he could tell us who was in charge.  He told us that he was the Captain of the Navy base (the highest officer here in town) and that they were grateful for the help.  We talked for a few minutes and he said that he really needed our truck to make a trip to Reyes, a town about 35 miles from here that was also flooded, to take tents for shelter for the people.  The Navy didn’t have any 4x4 vehicles that could make the trip down the flooded, muddy road.  So we loaded the tents on the truck and Samuel and three other volunteers, along with Javier (one of the Civil Defense Officers), started the trip…but not before we offered a prayer up to God (with the Civil Defense officer), asking for His protection and guidance on the trip.  While Sam and the others started on their journey, I stayed in Rurre to continue helping where I could.  Then, I headed to church to close out the Sabbath with the brethren.  Just after church was over, Sam and the others arrived back.  They were unable to get through, as water was over 5 feet high on the roads.  So they came back and would have to wait until the next day to see if the water had receded any.  

The following day, Ana (a lady that came from Argentina for two weeks to volunteer), Sam and I headed back to the Navy base to try to make the trip to Reyes (the next town) again.  When we arrived, we were asked if we could help take a Navy speed boat that had just arrived to the river.  The boat (about 18-feet long) was the biggest boat that had ever been here in Rurre and the Navy didn't have a  truck with a  trailer hitch to move it.  So we unloaded the tents and tarps (as that weight plus the weight of the trailer/boat would have been more than our little truck could handle) and hooked up the trailer.  Soon, we were on the way down to the river.  You would have thought that the president himself had come to town…people were running out of their houses, talking and pointing, as they watched us pull the boat through town.  Most had never seen a boat that large before.  They were taking pictures and even filming.  (The same thing happened almost every time a helicopter passed overhead.  They had never seen a helicopter before, so everyone ran to see it every time.).  Once we arrived at the river bank, it became obvious that we had a little problem…as the local Navy had never worked with such a "large boat" before, they were not sure exactly how to safely get it in the water.  It was quite an experience and took about 3 hours to complete.  During this time, people flocked to the riverbank to get a closer look at the boat and watch the event.  A barricade was made by the Navy soldiers to keep the people back.  Yet, the missionaries of Familia Feliz had full access to everything at all times.  Crazy, huh?!  Even though it took much longer than expected, we had a wonderful opportunity to interact and talk with many people, including the local judge and various Navy officers.  We were even introduced to the Bolivian Navy General that had flown in earlier from La Paz!  

Once the boat was off, we rushed back to the Navy base and loaded the tents up again. We needed to hurry, as the rain was picking up and we didn't want to get stuck on the roads.  As we were loading the truck, a man came over and introduced himself to me. He was the Lieutenant Colonel of the Army base in Reyes.  He had arrived in Rurre 6 days earlier, but was unable to get to Reyes either due to the floods.  So we asked if he would ride with us.  I gladly said yes and soon we were on our way….three missionaries, the Lieutenant Colonel of the Army and the Assistant Captain of the Civil Defense…but again, not before having prayer together in the truck.  My mind had a hard time wrapping itself around how God was working.  It turns out that the Lieutenant Colonel was very familiar with Adventists, as he is from the city where the Adventist university is located in Bolivia.  As we traveled, we talked about the current situation and were able to share the Gospel and a small bit of what is still yet to happen to the world, according to the Bible.  Both men listened attentively.  The roads were better than the day before, but still very flooded and dangerous.  At several places, the water was over 4 feet high and started coming inside the truck.  Water covered everywhere and you had no way of knowing with 100% certainty where the road ended and the fields/woods began because everything was underwater.  Another problem was that in some areas, the dirt road had been washed away and huge holes formed in the way.  It was very easy to get stuck in one of those holes and not be able to get out.  We proceeded with much caution, silently sending prayers up to God to guide us and keep us safe.  At one point, we were riding at almost at 45 degree angle because the road had been washed away.  But we serve a Faithful God, who sent His angels to steer for us and get us through.  Amen!  As we drove along, my heart broke at the sight around me.  Thousands upon thousands of acres of land underwater.  I cannot begin to tell you the number of cattle and crops that were lost.  Houses were 5 feet underwater.  People had managed to get their beds and a few other belongings out of their houses and relocated them on the road.  There they were living, under tarps, as they had no way to get to either town (Reyes or Rurre) because of the flood waters and lack of vehicles.  Most had run out of propane for cooking and were trying to survive however they could.  No one had potable water.  They were surviving off of the rain water.  Aside from the obvious difficulties that come to mind in these situations, they had to deal with some that I had never considered.  As they are sleeping out in the open and have not enclosed shelter, they have to be very careful.  The animals they have that haven't perished are right there with them, sleeping beside their beds.  PIgs, chickens, dogs, cats, goats, etc.  This flood has not only affected the people, but the local habitats as well and, as such, wild animals seeking food and shelter become much braver than normal, perhaps, in approaching a populated area.  As we drove, we saw an alligator just a few feet from one of these shelters in the middle of the road.  It had been killed, no doubt while trying to hunt one of the domestic animals living with this family.  We truly don't realize how blessed we are on a daily basis.  

We finally made it to Reyes.  As we were entering the town, a long line of commercial trucks and buses were leaving Reyes heading to Rurre.  We stopped them and told them they wouldn't be able to make it through, as a bridge had been washed away and the road there was too narrow for them to safely pass through, as those vehicles are much wider than passenger cars.  Both the Lieutenant Colonel and the Civil Defense officer advised them not to proceed.  Yet, the drivers were tired of living in their trucks and assured us that they could make it through.  And so, they proceeded to leave.  We all knew there would be problems.  We almost didn't get through and we had a small 4x4 truck.  How we wished that they would have heeded our warnings!  As I watched them drive away, heading towards the danger, I couldn't help but think that this is, in a very small way, how God must feel when we, as humans, choose to follow our own desires, our own paths instead of heeding His warnings and following His will.  We think we know how to handle things and are altogether way to self-confident.  And yet, the something happens every time.  We end up like these drivers/passengers that went against counsel and followed after the desires of their own hearts…in a mess.  Then and there I asked God for forgiveness for all of the times I went against His will to follow my own.

We made it to the mayor's office, where we received a very nice welcome and unloaded the tents.  The Lieutenant Colonel thanked each of us for the ride and for the work that we are doing.  He told us that if he could ever help us, just to let him know.  While we were talking, I mentioned to him the studies and seminars we had been doing at the army base in Rurre and that we would love to be able to offer the same to his soldiers there.  He welcomed the offer!  My heart smiled a big smile inside.  :)  We said our goodbyes, agreeing to contact each other in a couple of months.  

The Lieutenant Colonel and I

Two men on a motorcycle were waiting for the Lieutenant Colonel.  One took him back to the base, while the other stayed and approached us.  He introduced himself as the newly appointed Colonel for the Reyes base.  He had to a meeting in La Paz the next day and needed to get to Rurre to fly out, so we asked if he could ride back with us.  So, on the way back, we spent over 2 hours getting to know this Colonel and sharing our faith with him.  Unlike the Lieutenant Colonel, he had never heard of Adventists before, but was extremely open to hearing what we had to say.  He had many questions as well.  He specifically asked to know more about the Sabbath and the 10 commandments!  About 20 minutes into the trip, we saw the results of the unheeded warnings from earlier.  A bus had overturned in the flood waters and was blocking the road.  Traffic was backed up, so we exited the truck and went to assess the situation.  People were still in the bus, trying to get out.  We carefully rushed through the currents to help.  Once the people were safely out, the men tried to pull the bus back up by tying cables and ropes to different parts of the bus.  A tractor had arrived and they used it to pull the cables.  But no luck.  It was stuck bad and wasn't going anywhere any time soon.  After a while, we loaded back up and was able to get around the bus to continue our trip.  It was getting late and more rain was coming.  We couldn't stay there or we'd be stuck too.  On the other side of the bus, about 80 passengers stood in the water, waiting to see what was going to happen.  Since we had unloaded the tents, there was nothing in the back of our truck, so we stopped to offer a ride to town the passengers.  Figuring that we would be bombarded, we announced that we could take 6-8 people to town, with preference given to the elderly and women with children.  I just knew everyone was going to try to jump on the truck.  But then something happened that caught me by surprise and blew me away.  No one wanted to leave without their luggage, which was still in the bus.  They wouldn't leave without it.  One lady even had a sick child.  She told us she needed a ride to take her daughter to the hospital because she was sick and had a fever.  We gladly offered to take her.  But she told us we would have to go back and get her luggage out of the bus first.  She wouldn't leave without it.  We explained that we couldn't go back.  It was dangerous enough venturing off-road in the flood water to get passed the bus.  We couldn't risk it again.  She then got upset with us.  We tried to get her to bring her daughter so we could get them to town, assuring them that when the bus was able to get out, her luggage would be taken to the bus station in town.  We knew that the bus would not get out that day, as it was already late afternoon and more rains were coming.  My guess it it would be days before they would be able to get it out and get the luggage and everything to town.  And we told them this.  But she wouldn't hear it.  None of them would.  No one wanted to leave their bags.  Out of the more than 80 people, only 3 got in the truck to go to town.  3!  I couldn't believe it.  I couldn't believe that a mother with a sick child would risk spending who-knows-how-long stranded in the middle of nowhere, with no food or potable water, neglecting her daughter the professional care she needed, to stay with her suitcase.  And then it hit me.  God had allowed me once again to experience, in an infinitely smaller way, what He experiences on a daily basis and will experience even more as this world draws nearer to Christ's second coming.  People will be lovers of themselves more than lovers of God.  The love of many will wax cold.  People will put the love of the world before the love of God.  Many will choose to betray their faith, denying safety and assurance, because they will not want to give up their "things", their ways, their customs and luxuries.  It's happened before…most notably during another flood.  Only 8 people, out of the millions in existence, chose to leave everything behind and get on the ark, their only means of safety.  And we are warned that it will happen again.  "Bus as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (Matt. 24:37).  As I pondered this and the reality of this verse hit home harder than it ever had before, my heart broke and tears fell from my eyes.  

As we continued our trip back home, we saw time after time how God's Hand was upon us and we were preserved from many potentially dangerous situations.  And we were quick to point that out among ourselves and to the two officers in our vehicle.  They agreed.  We finally made it back to town and said our goodbyes to the officers.  Both were extremely grateful for our help.  The Colonel also indicated his desire for us to work with them in the future.  It was an excellent opportunity to get to know these two men better and to share hope with them.  Javier, the Civil Defense officer, has been extremely open to us.  He even started calling me "Miguelito", which indicates a sense of endearment, of friendship.  We came to find out that it was his sister that had her leg cut off in the landslide!  

We went inside the Navy base to see how we could further help.   We needed to talk to the Captain of the Navy, who was in a meeting with other officials at the time.  So we waited for him inside the gate.  As I sat there, I took in the situation.  Two helicopters had just landed,  One with officials from La Paz, the other with bottled water and other supplies.  Soldiers were unloading the water (which was only about 120 two-liter bottles of water).  The military officials were all running around, getting ready for a press conference.  The press was at the gate, waiting to get in and looking at Sam and I strangely as we sat there, inside the gate and will ready access to everything.  The events of the day replayed in my mind and this intense, overwhelming feeling came over me as I realized all that God had done.  Not a few days before, we had talked about our plans for this year at Familia Feliz and one of our goals was to try and get in the Navy base to have seminars and Bible studies as we have had at the Army base.  But the Navy base was much more closed than the Army, in terms of letting civilians in.  We didn't have any contacts and had no idea how to go about reaching our goal.  Now, I found myself sitting inside the Navy base, talking with soldiers and officials.  I've spoken directly with most of the officials and even have the personal cell phone numbers of the Captain of the Navy, as well as the Captain and Assistant Captain of the Civil Defense and they have my cell number.  We had spent most of the day with the two highest officers of the Army base in Reyes.  And ALL of these people have demonstrated a desire in working with us in the future to help their soldiers.  Not only had the Lord opened the door for us to get into the Navy base when there was no door, but He even opened the door for us to get into the Army base in Reyes!  That is kind of God we serve!!  He knows no limits and His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.  I hate that this disaster has happened and has negatively impacted so many people.  But I am amazed, humbled, thrilled at how God is using this situation to reach people that, in any other situation, we probably never would have reached…and how open they are to receive the message of hope that we have to give.  All praise and honor be to our God!  

While we traveling and working with the navy, the other missionaries from Familia Feliz started pumping water from our well and taking it to town to distribute to church members and the elderly.  The spent the whole day making trips back and forth.  When people saw that they were giving out water, lines immediately started forming, as people brought their buckets, trash cans, pots, pitchers, etc. out to receive water.  We had now found our main "mission" in this tragedy.  

The next day, we continued helping in town.  We went to visit church members whose homes were underwater.  Mud and slime were everywhere.  Belongings were under tarps in the street.  Someone had to stand watch over them during the night, as a few people would go and steal things.  We helped clean up and tried to encourage the brethren.  We still distributed water.  We went to the neighborhoods where church members lived and started handing out water in their neighborhoods.  Sam and I also went back to the Navy base to help them.  We had to run some more errands for them.  It was a busy day.  At the end of the day, however, we realized we had a little problem.  We were running low on diesel.  Since roads had been flooded and washed away, trucks were not able to reach the town with supplies, including propane and diesel.  So the next morning, Sam and I went to the mayor's office to see if he could get us diesel so that we could continue to deliver water.  We spoke with this secretary, as he was not in his office at the time.  We explained who we were and what we were doing, as well as our dilemma with the fuel.  She asked us to wait while she called the mayor.  Then she came back and said that the mayor was having a meeting with city council at 11:00 am and with the disaster relief agencies and wanted us to be there.  We also had to help the Navy around that time, so Sam went to do that while I went to meet with the Mayor.  I must say I was a bit nervous.  There was about 25 of us at this meeting.  The Mayor briefed us on the situation, what worked had already been done, what needed to be done, etc.  The landslides had taken out most of the piping for the water system and they were working as much as they could in the rain to restore them.  They decided to dynamite an area above the pipes to keep that part from landsliding again and then rebuild the system.  It would take a few days to complete.  He then proceeded to say that potable water was the biggest need at the moment.  The hospital especially needed water.  He said, "My secretary called me today and said that two men were in my office asking to see me.  She said they had water and were delivering it but needed more fuel to continue.  I didn't think to have her ask for their names, so I don't know who they are."  As soon as he said this, many people started talking, trying to figure out how to locate "these men" and how the water should be distributed when they were found.  There was a battle in my mind as to whether I should raise my hand then and let him know that I was the one in his office earlier, or if I should approach him separately after the meeting.  I had a feeling of what would happen if I raised my hand.  Personally, I wanted to talk to him privately.  But something was telling me to raise my hand.  And before I knew it, my hand was raised and I was introducing myself to the Mayor and CIty Council.  I explained what we were doing and how we wanted to help.  I explained that we had a well and were willing to continue distributing water, but we needed diesel, as there was none to buy.  That's when my feelings of what would happen became a reality.  I felt like a piece of raw meat in the middle of a bunch of vultures.  :)  I don't mean that in a bad way…just that everyone rushed towards me and started talking to me all at one time.  They wanted to know how we had water, how much we had, how much we could give away, what size tank we had, how long it took to fill it, etc.  The Mayor called me over and talked for a minute, assuring me all the fuel we needed if we could just continue bringing water.  He introduced me to another man, a member of the council (Anthony), that would help me in whatever way I needed.  Anthony told me that they had access to a 20,000 liter cistern truck and they'd like to take it Familia Feliz to fill up and use to deliver water.  Then, another man approached me.  He introduced himself as Dr. Marco Losa.  He's the head doctor at the hospital and wanted to see if we could take water to the hospital.  They were in dire need of it, as two people needed emergency surgery, but were unable to obtain it because of a lack of water.  He was a very kind man and extremely grateful for any help that we could offer.  I told him we'd be glad to help and that we'd have water to the hospital within 2 hours.  He thanked me and gave me his cell number, advising me to call him if I needed anything.  I finished meeting with the people there and must have swapped phone numbers with 10 people.  I called Warren and filled him, then had the trucks come to get diesel.  We took water to the hospital, but they didn't have any storage containers to put water in.  So we left two plastic drums that we had without  them until other arrangements could be made.  Then, we continued distributing water to individuals in various neighborhoods.  As it turned out, the cistern truck was never able to make it to Familia Feliz because the owner of the truck had the keys and was out of town and unable to return because of the bad roads.  So we had to work with what we had.  We tried to get as many tanks and containers as possible.  We had a 1200-liter tank, an 1100-liter tank and several smaller containers (about 75 liters each).  The mayor's office loaned us a 700 liter tank as well.   Most businesses were closed, as many were flooded and what containers had been available were quickly purchased by the people in town to collect rainwater for using.  The hospital was unable to get a tank, so we ended up loaning our 1100-liter tank to them, so that they would have a larger supply of water.  And every day, we made sure to go by and top it off.  Again, they were extremely grateful and, on more than one occasion, said, "We don't know what we would have done if it were not for Familia Feliz and your generosity."  

Since this day, we have made several trips every day to town, carrying as much water as we could, to deliver water to anyone and everyone who needed it.  On average, we delivered between 6000-7000 liters every day.  It has been such a rewarding experience for all of us.  We have seen so much.  Words on a page cannot adequately describe all that we have seen, heard and experienced during the past 4 weeks that the town has been without water.  We have distributed all of the tracks, pamphlets and books that we have.  Almost 200 condensed copies of The Great Controversy.  And the people gladly accept them and many started to read them immediately upon receiving them.  We had people come up and ask us for the books when they saw us giving them out!  

A couple of days after this, the Navy asked us to take one of their officers to Reyes again to deliver some things.  Sam agreed to drive him there, although the rain had really come down and we knew that the roads would be worse than before.  They barely made it.  Water got in the engine and air pump and a rod was bent as well.  The Navy hired a mechanic to repair the truck and paid for everything.  But Sammy had to stay in Reyes for 5 days while they worked on the engine.  It was a challenge, as he had not planned on staying and only had a little money and the clothes on his back.  When the truck was finally ready, the road situation had worsened and it was impossible for anyone to get through.  Poor Sam ended up staying in Reyes almost two weeks!  Yet here again, we see how God works and uses all things for the good of His children.  While there, Sam had the opportunity to talk to many people, to share the Gospel with them and offer words of encouragement.  He studied the Bible with several individuals and later told me, "Now I know why God had me stay here.  I didn't want to, but now I see why He needed me to.  People needed to hear His Word."  Amen!!  

One other beautiful testimony stands out in my mind.  As soon as we started delivering water, we went to the Ministry of Educations office to give them some.  If you've been reading my blogs, you know that the Minister of Education has given us a very hard time these past few months.  He's made things very difficult for us and changed the rules many times, just because we are a private school.  But when he went and have water to him and his family, his attitude changed 110%.  He thanked us profusely, as tears welled up in his eyes.  He congratulated us on our work and said that "all disagreements and bad experiences we've had never existed."!  It's amazing how God can use one small act to erase the slate of the past and start afresh!  This act alone spoke volumes to Nickisha, Jodi and I, as we know all too well exactly what this meant.  

It's now February 19.  The rains have stopped, thank the Lord.  The sun has been out for about 4 days and things are starting to dry up in the area.  Roads are beginning to be usable again.  There is still no water in town.  It's been more than 4 weeks that everyone's been without water.  Power has been out for over a week in town and over two weeks at Familia Feliz.  God is Good, though, and we've been able to fix an old generator we had on campus so that we could continue to pump water and deliver it.  People are starting to come to Familia Feliz in search of water and to bathe.  Most people in town bathe in the river or drainage pipes.  It's a sore sight to see.  It seems so inadequate to simply say that we've been delivering water for the past few weeks.  I wish I could properly convey all that has happened, all that God has done, how He was worked.  Yet I feel completely unable to do so.  

I'm not sure what the future holds.  The rains may come again.  There are currently over 4000 people in 12 shelters across town, most of them being schools.  School has been postponed until further notice, pending finding a solution to the housing problem caused by the flooding.  But no matter what happens, we know that God is in control and He will work all things out to His glory and for the good of those that love Him.  I will do my best to keep you updated on the situation.  I ask that you please keep the people of Bolivia, as well as all of us at Familia Feliz, in your prayers.  It's going to a long road of recovery for everyone.  Also, pray for the aftermath, as they are expecting breakout of epidemics from all of the water (malaria, yellow fever, etc.).  Thank you all!  May God continue to be with and bless you in all you do!

If you'd like to see a video on the situation, you can watch it here: