Thursday, March 5, 2015

"Go ye therefore into ALL the world..."

February 28, 2015

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.  Amen.”  Matt. 28:19-20

What an exciting and event-filled five weeks it has been!  One reason I absolutely love the mission field is that there is a never a dull moment!  And these last few weeks were no exception.  Again, my apologies for the long delay since my last post, but it has been busier than ever this last month and free time is a luxury I haven’t had much of.  :)  But hopefully this post will make up for it, as it will much longer and FULL of memorable experiences, miracles, tests of faith and, above all, God’s love for each of us!  I apologize in advance for the length of the post…I know most people don't have a lot of time to read these days with so much going on, but I simply cannot help but try to put into words God’s immense Faithfulness to our little school here in the jungle and hope that it will give you a glimpse of the Great God we serve and, at least in a small way, increase your faith in Him!  I promise it will be worth your time!  :)

On Thursday, January 21, all of us headed to the Army base for one last meeting with the soldiers that we’ve come to know and love during this past year.  Their year of service was up and on the 24th, they were heading to their respective homes across the country.  It was a bitter-sweet moment.  We hated to see them leave, as we enjoy our meetings and fellowship with them so much.  But we were also happy for them being able to see their families and friends after a yearlong absence.  Our prayer is, as we shared with them, that they will share what they have learned about Christ and His love with all those they come in contact with at home and thus fulfill the commission Christ left us in the above verse.  We sang many songs, had our last devotional thought with them and then gave them a small gift to take with them….a 2015 calendar with pictures of some of our events this past year, as well as a DVD we had made with more pictures and videos, along with the songs we sang with them.  They were so excited about receiving these!  We spent a good while talking and fellowshipping afterwards.  It was a blessed evening!  Please continue to pray for these young men, as they embark on this new part of their lives, that they may be faithful to what they have learned and become missionaries in their homes, neighborhoods, etc.  

Living in a foreign country and working in the mission field has its share of trials, challenges and difficult moments.  There are days when you wonder if what you are doing really makes a difference, as at times it’s hard to see past the current situation.  But then there are so many times when God allows you to see a small piece of His Glory and it moves you like nothing else!  On Sabbath two weeks ago, we were getting in the truck to head to church up the road.  Rodrigo, Jhoan, Miguel and I got to the truck before anyone else.  As we were waiting on the others, a small tarantula crawled out from under the seat and onto the rear passenger door.  We are all used to these “guests” and they are not aggressive at all.  Rodrigo quickly volunteered to remove it, but before he could start this quest, Jhoan quickly said, “Teacher, we should pray and ask God to protect us!”  And pray we did.  Rodrigo took care of the situation and within a minute, we were thanking God for this watch care over us with these three precious boys.  While this may not seem like the biggest miracle, to me, it was.  For just two months ago, Jhoan had no knowledge of God, nor a relationship with him.  He has suffered more in his eight short years of life than anyone should have to suffer.  And to hear his first response be to seek God in prayer made all the difficult moments and feelings of despair immediately fade away as I saw a piece of God’s Glory in this little boy who is learning to love God with his whole heart and to put that love into action.  To witness a change of heart in a person is, indeed, the greatest miracle that can happen.  And we are so blessed to be able to witness this and to be a small part in it!  Please continue to pray for the children here at Familia Feliz, that they will all possess that child-like trust in God and see Him at all times.

When I decided to come to Bolivia, I didn’t really know what to expect.  Though I have lived in and visited many Spanish-speaking countries, each is different and unique.  I was excited about all of the things I would see, learn and experience.  However, I could never have been prepared for all that God would do in, through and for me once I arrived here.  So many things have happened that have changed my in so many ways.  And as soon as I start to think that I have seen it all, the Lord surprises me yet again.  Last week, two of our older students (Josue and Jose Carlos), Jonatan and I went on a week-long mission trip to Torewa, a small indigenous community in the heart of the Madidi Jungle here in Bolivia.  I had heard of this place before and even spoken with one of the brethren from there that visited the church in Rurre last year.  There are about 40 families in the community.  Of those, about 16 have been baptized and attended a small, local church.  It is very isolated.  It took us 5 hours to get there by boat on the Beni river.  There is no running water nor electricity.  We were told that we would need to take everything we would need for the week (food, water, camping equipment, axe for chopping firewood to cook with, etc.).  So we made the necessary arrangements and were ready to leave early Monday morning.  Little did we realize, however, just how much we would learn, how much God would work in our behalf and how our lives would be forever changed.  

It rained all night Sunday night and more on Monday morning.  We were soaking wet when we arrived to town before 8:00 am.  We weren’t sure if we would be able to travel that day, as the river had risen significantly.  It’s very dangerous when it’s at this level.  We spoke with Jorge, the brother from Torewa who came to pick us up.  He said we would wait to see if the rain passes and then start our trip.  At noon, it was still raining and it was looking more and more like we wouldn’t be leaving that day.  Jonatan and I were praying that God’s will would be done and felt at peace about waiting on God’s timing.  The boys, however, were quite anxious to leave.  They were ready to get there and help these people.  I checked the forecast and, to my dismay, it was supposed to rain everyday we would be in Torewa!  Not just rain….100% chance of thunderstorms everyday.  I knew God would have to do something because we wouldn’t be able to go like that.  And if we did make it up there and it rained like they predicted it was going to, we may not make it back on Sunday.  The river was already very high and all that rain would definitely cause it to overflow and flood part of the town.  When it gets to a certain level, the Navy prohibits anyone from traveling by boat for safety reasons.  I showed Jonatan the forecast and we prayed again.  Jose Carlos asked me time after time if anything had changed, when we would be leaving, etc.  I finally told him that we may have to postpone the trip until the next day because of the rain, the forecast and river conditions.  He quickly responded, “Teacher, we just have to have faith.  We have prayed.  I know that God will stop the rain and allow us to leave today for Torewa.  We mustn’t doubt!”  How powerful is the faith of a child!  While we waited, we went to the market to get some fruit.  I bought some plums to take with us.  When Jose Carlos saw the bag, he asked, “What fruit is that teacher?”  Neither he nor Josue had ever seen or tasted  plum before!  That quickly changed, as I took two out of the bag and gave them each one.  They both liked them, although Jose Carlos wasn’t crazy about the skin.  :)  About half and hour later, the rain stopped and Jorge called and said we would be leaving around 2:00.  (Note: God always hears and answers our prayers according to His will when we seek Him in faith!  Notwithstanding the forecast of a week of thunderstorms, it only rained ONE day the whole week!  More on that later, but I wanted to point out God’s goodness in honoring the sincere and faith-filled prayer of one of His children.)  We ate lunch and headed to the river to load our things in the boat.  And when I say boat, I mean an oversized canoe with a small motor.  :)  It turned out to be 4:00 when we actually pulled off, as Jorge had to do a few things that took a little bit longer than expected.  But before long, we were ready to go.  Before leaving, however, we had special prayer, seeking God’s protection as we embarked and asking that He would work as only He could in the following days.  It is a habit here at Familia Feliz to pray every time we get into the truck and/or leave campus and today was no exception.  The boys were smiling from ear-to-ear as we were finally able to start our 5-hour trek up the river.  I sat at the rear of the boat near Jorge, who was skillfully guiding us around currents, undertows and dodging trees and logs that had been uprooted in the rain and landslides that had happened over the weekend.  Jorge, on several occasions, told me to continue to pray, as the river was very dangerous at the these levels.  Many people have died as a result of their canoe being overturned and the current taking them under.  The motor of the boat was quite loud, so the others didn’t hear what he said and I didn’t say anything to them then, as to not worry or scare them.  Jorge and I simply prayed silently as we went along.  Logs and trees were literally passing us all the time.  The canoes are handmade and, as such, lack certain qualities that I take for granted in the States…like being leakproof, for example.  Water was leaking in through on the “seams” of the boat during the entire trip, as well as coming over the sides of the boat from waves.  So we took turns bailing out the water with a two-liter water bottle cut in half for the 5-hours.  :)  Isaiah 43:2 kept going through my mind.  “When thou passes through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee…”  The scenery we witnesses was without comparison though!  Breathtaking wildlife, stunning mountains towering over us, and artwork that only our Master Artist can paint in the sky.  Simply amazing!  

Our "yacht" for the 5-hour trip.  :)

We had to be very careful with these currents!

A hut along the way...

A fallen tree being carried by the river in our "obstacle course".  :)

Our beautiful sunset!

Since we left at 4:00, we had to travel the last two hours in the dark.  I was a little “concerned”, as there were obviously no lights on the canoe, and wondered how we would make it without hitting a log or heading into a current (which could very easily tip over our boat) along the way.  I quickly lifted up another prayer and watched in amazement how Jorge managed to see things ahead of us that I was unable to see until it passed us.  While I knew the potential danger of the situation, at no time was I worried, afraid, etc.  God gave us His peace.  And under the dim light of the moon, we sang hymns as we worked our way closer to our destination.

Finally, around 9:00 pm, we arrived.  We were happy to be able to stand and stretch our legs after the long trip.  We unloaded the boat and climbed up the 10 foot embankment.  We would have to make two trips to get everything to our campsite.  It was a ten-minute walk through the jungle to get to the community.  Jorge led the way and we followed, loaded down with backpacks, sacks of food, pots, etc.  We arrived and picked out where we would set up our tents.  They graciously let us set them up inside the one of the two classrooms there.  (The school consisted of two rooms, each with four walls and a metal roof….the floor was hard dirt and there were two windows, one of which was covered with screen.  The walls didn’t go all the way up to the roof and there were no doors, but we were thankful to have a roof over our heads to help with the rain.)  Jorge told us he needed to go to his house and asked if we could find our way back to the river to get the last of the things that remained behind.  We said we could.  We just had to follow the one-foot-wide trail.  Piece of cake!  We were quickly back at the river to get the three 20-gallon jugs of water we brought, along with a couple more bags.  We started back to the community, but after about 15 minutes of walking, realized something was wrong.  It only takes 10 minutes to get to camp.  We had walked for more time and there was nothing in sight except for jungle.  We back-tracked to the river and that’s when we saw them…there were several one-foot-wide trails through the jungle!  We had no idea which one led to camp.  We tried another one and still no luck.  We were exhausted, carrying these heavy water bottles on our shoulders and lost in the jungle!  We stopped, prayed again and backtracked yet again to try another trail.  One one trail, we came across a snake in the way.  Luckily, we had our flashlights, so he saw it before we stepped on it.  :)  Finally, after about an hour of wandering through an unknown jungle at night, we found the right trail and arrived safely to camp.  (We were later told that there are many jaguar in this part of the jungle.  The people of the community have seen them many times.  I had to laugh as I thought of how loud we were talking, waving our flashlights around, as we sought the correct path.  Could we have made ourselves any more known to any potential predators in the area??  “Here we are….dinner is served!”  Lol.)  We quickly set up our tents, had our devotion and hit the sack.  As I thought about the events of the day, how God had delivered us from the dangers of the river, the jungle, etc., I felt humbled.  And I wondered how many times in my life have I chosen the wrong path, thinking it to be the right one…the one that would lead to God’s destination for me, but that ended up causing me to be lost.  How often had my decisions led me in the wrong direction, causing me to backtrack to the cross and start again.  Again, I thanked God for His directions and watch care…not just during this day, but throughout my life.  

Our home for the week.

The primary school.

A teacher's house and the the kitchen (the small building to the left).

Inside our kitchen.  :)

"God helps him who rises early in the morning."  The sign on the front of the school building.

The school's emblem.

On Tuesday morning, after our morning personal and group worship, we got our first true glance of the area and people (since we arrived at night).  Outside of the soccer field, the jungle was everywhere.  Banana and plantain trees were in abundance.  Everything was lush and green.  Simply beautiful.  We had worship, ate breakfast and them ventured out to meet and greet.  The people speak Chiman.  Only the children and a handful of the adults speak broken Spanish.  Most could understand more Spanish than they could speak, but even their understanding was very limited.  We spent most of the day finishing setting up camp, preparing our meals (which consisted of rice, plantains and eggs and then, just to add a little spice of variety…eggs, plantains and rice.  :) ), and talking with the local people.  That afternoon, before church service, we went to bathe.  Normally that would consist of going into a bathroom, turning on the faucet and standing under a shower head.  That’s definitely not the case in Torewa!  We made the 5-minute hike through the jungle to the nearest creek.  Actually, it was more of a swamp because the water was more stagnate, since there wasn’t much flow.  The people had a wooden plank set up where you can stand on to bathe.  When I first looked at the water conditions there, I must admit, the thought of not bathing for my week-long stay there not only crossed my mind, but lingered there a bit!  But soon enough, we were experiencing our first bath in the Madidi Jungle.  

Some of the people in the village.

Pedro.  :)

Another child

Our bathtub for the week!

Ready to bathe with our cups!  :)

A beautiful butterfly that joined us at bath time.

Scrub, scrub, scrub!  :)

Dinner is served!  Fried plantains.

At 5:00pm, we were in the small bamboo and thatch church for Bible study.  When we arrived, there were already two men there, waiting on us.  They were Esteban and Pascual.  These two brothers were faithfully there every meeting, even though they lived farther away and had to cross the river by boat.  They also show up every morning at 5:00 for morning worship as well.  Their faithfulness was a great testimony to us four!  For some reason, I was drawn to Esteban.  Maybe because of the fact that he was closer to my age, I’m not sure.  I tried to talk to him several times, but the language barrier prevented us from getting very far, unfortunately.  That first night, only 3 people showed up for worship.  We were hoping for more, but did not allow this to discourage us.  The promise is that wherever two or three are gathered, there He is as well, so we claimed that promise.  :)  After the study, we made our way back to our campsite, where there for about 8 kids playing soccer in front of the school.  Our two boys quickly joined in the game and it was amazing to see how these young people transcended the variance of language and were able to make new friends very quickly.  As I watched them play, I noticed one young man sitting by himself on a tree stump to the side.  I went over to introduce myself, to which he shyly replied that his name was Jose.  Upon further conversation (in broken Spanish), I learned that he was 15 and the youngest brother of Jorge, our “guide”.  Noticing that he had a homemade bandage on his left ankle (the reason he wasn’t playing with the other kids), I asked him what had happened.  He said he had fallen about a week before and a had been cut by a stick of sorts.  I asked to look at the wound.  There was a gash on the top part of his foot, about and inch-long.  It was obviously infected.  His food and ankle were very swollen and the entire area was burning with fever.  Since he doesn’t own a pair of shoes, his foot was anything but clean, which wasn’t helping the situation.  I went and got our little first-aid kit and started cleaning his wood and disinfecting the wound.  We didn’t have much in the kit, but I figured if God could use mud to heal the blind man, He could definitely use peroxide and triple antibiotic ointment to help this young man!  :)  After a few minutes, it was time to bandage the area.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have any gauze, but I did have several bandaids, so I took them out and started opening them.  I don’t know what happened, because I was concentrating on Jose’s foot, but as soon as I started opening the bandaids, it was as if I turned on a huge magnet…all of the sudden, I was surrounded by all the kids that were playing soccer!  They were intensely watching my hands, some speaking in broken Spanish, some in Chiman.  It turns out they had never seen a bandaid before!  I’d say they thought it as the best thing since sliced bread, but that saying obviously doesn’t apply here, as they have no idea was sliced bread is either.  But you get the picture.  :)  I finished up with Jose and encouraged him to keep his foot as clean as possible and to quickly come and get me if his conditioned worsened any.  I told him to come by in the morning and we would clean and re-bandage the wound.  By this time, the sun was setting and it was time to to head to bed (since there’s no electricity, there’s no lights with which to stay up).  The four of us headed to our tents, where were had our nightly group and personal worships (using our flashlights, of course).  Then it was off to bed.  Our first full day in the jungle had been a success in our books.  We had interacted with adults and the kids, started friendships, cooked our meals (over an open fire), bathed in the swamp, fought (although not always winning the battle) with the airplane-sized mosquitos( which I am all too convinced actually have teeth that they sink into you when they bite!), had Bible study, played with the kids, and tended to the physical needs of the people that presented themselves, all without getting lost.  :)  Overall, not a bad day at all!

The SDA church in Torewa.

Inside the church with the brethren.

A villager and Jose Carlos (our student) playing soccer.

Cleaning Jose's wound.

Some of the kids from the village.

One thing I love about kids is there ability to surpass (and overthrow) any language and cultural barrier.  :)  There were constantly kids coming to visit us at out camp site, asking us to play soccer with them, show them some of the things we brought with us (bandaids, Rubik’s cube, camera, etc.).  They would stay for hours.  One in particular, Wilfredo (10 years old), was literally our shadow from Wednesday through Sunday.  He was at our camp first thing in the morning and didn’t leave until it was time to go to bed.  If we were resting, he would simply climb up the wall of the school building and sit on the roof beam, waiting until we were up and doing something else.  Then he would shimmy down and stay right at our side.  He ate with us, bathed with us, went to the studies with us.  On Wednesday, however, the first day he saw us there, he told us that he wanted to go back to Familia Feliz with us.  Jonatan had visited this community in November of last year and met Wilfredo then.  At that time, he also said that he wanted to go to Familia Feliz.  So I decided to talk to his parents about the possibility of him studying with us this year.  Wilfredo was all too excited when I told him I would talk to his parents that night.  He would have taken me right then to talk to them had they not been in the jungle farming.  We decided to go after our nightly Bible study.  When we arrived, we met Wilfredo’s three younger brothers, Hugo, Mateo and Dennis.  We introduced ourselves and I began to talk to the father about Familia Feliz and Wilfredo’s desire to attend school there, offering to waive his inscription fee if he would allow him to go.  The father said that last year, he had come to Familia Feliz to register two of his sons, but we were already full.  (I’m not sure who he spoke with, because I had never seen him before.)  So me asking if his son could study there was great news to him.  He asked if we could take Hugo (his 7-year old son) as well.  I agreed.  You would have have I had just given these two kids a pony or something!  They started jumping up and town, “screaming” with excitement.  Wilfredo would walk through the jungle singing, “I’m leaving.  I’m leaving.  I’m going to Familia Feliz!”  The following day, both of them had their bags packed and were ready to go.  They were a little sad when I told them we still had 4 days before we would leave.  :)  

Wilfredo and Jonatan.

Our bathroom.  

The throne!  :)

Wilfredo and his siblings, an elderly lady that attended the meetings and Jonathan and I.

Mateo and Dennis, Wilfredo's youngest brothers.

Two kids hanging out with us while we cook.

Wilfredo, sitting on the beams of the school, waiting on us to finish what we were doing.  :)



As is the case in most small, isolate communities, there were several issues that the tribe were dealing with and wanted/needed advice on how to handle them.  Stealing, not respecting land/territory boundaries, and adultery were on the top of the list.  As best we could, we counseled the adults, pointing always to God’s Word as the ultimate guide.  Here we encountered a problem, however.  There was only one Bible in Chiman in the whole community.  And it wasn’t even a complete Bible.  Many books were missing from it.  And of the books that were translated into Chiman, not all of the chapters and verses were there.  We saw two families with Bibles in Spanish, but they couldn’t read Spanish well enough to understand it.  Jonatan and I couldn’t believe it.  We immediately started to plan ways to get more Bibles to the area.  We found out where that Bible in Chiman was bought (as we had never seen one for sale before) and started brainstorming on how to raise the money we would need to buy the Bibles.  The people there lacked some of the most basic information about Christ and God, all because they didn’t have His Word.  They had never heard of David and Goliath, Noah’s Ark, etc.  (Watching the expressions on their faces as we related these and other Bible stories was simply priceless!)  If nothing else, we decided we would make copies of this Bible and send the copies back with Jorge when he took us back to town.  We were determined to do whatever we had to in order to get the Word of God to these people.  We had it all planned out.  Well…at least we thought we did.  However, we took one basic factor for granted…the ability to read.  The only Chiman who knew how to read was the one who had the Bible.  No one else in the community could read.  Their written language was never taught to them.  As a matter of fact, the man that has the Bible moved to this community from another Chiman community.  Otherwise, there wouldn’t be anyone there that could read.  Needless to say, this frustrated our plans a bit.  We are still trying to find a way to put the Word of God into the hands of everyone in this community.  We thought about trying to have an audio Bible made in Chiman.  However, there is no electricity, so it would have to be on a small device that would be solar charged.  Still thinking.  Please pray about this with us.  As Jonathan and I discussed possible options, I realized as never before just how blessed I am, not only materially, but spiritually.  As far back as I can remember, I have always had at least one Bible.  I was raised in a Christian home, where reading Bible and learning about God’s love through it’s pages were a given.  It was just something that you did.  I have always had access to the Bible.  I knew that there are places were God’s Word is prohibited and people are persecuted for having it.  It seems lately you hear and read more about cases like this online.  However, I guess I haven’t really given much thought to the fact that the Bible (all of it) isn’t translated into all the languages in the world.  Nor the fact that there are entire languages that are only spoken.  And now, here I was, face-to-face with the reality for many people across the world.  I cringed at the thought of how many times I have taken God’s Word for granted or not taken the time to read and/or appreciated it as I should have while countless thousands are perishing in sin without the ability to get to know the God of love who paid the ultimate price to save them!  As I thought about the enormity of the reality of the situation, my mind went to Matthew 24:14.  “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”  I realized that while many people can learn about Christ through radio and print, there is a large percentage that have no access to these mediums.  The only way they are going to hear and learn about our Savior is if someone physically goes to them and personally shares it with them.  While millions are being reached through internet, satellite and literature (and I praise God for that!), we cannot fully rely on those means to reach the whole world.  We must go forth into these “uncivilized” regions, meet their needs, gain their confidence and share the love of the risen Savior with them.  Only then can Christ come back for His people.  


Our students, Josue and Jose Carlos, having special music at our meetings.

Bible studies

We saw much wildlife in our week in Torewa.  Macaws, capybaras, parrots, iguanas, tarantulas, hawks, and many more.  The people told us about monkeys, jaguars, tapirs, etc. but we didn’t see any of those.  :(  We did meet more than our fair share of ants, mosquitos, flies, spiders, gnats and all manner of other bugs though!  Jorge and Hernan, two of the residents in Torewa, took us fishing on Thursday.  They usually fish with nets, as was the case on this day.  We spent about two hours fishing and only came back with one fish.  But the experience was great!  While Jorge was in the river, he stepped on a sting-ray.  Luckily, he wasn’t stung.  Aside from the rays, there are piranhas in the river, so you have to be careful.  The people fish for the rays, though, as they say the oil of the sting rays is good for your bones.  Our fishing experience got cut a bit short, as a storm was forming and we needed to get back to camp.  We cooked our supper and then headed to bed, listening to the rain on the metal roof of the school building.  I love to sleep in the rain!  It is very relaxing to me.  However, I just couldn’t get as comfortable as I would have liked lying on that hard ground.  But I was thankful, nonetheless.  I had a thin sleeping bag to soften the ground a bit.  The people there do not own mattresses.  They sleep on wooden planks.  No cushion, no sheets, nothing.  Simply lay on top of the boards.  Babies, kids, teenagers, adults and the elderly.  Something else I have always taken for granted.

They have tarantulas in Torewa too!  Made us feel a bit more at home.  :)  

 Fishing trip!

Caring for Jose's wound during the week.  Thankfully, it healed quite nicely!

Cooking supper.

It rained all of Thursday night and most of the day on Friday.  I’m not talking about your average rainy day in the States.  In rainy season here in Bolivia, you think the sky truly is falling at times.  It’s amazing how much water can fall and accumulate in a short amount of time here!  When the rain finally stopped Friday afternoon, I ventured out to see the river.  I remember all to well the flooding we had last year and wanted to see how affected the river was.  I got a bad feeling when the path to the river was so flooded that water started to go into my 12-inch rubber boots.  When I arrived at the river, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  The embankment that we had to climb when we arrived the first night was completely underwater!  The river had risen over 10 feet in one night!  I watched as trunks, banana trees and other debris whisked down the river.  Part of the embankment just down from our little “dock” had been washed away.  I immediately started praying.  My concern was two-fold.  First of all, all of this water heads south to Rurre.  The river was already at it’s borders when we left.  This much water would surely cause the river to overflow and flood part of the town.  Secondly, with the river this high, it would be impossible for us to travel home on Sunday.  It would simply be too dangerous.  Staying longer would prove a bit more challenging, as we had only brought food and water for 7 days.  We did collect the rain water to cook with, etc. but still.  When I got back to camp and told Jonathan and the boys about the river, they couldn't believe it.  We all headed back to the river for them to see it.  All we could do was pray and leave everything to God.  We were never, however, worried or anxious.  We knew God will provide either way.  We went back to camp to cook supper and prepare our meals for Sabbath before leaving for out nightly Bible study.  Afterwards, in our Familia Feliz worship before bed, we prayed again about the river conditions and asked God, if it was His will, to lower the river so we could leave on Sunday as planned.  

Paths through the jungle

After the rain...

Water was going in my rubber boots.  It was over a foot deep!

 The river after the rain.  

One of the buildings in the village.

We had an unforgettable experience at supper though.  Jonatan cooked rice, plantains and eggs, as he had done all week.  He cooked the same amount as always for the four of us.  However, as he was cooking, a couple of kids showed up and stayed around the kitchen.  Before long, those “couple of kids” turned into eight!  We decided to share our meal with the kids (which is what they were hoping for. :) ).  Jonatan and I lifted up a quick prayer, as we knew the food wouldn’t stretch very far.  But we would give up our portion to the kids so that they could all have something to eat.  Jonatan started serving the plates, as the kids lined up.  When we looked, we couldn’t believe our eyes.  There were twelve plates served and some food left over!  We cooked the exact same amount of food we had made every meal prior to this one.  We had everything calculated out so that our food would last the full week.  And there was no food left over at any meal prior today.  And now, twelve people were served with some to spare!  I knew that we had just witnessed a miracle.  God has multiplied the food, as He did with the five loaves and two fish!  I was ecstatic inside!  To see experience something like this is simply beyond my ability to express.  However, the greater miracle occurred in the moments following this.  The kids could hardly wait to eat.  However, we told them that we must give thanks to God for the meal and ask His blessing upon it.  These were kids that didn’t attend the nightly meetings.  They didn’t know what prayer was.  They didn’t know how to do it.  So right there, in the small dirt-floor kitchen, we lined the kids up and taught them how to pray and thank God for His blessings.  As Jonatan led the prayer, I couldn’t help but keep my eyes open and take in the scene before me!  It was probably one of the most memorable events of the whole week!  

Some of the kids waiting for supper.

Praying for the very first time, seeking God's blessings on the food He so graciously and miraculously provided for us!  What a privilege! 

Walking back home from the Bible study on the flooded paths.  

Sabbath was a blessed day indeed!  We were at church at 8:30 and before long, there was standing-room only in the small sanctuary!  What a feeling filled my heart to see that!  We had song service for about an hour, as the people kept requesting songs to sing.  (However, when I say that “we” had song service for an hour, I’m referring to Jonatan, Josue, Jose Carlos and I.  As the people in Torewa can’t read Spanish, they couldn’t sing with us, so they just listened.  :) ).  Afterward this part of worship, I was ready to start our class.  However, I was informed about a tradition these brethren have and was truly impressed by it.  Every sabbath, every person present goes up front and has special music.  So, one by one (or sometimes a family would go up together), each person made their way up and sang a song for the Lord.  As I mentioned, most don’t speak Spanish, so many sang the same song in Spanish, as it’s the only one they knew all the words to.  But it was beautiful nonetheless to see and hear the heartfelt offering these brethren were bringing to the Lord!  I have to admit, I have never gone in front of church to have special music, but here I found myself doing just that!  How could I not, after all of the others had given such a wonderful example?!  So, Jose Carlos, Josue and I had special music as well!  :)  Once all had finished, I proceeded to teach Sabbath School.  Jonatan was in charge of the sermon.  Josue and Jose Carlos sang special music during the church service.  Everything turned out really nice and I felt truly blessed.  It was obvious, however, that I was in church in an indigenous tribe.  While I was speaking, a mother was picking lice out of the hair of one of her daughters.  Once she removed one from her child, the mother proceeded to put it in her mouth and eat it!  Every. Single. Time!  It was quite disgusting.  Some were picking small bugs that dig themselves under your skin out of the feet and back of their children.  A dog came in church and decided that he wanted to be up front…so he jumped up on the table at the head of the church.  :)  Little did I know, however, that I was about to be humbled and learn an important lesson that will stay with me for the rest of my life.  At the end, we prayed, invited everyone to our final Bible study that afternoon and was dismissing them when one of the brethren interrupted us.  He politely said, “My brothers, we can’t leave yet.  We haven’t taken up the offering yet.”  I was speechless.  I looked at Jonatan and he looked at me.  Honestly, taking up tithes and offering didn’t even enter our minds.  We don’t take up offering at Familia Feliz, as no one has any money.  And here in the jungle, it didn’t even cross my mind.  I mean, I saw where and how these people were living.  They have almost nothing.  No mattresses, no electricity, no salaries, many do not even have four wall on their houses.  How could they give an offering??  We quickly apologized and sang the go-to offering call song for taking up the offering.  There were no deacons.  They didn’t even have an offering plate.  But as we sang, one by one, they all came up to the front of the church and laid their offering down on the table.  Two people gave bills (one $10 and one $20 bolivianos…the equivalent of $1.50 and $3.00 usd), but everyone else gave coins (the highest value of coins here is $5 bolivianos, which is about $0.80 cents).  I had to hold back the tears as I watched this play out in front of me.  These people know very little about God.  They don’t have access to His Word.  They live in such poverty!  And yet, they taught us “civilized” missionaries a lesson in faith, obedience and love for God that will forever be impressed on minds!  

One of the members singing his special music for the Lord.

Jose Carlos, Josue and I singing our special part.

Two mothers and their children lifting their voices to Christ.  Amen!

Jonatan and our translator.  

"Reading" the Bible in Chiman

The books of the Bible that have been translated.

The offering that will forever remain in my mind.

Jonatan, Esteban, Me, Jorge, Pascual

A mother carrying her baby.

Greeting each other after church

Walking home from church.

After church, I checked on Jose’s foot, as I did every day.  It was much better.  The infection was almost gone.  We washed and bandaged it again.  Then, as I had done several times before, I talked with him about him going back to Rurre with us to study at Familia Feliz.  I so wanted him to go with us!  He was another one I was just drawn to for some reason.  I tried for over an hour to convince him to come.  His parents had already said he could.  But he refused.  He finally gave me the reason.  He said, “I’m afraid.”  He was afraid of the unknown, of a world so very different from his own.  I understood.  Even though Rurre (and Bolivia, for that matter) isn’t nearly as advanced as the United States, it was much more advanced than Torewa.  Jose has never eaten pizza or popcorn.  Never had electricity.  Never seen a computer before this week when I took mine.  I could understand it all being a bit overwhelming to him.  I still tried, though, because I wanted him to advance in his studies, to break free from the life cycle in this community of starting a family and them simply growing plantains.  He was a smart kid and has the potential of so much more.  I told him to just come and try it for a month.  If he didn’t like it, I would bring him back home.  But nothing I could say would change his mind.  That fear was stronger than any advantage I could offer him.  I wondered how many times I allowed fear to keep me from the blessings that God had in store for me.  Fear of renouncing my will, my desires.  Fear of depositing ALL of my trust in His Hands.  As I thought upon this, I realized that I wasn’t much different from Jose.  

A HUGE bunch of bananas on one of the many banana trees in Torewa!  And they were delicious!  :)

Sunday morning arrived and found us disarming our campsite.  We were supposed to leave at 6:30, but ended up leaving around 8:00.  Once we had everything packed up, we said our goodbyes and carried our bags, etc. to the river.  Wilfredo and Hugo met us there with their parents, who thanked us again for this opportunity for their kids.  They then said their goodbyes (albeit with no hug, kiss or affection…literally, “good bye”.).  The river had returned to it’s normal level, but since it had risen, the embankment was nothing but mud.  And getting everything into the canoe without sliding and falling down proved to be a bit of a challenge.  We were finally all packed and ready to go.  Jonathan then went to wash off his boots before getting into the boat.  When he put his foot down in the water, however, he sunk down knee-deep in the mud!  He tried to lift his foot up, but couldn’t.  While trying, though, he fell into the river.  The canoe bumped him in the head as he came up.  He came up laughing, however, and we all joined in.  :)  Josue grabbed the rope the boat was tied to and went in after him, as he still wasn’t able to get a grip to get out of the river.  Before long, however, both were in the boat (soaking wet!).  We said our prayer, thanking God for His watch care over us (especially over Jonatan a few minutes earlier) and for the work there in Torewa.  We also asked for Him to continue to protect us as we navigated down the river back to Rurre.  We were then off.  The trip back was much shorter than on the way up, since we were heading down stream.  We made it home in two hours.  Time seemed to fly by, however, because we were singing hymns and Pathfinder songs the whole time!  :)  Once we arrived, we were happy to see that there was no flooding in town.  We quickly unloaded our things from the boat, thanked Jorge (our faithful guide and friend) and met the Familia Feliz staff that were in town.  

We spent most of the day in town, as we had to buy groceries and supplies for the week.  I bought Josue, Jose Carlos, Hugo and Wilfredo lunch.  They deserved it.  :)  I introduced the two new kids to the staff that was in town.  I had to take another GMI volunteer that was visiting to the airport to fly out.  I asked Hugo and Wilfredo if they wanted to go with them.  They quickly hopped into the truck and we were on our way.  When I put the truck in gear and pulled off, both of the kids squealed a bit.  I asked what was the matter, to which Wilfredo replied, “We’ve never been in a car before!”  They could barely contain their excitement as we drove to the airport. Little did they know what other new experience awaited them.  When we arrived, I took the volunteer to the airport, who was flying out in a small, private plane.  The boys were able to touch the plane, have their picture taken beside it and see the inside.  I wish you could have seen their faces!  :)  On the way home, they saw something else they had never seen before…cows!  lol.  I thought they were going to hit their head on the roof of the truck, they jumped so high.  :)  It was so much fun to see so many things for the “first time” through their eyes.  Here are some pics of when we took them to the swimming pool in town...they didn't want to get out of the water!  :) 

So many experiences in the last 7 days!  My mind can’t help but reflect upon the lessons each has taught me and on God’s immense love for His children!  With each passing day, I am more and more convinced of His Presence and blessings in our lives.  

After returning from our trip to Torewa, which was, overall, relaxing, things really picked up a lot.  We only had two weeks before the kids would be back from break to start a new school year and there was MUCH to be done!  We were expecting twice as many kids as last year, which meant there was twice as much work to be done, both in preparation for their arrival, as well as during the school year.  We also knew that our expenses would double.  There will be challenges and difficulties that we have not had to face before.  We discussed all of this and, as as staff, decided to place 100% of our trust in our Heavenly Father.  We remembered one of my favorite quotes.  

“When we are humble and contrite we stand where God can and will manifest Himself to us.  He is well pleased when we urge past mercies and blessings as a reason why He should bestow on us greater blessings.  He will more than fulfill the expectations of those who trust fully in Him.  The Lord Jesus knows just what His children need, how much divine power we will appropriate for the blessing of humanity; and He bestows upon us all that we will employ in blessing others and ennobling our own souls.  We must have less trust in what we ourselves can do, and more trust in what the Lord can do for and through us.  You are not engaged in your own work; you are doing the work of God.  Surrender your will and way to Him.  Make not a single reserve, not a single compromise with self.  Know what it is to be free in Christ…As you ask the Lord to help you, honor your Saviour by believing that you do receive His blessing.  All power, all wisdom, are at our command.  We have only to ask.”  Help in Daily Living, pg. 61

This was our hope.  We knew (know) that can do nothing of ourselves.  We have no funds by which to buy what we need.  We have no salaries.  We have not of ourselves the wisdom to solve the problems that will assuredly arise this year.  But we have faith in our God, who is able and has promised to “do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worth in us.” Eph. 3:20

One of the first problems we had to tackle was where to put them all.  Last year, we had 18 boys and 11 girls.  This year, we have 15 girls and a whopping 38 boys!  We’ve never had that many boarding here at one time.  All of the girls fit fine in the girls’ dorm.  But there is no way that 38 boys would fit in the two houses we have assigned as the boys’ dorms.  We ended up having to have 4 boys’ dorms this year.  The problem, however, wasn’t so much the space as much as it was the staff to manage the dorms.  Oriel, Jordan, Jonatan and I were the only male staff (aside from Victor.  But he would be with his wife, Ana, in their house with the youngest boys.) and trying to divide us into three houses, with all the teaching, cooking, deaning and administrative responsibilities involved, proved a challenge.  We immediately started praying for more staff.  We needed more hands and eyes for the boys.  Within a couple of weeks, God had met our needs!  Four more men joined our staff.  Andres is from Peru, Gadiel and Omar are from Bolivia and Jordan Alex is from the U.S.  We knew of none of these men when we accepted the number of students that we did.  We knew that there would be challenges that would accompany a larger number of students, including staffing, but we were trusting in God to meet our needs.  He had sent these students to us and we were certain that He would provide whatever we need to do His work.  And He did just that!  We now have four fully staffed boys dorms.  Amen!  He also sent us another female staff, Dory.  She is Haitian but currently lives in Canada and will be helping us until the end of March.  We are very happy to have all 5 of these new staff members!  

So let me introduce to you the student houses for 2015.  Each is named after a food group.  :)   (Not all of the staff and kids were present in these pics, but at least you'll have an idea of who we are.  :) )

La casa de las frutas (The Fruit House) - Girls’ dorm (ages 5-15)
Deans:  Karol, Victoria and Dory

La casa de los frutos secos (The Nut House :) ) - Boys’ dorm (ages 4-8)
Deans:  Ana and Victor

(Picture Coming Soon)

La casa de los frijoles (The Beans House) - Boys’ dorm (ages 9-12)
Deans:  Jonatan, Jordan, Gadiel

La casa de los vegetales (The Vegetable House) - Boys’ dorm (ages 12-15)
Deans:  Oriel, Jordan Alex, Andres, Omar

La casa de los cereales (The Grains House) - Boys’ dorm (ages 12-17)
Dean:  Yours truly  

Now that we had the houses situation fixed, we had to work on getting them furnished.  We needed more beds and mattresses, as we didn’t have enough for the new kids.  We also needed more plates, bowls, cups, silverware, shelves (for their clothes), benches, tables, chairs, etc.  As I sat there adding up the cost of all of these needs, I knew we had some serious praying to do.  We needed approximately $1200 usd and we needed it soon, as we would have to build the bunk beds before the kids arrived.  That is a lot of money in a little amount of time!  So we, as a staff, had special prayer at our next meeting, asking God to send the funds for us to accommodate the children that He has sent to us.  We each sent out the prayer request to our families, friends and church members.  Within a week, we had the funds necessary for these items, thanks to generous people all over the world that heeded to the Holy Spirit’s leading.  Praise God!  There is nothing better than sharing answers to prayers with your staff and kids here and seeing their reaction to God’s goodness and watching their faith grow as a result!  God is truly Great!  We quickly purchased the necessary items and made provisions for the arrival of the students.

Another challenge is that of transportation.  As most of you know, we have two trucks at Familia Feliz.  A small 4x4 Toyota and a old cattle truck that we use when we need to transport the kids or make large purchases.  Both are over 25 years old and are passed needing to be replaced.  But we are ever so thankful for God extending their life and keeping at least one of them in working order at all times.  You really do know realize how much of a blessing that is!  But now we faced a new problem.  With the increase in students and staff, we need a larger vehicle to transport everyone.  Even if both trucks are working at the same time (which is very rare, as something is always wrong with one of them….I kid you not!), 65 people cannot safely fit in them.  And when we go to the army base, to church in town or to visit another church, etc., we need to be able to transport everyone.  And as I mentioned, usually only one truck is in working order.  This has been the case for the last month.  The big truck has been in the mechanic since then.  He said it needs many repairs and that we need approximately $2000 usd to fix everything.  Since we don’t have that amount of money, we’ve been surviving with only the small truck.  And while we are extremely grateful to God for keeping this one running, it has brought it’s fair share of challenges.  We are remembering the above quote stating that God will more than fulfill our expectations we will ask in faith, we are praying for a newer, larger and more reliable means of transportation.  Again, we have taken this request to friends and family.  And, again, God has shown us that He has not forgotten us and is working on our behalf.  $8000 usd have been raised towards a new vehicle!  AMEN!!  That is about a fifth of what we need, but know without a doubt that God will provide the rest, so that we can safely transport His kids to do His work.  Please join us in praying for our new vehicle.  Also, pray for our two current trucks.  Pray that they will continue to function properly and that the Lord will continue to extend their lives and reliability until the new vehicle arrives.  

The day finally arrived that we had all been anxiously waiting for…the Sunday when the students arrived!  We all love having a break and enjoying a bit more free time and a more relaxed schedule, but things just aren’t the same without the kids here!  We were ready to see familiar faces and get to know new ones.  And while we (staff) had to do the necessary work involved with registration, we couldn’t wait to get outside and play with the kids.  :)  Even though we had never met many of the kids, we have been praying for them for so long now that it felt as if we were welcoming a friend back home.  

The following Monday, we went over the schedule, rules, expectations, etc.  All the stuff that no one wants to hear but has to be said.  :)  Then, we worked in the garden for a while before having free time to get to know the kids better and start gaining the trust of the new kids.  And what better way to do that than with a water balloon and shaving cream fight, right?!  :)  We had a blast!!  

As I mentioned earlier, I have kids living with me again.  I absolutely love it!  But it is definitely more a challenge now, as the director.  I have many more responsibilities now than before and it’s been interesting trying to juggle teaching, deaning, meetings with Social Services and the Ministry of Education, cooking (this week was my week in the kitchen to cook for everyone), doctoring wounds, counseling, and all the other unexpected things that come up.  But God has been so Good and Faithful to me!  I ask you to please pray for me, that God will give me the wisdom and ability I need to perform my duties to the best of my ability and in a way that will bring only honor and glory to His Name.  Thank you!

I know I’ve said it before, but it is always so humbling to see God work on your behalf and answer your prayers, sometimes before you even pray!  We have been extremely blessed here at Familia Feliz….much more than we deserve.  And in retrospect, we know that it is only because of and through the love and grace of our Lord.  However, anytime a child (or children) of God seek to do His will and step out in faith, Satan is not going to stand idly by and watch.  He has been attacking, it seems, nonstop for the past two weeks.  This last week has, by far, been probably the most stressful and tiring week since I’ve been here in Bolivia.  So much has happened…many trials, obstacles, worries, etc.  To name a few:

-Three of our boys got hurt on three different days and I had to take each of them to the Emergency Room at the hospital.  One had to be admitted for 5 days.  That meant I had to go to town every day to buy his medicines (the hospital doesn’t provide them here), as well as take him food.  One had to have his knuckle popped back into place (very painful experience!).

-The small truck broke down not one, not two, not three, but six times in the last 6 days!  (Starter went out, headlights went out…three times!  Flat tire, wouldn’t start again.  Radiator leaking and truck overheating, etc.)  It’s the only means of transportation we have and I had to get to the doctor, the hospital, pharmacy, social services and Ministry of Education.  It has been at the mechanic’s four times this week.  Two of those times took all day, so I had to be in town all day of those days, which meant missing my classes and my other responsibilities (cooking, with the boys in my house, etc.), so someone had to cover for that.

-One of the new girls told us that she had been abused by an uncle and that she is concerned for her two younger sisters that are at her house, as that same uncle lives with them.  Any time there is a report of abuse of any kind, I have to file a report with the police and social services.  That process takes a couple of days to do, which requires me to be in town, along with the victim(s)…in this case the girl and her two brothers.  Please pray for this situation.

-Another student admitted to me that he was molested when he was 4.  He is now 15 and has never told anyone else about it.  He was total broken as he told me his story.  He asked for special prayer because he said his mind is a constant battle with thoughts that he shouldn’t and doesn’t want to have.  By far, one of the toughest things I had to listen to in a long time!  My heart simply broke for him.  Please keep him in your prayers.  God knows who he is.

-About 15 kids and staff have been sick this week with the cold, allergies or throat infection.
A few new students have tried to push the limits and see how much they can get away with.  One kid left campus without permission.  Another has been openly rebellious towards staff.  Nothing major, but required a good bit of attention.  One young man arrived and told us that he doesn’t believe in God and really has not interest in learning about Him.  (More on him later.)

-We haven’t been able to register our students in the government system as usual this year because of a governmental problem.  Registration is supposed to happen at the end of January.  We were informed on this Wednesday that we had to have registration complete and submitted by Friday (two days).  This is not a quick and smooth process.  It takes several hours.  That added a good bit of stress!

-We have killed at least 10 snakes in the last two weeks, many in the houses.  One was in my kitchen this week.  I awoke at 4:15 am to do my personal devotion before heading to the main kitchen to cook breakfast.  I went to the kitchen in my house to get something off the shelf.  When I removed it, the snake was lying there just behind the box, about 5-inches from my hand!  Several of the snakes were poisonous.  Others were boa constrictors.  (One boa was in the process of eating an iguana when we came across it!).  We are very thankful that God has charged His angels to watch over us and that no one has been hurt!
I went to the ATM to get money out for food and the power went out at the bank as it was about to issue the money.  When they came back on, the ATM gave me my card, but didn’t give me the money.  Yet, the money was deducted from my account.  I had to file a claim and was able to get the money credited back to my account, but somewhat of a hassle.  I am thankful that God worked it out though!

Other situations beside these have come up, but some are sensitive and I cannot post them.  Needless to say, I was SOOOOOO ready for Sabbath this week!  I tell you, God has to have had me in mind when He created this holy and special day of rest!  :)  Even though it was my sabbath to preach, I was still able to rest, both mentally and physically, which was a huge blessing because I was exhausted!  Most days, I only slept 3-4 hours this week and by Friday, I was about ready to collapse.  The mental exhaustion was much greater than the physical tiredness however.  I have to admit…by Thursday night, I wasn’t sure how much more I could take.  There were so many things going through my mind.  We are very blessed in that we have a great relationship with the kids.  Even with the new ones, the Lord has opened doors and they, along with our former students, feel very comfortable in sharing their experiences and pasts with us.  But so many are dealing with some serious problems in their homes or in their lives that, in one way or another, affects them here and they are seeking advice or help.  And while I am so thankful that they feel that they can talk to us about anything, most times I feel overwhelmingly unable or unfit or untrained to offer the advice they need.  I beg God for wisdom and discernment everyday, for I never know with what situation I will be faced that day and I dare not move on my own.  My heart breaks for these kids.  Many have had to experience things that no one, much less a child, should have to experience.  Every single day, I realize a little more just how blessed and sheltered I am and have them throughout my life.  

Here's a few pics from several worship services at Familia Feliz with the kids.

While the trials have been many and heavy, God’s mercies and grace have been yet more numerous and stronger!  In the darkest hours, when I have felt like I couldn’t go on or when I was hurting for something a student had confessed to me, He always sent some blessing my way to let me know that He was right there beside me, sustaining me and everyone else on this campus at all times.  And I cannot put into words what a blessing that has been to me this week!  I will share a couple of these blessings with you.  

A GREAT-looking bunch of kids, isn't it?!

I mentioned earlier the young man who stated that he didn’t have any interest in God.  His name is Jose.  He is 14 and he arrived a few days after everyone else, as he lives a good distance from Rurre.  I could immediately tell that something was wrong with him when he arrived.  He was very frustrated and disrespected his parents in front of me as we were talking.  He seemed angry.  I completed his registration and showed him to his dorm.  His mother took me aside and asked me to be patient with her son, as he is going through a “rebellious phase”, as she put it, and begged me to do whatever I could to get him back on the right path.  I told her that we would do our best, with God’s help.  As soon as his parents left, Jose was disrespectful to me.  I took him for a walk and we had a little talk about respect, rules, expectations, etc.  I asked him why he was so frustrated and angry.  At first, he tried to avoid my questions, then played “Mr. Smarty Pants” with his answers.  We talked for a while and he finally started to come around.  He apologized for being disrespectful earlier and stated that he really wants to be here at Familia Feliz.  He said he just has some issues he needs to work on.  I encouraged him and told him that he can always count on the staff here to help him with whatever he needed.  During the following two days, however, he still tried to push the limits, was disrespectful to teachers and just had a lousy attitude.  He’s a very smart young man.  Loves to study and do homework.  But he tries to hide that behind the facade of a “Big man on campus” and “need-nobody” attitude.  Finally, I had to talk to him again, being a bit more firm this time.  I plainly let him know what the rules were and how things were going to go here from that moment on.  He had no say-so in the matter.  If he resisted, he would have to pay the consequences (chop firewood or machete a section of campus) and then he’s still have to do whatever we had asked of him at the start.  :)  He wasn’t thrilled nor did he like me that much I don’t think after that conversation.  He reluctantly left and stayed under radar for most of the day.  However, that afternoon, he came looking for me and asked me if I would help him with his math homework.  I said I’d be glad to and we spent about 20 minutes working on it.  While he was with me, I gave him something to drink.  When we were finished, he thanked me several times for my help and for the drink.  Since then, he has come to talk to me several times…for more help with school work, but a couple of times for spiritual guidance.  He told me that he hasn’t read the Bible nor has he had a desire to before.  But he asked me if I could get him a Bible.  My heart shouted “Praise God!” when he asked me that.  But I hid my emotion, not wanting to overwhelm him or make him feel uncomfortable.  I assured him that I would get him his own Bible.  He thanked me again.  Since then, he has been singing with us in worships (something he didn’t do before) and then tonight, he came up to me right after worship and asked me, “Teacher Miguel, what happens when hatred enters your heart?  How can you deal with it?”  He went on to share with me some problems he is having.  We talked about it and how to ask God for help in removing those feelings.  He thanked me again and went to play with the other boys.  I can see how God is moving in his life and it is very exciting!

Damien is a young boy that lives down the road from FF.  He's around 10 years old, but has a disability and has never been in school.  He roams the road.  But I always stop to speak to him and he runs over to give me a hug.  After more than year of trying, I finally convinced him to come and spend the afternoon with us on Sabbath at the school.  We had a great time!

Wilder is Josue’s older brother.  He was a student here two years ago, but decided not to come back last year because he didn't like the rules.  This year, he decided (with the persuasive help of his parents) to give it a try again.  :)  He is 17 and hasn’t had much discipline in the past.  He is extremely shy and reserved.  Extremely.  He is another one that has no desire for religion, God, church, etc.  Even though his family is Adventist and the Adventist church just up the road is on his grandparent’s property, he hasn’t been to church in about two years.  His parents told me that they can’t get him to go.  (That is a big issue here in Bolivia.  For some reason, the parents feel like they cannot make their children do something if the child doesn’t want to do it.  I know several kids who are not in school because they have told their parents that they don’t want to go to school and the parents say they cannot make them go.  What?!?!  I guess my parents missed that memo.  Lol.  I assure them they can make them go…but many are still not in school.)  Wilder is good kid, he just needs structure and consistency.  He has tried to test me once since arriving and quickly learned what his limits are.  At first, getting him to worship took me talking to him several minutes, reminding him of the rules, schedule, consequences, etc.  He didn’t want to go.  Then he didn’t want to go in dress clothes.  Then he didn’t want to sing or participate.  However, consistency truly is a blessing and something that kids long for.  Now, although he still has a ways to go, Wilder is dressed and at worship on time, without me having to “fuss” at him, and has even started singing with everyone else in song service (until he sees me looking at him with a smile on my face, then he quickly stops singing until he thinks I’m not looking at him anymore. :) ).  These “little” things have really gone a long way this week in encouraging me amidst the trials and I praise God for these manna moments.  

Church service this past Sabbath.

Keila, Andres (one of the new volunteers) and Belza had special music.

Another blessing I received happened on Monday.  While I was in town waiting for the truck to get fixed, I went to the Army base to talk to the new Coronel about starting our Bible studies, as well as to request the help of a few of the soldiers in a couple of weeks.  We have a group of students from Southern Adventist University coming to Familia Feliz from March 6-14 to replace the roof of one of our boys’ dorms and add a full second-floor. (AMEN!)  We’d like to have the soldiers help us like they did last year.  I’ve been praying about this meeting for several weeks now.  When I met the new Coronel at his inauguration, he was very friendly, but seemed somewhat distracted when Coronel Sanchez was talking to him about Familia Feliz and our work there on the base.  He kindly said for me to come back to talk to him about everything in a couple of weeks, but he didn’t really seem very interested.  We absolutely love going to the army base and sharing the Gospel with the soldiers and officers there and I have been praying earnestly that the Lord would touch this Coronel’s heart so that he would be as open to our presence as the former Coronel was.  I continued to pray this prayer as I arrived at the base.  A soldier met me at the gate to ask what my business was there.  Most of the soldiers at the base now are new and do not know us, so I introduced myself and asked to speak to the Coronel.  He went to get approval.  As I waited, the soldier on guard duty called me over.  I didn’t recognize him, but he seemed to know me.  He asked, “Brother, when are you all coming back to teach us about the Bible?”  Evidently, this new soldier arrived before the last group left and had attended a couple of the meetings.  I told him that that was precisely why I was there, to talk to the new Coronel about the meetings.  He told me that he would be anxiously awaiting for the meetings.  That encouraged me and I continued to pray for the Coronel as I waited.  After a few minutes, I was escorted through the gate and to the Commander’s office.  Several officers greeted me on my way.  When I went in to see the Coronel, he immediately stood up to greet me and said, “My brother!  How are you?  Where have you been?  I’ve been waiting for you to come and visit me!”  I knew right then that God had heard my prayers and that He was going to open the way for us to continue the studies at the base.  And He did just that!  Coronel Del Villar was very excited to see me.  We spoke for about 45 minutes I guess.  By the time I left, he had assured us that he would select 5 of the best soldiers he has to help us with our roof project, gave us permission to not only start our Bible studies on March 6th, but also arranged it so that we can have a week of prayer the week of March 9th while the student missionaries are here!  He also invited Familia Feliz to march with the army in a parade on March 23rd.  He specifically requested that we be his special guests and promised to send a marching instructor to FF the week before to teach the new students how to march.  He is sending the army truck to pick us up on the day of the parade and bring us back home, since we won’t all fit in our vehicles.  Isn’t that just how our God works??  Blesses us above and beyond what we ask for?!  Amen!  I left there with my heart full of joy and gratitude.  

Jhoan, Oriel and Miguel

Sabbath vespers.  Our circle keeps getting bigger!  :)

Belza leading out worship on Sabbath evening.

I have also seen, however, God’s Hand over me in even more direct ways this week.  As I mentioned, Satan has been attacking.  Twice this week, as I was driving in town, I was almost hit by another vehicle that was at fault.  Both times, God protected me and our truck.  The biggest example, however, allowed me to see His protection at a much closer level.  On Thursday while making breakfast, I asked Keila, one of our students, to light the oven for me so it could be warming up.  About ten minutes later, I went to put the banana bread in the oven and it wasn’t lit.  The fire had gone out.  I checked the knob and it wasn’t almost in the off position, so I assumed that Keila didn’t turn it far enough for the propane to be released.  So I knelt down to light it again.  As soon as I lit the match, there was a loud explosion and flames filled the oven and came out toward me.  Evidently, propane had been going into the oven the whole time and the flame had just gone out.  So there was a buildup of propane in the oven, and when I went to light it, it just “blew up.”  It happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to react at all.  In that split-second, however, I knew I was going to get burned.  There was no way to avoid it.  My head was directly in front of the opened-door of the oven and my hand was inside it.  I saw the flames come out of the oven and around me (on both sides of my body). I didn’t even have time to send up a prayer.  After the “explosion” and the flames had consumed the propane in the air, the flames immediately went out.  The students that were on kitchen duty with me came running over to see what had happened and check on me.  I stood up and told them that everything was ok, a bit taken back by what had just happened.  As I was talking to them, I looked down at my hand that had been in the oven with the match when it lit up, expecting to see a bad burn and already running through how to treat it in my mind.  To my surprise, however, it was perfectly fine.  Not a single burn on my hand, my arm, my face or my head.  No hair was singed.  As a matter of fact, my hand wasn’t even hot.  I was amazed.  There is no way that I couldn’t have gotten burned other than God sent an angel to shield me from the fire.  As I remember the even now as I write about it, my mind is still trying to wrap itself around it.  It’s yet more proof of the validity of God’s Word, for He has said, “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”  “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” (Isa. 65:24, 43:2)

Jhoel, Andres, Benjamin, me, Jesus, Kevin, Brayan

Eliseo, Sergio, Adrian, me, David, Ademar, Jhoel

Wilder, Josue, Jahel, me, Rolando, Eliseo, Manfred

Jose and I

Jesus, Kevin, Brayan, Bismar, Josue and Luis Miguel (in front)

Juan Carlos, Sergio and Jose Carlos

I’m sure I’ve forgotten to include something in this entry.  As I mentioned, so much has happened and although I try my best to remember everything I want to share, I may have overlooked something.  If so, I will include it in my next entry (which I hope will not take 6 weeks to get posted! :) ).  But I hope that the contents of this entry serves to encourage you in your walk with Christ, wherever you may be in that walk.  Perhaps you are the one walking with a song in your heart, overwhelmed at God’s work in your life.  May this add to your joy in learning how this same God is working in our lives here in the jungle.  Or maybe your are feeling overwhelmed at the trials, difficulties and sadness of the world.  Believe me, I know that feeling all too well!  But I pray you also will be encouraged at God’s Presence here with us in our difficult times.  He is just as assuredly there with you in the same way!  I heard recently, “if the mountain wasn’t so rugged, we wouldn’t be able to climb it.”   That made me think and appreciate in a new way the “ruggedness” of my life and climb up the mountain that leads to Heaven.  So if you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, discouraged…take hope, my friend!  God is with you.  He has never left you, nor will He ever leave you.  “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”  Pslam 30:5  What a beautiful promise!  :)

A beautiful praying mantis that was by our oven last week.  The kids were simply amazed, as they had never seen a praying mantis before!

In closing, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to everyone that has been praying for me personally and for all of us here at Familia Feliz!  My words can never suffice to tell you how grateful I am to you all.  For it is only because of your prayers and God’s grace and love in answering them that we are able to push forward and do our best to fulfill our work here.  Though I try, these entries and experiences cannot do justice to all that God has done and continues to do on our behalf here…and that is, in my opinion, the direct result of the prayers of His saints.  Please, please keep the prayers coming!  We covet them!  We know that there will be many more trials and obstacles, becoming more intense and frequent as we near Christ’s soon return and we need the wisdom, discernment, faith, love, mercy, forgiveness and grace that can only come from above as we strive to lead all we come in contact with to Christ’s loving Arms.  Know that we are praying for you as well.  May the Lord bless and keep us all and prepare us to finish the work so that we can go home SOON!  Amen!

A couple of group shots of our new Familia Feliz!  :)