What a wonderful welcome back, to receive our friends from 1st UMC in Sioux Falls: Jo, Pastor Bill, Sandy, Nordell, Steve, Carol, Kira, Karen and Christina.
We returned to Bolivia on June 1st, 2011 after being in the United States and visiting all of you. It was an amazing year and, as always, we were inspired and blessed and totally enjoyed our time visiting all the folks in our supporting churches.
We were able to live with Jenny and Hannah in Berkeley, California during the days that we weren’t itinerating. Those were precious moments and we will hold them close and dear.
All of the staff at the Tiu Rancho Center worked hard to continue the ministries and daily work. We arrived back in Cochabamba during a strike and road blocks, which we hadn’t known about, and tried to not feel disappointed when there was no one at the airport to greet us. We had to wait for a pick-up that was taking passengers out of the airport grounds to a street corner where we might find some kind of transportation. The driver found his way around blocked roads to get us to the parsonage. There we stayed until we could find another apartment to move into.
Gordon and Ardell Graner are missionaries serving in Bolivia with the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church.
Once a year they have a special day long service to thank God for the harvest. All the church members are farmers and all bring an offering to the church – potatoes, oka (a long sweet tuber), habas (like lima beans), etc. In front of the altar are placed the offerings, the great piles of produce. Large sacks that looked twice the size of 100 lb. bags were brought in over the shoulders of Quechua farmers. Potatoes of all sizes and shapes were unloaded tumbling out onto the pile.
The women of the church were squatted down on the ground outside the church pealing and cutting potatoes, carrots, onions, and oka. A few of the young men were roasting chicken and lamb in a large oven. Although this is a church known for prayer and fasting, this day was meant for feasting and celebration.
Pastor Gustavo led us in a two hour worship service of thanksgiving. We all gathered around the piles of produce and on our knees prayed long and fervently. And then we shared the feast of Thanksgiving – Quechua style – eating with our fingers out of our metal bowls, seated on crowded benches in the cold sanctuary.
We had to leave after the meal and it was nearly dark. Many more brethren would continue to arrive for the special meal and a second service of praise that would go until midnight at least. We drove once again up and over the mountains in pouring rain. The trip back to Cochabamba was treacherous with little visibility, a washboard road, and many large trucks to dodge. The trip back put all our nerves on full alert. We made it back home safely but emotionally spent.
We were glad to be home, very glad to get off that wickedly dangerous road and stirred deeply inside at the wonder of the day.
We were all able to meet the first week of January for our yearly national Sunday School workshop at the American Institute, a Methodist school in Cochabamba. This was an excellent place for us since it has such beautiful grounds and the school was able to equip us with seven, very needed, computers that the teachers used to write their lessons.
We were 38 persons in all including: Dr Leslie Long from the Oklahoma conference, eight young teachers who were able to work with us for the first time, 23 veteran teachers, and six national pastors who accompanied, encouraged, and assisted us.
It was an exciting week as we worshiped our Lord together during our devotional times, shared experiences, and applied critical knowledge of the culture and our own faith experiences to the materials produced. These new lessons will be taught and shared with the children in our churches throughout Bolivia.
Many of the young teachers shared their excitement as they know they have materials that they have written and are culturally appropriate for the spiritual growth of the children in their churches. They also shared testimonies during the workshop of how many more children are coming to their Sunday School classes.
Many of the teachers also told us how much they grow in their own faith during these times and are thankful to have times for fellowship and problem solving with other teachers.
We have about five acres of land under cultivation and are able to produce two crops per year when there is ample rainfall. In the dry season we irrigate with water from our wells and water that we share in common with our neighbors. Since we are not entirely dependent on income gained from agriculture we are able to allow some of our land to lie fallow in the dry season. We also do not use herbicides or pesticides but rather rely on crop rotation and extra help at times when we need to weed the crops.
The honey produced at Thiu Rancho is a combination of nectar collected by the bees from alfalfa, a variety of wild flowers, and the eucalyptus trees. It is a dark amber and completely natural. Many honey sellers adulterate their product with sugar, water, and even mix it with artificial honey produced in Argentina. Our honey is 100% honest to goodness pure, maybe even spiritual. It is very popular and we sell locally to church members, Ardell’s racquetball associates, people who come to Thiu Rancho for retreats, and other friends. In Bolivia, people use honey like medicine especially in our winter season to ward off colds and flu. Maybe we should also market our honey to the local pharmacies.
Margie, Monica (two volunteers from Texas and Nevada respectively) and I tried to understand all that was being said during the home visits and at the programs on Friday and Saturday nights, but there was no way. Quechua doesn’t resemble English or Spanish. The only way we could understand anything that was happening was to look at the people’s faces. I noticed the children’s faces from the first moment that Luis, Edwin and Jose dressed as Moses, a child and a bunny, entered the children’s classrooms to invite them to the program that night. There was smiling and laughter and clapping while they were in the classrooms and when they left they actually had children following them. There were over 250 people at the program that night.
The closing pantomime at the program that evening, with faces painted white and in utter gracefulness, was incredibly powerful as each one of us was invited to give our heart to Jesus.
Men from both the Cotani community and the Aguirre community came up to different staff members before the programs were even finished and asked when we could return. Our district coordinator, Daniel, announced in Cotani, before the program was over, before asking if we were in agreement or not, that the Tiu Rancho staff would be returning before Christmas. The director at the Cotani school asked us to inform him when we could return so that he could coordinate with us to plan another outreach of programs for the children.
God was equally faithful to each person on the Tiu Rancho staff as we all shared in our last devotional together before returning to Tiu Rancho, how much God had touched each of our hearts as we reached out to others: in the fields while they were irrigating, along the streams where moms were washing clothes, in the homes where many were invited to share potatoes, with the children as they peaked at us from wherever they were. I still feel very humble at being a part of God’s plan to touch lives in such a beautiful way.
We are called, each one, to listen to all who need to share, to share laughter and songs, to bring God’s good news.
Throughout the three days of visiting and sharing the Good News as we climbed the mountain sides to reach the homes of the people in Cotani and Aguirre, we were reminded of the old testament passage, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “The God of Israel Reigns!'” (Isaiah 52:7)