Bolivia: Out of this World!
by Steve Turechek
Four Chapel Hill missioners have returned tired, yet joyful following 10 days in Bolivia. The team of 11 was led by Randy Oakes from Wesley Chapel UMC in Lawton. Chapel Hill teammates included Sue Hahn, Paul Middleton, Hayden Tribbey and Steve Turechek. While the team spent several days literally “planting” a new church outside the city of Cobija, the real blessings of the mission unfolded across moments and hours of fellowship, worship, relaxation and cultural exchange.
We were welcomed by the Bishop of Bolivia, the District Superintendent, the President of Rios de Auguas Vivas Methodist church, the senior and local pastors, along with the congregations of two other Methodist churches supported by the OK Conference going back to 1990. We had no idea how important this team, and every team that comes from Oklahoma is to our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Bolivia. The love they expressed to us with song, meals, hugs and gifts was out of this world.
Wilson, our Volunteers in Mission coordinator who lives in La Paz stuck by us 24/7 in Cobija and Santa Cruz. He answered a million questions, translated restaurant menus, dealt with every Bolivian Immigration, Customs, airline, medical, and banking official, the hotel staff and taxi driver we encountered. The kindnesses he performed were too numerous to count. Despite diversity of language, music, currency and cuisine, we discovered unity with our new Bolivian friends through hard work, volleyball, worshipping Jesus, hiking in Brazil, cell phone apps, and planting trees.
Another highlight of the mission was interacting with students at two Methodist schools, one in Cobija and the other in Santa Cruz. Some high school students in Cobija, who study English as an extra-curricular activity, were teamed with us as translators when we visited classrooms. These teenagers got to skip their classes in exchange for taking us to meet teachers and answer questions from students in 2nd through 12th grade. Those questions ranged from, “What’s your favorite color,” to “What sports do you play,” to “What does a Systems Engineer do,” to “How long have you been Methodist?” We answered them all, and at recess we signed hundreds of autographs. Those kids viewed us ordinary Oklahomans as movie stars.
For a team of unskilled laborers, we wondered exactly what contributions we could possibly make. After all, one paid Bolivian professional Maestro was busy leveling and squaring up the foundation with nylon fishing line and a plumb bob. We eyed uneasily the wheel barrows, cement mixer, shovels and buckets basking in the relentless afternoon sun. Uphill from the foundation were mountains of brick, sand, gravel and a swimming pool-sized tank of water. Our team tasks were to mix, move and help pour concrete footings that will support the structure. Moreover, we needed to distribute the brick mountain all around the foundation.
But before the cement mixer was loaded, or even one brick moved, the local congregation determined to dedicate each of the four corner columns of their new church to each of the four Oklahoma churches represented by our team. In this way Chapel Hill is greatly honored as a partner in the construction of Rios de Auguas Vivas church. And now, to quote an Old Testament team leader who knew a thing or two about construction: “So we built the wall…because the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6). And the women of the congregation joined in, alongside their husbands, sons, and 11 Oklahoma strangers wielding shovel, pick and hoe to scratch out the foundation to the Maestro’s specifications. Work is underway!
Our final night in Cobija was a celebration of the successful “planting” of the new ‘Rivers of Living Water’ church, and many new-found friendships. The brass band played once again, and we all sang together, danced together, prayed together and shared empanadas (think fried pies), and Pepsi. There is no telling how many gigabytes of digital photos were snapped as we exchanged hugs and handshakes, said our goodbyes, and contemplated future returns.
A new mission to Belize in February 2020 has just been announced. The team will be led by Chad Detwiler and will head to Belize to fix the roof of a Methodist school in Sittee River. They will also work on local outreach with children. We'll be providing more information soon, but to check out the basics see the Belize Mission Brochure HERE.