Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Busy, Busy, Busy!

The past 4 months have been crazy busy.  Big surprise, right?

Immediately after the little getaway we wrote about in our last post, we began the process of moving into a new house. We had been fighting a termite invasion for a couple of years and our house needed some significant work, so when one of the other staff families moved off campus in February to focus on another area of our ministry here, it was decided that we should move into their house.

Kaylee was ecstatic.  The house we lived in for over 4 years was too big (almost 2200 sq ft!), two levels, and not a very nice layout, to be honest.  The house we are in now is a more appropriate size for us (not quite 1500 sq ft), single level, and a much nicer layout with a lovely open-concept living/dining/kitchen area.  The girls ended up with a bigger bedroom than they had and I got a little shop off the back porch. Naturally, we lost a few benefits (like the fireplace!), but all in all, it was a good decision.

We had spent a couple of months working on plaster, paint, electrical, and a bathroom remodel and it was finally ready at the beginning of May.  This is now our 20th long-term (more than 1 month) home in 13.5 years of marriage!  At a distance of only 52 ft door to door, it also set a record for our shortest move ever (previous record: 7 blocks). :D
New house at left, old house at right!
The girls are now expert paint scrapers
Kaylee enjoying her new kitchen
The old house is now being gutted and re-purposed as Etnos offices (lower level) and a guest apartment (upper level) as the campus works through some growing pains and changing needs.

Also during May, we had the pleasure of hosting my nephew Zach, who came from Montana for 2 weeks.  He split his time between relaxing (after just finishing a busy school year), interacting with the Etnos students, playing with the girls, being sick, and doing projects.

Dinner with Etnos students Victor & Eunice, Carlos, and Julieta
One of Zach's projects was to build a bike rack for the girls' bicycles

The month of June was overwhelmingly overwhelming as we once again did an English practice time for our students.  Halfway through their training, each group of students spends 3 weeks studying the gringos to get some practice in applying the tools that I am teaching them in the Culture and Language Acquisition class.  As usual, we needed some more native speakers, so we invited my parents and another couple from our home church to join us.  It was a blessing to have them here, not only as a help to the program, but the encouragement of spending time with folks from home.

The fun part about CLA-English is that we get to do "regular life" things while the students accompany us and attempt to learn our language and customs.  We also get to be unapologetically American, which is fun. ;)

My dad built a closet for the girls, often accompanied by a few of the guys

Several students joined Kaylee and the girls to see what homeschool is all about

We taught them an American sport, too :)
At the end, we hosted a big shebang for the whole campus to celebrate my birthday with hamburgers and root beer floats made with root beer I made a few days earlier.
Serving up the goodness

In July, after the students left on their 4-week winter break, we barely had a couple days to breathe before we started the preparations for our next big event, a 5-day international forum.  Every couple of years, leaders of our mission agency from different countries get together with the global ministries board to report current status, encourage each other, talk about issues, and basically stay on the same page.  This forum was focused on Latin America, although with the global team 13 countries and 3 principal languages were represented.  All of the ~85 attendees stayed here with us on campus, so it was a ton of work!

My main job was to coordinate airport pickups for our international guests, which came to about 30 trips to the airport in 14 days' time, many at terrible hours of the night.  Thankfully, I had two other men helping with the driving and it all went quite smoothly for the most part.  During the forum itself, I focused on photographing the proceedings, although I did make one presentation, a report on our current training program.

Reporting on our training program for the global leadership of the mission
Kaylee was once again designated as head of refreshments, so she spent a couple of weeks buying and baking before the forum as well as preparing and serving throughout it.

As usual, all the extra work was well worth the opportunity that we had to meet and spend time with like-minded coworkers from around Latin America and other parts of the globe.  It is always such an encouragement to swap stories and share experiences and talk about God and His work together.

At the beginning of August, the Etnos students all came back from their break and we started up the second semester of 2018.  A week later, Kaylee started a new school year with the girls, who are now in 6th, 4th, and 3rd grades.

August has been a very different sort of month for me.  I  have been teaching only one hour of class per week, which I am enjoying immensely.  The course is one that we typically do each semester, called Analytical Reading, which has the purpose of improving the students' reading ability (generally poor).  I chose to read Charles Swindoll's The Grace Awakening this semester and I love the conversations we are having in class.

Updating our Etnos website and Facebok
I have been using the rest of my time to do more necessary improvements to the new house, manage our Etnos website and Facebook page (a role which continues to expand), and prepare myself for my upcoming Grammar Analysis class, which starts this Thursday, Sept 6.  It is a very intense course and will be much more so this year.  Instead of teaching it two hours each week spread over the whole semester, we are doing it as a modular course in which I will teach 4 hours each Tues-Thurs for five weeks.  I am thankful that I can count on the help of two missionary ladies, one of whom has taught the course several times, for help with the classwork.

In light of this class, we would appreciate prayer for the next two months specifically.  Not only will I be teaching WAY more class hours each week than normal, we will be preparing for a home assignment ("furlough") that we have planned for the end of October.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Field Trip to Roboré

When it comes to destinations in eastern Bolivia, the little town of Roboré comes up as a top spot -- spectacular scenery, great hot springs, flora, fauna, and lots of history.  At only 5-6 hours' drive from Santa Cruz, it's a perfect place to go spend a relaxing weekend.  However, relaxing weekends aren't really part of our lifestyle, so we've never been.

Panorama taken from the base of Chochis tower
That changed because of a project Kaylee is doing with the girls in homeschool; later this year, they will be studying Bolivian history.  To make their study more enjoyable and relatable, they will be interviewing a variety of people they know here in order to learn from their personal stories.  Their first interviewee was our friend Judy, who grew up in Roboré as a missionary kid and came back to serve in Bolivia as an adult with her husband. She loves to show people around her hometown and suggested that her story would have even more impact if we went and saw it for ourselves. So we did!

(As usual, more photos here: Field Trip to Roboré - Google Photos)

The girls were excited to camp, but we had outgrown our well-worn, second-hand tents, so I took them tent shopping a few days before.  On Saturday morning, we packed up and hit the road, planning to come back on Monday.

Our first stop, other than the standard toll booths and police checkpoints, was the little town of San José de Chiquitos.  The church there is one of six that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos. Although we don't agree with their doctrine, we love the architecture! ;) Traveling to visit all six is a very popular tour option for visitors.  We would have liked to investigate the compound, but it was noon and all closed up, so we settled for lunch and went on our way.

Along the way, Kaylee and the girls had gotten their first glimpse of wild toucans and there were several in the plaza of San José.

I was excited to get a photo of one of the goofy critters in flight! ;)

As we left San José, the scenery began a dramatic shift from the yawn-inducing flatness of Santa Cruz to the broken hills and valleys that characterize Roboré.  Unfortunately, the weather closed in on us as well and although it didn't rain until much later, we passed the rest of the day under a heavily overcast sky.  It affected the photos, but it didn't dampen our enjoyment of the sights.

Our next stop was at Chochis, a rock formation that outsiders have nicknamed Muela del Diablo, or devil's tooth, although there are at least two other locations in Bolivia that also claim that name.  Officially, it is called the Tower of David, but most just refer to it as the tower or hill.

There is a "sanctuary to Mary" at the base of it with intricately carved doors and pillars, woodwork typical of the Chiquitanía region. It was built in commemoration of a nasty flood that did a lot of damage and killed a lot of people in 1979.  While the wood carving was amazing, we found the overwhelming worship of Mary disturbing (but not surprising).

The side of the sanctuary had a massive door in door in that swiveled on a pivot.  It featured Eve as the central figure of the Fall on one side and Mary as the central figure in Redemption on the other.  It would have done the sculptor well to study Romans 5 on both counts.

Eve as the central figure in Eden

Mary as the central figure at Calvary
"Most Holy Virgin, from Calvary we are all yours.  We do not deserve you, but we need you.  Help us!"
As sobering as it was, we enjoyed the art and of course posed for another family photo or two.

Upon leaving Chochis, we were only a few miles away from Roboré.  We wandered around town a bit, but as it was getting late and we still needed to set up camp, we really only took time to stop by Judy's childhood home and get a picture of her and the girls in front of it.

What we didn't know at that point is that we weren't actually spending the night in Roboré.  We actually went a few miles farther to a place called Aguas Calientes (hot waters), where there is a campground alongside a hot spring.  Now, I mentioned above that we were planning on camping and that the girls were very excited about it.  To be honest, the only camping they have done here is in the "backyard" at Etnos and they were looking forward to being out in the country and doing some real camping.  Unfortunately, that was not to be.

When we rolled up to the campground, it was immediately apparent that it did not line up with our expectations.  It consisted of maybe 50 pahuichis or grass-roofed shelters and it was LOADED with people hustling and bustling.  It was a shocking contrast for the girls, who have only known quiet Forest Service campgrounds like the one on Battle Ridge.  When we found an available spot and started unpacking next to a group of youths who were listening to their reggaeton with the typical latino love of volume, the two younger ones broke into tears.  Thankfully it was short lived; some time in the hot spring helped a lot!

After getting a reasonably good night's sleep in their new tent, they were much happier in the morning
Thankfully, the youths turned their music off somewhere around 11:00pm and the weather deteriorated no more than a steady drizzle overnight.

In the morning we got to enjoy the hot springs and more birds!

Bare-faced ibis

Snowy egret

The hot spring formed a huge, shallow lagoon that was a perfect temperature for a misty morning!
After soaking for a couple hours, we packed up our gear and headed out for some more sights.  Unfortunately, the weather closed in even farther rather than lifting, which changed our plans slightly, but we still enjoyed ourselves.

We visited Santiago de Chiquitos, near where the first five missionaries from New Tribes Mission (now known as Ethnos360) were killed while trying to make peaceful contact with the Ayoré people in 1943.  It's an incredible story of how God worked through the tragedy, especially considering that we have Ayoré friends who are our brothers and sisters in Christ!
At the plaque commemorating the deaths of Cecil Dye, Bob Dye, Dave Bacon, Eldon Hunter, and George Hosbach
The memorial plaque is at the trailhead for a series of lookouts called "The Antechamber of Heaven," which apparently have amazing views, but as you can see from this next photo, it wasn't worth our time to hike to them!

Catholic church in the plaza of Santiago de Chiquitos
Our last big stop of the day was a fun drive and a short hike into an amazing waterfall north of Roboré, called Chorro San Luis. 

Kaylee and the girls behind the falls, for perspective!
That night, instead of camping again (it was supposed to rain more), we decided to stay in a hotel owned by people Judy knows, next to the church her father pastored in Roboré.  We spent an uneventful night, had a nice complementary breakfast, and busted back home to Santa Cruz.  All in all, it was an enjoyable weekend and I think we all agree that we should go back sooner than later!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Wedding in La Paz!

Back in August, one of our coworkers (a former student) asked us to participate in her wedding:  our daughters as flower girls and I (Nathan) as photographer.  Naturally, we were all very excited to accept, not least because of an excuse to go see La Paz!  Although we have traveled through the capital city, we have never had a chance to get out and see it.  Because the wedding was planned for the end of January, during our long break (in the training program), we made a week of it.

(I am including a few photos here.  Many more can be found in our Google Album. As usual, you can click on these to see them in a larger size.)

There were several things that made the whole week uncertain.  We had hoped to drive up, a two day trip, but due to political unrest at the time, we were forced to make the decision to fly.  The wedding was going to be outdoors at a botanical garden, but the weather was forecasted to be pretty miserable.  However, God timed everything so that both unrest and rain happened in ways which did not impede any of our activities!

La Paz was founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1548 on the site of an Inca settlement -- in a deep valley on the edge of the Altiplano at 12,000 feet above sea level.  The downtown area retains much of the colonial architecture that was built in the succeeding years, now combined with more modern high rises, while the outlying areas are built up in a more local style.  Naturally, I was ecstatic to have something to photograph besides the flatland of Santa Cruz. ;)
The main road into town, with the Basilica of Saint Francis, at dusk
We only had one day free to explore, but we made the most of it! In spite of a transportation strike/protest, we managed to get to the central plaza and several museums.  We started our day with the Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore (National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore) which turned out to be the best museum we have ever visited here.  We were impressed not only by the extensiveness of the exhibits, but the presentation and information provided as well.  Kaylee was in love as soon as we walked into the first exhibit and found alpaca yarn with traditional tools and dyes!

Beyond the yarn we found textiles, pottery, ceremonial masks, metalwork, woodwork, farm implements, and other important aspects of Bolivian life.  One thing we appreciated about the exhibits is the cross-section of various strong cultures in Bolivia.  Although the highland cultures (Quechua and Aymara) tend to overwhelm the others based on sheer numbers as well as technological advances,  there was a good representation of the different cultures of Bolivia.  Most of the featured items are historically important, with an emphasis on what life was like before the Spanish invasion.
Aguayos and ponchos from the Quechua and Aymara cultures
Pottery and Ceramics.  There's a closeup of that jaguar bowl in the photo album.
Lydia and Addi checking out some of the headdresses 
We are amazed at the delicate work they do in silver here!
We wanted very much to get up to Lake Titicaca, only a short drive from the city, but without a vehicle and with very limited time, it just didn't work out.  Maybe next time.  Until then, this will have to do:
My girls at the Titicaca exhibit
We also had fun at the plaza, feeding the inevitable pigeons and looking at the government buildings and the cathedral.

In the main plaza
On Friday, we had a completely new cultural experience.  Although we have attended church weddings in Bolivia, we have never been present for a civil ceremony, in which the couple is married legally.  Other than the two witnesses and the notary (who, in the Bolivian legal system, is a lawyer representing the government), we were the only non-family members present.  It was held in the home of the bride's parents.  I expected that it would be a short affair centered around signing documents, but the notary actually preached a very good "sermon" focused on the contractual aspect of marriage.  There was an exchange of vows and a kiss and they were legally married!

Naturally, I was excited to find that the house was up on  a steep hill and I took advantage of the time we had to wait between events to wander a bit and take some photos!
I was visited by a group of stray dogs and this one decided to pose for me!

The urban gondola system has been a feature project by the current government to help with congestion on the crowded, narrow, steep streets.  It's a lot of fun, too!

Someone told me once that La Paz is the only city in the world where the poor live uphill from the wealthy
Finally, on Saturday, it was time for the event which we had been anticipating for several months.  The wedding was held outdoors at the local botanical garden.  It had been raining on and off all week and we had been praying for a dry day and God answered abundantly.  Not only was it dry, but beautiful as well!

I had been very, very nervous about how it was all going to go for me, since I had never before been THE photographer at something so critical as a wedding.  Thanks to help from Kaylee and the preparation I had done ahead of time, it all went fairly smoothly with only a few hiccups.  I obviously have a lot to improve, but I am content for my first time.  I ended up taking 1,500 photos!  Here are a few of my favorites (more in the album):

The girls' first wedding!

My beautiful ladies

Bride's entrance


I literally did a happy dance when I saw how this shot turned out :)

After all of the congratulating and photo taking and hugs and cake-cutting, our family escaped with the bride and groom and went to take some more photos.  We first went to a lookout called Killi Killi where there is a fantastic view not only of the city but its biggest, best, most beautiful feature:  Mount Illimani.

Mt. Illimani as seen from Killi Killi

Speaking of Illimani, my one other goal for this trip was to get up to the west side of the La Paz valley and shoot the mountain over the city at sunrise.  Mt Illimani is almost due east, so it naturally lends itself to sunrise/sunset photos.  I put quite a bit of time into figuring out where to take the photos from and when.  The last night of our trip, I set my alarm for 4:30am, but I woke up naturally at 3:00 (I didn't sleep well all week, probably nerves/stress) and found a taxi to El Alto, above 13,400 ft.  With the bad weather, I wasn't sure what I was going to get, but I had to try.

As conditions changed throughout the morning, I made a video of the experience:

Here are a couple of my favorite photos from the morning: