Monday, October 31, 2016

Return to Urubichá

I recently had the opportunity to visit Urubichá again after almost 3 years.  When our ministry plans changed direction in 2013, I made a rather hasty exit -- packed up the Patrol, threw all my tools and gear in the trailer, and hit the road for Santa Cruz.  Although the transition to ministry at Etnos has been bittersweet at times, I haven't truly regretted that decision.

However, I was excited to go back for several reasons:

1.  Since I left, Emilio and Marlen have finished culture/language study and started writing chronological Bible lessons.  They have a small group of believers meeting in their patio each Sunday and have a kids' program on Saturdays.  I was eager to see and hear how things are going for them.
2.  Margarita joined the team about a year and a half ago, and Eliana moved out there in June.  The purpose of the trip was to evaluate their progress in the Guarayo language.  My role was to accompany Judy, our language consultant, and learn how to do evaluations, a natural extension of what I am already doing in the training center!
3.  My parents are here for a few months to visit us and help around Etnos and I was able to take them along.  They haven't spent much time out of the city on this side of the country, so it was a great opportunity to introduce them not only to a place so important to me as Urubichá, but all of the countryside along the 210 mile trip as well.

The Guarayos team (l-r): Eliana, Margarita, Esteban, Emilio, Ninoska, and Marlen
On the trip out to the village, it occurred to me that this was the first time I was going to Guarayo country without planning to live there.  That realization gave me the freedom to look at everything through different eyes and I found myself much more relaxed.  I definitely took a lot more photos (Click here to see 80 of the best).

We drove on Saturday and arrived just before the kids' program.  They were having a special game day to encourage more kids to come, and there were a ton!  The younger ones and the gals played board games while Emilio reffed a soccer tournament for the older boys.

On Sunday, we joined the group in the family's patio. Unfortunately, most of the congregation was at a big event at another, Spanish-speaking church in town.  Even so, we enjoyed our time and were treated to several Guarayo worship songs, a violin duet by Esteban and Ninoska, and Emilio teaching in Guarayo.

On Monday, the work started.  Judy and I spent a couple hours with Eliana that morning, asking her to do a variety of activities using the Guarayo words and phrases she knows.  Then, in the afternoon, we invited a bilingual Guarayo lady to come listen to the recordings and talk to us about how Eliana speaks.  We also visited a couple from the church, Hermenegildo and Matilde, to get their perspective.  She is doing great!
Judy, Eliana, and Rafaela

Urubichá is known for making the best hammocks in Bolivia. Matilde is finishing the one in the background.
On Tuesday, it was Margarita's turn!  She is also advancing very well!  She is fairly well conversational and speaks rather fluidly.
Judy, Margarita, and Esther
Of course, no trip to Urubichá would be complete without going to the baroque music institute!

A highlight for us was to find Esteban giving a violin lesson to a 5-year old student.

Behind the music institute, there is an artisan institute that offers woodcarving classes for the men and weaving, sewing, and needlework classes to the gals.
Guarayo men hand-carve wooden boxes to sell

Guarayo girls with their needlework samplers
Eliana is using the weaving institute as an opportunity to spend time with the ladies, building crucial relationships and listening to language as she weaves.  She recently started a new bag and showed us the process of setting up the vertical threads on the loom.

That evening, we spent some time on the plaza and stopped in to see the church and watch the Urubichá youth choir practice for the following night's performance.
The region's reliance on timber and woodcarving shines through, even in the Catholic church
On Wednesday, our final day in town, Judy and I spent some time talking over the results of the evaluations with the gals, giving them suggestions for how to continue improving in their studies.  We visited the Rio Blanco in the afternoon.

That evening, we went back to the plaza and joined a packed house for a performance by the choir.  They sang an amazing rendition of the Kyrie from Domenico Zipoli's Missa in F.

Our plan for Thursday was to take some final photos of the team and hit the road by 8:00am for the ~7 hour drive home.  We had been gone for 5 days already, and I was eager to be back with Kaylee and the girls.  We were also taking Eliana and Margarita back to Santa Cruz with us, for a missions conference that started that evening!

However, first thing that morning we got news that there was a big blockade in San Julian, a town about halfway home.  Apparently, the soy and sunflower growers were upset about prices, among other things, and applied Bolivia's normal form of protest:  block the highway until the government agrees to help.  I was unsure how to proceed -- whether we should stay another night and see if it died down, or go look for a way to go around.

Then Emilio got a phone call, in which he learned that a group in Urubichá was planning to block the highway in Ascención due to a timber dispute.  So we decided to get out of Dodge.

We drove as far as El Puente, home of Bolivia's nicest gas station (in my opinion). After fueling up, I asked about a way to get around San Julian and one of the old timers told me about a route that cut cross-country to Montero.  I have often wanted to find a way through there, so of course we decided to try it! :D
Lunch in Nucleo 29
It was an exciting, crazy drive through farm country on bumpy, dusty roads.  We had no map, no GPS (mine was stolen recently), no road signs, and for most of the journey, no cell coverage.  I lost track of how many times I stopped and asked people for directions.  We had to flip a couple of U-turns, but we never got truly lost and never got bad directions.

For me, the highlight of the trip was crossing the Rio Grande on a barge, my first time!

The AC conked out around noon, so the inside was just as dirty as the outside!  We made it home in 10.5 hours, hot, filthy and exhausted, with just enough time to shower, change, and grab a bite to eat before the conference started!!
I spent some time on Google Earth figuring out as much of the route that I could. Due to a recent, significant change in the course of the river, I was unable to complete the center section, but it gives the idea. :)

Monday, July 11, 2016

English Practicum 2016 and Another Visitor!

This past semester, I once again taught the introduction to our Culture and Language Acquisition (CLA) program.  It was the first time I have repeated a course here at Etnos, and I was excited to give it some tweaks and improvements!  On the whole, I think it was a much more solid class than the first time.  To end the semester, the students spent 3 weeks studying English here on campus to practice what they have learned and get a feel for how the program works.

Three student gals baking with Kaylee and the girls
This year was much different than the last time we did this practicum.  With all that has been going on the past couple months, we still haven't regained the stability we would like to have and on top of it all, we went into it with practically the whole family sick. Most of us recovered quickly, but Kaylee continued to suffer through the entire first half.  Thankfully, we had enough other English speakers on campus that it wasn't a hindrance to the program.

The practice is as much a reflection of how I have taught as much as it is about the students' ability, so of course now I have lots more thoughts about how to improve my class again!

The BIG highlight this year was that my nephew Michael joined us!  It was his first time travelling internationally and was quite the adventure.  He helped me with several projects that were not only helpful for me, but gave the students the opportunity to observe and listen to us work.  He was also Jilmer's language helper, spending an hour each day helping him improve his vocabulary.

Michael cutting back mango trees blocking the lights on the
volleyball court (and burning a wasp nest)
Frying donuts for breakfast
Building shelves for our house
In spite of the craziness of running the English program, we managed to get him some good Bolivian experiences, too:

Checking out a jaguar at the Santa Cruz Zoo
Visiting Santa Cruz's central plaza and cathedral

Grabbing a café con leche in the plaza
Dining "out," his last night in Bolivia
My favorite part of his visit was his last Saturday, when he and I went on an adventure to find a beautiful waterfall west of us on the edge of the mountains.  But you'll have to read more about that over at the Tinker Thinker blog:  click here for photos and video!

Michael taking a gander at the 295-foot drop!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


I'm not sure whether our circumstances have improved, or just our outlook, but either way, things are going much smoother than the last time I wrote.  However, please continue to pray for the staff of Etnos - there are lots of health issues right now!!  Colds, flus, dengue fever, and two ladies with broken arms within 5 days!  Anne said, "I guess I started something."

We have important reasons to celebrate this week!  We celebrated Kaylee's birthday yesterday.  It turned out well, although not at all like we had planned.  One of our coworkers fell and broke her arm at the wrist and Kaylee spent a good chunk of the afternoon helping with that situation.  All in God's plan, right?

Instead of a birthday cake, she got an apple fritter with a candle in it!

Our other reason to celebrate is that our friend Eliana, an Etnos alumna from La Paz, is moving to Urubichá today!  A new missionary moving into a village to begin ministry is always a reason to celebrate, but for Kaylee and I, this is doubly special.  Eliana is the first one of "our" students to make the leap of faith into indigenous ministry.  So as she begins studying to learn the Guarayo culture and language, she will be applying the things we have taught her.  Yikes!  We are excited to see how the Lord uses her.

Please pray for Eliana as she makes this transition and begins an exciting new adventure!
At the bus terminal, ready to go!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Out of Order

It started with a frog in the toilet.

Not a dead frog, but a very-much-alive-and-happy-to-be-here frog that had taken up residence in our upstairs bathroom while we were gone.

As we finished our furlough and prepared to move back to Bolivia, ending our time with a week-long missions conference, the #1 thing we looked forward to on our return was routine.  We talked about it often in the final month -- how nice it would be to be back in "our" house, with a schedule that doesn't change, tied to our work.

As I detailed in a previous post, furlough is a time of great instability.  It is often fun and enjoyable, but the stress of being continually unsettled wears on you to the point that you crave the "boring" structure of life in one place, with a fixed schedule.  Sounds just like what we live with here at Etnos . . . right?

Evidently not. 

In my last post, in which I detailed the events of Anne's arm breakage (she's doing well, by the way), I mentioned a few of the unsettling things that have occurred in our first three weeks back in Santa Cruz.  Allow me to lay them out a little more explicitly:

1.  We arrive totally worn out from the conference, goodbyes, packing, and travel
2.  Two weeks of cleaning, unpacking, and settling into the house
3.  Five days in, I begin teaching my classes. Kaylee starts homeschool a week later.
4.  A frog lives in the bathroom for several nights
5.  Visitors (whom we did not know) from the US
6.  I take on another hat, doing part time in the accounting office so I can cover for a coworker that is going on furlough in July
Learning how to run our monthly Etnos accounts with Karla

7.  Anne breaks her arm and I spend 2 days at the hospital with her
8.  A rat eats through the wires of the lights in our office (our most-used room in the house), prompting an unplanned remodel thereof.
9.  During said remodel, we find that termites have also moved in and are eating the joists.
Pulling out the ceiling FULL of mouse/rat nastiness
10.  Aforementioned rat plagues the house for a couple weeks, eating our bananas and avoiding all 4 types of traps that I set up.  Occasionally keeps us up at night.
11.  During this time, I have to take Anne into the city at least once a week for checkups
12.  Prompted by some generous friends, we start a new program on campus which causes massive stress (and several extra meetings) due to an unforeseen cultural issue.
13.  The rat visits Kaylee in the living room one evening, then runs up the stairs (where we sleep).  Not so much sleep that night.
14.  We discover that the rat has made a mess in our storage room, which leads to me spending a day patching holes and building another trap.
15.  Lydia turns 6, requiring an extra trip to town to buy her a bicycle.

16.  The UPS battery backup in the office bites the dust.  Another trip to town.
17.  We are in charge of the monthly Day of Prayer, adding more work for both Kaylee and I
18.  Lydia gets massively sick in her bed, resulting in midnight laundry (gross!!)
19.  We are approached by our leaders about the possibility of taking on some more responsibility
20. Today Anne starts daily physical therapy sessions with a lady from church.

Now, each of those things on its own isn't a big deal.  But to have all of that packed into 8 fast weeks was a lot, and we were feeling it.  We were tired, stressed, and fed up.  Trying to manage all of the distractions as well as maintain our daily responsibilities was becoming overwhelming.  We weren't sleeping well, either, which is never good. 

However, as we sludged through this past weekend, the future looked brighter and we went to bed Sunday night hoping and praying for a normal week.

Then, around 10:45pm, something started clattering around in the attic.  We hadn't seen or heard from the rat in several days, so we dejectedly assumed it had returned and was trying to get back in the house.  After listening to it clomp around on the very thin ceiling for over an hour, I tossed a poisoned banana up there.  Soon, our ears were greeted by a worse noise as it flopped around, evidently in throes of agony and death.  This lasted until after 2am.

So much for sleep.

In the morning, I could still hear scratching in the ceiling, but had no choice but to poke my head up into the attic, hoping to see a rat on the verge of death.  What I found instead was a very sick opossum.
Nathan: 1, 'Possum: 0
Because of the way our house has been cobbled together over the course of a couple of decades of remodeling, the attic is a mess of small spaces full of styrofoam, wires, spiderwebs, and rat droppings.  So I spent a couple hours trying to get at the opossum which had wedged itself down near the eave, between two sheets of styrofoam insulation.

Eventually she moved far enough into the open that I was able to get a good shot at her with my .22 pellet pistol and drag her out with a wire hook on the end of a pipe.

As I spent most of the remainder of the day patching holes in the wire mesh that covers our eaves, I remembered what it was that we craved so much on our return.

Routine.  Stability.  Structure. 

I mentioned it to Kaylee and we laughed (a good sign that we're still okay).  She reflected that maybe God was trying to show us that stability can be an idol just as much as anything else in life.  Are we relying too much on the security of home?  Does our comfort come from an unchanging agenda?  Are we seeking comfort and rest in a way of life, instead of in our Father?

Please pray for us. 

We want sleep.  We want a normal week (or day!).  We want our house to be a restful haven, free of pests.  We want to do our work in peace.  We want our kids to be healthy.  We want stability.

But all we need is Jesus.

Please pray that we would continue to flex.  That we would not break.  That we would adapt and persevere and follow God's will in faith.  Pray for the true Rest and true Peace that ought to be a part of our lives no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  His order and His plan are perfect -- we just need the faith to follow Him.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Anne has an Accident (with a capital 'A')

After our first couple weeks back in Santa Cruz, we were starting to feel settled in and getting comfortable.  Then, suddenly, it all unwound on us in a hurry.

We had a rat in the kitchen.  Mice in the ceiling of the office.  I started working with the bookkeeper, so she can go on furlough this year.  It got hot.

A young family from the US was visiting Bolivia and we were their main contact.  Last Wednesday, I took a couple hours off of the bookkeeping to pick them up, get them some groceries, and bring them to campus.  Anne, Addi, and Lydia immediately set off with their kids to give them the Grand Tour while we helped them get their stuff into their room.

Then Anne started screaming.

Now, our girls have been trained that screaming is absolutely off limits except for two reasons:  you're hurt so bad you can't get help or a bad person is getting you.  

I ran out to the girls' favorite climbing tree, Kaylee right behind me, and found her laying on her back in the sand with a funky-looking shoulder, saying, "Daddy, I can't breathe."  Addi told me that Anne had fallen out of the tree, indicating a branch next to my head.  Kaylee called our coworker Judy, who is trained as a nurse.  We thought maybe her shoulder was dislocated from the way it looked, but Judy said we should go into town to our ER of choice.

So Judy bound up Anne's arm in a couple strips of Kaylee's cloth, we got her up into the Patrol, and she and I bumped and jolted our way, 5 miles into the city, to the best clinic in town.

Sweaty and sandy, lots of pain, taking vitals in the ER
Anne was in a lot of pain, but she was amazing.  Between the ride into town, all the preliminary checks, and the x-ray, she was well over an hour without any kind of pain medication before they got the IV into her.  Maybe it was the shock, but she never complained, other than "It hurts!"

The x-ray tech said, "Fractured."

The ER doc said, "Can you afford an MRI at $XXXX?"

I said, "Let's pray the insurance will cover it!"

MRI:  That "ball" is supposed to be on the end of the bone!
It turns out that "fractured" in Spanish can mean anything from a hairline to a major break -- one of the many new things I learned through this experience.  Another is that you get to choose your level of comfort from 3 different classes of room -- "normal," "special," and "VIP" -- each more expensive than the last, of course.

Surgery was scheduled for the following morning at 11:00.  Our coworker Karla (the bookkeeper) drove into town to bring us some necessities and ended up feeding Anne her supper while I took the car to a secure garage and fed myself.

So Anne and I spent the night in the hospital together for the first time since she was born. :)  

Surgery went as planned and praise God the doctors were happy with how her arm turned out.  They did end up putting a temporary pin in it, which I had to pay for separately (by private courier).  

I was concerned that Anne was going to come out of the anesthesia all alone, as I wasn't given access.  However, just as Anne was coming out of surgery, while the anesthesiologist was giving me his report, Kaylee and the girls showed up for a visit.  As soon as I introduced them, the anesthesiologist rushed Kaylee into the recovery room and Anne opened her eyes for the first time just as she walked in!  Another reason to praise God!

With one arm broken and an IV in the other, she needed LOTS of help!

We stayed one more night in the hospital and were released the following day.  Of course, we had to pay before she was allowed to leave, which caused a bit of a fuss when my debit card wouldn't work.  A coworker ended up bringing cash for us, so we could go home!  Anna, yet another coworker, stayed with Anne while I got it all worked out and went to get the car!

Now for a week, Anne has been learning to make do with "one hand."

We went back into town this afternoon for her second followup appointment and they took another x-ray of her shoulder.  The doc said it looks great!

Before (broken)                                       After (fixed)
We thank God for all of our teammates that helped us both in physical ways and through prayer.  We are thankful for those of you who prayed as well.  We are thankful for a good clinic to go too, and a good car to get us there in.  We are thankful that Anne is recovering well!

The branch she was sitting on when she fell

Now we need to fix the office ceiling, which has been pulled down to reveal a terrible lot of mousy nastiness and termites. . .

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Back in Bolivia!

After 8 fun, crazy months, we are back home at Etnos.  After a few days to catch up on sleep and start moving back into our house, I started teaching this morning.  This is the first time I am repeating a class at Etnos and I am excited for the opportunity to improve and adapt the material.

We want to say a big THANK YOU to all of our family and friends that made our time in the US special.  It means so much to us that you would take time to add us back into your busy lives for a short time.

In my last post, I mentioned the craziness of moving internationally and this time was no exception.  Our last full week in the States, we were at our home church for the annual Global Outreach Conference.  It was our first time since 2010!  It was a huge blessing, but a very intense and busy time, with activities every night and a few during the day as well. As a family, we had several opportunities to report on our ministry here and I taught a seminar on the importance of the local language and culture in cross-cultural discipleship.

The girls spoke about their life in Bolivia at Jr Church, their 4th presentation of our home assignment
We had packed as much of our things as we could before the conference started, but of course the two days we had "free" before we left were a little nuts as we packed suitcases to go and totes to stay.

We thank God that our travel went smoothly and that all of our stuff arrived safely.

Our house here had been cleaned before we arrived, thanks to our coworker-neighbors, but all of our stuff was packed into our office/classroom and a storage room.  The last 5 days have been a slow, fatiguing process of unboxing and cleaning everything so we can begin to live normally.  Kaylee finally finished the kitchen yesterday, so we can eat, at least, as soon as we get back up to speed on cooking here!

We still have quite a bit to do, so please pray for stamina.  As I write, Kaylee is in her classroom getting books and materials organized so she can start homeschool, probably next week.

Of course, the girls LOVE being back!  They have been chomping at the bit to return since around Thanksgiving and are so happy to be back in their home.

Lydia was overjoyed to have cuñapé again after 8 months of "famine"
Addi is happy to be back with Snowy
Anne has been devouring books she wasn't ready for when we left
And, naturally, they are spending as much time outside as they can!  We have been blessed with "cooler" weather with both temperature and humidity in the low 80s.

Butterfly hunters: we bought Addi and Lydia their own nets

They have been excited for RAIN and God provided today!