Three years ago, after dropping off my last child at college, I decided I was now ready to serve the Lord. I began my work in missions in Bolivia as a nurse aboard the Ruth Bell River Boat. What happened at the end of that trip provides a certain insight necessary to understand the whole dynamic of my recent trip to Bolivia and how it has shaped me as a worker of God’s will.
Having just finished with Samaritan’s Purse aboard the Ruth Bell Boat, I was back in La Paz, my starting point in Bolivia, and now on my own. I had booked a beautiful place for three nights in the Bavarian section of La Paz, which is populated by the Aymara people. The women all dress similarly with beautiful, thick, colorful skirts with petticoats underneath to create extra fullness, long black braided pigtails that connect at the end with jeweled pieces, many layers of shawls, stockings, and bowler hats. They aren’t receptive to people outside their tribe.
I arrived on Saturday evening, and a boy showed me to my beautiful room. A costumed Aymara woman eventually joined him and decided I needed the room she chose for me instead. I was still high on life from such an awesome first mission trip, falling in love with all Bolivians, so this part of the trip had some interesting twists for me. The room this woman decided suited me better was in the dark, moldy, and damp basement. I asked the boy what happened to his room selection for me. As if embarrassed, he quietly said I could change rooms tomorrow. There was no receptionist, and breakfast was at 8 a.m.
But the next morning, no one was around and there was no breakfast. I angrily went back to my room and read my Fodor’s Peru/Bolivia book. It suggested a market that was held on Thursdays and Sundays. I needed to get out of that depressing, dark room, so I got in a taxi for a 45 to 60 minute ride up to the El Alto region.
This market took up whole neighborhoods. It was not a market for tourists, which is great, or so I originally thought. There were endless streets with unfriendly Aymara women selling clothing, complete with thick pantyhose, colorful plastic wigs, and, ultimately, more sprawling market.
I did get excited at one point seeing ancient, wooden carts full of different natural colors of llama
fur being handspun in front of me into yarn. I thought I could complete my set of fur, but the Aymara women saw me coming. They laughed at me and mistreated me. I left so disappointed.
I finally found a market in this world that utterly depressed me.
I found my way out of the oppressive market streets to the overcrowded streets of buses, cars
and horses. After spending hours trying to hail a taxi, I returned to my dark chambers, and still no one was around.
The next morning, I woke up early to a woman pounding on my door wanting my passport information and payment. She served me a fried egg and told me the owner, Mrs. Gomez, would be in at 9 a.m.
Mrs. Gomez showed up at 9:30 a.m. wanting payment. I calmly explained that her son promised a new room for me yesterday. So she transferred me back to the room where I started Saturday evening before the original room change occurred, but she wouldn’t turn on the heat.
Then Mrs. Gomez’s lovely daughter came knocking on the door, 10 times as rude as her mother.
I told her countless times I would pay after breakfast the next day.
Morning arrived, and I showered, ate the most disgusting egg, and returned to my room. Mrs. Gomez loudly knocked on my door for her inflated payment, and I told her how much the original woman said she would charge me. Apparently, she didn’t get Mrs. Gomez’s memo on charging Americans triple the published rate, and she was furious.
“You are an uneducated American!” she said. “Then pay me what you want.”
I think God was directing me because He had me count up my money, subtract what I would pay for a taxi to the airport, and from there I had the exact rate that was published. Mrs. Gomez angrily demanded for me to get out, so I packed up my things.
A Difficult Love
Three years later, in the summer of 2016, the Children’s Heart Project of Samaritan’s Purse arranged for me to serve as a medical escort to return a 2-year-old Bolivian boy back home to La Paz after he had heart surgery in the Cayman Islands.
I excitedly arrived in Grand Cayman to meet a family of my beloved Bolivian people, the ones responsible for changing my life into something quite beautiful. I was picked up and driven to meet the mom, Julia, and her son, Miguel, who was recovering from open heart surgery. I walked in with a huge smile and warm heart to find a Bolivian woman dressed in extremely colorful attire, complete with the beautiful full skirt, thick stockings, shawl, two long black braids, and a bowler hat.
Although I felt that God had messed up by saving this child’s life instead of another Bolivian child, I tried to act out of love. Truthfully, I wasn’t on board. I wanted to explain things and behave in return how I was treated three years ago, but I had to tuck that away until I could speak to the right people regarding this major foul-up in child selection.
Strangely, Julia appeared a bit softer than I had ever seen with “these people,” and when she held her arms out to be hugged, the tightness of her hug had a dependency that was confusing to me. Her son was a bit easier to try to love because on his passport and paperwork I carried, he looked incredibly unhealthy pre-operation. But now, post-operation, he was a bouncing, running little boy, exuding love from every pore.
I don’t remember ever having as much spiritual confusion. If they had instead been from a Christian background, it would be easy. It seemed that God was not involved in this whole debacle. With incredible arrogance, I felt God owed me an explanation as to why this boy was operated on by a loving Christian organization, only to return to a place that persecutes outsiders.
My “Christian heart” seemed to be approaching the rock-hard level of the hearts “these people” sported. She was radiating love. My love was pretend. I kept trying to plug into God’s endless “love vat,” but His love wasn’t gushing like it sometimes does. It was a difficult love.
A Ripple Effect Among the Aymaras
I shared with the interpreter about my experience with the Aymara tribe three years earlier, and she explained some things to me. Julia, a popcorn vendor on the streets, is raising seven children in a very small space with no indoor plumbing. Despite the fact that her tribe doesn’t often interact with outsiders, her distress led her to reach out.
Julia saw her son become a pink, active little boy, changed from her lethargic, cyanotic, dying son she brought to the Cayman hospital. She reached out her arms, high up in the air, and asked if there was a God when she realized someone was responsible for saving her son.
The interpreter explained that there is both a God and His Son, Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to be Our Savior. If we accept Him and apologize for our sins, He gives us the Holy Spirit to live within our hearts. Julia accepted Jesus that day.
I continued to love on them, and, truthfully, His love vat seemingly had fewer kinks in the tubing
as it was flowing a bit freer. I watched Julia and thought that she may have really taken on
the Christian transformation that so few of us actually have. Her face was soft, radiating His
love, although she wore the same cultural clothing as her tribe.
I knew that having a Godly, beautiful face back in El Alto, Bolivia, would not go unnoticed. She was different. Her son was a beautifully dimpled, smiling little boy who was going to have quite a story as to why he was alive. This family’s newly adorned smiles will surely stand out amongst the hardened frowns in their community.
I’m glad God didn’t put me in the stomach of a whale when I declared I didn’t want to help these people. But I think He did feel distant as if I was separated from Him until my heart softened. God’s flow of love, peace, and joy through me to Julia and Miguel did not have kinks in the tubing once my heart and mind aligned with His.
God is in the business of mending hearts in so many ways. I’m grateful that He will be the stone that will be thrown into the still waters of El Alto, and I pray that He will have a ripple effect through Julia.