Looking west of Cochabamba and standing watch over the city, is the world’s second largest statue of Christ. And honestly, it’s both comforting and disturbing.
Proverbs tells us that “the eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” This great symbol (raised up on St. Peter’s hill, arms stretched wide, declarative and assured) provides a constant reminder of God’s presence. God holds vigil over his people.
At the same time, Cochabamba represents some of Bolivia’s darkest realities: 60% of Bolivia’s children live in poverty, 40% will never finish high school, 15% lack secure access to water, 1 in 4 are sexually abused, and 8 in 10 are victims of physical abuse. Over this darkness, God holds vigil.
My wife and I met at college and through our ministry on the streets engaging with new friends living such different lives than our own, (ours of privilege, theirs of suffering), we recognized the huge dissonance between our words, our beliefs, and our lives. Just a 30-minute drive from where we were immersed in studying the Scriptures, Church history, and theology, a very different world existed; one that was gritty, full of struggles paling our own, and more consistent with the overwhelming reality lived by the majority of humanity. We began to ask where God was in all of this. Was it okay that we were so disconnected from the suffering surrounding us when all we were learning about Jesus was that he was in the midst of it?
When we arrived in Bolivia 12 years ago with the Cristo overlooking our new home, these questions became constant. With Christ standing vigil over good and evil, poverty and broken homes in the news and on the streets daily, why didn’t God act?
I have spent a good deal of my life looking around, blaming God and blaming others for the injustice that has a relentless foothold on our world. I concluded that it is easier to point outward than inward. Yes, there is injustice, but recognizing this is only one step – a useless one at that if we don’t take the next step: to become a part of the solution. It is the difference between judgment and justice. It is the answer to my question about God acting. “We” are how God is doing something about the injustice. When nothing is being done, that’s on us, not God.
Since 2005, my family has had the opportunity to work alongside a team of incredible men and women with Niños con Valor. The name, which means “Children with Value,” speaks to our main focus: demonstrating the value God places on the life of each and every child in the world.
Children in Bolivia have it rough. They are 42% of the population. Despite the heavy emphasis placed on family here, as the statistics mentioned above demonstrate, there is something much more sinister at work beneath this surface value. Niños con Valor cares for children who are orphaned, abandoned or rescued from abusive family situations. We provide loving, family-style homes where they can experience God’s love in tangible ways.
Accompanying these kids as their lives are transformed (watching hope replace hopelessness, broken families reunited, adoptive families formed, and generational cycles of poverty and abuse shattered)has transformed our lives as well. Being a part of God’s compassion is something that you can’t learn a priori. Compassion is lived.
Niños con Valor provides opportunities for people to live compassionately, journeying alongside our staff and children. This has meant building a bridge between Cochabamba and our friends outside of Bolivia. So far, 45 individuals from BelPres have visited us, including Lizzy Blake who arrived in November 2016. We asked her to share a bit of her experience:
“I have never felt as comfortable as I have here in Cochabamba. I have a wonderful host family (including a sister and mom) and a great group of friends! My favorite part is spending time with the kids at Niños con Valor. I have always loved working with children and the relationships I have with my NCV kids are extra special. Two years ago, I met a boy named Tomas and was so excited to see him again when I arrived. Now, while I’m still so in love with my bundle of joy, my heart has expanded and I’ve fallen in love with all 42 kids. I’m also building deeper relationships with the older girls. While they act very much like teenagers, they also make me laugh, help me love others more, are patient with me as I learn more Spanish, and are helping me “grow up” while sharing the joys of being young. The boys are younger and smaller, so most of my time is spent playing, running, and laughing. The kids all love to dance. They constantly ask me to play music and tell me what songs I should hear.
In my three months in Bolivia, I have experienced so many activities. There was a talent show where kids danced in different traditional costumes and others highlighted their talents on the piano. Christmas was a world of fun to celebrate the birth of Christ with 42 kids. Witnessing their faces as they opened their presents, I saw a beautiful sense of wonder. We also hosted our first mission group of the year from Canada. These amazing people had a spirit of flexibility, loved on the kids and painted rooms. We all celebrated Fabiola’s quinceañera (transition from childhood to young womanhood). She looked like a princess, and we celebrated her life as we danced and played games. We also celebrated ‘Moda Loca’ which is a fashion show where everyone dresses up in goofy outfits. It’s a time when no one cares how he or she looks and we all focus on having fun. It is sometimes exhausting volunteering at NCV and its one job I love with everything in me. I can’t wait to see how God grows the kids, the staff, and all the volunteers (including myself!) in 2017!”
Click here to learn more about Niños con Valor