Unrest in Bolivia

The Scriptures teach us to submit to our governing authorities. But what happens when those authorities are questionable in their legitimacy? And we find ourselves in a nation divided along hardened lines regarding who has the legal right to the claim of “governing authority”?

US news channels do not talk about Bolivia. Even as racist violence has taken four lives in the past week, the streets are blockaded, transportation is severely restricted, and basic necessities are threatened. Amid all this clamor, the more persistent, generational injustice of poverty and domestic violence fades into silence. Bolivia’s president has resigned as a result of pressure from social movements, yet has done so with an undertone of bitterness that suggests things are far from over.

Beneath the fog of such ideological battles, does any of this matter when you are a child who has suffered abuse and abandonment? Whose voice has already been silenced twice over by family and society alike?

This is the current situation of Bolivia, and the questions being asked by the 41 children, teens and young adults, and the 23 staff, of BelPres partner, Niños con Valor. Bolivia is amid the worst civil unrest in decades, and the issues at the center of this unrest are not to be ignored. Yet our kids are unable to attend school, can’t participate in extra-curricular classes, and suddenly find in their internal uncertainty merging with external uncertainty. So, how do we react?

It has been a wild three weeks as unrest in Bolivia aimed at forcing the current administration, proven to have committed fraud to remain in power, out of office. Everything has happened in waves. A day of extreme violence and then a day or two of calm. There have been difficulties in getting around due to blockages. It is a part of the process of letting the government know the level of discontent that exists amongst the majority of Bolivians. Thankfully, food, gas, and basic necessities have been minimally impacted, and the most significant complication for the kids of NCV has been the lack of school.

Yesterday, many MAS(Movimiento al Socialismo:  Movement for Socialism–Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples) politicians, including President Evo Morales and Vice-President Garcia Linera, stepped down. However, this was done amid accusations of a coup and assurances that they would return and was only done verbally without any formal proceedings.

Unfortunately, there has been violence on both sides. Some comments made by followers of one of the prominent social leaders, Luis Fernando Camacho, have attempted to paint this in a “Christian” light, to the degree of saying derogatory things about the Pachamama. These comments will likely only increase the violence that flared after the resignations. On the one hand, there have been signs that the opposition has been working to bridge racist divides. However, comments like this will create a wariness in the indigenous groups. It may potentially provide justifications for the comments made by Evo: all the opposition wants is to wrest from the indigenous people the freedoms and voice they have fought too long to obtain.

I believe in the importance of term-limits. A country is strengthened by change rather than continuance in the power of a single leader. Sadly, the lack of interest the government here has shown towards the social services of children who have suffered abuse has been so minimal. NCV leadership has been hoping for a shift in direction that could lead to a change in policy. I only hope that this also doesn’t mean a return to policies that marginalize people based on their beliefs, the color of their skin, the language they speak.

The next days and weeks will be crucial. Last night was full of violence and vandalism, both from opposition and MAS supporters. There is anarchy due to the lack of public security (police and army are only intervening in extreme situations). In general, people are anxious and uncertain.

In the end, we find ourselves coming back to the core of our ministry. Governments and leaders change, ideologies shift, public support for the marginalized ebbs, and flows. What doesn’t change, however, is God’s love. So, in the midst, the current political climate and unrest, we focus on family. On keeping each other safe, our spirits raised, and faith strong. We know that God’s call to serve and bring justice to those who are suffering. Christ’s examples of the compassionate accompaniment of those society rejects are not dependent on our surroundings.

 

Prayer Request

We encourage our BelPres family to catch up on Bolivian news and pray for our children,  for our nation and its leaders, and most of all – for peace.

In this context, we ask for prayers to find a peaceful solution to embrace the diverse perspectives, concerns, and needs held by all of Bolivians. And that God will not be used as a justification for division, but that the church would exemplify Christ’s love.

The “Tia” the Lord wants me to be

Buenos Noches from Cochabamba, Bolivia! For those who don’t know me, my name is Lizzy Blake. Last year, I worked in Cochabamba as a volunteer with Niños Con Valor (Children with Value). NCV is a wonderful organization with 40 kids in 3 homes. We have Pedacito de Cielo which is full of boys 13 and under. We also have our girls’ home, Corazón del Pastor. Once our kids turn 18 years old, they move into our 3rd home, the Transition home or Sendero de Esperanza. NCV is a home for those who don’t have a family, suffered abuse and/or have been abandoned. NCV turns something so negative into a wonderful future for each of our kids.

Working with 40 kids, I get to experience everything. One of my favorite moments is the excitement of the kids when they see me as though it’s been ages instead of just a day. As someone volunteering full time, I see the frustration when they don’t get what they want or when homework doesn’t make sense no matter how many different ways it’s explained. I also see arguing over the smallest things – like having to share toys or crayons. Sometimes the boys just can’t stand peace.  They act like siblings who slowly push the buttons of their brothers until fists are flying! However, there are reminders that it is worth it – like when a kid is so sweet or leaves a note in your bag saying they love you.

God has really opened my eyes here and removed the blinders which keep me focused on a narrow path. We get used to seeing the same things in our life that we sometimes can’t see anything else. Kids here have seen me as the “easy and fun Tia (Spanish for Aunt),” which is both good and hard.  I adore them and love spending time with them.  However, sometimes I can’t see what problems are really happening and limit my ability to help.  With the help of those around me, I have been trying to find a middle zone where I can be both the “Tia the kids want me to be” and ”Tia the staff members want me to be.” I have had blinders on; I see the beauty of Bolivia while not seeing all the pain too.  There are societal problems causing challenging environments for children to grow up in.

One day, I was out celebrating a birthday with some other Tias when one told us that she also works part-time with kids who use drugs. The drug problem is different here than it is in the States: there is not much help for those suffering from addictions. In the States, there are recovery centers, shelters, places like Eastside Academy and others that strive to bring hope and healing. In Cochabamba, we lack that certain hope. The place where Tia Lilian works is mostly a shelter for teens with very few resources. I met a few of the guys (ages 16-17) at the shelter later that night. They were hanging out on the side of the street listening to music and sniffing glue (the easiest access to getting high).  As soon as one of the guys greeted me with a hug, I felt this need to do something. God’s ways are mysterious, and he has placed this need in my heart.  I have been thinking, praying and looking more for his directions. I don’t know where God will take my time serving NCV, but I do know my heart is big enough to sustain heartbreak and add more love to those around me. Jesus longs to bring hope to all his children.

I feel so blessed living out my dreams with people I’ve come to love and learn so much from. All that I am and will be is in the Lord, and I can’t wait to see how my story with Niños Con Valor continues!

 

Lizzy has finished her one year mission with Niños Con Valor.  She feels called to return to Bolivia, so she will be leaving in March for two year mission.  If you would like to support and pray for Lizzie Blake, please contact her at dblake1812@earthlink.net

Niños con Valor = Children with Value

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

Bo-LOVE-ia Trippers Reach Out

BelPres Youth are on mission in Bolivia right now! The team is 24 teens and leaders, and they arrived in Cochabamba on July 12.

Our church has a long standing relationship with Ninos con Valor ministry, an organization that works to create cycles of hope for many neglected kids in Bolivia. Many of our teens on the trip are on a repeat visit to this beloved city, with it’s many kids in need. “How can I know what’s going on with the kids in Bolivia?” you ask?  Well, I’ve got some suggestions!

Keep up with the Bolivia team’s adventures at:

http://belpresbolivia15.weebly.com/

Or, on Instagram, @belpresbolivia15

Let’s keep these kids (and the grownups travelling with them) in our prayers!
Nan

Maddie is awesome!