He is a missionary to over 20 communities. From the city of Tora Tora, Bolivia, a city of ‘mud,’ he rides his motor bike miles and miles each day to visit surrounding villages to preach and teach the Gospel. He makes ‘house calls,’ visiting people who work and live and exist within a single, solitary 10 mile radius. Their whole world is in their front yard, with no roads or cars or bikes to carry them from here to there, or even expose them to happenings outside of the village life they lead. So he goes to them — going and making disciples in the truest definition.
His hair is black, white peeking through near his temples. Smile lines gather at his eyes against his salmon-colored dress shirt. He’s brown from the heat of the sun at 13,000 feet. He is weary from work.
We sat with him, and the pastor of a small church, and the two women who oversee the children’s outreach. Our meeting room, about the size of my kitchen, had cement floors, an aluminum roof, and a white board hanging on the wall.
Now, I don’t mean to brag, but it’s the strangest thing about me that I can somewhat understand other languages although I cannot speak them. Bookguy jokes that I have the gift of tongues, but truly, as the pastor begins to share in Spanish about his church community, and the missionary shares about his needs, joys, and triumphs, I can nearly understand every word. What I can’t capture is translated by my friend Abi, a Food for the Hungry representative in that area of Bolivia.
I learn that on the premises of the church are two rooms with several beds for ‘commuter children’ who need a place to sleep each night. We met one of these boys when we visited the nearby school. He is in the third grade, and he and his brother (who is in the 4th grade) walk 8 hours to school on Sunday night, spend the week ‘in town’ near the school, and then walk 8 hours home on Friday evening when classes let out. These young boys, away from their family for the entire week, need a safe place to lay their head. They need meals. They need love and guidance. So the church, recognizing the need in their community, beomes mid-week foster parents.
I try to wrap my mind around the sacrifice this mother and father are making in sending their two boys 8 hours away so that they can receive whatever education is available to them. I grapple with what it is like for those young boys, seeing as I have a little girl in the 3rd grade who doesn’t have the endurance to walk more than 3 miles without asking for a snack and many chugs of water. Yet these boys travel alone each week, back and forth, over the hills, through the mud, with no thermos of icy water and no granola bar to sustain them. What must their shoes look like? They arrive in town where they will sleep who knows where so that they can learn to write and read and calculate numbers, a luxury most of us forget we even have.
I learn when school lets out, children arrive to the church to be met with welcome smiles, snacks, tutoring and community. The volunteers weave in Bible teaching, and good old fashion truths about character building and every day virtues, like honesty, trustworthiness, and forgiveness. The pastors look for ways to build relationship with the parents too, often visiting homes and meeting mom and dad after they’ve gotten to know the children. Parents appreciate the tutoring and care their children receive.
Refreshingly, the pastor says over half of the people in his church body volunteer on a regular basis at the church. He says that they used to wait, hope and pray for God to provide more outside funds to better take care of the community, but they’ve now started praying that God would raise up the people and funds from within their own body to take care of their own people.
My jaw hit the floor.
Of course each community, whether here in the United States or there in Bolivia, does what it can to try to reach the people within it’s community. We see the needs and try to respond. Yet living here in Orange County, where the needs are not so identifiable, it can be hard to know what outreach is best. (I laughed out loud at this post on youth groups. You probably will too.)
I look at the bookshelf of the church, and I think how easily I could fill that shelf full of glorious books for children of all ages. I tour the lodging for the commuter children and consider dropping a few hundred dollars to help supply whatever is needed (we are still considering this). I recognize that in a few weeks many of the Christians I know will be giving and buying sweaters, electronics, and books, while the Church of Tora Tora continues to pray for people within the community, who are living on potatoes, onions, and carrots, to make ends meet.
This is not to make any of us feel guilty, although I don’t think guilt is the worst thing that could happen. It’s to make us remember: what is of eternal value and what is not? If how I spend my days is how I spend my life, how am I spending my life?
I’m surprised and humbled these pastors would want to even meet with us, considering all they have to do. I’m just a gringo they will never see again. And yet they come, they show up, and engage with us about their church, their people, their experiences, and our Good God.
We bow our heads and pray. Bookguy gets choked up. I feel a rushing wind of unity — a greatness to this Body that is His Church, bigger than my city, bigger than my country, bigger than my traditions, bigger than my expectations. I’m genuinely so happy to be a part of His Church. This is why I love international trips to visit my brothers and sisters.
Oh Lord make me humble. Keep me soft.
To learn more about Food for the Hungry, visit their website. And you could make a special year end gift there too, if God so leads.