Conference people and moments pt 2

There was one other speaker that the Bolivian churches invited to the conference that I was excited and honored to get to spend time with-Mark Young.

I had briefly spent time with him at a worship retreat a few years prior, but we never had time to just talk about life.

He arrived to Cochabamba super early one morning, and we talked for a few hours while the rest of the house was sleeping.

Mark is like the grandfather of the Vineyard worship movement in South America. He laughed when I told him that, saying that there was another guy before him; but truly, Mark has invested so much time, energy and creativity into the Spanish-speaking worship movement.

He has selflessly poured into so many young worship leaders who are now writing and leading in powerful ways in their churches.

And now, he is on his own adventure of church planting in Mendoza, Argentina. When I first heard about it, I just figured that he and his wife moved back to where family was. But, over coffee the morning he arrived, he shared that Mendoza is actually 8 hours away from family; and then he told me the whole story of how God called him there.

Like every wild and unpredictable missions/church planting story, his has its cadre of answered prayers, situations that only God could orchestrate, and trials.

Mark is planting a church that has arms wide open to the pierced, tatooed rockers and others who don’t feel like they belong in a church, welcoming them to experience the reality of Jesus. He is strategically positioned in Mendoza; and with his authentic relationship with the Lord and unique gifts of music and teaching, I know that God is going to pour out His Spirit in a new way in that city through what his church is doing!

I walked away from our conversation that morning absolutely fired up, with my faith growing about ten times, excited for whatever God is going to do with my little family.

And then, we got to serve and do life together. Mark was so encouraging to the whole team, always taking time to explain things, always filled with grace (except when I turned his guitar down too low when I was mixing…lol!).

I made him work hard with mixing when I led worship with the littles, but he handled everything with gentleness and grace.

He came alongside me one morning after a really rough night, not only buying milk that we needed, but gently encouraging me that this call to serve isn’t easy.

I am just absolutely grateful and honored to have shared time and space with Mark. He is a gift to our lives and the lives of so many others!

La Viña conference: people and moments part 1

One of the things I love most about a conference is that you get to meet all kinds of people you haven’t met before, and spend quality time with people you want to know better.

One of the most amazing people I met at the conference is Evangelista. I first met him at Remberto’s house the day before the conference. He greeted me with the biggest smile, a strong hug and took a few minutes to let me know how happy he was that we were there. Joy just absolutely radiated from him!

During the conference, he exemplified “everyone gets to play” by literally playing his guitar from wherever he was standing. He sometimes was in the correct key, sometimes not, but as he danced sang and played along with us, there was a childlikeness about it. And, the first time I heard him play and sing during a break, I felt strongly that he had original songs in him.

It wasn’t until Saturday that I got to share a meal with him and get to hear his heart. We talked about his call for campesinos (farmers) and people on the streets. His disarming demeanor and simplicity (and incredible story-telling ability) made it easy to picture him sitting with people and sharing about Jesus.

During our worship circle testimony time that night, Evangelista shared that the Lord had given him a song for us. It was beautiful. We let him know that we would sing it for worship the next morning. He wrote out the words, and wanted to find a way to make copies so that everyone could take it home with them.

The next morning, he led us in worship, from the stage this time. His song gave everyone so much joy, that they started dancing– spinning in a large circle and singing along!

Words just can’t convey what was in the room that morning. Seeing everyone completely given to joy and unity was a picture of heaven.

The La Viña Bolivia conference part 1

I honestly laughed when Leo told me that the Bolivian pastors were asking us to lead their national conference. They are all dear friends, so they know that we’re not pastors (and at the time of the conference we were no longer even on staff at a church).

But, nonetheless, they felt like we were the people that their people needed to hear from.

The theme of the conference? Next Generation.

As we were preparing, I felt strongly that we wanted everything we did to be in a “workshop” model… where there would be time to process the different points we felt led to bring up.

And after all the preparing, only one of the messages went the way we planned, the very last message on Sunday. All of the other ones changed course a bit, but were exactly what was needed.

Friday night, we shared our testimony and talked about how the Kingdom is a family. Most of the people there came with at least one family member, so we encouraged them to sit together and talk about different points.

At the end, we asked everyone to speak blessing over their family members. It was powerful to look around the room and see people speaking forgiveness, life, hope, healing and love. I truly believe that the Lord did something new in many of the families that night!

Saturday, Leo and I switched off teaching in the morning. He led worship and then taught about the worship values and how we write music for our communities, and I taught the kids!

There were a total of about 10 school-age kiddos at the conference, and we wanted to make sure that they felt included. So, after working with them in the morning, they were able to lead worship for the afternoon session.

We wanted to model what it was like to teach and let the littles lead. It was beautiful to watch the congregation respond with all their hearts during the worship time!

The kids did a phenomenal job, and, like always, I made the person running sound work hard with trying to control/boost the volume.

 

Saturday evening, we went way out of the box with a Worship in the Round. We asked the different songwriter/worship leaders to prepare 2-3 songs that they had written for congregational worship, and we put all the chairs in a semi-circle around, with the mics on the floor. We had 3 guitars, 3 mics, a simplified kit and a djembe.

We even placed art supplies and paper on tables behind the chairs for people to be able to draw or write as they experienced the Holy Spirit.

We knew it would be something totally different for everyone, and it took a few songs for people to really engage, but once they did, it was amazing!

Worship was just so beautiful! God is really breathing on a few of the songs, and the response from everyone was encouraging for the worship leaders.

I had planned a sermon for after the worship, but felt strongly that we needed to open up the floor for anyone to share what they were experiencing.

People came up to show their pictures, shared things that the Lord had laid on their hearts, one woman shared a drawing that her daughter had made for her, another asked for forgiveness… people kept coming to the mic sharing their hearts, and it was a true picture of “Everyone gets to play”.

Then, Kimber had the idea of doing ministry time with all the lights out except for the lights coming from the cross. It was perfect.

We encouraged people to not only come forward, but to pray for those around them. It lasted such a long time, and again, people were just so hungry for more of the Holy Spirit!

I really don’t want to forget that night or the moments that happened during the whole conference; the deep conversations, the way everyone loved on Elias, the absolute dependence on Jesus for strength and energy (the sleeping situation wasn’t ideal), and how we worked hard and pushed each other towards excellence.

At the end of the conference, it was obvious why we were chosen for this theme, this time. There is something new brewing in the La Viña churches in Bolivia, and we are so grateful to have played a part in what the Lord is doing.

Elias’ Bolivian Birthday

In February when we finalized our plans to be in Bolivia for Elias’ birthday, I think Remberto and Esther started planning his party as soon as we finished the conversation. Lol!

From the decorations to the party favors to the food, it was so humbling to see how the church came together to throw Elias the most perfect party.

And what humbled me the most was to know that one of the moms had lost a pregnancy 6 years prior, and her baby’s due date was the exact day of Elias’ birthday. As she was helping to prepare for the party, she shared her story with me, and we just cried together. I couldn’t believe her selflessness as she said that throwing this party for Elias was like God healing another part of her grief.

This party was absolutely perfect for Elias. It had everything that he loves: puppies, other kids, balloons, music, food and cake!

And a new experience: a piñata!

Piñatas in Bolivia are different from the ones in Mexico. They are cylinders made out of simple card stock, with a fun design. And there are ribbons tied to punched-out holes in the bottom that you pull to tear the paper so that the candy and toys can come out.

I helped him pull the ribbons and then tear a hole, and as soon as the piñata broke open, the kids went NUTS! It was chaos! (that’s the only common denominator with a Mexican piñata!)

We connected our cellphone to a speaker so that we could play music, and all the kids danced together, played with the balloons and ate a TON of candy.

Once everyone showed up, we sang “happy birthday” and Elias blew out his candle.

Now, I didn’t know that there is another tradition in Bolivia with the cake. One mama kept saying “que muerda la torta” (bite the cake!) and I had no clue about that tradition, nor did I know if Elias would do that. The mama kept trying to grab the cake, but I let her know that I would rather help him do it.

So, I slowly lifted the cake to his mouth, and before I could even tell him to bite, this mama reached behind his head and pushed his mouth into the cake!

I guess the tradition is smashing the birthday person’s face into the cake!

It took all of us by surprise, of course, so I quickly “bit the cake” and got frosting on my mouth, and Leo ran over to do the same thing. As soon as Elias saw that we all had frosting on our mouths, he was totally fine.

Everyone laughed and cheered, and it was a moment I will truly never forget!

After we had all eaten our fill of cake, snacks and cotton-candy, Esther, Kim and our little family went to a park with fountains that light up and dance to music.

It was the perfect ending to a full day! We walked around, breathing in the cool, damp air. Elias LOVED the lights, and the little show that projected onto the large, misty fountains.

After such a full day with so many people, it was life-giving to walk around with friends, sharing life.

At every turn, Bolivians blew me away with their generosity, kindness, care and how well they loved us. They truly went all-out for Elias, and made his second birthday one that we will remember forever!

Farm day

Remberto and Esther rent out space to a beautiful Quechua family. They have a store and a tire repair shop, but their families also own some farmland about an hour and a half outside the city.

When we were sharing with the family outside their shop one morning, Leo mentioned that we would love to see what the farm is like, and they invited us to help harvest fava beans.

So, Monday morning, bright and not-as-early-as-the-Pastor-would’ve-liked, we drove off through the mountains to find the farm.

We really had no idea what to expect as we were bouncing up the one-lane dirt roads, but the views just kept getting better and better.

I honestly have no idea how Remberto knew where to go, but he got us there! As we arrived, the neighbor came out laughing, so surprised that we had made it!

She was preparing the Oka (a type of potato that is sweet and unlike anything I had tasted before), and her sisters were harvesting little naturally freeze-dried potatoes called chuño.

They had lots of sheep that were loosely tied to bushes. Elias was a bit disappointed that they weren’t friendly. He’s used to the goats on my parents farm that LOVE to be pet and loved on. He tried his hardest, but the sheep didn’t want anything to do with him.

The fields that needed to be harvested were a short drive away, so we all piled in the car and headed to the fava bean and oat fields.

The views from the family farm were unreal! The hills were dotted with little earthen buildings, farm animals and piles of oats waiting to be threshed. The family had rented a tractor, and 3 men were using it to thresh the oats from the chaff. It was fascinating to watch!

We walked along the road, and Elias was thrilled to see a mama and 5 baby pigs, cows, sheep, horses and ducks!

Along the road was a dug-out stream that they would use to both irrigate the fields and get water to the animals. It ran from a spring uphill, and instead of using hoses, they had little channels running from the main stream. When they needed the water to run a certain direction, they would simply block off a part of the stream with gravel and water would start flowing where they wanted it to go.

Genius!

After spending time taking in the views, we got to work harvesting the beans.

She showed us which ones were ready to harvest, and we started right in.

In between each row of fava beans, they planted herbs and little flowering plants to help bring bees to pollinate.

After a good 2 hours, we collected 3 huge bags of beans, and then found a shady place to peel them. Even Elias got in on that!

Then, she was off to cook! She invited us over to the family’s compound, and it was like stepping into a museum. The long, dirt structure had different rooms for different families, but one common kitchen. There was a pump for the well, an herb garden, a rack for drying the sweet potatoes, a little fence made out of sticks, a row of tobacco plants, and a tree that housed around 50 hummingbirds.

The sunken kitchen was small, steamy and warm. The thatch roof was covered in soot, and the light that came from the one lightbulb took a minute for our eyes to adjust to after being in the bright sun.

They had a gas stove, though, so even though you could tell they used to cook with wood, the gas didn’t smoke up the kitchen.

The biggest surprise wasn’t the electricity or the gas, but the guinea pig coop under the shelf. Elias loved watching them play, run and eat the fava bean peels. They keep the guinea pigs, not as pets, but a an amazing source of protein. Being winter in Bolivia, the little animals spend all their time in the warm kitchen. They don’t reproduce much during the winter, so we found out that we wouldn’t be eating them for this meal, but in the summer months, they get eaten. We have heard of this, of course, but had never eaten guinea pig before.

The women cooked the fava beans, potatoes and rice, and then we took everything down to the field where the men were working to share the meal together.

The women set out blankets for us to sit on, and we all ate our fill out of the communal bowls, piled high with food, and spoons shoved in the side for anyone who wanted to use them. We all grabbed the beans and potatoes with our hands and shared the spoons to eat the rice with. I watched as the men carefully peeled the beans and potatoes before eating them, and then tried my best to copy.

The conversation took off in Quechua, and I tried my best to not just stare at everyone as they were talking, but it was such a beautiful language to listen to.

I also just couldn’t believe that we were able to share a meal like this: on a farm, in Bolivia, eating food that we had just helped harvest.

The family was kind, and asked simple questions of us… Leo loved answering and sharing his life.

We loved watching Remberto come alive in that setting, as well. He commented that being in that setting fills him up. He could just sit by the stream, and let the sound of the water be God’s voice to him. You could tell that he is well respected by this family, and in the car ride back he told us that they were asking him a lot of questions about Jesus/church and why the Vineyard is different (more about that topic in another post).

We were just so honored to be invited to share that space with them. They had never really talked with a gringa before, and never thought that they would ever have foreigners on their land, let alone sharing utensils and a meal on their blankets with one.

We came away from that day in awe of how hard-working and cooperative the families are. They come together and work with and for each other’s well-being.

As we left, they piled our vehicle with a bag of oka and fava beans. Truthfully, we ate both of those foods the entire rest of our time in Bolivia, in a variety of different ways.

That day also started a beautiful friendship with the family. They have 3 kids… 2 smart, hilarious boys and a precious little girl. We had so much fun with them over the 3 weeks!

Also… there was a striking difference for me between the indigenous in Bolivia and the indigenous in Colombia. The Bolivians are so proud of their indigenous roots. The women, “cholas”, proudly wear their traditional clothing. They are smart, funny, hard-working women. Unashamed of their heritage. It was empowering for me to be around them. As a gringa, people always treat me differently, but these women weren’t afraid to look me in the eye, make fun of something, laugh with me, and share.

I am still so humbled and honored to know this beautiful family.

Life in Cochabamba

We had a blast in Bolivia. It was Leo’s second time in the country, but his first visit was to the more tropical city of Santa Cruz.

We would look up pictures of Cochabamba, but nothing prepared us for the beauty of the desert mountains.

This was the view out our kitchen window! It was unreal!

And as beautiful as it was, we weren’t prepared for the dry, high-altitude desert!

It took us a few days to adjust. I would boil water in the kitchen in the morning and at night just to add some humidity to the air. The pastors had to have thought we were crazy, turning the little kitchen into a sauna everyday.

But boiling water served 2 purposes. Since potable water came in big water jugs, we saved the bottled water for drinking and brushing our teeth, and used the boiled water for washing dishes, washing fruit, and giving Elias his baths.

Our routine pretty much looked like this:

Wake up when the sun comes up, around 5:30 (Elias got better about sleeping in as he adjusted to sleeping with the sunlight, but the first week was tough).

Boil water, make breakfast (which was usually some kind of eggs, meat, bread and fruit, coffee and coca tea).

Play in the sauna/kitchen until we could all breath/talk after sleeping with the dry air.

Then, we would slowly get ready for the day and head over to the church to get to work. Usually Elias and I would go play in the park while Leo and the pastor would go into town to buy supplies.

But truthfully, Elias’ favorite part was sitting out in front of the house and watching all the taxis, busses, motorcycles and cars drive by. He especially loved when people were out walking their dogs. He would say hi to EVERYONE and LOVED the sights and sounds of the busy street.

We would normally just spend all day at church, either working on the sound or teaching classes and rehearsing.

It was so convenient that Elias could take a nap in his wagon. We would play and play, get a bite to eat, and then he would just sleep for a few hours so we could get some work done.

But it wasn’t all work and no play. We escaped quite a few times to enjoy Cochabamba. We went to a farm (which will have its own post), to the Jesus statue, out to eat at amazing restaurants quite a few times, and to the market!

We ate a TON of food, and it was totally different from any food I had ever eaten in South America. Cochabamba is the gastronomic center in Bolivia, and in the entire 3 weeks we were there, I don’t think we ate any food more than once (besides eggs. We ate eggs every blessed morning. Lol!). There was so much to try!

The flavors and combinations were incredible. I even got adventurous and ate intestines for the 2nd time in my life, and LOVED them. I did not like them the first time I tasted them in Peru a few years ago, but the way they cooked them in Cochabamba was delicious!

We ended every evening with a worship rehearsal. It “started” at 8pm, but normally didn’t get rocking until about 9. Sometimes Elias and I would go, and sometimes we wouldn’t. It just depended on the day and how he was doing. There were a few nights I knew he just needed some down time, so I would just hang out with him at home.

But, he LOVED being at church. He loved the puppies, the other kids, all the music, and all the instruments.

We would go to sleep around 11:30/12pm, ready to rock out the next day.

La Viña Cochabamba

There is a legend from Cochabamba about the women.. the “Cochabambinas”. When a big war required all of the men to leave to fight, the women stood their ground and stopped invading troops from taking the city. They are strong, powerful, capable women.

And that translates into the church! The women who serve, preach and minister are amazing. And Esther leads the way!

I have seen a lot of couples minister in my years of traveling and ministry, and Pastor Remberto and his wife Esther are a power couple. They work so hard, serving and giving everything to their flock.

We were blessed to learn from them, spending time with them ministering side by side.

They have recently been pouring into a young group of musicians. Remberto has become like a father to them, and you can see how they respect and love him.

And while Remberto is an incredible pastor, he didn’t know how to help the team grow musically, or how to help the church’s sound be more appealing.

So, that’s where we came in.

We did worship/music/sound workshops, and Leo helped completely re-wire the sound, hanging the speakers and new sound treatments.

And when I say “we”, it was Leo who designed the speaker stands and the sound treatments, and then he found someone who could do the metal-work and fabricate everything from simple aluminum. And when it came time to putting the foam inside the aluminum frames and hot-glue the fabric to everything… that was me. Then the guys measured and drilled holes in the cement wall to hang all 6 sound treatments

We spent a LOT of time with the team… playing music, goofing off, eating delicious food, and sharing life. It was an instant connection! Even Elias loved getting to church because he knew his friends would be there!

Our devotion times with the team were equally as wonderful. We spent time talking about the Vineyard worship values, reading the Word in the Lectio Divino style, and praying for one another. In one of our sessions, Pastor Remberto started singing out “Ven con tu fuego”. I felt strongly that the Lord was giving us a new song, so we started singing and talking through what it looks like for God to come with His fire.

After about 15 minutes, we had the skeleton of a song!

The team was so excited because they had never written a song before!

We kept working on it, and Remberto was able to translate the song into Quechua, his heart language! When we introduced it at church the following weekend, it was a HIT! We could feel the Spirit all over it!!!

A new experience for me was preaching in Spanish! (As a Baptist pastor’s daughter, I grew up with the idea that I need to be ready to preach, pray or die at a moments notice… I’ve always loved to preach, but had never shared more than a testimony in Spanish… so this was totally new!)

I was honored to preach 2 weeks in a row, and as I was preparing, I felt strongly that the Lord wanted me to go with Ephesians chapter 2.

There is spiritual oppression in Bolivia, but a LOT in Cochabamba. There are practices that would shock you if I wrote about them, and we could feel oppression in the air at times. The churches can even be oppressive, which is why La Viña is so counter-cultural… but that’s for another post.

As I was preaching about what it means to be fully accepted sons and daughters, I could see God touching hearts. I ended the sermon reading through Psalm 139, and could hear people crying as they were receiving grace and forgiveness.

Ministry time was powerful. Whole families were coming up for prayer. Even Elias got in on the action, with helping Kim pray for people. He LOVED it.

We are still just so grateful that we were able to give out of our strengths to this beautiful place. The conversations we had were sometimes silly, sometimes deep, and always honest. We hold everyone there in such high regard; and we are just so excited to see how the church keeps growing, both in width and depth. They are ready.