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!

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.

Here we go again!!!

Five years ago, Leo had the opportunity to travel to Bolivia with a team of folk from different Vineyard churches and do a week-long training on worship. He loved being able to use his gifts and pour into the pastors and worship leaders!

While there, we knew that some of the pastors would be coming to the States for the International conference the following summer, so I encouraged Leo to really listen to the Lord as to who he should invite to stay with us.

He invited the De la Cruz family… a family of 5 pastors from Lima, Peru.

The week they stayed with us was a blast! They would be up early for the conference, Leo and I helped run the all-day children’s ministry portion, and then we would all stay up late sharing our stories, testimonies and visions in ministry.

Around our kitchen table, the family invited us to go to Lima, spend a month, and teach their people a little more about what we were doing to train up kids in ministry. And we did! That following February, we flew to Lima for a month and stayed in their house. We had an incredible time together sharing life, training their kids and kid teams and helping with two camps.

We came away from that trip feeling like family!

So, it was a no-brainer when they asked us to come speak and help out at their regional conference in Colombia the following year (which also happened to be when we got pregnant!). I taught about kids ministry, Leo taught about being proud of his Latino heritage and how to reclaim indigenous worship. We both felt at home with these dear pastors who became friends.

We made promises to come to Bolivia as a couple for a few weeks and do similar things to what we did in Lima.

But my pregnancy was unexpected and rough… let alone trying to figure out how to be parents…

This past October, when Elias was 15 months old, we were invited to go to the same bi-annual regional conference, but this time in Ecuador. We had a blast! We spent a little over a week with our friends, reconnecting, and renewed our commitment to come visit.

We also met an incredible couple from Pallatanga, Ecuador who, in addition to running a camp and conference center, are planting a Vineyard church. And, while they are phenomenal pastors, neither of them are really musicians nor know how to help their people truly connect with the Lord through music.

The translated stuff just doesn’t cut it for their people, most of whom are indigenous.

We have experience helping different people groups, especially indigenous, find their voices and write worship music with their own melodies, chords, lyrics, etc.

We open up the Word, and create space for people to experience God. Worship always flows as a response to His presence. It’s incredible to watch it happen; to experience people connect to the Lord for the first time through song.

And we can’t wait to be a part of what the Lord is awakening in Bolivia and Ecuador this summer!

5 reasons volunteering, even as a toddler mom, is WORTH IT.

For the last 20 years of my life, I have either been on paid staff, a guest worship leader or speaker, or a key volunteer at a church.

I love The Church. I love serving her, watching even the youngest ones using their gifts to edify Her.

And yes, I know that WE are The Church. It isn’t contained within 4 walls of a building. I get that and believe it with all my heart.

But, there is a pep-rally of sorts that happens, usually on the weekends, when we all choose to come together from our different neighborhoods and corners of our sub-cultures and raise a unique sound that will never be lifted again. We choose to join our hearts and minds together to celebrate, learn, commune and meditate on the person of Jesus. We see Him at work in each other, we see Him in the faces of the other, and we hopefully walk away better and more open to the voice of the Holy Spirit during the week.

Now, my niche in the world of “professional Christians”- those of us who are actually paid by our specific churches- has always been with worship, and teaching children and youth. It is a blast!!! I would ALWAYS say that I had the best job ever!

If you know me in real life, you know that it is my passion to raise up youth and children to know and love Jesus and follow Him. I especially love training them to use their gifts to teach others about Him!

When I had Elias last year, I honestly thought that I would be able to continue working at church. However, at the 6 week mark, when I was done with taking time off, I knew it wouldn’t work.

For starters, I only worked at the church for 20 hours a week, with most of those being weekend hours. I didn’t get maternity leave. I was still not making the amount of money hourly that would actually contribute to our household. And, my husband was also working for the church, so weekends were tricky when we were both pulled in opposite directions. There was also no opportunity for my position at the church to grow… so it was a pretty easy decision (on paper) to step down.

But the reality? When I knew it was my calling? Wow. So hard!

I stayed on as a volunteer on Saturday nights, which was still hard because Elias wouldn’t go to anybody. My husband would run sound most Saturday nights, so as I was in the children’s area rehearsing with my team, he was in the sanctuary and unable to help. Elias was so little, and the noise was too loud during rehearsals. I would try to take him to the nursery but he would SCREAM until he would fall asleep. It broke my heart. There were actually a few times when I “wore” Elias on my back and put his little headphones on so I could lead worship and he could be with me. He loved that!

I was always drenched by the end.

It was exhausting.

I started getting anxious as I would drive to church on Saturday nights. How would he act? Would he be ok? Would he be willing to go to anyone, or would I have to wear him?

During those few months, a few different people stepped in. One staff member would just wear him as she walked around completing her duties at the Saturday service. Another mom he knew would just take him to the nursery and sit with him so he wasn’t with strangers. I was so grateful!

However, with wanting to be at church together on Sunday, it became less and less practical to come both Saturday night and Sunday. So, I stepped down from leading kids worship right around when Elias turned a year old.

We would come with Leo on Sundays, help lead worship, and enjoy being together in one service.

And, again… people stepped in to help. We have such an amazing community!

There was a switch that happened for Elias when he started to walk at around 13 months. He was ok with not being held all the time. He was more ok going to other people.

So, here are my reasons I love volunteering, even with my toddler:

1) Church is literally his favorite place to be. Whether or not I’m leading worship with Leo, Elias walks all the way up to the front during worship, and he lifts his hands, claps and sings along.

When Elias wants to keep moving and not sit still, literally at any point, he can walk down the halls and hear worship. He has been known to walk into the 5th grade room, into the 1st-4th grade room, and even up to the screens projecting the service in our church cafe.

2) Elias loves being around other kids! He knows he is a part of a huge community, and he LOVES being a part of the different music classes I’ve taught. And the kids love him!!! They are so patient and kind. One of the best parts is that our church is filled with people of all different nationalities, languages and races. So his best buddies don’t usually look like him!

3) It solidifies for me that it truly takes a village. I’ve always loved pouring into other people’s’ kids… but my heart absolutely melts watching other people pour into my son!

4) Elias gets to watch his parents love Jesus, teach the Word, lead worship and pray for others! Now, he is starting to join in, and we want him to!

5) Last but not least: being a volunteer means that I can pick and choose the opportunities that fit best for our family. When I was on staff, I was the one who had to pick up the slack when volunteers weren’t able to show up. But now I get to choose. And I am grateful for the opportunity to choose things that fit us the best.

I am so grateful to be able to walk this amazing journey, and to now be able to serve as a family is beyond words.

The flexible nap schedule, the (sometimes) over-stimulation, the poopy diapers that need to be changed at not-so-convenient times… it’s all worth it!

Captivated:Live

I turned 39 this past weekend, and to be honest, I am feeling my age for the first time. I think having a baby and not getting much sleep has something to do with it, but the grey hairs that have suddenly appeared over the last year aren’t helping, either.

As I was processing this weekend, I realized that I feel like I’m on my 7th season of life. Lol!

1- the growing up years

2- the college years (shout out to Judson University!)

3- the teaching years (2 years as a 5th grade classroom teacher, 3 years as a reading specialist in the Spanish-speaking suburbs of Chicago)

4- the traveling musician/short-term mission years- where I spent over a year living out of my car, traveling the US leading worship and speaking at youth conferences and university ministry groups.

There was a life-changing trip to Africa and India in between 3 different around-the-US tours.

5- the Colombia years (where I taught music and helped start and lead the social service and missions ministry for 5 years at an international Christian School, El Camino Academy)…. I also met and married my husband there. 🙂

6- the “back to the US” years- where we were completely uprooted from our lives and ministry in Colombia and moved to Columbus, Ohio to be close to my family and set up life so that Leo could get his citizenship. We quickly settled into life and ministry, and even bought a house! We’ve been here for 6 years now.

The 7 years of infertility span between seasons 5 and 6.

7- the current “Mom-and-learning-how-to-balance-life-and-work-and-ministry” years are what life looks like now. Lol!

Our church is currently in a series of “when life is unfair”, and today’s text happened to be from 2 Corinthians 1:8-11. As soon as it came up on the screen, it brought me back to my testimony of how God healed me from malaria when I was in India.

For those of you who don’t know, I have 3 cd’s on iTunes. The most recent one that is there is a live album recorded when I got back from India. I tell stories of living on the road, of what spending time in Kenya was like, and my testimony of healing.

It seems like so long ago… so many new stories have happened over the last 12 years, but I’ve found myself telling some of these older stories over the past few weeks.

So, look me up on iTunes and enjoy some insights into what life was like for me 12 years ago! 🙂

Death and Orchids

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After breaking up with a long-time college relationship, I was talking with my best friend Jill about how I just don’t seem to be able to pick “the right guy”.  She agreed that she also struggled with this!

During our conversation, we talked about a friend of ours who made a plan with her dad.  They agreed on a specific gift that the father would give a guy when he asked for her hand in marriage.  If the father approved of the guy, he would give him this gift to give to his daughter when he proposed.  Jill and I both loved that story, but the reality that both of our dads were out of state, and not really around to give counsel/see the guy in more than just a “dad-pleasing” mode made us think of another way it could work.

We both prayed about it, and asked our Heavenly Dad to put an idea in our heads of something that He would impress on the heart of the “right guy” to give us when he proposed.  For her, the image of purple roses came to mind.  For me, it was orchids.

Now, neither of us really thought that it could really be the Father putting this on our minds, so we didn’t really put much stock in the images, but we definitely held onto those ideas!

And, it even turned out that when Jill’s now-husband proposed to her, he gave her purple roses, not knowing anything about the simple prayer that she had prayed years before!

Fast forward a few years to when I was in full-time ministry… When I lived out of my car traveling the US, I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a youth pastor in Springfield, MO.  He had just gotten back from a mission trip to China that had changed his life.  He talked about how passionate the Chinese Christians were to share Jesus… and how they were willing to pay a price for the Gospel.  I remember the drive from Springfield to Tulsa, and asking God what MY price was…. and I remember that the first word that came to my mind was “marriage”.

I had had a rough time in relationships… desperately wanting to be in one, but feeling like I was settling whenever one would present itself.  It was during that 3-hour drive that I surrendered that part of my heart to Jesus and truly died to the idea of ever getting married.  I went from bitter whenever I would see my friends find the love of their lives, to content knowing that I was enough as I was, and that Jesus was enough for me.

I can honestly say that I loved being single and serving Jesus.  I had such an authentic, intimate relationship with Him at that time… so many miles on the road with just the Word, worship cds (yes, before ipods), and my own songs sung out the car window.  It was a really sacred time.

Fast forward to a month before I went to Colombia.  My friends Jake and Bridget organized a prayer/worship night for me as I was about to head out to Colombia.  It was such a great time being with old college friends!  After everyone left, it was just the 3 of us on their couch, and Jake said “Lilia, I feel like the Lord is going to awaken something that He called you to put to death.  I feel strongly that you are going to find your husband in Colombia.”  I laughed out loud!  I honestly hadn’t even been thinking about it… but made some kind of comment about finding a Jesus-loving, dark-haired hippie musician.

Fast forward to the week after I got to Colombia.  The pastor’s family had a kind of death of their own in the family, and people started bringing over beautiful bouquets of flowers, many of them containing orchids.

I asked the pastor’s wife about it, and she said “oh, you didn’t know?  The national flower of Colombia is the orchid”.

In that moment, the Lord confirmed the word that my friend Jake had spoken…

And He answered a prayer that a silly 20-something broken-hearted girl had prayed years before.

Because of immigration issues, Leo wasn’t able to meet my family to officially ask for my hand in marriage, but the day that we were legally married Leo presented me with

a bouquet of orchids.