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.

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.

Some travel tips for international travel with a toddler.

So, as I wrote in the previous blog post, we had 5 legs to get to Cochabamba. It was a lot of plane and airport time, as well as super long lay-overs.

Here are some of my tips. (Note: I read a LOT from a lot of other travel moms, and I am not as organized or detailed as most people.)

What we packed:

2 large suitcases (the kind with 4 wheels! I got an amazing deal on them at Costco… 2 suitcases and matching carry-ons.)

A stroller (that we never even opened)- to be fair, Leo’s brother asked us to bring a stroller to them in Colombia, and we weren’t sure if we would ever use it.

Two 4-wheel carry-ons (that matched the big ones… one was filled with books/toys for the airport and plane, and the other was filled with clothes for all three of us in case a suitcase didn’t make it)

A guitar with a soft travel case

The diaper bag

Another backpack with the laptop/iPad and other things that we had to shove in last-minute because the suitcases were too heavy. (We always save space in the carry-ons for this very reason).

On the way down, Elias was still 1, so we made the most out of only checking what we could and carrying the rest.

1) The radio flyer collapsible wagon with tailgate thingy was the BEST investment ever. We took a stroller down for Leo’s brother’s family, and thought we might end up using it, but didn’t even open it once. All we needed was the wagon!

Immersion Hand Blender, Utalent… https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D4CQ23G?ref=ppx_pop_mob_ap_share

Here’s the deal: we aren’t the people who have an immovable schedule, or who make sure Elias always and only ever sleeps in his bed. So, when we ordered the wagon, it came about a week before the trip. We took him for walks in it, had it open in the living room so he could get used to getting in and out of it, and even had him take a few naps in it.

Truly, every nap he took in Bolivia was in this wagon. We would be out at church or at the conference, and he would simply say “tent”, and would crawl in the wagon and lay down. I would cover it with the blanket and he would be OUT!

We DID have to battle a bit with the airline every blessed trip because we also had the stroller, but we simply explained (over and over) that it would collapse smaller than a carry-on, and that we could gate-check it. By the grace of Jesus (and after doing demonstration collapsing, which included sometimes taking the sleeping toddler out of it), they let us take it without paying.

The wagon also provided a TON of fun for other kids wherever we were… I can’t say enough about it!

2) I filled one carry-on with various new, simple toys, and would bring something new out on each flight.

 

Thankfully, Elias has no issues with flying, and normally falls asleep, but the late flight into Santa Cruz took him a little longer than normal. I busted out some glow-in-the-dark bracelets that a friend gave me, and he LOVED them! I tried to save a few for another late flight, but he wanted all 10 of them. Bless. He had so much fun!

We also had scented play-doh, cars, and magnetic animals.

The awesome thing about flying Avianca was all the food came on plastic trays that were PERFECT for putting all the play-doh and toys on. They even let me keep our trays when they saw how Elias liked putting everything on them.

3) We made sure that the airports were fun places to explore, even when we were exhausted.

So many people were understanding of us traveling with a toddler, and we didn’t get many dirty looks about our little guy running around playing.

Moving sidewalks with papá? So fun! Open space to run and play? Absolutely! Gift shops with all the textures and sensory input? An absolute blast!

In Lima, they had these adorable little fuzzy llamas in the gift shop, and we had a 5 hour lay-over… so, we played and played. Elias loved gathering them all up, and then we’d sing “5 little llamas jumping on the bed” and when one “fell off”, it would go back in the basket. Then, when they were all in the basket, we said “goodbye” and left them. Lol!

We talked to people and noticed things out loud together. I know… we are an extroverted family, but this was great for Elias to see… that in the huge seas of people, we could make friends.

He loved greeting people, giving other kids high-fives, and saying “bye” when we would leave a store or even pass through to the gate.

As we would walk around, we’d point out colors, words, animals, paintings, lights, etc. The airports and planes became like living museums for Elias, and he LOVED exploring.

 

4) We packed snacks, but also made sure to eat meals when we had long lay-overs.

Eating at a restaurant with a toddler is never easy, let alone at an airport restaurant. But, we made the most of it! This is when we would bust out the magnetic toys. We would do puppet shows with the magnets on silverware, play matching (especially with the Noah’s ark set), draw, color, read books and let him try new foods.

Note: Elias is an awesome eater, and we never really make him his own food… he usually just eats what we eat, unless it’s super spicy. So, he not only ate from his kids menu, but would also try food off of our plates. He loves new flavors and texture (I know… we are blessed).

5) We would switch off, tapping out as needed.

Here’s the deal: it was really hard. Leo pulled an all-nighter the night before we left, so he was exhausted. I held Elias while he slept most of the flights, which meant that I didn’t sleep much on the flights, on top of my body being sore from holding him. We arrived to each destination worn out, just from the energy it took to travel there.

But, we did our best to work as a team and give each other a break so that we could give our best to Elias.

I did a lot of deep breathing/breath prayers. “Jesus help me” was my go-to.

The flights to Ecuador were the hardest, mostly because we were all sick from something we ate. The turbulence and crazy travel times (and overnight in the airport) didn’t help, either. Elias threw up on 3 of the 4 flights. I learned quickly that he gags about twice, and then throws up.. so I had time to get the bags out.

Avianca’s flight staff was mostly accommodating, making sure that we had what we needed. The only real issue was when they wouldn’t let me hold him on my lap on the flights after he turned 2. After he screamed for about 10 minutes, they finally let me hold him and all was well.

So, to close, travel is fun and hard and takes every level of creativity you have at the same time… pretty much like all the other parts of parenting. Lol!

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!

On teaching adults…

For as long as I can remember, I have taught kids. Whether in Sunday school, or as an actual certified teacher… I’ve always been GREAT with kids!

I know how to help them get past their fears of failure of trying something new, how to celebrate that they actually DID it, how to push them just enough so they go farther than they thought they could…

I love working with kids!

But this past year there was a shift in my teaching schedule.

I started teaching more and more adults.

Whether it’s someone who was recommended by a mutual friend, someone who found me online and had “that feeling” that they should call me, to a dad of 3 of my students who wants to sing better so that he doesn’t embarrass his daughters… I’ve been teaching more adults this year than ever.

And when the first phone conversation happens, I can sense a dance between excitement and fear in their voices. I feel like they are expressing things to me, as a stranger, that they might not tell most people. They want to try something new, or get back to something that had given them life before, but are terrified of failure.

One couple even waited to tell their closest friends that they were taking piano lessons until a few months in, once they started really “getting it”. They were SO PROUD to tell their friends and their families of their new-found talent!

One of my first lessons with a new vocal student, she literally trembled almost the entire time. But by the end, her countenance had shifted, her shoulders relaxed, her breath became deeper and she finished her lesson knowing she could sing.

I cheered for her the same as I do for my younger students, and the biggest smile spread across her face.

She had faced her fear of trying something that she felt deep down she wanted to do. Each week when she comes, we peel the layers of stress and anxiety and get to the relaxed singer more and more quickly.

I look forward to her lessons and the breakthrough that comes each time.

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!