Christmas 2010

Honesty:  I have never had a holiday season with so many shed tears, so much homesickness, or such restlessness.  I wanted to be in snowy Wisconsin so much throughout the month of December that I probably became annoying to be around because all of my conversations centered around the current temperature or current conditions in Minneapolis or my little town in Wisconsin.

But God is faithful.  Have I not said that over and over this year, even in this blog?  In spite of my often bad attitude, God blessed me with a wonderful Christmas.  

It started on Christmas Eve with a trip to one of my favorite orphanages, Eben-Ezer, where I have spent many hours working with my boys, each of them with special needs and special hearts.  
Julio-- always ready for a FOTO!

For Christmas Eve night (which is when Bolivian celebrations happen) we went to Cristo Viene Girl's orphanage, where we loved on kids and enjoyed their smiling faces.  

Heather created a pinata, and it was the highlight of the night

On Christmas morning Heather and I went to the annual Single's Stocking Stuffers party.  16 single missionary women gathered and filled one another's stockings with little goodies.  It was good to make a family when we are so far from our own.  

Sister's ready to celebrate!  Please note Heather's great earrings. :)
That afternoon we went to the house of some of my fellow teacher's and sang Happy Birthday to Jesus and watched White Christmas (so I did see snow on Christmas Day).
Singing Happy Birthday with banana bread. 

To continue my honesty, every part of me is glad that next year I will be with my family wearing a sweater and jeans for Christmas, but I am also so glad that God called me here this year so that I don't forget that God also left the comfort of heaven to be with us.  I praise Him that people in Bolivia are celebrating because the church was called to go to all nations and spread the joy of the news of Jesus's birth.


Jesus Was a Missionary

Merry Christmas from Bolivia, where it is 73 degrees and rainy-- high of only 89 today!

This entire Christmas season John 1 has been on my mind a lot.  Six months after my graduation from Bible college, I can confidently say that I will probably never understand the incarnation.  God taking on flesh blows my mind.

John 1:14- "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

He dwelt among us.  Jesus left perfect contentment with Father and Spirit to come to earth where He put on skin and told people the Good News that they need a Savior.  He showed that He is the Savior that they'd been waiting for by dying for their sins.  He is the Good News that He brought.

The Good News has remained the same, and so has the way that God chooses to share it.  He calls His followers to leave the place of comfort they have known and dwell with people who need the Gospel-- the news that Jesus has already died to be their Savior.  Today we call this missions.

During a time of year when it's hard for me to be without my family and the land that I love (snow in MN and WI yesterday!), it's good for me to remember that Jesus has experienced what I'm going through.  May I remember to dwell with people here, to live life with them, just as Jesus did.

 Urbana 09, a missions conference I attended last year, was the first time I saw John 1 through a missions lens.

Joyful, Conscious Waiting

Merry Christmas!

As I opened up my browser today, I was reminded that we are waiting for Christ's second coming.  Stories like this are happening on Christmas Day.  Things are not perfect here- so many things are going wrong in the world, yet still we are commanded to be joyful now.

May we be the most joyful people on earth today, in spite of the suffering around the world. In our joy, may we pray for and help those who are suffering, so that people who do horrible things, even people who plan to be suicide bombers, can instead hear the Good News.  

Wishing today that everyone celebrated Christmas.



I know that God is with me on this day when Christmas will be different from what I know.  Praising Him for keeping me. 

Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come.
- Psalm 71:3


Midnight Serenade: Cultural Expectation

Last night I had the pleasure of getting to experience my first truly cultural Bolivian birthday tradition: the midnight serenade.

On the eve of a person's birthday here, his or her friends gather just before midnight to sneak up to the cumpleanero's window.  Outside, when it is officially midnight, there is a whole list of songs that can be sung to the sleepy cumpleanero.  My friend Emilee just came to Bolivia two weeks ago to teach at the school, and today is her birthday.  I went along with some friends from church and school and sang to her last night. SO MUCH FUN.

Sneaking around until midnight

The men led us with a great song
 When the guys from our church first started serenading her, Emilee (who has never experienced a serenata before, was scared out of her mind.
Emilee realizes she can breathe again.

The gringas joined in with the songs we know

Traditionally everyone is invited inside after the serenade for snacks

Checking out Christmas lights

We ended our evening with a little bilingual worship session!
Yay for serenades!  Yay for friends here!


Simplicity vs. Christmas Spirit

I just got the majority of the Christmas presents that I'm giving this year wrapped today.  It made me excited about Christmas for one of the first times this season.

Of course the reasons that I haven't been in the "spirit" are that:
- I am in 90* heat instead of -10
- There is no snow on the ground
- I have not just finished finals (although with turning in grades I feel a bit like I have)
- I haven't had the screaming American advertisements about Christmas pumped into my brain for the last two months
- I am not with my whole family
- The whole weather thing again.  It deserves to be mentioned three times

Still, it should not take presents to make me excited about God becoming flesh to live a human life and then die a human death for my sins.  With my time off school I've been doing a bit more reading, and the book Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World by Richard Foster has been making me think a lot about where my consumer mindset comes from.

A few thoughts from the book-

Foster speaking about holy obedience:

We are to discipline ourselves to "seek first the Kingdom of God."  This focus must take precedence over absolutely everything.  We must never allow anything, whether deed or desire, to have that place of central importance.  The redistribution of the world's wealth cannot be central, the concern for ecology cannot be central, the desire to get out of the rat race cannot be central, the desire for simplicity itself cannot be central.  The moment any of these becomes the focus of our concern, it has become idolatry.  Only one thing is to be central: the Kingdom of God.  And, in fact, when the Kingdom of God is genuinely placed first, the equitable distribution of wealth, ecological concerns, the poor, simplicity, and all things necessary will be given their proper attention."

Personal finances:

Today there is a heretical teaching that is an absolute plague in American Christianity.  It is the dogmatic and unexamined credo that whatever we gain is ours to do with as we please...In no way can we twist the Scripture to justify such a belief.  Our lifestyle is not our private affair...The Gospel demands more of us: it is obligatory upon us to help one another hammer out the shape of Christian simplicity in the midst of modern affluence.

I have much to think about as I live here as a missionary on support and then as I go home in August as a very poor but also very privileged young American.


Some December Pictures

I don't know how I would put into words all that I've been doing these last few weeks.  They have been full and good.  May each picture be worth at least a thousand words.

Heather and I hosted four kids from an orphanage for a day while the staff had a retreat.  We went swimming in a friend's pool.

Church anniversary...

...complete with a Bolivian potluck!

Working with a little MK here on her speech-- I get to use linguistic skills!

My students at an orphanage celebrating Christmas with the girls!

Cooking lunch for another orphanage-- egg bake.

One of my favorite things: getting to be part of the worship team at church.

My very favorite thing: getting to live with my sister!
Days have been packed, I need a few good naps, and there are about 23982332948 hours at school that didn't receive any pictures at all, but my December so far here in Bolivia has taught me so much about serving God with joy and about the importance of the body of Christ.  Thankful for everyone who stands with me down here and who prays for me and supports me Stateside.  

p.s.  The only things I wish I could include are pictures of snow!


Searching For Approval

I daily fight the desire to make my teaching about making parents, administration, and students satisfied.  If I get an email or hear a word from a parent that makes me think that they might disapprove in the slightest of something that I'm doing in the classroom, my tendency is to spend hours analyzing how I can improve, deliver, or perform in a way that will win me their favor.

Knowing that I have struggled with this since I can remember, God, in His infinite wisdom and sense of humor gave me a student whose mom and dad teach the grade above me-- right next door.  The first few months of school I was mortified that they were seeing all my mistakes, judging me, and disapproving of all that I was doing.  The worst part was knowing that they were going to teach my kids next year, after I had ruined them with my lack of skill.

Slowly, the mother of my student won me over with her kindness and easygoing manner.  Finally, I began looking to them as the co-laborers in the Gospel that they are.  I began to see that their students aren't perfect, just like mine aren't, and also realize that if God put me in this classroom this year, He probably won't let me "ruin" His children, whether I am a great teacher or not.

Last week God showed me how ridiculous my need for approval is.  I got to sit down with this mother and tell her how I worried about what she thought of me.  Know what?  She didn't tell me that she approved of me or that I was doing a great job.  She told me that her approval wasn't what was important.  Not what I wanted to hear, but what I needed to hear!  She said she wasn't going to judge me this year except to affirm that I was capable of doing my job, which she had decided long ago.  So, whether my kids do exciting enough projects or learn all of their prepositions, God has placed me here this year, and I'm just going to work hard and use the resources, time, and skills that He has given me and be the teacher He wants me to be.  I'm not going to let my anxiety get the best of me.

19 pairs of eyes may be watching my every move in the classroom, but the truth is that I teach for an audience of One.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 4:4-7


Great Finds

I am a bargain shopper to the core. There are only a few items that I own that I have paid full price for.  Sadly, Bolivia isn't big on sales.  HOWEVER, yesterday there was a GARAGE SALE here!  A giant one in our school gym!  And my big find was....three great books for 10Bs. ($1.40)!!!  I'm really excited about two of them.

First, I got a book by a famous Latin American theologian, Samuel Escobar.  I first heard of him from Ruth Padilla, a speaker at Urbana 09 last winter, and I've been hoping to find one of his books for cheap.  Can't wait to dig into this one, but I'll have to wait awhile until I finish a few on my shelf.

The other book I can't believe I found is by Helen Roseveare.  A missionary to the Congo, she lived through things I can only praise God I have never had to face.  But these things strengthened her faith in a way that mine will probably never be.  I couldn't wait to start this one, so I read the preface last night.  So far so good!

I'll let you know how these treasures turn out.  Yay for garage sales!


Christmas Nobaking

I'm finally getting into the Christmas spirit!  With a little over a week to go until school is out for our lovely three week break, things are finally beginning to feel a bit like Christmas around here.  This is thanks in no part to the 95 degree heat we've been having most days.  

With this heat in our non air-conditioned house, baking is quite the chore.  However, Heather and I have discovered that No Bakes (one of my favorite cookies anyway), which are made on the stove, don't do nearly as much damage to our kitchen.  Tonight I turned out three dozen of these for a Christmas program that my kids are putting on tomorrow night.  Here are some pictures of my Christmas spirit; watch for pictures of the Christmas program.

Thank you, Mom, for the beautiful table runner!
Here's a Christmas song I've been getting into lately!


Building a Bridge

Bolivia has two very different worlds, and I have now spent months in each of them.  One side has material poverty, abuse of all kinds, abandonment, children living in conditions that break my heart-- this is what I have seen in the orphanages of Santa Cruz.  The other side-- my life at school-- includes 10 year olds with iPhones, chauffeurs, kids who look forward to school because they feel more accepted there, and parents who see their kids only a few hours a week.  Neither of these worlds is ideal, but I have seen love, care, and hope in both places.

I want my students to know reality.  I want them to know the city they live in thoroughly.  I want them to know how to share God's love with others.

I want the kids in the orphanages to have their physical needs met.  I want them to know that someone cares for them, is thinking of them.

So, our class is going to an orphanage for our Christmas party.  We're bringing snacks, clothes, and toys.  I'm trying to bridge a gap here, to take some prejudice out of my kid's hearts and help the kids at the orphanage to see that there are those in the upper class who don't just pity them, who actually want to show Jesus' love to them.  Pray with me that God is glorified through this experience.

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is in your power to do it.”
-Proverbs 3:27


Keeping Busy

Christmas without family will be hard, no doubt about it.  My strategy for not getting homesick, though, is to fully experience the Bolivian Christmas season and fully be present here so that I'm not missing things back home so much.

December has started, and suddenly there are plenty of things to keep me busy.  On Thursday my kids earned a party in art with my good friend, DPo (or Miss Potter), who teaches them.  Check out their excellent fruit sculpture creations that they made!

Miss Potter with my great artists!
Another highlight was getting to go to a high school graduation for one of the boys at our church with Heather last night.  Here we are at the big event.
I'm already sporting a new shirt from Abby!
Today Heather and I are off to a ladies' church event and then I have practice for the Christmas drama.  God is good to keep me busy, and I pray that in my busyness I will have time to reflect on why we make this season something to celebrate.

Verse I've been dwelling on (pun intended):

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.



As you may have guessed from my last post, I have been praying for and fighting for joy in my teaching lately.  Really,I've been fighting for joy in my life lately, which is something that I, the eternal optimist, rarely find a problem.  It's frustrating for me to struggle with homesickness and even to enjoy what I'm doing.

Today, teaching started out as a struggle.  I had to discipline more than usual and was praying that God would make me content wherever He put me.  He began to answer my prayer before lunch, when I started finding joy in teaching again!  When my students came back from lunch and gym, we had just enough time to get our grammar and science lessons in before the end of the day.  I can only think of a handful of better times I have had in class.  I finally paid attention to God's presence in my heart, and it was great!

And if you thought my day couldn't get any better, it did.  My very good friend Abby, who faithfully reads my blog (hi Abby!), knew that I had been feeling down, mysteriously found some people who were coming down here, and sent a care package for Heather and I with them!  WE WERE SO HAPPY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  The letter that she wrote me via snail mail also came today.  Double blessing!

My fav granola bars, teaching clothes (thank you, needed!), post-it notes, pens!, trail mix, and snail mail.  and stickers.  and notes.  We feel so loved!
Close up!
The package also came with Abby's senior pictures, some of which I have on an old frame I found where I hung up my other friend Storm's (and Michael's) senior pics.  I lovingly refer to it as "The Storm Center."  :)

Thank you, Abby, for a wonderful package, and thank You, Lord, for bringing so much joy to my heart today!  Hebrews 10:24!

Edit:  I just looked at the date she sent the package, and it was August 17th.  If the package had been flown down in late August, I would have been moderately happy, but God knew I would need it at the beginning of December.  I got chills when I thought about how He timed it all.  Praise God!