Blessing in Discomfort

I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it.  The rain and wet sleeping bags seemed like the perfect excuse to find some other way to the top, namely the truck.  But I knew that this would rob us of the blessing of the struggle to get there on foot. And a struggle it would be. Nearly 6000 feet in elevation to hike up with full packs in order to reach our final campsite. I knew the hike was extremely hard, even when in the best condition, and I was weak. Just ten days had passed since spending two nights in the hospital with two amoebas and hepatitis all at once, and I had lost a lot of muscle.

setting-camp

Photos cannot do justice to how beautiful the mountains were that evening. So green, misty and steep!

Luckily the kids were undaunted by the rain, and decided to attempt a campfire with soggy wood, and when that didn’t work, to simply tough it out and hoof it up the hill. We started late in the afternoon; not ideal conditions for reaching our campsite by dark, but the first blessing came in right at nightfall.  I was slightly disoriented in the fog, not sure exactly how far away the site was that I had scouted a year prior, we had fifteen minutes of diffused light left, and everyone was exhausted. Immediately we stumbled upon a pasture; it was the only patch of dry ground for miles in any direction. We dropped packs and set up tents while mist gathered and dispersed around the jagged peaks of the verdant ridge-line. The scene was epic and gorgeous. A crystal clear stream gurgled just yards away with water for cooking and drinking. We even got a fire going to dry out bags and socks. I was floored.

The next day was just as hard; same incline, same weather, same distance. But we got to the top just before noon and set up tents just before the rain hit. A late afternoon hike proved fruitless, as the mist obscured every view, but the mist itself was magical and a thrill for the guys. In the morning, the fog lifted and I hiked up to the nearest peak, and was awarded with a spectacular view down the valley we had just climbed, looking back toward the Amazon Basin. I was floored again. Unable to move or tear my eyes away, I had an hour of silence before God, just soaking in his blessing and majesty.

valley

My view for quiet time Friday morning. Not even any sheep, just me and God.

 

Having packed up the tents, we huddled in the shelter of a rock from the wind until the mountain bikes arrived and we proceeded to bomb down the hill in a spray of mud and sheets of rain. It was epic, we were cold, and nobody cared. We crashed in mud and were so jostled by rocks that sores opened up on our hands from knocking against the handle bars. But nobody would have traded it for anything.

Given some time to reflect, I considered how God had been hounding me with blessings over the past few weeks, but that the blessings hurt. The sickness hit me in the worst spasm of stomach convulsions I have yet known, and it scared me. I lost sensation in my legs and arms and all I could think was that somehow I had contracted Polio or some nonsense. But my roommates found me sprawled on the floor of my room, and carried me down four flights of stairs to get me to the hospital, where I threw up on myself and convinced the nurses I was not well. But the guys stayed with me all night, and took charge of obeying the doctor’s orders, fixing meals I could eat and generally displaying an affection and care I had not known existed before the sickness.

The trek was hard, especially with atrophied legs, but God awarded us with breathtaking views and perfect campsites. The sickness sucked, landing me in the ER over Christmas right in the middle of our busy season, and forcing me to cancel the “fun trip” to La Paz for ziplining and mountain biking. But as I slowly recovered, God gave me the strength I needed to do the rest of the camps, and provided great helpers to handle physical tasks when I ran out of steam. It was a classic example of being forced to let others bear my burdens and allowing God to show himself strong in my weakness.

a-a-on-hill

What is amazing is most often uncomfortable.

There were of course other blessings. The first night we camped in a beautiful clearing in the woods, only to find that in the rain, the trees fall over at random because their root systems are too shallow and cannot grip the soggy ground. God protected us that first night, and provided a better spot in a safer place nearby the following night. My new tent has proved a champ, keeping out every drop of moisture, just as my boots have done. God provided two contract camps this season, filling the calendar and bringing in work that pays for itself. As a result I got to spend several days with my friends Jesus and Olivia in Toro Toro, adventuring and catching up, and finding out that they have had a very hard year, which gave me some perspective on my little health issues. On our trip last week, one of the boys was baptized in the canyon, and it was a joy to be able to focus the entire camp on discipleship. On Christmas Eve I was asked to read the story of Jesus’ birth to the boys at the BLC, something which is very near and dear to me. That night I was moved to tears (probably in part by the fever) multiple times by the joy, and peace, and unity.

a-cold-huddle

Community is always better than going it alone.

God never promises us a life without problems, in fact he guarantees that we will have them. Sometimes the difficulties come straight from his hand, and are designed to strengthen us, build us, to tear down what needs fixing and help us refocus. But he also promises to be there with us in those tough times, as his name Emanuel implies. I have been blessed to have him accompanying me, carrying me, and pushing me in the past few weeks, and on that testimony I can assure you that he will do the same for you this year, no matter what comes, if you trust him to.

Grace and peace to you this year, and abundant blessings, even the ones that hurt.

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Forest Bathing in a Pickle

The Japanese have a word for just spending time in nature and drinking in the peace and growth all around you: Shinrin-yoku.  Apparently it is trending in the US this year, but the concept is one of the basics of adventure or wilderness therapy: get outdoors and let creation regenerate and heal.  God designed it that way, and it’s one of the reasons we need to take care of it.

I needed my own forest bath after driving four hours over winding roads through the mist behind semi trucks to take one of our campers to the hospital for an insanely expensive broken wrist.  After leaving Josue in the hospital, his older brother surprised me by opening up during the entire drive about life and difficulties in his neighborhood, but more importantly the way he and the boys have changed over the years thanks to the investment by the people at OBADES and our camps.  These boys come from the same neighborhood where a teen was burned to death this year in gang rivalry.

race-with-box

Team A running with their loot (camp food) to follow the next clue using their compasses.

We rolled into camp around 9pm and found my assistant Carlos and the boys gathered around a campfire they had managed to start despite the wet wood, having learned the value of determination and persistence in lighting the fire the previous night under worse conditions.  Combating the sense of defeat and discouragement that runs rampant in all of the youth we work with is one of our highest priorities, and it was great to see progress taking place in specific victories during the camp.  Oliver was the only one to refrain from entering the river, but after some encouragement, took the plunge and a broad smile erupted on his usually somber face.  Jadiel abandoned his group on day one in search of comfort and security after traversing difficult terrain, but on day two transformed into the group leader, blazing trails over creeks and through bramble-choked woods.

The next morning I awoke early and refreshed, and enjoyed some time with God looking over the glassy millpond at the forest and misty mountains beyond.  You could say I had taken a leap of faith and got burned, but I in no way felt abandoned.  We had decided to hold this camp under less than ideal circumstances: the vast majority of campers had not turned in their documentation, and of course, one of the kids ended up with a serious injury.  Lesson learned, rigid camp policy formed.  And honestly, it led to an outpouring of generosity and support from all of you, and to the impromptu mentoring session.

a-a-mirror-lake

The millpond at Incachaca.  Hard to be stressed here!

My morning reverie was interrupted by a cow, one of several, that invaded our camp and set to munching even the grass under the tent edges.  Our group devotional was again interrupted as another cow absconded with a sleeping bag stuff sack, half swallowing it before we could pull it free. It may have been the same cow that succeeded in devouring a 10 Boliviano note and a pair of socks.  Having a well-cropped green pasture in which to camp apparently comes with a price, but it was useful in helping teach the campers to keep their gear well-stowed!  This was also the first time we employed the 20 Boliviano safety deposit practice with the campers, and it achieved amazing success in making sure all our gear was returned in good condition.

human-chain

Working together to cross the river

We had some other mishaps; the frog in my tent, the two semi-drunk men who came in the rain in the night asking to share our campfire stole a machete in the process. But mostly there were victories.  The leading team in the treasure hunt showed great solidarity with the other team by sharing their chorizo and gas canisters the first night.  We had a great turnout of 14 teens that are forming into a solid and consistent group that we can actually track to measure long term effectiveness.  The boys formed a human chain to help each other get across the river to the swimming hole they built, and it was a huge blessing to me to be able to rely on Carlos to oversee the camp while I took care of Josue.

The first camp of the season, with Fundacion Emanuel, was a similar success.  The major achievement in this camp was creating a positive and encouraging atmosphere where the young men and women could try new things and confront fears and obstacles without being harassed by their peers.  This took a verbal and written commitment, numerous chats, devotionals and practices, as well as bribery and threatening.  But in the end, they learned how to encourage one another, and developed a unique camaraderie and joyful unity I have rarely seen in our groups.

selina-rappel

Celina rappelling for the first time, like a boss

I was also really pleased with how all of them pushed themselves way beyond their limits! Jhair and Josue were way beyond feeling secure as they did the rappel, but both pushed through, with Josue taking a second stab at it after backing down the first time.  That to me was impressive; knowing exactly how petrifying an activity is and having the mental fortitude to give it a second go just a few minutes later, and following through.  The girls surprised me by going in the water, just knee deep at first, but then they went farther and farther out into the freezing water, going under completely and swimming despite waves created by the cold wind. It served as a useful teaching tool later as we discussed how big problems can seem daunting but are achievable if we break them down into manageable bits.

Love seeing the growth in just a short time with teens from a variety of backgrounds, and it is a blessing to have so many volunteers for helpers this summer!  Five guys are lined up literally competing for spots to assist in each camp, and all of them are trustworthy, capable guys we’ve been working with for years.  This Sunday we leave with a group of 11 from the BLC orphanage and head to Toro Toro for a few days of adventurous fun.  I’m looking forward to seeing my friend Jesus and his wife Olivia again.  This week started out hectic but God is always there holding the helm.  It’s up to us to trust him and take a deep breath and maybe take a walk in the woods.

P.S. If you would like to help us cover the costs of Josue’s operation, or would like to contribute toward the work we do with Bolivian teens all year, please make a tax deductible donation through CTEN.

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Delight in the Detour

It is a life philosophy that is becoming more and more prevalent in my day to day undertakings: take the detour.  I often get a nagging prompt in my mind to turn down a side road, to investigate a hitherto unexplored nook or bend, to research a random topic of interest, or to try something I haven’t done before.  And I have found that following this impulse usually takes little time and sometimes brings big rewards.  I like to think it helps to maintain or develop a sense of wonder in the world in which we live; something akin to having the childlike faith Jesus asks of us.  In any case it helps to defeat some of the boredom or monotony of life.  The new road may turn out to be uninteresting, or we may fail at the new thing we are trying, but at least we will have made the effort and gained a new experience.

One way in which Bolivia has made me grow is by developing in me a comfort with bushwhacking.  Granted, there are places in which it is inappropriate to do this (people’s yards, environmentally fragile areas…if there is a sign to stay on the trail, please stay on the trail!)  But getting off the beaten path and high tailing it into the wild or following unmarked footpaths has kindled a sense of adventure and discovery in me that makes me feel like a true explorer.  Usually this requires some extra effort, and some extra risk.  The more interesting road is often the more difficult one.  It is out of the way, inefficient in getting you to your goal, and might lead to a dead end.  But at least we don’t have to live with the nagging wonder at what was left undiscovered, at what could have been.

I recently took a road trip through some parts of the US Southwest and was presented with a number of opportunities to follow through on this philosophy.  The most rewarding was the discovery of a well-known (and now overrun with tourists) photogenic site just off the highway between Flagstaff and Page, AZ.  I grew up in Flagstaff, and had passed this site numerous times on the way to track meets and backpacking adventures father afield, and not once had I turned off the highway to catch the view over the cliffs where the Grand Canyon begins.  On this occasion we turned the car around and accepted the challenge, and discovered Horseshoe Bend.

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Just a few miles away, nestled unsuspectingly in a nondescript sandy wash just a stone’s throw from a coal power plant that dominates the empty skyline for miles in every direction, lay another spectacular example of erosion, sedimentary rock, color and light that I had driven past multiple times, never suspecting its existence until it appeared as a Windows background image: Antelope Canyon.

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

I can only imagine how just a few local hikers and ranchers must have discovered Antelope Canyon and kept the secret to themselves, bathing in the glow of sunlight refracting off of red rock.  Maybe sitting for hours in the sand in silence, just watching the shadows and beams of sunlight move around the gentle curves and sharp edges of the stone all around them.  But now it is a major tourist destination, flooded not with rainwater but with people all struggling to enjoy the beauty while trying to get the best photo for facebook.

Allow me a tangential side rant.  What kills me is that I could have seen these beautiful sites fifteen years ago, before the dawn of social media, and just enjoyed them for what they are: a unique twist in a colorful canyon; a simple example of God’s creativity and artistic talent; a mix of color afforded by shallow water full of algae in a red sandstone canyon carved by a bend in a river.  A slot canyon carved by flash floods through layers of compacted sand.  No selfies.  No photos even.  No crowds.  No fiddling with the color settings or vantage points on the camera.  Just simple, awe-provoking experience.

The age of the camera and social media are spoiling moments otherwise intended for us to experience and reflect in.  Instead of stopping to smell the roses we are stopping to snap a (usually poor quality) photo of them.  I am as guilty as any of us, if not more.  Indeed a large portion of my job is capturing the special moments for each teen and helping them remember their victories and life changing experiences.  And maybe because of that, I am feeling more and more a check in my spirit to leave the camera at home, to turn off the cell phone entirely.  After all, if it is stunning and life changing, shouldn’t it leave a lasting impression?  For those of us with poor memories, failing to take pictures often means that the experience goes largely forgotten.  But is the tradeoff worth it?  Is fully experiencing the moment worth the inability to remember it later?  I think it is.  And instead of simply documenting our life adventures, perhaps we will gain an enhanced perspective and deeper sense of existence by simply being present within each moment, and truly delighting in it.

Let’s be clear. I will not judge you for sharing photos, and I will continue to post them.  Sharing is something we love to do as social creatures.  But let’s make sure we are doing it for the right reasons, and make sure that viewing them does not produce in us the seeds of discontent or jealousy.  I am also aware that this post is hugely hypocritical in that I am posting pictures of places while telling everyone not to do it.  But the bottom line is this:

God means for us to delight in him and in the existence he has given us.  I truly believe that may mean forgoing the photo op and just taking it all in, especially in those moments when we are stunned.  I think it also means taking the random break from routine to try something new.  Instead of yearning to see the places everyone else is experiencing, maybe we should explore where we are a little bit better.  Instead of a bucket list, take into consideration that where you live may be a place others long to go.  It is good to dream about far off places, but God wants us to be content wherever we are.  And when we do find those places that make us gasp at the beauty, perhaps instead of whipping out the camera, we should simply thank and glorify God for it.

Round a bend in a canyon without trails

Round a bend in a canyon without trails

 

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Diligence and Humility

I have been hit recently with several offers of help and support, numerous opportunities to multiply the impacts of this ministry by pairing up with other organizations, and multiple examples of the fruits this ministry is producing.  It is an easy time to think that we are doing everything correctly, that we are enjoying the just rewards of our labor, but it is not so.

The seemingly haphazard way that support has been rolling in and opportunities for work have opened up has eliminated any chance of claiming this as a victory, and it has given me a chance to see a humbling reality of how ministry works: God seems intent on expanding and blessing this ministry pretty much with or without me.

“A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” – John 3:27.  I cannot force the people we work with to mature and grow.  I cannot entice them to trust and to seek counsel and to make better choices.  I cannot give us favor in the eyes of directors and organizations.  I cannot produce key learning moments and divine appointments.  I cannot force our campers to apply the skills and abilities they have discovered in camp to situations in their daily lives.  I cannot fabricate interest in people to volunteer.  I cannot grow this ministry or build it to meet our vision unless it is also God’s vision.

We must all make ourselves available in whatever sphere God wants to use us, and be diligent in doing the work he gives us.  He does the rest.  He provides the opportunities and he produces the results.  We can plan, and market, and design, and project, but none of that leads to fruition unless it is part of God’s plan.  We can pester individuals with our advice and even gestures of encouragement and love, but unless their hearts have been openend by God to receive it, it crashes like waves on a rock.  We must be content and pleased with our place and role in the Kingdom and obedient in carrying it out.  “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:5

So what is my ministry?  I believe God has called and prepared each person to serve him right where they are; rarely are we called overseas to do this.  And we should begin now. God has already given us all we need to achieve his immediate purpose.  It is that churchy platitude of “God equips the called.” (Hebrews 13:21)  But it’s true.  When we start praying that God would use our material blessings to do great things, here and now, he answers that prayer, and opens our eyes to ways we can serve him with what we have.  It is not wrong to pray for the big recreational space, or the new ministry vehicle.  If those are tools God knows you need to achieve his plans, he will give those things as well!  But how can we utilize the resources we already have to glorify him?  I am not talking money, I am talking about in-kind donations to the work of God.  How can I use my vehicle to serve his kingdom?  How can I use my house or apartment for his glory?  My point is to be creative and not limit ourselves in what we can do, or to wait for some nebulous point in the future to start doing it.

Another aspect of ministry I have been reminded of recently is that it wholly, utterly, is not about us.  Facebook, photo albums, videos and other marketing techniques are actually a huge temptation that has the potential to lead us away from the fact that our left hand should not even know what our right is about.  It even becomes questionable whether our publishing happy showcases of our work is an effort to bring glory to God, or to achieve other ends: name recognition, more donors, community buy-in, or even to document the great things we are doing.  There is even the danger that we are doing it to stoke our own egos or those of the people we rely on.  But beware, even the intention to bring others into the ministry or to applaud what others are doing is a very slippery slope.  Heck, even this blog could deviate from the intention of disseminating truth and sharing experiences with others in order to spread joy and give glory to God, and become a means of defending my worth, or a fan page whose success is measured by numbers of followers, comments, and likes.

“We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:4b

“We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:6 (no offense)

It is so easy to be caught up in the mentality of awareness campaigns.  “We just need to reach more people; get the word out.”  Do we?  Or will God bring the people, the resources and the opportunities we need to reach his goals?  Don’t get me wrong, I found my home church through a website, and others have found it through verses on coffee cups.  The key is not thinking that our strategies or efforts are what bring the results: it is God, and solely God, who does that.  We are called to make ourselves available to his plan, and to work diligently until we achieve it.

 

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Photo Blog Update

painting

“We’re rich!” – Kids at Fundacion Emanuel upon seeing their house painted. Goretty, the director, is an amazing testament to faith in action. She gave up a promising career as a physicist in Germany to open her home in Cochabamba to educate and feed the children of prostitutes.

brian belays daniel

Brian was a huge help and good company in Argentina, despite being stopped and pulled aside at every single security point. The workshop we gave in Argentina with a great support team from Christian Camps International Argentina was hugely successful! Forty-something camp leaders and youth pastors overcame fears and discovered abilities they never knew they had. We convinced them of the utility of adventure therapy, giving us a huge Multiplier factor! There is also the possibility of more workshops to come in other countries. This is a crazy huge door that only God could have opened.

a santi rappel

We hosted a camp to a mix of three organizations in July that work with kids from the inner city. The campers had an interesting variety of abilities, so this was a huge patience test for both me and Brian. However, many kids challenged themselves and took care of each other as we rappelled and climbed and camped. Lessons learned: keep the leader-camper ratio to 10:1 or less.

triptico_de_brian_solo ENGLISH-page-001

We contracted one of the boys at the LifeHouse to design a tourism flier advertising our adventure tourism services. This initiative aims to make the Foundation slightly more self-sustainable and to give our young men decent work. Fliers are being printed and will be ready for distribution to tour companies next week!

triptico_de_brian_solo ENGLISH-page-002

Feel free to pass it along or hire us yourself!

alex potatoes

After a poor harvest due to an early winter we are now watering the surviving potato plants to see what grows and sewing pumpkin seeds to see how they do.

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Eduardo was the first to earn his license learning on the Foundation’s truck! However, we would love your prayers for the truck’s transmission: it is not in tip top shape. We are not sure whether to go forward with driving lessons.

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The High Point

“Well, Danny hasn’t died yet,” I smiled to myself, thinking of our Honduran photographer as I huddled in my sleeping bag, fending off the shakes and a pounding headache after spending too long adjusting tents in the merciless Andean winter wind.  I listened to the nylon shell of the tent snap to and fro and wondered how many would remain standing in the morning.  Another wave of nausea swept over me and I struggled to sit upright.  Kelly’s voice called through the wind, “Brian, Ervin says his head hurts.”  “Is it just a headache or does his stomach hurt too?” I called back.  The team was dropping like flies to altitude sickness.  I heard Simon throw up his dinner in the tent next to mine.  “Just his head,” answered Kelly, and I fumbled with the tent zipper and held out a pill in the freezing wind.  “Here’s some paracetamol for Ervin.”

Setting up camp on day 1

Setting up camp on day 1

As per the usual, God was not responding to my prayers for a change in the weather.  The entire first day we had been pushed around in high winds while wisps of clouds shadowed what could have been a warm sun.  At least the wind had been at our backs going up the valley, and snow was unlikely in the middle of the dry season.  The saddle between two peaks had been so strangely peaceful and downright pleasant, but as we descended into the dell to the alpine lake where we would camp, the wind picked up again and refused to let up.  I had given up the attempt to time the boys as groups competed to pitch their tents the fastest and ordered all tents up immediately.  We had to get out of the wind before nightfall.  This was adventure therapy at its finest, and God was doing his part to make sure the adventure wasn’t too manageable.  I suspected that his scheme was to make us work for it, to make us grateful for the last day if the sun came out and the wind ceased.

Cheers to a bright new day!

Cheers to a bright new day!

Day two broke with a stronger sun, and the wind held off long enough to do some trust building activities and a devotional with the boys.  Smiles shone on every face as Bolivian teens struggled to hoist gringos off the ground.  Teams raced to ready their packs and refill water supplies from the lake.  Alejandro darted between packs to collect bits of unclaimed paper and plastic in an effort to leave no trace, and to gain points for his team.

Thanks to the wind and the altitude after a sleepless night, we barely had enough resistance in our bodies to be able to rappel and climb on the beautiful rockface poised above another crystal alpine lake, a lake that I noticed had whitecaps like the ocean and occasionally boasted a freezing spray as wind whipped the normally placid haven for trout.  Still, many boys were undeterred and picked their way along snowy crags to the top of the belay rope and leapt like frogs as they rappelled down, shouts of joy echoing off the barren stone riven with cracks.

By the time we made lunch, I was doubting the wisdom of spending another night in the elements.  The signs of altitude sickness were fading as people became more acclimatized, but exhaustion was replacing it.  After a hike to the hilltop with the best cell phone reception, I was still unable to patch in a call to the bus to make a retreat to lower altitudes for the night.  Frustrated, I rejoined the team as they munched on hot noodles and we gathered our spirits to press on with plan A to camp another night above 14,000 ft.

We got this.

We got this.

We set out across the valley toward a larger lake nestled between snow-capped mountains, and with surprising ability filed into camp.  Two local women offered us chuño (dehydrated potatoes) they were pressing with their feet and welcomed us to the valley.  They had seen our fireworks from the previous night, and were awed by the beauty and the thunder ricocheting off the mountains.  One of the ladies asked if they were bombs as she pressed the freezing water out of the potatoes, holding her petticoats around her knees.  I assured her they were harmless, and the ladies laughed, relieved, and wished us luck on the next day’s attempt to climb Tunari.

As the group made camp, the wind finally broke, and spirits rose as pairs and trios of boys cooked rice and warmed canned meat over backpacking stoves.  After a hearty meal, most of them huddled together and began hours of playing card games.  Headlamps illuminated the game as stars came out overhead in a cloudless sky.  The team finally slept well that night.

Any microbes in water this cold are impressive

Any microbes in water this cold are impressive

Day three was our biggest challenge: a summit bid on Mt. Tunari, the highest peak in the Andean state of Cochabamba at 16,502 feet above sea level.  After a quick breakfast, teams set out from camp and advanced up the slopes covered in fossils from a time when these sediments lay under the sea.  Small herds of llamas observed our passing along their trails and turned their backs on us if we came too close.  We came to the highest of the alpine lakes, and six boys accepted the polar plunge challenge.  One by one they stripped down to their shorts and leapt from the rocky bluff overlooking the lake, with team members poised at the water’s edge, ready to retrieve them if their muscles seized up in the cold.  I asked them why they had accepted the challenge.  Their answer: it was there.  The temptation had got the best of them.  They didn’t want to regret not having accepted the opportunity to test their strength and to conquer their fear of the deep, freezing water.  Younger boys watched on with admiration in their eyes.

Breathing comes easier for some

Breathing comes easier for some

The last push up the rock scree slope left most of the hikers breathless, yet calls of encouragement rang out from the summit and everyone made it to the top, one step at a time.  The world stretched away in every direction, jagged icy ridges running away from the peak and a sea of clouds filling the valleys.  Everyone on the team had achieved their goals, and boys looked out on the scene in realization of their own ability and of God’s favor in helping them overcome barriers and weakness.  Why else would God create mountains if not to climb them?  Why would he permit struggles in our lives if not to help us overcome them?  Why would he have created us if not for the sheer joy in doing so?  The boys went down the mountain with a deeper sense of themselves and their God, of the love and camaraderie that bound them together as a family, and an inner strength and resilience reinforced by struggle and victory.

The world at your feet

The world at your feet

Tunari 2016 was an adventure therapy trek organized by Fundacion Aventura, National Community Church and the Bolivia Life Center, but blessed and orchestrated by God.  Our staff did the footwork, scouting and preparing for a three day backpacking trip for 30+ people of varying abilities at high altitude, but God gave the increase.  Boys helped each other shoulder packs while learning to rely on each other for life’s real struggles.  Faith increased as God’s sovereignty over our plans became evident.  Emotional scars from abuse and abandonment became a little bit smoother as relationships grew and simple acts of encouragement and selflessness belied the love behind them.

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us [so that] in this world we are like Him.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear…” – 1 John 4:12,17-18 (abridged)

the cross

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Sumaq p’unchaw masiykuna!

Bittersweet Monthly April Feature: Fundación Aventura.  Click link to begin!

First off, the exciting news that we were featured in Bittersweet Monthly’s April edition. This is the result of months of hard work and communications and professional investment by talented people, just to showcase what we do and the impact that God and adventure have had thus far.  Please check it out and share share share!

As our fall semester marches on toward winter camp season, I am very pleased to report that God is opening up all kinds of doors to the Foundation, in terms of new partners, professional development for staff and volunteers (who are we kidding we’re all volunteers), and opportunities for greater visibility and impact.  So much so that we held an awesome late night strategic planning session with the team here in Cochabamba, deciding which doors to walk through, and which doors to leave open for now in an effort to direct the Foundation towards its goals of sustainability and reaching the most vulnerable.

Wilderness First Aid Training held in Pairumani

Wilderness First Aid training held in Pairumani

Our vision for the Foundation is to be the industry-wide standard and leading provider of adventure therapy in Bolivia, and many opportunities are taking us closer to that goal. Christian Camps International requested a training in adventure therapy in Argentina last year, and we are happy to announce that it is now confirmed for July and gathering steam. This is an opportunity for more visibility and potentially reaching more young people for Christ through christian camps in the region, as well as sparking general interest for adventure therapy.  In addition, we have another request to conduct a training in how to harness wilderness/adventure activities for youth group initiatives for a local church in May.  In February, we held our first wilderness first aid training in Bolivia open to the public, with 30 participants, many of whom were pre-med students at the university.

Through daily interactions here in Cochabamba, we have received multiple requests to work with different organizations that think adventure therapy could greatly help the youth they serve.   Here are just a few that we are prayerfully considering:

  • Fundación Emmanuel.  After an all-morning meeting with the director and visit to their “facilities” (her house), we have decided to take them on as the new local partner for the year.  Emmanuel is the only organization working with kids in the red light district of Cochabamba.  We will begin working with the adolescents that are most at risk for prostitution, abuse and pimping.
  • Infractores.  This juvenile detention center has been in my sights for a couple of years now, but constant changes in directors has made it hard to begin work.  There are also obvious barriers to being able to do much work outside the facility, namely in the wilderness where our therapy activities are most effective.
  • Rehab center for drug addicts.  This is a residential facility that concerned parents place their kids in when they discover their drug habits.  We think adventure therapy could work very well for this population, but may have to wait until we are more firmly established to work with this “stickier” group of adolescents.
  • “El techo”.  This is a private shelter for street kids that provides showers, beds and a simple meal on a night to night basis.  While this organization targets one of the populations we would like to work with, the transient nature of the program would make it very difficult to conduct long-term effective therapy activities.
  • Serve Abroad.  This is a new initiative that would bring US college students to Bolivia for an intercultural experience including an adventure camp and tourist outings.  We have been requested to provide support and in return could gain some visibility and funding.
Our first adventure tourism clients!

Our first adventure tourism clients!

As part of our efforts to move toward sustainability and generating employment for some of the young people we work with, we are developing our ability to offer adventure tourism services, and have already hosted our first clients!  Huzzah for the Caskey/Peppers family and their recent trip to Lake Titicaca, Tiwanaku and Cochabamba.  Our second outing is this weekend to guide clients up Mount Tunari.  We also have formed a new partnership with a local tour agency to provide the activities that we cannot, namely mountain biking and hang gliding.  In recent weeks, we were also able to explore the Tiwanaku and Incallajta ruins, which are sure to be destinations that clients are looking for.

Over Easter weekend we held a one night camp in the mountains to be able to celebrate a sunrise service on Sunday morning.  It was a great way to reach a few more people and earn a tiny bit of money for the Foundation, (although it came out in the red due to several participants falling through at the last minute and transportation costs being much higher than expected.)

Easter campers enjoy the boat on a high mountain lake

Easter campers enjoy the boat on a high mountain lake

I have pursued a couple of professional training opportunities to make sure that we are continuing to provide the best therapy possible.  I have officially finished my first intensive course in local native-language Quechua at the public university. Quechua is widely spoken throughout much of Bolivia, especially in rural settings where we always are.  This is a strategic investment of my time and limited brain energies that will enable more connection and communication with people in the mountains.  This, in turn, leads to better rapport, more security for our activities and for the truck, etc.  I am also registered for training and certification in Philadelphia in May, under ACCT – the worldwide standard in ropes courses and adventure therapy techniques.

Prayer requests:

  • Please pray I am accepted and ACCT certified as a level 2 – this will enable me to operate “officially” much more freely and I would only have to renew the certification every three years, as opposed to every year.
  • My Bolivian permanent residency visa is under way!  Please pray it is approved quickly.
  • Fundacion Aventura’s paperwork is still under review – pray for approval!
  • Driving lessons have come to a close for Luis, Angel, Cristian, and Eduardo.  Pray for the boys as they get set to take the driving exam on the 13th!
  • Healing for my back and tailbone area; not sure what’s going on.

Praises!

  • Praise that my ankles are in tip top shape!
  • I am back in charge of agriculture at the BLC!  So nice to feel dirt between my toes and focus on growing and cultivating with the boys.
  • My laptop finally died completely, but I was able to switch my chromebook with one of the boys for his HP, which is much better for work.
  • Thanks to the push for REI dividend donations, we already brought in $250.92 in gift certificates for gear!
  • Thanks primarily to the Price family, we raised some money and were able to give out several scholarships for the open camp in January.  This allowed several boys who are now on their own to attend camp, be strengthened and have some fellowship with “the gang.”
  • Finally got to see the view from the top of Mount Tunari!  It’s usually hidden in a bank of fog, but we finally climbed on a clear day and could see Mt. Illimani in La Paz in the distance!
  • Men’s Bible study at my place is providing an amazing source of Christian fellowship for me.

I continued to be blessed by your prayers and support, and am so encouraged by all the ways that God is pushing us forward.

Delight yourself in the LORDand he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the LORDtrust in him, and he will act.” – Psalm 37:4-5

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