The English-language word “community” derives from the Old French comuneté which comes from the Latin communitas”community”, “public spirit” (from Latin, communis “shared in common”).
In Santa Cruz we have nearly completed our 3rd week of the nation-wide strike. We understand from friends in the UK, that last night (Thursday), the Bolivian crisis made the BBC headline news-finally! Schools remain closed, grocery stores open a few hours in the morning, some public transport until mid day, very few banks open, cash points hit and miss, most people are not able to work. There are some food and petrol deliveries allowed, a few hospitals open and ambulances operating for emergencies only, pharmacies the same. Our Bolivian WhatsApp groups have been overtaken with videos, photos, messages; it has been a challenge to sift through and discern the truth, especially when it’s not our culture nor our native language.
Before the elections, we were advised to stock up on necessities. I must confess, I was rather naive, perhaps even skeptical at the whole stock up on food, petrol, toilet paper, water, etc. frenzy. Thank God Andrew was the proactive one!
All this in response to the fraudulent Presidential Elections which took place on the 20th October, which the current President, Evo Morales, won, or did he?
Millions have taken to the streets to block roads, crying out against corruption, shouting for democracy, fighting (mostly peacefully, there have been some deaths) for justice and truth, to say NO, again and again to a government who does not listen. This is how Bolivian’s make changes, they blockade to shut down commerce. Support for the current president seems to be waning- but that could just be my limited perspective-it’s hard to tell as our city, Santa Cruz is a strong opposition to the current government.
It’s not all negative! Community, public spirit, cohesiveness, risk, belief, identity- it’s all around us, and it’s not anything like what we have experienced our 3 years here- at least not to this extent.
Earlier this week I had the good( or bad if a flat tire counts) fortune to go out on the bicycle to help a friend and her family-she has not been able to work, like so many others, because of the strikes. As I rode down the middle of a road, nearly empty of traffic, I was taken aback by my own sense of freedom and the conundrum it brought as the Bolivian’s fight for theirs. I respectfully walked my bike through blockades with ease, met by friendly faces and polite salutations, feeling smug that my 24K round trip journey during a city wide strike could not have started off better.
Food safely delivered to our friend, hugs, kisses, and prayers for her and her family, Bolivia, and my journey home, I headed to check on my friend Isa who works in a small market in the same area. Isa met me with excitement-to tell me what had been happening- the day before the market had been attacked by Masistas (supporters of MAS, the current government), explaining why the metal bars were lowered at every entrance. She’s been grateful that despite this, the market stays open for half days and she can work. As my back tire was low on air, Isa took me to get it filled. At this time of road blockades, Santa Cruz is only accessible by bicycle, motorbike or on foot, so a whole new market within the market popped up-all things bicycle! It cost me 1 Boliviano to fill my tire, the equivalent of 11p/ 14 cents- a bargain!
Heading home, I stopped to take a photo of a very large flag that spanned an intersection, but instead ended up being drawn towards a big tent off to the side. So, I rode over to find out what was going on. I was told, “we are being community!” COMMUNITY. I asked them how they were
being community and they said, “by being here”. SO, I stayed, I mean who doesn’t want to BE? Soon, a plate of chicken with rice and a glass of somo(white corn juice) was served to me- I was being blessed by this group of people being community as they fed me and 100 others! Funny how we came here to Bolivia to serve, love and be Christ to others and there I sat on the receiving end! However, in this culture, saying no to food and service would have been a rejection of the people and their culture- not loving nor serving! What an amazing group of people-public spirit, cohesiveness, identity, belief, risk- personified. It was truly an honour to ‘be’ and share together in a time of hardship.
Soon after, and still about 10k to home, I had the bad fortune of a flat tire, a ripped air valve for which my repair kit was no match. It is a well known fact that locals, including police, although very well meaning, are not precise in direction giving, so I went on the wild goose chase of my life to find a bike repair ‘pop up’ shop. Eventually I did find a repairman, who sent me on another wild goose chase, on foot in 41 degree sunshine, to buy an inner tube… 90 minutes on and near the end of my tether, no such shop to be found, in desperation (exasperation?) I asked one more stranger for help…not only did he know where to get an inner tube, he offered to go and buy one for me. I gave him 40bs, my old inner tube and my hope and as he rode off on his bici, I collapsed in the dirt road and phoned Andrew, tears streaming down my face. 10 mins later the kind stranger returned with a new inner tube in hand, a receipt and 10bs change- Hallelujah! I returned to the repairman and in 5 mins I was on the road towards meeting Andrew. I arrived home sunburned and shattered after an unplanned 8 hours on the road, yet encouraged and full of hope for what I saw and experienced in the community.
It’s not been a particularly easy time for us as family, but it’s not a hardship either. Although kids are not in school, they do have a fair amount of homework via google classroom. I guess we do feel a bit sidelined or benched from our own plans and work. Well at least I do and I am not a great bench warmer! As arrogant as that might sound, it’s the honest truth, I like being a part of the action. Nevertheless, looking around there is much opportunity to be community in a new way. We live right next door to a home for children with disabilities, so as a family we can and have been helping this ministry and the family(they have 12 children of their own!) who run it. We live close to a YWAM (youth with a mission) base, so we have connected with people there as we open our home to them. We have hosted a prayer and praise evening and attended others in the local area. We’ve shared what resources we have been blessed with, with others, but mostly we realise that being sidelined in our work has led us to rely less on ourselves and our own plans and rely more on the Lord and connect with the community where we live-hospitality as we knew it (or thought it to be) has taken a new, fresh form. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us:
“The mind of man plans his way but the Lord directs his steps.”
Having said all this, we feel safe. Liliana, Anayah and Daniela are not worried, nor are Andrew and I. As a family we speak about and pray openly for the current situation together and with others. Honestly, there has been a turn for the worse this week as violent clashes have left another person dead and 70 injured in other parts of Bolivia. Some of our missionary friends have chosen to leave, not permanently but until the situation settles. Many feel they can be better used in their ‘home’ land as they are unable to keep their ministries going with the nation shut down- we respect and understand their decision, at the same time, we feel at peace with being here. Pray for all who have left, those who have not been able to return and those who remain here in Bolivia- it’s not only where, but whom we serve wherever we are…
We’d love you to pray for us, the Church and community, we are so thankful that people are being drawn to love and serve one another in new ways in the midst of the unrest. Not being able to work is causing many worries- isolation and fear may be an issue, but being together has given people new hope in building relations, loving and providing for their neighbours- us included. We pray that this continues as it’s now a matter of survival and sanity for many! The fact that millions in our city alone have been gathering nightly in the Christ Redeemer intersection to get on their knees and pray to Jesus, seeking the will of God, is so powerful. We pray with confidence it will indeed bring major change. Although we are not able to get to our church, we are joining in with a 40 days of prayer organised by our church family via WhatsApp.
Pray also for the strikes and demonstrations, that citizens and leaders would choose the path of peace and justice. In areas where the current president has support the protests are more violent and divisions are deep-pray for unity. Pray for great wisdom, for the current government/ President and for the opposition to miraculously agree to move forward with a new election for the good of the Bolivian nation and her people to safeguard her freedom, justice and democracy. Viva Bolivia!
Here are a few photos a bit closer to our home.