Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bolivia, Part I: Getting There

When our group left Birmingham on Sunday at 12:30 we were feeling a mixture of excitement and nerves. For the most part, however, we had great confidence about the week ahead. We were going to an orphanage in Cochabamba, Bolivia called the Amistad Mission to help out in the name of Jesus. We also had Elizabeth Elliott (not that one) with us who majored in Spanish in college and had spent a great deal of time in Latin America doing mission work. (That's the red head in the middle of the picture.) With all of that going for us, what could go wrong?

The flight to Miami was very routine and when we landed we even got to walk down the set of stairs onto the tarmac just like in a movie. I think we were all a little distracted just thinking about the seven hour layover we had in this tropical city. There were a lot of jokes about heading to South Beach and even staying for a while. There wasn't a great deal of talk about the mission ahead. It's funny how the Enemy can lull you into submission. Sometimes, however, he's not so subtle. We found this out later that evening.

Our flight with Aero Sur (we had never heard of it either) was scheduled to take off at 11:00 pm. We actually made a few friends with the people who were going to be on the flight as we waited in line to check in that afternoon and as we spent the evening waiting in the terminal for our flight. By 11 we were all boarded and hoping to get at least a little bit of sleep on the 6 hour flight into Santa Cruz, Bolivia. This was a hope that was to be unrealized, however.

About 15 minutes into our flight the captain's voice came on the cabin speakers and the only words I could understand from his Spanish were "problemo" and "Miami." We did leave about 5 minutes late so I just assumed he was apologizing for us leaving a little late. When I looked down our row and saw Elizabeth's face, however, I knew there must have been more. She had been asleep when he started his message and now she was sitting straight up with absolutely no color in her face. We asked what he said and she told us that there was a problem with the plane and we were going to have to return to Miami.

Immediately following this, as if on cue in the unfolding disaster movie, we hit some pretty intense turbulence as we were beginning to descend. The plane was mostly full of Bolivians and people from other South American countries so there was a dramatic response from those on board. I was not very disturbed until the flight attendants began looking out the windows of the emergency exits at the wings. They also began crawling over passengers to look out the windows, even using flashlights. They were completely ignoring the various questions coming from the increasingly nervous passengers, "que problemo?" Even the copilot came back to look and at one point they even had one of the passengers inspecting the still mysterious problem.

I don't know how many of you have ever been at a point where you had to ask God to spare your life but I, and many other people on board that night, were. All over the plane, as we were coming in for a landing, people were muttering prayers. One of the teachers that went with our group and I even made the comment that "if" we got out of this alive we were going to rent a van and drive back to Birmingham. (This was said where no one else could hear, because we had six very frightened students with us.)

To make a long story a little shorter, we did land safely in Miami and spent the next four hours waiting to see if they could repair the problem (which was not as big a deal as we thought). During that time we got to be removed from the situation enough to discuss the fact that we have an Enemy who wants to frighten and distract us, but we serve a God who is bigger and who holds us in his hands, and He had proven to be faithful to us in a very real and tangible way. You see, God used this seemingly terrible beginning of our trip to focus our attention on Him.

The problem with the plane could not be repaired and we were sent to a hotel to get a few hours of sleep, not arriving until 5 am! We did not leave Miami until 6:00 Monday night and by that time we wanted to be in Bolivia more than anywhere else on earth. Just like the Israelites who complained about manna in the desert and got quail until it was coming out of their noses, God gave us Miami until it was coming out of our noses. There were no more jokes about hanging out at South Beach and taking it easy, we were ready to get to Cochabamba and the Amistad Mission.
We didn't arrive until about 3:30 in the morning and Kattya (our main guide, standing next to Silena in the black coat) and Jose Luis (our rock n' roll bus driver standing on the end next to me) were waiting for us. When we got to La Morada, the house we stayed in, we also met Donya Celia (the lady that cooked for us all week, standing in the front center with the black scarf on). Silena and I fell into bed (below) completely exhausted, but happy to finally be in Bolivia. After this we had no idea what the week would have in store...

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