Surrender don't come natural to me

Friday, January 02, 2009

dollar, dollar, dollar

So despite only having caught 1 fish in my first 4 years in Bolivia, I
decided to head out with James (friend from New Zealand) and Ramiro
(friend from Bolivia) to explore some new waters. On our 3 hour 4x4
trip to the Lake of Hope, I explained to my fishing buddies the
dollar, dollar, dollar game: each fisherman pays one dollar to thefisherman that catches the first fish, another dollar to fisherman
with the most fish and a third dollar for the biggest fish.
It rained. But we were determined to break my loosing streak. And
after a fair amount of patience, Ramiro came running to me with his
first catch ever... a nice 8-9" Rainbow trout. We put it on the

It rained some more. Ramiro caught another... the same size but a
little fatter. I was super excited for him. And I went to fish with
The rain stopped for a couple minutes. Then it was James' turn. He
caught yet a fatter but equally length Rainbow and we added it to our
stringer. Ramiro's comment was that now we had at least one for each
of us.
It started to rain again. And Ramiro caught his third for the day...
making my one fish in 4 years seem pretty silly. The four fish on the
stringer must have shared the same birthday, because they were all the
same length.

It started to pour, and of course wind too. I was ready to clean the
ones we had and head home. But then I broke my streak and hooked a
trout! And on landing it and seeing it was at least an inch or two
bigger than the others, I thought to myself, "Poor James, mine will be
the biggest and Ramiro already has the most and first."
The rain came down. We were soaked. The fish biting, but my hands not
able to work anymore I was about to call it quits. That's when I heard
James call out my name. I thought he was in trouble, and turning
towards the sound of his voice, I saw him come over a hill hunched
over with something in both his hands. Was it a duck? Maybe a baby
llama? No, it was the biggest trout I have ever seen.

James has a 7 month-old daughter. She and the fish both measure 24.5
inches (62 cm). Even Dani was impressed. What a great start to the New

And I thought to myself on the ride back home, I think I'm ready to be
a father. I had equally as much fun watching Ramiro catch his first
fish and James catch a monster as if I'd done it myself.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Not enough time... so I'll summarize

I know it has been quite some time since I wrote. I don't really have a good reason, and instead of wasting my words with excuses I will explain briefly that I am now engaged to Dani! We have a new blog that will explain the details. So please visit the new blog!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Why am I here?

This morning I got up at 3 am to go somewhere I really didn’t want to go. We have this shipment of blankets for children that we’ve needed to deliver to needy Bolivian children, but to be honest I really didn’t want to go. There is lot going on in La Paz, I feel like it is not in my ministry focus, and I just simply didn’t want to. A poor attitude.

But I went anyways. I want to support Pedro, and this is his project. Well, we had problems getting to the mining town of Llallaguas, so what should have been 6 hours on buses ended up being a combination waiting and riding that took 9 hours. Then, when we reach our destination the blankets we thought we’d sent yesterday... well, it turns out they never left La Paz!

So why am I here? I think that’s a fair question. Let me tell you a couple stories:

Without blankets to deliver, we spent the afternoon walking around this town. It is a very unique place, once the home to the largest tin mine in Bolivia. Now the mine is nearly abandoned and the new industry is education. It is a fascinating mix of fresh ideas and energetic youth overflowing the universities and sad, dying poverty left over from the mine.

We took a self tour near the mine. There we found a man by himself with a pile of rocks pounding away with a hand maul looking for tin. We stopped and talked with him and watched him work. Two things struck me. One was the loneliness of such a life. It was bad enough the difficult work this man was doing, but to do it alone seemed like a punishment straight out of the horrors of prison.

The second thing that struck me was the hopelessness of the situation. The going rate for tin is 20 Bs. per pound. I imagine this man will work 10 hours today and maybe accumulate a pound of tin. So he will take home something around $2.50 US. I think the capitalistic spirit in me made me think that there has to be something better. But I’m sure this is all he’s done his whole life, so there are no other skills he knows. And even if there were, thousands of others like him are already standing in line to get jobs. And such jobs are not really what you’d want anyways. The market is flooded with people trying to make a living, and although this is great for the consumer, the rock bottom prices make earning a living seem impossible. It is messed up.

As we walked we visited child care centers looking for places where we can deliver the blankets when they arrive. I won’t describe the places as they are simply sad and overwhelming and they broke my heart. But what really struck me were the stories I heard: families who share their father with two other families, brothels located across the street from homes full of children, a widow struggling to survive as a shepherd who lost everything she had (25 sheep) to a dog whose owner refuses to take responsibility and a justice system that won’t force him to.

Since I’ve been here in Bolivia, God has consistently taken me on such journeys where He shows me the suffering that exists around me; suffering that I can easily go days and months without noticing. This morning He drug me out of bed at 3 am to do just that. You might think I don’t like it, but I do. It makes me have to believe in a big God. It makes me remember that without God… apart from Him… I am and can do nothing. It serves to help me take my eyes off my worries and remember that the blessings God has given me are not Him showing His love for me but rather God blesses me so I can bless others. And that is what I want to do with this life.

I remember having a conversation a couple years back with a friend. I was working in a poor neighborhood in Mexico at the time and the question of the conversation was whether living in such conditions numbs our hearts to the suffering around us and therefore makes us calloused. I think I’m learning that God is the one who gives us tender hearts. Without such grace in our lives we are numb and calloused. But with His help, reminders and grace we are creatures that see this world through His eyes. And when that happens, and not before, we can actually be His hands and feet.

So why am I here? I think that’s a fair question. I think it is a little attitude check directly from God. Another chance to have my heart broken, my vision enlarged and to be changed. Thanks Dad.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

... those are the important things

I just want to get some thoughts out.

Several years ago I sat across the table from Chris Simpson at Le Peep's and I poured out my heart. I was in the wake of a very confusing break-up and Chris was listening to me as I pleaded my case; as I gave my reasons why it was not fair and the relationship should not have terminated.

Chris listened very well. He sympathized with my pain and understood my reasoning. After quite some time I gave him a chance to speak, wanting and maybe even expecting him to, having listened to my logic, agree with me and justify my position. He didn't. Instead he said something I will never forget:

"Randy, you have met a lot of success in your life. You know from experience that you can influence situations and with a relatively high frequency make things change to what you desire. But what you are learning this morning is that control is an illusion. There are very few things (he paused and thought a second)... maybe nothing... that we as humans actually control."

Several times in my life I've had conversations with Chris where he makes a comment and the weight of its implications mixed with the casualness with which he speaks them to me changes my course. Not just the way I think, but the way I am. This was one of them. Here are some others in case you are curious:

"Who are you? I went on a silent retreat once where that was the question we wrestled with. I didn't make it to the end of the retreat; I had to go home and talk with my wife."

"A man could go into the woods for a weekend by himself and come back a completely different person."

"Yeah, the Bible hardly talks anything about those subject.... makes you wonder if its silence is saying that they really are not that important. And that the things that Jesus says over and over... well, those are the important things."

Anyway, back to this idea that control is an illusion. Again, I'm just processing some things, trying to draw some conclusions. I welcome your input, and do not claim that what I write is what I believe.

A lot of what I think about these days has to do with leadership, especially that of men. Working with the shoe shiners has been a challenge, and as I try to determine my exact role in their lives, I have discovered that I want to see them become real men.

There are probably thousands of ways to go about doing that. I assume several are good, but several are also bad. This life is a journey, and I believe the process is oftentimes as valuable, if not more, than the end product. Coupling that with the idea that even good, pure motives don't always equal proper process, I want to think about what I'm doing.

And that brings me back to the idea of control. I think one way to develop a leader is through control. I could step into a young man's life and with his permission begin to control things, especially decisions. I set boundaries and guide him in his life. I would then have to monitor how those restrictions are being followed, and in that way develop in him certain habits.

But what if what Chris says is true? What if control is an illusion... that there is really very few things in this world that we actually can forcefully guide? What does that mean for this model? What would really be going on? That's an interesting thought... the answer to which I don't know. I'll think about it.

When I look at Jesus, I don't see that model at work. In fact, in many ways I see the opposite. I observe his disciples being allowed to do as they please. I hear Jesus' teachings as saying, "What I am teaching you is deep reality, but I'm not going to force you do it. I just want you to know what it is in case you want to give that a try."

I think I need to think about this more. But this I do know... I want to develop leaders that way Jesus did... because his leaders changed the world. I welcome your thoughts and thank you if you have read this far.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Open channel flow.

It is funny what things you remember and what things you don't. Last weekend I hiked for a couple hours along an aqueduct, filled to nearly overflowing with water to be changed into electric power down the line. Some of my first thoughts went back to my Fluids or Hydraulics class at the School of Mines: open channel flow. All I could think about were hydraulic jumps, Bernoulli's formula and what kind of pressure the water was putting on the wall on which I was walking. I'm still not sure if that served to make the trip better or worse.

But that is not the point of this afternoon's blog. It is high time I tell you about Dani. I have not yet because I don't know exactly where to start, and I know that no matter how poetic or brilliant I write, it will not do justice to her. But nevertheless, here is my best attempt to introduce you to my girlfriend:

There are all kind of things I could tell you about Dani. She was born on leap day, she spent 8 months in England (and therefore speaks better English than I do), she loves McDonald's (even after I made her watch "Super Size Me"), her favorite color is orange... and mucho mas. But I would prefer that you not just know about her, I want you to know her because she really is something special.

Sometimes stories are a good medium to help us know someone. That's what God does, so I'll give it a try, and return to the beginning of this blog.

This last weekend I went backpacking with Dani and some friends of ours (James and Julie Bellingham... quickly becoming some of my favorite people). The first night we hiked for an hour in the dark. I'd never done anything like that, and it ended up being one of my all-time sweetest experiences. It was a perfectly clear night and there was no moon, so the stars put on a show for us. As we hiked we came to a summit. Down and to our right was a lake. Up and to the left towered Mt. Tikimani... one of the most majestic mountains I've ever seen. We hiked along and came to an overlook of the lake. From way above we saw lights on the lake. My first thought was that there were fireflies, which would have been sweet, but the reality was even better. As we came to discover, the lake was so still that it reflected the stars back to us! It was nothing short of amazing. The scenery made me want to love God more.

Two days later it was snowing. Wet and cold. The wind blew and took our breath away and our soaked shoes were no fun to put on for the three hour hike out.

These two different experiences of this backpacking trip made me reflect on this last year here in Bolivia. I have experienced things that were so great and so awesome that there is no other explanation than that they originated with and are simply a gift from God. I've also walked down roads that were nothing short of miserable. Things that I would never wish on my worse enemy. And so I realize that life has a little of both. Sometimes more of one than another. But it is all circumstantial and no matter how good or evil, the experience passes. So what then, is important? My answer to that is the people you spend those times with.

I spent the last year with Dani. Not all of it, but a lot of it, and the last couple months I've spent even more of life with Dani. The circumstances of life have brought me great experiences and some sour ones as well. But going through it with Dani has made it brighter. She sings praise songs while hiking in the bitter cold rain. When I feel defeated, she finds these small victories in my situation and celebrates them. She teaches me that love is greater than my darkest hour, and she wants to learn from the way God has made me different than she. She is teaching me so much, but one very important thing is that the things I often think are important do not carry the worth of the relationships in my life. And of course my relationship with God she reminds me is the most important. Essential.

So there, I made an attempt to tell you about Dani, and as I read back over what I've written I'm not sure I should publish. I can't really tell you how great Dani is. Fact is, I myself have no idea just how great she is... so how could I put something I'm still discovering into a blog? She is great. A gift from God. A wonderful friend. More than I could have ever asked for, and far beyond what I deserve.

Dani teaches me about grace. And she's beautiful too! Here, take a look for yourself:

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Get back on the horse

About a year ago I backpacked this trail called Uma Palka. The weekend before I'd scouted the trail, and in the sunshine it was a great trip. However, that next weekend it rained for three days... even snowed 3-4 inches one night, and that trip has been forever labeled "The Death March." I won't go into many details, but lets just say that it is a good title for that weekend.

This last weekend I did it again. I faced my fear of this trail and took Niko (new intern) and five shoe shiners with me. Now, before I get into this story too much, let me explain that I love this trail. I'm not sure if it is the majestic views, adventurous challenge or a combination of the both, but something draws me to Uma Palka.

It rained again. All three days. So that definitely made me question why I was out on the trail instead of in warm, dry La Paz. Every squishy, soaked step that question entered my mind. But the rain never ends up being our biggest enemy. It is the fog that always reeks havoc on these trips. It drops down and hugs you , and you can no longer navigate by the towering mountains or deep valleys. Instead your visibility decreases to sometimes just a couple of meters, and that is when you get lost.

We got lost three times last weekend. In the first hour, I got completely turned around and if it wasn't for Dario's instincts, we might still be roaming around on top of the initial 16,000 foot summit looking for the saddle to take us over the mountain and into the the warmer (still wet) valley. The other two times I guess I wouldn't say we were lost. We knew where we were on the map, but we thought we were somewhere else, and we weren't quite sure how we'd ended up where we did.

I learned a lot this weekend. The tail, even when it is sunny, is challenging because of all the ups and downs. I wish I had some sort of statistic to give you about how many meters we ascended and descended, but lets just say that it was a monstrous amount. Bordering on ludicrous. So when it is raining and foggy, and you are not certain if the steps you are taking are going to get you where you want to go, that becomes a lesson.

I don't mind hiking. In fact I rather enjoy it. Even with 25 kilos on my back. But as soon as I recognize that each step I take might not be taking me where I'm going, I absolutely hate it. It reminds me of what C.S. Lewis once said:

"We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turn back soonest is the most progressive man."

At one point during our adventure we came to a lake. It was a good sign, because we knew it was a man-made reservoir, and so if we could make it to the dam on the opposite side, then there was sure to be a trail or road back to civilization (as assumption that proved to be true... in fact using this logic we stumbled upon what is now one of my favorite trails in the world!). However, from the far side of the lake we had to figure out which way to go around. From our viewpoint we could not see the whole lake. We were also concerned about cliffs that ran right into the water: dead ends where we could not continue our progress. We evaluated the situations and came to a group consensus to head to the left. We should have gone right.

So on our journey to the left we came to a couple tough spots. Places that required teamwork to pass and were not always the safest option (we'll just say it that way... I know my Mom is reading). It was a risk. I wasn't sure how it would end up. I began to think in terms of survival. But I loved it. It was an adventure, and without these elements, it wouldn't have been the memory or classroom that it was.

The guys loved it. They commented that it was like no other trek they'd been on. We had to come together as a team to problem solve. Our decisions did not have certain outcomes. We had to dare and risk. And from inside all of us, something grew and maybe in some cases was set free.

Thursday I start a book study with the guys. We are going to look into what it means to be a Christian man. Not a nice guy, but a risk-taking warrior that sacrifices to rescue what God has deemed beautiful. I think this trip was a great introduction.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Ada boy... great hustle!

I've never been more excited and proud to coach a team to a 20 point loss. Growing up, I remember several coaches telling me that as long as we played with all our hearts, it didn't matter what the outcome of the game was. The game last Friday was probably the only time I've been involved with such a game... where the team left everything on the court, and the final score did not matter.

That's what happened the other day in my shoe shiner's first ever official game. We played against the American school's varsity team, and like I said we got beat by 20. But it didn't matter, because it was so exciting to see the guys (there were only 5 of them... no subs) diving on the floor, running the court, making some pretty jumpers and doing some things I've never seen any team do (like looking into the post frequently and actually bounce passing the entry pass... I don't even do that) in their first game with refs and a score board.

The best part of it all was the way they broke down walls. They played hard. Really hard. Down by 20 with a couple minutes left and they were hustling down loose balls, sacrificing themselves for the team, and if they didn't come up with the ball, they did come up with a smile. So these guys shine shoes for a living. But they are great people, just like the students at the American school. I didn't have to preach that to anyone. The team did it themselves through their actions and smiles.

And, as I already knew, they are so much fun. The afternoon game was a coaching highlight for me. And just for the record, we won the fourth quarter.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Hombres Valientes

There were riots in Cochabamba this week. They actually left two souls beat to death and hundreds wounded. I was in Cochabamba during the riots. At the end of the week I took a taxi to the Cochabamba bus terminal with five mighty men. We drove through streets litered with debris left over from road blockades, areas blackened with soot from burned tires and marchers armed with bats and dynamite continuing to protest, followed by police launching tear gas. It was eerie.

We got out of our taxi to walk the finally block to the bus station. I walked with my hood up and head down to prevent attention being drawn to my pale gringo face. Wilfredo walked with me. He's one of the mighty men.

"So much darkness," is what he said in Spanish. I was busy trying to get to the station, so his statement took a second to set in with me. I looked up at him and my face said, "What?" He clarified, "So much darkness, and we are light. Wherever we go, we shine."

Now it was making sense. It was right out of our last Bible study. The study where together we discovered that we are temples of God's Spirit... that He now dwells on this earth through his people, and so when we walk into dark places, He goes there too. I nearly wept with joy.

I'm witnessing miracles everyday here in Bolivia. God is grabbing hold of young men and changing their world. And watching them change is changing me. I spent this week with Chavo, Gavilan, Abuelo, Dario and Wilfredo being trained to walk into darkness. We heard this sermon at the conference we were at about David's Mighty Men- Hombres Valientes in Spanish. And now we are excited and better prepared to go into the dark places of La Paz to shine and reach shoe shiners.

I had several conversations with the guys this week, asking, "How can we reach more shoe shiners?" They are thinking and dreaming with me. It is exciting. I'm going to be spending more time shining. More time backpacking. More time investing in these Mighty Men, because God is using them to grow His kingdom.

Last year was an incredible year. In fact, I can't hardly imagine a year richer than what I experienced in 2006. But I've said that in the past, and God can always top my wildest expectations and dreams.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I thought about coming up with some very profound definition for courage to start, but I'm not having much success with something along those lines. Courage isn't a word I think of much, but that might be changing. I think my first thoughts of courage relate to soldiers... men who in the face of deep fear and certain death charge forward, sacrificing all for someone that is not them. That is courage, and the soldiers who have done that and do it even today, I am thankful for them. Honor is another word that comes to mind.

But I'm recognizing courage off the battlefield, and I'm equally thankful and it is an honor to know men and women like this. Bravehearts.

The example I'm thinking of today is a man named Fritz. He's 24, and a shoe shiner. Next week he defends his thesis for his undergrad degree in applied mathematics. Last week he was assaulted in a robbery attempt. The hit he took to the head has left him without his left eye.

Talk about one of those situations where you don't know what to say. But I found that my visits to the hospital left me not sad and depressed, but encouraged and inspired. Fritz is a couragous man. One reason I say this is because he's moving forward. He is dealing with a past he cannot change, and with humility and a soul strength he forgiving and moving ahead. There is no way I'm going to be able to summarize his courage in this blog., so I will stop trying.

Once again I find that the people I've come to help and serve are my teachers. They are my heroes and with great thankfulness I realize that this should not surprise me. That's the way God's kingdom works. It is a last will be first type of system. The foolish things are used to instruct the wise things. My prayer is that I might learned from Fritz to be a man of courage.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Taking a pounding.

I read this story about Jesus the other day. He took the fellas and went over to the rough side of the Sea. It was an adventure getting there (that's another story), but when they finally land on the far shore, they are approached by a solitary man and an army of evil. We don't know the man's name, but the army of evil that had possessed him was called Legion... for they were many. Jesus has a conversation with this army of demons, and actually grants them a wish. It is a fascinating start to a story.

The rest of the story is very interesting, but I want to camp here for this blog. Last week I was in this Bolivian city called Oruro. It is a city built around a mining industry which has grown up for centuries on traditions, superstitions and devil worship. People with the gift of discernment can feel the darkness of this place.

I was there with an evangelistic outreach band. We scheduled several outreaches, and although I won't go into too much detail, the ministry was extremely difficult, and I'm convinced it was because of evil's strategic attempts to, not just discourage us, but to kill and mutilate our message and our people. Sickness, equipment problems, team disunity... Oruro was a learning experience for me.

Why a learning experience? Because I think for me the story of Jesus and the demon-possessed man has always been a story from a land far far away. I've known about spiritual warfare since I was very young. But maybe I didn't believe. Because if I believed, I think it would change the way I am.

So I'm changing again. This is bueno. I'm becoming frighteningly aware of a world I cannot see. And in the midst of this awakening, I went to Cochabamba.

The things that passed in Cochabamba can be categorized in two groups: things that make me want to stay here, and things that make me want to run home.

I"ll start with the things that make me want to stay here. We had a youth leader training done by Youth specialties, South America ( So the La Paz YFC encouraged volunteer staff to attend. There were eight of us in all, AND FOUR OF THEM SHOE SHINERS (Wilfredo, Ramiro, Ismael and David, for those of you who might know these guys)! We went through this intense five hour training and talked about how to help youth fall in love with Jesus. It was deep, practical, well done and I was very excited. I'm seeing a group of leaders forming, and my dream is that these guys will be the ones that reach this city with a message that will not disappoint.

The evangelism we did was challenging for me. I don't know always how I feel about proclamation evangelism, but as the band played and I shared a couple times or watched others share, I could see God at work.

Ok, now a brief summary of things that make me want to run home. I got a phone call four days ago saying that one of my former interns, Josh, was tragically killed in a kayaking accident last week. I really still have to process that news. Three days ago I was with Pedro's youngest son when his finger got slammed in a door and he ended up loosing the tip of his finger. The experience literally makes me want to puke when I think about it. Yesterday, with 2 minutes before a live TV concert, the band's equipment pops a couple times and burns. It literally was charcoal burnt when we opened up the apparatus later. And today I arrived in La Paz to find out one of my shoe shiners was assaulted in a robbery attempt. The doctors say he will loose his eye if there is not a miracle during surgery tomorrow.

These last couple weeks I've been reminded that this battle is not against flesh and blood (although it is bloody). There are things happening in a spiritual realm here in my world, which serve to beat me up, and at the same time encourage me. I'm not looking to be beat, but if God's work through us is causing concern with the leaders of darkness, I am honored to battle for the General who laid down his life.

Your prayers are not just words or encouragement. They are vital life lines for troops entrenched in a battle with a known victory, but also filled with real loses, wounds, disease, dirt, sweat and blood.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

I'm thankful for...

We have this band here with us for the next month. They are the Carpenter's Tools , and it has been a new, fun experience. Last night we did a concert at Caruro (I've never tried to spell that word... its Aymaran, and looking at it, it looks funny. I'm talking about the shoe shiner hangout... Nuevo Dia). The shiners loved it, and we used the opportunity to speak with them. Danielle (one of the volunteers) gave a testimony and I shared at the end of the concert, explaining that if you really want life change, you need for it to come from within... and that happens when Christ invades.

And earlier yesterday I went to read "Prince Caspian" with Ismael. Ismael shines half time now, and works as a baker the other half. I get to go read with him twice a week while he bakes... and actually I've been doing some baking myself.

After reading, Ismael says to me, "Randy, necesito aprender como leer la biblia. Quiero cambiar y no volver a la vida que vivia antes." So now we are set up to meet Tuesday mornings for two hours and talk over Scripture. It's pretty exciting. Actually, my real opinion is that it is supernatural.

And also, Ramiro, Wilfredo and David (Abuelo) are going with us to Cochabamba for a youth leadership training next week. Throw in a great Bible study on the Good Samaritan and a basketball victory earlier this week, and I'd say a lot is going well for me!

However, I miss my family and friends more than ever. Since coming back I've suffered with more homesickness than ever before. I know this is a good thing (makes me know how blessed I am with family and friends when I get homesick), but it is nonetheless difficult. Today is the second Thanksgiving in a row in Bolivia, and I am thankful that next year I plan to be back in Mama's kitchen! May God's presence be rich and deep this Thanksgiving Day!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Random quotes from Denny

The following are random quotes from a phone conversation that I wish I had recorded. It was between Dad, Missy and I, and Missy and I laughed so hard we probably ought to have been kicked out of the coffee shop we were in.

Every now and then, Dad gets chatty. It is rare, you usually don't see it coming, but it is always a treat. This particular conversation pivoted about a marriage retreat Dad and Mom went on this weekend. The quotes standing on their own might not make sense or sound funny to you, but they were to Missy and I, and I want to record them here to remember later:

"They had homework and activities... I don't do homework, so I focused my efforts on the activity."

"The point of the activity was to make a frog."

"... and you say things to your wife to make her feel bubbly."

"I told them, 'Elaine and I have been married for 174 years.' Everyone thought that was funny, because who says that?"

"It was a competition, and we had extra beads, so I told everyone we had to make something with those beads. So I made a penis. The younger couples thought that was a little awkward."

"We had the eight items pretty much under control... in fact I added a couple things to the list."

There was much more material, and of course timing and delivery make all the difference. It was a great moment. We love our Dad. We love our Mom too. They have been married for 39 years as of September, and I must say that is some thing I applaud.

Clap clap clap.

Random quotes from Denny

The following are random quotes from a phone conversation that I wish I had recorded. It was between Dad, Missy and I, and Missy and I laughed so hard we probably ought to have been kicked out of the coffee shop we were in.

Every now and then, Dad gets chatty. It is rare, you usually don't see it coming, but it is always a treat. This particular conversation pivoted about a marriage retreat Dad and Mom went on this weekend. The quotes standing on their own might not make sense or sound funny to you, but they were to Missy and I, and I want to record them here to remember later:

"They had homework and activities... I don't do homework, so I focused my efforts on the activity."

"The point of the activity was to make a frog."

"... and you say things to your wife to make her feel bubbly."

"I told them, 'Elaine and I have been married for 174 years.' Everyone thought that was funny, because who says that?"

"It was a competition, and we had extra beads, so I told everyone we had to make something with those beads. So I made a penis. The younger couples thought that was a little awkward."

"We had the eight items pretty much under control... in fact I added a couple things to the list."

There was much more material, and of course timing and delivery make all the difference. It was a great moment. We love our Dad. We love our Mom too. They have been married for 39 years as of September, and I must say that is some thing I applaud.

Clap clap clap.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Chocolate Chip Cookies and Bed Bugs

When I came back to the U.S. I flew into Minnesota because I wanted to see Grandma. She's 99.

Grandma is an amazing woman, and not just because she's lived to be 99. I mean, she raised my mom (and 3 other children), put up with Grandpa, survived the Depression, was born before airplanes, TV's, the world wide web, and hundreds of other things. I am fascinated to think back on her life and the things she's seen and done. A master Pinnocle player and bullhead fisherwoman are things I remember best from growing up. And from my most recent visit I remember chocolate chip cookies and bed bugs.

Grandma lives in a nursing home. It is very nice, but I can't help but reflect when I enter such a situation. Grandma is a trooper and a very sweet old woman. She is pleasant to visit with and I like how my Mom put it: she's very gracious. But that is not the case with all the other people in the home. I really don't want to go into detail, but let's just say it does not seem like a fairy book ending.

And so, it makes me think.

First I become sad. I would think that such a reaction is common. But as it makes me think about life, eventually I actually become thankful. Can you believe that? You see, it helps me understand my faith. It helps me understand Jesus and what He did. For I don't believe this is the end of the story. It gives me hope when I realize that the end is not a nursing home (although we are deceived into thinking that way). Rather, the nursing home is the beginning of what could be much much better, or much much worse. Hope or despair.

That is why Jesus' Message is so important. He talks about a life that makes these years on earth... even 99 and more... look like a vapor or a short breath. He talks about the life after this one that goes without end. An infinite amount of time. A long time. Forever.

And he loves us so much that he makes a rich eternal life available to us (when all I deserve is... well, let's not talk about that). Hope. Things will get better than they are. Just another reason why I follow Jesus.

And that is why visiting Grandma has made me thankful.

Two other quick stories. Grandma doesn't eat much, but we've discovered that she loves chocolate chip cookies. And so that is what she gets. A coffee to dip in and a bag of cookies... as many as she wants. Sounds pretty good.

And when I was leaving I said goodbye and then good night. Grandma says to me,

"Good night." Then a pause.

"Sleep tight." Another pause.

"Don't let the bed bugs bite."

That's 99 years of wisdom speaking, and so I'm working hard to sleep tight (not so sure what that means) and keeping the bed bugs from biting.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Something deeper

About a six hour hike from the trailhead on the ancient Inca trail leaving Ventilla just outside of La Paz is one of the most amazing soccer fields I've ever encountered. It is an ideal setting for some inspirational T.V. commercial. Once again, God has topped my last best experience with something I wouldn't have imagined in a thousands years.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Following Jesus has taken me places I would have never gone on my own.

Let me try to describe this field. You would normally miss it if you were simply hiking the Takesi Inca trail, but since there were some kids playing the first time I hiked by, I heard and looked, and saw what at first I didn't believe. We were hiking on this steep trail hugging the side of a very steep, lush Andean mountain. The last thing I was thinking of seeing was an airport. The second to last thing would have been a soccer field.

But lo and behold, there below me off the trail, surrounded by Eucalyptus trees and thick fern-like undergrowth was a 3/4 size soccer field. How it hugs the side of that mountain, and who cleared it off remains a mystery to me, but I must say I am very thankful to both the mountain and the ones that took the time to make this field.

Last weekend I happened to be in the area with 7 other gringos and 8 shoe shiners. We stopped and played... for fried chicken. Bolivia versus the U.S., Canada and New Zealand. The Bolivians thought they had the chicken in the bag, and with such confidence jumped out to a 3-1 lead. But after halftime we changed directions and the gringos attacked the slightly downhill goal. Rain started to fall and the gringos started to rally. In the end the score was tied, the chickens were safe and standing in the rain with a bunch of dirty (some bloody) and soaked friends I felt like someone out there with a bird's eye view had just watched all the highlights and as a result decided to purchase a new pair of Nike shoes.

That's the soccer highlight for the trip. But that's just the beginning. I had some great talks while trekking, and one in particular with Ramiro and David I want to record so I can remember. They asked me how I became a missionary. So I told them my story, going all the way back to my trip to Juarez in 1996 with MCYM and Project Serve. They listened with great attention, and when I finished I asked them about what they thought of what we do. Ramiro was the one that answered:

"Since you guys have started working with us the guys are drinking a lot less. That's good of course. We are used to volunteers from different foundations and whatnot, but you guys are different. You guys offer something deeper. You guys offer Jesus. And it's like David (the intern) said, 'Friends and volunteers will come... and then they'll go. But the ONLY person that you can count on always is Jesus.'"

I think Ramiro has a good point.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The alternative sucks.

I'd agree with anyone that wants to say that the Church is messed up. In fact, I've could even be quoted as saying that "the Church is the most messed up institution that ever changed the world." We have issues, and like any family, issues like these are deep.

This really doesn't surprise me (although I think it really is a turn off for many). It makes sense why. I mean, I consider myself part of the Church, and I'm messed up (probably an understatement, but we'll leave it at that). So if we bring together a bunch of people with my same tendencies, we're bound to have something that at the very best smells... stinks actually.

And yet Jesus loves His Church. He serves her and sacrifices for her. There's nothing... not one thing... He hasn't done for her, and although she can be compared to a prostitute when considering her faithfulness, His faithfulness is solid.

I like how Derek Webb sings it as though Jesus were saying it: "You cannot care for me, with no regards for her. If you love Me, you will love the church."

And so I'm learning to love the Church. I read "Jack's Life" last week, which is a biography of C.S. Lewis. For 30 years Lewis had this group of friends that called themselves the Inklings. They gathered to share their writings and receive feedback (which wasn't always the positive kind). One comment the book made was that there was a security within the relationships in the Inklings so that although two members might not agree with each other... or possibly disagree quite strongly... the friendship was never at stake. I like that concept, and I'm trying to implement it within the Church. There are several people and denominations I simply don't agree with. But that should not prevent me from caring for them and loving them.

It's hard. Sometimes very hard and borders on impossible. But that's the goal.

OK, now I've arrived at the real point of tonight's blog: the alternative to the Church. I just need to say that life outside the Church sucks. Throughout my life I find that I will, even without thinking about it, naturally surround myself with the Church. I do it because it is better for me. Even with all its scars and issues, the Church is different. It is moving toward something great, and although it has not arrived, this movement gives it a sweet taste.

When I force myself (and that is what I have to do... I never go there naturally) to go places where the Church (which are people) does not exist, it wears me out. I get beat up. Sometimes, because I've been graced with Church my whole life, I don't understand the driving impulses for the world's decision making. My own priorities get all shuffled, as the rhetoric of the world poorly persuades me. I feel abused and beaten, and it quickly and often arrives at the point where I would much rather just retreat back to the Church. And I often do. I'd probably die if I didn't.

I had an idea tonight while I was pondering all this in the midst of a situation that I do not understand because it is based on worldly logic. But I imagined a military first-aid tent. I can see the cots and stretchers, boxes with large red crosses on them, and IV stands and the staff on standby, ready to treat the wounded. That's what the Church should look like. In fact, I think it would be a great way to decorate a church building, just to remind the Church of one of its main roles as support system for those (which should be everyone) who are out getting beat up throughout the week. A refuge to get out of the way of the shelling, but with the intention of returning to the battle.

Because the world is beating people to death.

Friday, August 25, 2006

My cat is not ugly

It is difficult to pinpoint the reason why, but it has been confirmed by many a gringo (including me) that Ramiro is the funniest Bolivian we've ever met. He has American style humor... something that is hard to come by. Everything I do with Ramiro is automatically more fun, just because he is there.

He's learning English. I appreciate the hard work he puts into learning to pronounce sayings like, "In your dreams," or "I am handsome, you are ugly," or "Papa Smurf," or "Stinky fart, " or "Girls are dangerous." I really can't do justice writing about how funny Ramiro is, you just have to trust me or experience it for yourself. The only thing I really don't like about Ramiro is that he thinks my cat is ugly. This of course is not true. My cat is strange, but not ugly.

Ramiro also likes music. Actually, most Bolivians are musical. Ross burned Ramiro a David Crowder CD and printed up some lyrics for him. So now, when we shine together, we sing praise songs. And good ones too. It is some of my favorite memories thus far here in Bolivia... shining and singing.

I have a new vision for the shoe shiners. The Bible studies are going well. We have great community on the streets, at my house, on the basketball court or over lunch. We are becoming Church, but one thing we lack is community worship. I want to start a shoe shiner worship band with all the traditional instruments: classical guitars, drum, sampollos and churangos. I would love to have them create music to give glory to God. And then to lead their peers and others. This is my latest dream.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I want Ismael to be my neighbor

Remember middle school and high school fights? In college we used to joke about staging such a fight. Can you imagine leaving a Physics II lecture when some yells out "Fight... FIGHT!!!" and a crowd quickly assembles? The short guys in the back of the crowd are jumping to try to see, but as everyone knows, there is really nothing more than a lot of staring and some goofy trash talk between the two so-called "fighters". Then either someone makes one attack and its over, or the fight gets broken up by Mr. Porter. I don't know why it didn't seem so ridiculous in high school, but if that were to happen in George R. Brown Hall at the Colorado School of Mines... wow.

If you are reading this and you are in college, I think you ought to stage a fight. If you are in grad school, that would be even better. In fact, that could be one of the only regrets I have from my college years... that I didn't fake or at least organize a fake hallway fight in college.

It's different here in Bolivia.

Today I found out the best shoe shiner in La Paz had been beaten this weekend. Apparently a group of guys wanted Dario's backpack, so they hit him in the legs with a club which knocked him to the ground. They then proceeded to beat and kick him in the head. He didn't loose consciousness, nor his backpack, but when I saw him today, 3 days after the attack, his face was still swollen, his wounds infected and he was difficult to recognize.

"Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

It gets better than this. Hope. The idea that even though we can't see it, we know that heaven is a good place... better than our wildest dreams, or maybe the best way for us to imagine it is to think of the opposite of our most dreadful nightmares. A place where rob, lie, wound and take are not even words. You see, with Jesus, I believe it gets better. That's the treasure hidden in the field. The pearl that's worth selling everything to buy. Maybe that's why He can say that blessed are those who mourn. They will be comforted. He's come from the place we can only dream about. He knows what it will be like.

Maybe that's a good starting point when talking with Dario. "Wouldn't it be nice to know that there's something better out there than people that want to beat and rob you?" Or maybe I should ask if he'd like to heap burning coals on their heads. Well, we'll see. I'll be shining with Dario tomorrow and taking him to get his wounds cleaned at the hospital for the next week.

My hero of the story is Ismael. He is a good friend. Even to the point that I think about having him as a roommate-- or maybe just moving in with him. It has a lot to do with him teaching me how to shine shoes, reading Narnia together (and laughing together at Lewis' humorous sidenotes), his saying, "Si no duele, no sirve" on our backpacking trips, and the care with which he built from scratch my shoe shining box. But today, experiencing first hand the genuine compassion Ismael had for his friend Dario was like a real life parable. "Who's my neighbor?" I might have asked Jesus. I think he could have answered by saying, "Watch Ismael. See what he does. See who he thinks about. Now you tell me, who was a neighbor to Dario?"

Saturday, August 05, 2006

I wear a beenie to bed

I had a mullet for about 24 hours. I can't say that it was something I was particularly fond of, but I am glad I did it. I especially appreciated the cultural moments that it provided... explaining how that particular style of hair is business in the front and a fiesta in the back. I'm not too sure what the Bolivians think of me.

Now I'm back to the hairstyle I had the first 26 years of my life (minus the flattop stage I went through in middle school). It is nice, I guess. I miss shaking my head and getting everyone wet after a shower, and I'll probably end up at some concert here in the next couple weeks where I'd really have appreciated the longer hair.

But the big surprise for me has been how cold my head gets! I had no idea what a great insulator hair is (or maybe I should say was). My head is always cold... even to the point that I sleep with my Denver Bronco's/Denver Mattress beenie.

Sorry I have no pictures. Hope your head stays warm tonight!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Introducing some of the gang.

I want you to meet the guys I shine with. Today's blog is taken from an email I just sent my 3 interns who are back in the states now (I miss them something terrible). Here goes:

You guys sure have left a mark on this city. I went shining today (made 50 centavos!). The guys really miss you all, and all want to know when you'll come back or if more volunteers are coming. I shined first at Bisa... Charly is a totally different guy when I put on a mask. He was helping me all morning long, and we finally got two interested parties together. He shined his in like half the time it took me, and the guy I was shining ended up giving me a good lecture... something about how my bigger hands ought to move faster. I appreciated having the mask on, although I was tempted to "accidentally" get a little cream on his socks. The point being, I think I related much better with Charly. We are going to go to lunch next Wed.

I also stopped by and saw Dario. He is so good. When I got to the Post Office (which by the way is in its second day of a sit down strike... Pedro says there's more strikes coming for this county... oh joy!) Dario was shining this little boys shoes. I sat down while he finished, and then I noticed the boy wasn't paying and wasn't with a parent (he must have been 3-years-old tops). Dario gave him a great shine and then tapped him on the head and sent him on his way... I felt like Dario could have been the boys dad. I found out that the boy's mom works around the area and the kid comes through and Dario... or should I say Batman... looks out for him.

So after talking with Dario he said that he'd like a bracelet. Missy's team brought down a bunch of those rubbery red bracelets from Compassion International that say "Live 4 Him" on them. They were really popular and Dario had 2, but he gave them both away. We are out. Is there any way we could get some sent down here? Dario said he'd trade Ali for a Tigres bracelet. Hopefully the post office won't continue striking. Actually, with that in mind, maybe it would be best to give the bracelets to Jon when he's in town.

Pedro found me at the post office and we went up to the Perez together. William Shakespeare with his Joe Cool shades, Alexandro and Gonzalo with his lenseless shades all send their greetings. From there I went to see Ismael, Ramiro, Ariel, Flaco, Juan Carlos, and Willy. We sat and practiced pronouncing the lyrics to David Crowder Band songs. Ramiros wants to get together and sing and play some night. Praise songs. Good praise songs.

You are more... beautiful... than anyone... ever...


Oh praise Him! Oh praise Him! He is holy...

Not only is one of the shoe shiners a gringo, but now we read Narnia and sing English praise songs! Quite the shining experience, wouldn't you say!

Tonight's Bible study is on prayer. We will be sure to pray for Ali's physical health (I hope you are feeling better), Ross' mental health (crazy scientist) and David's mullet (any updates?). Pray for us, that we would know Jesus, His kingdom and His Father.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Te lustro?

I can't, say that it was my idea. Colby was the first one I knew who was out doing it. Then David and Ross grabbed the idea while they were here the last couple months. I finally was able to push my pride aside and started for the first time a couple weeks ago. It has changed things a lot.

I just got back from a youth workers convention in Cochabamba where I was teaching 3 Story Evangelism. Every time I teach 3 Story I learn more. It is so good.

Anyways, there is this concept in 3 Story that says I want to discover other people's stories. One of the skills associated with this is getting involved in their life. It is more than just being around to observe someone's life, it is coming alongside them and doing what they do. When I went to missionary training they called it incarnational ministry. It is what Jesus did. He came and got involved in our lives. Even the ugly parts. It was the example he set for his followers.

So I got dressed up and hit the streets as a shoe shiner. Now, for those who are not familiar with shoe shining in La Paz, I ought to fill you in on a couple things. The shoe shining in La Paz is done mostly by young men between the ages of 8 and 30. There are a couple ladies and you will see older men that have made a career out of it, but the majority are boys like I've described.

The services they provide include polishes in multiple colors (black, brown, maroon, yellow, white, or neutral) and they will gladly wash tennis shoes with soapy water and a towel. A common shoe shine will cost you the equivalent of $0.06 US, and for something a little out of the ordinary (like boots or an uncommon color) will run you around $0.12 US. In a day, a good shoe shiner can take home as much as $6.00 US, but around $3.00 is more common.

Probably the thing that really makes the shoe shiners in La Paz stick out is their dress. They cover themselves from head to toe with gloves, pants, long-sleeve shirts and ski masks. The only part of their body showing is their eyes, which are easily hidden by the brim of their baseball cap by looking down. Some will tell you that they dress like this to avoid getting dirty or to protect themselves from the fumes of the polish, but when you get to know them, they will admit that the outfit is used to protect their identity. They don't want their friends, neighbors and in some cases family to know that they spend their days at people's feet.

So because of the dressing tradition, I am able to cover myself and join the guys at their posts without anyone knowing I'm a gringo. It is quite the different experience than roaming the streets as a gringo. I especially like running into people I know and messing with them a little.

I'm learning how to shine. I get nervous, especially because the guys I shine with have been doing it for years and so they can do it with their eyes closed. I, on the other hand, get polish on people's socks and drop my brushes and can't do all the little tricks that the guys do with the final polish rag.

But the thing that is really the best is being with the guys. In a three hour shining session we talk about all sorts of things: the war in Iraq, their friends and family, what it means to be a gentleman, the weekend soccer games, what we believe in and hundreds of other things. In my opinion, it is so better than having them come to some event and forcing a conversation about faith.

We are also reading Narnia. I bought a couple books and we take a moment out of the work day to read a chapter. A couple of the guys are taking English classes, so we also use the time to practice. I can imagine what some of our clients think when they are getting their shoes shined by one guy, another guy is reading Narnia, and yet another guy is helping the rest to correctly pronounce "wonderful".

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Try to catch you up

Sorry about the lack of blogs. I've had some technical difficulty, and so I've moved here to Blogger. We'll see how this works.

A lot has happened since I last posted. I will summarize the last 2 months with the following list, and if you want some more details I urge you to check out Jon, Ross, David, Hannah and Ali's blogs which should cover most of these stories in more detail:

1. Keith and Ryan (from Denver Area YFC and West High School) came for a week visit. We did a lot, including 4-wheeling, Bible studies, helped a young man that had been stabbed several times in the face, basketball, a BBQ at our house with nearly 100 people and ...

2. Machupichu. It will not disappoint you. It is amazing, and I got to go twice in 3 days because...

3. Pierre, Jaime, Tim and Katy came to visit. We met up in Cuszo (which is actually officially spelled Qozqo!!), did the "most important archiological discovery" thing, and then bused it back to La Paz. I really enjoyed having the Clem's and Sarnow's here. We did a lot of my normal things, but we also scouted a new backpacking route: Yunga Cruz. It is an unbelievable trail. I'm sure they've never played as much basketball as we did in their 2 week visit, and I said goodbye and headed to...

4. Cochabamba for Project Serve. Twenty-two gringos for 2 weeks here to serve. The group included several from Harvard, my 9th grade Spanish teacher, Steve with a mullet (you have to respect a guy with a mullet!), and all around a great team. We painted 2 churches (including a great mural of Noah's Ark... it was professional), performed some dramas and started the foundation for a third church. Good times, but it was still good to come back to...

5. La Paz. It was so good to be home after 3 months of absolute madeness. I had a little more breathing room, so I decided to take up a new occupation: shoe shinning. I tell more about that later. But first, I just got back from...

6. Yunga Cruz. David, Ross and I took 9 shoe shiners on one of the greatest Bolivian trails. The first day and a half are above tree line and the ancient Inka trail blows my civil engineering mind. The second half of the trip drops into jungle. As in a machette would have been useful jungle. David celebrated his 20th birthday on the trip, and we had some great campfire talks, naps and Mom's chile. I got home just in time to...

7. Get beat. My basketball team has been in an uphill battle and I'm about to loose my sanity. We are currently 1 and 5. It is very frustrating because unlike working with teenagers, the guys are very set in their ways and I can't believe how they treat each other. I play for enjoyment and a little physical activity, and I'm starting to think it isn't worth it. So today I took a Sabbath and went to the U.S. embassy to renew my...

8. Passport. I applied for a new passport, which means the next 10 years I will have a passport with really long hair. The great irony is that I'm probably going to return to short hair. It really bothers me how much shampoo I consume.

OK, that will have to do for now. I will be sure to write more about shoe shinning soon and very soon.

Some old blog postings

June 2, 2006
Dirty mustache
I think it is a good idea to grow a beard at some point in your life. It is also important to have fun when you shave it off. It is particularly fun when you shave in stages and spend at least one day at each stage. As if I didn't get enough stares as it was roaming the streets of La Paz! I hope the pics make you laugh out loud.

I've been in Venezuela recently, and in a couple hours I'm heading to Peru. It is great fun, although with all the work to do here in Bolivia, I would also enjoy staying here for a while. While I was in Venezuela I again had my vision expanded. Prayer was a big thing. I'm still trying to figure out what that means, but it was big.Another big thing I took away is the vision for Youth for Christ International to hand over leadership of this movement to youth. Our president told some stories that really inspired me... stories of young people who with their passion, energy and healthy naivety have changed the world. I like that vision. When I hear these stories, I get all inspired and the frustrations of being a missionary fade away. Well I am sleepy. Good night!

May 11, 2006
Salt and crap
We’re moving through the Sermon on the Mount with the shoe shiners. Last night was the salt and light part… we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.Rob Bell told me about this great website that you should check out: It gave me some great insight on the salt part of these verses.
Apparently, back in Jesus’ day they used to bake in these mud igloo-shaped ovens. For fuel, they would use manure and mix it with salt. The salt makes the fuel burn hotter and longer, but after awhile the salt loses its “saltiness” and is then no good for anyone… it is thrown out.I shared this with the guys last night, and much to my surprise the same methodology is still used in this country today!
So they were tracking with me (by the way, does anyone out there know how to say “manure” in Spanish? I settled on “caca de vaca” which is funny because it rhymes. The guys couldn’t believe I said that at a Bible study… and more than once).So we concluded that one of the things Jesus was saying is that His followers are to get outside our comfortable communities and mix in with all the crap out there, while at the same time not going too far and losing our “saltiness”. His mission as it continues on with the Church won’t work when we don’t surround ourselves with the lost.
I then gave a challenge. I explained that a year and a half ago I didn’t know any of them. But I felt God telling me to be salt (this might have implied that they are the “caca de vaca”, but I didn’t think of that until just now, and I don’t think they received it that way) and go meet some people. That was really why I met them. Now we are friends. We have this really fun community. We joke and shoot hoops and eat chicken and study the Bible together. I like it a lot. They seem to like it. So why not do it again… pay it forward so to speak?
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to meet my neighbors. I’ve really done a terrible job of that since being here, but a little while back I found out that our street guard, Jhonny, will be celebrating his 23 birthday on May 29. Jhonny happens to be a common starting point for everyone on my street, and so I asked if any of the guys would be interested in helping me throw a block birthday party BBQ at the end of May in honor of Jhonny but with the goal of being salt. They’re in, they’re excited, and here’s what we’re going to do:We’ll start by cooking a ton of meat (which we can do since the guys are all willing to help buy the goods). Wilbert is all over that… he loves to cook. They we thought it would be nice to have some live music. Lucky for us Ismael, Ramiro, Edson and some other shoe shiners have a traditional Bolivian folk music band. Then, instead of just having a flyer to invite the neighbors, we’ve decided a personal visit with cookies will be much more alluring. A bunch of them are coming over tomorrow night to bake some cookies and make some visits.
May 29th, Pasaje Los Claveles in Sopocachi La Paz, bring your own drinks. You are officially invited (sorry I can’t give cookies through my blog).

Apr 29, 2006
Got milk?
So basically we invited a lot of people over to the house tonight and encouraged them to throw up all over. It worked.
Maybe you’re familiar with the gallon challenge. You challenge someone to drink a gallon of milk in an hour and hold it down for 15 minutes afterwards. I’ve never personally witnessed anyone do it (I’ve heard rumors of the likes of Forrest Buckner having what it takes, but I’d really need to see it to believe it). There is some chemical reaction that takes place in your stomach which curdles the milk. When it comes up (and it nearly always comes up), it is the consistency of cottage cheese with a little bit of string cheese mixed in. And it has a certain smell to it too which is hard to describe. Yucky? Rancid? Putrid? Yes, putrid.
David (the Bolivian, not to be confused with the perfect human specimen nor the king of Israel) was like a fountain spewing the bile smelling white goo all over our living area.This was shortly after one of our watermelon eating contestants lost his lunch. With the watermelons, it isn’t so much the chemical reaction that makes you blow chunks, just a lot of sweets very fast which throws off your brain’s central pleasure station which makes it requests an abort mission command.
I must say that I have a lot of fun with the shoe shiner guys. I like them even more after tonight because they all seemed to love the Hoosiers movie we watched following the vomiting activities.Tomorrow I’m heading out for a 10 day go in the Andes Mountains (two backpacking trips with a 4 day camp tucked in the middle).

Apr 24, 2006
21,000 people, 12,000 feet above sea level, 13 kilometers, 57 minutes, 3 seconds
I made the mistake of challenging a Bolivian to a long distance foot race. You see, the indigenous people of the Bolivian altiplano have record lung capacity. This means that they can hold their breath for the month of September. It really is a great advantage for diving for lobsters, space travel and racing at a little over 2.3 miles above the surface of the sea.
Speaking of space travel, do you think we ever actually made it to the moon? I mean isn't it convenient that we "made one giant leap for mankind" right in the middle of the space race, and yet never once do you hear about a return trip. OK, sorry about that, back to the real blog. I like to include such parenthetical free writes to keep you honest. So I ran for like an hour through the mountain city of La Paz chasing after Wilmer. His nickname is "Flaco" which means thin... another great advantage for space travel, I mean long distance running. At the end of the race I dry heaved for a good 5 minutes... enough to be taken into the first aid tent where they force fed me mineral water.
It was moments after emerging from the that I learned he beat me by 30 seconds. And as I reminisce on this loss, I have to think back on the thoughts of Ben Quintana (used to work for my Dad). Ben used to challenge my 10 year old mind with the following scenario: Do you suppose that the guy at the Olympics who is in last place is thinking to himself, "Man, I didn't even have to train to come in last!" I think he’s got a point.

Apr 22, 2006
It's not whether you win or lose...
It's how you play the game, right? Well, today, after nearly a year of working with the shoe shiners trying to develop their basketball skills, we played the game in such a way as to win. It was our first win as a team, and I'm proud of the guys.
We played a team from a children's home. The first time we played them, we lost pretty bad. The second time we lost when they sank a miracle toss with time running out. Today, we just flat out beat them. We started the game when William Wallace sank a 3-pointer. Then Wilbert and Ismael connected for 6 quick points on some beautifully executed give-and-go's. Freddy was playing tough defense, Ramiro was ripping down the boards, and Loro used his left hand! Our two 10 year-olds were right in the middle of everything too... Bismark made a layup and Nano had some steals. Dario, in his quiet manner, took care of the ball and had a pull up jump shot that was so text-book, it didn't even matter to me that it rimmed out. Wilson has learned to pass the ball and gets boards, while Fritz is a hustler, and we all know that when you hustle good things happen.Just wanted to celebrate a victory today. I think that's important to do. Oh, and lunch today was trout... man what a good day!

Apr 17, 2006
All alone
"Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty."That's what Mother Teresa said once. I think she has incredible insight into the real needs of human beings. A couple hours ago, at around 4 this morning, I got a phone call. It was Freddy, all alone on the streets with nothing but haunting memories of being cheated on for the last five years. All he wants to do is forget, and so when he can't, the people he talks with tell him to get drunk. Thankfully, when he gets stuck and does not know where to go, he calls me.
I woke up Ross and he generously offered to come with me to be with Freddy. Driving down the quiet empty streets we prayed. "God, what do we do? Should we invite him into our home? If we do, will he just keep doing this to us? How do we help Freddy?"We met up with Freddy. We sat on a bench and Freddy talked for 3 hours non-stop. He talked about being abused by his step-father, the "good old days" of his youth in the jungle, being driven out of his house into the bitter cold El Alto rain on New Year's Eve, finding gold in a river once, fighting with demons, reading the Bible when he can't sleep (and getting stuck on the list of names in Genesis), killing a puma while hunting for wild pigs, and his children that he loves so much.
The thing that he said, however, that I remember best is, "Me siento solo." - I feel alone.I think that was an answer to prayer: "Lord, what can I do?" He replies, "Randy, you can sit with Freddy on a bench and in doing so, assure him that he is not alone. That is what I would do... please be my hands and feet." You see, that is one need I don't have to be a doctor or miracle worker to meet. And it is a doorway through which Jesus can enter Freddy's life. Pray for Freddy. He is desperate, and the pain that has shattered his heart has also opened it up for help to come in.

Apr 11, 2006
Andy Dufrense and his buddy Red
The farthest I've ever raced is 7 kilometers. That's approximately 4.4 miles. In two weeks, I'm racing 13 km (8.1 miles) throughout the city of La Paz at an average 12,000 feet above sea level! I am pretty excited. Today I signed up and got my running number... good ol' lucky number 10032.
Isn't it obvious that when there is a race, all the participants run, and yet only one will be crowned the champion? You should race to win.I think it is funny that things like this show up in the Bible, and so we call them the words of God. Kind of sounds to me like a pre-game pep talk by my high school track coach. It is so obvious what is said, and at the same time I feel like I need to keep hearing things like this. Am I running to win, or am I just running? It is so easy to drop out of the race. One of my shoe shiner friends is brokenhearted, and so he has turned to alcohol. His pain is real. He has good reason to be hurting. But he's giving up hope, and that has really been tough for me. What do I do? Anyone have some ideas? I asked some of his friends today, and they were in agreement that it is very difficult. They said that what he needs is a lot of our time... maybe all of our time. Am I willing to give that to him? What if I do and he never turns around? I told them it would be good if no one took him out drinking, but they said if they don't that he wouldn't think they were his friends anymore. Really?
I must confess that I have a hard time relating to statements like that. I've yet to find any attraction to drinking, and when my friends turn to drinking at tough points in life, I am convinced all the more of the problems with alcohol. But I want to understand. I don't want to judge. I want so badly to help.Can we help him? His friends shook their heads and said it is difficult. I asked if it was impossible. They said no.
Things are going to get better. Blessed are those who mourn, for they WILL be comforted. That is a promise from someone who has been on the other side. Someone who knows what it will be like in the end. Someone who can offer a hope that will not disappoint us.I want to offer this world hope. I want Freddy to know that as dark and smelly as it seems right now, on the other end of this sewage pipe is a cristal clear river and true freedom.Get busy living, or get busy dying.

Apr 5, 2006
Stuck with a McDonald's
Normally I don't like McDonald's, but since there isn't one in Bolivia, it is a treat to have one when I can... reminds me of Parker and Main Street in my old stomping grounds. I've had McDonald's 4 times in the last couple days... I'm in Arica, Chile (the driest place on the planet).
I wouldn't have had so much, but I got stuck here. I came with Ross on Sunday to reset my visa. We planned to be home Tuesday afternoon, but then Bolivia up and had a nation wide transportation strike, and as a result the border has been closed for the last 2 days. The last I heard we could be waiting here for a while as the negogiation are at a standstill.So I'm stuck with Ross in a beach town. There are definately worst fates. We have met so many interesting people thanks to Ross' uncanny ability to walk up to anyone at anytime and introduce himself. I've decided he would be a great person to travel with, especially to a place like Europe.
The Chileans are night and day different from Bolivians. I can't believe how friendly they are. In fact, their out-of-the-way helping style and politeness has made me feel like a really cold person in comparison. This evening we met a architecture student who decided to take us on a historical tour of the downtown. He got us into a railroad museum for free and walked us around all the points of interest. He reminded me a lot of Chris Karber... probably because he is a model.
OK, I just realized this really isn't that interesting, so I will stop. If the borders don't open soon, I might take off to Santiago, this time to visit our YFC program, and to enjoy another McDonald's!

Mar 29, 2006
A shoe shiner church?
Unbelievable.Actually, that word might be too soft. I'm looking for something along the lines of miraculous. Maybe I want to say supernatural.
I wish you could have shared the view from my seat. We met in a circle, but no one sat to my right or left, so I definately had the best view of everyone in the group. First off, there were more than I hoped for. I was thinking it might just be another gringo meeting, but Freddy came and Wilbert was there. William and Jhonny were a little late. Fritz read the first Scripture and I did not expect to see Ismael there, let alone up front and engaged. Edson wasn't afraid to ask questions, and France and Gonzalo we picked up minutes before starting.
Their eyes are really what told the story. These guys were engaged like I've never seen people engaged in a Bible study. It was all familiar to them with their Catholic traditions growing up, but at the same time it was new and exciting. We were navigating the greatest story ever told learning about books and chapters and verses. There was no shame in not knowing things... but rather a very humble and teachable spirit.
So we talked about church. The first church. What type of things did they do at the founding meeting for both Catholic and Protestant traditions? Well, they worshipped, baptised and talked about the teachings of Jesus... some unfamiliar things for the guys. But they also ate together, lived like a family, prayed, and gave to one another as there was need. That sounds a lot like the community we already have.
Then we talked a little about love. But not just ordinary love... the biggest kind of love. The love that says, "You are more valuable than me," and therefore dies for another. And we talked about how Jesus spoke that standard and then a couple hours later demonstrated that kind of love. And as we talked it wasn't some distant story about a guy no one really knows. I don't know how to describe it, but it was real. I could see it in their eyes. I could hear it in their voices. I could see it in the broken heart of Freddy and the curious mind of Ismael.Unbelievable IS too soft. Supernatural comes closer. Grace... gift... might be the right word. I wish you could have been there.

Mar 23, 2006
underground, subversive, and countercultural
This might be a long one, so just want to give you the heads up. I’ve neglected my blogging, not because I’ve not had anything to blog about, but because I’ve had too much. So here I am facing my fear of having too much and here goes.A couple things first: my Dad is doing really well. I know I wrote about him a couple times back and things might not have sounded too good. Well, in answer to prayer (really, that is what it was), he went in for surgery and the doctor’s couldn’t find any cancer so they sewed him back up and last I heard he’s out working again. I would have probably informed my audience of that earlier, but that brings me to my second preface point: when no one replies to your blogs, it appears as though you have no audience, and therefore no apparent need to keep them updated. A couple people reply here and there, but they are the people that I was getting the news from about my Dad, so I didn’t find a need to publish for them the things they were telling me. I guess I just say that to encourage whoever is reading this to click “Post a Reply” and let me know you are out there. It doesn’t have to be anything profound, but it is fun to see a comment. I hope that doesn’t come across as demanding, selfish or me trying to justify myself. All I can do is hope.
OK, now on to today’s topic. So there is this pastor that wrote this book that I really like. His name is Rob Bell. His church is called Mar’s Hill. His book is called Velvet Elvis. He writes this:“I am learning that church is at its best when it is underground, subversive, and countercultural. It is the quiet, humble, stealth acts that change things. These are the kinds of people who change the world. They improvise and adapt and innovate and explore new ways to get things done. They don’t make a lot of noise, and they don’t draw a lot of attention to themselves.”
I want the church to be at its best. So I have this idea… quite possibly a vision directly from God. There are thousands of shoe shiners on the streets of La Paz. They are everywhere, and for the most part they go unnoticed. But when you get to know these guys, you find that there are many that are great people… loving and compassionate, wanting to help and trying to make the world a better place to live. For many of the guys, their other shoe shiner friends are all they have for a family, and so as I dive into this sub-culture I’m finding a community of people loving each other.
In fact, as I’m toying with another idea of starting a shoe shiner church, I often arrive at the conclusion that in so many ways, we already are a church. We care for one another, we share meals together, we go on retreats together, we go to funerals together, we visit our friends in the hospital, we pray together, we talk about how tough life is… we do life together. What we are missing is an outward focus. I was going to say Jesus, but I can’t say that because I believe He is the one responsible for this community. Plus several of us have Jesus living in us, and therefore since we are part of this community, Jesus is present. I hope to see an increase in Him, but He’s already here. If He wasn’t, we wouldn’t have this community… this church.
But we need to look outside our “family”. That’s what Jesus wants from His church. And so with that in mind, and the whole “underground, subversive and countercultural” idea bouncing around in my head, I’ve been given this vision.
What if La Paz was known around the world for its shoe shiners? Not because they are poor and needy and everywhere. But because their presence makes La Paz a safe place to live. What if the Lonely Planet books said things like: “If you are ever in need while in La Paz, find a shoe shiner (they’re everywhere). They are trustworthy, helpful and loving guys that are committed to helping foreigners. You can trust them, and if you happen to be taken advantage of by the one or two that are not trustworthy, one of the trustworthy ones will be right on top of the situation.” It’s kind of like the Guardian Angels of New York City. A band of brothers that love people and look out for the city because they know that is what their leader would have done if He wasn’t currently seated at the right hand of the Father.
Today I was walking with David down a steep street kind of half on the street and half on the sidewalk. Suddenly, I nearly got hit by a car coming from behind. When I looked at the car speed by, I realized a couple odd things. One, it was going backwards. Two, there was no one driving it. It was an out of control car with a lot of potential to do some damage. We yelled at the street full of people to get out of the way, and several literally dove at the last second to avoid being smashed between the car and the store it crashed into.
For a second afterward everyone just stood there, but then we realized there were two children in the car. I ran down the hill and was the first one at the car to try to open the locked doors. At this point the story looses excitement. I got the door opened and pulled out a very shocked and crying, but very all right 3 year-old and held him until he stopped crying. Someone else grabbed his brother, who was also fine. His hysterical mother finally made it to the accident and I handed the boy over.
All this to say, I would love to see a city where the shoe shiners are the first on the scene at accidents, the ones that foil the pickpocket’s thieving ploys, the eyes watching over the person walking in dark alleys… pretty much like batman, but with a different mask and no cape.

Mar 5, 2006
The most important thing someone did for me.
Don Miller writes, “It makes you feel that as a parent the most important thing you can do is love your kids, hold them and tell them you love them because, until we get to heaven, all we can do is hold our palms over the wounds.”
Here is my story, my testimony, the way God saved me: my parents loved me, and continue to love me. I agree with Don that it is the most important thing anyone has done for me. I am who I am and where I’m today because my parents love me, and as I walk farther down this road, I realize more and more the impact it has had on me.
A couple years ago on Mother’s day I took my mom out. The place we planned to go was closed, so we just went out for a bite to eat and spent the evening talking. It was my favorite Mother’s day yet. As we talked that night, my mom told me about a friend she had growing up. My mom helped her with babysitting, and my mom’s friend hardly ever held her children. The children spent most of their time in their cribs. It was through this experience that my mom decided that when she had children, she would hold them. My mom, before I was born, decided she would hold me close to her.
My mom held me close to her when I was a baby.
Just last night I was talking with my dad on the phone. He was telling me about Missy’s marathon and how she’d beat this one guy who seems to like to pick on her. He concluded the story with a very sincere and excited, “I was so proud of her!” I started working with my dad pouring concrete when I was 10 years old. That was when he started calling me his right-hand man and building in me confidence and value.
My dad told me several times that he was proud of me.The last two weeks my parents came and visited me here in La Paz. Maybe a month ago I might have said that I can’t imagine being loved deeper by my parents, but their love went deeper. My mom did it by jump roping with children from my church, using the Spanish she knows, and making enchiladas for me and my friends. My dad did it by coming to hours and hours of basketball practice with me and despite a language barrier, he laughed with, hugged and encouraged the shoe shiner guys. They didn’t want him to leave.
Maybe one day I’ll learn to love like my folks. I can’t think of any higher compliment that I could receive because Mom and Dad love as a result of their relationship with Jesus, and so if I learn to love like them, I’ll be learning to love like God.
Freddy, a shoe shiner friend of mine, is walking through some difficult times. His wife has left him and wants to take his two precious children with her. I sat and listened to Freddy on Friday as he poured out his heart: his frustrations, his fears, his hurts, his hopes, his past and his love for his children. Freddy grew up abused by his step-father. He escaped to the streets when his step-dad drove him from the house, throwing rocks and shouting, “You’re not my son. You’re no good.”
Who am I that God gave me the parent’s I have? I really don’t know the answer to this question. It probably has something to do with grace, but to say I understand it would be a lie. So I’m left to do the only thing I can figure: give thanks. Lord, you are the best Father… fully faithful, unconditionally loving, immeasurably generous and perfectly patient. I don’t deserve any of that, nor do I have anything in my billfold to pay for that kind of treatment. You’ve also given me earthly parents who through example, discipline, laughs, and the whole gamut of life pointed me to you. I know I don’t fully understand what a priceless gift this is and to what extent it has formed me and changed me, but I do want to say thank you.
With all that I have, everything that I am, I say from the depths of my changed heart: thank you God!

Feb 11, 2006
Harold's John Deere
I think that when you do something to entertain, and your audience doesn't understand what you are doing, but nevertheless you do it with all you have, paying attention to the details of your act and being sure never to break character, even when you have to speak in another language, is a very good thing.
Last night we had a little gathering here at the 4th of July Flats. It was a Mexican meal with Country and Swing dance lessons. We had a lot of fun. The part I enjoyed most was greeting our guests by playing the parts of hicks. I particularly liked it when we talked about Harold's John Deere and the 454 in my Chevy and how Mayonaise not a lotta folks here yet. The Bolivians really couldn't be expected to understand, but the show had to go on!
Some additional keys to the fun to remember for next time:
1. Piñatas will very rarely let you down, especially well made ones. Thanks Grant Habs for the work you did making ours withstand several blows.
2. Tatoos drawn with black markers are a hit that stick with you even after everyone has gone home.
Just some stuff I'm learning. Please pass on any keys to fun you've learned for our future gatherings.

Feb 6, 2006
Why I believe God is good.
Remember when we used to say things like "hurl" and "throw chunks"?
Whatever you call it, I was doing plenty of it last night. Not such a fun experience. Sure makes me glad for the good health I experience most of the time.
I called Dad the other night to tell him I bought a new VW bug (we call them "Peta's" here... and my particular Peta is named Olivia). He told me he might have cancer.
Sort of took my breath away. But talking with Dad gave me peace. It always has. I can remember hundred's of times growing up when it seemed like life was coming apart, but if I was with Dad, I KNEW things would be alright. Everything from being picked on by the class bully in 7th grade to trying to sink the family boat on Jan Lake several years later. No matter how rough it gets, life with Dad is always going to be OK. It has always been that way. I've known that for years.
And so when he talked about possibly having cancer, I felt peace because no matter what happens, everything is going to be good. I asked him if he was ready to die (who asks questions like that?), and he told me, "Yeah, everyone talks so highly of heaven, and you finally get a chance to go and everyone tries to keep you from going."
Everyone should have a hero. Dad is my hero. Personally I think everyone should have my Dad as their hero. It's not the first time I've said that. Since I can remember it has been that way. Dad has made God so easy to believe in. God calls Himself our perfect Father, and having grown up with Dad, I can think of nothing better to give my life to.
I believe God is good. This little phrase has really changed things lately for me. It has changed things because I think I finally believe it. So much evil, pain and heartbreak in my world, and yet I believe that surrounding all that (or at the center of it... maybe both) there is God who is looking out for His children's best interest. Just like Dad. No matter how rough it gets, life with God is always going to be OK.
And I'll tell you what, now that I believe that, everything is so different. Dad, I love you so much. Thanks for being my hero. Thanks for helping me believe that God is good. I can't wait to see you in two weeks!

Jan 20, 2006
Ninos de la luz
I called him Jim at first, but his name is Jon (known in Venezuela, Costa Rica and the DR as Juan). I met him this week... he's staying with me while he has some meetings in Bolivia. I really like Jon. We've had several charlas over pizza and in my sala. I feel like we have similar heart beats... I'm curious if he would say the same.
Jon started this ministry called Ninos de la Luz several years ago in Caracas and now he's handed it off to national leadership and he is working to build a school on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic to help institutionalized young men transition into life outside of the shelter they've lived in.
Last night we were talking, and I really apprecaited what Jon had to say. He told me his life is full of doubts, and the point he's at right now with the school has him scared to death.
I feel the same way with the Bolivia camp. One the one hand I've very excited, but when I think of all the people that have invested in this so far and the chance there is for it to fail, fear overcomes me. Fear, but also something else that I like. Either that or I like the fear.
Die to the vision is a term Jon used last night. Am I willing to walk away from a vision that I have... even one I feel God has given me? Can I stop mid-try and still have peace because I know that God is the drive behind the vision? That's a good question.
I've been made to take risks, so there is something in me that loves a good challenge without a certain solution or victorious end. But it is scary at the same time... a double edged sword I guess.Whoever is reading this right now... I hope you have been given a chance to fail in your life. That sounds strange, but I think it is important. I hope our live aren't so predictable and secure that we simply can't live by faith. Sounds like hell to me.

Jan 11, 2006
Once a King or Queen of Narnia…
I’m not exactly sure I can pinpoint the exact reason(s) why The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is now my favorite movie (took The Princes Bride’s spot after 12 years!). It could be any number of things: Lucy’s eyes and expressions throughout, the Beavers, the battle scene with cheetahs leading the way to free Narnia, the believing Professor, the brilliant lines, the Great Lion, the broken Stone Table… could be any of these or maybe a combination of all these and more. But what I think it is that makes me love it so much is this thing that wells up inside me every time I watch it. I realize that the story being told is my story. I’m Edmund the traitor that is redeemed. I can see myself in Peter when he questions his abilities but is believed in nevertheless. I share Susan’s struggle with faith, and Lucy’s courage is what I strive for. The battle scene is fought unseen all around me every day. And Aslan… oh Aslan… He is my hero. Narnia is my world. In fact, if someone were to ask me, the film is non-fiction.
I’ve been taking the shoe shiner guys as a Christmas gift. Here are some snippets from a couple conversations I’ve had following the film:“How do people come up with stories like that?” asked Flaco.
“Well, C.S. Lewis is a Christian. He got the story from the Bible.” I explained.
“Oh, wow” replies Flaco’s face.
The first thing Oliver said to me leaving the theatre: “Fue una película buena. Aslan es muy bueno.”
Bismar: “Bonito. Muchas gracias, Randy”
All the guys I took today “¿Donde esta tu corona? (Where’s your crown?)” They all thought I looked like long-haired, grown-up King Peter at the end of the film.
In “The Last Battle” Aslan uses the term “Shadowlands” to describe the old, less substantial Narnia which points to the real, genuine Narnia. It is just as a shadow which tells us a lot about the thing casting it (size, shape), and yet fails significantly in fully representing that object (color, dimensions, etc.). Even with that concept only partially understood, I can hardly contain myself at the thought of one day coming face to face with Jesus… an experience so much more overwhelming than the thrilling moment when I see His shadow, Aslan, step out of the tent in the movie.
I’m asking the fellas, “How would you like to meet Aslan?” I mean really, who wouldn’t? And to think that everyone can.

Jan 6, 2006
Año Nuevo
It’s nearing 3 a.m. and I can’t sleep, so I’m going to blog. I can’t sleep because I’m excited for this New Year. I’m excited for the people I’m planning to spend it with and for the things I have planned to do and I’m excited because life with Jesus has proven to be better than I ever dreamed. That’s really why I can’t sleep tonight.
So before getting too far into the future, I think it is good to reflect a bit on the past. Today I celebrated my one year anniversary of arriving here in Bolivia, and as I think back, here are some interesting facts about 2005:
1. I only had one haircut (it happened in July)
2. I never saw a movie in a theater (that streak is coming to an end because I’m going to see Narnia tomorrow)
3. I tried fried cow stomach for the first time (was not overwhelmed by the taste)
4. I was interviewed on live radio for my first time (and in Spanish… it wasn’t pretty)
5. I celebrated my birthday along with a Bolivian national holiday (San Juan, which meant fireworks!)
6. I read more than I probably read in my 4.5 years at School of Mines (The Hiding Place and Velvet Elvis were probably my favorite reads)
7. I learned how to make lasagna and enchiladas
8. I went backpacking in four different nations (U.S., Bolivia, Chile and Venezuela)
9. I blew the window out of the kitchen trying to light the oven
10. I climbed my first 6,000+ meter mountain
11. I lived in a country whose roads were closed down for 24 days straight (protests)
Wow, it’s been quite a year. It’s interesting to think about what 2006 will bring. Every now and then I come up with some New Year’s resolutions. I think it is a good time to evaluate where you life is going and reorder things so you hit more goals. For example, one year in college I resolved to eat more Jell-O and play more basketball, and sure enough I enriched my life with these two gifts from heaven. Last year I didn’t really come up with any because I was so preoccupied with moving to a new country. This year I am settled and have time to think, and so I will go ahead and make the following resolutions for 2006:
1. I resolve to meet my neighbors
2. I resolve to find a fishing hole in Bolivia
3. I resolve to learn some popular Latin songs (both words and guitar… Un Dia es Un Siglo will be the first)
4. I resolve to learn how to solve a Rubik’s Cube

Dec 30, 2005
Does anyone know what Patagonia means? I know it is a word used to describe the mountainous area of southern Chile and Argentina, but where does the word come from? Is it a Spanish word? Some other language? Someone's name maybe? Expensive outdoor outerwear? What does it mean?
It is fun when you are learning a new language and you finally get to the point where you associate a word with an idea and not the English equivalent. For example, when I lived in the Dominican Republic we used to use generators all the time because the power was always out. So I learned the word "planta" quickly. When I came back to the U.S. and was telling a story, I came to the word for the gas powered machine that makes electricity and all I could think of was "planta".
Anyways, no matter what the word's origin is, I now associate "Patagonia" with the idea of one of my favorite places in the world. It is precious, if I'm allowed to say that. In fact, without even knowing it, I stumbled upon an unknown life goal. Having never been here, I was unaware that it was one of my life's dream to visit here, until I came here. So I'm glad I'm here, and it was particularly nice to be able to add a goal to my list and check it off at the same time.
I hope to return some day to see the Torres de Paine and the penguins... oh, I nearly forgot to tell about the penguins. I saw some... hundreds actually. They are even better than I imagined, and for all you out there that were upset (or disgusted or outraged) by my "pretend" goal to kick one you will be happy to know I did not (although one nearly bit me which might have landed him a slight kick simply out of self-defense and reaction).
They remind me a lot of prairie dogs... just hanging out by their burrows. Just sitting there. Mostly scratching themselves, occasionally making some very entertaining noise and then making a trip to the beach for some swimming. Their land moving abilities are quite funny and entertaining, but what they lack on the land they more than make up for in the water. Did you know they can dive up to 90 meters and stay under water for 160 seconds? Pretty amazing little creatures. I would never kick one (that was not attacking me).
I also saw a couple Ñandus (relative of the Ostrich), a fox and either a skunk or a badger. I've seen a skunk before and I'm pretty sure it wasn't a skunk. Plus, since I've never seen a badger, it would be nice to be able to say I've seen a badger. That settles it, it was a badger. Quite the safari in the Patagonia sense.There's that word again.

Dec 22, 2005
Does anyone know where Osorno is?
It smells like Grandma´s basement. Not a bad smell, necesarily, but very distinct. I´m in a place that until yesterday I never even knew existed: Orsono, Chile. It is a nice little town on the way to the southern most city in the world: Punta Arenas. We plan to arrive on Christmas Eve and with any lucK I´ll be spending Christmas with a penguin.
I met this guy today on the bus. Christian Diaz is his name, and he is a Christian. We got to talking (which was difficult because the Spanish here is so different) and by the time we got to Orsono he had adopted us. Very hospitable. In fact, it makes me curious how hospitable I am to foreigners. I used to say that it is a healthy activity to visit a new church every now and then so that you can remember what it is like to be new and therefore assist you to be more welcoming at your own home. I´d forgotton about that, and now Christian has helped me to remember the importance of hospitality.I´m heading south!

Dec 21, 2005
Looking for a penguin
I´m in Temuco, Chile this morning after 46 hours of buses from La Paz, through a real sand dessert to Arica, Chile (for a McDonald´s combo on the beach), south to Santiago where we stayed for 10 minutes before finding another bus to head even farther south. Now I´m in volcano country, and there are trees! It was so nice to get off of the bus this morning and smell the green (this will make sense to anyone who has lived in La Paz). It reminds me of good old Colorado and I am happy.
The goal is to find a penguin. Actually, because of a game we invented in La Paz with pigeons (thanks Colby and Josh!) the official goal is to kick a penguin into the Pacific Ocean. We´ll see how close I can get. So the penguin is the primary objective. I´m also looking forward to sitting in my hammock while fishing in a mountain stream or lake for o-so-delicious trout. I´m also looking forward to hiking through a pine forrest.
I hope your Christmas is merry!

Dec 13, 2005
I can't wait to go home
Today I had my backpack stolen. It had my Bible, my journal, a letter from Missy, and my favorite Mines hooded sweatshirt in it. Nothing of value for anyone except me.
I'll have to be honest that I'm pretty angry... you might even say pissed. Actually, there is no doubt... I'm pissed. Why does it have to be this way? Where are the honest people? I with I could have caught the theif... but then again I might be spending some time behind bars, because I'm sure my anger would have made me do something stupid. I just can't wait to go home. And when I say home, I'm not talking about the good old U.S of A (although I do miss that home terribly... for the people I know there). I'm talking about the place where God's goodness rules everywhere. You know, His Kingdom. The place where I don't have to worry about leaving my backpack unguarded. Where people are not only looking out for themselves. Where no one is hungry or lonely and above all, everyone is thankful all the time for the grace God has extended. Today I weep. I mourn the ruined state of this world and I long for things to be like they were meant to. Come Lord Jesus, come!

Dec 6, 2005
It's like you're always stuck in second gear...
So I’ve been watching a lot of Friends lately and here are my thoughts:
First off, I do not like the way they sleep around and treat sex. Obviously as a Christ follower, I have a different view of love (in the tri-fold Hebrew definition of the word). But at the same time, it really does not surprise me considering where they are coming from. In fact, I would expect nothing less from people who do not know God. They base life on… well… I’m not sure what they base it on, but without a good solid rock to find your bearings, this is the type of behavior that logically would result. Obviously they have a high value of being a faithful friend within the group, but I really don’t know where they look for authority on what defines a good friend and what does not.
What do I like about Friends? I like the way they create several different type of relationship situations and dive into them. The characters mess up, ask forgiveness, talk with each other, try to do what they think is right (according to their values), live life together, and overall I am impressed with the show’s relational aspect. It is relationally rich, and quite honestly very entertaining. What if there was a Friends type of show made by Christians? I’m not saying it is a Christian Friends, because the use of the word Christian as an adjective really confuses things, especially in this case. But let’s say that the values of the show are based on the values found in the Kingdom of Heaven. I’m not saying that everyone on the show is a Christian… in fact, maybe no one is. In fact, it might be good to have a couple people that are perverts, one or two with a different view of who God is, a vegetarian, a compulsive liar…just like on the real Friends, and just like in real life. Seems to me such a show would be a great environment for writers to insert Kingdom values into these very real situations.
Maybe one of the friends is a Christian, and his being a Christ follower is respected and supported just like Pheobe’s strange outlook on life is respected and supported, or Ross’s love for dinosaurs is respected and supported. Equally within the community of friends, these characteristics are joked about (just like in the real Friends), but they are never treated as less of a person within the community. Sometimes the Christian would have some input into a relational situation. Sometimes his input might be rejected, and sometimes his input would not even represent God correctly, but it would also be considered occasionally and might even turn out to be the best option offered every now and then. That sounds like real life to me.
I think Christians have every reason to be the masters of relationships. We have insight into how relationships should be run that the world simply does not have. What I don’t mean by that is that relationships between or with Christians are perfect and they never think about sex or never offend or never screw things up or never get pissed. Instead, a Christian should be the person that when (not if) they find themselves in such situations, they look to Jesus’ way of living to navigate such rough waters. When they do, things work out. When they don’t, watch out. (By the way, I believe a non-Christian could find themselves doing things God’s way or not and have the same results, whether knowingly or not).
Christians should be leading the way with relationally rich movies, books, T.V. shows… everything. We shouldn’t be the ones that are shying away from all the awkward and difficult situations that life presents. I like Friends, but I think the Church could offer something even better. What do you think?

Nov 28, 2005
Two are better than one
So I'm in this race. It turns out it is more of a marathon than a sprint. Actually, a mega-marathon - at least 1,000 miles long. For whatever reason, I find myself running at night a lot. It is really dark, and some days there is a slight drizzle and so I loose my footing on the slick red clay and fall. Many times I stick out a hand and catch myself. But there are the times when I fall all the way to the ground. My butt is bruised and my twisted knee is sore. It is usually only as I sit on the ground that I notice how difficult this race is, and I don’t want to get up.
Luckily I’m not running alone. I have a friend who won’t let me stay down. He loves me so much that he threatens to kick my butt if I don’t start running again. But he isn’t just a drill sergeant demanding me to do what I don’t want to, he sees potential in me to finish this race, and so he encourages me. My friend believes in me, and maybe even more significant is the fact that he does not judge me.
How do I get friends like that? I can’t really say. It isn’t like I deserve it. But this I do know: I pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Gracias Arky.>.

Nov 19, 2005
I'm not even trying
Seems like the theme for my life lately is "whatever you do, someone will be offended." It is not a particularly fun theme to be in. It really has amazed me how many people I've managed to offend in the last couple weeks. People I work with, neighbors, Bolivians, Americans, a police officer, taxi driver, the grandmother of the guy I was guarding at a basketball game, shoe shiners, volunteers, teammates, my pastor and his family... seems like just about everyone. And the two things that I find annoying (and also entertaining... I've got to remember not to take life too seriously living in another culture) is that first off it seems like many people I offend cross-culturally think I am actually trying to offend them. I'm not even trying... I can imagine what a great job I'd do with a little effort! But no, I actually am trying my hardest to respect people, and it is funny that when I mess up I get this sense that people think I am intentionally out to harm.
And the second thing... well I forgot, but if I think of it I'll be sure to tell you.
Looking at the glass half full, I am building some great relationship skills as I find myself having to apologize with substancial regularity. I would say that for me, without a doubt, the hardest words for me to say are, "I am sorry, please forgive me"... especially without following up that statement with some form of justification or excuse.

Nov 17, 2005
500 million young people
Last week I went to Caracas, Venezuela and Bogota, Colombia. In Caracas I got up at 4 am one morning to scale a 10,000 foot mountain that gives an incredible view of the city of 7 million people and the Caribbean Sea. In Bogota I had a chance to go to prison and visit with several 20 to 25 year old inmates.
A while back I had heard the stat that there are 500 million young people in Latin America. I think on my recent voyage that stat became something more than just numbers... it became people, so many of which are lost. My heart broke.
So now I´m back in La Paz with a new, bigger vision for youth ministry in Latin America. More than ever I am convinced of the need for Youth for Christ ministries around the world, but especially on this continent.
So my question for you, reader, is would you consider coming south to help with the harvest? I´m serious because... millions of young people need to have their hearts transformed. Think about it, and if you´re interested click here.

Oct 28, 2005
"X" (I don’t know how it is spelled, but just like you would pronounce the letter) is how you say "Cheese" in Portuguese. One thing I really enjoy about living here in La Paz is all the people I get to meet. Last night I had a very... hmm... magical? moment when a group of five Brazilians from a rock band stayed the night. They of course are masters of Portuguese, Jon and I seem to best communicate in English, and my Bolivian friends are the Spanish experts. So the night was full of charades and me saying, “I don’t understand” or “No te entiendo”, but still it was such a rich experience.We ended the evening (actually, I ended the evening… they stayed up much later) by getting out an acoustic guitar and playing songs designed to honor the King. Many of the songs we sang we knew in Spanish, Portuguese and English and so we sang out in our language of preference. The band was obviously very musical, and the apartment I live in has particularly good acoustics (one of my interns commented on how we ought to record a CD here because the acoustics are so approving), but the quality of singing originated from somewhere deep. I might say our hearts. In fact, that would be my conclusion. I wish you could have been here to experience it.
God’s Church is really something. I think of the top ten best experiences of my life, probably more than half of them included some sort of cross-cultural experience with brothers and sisters. Things like flying chichiguas (kites) with children in Haiti or listening to a Korean missionary preach at a church in Santo Domingo or singing Mexican style around a campfire in Acuña or putting up a gate in the middle of the night in Guatemala or marching in a tropical downpour in Port of Spain or worshipping with Brazilians and Bolivians in La Paz are what money cannot buy but are treasured memories for me.
I really don’t know what heaven will be like, but I like to dream about it. It has been said that as a Christian, one of our jobs is to do just this. I think this is part of the concept of hope. Anyways, I have a couple examples that I know are just the tip of the iceberg, but nevertheless they give me something to start dreaming from. One is hitting a last second three-pointer in an NCAA final game. Another is a banquet of strangers where I feel lonely, but then Jesus waves from across the room and calls me to eat with Him… He has been saving a seat for me. I just finished “The Last Battle” of the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time, and that has given me a lot to think about as far as heaven’s beauty, goodness and size (plus flying). But another image I have of heaven comes from my favorite Christmas carol: “Oh Holy Night.” With my mind’s eye, I see rolling hills that stretch all the way to the horizon on a beautiful clear day. The hills are grassy, but you cannot see the grass because covering the hills, shoulder to shoulder are billions of white clothed people from every nation. Despite the multitude of people, it is surprisingly silent. Standing upon the highest hill we find the King, mounted on His white horse. I can’t even begin to describe the love, power, gentleness, majesty and humility He exhibits, but it captivates His audience.
Then, from somewhere beyond where I can see, a noise breaks the silence. It is difficult to distinguish initially. At first I hear the shuffle and sound of people moving accompanied by a unified voice, the words of which cannot be determined. Then, before I can make out the words, I see a wave moving through the people working from the horizon toward me as the masses of people bow down. The noise of this movement grows and partially drowns out the singing, but soon I am able to make out the song. It is not in English, but everyone understands it in their own language. The millions of people already singing sounds like a whisper as I first make out the words:“Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend! Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend! Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angels’ voices…”
By this point, I have joined the wave as I am compelled (in a wonderful way), by the King’s love to fall to my knees. It seems the only thing to do, and at the same time not enough. But somehow that does not matter.
And then, as if it were always this way, the words to the carol change, and with my voice I join in a chorus singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty… who is.”
I look around and see my family with me. I also see the Brazilian band and some Eskimos and a Haitian child with a white kite and there are some Africans who make the song something of their own. I really can’t describe it, but it is better than the best experiences of my life, although looking back I can see that all those experiences point to it.
Who started the singing and the bowing? It is not for certain, but I’m pretty sure it was a little Asian girl with Down’s syndrome. She seemed to be connected in such a real way to Jesus that while the rest of history’s men and women stood awestruck (which was a very appropriate response), she did what was natural and what she was made to do: worship the King. And the rest followed her lead.
If you have not got a chance to worship the King with brothers and sisters from another culture, you need to do it. It absolutely changed my life.

Oct 24, 2005
Kari Kari Piedras bombs
The first time someone told me, I really didn't believe them, and then I sort of forgot about it. It wasn't until the explosion seared my finger, left burn holes in my favorite pants and charred a quarter sized wound on the face of Oliver that I remembered what I had once thought to be merely a tale.
You see, there are rocks here in Bolivia that explode when you heat them up to much. I kid you not. Our source of heat was the campfire we built and were enjoying on the shore of Lake Titikaka two nights ago. We were in the middle of an intense game of animal crackers when the whole fire blew, sending the rock shards and red hot coals spraying everywhere. We were lucky to have escaped with just a couple little burns. It was crazy, and I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it. In fact, even after it happened it was hard to believe.
There is also a tale of a man (an old Catholic priest, if I’m not mistaken) that roams the Bolivian Altiplano and will come suck your fat and organs out of your body in the night. I can’t say that I believe in him (Kari Kari is his name) but the guys I was camping with were sure afraid of him. When I said I was going to sleep outside, they highly encouraged… begged might be the better word… me to sleep in the tent with them. Apparently, Kari Kari cannot enter into a closed room (or tent) without your permission. They told me it was dangerous, but I slept the night outside and did not meet him.
I guess the conclusion here is that you can’t believe everything you hear, but maybe you ought to believe some of the things you hear. Maybe not. I don’t know. But this I can say: my campfire blew up, and I have a scar on my finger to remember it.

Oct 17, 2005
One of my life goals is to learn to play soccer. Once again I have managed to give myself a goal without defining a way to measure it. I think this is in violation of goal setting standards. I should be ashamed of myself. I am. Que vergüenza.
So, although I have no idea what I mean when I say I want to learn to play soccer (and therefore I really have no way to know if I have attain my goal) I am moving forward with this.
So here is a quick history on my soccer development. From 1978 until around 2002 I can't say I played any soccer. This is sad. The whole world is united by this sport (or so it seems), and I completely ignored it. Again, I am ashamed of myself.
Wait a second, I'm having a memory. I believe I was in second grade, around 1987. In fact, I'm certain of it, because I was with Adam Valdes, who was my best friend that year. We were roaming the playground when a stray soccer ball was kicked towards us. Adam promptly kicked the ball to return it to the game, but miscalculated its trajectory and rocketed the ball into my face. I can't remember if I woke up on the playground or in the office.
Then it wasn't until 2002 when I found myself in a Mexican border town. The favorite pass time of the local youth was soccer, so I had my debut on a dusty, hot parking lot/soccer court in Acuna, Mexico. Basically I had no idea what I was doing, but I was in fairly good shape so I ran around a lot. I think the crowd cheered for me once when the ball was kicked over a fence into a yard and I leaped over the fence to fetch the ball. Go ahead, feel free to cheer right now if you want. It was a tall fence.
I allowed my skills (yes both of them), to lie dormant for several years, which has made my reentry into the sport difficult. Nevertheless, Friday October 7, 2005 I played on team "2 cents" representing the shoe shiners of the A.L.COR post office gang. This time I played on a full sized field for my first time. Under the direction of my current coach, Jon Osterbrock, I was able to score two goals in our 7-4 victory. It was a classic Gatorade moment with just enough rain to make things muddy and a great cast of teammates really excited to have won.
Now I'm playing on the "2 cents" team every Sunday. My skills are minimal, but that does not matter because around here I am known as one of the two giant white guys that everyone thinks is fast, so they keep letting me play. I'm learning a lot - mostly through my mistakes.The best part of it all, though, is I am getting to know the fellas of "2 cents". It really is quite funny how we can connect by running around in a rain storm chasing after a ball. But we do, and like I said and really mean, that is the best part of it all.

Oct 7, 2005
Big questions
How do you get to the point where you ask big questions? Or maybe I'm curious to know how one gets to the point where you ask big questions and then lean forward, tune in and listen up for the answer, because you realize the answer is substantial? How do we arrive at the place where the answer is not just what will get us a passing mark on the exam, but rather the answer is going to change things. It will change how you live life, how you make decisions, how you spend your resources (especially your time) and how you prioritize your life?
I feel like that place is the top of the ladder. I have not summitted, but I recently climbed up a rung. Why did I climb? Why are questions like "Who am I?" so important to me? I honestly don't know why, but I want to know because that is where I want the shoe shiners to be. That is where I want my church and my neighbors to be. I want to have conversations with people that are climbing this ladder.
I think tragedy brings some people to that place. That's why I wish I could go to Mississippi with my Dad and Gary and Ladd and Shaun and Aunt Dawn and Roy and Skip and Ashley and Jessica and Royal and Jesus. I know adding Jesus to the end of the list is sort of corny. Corny or not, I believe it to be true because that is how God tells us things work.
I imagine several people in Mississippi are going to be asking questions and then leaning forward and tuning in to the answers. I don't think there will be many good answers (the kind that the person, after listening to you turns and says, "Well I'll be, now everything is better"). There certainly will not be any easy answers. But I'm also not so sure the answers is what it is all about. I didn't initially follow Jesus because He was an answer. Come to find out, He is the answer, but that is not why I followed Him. I followed Him because He offered me relationship- the thing my heart longs for. Later, He became so much more, but relationship is what drew me in and I believe it is what still keeps me walking.
Maybe that is what makes us climb. Relationship. Perhaps once we find ourself in a love relationship the things that prevent us from climbing the ladder fade away. Maybe grace overwhelms us and it is then that we are ready to ask and lean in. I don't know. I'm just thinking tonight.

Sep 29, 2005
I've been reading Don Miller (Searching for God Knows What) and C. S. Lewis (Four Loves), and I've found a common theme. Ugly. What? Yes, ugly.Let me explain. Don Miller finds it fascinating, and I do to, that in Isaiah it tells us that Jesus was not attractive in appearance. A slight change of mental picture from what movies and pictures have painted for us. Check it out for yourself: Isaiah 53:2,3
Then C.S. Lewis gets talking about what he calls charity... love from God. This of course is great... maybe even the greatest thing there is. But there is something about charity from God that is hard for us. It is the fact that there is nothing we have done to earn it. Nothing.
The problem with this is we like to think that when someone loves us, it is because we are attrative. In fact we like this. A lot. And we should. But we can't say this concerning the love God gives us. I'm ugly, and God loves me nevertheless.
So tonight I find rest and peace to know that the God I am following did not place any emphasis on physical attraction. And that is a good thing, because when I look deep down at myself like I only can, I realize I'm ugly. But that does not matter to God. He still loves me like a groom loves his bride.
Derek Webb sings it well: "I am a whore, I do confess. I put you on just like a wedding dress, and I run down the aisle..."

Sep 27, 2005
The other day I visited the local International Church here in La Paz. I was being introduced to Ginger, who is one of the church's volunteers working with their youth. She was telling me about some of the activites they have planned and the things they hope to do. Then she made this comment: "It's been difficult lately. I'm really busy because my husband is running for president."Totally confused and on a different page, I replied to clarify: "Really, president of what?" (I'm thinking along the lines of school board or something like that).
"Bolivia" was her answer.
As it turns out her husband is Tuto, one of the leading candidates for president of the Rupublic of Bolivia... go figure! I've never met the wife of a presidential candidate, and I'll probably get to meet the actual Tuto here soon.

Sep 25, 2005
My church in La Paz
I have finally found a church here in La Paz, and I feel like I can worship, serve, grow, reach others and have community here. It is small, never more than 20 people have been there on any particular Sunday morning yet. The pastor is a great teacher, has a vision for working with the community and delegates service to the church. I like all that. We also share breakfast after every Sunday service - something that I think every church ought to do... it's biblical. Following the service this morning I ate bread and milk with 3 young boys and an older man, Victor. Victor was very slow to make eye contact with anyone. I don't know why, but it seemed like he felt ashamed or was expecting to be judged. When I talked with him, however, he was very quick to abandon his shyness. It was Victor's first time at our church, and he came because the boy's invited him. Brilliant. The boys invited him. That seems too easy, but that is what happened.
These boys are different. They are eager to learn - English, guitar, how to navigate the Bible, French, and more. They sit and talk with me after church. I can't say I know too many 10 year olds that do that. But now I do. They go to my church in La Paz, and juntos we are going to be Church, along with the rest of His followers.