"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Monday, June 30, 2008

Bolivia and mid-trip reflections (warning, long post)

So I'm now officially in the second half of my trip (day 27 of 52).

So, mission being accomplished? I'd say yes. My primary, personal mission on this trip was to experience the beauty and goodness of God in the people and places I'd encounter. That has happened, without a doubt. You've seen a small sample of pictures of some of those places and people. It has been an enriching trip, in which I have felt very alive. As I mentioned to some of you, this feels like a trip that is designed for me on so many levels.

My secondary mission has been the academic one...the mission that logistically and financially has made the first mission possible. :) I came here to discover the "emerging" Church in this part of the world...the ways the Church is seeking to be relevant to its culture and the new trends in its methods, practices, language, and values that reflect such efforts by the church. I wanted to know of it, celebrate it, learn from it, and share it with others.

Well...I'm finding it everywhere, having talked with numerous pastors and with several young Christian leaders. Certaintly, like in the U.S., not all of the churches see the need for such re-invention, and maybe even consider that to be a dangerous road to travel down, for many reasons. With much still to observe, the mid-trip conclusion and opinion is this: there is in fact an emerging church here, but its primary values are relational and humanitarian.

It seems to me that many churches in the U.S. understand relevancy in terms of being cool, or hip, or attractive. To make a generalization, the Church here in Peru & Bolivia thinks of being relevant as partially about offering relationship and community to a generation that wants connection, wants to be known, and maybe even needs to know they can be authentic and be loved for who they are, in light of a lot of brokenness here (much of it family-related, it seems).

The other half of relevancy seems to be humanitarian...to be "relevant" is to be in tune with the needs and hurts of the culture--both individuals as well as the greater social, economic, political systems--and to seek as churches to assist with such needs. These churches have what many in the U.S would call a "missional" understanding of themselves--they exist to better their communities by expressing the love of Christ in practical, tangible ways.

So is there an "emerging church" here? Yes. On a small scale, but gaining momentum. Is it identical to the U.S.? I don't think so. It will be interesting to explore in more depth why this is. Maybe it is as simple as the fact that the needs are different here, because this is a completely different world. Maybe because poverty and broken relationships are more visible here, a relevant church works to meet such needs, rather than worrying about things like worship music style, or trying to show that being Christian is "cool."

The invitation to live for God's kingdom and mission transcends "coolness." I believe God loves creation deeply, and invites us to anticipate with our lives the ways God will one day fully heal and restore the world. There is so much brokenness in the world--whether that means large-scale systemic issues that need the masses to unite to bring God's justice and goodness in a widespread way, or more individual brokenness, like the way your neighbor is broken because he or she has experienced abandonment, belittling, abuse, and as a result lives imprisoned by fear, self-hatred, loneliness, or just boredom from not having a greater mission of which to be a part. A relevant church seeks to join in how God is setting things right, here and now. Are our communities better off because churches are in them? Yikes...what a convincting question.

All that to say...I'm learning a lot, and still have much more to learn and process, as I think more deeply about what all these conversations and observations mean and more practically as to the "so what" of all this. I'm learning a lot...but where do I go from here?

Some pictures of the past week in Bolivia below, which by the way, I had some small issues getting into the country. Bolivia is upset with the U.S. right now, something regarding the refuge we've given to an ex-president of Bolivia who is in trouble here. So I had to buy a Visa for $100 to get in...something only Americans have to do.

This is a shot of Lake Titicaca...I spent most of Wednesday driving through the countryside of Bolivia, the shores of this HUGE lake, and through the charming little lake town of Copacabana. This picture does not do the scene justice. This is some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen, with the lake, the mountains, and the countless small farms along the way.

I was in La Paz Wednesday to Friday...breathtaking city as you drive in...it's all layed out in a canyon, with the entire city being on steep hills, save the main drag through town at the bottom. Nice time here...from the quaint markets in the streets that would drive Wal-Mart and Safeway lovers crazy, to waitresses wanting pictures with me (I'm a hottie down here, it seems), to random acts of kindness, like Jorge buying me some indigenous fruit and walking with me for several blocks and sharing some insights about the local culture.

This is in an old Franciscan monestary, next to the city's main square and cathedral.

Here are Raul and Damaris, a couple I spent the afternoon with discussing matters relevant to my exploration. They work at a seminary here and are also youth workers in their church.

So now I'm in Santa Cruz, in the tropical section of Bolivia (been in the mountains most of my trip) having arrived on Saturday, and having a great time. Through the wonder of networking, I've already made some great connections, attended a pretty special church on Sunday (more on that at a later time), and even played some soccer yesterday....finally...the return of "Sneaky Matthew" (for those that know that reference).

This is Joanna, my new "little sister." She is even more adorable in person. I'm staying with an incredible family here, who speaks basically no English. Yet it's amazing how much my Spanish is improving and has improved over the last month...the language barrier continues to lessen.

That's all for now...will be in Santa Cruz for the next few days.

Peace and farewell.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cusco and Machu Picchu

Cusco has been nice...Machu Picchu was glorious. Probably one of the most spectacular scenes I´ve ever viewed...with the surrounding landscape, the beauty of the architecture, the llamas and plant life, the glimpse into another world and time, and the innovation it took to build this city in its 15th century setting...this is the most incredible combination of Divine and human beauty and creativity. The Dalai Lama says it is one of the places on earth with the most energy...I can see why...the whole scene is just sublime, surreal, ¨charged with the grandeur of God,¨ to steal a line.

Here are some shots:
A great overview, and ¨proof¨ I was there.

I like the lone tree in the center of this one.

Everything is big here...big mountains, big canyons, big rocks. Part of what makes this place a wonder is that hoards of people probably did move and shape rocks like this.

Many more beautiful pics of this place when I return.

As for Cusco (Machu Picchu was a day trip from here), I arrived at a good time. The city is having its annual winter solstice celebration, beginning Friday and ending today, Tuesday. This involved a DAILY parade (which was timely, since I missed my hometown of Woodland, WA´s annual festival and parade this weekend), lots of music, and absolute chaos with the crowds. The climax of the festival involved several dances and marches in the main plaza of the city, traditions going back centuries to Inca times. I´ve never experienced such a celebratory atmosphere on this large of scale.

This is of one of the final dances in the Plaza de Armas.

Here they are carrying what I assume represents a tribal leader of some sort...they will march him through the city streets, up to the hill above the city that has some old ruins called Sacsayhuaman (pronounced ¨Sexy Woman¨).

Here is a church I attended on Sunday of one of the pastors I met with, Pastor Willie, barely there on the left. It´s a fairly large and progressive church for this city (the rest of the band is off to the side, and the rest of the congregation is out of the shot.
Many more photos to show of Cusco when I return home. I leave Peru tonight, after nearly three weeks, though I may get the chance to go visit a church in the jungle city of Iquitos when I return to Peru around the 20th of July or so for the final few days of my trip.
But for now, it´s on to Bolivia...taking an overnight bus to La Paz. Thanks for following along!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lima & Arequipa

Hi from Cusco, my last stop in Peru.

Here are a couple final shots from Lima. The first is of a worship service I attended, led by a pastor I interviewed, Juan Puppi. (like excrement-laden, not like young dog). I was asked to play a song during the service, so I sang one I´d written, along with their worship team...with the help of Paul (a guy I´ve gotten to know here) translating some of it. Neat opportunity!

And a look at the Pacific, southern-hemisphere style...

And Arequipa...I left Lima on Sunday night (overnight bus), and was in Arequipa Monday through Thursday, before leaving for Cusco on another overnight bus. Arequipa is lovely...has a neat feel to it. I would consider living here for a few months.

This is the town square...

These are a couple pastors I connected with...Javier, on my right, who was also helpful for translation during my time in Arequipa...and Willie and his wife, on my left, who I met at a pastor´s breakfast earlier that morning.

And this last shot is of the inside of Santa Catalina, a convent that is practially a minature city inside of Arequipa...was the home and workplace of sisters for centuries. Gorgeous architecture, all throughout this city.

It continues to be a rich trip...meeting some neat people, seeing some incredible stuff!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lima, Part Two

Buenas Tardes!

Wrapping up my time in Lima, heading south in a couple days. Been an interesting week, a good lesson in being flexible. I got really sick on Monday, in response probably to the food I ate the night before...was throwing up, and experiencing other unpleasant food-related sickness (enough said). Fortunately I had meds appropriate for the situation, and I moved into a hotel for a couple days and rested.

So, kind of a glitch...but I can't say I have any regrets about the past week. Been thinking a lot about the nature of providence...as much as I'm coordinating things, it feels like I'm along for the ride most of the time on this trip. In light of the timing of several happenings this week and the people I've had a chance to meet, it's hard not to acknowledge the goodness and rightness of everything that's happened. All that to say...it's been a wonderful and blessed week!

A view of the other, less upscale side of Lima...a good example of the kind of shack-lack communities that develop in some places, especially on hillsides like this. Can you spot the two dogs a ways up the hillside?

This is a shot of the church "Camina De Vida." The service was all in Spanish, but I think I got the heart of the sermon. Large church...the service had kind of a Hillsong feel to it. But what impressed me, after spending some time learning about the church from some of the staff and members, is the depth and breadth of their outward ministry, especially through some neat humanitarian work and a high involvement in such ministry by the congregation. They have a pretty incredible vision and self-understanding as a church...very outward focused. Pretty inspiring to learn about, actually. Through this church, I've connected with Jordan, the head of a non-profit, and a great source of insight and networking for me while I've been here.

This is a picture of Juan, Betty, and Ruth, some people I have interviewed. Juan and I have had some good conversations, and he has been helpful in making some other connections, such as Betty and Ruth, who have known him since he was a little boy. Betty now pastors a church that is fairly progressive and different from traditonal churches here.

Part of the "Inca Market," with a wealth of handcrafts from Peru. A woman tried to sell me a vase she supposedly "stayed up all night last night to make." Hmm. Not sure I believe it...I think most people at this market buy these products from elsewhere and sell them here. Oh well...I acted like I believed her, which led to some good conversation.

My local coffee shop, where they know my drink. Not all of my lifestyle habits change when I'm in a different country.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Initial experiences in Lima...

That´s me, on the table...this was part of my initial welcome to Peru. Guess I´m not ¨fitting in¨ very well.

Sorry, couldn´t resist. :) This is actually from a tour of an old political building in the capitol area of downtown, with several scenes recreated from 18th century Peru, including the one above of an underground torture chamber below one of the these buildings. This shot below is of me in a heated debate at a congressional meeting. (I guess that´s my ¨statue pose.¨)

Below are a couple shots of the capitol area, with beautiful, old, colonial-style buildings.

Been a wonderful few days thus far, all spent in Lima, mostly getting oriented, exploring, reading some literature relevant to my ¨quest,¨ setting up meetings with contacts, gaining a stronger vision for my time here, and meeting a lot of people. Already been a meaningful learning experience in many ways.

The family below has been amazingly helpful...VERY hospitable. I´ve been staying with Carlos, on the left (with his wife Megan); he has been educating me about life, culture, and religion here, and quickly has become a friend. His parents, on the right, who speak little English, took me around old town Lima (pics above), giving me a great tour and helping me practice Spanish. At dinner last night, his parents shared some incredible stories I´ll recount later, involving rescuing orphans out of the jungle at the height of communist terrorism about twenty years ago.

All for now...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Leaving tomorrow...

Welcome! Not much to say at the moment...

The CCI gang...

This picture is from my last day at CCI (Center for Continuous Improvement), the group home for mentally handicapped men at which I worked part-time this past school year. I don't think any of you have met any of these people, so hopefully this post provides an image to my stories and references. The back row are my co-workers, Fabiola, Juan Diego, and Patricia. The front row are my clients, (names edited and omitted for privacy). We took the guys to OMSI this day. Wonderful group of people, both co-workers and clients, like family to me.