"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.


Mom said...

Great insights Matt.

Anxious to hear more

Grandma said...

Oh Matt, howe I miss you. You have a wonderful way of expressing your feelings regarding this trip. Fran and I both wish you the very best.

Grandma and Fran

Ron said...

Hey Boz, it's Ron.

When I was in Bolivia a ton of people told me I looked exactly like Brad Pitt. Don't let it go to your head!

It's good to be blonde in South America.