June 3: BOWLivia Team Fund Raiser and Parish Meeting!

Bolivia17 at the Cristo

Big Impact.  Yummy Food.  Parish Meeting.

Want an easy way to make a big impact?  Come eat BOWLS of yummy food and give generously to help Team Bolivia at Restoration’s Parish Meeting June 3!

When:  Right after the 11am service on Sunday, June 3 in our fellowship hall.

What:  A delicious lunch prepared by the 21 members of TeamBolivia18 as a fund raiser for our travel and ministry costs.

How much is lunch?  Be generous!  The team shares all of the donations and they are used for team travel costs, ministry work in country, and ministry donations to our partners in Bolivia.

How long will the event last?  We will start serving lunch at 12:30pm.  Then at 1:00pm, we will have our ‘end of spring, beginning of summer’ Parish Meeting.  It will include an update on our finances, a report from TeamBolivia18, and a big cheer for Incarnation as they start Evening Prayer that night!

What will TeamBolivia18 be doing?  The team has been meeting together since April.  By God’s grace and good timing, the team has already had an opportunity to meet both of our ministry partners!  Here is a wonderful note from team member, Stephanie Dickerson:

When I signed up to join the Restoration Team going to Cochabamba, Bolivia in August, I simply thought, “Fun! This sounds like an adventure that I get to do in community!”

After meeting our two ministry partners, Tammy Firestone, Rector of  La Trinidad Anglican Church, and Tyson Malo, Director of Ninos con Valor, I realize there is so much more ahead of us.

Tammy asked that the Restoration Team provide healing prayer workshops for the people of La Trinidad– to both receive prayer and to learn how to pray for others. Then together, we are going to offer prayer to the neighborhoods around La Trinidad and their church plant in a nearby town.

“Healing prayer,” Tammy said, “is the way I believe we’ll see many, many lives actually transformed by Jesus. So many in Bolivia have heard his name, but simply add Jesus onto their other practices of worshipping idols, Mother Earth, and other Andean religious practices.  Abuse, addictions, and general brokenness is so prevalent in Cochabamba– people are in desperate need of healing. Healing prayer is the key to growing the church in Bolivia.”

I am excited to see how God stretches us as a team to serve and partner with La Trinidad in seeing lives healed and people transformed by Jesus!

Tyson, Director of Ninos con Valor, shared with us about the way NCV is continually refining and improving the way they provide residential homes for vulnerable children and teens– often taking the most challenging cases from around Bolivia. He spoke of how NCV is replicating their training practices to help others provide a similar level of quality care.

I am excited about continuing and deepening our partnership with Ninos con Valor as they care for and value children who are the most vulnerable in Bolivia and have a vision to expand their reach to more children!

I am excited to have the Restoration community participate with Team Bolivia!


See you on June 3 at 12:30 in fellowship hall.


Resto Goes! Cochabamba, August 2018

Cocha_cristo-790x532Restoration will be making its third official mission trip to Cochabamba in August 2018.

Our role:

We are taking a team to work with our friends at La Trinidad Anglican church, and to spend time with the children of Niños con Valor in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

dates: August 3-12, 2018

Cost: Airfare + visas + $900 (includes accommodation, food, and internal transport). Scholarships are available, and the team will also be doing some communal fundraising. Airfare is typically between $1000 and $1400. Visas also cost an additional $80 (or $120 depending on type).

If you have any further questions about these teams please feel free to contact team leader Endel Liias, endel.liias@gmail.com

Here’s the link to the application form!

Submit your application as soon as possible to Liz, liz@restorationarlington.org

Bus 9: reflections from #RestoBolivia2


During our time in Cochabamba, Bolivia we traveled through the city in a small bus that had a number 9 written on the front window.  It was driven by a very kindhearted man that became known as number 17, “Diecisiete”, on our team because when we would get on we would count off to make sure we were all there. Those of us who had been to Cochabamba the year before were pleased that it was the same bus and driver that we had during last year’s trip. I remembered him saying he especially enjoys times when he works with groups like us because he has more time in between our trips to spend at home with his family.

Upon arriving, bus 9 waited outside the airport to take us to where we would be staying. Since the bus looks like the other public buses (and usually is used for public transportation), it was quite common for us see locals attempt to flag down the bus and get on as we passed by. There usually was another bus like it not too far behind. Bus 9 took us to the NCV homes: Corazon del Pastor, Pedacito Del Cielo, and Sendero de Esperanza. It took us to a retreat center for the church retreat with La Trinidad (yes, there were llamas). There was luggage stacked in the aisles and on laps. Those who were feeling sick opted to sit up in the front of the bus next to the driver.  We sometimes packed children from the homes on the bus with us – quite the bonding experience. It took us to the Cristo de la Concordia for a beautiful view of the city. We took the bus to places that had delicious Bolivian food when we were hungry. The bus even took us to the largest open air market place in Bolivia, “La Cancha”.

On bus 9 we prayed, talked, laughed, cried and were quiet together. One time the bus stalled in the middle of a busy intersection and some of our team members got out to push until the engine started up again. The bus was usually on time, but everything usually started late. Our last trip on bus 9 was to the airport. Back where we began, but we were different. “Chao”, we said (goodbye that means we will see you again). God willing, we will be back on bus 9 next time.

~Andrew I.

Was it valuable? Thoughts from #RestoBolivia2


So, RestoBolivia, 2017…led by awesome leaders, Eva Elizabeth, Endel and Kate.  Followed by the rest of us…Rachel, Diana, Lauren, MacCrae and Bennet, child lovers and carers extraordinaire. Lauren and Andrew, worship and prayer leaders.  And the rest of us, teachers, testifiers and also child lovers, Phil, Wayne, J.P., Alexa, Laurel and David, and me, Desiree.

What a wonderful group of dedicated Christ lovers with whom to experience my first Mission Trip.  And what an experience it was.

The experience of love and care on the part of everyone in the group toward everyone else in the group before we even got to the actual work of the trip was true Christian love in action.

The level of care and concern evidenced over and over again for the well-being of each of us I have never before experienced.  So awesome, words fail me.

The experience of a previously unknown country and people and culture was exciting.

The experience of participating in the retreat we led for the local congregation stretched me beyond my comfort zone.  It was nerve racking to prepare a testimony for an unknown audience not to mention one that did not speak English.

But, nerve racking or not, I and others did it.  I for one felt vastly relieved when my part was done and I am still basking in the relief of having it behind me.

But, was it a valuable exercise?  Yes.  I decided in the preparation that reviewing my testimony was something I should do more frequently than I have been.  I really need to share my story ongoingly.

Of course, I’ve been talking about me.  Aside from the impact on me of giving my testimony was the impact on those who heard it even in translation.  I was amazed to realize how God used my words to stimulate responses in the listeners.  I felt humbled by so many who had questions and wanted follow-up conversations.

And then the experience of loving on the adorable children in the boys’ and girls’ homes which we did for the balance of our time there.  It was heartwarming to see and experience the love and care being lavished on the children by all, including us!, who come into contact with them.

The Mission Trip was a transformative experience in my journey of faith.  And one for which I feel very grateful for the opportunity to participate.

~Desiree F


The day after… thoughts from #RestoBolivia2


Today is the day after the end of the Bolivia trip– the end of the most transformative summer of my life as a whole where I felt God challenging me and pushing me to use my heart in ways I had not done before. This summer I felt the presence of God work through people in unforeseen ways.

First, what did I bring on this trip and how did God take it and transform it for His good?

On this trip I brought my love for getting to know the people, culture, and traditions of Latin America, which long preceded my interest in joining Equipo (Team) Bolivia. The second thing I brought with me was my love for serving others-from serving my family, friends, community, and job- I seek to serve in everyway I have to opportunity to because I feel like I marginally bring the world to being restored from a state of need or brokenness. However, on this trip, God has given me a renewed heart and lens with which to view Latin America as well as serving.

I saw through the work we have done with La Trinidad, an Anglican sister church in Cochabamba, that sowing and reaping together rather than working on behalf of other people renders incredible results that glorify God. This has been instructive in how to serve cross-culturally in settings where historically having others come in from the outside often has negative results. In working with the La Trinidad, we were humbled to see the such an elaborate and dynamic church could arise- a church that includes the most marginalized and offers them an immediate and engaging experience alongside the of gospel of serving that the houses and tias (affectionate and formal term for the women that care for the children) live out day in and day out. This indeed informed my experience of seeing that as a church there is not a one-size fits all model, and there are cultural differences that are key to understand.

Secondly, I brought my love for serving people and thinking critically about how this service is impacting them. What God has taught me through the experience of sharing with Bolivians is that He wants us to uphold the relational aspect of His kingdom to reflect His love in this world. By living out the relational aspect of God’s kingdom, we expand the network of people we love, care for, know well, and connect with- which is exactly what I felt like the whole group did while in Bolivia.

During our debrief session before flying out of Cochabamba at the end of our trip, Tyson, the leader of the work we were doing with Niños con Valor, shared with us the healthiest and most helpful way to transition out of Bolivia is by integrating our experiences there into our present reality here. As I return back to the states, my hope is to integrate these experiences into a part of my life I have felt disconnected from for the past year as I have simultaneously been drawing closer to Restoration, which is an answer to the prayer of what my vocation should be. This is an area I have been praying to the Lord about for cohesion for in my life between my passions and my day-to-day work. I want to pivot my vocation to working with Latin Americans back in the U.S. and in Latin America directly with humility and a spirit of working alongside people in settings like Bolivia where there are obstacles and constraints as well as opportunities and abundant blessings.

Through the testimonies we all shared that followed the theme of being at the table with Jesus, we learned and lived what God continuously shows his disciples in Luke, which is that out of our little, He in turn provides abundantly.

And when it comes to service, it has been key to invite God into settings where we serve others joyfully and creatively where we can glorify Him and expand His love in His Kingdom. I will continue to pray for God to penetrate the ways I practice serving my Latin American community back here in the context of the greater Washington community. In the day after, I seek to continue to build on the experiences we all had with the children, tias, and homes into the practice of seeing how I want to live out service and my passion for Latin America in my day-to-day life. I think I will start with grabbing some mate (local tea) and staying in touch with some of the kids we connected with through letters and staying tuned to their lives in the larger context of Bolivia.

~Alexa A.

Un Equipo Increíble: Thoughts from #RestoBoliva2


Short-term mission trips come with their share of challenges. Before the trip, I found it hard to believe that somehow in a 10 day period, a group of 16 people of different ages, backgrounds, and experiences could somehow come together, plant themselves in a foreign country, adjust to new food, language, and culture, and have a meaningful impact on the people they came to serve.

I was in awe of the way our group demonstrated flexibility, sensitivity, and openness to the daily realities that we faced in Bolivia.

Instead of expressing frustration at the church retreat that our detailed schedule was constantly being rearranged and delayed, our team expressed delight that we could embrace the Bolivian way, release our Type A grip on things, and simply open our arms wide to welcome the beautiful chaos that we know God was orchestrating. If we had been adamant about sticking to our rigid schedule, it could have caused a rift between Resto and La Trinidad. Instead, our team’s flexibility allowed for an easy integration of our groups during which we could focus on what God was teaching us.

Instead of going through the motions of giving gifts at the end of the week to our friends at Niños con Valor and offering a generic thank you to all of the Tias for their work with the children, our team decided to hand-write individual thank you notes to each of the 19 Tias.  After a long day of work, our team members willingly gathered around the table at our guesthouse until midnight, reflecting on the distinct personalities of the Tias and specific ways that they love the children of NCV. As we distributed the gifts and notes to each Tia on our final day in Cochabamba, it was brought to our attention that no group had ever thanked each of the Tia’s individually. This gesture was deeply meaningful to them, and I’d like to think that our words and actions played a role in “refreshing workers” – which was one of the main objectives of the trip.

 Instead of grumbling about the illnesses that plagued our group from some uninvited friends (amoebas and parasites to name a few), I watched our team members support one another by offering healing prayer and taking multiple trips to the pharmacies to buy various medications. In addition, those who were afflicted with various health issues maintained positive attitudes and continued to offer ways they could help the team fulfill our mission.

These are just a few of many ways that our group demonstrated that they came to Bolivia not to be served but to serve.

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” – Hebrews 6:10

I praise God for each individual that he placed on this team and I know that the fruits of their labor will continue to bless our Bolivian friends.

~Kate L.

Equipo Bolivia Vuelve

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We are home.

Hey Restoration!  Our Bolivia Team arrived home around 9pm on Sunday night.  Thank you for reading our emails and blogs, for praying, and for generously helping with our trip costs.  Some of you came to the Bowlivia Dinner, others of you dropped your kids with us for a Date Night, lots of you gave specific gifts to help with flights, visas, and thousands of Perler Beads (more on that, soon).  Restoration gives so generously of its time, prayers, and money.  I am always grateful and humbled by your participation when the opportunity presents itself.  Thank you.

I get the honor of offering some initial thoughts as we re-enter to North American life and culture.  You will hear from other members of our team over the next couple of weeks.

Resto People are Incredible People.

Our team started meeting as a small group during the spring trimester.  This is the way we have been prepping for mission trips for about 5 years.  It gives us a great opportunity to get to know each other, to pray for each other, and to prepare to serve together.  Over and over, I said thanks to God for the incredible people He put on this team.  We were lead by the dynamic trio of Endel Liias, Kate Liias, and Eva-Elizabeth Chisholm.  They were extraordinary:  calm, attentive to details, and compassionate towards the rest of us.  At least half the team was fluent in Spanish and another 1/4 could function well on their own in Spanish conversation.  That left a few people like me with LOTS of help when we got stuck tripping over our limited vocabulary.  We loved living in a guest house together and doing compline each night.  We worked hard leading a retreat and serving lots of kids.  We laughed, mourned, and were touched by the things God is doing in Bolivia.

We have this thing called RestoGoes (look for the yellow flyer in the narthex).  We try to get teams to our partners in Cambodia (Jan2017), West Asia (Nov2017), and Bolivia (Aug2017) each year.  One of the best parts of RestoGoes are the people who go with you.  The next opportunity is West Asia in November.  Want to join an incredible team?

La Trinidad Anglican Church

Most of us left Dulles at 11:30am on Thur, Aug 3.  We arrived in Cochabamba around 8am on Fri, Aug 4.  It’s a long way.

Our first task was to lead a retreat (Sat-Mon) for La Trinidad Anglican Church.  The format was familiar to us–  it’s just like our Restoration Fall Retreat (10/14-15, registration is open, last year we maxed out, don’t miss it!).

For 4 months, our team had worked on stories in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus has a meal with a group of people (there are over half a dozen of them).  Our retreat theme was:  En la mesa con Jesus.
Over the course of the weekend, we had six sessions where one team member taught the passage and a second team member gave a testimony for how that story impacted their life.  The combo was so good.  Our team had prepared with excellence.  Many of the team taught and shared in Spanish.  Some of us were translated by other members of the team.

Before we went, we discussed cultural differences we would encounter.  We used the phrase–  it’s not right or wrong, it’s just different.  One of those differences was how we view vulnerability.  Restoration is a church that views vulnerability as a strength.  In our small groups and friendships, we want to be known, to be sincere, to not hide.  Vulnerability as a strength came out in the way our team courageously shared their testimonies and it was very attractive.

La Trinidad in particular and perhaps Bolivian culture in general views vulnerability as a weakness (again, not right or wrong, just different).  During the retreat, the people of La Trinidad greatly appreciated the vulnerability of our team and their appreciation lead to long discussions of how their church might become more transparent with each other–  for the sake of the Gospel and the healing work that Jesus wants to do in us.

Our team was grateful to be able to bring the gift of our stories and grateful to see how the Holy Spirit used them to bless our friends at La Trinidad during the retreat.

I hope you will be quick to sign up for a fall small group where you can be known and build friendships with other folks at Restoration.

Niños Con Valor

From Tuesday to Saturday we volunteered with the organization, Niños Con Valor.  It was a rewarding combination of affection, hard work, crafts, conversation, prayer, and learning.

There was a narrative that became very real to me that week.  We had a presentation on the history of Bolivia that taught us the economic and political fragility of that country (the presentation was entitled, ‘Bolivia Exists!’).  Bolivia is not a powerful economy compared with its neighbors.  In addition,  we were working with children who had been orphaned or abandoned.  Many of them had special needs and almost half had HIV.  These children became so precious to us.  Yet, according to the currency and value assessment of most of the world, they could be dismissed as ‘the least of these.’  The staff and volunteers of NCV are truly standing in the gap for about 40 kids that might not have any other place to turn.  It was our deep, profound privilege to get to serve alongside them and to experience the expansion of our hearts in exuberant affection for these children.


I loved our time in Bolivia.  I believe we did some good.  I know we built relational partnerships that will continue to strengthen.  As we grow our work with RILA, and dream about a future Spanish service, and partner with our good friends at Casa Chirilagua, and wonder about how God will materialize our hopes for Incarnation Anglican Church in South Arlington, I know that this companionship in Bolivia is a part of our Restoration story.  I love trusting that God is leading us and coordinating us.  It is such an adventure!

Good to be home.  See you on Sunday.


He has taken my little, and given me much

#RestoBolivia2 – Team reflections #1

Tu fe ha salvado; ve te en paz.

RestorationMission 2These are the words of Jesus as he blesses the woman who washed his feet with her tears. A simple sentence:

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

These are the words of Jesus that have been on repeat (in Spanish and in English) since Sunday morning, after Laurel and Desiree shared testimonies and teaching with members of La Trinidad, the church here in Cochabamba. Words that carry blessing and hope.

I wasn’t ready for this trip. We’d put months of preparation in to it – some of us had literally been talking about this trip since we left Cochabamba last July. Plans were set – we knew who would be speaking – we knew who would be leading kids time – hours of prayer and encouragement and listening and learning were put into this trip. And still my heart was not quite ready. I was tired, struggling with some familiar voices of shame and the question of “has it been enough?”

Late Friday night I sent around an update for our prayer partners. I was exhausted after a full day of travel and little sleep, and in all honesty struggling to find words. But last night my words were re-read to me, and I realized that the prayer I’d written for our friends at La Trinidad was in many ways a prayer for myself: “that they will be able to enter into the next few days with ready hearts.”

Now, on the other side of the retreat, I am grateful for the ways God took my little and reminded me that he is enough. Our plans were used and changed and shared in ways that we didn’t always understand, but they did not return empty. So many of us were privileged to see many at La Trinidad share their stories in new and vulnerable ways. There was weeping and rejoicing, celebration and struggle.


We also discovered that the Hanke family knows a thing or two about llamas

As we reflected on the story of the woman weeping at Jesus’ feet, I shared with our small group that as I imagined myself in her place, there was an overwhelming sense that the need for healing was greater than the weight of shame that could leave her (me) isolated and alone – that risking the judgment of the people watching was worth the relief that would come from Jesus’ grace.


This is my benediction: Your faith has saved you; go in peace


RestoBolivia: a message from our hosts!


There are moments in life when you get a glimpse of God’s love, HIS heart and HIS hands by watching others. I was privileged to have a whole photo album of these moments when the 2016 RestoBolivia team came to Cochabamba in July. I am a volunteer at Niños con Valor and spent a significant amount of time with this group who clearly wanted to share that God knows you! He’s crazy about you! He goes with you!

unnamed-2The images that fill my mind when I reflect back on the jam-packed week are ones of play, connection and devotion. I can see the smiles and hear the laughter during activities like face painting, playing at the park, drawing on frisbees, swimming at El Poncho and watching the performances at the 10th Anniversary Celebration of Niños con Valor. The too numerous to count hugs and the non-existent personal space bubble are the natural result of sincere caring. I witnessed eyes lighting up when the team would ring the doorbell and the proverbial “ahhh” when it was time to leave for the day. It was a cycle of high-octane VBS mornings at La Trinidad, activity filled afternoons at Corazón del Pastor and Pedacito de Cielo and evenings to prepare for doing it all over again the next day. What struck me most about this RestoBolivia team was how each day was approached by trying to do their best and make the best of out situations that didn’t go as planned. (A common occurrence with children and in Bolivia.)

unnamedA common question I hear, is how can a bond be so deep after only a week together? In my opinion, the answer is what all mission trips should leave room for… God! He bridges intentions and actions, Spanish and English, difficult pasts and hopeful futures and everything else. When you come with a heart to serve and willingness to allow God to lead, change and challenge you, you are left with what the RestoBolivia team experienced. The team,community, church and children and staff at Niños con Valor are different because of how God works.

Thank you to the RestoBolivia team for giving of yourself selflessly and for being SO fun!!!

~Marianne Wong

(Ed:Marianne was the MOST wonderful hostess – unfailingly cheerful, helpful and wise. So grateful for her part in making it a really good 10 days!)

RestoBolivia: Hard things


Craft time with Tia Susie and Tia Graciella!

On Wednesday, April 20th, thirteen strange people sat in my living room and entertained the idea of going to Bolivia. Every Wednesday, we met in the same place at the same time, and planned our week in Cochabamba. We met various people on Skype, and we threw around different words and names such as “Tammy,” “The Cancha,” “La Paz” and “Ninos Con Valor.” Lauren came up with the entire VBS schedule from top to bottom. Gloria and I thought of craft ideas for the afternoons. We all prayed for each other every moment that we could. Andrew brought his guitar. Endel and Kate taught us some Spanish words. We were part of each other’s lives every week. We made each other excited for the adventure that we were about to be going on together.

Before going to Cochabamba, I was not prepared for the hard things that I was going to see, experience and be a part of. Different thoughts ran through my head prior to our departure. It will all be fine and fun and exciting, I thought to myself as I was running errands for crafts that would be going in my suitcase. I am a daughter of the One True King. He won’t let anything stop me from having a good trip. My mind said as I sat in church, hearing our trip being announced to the congregation. My mom will be there. She won’t make me do anything hard or uncomfortable, I thought as I walked alongside my mother, talking about our trip together. Nothing bad will happen. I won’t have to do anything hard. It’s just being with people and hanging out with kids, right? What’s so hard about that?13606719_10154404024381424_7336581970209569256_n

As it turns out, I was very, very wrong. On our trip, we had to do many things that weren’t easy. God put my teammates and me in situations that were tough and hard to comprehend, and as a result, I became more open to different things, more resistant to different things, and able to handle myself in different ways. On top of that, out of every hard thing that we did, something good came, too.

Since returning from the sweet city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, I have been waking up every day with a new feeling of bravery and confidence. I’m able to communicate with people much better now than before our trip. I am better at corralling children and making them behave after being a tia to the ninos and ninas of Ninos Con Valor for hours at a time. I’m more open to learning a new language, and I believe that my capacity for it has gotten bigger and better. This feeling of bravery has definitely come from a big theme of our trip: doing difficult things.


VBS skit!

First of all, communication was a very hard thing. I’m entering my sixth year of French in the fall, and I know approximately fourteen Spanish vocabulary words. Obviously, in Bolivia, English is not a language that is spoken. I love people, and I love getting to know their stories. In the US, the way I get to know other people is by talking to them and by using words. In Bolivia, I wasn’t able to do this because my words were limited. The most I could do was say things like mi nombre es Graciela and muchos gracias. I like to talk, and I like to know others through talking. It made me uncomfortable and feel so unequipped to be in the country that I would be calling home for the next 11 days. The first day that we were there, we went to both of the homes that we were going to be working with during our trip. My favorite thing to do is mentor to younger girls, and I was especially looking forward to hanging out with the middle and high school aged girls at the Girls Home, just like I love to do at home in Virginia. When we left the home that first day, I felt sad and angry. I can’t communicate with these girls, I thought to myself. How will I ever get to know their stories and get to laugh with them if I don’t even know or understand what they’re saying? The next time we came to the home, I was ready to learn. I tried my best to communicate. I danced with the girls, ran around and chased them, did crafts with them, and laughed with them. Even small actions went a long way. Although communication was hard, there was lots and lots of good that came out of my experience with Spanish. Now I know the full power of a hug or a smile rather than words. I am able to say “I love you!” to the girls just by hugging, pointing to things, holding their hands or linking their arms, and giving and receiving smiles. These actions, for me, are much better than speaking, much more powerful, and much more like Jesus loves us.

Second, our “Reality Tour” was really hard for me. We left on the Friday morning of our trip, and traveled to three different homes in Cochabamba. First, we toured a large, state-run home that was the place for children just like the kids of Ninos Con Valor. It was very spacious, with individual houses on the property, housing 10 boys or girls per house. There was a tia living in each house with the children who fed them, helped them with their homework, dried their tears, and tucked them in at night. Each house had large, high ceilings, artwork, and comfy seating. The people there were very welcoming. As I was boarding the bus to leave, one of the tios stopped me. “When are you coming back?” he asked in accented English. “As soon as possible!” I said, smiling and taking one last look at the property, the children, and their caretakers. “Good,” he said, smiling and tapping his cane on the ground. “Your house is my house. You are always welcome here!”

The second home we visited was very open with us about the things they were struggling with. The very day that we toured, they had found out that they needed to close their home down. When we arrived, one of the tios talked with us about the home, its history and its future. As he told us the news about closing, which was recent news for us and for him, he was clearly very moved and concerned about the future of the children in his care.  After meeting him, we met some of the children. We met lots of babies and toddlers, and got to spend time with them in their room, complete with cribs, artwork, and happy music. For me, being with them after hearing hard news was refreshing, and like a bright spot in the middle of a broken place. Then, we headed over to the boys’ area, and got to hang out with them. As I walked into their house, I didn’t know what to expect. Would they be loud and rowdy? Did they know what their future was going to be like? What activities did they like to do? One of the boys greeted me by running up to me and giving me a giant hug. “Tia, tia, vamos!” He said excitedly, and dragged me over to one of the couches. He handed me a book and settled into my lap. Wiping happy tears from my eyes, I began to read to him, completely in awe of his love for me, a stranger from America who he hadn’t even known for a minute.

The third home we visited was a home for children with special needs. This was the hardest home to see, and as we were walking through and seeing the place where these children were cared for, I tried to keep an open mind and a heart of love. It was in a quieter area of the city, and it was a large, comfortable property with lots of bedrooms, classrooms, and areas for the kids to live and be. The home was operated by nuns, and the staff was kind and generous to us. We met lots of children, and we saw their bedrooms, classrooms, playgrounds and other things that they get to see and be with every day. In one of the rooms for older children, I met a sweet, joyful girl who loved to dance, laugh, and be with others. She invited me to sit and eat her lunch with her, and she giggled and smiled the whole time. She introduced to her friends by bringing my hand to theirs, and she left me with a feeling of joy and peace about all that I had seen and experienced. As we were leaving, I looked around at the children who were in such tough situations, and I began to cry. It made me upset that their families were not involved with them just because of the special care that they needed. I knew that Jesus loved them more than anything, and I tried to remind myself that He would welcome them into his kingdom someday.

This tour was one of the hardest parts of the trip for me. It was hard to comprehend why these children are in these situations, and it was hard to see them and not be able to do anything about it. Although it was so hard, it was so necessary to see. I gained a better understanding of the struggles of Bolivia, and I felt deeper pain for the people there. Through the tour, I also got to see the beautiful things that had come out of these children’s homes, such as loving, caring tias and tios, beautiful space, and children who are in a safe home with people who love them.

Lastly, returning home and saying goodbye was so hard. In Bolivia, I had felt such a sense of peace from everyone around me. Working with the kids and feeling their love and affection had filled me up with joy. Meeting new friends and being with them had been refreshing to me. I didn’t want to go home and leave all of that behind. On the plane, I wrote down my experiences. I wanted to carry them with me, even though I wasn’t in that special place anymore. I was so afraid of losing the relationships I had formed. I didn’t want to lose all of the memories and friendships that I had formed during my time in Cochabamba. After returning home, I realized quickly that none of that was true. These experiences that I had would always be with me. I would always remember stories about people, conversations that I had had with people we met, the kids’ beautiful faces, the games we played, the meals we had shared, and everything else about my experience in Bolivia. My relationship with Jesus is different because of my experiences. Even if I’m not physically in the country now, I would have the memories from the trip and the opportunity to experience it again someday.

Even though parts of our trip were challenging, it was one of the best and most fulfilling experiences I have ever had. This year, I’m beyond excited to take the knowledge that I gained from my trip and use it with those around me. Additionally, I am excited to return to Bolivia one day to see the sweet faces of the children, the beautiful mountains, the barking dogs, the kind people, and the love of Jesus Christ all around me.

~Grace Brooks

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