Where isUmamarca in all this fog? I stop to catch my breath, searching for the vague shapes of the packhorses on the mountain above. In Aymara the name means "the village with much water." During our October visit the village had been in an annual drought and we were scooping stagnant water from a small hole behind Pascual's adobe hut. Now it is February and the lush vegetation soaks us from the knees down as we switchback up through the darkening drizzle. There is no doubt that Umamarca will live up to its name this time.
The next morning, dry and warm in the mountain sunshine, I'm still thinking about water. The village leaders Pascual, Mario and Fermin are the first to arrive at the schoolhouse. While the dentist's first injection of anesthesia is taking effect, I pray with the team and we read from the Bible. Psalm 1 "…He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season…" and Jeremiah 17 "…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord…For he shall be like a tree….which spreads out its roots by the river…and will not fear when heat comes…and will not be anxious in the year of drought…" We talk about the living object lesson that we saw in the valleys we crossed yesterday with Fermin. The biggest, strongest trees grow down where the rivers run unceasingly. The men listen stoically and I dare not guess how they are receiving this.
As the stars come out, Alex and I sit in the dim light of a lantern with our generous helpings of potato soup. The rest of the group is staying with another family farther up the hill. Our conversation pours back over the events of the day. More than just the supply of water has changed here since our previous visits. This time our team arrived with the help of the village chief and his horses. Fermin has already promised help for the return trip tomorrow. Though this collaboration is a first for the people of Umamarca, that isn't all. Today Leandra's daughter asked for prayer over her newborn baby and Mario told me he wanted to be baptized! The way these pieces of trust and openness blindsided me is a reminder of how little I understand of this culture.
We both look up as the rough door bellows on it's wooden hinges and our host comes in. At 30, Pedro is the youngest man in the village, but I have some clues that despite his youth and quiet manner, he is a leader. He sits down next to Alex, and brushing off our attempts at small talk, uncharacteristically gets right to his point. "We want to be baptized." I try to find my tongue but he continues. "You know there used to be an Adventist church here; it has fallen down and there is nothing left. We have drifted away from God." Alex and I still haven't recovered from the first shock so he goes on, "My Dad was a believer before he died. I was baptized too. We want to come back to God.… The people are ready to rebuild the church."
He continues telling us of the days when Adventists walked hours from Quiñouma, Vacas and Vischachani to worship with the Umamarcans. As I listen to the thickly accented Spanish my mind turns back with painful clarity to our first visit in 2015 when we were almost turned away by the village leaders.
Suddenly the theme of water, that I haven't been able to forget for these last two days, comes clearly into focus. We had noticed how the rains brought new life and growth to Umamarca, ending the annual drought. But until this moment we were unaware of the gentle showers of the Holy Spirit, doing something far more wonderful in hearts and souls.
Goal reached! We are hoping to spend around $13,000 on a larger, diesel vehicle. The extra $2000 will cover tires and fix-ups. Please pray for God to show us His will and timing. In the meanwhile some friends have sacrificially offered to loan their vehicle when necessary.
Top Project Needs:
1. Airplane - Super Cub
Soon we will be streamlining our Super Cub Campaign and prioritizing the most essential pieces to get this airplane in the air!
From my perch on Samson's roof rack I have of great view of the busy intersection where we had agreed to meet. The Monday morning bustle is a unique cultural experience as Quillacollo is a major hub of civilization for the farming people of rural Bolivia. Amid the flow of bright skirts passing in the street I eventually become aware of a stocky middle-aged man in a green sweater standing on the sidewalk, watching everything with quick, interested eyes.
After piling several more bags on the roof rack I look back. He hasn't left and the duffle bag over his shoulder is my final clue. "Usted es David?" I ask, extending a hand down. "Si" comes the quick response, his eyes twinkling.
We had first heard about San Miguel back in August. With all the other trips planned, our first opportunity would be late December. Lacking local contacts and personal knowledge of the area, I chose to plan a scouting trip with Dr. Alex. As is often the case, God had other plans.
A week of calls to our friend Ruben (he travels extensively out of cell range) finally yielded a phone connection while he was attending a meeting in Inquisivi, the province capital. To my surprise and delight, Ruben immediately put me on the phone with David, the "dirigente" (village leader) of the San Miguel region who also "happened" to be in Inquisivi at the time. I proposed a trip, a date, and David agreed to travel with us. With a guide and a plan in place, a team of four medical volunteers came together faster than imagined. We had no idea what we would find and no one could have imagined.
PT for old accident injuries.
Over the roar of the engine and rattle of the truck on the potholed road, Alex and I ask David if we will need to hike into the communities beyond San Miguel. "No" comes the quick reply, "I've sent word on ahead; the people will walk out to meet us." Alex and I trade looks of surprise.
"That's great!" I reply. "How many do you think will come out?"
"About five hundred."
"Five hundred?!" Alex and I exclaim in unison.
"Yes, I expect about five hundred to be there," David replies confidently.
Cleaning jungle sores.
Alex and I mull this information over in silence. While this is great news, we are not prepared. Our medical supplies are geared towards portability and serving small isolated communities. There is no way we have enough to serve five hundred people. I start asking more questions… Where are these people coming from? How exactly did they hear we were coming? Why so many? Is there a lot of sickness? Finally, I hit on the key. David explains that there is a large regional meeting scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday.
"I think God arranged this whole thing," Alex exclaims when he finds his tongue.
"I think so too," David responds, his eyes maintaining their sparkle.
An accident while working on a new church a day's walk downriver left this man's hand and side full of thorns.
David was a little disappointed when only three hundred showed up on Tuesday, but we certainly were not. The days went by in a blur. We scarcely escaped to our little room next to the meeting house for meals. There were thorns to extract, toothaches, rashes, parasites, infections and many old, poorly healed injuries from motorcycle, bus, farming and construction accidents. During mealtimes we counseled and prayed with the cook about her adolescents, learned about new communities and planned future trips and school building projects. Each night the local Adventists, who we had been surprised and delighted to find in the community, invited us to a prayer meeting in their little church and each night we unfortunately missed the meetings, attending patients late into the night.
Helping however they could, even lice treatments in the creek.
By Wednesday evening the team was exhausted and thinking we only had two or three more patients with needs, we decided it was best to leave early the following morning. It was noon the next day with 25 more patients attended to when the last person left and I finally packed everyone in the Land Cruiser to head home. As I backed the jeep out of its parking spot you could almost feel the collective sigh of relief from the volunteers. We had survived. Survived the bugs, the quick wash ups in the river at 10 pm each night, the 150+ patients we had counseled, treated and prayed with, everything. The tired smiles temporarily vanished as we all craned our necks towards the open windows...."Donde van chicos? Vamos a comer!" (Where are you going? It's time to eat!) Before we knew it, we were sitting down to a wonderful meal. Another full bag of potatoes and roast lamb were pressed in our hands as we climbed back into the jeep. As we headed towards Cochabamba I could only hope that the people of San Miguel had been blessed as much as we had.
When the rains end in April or May, I plan to be calling David to coordinate another trip, reaching even deeper into the jungles of the San Miguel river valley with hope and healing. Thanks for joining us in this mission!