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!
I looked into the dark room where DJ and Manny had sat for hours waiting for the regional directors to decide what to do with these two young men. From outside on the sunny hillside, the cold, dingy room looked even more uninviting. The dentist and doctor were in the room next door, seeing the last few patients before we headed home.
Just over a year had gone by since DJ and Manny first set foot in this village. Though they had not been given a very warm welcome, DJ's fiery perseverance would not let the cold reception stop the work that God had put on our hearts to do.
Now, a year later, we can look back with awe and certainty at what God was doing all along. By the time our small team walked into this village again in May, we had a letter in hand from the mayor of the province, giving us the backing and support we needed. After the road was finished over the next few months, Samson was the first four-wheeled vehicle (aside from the road machines) to drive into the village. This trip was our fourth visit, this time during a regional meeting at which more than 100 people were present. We had with us a dentist for the first time and our faithful doctor friend. It felt like so much progress!
I sat there contemplating the goodness of God. How far God has brought this project over the last year! It is inspiring to imagine the extended reach and effectiveness of having an aircraft and a medical emergency program. But for now, we are staying busy with what God has provided. We have been searching for a good second vehicle to allow us to accommodate the growing interest of medical staff joining us on our trips and praise God for the funding to do so. Additionally, God has provided a generator, air compressor and portable dental unit set-up to grow our effectiveness in ministry. We are so grateful for each person who has been a part of making these dreams a reality!
Nevertheless, it's not about the vehicles, the equipment, or even the number of people we treat on these trips…. Friends, God is in the business of soul saving. He wants everyone to know Him for who He really is. God has called each of us to work with Him in revealing His character and the rest is just the means to accomplish this purpose.
Giving people a ride. Remember, it took us 6 hours to walk into this village and it would have taken these folks the same to walk out!
"Guests" include a regional director, Alejandra's parents (whom we've been praying for), and their three chickens...
She placed her hand on my arm and looked at me in the eyes. "You remember me, right?" she asked. My mind whirl-winded as to where I might have seen her before. "You all prayed for me when I had lost my keys," she continued. The pieces immediately fell into place.
We had been hiking between villages back in October when we came across this elderly shepherdess. She had begged us not to go on before praying for her to find her all-important pouch with keys, change and cell phone that had fallen out somewhere on the hills. So we stopped and prayed with her while tears streamed down her cheeks. She told us that she believed God would answer our prayer and her anxiety turned into peace. We continued on, doubtful perhaps that such a small thing could be found in the vast expanse of hills over which she pastured her flock.
"I found the keys!" she exclaimed, bursting with joy. "A young man saw and picked up my pouch and brought it to me, everything inside! My phone even works still and I'm wondering if you have any credit to sell me so I can recharge it?" Her excitement was contagious. Our team gathered around this woman again two months after the first prayer and offered a second one, this time of thanksgiving to God for His faithfulness.
May we be open to letting God use us to in whatever way He so chooses, thus growing both our faith and the faith of others, just as He did in the case of this shepherdess. "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1,2