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!