Who am I?

My photo
Monrovia, Liberia
I live in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa with my wife and youngest son. We are recently arrived in Liberia where we are serving as missionaries with Evangelical Church Missions working under the Liberia Evangelical Mission. For most of the last thirty years we have served under ECM in Bolivia, South America. We are the happy parents of four children and the proud grandparents of two grandchildren.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chaos in Bolivia?!?

The following article was written for an edition of the Challenge several months ago but they did not use it. So, not to waste my creative talents, here it is . . . (I tried to include a picture but the server wouldn't let me. What is it about me and my writing, anyway?

“You have been selected to provide an article for the Spring issue of the Challenge. The theme is ‘Finding Contentment in a World of Chaos.’ Don’t be late!” My first reaction on reading that sentence from the office was panic. There is always panic when I am selected to write. But then I wanted to throw up my hands in resignation. Chaos! They want me to write about chaos! Where in the world will I find an example of chaos in Bolivia, a country known for orderliness and exactness? (It is true that Bolivia has had nearly 200 coups in it’s less than 200 years of history but that’s not chaos, only routine politics.) Driving! That must be it. They want me to write about Bolivian driving habits. Now that’s chaos, at least it seems that way at first, but once you are around a while you begin to realize that there is method to the seeming madness. Perhaps they want me to say something about the church. I must admit that at times our services can be a bit chaotic with tambourine bands, electronic bands, lots of loud speakers, people shouting, weeping and praying out loud and all at the same time, not to mention an occasional dog or chicken passing through the service. And then there are the kids . . . . But I don’t think that is particularly noteworthy. No, there isn’t much chaos in Bolivia but examples of contentment are easy to find, at least in the church. Many of our brothers and sisters have come out of deep spiritual chaos. But the peace and new life they have found in Christ have provided them with a sense of contentment. It’s true, the traffic is still terrible, the political scene unstable, and who knows what new chaos tomorrow will bring, but the contentment that they have found in Christ seems to override it all. Chaos? I guess I’ll just have to wait for a different topic. Maybe next time it will be efficiency. . . .

Friday, November 13, 2009

Testimony From a Friend

Victor Choque is one of our pastors here in Santa Cruz. He has been a faithful student in the Bible Institute here as well. But over this last year he has been battling cancer. Below is his testimony. I have tried to not clean it up but have left it as close as I could to his original writing.

I am 42 years old and am married to Rebeca Apaza. We have three children, two sons and a daughter. I was born in La Paz and worked in a mattress factory there. I was transferred to Santa Cruz. While working there in July 2008, I hurt my back while lifting a heavy mattress. It hurt so bad that I was unable to continue working. It kept getting worse until, in December, I could not stand up. So in January I was admitted to the emergency room of the Workers’ Hospital.

They put an IV in me with vitamins and three days later transferred me to a regular room. They took blood samples to analyze. The results came back that I had multiple myeloma. The doctor told me that I should have another test done with a specialist. That other doctor confirmed that I had multiple myeloma. The doctor also took two bone samples and the results from tests were the same, multiple myeloma.

I began treatment with different medicines. The doctor also prescribed radiation treatments but the Workers’ Hospital has no facilities for radiation treatments. They were going to transfer me to a private hospital but it was going to cost 5,000 bolivianos ($715). My wife went to talk to the social worker and was able to have the price lowered to 3,500 bolivianos ($500). Next we told the president of the [Santa Cruz] District [of the Bolivian Evangelical Holiness Church] and his wife about my situation. Pastor Elías, the district vice-president, came and visited me and I told him also. In this way we were able to find enough money that we were gong to need to pay. (The pastors of the district took offerings and the mission also helped with finances.)

While I was in the hospital the missionary, pastors and brothers and sisters in Christ came to visit me, always encouraging me with words and prayers, asking God to make me well. In March I was released to go home but was unable to walk. I had lots of pain and was required to rest at my house. One night I began to have chills. At 4am I began to vomit and my wife had to find a way to get me to the hospital where I was again admitted to the emergency room. In there they did various tests on my blood, urine and saliva. The tests came back showing that I had pneumonia. I again was given a unit of blood and my strength came back.

After being in the emergency room for five days I was again put into a regular room. I began to receive radiation therapy every day. One day after having a treatment, I was very weak. I was being treated for multiple myeloma and pneumonia but my lungs were not getting any better. The doctor gave me a new medicine and put me in a room by myself. I was there until the month of April. I continued to receive the radiation treatments but also needed to have 30 antibiotic shots, three a day for ten days. But the hospital did not have the medicine. When my wife went to inquire how much they would cost to buy them, they told her that each shot would cost 300 bolivianos ($42.85) or a total of 9,000 bolivianos ($1285) for all of them.. My wife and I were both shocked to hear how much they would cost. We both began to cry and I asked where we would get enough money to buy the medicine. But my wife said, “No, Victor, I will find the money somehow.” Days went by and we asked God to help us find the money and to be able to get the medicine at a lower cost. One day, my wife found the medicine at a pharmacy with a price of only 100 bolivianos ($14.30) each. I gave thanks to God. We bought the medicine and within ten days of having been given the prescription the doctor began the treatment.

As a result of the radiation treatments, my blood cells were dying and I was not the same. I was unable to eat. The doctor suspended my treatments because of the effect it was having on my blood. The multiple myeloma was advancing and I had to receive two more units of blood plus a unit of plasma. I also had to receive in my stomach shots of white blood cells. I asked God to let me live or die, whatever he wanted.

My physical state was not like before. I was completely skin and bones and had no energy. The doctor gave me another medicine for the multiple myeloma and did more blood tests. The tests showed that I was also anemic. The doctor told my wife that she should be prepared for me to die at any moment. When she heard that she began to cry. When I saw her crying I also began to cry. Together we began to ask God for help, as she told me what the doctor had said. As we prayed I began to think about the things I used to do – play, dance, laugh, and work. And I felt very sad about my children, the youngest of whom is only six years old.

I was unable to eat meat because my teeth were loose. I could not chew healthy food like meat and dry foods. I cried out to God to give me hope to live. I never lost faith. I was able to finish the treatment for the pneumonia. They did tests and took x-rays and found that the pneumonia was gone. I gave thanks to God, but I still had the multiple myeloma.

The doctor said that I needed to find blood donors because I needed two more units of blood. I received one unit and then the other. Every day I asked God to give me life so that I could again be with my family. And the day came when the doctor discharged me.

In May I could not move. The doctor did not want to continue treating me. They brought me home. I was all but dead. I could hardly even talk. On seeing my wife and children I cried. And so I was for three days. But I began to eat a little. Every morning I would wake up alive and give thanks to God. My teeth began to grow strong again and I began to recover my strength. I went for another blood test and was told I needed another unit of blood. I asked the brothers at church if someone could donate a unit of blood. I also asked God that I wouldn’t need to have more blood. After doing another test, it showed that I did not need the blood. I gave thanks to God.

I was dead but now I have been revived. Today I am living and can walk a little bit with the help of a cane. Each month I have to return to the hospital for four days of treatment. And so I always give thanks to God.

Note: It is quite common for the families of hospital patients to have to find medicines and supplies for their family member. Victor is covered by the national health system which only pays for doctor services and room charges in state run hospitals. It does not cover medicines and special treatments. If you would like to contribute to Victor’s continuing needs, (his monthly medication runs about $150) donations may be sent to Evangelical Church Missions, 9421 West River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55444. Be sure to specify that your donation is for Victor Choque, Bolivia Emergency Medical Fund. Thank you.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Of Sausages and Pastors

On Saturday we hosted the pastors of the district at our home. Since we now live in the mission house again it is an easy thing to do as it is quite well set up for hosting. Seven of the invited pastors came. So we are improving, last time we had 6. We began with the food, simple fare this time, sausages, chips, salad, jello , koolade and cookies. Of course they like to eat. But after the eating the real business began. First I read a couple of emails that had come from the national church president asking for information and reports from the district that had not yet been sent. Then I introduced them to some great new evangelism tools that we have been able to get for use. Finally, the big question of the day was, who is going to be the new district president. Our annual conference session is this coming weekend and a new president needs to be elected, No one really seems to want the job. The guys that are pastoring don't like the idea of leaving their churches for a different position. The outgoing president does not want to continue on. So quite a long and loud discussion took place. (It had to be loud as we were outside on the covered patio but it started to pour down rain so you had to speak loudly to be heard.) Although no final agreement was reached, it was good to have had the chance to talk over the different possibilities before the conference session. Pray with us that God's choice will be discerned as our pastors and church delegates meet together this Saturday and Sunday.

Monday, November 2, 2009

All Saints Day

Yesterday, November 1 and today,November2, is the celebration of Todos Los Santos here in Bolivia. Todos Santos is the celebration of the dead. In the Ayamaran mind, when someone dies, their soul (ajayu) must begin a journey to its eventual resting spot. Until it reaches the place of rest, it must be helped by the living. If it does not receive the help that it wants it can then take vengeance on the living and cause untold problems, suffering and death. On November1 at noon the souls of the dead return to the homes of their relatives. The family must make adequate preparations for the return of the souls. A special table is prepared with all the favorite foods and drinks of the dead person. Coca and alcohol are also a very important part of the offering. In addition there are special breads (t'ant'awawa) shaped in the form of people, sometimes with the face of the person pasted or painted onto the bread. Also there is bread shaped like a ladder. All these items must be arranged in a very specific way on the table. At noon the family gathers to await the arrival of the soul. The day is spent around the table, eating, drinking and praying to the dead. On the next day the whole event is removed to the cemetary where the food is again spead out, but this time on top of the grave. The family gathers there until noon when the souls return to their journey. After three years of faithfully completing these obligations, the soul is then ready to go to be with the other dead and join them in becoming a type of god. The living family members celebrate the completion of the three years because now they will not be bothered by the soul of the dead person. It is a system that is based on fear, not love. Now I am sure that for many Bolivians much of this has become an empty ritual that is more social than religious. But the truth remains, that many Bolivians are enslaved by their fear of the dead. Satan uses this fear to keep people enslaved. Often people will see their dead relative alive somewhere but it is in reality demons playing tricks. These people, more than anything, need to hear of the victory of Christ over death, Satan and demons so that they can become free of fear and live in the knowledge of God's great love for us in Christ.

One more quick thought. I just read a posting by someone who had visited the witches' market in La Paz. They treated the whole thing as an innocent superstition to be dabbled in. But this too is based on fear. I know the anthropologists are saying that we should leave people alone and not spoil their happiness and way of life. After all, isn't it better for them to live in fear each day than in the freedom from fear that comes from knowing Christ? You figure it out . . .