84 hours (or so) in 1313 words or less

The last four days have been a whirlwind of activity. Tuesday was the busiest day of camp, with all hands on deck, fully submerged in camp life for the day. On our last post, we expressed our anticipation for the obstacle course to take place that day. Each of us were stationed at a different part of the course to encourage, guide, and provide assistance to the campers when needed. I (Hannah) was stationed at the tire obstacle, Kelsey was at the balance beam, and Ashlee was overseeing the small pool at the end of one of the water slides. Everyone agreed that the obstacle course was unlike anything we had ever seen in the States. When every camper had successfully navigated the course, each member of the TU team had to be baptized in the mud pit (we’ll save you the pictures and just let you imagine the muddy horror). Post-pit, we all finished the course and ended up at the river with the rest of the camp to play a rousing game of “Rescue the Princess”. One Taylor girl from each team color had to wade upstream to be rescued by one of the Bolivian campers (who would race in inflatable rafts upstream). Yellow team won with Kelsey, Tyler, and Ashlee representing Taylor University. After river games, campers then showered and dressed in their nicest clothes for the Promise Dinner, where each camper makes three promises for which they’ll be held accountable after they leave camp. We all dressed up as well and even had the chance to escort some of the middle school boys and girls. It was obvious that the campers (especially the boys) were equal parts awkward and honored to have a “gringa” on their arm as they got their picture taken and entered the dining hall. Upon entrance, we all applauded the kids to welcome them and make them feel like celebrities. After serving the kids, everyone changed into hiking gear and we went as a camp on a night hike to “la fogata” (the campfire). At the campfire, we all sang worship songs as we eyed the approaching lightning. The intention of the campfire is to give each camper the opportunity to come forward and accept Christ as their Savior, but a chance thunderstorm quickly put a damper (puns are my thing) on the plan for the evening. We all ran through freezing rain back to our cabins and called it a night.

Wednesday was a less early start but we all hit the ground running regardless. After serving and cleaning up breakfast, the entire camp went to the chapel for one last worship service and message. In light of the events from the night prior, the invitation for campers to come forward was given during the pastor’s message. It was amazing to watch about a third of the kids approach the altar. As a team, we came forward and laid hands on the campers, affirming their decision to follow Jesus and lifting them up in prayer. It was a truly humbling experience that I doubt any of us will ever forget. How often do we get the chance to witness a multitude of lives being changed and the opportunity to welcome new brothers and sisters in Christ? It was especially hard to see these kids leave after experiencing this, and they left after snapping several selfies with our team. After the campers left, some of the team cleaned the dorms for the next camp and Ashlee, Becca, and I helped make pillowcases for the children at the orphanage that we’d visit on Thursday. Wednesday night consisted of playing sports with the camp staff, an activity during which we learned that competition and friendly rivalries can thrive even with a language barrier.

Thursday morning we awoke, had team devotions, and then set out to clear trash from the camp. We split up in several different areas, picking up bottles, wrappers, and miscellaneous garbage from places that campers would explore. After lunch, we packed up games and the pillowcases we had made and drove to Manos de Amor in Comarapa. During this visit, we organized a few different games and played several rounds of relay races and red light/green light until settling down to free play. I played game after game of tic-tac-toe with Roberto and Eduardo while simultaneously throwing a Frisbee with my little buddy Nain. Ashlee captained jump rope (her pal Noé was an active participant) and Kelsey also jumped rope as well as kicked a soccer ball with Enselma. As we packed up and prepared to leave, we all sang one more song (called “el hombrecito chueco” – ask us about it when we get home), had one more giggle, and then shared last hugs goodbye (some of which were tearful). Leaving these kids behind was one of the most difficult things we’ve experienced on this trip. For me, to think about leaving these children who had so willingly opened their hearts to us in order to go back to a family and a home where I have been blessed with so much was absolutely heartrending. We will never forget those kids and the incredible staff of Manos de Amor.

Thursday night will be remembered fondly as “The Feast of Love”. The staff of Monte Blanco and our team met in the dining hall to sing worship songs (in both English and Spanish) and listen to a devotion from David Salazar, the camp director. Again, it was an incredibly humbling experience to worship the same awesome God with believers from another culture and a different language. After the message, we all had a chance to share ways that the teams had blessed or inspired us. It was truly a special time during which we all bonded in a new way.

Friday morning (today!), we were surprised with the opportunity to go to the cloud rainforest near Comarapa. We congregated at the trucks at 6:30 AM and drove an hour and a half through the Andes Mountains on dirt road switchbacks. We reached La Laguna Verde and began our ascent. After over an hour of hiking an almost vertical path, we reached the top of the mountain. The altitude was crazy, and we were all huffing and puffing, but the view was beyond anything we’d ever seen. The cloud rainforest is basically a forest on a mountaintop that is shrouded in fog. A few hours after sunrise, however, the sun burns away the fog to reveal the breathtaking scenery in the valley below. Each of us took the opportunity of being in such a scenic, special place to silently reflect on what Jesus did on the cross on this day thousands of years ago.

The hike down the mountain was much easier and we all had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful ride back. The rest of the afternoon was free time and provided time to pack.

Tonight we’ll meet for one last “Team Time” and then begin our rigorous travel schedule tomorrow at a chipper 6:30 AM. From Monte Blanco near Tambo, Bolivia, we’ll drive to Santa Cruz, spend the day exploring the city and experiencing the culture. Our flight to Panama leaves later that night (aka early Sunday morning) and we will spend our 12 hour layover touring Panama thanks to the generosity of Keith and Elaine. We should make it to Chicago around midnight on Sunday night, sleep in a hotel, and then make the trek back to Taylor with an ETA of 1 PM. Thank you for all your support and please keep us in your prayers as we head back home this weekend, and continue your prayers for Monte Blanco (the staff and the past/future campers) and for the children and staff at the Manos de Amor. We love you all and we’ll see you soon! ¡Adios, Bolivia!

Hannah, Ashlee and Kelsey for the Bolivia team

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