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

Camp has officially started

waiting for the rally

(waiting for the rally to begin)

Buenos tardes!

Yesterday, the campers arrived and we helped the check-in process. Some of us directed campers to their rooms while others checked through bags for any prohibited items. The camp is grouped into four teams (Rojo, Amarillo, Azul, y Verde) at the beginning of move in day and many were excited to see the volunteers from the Estados Unidos also be divided into teams.

After an introduction chapel, the campers had a game time, which we volunteers tested out beforehand. The great thing about playing games is that language barriers almost don’t exist. We broke up into small groups afterward to create a team cheer and mascot. However, only a few groups had a team translator (or student comfortable with Spanish). This made it hard to participate in creating the cheer and many of us felt the desire to have learned Spanish before coming to Bolivia. Even with broken Spanish, which some of us could use (Gracias, Professor Klotz), it was hard to keep up with the entire group of 31 or so campers on each team. After dinner, we met again with all the teams in the chapel and watched a movie that introduce the theme (Des Zombie = De-Zombie; a play on the addictive nature of technology and social media). The media was incredibly well-done and the kids seemed to really enjoy it. A speaker also gave a message about pitfalls of destructive habits (connected to technology).

Early this morning, we began the day with the campers participating in group aerobics. After breakfast, we went with the Bolivian volunteers to set up a multi-tiered race while the kids were in chapel. Each of us were at different posts along the path. Two campers from each team had a cart in which one rode while the other pushed. They had to race around the track in the shortest amount of time while completing or avoiding obstacles. Some from our team helped with jousting while others set up swinging tires, lances, and water balloon targets. The teams are much more competitive than we expected and love to get hyped with cheers they hand wrote yesterday.

This afternoon, we will be setting up for the banquet and also running the obstacle course and famed mud pit, which all volunteers must brave for their initiation into Monte Blanco. This obstacle course is the same that we cleared earlier in the week, for which we will be thankful as we watch the campers run through each section. Personally, Kelsey and I (Ashlee) are pumped to slosh through some Bolivian mud and see if it is really as fun as the videos show. This is the climax of the activity portion of the camp and after the banquet, we will all hike up to the fire pit for some songs and ministry. Strategically, Tim has told us that in order to break down barriers, the kids must first enjoy fun activities and good food without being pushed to make a life change for Christ the first day. The campfire time offers an intimate setting in which the campers will have the opportunity to hear the gospel like never before and personally choose Christ. While it promises to be a long night ahead, all of us are excited to see how God will touch their hearts tonight.

Ashlee and Kelsey

Arrival, Orphanage visit and Camp prep

Hola! We made it to Santa Cruz late Thursday night and to Monte Blanco camp on Friday afternoon. Despite a long day of travel, God was gracious as we had no problems with flight times, layovers, or customs. We left Santa Cruz at 7AM Friday morning and began the 5 hour trek to the Andes Mountains where the camp is located. Compared to the claustrophobic feel of the city, driving through the rural mountain range felt like a scenic tour. Even though it was a cloudy day, the low fog resting in the mountains made for an incredible view.

It was a little hazy once we arrived to the camp and we moved into our respective dorms. After eating lunch, we were put right to work cleaning out the dormitories the campers had just moved out of. We swept, flipped mattresses, took out trash, and mopped. We then did the same for the chapel. Once we finished, we met as a team and made a plan for what we were going to do at the orphanage the next day.

After a needed full night of sleep, we headed to an orphanage about 20 minutes from the camp. We traveled through the mountains to Manos de Amor and were quickly greeted by 30 kids. We sang songs and acted out the scene of Jesus and the lepers. It was fun to watch the kids react to the story! We think they enjoyed the entertainment. Each of us got to work in groups with kids on coloring pages and a word search that related to the Bible story. We brought lots of games and toys for those who worked at the orphanage to hand out to the kids, so we headed outside and played with them for about an hour. There were groups playing soccer, Frisbee, baseball, jump rope and other groups making bracelets and drawing with chalk. Before we left, the kids gave us bracelets that they had made.

We got back, ate lunch and had an hour to rest, which was needed! The art majors (Hannah) were whisked away to paint a mural in the chapel while the rest of us worked on the obstacle course. Half of us painted (Kelsey) and touched up tires and other parts of the course, while the other half hoed (Ashlee) and cleared the path. This was more intense work than we anticipated and we really felt the altitude and hot weather. But once we were done, it was something we came to call joyful fatigue. It made it worth it to know that kids (some without shoes) would be using the rigorous course we just spent several hours cleaning up.

We had a slower morning because it was Sunday, with devotions before breakfast and a rest time after breakfast. We also had an informal service in the chapel with Spanish worship music and a message from Tim, our team contact for Bolivia. We talked about forgiveness in light of the prodigal son and how the father was truly the protagonist in the story, portraying incomprehensible love that is magnified through Christ. The sermon was given in Spanish and also translated into English, uniting the two cultures. Because it was municipal election day, Bolivian citizens are not allowed to be on the roads or congregate in large groups.

After our service, we had some time to rest and enjoy the sun and Sabbath, bonding as a team over crazy volleyball games and reading. We will be hiking Monte Blanco, the mountain the camp is named after, later this afternoon.

Thank you for your prayers and support! We are so grateful to be here. Please keep praying for our continued health and stamina as the camp week starts on Monday. Also, keep the Bolivian kids in your prayers that their time at the camp will impact their lives.

Kelsey, Ashlee, and Hannah

So Soon!

Hi! Thank you so much for visiting here to receive updates of our trip to Bolivia! We are leaving early, departing from Taylor at 2:30AM tonight/tomorrow to fly out of Chicago at 9AM tomorrow morning (3/26)!

We spent last night at one of the local churches packing supplies for the camp and orphanage where we will be working. As we packed everything up, we kept saying how this trip is finally becoming real! After months of preparing, I think it’s safe to say that we’re all ready to go and see what the Lord has for us at Monte Blanco. From what we know, we will be working at an orphanage on Monday and with a high school group in the middle of the week. Although we aren’t entirely sure what we will be doing the entire week, we are excited for any opportunity the Lord will bring for us to serve.

We will be posting here throughout the week, so make sure to keep coming back for more updates!

Kelsey

Bolivia Team!

Back row (left to right):  Nate Carlton, Sean McKee, Keith Miller, Elaine Miller, Lydia Markovich, Annaliese Kline, Hannah Senn, Nick Chiodras, Tyler Amann, Mike Quiz, Tim Miller Front row (left to right):  Abby Sells, Mel Arias, Kelsey Emery, Ashlee Amann, Becca VanHorne Not pictured:  Liz Nicholson

Back row (left to right): Nate Carlton, Sean McKee, Keith Miller, Elaine Miller, Lydia Markovich, Annaliese Kline, Hannah Senn, Nick Chiodras, Tyler Amann, Mike Quiz, Tim Miller
Front row (left to right): Abby Sells, Mel Arias, Kelsey Emery, Ashlee Amann, Becca VanHorne Not pictured: Liz Nicholson

Bolivia Team Prayer Requests

  1. Please pray that the team can recover quickly from our challenging travel schedule
  2. Pray for the team’s health and safety
  3. Pray that we may be given many opportunities to reflect Christ to the campers and camp staff.
  4. Pray that many campers may either come to know Christ for the first time this week or rededicate their lives to him.
  5. Please pray that our experience at Monte Blanco camp may strengthen our own walks with the Lord.

Team Verse – Psalm 115:1

“Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.”