We are gradually building up Isaiah’s experiences in travel. We began with a 30 minute flight to Cochabamba, followed a few weeks later by a 45 minute flight to Sucre, this last month we thought that we would stretch it further with a 4 hour bus ride to the city of Oruro to visit some Bolivian friends of ours who moved there 2 months ago in order to pastor a new church plant.
We arrived early teatime with just enough time for a toilet break and dumping our bags before being whisked off to a spring celebration in which their daughter was participating, an event which our friends regretted partaking in as it was very long winded, very loud and very repetitive. By the end we were glad to finally make our escape with 3 over tired and hungry children, only then to head across to the church to catch the final part of the first discipleship evening. That night we were all quite glad to get back home and find a bed to sleep in.
The next day began with a children’s club and an exploration of the regular weekly market which takes over a number of the streets of the city. Amazingly people travel from as far as Santa Cruz (About 18 hours on a bus) to come and shop at this market because prices are so much lower than those found in other places such as La Paz as the products arrive direct from Chile.
Oruro is an interesting city though not one where we would like to live. It is situated at a higher altitude than La Paz at approximately 3710m and exposed to the open planes thus making it extremely cold throughout the year, particularly in the winter months, to the point that a jug of water left standing in the kitchen would freeze over.
Unlike many other places here in Bolivia, Oruro appears to be more of a matriarchal system where the mother wields the greatest power and control. Unmarried children, and sometimes even when married children will remain living with their parents well into their 40s. On the surface people are very friendly and affectionate greeting with two kisses and big hugs as opposed to just one as is common in other parts of the country, yet underneath lie so many complications to life, as our friends are quickly discovering, that all stem from the deep corrupted beliefs of the people.
Problems of adultery, abuse and rape are common place, amongst the church as much as within general society. The animistic spiritual beliefs run deep with many of those turning to Christianity finding it very hard to let go of the old practices, traditions and beliefs. One of the big things that reinforces this each year are the celebrations of carnival, a celebration to the devil, where people come from all over Bolivia as well as from other countries to participate and watch. One of the beliefs in this celebration is the need to get as drunk as possible so that all the evil spirits and bad things are able to leave one’s body. If a person remains sober, then they are not able to relax enough to be able to release the bad spirits. Obviously a city full of drunk people does not result in many good things happening at that time of year.
Despite all of the rubbish and evil going on, there are small beacons of light pushing through. The church our friends are pastoring is a plant of the one we are a part of here in La Paz. It started with just a small handful of people but is steadily growing in number of new Christians. Their premises is very small with just a single room so the children's meeting is held on a Saturday morning to which there are now about a dozen children regularly attending.
The weekend we visited they had just begun a discipleship group with the hope of going back to basics and laying some of the key important foundations of a Christian life. A number of people were interested in this to know more, so it will be interesting to see how that progresses in the future.
Our friends by no means have an easy task ahead of them, but our God is a great God and able to do immeasurably more than we can ever think or imagine. We hope that over the course of the coming months and years that we will be able to visit regularly in order to be a support and encouragement to them.
Note that the photo above was taken at the beginning of the Sunday service. Bolivian people are not generally known for their punctuality, arriving anything from half an hour to an hour or more late to church services, by the time the preach started all these seats were full!