Monday, June 18, 2012

Shopping at the Hipermaxi

Santa Cruz's Big Store Offers Wide Range of Products

It feels a bit like a Super Walmart, but it has a personality that is uniquely Bolivian.

These employees are stocking shelves out of a unique net-wrapped shipping package.

Deep-Woods Off is advertised as a protection against deadly dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia: Toyotaville?

Japanese Auto Maker is Well Represented on City Streets

My guess is this is a 1967 Corona? Most of the taxicabs we saw were newer Corollas. In any case, Toyota automobiles far outnumber any other brand here.

Basílica Menor de San Lorenzo

Santa Cruz, Bolivia's Great Baroque Cathedral

The great Baroque facade of the Cathedral.

Door detail.

Window detail.

Bolivia Journal, Part V, Painting at the Clinic

Brightening the Recovery Rooms and Hallway


Work at the house was progressing nicely. Some of us moved over to the clinic to repaint rooms while the rest continued to install doors and windows.

The clinic walls were all a sort of dull tan. On the second floor one of Cindy's friends had painted a small mural... the one bright portion of the hallway. We set to work on the recovery rooms first with a nice violet and yellow. Then we painted the hallway.

In a reverse twist on the muralists' art, I painted around the branches of a tree that spread over the wall. I used the old wall color and outlined around it to add branches and depth, making it appear that the mural was painted on top of the new paint!

Freshly painted recovery rooms.

Edging a mural by creating softer branches from the old color.

Our time in Bolivia was drawng to an end. We hastily replaced switchplates and cleaned up our jobsite. We quickly showered and dressed for a nice final dinner together at an Argentinian/Brasilian restaurant. Fernando came along with us. Sammy and his wife joined us. There it was announced that the house was to be for her and Sammy! What a happy blessing for two faithful servants and their children!

In the States, the two bedroom house would be considered just big enough for Sammy and his family. Here in Santa Cruz, there will be room to take in more.

There is an old story, where a boy is walking along the beach, picking up stranded starfish and returning them to the water. A passerby sees him and remarks that with so many stranded starfish, it cannot possibly make a difference. The boy answers: "It made a difference for that one." referring to the last one he threw in. G-d does not ask us for a report with numbers... he calls us to LOVE. He does not throw a quota in our face. He knows that if we Love, we will SUFFER. If we SUFFER, we will STRUGGLE.

He knows that by His Grace, and in His time, those who STRUGGLE will WIN. Their crown is an eternal one, from an Eternal kingdom where gold is merely a pavement choice and there is no need of sun or moon to give light, for G-d Himself is the light of that place!

An Austrian family owns this little resaurant in Santa Cruz. They specialize in delicious specialty cakes and Italian cuisine.

This is the lady who's son asked for a Pastor to visit their house and teach the Bible. The result was a church in the poorest section of Santa Cruz. Here she visits with Cindy while holding a Granddaughter.

Bolivia Journal, Part IV, Casa 3

Finishing a House for a Clinic Worker & Orphans...

Casa 3 is based on a Habitat for Humanity plan...

...and built of hand moulded local brick.

I saw this wildflower in the yard before we started work.

We don't know who the house is being built for when we start work. There are many deserving people here. Sammy drops the ladies off in his green Toyota Sprinter and the guys are dropped off by Fernando in his white van. There is much to accomplish. We set to work staining, painting and hanging doors.

A young man named Tepe helps out. We notice that he works hardest when placed alongside the pretty girls on our team. His curly hair and engaging personality remind me of my own son. It is hard NOT to like Tepe!

The house is located in a walled compound bordered by streets that translate as "Heaven's Way" and "Paradise Way." How fitting! Last year, along with another artist, I painted an interpretation of the New Heaven and New Earth from Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21 on the walls of a church in Staunton. The rendering is finished. Now I am in another hemisphere working on actual construction. Last year Laney and I took photos of real children in difficult places of the world and recast them as princes and princesses of the New Heaven and the New Earth. Here Cindy is bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to real families in Santa Cruz! This is the Lord's work and it is exciting to be a part of it. It is all about redeemed lives!

The streets are unpaved... literally dirt! The fall rains have turned them into quagmires! Getting us to the site takes some pretty skillful driving! Sammy got mired once. Inside the walls are three beautiful houses. Two are complete and one is taking shape.

GH, a Staunton builder, and Gary, my roommate are the most experienced builders. Martha, an RN who has made many trips with surgery teams, transitions easily into installing door hardware. She chisels out the insets for latchplates and hinges like a German Zimmerman! Big Jeff and Little Jeff, both from our church, install tile to complete the laundry room. A young brother and sister from Charlottesville are on the team. They paint well. The sister is a natural at cutting edges. She will leave Bolivia with the offer of a Summer job from GH!

We have a really great team. After a couple of days some of us will more on to repairs on the older houses and then to the clinic to repaint rooms in the recovery area.

Windows awaiting stain and glass.

Doors to be hung.

Bolivia Journal, Part III, LAUS DEO!

A Church Service and Fellowship I will Never Forget...

Four dancers add richness to the music...

...of worship in the service.

Pastor Enrique.

For seven years I worked designing publications for a mission agency. It was a very frustrating exercise as we were routinely rejected when we tried to print photos of people sharing the simple joys of life. We were forced to emphasize the bleakness and poverty of their lives, creating a very one-dimensional picture of the people we represented.

Sharing a laugh, a meal, a bit of the journey has always been a doorway into a relationship. Here in Santa Cruz's poorest neighborhood I was not dissapointed! Here I saw the richness of life in some of the world's poorest people. Here were girls sharing secrets in church, young adults with the same playful spirit as some of my friends at home and kids being kids!

I suppose these young girls were sharing things that their US counterparts would totally understand during the service.

After church I photographed these young adults outside...

...who quickly found their otter natures when they saw the camera!

The Sunday School kids were picking something out of the planters. I wondered if their teachers had hidden treats there? I also wondered at the little girl's grimace until I saw the rest of the game. I'd caught her in the act of picking pebbles out of the planter before the kids had a pebble fight!

Susan tries in vain to get these boys to smile...

...and they do smile, when they see their pictures!

Bolivia Journal, Part II, The Journey

How One Woman's Vision Touched So Many Lives

Sunrise in the Andes as seen flying out of La Paz toward Santa Cruz.

It is like a story out of Charles Dickens' England. For the lack of $75, little Marcelo lost his leg. At the age of eleven, Marcelo developed a severe infection. His Mother took him to the local hospital only to learn that she could not afford the needed antibiotics. Marcelo's leg had to be amputated.

Charlottesville Nurse Cindy Thacker, who always had a passion for bringing healing for the suffering of those in difficult places, was moved to action when she learned of Marcelo's plight. She became Marcelo's foster Mother and enabled him to recieve much needed care and therapy.

But Cindy thought about the ones left behind. She started Mission of Hope, Bolivia [click to read] in 1996, initially hoping to improve conditions in Santa Cruz Childrens' Hospital. The group collected money, supplies and medical equipment to give to Childrens' Hospital. Sadly, when Cindy later visited Childrens' Hospital she learned that many of her donations had simply dissapeared. "One day, I made a search of every room of the hospital. A lot of the equipment I had donated was not there. I asked where these things were, and nobody could tell me."

Not only that, but Cindy learned that patients were being charged for medications she had donated. Those who's families couldn't afford medications were operated on without pain medication!

Now seeing that only the establishment of a free hospital for the poor would make any difference, Ms. Thacker expanded her vision. When a hospital facility came up for sale in Santa Cruz, she raised over a half million dollars to buy it! Members of the University of Virginia Hospital community are regular supporters of the ministry and surgery teams from UVA regularly visit Santa Cruz to make life-saving and life-changing surgery available to the poorest of the poor.

Cindy writes: "The people we serve live in extreme poverty. Many of them have been turned away from public hospitals because they did not have money to pay. Many of them have suffered for years with their medical problems. Most of them have been treated badly by other people simply because they were poor.

Our desire is to be a blessing to these people by not only taking care of their medical needs, but also by treating them with dignity and respect. We want to be a blessing to them by showing them the love and kindness they have not experienced in their own society. We also want to share with them the hope that we have in Jesus Christ."

We're on our way to see firsthand what G-d can do through the persistence of one RN in a situation that would overwhelm most ordinary people. Our team will help build a house for one of the staff members to live in and take in orphans as well. The plane flies out of Miami, levelling off for supper over the waters where Santiago struggled in Hemingway's tale. It is dark when we make landfall on Venezualia and a row of thunderstorms put on a powerful light show.

We nap fitfully before landing in La Paz and watch the sunrise bring the Andes Mountains alive as we fly out toward Santa Cruz.

Clearing customs, we make our way into the bustling metropolis of Santa Cruz. It is a city of contrasts. Gleaming corporate headquarters stand next to simple brick buildings. The concrete skeleton of a stadium stands weathering as funds ran out to complete it. Busses and taxis crowd the boulevard entering town, making three lanes out of the intended two. An accident has brought the traffic to a standstill.

This Summer will mark ten years that the Mission of Hope clinic has been serving the people of Santa Cruz. We arrive at the clinic and take a quick tour. The staff seem cheerful and the facility itself is amazing. Cindy brings surgical teams in from the US to perform a wide range of needed procedures. We're talking about specialists here. The clinic's operating rooms are stretched to provide the maximum benefit to as many people as possible. Surgeons wanting to volunteer are sent the actual schedule and asked straight-up: "Can you perform this many operations in a single day?" Many, working in state-of-the-art facilities in the US, have never done anything close.

A friendly greeting from a member of the church in Santa Cruz's poorest neighborhood.

The clinic in Santa Cruz. People line up early in the morning to receive compassionate medical care.

Bolivia Journal, Part I, IMAGO DEI

A Thousand Stories in Search of a Hemingway!

A dancer moves with the music to add visual richness to worship. The church is in Santa Cruz's poorest neigborhood.

Where does one begin? Ninety miles from his Key West home, Ernest Hemingway wove the tale of the heroic fisherman Santiago. I love the story. Santiago was a a master fisherman with a young helper. Now, with the boy no longer with him, his sails and gear tattered, he sets out to catch a giant marlin only to see his catch devoured before he can bring it to shore. I have often echoed Santiago's sentiment: "I live in a good town," about my beloved Valley and my former home in Crozet. In Hemingway's masterwork, tenderness and tragedy are artfully woven against a background of the harsh realities of life.

Four thousand miles from the beautiful Valley of Virginia, I step into the stories of some amazing people as well. I'm no Hemingway, not by a long shot, but there is much to learn and much to tell!

The graceful dancers move in unison, adding visual richness to a lively worship music. There is joy on the faces of young people and old alike. One can see the Inca ancestry in their faces. In a little church in the poorest part of Santa Cruz, I join in singing. They have a little LCD projector so I can follow the words in Spanish. They sing some favorites like "how Great Thou Art!"

The little church is there because a 12 year old boy who had received treatment at the Mission of Hope clinic had asked his Mother if a Pastor could visit them. A home Bible study grew into a meeting under one blue tarp. Soon it was three blue tarps. Pastor Enrique works at the clinic as a lab technician. He also gives a message to patients about the love of Jesus. To suppliment his income he works at another job as a lab technician at the public hospital. He receives no salary from the church.

The head nurse of the clinic also moonlights. Her husband Sammy is a stay-at-home Dad. He was hired to be one of our drivers for the week. They live in a single room that they rent.

Then there is the Mother who would not give up when her Son experienced kidney failure at a very young age due to an infection. Because she persisted, he eventually recieved a transplant (at Mission of Hope), and is now a Youth Worker. He shared these words with us:

"He who LOVES will SUFFER,
He who STRUGGLES will WIN!"

Then there are a thousand more stories. Driving to and from the worksite we see glimpses of them. Young and smartly dressed people texting under shop awnings, ladies in traditional dress selling bananas with a child (or two) close by, on street corners. Motor scooter mechanics work late into the night in little shops with roll-down doors.

On the square by the big church in the center of Santa Cruz, a shopkeeper's children sit under the arcade and enjoy some sort of cool treat as their parents keep shop on a Sunday afternoon. There is family life to be seen everywhere... but there is also a lot of abandonment and many single Moms are struggling to put food on the table each day. I met some amazing people and saw great love... love that manifested itself in struggle for those loved, and I heard testimony of victories as well!




Some members of the congregation.

A shopkeepers daughter enjoys a cool treat on a Sunday afternoon as her parents keep shop in Santa Cruz...

...and a young woman texts under a shop awning in the outer rings of the city.