Saturday, October 20, 2012
Witchcraft, demonic superstitions, abysmal roads, and the worst poverty in South America…welcome to Bolivia. My team kicked off our time in our seventeenth country with a shaky border crossing that foreshadowed our Bolivian days to come. The Americans on the team were not able to get visas in advance before busing to the border and decided to risk getting denied entry into the country. Upon arrival at the border “station”, we saw nothing more than a dry, dusty plot of land, a shack with a Bolivian man who stamped passports inside, and a tiny house that probably belonged to the man. Immediately, us Americans were reprimanded for not previously obtaining a visa and shoved to a line on the side of the shack. Kimmie and I went to explore the field to find a place to go to the bathroom, and the border official yelled at us to turn around, afraid we were about to make a run for it and cross by foot. We reluctantly followed orders and waited with the rest of the team for quite a long time. Eventually, the border official said he could issue only three visas for a lucky trio of Americans, and the rest of us would have to continue on our bus illegally and work our way towards a migration office hours from the border the following morning. Confused, three team members received the stamps while the rest of us entered as illegal aliens for the following twenty-four hours.
We got back on our bus, and within an hour, we’d already gotten stuck on a sandy road. The warnings about poor infrastructure quickly proved to be true. The men got out to push while the girls were asked to stand in the back right corner and jump over the tire when instructed. After quite some time, the bus emerged from the sand, and we continued on our journey. We were off to an interesting start…
We finally arrived in the city of Villa Montes and spent the night there. In the morning, we spent hours getting our paperwork sorted, and $135 dollars later, we were allowed legal entry. I tried to not worry about the overwhelming expenses of the trip and focus on what God had called me to do. Little did I know, finances would be the least of my worries while in Bolivia.
Bolivia possesses a deep beauty; however much of the country is sadly overrun by witchcraft and demonic practices. As soon as our team entered the nation, we began to feel the effects. It began in Villa Montes with Nicole being physically attacked by a demonic presence. She felt like she was being stabbed by a knife in her chest. The attack lasted for a long time, but when she started praying against it, it finally left.
The following morning, our team headed to a village called Caprendita where Tanya’s cousin Angela had lived for years. Angela, a tiny and timid blond woman, lived alone in an indigenous community and traveled to surrounding villages to run children’s programs and share the gospel. Her Spanish was impeccable, and she had learned how to speak the tribe’s mother tongue as well. Her knowledge and dedication to the culture was remarkable.
Angela let us know that the tribe believed in many demonic traditions and was ruled by fear. They believed in “land owners”--demons that ruled the rivers, the trees, the land, etc. Some of the tribe believed in Jesus as well; however they believed the land owners were more powerful than Christ and mixed witchcraft with Christianity. Fear ruled the region so heavily that women even believed superstitions such as imminent death if they visited the river while on their menstrual cycles. As soon as we arrived in Caprendita, I could feel the darkness and oppression. Exhausted from not sleeping enough during the journey, I took a nap as soon as we arrived. For the first time in my life, I encountered a demon in my dreams. In my dream I said, “We don’t need to pray. The spiritual oppression isn’t that strong here. We don’t need to bother.” Then I saw a white mist-like creature at the foot of my bed that looked like a ghost. I tried to scream but couldn’t. I began to pray to Jesus, and I woke up.
Throughout my entire time in Caprendita, I felt like I was literally under attack. One night, while desperately trying to get some quite alone time, I went in my tent to listen to music. Yet moments later, I began to feel like something was stabbing me in the chest, just as Nicole had. I immediately ran outside to find my teammates, and they prayed for me until it left me. Many of my teammates had similar experiences, but we refused to live in fear. We believe that God has adopted us into His family and given us all love and authority in Christ Jesus.
My teammates preached at the local church to explain this very concept to the tribe. We told them they didn’t need to fear the so-called “land owners.” They didn’t need to be slaves to religious practices or demonic superstitions. They were loved by God and could simply receive as sons and daughters and walk in the authority that Jesus Christ had given them through the Holy Spirit. Many people said they had no idea about these truths and were excited to know they could live in freedom.
The day we left Caprendita, I noticed that the water in the tap shut off. I later found out from Angela that the whole area had been in a terrible drought, and there was normally no water at her base. However, the water tanks had mysteriously filled up as soon as our team arrived, supplying just enough water for our time in the village. When we left, it dried up again. Angela said there was no explanation for such a miracle other than a blessing from God. Water had never appeared and disappeared like that before.
After our time in Caprendita, we bused to Entre Rios, a city about six hours away on terrible windy roads through mountains and steep cliffs. From Entre Rios, we split into several groups of five people and traveled to remote villages with local pastors to minister for the next few days. By the time we left, I was so physically exhausted that I headed to the next bus barely holding back tears. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept well, the last time I’d been clean, or the last time I felt truly rested. I was completely overwhelmed by the thought of heading to a remote village with zero fuel in my tank and didn’t think I had enough strength in me to do it. However, I remembered how powerfully God had come through when I was at the end of my rope in Peru and declared out loud that the same thing would happen in this next village.
Hours later, Stephen, Breck, Kelly, Katherine, and I were dumped on the side of a dusty road in the middle of nowhere La Cueva with a local pastor named Adel. With half my life strapped to my back, I began the trek to Adel’s family house. Partway through, we stopped to take off our shoes and walk through some water, then continue with sandy feet and heavy packs.
We finally arrived at Adel’s in-laws house and were greeted by Lucilla, the sweetest woman in Bolivia. She offered us some tea and bread, then began to prepare a chicken we’d eat later on. Stephen encouraged Katherine and I to help Lucilla pluck the chicken, and I held back the urge to gag as I ripped feathers out of the rubbery bird. Lucilla informed us that she had problems with her stomach and couldn’t eat more than one meal a day. She also had terrible headaches. Both conditions had lasted for about two weeks. In addition, Lucilla had had a tingling sensation in her leg for a long time that made it constantly feel heavy and asleep. We prayed for her, and right away, everything was healed! She began rejoicing and crying, thanking God for healing her.
The next day, we hiked through the village and visited several homes with Adel. We found out that Adel worked in Entre Rios during the week as a carpenter and spent every weekend traveling to La Cueva, often with his wife and son, and visited houses to share the word of God. He also organized church services on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons. La Cueva still didn’t have its own church building, but the community found alternate places to gather for the time being. We accompanied Adel on his normal travels, amazed at his faith and dedication.
Each home greeted us with open arms, warm hearts, and TONS of food. In three days, I ate more than I normally eat in a week. In Bolivian village culture, it is considered extremely rude to not finish everything that is put on your plate, which really put my stomach to the test. Every time we arrived at a home, the residents wanted to feed us, even though we’d been fed by the previous home. We prayed for several people within the village, each prayer accompanied by a meal, snack, or drink. Secretly, I was praying I wouldn’t throw up any of the food that had been so kindly served me.
The following day, we continued visiting homes but trekked further into the village. The views as we walked were breathtaking. We hiked through green hills of farmland, occasionally walking next to cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, etc. Vast fields covered the region like a beautiful emerald blanket. After trekking through the fields, we had to cross a river to get to the other half of the community Adel normally visited. We took off our shoes, rolled up our pants, and traversed the freezing cold river to get the other side and continued to visit people.
We spent quite a bit of time with a woman named Feliza. Her husband was an alcoholic, and her family claimed to have seen much saw demonic activity happening at the house. Feliza’s mother-in-law was involved with witchdoctors, and a witchdoctor had cursed the house eighteen years ago.
We decided to pray over the entire house and pray for God’s presence to fill Feliza’s home. We slept there overnight and asked Feliza how she felt in the morning. She told us that she’d dreamt of a white snake in the night. Its tail had been cut off, and he said he was angry, because he could strike no longer.
Later that day, we visited a few more homes and then went to a large farmhouse for a church service. I hadn’t slept well and didn’t know how I would function through an entire service. I started to feel nauseous from lack of sleep, and when we got to the farmhouse, we were greeted with slabs on dead pig piled atop corn and potatoes. The pork was a mixture of meat, skin, huge blobs of fat, and pieces of fur mixed in. The amount of carbs alone made me gag as I tried to force it all down; the hog carcass did not make things better. Stephen was a hero, choking down so much skin that I gagged just watching him. Breck joked about making a sacrificial move for the sake of others and face-planting with his plate in hand. This would allow him to lose his food while Katherine, Kelly, and I made a run for the trash during the distraction. We laughed as we planned the maneuver, but in the end, we sucked it up and choked down all of our food.
After our pig feast, we worshipped with our friends we’d made throughout the last couple days and shared with the tiny congregation. I stood up to speak, Stephen beside me translating. Midway through sharing, a chicken jumped off the table and almost struck me in the face. I yelped and grabbed Stephen as both of us, as well as the entire congregation burst into giggles. “I’m sorry,” I laughed, as I watched the giggling faces of this farming community. “I’m not used to having chickens at church with me!” This was a far cry from my church in California.
After surviving church on the farm, a woman named Gregoria pulled us aside for prayer. We’d met her the day before, and she said that she had a serious offense with one of the other women in the church. She constantly felt depressed and wanted to leave La Cueva. When your entire community is only thirty people, one broken relationship means serious trouble. Gregoria also complained of pain in her stomach, and after we prayed for her, she was healed. However, we knew she needed more than physical healing; she needed restoration in her heart. Juliana, a lady we’d met during out first day, came and stood beside Gregoria; and I realized she was the woman with whom Gregoria had offense. The two women confessed their wrongdoing to us and apologized to each other, hugging, and weeping into one anothers’ arms.
Afterwards, Juliana asked for private prayer and told us that she had lots of hurt in her heart. She felt far from God and wasn’t able to receive His love or her husband’s love. We talked to her for a long time and took her through a process of emotional healing and identity. We spoke and prayed identity over her. Juliana shared that she had a dream that God was forming her into a person. He put a white dress before her, and she said, “What a beautiful dress. I want to wear it.” However, she didn’t think she was good enough. Then she heard a voice say, “I will put it on you.” She realized the dress was for the marriage supper with Christ (a very significant part of the Bible where Jesus unites with his “bride” a.k.a. the church). We told Juliana she was hearing from the Lord and didn’t need to worry that she was far from Him or unloved. She began to realize how powerfully God was speaking into her life and decided to receive both His love and love from her husband. Her face lit up, and she walked away from the farmhouse, looking and feeling lighter. Joy genuinely was radiating from her.
At the end of the day, we walked back towards our house to pack up, go to bed, and leave early the next morning. The thought of waking up at the crack of dawn sounded like torture. But at just the right time, God blessed us with a random man who stopped us on the road and said he was on his way to Entre Rios. He offered to give us a free ride if we could be ready in five minutes. We excitedly and quickly packed, said our goodbyes to Adel’s beautiful family, and jumped into the car.
The next day in Entre Rios, we reunited with the rest of our team and swapped stories of our time in the various villages. Each group had amazing testimonies of God’s healing, faithfulness, and goodness. Some of us walked to the city market and bumped into some people from the La Cueva community who had decided to come into the city. It was odd but fun to bump into people we recognized from the village. The man who lived in the farmhouse where we’d had the church service told us that the La Cueva community had been very discouraged prior to our visit. Yet, he gladly shared that the residents were now extremely encouraged because of our time with them.
I remembered how burned out and exhausted I had felt before busing into La Cueva. I’d had nothing to offer, but God had come through. I knew that such a quick and significant change in the community had nothing to do with anything I or my teammates could have accomplished on our own. God had simply showed up in a moment of human weakness and shown his incredible strength and love when I had no strength of my own. In just a couple days, I had seen countless people physically, spiritually, and emotionally healed. This beautiful farming community had shifted from thoughts of despair to feelings of encouragement and hope. And as I was a part of this community’s transformation, I went through the same change in my own heart. I no longer felt weary and weak. Instead, I felt rejuvenated by the love of God and full of hope, joy, peace, and pig fat. J
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