On Sunday, August 20, Stephanie Shanks shared the following testimony with the church about her time in Bolivia. We hope that her words continue to stir your heart toward missions and inspire you this week.
I know being on the “sending” side can be harder in its own ways, to sit through testimonies like this when you wanted to BE there, but this Summer I realized just how much we leaned on you for support before and during the trip. So I’m grateful I get to share a report with you.
As a preface, I didn’t go to Bolivia because I felt equipped to minister. To be honest, this gringa went feeling quite the opposite. And there were plenty of real threats that lurked in the back of my mind as we boarded the plane: yellow fever cards, altitude sickness, lost luggage, food poisoning, a VBS program that could actually be completely lost in translation, and did I mention “Death Road”? Needlesstosay, I felt like this trip was completely out of my control. All I knew is that God wanted me to stretch my boundaries and lean into something He was already doing, and that I was supposed to show up with a Visa and a suitcase full of pirate costumes and say “yes” to His plan, whatever that looked like.
The verse I clung to as I prepared to leave was Isaiah 41:12-13:
“You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. For I, The LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’”
The bottom line is that the One who helps me is the God who created the Andes Mountains. / Fear makes no sense in this paradigm. Now, it was still really humbling to be an outsider. I can’t romanticize the discomfort I felt. But God took care of us through your prayers. Really. Ask any of us for specifics.
But if there was any prevailing sense we felt as a team, it was that God was present with us. Where we felt His presence most keenly was through the people we encountered.
– With the workers and their kids at Casa de Esperanza, who spent nearly every waking moment with us, teaching us Spanish, cracking jokes, and sacrificing hours of their time to host and help us.
– Through the Holland team that overlapped with us at the orphanage. Dutch, Spanish and English filled the pavilion every day at lunch and gave us a taste of heaven. I will always remember listening to the trilingual prayers for one precious little girl who went in for heart surgery, and to learn the next day that God had healed her upon arrival at the hospital.
– We felt it through talking and praying with the tias who beautifully lay down their lives day in and day out. (Shout-out to Anna, Karah, and Autumn who did the same for 6 weeks!)
– Through soccer games, origami, book readings, dance parties at a bonfire, UNO games, and lingering meals at the casas.
– Through the rapt attention of every single kid after our drama ended, as Chris invited them to respond to the gospel.
There are a thousand more instances you should ask the rest of the team about. But suffice it to say, we were humbled beyond words to be a brief part of the thick community there. It’s a revolving oasis of diversity, growth, hilarity, grace, and weathered love.
Our brief time in Caranavi truly felt like the 5 loaves and the 2 fishes. But we all experienced God breathing on our efforts, multiplying our little into plenty. We left after 3 days with tears, notes, gifts, Instagram handles, and dozens of hugs. A theme we focused on as a team was hugs, the power of them, and the eternal impact simple acts of love can have.
By the time we left Caranavi, all my fears had melted away.
The second leg of our trip was spent in La Paz and the neighboring city of El Alto. We spent two evenings with Central Church in La Paz, with their youth and their young adult groups and other leaders from the church. We spent Sunday morning with the sweet little church in El Alto.
Worshipping with Bolivians was like home in every sense of the word. At least for the first 7 songs, and then we started praying for sea-level air.
They all lingered long to talk, hug, and connect with every person in the room.
The young adult group prayed for us individually allowing God to use their prophetic gifts. This was significantly encouraging for many of us.
Then they made us learn a dance with them to a worship song, which was amazing, though maybe not equally encouraging to everyone.
At both churches, I was provoked by their immediate openness, graciousness, eagerness to embrace us and bold spontaneity to engage with us and our experience in Bolivia.
Their openness to friendship and to the Spirit was effortless and contagious, and my heart for the international church has grown three sizes.
They reminded us that we are truly in this together — that believers in the U.S. are not alone.
They even asked us how they could serve us if they came as a missions team HERE, genuinely wanting to know, because we seem to have everything. It was hard to wrap our minds around the weight of the answer, but we told them what we face. What would you say? They may actually come.
Of everyone I met on this trip, it was a 15 year old girl at the El Alto church that most gripped my heart. Put-together, stylish, poised, and with good English, she befriended me while we helped the kids with crafts in the church courtyard. I didn’t guess just how thirsty she was for encouragement, facing incredible struggles at home with her unbelieving parents. With tears streaming, she asked us to pray for her and to stay in touch – and her eyes said “please, please don’t leave.” I was heartbroken. Hunger and need look the same no matter what continent you’re on.
Over the course of the week, I encountered my own need, and learned more how to relax into God’s will, and let Him use my little offerings however He saw fit.
Being in Bolivia made me finally “get” why everyone who goes there falls in love with it, with its people, with the God who is so tangibly present. When you’re forced to depend on Him for everything, from running water – to food for an 80 member household – to your plans for the day, you realize what a gift it is to truly need Him, to count on His provision. And then you realize just how sweet it is that God is not an ounce more present in Bolivia than He is here. This is our new task as a team: to remember and savor His nearness all the more going forward. Help us do that.
Thank you for sending us.