Mision Fronteras

Mision Fronteras

Mision Fronteras (Border Mission) is the name of a mission by DGFUMC members, Debbie Rissing and Jeff Wasilevich, in the Lake Titicaca region on the border of Peru and Bolivia. Working in one of the poorest areas of both countries, they are helping local churches become resource centers providing economic support and other services to the indigenous Aymara and Quechua people. Mision Fronteras was founded in 2009 through a covenant partnership between United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, and the Methodist  bishops of Peru and Bolivia. Visit their Facebook page for more details and read their blog for regular updates.

Jeff and Debbie in Bolivia

The People They Serve

The Lake Titicaca region of southern Peru and western Bolivia is among the poorest in both countries, populated by indigenous Aymara and Quechua, who, hundreds of years ago were members of the same tribe. Though divided by national boundaries, the people continue to share familial and cultural ties. Particularly because their governments provide little or no local human services, the people want to strengthen their local churches and use them as community resource centers – bases to improve their economy and health, and develop sustainable resources.

Generations of Aymara and Quechua have existed as subsistence farmers. They do not want to be dependent upon others. But global warming, high altitude (12,500 feet + ), and the extremely dry climate are progressively limiting the people’s ability to grow nutritious food for themselves and their families. It also adds to health threats. Incidence of pneumonia here is among the highest in the world, and increasing. Currently, about 1 in 13 children die before their fifth birthday. Similarly, the animals that families economically depend upon also suffer and many die, further threatening human survival. 

Goals and Objectives

Chani, BoliviaLed by the wishes and needs of the people in the Lake Titicaca region, the Methodist bishops of Peru and Bolivia, and representatives from First United Methodist Church of Boise, Idaho, laid out the primary goals of the Lake Titicaca Border


  • Grow and help strengthen the local churches, which also serve as community resource centers, through construction, renovation, and improved financial self-sufficiency;
  • Help strengthen church leadership;
  • Promote exchange between individuals and church communities in Bolivia, Peru and the U.S.;
  • Improve the health, access to health care, and public health practices of people in the Lake Titicaca region of Bolivia and Peru. 

As coordinators of this site, they help manage local work initiatives, and serve as hosts for local and U.S. individual volunteers and teams to further the goals of Mision Fronteras.

Recent News

Friday’s After-Work Hike to 14,970 Feet

Hiking above CopacabanaFriday afternoon we knocked off work early, grabbed the camera, and left home at little after 4, aiming to hike a pre-Columbian road winding through a mountain pass above Copacabana. Such magnificent sites just had to be shared ...

Approaching a pass below the peak, we came across this message painted on the roadway: “Jallalla!” (pronounced Ha YA ya!) Aymara for “Hurrah!”


Our sentiments, exactly, about the place we live in, the people work with, and the progress of Misión Fronteras! We thank you again for your support in all its many forms!


Teach the Teachers Program

Katie YaunKatie Yaun, a new UMVIM volunteer, has been visiting for the past 10 days, meeting neighbors and people she’ll be working with, and scouting out the area in advance of her long-term move here in several more weeks. Katie will be working with Misión Fronteras for about 9 months, launching and directing the new Teach the Teachers Program to improve English language skills throughout the region.

As you may recall from the last newsletter, local folks here are very keen to learn English. Ryan Kolegas, a friend and volunteer from the States, taught English for five months last year in a small rural school near Copacabana. Other teachers and school directors learned about that. They – and the mayor of Copa -- wanted to know when Misión Fronteras would be providing volunteer English teachers for all the grade schools and high schools in the entire peninsula!

Clearly, the mission can’t afford to do that. But we figured we might be able to maximize resources – and impact -- with a teach-the-teachers program. Less than a day after coming up with the concept, we learned of Katie’s interest in teaching English here: a heaven-sent match!

Miniature Newsletter

AlasitasJan. 24 marked the beginning of “Alasitas,” a three-week long Andean festival celebrated by Bolivia’s indigenous Aymara tribe.

The festival centers on the Aymaran god Ekkekko, the god of abundance. Honoring a centuries-old tradition, Aymarans create shrines in their homes to Ekkekko (which means “dwarf” or “midget” inAymara), and surround him with miniatures of things they wish to acquire in the coming year. In La Paz, where the festival is grandly celebrated, one can buy miniature food and chocolates, tools and kitchen utensils, cars and houses, suitcases, newspapers, visas and passports, lottery tickets and first-class plane tickets, diplomas, and wads of micro-money in all sorts of currencies, especially US dollars

Many of the ceramic Ekkekko statues are made to accommodate a cigarette. While Ekkekko smokes, petitioners pour themselves an alcoholic drink, always observing the tradition of first spilling a few drops for Pachamama, Mother Earth, before they take a sip for themselves.

Alasitas originally took place in September, springtime in Bolivia, when farmers plant and pray for a good crop and a bountiful harvest. People in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city, still celebrate Alasitas in September. But in the Andes, where La Paz is located, the timing of the festival was changed to begin on Jan. 24 to commemorate an indigenous uprising that occurred in 1781.

Special Mission Event - Welcome Home Jeff and Debbie

You are invited to hear an exciting update of the mission work that Jeff Wasilevich and Debbie Rissing have been accomplishing in Bolivia and Peru during the past year.

Through pictures and stories, you'll hear about how Debbie and Jeff, as United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, have helped greenhouses to be built and become a source of sustaining income for people in poverty; about children receiving the needed supplies that allow them to attend school; about equipping local residents to serve their community with basic health-care knowledge and supplies; about worship in a much different context than our own, and much more.

The program, which will be about one hour, is sponsored by our congregation's Mission Work Area.

We are excited to welcome Debbie and Jeff during their weeks back in the States

DGFUMC - Room 213
Monday, December 17, 2012 - 7:00pm

Drought and a Flood of Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving from Copacabana!

Water ShortageIt’s been a weird week, and I suppose that’s heightened our sense of gratitude.

While the rains are increasing and threatening to flood our house, the entire village has been out of water since Tuesday, and the municipality isn’t likely to pump water out to homes again until Monday, possibly later. There’s a long-standing water shortage here, but this particular crisis is because Copa installed a colossal new water tank, and the concrete that will support it needs time to cure.

I’m quite a few days past due for a shower. Happily, friends who own a hostel in Copa still have water and are happy to “rent” me a shower later today. I’m grateful -- so is Jeff! We can still buy bottled drinking water in town, so we’ll be OK. We’re grateful for that, too. Alas, we won’t be able to wash laundry or dishes for a few days. That’s a little troubling ... but we can find a way to feel grateful for that, too! And we can haul buckets of water from the spring next to the Incan ruins behind our house, so, thankfully, we can flush our toilet every so often. They’re hard to see in the photo, but along with little micro-lily pads there are tiny little fish swimming in those "flush buckets."

Dancing with the Dead – Todos Santos (All Saints Day)

All Saints DayOn Nov. 1, All Saints Day, Bolivianos party with the souls of their lost loved ones. Days prior to the fiesta street markets teem with 50-kilo bags of flour and sugar, buckets full of lard, and tables and blankets spread with myriad, hand- painted, miniature plaster-of-Paris faces. Families use these to make “Tantawawas,” Aymara for Bread Babies. The term refers generally to the many, many, shaped bread loaves -- those decorated with human faces symbolize the dead; others formed like horses, ladders or stairs are meant to help transport the spirits from heaven. Since most families don’t have an oven, they either buy bread or make dough and rent oven time from those who do.

Every family prepares carefully to receive their returning spirits, who descend at noon and visit for 24 hours. Tables are decorated with flowers, veils, fruits, sweets, biscuits, cookies, sugar cane, drinks, and the late beloveds’ favorite foods -- and many tantawawas. The celebrations go on through the night.

For those 24 hours and beyond cemeteries swarm with bands and families, who picnic, sing, dance and drink to welcome and rejoice with the returning spirits, lofted back from heaven on hundreds of kites. “We don’t know that the spirits come back to us,” says our friend Elisa Barrigola Machaca, "but it’s our belief that they do.”

Alternative Gift Fair

What do you buy the person who has everything? How about a goat, a beautiful South American craft, or a share in the aid work being done to help people in more than 100 countries around the world?

The Advent season is filled with many warm traditions, and one of those traditions at First United Methodist Church is the Alternative Gift Fair. Many of you are familiar with the beautiful crafts handmade by the artisans of our church's Guatemalan sister organization, the UPAVIM (United for Better Living) cooperative. These are gifts that give twice – your family and friends will enjoy receiving these lovely items, and you will also be supporting improvement projects in UPAVIM’s impoverished home community of La Esperanza in Guatemala City. We have a large selection to choose from - colorful bags of all sizes, scarves, Christmas ornaments, kitchen accessories, jewelry, and more.

You can also purchase livestock to combat world hunger as part of Heifer International, handcrafted items from the Peru-Titicaca Border Ministry, and help support the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Best of all, you’ll be able to check off a few more names on your holiday gift-giving list while making a difference in our world. What a perfect way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas!

Please come visit us in the Parlor after each service during the Advent season.


Sprouts, Touts and Louts

Greenhouses in Chani, Sicuani, and Santa Ana, Bolivia, are complete, have new water lines, and are all growing vegetables and flowers! A fourth one, in Cusijata, should be done and planted within the next two weeks.

The mission hired an agricultural engineer, David Kantuta Mayta, to teach people from churches, schools and the local municipality who will be working in mission-sponsored greenhouses the best way to start seeds, transplant sprouts, make compost, and grow, harvest and market vegetables and flowers. David is also doing hands-on training sessions at the 3 operating greenhouses.

The following is a 26-second, one shot-a-minute, time-lapse video of the Chani greenhouse being worked. Thanks to Ryan Kolegas, who shot the video. We can’t wait to see the first produce get packed up, sent to market and sold!

Salt, Sweat & Seeds

Girl in CopacabanaA lot of good work got packed into the past six weeks!

Our son, Sam, 20, helped build adobe greenhouses in nearby Sicuani and Cusijata. The Sicuani greenhouse and another one in Santa Ana have new water lines, and all three have new roofs and newly planted seed starter boxes.

In June and July Allyson Zeedrich, 23, a graduate student in the University of Illinois’ School of Public Health, fulfilled her six-week practicum here. She interviewed Promotores de Buena Salud (volunteer community public health workers) trained by the mission to see how they are using their skills and whether they need more training to maximize their effectiveness. The interviews confirmed that virtually all of the Bolivian Promotores want more regular training; they want to feel more confident; and they need to know more about promoting themselves. Allyson suggested monthly meetings in which they can choose and study specific topics of interest. She facilitated a lively dialogue on how the promotores could advertise their skills. Using Allyson’s computer and advice, every member of the group gleefully designed his or her own professional business card, complete with a logo and a four-color head shot.

Short Days - Big Projects

Team OnalaskaOur hearts are still soaring and our pantry, our stock of public health teaching supplies and first aid materials, as well as my previously meager store of footwear, have grown substantially, thanks to last week’s visit from Team Onalaska (Wisconsin).

Construction workers on the team helped local Aymaran folks build a new greenhouse in Sicuani, and helped reroof an existing greenhouse in Santa Ana, Bolivia. Nurses and public health workers on the team taught basic nutrition and dental hygiene, and gave much-coveted sunglasses, to two groups of school students and adults – more than 100 people.

On our first day of work with the Onalaska folks, we were welcomed with an early, outdoor lunch -- bowls heaped with rice, potatoes, oka (a nutty-tasting local tuber), and fresh, fried trucha (trout from Lake Titicaca). The builders, including my son Sam, stayed at that site, where they laid adobe for the new greenhouse. The health care folks, Jeff and I moved on to a small school in Sampaya -- one teacher, one room, and 11 students, including several orphans or abandoned children; all from very poor families. We taught dental hygiene and distributed much coveted sunglasses, and school and dental-care supplies.


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