Recent Blogs

The Body of the Spirit

If you watch sports, especially team sports, it becomes clear which teams play together well and which teams are simply a collection of All-stars. It always amazes me when I look at professional football and watch teams that either win year after year, or stay in the hunt and make the Playoffs year after year.

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!


The Lenten Season Has Arrived!

What a meaningful Ash Wednesday service we were able to share together at the start of the Lenten Season on February 13! Youth Minister Katie Kiss inspired us with reflections on how the words of the Old Testament prophet Amos shed light on living our faith with integrity today.

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.


“Receiving God’s Grace to Become God’s Gifts” – that’s our congregation’s theme for the next three months – and that’s a mouthful! Let’s go easy on ourselves, with all the getting-ready-for-Christmas things already in our minds – let’s just focus today on one word -- “receiving.”

During these days of Advent, “receiving” is almost a counter- cultural activity. So much being spoken to us by advertisements and daily conversations is about “getting” – “only 26 more days to get that Christmas shopping done!”; “What are you going to get for him?”; “What do you think we’ll get from them?”; “When am I going to find time to get the Christmas decorations up?”... and the unspoken thought -- “I can’t wait to just get through it all and put my feet up on the 26th!”

But we in the Church are invited into a journey of receiving during the Advent and Christmas Seasons.

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.”

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!

Have you ever had a pie thrown in your face?

CROP Stop SignI haven’t, and as far as I know neither has John Smoke. Unfortunately for us, that is all about to change! You may have heard us engaging in some good-spirited competitive conversations or seen the posters on the church walls with pies surrounding our faces. This Sunday, pies will be thrown. But what’s it all about?

This Sunday, October 14th, First UMC is teaming up with churches and organization all around the area to walk in the annual CROP Walk. This walk drums up financial and moral support for a variety of organizations that seek to fight hunger in our local communities, our nation, and around the world. After hearing about the walk, I immediately knew I wanted to help out and was positive that others would, too. I talked to John and found out that he was positive others would want to help as well. We were both SO positive that we decided to enter into a friendly challenge between our ministries. So, this Sunday, whoever has more students from his or her ministry (for John that’s Kindergarteners-5th Grade, for me it’s 6th-12th graders) walking alongside him or her in the walk, gets to throw pies in the other person’s face.


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