Friday, September 18, 2009

Andean Travelogue

Since leaving Costa Rica on August 15, we’ve been on assignment in Bolivia and Peru, where we spent so much of our lives. We’ve been serving as consultants at the Bolivian Evangelical University, for the masters in mission program. And we’ve been leading a series of writers’ workshops for Bolivian and Peruvian Friends. These workshops have been sponsored by the Friends Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas, and focus on narrative writing. We’re encouraging Andean Friends to remember and write down the stories that give insight into their faith and life, both on the personal and communal levels.

In the above photo of the Santa Cruz workshop, Esteban Ajnota and Vicky de Carrillo learn how to do peer evaluation of their articles.

After a few weeks in Santa Cruz, we flew to La Paz, partly to give ourselves a few days to adapt to the high altitude before the writers workshop in Peru, and partly to again be with the Friends community in this city where we raised our kids and lived for 18 years. The above photo, taken across the street from our hostel, captures some of the lively confusion of this city.

The building project above is the reconstruction of the New Jerusalem Friends Church on Max Paredes Street, a project that has involved the entire congregation of some 400 people, and seems like a miracle in the making.

But more than scenery or buildings, we came to see people. Margarita Mamani (above) and I have known each other since 1972, when Hal and I first began living in La Paz. Of course thirty-seven years ago, we were both younger, but Margarita’s smile has not aged a bit. She belongs to a group of women in the New Jerusalem Friends Church who have been meeting together to pray for probably twenty years now. They are praying the church through this building project. And they consistently pray for missions. Margarita and the others knew our son David since he was one-year-old. They are thrilled that he and his family are Friends missionaries in Rwanda. In fact they consider him their Bolivian missionary to Africa, and they pray for David, Debby and their kids every week.

From La Paz we rode across the altiplano (above, photo taken from the bus)…

…across the Straits of Tiquina of beautiful Lake Titicaca, over the international border…

…and to the Peruvian town of Juli, on the lake, home of the first Friends church in Peru almost 50 years ago.

Twenty-five Friends from the highlands of Peru and Bolivia met for the writers’ workshop. We gathered for three days in the Friends high school “Jorge Fox” in Juli.

Enthusiasm and level of participation were high, with both orientation by us and lots of group work. Aymaras learn communally, and, actually, so do I.

Participants in the workshop were men and women of all ages, but the oldest budding writer was Teodoro Alanguía from the Peruvian Friends Church. If I had to choose from a collection of “favorite faces,” Teodoro’s would be high on my list. But more than his face, his spirit blessed us.

We’re back in Santa Cruz, Bolivia now, and tomorrow is the last session of the Friends writers’ workshop in this city. Participants are to bring the first revision of their article. As one of the results of these workshops, we hope to come up with a book of stories of people and congregations that will give insight into the faith and life of this branch of the Friends Church. These Andean Quakers have much to contribute to the rest of the worldwide community of Friends, and they have a unique contribution to make within their own social context. I feel privileged to have been a part of their lives.

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