God is at work in our hearts

As with all mission trips, the days feel as though we’ve hit the fast-forward button on the remote. Each day, we’ve been greeted at breakfast with fresh fruit purchased by one of our volunteers, Jesús. As Wanda remarked “He was complaining that 10 lbs of bananas cost a dollar. Imagine!”

On Thursday, some of the team went to the Kasa Wasa (“House of People” in Quechua) seniors centre to learn about Chalice programming and entrepreneurship. Sound boring? Think again! As Janelle described “Confetti, greetings of hugs, kisses and ‘gracias’, dancing, gifts, being fed traditional food and drink, learning how mothers wrap their babies, and more all proceeded and followed the mothers telling us about the program and what it has done for them. It was beautiful to see the joy in their faces as they told us about the progress and showed us the fruits of their labour, which they learned to do through Chalice’s program. It was so encouraging to see how the [Chalice sponsorship] program does not just give the necessities needed, but rather teaches skills so that, with your help Jesus, they will one day be completely independent and we will not be needed.”
The dental clinics are abuzz with activity, doing cleaning, sealants, extractions and other care treatments for children and seniors at the sites. On Friday, the hygienists and some animated volunteers went class-to-class at a school, demonstrating proper brushing techniques and handing out kits of toothpaste and toothbrushes donated by Colgate. The kids learned about brushing twice per day for two whole minutes, and being sure to brush after eating candy or sweet things. They also learned what animals live in Canada and the answers to a myriad of other (perfectly relevant…) questions for their Canadian guests.

At the daycare, an artistic group of volunteers have taken on an ambitious mural to decorate the entire front wall of the building. 66 Bolivian boys, girls, women and men hold hands as they weave around the Canadian and Bolivian flags, the world, the Holy Spirit, and the Pax Christi. It is a beautiful representation of friendship, love, and solidarity.

Deacon Phil described a moment of “new awakening” while working on the mural: “As I was etching the mural with my new creative buddy and Chalice Champion, Alex, I observed school girls in their uniforms stop with curiosity at what we were drawing on the wall. Then it struck me. This is their neighbourhood…where they go to school. Where they play with their friends, live with their families and dream of a better tomorrow. It is US who are the strangers in their hometown. They are family people who, despite their apparent hardships, are welcoming and like to celebrate simple pleasures and accomplishments in life. Not so strange after all.”
As the week progresses, most of the team has had the opportunity to visit a sponsor child or senior in their home. Lisa’s visit was a particularly special experience, as she was able to visit Chalice’s ASDC Sponsor Site (Asociación Sindrome de Down Cochabamba).  ASDC is a centre for children with Down Syndrome. She described her visit beautifully:
“After the six of us [three visitors, a social worker, a translator and a driver!] found the address after driving ALL OVER Cochabamba in a five-passenger car, I quickly remembered that we were not at the [child’s family] home but at the Site. We were so privileged to get the opportunity to tour this sponsorship site; to see how much they do, and some ways with so little. Their goal is to educate families on how to care for their child with Down Syndrome.  First we were led to a room to meet the family. They looked well. A typical family: mom, dad, daughter, and son. My family sponsors 21-month-old Santiago. Boy is he precious! But Santiago was born with Down’s. In the first room we saw a staff member doing fine motor activities with a girl. His room shared with an area to teach skills of daily living such as making a bed. Being in this therapy room brings me back to my early intervention sessions with my son. My son, Nicholas, was born with Schizencephaly. I was that parent sitting at the table while he received OT and PT.

“The staff member took us to a crowded room where they offer gross motor development. She shared her dream to add on space to this area. In the room they work with infants, she wanted to explain a bin of dried beans. I am so pleased as we do the same for sensory play in Canada. She does not have to find the words to tell me. Next, a little girl working on muscle development at a visual station. She left what she was doing to show us a room with black lights. The little girl, before doing her work of sorting colours, took her shoes off to see her white socks glow! The children are all so precious. Lives are touched daily. May God continue to send down his angels to guide and protect the staff, the parents and the children of this sponsorship site.”
As our mission activities (already?!) start to draw to a close, there is much reflection on the meanings of gratitude, loving service, how to give, and how to receive. Perhaps Deacon Phil summed it up best when he said, “Each team and home-visiting parties return with their stories to tell. Telling of their challenges, but most impacting, how they’ve been touched by all the affection they feel for the people they have met throughout their day. God is working in and through us, but as we discover, He is also very much working in and through the people we come to serve”.