And so, five years ago today I bounced off the plane, bright eyed and bushy tailed, not exactly sure of what was in store but very sure that a grand adventure was ahead. I had left right after church on July 18 and an emotional, humbling, prayerful “feet washing” sending off from a few women I admire.
I’ve never forgotten standing at a main intersection the afternoon of July 19 as I soaked up being in Bolivia and knowing that it was my new home, and thrilling to the thought that I was going to get to learn how to help these people. That I would be privileged to raise children in this country! I have rarely been so exhilarated.
For months adrenaline literally kept me running as I went to bed very late and leapt out of bed early. There was so much to do, and I loved all of it! The days were packed full of Spanish lessons, construction decisions, emails, communication with supporters, staff hiring, volunteer application renewal, paperwork, meetings, brainstorming sessions with volunteers and missionaries, policy and procedure manual drafting, and endless details as I prepared myself to oversee the care of multiple babies and toddlers—and staff. I guess it was much the same as now, only that back then I didn't have a clue what I was doing. =) Even with my full plate today, when I come across a task list or daily schedule from those first months here it still surprises me. It was a time like no other. Less than 5 months after I moved here, the initial start up tasks were done or in progress and we were caring for kids!
I had no culture shock, at least not to speak of. That is, until about 1 ½ to 2 ½ years later. During that time, all three of my closest friends moved to the US, we had a series of sad situations and hospitalizations with the kids, and the country kept collapsing into social and political chaos that hindered our daily movement. That was a dark time. I hit a wall. Some days I didn’t want to help any more, but I was propelled forward by sense of duty. I started this, I will work the hardest of anyone. It was a time of much soul-searching...when I had a minute to think. Those of us who are motivated by a need (and being needed) set ourselves up for failure when those we serve and give our lives to help refuse to help themselves. Are not grateful. Complain. Take one step forward and three back, while you watch the consequence of their sin permanently affect a child.
A young missionary in Africa recently posted a sobering statistic as she realized she’d hit a wall: over 90% of missionaries in their twenties burn out on the field and don't go back. I’ve read another stat that something like 90% of all missionaries quit during their first year or two. Part of the problem is loneliness, especially for singles.
Why didn’t I quit? Well, I hate quitting and—mainly—changing plans. I still believed with all my heart that God had called me to this and that He had a plan for me here and would see me through.
And have you heard this quote? “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words.” I lived that! Although my family would have been just fine with me turning “Casa de Amor” over to someone else and coming home, I never would have been fine with it. I'm stubborn like that. So they and a small group of cheerleading friends, my team, brought me back from the brink of burn out. Then, when my parents and three sisters surprised me by actually moving here almost 3 years after I did, it was a continual burst of wind in my sails.
Now I’m once again “alone” (in a house with 25 others, tee-hee) but doing fine and so glad to be here, serving here. Life is full of ups and downs, and missionary life is no different—just greater highs and lower lows!
And, to answer a frequently asked question…yes, I’ve definitely been back to the US (a huge boost to my mental sanity!). I’ve visited five times now, a combo of activities for the homes and rest. Just being away from here means my life is automatically less intense. Each annual trip back has been progressively shorter—from 6 weeks the first time (4 kids in one home) to just 2 weeks last year (35 kids in three homes…36 by the time I got back)!
I’m starting to really look forward to being in the states at least a couple months at the end of the year. Somehow I’m going to leave all this and do what I know is healthy for me now—take a little sabbatical. “Home assignment” will be a time for me to catch up with my family as they now live in a new state, a new home, and have a new business. I need to take a breath, regroup, and return with fresh vision and energy. Just easier said than done, although I have high hopes for the next set of long term volunteers and I plan to pass off many daily, weekly, and monthly tasks to them.
To anyone reading this, friend or stranger, who has sent an email of encouragement, prayed for us, mailed me a birthday card (even though it’s appearing like most don’t make it here...), or done anything to inspire us to continue with our work here—thank you! Mere words cannot describe what a difference the support makes.
Here we are, and we'll see what's in store after five more years!
Pictures are of construction meetings and decisions within my first week living here, including choosing cloth diaper fabric with a Bolivian friend and our first volunteers (pre-children), a family from Alaska!