Mary Gann of St. Stephen’s UMC, Norman, works in the trenches in Bolivia.
By Amy Venable Pastor, St. Stephen’s UMC, Norman
It was a place I had never visited. Yet Bolivia beckoned to me as a place to take a VIM team.
I had been there vicariously, through a medical mission my mother had taken 21 years earlier. I know the feel of the alpaca sweater she brought me. I remember stories she told in Sunday School: of surgeries that seemed primitive, professional beggars who seemed dauntless, and children’s smiles that seemed impossibly wide.
Pastor Deborah Ingraham of OKC-Epworth UMC had never experienced a week-long mission. But we agreed to a joint project by our churches in September. I took 17 people onto a continent where I had never set foot.
Some of us staffed the clinic, which hadn’t seen a full VIM team since the 1980s. (And we were a nurse practitioner, veterinarian, pecan farmer, five nurses, and a French major-turned-minister with awkward-but-intelligible Spanish). Others hefted earth with shovels, digging two trenches, 12 feet deep, for a septic system to make possible a bathroom for the clinic. Beyond those activities, we played volleyball, Frisbee, and drew pictures with the local children.
Our location was four hours by bus from Santa Cruz. This was the most primitive setting for any VIM project I had experienced. We slept on straw mats, hoped for a cool breeze through the schoolroom windows at night, and ate whatever was cooked for us, which turned out to be delicious. We braced the cool mornings with instant coffee and cocoa, and relished papaya and sweet potatoes, plentiful at nearly every meal.
We calculated that we treated 200 individuals in the clinic and built half the bathroom, leaving enough money for the project to be completed in a few weeks’ time.
The people of the village wept as we prepared to board the bus back to Santa Cruz, and insisted on embracing each one of us. Their ritual was the same with each person: shake, embrace/kiss, shake. Their tears flowed, and there were a lot of us.
What they don’t realize is how their way of life and their freely flowing love and care of us changed us forever.
We want to go back. Debbie and I are grateful for the relationship formed over the years between the Iglesia Evangelica Metodista en Bolivia and The United Methodist Church of Oklahoma.
Demos grácias à dios por esta expériencia.
St. Stephens-Epworth UMC, VIM-Bolivia: Charles Sanders and children