Journal Entry, La Paz, Bolivia June 29, 2014
“Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’”
– Jeremiah 1:9-10
Along this storycatching journey I have continually asked myself – “What are the stories we tell ourselves? Out of what narratives are we living? What are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and about the world in which we live? From what stories are we drawing our own life’s narrative? Is it the Story of God and who we are as God’s creation? Or is it a narrative of distrust, despair, and anxiety? What does it look like to reclaim the story of the Gospel as our communal identity?”
During my stay in Bolivia, I have spent time with Quechua and Aymara church leaders who are passionate about the mission of building loving Christian community that seeks to embrace all with a Story of hope and redemption. I have listened in wonder as Aymara women speak of their desire to continue uprooting and tearing down destructive narratives of domestic violence & sexual abuse that so often dictate communal life. I have sat with Quechua men who are driven to inspire a generation of youth by sharing their own experiences of overcoming alcohol dependency. They all have taught me the transforming power of re-framing stories in light of the Gospel.
Yet, re-framing our stories means that we need an audience – a community to tell us the truth about ourselves when everything around us tells us half-truths, almost-truths, or even full-out lies. This is why Christian community is so vital here in Bolivia – the leaders I have spent time with understand the power and freedom that comes from sharing one’s story within a trusting/trustworthy community. Through the stories and sermons I have heard among indigenous populations (Quechua and Aymara) I have been challenged to re-frame how we the church in the United States encourage parishioners to share their experiences with God, their God-experiences with others, and how we listen to the stories of the community that surrounds us in order to communicate the Gospel in a tangible way to our neighbors.
What I have seen over and over again is that in indigenous communities, they value a person’s message of the Gospel much more if they have witnessed that person living life alongside them – farming in their fields, opening a store in their community, providing tutoring for their children, praying for their sick. As Christian leaders hear the concerns, experiences, and stories of the community, they are able to aid the community in imagining how God is at work within their own stories and to what God might be calling them in the future as a community of faith. With their actions and words, the Christian leaders I have met with here are saying to their indigenous community members: “Share your story and let the Gospel inspire the narrative you are telling about yourself – for you are loved, you are beautiful, you are broken, you are needed in this place.” The people of Bolivia have taught me the importance of identifying the narrative that is destroying life so that by retelling their story in light of what the Gospel says about who they are they can in turn change the world around them.
This lesson of re-framing story came in a very fragile part of my Storycatching tour. At the beginning of June, I was hospitalized here in La Paz for having an extremely dangerous type of parasites in my system that attack vital organs and the blood stream. I have been on bed rest until very recently. Being on bed rest, missing the travels I had planned to take, and being far from family and friends during this time was very hard on me. And in the darkness of this experience, I began to hear those half-truths and lies creep up behind me to say that I failed, that all I had seen was in vain, that I would die in that hospital bed. And the thing is that these frames – these voices – that seek to dominate the narrative of our experience – they sound just close enough to the truth. That’s why we trust them. But theirs is a frame, a lens, a half-truth that does not set us free. The frame of our story that sets us free is the Truth of the Gospel that unbinds us from destructive narratives.
And then, the Beloved community began telling me the truth – as I sat in the hospital and as I sat in bed, the Spirit sent voices to aid in re-framing this story. A dear friend of mine wrote to me, “Rachel, parasites only mean you have embraced each adventure and have shared daily life with those around you. Jesus is proud.” That was the Truth that set me free – a re-framing of the story I was in. I experienced the Global Church reaching out to encourage this Storycatcher through visits, phone calls, messages, medical care, delivering meals and sending me songs. I had an excellent team of medical professionals and an amazing host-family taking care of me.
Re-framing our stories in light of the Gospel is hard work. It takes practice. It takes patience. It takes a community around us to remind us of the beautiful truth we often forget – the truth that we are loved, we are God’s, and we are made new daily to change the world around us with the Love and Truth that sets us free.
**CHECK BACK SOON FOR AN UPDATE ONCE I REACH PARAGUAY!**
Hermana Laura and I pose for a photo in the middle of the potluck after worship. “Aptapi” is the Aymara word used for potluck!
With the youth of Cochabamba’s ILEB congregation, EL REDENTOR.
Although my travels in the southwest were cancelled due to me being in the hospital, my time in Bolivia has been absolutely amazing and I am honored to have bore witness to the incredible things God’s Spirit is doing here.