(Lunch together after church on Sunday. Starting on the left: Juan, Lorie, Caleb, Ronal, Noemi, Pilar and Nicole.)
Things in Tarija, like other parts of the world, are still restrictive. In some ways it is hard to see on the surface. Businesses are open, the street market floods with people every Saturday, people are playing sports in the parks and going to restaurants. Seemingly the only difference is that almost everyone wears a mask when they are out.
I think it’s easier to notice the restrictions when you are new to the area and you don’t have that community core yet. One of the hardest things about starting in a new place is the lack of community. It makes you feel untethered. Because of the pandemic, schools are still not happening in person. People aren’t gathering in unknown places or with unknown people. There are seats assigned to remain empty between you and the next person. It has been hard to try and figure out how to have those casual conversations with people that could be the start of something more.
But God will find a way and does find a way. I am blessed by having community outside of Tarija. I have ministry outside of Tarija. I continue leading a group in the States and have started getting together once or twice a week with a friend in Sucre who has slowly been more and more interested in God during the last year. We’re starting in Luke and it’s been a blessing to us both. But I wanted something in Tarija. I needed something here. Two weeks ago I printed out some flyers and passed out around ten of them to everyone I could think of. People I’ve seen around, I introduced myself to and then invited them over to my house to be a part of an emotional health group. Friendship evangelism is a beautiful and powerful thing but when you have yet to find a place where just hanging out can happen, it can be hard to get started especially for someone who is not particularly outgoing. So I invited the copy store lady, the bakery lady, the hardware store lady, the landlord’s wife, our landlord from our first month, our only neighbor in our building, etc. This seems contradictory to what I just said about not being outgoing, but it actually is very hard for me to initiate a conversation with someone I don’t know and God has to really push me and help me do it.
People reacted very kindly, although I know it was unexpected and felt odd to them. And I prayed. Before, during and after, I prayed. This wasn't the best way to start talking with people and I knew God would have to work through that. The first week our neighbor and her 12 year old daughter came. Both are named Natalia and the mom was so excited to get to know us and be a part of the group. Then this week the landlord, Silvia, from where we temporarily stayed for the first month came and so did our friend Noemi who we knew from Sucre. Silvia said she had invited two of her friends and didn’t know why they didn’t come. I told her they probably were waiting for her to check it out first before they went to a stranger's house.
Both weeks Lorie and I got to share a little bit of our lives with others around the kitchen table and with a piece of dessert.
Along with opening doors, God provides the doors also. Last weekend Pilar and I were stepping out of our building and a lady and her son were walking by. Even though both were wearing masks, Pilar told me that was a boy from her school and shouted, “Hola Juan!” (Unlike me, my daughter is very good at faces, even faces of those she’s only seen on a tiny zoom screen, and she also has no problem talking with people.) He told us he lived right down the street and then a couple days later we saw him playing in front of his house and went over. Pilar and Nicole had a blast running up and down the sidewalk with him and I talked a bit with his mom, Felicidad, who runs a little neighborhood store out of her house.
I don’t know where these conversations will go, but I know it’s steps in the journey of building a community.
(Street in Tarija. Saturday Market a couple blocks from where we live.)
Here are some prayer requests:
-Ronal (the one who helped us find the apartment) - his mom died of Covid. She got sick about a week after we arrived and was hospitalized and then passed a month later. It’s been very hard for him and his family who also lost their father a few months before. Ronal has been out of work and just found a job a week ago when he came down with salmonella poisoning and has been very sick. Pray for him and his wife Noemi and their little boy Lucas.
⁃ For the ladies we have met: Natalia, Silvia, Felicidad and for community to be built.
⁃ For Pilar who came down sick with a stomach bug and fever yesterday.
⁃ The Torres family, our teammates, will arrive here from Ecuador mid May. Pray for their travels and that the transition and move will go well and that they can find an apartment without problems.
⁃ The Cabrera family is still living with us as they wait to see if an apartment opens up in the same building.
⁃ That we may be bold and open and that Christ may be shared with the people of Tarija.
- For patience.
⁃ For hearts to be open here.