Jovenes Camp in Tarija

We were told to be at the seminary at 6pm to load up the bus. Since I’m beginning to understand the Bolivian concept of time, I figured we’d leave around 8. And so I was surprised when the 52-seat bus pulled away from Cochabamba, filled with 55 jovenes (roughly ages 18-28). The fact that there were three people without a seat for the 18 hour trip didn’t surprise me, but the fact that we left at 7:00 did.

As a side note, the road from the altiplano to Tarija is… a little terrifying. A dirt road, usually two lanes wide and occasionally with guard rails, winds around the mountains. (Click here to see a map of the road.) A Brazilian company has been contracted to build a 2km tunnel to replace the mountain road. They had been drilling about 6 meters/day, which would have completed it in about a year, but they haven’t been paid by the government recently, so the work is stopped until they get paid. Thus is life in Bolivia.

Considering the bus we took to Fichicachi, this was a luxury bus. There were still some broken seats and other signs of wear, but it was a much more uneventful and comfortable ride (meaning, we didn’t have to get out and push the bus up a hill). I woke up to see an incredible 5:45 sunrise over the mountains, and I think I slept more after the sunrise than before. After a stop for breakfast, we started making our way from the altiplano (plains) up then back down thTarija's Green Parkse mountains, ending in the city of Tarija, settled in a valley similar to Cochabamba. Cochabamba is known for being a green city, with a lot of parks, trees, etc., and I was surprised at how much more green Tarija was. A beautiful city!

Visiting a Vineyard

Tarija Vineyards

We spent a day in the city, with a trip out to see Tarija’s well-known vineyards and wineries, then were brought to the Tarija fairgrounds, where the Baptist Jovenes’ national camp was held. This is an annual five-day camp, with each of the nine departments in Bolivia rotating as hosts. Last year it was in Cochabamba, next year in Potosí.

Even though Tarija is one of the less-central locations in Bolivia, there were a record 450 in attendance, including two busses from Cochabamba and one from Argentina. My role was not to preach or lead any groups, but just to attend, observe, learn, and get to know some of the jovenes. And I would say I was successful in that.

A few observations:

Waiting for Lunch

There aren't the resources available to provide plates, cups, and silverware for everyone, so all campers are expected to bring their own.

Guy's Dorm

Because it was at fairgrounds, there weren't dorms or cabins available. The guys were all put in a big convention room, with foam mattresses lining the walls. A very unique environment!

The Red Group Worshiping

The excitement and energy that the jovenes have during worship surprised and encouraged me. They were running, jumping, dancing as they worshiped God. It's a form of expression that I believe many churches stifle, and this camp is one of the few places for them to be able worship freely.

Water Balloon Games

Their energy also boiled over into the team competitions. After winning, the team would jump and cheer and chant. The teams made up their own cheers, like "Ole, ole, ole, ole, BLANCO, BLANCO" for the white team. It reminded me of pep band!

Afternoon Teaching Session

A direct contrast to the energetic activities was the three sermons a day. Yes, three! Well, one was technically a workshop, which meant it was in smaller groups (about 100), and the speakers asked a few questions to the group to make it semi-interactive. I was surprised, though, that at church when three jovenes who attended shared what they learned, they mentioned points from different sermons, from different people, on different days. So they may have gotten more out of the twelve sermons than I expected!

How to pray:

  • One of the guys from Cochabamba that I’ve gotten to know lately came up to me a lot at the camp, with questions or just to talk. It’s exciting to see this relationship develop as he’s been confiding in me recently. Please pray that this relationship would continue to grow and be fruitful.
  • I met with several of the the national jovenes leaders while in Tarija. Please pray for their ministry leading jovenes throughout Bolivia, especially as they try to unite a country that is so isolated by the terrain and poor roads. (To give you an idea of the challenge, Cochabamba is located in the middle of Bolivia, and it’s an 18 hour bus ride to Tarija. It’s just a 50 minute flight between the cities, but most can’t afford the $65 flight.)
  • Dan, our supervisor, officially moved me from the orientation phase to the ministry phase. Praise God for how I have learned and adjusted to life in Bolivia. Pray for guidance as I begin more formal ministry, both with jovenes and our team’s administration and leadership, yet continue to improve my Spanish.

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