Bolivia sits at a very high, incredibly high altitude. So high that it is strongly encouraged that visitors start in Santa Cruz at the lower elevation and make their way up, day by day, to La Paz.
This was the plan. The Compassion Bolivia team traveled all day from all different cities on Monday to meet up in Miami. We then boarded our plane in Miami for a red eye into Santa Cruz.
But first, our plane did land in La Paz because some of the people onboard needed to deplane. We were probably in La Paz for a little over an hour.
Now is a good time for me to mention that I am highly sensitive to altitude. Even though I grew up in Colorado, every time I visit my home state I get bad headaches for the first few days and feel a little off. I have also gotten a very severe case of altitude sickness in another state of high elevation. So you know what happened while we were in La Paz for a mere 90 minutes? I spent some time praying, on my knees, in the airplane bathroom.
While throwing up.
Those of you who know me know that throwing up is my most hated of all sicknesses. I will do anything not to throw up.
Bolivia : 1. Bri : 0.
The staff on the plane were thoroughly alarmed and I think at one point were questioning if I was really sick because apparently I was smiling when I asked for extra paper towels and then again when I asked for a Sprite as I promptly disappeared into the tiny airplane bathroom. I finally returned to my seat because of something about the plane taking off so, “Please ma’am, take this paper bag and sit down.”
The sun began to rise as we made our entrance into Santa Cruz. The girl next to me kept shoving her camera past my chest and into the window I was sitting by because of the beautiful scenery. I kept trying to think how I would apologize for throwing up on her camera which was perfectly positioned right below my chin while she snap, snap, snapped photos. She finally pulled her camera away as the scenery changed. It seemed to be all dirt and dried up land. I looked a little closer and noticed that trees were bumping right up against that brown drought.
All I thought was, a scar always runs through it. And I thought of all the scars I carry. The ones that are shriveled but still clanging right up into the living green of my life.
I thought this image was so accurate. The scars and the lush beating life just snuggled right up next to each other. Because we’re human, aren’t we?
So, we finally landed and after 24 hours of travel we had about 2 hours to check into our hotel and take a quick nap. We all met up in the lobby wondering how it is only 11am and how we still have one full day of living to do. But we corralled. We told jokes and chugged water. I was a little sensitive to the touch because of the throwing up and also because I have found that no sleep can make the scars seem like they are taking over.
We went into the Compassion center and the kids met us with proud waves and hopeful hugs. I kept wondering what I had to give. I kept looking each child in the eye. Just holding the gaze for awhile. “I’m sorry I seem tired right now but I do see you. I’m looking right into you.” After awhile of this some of the girls started to latch onto my hands which I thought was cute and also incredibly helpful. The team moved outside for a wild game of soccer played in an epically small space. I moved inside still trying to gauge my stomach – I wandered to a table with one girl and sat down with her. I pulled out a coloring book and we started to color.
At this point I felt really great. I found a mini-me that wanted to be inside instead of out. I felt exceptionally great because we were sharing art. More and more girls started to crowd around us and I ripped pages out of the coloring book. Pages and pages and pages. I was so grateful to give them this little piece of me. It was a quieter version but we were happy.
The team and I soon left for a home visit. This visit was hard like they are and I am going to tell you that story one day. But first I need to finish this story. When we returned to the center from the home visit all the precious girls found me and started giving me little folded up pieces of paper. The paper said, “Bri! dios te ama.”
Bri! God loves you.
All these little and big pieces of paper filled my hands. As I opened the pieces of paper I realized it was the coloring pages I had given them. They had colored them something beautiful and then painted my name and God’s love on it bold and bright.
Sometimes you give God everything you had for the day. Even if you have an upset stomach. Even if you feel less than yourself. And a lot of times He gives it right back to you but this time it is much more colorful, most of the time it is marked indelible with His closer than ever presence.
I started to tear up as another girl proudly presented her piece of paper. It hit me that sometimes you fly all day and all night to get to a child and hold them and tell them that God loves them. That He knows their name. That He has a plan for them. And then sometimes that child receives you and says, “You too, Bri. He loves you too.”
I am grateful to be here in Bolivia with this team. I am grateful that Compassion is here. That the church was right in the middle of this poverty drenched community. I asked each of the girls if they have a sponsor and they all beamed, “Yes!” But I should have known, anyone who can give hope like these girls has received and danced in hope themselves. I will never stop advocating for the power of sponsorship through Compassion International. Not ever.
I am excited to share with you stories from the children of Bolivia. But I thought before I told you their stories I needed to first be brave and tell mine. Today I was sick and sleepy and feeling very useless. For reasons I will never understand, God felt quite the opposite about me. For reasons I will always love God for – He used a child to reveal this to me.
And now I can tell you their stories. More to come soon. But first, sleep.