The original version of this post was written in some haste and there wasn't time to give much detail or include photos. There's now an update at the end, added after our return home.
Our time in Bolivia is nearly at an end! It's now 5.10 pm on Monday and we don't have much time before our evening session, and then we fly home tomorrow morning. So this will be brief...
This morning we went out on a city tour. We spent some time in the central plaza of Santa Cruz and then looked around some of the artisan shops.
Later on we headed north out of the city to a huge area where an urban development is planned. In the middle of what is currently countryside is a large plot of land which has been donated to Cristo Luz del Mundo out of gratitude for the help the donor was given by the men's group. The road to the site is still being built and for much of the long journey the bus was bouncing up and down on hard-packed sand.
We had lunch at a nearby house, then together with Bishop Raphael and other Christians from Santa Cruz we prayed over the land for guidance about how to use it. It felt as though we were standing on the future and once again we were encouraged by the way the church is looking forward and being prepared to take the gospel to people in new areas.
Tonight we are meeting with Bishop Raphael before he takes us out to a meal in what we are told is a very good restaurant. Then it's early to bed, and very early to rise!
It will take us some time to reflect on our time here and think about some of the lessons we have learned. We all feel greatly privileged to have been here and to have seen God working in such a powerful way. None of us will ever forget those few minutes last Friday afternoon when we felt the healing and renewing power of God sweep through the Anglican church in Bolivia.
Nor will we forget the overwhelming hospitality of those who have accommodated us, fed us and provided so much practical support and encouragement. We owe thanks to so many people, but none more so than to Walter Barrientos, who worked so hard to set up the itinerary for our visit and has accompanied us through much of it.
One thing worth mentioning is that there has been total unity among the team from beginning to end of this project. We've put up with showers that run hot for about one minute in five, the effects of altitude and other forms of sickness, a very demanding schedule, unreliable Internet connections and many other inconveniences, and borne them with good humour, but we have never complained about each other. Perhaps we take this sort of thing for granted in Christ Church, but it's good to be able to report that our unity has been maintained even under pressure.
Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us throughout this venture. It has meant so much to us to know that you are interested in what we are doing and are standing with us in this way.
For those of you in Birmingham, we'll see you soon!
Update: We were all back in Birmingham by Wednesday evening, despite one team member suffering a health scare. Now here's some more detail about our last full day in Bolivia...
First, a photo of the whole team, taken outside the Cathedral in the centre of Santa Cruz:
Yes, there are 13 in the picture! The additional member - in the centre, wearing the red top - is Claire, who acted as our guide around the city and did so much to help us during our week in Santa Cruz. She has a remarkable story of her own: she originally came to Bolivia for a short term visit of just a week, with no idea that she would one day live there permanently and marry Pastor Bely.
Our lunch venue was a quinta - a country guest house with some handy sports facilities:
And here are Bishops Maurice and Raphael on the nearby land that has been donated to the church:
It looks very rural now, but one of our hosts indicated the track that the road to the site will one day follow.
In the evening we spent some time with Bishop Raphael, first recording a message which will be taken to the Bishops here in Birmingham, then reviewing the outcome of the trip with Raphael and Walter Barrientos. The Bolivian view is well expressed by the message on this paper "scroll" which was given to each team member:
"Thank you for your love... God bless you... we love you". If you have prayed, donated or supported us in any way, that's for you too.
Then we went out for a farewell dinner in an excellent restaurant with Raphael, Walter, Santa Cruz church leaders and spouses. This was quite near where we were staying and some of us walked, others went by car and... well, OK, some of us climbed in the back of a truck:
Two of the men in the team got in too and then... we all got out again. If anyone happened to see five people shouting and waving from the back of a truck on the inner ring road in Santa Cruz that night, it must have been some other crazy English visitors.
And that's where our story ends... but the story of what God is doing in Bolivia and in Birmingham will go on and on! Thank you for being with us in prayer, and we look forward to whatever comes next!